Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What Makes a Great Company Great?

This is my last week at Kramer Electronics. To say the least, it is filled with mixed emotions. I am very excited about the next phase in my career and the great things that I get to be a part of at Atlanta Soundworks. I am happy that I get to join the ASW team because this is a team known for great service and extremely high quality in all of their projects. At the same time I am sad to leave the people I know and love at Kramer. Parting Kramer will be with such sweet sorrow (I should know…this is the second time I've done it and of course is has to be the last time (there is no going back after this one…)).

I have decided that this week’s blog will be to share why I believe Kramer is such a great company. Who knows, you may find some attributes that you may want to focus on building into your organization. I believe there are 5 key areas that make Kramer the great company it is. These 5 areas are: knowledge, skill, attitude, genuine care factor and a great team spirit. Last week I shared what a great leader Kramer has, now I want to share what a great team he has built. Try to look at this piece as more than a commercial for Kramer and see it as a case study and some insights as to how your company can improve in some areas.

Each of the areas where Kramer proves their leadership and character is recognizable and repeatable in any organization. The first three are easily identifiable and they relate to Steven Covey’s Habits of Highly Effective People. Oddly enough they aren't one of the seven habits. I found these traits at the beginning of the book where Covey defines what a habit is: “The intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why. Skill is the how to do. And (attitude) desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all three.” When I was the national trainer for Kramer I started a campaign where I simply stated “ASK Kramer”, because even back then I saw that attitude, skill and knowledge were Kramer’s watchwords. Ever true today as it was then Kramer people, through an almost contagious way, have the attitude, skill and knowledge to be the great company they are.
  • Attitude: Kramer’s collective attitude is one of ambition and drive. The drive is to solve their customer’s problems (they continually strive to “do the right thing”) and their ambition is be honest and helpful partners in all they do. 
  • Skill: The skills the people at Kramer have are unmatched in the industry; they don’t just sell products, they solve problems and truly partner with their integration partners. Each sales person is an industry veteran, technically savvy and industry certified. Kramer doesn't just put another pretty face in front of you (although everyone there is a good looker), they make sure each person in each meeting adds value to the relationship and that everyone contributes to the company and their partners. 
  • Knowledge: Kramer people know what they are doing. The engineering and field support team excels at being incredibly knowledgeable in current and emerging technology and applications. The technical support team has a great blend of awesome customer service and technical guru-ness. 

The last two of the five characteristics have to do with the collective personality of the organization. These characteristics are the family spirit and the genuine desire to do good things and make a difference in their world (as individuals and as a company). These are highlighted when Kramer takes up a charitable cause. For me personally Kramer has helped me to raise thousands of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. But, it goes beyond charity. Kramer (as a collective) has the desire to do great things in our industry.

Kramer is a family. Each person at Kramer is a valued contributor and is appreciated for their uniqueness and own way about them. Just like any family, we have the crazy uncles (or a few of them – including myself), the strict aunt, the reserved cousins and so on. We have the full spectrum of personalities in Kramer, but the overarching character is of genuine care. Kramer people care for each other, support each other and care for and support their customers. In most businesses people say “it isn't personal, it’s just business”, but at Kramer there is very little separation. Business is personal, and why not? Kramer has many partners (ASW included) where the business is a family one and it is personal.

Lastly, Kramer cares. Kramer is a company based on a spirit to do good things. Dr. Kramer states in the company’s mission statement “…to provide and uncompromising level of service…” I believe this comes through in almost every communication and interaction between Kramer people and their partners (customers). This is something you can’t fake. You either care or you don’t and Kramer does a great job of making everyone in the organization want to care about what they do.

I just hope that I am able to bring what I have learned from this great company on to my next big thing. In closing I want to tell everyone at Kramer: I will miss you all and I will always consider myself “part of the family”. Thank you to each and every person at Kramer for making me a better person.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Art of Career Stewardship - Knowing the Importance of Balance

Before I begin the message of this blog I will make a brief announcement:  It is with both great excitement and tempered sadness that I announce my upcoming departure from Kramer Electronics (15 November).  I have accepted a position as General Manager at Atlanta Soundworks (an integration firm here in Atlanta).  With Dave Bright's (President of Kramer, USA) support and blessing, I will be taking my career to a new level and growing in new ways.  This blog serves two major purposes.  Purpose #1 is to acknowledge Dave's management style and to share what we can learn from it. Purpose #2 is to announce that I plan to apply all that I have learned from Dave.

And, now, the blog...

There is an interesting cartoon recirculating around social media where two business men are conversing and one says, “what if I train my employees and then they leave?”  The other responds, “what if you don’t train them, and they stay?  This illustrates one of the toughest dilemmas in personnel management.  I think we can agree that employee development is very important and a good management practice.  The dilemma is when you do support your employee and their growth and then they end up growing beyond the needs of your company.  How do you address this?  In the following passage I will give my thoughts on how to support your employees beyond the standard needs of the business.

I have learned that one of the best approaches to employee management is to first recognize that every employee will leave your company; EVERY employee leaves.  The sad truth is that death makes this an undeniably true statement.  That being said, death is the rarest form of employee departure.  Thank God for that.  Knowing that every employee leaves gives you freedom.  Just knowing that keeping an employee forever is a completely unrealistic goal frees you from the burden of trying to keep good employees forever.  Knowing this, you can focus on the more honorable goal of being as good as a leader as you can for as long as you have them.  The result of that is, most often, loyal employees that stand with you as a leader through the test of time.

Another way to look at this is that good managers serve their company by trying to keep their productive employees, but great leaders act as in the best interest of employees and strive to bring out the best in them.  Great leadership through service to employees results in the best employee performance and productive results for the company, win-win.  I have heard this management style referred to as career stewardship.  I love the term.  But, career stewardship is an incredible balancing act. 

As a manager your employees have entrusted you with their career paths.  They have put their faith in you.  They believe that you will look out for their development needs and keep their best interests in mind (as long as these things are aligned with the business goals).  However, your management has entrusted you with their business and they are counting on you to always do what is best for the business. The good news is that these two points are not in conflict.  You can serve your employees and meet the organizational business goals.  In fact, these two points are absolutely dependent on each other. 

The last illustration I will give to this point is where I work.  Kramer Electronics, USA, is led by Dave Bright.  As President of Kramer US he is charge of all aspects of our business.  He looks out for our profit and losses and provides us with strategic direction.  He is an incredible business manager and leader.  But most importantly, he is each and every employee’s biggest advocate and cheerleader.  He has done more to contribute to the development of his employees and helps to develop their career paths more than any other leader I have ever had.  In working for Dave, I have been fortunate enough to work for someone who is truly dedicated to his employees and always does what is best for them.  The business result of this leadership style has been consistent sustained growth for Kramer and very loyal employees.  I believe that if you were to ask anyone who works for or has worked for Dave, they would tell you he is a great example of a true career steward.

I'll end this blog with a special thank you to Dave Bright and to say that Kramer is a great company to work with and for.  Thanks again Dave and thank you to everyone at Kramer.