Building the team Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

Joel Koppelman is in a constant race at Primavera Systems Inc.

As co-founder and CEO of the software company, it’s a continuous sprint to keep up with ever-changing technology, and he also has to convince his customers that the technology he’s creating is more beneficial to them than what they currently use.

To do these things successfully, he has to depend on people to help him, especially as his company grows.

“Finding the right people and coordinating them and synchronizing their efforts and making sure they’re all pulling in the same direction as opposed to different directions — that’s the management challenge,” says Koppelman, whose company posted 2007 revenue of $176 million.

Smart Business spoke with Koppelman about how to keep your employees working as part of one unified plan.

Hire the right people. You have to do serious recruiting. Go looking for people who have experience, talent, energy, experience, and you have to scan a lot of people. Then you have to put them through a really intense interview process with the kinds of people they’re going to work with and for.

We switched from doing oneon-one interviews, where you come in and speak with one person, and two hours later, you speak with another person. It’s a lot of regurgitation, and you don’t get to find out if the answers are consistent. You don’t get to go into enough depth, so we’ve switched to a mode that’s a panel interview.

Someone comes in, you’re sitting with four or five people, and they’re all prepared. It’s much more interesting, much more conversational, much more about problem-solving skills and what makes you tick. At the end of a two-hour session, everybody’s in a mode where they can say, ‘This person is great, or this person we’re going to pass on.’

You need somebody who has a little bit of experience with it to get it set up and in motion. In the interviewing processes, the people who come to the interviews have to be really prepared. They have to think about what is this job, what are the requirements of this job, who is this person going to interact with, where do they fit into the hierarchy, and what are the attributes and skills that are going to make them successful in that job. Good HR professionals know how to get that done. Rely heavily on their expertise.

Have a workable plan. Sit down in the project space and say, ‘Here’s a list of tasks,’ and think about whether you have the right people with enthusiasm, experience, availability, talent. If you don’t have the right people, you don’t have a plan — you have a wish list.

You have to sit down and say, ‘How exactly are we going to accomplish this? Who exactly is going to accomplish this? Are they free to do this, or are they consumed on other things they can’t be diverted from?’ Until you work those things out, you don’t have a plan that’s workable.

Work those things out, and you have a plan that — if it’s carefully thought through and you’ve considered the possibilities, the risks, the pitfalls and the complications that may arise — then it’s a good plan, and it will probably get carried out the way you intend.

Get people rowing together. Communicate in a variety of ways in order to get people to understand what we’re trying to accomplish as a company. If you think that reaching out is sending an e-mail or calling someone up and saying, ‘Do this,’ you’re missing the boat. You have to make sure the message is received, that it’s understood and accepted, and that you’re going to get the cooperation that you need with other people in the organization in order to make things happen. The only way you get those is to have an in-depth, two-way conversation.

Engage them and ask questions — how do you think this will work out? If I’m talking to marketing, ‘Do you think the sales organization has the data or documents that will help them explain this to the customer? How do you think this will go over in production? We need to make sure this release works with your schedule. Are people in customer support ready to answer the phones?’

Ask them to take the plan to the next step — ‘If this makes sense and you’re on board, then why don’t you come back to me with some more details on how you’re going to carry this out and who you’re going to use to do this, and then let’s talk again because a couple of things may dawn on you after the conversation.’

If someone has issues, problems, concerns, hear those and think about them. Very often, they’re right because they’re a lot closer to the action. You have to react to that. Modify things as you have those conversations. If you don’t, it’s a one-way blast, and it’s basically pointless, and they’ll go off doing what they’re already doing.

By asking questions and having someone think beyond the narrow thing they’re doing, you get a sense whether or not they bought it, whether or not they’re mentally committed to it and whether or not they’re thinking ahead as to how do all these pieces work together.

If you don’t challenge them that way and don’t ask those questions, they’ll say, ‘I got my piece of it,’ but they won’t understand how their piece fits into the whole.

HOW TO REACH: Primavera Systems Inc., (800) 423-0245 or