Patrick Mayock

Wednesday, 26 March 2008 20:00

Monkeying around

Ask Dan Levinson, president of The Art Institute of California — Orange County, about creativity, and he’ll share the following story.

Scientists put four monkeys in a cage with a staircase that led to bananas. When the monkeys went up to get the bananas, scientists sprayed them with water, and the monkeys retreated. The scientists then replaced one monkey with a new monkey.

When that monkey tried to go up the stairs, the original monkeys stopped him so he wouldn’t get sprayed. Eventually, all four original monkeys had been replaced by four new monkeys, none of which would climb the stairs.

The lesson? Don’t blindly accept traditional practices whose origins are forgotten. Levinson continuously challenges his 250 employees to avoid doing that, while pushing for new and creative solutions to the same old processes.

Smart Business spoke with the president about how to train employees to think creatively by refusing to give them the answers.

Don’t give away the answers. Every new manager gets stuck in this process: ‘I have the answers; I’m going to tell you what the answers are,’ as opposed to taking the time to start training employees so that, in the long run, they can do it themselves.

Do not always give out the answers. Find out what (employees) think first, and then, if they’re on the right track, rely on them to do their jobs without giving them a lot of oversight.

I had a mentor, (and she said) that I had a revolving door in my office. People would fly in, ask me a question, I’d give them the answer, and they’d fly out.

She said, ‘You have to stop that cycle. One of the key points of stopping that cycle is to actually find out what they think about the question that they’re asking. Make them think before they can just come running to your office.’

When I met with my managers, I did explain the process to them of what I was trying to do. I said, ‘When you come to me with a question, come up with a couple of different solutions of what it is that you think you should do.’

Instead of just freeing my time up, it also empowered my managers. They didn’t feel like they were always coming to me for approval.

It also helped me identify some of my managers, where they needed some development or possibly some reassignment at that point. It was very helpful because, as we were talking about their solutions and why they were right or wrong, I was able to use that as a counseling session for each of my managers.

Take employees on a picnic. It’s great to come in with a vision of where you think you’d like the organization to go, but it really happens from the ground up. You have to get people involved in the visioning process.

[Say], ‘We’re at the company picnic five years from now. What does the company look like?’

Make people close their eyes at that meeting. Give them one or two minutes of silence to make them really think about it. Following up with that, take one minute to write down what their vision is.

Start it with all employees, and then break it down by department and have it roll up.

I have done it at the all-school meeting in the past, where we’ve taken an hour to talk through what’s going on, what’s happening, where we were and then where we would like to go.

I put them all up on a board, and I tried to group them together as close to topic as possible. When I got all of these different answers, it was really interesting.

A lot of times, it’s a matter of each department coming up with their own vision and mission and making sure that they fit into the overall vision and mission.

When it breaks down into smaller departmental meetings, whoever the executive committee manager that’s part of that process, you can help guide them along the way. Say, ‘Here’s the overall objective that we had last year. Let’s work within that frame before we jump outside of it.’

(Getting the involvement) just helps in the process of implementing whatever changes need to come down the road. It’s the buy-in factor.

Do the best with what you have. Quality is job No. 1. What it really takes is the attitude of understanding what your limitations are and being able to create within those limitations. Quality can be made at any level.

You might have done that team-building exercise where you have an egg that you have to drop off the second floor. The team that’s capable of creating whatever will save that egg from being cracked is the winner. You’re given straws, tape and newspaper — not a lot of quality materials or resources — in order to protect that egg.

By using creative thought and really thinking about what it is that you want to do to save that egg, you’re able to create a quality device that will protect that egg.

A lot of people are always saying, ‘I can’t do it because I don’t have the resources.’ The best thing to do is to look back at what resources you do have and then think about what you can do.

It’s that kind of thing; ‘If something’s broken, what are we going to do? What resources do we have? Let’s do it the best we possibly can.’

HOW TO REACH: The Art Institute of California — Orange County, (888) 549-3055 or www.artinstitutes.edu/orangecounty

Wednesday, 26 March 2008 20:00

Evasive maneuvers

Ed Phillips often compares companies to airplanes — you have to constantly make the necessary adjustments to keep both out of a nosedive.

And a nosedive is exactly where the president, owner and CEO of Matthews Studio Equipment Inc. found himself four years ago. As pilot of the company, Phillips had stubbornly neglected changing market conditions and found his company in a free fall.

“The company had become complacent and was continuing to do the same old thing in the same old ways,” he says. “It was either change or crash.”

Fortunately for his 85 employees at the specialized hardware provider for the film, television, still photographic and theatrical industries, Phillips embraced change, and Matthews is now very much nose up, having nearly doubled its revenue from 2004 to 2007.

Smart Business spoke with Phillips about how to steer toward clear skies by admitting mistakes, selling change, and articulating goals and incentives.

Q. How do you address problems before initiating change?

It starts at the top. It’s nobody else’s fault but your own. If you’re not willing to take that finger that you’re pointing and turn it to yourself, nothing is going to change.

That’s what I was doing early on. I was so afraid to change anything. All I kept doing was putting more pressure on people to perform, but they would be performing in the same wrong way.

If they’re doing it wrong, and now they’re going to do it wrong faster, you’re going to hit the dirt that much sooner. You don’t want to put the pressure on people to do the same old things. They would only be accelerating the decline.

If what you’re doing isn’t working, then do something differently. It’s very simple.

Q. How do you get people to buy in to change?

The whole premise of change is something you have to sell.

In order to do that, a CEO or a president has to be visible. By being visible, you are then approachable.

Make time and a conscious effort to get out of the office and go through the various departments. Interact with the people and make yourself visible so they feel you are approachable.

I take everybody who has a birthday to lunch every month. That gives me the opportunity to sit with 10 or 12 or 13 people, however many there may be that month, and just have a casual lunch and talk to them about what we’re doing, what we want to do and how we’re going to get there.

That also gives me an opportunity to hear from them so they feel a part of it and so they can embrace it.

You can’t dictate change. That doesn’t work as well as if you can cause all of those who will be a part of it to embrace it so that it’s partly their idea and has some of their authorship.

Q. Do you offer incentives to help make that sale?

We’ve developed a bar graph that reflects our shipments each and every day.

‘Let me try to incentivize you to the next level. If we can hit X number of dollars in shipments, I want to share something with you. If we can hit beyond that, I want to share even more.

‘You will see at the time clock when you punch in our shipments from the prior day against three benchmarks. If we hit the first one, you’re going to get X at the end of the month.’ Each day, our graphics guy here takes the word ‘stretch’ — he’s got two little guys on either side of it — and each day, they’re stretching it a little bit further. Employees can see by this colored bar graph how they’re doing relative to the benchmarks for the shipments.

Since we’ve begun posting these about six weeks ago, we have exceeded our daily and weekly shipments almost every day.

Why keep (that information) a secret? The only risk factor is that I didn’t want them getting out on the street. That was a concern of mine. But then I thought, ‘You know what? If it works, the benefits are going to outweigh the risk.’

And it is working. It’s making the people feel a part of it. I overhear them talking about it: ‘Hey, we hit it! Let’s get to the next one!’

It’s a feeling of wanting to win, and if we win, everybody wins.

Q. What is the benefit of clearly articulating such goals?

The benefit to the company is continued growth and success. The benefit to the employee, if you can sell them on this concept, is their success — their wealth creation. Their success is my success and vice versa.

You don’t want your employee base to feel that they’re working to make you rich.

To the contrary, if you can cause them to believe that you’re working to help enhance their lifestyle, then you’re going to get more cooperation and less animosity or resentment.

HOW TO REACH: Matthews Studio Equipment Inc., (800) 237-8263 or www.msegrip.com

Wednesday, 26 March 2008 20:00

Recruit pursuit

Tom Gimbel was never good enough. At least that’s what a past employer would have you believe.

“I’ve worked for a company (where) I sold over 50 percent of total sales,” he says. “No matter what I sold, I was always told, ‘Why aren’t you doing this? Why aren’t you doing more?’”

Instead of letting such negativity dampen his spirits, Gimbel turned his enthusiasm and business acumen toward his own enterprise, The LaSalle Network. Founded in 1998, the staffing and recruiting firm boasts 2007 revenue of $16.5 million and an 80-person staff of happy employees.

“I remember what it was like to not always be treated as a valuable employee,” LaSalle’s founder and CEO says. “I never want that to be the case [for my employees].”

Smart Business spoke with Gimbel about how to hire and retain the best employees and how to keep them happy.

Q. What are the keys to attracting the best employees?

First off, you have to retain the best employees. Good employees tend to be around good employees.

Another layer of that is how you communicate with them through the interview process. Step one is always selling us to the candidate. We want them to be excited about us before we go about trying to determine whether they’re right for us.

There’s a big difference there, and a lot of companies miss that boat. They have such an imperial view of how great their company is that they stop selling it to other people.

Then, we demonstrate career paths that we’ve shown. I had my marketing guy create bios and career progressions of the staff that we had showing that there was a way for people to advance and grow within a small- to medium-sized company.

That really played a role when people were doing research on us to say, ‘I heard about such-and-such’s career progression. That was really an attractive thing for me.’

Q. How do you retain your current employees?

Always have empathy for the employee. Think: What’s fun for them?

An example we do is, we celebrate what we call employees’ rebirthdays. That’s the anniversary of their start date with the company. ...

Every year on their rebirthday, we give them a gift. We’ve done iPods. We’ve done computers. We’ve done a new suit.

You’ve got all of these friends and families outside of the office that acknowledge your birthday, but how many people are going to acknowledge that you’ve worked really hard for a year?

When you see the look on somebody’s face when they come off of an elevator and they see all of the balloons, it really is fantastic.

Q. How do you justify the cost of such recognition?

I meet with CEOs and CFOs and VPs of HR, and I always say, ‘Whenever I look to hire somebody, the first question I ask myself is, ‘Am I ready to commit an additional $10,000 a year to training?’ If the answer’s no, then why am I hiring them?’

The question is, ‘Do you care about the people?’ If you do, you’ve got to recognize their efforts. When you do that, you create a loyalty that is stronger than any outside force can ever break.

Q. How do you gauge chemistry between a job candidate and the company?

You can’t be afraid to have the potential employee meet a lot of your existing staff.

It’s a value-added all around. The staff feels that they’re part of the process, and the potential employee feels that they’re meeting the people and not just the management team.

The first time, we’ll have them interview with at least one person. If that one person likes them, we’ll have them meet with a second person. The second person can be somebody within the department, somebody without. It can be anybody — just to get two perspectives to brainstorm.

The second day, we bring them back. We want to have them interact with their direct manager who would be running the department.

One of the biggest things that can hold up the hiring process is delaying the momentum because of scheduling conflicts. What our research has shown us is that candidates would rather have continued momentum and interaction with the company, even if they’re meeting with people outside of their direct manager. Keep that process going.

Q. Why is hiring the right people so important?

The cost of turnover is much higher than people anticipate. Spending eight to 10 hours upfront and in an elongated interview, you are going to save yourself literally hundreds of man hours in recouping morale and personal time.

Pay for the right people. Every time I didn’t hire somebody because they were too expensive, I’ve always looked back and said, ‘What could have been?’

HOW TO REACH: The LaSalle Network, (312) 419-1700 or www.thelasallenetwork.com

Sunday, 24 February 2008 19:00

Quest master

Anthony Minite has set out on a quest. Well, make that a QUEST. As president of Bentley Prince Street Inc., he has implemented a movement using that acronym to elicit Quality Utilizing Employees’ Suggestions and Teamwork. The program consists of self-initiated teams made up of any number of the floor-covering manufacturer’s 600 employees. For instance, three employees who work on the floor might investigate how to make a particular stage of assembly more efficient. Or a group of five employees from procurement might analyze cost-reduction measures with a vendor.

To fuel these efforts, Minite says it’s important to offer incentives to provide that initial spark, and then to divulge the necessary information to sustain each initiative. Since implementing the QUEST program, the leader has ushered in an era of continuous improvement that has boosted quality, fostered environmental sustainability and pushed 2007 revenue to $154.6 million.

Smart Business spoke with Minite about incentives, eco-consciousness and how to communicate while stretching.

Set out on your own quest. A QUEST team is driven by individuals. The manager doesn’t manage the team. The team manages itself. They come up with the ideas and put the process in place to fix that problem.

The finishing department, let’s just say, they’re seeing some challenges in production. A team of people will come together and form a QUEST team in finishing and say, ‘Based on the information that we’ve been provided daily, weekly or monthly, we see that we have this issue in these five particular products.’

They analyze that, they see it, and then they build a process improvement around it to ensure that they can fix that problem. They’re saying, ‘If we don’t hit this, we could get affected financially from what we could earn as our upside potential.’

(Their process) will go through a supervisor and then to a manager, and then that plan is implemented.

It’s cost improvement. It’s process improvement. It’s quality improvement.

Lay out incentives. The single biggest thing that’s required is giving a vision to people of what the company could look like if everybody was engaged.

Set goals. ‘Here’s that big, universal company, and here’s all the parts and pieces of it. If we successfully execute on all these pieces, here’s what we achieve professionally in our career. Here’s what we achieve financially in our income.’

Whenever you have an opportunity to enhance someone’s income with their efforts and their service to the organization, that bodes well for people jumping and saying, ‘I want to make a difference.’

When they can see that they can make a difference and their compensation and their personal growth is tied to that, it goes a long way.

Divulge information when articulating goals. Every morning we do stretching exercises here. In the process of doing stretching exercises, a supervisor is talking about the goals of the day: ‘We need to ship 30,000 yards today.’

In that stretching exercise, there’s that daily communication to our associates regardless of the shift and regardless of the department. Whether you’re up on the executive floors or you’re working in the tufting area or the finishing area, you’re communicated with at the same level.

We show right down to the production yards here, and we show right down to the dollars: ‘Here’s the profitability. Here’s why we weren’t as profitable as we wanted to be this month because we had this quality issue or we had this issue hit us.’

When you can articulate to your associates on a regular basis through good, solid communication where they stand, no one can ever say to you, ‘Hey, I didn’t know that.’ That makes a difference in any organization.

Focus on the health of your employees, not just of your company. We have a nutritionist on staff who helps our people with their diets. We have a gym here that’s open all three shifts that people can go to and work out.

(The benefits are) twofold.

People say, ‘Wow, my company cares about me.’

Furthermore, it lowers my days off from sick time and people being out. Workers’ compensation costs have been reduced significantly. Our insurance company looks on that kindly.

You’ve got to really ease into (these programs). Whether it be changing two snacks in the vending machine at a time, you don’t want to come in with the sledgehammer. The ‘crawl before you walk’ approach for this type of program is key.

Practice sustainability. As business leaders, we have to play a part in what our future generations are going to have to deal with that we leave.

It is about economic and environmental leadership. You can be a profitable company by reducing your environment footprint and still serving your customer with beautiful products.

Look at raw materials coming in: ‘How do we get products here that are made with more recycled content? How do we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by changing some production procedures?’

All of those things that we look at not only have an environment impact analysis done, but they have an economic impact done. ...

No. 2, it has made us more socially aware. ... Have people buy in to that kind of ground-swell approach to it.

Sustainability is something that can be driven at every level.

HOW TO REACH: Bentley Prince Street Inc., (800) 423-4709 or www.bentleyprincestreet.com

Sunday, 24 February 2008 19:00

Job dealer

Francis L. Price’s business perspective can be traced back to a pushcart in inner-city Kingston, Jamaica, where his mother supported the family by selling a strawberry gelatin extract to workers digging trenches.

Despite his success, Price — who now serves as president and CEO of Q3 Industries Inc., an engineered products manufacturer and supplier — has not forgotten where he came from. He actively recruits potential employees from inner-city communities while striving for diversity among his approximately 285 employees at Q3, which posted 2006 revenue of $75 million.

Smart Business spoke with Price about how to serve inner-city communities as well as your own company by stressing diversity in the workplace.

Hire a diverse staff. Many of our inner-city communities, what they need are jobs more than anything else.

When you bring good jobs to the community, you can see hope grow and hopelessness disappear. You become a real important player when you can hire and employ people on a consistent basis.

If you want to ensure that in the interviewing process you get a diverse group of people, then you make sure the sources are pretty (diverse.)

Your marketplace clearly is diverse. If you make sure your workplace is diverse, you have a better chance of having people who understand your market, understand who you’re trying to sell to, who you’re trying to design products for.

From design to manufacturing to financing, if you are sensitive to your general market, you tend to win.

Tease out sensitive issues. I have a special part of my meeting that I call two rumors and a question.

You’re sometimes in a plant full of people, and nobody wants to talk, or they might have some controversial issue, and no one wants to discuss it. If no one asks me a question, I make up a rumor myself and posit the rumor and try to explain it.

I say, ‘Any questions?’ People would ask the easy questions, but no one would want to ask you something like, ‘Is it true that you’re going to do mandatory drug testing?’

I’ll say, ‘OK, there are no questions. Let’s go to two rumors and a question. Rumor No. 1: Q3 is going to go to mandatory drug testing. That’s a rumor I heard this morning.’

Well, whether I heard it or not, I use the session to discuss something I think is topical. Sometimes, I actually have a rumor where somebody would write me an anonymous letter or something.

It’s a way of what psychologists generally refer to as ‘draining the metaphorical swamp.’ If you don’t discuss sensitive issues, then you can’t assume that they don’t exist. They still exist, and they become cancerous to an organization.

Using the plant meeting to throw out controversial or sensitive topics is a way of at least saying to folks that we’re very open, we’re willing to talk, and we’re willing to share information. If you don’t do that, you’ve got to understand that it doesn’t mean that issues don’t exist. It just means that they’re covered.

Put your values in the structure of the compensation plan. Compensation plans are a very big way of reinforcing the things that you believe in.

If you, for instance, say you want to support education and you want to have an educated work force, then one of the things that you would obviously do is put in tuition reimbursement programs, and you would probably put in salary benefits for people who might have completed degree programs or certificate programs.

That is a very powerful communication method of having folks understand what you think and what you value. Those kinds of value-oriented practices communicate as loudly as anything else that you can do, that you want an educated work force, that you want a healthy work force, and you’re willing to spend money on it.

The most immediate benefit is turnover reduction. These kinds of systems (in which) you take care of people through health care, different kind of benefit programs and education programs — it’s a way of telling folks that you care and you value them. As a result, you tend to reduce turnover, and you get the better people that would want to work for you.

Folks develop mastery in their particular practice the longer they stay there. If you can keep them in continuous employment, then continuous improvement is a much better probability.

Live your vision. People talk about their vision and their messages, but it can get destroyed and get corrupted very easily by the work world.

You have to be willing to live it, and you do everything in your power to make it come to life.

I myself spend a lot of time talking to kids around the world wherever I go. I go back to my old high school in Jamaica, and I helped fund scholarships there. I go back to my university and help them.

Just try to stay involved with the work itself and with the people, and talk about things you value. Believe, and it will come to pass if you live it.

HOW TO REACH: Q3 Industries Inc., (800) 770-0195 or www.q3inds.com

Sunday, 24 February 2008 19:00

Listen up

Diversity drives creativity. That notion may not be particularly revolutionary, but it has nevertheless proved invaluable to Jeff Johnson at Weaver Industries Inc.

As executive director of the organization, which provides vocational training and employment opportunities for 750 adults with developmental disabilities, Johnson must routinely apply out-of-the-box thinking to solve commonplace dilemmas. In 2005, for example, he was charged with creating a new venture to provide more employment opportunities for Weaver’s internal customers.

So Johnson turned to a diverse group of executives from the Akron community to assist him and established an enterprise task force. The unique backgrounds of those individuals were crucial in adopting a social enterprise model that manifested itself as Weaver-SecurShred, a secure information shredding company. Since then, Johnson has relied upon the fresh perspectives of a rotating board of directors to help guide the strategic direction of the company.

Smart Business spoke with Johnson about how simply listening will help you clarify your goals and why it pays to just be yourself.

Listen to constituents to get buyin. It starts with relaying the internal customers’ needs and requests.

We listened to them and sat down with the board and talked about strategic avenues and strategic tactics that we could implement.

From that conversation, we were able to discuss different ways [in] which we can meet their needs.

Stay focused on your mission. If you really listen to the population that you’re serving, it really will help clarify what you need to do and where you need to go.

It’s absolutely necessary. If you’re growing and you’re expanding, nothing is going to be easy. Staff will continually be challenged, and they will be pushed, and they will be asked to do things differently, to do things better and to improve processes.

If they know why they’re doing that and that there’s a real reason out here of why we need to get better and why they’re being pushed, they don’t view that negatively, and they’re willing to really step up and push.

If they look at it and they just see someone coming up every day pushing them to do something better or faster, they don’t know the real reason why, and they’re going to push back.

Be yourself. Person-centered leadership, from an academic perspective, is leadership that starts with a comfort level that starts with yourself, where you’re comfortable in your own skin.

There’s no work Jeff, director Jeff and another Jeff — they’re all the same person. Communicating that and reinforcing that every day is very important.

It’s being comfortable with who you are and what you are.

When you’re true to yourself as a person when you’re enrolling your employees in your vision, they’re more willing to enroll into that vision when you exhibit those types of traits as opposed to a work personality that puts on the executive-director hat.

Gauge character by taking job candidates out of the office. We really want the right people with the right background, education and the right character to run divisions or branches. Those are the folks that are in the trenches every day that are working very closely with those internal and external customers.

I always have two interviews. My first interview tends to be more structured. I have a series of questions that I will ask, specific answers that I will be looking for.

Have a second interview outside of the office environment and try to have it in a public setting, like a restaurant for a lunch or dinner, where you can see how that individual interacts in a different environment, in a more relaxed environment.

I like to hear a little about their family. What are their hobbies? What are their interests?

It allows the conversation to move away from the specifics of the job and move more toward what’s that person’s life like and what’s important to them.

Treat ‘no’ as the starting point.

On sales calls, when a customer says no, it’s a good start because you can learn why they’re saying no and keep moving forward.

It’s asking that customer, ‘If no, why? Is it service? Is it price? What is it?’ It might be something that there’s nothing we can do or they’re going a different direction.

At least we can seek feedback so that we can know if there’s something that we need to change within our operation. We can gauge whether we’re competitive, and then we can move forward, and, ultimately, that will help our business in the long run.

HOW TO REACH: Weaver Industries Inc., (330) 379-3680 or www.weaverindustries.org

Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

Full participation

When Randall J. McNeil and his management team at McNeil Industries establish goals for the year, they don’t aim conservatively. Whereas other companies might focus efforts in two or three areas of improvement, McNeil seeks to better his entire business through numerous goals and companywide participation.

The CEO doesn’t approach such lofty goals carelessly. On the contrary, he applies a stringent set of management strategies and processes that are outlined in the book “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harnish.

With support from quarterly sessions with a business coach, McNeil and his staff first develop a “one-page plan” after each quarterly meeting to summarize key ideas, strategies and plans. Execution of the plan is built on three key disciplines: priority, data and rhythm.

Priority denotes the prioritization of the company’s short- and long-term focus. While long-term goals typically remain the same, McNeil’s management team also identifies a number of short-term goals and lays out assignments necessary to achieve each one.

To help track and manage the numbers that reflect those improvements, company employees are randomly assigned to cross-functional teams to review and familiarize themselves with certain data. The Gross Margins team, for example, meets every week to review and discuss the profit analysis from all orders that shipped the previous week. Similar meetings occur for other teams, fostering dialogue on how best to solve problems while exposing all employees to every aspect of the business.

Rhythm, the final Rockefeller discipline, involves the continuous breakdown of objectives into well-aligned annual, quarterly, weekly and daily tasks. McNeil implements this discipline through numerous meetings throughout the day, week and month to help employees better identify and tend to their assigned tasks.

The entire strategy proves a bit daunting on the front end, but McNeil Industries now is well on its way to achieving six annual goals, including sales quota and on-time delivery.

The most impressive result stems more from the method than the goals. By involving every employee in the process, McNeil has fostered a level of ownership and understanding that most companies can only aspire to achieve.

HOW TO REACH: McNeil Industries, (440) 721-0400 or www.mcneilindustries.com

Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

Sacrificing sacred cows

Sister Judith Ann Karam sacrificed her sacred cow.

The demands of a competitive business landscape often call for moral ambiguity, but Karam, also a president and CEO, was hardly acting with blasphemous intent. This is not a story of compromised beliefs and shunned value. It is one of identity.

Take Karam’s “cow.” Hers was not the golden calf of biblical allusion. It was a name that she held dear: The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System.

Since the health provider was established in 1982, that name has represented 20 entities spread throughout Cleveland, Canton and South Carolina. In the past year alone, it’s represented $307 million in annual revenue, $1 billion in total assets and the work of more than 10,000 employees. ∂ Most importantly, that name has represented the identity, history and mission of a 156-year-old religious order.

Given what it stood for, Karam’s playful pseudonym is not surprising. The fact that she finally gave it up, on the other hand, might be — until she explains the impetus:

“A needs assessment revealed a lack of awareness with regard to our collective ministries,” she says. “It also said that my sacred cow, the name, was cumbersome.”

That initial assessment was the first phase in a larger image campaign designed to unite the 20 scattered voices of the system’s 20 scattered entities.

“We want to be able to leverage our cause on who we are,” Karam says. “We have something to say about the care of the uninsured. We have something to say about faith-based health care.”

To say those things in a singular, collective voice, Karam let go of her cumbersome sacred cow for the more compact title, Sisters of Charity Health System.

But turning idol into identity was no effortless task. Karam and her steering committee endured a four-phase “image enhancement” initiative before creating the stronger, more unified brand.

Understand your image

At Sisters of Charity Health System, the image enhancement wasn’t an end unto itself. Karam and her executive staff set out with the goal of leveraging the influence of 20 separate entities to yield political clout within the realm of health care reform. The criteria for the branding campaign stemmed to meet that end.

“You need to have a real clear sense of what your goals are, not just to have an image campaign to have an image campaign,” Karam says. “Dollars are too short. Understand the goals front end.”

Understanding those goals can be as simple as revisiting your strategic plan. If you already have a concrete vision in place, examine whether or not your company’s current identity inhibits your ability to get there. Karam engaged her management team in this process to secure the necessary buy-in before moving forward.

Karam says before you take your first step in that forward direction, you must understand where you’re starting from. Your company cannot take on a new identity without comprehending what it is at present.

At the health system, she engaged outside consultants during this phase to conduct a thorough environmental assessment.

“We brought together representatives from each of our 20 entities to talk about who we were as a collective ministry,” Karam says. “One of the key ways to do that is to begin telling stories about the ministry, and that’s what the consultant helped us to do.

“They also did an audit of all of our communication strategies of all of our entities, and they saw significant diversity in how we communicated who we were.”

Throughout these initial steps, Karam was adamant about maintaining a constant channel of communication with as many crucial stakeholders as possible.

“They were saying to me, ‘Well, how are we going to use that information that I gave?’” she says. “You come back to them and say, ‘This is how we used the information that you gave us.’ That provides more buy-in.”

From this group of stakeholders, the consultants then formed a steering committee, which included representatives from each entity that would drive the rest of the branding campaign. Conspicuously absent from this group was Karam.

“Even my internal staff was not present,” she says. “That’s critical. Give independence to the thought and to what the public is thinking, whether it’s good or bad. We have no ability to control it. It is what it is.”

Without her presence, the consultants were able to elicit unbiased feedback from those representatives, a necessity before entering into the campaign’s next phase.

Sift through the feedback

With the environmental assessment complete, another firm began to test market perceptions and develop creative concepts that told the health system’s collective story.

In addition to the feedback gathered during the first phase, the consultants gathered 59 individuals to participate in four internal focus groups. An additional 43 external stakeholders partook in comprehensive phone interviews.

Internally, the focus groups were composed of board members, management, employees and volunteers — a wide range on the corporate spectrum. Their insight, combined with that of the external stakeholders, provided an adequate sampling of feedback with which to make change.

“They basically began expressing issues relating to the communication of the name of the health system and our logo and how dated they felt it was,” she says. “They said about my sacred cow that, ‘It’s too cumbersome.’”

Karam says it’s important to suspend your own biases throughout the process. Like the system’s cumbersome name, you must be willing to sacrifice your own sacred cows, especially when feedback overwhelmingly points toward change.

At the same time, you shouldn’t blindly accept these conclusions. Karam held regular meetings with the consultants, her senior vice president and assistant vice president to assess the feedback and discuss emerging themes.

“All along the way, I had regular meetings on how this process was going,” she says. “You need to have those solid periods of time, like one or two hours. You need adequate time to really listen to the input from the consultants to be able to digest and then give input.”

Create your new name and logo

When it came time to finally create the new brand, Karam opted to hire a firm with a proven track record in creative design.

Bringing in new consultants midcampaign can prove problematic if they’re not first brought up to speed. Before any logos or brand mock-ups were proposed, Karam and the steering committee made sure to revisit their earlier discussions, retell their collective stories and present the findings from the first two phases to the new firm.

Based on those discussions, the consultants developed a brand statement that communicated emerging themes with a new, singular identity.

“They took the themes that came out and started working on a statement of who we were,” Karam says. “From that came a theme of ‘A true devotion to healing.’ And we all said, ‘Ahhhh. That’s it.’”

To arrive on that chosen brand statement, Karam, her steering committee and the consultants engaged in numerous roundtable discussions until consensus was achieved.

“The perspectives of each of those people around the table were very important,” she says. “With that task force, we were able to test out our different ideas.”

Having chosen that one idea — that one statement that encapsulated an identity — the health system now needed that one logo and name for representation.

“We were presented with a significant number of different logos and iterations,” Karam says. “We had five different proposals regarding themes and the mark.”

From those proposals, the health system’s leadership team chose two logos and two names that were brought before the steering committee for further input and slight modification. Feedback on the final options was then sought through roundtable discussions, focus groups with external audiences, and an online survey that was completed by 120 community leaders and internal stakeholders.

The collected input ultimately pointed toward the less cumbersome Sisters of Charity Health System moniker, as well as the “radiant cross” design that comprises beams of light reflecting outward service to those in need

Implement the brand

The logo and its meaning are inconsequential without the proper implementation. For this tricky process, Karam chose a firm that specializes in such strategic planning.

The consultant’s first task: get internal buy-in of the brand. This chore was made considerably easier given Karam’s insistence on stakeholder involvement throughout the campaign.

“Getting them involved front end, getting them engaged through the entire process, that enables us to be successful in implementation,” she says.

Still, those involved in the steering process represented only a fraction of the health system’s total personnel. To reach every employee, the consultants helped produce “With Devotion,” a DVD that told the collective story of the health system and reiterated the reasoning behind the image campaign.

“We had round-the-clock meetings to communicate with our employees,” Karam says. “We started every meeting with the DVD.”

In addition to showing “With Devotion” at every board meeting and every new employee orientation, the health care provider communicated the brand using a variety of other methods.

On Aug. 28 — the feast of St. Augustine, the patron saint of the founding sisters — all Sisters of Charity personnel received an e-mail blast with the official brand announcement, cupcakes featuring the new logo, invitations to a celebratory breakfast, and new letterhead and business cards featuring the new name and logo.

This internal celebration also coincided with the official public announcement. Here again, the brand was implemented through a plethora of channels.

First, Sisters of Charity sent aloe plants — known for their healing properties — with attached copies of the DVD to more than 160 key community leaders. To engage the general populace, it took out advertisements in various local papers and distributed more than 150 press releases. A new Web site, www.sistersofcharityhealth.org, was also launched. Finally, representatives from the health system personally delivered press kits to select state and federal government officials.

Though the implementation plan took a variety of approaches, it ultimately succeeded through repetition and inclusion. Karam says by repeating changes to every stakeholder or vendor — and it helps to first list them all — you can eliminate the confusion that usually results during any rebranding initiative.

“You’ve got to think about who are your major stakeholders that you need to communicate to so that you don’t skip a beat as far as your ability to collaborate, partner and provide high-quality care,” Karam says.

In the end, that’s what an image campaign should aspire to achieve — communicating a better representation of your company to the necessary stakeholders without skipping a beat.

Karam did so by seeking the ongoing opinion of internal and external representatives. She also adapted to this feedback even when it contradicted her own preferences.

“You need to have an open mind as far as listening and an openness to where you might end up,” she says.

And, of course, you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice your own sacred cows.

HOW TO REACH: Sisters of Charity Health System, (216) 875-4609 or www.sistersofcharityhealth.org

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

‘Yes’-man

Late one night, a desperate customer called Field Packaging Group LLC to request an order. Most of the company’s 70 employees had long since gone home, but Marty Field, Field Packaging’s president and managing partner, was still there and was more than willing to get his hands dirty to fill the customer’s request.

“I knew how to drive a forklift,” Field says. “We had to find the product that was in the warehouse. I dug it out and put it on the dock. It was ready for the customer to come and pick it up that night.”

Such dedicated service to his more than 300 customers has propelled the corrugated box manufacturer to 2006 revenue of $25 million.

Smart Business spoke with Field about how to always say “yes” to your customers while never overpromising.

Q: How do you provide superior customer service?

You get business for a number of reasons. If you’re not competitive, you’re not going to get the business. If your quality is not acceptable or superior, then you’re not going to retain the business. So that leaves service.

Our mantra is that our service to our customers must be superior to our competition. We must have an atmosphere where customers do not hesitate to approach us to ask for the unusual or the unreasonable. We must say ‘yes.’

So how do we do that? By having excess capacity. We have excess capacity because we have invested in new and better equipment that operates well. We invest in upgrading and updating and a lot of maintenance in our equipment so that it performs well, and we’ve invested in an efficiency bonus program so that by being more efficient, we have excess capacity.

If you have excess capacity, then you have flexibility. Use that flexibility to be able to always say ‘yes.’

Q: How do you always say ‘yes’ to your customers without overpromising?

Always do what you say you’re going to do. You must perform according to the way you promise.

If something happens, and you’re not able to perform, then you must communicate with the customer before the missed delivery date.

You must call them and say, ‘We have a problem here, and we promised to deliver tomorrow. Can we have an extra day?’

If the answer is yes, the customer is satisfied. We have not overpromised because we have communicated with them and have not disappointed.

Have production meetings every morning where the plant communicates with the sales [staff], and the sales [staff] thereby communicates with the customer. If you don’t open up the lines of communication within the company and from inside the company to your customer base, then you’re going to overpromise.

In addition, there are always quality problems from time to time. Nobody does everything perfect. Overpromising is when you promise to have perfect quality and you don’t. If you have a situation where you have a quality problem, it’s the ability to react very, very quickly and either replace the product or correct the problem so that the customer doesn’t experience any internal problems as a result of something you’ve done.

Q: How do you hold employees accountable to your standards?

We pay a bonus based on our efficiencies. When we started the program, we didn’t even know what our efficiencies were. We had to buy a new computer system and create standards based on what the same piece of equipment in our plant will do in any other plant across the country.

We put up chalkboards on every machine in the plant, and every day, we update the efficiencies for each piece of equipment and for the plant as a whole.

At the beginning of the month, we discuss the results of the previous month with everybody. If we have some quality incident, we talk about the specific quality incident.

When I say we hold people accountable, they’re holding themselves as accountable as we are because they get compensated for what they do. They also know what each crew is doing because it’s all there in public.

Q: What mistakes do CEOs make in running their businesses?

They lose track of what’s required in the marketplace. In order to run a business, you need to know what the requirement du jour is — what customers need.

For some customers, price is not an issue as long as you do superior service. Other customers, if your price is not extremely competitive, they’re not going to talk to you any further.

It’s the ability of being able to understand what motivates people, both from a sales standpoint and from an employee relations standpoint, and filling their needs.

Unless you get out there and you deal with the people, you’ll never know that. Spend time in the plant talking with people. Do a lot of entertaining so that you get to know customers better.

HOW TO REACH: Field Packaging Group LLC, (708) 594-5260 or www.fieldpackaginggroup.com

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

Mission man

In the constantly evolving business landscape, executives’ tenures are often abrupt and fleeting. As markets and businesses quickly change, so do the men and women who serve in a given managerial role.

Akron Children’s Hospital marks an exception to this rule. Its president and CEO, William Considine, has served for 28 years — an achievement he is quick to downplay.

“I tell people I was a patient here, and they never discharged me,” he says with a chuckle.

Though Considine was never actually a patient at the hospital, the remark accurately characterizes his humble, mission-driven style of leadership that harkens back to the hospital’s beginning more than 100 years ago.

“The core foundation that really brought (the hospital) together of service above self is still very much alive today,” he says.

That foundation has since evolved into a five-pronged mission statement that drives every aspect of the hospital’s day-to-day operations. Concerning family-centered patient care (mission component No. 2), Considine enlists the help of a parent advisory committee that provides input regarding whether or not the hospital is meeting its personal expectations.

With regards to child advocacy (mission component No. 5), the CEO, his management staff and a team of enthusiastic volunteers have spoken out on countless issues that affect children. For example, Akron Children’s led the charge to pass a city bicycle helmet ordinance when the number of head injuries spiked a few years ago.

To measure the success of these efforts, Considine relies upon a single question: Are we continuing to serve?

With more than 467,000 children involved in all of the hospital’s programs, a thousand more surgical procedures conducted this year than last and an increasing presence within surrounding communities, the answer to that question is undoubtedly “yes.”

“When you’re talking about doing things for kids, there’s no limit in terms of what you really can do if you put your mind to it,” Considine says.

In his 28 years, it’s clear that he has put his mind to quite a lot. With his mission-oriented leadership style, Considine is one “patient” that Akron Children’s might not want to discharge any time soon.

HOW TO REACH: Akron Children’s Hospital, (330) 543-1000 or www.akronchildrens.org