Sitting pretty Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2009

Rebecca Boenigk admits she’s not good at hiring. That’s why she has someone else do it for her at Neutral Posture Inc. But she’s not afraid to admit that hiring at the company, which posted $24 million in 2008 revenue, is an area where she is weak as a leader. In fact, leaders who can recognize their weaknesses will be a lot more successful than those who turn a blind eye to their faults, she says.

“This is true whether you are an entrepreneur or somebody in the corporate world,” says the co-founder, chairman and CEO of the furniture company. “Most people don’t like to talk about their weaknesses. I think that is why some people fail at being leaders just because they don’t know when they need to delegate to someone else. Then, once you do delegate, you have to give that person the power and the authority to do the job.”

Smart Business spoke with Boenigk about how to delegate and create the type of culture to empower those whom you’ve delegated to.

Ask employees. I would think that most people can at least be honest with themselves to know where they succeed and where they don’t.

Usually the people around you will tell you if you are willing to ask and you can do it in a way that’s not confrontational or threatening to them. My office is always the worst place to have a conversation because there is something about walking into the CEO’s office that just puts people on edge. I’ve never yelled at anybody or screamed at anybody, but I think you just have that persona as the CEO.

I think that sitting in the break room having your lunch or even having a beer — sometimes you can ask, ‘Tell me who you think would be good at taking on more responsibility, and what do you think that they could take?'

It gives them the opportunity that they can include themselves in that conversation if they want or they could just recommend other people that they think are able to take on those responsibilities knowing that some of those responsibilities are yours.

Monitor what you delegate. If you delegate something that is huge, you have to follow up. But your follow up is more of a, ‘Why don’t you give me an update of where we are on that?’ One of the things I tell my staff is, ‘I don’t want a dissertation. I want the key things that are helping you or hurting you. Let’s fix the things that need to be fixed. Are you stuck on anything? Do you need additional help somewhere?’ But very nonconfrontational. More along the lines of, ‘Just give me an update.’ If you give somebody the job and responsibility, you have to let them do it. You have to let them fail and succeed.

Get other opinions. When we have any kind of project or even a process change, we get people involved.

One of my failures at this recently was I decided I wanted to be really green. So I sent an e-mail to my IT guy and said, ‘I want you to change all the copiers to automatically print on both sides.’ That’s the default. So if you don’t want it to print on both sides you actually have to click and change that you don’t want it to print on both sides. So he did that because I’m the CEO. I said, ‘Do it,’ and he did it.

Well, the uproar was huge because I didn’t think about the fact that when we get a chair order, it prints up what we call a pick ticket. That goes to the floor so they know what to build and that stays with the chair the whole time it’s being manufactured. Now you have two orders on one piece of paper. Invoices were printing front and back.

So it’s just one of those things I made a decision in a vacuum. I didn’t talk to anybody and caused complete upheaval.

(I learned) that I don’t know it all and that there are a lot of processes and procedures that happen now that I’m just not in that everyday part of the process. I made this change in vacuum without talking to anybody else and screwed stuff up. Within 30 minutes, we changed it all back. You really have to be a consensus builder with your organization.

Create an open culture. You really have to have complete trust. Your people have to trust you, and you have to trust them. As soon as you start second-guessing, then you go back to the nontrust situation and you’re not going to get there. For us, it started out with just me and my mom. As we added people, they became more like just a big, extended family. So it’s easier if you start that way than if you go into a situation where now you don’t have a great culture and you have to change.

It’s hard when people don’t trust you to earn their trust again. Most people walk in the door thinking, ‘This is good and my boss is good.’ It’s how you treat them and then they change their mind and say, ‘Maybe my boss isn’t so good. So maybe I don’t need to be quite as loyal.’ So I think that culture is a very hard thing to change. One person can upset that culture in amazing ways. Over the years, we’ve tried really hard to get rid of those bad apples as fast as possible.

What we’ve found out is that you get rid of one attitude and then another bad attitude kind of rises to the top. They’ve had a bad attitude for a while, but they weren’t as bad as the other one that you just got rid of. Sometimes it takes awhile to weed out those people, but it doesn’t matter how valuable you think that person is. If they are ruining the day of other people and you do nothing about it, then you are taking full responsibility for having a crappy environment.

How to reach: Neutral Posture Inc., (800) 446-3746 or