Roots of Success: Steve Dern
In this Roots of Success series, we continue to explore dimensions and definitions of success. We recently visited with Steve Dern, Equiliem’s EVP of Managed Solutions. Dern shared his perspective on what success is all about, habits that can help, and what he’s learned from others.
Steve Dern is considered a “success connector,” a function nearly inseparable from his role in leading Equiliem’s Managed Solutions arm. He’s spent decades in the business of managed talent solutions after beginning his career in human resources and IT staffing. While rubbing elbows with clients and industry vendors, he’s become a master of enabling solutions that help people work together more effectively, uniting technology solutions with processes in a way that empowers others.
Relationships and the Human Element
What drives Dern is a belief that even as solutions continue to advance, relationships still matter. When clients tap him to contribute to their goals, he directs them through exploring the impact of tools and processes on people. He wonders how to get things done more efficiently and how to allow people to add value, bring their talents forward, and engage with each other in the journey.
“Throughout my lifetime, both professionally and personally, I have always tried to add value to every relationship that I come across. As we implement solutions, I consider optimization as leaving people in a better place than before.” Dern added, “How can we save money, improve processes, but more importantly, do it so that people want to use the solution or the program because it makes their life easier and helps them drive value for their own business and stakeholders?”
Commonly MSPs and clients want to establish a certain way of doing things with no exceptions, but there is almost always a scenario that pops up that justifies an exception. “I always encourage clients to keep this in mind and allow for a formal exception process to be put into place. This way, the hiring manager or executive has some flexibility within the solution and makes them more prone to utilize and comply with the program. At the same time, those exceptions get tracked and reported upon so that you can bring visibility to managers who seek the exception consistently,” he said.
When asked about habits that foster success, Dern espouses finding tools and routines that work for you. He said, “In business, you’ll always need to manage your calendar and priorities and document action items. Adopting a process that works for you can help you to stay on track with goals.”
One thing that Dern carves out time for on his calendar is his network. “It is important to keep in touch with people, from former clients to coworkers, and mentors; it helps you keep perspective on the industry and get you through career challenges. If they know you are investing in the relationship for the right reasons – because you truly care about contributing to their success – then you can have a career that is based on integrity and will last a long time.”
Advice that Stuck
Dern considers Dennis Kanegaye and Art Knapp, both men who hired him years ago, and Equiliem’s Monte Block among his top mentors because they have an affinity for understanding business operations while valuing relationships. Kanegaye demonstrated how to build a culture as a leader. From Knapp, he learned how to motivate people toward desired behaviors and decisions but allow them to get there on their own. Dern said he strives to emulate both when mentoring others, “Empowering others is about pushing them out of their comfort zone, and there is a right way to do that,” said Dern.
What struck Dern about Monte Block was Block’s habit of freely sharing wisdom and insights with his teams and clients. Dern noted how Block’s mastery of building trust in this way led to not only the success of his businesses but made him a leader in legislative elements of the industry. Dern said, “Monte Block has done it his way, with high integrity, every step of the way.”
Dern said that his relationship with Monte Block goes back to 2005, well before he came on board with Equiliem. He describes the transition to working for the company as “heartwarming.” He said, “Even knowing that Equiliem is a family legacy business, it’s surprising how much heart there is here; the values established by Jerry, Monte, and Linda Block are very evident in how the company operates today. The values have stood the test of time over generations. I saw it as a client for years, and as a member of Equiliem’s leadership team, I still see the same commitment to partnership, integrity, and long-term relationships today.”
On Tough Decisions
Like most leaders, Dern finds that difficult decisions go with the territory. He believes in leaning on empathy, but being transparent, whether the situation is someone not performing in their job or an account that isn’t profitable. “If you’re doing your job as a leader, you communicate along the way. It should be no surprise when you decide to make a change on your team or have a difficult conversation with a client, so no apology is needed,” Dern said.
In life and business, there will be setbacks. Dern said that the best approach is to prepare well and control what you can but realize there will be both wins and losses. He said, “As long as we’ve done a good job of thinking about our audience and asking, am I looking at this from their perspective, then we can move on without regret.”
Still, Losses Hurt
When asked about his biggest disappointment, Dern lights up, remembering the moment like it was yesterday. It was the 2016 Final Four, his beloved North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Villanova; Dern said, “I was there! I saw the shot go up at the buzzer and sat in my seat with eyes closed. Then when I opened my eyes, I heard fireworks and screaming fans, and Capital One seat cushions were flying in the air. I couldn’t react in any way. I was just stunned for hours. It was devastating to be on the losing end of one of the greatest games ever played.”
That pain exists in business too. Sometimes you deliver your very best proposal and presentation and firmly believe you are the optimal choice for the client. And then, at the last second, a competitor sinks a game-winner at the buzzer to win that contract. “It hurts, but sometimes business, like life, is beyond your control. You must learn and move on with wisdom that allows you to be better the next day,” Dern said.
Keeping Forward Momentum
Dern said that he has enjoyed the moments when professionally, he’s been making an impact “hitting on all cylinders.” But he believes in work-life balance, with the caveat that it will never be perfectly achievable.
He says that success at work fills one bucket while providing the opportunity to go after non-professional dreams, including improving his golf game, traveling, taking care of his family, and being part of the lives of his children (and hopefully someday, grandchildren) as they grow older.
Dern said, “At this point in my career, the most important thing isn’t me. I’m the happiest when I’m building teams and finding success for the company, my clients, and all the people who have helped me find success in this industry. If that happens, then I have made a positive impact in the industry.”
Equiliem (www.equiliem.com) believes in empowering success. It’s our job to cultivate relationships that connect people and employers in a way that is inclusive, intelligent, and allows both to thrive.
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