Accentuate the positive Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008
Albert M. Berriz doesn’t believe a great executive comes into being by chance. Sure, you can be born with instincts, and you should celebrate those instincts, but you can’t just rest on your laurels, Berriz says.

That’s why the CEO of real estate company McKinley Inc. stresses education, which he believes is a driver to becoming a top-notch executive. And to emphasize the importance of education, the company —which posted 2007 revenue of $167.1 million — gives raises to reward employees who participate in classes.

That investment in education not only rewards his 717 employees financially, it also shows them he is sincere about their personal development. And Berriz doesn’t just encourage his employees to learn; he says he is also constantly learning in the classroom, both as a teacher and a student.

Smart Business spoke with Berriz about how to inspire employees and how he balances giving positive and negative feedback.

Inspire your employees. It has a lot to do with a CEO’s view or a leader’s view of their business.

You often hear companies who say they are customer-centric or they are focused on their customer. But the reality is you have to be people-centric because what you can’t do in my job is touch every customer. So you have to make sure you touch every person that’s with your team.

For us, I focus first on my people, and if I do a great job with my people, I’m trusting they’ll do a great job with our customers. I take a different view than maybe what is traditionally out there in the management world today, which everybody is talking about focusing on customers, focusing on customers, focusing on customers.

I believe if I focus on our people, they’ll, in fact, focus on our customers. For me, No. 1 is team, No. 2 is customers, and No. 3 are shareholders. I figure if I have happy people, they’ll have happy customers, and those happy customers will produce happy shareholders.

Don’t only focus on the negative.

You often see supervisors who only point out the negatives in people. I have a rule of thumb: For every one negative, you better be doing five positives. If you aren’t doing that, you aren’t doing your job.

You don’t take the time to celebrate what people are great at, but yet you are willing to talk to them about what they are terrible at. You want to be open and honest with feedback, and feedback is certainly a gift, but everybody looks at feedback as a negative thing, and you’d better be celebrating the positives, too.

In our company, all the key people are connected by BlackBerry. When something happens positively in this environment here, you’ll see in our company dozens of e-mails that go out throughout the day. [It] may be a sale, it may be a financial transaction, it may be a variety of different angles in the company from different departments and different perspectives, but there is something positive being said about Frank or about Joe or Sally or Jane.

Jane may have done a couple things wrong in the last quarter, but these great things she is doing right now, we’re celebrating.

Be open and honest about failure.

I often discuss what I did wrong. I tell everybody what I did wrong. I’m very quick to point out when I made a mistake and what I think I should have done differently now in retrospect.

I think people need to know that I am as vulnerable or as able to do things wrong [as they are]. So, I think it’s important to celebrate that situation, and also, I think they can learn from it. They can learn from a mistake that I made so we don’t do it again.

I may be an example of the mistake, and if I can hold myself out as that, that’s good. One, it makes me vulnerable, which is good. Two, it points out maybe they can learn from our mistakes.

Show your employees you believe in them. You have to allow people to fail and you have to give them opportunity, so you have to let them advance in our company, and we do that.

I personally can’t touch 717 [employees], but I have 11 people on my executive committee, and there are 45 officers in the company. I can definitely touch the 11 and the 45, all of which touch the 717. So it’s not just about me, but it’s about the 11 people on our executive committee and the 45 officers that we have running the business.

I’ve just got to make sure that culturally, the 11 and the 45 are walking the walk and really doing things that I am talking about every day and doing every day in my own way, and they are going to do it in their own different way. But they need to be doing that, too.

If you are a leader in our culture and in our company, the price of admission in our environment is to be enthusiastic, is to be celebratory, it’s to make people feel good about themselves, it’s to make people understand the value they have to the organization.

HOW TO REACH: McKinley Inc., (734) 769-8520 or www.mckinley.com