Start by asking yourself this: Are your employees excited to come to work? Passionate about your company? Do they believe in your leadership team and buy in to your philosophies?
If not, perhaps the reason goes beyond the day to day. Think back to their training.
Training is more than a beginning. It is a foundation. It is a time to teach skills, establish parameters and share company culture. This is your first opportunity to completely control the environment — take the time to truly make your training facility an extension of your company.
Design it from scratch
If you have the opportunity to do this, please capitalize on it. If at all possible, build your training facility on-site at your headquarters, and keep the following in mind: Understand typical class size and plan accordingly. A room too small can be uncomfortable, while a room too big can lose energy. Make the space versatile by utilizing room dividers and multifunctional furniture to reconfigure space for numerous uses. Implement turnkey functionality by installing a plug-and-play AV system that enables anyone to step in and assist with setup — even when the IT person is out. Change it up by creating more than one room for different areas of training — and change the theme, so long as each space uniquely represents your company culture.
At our franchise headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., we built a full-size house to recreate real-life situations in duct cleaning for Ductz. For Hoodz, we built a commercial kitchen to offer the most accurate simulation. Keep in mind, fancy is not a necessity — functionality is.
Focus on environment
If you do not have the luxury of designing from scratch, there are still many things you can do to enhance the training environment. Keep the thermostat steady. Think about the last time you were in a stuffy room with 25 or so other people — it’s hard to focus on much else. Up the tempo by playing appropriate, up-tempo music from the minute trainees walk in the room until the time they leave. Music does wonders to set the tone and keep the energy going. Mind maintenance — little signs of neglect like burnt-out light bulbs and a general lack of cleanliness can leave a negative impression.
Curriculum is core
Assuming you’ve taken steps to create an environment that is conducive to learning, make sure what’s being taught is worthwhile.
It starts with the trainer or instructor – it’s not enough for them to be knowledgeable. You need someone who is thoroughly prepared. If you value your trainees, value their time by not wasting it.
When you do the things above, it shows people that you care enough to go the extra mile. It communicates that you are vested in their success. In my opinion, if you don’t capitalize on this crucial time to make a proper and lasting first impression, you’ve already missed the boat.
Although initial training is critical, by no means should it end there. As a leader, you should take every opportunity for a continued training moment. Take, for example, weekly staff meetings. Are you just gathering everyone to share your accomplishments from the past week? You can also work a deliberate message into the agenda — one that enables your staff to walk away with something useful, even if it’s just a reinforcement of your company culture.
Furthermore, make a point to send your employees and franchisees to continued training sessions. Within our organization, those franchisees who invest in their people by sending them to receive advanced training are the same offices with the both the highest success and the highest employee retention rates. So build that solid training foundation and continue to improve upon it every chance you get.
John Rotche is the president of Ann Arbor-based Belfor Franchise Group Inc., a multiconcept franchise system. The company’s two franchise concepts, Ductz and Hoodz, center on the compliance and proper maintenance of commercial kitchen hoods and residential and commercial air duct, carpet and upholstery cleaning services. For more information, visit www.belforfranchisegroup.com.
Surveys consistently demonstrate that less than half of Americans are happy at their job, and that the No. 1 reason that employees leave a company is not for lack of money, poor benefits or unhappiness with what they are doing. The No. 1 reason they leave is because of their immediate supervisor.
The term “immediate supervisor” applies to the chain of management all the way up to board level. The sad fact is that most people in a supervisory position, from housekeeping supervisors in a small hotel to CEOs of major companies, are poor leaders, with little understanding of how to motivate and get the best out of the people they are responsible for. Why?
Lack of proper leadership training. Nobody would ever consider putting someone without any mechanical training into a job repairing cars or someone who was a qualified car mechanic into heading the legal case in a capital trial. Yet people are regularly promoted into leadership positions without knowing much about the science and practice of leadership. They may be the best car mechanic or the best lawyer in the world, and although this can be an important part of being successful in a leadership role, it is only a part and does not in any way guarantee success leading a team of car mechanics or a firm of lawyers.
Like most job skills, leadership is something that can be taught. Certainly, a basic aptitude is important. You’re never going to be a successful lawyer if you can’t pass law school. But the right people can be trained to lead at all levels and improve the working atmosphere and financial performance of their companies. So why do so many companies set themselves up for unhappy employees and the consequent expensive staff turnover when they have the ability to do something about it?
Arrogance and ignorance. All too many senior executives seem to believe that by having an MBA and by holding senior positions in companies, they are “natural leaders” when in actual fact, as their subordinates will attest, they couldn’t lead a horse to water. They themselves do not have a comprehensive understanding of what motivates people, so don’t see why those skills need to be developed throughout their organization. This lack of self-awareness inevitably pervades the whole company. By not taking the issue of leadership training seriously, they are condemning their management chain to frustration and their employees to misery.
So should we forgive all those petty tyrants and little Napoleons making life miserable for their subordinates and conclude they are not intrinsically unpleasant but just out of their depth in a position for which they have had no training and perhaps little aptitude? Are they as much victims as victimizers? That this is the fault of more senior management in not giving them the tools to do their job? Only up to a point. They have a duty to their company, to their staff and to themselves to do their job better, and there is no shortage of literature on the subject of leadership. As Field Marshal William Slim — a decorated British military commander and perhaps among the greatest leaders of men — remarked: “There is nobody who cannot vastly improve their powers of leadership by a little thought and practice.”
Julian K. Hutton is president of Merlin Hospitality Management, where he oversees the company’s hotel management and distressed asset management operations, drawing on 20 years experience in the worldwide travel and hospitality industry. He can be reached at email@example.com.
If there is anything the recession should have taught us, it’s that employers need to accurately measure employee performance and effectively communicate with employees on where they stand. In the years prior to 2009, companies may have been able to ignore waste or subpar performance. Today, waste is not an option, and any company that has employees needs to recognize the importance of performance management.
Reviews are important for employees, as they let them know how they are performing and what they need to do to both stay in the seat and grow in their career. Performance management provides a ‘snapshot’ of overall employee capability and measures critical competencies, which are crucial for developing workforce strategies that support business and employee growth.
Recently, I had a discussion with a colleague, Mark Fiala, the founder and president of Organizational Architecture. Mark has served as a strategic leader and organizational development expert for more than 15 years in senior-level Human Resources functions with both privately-held and public companies prior to founding his business in 2007.
Q: Why is it important to do performance reviews, even in smaller companies?
A: Most people know that providing feedback to employees is important. People want to know how they are doing. Performance reviews are good tools to ensure the activities of the staff are driving the business strategies, and they communicate to employee if they are meeting expectations or need to improve. Most companies are pretty good about providing feedback in some form at some point during the year that helps the employee know how they are doing.
Q: We know that performance feedback is important for employees. What is the value to the company?
A: It allows the company to manage talent more effectively because it enables management to see collectively who is a top performer, a low performer and in between. It is critical for helping management know if the activities of the staff are driving the business strategies. Additionally, if deficits in certain important areas are found, such as leadership or strategic thinking, the company can then prioritize and devise training and development activities to remedy this. It provides a basis for the company to remove or redeploy employees from the organization based on lack of desire or ability to perform job duties.
Q: How can the company use performance reviews to improve the organization?
A: Too many companies simply have managers deliver reviews, collect a signature, and then file the documents in the employees’ personnel files. Rather than filing the completed reviews, roll-up the ratings by department and performance indicators so that review and analysis can be done on a company-wide scale. Look for trends in achievement or lack thereof, and assess whether training or development can solve some of the deficiencies. Most importantly, identify employees with potential to be future leaders and give them opportunities to learn and grow. Doing this across departments and the business is the most effective way to take an “inventory” of your talent and manage it effectively.
Q: What other components are critical elements in an effective performance management system?
A: The first piece is to ensure you have current and accurate position descriptions because these describe in specific detail what the expectations of the job are, as well as the competencies or attributes needed to do the job effectively. The next piece is the performance review that is anchored to that position description. Develop an ongoing talent review process, whereby performance reviews are rolled-up and analyzed on a macro-level, to see who is a future leader and who is struggling. Finally, the proper training and development to give people the skills they need to be more effective or develop their capabilities to be better is the natural outgrowth of your performance management system.
Even if you have completed your annual review cycle, don’t miss the opportunity to use the data to do some analysis on employee performance and capabilities. This will help to make sure you have the talent you need to drive your business strategies. For more information on Organizational Architecture and Mark Fiala, please visit their website at www.oahumanresources.com.
This article was brought to you by Chris Carmon, president of The Carmon Group. You can find out more about The Carmon Group at www.carmongroup.com.
A lot of CEOs try to keep two feet planted on the ground. Bob Fishman tries to keep about 240.
It’s part of his philosophy on organizational management. The founder and CEO of Resources for Human Development believes large organizations are at their best when the people in the field, at the customer interface point, are enabled to spend money and make decisions.
Armed with that philosophy, Fishman has dozens of representatives pounding the pavement in 14 states, gathering information that will help Fishman’s organization better serve its customers.
Resources for Human Development is a nonprofit entity that provides services to people with developmental disabilities, substance addictions and mental illness. The nonprofit, which employs 4,500, also operates various for-profit business ventures in the human services field.
With operations in multiple states, a large work force, governmental partnerships and a large range of services offered, the challenges facing Fishman are far closer to those of a Fortune 500 CEO than the director of a neighborhood social services program, which is why he makes delegation of power a guiding principle.
“The biggest challenge is the continually maintaining of constant diversification of the corporation, while holding to central values of interpersonal behavior in the managers and the supervisory staff,” Fishman says. “The values of the organization being the central part, while focusing on and achieving continued diversification in terms of the markets we reach, the services we deliver and the opening of new service areas.
“The diversification is achieved by having over 120 people at any one point in time out there looking to satisfy the customer base. The same thing is true for nonprofits and for profits — there is a customer base, and for us, they are all state and local governments. So you need many people out there constantly satisfying the customer, the governmental people and their various bureaucracies, and looking for new things we can do for them.”
It’s why Fishman needs a ground-level view on the needs that exist in each of his markets and why he entrusts his people in each market to keep corporate leadership informed.
Trust your people
To build a decentralized organization, you need people to whom you can delegate power and responsibility. You also need to develop a willingness to hand over that responsibility to the people you have deemed worthy and capable.
In other words, you have to be willing to trust people.
Leaders sometimes equate trust with blind loyalty and gullibility. Allowing yourself to become too trusting is supposed to be bad business. You’re supposed to be a chronic skeptic and force others to earn your trust.
Fishman sees it a little differently. To him, there is a not-so-fine line between trust and gullibility. As a leader, you owe it to your people to trust them until you have a reason not to.
“You start out with an assumption that most people are good and can be trusted,” Fishman says. “Very few people that we hire, less than 1 percent, will actually abuse the trust. It happens, but it is such a small percentage that you can start to set up a very different system of empowerment of people to make decisions to run local budgets, to hire people locally, purchase locally.”
It doesn’t mean that you give your people carte blanche to do whatever they want with no regard for consistency or standards. But it does mean that you need to properly train your people, educate them in your standards and culture, and give them the freedom to prove that they can live up to those standards.
“For example, we have $14 million in contracts being managed by our head of operations in New Orleans,” Fishman says. “So she and a series of people are continually reviewing how we’re doing in terms of budgets being negotiated. Is it working out, do we have to look at anything being renegotiated?
“She has local people assisting her, the financial oversight people. Then we have a financial and programmatic oversight in the corporate office here in Philadelphia. There are different levels of oversight, but she is the one who makes the decisions with her staff in New Orleans.”
To drive decision-making power downward while still promoting uniform standards across all of your departments and geographies, you need to be able to set the example from your perch. Fishman consistently models the behavior he wants his leadership in all of his organization’s markets to emulate.
Fishman has branded Resources for Human Development as a “common good corporation.” Anyone who works for Fishman must embrace the concept of working for the greater good. You might be in business for personal gain, but in order to run a completely healthy company, you and your team have to work toward something larger than personal goals.
“We have a bill of rights and responsibilities,” Fishman says. “We have values that need to be valued and learned by all employees, in terms of knowing the budgets of all the units, all the salaries being open, all data being open. I have a management team of 10 people around me, and sometimes, occasionally, we have made an adjustment to the management team’s salary. But we also work in a head office with 290 people, and our pattern is we don’t take bonuses unless everyone gets the same bonus. If my secretary can’t get the bonus, I can’t get the bonus. That is what is called leveling economically.
“What I’m touching on is both in terms of behavior and monetary rewards, we’re following as much as we can, we know what we’re doing and it’s very successful. While other corporations say, ‘How do we survive?’ we’re saying, ‘Step back and look at your culture, look at who is making the decisions, who is being empowered for success.’ Do you basically trust, or do you basically distrust?”
Make your decision
Because of the philosophical differences, it’s difficult to convert from a centralized to a decentralized organizational structure. If you’ve made up your mind to delegate decisions downward, you have to write it onto your company’s DNA. It’s something that everyone has to believe. You have to produce rules by which everyone in the company can play.
Fishman says you need to answer two overarching questions: First, what are your personal values and attitudes about people? And second, are you willing to admit that you can’t have all the answers needed to run a successful enterprise?
“The first thing is you have to face a number of value questions,” he says. “The central one is, do they believe that people are basically trustworthy? If you can’t say that, you can’t do what we’ve done. Not that everyone is totally trustworthy, but basically trustworthy, so that most people will be able to operate within a financial and ethical system.”
You need to remember that that people in the field sometimes need the least watching. Often, if dishonesty or a failure to meet standards becomes evident, the scene of the cultural crime could be right under your nose.
“Most corporations are undermined not by people in the field, but by people in the central office,” Fishman says. “The biggest theft in terms of theft or destruction of reputation has been proven to exist with the people who make the rules and represent the corporation at the center. It was true with Enron and it is true of every other corporation. You reverse that and say, ‘Let’s set up standards for how to use money and decentralize within budgets and agreements;’ you start out assuming that you have good people and they want to do a decent job.”
Your willingness to let others answer the big questions is a lesson you need to learn in two parts. First, can you let someone else be the authority on a matter? And second, can you accept that your team might find multiple ways to arrive at a satisfactory answer to a question or problem?
“Can you accept the idea as an administrator that you don’t have to know everything?” Fishman says. “People are not founders of organizations, because they know the answers to the future. They’re not gods or goddesses. People tend to look toward the center of the organization for the answers to complex questions that can only be worked out by many people in a complex system. There needs to be somebody at whom the buck stops, but to be in that role is different than saying you know all the answers.
“Within that is another assumption that you can arrive at many possible answers, that they don’t have to be arrived at by someone in charge of the services in the corporate office. That allows you, as the corporate head, to say, ‘You decide how to spend the money within the budget, and within the local legislation and agreements that you understand the best.’”
Hire for your culture
How do you hire for a decentralized culture? Fishman says it can be frustrating. You can go through rounds of interviews, review references and resumes, and ultimately, your research will lead you to the right hire the vast majority of the time. But you can’t know for sure until you’ve seen a person at work.
“You can’t know who you’re hiring in advance,” Fishman says. “You can tell people what their job is, what your culture is, what they’re going to be trusted with, and how we expect them to behave and not to behave with money, power and status.”
Though you might want to allow decision-making power to trickle down, you have to give new hires a well-defined set of guidelines and values that will govern them from the first day on the job. If you put those standards in place from the beginning, you stand a much better chance of developing trustworthy people who make decisions that are in the best interest of your company and customers.
“For example, in our system, we decided that no one employed in our corporation can have a private office,” Fishman says. “We might have someone who figures they are now the head of a big division, so I’d like a private space of my own. So we tell them all the things we do and don’t want to see, and correct them as rapidly as we hear about it.”
Ultimately, if you’ve involved enough people in the hiring process, you can usually gain the perspective necessary to make the right hire with the raw materials needed to become the type of employee you can trust with the decisions that will impact your company’s future.
“We make a group decision,” Fishman says. “That person needs to be hired by a group of people, and the people they’re going to supervise. We do appoint people, but often they’re hired from a group interview setting. There needs to be a group buy-in on the process that leads to the decision.”
How to reach: Resources for Human Development, (215) 951-0300 or www.rhd.org
Bob Fishman, CEO, Resources for Human Development
Born: Brooklyn, New York
Education: Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and psychology, Brooklyn College; master’s degree in clinical social work, Columbia University
First job: As a kid during (World War II), I’d go around to houses in Brooklyn to buy the fat renderings collected in kitchens. I’d pay a few cents for a can of fat, then take it to the butcher’s store, where they collected it to use in an armament function of some kind. I was a retail buyer and wholesale seller of fat renderings as a kid.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
People are basically good, but people have separated that from an economic model. My business lesson is that is can be combined with a viable business model and flourish.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
One of the hardest things for me is to find out something I don’t have to know. It’s a hard skill, that you don’t have to know and you don’t have to have answers. You have answers for yourself personally, but others have different answers. You have to know what you don’t know.
What is your definition of success?
In a leader of any corporate entity, there is the economic answer that you need to bring in more money than you expend. That is the countable part of success. But the other part for me has been to develop and operate an organization that builds on the strengths of human beings and adds to a culture’s health, rather than taking out of it. I feel I’ve been able to do that within the model I have been able to develop. It’s that duality that allows me to consider my life’s work a success.
Lea Bailes saw great potential for Valerie Eaton to become a valuable leader at Guier Fence. The only person he needed to sell on developing this untapped talent was Valerie.
“She came into our organization as an associate doing material sales and not getting paid a whole lot to do that,” says Bailes, the 70-employee fence company’s president. “I saw a lot of potential in her to do a lot more than maybe she thought she was even capable of doing or that somebody would allow her to do. I started approaching her about changing roles.”
Bailes wanted Eaton to become involved with outside sales and residential sales, but she turned down his offer several times.
“One day, I guess something changed, and she came back and said, ‘Yes, I want to do it,’” Bailes says. “She ended up being our top residential salesperson for that year. After seeing her accelerate through that, we saw a whole different side of her. We saw this competitiveness and this drive come out.”
So what’s the key to discovering this kind of hidden talent in your organization?
It starts with a patient approach.
“You may see something and you may want something, but it may take time,” Bailes says. “You may be dealing with someone who has a totally different personality than you.”
If you see talent in one of your employees, you need to get that person to recognize it in themselves. You also need to see how committed they are to you and your company. So give the person a small challenge that takes him or her out of his or her comfort zone.
“Move their cheese a little bit and see how they respond,” Bailes says. “If they get upset and start throwing a fit, they’re probably not your most loyal employee. But if they move into the problem and move to what you’re trying to get them to do, they’re probably a very loyal employee.”
It may be as simple as just rearranging the person’s job responsibilities a bit or asking them to take on a small but important project. Whatever it is, the way you present it to the person can go a long way toward their acceptance of both that task and future assignments.
“The way I present it is, ‘This is the greatest area of need in the company; you have an opportunity to come in and be a hero and fulfill this need,’” Bailes says. “We try to portray it like they can ride in and save the day. Try to motivate them through the thought that they can do that. It’s not false. We’re not trying to trick them into doing anything. We really are trying to fill a need.”
If the person handles the project successfully, be vocal with your praise. But you need to go beyond a pat on the back to create true engagement. Show people how their effort helped your business.
“Appreciation motivates people, but so does a sense of getting a job done,” Bailes says. “Crossing something off a list or providing a certain result is something that really motivates people. Review the results with them. Tell them, ‘You did X, and this is exactly what you’ve accomplished, and you should be proud of that.’ Give them that feeling of accomplishment.”
Keep feeding the person challenges and increase the difficulty based on how well they perform.
“You have to be patient and look for those small daily changes,” Bailes says. “I’ve seen managers that weren’t patient and they just run good people off.”
It was through a patient approach that Bailes was able to groom Eaton into a leader who is now responsible for managing her own sales staff.
“Find someone who has an intense passion for what you’re doing and the company itself and then train them how to manage,” Bailes says. “Take the loyalty and instill the management skills.”
How to reach: Guier Fence, (888) 782-6508 or www.guierfence.com
Make your business interesting
Lea Bailes won’t try to convince you that his is the most exciting business in the world. But he will argue that Guier Fence is a lot more than just 70 employees who dig postholes in the ground.
“I struggled with this myself for a while dealing with telling people what my job was,” says Guier, the fence company’s president. “You have to figure out how to make what everybody is doing meaningful. For us, the meaning for what we do is we beautify people’s properties. We protect children and dogs. We keep people from falling into pools or falling off of balconies.”
If your employees feel a sense of purpose in their work, they’re more likely to stay loyal to your business.
“You have to look at it from a consumer perspective,” Bailes says. “There is a reason why someone is buying what we’re selling. If you start looking at your business too introspectively and you look at the day-to-day stuff that you grind through, we all have that. You have to get past all that and not get bogged down in what you don’t like and really look at it from the end perspective.”
Emerging from the darkest days of the great recession, Richard Bolte Jr. came to one undeniable conclusion: Predictability was gone. It left with the economic downfall in 2008, and it wasn’t coming back.
Change was the new constant for his company, BDP International Inc., and he needed to adapt BDP to deal with the new reality.
“The financial crisis left us with unpredictability and market volatility,” says Bolte, BDP’s president and CEO. “So as a result, it’s a new environment that is volatile and unpredictable, and you have to transform and change, as well. You can no longer serve your market with that business model. Your customer requirements have changed. They’re moving their supply chains around. They’re making different decisions. They’re looking to outsource things they used to do themselves.”
To react to the new volatility, Bolte had to transition his company from a controlled, structured environment to a company that nurtured new ideas, promoted innovation and valued entrepreneurship. It was a dramatic shift for the global logistics solutions provider, which generates $1.65 billion in annual revenue and employs 3,000. It meant not just new processes and policies, but a complete reconfiguration of the way the company collectively thinks.
And to make it all happen, Bolte had to start at the individual level and work his way up.
“The challenge I gave to our guys was, rather than looking at global operations as something that needs to be controlled, you need to ask one question: ‘How can I help you grow?’ he says. “That would underscore and focus the team on transformation, because from a support perspective, it is quite a journey to go from controlling to nurturing.”
Build the case
As Bolte and his leadership team surveyed the damage from the recession, he came to the conclusion that the companies that could adapt on the fly would be the companies that survived. Knowing that, he realized one of his first duties as the head of the organization was to create a sense of urgency around the need for change. He needed a management team that wanted to embrace change now, not a year from now.
“It’s one of the things you need to do as a leader,” Bolte says. “The message needs to keep coming out that we’re not kidding, we believe we need to migrate to these things. We need to change and why. You’d better have a good answer as to why you believe things need to change and why they need to change now. Because even if you get buy-in on change, you might find those who want to change in a year or so. So you need to create that sense of urgency. You need to create a tremendous sense of clarity around why you think things need to change and why they have to happen now.”
Bolte built the case for change by collecting and presenting data to his managers, and then cascading that data throughout the organization. Bolte and his leadership team built a three-year strategic plan that identified where BDP currently stood and where it needed to be in 36 months to maintain profitability. The basic points of the plan were then rolled out to every corner of the organization.
“We came out with a three-year plan that says, ‘As a result of going through this crisis, things need to change, and here are the things we’ve identified that need to change now,’” Bolte says. “Then we communicate that through town-hall meetings, through webcasts, through our management team and senior team. We embedded those exact same messages into their communications. We then developed a strategic plan and published progress as to how we were performing against those changes we had identified.”
The change areas that Bolte and his team identified centered on what he calls “centers of excellence.” Bolte wanted employees in each area of the company — IT, finance, global administration, sales and marketing, and transportation services — to identify ways in which their department could evolve into a more entrepreneurial, innovative team. It was easier for some areas than for others, and in some cases, it took a personnel shift to fulfill the company’s shift.
“Let’s take finance, which is controlling by nature,” Bolte says. “One of the things we looked at is that finance can be a valuable tool to the organization, if employed correctly. It can be a partner to growth instead of a ‘threat to be audited’ kind of mindset. One of the things we had to do was actually look at the people within the organization.
“Some individuals are actually not going to be able to make that leap over to a nurturing environment. We actually had to go out and bring in new and different talent into organizations like finance and IT, who thought in different ways and could accommodate that kind of transformation.”
Even though the organization was shifting away from centralized processes, Bolte was starting to rally BDP around a strong central vision, which required buy-in from people who also embraced the vision, necessitating the need for new blood in certain positions.
“The notion we asked them to embrace is that we need to create an environment that is easy to do business in, where we treat people how you want to be treated, not a highly structured or controlled environment,” he says.
But with that newfound need for entrepreneurship and innovation comes a need for boundary lines. You might not want rules weighing down your people, but you can’t let them innovate themselves into left field, where their ideas do nothing for them or the company.
Bolte harnessed his employees’ brainpower and used it to cement his new culture by turning innovation into a competition of sorts.
“Last year, we actually had a specific program we named BDP Fusion,” he says. “We encouraged employees anywhere in our system to submit ideas for a new business plan. We then held a contest in each region where we picked the top three ideas. At the end, it boiled down to one winner, and we actually implemented that idea as a new business plan. We had contests in three regions and myself and some other senior members went around, and the finalists were able to present to us.
“There was a tremendous amount of energy and excitement around these teams presenting, and in addition to ending up with a great business plan for tank management in Asia, it was very good for morale. A lot of companies say they listen to their employees, but here was visible evidence of a company seeking direction on a new business from its employees. It sends a powerful message that we do listen and we do care about these new ideas.”
Build change agents
You can hire people who will embrace your vision for the future, but until you can fully leverage their ability as leaders, you won’t have much more than passive order takers.
You not only want your best and brightest to get on board with a new organizational direction, you want them to get others on board, too. In some companies, they’re called change agents, but whatever title you want to stamp on them, they’re a critical ingredient in making your vision a reality.
At BDP, Bolte has formalized the process of getting buy-in from his future leaders, partnering with outside resources to train and enable the next generation of change agents.
“We went and aggressively developed what we call a leadership development program involving the top 40 or 50 next-generation-type leaders,” Bolte says. “We did a partnership-type program with [Dale Carnegie Training]. We did a two-week course with instructors from Dale Carnegie, but we also developed a program with senior staff from BDP, where we ran a highly energetic and entertaining two-week session. The energy coming out of that was tremendous.”
The training program goes hand in hand with an internal mentoring program that Bolte and his leadership team initiated. The mentoring program is designed to give potential leaders a wide-angle view of the company by pairing the young protégé with a mentor from a different department.
“It’s very cross-functional in our case,” Bolte says. “We might have the CFO mentoring two people in operations. Or you might have an operations person mentoring someone in the finance department. The mentoring process is a bit better than just identifying top performers. It takes it a bit deeper, because you’re getting direct feedback from senior management members who had these individuals under their wing for the program, which runs six months. So I think you’re developing a deeper understanding of your top performers.”
But sometimes, it comes down to the lessons learned from your years of experience as a manager of people. If your gut is full of experience, it’s OK to trust it sometimes.
“In addition to the processes, don’t be afraid to use your gut feelings,” Bolte says. “Sometimes you’ll get a good sense about somebody, and in business, I think you can trust your sixth sense, so to speak. But other than that, if you do not have a mentoring process or a leadership development program, you should study various forms of those types of programs and consider implementing them.”
Maintain your momentum
Once you have forged a new direction for your company and gotten all of your key players on board, your job isn’t done. You have to keep enforcing the rulebook and reinforcing the behavior you want to see.
In the final months of 2010, Bolte was involved in budgeting and strategic planning meetings for the upcoming year, as many company presidents and CEOs were. But he took the opportunity to reinforce the direction of the company through the budget and planning process.
“These meetings that we’ve been having internally are designed to build complete alignment among the business units and the infrastructure that supports them,” Bolte says. “They all have an agreement that these are the priorities for 2011, this is the order that we hope to accomplish them, here are the critical success factors, and so on. So there are different elements of the plan, and we come together and sign off on it — ‘This is how we’ll move forward as a team.’
“I like the simplistic approach. You don’t need a 51-page strategic plan. You need strategic principles and a two- or three-page paper, and that is really the strategic plan. Because if anything is bigger than that, you start to lose people.”
Bolte says you still need to allow your team to bounce ideas off of each other and off of you. You can’t throw water on innovative brainstorming. It simply goes back to ensuring that you have broadly defined the direction in which you want everyone pointed and nudging people back on track when they stray.
“If it’s something I don’t like, I’m pretty quick to tell them,” he says. “If you think of it like they’re presenting their wish lists, I don’t give much comment unless they’re really in an area where I think it’s not aligned with our vision. So it’s really an opportunity to listen to those plans, see how it’s going to impact the whole group and figure out what they’re going to need to do to support those plans moving forward. That’s how you keep everyone on the same page with regard to a vision.”
How to reach: BDP International Inc., (215) 629-8900 or www.bdpinternational.com
The Bolte file
Richard Bolte Jr.
president and CEO
BDP International Inc.
Education: Business/finance and Spanish degrees, Mount St. Mary’s University
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
You can’t do business with people or companies you don’t trust. If you don’t have that element, you can’t have a relationship, and you can’t do business.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
You need to be a great communicator and have really strong public speaking skills. You need to be trustworthy and ethical, be passionate about what you do, and show that passion when you have the opportunity.
What is your definition of success?
Meeting all predefined goals. But you can define it in other ways. Success can be creating a successful culture, and that means not accomplishing a goal but how you accomplish a goal. Did you do it in a moral and ethical way?
Charley Shin did have a moment when he wondered if Charley’s Grilled Subs was going to make it. It was actually a very long moment, one that lasted about 10 years, as he recalls.
“I underestimated the time and the cost of the growth that would take place,” Shin says. “I started out with a business plan that we would break even when we had about 20 stores. When we hit the 20 stores, we were still losing money.”
Shin kept revising his goal to finally become profitable for 30 stores, then 50 stores and then 70 stores. At each step, he was still losing money.
“It wasn’t until we had about 100 stores that we were breaking even and making some money,” Shin says. “It was over about a 10-year period. It was a very intense, grueling, excruciating 10 years.”
There was also the fact that his mother had let him borrow from her life savings to start this business. That only added to the stress Shin was feeling about his business.
“I wanted to give up,” Shin says. “I really did want to quit. But I come from a Christian background. I just knew this was something I have to do even though I wanted to quit.”
It’s that kind of persistence and commitment that helped Shin stick with it through the tough times and enabled him to finally reap the fruits of all his labor. Today, Charley’s has more than 400 units in 44 states and 15 countries around the world.
Shin says the key to getting through tough times, whether you’re just starting a business or trying to manage an established company through a challenge, is your mindset and the way you present yourself to your people.
“I don’t think I ever gave an indication that I was going to quit,” says Shin, the 5,500-employee company’s founder, president and CEO. “Think about the reason why you’re doing it. Each person may have a different reason.”
Shin’s reason was to build a successful business that provided a great product to customers and provided a great and fulfilling place to work for employees.
“We have people who are investing their life savings believing in us and believing that this concept will do well,” Shin says. “In order to fulfill our promise, we just have to continually invest within our infrastructure and with our personnel and increase our expertise. It was a really trying and difficult 10 years. But looking back, I don’t believe I’d be where I am without those 10 precious years that put us through the fire and gave us a ton of experience.”
Charley’s, which is legally known as GOSH Enterprises Inc., took in $220 million in 2009 revenue. That’s a long way from his take at that very first store on the campus of The Ohio State University back in 1986. As he has grown the company, Shin has learned how to find the right people and how to help them get through that inevitable first hurdle.
Find the right people
Shin has interviewed a lot of people over the years to assess their ability to lead one of his franchise locations. He’s learned that you can learn a lot about the attributes and personality traits of an individual from your first impression.
“Most people do not come in with a disguise,” Shin says. “Even someone who comes in with that intent, after a while, it all becomes disclosed.”
In other words, don’t make an interview harder than it needs to be.
“Our interview usually lasts a whole hour,” Shin says. “As we sit in the room, we tend to have a pretty good gauge on what type of person that is. We’ll just ask questions as to their background. What you have done before? Tell me about your background and your family. Why are you here? How do you like to spend your time? Through asking those questions, we get a fairly good read on the person, and we can tell if they’re just looking for a get-rich-quick scheme or they are genuine and really a hardworking person.”
If the person is more interested in the financials than your values and philosophies in leading a business, that should definitely be a red flag.
But it’s not only this person’s skills and personality that you’re measuring. You should also be thinking about how this person would fit in your company and how he or she would handle leading one of your business units.
This becomes particularly important for Shin when he’s assessing someone’s ability to be a franchisee in his company.
“It’s their business, but they are not in business for themselves,” Shin says. “They are in business with our brand. They are an extension of our brand and they have to represent us. We have a fairly clear expectation of what it is that they need to do.”
When you have that expectation in mind at the start and know what a good candidate looks like, you’ll have a lot more success judging whether someone is right for your business.
“Don’t get blinded by money,” Shin says. “Don’t focus on growth at all. I really do believe the business will grow out of healthiness rather than growth per se. Pick the right people because the people are going to be 80 percent of what’s going to bring you success.”
So what if you get into a situation where you just can’t seem to find the right person to fill the position? Shin says resist the urge to just plug anyone in and wait it out.
“I would really focus on picking the right people even though there may be fewer of them,” says the man who waited 10 years for his business to really take off like he wanted it to. “I don’t want to be a leader where I look at everyone and say, ‘This is the way to go. Let’s go together.’ Each of them has their own job to do or their assignment to accomplish and that’s how we’re going to grow.”
You need someone who offers examples of projects they’ve led from the start and talks about how they overcame challenges to make that project a success. Otherwise, you’ll constantly have to be holding their hand.
“Our franchisee has to be a person who is committed to serve people,” Shin says. “They have to be outgoing and have a good nature about themselves. A very critical success criteria is people who are courageous and bold and who will step out of their comfort zone. If I believe the person has that quality of wanting to serve and is a bold and courageous type, that is really my person of choice.”
It’s a level of patience to find this type of person that has helped Shin successfully grow his business.
“I’m really upfront with them,” Shin says. “I tell them, ‘I think we have a great concept and we’re going to be successful. I don’t know that 100 percent, but we have a very good chance and God willing, we will be successful and we’ll all reap the benefit.’ That’s the underlying premise.”
Don’t focus on the details
When Shin is working with a new franchisee, the first thing he teaches them is not how to make a Philly Cheesesteak, an order of Cheddar, Ranch & Bacon Fries or a kiwi lemonade.
“That will come, but that is not the most important thing,” Shin says. “We want to teach them about why you are in business. I think a story works better than anything else. We just share how we do our daily business or our daily life. We tell them how we operate and how we work.”
You should be working with the leaders of your business units to develop their skills managing the people they’ll be hiring to lead.
If you’re worrying about whether the person can handle some aspect of what your business does, whether it’s making a sandwich or producing a part in the machine shop, you probably haven’t chosen the right person.
“What I need to do is start training the basics of my philosophy,” Shin says. “Why is it important to serve people? Why is it important to bring your employees in as part of the family? We just start teaching from there.”
You need to make sure this person can handle problems on his or her team. You also need to have confidence that this team will be led in a way similar to how you would do it if you were there running things on your own. It’s why you focus so much on the person and his or her personality in the interview process.
“That’s where the expectation really needs to come,” Shin says. “Without a clear set of guidelines of what it is they need to do and ... the jobs they need to perform, just the feeling of love and family doesn’t cut it.”
A leader’s skills at managing people are just as important, if not more important than his or her skill at whatever it is your company does.
“Facing a problem is just one of those things that makes a leader a leader,” Shin says.
Make sure you’ve communicated your expectations to the individual about all the job entails and given him or her an opportunity to express concerns or ask questions. If you’re having trouble with a leader at this stage, it’s probably another sign you made a bad choice.
“I don’t believe we can change a person,” Shin says. “They come as they are. I think I could have a great impact changing people, but I don’t want to fool myself. If they have certain traits, that’s the way they are going to be.”
Expect a few problems
Shin likes the leadership training program he has developed over the years for Charley’s. He takes the approach that training gradually is the best way to go.
“If we’re trying to download a lot of information in a short period of time, the brain only has so much capability for what it can absorb,” Shin says. “It will absorb a certain amount of data and the rest will just stray.”
Perhaps that explains why even great leaders typically have a few hiccups along the road to that greatness.
“Real expertise will not really come until they are fully spending lots of time at the store,” Shin says. “Then they start to get a better grasp. … People forget what they are taught in the training time. It’s not rare to see our team go into a franchise store to give them a shot in the arm.”
You’re fighting human nature and that’s a pretty tough opponent to defeat. Most people, especially the ones with the leadership gene, like to believe that they can do it on their own. It doesn’t really matter what the “it” is.
“Struggling franchisees typically think they can do something better than they are taught,” Shin says. “They are trying to find their way of solving the problem or they start to deviate from the protocol. When the systems are not fully utilized, a problem starts to crop up. I think it’s just human nature by some people.”
So how do you work through the problem quickly? Start out by sharing examples of how doing things the way they were taught lead to successful outcomes.
“They just have to see the standards and how much better the standard is,” Shin says.
And you just have to remain patient.
“I am here not for my own good only, but I’m here for the good of the person in front of me,” Shin says. “That has to be conveyed.”
How to reach: Charley’s Grilled Subs, (800) 437-8325 or www.charleys.com
The Shin file
founder, president and CEO
Charley's Grilled Subs
Born: Seoul, South Korea.
Education: Business degree, The Ohio State University
What was your first job?
Washing dishes at a Japanese steakhouse when I was 14. It was good, but when I quit that job, I knew I didn’t want to be a dishwasher for the rest of my life. I didn’t want people to tell me what to do all day.
Whom do you admire most in business?
Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A. He is a phenomenal businessman and such a strong, principle-driven man. I admire him a lot.
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Keep your books straight. There will be a lot of temptation because you deal with cash. Keep your books straight and just pay your taxes and everything will be OK.
How Charley’s Grilled Subs came to be: Charley was taking a family vacation when a missed exit brought him to South Philadelphia. His first encounter with a local delicacy, a Philly Cheesesteak, was love at first bite. Totally hooked, he brought his findings back home to Columbus and began testing recipes on his college buddies.
After perfecting the recipe, Charley’s fortune took another turn for the best. His mother let him borrow from her life savings to open the first Charley’s on The Ohio State University campus. The 450-square-foot, 16-seat restaurant featuring Philly steak subs, gourmet fries and natural lemonade was an instant hit.
To keep up with customer demand, Charley began franchising in 1991. Locations began popping up all over the world, including mall food courts, strip centers, airports, and even Army and Air Force bases. The company now has more than 400 locations around the world.
Throughout his career, Chip Bullock always envisioned creating a collaborative, team-based approach to architecture and engineering in order to get the best possible facility designs.
So when he became managing principal of the Atlanta office of HDR CUH2A, a $286 million integrated architecture and engineering firm, he wanted to realize his dream.
The problem is, people think in different ways.
“Architects and engineers come from two completely different backgrounds and approaches to solving a problem,” he says. “Architects like to explore problems until the last minute before they settle on a solution, while engineers love to solve a problem through a series of prescribed steps in a very efficient manner.”
If he could bring people together, he thought he could realize his dream.
“Great architecture and engineering is a fusion of those two approaches, so [I want to] try to help the architects understand more of what drives the engineers and help the engineers understand more of what drives the architects,” he says.
But the differences in approach to problem-solving weren’t the only obstacles he faced.
“We have a matrix organization, which has its pluses and minuses over a top-down kind of organization, but it often can lead to confusion about who’s responsible, who’s accountable and how to get things done,” Bullock says. “I seriously wanted to make an improvement over the current situation.”
He wanted people to work together and reach higher quality levels. He also hoped employees would have an experience they valued, and he wanted to raise the bar on projects so clients would rave about their work.
Bullock had seen what this looked like in previous organizations, and he thought if he could take a different approach to training, it may just be achievable.
“I knew that I needed to do this for the viability of this office,” he says. “I wanted to take it to a higher level. There wasn’t a training program out there that I could just take off the shelf. I had really been thinking about how to train people to be critical thinkers, how to express themselves in a way that allowed a free flow of communication and problem solving. … I knew there had to be a better way to do it than we were doing presently.”
So he set out to hire a consultant, have an initial program and then build a larger program from there so he could achieve his vision.
“I recognized the power of bringing in expert leadership trainers for myself, my lead team and my project teams. I set to develop a scalable training program that would allow me to improve myself, my people, our service and, in time, allow me to implement my vision.”
Hire a consultant
The first thing that Bullock did to work toward his grand vision was to bring in consultants to help lead the charge. He says if you want to build a successful training program, then this is a key.
“Definitely [have] a face-to-face interview, references and direct conversation about what your expectations are and exploring how flexible they are on creating a training program that’s customized to the approach that you envision but being open to their professional advice at the same time,” Bullock says.
When you talk to someone you want to potentially bring in to your organization, communication is crucial.
“You have to be a good listener,” he says. “You have to make your points very concise and to the point.”
These conversations in the interview process are key because it helps you start building a relationship with that person and helps you know if you can really collaborate with that person.
“You really want it to be a professional collaboration that’s really right for both parties,” he says. “You really need to know where that person is coming from and (if their style of approach) will be compatible with the culture that you have. The biggest mistake somebody can make is to have a mismatch of personality or styles that would hinder the program.”
Bullock suggests that you ask open-ended questions of that person to see how they respond. These open-ended questions will give you the most opportunity for learning.
“Get that person to tell about their successes and failures with training programs,” he says. “I would ask about what their motivation was to be in that line of consulting.”
He says to be very careful in how you phrase your questions so you’re not giving away what you’re looking for in the way you ask it.
“A lot of people start off with answering the question they’re going to ask before they ask the question, which defeats the purpose,” he says. “I always go into something like that with a list of things I’m after prepared in advance, and I always frame them in a way that can’t be a yes or no answer.”
Lastly, Bullock says to look at the nonverbal cues when you’re hiring someone. Often, these can be a good indication of someone’s personality.
“Eye contact and body language are certainly very important ways to gauge a person’s interest and ability for creating a program,” he says. “For example, do they lean toward you or away? And are their arms crossed or open? It’s really good to be a student of kinesiology as it applies to the workplace. It’s probably the most important thing one’s going to do, so the more upfront one can be on good interview skills for picking a consultant, it’ll be the smartest investment you’ll ever make.”
Have an initial program
Once he brought his consultants on board, Bullock didn’t jump cherry-bomb style into the pool. Instead, he just dipped his toe in to check the temperature.
“The first step was to go through the individualized training with the consultant on leadership skills, which was a good way to gauge the consultant for their suitability for the bigger picture program that I had in mind,” Bullock says. “Being a cautious buyer and not wanting to risk everything all at once, I really wanted to gauge how well we could work together to test drive what they had to offer.”
The consultants led an interactive, eight-person leadership workshop with Bullock and a diverse group of people. The group participated in soul-searching exercises that pushed people to reflect on their own skills, but the program also paired those exercises with real-life assignments for the group to do with their staffs between sessions. Bullock says the combination approach allowed him to connect with people in the office in a completely different way than he had previously.
He says it was also important for himself to participate in this initial session, not just because he wanted to see what they had to offer but also to learn about himself.
“Put one’s greatest effort into understanding oneself better and understanding how you come across to your colleagues, overcoming your blind spots, building your effective communication skills and working to really understand others,” he says.
Through these sessions, Bullock learned that he has a tendency to speak over people’s heads and that he needs to simplify his language sometimes.
“This training program allowed me to synthesize everything I had learned from that academic approach in a true leadership setting,” he says. “Really, the key was the more things you can do to relate to others effectively, the better you have a framework to communicate and, more importantly, the more you understand yourself, then you build this great foundation that you need to learn to work with and understand others.”
Build a bigger program
As he went through the initial program, Bullock started to put together the larger training program that would help him achieve his vision.
“As I went through the program, I was looking to see what parts of it were scalable to my direct reports and how could I creatively use this training program at the project leadership level,” he says.
He would bounce his ideas off of the consultant so they could collaboratively create the next-tier approach for his direct reports and how they could implement a project-based training program.
“Being a firm believer in advanced planning, I laid out plans well in advance of the opportunity to actually implement it, so the approach was refined over a series of iterations and collaborations with the training consultant,” Bullock says.
The main element of training that changed was instead of getting all of the information you could ever need to know all at once, employees started receiving training right when they needed it.
“We give people skills on a just-in-time basis, not a training program that’s a download of information that you’re hoping you can remember in a week, a month, a year later,” he says. “It’s a combination of core skills and ongoing coaching and support as projects are delivered.”
Now, new employees come in and they have a day and a half of general, core-skills training, but from there, employees receive training on specific project types or issues just ahead of when they’ll encounter them. These additional training sessions are typically half-day to three-quarter-day sessions.
“I want this to really connect with the actual doing of the work, so we schedule them around key milestones in advance of the milestones, so we have a chance to work out solutions for the inevitable challenges that come in delivering large, capital projects,” he says.
As employees moved forward, when new problems came up, those would be considered for future training courses.
“In the early stages of, particularly, the project training sessions, we get everybody to chart out what things went wrong that created a problem,” he says. “In almost all cases, they were things that could have been avoided. Once we knew where those pitfalls (were), we could really focus on developing an approach that kept everybody focused on a positive future and positive outcomes, because we already knew where things were going to go wrong. If we know where things are going to go wrong, we can have a plan to help mitigate those things.”
As these programs have developed and grown over the past two-plus years, Bullock is seeing a clear difference at the firm.
“Where people might have promised to get something done and came up with an excuse when they didn’t get it done, they’re much more open to saying what they need to be successful in getting the thing done in advance, so we can find a solution to the problem,” he says. “One goal of the training program was to eliminate excuses to readily foreseeable problems that, if they were discussed in advance in the right setting, we could have a much better outcome.”
The training programs have helped increase client satisfaction because employees are more proactive about problems than before, and the programs also helped people understand elements of other people’s jobs, which has created the collaboration that Bullock dreamed of.
“The most gratifying part of my job is when I can see people self-initiate that exploration of solving problems together in a collaborative way,” he says. “When I realize that an engineer is talking and drawing the way an architect would and an architect is talking and solving a problem like an engineer, the end result is really better than either party could have come up with on their own.”
Establish your vision
Bullock was able to create a strong training program because he had a very clear vision of where he was going. But what if you don’t know where you’re going?
If a client came in and told Bullock to design him a building, the first obvious question would be to ask what kind of building. Knowing the kind of thing you’re trying to create is critical — a hospital is different than a research laboratory and a house is different than retail space. So if Bullock didn’t know what kind of project he was trying to create, he wouldn’t be able to design it.
In the same way, if you don’t have a vision of what you want your organization to be, then you can’t create any program or goal to get you there.
“Having a strong vision is really paramount in this,” Bullock says. “Having a dream to create a new culture is very rewarding, it’s very demanding.”
First identify what it is you want to create or change in your organization so you know what you’re working toward and then define how to get there.
“Have no fear of going down that path,” Bullock says. “To create a vision, it’s really important to find your vision in terms of the commitments and what they mean to you personally in very clear, simple terms.”
In Bullock’s case, he knew that he wanted to create a firm that could blur the lines between architecture and engineering to create the best designs, and that was his career ambition — not just something that if it got done, then that would be nice. His passion comes through to his team.
“It’s more than just buy-in,” he says. “It’s really driving home and enrolling people in the vision and getting them to commit that they’ll be there to make it happen.”
But most people won’t commit if they don’t know what’s in it for them, so one of the keys to establishing your vision is to make sure that people understand their own individual role in making that vision happen.
“You also have to make sure that people understand that there is a place for them to fit into the vision and that they’re a very important part of carrying it out,” he says. “It can be as simple as first writing it out and get it to the place where people can understand it in such clear, simple terms.”
How to reach: HDR CUH2A, (404) 815-1212 or
The Bullock file
managing principal, Atlanta
Born: Chattanooga, Tenn.
Education: University of Tennessee in Knoxville School of Architecture
What was your first job as a kid?
My first job ever was working for a commercial woodworking, fence and sign company, where we built very large, heavy-timbered wood constructions for commercial clients. I worked with heavy machinery, lots of heavy manual labor. I learned really quickly that there wasn’t any room for creativity on my part in that kind of job. My boss would tell me, ‘I figured out exactly the most efficient way to do this — you don’t need to think about it; you do it the way I’m telling you to do it.’ My boss happened to be a retired Lockheed engineer.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had two lines of thought — I either wanted to be a road construction civil engineer like my grandfather, or I wanted to be a mechanical engineer that designed high-performance automobiles, and my third choice was an architect. I chose architecture because I liked to draw so much.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received is you’ll only get one chance to make your case for a change order, and only a fool would be willing to attempt to argue about the end result after that. That was my grandfather, who was the road-building construction contractor.
Ron Roma believes in redundancy.
It’s a commonly used word for engineers, architects and other professionals who need to ensure that fail-safe systems are in place for the buildings, transportation systems and vehicles that we rely on every day.
But it’s an applicable word in the world of business, as well.
At Healthesystems LLC, the pharmacy benefit management company where Roma is the founder, owner and CEO, he has had to build redundancy into his work force. He needs to build a team of people with overlapping skill sets and an ability to step into new roles on short notice.
“When we started the company, I hired and brought a guy on, Daryl Corr, who is currently our president,” Roma says. “He started out as vice president of operations, and I promoted him to COO; now he’s president. Our biggest challenge was finding a successor to Daryl, and subsequently, finding successors for other key employees. When you’re a smaller company, you might attract some very talented people, but often, it’s hard to replicate their skill sets.”
It’s a call that must be answered through recruiting and training of new staff members. Roma and his staff have worked with recruiters in both the Tampa and Phoenix markets to find new blood, also relying heavily on referrals.
“We’re very much in an industry of relationships, so we’re continually reaching out to people we know,” Roma says. “Our HR department once told me that 85 percent of our new hires have come from referrals, either internal or external.”
But to get plugged in like that, Roma has had to focus all executives at Healthesystems on team building and the constant pursuit of the new talent that has allowed the company to grow to nearly 300 employees and $214 million in 2009 revenue.
Recruit for redundancy
The key to attracting good people is maintaining good people. It’s a concept that Roma enforces throughout the management levels at Healthesystems.
You don’t just maintain good people for their potential recruiting connections. You maintain good people because your work force is the most critical element in determining your company’s atmosphere and how your company is perceived by outsiders.
“When you’re doing the interview process, it’s really a two-way street,” Roma says. “It’s not just us interviewing prospective new employees; it’s the employees interviewing us to determine if this is a place they want to work. So the company has to have a very pleasant, attractive look and feel to it. You know what it’s like when you walk into a place and it feels all starchy and stiff. The people aren’t very open. You have a difficult interview and you don’t get a warm feeling from the cohesive group. That’s not how we want to be.”
Start by reaching into your coffers and giving your human resources department the backing it needs to build an ideal staff.
“You have to be willing to spend the money,” Roma says. “Three or four years ago, one of our corporate objectives was to double payroll. It is an expense that if you can afford it, every company would be well served to do it. We’re trying to avoid a situation where one person is so vital to what we do each day, if that person left, it would create a lot of problems in that area of the company. That is what we’re trying to avoid, and that is why a couple of years ago, we decided that this was an investment we were willing to make.”
Of course, not every company is in immediate shape to begin shoveling money into recruiting or payroll. But as your company evolves and changes, you need to invest whatever you can in hiring the people who will help provide you with talent reinforcements down the road. The position for which you hire a person this year might not be the position you need filled in four years. If your company is growing, chances are even better that will be the case.
“The redundancy you put in place is really about succession planning,” Roma says. “In our case, we’re so young as a company, it’s really not a matter of losing somebody. It’s that if a new opportunity comes up, we want to have that extra flexibility with the people on staff.”
If you have multiple locations in your company, you need to make sure you’re recruiting and maintaining adequate talent and skill sets at all locations. It’s particularly true if you serve customers with any type of phone-based or Internet-based help desk. If your help desk on the East Coast is knocked offline, you need to have capable talent and staff numbers at another location.
“When we were looking at people and locations, it’s one thing to say that we have help desk backup in North Carolina, with systems and people trained there,” Roma says. “But if you shut everything down in Florida due to a hurricane, it might impact the Carolinas, as well. With that in mind, we made our redundant help desk site in Scottsdale, Ariz., and even put a backup data center there, as well. It’s redundancy in people, facilities and systems. It all works together. You need all three.”
Find the cultural fit
You need to hire for talent and skills or you won’t create the team that will allow your company to flourish. But if your company is in growth mode, it is imperative that you find employees who can help support and advance your culture.
At Healthesystems, Roma operates a high-growth, entrepreneurial company and looks for people who can flourish in that environment.
“High-growth companies can be difficult for many people to fit in,” he says. “A lot of it depends on their work experience. If they have been out in the workplace with an IBM or a really large company, they’re used to a lot more structure, definition and rigidity day to day. I describe our company as entrepreneurial and opportunistic, and that means we’re always looking for that next entrepreneurial opportunity with whatever happens to fit us. People tend to get concerned if they have that big-company perspective of wanting to know what their job is and what are the 15 things they need to get done today. And 15 years from now, they’ll still be responsible for those 15 things.
“That’s not how we operate in a smaller, entrepreneurial company. You have to be light on your feet, take what you learned on the last project and transfer it to a new project.”
You try to find the right fit through your hiring process, and use your training process as a kind of proofreading system for your hires.
“Basically, you have multiple layers of interviewing,” Roma says. “We bring in and define the selection process for people in significant, key positions. They might interview with five to 10 people in the organization, and it is in all kinds of disciplines. It might be accounting, IT, account management. I even get involved in some of the more significant hires myself.”
From there, Roma and his leadership team use the training classroom to find the people who will grow with the company. In a high-growth environment, not every hire will be a home run. Some might not even get you a base hit. Out of every round of 10 to 15 hires performed by Healthesystems, up to one-third might leave the course, deciding the company isn’t a good personal fit.
“In my mind, failure in the training program is the result of failure in the hiring and recruiting process,” Roma says. “In most companies, the help desk is usually the highest area of turnover. We were told by our HR department that the help desks in most companies have a 100 percent turnover rate in a year. We have been more in the 15 to 20 percent area, which I think is phenomenal. To me, when you bring someone in and they fail in the first six to 12 months, it’s as big of a failure for the company as it is for the individual, because obviously you missed something in the interview process.”
The key to success in an interview and training process boils down to one word: involvement. Management has to be active and engaged in exchanging feedback and ideas with the human resources staff. You don’t want to micromanage your HR department or perform the jobs assigned to your HR professionals, but you do want to concern yourself with the overall process and whether it is delivering the results you want.
“Back in 2001, I had a client that I did some consulting for,” Roma says. “The company was producing enough revenue that the owner had the lifestyle he wanted. But it really wasn’t doing as well as it should be. The biggest problem was lack of sales.
“The owner tells me, ‘Ron, I get so upset when I look at our books and realize that 90 percent of our customers are still the ones I brought on.’ Then I told him ‘Well, you need to get off your butt and go sell some more.’ You get tired and you get a little conceited, thinking, ‘I’m above that now.’ But you don’t want to create a culture of superiority. You want a culture where any task that needs to be done, you or any other person is willing to do it, willing to take a look at what is going on and educate yourself. You never want to be in a position where people are saying, ‘This isn’t worth my time.’”
You stay engaged with your team, your HR department and the process by which you are adding to your team by never taking your eye off the ultimate goal of achieving and maintaining a winning culture and profitable balance sheet, and everything that entails.
“Always keep your eye on the ball,” Roma says. “There is always someone out there trying to divert your attention from running the company, and when those activities happen, the only thing I’ll remind people of is keep your eye on that ball, maintain those customer relationships and employee relationships.
“Ultimately, as a businessman, that is why you are there — to maintain your customers and maintain your employees.”
How to reach: Healthesystems LLC, (800) 921-1880 or www.healthesystems.com
The Roma file
Founder, owner and CEO
History: My dad was in the Air Force, and we moved to Oklahoma when I was a year old. My parents were from Montana.
Education: Chemistry and math degrees from the University of Oklahoma
First job: When I was 14 or 15 in Oklahoma, there were a bunch of old rail beds on land that was going to be recycled, so I had a job clipping the old railroad ties there.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Don’t quit; don’t stop. It doesn’t matter what happened 10 to 15 years ago. You stick at something.
What is your definition of success?
At 20 years old, success is a paycheck. At 52 years old, I expect that a company has to produce in other ways for its employees. You have to help meet the career objectives of your employees. And you have to meet the needs of your customers and investors.
When other leaders opted for layoffs and furloughs to combat the recession, Ingrid Lamirault called for reinforcements.
“It didn’t make sense to make wholesale changes in the employees,” says the CEO of Alameda Alliance for Health. “They knew what they were doing and, more importantly, they understood our mission. It made more sense to bring in someone to support the organization. This was about making people see their own potential, boosting people’s self-confidence and helping people understand how to behave corporately.”
Lamirault hired a business coach, bringing Anna Scott on board to develop some of the 130 employees at the nonprofit managed care health plan, which had $227.5 million in revenue for the fiscal year ending in June 2010.
“If you’re going to develop somebody, it really sends a positive message to the company as a whole that they value their people,” Scott says. “It really helps the morale. It develops loyalty by the employees (because they see), ‘This company is investing in me and helping me grow.’”
Initially, Lamirault picked several employees with untapped potential.
“I recognized that there were some people I could promote, but they would need support in the beginning, because they’d never supervised a team of people before,” she says. “There were other people who had a really good work skill but they ran into a lot of interpersonal conflict. There were a couple who had really good potential, but they would make mistakes and wallow in them instead of learning from them.”
You may not be able to forecast someone’s potential but, as Scott says, you can tell when employees are getting in their own way of growing.
“Danny,” for example, was a high-level employee in the Alliance’s IT department. He was good at his job but didn’t handle interpersonal conflict well. On top of that, Lamirault worried Danny wouldn’t get any further in his field without a college degree. She suggested he attend both coaching and college.
“It’s not that he doesn’t have interpersonal conflict anymore, but he handles it in a very healthy way,” she says. “If someone’s not respecting him, he knows how to deal very directly and tell them that this is what he feels and this is what he thinks he brings to the project.”
When you approach those employees with the coaching opportunity, you have to frame it as just that – an opportunity. It’s not an assignment or a requirement.
“It’s a positive,” Scott says. “It’s a way to say, ‘I really believe in you, and we see that you have something to offer. We also see that there are ways that you’re getting beside yourself and we want to help you.’ It has to be mutual. (We) want to invest, but if they are not interested, (we) won’t force it on somebody.”
Coaching relationships at the Alliance begin with manager-imposed goals to help employees perform their jobs better. But you can’t separate your business initiatives from their personal motives.
“I get really clear about, ‘Here’s what Ingrid has said she’d like you to develop,’” Scott says. “Then I go, ‘What would make it worth it to have you do this? What else do you see in yourself that you would like to develop?’ It’s one thing to do something for somebody else, but when you’ve got your own skin in the game, (you’re) more willing to fully participate.
“If they don’t do those things that Ingrid wants, bottom line is, they’re not going to have a job. But if they’re not satisfied with who they are and what they’re achieving, they won’t do a very good job. By being able to focus both at the same time, people are so much more satisfied. When people are struggling in their personal lives, work really does suffer.”
What’s in it for you?
Investing in employees strengthens the overall organization, but who would have thought your leadership skills would benefit from the effort? Ingrid Lamirault, CEO of Alameda Alliance for Health, learned that when she focuses attention on her employees, she reaps some benefits herself.
“Anna had started telling people to be more direct and to say what they feel,” Lamirault says, referencing Anna Scott, who coaches her employees one-on-one. “It makes me have to speak very directly with them or she’ll tell me, ‘You seem to have some indecision about some changes you’re making, and it’s making people very nervous.’
“A couple of times, she’s told me the way I’m handling something is creating turmoil so it’s made me recognize how I need to improve my own leadership skills. It makes me aware of some of the language that I use. And so … I have changed, too.”
Be conscious of how you can grow along with your employees, because their development doesn’t happen in a vacuum removed from your leadership.
“No action is by itself,” Scott says. “If I’m not being clear, then my employee will not produce the results I want. If I’m leading and I need you to do something, then it behooves me to go, ‘What is it that I need to do to be effective with you?’”