“How do you put it all together?”
That is a question many business leaders face. You have the talent, you have the vision, you have the infrastructure, you know where you want to take the business in the coming years, but how do you take everything and allow it to become a self-sustaining machine that will allow your company to grow?
Zeffrey Lucas has been there. As the U.S. operations director of Production Services Network, his job is to take the resources, manpower and vision that exist in his company a 1,000-employee wing of a worldwide oil and gas exploration services provider and harness it, getting every person on the same page and generating the momentum that will carry PSN into the future.
But holding the reins is not easy when you are the head of a company division with locations all over the country.
Since joining PSN in 2002, Lucas says he has learned two valuable lessons about enabling everyone in a company to take charge: It’s all about communication, and that communication must be simply stated, consistent and frequent.
“The key to it is trying to communicate what we are, what we’re doing, where we’re going,” Lucas says. “That’s one of the biggest challenges. You have to maintain a link to employees to make sure they’re aware of what is going on. That’s my own personal philosophy. I want to know why we’re doing things. I perform better if I know why I’m doing something.”
Lucas says just about everyone performs better if they know why they are being asked to perform a task, and that’s what makes communication so important.
If your business is to flourish, your job as a leader is to work tirelessly to communicate with your employees in many different forms.
Communicating core values
At PSN, creating a sense of belonging for employees is about more than just including them in the communication pipeline. Once employees feel involved, Lucas says he wants to take it to another level, where they feel like they’re actually helping to steer the company.
In other words, Lucas wants employees to feel like they each own a small part of PSN. Ownership could involve something concrete, like stock options, but Lucas believes it goes deeper than that.
“If you feel like you belong to something, you put a better effort toward it,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be financial ownership in the company, but it’s more about if you share common goals.”
Lucas has helped to author and install a series of core values at PSN, aimed at giving employees a template to follow. With the core values in place, PSN’s work force knows in what direction the company wants to move and will get a better idea of how each can do his or her part to help the company get there.
PSN’s core values include an emphasis on health and safety, building and maintaining relationships with clients and employees, integrity on both a personal and corporate level, localization of projects, and financial responsibility.
Your core values can become the philosophical pillars upon which your company is built, but that won’t happen unless upper management sets the example for everyone else in the company. Lucas says it’s extremely important for a company’s leaders to “live it” when it comes to the guiding principles of the business.
“These core values that we are trying to cascade throughout the organization are lived by senior management,” Lucas says. “Many companies have core values, but we do it in such a way that we talk about it a lot. Even our company emblem represents our core values.”
Lucas and his senior management take just about every daily, weekly and monthly communication opportunity as a chance to reinforce the core values. It’s a challenge with a business spread across many different areas, but Lucas says that if you want your communications culture to be a success, you are going to have to get creative and be willing to concede that you aren’t going to be able to do as much in-person communicating as you’d probably like.
“I do not prefer e-mail, and that’s coming from someone who e-mails a lot,” he says. “It’s always better to call someone. With our busy schedules, we have a tendency to write very quickly to a request or response to someone. But because of the speed at which we e-mail what we have written, people may interpret it the wrong way. Without voice inflection or listening to how people respond, you might not pick up on whether they have an issue with something.”
To compensate for any inconsistencies in face-to-face communication, Lucas periodically holds companywide Web broadcasts with question-and-answer sessions. He says any type of voice contact with your managers and work force is a positive when compared to simply dashing off an e-mail.
Staying vigilant with regard to communicating your core values might seem like a lot of work with little immediate reward. But while you could be spending that time landing a major account or inventing the product that will put your business on the map, Lucas says if you don’t pay attention to the basics, your company will begin to fall victim to an ambiguous sense of direction, and your growth could stall.
“(Core values) are essential in that it’s been described as the DNA of a company,” he says. “It’s what makes us who we are. Every decision we make can be linked back to these core values. It’s obvious in our review meetings, every Monday, when I meet with our senior management.
“We cascade it down so that everybody in our organization is familiar with them. It’s important because these particular values are important for the success of any person in the company, and it’s the case in any organization. You have to continue to not just talk about the core values, but live them. They establish not only who you are, but who others perceive you to be.”
Another key part of enabling employees to take charge is to give their ideas merit. Once they have internalized your core values, your work force will be able to innovate in line with your company’s goals.
Lucas says that’s where a business leader’s ability to listen becomes crucial.
Your ability to listen to what your team members are telling you is as important as and in some cases, more important than your ability to reach them with your messages.
But their ideas will never see the light of day if you and your senior managers aren’t available to hear them. That’s why Lucas sees to it that every person in the company is comfortable enough with him to have a conversation. He does it by repeatedly encouraging his employees to seek him out, then following his words with consistent actions.
“I’m an open person, and whoever you are in the organization, I’ll have a conversation with you,” Lucas says. “If you have any problems whatsoever, you should not hesitate to call me or e-mail me, and I’ll respond to it.
“I think people respect it when they see I’m honest about the fact that it doesn’t matter who you are in the organization, I’m here to work for them. That means if I can help them in certain issues, I’ll do that. That word gets around, and if people remember that it’s OK to talk to so-and-so, it’s a whole lot better.”
Lucas says properly trained and enabled employees can be a wellspring of new ideas, which is an important ingredient in preventing a business from stagnating and stalling. Even if you have no plans to change your business model or alter your products and services, there is almost always room for improvement.
Lucas says the business that stops trying to get better is the business that has stopped trying, period. And the responsibility belongs to everyone on the payroll.
“Innovation leads to better ways of doing things,” Lucas says. “Better might mean safer, it might mean cheaper, it might mean more efficient. In our case, by distinguishing our company as one that has a core value of innovation, it separates us from competitors that might just want to do it the same way they’ve always done it. From that standpoint, it encourages people to think outside the box and look for different ways to do something.”
He says coaching people to become innovators is coaching them to become leaders. The employees at PSN who take the initiative to lead the company in a new direction are the people who are developing important managerial skills.
“I think you always look for people who naturally want to innovate,” Lucas says. “But I think it’s more along the lines of encouraging the people you have to become innovators. That goes back to promoting innovation through our core values and talking to them about it. It takes a couple of people to get it started, but then it becomes contagious in every area they go to.”
Accentuate the positive
After you’ve filled the heads of your employees with your core values and given them the tools to help lead the company into the future, your job isn’t done. If you don’t reinforce their behavior through encouragement, you can’t expect it to continue.
It’s really no different than when you were in grade school and your parents took you out for ice cream for getting straight A’s. Lucas says people respond to encouragement, and as the head of the company, your job isn’t just to notice when there is a problem or instances of underperformance. It’s to notice when people are doing things right, and then reward them for it.
“There have been various studies that talk about what motivates people,” Lucas says. “One of the top motivators is people wanting to feel appreciated. It’s not necessarily the money, it’s the recognition you give them.
“Whether it’s a pat on the back, shaking their hand, giving them a call out of the blue, a gift certificate, it doesn’t have to be big. But the appreciation you show lasts a lot longer than any particular piece of money they may get.”
Lucas makes public recognition of high performers a regular occurrence at PSN. And it’s not just about workers who come up with great ideas or are superlative performers. Sometimes, it includes people who put the welfare of their co-workers ahead of the bottom line.
Several years ago at a PSN plant in California, a gas leak caused a potentially dangerous situation. In a move that cost the company money but may have preserved the safety of PSN employees, the manager decided to shut down the plant so the leak could be repaired.
PSN’s leaders recognized the bold step the manager took in risking revenue to protect his workers, and they recognized him through the company newsletter and other forms of communication.
Lucas says it goes back to walking the talk. Employees have to see your words in action if they are to believe them.
“This is one of the age-old problems we have in oil and gas operation, that safety has to be your first concern,” he says. “For that person to take the step to shut the plant down, which created an obvious loss of revenue, it was the right thing to do. So we rewarded him not only with a gift certificate, but we made a big deal of it. We told everyone that this person did exactly what we wanted him to do.
“It’s not so much about punishing people when they do something wrong, but rewarding them for the things they do right.”
HOW TO REACH: Production Services Network, www.psnworld.com