Atticus Firey believes employees often take the lead from their boss on how much energy they bring to work each day.
“If your troops see that you’re wearing down, they’re going to wear down,” says the president and chief operating officer of US Modular, a memory and storage product company. “You’ve got to keep the bar set high with your level of energy. ... If energy is a priority in your life, you’re going to schedule and calendar physical activities to keep your energy level high.”
The 38-employee company has grown about 40 percent annually since its inception in 2001, and Firey anticipates 2007 revenue of more than $50 million.
Smart Business spoke with Firey about how celebrating failure can help your business succeed and why you should make a move immediately if an employee isn’t working out.
Q: What are the key aspects of a healthy culture?
No. 1 is level of expectations. As a culture, we want to expect more than what is realistic. If I expect more than you and you’re my competitor, I’m probably going to win.
No. 2 is preparedness. As a culture, we want to expect to go to the moon, but we also have to prepare the spaceship.
No. 3 is sense of urgency. Now that we expect the moon, and now that we are prepared, we want to move very quickly. But the faster you move, the more mistakes you’re going to make, so No. 4 is attention to detail. The faster you move, the more attentive you have to be to the details.
Like a (Formula One) racer, the faster they go around those corners, the more precise they have to be on their judgment. Without question, you will always stumble, and that’s where personal ownership comes in. You need to take personal ownership.
You own this company. You’ve done something really well or something not so well. Own it, identify the root cause and move on.
The sixth, and final one, is communication, communication, communication.
Q: How do you deal with failure?
If it’s the first failure that you’ve had as an employee or that you have had as a group, I reward or celebrate that failure as if I celebrate myself or my kids graduating from college.
You just paid for an education. You just failed. It cost us X amount of dollars or X amount of time, and that was our payment for your education. If you didn’t fail, you may or may not have learned that lesson.
If you have identified the root cause of the problem, and you have identified a solution to fix that root cause so it won’t happen again, it’s celebrated and you’re rewarded for that failure. If you have not identified a root cause, and you have not identified a solution, it is not celebrated because something is wrong with your thinking process.
Your problem-solving skills are not up to speed if you can’t identify the problem or solution. If you’ve done it twice, then your root cause and your solution and process improvement is fallible because it allows you to fail again.
Q: How can you help employees succeed?
You need to set up a culture that is performance-based and constantly reviews performance with the employees relative to what the plan is. As an employee progresses with their tenure, if they are not performing, it’s not a surprise to them.
You, as the leader, are right next to them daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually reviewing that progress and reviewing that performance with them in a candid fashion.
You’re giving them every opportunity and all of the tools necessary to succeed in your company.
Q: How do you deal with underperformers?
At some point, you’re going to come to a decision that this person is not going to make it. If you really care about people, the best thing for that employee and the best thing for your company is to do it now and not tomorrow. If that person is not going to be around, why wait?
Do that person the favor of caring for them and say, ‘Listen, you’re valued. You’re fantastic in these areas. Here’s where it’s not a fit, and I encourage you to find another opportunity sooner than later.’
I will often not terminate someone on the spot unless they have stolen from us or done something grievous. I will often say, ‘Listen, for the next 30 days, try to get your tasks accomplished here. But use our fax machine, use our phone, use our time, have flexibility to start pursuing other opportunities.’ Try to help them along with getting to the next step. It does-n’t do your company any good to wait either because that person that’s here is costing you time and costing you money. If you’re living a performance-based culture and you allow someone to stay around that is not performing, you’re going to drag down the other people on the team.
HOW TO REACH: US Modular, (949) 770-6400 or www.usmodular.com