When a project needs to be completed at The Gateway Engineers Inc., the project manager can call on any employee including CEO Michael C. Zavoina to help with it.
Zavoina says the company is not big on titles or departments, and everyone is expected to pitch in.
“Irrespective of what department they are in and irrespective of what their title is, that project manager can put those resources on their team,” he says.
The company of 100 employees posted 2006 revenue of about $11 million.
Smart Business spoke with Zavoina about how he helps employees get to where they want to be.
Q: What are the keys to being a good leader?
It’s important to lead without your title. If the only way you can get something done or get someone to do something is to say, ‘Do it because I’m your boss,’ that’s not leading.
Leading is not setting mandates and abdicating responsibility. It’s about charting the course and showing them the way, walking with them and giving them the tools and sometimes letting them fail but picking up the pieces and setting up the next challenge.
It’s not just me as the boss. It could be someone being the boss as being a supervisor. It could be all the way up and down the ladder.
I’m big on focus. I think a lot of people have trouble distinguishing the important characteristics or issues from the unimportant ones. Therefore, their focus is diverted, and they are trying to do 45 million things.
Q: How do you make sure employees are buying in to your message?
We do a lot of internal training. A lot of internal communications. When we roll out our strategic plan, we take it through a pretty systematic process of notification to the employees, from the top management, down to associates and team leaders.
We had an entire companywide meeting where I talked about where we are headed. Everyone has a role they play. It’s an active approach.
Q: How do you retain employees?
We try to create environments where employees can find their own ways. We do a lot with performance-based compensation systems and benefits.
But it’s more of, do employees have a defined career path? Are they challenged in their jobs? Do they know what their roles are?
We spend a lot of time talking about individual roles in the organization. Do they believe they are making an impact? If we can answer those questions in the affirmative, then they are going to want to stay.
We are showing them opportunity. We are on a growth path, so people are seeing that, are excited and they know our strategic plan.
Q: Why is growth important to employees?
If an employee does a self-realization and goes, ‘Hey, I’m sort of where I was four years ago,’ then they are going to say the grass is greener somewhere else, and they are probably going to look. We are very much tied in to where they want to go.
Long ago, we made the mistake of assuming. As an example, we might say, ‘We better promote that person to project manager, or otherwise she’ll leave.’ Lo and behold, you go and talk to the person, and she doesn’t want to be a project manager. She just wants to be doing whatever her current job duties are.
We might miss it in the reverse on somebody else. We do an annual process with our career path. They may want something we don’t have.
I’m being silly, but they may say, ‘I want to do basket weaving.’ We may not have basket weaving, but maybe, long-term, we can get basket weaving. Long-term we can work that into their job duties.
Q: How do you know where employees want to be in the future?
We have a formal career path process that is updated ever year along with their performance review. This is the employee taking a little questionnaire home.
It’s basically simple stuff like, ‘Where do you want to be in the next three to five years? What do you want to do long-term? What can your supervisor do to help you with that? What can the company do? What kind of training do you need? Where are you now, and where do you want to be? Where’s the gap, and what do we do to fill the gap?’
Our HR manager looks over every single one of those, and they communicate a lot of that to me. I think we have a pretty good feel now for what everyone wants to do. Obviously, that will change, but we update it.
If they are not giving it the old college try and just fill out a form, then that’s garbage in, garbage out, and that’s their own problem.
HOW TO REACH: The Gateway Engineers, Inc., (412-921-4030) or www.gatewayengineers.com