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Playing the match game Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

When prospective employees interview at Premiere Credit of North America LLC, they are not just being compared with the other job candidates, says Todd Wolfe, but they are also being judged against the people who already work there.

“We use the personality profile with a little bit of a different approach,” says Wolfe, co-founder, president and chief operating officer of the 170-employee company. “We don’t just look at where they are hitting on the charts. We take it and match it up as an overlay on the existing staff and see who do they compare most to. If they compare most to a highly productive, effective employee that we’d love to clone, that’s a no-brainer, we’re going to hire that person all day long. If it’s someone that is a highly productive employee, but they are also very high maintenance, we’ll have to give that one a little more thought.”

By focusing intensely on personnel, the debt collection company has grown revenue from $4.5 million in 2003 to $10.5 million in 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Wolfe about how to get employee buy-in and how to get employees to smile as they walk to their cars each night after work.

Q: What is the key to getting employee buy-in?

Getting down there and talking to the team and finding out what they are dealing with and giving them what they need. Interacting in the trenches is a huge step forward on communicating humility and also passion at the same time.

I will make it a point to block out my calendar and go out there. If you don’t, you’ll never get out of your office. Take the time to do it and set the other stuff to the side. As much as some people say, ‘I’m getting behind on my tasks,’ you know, at the end of the day, it’s creating a lot more value. Those tasks are still going to be there.

Following that up with notes really sets people up for success because everybody clearly understands. It’s not pixie dust; it’s the obvious that separates good leadership from bad leadership.

Get down into the trenches with your team and figure out what you need to do.

Q: How do you monitor performance?

When we’re working through a project, we always follow that project up with notes after every meeting. Everybody clearly understands what we talked about and what the expectation is. We reinforce the message. ‘This is the objective, and this is the next step. Does anybody not understand that?’

Q: How do you get employees to be honest with you?

It’s just through the dialogue process. When you’re sitting down with people and just talking, just be friendly with them. It’s really just laying the ground rules upfront that we left the titles and egos at the door, and we expect brutally honest feedback so we can make the best possible decision.

Even if it is a bad idea or something we can’t do, take the time to talk to them about it and explain why you can’t do it or why it wouldn’t work at that time.

As long as people are heard, they will value it. We apply the rule ‘listen, restate, respond.’ When somebody comes in and they are making a point to me about their perspective on an issue, I’m going to restate it to them to see if we clearly understand what they are communicating, and then we respond.

Most of the really good ideas that we have had over the past 24 months have come from the employees. That doesn’t mean you don’t get a lot of bad ideas. But you can filter through all those and find the pearls.

Q: Why are metrics so important?

It lets them know. People want good leadership. They want to know that when they are walking out those doors at night that they did a good job.

If you clearly define the metrics upfront, when they are walking to their car at night and you lay out those three, four or five elements, they know if they hit all of those elements. They know they did a good job; that makes people happy.

We all want to know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. If they are hitting their numbers and they are a senior employee or a tenured staff member, somebody that has been here awhile, we may only meet with them monthly or quarterly.

We don’t micromanage, but we do manage tightly. If there is a variance from expectations, we’re going to be on it real fast. If there is no variance and they are out there hitting it like a drum, we’re still going to look at it and make sure everything is adding up.

HOW TO REACH: Premiere Credit of North America LLC, (866) 808-7118 or www.premierecredit.com