Constant improvement is the key to success, says Andrew Armstrong.
The president of AB Mauri North America says that leaders must maintain a laser focus on continuous improvement while growing their companies and enriching the lives of their personnel.
“If you can accept that you, personally, are never the finished article, and you can always improve on both your own performance and your team’s collective performance, it provides a solid platform for ongoing development of the business,” says the head of the yeast and bakery ingredient products company.
AB Mauri North America — whose subsidiaries are Fleischmann’s Yeast and Innovative Cereal Systems — posted 2007 revenue of $180 million with 300 employees.
Smart Business spoke with Armstrong about how to continuously improve your company by communicating the corporate vision and welcoming feedback from your employees.
Provide the strategy as well as the motivation. A successful leader is able to engage in strategic thinking and provide direction for the business as well as display an overall skill for the different disciplines within the business.
In leading people, you’ve got to be able to motivate. People want to be able to see evidence of the fact that there is some passion and energy there and, at the same time, there’s sound judgment and some integrity.
Establish a corporate vision and direction. The challenge for all businesses is to build on what they’ve got, whether it is processes and procedures or the value proposition one offers to customers in terms of products and services.
We do three-year plans, updated every year, and as part of that, you tend to look at the business environment one operates in, both internally and externally. With that, one evaluates the markets that one trades in and the markets that you might be dealing in going forward.
As part of that planning process, you look to determine where you’re trying to get to through a combination of organic and acquisitive growth. You also evaluate what you need to do about people in terms of getting the right skills and capabilities in the business. We tend to do that as an ongoing process.
Share ideas with your staff. On an annual basis, the vice president of human resources, the vice president of operations and I will do business road shows around the factories as well as here at center.
It’s a review of the past year’s financial performance in a formal presentation to the employees at those particular locations, and it’s followed by question-and-answer sessions. We try and give them a feeling of confidence that there is a commitment by all to grow.
People are generally interested to know not only how the business has been performing but what plans we have to grow in the future. We’ve seen a more engaged and motivated work force. We’ve demonstrated a willingness to talk about these issues and demonstrated our respect for the work force.
We’re prepared to go into this level of detail, and we’re happy to answer questions within reason and take something back from that feedback as to how we might improve on our plans.
Be an active listener. A lot depends on how you choose to get feedback and what you do with it. Are you demonstrating that you’re listening and acting, or are you doing the opposite?
You have to listen and learn. That’s something I’m trying to get better at and something I have to work on. At the end of the day, if you’re going to capture the best ideas and consider the best options before making a decision, then you’ve got to be prepared to listen.
Distill feedback into an action plan. We try to increase the different ways of communicating with the work force beyond the road shows, not only through feedback on the Internet where people are free to express their opinions but also we’re in the process of doing an employee survey.
In this survey, people’s identities can remain anonymous, and a third party will assimilate that data. We’ll highlight what the findings were and what action we plan to take about that feedback.
It’s quite important that you need engaged employees if you’re going to have a successful business. That means treating them with respect. You’re actually willing to ask for help in these areas, and it demonstrates that our employees do matter and that we’re listening to them.
High up on the list of the leadership team’s priorities is corporate culture, and you’re only going to grow that if you stay in touch with what’s happening on the ground so you can get feedback and respond accordingly.
Leadership isn’t just the responsibility of one individual; it’s a collective responsibility of all employees throughout the business. From that standpoint, we try to ensure that these feedback items stay on the leadership team’s agenda and are acted upon.
In the factories, the employees came back to us and said, ‘Look, we greatly appreciate that you come around and do the road shows, but we’d also like to see you a few times a year outside of that to go through some of these issues and concerns.’ I am consciously making an effort to get around to the factories more regularly so that not only do we have meetings with the management there but also with selected employees from time to time.
HOW TO REACH: AB Mauri North America, (314) 392-0800 or www.abmauri.us
David B. Wright’s father used to tell him that everything looks different depending on where you sit.
And it took awhile, but the chairman and CEO of Verari Systems Inc. says that, over the years, he has grown to understand the corporate wisdom in that advice.
“The ideas that you get from your perspective are different from the ones that somebody else might see from theirs, and that’s OK, because they might be closer to the solution than you are,” says Wright, whose company develops energy-efficient data-center and desktop-consolidation platforms.
Wright says another lesson he learned from his father is that the people you see going up are the same people you’re going to see going down.
“I used to laugh about it, but basically, he was saying that everybody counts,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Wright about how he combined those lessons to lead his 310 employees and grow his business.
Hire the person, not the resume. During the hiring process, everybody gets excited about where the candidate went to school. I don’t. You know what I usually look at first? I look at what they did while they went to school.
I look at people who got involved in the community — whether it’s sports or social — because I want somebody who wants to be part of society. That’s really important to me. If you can’t be part of society, you can’t be part of a team.
Second, you can tell a lot about people based on their personal life. If I know that somebody is a good father or a good mother, most times, that person is going to be a very good employee because they are unselfish.
Look at their eyes; either they have passion, or they don’t. I always tell people, ‘You can’t create passion. You have to keep it alive, but you can’t create it.’ Once it dies, it dies. You can tell — how do they look every day, how do they look at themselves, how do they want to operate as a businessperson and also as an individual?
Also, I can deal with anything but lack of integrity. I don’t think you can teach that; if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. If you’re born a dog, you don’t die a cat — as they say. People are what they are. I don’t believe people change that much in certain areas. They have integrity, or they don’t. It’s that binary to me.
Focus on the strengths. My leadership style is geared around the team. As an executive running a company, one of your responsibilities is the people — building and keeping your intellectual capital.
What you do from a team approach is look for the positive strengths in every person. What do they bring to the table? What do they bring to the team? What do they bring to the game? How do you complement that for that person and also for the team?
I’m a big believer that you can make a weakness into a strength. You can neutralize negatives and invest in positives. If you ask most managers what they spend most of their time on, when it comes to people, they probably spend more time on the poor-performing employees than on the good ones. I have a very different perspective on that: You do a disservice by not spending more time with the performing employees. I believe in finding that positive in that person and working that pretty hard.
I have a lady who works for our software operation in Alabama. She’s phenomenally bright, and she had enough experience in the back room. My job was to say, ‘Hey, I think you’d be great in front of these customers. Meeting with customers is just a conversation between two human beings. It’s not a win or lose in how you did.’ In the beginning, she didn’t believe it, but I believed it.
Seeing potential in people is something you do after a period of time. And there are times when I’m wrong — where my expectations are higher than theirs — but I’ve never set an expectation lower than the person thought they could do.
Require employees to be students of the industry. Look at yourself: Every day, you want to wake up and be better. You’re probably always trying to find out how to do that. When you know about the company and the business you’re in, you become better.
I require every employee to have two weeks of education every year. We spend a lot of time trying to make sure that our people know what the company’s values system is and what we’re trying to accomplish. We also explain that they’ve got to earn the right to have that customer.
For example, we run a management leadership class once a month, and we bring people in to talk to them about subjects like team-building, understanding the financial parameters of the business or how to be a better manager.
The only way that I know how to be the best is to invest in employees. Knowledge is an investment. In sports, people go back to training camps, and in business, once a year, you have to sit down and revisit how you did, where the business is going, what you can do better and how you can learn more about it.
HOW TO REACH: Verari Systems Inc., (858) 874-3800 or www.verari.com
When Ken Blanchard was a
college professor, he was always being “investigated by
some of the best faculty committees” because on the first
day of class, he would pass out
the final exam.
“The other faculty members
would say, ‘You’re supposed to
teach these kids, but don’t give
them the questions from the
final,’ and I’d say, ‘Not only am
I going to give them the questions to the final, what do you
think I’m going to do all semester? I’m going to teach them
the answers so when they get
to the final exam, they get A’s.’”
Blanchard’s “The One Minute
Manager” and other best-sellers
written by him are on executive
bookshelves worldwide, and he
plans to explore the final-exam
concept in his next book, “Don’t
Mark My Paper — Help Me Get
an A,” which he is co-authoring
with WD-40 Co. President and
CEO Garry Ridge.
In his “spare time,” Blanchard
leads 293 employees as co-founder, chief spiritual officer
and “chief cheerleader” of The
Ken Blanchard Cos., an international management training and
consulting firm that posted
2007 revenue of $55.5 million.
Smart Business spoke with
Blanchard about how to encourage your employees to thrive.
Get your ego out of the way. The
biggest addiction that most
chief administrators, managers
and presidents have to deal with
is their ego, which I describe as
‘edging God out,’ and somehow
thinking you’re the center of the
universe. When you do that,
you’re pushing and shoving for
money, recognition, power and
status. You forget you are there
to serve rather than being
When leaders want everything
running up the hierarchy, they
create a duck pond. You end up
talking to a duck that goes
‘Quack, quack. It’s our policy.
Quack, quack. I just work here.
Quack, quack. I don’t make the
rules. Quack, quack. I’ll have to
talk to my supervisor.’
In an empowered organization, you’ll be dealing with
eagles, and they will say, ‘I’ll
take care of it. I’ll give you a call.
Consider it done.’ And when
they do that, then you will go
crazy as a customer because
you’re not used to it.
Make a plan to succeed. The first
part of empowering your
employees is performance planning. At the beginning of every
fiscal year, the leaders at WD-40
sit down with each of their
employees and they create a
final examination with goals
If they hit those kinds of numbers, they’re going to get an A.
If the employee doesn’t get an
A and the manager says, ‘I think
I’m going to have to get rid of
this person,’ Garry [Ridge, WD-40 president and CEO] asks,
‘What did you do to help him
get an A?’ If the manager can’t
tell him, he fires the manager,
not the poor performer.
Stay in the loop. The second part
of empowering employees is
day-to-day coaching. Your job as
the leader is to help your employees get an A when you’ve agreed
on what the goals and objectives
are. That’s where you turn the
pyramid upside down with your
people because you’re really
working for them now.
In so many organizations, they
have these normal distribution
curves that you have to screw a
certain percentage of your people. Or, you take the Jack Welch
philosophy and rank-order your
people. None of that builds trust.
Day-to-day coaching means
that you are in the information
loop with your employees on
their performance. You’re there
to praise their progress or redirect them if they’re off. Part of
your agreement in performance
planning is not only the final
exam but how the supervisor is
going to be kept informed on
how well the employee is doing
so the supervisor can be there
to help when the employee
You don’t want to be out of
the loop. So many managers set
goals, and then they abdicate.
The difference between delegation and abdication is that, in
abdication, you’re out of the
information loop and that creates the most familiar management style in our country —
seagull management. Seagull
managers aren’t around until you
make a mistake, and then they
fly in, make a lot of noise, dump
on everybody, and then fly out.
Be the people’s partner. Every
manager in an organization
should meet once every two
weeks for 15 to 30 minutes with
each of their direct reports. The
employee would be in charge of
the agenda, and that person
would talk about anything that’s
on his or her mind.
You can’t exceed 30 minutes
with the meeting because then
it’s going to be a drag, and people are going to start saying, ‘I
don’t have time to do this.’
For instance, if you’ve got
10 or 12 people working for
you, and you can’t afford six
hours with them over a two-week period, then you’ve got
your priorities out of whack.
You’re going to too many meetings, and you’ve forgotten your
Most bosses don’t know what
their people are doing because
they’re running around playing
politics and spending more
time sucking up the hierarchy.
They’re not focused on the
achievement of their people.
Review the results. The last part
of empowering employees is
performance evaluation. If you
really work with your people to
help them accomplish the goals,
the goals help the organization
achieve its goal. When the water
goes up, all the boats rise.
You empower people by making sure that they know what
they’re being asked to do, and
then you’re there to help them.
As they get more and more
experienced, they’re going to
need less and less help, and
that really drives them to do
HOW TO REACH: The Ken Blanchard Cos., (800) 728-6000 or www.blanchardtraining.com
In 2001, Mark Williams’ company landed some large contracts and doubled his work force to accommodate the additional work.
But the founder and president of Virtual Hold Technology LLC soon learned that those new employees didn’t understand his company or its culture, threatening his growing company.
“We lost a year at a key point and jeopardized a key client in the process,” says Williams, whose 75-employee business develops virtual queuing solutions for call centers for Fortune 1,000 companies.
As a result, Williams honed his company’s interview process, allowing managers to better identify potential employees and screen out those who wouldn’t fit it.
“Don’t feel a compelling need to fill bodies into positions just to meet a head count requirement,” he says. “If you hire the right people, chances are you don’t need as many people.”
Smart Business spoke with Williams about how to make your hiring process a two-way street to ensure you find the best people for your culture.
Q. How do you establish a strong work force?
We go out and look for that kind of fire in the belly. I’m not looking for somebody who’s really good on paper, someone who’s been with a company for 15 years, doing IT work or programming.
I would rather have the people a year or two out of school looking for a career and an exciting opportunity and surround them with good people.
Q. How do you identify people who would be a good fit for your company?
The managers over every department interview every person before they come in. They’ll go through resumes, do the phone interviews and bring them in for a face to face.
They narrow it down to three to five candidates, and then we’ll set up second interviews in which the other senior team members will have an opportunity to meet and interview the person.
At that point, the candidate is pretty much qualified for the position in terms of skill set. Now, it is just a matter of looking at chemistry fit because we view this company as a family. We are all committed to the same goal, and we are all going the same direction.
It takes a unique individual to come in and fit into our environment. We do a lot of interviewing along those lines, and then we, as a senior team, sit down and vote.
I abstain. I empower my team to make the decisions. I’m a part of those discussions, hearing firsthand everybody’s feedback, both positive and negative.
The one thing that I don’t do is micromanage.
Q. How do you ensure potential employees will fit in to your corporate culture?
That’s why we do multiple interviews, and you don’t have to be a manager to necessarily interview somebody. Sometimes, the manager may want somebody else in their department somebody who could potentially be interacting with that person to spend some time with them.
It’s a two-way street: We are not just interviewing them; we also view it as the candidate interviewing us. You want to openly share with them not only the good things about your company and the benefits of working there but also what the downsides are the sacrifices, the commitments and what’s expected. In some cases, we’ve had candidates thank us for our time and for bringing them in, and they wish us the best of luck and move on.
Being open and honest with the people you’re interviewing is just as important as them being open and honest with you. They may be good candidates on paper, and they could definitely do the job, but your environment could be outside of what they’re used to, and they could be miserable. When you bring that kind of person into your environment, they’re not going to make it.
Also, this is still an entrepreneurial environment; it’s not a 40-hour-week job. We have incentives through stock, and after one year, every employee here is an owner.
Q. How do you create a company of owners?
They have to believe they’re making a contribution, seeing the benefits of their contribution and knowing there is a reward for their contribution, both short term and long term. Only then can I get the level of commitment and sacrifice from them that I’m willing to make.
They have to believe it’s their company, that these are their clients. They have to take it personal when things fail.
Nothing would make me happier than to have every person here, at some point in the future, come into my office and say, ‘Mark, I have learned from you and from the company, but I am going to go out and start my own company.’ I don’t want them competing with me, but the key is having a belief and then going after it.
HOW TO REACH: Virtual Hold Technology LLC, (800) 854-1815 or www.virtualhold.com
With six decades of tradition backing Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP, Thomas W. Turner has a lot of reputation to uphold.
“Your overall reputation is the threshold that, if it is not surpassed, you are not even going to be given serious consideration,” says the law firm’s managing partner. “It’s critical to have a solid reputation, not only in terms of competence in your given field but also in terms of being a company that has heart and soul.”
Turner’s business law firm has more than 200 employees and posted 2007 revenue of more than $50 million. The firm serves local, national and international clientele, and Turner says that devotion to the firm motivates employees to make the organization as good as it can possibly be.
“Employees recognize how passionate we all are about doing a good job,” he says. “And that inspires them to do more of the same.”
Smart Business spoke with Turner about how he sets a good example at his firm by being down-to-earth, accessible and friendly.Set the right tone. The philosophies, the attitudes and the approaches that are established and exhibited by the leader of a company ripple down throughout the organization. It all starts at the top, so it’s important to set the right tone in the way that you approach things.
Applications of that philosophy are many and varied. It’s important to be completely professional, prepared and technically competent, but you need not be overly formal about your approach to work.Be real. You need to be down-to-earth, accessible and friendly. If you’re not, that’s not the kind of tone that lends itself to a happy work environment. Take your work very seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
That ties in with bringing a sense of fun to work. We spend too big a chunk of our lives here to carve it out as a time of only seriousness and no enjoyment. I like to bring a sense of humor to the office; it’s just an attitude, keeping an eye on the quirky, interesting and amusing aspects of things that are going on throughout the day, and sharing that with the folks around me.
Keep the tone light and enjoyable while maintaining the level of seriousness and focus that you need to bring to task.Show respect. Be genuinely respectful and considerate of everyone around you. That principle was inherent in the way our firm’s founder, Alec Cory, approached his life, including his work. That focus and that set of values has rippled down and affects all of us here.
It attracts and helps us retain the best attorneys and best employees. It has helped us develop and continues to help us maintain and nurture a fabulous firm culture. People enjoy working here, and as a result, people want to come here to work.Make fairness a priority.
You need to think fairly, act fairly and be fair in the way that you approach your work and the people around you. It’s how you address matters and the way that you treat people.
It’s thinking not in terms of what’s going to give to you an immediate benefit but in terms of what’s going to be fair to everyone that is involved. We treat each other fairly, with respect and with genuine consideration.
You don’t send a memo out to everybody saying, ‘You will henceforth treat everyone fairly and with respect.’ What you do is treat everyone fairly, with respect and consideration, and you expect that of those around you, and guess what all of a sudden, the whole firm is acting in that fashion.Hire well-rounded staff. Our attorneys are not only focused on a specific, narrow technical area but have a broader perspective on the practice and on life. We like people that have a variety of different interests and different business backgrounds.
It adds a tremendous variety of perspective that is applied in many different ways. It really makes us bigger-thinking, and therefore, we’re able to offer a broader perspective to our client.Communicate your vision. We try very hard to make sure that everybody understands the bigger picture of where the firm is going so we all have an alignment with that vision. We try to make sure that everyone genuinely feels they are a part of it so there is real buy-in.
There is a good amount of communicating and a good amount of preaching, and those that believe will stay on board. There really is a self-selection process: Those that are comfortable with it will be attracted and will be retained.Adopt a forward-thinking viewpoint. My father-in-law is a sailor, a lawyer and a philosopher, and he tied those three aspects into this piece of advice for me: Look to the horizon, but don’t be too shortsighted.
Don’t get up hung up on quarterly or even annual performance, but make sure the ship is headed in the right direction. If you look at a shortsighted perspective, you are likely to achieve shortsighted positive results, but you’ll miss the boat in terms of the long-run performance and the character of the company.
We evaluate performance on a regular basis here, but we’re constantly taking a look at the industry trends, competitors and evaluating what moves we need to make to continue to head to the right point on the horizon.
I don’t think that it’s particularly difficult to do; it’s just part of the position.
HOW TO REACH: Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP, (619) 238-1900 or www.procopio.com
The co-owner, president and CEO of Cope Plastics Inc. says that this reputation probably started because she treats her 390 employees with compassion. But after four years as leader of the plastic fabricating and distribution company, she has learned that it’s important to balance compassion with empowering employees and holding them accountable for their actions.
“I’ve been caught on both sides, and it’s not fun,” she says. “If people think you’re too soft, they’re going to take advantage of you. And if you’re too hard, they’re going to think, ‘What’s up with that?’ You have to constantly watch and make sure you don’t go overboard on one side.”
Saale’s $93 million company has corporate offices in Godfrey, Ill., and 16 branch locations.
Smart Business spoke with Saale about her surefire way to manage employees and turn them into leaders.Learn to manage any issue. This is my famous line when it comes to dealing with anyone: It’s all in the approach. It could be the ugliest thing you ever had to do maybe you had to reprimand somebody or you had to tell somebody that they’re not going to get something.
Whatever it is, do it in a way that they understand why, and do it professionally and compassionately instead of coming down hard on them. If you can do it in a way that you’re holding them accountable and they’re making the choice, you get tenfold better results. Approach it in a way that makes sense and is not threatening.
Maybe they don’t agree with it, but you’re phrasing it in a way that they understand the ‘whys’ behind whatever it is. In anything you do, it’s the approach that matters how you handle a situation. I’ve never been a hard-core ‘do it my way or the highway’ kind of leader.
It’s always been my approach to say, ‘We have a problem here, and we need to fix it. Do you think you could have done it better? What did we learn from this?’
There are so many different little things you could say to not make them feel bad, but they will also understand, ‘I need to change this. I need to improve.’
Don’t be a dictator. The alternative is to lead autocratically. I just don’t see how you could ever sustain an approach that’s any different from the way that I do it. If you threatened people, they might listen to you and do what they’re told, but it’s not sustainable. You’re never going to have a thriving, secure business by leading in a way of fear or intimidation.
You’re not going to get buy-in. You’re going to get silos built, and you’re going to get people not wanting to come to work and people not caring about what they do. And that’s not good overall.
The approach is just so vital. In anything that we do here, employees need to understand how we approach things, how we get people involved and why we get them involved. They need to know the ‘whys’ behind some of the decisions and the direction that we’re taking so they can get on board.
There’s a difference between coaching and micromanaging. You don’t need people in your business every single day telling employees what to do and what not to do. If you give people expectations and the right type of support and direction, they should be able to handle themselves and be held accountable for it.
Develop leaders internally. We’ve been in a leadership training development program for the last year now, and it has really helped people understand their role here the expectations, the accountability and the teamwork aspect of it.
Right now, we have upper management about 40 to 50 people in it, and the hope is that we’ll have training all the way down to the guy on the floor running the machine. We talk about situational leadership how to react to different things, how to communicate and how to problem solve. Leadership training has got to be effective. It can’t be just fly-by-night, flavor-of-the-month type of training. You’ve got to live it, breathe it, lead by example and understand it. You’ve got to give people opportunities to change and succeed, and you’ve got to empower them to do their job. It goes from the top down.
If this leadership program keeps progressing the way it is now, and we’re happy with it, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t train all the way down. If you don’t do it, you’re never going to know how much better you could be.
Establish a corporate definition of success. Success is intrinsic satisfaction of what you do. If you don’t love what you do, and you’re not happy with it, change it because you’re not going to be as successful.
I don’t know that you can hard-data measure it, but you can definitely measure it by the way people are, their aura and their behavior.
Are they happy? Do they mope around? You can tell when people feel good about what they’re doing. They’ve got to have a sense of pride and success in their mind. I can’t see somebody being unhappy and thinking that they’re successful.
Success is about winning. It’s about understanding what you do and knowing that you contribute to a bigger piece.
HOW TO REACH: Cope Plastics Inc., (800) 851-5510 or www.copeplastics.com
André Thornton appreciates the value of team-work.
Thornton learned a lot about being a member of a team when he played for the Cleveland Indians from 1977 to 1987. The lessons he’s learned from that experience have carried over to his work as owner, chairman and CEO of Mogadore-based ASW Global LLC.
“Whether it’s business or sports or any other endeavor, having the right people to execute your plan is one thing that is vitally important for any organization to be successful,” he says.
Thornton’s $25 million supply chain management company provides logistical and warehousing needs worldwide for Wal-Mart and other clients.
Smart Business spoke with Thornton about how he coaches his team of 250 winners to succeed.
Q. How do you find the right people for your team?
I don’t think there’s any magic wand for doing that. Finding the right people is hard work. It’s good evaluation, good due diligence and making sure that you do your homework.
You have to find people that fit your culture, understand your goals and are willing to be a part of helping to realize that dream. It’s a process that you put in place by going through that checklist of qualities and abilities that you’re looking for.
Evaluating talent is always one of the most difficult things to do in any area because there are so many variables that come into play.
If you have the right people, then you’re going to get the right execution. Getting the right execution of that plan puts you in position to be successful.
Then, you have to have the motivation and inspiration to keep your vision fresh in front of your people; to do that, you need to have the right sort of rewards that motivate your people, and they’re not always financial rewards.
Q. What characteristics do you look for in the people that you hire?
Our values, which drive our culture, are tremendously important. You need good people with good values, people that are dependable and that have the integrity of character.
You can’t lose when you have talented people that have those attributes and values because you know that, at the end of the day, your client is going to be served well. Those things are vitally important to establishing the kind of culture that is important to me, our team and our organization. That’s evident in our values statement.
Our enduring values are trust, respect, integrity, excellence and diversity. Those are things that we hope will establish the kind of culture that makes it exciting and attractive to people who want to be a part of this organization.
We all have a values statement whether it’s stated or un-stated in what we do and how we live. For me, my faith sets the values in which I follow.
Q. How do you attract employees to your business?
The best way to do that is you live it out. People hear what you say, but they watch what you do. It’s what you do that really drives how people think about you.
I believe in doing the basics so well to where it becomes a routine. You live it out day to day, and you don’t have to go outside and try to create something unnatural to communicate a natural reaction. Living out what you believe is key.
There’s an ABC lesson we sometimes use as coaches, teachers and communicators, ‘Attitude determines Behavior, and Behavior is what you Communicate to others.’ If I don’t believe in integrity, treating people right and honesty, I can’t create a false sense of living that out.
Q. How does that affect the way you lead the company?
If I don’t set the example from the top of the organization in terms of our culture, how we treat our people and how we treat our clients it won’t be followed at the bottom.
That’s one of the things that we talk about with our management team: Our employees are going to watch us. They’re going to watch how we treat other people and how we treat them. They’re going to see whether or not that’s consistent with what we say, and they will measure us on that consistency.
That’s a part of our evaluation: living out our values and our mission.
Q. How do you motivate and reward your employees?
We offer our people an environment that we think is conducive to their success. When it’s done correctly, it’s a joy. When it’s not done correctly, it is miserable.
We try to surround them with people that are encouraging, challenging and motivating. We try to give them access to opportunity where they can be engaged in things (that) might peak their interest. But, most of all, we give them a chance to be a part of building something that is not only successful but has an impact on the lives of people.
HOW TO REACH: ASW Global LLC, (888) 363-8492 or www.aswservices.com
Everyone who works in Phil Blair’s office knows that he has a short attention span.
The co-CEO and co-owner of Manpower Staffing of San Diego admits that he bores easily, so he doesn’t expect his employees to sit through long-winded staff meetings, communicate via impersonal memos or prepare reams-long reports the standard at many companies.
Instead, Blair prefers “management by wandering,” walking through his administrative office, communicating with his employees in person and doing a visual checkup of their stress levels. He would rather talk with employees than get an e-mail from them, and he says they prefer that, as well.
Blair, who also serves as president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, leads a staff of 100 people, who manage 3,000 temporary workers daily through his company’s six countywide branches.
His franchise posted 2007 revenue of $85 million, and Blair anticipates 2008 revenue of $95 million.
Smart Business spoke with Blair about how he communicates with his staff and how he makes sure that everyone is heard.
Be inclusive. I like to have everybody give their fair share of input. I like to come to a consensus on a decision, but I also understand that sometimes the buck clearly stops with me, and I have to do what’s best for the business. I may have more of a 35,000-foot-level view on issues than my staff may have, and they need to understand that.
Everybody understands that they get to have input. Often they get to have a vote, but I hold a veto. I play it very rarely, but when I do, I explain it very thoroughly so that they respect it. They may not agree with it, but they respect it, and that is important.
Otherwise, employees may say, ‘I work for a consensus leader, except he ignores everything I say. He goes through the game, and we waste time giving our opinion and discussing issues because he’s already made up his mind when he walked in the room.’ Many times, I don’t want to lead the discussion with my staff; I just want to be in the room, listen to their thoughts, let them come to their conclusion and let them make their decision.
Many times in those meetings, it’s not worth playing my trump card. I understand their thinking, and the decision is not what I would have done, but it makes sense, and there is either value in the win or education in the loss. Sometimes, you have to learn through your errors. I’m never there to say my decision is always the perfect one and the right one.
Don’t nurture the yes-men. When someone sees the CEO going down the wrong path, sometimes they’re afraid to say anything, or they don’t bother saying anything because the CEO’s going to do what he wants to do anyway, so why ruffle the feathers?
Just the opposite: I want them to fight heartily for their point of view until I’ve either blessed it or not. I like people that challenge me, make me think and make me a better person.
If we’re discussing an issue, I will lob out my concerns and will give them a chance to sell me on their point of view. Rarely do I say, ‘I’ve got to think about this for a few days.’ I like to leave them saying, ‘I’m not with you yet on this. Let’s meet again about it because it’s probably important to you.’
Support your work force. You can’t keep layering more good ideas on people and not give them the support, both financially and technologically, to let them do their best work.
Employees get excited about doing and implementing new things in the company. When they like working, they’re energized by it and going to work is fun. They don’t want to lose an opportunity to be challenged or to do an interesting new project.
Be both patient and impatient.You might have a great idea and want to start it tomorrow morning. Employees may not have the support system to make it work. You have to be patient, saying, ‘OK, it’ll wait two weeks, but let’s do it.’
You also need to have the judgment to know when to be patient and when to push projects to fruition. If the staff says they’ll do it when they get around to it, and six months later, nothing’s happened, then you’ve been a little too patient. Nothing happens because all the momentum is lost. You’ve got to keep momentum going; you’ve got to keep the fire under an idea.
Provide a clear and supportive message. You’re working through others and implementing, and you have to sell an idea that you think is obvious. It’s not so obvious to others. A successful business manager delegates well, and that’s a two-way path.
The great people around you will tell you when they disagree with you, and you have to give them their chance to explain their views and give them the opportunity to fail forward. You might say, ‘I don’t think this is going to work, but you’re so excited about the concept, and you’re energized by it, and the downside is not that bad, so go for it.’
And, never say, ‘I told you so,’ or insinuate it. If anything, you’ve got to give them lots of kudos for trying. That’s how they learn, and often, you learn more coming out of a bad situation than you do if it’s successful in a mediocre way.
HOW TO REACH: Manpower Staffing of San Diego, (619) 237-9900 or www.manpower-sd.com
Todd Ebert always wanted to be a winner.
As a 16-year-old growing up in Salt Lake City, he read in a newspaper a ‘Thought for the Day’ that has stuck with him since: “No one has ever won a race with the ambition of finishing second.”
That told Ebert that if he set his goals at being second-best, that’s where he would land, but if he worked toward being the best, one day he would achieve it.
Today, Ebert is president and CEO of Amerinet Inc., a $110 million national group purchasing organization for health care providers. That newspaper quote still motivates him, and he wants his company to be the best in the industry.
Aiming high is a simple concept, but Ebert constantly and sincerely reinforces it with his 365 employees. His monthly strategic update includes staff success stories, and employees often receive e-mails from Ebert, thanking them for a job well done.
Smart Business spoke with Ebert on how he plays to win and why it’s up to you to make the tough decisions.
Plan for success. Be positive, be passionate about what you do, and at the same time, share your success stories. I’m a big believer that optimism breeds optimism and that success breeds success.
I share this with the people from our leadership team as well as the company: If you are going to set a goal, set it to be the best. It does not have to be the biggest. It does not have to be the most profitable. But it has to be the best of what you do in your space in the industry.
All companies look at the balance sheet. There is success in profitability and in revenue, but I look at a number of things. I’m on the road quite a bit and meet with customers on a routine basis, and I always ask these questions: ‘How are we doing? Are we taking care of your needs? Are we providing you the cost-reduction solutions that you need and what we promised that we would do?’
Pay attention. Always ask the ones that matter the most that is your customers and your employees. If you take care of your customers and your employees, that should be reflected in your balance sheet.
I ask the questions, and when I do share information with them, it is in a very safe and nonhostile environment. If people are offering you candid, honest feedback, they are opening up to you. The last thing you want is the reputation that employees tell you what you need to do, and you get upset at them. Listen, and then address the issue. Sometimes, there are issues where not much can be done, but many times, you can come up with solutions or processes that are better.
Listening is tough for some people. I’m not always right, and I’m very willing to get some input to debate the issues and then, as an organization, come up with the best solution going forward.
By listening to my employees, I make smarter decisions. I get better input and better feedback, and at the same time, there is an inclusiveness relative to how we go forward. There are a lot of benefits, not only from a morale standpoint and better decisions, but also, your employees are asked to provide some input which is ownership into the organization.
Become a decision-maker. I see myself as very collaborative. I rely very heavily on input from my leadership team, as they should rely heavily on their management teams, as well. But there has to be somewhere where the buck stops, and I’m willing to make a call and make a decision.
You get paid to make the hard decisions sometimes. I’ve been in situations where the discussion can go on forever and ever, and no one wants to make a decision. Get the best information you can, make sure you really understand the issues and then make the decision. It’s part of leadership; you’ve got to make the decision when the time is appropriate.
We always look at what’s most appropriate for our customers, and then the decisions are usually pretty straightforward. There are two benefits: No. 1, we’re always focused on what’s important for the customers, and No. 2, we want to make sure that we move out with strategies, solutions or customer services that are on the leading edge.
Know when to back off. If we have made a decision, the team is empowered to go get it done. You need to know when not to butt in, and unless you see something really going the wrong direction, let your employees do their thing.
They’re smart people. They have the passion about what you want to do as an organization, and they want to do what’s right. Let them do it.
Be a good role model. Honesty and ethics are very important. People need to trust you, and they need to believe in you. People respond to trust, ethics and honesty.
My dad always taught me to be very honest and ethical with those that I deal with because when you start to trust folks, you can get a lot done. Your whole organization knows what you stand for, and that’s what the organization stands for.
It is the right way to conduct yourself, not only for your personal life but for your business life. Those are the people that people respect. Although I would love to make a gazillion dollars, I would rather be known for my business ethics and integrity.
HOW TO REACH: Amerinet Inc., (800) 388-2638 or www.amerinet-gpo1.com
Ted Peters loves getting up every morning.
The chairman, president and CEO of The Bryn Mawr Trust Co. enjoys his job so much that he’s often in his office on weekends and holidays. What motivates him? Leading the 255 employees of this high-performance business.
Leading a publicly traded company comes with its own set of challenges, and as a result, Peters says he has become a disciplined leader as he concentrates on keeping the company profitable, efficient and brand-savvy. In 2007, The Bryn Mawr Trust Co. posted 2007 revenue of $56 million, with $1 billion in bank assets, $2.2 billion in trust investment assets and 15 locations.
Smart Business spoke with Peters about how to share your corporate vision, focus on the big picture and maintain an upbeat attitude, even in tough times.
Sell your vision. You have to have a vision as a leader, and you have to sell it.
First of all, you have to repeat it over and over again.
It has to be in a lot of your communications to your employees when you talk in front of them, when you write them a note, in your annual report, all those types of things. We constantly, in a consistent way, remind people what our vision is as an organization, and after awhile, people know it.
It doesn’t matter whether you are the coach of a team, the president of the United States, or you’re running a nonprofit or for-profit organization, people want to be part of something where they know where they’re going. The vision is where you’re going and what you’re trying to do.
It benefits your company because the people are motivated, and they’re all working in the same direction. When people start a project, they say to themselves, ‘Is this part of our vision?’
The CEO has to convince the directors of the organization, as much as the staff, that this is the right vision. It is a matter of making people know the vision is relevant, that it is doable and that it makes sense for the shareholders.
The vision is the CEO’s job: Have the vision, sell it and then get the organization going in that direction.
Avoid the Jimmy Carter complex.I’ve got to make sure that the major things we do build a branch, start a new company, buy another company, come out with stock offerings I have to get right.
As you move up through the ranks, you have to realize your job becomes less about detail and crunching numbers and more about making major decisions. The board is not paying you to crunch numbers; the board is paying you to make the major decisions that take your organization in an upward direction more profitable and growing.
I always talk about the Jimmy Carter complex. He was probably one of the most intelligent and most decent men we’ve ever had as a president. However, everybody regards him as a total failure as a president, and part of his problem was that he couldn’t get away from the details.
There is a story that is probably apocryphal that he was organizing the tennis court schedule at the White House. There was stagflation, and foreign relations didn’t work well; he just didn’t get anything done. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan wouldn’t read anything over one page in bullet points, took a nap every day for two or three hours and is generally credited by people, both on the right and the left, as being a very effective president. You have to be very careful of having the Jimmy Carter complex.
Maintain an air of confidence. You have to be positive all the time. You are always on stage.
When you’re the CEO, whether you like it or not, everybody is watching you. You’ve got to be upbeat and optimistic because that will feed its way through the organization.
You’ve got to set an example for your people. It is well-documented that, if the work staff is positive, they feel good about their company. They are optimistic, and they see good chances for their company to grow and be successful. First of all, people want to affiliate with those companies, and then when they are there, they want to stay with those companies.
If people see the CEO with his head down and a frown on his face, pretty soon employees think something must be the matter or that the company must not be doing well.
Your clients pick it up, as well. You have to be upbeat and positive, and if bad stuff does happen, you’ve got to address it, move on quickly and try to put a silver lining on it.
Live ethically and responsibly. Are you running your business in an ethical manner? You have to make it an absolute. You can’t tolerate ethical lapses with employees.
It’s really setting a tone from the top, and it’s just the right thing to do. I always like to be treated fairly, so we treat our people and our clients that way, with respect and in a professional manner.
You are accountable for your actions. When you do something, there are going to be results, and you’re going to live with those results. That is a lesson in life as well as in business.
HOW TO REACH: The Bryn Mawr Trust Co., (610) 581-4800 or www.bmtc.com