Born: Morrow County, Ohio
Education: Bachelor’s degree, mechanical engineering, Purdue University
First job: Janitor
What do you like best about being a leader?
The most rewarding part of it is to watch the fruits of your effort in the growth of people and the business. You sit back and see Tom Jones’ son or daughter has gone off to college and done exceptionally well. That person has been employed for you for 20 years, and you know that the company you started provided the income for that parent so they could nurture the child and have them go off to school and accomplish things maybe they otherwise couldn’t have. That’s extremely rewarding to watch your own employees improve and grow. Does ego come in? Yes, it does, but I try not to do it for ego. When somebody tells me that their son just got a scholarship to graduate school at XYZ, it makes you feel good because, in some way, you know you contributed to that.
Mellott on leadership: Leaders are born; managers you can train. Certainly, you can improve and hone leadership skills, but I’m not sure you can take somebody who’s not a leader and make a leader out of them because that’s not ingrained in their mannerism and personality.
Mellott serves on the boards of Inter-Pac Inc. in Tupelo, Miss., and Storopack, along with U.S. Bank and The Plastic Loose Fill Council.
Timothy Loudermilk wants
a work environment
filled with self-motivated performers. So to create that
environment, the founder and
chief software architect at
Trivantis Corp. hires the best
people he can and then trusts
his employees to do their jobs.
“If you are in a company
where you need to manage
people tightly, then I think that
what you have is you have a
company of people that are
relatively unpersonally motivated,” says Loudermilk, who
managed the 85-employee
provider of publishing technologies and services company
to 2006 revenue of more than
Smart Business spoke with
Loudermilk about how to hire
the best people and how to get
the most out of them.
Q. What do you look for in
First of all, I look for people
with specialties that are better
than what I can do. I don’t
think you can be afraid of hiring people in their field that
are better than you.
For example, at this point, I
can assure you I am not the
best computer programmer in
the world because I’ve moved
away from it over the years. I
have a team that’s just the best
in the world that I can find.
But, I think you have to be
confident in the people you
hired, and you have to look for
people that have real expertise
in their field.
Q. How do you find the best
I think it’s really hard to pop an ad in the paper and hire
someone. Your best places to
look are really to your own
Many of the people we’ve
added to the business have
been references from other people in the business that are very
happy and very excited about
the job that they have. They’re
your best possible recruiters.
Our development team in
Florida, for example, almost
everyone that is on the team
was recruited by word-of-mouth. It’s very popular, word-of-mouth, in a marketing
sense, to talk about products. I think in this generation, it’s just as important on employment.
Occasionally, we will
use some outside professional recruiters, and the
reason we do that is
some of the folks that we
work with have a keen
sense of what we are
looking for because I am
looking for the top 10 percent performers to hire.
And when you have a
company that’s 15,000 employees, you might be
able to afford to not have
the top 10 percent performers. But, when you
have a company that’s
85 people, everyone’s contribution really matters.
Q. How do you motivate your
I think there are certainly
ways to motivate. You probably
have to keep from demotivating them more than anything
because I think some work
environments that are highly
structured can be somewhat
demoralizing to professionals.
So, what I want to do is create an environment in which they absolutely love to work.
That means an environment of
trust, of personal responsibility, and they have an opportunity to contribute to the end
product. I think it’s really
important that they be able to
see and use the end product
that they are working on. And,
of course, that is coming from
a software standpoint. It’s really easy to look at the product
and realize your contribution
to it, whether it be in sales or
whether it be in development.
Q. How do you show
employees that you trust them?
First of all, you should never
give them deadlines. You
should actually get them to
buy in to deadlines.
Let’s say you have a particular project. You look at the
project, assess how long it’s
going to take, let them assess
it in their sense, agree to it,
and let them be accountable
for saying, ‘Here’s where I am
on this project.’ I think that
there’s too often a tendency in
business to set random dates
that mean nothing. I don’t
think that’s the way I choose
to manage this business.
We agree to dates that are
real, and then they own them
— they are accountable for
Q. How has hiring the best
people and trusting them made
the company a success?
Everybody personally has an
investment in the end product.
When you have a successful
end product, everyone feels
the success of that. That’s the
Whether it be in sales or
product development, having
a successful company takes a
lot of different skills across a
broad range, and when people see the success of the
company, they need to understand that, that is their personal success.
So, the reward system has
to be there in terms of financial, stock options. Profit-sharing is appropriate. Those
all have to be in line.
HOW TO REACH: Trivantis Corp., (513) 929-0188 or www.trivantis.com
When it comes to workers’ compensation costs, even the most comprehensive safety programs won’t completely eliminate workplace accidents.
“When an injury happens on the job, many employers feel like they lose control,” says Jim Bowers, claims workers’ compensation large loss team lead at Westfield Insurance. “Through a partnership with your insurance carrier, you can develop a return-to-work program that will keep you in control.”
Smart Business spoke with Bowers about the positive impact of return-to-work programs on employers and their employees.
Why should businesses have return-to-work programs?
The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) indicates that average indemnity costs rose 5.5 percent in 2006, which was the largest increase in five years. This trend is expected to persist. At the same time, NCCI reports medical costs continue to increase at near double-digit rates.
The best way to prevent these workers’ compensation increases in your business is through a return-to-work program. The goal of these programs is to have employees with on-the-job injuries or illnesses back doing meaningful, productive work as soon as is safely possible. This proactive strategy can lead to:
- Reduced indemnity benefit costs
- Decreased overall recovery period and
medical costs in the typical claim
- Contained workers’ compensation insurance premiums
- Good will through reinforcing employer
concern for employees
- Reduced or eliminated costs associated
with the recruitment and hiring process
- Increased retention of a trained, skilled
and knowledgeable work force
- Maximized operational productivity
- Boosted employee morale
- Decreased likelihood of malingering
- Less claim litigation
Study information published by Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) showed a successful return-to-work program could improve the average return-to-work outcome by as much as 15 weeks. Although benefit levels vary by state, at a weekly benefit level of $700, this translates into direct savings of $10,500. WCRI data also show that workers returning to work within one month are more likely to remain employed, while those who remain off work for more than six months are far more likely to remain unemployed long term.
Finally, WCRI study information documents a significant opportunity for business owners to realize substantial financial impact by adopting these systems. The costs associated with a valued employee not returning to work can quickly affect customer relationships, productivity and operating results, as well as insurance premiums.
What’s the benefit for the injured employee?
For the hurt worker, the advantages of a return-to-work program are just as significant as they are for the employer. Returning to safe, productive work as soon as possible provides the injured employee with these favorable outcomes:
- Improved self-esteem
- Decreased financial hardship
- Reduced stress, boredom and depression
- Less physical and mental deconditioning
- Alleviated concern about continued employment and employment benefits
- Shortened overall recovery time
- Continued positive relationships with fellow employees
How should organizations develop them?
First, organizational support and commitment need to exist so the program can have the intended impact. Businesses should then look for an insurance carrier to partner with long term that has the experience and resources to help them develop, implement and maintain an effective program. A meaningful program includes a few key steps:
- Develop a formal return-to-work policy
and document it in writing.
- Consider all applicable local, state and
federal requirements, such as ADA and
FMLA, and consult with the appropriate legal
counsel to confirm complete compliance.
- Designate a coordinator to be responsible for ongoing program administration.
- Build procedures for reporting injuries,
referring for medical care and communication between the involved parties.
- Create forms and documents, such as a
Job Analysis Form, a Return-to-Work
Coordination Sheet, a Return-to-Work
Telephone Log, a Sample Transitional Duty
Physician Questionnaire and a Sample
Transitional Duty Job Offer Letter.
- Complete a job analysis or a job description for each position. Consider transitional
duty opportunities that may exist in addition
to current positions.
- In states in which the employer has medical control, meet with your designated medical provider to review your program.
- Communicate your return-to-work program with all employees during the initial rollout, as part of the new hire process and at regular intervals on an ongoing basis.
JIM BOWERS, CPCU, AIC, AIM, SCLA, AIS, is the claims workers’ compensation large loss team lead at Westfield Insurance. Reach him at email@example.com or (330) 887-6529. Westfield Insurance provides commercial and personal insurance services to customers in 17 states. Represented by leading independent insurance agencies, the product we offer is peace of mind and our promise of protection is supported by a commitment to service excellence. For more information, visit www.westfieldinsurance.com.
You update your business software, launch new technology and roll out advanced applications to be sure
your company’s IT environment is cutting edge, but have you stopped to consider how you will back up your systems? What happens when accidents occur and data is lost?
“As organizations implement new servers and applications, and add more storage to support these systems, their backup and recovery is not necessarily being kept up to date,” says Geoff Hanson, practice director for Pomeroy IT Solutions in Hebron, Ky. “You want to know where the data is that you have to recover, you need processes and procedures in place to recover that data, and you want to do all of this in a timely fashion with zero data loss.”
As privacy issues become more important to businesses in the wake of security regulations, this backed-up data must be stored safely, so it can’t be accessed by unauthorized users. Today, disk storage and virtual tape libraries are ways to update backup and recovery infrastructure.
Smart Business asked Hanson to discuss how to protect the data that is critical to carrying out day-to-day business with an efficient backup and recovery system.
Traditionally, how have companies backed up and recovered data from their computer systems?
Until recently, most companies were using tape media to back up and restore data. A company would back up storage onto tape, and then that tape was taken to an off-site location for protection. In the event a company had to recover data, it had to wait until the tape was retrieved from off-site storage. Backup and recovery was a very manual process. There were days and/or hours associated with a company’s recovery time. Today, companies are moving toward disk-to-disk storage instead of tape. Disk provides quicker recovery capabilities and virtually zero data loss. It’s important to note that today’s backup and recovery software applications are relatively mature. It’s the infrastructure to support the software (the tape) that hasn’t necessarily been kept up to date.
What infrastructure is available today that speeds up recovery time?
First, companies can opt for a virtual tape library (VTL) appliance. This infrastructure allows you to move your backup strategy to a disk-based solution. Many companies use tape for their backup solution. A VTL replaces the tape device with a disk-based solution. There is minimal change in the backup process. The same backup software can be used; the information is simply transferred to disk instead. Recovery is faster because you avoid the lag time associated with tape media and the retrieval from off-site storage. Another approach is disk-to-disk-to-tape backup. Companies are replicating their disk arrays to either local or remote disk arrays and then backing up the data to either VTLs or tape.
What are other advantages of disk storage?
Your backup is only as good as the last piece of information that was backed up. Some companies only back up at night on a 24-hour cycle. If they experience a hardware malfunction and lose their data, they must recover information that was current as of the night before, therefore losing a day’s worth of work. That can represent a serious loss in productivity and revenues for some businesses. People are moving toward disk storage because they can restore information quickly and improve recovery time.
What should a company consider in choosing an appropriate backup and recovery system?
The first question is, how much time can you afford to be down? If you are a financial company and every minute a server is down you lose money, you can’t afford to be down at all. In this case, you need a high-availability solution and a backup and recovery infrastructure to support uptime for your critical applications. Also, you should review your current best practices for managing data. How will you meet all regulations and requirements? What information has to be available to you at all times for you to be successful?
Can you talk more about security requirements? How does backup and recovery help businesses comply with regulations?
Companies are taking more notice to privacy due to regulatory and security requirements on their data and information. They are stepping back and asking how they can recover quicker with no data loss. Companies are moving toward data encryption for data at rest as well as data in transit. For example, hospitals must meet HIPAA requirements. When backing up medical files, this information must be secure regardless of where it is stored. Financial companies must also consider privacy issues in lieu of Sarbanes-Oxley requirements associated with data protection. So, it is important to architect privacy of content while implementing infrastructure for backup and recovery.
GEOFF HANSON is practice director at Pomeroy IT Solutions in Hebron, Ky. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (623) 551-5771.
When Bryan C. Dunn became chief marketing officer of Western
& Southern Financial Group in 1995, he was the first outsider
brought in to that position since the family of financial service
companies formed in 1888.
The experience would serve him well.
In 2004, Dunn became president of W&S Agency Group, a $606
million business unit of the parent company that deals with career
and marketing sales efforts.
Dunn saw a need for change to bring the company up to date.
There wasn’t enough innovative thinking going on and too many
decisions were being made based not on current data but because,
“that’s the way it’s always been done.”
But change wasn’t going to come easy.
The company was steeped in tradition, with many of the 2,530
employees having worked there for their entire careers.
The culture was based on long-term internal relationships, making
it more difficult for Dunn, an outsider, to make progress.
“It was high relationship and an understanding of who did
what,” Dunn says. “Employees ... had been with the company
forever and were extremely loyal, had a parental relationship
with the company and (were used to) no outsiders coming in,”
Dunn needed to transform the organization to make it relevant in
today’s markets, but he needed to do so in a way that would not
destroy the company’s history.
Understand the culture
In order to change, you first must understand the company’s
culture and traditions. Dunn started by analyzing different areas
of the company and speaking with a variety of employees.
“There needs to be a clear analysis and understanding, looking
at the financial numbers and metrics, doing interviews so that
you understand what people think and believe, and doing a
check as to how they align with what the organization is supposed to be doing,” he says.
Dunn interviewed about 50 people in the organization, from
senior leadership on down, as part of the process.
“You’re not talking about an exhaustive time effort, but you
interact, sit down and talk with people who are doing the work,”
Dunn says to ask employees what the company strategy is and
how they feel they contribute to it. Find pieces of information that
are consistent from one employee to another that give you an idea
of things that need to be changed first.
From these interviews, he learned that customer service was
an important part of the organization’s culture and needed to
continue. He also learned that employees did not understand
the budgeting process. Money was spent in areas because that
was how it had been done for years, instead of looking at where
money was being invested and determining if it needed to be
allocated to new areas.
Employees also did not know how to bring new ideas to the
company, and if they did, they did not feel like these ideas were
“During a change process, people have to see early successes,”
Dunn says. “A lot of times people will tell you what needs to be
changed. If you can enable those things, you start to gain that buyin and emotional commitment to the future.”
One early success Dunn implemented was the creation of a team
to change company policies and procedures. The team made recommendations on items that needed to be changed, and the
changes were then made.
“This showed employees that a good idea can be implemented if
properly delivered,” Dunn says.
Another early success was implementing a new software package
and providing a cost-benefit analysis on why this should be funded.
Although this package was an added expense, Dunn and his team
were able to show why this package was necessary for the sales representatives, how it could improve productivity and the expense savings the company would get from it.
“We went back to the executive committee and made a recommendation, which they approved, and our people said, ‘Wow, they
will do things that make business sense,’” Dunn says.
A final early success was to change the profile of future sales representatives and align it with the company’s value proposition and
strategy. Dunn began looking for people who had a past pattern of
success, were disciplined, had an innate ability to learn and had
good interpersonal skills.
“There was a lot of belief that, ‘Gee, we’re not going to be able to
hire people,’” Dunn says. “We were able to show our field managers
sources for these recruits, and they were able to hire more people
than they had before of the right type of competencies that we
Not all recommendations can be implemented, but analyze and
determine which ones will be the best to move the company forward.
“You apply their changes against what the strategy is going to
be and their recommendations as well as the numbers against
the value proposition that is going to give you that strategy,”
Dunn says. “If you see that change enabling that value proposition or strategy, then you put more work in that area.
“Look at internal interviews and numbers, and ask certain questions. Look outside and at your market, your relevance to it and
who your competitors are.”
Dunn was able to avoid slash-and-burn tactics by following this
“With the feedback we received, we were able to identify fat in
the budget that we were able to carve or trim off, take part of that
money and put it into our pockets for improved profitability,”
Dunn says. “We took the other part to fund initiatives that were
necessary to revamp our organization so it could be more successful than it was in the past.”
Create a clear vision
Once you understand what the company is, you need to recreate
the vision to meet the changes and to give employees emotional
buy-in for the future.
Dunn brought together the company’s senior leaders to recraft
the vision and strategy. They focused on defining what type of
company they wanted to be and what they could do on a higher
level to define what the company is. You also need to take the new
vision and integrate it into the company.
“What you want is for people to say, ‘My personal vision aligns
with the company vision. I can see that the way I want to work and
live fits in with the way the company wants to grow and work
going forward,’” Dunn says.
Regular and consistent communication is important to get
employees to understand and buy in to the changes.
“You have to communicate, communicate, communicate, and
when you think that you have communicated so much that everyone has to be sick and tired of hearing what you’re saying, you
communicate again,” Dunn says.
The company hosted several workshops to share the new vision
with employees, which included interactive activities to help employees embrace and understand the vision.
“It is amazing the amount of effort and time that we spend
explaining the vision and strategy, and then taking it down through
the organization to say, ‘If you do your job well, this is how it
works, and this is what you get. When you get that, this is what we
get,’” Dunn says.
You also have to have different types of talks to get your point
“You have the three-minute talk that can tell them exactly what
you want,” he says. “You have the impassioned 30-minute talk, and
then you have the hour explanation, where you talk about how the
pieces fit together and where their piece fits.”
Start with the vision during these talks and what type of company you want to build, and see if the employee is willing to go along
with that change. If he or she is, tell the employee the strategy that
is needed to get the company to that point, his or her role in that
strategy and help the employee understand the need for change.
You may need to change your communication methods to make
sure all employees understand the changes.
“We found that certain methods can sometimes get stale, and
people stop listening or hearing it,” he says. “Every so often, take
a look at your communication strategy and the mediums you use,
and say, ‘Do we need to change that up, so it’s a little bit fresh, so
people will pay a little more attention to it, rather than just the routine numbing effect of getting an e-mail or something in that way?’”
Assemble the right team
The final piece to change is to make sure you have the right talent in place to fill the structure and meet the strategy. You also
need to help employees adapt to the change and deal with those
who may not be able to make the change.
At W&S Agency Group, about 40 percent of the employees had
the skills needed to meet this new strategy. Dunn brought in new
employees to fill the rest of the team, about 30 percent from outside the company but inside the industry, and then another 20 to 25
percent from outside the company and the industry.
Change is hard, especially for employees who have been at a
company their whole career. Share employee success constantly
to motivate others to work hard.
“There are going to be an awful lot of passive resisters who say,
‘That’s fine, but this too shall pass. If I just stay at my desk and keep
my head down, this person will go away,’” Dunn says. “Once you
have identified people who will not change, you need to help them
find another opportunity.”
He says employees reacted in two ways to the change. For those
who didn’t fit in to the new vision, the company tried to find them
another opportunity within the larger financial group.
“We respected their loyalty and them as individuals because we
changed that parental relationship to a partnership relationship,”
Dunn says. “Going forward, you still have a great opportunity, but
you have more responsibility than just showing up. You’ve got to
be able to perform and achieve goals.
“There were other people who chose to retire because they said
this is just too much change, and we tried to show them that they
didn’t have to retire. These 120 years of history, we still believe in
that and in tradition, but at the same time, you need to have that
positive expectancy of the future. You’re not living in the past,
you’re reveling in the past because the future is just as bright, if not
Once you have the team in place, encourage members to
work together and meet goals, and be clear in communicating
“You’ll have a strategy and two or three critical success factors,” he says. “Your direct reports will develop their objectives
to align with those factors and identify the drivers in their
organization and what initiatives they need to help deliver on
those success factors. This gives them ownership of how they
think we’re going to get this done.”
You also need to provide the team with a clear definition for decision-making, so members know when they can make a decision on
their own and when they can’t.
“Most people get frustrated when they think they are allowed
to make a decision and they aren’t because they don’t know
when they can make a decision,” Dunn says.
This change process has allowed the company to invest millions of dollars back into the company through new initiatives,
which has resulted in a less than 1 percent expense growth in
the last five years. Some of these initiatives included implementing a client relationship center, broadening the product
offering to become more of a financial services company, repositioning offices to where future customers would be located,
developing a data warehouse capability to house all client
information in one area and enhancing employee education.
Dunn says if these changes were not made, the company could
have faced a harvesting process to try to keep it viable instead of
reinventing and evolving it into a company that could grow on its
Change is an ongoing process that you need to worry about every
day, and you can slip back if you are not focused on it.
“Understand the culture and what you want to keep and want to
change,” he says. “Understand the business reasons to make that
change. Understand that you only change for that sake, not for the
sake of change, and then engage your organization by having
employees participate in activities that can help them feel empowered. Celebrate early successes, and communicate, communicate,
HOW TO REACH: W&S Agency Group, (513) 629-1800 or www.westernsouthern.com
Adults with full-time jobs and full-time family lives may be hesitant to return to school to achieve a master’s or any other higher education degree, but the benefits for both them and their employers are too numerous to ignore.
Many schools specialize in helping adults make a smooth transition back to academia, says Debi Milne, enrollment counselor at the Cincinnati campus of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. And earning a higher degree increases the employee’s chances for advancement with a current employer or even a position with a new employer.
Smart Business spoke with Milne about the benefits employees, their community and their employers can reap from them pursuing higher education.
What are the biggest adjustments adults have to make when going back to school?
As an enrollment counselor, I see prospective students every day who are apprehensive of returning to the classroom. As a graduate student myself, returning after a long absence from the classroom, I was very nervous about completing my master’s degree at this point in my life. There was a 20-year span between graduating with my bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1986 and returning to earn my master of science in management in 2006. By the time I finished my first course, however, it felt very natural. The design of the program using a ‘cohort’ model helps to facilitate this. And, the first course in my program was designed specifically for students returning to the classroom after an absence. The adjustment is made much easier by the fact that you attend only one course at a time, albeit at an accelerated pace. I’m considered a full-time student since I complete 12 hours per semester, and I find this single-minded focus on one class at a time to be very beneficial to me.
How can one balance work with school?
As an enrollment counselor, the comment I hear most often is how much students appreciate a one-night-per-week format. This frees up a second class night per week that’s prevalent in so many other programs. It also allows the family to better adjust to the student’s absence from home in the evening. In my family, the night I have class is when my husband and son have a special dinner together, play sports, do homework, etc. Moreover, I purposely schedule time during the week to complete homework and participate in family activities. Since my husband is also attending MVNU one night per week, planning ahead has worked well for us. It’s also a tremendous benefit that class projects can be specifically tailored for projects students may have at work. It’s like double dipping: You get paid for doing homework and get a grade for work projects.
Can a school provide counseling to a new adult student regarding how to get organized and effectively manage a job with classes?
Many universities offer an introductory class to help students adapt to requirements and expectations and to gain organizational skills to help them succeed. Student advisers also provide assistance in helping students make the necessary adjustments. MVNU’s business programs include a course in personal development. Topics include: personal goal development, adult learning methodology, temperament type analysis, adult study skills, time management, library research, literature review, personal assessment and other subjects relevant to goal achievement in an academic environment.
What kind of flexibility can an adult student expect with class schedules?
Programs that are designed with working adults in mind usually feature courses in the evenings and on weekends and sometimes online. All of MVNU courses offered at the Cincinnati campus meet the same night once per week from 6 to 10 p.m. From the very first night, students are registered for all courses in their program and given a schedule documenting every week that each course meets and all holiday breaks. Students know what weeks they’re in class or on breaks for the entire length of their program, typically 20 to 22 months. This allows them to schedule vacations when it would have the least impact on their class attendance.
How do you convince adults that pursuing a higher education degree is worthwhile?
According to ‘The Value of a College Degree’ by Kathleen Porter, the long-term benefits of a college education for an individual and one’s community far outweigh the costs. For example, a bachelor’s degree holder earns about $2.1 million during one’s lifetime as compared to only $1.2 million for a high school graduate. Besides the economic benefit, there’s also a correlation between higher education and cultural and family values. In addition, the community experiences all the benefits of its members having more disposable income, increased tax revenues and greater productivity among workers. Clearly, earning a degree increases the employee’s chances for advancement with a current employer or even a position with a new employer. Higher education is a win-win situation.
DEBI MILNE is an enrollment counselor at the Cincinnati campus of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Reach her at (877) 431-9610 x6408 or Debi.Milne@mvnu.edu.
In 2001, Christopher Cole and Jim McCarthy formed Intelligrated Inc., a supplier of integrated material handling systems, services and products. The company started out of a rented building and had 17 employees, the majority of whom had worked together before and knew how to work as a team.
But as business started booming, the company needed more employees to complete the work. The work force swelled to more than 500 people, and Intelligrated has added 150 people in the last two years alone.
The rapid expansion pushed them into a new office and manufacturing facility in London, Ohio, and five other offices across the country for sales, engineering and support.
While growth is good, it also presents its own set of challenges.
“When we started, it was easy, we knew everybody,” says Cole, Intelligrated’s CEO. “Now, it’s difficult to keep that close, small-company feel.”
With a rapidly increasing number of employees who are now spread across multiple locations, Cole has had to change his leadership style and many company processes to match the larger structure of the company.
Here’s how he has conquered some of his biggest challenges as he’s taken Intelligrated to new levels of success.
Growth requires planning
In order to grow, you must develop a plan for growth and what kind of employees you need to achieve it.
Cole mapped out a plan and put together a budget of how many people the company needed. It is difficult to project how many people you will need at a certain time, but he has tried to have enough people to perform the jobs the company is committed to while not having so many people that they don’t have work to do.
“We’re looking as far into the future as we can, always with the idea that we don’t hire to peaks but to the consistent growth curve,” Cole says.
The type of employee you hire is also important. Intelligrated looks for people who are happy, want to be part of a team, have a passion for the business and can share that with the customer.
“You have to like working with other people,” Cole says. “Find people who can work with others and get enjoyment out of seeing other people succeed.”
Cole says you’re not always perfect with hiring, but it’s easy to spot problems, mainly through reference checks.
Potential hires at Intelligrated also interview with several people, and those executives then complete an online survey regarding the candidate.
“If you get the people together and ask them the question, the reactions of some are going to change the minds of others,” Cole says. “If you do it in a blind survey, you get a much better raw impression of what everybody thinks. If areas come up that look like they might be issues, you can probe deeper to make sure either those impressions are wrong, or if they send up a red flag, you move on and find somebody else.”
Employee referrals are useful when hiring, and Intelligrated pays a bonus to employees who bring in new hires.
“People don’t want to recommend people to come to work in their company unless they believe they’re going to fit in and be good,” Cole says. “The best source of finding people is our own people. The person they’re bringing in, because they know someone inside, it’s easier for them to have a mentor to get a faster start.”
While Intelligrated takes its time hiring the right employee, sometimes that employee just doesn’t fit.
“You think every time you hire someone that it may take an adjustment time, and that they’re going to work out,” Cole says.
But that isn’t always the case. He says it’s better to let someone go sooner rather than later, but it’s natural to want to give someone time to succeed after you’ve made an investment in him or her. The company tries to give every new employee as much support as possible through its various orientation programs as well as requiring supervisors to meet individually with employees each quarter to make sure they are working toward the right goals.
If someone is not performing, you need to step in and help. “See if there is something you can do to change the job or change them to a different job that will make them successful,” Cole says. “At the end of the day though, they might be better off finding a different career.”
The demands of rapid growth can also overwhelm some of your original core employees. These people helped you reach your initial goals, but they may not be the ones to get you to your new goals.
This has happened a few times at Intelligrated, and Cole has worked with those employees to figure out where they could add value to the company.
“When you have an employee performance problem, the natural tendency is to hope it will get better,” he says. “It doesn’t get better until you confront it. Do it in a non-emotional, factual way, and then work to improve the performance. If it still doesn’t happen, then help that person find a different career where they can succeed.”
Integrate new employees
In a growing company, new employees are constantly coming in. These employees not only need to learn their job but integrate into the company’s culture and learn to work with other employees.
“By hiring people with different backgrounds and skill sets, we learn new things and ideas and don’t become stagnant by just talking to ourselves,” Cole says. “It takes new blood in an organization to help stimulate that.”
When employees arrive at Intelligrated, they get an initial orientation on the basics, such as benefits and job expectations. After two or three months, employees participate in a “Welcome to Intelligrated” program, where they learn the company’s inner workings.
“It’s after they’ve been here long enough to know what they’re doing and their department does, and they know quite a lot about the company but not everything,” Cole says. “It’s after those months that people have a lot of questions or don’t know somebody who they see every day but is not part of their department.”
Training courses like the ones Intelligrated conducts allow employees to interact with each other and form relationships.
“It’s both a huge productivity and satisfaction boost,” Cole says. “People know a lot more people in the company, even if they don’t work with them. If they have a question, they have contacts who they can ask.”
Supervisors also go through a training course to learn about personality types so they can better communicate to others. This has helped the team become stronger.
Cole says new employees need to know they are a productive member of the team, even if they are not part of the original group that got the company’s growth going, and to prove that they are, Cole gets them involved in projects soon after they start.
“It’s tough to come and join a group that is already working together,” Cole says. “We’ve taken steps to welcome new people and to learn from them. You’re not the new person very long because there’s always someone else who’s newer.”
Welcoming new people can be as simple as introducing them to other employees. An e-mail is sent out when a new employee joins Intelligrated, which includes a brief bio and photo, so everyone has a bit of information on the new hire.
“We try to get it publicized so people know who’s coming in and it’s not just, ‘Gee, who are you?’” Cole says.
Change with the times
One of the biggest challenges of a growing company is the strain it can put on the culture, whether it’s simple communications or just building relationships with those that work for you.
“We had a culture with the core group, and the key is sustaining that as we bring new people in, learning what they can bring and adding that to what we’re doing without losing the passion and ability to have fun and delight customers,” Cole says.
As the company has grown, he has developed more means of recognition and rewards to show appreciation to those doing a great job. In smaller companies, it’s easier to recognize each employee personally for a job well done, but it’s harder in a larger company. Intelligrated has also developed regular celebrations to acknowledge successes, which has helped employees feel like part of a winning team and motivated them to reach goals, including reaching sales of $100 million in 2006.
Communication is another challenge that faces high-growth organizations, and you need to change the way you communicate as more employees are added to the mix.
“When we were small, I was sure everyone knew what the vision was,” Cole says. “As we’ve grown, I have to work constantly at communicating with employees, in person and in groups, to make sure everyone knows how we are doing, what we need to do better on, and to make sure that everyone is part of the process. It’s spending less time doing things myself and more time communicating the vision.”
Cole says time spent with employees changes in a growth situation, from personal, one-on-one meetings to larger company meetings so you can communicate to more people at one time.
Getting feedback and listening to employees is also key in making sure everyone is headed in the right direction.
“You need to listen twice as much as you think you need to and communicate twice as frequently with all employees,” Cole says. “It’s making sure that you’re getting out and seeing enough customers and different parts of the organization and listening to input from different sources. It’s important to get a diverse amount of input, not just from the same handful of folks.”
Getting out of your office, visiting and walking around are ways to get to know employees and customers and find out what is on their minds.
“Talk to the people who don’t directly report to you and as many customers as possible,” Cole says. “Your customers are the window to how well your organization is performing.
“I walk around and people see me or Jim or the management team, and we travel to job sites and to customers, so that as many people as possible can see that the vision is common throughout the company, what we’re doing and can join together and make us more successful.”
Cole also attends training classes with employees, and tries to sit with people he doesn’t know so employees know that he wants to get to know them and hear their ideas.
“You have to make an effort to get out and meet other people,” he says. “I wish I knew everybody as well as I know some of the people, but I work hard at it.”
You cannot touch every aspect of your organization, so it is important to train your managers to carry your vision and culture down through the organization. Communicate and make sure they understand your vision, and share as much information as possible.
Cole meets monthly with his management team, and then individually for assessments. He also meets quarterly with all employees to discuss company projects. During these meetings, he also talks about the overall direction of the company and reinforces his message.
Even as he and the company have evolved to face the challenges of growth, there’s more expansion on the horizon for Intelligrated. Cole hopes to add at least 200 more employees over the next three to five years, reach revenue of between $400 and $500 million, and add new products to meet customer needs.
And while rapid growth can bring on complicated challenges, he relies on a simple piece of advice to survive.
“Surround yourself with the smartest, best people and work hard on articulating a vision of what is possible and where you’re going,” he says. “Learn from your mistakes and never let them get you down. Keep forging ahead.”
HOW TO REACH: Intelligrated Inc., (513) 701-7300 or www.intelligrated.com
Integrity is more than just a business buzzword to Evans Nwankwo. It is an essential pillar of his business philosophy that has allowed him to grow Megen Construction Co. from a start-up nearly 15 years ago to a growing $41 million company today. Nwankwo, a native of Nigeria who emigrated to the U.S. to attend college, founded Megen in 1993 after more than 10 years in the construction business. His journey from international college student to president and CEO of his own company has shown Nwankwo the importance of integrity and a straightforward approach when leading people. Smart Business spoke with Nwankwo about the importance of integrity, vulnerability, and other traits and skills of effective leaders.
Set a good example. Integrity is something you cannot preach. There is a saying that, ‘What you’re doing speaks so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.’
It comes down really to demonstrating that type of character. That, to me, means communicating, not just through e-mail but through speaking in person. Most of the time, if people see decisions made with integrity and see it across the company, they’ll see that you stood by your company’s values and think things through before making a decision.
Show that you’re human. Trust is not something that develops overnight. Trust is something that comes with time.
My direct reports see me be the same person year after year. A larger part of a successful business relationship is constantly being who you are and not changing. That’s how you build that trust.
I also am not afraid to show that I don’t have all the answers. I try to be vulnerable with that so somebody sees that I am not invincible and that I don’t have all the answers.
It does more for my direct reports than for me. If a leader puts himself up on a pedestal, it seems like he is way up there and untouchable. But with vulnerability, people start to see that, ‘Hey, this guy is just like me, someone who needs to take a break every now and then, or someone who needs to leave early to take his kids to soccer practice. He’s human.’ Having a level of vulnerability as a leader allows people to realize that I am just like them.
Maintain your culture. Promoting the culture can be very difficult to put into practice all the time. It’s like saying you’re going to be able to go out there and lose 25 to 30 pounds. That’s not really the hard part. The more difficult part is to keep weight off.
This culture is our DNA. With our people, it has to be a constant. So I have to promote the same culture to everyone, and that’s reflected in the way we do things on a daily basis. That’s the most important way to keep a culture long term.
You need to be very careful when it comes to hiring the people that will carry on the culture. You might have heard the saying that, ‘You have to hire slowly and fire quickly.’ I try to take a great deal of time to hire, but that hasn’t always been the case.
A project pops up, and sometimes we picked the first person who came through the door. Usually, we spend a great deal of time over the course of several interviews to really get to know someone and check out references.
Communicate face to face. Building a detailed communication culture is great, but the better way to communicate is through example. The things that you want to see in others, you need to show the same character yourself.
It takes more than words to communicate. Having said that, there are some fundamental ways to communicate. Here, we have what we call ‘Megen University,’ where we teach and communicate the technical aspects of what we do. We communicate our culture and share examples from experiences we’ve had on different projects, how we handled a situation, how we learned by example.
Making time for communication depends on the size of the company. As you grow, it becomes more difficult to touch everyone in the company on a daily basis. Now that our company is a fairly large size, it is difficult for me as a leader to touch everyone.
I try to counteract that by making sure that my executives get in touch with everyone constantly, so that the cultural pipeline stays constant and that is communicated all the way through the company. However, I do still walk around as much as I can. It is very critical, and it’s how you stay close to the ground level.
If you don’t have time, make time. There is no secret to making time for one-to-one communication. Many people make time for what they think is important.
Because I believe it is the best form of communication and of great importance, I place it high on the priority scale. I work with my assistant to schedule meetings many months ahead over the span of a year.
And during the meetings, it’s a very relaxed environment. We try not to make it very formal. I want to make it informal in a sense so I can learn about my employees’ personal lives. If they are comfortable enough that they are able to share with me what is happening outside of work, it helps me to be able to relate to them and better manage them.
Different people have different ways that they respond to communication, but oneto-one is the most effective. That’s why I have one-to-one meetings with every person who reports directly to me. You want a communication situation where you are able to get feedback.
When I am across the table from an individual, face to face, I can get a sense of all aspects of communication, be that the voice tone, the body language, in a sense, feeling the heartbeat of what is going on with my colleagues. To have one-to-one relationships, one-to-one meetings, has been important for us. I’ve seen how good it has been at creating dialogue.
HOW TO REACH: Megen Construction Co., (513) 742-9191 or www.megenconstruction.com
Business moves in cycles. Into late 2007, we saw a volatile stock market, good interest rates and a generally good economy. However, there are signs the increasing national deficit, a slowing in housing and auto markets, and the consumer credit card crunch that indicate we are moving into an economic slowdown.
Smart Business spoke with Dennis Gramann, a vice president in the business banking group at Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, about how an economic slowdown can present opportunities for the alert business manager.
Is it a good time to buy capital goods?
A company’s ability to purchase capital goods is dependent on the strength of its balance sheet. Companies with sufficient working capital and a strong debt to worth ratio have capacity to take on additional debt and allow for capital expenditures. The opposite is true for companies with a weak balance sheet. They will look to sell assets to reduce debt to improve cash flow and improve margins. They may even be looking for someone to acquire the business. There are always winners and losers in an economic downturn. Companies who control expenses, watch margins and make smart capital investments prior to downturns are primed for expansion when the economy turns for the better. They have greater flexibility and capabilities to grow their businesses.
Is it currently a good time to sell commercial real estate?
Anyone who reads the paper sees that the residential real estate market is hurting. It is not a great time to sell homes. But the commercial market has shown remarkable stability so far. Of course, the local market dictates the situation. There are areas of expansion and growth that will drive the commercial market values upward and produce strong sales activity.
What about interest rates?
The belief here is that the prime rate may drop another quarter at the end of the year.
We hope that will spur some economic incentive for business growth. Long-term rates have not had any dramatic change in the recent past. You might see short-term rates go down even more depending on the Fed’s view of the economy and inflation. Overall, long-term rates are still fairly low.
How can you keep your best workers happy?
If you look at the business models today, the majority of companies are going to performance-based pay. They offer a good base salary with incentives and bonuses based on what the employee brings in the door or contributes to the company’s bottom line. It’s always a good idea to pay good people for what they contribute. But, there are other areas to examine. Look at all of your expenses employee expenses, insurance costs and other overhead expenses. Go to your vendors to get materials costs down. Make sure that all of your customer relationships are profitable ones. This process can make for difficult decisions , but it is necessary to allow the company to be a viable business.
What advice are you giving customers about planning for sales growth?
The place to start is to look at your niche market and see what successes and failures other businesses in that market have had. If you are in manufacturing and fabrication in the auto business, you might want to revisit your projections. In other industries, the economy may be going strong. Your individual industry is the paramount concern when planning sales growth. But good companies always find ways to go forward. Talk to your banker and to your accountant. They can benchmark your business against others in your industry. Look at your current ratio, working capital, debt-to-worth. If you are in line with other companies in your field, you’ll likely come through okay. If you are not, work with your banker and accountant to see what changes can be made to improve your company’s financial strength.
Do slowdowns mean the time is right to buy competitors out?
The answer is yes. There could be some excellent buys with very little premium. This might also be a good time to look at increasing market share, since the competition could be priced out of the market. But you can’t stay stagnant look for diversification.
Is it a good time to refinance lines of credit?
Lines of credit are risk-based and based on a company’s strength. If you think you deserve a better rate, go ahead and ask for it. But it is not a given.
What other opportunities should a manager look for during a downturn?
Look at opportunities in other areas related to your basic business. You might be able to use your current equipment to expand into another product line. Diversify. There will be opportunities when other companies fall by the wayside. Smaller businesses can do only a little of this, larger ones more. Or, partner with someone in another industry with similar processes or process requirements. Diversification will help maintain the revenue stream in a downturn.
DENNIS GRAMANN is a vice president in the business banking group at FifthThird Bank. Reach him at email@example.com.
The best teachers are the ones who are always learning. It’s a universal truth of leadership that David Hodge says he has seen proven time and time again in his years as an academic administrator. Hodge, who has been president of Miami University in Oxford since summer 2006, says the best leaders are always seeking input always tapping the potential of others in the organization. And he says the only way you can do that is by reaching them, which means you must have finely tuned and well-polished communication skills and you must use those skills to challenge your people to think. It can be a difficult task when you’re leading an institution of 4,000 employees and more than 20,000 students, as Hodge does. Smart Business spoke with Hodge about how good communication gets employees involved in setting the course for an organization.
Start building a fire. I’ll give you a quick story about how this works. I was meeting with a group of classified staff in May at a half-day workshop. I gave to them a story it probably never happened, but it doesn’t really matter. A group of visiting executives were wandering one of Boeing’s plants, and they came to a custodian. They didn’t know the person was a custodian, but they asked him, ‘What do you do here?’ And the custodian responds, ‘I build airplanes.’
I thought, ‘What a great statement, what a great story that demonstrates what you’d like people to think about what they do.’ So I turned to our group and asked, ‘What do we build?’ It was a rhetorical question. I wasn’t looking for an answer, but almost immediately from the left side of the room, someone said, ‘We build students.’ But no more had that person stopped speaking than someone from the other side of the room said, ‘We build the future.’
There are classified staff doing what is usually most of our more routine jobs in the university, and they got it. And others in the room are agreeing. So I don’t know if it’s more to teach or unleash the passion that is in people, but I think that I love that story because it says so much about our staff and how the bigger picture is part of what motivates people.
Communicate in more than one way. You have to have multiple ways of communicating. There is no one absolute way. People will listen to certain kinds of messages, and other people listen to other kinds.
Some like to read things, others like to be told things, some like to be in a meeting and have a conversation back and forth. So for the message to be heard, you have to say the message over and over again in multiple ways, in every way possible.
Know what your core message is, and say it again and again. Use examples to illustrates those core messages every time out. Examples might be praising somebody or drawing attention to somebody else.
A mistake many leaders make is they’re afraid that they’ve already said something once and thinking that people are going to get bored if they say it again, simply to say it again. However, first of all, we’re typically talking to different groups all the time.
Secondly, all good messages need to be repeated over and over and over again to reinforce that notion. Each of us has our own ‘a-ha’ moments where we finally get it. That just takes time and a relentless commitment to communicating the core messages. You can’t be afraid to keep communicating, even if you’ve said the message once before.
The second point is all of us deepen the level of learning and our level of understanding by continuing to grapple with the same core issues. There is a superficial level of what is the mission of your organization and what is your identity if you can give a one- or two-sentence answer in all of that. But for us to feel that in our bones and to understand how each of our actions actually plays a role in that is a continuing process of discovery. That’s why core message plus an evolving set of examples leads to a deeper understanding of who we are, where we’re going and how we each can make a difference.
Make communication a two-way street.
You have to ask good questions to get good feedback. Setting up a complaint box or suggestion box is a pretty ineffective way to do that.
You have to be with groups of people and ask real questions. I come back to that example with the classified staff when I asked, ‘What is our product?’ and I didn’t think about it as a real question but a rhetorical one. But the more we ask questions, the more chances people will have to actively think about something.
Telling people stuff is a very passive process, and we know that it doesn’t lead to very deep learning. But posing questions that we’re trying to solve together, the literature is overwhelming that it is a much deeper level of learning, plus you get commitment and passion and vision.
It’s about active versus passive learning, right there, that dichotomy. You can see this in teaching all the time. You get up there and just lecture to people, their brains are not engaged in a deep learning way. It’s a very superficial learning. Even if they’re not given a chance to answer the question, if you pose it in a way that everyone in the room is wrestling with the question, you’ve gone a long way toward achieving active learning.
HOW TO REACH: Miami University, www.muohio.edu or (513) 529-1809