Dialed in

Get a bigger lunchroom

Once Arias helps set the standards for
how much the company can grow, he
still wants people to act quickly when it
does seize an opportunity. As odd as it
may seem, Arias believes a big part of
that may come from something as simple as having the company’s nearly 200
employees all work in the same building
and share the same lunchroom.

“We eat and have lunch and congregate
in the same places,” Arias says.

It only starts in the lunchroom, of
course, but the bigger issue is to keep his
company ahead of the curve by encouraging and rewarding employees from different departments to have conversations. In many organizations, there is a
near rift between sales teams and engineers or marketers and designers. But if
you want to be nimble, you have to
encourage prompt communications
between departments to adjust strategies on the fly. That means telling leaders not to slow down the process by
interfering and instead letting information get straight to front-line people and
then circling back to track the progress.

“It’s marketing being able to go to shipping and not having to go through managers and things like that,” Arias says.
“Even though we have different departments, everybody knows that management has no problem if what you’re
doing is for the good [of the company as
a whole].”

It’s common for people to stick to their
own department, so you have to put people in the mindset of taking ideas they
glean from their department to other
segments of the business. That starts
with a simple reward process.

“We reward and praise people that try,”
Arias says. “If they see that there is no
repercussion or downside to trying, people are not afraid to. Everybody likes to
do well and be recognized and feel satis-

fied with themselves, that they helped the company. A lot of
people don’t do anything because they say, ‘If I don’t do anything, I get paid the same. If I do something and it doesn’t work
out, then I get fired’ — that type of mentality can’t exist.

“Part of it is salary and part of it is recognition from all of us.
There’s a respect that you get from your peers here. I mention
internal moves at all of the meetings I attend, and we also
include the information in our employee newsletter.”

Beyond rewarding employees for sharing front-line ideas,
Blackstone also makes sure that employees are never punished when well-intentioned ideas don’t work out. The result
is a company where people are not eternally curious about
what’s happening in the other side of the office but instead
willing to walk over with ideas from the marketplace.

“We have programmers, engineers, marketing, manufacturing, sales force all in one, so from the concept that management may have to the programmer to engineering to the people that take it to market, we can do it in a matter of weeks,
and that’s something that’s to our benefit,” Arias says. “What
would take a normal company a year, we can do it in a month.
How many companies do you talk to that see the salesperson
is having trouble on the street selling a product and goes back
to the programmers and engineers and is having lunch and will
tell them the problem without having to go through channels?”

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