Leading by example Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2010

When Bob Dean started Dean & Draper Insurance Agency LP some 30 years ago, he started from scratch. Those days are long done, and as the company has grown, he’s had the challenge of keeping the small business environment with the demands of a larger company.

“That’s been a very difficult task,” says the founder, president and CEO of the insurance agency, which posted about $13 million in 2008 revenue. “But you’ve got to continuously work at it to do it.”

Dean and his team established principles that the entire company will try to accomplish as a way of keeping everyone on the same page and avoid departments breaking into silos.

“If you isolate yourself into too many little silos of operation where no one is communicating with each other, then they all have separate goals and it just doesn’t work,” he says. “So we try to keep the communication flowing.”

Smart Business spoke with Dean about how to delegate and how to set goals.

Encourage delegation. I do it by empowering my managers and delegating to them, and in our management meetings, we have one every Wednesday, I’ve told them several times about delegation as far as getting the most out of your folks. I tell a story about when I was in high school. I was a high school quarterback and I said, ‘If I handed the ball to somebody on a play and I didn’t turn loose the ball and I had to tell them what to do, like turn here, turn there, run or whatever, then how are they ever going to be able to use their natural talent?’ You’ve got to turn loose the ball and let the people’s natural talent happen. So I try to encourage it through my managers and then hopefully that filters down to where the people … feel empowered to perform their job because they are all professionals.

Monitor what you delegate. It’s a judgment issue on the delegation issue as far as trying to evaluate what the skill set is of the person you are delegating to. While you delegate, you always follow up, too. I was a safety engineer for 10 years. One of the things that I did in establishing safety programs a lot was when I was talking to company owners, I would tell them, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ So you need to be able to, when you delegate, No. 1, know if they have the ability or skill set to do it so you aren’t setting them up for failure. But then you have to be able to measure it so you can quantify it some way to find out if the job got done and what kind of quality or quantity, depending on what you are looking for.

What I usually do is I will give them a time frame. I don’t believe in micromanagement at all. I’m more of a macro type of manager, and I will give them the project and the task and then I will tell them when I expect it. We will negotiate a time. If they say I can’t do it, then we ask them why they can’t do it. If they feel like they can do it during that time, then we both have an understanding about the time frame in which we have to get it done. Of course, I may follow up somewhere along halfway through it and say, ‘How’s it going?’ ‘Well, we’re doing OK.’ And if they are comfortable with that, then I’ll usually let them run with it. If they have questions, they will come to me to ask me specifics about, ‘Is this what you really wanted?’ Delegation is to try to let them feel like they are having an effect and that they are feeling good about what they do, as well. There’s absolutely no way I can do it all.

Help employees. If we have issues, I will get involved in helping solve some of the details with the employees as well as handling the big decisions. You have to be involved. You cannot sit aloof in your position because they have to respect you. They have to have a respect for you and your skill set and that you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, as some of them may refer to it — to get down and work with solving some of the issues. We try to have a mentor for the managers, as well, if we have a new one. We’ve got various leadership training courses that some of the companies offer ... and we’ve sent some folks to that at various times when it was appropriate to help get them on board for things they are going to face.

Set goals. I tell folks here that we first of all have to operate between the white lines. We have to establish systems and procedures so everyone knows what is expected. We also provide employee evaluations on a minimum of an annual basis and sometimes semiannual and we try to provide goals for them and establish career tracks to help them see what their future can be. Again, we’re kind of real big on training, and we negotiate with them the best we can to establish some kind of a time frame for them to establish their goals. I’ve always been real big on education and professional certifications, and I think the more that an employee learns and the more confident they become in what they are doing converts to self-esteem. To me, the self-esteem and how someone feels about themselves is directly beneficial not only to them but to the company.

How to reach: Dean & Draper Insurance Agency LP, (713) 527-0444 or www.deandraper.com