We’ve all had days where we would rather not open the newspaper, turn on the TV or pick up the phone for the fear of learning about more bad news.
Unfortunately, there have been a lot more of those days for all of us lately.
The stock market is going through extreme ups and downs, capital has dried up, and key customers are cutting back. You start to wonder where the sales are going to come from to enable you to make this quarter’s budget. If things don’t turn around soon, you’ll have to consider drastic cutbacks yourself.
In times like these, what’s a CEO to do? The answer: Get back to basics. Focus on the things you do best and do them as efficiently as you can. Use your strengths to exploit your competitors’ weaknesses and outhustle them.
It’s often the simple things that made you a success in the first place, and it will be the simple things that keep you afloat during the economic storm.
With that in mind, we’ve assembled the best pieces of advice garnered from Pittsburgh’s top leaders from throughout the year. We think you’ll find some great ideas to help you improve your business within these pages, and we encourage you to keep this issue as an ongoing reference to help you find your way through the trying times that lie ahead.
Find good people
William V. Day, president and CEO, St. Barnabas Health System
William V. Day, president and CEO of St. Barnabas Health System, says going to places where you can meet potential employees, hearing their story and then communicating yours is a good way to find solid workers.
Over the years, the January cover subject says he’s talked with people about his organization and describes its journey and how they and their families would enjoy it.
“As we say, ‘If you want to shoot a moose, go where the moose are,’” he says.
“It’s probably a poor expression, but I’ve used it over the years. In other words, I’ve gone and obviously swiped people from other organizations, but I would go to meetings and seminars and luncheons and observe and listen and try to find people that I thought would fit my team.”
Day says during a conversation, he is impressed with someone who wants to work hard. He also wants to be associated with winners, and when it comes to resumes, he focuses on the results.
“So many of them talk about process rather than results,” he says. “We hire people because they know how to do things and how to produce results.”
Day says he would advise someone else who is looking for help to not only go out and meet people but to try to find someone from a similar business.
“If you find someone who has been a winner in another organization and has produced the results, you can save an awful lot of time and effort and money by recruiting someone from a similar field,” he says. “If not, be out there, keep the antennae up and find someone who has done well in sales or finance or who knows operations.”
The key is not waiting for the good employees to come to you.
“You have to be proactive,” Day says. “I say it here often. ‘Get up off your seat, or whatever you want to call it, and go out and talk to somebody.’”
Value your employees
Herb Shear, chairman, CEO and president, GENCO Supply Chain Solutions
Herb Shear, chairman, president and CEO of GENCO Supply Chain Solutions, focuses on his employees as much as his customers and for similar reasons.
“If we aren’t creating a good work environment and we lose our valued teammates, long term, we’re not going to be profitable,” he says.
Part of retaining employees who fit in to a positive culture is the timeliness in which you respond to issues.
“If we see areas where we don’t have a good work environment for our teammates, we don’t say, ‘Well, we’ll deal with it six months from now,’” he says. “We deal with it now.”
Therefore, Shear creates an environment where people are motivated by providing incentives to employees who do well. However, Shear also surveys employees to get an idea of how the majority of workers feel about the GENCO culture.
“Most companies, when they do employee surveys, they tend to do them once a year to once every two years and they take a snapshot,” he says.
“We survey 9 percent of our teammates every month for 11 months, so every team-mate does a survey. But we’re doing a large enough random sample every month that it gives us an opportunity to see if there is change occurring in the work environment. Our goal is to keep improving the work environment so we get monthly feedback as to how well we’re doing. We have it on an individual facility basis so we can see where there might be places where we could do better in providing a better work environment and also monitor the places that are doing well.”
The survey consists of scoring each question on a scale of 1 to 6 with Shear looking to achieve about a 4.8 or higher.
“We feel that rating, overall, we are creating a good work environment,” he says. “Now, is everybody happy in that work environment? Probably not. But, are the majority happy in that work environment? Yes.”
Merge with caution
Pete Kalis, chairman and global managing partner, K&L GatesMergers are sometimes a necessary part of the business world, and Pete Kalis, chairman and global managing partner of K&L Gates, has had his fair share of experience.
Under Kalis’ watch, the firm has done seven mergers in a 10-year span, including one in January 2007, which merged Kalis’ firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP with Preston Gates & Ellis LLP.
Yet, it was a merger that happened on Jan. 1, 2005, that took Kalis’ firm international. The merger involved joining forces with a firm in London. Kalis says it was one of the most substantial trans-Atlantic mergers in the law profession, and it didn’t happen overnight nor did it happen behind closed doors.
Kalis says the process began with a period of study and evaluation in 2001 and 2002. Then, there was dialogue with the partners across the firm to determine their views and interest in a significant office in London.
“It continued through the identification of a merger partner through lots of communications with the partnership during that process,” he says. “When the matter became a little more ripe, we brought the leadership of the U.K. firm through our major offices twice and involved the partners in the dialogue directly. We privately would meet with our partners in various offices to listen to their questions, concerns, suggestions. Then when it came time to vote on the merger, our roughly 200 partners in the U.S. voted unanimously in favor of it. And I think, partly, that reflected the very open and transparent and nonparanoid process.”
In addition, since culture is an important part of K&L Gates, it’s important that a firm merging with the organization be on the same page.
“Cultures and organizations differ; there is no question about it,” he says. “I have never found one identical exactly to our own and so on. You can tell a lot about a law firm’s culture from its leadership, if they are long term. Are they cohesive? Are they collaborative? Are they collegial? Ask yourself those three questions. If it comes out yes, yes and yes, then you can say, ‘Alright, we’re good on culture, let’s move on to economics.’”
Kalis says the reason his company’s mergers have gone smoothly is because of the amount of work he and his staff do on the front end.
“We typically well before there’s a handshake deal will have the practice leaders across our firm and the other firm meeting, having videoconferences, and discussing ideas and opportunities,” Kalis says. “If they were to come back and say, ‘What a bunch of dolts,’ I think it would stop there, and, in fact, it has once or twice.”
Get employees involved
Joseph C. Guyaux, president, The PNC Financial Services Group Inc.
In order to keep everyone excited and on the same page, Joseph C. Guyaux, president of The PNC Financial Services Group Inc., says you need to involve employees in decisions at the company.
The company had an initiative called ‘One PNC,’ which was focused on how to make the company more efficient and effective.
In order to get the best results, company leaders asked employees for ideas.
“We basically went out to the company and said, ‘We’d like your thoughts and ideas on this,’” he says. “We even organized cross-functional teams, and we had a process where all these ideas bubbled forward and were then decisions. There were decisions of yes, no, not now, let’s take this one, but every employee’s thought or advice ... was at least considered.”
PNC had both paper and an online format for people to submit ideas into those groups.
There were also no incentives for an employee if the company used an idea. “This was really just inviting them in and saying, ‘Listen, we need to do better at these things,” he says. “Rather than management sitting off by itself and trying to figure it out, we’re going to open this process up to the whole company, and that way, we’ll get the best ideas and the best way to get to our destination.”
Delegate what you can’t handle
Roger Byford, co-founder, chairman and CEO, Vocollect Inc.
A simple rule that Roger Byford, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Vocollect Inc., uses when determining what to delegate is to hand over anything that he can’t help with.
“For example, my background is a technical one. I’m an engineer. I’ve never been in a sales organization; I’ve never been in marketing,” Byford says. “So, when it comes to sales and marketing issues, my suspicion is that, ‘Well, I’m quite sure that the folks in those organizations are far better equipped than I am to make those kinds of decisions.’”
He may ask some pointed questions to get things on track, but then lets them take over.
“Even on the technical sides these days, I’ve been out of the technical business for so long that I can’t usually do anything more than ask a few high-level questions,” he says.
While trust and delegation are important, you have to be ready to act when a task is going awry. Start by talking to the employee assigned to the task.
“Those are difficult conversations, and it’s all too easy to put them off or to further them or not be sufficiently clear when you are having those conversations,” he says. “Then you get to the point where there is just a widening gap, if you like, between the perceptions on both sides. If you don’t take the opportunity to close that gap while it’s still small, it becomes a gulf, and then it’s very difficult to deal with.
“So, be honest with them.”
It’s also helpful to ask questions and get their side of the argument.
For example, you can ask employees why they think their way is the right way or you can ask them if they know the ramifications of their decision.
“Perhaps, at times, you can ask people to take the opposite position,” he says. “We’ve done that on occasion in our internal discussions, which is to ask people to switch sides. Make the case that you don’t believe in and see how good of a job you could do of that. It’s a matter of getting a well-justified decision.”