Balance your work force with your needs. Approximately 65 percent of our total head-count are permanent employees. The rest are contract employees. We have resisted the temptation of doing engineering in China or India or some of these other places.
A couple of years ago, it seemed to be a panacea. We feel like we can control our quality better this way. If I have a contract employee working right next to my permanent employee, some of that ownership and loyalty rubs off. So if there were to be a downturn, we still have flexibility without affecting morale, without affecting a single employee.
In the past, when the market was good, we would just go out and hire 50 people, and when the market was bad, you would just go and fire 50 people, so it was one of those emotional roller coasters. I don’t think that’s fair to the employees, and I don’t think it’s fair to the company.
You’re losing knowledge, you’re losing know-how. So we look for market trends, but we resist the temptation to make wholesale changes and say, ‘Now the market’s good, it’s going to be good forever.’
We’ve been in it too long, and we know it’s going to be cyclical and that there’s going to be some adjustments down the road, but I feel like these changes are going to be as painless as possible to the company and its employees.
Hire for attitude, train for skills. I personally interview every single person that we hire in the company, including clerical people. You try to make sure that the people you have in the organization fit the organization.
In a way, it’s like a big family. It doesn’t mean that we always agree with each other, but there’s a healthy relationship whereby people can voice their opinion, they can voice their dissent, they can discuss things openly in a constructive and productive way, and we resolve things. You can’t do that if you don’t know the people in the organization, or the people don’t know you or where you come from or what you’re all about.
Let’s say you would come in as a mechanical engineer. The first interview would be with the head of engineering. He needs to satisfy himself that you have the technical skills. When people come to me, I assume that the knowledge and the skills are all taken care of. I don’t worry about that.
I’m assuming that even though you never designed anything in your life, we can teach you skills, and knowledge will come in time. Your passion, your enthusiasm, your work ethic, your integrity either you have those or you don’t.
Recognize the difference between management and leadership. There’s a difference between a good manager and a good leader. The CEO is a job that encompasses both sides of it.
From a manager’s standpoint, it’s a matter of knowing the people you work with. You have to know how they react and how they behave. Not everybody’s going to be driven by the same goals. You can’t just assume that you can give someone a 5 percent raise and they’ll be happy. People are driven by different things.
From a leadership standpoint, it’s more of an outward thing. You have to look out at what’s out there. Where’s the company going to be five years from now, what kind of people do we have, are they going to be here five years from now, 10 years from now?
If not, what are we doing to prepare for succession planning, what are we doing to prepare for different market conditions, what skills sets do you need five years from now?
Stay close to your plan. I believe in stretch goals, meaning if I think we can achieve X, our goal is X plus one. This is openly discussed with everybody. Business plans are made based on these goals.
I’m very goal- and results-oriented. You stay very close to the plan, and you learn that in life, you don’t get what you expect, you get what you inspect.
So you stay very close to it weekly, monthly or quarterly and make sure you’re achieving your goals, and if you’re not achieving them, then you discuss why and stay very close to it.
Challenge yourself and your people. I believe in challenging people, and I believe in promises made are promises kept. I don’t make promises that I can’t keep, and I hold people accountable for the promises they make.
We don’t get paid for what we think we can do, we get paid for what we can achieve. We’ve been successful at it, so I think it’s a good approach.
Share your results. In the past, I don’t think any of our employees had any idea what the performance of the company was. It was managed, very, very closely, maybe at the top level between the CEO and the CFO.
People were just asked or told what to do, so there was really no self-initiative, no involvement. Right now, basically everything is shared throughout the organization.
We have a very flat structure, and all the managers, our first and second line reports, are about 30 percent of the company, so when we have our weekly meetings, the information gets disseminated throughout the entire organization very quickly.
Be ready for criticism. Sometimes managers, leaders, CEOs are afraid to make decisions because they’re afraid of being criticized. While nobody likes criticism, there are certain small problems if you don’t deal with them, they’re not going away and they might get larger.
And there might be some opportunities that if you don’t deal with them, they may fall by the wayside. Like a good friend told me, problems aren’t like wine and cheese. They don’t get better with age. HOW TO REACH:
Core Furnace Systems Corp., www.corefurnace.com