Upright leadership Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

Joni Adams wants to lead with honesty and integrity, even if that sometimes means having to let someone go for the sake of the business. The founder, owner and CEO of Refurbished Office Furniture Inc. says that it’s never an easy decision to let someone go, but sometimes, it’s best for the company, which posted 2007 revenue of approximately $10 million.

“I have to go home and keep my eye on the big picture, and I remind our managers of that,” she says. “What we’re doing here is for the 80 people, not for the one.”

Smart Business spoke with Adams about how to create an honest work environment.

Q. How do you make sure that your employees are showing integrity and being honest?

Our mission statement is hung up everywhere. When instances do occur where someone has not been completely honest or maybe they’ve said some things that weren’t really truthful to kind of hurt another person, we call them out on it.

We have a talk with them about it, and we always point to our mission statement that states this is how we ... carry out our relationships with our co-workers and customers and vendors and everyone, and this was not an example of that.

Talk to them every day, walk around, get involved in some of their work activities by observing and just communicating a lot and being there — being available for them to ask questions. You can find out a lot just in the questions that they ask you.

But, if you’re not available, if you’re always in your office or out of the office, then it’s going to be difficult to know.

Q. How do you avoid micromanaging when getting involved in employees’ activities?

Being a good leader, you don’t want to micromanage. You really want to make sure your people are empowered. So, I struggle with that, as well. I don’t go over their shoulder and stare at them or stand at their desks.

A lot of times, I just go right around the corner where they can’t see me, and I’m just listening. They don’t even know that I’m there. So, I try to make it really discreet.

If they are going to see me, I try to come up with some other reasons why I may be going to their desk and asking them some nonthreatening questions.

Q. How do you handle it when you do hear something that’s not right?

It depends on the circumstances. If I overheard it, sometimes, I’ll go to their supervisor and check with their supervisor before I ever approach them, because there could be some circumstances I’m not privy to — things that may be going on in that person’s life or something in that situation where I don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle.

So, I always go to the supervisor first to try to find out, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Did you know that I overheard this? What do you think is behind it?’

If it’s clearly things that are this person’s responsibility, then we would call them out on it immediately. If there’s some other frustrations from our company, something that we’ve imposed that could be making the person frustrated, then we’ll try to address that issue first, and then confront the person with some possible solutions to that frustration.

Q. Do people ever think you are spying on them when you are walking around?

Nope, never, and it’s because they know me. They trust me, they know that I’m honest and truthful and upfront with them, and I listen to them.

I have an open-door policy. They can come in and talk to me about anything, any time, and, nope, I don’t think they ever feel like I’m spying on them.

Q. How do you establish an open-door policy?

When they do come, of course my door is open. Whenever it’s open, I’m approachable. So, if I’m not going to be in the mood where I can be passionate or compassionate, then I shut my door. But if my door is open, then they can come in, and I have to make sure I am inviting to them. I have to make sure their perception of me at that time is one that’s open to listening.

So, when they do start talking, I have to listen, and I can’t come back with countering everything that they say, or, ‘That’s not true,’ or, ‘Maybe you better go back and look again.’ You can’t really answer like that.

You have to be very open and listen and agree and say, ‘OK, thank you for bringing that to me, and let me look into it, and I’ll get something back to you.’

HOW TO REACH: Refurbished Office Furniture Inc., (877) 763-4400 or www.rofinc.net