Peter T. Dameris Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007
On many levels, Peter T. Dameris is a people person. His company, On Assignment Inc., is in the business of human capital, providing staffing solutions for the life science and health care industries. Additionally, the leadership style of the president and CEO of On Assignment is all about investing in his people and building relationships that not only improve his company’s productivity but provide his employees with a positive and enjoyable work environment. As Dameris points out, his company has no proprietary technology or patents or products — only people. By making a daily effort to ensure the preservation of On Assignment’s culture and core values, Dameris has helped grow revenue to $285 million in 2006 and has guided the company through two successful acquisitions since the beginning of 2007. Smart Business spoke to Dameris about how having employees who are invested in their jobs leads to superior results.

Give employees ownership. I run a business that is relatively small for a public company, so I try to instill a sense of direct ownership in the business that, if you take care of this business, it will take care of you and your family.

I try to impart upon our employees that they’re with a young organization that’s growing and that there are not multiple layers of management like Procter & Gamble or GE. They can be recognized and noticed, and that plays well for us.

Our goal is to constantly communicate that there is opportunity and advancement here and that this is the best place for them to invest their talents versus some larger corporation. It’s important not only to talk about it, but to deliver on it and measure it to communicate it.

We talk about advancement opportunities, we try to hire from within, we talk about training and enhancement of internal skills, and we do that. If you’re going to play that card as a leader, you have to be prepared to be measured against what you’ve said. We track our tenure, we track our advancement, we track our successes, and then we communicate that to our employees.

Improve effort with recognition. If employees just feel like they’re coming to work and going to the same cubicle and their day is not going to change and there’s no way to be recognized, they get bored.

If you can eliminate the redundancy or the monotony of a job responsibility, you get higher productivity. If you’ve got somebody coming to work for you thinking they can make a difference or thinking they can be recognized, they’re going to be happier and they feel like they have a voice in the direction of their company.

I don’t want to overstate it, and it’s harder for multibillion-dollar companies, but you still have to have a culture where people feel like they can be recognized.

We spend a lot of time training people, and our retention tends to be better than other organizations who view people as expendable. There is a lot of money lost and downtime when you have turnover in key positions.

We tend to have a little bit better retention and overall effort because people are genuinely invested in the business they work for versus just looking for a paycheck every two weeks.

Commit to proactive communication. People don’t spend enough time on internal and strategic communications, and it creates a huge amount of anxiety and lost energy and time and distraction.

If you leave people to their own devices to figure things out on their own, they typically get it wrong. We try to do our best, we don’t always get it right, but we’re sensitive to the fact of when we’re communicating information and when we’re not. We just recently did a couple acquisitions and we were sensitive about what it would mean to the acquired companies’ employees, but just as much what it would mean to our employees.

We tried to address those issues on the front end as opposed to the back end, so we were proactive versus reactive. More corporations need to be proactive on communication versus reactive.

Know who you are and communicate it. You can’t have everyone going a different direction. Brands are hard to develop. If you set the basic tenets of ethics and quality and people know what to sell every day, day in and day out, it makes everyone’s job a lot easier.

We’re quite clear about what our direction is and we say it over and over again that we strive to be the highest quality, diversified professional staffing firm — not the largest staffing firm, but the highest margin professional staffing firm. There are messages there.

We’re not a bulk seller of human capital, we’re a professional organization. We’re not commoditizing our business and we communicate those tenets every day. Understand your business, pick the four or five things that are critical to your success, and repeat (them) often.

Use good judgment. It doesn’t matter if you have a Harvard MBA and you can do three different stochastic models in your head, if you don’t have a fundamental business judgment about what’s right and wrong and long-term benefit versus short-term gain and be able to make a quick judgment on things like that, you can’t learn it. That’s inherent.

And no matter how clever you can be and no matter how close you can get to the line without crossing it, you’ve got to have a fundamental, sound position on ethics. No matter how much you can make off of it, if it’s not good for everybody, or if it doesn’t look good, you’ve got to resist the attraction to do something like that.

Judgment and ethics allow people to be successful over the long-term versus at a particular measurement date or event.

HOW TO REACH: On Assignment Inc., (818) 878-7900 or