Bound by beliefs Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2009

Mike Castellano is like a compass. He knows that to move his company forward, he must first point his employees in the right direction.

At Esse Health — a physicians group with 78 physicians and Castellano as CEO — that alignment comes from shared values. With the company stretched across 28 locations, that common ground is especially important.

“No matter what business you’re in, (your values are) your ideologies,” says Castellano, whose company reported fiscal 2009 revenue of $85.6 million. “That’s the glue that holds people together. You’ve got to get a consistent ideology, because if you don’t, you’re at odds all the time. You are oil and water.”

Using his networks, Castellano starts by recruiting employees who already share his values. He then reinforces those core beliefs so his 410 full-time and 100 part-time employees can focus on moving the company forward.

Smart Business spoke to Castellano about building a value-driven team to achieve your goals.

Network first; recruit second. First and foremost, you have to have an eye for talent. You have to surround yourself with the best and the brightest managers. I look for people that share values with me personally. That’s how I was attracted to the organization.

We can always go out and buy a book of business, spend a lot of money and bring people in through that mechanism. But if they don’t have the same value structure, that’s a short-term proposition.

Conversely, if you recruit people based on values, you can accomplish just about anything because you’re the same kind of person. The challenge is it takes a lot more time to find people because you have to spend a lot more time to get to know them.

Before we even have a position, I am always on the lookout for good talent. You just sit and talk to them. When you’re recruiting somebody for an open position, you’re restricted with some of the questions you can ask. But when you’re not recruiting for a position, you’re just trying to get to know somebody, you can ask whatever you want. So you ask about their background, their family, of course professionally, and then you ask other people that they’ve come in contact with.

Take time to identify values. In our particular case, we look for people with compassion. If I’m talking to somebody and they tell me, ‘Gee, I’m interested in making the most money,’ and that’s the first thing or second thing they said, that’s probably not gong to be a good fit. If they’re looking for the next step, not a long-term relationship, that’s probably not a good fit. So a lot of things really relate to family values, integrity, work ethic. Anybody would look for their educational credentials and their work experience. You see all those on paper. You can’t get the things I’m looking for, related to values, just from a piece of paper. You’ve got to sit down and get to know the people.

Other leaders probably wouldn’t like to hear this because it takes so much time, but always be on the lookout for good talent. Whether you need somebody today or not, you keep up with them and you keep your network alive. Somewhere down the line, you might need somebody. I’ve had more success finding key management people through the informal networking process than through job boards and recruiting.

It really is just an investment in a cup of coffee. It takes 30 minutes, a cup of coffee at one of the local coffee shops and now I have another contact. Then when I have a position that I have to fill, I’ll either pick up the phone or e-mail specific contacts that I know that may be interested or may know someone that is interested in that role.

It’s an investment in time upfront, but I think that investment in time is well worth it because when you hire people based on their values, you have people for a long-term relationship.

Define and reinforce your values. We have an exercise we go through with the new employees, and this is after they’ve been here for several weeks. We go through the orientation and part of that is the value exercise. So we’ll go through each value and ask each new employee what that value means to them, give us their definition of the value. Our HR department does that and I actually get a copy of all those notes. It’s interesting to see how consistent they are with each other and with our values. It just tells us we did a good job in recruiting.

You just keep reinforcing them. I don’t walk into one of our offices without reinforcing or recognizing someone for doing something that relates to our values, our mission, our vision, part of our strategic plan. When I see somebody spending extra time in a clinical setting with a patient — more time than they actually have — that’s consistent with our mission. And as I see that, I’ll either send a note or if I’m there I’ll just recognize them for it by saying thank you. I’m a note-writer; I send a lot of notes around. I think that personal touch is important to reach out to the people.

We use an acronym [REALITY] that helps us remember those (values as respect, excellence, accountability, leadership, integrity, teamwork). And then at the end, we put the letter Y and say, ‘You make it reality.’ It helps people remember it. At one time, I had them written on my wall, but that’s not even necessary anymore. It’s not like next year they’re going to be different.

If you pick up this group of people and now they’re making motors in a manufacturing environment, the values are going to be the same because that’s what people are about, that’s their ideology. It’s not like you have to reinforce the values. You have to reinforce the rest of the plan, which are the objectives, and keep everybody together on that common path.

How to reach: Esse Health, (314) 851-1000 or