Kelley Stoklosa

Monday, 26 July 2010 20:00

Get them involved

Christine Hoffer remembers her first interview with Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio Inc. The interviewer handed her a copy of the organization’s strategic plan. Hoffer was impressed, and the practice stuck as she still uses it today.

According to the 2010 ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey, 91 percent of companies have some sort of strategic plan. The number of organizations implementing a strategy has been steadily increasing for eight years. Hoffer, chief operating officer, Cleveland, says Goodwill makes it a top priority to include employees in strategic planning.

“Transparency is very important to us,” she says. “Sometimes we go out on the road as a leadership team, to make sure that we are interacting with our employees and to make sure that the message is delivered, or if they have questions, that they have that opportunity of face-to-face time with the leadership of the organization.”

In addition to including employees in the planning process, she says it is important to set goals on a regular basis.

“As part of our annual review process, we set goals for the following year,” Hoffer says. “Those goals need to align with the strategic plan, so that the manager that’s performing the review and discussing goals talks about the strategic plan.”

Once goals are established, leaders need to be flexible and make sure the goals stay aligned with the strategic plan.

“If somebody approves goals that aren’t achievable or realistic, that’s how you lose your course,” she says. “There needs to be follow up.”

A company can get off track if the leadership team loses sight of what employees are doing. You can’t depend on quarterly meetings alone when it comes to strategic planning.

“There shouldn’t be surprises during performance reviews, so managers need to be having that constant communication and touching base so that it stays in line with the strategic plan,” Hoffer says.

How to reach: Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio Inc., (330) 454-9461 or www.goodwillclevecanton.org

Tuesday, 05 October 2010 07:27

Chuck Faust leads aboutGolf through change

When Chuck Faust joined aboutGolf Ltd. in 2009 as their president and chief operating officer, he brought 25 years of experience in strategy and process development with him. One of the biggest lessons he’s learned during his career is to not shy away from change — instead, he embraces it.

“The issue of challenge is related to change,” he says. “The company and the business leaders who do that most effectively will thrive and those who can’t do that very well are the ones who are going to find it very difficult.”

Smart Business spoke with Faust about how to prepare for change and get the most out of your business.

Understand your customers. The thing you really need to understand is what is your customer looking for? One of the things you have to do is determine what segment of the market your customer is in and understand what they are trying to do so you can propose to them how best to be of service. In our case, we are a technology company that focuses on a world of golf and our desire is to understand our customers’ needs so then we can tailor the suite of different solutions we have to best meet those needs. The key thing is to listen. The key is to not simply promote what you have or what you may assume they need. One of the frequent tendencies of other businesses is to make assumption or to categorize. The key thing is to listen and to pay attention. Then bring ideas on how best to take care of those intentions, once they are understood.

Prepare for change. The world changes constantly. Business changes constantly. As an organization, we have to change constantly in order to respond to the changing world, the changing market and the changing needs of customers. There’s a lot of things that need to happen as you grow and as the organization matures and as you establish business processes that can respond more effectively. You can produce new ways of operating internally, so that you can execute more efficiently and more effectively. The company and the business leaders who do that most effectively will thrive and those who can’t do that very well are the ones who are going to find it very difficult. It’s a matter of defining how the company needs to operate with customers. Any business can be broken down into a few number of processes. For example, order to cash, or prototype to production. If you are going to run a business effectively, you would think of everything from where you take an order from a customer, then go through the process of building and fulfilling that order and shipping and installing and collecting the money and putting that into your bank account. All of that is a process and there is some uniqueness depending on the business, but essentially that process is a critical one for the company. All of that is requiring steps. The best thing for us is to map out how best we can deal with that in our industry. Then, put the steps in place so that it happens efficiently and effectively.

Find the right people. The key thing for any leader, first, is to be clear on what you need to do. Then the second thing you need to do is to ensure he has a capable team of people to help him do it. Unless you are a very small start-up company, you have to have a team of folks who helps the leader execute the various elements of the business. Those are the critical elements of what a leader needs. Clearly, you can interview until the cows come home, but you have to have a certain amount of ability to assess personality and effectiveness to work as a team together. There is a certain amount of value that goes with looking at evaluations and references, but what I like to do is give people the opportunity to describe how they would handle a situation. Give them a hypothetical or ask them how they would manage people or how they would handle a difficulty in personalities.

Once that is in place, there needs to be regular process of review and follow up with your team — not only what needs to be done but being encouraged in what has been accomplished so they can be motivated to continue what needs to be done in the future. You want to focus on what the challenges are in an honest way so people are not kept in the dark but, on the other hand, encourage with the progress and with the positive things that are accomplished so that morale remains strong and they have a clear picture of what needs to happen going forward.

Embrace difficult situations. Get people together and figure out why they are not on the same page. I’ve had cases in the past where people refuse to work together. The only way I know how to deal with those problems is to deal with them in a straightforward manner. Once again, it’s about working with adults. Once and awhile, you end up bringing someone onto a team that really can’t work with adults. You sit down with those folks, you explain what the situation is, and in my view, we always have to work together. It’s no different then a baseball team or a football team, if the players don’t work together they are not going to be very successful. So what would the coach say? The coach would say, ‘You know guys if you aren’t going to work together I’m going to have to change the team. You can decide if you aren’t going to work together or not, but then I can decide whether or not you are going to be on the team.’ In the end, that’s an important role of a leader is to ensure people work together and are on the same page of music so to speak. It’s perfectly okay to have a difference of opinions, but in the end, we all have to share the same set of objectives. If not, you have people heading in different directions and that is not going to work.

How to reach: aboutGolf Ltd., (800) 445-4653 or http://www.aboutgolf.com/ 

Monday, 26 July 2010 20:00

Give them a reason to stay

Prospective hires may notice something new when clicking around a Cleveland company’s Web site.

In an effort to draw qualified professionals to the area, many organizations are promoting Northeast Ohio. According to the 2010 ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey, 27 percent of companies use their Web site to promote living and working in Northeast Ohio.

Tina Pringpuangkeo, human resources generalist for Wingspan Care Group, says her company began linking a Web site called www.neoisgreat.com to Bellefaire JCB’s, one of its subsidiaries, career site.

“Even when they are looking for jobs, we have the site right up front so it’s there,” Pringpuangkeo says. “Because it’s linked from our career site, we feel it encourages applicants to know that we care about their lives here outside of work and want them to enjoy living here as much as we do.”

For years, Northeast Ohio organizations struggled to draw qualified employees to the area. Tools like that Web site eliminate some of the common concerns people have while relocating for work and highlight the benefits of living and working in Cleveland.

“It’s nice for people who are kind of on the fence about moving because of a job,” Pringpuangkeo says. “It kind of helps them leap over that fence,”

Promoting Northeast Ohio should not stop with a company’s Web site. Pringpuangkeo and her team follow up with people through the entire hiring process. They remind people about the benefits of living in Cleveland during the face-to-face interview and again at orientation. This new approach is getting results.

“Based on our feedback, people have used that site before deciding to take the job offer from us,” she says.

Highlighting Northeast Ohio is also having a positive impact with longtime residents.

“It started out as, ‘Are you new to the area? [Then] check out this site,’ but people who have lived here for years have been looking at the site,” Pringpuangkeo says.

How to Reach: Wingspan Care Group, (216) 932-2800 or www.wingspancg.org

Ron McPherson and his employees at The Antigua Group Inc. were gearing up to celebrate three decades of business.

The company had become a familiar name with followers of the PGA tour and sportswear consumers alike. Many employees were close to their 15 or even 25-year anniversary with the company.

Then, perhaps not so suddenly, hints of an economic crisis became too great for anyone to ignore. McPherson knew that the merchandising industry and, therefore, the company were in for a huge fight. 

“Our type of business, you know businesses that are based on disposable income of consumers,” the president says. “Buying a golf shirt at a pro shop or buying a shirt or a jacket at a retail (store) is a disposable income item.”   

Instead of panicking, he turned to his employees to come up with a course of action.

“The first thing is, you bring your team together, you know your key managers and you put together a consensus and get everybody on board as to what has to be done to ensure that the business continues,” McPherson says. “The first thing we did was get each manager to buy in; so that there wasn’t a manager that was out there going ‘This is wrong.’ We had everybody agree on the plan.”

Listening to your managers will help when reaching a consensus. Recognize that not everyone is going to think or work the same way.

“Trying to mesh all of those personalities together into a team is a challenge, so having the one on ones, listening as opposed to just talking to people and hearing what they need to do their jobs well has been successful for us at Antigua,” McPherson says.

Once everyone agreed in regards to what he or she needed to ease the pain of a recession, he made sure everyone knew how the plan worked.

“Unfortunately, we have to make ourselves a little smaller, we have to make inventory smaller, we have to work on significant expense reduction,” he says. “All those things a company does when there is a downturn.”

McPherson continues to talk with managers and employees to let them know how the plan is working.

“We have continued communication with the entire associate base, where we would bring groups into our main conference area and show them graphically where we are,” he says.

As a result, Antigua is emerging from the economic slump ready to secure an eagle. While many companies are still anxious about the future, McPherson and his team are looking forward.

Antigua celebrated its recent anniversary by signing with the PGA tour for another three years.

“We’ve been in business 30 years and those things are part of business. The peaks and valleys of business and the ups and the downs of the economy affect all businesses,” he says. “The good thing is that while it appears the economy is still a little tough we may have turned a corner a little bit.”

How to reach: The Antigua Group Inc., (623) 523-6000 or www.antigua.com

Monday, 26 July 2010 20:00

Bridging employees

After a year of economic uncertainty and hardship, more companies are relying on temporary workers than they did in previous years.

According to the 2010 ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey, 9 percent of organizations have contingent workers. Compare that to 5 percent and 6 percent in 2009 and 2008, respectively.

After a difficult year, full-time employees may need some reassurance about the current state of their work environment. It should come as no surprise that employees may still be worried about job security.

“If you’ve had layoffs and people are nervous, you need to communicate what is going on with your employees,” says Laura Bennett, CEO and co-founder of Embrace Pet Insurance. “It’s a management situation. If people mistrust management, there is a whole other issue going on.”

Employees will respond better if you allow them to voice their concerns and ask questions. Explain why the company is using contingent workers and what role the existing employee base can play.

The worst thing you could do is keep them in the dark. The leadership team also needs to lead by example. If you have a positive attitude about the new additions to the work force, so will existing employees.

“It’s really about the culture — we try to have a friendly environment,” Bennett says.

Temporary workers are contributing to the productivity of the company and Bennett tries to make sure they know how valued they are by the company.

“Don’t treat them as temps,” she says. “We make sure they are invited to birthday celebrations and know what is going on in the company.”

Bennett’s approach usually results in positive experience.

“Temps are a great way to meet needs and hire new people,” she says. “We hire temporary workers because there is a lot of work to get done and the full-time employees are usually happy to have the help.”

How to Reach: Embrace Pet Insurance, (440) 386-2406 or www.embracepetinsurance.com