Michael M. Menyhart leads Fifth Third Bancorp’s customer experience initiatives across its six business lines. He is responsible for customer loyalty and the deployment of brand and experience improvement strategies. Menyhart joined Fifth Third in 2006 with 10 years of experience in the financial services industry.
Where should customer service sit in importance with any company?
It must be at the top. There must be a voice in the senior portions of business that positions customer service with sales. Investing in managers through training and making customer service a core part of business strategy will be a long-term investment in the company. Knowledgeable employees provide better customer service. The training strategy must be reviewed annually in order to evaluate gaps of where you need to be and where you actually are. In the evaluation, you can determine the percent of which you must invest in maintaining and improving customer service.
What does good customer service entail?
We live in a dynamic world, and the definition of good customer service changes frequently. It also means different things to different customers. One-size-fits-all is the wrong approach, so you must be able to meet customers where they want. You need to keep in mind you’re working with different generations and lifestyles. If you meet and exceed what they expect, you can build your brand loyalty through them.
Does the treatment and salary of employees affect the way they treat customers?
Yes. Customer satisfaction should be part of an employee’s compensation. You need to measure customer satisfaction on a monthly basis by polling customers. The way you poll customers can be designed in a way that best suits your business. In the design, there must be a way to hold employees accountable for actions and issues presented. Engaged employees develop and interact with customers, so the treatment managers give employees comes full cycle and shows in customer treatment. You must have an option to advance in the company for employees, so strong performers can continue to develop.
In these uncertain economic times, just about every company in every industry is looking at ways to reduce or eliminate costs. Because of this, more and more companies are running their equipment (computers, printers, etc.) until the very end, squeezing every last bit of life out of those systems to get the most bang for their buck.
This is a perfectly acceptable — and recommended — practice, but companies need to be fully aware of exactly when to dispose of equipment and how to properly do it.
“To optimize the life cycle of your assets, you’ve got to plan and monitor all life cycle costs, including disposal and recycling,” says Gregory G. Lorenzen, the vice president of operations for Pomeroy IT Solutions.
Smart Business spoke with Lorenzen about end-of-life services and what to do with your equipment when it reaches the end of its value.
How do you know equipment has reached the end of its value?
Resources need to be retired from use when they are no longer suitable or compatible to business. You know it’s time to retire a resource when the risk of business activities being disrupted increases and/or when the cost of operating, repairing or running it to enterprise standards increases.
It should be noted, however, that when you retire an asset you’re not just tossing it in the dumpster. First, you need to determine whether or not the asset could be used elsewhere in your company. Even if a computer or system is completely useless to one user, it could be an upgrade to another. You want to get as much value out of your assets while they still have useful lives.
If it is determined that the asset no longer has any use within your enterprise, look to a company like Pomeroy to handle the recovery logistics. That way you can be sure the asset is cataloged, tracked and processed in such as way that eliminates any chain of custody issues with the assets. Essentially, these types of companies act as the service agent and will process the transfer of both brokerage and disposal class materials using systems and bill of material processes that transfer the ownership of these assets to the purchasing party or to the e-waste recycler.
What should you look for in a good asset recovery vendor?
First, make sure they work with reputable and EPA-compliant recyclers in the United States and overseas. You must ensure the asset recovery vendor selected is a trusted agent. A good asset recovery company will completely sanitize and secure your assets, wiping hard drives to Department of Defense standards to ensure no data, intellectual property or business information remains. Select an asset recovery vendor for its transparency, security and record keeping. It should be able to meet your policies and earn your trust through execution and verification.
What can happen if a company doesn’t dispose of equipment properly?
As stated, there are legal concerns in regards to the EPA along with the moral requirements of being good stewards to the planet and its resources. The less we pull from the ground and the more we recycle will benefit not only our generation but many generations to come. Besides the fines you’ll face from EPA violations, you’ll also have the stigma of being a company that infringed EPA rules. In today’s environmentally conscious world, that negative perception can be far worse than any fine.
Also, if you don’t properly dispose of your assets, you risk exposing your company’s sensitive information. A competitor could obtain your critical business information, or you could violate the rules of SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act), HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) or Gramm-Leach-Bliley.
So, is proper disposal a legal and regulatory compliance challenge, or is it primarily an ethical dilemma?
Legal compliance is essential, of course, but ethics can have an even greater financial impact on the enterprise, as aging assets can represent financial liabilities.
At this time, legislation is mostly concerned with the disposal of plastic additives and four heavy metals: lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium. Broader legislation is expected, as citizens hold governments and enterprises responsible for the cost of pollution and cleaning up the environment. So you’ve got to manage the risk of ecological issues damaging your business reputation, even if a legal case is proven.
Disposal must be a budgeted item, not an unbudgeted contingency. Disposal is increasingly being factored into the cost of acquisitions, with a vendor appointed to manage disposals. You’ll find that your business will need disposal services, and you cannot expect to dispose of assets for free.
Bottom line, when your assets lose their value and can’t be reused or resold, engage an asset recovery provider you trust and build the cost of asset disposal into your project plans and budgets.
GREGORY G. LORENZEN is the vice president of operations for Pomeroy IT Solutions. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 846-8727 x1521.
Rick Bryan was ready for a change. He and his staff at Bryan
Equipment Sales Inc. had been going through the same old
process each year to develop the company’s key strategies for the
coming year. They all knew it was time to move on to something
new. “It had kind of gone through its cycle,” says Bryan, the company’s president. “We had been doing that strategy session for the
last eight years and had done well with it, but eight years is a long
time to do the same type of strategy planning.” Just as the company was itching for something different, Tom Jones, the company’s chairman, happened to meet a gentleman from a consulting
firm at a chamber of commerce meeting. Over the past two year,
the consultant has helped the company, an independent distributor of STIHL power tools and products, develop a new planning
process that is more technical and allows for more interaction
Bryan says that you can get stuck in the same old routine, day in
and day out. Having initiatives and goals in place can help keep
employees on track, so they know what they should be working
for each day. They have also helped the company continue to grow
during the past 60 years in business.
“It’s important that we set initiatives and goals that are tied to our
growth goal that everybody throughout the company can look to
and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do this year, and we’re going
to do it because we feel like we’re going to hit X percent growth,’”
he says. “We believe that if we do X, then at the end of the year, it
is an element to our success.”
By developing strategies each year and involving employees in
the process, Bryan has set a path that his employees have bought
in to and are striving to reach together.
Develop the strategies
The first thing you have to do is to figure out exactly what you
want to achieve for the year. Bryan and 11 members of his staff
spent several days off-site with the consultant to come up with the
company strategies for the year.
Using a consultant helps to get the process started. Bryan says
you should find someone who fits your culture and understands
your company and your industry. Seeking advice from your local
chamber of commerce, trade associations and professional advisers can help you in finding the right consultant to use.
With the help of the consultant, the company uses a technology-based compared analysis system, which puts all the choices up on
a screen for the staff to sift through.
Before the meeting, employees are given a particular topic to
research and then report back on how the company is achieving it,
why it is important and how it could be improved upon. They also
look at the challenges, risks and opportunities for that topic over
the next year. These are then used when coming up with strategies
for the coming year and also to get employees involved in the
“You come up with 20 ideas that you think are going to take you
to the next level and then you do comparisons,” Bryan says. “This or this? This or this? Which is more important? Do you like this
one slightly, moderately or more than the one above? Or do you
like the one above slightly, moderately or more than the one below
it? You ask that against every bucket of opportunity, and it narrows
it down for you of what the whole group thinks is most important
and will achieve the objectives for the year on revenue and profit.”
The top choices are ranked in order, so then you have to narrow
down your ideas to the ones that are the most important. It needs
to be a manageable number of ideas that you can actually work on
implementing throughout the year. Bryan drives this process to get
the staff to agree on the best strategies for the company.
“You could come up with 10, but we are firm believers that you
can’t do more than five or six things,” Bryan says. “You can do the
other ones, but you need to pick five or six that people can remember. If you pick 10, nobody’s going to be remembering, you’ll just
never be able to remember it or act on it. It’s better to do five
things right than 10 things halfway right.”
Some of the strategies the company picked to focus on for 2009
include accessory sales, improving forecasting and selling into
different segments of the market more efficiently.
While this type of strategy development might seem fast, since
the company spends less than two days actually determining the
strategies, the method is more interactive because of the technology and easier to develop conclusions on the best strategies.
Getting employees involved in the process also helps them
understand the strategies better, and in turn, they help others
understand them, as well.
“As a group we’re always going to come up with better ideas
than a single person could,” Bryan says. “It tentacles out through
the entire organization. If we’re all involved with it and all can
verbalize it and repeat it and live it, sleep it, drink it, eat it,
breathe it, then the rest of the company does also.”
You also need to make sure you’re involved in the development
process, as it shows employees that you are a part of the team and
care about the strategies of the company. Bryan was right there with
his co-workers, presenting a topic and suggesting ideas regarding
strategies. He says if you’re not going to be part of the process, you
might as well not even be in the room helping with it.
It’s easy to come out of strategy development sessions, but you
also want everyone to understand the strategies before you start
the implementation phase, so you need buy-in.
“If you buy in to the fact that the five or six things you pick are
going to make a difference over the next 12 months to help you
achieve your revenue and profit goals, then you need to buy in to
it and your managers need to buy in to that so that it permeates
throughout the entire organization,” Bryan says.
Developing that buy-in goes back to making sure you pick the
strategies that are the most important for your company.
“If you just pick five things that you don’t think are going to help
you at all, then yeah, it’s going to sit on the shelf and nobody’s
going to buy in to it,” Bryan says. “It does start with that process
of, ‘These are five or six things that we’re either not currently doing
or not performing as well as we think we can, that we believe in
our hearts will make a difference in our next 12-month results.’ If
you honestly don’t believe that, then the process was a waste of
time and go back to work and do what you were doing before.”
Implement the strategies
Once your strategies are in place and you have formed that
buy-in with those involved in the development, you need to start
implementing the strategies and involving the employees. Each
strategy at Bryan Equipment is given an owner, and that person
then sets the timeline and action plan for the year to achieve that
strategy. Having an owner in charge of each strategy makes sure
that it is being worked on and achieved by employees.
“You’ve got to have an owner; somebody’s got to be accountable in the end,” he says. “Did it get done or not, was it successful or not, did it achieve results and goals at the end?”
Developing the timeline and plan is the sole responsibility of the
owner, but the staff is there to provide guidance to him or her.
The goals within the plan have to be measurable so employees
can actually reach them.
“If it is not measurable, then it is not worth doing,” Bryan says.
“Would anyone watch the Super Bowl if we did not keep score?”
You need to make sure the timeline proposed for achieving each
goal is reasonable and that all resources needed to achieve it are
available to the owner of each goal. All numbers and statistics for
the goals are measured, then reviewed monthly to determine what
type of progress is being made.
Employees are measured through progress reports, and once they
achieve the goals, they are compensated through bonuses. Tying
bonuses directly into the action plan not only holds employees
accountable but also gets them motivated about achieving the goals.
“The employees are recognized at the end of the year with, hopefully, a substantial check that shows they achieved their goal that
helped us all reach our sales and profit goal,” Bryan says.
There are points, though, when working on the strategies, that
employees learn that the goals may be set too high and need to be
readjusted. Bryan says as long as employees bring evidence as to
why the goal is too high and everyone agrees on it, the goal can be
As the year goes on and challenges come up, it’s easy to let the
strategies slip away. You need to keep them at the forefront and reinforce them so everyone remains focused on them.
“You get reactive,” Bryan says. “It’s in the upfront process that these
five or six or however many you might come up with are always
proactive and going to make a difference for the following 12 months.
We meet monthly with our staff. The first three slides we show at
every meeting every month are our mission statement, our strategy,
and our five or six initiatives for the next 12 months, so it’s in front of
every employee monthly.”
Bryan says the strategies the company has developed through
this process have led to successes and helped the company grow.
For example, one of the strategies in 2008 was to achieve 58 percent of orders coming through their system electronically. The
company was at 40 percent at the beginning of 2008 and had
already reached 60 percent by September.
Bryan says developing and implementing new strategies can help
you deal with changes that happen to your business.
“If you continue to do the same thing every day and expect change,
that’s not going to happen,” Bryan says. “The initiatives and strategies are trying to get out of that, doing the same thing day after day
after day, and then looking at yourself at the end of the year and saying, ‘Why didn’t we grow?’ Even if we picked six bad ones and then
don’t grow, at least we tried something. If we come in and do the
same old, same old every day, I’m not sure we would make it another 60 years.”
HOW TO REACH: Bryan Equipment Sales Inc., (513) 248-2000 or www.bryanequipment.com
Peter Senge is at the forefront of waking people up to the aftershocks of a world gone flat. Through his position as a lecturer at MIT and founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning, Senge’s work frequently involves the promotion of sustainability. Senge and a team of coauthors wrote “The Necessary Revolution” as a rallying cry to lead organizations out of the era of denial and into a new dawn of environmental consciousness. Here are some recent thoughts from Senge on the subjects affecting companies of all sizes.
Perceptions of globalization
For most of us, (globalization) means global financial markets where capital moves at the speed that electrons move around the world. It means producing and shipping products all around the world.
However, I think there are a couple subtleties of globalization that we tend to feel more (internally) than (externally). The first is that globalization is about multiculturalism. As Americans, we’re especially blind to this because we have this history of the melting pot. It’s a bad metaphor because that’s not what’s happening in the world today. Despite the projection of American culture, the Chinese have every intention of remaining Chinese.
The second aspect is the contradictions between globalization and the larger natural world in which we live. The average pound of food travels more than 2,000 miles before it’s purchased by an American in a grocery store. We think nothing of getting our cantaloupes in the middle of winter from 4,000 miles away.
Unfortunately, one of the costs of this is the increased dependence on fossil fuels to do all this shipping, as well as carbon accumulating in the atmosphere, which is now starting to show up as significant instability in the climate around the world. ... Globalization at the subtlest level means how do we live in harmony with one another and with Mother Earth.
Making transformational changes
We hear the term all the time, and I sometimes think people use it to simply mean big change. I think that misses the point. Transformational change is a process of change that shifts us inside as well as outside. Transformational change is about deep, systemic change, and what’s most systemic is actually most personal.
It makes perfectly good sense for people to think about producing a product on one side of the planet and selling it on another side of the planet, because over the last several decades, we’ve all seen it happen.
But it’s happened in part because nobody has paid much attention to the cost and the byproducts of the energy used to do it.
The side effect of the energy we use in its impact on the climate is definitely something on people’s minds. Insurance companies are starting to pay the cost. Investors are starting to see it as a huge risk. Transformational change is a process where we have to question taken-for-granted assumptions. It is about changing the external systems, the arrangements, the procedures, the processes, maybe even the rules of the game. But all those are a reflection of our mental models, our taken-for-granted assumptions that we stopped questioning a long time ago. So, transformational change is always a process of reflection, of questioning, of challenging ourselves and challenging the way we do things.
to Create a
By Peter Senge, Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur and Sara Schley
DOUBLEDAY ©2008, 406 pages, $29.95
About the book: “The Necessary Revolution” seeks to upend the prevailing “take, make, waste” philosophy that has driven industry for the past century or more. In its place, a new initiative for sustainability and environmental conscience will drive the future of business.
The authors: Lead author Peter Senge is a senior lecturer at MIT and is the founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL). He authored the groundbreaking book “The Fifth Discipline.” Senge’s co-authors include Bryan Smith, a member of the faculty at York University’s Sustainable Enterprise Academy, Nina Kruschwitz, manager of the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook Project, and Joe Laur and Sara Schley, who co-founded the SoL Sustainability Consortium in 1998.
Why you should read it: Politics aside, the U.S. is beginning to hold businesses accountable for the level of resource consumption and pollution created in industry. In a world where even consumers are influenced by the green factor, companies need to quickly get on board. “The Necessary Revolution” helps businesses that are lagging slightly behind the times as well as those at the forefront of the movement. It does an excellent job of demonstrating the need for collaboration and that sustainability affects people at every level of industry.
Why it’s different: When it comes to business books on the green movement, the market is experiencing a flood of global warming proportions. “The Necessary Revolution” sets itself apart from the pack by avoiding farsighted theory and instead offers practical tools and concrete ways of thinking about sustainability. The book also doesn’t seek to shame big business, preferring to focus on the positives of companies such as Nike, GE and BP.
Can’t miss: “Getting People Engaged.”
Senge and company detail a variety of ways to
get people to shake the dust off the resource-wasting school of thought. Being a leader in the
fight for sustainability is tiring, if not lonely, work.
“The Necessary Revolution” offers environmental advocates the needed advice to make sure their efforts are not wasted. The chapter covers everything from opening a dialogue to building a team to get to the next level.
SPECIAL AUDIO CONFERENCE OFFER: Soundview Executive Book Summaries will host a 90-minute interactive audio conference with Peter Senge as part of the Beyond the Books series at 1 p.m. (EDT) on Tuesday, March 17. To sign your company up for a live connection to this conference so your managers can hear Senge’s advice firsthand, call (800) 775-7654; mention Smart Business to earn a special discount or go to www.sbnonline.com/senge.
Tony Vanjohnson wants to
lead by example and be a
mentor at his company,
but sometimes that is easier
said than done. As the leader,
the buck stops with you, and
that can hinder a leadership
style that includes delegating.
“You’re trying to lead by example, but sometimes you just
have to say, ‘Hey, no, you’re
going to do it this way,’” says
Vanjohnson, founder and CEO
of Margaritas Mexican
Restaurant LLC, which has six
locations and employs more
than 100 people.
Smart Business spoke with
Vanjohnson about how to effectively lead by example while
delegating and how to become
a mentor to your employees.
Q. How do you show employees
you lead by example?
In my business, it is showing
that, in the time of need, not
only myself but any of my managers, if needed, will put on an
apron and become a server, get
behind the bar and become a
bartender. Just doing whatever
it takes to work cohesively as a
team and show that to the people that you work with and
Q. How can a leader delegate
Know your own strengths
and weaknesses, and delegate
those weaknesses to someone
that is stronger in that area
where you may be weak.
Every morning, I get up and
go through the day prior and I
break it down morning, afternoon, early evening, and I say,
‘OK, these are the decisions I
made; these are the things I did. OK, I could have done
this better. Maybe I should
have had this person handle
this.’ So, I’m constantly reevaluating myself pretty much
Whatever I can change, I’ll
change the next day. That’s
something a leader has to do.
Admit that you’re wrong, or pat
yourself on the back when you
are clicking on all cylinders.
A good leader will always set
out their goals. I’ll have five or
six goals for the year. ‘I want to
be able to accomplish
these things.’ So, I’ve kind
of incorporated those
goals and paralleled them
with my self-evaluation.
Q. What steps do you
take to become a mentor?
What I try to do is
identify an individual
that is, one, strong in
common sense — not
knowledge but common sense. Then, I
kind of watch that person for a little while. I
don’t talk to them
about it or say, ‘You
have an opportunity
Then, I just take them underneath my wing, and I start
teaching them my processes.
I’ll buy them a book and say,
‘Hey, read this; this is a good
read. This will help you develop yourself,’ and so on and so
As they continue to grow, I
mirror their strengths with my
weaknesses, again, in helping
formulate the overall picture
Q. How do you identify people with common sense to
I think there is a certain art
form to it. You don’t really
get to know anyone. The key
is patience — and taking that
It’s just like the school
teacher for that elementary
kid. You don’t know what
you’re getting until halfway
through the school year, and
that school teacher, hopefully, they have the patience to
work with that child and
continue to develop that
Q. What advice would you
give someone else to become
a better mentor?
I would say, one, if you are going to go into a management position, whatever
industry you’re going to be
in, the first and foremost is
be an individual working as a
team. Then, if you’re starting
your own business, again,
you’re going to need to be an
individual, but work as a
Q. How does delegation tie
If there is a task to be performed and it is not completed to expectation, then I take
that person back through the
task and explain, ‘This is
why I told you to do it this
way specifically, A, B, C.
The expectation was not
met because you decided to
do C first, then B, then A.
Now, let me show you this is
the repercussion of doing it
this way, and this is the
result if you had done it A,
I give them the latitude to
make the mistakes. I think
when someone makes a mistake, if they’re genuine in it,
they learn much quicker
Q. How do you handle it
when someone doesn’t do
things the right way?
You pretty much have to
handle failure the same way
you handle success. We’re
going to fall. That’s just the
nature of any business. So,
you take that failure, just
like someone I’m mentoring.
You take those mistakes
and you just learn from
them. Which again, then
makes you stronger and
your company stronger.
HOW TO REACH: Margaritas Mexican Restaurant LLC, (513) 721-3147 or www.margaritasmex.com
Chuck Lohre studied architecture at the University of Kentucky and worked in advertising specializing in engineering technology. He published extensive resources on the U.S. Green Building Council educational facilities nationwide. He has hosted seminars on sustainable building technology and conducted five tours of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design projects.
Q. Why should solar energy and green building be important to Cincinnati businesses interested in saving money on energy bills?
Cincinnati is moving more toward green construction and energy-efficient architecture. All new structures are encouraged to have architecture that allows for natural sunlight, be energy-efficient and use sustainable energy, such as solar. These points will make the building retain value, better resale value and give a higher return on investment faster. The same goes for businesses operating in one of the many historical buildings in the city. Renovations need to keep with that of the historic era, which aren’t energy-efficient. Recently, approval was given to use similar yet energy-efficient windows to replace older ones. These businesses will see much lower energy bills, and the actual replacement cost is much lower.
Q. Why don’t more businesses comply with energy-efficient techniques?
There’s a huge lack of education about the expense or ease of being more energy-efficient. It’s a mindset that solar panels cost a lot or that it could be a hassle. But the cost of solar has been drastically reduced. Being energy-efficient can save thousands of dollars for a business a year and could be as simple as changing out light bulbs and using ENERGY STAR products. The time frame in which businesses can expect to start saving money post-investment could be as little as five months.
Q. Is there an incentive to businesses that employ energy-saving methods in their facilities?
Yes. Duke Energy has rebate programs that are provided when lighting is changed. Some buildings can acquire government grants. Many schools and universities have been given grants to build energy-efficient and green construction through various organizations you just have to investigate a little. It’s not far off that all new construction will be government mandated to be LEED certified.
Information technology has continued
to take up a larger share of American
companies’ expenditures. In the early 1980s, IT consumed about 15 percent of
capital expenditures. It grew to nearly 50
percent by the end of the 1990s. It is now
reportedly close to 80 percent. While IT is
extremely important, companies are looking for ways to maximize benefits and
“The best way to take the IT department
from a cost center to a business enabler is
to optimize the core infrastructure,” says
Chaz Braman, director of Microsoft services at Pomeroy IT Solutions. “This will
provide a competitive advantage along
with revenue growth, profits and customer loyalty. Higher levels of maturity
can result in a savings in IT costs of up to
Smart Business spoke with Braman
for his insight into core infrastructure
What is core infrastructure optimization?
Core infrastructure optimization (core
IO) is a method to analyze your entire
computer system along with what you
expect from it. You want to look at all the
possibilities to employ computer abilities
that are underutilized. When you use your
infrastructure at its optimum level, you
gain a competitive advantage by providing
better customer service. Repetitive operations can be handled automatically to cut
labor costs. Core IO gives a comprehensive, proven and efficient methodology to
help improve your core infrastructure.
What benefits can be expected from core IO?
Core IO is designed to help control IT
costs, improve security and availability,
and increase agility to enable companies
to spend less time and money on maintenance and devote more time to creating
and facilitating new capabilities and services to advance the business. An optimized core infrastructure can lead to
greater business continuity, enhanced
compliance and better, more secure access to network resources. Organizations
can achieve notable improvements in the ability to provide faster, more responsive
IT service and, thus, increase agility.
How is core IO accomplished?
It starts with a comprehensive assessment to help you analyze your core infrastructures and a comparison of your
answers with similar businesses. The
assessment is very holistic and unobtrusive and does not require any software
installation or network scanning. It provides a personalized and private optimization score, a peer comparison, and a value
assessment. The assessment delivers a
comprehensive report that can serve as an
actionable road map and incentive for
optimizing any IT infrastructure and platform. There are four levels of optimization
maturity. Once your level is determined,
the next step is to lay out the road map to
bump up to the next level. Here is where
you stand today, here is where you want
to go and here is how to get there. Your
report also includes a quantifiable value
of improving your core infrastructure,
which is based on IDC and Gartner data of
organizations that have already undergone the process.
What are the four levels?
They are basic, standardized, rationalized/advanced and dynamic. Basic is just
what it says. Constant manual monitoring
and repairs are needed. Standardized
includes some automated systems management capabilities and some automated
identity and access management. The next
level, rationalized/advanced, includes
some virtualization capabilities and proactive security and configuration policies
that enable self-provisioning. The infrastructure achieves its full potential as a
strategic asset for the business and
enables people throughout the enterprise
to do more to advance the business at the
What are some examples of potential cost
One area is desktop setup. The road
map can provide methodology to take a
desktop out of the box and hook it into
your system almost instantly. You bypass
all the time it used to take to individually
set up each computer and align it with
your system. You’ll likely gain savings in
another area as well because you probably have everything needed in the software, which you have already purchased.
It is just not all being utilized. For
instance, Microsoft’s Enterprise licensing
agreement usually includes all the tools.
It is just that too many people have not
taken the time or had the inclination to
match the abilities to their needs. The
costs for hardware and software are
going down, yet the costs of managing
and supporting your infrastructure are
increasing. Optimizing your core infrastructure will help you gain full potential
from what you have already paid for. You
can take many steps that are now done
manually and make them automatic, thus
allowing time for other more productive
tasks and increased profitability.
CHAZ BRAMAN is director of Microsoft services at Pomeroy IT Solutions. Reach him at (216) 408-8277 or by e-mail at
Greg Achten thought he knew everything
about Cincinnati. He grew up there, went
to college there and even started his career
there with Merrill Lynch Wealth
But when Achten returned to the city in
February as director of the company’s
Greater Cincinnati complex after spending
18 years away, he realized the market was
quite different than what he thought it was.
“Even though I thought I knew the market, I did spend a lot of time relearning the
market with a different lens just so I didn’t
miss anything,” he says.
Spending that time relearning helped
Achten step into the director’s role with no
preconceptions and ready to tackle any
challenges that lay ahead of him.
One of the first challenges Achten had to
face was creating a vision. Merrill Lynch,
which was recently bought by Bank of
America, has an overall company vision to
“be the essential partner and to go beyond
financial solutions for our clients.” But the
company is large, with 60,000 employees
and offices in 40 countries, and Achten
wanted a vision specific to Cincinnati that
would rally his 180 employees to work
together toward a common goal.
“It’s important to have a vision locally just
so everybody has something they can buy in
to and build toward,” Achten says. “It’s
important for employees to buy in to something and be part of something that’s bigger
than just their day-to-day role, and that’s
what the vision enabled us to do. That drives
the receptionist’s behavior, it drives the
financial behavior, anything interacting with
clients, what we do behind the scenes.”
Achten dove into creating the local vision
to “be the premier solution for financial
services in Cincinnati” by focusing on getting to know the $107 million organization
better, getting feedback from employees
and holding employees accountable for
achieving the vision.
Get to know your people
Achten couldn’t start creating a vision
without any information, so he first needed
to get to know his organization and the
people in it. He did a fast overview of the
company and knew employees were delivering a high level of service to clients, but
he wanted to dig deeper and know more
about the individuals he would be leading.
“People don’t care what you know until
they know you care, so it’s important for
me to come in, get to know the individuals,
what they were trying to accomplish, get to
know their practices and how they interacted with their clients,” Achten says.
He spent most of his first 100 days there
meeting with employees, mainly the 116
financial advisers. He spent between a half-hour to an hour with each employee, sometimes over lunch or dinner, to learn about
him or her personally and professionally.
Achten didn’t set an agenda for the conversations, but he let the employees dictate
“I wanted to know about them and their
family and interests, and just what they
were looking to accomplish in life, what
they were looking to accomplish within the
firm and how they interacted with clients,”
he says. “Just everything they were comfortable talking about — it was fairly casual, and I took a lot of notes.”
Listening is one of the keys to making
these conversations successful, so employees know you are actually interested in
what they are sharing. Achten says he did
about 85 percent of the listening and let the
employees do the majority of the talking
“It was through listening that I gained a
true understanding of who the advisers
were as people, what they needed from
their leader in order to provide the premier
client experience and what vision they had
of the Merrill Lynch office,” he says.
To prove he had listened, Achten met
with all employees once he completed the
process to share what he had learned.
“I just shared with them, here’s who we are as people, and I wanted them to understand that I heard exactly what they had
told me — not individual personal things,
but as a group, this is who we are, this is
our business, these are our business metrics — so everybody saw where I was coming from,” he says.
Spending time getting to know your
employees requires a significant commitment. Achten worked many long days to
meet with every employee. But even though
you need to commit time to your employees,
you also need to make time for the other
daily duties and challenges that may arise.
“As much time that I put into getting to
know people, I always blocked enough
time to deal with the crisis situations that
may come up or trying to get information
out ... and continue to get ideas out and not
just bunker in for three months and not be
visible,” he says.
From these conversations, Achten was able
to learn about the quality of the people, both
personally and professionally, and the level of
service they were delivering to clients.
“I felt like, in a fairly short amount of
time, I got a lot of feedback from the organization, and I was able to connect to people
there, so then when we went to phase three
... there was much more buy-in because I
took the time to get to know them upfront,”
Achten says you need to actively listen to
get to know them better.
“Knowing your employees inside and out
will inevitably make their professional
experience more fulfilling,” he says. “This
professional fulfillment then motivates
advisers to deliver the highest caliber of
Once Achten understood his people, he
needed to work on forming the vision.
Getting feedback from employees played a
large role in creating that vision.
“A big part of my leadership style is I’m
inclusive — I want ideas,” he says.
“Ultimately, I’ll make decisions, but we’re better as an organization
when our best people are sharing ideas and we’re getting input
from all parts of the organization.”
Achten formed groups from the four subsets of employees in his
organization — the leadership team, financial advisers, client associates and operations staff — to get direct feedback on the vision.
The boards are voluntary, and Achten asked for board member
nominations from employees. He looked for people with a positive
attitude who had an influence on the company culture — people
who collaborated with others, placed an emphasis on the client
experience and were determined to improve the business.
Before jumping into work, Achten provided a direction for the
groups to head during the meetings. He wanted the discussions to
deal with what the organization could do to make the client and
employee experience better.
“I emphasized the importance of, No. 1, being collaborative and,
No. 2, working within the context of our overall mission,” Achten
He met with these groups quarterly to get feedback on the vision,
and he still meets with them to get the pulse of the organization. He
says these groups are able to help with identifying and solving issues
that might stand in the way of fulfilling the vision.
Employees know who their representatives are and are encouraged to go to them with questions or feedback.
“If they have suggestions on how we could do things better, they
funnel it through that group,” he says.
While feedback was abundant, Achten needed to remember that
it was his responsibility to make the ultimate decision.
“At the end of the day, the decisions are mine, but I make better
decisions as a whole when I get more feedback,” he says. “The
quality of decisions ... it’s crazy not to listen to everybody through
the organization when you’re making decisions. More input is better.”
Getting feedback from your employees, along with taking time to
get to know them, allows you to form the vision together as a team,
which creates more buy-in.
“If you come in and try to instill your vision without any input,
then you’re just not going to get the buy-in,” Achten says. “There
are innovative ideas inside of every organization, and those ideas,
if harvested, will make the client experience better and will ultimately drive revenue. It is hard to get buy-in from employees if
they are not fully heard first.”
Implement the vision
Once Achten had a good sense of his environment and received
feedback, it was time to implement the vision. Because of the time
he spent connecting with employees and seeking their ideas, it was
easy to communicate the vision to them and get buy-in.
“The win we were able to get early on was spending that upfront
time to get to know people and understand where they’re coming
from so when we get back to them and say, ‘Hey, have you looked
at this or tried this,’ they’re much more receptive to new ideas if
they know that you spent the time listening to them,” he says.
While it’s important to communicate the vision, you need to
make sure employees have the necessary tools to achieve it.
Achten provided training, such as wealth management training, to
improve employee skills in areas related to the vision. He says
training needs to be tailored to the individual. By listening to what
employees are interested in, Achten can recommend what training
is best suited for them.
Providing tools is important, but you need to hold employees
accountable for using these to achieve the vision. Every employee
at Merrill Lynch has quantitative goals that are measured by individual and overall office financial productivity and qualitative goals that are measured by client testimonials, business referrals
and the length of time the client has been with the organization.
“At the end of the day, accountability to metrics is important, but
nothing is more important than the accountability our team has to
our clients,” Achten says.
He says holding employees accountable is not just about looking
at the numbers.
“Accountability is threefold — accountability to yourself as a professional, accountability to clients as essential partners, and
accountability to your team and the larger company,” Achten says.
“Find out what motivates your employees, and do your best to tap
that motivation and turn it into strong results for the business and
Publishing numbers is a way to hold employees accountable.
Achten publishes positive numbers from the organization’s client
satisfaction index regularly, sometimes weekly through a memo.
The organization also has a bimonthly strategy session to discuss
metrics and celebrate successes.
Celebration can also be with a group or individually. Celebrating
and sharing helps build the team, but you also need to deal with
those unsuccessful numbers.
Achten meets one-on-one with employees who do not meet their
goals to map out a plan to turn them into successes, whether it be
facilitating network opportunities with clients or sponsoring additional training.
After spending so much time developing a vision, it should be
fresh on the mind of employees. But you need to work and keep
that vision front and center so employees do not lose focus.
“If it’s not front and center, then there might be employees who
are less on the front lines and others who lose sight of it,” Achten
says. “For example, if the receptionist isn’t continuously reminded
of the mission of being the premier solution in Cincinnati, she may
let the lobby go and not look at its quality. Every employee needs
to be reminded of what we’re trying to accomplish — and the more
regularly you can do it, the better.”
Developing a vision specific to the organization’s four offices has
helped get employees on the same page. Achten says when developing a vision, especially if you are new to the organization, you
shouldn’t assume anything.
“Until you get there and get in the group and see the numbers,
hear what’s going on, feel the client experience and get in there,
don’t make assumptions,” he says. “I would encourage other leaders who are coming into something that is working but want to
take it to another level, spend some upfront time to get to know
HOW TO REACH: Greater Cincinnati Complex for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, (513) 579-3600 or www.ml.com
Jerry Kathman is president and CEO of LPK, a large international design agency, and travels monthly to Germany, Switzerland, China or England, where the branding company has additional locations and clients. For Kathman and a number of the company’s 400 employees, travel is the norm and cannot be cut when the cost of travel rises.
Q. What are some tools your company uses to maximize your travel budget?
Use technology. Teleconferencing and videoconferencing is a win-win situation. There’s no travel, minimizes time used and pays for itself quickly. The current economic backdrop exacerbates the topic. If you have 10 meetings in which you would meet a client traveling by plane, reduce the trips to two and do the rest by teleconference. Businesses and clients are seeing more and more that doing everything at the local level isn’t always the best decision. They want innovation, and that may mean going outside of the state. This means either travel or technology will lead the business relationship. You have to be prepared equally to adapt to either need.
Q. Does your company have a travel manager or team?
We have a person who arranges all of our travel in-house. For companies that need to be places fast, they need to have someone capable of taking care of travel needs immediately. When you have a staffer taking care of your travel needs, you can take advantage of the best rates at any time with any provider without being restricted by contracts.
Q. For a company that doesn’t have the option of reducing travel in its budget, what can it do to better manage its existing budget?
The scarcity of options is a concern and should be figured into the travel policy and budget. The unreliability of air travel has to be considered as part of the travel budget and consideration given to investing on technology. There are 25 percent fewer flights today as there were just a few years ago. If a company isn’t located near a hub, that makes the problem even more complex as getting flights you want when you want them (is) increasingly difficult. Airfare is at its highest cost ever, and the lack of careful management will wreak havoc on a disorganized budget.
In today’s business climate, chief information officers struggle with tight budgets and limited resources while being asked to have a broader impact across their organizations. Doing more with less is a common theme.
“It is imperative to build a successful partner strategy,” says Keith Blachowiak, senior vice president, operations, and CIO at Pomeroy IT Solutions. “No one can do everything. You need to keep your precious internal resources focused on those items that drive your competitive differentiation and use partners to provide support for back office IT functions all while lowering your costs and providing enhanced service levels.”
Smart Business gained further insight from Blachowiak into maximizing competitiveness with IT.
What are the focus areas for IT management?
I see three priorities of IT. First, protect the company’s assets. In addition to IT security, this includes the recovery of assets, backups, and business continuity. Second, ensure all deployed technology is running as efficiently today as it did yesterday. This includes keeping the business systems running, networks available, desktops supported, etc. The impact of an unproductive work force due to technology issues is often underestimated. Third, deliver new products and services. This can range from developing new reports to entirely new products.
In today’s highly competitive environment, there is tremendous pressure within an organization for the IT team to place the emphasis on the third priority, which is typically where the competitive differentiation is created. Thus IT management needs to find a solution that provides acceptable levels of protection and operations so they can focus their attention on driving incremental business value. The answer lies in partnerships. By employing partners to handle the back-office, commodity facets of IT, they are able to focus their precious internal resources on the initiatives most important to the company.
Can you give an example?
The IT help desk is a perfect example. Everyone within an organization, from the CEO to the person shipping your product, calls the IT help desk at one time or another. Industry statistics show that most people call the IT help desk one or two times each month. When people place calls to the help desk they are usually in a situation where they cannot do their job and thus are unproductive until the situation is resolved. To make matters worse, very often this also means a customer is not being serviced. The combined loss of productivity and impact to customers can be staggering yet in most companies the IT help desk is not a focus area of the IT management team or the IT budget. The help desk team is usually a lower paid set of individuals, with minimal training, typically working in the back corner of the IT department, answering phone calls but usually providing nothing more than log and escalation assistance. At best, they usually have a system that allows them to record the calls but generally lack the tools to solve the problems in a timely manner. Minimal focus is placed on the average seconds to answer or the first call resolution rate. The company’s IT staff is generally focusing on other more pressing issues and isn’t researching the latest tools for remote problem resolution and knowledge tools things that would help maximize the productivity of their entire company. By partnering with a company that has already invested in the talent and tools to provide this service, the IT management team can dramatically improve the level of service within the company while maintaining or lowering costs and keeping their focus on other company priorities.
Why are partners necessary to accomplish your goals?
No company, regardless of its size and resources, has enough bandwidth to focus in all areas. Partners have focus. This focus allows them to hire the talent with the necessary expertise, procure the tools and technologies that help deliver world-class service and stay abreast of the latest advancements in their particular specialty. They are then able to spread these costs across multiple companies thereby allowing each individual company to receive world class benefits at typically the same or lower costs than when it was run internally.
Are there other areas in which partners can assist?
As mentioned above, the IT help desk is certainly a prime area. Other areas include desk side support, asset procurement, network and telecom support and management, security, database management, data center management and new technology deployments.
KEITH BLACHOWIAK is senior vice president, operations, and CIO at Pomeroy IT Solutions. Reach him at (859) 586-0600 or by e-mail at Keith.Blachowiak@pomeroy.com.