R. Dean Akers Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007
To illustrate the impact leaders have on their corporate culture, R. Dean Akers describes a car ride on a sunny day with no other cars on the road. When the driver flinches, everyone in that car flinches, says the CEO of the 400-employee, $60 million laser hair removal business. They have no point of reference other than the driver because the driver is in control. In a business, when the leader flinches or shows panic, that action goes through the organization like fire. From a culture standpoint, Akers says that has less to do with outside influence than it does with leadership influences. Smart Business spoke with Akers about how to show appreciation to employees through listening and why it’s important to create “wow” moments.

Ask employees questions, and listen to their answers. When they come up with ideas, you don’t always need to give them a response back. If they say, ‘We should paint it orange,’ you don’t have to say, ‘Yeah, I agree, but let’s paint it burnt orange.’

If what they come up with does not impact your business negatively and your little spice on it doesn’t make that much of a difference, then keep your mouth shut. That is a validation that you were listening because you let them execute on what their ideas were.

One of the things that shows you are listening is, if they say their hobby is fishing or their kids are into soccer, then you make notes on that. When you see an article on how to improve your soccer game, you say, ‘Mary, I saw this article for your son, and he might enjoy it,’ and shoot it to their house. You can’t even believe the payoff for that as a leader.

I use a computer. So when I have their names in, I put their hobbies in. I do this for vendors and everything. I’ll pull up golf as a query, and it gives me 150 people that love golf. I might pick three of them randomly and send them a note on golf that I found was cool. I subscribe to over 100 magazines, so I am always tearing articles out.

When they open it at their home, they generally either show their family or sit it down on the counter, and it helps validate that they are with a different company than they’ve ever been with before. They value that a lot.

Let employees solve problems on their own.

There’s very few times that you’re listening that they get to go in the wrong direction because you are asking the right questions, and you are listening. I’ve found that a lot of times, if you don’t listen to people, they will go in a cocoon and, in essence, start responding to you. Then you are really managing and keeping them out of trouble.

For example, if someone is going down the wrong road, if you’ll ask them additional questions that will get them back grounded, they’ll usually come up with the solution themselves. When they come up with that solution, it has much more value than you reining them in or fixing it.

Get employees involved in the company. When I travel, I go into a location for the entire day. A lot of the time, they don’t know I’m coming. I wear scrubs, and I don’t go in like a boss that’s looking down.

I hang out with them all day. When you hang out with someone for eight or nine hours, you aren’t going to get the superficial or presidential tour. Within an hour, they are going to get on truth serum and tell you how they feel.

I also send books out. We had our people read a chapter every week, and they did a book report. It just helped them feel more empowered. Nobody has to read it. These book reports are about what they thought of the chapter and how it has affected their life.

You would die at some of the e-mails you get and the impact. People feel we are a company and not a corporation. They are not a number. They know everything they do influences our group success.

Remember your personal life. I was divorced about 10 years ago, and I had been married for 18. I was a workaholic when I was married. I did all these things for my teams and customers, but I didn’t do them for my wife.

Now, I have written a book I am trying to get published on relationships that deals with this whole balance thing. I have, for the last nine years, been very balanced because I got a wake-up call.

The name of the book is ‘52 Wows.’ The premise is, you create a ‘wow’ in somebody’s life every week, 52 weeks a year. The definition of a ‘wow’ is you do something for somebody without any agenda. The ‘wow’ side of it is they could be driving in their car, they think back at what happened and go, ‘Wow.’

What I’ve done is I put that in my personal life. I always did that in my business life. When I send a letter with an article, they definitely go, ‘Wow.’ It’s made a huge difference in every relationship I had.

Retain by showing appreciation. It’s that simple. I was on the phone with a fellow CEO, and he was telling me about how he thinks someone is trying to steal his people. I told him no one can steal happy people. It’s just impossible.

I’m a pilot, too, and every time I fly, I do a check-off list. In business, when we crash, we never go back, check our check-off list and find out what we didn’t do. We blame something like the market, or the guy down the street is trying to steal our people. In reality, people have left because they just aren’t happy.

HOW TO REACH: Ideal Image Development Corp. Inc., (800) 234-3325 or www.idealimage.com