David Epstein understands that his passion for customer service can become irritating.

“It drives my wife crazy,” says Epstein, the co-founder, chairman and co-CEO of C3/CustomerContactChannels. “If I walk into a store with her and I see something wrong, I’m immediately re-engineering the entire process of the store.”

For Epstein, customer service isn’t just a job; it’s a way to make a difference in people’s lives and help them solve their problems. As a well-known venture capitalist, one of the founding members of the American Marketing Association and the head of numerous successful business enterprises in his career, he knows that this mentality is even more powerful when it’s a group one.

“There isn’t a person that works at C3 who doesn’t understand the impact that they can make every day, not only on C3, but on our clients and our client’s customers,” Epstein says.

By filling C3 with employees who see their jobs as an opportunity to make a difference, and then giving them a culture and leadership that supports them, Epstein has helped grow the business process outsourcing (BPO) company from 15 to 7,200 employees in just two years.

Raise the bar minimum

To provide its BPO services for clients and customers, it’s been necessary for C3 to hire thousands of people in a rather short period of time. But as it’s filled its contact centers across 16 worldwide locations, the company has been careful not to take hiring lightly.

While the BPO industry is known for its triple-digit turnover and employees who look at the positions as “phone jobs,” Epstein says that the root problem, as in many industries, isn’t the job. It’s that companies aren’t being discriminating enough in the hiring process to weed out candidates who they know probably won’t be successful.

“Typically, for every 10 people that are interviewed, this industry has a reputation for saying that eight of them are qualified or they are offered a job,” he says. “There’s not been a steeped process for selecting the right kind of people.”

Just because someone can do a job, doesn’t mean that care about doing it well. When you hire employees who don’t care, that translates into the customer and client experience.

That’s why C3 has a talent acquisition team that is extremely judicious in selecting people who are the right ones to grow the business.

“We go through a whole different kind of profiling to understand if somebody is really going to have the propensity to be successful in this job,” Epstein says. “It starts with their communication skills but it really ends with, ‘Will they have that passion? Will they feel that energy and share the values and be here day in and day out in this job to do a great job for our clients?’”

For every 10 people that are interviewed, the company typically narrows the pool down to three or four that it thinks demonstrate the right skills and attitudes.

“We feel like making a difference is an important element to what we do every day,” Epstein says. “So our people who are out in the field select the right kind of people that want to come to work not just because they need a paycheck, but because they want to make a difference for themselves, for their company, their clients and the people on the other end of the phone.”

When you start with the right employees, you can feel comfortable tapping those people for referrals who they know share the same values.

“It’s the friend-get-a-friend concept, but it continues to grow,” Epstein says.

Since 2010, he says that the company has seen turnover 70 percent lower than the industry standard — only two or three percent of call center employees each month.

“Because we’re selective on the way in, it reduces our turnover down to a very, very manageable number,” Epstein says.

“We believe that we’ve really put together the dream team of the BPO space.”

Help people, not clients

There’s a true story Epstein frequently tells when he’s out in the field or speaking to training classes. It was several years ago when one of the company’s health care clients was walking through a contact center and came across a C3 customer service professional who was crying. After the agent regained her composure and finished the call, the client went back to her and asked about what had happened. She replied that she was assisting an elderly man with his prescriptions and he had been extremely appreciative, saying that he didn’t have any family around to help him. Noticing that his birthday was the following day, she’d also wished him a happy birthday.

“He began to cry because it was the first time in three years that he had heard those words,” Epstein says. “We tell that story and we say, do you think she made a difference for that gentleman that day? She made a difference in his life.”

Before you can make a difference with customers, Epstein says you need your people to care about customer service on a deeper level than a job or a business transaction. That involves creating a culture that engages people on a personal level.

“It is a paramount objective for us to make a difference for our clients,” Epstein says. “But first you need to make a difference for yourself. Then you’ve got a chance to make a difference for the company you work for.”

While it’s easy to write something on paper and make it a corporate goal, it becomes a personal goal when you actually live it. This is one of the reasons the company encourages employees to extend the culture of “making a difference” to its communities.

“When things become deeply personal they become deep corporate commitments,” Epstein says.

In recent years, the company’s centers have donated more than $1 million to various causes. But aside from the money, employees know that making a difference is also about community involvement. The organization’s 900 employees in Salt Lake City, Utah have been so involved with community activities and fundraising that they now have a reporter for the local paper assigned to follow their efforts. Another example is C3’s employees in Twin Falls, Idaho, which knit more than 1,000 beanies for the premature infants ward at a local hospital.

“They were sitting there at home or on break with knitting needles, learning how to knit to make these things,” Epstein says. “You won’t find that at most places, but that was a reflection of the culture we’ve tried to create and we have created.”

Around the organization, Epstein says that you’ll find employees using the expression “I’m MAD for C3,” which stands for I Make A Difference for C3. This personal commitment to helping others translates into people’s attitudes toward customer service. When employees are on the phone, they connect to the person on the other end of the line instead of only thinking of doing a good job for the client.

“When people talk about a brand online, it’s usually because they’re frustrated with the service of the brand,” Epstein says. “In the hotel and hospitality industry it’s something like 35 or 40 percent of Facebook messages and blogging is usually about the service. You have a chance to make a difference by helping somebody get through something that they are seeking help on and they are frustrated.

“That is why I think people want to stay part of C3. They aren’t looking for ‘Let me just get that paycheck’ and that’s it.”

Don’t “make it work”

Creating a culture that supports employees and helps them succeed translates into better customer service, which translates into more success for your business.

“When you have a passion in your culture for taking care of your clients and your customers, that will help manage a lot of the velocity of growing so quickly,” Epstein says.

But once you have the right people and the right culture, your company’s leadership needs to make the right decisions for employees to succeed long-term.

Being entrepreneurs, a constant test for Epstein and his partners is being able to say no to certain opportunities. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, there’s a natural inclination to want to seize on it even if it might not be good for your people or your business.

“It could be prospective client that doesn’t fit right with us today, and so it’s hard to say no because you really want to build and grow,” Epstein says. “It could be an acquisition that presents itself where as you peel it back more and more, you find out culturally it will never really work. There’s a tendency for entrepreneurs to say, ‘Well, I can make it work because I’ve been learning to do that my whole career.’”

Epstein’s advice? Know when to say no. When he became one of the owners of the NHL Florida Panthers hockey team 11 years ago, Epstein says he learned this lesson the hard way.

“I thought without a doubt I could change how the business model works for a hockey team and a sports franchise,” he says. “My general feeling was that they weren’t run well and that if me and my partners who were smart business guys and had built big businesses, we could get in there, then we’d be smarter than these other guys and we could change it. Guess what? No.”

If you want your employees to stay focused on customer service excellence, as a leader, you can’t afford to be lured into opportunities that will negatively impact your business. Being a good steward for them requires managers to be good listeners, listening to their people as well as to the market.

“When you stop worrying about how much talking you’re doing and you start to listen, you can hear themes that go on that tell you, ‘OK, maybe things are going a little too quickly over here and I need to pull the reins in a little or I need to add some more resources to that,” Epstein says.

If you see an increasing demand in a certain business line, as was the case for C3’s performance optimization business, don’t hesitate to add resources accordingly — more employees, better technology — to make sure you’re not outgrowing your infrastructure. While looking at metrics is important, Epstein says that being a good listener really helps you develop a gut feel about your business that will more often than not alert you to the right path.

“The biggest thing is not to fool yourself into thinking something can be something, even though deep inside you can hear that little voice — the one you try to ignore — that’s telling you that this is really not the right fit,” Epstein says.

The same goes for people, he says. Many companies hang onto people too long before eventually admitting the fit isn’t right and that they aren’t supporting the goals or the culture you want for the organization.

“It goes on for far too long and everybody would be better off if that person was doing something different,” Epstein says.

“If you’re building an organization and you have people who don’t belong, do yourself a favor and do them a favor and get them to move on quickly.”

As in any business, it’s hard to keep a perfect track record. Still, you can do your best to listen to understand the marketplace as well as your own instincts, which typically can guide you to the best decisions.

“Undoubtedly, we will make a mistake somewhere along the line and something won’t fit in the way we thought,” Epstein says. “That’s going to happen. It’s how you minimize that that makes the difference.”

In the last couple of years, the velocity of C3’s growth has been extraordinary, which Epstein says speaks strongly to the quality of people that work for the company and their drive to make a difference. The organization’s success in this mission also explains why 90 percent of promotions at the company have been internal.

“People look at that and they say, ‘This more than just a phone job,’” Epstein says. “This is a career path and this is a company that cares about its employees, cares about its customers, cares about the people calling and cares about its community. All of those things tied into what we do and culturally who they are have given us an edge and helped us continue to be successful.”

How to reach: C3/CustomerContactChannels, (954) 849-0622 or www.c3connect.com

Takeaways

1. Be selective about hiring.

2. Make your mission more than just a job.

3. Follow your instincts to lead people in the right direction.

The Epstein File

David Epstein

Co-founder, chairman and co-CEO

C3/CustomerContactChannels

Born: New Rochelle, New York

Education: Florida International University

What goal would you still like to achieve in business?

To continue to spawn the next generation of entrepreneurs, whether it’s people that are entrepreneurial at C3 that are coming up with great ideas to build the company or it’s people who have all of this entrepreneurial energy and it doesn’t fit for C3 — helping them do it on their own or somewhere else. I think that spawning more entrepreneurism and doing that is a more personal goal. Also, it’s the idea that we continue to put people back to work.

Three things that business leaders need to know:

  • Your business: “It’s important to be clear on who you are and what you are as an organization, not try to be something that you’re not.”
  • Your go-forward strategy: “It’s like a tennis player. If you’re playing the game of tennis you either play the net or you play the baseline. You don’t play in the middle. When you play in the middle you’re dead. You have to pick your path and your strategy.”
  • Your fears: “Don’t let fear be your driver. It’s important to recognize that while some fears are clearly legitimate — you should be afraid of certain things and you shouldn’t ignore the consequences that come along with it — you can’t let it rule the day. You have to put fear in its right place, and frankly the key is to master wanting that fear.”

Published in Florida

Executives are some of the busiest people I know. They are often some of the unhealthiest, as well.

The trend in today’s workplace is towards doing more and more with less and less. This adds strain to the already overworked executive. That strain affects the health of the executive and hinders his or her ability to do their job effectively.

This trend cannot continue. It is destroying the lives of too many top-notch professionals.

Here are 27 tips for staying healthy as a busy executive:

1. Remember to smell the flowers. Take time out to enjoy the little things in life. Being just as impressed by small events as large ones helps to cultivate wisdom and clarity.

2. Stop living a “hit-and-miss life.” Living aimlessly is like shooting multiple arrows that miss their targets. This is a waste of time and not a trait of an effective leader.

3. Anxiety is anticipation run riot. Anticipating the worst keeps us from enjoying the present. Realize that anxiety does not facilitate self-control.

4. Remember to take breaks. Taking breaks during work helps you accomplish more during the time that you are working.

5. Avoid procrastination. Remove temptations around you such as an instant messenger program or magazines, which might tempt you from being efficient at work.

6. Keep things simple. Eliminate the things that cause clutter in your life, such as unnecessary magazine subscriptions, paper and too many unused gadgets.

7. Take care of yourself. Executives who look haggard or tired tend to have more responsibilities heaped on them, because your physical condition and dress sends the message that you permit that.

8. Commit yourself to exercise at least three times a week. Keeping yourself in shape will help you perform efficiently in all areas of your life.

9. Always eat breakfast. Low blood sugar as a result of not eating properly can cause unproductive afternoons.

10. Take your vitamins. If you eat constantly on the run to save time, take vitamins to avoid potential slumps in energy.

11. Bag your lunch. Not only is this cheaper, but it is more nutritious because you have control over what you eat. This can spare you from eating empty calories that exhaust you.

12. Sit down with your family for dinner. This is the one thing that you can do each day to bond with family members. It also saves money and allows you to control your diet.

13. Make dates with your mate. Planning romantic outings keeps your relationship erotic and alive.

14. Get professional help. If you can’t cope due to bad time management skills or emotional problems, get the help that you need.

15. Ask for help if you need it. Pride prevents most executives from asking for assistance from higher ups or colleagues. Being trained wastes less time than trying to figure out something yourself.

16. Make sure you have quiet time. Set personal time aside for yourself each week doing something that you enjoy doing alone. This gives you clarity and is a form of meditation.

17. Get enough sleep. People who are sleep deprived make more time consuming mistakes and are too irritable to lead a quality life style.

18. Never get too hungry. People who are hungry are irritable and make mistakes so that things need to be done over again.

19. Avoid people who suck your time. Needy or emotionally disturbed individuals can seriously throw your plans for the day astray. Avoid them the best you can.

20. Deal with your anger. Angry individuals are hasty, reckless and make careless errors that cause time consuming mistakes.

21. If you are tired, rest. It is better to rest and do a task twice as fast afterwards, rather than do it slowly because you are exhausted.

22. Take life one day at a time. Live in the present, not in the future, and you will accomplish more.

23. Give back to the community. Engage in one meaningful activity where money is “not the goal”. This empowers you spiritually and prevents you from getting too stuck in your own problems.

24. Make yourself inaccessible at certain times. Let others know when you are working and cannot be disturbed.

25. Reward yourself for a job well done. Whenever you complete a big task, make sure to keep motivated by giving yourself a reward.

26. Seek out the good in every situation. Disappointments and delays are a part of life. Learn how to make it up to your family if you are late and can’t be there for them.

27. Realize that you always have choices. Make choices about how you spend your time, and do not be at the mercy of obligations that you cannot fulfill.

As a busy executive, staying healthy has to be at the top of your priority list. It is essential to your job as a leader. Use these tips to guide you into the healthy lifestyle you deserve.

DeLores Pressleymotivational 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 atinfo@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 30 April 2012 20:39

Joy Gendusa: Gain a following

Believe it or not, one of the most overlooked characteristics of leadership is the ability to draw and motivate followers. But without followers, you aren’t really “leading” are you? In business leadership, this skill translates into the ability to get your employees to “buy in” to the mission and goal of your company or department.

Outside of the workplace, your employees are all very different individuals, each with their own set of life goals and often goals of other organizations with which they are affiliated. So how do you motivate them to concentrate on your company’s goal for the time that they are at work?

You could demand that they do so, but this kind of top-down brute force only goes so far — and usually results in employees faking devotion to the company’s cause for fear of losing their jobs.

The better option is to genuinely love and appreciate your staff. That sincerity will shine through, and in return, your employees will want to help you achieve your goals.

So if you are interested in real ways to motivate employees to buy in to your vision, implement the following actions.

1. Go heavy on the accolades.

A simple “well done” goes so much further than you would think. Deep down, everybody wants to be recognized for their hard work. If you don’t take the time to give voice to your appreciation, it can rot away at your employees’ motivation and overall happiness at work.

Make recognition of a job well done part of your company’s culture. At staff meetings, open up the floor to team members so they can brag about other members of the team or inform the team about an action that another member took that would normally go unnoticed. Even if you think you are good about this, look to improve. Don’t be afraid to lay it on thick!

2. Be an open book.

You would probably be shocked to hear what your employees think your schedule looks like. If they don’t know what you are up to, they are more likely to assume you are on the golf course than off at a three-day conference trying to soak up all the information you need to lead the company to success. That’s just the way it is.

Take pains to avoid being closed off from your employees. Be open. Be available. Be friendly. Let them know what you are working on. The more your employees know you, and like you, the more likely they are to invest in your vision and actually desire to see it come to fruition.

3. Offer perks.

Perks are not the same as rewards. Rewards are prizes that your employees can receive for a job well done. These are important, and you should have them available in the form of company-wide and department-wide games, etc. But perks are something that employees get simply for being a part of your team, and they are that much more effective at building motivation and loyalty.

When somebody is rewarded for effort, they feel accomplished and acknowledged. But when someone is offered a reward simply for being a part of the team, they feel gratitude and team spirit. I offer my employees free exercise classes and recently installed a cafe in our company headquarters. These are perks that my employees can enjoy just for being part of the team, and it helps build overall happiness and motivation to achieve company goals.

Give this a whirl in your company and watch as the culture surrounding your company’s vision shifts in a very positive direction.

Joy Gendusa is the owner and CEO of direct mail marketing firm PostcardMania. Joy began PostcardMania in 1998, with nothing but a phone and a computer, never taking a dime of investment capital. Since then, PostcardMania has expanded to offer its clients more services including website and landing page design and development, e-mail marketing and full marketing evaluations — all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice. Contact her at www.postcardmania.com.

Published in Florida

Vlad Shmunis built his company the old-fashioned way, one customer at a time. Starting with zero users, he’s grown RingCentral Inc. to deliver cloud-based business phone system solutions to more than 200,000 customers across three continents and employs approximately 500 people.

“It’s very clear that there is an amazing amount of demand,” says Shmunis, the founder and CEO of the San Mateo-based company. “It was at the right time, right place. So it’s just trying to hit it on all cylinders.”

To stay ahead of the competition in the business communications industry, Shmunis now looks to invest in areas that grow the business with new customers while also meeting the needs of current ones.

Smart Business spoke with Shmunis about how he invests in RingCentral’s long-term growth.

Invest in top performers.

As we’re growing, the focus is more the sense of the overall vision and culture understanding and making sure that everybody is on the same page. As far as the people we want to hire, how do we incentivize them? How do we keep them excited about what they do?

This is a constant quest. We try to have an A-team in every respect. We have well-accomplished people in the key positions. So that’s taking a lot of my time now and probably will continue for the foreseeable future as the company grows.

The slowing down of the economy did not slow our growth down and did not slow our customers’. The people that work for us have options. So how do we keep them here and productive?

Invest in infrastructure.

People understand that emphasis is on continuing to delight existing customers. So we’re not going to do anything that would jeopardize their well-being and in any way destabilize the service. We do invest a lot into the infrastructure, so we’re definitely putting our money where our mouth is. We’re running our own cloud. We invest a lot in the support systems — software and people most importantly — making sure that you have 24/7 coverage … that people will be woken up in the middle of the night whenever something serious happens.

These are people trusting us with their businesses, and if their phone line goes dead, it’s not a good thing. If things do happen, which is hopefully not a very common occurrence at this point, we have procedures that are well-defined.

Time of response is extremely important. So if there’s an outage, we will immediately post updates to the website to keep them up to speed. We are active in social media so we use Twitter. We use Facebook, our own website, anything we can to make sure that we’re not asleep at the wheel and that we’re still here and the service will be brought up as soon as humanly possible.

Invest in quality.

We make it easy for people to refer people to the service. But really the most important thing is that we’ve invested heavily into a product that will be liked. You can’t pay a person enough to have them recommend something that the person doesn’t like. The product speaks for itself. So we just make sure that it does what it’s supposed to. It does it well. It does it reliably, which is immensely important for our customer base. The rest takes care of itself.

The general position is saying, ‘Look, while we’d really to grow and take over the world and have tens of millions of customers, none of that is going to happen unless we keep our existing customers happy.’ One positive reference may bring you another lead. One negative reference can lose you 10 leads, if not more. Just continue the emphasis on quality of service.

Invest in your vision.

We’re not trying to veer out from our main task, and main task is enterprise-level communications to small businesses. We’re not trying to bring them additional services. We’re not trying to be a generic cloud platform. We’re not trying to become a broadband provider or call center operator or any of those things. Many of our competitors might be going into those tangents under the belief that there is low-hanging fruit there, and maybe there is. But I believe in focusing.

It’s fairly rare to find a world-class football player who is also a world-class baseball player. People have tried. Most of them did not succeed at the other sport after owning one sport. I feel the same thing here. If you want to be really, really good at football, play football. If you want to be really, really good at business communications, do business communications. We’re at the size where if we are to retain our world championship status, we need to work really hard.

How to reach: RingCentral Inc., (888) 528-7464 or www.ringcentral.com

Published in Northern California

Before you read this today, you read your e-mail. You’re always reading your e-mail. E-mail is Facebook for grownups: America’s current favorite distraction from work — corporate America’s No. 1 de-focuser.

I have teenagers. If you have teenagers, then you too have heard someone explain why it is important to have a Facebook page open while doing homework. The rationale is that some of the other kids have the same class and they are talking about the assignment.  But we all know that even if the chemistry homework got mentioned, the kid isn’t using Facebook as some sort of electronically enabled chemistry symposium. Facebook is distracting more kids from doing their homework than it is facilitating it.

The same thing is true about your e-mail and your work. E-mail can facilitate the exchange of information and documents — no doubt about it. But it isn’t without its costs when you continually check and re-check it. E-mail has become our informational slot machine. Each time you pull the lever — that is each time you check the inbox — you might find something rewarding there. But nine times of out 10 it’s just junk or very low priority information, for example, the date next month that they're testing your building’s fire alarm system. Yet even with the rewards to checking e-mail so terribly low, we continue to distract ourselves with it.

The key to success in baseball is to avoid outs. As long as your team makes less than three outs, you remain at bat and in the position to scores runs. If you make no outs forever, you can score runs forever. That would make for a very long game, but still one that you would certainly win.

The key to success in good thinking is to avoid changing subjects. In other words, if you can stay focused on one idea or problem until it is fully developed or solved, you’ll find many more insights and produce much higher quality work than if you switch your attention to and from the main idea or problem. How many times have you found yourself, in mid-conversation, asking aloud, “What was it I was saying?” or confessing, “I just lost my train of thought.” Keeping our minds focused on a single point is so precarious we can lose the point even while we are talking about it.

No meaningful accomplishment I know of was completed in the first pass. Great writing always involves many rewrites. Great marketing ideas evolve through iterations. Important laws are drafted and re-drafted countless times before achieving a final form.  All thinking activities require that someone hold a problem or idea in mind and work with it for an extended time.

Scientists are acknowledged to be some of our best thinkers. The world is full of interesting scientific problems and curiosities, however, most scientists cannot think in a serious way about more than one or two areas at a time. That is why a scientist will sometimes shoo away a colleague that proposes an interesting new problem.

Again, the idea is that you cannot allow yourself to divide your attention among multiple areas if you hope to make a meaningful contribution in any one of them. Our minds don’t perform any differently when working on business or organizational issues. With work, family, and personal issues clamoring for our attention, the odds of focusing are already stacked against us. We are awash in the noise of all the people and projects that want our attention. Into that mix come the enticements of advertisers and other pitches designed to catch our attention. Then comes e-mail and its constant promise to relieve us from the hard and productive work of focused thinking.

Increased focus leads to better work productivity and in the longer run, to better career opportunities and better jobs. Focus begins with and depends upon the elimination of distraction.

If you want a raise, turn off your e-mail.

Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. Reach him at JerryMcLaughlin@branders.com.

Published in Northern California

As the economy took a hit over the last few years, Fred Stock saw the demand for his organization’s services grow dramatically. That’s because the result of a down economy is more and more people seeking out more of the services that Jewish Community Services of South Florida has been providing for years. But keeping up with the higher demand has not been easy, especially when coupled with the funding challenges of operating as a not-for-profit entity.

“There’s an increased need corresponding with a reduction of available dollars,” says Stock, the president and CEO of the Miami-based social services agency, which services the Dade County community.

As fundraising in the overall community has dropped, so has the amount of funding dollars coming into the organization.

“So we need to figure out ways to cover the overhead for the agency,” Stock says. “One of the ways is that you reduce those costs by being more efficient.”

Stock says that this is a challenge many more not-for-profit organizations are dealing with today.

One way he says these agencies can manage costs is by providing a mix of free and paid services. By expanding in areas that have a “fee for service,” such as home care, the organization is able to cover costs of the services that it provides for free.

“We’re trying to expand our capabilities to provide services that can reimburse us for our costs, and we can generate some surpluses to pay for the programs that people don’t have the ability to pay for,” Stock says.

However, the crux of the agency’s strategy to become more efficient involves developing partnerships with organizations that share its service goals and funding model.

“We have definitely taken on the belief that in order to be successful, we need to partner,” Stock says.

“By combining, we can serve more people, create operational efficiencies, expand our reach, and it will allow us over the long haul to create more opportunity to serve people.”

While many smaller not-for-profit agencies are quality organizations, they are often limited in what they can do because they don’t have the infrastructure or funding sources to expand and grow. Leading a larger agency, Stock is now working harder to partner with smaller entities so both parties make progress on shared goals. An example is how the agency is partnering with assisted living facilities and HUD 202 housing projects where there are large constituencies of people who need its services.

Stock says you want try to align yourself with agencies and programs that relate to where you can provide services but also with agencies that have a similar mission.

“You maximize their capabilities and their expertise,” Stock says. “You bring that expertise now into this affiliated entity … and then you can expand your service capability because potentially that service can be located in a community that you’re not serving.”

The other advantage of partnering is the potential to combine operations or share resources where appropriate, which can increase efficiencies for both parties. So if two entities are doing billing with a number of grants, there is an opportunity to combine that billing for cost savings.

Stock says constantly monitoring and improving efficiency is something that not-for-profits and businesses should be doing whether or not there are funding issues. By partnering up, the agency continues to find strategic ways to carry out its mission and deliver its services more efficiently.

“We’re a $15 million agency,” Stock says. “We can bring some of that infrastructure — the funding, the marketing, to that new agency and enhance that agency’s effort to create revenue. And then you can create revenue for a larger organization and you have a whole lot more clout, because you have a whole lot more reach. You’re serving more people. In that process, you can find savings within that entity that you can then put back into your programs to yet provide more services.”

Start inside

Many not-for-profit entities have faced funding challenges as a result of the economic recession. Jewish Community Services of South Florida, which provides its services at no cost, is funded primarily through grants and fundraising. But that funding is limited and most of the agency’s funding sources do not provide enough money for its administrative component. To maintain services as money becomes scarcer, president and CEO Fred Stock has led a number of initiatives to be more efficient in this area.

“We’ve had to become much more efficient in the way we provide services and in the way we fund our administrative component,” Stock says. “In an agency, you have direct services and then you have the infrastructure that you need in order to run these services, things like billing, rent, offices and all of that, which are fixed expenses to some degree.”

To increase efficiency in the administrative component, the agency has consolidated some of its offices and begun looking at ways to utilize space better. It’s also started to streamline processes in internal operations such as billing, maintenance and systems.

“We’ve been able to save a substantial amount of money in these areas that has allowed us to continue to provide services at the same rate,” Stock says. “So even through we’ve suffered from reductions in funding, we’ve been able to still maintain the levels of service that we’ve provided over the last few years.”

How to reach: Jewish Community Services of South Florida, (305) 576-6550 or www.jcsfl.org

Published in Florida

Lisa Huntsman knows that the key to success in today’s economic climate isn’t just finding ways to do more with less but, in many cases, just doing more with the same.

“Those that can respond quicker with good information are the ones more than likely that will get awarded the business,” says Huntsman, the president of the New Philadelphia, Ohio-based manufacturer Lauren Manufacturing.

Huntsman has been focused on this task since the recession first impacted the manufacturing industry and Lauren’s 250 employees back in 2008.

“There is a whole crunch of everything has to be the same quality but just continue to push it on the lead-time standpoint,” says Huntsman. “I think we’re doing a good job of delivering on that.”

To keep up with increasingly shorter lead times, get the highest return for shareholders and meet the needs of new and potential customers, the company had to reevaluate its systems and staffing to make efficiency the top priority.

“If we just keep doing what we do then we’ll always get what we get,” Huntsman says.

“There’s a lot of revenue invested from the company’s standpoint to get new projects launched, and we’re really working closer with our sales teams and with our customers to make it quicker when possible and make sure we’re not dropping the ball anymore.”

The first step was looking for inefficiencies in staffing, including duplicate personnel or areas of waste in the administrative process.

“It’s not just saying, ‘OK, it’s just getting too busy over here,” Huntsman says. “It’s do we look at the job content? Are there some things our folks are doing that seem unnecessary?”

The organization has also been more conscious about adding new people, ensuring it builds its team with talented people, who have targeted roles and are capable of making informed decisions to drive results.

“We all make mistakes, but there are some people who are very conservative and are never willing to put themselves out there,” she says. “We’re looking for the people that are willing to take a very educated set of information and say, ‘Let’s go with this.’”

Empowering employees to make decisions enables a faster speed to market for products and services by elimination bottlenecks in decision-making that slow progress.

“We believe in driving the decision-making process to the front line as much as possible from customer service and engineering, giving them the tools so they can make those decisions and feel empowered to do that,” Huntsman says.

Part of that empowerment is also the result of coaching. Huntsman says she takes time to talk to employees regularly on an informal basis or after the big meetings in order to learn their challenges and figure out how the company can facilitate and empower their decision-making.

“I think knowing that they have our support that it’s OK,” she says.

Huntsman says the other key to increasing operational efficiency is setting clear priorities so that people don’t get distracted from the most important goals, for example, speed of service. By making sure that your company continues to partner with the right customers, work on the right projects and keep people focused in the right areas, you can continue to deliver at a competitive level.

“No. 1 is making sure that we don’t get distracted trying to be everything to everyone, and then nothing gets accomplished,” Huntsman says.

By being able to do more with its people, operations and systems, the company was able to achieve 12 percent sales growth in 2010.

“We have made positive strides,” Huntsman says. “Our business has continued to increase in sales, and I think everybody, not just Lauren, has to work harder with less people than we did prior to the recession. I don’t see that changing.”

How to reach: Lauren Manufacturing, (330) 339-3373 or www.lauren.com

Divide and conquer

One of the reasons Lauren Manufacturing has accomplished growth despite operating in a challenging industry is by continuing to be diversified in the business sectors that it serves.

“We have a couple targets that we’re always going after,” says President Lisa Huntsman. “It’s just trying to keep a balanced portfolio of customers in the industries that we’re in that has been the key to our success. That’s how it started and that’s how we continue to move forward.”

This diversity gives the company the advantage of increasing penetration in a range of industries, including transportation, solar and lighting. While many of these sectors haven’t grown on their own, the company has taken more of the market share from its competitors by targeting business opportunities and focusing its efforts where they are most needed.

“I always go back to say making sure that we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket keeps the company healthy,” Huntsman says. “We really try to make sure that no one customer has more than 10 percent of our business to make sure that we’re serving multiple sectors.”

Again, this is only achieved by having team of people who can effectively make good decisions based on their knowledge of customers and the business.

“In our business, from the time you quote to the time when you can turn it into production can be six to 12 months,” Huntsman says. “So you’ve got to make sure you’re making the right decisions upfront, because that’s going to have an impact down the road.”

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 31 March 2012 20:11

Ron Seide: The takeway

I started in the computer industry when screens were green and the web is what captured insects behind your $5,000 desktop PC. In 1989, I became the 17th employee at a start-up called Kingston Technology in California. When I left Kingston nine years later, the company had more than 700 employees and revenue in excess of $1 billion. Today — more than 20 years later — the company remains an industry leader.

Early on, I realized that I was in the middle of an extraordinary company and set out to learn as much as I could from the founders, John Tu and David Sun — true industry giants. There were many lessons, but one in particular stays with me today. Maybe it’s because it came as such a surprise:

At Kingston, the customer isn’t No. 1. In fact, the customer isn’t even No. 2. The customer is No. 3.

As John and Dave would explain, at Kingston the employee is No. 1 and the vendors are No. 2. At the same time, being third with this company was better than being first at any other. Here’s why.

Kingston focuses on computer memory, a commodity that can be differentiated mostly through service. And to provide extraordinary service, you need happy, motivated employees. Kingston was famous for employee perks: an ocean cruise to Mexico, a weekend gambling junket in Las Vegas, catered lunch on Fridays, free drinks and snacks, and competitive although not excessive, compensation. Just as importantly, if a customer was out of line with an employee, Kingston would do the right thing rather than the expedient thing. This produced a team of nearly fanatic employees providing customer service that was anything but third rate.

Customers aren’t happy when shipments are missed and lines go down as a result. As companies become increasingly virtualized and distributed, a well-functioning supply chain becomes a prerequisite for customer satisfaction, customer retention and even corporate survival. While a company can usually survive the loss of a major customer, the loss of a key vendor can often be fatal. Accordingly, Kingston would enter into long-term contracts with suppliers, often overpaying in a volatile commodity market. The company always paid on time and would even pay early at the mere request of a vendor short on cash. When negotiating, it was always important to “leave something on the table for the other guy.” The result was a reliable supply of products when competitors were often stocked out.

Today, my partners and I try to emulate Kingston’s philosophy and maybe even a small measure of their success. At Summit, drinks and snacks are always free — a small price to pay knowing that computer programs come as a direct result of ramen noodles and Mountain Dew. Our teammates schedule their work around their lives and families. They work from home when they want or need to, even in one case when home is a mobile command center (the biggest RV you’ve ever seen). We pay our vendors on time, prepay orders when we need to and always remember that it’s in our best interest to be a profitable account for our vendors. We ask favors only as a last resort.

The Takeaway

Little things mean a lot. It seems that when times get tough, the first things to go are the perks that make a job more of a career than a chore. Ramen noodles and pop are an inexpensive way to let people know that they’re valued, particularly in difficult times.

The customer isn’t always right. So trying to satisfy customers at the expense of employee morale isn’t in their best long-term interests, or yours.

Treating vendors like commodities is so 20th century. With increasingly distributed business models, vendors are an extension of your company and every bit as vital to your customers’ satisfaction, and as a result, your success.

Ron Seide is the president of Summit Data Communications Inc., a wireless technology company headquartered in downtown Akron. Reach him at reside@summitdata.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

The workplace is where most adults typically spend half of their waking hours and can have a powerful impact on one’s health. Thanks to efforts in engaging employees in workplace wellness, many businesses are promoting healthier lifestyles while also reducing absenteeism, lowering health and workers’ compensation costs and improving employee health, morale and productivity.

To learn more, Smart Business turned to Tammie Brailsford, RN, MemorialCare Health System executive vice president and chief operating officer, whose passion for employee wellness has created an environment of improved health among the system’s 11,000 employees.

Why should businesses invest in wellness?

A healthy work force is the foundation for good business, as critical to your bottom line as the quality of products and services. To stem rising health costs and encourage healthier lifestyles, employers have been adding and expanding wellness programs. A University of Michigan study revealed health costs for a high-risk worker is three times that of a low-risk

employee. American Institute of Preventive Medicine reports 87.5 percent of health claim costs are due to lifestyle. Companies implementing wellness activities save from $3.48 to $5.42 for every dollar spent and

reduce absences 30 percent.

Costs can be minimal — from $50 to $500 or more per employee annually, plus incentives for health improvement. Instead of building a fitness center, offer employees a pedometer, mealtime walking programs and sessions on achieving better health. It’s as simple as selecting a salad, taking stairs or a 10-minute break to walk. Leadership involvement is critical to success. Your participation and engagement create ‘permission’ among employees to join the conversation and build health and wellness behaviors, like activity, into their daily work life.

What is the impact of overweight employees?

With nearly 70 percent of America’s work force overweight, businesses carry an additional $500 to $2,500 per employee in medical care and work loss totaling $50 billion in annual expenditures related to obesity alone. Expanding waistlines fuel increases in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, reaching epidemic proportions. The impact of too much weight on health quality and life expectancy is now equal to if not greater than smoking. Chronic diseases like hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and depression are responsible for two-thirds of the total increase in health care spending, taking an enormous toll on employees and their families.

Can you describe The Good Life?

As a health care system, we want to model a commitment to health and wellness. The Good Life program is at the heart of our efforts to build a culture of excellence that encourages employees to make healthier daily choices and improve their overall health. Initiatives include nutritious on-site food options, walking challenges, exercise classes, walking trails, weight reduction programs, gyms, smoke-free campuses, activity days, newsletters, work-life balance programs and more.

Other innovations include walking rather than sitting meetings, installing Wii sports stations to encourage activity during breaks and walking workstations. The latest evidence shows us that ongoing support of a dedicated onsite health coaching team can help employees with conditions like diabetes and hypertension make important life changes, lessen long-term complications and improve medical outcomes. Employees receive paycheck incentives by participating in confidential health assessments that help identify opportunities to improve health by setting and achieving personal goals. In the last year alone, employees walked 350,000 miles in walking challenges and achieved a combined total of 4,000 pounds in weight reduction.

What outcomes can wellness achieve?

Weight loss of as little as 5-10 percent can significantly impact cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. For every pound lost by those overweight, there’s a 4-pound reduction in knee-joint stress load. That’s almost 5,000 pounds less stress on one group of employees’ knees. We will gladly share wellness best practices forged in our own programs with other businesses aiming to improve employee health and lower both company and employee health care expenses.

Where can an employer start?

You can begin with an employee wellness committee to plan initiatives with guidance from health professionals. Start with simple screenings to make employees aware of their blood pressure, weight, cholesterol numbers, nutritional habits and fitness levels. Get your work force walking during meals and breaks. Offer sessions that share advice, activities and coaching to reach and maintain goals. Identify employee advocates to motivate others to follow their lead. Engage employees’ families to extend healthy habits at home. Partner with local hospitals and heart, cancer and lung associations.

MemorialCare hospitals can help employers with information and resources on low- to no-cost screenings, prevention and healthy lifestyle sessions at your company as well as in the community. And Memorialcare.org provides a number of online health risk assessments and wellness tips on the journey to better health.

Tammie Brailsford, RN, is executive vice president and chief operating officer, MemorialCare Health System. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Community Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit memorialcare.org.

Published in Los Angeles

Before Zalmi Duchman founded The Fresh Diet in 2006, he’d been on the other side of the employee accountability problem.

“I was the guy taking the extra lunch and taking the extra break and kind of slacking off where I could as a worker,” says Duchman, the founder and CEO of the Miami-based fresh food delivery company with 160 employees and approximately $18 million in revenue.

That’s why in running his own company, Duchman understands the importance of creating a culture that motivates people but still keeps them accountable for progress.

“By realizing that I’m too laid back, I’ve been trying to find that middle ground,” he says. “I don’t want to be this strict company and not a fun company, but I don’t want to be this company that’s not getting anything done because everybody is partying all the time.”

Smart Business spoke with Duchman about how to create this middle ground by improving communication.

Have an open-door policy.

As long as the managers or myself or the other executives are sitting at their desks or they’re online or they’re on their BlackBerry, and they are in real time responding to issues and not pushing it off 24 hours and 48 hours, that will go a long way in making sure there is communication, because you’ll nip it in the bud right away. If you see there is an issue, you can narrow it down to how did this issue happen and who didn’t communicate. And sometimes it’s not a communication issue, but a lot of times, it is.

I don’t come into work in a suit and a tie every day, but I make sure that I’m here. I make sure that there’s an open-door policy. I make sure that everybody knows that even if your title is customer service, at the end of the day if you have a food request or if you have a suggestion in marketing, everybody wears ten hats. Because the guys upstairs and the executives, we don’t just stick to what we do and we all put our hands into everything else, I think that that’s created a culture where people know that if they have an idea they’re not going to be shunned. They’re not going to be told to shut up. It’s very, very open and everybody feels like the business is theirs and they feel like it is one big family. They feel that if they think there is a problem they won’t be scared to say it.

Get involved.

There’s no question that being more involved in day-to-day projects and having a better handle on it and making sure that everybody’s communicating every day has turned into growth, dollars and cents. If you’re on top of the situation, then people can’t really slack off as much. They have more of a drive if they know that the CEO is going to get down to the nitty-gritty instead of asking once or twice a month about projects. It’s also establishing weekly meetings and establishing better lines of communication. It’s definitely helped the projects move faster and the overall quality of the team is better.

I want to have that culture of it’s not based on how long you sit at your desk but what you accomplish. But at the end of the day, you have to have a median. Just managing projects better, keeping a tighter ship by using software online like Basecamp or project management software, that allows me to see that the communication that’s being given is actually being followed. So making sure that I have my hand in more of what’s going on has helped make the workplace smaller in a way.

Be proactive on issues.

When there are very few problems, it means that the communication is flowing and it means that people are talking to each other. If there is a problem, it’s almost always going to come from communication, because this person didn’t tell the correct person or this person thought that they could do this themselves and didn’t bring it to someone else. So I feel that monitoring on real-time basis, especially in a business like ours with so many moving parts — if you’re monitoring the issues of the day, you’ll know right away if there are communication issues.

Usually what would happen is that a company would be in a bad place and then they would realize that, oh my God, we’re in a bad place and it probably happened because no one is communicating and it got out of control. I would tell them to stay positive … and deal with it. Don’t continue to put it off. Establish weekly meetings. It’s a lot easier to talk about it than to implement it, but I feel like you ‘fake it till’ you make it.’ So even if you’re in that bad place, just make a decision that this is going to change and it’s going to change today.

How to reach: The Fresh Diet, www.thefreshdiet.com or (866) 373-7450

Published in Florida