There is zero tolerance for gossip at Select International Inc., and the 70 employees know that if they break the rule, their jobs are on the line. Kevin Klinvex, Select’s co-founder and executive vice president, says that hurtful gossip can destroy a company and that creating a policy forbidding it helps employees to talk to each other directly about a problem, instead of hearing about the problem from others.
This policy at the software package firm has helped create a strong, fast-growing company that increased revenue 60 percent between 2004 and 2006.
Smart Business spoke with Klinvex about how to create a culture that doesn’t tolerate gossip and the importance of getting out of the weeds and out of the way.
Q. How do you create a culture with a zero-gossip policy?
It’s important to have an environment where people feel they count and are cared about. Create an environment where somebody says, ‘I’m doing more than just going to work; I have relationships there that are meaningful and matter.’
Culture should be fun and exciting, with a lot of kidding around and laughing and all that kind of stuff. But hurtful gossip destroys a department. Have a work environment where people feel safe and productive.
Have a leadership philosophy where you say, ‘I’m going to hire builders, get out of the way and not be controlling.’ If your mentality is, ‘If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,’ you’re hiring the wrong people, and if you’re hiring the right people, you’re driving them crazy. Be open to feedback.
If you’re going to say you have a zero-gossip policy, then when you find out a person is gossiping or meeting behind closed doors with others and spreading rumors, act on that. We don’t immediately walk up to the person and say, ‘You’re fired,’ but we do walk up, collect the information and say, ‘This cannot happen again, and if it does, then we will let you go,’ and we actually do.
Q. How do you get employees to buy in to that culture?
It starts with the hiring process. Hire people who are smart, strong leaders and fit the culture. You will find people who are builders, cutters and maintainers.
You’ll see those passionate people who are builders, who are high achievers, who account for many of the great ideas and services in the company. You’ll have maintainers people who are there to pick up a paycheck. They say, ‘I’m not going to hurt the company or do great things to help the company; I’m going to do my job.’
Then you have cutters who do damage to the company. One cutter can ruin an entire department.
Fire your cutters. Don’t rehabilitate them, try to work with them or try to put them in another department. Fire them, and get them out of your company as quickly as possible.
Q. How do you become open to feedback?
The first step is awareness. There is coaching and assessment where things come out, because oftentimes, it’s part of a person’s personality.
Once you have that awareness, you become a different person. You don’t have to go into a meeting having all the answers and feeling bad if you don’t because no one thinks you had the answers to begin with. You were the only one who thought that.
It’s a work in progress of moving from that, ‘I’ve got to look and dress like a CEO, and when I go into a meeting, I need to control and intimidate everybody.’ When you’re to the point of, ‘I am who I am,’ everybody breathes easier.
Usually when you have a command-and-control culture, you have people who hold communication in because they’re afraid to talk and afraid they’re going to say the wrong thing and get their wrists slapped for it. When you have that culture of openness, it increases communication, and you get a lot better ideas.
Q. How do you get out of the way and allow employees to do work on their own?
Believe in the people you’ve hired. When you’re in the weeds, you’re not looking at the big picture and can’t be everywhere. Start to realize that what you need to do is keep up with the trends, the markets, the biggest clients, and decide where your company is going next.
I got out because I was told to get out. Have that open culture with your leaders, where they can walk in and say, ‘Get out of the weeds; we don’t want you involved in the meetings anymore.’ Listen to it. If you’re not listening, you can’t stay there and think, ‘They need me here; they need me everywhere.’
Good people don’t. They’re smart and know their area better than you know it, so let them go. Ask for feedback of what they can do on their own, where they don’t need you anymore.
HOW TO REACH: Select International Inc., (412) 358-8595 or www.selectinternational.com