Don’t tell the nice folks over at Penn State, but Tony Buzzelli beat the system.
A young Buzzelli, on his way to an accounting degree, scoured the course curriculum up and down before finding a speech class that didn’t require him to do any public speaking formerly one of his pet peeves.
But when Buzzelli began his career at Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, where he is now the vice chairman and Pacific Southwest regional managing partner, he realized that he’d actually cheated himself. To be a leader, part of his life would always include public speaking so he began speaking in front of smaller groups at charity events, learning how to handle it.
Today, Buzzelli loves public speaking and doesn’t want the 3,000 employees under his charge at the professional services firm getting through Deloitte, the U.S. member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, without any personal development. He wants them to have lives, which enhance who they are as a person, as part of a company culture that celebrates employees because, well, happy people make better employees.
“There’s an old dilemma in this business: Do you start with the best clients or the best people?” Buzzelli says. “Well, you have to start with the best people because you can’t have the best clients without the best people or, if you do, you’re going to lose them. I have been focused on people from the earliest days of my career. I’ve been doing this sort of stuff for about forever, and it all has to emanate from the top, and for me, it’s about personal and professional development.”
That focus can’t just be a hope to build a nice company culture, according to Buzzelli. It means taking the time to find out what people want from their employer, appreciating that talent comes from many backgrounds and figuring out how to blend all that together. In the end, the goal is to build a company that employees are proud to work for. In turn, Buzzelli’s been proud of his region’s results.
Figure out what employees want
Buzzelli asks himself the same question over and over as he tries to build the right culture at Deloitte How do you align a company vision and culture to 3,000 people?
He says the first key is creating an environment where people trust the executives and are willing to give feedback.
“The simple statement I’m offering is, ‘We have to create an environment where we can establish trust,’” Buzzelli says. “And the behavior that either enhances trust or destroys it is responsiveness.”
He develops a rapport with his employees through regularly scheduled luncheons with small groups representing large portions of the company. The low-pressure situations leave room for candid conversations.
“People will come and talk to you if you create an environment and listen carefully to what they say,” he says. “I have lunches with people we call ‘boomerangs,’ those people who have left and chose to come back. My question to them is, ‘Why did you come back, how did we stay in touch with you, and, oh, by the way, why did you leave?’ I’m forever trying to understand why people stay and why they leave. I take this very seriously, but I do it in a way where it’s fun for people to get together.”
Not only do the lunches provide insight for Buzzelli, they also help spread the message of his willingness to listen and respond. “Before I get back to my desk after lunch, they are talking to other people about it,” Buzzelli says. “This is a very viral thing, if I’m eating with 25 people, then I’m probably getting hits on anywhere between 100 to 200 people. It creates a buzz when I sit there and listen and act upon what I hear.”
By giving them these outlets, he allows employees to create a work atmosphere that empowers their life ambitions as part of the job. To show that he’s committed, he stays responsive to that ideal. When he found out that volunteering was important to his people, Buzzelli didn’t just pick a program and tell his people to give it their time. Instead, he formed a volunteer committee that represents every different level of the organization.
“You can’t make people volunteer that’s kind of an oxymoron, right?” Buzzelli says. “Whenever anybody asks me to dedicate our people to volunteering, I tell them I don’t have the authority to do that, I give that to our volunteer council. It’s very empowering to our people, and they tell each other. I don’t override their decisions and I don’t impose my will it belongs to them.”
The candid conversations that Buzzelli gets into with his people also help him push the vision of the company.
“I endlessly repeat what we’re trying to accomplish and make sure it’s obvious,” he says. “A lot of people have this vision thing about what they want, but they try to communicate it indirectly. I try to be very clear and unambiguous about what I’m trying to articulate. I remind people that our vision is to be the standard of excellence, and I’ll ask what actions are we taking to make sure that whatever that activity is that we’re dealing with fits into that model.”
And by building up trust with his people through his responsiveness, Buzzelli can get them to speak up about the problems in their own way.
“A leader needs to listen aggressively,” he says. “You usually hear the trite call to listen to your people, but you have to listen and communicate, without ambiguity, what you’re trying to accomplish, including eliminating barriers.
“If you force them to say what’s going to get in their way, you essentially get some answers that are often excuses on why they don’t want to get it done. So when you take that away and take care of those barriers, say, ‘I’ll take care of that,’ then they are accountable, and then there is a much greater chance of succeeding.”
Buzzelli says another part of building up a people-first culture is allowing employees to fit their personality and lifestyle into the company model.
He champions the company’s diversity efforts and meets regularly with a diversity council. The main idea is to appreciate everyone’s lifestyle to fill the company with different mindsets.
“Critical talent management is finding the people who have the competencies but also fit our organization,” he says. “The diversity we’re talking about is the diversity of thinking. Most people think of diversity as color, but we’re really focusing on the values we’re bringing to our clients by having all of those competencies from diverse perspectives focusing on internal or external issues. It’s very enriching because people bring their different perspectives. When I talk to my partners about diversity, I’m trying to push them to think about diverse thinking and helping them realize the benefit of having diverse points of view in the room.”
Buzzelli says diversity makes for a better company culture, but it also makes for a better company.
“We’ve had great success against our competitors because we bring in people with a different perspective,” says Buzzelli.
As an example, he points to a recent audit opportunity for his company. Sitting through the meeting with a potential client, Buzzelli was surrounded by the team he thought was best suited to win the job. Ironically, that team had almost the exact same diversity makeup as the client including a large percentage of women. After Deloitte won the job, the client mentioned how important that diversity was in getting the deal done.
“I didn’t notice at the time; that’s just the way we operate,” he says of his diverse team. “But they commented to us, ‘We’re really happy to see that you have so many women on the team because the last competitor had all men.’ So they all looked alike, but we had talent that not only was diverse from a sex perspective but also from an ethnic and age perspective, and that’s just because we had the right people.”
Build a company people admire
Building a company culture that values employees and encourages community service doesn’tjust make for a friendly feel around the water cooler, it also becomes a retaining point for good employees and a marketing tool for potential clients and employees.
“The important thing for a leader is to understand your organization and what the shared beliefs are to make sure you’re attracting the people and lining them with the vision and objective you have,” says Buzzelli. “There’s a subtlety that people don’t see there. People really want to work for a company that they admire. You strive for that because people are now beginning to see that there is a talent shortage, so what’s going to create a difference to an individual is being an organization that they admire. If their personal values align, and they enjoy giving back to the community, then they’re going to enjoy an organization that does the same.”
Deloitte did a study of Generation Y talent this year and found that 62 percent of those surveyed, aged 18 to 26, said they would prefer to work for a company that gave them the opportunity to contribute their talents to nonprofit organizations.
Buzzelli says today’s talent wants to know what a company is about meaning they won’t sign up for a company with mixed messages.
“If I ever was in a place where I wanted to move to another organization, I’d need to understand what their shared values are,” Buzzelli says. “To be honest, I wouldn’t even join an organization that said, ‘Well, gee, we haven’t figured that out yet,’ because that’s hard to do. If you don’t know who you are as an organization, then you have a problem.”
Not only do things like community service align with the principles of incoming talent, they also act as a brand builder but you have to understand that it needs to be done in the right spirit, with community focus first and the windfall for the company coming as part of that.
“We have a responsibility to give back,” Buzzelli says. “But by giving back and meeting people and getting them to trust you and being responsive to the needs of the community, you build a reputation. It’s about our people first but the collateral benefit is the organization.”
Deloitte’s culture has had a direct effect on turnover and diversity. A decade ago, turnover percentage was in the mid-20s, but today, it is around 15 percent annually. Its voluntary turnover of women during the last three years has decreased from 17.9 percent to 14 percent, and in the last year, minority representation has increased 1 percent.
Besides the hard numbers, events like Deloitte’s Impact Day show the tangential benefit of the culture. The volunteer day gives employees the opportunity to work in the office or donate time. At the most recent Impact Day, more than 1,100 Deloitte employees packed the streets of Los Angeles in blue T-shirts with the company name. It created a great feeling for employees, but the reputation boost was also palpable.
“Leaders in the community recognize it, and when I go around here in L.A., I get positive feedback from people who noticed that,” Buzzelli says. “Now, L.A. is a pretty big place, so the point is, it’s very clear that people want to be aligned with an organization that they’re proud of. And most people are proud of an organization that gives back to the community.”
HOW TO REACH: Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, (213) 688-0800 or www.deloitte.com