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How Kurt Artinger got employees to take good growth and make it even better Featured

8:01pm EDT May 31, 2012
How Kurt Artinger got employees to take good growth and make it even better

Kurt Artinger turned an idea he had 10 years ago into a 40-employee business that made $8.1 million in 2010. Replacement Services LLC, which helps people find replacements for their lost or stolen jewelry, grew at an average annual rate of 30 percent over its first decade.

Few would have questioned Artinger if he slid into cruise control and just tried to keep a good thing going as long as he could, especially at a time when so many companies are struggling.

But Artinger had no plans to take his foot off the gas pedal. He wanted to grow even faster.

“If you’re thinking about continuous improvement, then I don’t care what I developed two years ago,” says Artinger, the company’s founder and CEO. “What I’m going to develop a year from now is going to be a heck of a lot better than what I did two years ago.”

In order to make that thought a reality, Artinger accepted that substantial changes might be necessary. The difference this time as compared to when he founded the company was that he now had a group of people around him to assist with devising a winning plan.

“So we sat down with basically a blank sheet of paper on a wall that was about 8 feet long and we put our value stream process down,” Artinger says. “What processes can we eliminate? What has value to our clients? Is that value worth that touch? We started identifying how to streamline what it is that we do.”

Artinger wanted to get down on paper every step that his company took to deliver a service to its customers. The goal was to figure out which processes worked really well and which ones required some tweaking to improve performance.

“That’s the reality of growing a company,” Artinger says. “The little problems that you have aren’t that huge, they are little problems. But if you double it or triple it, those problems become huge. So that’s what you have to identify.”

It becomes a simple process if you can set aside your ego and listen to what your people are telling you.

“Egos get in the way of so many good leaders,” Artinger says. “They have the ability to lead and change, but your ego comes into play and it’s like, ‘Is it about me personally or is it about the company?’”

Artinger just wanted the business to keep growing. Ideas that rose to the surface included achieving better inventory control and finding a simpler way to track items through the system.

If these problems were solved and the company grew even faster, Artinger would get all the glory he wanted. More importantly, his people who made great contributions to the effort by identifying key issues that needed to be addressed would get recognition and take a big step toward becoming leaders themselves.

Artinger just needed to take the time to work with them and see what thoughts they had in mind to integrate their ideas into the company’s work flow processes.

“It would be real easy for me to sit there and say, ‘You know what? That’s a great idea. Here’s what we’ve got to do,’” Artinger says. “If I do that, have I put them in position to be a potential leader later on? I haven’t. I’ve just solved the problem. It’s not my intention to beat them up, but to help them have a well-thought out plan.”

When your people have suggestions, ask questions to see how much thought they have put into it and don’t put them in a position to wait to be told what to do next.

“I don’t want to dictate how to resolve issues or problems,” Artinger says. “I want them to tell me what they think the solution is because I’m always learning how my people think.”

Through this effort which began in January 2011, Replacement Services has made progress, especially with its shipping department.

“We took a process that was about three days and our average turnaround time now is three hours,” Artinger says. “We exceed customer expectations and that’s one of the big things we look at.”

How to reach: Replacement Services LLC, (888) 205-2522 or www.replacementservices.com

Show your passion

Kurt Artinger looks forward to getting hit with a challenge when he arrives at work every morning. It’s what makes leading Replacement Services LLC fun.

“If you’re managing a group of people and/or you’re the CEO of a company, you have to be passionate about what it is that you do,” says Artinger, founder and CEO at the 40-employee insured jewelry replacement company. “In this environment, I don’t hit near as many walls as I used to. It’s always growing, always learning and always continuous improvement.”

Your people are going to look to you for clues about whether or not they should be excited about a new initiative or a new way of doing things. And one of the best ways to build excitement is through inclusion in the work that needs to be done.

“I’ve got people who say the only way I’m leaving the company is if you pry my dead butt from the seat,” Artinger says. “And that’s because they have value. That’s what people want, to be valued as employees and valued as people. If you do that, you’re going to have a very successful company.”