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Healthy trust Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

Trust is a cornerstone of any successful business, says Jackie Herr. “You have to be able to trust the leadership of a company because you’re impacting the lives of so many other people and what they do and how their career goes,” says the co-founder and CEO of Ignite Health.

A subsidiary of inVentiv Health Inc., Ignite is a full-service health care marketing agency that seeks to educate and empower chronically ill patients and their caregivers. Just as clients rely on the company for honest information, Herr says employees rely on their leaders to provide honest leadership.

“I don’t have all the answers, but I have a lot of really smart people working here who say these are the trends and this is where things are going,” Herr says. “We listen to them and employ that in our thinking of the business.”

Herr has guided her 90-employee company to revenue growth of about 30 percent each year since its founding in 2001.

Smart Business spoke with Herr about why it can’t just be about the money, developing trust and why she encourages employees to admit their mistakes and move on.

Q: What are the keys to building employee trust?

When people do talk to you, make sure you’re listening. If there is an action that they want, either make sure they understand that it’s an action that you’re going to be able to take or that it’s going to take some time. Be honest.

It gets back to the trust. People want to talk to you, and they will talk to you as long as they believe they are being heard. Whether or not you can act on what they are asking you to do, at least follow up and say, ‘Here’s what we can’t do, and this is why.’

Clearly communicate why you care. It can’t be just about the money. It can’t be just about shareholders. There has to be a greater vision. You have to empower and let people know why you care so much about the company.

If everyone knows that it’s just for the money and it’s not for anything else, you lose the passion in your business and you lose the dedication from your employees. You just lose a lot when money is the total focus.

Q: How do you encourage your employees to take an active role in the company?

You get to this level in an organization and unfortunately, you think because you’ve been at this level, that you pretty much know everything.

Every day I come to work, my guys teach me something new and I learn something new and I learn that listening is far greater than telling people, ‘Here is what you need to do.’ Part of it is that as a leader, you tend to get all the problems. That’s just part of this job. You tend to get, ‘Here’s what’s wrong.’

What we encourage our group to do is, it’s fine to have a problem, but at least have a couple of ideas for solutions to deal with those problems. If you come to us with those, it’s a much more positive conversation than just being stuck in, ‘This is a problem.’

You can’t solve everything because you don’t understand all the intricacies of every level within the company of what’s going on.

Q: How can you maximize employee performance?

We tend to be pretty hard on ourselves in terms of who is good at what.

We try and get people to find their own sweet spot. Find what you’re good at and be OK with that and maximize that particular thing you’re good at. We just have to make sure we help people identify their strengths.

That’s gotten much tougher as we’ve gotten bigger. When you’re in a start-up mode and you have four or five people, then you have 10 people, then you have 12 people, it’s not unusual to say, ‘I went to this presentation, and I totally stunk.’

But as the organization gets bigger, that’s a much tougher thing to do. Our senior staff is charged with trying to make sure that people know that there is an open, honest forum for them to say, ‘Here’s what happened. This didn’t work so well, and here’s what I can do better.’

Q: How do you deal with failure?

Admit it, learn from it and move on. We share successes, and we share failures where things didn’t work quite as well as they should have. It’s important to admit it. A lot of people have a tough time admitting failure. When you admit, learn from it and move on, it makes the whole organization stronger.

Know you can’t please everyone. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and never take yourself too seriously. There are plenty of people out there willing to tell you you’re not doing a great job. Celebrate the successes and enjoy it.

HOW TO REACH: Ignite Health, www.ignitehealth.com or (949) 861-3200