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Ken Keller: Make sure your employees are working smart

Brain food for business owners

Posted: February 27, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 27, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Hard work has always been an asset. Most business owners would state that hard work is their hallmark and what got them to where they are today.

 But hard work alone no longer cuts it. Learning how to work smart and staying sharp is the new mantra. Those who lead must adapt.

 Early in my career, I had the pleasure of working with and for a gentleman who quickly earned my respect and now, in hindsight, my respect for him has grown even more.

 He was the president of the company, not the owner; and he had massive responsibilities, not just to a board of directors but to hundreds of employees and their families, thousands of customers and a sizable number of suppliers.

 He rose to the top and had never worked anywhere else. In his tenure, the company grew from a couple hundred million in annual sales to well over a billion dollars.

 There were many things that Paul Miller did to grow the company and himself, but one of the more productive things he did was to work smart; smart being an acronym for serve, motivate, articulate, “real” and trust.

 Paul was not a genius and made plenty of mistakes along the way. But looking back, I realize that Paul used his talents and strengths to grow a successful company. He worked hard, learned what he needed to know and tried his best to determine the right goals, create strategies that would succeed, hired the right people and gave them the tools they needed.

 Rather than micromanage, he kept his eyes on how things were going. When necessary, he stepped in and made changes, but that was rare.

 One of his primary roles was to serve people. He made sure his people got what they needed to do their jobs. If there were obstacles, Paul did his best to remove them or to mitigate them someway. If it wasn’t possible, he would say so and state the reason behind his decision.

 That candor got Paul additional dividends: he got more out of people than they would normally have given. People wanted to follow Paul; they wanted him to succeed because they respected him. People did not want to let Paul down.

 As the leader, Paul understood one of his key responsibilities was to motivate people. This is not easy to do when your company is strapped for cash, and the competition is larger and had deeper pockets. But Paul knew that every individual is motivated by different things and for different reasons. He spared no effort to uncover the various versions of sticks and carrots that moved people forward.

 It was also a key responsibility of the leader to articulate the vision, mission and goals of the organization. Paul understood this and while he wasn’t one to stand up on a soap box and make speeches, in his own way he made it known what was happening and what it meant for the company and for the people employed there.

 One year the goal was to make $6.5 million in profit. Paul had a laser beam focus and got people excited about hitting the number. It was the first time the company had a specific goal that was public. Paul not only made sure everyone knew what the number was he made everyone confident in the ability of the company to hit it. When it was announced that we had achieved the goal, everyone was happy, especially for Paul.

 Leaders have to be real in order to be believed. Paul did not put on any pretense about who he was. He drove an older model car, lived in a modest neighborhood, didn’t wear expensive clothes and wasn’t flashy. People could relate to Paul; he was like a neighbor you knew was successful but also was a nice person to be around; considerate, diplomatic and nice.

Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team discusses in detail how a lack of trust will derail the best laid plans and the best of intentions in any relationship of two or more people. Without trust, what kind of relationship can exist?

 I think Paul understood this concept decades before the book was published. In my dealings with him, he always acted with integrity in his dealings with everyone. He followed through and earned the trust and respect of those around him.
There was never a doubt about trusting Paul.

It is the person at the top that sets the example for all to see. Even when a leader thinks they are not being watched, they are. Nothing goes unnoticed, and what is noticed is commented on.

Ken Keller is president of STAR Business Consulting, Inc., a company that works with coachable growth oriented business owners, addressing challenges, opportunities, problems and situations faced when leading a growing, profitable enterprise. He can be reached at (661) 645-7086 or at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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