Gloria Robbins loves to see emotion and energy filling the boardroom at Specialized Marketing Services Inc.
“We can have a pretty fierce conversation going on at any time in the conference room with people who are very passionate about their opinions,” says Robbins, founder and CEO of SMS. “What we don’t want to do is squelch their ideas. They are bright, intelligent and successful individuals. I want that energy in that room. It’s what drives us.”
Robbins carefully stokes the fire within her 37 employees to generate fresh ideas for the firm’s clients and to satisfy the clients’ needs, and that passion has helped drive the direct response marketing company to 2007 revenue of $10 million.
Smart Business spoke with Robbins about how to spark your employees without losing control.
Q. How do you motivate employees?
In leading people, you really need to listen to them. It’s amazing what you’ll find out not just about your clients but also about your employees when you listen. It’s all about listening to them, hearing them and acting upon what I’m hearing.
Close your mouth. You can’t really assess a situation and what’s really going on unless you are listening to someone who really knows what is happening. Instead of just saying, ‘OK, here is the problem, I have heard this much of it, and I’m going to give you the answer and the solution,’ what I do is I listen to them.
Come to me with what the challenge and problem is, and then I’ll do what every good leader should do. Ask how they see the solution and what they would do. After assessing it, I have to make a decision if their solution is correct or not.
If you give people an opportunity, they will come to you with a solution. When they are in the fray and you are listening to them and you’re allowing them to talk, normally they will come up with the correct solution.
Q. How do you make yourself approachable?
If you’re sitting back, you’re approachable, and your arms aren’t closed and crossed. If people feel you are open and honest with them and relaxed with them, they want to open up and tell you what’s going on.
They don’t feel fearful walking into your office.
If you listen to them, it’s amazing what you will find out when they just stop in to talk with you.
Make eye contact with them. Welcome the conversation and ask a lot of questions.
Q. How do you manage passion?
Harness the energy in the room and manage through it. We have a strict rule about being respectful to each other. There are no bad ideas. We direct it. If we start speaking over one another, we know enough to stop it.
If it’s not stopped, I’ll say, ‘OK, we need to take a break. We have some good stuff coming out of this meeting. But we all need to walk out and clear our heads, and then we’ll reconvene.’
If we don’t have a lot of energy and that passion for what we do, we just sit around and we won’t be coming up with good ideas. There’s a ton of good ideas that can come out of a room filled with passionate professionals.
By giving everyone a chance to speak, they know that they are going to be heard.
Q. How can you avoid conflict?
Take a look at what’s going on and try to assess the situation. Apply logic to it. Getting upset and screaming and yelling upsets everybody.
I don’t bring everybody together and say, ‘OK, we have this problem.’ I go to my individual executive team members and say, ‘Let me tell you what the challenge is. This is what’s going on, and I want your thought on this.’
I get it from them before they’ve had a chance to listen to somebody else come up with a solution that perhaps isn’t theirs. I listen to their solution, I go down the whole team, and then I bring everybody together and we collaborate.
We have a lot of type A personalities here. So no one is afraid of speaking up and saying their piece. We’re going to go with the answer that contains a lot of common sense and with the person who feels the most passionately about it.
Q. How can you facilitate success?
Be open and honest. Be able to express yourself believably so they are not thinking you’re just placating them. I listen to what they are saying, and then I think about what they are asking me and I give them the most credible answer I can give them, and I do what I say.
It’s communication and having respect for the customer and respect for the employee. It’s the Golden Rule that’s applied to business.
HOW TO REACH: Specialized Marketing Services Inc., (800) 998-8600 or www.teamsms.com