As CEO of St. Petersburg-based Interstate Logistics Group Inc., Tim Higham spends most of his time either motivating and recognizing employees or focusing on growth opportunities for his company. Because of Interstate’s considerable expansion over the years, Higham has further increased his involvement in both areas. However, he was initially reluctant to relinquish control over others.

“I think that’s the challenge most CEOs have,” Higham says. “I’m able to do a lot of things, but I can’t do a lot of things all at the same time. So I’ve had to learn how to trust people and to delegate very important tasks to people, knowing that they’ll get it done the right way.”

Smart Business spoke with Tim Higham about how he’s grown Interstate to a projected $30 million in revenue in 2011 by building trust and accountability with employees.

Pay for the best. I’ve never micromanaged people, but over the years, what’s happened is, I’ve let certain people do things that made a mess of it. I noticed a few years ago I was basically becoming more of a micromanager because I was fearful. I was afraid that they would mess up again. I had to pull myself away from that and basically insert professional employees — and professional employees meaning you pay for what you get. You can’t hire very strong middle managers and pay them minimum wage. You’re not going to get the kind of people who can perform the way you want them to. So my style has changed by being willing to pay people that are very well qualified, and those people cost usually a lot more money.

Meet efficiently. There are two types of meetings. There are efficient meetings and really long meetings. So here, each meeting is not allowed to last more than one hour. That’s the tops — one hour. If you can’t get a meeting done in an hour, there’s a problem. It’s a case of get things on the table, hash them out, have a discussion and then end the meeting and then off you go. Some companies just have nothing but meetings, meetings, meetings and nothing actually gets done. What meetings are for is to efficiently take say five, six, 10 people and rather than have five, six or 10 conversations, it’s to get the same conversation all at the same time with the right people.

Acknowledge strengths. As companies get bigger, your ability to affect the day-to-day things becomes less and less and less, but your ability to be able to motivate people becomes more and more and more. I’ve got a 9-year-old son, and my son responds very well to encouragement and to a pat on the back. … As I encourage and point out good things to my 9-year-old son, he tends to want to do more of the good things and less of the bad things. I ignore the bad things when they’re not really important, but I focus on encouraging and pointing out the good and positive things that people do. As human beings, me and you, everybody wants to be encouraged. They want to feel important. They want to feel that they count and they matter. If I focus on the things that they are doing well, overall I can tell you 99 times out of 100, your typical human being will then gravitate toward doing more of the positive things and less of the negative things.

Keep people updated. We go over every single aspect of every part of the company in an overview type of environment, but we tell them the numbers for the company for the last month, how things are trending and forecasting. We tell them the revenue. We tell them the profits. We tell them about new hires and expenses and we try to keep them involved. We try to teach them that this is a business, and we want them to feel that it’s their business. Because if they feel it’s their business, they are much more cognizant about making sure that they don’t waste money. I tell the employees probably more than I probably should. But because I tell them that information, they seem to grasp that they are part of this, not that they are working just for a company with a name and they don’t really care. They feel that this is their business, and if they feel that this is their business and they are connected to the business, then they are much more willing to go the extra mile.

HOW TO REACH: Interstate Logistics Group Inc., www.interstatelg.com

Published in Florida