"I've had new employees come to me with their headdown and say, 'I've really screwed up.' My commentback to them is, 'Why should you be so lucky? I'venever done anything right the first time in my life."'
Knowing When to Get Out of the Way
As a role model, Heaton is understated, saying thathe starts his day typically between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m."If I'm going to do any bragging about
hecomments, "it's that IVe learned how to keep just one-step ahead of our employees." He views his primaryjob to be mapping out the business' strategy and thengetting out of the way of
Heaton tells the story of one employee whom hedescribes as "one of the more brilliant minds west ofthe Mississippi." At one major turning point in PayPlus Benefits' history,several competitors (thatwere more than 100 timeslarger) failed to meetthe industry's needs forimproved informationtechnology. Heatonchallenged the technologydirector, "The big boyswanted this and couldn'tdo it. Now you getyour shot." The
challenged, respected,empowered, rewarded —responded with a series ofprograms and processesthat have made this smallcompany the leader in software development for itsentire sector of the national economy.An important aspect of the company's culture ishow Heaton builds community through ethical andempowering treatment of its employees. His ability tokeep his own ego in check helps employees to feelvalued and results in incredible loyalty to the companyand Heaton himself He recognizes that his personaldrive for achievement can overpower other people; withseasoned self-awareness,he has learned how to mentoryoung people in productive ways.Here's an example of how he garners satisfactionwithout having to be the center of attention or a know-it-all. "Three of the company's young staff leaders willbe fiying to Texas shortly, and one will be staying hereto maintain the home front. These 'kids' are going to
Heaton says that he spends a good partof his CEO time working to get eachgroup feeling respected and empowered.His organization's
are intellectual capital,pure and simple. The intelligence andcreativity that
bring to workeach day are the keys to the business'
not its computer equipmentand lifeless database.
stand up in front of all the techies at the meeting, makea presentation, and impress everyone else in attendance.I won't be the one standing up there, but because I'mnot, they will be so pumped when they get home! It'sa small sacrifice."In fact, Heaton remarks that his real reward comesout of "the respect I get from others because theseemployees work for me. They get job offers all thetime. I get credit for having put the team together."Heaton tells many stories that illustrate his remarkablehumility in working with these talented employees. One16-year-old college student was hired as an intern. Hewas brilliant, but he possessed all of the downsides thatan adolescent boy brings to work."We had recently purchased our first laser printer,and it jammed. I walked over to it, acting like
knewhow to fix it. The internelbowed me back, andtook over. I was totallyelated becau.se
didn't haveto show iny ignorance. Hetook the printer apart, gotit unjammed, and put itback together. Then, theyoung man says to no onein particular, 'I'm beginningto understand all the jokesI've been told about uppermanagement.'"When I tell this storyat conferences, the crowdalways perks up," continuesHeaton, "Because it is sucha beautiful story. People always laugh. Then I tell themto flash forward four years. Thar intern is still workingwith us, and now he's our chief software engineer. He'sgrown up ^\'ith us."
Life Isn't Always Rosy
This is not to say that everything is always perfectat Pay Plus Benefits. Heaton spends much of his timekeeping the team together. There is a constant tensionbetween the programmers who continually remakethe company's services and systems and the staff thatis charged with docimienting all of these changes.This tension sometimes causes gaps between theorganization's core values and how people behave.Heaton illustrates the strain with this story. "Aprogrammer will race up to my office with news about
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