Cynthia Kaye’s company, Logical Choice Technologies Inc., has been on a fast-growth track for many years, and since its business is education-based — the company provides schools with educational technology such as interactive whiteboards, teaching software and the like — its revenue stream is highly seasonal. Those factors have created a sometimes bumpy ride for the Lawrenceville, Ga.-based company, particularly with regard to its banking relationships.
Logical Choice went through one especially rough stretch four years ago during which it bounced its accounts from one bank to another to a third bank within about a year’s time. The problems were rooted in changes in the management and business philosophies of those banks. As a result, Kaye’s company got stuck in a precarious spot and had to lay off more than a dozen employees just as its annual busy season was bearing down on it.
“That was an extremely tough challenge for us,” Kaye says. “We had been with the same bank — we’ll call it Bank A — for about seven years, and they had a change in management and decided they didn’t want a lot of fast-growth companies in their portfolio anymore. It had been a good partnership, but then they had a shift. I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve run this business for 18 years, and there’s a pattern — when there’s management change at a bank, there’s a new philosophy that comes in. And every bank has its own risk tolerance for different types of businesses.
“So they said, ‘Cynthia, we’re in no rush, but our new management doesn’t want too many fast-growth companies right now, so you might want to keep an eye out for new banks.’ It was nothing serious; we hadn’t missed any loan covenants. So we said, ‘All right, we’ll keep that in mind.’”
The negative news from her company’s longtime banking partner surprised Kaye.
“It was a little weird,” she says.
Other banks started calling on Logical Choice, and after a few months, the company moved its business to another bank that had been courting it — Bank B, as Kaye refers to it. That relationship went swimmingly for about nine months. But in the first quarter of the following year, as Logical Choice moved into its annual slow season, the relationship began to sour. Kaye says she thought Logical Choice had been very clear with Bank B about what to expect in terms of the seasonality of its business.
“Our company sells to education clients only, pre-K through college, so by nature we’re a very cyclical business,” she says. “Bank A had been used to this and had no issue with it. And we explained it to Bank B: ‘Here are our financials. Here’s how it works. This is very normal.’ They seemed to understand it.
“Then nine months into our relationship, we hit our slow season, and the numbers started going down. January was bad. February was bad. That month we got a call from the bank. They had changed analysts, and as I’ve learned, different analysts have different levels of risk tolerance. And they said, ‘We’re moving you into our workout group.’ They put restrictions on us and said you’ve got to make X profit with the next 30 or 60 days or we’re pulling your line of credit. Now, our line of credit is in the millions. If they pull your line of credit, you’re done. This stunned us. We had been very upfront with them.”
Logical Choice was less than two months from the start of its annual busy season, and in order to meet Bank B’s stipulated profit target, the company had to lay off 14 employees — out of a total of about 200 that the firm employs.
“The majority of them were key to our continued growth,” Kaye says. “We had to lay them off immediately to meet our profit numbers, so the bank wouldn’t do anything drastic.”
About a month later, Logical Choice’s customer service representative at Bank B, who was extremely unhappy with the way his employer had treated Kaye’s company, left that bank and took a similar position at another bank — Bank C.
“He felt so bad about how it had been handled that he resigned,” Kaye says. “He went over to Bank C and convinced them to come in and take us over. So Bank C came in and said, ‘We believe in you. We’ve seen your history, and we’re going to take you on.’ So they did.
“Then we went forward and had a record sales summer,” she says. “It was nuts.”
Guiding her company through the bank revolving door and layoff ordeal was one of the toughest challenges Kaye has faced in the 18 years that she has led the company.
“It was traumatic,” she says. “I really had to overcommunicate with my people about what was going on — being honest but not fearful. You know, ‘If we pull together, we’ll get through this. It might be painful, but we’ll get through it together. And here’s what’s happening. Here’s the plan.’ They really need to hear the plan.
“I had to keep the communication updates going, and everybody really rallied. It was terrible to lose those people. Eventually we were able to bring some of them back. But there were some we couldn’t bring back because they’d already gotten another job. Having to let go of good people when you know it’s not necessary because you’re just going through a regular seasonal downturn — that was painful.”
On top of that, there were uncertainties about the transition, about having a new bank and doing business with new people and new personalities.
“It was tough because it distracts you,” Kaye says. “Instead of focusing on your customers and your sales, you’re distracted working behind the scenes, having to let people go, meeting regularly with the bank, putting together documents. And you’re having to do these things weekly. So it’s a distraction from just focusing on your regular day-to-day business with your customers — and then having to constantly communicate with my staff: ‘Here’s what’s going on. Thank you for all you’re doing. Let’s rally together.’ It puts an extra burden on you. But you do what you’ve got to do. And in the end, we wound up with a much better bank. We’ve been extremely pleased with them.”
An important learning point that Kaye and her leadership team have taken from the ordeal is the importance of cultivating a strong relationship with your banker. And it’s best to try to nurture those connections as far up within the bank’s chain of command as possible.
“One of the biggest things we’ve learned from this is that you need to try to get the relationships as high up as you can go in the bank — not just your local rep,” she says. “You need to know all your analysts, your senior analyst, your senior analyst’s boss. If you can get to know the president, even better. That way, once you know them well, you can help your local rep fight with you, if it comes to that.
“Now that we have a new bank, we make it a point to know everybody, all the way up to the president,” Kaye says. “They’re great people.”
Cultivating relationships with other banks in addition to your regular bank is equally important.
“It’s always good to have relationships with two or three other banks while things are going well,” she says. “We learned that the hard way, too. Keep those relationships up, because when something happens — and eventually something will — you’ve got some other friends that you’ve developed relationships with. Different banks have different appetites at different times. So don’t lose hope if something like this happens. Start talking to your other banks, let them know what’s going on, and be upfront with them. Eventually you’ll find another bank that will work with you.”
Another point Kaye says she has learned is that it’s important to instill discipline in your company’s business dealings and to avoid becoming complacent when things are going well.
“You have to structure your company to run lean in the good times as well as the off times,” she says. “Sometimes when things go well for a long time, you can get lax in your discipline. You might have a few more employees than you really need. And then when times get tough, you have to scale back. Now, sometimes that will happen anyway. But if you can try to stay disciplined during the good times, it will definitely help you in the bad times, because it’s just a matter of time when those are going to hit. It’s not if; it’s when.”
Work toward balance
A related challenge Logical Choice has faced is one that all companies whose revenue is seasonal must grapple with: how to generate more balanced revenue throughout the year. Years ago, Logical Choice served corporate and government customers as well as schools, and that helped to minimize some of the feast-and-famine revenue extremes. But the company later decided it made more sense to concentrate its efforts solely on the school business.
“Because we’ve decided to focus on our education customers, our business remains very seasonal, so we have to contend with that annually,” Kaye says. “We think about it all the time. The problem is that I want to lead something that I’m passionate about. At one point, we had a corporate division and a government division in addition to our education division. That was fine and good, but my heart was always in education. It distracts you — you have to help your corporate customers and your government customers, and I felt we were not giving 100 percent to our education customers. So we decided we really just want to be an education company who’s making a difference in the lives of teachers and kids throughout the country.”
A new group of products that Logical Choice is developing could help level out the company’s revenue because the products have consumer appeal, Kaye says.
“Something’s happened recently that over time might help fix [the seasonality issue],” she says. “We’ve invented and developed our own software package called Letters Alive. It’s really cool.”
Letters Alive is a supplemental reading program that teaches literacy skills with alphabet cards on which animals spring to life via a 3-D animation technology called Augmented Reality.
“I took a portion of our profits and we brought in programmers and a leader, and I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but I think if we can make a cool product with a one-year curriculum, we can really help kids learn to read.’ And that’s how Letters Alive was developed.”
Logical Choice is also developing a related product line.
“It teaches reading, and it’s got interaction and games to reinforce skills,” Kaye says. “These products have potential consumer market attraction beyond just their educational appeal, so we think this will help smooth out our cyclical business — over time, of course. It won’t happen overnight.”
HOW TO REACH: Logical Choice Technologies Inc., (770) 564-1044 or www.logicalchoice.com
THE KAYE FILE
NAME: Cynthia Kaye
TITLE: Founder and CEO
COMPANY: Logical Choice Technologies Inc.
Born: Smithtown, N.Y.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Florida State University, 1987
What’s the most important thing you learned during your years in school?
Before I graduated, I did an internship teaching a fourth grade class for three months. The classroom had an Apple II-E computer, but they didn’t know how to use it because the Apple II-E was brand new. I had learned how to use it during my last year in school. So I got the kids excited about technology, and it increased their writing scores and their reading scores — everything went up because I used the computer all the time. And that’s when I decided that’s the type of work I wanted to do.
Tell us about an early job you had and an important lesson you learned from it.
I took a temp job in Manhattan one summer during college. It was phone and reception work, and I hated it. It was not my calling. I realized then that I have to do something that I’m passionate about, that’s going to make a difference, so that I’m excited to get up every morning. That was a wakeup call for me.
Do you have an overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you?
Be kind, and be gracious and forgiving. Not that I’m good at doing these every day, but it’s something I aspire to. People matter, and I’ve pulled that into our culture in this company. Our core values are teamwork, respect and support each other, have honesty and integrity, be the best at what we do, work hard but have fun, and have happy customers.
What traits do you think are most important for a CEO or business executive to have in order to be a successful leader?
Being persistent and having vision. And your vision has to be bigger than yourself. It has to be something that people will want to rally around.
There has never been a more important time to take a long, hard look at your employee benefits package and how it should be structured moving forward. With Obamacare breathing down our necks and new regulations and taxes at every turn, now is the time to sit down with a trusted broker and formulate a strategy that best meets the needs of your company, says Kenan Knight, account manager at Ashton Staffing Inc.
“Gone are the days of cookie cutter options and spreadsheet quotes for your renewal meetings,” says Knight. “If you are not planning on how to deal with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the changing landscape of employee benefits, then you are planning to fail.
Smart Business spoke with Knight about how to prepare for the upcoming changes and the options available to businesses when it comes to health insurance programs.
What options do employers have when it comes to shaping their benefits offerings?
There are still many options available for business owners when it comes to shaping their benefit offerings. These depend on how many employees you have, how your company is structured and how large a role your health insurance package plays in hiring and retaining great personnel in your industry. As of now, employers can still decide on what coverages they wish to offer, how much they wish to contribute to the cost, whether a wellness plan is feasible and/or beneficial and if you would like to self-insure or be fully insure.
As we move toward 2014 and the full implementation of PPACA, we will see fewer and fewer options available as there are more government mandates and fewer players in the health insurance market.
What should a company look at to make these decisions?
Company structure is one place where business owners should look in dealing with the rising cost and compliance of health insurance packages. Within your company structure, there are several questions you should ask when it comes to dealing with benefits packages.
Can you 1099 some or all of your employees so you don’t have to offer benefits at all? This is certainly an option, but don’t overlook how this will affect morale and your ability to hire and retain good employees. Would using a temp agency be beneficial so that the temp agency is providing the benefit package and not you company? Is your company set up so that you can offer a ‘management carve-out’ to have different levels of benefits for different levels within your company?
What do you consider a full-time employee and what does your insurance contract consider a full-time employee? Some carriers allow you go down to 30 hours a week and still consider an employee full time, which may allow you to move more people onto your plan. Or, you can set full time as 40 hours, which may allow you the flexibility to move some people off of your plan. Again, carefully consider how all of this will affect morale and also be aware of what your competitors are doing.
What kind of guidance can employers expect from a broker/consultant?
The level of service you receive from your broker is more important now than ever. If your broker is still just coming in with a spreadsheet of your current plan and similar plans with other carriers, it is time to start looking for a new broker. Gone are the days of simply jumping from carrier to carrier or just changing a deductible or co-pay. Regardless of whether the Supreme Court strikes down PPACA as unconstitutional, the health insurance landscape has and will continue to change.
States and insurance carriers have already taken so many steps to deal with the impending complications of PPACA that things will never go back to how they were. Your broker should already be talking to you about how PPACA will affect your company and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve. A once-a-year renewal meeting is no longer enough.
Your broker should have tools in place to help you facilitate insurance information to your employees; many online tools have been available for years and you should have one if you have 10 or more employees. The broker should also be talking to you about your company structure and how you might rearrange it to deal with the new landscape. Another tool your broker should be sharing with you is a benchmark report showing what companies similar to yours are doing for benefits.
Finally, your broker should be talking to you about wellness, especially if you have 50 or more employees. Wellness is an area in which you can hope to control at least some your own insurance cost by helping your employees get and stay healthy.
What common mistakes do employers make during this process, and how can they avoid them?
The main mistake employers make is starting the renewal process too late. Business owners and HR managers have a lot of moving parts to deal with on a daily basis and many times will only deal with things as they come up. When that happens with benefits, you are in a rush to simply find a comparable plan that doesn’t raise costs or lower benefits too drastically. This is a pitfall you can no longer afford.
As a rule of thumb, you should start the renewal process at least three months before your renewal date. Have a mid-year meeting with your broker and discuss your concerns and needs so that, together, you can start to formulate a plan of action. If your broker is stuck doing the same old thing, it is time to start interviewing new brokers. Every company and every situation is different, so having a trusted broker is key to answering your benefits questions.
Kenan Knight is an account manager at Ashton Staffing Inc. Reach him at (770) 419-1776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Staffing is brought to you by Ashton
As your business grows, so will your technology needs. As you’re considering upgrades, it’s important to be aware of all the options available and choose the solutions that can grow with your business and help keep things running productively and seamlessly.
On the telecommunications front, that solution might be Primary Rate Interface, or PRI. PRI is a voice service that is a great solution for a small business with 10 or more employees. Instead of needing a separate line to handle each call, PRI allows up to 23 channels to communicate simultaneously across one single line, says Anthony “Clay” Catinella, director of sales for Comcast Business Class, Atlanta region.
“PRI makes a lot of sense for a growing business that needs a scalable solution managed to their busy schedule,” Catinella says. “The Comcast Business Class PRI solution allows businesses to add channels simply by placing a quick phone call. Many times, no technician or appointment is needed.”
Smart Business spoke with Catinella about how PRI technology works and how to determine if it can help your business.
What are the advantages to PRI technology?
The biggest advantage is flexibility when it comes to how businesses organize their voice service. Businesses with a PBX could start with as little as six channels and could easily add more as the business grows with very little impact, and no additional telephone lines to install.
Another benefit to PRI, especially as you move into a larger business environment, is direct inward dialing (DID). This technology enables businesses to give clients telephone numbers that can be routed directly to employees’ phone extensions instead of through a receptionist or by calling the main number and entering an extension.
What types of businesses could use PRI service?
Any business with at least 10 employees should really take a look at this voice technology. When you have that many employees and you’re looking to meet your voice needs with individual lines, it can start to get very expensive. PRI can help ensure you are giving your employees enough access to outgoing lines when they are needed. It allows clients to reach an employee extension directly, and it offers a simple solution to upgrade voice service as the business grows.
What is involved in the upgrade process?
Once the circuit has been installed, all it takes is a quick call to your service provider to activate a few more channels on the circuit. That activation will give you additional call paths that you can distribute or set up however you like within your business. It shouldn’t require any technician to come onsite, and it requires very little waiting time between when an order is placed and when it can be delivered.
In what situations does PRI provide a competitive alternative to traditional telephone service?
PRI certainly is a great option if a business expects to grow quickly or if it has already invested in voice hardware, such as a PBX phone switch, to best take advantage of existing resources.
PRI also can provide an advantage over traditional telephone service if a business requires the flexibility of changing how its voice service is configured, or if it wants the ability to bypass having a receptionist who routes calls to employees.
What kind of benefits can companies expect from this technology?
If you expect your small business to grow, PRI service helps to meet the needs of your business as you grow.
For companies that are already looking at PRI service and determining the best option, it’s important to consider the whole package. Companies are rarely purchasing voice service without data service. When you pull data into the conversation of whether PRI is right for the company, customers with PRI service typically also have data service over a T1 connection. Today, for a cost similar to a PRI and a T1 circuit for data, you could get a PRI and a 100 megabit cable modem with download speeds up to 64 times faster than a T1 line.
That’s where you could see increased productivity for your employees. You really start to see advantages in terms of the amount of resources necessary to manage the day-to-day business.
Anthony Catinella is director of sales for Comcast Business Class, Atlanta region. Reach him at (770) 559-2132 or Anthony_Catinella@cable.comcast.com.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Services
It’s obvious that business owners want their employees to be safe on the job. But to truly impact worker safety, posting some signs and giving instructions isn’t going to cut it. There needs to be a program in place that takes into account the company’s distinct needs, the jobs employees’ perform and the laws the company must comply with.
Having a professional assess the workplace and assist the employer in preventing injury and promoting safety is a big step toward protecting employees as well as the business, says Clark Fain, general manager for the Entera Group of Companies.
Smart Business spoke with Fain to learn more about what to consider when implementing a safety program that will have a real impact on keeping employees healthy and productive as well as keeping the business out of trouble.
How does a focus on safety benefit the company’s bottom line?
A formal written safety program focusing on workplace safety reduces the costs of injuries to employers. The costs of claims may include medical costs, pharmacy costs, loss of time at work, morale issues, retraining, even replacing an employee. These expenses can and will decrease bottom line profits.
Accidents cannot be totally eliminated, but the number of compensable workers’ comp injuries can be reduced. Focusing on safety with a formal, written risk management plan that is implemented and enforced is almost mandatory to a well-meaning employer.
Accidents are expensive, period. A reduction in accidents through a focus on safety rewards the bottom line and benefits the employer and the employees.
What are some ways companies can improve safety?
For many companies, there are numerous ways safety can be improved. Each employer is different by job category and size. The utilization of a risk manager/safety engineer trained to advise and consult should result in a list of written recommendations for each individual job to improve safety on each job.
In general, monthly safety meetings, awards for days without a loss, recognition of employee safety, awards for individual workers and furnishing employees with a safe workplace are ways to improve safety. Constant reminders should be a part of any efforts to promote safety.
What should be the components of a good safety program?
First, a good safety program must contain common sense so it is understood by all. Secondly, a complete written job description to clearly explain to the worker his job and whether he is suitable for his job is very important. How many times have we heard, ‘he doesn’t know what he is doing?’ Following a job description should help to alleviate the problem of someone doing a job for which he is not trained or suitable.
Thirdly, a safe workplace is the responsibility of the employer. If employees are hurt, your bottom line suffers in several ways, including higher workers’ comp premium, less days of production, decrease in production and lower employee morale.
And, lastly, the impact of a risk manager/safety engineer tailoring the program details to each work site job is a valuable component of a good safety program.
Where can companies find help in developing a program?
There are numerous risk managers and risk management programs. Finding the right one can be time consuming and expensive. We have used the same company for 20 years because we have been pleased with the results. We have designed with them a six-page report that numerically scores from 1 to 100, with 70 being a minimum score. Scoring helps companies to see where a program may be lacking and help to focus the conversation when making recommendations for improvement.
The components of the report are too numerous to list here, but the report gives the employer a numerical written score on how they rank from a risk management/safety standpoint. The report normally takes three to five hours of on-site work and two to three hours of office administrative work for a company of 10 to 250 employees. Other factors could cause the report to take more time.
Our group of companies can provide a program to assist those employers seeking a better way.
How can companies ensure employees are on board and the culture of safety remains consistent?
Measuring the results of a safety program is not easy. Your company’s loss ratio is one method to use to evaluate your results. There is national and state data you can use as a benchmark to compare your results to your peers through your loss ratio. If you have fewer losses than your peers, your personnel have likely ‘bought in’ to your program. If you are experiencing higher than normal losses, it is likely they are not on board.
Safety needs to be a top priority and become a habit ingrained in the employees’ everyday performance through the culture of the workplace. They need to understand that being careful is being smart.
We have developed our safety program over the last 20 years in conjunction with our loss control/risk management company to evaluate results. We offer this program through our workers’ comp coverage and to outside companies. We consider our program complete and very thorough, but we know there can be improvements. The culture of safety is ongoing.
Seldom do employees intentionally hurt themselves. The reality is that a lack of concentration is one of the largest single factors in an accident.
Clark Fain is general manager for the Entera Group of Companies. Reach him at email@example.com.
Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Entera
When you consider the setting in which decisions are made in an organization, it’s easy to picture a conference room table. The CEO sits at the head of the table and a council of vice presidents and executives line either side. Bob Frisch, author of “Who’s in the Room? How Great Leaders Structure and Manage the Teams Around Them,” argues that some of the most critical decisions in an organization are made before the door to the conference room swings open. In this interview, he discusses the power of the “kitchen cabinet,” the problem with team-building exercises and the question every senior management team should answer.
Let’s start with the basic premise of the book: What leads members of an executive team to come to the CEO and ask, ‘Why wasn’t I in the room?’
The group goes by a variety of different names, but it could basically be called the boss and the boss’s direct reports. Officially speaking, this is the senior decision-making body of the company. Everybody knows that this is the boss and his or her team. They get together every week or every month, and they make the big momentous decisions.
The reality for the people that sit on those teams is that most of the major decisions are made by a smaller group before that team ever gets together. The boss makes decisions with the same handful of people around him or her time after time. It’s an informal ‘kitchen cabinet’ that makes the major decisions and the larger group has to discuss it, modify, communicate it, implement it, etc. The senior group doesn’t actually make the decisions of the organization and that gap between the myth and reality causes problems.
Many companies that experience this type of issue with decision-making think the solution lies in hiring a consultant or someone who tries team-buildin’ exercises. What is actually the result of this solution?
Bosses figure that if the team can communicate better, the frustrations caused by the decision-making process will go away.
The root cause of the problem isn’t psychological. It’s not behavioral. It’s not a communication problem. The root cause is, for example, the different people around the table have different political power. The root cause could also be that the boss doesn’t want to have 12 or 14 people around him every time he wants to make a decision. Bosses want the flexibility, latitude and intimate feeling that they get from having only two or three people around them when making decisions.
A central point for anyone reading this book is to move from ‘Should we do this?’ to ‘How do we do this?’ What starts the process of shifting a company from the former to the latter?
The business case goes in front of senior management teams or executive committees for approval. Usually the group comes into the conference room, the lights go down, they show the business case, the lights go up and things get passed through. We asked numerous groups, ‘In what percent of businesses cases is the case either turned down or significantly changed at the level of executive team approval?’
The typical answer we received was that it was changed at this level in less than 10 percent of cases. Usually what people said is that one or two cases were changed in the past few years. This is a kabuki, ritualistic approval process that is in almost every process flow of almost every business case. The ‘best-practice’ companies don’t say, ‘Should we go ahead and do this planned expansion?’ That’s a foregone conclusion. The question that these companies ask is: ‘Are the various parts of the organization around the table prepared to do what they need to do to support the successful implementation of the initiative described in this business case?’
“Who’s in the Room?”
By Bob Frisch
Jossey-Bass, 193 pages, $29.95
About the book: “Who’s in the Room” is author and consultant Bob Frisch’s examination of the organizational decision-making process. Based on years of research and intense interviews with a wide range of CEOs and their teams, Frisch guides leaders through a process to empower their senior management group. He redirects the senior management team’s focus and spreads decision-making power across the organization.
The author: Bob Frisch is managing partner of The Strategic Offsites Group and has worked with organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to German mittelstand family businesses to the U.S. State Department. Frisch’s work has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Businessweek and Fortune.
Why you should read it: Making decisions causes internal tension in organizations. The biggest problem is that this tension often goes unspoken and unresolved. Frisch provides one of the more captivating examinations of the decision-making process. He also explains the reasons that traditional solutions such as team-building exercises and corporate psychologists fail to produce results related to decision-making.
Why it’s different: Frisch makes a critical distinction to which leaders should pay attention. He titles one chapter “Move from ‘Should We Do This?’ to ‘How Do We Do This?’” and he gives interesting evidence to support the belief that the former question is rarely answered by the senior management team. By restructuring the priorities of the senior management team, Frisch takes his readers away from traditional thinking that inevitably forces people to try to make the best of a broken situation.
Can’t miss: “Best Practices: Design an Organization That Delivers the Outcomes You Need.” In this chapter, Frisch teaches readers about the “Three Centers of Gravity.” Despite arguing for the dissolving of as many organizational teams as possible, Frisch help executives revitalize and strengthen the three teams that generally exist in most organizations. The chapter provides a push to an outcomes-based approach that is certain to help organizations be more effective.
To share or not to share: Executives will want their team members to read this book. It’s an inexpensive investment that will prevent needless spending on team-building consultants. “Who’s In the Room” also negates the root cause of the hurt feelings that result from feeling left out.
How to reach: Bob Frisch was a recent guest on Soundview Live, Soundview’s exclusive webinar series. To hear the complete broadcast, visit www.summary.com/webinars.
In business, too many executives believe that the best path to success is to “manage mad” thinking this will project an image of determination and tenacity, combined with the ability to strike fear in the hearts of any naysayers with opposing views.
Is there a better way, a more balanced method to manage other than by mimicking a fire-breathing dragon? Unfortunately, we have too many bad role models who employ a fearsome persona. There are the pugnacious politicians who make every issue a black-and-white cause célèbre, screaming, “If we don’t do it my way, we’ll wind up in a shambles on the precipice of extinction.” Then there are the professional and college coaches, with seemingly permanent scowls etched on their faces, who shout their mandates to be sure players know that if they don’t get the play right, they run the risk of being toast.
Corporate executives from the most admired to the most reviled have adopted this managing mad game face over time, some, perhaps, without even realizing it.
Certainly there is a time and place for a boss to raise his or her voice a few octaves, take on facial expressions of the walking dead and deliver a monologue laced with wakeup calls about either doing it the leader’s way or facing possible draconian consequences. This technique is best used very sparingly in situations that warrant an edgy demeanor. However, if a boss constantly plays the managing mad card, it loses its impact and the message becomes diluted as recipients think to themselves, “Same old, same old — just another series of empty threats.” Constantly portraying a vitriolic curmudgeon serves only to dampen hope and curb enthusiasm.
A point of clarification: Don’t confuse managing mad with being direct and holding people accountable while communicating clearly and explaining the positives, as well as negatives, to a team. This latter method is much preferred by those on the receiving end in order for the team to understand what is being said and, more importantly, what is expected of them.
We have all worked with and known people for whom the use of a smile, a compassionate gesture or a little humor at the right time and place is about as rare as politicians treating each other with respect during a debate. Businesspeople are not elected politicians trying to get votes by speaking the unspeakable with Armageddon undertones.
If you’re the boss, ask yourself if you hear what you’re saying and how you’re delivering the message. Do you need a self-prescribed attitude adjustment and a makeover of your style? If a subordinate projected a managing mad style, you would certainly provide the necessary coaching and counseling. However, if you fear you need this type of tune-up, how can you do it without losing face by asking peers or other trusted associates for a no-holds-barred critique?
There is an easy and effective way to accomplish this self-assessment. Surreptitiously record your next talk to the troops, even a phone conference call or a one-on-one session. Most smartphones have this feature. Before listening to your recording and evaluating your delivery, wait a few hours or until the next day so that you can listen more objectively, being a bit more removed from the heat of the moment. Close your door and use a mirror to watch your own expression as you listen to yourself. You’ll immediately know by what you hear and by your expressions in the mirror if you fall into the managing mad trap. Once you’re done, take a deep breath and then quickly jot down your own impressions, including the tone, choice of words and substance of the message. The big question becomes, “If you were the audience, would you buy what you’re selling?”
If you decide you need improvements, and we all do, use the same voice recorder before you give your next battle cry and rehearse a few times using the device to capture your delivery. Also, do these trial runs in front of a mirror so you can see yourself as others will see you.
When you introspectively examine your technique, you may not like what you discover. However, after the shock of realizing you’ve been managing Mad, you can quickly begin transforming your style, not to morph into a likable wimp but instead to become a thoughtful and effective leader whom others will eagerly listen to and then follow. To get results, it’s sometimes not what you say but how you say it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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What I’ve learned about Twitter marketing - You won’t know what works for your company until you tryWritten by Guy Kawasaki
A few years ago, I first explained how I use Twitter. A lot has changed since then, so this is an update on how I tweet. As a business owner, you can adopt my techniques to use Twitter as a marketing tool.
How can you follow more than 299,000 people?
I don’t read the timelines of all the people that I follow. Instead, I only deal with @s, direct messages and tweets that contain ‘guykawasaki,’ ‘alltop’ or ‘guysreplies.’ I answer almost every @ and direct message.
Then why do you follow so many people?
For two reasons: first, common courtesy; second, so that people can send direct messages to me. I like direct messages because they are more efficient than e-mail.
How do you find so many links to tweet?
I use three principal sources: Alltop, StumbleUpon and SmartBrief. These sites curate and aggregate information to make the hunt for quality links much, much easier.
What is your workflow?
I find interesting links and write up a short summary using BBEdit that I post to Holy Kaw, and then Objective checks the Holy Kaw RSS feed and tweets new articles.
Isn’t that a long, complex process just to tweet something?
Twitter is a marketing tool for me. It’s not a social activity or a game. This process is what it takes to make Alltop (one of my business ventures) successful.
How long do you spend on Twitter every day?
If I’m on the computer, I’m on Twitter, and I’m on a computer eight hours per day.
If a company wants an active, aggressive presence on Twitter, how many people does it take?
One person working really hard, unencumbered by a clueless boss and a Luddite legal department, can do it. Certainly one person can get things going enough to prove that Twitter makes sense for a company to add more people to do it even better.
Do you recommend that companies repeat their tweets?
Yes, if they want to ensure that as many followers see their tweets as possible. There will be a tiny number of people who will complain, but you cannot make all of your followers happy.
Do you use ghostwriters?
Yes, several people contribute to my tweets. I use ghostwriters because I want to provide as many interesting links as possible, and several intelligent people (assuming you think I’m intelligent) looking for interesting stuff will find more than one intelligent person.
Do your ghosts respond to @s and direct messages for you?
Never. They only tweet outgoing links to interesting sites and blogs. They never respond for me or as me.
Do you recommend that companies use ghostwriters?
Most companies are ‘brands,’ so this isn’t an issue unless people are so dumb as to think that Richard Branson is @VirginAmerica. Issues arise when the Twitter account is a person’s name.
Why do you constantly promote Alltop?
Twitter is a means to an end: Alltop’s success. This is why I put so much time, energy and money (my ghosts don’t work for free) into it. The Alltop promotion justifies and pays for the efforts of all five of us. You can think of my tweets as PBS content and the accompanying Alltop promotion as the fundraising telethon.
How much promotion can a company get away with?
It depends on several factors: How much do your followers love the company? How good are the deals that you offer? How much ‘real’ content and ‘interaction’ do the company’s tweets contain? Twitter is far beyond Trixie telling Biff and Carly that her cat rolled over. It’s a platform. As such, there is no wrong or right way, just as there is no wrong or right way to maintain a website or blog. Is Zappos ‘wrong’ for using the Internet to sell shoes? Forty years ago, some Arpanet scientists might have said so. The bottom line is that there’s only what works and what doesn’t, and you won’t know which is which until you try. <<
In this time of transformative change, it’s easy to get derailed by internal issues. The key to being successful is to focus on the end goal, not the friction that is generated by change.
Take Yahoo for instance. Ten years ago, it was the dominant player in search. Today, Google’s revenue is in the neighborhood of more than 20 times that of Yahoo’s. The company had the opportunity to be bought by Microsoft but declined, which was puzzling, because there didn’t really appear to be a Plan B. You can read stories about in fighting between divisions and how search was given blank checks while other departments had to fight for every dime, and I’m sure there’s something to that. But I think where Yahoo went wrong was it never really had a clear idea of where it was going or what it wanted to be.
The Internet had changed, and it was no longer sure where it fit in. With no clear direction, conditions inside the company started to deteriorate. So while it may look to some that the company needed to clean up its internal mess first, the lack of a clearly defined external goal most likely contributed to the mess in the first place.
Transforming an organization to compete in the new economic landscape is difficult. It requires systemwide change at levels that most people won’t be used to. There will be the old way of doing things and new ways of doing things, and those two things often don’t mesh together well.
But all barriers have to be overcome to achieve the harmony that’s needed to succeed. You can have all the handbooks, core values and mission statements that you want, but how many people are actually referring to them? Are they doing anything for you other than collecting dust on the shelf?
The key to transformative change is leadership. Leadership has to be committed to a clear course of action no matter what. During these times, internal stress is higher and turmoil is inevitable. Everyone is overworked and on edge.
As the leader, you have to keep everyone focused on the end goal, make the changes that are necessary and move forward. You can’t lose hope, quit or give up. That’s the easy way out.
Focus on your external goals and make sure all of your people understand what their role is in getting there. There will be problems inside your business, but that takes more time to resolve itself. Your job is to stay focused and try to keep everyone else focused on the end goal.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t have to spend some time intervening in internal issues, particularly ones that threaten to derail you from your objectives. You just can’t get lost in trying to sort out every last disagreement or worrying that everyone is happy under your roof. You have to trust that your managers will sort out the little things and that those who are committed will come along for the ride.
In the end, Yahoo lost out to Google for a variety of reasons, but you have to wonder how much of its pain was caused by the lack of a clear corporate goal and the resulting focus on the in-fighting within the organization. It’s not about who wins the fight between Department A and Department B. It’s about the personnel in both departments understanding what the goal is.
To reach your transformational goals, don’t get lost in the details. Stay focused on the big prize, and you will be rewarded with success you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
In last month’s article, we looked at effective leadership. This month, I have chosen the topic of courage. Very often, leadership and courage are linked together: A leader must have courage; a leader must act in a courageous manner and so on.
While this is true, it is only part of the story about courage and the workplace. As we shall see, the virtue of courage must run throughout an organization or company – from bottom to top – in order for it to function at the highest level.
Courage comes from the Old French corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” In other words, courage is an innate, internal quality that resides within the core of your being.
Courage is further defined as: “The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” Again, we see the word spirit.
Courage is foundational
Courage is associated with such words as fearlessness, grit and power. It is experiencing fear, yet pushing through it to achieve your desired result.
In my book, courage is the thing that underlies every other human quality. Without it, we cannot rightly be honest, dependable, generous or trustworthy. Courage is the foundation upon which all other virtues are built.
Courage and fear of reprisal
Why is so little courage seen in so many companies these days? In my estimation, it is because the leaders of those companies have fostered a culture where dissenting voices are discouraged and opinions that threaten the status quo are thoroughly silenced.
With this climate of possible retaliation before them, team members are fearful of speaking up, sharing their thoughts and voicing their values. Fear of being the first one out the door at the next downsizing has stopped many ideas dead in their tracks in the workplace.
Courage, vision and openness
The first step in harnessing your courage is to develop a vision that represents your authentic self and goals, and aligning that vision with the business and its goals. This is true for the executive, manager and employee in the workplace.
Development of a vision that all members of the team can buy into depends on the openness of a company or organization. An open-minded company allows for discussion, sharing, brainstorming and even dissenting views. An open leader sees the value of the knowledge and experience of everyone in the room, including managers and employees.
The leaders’ openness allows for others to work from a place of courage. They can step up without fear and lend their thoughts to the discussion. The ability to have that courage becomes transformational, both for the person sharing and the company or organization.
Openness leads to the ability to shape and form a vision. It is a vision wrought in courage which gives it power. That vision, brought about by the courage of the people involved in its development, will be the driving force carrying the company forward into new and exciting areas.
What does courage in the workplace look like?
I write this section because so many people have yet to see courage in action in the workplace. It is foreign to them. They have yet to experience the notion.
The best picture I have come across in my work is a picture painted by Jaime Walters in an article from 2002 entitled “Courage: Tap Greater Potential and Thrive Through Challenges.”
Imagine a group, department or company where "citizen-leaders" are invigorated by the notion that they can be courageous every week -- regardless of their title or role. Picture the results of a team with such high morale and unified commitment to their own group mission, as well as the company's, that its members feel a true sense of ownership and responsibility. Or, visualize the leader who inspires a level of momentum that ushers in a new, more effective way of working and a stronger sense of purpose. All are possible, and each requires courage.
Benefits of courage in the workplace
Drawn from this quote are many of the natural benefits derived from demonstrating courage in the workplace. Benefits like: high morale; commitment to the group mission; ownership; responsibility; momentum; effective; and stronger sense of purpose.
I would add words like: openness, freedom and power.
I close with a few questions that all members of your team can ask themselves regarding courage. Use these questions to help you determine what you can do to step up, step out and find your courageous voice.
- What is your vision for the business/group/department?
- How, specifically, can you be more courageous in your role at work?
- What communication skill would help you become more courageous?
- What tangible benefits will arise from your courageous action?
DeLores Pressley, motivational 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Everyone is talking about social media. As a result, I’ve read dozens of articles on the topic to better understand what it means for business. I even have a team that manages it and sends me reports on a regular basis.
However, it wasn’t until I joined Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook myself that I began to truly understand it. When I started using these platforms for my own personal and social purposes, I began to get what the fuss was all about.
Not a spectator sport
Just like anything else, real-world experience adds more value than research alone. If you lead an organization, joining social networks gives you the opportunity to listen and respond to your employees, customers and fellow industry leaders, as well as spot trends and issues.
Don’t feel pressure to jump on Twitter, for example, and just start tweeting away. Ease into it. Follow people of interest and listen to the conversation. Watch how people use hashtags, @replies and retweets. Be yourself. And remember, it’s not supposed to be work, it’s supposed to be fun.
I would encourage you to begin as an average consumer and try not to think about it from a business perspective. Once you’re a comfortable user of a platform, the business aspect will come naturally.
Resist the ad urge
We can’t help ourselves. We read all about social media and how it can drive sales, and we feel inclined to join Facebook and blast ad copy. Resist. Try to think of social media as a public relations function rather than an advertising function.
Social media is about two-way communication and building relationships. So what’s important in a relationship? Honesty, transparency, sense of humor, listening and making people feel special. The same rules apply in social media.
As a business leader, social media provides you with the opportunity to connect one on one with your customers. Share what you have in common. Help them understand how your business fits into their lives. Let them participate in building your brand. Make a difference in their communities. Acknowledge and reward your biggest fans, and win back fans that had a bad experience.
While contests, promotions, deals and giveaways can be a lot of fun, remember there is value in building trust and loyalty through simply listening and responding on social platforms. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I say build relationships first, sell your product second.
Lead, follow and like
Whether you decide to join social media networks or not, your customers will be there talking about your brand. You can help lead the conversation, correct false information and attract new customers or you can leave that to someone else to do on your behalf. Taking a leadership position when it comes to social media will send a strong message, and your team will surely follow.
The way the world communicates is changing. Get on the bus and help lead the change.
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 foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at email@example.com.