Jerry Winchester Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

Jerry Winchester likes his employees to do things on their own. The president and CEO of Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc., an emergency response company that offers prevention, response and restoration capabilities to the gas and oil industries, says that in his work experience, his greatest bosses gave him an assignment and the freedom to accomplish it, something he does today with his 400 employees. Empowered employees help companies reach their goals, Winchester says, and last year, Boots & Coots hit revenue of $97 million. Smart Business spoke with Winchester about how to play to your employees’ strengths and empower those who are willing to be empowered.

Empower those who want to be empowered. It’s important to understand the dynamic of your company. Look at where people’s strengths are. Assign certain tasks, stand back and observe. Those strengths will then surface quickly.

We have employees who thrive on being empowered and those who are scared of it. When you have people who are capable of doing and achieving more, giving them the ability to go do these things, not getting in the way and empowering them to make decisions on behalf of the company can have a positive effect, especially when you are developing people and want to see how they will react in certain situations.

You’re talking about people you can develop and see how comfortable they are going out on a limb. Do they believe in themselves? Do they believe in what they’re saying? Are they confident enough in their abilities to take a risk? That’s one of the things that as a leader you are always looking for — people who are aggressively moving ahead so that you’re not constantly trying to prod them into a situation, but you’re out there trying to rein them in some.

It’s like athletics; you can’t coach desire. When you’ve got people who have desire, empowering them is just the fuel to move them forward. When you can get that mix together, you’ve got somebody who can go do some strong things.

Work with those you can’t empower. If you’ve got somebody who’s great at taking direction and doing exactly what they’re told, and they pride themselves on following the rules, then trying to move them out of their comfort zone into this aura of empowerment sometimes is the wrong thing to do.

If you’ve got a person who is an introvert and you’re expecting them to be in a job where they have to be an extrovert, they spend all their time supplying the energy to be extroverted instead of spending their time doing other things. It’s counterproductive. It’s difficult on them because they are not as happy in their position.

If an employee is good at following processes and implementing established rules, then you want him in a job that allows him to do that, that works well both within the way his personality is, the way he makes decisions and the way he is comfortable working. It would be a lot better to try and define his strengths and make sure that his job is aligned with that or allow him to work within the dynamic of a team where his diversity helps the team dynamic rather than hurts it.

Align company and personal goals and objectives. You can’t imagine how much smoother it is when everyone is moving in the same direction, so you’re not constantly dealing with conflict within your organization about the direction in which you are headed or how to resolve something. It’s a whole lot easier to manage and communicate within a company whose goals are aligned from top to bottom.

Clearly communicate what the company’s goals are and empower senior management with the flexibility and right tools to effectively manage employees’ expectations.

For certain employees, even though they think they don’t affect share price or overall financial performance of the company, they absolutely do, so you’ve got to set goals and objectives for them so that they align with the same goals and objectives that you’re working on.

If someone was struggling with either aligning or understanding the goals, sit them down and ask them what the issue seems to be and listen to them. If they’ve got a problem or some preconceived notion of what the problem is, hear that and deal with it rather than just telling them over and over again and trying to make them understand what you’re saying because obviously you’re not connecting.

Reward employees. Set goals and objectives for employees and deal with that monetarily or whatever manner is the best. We look at people who have been successful or have done a good job and want to give them the opportunity for advancement.

We’re looking for the next group that can step up. Not only can they measure success by saying, ‘I’ve been rewarded well for this,’ or, ‘I got a promotion,’ but, at the same time, they can see that the company has done well, and they’ve left a legacy, and they’ve helped build a program that they can look back and say, ‘I did these things; I accomplished this stuff.’

For the people that are driven to do that, those are the kinds of things they’re looking for. Somebody that’s in the mode of ‘I like a more comfortable job here and don’t have to make any decisions,’ success for them is that they get through the day without getting nicked up or running afoul of the rules.

For other folks, success for them is measured in a different way. It’s looking at the individual and what they think. Some of them want to see the tangible effects of their work, and some are happy just knowing that the ship is still moving along and the company’s still afloat.

HOW TO REACH: Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc., (281) 931-8884 or