Joseph Dzierzawski, or “Joe D” as he’s known in the steel industry,didn’t have the typical first job experience that most kids right outcollege have. He didn’t have the benefit of an experience where he’dbe able to test the waters in a somewhat challenging job as hebecame acclimated to the working world.
Instead, Dzierzawski was a production supervisor at a steel company just outside of Detroit and was in charge of 35 union guys.
“I was a young guy with no hands-on experience and running aproduction facility,” he says.
“I was 23 at the time, little experience, and it was an uphillbattle,” he says.
Fortunately for Dzierzawski, he had a little bit of credibilitybecause he grew up outside of Detroit, and he had a good understanding of people and different personalities.
“You’ve got to stay strong,” he says. “You have to use common sense, and once you demonstrate that you aren’t going toback down, slowly but surely, you gain the respect of othersand you are accepted as one of them.”
Today, Dzierzawski is the president and CEO of SMS DemagLLC, the North American operation of parent company SMSDemag AG of Germany. Dzierzawski manages more than 200employees and his unit posted about $130 million in revenue in2008.
The days at his first job are long behind Dzierzawski, but hestill carries lessons with him today that he learned back then.
“It comes down to understanding people, and people are different,” he says. “There are varying personalities, and you can’ttreat everyone alike. As much as you wish you could treateveryone alike, everyone has a different personality. It’sdemonstrating that you understand those people and theirissues and their values and, at the same time, demonstratingthat you are in a leadership position, but you also have thesame struggles as they do.
“I think if you can come out and demonstrate that humantouch, it strengthens the trust that your employees have inyou.”
Here’s how Dzierzawski connects with his employees todrive growth at SMS Demag.
Rely on a good staff
Chances are, the best talent is not going to come right to yourdoorstep, so you have to get out of your office and search outthe best workers. In Dzierzawski’s case, the steel industry is atight-knit group, and the cream of the crop is well known. Buthe still has to work his network to get the positives about thecompany around that circle and to potential employees.
Dzierzawski also needs to find out for sure if the employeehas the skills needed to excel at his company.
“Our key employees are, many times, those that are willing totravel, to make sacrifices, especially family sacrifices for thegood of the organization,” he says. “That individual is notalways so easy to find. Our company is very global. It can bevery demanding on an employee to sacrifice weekends because they are traveling to the other side of the world or areat a construction site for some time.”
Dzierzawski estimates that he is out of the office about 40percent of the year. That means once Dzierzawski finds thebest people, he has to empower and heavily rely on his staff toget the job done while he is gone.
“My general approach to being a leader is ... relationship building with our colleagues in Germany and with customers,” hesays. “You’ve got to get out of the office to achieve those objectives. You are out of the office, you are focused on the customer,you are focused on colleagues from the headquarters. Therefore,you have to rely on a strong staff to continue to manage the dayto-day operations of the company.”
Making sure your employees know you have faith in themwill go a lot further than if you are constantly looking overtheir shoulder.
“When it comes to executive staff in particular, it’s all aboutempowering people and showing your confidence in thoseindividuals and encouraging them on a regular basis that further increases their confidence in their abilities to performtheir functions,” he says. “So, it’s key that you have good people, again, and that you demonstrate the confidence in them tocarry out their responsibilities. I think it’s very key to avoidmicromanaging. It’s an area that you can easily slip into without recognizing it, though.”
To avoid micromanaging, Dzierzawski recommends pushingthe responsibilities that you can delegate as far down the ladder as possible.
“One key is you’ve got to be informed, especially with theamount of traveling and time away from the office,” he says.“You’ve got to keep informed as best as possible with as muchinformation as possible, especially with all the importantissues. You have to keep informed but, at the same time, try tokeep one step back so you clearly demonstrate how you areempowering the people below you and demonstrate a trust inyour executive team in order to execute those responsibilities.
“I will slip occasionally to micromanaging, but I try to leaveit where my executive staff are the ones making the decisions,”he says. “I leave it up to them to come to me to bounce ideasoff of, share, discuss issues and try to, if they feel it’s necessaryto come to discuss with me, to come to a collective decision onimportant issues.”
To form the type of environment where you can rely on yourstaff to succeed and where they know they can share ideas,you need to constantly emphasize and encourage an open-doorpolicy by communicating honestly.
“Just being vigilant about it and demonstrating transparencyof all important corporate issues to the entire company,” hesays. “We have what we call an all-hands meeting, which is acompanywide meeting we hold twice a year, that this point is
constantly emphasized. We share all important issues, currentfinancial status, important projects.
“It’s all employees. We don’t share the details behind the financial information, but we will share information like importantprojects, the value of the projects, the status of orders that areunder execution, how we are performing relative to the budget.So, we give a general snapshot in time of the performance of thecompany, and we have a variable bonus program that is directly linked to the financial results of the company, as well.”
Based on an advertised formula, employees can see the company’s year-end results and somewhat accurately calculatewhat the variable bonus will be for each category of individualin the organization.
Being honest about the results and giving employees enoughinformation to figure out their bonus can also help build astronger culture.
“Everybody is working for a common good, for a commongoal, for the success of the organization,” he says. “Everyone isfocused on doing the best they can for their particular projectand knowing that, at the end of the year, it will all come together as being a more positive result for the overall organization.”
While communicating honestly can lead to a healthy corporate culture, you need to be careful not to give away too muchinformation.
“You can’t tell the whole story because I have a certain visionfor the organization,” he says. “My vision is usually dynamic,but it moves a good couple years out, and it doesn’t happen allovernight. Personnel obviously makes up an imp ortant factorin structuring an organization for the future, and you can’tshare all those personnel decisions that will ultimately happendown the road. You have to convince the organization, as bestas possible, with as much information that you are willing tomake readily available, that they accept your vision, they hopefully will embrace your vision, but they won’t understand allthe decisions that are being made until all the pieces are put inplace.”
Dzierzawski stresses those future personnel moves are something he is very careful not to give away too soon.
“It’s structuring an organization and bringing people upthrough the organization to ultimately fill positions that arekey for the long-term success of the organization,” he says.“What that sometimes means is that individuals that are currently in certain positions, ultimately, are going to be shiftedsomewhere else. You can’t be so open with the entire organization about these personnel moves that are going to happenseveral months, if not a year or a couple years down the road.You still want the organization to be operating in as harmonious of a manner as possible and all the individuals to befocused, fully dedicated to their position and their associatedresponsibilities.”
You have to be very focused on communication, and thatincludes thinking about what you communicate.
“You have to consider every e-mail that you send,” he says.
“Are the right people being copied on it? Should you be discussing it with somebody else before you send the e-mail?For example, e-mail in general, as much of a business toolthat it has to improve productivity, at times it can be anti-productive, as well. I don’t know how many examples there arewhere the guys in the neighboring offices, instead of goingand sitting down face to face and discussing something, theysend an e-mail instead. So the personal touch, if you’re notcareful with it, can be removed by the power of e-mail, and itcauses a problem.”
You have to avoid becoming a slave to e-mail and other ways technology helps you communicate efficiently. ForDzierzawski, it’s a double-edge sword. He travels a lot to haveface-to-face communication with people, but that means he isaway from the office.
“The BlackBerry is key to keeping abreast of importantinformation that you need to know about,” he says. “But thereis no compromise for face-to-face dialogue and the need forthat in order to establish the proper relationship to build on.”
HOW TO REACH: SMS Demag LLC, (412) 231-1200 or www.sms-demag.us