Jessica Hanna

Tuesday, 31 January 2012 19:01

Kaiser Permanente has a commitment to care

Taking measures to promote employee wellness can save you money.

In fact, a comprehensive study showed that workplace health promotion programs resulted in a 25-30 percent reduction in medical and absenteeism costs, according to a report by the World Health Organization and World Economic Forum.

Kaiser Permanente, a leading health care provider and not-for-profit health plan, uses HealthWorks, a customizable work force health strategy, to help employers take advantage of their benefits and create a corporate wellness plan. Headquartered in Oakland, Calif., the organization added its 15th medical facility within Ohio last month.

“If (companies) make an investment in employee or associate wellness, they’re going to get a substantial return on their investment that not only helps their associates to be healthier but also improves presenteeism and improves the bottom line for their organization because they actually have happy and healthier associates,” says Joseph M. LaGuardia, vice president of marketing, sales and business development for Kaiser Permanente.

Looking to your health planner for guidance and resources is key in taking the first step toward creating a wellness program — identifying employee needs and setting goals accordingly.

For example, member companies of Kaiser Permanente can access a variety of tools such as onsite screenings of employees, worksite wellness activities and online educational resources with HealthWorks.

Also, talk directly to employees, says Carolyn A. Hodges, a HealthWorks consultant at Kaiser.

“Sometimes it’s as easy as polling them and really understanding who your population is,” Hodges says. “What are their health concerns? What would they be interested in?”

After evaluating the wellness needs and goals of your organization, create a committee to handle implementation.

“Developing a wellness committee is integral to the success of a wellness program because they are the ones who are passionate about health and wellness,” Hodges says. “They’ll be the ones to motivate their fellow employees. And if you can, draw on various departments so you have different opinions throughout the organization.”

Then begin enacting programs that further your goals.

“It doesn’t need to be a huge over-the-top initiative,” says Hodges. “Employers can take easy steps: posting hand-washing reminders or reminders to take advantage of free flu shots — just constant reminders. I think communicating to motivate is critical. (Use) different venues: in the lunchroom, through e-mail, making announcements.”

One of the most common wellness goals is weight management. In addition to fresh New Year resolutions, it’s a prominent concern because of its links to serious, sometimes chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia.

Instead of addressing the negative and often sensitive issue of obesity with your employees, promote positive activities and lifestyle changes that will combat obesity, such as physical activity and healthy eating.

“Instead of a weight-management program, launch a walking program,” Hodges says. “Launch a physical activity challenge. Focus on healthy eating by providing them with a healthy nutrition library and ask employees to bring in fun recipes. Throw a weekly salad bar potluck.”

Creating programs is not enough — you have to get buy-in from your staff. To encourage employee participation, senior management must also actively engage in wellness programs.

“If the employer sponsors a ‘lunch and learn,’ a walking program or a potluck, the employer needs to be there,” Hodges says. “Bring a healthy dish, join a team, show up at the presentation. The importance piece is being physical to the employees. Walk around and talk to employees about how they’re enjoying the program.

“Making sure employees know you care about them and their health will lead to them being engaged in their own health and wellness.”

How to reach: Kaiser Permanente, (216) 479-5547 or http://businessnet.kp.org

A mental note

There’s a mental side to health in addition to the physical, says Joseph M. LaGuardia. Maintaining good mental health will keep your workforce invigorated.

LaGuardia, vice president of marketing, sales and business development for Kaiser Permanente, says to create wellness programs that are fun to engage employees.

“Do something that’s tied in with some of the nonprofits in town,” LaGuardia says. “There are organizations that will give employers guidance on that, like Business Volunteers Unlimited. They’ll actually help you conduct done-in-a-day projects. ... That type of thing helps employers make it more fun to come to work and enjoy what they do.”

Carolyn A. Hodges, a HealthWorks consultant with Kaiser Permanente, says to also give employees timeouts from work during stressful periods.

“If there’s a deadline approaching and you know everyone is stressed out, throw in a potluck or a relaxation event — and be a part of it — so you know that your employees know you care about them, and that they can take time away from the stressful environment,” Hodges says. “That’s showing appreciation for everything your employees are doing.”

The future is all about digital, and the companies that will come out on top will have the most outstanding user experiences, Amy Buckner Chowdhry says.

Buckner Chowdhry is co-founder and CEO of AnswerLab, a consulting firm that helps many of the world’s leading brands build user experiences across digital platforms.

“We wanted to offer the whole tool kit — that no matter what a client’s business question is when they’re developing a digital product, we wanted to be able to offer the right research methodology to answer it,” Buckner Chowdhry says.

Founded in 2004, the firm of 30 has worked with clients such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Honda.

Smart Business sat down with Buckner Chowdhry at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how AnswerLab works to create and implement user experiences that meet the needs of both company and customer.

How is bringing in an outside firm beneficial to the development process?

In your average organization, you don’t have one person who’s that decision-maker. You have multiple people, and what happens is that the competing needs of each of the groups can result in an experience that gets watered down.

It’s incredible to see how easy the user experience within an organization can go south because there are too many stakeholders — there are too many people involved in making the decision around what gets launched.

When you bring in an outside, independent and objective research firm to help in your process, you can get back to what the voice of the customer is.

How do you engage the customer to identify their needs?

It typically involves recruiting them into a research environment where we’re engaging with them one-on-one or in a group setting.

We can start with a database or a list that our client has of their customers. We reach out to them for a particular research study and maybe do focus groups with them. We may visit them in their homes to watch how they use a product, bring them into the lab environment and watch them behind the mirror as they try to use a product or bring them in to do something on a page to track their eyes to see what they’re looking at on the page. Do they notice the fad or do they not notice the fad?

What process do you have to turn a good idea into a tangible product or service?

The day to day is about getting these projects out the door to clients. That’s what most of our teams focus on. But we need to also be innovative in taking what our services and research are and taking them to the next level. We go through a rigorous strategic planning process where our entire management team meets quarterly.

We do a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analysis, and we sit down and look at what are the opportunities here. When a new product will help address some of the items that come up on our SWOT analysis, we turn that into a strategic priority for the quarter and we track against it.

If we identify that a specific threat may be that a competitor has a competing product, or if we identify that there’s a huge opportunity on the table to basically grab this unmet need from our clients, then that becomes a product or a goal that we drive through as a strategic priority. We take the results of strategic planning process and put it into a one-page plan ... and that’s on every single person’s desk in the office.

We have an online tool that we use. Everyone has to log into on Friday and update it, and it shows our progress toward implementing these strategic priorities. So there’s the goal to get this product launched, and there are all the tasks associated with it and all the people who need to help make sure that happens.

How do you stay motivated and keep creativity flowing for yourself and for your organization?

We focus a lot on trying to ensure that our team can get the right professional development that they want. We have a series of learning luncheons that we set up where we’ll bring in outside speakers to talk with the team and keep them engaged. We’ll watch a ‘Ted talk’ during lunch together. We’ll have individuals within the company present on the work that they’ve been doing.

How to reach: AnswerLab, (415) 814-9910 or www.answerlab.com

When Harlan Platt saw a sign for a free safety deposit box at the bank next to his, he went into his bank and asked his bankers to match the offer. When they told him they were unable to do so, Platt took all of his business to the other bank.

Smart Business spoke with Platt, a professor of finance at the Northeastern University College of Business Administration in Boston, about how empowering employees to deliver excellent service is key to retaining satisfied customers.

Q: How do you view world-class customer service?

I would describe it as when you’re finished, it’s been painless and it may even be pleasureful.

It can be something that is not pleasureful, but you feel good afterward.

The consumer knows it because it’s so exceptional, it’s so unusual, it’s (such) a deviance from most experiences that it just stands out in the same way that when you have a good glass of wine you say, ‘Oh my god, now I see why people pay for expensive wine!’

You have to empower. Obviously, if people are not empowered, they can’t do anything.

I don’t expect companies to cut their own throat. But when a longstanding customer walks in, I would have expected the manager (at my old bank) who I spoke to to say, ‘But you know, let me get on the phone and call some people and see what I can do.’ And then call me back and say, ‘I’ve got it for you.’ That’s where I think it’s not just the empowerment, I think it goes back to the hiring function — who you hire.

Q: How do you hire to ensure excellent service?

If you hire people who are ‘people people,’ if you hire people who want to do a superior job, if you hire people who go home at night and feel good because they helped somebody else, then you can have an accomplished (team). You can empower people as much as you want, but if you employ people who are very ... solipsistic, thinking mostly of themselves, it’s not going to happen. They have to extend themselves. I think that’s really what you’re talking about, is an individual extending themselves to make the product/service of a company better suited to the needs of a customer.

You don’t hire 60,000 people and insist or ensure that the ones you are hiring are ‘people people.’ It just can’t be done; it’s a whole different mission. By contrast, if that hiring had been done, say, not at a regional level but at a store level, even a big firm ... could pull it off.

You and I both have been in situations where the person you’re speaking to is nasty, makes you feel uncomfortable, tries to make you embarrassed for even asking. That’s not a good person to hire. And I think companies can inform their hiring process or train their hiring process to weed (them) out.

Too many companies say, ‘We’re going to hire 60,000 people. That’s the goal,’ not, ‘We want to hire 60,000 great people who are going to provide superior customer service.’

Q: How does delivering superior service impact customer loyalty?

Simple: They care about me. It’s just that one sentence. They care about me. I’m not just a number, I’m not just an account, I’m not just an individual who walked in. They care about me.

I had done a transfer on my online banking with (my new bank) and I think I did it twice, and one account was short and then a check didn’t clear. So I called up and I said, ‘I made a mistake and you charged me $35.’ She said, ‘I’ll change that. I’ll fix it, don’t worry.’ That’s very nice. I know one thing for certain, if I had done that at almost any other bank, they would have been very sympathetic and then they would have hung up the phone. With her, I didn’t have to fight or argue, I simply said, ‘I made a mistake and you charged me $35.’ And immediately they said, ‘No problem.’

Q: Can delivering top-notch service affect pricing?

Stonyfield Farm is a company (that) talks to its consumers and says, essentially, ‘We’re looking out for you. We’ve moved away (in the Stonyfield Farm case) from hormone-ingesting cows, going back to the old days.’

By separating itself from the pack ... it owns its brand.

What they own is a niche, and that allows them premium pricing. So if you go to the supermarket, there is nobody that can deliver the product that Stonyfield is delivering. My wife buys it because this hormone-based milk is now an association of tumors in women. She pays $3.69 for the large-sized yogurt that’s Stonyfield Farm, and the store brand is on sale for $1.49 and it’s regularly priced at $1.69. That’s a premium price.

Of course, Stonyfield doesn’t sell as much and they have higher costs. And buying milk where the cows don’t use hormones, that affects their output and so the price is presumably higher. So the higher price is somewhat justified by these cost factors, but I think your point is better taken, that they can premium price because they own the niche.

HOW TO REACH: Northeastern University College of Business Administration, (617) 373-3232 or www.cba.neu.edu.

Technology is a term often associated with advancement. In the realm of customer service, it has cultivated an expectation of increasingly innovative and customized service.

Michael Brunner, however, says that the opposite holds true for many companies.

“You’ve got this expanding gap there that the more technology advances, the greater the disappointment there is with the consumer as to what their expectation is and what they receive as it relates to their own experiences,” says Brunner, CEO and chairman of M.J. Brunner Inc. based in Pittsburgh.

As a full-service advertising agency, understanding customer wants and needs is paramount to creating and delivering effective campaigns for M.J. Brunner’s clients.

“The more we know about the mindset of the consumer — the way they think, the way they deal with technology, they way they use technology, the way they put technology into their purchasing patterns today — the more valuable we become to our clients,” Brunner says.

The 200-plus-employee agency uses a number of techniques to evaluate its clients’ customers, including shopper marketing to define consumer behaviors. Once a campaign has been created, the company implements a measurement analytics tool called Cricket to then review campaign metrics in real time to make decisions and changes based on ROI.

“We’re hired by our clients because they expect us to get results for them,” Brunner says.

“If we were to deliver that I think that’s all fine and good, but I don’t think that’s enough. I would define that as creating work or developing a campaign or a program that absolutely catapults a client to the top of their category — one that achieves dramatic results, one that fires up or rallies the organization, one that is built around a big or a game-changing business idea.”

One tool the company uses to think up big ideas is BHiveLab, an incubator focused on creating new ways to engage people on the go. By connecting to consumers through mobile devices and other emerging technologies, M.J. Brunner’s campaigns can influence consumer decision making during the actual shopping process in store.

“Almost every percent of purchase decisions are made in store. So that walk down aisle seven making a decision as you’re looking at cereals is not necessarily something that’s already decided before you get there.”

“We are able to connect the technology and the marketing and reach the consumer, give them a reason to purchase our client’s product rather than the competitor’s product.”

Brunner also uses technology to track and respond to consumer feedback through social media outlets.

“That negative experience that a customer felt or experienced today can be delivered to thousands of people (using social media) and creates an entire swell, if you will, of ill will or bad feeling or creates a bandwagon, which allows others to jump on and say the same thing,” Brunner says.

Responding to negative feedback quickly can prevent its rapid spread. Conversely, responding quickly to positive feedback can promote rapid spread.

“Perhaps you could use that as a platform and build a program or a campaign off that,” Brunner says. “It maybe becomes a starting point for future communications.”

HOW TO REACH: M.J. Brunner Inc., (412) 995-9500 or www.brunnerworks.com

The future is all about digital, and the companies that will come out on top will have the most outstanding user experiences, Amy Buckner Chowdhry says.

The CEO and co-founder of AnswerLab, a consulting firm that helps many of the world’s leading brands build user experiences across digital platforms, focuses on client research to help guide companies throughout their product development process. Founded in 2004, the firm of 30 has worked with clients such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Honda.

Smart Business sat down with Buckner Chowdhry at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how AnswerLab works to create and implement user experiences that meet the needs of both company and customer.

Q: What was the impetus behind AnswerLab?

My co-founder Dan Clifford and I both worked at a company called Vividence, and Vividence provided a piece of software that would allow you to measure and benchmark the customer experience of websites. That was one method of many that could help clients improve their digital experiences. Having built some knowledge there, we felt we wanted to offer the whole tool kit — that no matter what a client’s business question is when they’re developing a digital product, we wanted to be able to offer the right research methodology to answer it.

Q: How is bringing in an outside firm beneficial to the development process?

In your average organization, you don’t have one person who’s that decision-maker. You have multiple people, and what happens is that the competing needs of each of the groups can result in an experience that gets watered down.

It’s incredible to see how easy the user experience within an organization can go south because there are too many stakeholders — there are too many people involved in making the decision around what gets launched.

When you bring in an outside, independent and objective research firm to help in your process, you can get back to what the voice of the customer is.

Q: How do you engage the customer to identify their needs?

It typically involves recruiting them into a research environment where we’re engaging with them one on one or in a group setting.

We can start with a database or a list that our client has of their customers. We reach out to them for a particular research study and maybe do focus groups with them. We may visit them in their homes to watch how they use a product, bring them into the lab environment and watch them behind the mirror as they try to use a product, or bring them in to do something on a page to track their eyes to see what they’re looking at on the page. Do they notice the fad or do they not notice the fad?

Q: What process do you have to turn a good idea into a tangible product or service?

The day to day is about getting these projects out the door to clients. That’s what most of our teams focus on. But we need to also be innovative in taking what our services and research are and taking them to the next level. We go through a rigorous strategic planning process where our entire management team meets quarterly.

We do a SWOT analysis and we sit down and look at what are the opportunities here. When a new product will help address some of the items that come up on our SWOT analysis, we turn that into a strategic priority for the quarter and we track against it.

If we identify that a specific threat may be that a competitor has a competing product or if we identify that there’s a huge opportunity on the table to basically grab this unmet need from our clients, then that becomes a product or a goal that we drive through as a strategic priority. We take the results of strategic planning process and put it into a one-page plan ... and that’s on every single person’s desk in the office.

We have an online tool that we use. Everyone has to log in to on Friday and update it, and it shows our progress toward implementing these strategic priorities. So there’s the goal to get this product launched, and there are all the tasks associated with it and all the people who need to help make sure that happens.

Q: When you’re developing a digital experience, do you try to go that extra step to surprise users with something unexpected?

(There’s) a big difference in our world of user experience between a game user experience and your traditional user experience on the Web. One is called usability, which is your traditional ‘Can you pay this bill online without getting confused?’(or) ‘Can you register for this website?’

In a traditional usability experience, you could have elements of delight, but you want to avoid elements of shock.

(Another user experience is) what we call playability, which is ‘How easy and enjoyable is it to engage with this game?’ And in a playability sense, it’s OK to have a surprise. It’s good to have gaming elements that are discovered as you go, and it’s important for that game overall objective to be clear to you. And it’s OK for things to be difficult.

Q: What is the difference between a surprise and a shock?

The difference between a surprise and a shock is that surprise delights you.

Sometimes it’s just making an assumption, skipping a step for you so that you don’t have to think about extra steps as you go through the process. If it adds to ease of use, satisfaction, delight with a product, then that’s a great surprise. The bad surprise is what often happens with user experiences, which is actions that you take that have unintended consequences. You have an expectation that you click X or add Y to your shopping bag then Z’s going to happen, and it does not.

A really great surprise has to delight and not take someone for a loop.

Q: How do you stay motivated and keep creativity flowing for yourself and for your organization?

Our company works with the innovators. We are able to see incredible products or ideas for products before they go live.

Simply by doing our jobs, we stay incredibly energized and feel creative because we’re part of this process or this energy ...  around building something new and creating something new. We get to see it first, and we get to have input into it.

We focus a lot on trying to ensure that our team can get the right professional development that they want. We have a series of learning luncheons that we set up where we’ll bring in outside speakers to talk with the team and keep them engaged. We’ll watch a ‘Ted talk’ during lunch together. We’ll have individuals within the company present on the work that they’ve been doing.

Q: How do you recruit new hires?

For our research team, who are day in and day out connecting with our clients and consulting with them and doing the research, we typically recruit straight out of school. They’ve just got a Ph.D. in cognitive science or cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction or computer science, and they’ve done a lot of work in their academic field. They’ve done a couple internships. Then we put them through AnswerLab University. And we do an exercise with them when we’re going through the recruiting process to make sure that they can think on their feet. We give them a very quick assignment to do that they have to turn around to make sure that they will be able to adapt to our environment coming out of academia. So they have a great foundation, and then we help put on the rest, the consulting component.

When I think about growing AnswerLab, a lot of that is focused on ‘How do I create opportunity for everyone there?’ And it’s not growth for the sake of growth. It’s growth for the sake of every person within the company having an opportunity to learn a new industry, try a new product, build a new skill set, move into a different role, open a new office.

Q: What was your biggest barrier for growth in the early days?

The biggest barrier truly for me was not stepping out of the day to day. If I could start all over again, I would have hired our smartest, most senior people first and had them run the rest of the business while I stepped out of it and focused on growing it and setting the vision and the strategy for it. I spent a good couple years still doing the front-line research myself until we got big enough, then slowly but surely started hiring people.

How to reach: AnswerLab, (415) 814-9910 or www.answerlab.com

Tuesday, 03 January 2012 14:56

Curriculum for change

Amy Rosen says anyone can learn to be an entrepreneur if they have the heart and passion for it.

Rosen looks to ignite this passion at a young age. She is president and CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, an organization that brings its entrepreneurial training to high school students, especially those from low-income communities. The goal of this training is to inspire students to stay in school, recognize business opportunities and plan for successful futures. In Northeast Ohio, we have an affiliate of NFTE in Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU). This connection resulted from YOU’s merger with E CITY.

“All we do is open their eyes to what is possible and they just jump at it,” Rosen says. “We take what might be their actual street smarts and develop them into business smarts — the translation is there.”

Smart Business sat down with Rosen at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how teaching entrepreneurial skills in schools can help students to achieve both financial and personal success in the future.

Q: Why is it important for youth in inner city and urban areas to be taught entrepreneurship?

First of all, I would argue that it’s something that belongs in American schools forever. It is somewhat bizarre that we are a country founded on small business, that all net growth jobs are coming from businesses that have been in existence for five years or less, that our economy is so dependent on it, and yet we don’t think that there’s a place to talk about these things — and even talk about money — in public schools.

Every young person should graduate high school with the basic skills to make reasonable financial decisions about how to invest in their education, how to invest in their life and ultimately to be able to think like an entrepreneur about their lives — that’s what’s going to allow them to find their own path.

Even for people who aren’t going to be entrepreneurs, meaning they aren’t going to own their own company, they are (likely) going to work in companies of 30 or less. In 30 or less companies, you have to think like an entrepreneur. ... They don’t have HR people, so whatever you do, you have to be taught to think in that kind of way.

Q: What traits define entrepreneurs?

The common trait that we see in many young people who ultimately become entrepreneurs is that they’re comfortable with the ambiguity of risk. They are extremely determined, and there’s an idea that they believe in that they can stay laser-like focused on and also be resilient.

It’s one of the reasons that a lot of kids from low-income communities make such natural, good entrepreneurs. They had to be so resilient. You have to be able to go through failure to reach success. (In) this economy, all these young people are going to have to figure out their own pathways of success. It’s going to require that kind of thought more than it ever has.

Q: How do you teach traits and skills necessary to be a successful entrepreneur?

In addition to business plans, all of our kids do pitches. They start with a 30-second to 60-second pitch around their business. We bring volunteers into the classroom or we bring our students into their businesses and we have them pitch them. That interaction ... makes it relevant to them as an individual and appreciates their individuality. This really starts getting their ears and eyes open.

We had a young person this year who won our national competition who had a brilliant idea. It’s being patented. I have no question that she — and she’s 15 years old, by the way — will be an enormous success. She had all the brainpower to think like an entrepreneur, (but) her issues were in presentation. She was very shy, very reserved, couldn’t look people in the eye. Three months before that national competition, I saw her do her pitch in L.A. and I thought, ‘This kid is going nowhere.’ We had volunteers, mentors, our team people working with her. She came to New York in front of the leading entrepreneurs of this country and she blew them out of the water. Kids can do that — they just have to be taught and practice. Somebody has to take enough interest to care about them.

How to reach: Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, (212) 232-3333 or www.nfte.com

Friday, 10 February 2012 14:51

Language of success

Struggling to support her family since immigrating to the United States from Cuba as a teenager and without the means to go to college, Hortensia Albertini says she started out as an entrepreneur with only one thing going for her — her language. That, and a filing cabinet and phone in her kitchen.

Albertini began by teaching Spanish to executives in that kitchen. Today, she is the owner and president of Global LT, a Detroit-based company operating worldwide to provide various language services and cultural training including language training, translation and interpreting services and expatriate training.

Smart Business sat down with Albertini at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how she's expanded her solo start-up into a widespread, international success.

Q: What were some barriers to worldwide growth you faced?

I have been very lucky because really the only barriers that I have encountered have been growing pains.

For example, right now we’ve completely run out of space. So we have to make the decision, what are we going to do. Are we going to get a much bigger building and sell the one we are in, or are we going to buy a second building? And the same thing in Asia, the same thing in Europe — what do we do? We don’t have the space.

It’s great, but you have to spend a lot of money in order to keep on growing.

Q: How are you able to identify new opportunities for growth to expand on your services and implement them?

We watch what the countries are experiencing. What are the changes they are going through? And if we see a need in there, we try to do something about it.

We’re always looking ahead. What are going to be the needs of tomorrow? For example, I am a cancer survivor, so when I was going through chemo I realized ... there was a lack of sensitivity towards the patients, especially when you’re dealing with patients from other countries. So guess what? Now we are offering sensitivity training to Beaumont Hospital in Michigan.

Q: How important is it for executives to understand the culture and language where they’re doing business?

Communication is essential in business. If you can’t communicate, you can’t do business in other countries — bottom line. And also a sensitivity to the culture, it’s very important. I think we are becoming just one world, and we definitely need the culture and the language in order to succeed.

Q: How do you go beyond excellent service to deliver the unexpected to your customers?

Based on the relationship, you get to know them and you get to anticipate their needs. And I think that many times that surprises them, again, going the extra mile.

We did the whole relocation for (a) family to Michigan (from Germany). Guess what? We brought their horse, too.

I don’t think they (expected that). And I personally went to the Hunt Club in ... Michigan, and I told them there was a very important horse coming in. I wanted to see where the horse was going to be, I wanted to see what services I could. Many times, especially in the past, I dictate a lot of that myself.

Even today, they still say “We can’t believe you transferred (our) horse.”  They’re very grateful for that.

That’s going the extra mile.

Q: How do you communicate your corporate vision to employees of the organization throughout the world?

Of course, being global ... we work with Skype.

And we try to have once a month a global meeting and we let (employees) know what our new things are. Even though our headquarters are in Michigan, of course, we do a lot of things together as a team, because we’re a family — a big family.

For example ... I used to sit in the reception area because I like to see who comes in, who goes out. One time, this vice president of a big company in Detroit came and he was looking for one of our employees. When she came out, she said to him, ‘Have you met our owner?’ And he goes, ‘No wonder this company is so successful!’ So it’s being part of them. I’m not their boss, I’m one of them.

Q: How do you view philanthropy in what you do?

The satisfaction that you get when you give to someone and you see their smile on their face, it’s something that can’t compare. And everyone in our company is like that, because definitely we make sure that ...  we not only have great talent in the business field but also as human beings.

That’s part of why I think being an entrepreneur is great, because I don’t have this big organization with red tape telling me who to give (to), who not to give (to).

In our organization ... Fridays, it’s bring your pet to work. We have dogs all over the office and it’s great. And we just collected tons of toys for kids with leukemia. We always sponsor shelters for the homeless, for pets. We love it, and that’s what brings us ... together as one.

How to reach: Global LT, (248) 786-0999 or www.global-lt.com

Friday, 10 February 2012 15:08

Strength in numbers

Acquisitions don’t have to complicate your company. In fact, positively guiding the resulting growth will serve to bolster your business.

With 110 years of experience and an annual revenue exceeding $2 billion, Day & Zimmermann is an expert at this. A provider of a broad range of industrial, defense and work force solutions to commercial and government customers, the third-generation, Philadelphia-based company has made numerous acquisitions over the years to broaden both its reach and scale.

“We are interested in diversification because for us, it provides stability,” says Harold (Hal) Yoh III, chairman and CEO. “We might not have the biggest highs, but we’re also not going to have the low lows. And so for us, to be in many markets and many different services really makes a difference for our company and continues (growth).”

Smart Business sat down with Yoh at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how Day & Zimmermann approaches the acquisition of companies who will strengthen, not hinder, growth.

Q: What do you look for from an acquisition?

What we’re looking for is what can they add to us? Is it going to be geographic reach, is it going to be a new product line or a new service area, or is it just going to be able to get us scale in certain markets that we end up needing? And how do you integrate it in there? We have a lot of plans ... around what exactly is a reason why we’re trying to buy this company and how are we going to be more successful with this company than without this company.

Q: How have you been able to successfully integrate acquisitions to grow your company?

What we’re all about is strategic growth, and that’s what we talk about day in and day out — maintaining profitable, sustainable growth in our markets. So based on that premise, we look at three different ways of growing: one is organic, one is joint venture and a third is acquisition. And we definitely look at acquisitions.

It’s really integrating that and making sure that they have the right access into our company, into our people. We mix our people back and forth. We end up trying to rapidly as possible put our systems in place so that they become a Day & Zimmermann company very quickly and, at the same time, not destroying the value of the company and the reason why you bought that company.

Q: Do you have a specific on boarding system for that acquisition process?

I look at the company at 30, 60, 90 day, six month and then year/year after that. So we do have a review at my level seeing how the integration’s going, how it’s working. And we do have a big, long checklist. You begin integration as you’re going through due diligence. You don’t start integration when you buy; you start well in advance of it. And that way when you have the company, you finally bought it and it’s yours, you have a road map of what you want to do over the next year or 60, 90 days.

Q: How does culture affect your decision about an acquisition?

If we have a culture/value issue, then we’re not going to buy it. And we really do look at bringing on talent that way, too. It’s a great way of being able to buy great talent.

If the culture doesn’t fit with us, why do it? If you end up buying something that ends up changing your culture for the bad, that’s not good. Life is too short without having to pound your head against things and trying to make the company what it isn’t.

Q: How do you maintain your company culture and focus when expanding offerings and locations?

We spend a lot of time on training around (maintaining consistency within our different locations). Our values are very important to us — values of safety, integrity, diversity and success.

We begin at every meeting with a safety topic and diversity topics. So you’re putting your values and your culture up front every day with everybody.

Q: How has your company been able to successfully transition from generation to generation?

I’m the seventh CEO in 110 years. We do have that longevity of leadership.

We’re a privately held company. We work very hard to make sure that we have that right as good stewards and good shareholders of the company.

At the end of the day, CEOs need to reinvent themselves constantly and really (focus) on learning how can you apply new techniques to your company so your company can continue to grow.

Q: How do you as a senior executive lead innovation?

It starts at the top.

We also have three focus areas, and one is talent, one is customer and the third one is innovation. And we really do think that we can compete with great talent but also with innovative products. So we spend a lot of time around innovation. We have innovation plans; they’re baked into our strategic plans. We have a schedule of stuff that we want to do over the next three years. Everybody has a road map of what we’re trying to do from an innovative way, so we stress that day in and day out through me blogging, through just the various conversations.

Q: How do you measure whether an innovation is a success or a no go?

When you begin with any project, you need to say, ‘All right, what do I want to get out of it at the end?’ You need to put down the goals that you’re looking to expect if you go ahead and invest in this product or this service or whatever it is. And so that’s kind of the sniff test. Are you really passing those gates and those hurtles, and are you getting the results that you expect out of it?

How to reach: Day & Zimmermann, (215) 299-8000 or www.dayzim.com

Joe Gingo, chairman, president and CEO of A. Schulman Inc., was brought in to sell the struggling company in January of 2008. But by focusing on improving processes and operational efficiencies, Gingo led A. Schulman to generate $200 million in cash by the end of that same year. Undertaking several acquisitions, the company was no longer for sale.

A. Schulman is now a leading international supplier of high-performance plastic compounds and resins, with 30 manufacturing and support centers worldwide employing approximately 3,000 people.

Gingo served as a panelist at the October Smart Business Toolbox Series presented by Hyland Software, speaking about lean manufacturing initiatives to drive success in a global economy. Below is an excerpt from the Q&A session.

What are keys for operational efficiencies?

One, you have to have a process, and two, you have to have a leadership that drives it — a leadership that actually believes in it and makes it happen.

Continuous improvement has to be driven from the top down. It has to be something that’s built into your culture, where people actually look to improve everything they do, every day of the week.

How do you look at waste reduction?

People that look at lean tend to just look at it from a manufacturing standpoint, and that’s a big mistake. Everything can be processed, and some of your biggest savings come from that type of thing.

A good example for us was working capital. We had a great deal of concern about working capital when I first came to the company, and we laid out a program and actually developed it down to a board game.

We made a tremendous reduction in working capital. Why? Because the people that actually controlled working capital learned about working capital.

What are the initial steps that need to be taken to get initiatives off the ground?

Take your time upfront to get your team behind it. I don’t believe that you can just force these things. You really need to do a lot of work up front in designing the process and getting buy in from your global team.

What I’ve learned in the past is that without this buy in upfront, without this agreement as to what the process is, implementation gets sidetracked. Things start to happen along the way and delay everything.

How do you get buy in for initiatives?

Don’t give them the solution. Give them the problem.

Communications have to go up and down in this process. From the top is, ‘Here’s what our issue is and here’s why it’s an issue. Here’s why it’s important to us. Here’s how it affects you. This is how you benefit if you do this.’ Then listening to the people when they say, ‘OK. Well, if that’s the real problem, here’s how you solve it and this is what we need. These are the tools we need.’ Then you as the leadership have to provide these tools.

What processes does A. Schulman have to maintain continuous efficiency?

What we attempt to do is, through the Lean process, not only identify the problem areas but establish a priority for them. Priority can come two ways. One way, obviously, is ‘What’s my biggest problem?’ But sometimes that’s really hard to solve.

Sometimes you actually take a little problem that you know you can resolve extremely quickly through that whole chain. Solve that problem, give people credibility that this is going to work, and then you attack each problem along the way. And my experience is you keep redefining the process.

How long should initiatives take?

I look at it as a payback within two years — two years or less — especially for a major initiative (that) is going to cost us a lot of money.

We look at ROI. It’s a very important thing. If it’s going to be over two years, it better be really strategic and it better be really critical to our long-term situation.

Acquisitions left Omnova Solutions Inc. with a fragmented IT platform composed of 27 disparate systems several years ago, complicating communications for the emulsion polymer specialty chemicals and decorative and functional services company.

Omnova decided to standardize and streamline its platform using lean Six Sigma in its process improvement efforts, eventually choosing a new platform with SAP. This change cut costs and improved communications for the 2,300 employees among its facilities in America, Europe and Asia.

Chairman, President and CEO Kevin McMullen served as a panelist at the October Smart Business Toolbox Series presented by Hyland Software, speaking about lean manufacturing initiatives to drive success in a global economy. Below is an excerpt from the Q&A session.

What are keys for operational efficiencies?

It starts with a culture that is embedded with continuous improvement mentality. In everything you do, there’s an opportunity to improve it tomorrow better than you’re doing today. If you don’t have that as a culture, then a lot of the other things fall short of the mark.

Secondly, you clearly need to have solid leadership and solid capability for people to work on solving problems and improving process.

Third, it’s a framework. We chose lean Six Sigma as our primary framework for problem solving and operational excellence. It allows us to get a lot of people involved — the people that are closest to the action who know the most about any individual process.

What are the initial steps that need to be taken to get initiatives off the ground?

Are you really defining the problem that needs to be solved? Or are you trying to solve a symptom of the problem? Getting to the root causes of what the problem really is, and getting a very clear definition of the problem that you’re going to charter a team to go solve, is job one.  You need to involve a lot of people to get a lot of different perspectives on that to ensure you have the right problem.

One technique in lean Six Sigma is called the ‘five whys.’ We don’t do anything until we’ve asked the question ‘Why?’ five times to try to get to root cause.

After that, it’s making sure that you have the right team in place and the right resources in place to do it. Make sure that they understand what the business case is for — ‘Why is this worth me spending my time doing this? What are we going to achieve if Fraunhofer F we’re wildly successful?’ — so that everyone who’s involved in it understands what the goal is.

Who decides what the problem and goals are?

We will have top-down ideas of areas we think that there’s opportunity. We will then charter a team to study that and potentially redefine the problem but working in that area.

We will have a framework of what we think the improvement can be. We’ll ask the team as they are getting chartered and getting set up to reaffirm that ‘Yes, in fact, after we looked at this, we believe that this is the right problem to solve. Here are the metrics we think we should be held accountable for.’

Surprisingly enough, the metrics that they come up with are frequently tougher than the metrics we had from our top-down standpoint, because they’re closer to the issue and they believe that they can achieve things at certain rates.

How do you get buy-in for initiatives?

Once you really nail what the issue is and what the impact will be on your enterprise if you’re able to go from here to there, once you get that and you are able to communicate that effectively to people, all of a sudden buy-in becomes a lot easier.

I’ve seen a lot of situations with organizations where someone is promoting going one direction or another and they don’t really have a strong business case. People are questioning, ‘Why do we want to do that? Is this motivated out of some other reason?’

The biggest detractors of saying, ‘There’s no way we should do that,’ you want to get them involved. Maybe they have a great idea that’s actually going to help improve what you’re going to do from A to B.

If they’re involved in coming up with the answer, they’re very enthusiastic about seeing it through.