Quick, name two words which, when frequently used by servers, increase tips by a minimum of 12 percent.
The answer? "For you."
Rather than saying, "Would you like some more coffee?" the savvy waiter says, "I brought more coffee for you." The patron perceives the service to be more personal and tips accordingly -- on average, 12 percent more.
It's easy money and a great way for your staff to increase perceived value with customers and co-workers without working harder.
If you're looking for a way to help your staff improve its customer service skills, consider implementing those two words into any training program. You won't be sorry. Jeff Mowatt (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a 20-year veteran of the service industry. Contact Jeff at (800) JMOWATT for a free catalogue about his training tapes and services.
Nearly half of the executives surveyed in a recent study by Development Dimensions International Inc. reported they are unhappy with their company's hiring process.
But, the Pittsburgh-based consulting firm also discovered that nearly 62 percent of the 162 companies surveyed believe a thin labor pool is the main cause of their recruiting and retention woes.
Not surprisingly, the report also showed that companies which are better able to identify possible job candidates reported increased productivity and higher-quality work. For those still struggling with how best to combat the shortage of qualified workers, DDI offers 10 rules for building a better recruiting process:
No. 1. Compress the hiring gaps
Delays in the hiring process are unproductive, wasteful and virtually assure you'll lose talented candidates. Map your hiring process to identify the gaps and shrink them.
No. 2. Know what you're looking for
Roughly one out of every four organizations does not define what it's looking for in a new hire before it begins its search. Unless you first define the competencies a new employee must have, it's easy to make a poor hiring decision.
No. 3. Decide what sets your company apart
Develop a marketing-oriented statement that spells out why a candidate would want to work for you over another employer. Include information about culture, training opportunities and job flexibility.
No. 4. Use multiple recruiting sources
Use in-house recruiters, headhunters, advertising, temporary staffing agencies and, of course, the Web to help in the search for quality candidates. Consider bonuses and other incentives to encourage employees to refer qualified candidates.
No. 5. Remember the best predictor of behavior is behavior
Use interviews to gather specific examples of a candidate's past performance related to the skills needed for the position you need to fill. Then use simulations of real-job situations to assess skills and knowledge.
No. 6. Always select for "can do" and "will do"
Screening for what candidates can do is common, but many fail to consider what candidates actually will do once on the job. Make sure a candidate's idea of an ideal work environment meshes with the existing company culture.
No. 7. Blend technology into the recruiting process
Web-based technology can be used to screen candidates, interview online, assess skills and track applicants. Using some of these weapons will save time for recruiters and allow you to nab top candidates before your competitors can.
No. 8. Hire an all-around athlete
The job you hire someone for today may be different a few months down the road, so consider hiring someone who has a strong desire to learn and a wide range of experience rather than a person with one specialized skill.
No. 9. Give recruiters what they need
Recruiters should make a positive impression on candidates, as well as know how to sell the job and the organization. Train your hiring staff appropriately.
No. 10. Build and manage a candidate pool
Assemble a list of individuals who have shown interest in working for your company. As jobs become available, fill them from this candidate pool. How do you maintain an active pool? Some companies send newsletters to candidates or keep in touch through e-mail. How to reach: Development Dimensions International Inc., (412) 257-0600 or www.ddiworld.com
Jim Vickers (email@example.com) is an associate editor at SBN.
By the time Peter Miragliotta discovered the true depths of his company's financial troubles, Tenable Protective Services was nearly a quarter of a million dollars in debt to the IRS.
To make matters worse, Miragliotta's business partner of six years was the one who had slowly and silently drained the company's coffers since he merged his firm with Tenable in 1988.
But Miragliotta's attempts to oust his less than scrupulous business associate only intensified the battle and fed rumors that the security company was on the verge of collapse.
"I started trying to get rid of him in many different ways," explains Miragliotta, who declines to identify his former partner by name. "But, the more and more I did, the more he tried to get rid of me in many different ways. He went to some of the other associates and said, 'It's time to buy Pete out, Pete's losing his mind, we need to get rid of him.'"
In December 1993, Miragliotta fired off a five-page letter to his partner, outlining a variety of options he could exercise in disassociating himself from Tenable. It wasn't until the following April that he was finally able to wrestle away control of the business in exchange for clearing his partner of any debts he had incurred during his six years handling the company's finances.
Still, the deal didn't go off without a hitch. Miragliotta says his partner stole much of the firm's computer hardware, trashed company records and put off the signing of the settlement agreement for a week to snag an extra $7,000 of Tenable's cash that he needed to cover payroll for his employees.
Nevertheless, Miragliotta was happy to wash the 6-year-old failed merger from his hands. The only problem left, and probably the biggest, was that the IRS wanted its money immediately.
"Although I didn't sign anything or touch any of the financials, the way they looked at it is, you're still in business," says Miragliotta, who adds that the company was having a hard enough time being profitable, let alone to be facing such a huge debt. "They held us responsible for a quarter million in back taxes and we had to go to court and beg for time."
Although many had advised him to simply declare bankruptcy, fold the tent and go home, Miragliotta -- a retired Cleveland police officer -- wanted to stand and fight. Today, six years after standing at the crossroads, Tenable boasts $10 million in annual revenue and handles security for the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians, Blossom Music Center and a variety of other entertainment spots around the city.
Here's how he guided his firm through the rough times and turned around a company that was on a collision course with disaster.
Even if he had let his company declare bankruptcy to avert the crushing back taxes owed to the IRS, Miragliotta would not have escaped the messy situation unscathed.
If he jettisoned Tenable Protective Services, he would still be personally responsible for $92,000 in back taxes to the IRS, a prospect he found even riskier and more frightening than trying to keep his company afloat with a $250,000 debt.
"They just wanted to shut us down and put a lien against me, which would have left me nowhere," he explains. "I wasn't a policeman anymore. All I had was a pension. I would have been broke. I had nothing, so we had to go to tax court to fight for time."
When the courts granted Miragliotta a small reprieve, he pulled on board a new financial officer who quickly mapped out a business plan for repayment of the quarter million dollar debt. Since annual revenue was somewhere around $800,000, a deal was reached in which Tenable would pay back at least $70,000 in back taxes to the IRS each year.
The company's new financial officer reconstructed the business around that plan.
"He put together a financial plan and I guess you could say it was from the bottom up," explains Miragliotta. "We had to make that much in profit and then work backwards. So we came into the office every day, got as much administrative work done as we could and then went out and worked jobs, so we were covering billable hours and staying on our business plan and working with the banks."
Taking control of the business was a brutal fight for Miragliotta, but it turned out all his business partner really wanted was to clear his name financially.
Specifically, he was worried about the $150,000 line of credit that had gone without payment and had ballooned to $158,000. Knowing it would be a solid way to oust his partner, Miragliotta went to the bank to try to work out some sort of payback arrangement.
"This banker knew what a snake and worm he was and she understood our plight and our dilemma," says Miragliotta.
However, the best deal he could assemble was one that required Tenable to immediately pay down $30,000 on the credit line. It forced Miragliotta and his management team to get creative.
"We all went out and borrowed money from our in-laws, we put up our paychecks, we hawked guns, we sold coins," he says. "We did everything we could."
It was a grassroots way to raise the necessary cash, but it is a form of sacrifice that was not uncommon during Tenable's turnaround. To ensure the company would have the $70,000 in profit to pay back the IRS during that first crucial year, managers' salaries were based upon only what each member of the team needed to pay bills and simply survive.
"We figured out everything that we needed to live and nothing more," explains Miragliotta, who says salaries were figured out during routine manager meetings. "As a matter of fact, if we caught any of the handful of managers at the time living over their means, they had to answer to the rest of us, because we were all in the same boat and that's how we had to look at it."
The shake-up inside Tenable's walls was fertile ground for the rumor mill. Competitors had written the company off and were not shy about telling those looking for security services about the strife within the company.
Public records of court proceedings made the difficult times public knowledge. It was a development that forced Miragliotta to make moves to protect the relationships he had forged with his customer base by tackling the issue head on without flinching.
"My competitors said I was out of business, I was dead," he says. "I went to every client we had, top to bottom, and put my cards on the table. I said, 'You're going to hear things, but if you give me the opportunity, I will continue to deliver you superior service and always will.'"
The hard-nosed attitude worked. Longstanding accounts like Cleveland's IX Center and The Flats' Nautica Entertainment complex continued without a hitch and are still among the accounts Tenable's staff of 3,000 serves today. A year later, the City of Cleveland saw the opening of a new major league ballpark, and despite the internal strife, Tenable landed the contract to provide security and nonsecurity event personnel for the facility.
In fact, Miragliotta gauges his long-term success today by the number of big-name accounts that stuck with the company through the hard times.
On average, an entertainment venue swaps security companies about every three or four years of service. Luckily, those industry statistics haven't affected Tenable.
"I take great pride in accounts like the IX Center, having been with them for 11 years," he says. "That's unprecedented. I've had Nautica Entertainment 12 years and I've been involved in about 17 Grand Prix races, and I've done it by going out to every single client and talking to them."
Even when the darkness started to give for Tenable, it was no time to get loose with money.
As revenue rolled in, the company's CFO demanded each capital purchase be carefully weighed. If the management team decided to lease another vehicle, for example, it was mandatory that the number of billable hours be increased accordingly.
Although it may seem like an unusual way to equip a business, Miragliotta says it was the way the company operated between 1994 and 1997. It was a decision that he says was probably one of the biggest drivers of the company's growth.
"Any time we wanted anything, we considered it a perk, even if it was absolutely essential," he says. "If you wanted a new computer, we figured out what it would cost and we computed through an amount of security hours for an account. So, if you want a computer, I need an account that's around 50 hours a week."
Eventually, the ghost of hard financial times melted away. Today, the company operates several divisions and Tenable's event staff has grown from a mere 50 in 1994 to an impressive count of more than 3,000 today.
Looking back, Miragliotta says he believes it is his background as a police officer and his seven years in the Marine Corps that fed his fighting spirit during even the hardest times. Put quite simply, he decided he wasn't going to lose.
"I just can't quit," he says. "Nothing makes you feel any better than winning. I love to win and hate to lose.
"I despise losing. I don't even like to say the word." How to reach: Tenable Protective Services, (216) 361-0002
Jim Vickers (firstname.lastname@example.org)is an associate editor at SBN.
But while some strategists might view calling a journalist an asshole a strategic error (and others might cheer the characterization), the faux pas was the result of a technological mistake -- he thought the microphone was not yet turned on.
Bush, or any other candidate for that matter, can't afford to make the same mistake with his Internet strategy.
The Internet has provided candidates with the ability to send targeted messages en masse. And new technologies continually offer more powerful tools to political hopefuls to reach greater audiences with more refined messages.
But along with that comes the opportunity to make bigger mistakes.
To help keep George W. from repeating his mistakes online, the campaign sought the services of Mike Connell, president of New Media Communications. Connell is a veteran of the political process, having worked for the elder Bush, Congressman Martin Hoke and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.
"My ties to the Bushes go back to 1987 and 1988. I worked for the George Bush for President campaign, the father," Connell explains. "I started out working in Iowa. Then I got tapped by the deputy manager of the campaign, who asked me to go out to Washington (D.C.) to design the tracking system that the campaign used."
After the inauguration in early 1989, just three years out of the University of Iowa, Connell found himself in Washington, D.C., working for the president. After Bush's presidency ended in 1992, Connell worked for a newly elected representative from the West side of Cleveland.
"I was working for a freshman congressman named Martin Hoke," Connell recalls. "That was in early 1993 (in his Washington office). Near the end of 1993, I was married and I had two kids. He asked me if I'd be interested in moving to Cleveland, Ohio, and working out of the district office. (It was) a good opportunity and I'd been travelling back and forth between Cleveland and Washington already.
"I really liked the community. It was about the right size. It basically had everything I needed."
Following the congressional elections in 1994, Connell opened his own shop, New Media Communications, a Web consulting practice that specializes in the political arena. Connell serves as the Web strategist for the George W. Bush campaign, and handled a number of Internet-related projects during the Republican National Convention.
He also works with several Senate and House of Representatives candidates, including Sen. Spence Abraham (Mich.), Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (N.M.)
SBN spoke with Bush's Web guru to learn more about the role of the Internet in modern politics.
Technology and media have long played a role in American politics. How has the introduction of the Internet paralleled that trend?
In its most basic sense, what has happened is going back to 1960. The media mix and campaign politics really proved to be the proving ground for television.
That's when it became introduced to campaign politics. What we're seeing here today is a very similar evolution where the media mix is evolving again. And the Internet is becoming mixed in with how we communicate with the masses.
Because the Internet is becoming so commonplace, and so many Americans rely on it as a channel for news and information, it's really a perfect tool.
What does the Internet offer the process that other media can't?
There are some advantages that the Internet has. I don't see television, radio or print going away, but I do see the Internet becoming a stronger component, more interactive than traditional media.
It also allows campaigns to better target their messages. It allows campaigns to talk to people directly, provide unfiltered messages. Quite frankly, it's some of your most effective communications. It's some of the most effective, best-spent money.
How does that compare to more traditional approaches?
Television for instance: Many larger campaigns (focus on) why you're the best candidate, what you're all about. It's a lot of information and not a lot time to do it in. It's a proven fact that if that campaign (puts a Web address) in that ad, people will log onto the site and they'll go out.
They're able to self-collect information. Do they want to know more about the candidate? Then they can go into the bio section. If they want to know the candidate's positions on the major issues of the day, or their pet issues, they can drill down into the agenda of the Web site.
Someone actively following the campaign can find out what the campaign is putting out in terms of new information that particular week.
Television is a passive medium. People simply sit back as the tube beams images and sounds at them. To find information on the Internet, people must actively seek it. How does that factor into a Web strategy?
People make choices every day. People choose to vote; people choose not to vote. Somebody who's already made up his mind may not have a reason to go to the Web site.
Maybe they want to get more involved in the campaign. Maybe they want to volunteer or make a financial contribution. Those sorts of activities can be supported via the Internet.
Maybe they just want to stay better informed on what's happening on the campaign trail. View the new information or sign up to get e-mail alerts when key things are going to be in their area.
What can we expect in the future?
What we're seeing is evolution taking place. Our first inclination was that we can do video delivery over the Internet. Let's take our campaign ads that we spent thousands of dollars to produce and digitize them and repurpose them.
It was a good idea, but the thought started to evolve. That's great the ads take advantage of new capabilities. E-mail has started to evolve. (We are working on) the delivery of more interactive messages -- e-commercials, radical mail. You're going to see a lot more sound and video. How to reach: New Media Communications, (216) 781-3172
Daniel G. Jacobs (email@example.com) is senior editor of SBN.
Last month I began explaining a three-step process for developing effective communication skills.
Part one detailed how to build a foundation of trust. This month, I'll explain how to design and build a bold and open floor plan, then ensure there are no roofs on top of the communications house.
The floor plan must contain clear, direct, respectful, reflective and frequent communication. Here's how to get started.
Get to the point
Consider cutting 30 to 40 percent of the words from any written letter. Bold or bullet the key one or two points. The average business communication is reviewed for five seconds. Make it easy to casually glance at the letter to garner the main points.
When engaging in verbal communications, develop an outline in your head before speaking. If you tend to be chatty on the phone, use an hourglass or timer and reduce the time of phone conversations by 20 percent. If you want something, directly ask the person who can honor the request.
Even if you don't get what you want, it could provide a lesson on how to obtain what you want in the future.
Wire your house for communications
As organizations get flatter in structure and faster, with fewer employees and even less time, how can you get wired and automate your communications?
E-mail -- Properly used, e-mail allows a quick and cost-effective way to deepen relationships and add value. Use it to garner feedback, schedule meetings and send out FYI messages. E-mail should not be used as a firewall that you throw hand grenades over.
Word processors -- Leaders at all levels should learn how to use a word processor. Why write out a letter that another person has to type when it can be done in one step? This promotes a flatter, quicker company.
Use bold colors on walls
If you are not passionate about what you are saying, why would anyone else want to listen? Try using emotion to improve communications.
Focus efforts on potential -- Your potential lies at the intersection of what you love to do and what you are good at. The first question that Steve Marks of Main Street Gourmet asks his followers in a review is, "Do you love what you are doing?" If they don't love their work, they discuss changes to get on track.
Don't use the same bold color throughout -- If you speak with enthusiasm and always use the same words, you might be perceived as insincere. If someone asks how you are doing, you can answer great, wonderful, fantastic, if I were doing any better it might be illegal, etc.
Add brightness on the phone -- You need to over-emphasize your voice by 30 percent on the telephone to compensate for not being physically present.
Don't use red -- Speaker Tony Allesandra talks about practicing "pausitiveness." When you are in a "red" mood (elevated state), try at all costs to think, then act, not react. When you react, you pay dearly later.
Hold more conversations in the kitchen
You won't strengthen relationships if you sit behind a desk. Meet and talk to people in the lunchroom or break room. Go to their turf and break down communication barriers.
Install moveable partitions instead of permanent offices. Eliminate executive parking spaces. Open the floor plan for more open communications.
Reflect on communications that have gone wrong. Pat Perry from Employers Resource Council once told me, "The mirror is your greatest evaluator." Consider using 360-degree feedback -- garner feedback from those at all levels of the organization, not just those leading -- and development plans.
By now, you've built your foundation of trust, you have a bold and open floor plan and it's time for a roof. Forget about the roof. Your growing house continually needs to be built up.
You cannot keep building up if you believe that you have a roof over your head. Communication potential is a limitless journey that is only stopped by obstacles you perceive.
Just like building an actual home, building a house of effective communications is not easy. It requires the efforts and cooperation of many people with different experiences and backgrounds.
Unlike building a home, the process of effective communications is never completed but is continually being built one block at a time. Mike Foti (firstname.lastname@example.org) is CEO/Chief Visionary Officer of Cleveland Glass Block and president of Leadership Builders. Foti works with organizations to influence and motivate their people and help their businesses grow. He can be reached at (216) 531-6085.
In today's tight labor market, it's very tempting to hire the first person that walks through the door, even if he or she is barely qualified for the job.
But don't do it, no matter how long you've been trying to fill the position.
"The smaller you are, and the fewer employees you have, the more important it is to hire the right person," says DeAnne Rosenberg, author of "Hiring the Best Person for Every Job."
To find the right person, start by ignoring most of what is on the resumes you receive.
"The resume is virtually a nonplayer," says Rosenberg. "Resumes can be very misleading. Candidates say they have a familiarity with computers. What does that mean -- they've seen one? They say they worked very closely with the buyer. What does that mean -- they had a desk down the hall from them?"
Candidates put forth on a resume only the information they want you to know. Before you hire, have a long conversation with yourself and determine what skills you need in a person to fill that position.
"Get some clarity about your expectations," says Rosenberg. "For most jobs, there are only five major areas you need specific results in, with the rest not being as important. Pull each one apart and determine what you regard as satisfactory performance. Then, figure out, in order to meet those expectations, what skills will the person need. Your interview questions should target those competencies."
Don't make the mistake of falling back on cliches for your interview questions, because there are cliche answers that go with them. The entire interview will be on autopilot and you'll learn nothing.
"You want a match between the candidate's goals and what you need for your business," says Rosenberg. "It has to be a partnership where the candidate is helping you achieve your company goals while you help them with their career goals. You can't motivate people who have no goals, so don't hire them.
"You want people who want to expand their knowledge, because then you have the basis for a partnership."
If you have your expectations listed in advance and work off of those, you are working off a set foundation and can keep the interview focused on the aspects that are important. If you are working off the resume, you're working off the moving target that the candidate has prepared and you've lost control.
If you panic and fill a position with the wrong person, you can alienate your other employees and end up with more open positions. If the person hired isn't pulling his or her weight, and the manager simply reassigns work to other employees to make up for it, you may find that the employees picking up the extra work are heading for the nearest exit.
"There are two main reasons people leave work: They either don't like the way they are being managed or the work is boring and nonchallenging," says Rosenberg.
Being a smaller company isn't necessarily a disadvantage in the job market. Emphasize that employees will never be a number in your business and that they will have many more opportunities to grow because they are expected to perform many tasks. Also, don't give up on people who have left the company.
"You never know how the new job will work out," says Rosenberg. "Keep in touch with them by sending them birthday cards and tell them they are missed. It's always nice to know you are wanted, and it's hard for a person to admit they made a mistake by leaving.
"This way, they don't have to, and you won't have to train them." How to reach: DeAnne Rosenberg, www.managementsense.com
Todd Shryock (email@example.com) is SBN's special reports editor.
Companies today are verbalizing their visions and missions.
Some, like Continental Airlines -- "Work Hard, Fly Right" -- have even made them part of their advertising strategy. In a few simple words, it's obvious how the company thinks about its business and its customers.
There is, however, a potential downside. Once you announce it to the public, you have set high expectations.
But problems occur only when a company can't convert the theory of the vision into reality. When this happens, it's usually because the theory has originated at the top of the organization and no one remembered that the employees are the only ones who can make it reality.
Unless employees buy into the theory and are committed to it, simply putting the vision into an advertisement will not make it happen.
Get the message to the troops
Our firm was once called in by a large service-oriented company with outlets nationwide that had spent a considerable sum of money and management time developing its new corporate vision and mission. Its intent was to become much more of a customer-driven organization.
But according to the CEO, the efforts had not had the effect on the company that he had envisioned. As he put it, "It doesn't matter how much time or dollars have been put into this effort as long as the cashier in Houston still treats our customer with indifference."
This company had done a poor job of getting the message through to the troops. These were the only people within the organization who ultimately had the opportunity to turn their theories on improved customer service into reality.
The CEO had an excited management team in the Cleveland office and a nationwide group of employees in the field with little or no interest in the whole exercise. The most important part of the company's well-intentioned exercise was not given the effort it required.
The company failed to get the field troops, those that patrol the border of the company and its customers, to understand the vision and mission and to get them excited about implementing it.
Customers have a choice
I recently returned from a business trip and can attest, as I am sure many of you can, to the fact that there are many good case studies of this situation in the airline industry. As you stand there dealing with a truly nasty airline employee, you are looking right at a sign touting the airline's customer service focus and "we care attitude" slogan.
I've heard arguments that the employees' attitude should be blamed more on overwork and frustration than on poor communication of the company mission. That may be true, but isn't their frustration just another indication of vision and mission coming more from the ad agency than from the heart of the company?
In the case of an airline, we have few choices. With travel demands, we are often forced to frequent certain airlines in spite of how we are treated or how well their employees understand or buy into the vision. Unfortunately, smaller businesses rarely have that luxury.
If the promises you make as management do not translate into reality at the border with the customers, your competition is waiting to grab those customers.
It depends on understanding
To ensure the desired delivery at the border, employees must understand the company's mission, its vision and its desired way of doing business. Even more important, they must understand the importance the company places on these statements and practices.
The salesperson at Nordstroms who cheerfully waits on you and graciously gives you a refund when you return a purchase has obviously gotten the message. This person understands how Nordstroms does business and how important this type of behavior is to Nordstroms' success.
The bottom line is that everyone in the company must buy into the message and execute upon it. Otherwise, your company's strategy will be doomed from the start to fail.
Joel Strom (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Joel Strom Associates, Inc., Growth Management. His firm works exclusively with closely held businesses and their ownership, helping them set and achieve their growth objectives while maximizing their profitability and value. Contact him at (216) 831-2663.
The first Great War had ended and Cleveland industrialists were stars of the American business community. The entire region was experiencing growth. And, like now, manufacturers experienced employee-related problems.
To address the issues of the day, 15 members of the Union Club of Cleveland, a private organization of the city's business community and one of the oldest social organizations in town, formed the American Plan Association of Cleveland. The organization was chartered to assist businesses with employee relation issues.
As Cleveland's economy -- and its industrial focus -- has shifted and morphed over the years, the agency, which became the Associated Industries of Cleveland in 1930 and later the Employers Resource Council, has maintained its focus for eight decades.
"I really credit the foresight the previous administration had," says Pat Perry, the ERC's executive director. "There was a greater recognition of the personnel function and that employees had a voice about what was going on in the workplace. I don't care if you have three employees or 3,000 employees, whether you're in manufacturing or cloning sheep, the bottom line is, you still have the same issues.
"We're not industry specific anymore, what we are is workplace specific, which is a big difference."
Learning from the past
In its early days, the ERC was very involved in political activities. According to an entry in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, the organization fought unionization and the Wagner Labor Relations Act and took a strong role in the Little Steel Strike of 1937.
It was even suggested that the association "hired strikebreakers, provided munitions and conducted espionage in an attempt to break the strike." The accusation was so strong the organization was the subject of an U.S. Senate investigation.
While the ERC has since distanced itself from those hardcore tactics, the focus remains the same.
"We are an employers' association that supports and promotes economic growth through the delivery of HR services and benefits to Northeast Ohio organizations," Perry says.
So instead of offering employers munitions, the ERC offers programs, training and counseling to business owners in 22 Northeast Ohio counties.
The five pillars
The ERC targets its 920 members through a five-pronged approach.
1. Training -- It offers a series of public events and programming dedicated to workplace practices. From regular breakfast meetings to on-site visits to an annual conference, the ERC conducts 60 to 80 events each year.
2. Research -- The ERC conducts a series of surveys covering a variety of topics from salaries to workplace policies and practices.
3. HR support -- "In a for-profit arena, it's called consulting," Perry says.
The ERC's experts help companies design handbooks, performance evaluations, compensation systems and even recruit HR professionals.
4. The Dream Team -- These organizations have agreed to offer their services to ERC members at a discount.
"We developed one of the broadest provider networks in the United States in terms of high-end providers of HR and workplace services and benefits," Perry says. "We call that group our Dream Team. That group, in effect, we negotiated some preferred arrangements with each of those providers that are exclusive to the ERC.
"They looked at us as an organization that basically covers nearly a half a million people. When you have that kind of market clout, you're able to go to some of these providers and (form) some very formidable partnerships."
5. Partnerships -- The ERC works with a variety of organizations, formally and informally, to extend its reach further into the community, Perry says.
Focus on your clientele
It's a strategy that some in the not-for-profit community might find a little unusual, but Perry has no intention of expanding the ERC's client base. With more than 900 member companies averaging nearly 300 employees each, the organization can touch hundreds of thousands of lives.
For now, that is enough.
"We've redirected our focus in terms of being much more concerned about retention," he says. "We've made a significant change in our operations here. We no longer prospect for new members. We will not aggressively pursue new members. We want to focus on our existing group.
"I would be happier to never add another company, but be in a position to serve our existing membership, than to add another company and to have any of our service be diluted."
That said, it pains Perry when a company chooses to withdraw its membership. The ERC boasts about 3 percent annual turnover, a far cry from the 8 to 10 percent just a few years ago.
"It absolutely puts a stake in my heart when we lose a member," he says. "I personally make a call. I talk to the owner if I can, (asking) 'What didn't we do?'"
Perry takes some comfort from the fact that only one-half of 1 percent are from what he calls bad turnover -- when a company leaves because the owners weren't getting value from the membership.
The rest of the turnover comes from circumstances beyond ERC's control -- merger, sale, acquisition, closing or moving.
Perry looks at a variety of factors to divine whether the organization is maintaining its focus. Perhaps one of the most telling is attendance at its regular programs. When he started with the ERC, 40 percent of its programs were cancelled because of a lack of participation, he says. That has changed, and every program, going back at least a dozen, has been sold out.
"I think the forefathers would be very proud of this group, that we're paying particular attention to what people are saying to us," he says. "What ERC is today is an absolute reflection of what our members have been asking for." How to reach: Employers Resource Council, (216) 696-3636
Daniel G. Jacobs (email@example.com) is senior editor of SBN.
Religion and politics.
They are the two taboos. Employers avoid the topics as much as possible. But with political messages so pervasive, just try to find a company where the names Bush and Gore haven't been mentioned in the past week.
"Around election time, those conversations always happen," says David Zanotti, president of the Ohio Roundtable. "We try an awful lot to keep politics out of the workplace, but you can't do it when you have a major election."
In an effort to keep the peace, the Ohio Roundtable has created a freestanding Web site, www.Decision2000.com, to which employers can refer their workers for information on the candidates and issues.
"I know employers sometimes wish they could tell their people who to go vote for," Zanotti says. "They know that in many instances, they see things the same, but they won't do that. Similarly, it's almost impossible to get employees information that isn't partisan in its nature.
"Decision 2000 becomes a place where people can go and refer other people that is safe and extremely informative."
There are more practical reasons, as well.
"Employers concerned about the EEOC are more gun-shy than ever because they don't want to get into trouble," Zanotti says. "They can say, 'Go check this site. I'm not going to tell you who to vote for, but I'll tell you where I get good information.'"
Information is king
"The majority of people will not focus on who they're voting for until 10 days prior," Zanotti says. "In many cases, 50 percent of the decisions get made in the last 24 to 48 hours. People go into a panic because they know they've got to go to the polls. They know what they're going to do on president; they know what they're going to do on big-name races.
"But they don't know who's running for state rep and they haven't got a clue about the state school board."
Using the Decision 2000 site, voters can tailor their search.
"The site allows people to build their own personal voter's guide," Zanotti says. "The site takes your ZIP code and assembles the pages necessary to cover your races, from the Statehouse to the White House."
Armed with that information, Zanotti says people can make good choices.
"The motivation behind this is the fundamental belief that in a representative republic, the more people who vote, the healthier the country will be," he says. "The biggest reason people don't vote is not because they don't care, it's because they care so much that they don't want to make a mistake. People are afraid to go there and face a very long ballot where they know so little.
"After awhile, they begin to feel, 'Gee, maybe somebody who knows more than me ought to make the decision.' That's why we call it Decision 2000. We want them to make the decision because it's their right and responsibility.
"In the electoral business, knowledge is everything." How to reach: Ohio Roundtable, (440) 349-3393; Decision 2000, www.decision2000.org
Daniel G. Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor of SBN.
It's a word Handl-it Chairman and CEO John Peters uses often to describe his company, and one not commonly ascribed to his industry --sophistication.
Handl-it Inc., a Bedford Heights-based contract warehousing and distributing company, has grown from 20,000 square feet in 1992 to more than 3.5 million square feet scattered around the Cleveland area today by propelling the basic service of warehousing and distributing to a higher level.
Implementing the latest technology, designing more efficient and versatile warehouse systems and having an aggressive acquisition strategy have helped the company earn more than 400 contracts, including the state of Ohio's first six-year contract for warehousing and distributing liquor in Northeast Ohio.
Not bad for a company that started with one customer.
"We have more sophistication in our operations management so we can implement more cost effective layouts of our facilities," says Peters, who runs the company with his brother, Jerry. "I think they (the state) like the fact that we can attack problems quicker than a lot of people who are in this business."
Handl-it receives shipments from 80 liquor and distilled spirits vendors and distributes to more than 135 state liquor stores with the contract. While it's not the company's largest contract ever, it is one of the most challenging due to the number of order fulfillments involved.
However, the company has kept operations running smoothly, thanks to key elements of the Handl-it system.
Front and center
The layout (or profiles) of Handl-it's distribution facilities is based on movement of the products and not just numerical sequence of the inventory. The fastest moving items are docked in the front of the warehouse, closer to the shipping docks, so workers don't have to travel as far to pick them up.
When you're talking about 150,000 square feet, the time adds up. Thanks to this streamlined layout and a lot of hard work, Handl-it was able to ship multiple 9,000-case orders the first week of the state liquor contract. Peters says 5,000 cases is considered a large order.
Invest in technology
Handl-it has invested in state-of-the-art technology so it can offer customers features like computerized inventory systems, management reporting systems, bar coding, printing and scanning, and customers can transmit orders from their computers to Handl-it's computer.
The company also has its own Information Systems technicians who customize programming so that Peters can deliver customized invoices and shipping documents the way customers want to see them. Handl-it redesigned the state's computer program for distributing liquor because the old system was full of bugs.
The average manager at Handl-it has at least 20 years experience in his or her field.
"Even though Handl-it has only been around for the last nine years, I've surrounded and built an organization of people that have a lot of good experience," Peters says. "It's the people that make the business work."
Handl-it employs about 180 people. When large orders arrive, it can call on its temporary labor pool and jump to 300 workers for a project within days.
Acquisitions to build upon
Handl-it was started with a $1,000 rent deposit on Peters' Visa card, but has since acquired more of its property instead of renting and bought out other companies to enhance the business's distribution side.
"We've made two acquisitions a year for the last three years," Peters says. "The whole idea behind the acquisition strategy is to find companies that fit our growth strategy and then enhance them. Enhance them with our sophistication, our volume and our customer base."
Handl-it acquired Con-Pak, a Columbus-based packaging, company a year ago. It acquired another packaging company, Cornerstone, in April, along with a lumber reloading center.
With size and diversity of services, Handl-it attracts Fortune 500 companies as well as start-ups.
>"The big guys are not comfortable doing business with you if you're small and not sophisticated," Peters says. "You can do the business small guy, the start-up guy, but you're never going to get the big guy." How to reach: Handl-it Inc., (216) 831-4883 or www.handlit.com
Morgan Lewis Jr. (email@example.com) is a reporter at SBN.