Early in her tenure as the new head and eoo-owner of Calgary-based Advantage Tower, Allison Earl had some heated moments with the company’s former leaders.
“You’re just a woman in a man’s world,” one manager told her.
She stood up and retorted “I don’t give a (bleep) what anyone who expresses that view thinks about anything.’”
“He wasn’t going to define me or what I believe in,” she explained Monday in recalling the incident at the annual Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto on Monday during a speech on the importance of creating the right corporate culture.. “It was important that I stood up for my values … and then the manager team could choose which vision and values aligned with their. And we developed a culture of respect.”
That showed up not long afterwards at a staff meeting when Earl and another official were introducing a number of operational changes including shorter working hours to improve safety. There was a lot of push back from the previous management, she recalled, who were “pretty hostile. They tried to intimidate us.” But she and the official replied by sticking to the facts – and “something pretty remarkable happened” — a number of the staff stood with her and pushed back at others — “and they did it respectfully.”
“We can accomplish a lot more with everyone working hard where the goals and values of the company are aligned with the goals and the aspirations of its people. We empower the right person with the right skillset to step up at the right time.”
For example, she recall that recently a new staffer was struggling with a customer who was inexperienced and not well organized. But a project manager told the staffer it was an opportunity: If he helped the customer, he would return with more business.
Earl was a scheduled keynote speaker at the conference. By coincidence, she was named as one of three top telecom CEOs of the year by conference organizers. The awards were overseen by CCEOC Inc., which judges employer/employee of the year recognition programs.
Earl won in the small organization (under 100 employees) category.
Jody Schnarr, chair and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Internet service provider Fibernetics Corp. , won the medium category. “I like to have a good time, I like to have fun, I like my people to have fun, and I focus squarely on my employees,” he told the conference. “If you focus on your employees the rest takes care of itself.”
Mark Gaudrault of Chatham, Ont.-based national Internet service provider TekSavvy won in the large company category. “This award is special because it is built around values that I think our community rallies around: Communications, engagement, social responsibility, trust and respect,” he told the conference.
An organization’s culture is your business, Earl told the conference, and that culture is a choice.
Staff will ask themselves if their values align with the organization, and if they feel empowered, she said. An employee can only go so far if he or she has to look at the person at the top for all the answers, Earl argued, because the CEO doesn’t have all the answers.
“So who leads? In a powerful culture everyone leads. Leadership is a choice, it’s not a position,” she said quoting business speaker Stephen Covey. “Accountability,” she added, “is holding each other accountable.”
“No one can predict where the opportunity may come from. These are tough times,” she pointed out. “So how do you be successful? Your successful if your the company people want to work for, and people want to do business with.
“If your vision, your beliefs, your aspirations align with your company then the right person is going to step up at the right time and make the right choice and seize those opportunities because they are empowered.”
Finally, she employed a hockey metaphor: The coach creates the climate and decides who plays — but the players, the team, are on the ice and determine the outcome.