Bob Kreider Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

A lot of executives stress the importance of communication, but how many of them have their own blog? At least one does. Bob Kreider, president and CEO of The Devereux Foundation, keeps and maintains “The President’s Blog,” in which he keeps the organization’s 6,000 employees updated on the current happenings and future goals of the nation’s largest nonprofit provider of behavioral health care services. Kreider touches on everything from the organization’s mission statement to informational briefs on Devereux-relevant legislation in his blog, which is designed to be useful for both clients and employees.

Smart Business spoke with Kreider about why it’s a good idea to smile once in awhile.

Prove you know your business at every level. I don’t think a strong leader can be afraid of going into the details when necessary. You have to give your people room to operate and be successful.

But if it doesn’t feel right, you have to understand your business at the detail level well enough to go after a problem. If you show that willingness once or twice, it makes the quality of information you get in other circumstances better, if people know you can go into the details.

Keep your growth on pace with your resources.

The (pitfall) that seems most tempting in our business is growing too fast. Once you achieve a basic level of success, and you’ve proven your product, and you have access to capital, the temptation is to grow as fast as you can finance.

In our strategic plan, we lay out a 6 percent to 12 percent growth rate as the maximum sustainable rate for Devereux based on an analysis of our financial resources and our human resources. If we outgrow either one, that’s a formula for trouble.

You need an understanding of what limitations you have of your financial resources and human resources, what growth they can sustain as far as capital and additional work capacity.

Smile every now and then. The toughest challenge I faced in a senior leadership role was being a real person to my staff. I was trained as a lawyer, an investment banker, and I also am an introvert.

When I first joined Devereux, I was told by a key person in the organization that people couldn’t read me, and that was a very bad thing. In my prior jobs, that wasn’t a bad thing. But I was told I was scaring people.

So I learned to smile a little more, be more expressive, engage in small talk a little more. It’s made me more effective, and I know it’s made my team more comfortable.

Take the blame. The most critical and difficult times are obviously when something bad happens or a bad decision is made. You

need to acknowledge it, not look through rose-colored glasses; then move on.

Nothing builds a team like the senior person shouldering the most blame, saying, ‘I’m most accountable.’ And telling your team, you’re still batting .800, let’s minimize the damage and move on.

Don’t look in the rearview mirror. Vision is important. We all feel we’re in fast-changing markets, and the demographics of markets are changing.

You have to manage toward where the industry is going, not in the rearview mirror. You can’t manage based on history; you have to see the changes coming. That is important, but even more important is humility.

One of my favorite books is ‘Fooled by Randomness’ [by Nassim Nicholas Taleb]. (Taleb) makes the wonderful point that human beings naturally assume that when something happens, it’s because they caused it. My approach is, you’re never as good as you think or as bad as you think.

That’s a hard thing to do as president of an organization. When things go really well, it’s easy to stand up and take credit for it all. The flip side is if things go poorly, you really got stupid quickly.

Try to keep things in perspective and not react too much to temporary fluctuations.

Get feedback. When I joined Devereux, I had

never been involved in strategic planning. But I found I really enjoyed that process. I used that strategic planning process as a way to communicate with the organization.

I used it both to communicate how I saw the organization and the industry and where it was going, and also to listen to all levels of the organization and where they saw it going. There are a lot of important insights that our staff — who are working with our clients every day — can help me with.

Strategic planning is a wonderful way to create a shared vision of where we’re headed.

Every five years or so, we go back and put together where the vision is going; what are the critical elements we need to be ready to address. Then I go on the road and get reaction from the organization.

We have the process take a full year. It’s an iterative process that gradually hones into something that we hope a good percent, if not all, of the staff can buy in to and feel ownership of.

Offer a career, not just a job. Our strategic plan is focused around three areas. We want to be the provider of choice for the services we deliver, we want to be the charity of choice for our communities, and we want to be the employer of choice. In many ways, that is the most challenging one.

The service industries are going to be very competitive in terms of being able to attract an adequate, high-quality work force. We make a real investment in training and trying to offer all our employees a career path, a way they can see an interesting future at Devereux. Even if they can’t, the training will offer them a solid base for whatever direction they go.

We attract them with what it is we do. For the right idealistic person who wants to save the world helping others who have significant challenges, Devereux is a wonderful opportunity. We attract them with our mission and keep them with the training.

HOW TO REACH: The Devereux Foundation, (800) 345-1292 or www.devereux.org