In December 2008, Wes resumed leadership of the company. A friend suggested that he take a serious look at Aileron. He was skeptical, he admits now, basically out of a misunderstanding of how strategy and vision can propel a company forward. Then he took the Course for Presidents and brought his senior managers to Aileron, too. After a meeting with Aileron Consultant Bill Matthews, his opinion changed. He remembers Bill asking good, provocative questions— questions that made him think. “It became apparent that the true desire of everyone I met on the campus was to help me,” Wes says. “I learned, too, that as a non-profit, Aileron has no revenue to protect. That puts everyone on campus in the unique position of being able to be brutally honest. It was always quite apparent they didn’t need me, which is a cool position for a consultant to be in. All the consultants I’d worked with before had revenue streams to protect—they would be honest with me to a point, but their honesty only went so far if it meant it might interrupt that stream.” In the process of developing a strategic plan with Bill and another Aileron consultant, it became clear to Wes that changes had to be made.
First, there was the issue of focus. Working with Aileron consultants, the Agil IT team was able to identify its area of excellence. The team learned it had a definite affinity for delivering IT to the healthcare industry and in particular, to ambulatory physician groups. The new focus meant Agil IT had to part ways with some big-name national accounts, including one with a presence in every supermarket in the country. But for the sake of the company’s clarity of purpose, it had to be done. Agil IT became clearly focused, and the big-name client respected Wes’ team for it. “The move toward a strategic plan also allowed us to market our products differently. We sell hardware and software. But really, we’re a services company. That focus allowed us to market our service as purpose-built—specifically to that ambulatory physician market. So the conversations on the business development side have just gotten easier and easier because we now have a service that’s laser-focused on a specific market.”
Through Aileron, Wes also learned to give his people the freedom to make mistakes—to fail, because that’s how learning happens. The changes Wes had to make were easier than he anticipated because through Aileron, he had a new clarity of purpose. Some of the changes required Wes to let go, trust his people, and let them do their jobs. “You have to let people make mistakes,” he says, “even when it costs money, time, or a client. You have to, because it makes the organization get better,” Wes says. “We realized we weren’t good about discussing failure publicly in a positive way. Every organization fails on many levels. But with the help of the Aileron consultants, we developed a plan for presenting issues and analyzing them in a constructive manner, together as a group. So we were able collectively to stop certain failures from happening—and plug the holes that made those failures possible. Now it’s an expectation. When we do well, everyone knows we’ll dissect those successes publicly to identify what we’re doing right, and conversely, when we fail, everyone knows we’ll also dissect that publicly. That whole process has been extremely helpful.” Wes says his connection with Aileron has resulted in a 180-degree difference in the way he works and how his business functions. He no longer thinks just about today. He spends more time looking down the road, thinking about what’s beyond the next bend.