Slamowitz Discusses Creating Engaged, Empowered Employees at Morris Tech Meetup
Photo: Greg Slamowitz at the Morris Tech Meetup. Photo Credit: Pavita Howe
Greg Slamowitz at the Morris Tech Meetup. | Pavita Howe

Micromanaging is bad, but the process of converting your company from one that is micromanaged to one that organically creates wealth is a hard one.

The results, however, are well worth it, according to Greg Slamowitz, who sold Ambrose Employer Group (New York) to TriNet (San Leandro, Calif.) for $200 million in July 2013. That’s what he told his audience at the Morris Tech Meetup at Fairleigh Dickinson University, in Madison, on Oct. 7.

For Ambrose, the process entailed a complete overhaul of the way the executives and entire staff of the company thought about their jobs.

Slamowitz was at the Morris Tech Meetup to speak about his book, “Flip the Pyramid: How Any Organization Can Create a Workforce that is Engaged, Aligned, Empowered and On Fire.”

He explained that he had grown Ambrose to 35 employees in seven years — and was miserable. “I hated my job and was absolutely exhausted.” Why? He was micromanaging everything in the business.

“I couldn’t let go. I was spending 80-90 percent of my time on a day-to-day basis on tactics,” and very little time on strategy.

“You are not getting to 100, 200, 500 employees if you are relying on micromanaging to align your team,” Slamowitz told the group. “It’s a nonscalable, exhausting, organizational methodology” that makes people feel bad about themselves, he said.

Slamowitz referred often to Abraham Maslow’s theory that people are motivated to fulfill certain needs, ranging from physiological needs, at the bottom of the hierarchy, to the high end, which is the need for self-actualization.

“If you want to build a great organization where everyone is contributing and everyone is at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, you have to undergo a fundamental mindset shift, and come to the realization that it’s not all about you. If you think it is all about you, you will play small ball.”

Slamowitz decided to stop micromanaging, but didn’t succeed at first because he had no plan. “It was a total fiasco. No one knew what to do.” He addressed this problem straight on, recruiting some of his top execs to help. He started reading a lot of business books, the titles of which can be found on his website, www.gregslamowitz.com.

“If you think that, if you just focus on giving an employee a paycheck, and think they should be happy, you are wrong …You want every employee to come to work every day and feel awesome. …I think you have a moral obligation as an employer” to deliver that kind of experience to every single employee, he said.

To achieve their goals, executives need to talk about the organization’s core values all the time, and make sure they are enforced.

 “If your star sales person, who brings in more business than anyone else, violates your core values, what do you do? You fire them …You are entering into a covenant with everyone [in the firm] and they are entering into a covenant with you,” he said. Although your part of the deal is to avoid micromanaging, everyone has to agree to the rules, and one of the rules is that everyone has to operate within the organization’s core values.

“If you, as a leader, turn a blind eye to violations of core values … everyone will know, and the core values will become useless overnight,” Slamowitz added.

In order to play the game of business, you need an objective scoreboard, he noted. There have to be a few set priorities. And metrics are needed to measure performance against those goals.

While Ambrose gave some compensation boosts to those who performed well, it wasn’t all about generating revenue. “We measured the number of new clients, efficiency gains” and other things, he said. And the priorities changed every year.

Comparing the game of business to sports, Slamowitz pointed out that, in order to get all your employees to the top of Maslow’s pyramid, you must tell everyone the rules of the game, the goals and how to gauge success.

If you are asking people to become responsible, you have to teach them metrics, which may not be easy. At the beginning, he said, people will measure everything. But then they’ll understand what the key metrics are.

Slamowitz also talked about the “tribal nature” of an organization, where everyone is pulling in the same direction. He frankly noted that some people thought that Ambrose was more like a cult than a business, but he didn’t mind.

He encouraged daily huddles in which the whole staff reviewed the goals and tactics everyone was using. “There needs to be sunshine on everyone’s tactics,” he said. Also, he noted, the meetings don’t belong to the CEO or group leader. “The meetings belong to the tribe.”

People want a tribal culture, he said. That’s why they join clubs, churches and movements. “As a leader, you have to figure out how to deliver that tribal experience.”

You also have to create an organization that is “obsessed with communicating … and be careful not to be an inadvertent “diminisher.” “One goal at Ambrose,” he said, “was to have everyone in the company know as much as the CEO knows,” if not more. That way, every employee could provide ideas from a position of knowledge.

He emphasized that growing companies must be risk-tolerant. People shouldn’t be punished for not achieving goals. Instead,  they should be encouraged to learn from their setbacks. “If you don’t have some failure, your organization isn’t trying hard enough,” he said.

You can find the slides from Slamowitz’s presentation here.

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