An Interview with Richard Allred, President and CEO ATS, LLC
I recently had the opportunity to interview Richard Allred, who is the President and CEO ATS, LLC (ATSSmartSolutions.com). ATS has a four-fold mission focused on clean drinking water, providing sustainable waste-water treatment, developing green, organic chemicals that protect crops from disease and providing safety showers to cleanse employees from potentially harmful contact with chemicals. ATS performs this mission in for profit, not for profit and philanthropic sectors.
Steve: What does it mean to you to be a transformational leader?
Richard: I have learned that people want to give their best to the job. They generally want guidelines to help them focus their efforts and it’s my role to provide those guidelines.
Steve: Tell me about a time when this was particularly challenging or rewarding for you. What was the situation, and what did you do?
Richard: I purchased this company in 2012. At the time, the firm’s leadership was not very focused. I determined that we needed to bring in stronger talent and transform the way work was completed. My vision was to serve those who are underprivileged, and provide opportunities for smart and great people who haven’t been as lucky as I have been. I also wanted to scale the organization from regional to become global.
Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of your transformation?
Richard: I make the message as clear as possible and put it out in front of your people in many ways. We have an annual meeting to discuss our work and how it impacts employees, then we engage them in feedback sessions to help us to prepare for more focused, purposeful communication. I also ask employees many questions to clarify their understanding and help me improve my messaging.
Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?
Richard: I have two examples. The first is that we offices in Brazil as well as the United States. The differences in management styles, language and cultural create a communication gap. I have found that by clarifying the messaging between my office in the States and in Brazil I am able to close the gap most of the time. It takes focused effort though, and discipline to ensure this happens every week.
The other example is that sometimes employees may not understand why sales team members who travel have bigger expense accounts. Often, they may treat themselves to expensive steak dinners when they are on the road. This can feel unfair to some employees. I have found that when I take the time to explain the trade-off, that those sales folks enjoying a steak dinner are not always home to watch their child’s football game or school play, I can narrow that gap of understanding.
A couple of other things I look for when hiring someone in an executive position is I try to find people who have experience managing the weighty responsibility of covering payroll. The stress related to making payroll provides a perspective that I want on my leadership team and it’s one we can easily rally around. I also look for individuals who choose to continually educate themselves, whether by reading or taking classes.
Steve: Here in the United States, were there cultural attributes that made the transformation easier or more difficult?
Richard: When I first purchased the company, employees were a tight-knit family and extremely loyal to the mission of the firm. Growth requires you to make changes which we did by increasing the geography from where I recruit. I try to hire people who are smarter than me in whatever their specific strength. We’ve been successful in maintaining that loyalty while expanding our diversity and knowledge base. It requires more focus more on coaching employees to effectively work together, but the payoff is big.
Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?
Richard: Plain and simple – we engaged front- line employees in the planning process. Afterall, these are the folks that live with and operate in the new environment and no one understands their work better than they do.
Steve: How did you become more of a coach?
Richard: First, I must be comfortable with a great deal of ambiguity. I find it most effective to sit with my leaders and their teams and have a conversation about how I can help, focusing on their requirements to be successful. I have also hired and work with a mentor that helps me improve my coaching effectiveness.
Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Richard: To create a transformation, you must connect with the team and their hearts. You must understand individually who they are. For example, to help connect with one of my employees, I sponsor a sports team and ask the coach to waive their fees. This is an easy thing for any leader to do.
Steve: Richard, thank you for sharing your insight on successful transformational leadership. Good luck to you and your firm.
Note: Richard recently published his book, Purify. This is a business book about the metaphor of how water treatment teaches us to make better business decisions. Find it here.
Dedicated to your profitable transformation,
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