The end of one year and the beginning of another is often a time of assessment, reflection and goal setting. We asked some of the leaders of small and midsize organizations whom we have recognized as Best Bosses in the last three years to share what they are thinking about as they approach the new year.
The following are reflections and resolutions from:
Trish Karter, CEO, Dancing Deer Baking Company
Brad Nierenberg, CEO, RedPeg Marketing
Andrew Field, CEO, PrintingForLess.com
Tom Raffio, CEO, Northeast Delta Dental
Bruce Woolpert, CEO, GraniteRock
Karen Oman, CEO, Certes Financial Pros
David Moody, Jr., CEO, C.D. Moody Construction Company
1. What do you see as key challenges facing your business in 2006?
We are embarking on a new growth plan that is very aggressive. We have many initiatives underway: managing priorities, executing plans, adding and training staff while holding fast to the organizational and product values which make Dancing Deer special is a huge challenge. – Trish Karter
Since 2005 was our company’s most successful year, with revenues increasing nearly 100 percent, the challenges are mainly positive – how to manage fast growth and how to keep attracting the best people. Now is the time to have a little structure. As a $20 million company, we are adding organization charts, computer systems, marketing plans, job descriptions and budgets so we avoid the inefficiencies that come with being bigger. We are also adding more structured ways to make sure employees stay happy. We have learned what employees consider important by both brainstorming with senior management and by having employee focus groups and surveys. – Karen Oman
Toward the end of 2005, RedPeg Marketing went through a reorganization where we altered the responsibility of certain directors and hired additional senior level management. In 2006, I want to be sure that the directors are not only comfortable with their responsibilities, but will continue to provide the results we have all grown accustomed to. From an industry perspective, in 2006 I want to continue beating the drum of the value of experiential marketing. With so much clutter out there begging for consumer attention, we have found that people want to touch, feel and understand a product or brand before they make the purchase. Our challenge in 2006 is to not just promote RedPeg, but to promote experiential marketing as well. – Brad Nierenberg
We are beginning to see the challenge of managing growth to consistently maintain and improve the customer experience. Although we have the foundation in place with our in-depth training, maintaining a culture of excellence and continuous improvement becomes increasingly difficult when more people are added to the mix. Another challenge is keeping our leadership “pipeline” flowing. It takes time for new employees to learn the business, so we have to anticipate our leadership needs well in advance to prepare people to fill those shoes effectively. – Andrew Field
The key challenge facing Northeast Delta Dental in 2006 is continuing rising costs of health care, which employers must take on via higher group medical premiums or more cost sharing to employees. This leaves fewer dollars for dental/oral health benefits. Because our sole mission is oral health (and there is now lots of evidence which proves good oral health is important to good overall health), we need to continue to get our oral health message out in the community, and all employers need to work with all stakeholders to find answers to the rising cost of health care. – Tom Raffio
California is coming out of a recession, particularly in northern California, so we are looking forward to a better market environment. We expect to resume significant new hiring next year. During the recession, a number of skilled mechanics and construction skilled workers moved to other parts of the state or relocated to another state. While we retained all Graniterock People during these times, the result is that there are not that many people in the “hiring pool” to choose from compared with the past. Our hiring process needs to remain very selective but I think that our ability to fill positions will be slowed. – Bruce Woolpert
We are expecting exciting growth in 2006. Our goal is to attract major talent with excitement for our business. With growth, however, comes problems: we expect to have issues with space for new employees and want to implement a database for communication. We need to work on these growth issues, which will be a large part of our focus in the coming year. – Lou Stanasolovich
The key challenges in 2006 are making sure our company is training all new employees and making sure existing employees stay up on new trends and get all training they need for all of us to be successful. – C. David Moody, Jr.
2. What have been your primary takeaways/learnings from 2005?
Growth is hard but investing in good people will carry you through. On the flip side, knowing when to call it quits with an initiative or an individual is critical. While we’ve made some significant investments in people that haven’t all worked out, the process and the culture of doing our best for every individual benefits the organization as a whole, even when we can’t make the grade on a particular personnel challenge. – Trish Karter
We faced some fierce competition in 2005 and we still came out ahead by staying true to our core beliefs of treating people well and promoting work/life balance. It’s tempting to respond to the competition’s position, but you can get off course and lose sight of how you became successful in the first place. We stayed true to ourselves and came out on top, becoming the largest firm in the Twin Cities’ market in our niche, which is a byproduct of treating people right. – Karen Oman
In 2005, I learned the value in being transparent with our financials. I believe our staff of 55 is one dedicated cohesive team. With their devotion to RedPeg, they should be privy to our financials. By being open, we can all better understand the company’s challenges and goals. This transparency goes hand-in-hand with another item I took away from 2005 – having a comfortable line of communication with every staff member. When a leader communicates, he or she increases the chances of having everyone on the same page which allows for better planning and sustained success. – Brad Nierenberg
Simply stated: too many starts and not enough finishes. The problem with lots of great ideas is having the organization-wide discipline to get already architected structures fully built before framing new projects.
Another key learning this year was our processes have become more complex and we can’t integrate changes or new processes as quickly as we could in the past.
Finally, make the hard choice sooner if an employee isn’t a good fit for their job or the company. While it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, it really is the more compassionate approach, both for the employee and the company as a whole. – Andrew Field
My major learning in 2005 is that employees must always remain number one and that I need to keep the pulse of the organization sharp: motivated and self-actualizing employees lead to superb external customer service which in turn is better for business and for employee opportunities to grow. – Tom Raffio
Our November election taught all Californians how powerful public labor unions have become in our state. There are now more public union workers than private union workers in our state. It appears that public employees tend to trust their unions more than their bosses or elected officials. The result is a large percentage of public employees are not given accurate information about competitive wages and benefits, and the frequency of public employee strikes is rising. This impacts the quality of just about everything in California from the maintenance of our streets to public school education. California’s public employee pension plans are not affordable and this will cause a major battle next spring as cities such as San Diego and counties like Orange consider bankruptcy. I think that unions have given up the private sector to a certain degree because they see it much easier to organize and maintain a presence in the public sector. – Bruce Woolpert
Over the past year we saw the need for more internal efficiency. We switched our focus to the inner workings of the company and saw growth and revenue slow. We needed to solidify the firm and focus on internal development and training. After implementing plans for improvement, we expect 2006 to be a big growth year. The changes we’ve made this year should be a major help for the next 3-4 years. – Lou Stanasolovich
The lesson learned this past year was we need to make sure each employee is totally clear on roles, duties, and accepting responsibility. They must take responsibility and hold each other accountable in a professional and helpful way. – C. David Moody, Jr.
3. What are your priorities for the upcoming year regarding your employees and your workplace culture?
Clarity on priorities and taking the time and energy to transfer the values to new team members are my biggest goals for the year. Quality issues are more and more challenging as we grow on all fronts. If we can succeed in maintaining a culture of learning, respect and quality relationships that is understood throughout the organization as being as critical to the success of the business as the quality of a Deep Dark Gingerbread Cake, we’ll be OK. – Trish Karter
I’m always looking for new ways to meet employees’ needs and have a happy, productive workplace. We have flex time and other benefits that employees say are important to them. In fact, we surveyed employees a year ago and 93 percent said they have work/life balance. I want to build on that and continue to encourage other companies to do the same by continuing to share my beliefs with other CEOs.
– Karen Oman
I want to incorporate each staffer’s personal goals and aspirations into our quarterly and year-long list of priorities. RedPeg has always been recognized for our hard-working, fun-loving culture. Along with our education/training, it is our culture that differentiates us from the pack. Our culture will stay the same year-after-year. Also, I want to continue the leadership practices that allowed me to be given the Best Boss honor. That means I want to increase the focus on our brown bag training program and set attainable goals with great rewards. Because I believe in everyone having a voice in the workplace, in 2006 I want to create an “advisory committee” made up of elected staff in charge of addressing the issues that face staff. This committee will recommend positive change in our bi-weekly forums. – Brad Nierenberg
Foremost for 2006 will be to continue our intense focus on producing a great, personalized customer experience, even as we approach 200 employees.
Other priorities include transitioning to a new, larger facility while keeping our tight-knit culture intact and better integrating the different departments of the company.
– Andrew Field
Use 360 feedback results, climate surveys and other listening posts to be sure our culture continues to be a culture where employees can thrive and create excellence in customer service. – Tom Raffio
Graniterock continues to build a self-lead organization in which individuals direct their own work and make decisions in support of overall company objectives. We are building a team of people who view themselves as “independent” of their managers an increasing percentage of the time. Managers are becoming coaches and facilitators of progress rather than someone who supervises work. We will be making some changes to our health plan this year to encourage Graniterock People (plan is still 100% company paid) to use more PPOs and increase the attention to wellness with regular physical examinations. – Bruce Woolpert
I want to spend more time this year on social events, implement top grading and honing processes, work on employee development. Employees spend a lot of time at this office and I want to make sure they have fun. The growth we are expecting this year should also lead to better pay for everyone, which never hurts. – Lou Stanasolovich
My biggest priorities are better training, especially in our software and improving communication. I want people to truly listen to each other and explain what they mean in a way that is easy to understand. – C. David Moody, Jr.