Pushing the right buttons Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009
T. Scott Law likens his leadership style to that of college basketball coaching legend Bob Knight. Well, sort of.

You probably won’t see Law throwing a chair or having words with a referee, but if you were to attend one of Law’s meetings at Zotec Partners LLC, you would see a leader who challenges his employees to perform better and tries to leverage their talents to have the best possible impact on his business.

“I try to get the most out of people,” says the founder, president and CEO of the 500-employee technology solutions company. “Every job I ask people to do, I’ve tried to do or have done myself.”

To get the most out of your employees, you must leverage their talents effectively and support them by keeping the lines of communication free from static.

Smart Business spoke with Law about how to use motivation and communication to get the best out of your employees.

Learn what drives your employees. Management goes awry when they don’t put the right people in the jobs that they have a passion about. So it’s important that we have the ability to identify that passion and make sure that passion is appropriately focused on what we need to have done.

For the most part, you can see it in their eyes, what they enjoy doing. It’s seeing them go the extra mile, asking questions, seeing the areas where they’re like a sponge and want to take in knowledge. It’s always said that if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life. That’s what you try and find, the people who love doing the tasks we’re doing.

We’ve also taken several scientific approaches to it, for example, indexing personality traits and matching those to the jobs. So if someone likes to have a very stable repeat task they can do, we put them in their jobs within their comfort zone. If someone likes to be a wheeler-dealer and do something different every day, they go into those jobs.

You have to make it based on your assessment of where their skills sets are. When you meet someone, you have to really get to know what their hot buttons are. You have to ask the questions and do a lot of listening.

Stay in front of your people. One of my goals for 2009 is to do a better job of communicating, either through teleconferencing or videoconferencing. It’s really talking on the phone. I’ve often threatened to have an e-mail-free Friday, where everybody closes the e-mail and puts down the BlackBerrys and they go and talk to people.

As a general statement, I don’t like e-mail at all. It’s a tremendous efficiency tool. But when you hit ‘reply all’ and you’re just having a conversation via e-mail, that’s when something is wrong.

What you need to do is keep them pithy, three or four lines, and stay focused on that. That is my personal rule for e-mail. Try to communicate it in a couple of sentences. If you can’t do that in an e-mail, go talk to the person.

People can absolutely rely too much on e-mail. It’s a terrible disease to get into. You can’t tell inflection in your voice. Even on the phone, you can tell the sincerity in someone’s voice or the sarcasm. Being a pretty sarcastic person, sometimes that doesn’t come across so well in e-mails.

It’s easy to hide behind e-mail. It’s efficient, but I don’t like it as a primary communication tool. If someone is trying to do too much with e-mail, I shoot the e-mail back and ask them to come talk to me.

I tell them that I’m not going to read this book you just wrote to me. It’s not easy. I could be sitting at home at 7 p.m., watching TV and getting e-mails on my BlackBerry. But then it’s easier to communicate at my desk that way. I even see it with my kids.

This society doesn’t talk anymore. It seems like we always text or e-mail. That’s going to be a problem for our society in the next five or 10 years. You need to develop those communication skills.

Build trust and credibility. A good leader should never underestimate the rumor mill. Any time I’ve tried to do something or have a business transaction that doesn’t need to be made public, the rumor mills starts up.

Usually it’s pretty accurate, a kind of ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ scenario. So don’t underestimate your people and their ability to recognize what is coming. You gain a lot by heading off the rumor mill and staying on top of it all.

It’s a matter of making sure you have channels and forums for people to communicate their thoughts and concerns. It’s not just saying that your office is always open. I have people that actively seek out feedback from employees.

Another key would be that you have to build TRUST, which we say stands for ‘total respect under stressful times.’ When you go through stress together, you establish this respect for each other in the business.

You have to trust your employees, and they, in turn, will respect you. If they respect you, they will listen to you.

HOW TO REACH: Zotec Partners LLC, (317) 705-5050 or www.zotec.com