Atlanta (1302)

Left or right? Up or down? Yes or no? The human life is full of choices. We make them on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. It’s what we do, how we live and move and have our being in the world.

Consider some choices you may have made in the last few years:

  • What car should you buy?
  • Should you ask her to marry you?
  • Are you ready for another baby?
  • Is this house right for you, or should you keep looking before you make an offer?
  • Who should be let go in the next round of budget cuts?
  • Will your department reach its goals this year?
  • Should you ask for a raise?
  • Is it time for your mom to enter a nursing home?
  • What do I need to do to lose weight?
  • What will you eat for dinner tonight?

Decisions are usually easier when we are only faced with two choices. Blue or red car? Two-story or ranch-style home? Slim Fast or Weight Watchers diet plan? Our brains are somehow wired better to choose between two competing choices.

It’s when we have more options that we sometimes stall, flutter or downright choke.

  • Three people from a team of eight in the department must be let go.
  • Should we marry now, when we finish college or after we find secure jobs?
  • In order to best reach our yearly goals, should we focus our attention on X, Y or Z, and how much of our remaining budget should we allocate to the project we choose?

Life is full of hard choices, and the bigger they are and the more options we have, the harder they get.

Through my years in working with individuals, groups, companies and organization, I have narrowed the questions we need to ask in order to make the right choices both in our life and in business.

Here are 3 of my best tips for making the right choice:

1. Analyze outcomes, not pros and cons.

Many of us have been taught somewhere along the way to take out a sheet of paper and divide it down the middle with a line. On one side we list the “pros” of a certain choice, on the other, the “cons.”

This old school way of making choices is time worn and tested, but I think there is a better focus: outcomes. In the end, the outcome of a choice made is what truly matters.

Working through a big decision can give us a kind of tunnel vision, where we get so focused on the immediate consequences of the decision at hand that we don’t think about the eventual outcomes we expect or desire.

When making a choice, then, it pays to take some time to consider the outcome you expect. Consider each option and ask the following questions:

  • What is the probable outcome of this choice? (This is the list we should make.)
  • What outcomes are highly unlikely? (This allows them less weight in the choice.)
  • What are the likely outcomes of not choosing this one? (These are negative outcomes.)
  • What would be the outcome of doing the exact opposite? (Play “devil’s advocate.”)

Our thinking should be in terms of long-term outcomes and not short-term pros and cons. And we should broaden our thinking to include negative outcomes. In doing so, we will find clarity and direction in making the right choice.

2. Ask why – five times.

The Five Whys are a problem-solving technique invented by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. When something goes wrong, you ask “why?” five times. By asking why something failed, over and over, you eventually get to the root cause.

Although developed as a problem-solving technique, the Five Whys can also help you determine whether a choice you’re considering is in line with your core values as a person and a business.

For instance:

  • Why should I take this job? It pays well and offers me a chance to grow.
  • Why is that important? Because I want to build a career and not just have a string of meaningless jobs.
  • Why? Because, I want my life to have meaning.
  • Why? So I can be happy.
  • Why? Because that’s what’s important in life.

We now see how the first two tips are interrelated. By asking the Five Whys, we learn that having meaning and being happy are desired outcomes that influence the choice made in asking the first question: Why should I take this job?

The continued relationship can be seen in revealing the third tips for making the right choice.

3. Follow your instincts.

This tip affords you the ability to work through the first two tips with a sense of personal confidence.

Why?

Because research shows that:

The conscious mind can only hold between five and nine distinct thoughts at any given time. That means that any complex problem with more than (on average) seven factors is going to overflow the conscious mind’s ability to function effectively, leading to poor choices.

Our unconscious mind is much better at juggling and working through complex problems. People who follow their instincts actually trust the work their unconscious mind has already done.

In summary:

When we allow ourselves to focus on long-term outcomes rather than short-sighted pros and cons, take on the task of asking “Why?” five different times, and trust and follow our instincts, we put ourselves in a much better position to make the right choice in any given situation in life and business.

Like anything we go through as human beings, this process takes work. Get to work and let me know how it goes.

DeLores Pressleymotivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.

She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email atinfo@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com

Innovative, progressive companies are reworking the infamous line from the movie “Wall Street” from “Greed is good” to “Global is great.” In fact, over the last few years, we’ve seen a significant increase in companies opening offices in Singapore as easily as Seattle or hanging up a shingle in Philadelphia in addition to Frankfurt.

CorFire, like a lot of companies, is increasingly aware of the new reality of the global workforce. This understanding has served as the foundation for our hiring practices, the partnerships we form and the customer base we seek. While global vision and focus are central tenets of our culture, we still realize the need to put processes in place to ensure that this global vision is understood and executed throughout each level of the organization.

Do the math

Historically, when opening or expanding a business, most executives have looked at the immediate revenue opportunities. Depending on the nature of the business, these numbers are often based on an isolated and limited view of the prospective buyer — businesses usually look for revenue opportunities in their city, state or region of the country.

In today’s global environment, executives need to analyze the market with a wider lens. Even companies that have a global presence may need to widen their focus to take advantage of economic growth in overlooked countries.

For example, Brazil has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Technology providers are having success launching services like biometrics in African nations to support banking initiatives.

Hire without borders

Gone are the days when companies placed a help-wanted ad in a newspaper to find qualified local talent. Critical knowledge workers may live in your company’s hometown or thousands of miles away. While there are benefits to having workers centrally located, companies have to look outside the geographical box when it comes to hiring. In fact, human resources needs to have carte blanche to base hiring decisions on talent and fit rather than geography.

If it makes sense, organizations may want to develop global human resources teams, even if small, rather than hiring exclusively from headquarters. This may help the company create the best and most attractive global compensation and performance packages to attract and retain the level of talent needed to build across borders.

While hiring across borders is critical at all levels of an organization, companies need to ensure that top leaders within the company reflect the diversity of the employee and customer base. This diversity at the top shows that the company truly understands the importance of globalization. This type of culture is far more attractive to candidates interested in working for a company focused in international growth.

Doesn’t fit? Force it

Companies often face reluctance when implementing processes and policies. Although most employees understand the value of global teams and building global workforces, to do it successfully takes effort from all levels.

Often it’s easier to work with Dan down the hall than Simon in Sydney. There’s the challenge of time differences and the reality that global teams don’t share the same context in their work or personal lives. Unfortunately, this does not create an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder environment, but rather one in which unfamiliarity breeds contempt.

With that as a backdrop, companies need to look for real, practical ways to make international teams interact regularly. Face-to-face meetings are good but often impractical, both logistically and financially. But thanks to technology, including webcams, people can easily, inexpensively interact monthly or weekly.

Slow and steady

While these steps will help organizations move toward global profitability, companies must set realistic time frames and expectations for international growth.

There are no cookie-cutter approaches to global success. Your roadmap doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. But with the right people, priorities and processes in place, you will be well on your way to tapping the enormous revenue potential that lies outside your time zone.

Finally, remember that working across borders is a new process for many people. There may be bumps in the road, as there are with most evolutionary changes in business. Communicating the company’s vision around globalization will help teams understand that there is no retreating. Progressive companies are building and crossing bridges as a way to grow and thrive in today’s changing global economy.

Sang Yook is chief strategy officer of CorFire, the mobile commerce business unit of SK C&C USA. You can reach him at (770) 670-4700.

In business, growth equals success, but growth also usually comes wrapped in challenges, sometimes extremely difficult ones. Liaison Technologies CEO Bob Renner has seen this firsthand over the last few years. The main complication Renner has encounted is keeping his data management company stocked with enough talented workers to keep its growing customer base happy and satisfied.

“The market we participate in is an active one; it’s consolidating and there’s a lot of competition,” Renner says. “And over the last five years we’ve grown at a 50 percent compounded annual rate. So attracting and retaining top talent at the velocity we’re growing is a challenge that has been top of mind for us, especially in the last 12 to 18 months.

“Finding people that have the right skill set and fit into your company’s culture is tougher when you’re growing,” he says. “Some days it seems like there’s zero percent unemployment in the space we’re in. So when I think about business challenges, that’s the key one for us.”

The problem became apparent about two years ago, as Liaison’s leaders started noticing several factors impinging on the company’s ability to attract and retain talented knowledge workers: a sudden salary inflation trend; competitors’ direct attempts to lure Liaison employees away; and a shortage of suitable talent coming from colleges, notably Georgia Tech, the technology-education giant sitting in Liaison’s backyard.

“Over the last 18 months or so, in the local market here in Atlanta, we saw salary inflation that was accelerating more quickly than our standard practices were to raise salary and compensation,” Renner says. “This was counterintuitive, because at the same time you’re hearing a lot of economic news talking about high unemployment rates, which, depending on who you’re listening to, ranged anywhere from 8 percent to 15 percent in our local market. That was the first indicator.

“A second factor that has led to this being a focus issue for our executive team is that as Liaison has grown rapidly, we’ve become more visible to the larger competitors in our space,” he says. “So we’ve seen some very active recruiting efforts from competitors into our organization. Some of those were successful, some were not so successful, but they became quite visible. We saw a lot of pressure being put on by competitors looking at Liaison. Before this, we had been under the radar screen, but once you reach a certain size and visibility, you end up with a more competitive recruiting environment.

“Lastly, we faced a shortage of talent coming out of the colleges. We recruit heavily from Georgia Tech, and you’ve got a lot of other firms like Google, Facebook and Microsoft also fishing in that same pond. So bringing in new recruits from the Atlanta area, even once you recognize and resolve the other two challenges, continues to be a challenge for us.”

Attack head-on

Liaison has taken a number of steps to help make it easier to attract and retain talent. Among those initiatives, the company has:

  • Hired a full-time recruiter.

“We decided to bring on a full-time permanent employee as a recruiter at Liaison,” Renner says. “This company has been around for 12 years, and this is the first time we’ve staffed that position with a permanent employee.”

  • Communicated to employees its vision and the importance of retaining employees and attracting new ones through networking.

“The most rudimentary thing we did, which is something a fast-moving company can overlook, is we began to communicate a message to the employee base focused on retention and on networking to attract new talent,” Renner says. “We began to get much more active in our internal communications about the culture and the mission of the company. We used lot of the methodologies from the Jim Collins ‘Good to Great’ model, which we think fits our culture very well. We ramped up the communication so people understood the vision of the business, how important top talent is to us, and how serious the executive management team takes that. We did this through a series of road shows to all of our facilities. This took a lot of investment by the executive team, by our HR team, a consistent level of communication.

“This galvanized the team in understanding our mission, understanding what we’re looking for, reinforcing how important our people are to our success and to us getting to where we want to be.”

  • Created more flexible work schedules for employees.

“We made some adjustments along the way in terms of work flexibility,” Renner says. “We have a lot of people that telecommute now, quite a few more than a couple years ago. We’re probably up to about 25 percent of our workers that telecommute. Some people work two days from home; some work from home all the time. And our Dallas office is 100 percent virtual at this point. That was by their preference. All of our people in the Dallas area are now virtual workers only. So that has ramped up a lot.”

The transition toward having more workers telecommute has been smoother than some of Liaison’s leaders expected it would be.

“I was probably the biggest skeptic of that,” Renner says. “I’m pretty old-fashioned in terms of coming in to the office. But now, seeing this at work, we haven’t seen anything in the way of downside, so I’ve gotten over my apprehension about it. The company has adapted very well to it. We’ve embraced it more than a lot of other companies I talk to on a regular basis. Having people telecommute is one of those things that you wish you would’ve done sooner, once you’ve seen it at work.”

  • Consolidated its Atlanta operations into a single headquarters facility.

“In Atlanta, we were spread across multiple offices, but in the last 12 to 18 months we consolidated into one facility,” Renner says. “This created more unity and more visibility across the company. I think it has really helped with the culture, and with retention and motivation. It represents a big financial investment by the company. We took a pretty big hit in doing this, just so we could have a bigger facility everyone could fit into. I think that helped a lot.”

Get results

The employee attraction and retention initiatives set in motion by Renner and his team have started to bear fruit for Liaison.

“To give you a perspective on that, we hired 45 people in the last 120 days,” Renner says. “When you’re a 300-person company, that’s pretty serious growth. And we’re really looking for specialized talent; some of it is coming out of college directly, and some of it is experienced knowledge workers.

“In the previous environment we were operating in, in terms of finding talent, that would have been a yearlong process, at least,” he says. “We had been having a lot of open head count go unfilled. The way that manifested itself, in terms of our numbers, is our profitability was far higher than we had experienced in previous years, and that was simply because we had open head count we couldn’t fill. Sometimes it’s not a good thing to have profitability above what you’re expecting. It doesn’t necessarily set you in a good place for the future.”

Liaison’s employee turnover has decreased noticeably.

“We have a human resources executive that sits in on our weekly senior team meetings, and the report from HR has been very good in terms of retention and turnover, especially since we started with the road shows and some of the other things we’ve been doing,” he says. “Anecdotally, that has improved quite a lot.”

Liaison has begun to see the labor market loosen up, so employee referrals are rising, and the company has been able to reduce its reliance on employee recruitment firms.

“In terms of finding qualified candidates, if you go back a couple years or more, we always did most of our recruiting through networking,” Renner says. “We basically had employee referrals, which our employees are incented to do, and we really didn’t use contract recruiters for anything. Then we went through a period of time 12 to 18 months ago where we had to pay an outside recruiter to help us fill almost every open position. We just could not find qualified candidates through the standard means of recruiting that we had used internally. But now we’re back to a place where, to fill these positions, we use recruiters for less than half of them. So that’s a positive sign in terms of good talent being available within the Atlanta market for us.”

Put the word out

Asked what advice he would offer other business executives facing the challenge of recruiting and retaining scarce talent while growing rapidly, Renner says getting the word out to your staff is crucial.

“If I were to give one key piece of advice, it’s communicate, communicate, communicate,” he says. “Create an environment where the staff has a lot of transparency to what it is you’re doing, and they understand the mission, and they’ve bought in to it. Doing this greatly helps with retention, because then when they get a call from a competitor, they tend not to listen as much.

“I think we undercommunicated for a period of time, and when we were a smaller company, communicating was easier. But as you scale the business, more effort needs to go into communicating your message. I know it’s a cliché, but as you grow, it’s easy to lose sight of the exponential communication requirement. It’s not linear. If you’re growing 50 percent a year, the communications requirement to keep everybody on the same page, to keep the culture intact, and to keep the employees engaged and motivated, is an exponential growth in terms of the effort that you have to put into it. I underestimated that at times, and I certainly won’t do that again.”

Liaison has also been challenged because it operates in a fast-changing market sector and finds itself facing larger, more sophisticated competitors than it has dealt with in the past.

“When the landscape you’re working in is dynamic and your competitors are changing, it’s important to spend a lot of time to determine where the white-space opportunity is — that is, where there’s a unique place you can position your company — and not try to compete head to head with the new competitors that you’re being stacked up against. Because the reality is, if you compete on the same basis as the new competitors, due to scale-based economics, etc., you’re just not going to be able to be effective. We’ve continually tried to determine what are the things we can do, based on our expertise and our assets, that will set us apart from the larger competitors.

“That’s a key piece of advice: Don’t try to do the same things they’re doing, because you won’t win. Within our company, we sometimes have senior people slip into the trap of ‘So-and-so’s doing this, so we should go do some of that.’ So you quickly come back with, ‘Can we do it better than them?’ The answer is usually no. So we dust ourself off and say, ‘Yep, we’re not going to go down that path.’ It’s important to leverage your capabilities and assets to do something different to achieve the same objective.”

HOW TO REACH: Liaison Technologies Inc., (770) 442-4900 or www.liaison.com

THE RENNER FILE

Name: Bob Renner

Title: President and CEO

Company: Liaison Technologies Inc.

Born: Streator, Ill.

Education: MBA, Emory University; B.S., Electrical Engineering, California State University, Fullerton

What was your first job, and what important lessons did you take from it?

The first meaningful job I had was I worked in a gold mine in Northern California. And what I learned from that is that I needed to go to college, because it was hard, physical work, and you can do that up to a certain point, but not much beyond that.

Do you have an overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you?

I’m driven and impressed by people that really put their discretionary effort into the business. In some cases, it’s not necessarily the smartest person in the room or the cleverest person in the room. I believe in people committing themselves to the business, in terms of interest. I like to surround myself with people that are engaged and love what they’re doing, so they’re thinking about the business not because they have to but because they want to. And I’ve been fortunate in this job to surround myself with some people that fit that mold to a T.

What trait do you think is the most important for a CEO to have in order to be a successful leader?

You need to be humble. A lot of people that get into executive positions quickly lose touch with how they got there. Most people get to this position through a lot of hard work, and with a lot of luck along the way. So staying approachable, staying humble, understanding that you’re fortunate to be doing the job that you’re doing — I think this is a very important attribute.

How do you define success in business?

Delivering something that’s valuable to the market. That’s not always easy to find, but you have to find it because it anchors everything else that you do.

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:53

Why not use a book to tell your story?

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Being able to tell your story is critical in today’s fast-paced world, where cutting through the noise to be heard gets harder each day. With so many media options fighting for attention, it’s imperative to identify new channels where you can stand out.

That’s why as part of our expansion last year, we saw an opportunity to tell entrepreneurs’ stories in greater detail and share lessons learned by launching a book division.

Our book division is unlike traditional publishers, because we do all the work for you. We develop the story and outline, conduct the interviews with the author and other contributors, and then write the book and handle all of the other elements through publication of an e-book and hardback editions.

The time commitment from you is minimal. Once the story is determined, we will conduct a series of short interviews to get the information we need to write the book. You approve everything that goes into the story and have final say on every aspect of the project. We help you take an idea for a book and turn it into a reality that you can share with others.

As an example, last year, we worked with auto dealers Rick and Rita Case to produce “Our Customers, Our Friends.” In the book, the Cases lay out their theory that the secret to successful retail sales is through building long-lasting relationships with customers and treating them as you would your best friend.

Whether your goal is to use a book as a business card for your organization by sharing knowledge with others or to further a cause and help raise awareness for something you believe in, we work with our author-entrepreneurs to identify what makes them unique and what insight they can share with others. We also build an author’s website and set up social media channels to help them promote the book. And, we’ve recently established an authors’ speakers’ bureau that will help extend the reach of sharing that entrepreneur’s knowledge across the national footprint of Smart Business Network.

So far this year, we have eight books in various stages of production. Among them are books for the CEOs of three publicly traded companies on topics ranging from mergers and acquisitions to building sustainable businesses to how to conduct successful turnarounds. We’re also publishing books that introduce exciting new business theories, as well as one that explains how to lead with a philosophy of giving back to the community.

What direction your book takes is up to you. It can tell the story of how your business started small and grew into what it is today, or it can explain the details of what you see as the keys to being successful in business.

Breaking through the clutter of information is tricky, and writing a book is one way you can make yourself heard. It’s also a great way to explain your philosophies to employees, customers and your peers.

There’s a widespread belief that everyone has at least one book within them. In the business world, that’s even truer. If you think that’s you, we’d be happy to help you turn your ideas into reality.

If you are interested in learning more about publishing a book, please contact our publisher, Dustin Klein, at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 10:32

Why smart companies do dumb things

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Not a day goes by when I don’t ask myself, “Why do smart companies do such dumb things?”

A sweeping answer is that companies are run by smart people, and smart people do dumb things. However, when smart people assemble in companies, they are still capable of doing dumb, if not even dumber, things. Here are some reasons why.

Consensus. When it comes to doing dumb things, the sum of the parts is less than the whole. Throwing more minds at the problem means more data, more perspectives, more possible solutions, more critiques of these solutions and more minds (and hands) implementing the solution, right?

Possibly, but there’s also the downside of more people: Once consensus starts to build, it’s harder to alter a decision. It’s one thing to argue against a few people; it’s much more difficult to argue against the wisdom of a crowd. Individuals who hold out, question or disagree are labeled as clueless, uncooperative and not team players.

Conviction. Consensus rears its ugly head during the decision-making process. The situation can get worse once implementation occurs because the organization marches along with a firm belief in what it’s doing. At that point, a decision takes on a sacred life of its own, and a company cannot see flaws. Conviction is not inherently bad, and truthfully, it’s an important component of success. The trick is to combine conviction with open eyes and open minds to reduce the likelihood of having a conviction in the wrong thing.

Experts. If there’s anything smart people worship it is other smart people. It’s tough to be strong enough to not defer to an expert. Most experts have a tough time accepting surprises that are outside of their comfort zone.

Good news. A company is constantly assaulted by its competition, customers, governments and schmexperts (schmucks + experts). Faced with this onslaught, good news is an addictive, illegal and dangerous drug. It makes you crave more good news, and you refuse to communicate bad news up the chain of command. Ultimately, it may even make you refuse to hear bad news at all.

Lofty ends. Lofty ends can justify all sorts of weird and inappropriate means. Look no further than the quests for peace that produce mayhem and violence. Or, the desire to make a profit (something that is genuinely good for shareholders and customers) that warps a company’s code of ethics even though the company is made up of smart, honest people. Companies trying to achieve a lofty goal can start believing that any means to achieve it is OK.

So what can you do to prevent doing dumb things?

• Say, believe and act in a way that convinces employees that differences of opinion and diversity of thoughts are good things. Frankly, a couple of curmudgeons is a good thing for a company.

• Don’t be in a rush to meet consensus. In particular CEOs should not rush into a decision even though the image of decisiveness is so seductive.

• Spell things out. It’s not enough to say, “Plug this leak in our company,” and assume that it will be done legally. You should say, “Plug this leak in our company by using only legal, ethical and reasonable methods.” That’s when you’re done.

• Move the crowns. When employees go around saying, “We need to do it this way because Bill/Steve/Carly/Larry wants it this way,” you’re in trouble. It means that employees are making decisions based on what they think will make kings and queens happy, as opposed to what’s right for the customer, employees or shareholders. Good CEOs put the crown on the heads of customers, not themselves.

• Restrict the use of experts to narrow areas. Never use experts to create your product roadmap or marketing plans unless you want MBAs who have never run anything larger than a school snack bar to decide your fate.

• Ask for bad news. Don’t assume it will find you — you have to find it. You should allocate a time that’s specifically for communicating bad news.

• Don’t shoot the messenger who brings the bad news unless he or she caused it.

• And finally, don’t reward the messenger who brings good news unless he or she caused it.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the Web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of 10 books including “Enchantment,” “Reality Check” and “The Art of the Start.” He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at kawasaki@garage.com.

We’ve all seen it before, where co-workers in a company recognize a problem performer, but these same people can’t understand why the boss hasn’t yet taken action or has taken so long to come to grips with the issue.

Conversely, as the boss, how many times have you made what you considered to be an extremely difficult personnel decision and have done so only after protracted analysis, a fair measure of agony and more than an adequate amount of second guessing yourself?

Case in point: One of your top managers has hit the skids, and in your gut, you know that a change is needed. Fearing the worst, you play over and over in your mind the potential negative consequences that could occur if you were to fire this individual. Finally, after all else fails, you pull the trigger and decide to part ways with the onetime A player. Before you tell associates, you rehearse in your mind how you will explain your decision. Once you gather your lieutenants together and finally utter the previously unthinkable, the reaction is almost a unanimous, “What took you so long?”

After you breathe a sigh of relief, your team members start making not-so-subtle comments suggesting that they weren’t surprised, followed by a litany of examples of why your now fallen superstar wasn’t hacking it.

This begs a bigger question: Were you really the last one to realize that there was a problem? Furthermore, did it actually take you too long to make that final decision that, as they say in spy novels, this person was “beyond salvage”?

This provides a good opportunity for introspective analysis. The end result just might help you understand that you were not the last to know, but in fact, you may have been the first to recognize what was looming on the horizon.

Virtually every leader has to rely on experience, combined with instincts, to decide when to either cut and run or try to rectify a problem. Being an executive requires being a very good teacher. When a pupil is not measuring up, the first question is how can you help and what can you do to improve a person’s performance? Most everyone at one point in his or her career hits a rough spot, and with a bit of mentoring, a fair number of wayward employees can turn the corner and again blossom. Also, it’s more economical to at least try to turn someone around after investing time and money in developing the individual. After a certain period, the employee has gained valuable empirical knowledge about the ins and outs of the company and, just maybe, a little extra coaching can make the difference.

However, in some situations, your optimism for achieving Mother Teresa status through patient mentoring wanes, and you begin to come to grips with the fact that it’s time for a change. You then map out your what-if scenarios. Not only one but several. You ruminate over your game plan until you have the best probable solution locked and loaded in your mind for that moment when you have concluded that you’ve run out of road.

Most times, trying yet failing is not a bad thing; actually, it is a good thing and the way a responsible leader must approach an important human resource decision. You can never forget that you’re dealing with the life and livelihood of a person and his or her family, which can be adversely affected by the decision. Many top employees who veer off course and don’t work out were, at one time, effective and loyal contributors to the organization. It’s mandatory to make the effort not only to try to stem the negative tide of poor performance, but also to develop an alternative replacement and transition strategy. This takes time and can be a very solitary task depending on the level of the person to be replaced.

In reality, the boss knows in his heart of hearts before most, if not all, others when something ultimately has to give. Being the boss requires making the difficult decisions after meaningful deliberation and then living with them and making them work.

The boss the last to know? Highly unlikely. Instead, he probably is the first to know when the time to act was finally right.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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A company is only as good as its employees, a statement that applies to the top executives through to the people in the mailroom.

“Because employees are vital to business, employers need the right staffing services to make sure the right people are on board. It is not a decision to be made quickly,” says Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, a major accounts manager for Ashton Staffing, Inc.

A good rule of thumb, she says, is not to wait until your staffing needs are urgent to check out available agencies.

Smart Business spoke with Coon-Leeper about how to select the best staffing agency for your needs.

What steps should employers take to choose the right staffing firm?

There is a staffing firm capable of filling any position. It can provide flexible staffing for temporary, temp-to-hire or direct hire positions. Some services provide high-level executives, some specialize in a certain skill sets such as graphic designers and computer programmers, and some concentrate on specific industries.

Whatever your staffing needs, there are a few things to consider when shopping around for the right agency. For example, the firm’s ability to fill the job, how it qualifies candidates and what it charges for its services.

After you determine the title, pay rate, hours and assignment duration of the position you need to fill, the search for a staffing firm can begin to be narrowed.

Instead of picking at random, try choosing a firm dedicated to the same industry. If an employer is looking for a forklift driver, choosing a staffing firm that specializes in industrial placements is an excellent way to quickly tap into a pool of qualified candidates.

The search will require making a few phone calls as all firms are different and one size definitely does not fit all. Employers need to feel comfortable with the person staffing their order. A qualified staffing representative should be able to answer every question quickly and efficiently while delivering top-notch customer service. First impressions are everything so don’t be afraid to keep shopping around.

What should an employer know about a staffing agency’s process for placing candidates?

When searching for a staffing firm it’s important to know how the agency qualifies candidates. Each staffing agency is different so it’s key to know what has been done with a candidate before you are presented with one.

Depending on the position and length of assignment, most candidates should come with a background and reference check and drug screen. Once they’ve been placed, the agency should run an E-Verify check. Employers should make sure they’re aware of the type of background checks being run and what type of drug screen is used as some staffing agencies won’t run some checks unless requested, especially for short-term assignments.

Candidates also can have pre-employment testing conducted to determine software skills, personality, dexterity and basic math skills. Many staffing agencies can even certify someone on a forklift if the employer asks. Just remember, like buying a car, any upgrades to the base package are more expensive. It’s important that employers discuss costs up front with their staffing representative.

How can employers be sure to get the best candidates from a staffing firm?

Get to know your staffing agency and ask lots of questions. Each staffing firm is different as is each staffing representative. Some will spend time narrowing down candidates to find the perfect fit. Others will throw every qualified resume at the employer hoping one will stick. Most businesses prefer quality over quantity, depending on the position to be filled, although some prefer lots of options. Talk to the staffing firm and make sure the selection process works for your company.

What should an employer expect as far as service from its staffing firm?

At the very least an employer should expect excellent customer service and follow up from a staffing firm, no matter what position is being filled.

For example, an employer may call in looking for an administrative assistant with 10 years of experience and excellent computer skills, but cap the pay rate at $12 per hour. Part of the job of a staffing firm is to inform the employer that the average $12 an hour administrative assistant today has no more than two years experience and limited capabilities.

It is up to the staffing firm to approach the employer with this information when the order is placed, see how the employer would like to proceed, and then keep the employer informed of possible candidates and how the overall recruitment of the position is going.

What would be the case for using a staffing firm rather than handling the hiring internally?

There are many great reasons for seeking a staffing firm, such as expertise, improved productivity, increased flexibility, decreased costs and that the employer gets to try the employee out before offering a permanent position.

Staffing firm representatives generally have a high level of expertise related to job knowledge, employment trends and recruitment practices by virtue of continuous placement of employees.

When there is work overload, hiring temporary workers is the best solution. Employers can maintain their full-time staff while having temporary workers handle the overload. But the main advantage of using a staffing firm is that it can provide the employer with immediate help.

Further, employers can save money and time because they have no commitment to these workers and don’t need to provide benefits, conduct pre-employment testing and background checks, cover unemployment costs, workers compensation costs or payroll taxes.

Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, is a major accounts manager for Ashton Staffing, Inc. Reach her at jleeper@ashtonstaffing.com or (770) 419-1776.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by Ashton

The U.S. economy has been volatile to say the least in the past few years, and tumult in markets across the globe is chipping away at companies’ already shaky confidence, which has stalled hiring.

However, some industries are seeing orders or requests for service start to increase, which requires companies in these fields to try to keep up with demand using a pared-down work force. That’s where staffing agencies have been able to lend a hand.

However, the impending implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is likely to have an impact on workers’ compensation benefits, a program for which many staffing and professional employment organizations take responsibility. While the consequences are uncertain, employers and staffing agencies are taking measures to provide safer workplaces to reduce claims but are otherwise bracing for its potential impact.

Smart Business spoke with Hayden Smith, account executive and consultant with Solid Agency, LLC, about how staffing firms have been faring in this choppy economy.

How has employment been impacted by economic uncertainty?

There have been some positive trends in the staffing industry. Temporary and contract employment has grown 24.8 percent since the beginning of 2012, according to the American Staffing Association. There are certainly many rosy predictions and forecasts for the temporary industry, with the consensus saying good times are ahead for well-operated firms.

Since September 2008, 88 percent of employers have either maintained or increased the size of their nonemployee workforce and ASA reports that temporary and contract staffing employment jumped 24 percent in May.

Further, reports indicate more college-educated professionals and managers have been hired than blue-collar workers in the past years, signaling that contract workers have become the go-to solution for companies across industries.

This comes at a time when only 23 percent of U.S. companies say they plan to add staff in the next six months. That figure is down from the 39 percent of companies that planned on hiring when they were surveyed in April. Clearly, companies are exhibiting caution when it comes to adding costs, such as those incurred when hiring full-time, permanent workers, while the global and U.S. economies stand on shaky ground.

Workers’ compensation is a significant cost often covered by staffing agencies.

How are recent events impacting this program?

Workers’ compensation coverage is the second-largest expense behind payroll for temporary agencies.

When employers use temporary workers, they can avoid the possibility of having workers’ compensation claims made against them as contract workers are covered through the agency’s program. However, the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act could impact the current workers’ compensation program. For instance, there is some speculation that frivolous claims made by workers could drop as more are provided health care coverage with which to get treatment, instead of filing a fraudulent workers’ compensation claim. A study that examined the impact of health care reform on workers’ compensation medical care in Massachusetts found that health care reform could reduce workers’ compensation billing volume and costs. However, it’s unclear how the findings will apply across states mandated to abide by the Affordable Care Act.

Additionally, alternative markets available for the temporary industry to secure valid coverage have continued to grow and can offer cost effective, tailored methods other than traditional methods of workers’ compensation.

The temporary agency that does not manage its workers’ compensation very carefully will eventually find out how important this expense is to its bottom line.

How can the number of workers’ compensation claims be reduced for a temporary staffing agency?

While accidents cannot be completely eliminated, several processes and procedures can be used to help reduce the number of accidents and injuries, and possibly stop fraudulent claims.

Implementing a proven best-hiring practices program is first on the list. In depth pre-hire and post-offer questionnaires will help in deciding the type of work for which a temporary employee is capable. A drug-free workplace is another key component but only if the program is well managed by the employer. Also, most states offer premium discounts for drug-free workplace programs.

Another risk-reducing element that every business needs is a formal written safety program. However, this can be difficult for a multi-industry temp agency to provide. A thorough job description from the client employer will aid in the task of understanding risks and managing safety. Additionally, use these job descriptions with the aforementioned post-offer questionnaire, so client employers receiving qualified labor will be more confident using the services of a diligent temp agency.

A managed care organization is another helpful tool of a well-managed workers’ compensation program. When put in place and enforced, these can help reduce the total number of compensable workers’ compensation injuries. However, if a temporary employee is never informed and updated about the procedures of his or her workers’ compensation program, all will be for naught.

Ultimately, providing a safe workplace for employees is the responsibility of the employer. If employees are hurt, regardless of whether they are temporary or permanent, your bottom line could potentially suffer in several ways, including higher workers’ compensation premiums, loss of production and a negative impact on overall employee morale.

Proper planning, efficient management and complete implementation of components available to the staffing industry can help you avoid ‘the ugly’ in the future.

Hayden Smith is an account executive and consultant for Solid Agency, LLC. Reach him at (678) 460-2965 or hsmith@solidagencyins.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by ENTERA

Businesses cannot overestimate the importance of a well-planned transportation infrastructure. Easy commutes for employees build morale and productivity. Faster response times for mobile service crews produce loyal customers. And gas prices of more than $3 per gallon impact the bottom line.

For Shermco Industries — a thriving company specializing in electrical power system and wind generator repair — proximity to airports, highways, customers, and comfortable and diverse neighborhoods for employees to live in were all keys to its corporate relocation success story.

“Relocating to Irving – Las Colinas provided us with an extensive network of highway systems and transportation options that help us meet and exceed our customers’ expectations for timely arrival, and allow us to attract and keep top talent,” says Lonnie Mullen, vice president of operations for Shermco Industries.

Smart Business spoke with Mullen about how the thoughtfully planned infrastructure of the Greater Irving – Las Colinas area enticed his growing company to relocate its operations from Dallas.

What factors make Irving – Las Colinas a great place to do business?

The cost of doing business in Irving has a respectable value compared to the surrounding cities, and Texas real estate in general has maintained its value despite the recent downturn. Irving is an established, business friendly city, centrally located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. More than 10,000 businesses call Irving home, including Fortune 500 companies ExxonMobil, Fluor, Kimberly-Clark, Celanese and Commercial Metals Co.

Irving is regarded highly as one of the top cities for business in the nation and recently was ranked one of the nation’s Top 50 Best Places to Live. Not only is Irving a great place to work and build our company, it’s also one of the best places for our employees to reside and raise their families. Irving had exactly what we were looking for.

We were established in Dallas, a short drive from Irving. In 2000, our success demanded that we move to a bigger facility, and Irving offered the business solution we were looking for with a selection of cost-effective and functional real estate opportunities. We settled on a great building in an ideal location within an industrial complex next door to Frito Lay — one of our customers.

How has the move impacted Shermco’s bottom line growth?

When our customers need us to work on their equipment, they need help right away. Having easy access to Irving’s transportation infrastructure, including several highways, two major airports, commuter rail and the planned light rail service, is a great value to us as well as our customers.

The transportation infrastructure in and around Irving is a very important function for our company. We are an international provider of testing, repair, professional training, maintenance and analysis of rotating apparatus as well as electrical power distribution systems and related equipment for the light, medium and heavy industrial base. A lot of our business is service-oriented, so time truly is money.

Since relocating to the city of Irving, our business has continued to flourish. When we moved to Irving we had 100 employees. Today we have 425 employees, including 280 at our Irving location. We are very proud to be consistently ranked among Dallas’ finest companies by the Dallas Business Journal, which recognized us as a mid-sized company finalist for the publication’s 2010 Best Places to Work. More than 400 companies entered into the survey process, but only 23 mid-sized companies were chosen as finalists.

Another factor driving our growth is Irving’s Economic Development Partnership group. The group is engaged in both the business and governmental sides of our city. It’s extremely helpful in a sense that I’m able to ask the same group of people questions that involve either subject, essentially speeding up the process for our business to make a solid decision. And it gives you a sense of pride to know you have a partner that’s invested and supports your success.

How does the city’s transportation infrastructure help attract top talent?

To be the best you have to attract the best talent. In Irving, we have access to a work force of more than 3.1 million people within a 30-minute commute. Being established in a city like Irving that offers an excellent quality of life, an affordable cost of living and reasonable commutes has allowed us to attract and maintain our valuable employees.

Our employees and their families have access to many culturally diverse activities in and around Irving, including the Irving Arts Center, the Dallas Arts District, Six Flags amusement park, several water parks, and professional sporting venues including the Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks basketball, Stars hockey and Rangers baseball.

What are some of the best-kept secrets of doing business in Irving?

There are none. The city and the Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce work very hard to make sure there are no secrets. They are truly invested in business and they want all the businesses in Irving to succeed. Come to Irving and you’ll quickly find out the city is very pro-business.

The Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce comprehensively helps businesses large and small with plans to relocate their headquarters or expand operations to Irving. The Chamber is prepared to guide companies through a comprehensive process including business development strategy, strategic site selection, community demographics, expansion management, location selection, site consulting, corporate real estate management, corporate office relocation, location analysis, corporate site selection, corporate real estate strategy, corporate headquarters relocation, business relocation and corporate relocation management.

Lonnie Mullen is vice president of operations for Shermco Industries. Reach him at (972) 793-5523 or lmullen@shermco.com.Visit Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Greater Irving - Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce

Human beings find comfort in routine. As children, we gain a sense of security from knowing what will happen, when it will happen, for how long and how we are expected to react to each situation. As we mature, knowing that home and family will be where we left them allows us to go out and explore the world as young adults, secure in the knowledge that we can always come home if we need. However, as we age, this penchant for sticking to the routine can work to our detriment.

We begin to settle in at home more and more, often opting to camp in front of the television rather than venture into a new neighborhood or to try a new vocation. Our sedentary ways can have damaging health consequences, most significantly for that muscle that drives the body: the heart. To stay strong, the heart needs daily movement that includes periodic challenges (to force it to pump more oxygen than normal), foods that declog blood vessels and keep them flexible, limited preservatives and refined foods, and regular activities that relieve stress. But, once sedentary, inertia can make it seem as if changing our habits is an insurmountable task.

However, with concerted effort in three areas, what I call affect, behavior: and cognition – the ABCs of Change - we can break the cycle and embrace good cardiovascular practices.

First, start by tracking your moods, your activities and your thoughts in relation to heart-healthy activities such as walking, jogging or any other activity that works up a sweat. Jot down on paper how you are feeling and what you are thinking at the moment when you decide to engage in any act that undermines your heart.

Next, write down how you will change your behavior each time you feel yourself slipping into the unhealthy mindsets that precede unhealthy behaviors. Now, write down what things inspire you to get up and move or to make heart-healthy decisions.

Then, commit to doing at least one heart healthy activity each day and to modifying your environment as needed each time you feel yourself sliding into unhealthy practices.

Last, give yourself time. Generally, it takes 21 days of repeat activity to develop a new habit; however, you may slip up. They key is to review your strategy and recommit each time you fall. Ultimately, your heart will be the better for it.

Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.