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A flat Earth

Rob Farr

Dr. Paul Eccher and Dr. Linda Sharkey, authors of the book “Optimizing Talent”, conducted a talent management study of more than 400 of the Fortune 1000 companies. They found that, “fewer than 25 percent of companies possess a well-integrated and effective approach to talent management and that there is a strong correlation between effective talent strategies and improved business results.” Dr. Eccher noted, “Without a comprehensive strategy, businesses risk low employee engagement, low diversity of talent, high turnover rates and poor market performance.” For organizational leaders, the real differentiator between average and top performance is the effectiveness of their talent development system. Importantly, it is not just about attracting and retaining talent, it is about recognizing the need to optimize talent by creating opportunities for employees to do what they do best.

I recently visited with Robert E. (Rob) Farr, II, President and CEO of Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons Architects and Engineers, P.A. (CDFL), about his leadership philosophy, and I took note of his emphasis on talent development. Farr’s father, Robert Farr, Sr., founded CDFL in 1961 along with Nelson Douglass and Bill Cooke, and Farr joined the firm in 1974 after studying at Millsaps and graduating from the University of Arizona. Farr was honored at graduation as the outstanding senior in the college of architecture. Over the last 38 years, he has been able to pursue his passion of working with his colleagues to “create places that are designed to brilliantly and flawlessly make people’s lives better.” CDFL, like a number of other Mississippi businesses, is a secret success story. They are a significant “importer” of dollars into our state as their professional staff of over 51 employees serves clients in over 17 states.

Farr emphasized to me, “You have to invest in your people.” He shared a phrase that was new to me for his approach which he describes as “reflective light.” This means that the leader takes the best of his or her people and reflects that back to them. You accentuate the employee’s strengths and talents which in turn strengthen the entire team. Farr acknowledged that the real challenge is the practical application of this leadership philosophy. He does it by listening and observing his team members and then at opportune times he is intentional about encouraging the individual employees about their unique gifts and talents. Farr strives to bring out the very best in people on his team and enable them for success. I have found that great companies have similar approaches and genuinely care about their employees. As the old expression goes, “people do not care what you know until they know that you care.”

At CDFL, they work hard but Farr said that they try to make work an enjoyable place. The day we spoke, the firm was collectively celebrating a large new contract and they were about to have an “Office Olympics” event. Farr’s philosophy is that “work” should not be a dirty word. When you are doing what you love then it really is not work. Farr, like other successful leaders, is a lifelong learner. He knows that he does not have all of the answers and is always seeking out new information and ways of doing things. Being thirsty for growth empowers organizations to not become stagnant. In today’s competitive world, it really pays to be a learning organization.

Mississippi’s future strength will depend on companies that fully develop their people and similarly “import” fees and opportunities into our state. We live a new flat world and the opportunities for us are incredible. I appreciate visionary leaders like Farr who recognize these opportunities and seek to build great companies and communities in our state.


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About Martin Willoughby

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