As bosses go, Monty Ravlich seems like a good sort. Creative, honest and personable, he's the type of leader who praises staff for a job well done - and he does it often.
In the workplace he's considered a people person, a businessman blessed with "soft" skills.
Yet just over a year ago, Ravlich had an epiphany. His company's potential was being stifled, he says - and it was his fault.
It was quite a revelation for the 49-year-old president of privately owned Tucker Wireline Services, a Calgary-based business that has grown to 125 employees from 80 in the past year.
|Mike Dempster, Business Edge|
|With the help of a coach, Monty Ravlich had an epiphany - he was the problem at his company.|
Tucker provides information to oil companies after they drill wells. It had revenues of $22 million last year with a target of $35 million for 2005.
But Ravlich believes Tucker can be a $100-million company. That's why 14 months ago, he enlisted the help of a professional coach to do an "extreme makeover" on himself, and subsequently, his management team.
Ravlich's story surfaced last month when he was named the recipient of this year's Prism Award. The Prism Award celebrates Calgary business organizations that have used coaching as a tool to achieve excellence in leadership and to realize tangible benefits to their organization.
"Monty's Makeover" provides an insightful look into the benefits of coaching, a process Ravlich says would also help many of his own friends who lead local businesses.
He has had no mentors and his leadership style is his own doing. Often emotional and sometimes "larger than life," he has struggled with attention deficit disorder and in the past was the type of boss who always had 87 balls in the air. As a "flavour-of-the-month guy," he was always ready to embrace the latest fad in business strategy.
But no more. Coaching is long term. The ultimate goal is to change Tucker from a production culture to a people culture. The process, Ravlich says, has already created wins for himself and his company.
Ravlich has been with Tucker in various leadership roles for 17 years. When he joined the company it was near bankruptcy, and for six or seven years he didn't take a holiday, a work ethic his managers practised as well.
"It didn't matter how we got it done, just as long as we did," he says. "It was always a matter of getting enough money to keep the thing going. We were very production oriented."
Gradually the company grew and Ravlich surrounded himself with staff that had technical expertise but few people skills. Today about 20 managers are based in the Calgary office, with more than 100 personnel in the field - made up of drivers, equipment operators and engineers who collect information on the wells.
Until the coaching began, Ravlich was the one who dealt with field issues.
"If a manager was having problems, he'd call me on the phone," Ravlich says. "We'd discuss the problem. I'd drive up to Leduc, buy pizzas for lunch, slap backs, talk to everyone, tell them about the company and give them a sense they were all part of the same team. Then I'd go away and think things were fixed."
But it was a Band-Aid approach. The company had trouble retaining field personnel (not uncommon in the oil-service business). It also experienced some costly safety issues because employees weren't following proper procedures, a problem Ravlich calls a management issue.
Early last year he sought the help of Ross Martin, a coach and partner in Black Tusk Leadership. Ravlich wanted Martin's advice on how to solve these people issues.
By meeting's end, Ravlich had his epiphany. He was the problem.
"What became clear was there was a huge bottleneck in growth because everybody's growth was stunted, including myself," he says. "I wasn't becoming a better manager and neither were my people."
Ravlich contracted Martin's help. They began a thorough interview process to pinpoint Ravlich's strengths and weaknesses.
Three things stood out. Ravlich had to stop taking ownership of personnel problems; he had to start holding his managers accountable; and he had to become consistent as a company president.
The pair worked together for two months to develop a new approach.
When their goal was clear, Ravlich told his management team.
Unlike the "old Monty," he read the announcement from a script instead of his normal off-the-cuff style. He said precisely what he was going to do, and that it was to improve himself and the managers.
Since the announcement, change has occurred. On a measurable scale, workplace accidents are down to zero this quarter and field productivity is up significantly.
Ravlich says that instead of going in and solving other managers' problems, he's become like a coach.
He asks managers leading questions, to help them to think about solutions.
The company has developed a mission statement, managers are urged to think about the value statements and Ravlich refers to the statements daily.
Martin admires Ravlich's commitment and ability to change. An "action-oriented guy," Ravlich has shown patience as the process unfolds, says Black Tusk Leadership's Martin.
On a subtle, systemic level, Ravlich is now more aware how his every action has a daily impact on staff.
"People really do look to leaders in everything they do and take their lead from that," Martin explains. "Monty understands how he shapes things much better now."
On a practical level, Martin says, Ravlich is better at setting goals and holding managers accountable.
The pair meets for one hour every two weeks. Another coach, Doug Marteinson, also provides coaching and each quarter the entire management team gathers for a half-day session. In between there are many calls to ensure the management team follows up on its coaching assignments.
Martin can't stress enough the challenge leaders undergo in this kind of process. There is personal introspection, a time commitment, (sometimes) opposition within the company, and for older leaders, change is simply difficult.
"And you have to remember Monty's been successful. It would almost be easier (to commit) to change if it's broken and doesn't work."
Ravlich calls the makeover a work in progress.
As managers have taken responsibility for their field personnel, morale has increased. Zero accidents and higher productivity are the direct results, Ravlich says.
In the past when the company was focused on production, he explains, the sole measurement of a manager's performance was in meeting financial targets.
"If he was a lousy manager, treated people poorly and we had 50-per-cent turnover, that wasn't really part of the adjudication of his management. It was because I had taken ownership of that job."
He also admits that while he was always natural at acknowledging good work, he had a much tougher time criticizing someone who made a mistake.
"I've learned that I have to show up like a leader and be consistent with the actions of being the president of the company," he says. "I'm not just being everybody's pal any more."
(Mike Dempster can be reached at email@example.com)