Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:04

Jay Cohen: seven steps to sales success

Early in the life of our company, a management consultant sat across a conference table from me and drew an organizational chart with me in the top box. From my vantage point, however, I was at the bottom supporting those above me. It’s a perspective that remains true today. Management should be a two-way street.

At our company, we live by three guiding principles: Do the right thing (which starts with integrity and honesty), friends first and work hard. That philosophy extends from the executive leadership team through every department. Taken together, these principles make up a singular belief: Do right by your clients, create client relationships that transcend the deal and work hard to ensure nothing damages, detracts or deviates from the relationship. The following seven strategies reflect this belief and have helped our business growth from start-up to market leader.

1. It’s not about the sale. Sales are an opportunity. Relationships build bonds for the long term. We hear the line all the time, “What can I do to help your organization?” When was the last time you posed that question to a client or candidate — and really meant it?

2. Hire right, empower your people and invest in tools and relationships. At our company, each employee has the audience to suggest changes and improvements, even during their first week on the job. We’ve invested millions of dollars in cutting-edge technology and tools to better support our people in helping our clients.

3. Know your clients. Demonstrate a sincere interest in their challenges and decision-making process. When appropriate, request a seat at the table where those decisions are made. If you’re confident in your ability and your partnership with your client, tie your compensation to their success.

4. Really know your clients. Forget the fancy restaurants and morning-meeting diners. Visit their locations. See what they do. Even consultants or vendors can perform a little “management by walking around.” Learn their pain points, strengths and weaknesses, and be prepared to offer solutions, even if it’s a suggestion you may not profit from or it’s your product or service. Be comfortable leaving money on the table.

5. When clients are successful, so are we. We constantly invest in and partner with our clients. Last year, we invested in a longstanding client by opening four branches to support its growing business. Those branches are now supporting our clients’ needs, as well as our expansion in those communities. It was a calculated investment that reflected our commitment to mutual growth.

6. Reward, recognize and retain your team. Incentivizing and rewarding employees for individual success is important, but equally important is getting them to buy into the fact their success is tied to teamwork. We put a lot of emphasis on team and make it a point to get together as a group outside of the office regularly so that employees can build internal relationships with each other. As a result, when outsiders first see them, our team looks like a group of friends — because they are.

7. Keep it simple. Don’t overengineer relationships with your clients, and don’t be pushy in proving your love for client candidates. Keeping it honest will keep it real. Candidates and clients like that.

I have always believed that success in sales should not be focused on closing the deal or making quota. It’s about seizing the opportunity to create and build relationships.

It’s not complicated. It’s silly, simple, street-smart stuff that has been proven to work — no matter the perspective from which you’re viewing your business. It’s all about the relationship. Focus on that and the rest will take care of itself.

Jay Cohen is president and CEO of Signature Consultants, a national IT staffing firm based in Fort Lauderdale with offices in Orlando and 14 other locations throughout the country. This year the company was named the No. 1 Best Staffing Firms to Work For in the United States by Staffing Industry Analysts.

Published in Florida

A few years ago, when one of Rafi Holtzman’s employees called him from Europe and said she forgot her bright pink suit pants she needed for a trade show she was attending, he went to her house and, not wanting them to get crumpled in his suitcase, carried them by hand on the plane. He got odd looks, but it was just one way the CEO of Luidia Inc., a creator of interactive whiteboard technologies, showed his employee that he cared about her.

Holtzman also drinks his coffee with employees so he can talk to them, and he bought employees expensive ergonomic chairs so they would be comfortable. And when any of his nearly 100 employees have family emergencies, he says he’ll see them when it’s over instead of expecting them to work during the crisis.

“Even if you’re a cold-hearted capitalist, you still want to act like this because it buys you the thing that money can’t buy — it’s the personal responsibility, it’s the self-motivation — salaries will not do that for you,” he says. “Salaries are short-term sugar highs. If people understand you’re there for the long-run … it goes a long way.”

Smart Business spoke with Holtzman about how values affect a company.

What role do values play in an organization?

There are two kinds of motivation in human life — and it’s basically falling into two buckets. One of them is fear and the other one is love. Fear is a great motivator for a short-term burst — if you’re running away from a wild animal or doing a very fast project that you need to do right now and kill yourself to finish it. But if you really want to sustain growth, creativity, teamwork for the long run, then you have to be highly motivated to continue this for the long run, and the only way I know how to do that is personal involvement. I’m using the term love, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a combination of respect and personal responsibility and taking things really personal.

It helps a lot if you believe in that. You can fake it and do pep talks. A lot of companies will say that people are their strongest assets. But from my experience, not a lot really do mean it on the basic level. If you can really believe in that, you’re a large part of the way there.

How does showing care to employees help the business itself?

You have to go really outside the box to get support that will last for years. Most organizations manage to keep the people they don’t want to keep — we like to keep the people we do want to keep.

Changing employees is bad for you. It’s also hideously expensive. A stabilized company is always good rather than changing employees all the time — this going up and down and the learning curve and the hiring process puts stress on everybody.

How do you hire well the first time so you have a stable company?

Don’t compromise. Wait a bit more and don’t compromise. As a matter of compensation, it’s not always the highest monetary compensation that brings you the best candidate. You really have to see if there’s a fit on the vision both in the day-to-day activity and in the long run. People who fit in with the company values and, at the end of the day, are proud of their work, get significant points over somebody who just thinks of work as work.

What questions do you ask to get a good match?

The top question I ask is, ‘Tell me about the project you are proud of.’ I remember one candidate going, ‘Look, I started this, I made the proposal to the department of defense, I developed the process, I went all the way from idea to actually selling it, and it was a great thing because the company sold a lot of them. What I got from this I got taking ownership from one end to another.’ He had pride of ownership that he did a good product — he was really high on my list.

The other question is, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ You find out a lot about people when they answer this question — there’s only one good answer and that’s I don’t want to grow up. One of them said chocolate taster — that was a good answer.

How to reach: Luidia Inc., (650) 413-7500 or

Published in Northern California

Before coming to the United States to oversee Grupo Eulen’s international division in Miami, Luis Rodriguez had worked for the Spanish outsourcing company for 10 years in various divisions at its Spain, Dominican Republic and Chile offices. During that time, a question he repeatedly asked employees that worked for him was, “Do you think you will retire still working with Eulen?”

In Chile, where Rodriguez spent four years prior to becoming CEO of Eulen America, he estimates that 95 percent of his employees answered yes to that question.

“We always look for that, that people are remaining with us for a long period of time, because that’s being part of the growth of a company and being part of a company,” Rodriguez says.

After moving to the United States two years ago to head up Eulen America, Grupo Eulen’s newly acquired aviation services subsidiary, Rodriguez noticed that people in the United States changed jobs much more often than in other countries, moving from one company to another every four or five years instead of every 10 or 20.

As a part of a $2.4 billion company, Eulen America has the capital resources to expand and grow, but to grow successfully, it takes personnel resources, as well — employees who are willing to commit to the Eulen vision and communicate it to customers. To grow his company in new markets, Rodriguez had to show his people the value of being a long-term employee at Eulen (pronounced A-lin).

Address employee needs

Employees won’t follow leadership that they don’t feel can lead them effectively and, therefore, they can’t trust. As a CEO who oversees nearly 1,600 employees in Miami-Dade County alone, Rodriguez is unable to meet with every employee and build this trust through personal and daily interactions. However, there are other ways to reinforce trust through the way you manage your business and the way to handle the areas that affect employees most directly.

One is payroll. To earn employee trust, Rodriguez says you have to pay on time and you have to pay correctly — no exceptions. When it comes to payroll, just one bad experience can tarnish employees’ trust in its leadership. Therefore, you also have to have accountability in payroll to make sure the systems are always working and employee concerns about payment are addressed immediately and effectively.

“Whenever somebody has their doubts on their monthly check or weekly check, whenever they have to sit down with a supervisor in order to review overtime, that it has been correctly paid or the number of hours they have worked or the health care benefits that they have and so on, … you have to have people that are capable of explaining those things to the employees,” Rodriguez says. “That has definitely been the reinforcement that we have done.”

In addition to monitoring efficiency in payroll, Rodriguez works continuously to find ways to improve employee benefits. If you want to keep your top talent from moving to competitors, giving them lower costs on insurance compared to other companies in the industry is often more valuable than giving them pay raises.

“It’s a matter of motivation through incentives, and not so much in salary but in benefits,” Rodriguez says. “That is what is going to improve fidelity of them remaining with us.”

Offering competitive benefits and paying employees on time shows them that your company invests in their success and hard work. Responding quickly to employee concerns in areas such as payroll is an important part of keeping a business efficient. Additionally, it’s how you show employees that they can trust leadership to fulfill their needs.

Rodriguez makes sure that that he and his direct reports have effective ways to respond quickly to any employee issue, whether it concerns a client relationship, a missing uniform or an error in payroll. In a company with 35,000 employees, mistakes will happen and problems will arise, but implementing the fastest response possible shows employees you support them and recognize their individual problems as the company’s problems.

“Trying to have a quick response to them is the key to have them happy with us and working with us and feeling the spark of a team,” Rodriguez says. “At the end of the day, the ones that are representing you as a company are your employees because they are in the houses of our clients. Obviously, if they are going to have problems, they are going to transmit those to our clients. The best recipe is to be aware of all the things going on with your employees. That is the main way of fixing the problems.”

Whether you are managing 35 people or 35,000, you can’t handle the situations and issues being faced by all your employees at any given moment. It’s not realistic. However, when there is an opportunity to help an employee deal with a problem, as CEO, being the first to step up and take control of the situation shows people who work for you that you are still personally driven to make your company successful.

“Whenever someone has trouble doing a spreadsheet or typing a letter or going to the airport and having to manage the baggage and the belt loader, I’m going to do it as the first one in the company,” Rodriguez says.

“Your team has to believe, has to have the impression, that you are the one who is the first one to pull up your pants and get into the mud and to help anyone with a contract. That’s what I have always been doing and I’m going to continue to do that.”

As a leader, demonstrating to employees that you are willing to put in the hard work to help them be successful also shows them that you don’t just see them as people you manage but  as colleagues in your business.

“As long as you have the people really joining you and feeling themselves as part of a team, they are going to communicate that to other people and potential clients,” Rodriquez says.

Think locally

Before growing an office in a new market, Rodriguez always begins by looking at the local community and seeing how to adapt Eulen’s culture in a way that drives business and keeps employees loyal.

“One of things we usually do is to learn first about the culture of a country,” Rodriguez says. “Sometimes multinational companies don’t have a set strategy to do that because they are so big. You have to embrace the diversity that comes with being a global company.”

By listening to the local people that make up your business’s employees and customers, you can understand the keys and the barriers to succeeding in an area long term.

“We are not magicians, but the best way to improve a service is to listen to the employees who are the ones who really know what the day-to-day problems are,” Rodriguez says. “Sometimes the multinational companies do not have the ability to do that. They are so big that they lose the focus of getting to the little problems and the day-to-day business, and at the end of the day, those are the ones who see death in the growth of a company.

“Being involved with the communities offers you an opportunity of how to solve those problems, where you can search for labor or how to deal with local issues that appear of how to solve problems that maybe somebody from the community knows better than you, that coming from outside they are going to tell you how to solve them.”

Every city and its people are different, and business leaders need to study those differences in order to find the best ways to motivate and lead employees in diverse areas. By learning the cultural features that distinguish a community, you have a better understanding of what matters to the people you hire and can then adapt employee recognition programs, operations, training and incentives accordingly to fit that.

“Incentives programs with employees work 100 percent, but the programs have to take into account the people who you are working with,” Rodriguez says. “When I was in the Dominican Republic, the incentive program was completely different from what we are doing now over here or what we used to do over in Chile or Colombia or Peru.”

Keep jobs secure

Having effective employee programs is just one part of keeping employees happy at a company long term. If you are a large company with offices all over the world, your employees need to have assurance that their jobs are secure and won’t be outsourced to nonlocal employees to save the company money later. That is why Eulen almost exclusively hires people who are local to the areas where it operates.

“We are trying to hire people and to transmit to them that, within this company, what they can be sure of is that there is going to be stability and permanence in the company — that they have a future project with us as long as we are over here to grow,” Rodriguez says.

“At the end of the day, this is a company (that) is going to be built with local people as we have been doing.”

While Eulen America started out only providing services for the aviation industry, under Rodriguez’s leadership, it has added janitorial, security, landscaping, maintenance and auxiliary divisions, as well. In the last two years, Eulen’s opportunities to get new contracts has continued to increase, opening up even more avenues for new business.

Taking into account the worldwide lack of stability in employment, it’s very important to communicate with employees about new opportunities and growth at your company. For one, seeing the growth potential of their company builds their confidence in the organization’s success, but you also want to show employees where there are opportunities to succeed as individuals and stay with the company throughout their careers.

“Whenever we hire people, we talk and we speak with them about our company and that we have a presence in over 11 countries together with Spain,” Rodriguez. “We can always have a plan for people to not only remain on the place where they are hired at the beginning, but they can relocate from one place to another whenever they improve their skills within our company, and then move to another place where we need them.”

By showing people your vision for their personal growth within a company, you give them more reason to stick around. As the company grows, Rodriguez makes sure to keeps all management and employees in the know about the company’s strategies for and plans in adding new services, clients, jobs or offices. In doing so, he continues to build loyalty among employees who want to be part of that vision.

“In all the places that we work, you can go and you can feel that the people are proud of wearing a uniform from Eulen,” Rodriguez says.

“You just try to get people who are really going to feel like part of the team so that they have faith on the projects and are willing to remain in the company a long time.”

How to reach: Eulen America, (305) 269-2714 or

The Rodriguez File

Luis Rodriguez


Eulen America

Born: Madrid, Spain

Education: I went to an English school in Madrid 1974-1987: Kensington School.

I went to University in Madrid — Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and studied engineering.

What was your first job?

My first formal employment was as technical engineering for solar systems designing. Prior to that, I worked as tutor for math, physics, and even during summer times, I worked in Madrid unloading trucks.

What are the keys to successful leadership?

Transparency. Honesty with your employees and on a day-to-day basis to communicate as much as you can.

Published in Florida

By the time Tenet Healthcare acquired St. Mary’s Medical Center in 2001, the hospital had officially entered an identity crisis. In struggling to keep pace with industry changes, the West Palm Beach-based facility had floundered financially in its final years as a not-for-profit hospital. By the time Davide Carbone stepped in as CEO in 2006, St. Mary’s had become so unsure about how to move forward that it wasn’t moving at all.

“The hospital had a wonderful past and wonderful legacy and is a vital resource to the community, but it was treading water to figure out which direction to go in, in a world of constant change, especially in the health care universe,” Carbone says.

Despite coming in with a successful track record — Carbone spearheaded a major financial turnaround at Aventura Hospital and Medical Center as its former CEO — he had a big job ahead of him.

“The hospital had really not been advancing, had not been progressing, and people were concerned,” he says. “But they were also comfortable with what they were doing. One reason that the hospital wasn’t progressing or meeting the needs for growth was because they weren’t changing, and I became a change agent.”

Find an identity

To stabilize St. Mary’s financially, Carbone had to get its more than 1,600 employees and members of the community on board with some major changes needed to turn the hospital around. This was easier said than done.

“There was a large contingent in the community that easily wanted to see St. Mary’s go back to the old days that they remember fondly, but that was not practical,” Carbone says. “That’s not reality.”

Carbone needed to gain the support of the community and unite people around a new vision for St. Mary’s. The problem was that the hospital was perceived by community members in very different ways.

“This hospital had a glorious background and kind of fell into a trough and was having a hard time pulling itself out of it,” Carbone says. “It lives under the cloud of a lot of people’s impressions that we’re just a charity hospital or we’re just a trauma hospital or just a Catholic hospital.”

As a faith-based hospital, St. Mary’s is one of the highest providers of charity care in South Florida. It also functions as a level-one trauma center and a community hospital. Carbone wanted to show the community that St. Mary’s encompassed not one, but all of these things, and financially, it wasn’t a failing or destitute organization, but it had lots of potential and was still providing great services.

He decided the first step in re-establishing the hospital’s identity with the community was instituting a new logo that honored the legacy of the hospital while acting as a symbol for a fresh start.

“It seems trivial, but I think it gives people something to rally around,” Carbone says. “We all want to follow a leader. We want to follow success.

“In this case, it was just getting people motivated and getting them to see a vision of what could possibly be at St. Mary’s versus what had been at St. Mary’s.”

By getting the community excited about change and a new vision, people could start embracing change without feeling like they were abandoning the roots of St. Mary’s. Carbone refocused the hospital’s marketing and image-building efforts to generate excitement in the community about its goals.

He encouraged St. Mary’s staff to work proactively with the media. Giving the media more opportunities to learn about the hospital’s services and facilities, St. Mary’s began getting positive media attention instead of negative. This attention played a large part in renewing communication and building trust with community members, many of whom were Carbone’s biggest skeptics.

“Sometimes that criticism is legitimate and warranted, and sometimes it’s due to a lack of understanding,” Carbone says. “A lot of that is just communication.

“People have to see you as somebody they can trust and somebody you can believe in. As you develop that level of trust, people are much more willing to work with you and take risks with you.”

Recognize employees

Getting the community on board with change was crucial. However, Carbone also had to make sure that employees were prepared for change at St. Mary’s. Having started in health care as a nurse’s aide and as an emergency medical technician, he knew how easy it is to get caught up in the hectic demands of the job and lose sight of the long-term vision. Many employees weren’t interested in changing the status quo, even with a negative company culture.

“It took a lot to convince some of the folks, especially on the medical staff, that change is a good thing,” Carbone says. “Change means change, but change also means progress and survival. You have to be a change agent, but you have to do it in the most positive way possible.”

In looking for ways to re-engage his employees, Carbone realized that one explanation for the alienation he saw was a lack of effective employee relations and recognition.

“One of the things I noticed right away was that we did very little in the world of employee relations,” he says. “We did very little communicating, very little celebration of our successes.”

Carbone had St. Mary’s human resources department bring on one person whose sole job would be handling employee relations and developing ways to call out the successes of employees and of the hospital.

With an employee relations department in place, St. Mary’s developed monthly employee newsletters, activities with employees and celebrations during the holidays. It started recognizing industry events, such as May’s hospital week, and being more active in charity events, including the Leukemia Walk and March of Dimes runs and walks.

The hospital has also developed awards for top employees and volunteers each quarter. By holding up these examples of success, Carbone hopes employees will see how each individual’s success benefits the hospital, which benefits everyone.

“You have to encourage people that it’s definitely teamwork,” Carbone says. “No one person, no one idea can save any facility. So you have to rally the leadership team. They have to rally the people that they work with to try to get on board and see we’re going in a new direction, and here’s the direction, and here’s why, and here’s what we need you to do to help us get there.”

Since Carbone stepped in as CEO, he hasn’t replaced one member of his senior leadership team at St. Mary’s, with the exception of a COO who left to become CEO of another hospital. By uniting the existing team to support change, he was able to build trust needed to move forward.

“Your job is to sell them your perspective, your vision and your goals and that you have the experience and wherewithal to make it happen if we can work as a team,” Carbone says.

Enhance services

Once you rally your people around change, you have to deliver it. Carbone was starting from scratch to develop a strategic plan that could turn St. Mary’s around financially and update it for the future. Before making any changes, he thought hard about St. Mary’s strengths, where it wanted to go, where it needed to be and how to get there.

“Those are all easy questions to ask but very difficult, especially in health care,” Carbone says. “There’s a lot of competition. Development of any service is very resource intensive, from equipment to supplies to personnel and to physicians. Changes are not easy to implement. Good ideas are not always easy to implement. So you have to prioritize what you think will have the biggest impact for the short-term and long-term success of the hospital.”

To grow, the hospital needed to maintain and enhance core programs, while developing others. That started with small steps, such as renovating and enhancing equipment and facilities. As Carbone examined opportunities to add new services, he looked at the services that St. Mary’s already offered and then considered how a new service could add to or enhance the existing services in a way that was successful for patients as well as the facility.

One way to do this was by providing people services locally that weren’t currently available. For instance, there was a lack of neurologists in the area willing to see patients in a hospital setting, and a lack of neurosurgeons willing to perform cranial surgery. Carbone worked to build a neuroscience team to supply these services at St. Mary’s.

He also led the drive to institute a pediatric open-heart cardiac surgery service and get it approved by the state. St. Mary’s is the first Florida hospital in 25 years to win approval for this cardiac service, which will be implemented this year.

St. Mary’s gets more than 3,000 transfers from other hospitals of people who are seeking its high-level services, so Carbone has dedicated much of his time to finding talented doctors and providing them with the resources needed to develop core services, such as pediatric, trauma, stroke and obstetrics.

“It’s very challenging for physicians in South Florida, but if we can provide them with the resources that they need and if they can see the same vision and opportunity that we do, then it’s a good match,” Carbone says. “If we can get them the right resources, they can build a successful program.”

Carbone brought on doctors to start a comprehensive stroke program, which opened in December 2008, and a physician to head a new limb orthopedic program, which brings in patients from around the world. He now constantly looks for ways to build out services that are not being met at all or not being met adequately to serve the community.

“All of our financial success has been built on building new programs, building better programs and making sure we’re meeting the needs of the patients that we serve,” Carbone says.

Build on success

By getting people to see how change benefits the community, the patients and the staff of St. Mary’s, Carbone has been able to transform the hospital into a growing and profitable facility. In 2010, St. Mary’s was elected business of the year by Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce and Carbone received South Florida Business Journal’s Healthcare Award for CEO of the Year. Each of its successes brings St. Mary’s closer to the next.

“Over time, as you build success stories and people see you are doing these changes for the right reasons, people get on board,” Carbone says. “Success breeds success. Bringing on good people brings on more good people. Having a successful service encourages others to take that same kind of risk to establish a new service.

“We’ve had major successes not only financially with the hospital, not only the development of services for our patients but also in the measurements of quality of the care we provide. Almost any measure you can measure, we’ve more than exceeded our goal.”

Infection rates have dramatically decreased in the last five years, and other core quality measures have improved. Financially, the hospital went from being in the red to being in the black. By building new programs and recruiting many new positions, St. Mary’s has increased its number of patients and employees, which has also benefited its local economy.

“A lot of skeptics in the community were taking a wait-and-see attitude to see where St. Mary’s was going to go,” Carbone says. “I think they’ve been pleasantly surprised that we’ve had a great deal of success in turning the facility around.

“That first year, year-and-a-half to two years is key to get a few success stories and get some energy into the facilities, environment and get people understanding that we are going to be moving in a new direction, but one that should be positive and beneficial to all of us. I think we’ve accomplished that, but you can’t sit back and be satisfied. You have to constantly be looking for the next opportunity.”

How to reach: St. Mary’s Medical Center,

The Carbone file

Davide Carbone


St. Mary’s Medical Center

Born: Boston area

Education: Bachelor’s degree in environmental biology from Clark University; master’s in health administration from Duke

What is your definition of success?

Being able to go home every day and feel you’ve done the best that you can for your facility or your employer and for your employees and to be proud of what you’ve achieved. … If you can go home at night and know you’ve done a good job, that’s probably the best measure of success. As long as you are gratified with the amount of effort that you put in and it’s actually leading to something that’s getting better and that you’ve hoped to achieve.

What do you like most about your current job?

The ability to make a change and make a difference in people’s lives, and that’s at every level, from the patients we serve, to our employees, to the folks out in the community.

If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you be doing?

There are lots of jobs I’d thought about early on through high school and in college, but I’m very happy doing what I’m doing and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Published in Florida
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 16:26

Building rapport at Advantica

Before he founded Advantica EyeCare, Richard Sanchez spent more than 20 years working at Exxon Corp. He repeatedly filled out multipage documents and questionnaires designed to assess the performance of his employees. But when he retired to start his own company — now Advantica Dental and Vision Benefits, which is based in Clearwater — Sanchez decided that structured performance reviews were not how he wanted to determine whether he could trust an employee to do a good job. As the company’s president and CEO, Sanchez doesn’t use performance reviews and doesn’t ask his managers to either. Instead, he goes out in the field, constantly interacting and talking with his employees to verify their level of trust and commitment to the company.

Smart Business spoke with Sanchez about how to develop trust with employees by being flexible and supporting their needs.

Get face time daily. I try to have lunch every day with a client or somebody that’s touching our business, just to see how things are going. It may be a vendor; it may be a group of employees. I’m constantly in the field. My job is to cheerlead, to cheer them on, to communicate and tell them what I believe we are going to be faced with in the future. I will go to people’s offices, but I won’t intrude on them. I’ll chat a little bit. You really get a two-way conversation going, instead of sending out some e-mail saying, ‘Here’s our strategy for the next six months.’ (That’s) no way to have a conversation.

Reward spontaneously. When we see a champion, we celebrate. We make a big deal of it. We may give some dollars to the person. We may say, ‘Listen, for you and your wife, here’s a weekend. Fly down to Florida and spend the weekend.’ We kind of do it on the spot, so people aren’t trying to change their behavior to match a program. They’re just doing a good job. I’d rather have it more spontaneous. We might have five champions in one month, and the next month we might have zero. And it’s not necessarily a weekend in Florida, it’s just going up to the person and shaking their hand and saying, ‘You know what, you are doing a great job.’

Lend support. If there’s a really tough issue, a complex issue — it could be with a customer — instead of me saying, ‘Well, you’ve got to figure it out,’ I’m not scared of a situation. I think it’s good for me to go in and say, ‘Let me help you on this one. Let’s go see this person and iron this out.’ If I have to be the bad guy, I can be the bad guy. You can’t abandon your employees and say, ‘Well, you screwed that up, now you’ve got to figure it out.’ … I think the CEO has got to take on the tough issues.

Give people freedom. I grew up in an environment when work was everything. You missed your son’s birthday because of work. The world’s changed. The younger work force — they have friends. They have karate class at 6 o’clock, and by God, they aren’t going to miss karate class. I respect that. They have a life. What we really try to do at work is accommodate that. We tell them what we need to get done, and you know that they come in on the weekend, because they want to, not because they have to. I trust them to do that, and they can trust that we’re going to be flexible and they’re not going to have to be concerned if they are trying to improve their lifestyle or their health by coming in a little bit later.

Promote wellness. I noticed six months ago up in our Baltimore operations center … the vending machine had chocolate doughnuts and all that junk. We still have it in there, but we put stuff in the vending machine that costs nothing. We just said, ‘If you want to pay a dollar for the doughnut, that’s fine, but if you want a fruit bar or a granola bar, it’s nothing.’ We are really big on wellness here. We make sure every employee knows that they don’t have to show up here at 7 a.m. if they want to go to the gym and show up at 9:15 or 9:30 a.m., I’m all for that. We’re really into that at the company, because they’ll put a good day’s work in.

How to reach: Advantica Dental and Vision Benefits,

Published in Florida

Mark Gore, general manager of Firestone Country Club, says that customer service is what is most important at the prestigious country club.

“What really sets us apart is when you ask people that have experienced it what’s special about this place, it's about the employees and what they created from an experience standpoint,” Gore says.

Firestone employs about 350 people and serves 950 members, and it is Gore’s main objective to make sure each and every employee provides the best possible customer service to anyone who walks onto the Firestone property.

“Our staff puts forth an effort to create warm welcomes, create magic moments and create a fond farewell,” Gore says. “That’s what we call our three steps to service. We try to portray that to every single person that comes to the club.”

Companies in the customer service industry strive to provide service that no one else can provide. Firestone encourages employees to consistently go above and beyond what their job titles say they should do as part of the club’s Star Recognition program. The program was designed to allow members, guests or other employees to recognize a Firestone employee who is deserving of being rewarded for providing great service. The employee being recognized earns points that accumulate year to year and gets rewarded accordingly.

“The STAR program is something that really holds them accountable and makes them want to provide the service,” Gore says. “We wanted to find something that was appropriate where we could reward and recognize all employees for good work habits. It’s about trying to keep your employees engaged and keep their morale up.”

The program is an ongoing recognition system for employees who are going the extra mile. Gore says that the recognition and reward are what encourage employees to continue that quality of service.

“You’ve got to stay positive and be somebody that’s smiling and doing the right things,” Gore says. “It doesn’t cost anything to walk up to an employee and shake their hand and say, ‘Thank you for a good day, thank you for what you did today and thank you for what you’re doing this year.’ It’s all about staying in front of it and recognizing them in front of their peers. I think that goes a long, long way.”

The members and guests at Firestone constantly ask how they can say thank you to employees who made their day at the club special and the Star program gives them an easy way to do it. It has proved to be a great way to keep employees coming back each year, as well.

“We’ve kept the staff pretty much in check,” Gore says. “We’ve had the same staff and haven’t had too much turnover and what turnover we have had, we’ve done a great job of bringing good people on.”

The executive and management team at Firestone also recognize employees for outstanding service whenever they get a chance or during employee meetings.

“You have to recognize that a compliment like that coming from an executive or a department head, especially in front of other people is huge,” Gore says. “The more you can do it and recognize good performance, the better your experiences will be and the better the service will be. It just gives the employee a warm feeling inside. In the service industry, if you can recognize your employees as much as you can, I think you’ll find that your results will be extraordinary.”

How to reach: Firestone Country Club, (330) 644-8441 or

Look out

Employees of Firestone Country Club understand that great customer service and an overall great golf experience is what people come for. The management team at Firestone appreciates the effort shown by employees and rewards them whenever possible.

“I think surveys have shown that people being recognized versus pay is more important to most people,” Gore says. “You’ve got to be recognizing people all the time and do it in front of other people. Communicate with your employees. You should recognize employees’ anniversaries, birthdays and accomplishments and give employees a chance to take advantage of company benefits. We let our employees bring a guest out to play golf. We have a nice employee golf outing series that gives an employee an opportunity to come out with a guest, have lunch and enjoy the day. Keeping them active in the club and recognizing them in tough times is the key. If you hide behind the door because you can’t deal with the day and deal with the staff because there is some grumbling, [that] isn’t the way to do it. You’ve got to nip it in the bud, be positive about it, smile and do the right things and recognize people for doing a good job.”

Published in Akron/Canton
Friday, 18 February 2011 11:51

Getting help

Tired of answering business phone calls, checking e-mails or responding to text messages all hours of the day and night, on weekends and even when you’re on vacation? You might be surprised to learn that the person you see in the mirror could be to blame for those constant interruptions. And you don’t have to shut off your phone and unplug your computer to regain control of your life.

I’ve often been asked how I was able to balance my personal life and my work life while carrying the responsibilities that come with being a CEO in an industry as dynamic as automotive.

My answer: I made sure that I could comfortably delegate many of my responsibilities to my direct reports.

You can’t just go to work tomorrow and start delegating. The hard part is getting to the point where you really are comfortable delegating decisions to others while your superiors hold you accountable for the results.

I’ll explain what it took to get me to that point.

Let me start with something I learned after having been exposed to many different organizational structures, work teams, individual jobs and workplace situations. I consider this as gospel: All company employees, regardless of job level, have at least one thing in common. They want to feel valued for the skills and capabilities they bring to the company and want to be recognized for the contributions they make to the company’s success.

When this is the case, they will come to work every day engaged and motivated to help the company achieve its goals.

In my experience, nothing destroys that motivation faster than a supervisor who micromanages every situation, insisting on getting the work done his or her way and being involved in all decisions. The consequences of this — however well intentioned — can reach beyond simply slowing down the decision process, particularly if those exposed to this behavior have already achieved a level of success in the company.

In your role as coach, you need to begin by challenging staff members to think more deeply about how they should handle a certain situation, gradually allowing them more latitude to decide on a course of action. It will be difficult at times to resist telling them what you would do, but you must. You must also expect (and tolerate) the inevitable small mistakes they will make as their capabilities grow. Recognize, too, that some individuals will require more of your time than others, but in the end, this will prove to be time well spent.

I must caution you that taking on the role of coach does not mean that you must abdicate your position as the leader of the department or company. You must be very clear about the personal and organizational behaviors you expect, such as honesty, integrity, fairness and risk tolerance, and you need to model those behaviors in your daily work.

As you grow more comfortable and release the reins on your staff, they will assuredly do likewise with theirs, and the benefits to the company will become more and more apparent. Fewer and fewer unresolved problems will reach your level, decisions will be made more quickly making customers happier, and business results will improve at a faster rate because employees will feel more ownership in driving the results.

And, of course, you will be able to enjoy your life outside of work without being constantly interrupted by business phone calls, e-mails or text messages.

Try delegating. It may take some preparation, but I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

George Perry has more than 40 years of experience in engineering, operations and executive management. He retired as president and CEO of Yazaki North America Inc. in December 2009.

Published in Detroit
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 14:06

Talent management

As a child, Lois Melbourne watched her mother run her business with a focus on people.

That lesson stays with her as an adult at her own business, Aquire Inc., a work force planning and management solutions company. As co-founder and CEO of the 64-person company, she uses those people skills to help business owners develop succession plans and work through mergers and reorganizations.

Smart Business spoke with Melbourne about how to effectively manage your talent.

How do you create metrics for talent management?

Every organization has different drivers, but looking at the measurement, some of them are subjective, yet they still need to be ranked — like readiness for another position. It has to still be a human intervention to say, ‘Is an individual ready for a particular role?’ But that decision is also hopefully based on measurements that have been going on throughout the year or throughout someone’s career as you look at what experience have they been through, what value have they brought to the organization, do they have the necessary training or hands-on experience with components in the company? Then, sometimes it’s very easy to check off the list and say maybe they’ve been to a university or they haven’t, they’ve gotten a certain certification or they haven’t. Those kinds of things are often part of the measurements, as well.

How do you prevent bias from creeping in with subjective measurements?

An important part of avoiding bias is there isn’t one individual making a decision about another person’s career. … Organizations will put in 360-degree reviews. That kind of quantification is there, and it gets a lot easier in a business to avoid bias if the organization is driven by results, and the goals are set for any given individual or position or department, so you can measure if someone has actually met the goal.

Let’s say a goal is 80 percent of the employees will have been through a global training experience in two years, because we want them to either do a global job or to have been through certain types of classes about global awareness. If that’s a departmental or corporate goal, then you start driving the goals down to the individual, so then it’s less subjective — that HR person who was in charge of getting people properly trained, did they do a good job? Well, did they reach the goal? Was the goal properly established? Those types of things help take out the bias.

How do you set goals that are challenging but achievable?

Part of it is looking at historical data. What has been done in the past? We’ll use the previous example — let’s say the goal is, ‘We want 80 percent of the people to go through training in two years,’ but we never could reach more than 50 percent. So why would we, this year, crank it up 15 percent? Look at some of the historical factors and see what’s been achievable in the past. Come up with a logical number for the future, as well.

How do you know when you need to lower a goal versus it’s a performance issue?

It requires a discussion with sometimes a lot of people — the stakeholders, the individuals involved — to figure out why have we not been reaching this goal? Is it because of the performance of individuals, or is it because of budget constraints? Why did we set the goal at 80 percent to begin with? Was that wishful thinking? Did we have to have that many for some reason, like compliance issues?

It’s finding out why the goal was set and finding out is there a consensus on why the goal hasn’t been reached. Are there conflicts as to why the goal hasn’t been reached? Is there finger-pointing? … It might have been something out of their control, and that might need to be notated.

If we have a goal of watching what kind of turnover we have in our employee base and we lose a whole lot of people, why does that happen? Did we lose people because we stopped a benefits program, and people had to leave because they needed to find health insurance? That insurance impact then affects other goals. Get down to why did we miss the target.

How to reach: Aquire Inc., (888) 674-2427 or

Published in Dallas