Managing success Featured

8:00pm EDT October 28, 2006
 John Alarcon sums up the key to success in one word: Listening.

“Listening is the key, listening and understanding what’s going on, being attentive and careful about what’s happening on the competition side but keeping an eye on where we want to be focusing,” says Alarcon, general manager of XRT North America.

The strategy has paid off as the North American division of XRT Inc. — a financial and treasury management solution and service company — took home more than $8 million in 2005, with worldwide revenue of $55.5 million.

Smart Business spoke with Alarcon about what he looks for in employees, and why he says they need interests outside the workplace.

What qualities do you look for in employees?
It’s the ability to focus and commit to causes and purposes. Employees who can really show that they have purpose in life that they pursue and they’re consistent and they deliver on it.

We are in business because there is a purpose we want to serve. There’s nothing worse than an employee who doesn’t know what he or she wants to do and never has any purpose.

Look for people who have guts and people who have other purposes in life other than work. They have strong drive, but work is not the only thing they are worried about.

These people have to have the ingredients of being able to dedicate themselves to a purpose and be motivated to the purpose. That is my role and the role of all managers — to cultivate this motivation. But they have to have the ingredients.

Why is it important for employees to have outside interests?
You can’t do a good job if you work 24/7. You need to be very creative in this business. You need to work smart. You can’t be smart if you’re tired, or out of steam.

You want people who are fresh when they come in. Clients feel that. They want to work with people who work fresh. They have fresh ideas, they are dynamic, they move, they change quickly, they adapt to changes, they can respond quickly, and you can’t achieve that with people who are not taking time to reflect.

How do you delegate work to employees?
It’s being demanding when it’s time to be demanding and, at the same time, being able to give people time when it’s time to give them time. You want to make sure you best use your resources and teams.

You don’t want some people overloaded with task and others with nothing to do. You want people to learn, be flexible, be contributive and take on new things. You want people who are willing to learn and contribute and help.

You don’t want certain skills that are limited to one person. Then you start building in the organization crucial risk, and it’s just not productive. There’s too much pressure on them, and they can’t take vacation without having 10 messages on their cell phone.

It’s very important for the interest of both the employee and the organization that knowledge is being shared. You can find ways to not rely on just these people and to distribute the work much better. You need to work smart.

How would you advise leaders to adjust to change?
Change is a mentality. I remember my old days when I started to work where change was really seen as, by senior level management, I’m talking 20 years ago, as a massive transformation exercise.

In some cases, you have to do a massive transformation of an organization. But to avoid to those massive transformations, sometimes it just makes better sense for organizations to be adaptive and change on an ongoing basis.

It’s every day taking the pulse of how we are doing and making changes all the time.

How important is it to take risks?
Risk is part of success. If you just stay and do the same thing as everybody else, you’re not going to be successful. You have to take some risk in terms of things you have looked at as being a risk that you can afford to take.

You have to measure it. This is part of the day-to-day life of a business, measuring what is at stake, and then feeling this is the right thing to do at this point. Then you do it. But, as you perform, you measure the results, and you are able to change.

This is also part of the things you are considering when you make the decision. If I need to change, what will be the cost?

How do you emotionally rebound from a failure?
If you have encountered success in your life, you know you had to fail first before you got there. Very few people really encounter success without signs of failure or moments of depression.

It’s very hard to make things happen. It’s very hard to really encounter success. People just don’t realize how much is involved with building success for a business. They don’t understand what people go through to reach the point of being a successful business.

A kid who is ready to go give it a try and is not afraid to fail will succeed. People who are afraid of failing, their probability of success is very low.

You have to live with failure. Usually when you succeed, you succeed where the majority of people think you will fail.

How to reach: XRT, or (610) 290-0300