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One of my favorite business books, which also made it as a Broadway play and a big-screen movie, is “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. My hero in this story is not the young orphaned Dorothy, nor the Cowardly Lion, the desperately in-need-of-some WD-40 Tin Man, nor even the Scarecrow in search of a brain.

Instead it is the Wizard. To understand why the dubious Wizard is my favorite character, one must get past the portrayal of him as scheming, phony and at times nasty.

To appreciate the man behind the curtain, recognize that he is a very effective presenter, though at times this ex-circus performer behaved a bit threatening. OK, he was a jerk, but the point of this column is to take you down the yellow brick road on the way to the enchanted Emerald City and corporate success.

From this tale there is a lesson that one can say all sorts of things, not be visible, and yet still have a meaningful impact.

Another takeaway is that playing this role provides plausible deniability. This absence of visual recognition is particularly beneficial in negotiating when you, as the boss, use a vicar, aka a mouthpiece, to speak on your behalf. This allows you to have things said to others that you as the head honcho could never utter without backing yourself into a corner.

Another plus is you can always throw your mouthpiece under the bus if necessary, of course, with his or her upfront understanding that sometimes there must be a sacrificial lamb. This is not only character-building for your stand-in, but also many times presents an unprecedented opportunity for him or her to learn in real time.

Perhaps the Wizard was the first behind-the-curtain decision-maker, but today this role is used frequently in business and government. In a similar vein, the “voice” of Charlie from the well-known 1970s TV series “Charlie’s Angels” was always heard, but he was never seen.

Frequently there is much to be said for using anonymity to float a trial balloon just to get a reaction. Think about a son having his mom test the waters by talking to dad before the son tells him he wants to drop out of junior high school to join the circus. Maybe that’s even how our former circus-drifter-turned-Wizard-of-Oz got his start.

In the negotiating process it is important to have a fallback when the talks hit a rough patch by instructing your vicar to backpedal, saying that he or she has just talked to the chief and the benevolent boss said, “I was overreaching with my request.”

This also serves to build a persona for the boss-behind-the-curtain as someone who is fair-minded and flexible. All the while, of course, it’s the boss who is calling the shots and maneuvering through the process without getting his or her hands dirty.

The value of using this clean-hands technique is that it enables the real decision-maker to come in as the closer who projects the voice of reason, instead of the overeager hard charger who at times seems to have gone rogue.

It actually takes a bigger person to play a secondary role behind the curtain rather than always be in the limelight. It also takes a hands-on coach and counselor to maneuver a protégé through the minefields to achieve the objective.

However, accomplishing the difficult tasks through others is true management and the No. 1 job of a leader who must be a master teacher.

After you have guided a handful of up-and-comers a few times through thorny negotiations, you will gain much more satisfaction than if you had done it yourself, while engendering the respect and gratitude of your pupils. They in turn will have learned by doing, even though they were not really steering the ship alone.

The final step is to let the subordinate take credit for getting the big job done. This will also elevate you to rock star status, at least in his or her eyes. Soon those who you’ve taught will emerge as teachers too, and the big benefit is that you will populate your organization with a stellar team of doers, not just watchers.

So, forget about the Wicked Witch of the West and move backstage for the greater good of the organization. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013 07:28

Make it count

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A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.

“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.

Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.

Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.

As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.

Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.

Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.

Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.

This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”

That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.

So why write a book?

One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”

As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?

Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.

And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.

Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.

"On Point" by Patrick Hiller

For the second year in a row, Abacus Solutions has won a workplace award, and I’d like to tell you that it was the result of a very detailed plan — but it wasn’t. It started with a simple premise of respect and teamwork. Along the way, we learned specific behaviors that attract and keep talent. 

Our efforts to create a great place to work have been paid back many times over in employee and client loyalty, as well as in profits. Here are specific ways your efforts to improve workplace culture bring a return on your investment. 

General productivity

When employees feel respected and enjoy coming to work, productivity rises. If you foster a culture of teamwork, then people are less likely to be worrying about competitive advantage over each other and more likely to be focused on advantage over competitors.

This directly impacts the bottom line because you are not adding more people to the payroll to drive business. Teamwork gets the job done with less personnel and better results. 

Better ideas

Creating a safe space where employees are free to try out new ideas and then get honest and respectful feedback about them means you are getting the best out of your in-house brain trust.

Discouragement and a dismissive attitude breed passivity. Respect and encouragement breed innovation. With a global marketplace competing for business, you want to be the company with the best ideas. 

Retention and new talent

We’ve all worked jobs in our career where we had to deal with a nasty manager or co-worker. Employees know that when they find a supportive place to work it elevates their everyday lifestyle.

We have very little turnover at our company and rarely lose a team member to competitors. Part of this is being very selective of whom we bring onboard.

Retention is also about paying people what they are worth. We look at the going rate for positions and reward talent and extra effort financially. And, when you have a great workplace culture, it also makes it easier to attract the best talent for new positions. Word gets around. 

Client interaction

So now we get to the client-facing side of where workplace culture meets bottom line. At Abacus Solutions, we help customers leverage IT to solve business problems with managed solutions and infrastructure improvements. This is where our high employee retention rate is such a bonus. Clients genuinely fear having to deal with a changing roster of support.

High retention lets us give them what they want — a stable resource that knows their business inside and out. In-house retention translates into client retention.

Here is another way workplace culture helps us meet client needs: personal initiative. By empowering employees to make decisions and paying them well for their work, clients get the best of our team without multiple layers of accountability.

Every week we get an email from a client about someone on our engineering team who went the extra mile to solve an issue. 

Strategic planning

As CEOs, we are responsible for looking at the big picture and making sure the company continues to grow and evolve in the right direction. It’s hard to do that if we are intimately involved in every detail.

I can tell you that it feels great to know that I am not needed on a daily basis. I can focus on adding clients and growing partnerships. The proof for us that this kind of workplace culture brings meaningful ROI is the growth in revenue and profitability we’ve enjoyed every year we have been in operation. 

Patrick Hiller is the CEO of Abacus Solutions, an IT solutions provider in Atlanta, Ga., specializing in vendor neutral solutions that help companies manage IT to protect and grow core business. Contact him at www.abacussolutions.com

 

 

"Business Philosophy" By Robert Castles

In business, the customer is always right — true or false? Well, it’s not always that clear cut. Sometimes the customer knows what he wants to achieve, but fails to share that business knowledge with you. This insight gap can prevent you from delivering a relevant product that meets his needs.

This type of situation, unfortunately, happens quite often, especially for software companies like PMG. Often our customers request a certain product that may not be the optimal solution for what they are really trying to accomplish. Our philosophy is putting our customer’s business needs first, rather than leading with our technology solution.

“Business First, Technology Second” has proven to be the winning ticket for both our customers and our business. At first glance, letting non-technical customers define our technology road map may seem counterintuitive, but it has enabled PMG to grow and thrive, even through the recent economic downturn. 

Get in step with your customer

Not understanding the business issue behind the product request can lead to long development cycles, changes in direction, delays, and a possible solution that doesn’t quite meet customer expectations — leaving both parties frustrated.

Before embarking on developing the solution, you must first define the problem in business terms. The key is to engage customers to understand the underlying business issue. The information uncovered will help you deliver a more relevant solution and ultimately more value, which results in a satisfied customer. And satisfied customers lead to more business with additional referrals. 

Walking the talk

At PMG, we walk the talk. Last year, a major customer was insistent that we offer a native iPhone app for our service catalog solution. The customer wanted the app so that users could request items from the field. This was a major developmental undertaking that was not currently slated on our short-term technology road map.

In time, we discovered the real business issue was the significant delay in the approval process when executives and managers were away from the office, without access to the catalog. So the actual need was not the ability to submit requests from a mobile device, but to approve them.

This information dramatically narrowed the scope of the project, allowing us to almost immediately deliver a more relevant solution. Now executives are able to process approvals on their mobile devices, driving down the request processing time, which was the major issue from the beginning.

Had we proceeded to develop the solution that was originally requested, it would have taken much longer to deliver and cost more. Additionally, the solution would have been much more complex, which would have risked low user adoption altogether. 

Crawl before you walk. Then run with it.

Investing the time and energy to form a true partnership with your customer will ensure success for both parties. Too often our customers are in a hurry to get a project completed. As a result, they skip steps and move ahead too quickly, instead of taking the time to have additional conversations to ensure that you fully understand the nature of their business and the scope of the issue at hand.

Taking the time to help your customer assess intended goals is critical to achieving success. But, even more important, is to ensure that the goal is tied to a business outcome. Unless decisions are made in the context of driving a business outcome, you may spend a lot of time deploying a solution that does not provide substantial value. 

Robert Castles is principal of PMG, a provider of enterprise service catalog and business process automation software. Reach him with your comments at rcastles@pmg.net or (770) 837-2301.

 

Nothing builds and sustains credibility better for a business professional than when he or she can lead by example.Whether you take the time to chat with new colleagues before a meeting, help out with a difficult project, or are the first to ask the hard questions, you alone are responsible for setting standards and expectations.

As a father, husband and business intermediary, people count on me for advice, leadership and guidance. I found the best way to earn their trust is by setting a good example.

Actions speak louder than words, particularly when your attitude and behavior motivate people to do their best work. Doing otherwise only confuses the people who look up to you.

By incorporating the following practices into your life, you will not only improve the way others perceive you, but you will also feel better about the way you are presenting yourself as a person that others will follow and emulate — the very definition of leading by example.

 

Get involved

While working your “day job” may already be taking up too much of your time, getting involved in industry organizations may be just the thing you need to advance your career and set a positive example for others. I am involved professional organizations such as the Georgia Association of Business Brokers, the International Business Brokers Association, Rotary International and Street Grace.

I have found that getting out from behind my computer can be a challenge.  But meeting new people and talking big-picture about my industry has been crucial to my professional advancement.

Joining professional organizations in my field has given me a chance to do just that. Best of all, most organizations have local chapters so I did not even have to travel very far to get involved.

 

Put family first

Putting family first is something that we all strive to do, but in today’s busy world, most of us have jobs that do not allow for much free time to spend with our family.

I know that trying to put family first above everything else may seem like a mission and not knowing how to do this can make things even harder. Jobs can be a huge part of our lives and sometimes our jobs can get out of hand and make us spend less and less time with our families.

I make it a point to be involved in my children and wife’s lives as much as possible. Taking interest in their hobbies and being an active participant is a great way to spend time with your family.

I am a lacrosse coach and Cub Scout den leader. In these roles I have the opportunity to shape lives and demonstrate to other parents how they can become involved in youth organizations to point kids in the right direction.

 

Look to your community

The best way to stay involved in your community is through maintaining a commitment to make a positive impact in the environment in which you work, live and play. You can gain respect, friendship and pride through community involvement.

One of the most satisfying, fun, and productive ways to lead by example and get involved in your community is through volunteerism.  When you commit your time and effort to an organization or a cause you feel strongly about, the feeling of fulfillment can be endless.

Your peers, colleagues and family members are always watching you and taking notice to what you do. They will see the benefits of being involved in professional organizations, putting family first and being involved their communities.

Owner of the North Atlanta office of Murphy Business & Financial Corp., Reed has been serving clients for more than 20 years in the Atlanta, Ga., area as well as across the country. He is an accredited business intermediary, a licensed real estate broker and has owned and managed his own limited liability company. Reach him (678) 383-4781 or k.reed@murphybusiness.com

 

Every year, your company conference creeps up. So, who’s going to plan it? Who needs to go? What does the agenda look like, and what is it we want people to take away from the experience? Set the stage from the beginning with a cross-functional planning committee, determine the key members of your team who need to attend and ensure at the end they have key takeaways.

Planning a meeting is no small task, especially when it involves hundreds, potentially thousands, of people. While meeting planning often is the job function of one person, a cross-functional planning team can have positive effects.

First, it ensures all your departments are represented and that the topics from each discipline will be discussed. Second, it brings perspectives from different people, and with that, new ideas. It also allows employees to get involved and develop new skills they may otherwise not have been exposed to.

Conferences can get expensive, and when you add in the fact that they are often in different states and last for several days, a company has to be strategic about who can attend. It’s important your senior leadership team attends, as those leaders will likely be the ones presenting the strategy and reporting on the team’s accomplishments.

While not all associates need to attend, be sure to include those who lead teams, those who interact with vendors and those who have a purpose for being there. For employees who don’t attend year after year, it could be a nice surprise to invite one or two a year that don’t typically make the list.

Vendors are vital to a company’s success, whether they are partners of record or help on a project basis. It’s important they are invited, have a seat at the table, and hear the same messages your team does, because they are an extension of your team.

So now you’re at the conference and your team is attending the general sessions. They go to the break-outs. They listen to a guest speaker. They visit the vendor fair. Conferences are so much more than just following the agenda. I challenge you and your teams at the next conference to do the following:

Make a friend — There are always people you don’t know at conferences; many people attend just to network. Take the time to meet new people and get to know what they do and how they contribute to your company’s success. Keep in touch with the people you meet.

Develop existing relationships — If you have acquaintances at conferences, think about how you can take your business relationship with them to the next level, whether it’s learning something new about them or their business.

Learn something new — Lots of new information and ideas are shared at conferences. Attend with an open mind and be ready to learn. Take two or three new learnings and put together an action plan around them.

Recognize accomplishments — Conferences are a great opportunity to publicly recognize both employees and vendors who contributed to your company’s success.

In addition to celebrating accomplishments, it’s a good time to inspire attendees about the future. Conference themes that are reflective of the company’s long-term objectives will help ensure associates and vendors at all levels leave with a common understanding of the company’s strategies and what it is counting on them to accomplish.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with over 490 locations nationwide. Paul has been a leader in the foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand, LLC; and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.com. 

Why do we believe offshoring is inherently bad? What makes a job “belong” in the U.S.? Both questions are based on the assumption that trade creates winners and losers. However, a job producing something overseas does not eliminate a job in the U.S. My experience has shown that a properly executed strategy can and should create winners on both sides.

A U.S. company that implements offshore manufacturing to complement its domestic operations affords competitiveness and room for growth. This, in turn, fuels an increase in R&D, sales and even domestic manufacturing. That means more U.S. jobs, not less.

Instead of the commonly used offshoring versus on-shoring idea, let’s replace it with “right-shoring,” and intelligently ask, “Where is the best place to make something?” My business answers this question for our customers every day. To do so, criteria beyond cost must be considered.

Global trade no new idea

The idea that America would magically create jobs if we simply shut down all imported goods is far more complex than most people know. International trade has been a staple of the world for millennia and will continue to grow as more countries become better equipped to handle new business.

For more than a decade, my company East West Manufacturing has been dealing with international trade and helping American and Georgia-based companies manufacture components and products from nations all over the world, including Vietnam, China and India. With the growing diversification out of China into Southeast Asia, Vietnam in particular, is on the fast track to become a very strategic manufacturing center.

Countries like Vietnam are inviting foreign investment as China’s labor costs increase, the tariffs on exports rise and companies look for alternatives. Along with the new Trans Pacific Partnership that will offer manufacturing benefits to all its 11 members — China is not a member — Vietnam has the potential to become the new China for certain products and capabilities.

Our company has had feet on the ground in Vietnam since we built our first facility in 2006, and I have seen the shift first-hand. We have recently opened two new divisions in Vietnam, both complementary. The first is a new division to produce printed circuit boards. The second is a medical products division also in our own ISO 13485 facility where we are certified to manufacture plastic and metal parts, as well as electromechanical assemblies for the medical device industry.

It’s not ‘here’ or ‘there’

Why Vietnam? Following Japan’s trajectory of 30 years ago (at least from a quality and cost perspective — remember that Japan was once synonymous with “cheap” — now Japanese car brands routinely take home world-class quality awards), China now competes and loses to countries like Vietnam when it comes purely to price.

Vietnam is eager to follow the Chinese economic growth model and has jumped on the lower links of the value chain and is steadily inching its way upward. Pulling from the pool of our own customers as examples, products and components for markets like HVAC pumps, material handling/conveyor systems used in warehousing and distribution, and even medical devices are all successfully produced in Vietnam.

In today’s flattened-world economy, the concept of made “here” or “there” has little meaning. Few end products are completely made in any one country. American cars contain wire harnesses put together in Mexico from wire made in Georgia, engine components machined in Eastern Europe assembled into finished engines in Michigan, sheet metal produced in Pennsylvania and fasteners cold-headed in Taiwan.

In a world of lean, automated manufacturing where global business is the norm and not the exception, the need to source and make things in the right place has never been more important. ?

Scott Ellyson is the CEO and co-founder of Atlanta-based East West Manufacturing, a domestic offshore manufacturing company. Ellyson has spent two decades in the manufacturing industry, specifically in the areas of strategy, supply chain logistics and operations. Reach him at sellyson@ewmfg.com.

 

 

One thing that most bad bosses have in common is lack of awareness that they’re bad bosses. With so much at stake personally, nobody wants to believe they are the problem. Not only is that bad for decisions, it’s bad for careers and employee health as well.

It’s no surprise — bad bosses are toxic. According to an independent study by Florida State University College of Business, employees stuck in “bad boss” relationships experienced more exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depressed mood and mistrust. They also were less likely to take on additional tasks, such as working longer or on weekends, and were generally less satisfied with their job.

Many experienced HR professionals have noted: “People don’t leave their jobs in a company; they leave their managers.”

Compared to the obvious tirades, bad boss behaviors can be more subtle and include unreasonably discounting input, the “silent treatment,” failing to give credit when due, not keeping promises, blaming others to cover up mistakes or embarrassment, making unwarranted negative comments and obsessive micromanagement. Many are simply unaware of the huge negative impact of some of their behaviors and resist any thought that they are wrong — until it may be too late.

The real problem

The problem is that left untrained, we are all susceptible to making errors in judgment based on blind spots in the way we perceive reality. My experience is that once bosses are afflicted they may subconsciously shut down the very thing that can help: diversity of thought. So even if you are convinced that you are the greatest manager around, you would still be wise to check for bugs in your own thinking. Here are five signs that you may be a bad boss.

1. Do you act in ways that discourage questioning of your views and assertions?

2. Do you tend to distance yourself from responsibility for error?

3. Do you check with your subordinates to see if your communications are inconsistent or ambiguous?

4. Are you inclined to blow off ideas that are not consistent with your point of view?

5. Do you seek and reflect on feedback from others regarding your behavior?

Avoiding blind spots

Identifying blind spots in our thinking is essential to making quality decisions. Yet few bosses have the intellectual courage to ask their subordinates to rate them in these areas. That creates a paradox. How can someone have all the answers before they ask the questions? The idea that bosses and supervisors would rely on intuition for something this important makes little sense.

So here is an idea. Ask your team to anonymously rate you in these five areas. Compare with your own rankings and discuss improving your blind spots with the team. And note: If you have the immediate reaction to dismiss this exercise, you may have a blind spot!

A new kind of leader

Companies want employees who can systematically pursue important goals, recognize and analyze significant problems, communicate essential meanings, and assess their own performance on the job.

The responsibility of leadership is to create a culture where these behaviors can thrive. That requires a mastery of ourselves rather than command and control of others. ?

Larry J. Bloom spent 30-plus years helping grow a small family business to more than $700 million in revenue. He is the author of “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions,” consultant, board member and owner of a start-up media and software company that promotes better thinking. He was born and resides in Atlanta. For more information, please visit www.curecorporatestupidity.com or contact Larry at bloomlj@gmail.com.

 

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