In 2004, St. Louis Staffing’s third-largest customer declared bankruptcy, putting the company into a deep hole. But that challenge paled next to the challenge of getting his entire team aligned around a common vision, says Keith Jacob, founder, president and CEO of the $11 million company.
“You have to be able to see a better future,” Jacob says. “Then you have to have the audacity to get everybody to work toward it. You don’t want to be the CEO who thinks they have all the answers.”
Smart Business spoke with Jacob about why you need to communicate until your employees can finish your sentences and why you should dance with the girl you brought to the dance.
Q. How do you align your team with the vision?
Be pretty quick to show people the door if they’re not fitting in. Be quick to fire and slow to hire. Take your time; make sure it’s the right fit.
Talk about your values constantly until some people will know what words are coming out of your mouth next. Once I’ve got to that point, then I am communicating our values enough when people start finishing sentences for me.
Listen to what they want. You’ve got to listen to what the people want who work with you both personally and professionally. You still have to get stuff done, and I still have to be the guy to determine what stuff we’re going to get done. But if I’m not at least trying to help them achieve their goals, they’ll never help me achieve the goals we have for the company.
Q. How do you develop that vision?
You have to be able to see a better future. Then you have to have [the] audacity to get everybody to work toward doing it. So you have to have some ego.
You have to ask yourself, as a founder and an owner, what do I want to accomplish with the company in a broad sense? Then, I don’t want to do it in a vacuum either. So I’m happy to bring in some of the key leaders, key decision-makers in the company.
We establish what the key points of our vision are going to be. I am not the kind of owner who sets daily policy. After all, I don’t do it, so how could I be an expert on it?
Q. How important is delegation?
In our organization, we want people to have an ownership mentality. So you cannot hoard what it is you’re doing. I’ve got a front-line manager who has to delegate to the people who work for him. He has to trust that they will take stuff off his plate and do the little things that need to be done. Everybody in our organization has to be able to delegate.
If you don’t, then one person becomes an island. They get frustrated; they don’t see someone else’s point of view. They don’t see what’s important to someone else who’s helping them get this work done. It’s critical.
Q. How do you motivate or empower employees?
I treat them like owners, and I expect that they will act like owners. Frankly, if they’re uncomfortable in that, that cuts against our values and what we’re trying to accomplish.
I want them involved in the policymaking; I want them involved in the decision-making.
I want them to feel that a part of this company is theirs. So I share profits; I share numbers. We have open-book management, so everybody knows where we stand revenue-wise, gross-marginwise, profit-wise and they know what their stake in it is.
Q. How do you manage business growth?
We plan for growth; we know every year we lay out a game plan anticipating how much we’re going to grow that year and what infrastructure we’re going to need.
Also, it sounds crazy, but you have to decide if you want to grow. A few years ago, we grew by 97 percent in one year, and it wasn’t very profitable. We just threw a ton of resources against the growth to try to manage the growth.
Well, the next year we only grew by 30 percent, and we were much more profitable. We said, ‘We’re going to stem the tide of growth here for a while because we’ve got to get our profits straight now that we’re a much different company twice as big as we were the year before.’
Q. How do you lay the groundwork for business growth?
You’ve got to stick to your plan and execute the plan. When it comes to growth, you decide how much bigger you want to get, and you do what you have to do to get that much bigger.
Dance with the girl you brought to the dance; quit looking at the other one who may look prettier. Do what got you there, and do it really well. People would be amazed how much growth can actually come from their own current customer base if they just do even better at what they profess that they do.
HOW TO REACH: St. Louis Staffing, (314) 423-1223 or www.stlouis-staffing.com