Synectics for Management Decisions, Inc.’s roots date back to 1969. In 2012, focused on Health IT and the emerging field of data analytics, the company made the official move from small to large business. Last month, the company announced that it had appointed Ana Hirsbrunner as President and that she would be “tasked with providing strong leadership for the company by working with the board and other executives to establish short and long-term goals, plans and strategies.”
We spoke with Ana about some of those goals, about what the company has learned since its transition from small to large, how partnering has changed, and what Government can do to support industry.
What is the Biggest Misconception you had Moving from a SB to a Large?
We had a long history of hiring staff we knew from our network, or staff who were referred by our employee base or others. As a small business, top management was available to evaluate all candidates for hire and get to know the candidate firsthand to ensure they were a good fit for our culture and that their career aspirations aligned with the goals of our organization.
In ramping up to become a large business, we were concerned about preparedness, putting up our armor so we could compete with long established large business and along the way, we lost some of that focus on our employees. Now, we are stepping back, maintaining the preparedness we have developed but moving back to our roots as a small business with a renewed focus on the key characteristics that made our company great.
Some of that involves connecting with employees on a different level. Every quarter we hold a town hall meeting that includes a formal presentation and then an open forum where I’ll answer any questions that people have, where we can talk openly on what I call “safe ground” and really connect. Through open door policies and constant availability, I want to make sure our team knows I am available for them, that I truly believe in leading with transparency and that we need their input and ideas to succeed.
Why are Internal Relationships so Important?
As a small business, we were accustomed to our word being our bond and part of that word is delivering the right people at the right time, focused on solving our customer’s problems. That is still important. We also want to be sure, as one project is nearing its end, that we know the strengths and capabilities of our team members so that we can prepare to reposition them within Synectics for their next career challenge. Hiring the right people is important but equally important is retaining those people long-term, both for the skills they initially brought to the team, and for the added depth and knowledge and insights they have gained since then. We know that we need to invest in our employees; make sure they have access to quality continuing education programs to they can train themselves with the newest, state of the art technologies through outside training offerings, through our elearning center and our in-house training offered to employees.
What about External Relationships?
We believe our partnering relationships are equally important. When we are considering various teaming companies, we seek firms we can commit to on a long-term basis, going back to that idea that our word is our bond, that if we set a sharing agreement, that is what we are committing to…along with sharing any potential contract growth.
We are also looking at the partner for their story, their background, their mission, efforts outside of the business world, etc. to ensure our values align. Signing a teaming agreement is like a marriage, except that you can’t decide to simply break up if things don’t go the way you planned.
We want to have the same connections with the companies we team with as we do with our own staff so regularly scheduled, relaxed meetings and the occasional casual social events where we can all really interact and connect are important.
The Courting Process
As a small large business, we find ourselves in a unique position of being able to partner with smaller small businesses. They have the vehicles we need and we have the experience and capabilities to help them gain experience, or to bring their new ideas and innovations to light. If we think of positive disruption, of things that are really going to make an impact, bring a change to the way things are done, it will often be these smaller businesses, these emerging companies built on new ideas, that will be the catalyst.
What Small Business Needs to Understand
Sometimes, small businesses will look at us in relation to a billion dollar company who may also be interested in partnering with them, and think that bigger is better. Or there might be a company of a similar size that is still listed as a small business who sees us as competition and so is more inclined to go with a larger partner.
To the first situation, we say that we have a background of experience and capabilities and evidence of success to prove that bigger isn’t always better. As the original contractor for SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Information System, and as the team who spearheaded Head Start, our portfolio demonstrates meaningful and successful initiatives.
To the second circumstance, we say that as a smaller large business, each contract means more to us than it might a larger company. Going back to the relationships and small business integrity we are focused on, that can be a benefit, from the sharing agreement side and how the project moves forward.
How can Government Better Help Support Industry?
The biggest challenge for a small business and a small large business can be retaining key people, maintaining those intellectual assets of knowledge and experience. One of the biggest hurdles we face are award protests. We can have a solid transition plan in place for our staff but then a protest is filed that delays us for months and suddenly it is a greater challenge to hold on to those people while the protest runs its course.
If Government procurement officials could find a way to be less guarded, to be more transparent about award decision criteria and evaluations so fewer questions remain at the end of a debrief, maybe that would assuage the concerns of bidders, thus eliminating some of the need to file protests. That would move things along more smoothly and allow industry to function more effectively.
As Chief of Staff for more than a decade, Ana Hirsbrunner helped to establish corporate policies and the organization’s direction, also ensuring that policies, planning, and services remain fully aligned with the Synectics’ mission and that assets are ably managed and steadily increased. These assets include not only physical property and financial assets but the reputation and relationships of the organization and the capabilities of the members of the staff and the board. Her responsibilities have also included upholding ethical and overall leadership and stability standards and ensuring that all legal and agreement obligations are met. As President, she will continue to drive the company forward with a focus on competing in the marketplace as a large business with small business integrity.