Stephanie DiMarco Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2007

Stephanie DiMarco doesn’t want to hear how great Advent Software Inc. is doing. Sure, as founder and CEO, she likes to know about the wins at the investment management solutions organization, but she doesn’t want to celebrate the good stuff at the cost of omitting the bad. That’s why, when she travels, she keeps a list of customers with her, so if she gets extra time, she can squeeze in a meeting to get feedback on how the company is doing. That desire to get to the heart of anything that isn’t working at Advent is the driving force behind the company’s boom to a record $184 million in revenue in 2006 and is the philosophy that DiMarco constantly drives home to her 850 employees. Smart Business spoke with DiMarco about why you should put problems under the spotlight and how important it is to challenge your employees.

Don’t hide the bad news. There’s nothing like adversity to get you motivated. We had some problems to fix in 2003, but it was a very energizing time because I think that people felt for a couple of years we ignored our problems, and there was enough good news that you could hide behind.

So there was a sense of relief that we were going to be very bold about the issues that we had and correcting them. It was extremely energizing for people, and we also learned from that experience that it’s OK to put the problems under the spotlight because they only fester if you try to ignore them.

Keep your employees challenged; keep your employees. If great people are challenged and excited about what they are doing, they’ll stick around. Financial compensation is one component of why people stay at a job, but in lots of cases, it’s the smallest component — as long as you’re competitive and fair and people feel well compensated.

Being excited about what you do is more important to most people, and having that shared vision of where the company is going is really critical to keeping people for the long term.

Clear up the fog for your staff. We try to be very clear about what our objectives are on a quarterly basis, an annual basis and on a three-year plan. We communicate the vision for the year, and then on a quarterly basis, we update those.

I just sent out a mid-year update to the whole company describing where we are, and the opportunity and the challenges for the year, so there is no mystery about what our goals are and how we are tracking toward those goals.

Clarity is a lot better than fog, and most people are a lot more successful when they understand the objective, so they’re not just taking an order, they have a holistic picture of what we’re tying to accomplish. They’re much more motivated when they see the bigger goal we’re working toward instead of just seeing it as an individual task.

It’s very important that it’s a shared vision, and I think it’s kind of a myth that leaders create visions and push them downhill. I know that’s certainly not the case in our company; we develop a mission, and if you develop it properly, where you have the buy-in from all your constituents, then it’s really about the clarity of communication so that everyone understands it.

Keep an honest workplace. You really have to have a leadership style that is very open and honest and fair because smart people have other options, and they aren’t going to be interested in working someplace where they don’t feel like it’s an honest place.

People want to feel like they are in control of their destiny. Part of that is having access to the CEO and being able to give the CEO your opinion. And I’ll listen to it, so they feel like they can impact the objectives of the company. I don’t think anybody likes feeling like there is a hidden agenda or they don’t have access to the top, so an open door is a big part of knocking out that mentality.

We typically do a lot of rounds of interviews when we hire people, so they have a lot of access to people around the company, so that gives them the opportunity to get that feedback directly from their managers but also from people who will be their peers. And I think that new recruits really appreciate that because they get a pretty candid view of the company, and the open-door policy is something that people do indicate to new recruits. And it’s much better coming from a peer than my saying, ‘Hey, this is a great place; we’re really open.’ It has a lot more credibility coming from them.

Now, I can’t make them say that, but it’s true of our culture, so it does kind of permeate.

Recruit right and hire right. The most important thing that any manager does is recruiting because the quality of the company is directly related to the quality of the people. So it’s very important that you never compromise, and when you’re operating in a competitive environment, where the best talent is scarce, it’s easy to compromise.

But my mantra is never compromise, even if we have to work twice as hard to get the right candidate, I’d rather wait it out than hire the wrong or lesser person.

Find things that stir up your passion. Being passionate about what you do is the key to success. So certainly for a CEO, who has a big job, that’s really, really important.

It goes back to enjoying what you do, and I find our business really satisfying and rewarding. And when I talk to a customer that is really happy with us, that’s energizing for me.

Or when I talk to a customer who was one of our early customers, and they’ve been with us for a number of years, and they weren’t so happy with our situation, that’s also energizing because I’m very motivated to make sure this long-term customer gets turned around. Knowing that you can turn a situation like that around and make them happy again is really energizing, and you have to find things like that to keep you going.

HOW TO REACH: Advent Software Inc., (800) 685-7688 or www.advent.com