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Lessons In Leadership: Interview with CEO Global Network Member Joe Graci, President and GM, Interwork Technologies Inc.

October 30th, 2017

Interwork is a specialty cyber security distributor with operations in the US and Canada. They serve over 2,000 Value Added Resellers (VARs) and Solution Providers by providing fast, expert service; and partner with leading security manufacturers who rely on them to help recruit and enable channel partners. Interwork celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and is closing in on its 6th consecutive year of growth.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Leading by example is important to me as a business leader, and my leadership style is usually democratic or participative. I’m always thinking about new business and market ideas and better ways for us to do things. I like to bounce these ideas off my team, as well as listen to ideas from them that will make us better or more competitive. However, in a turnaround or crisis situation where time is of the essence or important structural changes need to happen, my leadership style shifts to autocratic.  

How do you keep employees engaged and motivated?

I believe that engagement and motivation come from:

Within
+ Having the Right Job for the Right Person
+ Driving the Right Culture
+ An Alignment of Corporate, Functional, and Individual Goals

It starts with defining your vision and mission and consistently communicating them at every opportunity. Then, defining and helping team members develop their own personal missions. What is the ONE thing they can work towards that will be most impactful to the organization and their career? What do they want their legacy to be when they move on? Aligning individual missions with corporate goals and compensation leads to engaged and motivated employees. This is all incorporated into our annual ‘Professional Development Plans’ that are driven by individual learning objectives. We also have a consistent behaviour-based rewards and recognition system that we incorporate into our quarterly ‘All Hands’ meetings.

How do you create trust within an organization?

The key fundamentals are to follow-through on your commitments, and to treat everyone with respect and a high degree of professionalism. Understanding individual goals, helping people remove barriers to achieving these goals, and further enabling them through coaching and accountability are important as well. My philosophy on trust is that the best way to know whether you can trust someone is to trust them. Let their actions and behaviours decide the rest. Organizations often expend more energy establishing unnecessary policies and processes to mitigate ‘trivial risks’ that offer low returns, than they do unlocking the energy of a trusted, engaged team that fosters free thinking and creativity with unlimited return. This is what I refer to as the ‘trust trade-off’.    

Can you briefly describe the model you developed to build a business?

The model I developed is called FAST business building.  It refers to being focused, aligned, streamlined, and technology-enabled. Throughout my career I’ve found that being FAST, both literally and figuratively, yields amazing results. Finding ways to deliver services faster, going to market faster, and building a culture that is focused on being FAST. I’ve deployed this model in both large and small organizations and it has broken down barriers and created new market opportunities. You can find out more about the FAST™ model at www.joegraci.com

What are the fundamental responsibilities of a leader?

The fundamental responsibilities of a leader are to serve your employees, your shareholders, and your customers/partners. Leadership is about defining the larger vision and mission that unites all stakeholders and allows them to move in the same direction. You are essentially the maestro of an orchestra and your decisions and actions determine how synchronized you are as an organization.

What are the ‘core values’ of your organization and how are they communicated?

People who are successful in our organization work hard, work fast, develop expertise, and are committed to helping others – whether it’s our customers, technology partners, or each other. They are focused on our mission to be “the faster cyber security distributor committed to enabling our channel partners.” We communicate our vision, mission, corporate goals and performance every month, as well as during our quarterly ‘All Hands’ meetings. We have no room or tolerance for those who are distractors or put their personal agendas or egos ahead of the team, regardless of their performance.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing business leaders today?

The biggest challenge facing business leaders today is the combination of new technology and new business models displacing their business. Established industries will continue to see great changes in their competitive landscape – just ask the taxi industry, hotel industry, banking industry or department stores who their biggest competitor is today. Business leaders need to engage in technology discussions and business model innovation beyond their immediate needs. It’s not about “How do I replace my ERP system”? That’s the wrong technology question. The questions to ask are: “How can my industry deliver services differently and what technology will enable that change?” “How do buyers want to buy?” and “How will the value chain change over the next 5 to 10 years?”

What is the best business book that you have read and why?

It has to be John Wilson’s Great CEOs and How They Are Made. Having said that, there is one book that I like to read and re-read. It’s a children’s book by Julia Donaldson called The Gruffalo, and its central message focuses on working smarter. This resonates with me because it’s a daily reminder that no matter how hard I work, I need to continue to focus on how to work smarter. On the business side, How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg is packed with great concepts, fresh thinking, and tools on working smarter.

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