Atlanta (1302)

If everyone in your organization was as invested in and knowledgeable about your company’s strategies as you are, your team would be unstoppable, right?

But how do you get everyone from the vice president of sales to the front-line worker to embrace that concept? I would argue that a targeted communication strategy can help get you there.

Tailor your message

Know your audience. Be concise and talk about issues that matter most to that particular group.

For example, in the Moe’s business, our general managers don’t care how many franchise deals we’ve sold, although it’s important to us. And our investors don’t care about our quarterly promotions, although those are important to us also.

Why does your audience care about what you have to say, and what is the one thing you hope they walk away remembering?

Consider the mode

Some people like to learn by doing. Others like to learn by listening. When communicating, know what your audience prefers, and present accordingly.

For example, general managers work in a fast-paced environment and are on their feet all day. It’s difficult for them to sit still and watch a PowerPoint for hours, whereas the VP of sales is used to that style.

At Moe’s, we do annual regional meetings were we pay for our general managers to attend. We try to make this meeting interactive with roundtables, panels and frequent breaks to keep our audience’s attention.

The timeliness of the message and the workflow of the audience can help you determine the appropriate vehicle. We know our managers and crew members are working in the restaurant all day, so if we send an e-mail at noon, they most likely will not read it until late that night. So if it’s something that can’t wait, perhaps a phone call or text message would make more sense.

Determine the frequency

In order to cover all of our bases, we communicate with franchise partners and general managers weekly via e-mail, quarterly via a newsletter, annually via regional meetings and biannually via a worldwide conference. Clearly, we know it’s important for this group to be hearing from us constantly and in various formats.

I meet with my management team monthly because it’s important that group understand what is going on with all departments so they can report back to their teams. Our stakeholders hear from us quarterly because they are most interested in financial data and trends.

It’s important to develop a communication strategy in advance to ensure wide attendance and rich content. Let people mark their calendars a year in advance if possible to reiterate the importance of the meeting.

Remember when communicating to articulate your message in a way that is most appropriate for your audience. Just because you prefer a certain form of communication does not mean your audience feels the same.

Lastly, always measure your success. Our conferences and regional meetings are always followed by a survey soliciting feedback so we can learn how to be better. We also do an annual associate and franchise partner satisfaction survey to find areas of opportunity. <<

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.

Richard Carrano knows all about stages — not the prosceniums on which actors ply their trade, but the phases through which companies evolve as they grow.

He also knows how hard it can be for a business to advance from one stage in its development to the next. The transitions seldom come easy.

Carrano has worked for Purchasing Power LLC, an Atlanta-based e-commerce company, since its inception in 2001, initially as chief financial officer and more recently as president and CEO. Purchasing Power, which offers a program that enables its clients’ employees to purchase expensive items like computers and home appliances via a payroll deduction plan, has grown swiftly through three developmental stages over the last decade.

Carrano says the key leadership challenge he has faced is helping Purchasing Power maneuver through the transitions from one stage to the next.

“That has been the toughest thing, managing the evolving leadership needs of a high-growth company as it transitions through different life-cycle stages,” Carrano says. “And those stages come much more rapidly with a company in our space and our size.”

Cultivate heroes

Carrano identifies Purchasing Power’s first stage of development as the period from its inception until it reached about $50 million in annual revenue.

“That first stage took us from ’01 to ’06,” he says. “The leadership needs in a company in that stage focus on what we identify as heroes.”

Heroes, as Carrano describes them, are employees who are versatile and cool-headed in the heat of battle. However, some of the less exciting but still crucial developmental tasks like establishing routines, procedures and best practices are not among the heroes’ strengths.

“Heroes are generalists who are very comfortable wearing many hats,” Carrano says. “They’re great at putting out fires. But subconsciously, they’re not wired to put in process. So what happens is, because of that lack of process, they get to continue to play the hero role. They continuously ride in on the white horse and save the day.

“In an early-stage business environment, when you’re still not exactly sure if the model is going to pan out, and with the limited amount of investment that you’re able to make in head count, you need that generalist, someone that can do many different things.”

The second stage of Purchasing Power’s growth path took the company from $50 million in annual revenue to $100 million.

“Stage 2 for us was from ’07 to ’09,” Carrano says. “At that point, we started transitioning away from the heroes and started looking for what we identify as bricklayers.”

Bricklayers are people whose forte is establishing the framework for a company’s future — the processes, the routines, the procedures that govern how employees do their daily jobs.

“The bricklayers are individuals who have a focus on process and on building the foundation of stability,” Carrano says. “And in situations like this, the CEO is sometimes put in a position where they’ve got this liability of loyalty to all those heroes that have helped them get to that point in time. But unfortunately some of the heroes aren’t maturing their skill sets as quickly as the business’s needs are changing.

“That’s a slippery slope for the leadership of the organization,” he says. “You’ve got these heroes that their co-workers identify as very important, value-added people. And then the next thing you know, they’re starting to transition out, or maybe into different roles, at the same time that the bricklayers start coming in to build the process, the foundation, the infrastructure, so that the scale can be digested.”

The third stage of development, which Purchasing Power is currently undergoing, started when the company reached $100 million in annual revenue and will end at the $200 million level, in Carrano’s estimation.

“We’ve recently entered what we identify as Stage 3,” he says. “This third stage, for us, has been from 2010 through the present. This is where we’re starting to supplement our leadership with specialists.”

Specialists are people who have developed deep expertise in an area in which the company has a need to help it continue to develop and grow.

“The processes have been defined; we’ve got a good understanding of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” Carrano says. “So now we’re looking to bring in some specialists to focus and introduce best practices. These are individuals that have had successful careers in other environments that translate well into our environment. And these are the individuals who really help you begin to maximize productivity, production consistency, and predictability.

“In this stage, the way we identify it from an economic resource allocation point of view, you’ve gone from where you might have had one person straddling two different roles and maybe doing each of them at a mediocre level, and now you’re at a place where you’ve broken that down into two specific roles,” he says. “You’re hiring one person to perform each of them, and you’re expecting excellence in both.

“Being able to identify and recognize what stage you’re in as a business is critical at the leadership level, to make sure that you’ve got the right people leading the organization.”

Manage the transition

The most complicated part of leading a company through its growth stages, Carrano says, is recognizing when it’s time to start making a transition — and more to the point, recognizing when it’s time to start making the changes that will enable the company to successfully navigate the next stage.

“There are a couple different concepts I rely on to do this,” Carrano says. “One of them is something I categorize as awareness and emotional intelligence. This is something that we look for in every senior-level leader.

“When deadlines are slipping, the quality of the work might not be what it used to be, and you have that conversation with the individual, and they look at you like you’re crazy, like you have no idea what you’re talking about and everything is fine, that immediately suggests something isn’t right here,” he says. “The needs of the business have obviously outgrown the capabilities of the individual.”

Another signifier that Carrano says he looks for is a two-parter: effort and execution.

“Those are two factors that we look at in gauging the performance of people, especially those in leadership roles,” he says. “Obviously, effort is always first and foremost. If the effort is where it should be, then you can work on the execution. And the execution might be improved by way of additional coaching, training, systems, things like that. But if you don’t have the effort, then you can’t even get to the execution. It’s irrelevant at that point.

“When we’re looking at the organization and the need to make a transition, we’re looking at the people that we have in leadership roles,” Carrano says. “If the effort’s there, we’ll work with them. If the effort isn’t there, we can pretty much recognize that we’re never going to get there, so we know we need to start making changes.”

Loyalty and accountability

Managing a company’s transition from one developmental stage to the next requires a keen understanding of loyalty — and of which constituencies the CEO needs to be most loyal to.

“Again, it’s that liability-of-loyalty concept,” Carrano says. “We’ve all heard the phrase,‘What got you here isn’t going to get you there.’ I think for the senior-level leader to recognize that they’ve got a fiduciary responsibility to not only their investors, but equally to the current employee base, they really need to be responsible for making sure that the building blocks for the future are the right ones. Just because you’ve relied on certain skill sets to get you to a certain point, that doesn’t mean those skill sets are the ones that are going to get you to the next level.”

Times of transition are always stressful, and the CEO often needs to make difficult decisions, and to do so quickly.

“I always put it in the context of: I don’t want to get to a certain level and look back and feel like I short-sold the opportunity by not making the decision that was the right one,” Carrano says. “While those may be tough decisions, that’s the CEO’s job. They have to make the tough decisions. They need to recognize when those changes need to be made, and ultimately they need to be accountable for making them.”

Conversely, when it comes to timing, a transition from one phase to the next shouldn’t be shoved along too quickly. The CEO has to allow for some overlap of the people being brought in versus those being moved out, as well as the incumbents being converted to new roles.

“There are a couple of pitfalls you have to watch out for,” Carrano says. “The first is not having a contingency plan, or not having some redundancy built into your overall plan. Even though you’ve brought in your bricklayer or your specialist, if they’re not up to speed, or if your processes aren’t up to speed, and your firefighter is gone, then you might find yourself in a situation where you’re in a tight spot and you don’t have anyone there to step in and save the day — and you might still need that.

“So the urge to rush through these transitions is something you have to avoid,” he says. “To just knee-jerk and start making changes without laying out a prudent timeline could put you in a position where you’re left without the process that you need in place, and you’re without the individual that can help you get through it in the interim.”

Another key pitfall to avoid is not adequately explaining to employees the context and the need for the changes being made.

“You really need to communicate well with the folks that will be left after such a transition,” Carrano says. “You have to be able to reach out to them and articulate the vision and help them see the future. If you don’t, the grapevine might take over and paint a picture of what’s going on that isn’t reality. It’s critical to control the message so you can bring those individuals to the point of clearly understanding what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

Lastly, Carrano says it’s crucial to understand that some people have key assets that need to be retained, and some will surprise you with their capacity to handle change and convert their skills to a new role.

“If you’ve got a good understanding of what’s going on in the business and the people who are involved in it, there might be circumstances that you can tailor one way or the other,” Carrano says. “That hero might be able to transition into a different role that is equally beneficial. And a lot of those heroes have incredible amounts of historical knowledge, and you always need that.

“So when you’re having the conversation with the individual, those are the situations where you perhaps need to act differently,” he says. “If they understand the future vision of the company and the need for change, and they recognize that they might not be the right person for a given role, then the ability to continue to get value out of them in other roles and retain that historical knowledge is something that you should absolutely be willing and able to find a way to do.” <<

HOW TO REACH: Purchasing Power LLC, (888) 923-6236,


Name: Richard Carrano

Title: President and CEO

Company: Purchasing Power LLC

Born: Wilmington, Del.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, University of Richmond; MBA, Emory University

What was your first job, and what business lesson did you learn from it that you carry with you today?

I worked as a stock clerk in a convenience store, and it was really about hard work — breaking down boxes, stacking stuff in a freezer that was 35 degrees. It wasn’t fun; it wasn’t glorious. But that’s what work is about sometimes: grinding it out and getting the job done.

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

On the theme we’ve been talking about — hiring senior-level leaders — the goal should always be to get one step closer to engineering yourself out of a job by only hiring great people that are capable and motivated to take your job. If you’re doing that, then you’re only building strength in the organization, which will clearly leave the organization in a better place.

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

Obviously they need to have the passion and the intimate knowledge of the business. And they need to be a person that’s willing to make everyone else uncomfortable by asking the questions that nobody wants to answer.

How do you define success in business?

The way we communicate it here with our employees is what we call, simply, happiness. When you do something and you know it was the right thing to do and it makes you feel good, in most cases, that’s going to lead you down a path to success.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My first job after college was in accounting with Deloitte & Touche. When I was working there, my uncle, who was in sales, said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t cook the books.” When you think about it, you can apply that to almost anything.

Criminal background checks conducted during the hiring process can both save employers money and protect their business.

“If your employees come in direct contact with your customers and cause them harm, your business can be liable if that employee has a criminal record,” says Jessica Ford, CSP, vice president of operations for Ashton Staffing, Inc. “A background check can also provide insight into an individual’s behavior, character and integrity.”

Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its policy on the use of criminal background checks during the hiring process to discourage discrimination based on race or national origin.

Smart Business spoke with Ford about the importance of criminal background checks and how recent changes are impacting the process.

Why should an employer conduct a criminal background check during the hiring process?

Employers check potential and current workers for several reasons. The things an employer wants to know about a candidate can vary by industry and job function. The most common reasons for conducting a criminal background check are to alleviate negligent hiring; identification verification; checks for a history of child, handicap and elderly abuse; corporate scandals; and most of all to make sure the applicant is telling the truth. It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of resumes contain false or misleading information. Employers want to insure that what they are getting in an employee is what they were promised. The employer might perform a background check to find out whether a candidate actually graduated from the college they said they did or to confirm the candidate worked at their previous employers during the time stated on their resume or job application.

When conducting a criminal background check, what should employers look for and why?

Employers should evaluate each background on an individual basis based on the position the applicant is applying for. Anyone working with children in the state of Georgia must be fingerprinted and processed through the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. This comes as a result of events occurring during the past 10 years. Adult supervisors such as Little League coaches, teachers, day care workers and even the people serving children lunch at school fall under this guideline. Felony convictions of any kind or misdemeanors involving violence, drugs or abuse would result in the applicant not being hired.

When screening potential executives, directors and managers, employers should look for any discrepancies in their job history, verify their education, check their financial history and look for any “white collar” crimes like embezzlement.

There are unique issues surrounding the production and manufacturing industry when it comes to hiring. Many of these positions offer low wages and attract those with few skills or time invested in education. For these positions, you should evaluate what is vital to your organization. Candidates who have a history of violent crimes or felony drug convictions, such as distribution in the past seven years, are probably not a good idea. If the candidate has a record of theft, consider what that could mean for your business and the types of products you produce or sell. Also take into consideration how long ago the candidate was convicted and if it was a single incident.

What has changed because of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s updated policy on criminal background checks?

In April of this year, the EEOC issued new guidance on the consideration of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions. It determined that the use of an individual’s criminal history during the interview and hiring process could constitute discrimination and makes an attempt to discourage using the information differently based on an applicant’s race or national origin.

As a best practice, you should only consider convictions when reviewing criminal background checks, not arrests. Arrest records are not proof of criminal conduct, as they might not report the actual outcome of the situation so they should not be used as grounds for exclusion. Conviction records, on the other hand, typically serve as sufficient evidence that a person engaged in a particular conduct. These records are more reliable and the use of them by an employer is more defensible.

The EEOC does not have the authority to prohibit employers from obtaining or using conviction records. It simply seeks to ensure that such information is not used in a discriminatory way, which is why they are suggesting companies stop using a blanket policy, such as no felony convictions in the last seven years. Instead, review each criminal background result on a case-by-case basis and make sure your requirements make sense for that position. Review the credit and financial history of anyone who will be working in accounting, for instance.

How will these changes affect the way an employer uses criminal background checks for employment screening?

Lawsuits are on the rise. If an employee’s actions hurt someone, the employer could be liable. The threat of liability gives employers reason to be cautious when checking an applicant’s past. A bad decision can wreak havoc on a company’s budget and reputation as well as ruin the career of the hiring official. Employers no longer feel secure in relying on their instincts as a basis to hire. On the other hand, though, if you are too stringent and have unrealistic expectations for position then you are setting yourself up for an EEOC charge. Anyone who has ever been involved in an EEOC investigation can tell you it is not something you want to do.

If an employer is unsure of his or her rights regarding criminal background checks, call your corporate attorney or even the EEOC. The commission is very helpful and can give you very unbiased advice.

Jessica Ford, CSP, is vice president of operations for Ashton Staffing, Inc. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or

Insights Staffing is brought to you by Ashton

There is a reason the saying “Location, Location, Location” has persisted in the real estate business.

Take, for example, CIO Thom Davis, of Omega Environmental Technologies, and his wife Grace, founder and CEO. In 2009, they moved their Dallas-based company 10 miles down the road to where they were living in Irving, Texas. They found that relocating to the new ZIP code brought a number of advantages.

“When you have your business in one city and live in another, it’s hard to be as involved as you’d like and still have your full work day,” says Davis. In addition to improving the personal amenities surrounding them, the couple also tapped in to a host of business perks with the help of the Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.

Smart Business spoke with Davis about what Irving has to offer, why they made the change and how other businesses may benefit from making the move, as well.

What led to the decision to move, and why Irving?

The business needed to double its space, as we’ve been pretty fortunate in our growth over the years. When we looked at where we should move, Irving was our first choice.

There were a number of reasons we picked Irving and one was to get closer to an airport. We manufacture and distribute mobile air conditioning parts for a range of vehicles to 87 countries, so we’re doing a lot of international business, shipping some 25 percent of our products through airlines.

We wanted to improve access in and out of the facility and be easily reached by customers and suppliers. The company is now about six minutes from the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

It also was a good fit culturally. My wife and I had been living in Irving for 12 years and wanted to be more involved in the city’s civic life. Irving is a very diverse city — some 53 languages from 96 countries are taught in the school system — which fits in well with Omega because our 66 employees represent 13 nationalities.

Irving has two paid symphonies, one volunteer symphony, an award-winning musical theatre and many activities that are convenient and inexpensive. And that’s not even looking at the cultural benefits of both nearby Dallas and Fort Worth. Since relocating, 15 of Omega’s 66 employees and their families have moved into Irving.

What aspects of the city have helped your business?

Transportation and location are definitely big assets. There are major north/south highways and east/west thoroughfares that either run right through Irving or are on the edges of the city. One new addition is the light rail, which will be very convenient for foreign guests who are used to train travel, allowing them to visit companies in the area. The leg from downtown Dallas to Irving opens in July; the section that runs from Irving to the airport is under construction and scheduled to open in 2014.

There are plenty of comfortable hotels scattered throughout the city and there’s no price point visitors can’t find. Our customers typically stay for a week and many bring their families because when you’re leaving Brazil or Italy to come to the U.S., you’re not coming for an overnight stay. With Irving’s central location, visitors’ families are easily entertained in downtown Dallas, which is only 15 minutes away, and downtown Fort Worth, which is only 20 minutes away.

Are there any other factors about Irving that makes it a good fit for businesses?

There’s a willingness to help on behalf of the city, aided by the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, because there’s an understanding of how important business is to Irving. Dallas didn’t offer any incentives when we looked at space still within the city but closer to the airport. With a smaller city — Irving consists of more than 216,000 people — there’s more support from city leaders and staff and it involves people who are higher on the administrative chain.

Irving has more than 8,500 companies, including the headquarters of five on the Fortune 500 list and a presence of almost 50 more on the Fortune list. It also has more U.S. Chamber Small Business Blue Ribbon Award Winners than any other city in the U.S. It’s a city that spends a lot of time and energy trying to recruit and help the small and large businesses already there.

How has the city helped your business since the move?

There were some incentives that came from the chamber of commerce and the city itself. Since most of our goods are shipped offshore and purchased in the U.S., the city granted us a tax abatement. Irving also designated us as a free trade zone, which means as long as we move products in and out of the city in 90 days we don’t have to pay personal property tax on those products.

What is your advice to other companies that are considering relocating?

The first thing you need to do is contact the chamber of commerce. Many chambers, such as the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, are the economic development arms for cities. These chambers have put together programs to help make it a one-stop shop for new businesses coming in.

So instead of having of run all over trying to find this person and that person, the chamber will give you the guidance and help you address any issues, such as obtaining permits.

Thom Davis is chief information officer at Omega Environmental Technologies. Reach him at (972) 812-7099 or Visit Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at

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

Dealing with the daily responsibilities of running a business can distract an owner from the big picture. To take some of the burden off of CEOs running small and mid-sized companies, Professional Employment Organizations offer services that handle outsourced aspects of daily business, including recruiting, payroll, workers’ compensation, risk and safety management, and training and development.

However, selecting the right PEO for your company requires thoughtful consideration. And J. Richard Hicks, CEO of HR1 Services Inc., says that working with a PEO requires cooperation and commitment.

“This is really a partnership to help streamline and make your company more cost and time efficient. You need to work closely with your vendor and treat the relationship like a partnership to make it work for you,” Hicks says.

Smart Business spoke with Hicks about what to look for when choosing a PEO.

How does a PEO work?

A business and a PEO establish a three-way relationship — a co-employment arrangement — among the PEO, the client company and the company’s employees. This means the PEO co-employs your work force and becomes a legal employer responsible for such functions as payroll, recordkeeping, benefits and services, and participation in hiring, evaluation and firing. This frees up business owners to focus on the core operations of their business.

What do companies need to understand about the co-employment relationship they establish when working with a PEO?

The co-employment relationship allows your employees to participate in the PEO’s benefit programs, as well as its risk management programs. The employer retains control of the workplace, but when it comes to government compliance, the PEO takes those burdens off its hands.

What differentiates one PEO from another?

PEOs can be grouped by the range of services that they provide. Some could be considered turnkey and take care of the company’s employees from top to bottom. Others simply provide payroll and workers’ compensation services.

Every company has its own specific needs. Generally, the more people you employ, the more important HR functions become. Conversely, fewer employees mean fewer stresses exist on that aspect of your business, and all you would likely need to outsource are a few administrative services.

There are also PEOs that specialize in certain industries and you want to work with one that has experience relevant to yours. When you evaluate a PEO, ask whether it’s done work with companies in your field because that experience helps with the back end legal responsibility and mitigates your exposure. A PEO will never completely remove your legal exposure, but it will greatly reduce your risk.

Does hiring a PEO mitigate any legal risks associated with the services it provides?

It does mitigate them, but they never go away completely. An example of some items that will go away when you enter into a co-employment relationship with a PEO are 401(k) fiduciary requirements, health care fiduciary responsibilities in terms of COBRA administration and workers’ compensation liabilities.

Working with your PEO can also help protect you from many types of employee lawsuits. While the arrangement doesn’t prevent a lawsuit from being filed against your company, having a relationship with a PEO can greatly increase your protection.

Companies should make sure that their PEO has employers’ liability insurance, as well as errors and omissions coverage in suitable amounts that cover its entire block of business. You should also look into what resources it has available in terms of legal counsel.

How can a company rate a PEO’s affordability?

Look at your business and the issues you’re having with running it, specifically with issues such as all forms of insurance administration, insurance procurement, employee administration and federal, state and local compliance. Brainstorm those items out, pencil in who is doing that work and how often it’s being done. Typically when you’re looking at a company with about 35 employees, the person doing most of that work is the owner or CEO. Even if he or she doesn’t do it all, that person is involved in a lot of it. As a result, your cost for handling those issues increases dramatically, both with the owner’s time and with opportunity costs in terms of the time lost pursuing company growth.

The best way to evaluate the savings impact of a PEO is to look at the cost of employing someone to do that job, including salary, continuing education, vacation, coverage for when that person is on vacation and turnover cost, as well as any software or hardware expenses associated with a new position and new full-time employee.

When you hire a PEO, you’re hiring a team of experts, not just one person. The organization will have experience across a broad range of areas, and it never calls in sick, goes on vacation or asks for a raise every year.

How can a company determine which PEO is right for it?

The most important thing when choosing a PEO is to find a company that believes in doing business the way you do business — that treats employees the way you do. You should feel confident that you can reach the right person within the PEO to get a problem resolved. It comes down to finding people you want to do business with and who treat employees the way you want them to.

It’s not for every company, but if you have fewer than 200 employees, a PEO is something you should consider.

J. Richard Hicks is CEO of HR1 Services Inc. Reach him at (800) 677-5085  or

Insights Outsourcing is brought to you by HR1

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 15:49

The case for humor

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Knock Knock! Who’s there? Iowa. Iowa who? Iowa lot of money for my marketing programs. Okay, so that might not be the funniest joke ever but it serves well for exploring humor as an effective business tool.

As people communicate more individually in areas of presentation and electronic media, many focus on creating a “professional” image, which simply means making it look like what’s expected. Sadly this often results in boring and forgettable websites, PowerPoint and videos. It doesn’t help the presenter connect emotionally nor differentiate from the other “professional” offerings.

Rarely do you hear people coming out of a business presentation saying: “That person was hysterical!” More often presenters attempt connection by tugging emotional heartstrings creating small trauma. In most film festivals, dramas outnumber, comedies by 20 to 1. Why? The great 18th century actor Edmund Kean answered us as he lay dying: “Death is easy, comedy is hard.”

Still, humor is a worthy aspiration, accomplishing tasks seldom achieved by serious approach.

  • Humor establishes rapport – Almost all people love to laugh. Non-offensive jokes can easily establish likeability and trust. A joke related to a difficult situation can disarm a prospect or client when delivering “tough medicine.”  Relationships are often built on experiences of shared humor. People do business with people they like, and if they smile and laugh every time you are near they associate you with happiness. Combined with knowledge, humor enhances expertise, demonstrating confidence and strength.
  • Humor triggers memorability – Many strive to create “AHA! moments” in customer’s minds.  This occurs when one is thinking one way and you turn their head to think another. Those are the very mechanics of a joke punch-line. In our example I suggest a Midwestern state and quickly turn it to a statement of finances. The unexpected wordplay registers in the brain as humor, which triggers endorphins that encode for memory. This is why a childhood joke exists in our repertoire decades after introduction.
  • Humor creates alignment – A joke is based upon shared experience. Humor works well when there is communal understanding of the issues at hand. By identifying a common problem and creating a punch-line around it, insiders will adopt the punch-line as a trigger representing the issue. So when no one remembers to turn off the lights when leaving, a giant light switch painted on the wall makes people laugh and remember their responsibility without embarrassment.

Exploring humor research can be beneficial to creating memorable marketing, particularly in video. But suffice it to say if you just want people to like and remember you in a consistent and productive manner, simply follow the words of the late, great Donald Oconnor and “Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh!

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best selling author of Video Marketing For Dummies. and ROAR! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle. Visit him at or @awesomeroar

Friday, 01 June 2012 10:43

The happy and effective executive

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As an executive, your overall well-being consists of your effectiveness combined with your happiness. Effectiveness means that you are able to produce desired results; happiness means that you are in a state of well-being and contentment.

Most executives spend a good amount of their time worrying about effectiveness. They set tough goals and push hard each day to achieve them in the most effective manner. They are results driven, and any thought of happiness comes only after the results are achieved.

This begs the question: Can a busy, hardworking executive be both effective and happy?

I believe the answer is yes. In fact, I am convinced that better results stem from increased happiness. With this in mind, here are some tips to consider that will increase your happiness as an executive:

Start with a happiness exercise

Take out a piece of paper right now and list all the things in life that make you happy. DO NOT censor them. List them as they come to mind. Let it free flow from your mind and heart. List as many people, places, situations, causes, activities, feelings and opportunities as you can possibly dream up.

Now, get in touch with your mind and heart and begin to narrow the list down. In the end, you want to have a list of no more than four things that make you happy.

You now have within your grasp the areas where you should focus your energy, time and resources. The items on the list are at the very core of your personal happiness.

Happiness in all areas of your life is the key that unlocks great measures of effectiveness. Once discovered, your personal happiness will have a direct effect on your business effectiveness.

Take this exercise seriously. Be open, honest and determined. You will be surprised at the results.

Stay happy through ongoing education

Never stop learning.

We must be surrounded with people who know more than we do. They must be a part of what we do with our life and business.

Successful, effective executives know that education does not have an expiration date.

When was the last time you put a teacher or coach into your business goals and plans?

What new thing have you learned lately? Are you willing to stretch your mind to consider more than you already know?

Happiness can be found in a good teacher, trainer or mentor. Look for someone who helps you develop new skill sets and fosters your growth. Allow them to push you to consider new ideas, thoughts and ways of working, acting and leading.

Eliminate stress

I know this is easier said than done, but consider the fact that stress is the #1 killer of a healthy body and mind. Stress eats away at the foundation of your happiness. It distracts you, wears on you and drags you down.

Meditation, yoga, hiking, exercise and deep breathing exercises help reduce and even eliminate stress. Each of these has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other ailments.

Do not overwhelm yourself with the thought of adding each of these to your life. Pick one that interests you and do it. Make a deliberate choice to incorporate a stress reducing activity into your daily life.

Consider this: The absence of stress brings on the presence of happiness.

Have an attitude of gratitude

Our attitude of gratitude serves to focus our minds on the things we have and the things we want, desire and need to live an even fuller, more meaningful and happier life.

In the end, gratitude is not just an attitude – it is a choice.

When we choose to be grateful and to express that gratefulness, we find our lives being shaped by its power. When that happens, we move our life to greater heights of happiness and effectiveness as an executive.

The basis of this article is that a hardworking, results-driven, empowered executive can find ways to be both effective in his or her work and experience happiness in their life. Although we see it far too often in the workplace, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

An executive that takes the time to think and dream about the things that truly make them happy, who is willing to stay fresh through ongoing education and who works hard to eliminate stress is an executive who has found the secret to being both happy and effective.

I wish you all the best.

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 or visit her website at

If you’re like most CEOs, your day is spent rushing around from appointment to appointment, both internal and off-site, meeting people, solving problems and plotting strategy. The hours fly by, days blur into weeks, and the years start to blend together into a nonstop race against time.

Take a moment to ask yourself if this lifestyle makes any sense. What race are you hoping to win? What’s the reward when you get to the finish line, assuming you even know where the finish line is?

John Ortberg, author of “The Life You’ve Always Wanted,” says it’s important to ruthlessly eliminate the hurry from our lives. If you are in a hurry, there is little time to care about people. We need to slow down, even to the point of solitude.

While we are running our nonstop race, the people that suffer the most are those around us. Friends, family, colleagues and employees are often ignored as relationships are neglected in favor of the next big deal.

Ortberg suggests forcing yourself to slow down and put yourself in a position to wait. For instance, pick the longest line at the grocery store or take the long way to work. Doing so will help train yourself to slow down and be patient.

You are the person that sets the pace in your company, so if you slow down and make sure things are done right, others will do the same.

Working at a pace that’s too fast typically results in things being overlooked — things like employee recognition. When you don’t recognize and reward your employees, their job satisfaction can decline and they may leave. For every person who leaves, you and your staff have to dedicate more time to finding a capable replacement, resulting in an even faster pace as time is lost to recruiting and training. It can quickly become a vicious cycle.

Enjoy life by slowing your pace and being more productive, both at work and at home. Slowing down doesn’t mean you aren’t getting things done, it means you are doing things right and building relationships with people.

Not every transaction will turn a profit in business, but you can bet that almost every relationship you have with people will pay off in the long run. Isn’t it time you started investing in those relationships by taking the time to slow down and build them?

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

Emanuel Rosen is the author of the national bestseller “The Anatomy of Buzz” (Doubleday, 2000) and “The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited: Real-life Lessons in Word-of-Mouth Marketing” (Doubleday, 2009). Prior to writing these books, he was vice president of marketing at Niles Software where he was responsible for launching and marketing the company’s flagship product, EndNote. He holds an MBA from the University of San Francisco. In this interview, he brings us up to speed on the techniques for generating buzz that every small business owner must master.

Q: Going back to fundamentals, why do people talk about products and services at all?

A: Buzzing is in our genes. We are programmed to share information with friends about where to find our next meal and about the tiger who’s about to have us as his next meal. We talk to connect, so when my daughter tells her friends about the new sweater she bought, she’s also establishing and maintaining her social ties. We buzz to talk about ourselves. If I tell you about a 10-day dog sledding trip in Alaska, I’m also telling you how adventurous I am.

Q: Which comes first, buzz or ink?

A: Usually it starts with some buzz that is followed by press coverage, which can take the buzz to a whole new level. Grassroots support can actually help you get ink — sometimes buzz is the best press release because it gives journalists this warm and fuzzy feeling that your story is for real and that there’s true excitement for it. Don’t get me wrong, if CNN calls you before your product is out, don’t tell them that you’re waiting for some grassroots buzz to build, but usually it doesn’t happen that way.

Q: Which comes first, buzz or sales?

A: There are some highly anticipated products — Halo 3 comes to mind — that get tons of buzz before a single sale. This is the exception. Since product recommendation usually starts with product experience, you need to have some people out there who use the product and hopefully get excited about it. How do you get these early customers? Part of it comes from word-of-mouth marketing methods, like seeding and sneak previews, but it also comes from traditional sales and marketing techniques. If your product is contagious in some way, then these early users will start buzzing about it.

Q: What are the essential elements of seeding a product?

A: The key point to understand is that although we’re all connected to each other, information about new products rarely spreads like a wild fire. Information tends to get stuck because we live in somewhat isolated social clusters. To accelerate buzz, companies seed their product in many different clusters. The ideal seeding campaign is done on a large scale and lets people have a firsthand experience with the product. You want to reduce the price barrier as much as possible, so the product is given for free or at a reduced price.

Q: How do you seed a website or free service?

A: The good news is that the price barrier doesn’t exist. The bad news is that the thing you’re seeding is less tangible. The basic idea is the same. You identify clusters of people by geography, area of interest, by academic discipline or whatever other classification makes sense in your case. You then approach some people in each cluster trying to engage them with the service. This is a challenge that is shared by other products. The fact that a publisher seeds the market with advance copies of a book doesn’t guarantee that people will read it. But with some follow up and encouragement and some buzz from fellow users, some more people eventually try the product and start buzzing about it too.

Q: What are the characteristics of a contagious product?

A: The best buzz comes not from publicity stunts but rather from the product itself. A product or service that makes you say, ‘Wow!’ when you use it for the first time is the classic contagious product. Other examples: products that evoke strong emotions — “The Blair Witch Project” — or reward you for talking about them — Facebook.

Products that are visible can be contagious as well — think of the first time you saw someone with an iPod. Even abstract ideas can become contagious this way. The idea of living with cancer was translated into the LiveStrong yellow wristband, which started millions of conversations about the topic.

Q: What can stop the spread of buzz?

A: Since I just mentioned LiveStrong, let me tell you about an interesting study. A research team at Stanford sold LiveStrong wristbands to students who lived in one dorm on campus. A week later, they started selling these wristbands in a neighboring dorm that had a reputation as a ‘geek’ dorm with a stronger academic focus.

What happened once the ‘geeks’ started wearing the wristbands? A week later, the research team measured a 32 percent drop in students wearing the bands at the first dorm. So sometimes, when we detect that ‘the wrong people’ are using your product, we stop using it and buzzing about it. This is true especially for products that have to do with our identity.

The most common forces that block buzz are noise, inertia and forgetting. We’re distracted by competing messages, we like to stick to ‘the good old way’ of doing things, and we forget what our friends told us. It is one reason why buzz needs to be accelerated. Even delighted customers might forget about your product and run out of opportunities to talk about it.

Q: What should you do if someone who has never used your product is bad mouthing it?

A: One of the things that surprised me most as I was working on the new edition of my book was that this type of negative buzz is quite common. One study found that 30 percent of negative word-of-mouth was by people who never owned the product. If you can identify the person who’s bad mouthing your brand, you might want to let them try the product. The problem is that you usually don’t know who they are, which brings us to another reason for why word-of-mouth marketing is so important. You have to counterbalance this constant trickle of negative comments with honest, positive recommendations from happy customers.

Q: What should you do if someone who has used your product is bad mouthing it?

A: First, listen to what they are saying. Our natural tendency when we’re attacked is to fight back, but negative comments may come from an actual bad experience. This gives you an opportunity to do two things. Solve that customer’s problem, which will often turn her from a detractor to a promoter. Even more important, it may help you identify a problem in your system, fix it and reduce negative buzz from others.

Q: Who is more likely in these Internet days to talk about your product: someone who’s had a good experience or a bad one?

A: There are two types of bad experience. There’s ‘I didn’t like this hotel too much,’ and there’s ‘The guy at the reception insulted me when I asked for towels and then sent up a dirty one.’ Frustrated customers are very likely to share their experience. However, it turns out that most buzz among consumers is positive. This may seem like a contradiction, but it has some simple explanations. One of them is that most of our experiences as consumers are actually positive.

Q: What is the role of old-fashioned advertising these days?

A: It is fashionable to say that advertising is dead, but I don’t agree. Very few products can live on buzz alone. Advertising can help a lot — at least good advertising can help a lot. First, in creating awareness and building the pool of people who can buzz about the product. Second, a good ad can prompt me to tell my friends about the product. Third, a good, authentic ad that brings in real people can stimulate buzz.

Q: How has technology changed buzz and word-of-mouth marketing?

A: It hasn’t really changed what we talk about. We still talk about ourselves, we brag, we seek advice, we gossip, we connect. The Internet’s biggest effect is that it accelerates buzz. In addition, it doesn’t only let us tell our friends about the products we use, but also lets us show them these products through videos and photos. It has enabled aggregation tools such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. In essence, it gives more people more opportunities to share information with others, which directly translates to more buzz.

Q: How can a company effectively measure the buzz it’s generating?

A: The simplest method is to ask your customers how they heard about you. You can measure the daily mentions you get on blogs and on Twitter. You can supplement this with traditional marketing research to learn what customers who don’t use these services are saying. Whatever method you choose though, you need to measure on an ongoing basis, if you want to detect any effects. Companies such as ChatThreads, The Keller Fay Group and Nielsen Online provide buzz measuring services. WOMMA, the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association, offers lots of resources on the subject.

Q: Do you believe that there are key influencers who companies should focus on because of their insight, power and prestige — that is, an ability to lead a market as their wisdom trickles down?

A: The importance of influencers varies by industry. I suspect that they are more important in the pharmaceutical industry than in the yo-yo industry. Regarding the ‘trickle-down’ theory — this is not the way that buzz flows — especially today, buzz flows in all directions. I use the term hubs to describe people who talk more than average, and I make a distinction between social hubs and expert hubs. Both can definitely help a company spread the word, but companies should encourage everyone to talk, not only hubs.

Q: Where do you draw the ethical line on generating buzz and word-of-mouth marketing?

A: One key idea here is disclosure. Word-of-mouth marketing is not about tricking people. It’s about openly inviting them to try the product and talk about it. WOMMA offers a code of ethics that can help. When you’re trying to build buzz, you want to push the envelope and think outside of the box. And when you look for original ideas, you can’t police your thoughts. But after the brainstorming, you have to change your attitude dramatically. This is best done the morning after — over some strong coffee. Think again about your wild new idea. Ask other people what they think. Ask your customers and people in the community if you are crossing the line.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of, 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 or at

There’s a classic line from the 1970 movie “Love Story” that has become a part of our popular culture. In the drama, the dying heroine played by Ali MacGraw says to her husband, played by actor Ryan O’Neal, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” as he apologizes for his anger. It is certainly a memorable and tear-jerking line, but is saying, “You’re sorry” all that bad if it can soothe a wound caused by someone speaking or acting out before thinking?

Disagreements and anger are a reality in the workplace and in life in general. Various people react in different ways when under pressure. Some lose their cool completely and say things they instantly regret, while others launch into tormenting the perceived offender with the silent treatment. No matter the technique used to punish, all of these methods quickly become tiresome and, more importantly, adversely affect the workplace.

Too frequently in the work environment, many people just can’t suck it up and utter the two simple words, “I’m sorry,” even when they know they’re dead wrong. It’s not a macho thing either, as women don’t behave much differently when they feel put upon. What’s a boss to do when this stubbornness becomes problematic?

In a word: intervene. When not controlled, these unreasonable, obstinate antics can become time-consuming and disruptive. It could all start with an impetuous negative e-mail or a less-than-mature voice mail left in the heat of battle that cascades into a futile distraction, as otherwise effective and seemingly sensible employees act out as if they’re in a 20- or 30-year time warp, behaving as if they’re back in the third grade rather than adults in the workplace.

The most expeditious method that works with either the protagonist or antagonist in an office drama is to call a spade a spade, so to speak, and get the feuding parties together and cut to the chase, making each person agree to bury the hatchet but preferably not in each other’s skull. If employees’ anger management issues are left to fester, they can easily result in other people in the same work environment taking sides, and in short order, you will find yourself in the midst of a Civil War. The only thing guaranteed when this occurs is that there will be casualties. It is incumbent on the ruling manager to make sure that the company doesn’t wind up as the victim, incurring a loss of productivity and causing everyone around the two factions to feel as if they’re walking on pins and needles.

While many times it would be easier for the boss to ask one of the warring participants to approach the other to work out their differences, this tactic just takes too much time and the outcome can be iffy. It really doesn’t matter who is right or wrong but that the nonsense is stopped dead in its tracks. The best way to accomplish this is to make it more than abundantly clear that anger in the workplace is a nonstarter and could be a career-inhibitor.

Allowing employees to exhibit a lack of civility will cause a domino effect that will lead to no good. Civility does not just apply to peers. Instead, it’s applicable to all who must work together, including superiors, subordinates and even fellow board members. Don’t confuse civility with agreeing or disagreeing with someone. It also doesn’t mean one has to believe that someone is effective in his or her role. Instead, what must be required is that those within an organization, no matter what level, simply take the higher road and respect not necessarily the person but the role and make the assumption that everyone has a part in working toward shared goals, until it is proven otherwise.

Once everybody knows the rules of engagement, many times the negative engagement suddenly ends and it’s back to business as usual. When that doesn’t happen, it’s time for offenders to be forced to go to their respective corners so as not to do each other or the company any more harm.

To promote coexistence when no one wants to take the first step and say, “I’m sorry,” it’s up to the adult in the room — and that would be you, the boss — to step into the fray with your whistle to call a permanent timeout to these types of disruptive shenanigans.

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

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