Sometimes, right before he heads into a meeting, TeleCheck Services Inc. president Brian Mooney writes a simple two-word message on his notepad: Just listen.
To Mooney, listening is more than just the act of hearing people speak. It’s a skill that every president and CEO needs to hone. Without it, it’s virtually impossible to be an effective leader.
“You have to constantly remind yourself to listen because we obviously all have views and opinions and want to share those,” Mooney says.
Too often, CEOs fall into the trap of thinking they need to be the person who creates every idea, makes every move and controls everything that happens in the company. But if the CEO is willing to sit back and listen to what his or her employees and managers have to say, it can create a wellspring of new ideas that everyone can benefit from. “The really good ideas and good information sharing happen by just listening to your employees,” Mooney says. “Listening is a tremendous skill, and you need to practice it over and over.”
Listening is an important aspect of Mooney’s philosophy on leading people, which has catapulted TeleCheck to the top of its industry. The check acceptance and guarantee company, a subsidiary of First Data Corp., garnered domestic revenue of $377 million in 2005 and has an estimated 150,000 merchant clients in the United States including Puerto Rico and Canada.
Finding the right people
Before you get great ideas, you need to find great employees. For Mooney, it isn’t all about matching a person’s skill set to the job requirements; there are important steps to take beforehand.
Any job candidate at TeleCheck must have integrity and honesty above all else.
“If you can’t pass those two things, you’re dead in the water,” Mooney says. “If you can’t trust somebody, it doesn’t matter how good they are at their job.”
Mooney says beyond that, a candidate must be open-minded and not be “turf-oriented.”
“They need to be willing to be part of the group,” he says. “If you have a tremendous expert with the wrong set of values, they’re not going to work with the team no matter what happens.”
If candidates meet all those criteria, then they can be evaluated on their job skills.
It’s a long list of requirements, and the characteristics can be difficult to evaluate during the interview process. Many times, you have to rely on your business experience to gauge a job candidate. “Good background checking helps, but you always have to be nervous about if you’re getting the full story on that,” he says.
A lot of times, it’s a matter of asking the right questions. Instead of asking the obvious questions such as, “Tell me what you did at your last job,” Mooney says he likes to delve into what makes a potential employee tick. “You ask them to describe some situations where they felt uncomfortable, where they felt comfortable, and how did they react,” he says. “I don’t need to hear about everything they did at their last job. I want to know about what did they see and view as challenges at their last job, what tested them and what didn’t test them.”
When you find employees who match your company’s values and skill needs, you have to provide an environment that enables them to do their jobs.
Mooney says it’s a three-step process: An employee must be given responsibility, must be given the authority to carry out that responsibility and then must be held accountable for the final outcome. “You have to look at accountability as part of a triangle,” he says. “You can’t give anyone responsibility without giving them the authority within the organization to get the job done. Then, once you’ve given them the responsibility and the authority, then you can hold them accountable.”
If any of the three steps is handled without the other two in mind, it can create problems within a company.
Mooney says that to provide employees with responsibility and authority, you have to be very clear on who is responsible for what.
“You have to be very specific on certain aspects of who is responsible,” he says. “That can be a difficult discussion on occasion because you have to say, ‘These are the things you are responsible for, these are the things you need to participate in as a team.’”
Much of it comes down to consistent communication between employees and management, but even in the most well-run organization, there will be times when roles and responsibilities are ambiguous.
Some redundancy of responsibility is necessary because employees are often asked to handle things outside their basic job descriptions. While you don’t want an organization with unclear lines of responsibility, you also don’t want one that has departments detached from one another. “You don’t want an organization to be perfectly siloed because you don’t want people to be totally focused on what they have and not worry about what they throw over the wall to someone else,” Mooney says. “It’s a matter of stating what you’re trying to accomplish as an organization.”
In the end, you need an organization where goals and responsibilities are clearly outlined, but that doesn’t limit employees to just those objectives. A company structure should be fluid and allow employees to step into other roles when needed. “If you are making sure you have people working fluidly together, you’ll have many fewer problems,” Mooney says. “People won’t worry if they are occasionally stepping across the boundary. That’s why teamwork and open-mindedness is so important.”
Leading by example
Mooney says if you want a company culture that encourages employees to share their ideas, you have to lead by example.
“People will not believe their ideas have value until you show them you’re willing to listen, that you’re willing to consider it and debate the merits,” he says. “Once they see that operation in effect, the culture starts to take place, and people naturally migrate to it.”
In large part, it starts during meetings, when TeleCheck’s employees are encouraged to share ideas and opinions. Mooney likes to see many different ideas placed on the table, allowing each one to be considered by many people. “We might not adopt it, or we might not agree on it, but it gives everybody a chance to express their opinion,” he says. “Everybody’s opinion deserves the respect of being heard.” Away from the conference room, it’s important for you to be accessible. It might not always be face-to-face, but if you are serious about listening to your employees, you’ll make yourself approachable.
Mooney says the term “open-door policy” is overused, but the principle still rings true.
“You have to show that you’re willing to communicate with everybody and talk to everybody,” he says.
Humor and humility are also key ingredients in leadership.
“You have to be yourself,” Mooney says. “Don’t be afraid to show a sense of humor or a personal side to yourself, because people will relate to that. And when you’re wrong, say you’re wrong.”
You must also reward employees who go above and beyond the call of duty, or who consistently perform their jobs at a high level.
At TeleCheck, employees are rewarded on both large and small scales. Sometimes, a team member is recognized at the company’s quarterly managers’ meeting. Sometimes, it’s as simple as acknowledging an employee’s idea.
Most employees genuinely want to feel accepted. Most want to have a feeling that they can help move the company forward in some way. Even if you don’t use an employee’s idea, you or someone in management should always recognize the idea and place it on the table for discussion.
Mooney says it’s one of the quickest ways to boost employee morale.
“Employees feel appreciated when they feel you respect their opinions and you trust them,” he says. “They just want to know that they’re making a difference.”
Recognizing employees for a great idea or consistently good service is also a team-building activity.
“I want to make sure that where people need a pat on the back that it’s not just behind closed doors, that everybody sees it,” he says. “Then, what you start finding is people are sending you notes and e-mails saying, ‘This person has done a great job, we should make sure everybody knows.’ It becomes much more of a team atmosphere.”
If you are managing your business properly, recognizing employees for their suggestions and accomplishments should be a part of your day-to-day life at the office.
Whether it’s receiving a certificate at a managers’ meeting, a simple handshake, or even just scribbling someone’s idea down on a piece of paper during a free moment, never undervalue the power of paying attention to those who work for you. “It’s the little things that add up to people wanting to come to work and what they do every day,” Mooney says. “People want to be part of the solution, part of the answer, to be trusted and know that they’re doing well. If you enforce it every day, they will believe they are part of the team and the group, and that they’re making a difference.”
The importance of ‘why’
Everyone wants smart, open-minded people working for them. But it can become very easy to turn those potential-laden associates into order-following robots if you aren’t careful. Learn to like it when employees ask, “Why?” If they question a directive, particularly something they haven’t been asked to do before, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a direct challenge to you or your authority; it means that they are seeking the reasoning behind what they have been asked to do.
And if you give them the explanation they want, it will benefit the company in the long run.
“If you have smart, open-minded people, they will naturally ask the questions,” Mooney says. “If you take the extra three minutes to say, ‘This is why it’s important, this is why you should go do it,’ they will go even more gangbusters about accomplishing that task.”
They might even find an entirely new way to reach a solution.
“When you tell them why you think it’s important, then they go and research the problem or issue, they might come back and say, ‘You might have thought that this is important, but this other thing was the real issue, and I solved that.’ They can find new information and relate it to other information.”
In the end, letting employees question you stems from a willingness to acknowledge the skills and talents they bring to the table.
“It’s all about having people a lot smarter than yourself working for you,” Mooney says. “I am fortunate in my role to have tons of people way smarter than me working for me, people who I can rely on.”
HOW TO REACH: TeleCheck Services Inc., www.telecheck.com