Lisa Stern credits her performing arts background for her success in founding Big Communications Inc., a health care communications agency specializing in the pharmaceuticals industry.
“My exposure in languages, performing and improvisation allows me to think differently,” says Big Communications’ president. “Being quick on your feet and reacting to the market are critical for survival and growth. Small company owners must use creativity to respond to business challenges and retain great employees.”
Big Communications has 75 employees and was named by Inc. magazine as the 77th fastest growing privately held company in the United States.
Smart Business spoke with Stern about how she creatively grows her business and cultivates a winning team.
Q: What has been your greatest challenge?
As with many companies, 2001 was a challenging year for us. Prior to 2001, we concentrated on working with technology companies. The economy went flat, and we felt the effects.
We had eight employees and had built up some overhead. It was quickly apparent that a bank loan would be required to cover the downturn. I knew that I could not walk into a bank and request a loan without a solid business plan. So I sought help from financial consultants and gave myself a crash course in finance. This was a big learning year.
Negative situations often turn into positive opportunities. In retrospect, this was the best thing that could have happened.
Q: What qualities do you look for when hiring?
We’ve put a lot of thought into this.
Our management staff analyzed Big Communications’ star employees to determine what qualities made them successful and essential to our organization’s success. We came up with seven qualities that are now the backbone of our culture. We hire, fire and reward based on seven qualities.
- A ‘get it done,’ solution-oriented mentality. Our employees need to welcome challenges and enjoy the problem-solving aspect of their jobs.
- Positive attitude. It does not matter how fabulous and impressive an employee might be; if he or she is not a positive thinker, we do not consider it a good fit.
- Detail oriented. The details really matter in this business. Typos are not acceptable. If something needs to be overnight mailed, it better be. Sloppy work is not tolerated.
- Strong communication/relationship management skills. Our employees must demonstrate a strong ability and desire to build rapport among internal and external customers.
- Creativity. A fresh and innovative approach is imperative in this business. That’s what our customers hire us to do.
- Trustworthiness. The entire team needs to feel confident that if a member says he or she is going to take care of something, it will get done.
- A ‘kaizen’ mindset. Kaizen is Japanese for continuous improvement. We expect suggestions from our employees so we can be a dynamic and energetic company.
Q: What can bring a company down or impede growth?
That’s easy. Negative attitudes. They are poisonous to even the strongest companies. When we hire people who uphold the values of our organization, it perpetuates growth. The opposite happens when employees are not in sync.
As new companies strive to grow, there must be a comfortable atmosphere that encourages new ideas. This is difficult if all the ideas are getting shot down. That’s what tends to happen when there are negative forces within the team.
Q: How do you communicate your vision?
Our vision and values are thoroughly explained during the interview process. We continue reinforcing them with repetitious communications.
I meet with new employees on their first day with the company. They hear directly from me what is expected of them and the values we hold near and dear.
There are fun ways to reinforce your vision and goals. For example, we have the Big STICK award; STICK being an acronym for Service, Teamwork, Integrity, Creativity and Kindness. Each team nominates one person that exemplifies these qualities. The winner has their initials engraved on the stick, which is essentially a hall of fame in our company.
Once a year, every employee attends a two-day offsite retreat. We use this time to make sure communication is healthy between departments and that we are all focused on our current goals.
Q: How do you define and measure success?
It all comes down to happiness. If your employees are honestly excited about going to work when they wake up in the morning, you are on the right track.
Of course, profitability matters in this equation. Successful companies are places where people can build careers and flourish professionally. There must be a strong bottom line for that to occur.
But profitability tends to be a natural result when there is happiness. If the employees are happy, they will strive to make the customers happy. If the customers are happy, they keep coming back. When customers keep coming back, the bottom line becomes stronger. That’s what makes and keeps a company successful.
HOW TO REACH: Big Communications Inc., (248) 246-5200 or www.bigcommunications.com