Building rapport at Advantica Featured

4:26pm EDT March 1, 2011
Richard Sanchez, President and CEO, Advantica Dental and Vision Benefits Richard Sanchez, President and CEO, Advantica Dental and Vision Benefits

Before he founded Advantica EyeCare, Richard Sanchez spent more than 20 years working at Exxon Corp. He repeatedly filled out multipage documents and questionnaires designed to assess the performance of his employees. But when he retired to start his own company — now Advantica Dental and Vision Benefits, which is based in Clearwater — Sanchez decided that structured performance reviews were not how he wanted to determine whether he could trust an employee to do a good job. As the company’s president and CEO, Sanchez doesn’t use performance reviews and doesn’t ask his managers to either. Instead, he goes out in the field, constantly interacting and talking with his employees to verify their level of trust and commitment to the company.

Smart Business spoke with Sanchez about how to develop trust with employees by being flexible and supporting their needs.

Get face time daily. I try to have lunch every day with a client or somebody that’s touching our business, just to see how things are going. It may be a vendor; it may be a group of employees. I’m constantly in the field. My job is to cheerlead, to cheer them on, to communicate and tell them what I believe we are going to be faced with in the future. I will go to people’s offices, but I won’t intrude on them. I’ll chat a little bit. You really get a two-way conversation going, instead of sending out some e-mail saying, ‘Here’s our strategy for the next six months.’ (That’s) no way to have a conversation.

Reward spontaneously. When we see a champion, we celebrate. We make a big deal of it. We may give some dollars to the person. We may say, ‘Listen, for you and your wife, here’s a weekend. Fly down to Florida and spend the weekend.’ We kind of do it on the spot, so people aren’t trying to change their behavior to match a program. They’re just doing a good job. I’d rather have it more spontaneous. We might have five champions in one month, and the next month we might have zero. And it’s not necessarily a weekend in Florida, it’s just going up to the person and shaking their hand and saying, ‘You know what, you are doing a great job.’

Lend support. If there’s a really tough issue, a complex issue — it could be with a customer — instead of me saying, ‘Well, you’ve got to figure it out,’ I’m not scared of a situation. I think it’s good for me to go in and say, ‘Let me help you on this one. Let’s go see this person and iron this out.’ If I have to be the bad guy, I can be the bad guy. You can’t abandon your employees and say, ‘Well, you screwed that up, now you’ve got to figure it out.’ … I think the CEO has got to take on the tough issues.

Give people freedom. I grew up in an environment when work was everything. You missed your son’s birthday because of work. The world’s changed. The younger work force — they have friends. They have karate class at 6 o’clock, and by God, they aren’t going to miss karate class. I respect that. They have a life. What we really try to do at work is accommodate that. We tell them what we need to get done, and you know that they come in on the weekend, because they want to, not because they have to. I trust them to do that, and they can trust that we’re going to be flexible and they’re not going to have to be concerned if they are trying to improve their lifestyle or their health by coming in a little bit later.

Promote wellness. I noticed six months ago up in our Baltimore operations center … the vending machine had chocolate doughnuts and all that junk. We still have it in there, but we put stuff in the vending machine that costs nothing. We just said, ‘If you want to pay a dollar for the doughnut, that’s fine, but if you want a fruit bar or a granola bar, it’s nothing.’ We are really big on wellness here. We make sure every employee knows that they don’t have to show up here at 7 a.m. if they want to go to the gym and show up at 9:15 or 9:30 a.m., I’m all for that. We’re really into that at the company, because they’ll put a good day’s work in.

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