In today’s economic environment, businesses have to get the most out of their employees and remote banking allows employees to focus on tasks that benefit the business. By eliminating the need for them to leave the office to make deposits and handle other banking tasks, businesses can save time and increase productivity, says Stephen Klumb, senior vice president and chief lending officer for National Bank & Trust.
Remote banking also offers a high degree of accuracy and control because you’re handling your own transactions, you are able to keep a close watch on which transactions have occurred and when they are finalized.
“It’s almost like being your own banker,” says Klumb. “You’re making transactions, moving your money around, setting up automatic bill paying and handling your own deposits, all from your own office.”
Smart Business spoke with Klumb about the benefits of remote banking and how it frees businesses to customize their banking relationship.
Are companies limited to banking at the nearest location?
Some people have the mindset that walking into a physical location to service their banking needs is necessary. That may be true for retail customers, but from a commercial perspective, it really isn’t. Our commercial team goes to customer locations, and thanks to technology, we can do far more for them. Commercial customers can, for example, use a remote capture system to make deposits. With remote capture, a small machine at your business allows you to run checks through and get credit for the amount at your bank the same day.
Another remote banking option is Automated Clearing House, or ACH. This secure payment system allows your customers to send payments they owe you electronically from their bank directly to your bank account, speeding up your accounts receivable. You can also set up the reverse, allowing transactions to leave your account and be automatically received by your vendors.
How can a business keep track of its remote transfers?
Commercial banking customers can track their transfers with online banking. Those customers can sit at their computer, sign onto the bank’s website with total confidence that their information is secure and discrete, and transfer money and make payments.
When it comes to payroll, Positive Pay is an option in which no checks are paid until you release them, which helps eliminate the possibility of fraud. You can also get involved in Bill Payer, which sets up regular, automatic payments of bills, similar to what consumers use for personal use. Further, just as consumers can access cash and make deposits 24 hours a day through ATMs, so can businesses. Commercial customers can also use mobile banking on a phone for their business needs, and new apps are making this method increasingly popular.
Is there any reason a business owner would need a physical bank?
In regard to having a need for a physical bank, your commercial lender should set up meetings once per quarter to keep up with what’s going on with your accounts both past and present. But you can also go online, pull up your accounts, your transactions and your balances, and you’ll see the same things a branch manager sees. This service, and others, like Remote Capture, will minimize the trips made to a banking office.
In the event that you’d like to discuss a grievance, there is a number you can call that will put you in touch with a representative to handle it.
Most borrowers don’t call a branch if they have a problem with their commercial loan, they call their commercial lender. Your assigned commercial loan officer is available to handle any issues, typically within 24 hours, and can be accessed by cell phone and email.
Today, when closing loans, many lenders will go to the customer, as a lender’s office is usually his or her cell phone. Lenders will most often meet business owners where they work to close loans or review documents. There also may be occasions when a business owner might not want employees to know he or she is working with a bank, so lenders can meet them anywhere they’d like.
Are there costs associated with remote banking services?
Often, the costs associated with remote banking services are absorbed by the time and extra costs often incurred when not performing these activities electronically. Other costs may vary depending on banking activity and account relationships. Overall, most customers find remote banking services to be a very cost effective part of their financial practices.
How computer savvy do a company’s employees need to be to utilize electronic banking services?
Most companies on the commercial side have accountants or managers who are very knowledgeable when it comes to these things. And once they’re trained to use the systems, the benefits most often outweigh any anxiety.
However, to ensure a smooth transition, when a bank sells the service, it generally teaches customers how to operate them. For example, with remote capture, bank representatives will explain how to operate the machine when they bring it to the client’s place of business and they’ll leave a phone number for questions.
With online banking, there is a tutorial available to walk the user through the program, and in some cases, the person selling the service will take along a laptop to show those at the business who will be using the service how the programs work.
Stephen Klumb is senior vice president and chief lending officer with National Bank & Trust. Reach him at (800) 837-3011.
Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by National Bank and Trust
Who is Joe Walsh? The question came from the 20-something colleague of Aimee Houde, director of Recruiting Services at Sequent.
She was astonished that the colleague didn’t know “Life in the Fast Lane.” She was curious how most people would answer the question and realized that the answer depends on your age, or, more specifically, what generation you belong to.
“It brings to mind that the workplace has become a mix of many generations – with the newest bunch being millennials, those roughly between the ages of 18 and 34,” says Houde.
Why should you care about millennials? Because you can’t afford not to. Millennials will make up 36 percent of the workforce by 2014 and 46 percent by 2020. Employers who “get” where newer generations are coming from are winning the war on talent, while employers who regard hiring millennials as a necessary evil are missing the boat. The good news is that if you haven’t already adjusted your recruiting strategy, there is still time.
Smart Business spoke with Houde about how to hire and retain millennials.
Where should employers begin?
Get social. Many hiring managers resist using social media to locate and learn about potential hires. These managers got their first jobs through traditional methods, and they see no reason to adjust their approach. However, social media isn’t just for marketing your business. It’s essential to marketing your brand to potential candidates, establishing your company as a great place to work. Linkedin is an obvious choice for recruiting, with 95 percent of organizations using it in 2011. If you create Facebook, Twitter and Google+ company profiles, you open the door to potential employees by giving them an opportunity to easily get to know your company, its people and services. You can also connect with candidates through off-the-cuff conversations, boosting your responsive and engaging quotient. Putting a name and face behind corporate social media accounts works wonders, too.
How can employers find millennials?
Reach out. Don’t expect millennials to come to you. They won’t respond to boring posts on your website or your friendless Facebook page. Figure out where they live and go get them. Go to social groups and engage them. Post content that helps them find a job or that positions you as the trusted expert in your industry. Use your website to provide information that is important to millennials — balance, benefits, purpose, support. Videos are a great tool for highlighting employees who love your organization.
How can an employer get noticed by millennials?
Be visible. The web is the first place millennials go. So show up, early, often and consistently. You also need to represent your brand on social media, industry blogs and other outlets. Millennials will check you out to see whether they know your brand or are interested in learning more. Consider hosting a blog, or commenting frequently to interest groups. It establishes your expertise and positions you as a top-of-the-food-chain employer.
What information should an employer share?
Tell your story. Millennials reveal lots of information about themselves online and expect the same of you. They are tech savvy and expect instant gratification. If you don’t provide enough self-serve information on a 24/7 basis, millennials will move on to an employer who does. Create an online atmosphere where everything is at a potential employee’s disposal. Go beyond highlighting what your company does and include information about your values, profiles of employees, insights into the corporate culture and why it might be a good place for them to work.
How important is interaction?
Be responsive. If you want bad news to go viral, share it with a millennial. Provide feedback to job candidates early and often, even if it’s not the news they want to hear. If that person isn’t a fit, he or she may know someone who is. Besides, interviewees are potential customers, and you’ll be influencing their opinion of your company. Everyone is connected and things happen fast. You need to be careful how you interact, but you have to interact.
How do you know what to look for?
Find entrepreneurs. Nearly one-third of employers look for candidates with an entrepreneurial spirit. For millennials with little experience, this translates to those who are doing interesting things. Entrepreneurial young people are extremely active online. They have their own websites and side projects they discuss on social networks. Engage with these people, and you’ll find self-starters who’ll infuse your organization with change and innovation.
How do you avoid popular myths about millennials?
Ditch the stereotypes. Millennials are impatient kids looking for a quick buck, know-it-alls who don’t need the advice of experienced supervisors, right? Wrong. Millennials are confident, raised on a steady stream of validation. When it comes to careers, they seek advice more often than prior generations. And, they crave coaching. Contrary to popular myth, they do not rank salary as the highest factor when seeking a job. Good benefits concern them most — especially health care and retirement plans. They want a career, but they also want a life. They like flexible work environments with remote and mobile options. They are socially conscious and want to give back. They want the same things as prior generations. They just prioritize differently and are more vocal about what they want.
Millennials are not just our present, they are our future. They are confident, connected and open to change. If you respond to how they are wired, you will not only attract the best talent, you will reap the benefits of their gifts and be investing in the people who may ultimately become the leaders of your organization.
Aimee Houde is director of Recruiting Services at Sequent. Reach her at (888) 456-3627 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent
If you’re the HR director of a small or mid-size company, you’re probably familiar with the list of investments available to employees under your 401(k) plan.
Yet, chances are that no one at your company knows how your plan ended up with its particular selection of investments. That’s because these plans typically aren’t bought, but aggressively sold – by large insurance companies acting as plan providers.
Often, the fees these they charge are far too high, relative to the market, for the services being provided – a widespread reality that the federal government is trying to change by requiring employers to take steps to assure that these fees are reasonable.
This requirement is part of a larger regulatory effort to prompt companies sponsoring 401(k) plans to take a hard look at them. When scrutinizing their plans, many companies will find shortcomings including too few investments and lack of care in their selection. Answering the question of how investments got into their plans opens up a Pandora’s box of issues.
Many companies will realize that they’ve failed to adequately monitor the performance of investments in their plans or to assure that the risk/reward characteristics are fully explained to employees who depend on these plans to provide income during retirement.
When companies sign up for pre-packaged plans that may be deficient, they sincerely believed they were getting a good product. After all, large insurance companies have to be accountable for the integrity of their products because they have substantial legal liability for their suitability, right? Wrong. As plan sponsors, employers – not plan providers -- carry substantial civil and regulatory liability for their 401(k) plans.
Amid the examination of the plans that new federal rules will spur in the coming months, many employers will come to grasp the full extent of their legal responsibility – their fiduciary liability – for the first time.
These employers – as well as those who already have an inkling or even a full awareness of their fiduciary role – will be seeking tools to guide them through the process of evaluating and revamping their plans.
The most critical tool available for this purpose is an investment policy statement (IPS). This document includes a detailed list of a plan’s investments, the selection criteria used for their inclusion, how these criteria pertain to the company’s particular worker population, the monitoring processes used to continuously evaluate investment performance, the performance benchmarks these investments’ must meet to qualify for and remain in the plan, the governance processes the company uses to make substantive changes, provisions for disclosure of information on investments to employees, descriptions of programs for educating employees on investing concepts so they can understand these disclosures, and on and on.
Thus, an IPS is a soup-to-nuts blueprint for the plan, its administration and its ongoing maintenance. But a good IPS doesn’t stop there. It is a living, breathing document that shifts with long-term investment market trends and changes in employee demographics. It should be constantly re-evaluated and slavishly adhered to. If you’re changing any aspect of the plan, do these changes comport with the governance principles and guidelines set down in the IPS? They’d better – or else the company could lose sight of the plan’s goals, jeopardizing its capacity to influence positive retirement outcomes.
Investment policy statements aren’t just used by 401(k) plans. They are widely used by investment advisors, trust administrators and other financial fiduciaries to establish mutually agreed-upon principles and criteria for managing assets according to clients’ goals and risk tolerances.
In a sense, 401(k) plans themselves are financial planners insofar as they include investment options – though ultimately, investment choices are up to employees. An IPS for a 401(k) plan should bridge the gap between the plan and each employee to guide investment choices. And, just as financial advisors with integrity serve their clients in their best interests, communicating clearly about such issues as risk versus reward and allocating assets to achieve sufficient portfolio diversification, an IPS should assure that plans give employees a sufficient variety of choices to meet their goals and empower them to make the best choices.
Drafting an IPS should be the first thing a company does when establishing a 401(k) plan. And in a perfect world, this is what all companies would do. Many large-company 401(k) plans have investment policy statements – or something akin to them. But to HR managers and owners of many smaller companies, “IPS” understandably might sound more like an overnight parcel delivery service than a critical financial document that can determine whether employees have to keep working into their 70s and 80s.
Because of the new rules, many HR people at smaller companies will have to considerably increase their knowledge of how 401(k) plans are supposed to work – or their companies may risk severe regulatory sanctions from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Companies can start by obtaining a clear view of their plans to determine their deficiencies and decide what to change. Those changes should be reflected in an IPS which, if constructed correctly and followed carefully, can help companies exercise a high level of due diligence that can keep regulators and lawsuits away.
If you don’t know what an IPS is, it may be next to impossible to construct one yourself. In this case, it’s probably best to engage the services of an independent advisor who can also X-ray your plan and suggest changes.
If you or anyone at your company can remember the meetings with the broker who sold your company your 401(k) plan, you’ll recall that these sales people didn’t offer to construct an IPS. That’s because this is a service provided by fiduciaries. Plan providers and brokers avoid this status – and its attendant liability – like a bad rash.
To stay ahead of regulators, there’s much work to be done. The benefits of doing this hard work go far beyond staying out of trouble. Assuring that your company provides competitive benefits that help employees retire with dignity isn’t just the right thing to do; it can also aid recruiting and increase employee retention.
And when an employee asks how your plan’s investment selection came to be, you can pull out the IPS and read them the reasons.
Anthony Kippins is president of Retirement Plan Advisors, Ltd., a Registered Investment Advisory firm that addresses the needs of retirement plans and the employees who invest in them.
An Accredited Investment Fiduciary Analyst (AIFA®) with more than 30 years of experience domestically and abroad, Kippins specializes in providing fiduciary advice to retirement plans on governance, investments and educational services. He also advises individual clients on retirement planning and investment management after retirement.
Kippins also serves as managing director of Institutional Fiduciary Assurance LLC, an organization that provides fiduciary advice to trustees of endowments, foundations, non-profit organizations and charitable trusts. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Human beings find comfort in routine. As children, we gain a sense of security from knowing what will happen, when it will happen, for how long and how we are expected to react to each situation. As we mature, knowing that home and family will be where we left them allows us to go out and explore the world as young adults, secure in the knowledge that we can always come home if we need. However, as we age, this penchant for sticking to the routine can work to our detriment.
We begin to settle in at home more and more, often opting to camp in front of the television rather than venture into a new neighborhood or to try a new vocation. Our sedentary ways can have damaging health consequences, most significantly for that muscle that drives the body: the heart. To stay strong, the heart needs daily movement that includes periodic challenges (to force it to pump more oxygen than normal), foods that declog blood vessels and keep them flexible, limited preservatives and refined foods, and regular activities that relieve stress. But, once sedentary, inertia can make it seem as if changing our habits is an insurmountable task.
However, with concerted effort in three areas, what I call affect, behavior: and cognition – the ABCs of Change - we can break the cycle and embrace good cardiovascular practices.
First, start by tracking your moods, your activities and your thoughts in relation to heart-healthy activities such as walking, jogging or any other activity that works up a sweat. Jot down on paper how you are feeling and what you are thinking at the moment when you decide to engage in any act that undermines your heart.
Next, write down how you will change your behavior each time you feel yourself slipping into the unhealthy mindsets that precede unhealthy behaviors. Now, write down what things inspire you to get up and move or to make heart-healthy decisions.
Then, commit to doing at least one heart healthy activity each day and to modifying your environment as needed each time you feel yourself sliding into unhealthy practices.
Last, give yourself time. Generally, it takes 21 days of repeat activity to develop a new habit; however, you may slip up. They key is to review your strategy and recommit each time you fall. Ultimately, your heart will be the better for it.
Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.
In business, confidence is key. I would say that it is foundational. All other factors, such as motivation, training, drive and leadership, depend upon a core of inner confidence.
Whether you work for someone else or run your own business, tapping into your inner confidence is vital in order to succeed. A few people do this with the greatest of ease, but for most of us it is a daily challenge that takes hard work and determination.
Here are four “tools” that will help you to find and tap into your inner confidence in order to propel your business forward:
First: Refuse to give consent.
I pull this idea from a saying of Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Refusing to give consent to feeling inferior is the jumping off point for the daily challenge of using confidence in business. Here is what I mean:
Your first step into tapping your inner confidence is to refuse to see yourself as less, no matter what anyone else might say. This refusal forces you to take a stand and begin to think differently about yourself.
Dr. Wayne Dyer says reminds us here that: “Self-worth comes from one thing – thinking you are worthy.”
When you take this first step, it awakens your inner confidence. It stirs it up and gets the ball rolling. It becomes active in the process of your success.
Quite simply - it empowers you.
In business, being empowered leads to the desire to grow, the ability to step outside your comfort zone and the determination to act. I have discovered through coaching others that empowered, powerful people do powerful things.
Tapping into your inner confidence requires you to step up refuse to see yourself as inferior, less or wanting.
Second: Be willing to change.
Unwillingness towards change holds you and your business captive. It takes the wheels right out from under you and stifles vision and action. It halts growth.
I believe that fear of change is a problem of confidence. Most business people who struggle with change are, at the root, struggling with confidence. For some, it is easier to stay stuck and inactive.
They do not realize that being willing to change frees up your inner confidence. The willingness becomes the catalyst to move past the fear. It frees you up and drives you forward.
What kind of change must you be willing to consider? You must be willing to change your thinking.
Having the same thought patterns over and over again is not beneficial to your success. The problem is that the same old thoughts lead to the same old behaviors and, in the end, the same old results.
Albert Einstein said it this way: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
In order to propel your business forward, tap into your inner confidence by being willing to change your thinking.
Third: Envision the end result.
This tool is about making choices.
In his book, “Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others,” George Kohlrieser talked about these choices when describing successful athletes:
“The power of imagination is incredible. Often we see athletes achieving unbelievable results and wonder how they did it. One of the tools they use is visualization or mental imagery….they made the choice to create their destinies and visualized their achievements before they ultimately succeeded.”
Story after story has been told about athletes, race car drivers and men and women in business who have taken the challenge of looking into their mind’s eye and envisioning the end result they desire. They “made a choice to create their destinies.”
In my opinion, visualization is the tool that sets your inner confidence in stone. Tapping into this well is a sign for all to see that you have the confidence needed to achieve your desired result, whatever it might be.
Fourth: Practice positive self –talk.
Over the years, I have encountered two very distinct groups of people when it comes to self-talk. The first is the over-the-top, fake, often arrogant folks who can’t stop talking about themselves – always with a positive “I’ve done that and better than you” attitude.
The second is the self-humiliating, always down on their luck, also fake folks who can’t find one good thing about themselves.
Both groups are uncomfortable to be around. Neither group will work well in business.
The ability to speak to yourself in kind and affirming ways builds up the well of inner confidence and keeps it alive and well. This ability is necessary to energize yourself as you encounter the ups and downs of life and business.
Positive self-talk is the maintenance tool. It keeps everything running smoothly.
There you have it – four distinct and powerful tools. Refusing to give consent, together with a willingness to change, the ability to envision the end result and positive self-talk, will allow you to tap into your inner self confidence and propel your business forward.
I wish you all the best on your journey.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
You might think I’m a warm, fuzzy and “Kumbaya” kind of Guy. Most of the time I am, but I have strong feelings about e-mail etiquette and what it takes to get your e-mail read — and answered.
As someone who gets dozens of e-mails every day and sends a handful of e-mails every day to get strangers to do things (“digital evangelism”), I offer these insights to help you become a more effective e-mailer.
Craft your subject line. Your subject line is a window into your soul, so make it a good one.
First, it has to get your message past the spam filters, so take out anything about sex and money-saving special offers.
Then, it must communicate that your message is highly personalized. For example, “Love your blog,” “Love your book,” and “You skate well for an old man,” always work on me. While you’re at it, craft your “From:” line, too, because when people see the “From:” is from a company, they usually assume the message is spam.
Limit your recipients. As a rule of thumb, the more people you send an e-mail to, the less likely any single person will respond to it, much less perform any action that you requested.
This is similar to the Genovese Syndrome (or the “bystander effect”): In 1964, the press reported that 38 people “stood by” while Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York.
If you are going to ask a large group of people to do something, then at least use blind carbon copies; not only will the few recipients think they are important, you won’t burden the whole list with everyone’s e-mail address. Nor will you inadvertently reveal everyone’s e-mail address.
Don’t write in ALL CAPS. Everyone probably knows this by now, but just in case: Text in all caps is interpreted as YELLING in e-mail. Even if you’re not yelling, it’s more difficult to read text that’s in all caps, so do your recipients a favor and use standard capitalization practices.
Keep it short. The ideal length for an e-mail is five sentences. If you’re asking something reasonable of a reasonable recipient, simply explain who you are in one or two sentences and get to the ask. If it’s not reasonable, don’t ask at all.
My theory is that people who tell their life story suspect that their request is on shaky ground, so they try to build up a case to soften up the recipient.
Another very good reason to keep it short is that you never know where your e-mail will end up – all the way from your minister to the attorney general of New York. There is one exception to this brevity rule: When you really don’t want anything from the recipient and you simply want to heap praise and kindness upon him or her. Then you can go on as long as you like!
Quote back. Even if e-mails are flying back and forth within hours, be sure to quote back the text that you’re answering. Assume that the person you’re corresponding with has 50 e-mail conversations going at once. If you answer with a simple, “Yes, I agree,” most of the time, you will force the recipient to dig through his deleted mail folder to figure out what you’re agreeing to.
However, don’t “fisk” either (courtesy of Brad Hutchings). Fisking is when you quote back the entire message and respond line by line, often in an argumentative way. This is anal if not downright childish, so don’t feel like you have to respond to every issue.
Use plain text. I hate HTML e-mail. I tried it for a while, but HTML is not worth the trouble of sending or receiving it. All those pretty colors and fancy typefaces and styles make me want to puke. If you can’t say it in plain text, you don’t have anything worth saying.
Control your URLs. I don’t know what’s gotten into some companies, but the URLs that they generate have dozens of letters and numbers.
It seems to me that these 32-character URLs have almost as many possible combinations as the number of atoms in the universe — I don’t know how many URLs a company intends to create, but it’s probably a smaller number than this. If you’re forwarding a URL and it wraps to the next line, it’s very likely that clicking on it won’t work.
Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the Web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of 10 books including “Enchantment,” “Reality Check” and “The Art of the Start.” He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at email@example.com.
Most of us sincerely want to be a better person, manager, spouse, significant other, parent, child or Indian chief. Certainly, good intentions and desire are the first steps in self-improvement. The second step is an introspective discovery process combined with a bit of discipline in order to make meaningful progress.
To get started, ask yourself several pointed questions. Has anyone ever made suggestions to you about your management or communication style? Maybe it was a boss or mentor, a good friend or an associate earnestly trying to give you a few constructive tips on how to improve. Best yet, it might have been self-discovery after you did something that did not quite measure up to your own expectations.
Reality is, for most of us, our strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses. As an example, if you're a type A, anal-retentive person who is detail-oriented to a fault and always crosses every T and dots every I, possibly this strength has morphed you into becoming a micromanager of others. Or, maybe you consider yourself a disciple of the great communicator, the late President Ronald Reagan, because you are a terrific speaker who can captivate the other person in one-on-one conversation or every individual in a large audience. The downside of this is maybe you're not a great listener because you fall in love with the sound of your voice and your words. This could translate into you talking too much and unintentionally giving the wrong impression of not being receptive to another person's point of view.
The list can go on and on. The trick, however, is to recognize what you are and what you're not, and then tweak your style for the greater good, helping not only yourself but also those with whom you interface by making yourself more effective and perhaps even a little easier to take.
Try this. Create two columns on a legal pad or spreadsheet and list all of the attributes you think you possess in terms of your management capabilities/style. Keep the list short and focus on what's important, as this is not an inventory of everything you've done or learned since the third grade. Once you've captured two, three or four key characteristics, in the next column record a corresponding set of those things you know don't help your cause.
Next, re-read this personal inventory of pros and cons and look for patterns. If you note, as an example, that you are incredibly disciplined and seldom give yourself any slack, see if you also jotted down on the detractor side of the ledger that people tend to think you push subordinates too hard without differentiating between what is mission-critical versus basic tasks. If you spot this corresponding weakness, it doesn't necessarily mean that you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, but you might just need to recalibrate your standards when dealing with others, recognizing that your subordinates don't have to become your clone to be successful.
Once you've drilled down on the most important characteristics that you want to change, it's time to develop a game plan. For illustrative purposes, let's again assume you're that great communicator, but you sometimes go over the top and incessantly interrupt others, which leads to missing out on their ideas, not to mention becoming a bore. If this is your Achilles' heel, you must focus on the triggers that cause you to behave in this manner in order to strive for improvement.
Maybe you're really not self-consumed, but instead, your mind races ahead to follow-up thoughts that you want to make without allowing enough time for others to absorb and comment on your initial words of wisdom. This suggests you need to put a mental circuit breaker on your lips after you make your first major point, allowing for a long pregnant pause to let others amplify on your point or introduce an opposing or complementary thought. By doing this, you'll help make the conversation or presentation more interactive, which may lead to better resolutions or open the door to new unexplored concepts or opportunities.
Armed with this newly created self-assessment, you'll become a more productive and better leader who has learned to make your strengths stronger and reduce the negative effects of your weaknesses.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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There are plenty of warnings about wanting too much in this world, whether it is in your personal life or as the CEO of a company.
Remember the dot-com bust? Prior to the technology market bubble bursting, tech companies could do no wrong. Investors were ignoring basic fundamentals because “this was a new era” and the old rules didn’t apply. Well, it turns out the rules did apply. As did one very old rule about “what goes up, must come down.”
Tech company valuations were slashed by billions, thousands were laid off and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.
More recently, we experienced the real estate bust. It was pretty much the same story — people ignored basic investing and common-sense rules and the prices for real estate went sky-high, and then the bubble burst. The results were also the same: billions in value lost, thousands of jobs affected and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.
There is plenty of blame to go around for these events, both by investors who got caught up on the hype and CEOs who were trying to get rich, or at least richer than they already were. It was a quest to have the biggest paycheck, the biggest yacht, the biggest plane and the biggest house. The reckless CEOs were trying to use get-rich-quick methods that are dangerous to everyone.
There are four common ways to grow a company:
- Going public through an IPO
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Debt financing
- Self-funded organic growth
IPOs cost a lot of money to launch and even more money to maintain. The second and third methods are all about leverage. Overvalued stocks and overleveraged companies were major contributors to the tech and real estate busts. Too many CEOs were borrowing more and more money to fund the next great merger or open more locations. When tough times hit and the money dried up, they had lived well beyond their means and a harsh reality set in.
Despite these recent economic failures, many companies are still playing with borrowed money, overleveraging themselves and putting their entire company at risk. You have to understand the leverage game and the risks that come with it. The best way to grow a company is to create an environment that fosters growth and to focus on building long-term relationships.
This isn’t to say that you won’t make a strategic acquisition here and there or occasionally borrow money to fund needed expansions. The key is to do it in moderation and understand how too much debt can hurt your ability to grow. Making a mistake with debt can spell doom for your company and everyone in it.
Your responsibility as CEO goes far beyond yourself. Investors obviously are counting on you, but so is everyone that works in your organization. For some of your vendors, you might be their largest account. If you suddenly went out of business, how would it affect them? Would you create your own mini “bust” that rippled through the local economy, even on a micro scale?
In today’s world, you need to take a hard look at how you are leading your company. One wrong move could cut you off from the credit you need to fund your leveraged growth. With no money, the organization often collapses under the weight of its own debt.
It’s OK to be satisfied with what you have and not play the high-risk game of leveraged growth. Growth is good but not when it requires an “all-in” risk that can ruin your organization and the lives of the people who work there. Remember, more often than not, slow and steady wins the race.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
Asked to take the managing partner position of Ernst & Young’s Cincinnati office in November 2008 with the recession looming was both good and bad timing for Julia Poston. On one hand, she quickly realized the amount of challenges and drastic changes that the firm would need to cope with, but on the other hand, she could utilize personal strengths and take the firm to levels of business it hadn’t been before.
It didn’t take long for the effects of the recession to cause clients of the accounting firm’s 300-employee Cincinnati office to begin to pull back and shelve projects. Poston had to look for alternative ways to keep clients and customers satisfied while also making sure the employees of the firm understood what was needed of them moving forward.
“We were pressed to figure out how to manage our business a little differently with our revenue dropping as clients shelved things. Trying to manage the business with a smaller revenue base just meant that you had to be more frugal,” Poston says. “We really looked closely at where we could drive some of the costs out of our business without impacting the services to our clients. There were people challenges too, because people were just really worried about the recession and what it was going to mean and they felt vulnerable.”
Luckily for Poston and the firm, those were things that played to her strengths as a leader. She had to drive transparency and openness with her employees as the firm dealt with the changes of a recession.
“It caused us to have to ask them to do more with less and we had a chance to really see who the leaders were during those tougher times,” she says.
Here is how Poston took the negatives of doing business in a recession and turned them into game-changing initiatives for Ernst & Young.
Communicate in tough times
As the recession began to take effect and some of the early signs of change crept into the firm, Poston had to be upfront and clear about what this meant for employees.
“We really looked to people to come to us with ideas about how we could do things differently and challenge things that we once did,” Poston says. “What we tried to do was say to our people, ‘Hey guys, we’re in the midst of a recession and we need you guys to act like you own this firm too. Tell us how we’re going to manage through this. Rather than feeling that things aren’t as great as they once were, tell us what you would do if you were running this business.’”
In order for this approach to work, everyone in the firm had to understand that changes were inevitable and they had to embrace that fact.
“Change happens in every business,” she says. “You can either try to manage around it or you can take it and say, ‘All right, how do we need to continue to transform what we do, how we serve our clients, how we behave internally as an office given this change and react to it?’”
To get people to step up with ideas and have the urge to be engaged in helping the firm forward, Poston was open and transparent.
“If you want everybody to own the goals of your business or your practice and not just have their own personal individual goals … you have to be very transparent with them,” she says. “You have to co-develop the goals with them and then build in the accountability with all levels. The only way to do that is with transparency. Just kind of barking that out and setting those goals and telling everybody that everyone has to own those goals doesn’t work if people don’t feel that they’ve got all the right information and transparency into the process.”
Poston and her other partners took the recession as an opportunity to engage all of the firm’s employees in new ways to run the practice.
“We need to approach our work and our client services differently coming out of this recession,” she says. “We need to have far greater diversity of thought. We need to make sure that we bring, not just our partners to the table to help make decisions as it relates to our client’s business issues, but we need to invite our younger people to the table to think about how we come up with solutions and creative ways to help our clients deal with their business issues. We really have had a big emphasis on connecting everyone from partners to staff both in horizontal and vertical teamwork. We’ve really changed the culture to challenge people to speak up and share their ideas no matter what level they are in the firm.”
Through the process of communicating what it would take to get through the recession and getting employees engaged, it became evident who the leaders in the firm were.
“The people who stepped up and said, ‘We can manage through this change,’ are the ones who are most vital to our business and largely have been the ones who have been most successful coming out of the recession,” Poston says. “The ones who were kind of paralyzed by the recession and didn’t show an ability to adapt to change and doing things differently, they didn’t show great strength. They showed a resistance to change and wanted to harken back to the old days, which the old days aren’t back again.”
Discover new leadership styles
Poston wanted everyone to challenge the old ways of thinking and doing business at Ernst & Young.
“One of the things that’s been a game changer for us was we took our partner group and did something different in terms of challenging leadership styles and creating an environment of teamwork in a really different way than we had ever done before,” Poston says. “One of the things that we did was we had an off-site, three-day, two-evening event out at Camp Joy, which is a camp that has a lot of those outdoor activities like ropes courses and those physically challenging things. We called it the partner leadership challenge and it was a combination of those activities outdoors along with facilitated classroom on leadership challenge. Everyone had to attend and it was a huge game changer for us because there became an element of trust and partnership that we thought we had before, but we didn’t have any idea just how far we could take that.”
The leadership challenge and classroom part of it was started with a 360-feedback process that all the partners needed to do with at least 10 people — people above them, at their same level and below them.
“We really openly dived into all of the feedback that each of us had gotten and set goals for ourselves and buddied up to help drive that accountability,” she says. “We all got a lot of lift from one another by doing this, and that’s the kind of culture we want here — a culture of LIFT. LIFT stands for leveraging insights from teamwork with the idea being that if we team and trust in it in an extraordinary manner, we will be able to leverage each other’s insights and do an even better job serving our clients and taking care of our people here.”
The partners took it upon themselves to make sure they were acting as the best leaders they could and made sure they didn’t just talk about it, but demonstrated it.
“We identified what we thought were the five key practices of good leaders and really honed in on those,” she says. “Do we model the way? Do we actually walk the talk? Do we inspire a vision for our people and communicate that? Do we challenge processes? Do we enable others to act? Lastly, do we encourage the heart? Do we really let people get into what they’re doing? We took those five practices of leadership and we discuss those in each of our partner meetings and remind each other that we have to model the way.”
Keep your clients close
Poston understood that it wasn’t just her firm and the accounting industry struggling to get through the recession. The firm took advantage of the situation by getting closer to clients and helping them achieve better ways of doing business as well.
“When times are good and companies are growing and earnings are growing, sometimes there’s not really a burning platform for them to be interested in hearing our observations of how other businesses are tackling different issues,” Poston says. “When you’re in a recession and everybody is really struggling, we found our clients were far more interested in hearing our ideas on how they could approach the recession. They welcomed other thoughts and ideas and observations from others and they might not have as much previously. When things are good, you’re not concerned about best practices.”
It’s easy to relax and allow business relationships to just carry on when things are running smoothly. However, it’s when times are tough and those relationships are put to the test that you have to really deliver on the promises of service and support.
“If we had this come again, we would do the same thing in terms of investing more and more with our clients and spending more time with them and building those relationships so that you can help them and be a partner with them,” she says. “When the economy starts to turn, you’ve positioned yourself far better as a trusted business adviser to them. Spend more time with your clients when they are struggling and have bigger business issues, not less.”
Competition in the accounting industry is fierce, so it is crucial that Ernst & Young find ways to differentiate itself to clients.
“We’re in a really competitive business,” Poston says. “We’ve really coached our people to not take any client interaction for granted and always be at our best. A differentiator between Ernst & Young and our competitors is over the course of the last year and a half, we have really globalized our firm. We have the same methodology for client service and delivery, the same metrics, the same type of communications across the entire globe. The reason that that’s important is that it’s a pretty big benefit to our clients that have a global footprint. Our project teams, our integrated solutions are very consistent across the globe. That consistency that we have in our firm across every location is a huge plus. That’s not necessarily the structure for other firms.”
While the changes in thinking, communication and leadership have been a huge help to getting the Cincinnati office through the recession, the top priority and most helpful aspect of those changes were the clients.
“Make client service the No. 1 thing you do,” Poston says. “If you approach your business from what would be best for your clients, chances are you’ll probably be doing the right thing. And then, just really invest in your people. Take care of them and give them challenging things to do and let them be a part of the decision-making and treat them like the great young professionals that they are and they’ll deliver. You’ll have great retention and have really satisfied clients.”
HOW TO REACH: Ernst & Young Cincinnati office, (513) 612-1400 or www.ey.com
- Communicate your challenges and changes to get employees engaged.
- Challenge the old ways of doing things.
- When times are tough make the best of client and customer relationships.
The Poston File
Ernst & Young Cincinnati
Born: Boston, Mass.
Education: Attended Miami University and received a B.S. in accounting
What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?
I worked in a restaurant when I was 16 years old, and it was a really great job because you work really hard, but you learn all kinds of valuable things: how to operate with equipment, how to deal with customers and handle money. That’s when I started liking accounting because I enjoyed interacting with customers and the financial end of it as well. It was a great starting place to learn some valuable skills.
What is the best business advice that someone has given you?
My dad used to tell me that business was so unethical. I didn’t agree with him, but I’ll never forget that because, as a business leader, we have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens.
What is one of the most stressful things about tax season?
Right now, given the political environment, there is an awful lot of chatter and proposals of how our tax system might change. One of the things that we try hard to do is understand what these proposals are and talk to our clients about them so that if any of these come to be, we will be able to help our clients think about them and respond to them.
If you could speak with anyone either from the past or present, who would you speak with?
From a business standpoint, there are some incredible business leaders that I admire. A.G. Lafley was an incredible CEO at P&G, and I find those kinds of people inspiring.
Entrepreneurs are a driving force of our economy. They help to create the jobs that deliver value, that deliver paychecks to people to raise their families, send their kids to college, buy cars from the local car dealer, etc. Entrepreneurship, for many, has now become the new “great modern dream” — that is, to become an innovator and leader, who can see and take an opportunity, and so be more able to shape and control one’s destiny in today’s globalized world. To make such a difference one must truly be different. Consider
- In the United States, about 600,000 to 800,000 new businesses are started each year.
- Seven out of 10 new jobs are created by entrepreneurial businesses.
- The National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Commerce and others have reported that since World War II, “Smaller entrepreneurial firms have been responsible for 67 percent of all inventions and innovations, and 95 percent of all radical innovation in the United States.”
This data, from important government organizations, prove that it is not the large, and very large, organizations that are the innovators and leaders but the “smaller entrepreneurial firms,” which start small and then become large through their entrepreneurial spirit and innovative mindset.
Three factors are among those that contribute to entrepreneurial success: passion, luck, and willingness to risk greatly and be or offer something that is different and better.
Passion is talked about often. But what is it really? Passion is the willingness to suffer and endure pain, sometimes very great pain, for one’s beliefs. Passion is the foundation of entrepreneurial success.
Any leader must possess passion for what he or she does if success is to be achieved. Without the willingness to endure very hard and uncertain times and to defer gratifications, there will be little chance of success, and little reason for others to follow. Passion also has an ingrained essence called persistence. Without persistence, one might talk a good game — but doesn’t play the game for keeps.
Luck, I believe, is everywhere, although not everyone sees luck when it beckons. That’s because luck favors only the alert and prepared mind. But, leaders do recognize luck when it happens and seize lucky moments to advance.
The word entrepreneur means “to see and to take an opening.” Therefore, entrepreneurs must be persons of vision and of action. The word opportunity suggests an open port, or portal, for success, which demands the unity of purpose that generates the power needed to achieve the successful gaining of the opportunity recognized.
I simply cannot overestimate the importance of being in the right place at the right time. But finally — and this is what separates an entrepreneur or job-creator from a job-seeker — is an entrepreneur’s willingness to risk almost everything — comfort, income, home, health and, yes, oftentimes even family involvement, to seek opportunities, to take openings and to satisfy as yet unmet demands.
Passion, luck and willingness to risk are the requirements to tread the path of the entrepreneur. Sounds easy, but it’s not. Because what I forgot to mention was success also demands action. The greater the success, the bolder and more persistent the actions required. This takes courage, creativity and commitment. While you must be willing to lay it all on the line, you must also have these latter-mentioned attributes.
Is there more? Of course. You really didn’t think there were just three requirements for great entrepreneurship did you? There are many more. But those are the nub, the essence, the core of it.
If you’re considering building a business, becoming an entrepreneur, controlling your own destiny, creating jobs and making a real difference in this world, do you have the three essentials?
Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems, Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. For more info visit tomnies.cincom.com/about/