As an entry-level programmer at HighJump Software in the mid-1980s, Chris Heim craved information about the company he worked for.
He wanted it to help him stay motivated and to understand where he fit into the larger scheme, how the company was doing, what it was doing and why.
“It seemed like we would hear about goals at the start of the year and then we’d hear about results at the end of the year,” Heim said. “It was like playing a basketball game with the scoreboard covered up.”
Now Heim, the chief executive of Eden Prairie-based IT software company HelpSystems, makes sure that employees know the score through his open-book leadership style and, metaphorically, that they also own a piece of the scoreboard.
“We bombard them with information and really ask why we can’t share this with our employees,” said Heim, who was rated the top leader for midsize companies in the Top Workplaces survey. Heim won the same recognition in 2016.
In addition to sharing information with employees, HelpSystems also shares equity in the company.
“That’s an important parallel piece of that transparency,” Heim said. “You make someone an owner and then you’re telling them how the business is doing and how you play a role in it. It reinforces the transparency and the transparency reinforces the ownership.”
As Heim, who has run a number of successful software companies with business partner Dan Mayleben, has observed, “Owners behave differently.”
“Sharing a piece of the value created is the right thing to do,” Heim said. “Because I’m not writing code, I’m not taking customer calls, I’m not making sales at this point. The people that are, are really the ones creating the value, and they should share in the upsides when we create it.”
Heim began sharing good news and struggles in monthly employee meetings he instituted when he rose to chief executive of HighJump in 1997. He continued the practice as CEO of Axium Software and Amcom Software, and at HelpSystems, where he has been chief executive since 2014.
Staying in touch with employees now, with more than 600 HelpSystems employees working in 20-plus countries, means having three monthly meetings, Heim said.
One takes place for U.S. employees, another for those in Europe and Australia, and yet another in Spanish after an acquisition in Argentina and Spain, Heim said.
“In that case unfortunately I’m the ugly American not fluent in Spanish,” Heim said. “I have to present a slide and then they translate. Some of the sessions we do are in Spanish but you have to have a different cadence to allow that translation.”
HelpSystems also uses e-mail and the enterprise social networking service Yammer, among other means of communicating with employees.
“A big part of my role is getting the word out, setting the culture and telling people what’s important, so we think it’s worth it,” Heim said.
The meetings emphasize the importance of taking care of customers, Heim said, and highlight positive feedback from customers about particular employees.