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Finding the solution Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

The founders of EnterSys Group were not experts on growing a business when they launched the IT services company in 2000.

“We were all good at selling ourselves,” says Kevin Graybill, the company’s executive chairman. “It’s been a different challenge to sell and grow the firm.”

The group admitted this lack of knowledge and brought in a consultant with experience in helping businesses develop best practices with which to grow. “He got us to start looking at it from a business development perspective instead of just sales activity,” Graybill says.

Revenue has grown from $10.9 million in 2003 to $15.2 million in 2005, and the company now has 52 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Graybill about being yourself as a CEO and the importance of evaluating your staff.

Q: How does a CEO find his or her leadership style?

You lead by example. Treat people fairly and make good, sound decisions.

Operate in a manner that demonstrates to the employees and to their customers and clients that we’re doing the right things. In some cases, you may need a more directive leader. In other cases, it’s the subtle leadership and strategic direction-setting that really guides the firm and the employees.

Check your ego at the door. Analyze the situation you’re in and find out where your gaps are and get people in right away, or you’re just not going to be successful.

The perception is that there is a personality trait or set of traits for a CEO, and I don’t believe that is true. You can have very dynamic CEOs, and you can have very reserved CEOs. Just in the oil and gas sector, you have that in some of the major companies. Some have been very brash and dictatorial, and others have been more demure, but very decisive.

Both have been successful. It depends on the person and their personality.

Q: How do you evaluate employee performance?

You need to be documenting every day. Sit down at least quarterly and talk about their performance, so when you get to the annual review, they have no doubt in their mind where they stand against their goals and objectives.

A lot of managers and supervisors, whether it’s through personal experience or poor training, think performance evaluation is one big nuisance that you do once a year and it’s just a bunch of paperwork.

It is a valuable tool for motivating your employees to perform at the level you want. The best supervisor I had sat down with me quarterly. He documented things I had done well and documented a few things he wished I had done better. It was an ongoing dialogue.

At the end of the year, the overall review was not a surprise. It fit exactly with our conversations throughout the year. I knew what I needed to adjust.

I knew where I was doing well, and I had a pretty good idea of whether or not I was going to get promoted. Even though day to day, he may have been hard to get along with, I had a lot of respect for him.

Q: What is the key to taking risks?

Understand the risks you’re taking and the parameters around those risks and what a change in any one of those parameters can do. A big part is understanding whether it fits in with your strategic vision. Define the parameters around that particular decision or risk. Monitor those closely so if you start going off track, you can exit that strategy or decision quickly and recover.

Even in a risky situation, where you’re making a substantial investment for your firm, you have to be able to back away if the parameters you’re measuring tell you it’s not going the way you expected.

It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s see what tomorrow brings,’ and then 12 months later, you’re still sitting there, you’ve lost a lot of money and you realize, ‘I should have pulled out of this eight or nine months ago.’

Be willing to adjust.

Q: How do you prioritize your schedule?

I was in a meeting about a year ago. There was a gentleman speaking who sold his firm, became independently wealthy and now is a venture capitalist. He said, ‘When I started the company, if we were in a meeting 10 minutes and never mentioned the customer, we adjourned the meeting.’

That’s what it has to be about. If it’s not about generating revenue, pleasing your customers, or taking care of your employees, you need to think pretty hard about why you’re working that particular item.

It’s easy to get caught up in things that just don’t matter. If you’re not seeking out revenue-generating opportunities and working those and solving issues that are getting in the way of employee success, then you’re in for trouble.

HOW TO REACH: EnterSys Group, (877) 374-4727, (713) 722-7083 or www.entersysgroup.com