How Ira Kerker eliminated micromanaging to help Vitacost grow

See what your team can do

Kerker needed to articulate his vision for the business and see where each of the members of his leadership team felt they fit in. He wanted to create more products and do a better job of making those products available to Vitacost customers.

It wasn’t something he wanted to do alone.

“If I required a signoff on every one of those products, then a meeting to determine how we were going to market it and how we were going to price it and to justify adding each one of those products, that process could never happen,” Kerker says.

“Part of the problem is people go in and simply dictate what they want to see done and don’t have a conversation before and after. There becomes this lack of communication and lack of really empowering somebody to be able to run their own department and determine what it is they truly need from me. Everybody needs something different.”

Taking stock of what he had learned about each person, Kerker began to lay out his plan.

“It becomes very important for you to be able to articulate your vision as to where you not only see them professionally now and in the next three to five years but where you see their department,” Kerker says. “If I don’t create an expectation, then how can I hold them accountable for not hitting the expectation? People need to know what it is I expect.”

Kerker thought the company was capable of adding 500 new products each and every week. He believed the company could increase its rate of delivery significantly from the 10,000 orders a week that were being shipped out when he arrived.

He needed leaders to have a plan to meet benchmarks and have the fortitude to go with that plan without scheduling a meeting.

“When I empower somebody to make a decision, it’s really them being able to use their independent judgment,” Kerker says. “I try not to tell a particular executive exactly what the right answer is. I will say, ‘Look my goal is for marketing to be able to achieve X. It’s now your
responsibility to figure out how to achieve X. If you can’t and you want to talk about it, let’s talk about it.’ But ultimately, it has to become the employee’s idea.”

By spending the time to get to know the people up front, you should learn how the person works. That way, when it comes time to talk numbers, you have a better idea on how to approach the conversations that you’ll have with your leaders.

“You’re going to touch that person on a daily basis, an hourly basis, whatever you feel is important to be able to make sure that person is comfortable with the responsibility you gave them,” Kerker says.

“But critically, when you touch them, you can’t start to undermine their decisions, even if you disagree with their decisions. You have to support their decision and then they will gradually start to grow away from you over time if they are the right person.”

Find a consistent time frame that works for both of you and make it a point to check in on the progress your leaders are making.

“I need to sit back and say, ‘All right, this is where I want you to be in three, six, nine or 12 months,” Kerker says. “‘Can you get there? What do you need from a resource standpoint to get you there?’”

This self-reliance and hands-off support that Kerker gave to his leaders gave them a boost. He was able to go back to meeting once a week and focus his own attention on more big-picture issues.

“Instead of getting caught up in the day-to-day details and issues that would pop up, they appreciated the opportunity to be able to assert themselves and put their visionary stamp on their respective departments,” Kerker says. “I built their confidence by allowing them to run their organizations and enabling them to make decisions that they used to have to get permission for in the past.

“When you empower people with information and you give them the opportunity to take personal responsibility to be able to do their job in the best way in which they can do, I find you get the most loyal employees and you get the best results because there is so much more respect, and that respect translates to better performance.”

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