System One Holdings LLC focuses on people Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2009

Finding people who want to work at System One Holdings LLC is pretty easy.

In fact, Troy Gregory normally doesn’t need to go looking for employees. The employees find him.

“I don’t say this to pound my chest, but I’ve always been able to draw a crowd,” he says. “For people to hear about the work environment at System One and for people to hear about how our leadership treats their people, we naturally find people are coming to us more and more each day.”

But not all of that positive buzz fell out of the sky. It’s generated because of the culture that System One, a provider of technical outsourcing solutions, fosters. Gregory, president and CEO, wants workers who look forward to coming to work, and who genuinely want to grow with the company. That culture starts at the top with the boss.

Gregory wants his employees to know how much he values all of them and that each one is equally important.

“The trick to life is being confident but being humble,” he says. “Humble is the magic word. I’ve always taught my people to be humble. Don’t forget where you came from. I don’t care if that person, if it’s their first job and they are calling you and they want to be the receptionist or they are the most important person in the world at the bank, you treat them the same.”

Gregory learned to show his employees appreciation because of the lack of support he received at some of his previous companies.

He recalls one time when a top executive of a company he worked for came to him and asked how he was doing. Gregory was both surprised and excited that the executive was taking the time to ask him that. But, before Gregory could answer, the executive asked him how his numbers were, which put Gregory back in his place.

“It’s about taking care of people and letting them know you genuinely do care,” he says.

Gregory is finding that the caring environment he’s established is helping his company go in the right direction. The company grew from $150 million in 2007 to almost $200 million in 2008. If System One didn’t have a supportive and open culture, the bottom line wouldn’t be nearly as good.

“I think it would stink,” Gregory says. “I’ve come from companies that don’t have that culture, and I think it’s just a matter of time before their gig is up.”

Don’t micromanage

You can’t have a free and open culture if you are constantly watching over everyone who works for you. Yes, you don’t want to completely ignore what is going on, but watching when employees come and go can be stifling to their motivation and work ethic.

“My thoughts on this have always been to hire strong people and give them the tools to be successful and give them the freedom to go,” he says. “I don’t want to know when people are coming and going. I don’t want them to punch a clock in and out. I want to hire people and give them the tools to be successful and watch them blossom.”

And watching them blossom is the key in managing System One’s type of culture.

“With us, it’s all based on performance,” he says. “If you are getting your job done and you’re doing your job in a good way and the results are there, I have no problem. I always say to my people, ‘Hey, if you are going to be that successful and you’re going to do your job, I’d rather have someone like you for 20 hours a week than someone that can’t do it for 60 hours.’ So, it’s about the quality of the work. It’s about our clients being happy, our internal people being happy, and it’s about creating a very unique environment.”

You may not be able to pay the most on the block or hand out the best bonuses, but if you are giving employees freedom, you know that no one can compete with the quality of life at your company.

“If I have 150 internal employees and I had to watch each one and see what they are doing, it’s not the environment we want,” he says. “We are not about cracking the whip.”

Some bosses may think employees will get more work done if they are in the office all of the time. Gregory disagrees with that assessment. If you give your employees the freedom of having flexible hours, chances are they are working at home or outside of the typical 9-to-5 workday.

“We’re always working,” he says. “So it doesn’t mean that I need you in this office sitting next to me at all times.”

Be stern with resisters

You will never have a perfect culture because there will always be people in the organization who are not completely buying in to it.

Even worse, that resistance may be coming from one of your top financial performers.

Gregory once had a great producer who was helping the bottom line, but she was always complaining and causing trouble.

So, he took one step back in order to take 20 steps forward, and he fired her.

“We worked with her for months,” he says. “This is something that we really avoided doing. Not to mention we’d lose production, but she’d walk across the street to my competitor. It was a lose-lose. But, it became so disruptive. She just didn’t get it. It was everyone’s fault, and she complained about everyone. She was making my work-life miserable.”

It’s not the easiest decision, but it’s one you might have to make one day. Like Gregory, you want to at least attempt to work with the employee to see your point of view and explain how buying in to the culture will help that employee’s future.

“You need to try to get that person to relate to you,” he says. “(Tell them,) ‘Maybe you’ve seen a situation or maybe I used to be like that and I learned the hard way. You’re so talented, but you are going to be your own worst enemy. We take culture over your revenue, and we don’t want to lose you, but we aren’t going to lose my entire culture that I’ve built over the last how many years because you are a great producer.’”

There really is no timetable for getting that person to buy in. You should take each situation on a case-by-case basis.

“You really don’t want to pigeonhole yourself into set rules,” he says. “If you do that, you’re really going to hurt in the end. I think you need to leave yourself open, and you need to be ready to adjust to different situations.”

While it may hurt temporarily, firing a great producer who is a malcontent makes a great long-term statement to your company that everyone needs to be on the same page.

“It’s a great statement,” he says. “Nobody should have you, as a leader, in a corner where they can dictate to you.”

Surprise employees

Not everyone works in positive corporate cultures. Some can be downright awful, and you have to remember that when bringing on new hires. Gregory had his eye on a worker at another company in which the culture was more strict but still successful.

When the worker eventually came over, Gregory knew he had to show that the culture was different and that the employees and leadership were genuine.

“I almost look at it as a relationship,” he says. “If you are dating somebody and they were in an ab

usive relationship, they’re not going to be so open with you. It’s going to take time. But soon enough, they are going to realize that you are a good person, you do care, and they are going to die for you.”

That new employee flourished in the new environment and ended up being a great producer. But he first had to start believing in the culture before moving ahead with nothing holding him back.

You can do little things to get newer employees who are coming from bad environments to buy in.

“Surprise them,” he says. “Be giving. The more you give, the more you shall receive.”

Because actions speak louder than words, Gregory really does surprise people to make new employees into believers as well as to remind longer-tenured employees that they are appreciated.

Gregory once took employees to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort but told them they were going there for a work conference. All of the employees had their notepads out ready to jot down important points from the meeting, when Gregory sprung the surprise. He told the group to get a massage, go horseback riding or find something they would enjoy doing for the day.

“It’s about being spontaneous and doing something different,” he says. “But you get a lot back from it.”

What you get back from it is how Gregory validates spending big money on such excursions.

“It’s morale,” he says. “It’s somebody wanting to go the extra mile to represent the company.

“The whole sales cycle in our company starts with the receptionist that answers the phone. If you are the receptionist and you are miserable, believe me, the experience from the client’s standpoint … is only going to go downhill from there. It is about people coming in and holding their head up high and feeling good about what they are doing.”

Though you might not be able to spend a lot of money on culture-building activities, there’s simple actions you can take to create camaraderie.

“There are a lot of things you can do because money is not everything,” he says. “We didn’t always have the ability to do those types of things. It’s getting up, it’s going over to your person, it’s putting your arm on their shoulder, and saying, ‘How are you doing? Everything going all right?’”

You can also do more affordable culture-building activities, such as closing the office early on a Friday or taking employees out to lunch.

“It’s those little things that you really create a unique work environment that can’t be competed with,” he says.

Outings like these are inexpensive and will give you opportunities to meet people and talk to some employees you haven’t spoken with in awhile.

“Most CEOs sit in their ivory towers,” he says. “They are locked away. They don’t want to get their hands dirty, and they only want to talk to a few layers. But, that is the opposite of what we’re about. These are very simple things, but people in my organization know that I am here, my door is open, and I am always saying, ‘Come to me.’”

While the culture has been a main driver of System One’s success, Gregory isn’t blind to the fact that there is always work to be done.

“This is the worst economy my parents’ parents have ever seen, and we’ve grown dramatically over the last two years,” he says. “We’ve seen tremendous amounts of success. Now I think if we were in a normal economy, I think that growth would have been even more. So, I think it’s all about that. I don’t think I’m done. I think I still have a ways to go with that culture. I think I still have to get all my people to always go to battle for us in a second.”

How to reach: System One Holdings LLC, (877) 505-7971 or www.systemoneservices.com