Moving fast Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2009

When Timothy I. Still joined Accumetrics Inc. as president and CEO, he was in a tough spot, because the founder had been the acting chairman and CEO.

“Whenever you have a situation where the founder is still with the company, it’s a very delicate situation,” he says.

The board had decided to bring in a seasoned executive to build the company, which develops, manufactures and markets tests for the assessment of platelet response to antiplatelet therapies.

Immediately, Still had to establish credibility with the 80 employees, let them know that there was going to be a more accountable culture and then take swift action in changing the company and building his management team.

“Literally, in the first 90 days, there was a significant amount of change,” he says. “That sets the proper tone and proper culture that change is in the air.”

Smart Business spoke with Still about how he effectively led the company through change.

Have a clear vision. First, there needs to be clarity of vision, clarity of where the new CEO wants to take the company.

To have a clear vision and a clear strategy, frankly, it starts with strong leadership. People need to feel convinced that the leaders really know where they want to take the company and know what they want to do. You need to have measurable goals associated with that. You need to have teamwork, and you have to have people buy in and engage them. You have to open things up that if they don’t believe in the vision, to be vocal about it, and that all ties in to having the right culture at the company, one that people feel engaged in and feel heard. It’s clearly something that starts at the top. Even though it’s important to have a strong CEO, all of the functional heads need to be just as strong.

Create a sense of urgency. After you work on forming that vision, what’s equally as important is the sense of urgency and passion to fulfill that.

Make sure that people realize that the market waits for no one. The company needs to operate with a sense of urgency in building a business and really delivering products and solutions to customers. You can’t have a laissez-faire type of attitude. If you don’t take care of the customer, someone else will, so it’s really a sense of urgency as far as building the business and certainly looking at the goals that are out in front of us but not only driving to that goal but possibly through it and really exceeding customer and financial expectations.

Know how fast to move. I’ve made changes within a week of joining a company, but realistically, the first 90 days are crucial. I don’t think it’s logical to come into a situation and just make changes right out of the gate.

Even though you might have the answer and know where you need to take the company, a company of a certain size is only able to process change to a given degree, and you have to be sensitive to that. There will be times when maybe I acted too swiftly. In the end, we were able to catch up, but it can foster a couple weeks of helter-skelter there.

Assess the situation for a while, but if that assessment period takes too long, you tend to fall back into the culture that was there previously. Take action and set the tone of what the vision and what the culture is going to be.

That’s the delicate balance and that’s where effective leadership comes in. In areas you’re more comfortable with, you can probably push a little harder. Areas you’re not, you need to lean on your folks a little more.

Spend time with people. You’ve got to have the right team. As a CEO, probably 70 to 75 percent of your time is spent on people and the team that you have, and you really got to have fine-tuned people skills and knowing if the people on your team are going to fit within your culture or not.

It’s an awful lot of people assessment. Although experience is obviously important, I tend to look for more general qualities. First of all, is desire and passion to be at the company and believing in the vision. That has to be at the top of the list. Wanting to build a company and having the sense of urgency would be just as important. People need to want to make things happen and want to be engaged and not just getting a paycheck or waiting for a transaction to happen.

[They] need to feel comfortable in an accountable culture. We will have measurable goals and everybody will know what those goals are. Some people are comfortable with that visibility and clarity. Some people aren’t.

I would say also the ability for an employee to focus. That probably sounds simple, but we need to have the ability to sort through all of the mundane tasks every day and stay prioritized on what’s important and will drive the company. That’s a skill set that gets overlooked quite a lot.

Set up accountability systems. Lastly, it’s building a culture that’s going to drive success. That’s a culture that needs to be fun, accountable, but it has to be a culture that rewards success.

I’m a believer in a compensation philosophy that has both corporate as well as individual goals. Everybody in the company should be focused on what the corporate goals are for the quarter or for the year as well as the individual goals. We’ll have an all-employee meeting once a quarter. We’ll share everything as far as the financial performance of the company, all of the major goals we’re looking to achieve, and we’re very transparent with sharing that information. That’s something that the company didn’t use to do.

By doing that, you get an awful lot of buy-in, and they feel they know what’s going on with the company, and they feel comfortable being able to communicate up through all levels of management. People know, on a corporate level, every quarter, what our goals are, and then at the end of the year, we measure how they’re doing personally.

How to reach: Accumetrics Inc., (888) 919-9333 or www.accumetrics.com