Chris Douglas, YEN Member Insights, March 2010

Chris Douglas, SEMA YEN Member of the Month, March 2010

Chris Douglas on… Building a High Performance Culture

Chris Douglas, 33 Years Old
V.P. of Marketing, COMP Cams; YEN Member

Team building. Employee growth. Business success. Without a high-performance culture, it’s unlikely that your company is going to achieve any of these objectives. Nobody knows that more than Chris Douglas, Vice President of Marketing, for COMP Performance Group. At COMP, winning isn’t a sometimes thing – it’s an “always thing” that requires passionate, committed people. How do you get them…? By building a high-performance culture.

About Chris

Putting himself through college racing Go-Karts in the World Karting Association, Chris Douglas is no stranger to competition on the race track. In fact, he earned the WKA National Championship with dedication to being the best racer he could be. At the tender age of 23, he soon found himself behind the wheel of Late Models, ASA, and NASCAR Busch Cars as a partner in the Race-On Driving school. It wasn’t long before an even better opportunity came along in 2003 – the chance to work at the fast growing COMP CAMS. With an amazing work ethic, and a passion for the brand, Douglas worked through the ranks at COMP, becoming the Director of Marketing in 2006, and the Vice President of Marketing in 2009.

In this interview, Douglas gives us insight into COMP’s winning culture, and how you can incorporate some of their principles into your high performance company.

What does a high performance culture mean to you? How do you define it?

“Passion. I had three new employees start this morning, and we started talking about passion. High performance to me means passion. Racers and enthusiasts are passionate about their cars, I expect our company and staff to match that passion. Throw ourselves into the task at hand with passion. We will not be outworked. We will go to every length to be smarter, more efficient, and more competitive than our competition. It’s no different than when you go to a race track. We just race companies, not race cars.”

“In a high performance culture, ideally, what happens when someone breaks the code of that culture. What happens when they fail to put in the effort, don’t do their best.”

“Winners want to be surrounded by winners. But not everyone wants to be a winner, and it’s not ‘one strike you are out.’ Typically, here at COMP, we rely on the co-workers and peer pressure to encourage our team members to perform at a certain level. Any time you have a good solid team, there is pressure to perform. If that doesn’t do it, I step in to get them in there. I’m not afraid to stop and say “this isn’t working – let’s move on.” And let them go.”

How do you get the best out of people?

“There are several things. People have to trust you as a leader. That’s not built overnight… it’s built on a track record, built on people knowing that you care about them on a personal level. There’s a lot that goes into that. If they believe in what the company is trying to accomplish. Part of my job is to make sure that I define what the goals are: where is the company headed and how do they play a key role in that.”

COMP does not have a structured formal review. Is a review system in place? What about salary adjustments?

“Employee reviews go on every day. A formal review system - to me - is a ridiculous as tenure is to teachers. Waiting until the end of the year to give a job evaluation is the most inefficient way you can possibly go about it. To an employee, review means a salary review or something of that nature. Salary adjustments are 100% based on performance, not based on standardized raises.”

How do you handle today’s younger employees?

“Today’s culture, young people – if you have to stereotype – there is more of an instant gratification group. I have encountered that along the way. I have employed very good, talented people that could have had a bright career that moved on because they were impatient with movement up the ladder. We have had many young employees where this is their first or second job. When you come out of college, that there is always that sense of conquering the world, the thinking is “I’m gonna make $50,000+ right out of school.” Then reality sets in: this is a competitive marketplace where there are very few open jobs. Then they get discouraged. However, if a younger employee works their butt off, they can move up in as little as 6 months. But they need to put the work in.”

Let’s talk about mentoring and how that relates to culture. Who mentored you when you came to COMP and how did that affect you.

“Rick Sparks, and on a different level, Ron and Scooter, but Rick day to day really helped show me the ropes. I reported directly to Rick when I started here, and I probably drove him crazy early on. But I have to give him credit, he had the foresight to let me make some mistakes early on. Rick doesn’t mind throwing someone into the fire and seeing what they are made of right off the bat. When I first was put into the marketing department, Rick just threw me in there and said he would find out what I was made out of.”

What about adversity. Say you are working for a company that is going through an extremely challenging period of their business. How do you hold it together as a team, as a culture, when the going to work feels like being on the Titanic?

“Luckily I’ve never been on the receiving end of that, we at COMP have always been blessed. The closest I’ve come to that feeling is the most recent economic downturn, with the market as a whole was down. There’s nothing that you do to change the market and demand for parts at a personal level, but at a company level -- it really comes down to character and the individuals involved. Are you surrounded by winners? Can you tell your team the ugly truth – be honest, be candid, and work within your circle of influence? Winners will take a bad situation and make the best. They’ll work for the good of the team.

Chris, summarize the top 3 things that everyone reading this can do to build a winning culture.

1) Keep your people well informed: be candid, honest, and direct with them.
2) Really care about your staff. If you show true, daily concern for their well-being as people, they will buy into that and will do their best for the company and for their fellow team members.
3) Hire winners. Surround yourself with winners.