Shooting stars Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

When Mark Evans looks for employees, he wants people who are willing to lace up their shoes and get on the court with Michael Jordan, “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird in the prime of their careers. While some would not even step foot on the court, Mark Evans wants employees who are ready to show their stuff.

“There are certain people in the world that, when they went to play a game of pick-up basketball and it turned out the other guys standing on the court were Olympic basketball players, there are some people who would love that, and there are some people who would hate that,” says Evans, CEO and president Confluence, a data management solutions company that employs more than 100 people. “We try to find the people who would love that and like to play a very hard game and have no problem learning.”

Smart Business spoke with Evans about how to find the right people for the job and empower them to achieve their goals.

Q: What does a leader need to do to be successful?

First, a CEO needs to know him or herself. To understand yourself puts you in a position to be a good leader. Once you understand yourself, you are in a position to craft a style that is consistent with your company’s mission and the personalities of the people in your organization.

You have to know your strengths and weaknesses. I view an organization like an organism. You have a goal and you are trying to get toward a goal, a well-designed organization and well-designed management team. You’re working with people whose strengths complement your weaknesses, and your weaknesses may complement their strengths.

If you know yourself and [your] organization’s mission and staff, then they’re empowered to function well because they are working as a team toward a mission. People have to know what they do for a living, and they need to be able to do it.

Being able to design an organization and team that everyone knows where you are trying to go and they are part in it is a very strong way to lead.

Q: How do you empower employees?

It starts with mission, and everyone needs to understand what the company does. A CEO spends a lot of time reiterating that message.

Second, the CEO’s job is to constantly articulate how we do what we do and execute that mission. Ultimately, a leader’s job is to define the boundaries in which the entire company functions.

My job is to make sure everyone understands what we are trying to achieve and the boundaries which we have to function to achieve that. Then everyone feels perfectly free because they know the boundaries and the goal to execute against that, and not penalizing people for taking the responsibility and risks involved in executing within those boundaries.

Q: How do you use the interview process to find the right people for the job?

Our goal during the interview process is as much to have the potential employee know us as it is for them to reveal themselves to us.

When we interview people, we try to hear their stories. Not just the facts of their careers, but the way they view themselves and the responsibilities they’ve taken for their careers. If someone hasn’t taken responsibility for their career and their lives, you can’t believe they are going to take responsibility for their roles within the organization here.

I believe the story is a very powerful way of understanding not only what people did, but why they did it. You’d be surprised how many people, when you actually listen to their stories, will represent themselves as either being masters of their own fate in an organization or victims of an organization. We tend to like people who feel they always had a choice in an organization.

When you listen to people talk about their careers and question them about the decisions they made and why they made them, it can very quickly illustrate the difference between people who are future leaders and people who aren’t.

Q: What are some pitfalls to avoid in business?

I don’t believe in the cult of the personality. It’s tremendously misleading to believe, as a leader, you are the reason the organization is doing great or not doing great.

When you begin to believe, as a leader, you are the center of this solar system and everyone else is orbiting around you, I believe you’ve missed the point. Being the leader and at the top of an organization that is succeeding, it can be a challenge to keep that in perspective and not allow an organization to get political or be CEO-focused.

HOW TO REACH: Confluence, (412) 802-8632 or