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Talent showcase Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
Claudine George has no problem assigning employees a job they wouldn’t normally do during the day.

It’s not that George, owner of professional consulting firm ICONMA, wants to throw them off, she just likes to give them a chance to showcase their special skills. By spotting unique talents in her employees, George is able to assign them tasks to keep them engaged and upbeat. The strategy has kept employees motivated, as ICONMA has grown quickly since its opening in 1999, expanding to six branch offices on its way to more than $21 million in 2006 revenue.

Smart Business spoke with George about how she finds the right people and keeps them motivated.

Q: How do you motivate your staff?

My job as a leader is to understand everyone’s strengths and what they bring to the company and make sure those strengths are utilized in the best possible way. I believe that everyone wants to feel like they did a good job and that they actually contributed something and made a difference for the company.

I target the unique skills an employee has, and I can remind them I appreciate that by assigning jobs to their unique skill set. Now, it’s not possible to do that every day, but once in awhile, it helps if people really feel like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what I’m good at, that’s what makes me different than the guy in the next office.’

Let’s say our bookkeeper, she does the usual routine of her job, but I know she’s also good at research, so every once in awhile I can do something where I say, ‘I’m not really sure our current bank has the best security, can you go online and research that and see what our bank is doing and see what others are doing?’ That takes her out of that routine, and she’s putting some of her other skills to work. That reinforces her confidence.

Q: What’s the key ingredient to communicating with your staff?

I have a background in psychology and that has helped me listen to people — not just listening to our customers and what they want, but listening to what people need to do their jobs effectively.

One of the things I do when I’m dealing with customers or employees that have a problem is, I validate what they’re thinking. It immediately placates any situation, and only from there can you work on a resolution.

If you automatically try to come up with a resolution and say, ‘Problem solved, here you go,’ they’ll be put on the defensive because you haven’t really heard what the problem is.

You have to make sure that they know you understand exactly what it is that’s going on that’s not working. You have to let people complain and then, once they get it off their chest, come back and say, ‘OK, so you’re saying blah, blah,’ and try to relay back what it is you think they’re going through and express some empathy.

Q: How do you find the right people?

A proven track record of stability is always apparent on their resumes. The first thing you look at is whether they’ve been jumping around different places.

But I also look for their drive and their motivation. A lot of times you can hear it in their voice how hungry they are. They have to be driven and motivated to be successful. It’s not enough to just have them say they’re OK with what we do; they have to show something to us that lets us know they are willing to go the extra mile, work more hours, do what it takes to get the work done.

They have to say something to you that really lets you know they’re going to try hard. We also have extensive, extensive checks that we go through, and many of the things we do even require tests. We also check all their references — they have to have at least three good ones that check out — and we check their driver’s license and do drug testing.

Q: How can you be sure employees have that drive?

Sometimes you have to dig in, and not get too personal, but you have to ask very open-ended questions and really get them talking, almost rambling on, so you can get more information.

You can’t ask yes or no questions. You have to really give them a chance to expand and come across in a way that builds a rapport and lets them feel like they’re talking to a friend, because that’s the only way you’ll get information out of them.

Q: How do you make sure you’re getting the most from your employees?

You have to have measures that show their productivity. We’ve got everything from spyware on computers to see if they’re working to systems set up to show how many resumes get submitted and which ones are just junk and which ones work.

We have measures of quality. We tell them, ‘Your computer is for work use only.’ And if people don’t know, they find out because we let them know.

HOW TO REACH: ICONMA LLC, www.iconma.com or (888) 451-2519