“Manage through positive reinforcement” With Stephen Halasnik

I now manage through positive reinforcement. I look for things that people are doing right and I point them out. The problem with that style is that one can not improve if they think everything they are doing is great so giving honest feedback in a constructive manner is critical to improvement. As a part […]

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I now manage through positive reinforcement. I look for things that people are doing right and I point them out. The problem with that style is that one can not improve if they think everything they are doing is great so giving honest feedback in a constructive manner is critical to improvement.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Halasnik, Managing Partner of Financing Solutions.

Mr. Halasnik is a serial entrepreneur that has built 6 successful businesses over the last 25 years. The businesses have been in the yearly revenue range of $5 million to $25 million and two have made the INC 500/5000 fastest growing company list. Mr. Halasnik is also an Amazon bestselling coauthor of the business book called Crash and Learn.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

When I was 17 years old, I am now 55, I decided that I wanted to become an entrepreneur but first I thought I would go work for a big company, get some experience and then start my own company. When I was younger the three biggest business stories going on where Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Wall Street. So being your own boss and making money were part of the culture of many in my generation. After college, I started working for Xerox which was the Google of it’s time. I worked there for 8 years and then I knew it was time for me to start my own company. Over the last 25 years I have started and built 6 successful companies and those companies have allowed me to live my dream of being my own boss and living a good lifestyle. After all those years I still jump out of bed looking forward to building companies and I look forward to what lies ahead.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Over the last 25 years I have dealt with numerous banks to get business loans and lines of credit in place for my businesses. It has been one of the most painful experiences dealing with traditional banks. So, seven years ago my business partner and I decided to start our own private bank and to offer business lines of credit to small businesses and nonprofits. Financing Solutions (www.financingsolutionsnow.com was born and it has done really well because we completely understand that there are a lot of good profitable companies that would love a line of credit but that banks turn away. We are passionate about that every business should have a cash back up plan for emergencies.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting story has been how many times I have had to start over building new companies after one of the companies I built either ran its course or got hurt during major recessions. All my businesses have been successful in that they have generated excellent cash for me but there have been a few times that they had to be closed due to expected or unexpected events. One of my first companies, Expertseeker lasted several years with great profits but I knew that at some point, the industry I was in (technical consultant placements) was going to end. 30 days after 9/11 I knew the industry I was in was going to be over and so I laid off 95% of my team and began looking for another company to start. In the 2008 recession I had built an INC 500 fastest growing company that had done $7 million in sales the year before the recession. I thought the industry I was in, Nurse temporary long-term staffing, was recession proof only to learn that I was wrong. The industry got decimated during the 2008 recession and after 4 years of trying to survive, I closed that company. Each time I have closed a company I have built a new one that was better, bigger and more profitable. I now own 4 companies, 2 of which are each $25 million in yearly. 2 of my companies have been on the INC 500/5000 fastest growing list.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Before I started my first company 25 years ago, I worked for Xerox Corporation and was one of their top sales people. Xerox was the Google of its day and it hired the best salespeople in the US. I was used to real professional salespeople so when I started my first company and I started hiring my own salespeople I looked for real professionals like Xerox did. Very polished, good college education well dressed. However, all the salespeople I hired in that “Xerox Image” failed terribly. They failed because what my company did was place high end computer consultants and it required a lot of street smarts because you had to be incredibly resourceful. Xerox was a much more polished, corporate environment. After a while of hiring the wrong type of people I saw that the salespeople that did well for me were people who didn’t go to college, often had pulled themselves up, and had one other quality: they were extremely outgoing, fun and LOUD. Often a lot of fun to be around. So, I decided to hire those type of people going forward. One of the first people I interviewed after this new approach walked up the 5 flight of stairs to our office and said loudly, she was “sweating like a farm animal”. I knew I had the right person and I hired her. She went on to be an excellent salesperson and from then on, I looked for extremely outgoing, fun and loud sales people who had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. I had one heck of a team of employees so much so that we made the INC 500 fastest growing companies in the US….and you should have been at our holiday parties.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Pay attention to your team and each as individuals. Get to know them on a personal level and let them get to know you well. Employees know that the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere and if they have a boss or a leader who really cares about them, they will love the company. A boss or a leader must pay attention to their people and when you recognize there is a problem, you have to help but more importantly you have to help your people develop. Find out what each person cares about in and out of the office. Help them achieve the goals that your employees are looking for. Some will just want a stable job while others want to grow. Take each of your employees out one on one for lunch. It will go a long way to you getting to know them and they getting to know you.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership can come in a few forms. One is of course roll model. Where you act in a way that is the way you want your employees to act. i.e. If you want your team to work hard, they need to see that you work really hard. Don’t leave the office 4pm everyday and come in at 10am. If you believe in treating clients like gold you don’t bad mouth them behind their back. The second form of leadership is visionary. One who has a vision and makes sure everyone you hire believes in that vision. A visionary does a good job of reminding people of that vision and WHY it is important to the client, company and the employee. The third leadership style is one who makes sure everyone is on board with the company mission/vision and takes care of your employees who help you achieve that mission.

No one is born a leader. You must learn it and work at it all of the time. My first step was being a good role model. Secondly, I worked on becoming a better leader by better managing my own emotions. Next, I communicated our mission, culture and our why making sure that we hired the right people who believe in that same vision and that continue to promote our mission/culture. Lastly, I became a much better manager and I hired people who were good managers if that was their role.

I am always trying to become a better leader by learning how to become a better leader.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Exercising, eating right and sleeping well have always been the key for me to handling stress. I played numerous sports at a very high level and I look at work like it is a major championship sporting event. You must be at your best. The first thing I do is know each morning what time I will be exercising that day and I plan that out. It might be tennis, competitive rowing, biking, hiking, golfing or weightlifting but each day I take time out to do the things I love. Secondly, I eat right so that I feel good about myself and so I have the energy to handle the workload. Lastly, I make sure I sleep well by going to bed at the right times. Running and building a company can knock the heck out of you mentally and physically and if you don’t take good care yourself, it will get the best of you. After 25 years of building companies I have the same energy level now than when I did when I was 30 and I am still in top shape.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

When I first started my first company 25 years ago I was a terrible manager. I often would get angry and loss my temper. I hated myself after I did this. Over a period of a few years I knew I had to improve and so I hired a business coach, a psychologist and took a managing people course to help me become a better manager. The coach helped me talk through my emotions and to help me practice giving feedback. The psychologist helped me understand that when I get angry-I can’t think, and the managing course helped me with better techniques. I also read a number of managing peolple books to try and improve.

Over time I became a much better manager but I will never be a great manager. I also hired good managers to make up for my short coming. I would say that I am a heck of a lot better as a manager then I was but that giving good feedback is something I still never look forward to.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

I now manage through positive reinforcement. I look for things that people are doing right and I point them out. The problem with that style is that one can not improve if they think everything they are doing is great so giving honest feedback in a constructive manner is critical to improvement.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

First, I always practice what I might say to someone. I know this sounds weird but I am not great at wording constructive criticism. Next, I explain the situation that needs to improve with the employee, and I make sure they understand WHY it is important. I then explain to them if I can how I might have had the same problem. Next, I help them brainstorm about how they could fix the problem. I always leave them if I can with something, they are doing that is really good.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email?

If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

If the constructive feedback is something simple like “Please watch your spelling in your emails” then I might be ok with an email but if I know it could be a touchy subject then I will never email the feedback. I will call the person or sit down with them live.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

Because I am not great at giving feedback and it causes me anxiety depending on the person/subject I almost never give it immediately. The reason is that 1) I need to make sure I word it right 2) I need to make sure my own emotions are calm

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

I try to be a great boss for everyone in my company just like I try to be a great dad to my kids.

  • I always make sure that the people who work for my company have all the tools and training they need to be successful.
  • I make sure that their jobs are well defined, and they know what is expected of them.
  • I make sure that I know about their interests, family, etc. outside of work without being intrusive.
  • I make sure I get rid of employees that ruin our culture or that affect others productivity.
  • I always make sure I say thank you a lot.
  • I rarely tell anyone at my company that they have to do something. I try to get them to understand why it is important this way I get buy in.
  • I work on helping my managers become better bosses
  • I always take care of the people at home company that have done a good job for me

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would want everyone to know that we are in this together. That humanity depends on each other to understand that we are all connected, and we need to take the time and patience to help each other. The biggest tribalism is that we are all part of the human tribe.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Calvin Coolidge

I came across this quote when I was 15 and I never forgot it. It defines who I am.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I write on my twitter account daily about entrepreneurship: @shalasnik

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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