Quality control Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

When Jim Cable was appointed president and CEO of Peregrine Semiconductor Corp., the right culture and ideas were in place for the company to succeed.

But the responsibility for maintaining the culture can be just as big as the challenge of defining it, he says of the 80-employee, $70 million company.

“One of the things that you find as a company grows is [the challenge of] communicating that culture and indicating behaviors that you would like your employees to have and pushing activeness and decision-making down inside the organization,” Cable says. “We got to a point where we felt that there wasn’t enough of that going on. So we launched a thrust to restimulate that type of behavior we were describing.”

That thrust is called Team ME, an initiative focused on continual company improvement through opening the lines of communication and evaluating behavior.

Smart Business spoke with Cable about how to communicate and maintain a culture.

Openly communicate. One of the things that you keep learning as a CEO is that you really can never communicate too much. Your employees crave information. As much as you think you provide, as much as you think people know what’s going on, I really find that they always want more.

One of the things we do is we try to have quite regular communication with employees.

It’s not all good news as you’re growing a company. There’s bad news. There’s a tendency sometimes not to project all the bad news. Certainly, I think we’ve been guilty of that at times.

But, on the other hand, I think we try to do a very balanced job of, ‘Here’s what’s going on, here’s what’s going right, here’s what’s going wrong.’

We have monthly all-hands meetings. Basically, everybody in the company can attend by person or by phone. Generally, I give a 45-minute update on the business (then have) an open Q&A.

There is an attempt to maintain communication, and that is an important part of the culture — that your employees believe that they know what’s going on; they hear the truth.

It’s something you have to struggle with. Sometimes I look at the effort I put in to preparing a 45-minute pitch to the employees, and I do it, and I sometimes think I didn’t learn anything from this and it was a lot of effort.

You can easily look at it and say it’s not high on your priority list. But you shouldn’t view it that way because the benefits are really quite significant. People feel like, after an all-hands meeting, they know what’s going on. The feedback I get is that it’s well worth the time, energy and sweat to go through the process.

Talk with people face to face. I’m not big on sending out once-a-week e-mails to employees to talk about what happened that week. I think having the face-to-face communication is really what’s important. It’s walking around. It’s making yourself available.

I do not go down and ask an employee three levels down to reprioritize what he’s working on to do some pet project for me because that’s anti-chain-of-command. What I tend to do is, if I hear a little tidbit in the hallways about something that’s going good or something that’s going bad, I ask a question. I primarily use it as a way to get people to talk.

Most employees want nothing more than to have the CEO walk into their cubicle or their office and ask a question. Get them to talk about what they’re doing. It makes them feel important, it makes them feel valued.

You have to draw the fine line of having that conversation and making them think that you’ve told them to do something different. It’s more to express interest in what’s happening, so that people know what they’re doing, and it’s important to the company.

Evaluate your actions. You maintain it by continuing to act in a manner, behave in a manner that is consistent with the culture.

New employees learn what is considered acceptable behavior, what are considered the corporate values, by observing what they’re seeing as they learn the company. It gets observed, and it gets assimilated.

You have to walk the talk. One of the things we challenge ourselves on, on a regular basis is, ‘OK, we say this is a value. Did we really behave that way?’ If the answer is no, then there’s something wrong.

One of the things we’ve always taken pride in is that we feel very strongly that we should have a quality product. We had some quality excursions. That was part of this Team ME. If we have this culture of quality … what was the reason we had some quality issues come up? Were they individual issues? Were they process issues? Were they culture issues? How do we get back to, not only do we say it’s important, but it is important?

Sometimes it means you have to make some investments. You say something’s important and you put a team responsible to fix it and they come back and say, ‘We know how to fix it, we have a plan to fix it, but it’s going to require some expenditure of resources.’

If you say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that,’ that’s very demoralizing to that team. If the answer comes back that it’s a modest thing to do, you have to back it.
How to reach: Peregrine Semiconductor Corp., (858) 731-9400 or www.psemi.com