Core strength Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2010

Not much can be accomplished in a business if the person on the top perch isn’t defining and enforcing the rules of the game.

At Advantage Fitness Products, Bryan Green has taken that lesson to heart. The founder, president and CEO has built his company — which generated $34 million in 2008 revenue — on a well-constructed and consistently enforced foundation of core values and has hired like-minded leaders who have helped him keep the culture in front of both employees and clients.

Green says that cultural foundation is one of the essential ingredients for any growing business.

“You have to surround yourself with the best lateral leadership in terms of executive management and those leading your people in the field,” he says. “The only way to effectively scale a business as you grow is to find a team that believes as strongly as you do in where the company is going.”

Smart Business spoke with Green about how you can keep culture and core values at the forefront of your business.

Start with a vision. It begins with the vision and the establishment of the company path. That comes from the person at the top.

As we’ve grown the business from coast to coast, the time that I can spend with our growing work force has decreased significantly. So I stay focused on where my messaging can be the most effective — the region face-to-face meetings, the annual company meetings and conference calls in between those touch points. But like most any progressive company today, we have every available technology tool. We have e-mail video, phone, Web features, but nothing replaces face-to-face meetings. So really I do my best to stay in front of our managers so that they feel as connected and remain as engaged in our mission as possible.

Sometimes, just being there and providing that reinforcement produces the single greatest results. It’s really about making sure your management is also tied into the vision, which increases the communication strength and your ability to do that well throughout the organization.

Construct the message. First, you need to find your audience. You really need to make sure you know what you’re saying. If you go too broad, if you’re going over too many departments or levels of management hierarchy, you’re going to potentially lose people through that. And it’s the same when you’re messaging to clients. You really need to know your audience of clients. Our corporate clients are going to want a different message and different information than our municipality clients.

Once you’ve established who you are speaking to, you really have to then determine how they want to be messaged to. Anything we do through social media reinforcement, videoconferencing or the good, old-fashioned lunch meeting, you have to make sure that with your team, your communication is about sending and receiving the message. If the vision is only being partially received or comprehended, you’re not going to be successful. So once you’ve defined the audience and identified how they want to be talked to, you have a much better approach than a ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach, which is a very inefficient way to send a message.

Hire the right team members. There is always going to be trial and error in a fast-growing company, but you really have to begin with knowing what your core values are and where you’re trying to get as an organization in terms of the support of your customer base. You have to talk about those things well beyond somebody’s resume when you’re looking for people to join a team. In any business, retention is a key. You have to be looking for people who share the values, are excited about the values and mission, and want to be around for a long time.

There are a lot of great people out there, and the key is fleshing out those candidates. Building a strong human resources department allows you to get there and focus there, and having that strong lateral leadership in the form of someone who runs your HR unit, they absolutely need to know what you’re looking for in terms of the company’s focus and in terms of the specific role. From there, you narrow it down.

It’s an art far more than a science, but as you go through it and you have great people to help you, your batting average increases.

Here, our directors want to meet with them in the field, really to walk through the environment that they’re going to be operating in each day. With a company like ours that has a strong external sales force, you want to discuss and be within that environment.

We do a lot of things that serve as common denominators in how we bring new staff on board, be it sales or otherwise. It has to do with an exploration of people’s strengths. We have tools we look at — we set up protocols and benchmarks for looking at the common denominators, the glue and fabric, of what our business is and then trying to determine that fit. So we go through interview processes and also going through skills assessments and going back to how they interact with their peers and those who will manage them.

We’re very much less concerned about a formal interview environment. It’s far more about the exploration, about the day in the life and how that’s going to be, about the type of individual we’re looking to have come in and not only get into the role but enhance it beyond one’s job description. It’s the only way we really feel that we can grow the business — beginning with individuals. So we’re less formal with our interview process and far more focused on where the person can be successful based on what we’ve determined are their strengths.