Early in his career, Stephen Stuut was faced with an unenviable task. His firm’s parent company was selling to a competitor, and Stuut had to prepare the company’s reorganization while the competitor’s CEO was moving into his office. Stuut, now president and CEO of TruePosition Inc., knew he would be unemployed by the end of the week, but he kept his focus. Later, a former colleague told Stuut that people were impressed at how he had simply taken care of business at a time when his own future was uncertain. But Stuut says he just knew that there was a lot of work to do, and that it was his job to do it. That focus has served him well as the leader of TruePosition, a $200 million, 400-employee company that develops and provides high-performance wireless location solutions. Smart Business spoke with Stuut about why having a strategy is useless if you change it every year and why you always have to be ready for the next stage of growth.
Make sure your employees get it. One thing about strategies is if the employees don’t know what it is or at least the parts they need to know about then you don’t have one.
If you don’t know how to implement it, then how do you have a strategy? The whole idea is, if you want to have something happen, people have to know what it is.
So make sure the audience includes people who are fully aware of all the ups and downs. A lot of times when you have these big meetings, someone walks out of the meeting and makes some comment, like, ‘I don’t get it.’ Then, someone nearby can say, ‘Oh, let me tell you what I understood that as,’ or, ‘Here’s a way to view it.’
Essentially, I’ve got people out there who are on top of what I meant to say because maybe I didn’t say it right that time.
I always use the same charts over and over. Sometimes people will say if you have last year’s strategy chart this year, shouldn’t it have changed? The answer is no because if you have a strategy and it changes every year, you didn’t have one.
Limit what you share. Strategy is not a document on a shelf. It’s something that you do, that you implement.
You can only do that if people know what it is to a degree, of course. There are some things you won’t tell everybody. Imagine Napoleon putting a plastic card in every soldier’s pocket with the strategy on it. If somebody got captured or left it on the field, that would not be a good idea, would it?
So there is a limit to what you show and share. It’s dependent on what level of management you are talking to at the time, and there are some things only I know about.
Responsibility starts at the top. To empower (employees), I like to delegate. One reason is because if I try to do everything, I’ll just die, I’ll grind myself into meal.
But if I delegate, and then observe what the people I’ve delegated to are doing, but let them take care of it, that’s how things get better. Individuals see that they are given responsibility.
Now, does it go methodically eight layers down below me? Probably not but maybe. If you don’t start with your own level, it’s never going to propagate. That’s why I encourage people to tell me when I’m wrong which is something most people are reticent to do or tell me when I might not be fully aware of all the circumstances.
Go through the proper channels. You can’t blow past the layers of management between you and something you want to see done. I may know who’s doing something, and if I go blowing past people in between, the one I end up talking to is going to answer back to me, and suddenly I haven’t delegated very effectively, have I?
If I want to touch a layer below or two layers below, I contact the ones in between to make sure they don’t want to do it themselves. I tell them what it is I was after, and they may want to capture it in their own style. Or they just say, ‘Hey, go straight to them; just tell me what you did.’
It’s important because if you flatfoot who you’ve delegated to, it doesn’t work. You’ve got to watch them like a hawk. And sometimes, when you’ve just arrived, you don’t know who’s really on top of their game. Let them make a mistake; just make sure it’s not too big of one.
Think it through. Say you’re aspiring to some deal that if you get it, it would transform the company. Then you get it, and it’s like the dog chasing the bus. The bus stops and the dog says, ‘What do I do with this bus?’
You haven’t thought about it. You haven’t organized the structure; you don’t have the first idea of who you’d give it to manage.
So think it through. If you were to succeed, how are you going to manage it? How are you going to structure the organization to do that? You need to pick the right management and go more than just one layer down in thinking about how you would adapt the organization to new opportunities.
The same thinking applies when somebody leaves for good or bad reasons, it just happens. Think about the layers of management and who’s getting a new opportunity or who’s being kept in a silo. I like giving people new opportunities, even if you’re taking them out of their comfort zone, because you’re building management. Or bring in people who you know can already manage and are somewhat ambidextrous.
Most start-ups that go through that are explosions and little shards of burning metal on the ground. This place excelled at it. It had its issues, but it did very well. To keep going, you have to be ready for that next stage of growth.
HOW TO REACH: TruePosition Inc., (610) 680-1000 or www.trueposition.com