When Alfred N. Basilicato took over at Numonics Corp. in the early 1990s, the company was in trouble. To help turn things around at the peripherals manufacturer, Basilicato established his vision, then communicated it to his employees and empowered them to act on it.
“You can have meetings and say, ‘This is what we are going to do,’ but it has to be articulated clearly,” says the chairman and CEO of Numonics, which employs about 50 people. “It’s amazing what average people can do when they are put in an environment where they are valued, encouraged and where they are challenged.”
After you’ve established that culture, you have to lead by example, Basilicato says, because employees need to see you are dedicated to your mission.
Smart Business spoke with Basilicato about how he got employees to buy in to his vision to turn Numonics around.
Q:How did you get employees to buy in to your vision for the company?
I hired a third-party firm to do an employee survey. I didn’t really know where all the problems were, and how are you going to find out?
Managing by walking around is great, and I do that, but, at that point, we had almost 100 people. How do you find out where all the issues are?
I read all the reports, and I was able to get a handle on what lots of the problems were that I would have taken virtually a lifetime to figure out. Then, I began to address them one at a time.
I articulated a vision for the company. I said, ‘OK, here are all the issues. These are not my issues, these are yours.’ I put them up [on] a big board at a company meeting and said, ‘This is what you said was wrong with this company. Let’s work on fixing those together and, in the meantime, here is where I am going to take you, here’s what we are going to do to turn this business around.’
The company was unprofitable, we had a lot of debt, and just creating financial stability was a major issue. We had a couple million dollars to pay off when we bought the company because we had to pay the bank off. So, that was a big, big deal.
I hired professionals to come in and help me identify what the issues were from the employees’ point of view, and then I created a vision for the direction of the company based on new products and new markets.
Q: How do you establish an environment where employees are willing to let down their guard and be honest with you?
It starts at the top. Whoever is running the business has to make it clear to everybody that this is not a company that will be run by fear.
We are here to collaborate, and if we have an issue or problem, we need to solve it together. That’s a message the CEO, or whoever is running the company, has to deliver, first of all to their staff managers, and I think you have to deliver that yourself right on down to the receptionist and the guy who packs the boxes going out the door. They have to hear that from you.
Then, you have to live it and have to make sure the supervisors and the managers in place all understand that, that is a philosophy you believe in, and you will not stand for anybody stepping out of that line.
Q: How do you convince people it’s OK to ask for help?
In the previous regime that was here, no one would ever ask for help because they didn’t want to admit they didn’t know how to do something.
So, I came in and said, ‘We have 20 years’ background in sales and marketing and finance. I don’t have any problem picking up a phone and calling a marketing consulting firm to come in and look at my marketing plan and help me understand what I’ve done right or what I’ve done wrong. So, if we have an engineering problem, you need to get help. You can’t solve it all by yourself.’
You instill in your people the point that it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know,’ and it’s OK to ask for help. As a matter of fact, the only thing that’s not OK is not to do that. That should filter down to everybody. It’s part of an education process that I think we did really well here. When teams get together and they have a problem and they can’t figure it out, their attitude today is, ‘Well listen, what resource can we go to?’
HOW TO REACH: Numonics Corp., (800) 523-6716 or www.numonics.com