When partners Steve Goodman and Craig Swill purchased Welcome Wagon International, Inc. in 2009, the business was still the world’s largest welcoming service for new homeowners at 82 years old. They decided to keep the company updated and relevant moving forward by refocusing the company completely on sales and marketing. The problem was, the company’s corporate culture was very negative and communication between the corporate and sales sides of the company was poor.
“You kind of had a sales versus corporate clash going on within the organization,” says Swill, the company’s CEO.
The corporate side cared more about technology and was insensitive to many sales-oriented issues. The sales employees felt cut off from many changes at the corporate level, with some of them working as individuals in remote parts of the country.
“When people do not have communication and are out in the field by themselves, they kind of get this paranoia. … So you have a lot of missed communication when there is lack of any communication,” Swill says.
To get employees re-engaged in the vision for Welcome Wagon, especially on the sales side, Swill and Goodman needed to reopen some lines of communication that hadn’t been open for decades.
Together, they went on a “world tour,” visiting every company region to give presentations for the sales teams and to discuss their vision and goals for the first 12 months of their leadership transition. Most of the people they talked to had never met anyone from the corporate office, much less the heads of the company.
“They were very touched that we felt enough to go out and really learn about their challenges in selling and about their challenges in the economy,” says Goodman, Welcome Wagon’s president.
“We asked them questions to learn what they were looking for within the organization. From the very beginning, we opened lines of communication between the corporate office and our field organization.”
They implemented weekly meetings to provide sales training for corporate employees, so they could better understand the experiences of their sales counterparts. On the sales side, they offered representatives and managers training opportunities to learn new technology and skill sets, giving them the resources needed to be most effective. Now, sales officers communicate weekly and daily with field officers to reinforce and align their goals.
After their one-year anniversary in 2010, Goodman and Swill did another world tour to discuss progress and go over their five-year strategic plan. Their reception this time around was a lot different. They’d grown sales every month, and in less than a year, they made Welcome Wagon a debt-free company.
“We started receiving hugs. Literally, people wanted to come and hug us,” Swill says… “We were able to check off bullet point by bullet point, page after page, all of the things we promised them, and we hit everything that we promised them. We were able to gain their trust, and that is huge.”
Today, Swill and Goodman continue to make themselves very accessible to the organization’s employees by talking on the phone to address sales problems, questions or issues, and always looking for ways to support the sales team with the resources they need to succeed.
“Some of the most negative people that I could give examples of a year ago were so positive this year and saying thank you for taking this organization and totally revamping it, turning it around, giving us products and giving us a company that we can now go out and truly be proud of in the way that we sell it every day,” Goodman says.
How to reach: Welcome Wagon, www.welcomewagon.com
Law of limits
According to Steve Goodman, successful strategic planning isn’t just about winning people over to your vision. That is one part of it, and so is communicating that vision effectively. But another key part of executing a strategic plan is recognizing and understanding other people’s limitations.
“You have to always understand, that just because we can get something done and we see things going from A to Z, that doesn’t mean that all of the people that you lead see things in the same way,” Goodman says. “Some people are really pigeonholed in what they do 100 percent; they don’t understand how to tie things together at different levels within the organization.”
As a business owner, CEO or entrepreneur who is used to fast-paced change and goal-setting, you may be tempted to push hard and move fast in carrying out your plan. However, leading people isn’t about pushing people in the direction you want them to go, it’s about guiding them, showing them you are aware of their capabilities, and giving them the resources needed to get there.
“It’s the ability to get people to see things in a way that makes sense as they move forward and to help them further their careers,” Goodman says.“You have to see people’s strengths and weaknesses to see how to move them.”
According to Jane Mason, the founder, president and CEO of software provider eMason Inc., being the leader of a fast-growth company means always having to re-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, both in your business and in yourself.
“You have to leverage every ounce of leadership and management skills that you have to grow the company — from where we were to here, and from here to the next level,” Mason says.
As a pioneer in offering Web-based business automation services, eMason has achieved 1,702 percent growth over the past three years as well as doubled its work force to 100 employees in just 12 months.
Smart Business spoke with Mason about her strategy for adapting her leadership style to manage her company’s rapid growth and expand the $10.2 million business.
Lead though behavior. My leadership style is very hands on, but I also lead through motivation and by setting an example. From a good leadership perspective, having a clear vision that can be communicated regularly is very important, and I think the most important part is your behavior; leading by example. Our vision includes the words kindness and respect, and that permeates my leadership style. My style is more motivation than it is autocratic. The things that I’ve seen that don’t work are the aggressive, autocratic behaviors and not living up to what you say. I’m very clear and I’m very tuned into following up on what I’ve said I’m going to do, corporate strategywise and with people.
Set your priorities. As we’re growing, I’m modifying my behavior in how I interact with people. I’ve had to step back, and I can’t be involved in all of the day-to-day operational things, because that’s not healthy. That’s not good for our company. I have to keep my eye on the market, on the strategy and on the client delivery. Because there are so many things coming at us personally and through the business, I’ve learned to chunk it down into three pieces and try and accomplish those things each day.
Delegate tasks. Personally, instead of making something happen — I need to make this business development report — I go to the person whose job or role that is to create a business development report. I’ve moved myself away from the day-to-day operations through the hiring of consultants and other high-level, skilled people. I’m letting them do what they do best. It’s a personal struggle in some areas because it’s hard to let go, but through good hiring practices and motivating through kindness, I think we create a level of trust where people are holding themselves accountable and delivering.
Retool communication. The original group of people still meets with me personally, and I meet with the management group, but there are a lot of people now that work here that I don’t know and don’t really communicate with other than my corporate messaging. I do internal videos where I reach out to the company and tell them what are we doing, what are the successes or we’re having some workshops internally, so sign up. I keep them in tune. It’s kind of like an internal YouTube. It enables them to see me if they don’t see me because I travel quite a bit and I’m on a different side of the building now.
Hire people with initiative. We’re an entrepreneurial company at heart, so we want the people that come here to be the best that they can be and we want them to understand that we need them to help us grow and add structure to what we’re doing. Self-initiative and self-responsibility is really important for us. We’re looking for people that can say, ‘I have the skill set, but I’m also honest enough to know that I might not be able to do this job,’ or have the self-responsibility to say, ‘I don’t know how to do that, but I’m going to learn how to do it.’
Focus on your vision. Motivation has a lot to do with the passion we have for our product and what we’re doing. I think employees are motivated by the fact that they are responsible. They can see they are making a difference, and we talk about how they make a difference and how we as a company are making a difference; I think that jazzes people.
HOW TO REACH: eMason Inc., (727) 507- 3440 or www.emason.biz.
All individuals have strengths and skills that they have honed to perfection through a multitude of experiences. But we may think less often about how to effectively use our organization’s strategic strengths. Sure, we may have a list of our tactical strengths from a SWOT analysis. But we may not have taken the next step of seeing how those tactical strengths build strategic value.
We believe there are four organizational strengths that need to be in sync in order for you to build value. One of the following usually emerges as your primary organizational strength: vision, culture, customer focus or process.
Organizations with vision as their strength are those that “see around corners.” They create the next new thing. Apple is an example of a company that shapes the future. For example, the leadership at Apple created a music environment for consumers that few of us would have imagined. Does your organization have the resources and talent to recognize trends and consumer wants or needs that have yet to be uncovered? If so, this might be your primary organizational strength.
Some organizations nurture a culture as their primary strength. Many of these companies are found on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For list. What do they have in common? They have a core belief that culture is the “secret sauce” necessary to create great customer interactions. They know what’s important to their employees and screen them well before they join the company to ensure they fit. Are your customers drawn to your company because of your people? If so, culture may be your top strength.
Nordstrom creates an environment in which knowledge of the customer is its primary organizational strength. It creates systems that allow employees to know their customers better than their competitors. Nordstrom also encourages its employees to adapt to the needs of their customers rather than having customers adapt to rigid company processes. Do you know your customers so well that you can anticipate their needs? If your customers believe this, this could be your strength. If you don’t ever survey your customers, this probably isn’t your organizational strength.
Finally, some organizations excel at maximizing processes. Are you like UPS, which not only excels at creating efficiencies for itself but consults to help other organizations do the same? Are you adept at continuously implementing efficiencies? If so, process may be your primary organizational strength.
Of course, every organization has to perform well in each of these areas. The organizations we lead have to think about the future, build a workplace that people want to engage with fully, maximize efficiencies and understand customer needs. At the same time, we know that we can’t be the best at each of them. One of those strengths will rise to the top based on our investment of time, money and effort. Even Michael Jordan couldn’t be the best at everything.
How does knowing your primary organizational strength help? It’s part of your guide for investing your time, money and talent. When faced with tough choices, you will know that, in order to keep your edge, you need to invest in your primary organizational strength. When tempted to cut back, just ask yourself if you would want Apple to reduce resources spent in product development or Nordstrom to cut back on training employees in the best way to meet customer needs.
Do you know your primary organizational strength? Are you investing the time, talent and money to “sharpen your saw” and continue to excel in that strength?
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity by discovering and using the unique strengths of the organization and its people. Kanefield can be reached at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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?
Mike Jackson was asked to bring some order to Adayana Inc. when he arrived nearly three years ago. The training outsourcing company had grown through numerous acquisitions, and the result was a cultural mishmash that left employees searching for an identity to latch on to.
“People wanted to have more rigor,” says Jackson, the 380-employee company’s president and CEO. “They wanted to understand how to do what we should be doing.”
Jackson began to work collaboratively with employees to develop a corporate framework that would provide everyone with a better sense of identity and purpose.
“I had some perceptions, but you can’t go only on perception,” Jackson says. “You need to validate. So I talked with some folks and just asked them how we could strengthen the company together.”
When you’re seeking feedback from employees, you need to make it personal.
“Don’t just talk with your employees or your leadership team or your direct reports about today’s business and what’s tactical and what’s on your plate,” Jackson says. “You have to ask them where they see both themselves and the company in three to five years. You have to do that regularly.”
If you don’t do this, you end up with the situation that faced Adayana: You have employees doing work without a clear idea of what it means or what it is leading them toward.
Jackson saw desire in his people and he saw energy to succeed. They just needed to know what their leaders wanted them to do to make that happen.
“If part of the aspirational vision for the company is to be a market leader, unpack what that means to individual behaviors,” Jackson says. “It’s about creating a tight linkage between the dreams of your employees and the aspirational vision for the company.”
Give employees a chance to contribute to how you’re going to accomplish your goal to become a market leader. Let them offer opinions on what needs to be done or what’s holding your company back from becoming a market leader.
“When you do that, you’re creating engagement, you’re building inclusion and you’re building ownership,” Jackson says. “‘The CEO is asking us to craft what we should be and what we should do.’ That’s powerful stuff. If you follow that activity with engaging others to actually build a tactical action plan to implement the strategy and initiatives that come from the senior leadership team, all of a sudden, you have a fully engaged team of employees who feel they are making a contribution to not only the what but the how. That’s where most employees live, anyway, in the how.”
It’s about putting an idea out there, such as becoming a market leader and letting your people play an important part in figuring out how to get there.
“You have to pass along that accountability and all the things that go with that,” Jackson says. “It’s about trusting people to pull it forward.”
Trust your people to carry some of the weight while you monitor their progress, break down barriers and offer assistance to help them achieve the big-picture goal. Show them that what they are doing is important.
“If I never ask how you are doing on progress toward that goal, you’re likely to believe that maybe it really wasn’t that important to begin with and it’s certainly not very important now,” Jackson says. “It’s the idea of creating feedback systems and making sure people are in the know about progress. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to empower anybody. You’re going to basically demotivate them because of inattention.”
Adayana has made progress toward becoming a market leader, evidenced by the growth in revenue from $20.8 million in fiscal 2007 to $44.2 million in fiscal 2009.
“There’s no magic. What there is,” Jackson says, “is execution.”
How to reach: Adayana Inc., (317) 415-0500 or www.adayana.com
Mike Jackson could hear the clock ticking as he assessed what was happening at Adayana Inc. Employees were part of the plan, offering him their feedback, but they also were eager to see results.
“You, as a CEO, have to act quickly to deal with the things that are patently ineffective in your company,” says Jackson, the 380-employee training outsourcing company’s president and CEO. “Fix those. If you don’t do that, after a period of time, employees will run out of the hopeful energy that you might have brought to them in the first few days, weeks or months you were walking around asking them how things were and what you should do to improve the company. You have to act.”
That doesn’t mean you should panic and make rash decisions.
“I’m saying once you get to an 80 percent confidence level that this is the right thing to do, do it,” Jackson says. “You actually put together a set of, ‘Here are the things that need to be done on a department-by-department and division-by-division basis.’ Make that part of the accountability of the respective manager so that he or she is able to see that you mean business.”
By the time Tenet Healthcare acquired St. Mary’s Medical Center in 2001, the hospital had officially entered an identity crisis. In struggling to keep pace with industry changes, the West Palm Beach-based facility had floundered financially in its final years as a not-for-profit hospital. By the time Davide Carbone stepped in as CEO in 2006, St. Mary’s had become so unsure about how to move forward that it wasn’t moving at all.
“The hospital had a wonderful past and wonderful legacy and is a vital resource to the community, but it was treading water to figure out which direction to go in, in a world of constant change, especially in the health care universe,” Carbone says.
Despite coming in with a successful track record — Carbone spearheaded a major financial turnaround at Aventura Hospital and Medical Center as its former CEO — he had a big job ahead of him.
“The hospital had really not been advancing, had not been progressing, and people were concerned,” he says. “But they were also comfortable with what they were doing. One reason that the hospital wasn’t progressing or meeting the needs for growth was because they weren’t changing, and I became a change agent.”
Find an identity
To stabilize St. Mary’s financially, Carbone had to get its more than 1,600 employees and members of the community on board with some major changes needed to turn the hospital around. This was easier said than done.
“There was a large contingent in the community that easily wanted to see St. Mary’s go back to the old days that they remember fondly, but that was not practical,” Carbone says. “That’s not reality.”
Carbone needed to gain the support of the community and unite people around a new vision for St. Mary’s. The problem was that the hospital was perceived by community members in very different ways.
“This hospital had a glorious background and kind of fell into a trough and was having a hard time pulling itself out of it,” Carbone says. “It lives under the cloud of a lot of people’s impressions that we’re just a charity hospital or we’re just a trauma hospital or just a Catholic hospital.”
As a faith-based hospital, St. Mary’s is one of the highest providers of charity care in South Florida. It also functions as a level-one trauma center and a community hospital. Carbone wanted to show the community that St. Mary’s encompassed not one, but all of these things, and financially, it wasn’t a failing or destitute organization, but it had lots of potential and was still providing great services.
He decided the first step in re-establishing the hospital’s identity with the community was instituting a new logo that honored the legacy of the hospital while acting as a symbol for a fresh start.
“It seems trivial, but I think it gives people something to rally around,” Carbone says. “We all want to follow a leader. We want to follow success.
“In this case, it was just getting people motivated and getting them to see a vision of what could possibly be at St. Mary’s versus what had been at St. Mary’s.”
By getting the community excited about change and a new vision, people could start embracing change without feeling like they were abandoning the roots of St. Mary’s. Carbone refocused the hospital’s marketing and image-building efforts to generate excitement in the community about its goals.
He encouraged St. Mary’s staff to work proactively with the media. Giving the media more opportunities to learn about the hospital’s services and facilities, St. Mary’s began getting positive media attention instead of negative. This attention played a large part in renewing communication and building trust with community members, many of whom were Carbone’s biggest skeptics.
“Sometimes that criticism is legitimate and warranted, and sometimes it’s due to a lack of understanding,” Carbone says. “A lot of that is just communication.
“People have to see you as somebody they can trust and somebody you can believe in. As you develop that level of trust, people are much more willing to work with you and take risks with you.”
Getting the community on board with change was crucial. However, Carbone also had to make sure that employees were prepared for change at St. Mary’s. Having started in health care as a nurse’s aide and as an emergency medical technician, he knew how easy it is to get caught up in the hectic demands of the job and lose sight of the long-term vision. Many employees weren’t interested in changing the status quo, even with a negative company culture.
“It took a lot to convince some of the folks, especially on the medical staff, that change is a good thing,” Carbone says. “Change means change, but change also means progress and survival. You have to be a change agent, but you have to do it in the most positive way possible.”
In looking for ways to re-engage his employees, Carbone realized that one explanation for the alienation he saw was a lack of effective employee relations and recognition.
“One of the things I noticed right away was that we did very little in the world of employee relations,” he says. “We did very little communicating, very little celebration of our successes.”
Carbone had St. Mary’s human resources department bring on one person whose sole job would be handling employee relations and developing ways to call out the successes of employees and of the hospital.
With an employee relations department in place, St. Mary’s developed monthly employee newsletters, activities with employees and celebrations during the holidays. It started recognizing industry events, such as May’s hospital week, and being more active in charity events, including the Leukemia Walk and March of Dimes runs and walks.
The hospital has also developed awards for top employees and volunteers each quarter. By holding up these examples of success, Carbone hopes employees will see how each individual’s success benefits the hospital, which benefits everyone.
“You have to encourage people that it’s definitely teamwork,” Carbone says. “No one person, no one idea can save any facility. So you have to rally the leadership team. They have to rally the people that they work with to try to get on board and see we’re going in a new direction, and here’s the direction, and here’s why, and here’s what we need you to do to help us get there.”
Since Carbone stepped in as CEO, he hasn’t replaced one member of his senior leadership team at St. Mary’s, with the exception of a COO who left to become CEO of another hospital. By uniting the existing team to support change, he was able to build trust needed to move forward.
“Your job is to sell them your perspective, your vision and your goals and that you have the experience and wherewithal to make it happen if we can work as a team,” Carbone says.
Once you rally your people around change, you have to deliver it. Carbone was starting from scratch to develop a strategic plan that could turn St. Mary’s around financially and update it for the future. Before making any changes, he thought hard about St. Mary’s strengths, where it wanted to go, where it needed to be and how to get there.
“Those are all easy questions to ask but very difficult, especially in health care,” Carbone says. “There’s a lot of competition. Development of any service is very resource intensive, from equipment to supplies to personnel and to physicians. Changes are not easy to implement. Good ideas are not always easy to implement. So you have to prioritize what you think will have the biggest impact for the short-term and long-term success of the hospital.”
To grow, the hospital needed to maintain and enhance core programs, while developing others. That started with small steps, such as renovating and enhancing equipment and facilities. As Carbone examined opportunities to add new services, he looked at the services that St. Mary’s already offered and then considered how a new service could add to or enhance the existing services in a way that was successful for patients as well as the facility.
One way to do this was by providing people services locally that weren’t currently available. For instance, there was a lack of neurologists in the area willing to see patients in a hospital setting, and a lack of neurosurgeons willing to perform cranial surgery. Carbone worked to build a neuroscience team to supply these services at St. Mary’s.
He also led the drive to institute a pediatric open-heart cardiac surgery service and get it approved by the state. St. Mary’s is the first Florida hospital in 25 years to win approval for this cardiac service, which will be implemented this year.
St. Mary’s gets more than 3,000 transfers from other hospitals of people who are seeking its high-level services, so Carbone has dedicated much of his time to finding talented doctors and providing them with the resources needed to develop core services, such as pediatric, trauma, stroke and obstetrics.
“It’s very challenging for physicians in South Florida, but if we can provide them with the resources that they need and if they can see the same vision and opportunity that we do, then it’s a good match,” Carbone says. “If we can get them the right resources, they can build a successful program.”
Carbone brought on doctors to start a comprehensive stroke program, which opened in December 2008, and a physician to head a new limb orthopedic program, which brings in patients from around the world. He now constantly looks for ways to build out services that are not being met at all or not being met adequately to serve the community.
“All of our financial success has been built on building new programs, building better programs and making sure we’re meeting the needs of the patients that we serve,” Carbone says.
Build on success
By getting people to see how change benefits the community, the patients and the staff of St. Mary’s, Carbone has been able to transform the hospital into a growing and profitable facility. In 2010, St. Mary’s was elected business of the year by Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce and Carbone received South Florida Business Journal’s Healthcare Award for CEO of the Year. Each of its successes brings St. Mary’s closer to the next.
“Over time, as you build success stories and people see you are doing these changes for the right reasons, people get on board,” Carbone says. “Success breeds success. Bringing on good people brings on more good people. Having a successful service encourages others to take that same kind of risk to establish a new service.
“We’ve had major successes not only financially with the hospital, not only the development of services for our patients but also in the measurements of quality of the care we provide. Almost any measure you can measure, we’ve more than exceeded our goal.”
Infection rates have dramatically decreased in the last five years, and other core quality measures have improved. Financially, the hospital went from being in the red to being in the black. By building new programs and recruiting many new positions, St. Mary’s has increased its number of patients and employees, which has also benefited its local economy.
“A lot of skeptics in the community were taking a wait-and-see attitude to see where St. Mary’s was going to go,” Carbone says. “I think they’ve been pleasantly surprised that we’ve had a great deal of success in turning the facility around.
“That first year, year-and-a-half to two years is key to get a few success stories and get some energy into the facilities, environment and get people understanding that we are going to be moving in a new direction, but one that should be positive and beneficial to all of us. I think we’ve accomplished that, but you can’t sit back and be satisfied. You have to constantly be looking for the next opportunity.”
How to reach: St. Mary’s Medical Center, www.stmarysmc.com
The Carbone file
St. Mary’s Medical Center
Born: Boston area
Education: Bachelor’s degree in environmental biology from Clark University; master’s in health administration from Duke
What is your definition of success?
Being able to go home every day and feel you’ve done the best that you can for your facility or your employer and for your employees and to be proud of what you’ve achieved. … If you can go home at night and know you’ve done a good job, that’s probably the best measure of success. As long as you are gratified with the amount of effort that you put in and it’s actually leading to something that’s getting better and that you’ve hoped to achieve.
What do you like most about your current job?
The ability to make a change and make a difference in people’s lives, and that’s at every level, from the patients we serve, to our employees, to the folks out in the community.
If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you be doing?
There are lots of jobs I’d thought about early on through high school and in college, but I’m very happy doing what I’m doing and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
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.
Let’s be honest: We all want to be “great.” Whether it’s being a great worker, a great boss, a great parent or a great community leader, this mentality is ingrained in us from the beginning.
That’s why it is no surprise that company leaders put a great deal of resources behind building a strong support system around them. There is nothing more powerful than a strong team, and there is little that cannot be accomplished when the right people are all moving together toward a common goal. Whether it is a sports team, a surgical team or a business team, they all rely on each other for the win. Because, truth be told, no one likes to lose.
Creating a winning team is all about developing the culture and the vision.
The vision can be clear, concise and actionable, but if your team isn’t fully engaged, the vision will be lost. Let the key players on your team take part in shaping the company’s mission, vision and values so that it uniquely reflects the culture you will build together. I took my team on a two-day retreat to lead a healthy discussion that resulted in a solid foundation for the company’s future. Today, I don’t think anyone in the company could recite our mission, vision and values word for word, but I do believe anyone could explain the essence of what we stand for, and at the end of the day, that is what’s most important.
It’s one thing to understand a company’s values, but it’s another thing to actually live it. Are your team’s behaviors reflective of your ultimate vision?
Reminders and positive reinforcement will help your employees keep their eye on the ball. For example, we have posters of our guiding values that hang on the walls of our office and on stainless steel water bottles that I gave to each associate. We highlight living examples of our values in each edition of our quarterly newsletter, and each department creates goals with the company mission in mind.
At Moe’s Southwest Grill, we work hard to ensure that we maintain a great talent level throughout all disciplines of our company. From our initial hiring practices to our ongoing associate development, we believe that all of our employees deserve to be the best they can be, both personally and professionally, and we have put programs in place to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be great.
When we recruit new talent, we look for intelligence, integrity, energy and edge, to name a few, and our interview process is a reflection of that. Candidates meet with four or five members of the team and are asked questions that get at the distinct personal attributes we look for. Because we’re all on the same page, it becomes crystal clear who the best candidate is for the job each and every time.
Most important, once you have identified and put this strong team in place, you must allow the team members to spread their individual wings, yet come together to fulfill your vision of greatness.
Continue to develop your team, discuss the future and think in terms of the next five years.
Using your vision, mission and values as a filter for all you do is the secret to creating and sustaining a winning team.
Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 400 locations nationwide. He has been a leader in the foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies, such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. Reach him at email@example.com.