Jeff Housenbold Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007
A displaced New Yorker, Jeff Housenbold is a New York Mets fan. He likes the franchise he characterizes as “a bunch of young, scraggly guys working as a team” as opposed to their cross-town rivals, the Yankees, which he says is simply a bought group of guys. Housenbold respects and admires the team that works together to grow and improve more than he respects the one that is simply highly paid, and he takes that same approach as president and CEO of Shutterfly Inc., a $123 million company that prints photos and creates other photo-based personalized products. He promotes teamwork and focuses on those that perform and embody the company’s values. Smart Business spoke with Housenbold about how treating people fairly doesn’t always mean giving them what they want.

Have integrity. The only thing that really matters in life is human relationships. It’s how you interact with people that matters in this world.

Be the boss you always wanted. Be the peer you always wanted. Be the employee you always wanted. If you use that as a guidepost in how you should act and care about people, then it sets the right tone.

At the end of the day, it’s those relationships and that reputation. I don’t think there’s room for gray. If it’s gray, then consider it black, and step away. Always do the right thing — by the company, by your team and by your individual.

Treat people fairly. That doesn’t always mean give them what they want. Have consistency and fairness, but communicate.

I was a preschool teacher in a former life, and it’s not just tell them no — but tell them no [and] why. We’re all adults. You give them information. You treat them like adults, and you share and communicate in good times and in bad times. That’s key.

Focus on the best people. A lot of organizations move to the average. They focus their energies, policies and compensation around the average performer.

I have a philosophy in focusing on the top 25 percent of the organization because you spend too much energy on the bottom 10 percent, and you never raise the bar. We don’t (hand out) our compensation or bonuses or stock options to everyone.

Set your expectations. Now you know what you work on and you have task identity, and you have a fair barometer to judge that. We sit down and say what went well, what didn’t, how do we improve that, but it’s focused on the top performers, and that means raising the overall bar for the organization.

If you focus on the top 25 percent, they become talent magnets, and they know other people who share a similar set of values, behaviors, expertise and experience. A strong reference from an ‘A’ player is the best indicator of another ‘A’ player.

Develop your people. If you care, you give honest feedback. It’s too easy to not give feedback to an employee, but if you care about his or her personal development, you give open, honest, direct feedback. ‘You know what, I thought that was a great presentation, but here are a couple things I thought you could do better.’

It’s too easy not to say those things, but if you really care, you take the time to develop your people.

Get everyone rowing together. It starts with a shared mindset and a desire to do that, and that overall culture of, ‘Hey, we’re a team.’ Reward team orientation, and when there’s cowboys, you make sure that’s not tolerated, so it’s a cultural norm.

Then it’s about building those relationships, so it starts with me getting to know my direct reports and then the next level down and informal, both work and outside of work. Then it’s making sure your compensation and reward and recognition system is tied to those goals.

Follow through. Ideas are important, but execution is really more important and understanding what you’re good at versus what you’re not.

Some people believe that there are five or 10 things that I should be good at, and I’m going to work on improving my weaknesses. There are a couple of things like integrity and communication that you have to have a certain level of, but at this point in your career, accentuate your positives and be excellent at that, and then surround yourself with a team of people who are excellent at the things you’re not.

If you’re a really good second baseman, be second basemen — don’t try to play left field and third base, as well.

Be decisive. Understand that, at the end of the day, the decisions fall on your shoulders, and most people want to be led — they don’t want to lead.

That sounds awkward, but what I mean is get all the input, delegate as much as possible, empower, but at the end of the day, be comfortable in the fact that you have to make some hard decisions, and when you make them, do it with conviction and leadership.

Seek counsel. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your board or your advisers or the team or your network of colleagues or mentors. Don’t try to solve it all yourself.

Be willing to admit your mistakes, where you have weaknesses or where you need help because if you do that and embrace people, people have a natural inclination to want to help.

Fix bad personnel fits immediately. I believe in the right person, in the right job, at the right time, with the right attitude. You may be the best director of finance for a 10-person company, but you’re not [the best] for 1,000.

You may be the best, but you leave collateral damage, and no one likes working with you.

A mistake I made early on — I became COO of a start-up. One of my executives, it was clear that, after lots of coaching and mentoring, he was the wrong guy. He was not great from a culture standpoint, and I took way too long to make the decision to let him go.

It had a negative impact on the business, on the culture, on people’s belief in my conviction and that philosophy. I learned even though it’s hard to let people go that you’ve got to.

The second biggest mistake you can make is hiring the wrong person. The biggest is once you figure that out, not moving swiftly to fix the situation.

HOW TO REACH: Shutterfly Inc., (650) 610-5200 or