Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:01

Beyond the Basics: Be an inspirational leader

It’s a moment everyone faces at some point in his or her life. That time when you’re not sure if you’re doing the right thing, but you need to make a decision and so you take the plunge.

Perhaps you’ve gotten past the anxiety that comes with such decisions. But your employees probably don’t have the same level of wisdom and experience. They may be looking for someone who has been through it all before and who better but you, their boss, to be that voice of reason.

Here’s what a few of the leaders we’ve spoken to over the past year had to say about being an inspiration to their people and helping them when they needed it.

“People are motivated knowing they have a boss who believes in them. I can’t think of a better way to be motivated myself than knowing my board has confidence and believes in me.”

--Jeffrey S. Davis, president and CEO, Perficient Inc.

“In the absence of open, honest and frequent communication and building trust through transparency and accountability, you’re not going to know what that other person is thinking.”

--John G. Peluso, president, Wells Fargo Financial Advisors Financial Network LLC

“If you don’t communicate the vision and you don’t talk to people regularly about how you are doing and what you need to do, then when you tell them something, it’s going to be as if it’s coming out of the blue.”

--Bruce Neil, president and CEO, The Doe Run Co.

Summary: Don’t be afraid to be a role model. Make an effort to have regular dialogue. Share with people what’s happening in your business.

Diana Hendel has seen the fear in the eyes of the people who come to her hospitals for care. It arises not only from the situation that brought them to the hospital, but the challenges they face in their everyday lives.

“As folks become unemployed or uninsured or as work stress increases because of uncertain times, that certainly creates a lot more need for health care in our communities,” Hendel says. “So as we see our communities struggling economically and becoming more stressed economically, certainly the need for additional services and more health care services increases.”

Hendel understands the challenge that comes with her role as CEO at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and Community Hospital Long Beach. All are part of the MemorialCare Health System.

It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the challenge and worn down by the loss of the people who don’t make it or the sight of people who walk into the hospital down to their last penny and in need of medical care. It would be understandable if some people weren’t up to all that stress. But Hendel doesn’t see it as stress.

“For me, I don’t get overwhelmed; I get challenged by it,” Hendel says. “At the times when you think you’re most overwhelmed or don’t have the time to plan, that is the signal to stop and plan with your team. Taking the time to be very clear about what the business is, what the business needs to be and coming back to that mission piece.”

Whether you’re a hospital or a manufacturing company, you’re going to have good times and bad ones. And while it’s lots of fun to be leading a business that is making money hand over fist, it’s those tough times when you earn your paycheck by showing the way back to prosperity.

You need to focus on what you can do instead of wasting time obsessing over what you can’t. If you take that approach, odds are your people will too.

“I have a little saying in my home that I see a couple times a day coming and going,” Hendel says. “It says, ‘Worry is the misuse of your imagination.’ I remind myself frequently that I love problem solving. But when it crosses over to worrying, it’s a misuse of my imagination. It helps to refocus and put my imagination to creative and positive use that is so much better for the organization and for me personally. I remind myself frequently of that.”

Here’s how Hendel works with her team to always find a way to turn challenges into opportunities.

Be curious

Do you want to prove to your people that you’re not running scared and that you’re willing to listen to their thoughts and suggestions? You could start by actually responding to the good ideas that they bring to you.

“My experience is that everybody wants to contribute,” Hendel says. “Everyone wants to be part of something that has great meaning. Every company is creating value and making a contribution to their community in one way or another. Everyone wants to have a sense that what they do brings value or contribution.

“Regardless of the kind of company, it’s about people contributing and people finding meaning in their work. Companies that focus on people’s strengths and on their contributions and how people are adding value, they are much more successful than those that just put out a product and focus on the product. It continues to come back to people regardless of the kind of business.”

Leaders who struggle making connections with their people have a hard time because they aren’t really focused on those people. They’re doing management by walking around, but they’re not engaged and are instead thinking about their next meeting and how they need to get back to their office.

“When I’m walking around, I’m trying to ask questions,” Hendel says. “Ask what is on that particular person’s mind. They often have a great number of ideas on how something can be improved.”

But it’s still not enough just to talk to people. Respond when they have a suggestion that you feel has merit, even if it wasn’t your original idea.

“We have a lot of focus on health and wellness, particularly with our own employees,” Hendel says. “There were two ideas that actually came directly from employees. As I was walking around, they said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a walking path around our campus inside and out? People could take a break or a lunch break and know how far they are walking.’”

The other suggestion was to provide healthier foods in the cafeteria.

If you struggle with getting good ideas from your team, it could be that you focus too much on one way of receiving comments and suggestions.

“You actively look for ways and then you ask people,” Hendel says. “Here are the 10 ways you have input right now. Are there any other ways we haven’t thought of that might make it easier to provide input? The best ideas in a company come from everyone in a company, not just one or two people.”

You’ve got to get your people to see you not as an obstacle but as someone who is working right alongside them to make things happen.

“The leader is the facilitator and the guide and the strategic visionary of the organization,” Hendel says. “The most effective leader is not a micromanager. It’s the person who facilitates the very best out of every single team member. It’s much more like a coach. So I think it’s knowing the strengths and knowing the skills of each unique player on that team and honoring that. Just like a coach is best served by maximizing the skills and talents of every single player, a leader needs to do the same thing.”

Once you get the input, it all comes down to what you do with it and how openly you share your plans with your people.

“If someone has an idea, there is an expectation about what can be done with that idea,” Hendel says. “You’re not hearing someone’s idea and saying, ‘Oh, I can make that happen tomorrow,’ if in fact logistically, you can’t. It’s following back through to that person and saying, ‘Hey, we took your idea seriously. There are a few logistical issues with it, but we’re continuing to work on it.’ Keep people informed.”

Be thorough

There was a time not so long ago when electronic medical records were pretty rare in hospitals. Now they’re present at just about any hospital you go to. MemorialCare was a trendsetter in this realm, paving the way for other hospitals to make the upgrade.

Hendel says you can’t be afraid to be a trailblazer, even during difficult times, if you think the step will help your business and energize your people.

The trick is knowing when it’s time to blaze the trail and when the effort isn’t worth the gain.

“We went first and early, and it’s a long road, and it’s challenging, and it can be complicated,” Hendel says of the adoption of electronic medical records. “But we knew it was the right thing for our patients and we knew it was the very best thing for the future of medicine. So we made a decision to be leaders on that and be on the first part of the curve rather than lagging behind on that. We persevered.”

When new ideas are brought to your attention for consideration, you need to do your due diligence and ask questions as to how it might fit.

“All of our decisions start with what we are here to do,” Hendel says. “There are always many terrific ideas. We have a pretty disciplined and rigorous process that we go through on doing business planning and strategic planning.

“What are the financial implications for it? Does it have the ability to serve the greatest number of people? Do we have the skills and resources to make it successful? If we don’t, what do we need to do to obtain those?”

You can’t be afraid to reject a good idea that you’re just not in a good position to implement. On the other hands, if you believe an idea is worth pursuing, you’ve got to take the leap and go after it without hesitation.

“We’re able to say to folks involved, ‘Here is exactly why we’re pursuing this,” Hendel says. “Then we’re able to say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to do it. Here’s what we know. Here’s how we’re going to train, here’s how we’re going to design it, here’s the timeline and here’s how we’re going to provide more education.’ Here’s how we’re going to make what seems like a daunting project into one that is very doable. Then we stick with it. We don’t give up halfway through. We don’t start something that we haven’t thought through and defined well.”

Don’t be afraid

You can’t lead your business out of fear or out of too much deference to the past. If you don’t allow new ideas to be discussed and then given a shot to succeed, you’ll never change and the world will pass you by.

“An organization that just takes what has happened in the past and uses that as a basis for what’s going to happen in the future narrows its opportunities,” Hendel says. “It narrows its possibilities. It often makes organizations hunker down or become paralyzed and fearful of making any change or taking any risk. That’s the time when calculated and conscious risk is what is needed for a lot of organizations.”

It would have been much easier for MemorialCare to stick with what it was doing in terms of keeping medical records instead of tackling the conversion to electronic data storage.

But if you want to have a culture that always is looking for ways to do it better, how could you pass up that kind of endeavor?

“A lot of time is devoted to what-if kinds of thinking,” Hendel says. “What if we could create this? How might we do it? What would it look like? What would it result in? How would it benefit people? We do a lot of brainstorming and a lot of thinking. We take data, but we also take seeds back from our own community and certainly from our work force to create a lot of what-if scenarios.”

Fear becomes a major factor when you get into this type of thinking.

“Even for an organization that is really solid financially, they are likely to have people on their teams who are fearful of what could happen,” Hendel says. “People are more fearful about what might happen that never does happen than putting their energy toward creating their own future.”

So what can you do to help people overcome that fear?

“I’m surrounded by talented, passionate, caring people who are right there on our team together,” Hendel says. “I keep a lot of balance in my life making sure I exercise and take care of myself. I think in the past when I’ve gotten stressed, perhaps I would not get enough sleep or eat very well. I learned quickly that getting enough sleep and eating well and taking care of myself helps me to be much better at work and much better with my family. That’s a time when you rely on relationships with a lot of people. Don’t isolate yourself. Connect with them.”

Once you’ve got your own house in order, see what you can do to help your people see the great value in what they do each day.

“We have to love what we do and we have to find reward in what we do and deep meaning in what we do,” Hendel says.

“There’s a famous story of a woman who worked in a suture factory. She was the person who made sutures for operating rooms for surgeons to use. Day in and day out, she made sutures. Someone interviewed her once and said, ‘Well, isn’t that boring? You just make sutures.’ She said, ‘I don’t make sutures, I save lives.’ She related it to her connection to something else. That is true for all of us. Those of us who can find that connection, find that meaning and find that contribution, that’s the secret to great leadership. But I think it’s also the secret to great living.”

How to reach: MemorialCare Health System, (714) 377-2900 or

The Hendel File

Diana Hendel, CEO, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children's Hospital Long Beach and Community Hospital Long Beach

Born: Long Beach, Calif.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, biological sciences, University of California, Irvine; doctorate in pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco

What was your very first job?

I was a waitress at the Knott’s Berry Farm [Mrs. Knott’s] Chicken Dinner Restaurant. It taught me a lot about people. Everyone should work in food service. It was a good learning opportunity to realize that sometimes people will say things or do things that either caught me by surprise or hurt my feelings. I didn’t take it personally. It was an opportunity to learn to be flexible.

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

My mother, Barbara. She encouraged me and supported me and really taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do, as long as it was something I loved to do.

What did you want to be growing up?

I didn’t have any one thing. I wanted to do lots of things. I wanted to be an author, a veterinarian, a jockey. I wanted to be lots of different things. I was one of those children where every year, I had a different thing I wanted to be. I loved variety and I didn’t want to do any one thing. And wouldn’t you know, all these years later, I’m in a role where I get to do lots of different things with a lot of variety and a lot of challenge.

Best piece of advice: My favorite quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’ In a roundabout way, that was the best advice. Create your future, follow your dreams, don’t be limited. It’s up to you to create and not someone else’s responsibility.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:01

Beyond the Basics: Don't fear bad news

Peace is a good thing, but it’s not always the best thing for your business. This isn’t to say that you want your employees shouting at each other in the hallways or across their cubicle walls. But if everything is too serene, you might wonder how hard they are actually working to grow your business.

With growth and change comes the occasional obstacle. Those obstacles may seem pretty daunting, but you can’t fear them. Embrace them for what they are, signs that your plan needs a little work. If you believe that problems arise for a reason and can actually help you be ready for what the future holds, they may not seem so scary. Here’s what some of the leaders we’ve spoken with had to say about unexpected problems.

“A progressive company that is managing change and constantly working to improve itself is hardly ever stable and orderly. There will be growing pains.”

--Adam Coffey, president and CEO, WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems LLC 

“You have to be comfortable with a little chaos. Your job is to take all that chaos and turn it into order.”

--Zorik Gordon, co-founder, president and CEO, ReachLocal Inc. 

“Quite candidly, you want to hear the bad news more than the good news because those represent the areas of opportunity within an organization.”

--Brett Good, president of Southern California district, Robert Half International Inc. 

Summary: Don’t assume that every problem is really a problem for your business.

Train your people to be responsive when a project hits a bump in the road.

Make sure people aren’t afraid to bring you bad news.

John O’Leary wanted to know what was holding back his salespeople at VPS, The Vacant Property Specialists. Why were they struggling to drive new business and what could be done to eliminate those struggles?

“It was my job to come in, take a look at them, evaluate them and make recommendations and changes that would help increase the top line,” says O’Leary, CEO of VPS in the United States. “So I came in knowing I needed to find out who were keepers and who were not keepers.”

Spend a few minutes speaking to O’Leary, whose business specializes in protecting vacant properties from harm, and you understand he’s a no-nonsense guy. His approach to the challenges at the 1,500-employees was no different. He simply asked his salespeople to prepare a 30-minute presentation about what was working and what wasn’t working in their jobs. It would be delivered to him in a one-on-one setting where they would have his undivided attention.

“It would give me a feel for how sales-oriented the people were,” O’Leary says. “Their capability to make a presentation, talk about their territories, talk about the obstacles that we needed to overcome as a company. Usually, if you ask some people what’s wrong with the company, you get more than what you need to hear.

“But if you hear it enough times from enough people, where there is smoke, there is fire. My purpose there was to find out the top three or four things that I heard consistently from the people, then to take a look at them and see how they presented themselves and how they presented it to me. I was the customer in that environment. They were giving me a presentation on themselves and their territory.”

When it was all said and done, O’Leary expected to have a better idea on what he needed to do to get VPS where everyone wanted it to be. He wasn’t interested in excuses. He wasn’t interested in blame. His objective was to identify problems, eliminate those problems and help his people succeed.

“I was brought on board to help sales growth in the company,” O’Leary says. “You need to find a way to hit that number. ‘The economy is tough’ is not the answer. I don’t think you would find that an acceptable answer in any company. You just need to look in the business section every day to see how many companies are laying people off.”

If all went well for O’Leary, it wouldn’t come to that at VPS.

Talk to your people

O’Leary takes his job seriously. But he didn’t want to intimidate his people with these 30-minute presentations. He wanted them to clearly understand that he was there to help them and that it was to their mutual benefit to have these meetings.

“I said, ‘I’m bringing you in for a sales meeting because I feel it’s important that I understand what you’re facing as an employee and as a salesperson,’” O’Leary says. “What do we need to do to change anything that’s not being done correctly? What tools do you need to succeed?

“My purpose in doing this is there are about 16 of you right now. It’s going to be difficult to do one-on-ones going out and visiting you. It would take me too long. The reason I’m doing this is one, to get everyone together to talk about where we’re going as a team and let you meet me and find out what my thought process is on this; let me meet you and find out where you are on this and what you need to succeed. Hopefully, you’ll get an idea of how I work and what I’m looking for from salespeople and I can get a feel for what you need to succeed and some of the obstacles you’ve had in the past that have prevented you from succeeding. It’s a get-to-know each other.”

With all the forms of communication that are out there, sometimes you still will get the best information from a simple one-on-one conversation.

“I gave them an outline and I said, ‘Look, I want a 30-minute presentation on your territory,’” O’Leary says. “’What’s going on in your territory right now? Who are your top customers? What are the obstacles that you face every day that inhibit you from succeeding? What are the things we’re doing right? What are some of the things we need to change? What would some of your recommendations be if we were to change them? Give me a general overview of who you compete against and what you need to succeed, and anything else that you think is important that I should know about at this point.’”

O’Leary got a strong response from his people and the opportunity to sit down and talk to him about their challenges.

“They were looking for leadership at the time,” O’Leary says. “There were a lot of people working very hard. Like anything, when you come in and review things, some changes are made with personnel. That’s the way it is when you get new leadership. That’s going to happen in any company when you make changes. There were a bunch of people working very hard. They were looking for leadership, they were looking for the tools to be successful and welcomed someone that would come in and say, ‘All right, here’s the deal. Here’s where we are. Here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s what I’m looking for from you.’”

O’Leary had people bring him a written version of their presentation and he took notes along the way. When the presentations were finished, he reviewed what he had learned and quickly reported his findings to the people he had just met with to demonstrate that there was a purpose for what they had just told him.

One of the pieces of information that came up repeatedly was product and service pricing. O’Leary wanted to investigate this further in the field with prospective customers.

“I said I’ve got a list of some things here,” O’Leary says. “What I plan to try to do now is call some of you to go out and visit with some current customers and find out what they think about us; go out and make some new sales calls with you and find out what people who are thinking of possibly using us, what are some things you confront on a sales call. So I get a feel of what are the objections that we’re hearing to our product line and why we’re not selling. We’re going to figure out what we need to do better in terms of presenting our product, and look at our pricing and see if we truly are too high-priced.”

Be part of the team

So O’Leary hit the road with his salespeople to see what customers and prospective customers thought about VPS and the products and service the company was offering.

He wanted his people to be on board with the plan, but if they weren’t, he was OK with that too. They just would have to find somewhere else to work.

“If they are not willing to change, it’s a culture issue,” O’Leary says. “You need to change the culture or the company doesn’t have a chance at succeeding. One of the other reasons I had the sales meetings was to create team synergy. These people rarely got together. They’d see each other once a year. Now we’re doing quarterly meetings and having dinner afterward where everyone gets to sit down and talk. They get to be a team. They call each other now when someone has success and ask each other what they did. It’s created a team environment.

“I remember when I was younger and in sales, we had a new CEO come in. He turned around and he said, ‘Look things are going to change here. Not everyone is going to fit in with what we’re looking to accomplish. Let’s shake hands, part ways and part as friends. But for those of you willing to take part in what we’re looking to accomplish, I welcome you to jump on board and participate enthusiastically and let’s make this thing a success.’”

As O’Leary met with customers, he discovered that his people were right on target. People were concerned about price and in a tough economy, that was only making it worse. There was just a perception out there that VPS was charging too much.

“The question became are we too high-priced?” O’Leary says.

He didn’t think this was true. Rather, he thought his people needed to take a different approach in how they presented VPS offerings to prospective customers. They needed to know that while using steel to protect vacant properties might be more expensive, it paid off when those properties were not broken into.

“I put together a proposition that talked about the things that we do well versus the competition,” O’Leary says. “We went in and started talking to customers about this and started getting their attention. This is part of changing the sales culture here. In the past, they just accepted the fact that we were too high-priced. The first thing I had to do was get the sales team educated, change the culture and help them understand that you have to go in and be a consultative sales person to the end user. Pricewise, we really did play in that environment.”

O’Leary wanted his people to focus on solving problems for customers and not on selling them a product or service.

“The first thing I would ask is if they know us,” O’Leary says. “Even here in Chicago, you’d be shocked at how many companies have no idea who we are because we have not been marketed very well in the past. You sit down and start from the beginning. Here’s what we do. When you secure a property, what do you do? Do you use steel? Do you use wood?

“We’d tell them some of our customers use our product because they’ve encountered problems like this. Can you associate with any of those? Find out what are their issues. Then, let’s come back with a proposal for you and see if it makes sense for you pricewise. We are going to be a little more expensive than the wood, but we think in the long term, it will save you money.”

O’Leary was confident in his approach and he wanted his people to believe in it. But he didn’t expect them to be clones, because would-be customers would see right through that.

“People can be successful, but there is no cookie-cutter approach to doing it,” O’Leary says. “What works for one person may not work for someone else. What works for you may not work for me. We can all learn from the success that people have had, but I do encourage people to be themselves. We did professional sales training, but I said, ‘You need to take this and adapt it to your own personality.’”

By taking the approach of offering solutions to customers rather than just a product to buy, and giving them a few tips on how best to present those solutions, O’Leary found his people were having more success. He did have to make some changes and let some people go.

But the end result was a team of people who felt like they working toward a common cause with O’Leary.

“So and so has been successful and closed this deal,” O’Leary says. “Why don’t you tell us a little bit about it? How did you go about it? What did you find out was important to other customers? What enabled you to close the sale? Different ideas. The salespeople now after these sales meetings, they’ll get on the phone together and talk. How did you do that? What did you do to do that? So it’s important to get people communicating. Part of my coming here was when I got here, the salespeople were more out on an island. Now we’re building more of a team. I think that’s important.”

But even with the success, O’Leary recognizes that there will always be more work and more tweaking that needs to be done.

“Part of what you need to do is constantly go through the process,” O’Leary says. “What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What opportunities are out there? How do we grow the marketplace? Where can we improve as a company? Where can we help our salespeople improve? It’s a constant. It’s not coming in and doing it the one time because if you do that, things become stagnant.

“In times like this, you always need to be creative and look at the opportunities that are out there for your company and your salespeople. The most important thing is to educate them on how to sell your products, make them confident when they are in front of the customer and let them be able to relay the value proposition we offer to a customer.”

How to reach: VPS, The Vacant Property Specialists, (800) 918-9100 or

The O’Leary File

 John O'Leary, CEO, VPS, United States

Born: New York

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business management, Marist College

Who has been the most influential person on your life?

My father, John O’Leary. He was born in Ireland. He came over on a boat with his family and had nothing when they got here. He was going through high school when he joined World War II. He came out after the war, finished high school and college at night and became an accountant/CPA. He showed me No. 1, that work ethic is important and to be responsible for yourself, but that you can achieve anything you want to if you put your mind to it.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Work ethic is huge, I’ve never asked anybody to do anything I won’t do myself. That’s how you get a successful company and that’s how you become successful yourself. Go out there and set achievable goals and work towards them.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:01

Beyond the Basics: Making good hires

Mitch Lowe found himself in an enviable position when Redbox Automated Retail LLC really began to take off. But the popularity also came with a few challenges. Namely, how do you sort through all the people who suddenly want to come and work for you?

“You start to have a lot of folks who are trying to get jobs there who are really good at presenting themselves, but are not so good at fitting in with the culture or the style of the company,” says Lowe, president at Redbox.

Lowe decided major changes were needed. In the end, he came up with a system that involves more people in the hiring process at Redbox. Here’s what other leaders we’ve spoken to recently said about what they look for when hiring. 

“We hire people who are bright, inquisitive, have high energy and high integrity, and one of the most important things is what I call intellectual curiosity. They are interested in what’s going on around them.”

-- Richard A. Chaifetz, chairman and CEO, ComPsych Corp. 

“We don’t care how much money somebody’s going to make us; if they’re going to make all of us miserable, we don’t want them here.”

-- Raj Fernando, CEO, Chopper Trading 

“People do business with people that they like, trust and then ultimately respect. That goes whether you’re a customer, a supplier or an employee.”

-- Tim Jahnke, president and CEO, Elkay Manufacturing Co. 

Summary: Look for people who are interested in what you do. Don’t underestimate character in prospective employees. Treat people the way you would like to be treated.

Donald E. Washkewicz paused for a moment as he looked at the coffee cup sitting on the table in front of him. To others in the room, it was just a coffee cup. But to Washkewicz, it was a perfect reference point for a lesson on innovation.

The cup had a brown lid and Washkewicz shook his head as he lamented how some of his peers in today’s business world would consider the development of a white lid for use with the same cup to be innovation.

“Some customer is asking for that and that’s fine,” Washkewicz says. “But that’s not going to propel us into the future and change the performance of the company in a big way. We’re really trying to drive operating performance and innovation is key.”

When Washkewicz became CEO at Parker Hannifin Corp. in 2001, he saw a company that wasn’t striving for ideas that would change the world.

“If you looked at our performance, it was typically in the middle,” Washkewicz says. “Not great, not bad. But doing OK. So I said, ‘OK, do we continue down that path or do we try to accomplish something else? I think this company is too good to be a middle-of-the-pack performing company. It really is too good.’”

Washkewicz wanted Parker to strive for greatness. There was no way that greatness was going to be achieved by settling for the development of a white lid for coffee cups when only brown lids had existed before.

“The way we define innovation is it has to be either new to the industry or new to the world or it doesn’t count,” says Washkewicz, chairman, president and CEO at the $12.4 billion company. “So what we want in the pipeline are projects that are defined as either new to the industry or new to the world. That’s what I would describe as meaningful innovation.”

Washkewicz wanted to do more than the change the color on Parker products. He wanted every one of his 58,400 employees to feel the same way that he did about the company and their jobs and the products and services they provided to customers.

It wouldn’t be easy and it wouldn’t be something that he could do alone. It wasn’t even something he could do with half his people or 75 percent of them.

“If you don’t get everybody on the same page, you’re not going to raise the water level,” Washkewicz says. “So I knew whatever we came up with, it’s going to have to be driven down from the top and we’re going to have to make sure it’s mandatory or we’re just not going to change. We can’t do things the way we’ve done them in the past and make significant change.”

Know what you want

Washkewicz wanted to build a lean organization that was efficient in every way. In his mind, Parker would buy equipment at a reasonable price and have that equipment pay for itself in no time at all. Products would be priced based not on what it cost the company to make it but on what the customer felt it was worth.

And employees would not spend time working on fresh ideas that had no use for the market, but instead would get deeply engaged in products and services that would give the customer more than they ever could have asked for.

You might ask, isn’t that every CEO’s dream? Of course, but how many of them follow through on the execution to make it happen? It was the crucial step on which Washkewicz was going to make sure Parker did not drop the ball.

“For every business, it gets down to identifying those critical fundamentals that are key to the business,” Washkewicz says. “Then it’s determining how to resource that and how to drive those through the organization and how to really stick with it. The higher up in the organization you can resource that, the better. If you say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do lean. We’re going to push it down and let you figure out how to do it yourself,’ that’s probably not going to work as well as you would like.”

Washkewicz says “lean” has become overused in a lot of companies, perhaps even a cliché.

“It’s in vogue to be doing lean,” Washkewicz says. “Everybody puts lean in. But have they resourced it through the entire organization. Can you really go and see those charts in the plants posted? Do you have a win strategy tied to that? Do you have the metrics? It’s probably 10 percent of the ones who say they are doing lean who are actually doing lean. My point is, if we can really do it and perfect it, we’re going to be in that top quartile of performance because the other people aren’t doing it. That’s fine, if they think they are doing it and they aren’t. That’s their business. I just want this company to be up on top.”

Whether you call it lean or something else, the key to rebuilding your corporate culture into one dynamic force is to not have a different program and different philosophy for each unit in your organization.

“You need common programs,” Washkewicz says. “You don’t want everybody figuring out they have 325 different lean programs, then you can’t communicate side to side and across the organization. You have to have a common approach to doing lean and a common set of metrics so that when you have a big meeting, their division and this division, you can compare the two. Otherwise, it’s not comparable.

“Then it’s tying it all together and getting it down to the individual employee. Somehow you have to link the strategy and the execution of the strategy back to the person. It’s really all about people if you want to cut right through it. If you can link all that together and have a feedback mechanism, then you’re going to get something accomplished.”

Follow your plan

Washkewicz found what he was looking for at one of Parker’s aerospace facilities in Utah. He had just taken over as CEO in 2001 and felt like he needed to get out and visit as many locations as he could around the world to begin to put together his vision for the company.

“As I was traveling around, I would see pockets of brilliance,” Washkewicz says.

What he found in Utah was a division that was using metrics and getting employees to all march in the same direction. The result was inventory was down and productivity was up.

“I said, ‘Geez, this should be part of our go-forward strategy,’” Washkewicz says. “If we could ever get the whole organization doing this. But now I’m talking about 300 plants around the world, various cultures, you name it. Not an easy task. And we didn’t have any internal people who were skilled in this, other than a few people in some of these facilities. So it was a major challenge there.”

It was 2001 and the company had slumped into a recession after the 9/11 attacks. Washkewicz needed to hire some people who could help show his employees the value of lean when it came to buying equipment and pricing products and being innovative.

“The whole world is collapsing and we’re adding people,” Washkewicz says.

Some may have thought it was crazy, but for Washkewicz, it was an opportunity to show he was serious about his plan.

“It’s important that everybody else is on board, but if the key guy at the top isn’t on board here and he’s not out front communicating, it’s going to fizzle,” Washkewicz says. “It’s not going to work. He has to approve the resourcing of all these high-level jobs in the organization, which wasn’t easy. In the middle of a recession, we’re hiring 200 people paying decent salaries trying to get the best people we could to execute on some of these things. You might say it was one of the dumber things we’ve done, but it was one of the better things actually.”

If you have a group of employees who are skeptical of your motives, you’ve got to find ways to show them you’re serious.

“There were a lot of doubting Thomases out there,” Washkewicz says. “There were a lot of slow starters. You could see they were not accepting. But we were measuring. We could see who the slow starters were. We made sure we addressed that early on.”

As Washkewicz and his team talked about the steps they wanted to take and helped people understand the value of making smart and well thought out decisions for the business, they responded when some people decided not to play along.

“There was one casualty when we were doing our strategic procurement initiative, and it happened to be in a foreign country,” Washkewicz says. “My VP of supply chain came to me and said, ‘You know, every place else seems to be getting on board, I just can’t seem to get this one place on board.’ I said, ‘What’s the problem?’ He said, ‘Well, this particular individual is sitting on $5 million worth of cost savings for the company.’”

Washkewicz learned that the person in question was unwilling to place any orders outside of Sweden.

“He wants all the business to go to Swedish companies even though he could buy it less in Italy or France or wherever,” Washkewicz says. “He won’t place a purchase order. I said, ‘Well, then he’s in the wrong job.’ So we had to figure out how to move him out of that job. That message started permeating throughout the company in a positive way. It sent the message, ‘Oh my God, this is serious. Look at Joe Blow over here. He’s no longer in that job because he didn’t execute.’ It happened because it needed to happen.”

Provide the tools

Washkewicz didn’t want to give employees the option of saying they didn’t understand an aspect of the Win Strategy, which was the name given to the remaking of Parker Hannifin. He didn’t want there to be any excuses as why they hadn’t complied with a part of the strategy. He had been down that road before and didn’t want to put his people through the same thing.

“I won’t mention the name,” Washkewicz says. “He came down one time and we had a certain target of meeting a certain operating margin in the company. He came down with the CFO and they were making a tour of all the divisions around the company. He said, ‘I want you to get to 15 percent operating margin. When are you going to get to 15?’ I was at about 13 at the time. I said, ‘I’m going to give you a plan and show you exactly what I’m going to do.’ He kept beating on the table and so when I got to this point of looking at trying to put together a strategy, I said the one thing we need to do is we need to give the employees the how to.

“I said, ‘I’ll never ask the employees to do something that I can’t do myself.’ That was the one thing I wanted to make sure happened. When that CEO came down and went through his tirade, and maybe that’s too strong word, maybe it wasn’t, I said the one thing I’ll never do is I’ll never do that. If he was so smart and he knew how to get there, why didn’t he tell me how to do it? He didn’t give me any ideas. He was just jumping up and down and raising hell.”

At Parker, employees have personal performance plans to keep them honest and take the guess work out of what needs to be done.

“Say you have the highest level strategy, this is at the corporate level,” Washkewicz says. “It would be meeting certain shareholder objectives and return on asset and certain things. So what this does is it cascades down. Those initiatives cascade down in what we call annual improvement plans for each of the business units.

“Starting at the group level of the corporation, they would take those corporate objectives and they would convert them into their own group objectives and they would convert them into division objectives because the division is the next biggest business unit and then at the end of the day, those are converted into what we call PPPs, or personal performance plans. So you start at the corporate level and you determine what the annual improvement plan is. Those then translate until every individual employee understands how and what things he or she needs to do. If they execute on those, that will allow us to achieve the corporate goals.”

It all sounds pretty simple, of course. But it comes down to execution to make it work.

“It’s three things: Execution, accountability and results,” Washkewicz says. “Are you executing on the strategy and if you are, we’re going to be holding you accountable for getting the results we’re asking you to get here. So those three things we really value. If you’re just going to sit there and ride along while everybody else is doing the work, that’s not going to be acceptable and it hasn’t been.”

Parker puts together a booklet each year to update employees about how the company is progressing in meeting its goals and to reinforce accountability. Washkewicz has also put together a list of common excuses he has heard over the years about why something didn’t get done.

“I say, ‘There’s 50 I hear all the time, but here’s the top 10,’” Washkewicz says. “Of course, that gets everybody’s attention. So unless you’ve got something new to add here, don’t tell me. I don’t want to hear it. Because I’ve heard them all.”

Washkewicz is a stickler for getting things done and he’s more than willing to provide assistance on the how. But that doesn’t mean he’s a micromanager or that he insists on being in on every decision that his people make.

He’s been trying to move his people toward self-directed work so they don’t require a supervisor standing over their shoulders telling them what to do.

“There is nobody that knows their job better than they do when you get right down to it,” Washkewicz says. “I don’t. You think the foreman does? He doesn’t. It’s the people doing the work that know that job better than anyone else. So allowing them to get together and manage their own work, within a certain framework, I think has been wonderful. It adds job enrichment for people.”

The key to making it work is that you’ve got to stay on it with the people who report to you and on down the line.

“It has to have leadership from the top,” Washkewicz says. “I don’t see how this could ever work without that. You would have scrambled eggs. People would be doing their own thing just like they were doing in the past. We had great programs, but we didn’t have the consistency that we have now. The feedback with the strategy deployment, the win scorecard.

“Like I was saying, when I go to a plant, I can look at those boards and I can tell how well that plant is doing. We don’t have to go to the plant because we can see the same data on our own computers. But when you go there, you get a pretty good sense. Those employees present to you how well they are doing on lean and pricing and customer service and all these other metrics. It’s pretty impressive.”

If you take a look at the single page that contains Parker’s Win Strategy, you’ll notice a red No. 1 by the goal of providing premier customer service. Washkewicz put that together because without it, nothing else his employees do would matter.

“If you do a good job serving that customer, you’re going to achieve your financial goals and you’ll have an opportunity to grow,” Washkewicz says. “But if you don’t serve the customer and what he’s given you already as far as orders, he’s not going to give you new business. It’s just common sense. But a lot of times you forget who the customer is. You get all embroiled in the work you’re doing and you forget who the real customer is.”

And so it comes back to finding great ways to satisfy the customer, more than just changing the color of a product and calling it innovation. Parker’s ability to maintain this attitude going forward will determine how far the company can ultimately go.

“In essence, what we’re doing is we’re executing lean on our innovation program just like we were executing lean on our manufacturing program,” Washkewicz says. “We want the leanest innovation program we can have. We don’t want to spend a lot of money on projects that aren’t going to yield any results.”

Washkewicz says the results show that Parker has made strides toward being in the upper echelon of its industry. Productivity has risen from $130,000 per employee in 2001 to $218,000 in 2011. The company’s share price has risen from $28.29 in 2001 to $89.74 in 2011 and operating margin is up from 11.3 percent to 14.8 percent during that period.

“It’s a little bit overwhelming when you think about how do I get this thing going?” Washkewicz says. “It takes a lot of hard work and effort. But once you do, it’s like a locomotive. You got this big locomotive and it’s pulling a 100-car train. Until that thing gets moving, it’s a bear. But once it’s going, guess what, you’ve got the momentum. Then it’s tough to stop. Just make sure you’ve got it going in the right direction.”

How to reach: Parker Hannifin Corp., (800) 272-7537 or  

Takeaways: Don’t be afraid of greatness. Help your people understand expectations. Always think about how you can help your customer.

Scott Sumser had a moment of doubt as he prepared for his first day at work as president of Athens Foods Inc.

“There’s a sense of pride that you worked hard to get to this point,” Sumser says. “But there was also an enormous amount of anxiety. ‘Hey, can I do this? Have I bitten off more than I can chew?’”

Fortunately for Sumser, his nerves settled and his experience began to kick in.

“You have a bag of experience that you carry around with you,” Sumser says. “It really doesn’t matter what you do. You get to reach into that bag and use your learning from everything.”

Sumser decided the best course of action in leading the 200-employee fillo dough producer was to be what he was, a curious new employee.

Be a sponge

People take the transition too seriously. It’s important to show people that you have aptitude and that you’re in the role for a reason. But I think you really need to be a bit of a sponge. Use your two ears and one mouth proportionally in a new situation. Listen twice as much as you talk. Ask a lot of questions and admit when you don’t know something. You build credibility much faster than feeling like you’ve got to know everything right out of the chute. Further down your life cycle, it’s important to use leadership as a driving force. But initially, it’s better to create those relationships so that people feel like you’re willing to learn and listen rather than just come in and do.

Get to know names

It matters a lot. Everyone is going to know your name and the more you can do to learn theirs, the better impression you’re going to make. One tool I use is we have a plant of 150 to 200 people depending on the season. So I have HR take a picture of everybody who is working here. What I try to do is if I know I’m going to be in the plant, I’ll take a look at their picture. It will tell me what department they are in. It gives me one more tool to make sure I’m sending the right message that everybody, no matter what you do, matters to the success or failure of the company.

Take the stage

It’s probably good to have an all-employee meeting right out of the chute. Otherwise, depending on who you were able to tackle getting to know everybody, there’s going to be somebody who feels like they really didn’t understand who you are. It doesn’t have to be enormously formal and you can still use your one-on-one time and continual learning. But depending on the size of your organization, it’s just important for people to be able to hear you speak and find out what your background is. That kind of squelches a bit of the rumor mill. They hear it from you as far as what you are trying to do.

Proceed deliberately

Be open minded to the current way the team gets things done. Too many leaders come in and try to put their stamp on too many things. It’s best to try to learn. You may think you have a better way to do something, but it may just be your opinion instead of the best way to do it. Do keep good notes for your first 30, 60 and 90 days of all your observations. That really allows you to go back after you feel like you’ve created a good relationship with folks and remember what you saw. You think you’ll remember it at the time, but keeping good notes of what your observations were - good, bad or indifferent - really helps you refresh your memory.

Company Facts:

Athens Foods Inc.

City: Cleveland

Founded: 1958. Athens is the world’s largest producer of fillo dough and fillo products.

Sumser on first impressions: Don’t judge your team too quickly. First impressions are a great data point. But once the smoke clears and people begin to act how they normally act, you get to better understand what people bring to the table. It may align with your initial feeling or it may not.

How to reach: Athens Foods Inc., (216) 676-8500 or

Steve Giacin has felt the pressure that comes with being the president of a business during a time of economic recession. But he doesn’t try to compare his challenges to those of the people he has had to lay off from Kaiser Electric Inc.

He doesn’t think you should either.

“One thing leaders say that they shouldn’t say to people is, ‘This is a lot harder on me than it is on you,’” says Giacin, president at the 150-employee electrical contractor. “I’ve heard people say that, and I don’t agree with it. Leadership isn’t a some time thing, it’s an all the time thing. If that’s what the task is and that’s part of leadership, you need to rise to the task. You have too many people relying on you.”

Giacin has been forced to let employees go who had put in more than 10 years with the company and he’s issued salary reductions for those who remained. He says the key to getting through these difficult decisions is decisiveness.

“It is important to try to look like you know what you’re doing in that situation,” Giacin says.

One way you can be effective at that is to keep cutbacks from being spread out over multiple occasions.

“If I saw a cut or two here and a month later, a cut or two there, it would make me wonder if the leadership of the company really had a handle on what was coming at us,” Giacin says. “When you make those types of cuts, if you guess, err to making another cut rather than having to cut someone else a month later because something changed.”

Giacin says his feelings have changed in this area based on the rising uncertainty that has plagued the economy of late.

“Before we were in the heart of how bad this situation is currently, the last thing you wanted to do was cut too much, too quick,” Giacin says. “I don’t think you can do that anymore. If your company is right-sized for what you’re faced with and you see that you have to reduce that, you better do your homework and you better be looking out further than a month or two when you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods and families.

“I think the status quo is over for all of us. I don’t think it exists anymore. If you’re not on your game every day, you’ll be eaten alive. You won’t be around very long. I believe everybody in the company has that same sense of vision. They are all looking at me for what direction we are headed and how we are going to get there.”

Facing that kind of pressure, Giacin says it’s incumbent upon any leader to take time for himself to gather his thoughts and think them over before making a decision.

“It’s impossible to do when you’re here in the fire every day,” Giacin says. “All leaders need some avenue to be able to step back. You’re never completely away from it. But like I said, you can step back and not be in the office. You can truly reflect on some things and evaluate what’s working and not working moving forward.”

Once you’ve taken that time to pause, report back to your people on what you’ve come up with.

“That’s part of the constant communication you have to have,” Giacin says. “When you have a company our size, it’s a very close, family-type culture. When you let someone go and there is no communication, I don’t feel that’s appropriate. We typically get everyone together and discuss where we’re at and what led to this decision and how we’re going forward with what we have in front of us and who is doing what going forward so everybody knows.”

How to reach: Kaiser Electric Inc., (636) 305-1515 or

Stay in front

If you work for Steve Giacin, you better not be lazy about returning phone calls or e-mails. It’s a big no-no in the eyes of the president of Kaiser Electric Inc., particularly in tough times such as these.

“With all the mediums that we have at our disposal these days, I consider that to be unacceptable,” says Giacin, who leads the 150-employee electrical contractor. “Don’t let the day go by without returning a phone call or sending a reply to their e-mail. Just to say, I did receive your request and I’m working on it. I either have the answer and here it is or I’m looking into the situation and I will be back in touch with you tomorrow.”

Giacin expects a lot from his employees, but he expects even more when his company is going through a difficult economy like it is now.

“Everyone in our company is working harder than they ever have,” Giacin says. “We have fewer resources to cover the things we need to cover on a daily basis. So you have to maintain that consistency and have constant communication through the ranks of your company.”

And that has to start at the top with Giacin.

“I can’t have a lack of responsiveness to my employees or to our customers,” Giacin says. “That has to be transparent to them. If that means my work day and my work hours have to be expanded to cover that, that’s what has to happen.”

One day, Derek Glanvill was part of a construction industry that was achieving record growth. Seemingly the next day, the sector was caught in a downward spiral that appeared to have no bottom.

“Our industry doesn’t have 9 percent unemployment,” says Glanvill, president and COO at McCarthy Building Cos. Inc. “It has 20 to 23 percent unemployment in the construction trade. From 2006 to 2007, the construction economy was at its highest that it had been in any of our lifetimes. The fact that we’re now in a very different economy, it’s the contrast of that high to this low that is so stark and amazing.”

The recession was quite the game-changer in the real estate market as the country went from a building boom where new homes and businesses were being built on every street to an environment where every neighborhood was being overwhelmed with property foreclosures.

It left many business leaders trying to plot just when this economic plunge would reach its bottom. Glanvill wasn’t interested in being a prognosticator.

“You don’t predict it,” Glanvill says. “You do everything you can to right-size your company. You look at your cost structure. You make sure you get rid of any excess costs. You stop doing things that don’t add value. You take a strong look at your company and you prepare to operate it for as long as it takes in that environment.”

Glanvill preaches strategic thinking at every level of the 1,500-employee company. He wants his employees thinking every day about how they can do their jobs more effectively. By doing so, he’s confident that McCarthy will always be in a strong position, whether the economy is heading up or going down.

His approach has helped McCarthy weather the storm pretty effectively. The employee-owned company had more $2 billion in revenue before the recession hit and it still does, with $2.5 billion recorded for 2010.

Here’s how Glanvill makes strategic thinking a priority and keeps McCarthy poised for whatever the future might bring.

Make it routine

Glanvill didn’t want his employees to feel any differently as they strategized during the recession compared to when they met during the boom times. Strategic thinking should not be a big event at your company. If it is, Glanvill says you’re not doing it enough.

“You can’t just show up one day and say, ‘Let’s be strategic today,’ and have it be the first time you ever thought about it,” Glanvill says. “How do you get them to show up on a Friday afternoon and put their creativity hat on? Now all of a sudden, they are being forced to think completely differently than what they’ve been trained to do and wired to do. That’s a challenge for any organization to suddenly expect people to switch from one mindset to another.

“The answer is creating that expectation that even though I’m doing my day-to-day job and I’m working my way through it, I’m doing so in a way that constantly requires me to be planning.”

If you make strategy and planning a part of everyone’s job responsibility from day one, it’s not viewed as a burden. It’s just part of what they do. It’s a little different at McCarthy because it’s an employee-owned company. But Glanvill says the principles work just as well in any type of business.

“The key to doing it is to get people talking about it and empower them to come up with ideas and then be ready to implement them,” Glanvill says. “One thing that will infuriate your employees is if you ask them their opinion and then you don’t do anything about it. You need to report back on results.”

The accountability must work both ways. As important as it is for you to respond to ideas, you need to impress upon your people the importance of bringing ideas to you for consideration.

“Every employee is expected to come with a way of strategic thinking, not only when we put the plan together, but all the way through it,” Glanvill says. “We’re always in the middle of executing an existing plan or inventing a new plan. It’s cultural. You build that expectation into peoples’ minds. It’s not a static approach where you just ask for ideas.

“Planning underscores everything. We plan for safety, quality, profit, client relationships, everything we do around here. It’s that idea that every project we do has a margin plan, a site-specific quality plan and a site-specific safety plan. The idea of planning is a core part of what we do. It becomes not automatic, but it becomes something they are used to doing.”

Create an environment where everyone is thinking, ‘What could I be doing to help the company improve?’ and you’ll get ideas like the solar project McCarthy has launched in the southwestern United States.

“It came from an indepth study on renewable energy that two of our operating groups got together and did,” Glanvill says. “They said, ‘Let’s go ahead and take a look at that.’ Nobody asked them to do that. They did that on their own. Their leaders of their divisions did it because in their businesses and because of the tough geographical markets they are in, they could use it as a way to change their business.”

It will take some time to implement strategic thinking in a company that hasn’t really focused on it, but Glanvill says that’s OK.

“I still keep asking myself, ‘Does this add value or not? Does this have a good outcome? If I do these things, what’s going to happen?’” Glanvill says. “If I have a good plan, I can assess the risks and opportunities within that plan. Even though it appears to be a day-to-day grind, it sets the mindset of everybody incrementally improving.

“Take 1,500 people and incrementally improve them while they are doing their day job, it makes a strategic leap. It makes the creative planning meeting they have to go to a whole lot easier. Create some strategic examples of how things could be done differently. Oftentimes, if you give people a couple ideas and start them in the direction and you challenge them with some key questions, they tend to want to roll up their sleeves and solve it.”

Set high expectations

It’s not too tough to sit in a room and throw a bunch of ideas up on the board of what you could do. But if those ideas don’t ever go anywhere, what was the point? Glanvill wants employees to know that they need to do their homework when they’re thinking about ways to help the company.

“You have to have somewhat of a formal approach where there are certain areas of questioning and answers that need to be provided with each idea,” Glanvill says. “It’s by making people go through the legwork of a formal process of filling out a couple pages of written information that forces them to really flesh out the idea. You’re not making it too bureaucratic where they feel like it’s burdensome. But you have to force people to think. Great ideas are wonderful. But if you can’t articulate how they are going to apply to the business or you can’t measure the value, they aren’t great ideas. They might sound good, but you have to have a real formal way of accepting and vetting.”

When someone on your team has clearly put in the effort, recognize him or her for it, even if it’s not something you can act on at that moment.

“I had a young gentleman present a white paper on why we weren’t doing more business in India,” Glanvill says. “I commend him a lot for coming forward and having a lot of great ideas and doing the research. The right approach is to sit down and listen to him, even if you know it’s an idea that’s not going to fly. Sit down and listen to him and make sure he feels like he’s been heard.”

If you show through your actions that you’re holding people accountable to come up with solutions and not just ideas, the quality of those ideas will improve.

“When the idea is vetted and is brought forward and challenged, the employee knows they need to bring not just the idea, but a certain level of solution. By allowing them to be part of it, it’s absolutely key to setting the stage where people believe if they do come up with an idea, someone is going to act on it.

“It’s a great idea to go to India, but we don’t have the people that want to go there. It’s a great idea, but we don’t have the resources. If anybody steps up and says, ‘I’ll do it,’ you have to be prepared to clear the path for them and allow them to do it.”

The vetting process is obviously key to sorting through ideas and moving the ones that can work on down the line. Glanvill relies on a panel of 10 leaders that he keeps in touch with on a regular basis. He wants to make sure they are doing their job fielding and discussing ways to improve the business.

“You have to spend a lot of time with your key leaders to know who is good at it and who is not,” Glanvill says. “The process you need to put in place is have a report-out process fairly often. If you’re going to lead a strategic initiative, you have to be accountable for it. It means you have to present the ideas that you’ve collected, present status and progress reports.”

If the people coordinating ideas aren’t meeting expectations, make changes.

“Sometimes we have changed the leaders because we’ve had those complaints,” Glanvill says. “You’re not engaged enough or you’re not listening enough. It’s being able to recognize those folks who are good at it and those who are not good at it.”

Develop leaders

Glanvill preaches strategic thinking whether McCarthy is operating in a good economy or a bad one. But he does recognize that his people have other day-to-day responsibilities.

“You don’t want to be doing strategic planning 40 hours a week,” Glanvill says. “You don’t want your employees sitting there thinking that you’re asking them to be creative every minute of the day and you’re losing their core work. It always gets back to that planning culture and people knowing that when they do have a great idea, it will be heard and they will be able to participate in the right way.”

Glanvill keeps his eyes open so that when people are ready to take on more responsibility and fill the leadership roles needed to make things happen, it’s a fairly seamless process. He wants people to always be thinking about where they might in to the company’s future and then feel they have a path to get there.

“Strategic planning and leadership development go hand in hand because you need to have a talent management process that identifies who the top talent is,” Glanvill says. “They become the leading advocates for your strategic planning process. You get the right people identified, you get them on the right path, you empower them to become strategic, you empower the whole organization to become better at planning and with a little bit of formal process overlay, but not too much bureaucracy, you clear the way for people to do the things they are good at doing.”

You need to create a culture where people are always thinking about what the company might need in the future.

“We have a strong culture of everybody needing to name two people who could take their job,” Glanvill says. “So everybody in the organization is constantly trying to identify talent.”

When business units at McCarthy meet, they must bring in their organizational charts.

“It’s color coded in terms of people who are doing well and people who are emerging leaders and people who are ready for advancement,” Glanvill says. “We not only force them to do it on what today’s environment looks like, but we get them to show a future org chart three years from now and what it’s going to look like. Who are the potential candidates to fill those roles?”

Glanvill wants employees to be thinking strategically about both the business and about the personnel who will conduct that business and plot the direction of the company.

“You have a process that migrates talent in the organization and it creates opportunity,” Glanvill says. “Identification of the high-potential people that are in the funnel, you have it on a spreadsheet and you talk about it often. One of the columns that needs to be filled is, what is their next development step? Where are they going next?”

How to reach: McCarthy Building Companies Inc., (314) 968-3300 or

The Glanvill File

Born: Johannesburg, South Africa

Education: Bachelor of science and master’s degree, civil and structural engineering, University of Natal (University of KwaZulu Natal), Durban, South Africa

What is the best advice you ever received?

Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Work very hard by setting the example. You set the tone; you set the work ethic. And then with a few other leadership qualities like listening and being able to make decisions, trust your partners to make good decisions.

Glanvill on leadership: The key to being a strong leader is to be able to articulate a good set of behavioral values and you have to be able to put them into action. There are certainly those who are born with natural leadership skills. But leadership can be taught and it can be learned. There are many people who have learned it who are not necessarily as effective as those who have natural skills. But I don’t think that all great leaders have natural skills.

Glanvill on the benefits of employee ownership: People are a whole lot more interested when it’s their company. I look at our ownership structure and I look at our culture, and you’ve got 1,500 people all incrementally trying to be 10, 15 or 20 percent better and owning their own development. You create that expectation in them. You can take another 1,500-man team that is publically traded, family owned, management owned, and we’d beat the socks off of them. Just by definition, we’ve empowered so many people to the outcome. The reward is personal because of accountability.

Joe Phelps had built much of his life around his business, but that was all about to change.

In Southern California and beyond, Phelps is known as a pioneer in the PR and marketing industry. He and his wife, Sylvia, took great pride in the steps they had taken to abolish the old-school department structure and create an organization in The Phelps Group that asks every employee to be completely centered on client satisfaction.

The firm was on a roll, adding new clients and being recognized as one of the best places to work in Los Angeles. And then Phelps learned that his wife, Sylvia, had brain cancer.

“I said, ‘You guys have to take care of the company, and I’ll take care of Sylvie,’” says Phelps, the 70-employee firm’s founder and CEO.

Sylvia Phelps ultimately lost her battle with brain cancer in November 2008. And while it by no means made her passing any easier to deal with, the fact that Joe’s team stepped up and kept the firm going while he was away provided him with great satisfaction.

“I wanted to have something that lives beyond me,” Phelps says. “When I was gone, they realized, ‘Hey, we’ve been doing it without Joe.’ People saw that this model actually does work. The key is to push the decision-making down to the front lines.”

When you choose to be more than the face of your company and become a magnet for every decision that needs to be made, you take away any sense of ownership and empowerment from your people. It’s why Phelps worked so hard to not be that and to make sure everyone at The Phelps Group understood how important their role was in the success of the business.

“They will relish the responsibility,” Phelps says. “They like to show how smart they are and how much they care. Like so many things in life, it comes down to trust. The more you trust them, the more they tend to trust you and the harder they want to work and care about the company. That trust has to permeate. You have to let people be as great as they can be. ”

Before you can do this, of course, you have to make sure you have people who can thrive in this kind of working environment. If Phelps had not initially identified and hired the right people to work for him, his time away from the firm could have produced much different results.

“I spend most of my time looking for good people,” Phelps says. “It’s staying out of situations where you have to hire someone right now. That means focusing on longer term planning where you’re finding people and putting them on the bench and slowly grooming them. Make it so you’re not starting at ground zero, because it takes a while to get to know someone.”

When you take a more methodical approach to hiring, you can take opportunities to see how compatible the job candidate would be with the people they would be working with. This is important at the hiring stage, but also down the road when you’ll be asking this person to then mentor a new crop of rookies.

“They have to demonstrate that they can trust other people and be responsible for the work and demonstrate that they can coach and help other people,” Phelps says. “It’s about putting other peoples’ needs before their own. If someone is really on fire to make the agency successful, it’s people that take themselves off the throne and are willing to help others, that’s what you’re looking for.”

Phelps feels fortunate that he’s been able to find those people and create a very successful firm.

“Once you find good people and you give them a good environment, then you have to get out of their way,” Phelps says. “You have to pry your fingers off the handle bars and let go.”

How to reach: The Phelps Group, (310) 752-4400 or

Share the spotlight

Joe Phelps does not have department meetings at The Phelps Group, because there aren’t any departments.

“If you have departments, you’re going to have department directors who feel threatened by some of their people,” says Phelps, founder and CEO at the 70-employee marketing agency. “You need to always be thinking about what the client needs.”

Phelps believes that when you take departments out of the equation and instead have your people center their efforts on the client, your activity is focused exactly where it needs to be.

One of the most effective things employees at The Phelps Group do to center on their clients is ‘The BrainBangers’ Ball.’ Employees meet once a week to talk about things ranging from new advertising campaigns to a new website design or a promotional concept for a new product or service.

Phelps is happiest when victories are celebrated throughout the firm and everybody feels like they played a part in helping a client.

“In most ad agencies, someone comes up with a big idea and they want to make sure everybody knows it was their idea,” Phelps says. “The norm here is for people to share the praise and give people credit for shining light on the idea.”