As CEOs, we enrich our community by running companies that provide jobs and pay taxes. As income earners, we pay our fair share of personal taxes that fund many community services, such as schools, libraries, parks and emergency services. But there is more that we can do. Every community has needs, and in every community, the needs are great.
It begins with you.
Many of us have sat on nonprofit boards and have lent our expertise to organizations with needs. We were involved in community service as adolescents through organizations like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts or religious affiliations. As we were building our careers, we volunteered on committees or boards of trade organizations. That’s what leaders do, right?
Inspire others to follow
Said best by Tom Peters, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” So how do we inspire others in our organization to do their part?
I am personally inspired by what Charles and Debra Penzone have done. They infused their team at Charles Penzone Family of Salons to realize their gift of talented hands that make people feel beautiful and special. And with those hands, team members provide services to individuals who are going through cancer treatment. This is just one of many examples of how Charles Penzone uses its gifts to give back and help enrich the lives of those in need in our community.
The company’s employees not only volunteer their time, but they also provide a percentage of their sales from services to a variety of community causes.
Another inspiring organization for me is DesignGroup Inc. Second-generation leader Bob Vennemeyer shared his firm’s corporate giving philosophy during a casual chat. In the company’s 10th year, founding partners established a donor-advised fund with The Columbus Foundation. The company’s goal is to contribute every year to its local community foundation. As requests and community needs arise, DesignGroup requests grants from its foundation to 501(c)(3) public charitable organizations. Again, this is just one example of the many ways DesignGroup and its employees give back.
As CEO of Greencrest, I have followed in the footsteps of both these great companies. As you can imagine, nonprofits have no shortage of need for marketing, design and public relations services. With our gifted minds and artistic talents, we generously provide in-kind services to a number of special causes in our community. We try to be selective and provide a depth of services that will catapult a nonprofit to the next level. In 2007, we opened a donor-advised fund at The Columbus Foundation. The Greencrest Living Hope Foundation provides for individuals who may not have the opportunity to live life to their full potential without some assistance. In addition to these gifts, we also come together as a team to dip into our own pockets to provide a holiday hope box for the homeless, children or seniors.
Use your voice
You need to actively promote the difference that your organization makes in your community to your team. Let’s face it. We all want to be recognized for doing good. It is important to internally promote the difference your organization has made in the causes you have invested time and resources.
At Greencrest, it is important for employees to know that their efforts have made a difference, whether it is in the life of one person or the lives of many. The closer our employees can get to meeting or being around the people they have helped, the more inspired they become. It just solidifies the effort. It gives them joy, satisfaction and purpose.
For me, it is a philosophical belief that our role in life is to make a difference and leave the world a better place. I know that in stating this, I am in good company. The more we, as leaders, can promote the importance of corporate social responsibility, the more community needs can be met. And there is work to be done.
Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 20-year old brand development and strategic marketing firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at 614-885-7921 or email@example.com, or for more information, go to www.greencrest.com.
As I was formulating some thoughts around this topic, this tweet appeared from @DrWayneWDyer: “Your reputation is in the hands of others,” reads the tweet. “The only thing you can control is your character.” It succinctly summarizes the message I want to share with you with regard to managing company reputation.
Managing reputation begins with top leadership and is rooted in your organization’s core values and corporate governance. It is reinforced in your financial performance, corporate offices, employee relations, and customer service guidelines and policies. It is reflected in the quality of your products and services. It is expressed through your company’s social responsibility, vendor and distributor relations, and media relations.
While a corporate image can be created, a corporate reputation is earned. As CEOs, we need to treat our corporate reputation as one of our most valuable assets and protect it at all costs. Protecting corporate reputation is a proactive position rather than a reactive one. It is in reacting to a situation that we can inadvertently cover up truths, make statements we’d love to take back and make poor decisions.
Proactively managing reputation pays off
At Greencrest, we established our core values more than a decade ago as a group exercise — getting input and consensus from all employees. In the end, the core values mirrored my own personal beliefs and defined the performance and operational tenets of our company. Because they were a part of our roots, they are relevant today and continue to be our guiding principles. They are painted on our wall and greet employees every day.
By identifying company core values, as leaders we can begin to put structure around all other policies. How are your core values reflected in your corporate governance? What about your employment and customer service policies? Corporate image is formed from internal and external communications. It is formed through the quality of products and services, our own behavior and attitudes. It is also influenced by our employees and the experience others have when interacting with us and our company and our physical offices. It can also be shaped by the company’s financial practices and our community and social responsibility.
As leaders, we must continually reinforce the company’s core values and policies and make sure our key staff represent and reinforce them, too. I have found that it is easy to become soft, too forgiving and accepting of the status quo. We become too busy to deal with important disciplinary matters or absent from managing direct reports for whatever reason. But as a company, we are at our best when we enforce our core values.
Don’t forget to plan for the unexpected
As CEOs, it is also our responsibility to manage the unexpected. My industry labels this as “crisis communications.” Organizations can successfully plan how to respond to worst-case scenarios, and in doing so, make us CEOs less “reactive” to situations where personal emotions and immediate response don’t allow us to think as clearly and rationally as we normally do.
I have successfully counseled numerous companies through crisis situations — everything from hiring illegal immigrants to negativity around organized labor contract negotiations to unfavorable actions of key executives to job-related deaths and injuries. But when the emotional impact of false statements made about my own company took me by surprise, I hired an outside public relations consultant to coach me and to manage our internal and external communications. It was well worth the expense.
Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently.” This couldn’t be more relevant today, especially in the wake of the social media revolution. Those five minutes are more like seconds. So, if you’re not managing your company’s online reputation, you need to be doing that, too.
Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 20-year-old brand development and strategic marketing firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.
Creating a brand-focused organization shifts it from a commodity to a position of brand preference, which equates to higher marketplace value. Making the brand the central focus of the organization helps employees understand what is on brand and what is not. This is essentially why brand development and brand commitment is a top-down initiative and is the CEO’s job.
It is all about the customer experience
In their book titled “Satisfaction,” authors Chris Denove and James D. Power IV offer research and case studies that prove the impact a great customer experience has on organizations. From their studies, I have developed a simple exercise to help companies determine the impact that improving the customer experience can have on an organization. It is eye-opening. To access that exercise, go to www.brandproblog.com/customer-experience.
Here’s the bottom line: If you’re like most businesses, the majority of your customers are relatively happy, but they have no attachment to your organization. Most companies have a small customer base that is so committed, they would never leave. According to the studies by J.D. Power and Associates, relatively happy customers have a loyalty rate of 40 percent versus committed customers, which have a 70 percent loyalty rate. It speaks volumes when you think about your customer attrition rate and the cost of customer acquisition. If you increased customer loyalty, how would that impact company sales?
As said best by Denove and Power, “Every company says that customer satisfaction is a paramount goal. … In truth, talk is cheap, particularly when it comes to customer satisfaction. … The leaders, like Lexus, Starbucks, Volvo, Nordstrom’s, BMW and Ritz Carlton have made the commitment that goes beyond conversation, below the surface and into actual daily mechanics of doing business.”
Building the culture
Employees need to feel a sense of pride, ownership and personal connection with your company, its brand and its customers. When this occurs, there is energy, excitement, empathy, passion, purpose and conviction. Employees who interface with customers play the lead role in living the brand, but all employees are members of the team and have a role in delivering the brand experience. The goal is to have every person aligned in thinking, speaking and behaving in ways that create the experience and the lasting impact that your brand promises.
There are three primary stages that employees must surpass in becoming advocates of the brand: hearing it, believing it and living it. This translates into observing from you that it is important and why it is important. As leaders, it is our job to keep the brand top-of-mind and to weave it into the fabric of our daily operating procedures. Identify barriers that prevent employees from delivering the brand promise. If you’re not sure what those are, just ask your employees.
Making the commitment
Obviously, there is a lot of work to creating a brand culture and keeping it alive within an organization. So where do you start? I suggest you start with your commitment to embrace the brand as an essential asset of your organization and then become the champion of the brand as you drive it through your organization. Building on and leveraging the brand over the next three to five years should be a part of your strategic plan. Tie the brand to specific financial goals and commit publicly to the brand promise.
To operationalize a brand requires a major shift in how the company is run. And, the most important element of bringing a brand-driven culture to life within your organization is your employees. It will require an investment in resources and training, but there is no telling the impact it can have on the future success of your company.
Let me get right to the point. As CEO of your company, you take the lead role in defining market differentiation. So, if that was all you hoped to gain from this article, you can move on. However, if you also want some insight into how you define market differentiation, well then, read on.
What is market differentiation?
As a specialist in brand development, it is disheartening to listen to all of the brand speak. There is much confusion in the marketplace as to what a brand is. So, let’s start with the obvious. Brand is not a logo or an advertising tagline. It is not design elements or a graphical look. According to Webster’s, a brand is a “claim of distinction.” It is important not to confuse brand with branding. A brand defines a company’s market differentiation. It is, by my definition, an undisputable evidence of distinction and something that can be proven. So while branding is what you turn over to your marketing director, brand development must be led by the CEO. A brand’s distinction is what separates it from its competitors. It’s what makes it stand out as extraordinary, different or, better yet, more valuable to the end user.
How to uncover it.
Brand development is the internal discovery of brand distinction. Much to the surprise of many, it is not discovered by talking with your customers or believing that you can become something your organization is not capable of being. Brand is the essence of what your organization already is. It is, in part, what your organization has always been. It is what you are. Remember, your company mission is to “be …,” your vision is to “become …,” and your brand is what you are and what you do differently.
The process starts with fact finding and through a series of stages, extrapolating potential truths, until you have a prioritized list of absolutely unique, provable selling points. And although defined here in a single sentence, don’t underestimate the power of brand discovery. The deeper you dig and the more thorough the analysis, the more obvious the essence of the brand and its leadership capabilities will become. And the easier it will be to assume a long-term brand leadership position going forward.
From this process, you can establish the foundation for an undisputable statement of differentiation and a leadership position you are capable of controlling. It will provide a lens through which all company strategic direction should be viewed. It is your corporate values, reputation capital, name equity and social capital, which encompasses your relational and cognitive beliefs and values. Your company brand is your market driver and, as such, must get incorporated into the company’s mission, strategies and operations. It must align with the overall business plan.
Aligning business strategy and brand strategy.
Our business strategy encompasses our customers, strategic partners, distributors, employees, marketing and sales. So, too, must our brand strategy. And when the two are aligned, they form our overall corporate strategy, infusing our organization with the momentum it needs to take over the leadership position.
What’s the importance of brand leadership? It’s the added-value, good brand-positioning offers. It allows customers to adopt your brand as their own and allows for better brand management, internal adoption and crystal clear communication. Great brands control their categories and thrive for years. They set examples for others to try to mimic.
Are you ready to assume the leadership role?
Once successfully differentiated, a company separates itself from competitors and, thus, assumes a leadership position. Once aligned with the company’s business strategy, it is positioned to succeed. If there is a downside to brand leadership, it would be living up to your company’s claim and having the guts to posture the company as a leader, not a follower. Are you ready?
Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 20-year-old brand development and strategic marketing firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921 or email@example.com, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.
I often run across the term “new normal” in conversations with peers. It’s a phrase that describes what we are all searching for to help define our respective businesses as we emerge from this recession and try to find our stride going forward. As lead strategy officers of our organizations, we need to pull ourselves and our key reports away from the day-to-day minutiae. We need to re-evaluate the business playing field and how we competitively fit into that landscape.
Here are a few suggestions.
Listen to the voice of the customer. A great place to start the strategic process is to reach out to customers active, inactive and prospective. There are many forms of gathering customer feedback. How you get it is less important than obtaining it and doing something with the feedback you’ve received. Effective customer feedback will provide input on needs, impressions of your business, how your company performs against expectations, what matters most to customers in the selection process and other important information. Listening to our customers can result in tremendous strategic opportunities.
Engage the team in a strategic discussion. More than just a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, business leaders need to look deeper to identify how business, industry and consumer norms have shifted. How will those changes positively or negatively impact the business? Some business leaders may be comfortable leading these discussions with their teams. Others may find it beneficial to hire a professional facilitator to lead the team through this process. The best results involve the key players in your business sales, marketing, operations, production, human resources, corporate finance, engineering, etc.
Define your core competencies. What does it take to be a “good” player in your niche? How well do you measure up against that mark? List your company’s unique experiences or skill sets and discuss how they benefit the customer. Talk about your sales and service delivery processes and identify opportunity gaps. Incorporate important findings from the customer feedback into your discussions.
Evaluate the external marketplace. Define your customer, the markets you serve, your share and growth potential of those markets. If there were new opportunities for products or services that came out of your customer feedback, explore the potential of those opportunities and identify any barriers operational or market to adding them to your offerings. It is not as important to know the answers as it is to capture what you do know so that you can find the answers to what you don’t know.
Also identify current and future trends market, political, economic, social and technological and analyze their impact on your company’s mission and goals. Identify and analyze your top competition and, in doing so, make note of each competitor’s strengths, weaknesses and mindshare of prospects.
Define your goals. In defining the company’s goals, break it down until everyone in the room realizes how the goal can be achieved. Will the company’s growth be organic, or will an acquisition strategy come into play? Identify the percentage of business that will come from current customers versus new customers and how that goal breaks down by product line, market, geographic location, etc. Define your company’s goals for the next three years and talk about how you need to change what you are doing today to achieve those goals. Also talk about how these changes will impact company operations, facilities, personnel, delivery, marketing and sales structure.
Leading your team through strategic exercises such as these will keep your business focused and relevant today and in the future.
Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer of GREENCREST, a 20-year-old brand development and strategic marketing firm. She serves on several local advisory boards and has been honored with a NAWBO Visionary Award and SBA Ohio Women in Business Champion of the Year award. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.greencrest.com.
Sometimes, it's like employees and their employers are speaking in different tongues.
If Hollywood would just produce a movie entitled, "What Employees Want," starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, perhaps we'd gain some insight. As employers, we think we know what employees want, when in reality, what tops their list of wants lurks at the bottom of ours.
In his book, "The Heart of Coaching," Thomas Crane highlights differences in the perception of what managers and employees see as the most important motivators.
What employees want What employers think employees want
1. Recognition for a job well done 1. Good wages
2. Understanding attitude 2. Job security
3. Feeling involved in something 3.Promotion and growth
4. Job security 4. Good working conditions
5. Good salary 5. Interesting work
6. Interesting work 6.Loyalty from managers
7. Promotion and growth 7. Tactful discipline
8. Loyalty from superiors 8. Appreciation
9. Good working conditions 9. Understanding attitude
10. Discreet discipline 10. Feeling "in" on things
Clients and business associates of our company, GREENCREST, have their own ideas about employee retention.
"We try to make our employees' lives easier," explains Frank Voytko, managing partner of Hausser + Taylor and managing director of American Express Central Ohio offices. "Instead of controlling how many hours our associates work to get the job done, we control the number of hours they work so that we can increase their quality of life and keep them from burning out."
Voytko's philosophy has worked well for his accounting, audit and tax firm. In the last three years, it has turned over only two professional staff members, both of whom left due to spousal relocations.
"We try to create a comfortable, professional work environment for our employees and keep them on jobs with good clients," he says. "For our younger associates, we help them with tuition for the additional hours they need to sit for their exam. We look toward the long term."
"We help companies reduce risk and provide the necessary training to get the employee and employer off to a great start," states Bob Molter, co-owner of Strategic Resource Partners, a human resource company specializing in hiring and training college graduates.
Molter and co-owner Michael McBride have an employer success rate of 90 percent. Their formula for success involves profiling the job before looking for an employee to fill the position, providing a trial period to see if there is a good fit culturally, ethically and attitudinally, and training and mentoring every new employee so he or she knows how to function within an organization.
"We call the process the ultimate interview," Molter says. "Obviously, this method cannot work for every new hire, but it is a great way to hire new college graduates. We've been told by employers that our leadership and mentoring program saves two years of learning on the job. That alone is some real savings."
"Don't hire people for more money," advises Chris DeCapua, vice president of family-owned Dawson Personnel Services. "It might mask the real reason someone might want to work for you -- and if they come to work for you for the right reason, the money will come."
If candidates don't respond to an offer, call back when they say they will, or ask too many questions about benefits, DeCapua feels it sends up a red flag.
"Only hire people that are truly excited about joining your company," he says. "The relationship starts with the interview ... Know the person's name, let them know you care, that you're involved and hands-on. Involve yourself in the hiring and orientation. Extend the offer yourself so that you can gauge the person's reaction. Then reinforce that person's decision to join your company every day."
Dawson has virtually no turnover of staff that it desires to keep on its team.
Here's more of DeCapua's formula for successful hiring and employee retention:
* Let people know how important they are from the first telephone call to schedule the interview.
* Ask candidates about their best and worst job experience -- you'll learn something about the preferred cultural characteristics and what motivates them.
* Create a unique work environment.
* Focus on core tasks rather than on who was or wasn't at work on time.
* Don't be afraid to be human -- let employees know who you are.
* Create an environment in which employees want to share their career aspirations with you.
* Reward and surprise employees with bonuses, gifts and recognition.
* Constantly remind them that you can't do it without them.
Recognition goes a long way in motivating employees, according to national survey results released early this year.
Thirty-eight percent of financial executives polled in the survey, developed by Accountemps, said that, other than monetary rewards, frequent recognition of accomplishments is the best way to encourage staff members.
Bill Hagerty, partner in charge of executive recruiting for Cincinnati-based accounting firm Burke & Co., wrote in an article for CPA Advocate, "People feel undervalued and underappreciated, and it's not because of their salary or benefits. The key to retention and performance is consistent recognition of a job well done. People work for people, not companies, and they work hardest and commit to succeeding for people who consistently recognize and reward them for exhibiting this commitment."
The Bureau of National Affairs calculates that the national rate of turnover averaged 1.2 percent of an employer's work force per month in 1999. The Saratoga Institute believes that an average turnover figure for companies is one times the cost of the employee's salary and benefits.
The Facts Survey on Employee Turnover conducted by William Mercer shows that 55 percent of companies surveyed estimate the cost of turnover at $10,000 per person or less, with 10 percent calculating the cost at more than $40,000 per person.
Habits like consistent recognition, a little understanding and encouraging employees to get involved only cost a little of your time. Weigh the investment.
Follow the advice of leading Central Ohio entrepreneurs who have succeeded in attracting employees and keeping them. There is no time like the present to get started. How to reach: Frank Voytko, Hausser + Taylor, 224-7722; Bob Molter, Strategic Resource Partners, 825-0678; Chris DeCapua, Dawson Personnel Systems, 923-9675; Bill Hagerty, Burke & Co., (513) 455-8200
Kelly Borth is president of GREENCREST. Reach her at 885-7921 or email@example.com.