Joint effort Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

When Carolyn LaHousse co-founded ReviewWorks in 1989,her idea of an open-door policy was far different than it is today.

The president and CEO of the company says that back then, she was involved in everything at the provider of medical cost containment solutions and disability management services. However, as the company grew to about 70 employees and more than $11 million in 2007 revenue, her definition of an open-door policy changed.

“(It’s) being open-minded and accepting input, criticism, suggestions, new ideas from everybody in the organization,” she says. “To legitimately consider that you are not the sole answer to every question the company faces.”

Smart Business spoke with LaHousse on how to create an open culture and how to find the right people to work in a team environment.

Q. How do you know if someone is going to be a good fit for the company?

Our rule here is to trust your gut. Usually, if you think you are unsure of a new hire and you are asking to have a second interview, you might as well just stop right there because something is telling you that this person isn’t exactly what you are looking for. Something is a little off there.

There could be other reasons to have a second interview. But if the reason is because you are unsure — a lot of times, second interviews are when you get into your benefit plan and you get into more specifics and you get into greater detail about the person.

Q. Once you hire people, what is the key to retaining them?

The key to retaining employees is opportunity, advancement, empowering them. I think it’s recognizing them. Giving them the tools that they need, giving them the resources they need and investing in them.

We invest in our employees over the years, when we’ve had changes in technology, when we’ve had changes in the way we do business because of technology.

Recently, we’ve gone to an imaging process, and rather than having paper forms, we are on a paperless system to a large degree. So we retrained our people in handling the documents and the different processes, and we’ve adapted the processes and promoted the people to handle that advancement in technology.

Q. What is a pitfall to avoid when creating a team-oriented culture?

You can’t micromanage a team. Everybody on the team has to know what their roles are. We do a lot of cross-training so people are aware of other people’s role and can step in.

If you have a situation where your people are functioning autonomously, and they are empowered to do their jobs, if you try to micro-manage, it’s going to end up like herding cats because they are doing what you want them to do, which is they are taking authority and making decisions.

It’s almost like you are more in a mentoring situation where you are working together you are collaborating on decisions.

Q. How do you handle employee mistakes?

Every employee is going to make a mistake — all the time. You just have to be ready for mistakes. Our customers make mistakes. Providers make mistakes.

It’s how you respond to those mistakes. I think that we look at those as opportunities. Every time we make a mistake, there is an opportunity to do a better job. How did this mistake happen? We need to dive into it.

We have smoke; did we have a fire? We need to solve that problem right now. Is it a big problem or a little problem?

What’s the scope of it?

So, when we had problems or employees make mistakes, we take them very seriously because we would rather solve it when it’s a small mistake rather than when it is a huge problem.

Q. How can you prepare for mistakes?

When you are encountering situations, you have to be prepared for a good result, and then you have to be prepared for a bad result. When you are getting a renewal of a customer — of course, you want to get the renewals — but you also have to have a plan if it doesn’t go through.

So, how do you prepare for failure? I think by anticipation, by meeting it head on, by handling it directly. The failures that are the most difficult are the ones you don’t anticipate — they hit you by surprise. When you have a situation like that, you have to look back and say, ‘What did I miss? What did our team miss? How could we have responded differently. When did things start to go wrong?’ It’s a learning opportunity.

You need to be aware of it. Your staff needs to be aware of it. Generally, when we have a difficult situation, that is a situation where you have to address it immediately.

Usually, we sit down with the staff, and we have a dialogue. I usually lead the dialogue, and we tell them what happened, why it happened, answer questions so they can have a forum for possibly being angry about why the situation happened or maybe suggestions for the future, and then we move forward. We keep the message positive.

HOW TO REACH: ReviewWorks, (248) 848-5100 or