Stephanie Kruse, 46, wants to take her Reno, Nevada, company, KPS|3, to the next level. But the 15-employee marketing communications firm is grappling with a market downturn and a changing industry.
Maureen Odioso Godshall, 47, has seen a decade of changes as president of Loren/Allan/Odioso Advertising, a Cincinnati advertising and public relations agency. With 35 employees and more than $30 million in revenues, Odioso Godshall has achieved the growth Kruse is seeking. We asked her for some gems of advice on the challenges Kruse--and any owner of a growing business--faces.
Challenge One: Managing
Stephanie Kruse: Should I try to adapt my managerial style to "male or female" employee personality type? I tend to be compassionate and humanistic in my approach. Is that being "too much a woman"?
Maureen Odioso Godshall: Managing is a lot about communications, and men and women have distinct differences in how they process communications. In general, men thrive in a hierarchical environment where there is a clear pecking order.
Women, on the other hand, are most comfortable in a flat power zone where everyone is considered a peer. Women actually employ "social leveling" tactics when a woman in a group starts to ascend in power or forget her "place."
Once you understand these dynamics, you can make them work for you. Personally, this translates into my being more blunt with male employees. I give them direct orders instead of couching them as suggestions, as I might for a female. I critique something a male employee has worked on without it becoming a personal criticism (unless I am talking to a creative director-male or female, they take critiques personally!).
Challenge Two: Growing
Kruse: My business is growing, but how do I manage that growth? I have a young and enthusiastic management team that wants to go for it, but I've been through rampant growth, and it isn't always pretty. I've tried to predict the future of our industry and have made some difficult changes to adapt-downsizing, saying no and prioritizing between things that everyone seems to want. How do I keep my management team energized, focused and enchanted?
Odioso Godshall: Engage in a formal planning process with them. This starts with visioning and goal-setting for the company to get everyone on the same page. Identify overall priorities and the five or six bold action steps required to achieve the vision. Once this is outlined, identify the supporting trends and values as well as the challenges the company will face in the process.
Next, each department or team should conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) to determine their abilities to support the corporate vision and what needs to be done to enhance this ability. The management team should then chart a master plan each department can implement. This process really starts to gel the group, reduce "selfish" departmental biases and help you make decisions everyone can buy into.
Challenge Three: Downsizing
Kruse: Due to changes in the industry, I have reduced staff and management layers and expanded people's roles to include nontraditional functions. I try to cheerlead as I communicate this to my staff, but it doesn't always sink in.
Odioso Godshall: It is never easy to cut back and keep the remaining staff from feeling at risk. If you have to downsize, try to do it quickly in one slice, and make it clear that the cutbacks are complete. The remaining staff will be shaken for a few days as their work flow and communication networks heal, but then the void will "scab over."
The past two years have been tough ones. My approach has been to lead with growth as the goal, instead of focusing on the contraction phase. If employees see that you have a vision, they respond with proactivity instead of negativity, and the goal starts to become reality.
Aliza Pilar Sherman is an Internet pioneer, netpreneur, speaker and author of the book PowerTools for Women in Business: 10 Ways to Succeed in Life and Work.