Marsha Blanco Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

At Achieva, Marsha Blanco faces the challenges of any business leader — resources are limited, talented people are always a challenge to find and you need to have a passion for your mission to find success. In her 30 years at Achieva, Blanco, president and CEO, has found her labor of love in helping people with disabilities. The nonprofit, which had a $52 million budget in 2006, operates several businesses that provide employment for people who might otherwise find it tough to find a job. Smart Business spoke with Blanco about recruiting talent, conducting instead of managing and following your instincts.

Tailor your management approach to the individual. We tend to hire very talented people who have very different backgrounds. One of the things that I bring to the table is I look at each coworker and figure out what they need in terms of supervision to best motivate them. Figuring out for each individual what makes them tick and adjusting my style of supervision and coordination to what that person needs in terms of supervision is what I do [best].

One person may need more direction, another may need more support or less support. Some of the folks are so talented here that they may not want or need me to do much more than keep them on track on a weekly basis with a five-minute conversation about the strategic plan and whether we’re hitting our target or missing it. Other people need a pat on the back daily.

It’s a style that came to me naturally and fits with the overall organizational style. If somebody isn’t having a great day, you’ll see the people behind them picking up what needs done.

Follow your instincts. Very early in my career, one of our trustees suggested that I not feel that I had to manage as a man would. In human services, it’s almost always been the case that the majority of employees have always been female, but certainly when I entered this field, most of the managers were males.

We had lunch one day and he suggested that I be myself, that I didn’t have to emulate my male counterparts, to follow my instincts in managing. That was good advice.

Otherwise, there would have been more rigidity in style, more hierarchy in the organization. I was pretty young at the time and the board was taking a pretty big risk in saying we want you to try to lead this thing.

Always as a young manager, you’re struggling with that whole thing, what is my style, how close should I be with others, what should my role and relationship be with trustees.

Love conquers all business problems. If you love what you do, you’re always going to find ways to turn around business downturns.

Maybe you need to get a new product, maybe you’ve got to get back to basics if you’ve gone too far from your mission or your primary product. It just seems to me if you love what you do, if you love your product, if you love your customer, you’re going to find ways to do things differently, more creatively, to dig yourself out of any kind of hole.

In any business, there’s got to be passion behind it to be successful, even if it’s making widgets, because if you can make widgets better than anyone else and you’re providing a service that your customer needs, you can be happy with it.

Trust the trustees for advice. Our trustees regularly meet, they set the agenda through the strategic plan.

It’s wonderful to have all this talent in people who are volunteering their time. There are some pretty high profile [people] on this board, a lot of entrepreneurs. When I have an issue, I pick up the phone. It’s a great resource for me.

Keep the lines of communication open. Everyone in the organization has access to the strategic plan.

We have it looped in such a way that folks can access it online and see the daily progress. Everybody in the organization provides input as to what they’ve accomplished in a week or a day toward those strategic objectives.

So I have a running tally of things going on in the organization on a daily basis, and know what major things have been accomplished toward our strategy. We make corrections as we go along.

This is a living, breathing, working plan for the organization, and if we’re not hitting the mark on an objective, then we pull the team together and find out why not. Maybe it was a bad objective and it needs to be revised or maybe we’ve got to try to do something different.

HOW TO REACH: Achieva, www.achieva.info