Larry Waller

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:08

The 10 percent turnaround

Carolyn Horner is president and founder of Pinnacle Solutions in Hartville, a consulting business that helps corporations and businesspeople eliminate obstacles to their goals; fine-tune their attitudes; and improve their interpersonal skills. Horner holds a master's degree in education and certification as an employee-assistance professional and chemical-dependency counselor. She uses her background as a teacher and therapist in her work.

You have a particular emphasis on teaching people to change. How did that become a priority for you?

People forget, as they're caught up in the day-to-day, that there are options, that there are changes that can be made. Sometimes somebody from the outside needs to come in and say, "Let's look at the options. Where do you want to go? What's keeping you from getting there?"

Do you know that for something to be considered brand new, it only has to be 10 percent different? So we're not asking businesses or people to make a 90 percent turn. We're talking about 10 percent.

Ten percent sounds easy.

If they're already hunting, what's 10 percent? If they're already going in the wrong direction, 10 percent is not going to make that much difference. But if they're already going in the right direction, 10 is going to make a big difference.

If your situation is such right now that you're not happy and content, what makes a difference if I suggest a change and you give it a try? Are you going to be any worse off? Probably not.

What kinds of problems are your clients bringing to you? Are you drawing a particular audience?

It could be sales are down. It could be turnover. It could be low morale. ... It could be there's all this infighting going on. It could be a hostile takeover coming.

Is your approach the same for specific and general problems?

In companies, what I find interesting is to ask the CEO, "If you had a magic wand, what would you change?" And, of course, most of the time it's productivity, it's turnover, it's morale. And those are very important issues. "I'd have more profits. I'd have more productivity. I'd get rid of this person. There would be better communication."

Now, you don't have that magic wand, but you have the most important resource available to you to make those changes. And that is the people. People have leadership. What CEOs don't like to hear is that they create the culture of the organization.

That implies a change from the top down.

We don't expect CEOs to come into the office the next day with flowers and chocolates for everyone. But simply a "Good morning" when they didn't make one before, holding a glance with someone, actually listening to someone, stopping, paying attention to that person. And what's interesting is you ask the CEO to make that kind of a change and they come back with, "I cannot believe what a difference that made."

How much of an obstacle is it to admit to clients that you're a former counselor?

That helps a whole lot, because people automatically think of counselors as listeners, as people who care. There's an empathy there already.

Is there an example of how that counseling background relates to your work with improving businesses?

In alcohol counseling, the families would come in with an alcoholic. It's so typical, it's very, very normal to come in and say, "Fix our alcoholic family member and then our lives will be fine." We have to ask them, "If that alcoholic does not change, how do you want your life to be different anyway?"

Businesses can be different even if some people's attitudes don't change. Employees can have a different outlook, improve their productivity, have better interpersonal skills even if a co-worker doesn't. ... They do not have to be dependent on what other people are doing around them. They can do that themselves.

How to reach: Pinnacle Solutions (330) 935-0644

Monday, 29 April 2002 18:45

For sale by owner

If you own a business, chances are good you'll sell it at some point. But don't wait until then to prepare. Instead, consider running your business as if you might sell it at any minute rather than years down the road.

When you want to sell a business, what do you do? Make it as attractive to a buyer as possible. What makes a business attractive also makes it efficient and profitable and managing it this way all the time is simply good business. Here's how:

* Fix up infrastructure. Repair equipment or buildings, and dress up displays. Visual appeal is important to customers as well as buyers.

* Manage your borrowing. Talk with your accountant about your debt load. Excessive debt can signal a potential buyer that your business isn't successful; it should signal the same thing to you. Reduce debt where you can, but don't be afraid of borrowing if you need to finance inventory you anticipate will sell quickly. Make sure the interest on this kind of debt doesn't eliminate profit from the sales.

* Formulate a business succession plan. Work with a financial consultant to plan for what will happen your business in the event of your death. You can even make arrangements with a competitor to buy the business for a predetermined amount, using proceeds from a life insurance policy.

* Develop a strong marketing plan. A prospective buyer will want to review your strategy for increasing sales, so hire a marketing or business consultant to help create that strategy. This kind of planning will increase sales now, long before you decide to sell.

* Examine employment issues. A buyer wouldn't tolerate an employee who consistently underperforms, so why should you? Make sure you're employing the best people for the job.

When you run your business as if you will sell it sooner rather than later, you're running it with accountability, a technique that only can improve your bottom line. Larry Waller is president of Waller Financial Planning Group. Reach him at (614) 457-7026 or at