Anne Bakar Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007
In the mid-1990s, Anne Bakar thought that the inpatient segment of her company’s business was heading for trouble. So Bakar, president and CEO of Telecare Corp., a provider of support and services for people with serious mental illness, decided that the new wave for the company had to be outpatient service. While that meant a big change for the company, the key was building momentum over time. So Bakar did what she could to keep the company focused and she publicized every success that Telecare had as it moved in a new direction. As the wins piled up, so did the people on board. Today, Bakar uses that strategy as a core in her communications. Trumpeting the success of the company, Telecare has reached more than $143 million in 2006 revenue. Smart Business spoke with Bakar about how to communicate your victories and why you need to take risks to grow.

Communicate your vision. We’re really rigorous about communicating with our employees; we have an intranet, we have newsletters, we just can’t communicate enough. We try to be clear with employees and tell them this is where we’re headed and these are the most important things we have to do today and why. We publish throughout the company what our priorities are for the year, and within one year, those don’t change too much, so there’s consistency doing it that way so people can really understand those priorities.

Let employees know you’re winning. A key piece is the really constant drumbeat of saying, ‘This is what we’re trying to accomplish, this is what it means to you, this is how we need you involved,’ and then giving feedback to that.

Letting them know we’re winning, we’re successful. Every year, we put together a list of our top 10 initiatives. We have five things that we want to accomplish over the next four or five years and then the things that we want to accomplish to do that.

So, for example, we want to be nationally accredited in three years, well that’s down the line, so we have goals set for all the groundwork we want to do for that each year leading into it. Then we can communicate that to people, by letting them see that this is what we’re supposed to be doing this year and it’s part of this three-year plan.

Every year, I write a summary of how we did on our initiatives and do a little video that we send out letting everyone know how we did on a comprehensive scale. That really sets the framework for the goals that flow down to each individual because everyone will end up feeding into those with what they do.

As you get successful, you communicate and you start to break down the skepticism. You can say, ‘Look, we’re winning,’ then you start to get more people on board, and you get some of those that were originally on the sidelines. We outline what we’re going to do, and tell people. But you can’t just tell people what you’re going to do, you have to start doing it, then publicize that. Then you start to get momentum and traction, it’s not just the words, you can’t just tell people that you’re going in this direction, you have to celebrate it as you go down that long haul and you finally get some traction and you celebrate that.

Set standards for taking risks. We have to ask two things. First, is this something I really want to do? Is this something that I think we can get passionate about?

Second, what’s the payback period? Some people are focused more on ROI, but I’m interested in knowing, if I have to spend $2 million on this project, how long will it take to get my money back?

I need to have both factors; the answer to both has to be yes. I have to want to do it, and the payback period has to be reasonable. The key is that we have a pretty clear sense strategically at what we’re good at, and we try not to step too far outside of those domains.

Hire people with a core interest in your business. You have to hire the right people and you can teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. I’m not going to try to recreate someone and make them care about what we do. We, as a company, have a professional passion for helping people recover, and there’s really a sense in doing work that’s different and helping people.

If they don’t care about mental illness and disability, if they don’t have that, then there’s no place for them to come here. That kind of needs to be an appreciation — that people have that kind of core disposition for the work that we’re doing.

Give people the chance to adapt. I really don’t think you do anyone a favor by letting them stay in a role that’s outgrown them, so I’ve tried to be very clear with people over time about what my expectations are, and if my expectations aren’t being met, I try to find a new role for them that will fit so that they can still be part of our future, but not a role that they can’t handle.

If they can’t take their role being changed, then that’s their decision, but at least you know you’ve done the right thing by trying to keep them on the team instead of just firing them because the role has outgrown them.

If people are flexible and adaptable, then you can create something for them to stay on and then you don’t have so much turnover in higher positions because there is so much institutional memory and knowledge throughout the company. Sometimes one of the biggest mistakes people make is having such a hard time trying to communicate expectations and frustrations.

Most people don’t want to be in a position where they don’t feel like they’re helping the company, so if people are adaptive, then you can make it work.

HOW TO REACH: Telecare Corp., www.telecarecorp.com or (510) 337-7950