Communicating change Featured

8:00pm EDT October 28, 2006
 Jim Pearson sees leading change and building momentum as a slow but effective process.

“While it’s fun to see a 99-yard touchdown pass, it’s much more impressive to see a 99-yard march down the field, five yards at a time,” says Pearson, CEO and president of Suros Surgical Systems Inc. “It’s really better to collaborate and have a slow march down the field and for everybody to check off on it.”

Pearson has used that process to take the company of 160 employees to 2005 revenue of $27.2 million, up from $16 million in 2004 and $8.5 million in 2003.

Smart Business spoke with Pearson about how to handle change, communicate a plan and motivate employees.

How do you communicate change?
Adaptability is critical. When I talk and sit down with everyone we interview, I say, ‘You have to understand the difference between adaptability and direction change.’

I ask them if they have ever been in an organization where you come in and say, ‘What’s the direction of the day?’ That’s not adaptability, that’s poor leadership. If you and I were going to have a meeting at noon, and we found out by watching the Weather Channel that there was going to be a tornado that hit my office at 12 noon, and I called you and told you I ... found out there is going to be a tornado in my office at 12, [so] why don’t we meet across the street — that’s adaptability, because we’re going to cover the same content. But we have to be adaptable enough to understand it’s probably not a good idea to meet in my office because we got information that changed the plan.

It’s easy for folks who aren’t in the control position to feel like they are being moved around. You have to be cognizant that every time you move somebody, they’ve got to adjust, which takes energy. If you don’t give them the ‘why,’ then it feels like the leader of that department is just whimsically saying, ‘I don’t respect your time, I’ll do whatever I want.’

What qualities does a leader need to be successful?
You need to have the ability to distill information. You get a lot of disparate information and, as a leader, you need to aggregate that and then distill it. Secondly, you need to have the ability to articulate a plan that has clear and measurable events or successes in it.

Third, you need to have the ability to keep things very simple. Not because everyone can’t follow it, but it’s easier to follow if you understand ... what the objectives are.

You have to have the ability to hold accountability at a high level. You cannot have an entitlement situation. You cannot have ‘this guy’s a buddy of mine’ situation. You have to hold yourself to the same accountability, and measure progress on it, as well.

How do you articulate your plan?
You realize things work from the top down and bottom up. It doesn’t work one way. People that manage by position are weak. Weak managers typically say, ‘Do it because I said.’

You never get smart, committed, passionate people to buy in to that. It just doesn’t work.

You understand that there is a win in it for the folks working here, and there’s a win in it for the customer. You articulate the fact that, if we do these things, we are going to have success as an organization, which builds security.

What do you look for in employees?
No. 1, they are incredibly curious. To me, that is a quality you can’t motivate or manufacture. They have to be able to say, ‘Why?’

Second, they have to be adaptable. If you are very curious and take on a bunch of new information, but you’re not adaptable, you are going to be really frustrated. The next thing is they have to be very trusting after qualification.

Ask all the questions you want. Beat it up, tear it down, do whatever you need to do. But once we lock in, we lock in. There’s no changing the deal. You have to trust after that. Fourth, you have to be professionally opinionated. When we hire people, we tell them, ‘You are coming here, we want your experience, and we want you to be vocal about it, because we are going to learn a lot.’

How do you interview potential employees?
We try to have every person that we interview [have an] interview with our management team. We may interview 10 people for a position and only hire one. We will have our entire management team spend time with new candidates.

The reason we do that is the candidate gets a well-rounded picture of what the organization is about. Secondly, we get the opportunity to help younger managers or folks who aren’t sure what to take a risk on and what not to take a risk on.

HOW TO REACH: Suros Surgical Systems Inc., (877) 887-8767 or