Michael Gregoire Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007
Throughout his career, Michael Gregoire always wondered how every CEO he worked for knew so much and always seemed to produce “top secret” knowledge during discussions and debates. Now that he’s president and CEO of Taleo Corp., he’s discovered the vast number of sources coming at CEOs every day and uses those to guide the staffing management software company, which posted $78.4 million in revenue in 2005. Smart Business spoke with Gregoire about how he stays ahead of the 8-ball.

Don’t blow people off. You have to be responsive to a wide constituency of people, whether they be employees, customers, the press, analysts, bankers. There’s a whole host of people who will want your time, and figuring out a way to be proactive and responsive serves the company best. People want to deal with someone who is decisive. They prefer not to waste their time if something can’t happen. They want to have a relationship with a leader who can make it happen.

If something’s not going to happen, they would prefer to know that and why so they can move on. It’s always very frustrating when you invest a lot of time with someone or a company or entity, and they never had any intention of transacting with you.

Be proactive instead of reactive. Set the agenda. You don’t want to have the agenda set for you. The minute you get into a reactive mode, you’re already behind the 8-ball.

When you’re in a proactive mode, you’re establishing true leadership. People pick up on that. At the end of the day, people want to be associated with winners. They want to be associated with leaders.

If they think your company is just a ‘me too,’ you’re always going to be the Column B compared against the real leader.

Think big. Define the race. The race is more against yourself than anybody else. You can’t define yourself in the shadow of any other company. Define yourself in the company you want to be.

We want to be a significant technology company, and that sounds pretty open-ended, but it’s open for a reason. We don’t know how big this company can be, and we don’t want to limit ourselves.

When you take a look at some of the best vision statements that have ever been made, look at President Kennedy [who said], ‘We’re going to put a man on the moon in 10 years.’ People can rally around something that large, that grandiose, that exciting.

It’s a lot more inspirational to try and do something that is difficult and might mean being a little aggressive and ostentatious.

Keep the right people around. Most of the challenges as you move up through executive leadership come down to selecting the right people, motivating the right people and moving on the wrong people.

If you’re a student of leadership, never stop learning how to more effectively get into people’s skin and help them understand themselves, the company and customers. If you find somebody who’s bright, cares about the company, is passionate about the company, feed that. Provide as much fuel to that person as you possibly can.

Have 20 to 30 percent of your management team move around every one to two years. Get them a different assignment so the thinking is fresh. If you have everybody in the same job year over year, you get stagnated thinking. You don’t have the challenge. You don’t have that new idea focus. Coupled with that, you’re not grooming the next layer of management underneath you, and if they don’t see any opportunity for career progression, they’re going to leave. The lifeblood of our company is that next layer of management.

Be a winner. If a company is winning, they never have a morale problem, but if the company is losing, they do.

It’s weakness to focus on morale for morale’s sake. Focus on how you win. How do you go and set objectives that are stretch objectives and win? People don’t feel good when they do something easy. People feel good when they do something hard and they’re wildly successful.

That is a contagious feeling. You hear about marathon runners, and they get this endorphin high. It’s the same in business. When you have a taste of success in business, you want to surround yourself with people who can help get you back into that promised land.

Use experience to guide decisions. Have a sense of pattern recognition in order to have higher probability of successful decisions.

I remember I wanted this global job, and after I got it I said, ‘What the hell was I thinking? I’m on a plane all the time, and these plane trips aren’t three hours anymore. These trips are 13 hours.’ Work through that phase because sometimes what you think you want is not what you really want because you just don’t know better.

When you don’t have those experiences and you’re learning on the fly, some people learn quickly and can go from Step 6 to Step 10. Some people just can’t get past Step 6, or they just don’t want to get past Step 6.

Everybody has a different way of handling that. Be honorable to yourself and to your leader, and work with them to get out of that particular situation.

Know yourself. Nobody ever comes into my office with a question that’s black and white.

If they come with those questions, I haven’t done a good job with hiring or giving them enough autonomy to execute. The decisions that a CEO should make is going to be navigating through shades of gray.

Get comfortable with the fact that any decision you make is going to make a passionate person upset. Eventually you’re going to make a number of decisions that don’t go their way. The only way you can be comfortable in that environment is you have to have a well-grounded set of values. If you haven’t figured out the kind of leader you are and the value system you’re going to live by, those shades of gray become difficult or inconsistent. If they become difficult, you become indecisive and people won’t seek your counsel. If you become inconsistent, people will believe you to be disingenuous.

Think hard about your value framework. When decisions come across your desk that hit these shades of gray, you’re not going to have all the information, so you’re going to have to make a value call.

HOW TO REACH: Taleo Corp., (888) 836-3669 or www.taleo.com