See what you have
Kerker wanted to see what his leadership team was made of and to start moving away from micromanagement. So before delving into the details of his vision for Vitacost, he made an effort to get to know his department heads.
“Before I enable or trust somebody to make independent decisions, I have to make sure I trust their judgment,” Kerker says. “Although I worked with a lot of these people, I didn’t necessarily hire all of these people.”
It really comes down to having three conversations: One about who the person is, a second about how the two of you can work together and a third about the person’s plan to carry out your vision in his or her department.
“You really need to have those three conversations, probably not all at the same meeting,” Kerker says. “But you really need to explore each one of those conversations, one at a time, before you can ultimately feel like they will be ready to go out and implement what your goal is and what your vision is and what your desires are and know whether they have what they need to be able to support it.”
It’s the getting-to-know-you phase that has tripped up many leaders over the years while trying to grow a business.
“It’s important to be able to interact with these people in their personal environment so they feel like you really care,” Kerker says. “There really becomes a common goal of them working with their people and treating their people with the same level of respect that I treat them.”
Don’t try to get to know your people all at once. Kerker met his department heads in different settings, beginning with a one-on-one meeting where he asked questions about how each leader interacted with Gorsek, both positively and negatively.
“I tried to understand what they felt like that person did that held them back, what they feel that person did to try to support and help, and whether that person was neutral in their environment,” Kerker says.
The goal of getting to know your direct reports is to cultivate a foundation on which your working relationship will be based.
“As you learn those things, you’re going to get a feel for what it is that you need to do to be able to provide that person with resources, either financial, labor or through emotional guidance to be able to do the job that they can do,” Kerker says. “Everyone needs something different.”
He also arranged dinner meetings with him and his wife and the leader and their spouse to gain a different perspective on each individual.
“When you have a chance to interact with somebody’s spouse or see them in front of their spouse, you get a different feel for what makes them tick and what motivates them and what’s important to them,” Kerker says.
It’s that foundation of trust that you’re trying to build that will allow you to not be involved in every decision when it’s time to get down to business.
“I have to have faith and confidence in those people that those people are telling me what’s going on in their departments,” Kerker says. “The moment you feel you can’t trust that person, it’s time to replace that person.”
Kerker wants his leaders to follow the advice he was given.
“Make decisions that you believe in, not that somebody else convinced you to do,” Kerker says.
By learning about who his people were, Kerker felt he could trust that those decisions would be good ones for Vitacost.