Brenda Harris Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

Once a year, you’ll find Brenda Harris on the beach somewhere like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta with some of her 270 employees. The getaway is a chance for the president and chief operating officer of Talent Tree to reward employees at one of the 65 branches who have met yearly goals. Offering this type of reward and others, Harris says, motivates employees to work harder to reach their goals and lets them know that their work is appreciated at the full-service staffing and placement services company that estimates its revenue to reach $200 million in 2007. Smart Business spoke with Harris about how getting to know your employees from the bottom up can make a company successful from the top down.

Start with the little things. I send out e-mails daily to recognize individuals or branches or regions. Sometimes it might be small things; sometimes it’s a big deal. It’s just all about letting them know you saw it, and you know about it, and it’s great.

Try it with the small things. It doesn’t have to be very costly. You have to be listening to what’s happening in your business to know where those successes are or where someone has done something that is special or that they should get a hurrah for.

Make sure you’re hearing those things so that you can send that special note or that special e-mail or pick up the phone and call them. You can give rewards, like employee of the month or employee of the quarter, but most of it comes down to that individual attention.

Let others lead. You’re always listening to the problems and the issues, but when you’re listening, ask the people for what their recommendation is to fix those. I don’t feel like you personally have to always come up with the solution — most of the time the employee knows the solution if they’re the one having the problem. Try to help them help you resolve the problem, and let them be part of the fix.

Make the time. No matter what their issue or problem is, sit down with them, try to resolve it, listen through it, make the decision, and empower them to go out and resolve it.

If they are part of the solution, they’re going to put it out there, and they’re going to make it happen. People want to be a part of something that they feel like they can be a big piece of and they can be a big contributor to. If you can paint that vision to them, and they’re on board, they want to be part of that success.

Live your culture and vision. A culture is not announced. It is created by a constant focus on values. Do what you say you are going to do.

You can recognize a healthy culture by its employees. Do they embrace and live the values? Are they excited about what they do? A culture is the foundation of the company, and the leaders must embody the values and live it daily. Culture is how you treat one another.

The decisions that you make for the company have to constantly tie back into that vision. If you go out there making random decisions that are not tied to that, you can get off on a different path.

It’s just constant reinforcement of what that vision is. It has to be specific for each individual in the company about what part they play in it. Using flowery words, people don’t really embrace that. Articulate the vision in the language that makes sense to them. Communicate it constantly.

Be involved. If you’re involved and you’re out sitting with employees and being a part of whatever’s going on in your company and not putting yourself above them, employees will understand that they have that openness with you. Sitting in training classes, sitting in meetings, going out and bringing in lunch, and sitting down with employees and talking about issues creates that openness.

Don’t take the easy way out. The hardest part of being a leader is that you have a lot of issues coming at you all at the same time and learning to prioritize those issues of which one will give the company the greatest impact. Sometimes it’s easier to take the ones that are easy to fix first or those that are making the most noise versus looking at them all and going with the one that will make the most impact on everyone if it’s resolved first.

That’s always a juggling act. You have to look at all of them on a regular basis to figure out what that is, make the decision and go after that one first.

Learn to lead. I have worked in all the jobs at Talent Tree, moving up from the field level to here. If someone else has not had that opportunity, they need to go out and learn as much as they can.

Spend some time with employees. You don’t always have to be the one telling everyone how to do and what to do; you can be there as a partner and try to understand what’s going on. Then you can come back and lead the company.

Realize that you don’t have to know everything. When I came into the corporate environment, all of a sudden I was faced with IT, accounting, billing and collections.

I thought I had to learn all of that, but I learned pretty quickly that you don’t have to know about every detail, about every department. Just know enough to know how it affects your internal and external customers, and then you can ask the right questions. Once you know the right questions to ask, you’ve got to make sure you bring in the experts that can mirror your culture and can get the job done. You don’t have to know all of that yourself.

HOW TO REACH: Talent Tree, or (713) 789-1818