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From Innoventor Engineering = Innovation + Invention
by Stan Herman
The Business/The Organization
Company owner Kent Schien founded Innoventor Engineering as a basement start up with only seven engineers. It has now grown to more than 60 engineers with a support staff of 10. Innoventor focuses on inventing and innovating products for an array of industries. Innoventor's strategy of diversifying into military, automotive, energy, and medical markets has served them well in growing their business.
In 2001, Kent began to realize that his company wasn't functioning as well as it could. During an event sponsored by Vistage (TEC) International, an organization which provides a CEO peer advisory board, professional speakers, and business coaching for its members, he met business coach Stan Herman. Kent was seeking a personal growth path that would outpace that of his business. Although coaching was something Kent had never considered, he was intrigued by Stan's thought-provoking questions. Those questions allowed Kent to identify the issues, determine what was at stake and what Kent had done so far, then clarify the ideal outcome and confirm the goals of the coaching process. Options became clearer as Kent and Stan worked together, and their coaching relationship has lasted for more than five years.
Kent had surrounded himself with engineers who were also friends. This presented challenges as the business grew and management demands were shared. Several areas needed attention—engineering excellence, project time lines, and budgets were all slipping. These were the challenges Kent faced:
- Kent was an excellent engineer, but an inexperienced manager;
- Kent was acting as the technical authority for all engineering problems;
- Employee friends were not performing;
- Neither Kent nor his executive team had personal development plans;
- Hiring practices were focused on technical skill rather than management expertise; and
- Kent needed to hire team members who were smarter than he was.
Kent's initial coaching sessions focused on a detailed investigation of the precise role that Kent wanted to play in his organization. He completed the DiSC (Dominant, Influencer, Steady, Compliant) and PIAV (Personal Interest, Attitudes and Values) assessments, which increased his awareness of how he works best and what motivates him. How did he want his executives to respond to an increased pace of business decision-making? He knew he wanted them to increase the frequency with which they considered the implications of their decisions (e.g., who will the decision affect, how much time will be involved in its implementation, when should action be taken, etc.). But what did he expect of his management team, and how should the team be held accountable for meeting those expectations? And how should he deal with his feelings regarding his underperforming friends?
Kent and Stan began to explore Kent's vision of the ideal business situation. What does the ideal engineering team, executive team, and customer look like? The coaching conversations helped Kent to identify both an industry mentor and specific issues to bring to his Vistage Peer Advisory Board.
Kent began a formal strategic planning process using Quad Red-VCEO technology. This strategic planning online assessment allowed him to compare Innoventor to today's most successful businesses in 158 best practices areas, revealing the performance gaps between what would be considered excellent performance and what his company was actually doing. This information enabled Kent and his leadership team to address the most critical issues that were impeding his company's performance. Over the last five years, the strategic plan he has developed has served as a compass for his organization. Kent also completed a 360-degree personal assessment, which provided new insights to aid in his personal growth.
In addition, Kent implemented the following action steps:
- Defined the CEO's role, both present and future;
- Appointed a Chief Engineer;
- Hired a Director of Engineering;
- Established performance measurements for engineers, and tied those standards to compensation;
- Required the executive staff, including the CEO, to implement personal development plans;
- Upgraded hiring practices to include personality testing in order to build a more desirable workplace culture;
- Replaced underperforming friends;
- Recruited and hired a COO;
- Increased the frequency and levels of communication; and
- Moved underperforming employees to less significant business roles.
With the establishment of performance expectations, and increased communication around those expectations, the company's engineering costs were reduced by 20%. Revenue grew from $2 to $13 million. A 'can do' culture was created around the newly established company benchmark: "It must be good for the customer, good for the company, and good for the employees." Quarterly Town Hall meetings were instituted as a communications tool for all employees. An 'open book' management style also increased communication opportunities.
To top it all off, competing with more than 100 other candidates, Innoventor was recognized nationally as the Small Business Association subcontractor of the year, receiving the USA Region VII award in 2006. In addition, Innoventor has placed in the St. Louis Top 50 Fastest Growing Companies list for the last four years.
Kent says that he now has a life, and is no longer serving as the resident expert on all engineering issues. As CEO/President of Innoventor Engineering, he says, "Every CEO/owner has strengths and weaknesses that affect the company. Coaching helped me—and will help any leade—to recognize blind spots. Most CEOs are aware of the impact of those traits on their companies. With increased awareness comes an increase in viable options, resulting in the confidence to aggressively pursue execution. A business coach in your corner is an asset every CEO needs!"