Precise planning Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

In the seven years that he’s been running Precision Practice Management Inc., Mike Barnell has probably used thousands of sports analogies.

The president and CEO of the medical billing company says that he sees a strong connection between sports and business, and he uses that connection to motivate his 85 employees.

“People get the concept of never giving up until the whistle blows, giving the extra effort, or knowing that races can be won and lost by tenths of a second,” he says. “When you apply that to business, that delivers a message that strikes home with people.”

Smart Business spoke with Barnell about how to communicate your message effectively and how to develop a vision your team will believe in.

Q. How do you create a vision your employees can buy in to?

You have to really know your business. That comes from being involved in a lot of the day-to-day things going on in all parts of the company.

You obviously can’t do that on a full-time basis, or you’d be micromanaging people. But if you are able to step in and step out of various issues, your people pick up a lot from you as the CEO from that process, and you get to know your business.

As you’re developing your vision, you had better know what your capabilities and limitations are because you’re the top guy who is trying to set the vision for where the company’s going. You obviously have to know your competitors and the industry you’re in — the big picture. It’s a great idea for the top guy to be involved in a trade association so you can make sure there’s not something big that’s happening in your industry or about to affect your industry that you’re not aware of.

Then your goal would be to carve a path for your company that is not just tracking where your larger competitors are going. That can be tempting — there’s someone bigger than you that has been successful, and you think, ‘If we just do what they’re doing, we can be successful, too.’

I’d much rather believe the Wal-Mart or Enterprise car rental examples, where they took a different path in an already well-established industry and carved a different niche for themselves.

Q. How do you avoid copycat visions?

If your vision is really somebody else’s vision, something you picked up from reading a book on Jack Welch or something, then your staff is going to pick up on that.

Your vision has to be real. It should come from the core, inside of you. Otherwise, you’ll find out over time that your staff just doesn’t buy in.

Then, you have to go live the vision. It’s one thing to say what you believe and what you think the company should do. But if you don’t yourself live and breathe that vision every day in terms of your actions, they’re going to pick up on that, as well.

It’s like the manager of a baseball team telling his players to be on time for every practice, and then the manager shows up late himself. Obviously, he’s lost a lot of credibility if that’s what he does.

Also, be consistent in your vision. If you’re changing your vision every 10 days, it’s not much of a vision after all. Not to say you don’t adjust what you do with new facts and circumstances, but there should be some consistency in the message you send to your staff and your clients.

Q. How do you make sure everyone gets the message?

When it comes to communication, I’ve found as our business was small and growing larger, I found the total volume of information that had to be managed, the total amount of detail that had to be taken care of was huge. We had different people struggling to communicate with each other on those various details.

So one thing we did was set up a client/staff meeting. Every two weeks, we have a meeting that actually takes a full day. You can imagine the commitment that it takes — one day out of 10 is devoted to all the senior management getting together, going over every single client, talking about what’s going on with that client.

But look at the results: On a routine basis — not random — we have a structure where everybody gets together and is able to share information about what took place in regard to a specific client or issue. And it updates everyone on what got taken care of, what new issue needs to be decided.

We do the same thing on a monthly basis with our operating teams — staff members who do the day-to-day work with clients.

I’ve found it eliminates the e-mails, the phone calls, the other meetings that might otherwise have taken place between those two weeks. We all get to influence each other, trade a lot of good information. Then, we depart for two weeks and get our business done somewhat independently before we have the next meeting.

HOW TO REACH: Precision Practice Management Inc., (314) 787-0681 or www.precisionpractice.com