Legend has it that in 1505, shortly after Michelangelo’s David was placed at the main entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, Pope Julius II marveled at its brilliance and questioned the artist about how the masterpiece was created.

As the story goes, Michelangelo responded, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Whether this conversation actually happened is anybody’s guess, but the exchange provides a glimpse into the mind of a genius who could see what others could not.

Today, similar visionaries populate the landscape. In the business world, they often manifest themselves in the form of entrepreneurs.

One of the greatest skill sets that entrepreneurs possess is the ability to balance calculated risk-taking with a dogged pursuit of ideas they believe will succeed. This is combined with a passion for the solutions, products and services being offered, and a keen understanding of the marketplace. Entrepreneurs have a very good sense of what people will or will not buy, and are willing to continuously tweak their solutions to adapt to changing needs, wants and desires.

But draw back the curtain a bit more and you’ll find that an entrepreneur’s real mystique lies elsewhere. It is his or her mysterious sixth sense used for noticing gaps in the marketplace that others fail to see. It is the ability to understand the gap and develop effective solutions that fill it.

Thirty years ago, who could have predicted how ubiquitous smartphones would be?

Sure, if you watched episodes of Star Trek in the 1960s you noticed those nifty communicators that Captain Kirk and his crew used. They not-too-surprisingly look like the early flip phones of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But today’s smartphone — essentially a pocket computer that packs so much power — required a different kind of vision, much like Michelangelo seeing the angel in the marble.

Most of the savviest entrepreneurs I know go through life looking at what will be once you remove everything that doesn’t belong. They see opportunities to create markets where markets do not or have not existed. Their efforts, and vision for what could be, fuel the economy and create jobs.

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, however. Even the best ideas often fail. Depending on which source you believe, as many as nine out of every 10 new business start-ups won’t make it to year three.

Two other factors play critical roles in bringing what you see to life — timing and people.

Having the right idea at the wrong time can doom even the most passionate of efforts. And if you don’t surround yourself with smart and capable people who complement both your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll either swiftly run out of bandwidth or be unable to effectively execute on the ideas.

All of which brings us back to the idea of vision.

How important is vision and this mysterious ability to see what’s not there?

It is the true crux of success. Vision is knowing what’s needed for the right market at the right time at the right price point. It is understanding through which channels the solutions need to be delivered. And it is recognizing how to best amplify an idea so you can reach as large an audience of potential consumers as possible and maximize revenue opportunities

Michelangelo summed up his artistic philosophy simply:  “Every block of stone has a statue inside it. It is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

As entrepreneurs, the question is therefore straightforward:  How will you discover the next great business idea? And more important, can it have as lasting an impact as David?

Published in Cleveland
Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:00

Helping your team work together

Whether in the workplace or in sports, teamwork can produce extraordinary results. While this seems like a relatively simple task, teamwork does not happen automatically. There are a number of factors that are required for a team to develop and work cohesively and seamlessly.

At Clark-Reliance, we attempt to always use the following rules in our interactions:

Help each other be right, not wrong.

This is the underpinning of all successful teamwork. Our employees are encouraged to try to help their colleagues make a correct decision. This helps to avoid duplication of tasks. It also helps to avoid tasks being executed which are not in the best interest of the company.

Look for ways to make ideas work, not for reasons they won’t.

Make sure that you are promoting listening skills. Never dismiss an idea from someone. Listen to what someone else has to contribute and to try to help make that idea work.

If in doubt, check it out!

Don’t make negative assumptions about each other.

Simply stated — don’t engage in water cooler banter. Instead of fostering negative communication, create an environment of positive communication. If you are uncertain about something, go to the person directly and verify the facts.

Help each other win, and take pride in each other’s victories.

Celebrate your co-worker’s accomplishments. Share compliments. You will find that your enthusiasm is contagious.

Speak positively about each other and the organization.

When you have a chance (internally or externally) speak positively about your colleagues or your company. This can be at press opportunities or charitable events. Always promote the company and your colleagues.

Maintain a positive mental attitude no matter what the circumstances. 

The adage, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it,” can be applied in life and business.

There will inevitably be difficult circumstances where difficult decisions will need to be made in a decisive manner. You have to carry a positive attitude no matter the outcome of those decisions. Do everything with enthusiasm because if you have a good attitude, it will come back to you in return.

Act with initiative and courage.

This is Clark-Reliance’s “empowerment team rule.” We spend a lot of time ensuring that everyone in our organization understands that they have the right to participate and are encouraged to take the initiative to help drive positive outcomes, no matter how small they believe their idea is.

We want our employees to feel comfortable to take the initiative to do what they know is right. We want them to understand what the company is trying to accomplish.

Whatever you want, give it away.

This is troubling for some. For example if you want someone to trust you and have them respect and trust you, then you need to engender those same values in someone else.

If you want to be trusted and respected, you have to be trusted and respectful as well.  Those who trust and respect others are generally those most trusted and respected by others.

Don’t lose faith.

There are always going to be times when the rules have been stressed, strained and broken. As long as everyone keeps pushing in the same direction, it will heal itself.

Have fun.

We want everyone to have fun doing what they do. We are direct and serious about running a successful business, but we want employees to have a positive, fulfilled and enriching career, and so should you.

 

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

Published in Columnist

Most successful businesspeople agree with Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote when it comes to strategic planning, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” A leader’s approach to strategic planning can vary greatly in length of time, measurement of progress, commitment and ultimately in the results.

I would argue that a detailed, strategic plan spanning longer than three years is too long to be relevant. Tactics identified too far in advance cannot keep up with the fast pace of changing technology, new information and changes in the economy to make the plan meaningful.

Here are my three essential elements to the strategic planning process:

Range of specifics

Leading an organization with an established three-year plan creates an environment where your internal team understands where you are going and what you must do to get there. In a franchise organization, this level of planning helps the franchisor foster confidence in franchisees that your plan is to drive revenue and profit — theirs and yours.

All three years of the strategic plan are not created equal. Here’s how plans are structured in my organization:

 

 

  • Current year: Have a one-year very detailed plan where everything is accounted for. Each objective must be specific and outline tactics, deadlines, human and financial resources involved and the method of measurement.

 

 

 

 

  • Year two: This plan has objectives with projected tactics and resources. The specifics will be incorporated during the annual planning process, where previous performance can be factored and available resources are clear.

 

 

 

 

  • Year three: Proposed objectives are the only details required for a three-year outlook. The annual objectives outlined help determine your course of action toward the previously stated five-year overall goal.

 

 

Monitor progress

Second to the importance of planning is tracking progress toward what you set out to accomplish. Quarterly, the board of directors assembles to receive updates from the divisions responsible for driving the collective success. The company’s leadership team has bi-weekly updates and each month, the entire organization gathers to understand the current status and how they can make an impact.

By building in regularly scheduled reviews, you are building the ability to be flexible into your business.

I’ve written about serendipity before as it relates to purchasing Mr. Handyman and being approached by an owner of PuroClean to join forces. Had our set plans been too rigid, we may have steered clear of these acquisitions due to imperfect timing and missed out on the chance to build our company’s holdings of in-demand professional home service franchises. There are times when it makes sense to adjust.

Embrace commitment

Teams must be completely committed to the annual strategic plan. It is the easy way out to simply change the plan when you don’t think you will make it. Finalize the plan, hold your people accountable to it and find ways to achieve what you set out to do.

Create incentives for your team to benefit when the shared goals are achieved. Years ago, we established a quarterly bonus program which has unified my team to work toward our revenue and store-count goals. Team members know what the company is trying to achieve, and they can also earn additional rewards for setting and meeting personal objectives in their area of influence.

As the assembly line inventor Henry Ford said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.” Commit to your strategic plans and celebrate the successes of achieving them.

David McKinnon is the co-founder and chairman of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman and ProTect Painters. To contact McKinnon, send him an email at davidm@servicebrands.com

Published in Columnist

Read this quote and think about whether it sounds like something you have heard before:

“Stay under the radar. Do enough just to get by. Don’t make waves. Get the most out of your benefits such as sick time. Do only what you’re asked to do. If you are asked for more, do just enough to meet minimum expectations.”

This is an employee who is completely disengaged. Instead of leaving the organization, which might be a blessing, this employee will “retire in place.”

Employees who retire in place substantially impact the bottom line, as well as the satisfaction of other employees. One bad apple, if not addressed, can spoil the bunch.

Stand up

There are ways to counter such an attitude, however, and even turn such an employee into a highly engaged, stellar performer. The research on engagement highlights a number of actions that can help employees feel more connected and motivated, and avoid “retiring in place.”

These include the following:

 

 

  • Aligning employees with the goals and mission of the organization

 

 

  • Regularly sharing information from top leaders, and being sincerely interested in employees

 

 

  • Providing opportunities for employees to improve skills and abilities

 

 

  • Offering regular feedback on performance

 

 

  • Allowing input into decision-making

 

 

  • Encouraging innovative thinking, and an acceptance of risk

 

 

  • Building and sustaining a positive relationship between the manager and each employee and within teams.

 

 

Consulting firm Towers Watson, formerly Towers Perrin, has highlighted a number of characteristics demonstrated by engaging leaders. The first is high emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” noted that individuals with high emotional intelligence are skilled in understanding, interpreting and responding to emotions. They effectively deal with social and emotional conflicts and appropriately manage emotions to achieve best outcomes.

Additional characteristics of engaging leaders include great communication skills, a coaching/involvement orientation, the ability to inspire others and demonstrating authenticity and humility.

Use more than one approach

At the same time, employing engaging actions alone is not sufficient. Leaders cannot approach all employees in a cookie-cutter manner and assume that they all will respond in the same ways, or even perceive leadership actions as having the same intent and meaning.

The key to more effective engagement is looking from the inside out — how and what employees perceive is their reality. What is encouraging to one person is discouraging to another.

One person’s recognition is another person’s discomfort. What is motivating to one is demotivating to another.

The role of perception

The reality is that the value of an employee’s relationship with a leader, a manager, peers, and the organization itself is based on many factors. The most critical is the role of perception.

Organizations can do a much better job of managing perceptions. In his article “Coming to Grips with Organisational Values,” Vijay Padaki noted that a consistent set of practices over time are the organization’s values. Interrelated values that are internally consistent are the organization’s value system, he wrote.

If leaders at all levels take a sincere interest in employees and understand their perceptions, these leaders can do a better job of connecting personal needs and values with those of the organization. Leaders often have best intentions, but employees can be left feeling not heard and unappreciated.

Without understanding the context of what employees believe and feel, leaders run the risk of misaligning and discouraging employees. Without leaders consistently demonstrating their values, employees will perceive a different reality than possibly intended.

Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. He also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at jcolker@adler.edu or at (312) 213-3421.

Published in Columnist

The Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) initiative, rolled out in 2011, is the most recent way the federal government regulates the heavy truck and bus industries to ensure safe operation of commercial vehicles on our highways.

Companies directly affected are trucking companies, hazardous material haulers, some private carriers, heavy truck fleets and bus companies. But shippers, freight brokers and any companies that hire motor carriers to handle business transportation needs should review and monitor the safety scores of the companies they use.

“Courts have found liability in hiring a motor carrier with known safety issues and violations. This has placed an even greater need for motor carriers and other transportation companies to ensure they have good CSA scores,” says Kevin Forbes, sales executive at ECBM.

Smart Business spoke with Forbes about the CSA program and its impact on insurance.

How does the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA work?

The goal is to reduce the number of crashes and crash-related deaths involving large trucks; statistics show the federal government’s involvement in safety compliance has helped. With local partners like state police and Department of Transportation (DOT) officials performing inspections and collecting data, the government uses the CSA system to rate motor carriers and bus companies against their peers and create standards of safety compliance. Motor carriers that don’t follow safety regulations can be put out of business.

How has the safety measurement system (SMS) changed?

The SMS is the database that stores and sorts the safety information collected by the various enforcement agencies. The old model was limited in its scope and effectiveness. The new system breaks the safety areas into seven categories called BASIC, or Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, which are:

 

 

  • Unsafe driving.

 

 

 

 

  • Hours of service, the amount of time drivers are allowed to drive.

 

 

 

 

  • Driver fitness.

 

 

 

 

  • Controlled substance/alcohol.

 

 

 

 

  • Vehicle maintenance.

 

 

 

 

  • Hazard substance compliance.

 

 

 

 

  • Crash indicator.

 

 

Information collected during roadside inspections and DOT compliance audits is used to promote safety by rating carriers in these areas. By monitoring these, the system seeks to identify problem motor carriers that need compliance review, as well as notify motor carriers of issues they might be having so they can focus on those areas.

How has CSA affected insurance?

The initiative stores information on all of the different roadside inspections for each company, which is available online to anyone at ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms. With this information and more at the underwriter’s fingertips, motor carriers and bus companies have had to focus on keeping BASIC category scores down to ensure competitive insurance pricing.

This trend will likely continue as the CSA program provides regulators and insurance carriers with long-term data trends. Insurance companies are using the data to develop predictive modeling programs that identify loss-indicating trends of transportation companies. In renewal negotiations there is sometimes a greater focus on CSA scores than that company’s specific loss history.

How can businesses decrease their risk?

For transportation companies, a proactive approach to understanding the regulations should provide for lower insurance costs, quality shipper/customer relationships and more money to the bottom line.

The CSA regulation places a greater onus on the drivers, so proper communication and education of the driver workforce is necessary. Strong hiring practices are crucial. Investing in newer equipment and technologies also can help reduce scores. Vehicles can be equipped with safety features such as lane departure warnings, rollover warning devices, computer/video monitoring devices for driver behavior and more.

Companies must monitor their scores and see what areas they need to focus on. Your broker can help you in this constantly changing process.

Kevin Forbes is a sales executive at ECBM. Reach him at (610) 668-7100, ext. 1322 or kforbes@ecbm.com.

For more information about risk management, see ECBM's blog.

Insights Risk Management is brought to you by ECBM

Published in Philadelphia
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