Blake Welch | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Blake Welch

Background:  

Houston IVF was founded in 2001 to provide reproductive services to individuals and couples with a staff that includes physicians, nurses, technicians and fertility specialists.

The Mistake:

I made them [employees] aim toward a financial goal when their passion for the job wasn’t necessarily financially oriented.

It was my first opportunity to really manage a large group of people in multiple locations. I was 27 years old, fairly young and just earned my MBA. It was a small business. We did about $4 million a year.  I had 40 full-time employees and 40 part-time employees in eight locations.

For the first time, I had all this responsibility and was tasked with turning this department around. It had been losing around $100,000 a year before I came on.

My one goal was to make it profitable. That’s what I did. I became mission-focused and dug in from the bottom up. I started making everything about the numbers and finances. I would hold team meetings and say, “Here’s where we are – the financials for this month. Here’s where we need to be for this month.”

I was very busy with driving the needle towards profitability. In the end, we were successful. We went from losing about $100,000 to making about $300,000.

What I found: There was no one to celebrate with me. I was happy, but no one else seemed to be, none of the 80 employees. I started investigating and found out I was too busy being mission-focused and goal-focused. I was driving to my goal, but I didn’t take the time to understand what their goals were.

I made them aim toward a financial goal when their passion for the job wasn’t necessarily financially oriented. They seemed soured by the experience instead of excited and happy.

People open up because they can tell you’re being genuine.

The Lesson:

While I was successful in that role, I wasn’t successful in understanding the mission or the passion of the people working with me, and I wasn’t able to enjoy that moment as much as I would’ve liked.

It’s something that I’ve taken with me for the rest of my career. Anytime that I come into a new role, I always try to connect and understand what drives that person and then try to align that with the goals I have for the organization.

It’s not just about driving profitability. It’s about what the mission of the organization means to them. It’s about the passion they bring every day in either helping people or making the money they need to support their families. Or they love the camaraderie of the people they work with. It can vary.

The takeaway for me was that you really have to take the time to get to know your staff and understand what motivates them. My approach in managing is more grassroots. You just have to take the time to stop by. I would sit down at their desks or sit down with them at lunch and just have a conversation. I’d ask, “Who are you? What do you do? What are your hobbies? Do you have kids? Do you play sports with your kids?”

Pretty quickly, people open up because they can tell you’re being genuine. I tell my managers to set aside time, give them a budget and say, “Take the time for team building activities with your team.” Whether it’s going to a museum, having lunch, happy hour or a birthday together, I purposely set aside time for them to be together and build camaraderie amongst themselves.

Now, I have an employee engagement committee and one volunteer from each department sits on it. Their job is to increase employee satisfaction. They come up with great, creative things to do, like social hours and the Walk of Hope we participate in. We also pass out surveys to understand what their needs are.

I’ve empowered managers. I have a weekly management team where the managers get to come together and deconstruct those silos that can build up between departments. They’re also empowered to lead their teams the way they individually see fit. They know the personalities and strengths and weaknesses of their folks and that gives them the leeway to run their teams the way they see best benefits the organization.

Follow Houston IVF on Twitter at @houstonivf.

Photo of Blake Welch | Courtesy of Troy Fields

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