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Claudio Muruzábal engaged employees at Neoris to help open a new market Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2010

When Claudio MuruzÁbal needed to expand Neoris to reach U.S. consumers beyond its Miami headquarters, he started with the most important element: his people.

His biggest challenge was not selling the company’s broad range of IT and business consulting services. Rather, it was his ability to build a team that bought in to his plan on how to do it and then use that team to carry out the plan and grow the business.

“It is always about building the right team,” MuruzÁbal says. “That’s the No. 1 challenge you have. Until you put together the right team, you’re really not responding to the challenge.”

MuruzÁbal needed his 3,000 employees to get out and sell Neoris to new clients and do it with complete credibility.

“You need to be able to put in front of your clients people that have the credibility to describe the offering and that have done it before,” MuruzÁbal says. “Until you have that team, you’re not in business. You’re really trying to promote something you have, but you don’t have an offering that can take you from presale to delivery to execution to being a successful player in the marketplace.”

He had to do more than just allow his team the freedom to go do things. He had to have a team that would be strong enough to bring its own ideas to the dialogue and occasionally challenge the leader’s beliefs.

“It’s having a team that is strong enough to put on your table the ideas that would really help you change your company,” MuruzÁbal says. “It’s empowering them in the other direction. It is your team members really impacting the decisions you have to make as a leader and having the space and latitude to do that. When you reach that point, you are really empowering your organization. Otherwise, it’s just delegation of authority.”

Start the dialogue

MuruzÁbal began his effort by laying out his plan for expanding his foothold in the U.S. to his employees. He explained that Neoris was in a great position to gain business in the United States and bring its brand of excellent service to a new batch of customers.

“It was trying to take advantage of the skill sets and the strength of traditional onshore consulting with the fact that we had very capable talent south of the U.S. border in the same time zone with a culture proximity to the U.S.,” MuruzÁbal says.

It’s a simple, perhaps even an obvious step. But you can’t just assume that your employees will understand what you want to do. Show them a level of respect by giving them a rundown of what you want to do and why you want to do it.

“You have to put your people first,” MuruzÁbal says. “There’s no way you’ll have clients who are delighted with the work or the value that you provide if you don’t focus on delighting your own employees first. This is an old way of thinking, but it’s still true to me. Satisfied employees drive satisfied clients drive satisfied shareholders.”

Get the dialogue started and demonstrate to your people that you want their thoughts and ideas on how to give your plan an even better chance to succeed.

“It’s more like everybody chipping in and providing their ideas and support and recommendations and even their personal networks from past experiences to try to make things happen,” MuruzÁbal says. “It’s not a one-way leadership decision. It’s the whole team coming in and supporting it.”

The more questions you address at the beginning and the more time you give to shaping your plan, the fewer misunderstandings you’ll have to deal with at the end.

“You would typically hear that strategy comes first and then building the team that can execute the strategy comes second,” MuruzÁbal says. “But sometimes you tailor your strategy based on the talent you can capture and identify in the marketplace. Sometimes the people you have play a big impact on how you define what you want to do in the marketplace.”

What you’re really doing is demonstrating confidence that you can make your plan happen. But you’re mixing in a dose of humility to show that you can’t do it all alone.

“You don’t want to present yourself as if you always have the right answer and you always know what you have to do,” MuruzÁbal says. “It’s incredible the value of asking for help and showing that you might have some doubts. We all have doubts. It’s worth asking people, ‘How do you feel about this idea?’ We as leaders have a tough time doing that because we feel we’ve lost strength if we do that and we lose faith in front of our people. I just believe you have to do a little bit of that if you want to be a true leader.”

In the case of Neoris, the launching of a dialogue about entry into the U.S. market was reassuring to employees. It demonstrated, as they had seen in previous market entries in Europe and the Middle East, that they would be included when it came time to launch a new initiative.

“You have a lot of people looking at what you’re doing,” MuruzÁbal says. “You need to make sure in every single thing, internal or external, you’re consistent. You’re aligned with the strategic direction and with a strategy that has been described.”

Keep reaching out

So what’s the best way to reach out to your people and get useful feedback? How do you make everyone feel as though they’re part of the process when you have 3,000 employees?

MuruzÁbal wanted all of his employees to feel like they were part of the plan to bring Neoris to the United States, but he clearly couldn’t set up a one-on-one conversation with each of them.

He suggests setting up smaller forums of 10 to 15 people to talk about important aspects of your plan. The key to making them work is to keep them as informal as possible.

“If you bring more structure to the model, you start losing some of the freshness that you need,” MuruzÁbal says. “You want to make it very informal, to the risk of using a term that is used a lot, like coffee with the leader. You want to feel that the person you are talking to is somebody that you can relate to, for the employees to relate to their leader.”

Don’t handpick people to take part in these forums. Make it known that you’re going to be available for a small-group discussion at a certain time, but stay away from making specific invitations to participate.

“You need to make sure there are random nominations,” MuruzÁbal says. “You need to make sure they are either people who want to be there or that they are participating on a random basis. It’s not people that their managers believe should be there. That’s the first element that would make the whole program not work. Then you need to set up the rules very quickly saying that this is a conversation. Every comment is acceptable. The only request is that you don’t monopolize the conversation.”

The key is to keep the conversations informal while making it clear that you really value the feedback that is generated from them. It’s valuable to you to know what they are thinking and it’s valuable to them since they’ll be out there representing your company to your clients.

It was valuable to MuruzÁbal to keep everyone apprised with the launch of the U.S. market.

“You need to spend time listening to what your peopl e are telling you about what they are doing and what is important to them,” MuruzÁbal says. “You need to be empathetic. You need to put yourself in their shoes instead of asking them to put themselves in your shoes.”

Keep the lines open

You also need to make it clear to the people who are participating in these forums that you’d really appreciate it if they’d spread the word about what they thought and heard in the forum.

“There’s another request we always make,” MuruzÁbal says. “Whatever you heard here, help us take the message to the rest of the organization. It would be great if we could do this with every single employee, but when you have more than 3,000, it’s difficult to do it. So those of you who have the opportunity to sit at this table, I would really appreciate it if you could take this message across. The message is we want to hear you. We’re looking for ideas.”

When you leave the meeting, don’t just say, “Thanks for participating.”

“When there is a true follow-up, that really counts,” MuruzÁbal says.

It was during one of these sessions that MuruzÁbal got great insight into peer networks that were being set up at Neoris. Such networks are a great help to the company in every market, including the new venture in the United States.

“We have a lot of talented people that know many technologies and concepts in detail,” MuruzÁbal says. “We create these peer-to-peer networks organized by leaders in the business based on their expertise, not their position in the company. They interact and they help each other and you get to improve the knowledge of a given area of expertise.”

By encouraging dialogue in the first place, the peer networks were able to flourish and help give MuruzÁbal an even better means of spreading communication around the organization.

And a free flow of communication where there is occasionally a mixed signal is much better than a company where dialogue is hampered and even discouraged.

“I prefer to have a conversation and run the risk of having an interpretation issue than not having the conversation at all,” MuruzÁbal says. “There’s always a risk somebody will interpret something in a different way and will go and talk to a third party and describe something that he or she thought they heard. I prefer to deal with that.”

In an open culture, you’ll find out about the discrepancy a lot quicker than if you try to control everything.

“If you have a command-and-control organization, you never learn about that,” MuruzÁbal says. “Nobody is going to get back to you and say, ‘Hey, you said such-and-such thing in such-and-such environment. Is that what you really meant?’ It gives you the opportunity to go back and fix it if there was a misunderstanding. I prefer that instead of no communication.”

The open way in which MuruzÁbal approaches change paid off again with the Neoris entry into the United States. The company generated more than $300 million in revenue in 2009.

“We’ve attracted premier talent from the market and our highest expectations for growth are from the U.S. market,” MuruzÁbal says. “We were new to the market and we were able to make it happen.”

It wasn’t always easy and there were certainly bumps along the way. But MuruzÁbal says it’s the only way he knows how to operate.

“Live what you are trying to accomplish on a daily basis,” MuruzÁbal says. “There’s always going to be a certain percentage of people who don’t believe. There’s a lot of opportunity in this world, so maybe that’s not the right company for those people. This is a strong, detailed, management-focused culture that happens to pay attention to the fact that the talent that you have in your organization is what makes the difference. You need to make sure you get the best out of your people and the way to do that is to allow them to speak up, contribute and help us build the future.”

How to reach: Neoris, (305) 728-6000 or www.neoris.com