The American way Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

Craig J. Snyder wants his employees to know that they are more than just people working for him at America Group Retirement Strategy Centers. For example, if he hears an employee has a son playing in an all-star baseball game, he’ll write it down to remind himself to ask the employee about it.

“I think that helps build more loyalty and more credibility of them liking where they are because they aren’t just a worker bee, but they are part of something,” says the president of the financial services group, which posted 2007 revenue of about $9 million.

Smart Business spoke with Snyder about how to create an honest and open work environment where your employees will want to stay.

Q. How do you show employees you are honest?

It’s what you do. I don’t know if there is a process. I think it’s just in your everyday actions — how you handle yourself and how you handle and work with others. People will pick up whether they think you have those qualities or not.

I think as in any relationship, not just business relationships, you have to have open lines of communication because it isn’t always 100 percent perceived by some people that you are being that. I think if that perception presented itself, that it is essential as a leader that you sit that person down and you have a conversation as to why they may perceive that something is different than what it really is.

Q. How do you know if someone perceives you in the wrong way?

You’ll pick up on a tenseness or an attitude. I just had that happen last week. Someone’s not smiling, someone is dropping their eyes, someone’s walking down the hallway without communicating or saying ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ at night, which is out of their normal, hopefully happy, routine because hopefully people you are around enjoy being around you.

I think it’s up to you to go up to them and say, ‘What’s going on?’ and talk it out. It’s no different in any relationship. I don’t care if you’re talking about marriage or a business relationship, an employee relationship, there will always be times when something gets frayed from an emotional perspective or a lack of perception.

If you don’t talk it out — and I would say it’s very true in marriage, but it’s particularly true in business — then what happens is that the festering starts to become more of a problem. Then it starts getting blown out of proportion and then it starts getting into a lunch conversation, and now you’ve tainted two or three or four people on an issue that wasn’t correct, that was a misperception.

Q. How do you get people to let down their guard and talk to you about the problem?

‘You’re not your normal happy person, what’s the problem?’ or, ‘I’ve noticed a change in your attitude, what’s going on?’ I don’t talk to them any differently than I talk to a family member or my brother.

I just really did have that situation last week. It turned out to be, it’s a 20-minute conversation where it really ended up being, ‘Well, you did this with one person, and you didn’t do that with me.’ I said, ‘Well, how could you think that? Let’s talk about that first. What you are saying didn’t even cross my mind, but it crossed yours. How could that happen? We don’t do that here; we don’t think that way.’

A lot of times, it’s baggage from another employer or position that they’re bringing with them or distrust. Actually, that happens a lot.

Q. What advice would you have for a leader who’s not picking up on those signs?

Usually, it’s because the leader is not being part of everybody else. You’ve drawn a line where employees are at this level, and management is at this level, and the owner is at this level.

In my opinion, that’s not a good way to run a business. I think the owner needs to participate and be with all levels.

If you do that, No. 1, it’s good for morale. No. 2, if you put yourself in a position where every employee — no matter what the position that they’re in — will communicate to you what they think is in the best interest of the business because they perceive it’s their business, they perceive they are part of the team, then your business will move further ahead. ... (Instead of) where you have certain levels, and the president doesn’t ever go out with the employees and the management, they don’t ever eat lunch in the lunch-room. I think that is wrong.

Like today, I have everybody whose birthday is in a certain month. I take them all out together. It’s a special thing, and I do that every single month. So, not only does it put people together that maybe wouldn’t normally hang out together (to) be together to break bread, but I think it’s a recognition of everybody.

HOW TO REACH: America Group Retirement Strategy Centers, (248) 353-6570 or www.americagrouprsc.com