“It’s typically with the highest-performing guys who you want to give as much latitude as possible,” says Barry Shevlin, founder and CEO of Network Liquidators Inc., which posted 2007 revenue of $41.2 million, up from $16.6 million in 2006. “So it’s inevitable that sometimes they are going to take things personally and feel that we’re micro-managing them. That’s a pretty delicate situation.”
Shevlin, who leads the provider of pre-owned and refurbished networking equipment, says he tries to stay away from that type of managing.
“Take a step back and realize that you have to spend a good deal of your time working on your business as opposed to in your business,” he says. “Otherwise, you’re not going to be able to get out of your own way and grow. There’s definitely a balance there.”
Smart Business spoke with Shevlin about learning to step back and delegate and how to keep employees ready for growth.
Manage growth properly. Don’t get caught by indecisiveness. Make a decision. Even if it’s wrong decision, that’s OK. It’s better to make a wrong decision than no decision at all. You can fix a wrong decision with a decision down the road.
Then communication is something that we are constantly working on and constantly want to improve, making sure everybody understands the vision, that you are setting people’s goals and holding them accountable. That’s what a leader’s responsibility comes down to — setting or sharing the vision, setting people’s goals and holding them accountable for the same.
Learn to delegate. We’re grooming our next leadership team and giving them more and more responsibility. The executive team has a weekly meeting with our leadership team, which are the up-and-coming leaders in the organization.
We want them to be able to do just about everything. We’d like every decision to be able to be made at that level.
We normally start the meeting by saying, ‘OK, let’s pick one problem we can solve in 10 or 15 minutes,’ and we’ll throw a problem on the table. ... We’d figure out what the current issue is with that process. We take 10 or 15 minutes to fix one specific item. After that, we’ll go into larger-picture things — what do we want to focus on fixing or improving over the next three to six weeks — and prioritize those things.
They assign tasks to one another, and everybody leaves the meeting knowing what their takeaways are, and comes back and updates it the following week.
When we started doing that, we came in and everybody had a list of 20 things that they wanted to discuss or deal with. So, what we agreed to do was pare it down, where every week, we decide to deal with one. Then we try to prioritize everyone else’s list of things that we wanted to have worked on.
Keep employees ready for growth. We tell everybody, and we talk about it a lot that, if you’re growing as fast as we are, the only consistent is going to be change. So, change has really become part of our culture, and we’re constantly soliciting input from everybody to improve policies and procedures.
As an example, we have a pretty neat initiative coming up next week where we’ve launched an internal ‘Wiki,’ where we’ve taken every policy and every procedure from every department and put it into one place — an online-type format — so it will navigate like a Web site.
We’re asking every employee in every department to give us their feedback and tell us what they don’t like and what they would improve, whether it’s a policy procedure in their department or another department. By doing things like that, everybody knows there’s going to be change because their comments are going to be the catalyst to additional change. So, they are part of it at every level of the organization.
I read about someone that did a similar thing. I thought it was a great idea, so our leadership team met, we talked about it, and everybody said that the positives definitely outweigh the negatives, and we should give it a shot.
We are really going to encourage people to use this forum to give us feedback. We’re not soliciting positive feedback, we’re soliciting negative feedback. We don’t want to know what we should pat ourselves on the back for. We just want to know what’s broken, what’s not working, what can we make better.
Have an open-door policy. If somebody is not happy with a direction or a decision, they should be able to come to anyone in the company, even me, and they do. At least a couple times a week, people come to me with a frustration or a problem.
The only thing we ask is that when they bring us a problem, that they suggest a solution at the same time. Normally, I’ll get together with them and whoever else they are having an issue with and try (to) solve the problem.
The real benefit is they’re going to know the problems before I am. If we don’t have that line of communication, things are just going to fester and not get fixed. Problems will just snowball and they’re going to get worse if they are ignored, and that’s not acceptable. <<