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Making it fun Featured

7:00pm EDT January 29, 2008

When wildfires struck Southern California late last year, many families left their homes and headed for shelters, hotels or other locations where they sought safety. But Continuous Computing employees who were evacuated brought their families to the office until the flames were extinguished, says Mike Dagenais.

While the situation gave the company an easy opportunity to help employees, its president and CEO says it shouldn’t take a crisis to deliver care and compassion to your employees. Instead, you need to demonstrate to employees every day that you appreciate and recognize their value to the company. By engaging in regular communication with his 300 employees during both good times and in bad, Dagenais has created a culture of cooperation at the integrated systems and service provider.

Smart Business spoke with Dagenais about how to find people who can have fun and work hard at the same time.

Assess your talent base. Bring in people that add a different dimension than what the current team brings. I look for industry-relevant expertise, but I usually look for a skill above and beyond what the current team has — somebody that can bring in a new perspective, new ideas and new ways of doing things.

I always look for that kind of attitude. Do they have this eagerness to sparkle and get engaged?

Listen to the approach that people give you and the confidence they have [during interviews]. I always bring in the rest of my leadership team to interview individuals. Everybody approaches an interview differently. How do they respond? How do they feel about the way people responded to specific questions?

Look for energy. Start with what their greatest success was and what was their greatest challenge. How did they turn the challenge into an opportunity? How do people formulate their responses? What energy did they put into their response?

How tangible was the challenge? ... Look at the passion they bring to the response, the eye contact they give you, the excitement they create. How engaged are they?

I look for people that are different than what I’ve got here. I don’t want to create a homogenous organization. People come from different perspectives and have different approaches and different styles.

Technical strength is important, but what other soft skills do they bring to the table? How comfortable are they challenging the status quo? Are they going to look to take leadership roles?

Conduct multiple interviews. They may be intimidated by one individual or others, but if the individual seems to be intimidated or nervous with everybody, then clearly the individual can’t come out of their own. You really want people to be able to speak up and feel confident in their ability to make a difference.

Talk about your vision. The organization has to be focused on the strategy and vision. It can’t be a complicated message. It has to be something that gets to the point. Everybody in the organization and the management team clearly has to believe.

It’s repeated communication and consistency of message, but also, at the same time, honesty with how we’re doing with respect to the organization.

Always allow for questions. They have to understand what they are being asked to do. They must know that their objectives mean something and play into the corporate objectives.

You need everybody on board. If for any reason we haven’t articulated it appropriately, questions come out and force us to refine the message, make it crisper and make sure it is really focused on the objectives.

Have fun. We work hard, but every now and then, you have to have some fun. We had a Halloween party. People brought in their costumes. We have a small gym at the office.

It’s hard to convince people to have fun. You’re trying to create an environment. The leadership team, the people that influence the company, they have to feel that this is fun. If their energy is brought to the table the way they bring their energies to work, if they bring it to some of these social things, it actually creates an environment where people say, ‘Hey, this is a fun place to work.’

Encourage input. Never ask anybody what the problem is. Ask what the solution is. I want people thinking of action. I want people to feel as if they own the problem.

I do not want anybody in my organization to say, ‘I don’t know what happened,’ or, ‘It’s not my fault, it’s somebody else’s fault,’ or, ‘I hope it will resolve itself.’

Make sure you listen. Let (people) talk, and never shoot the messenger. They have something to say, and they are willing to come and say it. Once you’ve listened to them, what are their recommendations to make it work?

Collect recommendations and a lot of opinions. As a result of the collection of feedback, start to formulate where you think the direction needs to be and how you put this all together.

Have open dialogue with the organization. ‘Do I hear you correctly? This is what I’m hearing, and this is what I see individually as the leader. This is how I’d like to shape it.’

After that, it’s time to focus and decide.

HOW TO REACH: Continuous Computing, (858) 882-8800 or www.ccpu.com