The quest for greatness Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

Before you can begin a quest, you need a goal, so S. Sam Yadav makes sure his employees at Quest Environmental & Safety Products Inc. have goals to work toward.

“Try to find out what the individual wants out of their career,” he says. “In individual meetings, I ask them personally, ‘What do you want from Quest to help you become the businessperson you want to be?’”

Yadav, founder and president of Quest, has guided the developer of safety solutions to 2007 sales of $11 million and anticipates 2008 sales of between $12.5 million and $13 million.

Smart Business spoke with Yadav about how to keep your employees on the path toward self-improvement and how to determine whether your company should branch out.

Q. How do you get employees involved with the company’s direction?

Try to find out what the individual wants out of their career. I take people to lunch. Today, we’re celebrating a successful third quarter, so we have a cookout. I sit next to people at lunches that we have or one-on-one in groups, and say, ‘Tell me what you experienced this quarter. What was exciting to you? What would you like to see happen this quarter?’

With key individuals whom we’ve pegged for management roles in the future, I spend every three months one-onone with them for three hours going through, ‘What skill sets do you want to work on to help you get to this goal?’ and they’ve done a map out of, ‘In two years, I want to be in this position, in three years, I want to be in this position, [and] in give years ...’ Then I break it down and say, ‘Here are the skills I think you may want to consider.’

Q. Once those goals are set, how do you hold employees accountable?

We talk through it. For sales-people, I tell them you never want to make a sales decision based on commission or what expenses you have coming up.

To get you out of that decision-making process, let’s talk about how you are setting yourself up for financial success personally.

So what I get out of it as a business is you’re going to make a long-term business decision versus a short-term, ‘I need cash’ decision. I tell them, if you want to get to this position, what do you think you need to do financially to get there?

It allows them to feel that they are in control of their future. They also know their own milestones. I used to wait for my manager to say, ‘Good job.’ If they are accountable and they’ve already put it on paper, they know when they have done a good job. It’s just a bonus when their manager congratulates them; they know when they’re on the way to success. That makes them a better businessperson, more confident individual, and they’re setting their own path.

Q. How do you check progress toward everyone’s goals?

Every department reports on their progress every Monday morning against the goals for the quarter and the year. It tells you where we’re going, and it gives you a chance to reiterate your vision. On a regular basis, I have one of our employees do a presentation on one aspect of our business and how our vision has affected that.

Lastly, we have customers come in for best practices. They come in quarterly and talk to our whole group about what Quest is doing right that helps them and why it’s important.

We select people who give feedback. It’s not because they’re our biggest customers but they are people who are going to be honest with us.

Q. How do you handle that feedback?

You have to be able to quantify, ‘Can we do it? Is it within our skill sets to do it; is it within our infrastructure to be able to accomplish it?’

If we can, we start putting a strategy around how we implement it and what do we expect at the finish. Then we find the person who is probably the most passionate about that project and put them in charge of it.

We had a customer request for a product that we had to go design, find the raw materials for, find a manufacturing partner that could make it for us, and make sure that they can meet our quality standards and meet our timetable.

When we took that project on, I was first to say, ‘I don’t think this is within our specifications of ability.’ But we had somebody who was really passionate about doing this project. ... Now, five years later, we have two manufacturing partners who make it for us, and it has become close to 15 percent of our total revenue.

If the upper management doesn’t believe they have the skill sets and nobody steps up, you have to be honest with the customer. You can’t be everything to everybody.

You may lose a customer over that, but I’d rather keep a good record with our customer performance and lose them than have a bad record and never get them back.

HOW TO REACH: Quest Environmental & Safety Products Inc., (317) 594-4500 or www.questsafety.com