The Ripple Effect of Professional Management
Photography provided by Aileron
This piece is part of a special section profiling the successful evolution of private businesses in Greater Cincinnati helped by Aileron. For the articles in these series, check out the Aileron Special Section home here.
Founded on the understanding that healthy business is the lifeblood of a thriving community, Aileron is dedicated to unleashing the potential of business owners, their organizations and, ultimately, their connected communities.
The organization’s work to catalyze and guide the professional evolution of private business owners is, at its core, aimed at creating a ripple effect that can carry economic stability, community engagement, and personal empowerment throughout the nation’s communities.
Rooting into the belief that even the farthest-reaching ripple can begin with the tossing of a single pebble, Aileron channels its energy and experience into the entrepreneur.
Let the evolution flow.
Every Ripple Has a Center
The role of the modern business owner is complex. Intricately linked to a network of various communities— from families and neighborhoods to trade associations and governments— entrepreneurs play a dynamic role in the life of our nation. Understanding that role is essential to raising the quality of life throughout the vast, interconnected community that is modern America.
Clay Mathile understands that role. He understood it when he bought Iams, and he understood it when he sold the dog food company in 1999 for $2.3 billion to Proctor & Gamble. Mathile respected the role of entrepreneur so much, in fact, that even while running Iams he sought to improve his entrepreneurial skills by taking development courses.
In 1996, Mathile established Aileron so that others could learn the skills that made him successful.
“I promised that if I became successful, I would pass on to aspiring business owners the knowledge and understanding I gained from applying professional management principles,” he says. “Aileron is one way that I am fulfilling that promise.”
Aileron works to engage the owners of privately held businesses. Whether an organization is in its formative stages or being passed to a new generation of leaders, the Tipp City-based, national non-profit guides individuals at the helm as they focus on expanding their own efficacy and unleashing the potential of their enterprises, just as Mathile did at Iams.
Recognizing that the professional life of the modern business owner is unfailingly dynamic, Aileron offers a number of courses designed to reinforce entrepreneurs throughout the various stages of their journey. Typically starting with the flagship “Course for Presidents,” business owners are introduced to Aileron’s fundamental philosophy on growing and managing a company.
This philosophy is articulated in the Professional Management System approach. Also known as the DOC System (named for its three main pillars: Direction, Operation, and Control), the model supports business owners as they work to direct their companies’ growth, actualize their various missions and attain a holistic level of success.
“The first step in becoming a professionally managed organization is becoming aware that there is a different way to run your business,” says Joni Fedders, president of Aileron.
The DOC System focuses on helping business owners shift their perspective into a more elevated position. Rather than allowing themselves to be consumed by immediate issues, they concentrate on ensuring that the framework of procedures and systems surrounding those issues is effective and supportive of the business’s growth.
Entrepreneurs begin to direct their energy toward guiding the business as a whole, addressing important, overarching issues. They work to chart the company’s long-term direction, align operations with that direction and establish controls to assess progress and ensure success.
Fedders emphasizes that implementing the disciplines of Professional Management is no easy task. “It’s a long-term proposition that you take one step at a time,” she says. “Slowly over time, you evolve your business. It can’t be done in a day or two. Or even within a year.”
Outlining the all-encompassing nature of the Aileron approach, Fedders suggests that Professional Management is essentially a mental operating system— a way of guiding the patterns of thinking, interacting and being that exist within the leadership of a business.
“It’s definitely bigger than any IT system you’d put in play or any formal system you’d implement within your organization,” says Fedders. “It’s a philosophy. But it’s not theoretical. It’s very practical. It is a way of choosing to run a business.”
Emphasizing the importance of a process-centered perspective, Fedders says “it’s not about doing everything all at once. The reality is that these business owners are already working 16 hours a day. They don’t have extra time to spend on a new initiative. So... the questions of ‘How would I start? Where do I focus?’ are very important.”
The answers to these questions are unique to each business. Developing an ongoing relationship with each business owner is therefore an essential component of the Aileron approach. As clients complete the Course for Presidents, they are paired with a business advisor who helps them build an implementation plan that’s personalized, prioritized and actionable.
Once the process begins, though, “it’s like a snowball going downhill,” says Fedders. “One thing leads to another, and before you know it you’re starting to evolve into professional management.” She notes that as clients start to feel the benefits of their efforts, they generally dive into the process even further. “Whether you’re doing that first claiming process, putting the first board in, or gaining some clarity around roles and responsibilities— whatever it might be— you start to feel the benefits.”
Expanding Outward: The Evidence of Change
These benefits, says Kelly McCracken, director of client relations, come in multiple forms. Pointing to a study that the organization completed in early 2013, she first focuses on the empirical.
Examining statistics from 2009 to 2011, the study compared the growth rates of Aileron clients’ businesses to the growth rates of general Ohio businesses in the same categories. McCracken reports that during that time period, Ohio’s published growth rate was at negative one percent. The average growth rate for Aileron clients who committed to Professional Management, on the other hand, was a positive 21 percent.
The capability to stimulate top-line growth (especially during one of the most challenging economic periods in recent memory) is not the only compelling feature of the Aileron approach. McCracken notes that Professional Management also yields individual and societal positives: increased job fulfillment, economic and personal stability and civic engagement. Though some of these results are difficult to measure, their effects are no less real.
Referencing the ground-level contributions that Aileron's work can make to the day-to-day life of a community, McCracken says, “that’s when it really starts to get exciting.”
“We hear inspiring stories all the time,” McCracken continues. She recounts an anecdote she absorbed while having a conversation with a stranger. When the woman with whom she was talking discovered that McCracken was part of the Aileron team, she began to share her own tangential experience with the effects of Professional Management.
The woman described her husband’s professional life as a case of “before and after.” The pivot point: when her husband’s employer took the Course for Presidents. For three years prior to that, her husband had been working 10-hour days, six days a week, all without a raise. He consistently came home grouchy from his work experience and complained that he felt stuck professionally.
After the business owner began a relationship with Aileron, however, the company began to change. The owner’s efforts to implement the principles he learned through the DOC System not only improved the business and its operations, but enhanced the employees’ work lives as well. Her husband received a raise. His schedule issues were addressed. Once again working five days a week, he now had more time to spend with his family.
On top of all that, the woman said that her husband started to come home happy. He talked about work like it was a place that he actually enjoyed.
McCracken emphasizes that this story was reported by the wife of an employee whose boss went to Aileron. This family’s experience, she says, is a perfect example of the ripple effect caused by the Aileron approach. “Not only did Professional Management change the business owner’s life, but it changed that employee’s life as well. It changed his wife’s life. And if they have kids, I would bet that it affected their kids’ lives, too!”
Fedders notes that this type of positive feedback is not only familiar, it also highlights the connections that exist between a business owner and his or her community. She points out that this network also includes ties to other businesses. “A thriving business buys supplies from other companies. So when one company is growing, other companies are growing by default,” she says.
McCracken adds that the DOC System’s emphasis on growing a positive company culture often serves to spark increased civic activity within a community. “If a business owner has a passion for helping a specific non-profit,” she says, “the next thing you know, their whole team is getting involved — either with that specific organization or with other organizations that are doing good in the community.”
To the Aileron team, all of these activities and connections add up to a very clear pattern. Fedders says that when the Professional Management approach is truly embraced and implemented, “you start to get a lot of healthier organizations. And healthier organizations produce healthier business owners and healthier employees. And ultimately, because of all the benefits that come with a thriving and growing organization, you get healthier communities.
“Our vision is to fuel those healthy organizations so that our nation is full of thriving communities. Communities where people are getting good education and good healthcare. Communities where people work in positive places that are innovating and creating.”
Envisioning the potential impact of this grass roots revolution, Fedders says, “ultimately, we can help raise the quality of life in America. One business, one organization at a time. We really think that Professional Management can change the world.”
But, she adds, “it all begins with the business owner.”
Aileron is located at 8860 Wildcat Road, Tipp City, OH 45371. You can reach them at 937.669.6500 or visit their website at www.aileron.org.