Time for a change Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

Richard J. Shaieb could plainly see that his company was stuck. No matter what he tried, Whitlam Label Co. Inc. couldn’t get past the $20 million range in revenue. However, Shaieb says he may have found the solution.

“What I’ve realized is that the people that are in charge, some are in the wrong position, some are just taking on too much, which is holding us back, and the culture needed to be changed,” says the president and CEO of the label provider, which posted 2007 revenue of more than $20 million.

Smart Business spoke with Shaieb about how to improve your company’s culture by getting the right people in the right places.

Q. How do you change a company’s culture?

Identify who should be there and who shouldn’t be. We’ve had a lot of people that, whether they are friends or longtime employees, they were very good at what they did in one position. We put them in other positions where they have failed.

(It’s) relearning what we needed to do as managers or the owners with certain disciplines that we tend to relax with, and that’s what creates a culture — the lack of discipline or accountability, allowing the excuses because it was a very family-orientated operation. We went from six employees to 120, and it went so quickly that we didn’t put the right disciplines in place, which we are now. That was what I recognized — too many chiefs, nobody was running the show and everybody was doing their own thing. There wasn’t really one directive, and that needed to be changed.

Q. What advice would you have for a leader who wants to change a culture?

Most people understand what needs to be done. They have a hard time moving forward because some of the realities they don’t want to really face as a CEO or president and you’re surrounded by maybe co-workers that have been with you a long time.

You just have to take a few steps back. Just be honest and ask yourself, ‘What is holding me back? Why can’t I move forward?’ Once you start identifying certain areas, you will see that, sometimes, it’s the people that you have in place that seem to be holding you back.

Then again, it could be just that you are not doing the things that you should be doing like delegating and not trying to do everything yourself or being too involved and not allowing people to do their jobs. Everything is your way. That’s not my way, but there are people here that are like that. You just can’t get them to let go, and then that’s why nobody comes to the top and performs because of some of those leaders in some different areas. That just keeps those people from growing.

You have to identify those who have the ability to be taught to let go and those who have no clue on how to do it in the first place.

Q. How do you identify who can be trusted and who has talent?

What I’m really focused on is who has the fire in the belly. They have to have that in the first place. They have to be excited about what they do. That’s really key in the beginning.

We have these vice president meetings every Tuesday, and you can see who is energized and who really, deeply wants things to happen. Those are the people that tend to do better and can be taught.

It’s the ones that … aren’t very aggressive, just don’t possess any energy — those are the ones that are going to take a little more to push. They may be able to do it, but you are going to find yourself constantly driving them. You need people that are more self-driven. That’s a key factor.

They can have all the knowledge they want, but if they can’t seem to drive people or drive and get things done, it doesn’t matter.

Q. How do you drive someone to be better?

It’s a little touchy because you’ve got to try to understand why aren’t they driven. Why are they not excited? Is it something that they’ve experienced in the past?

You really need to take the time with the employee and try to understand what they are about and what they are feeling and what they are understanding. Maybe it’s not a good fit for them, and maybe that’s a conversation that you have with them — an honest conversation. There may be another area that they’d be better suited for or maybe they don’t belong here in the first place.

You are doing an injustice if you just keep trying to get something out of somebody who doesn’t want to be there in the first place.

How to reach: Whitlam Label Co. Inc., (800) 755-2235 or www.whitlam.com