Learning from Leaders by Steve Schmidt

Guest Post

By Steve Schmidt, President, AbeTech Bar Code & RFID Solutions

When Tom Salonek wrote his book, The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership, I was eager to read it. I’ve long admired Tom’s company and the many awards it has received, not to mention Intertech’s consistent growth and profitability. I run a small business of my own and thought Tom’s book might give me some new ideas.

Oh boy, did it ever!

If you haven’t read The 100, I highly recommend it. This little book is crammed with practical management strategies that Tom has tested and proven at his company. Not only does the book provide 100 practical mini chapters (Tom calls them “takeaways”), it is sprinkled with fun quotes and Tom’s trademark humor. It’s the perfect book for a short business flight.

I should confess that Tom is my cousin, but please don’t think for a minute that this is a gushing “puff piece” based more on familial connections than merit. I’ve known the guy a long time and he’s always been highly motivated, focused and eager to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. He’s a, well, natural born leader. I’ve watched his company (and his family!) expand over time, and seen first-hand the productive and healthy workplace he and his partners have cultivated.

The word “mindfulness” is trendy now, but it’s a perfect description of Tom’s approach to business and life. By thinking and acting in deliberate mindful ways based on hard science and life experience, he has built a thriving organization on a solid foundation of values, like delivering beyond what is expected, treating people kindly and fairly, and keeping things in perspective. His book generously shares that experience and practical knowledge in an easy to digest format. It also comes with dozens of downloadable forms and other tools that I’m guessing are worth much more than the modest book price.

Now a confession.

When I first read The 100 it was still in the galley (pre-print) stage. Like the leader he is, Tom reaches out to others for input and alternative perspectives. I was happy to read the manuscript and give him my honest feedback. And, to be honest, I found it all to be a bit much. There are so many great ideas and recommendations; frankly, I wasn’t sure where to begin or how to implement them at my firm without losing a lot of time in the process.

I shared this reaction with Tom and he responded by explaining that following the ideas in The 100 actually save time by reducing surprises and increasing employee retention. Then he created a calendar showing how to implement his leadership program in the most efficient way possible. I reviewed the revised manuscript a second time and was pleased to give it my highest endorsement:

The 100 “artfully captures Salonek’s decades of leadership achievements and details repeatable steps that we all can take to improve our business results. Read the book, learn the secrets and enjoy the fruits of winning in the marketplace.”

30 Free Life and Business Tools

We’ve all been seduced by those that magic word “FREE.” It’s right up there with “life hacks” and “ageless” in its power to reel in even sophisticated consumers. Often, of course, we often find “free” comes with strings attached or the freebee is so lame you’d just as soon wished you’d passed.

I hope you’ll put aside all that valuable consumer experience and consider that I have something free to offer and valuable.  I’m talking about the couple of dozen free resource downloads that come with my book “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership.”

The free downloads you’ll find associated with my book include templates and checklists. These are free, don’t require sharing your information, and don’t require a book purchase.

These tools are my go-to resources for:

Self Management:

Business Management:


Employee Management:

As you work through the takeaways in my book or the associated free resources, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

Building a Winning Business – Checking in with New Employees

Building-a-Winning-Business-BookSuccessfully launching a new employee means checking in on regular intervals to see how things are going. I recommend checking in after the person has been on the job for 30, 60, and 90 days.

  • These are informal opportunities to ask how things are going and whether the employee has clear direction on what he should be doing. We also ask whether he needs any tools or training and, most important, whether there is anything else we should be aware of or anything he would like to discuss.
  • Check-ins provide a one-on-one opportunity for employees to share thoughts and concerns. They also continue to communicate to employees that they’re important and you want them to succeed.

Tom’s Takeaway:  “Regular, informal check-ins with new employees let them know you are committed to their success. They also allow you to fix early problems before they fester into major issues.”

Download Available — D8:   www.Intertech.com/Winning-Business

Thoughts Since the Book

  •  Most check-ins result in a “all things are well” conversation.  While it may seem like overkill, the purpose of the check-ins is for those few occasions where all is not well and this dedicated, focused one-on-one provides an opportunity to fix an issue and keep an employee

Building a Winning Business – Hiring Process Reference Checking


Building A Winning Business — Section: Hiring

Hiring someone is a highly human interaction. After all, it’s a matter of people coming together and making a decision to spend 40-plus hours a week together for an undefined period of time well into the future. It’s easy to let emotions, especially positive ones, tempt you into skipping your due diligence before offering a job to someone who appears ideal.

Here’s my advice: don’t let this happen to you.

  • No matter how impressive someone appears to be, you should always call his three most recent employers and ask questions that get the real story. Ask, “What did Bill do?” instead of, “Bill said he was a project manager who oversaw 20 employees. Is this true?” Open-ended questions ensure that you will get a more complete and accurate description of the candidate’s past job responsibilities and performance (some companies, however, maintain a strict HR policy of only confirming the dates of employment and the job titles a person had while in their organization).
  •  It also makes sense to get a professional outside assessment of your leading candidates. We spend about $300 per assessment, which provides us with an extensive overview of the candidate’s personality and allows us to decide whether the person will fit with our culture. Sound expensive? Think about the costs (both time and money) involved in a bad hire. Also, candidates are typically hired based on skill and fired because of personality.

Tom’s Takeaway:  “There are three places where you can’t always see someone’s true personality: on a first date, at church, and at a job interview. Increase your odds of hiring someone whose personality, values, and work ethic match your own by thoroughly checking him out before you extend an offer of employment.”

Thoughts Since the Book

A gated, defined hiring process is huge in building a solid organization.  A perennial discussion at Intertech is if our hiring process is too rigorous.  We’ve had candidates opt out because our process because it’s too long or involved.  I have counter thoughts:

  • It shouldn’t be easy to join an elite team.  Think Navy Seals.  The right candidates get this… along with having candidates opt out of our process, I’ve heard now employees state, “I knew this was a place for me when I saw how hard it was to make it through the hiring process.”
  • If we’re going to spend 1,000’s of hours working together, doesn’t it make sense to spend about 20 hours on the front end to ensure it’s a fit for both sides?

Building a Winning Business – Introduction

Building-a-Winning-Business-BookOver the course of the next year, I’ll be posting all the parts of my book Building a Winning Business:  70 Takeaways for Creating a Strong Company during Good and Bad Economic Times.

I’m working on a Second Edition of the book and will boost the Takeaways to 100.  If you thoughts on additional topics, leave a comment or fire me an email @ tsalonek at Intertech dot com.




(When writing this book) My primary goal was to create a single source that shares “How we do stuff at Intertech” for new employees and clients. Whether you’re running your own company, managing an IT department within a multinational corporation, or leading a software development team, it’s my hope that some of the ideas and information presented here may work for you.

As an entrepreneur who has operated a successful IT development and training company, my experience includes work with many different employees and Fortune 500 companies, governmental agencies, nonprofits, and a good number of small- to medium-sized firms.  In thinking about this book, I realized that despite their differences, all these organizations (including my own) are facing profound challenges—whether they realize it or not—due to the increasingly global nature of competition and what some are now calling “The Great Recession.”

One estimate from Forrester Research projects that by 2015 some 3.3 million professional positions will move offshore. Various economic prognosticators also are predicting the demise of entire industries as the inevitable outcome of the very entrenched economic downturn in which the world now finds itself.

On the employee side of the equation, things are also changing rapidly. Consider reputable predictions for Generation Y (as of 2010), which includes Americans older than five up to their early to mid-20s. Most will:

  •  Change careers (not simply jobs) five times
  •  Not be interested in long-term employment
  •  Expect leaders to be authentic
  •  Be as equally committed to their work as to their employer

What does all of this mean?

Things are changing! The upcoming workforce is a generation unlike any other and will stretch us in how we attract and retain talent. Our competition can as easily come from Bangalore as Boston or Burnsville, Minnesota. An uncertain economy makes forecasting and growth challenging at best. Yet, I believe, all these changes are good in the long term. They force us to get better at serving our customers and employers, cultivating our employees (and ourselves), and understanding our markets. In essence, they compel us to build the strongest organizations possible to compete in the largely uncharted business waters of the 21st century.

This book is far from an ivory tower treatise, although it is an attempt to share the proven strategies I’ve gleaned from nearly 20 years in the business world. It includes lessons gathered from the perennial “school of hard knocks,” as well as valuable lessons I’ve learned from respected executive education programs, graduate-level classes, and ideas from fellow entrepreneurs at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. A business thinker of particular influence worth noting and thanking here is Verne Harnish, author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.

I’m certainly not a Stephen Covey or a Peter Drucker, but I have seen firsthand how effectively these strategies work at Intertech. Intertech has received more than 35 awards—for being one of the fastest-growing firms in America; for being one of the “best places to work,” according to Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal; and for excellence in our management practices. But the real proof is that Intertech has satisfied clients, great employees, and a profitable bottom line.

In The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman notes that to compete in the future, “We have to do things differently. We are going to have to sort out what to keep, what to discard, what to adapt, where to redouble our efforts, and where to intensify our focus.”

I hope this book helps you to do just that.