Daily details Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

You might think that Mory Ejabat has too many jobs to pay attention to all the details.

After all, Ejabat is co-founder, chairman, president and CEO of Zhone Technologies Inc. And while those titles imply a lot of responsibilities, Ejabat still makes it his top priority to always know what’s going on at Zhone, a global provider of advanced telecommunications equipment.

But keeping on top of the details doesn’t mean that Ejabat is constantly breathing down the neck of his 450 employees. Instead, he makes it a point to let managers handle their own departments and day-to-day activities, and then checks in regularly on the goals that he has set with them. As a result, Zhone — which posted 2007 revenue of $174.5 million — is a place where people feel empowered while the leadership team has been able to instill a strong sense of accountability.

Smart Business spoke with Ejabat about how you can pay attention without micromanaging and why you need to listen to employee ideas to empower people.

Pay attention to the details without micromanaging. Something that has worked for me is really paying attention to details, because the details sometimes come back and bite you if you don’t pay attention. You have to be fully organized, and you have to know exactly what’s going on and what’s happening.

But paying attention to the details and micromanagement are two different views. You should pay attention to the details so you can ask the right questions, but if you want to micromanage, then your organization won’t work. You should let the day-to-day management happen through the managers of the people. But you have to know enough details about everything to ask the right questions.

(Our managers) focus on the market that we are in, how we are doing, how we are paying attention to every detail of our day-to-day job and what opportunities come across our table. Then, you do the work to understand the project well and establish checkpoints for yourself on where you want to be.

You need to understand the project or the scope of work, and then ask the questions that are related to your plans for the long-term outcome of the job rather than what is going on today.

Create clear goals before giving accountability. You must establish the goal with them, ensure they understand it and buy in to it before you make them accountable. You have to make sure everybody understands what the goal line is, and based on what the goal line is, you’ve got to start giving them tools and the capability to make that goal line.

It depends [on] what organizations (you are) looking at, but some have to have weekly metrics that they have to meet, some organizations have schedules that they meet and they are quarterly, so it’s a mix of the two based on how regularly you can get the data. It’s either based on your financial performance or the quality of the job you’re doing, so based on those two, you can set the goal line.

It is something that you should set with your direct reports so they understand it and know what line they have to hit and when. And then you come in with accountability of what they have to do. Then you have to make sure you give people the responsibility and the tools they need to get to their goals and achieve what the company wants them to achieve.

Establish employee empowerment by listening to people’s ideas. You have to be open to their suggestion, and if their suggestion makes sense, you have got to be able to do that and not to stick with your own ideas. Make it a cooperative project.

You have to have enough openness to hear what they want to say, and if that’s the right thing to do, you go ahead and do it. Otherwise, you have to be present to convince them that what they’re saying is not the right thing.

You have to give them the ability to make some innovation in respect to their products or projects so everybody should be able to be creative. You have to make sure people have enough creativity to do projects that give them an edge in the industry and they feel like they’re doing that every day.

It depends where the opportunity comes from. It might be a product opportunity, it might be a sales opportunity, or it might be a financial opportunity. But when that opportunity comes up, you have to be able to be there to discuss it with your people, see if there’s a way to take advantage of it and listen to their thoughts on it.

We do town-hall meetings where I meet with different organizations in an open setting and discuss issues. We also do all kinds of e-mails and webcasts, too, but most of the time, face-to-face meetings with customers and people are much better than the other ways. You have to do that — take time to talk to people.

They have to be confident enough to know they can come talk to me easily without having any precautions.

Then, when you can make a personal appearance, you can see their body language and adjust to them and ask the right questions when you see their body language change. Then they feel like they are needed, their job is important, and they have a way of communicating their thoughts.

HOW TO REACH: Zhone Technologies Inc., (877) Zhone-20 or www.zhone.com