Go for it Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
When he’s allocating costs, Michael Corley considers his office to be overhead.

“We don’t make any money here; all the money is made out there,” says the president of Progressive Employer Services.

And because all the money is made “out there,” Corley makes it a point to get out of the offices of the 160-employee administrative service provider and get to where the work is actually happening.

His philosophy of proactive managing has led the company to 2006 revenue of $47 million, up 142 percent over 2003.

Smart Business spoke with Corley about why you sometimes need to stop analyzing a plan from every angle and just go for it.

Q: What are the key skills that a leader needs?

You’ve got to have an understanding of the business, the capabilities of the employees and the company, because you’re obviously going to want to institute a change in direction or something new. You’re always trying to get better, and you want to balance that. If you don’t have an understanding of what your company is capable of, you could demand too much, and then you’ll have failure.

You’ve got to be able to see the bigger picture. Functional line managers see things in the world, as they rightly should, but you’ve got an obligation as a leader to balance that versus the needs of the entire organization. You’ve got to be able to execute. You can’t just think about it. You’ve got to create momentum.

Q: How do you create momentum?

If you sit here and you analyze something to death, you don’t start it. You don’t even know if it’s going to work. If you sit there and try to plan something 100 percent to perfection, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Get to 70 or 80 percent and launch it. Get it going, and then see what happens. If you’ve got good people, things just seem to fall into place. You seem to hit or exceed what you intended to do.

Here’s an example: We’re talking about implementing some technological changes. They aren’t so fancy from a technological perspective, but from a process perspective, it’s a change. So, there are some reluctant people. We think through the ramifications, you do your due diligence, and then you say, ‘Let’s launch the doggone thing.’ There’s limited downside risk, there’s only upside opportunity. Get that thought process going.

Q: What mistakes do executives make, and how do you avoid them?

A big one is forgetting where and how the work is getting done and by whom. I know there are a number of folks who are making this business happen on a day-to-day-basis. They are truly the No. 1 asset. You’ve got to make sure you’re involved and they know you’re involved.

Too much change is another mistake. If you’re removed from the day to day, it’s easy to change things. Well, now you’ve got to turn the ship — no matter how big or little (the change) is — and show people you can operationalize that change. It can be daunting if you’re not visible, if you’re not involved.

Another mistake that can be made is thinking the people in the organization understand what you are communicating and your actual intent. There’s always a gap in communications, but you have to go to great lengths to make sure people are hearing in the same manner you are intending them to hear.

That’s a conscious thought process for executives. They’ll say, ‘That’s what I said, that’s what I meant,’ but that’s not how it was received.

Q: How do you narrow that communication gap?

You preach and preach and say the same thing many, many times. You do it in different settings to create opportunities for feedback. I’ll meet with small groups of employees; I’ll meet with the entire group. I’ll meet one on one with people, I’ll go grab somebody I know and ask them, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’

What I’m trying to find out is how they received the message, so I know how it’s being received. It’s a proactive approach to understanding there is a gap. There is a gap, that’s a given. You have to understand what the gap is and adjust accordingly.

Q: What is the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?

Be humble. We’re all human beings, nobody’s better than anybody else. You’ve got to empathize. You really should like people. And if you don’t like them, you should act like you like them.

Have some humility and give credit where credit is due. CEOs are like the president of the United States; they get too much credit when times are good, and too much harassment when things aren’t good. But in those good times, you’ve got to be humble and recognize the people who do the job.

HOW TO REACH: Progressive Employer Services, (941) 925-2990 or www.progressiveemployer.com