In the trenches Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

Anthony Daus understands that you might not want to work Friday nights. He doesn’t necessarily want to either.

But if you’re pulling the late shift at Geomatrix Consultants Inc., the diversified technical consulting and engineering firm where Daus is president and principal hydrogeologist, then the odds are he’s at work with you. That’s not just because Daus wants to make sure that the work is done; instead, he believes that the best way to motivate his approximately 475 employees is to show them that Geomatrix is a flat organization where everyone’s work and input count.

And he says that the principle is pretty hard to argue with when he and the company’s other leaders are regularly entrenched in the projects that occasionally overlap into those weekend hours. As a result, the $110 million firm has built some loyal employees — turnover is less than 5 percent a year — and engaged leaders.

Smart Business spoke with Daus about how working Friday nights can help forge great relationships and why you should turn off your BlackBerry and listen.

Remember that you set the tone. If you can lead by example, if you can do what you’re asking other people to do, they’re going to have a lot more respect for you.

Whether you are a general in the army, a president in an engineering consulting firm or of a large manufacturing organization, it’s important that you are well grounded in what your company does, what its front-line business is.

I’m on a first-name basis with everybody in the organization. Now, it’s only a 500-person organization, and I certainly don’t work with all of them, but I work with a large number of them, and I try to be very approachable. The great crucible or where relationships are forged is in the progress work, how we get things done.

And it’s one thing to tell someone to do it and another to get there and help them get it done. If people are working late on a Friday night, I’ll be here working with them. If they have to come in on a weekend, then I have to do that. And I tell my principals and partners they have to do the same thing.

Lead the way for collaboration. To a large degree, you’re just trying to get everyone to go in the same direction, get them to collaborate.

You really have to be able to justify all of your decisions; it has to make sense to them. There has to be one guy who is ultimately in charge of the final decision, but you need the other partners to buy in to it. It has to have a basis in good, sound fundamental facts.

And even though I’m the president of the company, there is a handful — maybe six to eight people — that really have a lot of sway with individuals in the firm, so you’ve got to get those people behind you so everyone will buy in to it.

We find that if we focus on the things that are necessary for successful collaboration, then the growth and profitability are the outcome. We always do better work when we get the best people in the organization engaged in working together on a project.

Give employees a fair chance before letting them go. One of the hard things that you have to decide as a leader is at what point have we given people enough of a chance to be successful. Those are some of the most gut-wrenching times, when you have to do something and it’s going to change someone’s life.

We give a lot of effort to work through whatever issue that they’ve got and let them be a contributing person to the organization. People want to be treated with respect, and that’s one of the most important things that we can do.

For most folks, I give them about a year, but it gets to a point where you sit down and talk to them early on and say, ‘You know, I think we need to do something different to make you more successful because it’s not working right now and maybe we should try this.’

After you do that, you’re at a point in your discussions where you have to figure out if the organization is the right fit. It gets a lot easier if you start the process early — if it doesn’t look like it’s working out and you talk through it with them.

Usually then they kind of know it, as well. It really needs to be a one-on-one sit-down at a neutral area, maybe a restaurant, to talk about their overall performance and whether it’s a good fit for the organization, and then let them go out on their own terms. So it’s rarely, ‘You’ve got two weeks; clean out your desk.’

I give them the reasons and say, ‘It may be more valuable for you to go to another organization.’

Take the time to really listen. Listen to the facts. It’s easy to jump to a conclusion with a limited number of facts, and when you do that, more often than not, you’re not including something that’s very important or not considering an important element of that decision-making process.

Take the time to talk to (employees) and make them feel like they’re the center of attention at that point — so you’re not trying to do three or four things at the same time you’re listening to them, and not looking at your computer, playing with your BlackBerry or something annoying.

HOW TO REACH: Geomatrix Consultants Inc., (510) 663-4100 or www.geomatrix.com