Behind the career: John Kealey

October 28, 2012

Position: Chief executive of Decision Lens, an Arlington software company.

John Kealey realized a life goal at age 29, when he became a chief financial officer at a unit within Southwestern Bell. After becoming chief executive a few years later, he decided to join a consulting practice that focused on teaching leadership skills. He put those lessons to practice at a succession of software start-ups until coming to Decision Lens.

You have said that behavioral science transformed your leadership skills. Can you give an example?

At a company called TenFold, we were working on a software project and it became pretty clear that we were going to miss our deadline. We had to find a way to get the team to work longer hours and on the weekend, and we thought about offering a bonus as an incentive. But someone told me that the company hadn’t been too good about keeping its commitments in incentives in the past. So people weren’t convinced that they were going to get their bonuses. So I sat down with the team and told them that if we pay you a bonus every Monday if you achieve these goals, do you think you can get there? They said no. I could tell they didn’t believe they were going to get their incentives. So we set up the incentive plan and the targets. On Monday we handed out the checks. Their eyes lit up when they got their checks on Monday. They organized as a team and said, “We can do more.”

How else can you get results?

Back in my behavioral science days, they gave me this wonderful little model that is called DCOM — direction, confidence opportunity and motivation. If you’re not getting results, one of those elements is just not working. Either you haven’t provided good direction to the person and so they don’t really know what you want them to do or what the goal is ... or the person doesn’t have the confidence. Or they don’t have the opportunity. By opportunity, I mean resources. Or people aren’t motivated. So when people aren’t producing results, it might not be the person. I have to decide whether it’s one of those four.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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