John Ferchill’s title is a bit misleading. It’s not that Ferchill, chairman and CEO of The Ferchill Group, isn’t the real estate development and management firm’s top executive. It’s just that a formal title doesn’t really put a name to what Ferchill thinks is his most important job as a leader being a visionary. To maintain that important role, Ferchill has a president run the day-today operations of the company, but he’s still in the driver’s seat when it comes to steering the firm in a new direction. And, as he keeps his eyes open to push his 100 employees forward, the firm has seen revenue pass $300 million.
Smart Business spoke with Ferchill about heading the vision and the advantages of keeping a smaller company feel.
Pay attention to the big picture. I provide the vision for the entire company. I ask, ‘What are we doing here, where are we going?’
We’ve been staying out of Chicago because we thought it was too big for us, but I’ve studied it, and we think we’ve found a niche. It’s providing vision, that’s what my job really gets down to. It’s saying, ‘Look, guys, let’s get this done,’ or telling them, ‘I’m not comfortable with this.’
It is real hands-on. I’m right in the middle of this thing all the time. I don’t do the daily execution, but everybody knows where we all stand.
Truthfully, the president of the company handles almost all of the personnel-type issues. He’s the one that weighs in and discusses what we’re doing. That’s a good thing between him and I because we can have discussions from there on how the day to day goes, while I go do other things. We have 100 percent trust in one another, so that I can trust him to watch over everything else. He gets to be the quarterback, and that’s fine with me.
For me, my cell phone gets 4,000 minutes a month, so I’m on the phone with these guys all the time talking about direction. They’re always asking questions. They’re doing the day-to-day stuff, but I see the whole of what’s going on. I sit in on all the discussions and decisions for the big things that are happening.
Be straightforward with your staff. We’re very direct in terms of telling everyone that somebody specifically has to handle this and somebody has to take care of that.
Egos get in the way, but truthfully, not that much. There are arguments, but we want everyone to be straightforward. The president of my company has no problem telling me to stay the hell out of this or that because I’m causing problems. And I listen to that unless I want to go in and cause problems.
You have to stay on it. You can’t just tell people you’re going to do this and then let them go and everyone just kind of lollygags off. You have to watch them all the time and follow up when you say something.
I think it’s best to be very direct and straightforward because it moves the process along at a much better rate, and you know what people are doing all the time.
Work big, keep your staff small. The No. 1 thing for us is we are not a big company in terms of our staff. We do big stuff, but we avoid being a big company; we stay small by focusing on roles. Everyone kind of knows what everyone else is doing and everyone has a certain role, and we follow those roles pretty religiously.
My chief investment guy, I wouldn’t negotiate a deal or do a transaction without his total input. We do that across the board. He has his role, and we follow that. I have a guy who runs the company on a day-to-day basis, and he knows exactly what needs to be done and he executes it.
There’s no game-playing going on with those positions. There are no politics. You just take your set role and live it. It sounds like a simplistic thing, but it frankly works.
With those set roles, you can go right to a certain person and ask them, ‘What do you want to do about this?’ My people hear that from me all the time. Our biggest advantage over everything is we just move incredibly fast because of our size.
Things happen faster when you can go right to someone. Things happen immediately when we decide we want to do something. And if something is not working, we can go fix things fast.
Take time training new people. We only bring one person at a time in because we’re such a small organization, and that’s the easiest way to make sure that we have the time to train them.
We’re always looking for a special skill, whatever it may be, so that they can feel self-worth and they can contribute right away, and that’s one of the things that we work on whether it’s a numbers guy or a construction guy and that seems to have been very, very successful for us. Then, since it’s such a tight-knit place, they’re involved in the game right out of the box.
Know your company and know what you’re capable of. We were working on a big project, and we all know what we have to do internally, and we had a specific agency that was acting unreasonable. Well, we get on the phone and tried to talk it out, and things weren’t being done the way we wanted and they were being unreasonable, so we passed on it.
It was that simple. It was a big opportunity, but it wasn’t for our firm. That was the right thing to do. It really sounds so mundane, but it’s a team effort, and we know what we want, and this one wasn’t for us.
HOW TO REACH: The Ferchill Group, (800) 566-7676 or www.ferchillgroup.com
Communicate your vision. We’re really rigorous about communicating with our employees; we have an intranet, we have newsletters, we just can’t communicate enough. We try to be clear with employees and tell them this is where we’re headed and these are the most important things we have to do today and why. We publish throughout the company what our priorities are for the year, and within one year, those don’t change too much, so there’s consistency doing it that way so people can really understand those priorities.
Let employees know you’re winning. A key piece is the really constant drumbeat of saying, ‘This is what we’re trying to accomplish, this is what it means to you, this is how we need you involved,’ and then giving feedback to that.
Letting them know we’re winning, we’re successful. Every year, we put together a list of our top 10 initiatives. We have five things that we want to accomplish over the next four or five years and then the things that we want to accomplish to do that.
So, for example, we want to be nationally accredited in three years, well that’s down the line, so we have goals set for all the groundwork we want to do for that each year leading into it. Then we can communicate that to people, by letting them see that this is what we’re supposed to be doing this year and it’s part of this three-year plan.
Every year, I write a summary of how we did on our initiatives and do a little video that we send out letting everyone know how we did on a comprehensive scale. That really sets the framework for the goals that flow down to each individual because everyone will end up feeding into those with what they do.
As you get successful, you communicate and you start to break down the skepticism. You can say, ‘Look, we’re winning,’ then you start to get more people on board, and you get some of those that were originally on the sidelines. We outline what we’re going to do, and tell people. But you can’t just tell people what you’re going to do, you have to start doing it, then publicize that. Then you start to get momentum and traction, it’s not just the words, you can’t just tell people that you’re going in this direction, you have to celebrate it as you go down that long haul and you finally get some traction and you celebrate that.
Set standards for taking risks. We have to ask two things. First, is this something I really want to do? Is this something that I think we can get passionate about?
Second, what’s the payback period? Some people are focused more on ROI, but I’m interested in knowing, if I have to spend $2 million on this project, how long will it take to get my money back?
I need to have both factors; the answer to both has to be yes. I have to want to do it, and the payback period has to be reasonable. The key is that we have a pretty clear sense strategically at what we’re good at, and we try not to step too far outside of those domains.
Hire people with a core interest in your business. You have to hire the right people and you can teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. I’m not going to try to recreate someone and make them care about what we do. We, as a company, have a professional passion for helping people recover, and there’s really a sense in doing work that’s different and helping people.
If they don’t care about mental illness and disability, if they don’t have that, then there’s no place for them to come here. That kind of needs to be an appreciation that people have that kind of core disposition for the work that we’re doing.
Give people the chance to adapt. I really don’t think you do anyone a favor by letting them stay in a role that’s outgrown them, so I’ve tried to be very clear with people over time about what my expectations are, and if my expectations aren’t being met, I try to find a new role for them that will fit so that they can still be part of our future, but not a role that they can’t handle.
If they can’t take their role being changed, then that’s their decision, but at least you know you’ve done the right thing by trying to keep them on the team instead of just firing them because the role has outgrown them.
If people are flexible and adaptable, then you can create something for them to stay on and then you don’t have so much turnover in higher positions because there is so much institutional memory and knowledge throughout the company. Sometimes one of the biggest mistakes people make is having such a hard time trying to communicate expectations and frustrations.
Most people don’t want to be in a position where they don’t feel like they’re helping the company, so if people are adaptive, then you can make it work.
HOW TO REACH: Telecare Corp., www.telecarecorp.com or (510) 337-7950
Know when you can’t stay stagnant. When we made our change, it was because I looked back and asked, ‘Have we grown in all areas as a company?’ I was looking not only in areas of capability, capacity and profitability, but as a whole and wondering if our behavior as an organization was any different than it was in the two or three years previous, and the answer was no.
That meant that what we were doing wasn’t working. I made a decision at that time to hire a consultant in-house, and his entire focus is to facilitate and monitor our change in management style. He’s an organizational psychologist, and his role is making sure we’re heading in that direction.
Convince your staff through your conviction. The first thing I had to establish with people is conviction that I was convinced about this new direction so that came through open dialogue and statements to both groups and individuals. We set up a number of town-home meetings internally and we talked about it, and I opened the floor to what people thought about it.
That was one where people understood that I was convinced in leading them in this direction. The other thing was making the commitment. I know it’s difficult to change paradigms and behaviors within a 12-month period, so I’ve committed three years, and it’s not going to be short-term in any fashion.
And it may go beyond that, but three years will give us a good basis for the fundamentals to move forward.
Give employees a chance to make the change. We built the curriculum and we have built the format of how we move forward, but we’re all adults here, so it’s really up to the individuals to agree and to grow in their commitment and conviction, and that happens fairly easily when people see results. So we’ve seen some strong results in their behavior as people are getting excited about the change.
We never take the attitude that someone can’t change. We don’t say one person can change and the other one can’t. We give everyone the opportunity, and let them make the decision. Really, they will put themselves out it if they don’t want to make the change; it has little to do with us.
Be prepared to lose some staff in the transition. The challenge we have is people who are adamant about not changing. We use the analogy, ‘If we’re all going to Chicago, and you want to go to Nashville, you’re on the wrong bus. So if that doesn’t interest you, you better get off the bus now, because we’re going to Chicago.’
We’ve had a few of those, so we don’t make it mandatory that people attend meetings. But what I always tell people is ‘These aren’t mandatory meetings, this is not a mandatory initiative. But if you don’t either you decide you do not want to or you can’t change, then most likely you won’t be in here in three years.’
That’s not a threat, that’s just a fact of where we’re going. It comes to a point where it would be almost impossible to remediate some individuals, and most likely, those individuals will have to leave the organization.
Get new perspective to help make decisions. We have internal committees and each one meets twice a month, and we change members of those committees by about 20 percent every six months, so we have constant fresh perspective, and constant change and cross input for our organization.
We have changed our facility so that we have a large training facility here, so that group is identifying curriculum for a three- to four-year program. From a knowledge base, we will be updated consistently to stay on the cutting edge.
We also are working out a deal with a university so that all of our people can continue their education to keep every end of the business looking at different things. We’re served better in all of our deals if we keep people thinking about new things.
The boost will be that we will be more efficient from not only a standpoint of production but from our thought process and decision-making.
Communicate your victories. What we were experiencing was a lot of people within our organization digging their heals in, waiting for the company to revert back to the way it’s been. Now, after 12 months, they’re coming to the understanding, because of the results, that it’s good for us as an organization and good for them as an individual.
We have a committee that works with the internal consultant, and they work on getting people to simply communicate openly and honestly without fear of retribution, without fear of negative feedback from the company. It’s helping, because change for any human is very difficult, and it’s a difficult thing to ask of someone, so change can occur more easily when there is open communication.
And open communication, we believe, establishes trust. We seek to understand each other. And, in doing so, we hope to bring more value by communicating more information to them so they can see our direction and see how successful it will be.
HOW TO REACH: Garcia Construction Group, (317) 254-3240 or www.gmconstruction.com
Give employees flexibility. I go around the company all the time and see what makes people feel excited to come to work, and a lot of people use the word freedom. What they mean by freedom is, ‘I am free to go workout whenever I want during the day. You trust me. I am free to go do my charity hours on a day that might be in the middle of the week when there’s a bunch of meetings going on because it’s part of the bottom line for our company.’
They live the life that they want to live, and that gives you so much more energy and you feel like you have more of a purpose. That’s part of the reason our turnover is so low. It’s not like people are here searching for the next thing; they can fulfill their life goals here.
Live your philosophies. We make ourselves a different kind of company. We use the word ‘sustainability’ to talk about our business, brand, community, people and planet, and we promote that this sustainability is our bottom line. Those are the five bottom lines, and we measure those, and people’s bonuses are based on those.
Part of it in the real big picture is that people here feel real connected to what we’re doing in terms of our sustainability, and we promote that. People are so immersed in their work, they’re so excited about it, and they feel a sense of ownership to it. And that’s catchy; it’s contagious.
We get together every Thursday in a company meeting and let the employees actually run the meeting and people get up and talk about the things they’re doing here and what they’re excited about. That energy is easy to catch and it resonates around the company.
Help employees with their passion. It’s important to support the community, and we do things like have employees participate in our volunteer program on company time and let people contribute to causes in the community that they’re passionate about. They choose which programs to participate in, and our employees own that program.
It’s very cool, and people are very proud of it. And people come to work every day to be connected to that. What we do in the community helps people to feel more connected to our brand, but it also fits in when we talk about sustaining our people.
One of the things we really focus on is the question of what really helps people to feel energized when they come to work. That’s where you get the energy; people are doing it because they’re passionate about it. It’s more than just a job, and you can start to feel that energy throughout the company.
Verbalize your culture, and find the right people. We hired 51 new people this year, and we were real nervous about it because we wondered if the culture was going to change and we were going to lose what we had.
It actually got better, and the energy level got higher, and that starts with the company’s aspirations acting like some kind a filter, because people are attracted to this company because they are attracted to our aspirations.
There was a time when we weren’t as articulate in what we believed in; it was more in our gut than vocalized, and the result of that was we weren’t necessarily making the right choices with bringing people on. But that was a great learning experience because it gave us a chance to realize we have to better articulate who we are and that’s important to send out a magnet to the right people.
By spending time with people, having a dialogue and figuring out what points connect them to our company and what points don’t, it’s helped me to better verbalize things in a way people understand. Now we’re to that point where we can verbalize our company dream and our vision.
Humanize management. As a company with a lot of dialogue, it’s important to be very clear on how a decision is going to be made.
We try to be clear on who is going to make the decision and what role the input is going to play in that. We want people to see that their input is heard and they’re a part of that.
We may decide, for example, to not introduce a product someone has been working very hard on. It’s so important for that person to understand why that decision is made. With a lot of companies, there’s a black hole that things sometimes fall into.
Having grown up as a smaller company, we want to keep that human connection alive because it’s so crucial for people to feel important. People need to understand. So we work on being transparent and letting people know what our decisions are and why they are that way.
And that also means telling them what decisions they can just absolutely take and run with in their job. People will bring their passion and energy if they are excited about what you’re doing. If people don’t understand that passion, then they’re not going to be excited about their job.
HOW TO REACH: Clif Bar Inc., www.clifbar.com or (800) 254-3227
If you’re a client of Ernst & Young and you run into its leader, Don Misheff, around town, don’t be surprised if he asks you how hisfirm is doing. Sure, Misheff, the professional financial services firm’s managing partner for its Northeast Ohio office, has 1,170employees working on client issues every day, but he never misses a chance to improve. In fact, he still does regular tax work justto keep an inside eye on where the business is going.
Smart Business spoke with Misheff about the importance of a diverse cultureand why you should never put a dead fish under the table.
Be a community figure. I’m a big believer inbeing out in front of our clients andspending time with them. The best testto see that things are working is to be inthe marketplace, talk to your customers.It’s never a perfect world, but that helpsus react to issues and problems.
We can use that market information. Iwas at a client board meeting, and theywere extremely complimentary, but theyhad a few things we could work on, too,and I left, went right down into the staffroom where all our people were workingon the job, and I complimented them,told them what a great job they’re doingand said, ‘Here’s some things to put onthe radar screen for improvement nextyear, and let’s keep trying for the perfectscore.’
If our people are doing things right,then we have trusting engagements andwe have relationships with our clientsand we can both formally discuss thingswith them but also informally discussthings. It doesn’t always have to be formal. For me, it means being very visiblein the market as much as possible.
I am also a firm believer in giving backto the community, so I participate onvarious boards in nonprofit organizations, and that is also full of other community leaders, and that leads to moreinteraction. Call that your MasterCardcommercial it’s priceless becausethey’ll pick up the phone and call you.They know you; you’re not just a name,they’ll call you and tell you something good or bad which is extremely helpful to us. We cannot lose focus of themarket and its reaction.
Keep that executive office on the front line. Partof my leadership style is still doing someaccounts as a tax partner. That way, I’min the same situation as our people on adaily basis.
It helps you keep in touch with themarketplace by putting you in a situationwhere you have the problems our linepeople are dealing with every day. Wevery much want the entire leadershipteam to be in touch with clients and ourpeople.
Delegate duties, not decisions. The hardestproblem is you have to be careful whereyou dig in and spend a lot of time versuswhere you delegate off and let someoneelse handle it. Part of that is in no way doyou ever want to be offending someonewith the idea that their problem wasn’tbig enough for you. So it’s a balancingact based on time.
When something is of a nature that youneed to deal with it, you can delegatesome of the research responsibilities,but you can’t delegate that final decision.
Use candor with care. The biggest leadership strength is candor and opennessand not being afraid to communicatethat with people. You have to alwaysaddress everything with total honesty.
There is nothing more important thanhaving trust and honesty in every relationship. In that respect, you still have torespect people’s feelings and do untoothers as you would have them do untoyou, but you can’t be afraid to deal withthe truth, and that means we have sometough things to talk about sometimes.
I heard a quote one time: ‘If there’s adead fish in the room and you put itunder the table, it gets worse. If you setit out where everyone can see it, thenthere are things you can do to fix it.’ SoI’m kind of a big believer in that philosophy: If we’ve got a problem, let’s put it onthe table, and I’m a big believer in keeping an open door at our firm so you cancome into my office with a problem.
Now the answer I give you may not bewhat you want to hear, but it’s the truthand we can figure out how to deal withthat from your perspective and the firm’sperspective.
Depend on diversity. The older I get, themore I see that having a diverse cultureis so important. You just have to stepback and hear how different peoplewould do it and have that consultationprocess.
We strongly support alternative workarrangements so we can have that. Wesupport life balance not only in thenumber of hours worked but in respecting your culture, where you come fromand what things are important to you.
We want to be a melting pot of culturesand beliefs, so we respect them all. Inour recruiting process, we encouragethat. We say it’s a part of our culture thatwe will respect each other’s differencesand build a team from those.
We have people work from home.People may work different hour schedules if they have to pick up kids. Werespect various religious holidays andcultures. My belief is everybody in thefirm is on a flexible work arrangement;you just have to tailor it to yourself.
I’m not saying there is never a problem it’s our responsibility to educate themand communicate to them the appropriate timetables and what they need to doto serve a client. But it all centers on thecommunication of what our client needsand then communicating that to ouremployees.
So it all centers on what they can do todeliver that and then figure out how tobalance that with their personal goals.We’re such a global firm, and we serve somany clients that the need to understandthe cultural differences around theworld is something we deal with everyday in our office, and it helps us take itto our clients.
HOW TO REACH: Ernst & Young, (216) 861-5000 orwww.ey.com
When Gill, owner and president of the Florence, Ky.-based Tom Gill Chevrolet, asked the employee why he missed the meeting, his reply was that his department was understaffed. To Gill, that’s inexcusable. Team meetings are priority No. 1, and schedules have to work around them. To maintain a culture of self-improvement, everyone must be committed to conversations on progress at the dealership, which had 2006 revenue of $44 million.
Smart Business spoke with Gill about how he builds a culture where people strive to improve every day.
Q: What is the first step in building a culture of improvement?
We take time at meetings to let people know it’s OK to make a mistake; it’s OK to realize that you have a weakness. What makes us different is we’re allowed to talk about those things and come up with plans to improve upon them.
It’s a matter of working with the weakness. So what we’ll do is formulate a game plan with an individual, and we’ll measure it and come back to work with them on it, talk about what they are doing to improve and how successful that’s been. You have to do that regularly. Everybody has to be in that frame of mind.
We’re about being more productive, and what we strive for is improvement in our weaker areas. So we’ve built a culture of self-improvement by having people be comfortable with what they need to work on and marking their improvement.
Communicating that vision to your employees is so important, and once you start and get some momentum around it, then employees get more into it. And by tracking the gains people make, you can show them improvement, and that’s exciting.
Q: How do you get employees involved in improvement?
Management has to show commitment to it. They have to be sincere, and they have to be willing to share information. And not only share but explain because you’re teaching. Most employees aren’t privy to what managers know, so lots of times you’re in a situation where you’re educating, and employees appreciate that and they like that. Employees have to get that support, and once they’re comfortable, then they’ll be able to open up and they will. We emphasize that they can bring things up.
What they see is that either you’re committed to the process or you aren’t. They see that I’m going to give equal grief to the management team if they don’t commit to this and that we’re really taking the time to educate them as a management team, and then sincerely turning to them and asking for help on how to improve.
We tell them, ‘Hey, we see that this is an issue, but we need some help coming up with a way to fix it, help us out.’ And that builds trust.
Q: What steps do you take to bring in new people?
I don’t believe that you get very good applicants through the newspaper. Most people, if they were really doing a good job, then they wouldn’t be out looking. We take time to recruit. I recruit through consultants that I’ve met; I’ll hire headhunters. We look nationwide for the right person. I just filled a position that took me 120 days to fill because you have to focus on getting the right person in there.
Q: Once you find a candidate, how do you determine if he or she will fit your company culture?
I’ll personally meet with potential managers two or three times before anyone else meets them, and the reason I do that is because my managers are going to spend more time with me than they are their wives or their families. We have to make sure from a relationship standpoint we feel comfortable with each other. That’s important, and you can’t do that in an hour interview.
When we get someone in here for an interview, I share with them what our mission is and that we’re trying to hire people for a certain culture and tell them what it takes to be a part of that. They know from the interview process that’s the way it is. I ask them, ‘Can you fit into an organization like that, and before you answer, make sure. Think about it. Because this isn’t easy.’
I also want people that are truthful about themselves. It’s amazing in an interview, you ask people what their strengths are, and everybody will blurt them out. But if you ask them what their weaknesses are, they really struggle with that.
If I have somebody that really knows their weaknesses, then to me that’s a person who is open with themselves, and they’re willing to work with that, and so are we.
HOW TO REACH: Tom Gill Chevrolet, (866) 211-5676 or www.tomgill.com
Jack Bayt believes that dedication to your trade can carry you pretty far. But he also thinks that to take your business to the next level, you need to educate yourself both about your business and about what the other guy is doing. With that in mind, Crystal Food Services a catering and food services company that also runs banquet halls offers employees an in-house training system and keeps an ear open for what the competition is doing. Today, the president of CFS stands watch over a company looking to expand its staff that can swell to nearly 1,000 during special events and on its 2006 revenue of $70 million. Smart Business spoke with Bayt about grooming talent and how to learn and implement lessons from the competition.
Learn from the best. I go out and observe and keep my eye on what the competitors are doing. If I see something I like I say, ‘OK, how can this fit in our organization?’
I’ve always been interested in the history of Rome and that was one of the best things the Roman Empire did. They came in and they didn’t throw out any of the old stuff. If they had a community that was working or great things that worked for that culture, Rome just inculcated them into theirs. It was like a ball rolling down the hill, picking up the good things along the way and leaving the bad things behind.
If we bring in a new worker from the outside and they say they came from a place with a better system, boy, we have no ego over here. I want them to tell me about it and show it to me, and if it’s better, we go for it.
We look at what people know and when we bring someone in, I ask them, ‘What do you guys do better than us?’ And you get enough ideas that you can act on from that conversation.
Work with potential. I do a lot of visits to the units and see people.
There are different times of the year where we do some major special events and I’ll identify some of the younger kids that I think have potential, and I’ll actually sit and work with them in situations at these events and we try to mentor them.
I like to see their work ethic and look for people that are always wondering what more they can do. You have to study them in their work and see how they interact with people. From there, if someone wants to know how I did it, I’ll be happy to share my story with them.
We try to spot that in the young kids we want to bring into the system. It’s about steppingstones, and I’m happy to work with people who have an interest in learning how to move up. Not everyone we work with has that. Some people want it now rather than waiting but when we see those people who want to learn, we’re happy to teach them.
Pay attention to whom you hire. In our business, most people use their jobs as a steppingstone to another job, saying, ‘I’m in this job now but I won’t be in a few years because I’m actually looking for another job.’
Well, that’s strike one for them. We learn that when that comes out of someone’s mouth, it’s not going to work.
We want people who want to be in this business because they have a passion for it. We try to weed out that and we don’t like people who jump from job to job. We sort of take out those as negatives and then look for the positives after that.
We are a pretty fun, upbeat group and because we deal with the public, it’s important for us to see that in someone to see if they can be social and communicate clearly. We also value organizational skills and how you can delegate and put things together.
But wanting to be in the business to start with is so important and we ask them about that right from the start of an interview. We’ll take a chance on people who we think we can get to the next level if they can show us that.
Educate employees and let them move up. We have a thing called Crystal University and (employees) have a passport of where the job will take them, with the end journey being into management. We watch them each step of the way to see that they’re working on learning more and see them kind of stepping outside of their box, which is great.
I started from the ground up, and I always wanted the opportunity for someone to be able to start and go from the ground up. We set metrics based on their goals, and part of the training that comes through the Crystal University, and that passport kind of defines that and helps them show what they’ve learned.
We develop a professional development plan for each manager and at each step, they get their passport stamped. It’s something kind of fun to do and we give them a chance to get out to different units and try to show they can do new things.
You have to give them a chance to work with different-sized units and different areas of the field. You have to let people try different things to see their complete skills.
We have all kinds of different clients and services, so you have to go up the ladder until you can make it through all those stepping-stones. And as they go through that, you can see who the shining stars are and it helps shape the first step in our advancement line when we have another opening.
HOW TO REACH: Crystal Food Services, www.crystalfs.com or (317) 951-1700
Cliff Roe isn’t afraid to admit that he likes getting up and going to work every day. And Roe, the managing partner for Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, tries to make sure that the more than 600 employees at the firm’s eight offices feel the same way. With that in mind, Roe strives to create a different kind of environment at the $108 million firm, one in which people can balance work and life and where their voices can be heard. Smart Business spoke with Roe about retaining talent and about getting his people involved in the decision-making process.
Let employees balance life and work. You want people to get up in the morning and want to come to work. In the changing society’s view of life, we stress the environment of how we work; we stress the personal side of what people deal with.
You have to find ways to keep your people motivated. That has resulted in us doing things like allowing part-time lawyers we have many highly achieved lawyers that have children and don’t necessarily want to give up their profession, and we make arrangements to keep their talents.
We don’t enforce strict rules on altering the workday for that.
We’ve got some that work one day a week and some that work four days a week. And that’s one example of achieving a work environment that is healthy and enjoyable. We get to keep their skills with us, and they’re happy to have that flexibility.
We also hire a lot of lateral associates people with a few years’ experience that are coming from other firms and cities and it is not unusual to hire very experienced, very good talent from other firms who, after awhile, realize they’re not going to make partner or they’re tired of working until 10 o’clock every night.
We welcome those people and tell them that we understand there is life outside of this place. Work takes commitment, but we want people to see that we aren’t just looking for a person to bill us for hours; we want them to have a life and have work fit with that, and we work with them to figure out what we can do to help them achieve that.
Assign leaders who can reach everyone. We have management structures that break the firm into management pods. We’ve got a management council that includes the managing partner of each of our regional offices and the three heads of our major departments.
The point of that management council is that when we convene one of those meetings, every one of our 300-plus lawyers is managed by somebody in that room. You can literally get the message to all of them through these leaders.
So it’s an organization where you can really address specific problems and empower somebody in that room to solve the problem and hold that person accountable. When you structure it like that, you can make the management council the organ where things get done because someone is given the job before you walk out of that room. And at the next meeting, the first question is, ‘Did you get it done?’ or ‘How are you coming?’
Get a consensus. Our entire management team is a total democracy we have them elected by the partners. I’m not sitting atop of a pyramid having fought my way up the ladder; I’m elected to a three-year term.
So when we set our strategic goals, there are very few mandates that ever come out of my mouth; we look at issues together and let the group of elected managers vote. A democratic platform is very appealing to those that have been involved in other types of management styles because you give people a voice when you take a vote on things.
We had a partner join us a few years ago who told us after his first meeting, ‘I was just asked to consider and vote on more things in one meeting than I was ever asked to vote upon in the 10 years I was at the other firm.’ Well, that’s how you make sure people feel as though they’ve been heard; you give them a chance to have an equal opinion on decisions so they can see that even if they’re choice isn’t what’s used, it was still factored in.
Listen to your peers. We are in a peer group of large, regional firms around the country similar to us that aren’t our competitors, and we meet every six months and share our best practices and we share our failures.
The biggest, most popular part of our agenda is when we go over the last six months and talk about what we’ve done and what programs we’ve started. It’s not just each firm bragging about how successful we are; we share our failures. And that’s where you really learn.
We share our best practices, too, but when you can sit in a non-competitive environment with fellow professionals and share ideas, and say, ‘Let me tell you how we screwed this one up,’ it’s a great process to see what works and what doesn’t. You get to share documents and files and anything else anybody needs to see how you roll out new programs and how certain things work.
Use technology, save time. When I became managing partner, I told all the other partners, ‘You better check your e-mail constantly or you will not know what’s going on because that’s how I’m going to keep in constant communication with everybody.’
You have to keep communications fast and constant when you’re spread around. That’s why we also built a video studio here and we have state-of-the-art communication technology so if we have a meeting, we can have everyone see it and keep things live and interactive.
It’s helpful to keep communication moving, and you prevent yourself from traveling the full circuit of offices every month. You can’t get anything done if you’re traveling all the time. It’s important to get out periodically, but it’s also expensive and time-consuming when, instead, you can use technology to push out information in an instant to your whole team.
HOW TO REACH: Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, (800) 934-3477 or www.dinslaw.com
At first Damon Canfield viewed New Product Innovations Inc. as a family.
Sure, it’s something a lot of people say about their company, but when Canfield, who is NPI’s president and CEO, got the company off the ground as a GE Plastics and FITCH joint venture in 1992, the group was small and a good culture came organically.
As NPI grew — today it has 55 employees and offices in Columbus as well as China — the old culture got lost in the shuffle. As a new culture began to grow on its own, it didn’t stop the turnkey solutions provider for product design, development and manufacturing services, but suddenly it felt like the company was running with weights on its back.
“So we’ve spent a whole lot of time on the glue, the characteristics of what we want,” Canfield says. “We all had some varying degrees of where our culture was and we’ve made a push to fix that; it’s kind of the secret sauce to our success.”
Smart Business talked with Canfield about why not keeping an eye on culture can bring your company to a halt.
Keep an eye out for a culture that’s slowing you down. That comes through a series of revelations. We started to see some evidence on how things were starting to fray a little bit. For example, I spend a lot of time in Asia and could see some inconsistencies with the way things were being done. It’s kind of like we lost the formula, the outcome is not what you want. So I had to go back to what part of the formula got away from me and I had to go back to work on my team and see what we thought was missing. We went back to the blackboard, we got back to the cultural piece, and then we realized there were a few areas that were out of sync, and we were willing to sit down and look at what we do, and we had to stand up here and say, ‘Let’s go back to work.’
Define your culture. If I look back at it in the early days of the company, we had a culture from the people involved. You don’t really need to define your culture when you’re down to some very basic elements, you don’t need a lot of time to talk about your culture — it’s kind of like a small family. But you get to the point where you grow and you start to top out and you can’t figure out what’s missing, you start coming to a halt a little. Those of us that started it knew the culture, but we didn’t realize that new people didn’t understand everything we were doing. We just missed it or lost it or just didn’t see it, and I think in so many organizations you can take culture and pick on it a little bit, but it’s the cement in the foundation.
So that’s when the management team all dropped back and we started to work on the definition of our culture and say, ‘We have to be able to define it, and we better get straight.’ So that’s kind of the process, and strangely enough, what we realized is that because of a lack of a clear definition there were some subcultures, which weren’t necessarily bad but were being defined by other people, and I realized how important it is to communicate expectations.
So (the management team) just agreed that we’d go to some padded room and talk it out. We first went back and got all the classical organizational development of culture pieces and looked at how it was described. From there, we immediately took the ones we agreed on and went from there. After we did that piece, we said it’s equally important to define those that we don’t want and then define what we didn’t want to be, it seemed to be as valuable to tell them the things that we didn’t want and that was an internally grown process.
Be willing to say you don’t know. I can tell you from where I sit that I’m built as the kind of guy that was never satisfied. I was of the ilk that if something wasn’t going the way we thought that it should, you have to figure out what’s not working or you have to accept the fact that it’s time to make something else. It’s just a matter of whether or not you, as the person who starts the company, can keep your ego in check and can accept the idea that the king doesn’t have all of his clothes on. It’s not natural for everybody to step back and be self-reflective, and there are times when I can’t put my finger on it, so we have not hesitated to go outside and seek help (from consultants). … I don’t have all the answers, we’ve always been able to stand up and say this doesn’t work. Everybody who has a piece of it wants it to be successful, you just check everybody’s head and say, ‘We all want this to be successful,’ and it’s never failed to help us find the answer.
Look for signs that the pieces are coming together. I worked under the Welch era (at GE Plastics), and Jack was a master of taking a big vision and turning it into something very straightforward, and he would talk about it until he was sick of talking about it, and then he would wait to see how long it took everyone else to talk that way. He’d wait to hear them talk it into their own plans to see that it was sticking. So taking a page out of that book is what we’re doing now — is everyone taking these things and instilling them in what they’re doing? So when you have other folks in the company working on entrepreneurial things and they’re taking that lead from us and going off in areas and directions, that’s when you know it’s starting to take.
How to reach: New Product Innovations Inc., (614) 410-3974 or www.npi.com
Stanley H. Greene has an administrative assistant answering his phone at Sprinturf that can brighten your day with her charming disposition.
“And what that does is that says something positive about Sprinturf,” Greene says.
That attitude is something Greene, the company’s president and CEO, wants to see in all 160 of his employees. So he and his senior leaders put five major expectations in at the growing and innovative synthetic turf installer that has done fields for pro teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles, and college and prep teams across the nation. The first three of those expectations are: a positive attitude, a desire to win and a willingness to be a proactive team member.
“And if we do those things well, it will lead to the fourth thing, which is delighted customers, folks that will be raving fans and will tell folks you absolutely have to use Sprinturf,” he says. “And if we do those things right, it will lead to the fifth, which is profitable growth.”
Smart Business spoke with Greene about what he learned from the late Chuck Daly on getting things done and how you can build a desire to win in company meetings.
Look for a positive attitude first and foremost. Everything starts with an attitude, and we hire around that more so than we do the expertise because we can always train. If you have the right attitude, it would be easy to train you to do what it is we do.
I used to play basketball for the University of Pennsylvania, and Chuck Daly, who was a two-time NBA championship winner, was my coach at Penn, and we were the last college team he coached ... and he taught us what’s key is that you’re always thinking about how you can get things done as opposed to thinking about what’s wrong. We want to make sure we hire people that think along those lines, and one of the ways you do it is with your interview questions. This is not unique to Sprinturf. The common thread is you want them to have a positive outlook and be open. In an interview, I’ll ask different people the same question and I’ll say, ‘Tell me what you think about positive attitudes; tell me what you think about negative attitudes,’ and get their perspective on it, and it tells you a lot. I remember years ago working in cable in hiring for a service tech job, and for the finalist, I would always at least talk to them and get a sense of them and ask certain questions. And I recall hiring a service tech, and these are the guys who fix the television, and you may ask, ‘Tell me what would you do if you were presented a situation if you’re with a customer who is really irate and really upset about whatever may have happened.’ And the person, the tech type that may not understand the value of turning attitudes around, will usually say, ‘Tell them to call my supervisor and they’ll deal with it.’ But I’ll never forget this one guy ... he said, ‘I’d do everything possible to make that customer happy.’ And just that attitude, the approach, the thought that that’s what he needed to do and he believed that he could do it meant that you had 80 percent of what you needed solved because it’s all about dealing with people and customers.
Spark a winning atmosphere. The second part is that we want people to have a desire to win. As we have our communications, we ensure that as people are communicating with each other, we catch anything that would be inconsistent with what we’re looking for because there could be a statement that someone makes, ‘Well, I don’t know if we can get this done.’ Wait a minute, what do you mean? Versus another person who says, ‘We’re going to do whatever it takes to get this done by the date the customer wants it.’ I believe when you say that, then it’s going to automatically trigger in your mind various options you can use to make that happen. So we try to check each other when someone is maybe going off track a little bit, and that’s the value of communication sessions because it gives you the ability to check on that. I’m not saying we’re perfect that way and every time something comes up it’s corrected, but that’s the intent, and actually what happens is you really don’t notice it that much because you are bringing in the right people.
Get people together as a team. Third, we want them to engage in proactive teamwork. Everybody can certainly work together and put out a fire once in awhile, but how many folks are actually planning and working on improving processes in a very proactive way?
Again, the best way is to enable people to express what happens when it goes wrong. Ask them, ‘What’s going wrong in the organization? What’s going wrong as it relates to delivering quality service and delighting our customers; what’s going wrong in terms of hitting our profitability goals?’ And then people will tell you, ‘This is not happening the way it should, or that process is broken and so forth, and we keep doing this and we keep doing that,’ So ask, ‘What would it look like if we were doing it the right way?’ Essentially, all work is a process, a series of processes, and what people will wind up doing is identifying a process or processes that are broken and the best way to fix them is not for the boss or the CEO to say, ‘This is what I want you to do.’ The best way is to get the group together and enable them to fix it themselves because then they own it, they feel good about it, and there’s a better chance that it’s going to be executed than if someone like a president or a CEO tells them, ‘This is what you’ll do, I have all the answers, and I’m smarter than everyone else, so I’m going to give you this solution and you implement it.’
How to reach: Sprinturf, (877) 686-8873 or www.sprinturf.com