How to create an "atmosphere of awesome"

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When Amy Rees Anderson joined MediConnect Global (MCG), the company was losing $180,000 a month. At her Leadership Lecture last Thursday she shared how she turned the company around, eventually leading it to a $377 million sale. The answer, it seems, was simpler than expected, and it revealed some of the secrets to good leadership.

The first issue Anderson addressed was the collaboration between engineering and marketing.

“These were the best engineers I’d ever worked with, and they came up with some awesome systems, but they weren’t selling any of it,” Anderson said.  “You can create something that is cool and cutting edge, but if no one will pay a dollar for it, it’s never going to go anywhere.”

Anderson’s solution was to only create products that addressed a need.

“It has to be something that people need; it has to solve a problem that’s out there.”

After interviewing clients, MCG discovered that what people wanted was a very simple, non-flashy, easy-to-use system to replace their paper forms. Once the MCG engineers developed this software, it became one of the most popular and best-selling products in the medical field.

However, the biggest change was not in the product, but in the employees themselves. Anderson’s next project was to convince the employees that MCG was a “cool” company to work for.

“We had to create a brand and a company culture,” Anderson said. “How do you make something not cool, cool?”

Because of strict security and confidentiality laws surrounding the medical field, MCG employees weren’t allowed to access the internet at work, or even bring their cell phones in. Anderson had the idea to turn this “downside” into the basis for the new company culture. She created a brand based on the idea of the FBI – something exclusive, top-secret and elite. This theme was rolled out, complete with t-shirts, hats, new office décor, new logos and updated brochures. Suddenly, MCG was cool.

“We hadn’t created just a brand. We created a whole culture.”

Anderson also created a corporate blog to boost morale and make the employees feel connected to their leaders, which almost immediately translated into a more productive team with better sales.

“When you have happy employees who have bought into the culture and bought into the leader they’re behind, that translates into the customers. At MCG, they weren’t just there to do the job… they were there to build the company.”

Another revolutionary concept for MCG was the idea that they would recruit “awesome people,” no matter what their background or experience was. MCG’s unique hiring methods included an American Idol-style interview, where the employees had 60 seconds to convince the “judges” they were worth hiring, as well as personality tests and guerilla recruiting (waiting with a “mobile hiring van” outside other companies and interviewing their engineers on their lunch breaks).

Once Anderson had the awesome team she was looking for, she made sure to let everyone participate in the innovation process.

“We had everyone give us their best ideas, and then I’d let everyone else rank those ideas. I’d go in and look at the top-rated ideas, and they came from the most random places.”

Although Anderson learned a lot about marketing, engineering, recruiting and creating a new company culture, the greatest lesson she learned was about the value of integrity. Her personal slogan, “Do what is right, let the consequence follow… success will come and go, but integrity is forever,” has served her well in her career. It has even earned her a lot of business over the years, because potential clients had heard of MCG’s reputation and knew they could trust the company.

“You’re going to be faced every day with the opportunity to cut corners or go into the gray, or to tell a little fib… those opportunities come up all the time. You’re going to see competitors cutting corners and they’re going to be winning against you, and you might think you should do that too, but I’m telling you, there will never be a time you don’t regret it. Don’t ever go into the gray. Don’t stoop to that. It doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail. If you keep your integrity, you win.”

After selling MediConnect Global, Anderson founded REES Capital, an investing firm that gives guidance and support to entrepreneurs and business executives. Anderson has been featured in several national publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, Newsweek and Fastcompany. She has earned several prestigious awards, such as CEO of the Year (2012) and Entrepreneur of the Year.

“Don’t ever limit yourself to the picture in your mind,” Anderson said in closing, “because God might intend your picture to be a masterpiece.”

Anderson, who attended Brigham Young University, now lives in Sandy with her husband and two children.

The Leadership Lecture series is organized by the Weidman Center for Global Leadership. It provides a unique opportunity for students, faculty and staff to learn from respected industry leaders. To learn more about the Leadership Lecture series or view past lectures, visit www.et.byu.edu/leadershiplectures.

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