A motivating environment Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

When asked about his company’s culture, Tony Koblish is quick to point to his driven employees who are thriving in a growing environment.

“Everyone is highly motivated,” says the president and CEO of Orthovita Inc., a spine/orthopedic surgical biomaterials company that posted 2006 revenue of $46.8 million. “We are in a development stage company that is rapidly growing. We’re working toward an exciting set of goals and rapid growth. It’s definitely the type of high-energy, young, spirited company that people are highly motivated and working hard, and everybody feels like they have a stake in the future and contribute.”

Smart Business spoke with Koblish about how he creates a corporate culture that helps everyone succeed.

Q: How do you build a culture that motivates employees and encourages success?

I think it comes down to the internal feelings. All of the putting greens and all that kind of stuff is nice to have, and you can do some of that stuff. We happen not to do any of that.

What we would rather do is have social events for the employees. Go to a Flyers game, for example. Send employees that have earned it to an Eagles game. Things like that, that are more team-building and group activities.

But, at the end of the day, the employees have to feel that they are part of a serious organization that is driven and is driven to succeed, and I think everybody gets that feeling, especially when the success starts to come and the message works.

Q: How has going to Eagles and Flyers games helped the company?

We have very high expectations. And it’s important to be able to create rewards because we do have such high expectations, and the pressure can be tremendous.

We like to put people together in a fun, social setting. Everyone loves Philadelphia sports. We’ve had great success in renting a box seat at the Flyers and bringing the employees together. They can eat some food, have a couple of beers and watch the game. It creates a good, positive social atmosphere, and I think it is a release for the pressure of our high expectations, day in and day out.

And often, we have them bring a spouse or one of their kids, and it sort of brings people closer together. It’s important. We don’t do it all the time. It’s not like we are doing it every week. We’ll do it once or twice a year.

Q: How do you deal with underperformers?

If you have somebody who is very weak on the team, the people that are working side by side with them tend to know that this person is weak, and it creates more pressure and stress for everyone else to pick up the slack. If you are very consistent in measuring people’s performance, and if they don’t measure up and you terminate or get rid of the weaker player, there is a lot more respect for the organization from the people that are doing the work when you bring in somebody new who can contribute.

Employees can get demoralized if they all get paid the same or they all get the same bonus, and five people are killing themselves and performing at a high level and that sixth person is just being pulled along or not working very hard. If you reward those who work and weed out the bottom 10 or the bottom that don’t perform, as long as you do it in a consistent, nonarbitrary, fair way, I think that strengthens the organization over time in a big way.

Q: How do you know during an interview if a prospective employee is just telling you what you want to hear?

A lot of times, you don’t. You have to do your research, and you have to do your due diligence. You can spend as much time as you want with the employee, and for a high-level position, we will certainly have them interview with many, many people within the company.

We will spend time with them socially over dinner multiple times. We’ll try to get the best view of this person that we can. But, at the end of the day, a lot of times when your employee starts, you don’t really know what you have until you get into it down the line.

In some instances, in some positions, particularly in our sales force, we implement a psychological profile, testing called the Predictive Index, where we try to hire characteristics and traits we know will be successful for a particular type of position. So, we are able to create a database of all the characteristics and traits of the type of person that has been successful in this particular type of job before, and we can match the interviewee’s profile against what we know to be successful.

HOW TO REACH: Orthovita Inc., (610) 640-1775 or www.orthovitaportal.com