Employee power Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

George Adams Jr. admits that he is an introvert, and he worries that his employees may sometimes view him as standoffish.

So he makes every effort to smile a lot, talk to employees, congratulate them on their successes and ask them open-ended questions about the challenges they face at Electric Supply Inc., an electrical construction, utility and voice data company that posted 2007 revenue of about $130 million. He says that even for an introvert, conversations get easier once you get the other person talking.

Adams, president and CEO of the 130-employee company, also connects with employees by writing a monthly article in the company newsletter about what is going on in the business and the opportunities and challenges it faces, and he thanks people for a job well done.

Smart Business spoke with Adams about how to show employees they are appreciated and how to empower your staff.

Give credit to your employees. When things are going really well, it’s a lot more fun. I guess it would be easy to try and claim too much responsibility.

I heard one of our managers talking to someone the other day, and it was a great quote. We’re tied in a lot of ways to construction, so we’ve seen a significant slowdown. Our vice president of sales was laughing and saying, ‘Well, a year ago, I sure felt a lot smarter than I do today.’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, we all did.’

So this slowdown has been fairly humbling. The thing that probably rubs me the wrong way would be someone not giving proper credit to their team, to just showing token appreciation when, a lot of times, it’s all about the team.

We try to acknowledge (employees) publicly. Sometimes, it’s privately, maybe with a check or gift certificate. This is something that I struggle with that I am wondering, ‘Am I getting the words right? Does the sincerity show through?’

But, I remember reading years ago that an effective manager can get more out of a pat on the back than an ineffective manager can with a $100 bill. Of course, when I read that 25 years ago, $100 was worth more than it is now. But I think you have to be sincere with whatever you do, and it needs to be clear that you are.

I’m looking at continuity and succession. I want our organization to be strong long after I’ve stepped aside. So we want to groom people to be our future leaders or to even lead right now. Even if they may not have a title, they may not be in a management position, they can still lead by example, and they can have a very positive impact on their peers. A lot of them have a positive impact on me.

Empower employees. My dad founded our business, and he was the type that pretty much handled everything. When I was on board full time and we were talking about me making a career, as I watched him, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do what he did.

It was pretty intimidating for me. He could go from being extremely detailed to the big picture. He handled so many different tasks here. Then, one day, I read about empowerment, and that was the light turning on for me, reading about empowering the work force.

All of a sudden, I started thinking, ‘This might be a lot of fun.’

It’s important not to be too hands-off — people have to be held accountable. But, I think it’s a way to make an organization so much more effective, whether you have two people or however many thousand. Granted, not everyone is going to become energized, but most people will appreciate the additional responsibility, and really, the best decisions in most instances come from the front line or closer to whatever challenge it is that you face.

There are a lot of days I feel like we slip up and don’t do it, but certainly, trying to establish boundaries to work within — just reminding them to use their best judgment; if they make a decision that perhaps you wish they hadn’t made, coaching them. Simple things.

When there’s an expensive mistake, I think you need to bite your tongue a bit and coach people. No one wants to make mistakes, and we all feel bad when we do. But when someone has made a mistake, the leader, the manager, needs to help them rebound. Their ego is pretty low at that point.

You want to remind them of all the great things they’ve done and to get back on their feet and get back on their game.

Lead with integrity. It’s important if you miscommunicate something, you apologize. You bring it up and say, ‘Look, this is what I thought was going to happen, and I said what I said, and I was incorrect. I apologize for this,’ be it something you said or something you forgot to do. I think it’s important to try to be aware of those instances where you let people down and then apologize. Talk to them about it.

Sometimes people take things differently. My wife is always pointing out, ‘George, this is what you meant, but this is what you said,’ and she’s generally right. I have to kind of work at it to be aware because I can be thinking I said what I intended to say, and I didn’t.

HOW TO REACH: Electric Supply Inc., (813) 872-1894 or www.electricsupplyinc.com