Every company has goals. Your job, as CEO, is to make sure that your employees’ goals match up with your company’s goals.
Steve Tirado, president and CEO of Silicon Image Inc., says that process of getting alignment is the difference between good companies and great companies.
“In Silicon Valley, everybody is smart,” Tirado says. “Just like graduate school, you walk into the classroom and say, ‘With enough time, everybody can get an A.’ What differentiates the class is you get a limited amount of time. So the people who can organize fastest under pressure and learn the material better than the others, they kind of float to the top.
“For me, business is no different. If you give your competitors enough time, they’ve got a lot of smart people, so they’ll eventually figure out what you’re doing and do it just as well.
“Our advantage is to keep our team very focused on what we have to do and stay very highly aligned as a company. That allows you to execute just a bit better, and that’s all it takes to have an edge.”
Once Tirado found that edge, he kept it. When he joined Silicon Image, it was a $20 million operation with 40 employees and a great idea. Silicon Image invented the high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) and creates the semiconductor architecture for digital content distribution through HDMI, DVI and SATA interfaces. If you’ve ever hooked up any digital device to your high-definition TV or personal computer, you’ve probably used their products. Tirado realized that while having a great product was a good start, companies don’t rise to prominence solely on the strength of their product.
Today, Tirado’s HDMI giant has more than 640 employees and earned 2007 revenue of $321 million. Here are his keys to taking a growing company to the next level.
Get the message out
Tirado says the challenges of running a business change dramatically as you scale your company upward. If you want to be successful, you need to change your management style accordingly.
“You’ve got to spend a lot of time making sure you’re not the only one pulling the wagon,” he says.
When a company is smaller, you can rely on what Tirado calls the “team of superstars.” Everyone in the company knows how to get things done and decisions are made quickly, without relying on other team members for input.
“When you’re smaller, you can get everybody in a single room and work on things together,” Tirado says. “It doesn’t really force you to have a lot of process in place. In fact, in a lot of smaller companies, it can be argued that process gets in the way of creativity.”
However, as the company grows and diversifies, the skill sets needed to manage effectively change. You begin to need the processes to scale your business, and you start realizing the importance of communication.
Each new employee you hire needs to know the company’s goals and objectives. So to make sure that all of the employees are aligned with the vision, you need to be able to communicate to them how each element of your overarching strategy relates to their everyday job. Tirado says explaining the company’s mission can get repetitious, but you have to remind yourself that as the face of the company, you set the tone for the entire organization.
“You have to get yourself comfortable with the idea that you have to repeat your vision and mission again and again and again,” Tirado says. “You can’t get bored with it. Every time you talk about it, you have to have a lot of enthusiasm.
“People look to your body language, your tone, the words you use to describe what you do on a daily basis, and they want to see a lot of passion and conviction. If you talk to the people in my company, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, he does that.’
“You’ve got to be willing to say it again and again, because it takes a long while for messages from the top to get across to everybody in the organization.”
Always be ready for questions, because you never know when you’ll be stopped in an elevator with an employee. Tirado keeps the most recently implemented 10 initiatives firmly in his mind and makes sure he is able to relate the current goals back to the vision and mission of the company.
Don’t forget to tie today’s objectives to the big picture. Many employees can get bogged down in the day-to-day operations, and you shouldn’t miss a chance to remind them how their work fits into the company’s overarching strategy.
“If you don’t continuously reinforce and talk about what you’re doing and where you’re going, you tend to get a loosening of that alignment or you get wandering off in that direction,” Tirado says. “It’s a constant and consistent amount of communication that has to go on related to that to keep the alignment where it needs to be.”
Make it a priority
One of the biggest pitfalls growing companies face is trying to do more than is really possible. Tirado avoids this pitfall by keeping his goals realistic. He works with his staff to carefully calibrate how much growth can occur with a given amount of investment.
“I’m all for stretching my organization, but you have to listen carefully to your managers reporting to you, and maybe even one level below,” he says.
You have to gather this information from your employees because that is your key to finding out which tasks employees are struggling to accomplish. If an employee has too much work on his or her plate, you can simplify the situation by creating a priority list.
If the company’s priorities are clear, your employees will know how to make the trade-offs when not everything can get done.
“As a technology company, we tend to have a larger appetite than
we can go off and execute,” Tirado says. “If you’re very clear that there’s a prioritization of the things that need to get done, then people can go look at that and say, ‘I’ve got to make a trade-off of my time, and according to this prioritization scheme, this is what I should be working on.’”
Tirado has a set process for determining the priority level of tasks for his employees. There are several factors involved in the process. For instance, if the pure monetary return of one product is higher than another product, that will be factored into the priority list.
Also, Tirado takes the strategic value of a product into consideration when determining priority. If a product or process would open a new market in a place where the company was not firmly established or if it would create a new set of customers for the company, those factors would be taken into consideration, as well.
It’s not all so cut and dry, however. Sometimes, you have to consider options that have no short-term monetary return but will pay off two or three years down the line.
“You’ve got to be careful in your prioritization process,” Tirado says. “Because if you only look at the quickest return on dollars, for a technology company that could spell trouble because you’ve got to constantly be looking for the breakout or the novel way of attacking a problem that is going to be enough to get people to be interested in buying not just the current generation but future generations.”
Tirado solves that problem by keeping a healthy mix of products and ideas that are going to result in a shorter- to mid-term revenue or profit, while also investing in some longer-term risky ideas.
Tirado says experience has shown him that if you make all of your longer-term plans low priority, you won’t have enough new ideas to sustain the company’s growth.
There’s always some disagreement among the management team as to whether the order of the list is exactly right. But Tirado says you need to listen to every point and counterpoint because if a department is overcommitted or if there is a contention for resources somewhere in your organization, your employees will look to your prioritization scheme to dictate what gets done first.
Be honest with yourself
One of the most overlooked keys to successfully growing a company is creating a good manager-employee relationship. If you check the HR surveys, the No. 1 reason employees leave a company or stay with a company is their relationship with their boss.
“Companies live and die by how well relationships are managed inside the company,” he says.
“Yes, you have to have a smart idea and a good product, and you have to support it well and price it well. All of those things have to happen, but it’s also true that a lot of what prevents companies from executing really well is all these people relationships.”
So, you want to make sure you have enlightened managers who are not only self-aware but who really understand that part of their job is making sure employees understand what they need to be doing on a dayto-day basis, helping them solve issues they are confronting, and then helping them manage their career going forward.
“As my organization has grown, that has become more and more important to pay attention to,” Tirado says. “You want people in the leadership/management positions with really good people skills — who themselves are personally evolved.
“They know who they are, they know how they come across, and they know what kind of impact they have on people. The larger and more complex the company, the more people you have, the more organization that’s required, the more it requires you to really understand who you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and really be able to form open and solid relationships with the people with whom you need to count on to get things done.”
Good managers can be hard to find, especially ones who don’t mind taking a good hard look in the mirror from time to time. To determine whether a manager has the skills to handle the delicate manager-employee relationship, Tirado created the 360-degree feedback program.
The idea behind the 360-degree program is to present a 360-degree view of the subject. Tirado solicits feedback from the subject’s peers, subordinates and manager(s), sends the results to an outside firm, which summarizes them confidentially and sends them back. The information contained in a 360-degree report gives an unbiased view of what the subject’s colleagues think of him or her.
“If you’re a fairly together and enlightened person, typically your own self-perception is consistent with other people’s perception,” he says. “When I see that other people’s perception is highly different, that’s usually problematic. It shows that you’re not aware of how you’re coming across to people.”
Tirado’s work has paid off, and Silicon Image’s vision of “Digital Content Everywhere” is becoming clearer and clearer.
“That is what I point our employees to,” he says. “Every day you work, you should be doing something to fulfill that vision. And if you’re not — go talk to your manager about how what you do every day is contributing to that.”
HOW TO REACH: Silicon Image Inc., (408) 616-4000 or www.siliconimage.com