Dave Ramos, founder and CEO of the small to mid-size high-performance consulting firm, The Dashboard Group, told WashingtonExec why he believes Washington, D.C. is a better location than Silicon Valley for entrepreneurship and explained the importance of employee engagement, especially for mid-tier companies. WashingtonExec also asked Ramos how he thought the economic downturn will effect companies as well as his best piece of advice for someone wishing to become an entrepreneur.
WashingtonExec: Please tell us a little bit about your background and founding of The Dashboard Group.
Dave Ramos: I am a strategic change agent with a track record of transforming organizational performance. I have a broad range of executive experiences, including large global corporations, venture-backed startups, government, and non-profits, and functional expertise in marketing, sales, and organizational development. I’ve held executive positions with global leaders like Nortel where I was the Vice President of Global Marketing. At Nortel, I won the company’s highest award, The Chairman’s Award, for innovations in marketing. At IBM, I won the company’s highest award, The Golden Circle, for innovations in sales. I was employee number 13 at AnswerLogic, a venture-backed software company where I led sales, marketing and business development.
Over the years, I had a range of experiences. I worked for a couple of great managers, and a couple who were “life-changingly” bad! I worked in high-performance organizations, and I worked in a few that were completely, utterly dysfunctional.
This led me to a deep conviction that “life is too short to work in a dysfunctional organization.” I started Dashboard to help leaders build high-performance organizations. We have spent a decade focused on the process of transforming good organizations into high-performers that inspire employees, win customers, and leave competitors in the dust.
I have a MBA from the Harvard Business School, and a BS in Accounting from Drexel University.
WashingtonExec: Your organization’s website talks about “Fast Lane CEOs,” what are some examples of the clients you work with?
Dave Ramos: The Dashboard Group works primarily with leaders of “Fast Lane” organizations – mid-market, high-growth innovators that are looking to take their organizations “to the next level.”
Often, the organization’s growth has plateaued, and Dashboard is hired to help properly diagnose the cause of the plateau, and then work with the leadership team to align the organization, drive change and accelerate performance.
Some of these organizations we have worked with include:• Technology Firms, such as Moreover • Professional Service Firms, such as NeoSystems • Construction Companies, such as Bognet Construction · Government Contractors, such as BTI360 and Group W • Non-profits, such as The Heritage Foundation
While each organization has some unique challenges, the issues are surprisingly similar. One of the root issues we see over and over is misalignment. For example, we’ve seen organizations where every executive had a completely different compensation plan, none of which focused on overall corporate performance. We’ve seen organizations where the sales strategy was completely disconnected from the marketing strategy. We’ve seen organizations that say that “people are their most important asset” but treat people like disposable commodities.
The Dashboard methodology helps leaders identify these performance killers and align everyone and everything into a cohesive unit. The cumulative effect of these changes improves performance and accelerates growth in amazing ways.
WashingtonExec: Why do you think the Washington, D.C. area has become somewhat of a “hub” for entrepreneurship?
Dave Ramos: Washington, D.C. is a magnet for the best and brightest. I love the diversity of our region, which leads to entrepreneurship in all fields, including non-profits, associations, professional services and more. This is very different from the entrepreneurial culture in Silicon Valley.
In addition, too often, we think that CEOs of start-ups are the only entrepreneurs. In fact, most of our work is with entrepreneurial leaders in mid-market organizations. These entrepreneurs are just as innovative, just as visionary, as start-up CEOs. In fact, these entrepreneurs face additional challenges of transforming their organizations, such as leading change, re-directing investments, re-organizing teams, pruning under-performing people and products.
These mid-market entrepreneurs don’t get enough credit.
WashingtonExec: You mention on your website that you are in the business of helping leaders create high-performance organizations. How do you think the economic downturn will affect the type of clients that you serve?
Dave Ramos: Building a high-performance organization is really hard. Economic challenges create temptations to improve short-term profits by cutting investments in developing people. I’ve heard CEO’s brag about using the recession as an excuse to postpone raises or forgo paying bonuses. These organizations will pay a huge price for their foolish practices once the recession ends.
One of the many things we look at is employee engagement. We have a partnership with Quantum Workplace, the company who administers the Best Place to Work surveys. This has given us a keen insight into the relationship between employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and revenue growth. Disengaged employees give mediocre service, which kills growth.
There is a Sam Adams beer commercial that perhaps says this best, “Happy employees make better beer.”
WashingtonExec: If you could give one piece of advice to someone wanting to begin a start-up company, what would it be?
Dave Ramos: Every startup goes through two distinct phases. The “drill for oil” phase involves months, and sometimes years of exploration and trial-and-error. This can involve chasing any deal that will pay the bills, even if it is out of your sweet spot. Eventually, however, the organization must mature and get focused. This is the “real enterprise” phase. This begins with identifying your One Thing, pruning the activities that don’t fit, and aligning every part of the organization to deliver it. Failure to make this transition is a root cause of plateaued growth.