Andy Wexler is a man in search of the right mix. As founder and executive camp director at Pali Camp, he has often struggled to find the right balance for how quickly to grow the 221-employee camp operator.
“Sometimes I tried to grow very quickly before the business was ready and I put in a large management team and the business couldn’t support that, so I had to cut back,” Wexler says. “Other times, I grew too big without bringing in a management team, and we had growing pains.”
Wexler has found the most success when he has taken the time to work with his people and share his knowledge to help them become better leaders in the company. It puts them in a better position to handle whatever new responsibilities arise.
“Over the last five years, I’ve gone through showing them how to run each one of their businesses like their own business unit and have them basically take responsibility,” Wexler says. “So they’d not only be responsible for their revenue but their expenses, as well. It’s been a fantastic learning experience because every one of them now has ownership of their division. We have a cabinet meeting every week where everyone says if they are on goal and what their plan is for the week and then I let them do their thing.”
Reaching this stage of empowerment requires that you find strong people when you make hires.
“The first thing that I do is when we post a job, I’ll ask very specific questions,” Wexler says. “I want to make sure the person was meticulous enough to read the job description. It’s shocking. I’ll get 300 resumes and only maybe 15 to 20 percent actually read the job description. So at that point, out of 300 respondents, I’m down to 30 or 40.”
The candidates that make it through to this point are then judged on their cover letters.
“Did the person write a cover letter that was actually interesting to read?” Wexler says. “Did it look like they actually spent a little bit of time looking at whatever the position is? They could have asked pointed questions or they could have pretended that they were interested or maybe they really are interested. Once you get down to that, it’s probably about seven to eight people. Once I get there, I would see what their background is and see how long they have been at past positions.”
After whittling it down to a final four or five people, Wexler conducts in-depth interviews with each candidate to attempt to really get a good read on who is the best fit.
“The biggest thing at that point where people shoot themselves in the foot is if they complain about their last job,” Wexler says. “If someone just says, ‘I grew too big for the job’ and I call their employer and they say this was the best person they ever had, that’s the person I’m going to hire. If it’s a person who rips on their last job, they are just going to do the same thing for me.”
When you take this process seriously, what you end up with are people who believe in your vision and can walk with you to help your business grow. Then it’s all about you following through on your promise to let them grow as leaders.
“It’s all about motivation,” Wexler says. “If the manager is willing to put in more hours, then the employees will put in more hours. Education takes as long as it takes. If you really need to do something, as the manager, you can do it yourself and do the serious learning later on. If you really want people to learn and fish by themselves, however, that takes longer.”
How to reach: Pali Camp, (909) 867-5743 or www.paliadventures.com
Pick a direction
You need to figure out what kind of leader you’re going to be and stick to it. If you like to take on different leadership personas, you’re asking for trouble.
“You can’t micromanage some days and not on others,” says Andy Wexler, founder and executive camp director for Pali Camp. “Just like with parenting, kids are very comfortable with routine. It doesn’t matter how tough the rules are, if they’re consistent and they know what the rules are, they can live within the rules. An employee would be the same thing.”
So if you’ve tended to be a micromanager and suddenly, you look to ease up a bit, you’ll have to work hard to be convincing that you really want to change your ways.
“If you say, ‘I’m going to let you do this,’ they’re going to be shocked first of all,” Wexler says. “They’ll either freak out or they will really appreciate it. They probably won’t believe it. But your actions have to follow your words.”
If you find people have gotten too used to being micromanaged, it may be a case of that person not having the skill set to make decisions on their own. Give them a test of responsibility and see how they handle it.
“Let them go with it,” Wexler says. “It’s probably not the most vital business area, but it gives them a taste.”