In the midst of major change, Gary Graves has provided stability at American Laser Centers.
Last year, Graves was appointed CEO of the company when two private equity firms became majority owners. During the personnel changes that accompanied the transition, Graves developed his employees’ trust by proving himself a consistent, approachable leader.
“People that trust their leaders will tend to push hard, take risks and put their all into the job,” says Graves, whose company posted 2007 revenue of about $150 million. “If they don’t trust, they’ll be watching the clock and wondering what they’re going to be doing that weekend.”
As the 1,600 employees of the laser hair removal company began trusting him enough to give him their input, Graves brought both new and inherited talent together to strengthen the company.
Smart Business spoke with Graves about how to establish trust with your employees.
Establish your stability. People are fundamentally the same across businesses in terms of their dreams and aspirations, how people want to be treated. I’ve found certain things that work for me, and I continue to bring them along in whatever setting I’m in.
You have to be predictable and consistent. People don’t want to sit around wondering, ‘How’s this guy going to react to this or that?’ They like to know, if this happens, this is how people will react. Anybody
that’s ever worked for somebody that’s unpredictable or inconsistent [can tell you] that’s not a great situation.
It will take a little time. There’s no speech or big town-hall meeting you have and say, ‘Well, I’m going to be consistent.’ You just have to demonstrate it through your actions as events unfold. People see how you react to success, people see how you react to failures, when things are down, when things are up.
What’s worked for me is being also emotionally balanced. If, in the downtimes, you’re running around yelling and panicking, the organization is probably going to panic, as well, and not focus on the things they need to do to improve it. They’re just going to focus on self-preservation.
As time unfolds, people will see you in a variety of situations and see that you’ve been consistent in how you deal with the good news and the bad news.
Build trust through reliable hires. Surround yourself with good people — which might mean that you have to bring in people that you’ve worked with before that you know and trust.
They not only need to be deep in their functional area. That’s kind of a given; the CFO is going to be good at finance. What I’m also expecting is that they’re broad businesspeople, willing and able to contribute to ideas that aren’t necessarily in their functional group.
You probably are going to step on some toes. Sit down with people and explain to them why you’re doing it. I involved the people that I kept in part of the interview process. I brought on some field people that I had worked with before. But I just didn’t parachute them in and say, ‘We’re going to accept that.’ I had my team be part of the interview process. I don’t want them to feel like I’m making that decision for them.
The first time you bring somebody in and everyone sees that that was a great hire, they then trust your judgment. The next time they hear Gary’s bringing in somebody he’s worked with before, people don’t worry about it.
Encourage input. You would set the expectation or make it known that you’re really interested in their point of view on things. Some people have not grown up in a culture where they were asked to step outside the box. They can do it but don’t feel comfortable doing it. If you just let them know that it’s expected and it’s OK, many of those people might be able to do that.
In terms of how you make somebody feel comfortable doing that, it’s really just sitting down with them. A lot of times, what happens is you’re sitting around the table, you’ve had lunch brought in and you’re just shooting around some ideas about the business. It doesn’t feel like a formal business meeting because it’s just lunch. People get caught up in the conversation. People ... have a point of view on a lot of things.
Really, it’s not hard to get that going. It goes back to being the consistent, predictable and approachable
leader. If they work with you a little while, they’re going to understand it’s OK to have an idea about a different area. You tell them it’s OK and that you actually would like their feedback. Usually, there are one or two brave people who believe you right off the bat, take you at your face value and come in.
Then the word filters out that, ‘Hey, he is approachable.’ People are pretty smart reading people. If you walk around and you look approachable, you’ve got a smile on your face, people will read you before you have any kind of meeting or say anything. It’s how you carry yourself as a leader and if you’re visible, if you’re out and about.
If you’re in your office behind closed doors all the time and people never see you, they’re probably not going to feel you’re approachable.
How to reach: American Laser Centers, (877) 252-8922 or www.americanlaser.com