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Earning their wings Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

When you are really good at developing the potential that exists within your employees, it’s only natural that some of them will take those skills and leave for a new career opportunity, says Christopher Clapp, president and CEO of ANGEL Learning Inc.

“People need to feel like they are getting satisfying careers,” Clapp says. “If they are not enjoying what they are doing and they think they are best served by leaving, that may hurt, but we want to try to feel good about that for them. We’re not encouraging people to move out, but if that’s the reality, we’ll try to support you on that.”

The company’s investment in developing employees has helped the 80-employee learning management solutions provider grow its revenue by 70 percent each year from 2004 to 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Clapp about how to get the best from your employees and engage them in your company’s growth.

Q. What is your role in motivating employees?

Recognize that you may not have all the answers right away, and you need to canvass for insight and input from a lot of different folks. There is a certain amount of humility that is required to accept that we don’t have all the answers.

We try to make sure people feel welcome to use me and other members of the leadership team as sounding boards. They don’t have to have their ideas fully baked and ready to recommend. They can use leadership, including me, in the formative stages of the process.

The availability for hallway conversations or more structured meeting environments or walk-ins to the office, those are things that I encourage and that we all encourage here.

Q. How do you put your words into action?

We share openly the results of our organization and goals. We really encourage people to explore alternatives as opposed to getting locked in to just doing things the way we have done them. In a fast-growing company, your customers’ expectations change dramatically over time, and the organizational structure to deliver it changes dramatically over time.

Even though we may be very convinced that we have historically done things in a very effective manner, we have to accept that with new requirements and new expectations, the right answers will likely be different than they were in the past.

A lot of it is about exposing that and keeping visible the need to change, supporting people through interactions with their peers and leadership. We make it part of the dialogue.

Your natural tendency as you’re getting bigger is to add a layer of management. That’s nice and clean because that layer of management can just take care of this vaguely conceived challenge. Try to do that very selectively.

Why do we need a layer of management here? Is there some other way to organize the work that a manager typically does and distribute it so that we’re still getting the work done?

Q. How can you personally affect your company’s growth?

Be self-aware and try to understand what makes you tick and where your strengths are and where your weaknesses are, and be candid about that. Get comfortable with those ideas, and do not try to lead or perform in some way that is somebody else’s style.

Go with your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.

Try to involve people who have different strengths than you do, and try to respect those strengths. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to stretch myself and to not become somebody that I’m not.

Q. How do you get the most out of your employees?

We provide them with an orientation, a series of sessions to make sure we’ve rearticulated the vision of the company and how we present ourselves to customers and a few key fundamentals about how the organization works.

We try to get them exposed to work flow, no matter what part of the organization they are in. Give them opportunities to see how we present to customers. It’s also an opportunity for us to greatly improve.

We’re very keen on trying to help every individual develop to their full potential. I say that regardless of whether we think being in a traditional leadership role is something they might aspire to or it’s just simply being effective as an individual contributor.

We’re trying to identify that and work with each individual to develop those skills. Those people who aspire to and who we think have potential to be strong leaders, we’re trying to give those folks opportunities to stretch themselves with new job experiences and job participation in various vehicles.

We’re also using that as an opportunity to expose people to other parts of the organization and other people and have them take responsibility for whatever the objective of that team is.

Each individual wants and needs a different path. People need to feel like they are getting satisfying careers.

HOW TO REACH: ANGEL Learning Inc., (317) 333-7300 or www.angellearning.com