When was the last time you asked your employees if they trust you? People take their employees for granted, and that's a big mistake.
I see six ways to build better trust between you and your employees that will make you a better leader
1. Communicate. It's better to overcommunicate than not communicate at all. This can be done through daily, weekly or monthly e-mails, newsletters or managers' meetings.
2. Take a genuine interest in your employees' financial situation. If an employee is having financial problems and you are in a position to help, why not extend an interest-free loan that can be deducted out of future paychecks? It costs little, and the gesture will go a long way.
3. Take a genuine interest in your employees' personal situation. Flextime is a great way to allow employees to deal with childcare, eldercare or sickness in the family. Employees appreciate flexibility.
4. Give recognition when deserved. Surveys show employees crave recognition as much as or more than money. Show them you appreciate their efforts.
5. Show a clear direction for the company. People need to be able to see the future of the company, as well as their own future. It's important to share goals and objectives that pave the way to success.
6. Share key performance measures of how you run the company. Everyone should know what variables are used when making decisions. For instance, one variable could be return on investment and the timeframe in which you expect to get that return.
Leadership is not to be taken lightly. The more you care about your people's needs, the greater the chance that you will be the person leading them. Even when you think your employees are wrong, if you listen carefully, they're probably telling you something about your business that needs correcting.
In the current economic climate, you can't afford to ignore them.
Verizon doesn't print those -- it's in the wireless phone business. Westlake-based Shamrock Cos. Inc. takes care of that.
But Shamrock doesn't only design and print marketing materials. Its CEO, Robert Troop, has found in the 31 years he's been in the printing business that you have to diversify if you want to keep growing.
"I'm a good listener," Troop says. "The greatest source of information of how you develop your company comes from the client and your employees."
When Troop purchased Shamrock in 1989, office PC software and laser printers were rapidly destroying the need for its business form printing services. Troop responded by adding products like brochures and magazines, trade show display panels and consumer market packaging.
"I wanted to keep selling the business forms, but we needed to expand on that," Troop says.
To reflect the shift, Troop changed the company name in 1991 from Shamrock Forms Inc. to Shamrock Graphics Inc. Meanwhile, he acquired a small graphic services company to reinforce the change in strategic direction. That division was incorporated separately under the name Shamrock Creative Services Inc.
In 1997, Troop launched Popular Products Midwest Corp., a specialty advertising company that prints company logos on pens, coffee mugs, apparel and customer gifts and promotions.
"We wanted to eliminate multiple vendors for our large accounts and become a one-stop shop," Troop says. "That way we could create more programs for them at a higher level and really bring value to the table."
On top of the printing services, Shamrock warehouses and distributes its clients' marketing materials or promotional gifts. Although seemingly unrelated to its core printing and design services, warehousing and order fulfillment are in high demand.
"That is our single largest area of growth," Troop says. "There's a greater sense of urgency for us, so we do a better job at it than if was outsourced."
Troop combined the three divisions in 2000 under the name The Shamrock Cos. Inc. Sales have increased more than 200 percent in the last five years and Troop's added 22 employees in the last three years for a total of 103. How to reach: The Shamrock Cos. Inc., (440) 899-9510
Of course Frecka will lead you to believe he's a movie-making bigwig if it gets him out of a speeding ticket.
"I was stopped by a cop for speeding and he asked me what I did for a living," say Frecka. "I told him and he let me go."
But the "Film" in the name of his company refers to flexible polymer-based film for packaging.
Frecka purchased Next Generation in 1985. It's been a bumpy ride at times, but the company has seen profits and growth for the last five years. He spent a lot on technology and state-of-the-art equipment and considers that investment a reason for his success.
But it's a tough business.
"The plastic industry is so volatile that it's easy to lose money," says Frecka. "Resin can go up and down 100 percent in six to seven months. It's all demand-based and sometimes it's a scary place to be."
It became even tougher when a series of health issues forced Frecka to take time off.
"I hired some 'professional managers,' some industry guys, and in a year, they almost had me out of business," he says. "They didn't understand cash flow ... we had big inventories and the company was going out of business."
Frecka returned to work early and "I got some great people and I paid them a lot of money ... I got a good accounting firm ... I told (my suppliers) I knew how bad things were and gave them all weekly updates. That gave them the foundation to wait."
The company is now prospering, but for Frecka, both failure and success are a part of business.
"They don't kill you when you fail," he says. "My success is built more on failures than success -- you can't shoot 100 percent all the time. You try to gain more than you lose." How to reach: Next Generation Films, (800) 88 -8150 or www.nextgenfilms.com
"We were in Washington on 9-11," Heestand says.
He and his co-founders Ann Katigbak and Jeremy Samide could see smoke rising from the Pentagon. Witnessing the tragedy sparked a high-tech response.
"Sending reports out about staying off bridges is the government's way of dealing with it, but what we want to do is more specific," says Heestand. "We've spent a lot of time thinking about cyber security and the ability of people like Osama bin Laden to hide data.
ETG wants to lend its expertise to assist in securing our domestic cyber space.
"We've been feeling very red, white and blue lately," says Heestand.
The idea is to use students to monitor cyber space and warn companies when new computer viruses and other threats are developed and sent out. That would require getting a technical fingerprint or the "cyber DNA" of each company to create a database.
Heestand wants to use students from a local college and Cleveland as a test site.
"Wouldn't it be great to do something like this and be first in the country?" he says.
In a world in which the United States is relying more and more on foreign computer programming, hardware and telecommunications, Heestand wants to focus his staff on creating a domestic high-tech infrastructure and wants a good part of that happen in Cleveland.
Implementing the idea may take a huge amount of work, but Heestand says cyber security is as important as any other security.
"Getting hit by a (computer) worm is more likely than getting hit by a tornado," he says. How to reach: e-Merging Technologies, (216) 433-9668 or www.etg1.com
Twenty-one years later, the Shibleys own and operate a chain of six restaurants across Northeast Ohio, in Beachwood, Chagrin Falls, Hudson, Mayfield Village, Shaker Heights and Mentor. A seventh will open in Medina in September.
Growth is never an easy part of business, but it's especially challenging when it includes expansion to numerous locations.
At one time, each sibling ran his or her own restaurant, but when the number of restaurants exceeded the number of Shibleys, the company's overall management structure required a change.
"Developing the infrastructure of the company -- the different systems and supervisory people -- has been difficult," says Larry Shibley. "Going from a couple of guys operating a couple of restaurants to a functioning chain where things happen automatically and you have sophisticated, high level training which shows everything documented ... that's been the challenge."
The group redefined the partners' roles. Today, Darlene deals with all of the store managers and interviews and hires them. Larry oversees much of the administrative and financial duties from the Chagrin Falls headquarters, manages the facilities and is the lead in the selection of new sites.
Arthur spends the bulk of his time at the Hudson store and handles tasks such as in-store training and public relations. Jeffrey splits his time between the Mayfield Village location and Mentor. He develops targeted training for employees and oversees the Web site and newsletter.
To fill out the management team, the Shibleys promoted one of their restaurant managers, Dixie Jerdon, to streamline the corporate structure. Jerdon computerized the restaurants, then took every aspect of the business and documented it in detail, Larry says.
"She created a form that would walk a manager through the tasks of each day," he says, adding she did what was necessary for the group to expand beyond four restaurants. "(She) played an extremely significant role in providing the management tools for Yours Truly to grow into a seven-restaurant chain." How to reach: Yours Truly Restaurants, (440) 247-8338
TEI is comprised of leaders from nearly two dozen business service provider organizations in the Greater Cleveland area. Every other month, we meet to discuss the current state of affairs within our respective industries.
It's a unique opportunity to gain insight about what's happening across the business spectrum and share ideas of how each of our organizations deal with common issues that arise during the normal -- and not-so-normal -- course of business. It's also a great place to pick up prospective client referrals or, in my case, trend story ideas for SBN.
Business experience is valuable. It provides the ability to quickly analyze and deal with different situations because you've seen them in various forms before. But the continuous acquisition of knowledge and experience from external sources and the subsequent understanding of how to apply it is even more critical to long-term success.
A key initiative of TEI is an annual conference designed for presidents and CEOs. Last month, more than 120 senior executives attended the President's Forum to hear a slate of speakers that included former TRW chairman Joseph Gorman, Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell and TravelCenters of America CEO Ed Kuhn.
The speakers shared strategies, case studies and pearls of wisdom about how they run their organizations, tackling such topics as transforming management styles as your company grows, how to maximize alliances, the value of mergers and acquisitions, and what it takes to steer a business through a difficult turnaround.
I was lucky enough to moderate three breakout discussion groups during the course of the day-long conference. It's amazing what can happen when you put diverse business owners and leaders into a room and let them swap stories, problems and solutions in a friendly, noncompetitive atmosphere.
Simply put, networking with your peers in any form is a surefire way to develop and implement ways to improve your business and develop that all-important competitive edge.
In 1989, then-35-year-old co-founder Michael Gibbons left behind a successful career as president and CEO of a Houston-based investment firm to return home to Cleveland and launch an investment house. With a close business associate, Kevin Brown, he formed Brown, Gibbons & Co.
The two were just setting up shop when Brown suddenly passed away. But Gibbons carried on, focused on what he knew best -- middle market investment banking.
Early success helped Gibbons expand both the firm and its client roster. He attributes that success in part to keeping the firm focused on investment banking.
"We're doing only one thing for our clients," Gibbons says. "We're representing them in a financial advisory position without regard to any other products or issues."
Scott Lang arrived in 1996 from a large Chicago capital investment firm, where he was executive vice president and managing director of investment banking. Today, he oversees BGL's Chicago office.
Gibbons and Lang both believe that investment banking firms and corporate financial institutions do not mix. That's why BGL remains independent, resisting numerous buyout offers from larger organizations.
The pair also credits the firm's success to the loyalty of its 40-plus investment bankers.
"It's a difficult process to keep people," says Gibbons. How to reach: Brown, Gibbons, Lang & Co., (216) 241-2800
Unfortunately, with your earnings history, no banker, investor or traditional lender is interested. Friends, family and angel investors are tapped out, so venture capitalists could be your best option. Or are they?
VCs will risk their money, advice and resources when your business needs them most. Their cost, owning part of your business, seems minimal in light of what they say it will be worth.
The problem with using VCs is that their need to earn quick, big returns conflicts with your goal of building your business. To sell your company, the VC must find shortcuts to creating customer value.
VCs fund one out of 1,000 business plans they see. They need two of 10 portfolio companies to succeed to earn the 100 to 1 payoffs their investors expect. Therefore, VCs only stay committed to healthy businesses because problem companies are cheaper to close than fix.
Another challenge is dilution. After successive rounds of equity financing, you can end up with neither ownership nor a big payday. And every minute you spend writing business plans for investors is time you could spend building a customer base.
If your company must create a completely new business process before it can sell anything to anyone, you're probably well-suited for venture financing. But, you should still be cautious.
Pay more for less money if it comes with fewer strings. Realize that venture capitalists exist to make their partners wealthy.
The more customers you grow, the more of a real business you have and the less equity you have to give away to get funding. If you plan on building and managing your business for the long run, focus on finding, keeping and growing customers. No business survives without a strong and well-developed ability to get new customers. Put all your efforts into creating salespeople, channels and proposals.
Reinvest the money from your early sales into customer services, benefits and products. And remember, customers get you money better than money gets you customers.
If you focus on this, you will be in the driver's seat and will live and retire to tell about it. Andy Birol (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Birol Growth Consulting, a Solon-based firm that helps grow businesses by growing their best and highest uses. He can be reached at (440) 349-1970 or at www.birolgrowthconsulting.com.
Maybe what we really need is a good case of an attitude readjustment. I know it's easy to look to the left and to the right and see something that appears to be so much better than what we have. Each one of us has a certain lot in life and it is important to make the best of it. The first thing that happens when we look to one side or the other to see what we don't have is we forget what we do have. Discontentment sets in and we become ungrateful.
Eventually this leads to a bad attitude.
How should we view the discontentment that appears from time to time? As an enemy, and try to avoid it, or as a friend we can learn from?
I see four ways to move closer to a better attitude.
1. Appreciate what you have before you lose it. You or your business may not be where you want to be, but it is important to appreciate what you have or it could be taken from you. Don't look at what you could have, but rather appreciate what you have accomplished.
2. Appreciate what you don't have before you get it. Everything isn't always as good as it seems. Don't wish something upon yourself that appears to be good, but turns out to hurt you. Difficult economic times can lead to poor decision-making as companies take high risks to try to turn bigger profits.
3. Lead by example. A great attitude is contagious and people want to be around it. If you see how much differently you can view life with the right attitude, you'll never have a bad attitude again.
4. Learn from your mistakes. A bad attitude can only be your friend if you learn from it. Change your tone and watch how much better people respond to you. Communication and morale will improve as your attitude changes.
The true test of a person's character is not when things are going well, but how that person handles challenges. The people with winning attitudes are the ones I want on my team. Those with bad attitudes always get thrown off the team in the end because no one wants to play with them.
If you're Michael Feuer, CEO and chairman of OfficeMax Inc., you keep your focus and take no bonus.
According to a proxy filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Feuer received no bonus in the fiscal year ending Jan. 26. It's the same approach he took the previous year, when OfficeMax stock hit a low point and analysts began to question his management plan.
Since then, Feuer has developed and begun to integrate a strategic plan that includes re-evaluating the office supply retailer's growth initiative and lowering fixed costs. As the company's stock price rose, its largest single stockholder, Orient Star LLC, stopped its aggressive acquisition strategy (it had closed in on the magic 15 percent) and began selling off OfficeMax stock for large profits.
Unlike many of his CEO peers, Feuer did not reward himself for the first-year plan efforts. He received a salary of $950,000 in the year ended Jan. 26, down 1.9 percent from his salary of $968,269 the previous year.
Additionally, OfficeMax granted him 295,000 stock options, compared with 400,000 the prior year. Assuming the company's common stock appreciates 5 percent each year for the next nine years, the value of the options is $578,200. The options have an exercise price of $3.12 a share and expire April 4, 2011.
The executive received no restricted stock award in the year ended Jan. 26, compared with a restricted stock award of $14,871 the previous year.