Lending an ear Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
Lief Morin, president of Key Information Systems Inc., has no aspirations of growing his company into the next Google. Instead, Morin’s goals are defined in the context of satisfaction for both clients and employees.

“I am not interested in building a $10-billion-a-year, bureaucratic, gargantuan enterprise,” Morin says. “That’s not the type of company I wish to lead. I am interested in having a healthy, growing company on an annual basis that people enjoy working at.”

Although Morin places less priority on developing massive profits than he does on developing a positive work environment, financial success has followed for the information technology (IT) solutions provider, with 2005 revenue of about $60 million.

Smart Business spoke with Morin about why communication must be constant to be successful and why it requires listening as well as talking.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

I’m very flexible, and I try to communicate with as many of folks that work [for Key Information Systems] as I can, as often as I can. We work very collaboratively.

I’ve used this analogy before; in many ways, it’s like a sports team. The coach doesn’t rule, but he helps and he enables. I like to look at our style of management as being enablement for the people who are out selling or doing the implementations for our clients.

I look for things that improve their abilities to do business and, at the same time, maintain our ability to understand what’s going on in this business on a day-to-day basis. If that has to do with administrative process, if it has to do with supporting a client request, if it has to do with supporting an engineer’s technical requirements, that is what I look for on a day-to-day basis from an enablement perspective.

Sometimes it means talking to the management team to give them thoughts and ideas on how to improve a situation or to support them with direction or guidance in a particular area in order to enable them to provide that support, as well.

Q: What is the danger in allowing communication to break down?

That danger is always present, it’s always possible and it’s happened here. If you don’t communicate, if you don’t try to convey the message, if you don’t try to foster communications within the company, you end up with segments of the company that are doing one thing and another segment doing another thing, and people end up off the same page.

If you’re talking about a group of people at a party, that’s going to be what it is. If you’re talking about supporting a client with their mission-critical IT systems, that’s not so good.

Q: How can a leader maintain open communication?

The vast majority of the communications we do is done through informal conversations that take place among the members of the company on a day-today basis. We do have management meetings on a monthly basis and we have companywide discussions on a quarterly basis, but to me, those are merely checkpoints.

They are points to make sure that we’re all communicating for sure at one point in one room, but really where the work gets done is on a day-to-day basis, having that interpersonal communication and strategy happening all the time. If you wait a whole month or a whole quarter to have those dialogues, you could be missing a lot in that time frame.

Q: What advice do you have for a new CEO hoping to grow a business?

For the new CEO that is looking to not just grow their business but help find ways to lead, my advice is to listen. That is a leader’s most important quality, though not one that all people share.

It means not only to listen to the people who are management but to listen to the people who are also working under them because you’ll get many different viewpoints in the different departments and the different people in the company.

You also have to listen to what the industry is doing, whatever industry it happens to be, because those folks can also provide you valuable insight into what’s going on and how you should position for the long-term growth of the company. That’s the No. 1 skill. We’re not always perfect at it, but if you work at it and do it most of the time, you’re going to be more successful than others who listen to nothing and row their own way. The road is littered with the bodies of companies of folks who didn’t listen.

You have to act on what you hear, as appropriate, but if you don’t even know then you can’t act. You have to take that first step of listening.

HOW TO REACH: Key Information Systems Inc., (818) 992-8950 or www.keyinfo.com