After nine successful seasons, NBC’s “The Office” called it quits earlier this year. Catch an episode in syndication, though, and the administrative missteps of Dunder Mifflin’s branch managers and the valiant efforts of the paper company’s downtrodden HR guy to counsel his misguided bosses will still leave you laughing. HR mishaps and insensitive gaffes make for timeless television comedy, but in reality, a disregard for employees’ rights can be high-stakes drama.
Government regulations dictate how companies treat their employees and potential employees. A systemic disregard for these regulations, or “noncompliance” in HR-speak, can have costly consequences. Below is a sample of some common violations along with their consequences.
A small business owner works her hourly, non-exempt employees nearly 50 hours each week, but only pays them for 40 hours. A competing business owner also works his employees 50 hours each week, and although he pays them for 50 hours, he only pays the regular straight time rate rather than incorporating any overtime pay.
Consequences: Several employees file Wage and Hour charges, which in turn lead to audits of all payroll records. Both employers are found to be non-compliant under the Fair Labor Standards Act. One is required to repay two years of back pay, while the other is required to repay three years of back pay because it was determined that the violations were knowingly and willfully committed.
A small company terminates an employee for work-related misconduct. The company, however, never provided the employee with an employee handbook, so he never signed a policy and procedure acknowledgment. In addition, the company neglected to maintain a written file of the employee’s misconduct.
Consequence: Because the company cannot present documented evidence of the employee’s misconduct or demonstrate that the employee should have known of the company policy, the company is charged with a wrongful termination claim that it cannot dispute.
During a job interview, an owner of a small business casually asks the applicant if he has children. The applicant is not hired, and he assumes it is because he responded that he has three small children.
Consequence: The applicant files an EEO charge and ultimately a suit against the business. The business owner is forced to pay extensive legal fees to defend against the suit.
A supervisor at a midsized manufacturing company continually makes sexist comments and tells subordinates off-color jokes that offend a number of employees. One employee complains, but the company does nothing and the negative behavior continues.
Consequence: The employee files an EEO charge, and later, a harassment suit. After incurring sizable legal fees, the company ultimately agrees to a significant settlement.
The most effective way to ensure your business is complying with today’s complex employment laws is to retain knowledgeable HR professionals. Whether you hire in-house or outsource HR, having access to experts whose job it is to stay current on HR issues and help train and monitor your managers can help you avoid costly pitfalls and prevent poor practices that could damage your company’s reputation. If you think you can’t afford a professional HR adviser, ask yourself whether you can afford not to have one, because the cost of noncompliance is no laughing matter. ●
John Allen, is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and Administrative Services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information,
Companies that at one time thought they were immune from technology innovation now must decide when, where and how to incorporate such advancements to meet ever-growing consumer expectations.
Evolving to meet customer needs and demands in order to retain and attract buyers is essentially the bottom line for all successful businesses — and today that inevitably means incorporating technology.
Businesses not typically associated with heavy technology use — contractors, plumbers, mechanics and mom-and-pop shops — now must have a pulse on innovation in order to maintain a competitive advantage. Those in service businesses often have relied on their skilled labor and quality, coupled with a healthy dose of advertising and word-of-mouth referrals to stand apart.
Tap into new technology
Although these tactics and differentiators are still essential to success, organizations increasingly must tap into technology in new ways to attract consumers.
Consumers are gravitating in greater numbers to businesses that make processes simpler, efficient, more accurate and less costly.
Technology incorporation can be minimal or vast. It all depends on the needs of your customers and business capabilities. So, when and where should your business incorporate technology to better serve clients and end users?
- Communication. How can you improve communication? Perhaps an online option for service requests, a downloadable phone app, real-time updates or enhanced follow up are in order.
- Automation. Can any current processes be automated to improve customer service? Examples include leveraging technology to determine and send promotions based on past purchases or schedule email follow-ups based on service dates.
- Organization. Can you help customers manage or access information seamlessly? Customers may appreciate having secure access to their service history, work orders and records through an online or mobile platform.
- Accuracy. How can you ensure higher quality? Technology may be able to help provide more precise measurements, detailed records or even aid with scheduling.
- Cost. Both the business and consumer can see the return on investment from technology. Time equals money, and technology can help save unnecessary efforts across multiple facets of your business, including your end product.
Technology doesn’t have to be out of reach. There are many services and products available to help your business better meet customer demands. Marketing agencies and technology consultants can help you build customized solutions.
But if you can’t afford these services, there are relatively inexpensive options out there. Tap into your local chamber and small business association for access. Or leverage turn-key platforms like MailChimp and Salesforce for automation and communication needs. Your business and your customers both will benefit in the end. ●
Leo Ruberto is president of the Columbus-based residential and commercial exterior solutions company, Feazel Inc. An advocate for customer service, Ruberto developed the online portal ServicePoint™ to empower Feazel customers to easily track, organize and request services in one secure location. For more information, visit www.feazelinc.com.
A rather gruesome quote has been attributed to Sean Parker, entrepreneur and Facebook’s first president: “Running a startup is like eating glass. You just start to like the taste of your own blood.”
While that analogy is certainly descriptive, it does ring true for many entrepreneurs. I find startups both energizing and exhausting, and I’d compare the thrill to the adrenaline rush a runner gets. In fact, it’s the rush that inspired me to jump into the startup arena after a foray into the corporate world.
My path to entrepreneurship started in the least risky of ways. I went to the University of Waterloo for electrical engineering, and then I did what most Canadian engineers do, I went to work for one of the big guys — Nortel.
I quickly realized that I was a terrible engineer and found myself wondering more about product pricing, sales models and addressable markets. This curiosity didn’t go over too well with my manager, but definitely helped make me a better entrepreneur today.
Work with wicked smart people
The entrepreneurial path can be full of bumps and jumps. During the height of the dot-com craze, I had the great fortune to connect with a group of amazing entrepreneurs, and we founded Cbeyond. Over the course of 12 years at Cbeyond, the team experienced a lot of great and challenging times.
I learned a valuable lesson at Cbeyond — work with great people that do what they say they’re going to do, have a passion for serving customers and give back to their communities. You and your co-founders will spend every waking moment together, so make sure they’re the kind of people you want to hang out with at the airport bar.
Cbeyond survived the dot-com and telecom busts, completed an IPO in 2005 and grew to more than $450 million in revenue.
In early 2012, while an Entrepreneur in Residence at Georgia Tech, I met the partners for my new company, Springbot. We provide an e-commerce marketing platform to help smaller online retailers compete against giants like Amazon.com Inc. The growth of Springbot has been rewarding and has relied heavily on our team, committed investors and the great startup ecosystem in Atlanta.
Tips from an experienced risk taker
When asked about starting a new business venture, I offer the following advice:
• Avoid running alone. If you are considering diving headfirst into the entrepreneurial waters, run with a pack. The aforementioned “rush” is 10 times better.
• Avoid naysayers, doubters and those who say that being a technology entrepreneur is too risky. Perhaps that’s their reality. But, I say that the real risk is never discovering what makes you happy. Ask “why” three times. The answers will guide you.
• Entrepreneurship is not for everyone but it can be great.
• Starting a business is a rewarding and exhilarating experience that requires a ton of work, dedication and risk-taking. Given the recent challenges at Nortel and BlackBerry, however, it certainly looks like being a technology entrepreneur may not be as risky as the more traditional and so-called “safe” route — plus being a technology entrepreneur certainly beats working for a living. ●
Brooks Robinson is co-founder and CEO of Springbot, a technology start-up that leverages big data and marketing automation to deliver an e-commerce marketing platform for smaller online businesses. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does your company struggle to reconcile its short-term needs with its long-term imperatives? Is there a silent and sometimes not-so-silent war between those who push a short-term driven agenda versus those who take a longer-term view?
In many companies, the tug-of-war between short-term and long-term causes confusion and distraction. The company finds itself in an endless loop of course corrections, stuck in a circular motion as opposed to moving forward.
Short-term vs. long-term
Short-term challenges are often, but not always, driven by some crisis. Strong customer dissatisfaction, hot new sales opportunities, competitive threats, key employee turnovers and cash-flow crunches are just a few of the examples that can cause a company to focus on the endless array of “urgent” situations and neglect long-term needs.
To satisfy an irate customer, a company may go against its core business model and make decisions that might haunt it later. However, many within the company would justify it by arguing the company must do what is necessary to live to fight another day.
Long-term imperatives are often driven by the need to take the company to the next level. It is about improving and transforming the company so it is stronger and vibrant and can grow at a faster, more reliable rate.
Those imperatives typically involve a significant commitment of time and investment. They involve deliberate considerations and difficult decisions at multiple stages and dimensions. These initiatives require a lot of effort to sell internally, and the benefits are often obscured due to the long turnaround-time required to produce benefits and the high number of variables and risk factors.
Executives who tend to favor short-term solutions are often doers and operational in mind-set. They get satisfaction from getting it done. They feel compelled to do something quickly as opposed to holding themselves back to develop a more rigorous and long-lasting solution.
On the other hand, executives who favor long-term solutions are often big-picture thinkers, who like to consider all angles, develop comprehensive and holistic solutions. Developing the right solution to them is more important than doing something fast.
Executives with these different mind-sets are similar to the two men standing on either side of a precipice engaging in a tug-of-war. Neither can afford to let go.
Two sides of the same coin
Your company cannot afford to sacrifice either the short- or long-term. The million dollar question then is how do you reconcile seemingly competing sets of imperatives?
You must ensure there is no competition between the short- and long-terms. They must be two sides of the same coin.
The issue of misaligned imperatives arises because companies fail to clearly develop and articulate their long-term initiatives. As a result, the organization pursues short-term imperatives that are contrary to long-term imperatives. The short-term projects become difficult to discontinue because of the expectations created for different stakeholders from customers to employees.
The long-term imperatives must provide the context, an umbrella if you will, for the shorter-term thrusts. Shorter-term initiatives and projects must form an intricate pattern within the tapestry of the longer-term quilt. Your company must develop the discipline to ensure that even in the case of a crisis, the response does not violate the firm’s core business DNA.
Do not fall in the precipice. Ensure your short-term and long-term imperatives are cohesive and congruent. ●
Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the BusinessMakers show, CBS Radio, TEDx and PBS Nightly Business Report, he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or email@example.com.
The animal kingdom has long been instrumental in teaching children about appropriate behavior.
A rabbit named Peter educated us on the importance of conflict resolution. For better or worse, Curious George was habitually inquisitive and, in separate incidents, three bears and three pigs taught us the importance of home security.
But despite a literary reputation as “big” and “bad,” according to Jack Hanna, “A wolf will feed the sick, the old and the young first.”
That’s a pretty impressive character trait for a creature so often maligned by the human race. Over the years, however, we’ve learned to expect Hanna to set the record straight on an important part of our world that most of us will never experience firsthand.
Following the footsteps of a legend
Inspired by wildlife pioneer Marlin Perkins, Hanna parlayed a fascination with animals and a position leading the Columbus Zoo into a television empire spanning 30 years. He’s had countless TV appearances on popular shows such as “Good Morning America” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” In addition, he currently helms two television programs, “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” and “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”
Not surprisingly, Hanna’s high regard for the animal population is also reflected in his view of the public’s acceptance of the animal kingdom: “Most people who say they don’t like animals don’t like people much either.”
Phil Beuth, former president of “Good Morning America,” observes, “With Jack, what you see is what you get — he’s a genuine gentleman.”
Hanna has set a simple benchmark for appropriate professional behavior, “I operate by The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Of course, humans are animals too — complete with instincts, genetic predispositions, unique skill sets and laws to keep us from acting like predatory animals. Yet, prey we do — leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers, foreclosures, etc.
Comparing workforces of nature
When asked about lessons human worker bees can glean from the animal kingdom, Hanna enthusiastically says, “Just look at ants and termites. They each have specific jobs to do.” By performing specific tasks every day, these creatures work solely to serve the greater good — ostensibly without complaining.
Animals = 1 Humans = 0
Hanna also points to an innate respect in the wild that does not always translate into the land of the bipeds: “The animal world does not waste food and animals do not abuse their own children. For example, gorillas may fight but they still work together.”
Working through issues to achieve top performance is apparently part of the natural order of things. It’s about survival. As the concept of business survival has never been more prominent, shouldn’t cooperation receive equal billing?
Animals = 2 Humans = 0
Though Hanna also marvels at the mysteries behind the instinctual and highly effective way animals communicate, many in the office marvel at some people’s overwhelming lack of communication skills.
Animals = 3 Humans = 0
Specifically, according to Hanna, “The elephant is one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.”
So yes, it seems that without the benefit of an iPhone, Twitter or Outlook, an elephant truly never forgets.
Time to hire me an elephant. The Laws of Nature win every time. ●
Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. For more information, visit randallkennethjones.com.
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A marketing epidemic, to put it mildly, has been impacting most businesses — and it’s time to think about keeping your message simple if you haven’t already done so.
The roots of this epidemic can be traced back to two events.
First, during the economic fall of 2008, as businesses looked for ways to preserve revenue streams, companies hunkered down and focused on sales to preserve existing customers. Many cutoff or significantly reduced marketing budgets, and others shifted to digital media as a “low-cost alternative.”
The second event was the rapid spread of social media and the skyrocketing use of smartphones and tablets, which provide instant access to relationships, information and communication.
The social media craze and businesses’ desire to market on the cheap led companies to flood the marketing channels with content. Sales sheets, photos, videos, web pages — companies were suddenly all things to all people because they could push content to digital channels for “free.”
The problem — our marketing channels are now very noisy. As consumers of information, we respond to this noise with limited attention spans. The result — companies have sent confusing messages to the marketplace and people aren’t listening.
This current epidemic of marketing noise distributed across all channels leads to a common marketing need for all businesses — simplification.
Keeping it simple
So how do you achieve message simplification? It all ties back to the business. Here are seven steps to help get you started:
1. Identify three to four key business objectives for the next two years. Do you want regional growth or growth in a new industry? Do you want to sell more to existing customers?
2. Prioritize your objectives by placing dollars or number of opportunities next to them. This will help you focus on the most important areas.
3. Brainstorm a list of marketing tactics that can help you achieve each objective. Can you generate more leads from trade shows, your website, your existing customer list? What tactics do you need to adopt?
4. Write a succinct summary, or “elevator pitch.” This should be one to three sentences on how you benefit the people you are targeting in your objectives.
5. Compare your elevator pitch to your marketing tactics and existing materials. Review your website, brochures, email newsletter, social media accounts, videos, trade show collateral, etc. Notice how many “extra” things you say in an effort to cover all your bases.
6. Rework your message. Focus on the audiences for your key objectives. Identify the benefits for these audiences. Your marketing message should speak directly to these audiences so they can understand your value and usefulness to them.
7. Prioritize your marketing tactics. It’s tempting to be trendy and market on social media or through video, just remember to consider which tactics will best reach your audiences. You don’t need to be in every marketing channel, just the ones where your customers and prospects will hear you.
Finally, once you’ve simplified your message, stick to it! It is important so that people understand the benefits and value that you deliver. While it might seem repetitive to you, your audience will appreciate the clarity and with time, will remember what your business does best. ●
Kristy Amy is director of marketing strategy for SBN Interactive. Reach her at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7011.
Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.
If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.
The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.
But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.
Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.
Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.
You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.
At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.
No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.
If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●
Most weeks I get on a plane and attempt to have an out-of-body experience to deal with all the hassles of flying as I travel from point A to point B. When flying, I have a few simple rules. One, I almost never eat the food. Two, I attempt to talk to no one other than obligatory hellos. Three, I never argue with or say a cross word to flight attendants.
One other very important practice I follow on land, sea and especially in the air is that I constantly scan my surroundings for potential troubles and new ideas.
On a recent flight, upon boarding, I quietly and obediently proceeded to my assigned seat.
As I began to sit down, a gentleman asked if I would mind trading seats with him so that he could sit next to his wife. Like most seasoned travelers I try to accommodate reasonable requests. In this case it seemed a no-brainer to agree to move.
Notice the details
As I started to settle in and fasten my seat belt I noted that my new seatmate was very hot. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I mean she seemed to be flushed and radiating heat, ostensibly from a high fever. I’m thinking, this is not good, plus it proves the age-old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.
In the next minute I had an epiphany, which happens frequently as I believe that many problems come disguised as opportunities.
I rang the call button and, when approached, asked the cabin attendant to please bring me two cloth napkins. I stated that the purpose was to construct a makeshift face mask by tying the two pieces together to prevent possibly contracting some dreaded disease.
I feared that my intentions could be misinterpreted if I were to don a mask without an explanation; this could cause a well-meaning passenger to drag me to the floor thinking I had nefarious motives.
The stewardess smiled, nodding approvingly of my plan. She then summoned all her co-attendants to my seat and proceeded to whisper what I was attempting. Otherwise, she explained, they, too, could misunderstand my appearance and cause me bodily harm.
As founder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail and marketing chain, I’m always looking for that next special something to share with my team. Therefore, while burying my now masked face in a newspaper so as not to frighten or offend the sick seatmate, I began dictating a memo to my merchandise product group proudly asserting that I just had another “aha!” moment, for which I am well-known, among my colleagues. For full disclosure, however, I am sometimes known for being a bit “out there” on occasion — but no one bats a thousand.
Turn an idea into a product
This particular predicament gave me the idea to develop a product kit that we could sell to weary travelers in our stores and in airports. I suggested a handful of complementary products, including a mask, a disinfectant spray and, if all else fails, relief remedies. I also noted that it probably would be prudent to include a cigarette pack-type “Black Box” warning stating that the mask is not what some suspicious flyers might think, but instead it’s for prevention of disease only. I even proposed we market these kits directly to the airlines to dispense as an emergency prophylactic for passengers exposed to airborne (pun intended) pathogens.
Fleeting thoughts have value
A key role for business leaders is teaching a management team to use fleeting thoughts as a springboard, to pair common problems with sometimes-simple solutions.
Just because it is a simple fix, though, doesn’t mean the idea couldn’t be a lucrative breakthrough.
When something sparks an idea it needs to be taken to the next level before being pooh-poohed. Most likely the vast majority of these inspirations won’t see the light of day, but that’s OK. Just think — what if one transient idea translates into the next Post-it Notes, Kleenex or bottled water?
The next time you sit by a masked man on a plane, it most likely won’t be the Lone Ranger. Instead, you might be witnessing the incubation of the next best thing since sliced bread. ●
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
With the economy returning, hiring is playing catch-up to meet increased business demands. As companies search for new talent, the ever-present challenge is identifying the right candidate.
A variety of pre-employment tests and screening procedures exist to help weed out unworthy applicants and identify potential stars.
Select the proper tools to assess
Some include cognitive tests, medical examinations, skill assessments, credit reviews, criminal background checks and drug tests:
■ Cognitive tests assess reasoning, memory and skills in arithmetic and reading comprehension, as well as knowledge of a particular function or job.
■ Physical tests measure an applicant’s ability to perform a particular task as well as strength and stamina in general.
■ Sample job tasks, such as performance tests, realistic job simulations and work samples, assess performance and aptitude on particular duties. A data processing applicant may have to demonstrate basic keyboarding skills while a copywriter may have to provide a portfolio of past projects.
■ Medical inquiries and physical examinations, including psychological tests, assess physical or mental health. These are often conducted for high level or high stress jobs.
■ Personality tests and integrity tests assess an applicant’s character traits and disposition. They can measure to what degree a job candidate is creative, reliable, cooperative and/or risk adverse. As a result, they can help determine an applicant’s fit for the job and the company’s culture.
■ Criminal background checks provide information on arrest and conviction history. These provide some level of comfort that employers are protecting the security of their business and the safety of their employees.
■ Credit checks provide information on credit and financial history, while drug tests verify that an applicant has no illegal drugs in their system. From the results, employers extrapolate a person’s financial stability or tendency toward drug use.
Use care when testing
These evaluations can be a very effective means of determining which applicants are most qualified for a particular job. Applicant testing can be controversial, however, if the methods are perceived to be overly invasive or potentially discriminatory. In fact, improper use of assessment tools can violate federal anti-discrimination laws.
Several years ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a fact sheet outlining some best practices for administering applicant testing and other job selection procedures, which still hold true for employers. Here is a brief overview:
■ Employers should administer tests without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability or age (40 or older).
■ Employers need to ensure that employment tests and other selection procedures are valid for the positions and purposes for which they are used. It is important to note that employers are ultimately responsible for ensuring that their testing procedures are in fact valid, even if they engage outside vendors to administer their tests.
■ If a selection procedure seems to screen out a protected group, employers should look for an equally effective alternative selection procedure that has less adverse impact, unless the employer can legally justify the rationale for the test.
■ Employers should stay abreast of changes in job requirements and update testing procedures accordingly to ensure that they continue to accurately predict job success.
■ Employers should not casually adopt tests and selection procedures with no consideration or regard for its effectiveness, limitations or appropriateness.
As managers and employers, we all look for effective tools to assist in accurately assessing the skills and qualifications of a potential employee. When administered properly, applicant testing can provide an unbiased assessment of an applicant’s aptitude and character, and that objective data can be invaluable when faced with a tough hiring decision.
John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and Administrative Services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com.
Say the word “innovation,” and immediately you think about business legends like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, as well as the companies they created – Apple and Amazon. Too often, however, we focus on the people who have been tabbed as innovators and the companies that develop those breakthrough products, services and solutions, such as Apple’s iPod and iTunes, or Amazon’s marketplace and unique ecosystem.
True innovation goes much deeper than a single leader’s vision. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that permeates an organization and defines its purpose for being. For me, at least, I prefer to think about innovation in its broadest terms, extending its definition to include corporate cultures and innovative management styles. Think about how Facebook and Microsoft are run, and how at both organizations employees are a key factor in the idea creation, or ideation, process.
Now, think about the breakthrough products that eventually went bust. Hopefully, you don’t have a basement full of Beanie Babies, boxes of Silly Bandz, or a home library filled with laser discs. It is more common to land on a singular breakthrough product that temporarily revolutionizes your industry rather than develop a product through a process that’s repeatable or scalable. And, just as true, no matter how innovative and creative your management team’s style may be, without the proper processes in place to push ideas through a system that takes them from mind to market, you’ll eventually have trouble keeping the lights on.
It all comes down to developing a culture imbued with innovation at its core. But this also requires having a servant culture in place where every person who works for the organization thinks about the customer first.
Consider San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels, where employees strive to create “Kimpton Moments” by going above and beyond with guests and delivering memorable experiences.
Kimpton overcomes the inherent limitations for creating new innovative products that being a boutique hotel chain includes by approaching innovation through its employee interaction – and then rewarding employees for their creativity. For example, when team members put in the extra hours to ensure world-class service delivery, the hotel chain has sent flowers and gift baskets to their loved ones. And when they create an innovative service experience, the company rewards staff members with such things as spa days, extra paid time off and other goodies.
And then there’s the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm that’s known for developing innovative business processes and systems for its high-end clientele. Part of BCG’s internal process is a focus on team members maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When individuals are caught working too many long weeks, the company’s management team issues a “red zone report” to flag the overwork.
Talk about innovation! And no product, service or solution was developed, marketed or sold.
And finally, few organizations are more innovative than DreamWorks Animation. But beyond plugging out groundbreaking animated movies, the studio’s culture embraces empowerment and innovation. Employees are given stipends to personalize their workstations so that they create whatever inspirational atmosphere they need to succeed. And, as the story goes, after completing Madagascar 3, the crew presented a Banana Splats party, where artists showed the outtakes.
Not only are these three companies known for being innovative in their respective industry spaces, they also share the honor of being members of Fortune’s 2013 “Great Places to Work” list.
So how do you take the first steps toward transformation or put those initial building blocks in place to begin the journey? There’s no magic formula, but there are some common traits – and they revolve around empowerment and establishing a culture that cares.
- Are open-minded and ask “What if?”
- Teach team members how to see what is not there and identify opportunities in the marketplace to take advantage of those gaps.
- Develop cultures where innovation thrives through open and honest communication.
- Flatten the organizational structure and recognize that innovation can come from anyone and anywhere.
- Make innovation, itself, a cyclical and continuous process.
Stop and take an internal assessment of your organization, your team and of yourself. If you can’t check a box next to each of these five traits, stop and ask yourself why. Then begin your own journey to greatness.