CEO's Notebook

Dan Gould's got rhythm. Not the kind that Ethel Merman once sang so lustily about, but the kind that keeps the operations of his company, $7.9-million Synergy, in line with his goals. "We're just pulsing," says Gould, CEO. "It's crystal clear now what needs to be done and who's doing it."

The company, a designer of lighting systems that's based in Framingham, Mass., has become metrically attuned. Last year its staff jumped from 10 to 24. Last June, Gould started holding a series of tightly structured meetings to cope with the resulting chaos. The meetings were timed to the eighth note -- and were mandatory.

The system, inspired by the teachings of Verne C. Harnish, founder of the Young Entrepreneurs' Organization, has four components: 15-minute daily huddles, 42-minute weekly meetings, 60-minute monthly team meetings, and weekly 10-minute tÊte-Ã-tÊtes between supervisors and employees. The last was Gould's brainchild, intended to get around his urge during meetings to coach any employee who might be having a problem. "There's nothing more boring in a meeting than two people going back and forth," says Gould. "What makes the team meetings work is that we don't get into one-to-one discussions."

As with music, what also makes the meetings work is timing. The midlevel employees who run the meetings stick to a strict agenda, using a $10 digital timer to keep things on track. Staffers at the weekly meetings, for example, spend 2 minutes on good news, 10 minutes on critical numbers, 10 minutes on stubborn problems that Gould calls "rocks," and 5 minutes each on customer feedback and employee feedback. For the final 10 minutes, a designated group member reports on progress on the "action register," a spreadsheet that tracks a specific problem and its remedy. "The point is that someone owns the idea," says Gould. "If we didn't write those actions down and review them every week, a year from now we'd say, 'Didn't we talk about this before?"

Gould can already point to tangible improvements that the new setup has brought about. It has enabled Synergy to adhere to a new accounts-receivable system -- one that calls for sending an invoice for 40% of the work on a project to the customer before a job has begun, rather than when the work is finished, he says. That means that money is flowing into the company's coffers much earlier than in the pre-meeting days. Back then, says Gould, Synergy often didn't learn that a customer had lost an invoice until 45 days after payment was due. "It's greatly improved communication and productivity," he says. "Everyone's in sync."

CEO's Notebook

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