When the economy dips into a recession, companies have two basic responses: hunker down to weather the storm or be aggressive by attacking weakness in competitors and opportunities in the market. I have always preferred the latter approach.
During the past two years, our company made several important acquisitions and recruited top talent to forge a new business that positions us as a leading provider of a full range of marketing services for clients ranging from manufacturers and professional service firms to nonprofits and consumer products companies. I am pleased to announce the official launch of SBN Interactive, our content-driven interactive marketing firm.
SBN Interactive is the culmination of months of planning and hard work. It combines our long-standing expertise in creating award-winning content with our intimate knowledge of the latest marketing trends and tools. More importantly, it allows us to leverage our expertise in offline and online marketing to drive measurable business results for our clients across the full range of marketing channels: Web, mobile, video, social and print.
Today, customers move seamlessly across online and offline channels and expect the experience to be consistent, connected and available when they want it and how they want it. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that businesses need to deliver a consistent brand across the spectrum of marketing channels that their customers use. Some prefer print, others video, still others social media. Regardless, marketers need to present the right message to the right customer through the right channel.
Our team of interactive marketing strategists, content strategists, content creators, designers, developers, optimization experts and technologists understand and embrace this. They collaborate to develop strategies and solutions that meet the specific business goals of our clients. From custom magazines and website content optimization to social media strategies and fully outsourced marketing services, they have the expertise — and dozens of proven tactics — to help move the needle for a business.
At the heart of everything we do is our core competency: content. Content drives differentiation, and there are few organizations that exist or are organized in a way to efficiently deliver relevant content in the context of the connected world we live in. But we, at Smart Business, live and breathe content on a daily basis.
We have spent more than two decades working with and writing about some of the most successful business people in America, from iconic business builders like Wayne Huizenga and Les Wexner to maverick billionaires like Ted Turner and Mark Cuban. Now, we are putting those same skills — and many more we have developed over the years — to work for other companies.
We will still continue to bring you management insight, advice and strategy from the best and brightest business minds in the pages of Smart Business. However, thanks to SBN Interactive, we now have a more direct way to help businesses like yours meet their goals and prosper.
I invite you to learn more about SBN Interactive by visiting our website at www.sbninteractive.com or by contacting me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7034.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
Four years ago, PBD Worldwide was on a roll, tearing through its eighth consecutive year of hand-over-fist growth. Then, in the second half of 2008, a hard one-two combination knocked down the Atlanta-based storage and distribution company.
The first blow that staggered PBD was the recession. The broad downturn rocked all the market sectors in which the company does business, forcing customers of all stripes to pull on their reins and cut their budgets.
Second, and more ominously, PBD’s core business — distributing books and other printed educational material — began to shrink noticeably. Customers that had been dipping their toe into digital media started jumping in with both feet. The shift cut into PBD’s core revenue dramatically.
“In 2008, we had our best year ever,” says Scott Dockter, president and CEO. “We’d had eight straight years of double-digit growth. A phenomenal amount of new clients had come on board. Our Chicago distribution center had opened the year before, and it was growing fast. We had a lot of good things going on.”
PBD’s leaders were aware that the print-based book business’s best days were behind it and that digital media was the wave of the future. But they weren’t as prepared as they wish they’d been for the speed and impact with which that wave would hit.
“The thing that had been lurking before the economy took its turn was that our company was very dependent on books — in particular educational material — to achieve that growth,” Dockter says. “There were a couple of groups who were starting to talk about moving to a digital opportunity, and they were looking to change their program.”
PBD had originally stood for Professional Book Distributors. The company changed the name in the late ’90s because it was starting to diversify its product.
“But we hadn’t really diversified all that much,” Dockter says. “Then, in late 2008, we started to see our core business effectively disappear due to some changes some of our clients were making in their business models.”
Those changes involved a couple of shifts that were happening simultaneously: Schools were buying fewer books, and some of PBD’s major clients were being acquired by companies with new and different ways of looking at the business.
PBD had a division, the Georgia Schoolbook Depository, which shipped books to schools mainly in the state of Georgia for grades K through 12.
“We also had a nice contract going with Harcourt — we were doing all their distribution throughout the Southeast,” Dockter says. “Then a couple of things happened. No. 1, Harcourt was purchased by Houghton Mifflin, and No. 2, schools quit buying books. Their budgets effectively changed overnight. A lot of this was economy-driven.”
Suddenly, PBD was facing some core changes that, while it had been aware they were coming, it was not fully prepared.
“Frankly, when you’re going through a long period of double-digit growth, you think you’ve got it all figured out, and you don’t worry so much about what may be coming,” he says.
The long string of robust growth turned to double-digit contraction in the blink of an eye. Between 2008 and 2009, PBD’s revenue dropped 10 percent. It was time for the company to get serious about diversifying its business base.
Broaden the base
By 2008, PBD had built itself into a $50 million-a-year business with five distribution centers around the country. At its peak, the company employed more than 500 people. PBD attained this growth mainly by distributing books and other printed material using a traditional distribution model: pick, pack and ship.
But with the sharp business downturn that PBD experienced between 2008 and 2009, Dockter and his leadership team realized that the company needed to branch into new areas to broaden its base — to put its eggs into more baskets so it wouldn’t be as vulnerable to market downturns in the future.
After looking at what they do well, Dockter and his team talked about applying those revelations to other related businesses.
“We said, ‘We’re good at inventorying items. We’re good at taking orders. We’re good at building e-commerce. We’re good at integrating all of that. So what else can we distribute?’” he says. “It sounds simple, but when you’ve been doing books for 30-plus years, you’re pretty much siloed in. Prospects are out there thinking, ‘Well, they’re really good at book distribution, but I can’t see my product in there.’”
One of the first areas that PBD expanded into was distributing protective cases for handheld electronic devices.
“We got a new client that was really growing their business,” Dockter says. “They had a product that was related to iPhones and BlackBerrys. That was a great diversification for us. It gave us a chance to show outside groups that we could distribute practically anything — anything that could go in a box — that became our mantra.”
PBD’s new philosophy also encompassed a move into an area that — in light of the overall trend of print dying off and digital media booming — seems counterintuitive: printing and mailing acknowledgments of donations for nonprofit organizations.
“We have a lot of not-for-profit clients, and when they receive donations, the IRS requires that they send out a printed acknowledgment,” Dockter says. “There were a lot of printing companies going out of business, so we saw this as an opportunity. It was a chance for us to basically extend our markets within our current client base.”
It was a wise move. PBD’s printing and mailing service, bolstered by the 2012 acquisition of a similar company that was looking to get out of the business, has grown exponentially since PBD began offering the service in 2008.
“It was a natural fit for us,” Dockter says. “We just had to get the right equipment and the right people in place that knew what they were doing. And lo and behold, [last] year, we had a company that went out of business that we absorbed. So now the revenue we’re getting from that part of our business is 300 times what it was in ’08-’09 when we started it.”
PBD has diversified into other areas as well. Among the operations that are bringing in substantial new revenue are electronic distribution, consumer products, gift catalog items and logo promotional items, such as clothing and pins to be distributed at conferences.
“We’re excited about all of these new lines, because they all have a tremendous amount of capacity to grow,” Dockter says. “Plus it gives us more sales points, both within the current organizations that we work with and with prospects.”
As the economy has fitfully rebounded from the recession, all of this diversification and spreading into new markets has begun to pay off for PBD, according to Dockter.
“The economy has gotten a little bit better, and as a result, some of our sales are coming back naturally,” he says. “Our clients are putting more money into their marketing and into new product.
“These newer services we’ve expanded into have really helped us to right our revenue ship. We now have a better array of services to offer and a wider range of products. That’s allowing us to win new business at a better clip. And it’s helping offset the decline in what was our traditional core business — pick, pack and ship fulfillment.”
Dockter says he’s learned a lot from guiding PBD through this ordeal, and he and the company will be better prepared the next time they face a similar set of circumstances.
“One of the key things I learned, from a leadership standpoint, is that you can’t let yourself get too comfortable when things are going well,” he says. “You have to always be challenging yourself and your team with some what-ifs.
“When we were flying high, we weren’t challenging ourselves as hard, because we felt great about what we were doing. But there were some signs that we missed. So even when things are going well, you have to make sure you’re challenging yourself on things that might not go well going forward. Sometimes it’s hard to force yourself to think in that mode when you’re hitting on all cylinders.”
Dockter also says he believes that when PBD runs into a similar challenge in the future, he and his team will recognize the signs of impending change and react more quickly to counteract them.
“Of course, as a leader, you want to show confidence — you want to exude confidence — but you’ve got to be careful not to lose sight of the changes that can happen,” he says. “We knew certain things could happen, but we didn’t want to admit it while everything was going well.
“And, of course, the most important thing is when you do get to that place — when those changes are starting to happen — how do you react? You’ve got a couple different ways you can do that. I think we were slow. You’ve got to be fast. That doesn’t necessarily mean working harder. It means putting your strategy in place as quickly as possible, and then executing it, decisively.” ?
How to reach: PBD Worldwide, (770) 442-8633 or www.pbd.com
The Dockter File
President and CEO
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, University of Virginia
Looking back over your years in school, can you pinpoint a business leadership lesson you learned that you use today?
I played tennis at the University of Virginia. A big part of doing that was creating leadership within my team, especially in the small-team environment. And the work balance was important from a time-management standpoint.
What was first job, and what important business lessons did you learn from it?
I had two jobs that were tied together — delivering newspapers and cutting lawns. The premise was to be able to earn my own money that I could spend the way I wanted to, and to do it without anybody telling me what to do. I learned a lot about responsibility from doing this. And I learned that figuring out how to create an avenue to make money can be a lot of fun.
Do you have a main business philosophy that you use to guide you?
Communicate as often as possible in a face-to-face mode with both your clients and your employees. Our company has a no-email policy on Fridays. We’ve had it for six years. The idea is to communicate at the highest level and to build relationships in order to get things done. When you communicate in that mode, you tend to create partnerships and true teamwork. That’s something we feel strongly about.
What trait do you think is most important for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?
You need to be trustworthy. Your customers need to trust you, and your employees need to trust you. It comes down to this: Do you look them straight in the eye? And do they look back at you straight in the eye? When you’re able to create that bond, that means you’re truly a trusted partner and leader.
The old management adage “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is probably more apropos in today’s workplace than ever before. At a time when customers, board members, partners and other key stakeholders expect and demand quantifiable results, senior leaders are required to set measurable goals that aim high but, at the same time, are executable because they are backed by realistic, understandable strategies and tactics.
Although goal setting for most organizations is an ongoing process, the start of the new year — and for many, the start of the budgeting cycle — presents most organizations with a key opportunity to take a step back, examine what has worked and recalibrate the areas that need adjustment.
Transcend the boardroom
One of the key tenets in CorFire’s planning process is to think of goal setting as a team sport. In other words, involve key members of the organization to brainstorm and set long-term, short-term and immediate goals.
While one person within a department may have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that these goals are met, securing buy-in from multiple team members helps create an atmosphere in which people are informed, engaged and passionate about doing their respective part to make sure goals are achieved.
More recently, this beyond-the-boardroom approach at CorFire has expanded to include partners and customers. While not specifically asking for their specific ideas on what our company’s goals should be, CorFire wants partners and customers to be an integral part of our broader community and, as such, to participate in ongoing discussions about what we are doing right and areas in which we can improve.
This feedback helps us set goals that are meaningful to internal and external audiences. It also leads to stronger connections across vertical markets, thus helping the company achieve success.
Execute the plan
Once a clear plan is in place, organizations may want to aim big while starting small. A “begin with the basics” approach is often better from a strategic standpoint than a full-blown launch.
For example, when our customers are executing a mobile payment rollout, we recommend they start with basic technology with which their customers are familiar. In some cases, we recommend that these customers start out at a few locations, rather than many, to see what needs resetting.
Another key for setting measurable goals is to expect and plan for potential obstacles. Organizations may overlook this step or forego it because of concerns that it could show their goals are too lofty and thus set them back a few steps. In reality, this broader, realistic view of goal setting and execution gives everybody in the organization the latitude to view bumps in the road as navigable rather than insurmountable roadblocks.
Lastly, we look forward to a year in which we set and meet goals, but, as important, we celebrate these goals. For CorFire, this ongoing recognition of meeting goals in this exciting time in the mobile commerce arena will help us continue moving the needle in our space and give us the desire to set the bar higher in subsequent years. ?
Sang Yook is chief strategy officer of CorFire, the mobile commerce business unit of SK C&C USA. You can reach him at (770) 670-4700.
How often do you go to market without a solid business strategy? Probably never, right?
The reality is that if you’re like most organizations, then you’re doing this right now — and you don’t even know it.
That’s because most organizations do not have a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Instead, most are doing what somebody told them they should do. This includes creating a mobile website, engaging in social media and advertising.
All of these are “smart” marketing initiatives. But if they’re done in a vacuum, there’s no way to measure what results those initiatives are intended to accomplish. Worse, you’re chasing tactics instead of delivering results.
There is a significant difference between marketing tactics and marketing strategy. Marketing tactics are ways to bring channels to life. This could be a new website or a mobile-optimized version of your site. Or it could be creating new sales collateral. Tactics should be used to bring your brand message and value proposition to life.
Unfortunately, if they’re not tied to a cohesive strategy, you will not achieve the results you desire.
A marketing strategy, however, allows you to understand the results you should achieve. It also keeps everyone aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in the process.
As an example, there are three main reasons for a website: to verify your organization’s brand message to potential customers, to deliver your value proposition and conversion.
Conversion can mean different things for different industries. In retail, it might mean picking out a product, putting it in your shopping cart and making the purchase. In business-to-business, conversion might mean picking up the phone to contact the company, providing a name, email and phone number, or signing up to receive a newsletter.
Without understanding how consumers behave, you may be selling your marketing efforts short. You might not be providing enough information to clearly articulate your brand message or value proposition or you might not be offering users an easy experience that allows for conversion. So how do you ensure that a consistent brand message, value proposition and the ability to target customers converts across all marketing channels?
First, understand who the target consumer is and their needs, attitudes and behaviors. This can be discovered through research, including focus groups or through industry-based segmentation.
Then, conduct a deep dive to understand your business goals and objectives. In retail, this might be the number of sales you want to drive. In B2B, it could be increasing the numbers of prospects in your pipeline.
Finally, evaluate your company’s existing marketing tactics — your website, marketing collateral and overall brand message.
Only then will you be well-equipped to evaluate your overall tactics and compare them to marketing best practices and the competitive landscape. This results in recommendations that include expected business results and return on investment.
Prioritize these by measuring the highest impact against investment levels, and then create a timeline to implement them over a one- to two-year period. Share this strategy throughout the entire organization so everyone understands what will be accomplished and what the expected results are.
Without strategy, and an understanding of everything that goes into it, any money you pour into tactics tends to be money poorly spent. Done correctly, your marketing strategy suddenly becomes your organization’s key driver and leads to tangible and measurable business results.
Dave Fazekas is director of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7056.
What is the best way to motivate employees? Some successful CEOs treat employees as friends, while other equally high-achieving leaders regard employees as merely hired hands, giving them a day’s pay for a day’s work and nothing more.
What’s the best approach to produce the best results for the company, the employee and the employer? Much of the issue lies with one’s definition of a friend and the culture of the organization. Many companies boast that their employees are like family. This sounds great, but can it work?
If either party crosses the fine line that separates the difficult-to-define business and personal space, both employer and employee can become disenchanted or worse. One way to think of it is that friendship is more unconditional. We accept a friend for what he or she is or isn’t. On the flip side, the reality is that most bosses embrace or reject employees for what they do on a consistent basis.
The military has its own way of handling fraternization between officers and the enlisted by making it a possible court martial offense. This stance is predicated on the belief that socializing between these two levels is “prejudicial to good order, discipline and partiality.” It is well recognized that business relationships without boundaries can produce too much drama.
Perhaps what we need is a new definition for a nonemotional, congenial, enjoyable and productive day-to-day relationship between leader and follower. This moniker could be employee-friend, or “e-friend” for short. “E-friend” isn’t an app but would describe an employer/employee relationship where there is mutual respect and a genuine appreciation of one another, underscored by an understanding, albeit perhaps unspoken, that when the time for talking is done, the boss has the final word on matters that occur between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Using these ground rules, both sides can have it both ways by using good judgment and treating each other as they would want to be treated if their roles were reversed.
The employee should expect from the boss that, when the chips are down, either on a business basis or when the employee has a personal problem, he or she knows that the boss will be there for him or her, providing understanding and advice and, when requested, helping the employee maneuver through rough patches. From the employer’s perspective, the employee would be someone who, through thick and thin, is there for the company and can temporarily put personal needs aside when there is a business issue that can’t be postponed.
The e-friend boss should know as much about the employee as the employee wants the boss to know, which can include sensitive professional problems or even family or medical issues. In a good relationship, the boss could certainly know, as one example, what the subordinate’s kids are up to in their lives and be the first to say to the employee that it’s more important for him or her to go to an offspring’s ballgame or play, rather than putting in extra time on the business project du jour.
Instinctively, employees know if a boss truly cares or is just going through the motions to be politically correct. They know if the head honcho is sincerely concerned about them as a person, not just another set of hands.
Not everything and everyone in the workplace are created equal. There will always be a pecking order; however, there is nothing wrong with truly enjoying the people with whom you work every day and sharing meaningful experiences, all of which lead to a more fulfilling role for both the employer and the employee. The best criterion to avoiding problems is using generous doses of plain common sense. There is a much-quoted line from the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” starring Michael Douglas as the ruthless tycoon Gordon Gekko, who proclaimed, “If you want a friend, get a dog.” This provoked both laughs and sighs, but in the real world, this attitude makes for a very lonely Ebenezer Scrooge-type life for the boss and a shallow existence for employees who must spend more than half, at the very least, of their Monday through Friday waking hours working.
At times, people can be difficult, both to work for and with. However, it’s the people who make the company and relationships that combine respect and a form of e-friendship that can make the real difference.
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 email@example.com.
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Richard Branson is full of big ideas. The man who founded six companies that each rake in more than $1 billion annually dares to think big. For him, it’s all about the experience, making a difference and not doing things the same way as the competition. An idea captures his imagination and he sets out to turn it into reality.
For him, it’s not about the money. It never has been.
When he sees a situation where he thinks he can make a difference in people’s lives, he looks for a way to make a difference. He understands that “why” he is doing it is more important than the “what” or the “how.”
Author and consultant Simon Sinek agrees (see video link). He explains that Apple is wildly successful at what it does not because it can build computers better than anyone else but because it understands “why” it is doing so. It’s not that the competition doesn’t know what it is doing or that it doesn’t have talented people creating good products. It’s just that Apple understands why it is in business and focuses its message on that instead of what it does — which is build electronic devices.
Sinek says that people like to do business with people who believe what they believe, so they buy more on the “why you do it” rather than what you are actually doing. Notice that profits are secondary. If you do things the right way for the right reasons, profits come naturally.
You might already have a big idea for your business, but it will most likely never reach its full potential unless you understand why you are doing it. Have you ever stopped to think about why you are in business or why you are doing what you are doing? It can be an enlightening exercise.
With the demands of daily business, we seldom stop to think about the reasons behind our actions, and if we do think about it, the answer is often “to turn a profit.” But to what end?
When you understand why you are trying to make a profit and the answer goes beyond simple wealth, then you are getting to the heart of what differentiates a good business from a great one. Maybe the reason why is a social issue, such as eliminating hunger, or maybe it’s a medical issue, such as curing a disease. But it doesn’t have to be grand. The “why” can be something like “making computers easy for everyone to use.” The important part isn’t the scope; it’s understanding your business’s basic reason for existence.
When you’ve taken the time to understand that, your business will have the potential to do great things because employees and customers alike can unite around a common understanding.
It’s why Apple is a great company and it’s why Richard Branson is wildly successful. If you’re already doing it, you’re on your way. If not, take the time to think about it.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Merriam-Webster, management is “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.” While “controlling” is a bit harsh in my book, the definition is correct in it's focus on management of people. To be a good manager or team leader, you have to have an above average interest in people. Success in management is found in the relationship developed between leader and team.
The best managers see themselves as catalysts. They become that agent or force that provokes or speeds significant change or action. These managers get things done quickly by leading with solid people skills.
Here are 4 people skills that every good manager must possess:
1. Understanding the right way to give a critique.
The worst thing you can do if you want to get someone to listen to you is to criticize.
As human beings, we hate to be criticized. When we feel attacked, we usually attack back – even when we are in the wrong. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking “I know I am right and I am going to prove it to you.”
Over the years I have learned that this way of thinking simply does not work.
A good manager has the self-control and presence of mind to put aside the needs of his own ego and say “I've got a problem, will you help me?” Enlisting cooperation in this manner will always lead to better results.
2. Understanding the need to help.
If someone comes in to criticize you or to raise your game, under what circumstances would you be willing to accept the critique?
The answer for me is simple. If I think someone is really trying to help me, then I'll engage and listen.
On the other hand, if I feel that the person is just trying to get the job done or make himself look good, I may listen, but my heart will not be in it. My interest and creative energies will be lost.
The truth of the matter is: Managers will only have influence over their people to the extent that their people think they are sincerely trying to help them. It is simply the way human beings work. Good managers truly care about their team and work hard to help them.
3. Understanding no two people are the same.
As a manager, you do not influence everybody the same way. People do things for their own reasons – not for others and not for you.
Inspiring people to your company vision happens best when you help them to see what's in it for them. This varies from person to person. It is your job to discover what things motivate each member of your team.
Some people are motivated by a challenge, some by money and others by recognition.
It is about reading their needs, desires and wants and then leading in such a way that ensures their success at obtaining them.
4, Understanding the best way to get tasks completed.
An effective manager realizes that each time he has an interaction with someone about a task, there are two things going on:
a. A discussion about the task and how to get it done.
b. The way in which the interaction affects the managers relationship with the collegue.
The first is pretty straightforward, but it's success is determined by the tenor of the second.
It must be said that the task should not be sacrificed for the relationship at all costs. It must also be said that winning on the task is not good if the manager ruins the relationship. Both are important and the manager must do well in each area.
I refer again to the need for the manager to develop relationships with the team in order to understand the best way to get things done according to individual members needs, desires and strengths.
In the end, good managers know how to use their influence and power to help others achieve beyond their wildest dreams.
I like management guru Tom Peters' definition of power:
“My definition of power is understanding that all of managing — and this comes out of the old grade school book — is the notion of doing more than you and I can do by ourselves; that is, doing things through other people.”
He goes on to say:
“If you are interested in getting things done effectively and imaginatively through other people then what you're trying to do in the workplace is exactly what you're trying to do on the football field – which is to get people who work with you to achieve beyong their wildest dreams.”
Workplace managers understand that good people skills determine their success. They work hard to develop the skills needed to lead in ways that shows their interest in people.
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 email@example.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose; it’s how well you played the game.”
Do you agree? Or should the quote be, “Knowing the score will push you to play the game your hardest”?
I recently read “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. The discipline that stuck out in my mind most was Discipline No. 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard. While it may be true that it’s not whether you win or lose, a very important factor in determining how well you played is keeping a scoreboard.
Create a focal point
Whether on the field or in the office, if you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing. Imagine you’re watching a lacrosse game with players that aren’t keeping score. You might see the players screwing around, not passing or cradling the ball, being careless about field positioning, taking risky shots or playing without any strategy in mind. No one’s trying to win.
Now, imagine there’s a scoreboard. You see the teams start to develop strategies on how they can work together to outsmart their opponents, maintain possession and defend their goal. The players play with more intensity and have a will to win, and there’s more sweat and blood.
When you have a team working together to drive your business forward, unfortunately, there’s no time for practice shots. Your team needs to keep score and be “game on” — working hard strategically and pushing toward the same goal.
Let the team set goals
Many organizations have their top leader develop their scorecard, filled with a bunch of information and lofty goals that no one on the team knows about. Or if they do know about it, they’re not sure how it was derived or what it was based on. When the leader sets the goals and puts them in their office, how is the team to know what they’re trying to achieve?
Allowing your team members on the ground to develop the scorecard helps it become personal to them. They buy in to it. They have a passion for updating it and have a desire to reach the goals they help set. Ultimately, the scorecard is for the team, not the boss. So let them set it.
Display score clearly
Some scoreboards have data on every point played, stats on every player and even stats from the entire season. Some have graphs and charts. Cut through all the clutter and help your team stay focused.
What is the main goal the team is seeking? They should be able to figure out the score within seconds of looking at the scoreboard.
Also, where is the scoreboard displayed? Is it in the boss’s office? How are your team members to know whether or not they’re close to reaching it?
Don’t be afraid to put your scoreboard on display in a common area where people congregate. They should see it every day and know right away what they’re working toward. If you have people in the field, take your scoreboard on the road.
When you keep score, allow your team to help set the score and provide constant updates, everyone wins. At Moe’s Southwest Grill, we have to be “game on” every day for the team, for our franchise partners and for our customers. Because when we meet our goals, our guests win, too. They get clean restaurants, the freshest food and high scores on the board across the system. This tells us that the guest is really enjoying the game.
But at the end of the day, I know our team can say — with confidence — that they set the score, they knew the score and they played their hardest to win. ?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
About six years ago, Doug Dunn and some his peers at other bus dealerships around the country began to sense that their industry was undergoing a significant shift. So a group of them sat down to take stock and talk things over. They concluded that while their market was quickly maturing, their branch of it — the dealership sector — wasn’t keeping pace.
“I had gotten into this business back in the 1980s when it was just getting started,” says Dunn, CEO of Atlanta-based Alliance Bus Group, a company that today operates seven dealerships in the southern and eastern United States and generates annual revenue of $120 million. “Transportation needs were starting to explode in a lot of cities, and most people bought buses that were converted school buses or they just ran 15-passenger vans. Transit budgets were starting to really catch some wind, and the commercial needs around airports were exploding. It was a good business to be in.”
By 2007, however, the bus industry was starting to grow up. Most of it was, anyway.
“We started seeing some consolidation on the manufacturers’ part,” Dunn says. “And the customers started getting a lot more mature too. They started knowing a lot more about buses than they did before. As a dealership, you needed a lot of infrastructure to keep up with these changes.
“One of my favorite sayings has always been ‘Volume speaks volumes.’ You need a lot of volume and a lot of product to catch the attention of manufacturers, from the areas of support and pricing. It wasn’t easy operating as independent, single dealerships.”
It was time to get bigger or get out.
Unite the colonies
Dunn’s company at that time was simply called Bus Group. It operated dealerships in Atlanta, New Orleans and Jackson, Miss. Those dealers operated almost as if they were separate companies, with outdated software systems, too much overhead, inadequate service facilities and no centralization of business functions to achieve efficiencies.
Getting bigger wasn’t going to be easy. While several other dealers had shown an interest in joining forces with Bus Group, the company saw that it would need to integrate these outposts into a more smoothly functioning unit first.
“We began to see that we wanted to make the transformation from a locally owned and managed dealership into one more national in scope, with all of the benefits that come from that,” Dunn says. “The synergies would make a lot of sense: being able to consolidate inventories, to have better training programs for our salespeople, to achieve the economies of scale of insurance consolidation and things such as that. All of this made a lot of sense, so we decided we wanted to pursue it. But, first, we would have to lay the groundwork and get organized.”
The key elements to achieving this expansion plan were centralizing the company’s operations by creating a corporate office in Atlanta, investing in a dealer management software system, expanding and upgrading the dealerships’ service facilities, and then, after all of that groundwork was laid, leveraging buying power by expanding and acquiring new dealerships.
“We designated Atlanta to be the corporate office for functions such as accounting, finance analysis, HR and legal,” Dunn says. “We reached out and used some different sources to add an assistant controller, some other accounting people, an HR manager and some financial people to help us run the business as an ongoing, larger organization.
“Getting the right people on the bus — pardon the pun — was a major focus for us.”
The task of centralizing the company’s operations and making the outposts operate more uniformly forced Dunn to change his management style.
“This is one of the things that has been a challenge for me,” he says. “I had to almost completely change the way I operate. I had always been very hands-on with my dealerships: everything from parts inventory all the way up to dealing with the largest fleet customers. As you start getting larger, though, you need to start assembling a different kind of team.”
One of the toughest challenges Dunn faced was taking the dealer principals he had been working with — “the lone rangers,” as he calls them — and showing them how to work within the framework of a large corporate entity.
“It was a difficult transition, and it took time to get it working smoothly,” Dunn says. “To go from basically running your own shop for many years to becoming part of a team running an integrated auto distribution business in a more corporate environment, with all of the associated checks and balances in place, has been a challenge for all of us. But these guys have been wonderful to work with. All along, they’ve had the right attitude to make this happen. And I’m very proud of where we are right now.”
The dealer management software system proved to be a challenge to install and get running smoothly. The system, which centralizes all of Alliance Bus Group’s data and operations and is accessible 24/7 from any computer with Internet access, enables Alliance’s personnel to address customer service questions immediately with reference to any of the company’s departments.
“We launched the software system in 2010,” Dunn says. “It’s a complete dealership management system, similar to what automobile dealers use. It drives our entire process.”
The software system has a wealth of features. It has a contract manager for Alliance’s sales force. It interfaces with the company’s website so that as employees add and delete inventory items, the information is immediately uploaded to the site.
On the parts and service side, the system handles all of the company’s shop tickets and parts orders. It also manages Alliance’s service work orders and its accounting functions.
“One the best things about it is that it’s all in the cloud,” Dunn says. “The information is on the software company’s server, and we can connect to it through the Internet from anywhere. It has completely changed the way we do business.”
In the two years since Alliance centralized its corporate operations and installed the dealer management software, the company has acquired dealerships in Lewisville, Texas, Carlstadt, N.J., and Orlando, Fla. These acquisitions bring Alliance’s total number of business locations to seven.
Blending the new dealerships into Alliance’s corporate system, especially with regard to the dealer management software system, has been problematic, but it is growing less so as the company gets accustomed to the process.
“The integration of the new dealerships is getting less difficult as we do each one,” Dunn says. “With the first one, you know, you almost want to kill yourself, the second one, you just get real sick, and the third one, you sort of catch it in stride. That’s the way the process has gone for us.”
Dunn says conviction, clear communication and decisiveness have been keys to Alliance’s ability to successfully integrate the new dealerships into the company’s corporate structure.
“You can’t lose the faith,” he says. “It can be lonely at the top, and it’s easy to get discouraged, but I’ve learned that when you start feeling a little uncertain, you need to start communicating more. Get out and really research the situation, and then go at it with everything you’ve got.
“Gather as much data as possible, analyze it quickly, decide what’s important, follow up expeditiously, and then make the best decision you can. And once you make a decision, go for it. Don’t back off.”
That last point — not pulling back from decisions once they’re made — was especially important to Alliance as it moved through the process of acquiring the dealerships and assimilating those organizations into the company.
“If you make a decision and then you back off from it, everybody will start to question all your decisions,” Dunn says. “It can make it difficult to pursue an effective course going forward when people … you know, they may not necessarily lose confidence in you, but they may start to think you’re not as committed to something as you should be.”
With seven locations in six states spanning from Texas to New Jersey, Alliance Bus Group has expanded its reach from what was once a group of small, loosely connected “lone ranger” dealerships to a large regional bus distribution network. The greatest advantage Alliance has gained as a result of this expansion is its ability to offer more interesting and potentially lucrative opportunities to its employees.
“This is a different game now,” Dunn says. “I have the ability to take a good sales manager in Texas and promote him to be the general manager in New Orleans or Orlando. I’ve never had that opportunity before, and when you start talking about a company and the opportunities for people inside it, you know, that’s pretty special.
“As I’ve gotten older and seen things, what gives me the greatest pleasure is to see people that have come on board in the organization, worked hard and developed, and then benefited from it, for themselves and their families. That’s what gets me fired up most nowadays.” ?
How to reach: Alliance Bus Group Inc., (866) 287-4768 or www.alliancebusgroup.com
THE DUNN FILE
Chairman and CEO
Alliance Bus Group Inc.
Education: Mercer University, bachelor’s degree in political science; Vanderbilt University, MBA
What was your first job, and what business leadership lessons did you learn from it?
I was an intern for a natural gas company my second year at Vanderbilt, and the senior vice president made me an offer to stay and fill a hole, which was director of personnel for a 600-employee utility. One of the first things I had to do was negotiate a contract with a pipefitters’ union. So I went from the academic world down to the front line about as fast as you possibly could go. I got instant management experience, immediate personnel experience, and more legal stuff than I cared to know about. That worked out well for me. It was a great springboard into what I’ve done since.
Do you have a central business philosophy that you use to guide you?
I try to rally the troops constantly by staying in communication with them, and I strive for clarity to make sure people understand what I want. Also, I’ve always been a data hound. I try to stay on top of as much relevant data as I can get.
What trait do you think is most important for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?
I think it’s perseverance. Staying with it; staying on top of the important things. Deciding what’s important and what’s not. You don’t want a dollar chasing a dime.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
That would be from my father, who has passed away. He was an executive for 48 years with Delta Airlines. His advice to me was, ‘Decide what you want to do, do what you like and never worry about the money, because it will always come.’ That has always worked for me.
Irving, Texas is a recipient of the 2012 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest Presidential honor for performance through innovation, improvement and visionary leadership. Irving is only the second municipality to receive the award in its 25-year history.
City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said Irving has reduced costs by $44 million and improved satisfaction service levels by double digits.
“We reduced our work force by 10 percent without laying anyone off or implementing furloughs and, at the same time, increased benefits,” he says. “We identified numerous efficiencies that resulted in 50,000 labor hours saved. Code enforcement improved by 88 percent, and we dropped the number of days to turn around commercial building permits from 16 to three and a half. These efforts culminated with Irving retaining its AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s during a recession, while offering residents and business owners among the lowest tax rates and water fees in North Texas.”
Smart Business spoke with Gonzalez about the way Irving works with businesses and how to apply these lessons.
How should a good relationship between a business owner and the municipality work?
Good communication between the city and business community is important. By having a proactive communication flow, the city gets intelligence on issues business owners are having with city processes. For example, Irving was considering an ordinance that would impact the certification of restaurant servers. Because the city reached out to businesses, it was able to make the ordinance helpful to customer safety but not so onerous to implement. Another example was a state highway project through the middle of Irving where the city and the chamber of commerce coordinated with the state to help businesses relocate and/or work with the department of transportation.
So, both sides need to reach out to each other?
Yes. Irving has 39 different ways to communicate with customers — in this case businesses — like newsletters, our website, Facebook, Twitter, email blasts, etc. If there’s a new project, the city can let others know how it might impact them and keep them in the loop.
What are some of the best ways through government bureaucracy and red tape, including navigating the permit process?
The city made an effort to speed up the permit process because when a business is building a large structure, in order to create several hundred jobs, and in some cases thousands of jobs, you don’t want to hold up the work. Irving’s permitting process now takes three and a half days after eliminating unnecessary steps. Using incentives, Irving built a new culture and a new way of thinking. Another way to minimize the red tape is through surveys. Between random and point of service surveys, done at the departmental level, the city can listen and then change the way it does business. Many times problems or improvements are obvious to business owners, but not to the city.
Aside from letting the municipality know about issues, when business owners show up for permits, bring as much information — plans and documents — as you can. Those that come forward with complete and comprehensive information in hand will get processed quicker.
How can local entities assist employers with state or federal issues?
Cities can work in cooperation with businesses on some developmental opportunities. In some cases Irving has received federal grants that not only help the public sector but also tie in with private development, especially for environmental issues. The local government also can supplement state or federal services. For example, the state picks up litter along state highways twice a year, but Irving stepped in to pick up litter more often, resulting in a cleaner highway that people assume is safer, which in turn increases the community’s value.
Tommy Gonzalez is city manager of Irving, Texas. Reach him at (972) 721-2521 or email@example.com. Visit the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.
Click for the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s profile on Irving — Baldrige: Irving is ‘A Lone Star Model of Fiscal Achievement.'
Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce