Ron Roma believes in redundancy.
It’s a commonly used word for engineers, architects and other professionals who need to ensure that fail-safe systems are in place for the buildings, transportation systems and vehicles that we rely on every day.
But it’s an applicable word in the world of business, as well.
At Healthesystems LLC, the pharmacy benefit management company where Roma is the founder, owner and CEO, he has had to build redundancy into his work force. He needs to build a team of people with overlapping skill sets and an ability to step into new roles on short notice.
“When we started the company, I hired and brought a guy on, Daryl Corr, who is currently our president,” Roma says. “He started out as vice president of operations, and I promoted him to COO; now he’s president. Our biggest challenge was finding a successor to Daryl, and subsequently, finding successors for other key employees. When you’re a smaller company, you might attract some very talented people, but often, it’s hard to replicate their skill sets.”
It’s a call that must be answered through recruiting and training of new staff members. Roma and his staff have worked with recruiters in both the Tampa and Phoenix markets to find new blood, also relying heavily on referrals.
“We’re very much in an industry of relationships, so we’re continually reaching out to people we know,” Roma says. “Our HR department once told me that 85 percent of our new hires have come from referrals, either internal or external.”
But to get plugged in like that, Roma has had to focus all executives at Healthesystems on team building and the constant pursuit of the new talent that has allowed the company to grow to nearly 300 employees and $214 million in 2009 revenue.
Recruit for redundancy
The key to attracting good people is maintaining good people. It’s a concept that Roma enforces throughout the management levels at Healthesystems.
You don’t just maintain good people for their potential recruiting connections. You maintain good people because your work force is the most critical element in determining your company’s atmosphere and how your company is perceived by outsiders.
“When you’re doing the interview process, it’s really a two-way street,” Roma says. “It’s not just us interviewing prospective new employees; it’s the employees interviewing us to determine if this is a place they want to work. So the company has to have a very pleasant, attractive look and feel to it. You know what it’s like when you walk into a place and it feels all starchy and stiff. The people aren’t very open. You have a difficult interview and you don’t get a warm feeling from the cohesive group. That’s not how we want to be.”
Start by reaching into your coffers and giving your human resources department the backing it needs to build an ideal staff.
“You have to be willing to spend the money,” Roma says. “Three or four years ago, one of our corporate objectives was to double payroll. It is an expense that if you can afford it, every company would be well served to do it. We’re trying to avoid a situation where one person is so vital to what we do each day, if that person left, it would create a lot of problems in that area of the company. That is what we’re trying to avoid, and that is why a couple of years ago, we decided that this was an investment we were willing to make.”
Of course, not every company is in immediate shape to begin shoveling money into recruiting or payroll. But as your company evolves and changes, you need to invest whatever you can in hiring the people who will help provide you with talent reinforcements down the road. The position for which you hire a person this year might not be the position you need filled in four years. If your company is growing, chances are even better that will be the case.
“The redundancy you put in place is really about succession planning,” Roma says. “In our case, we’re so young as a company, it’s really not a matter of losing somebody. It’s that if a new opportunity comes up, we want to have that extra flexibility with the people on staff.”
If you have multiple locations in your company, you need to make sure you’re recruiting and maintaining adequate talent and skill sets at all locations. It’s particularly true if you serve customers with any type of phone-based or Internet-based help desk. If your help desk on the East Coast is knocked offline, you need to have capable talent and staff numbers at another location.
“When we were looking at people and locations, it’s one thing to say that we have help desk backup in North Carolina, with systems and people trained there,” Roma says. “But if you shut everything down in Florida due to a hurricane, it might impact the Carolinas, as well. With that in mind, we made our redundant help desk site in Scottsdale, Ariz., and even put a backup data center there, as well. It’s redundancy in people, facilities and systems. It all works together. You need all three.”
Find the cultural fit
You need to hire for talent and skills or you won’t create the team that will allow your company to flourish. But if your company is in growth mode, it is imperative that you find employees who can help support and advance your culture.
At Healthesystems, Roma operates a high-growth, entrepreneurial company and looks for people who can flourish in that environment.
“High-growth companies can be difficult for many people to fit in,” he says. “A lot of it depends on their work experience. If they have been out in the workplace with an IBM or a really large company, they’re used to a lot more structure, definition and rigidity day to day. I describe our company as entrepreneurial and opportunistic, and that means we’re always looking for that next entrepreneurial opportunity with whatever happens to fit us. People tend to get concerned if they have that big-company perspective of wanting to know what their job is and what are the 15 things they need to get done today. And 15 years from now, they’ll still be responsible for those 15 things.
“That’s not how we operate in a smaller, entrepreneurial company. You have to be light on your feet, take what you learned on the last project and transfer it to a new project.”
You try to find the right fit through your hiring process, and use your training process as a kind of proofreading system for your hires.
“Basically, you have multiple layers of interviewing,” Roma says. “We bring in and define the selection process for people in significant, key positions. They might interview with five to 10 people in the organization, and it is in all kinds of disciplines. It might be accounting, IT, account management. I even get involved in some of the more significant hires myself.”
From there, Roma and his leadership team use the training classroom to find the people who will grow with the company. In a high-growth environment, not every hire will be a home run. Some might not even get you a base hit. Out of every round of 10 to 15 hires performed by Healthesystems, up to one-third might leave the course, deciding the company isn’t a good personal fit.
“In my mind, failure in the training program is the result of failure in the hiring and recruiting process,” Roma says. “In most companies, the help desk is usually the highest area of turnover. We were told by our HR department that the help desks in most companies have a 100 percent turnover rate in a year. We have been more in the 15 to 20 percent area, which I think is phenomenal. To me, when you bring someone in and they fail in the first six to 12 months, it’s as big of a failure for the company as it is for the individual, because obviously you missed something in the interview process.”
The key to success in an interview and training process boils down to one word: involvement. Management has to be active and engaged in exchanging feedback and ideas with the human resources staff. You don’t want to micromanage your HR department or perform the jobs assigned to your HR professionals, but you do want to concern yourself with the overall process and whether it is delivering the results you want.
“Back in 2001, I had a client that I did some consulting for,” Roma says. “The company was producing enough revenue that the owner had the lifestyle he wanted. But it really wasn’t doing as well as it should be. The biggest problem was lack of sales.
“The owner tells me, ‘Ron, I get so upset when I look at our books and realize that 90 percent of our customers are still the ones I brought on.’ Then I told him ‘Well, you need to get off your butt and go sell some more.’ You get tired and you get a little conceited, thinking, ‘I’m above that now.’ But you don’t want to create a culture of superiority. You want a culture where any task that needs to be done, you or any other person is willing to do it, willing to take a look at what is going on and educate yourself. You never want to be in a position where people are saying, ‘This isn’t worth my time.’”
You stay engaged with your team, your HR department and the process by which you are adding to your team by never taking your eye off the ultimate goal of achieving and maintaining a winning culture and profitable balance sheet, and everything that entails.
“Always keep your eye on the ball,” Roma says. “There is always someone out there trying to divert your attention from running the company, and when those activities happen, the only thing I’ll remind people of is keep your eye on that ball, maintain those customer relationships and employee relationships.
“Ultimately, as a businessman, that is why you are there — to maintain your customers and maintain your employees.”
How to reach: Healthesystems LLC, (800) 921-1880 or www.healthesystems.com
The Roma file
Founder, owner and CEO
History: My dad was in the Air Force, and we moved to Oklahoma when I was a year old. My parents were from Montana.
Education: Chemistry and math degrees from the University of Oklahoma
First job: When I was 14 or 15 in Oklahoma, there were a bunch of old rail beds on land that was going to be recycled, so I had a job clipping the old railroad ties there.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Don’t quit; don’t stop. It doesn’t matter what happened 10 to 15 years ago. You stick at something.
What is your definition of success?
At 20 years old, success is a paycheck. At 52 years old, I expect that a company has to produce in other ways for its employees. You have to help meet the career objectives of your employees. And you have to meet the needs of your customers and investors.