All together now Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008
The leaders at Nike might have a hard time seeing eye to eye with Ray Buehler.

The shoe company that made the phrase “Just do it” its slogan might have some philosophical differences with the president and CEO of Schneider Downs & Co. Inc.

That’s because Buehler’s management style at the 300-employee financial management and advisory firm isn’t based on directives. Instead, it’s based on something he calls “smart-aggressive” leadership.

It’s the idea that you’re never going to be able to drive your company to where you want it to go without having everyone on board. To do that, you need to show every employee the “why” behind his or her marching orders and make each person feel like his or her work contributes to the company’s success as a whole.

Buehler says if you don’t have a work force full of enabled, big-picture thinkers, you run the risk of internal detachment, of having each of your departments operating in their own disconnected silo.

Smart Business spoke with Buehler about how to develop workers who feel like they are a part of something bigger.

Sell the small picture first. You have to stress how important each little piece is. When we talk in the individual units or in business meetings, the plan is certainly way more defined in each one of those business units and administrative units as to what they’re going to accomplish.

What I like to say to people who run any key administrative area or key department is, ‘Just pretend you’re the president of the company.’ It makes it much smaller but more empowering, so that people understand it might be part of a bigger map, but they control and are empowered to have their stake and operate with some degree of autonomy.

It takes what might be a bigger issue that might seem overpowering at times and brings it down into a much smaller group. People can understand it better when it’s within the confines of their specific areas.

Align horizontally. It looks like everything goes vertically, but there is also a horizontal map to Schneider Downs in that within each of our business units, we’re organized by 10 industry groups focused on the same issues.

These groups cross over all our business units. They’re all focused on the same issue: growing that practice, growing that industry, people development, product delivery. The bottom line is communication and constantly reinforcing the business unit goals, the individual goals and the administrative support goals.

If you were just vertically oriented, everything seems to be powered from the top down. In an inclusive organization,you don’t want each unit operating in its own silo and only being concerned about what their silo or their business unit is doing. In reality, from your customer standpoint, they don’t see you as silos. They see you as one organization.

In order for you to properly service those folks — I call it cross-pollination — you want people to see it as a seamless delivery of these silos. Whether people see us as audit, tax, wealth management, corporate finance, technology, ultimately, [we] want our clients to see us just as Schneider Downs.

It has a lot to do with marketing, but it also has a lot to do with product delivery, and it also has a lot to do with people development because we’re looking for people to develop not just in their own silo but to recognize that Schneider Downs is more than just one business unit.

Manage by listening. I would rather our employees believe in the process and then have them do it and have their support as to why it is a good idea, rather than pound it home, be dictatorial and say, ‘You need to do this.’

People are much more inclined to do something when they understand why they’re doing it, feel like they’re part of the team, feel like they’re empowered in their own way to carry out what the plan is and support what you collectively believe. The other important piece of that is if you’re going to be inclusive, support people and not be dictatorial, you’d better be a good listener. You have to listen to people and openly want their comments.

Over time, you’re just watching people’s skill sets. If you are not dictatorial and you are inclusive, by nature, that’s a characteristic that comes with you. Being smart-aggressive means you are a listener, and you make sure whatever risks you take have a high probability of success.

By smart-aggressive, I mean that we are always in a proactive mode to grow the firm, to create opportunity for employees, to operate with total integrity and to come up with business plans that are conducive to a high probability of success.

Lead collaboratively. It’s not just me as the leader. I’m working with 28 other owners in our firm. I feel like I work for those 28 people, like I work for the 300 employees in the firm.

I recognize that outside perception says I’m the leader, but it really is our plan. You have to live that day to day — that you consider everyone in the company as important as you are; you just have different roles and different functions.

Through honest communication in that regard, I think people will begin to understand that you truly do care about them and understand their importance to why you are successful as a company.

HOW TO REACH: Schneider Downs & Co. Inc., (412) 261-3644 or