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7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

When Shane Evangelist took over as CEO of U.S. Auto Parts Network Inc. in 2007, he wasn’t daunted by the tremendous growth of the online provider of auto parts. Evangelist’s success at developing Blockbuster’s online movie rental service had perfectly prepared him for leading U.S. Auto Parts, which grew from 2005 net sales of $59.7 million to $161 million in 2007.

He says the key to successfully leading growth is clear communication.

“Ambiguity is the worst thing you can have in an organization,” Evangelist says. “If you can get that team so that there is clarity on direction, roles and responsibilities, and clarity in their individual objectives, you can build a very high-performing team.”

Smart Business spoke with Evangelist about how to ensure your message is being heard and why you should consider your employees’ skills when developing your vision.

Give clear directions and listen well. To be successful, you need to have clear communication on the strategy of the business, clear communication on the roles of the individuals and clear communication of their personal objectives.

The first thing is making sure folks understand where the company’s going, what their role is and what their job is in that mission.

The second thing is you have to have your ears open. You have to listen to what people are telling you, and you have to be able to react relatively quickly to address those concerns, whether they are unsubstantiated concerns and you address it those ways or they are very substantiated concerns and you take action.

The last key to good leadership is ensuring that the team is working together; that starts and stops with the guy at the top. If any one of those three things are off, you’re probably going to run into some issues.

Develop your vision with your personnel in mind. You look at the skill sets you have and try to map the market opportunities to the skill sets of the organization. When you get a market opportunity that is large enough with the skill set of the organization that matches the ability to grow in that market, it’s easy to set a vision.

When you’ve got a market opportunity that is large, but you don’t have the skill set to attack that market, then you’ve got to create the need for change or the reason to believe — why we have to enter that market and why we’ve got to change what we’re doing as a business to get there, and how we’re either going to stretch people or bring new people in to do that.

But setting the overall vision of the business can’t be done solely on market opportunity, and it can’t be done solely on skill sets internally. It has to be a combination of the two, and it has to be done with a realistic mindset.

Let your employees know how they fit in the organization. The first thing we do is identify the needs of the business. What is it that needs to be accomplished?

Every organization is designed or set up a little bit differently. So the roles and responsibilities start first with the needs of the business. We then match that with the skill sets of the people inside the business. When we have a match of skill sets and needs, that is easily definable.

Annual performance appraisals aren’t enough. Communicating on a quarterly basis on the performance of the individuals is very powerful. It keeps everybody on their toes and provides clarity to the individual.

(In those meetings) their personal objectives are outlined and written down. So if there is some confusion about the direction of your objectives in the company or the things you’re working on that aren’t in direct line with what you’re hearing, the individual becomes that much more proactive to clarify that because they know they’re about to get measured on it.

If your people can’t do it, hire someone who can. Identify holes in the business, things that aren’t being done that could be accomplished by current skill sets. You then assign those objectives or needs into the skill sets required. Then, what’s open, you have to go find.

Next, we determine if the skill is inside the business. If we don’t have the specific skill set, we may have the capacity to bring that skill set on. If it’s simply a training issue, then we figure out a way to train that individual, whether it’s cross-training or outside training.

If we can’t do that, then we’ll look outside through normal operations. Depending on the skill set level, that’s going to be either a recruiting firm or looking on Monster.com.

You have to add costs to grow. You’ve got to either believe or not believe you’re going to grow. If you believe you’re going to grow, you’ve got to have the wherewithal to invest in that growth ahead of the growth.

So if you feel like you’ve got a big plan, you’ve identified the skill sets required, then you have got to bring those skill sets on or the technology resources required to do it. What ends up happening is you add cost to the business.

Adding costs to the business is not a big deal if you are growing. ... If you run into some stagnation inside revenue, then it doesn’t look so good, because you’ve added cost without growth.

It’s a tough time to be adding cost because of the market conditions. But if you have the wherewithal and you believe in the business and your team, then you do it.

HOW TO REACH: U.S. Auto Parts Network Inc., (888) 810-9229 or www.usautoparts.net