Rob Eberle, 51, is president and chief executive of Bottomline Technologies, a business software firm in Portsmouth, N.H. He joined Bottomline in 1998 and became CEO in 2006. The company makes electronic payment systems to help firms manage global payments and invoices. It has won “best place to work” awards both at its U.S. headquarters as well as its operations in the United Kingdom.
EL: What do you see as your primary roles as CEO?
Eberle: I try to do three things: bring in new talent to the business, help our people get better each year and listen to them. Helping people get better is particularly important. When you ask the best leaders, “What did you do to make employees better?”, they have a good answer.
EL: Can you give an example of how you help employees do their jobs better?
Eberle: I’m willing to get tips anywhere. My 11-year-old son plays baseball. His coach huddles with the kids after every inning, giving them very specific feedback. Over a 60-game season, imagine the amount of feedback each player gets! I took that back to the business and said to my team, “Let’s not wait to give employees feedback. Let’s take them aside more often and say, ‘Here’s what you did well and what you can work on.’”
EL: But some people may chafe at too much critical feedback.
Eberle: It’s meant to make them better. If you have a culture where everyone’s open to getting better and delighting the customer, then frequent feedback is received well.
EL: How do you make that culture come alive?
Eberle: While we’re talking right now, our culture is operating around the world. We have more than 1,000 employees. They’re interacting with customers right now. Your culture gives you the greatest influence on how they interact with customers.
EL: How can you assess whether employees buy into the culture?
Eberle: Our employees consistently say that they love their jobs. When you ask them why, they almost always say, “The people.” You can’t get a better answer than that. The technology today won’t be the technology tomorrow. It’s the people that matter most.
EL: What happens when you make decisions that you know will upset employees?
Eberle: I’ve learned to listen to people. I used to point out the end result, the answer. But I didn’t recognize that some people didn’t understand the end result. So you have to help people get to the answer on their own. It’s different for each person.
EL: That takes time and patience!
Eberle: I say all the time, “I work for 1,000 families.” The No. 1 thing we can deliver to them is a successful business. That means spending more time listening to people, supporting their success and helping them see how we’re doing as a business. That’s part of my job. The language you use is also important. If the leader constantly says, “I did this” and “I did that,” it shows you’re not thinking in terms of “we.”