Growing a business in today’s environment is as challenging as ever — especially with relatively stagnant overall economic growth. That’s why it’s more important than ever to hold onto existing customers.

According to Christopher F. Meshginpoosh, a director in the Audit & Accounting practice at Kreischer Miller, companies frequently spend too much time trying to win new customers and not enough trying to hang onto existing customers.

Smart Business spoke with Meshginpoosh about techniques that companies can use to create an organization where every employee is driven to meet the needs of its customers.

Why do some companies struggle with customer service?

It’s often a function of a lack of processes that ingrain and reinforce the importance of customer service. When an entrepreneur starts a new business, he or she understands the value of customer relationships because he or she worked hard for those relationships and can’t afford to lose them.

However, as the company grows, employees are added who lack that same perspective. Without formal processes — training, documented expectations, reward systems, etc. — the focus on customer service can gradually erode.

Additionally, all too often, companies treat customer service like a department. For the record, I didn’t come up with that — it’s on the website of Zappos, a company with an almost legendary commitment to customer service. Every employee has the ability to strengthen or damage a customer relationship, so it’s important for companies to make sure they hire people who have demonstrated an ability to put customers first.

What steps can management take to improve customer service?

That’s an easy one: Look in the mirror.  If management wants every person in the organization to demonstrate the importance of customer service, then the first step is to make sure that they demonstrate it. And that doesn’t just mean managers of the sales or customer service functions. If you want happy employees who thrive on meeting or exceeding the needs of customers, then managers in charge of production, human resources, administration and other functions also must walk the walk.

How can companies reinforce the importance of customer service?

One easy way is to publicly recognize those who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to customer service. Do you have an employee who went out of his or her way to solve a problem for a customer? Don’t just tell that person, tell everyone.

Additionally, make sure reward systems and incentive programs include explicit customer service goals. While some people seem to have an innate ability to want to make customers happy, others may need a little additional motivation. As a result, it’s important to ensure that annual reviews and compensation programs include explicit customer service objectives. If your reward systems simply focus on metrics like profitability or efficiency, then you run the risk of driving short-term profits at the risk of long-term customer losses.

How do you know if your efforts are moving the needle?

While there are many formal methods such as customer service surveys or monitoring customer service metrics, one easy way is to routinely have your employees ask a simple question: What did I do to add value to the customer relationship?

Everyone gets bogged down in the details once in a while, but they should still be able to step back and determine whether their actions strengthened or damaged a customer relationship. If they can’t routinely point to actions that strengthened a relationship, then there’s room for improvement. If they can, then they’re well on their way to creating strong, lasting customer relationships.

Christopher F. Meshginpoosh is a director, Audit & Accounting, at Kreischer Miller. Reach him at (215) 441-4600 or cmeshginpoosh@kmco.com.

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You’ve been in business for several years and it is profitable. You have a decision to make: Do you want to invest in the business and buy a facility, or will you continue to lease?

With the help of your accountant, you should carefully examine the anticipated capital requirements of your business.  Evaluate your ability to obtain capital or loans. Don’t box yourself into being cash poor and unable to meet business obligations or take advantage of opportunities.

“The prevailing reason that businesses fail is insufficient capital. Draining capital to pay for a real estate project could be a cause,” says Howard N. Greenberg, managing member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC.

“My colleague, Jeffrey Rosenfarb, a principal in Hart Corporation, a national industrial real estate firm, advises that small manufacturing firms overwhelmingly desire to own versus rent, whereas larger corporations generally prefer leasing.”

Smart Business spoke with Greenberg about some pros and cons of leasing or purchasing industrial real estate.

What issues should be examined when considering purchasing a facility?

First, what’s the nature of your business?   Manufacturing that utilizes heavy, difficult-to-move equipment is where purchasing may be desirable, to avoid being at a landlord’s mercy when your lease expires. Or is it light manufacturing or distribution, that moves easily?

Second, can you obtain a facility that will remain adequate for your needs? Plan for potential future expansion. Have your counsel review the local zoning code to determine what can be built, either now or in the future.

Do you contemplate children in the business? Real estate can provide a source of income and inheritance. Counsel will need to prepare an agreement that deals with numerous issues including governance, death, disability, termination of employment and sale of the business.

Where do you want to invest your limited capital? Be sure that you will not need capital to expand your business versus acquiring a building. Lending rates are at historic lows, encouraging acquisition. Consult counsel concerning special types of financing such as tax free industrial development or state-provided financing, as well as tax abatements.

What issues should you consider if you determine to lease?

Check locally to ensure there are adequate reserves of industrial rentals available. With any lease, secure options to: extend the term; terminate early; purchase the building; for a right of first refusal; and for the ability to assign the lease or sublet in connection with your business sale.

If I decide to purchase, what entity should purchase the property, and how should the lease be structured?

Keep the building owner entity distinct from the entity that occupies it. The building owner entity should be a limited partnership, limited liability company or S corporation to enable you to utilize tax advantages like depreciation and amortization, and to permit gifting. Also, you may want to divvy up interests differently in the operating company versus ownership in the real estate company. You could decide to bring a partner into your business, but not into the building ownership.

You will need a lease between the two entities, especially if you’re going to sell the business and not the real estate. As a landlord, limit the tenant’s options and set a reasonable term.

Does new construction make sense versus purchasing and rehabbing an existing building?

With new construction or significant rehab, you must have a reliable contractor and architect. Assume that it’s going to cost at least 15 percent more and take 15 or 20 percent longer than initially estimated. Weigh the aggravation of new construction versus having your building the way you want. However, over the past 15 to 20 years, sale or leasing of existing facilities has far exceeded new construction, per Rosenfarb.

Buying and holding an industrial property usually works out well for the owner. For heavy manufacturing, building ownership, or a long-term lease with renewal options, is the way to go.

Howard N. Greenberg is a managing member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC. Reach him at (215) 887-0200 and hgreenberg@sogtlaw.com.

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Trademark, copyright and intellectual property (IP) laws can vary greatly in foreign markets, so it’s vital to seek local legal expertise before doing business internationally, says Michael J. Ioannou, a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley.

“Local law firms know the system, including the politicians and judges,” Ioannou says. “It’s no different than doing business here. If a Florida company has a problem in San Jose, they could send someone, but they would most likely hire an attorney here. It makes sense to have someone like me who has practiced law here for 32 years and worked in the local courts.”

Smart Business spoke with Ioannou about how companies can avoid legal problems when expanding into foreign markets.

What are some important issues to consider before entering a foreign market?

From a general standpoint, you need to understand the business environment. You can accomplish that in India, for example, through the National U.S. India Chamber of Commerce, Confederation of Indian Industry or the National Association of Software and Services Companies, which caters to high-tech companies.

You also should be checking local laws with the help of a local lawyer in the country or near where you want to do business. So, if you’re going to mainland China, there are good attorneys in Hong Kong that can advise you or connect you to counsel in mainland China that they know well.

What mistakes do companies make when doing business overseas?

They might rush into a market without checking other companies’ rights and get sued for infringing IP rights in the foreign country. Apple thought it had acquired rights to the iPad trademark in China from a Taiwanese company, but courts said a subsidiary of that company still owned the rights in China. Apple paid $60 million in a court-mediated settlement. So one route is to buy the trademark, but you still have to ensure that what you’re buying is legitimate.

It’s the same situation with foreign companies coming into the U.S. A client with a chain of Indian restaurants wanted to expand here and found a restaurant on the East Coast that used the name in interstate commerce first — that’s the test for trademarks, first use — but the restaurant didn’t have the trademark registered. Instead of spending money to argue in federal court that the restaurant didn’t have first-time use, the client bought the restaurant and trademark. It was cheaper than paying legal fees in a later dispute over the name.

How can businesses protect themselves from legal problems?

When entering a country, you want to secure trademark rights for your product there. If you can, obtain patent protection, register and apply for a patent in China or India, for example. A patent in the U.S. is not enforceable in India or China. You can stop someone from shipping goods into the U.S. that infringe on a patent here, but you can’t stop a sale occurring in India or China based on a U.S. patent.

Pharmaceutical companies are having problems getting inventions patented in India because there’s a huge market there for generic drugs. India doesn’t even recognize software patents. One client in India was threatened by a U.S. company for IT support services offered here. It was a U.S. patent, so as long as the function that was within the patent claim was being done in India only, the U.S. company couldn’t claim infringement.

What can companies do to fight patent infringement?

In India, for example, you could file a lawsuit in civil court, but that could take 15 years to reach a resolution. However, the entity that’s infringing laws in India may be doing business in the U.S., which would provide another angle to file a lawsuit here for unfair competition. You also may be able to intercept their goods from coming into this country, depending on the nature of the IP rights being infringed.

But if you have a counterfeiter in Shanghai that’s only selling goods there, you have to use the local courts. Things are getting better in terms of that kind of infringement — that’s why you’re seeing a lot more activity to enforce rights in China, for example. Just be cognizant that you can’t expect a perfect day in court as a foreign company coming into these jurisdictions.

Michael J. Ioannou is a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley. Reach him at (408) 287-6262 or mioannou@rmkb.com.

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One law small businesses frequently underestimate is the misclassification of employees as being exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime rules, an oversight that could cost millions in employee misclassification lawsuits.

Minimum wage rates also pose problems because there may be different standards at federal, state and local levels.

“Companies need to know the basics of the FLSA in order to determine if they’re in compliance,” says Tracy Baskin, payroll compliance analyst in Wage and Hour Compliance at TriNet, Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Baskin about FLSA issues and how to stay compliant.

What are typical FLSA compliance issues?

Many businesses have problems keeping in step with minimum wage rates. An employee, having worked a year or so at a given rate of pay, may be due retroactive payments because of an increase in state or local minimum wage rates. Employees paid at the lower rate of the previous calendar year could file a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL), which could lead to an audit.

It can be even more of a problem with exempt employees — many companies aren’t even aware there is a minimum salary basis. Exempt employees paid at a rate less than minimum wage would need to be increased to at least $16 an hour to be in compliance with California’s requirement for executive, administrative and professional (exempt) employees. For example, computer professionals are employees who typically write or modify programming have their own minimum, which is $39.90 per hour.

The most impactful item is overtime compensation. Companies are not accurately calculating overtime pay because they aren’t including additional earnings such as bonuses or commissions, which need to be included to comply with the FLSA.

How do you determine if an employee should be classified as exempt and nonexempt?

The FLSA provides general guidelines. You’ll need to concentrate first on the employee’s primary duties. Are they managers who customarily and regularly direct the work of two or more employees? Do they set company policies, or authorize, suggest or recommend the hiring and firing of others?

Employees who have advanced knowledge in a field of science, whether college or beyond, may qualify for certain professional exemptions. However, college graduates are not necessarily exempt. In California, the professional exemption is reserved for those licensed or certified by the state, generally in the fields of law, medicine, dentistry, architecture, engineering, teaching and accounting. Typically, exempt employees must also be paid at least $455 per week on a salary or fee basis.

Nonexempt employees have to be paid a certain amount per hour. If they’re tipped, they must earn enough in tips to bring them up to minimum wage. They’re the average employee and are paid time and a half if they work in excess of 40 hours in a workweek.

While most exempt employees are required to receive salaries, not all salaried workers are necessarily exempt. As a rule of thumb, you can say that an employee whose duties include supervising two or more employees; authority to hire, fire and promote; and giving job assignments to others are usually exempt. But it’s not the job title that matters, it’s the actual job duties that determine whether an employee is exempt or not.

What are the penalties for noncompliance?

Penalties vary depending on what the employee has presented to the DOL, whether it’s an overtime violation, he or she wasn’t paid the minimum wage or a simple miscalculation. If the DOL considers the violation to be willful because a business has had this offense before and not corrected it, fines can be doubled or tripled.

Our recommendation is to pay employees what they are due. If you don’t, you should expect someone will eventually reach out to the DOL, which will open the company up to a much larger audit. The DOL will examine the status of all employees and ask for the documentation to see the criteria the business used to determine their status as exempt or nonexempt. So it’s best for everyone to make sure employees are classified properly and paid what they are owed.

See TriNet clients that have mitigated their HR risks.

 

Tracy Baskin is a payroll compliance analyst, Wage and Hour Compliance, at TriNet, Inc. Reach her at tracy.baskin@trinet.com

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You don’t have to be pirating software to get in trouble during a compliance audit.

“Where companies get ensnared is in the deployment phase. It’s not that they are trying to get away without paying, they get caught up in the terms of conditions found in the fine print of licensing agreements,” says Heather Barnes, an intellectual property attorney with Brouse McDowell.

Smart Business spoke with Barnes about what businesses can do to make the software audit process go smoothly.

What prompts an audit?

Software companies include the right to request audits as part of the terms and conditions of the software license agreement. The fine print contains the right for the software company to audit your computers and systems. Sometimes audits are performed because that organization received a tip from a discharged employee. There also are companies that conduct audits as a regular course of business, either itself or through a third party, such as The Software Alliance. Because of the economy, software revenues have decreased, so software owners are replacing lost revenue by ramping up enforcement with compliance audits.

Once you’re notified about an audit, what should you do?

If you are an organization with in-house counsel, contact them immediately. Smaller companies should retain outside counsel, because attorneys can make a big difference in the final outcome.

The first thing an attorney will do is assist with the parameters for the audit — how and when it will occur, as well as the scope. If there is a noncompliance issue, legal counsel can draft a settlement agreement; they may even negotiate the settlement to a more reasonable number. Even if there are no compliance issues, you still want a document drafted that acknowledges how the audit was conducted and what was found, as well as a release of any claims the software company could have brought.

What problems can occur if you proceed without legal counsel?

Much is dependent on the particular company, but the audited company wants to prevent the software owner from having free reign of its systems, and that is a role legal counsel can help control. For example, legal counsel can assist in defining the scope of the audit by determining which computers are included in the audit. Do you include every computer? Just computers in use? What about the computers that are older and sitting in a warehouse? A software company could attempt to include any computer you own, even those that are obsolete and unused.

Another potential issue is how the audit concludes. You might come to an agreement at the conclusion of the audit and think a settlement is in place. Without legal counsel involved, a company could find itself with no settlement agreement or other document detailing what occurred and the responsibilities of each side going forward.

What are typical noncompliance issues and how much do they cost to fix?

Terms and conditions of the software license agreement vary by company. Many companies allow you to use older versions of software when you obtain a license for their latest product, but some do not. However, many people think that it’s an industry standard that you can deploy older versions.

Another problem is maintenance of business records proving owned licenses for software. You need to have documentation and keep those records current and accessible. That can be complicated when the software was purchased from multiple third-party vendors and for software that is old. Companies should conduct internal audits to ensure they are in compliance with what their records reflect, which could help mitigate exposure when an audit occurs.

Normally, if you are out of compliance, you’ll be charged the licensing fee you should have paid. If it is $200, $300 or $500 per license, multiply that by the number of computers out of compliance and it can get expensive quickly.

Further, if you’re found to be noncompliant, develop internal procedures to ensure compliance in the future. If you are audited once and are found to have compliance issues, it is just a matter of time before the software owner is back to check again.

Heather Barnes is an intellectual property attorney at Brouse McDowell. Reach her at (330) 535-5711 or hmb@brouse.com. Learn more about Heather Barnes.

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Published in Akron/Canton

Business owners understand the need to go to dentists to get their teeth cleaned and to mechanics for car repairs, but yet they attempt to manage their employees internally instead of getting help.

“Managing the business of employment requires a completely different discipline and skill set from what is needed for the core business activity,” says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent. “Just because you are in the business of making widgets doesn’t mean you understand what it takes to be an employer in today’s environment. Rules and regulations relative to being an employer have changed a lot during the past 10 years.”

Smart Business spoke to Hutter about government regulations, employee retaliation and other issues involved with the business of managing people.

Why should companies pay more attention to employee management?

So many companies spend time on their communications budget for things like high-speed Internet and phones; that’s an insignificant portion of the total budget. For service companies, people represent 40 to 70 percent of the total cost of operations. It’s such a big segment, but no one seems to approach it appropriately because it requires a separate discipline. Issues relating to employees have a risk tail — it’s a contingent liability that can last three to five years after an event occurs. How many companies really know how to manage that liability? Small to midsize businesses don’t have the resources or expertise to do that and protect their biggest asset, which is their company.

What is involved in employee management?

There are common responsibilities that come with being an employer — compliance, wage and hour, health care reform, retirement plan fiduciary liability, workers’ compensation management, proper forms, reporting, employee file maintenance, etc. In professional practices, there are also issues regarding licenses, accreditations and certification; those are business drivers that contribute to your business success.

The hiring process, however, has nothing to do with what you’re passionate about and the business you opened; the business drivers for your specific discipline. Each new piece of legislation, each government-required form, each legal precedent set because of a lawsuit filed by a employee begins to change how you need to think about managing the business of employment.

In 2010 and 2011, retaliation charges became the most frequent complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, surpassing race discrimination. An employee filed a complaint of some sort — harassment, hostile work environment — and then was terminated and filed a claim of retaliation. That retaliation claim is pursued by the government at no cost to the former employee. And 41 percent of all federal discrimination claims are charged against companies with 15 to 100 employees.

One of the newest areas for claims is in absenteeism and attendance. The Department of Labor has developed a free app employees can download to their smartphones and keep track of hours worked to see if they’re due overtime pay, which in essence is wage and hour enforcement at the employee level.

What can companies do to prevent claims?

Make sure employees are properly classified as exempt or nonexempt under wage and hour law. For example, to be exempt you must have hire or fire authority, supervise two or more people and be able to affect company policy. Not all professionals are exempt; it depends on the actual job task. For computer programmers, they have to be paid 6.5 times minimum wage per hour to be considered exempt. But fruit and produce delivery truck drivers are exempt because they are involved in interstate commerce.

Most companies don’t want to keep track of time because it requires monitoring by managers. But it’s a major liability and all it takes is one complaint to create problems.

Think about how to keep track of hours and reporting requirements of health care reform and look-back periods, or just one required form, the I-9 — there are 40 different fines that can be levied for that form alone. This shift in focus toward compliance and away from innovation has great cost to the business. That’s a cost of doing business and you need to move those tasks elsewhere because you never get that opportunity back.

William F. Hutter is the CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or bhutter@sequent.biz.

 

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Published in Akron/Canton

Remote deposit capture is a treasury management service that allows your company to deposit checks immediately upon receipt by using an electronic scanner, without the need to visit a bank. It saves time, increases productivity and lets employees focus on areas that most benefit the business, using resources in the most cost-effective manner.

“Remote deposit capture reduces your transportation needs substantially. A courier may only need to travel to the bank once per week, as very few items need to go to the bank in paper form — an 80 percent reduction in transportation,” says Kerri Werschky, retail sales manager at First State Bank.

Smart Business spoke with Werschky about how remote deposit capture enhances your banking and business.

How can remote deposit capture improve your operations with time and cost savings? 

By using remote deposit capture, substantial savings come from reducing your transportation expenses and allowing employees to focus on other tasks. Most items can be captured, with just a few that must be deposited in paper form at a bank. According to remotedepositcapture.com, a business depositing 10 checks daily to a bank 5 miles away, could save $722 on mileage, $3,930 on recovered labor, $393 on increased productivity and improve cash flow acceleration annually by using remote deposit capture.

This banking service also provides quality control when your accounting system directly receives the data. With this, businesses can access copies of prior transactions, save time and paper because deposit tickets aren’t needed, and still print reports identifying the day’s deposit.

How does remote deposit capture accelerate the collection process?

As payment technology evolves, remote deposit capture has become a fundamental part of the collection process that businesses should be using. Checks sitting in a drawer don’t help cash flow and availability of funds, especially if you are unable to drive to the bank daily to make deposits. You need to quickly process checks through the system for collection.

Remote deposit capture allows extended deposit cutoff times for same-day ledger credit and more flexibility. With the convenience of scanning and depositing checks electronically from your office, employees can easily incorporate the service into your daily business processes. No more rushing to the bank at the end of the day to beat the closing time. In addition, a company with several locations can consolidate banking relationships, even if a bank is not in the same geographic area.

How are remote transfers tracked?

Just by handling transactions through remote capture banking at your own office, you increase accuracy and control. As transactions occur and are finalized, you can keep a close watch on them through online banking. This secure information is convenient, which gives flexibility when transferring money and making payments.

You can make deposits from multiple and/or remote locations, and then centrally track deposit reporting and reconciliation. This consolidation gives businesses a chance to vastly improve payment reconciliation management and the ability to research prior deposits.

What has been done to reduce fraud with remote deposit capture?

Banks work hard to mitigate and manage the fraud risks related to check processing. Remote deposit capture reduces this risk, though, as returned check deposits can be recognized earlier with accelerated clearing.

However, it is vital that businesses also take precautions on their end. Put strong, effective control measures in place around remote deposit capture and check processing to limit exposure. Have written policies and procedures for employees to regularly follow, as well as established security measures for handling checks after scanning.

By utilizing a cost-effective remote deposit capture service in your business, you stand to gain a wide-range of benefits — accelerated clearings, improved availability, enhanced cash flow with better cash management, reduced return item risk, transportation savings and convenience, and the ability to consolidate deposits from multiple and/or remote locations — that all translates to better operations and more profitability.

Kerri Werschky is a retail sales manager at First State Bank. Reach her at (586) 863-9485 or kwerschky@thefsb.com.

 

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Published in Detroit

Effective leadership essentially involves a leader’s ability to influence the behavior of followers in pursuit of goals and objectives. Therefore, those in leadership positions must possess the knowledge, skills and abilities that will allow them to influence the behavior of others.

“Organizational leaders must focus on developing the less experienced members of their organization if they hope to preserve the longevity and sustainability of their organization. Successful organizations typically include employee development as one of their strategic goals and have detailed plans for its execution,” says Mary Ellen Harris, director of Human Resources at Kreischer Miller.

Smart Business spoke with Harris about effective succession planning.

How do you bridge the generational gap?

What constitutes strong leadership characteristics and skills remain constant. In other words, leadership skills are universal and do not differ based on the age of the potential leader. However, in order to bridge the gap between generations, organizations need to be more focused on the communication methods and development vehicles employed in an effort to develop the members of the other generations, as opposed to focusing on the content of the development program itself. Don’t get caught up in the differences that people attribute between generations. Regardless of when a person was born, human beings possess similar core needs/desires such as being treated with respect, feeling valued by peers and having the chance to achieve goals. Bridging the gap is best approached by collaborating with the target group on the design of your leadership development program.

What are the keys to an effective program?

The best approach will include a combination of both formal and informal methods of developing employees. A useful informal approach is as simple as having successful veteran leaders within your organization spend time with aspiring leaders. The veteran leaders model appropriate leadership behavior and the aspiring leaders can observe how a successful leader performs.

You can also expose aspiring leaders to successful veteran leaders from outside of your organization, or provide recommended reading assignments such as books, journal articles and other respected resources to help them take responsibility for developing themselves.

From a more formalized standpoint, the inclusion of training classes and mentoring programs are effective techniques for developing leadership skills. In addition, incorporating leadership skills in your performance appraisal system and ensuring that employees are given specific leadership development targets, feedback and assessments is essential. Shadowing programs and short-term ‘leadership’ role assignments, such as leading a project team, are also effective.

Finally, formal education through college courses and internal training classes are effective leadership development strategies.

What role does context or environment play in the creation of an effective leadership development program for the next generation?

Context is a very important factor that influences the approach to developing your next generation of leaders. A not-for-profit organization will likely approach things differently than a for-profit organization, and similarly a large organization will likely approach development efforts differently than a small organization. The type of industry will also have an impact on the approach and options available for the development of aspiring leaders. For example, some contexts may not be conducive to the use of mentoring programs, but they may be extremely effective elsewhere. Similarly, shadowing programs work in some environments but might not be productive or feasible in other environments.

There is no one specific formula for preparing your next generation of leaders. It is imperative that organizations customize their approach and include such factors as the context, industry, size of the organization, and people involved in order to design a unique combination of methods and techniques that are best suited for the organization’s specific needs, goals and objectives.

Mary Ellen Harris is the director, Human Resources at Kreischer Miller. Reach her at (215) 441-4600 or mharris@kmco.com.

 

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Published in National
Monday, 01 April 2013 08:37

How to create a happy workplace

Business leaders understand the value of employee engagement, yet many have been slow to implement plans within their organizations.

“It’s interesting that 75 percent of leaders have no engagement strategy, even though 90 percent say it has a positive impact on business success. So while they think it’s important, they’re not actively engaged in affecting change. I think they don’t fully understand the impact it can make on the bottom line,” says Beth Thomas, executive vice president and managing director of consulting services at Sequent.

She says employee engagement is about creating an environment where employees understand the company’s values and what is expected of them, and are committed and dedicated to their work.

“Employee engagement is probably the biggest reason why companies are successful. Engaged employees generate 40 percent more revenues than disengaged ones and are 87 percent less likely to leave an organization,” says Thomas.

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about ways to boost employee engagement and the impact it can have on an organization.

What can companies do to foster employee engagement?

There are five keys to creating conditions for thriving, engaged employees:

  • Empowering employees. No one wants to be micro-managed; they want to feel that what they bring to the table is valued. They were hired for a reason — let them do that job.

  • Sharing information. People get anxious and disconnected when there are a lot of closed-door leadership meetings. Create a connection by bringing employees into the growth of the company with quarterly or town hall meetings.

  • Minimizing toxic behavior and negative feedback. Hire the right talent that will fit the culture and bring positivity. Then hold employees accountable to the values and expectations of the organization.

  • Offering performance feedback. Everyone wants to know how he or she is doing, and it shouldn’t be just once a year. Empower them and let them know they’re in charge of their careers, and can move forward if they are motivated and dedicated.

  • Appreciating employee value through reward and recognition. Have an employee of the month award and profile that person because people will want to emulate what they are doing. Make it very clear what is needed in order to be successful and profile those behaviors, characteristics and performance standards so everyone knows what is valued. That includes recognizing all the qualities that are valued; it doesn’t have to be based on the same performance. An employee might not be a high-powered salesperson bringing in six-figure deals every month, but might be the most positive person in the office and contributes to the organization’s culture.

Does employee engagement start with the hiring process?

Absolutely. When you are hiring people, it’s just as important to assess their ‘soft skills’ as their knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s more difficult to train people to be team players. Having the personality to go above and beyond to meet a customer’s needs or to be a trusted adviser is a soft skill that is largely innate and takes a lifetime to build. It’s important to evaluate those qualities to ensure they match the organization’s culture beyond the skills they bring.

Is it the workplace culture that promotes engagement?

Yes, it’s about the culture, but also all the employees and the leaders. It’s important for employees to ‘hang with the gang that gets it’ — those people at work who are successful — steal shamelessly and emulate what they do. Conversely, when employees hang with the people who are negative and contribute to toxic behavior, leadership sees them as being one of them, even if they’re not participating in those activities.

Engagement goes hand in hand with happiness. In a work context, happiness is about finding what in your career makes you happy. While it may sound trite, happiness leads to engagement in your work, which motivates you to give 110 percent or more discretionary effort. This is what contributes to business success, not only boosting your own career but at the same time increasing the company’s bottom line. Who wouldn’t want that?

Beth Thomas is an executive vice president, managing director of Consulting Services and author of “Powered By Happy” at Sequent. Reach her at bthomas@sequent.biz.

 

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In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) requiring insurance carriers and the federal government to establish a risk-sharing partnership for future losses. It was created as a result of 9/11 as a temporary measure to allow time for insurance carriers to develop their own solutions. Originally set to expire in 2005, the act has been extended twice, and will now expire in 2014.

“The private markets alone cannot and will not provide the level of terrorism insurance our economy demands,” says Shelley White, assistant vice president at SeibertKeck. “The threat of terrorism has become a greater concern for businesses in today’s uncertain and rapidly evolving global climate. It should continue to be part of a comprehensive risk management program.”

Smart Business spoke with White about terrorism coverage today and where problems still occur.

Why was the TRIA created and how does it work?

For property and casualty insurers, 9/11 losses paid out a reported $40 billion from property, business interruption, aviation, workers’ compensation, liability and life insurance lines. As the largest disaster in the industry’s history, carriers were reluctant to continue providing coverage. State regulators agreed to allow carriers to exclude terrorism from policies, and coverage was soon unavailable or extremely expensive.

The TRIA was created as a temporary federal program of shared public and private compensation for insured losses to allow the private market to stabilize, protect consumers by ensuring the availability and affordability of insurance for terrorism risks, and preserve state regulation of insurance. Carriers set the price of coverage within the limits imposed by regulations.

With the federal backstop in place, commercial lines policyholders could choose to purchase or reject terrorism coverage from existing insurance programs; the program doesn’t extend to personal lines policyholders. This offer continues today with most coverage lines, except workers’ compensation policies where insurers and qualified self-insured employers cannot exclude terrorism coverage because of lifetime medical care for on-the-job duties.

What changes were made when the program was extended?

In 2007, the government modified and extended the act through Dec. 31, 2014. Several provisions changed, including:

  • Revising the definition of a certified act of terrorism to eliminate the requirement that the individual(s) is acting on behalf of a foreign person or interest. Some property insurers add exclusionary language related to non-certified terrorism coverage.

  • Updating the payout cap to $100 billion per year for insured losses.

  • Requiring the Treasury Department to establish a procedure for allocation of pro-rata payments in the event that a terrorism loss exceeds the cap.

When purchasing terrorism coverage, how much do premiums increase?

The cost for the TRIA on an average risk is usually a single-digit percentage of the policy premium. Higher risk businesses such as financial institutions, real estate, health care and utility companies tend to be in the double-digit percentages.

Many policyholders, regardless of size, continue to decline terrorism coverage — not considering themselves targets. Larger risks often feel the coverage doesn’t provide enough to protect their exposures.

What are some of the continuing problems with terrorism coverage?

It is the insurance industry’s goal to work with Congress on creating terrorism insurance renewal past 2014. Terrorism coverage provides market stability.

There will be a significant effect on real estate lending if this backstop disappears.  Mortgage-backed securities, for example, will be in default. Private markets aren’t able to offer coverage without the federal backstop and cannot offer the level of insurance our economy demands.

The Government Accountability Office is working to assess options and review proposals, and Congress is encouraging greater private market participation. We’re optimistic that a long-term solution will be reached.

Shelley White is an assistant vice president at SeibertKeck. Reach her at (330) 865-6582 or swhite@seibertkeck.com.

 

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Published in Akron/Canton