John Matig admits he doesn’t know it all. But neither do any of his 60 employees at Frontier Steel Co. Inc. So while ideas might start with an individual, they only manifest when the whole team works together.
The founder, president and CEO relies on managers to carry their loads at the steel distributing company, which had $54 million in 2008 revenue.
“You’ve got to let key personnel manage their area of expertise,” Matig says. “I don’t know anything about operations. I have to trust the people there.”
But he also recognizes the value of multiple perspectives.
Smart Business spoke with Matig about how to plan debate into your decision-making.
Q. How do you set up meetings so everyone’s voice is heard?
The best thing is to spend more time on the front end in terms of preparation, knowing what you want to talk about, so when you’re in the meetings, it doesn’t derail. Everybody has the same sheet of paper of what we’re going to talk about today. Now we do open it up for new business or long-range planning or whatever you want to call it at the end of the meeting, but basically, every person has an idea what their responsibility is.
I put an agenda together of each person, what we want to talk about, and then we have an open forum. Everybody gets a chance to talk about their domain, talk about what’s going on, talk about their concerns, talk about their needs and wants. And then the group listens. And when the first person’s done, we go around the room until the last person’s done. Everybody has a chance to have the floor and everybody talks about their areas. And then at the end of the day, we have a wish list and new business and things we need to talk about.
The agenda is usually followed up with an action plan based on what we talk about: ‘OK, you’re responsible for this. You’re responsible for that. Delegate this down the line.’
Every company that’s out there, if they’re not doing some type of round-table management on at least a biweekly basis, too many things get missed. Something that may not be important to that person — even though they’re in the area of expertise — somebody else may be able to look at it a little differently and say, ‘Wait a minute, what about this?’ So you’re pulling from a lot of knowledge and you’re trying to extract the right information.
The key is there’s no egos. You break down the egos [by saying], ‘We’re all in this together. We’re all around the flagpole. Everybody’s taking the bullet.’
Q. How do you decide whether someone’s idea will fly?
The way I handle it is, ‘We probably need to table that for another six months.’ Rather than say, ‘Pooh-pooh, that’s a bad idea,’ give it a chance to run its course. But rather than waste a lot of time on it now, just say, ‘We need to table that for six months. Let’s bring that back up in May.’
The idea is let’s not do anything until we know that this is what we have to do. It’s not like if we do this, we’re going to get more business. It’s like, wait a minute, get the order and then we’ll do this. You’re not going to generate new business or necessarily make good decisions based on, ‘Boy, if I had this, our business would be that much better.’
It’s being patient, not panicking, not being in a position where you have to say, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do this now.’ Do you really? Usually you don’t. Usually you have more time than what you think.
Everybody has a core business and when you take your eye off that ball is when you usually get in trouble. So the advice I would have would be stick with what you do best. Continue to improve on that. Don’t expect to do something just because you’ve got a piece of equipment that can penetrate this market. If you don’t understand the market and you don’t have the personnel, you can’t do it.
Q. How do you debate and weigh the options to make a decision?
We don’t necessarily make decisions based on one person. We try to talk it through and everybody respects each other’s area. There’s always some debate in the process. Recognize that everybody has good ideas. You don’t make a decision without consulting the group.
As an example, in the summer, we were close to putting in a whole new IT system. It was a pretty even split. Sometimes procrastination does work, because it came down to, ‘Guys, the market doesn’t look very good. Let’s look into our own IT system and see what we have.’ So we hired a young fellow out of college instead of spending a half-million dollars on a new system. We found out that our existing system was able to handle the needs that we needed it to, but we just never had anyone with the aptitude to be able to make that work. If we didn’t have the debate and if, all of a sudden, myself or anybody else said, ‘Let’s do this,’ it could have been a mistake.
A lot of times, people try to throw money at a problem versus saying, ‘What do we really need?’ At the end of the day, you realize that it still comes down to the process, to the people. And no matter how good a system is, if you don’t have the right process and have the people, it’s not going to work.
How to reach: Frontier Steel Co. Inc., (412) 865-4444 or www.frontiersteel.com