The learning curve

Jim Riley wants Learn.com’s creative impetus to be driven by
two forces: The desire to compassionately serve clients of the
Sunrise-based work force productivity solutions provider and the
competitive drive to overtake the competition.

Both a sense of service and a competitive fire can spark innovation in your employees, says Riley, founder, president and CEO of
the 200-employee company. From the CEO’s standpoint, Riley
says, the job is to stimulate compassion and competition by making both a significant part of your corporate culture, then educating existing employees and new hires on your culture to the point
that they not just know it, they live it.

Smart Business spoke to Riley about how to make an innovative
culture a reality.

Q: How do you form and spread an innovative culture?

First off, you have to set up the basic principles of how the company views itself. It begins when you start the company.

How will the company fit into the competitive landscape? What
type of company will it be? A better thing is if you decide where
you want to go in the company and you put yourself there instead
of building it by happenstance and accepting the way that it is
going.

As you start the business, I think a mission statement is a critical
thing. The mission statement has to talk not only about the business and how you interface with your customers and clients, but
also what type of culture you are going to have and what type of
company you are going to be.

Q: How do you educate your employees about the culture?

For starters, you want a certain competitive personality. We all
want people that are very loving and caring of our clients, but here,
we want them to be out for blood from our competitors, as well.

It’s a certain type of individual that fits into that mold. I think
we’ve done a pretty good job of creating that atmosphere and getting those types of people on board.

That type of attitude is something that can be cultivated. Generally,
that type of stuff is part of the culture. It’s important as we’re building the business to make sure that as more people come in — last
year, for instance, we increased the work force by 65 percent — that
they conform to that way.

They have to fit in to our culture and not the other way around.
When a company is growing up quickly, it’s very easy for new hires
to come in and change the culture. So we make a very conscious
effort of imparting that culture on our new hires.

It’s not an easy thing to do, and you have to work at it every single day. It doesn’t happen by chance. You don’t just start a business
and say five years later, ‘You know, I really lucked out and I have a
great culture and a great work force.’ It’s really something you
have to cultivate and build yourself.

Q: Once you’ve educated employees on your culture, how do you
keep them innovating?

It begins with keeping your mission statement simple. The message gets lost if it’s not simple.

I think people can remember three things. If you give them a mission statement with seven items, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
People can almost always remember three things, so we usually
limit all of our lists to three items.

Three is kind of a magic number that is built into the human
mind. If you try to read a story, you might get three points from that
story. If I run an ad, I might be able to get three points about my
product across. But if I have 30 things to get across, chances are,
you’re not going to get any of them.

You also have to reward good behavior. If you don’t reward
good behavior, you’re not going to get that behavior. If you want
them to innovate, you have to reward them for innovating.
Either cash or recognition, preferably both, but there has to be
some reward for the innovation.

It’s because we’re asking people to go above and beyond their
day-to-day responsibilities and duties. They are going above and
beyond for the growth of the overall business, and it’s our
responsibility to reward them.

Q: What is important about using different types of rewards as
motivation?

The monetary reward is important because it’s a nice way for
the company to say thank you, especially since a business is a
profit-making enterprise, and when the company hands someone a $500 check, that’s an important gesture. But it’s not necessarily the whole impetus for the creative, innovative environment.

I think verbal recognition is important also, so that people
know that their innovations and ideas [are] to be used, and they
will be recognized at some point.

HOW TO REACH: Learn.com, (800) 544-1023 or www.learn.com

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