From its humble beginnings in 1982, Calian has grown to employ almost 3,000 people. Headquartered in Ottawa, it has offices and projects that span Canada and the United States, as well as international markets.
Since Kevin Ford joined the organization as CEO in April 2015, Calian Group Ltd. — which offers professional services in health, IT, training, engineering and manufacturing — has experienced tremendous growth. Ford was instrumental in the acquisition of five companies, and guided the firm to its biggest contract ever — providing health-care services to the Canadian Armed Forces.
That excellence did not go unnoticed. In October 2017, the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce and the Ottawa Business Journal honoured him with their CEO of the Year Award.
He identified three core components of his success: teamwork, integrity and commitment. His emphasis on teamwork comes from more than 20 years of coaching hockey. “If anyone wants to advance in their leadership development, I suggest coaching a sport because in a short period of time, you have to get a team on the same page and work toward a common set of outcomes in a certain system. So to me, teamwork is critical. Calian’s success is not all Kevin Ford. I have an incredible team working with me every day.”
He also touts the critical importance of integrity. “You are your own brand. Even though it’s a big world out there, everything and everyone is connected. If you do or say something, there is a record. With every decision I make, I ask myself, does it align with my core values?”
The final piece of the puzzle, Ford says, is committing to your decisions. “You need to walk the talk. It’s one thing to throw a number or an objective out there. It’s another thing to actually come to work every day and personally live and breathe your commitment to that goal and to make sure your team understands that you are totally passionate about hitting those objectives.”
Ford believes such alignment is crucial to make teamwork, integrity and commitment a reality. It is important to “ensure that your objectives are clearly stated and then consistently communicated to everyone in the organization on a regular basis,” he says. “If there’s anything I’ve learned, it is just how much you have to repeat things to make it stick. And if someone doesn’t understand it right away, don’t get mad. Walk through it again, because this is the heart and soul of your business. Just because it’s clear to you does not mean it is clear to other people.”
Leaders also need to “invest time so people can connect. I think we’ve convinced ourselves that with all the technology we have today that it is no longer necessary for people to meet in person. If you don’t make time for this, I believe you do so at your own peril.”
These in-person conversations are essential to building trust, Ford says, as well as for soliciting feedback about the business and any elements that need to be addressed. “People see that you care, which does not come through in a mass email or teleconference. It’s important to sit across from people and truly listen to what they have to say.”
Leaders also must recognize that just because they ask for feedback, it does not mean anyone will necessarily volunteer it. But Ford says consistency is key. “We do employee surveys, we conduct town halls, and I also visit the regions to see how things are going. Each of these mechanisms signals our and my commitment to hearing from our people. You cannot just hope that this happens. You need to invest time, energy and resources into accomplishing this.”
Once received, it is imperative employees see their input being taken seriously. Otherwise, “you lose the trust of your people overnight. The most important thing is that there is a feedback loop that comes back to the employee.”
But this does not mean you have to take action on every idea. “If people believe that you’ve actually listened to them and considered their input, that creates a lot more buy-in. They understand why you can’t do certain things. In my experience, it’s not about what the ultimate action plan is, but whether people feel they were heard before it was created.”
And this does not mean executives can’t disagree with the feedback. “Am I going to agree with everything they say? No. But they always have a channel to let me know how it’s going. If you’re consistent with that and people really believe that you are truly trying to get their feedback, it works wonders.”
As for the executives who are uncomfortable asking for feedback because they are afraid of the answer? “It’s hard to run a business if you do not open yourself up to reality. If you’re not open to that feedback, they won’t bother giving it to you, which means you’re running blind.”
Craig Dowden (PhD) is president of Craig Dowden & Associates, a firm focused on supporting clients in achieving leadership and organizational excellence by leveraging the science of peak performance. Connect with him by email or LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @craigdowden.