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The information man Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008

Information is one of the best tools for getting through a difficult situation, says Terry Andrus.

To illustrate his point, the president of CompleteRx Ltd. tells the story of an airline pilot who realized that his landing gear was not coming down as he made his approach to land the plane. The situation could have incited panic among the passengers, but the pilot got on the loudspeaker and told passengers exactly what he was going to do every step of the way. And when he needed to make an emergency landing, the passengers were ready.

Andrus says the same tactic can be applied to business. As long as people know what is happening and don’t feel that you’re keeping things from them, they are going to follow you if they believe in what you are doing.

By being open with his 500 employees and keeping them informed every step of the way, Andrus led the provider of pharmacy management services to 2007 revenue of $114.7 million.

Smart Business spoke with Andrus about how to keep everyone on the same page.

Talk to your employees. Understand what your people need and be in touch with them and let them know that you are accessible. In the corporate office, I’ll spend probably 20 percent of my day going by and visiting with each of the employees finding out what’s ticking with them.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be business, just listening to them and letting them know that I’m accessible.

Consider having a lottery system for a lunch with the CEO where you bring lunch in and tell them about yourself so it’s not some secret. Things about you personally, not professional accomplishments, so they get a feel of who you are. Have them tell you things about them, where they grew up, where they went to school, what’s their favorite sport.

Once you’ve broken the ice, allow each one of them to ask one burning question and answer it openly and honestly. If you don’t have a good answer for it, tell them, ‘It’s a problem we’re trying to solve right now.’

Ask them if they have a suggestion, and if it’s a good one, use it.

Respond to feedback. We actually make changes based on our employees and what they say. If you do a survey and you don’t do anything about what you find out, then you shouldn’t have done the survey in the first place. It’s just lip service.

Give them an update on what’s going on. Let them have free rein to ask any question they want. Sometimes, that can get fun. Once they feel comfortable asking questions, the questions just flow.

We make it really comfortable for them to ask questions.

It’s not monitored in any way. They can ask me anything.

Stay true to your word. You go out there and do what you say you’re going to do. If for some reason something isn’t going to turn out the way that you hoped for, for whatever reason, you need to communicate that to your customer.

Explain to them what you’re going to do to fix it, and always stand behind your word.

Express your values. We sit down with our hospital partners, and we find out what’s valuable to them and what they would like to see us accomplish. We commit it to a document or value contract, and we meet with them. Some only like to meet quarterly, but a lot of them want to meet monthly.

We tell them where we’re at and where our progress is. If their priorities change, we’re on top of it, and we’re not behind the eight ball trying to figure out what could we have done to solve the problem.

We’re in constant communication with them. They have a copy of that contract, and we have it, and we’re both on the same sheet of music, if you will, to know what the issues are out there and where we’re at in solving those problems.

Make sure you’re really leading. Good leaders are also people who can inspire. If you’re not inspiring and leading people to follow you — in others words, if they don’t understand where you’re headed and what your vision is and how you’re going to get there — you’re just taking a walk.

You’re not actually leading anybody. Communicate where you’re going so that people understand what’s going on, where they are headed, how they’re going to get there and what tools you’re going to use to get there, and constant communication. Let them know what’s going on so people don’t create their own reality.

As long as your people know what’s going on and there are no surprises and they don’t feel like you’re hiding things from them, they are going to follow you if they believe in what you are doing.

Don’t get tunnel vision. We want to create the very best decision. You find within one problem [that] there are multiple problems that can exist, and you have to break it down. It’s sort of like diagnosing an engine problem. Usually, it’s not just one problem that’s causing your car not to run.

What we need to do is find out where the broken parts are and replace them, and then find out if they are maintenance issues and put in a maintenance program to make sure that we don’t have the same problems come back again.

Once people understand where the problems exist and we truly focus on solving those problems, rare is the situation where everybody is not in agreement.

HOW TO REACH: CompleteRx Ltd., (713) 355-1196 or www.completerx.com