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Winning Combo: A Dedication to Talent and a Focus on Results
Business Journal

Winning Combo: A Dedication to Talent and a Focus on Results

by Steve Crabtree

Story Highlights

  • Recruit people with high-level talent for the job
  • Continually develop and make the most of people's talent
  • Support talented people with great managers

As a starting outside linebacker for the Ohio State Buckeyes in the late 1990s, Jerry Rudzinski relied on a few core convictions to drive success on and off the field. An article in The Ohio State University's student publication on Rudzinski from that time highlights one such principle as part of his upbringing: Focus on the fundamentals.

Focusing on the fundamentals has continued to serve Rudzinski well in his career at Stryker, one of the world's leading medical technology companies. As senior director of sales for the company's Patient Handling division, Rudzinski heads the management team for a nationwide sales force of 11 region managers and 112 sales representatives.

Under Rudzinski's leadership, his sales team has exceeded expectations, delivering double-digit growth in three of the past four years. The team also posted one of the highest sales force employee engagement scores in the company. So when Gallup was reviewing nominees for the inaugural Manager of the Year award, which was presented at the 2014 Gallup Great Workplace Awards (GGWA), Rudzinski's name rose to the top of the list.

In considering his achievements over 14 years with Stryker, Rudzinski returns to his emphasis on the fundamental conditions for success. "There's something about staying grounded in the basics that makes you feel confident as you move forward with any project or initiative," Rudzinski says. In his current role, those basics are similar to those of any successful coach: Recruit people with high-level talent for the job and continually develop them and make the most of their talent.

"[Receiving] the [Manager of the Year] award was particularly fulfilling for Jerry because he really is a student of talent," says Don Payerle, the vice president and general manager, Patient Handling and EMS. "He loves finding [talent], he loves coaching it, and he loves developing it." Payerle describes Rudzinski's ability to recruit people with world-class talent and learn about what motivates them as individuals, then challenge them with high but achievable expectations.

A "Talent Offense" Drives Success

Rudzinski's success as a manager represents a way of effectively executing Stryker's broader performance strategy, which incorporates several of Gallup's practices. The first practice is talent assessment using selection profiles in hiring sales representatives and sales managers. Stryker also uses Gallup's Q12 employee engagement survey to gauge the extent to which employees feel involved in and enthusiastic about their work and to create interventions at the workgroup and enterprise levels to systematically improve their engagement. Stryker relies on great managers to make its performance strategy work and to ensure that employees are thriving in their careers.

Several executive leaders are typically present at each workgroup's Q12 feedback session, during which employees and managers meet to discuss the survey results. Rudzinski attends 13 sessions per year and says that senior leaders often attend many more than that. Managers and leaders clarify that each session's purpose is to make the organization better, and to achieve that goal, it is important that everyone feels free to speak up.

"History would suggest that forthright feedback is harmless in these sessions, and people accept that," Rudzinski says. "Our employees care about their work, so the positive cycle of communication continues."

Stryker's performance strategy works. In addition to Rudzinski's individual award, Stryker also received the 2014 GGWA Development by Design award, which recognizes the company's "purposeful focus on individual strengths and how they enable employees to create personal, team and organizational success."

"Stryker runs the talent offense as well as any organization that Gallup's ever worked with," says Jeannie Ruhlman, Gallup senior consultant. "Their approach to talent and engagement has become more sophisticated over the years. Stryker believes that if every job is important, the company should have heroes in every job, so not every career path looks the same. Some may look like a ladder. But others may have steadily increasing bandwidth, so people can stay in the role that allows them to use their strengths while they also have new challenges and opportunities. That way, their talent doesn't ever become stagnant."

Communicating and Winning

For Rudzinski, constant communication with his team members helps ensure that their talents are well-supported and running at high capacity. "It's a simple formula," he says. "Talk to your sales force to see what's going well for them and where we're disappointing them. If you ask those questions and listen carefully to the answers, you'll be able to make incremental improvements along the way that a spreadsheet or market analysis simply can't give you."

Maintaining a strong level of communication is particularly challenging for a team like Rudzinski's, whose region managers each oversee a group of sales reps who work remotely and rarely see one another in person. Managers must make the most of every connection with their team members, whether in person, over the phone or otherwise. They join their reps in "ride-alongs," and they often use Gallup's strengths-based management coaching materials to understand how best to engage each employee individually.

Rudzinski stresses the importance of selecting region managers who are naturally strong communicators and relationship builders. Those managers help promote the team's success, and celebrating the team's accomplishments further boosts engagement. "The key is communication and winning. One without the other is a dead end," Rudzinski says. "It is tough to build camaraderie in the dark. It is also tough to spread goodwill when there are no positives."

Expecting the Best From People

Given Rudzinski's success at coaching and building strong relationships with his team members, it might be natural to assume his strengths are primarily relationship-oriented. But Rudzinski's top five talent themes -- based on the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, Gallup's taxonomy of 34 themes -- are Competition, Maximizer, Focus, Achiever and Significance. These themes point to someone whose primary motivation is delivering results.

"Winning is where Jerry likes to be," says Ruhlman, who serves as Rudzinski's strengths performance coach. "He has Competition and Significance in his top five themes, but he plays that down because he embraces a servant-leadership orientation. He expects the best from his people, but he also expects the best for his people. That's one of the many reasons people want to work for him."

Rudzinski says his goal orientation pervades everything he does at Stryker. "I want to be part of the greatest company in the world, and that's the end in my mind. Everything we do, every agenda we set, every customer we talk to, every meeting we plan -- we're going to have that end in mind."

Like many world-class managers, Rudzinski has a personal take on his role at the company, recognizing the influence he can have on his team members' well-being. "Lives change in the working world when the right manager enters someone's life," he says. "My father's life -- and consequently, our family's lives -- changed because a great manager entered his life. My life changed when a certain manager entered my life. To me, it's inspiring to know that the region managers and directors who I work with could potentially change somebody's life by getting up in the morning and heading off to put in a good day's work."

Gallup Great Workplace Awards: Manager of the Year

  • Jerry Rudzinski, Senior Director of Sales, Patient Handling Division, Stryker Medical
  • Career with Stryker: Rudzinski joined the company in 2000 as an account manager before his promotion to region manager in 2003. He has served as senior director of sales overseeing the Patient Handling sales force since 2009.
  • Top Five Clifton StrengthsFinder themes: Competition, Maximizer, Focus, Achiever and Significance
  • Overall team engagement: Patient Handling region managers, top 10% of all workgroups in Gallup's worldwide Q12 employee engagement database; Patient Handling sales representatives, top 20% of all workgroups in Gallup's worldwide Q12 employee engagement database and one of the highest ranking sales forces within Stryker.
  • Leadership style:
    • "Jerry takes the time to understand the intricacies that make his team members tick, and then leverages those things to promote the team's success." -- Don Payerle, Vice President and General Manager, Patient Handling and EMS
    • "Jerry ignites a passion within his teams, and they are driven to produce results." -- Jeannie Ruhlman, Senior Practice Consultant, Gallup

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