What kid hasn’t been told at some point in their lives to stop worrying about what the other children are doing and focus on his or her own behavior? Rob Lucenti says forget that. He wants employees to look outside their own box at what their colleagues are working on.
“I have to understand that I’m going to get a functional person or a business unit that’s going to say, ‘I’m just worried about A right here,’” says Lucenti, the managing partner for the Orange County practice of Deloitte & Touche LLP. “If I get A, I’m in good shape. It’s my job to understand that. But it’s also my job to say, ‘But the longer-term vision is this, so should we be thinking about A, B and C?’ That’s what I need to bring to the table for every small meeting, for every little proposal and everything we think about.”
Lucenti has worked to build a team-thinking philosophy at Deloitte’s Orange County office, which employs about 870 people.
Smart Business spoke with Lucenti about how to build a team-oriented culture.
Set the right tone. The more transparent and open and communicative I am, the more of that that I display and lead by example. I am a firm believer that that is what flows down through my organization.
If I create events like meetings or communication methods that show and foster that, my organization is going to catch on. If we have an opportunity here at Deloitte, let’s say it just happens to be an opportunity with an audit, we strongly believe we should discuss that opportunity with all our business functions.
We should have a tax person involved; we should have an internal audit person involved. To the extent that it’s allowable within the rules and all the things that govern us, we should ask the consultants for their advice.
By involving our entire organization, it not only brings us together and breaks down our silos, but it also brings more value to our clients.
Keep it simple. The vision has to be simple. The value proposition of what we are doing has to be simple. When I say simple, I don’t mean we’re not complex in our thinking as far as our offerings. I just mean it has to be well articulated to say, ‘This is the goal we are trying to achieve.’
The easier it is for our people to get their arms around that, the easier it is for them to carry out their tasks. If that vision or that articulation of that value proposition is not clear and is clouded or [there is] confusion, it’s going to be difficult.
Empower people to deliver that message. One of the really important things to do is let the people within those business units that understand the overall long-term vision articulate it because when folks see one of their own stepping up and saying this is where we need to go, that’s a huge advocacy for where a vision needs to go.
That’s instant credibility. The more ways you can empower your folks to get that message out there, the better. As a leader, that doesn’t mean shirking the responsibility. As a leader, I’m strategically picking out the folks who are starting to get it and empowering them with the ability to carry it out.
Watch your people. The more time I can spend in the field with our folks and with our leadership understanding who has the ability to do what, the better. It’s almost like practice. It’s important for a coach to spend time watching their players in practice and finding out what their strengths and weaknesses are.
I like being out in the field with my people going out on what I would call client opportunities or even what we call client-service assessments to see how we’re doing. I like to do that as much as possible because I get to see how we’re performing.
I like to get a read on folks based on how they interact with me. With certain people, even at our lowest staff levels, I can kind of gauge how they interact with me and you can see that level of confidence in some and apprehension in others.
I use folks’ interactions with me as one sign. I definitely use the feedback that I get from my leaders and the people that are most associated with our folks as another.
Observe client interactions. The better way for me is when we are interacting not only with our folks but with a client, as well. I really get to learn about my folks when we are interacting with a client. I like situations where it’s a client opportunity or it’s a client service investment and I get a chance to interact with my people with a client.
I really get to see how well or not well we are doing or how good or not good we are positioned for an opportunity. ... It really gives me a window into where we are at. It gives me a window into the individuals, as well.
Seek out advice from others. You look at a guy like Phil Jackson, (the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers). He has Tex Winter right there behind him. You think Phil Jackson knows everything there is to know about basketball, and you watch him during the game and he turns around and he’s asking Tex a question.
That’s the way I view the senior partners that I have here in my office. They have been through a lot, and it’s an opportunity for me to go down, and if there is some gray area or if there is something that I’m unsure on, that’s one of the first places I go is to go to that experience. I say, ‘Hey, have you ever been faced with this before? Can I ask for your advice?’ A leader can’t be afraid to do that. You can always learn from someone.
How to reach: Deloitte & Touche LLP, (714) 436-7100 or www.deloitte.com
Robert J. Birgeneau has a lot to think about when he opens his mouth.
He’s got 15,000 employees at the University of California, Berkeley — not to mention 35,000 students — who have a lot riding on what he has to say.
“It’s a complicated business model with income coming from many directions and no simple product,” says the university’s chancellor.
The key to making it work to support the university’s $1.8 billion budget has been the application of basic corporate leadership principles. Birgeneau talks to his senior leaders, he talks to people who are further down in the organization and he talks to his customers — in this case, the students who come for an education.
“I must have a clear vision for Berkeley and that must be based on a fundamental set of principles, which the people around me clearly understand,” Birgeneau says. “People must have absolute confidence in your integrity.”
Smart Business spoke with Birgeneau about how to make sure you’re conveying the right message to your employees.
Be humble. Don’t micromanage. For the people who work for me, when I say, ‘You’re responsible for this,’ I want them to come back to me when they are doing important things to confirm that they are going in the right direction. When they are successful, I make sure that they get full credit for it.
Be humble about what you’re not good at and hire around you people who are good at it. Give them full credit when they accomplish things that you on your own couldn’t accomplish. When things go wrong, be prepared to take the blame yourself. The worst thing, and it happened to me in my career when I was in a dependent stage, is something goes wrong and the person you report to says, ‘Well, that’s not my fault. He did it.’ I never do that.
Encourage participation. I send out almost brutally honest e-mails that go to the entire student body and to the entire staff about what our thinking is, what our strategies are, where we think we’re headed and how we’re trying to address issues.
Try not to overdo it, because people will just press delete. But every time there’s a really important issue, which I think the community needs to know about, I send out an e-mail that goes to every employee.
I explain to them that it’s important for me as the head of the institution to know what the people on the ground are really thinking and what their issues really are and I just want them to tell me honestly.
Be articulate. Speak to people in language that they can understand. If I’m writing something for an op-ed that is aimed at the New York Times, that will be different than an op-ed going in the student newspaper. If I’m sending out a message that is going just to the faculty, if the English isn’t perfect, I’ll get criticism from the English department. So I may take more care stylistically for a message that goes out to the faculty than one that goes out to the community as a whole.
When we’re sending out general messages, we spend a lot of time trying to make sure the messages are as inclusive as possible.
I have advisers around me. I am a physicist myself. My closest adviser actually happens to be an expert in medieval French, but also is excellent at administration and budgets. My second-in-command is a social scientist who is also an expert in Russian politics. I try to have different kinds of expertise in the immediate area around me. Before sending out messages, I run it through these people.
Try not to sound scripted. When I started as a university leader, I did not do this very well. Frankly, a couple times I saw myself on television giving a scripted speech and I said, ‘That’s awful.’
I had one program, which was a full half-hour that they kept running at midnight to guarantee it would put people to sleep. I learned by hard experience that this is not easy, so I actually got lessons from a person who specialized in techniques of giving scripted speeches so they don’t look scripted.
Read the script in advance to be sure it says what you want it to say and to be sure you can speak passionately about what’s in the script. There are techniques in memorizing parts of the sentence. Never have a sentence that is longer than 15 words. You memorize the first five words so you speak them looking at the audience. You look down and read the next five and simultaneously memorize the final five. Then you look back up at the audience and say the next five.
It doesn’t look as if you are reading something that’s written down as a script because you’ve looked directly at the audience and said two-thirds of the words directly to them.
Watch yourself. This advice came from Chuck Vest, who was president of MIT. When I was deciding to take on a senior leadership position, he said, ‘I have two pieces of advice for you. No. 1, being president of the university is not a job; it’s a life. No. 2, even when you’re off the record, you’re on the record.’
If you’re the head of a major institution, you’re always on the record. There are so many times where people get caught. When you’re in a leadership position, the microphone is always on.
How to reach: University of California, Berkeley, (510) 642-6000 or www.berkeley.edu
Jay Woffington doesn’t believe in doors. Even if he had an executive office at Bridge Worldwide, he’d rip the door from its hinges to stay accessible to his 220 employees.
Barriers won’t come between the president and CEO and his employees at the digital marketing firm. Instead, Woffington sits in a cubicle like everyone else. He eats in the cafeteria with everyone else. He keeps the lines of communication open and the power spread across the organization.
That open interaction yields the input he needs to make the best decisions for everyone involved.
“Just because you’ve empowered a lot of people and just because you’ve asked for a lot of advice doesn’t mean that you are absolved from having to make decisions,” he says. “You just make more informed decisions. You know you have more potential pathways to go down as opposed to just what you would think of.”
Smart Business spoke with Woffington about leveling your organization by staying accessible to employees, interacting with them and giving them a voice.
Get out and interact. Maintaining a fairly flat, egalitarian-type approach helps keep you connected to the business but also doesn’t let you get too much of the ego. People are going to tell you what they don’t like, and you’ve got to love hearing it, as opposed to squashing that kind of stuff.
Being able to keep your fingers on the pulse by really touching a lot of people in the organization, it’s a little bit more [of a] hands-on approach. I think that’s a key.
Know everybody’s name. When everybody joins, they get a nameplate that’s on their wall in front of their cube with their name and their picture. That’s on our intranet as well, so you can go on at any time and look at every single employee’s picture and everybody’s name and know who they are.
If you see somebody and you don’t know their name, go look it up because it will mean a lot more the next time you see them.
Get out of your office — literally. If I had an office, I would never sit in it. I would rip the door off of it. In fact, I did that when I was [a brand manager] at Procter & Gamble; I took the door off the hinges. There are lots of artificial thresholds that people are going to be less likely to cross. If you make it easy, everybody will do it.
One of our clients, The J.M. Smucker Co., there’s a great story of how they do it: Richard and Tim Smucker just eat lunch at the cafeteria, just like everybody else. There’s not an executive dining hall. You just go to the same place; you do the same exact thing.
Be accessible. My calendar’s open so anybody can book time; literally, anyone can go into Microsoft Outlook and put a meeting on my calendar. And I accept it.
No. 2, we don’t have offices, so I have a cubicle. You hear a lot more, and it makes you a lot more accessible so people just stop by and say, ‘Hey, in two minutes I want to show you something,’ or, ‘I want to ask you a question,’ or whatever. Being willing to spend that time is really important.
Those are the more informal stuff. More of the structured stuff, I do what we call a share session every other month. Think of it as office hours from college, like a scheduled meeting, and I invite the entire company to it and there’s no set agenda. It’s kind of whatever’s on your mind, ask me any question.
And then on our intranet, I blog every other week: ‘Here’s what I’m focused on, here’s what I want you focused on.’ But it’s an open-feed so anybody can respond to it and chime in with ideas and thoughts.
[There are] a lot of ways to biopsy the organization. I talk about it as thread-pulling. You hear one thing; you just pull on it a little bit. As long as you’re getting enough of that, you always have a pretty good view of what’s happening.
Let employees find the answers. Too often, I think leaders are viewed as needing to have all the answers. And I don’t believe that I have all the answers. I have a much more collaborative leadership style and more of a focus-and-release as opposed to dictate-and-supervise or anything like that. We just need people to go ahead and explore and experiment and take risks, as opposed to wait for someone to tell them what to do.
First off, you can’t just say it; you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to give them the ability to make those decisions and live with the consequences of them. It can’t be me making all the decisions; they have to be able to make the decisions. And so you literally have to give up decision-making, and they have to be able to go off and do it.
When I weigh in on decisions, usually I say, ‘Look, I’m just giving you ideas. You have to make these calls, not me, because you’re ultimately accountable for it.’
Follow up on feedback. No. 1, if you actually take some of their ideas and you build it into your plan, that sure helps. And if you’re not, then I think you have the obligation to say, ‘Hey, look, I got a lot of this feedback, and I’m telling you why I’m not doing that, I’m doing this.’ That’s OK, too.
But there needs to be the feedback loop both ways. So just because you hear more doesn’t mean you’ve communicated back more.
How to reach: Bridge Worldwide, (513) 381-1380 or www.bridgeworldwide.com
If you need constant direction, you can’t be on James Lawrence’s executive staff.
The president and CEO of Oriana House Inc. immediately throws new employees into the fire to fend for themselves. He says that by giving people space to make their own decisions, you instill a sense of trust in them that is empowering, Lawrence says.
“You provide them the environments to become better employees, better managers and better leaders,” he says.
Empowering employees starts with outlining your expectations for them and making it clear that you trust their abilities. Secondly, you have to keep them in the know about what’s going on at the company to help them to make informed decisions. Find ways to allow your employees to make their own choices and work with them if their decisions backfire.
Giving employees the opportunity to grow and, in return, provide better service has allowed Oriana House — a nonprofit organization that treats chemical dependency and offers community corrections services — grow from a three-day-a-week program to a 24-7 treatment center with revenue of $32 million.
Smart Business spoke with Lawrence about how to step back and empower employees to act on their own.
Set expectations. You bring the people in because they’re experienced, and you tell them that you brought them in because they have the experience that you’re looking for and that you trust them to do the job.
Set the expectations of what the job is. Then, give them a larger box to operate in, knowing they can always come back to you for advice and planning. But expect them to do that less and less and make their own decisions.
Give employees information to help them make good decisions. I have seen over the years that sharing the information you have lets people know that you trust them.
What we have to do to empower them is to continue to meet with employees at all levels.
I meet with my executive staff and program staff for regular meetings, but I’m talking about the entire operation.
You have to provide your employees with information about the organization and what’s going on with the organization, outside influences on the organization and the impact on the organization.
What I often tell people is, ‘We don’t have any secrets.’ You want to let your employees know what’s going on in the organization and outside the organization because that helps them to better do their job as well as meet their expectations. And I’m talking about good things and bad things.
I meet with them and tell them what’s going on, and I encourage them. That way, you encourage input from them; you’re meeting with them. You want to listen to what they have to say in these meetings as well as let them know.
For example, last year, we did raises because I have a feeling we won’t do raises for at least this year and possibly next year. It’s better that they hear it from me saying, ‘Right now, our position is there wouldn’t be raises this year. That may change depending on what happens with our revenue and contracts and services.’
Empower employees to act on their own. If you talk to my employees, you’ll probably find out that some of them, especially on the higher levels of management, I don’t tell them a lot [about what to do]. I set them out there and see what they do. They can always come and check with me but empower them to make decisions but also to make mistakes.
Employees, managers, leaders — they all have to develop their own style on how to run various aspects of our organization, and my style doesn’t work for other people, necessarily, so I think they have to find their own.
Part of it is to allow them to make the decisions that are sometimes wrong. As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s good for me not to be around because I don’t want to stop them from making decisions.
As long as it doesn’t ruin the company, for example, I consciously let people do things that are wrong just because you learn a lot from that.
Let people do it their way. You have to do it by example. I don’t know how else you would do it. It’s almost like if you were always working in the same room with the boss, they do things a certain way and that’s how they would do it, and they almost can’t help themselves.
So if I was hanging around with you all day and you were working with me, I would almost feel like I’d have to jump in.
It’s hard sometimes, depending on your personality … to be able to step away and let them operate, even though you would do it differently.
That’s why sometimes it’s best not to be there. Sometimes, I’ll send people to meetings that, in the past, I might have gone to. I consciously don’t go there so they can’t look to me for the answers; they have to make the decisions and know that I trust them to go forward.
Otherwise, they tend to go back to me, what I would do. If I’m not there, they can’t ask that question.
You have to do it by example.
Work with employees when they make mistakes. If they do something that doesn’t work out, then we sit down and talk about that and redo it.
Go over it and restudy it, just so you can learn something from it.
How to reach: Oriana House Inc., (330) 535-8116 or www.orianahouse.org
Some things can only be taught through example — and that’s where Jack Elliott steps in.
The president and CEO of Cohen & Grigsby PC does train new employees as they come into the law firm, using orientations and mentorship pairings. But do-as-I-do opportunities go a long way, too. So Elliott takes employees along on his client visits so they can observe how he interacts with them, reinforcing the firm’s client-centric culture.
“You build a trust relationship over time with the constant communication with clients,” says Elliott, who leads 269 employees. “You build it every day with every interaction that you have.”
And when employees witness those relationships growing, the culture develops deeper roots than it might through training alone.
“It’s basically a constant reinforcement by leadership, by training and by just the sheer experience of interacting with a client,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Elliott about how to lead by example in your client interactions.
Choose curious, involved employees. It’s very important that our people are attuned to the needs and issues of our clients, and so they need to be curious about the clients’ problems and be willing to listen. We look for the personality traits and the curiosity that would allow them to become that kind of adviser.
We’ve had a long history of giving and volunteering by all the folks in our organization, and we think that that’s important because it helps the community that we live in and the community that our clients live in. We believe that [volunteering is] very consistent with our client-centric focus. But it also is broader than that because we think we have an obligation to help and assist where we can.
You can get a sense primarily by what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished in the past. That’s a good indicator of the initiative that they have. We look at their background, what they’ve done in school, what outside interests they have, what charitable nonprofit volunteerism that they’ve been involved in.
Assign new employees to mentors. When they start, there’s an orientation program where they are steeped in the history and the culture of the firm.
They are also assigned mentors, either more senior associates or junior partners who are assigned to help them in terms of integration into the firm and helping them develop their skill set, both on the legal side and on the business development side.
[They are paired] by practice area, experience and personality.
Visit clients. It’s important that we understand the industry that they operate in and any sort of issues that the industry is confronting. With the Internet, it’s not difficult to try and identify whatever relevant information is about the industry or the client.
We have a very active library staff that allows us to proactively get highlights about issues that are affecting a particular industry or a client. There are services that would deliver daily updates on topics that might be of concern to a particular industry or client.
It’s talking regularly with the client and going out to meet with them in their place of business. That’s how you stay in touch with them, and that’s how you understand how their business is being affected.
Part of what everyone should be doing to develop those relationships is go visit the client, see where they live, see where they work, understand what problems are confronting their industry, their particular business and know how their product is made.
But the key thing is to just listen to them. Rather than having an immediate solution or a preconceived notion of what the answer is, really listen to clients and what their needs are and what their concerns are.
Take employees on client visits. One of the main things that we try and do is constant reinforcement of the fact that we are advisers to our clients. It’s training by example, taking people with us as we go out to meet with clients and go to where their headquarters are or their factories are and trying to understand their business.
There’s training. There’s one-on-one development of those skills. There’s just the training that comes with participation with more senior people that they see how it’s done.
These are ad-hoc relationships, where you have the trust of the client and you’re bringing younger lawyers along to have them be involved in telephone calls and have them be involved in client meetings where it’s appropriate, so they can see the interaction and they can see and understand the questions that the clients are dealing with. It is not necessarily a formal program; it’s just the natural mentoring process that needs to occur for people to understand what our culture is.
Reinforce the importance of client interaction. You have to reinforce that both by example — how you interact with client relationships — and talking about how important that is. Reinforce that message in your daily interactions and our monthly meetings.
We have meetings in which we talk about the business and how we’re doing, and we reinforce the importance of the culture in terms of the success of our client relationships.
There’s lots of anecdotal evidence from client feedback. I communicate with a number of our clients that I might not be involved [with]. I get involved in talking about how we’re doing.
What we tend to want to know is: Are we meeting their needs and expectations and making sure that we understand what their expectations are for the service that we deliver to them?
How to reach: Cohen & Grigsby PC, (412) 297-4900 or www.cohenlaw.com
Adam E. Coffey never thought he’d be the president and CEO leading the turnaround of a company that makes its money collecting quarters from washing machines.
“I wanted to be a goalie for the Detroit Red Wings or a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers,” Coffey says. “That was my childhood dream, but somehow I wound up in laundry.”
A Jack Welch disciple since his days at General Electric’s John F. Welch Leadership Center at Crotonville, Coffey has become a turnaround specialist. He has run several business units for Fortune 500 companies and worked as president and CEO of numerous organizations before joining Web Service Co. LLC, which posted 2008 revenue of $220 million.
“I’ve taken turning a company around and turned it into a tight, precise formula that I’ve practiced at multiple companies and have had great success with every time,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Coffey about how his formula works and how following his plan can help improve your company’s efficiency.
Figure out what you want. Typically, the biggest issue that someone faces when they come into a company is you hear things like, ‘We need to cut expenses; we need to take cost out of the business.’ Too often, people indiscriminately make cuts without putting any great thought into what they’re trying to accomplish.
I put it into a five-step approach: Establish the ground rules, analyze the existing processes, ask ourselves why we’re doing it, reinvent processes that are irrelevant, then you implement, implement, implement.
The first step is to establish the ground rules. Who am I? What am I trying to accomplish in the marketplace? In this particular company, I am the premium product supplier. I’m the Neiman Marcus; I’m the Mercedes-Benz. So when I look at my ground rules for success, anything I do can’t hurt the customer satisfaction or my position in the marketplace.
Simplify everything. The next thing I do is analyze the existing processes. Every company has to pay employees. Every company delivers some kind of product or service. The third step in my five-step approach is I ask why we do the things we do.
When I walked into this company, I process-mapped out the 55 things we do. One of those processes dealt with security — how we had these very complex and cumbersome rules that were all built around security. You can’t use the same lock within a square mile; you can’t have more than 10 machines on the same lock, etc.
I asked myself, ‘Why? Why do we do this? Is it still relevant today?’
In the 1960s, we had a problem with professional thieves who prided themselves on picking locks. The thief would go into your laundry room and take all the money out of your machines and leave the machines undamaged. You didn’t even know they were there. You just were left wondering, ‘Why didn’t anyone do laundry?’
So we developed a very complex sequencing of locks so that our collectors literally had keystrings with hundreds and hundreds of keys. They would spend 10 minutes in every laundry room just trying to find the right key. In the 1960s, that process made a lot of sense for our business.
But this is the year 2009. I don’t face professional thieves with lock-picks anymore. I face crackheads with sledgehammers. They’re not walking into my laundry room and leaving any doubt they’ve been here.
Often, what you’ll find in companies is that we do things today because we’ve always done things this way. We’ve stopped wondering, ‘Is there a better way? Is there a more efficient way to do something?’ That’s why the next step is to reinvent processes that are irrelevant.
In this case, we redesigned the process using the catchphrase, ‘One room, one key, one lock.’ Why? Different world, different reality, therefore, different process. All I’ve done is make it artificially difficult for me to sequence locks, keep keys in inventory, get my collectors out there and have them find the right keys for the laundry rooms. So I threw out everything with that old process and started over.
Do your homework. In my first 90 days with this company, I talked to 100 percent of the employees. Every company has job classifications — we have installers, service technicians, sales, service managers. I spent a day in the life of each of those job classifications so when I later sat down to analyze how our company worked and to look at the processes, I knew what these people did for a living.
My best ideas came from the line employees. It didn’t take long for me to ride with a collector and have him tell me what was screwed up about his job: ‘Here are the things I do that are stupid.’
Don’t forget that your people, the line employees doing those jobs every day, know a hell of a lot more than you do about what goes on in that job in the real world — especially when you’re a guy like me who is new. I was new to the industry; I didn’t know laundry other than I knew how to do my own.
I asked a lot of questions: What’s wrong with your job? What could be done better, simpler? Everybody in the different job classes was quickly able to articulate to me the major problems.
You always get fluff, too. Sure, a collector would rather drive a Lamborghini than a Chevy Astro van, but I’d filter that out from the complaint of, ‘I carry too many keys. It takes me too long to find the right key.’
How to reach: Web Service Co. LLC, (800) 421-6897 or www.weblaundry.com
Before Kip Wright began outlining his vision, he needed a base of values to stand on.
“We spent a lot of time creating a set of, not only a vision, which clearly articulates what we want to be, what we are and what we are aiming to become, [but] we felt it was very important to pair with that a set of value statements,” Wright says. “What’s important to you from a value standpoint? What’s important to the company?”
Wright, president of TAPFIN Process Solutions, recently walked his staff of 200 at the human capital solutions provider through the process of creating a vision. He says that when molding your vision, understanding your values is one key ingredient. Another key is employee participation. But the vision isn’t complete until it’s clearly communicated to every employee.
Smart Business spoke with Wright about how to develop a vision and then communicate it to your employees.
Involve employees in the process. First of all, it can’t be done in isolation. If you really want a vision that sticks, you’ve got to enlist your employees into part of that process.
When we went through the process of renaming ourselves, for example, we actually opened that up to our employees. We didn’t go out and formally engage in a marketing firm to come back and say, ‘Here’s the three names you ought to look at.’
We let our employees provide suggestions. Then we let them vote on the top 10, and we went through a dialogue of discussing the pros and cons of each of those. It’s important to do that.
When we got down to a set of names, and there were several hundred that we went through, we started to bring that down to a group of senior leadership.
At some point, it becomes inefficient to continue to involve everyone, so you have to start to get some representation for the employee base. That was what we felt our leadership was.
The naming process is probably less relevant than the fact that we do tend to look at our leaders and our directors and that management group and above as representatives for our employee population and ask them to make sure that they’re keeping both our customers’ and our employees’ best interests in mind when we make decisions that affect the company.
Create a list of values. Secondly, it’s important to understand those values.
A lot of that depends on, No. 1, the leader, the senior management of the organization. What do they want to stand for? What do they want to build?
Obviously, your shareholders are a big piece of that because they’re providing you their views in terms of what they want the company to be, what they want to stand for.
It really starts with the core belief in terms of senior leadership. Ours were, in many respects, pulled from a lot of beliefs we had always talked about in groups and in meetings. What do we think that’s really different about us? Why do you think it’s so great to work for TAPFIN? Why do you think our customers love us?
You start to ask those questions, and you start to realize there are themes that start to emerge.
All of those things are important inputs in creating your vision, because if you don’t have those as your foundation, your vision statement can’t reflect that.
Pull the pieces together. Then, you lastly look at, OK, now with these two things, participation and a core set of values, what is our business?
What are we trying to achieve? What is our product, and how does our product drive value to our customers? How does our product drive value back to our shareholders? How does our product benefit the employees?
If you take all of those things into mind when you create that, your ending product becomes something that works, that lives, that breathes, that means something. It’s not just arbitrary words that were pulled out at random.
Take the vision to your employees. The way we’ve done that in terms of communicating it is, one, consistently and continuously. We look for ways to constantly reinforce that.
We have these little 3-by-5 folded laminate cards that we have given out to our employees and asked them to carry it in their wallets. On one side of it has the vision statement, and on the other, it has the values.
When I’m out there with our employees, I ask them, ‘Let me see your card.’ When I’m in front of customers, I pull it out and show it to them and let them know that that’s important to us.
Make sure employees absorb your communication about vision. You can’t be an effective manager sitting behind a desk on a phone, sending out e-mails.
I get out there. I’ll hit an office. I’ll hit a series of cities and try to make sure I’m getting in front of the customer, trying to make sure I’m spending some time with my team members.
Then you ask them, ‘What do you think? How are things going for you? Do you get the vision? Does it make sense to you? Does it resonate?’ Those are the ways that you make sure it’s happening.
We’re not perfect in any or all of these things; this is an evolutionary process. The biggest challenge of leadership is developing and growing yourself, standing and living for what you preach, and it’s a constant focus.
How to reach: TAPFIN Process Solutions, (713) 386-1400 or www.tapfin.com
Jim Kaufman likes to have fun at work. So he’s established a culture at Kaufman, Rossin Cos. where his 265 employees work hard but also have fun and enjoy what they’re doing. And they know that management enjoys the work, as well.
Establishing a culture like this requires you to set the tone at the top for employees to follow and to be consistent in your values.
“Tone at the top is all about walking the walk,” says the accounting firm’s co-founder and managing principal. “Employees see me and other members of management demonstrating honesty, integrity and social responsibility. That model behavior rubs off.”
Establishing a culture, living it and then reinforcing it for employees has helped Kaufman grow the firm that he co-founded in 1962 with Jay Rossin to 2007 revenue of $49 million.
Smart Business spoke with Kaufman about how to develop and model a culture that promotes fun and recognize and reward employees who live the culture.
Establish a strong culture. It’s leading by example. It’s rewarding those who embrace the culture, provide and perpetuate it, and ultimately, counseling and coaching those who do not. Setting the tone at the top, articulating the culture and then repeating and reinforcing that culture is how we try to ensure that it’s propagated and it prospers.
Accessibility is one of the keys to leading by example. It’s important that employees at all levels have access to management, feel comfortable talking to us and have opportunities to see the values in action. Coming to work is a good way to do that, if you do it long enough.
We have an active social program, and we promote activities that we find are extremely bonding. What we discourage is a mentality of just a job to go through the motions and earn a paycheck.
Leaders need to recognize what ‘joy at work’ means to different people. The diversity in today’s workplace, including generational diversity, means it’s essential to hear input from a variety of employees about the activities, which make the atmosphere fun.
A strong culture evolves as a company grows. Establishing core values and making sure to lead by example is essential. Developing young leaders through training and mentoring is how a culture survives and thrives.
[The benefit is the] stability of employees. It’s the profitability of the business, and it certainly makes it a lot more fun for me to come to work.
Be consistent and treat people fairly. Consistency in your beliefs and actions is an essential element of leadership. We call that integrity. You do what you say you’re going to do.
Our culture starts with integrity, which we define as a consistency in words and action. That’s everything from being consistent with your vision and message, being on time, and when you say you’re going to do something, you do it. Those are small things every day that, which observed, give credibility to leadership or impair its effectiveness.
If you always try to tell the truth and do what you say, it gets to be habit after awhile. I know people have a great deal of trouble in trying to stay consistent in doing what they think and act. One of these management consultants used to say, ‘Habits feel good.’ Getting in good habits is the best way to maintain consistency.
We believe in fairness. Treating people fairly means treating people differently, because fairness is recognizing each individual as an individual and considering their needs and personal issues, and trying to resolve the questions that come up in business.
Reward those who follow the culture. Money helps. It’s recognition. Embracing the culture usually means higher income, more responsibility and more levels of recognition professionally. Plus, the rewards of being effective and making a meaningful contribution — it makes for a rewarding experience.
Performance reviews twice a year allow employees to see how well they are performing, not just against the technical competencies needed to succeed as professionals but also in the behavioral areas. Using anonymous upward and peer reviews, we get well-rounded feedback at every level. This helps us see and reward behavior that represents the culture and values.
Keep communication open. It’s so easy to be misunderstood through imperfect communication. It’s a continuing challenge.
Try to establish habits of regular communication, maybe noting and recording efforts, especially until you establish a strong habit and custom. Use a more structured effort, document the effort and schedule the communications.
Set a path for employees to follow. Clarity of thought is the most essential element, the ability to think clearly when the objectives aren’t easily read because of the distractions of life, the marketplace and media. It’s to rise above the noise of contemporary life and see what your objective is and articulate it.
Management makes so many decisions, but they’re not all right. The success of leadership is making more right decisions. It comes back to the integrity and consistency. If you’re going to make a message and indicate its importance and make an intellectual and emotional investment in it, you sure better stay on course.
It gives people a sense of security and focus so they understand they’re part of a greater unit. It reinforces that sense of family, which is important to culture. It’s enriching to know that you’re with an organization that has an understanding of where it’s going to go and what’s expected.
How to reach: Kaufman, Rossin Cos., (305) 858-5600 or www.kaufmanrossin.com
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
Kim Tillotson Fleming might love her job a little too much.
“I love what I do; I have an absolute commitment to our people,” says the president of wealth management firm Hefren-Tillotson Inc. “That level of commitment that’s required, it can be all-consuming.”
So in order to stay accountable to her 140 employees, Fleming starts by finding a balance in her own life.
“Running a business is a very demanding thing,” she says. “Especially if you love it, it’s hard to separate yourself from it.”
She does that by complementing her work with outside involvements and having plenty of people keep her accountable along the way. As a result, she has earned her employees’ trust and maintained her sanity, all while doubling Hefren-Tillotson’s revenue in the past five years.
Smart Business spoke with Fleming about how to establish accountability and trust with your employees by finding your balance.
Build your employees’ trust. In order to gain the trust and keep your integrity, you have to be honest, you have to be fair, and you have to be consistent in the kind of things you do. [Trust is] certainly not an entitlement; it’s something that’s earned over time by showing the kind of skills they can count on.
In order to earn the trust, you have to set that example every day. Do it through your actions; you do it through your words. If we’re going to say, ‘These are our values,’ then a leader can’t earn their trust unless they follow those values.
You have to be accountable to other people. Make sure you have good people around you, that they can keep you accountable and you keep them accountable. We’re a flat organization in leadership because we count on everyone to take a leadership role in one way or another.
A lot of that comes through the interview process. Look for the way that they’ve approached difficult situations. We really look for people that have a good attitude and people that take personal responsibility for things.
I need people that can come to me and say, ‘Hey Kim, you messed up here,’ and I can know that there are people watching what I do if I’ve made mistakes. Part of being a leader is also having the humility to recognize when you’re wrong and acknowledge it.
Make everyone part of the company. When we worked on our mission, vision and values statement, we involved the whole company. We went through almost a two-year process of developing that based on what employees felt was important. We actually had different groups that gave their views and then we had a final group that wrote it and put it out so people could kick the tires.
A lot of it really goes down to, one person can’t do it all. It’s really instilling a certain culture in the firm. We say, ‘It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s important to learn from them and try not to make them again.’
From the time they come in, we spend a fair amount of time trying to give them the history and the culture and make them feel a part of what things were before they got there and let them know that it’s OK to bring ideas forward.
We really try to use those [values] in what we do every day. Everybody has a copy of them at their desk in a nice frame. That’s one of the first things a new employee will receive.
Keep your balance. Personally, I also have someone — I call him my coach — who’s outside of the firm. He helps keep me accountable. He helps me bounce ideas and thoughts about how to handle different situations and how to create vision and all those things.
It’s very lonely to be a leader if you don’t have someone that you can open up with. I’m involved in a couple different CEO groups, and those are great venues.
For me, having the coach is important. Having strong friendships and people or groups that you interact with outside of work, having your outside interests, will help keep your balance because those people will pull you into things.
Surround yourself with other leaders and learn from them because people have so much to share. You don’t have to learn it all on your own. You just make so much progress if you have the opportunity to interact with other people. If you do that, then most of them would probably have referrals that they could give you of people that could be coaches.
Most people who are in the management role or who would step into the position of CEO, they probably have been out in the community for a while. You have to be proactive, though, in getting out and getting involved in things in the community. I reached out and made phone calls to different organizations to say, ‘How can I get involved?’
It’s through people you know who can introduce you. If it’s not happening because of the kind of activities you’re involved in, then I think you do need to reach out and just ask people, ‘Can you make an introduction? Can you tell me about this organization?’
You really need to find things that you care about. There’s not much value in getting involved in something if you don’t really have an interest in it. I don’t think networking just for the purpose of networking makes sense.
How to reach: Hefren-Tillotson Inc., (888) 405-0990 or www.hefren.com