An employee’s commute to and from work can be costly in terms of money spent on gas, insurance, and wear and tear on a vehicle, and the increased stress it brings. However, there are programs available that companies can support that will help alleviate employee stress, reduce absenteeism, save employees money and improve productivity.
“One of the benefits of a commuter program is that it provides a less-stressful commute to and from work,” says Tim Dilsaver, Pace Suburban Bus’ community affairs representative for Lake County, Ill. “It leads to a better parking situation, with companies often providing preferential parking to commuters; fewer cars in your office parking lot; and commuters getting a break on their personal car insurance because they’re not using their primary vehicle to get to and from work.”
Smart Business spoke with Dilsaver about commuter programs and the benefits they bring to both employees and companies.
How does a commuter program get organized at a company?
There are several types of commuter programs that people use. A couple of examples include public transportation and an informal employee carpool. But there are also commercial programs that can benefit both passengers and companies alike. One program, operated by Pace, uses vans that pick up passengers at existing bus and train stations and also can pick up people from their homes or at other predetermined locations.
Similar to an employee-organized carpool, this ride-sharing program utilizes vans that pick up groups of up to 13 people along a route and transport them to and from work. The vehicle is provided, as is the maintenance, gas, insurance, van washes and tolls.
Participants can choose their routes and select their pickup times. Furthermore, this program offers a Guaranteed Ride Home program in the event that a participant has to leave work early for, say, a family emergency. The cost of a taxi is reimbursed up to a certain amount when situations prevent a rider from being able to use the vanpool.
How do employees benefit from a commuter program?
Employees benefit by saving thousands on commuting expenses during the course of a year. They also benefit from having less stressful commutes. They don’t have to deal with the drudgery of a morning drive. Instead, while someone else is driving, they can sleep, prepare for the workday, talk with the other commuters or just watch the world go by. Employees also save because they’re putting less wear and tear on their personal vehicles and refueling less often.
How do companies benefit from commuter programs?
Companies benefit from commuter programs by having employees who arrive at work less stressed. It’s also a great way for those who don’t have reliable transportation to have an affordable and reliable way to get to work, which ultimately improves attendance and employee retention. Companies can provide premium spaces for vanpools and carpools and free up spaces in the company lot because the vans can hold as many as 13 passengers, which opens up additional parking.
They often appoint a transportation coordinator who oversees the program, enrolls employees in the pretax payroll deduction program, and chooses pickup and drop-off locations at the place of business.
A commuter program also can provide businesses with matching grants that can be used to set up a program. For example, with one program in Chicago and the collar counties of northern Illinois, the company puts up $2,000 that’s matched by the provider.
It can be used for a range of things, including signage that designates commuter program parking and to support raffles for items such as bikes to promote green transportation. It’s a great way for a company to support environmentally friendly alternatives to driving.
What are the common responses from companies and employees using such commuter programs?
Companies that participate in commuter programs are excited by the results. These programs start with one vehicle, and then word of mouth spreads quickly and companies soon have as many as 10 commuter vehicles bringing employees to and from work for all shifts, day and night.
Human resources personnel who promote the program say their employees really enjoy it. The HR representatives put sign-up sheets on the Internet to allow people to sign up and fill open spaces, which are quickly taken.
Employees say they save money compared to what they would spend driving their own car because the fees associated with the commuter program don’t come close to what they spend driving alone to and from work. They also skip the drudgery of daily drives and the traffic jams, and many employees say they would never go back to the daily drive.
Are there any environmental benefits companies can promote that are related to providing commuter programs to employees?
Commuter programs allow companies and employees a chance to reduce their carbon footprint by having fewer cars drive to and from the workplace. Less gas is consumed, traffic is reduced and many issues with crowded parking are resolved. Some companies have multiple vehicles running in the program, which means significantly fewer cars are traveling to the facility.
Tim Dilsaver is the community affairs representative for Lake County, Ill., at Pace Suburban Bus. Reach him at (847) 228-4282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information on Pace’s RideShare program is available at www.PaceRideShare.com.
Insights Transportation is brought to you by Pace Suburban Bus
It is widely understood that organizing a business as a corporation or a limited liability company insulates its owners from personal liability for the debts of the company. What is less well appreciated is that, under certain circumstances, such protection can be lost.
“When a creditor of a corporation or limited liability company is unable to collect from the company itself, it is not unusual for it to try to circumvent the corporate shield and recover the amount owed from the individual, or parent company, which owns the debtor entity,” says Michael A. Weinberg, a partner with the business litigation specialty firm Novack and Macey LLP. “Such attempts to ‘pierce the corporate veil’ face steep legal hurdles, but nonetheless can, under certain circumstances, pose real threats to owners of corporations and LLCs. Accordingly, it is imperative not only that owners understand why such piercing attempts sometimes succeed and how they can avoid such a fate, but that creditors understand when pursuit of a veil-piercing remedy is warranted.”
Smart Business spoke with Weinberg about the factors that Illinois courts consider when determining whether corporate veils should be pierced in debtor-creditor disputes, how business owners can minimize the risk of exposure to personal liability for company debt and when creditors should think about seeking a veil-piercing remedy.
What is veil-piercing, and when might it come into play as a means of collection?
As a general rule, corporations are entities distinct from their shareholders and LLCs are entities distinct from their members. Accordingly, those owners are not liable for the entities’ debts. The doctrine of veil-piercing recognizes that situations may arise when the legal separation between entity and ownership should be stripped away. In those instances, corporate shareholders or LLC members can be held personally liable for company debts and liabilities. Piercing the veil is an extraordinary remedy and creditors should not view it as a routine tactic whenever a corporation or LLC defaults on a debt or obligation. The purpose of veil-piercing is to prevent fraud or grave injustice, and where such conditions are absent, piercing efforts are likely to fail.
In cases arising out of commercial relationships, and not torts where different considerations may apply, Illinois courts frequently apply a two-part test to decide whether veil-piercing is appropriate. Part one is whether the corporation or LLC is operating as a mere ‘alter ego’ for the owner, and part two is whether adherence to the fiction of separate corporate existence facilitates fraud or inequitable consequences. That a business fails, and cannot meet its obligations, does not ordinarily implicate fraud or injustice, and indeed, that is seldom the case. However, occasionally, the way in which a corporation or LLC is run demonstrates that it was operated as a mere instrumentality of its owner, so that it would be unfair to allow the owner to escape personal liability for the company’s obligations. In those circumstances, a creditor may appropriately consider pursuit of a veil-piercing remedy.
What factors do courts consider when deciding if veil-piercing is justified?
Courts have identified a number of factors that help determine if and when a veil should be pierced in cases arising out of commercial transactions. Those factors include, among other things, inadequate capitalization; failure to issue stock; non-observance of corporate formalities, such as maintaining corporate record books, holding directors or shareholders meetings, etc.; failure to pay dividends or make distributions; insolvency; no real role or duties performed by non-owner officers; absence of corporate records; commingling of funds; diversion of company funds by or to a shareholder or other recipient to the detriment of creditors; lack of arms-length relationships among related entities; and whether the corporation is merely a façade for the operations of the dominant shareholders. No ‘magic number’ of factors need be present for veil-piercing to be justified, but it is equally clear that fewer than all of the factors can be sufficient to support application of the remedy.
What should business owners do to minimize the risk of veil-piercing?
It’s simple: Avoid any of the 11 things I just mentioned. Too many business owners assume that, once they have organized their enterprise as a corporation or LLC, their worries are over. That leads to sloppy practices and opens the door to veil-piercing. Maintaining proper records and paperwork, holding required meetings, providing reasonable start-up capital, segregating assets from those of related entities and not taking company resources for personal benefit when business circumstances do not justify such transfers will go a long way toward preserving the limited liability protection that the corporate or LLC forms of an organization were intended to provide.
From a creditor’s perspective, when should veil-piercing be considered as a possible remedy?
Start by asking whether a fraud or injustice occurred. There has to be something fundamentally unfair about how and why a creditor did not get paid if piercing is to come into play. Just because a business goes belly-up does not mean it was being operated as an alter ego of its owners. Millions of companies fail, but only a tiny fraction of those businesses will have functioned in such a way as to justify a veil-piercing claim. If a creditor feels something about the debtor’s operation does not pass the smell test, or better yet, if some of the 11 factors referred to earlier are known to be present, then further inquiry as to whether veil-piercing should be pursued is warranted. Where the minimum required support for a veil-piercing claim can be mustered in support of a complaint, discovery will often turn up further facts, which strengthen the claim. However, Illinois courts do not favor veil-piercing, so the odds of success are remote.
Michael A. Weinberg is a partner with the business litigation specialty firm Novack and Macey LLP. Reach him at (312) 419-6900 or email@example.com.
Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Novack and Macey LLP
As parents advance in age, it often falls on the shoulders of their children or other family members to begin handling their parent's financial affairs, according to Ed Wojciechowski, Financial Advisor with FirstMerit Financial Services. "But this is often easier said than done," says Wojciechowski. "Many seniors don’t like giving up control of their finances. They are not comfortable, for many reasons, divulging the details of their personal finances. However, failing to help elderly parents put their financial house in order leaves family members in a difficult situation when there is an untimely death or disability."
To initiate a conversation about this topic with parents and gain their cooperation, Wojciechowski recommends that adult children begin by expressing their genuine concern and desire to help. A family meeting can sometimes be a helpful forum for this conversation.
"There are many different ways to go about planning a family meeting," says Wojciechowski. "To start, I encourage my clients to meet with me separately beforehand. For example, I will visit with my mature clients privately to discuss their financial situation to make sure I understand the needs and concerns they have. We then set up a separate appointment with the children or a close family member to discuss the parent’s financials and long-term care wishes."
During the family meeting, extensive notes are taken outlining an inventory of the parents' assets. Wojciechowski provides a form for their use; a Family Discussion Checklist, a tool that is unique to FirstMerit. The Family Discussion Checklist is designed to help organize all important financial documents in one place. It details monthly income and expenses, bank statements, investment account statements, insurance policies, long-term care insurance, trusts, loans and mortgage documents. The checklist identifies which financial documents currently exist, where they are located, and which documents are still needed.
After the checklist is complete, Wojciechowski works with the family to analyze the parent's financial situation and see what help may be needed.
"I try to find out what their concerns are, or whether there is a particular piece of the financial puzzle they are concerned with," he says. "The answers vary from family to family based on each person's unique financial situation and goals. For example, we discuss adding a Power of Attorney, or after consulting a tax professional, we may decide to add a trusted family member as a joint owner or other similar arrangements may be a solution. In some instances, beneficiaries may be added to the parent's accounts so that the designation is in place if something unexpected happens to the parent."
"No matter what solutions are decided upon by the family," adds Wojciechowski, "the service that many of our family clients value highly is the convenience and assurance of having a trusted advisor to work alongside them."
The process for connecting generations and coordinating the financial affairs of the older generation can be comprehensive, but at the end of the day, it can be a unifying experience for the entire family when parents have the assurance that their wishes are being followed even after they are gone.
For more information on managing finances for the elderly in your life, contact Ed Wojciechowski, Financial Advisor, FirstMerit Financial Services Inc., at (708) 529-2158.
Securities offered through FirstMerit Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC; Advisory Services offered through FirstMerit Advisors, Inc.; Insurance products offered through FirstMerit Insurance Agency, Inc., affiliates of FirstMerit Bank, N.A.
Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.
Simply put, empathy is the ability to step into someone else's shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs.
In the workplace, empathy can show a deep respect for co-workers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale and loyalty. Empathy is a powerful tool in the leadership belt of a well-liked and respected executive.
We could all take a lesson from nurses about being empathetic. Time and again, nurses rate as the most trusted profession. Why? Because they use proper empathy to make patients feel cared for and safe.
Over the years I have discovered that most people who score high on assessments for empathy have no idea why. They do not completely understand what it is they actually do that makes others see them as empathetic. They can only express that they:
- Like people.
- Enjoy working with and helping others.
- Value people as individuals.
In order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the importance of empathy in the workplace, I will pose four questions regarding the nature, role and benefits of empathy.
1. Why does it matter for us to understand the needs of others?
By understanding others we develop closer relationships.
The radar of every good executive just went off when they read the word “relationships.” This is not a bad thing since most people understand the problems that happen when improper relationships are developed in the workplace.
This being said, the baby cannot be thrown out with the bath water. In order for a team of workers and their leaders to work powerfully together, proper relationships must be built and deepened.
When this happens through empathy, trust is built in the team. When trust is built, good things begin to happen.
2. What traits/behaviors distinguish someone as empathetic?
Empathy requires three things: listening, openness and understanding.
Empathetic people listen attentively to what you’re telling them, putting their complete focus on the person in front of them and not getting easily distracted. They spend more time listening than talking because they want to understand the difficulties others face, all of which helps to give those around them the feeling of being heard and recognized.
Empathetic executives and managers realize that the bottom line of any business is only reached through and with people. Therefore, they have an attitude of openness towards and understanding of the feelings and emotions of their team members.
3. What role does empathy play in the workplace? Why does it matter?
When we understand our team, we have a better idea of the challenges ahead of us.
To drive home the above point, further consider these:
- Empathy allows us to feel safe with our failures because we won’t simply be blamed for them.
- It encourages leaders to understand the root cause behind poor performance.
- Being empathetic allows leaders to help struggling employees improve and excel.
Empathy plays a major role in the workplace for every organization that will deal with failures, poor performance and employees who truly want to succeed. As leaders, our role is simple—deal empathetically with our team and watch them build a strong and prosperous organization.
4. So why aren’t we being more empathetic at work?
Empathy takes work.
- Demonstrating empathy takes time and effort to show awareness and understanding.
- It’s not always easy to understand why an employee thinks or feels the way they do about a situation.
- It means putting others ahead of yourself, which can be a challenge in today’s competitive workplace.
- Many organizations are focused on achieving goals no matter what the cost to employees.
Each of these reasons can be seen as true.
Let me ask a question though: What distinguishes average to mediocre leaders from those who excel?
In my opinion, the distinction comes through the ability of the leader who actively works against all the so-called “reasons” and incorporates an attitude of empathy throughout his or her organization. That type of leader will excel.
By spending more time learning about the needs of their employees, leaders can set the tone and approach taken by their employees to achieve their organization’s goals.
When writing about empathy I am reminded of the famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
This is a truth that has long stood the test of time. It is true for our relationships in and out of the workplace.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Roadblocks abound in business. Most business owners have been told, “No, we won’t fund your great invention.” Most executives have been told, “We’re not ready yet” to enter that wide-open, new market. But how they respond to those obstacles, the “no”s that are inevitable, is often a good indicator of who will ultimately succeed.
The first step is to step back and assess the causes of the opposition. That likely requires asking probing questions to get insight about the reasons and reasoning behind the rejection. The banker who rejected your idea may have valuable insight into your industry sector, information that could affect how you choose to proceed.
While data gathering, also probe for guidance on how to make your proposal stronger, when to re-pitch your proposal and who else may have decision-making or decision-influencing authority. The goal should be to identify possible avenues for future appeals.
Armed with the new information, it’s useful to then take a look back at where you are in relation to your goals for the project. Review and celebrate your successes. It will give you the energy to continue onward. But measuring your results, as well as who helped you accomplish the past results, also may shed light on who may be able to guide or assist you in your next steps.
Now, modify your strategy. Every rejection should be viewed as an opportunity to improve. Your planned adjustments should be listed and scheduled. Then, as you progress in making changes, you will be able to see your accomplishments and have a record of how you responded to different scenarios for future reference. It also will give you a clear return on investment in time and energy spent and keep you centered on progress.
Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.
There are many pressures on organizations to make the most out of every customer interaction and maximize the return on investment on marketing and sales spend. However, businesses often don’t have the work force necessary to handle these functions as timely and effectively as they would like or the tools and processes in place to measure and track success. Companies that are able to track interaction, engagement, investments and customer patterns and behaviors often enlist the help of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
“A CRM tool helps businesses manage sales, marketing and customer service operations without significantly expanding their work force,” says Gina Rosen, a consultant at Columbus. “CRM, in the past, may have been nice to have — a luxury technology, but in today’s marketplace, it’s a must have to stay competitive.”
Smart Business spoke with Rosen about CRM, its applications and how it has helped businesses improve processes to better engage customers, target sales and gauge marketing effectiveness.
What are the typical features offered by a CRM system?
The features offered by CRM are very diverse. It’s primary applications are contact management; marketing automation; sales force automation; sales and lead management; reporting and analytics; call center and case management, particularly with respect to customer inquiries or complaints; workflow automation, or automating manual processes; and social media integrations. Businesses have the option for on-premise solutions where the software is hosted at the business on its servers, or they can utilize a Web-based or cloud option, which involves less initial financial investment. The software can also be customized to meet the particular needs of a business.
Is CRM cost prohibitive for businesses?
No it is not, however, had this question been asked six or seven years ago the answer would have been yes. Previously, enterprise-ready CRM software required significant funds to get the software and hardware in place. But with the advent of cloud-based solutions, even businesses run by a sole proprietor can afford CRM and leverage its applications to optimize processes. The cloud-based model allows business owners to pay through subscriptions that charge per user. The pay per user cloud-based model offers a low-cost opportunity to implement CRM, experience the value and see the return on investment (ROI).
What are the most compelling reasons an organization would implement CRM technology?
A recent survey of 200 top-performing small and medium-sized businesses showed that the number one reason businesses implement CRM software is to establish data-based metrics for sales and marketing. It also provides the ability to show ROI and quantitative key marketing metrics that mean a lot to businesses.
The second reason CRM is implemented is to proactively communicate with customers. Customers expect a lot these days, and one of those expectations is that businesses, whether small or large, interact with them. To stay in front of your customers and offer personal interaction is critical.
Within that same vein, the third reason companies take advantage of this software is for custom-targeted sales and marketing. With CRM you can customize that end user experience, which makes your sales force more effective. Customers can interact directly with your CRM custom solution through your existing website and experience a tailored visit based on previous interactions, or your sales force can utilize the standard feature when interacting with customers and have all of a customer’s history available in one spot.
What are the most important value drivers for CRM?
The top value for a business is the software’s ability to help manage marketing and sales campaigns. CRM can help businesses test marketing and distribution strategies and gauge customer reactions. This information can be applied to future marketing efforts.
Another important value driver is that the software serves as a customer data repository, allowing you to consolidate customer knowledge within the organization in CRM. This includes far more than just contact details, but also customer behaviors and attitudes and price sensitivity. This, combined with personal data, can allow businesses to build more effective and predictive sales models and marketing campaigns that result in higher sales.
Further, CRM systems can help demonstrate ROI. With CRM you can quantitatively show increases in sales, customer referrals and participation in promotions.
What is the most common challenge a business faces when implementing CRM?
Typically the challenge is user adoption — getting your sales force and front line users to embrace CRM. They often see populating the fields as double entry, an extra step, or another way for management to check in on them. But once the sales force sees that using the software results in more sales, they can easily overcome that hurdle.
What are the most common performance metrics?
The top one, hands down, is revenue growth. The faster you can show ROI the better.
Second is growth in a business’s customer base, which means adding new customers or converting leads into paying customers.
The third most common performance metric is aggregating customer data. Many companies have customer data spread out over disparate systems. CRM gives businesses a one-stop shop for their records.
Can you give us some examples of companies that have benefited from implementing CRM?
The Toledo Mud Hens baseball team, which works within the media and entertainment industry, had ticket sales go up 88 percent in one year and their internal operations couldn’t keep up with demand. Adopting CRM allowed them to automate and streamline inefficient processes, which translated into more ticket sales. A customer testimonial is available with more information.
Another example is the human resources consulting firm Findley Davies. Implementing CRM in their call center has given them the ability to manage daily responsibilities and track productivity. It has dramatically changed and improved day-to-day operations within their Benefits Administration department.
Gina Rosen is a consultant at Columbus. Contact her at (248) 850-2195 or email@example.com.
With more than 20 years in the market and 6,000 successful business implementations, Columbus is a preferred Microsoft Dynamics business partner for ambitious companies. Columbus’ key deliverables include flexible and future-safe ERP, CRM, BI and related business applications that deliver competitive advantage and immediate impact.
According to Joe Takash, the president of Victory Consulting, it can be accomplished by following a technique used by the late former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden (1910-2010). Yes, that’s right. He lived to be 99 years old.
In his latest Smart Connection video, “Build morale in less than a second,” Takash describes how Wooden used his “Thank You Rule.”
The key to his success was threefold.
No. 1, he knew his trade extremely well.
No. 2, he knew discipline extremely well.
No. 3, and maybe most importantly, Wooden knew people and how to motivate them.
Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based executive and organizational development firm. He advises clients on leadership strategies and has helped executives prepare for $3 billion worth of sales presentations. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales meetings and management conferences and has appeared in numerous media outlets. Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com.
Polly LaBarre is the co-author (with Bill Taylor) of “Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win.” The strategies, tactics and advice in “Mavericks at Work” grew out of in-depth access to a collection of forward-looking companies. These maverick companies are attracting millions of customers, creating thousands of jobs and generating billions of dollars of wealth.
Here is a portion of my interview with LaBarre about the book, which covers forming strategies, unleashing ideas, connecting with customers and enabling employees to achieve great results.
Q: Describe what you mean by “maverick.”
A: Mavericks are different, edgy and independent of spirit. Their personal style or message may not appeal to everyone. But that’s precisely the point. Mavericks are defined by the power and originality of their ideas. They stand out from the crowd because they stand for something truly unique. What’s more, they take stands against the status quo, in defiance of the industry elite and offer compelling alternatives to business as usual. Mavericks may be fighters, but they’re not rebels without a cause. Their sense of purpose is not only powerfully distinct (Think: Southwest Airline’s quest to democratize the skies); it’s provocative and disruptive (Think: HBO’s declaration of originality, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO”).
Don’t confuse mavericks’ unswerving commitment to a cause and their lack of patience for the status quo with the egotism, monomania and power mongering modeled by too many celebrity CEOs and moguls. Mavericks, in fact, have a sense of humility.
Q: Are mavericks born or made?
A: It’s probably a little bit nature, a little bit nurture. We wrote this book to nurture the maverick in all businesspeople. What red-blooded working person wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says, ‘I think I’ll stand for business as usual today’? We all want to make a mark, forge our own path and express ourselves in the world. It’s just that some of us need more of a nudge down that path than others.
Hopefully, the maverick individuals and ideas we present are inspiring and instructive enough to move people. The 32 companies we feature have vastly different histories, cultures and business models. We examined glamorous fields like fashion, advertising and Hollywood, as well as old-line industries like construction, mining and household products. The maverick leaders of these organizations are young, old, women, men, Americans, Europeans, charismatic and preacher-like, retiring and almost reticent. They just don’t fit any one mold.
Q: How does a maverick survive within a traditional company?
A: We encountered a bunch of mavericks inside big traditional companies. They all seemed to have a couple of survival strategies in common: They unleashed tough questions and critiques of their organization without losing their sense of loyalty to it. They’re the kind of questions every CEO should be asking. For example, Jane Harper asked of IBM, ‘Why would great people want to work here?’ And Larry Huston, now vice president of innovation at Procter & Gamble, argued, ‘The current business model for R&D is broken. How can P&G possibly build all of the scientific capabilities we need by ourselves?’
Mavericks don’t just ask questions, they act. We saw this again and again: They just got started, usually without a budget or formal permission, by designing an experiment around their question. Jane Harper launched an experimental Extreme Blue lab in Cambridge and spent a couple of years begging and borrowing resources until the program’s impact became clear.
Mavericks look for peers and fellow travelers outside the boundaries of their company. Not surprisingly, mavericks tend to click when they meet other mavericks. They’re great networkers and learners and are always looking for kindred spirits for support and ideas.
Q: Who is the quintessential maverick in American business?
A: Herb Kelleher and the team at Southwest Airlines. In the midst of the financial carnage and heartaches of the airline business, there’s one company that keeps growing, keeps creating jobs and keeps generating wealth. And that, of course, is Southwest. Southwest didn’t achieve these results because its fares were a little lower than Delta’s or its service was a little friendlier than United’s. It achieved those results because it reimagined what it meant to be an airline. If you ask Herb Kelleher what business he’s in, he won’t say the airline business or the transportation business. He’ll say that Southwest is in the freedom business. The purpose of Southwest is to democratize the skies, to make it as easy and affordable for rank-and-file Americans to travel as it is for the well-to-do. That’s a pretty commonplace idea today but largely because Southwest fought the entrenched conventions of the industry so doggedly in pursuit of that purpose. Its unrivaled success is based on its unique sense of mission rather than any breakthrough technology or unprecedented business insight.
Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It seems that every other week there’s a major story in the media about a company claiming that one of its competitors has purloined a cherished secret that provided an unfair competitive advantage. This is all part of running a business in today’s fishbowl environment, where sensitive information is too abundant and can be obtained by almost anyone and everyone who is so inclined.
In this era of heightened visibility, some of the best companies, especially high-tech firms, play everything incredibly close to the vest, particularly when it comes to providing information about current sales trends, new products and projects that they are exploring or developing. This is because such information is a coveted company asset. In today’s “victory at almost any cost” world, too many are looking for that edge to leverage whatever they can to stack the odds in their favor.
We also read too frequently about how easily these secrets have somehow wound up in the wrong hands. Sometimes a loose-lipped employee simply talks too much to too many people in the wrong places. Occasionally, someone simply leaves a briefcase or smartphone, jam-packed with confidential information, in a bar, at a restaurant or on a plane.
What’s not talked about much is the frequent practice of competitors simply asking what appear to be innocuous questions of lower-level personnel in a company in order to garner nuggets of “inside information” usually without risking the perils of violating any legal statutes. It’s also common practice for Wall Street security analysts to simply walk into a retail store, as an example, and begin asking questions about trends, what products are selling and which aren’t. It all gets down to the reality that it never hurts to ask a question because one never knows when a valuable tidbit will be revealed.
Like it or not, this is just the way it is, and there will always be people who ask and others who tell. What can you do to protect your coveted information? The answer is basic: mandate that providing revealing responses to specific questions is a violation of company policy and could result in draconian consequences for anyone who spills the beans, no matter if well-intended. Once your employees and suppliers know the ground rules and the consequences, you’re one step closer to closing the possibility of vital information inadvertently slipping through the sieve.
The best way to accomplish this is to establish, enforce and continually reiterate a “one voice, one company” policy. This translates into all hands within your organization knowing what can be told to outsiders and, more importantly, what can’t. This policy must be in writing and must state what types of questions are off limits. It must also explain how the questioner is to be handled when the interrogatory is posed. In my retail chain experience, we often had competitors, vendors and industry analysts visit stores and ask all types of questions. Candidly, I don’t blame them, but with a clearly understood policy, employees know how to respond by referring the questions to headquarters and a specific department or individual. Ninety-nine percent of the time the person asking the question never follows up with the corporate office because he or she knows the desired answers will not be forthcoming.
Most employees want to please their employer and most want others to think they are in the know. When you create an ironclad policy, it takes the pressure off of your people and adds another layer of security about things no outsider needs to know. For your suppliers, require that each sign a confidentiality agreement and specify that you have a simple “one strike and you’re out” policy. Also use your own secret shoppers to test your vulnerability by having them ask the forbidden, just to verify that the company veil is not being lifted by the unauthorized.
This protocol is certainly not foolproof, and periodically, there will be lapses — the most frightening of which are the ones you’ll never learn about. It all gets down to a numbers game. Confidential information, just like the cash, equipment and other assets on your balance sheet, can never be taken for granted and must be protected. Anyone can look in your fishbowl in this day and age, but it is your job to make sure that what they think they might find is not what they get.
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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Are we grateful for the things we have? Are we grateful that we live in a country where the government can’t seize our businesses, where there’s no threat of rebellion and where we can go home to the comforts of our modern homes?
Many people in the world don’t have any of those luxuries. Some can’t even look forward to a good meal or clean drinking water. Most of us here in the United States don’t have to worry about such problems because the people that came before us worked hard to create a nation that has an amazing standard of living. The generation before us rose from the troubles of the Great Depression, led the fight against Nazi aggression that killed millions and returned home to finish making America into a superpower, but do we ever pause to think about the contributions our mothers and fathers made to make things easier for us today? They lived in small houses, often sheltering multiple generations, and worked long hours to make a better life for their children and grandchildren and selflessly went off to war to protect our freedom.
Do we ever think about any of that? The answer for many is no. Gratitude is in danger of becoming a lost art as we focus on accumulating money and possessions, always looking to be better or richer than the next person.
How many times have you read about or talked to someone who had everything you could ever ask for — nice home, nice car and no money problems — lamenting the fact that he or she doesn’t have as much as or more than someone else? We sometimes catch ourselves comparing who has more instead of who has less.
As business leaders, we should have some sense of moral obligation to help those within our sphere of influence, whether it’s our peers, employees or the person who lives down the street. We should be doing our best to look out for those around us, but too often, our days are consumed with the details of business.
Our world may be built on information, but wisdom is lacking. Business has been boiled down to statistical analysis and quarterly earnings reports while people are just another line on the ledger. There is often little room for gratitude in corporate America, and that’s a shame.
When our focus is on accumulating things, we can never enjoy it, because we don’t know how. How can we enjoy something when we’ve already raced off to try to get more? Like a kid tearing through a pile of Christmas presents, we never really take the time to appreciate each gift.
In this season of giving thanks, we should take a moment to think about those who came before us and who helped us get to where we are. Let’s thank those around us for a job well done and consider reaching out to someone who could use a helping hand. But most importantly, let’s consider putting our lives in perspective by thinking about those who are less fortunate.
When we focus more on gratitude, we’ll make a difference that’s far more effective than any business plan. It will allow us to take the time to celebrate success and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Gratitude doesn’t require a giant donation or a huge event; sometimes the little things are more effective.
In the end, we’ll find that the only things truly worth accumulating are good will and happiness. It’s in our control to start helping everyone around us get their fair share, and that’s something all of us can be thankful for.
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.