Michael Gallup | Crain's Pittsburgh

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

Michael Gallup

Background:  

TeleTracking Technologies Inc. provides patient flow solutions and healthcare operations management for more than 900 hospitals and health systems throughout the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

The Mistake:

It took me awhile to realize there is a different way to manage people.  

When I was 30 or 31, I was put in a position at a company overseeing sales, marketing, research and development, and legal – everything. I was over about 400 people and $80 million in sales, and I was pretty young. When I was given that chair, and I had really worked hard for that, I kind of said to myself, "Now what?" 

So I read some books and learned that it’s all about the people and the talent. I tried to focus on the people and the talent, or at least I thought I did. The talent is supposed to be the most important thing, and you can try to implement those principals. You need to upgrade talent so you need to get rid of low performers and bring in new people.  

I think the aha moment for me came at a review of quarterly earnings and annual earnings. This was at a publicly traded company. The talk was about looking at underperformers and upgrading your talent. I did that without anyone even asking me to do such. The powers that be were very proud of me and called me out on a phone call on how great it was I had done that.  

There was a moment there when I realized I could not work that way.

  You really must look at how you invest to make people better.

The Lesson:

You learn pretty quickly, unfortunately, at the expense of people’s livelihoods. You learn that ... it isn’t about firing the bottom 10 percent. It’s about giving [employees] a chance to improve if they don’t perform. It isn’t about quarterly earnings, although at some point, they may have to leave. Now, at TeleTracking, we actually care about the person.  

It took me awhile to realize there is a different way to manage people. I affected a lot of people’s lives. I wanted to care about their lives, but I really didn’t.  

My aha moment was: There has to be a better way than the firing of people, and you have to go and find that way. Publicly traded companies could do this – it’s not out of the realm. I went on to try to find the principals that would be a better way than downsizing. Now, we try to tell our managers to assume positive intent – try to teach positive intent.

We try to teach our people a different way. We’re all on the same team. It’s hard to sit down with a manager and ask, "Why did you fire that person?" and dig into that and say, "Let’s not make that mistake again." 

If you’re young and take over a business ... you really must look at how you invest to make people better. And that’s what I missed.

Follow TeleTracking Technologies on Twitter at @TeleTracking 

Photo courtesy of Michael Gallup

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