Keeping it simple Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

If you want to get the best work from your managers, don’t force your own leadership style on them, says Tom Caramanico.

As co-owner, president and CEO of McCormick Taylor, Caramanico understands that the leaders of his 11 offices all use different styles to manage their portion of his company’s 380 employees. But there are four things that are nonnegotiable, and he’s created a list of rules to be followed by everyone at his engineering firm, which posted 2007 revenue of $46 million.

“Those four rules are results-oriented, and if you are achieving those results that are described in those four rules, then whatever way you’re managing is probably OK,” Caramanico says. “What’s important is the results, not the style. The key for any successful manager is being able to accommodate those different styles and still get the work done.”

Smart Business spoke with Caramanico about his four rules for keeping a company healthy and its employees happy.

Keep your clients happy. It’s a communication process. First of all, our clients are government agencies that hire through a public competitive process. When the client identifies what the project is about, what tasks they want you to do, what products they want you to deliver and the time frame, that makes your job — in terms of understanding what the client needs — a little easier from the start.

They have a written scope that they will give us. Talk to the client and understand them. Say, ‘I can read what you’ve written here. Tell me exactly what it is you’re looking for.’

The second way to keep clients happy is working for the same clients over and over. You really get to know them, and they get to know you. Our project managers deal with clients day in and day out, and they ask the client how we are doing and if this is what they wanted.

How do you measure whether the client is happy? It’s whether they hire you again. The client might write us a letter and say, ‘We were really pleased to work with you. The bridge you designed turned out perfect, and we’re very happy with it,’ but if they have another bridge to design next year, and they don’t hire us, I would say they weren’t happy enough.

Stay billable at all times. Are your people billable? That’s not so much a financial thing; being billable means you’re getting the work that clients need done to people very efficiently so that everybody is productive every day, working for some client and keeping the focus on the client’s needs.

We measure the billable time by group, subgroup and by the whole company every week. One of the basic rules when you’re dealing in people in business is that people will pay attention to the thing that you measure.

The only reason for us to be here is to do work for our clients. So, every hour of every day, you should do something for some client for some project.

If you did something for five hours that was of no value to any client on any project, why did you need to do that? If you are doing something that’s of some benefit to some client every hour of the day, then you will be 100 percent billable.

Keep your employees happy. My job is to make sure my employees are happy in their job. If they understand that the leadership is focused on making sure they’re happy in their job, it changes their attitude about what I’m doing every day.

If employees are happy, they’re going to stay here and find their success and their career at this company. If they’re not happy, they should tell somebody so we can fix it.

Our director of employee relations does an exit interview with every person that leaves. The goal of that is, No. 1, to find out why they decided to leave, and No. 2, to see that there isn’t some little corner of the company where somebody isn’t treating employees right and making people unhappy; we seldom find that to be the case.

The third reason we do it is to make sure they leave happy. If they go to a competitor, I want them to know we’re sorry they left, we wish them well, and if they’re interested in coming back, they should call us.

I hate when somebody leaves our company because it means that I, as the leader of this company, have somehow allowed it to happen. I want people to feel good about their experience at McCormick Taylor — both those people who are still here and those people who decide to move on.

Avoid all lawsuits. Conflicts are inevitable. If there’s a problem on a construction project where we did the design, then we’re going to work to solve that problem. If it cost the client money, and in the end, it was determined that it was our fault, then we’ll pay for it.

You don’t have to sue us, we’ll pay for it.

Even if other employees are not involved and know nothing about the facts, they will make a judgment about the management of the company and how they resolved the issue — whether they felt it was fair or not fair. When you take this kind of attitude that you’re going to work it out, it communicates in a very demonstrable way that you care, and it helps in terms of your reputation: ‘This is not your typical company.’

HOW TO REACH: McCormick Taylor, (215) 592-4200 or