Jessica Tremayne

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

The road less traveled

With tough economic times taking a toll on all of us, your first instinct to rising business travel costs might be to eliminate the expense across the board.

Don’t do it.

Travel leads to growth and cutting it is counterproductive. If you’re looking to adhere to a more realistic plan, consider reevaluating your travel policy and consulting with a travel management company to save 20 to 30 percent on travel while keeping worthy trips in the budget.

Travel is the second-largest controllable cost for the average U.S. business, seated between data collection and salaries, yet most companies have little or no management of it.

While your company may have an unofficial policy instructing employees to ‘get the cheapest rate,’ a policy that isn’t managed and enforced is equivalent to not having one at all.

A Smart Business poll showed that 75 percent of respondents’ employees are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. The problem is, if your employees are utilizing online booking agencies or different vendors, your company is likely losing out in the long run. If you lump your travel needs together with selected vendors and submit requests for proposals, your annual negotiated rate will outweigh nickel-and-dime savings earned on a case-by-case basis.

Why travel management is important

If you take steps to retain a travel budget and manage it efficiently, you will most likely see a significant return on your investment.

Sixty-nine percent of companies polled in an October Association of Corporate Travel Executives survey say they will be spending less or the same on travel in 2009.

“Businesses citing lateral travel expenditures in 2009 will likely just be traveling less as the cost of travel has climbed significantly,” says Susan Gurley, executive director, Association of Corporate Travel Executives. “Even those who say they are spending more are barely keeping up with the increase.”

You’d like to think your employees have the company’s best interest in mind, but statistics show companies that place a travel manager or an outside agency in charge of travel finances stay within the confines of their budgets while employee-handled travel has a less successful return on investment.

You need to take a proactive approach to managing your travel costs if you expect to get bottom-line results for a minimum of expense.

But being smart about your budget entails more than waiting for the computerized ping alert of a reduced airline fee like one of Pavlov’s dogs. While airfare is the most costly aspect of travel, you don’t want to arbitrarily eliminate it.

“The first step is to differentiate between strategic and nonstrategic travel,” Gurley says. “Strategic travel generates revenue while nonstrategic travel is anything that results in cost but has no substantial gain in revenue.”

In most cases, meetings with customers are justifiable, as there is a direct correlation to revenue gains. On the other hand, meeting with the head of the Omaha office may not have much of an effect on your bottom line this year, so consider cutting that — and other trips like it — out of the budget. Use videoconferencing or teleconferencing equipment for these internal meetings whenever possible.

Why?

Because internal travel can account for about 40 percent of a business’s travel. Don’t worry, technology has come a long way since the early days of choppy robotic movements and out-of-sync voices. Look into Skype and WebEx as a couple of travel alternatives that could save you money while still keeping you in touch with your people in a more personal manner.

“We do a lot of teleconferencing,” says Nancy Johnson, regional director, HCR Manor Care. “We have more than 60,000 employees in offices/facilities nationwide. It wouldn’t be cost-effective to meet in-person, but we can host large meetings, while saving time and money because we have a well-managed process.”

What you need to know

Getting your travel budget under control starts with the assembly of an in-house team of policymakers who vow to prevent travel anarchy while clearly defining your terms and expectations. A good policy will answer why travel management is necessary, detail the value of expectations, cite the requirements and give examples of useful practices.

The team involved in policy planning should include you, a scheduler, travelers and the finance team. After the policy is made, one person should oversee its enforcement and keep up to date on travel industry policy. This could be a part-time or full-time position based on need.

“The ability to work with senior leadership is essential,” says Craig Banikowski, director of global travel management for Hilton. “Cost avoidance is more of the issue now than actual savings, and you’ll only achieve that by planning.”

A realistic travel budget must be based on destination costs versus a flat-rate figure that is impossible to meet in all travel locations. A rate for things like car rental, hotel and food must be figured depending on the median rates in that city.

A policy needs to be revised annually to adjust to economic and company needs, and some flexibility is required in any plan. For example, an employee’s time may be more valuable than the cost savings from putting the person on a later flight, especially if arriving later could jeopardize a meeting with a client.

Also, you want to make sure the employee’s time is used efficiently on any business trip. A policy should entail what is expected of employees during travel and ways they should make the best use of time outside of the office. Meeting with multiple clients during a conference or calling on one located en route are a couple of ideas to maximize the value of a trip.

Some businesses use online booking agencies, believing their rates will be lowest and eliminate travel management company fees, which can account for 3 percent of all travel costs. But the majority of costs - 97 percent - goes to airfare, hotel and car rental, which is the same arena in which a travel manager will save money.

While travel costs are unlikely to decrease any time soon, getting through the initial pain may be the biggest challenge facing business.

“The cost increase is felt the hardest initially,” Gurley says. “However, increases and a poor economy have resulted in a reduction in routes traveled — about 12 percent fewer flights are available today than even a year ago. This figure will increase and companies that considered reducing travel to be cost-effective will find flying increasingly less attractive into 2009. Optimistically speaking, the economy will eventually level out, but being prepared will mean better opportunities.”

Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Lost and found

If your IT guru has told you that something called search engine optimization is the way to go, but you’re still foggy about what it is or why you should care, consider this: When done right, SEO could double your return on investment and help you acquire scores of new customers.

Search engine optimization in its most basic form is simply about making your Web site appear higher up in search results from sites like Google and Yahoo.

Search engines are the starting point of almost all online activity, second only to e-mail, yet more than half of readers surveyed by Smart Business say they never plan to factor search engine optimization into their marketing budget. Search engine optimization has a rightful place in every company’s budget, yet few companies ‘get it,’ and they don’t allocate serious funds into the development of a program.

It all starts when a potential customer enters a search term into Google. Two types of search results are displayed: natural and pay-per-click.

Natural search, which are the results shown on the left side of any search page, are based on merit and validity to the keywords used. The results in the narrow column on the right are pay-per-click results.

When you optimize your site for natural search, it can take three months to see progress in your rankings. The better the optimization, the higher up your site will appear in relevant searches, increasing your chances for a sale.

Pay-per-click gets immediate results by displaying your ad when someone searches for a particular keyword that you choose, but you are charged every time someone clicks on your site. This is an advertisement and a temporary fix.

Why optimization is important

The name Google is so widely used that it’s the newest verb in the English language. Everyone knows of the search engine because it has a commanding market share (various online sources cite 60 to 70 percent on average), so the connection is easy to make: If your Web site ranks high on Google, that’s the best way to reach an audience that’s looking for your goods or services. SEO gets your name in front of consumers at a time they are looking to buy what you sell.

SEO creates compelling information on your site, makes it easy to find and spreads your name around the Internet as much as possible. In the process, your site will be placed ahead of your competition when keywords are searched related to your business.

“SEO is the new Yellow Pages, but it’s not all alphabetical,” says James Yancey, managing director, 360i. “Consumers look at the first sites they see as the best. Making sure your site ranks high is the best way to influence people in digital space.”

Competition plays a role in the difficulty in ranking high, but a series of criteria installed by Google and implemented by SEO firms help make the ranking determination.

“Companies shy away from SEO because they don’t understand it, or they’ve had a bad experience in the past,” says William Flaiz, vice president of SEO and Web analytics, Avenue A/Razorfish “This is unfortunate because their site is suffering in the end. A professional SEO firm will be able to tell their clients what keywords generated traffic to their site, how long people stayed on the site and what pages they clicked on.”

The longer you wait to take action, the more difficult it will be to get your site ranked higher.

“Waiting to perform SEO will increase the amount you’ll need to invest in optimization to achieve the same goals as investing today,” Yancey says. “Competition for keywords and overall growth of the Internet will make it more expensive to wait and [take] longer to see results.”

What to look out for

Although understanding the intricate details of what makes search engine optimization work would require two Advil and a clear schedule, knowing the basics and what questions to ask will minimize the use of your mental reserves. There’s no accreditation program for SEO firms, but getting a brief education of the process will allow you to know your opportunities instead of becoming one.

First, there are different forms of SEO, none of which comes with a guarantee. There are two main types of search: local and global — and you’ll also hear the term “universal search,” which encompasses both, plus video. A business like a restaurant would probably be interested in a local search only, so would focus on keywords and phrases that include the city name.

One of the easiest ways to measure what keywords might help you rank high is Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics). It’s a free service provided by Google that allows you to test the current value of your Web site and gives you detailed reports on what keywords are being used to find your site.

But keywords are not the only measure of success.

“A big barrier to success is implementation,” Flaiz says. “It’s good to know if a company will be working for you at a greater capacity than just finding keywords.”

Web site design also plays an intricate role in the process. Your site may have an impressive appearance, but spiders — software robots that “crawl” the Web indexing data — must be able to understand information on the page, or it will not be efficiently indexed, dropping your Web site’s ranking.

Mobile search is the newest type of optimization and sometimes it’s referred to as “third screen.” In the U.S., mobile marketing is largely used for local search, but foreign markets rely on mobile Web access heavily for all facets of search.

Getting the most return from your site requires a balance of compelling information, easy access and optimization that gets it to the top of the search engine rankings. Most professional firms will be able to handle all of these needs, but again, ask questions before signing anything.

Ask the SEO firm if it performs link building, which places a link to your site from other reputable sites. Also ask what techniques it uses to create incoming links to ensure they follow search engine guidelines.

Also, ask the company how it tests, measures and reports results. Think about what you want to know, such as how many people visited a page and if they made a purchase, and make sure the firm can provide that data. The SEO firm must provide updates that mean something to you. Also ask to see samples of its work and see where those clients rank.

Once you find a company you are comfortable with, think long term.

“If you are thinking of hiring an outside company, you should definitely engage in it for a year,” says David Roth, director of search marketing, Yahoo. “SEO is a long, iterative process with delayed results; you’ll want to keep the agency around so they can maximize the benefit to your company and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Like anything else, SEO gets you what you pay for and that means hours of work and a decent chunk of your marketing budget. Since a feasible figure depends on your budget, factor at least a quarter of your marketing budget for SEO.

“The good news is, once SEO is put into place, the cost of attracting a new user is practically zero,” Roth says.

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Multiple choice

If you are toiling over what to do about training, you’re not alone.

Tuition reimbursement and continuing education look good on paper and are great recruitment and retention tools, but, as businesses are finding out, in today’s economy, those types of programs could also look more like a dispensable employee perk than a business necessity.

While academics will tell you it’s a mistake to cut training from the budget, those closest to financial reality will suggest trimming the fat and adopting a leaner training strategy that ties education to the company’s immediate needs. For most businesses, this means doing away with the nice-to-have training and focusing on the must-haves that affect the bottom line today.

“The reason many of these companies provide education benefits to their workers is because it helps them improve their skills on the job,” says Gonzalo Freixes, associate dean for the fully employed MBA and executive MBA programs, UCLA Anderson School of Management. “This helps companies stay competitive in their industry, and it is really a benefit that is win-win for the employee and employer. It allows people to broaden their skills and bring a competitive edge back to the company.”

Keep in mind that the usefulness of what is learned today doesn’t last as long as it once did. Technology’s rapid evolution makes knowledge obsolete when it isn’t built on. Still, the average number of formal training hours has dropped from 25 hours per learner in 2007 to 17.2 hours in 2008, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook. The report reflects an 11 percent reduction in corporate training spending and claims a trend shift in the types of education that businesses are pursuing.

Goal setting

Training that educates employees on ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses or that improves relationships with customers is a business necessity and has a place in your training regimen.

Determine what your company needs to work on and what areas you need to continue to grow in as well as the basics to keep up with the competition.

“Lay out the type of skill sets you are interested in your employees obtaining,” Freixes says. “Communicate with the colleges to discover the best types of programs that will best suit your needs. Determine the amount of money you are willing to reimburse employees and what amount you are willing to pay for the services based on [the] benefits training will bring the company.”

Considering who will be receiving the training is an important step. Being wise about your budget means training those who are in a position to benefit the company most instead of offering a la carte training to whoever is willing.

“Offering programs and classes at regular intervals reminds everyone in the organization the importance of lifelong learning,” says Ilene Smith-Bezjian, dean, School of Business and Management, Azusa Pacific University. “Recognizing the value of a regular knowledge workout will reduce fear, resistance to change and decision-making capabilities. Opportunities to learn from short-term seminars and long-term academic programs keep employees engaged and invested. Individuals working from a more multifaceted sphere of understanding will draw from a greater knowledge base than those who have a singular frame of reference.”

Considering the type of education you need has equal importance to the way the education is delivered. While some companies find online courses give employers the best return on investment, others find in-house courses or a classroom setting to be the best delivery method for employees.

Choosing a trainer

Your company’s goals help determine what institution you’ll use to provide employee training. Look at local colleges and universities first, as these organizations have flexibility in training formats and delivery.

Universities are often willing to consult with businesses to determine what the immediate training needs are. Community colleges, business schools and specific work force training centers can also provide tailored programs as opposed to off-the-shelf training that serves as a one-size-fits-all education.

“Partnering with a college will help companies better form learning programs that will meet their needs,” Freixes says. “The college will help businesses change strategies to help deal with new economic challenges through education. Even if companies have reduced the amount of money they feel they can invest in an education program, they still need to keep ahead of the curve and have some training — just make sure it ties into the company’s needs.”

Don’t think of continued education as a perk to employees, but think of it as a way to keep the business growing.

A common error employers make is accepting a program where the employee misses a significant amount of work to go to school. Options exist that allow you to dictate how, when and where your employees are educated.

After you select a program and a university, your strategy must carry over into measuring tactics. Make sure you have a way to calculate the benefits of training and the reason you have selected the specific program.

“Pulling funding from educational opportunities would be a great error,” Smith-Bezjian says. “However, continuing to fund nonessential or irrelevant programs and courses (that) fail to support the organizational outcomes would be equally unwise. Making every asset count is imperative. Employees should know what is expected from the educational experience and be prepared to disseminate newly acquired information or skills to co-workers.”

Measuring results

Before an employee begins training, testing the skills that will be built upon is important. Testing will help determine where the employees’ skills are today and where they need to be after training. Making sure the employee, trainer and you are on the same page with expectations will help eliminate any miscommunication about future performance expectations.

“Training employees to think systematically, to understand the impact green issues, for example, have on the bottom line is essential,” says Nancy Kurland, assistant professor of management, California State University, Northridge. “To think in terms of the triple bottom line of people, planet, profits is a practical and profitable strategy. Measure the company’s revenue before and after this training takes place to determine if this particular training is working for your business.”

Prior to training, discuss the reason for the education and the way the training will be measured with the employee. Tell the employee how the new knowledge directly impacts his or her daily responsibilities. Managers should tie the training into performance evaluations to determine its impact on the ability to perform.

Even after trimming the education budget, some companies say the cost is too much to handle right now. If you still believe in education, but can’t afford it, reassess it in nine months. In the meantime, use in-house training and coaching capabilities.

“Eliminating education because of reduced revenue is a short-term solution,” Freixes says. “A down economy can be the best time to retool and get employees the knowledge they need to help the business through tough times and prepare for future challenges. Education is always a wise investment; it just must be done intelligently in all economic climates to reap the biggest benefits. Focus on what challenges your business most.”

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Multiple choice

If you are toiling over what to do about training, you’re not alone.

Tuition reimbursement and continuing education look good on paper and are great recruitment and retention tools, but, as businesses are finding out, in today’s economy, those types of programs could also look more like a dispensable employee perk than a business necessity.

While academics will tell you it’s a mistake to cut training from the budget, those closest to financial reality will suggest trimming the fat and adopting a leaner training strategy that ties education to the company’s immediate needs. For most businesses, this means doing away with the nice-to-have training and focusing on the must-haves that affect the bottom line today.

“Maintaining intellectual capital is essential,” says Jerry Hoag, associate dean for executive education at the University of Texas at Dallas.

“Companies always say their employees are their greatest capital, but in tough times, it’s quickly forgotten. You need to be able to maintain and support the most important training to the company through the ups and downs.”

Keep in mind that the usefulness of what is learned today doesn’t last as long as it once did. Technology’s rapid evolution makes knowledge obsolete when it isn’t built on. Still, the average number of formal training hours has dropped from 25 hours per learner in 2007 to 17.2 hours in 2008, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2009 Corporate Learning Factbook. The report reflects an 11 percent reduction in corporate training spending and claims a trend shift in the types of education that businesses are pursuing.

Goal setting

Training that educates employees on ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses or that improves relationships with customers is a business necessity and has a place in your training regimen.

Determine what your company needs to work on and what areas you need to continue to grow in as well as the basics to keep up with the competition.

“Cutting education is a short-term fix to a long-term problem,” says Myrtle P. Bell, associate professor of management, University of Texas at Arlington. “You can’t just check training off of a to-do list either; you must make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons for the company.”

Considering who will be receiving the training is an important step. Being wise about your budget means training those who are in a position to benefit the company most instead of offering a la carte training to whoever is willing to trade a few hours of work for classroom duty.

“Listen to what employees say they need,” says Donna Ledgerwood, associate professor, human resources management, University of North Texas. “Not to be learning means the company is losing its knowledge and power and thus has an increased risk of entropy. If you’ve tried training in the past that didn’t have the results you wanted, try a different strategy or university if the original one won’t help you solve training issues.”

Considering the type of education you need has equal importance to the way the education is delivered. While some companies find online courses give employers the best return on investment while saving on travel and driving time, others find in-house courses or a classroom setting to be the best delivery method for employees.

Choosing a trainer

Your company’s goals help determine what institution you’ll use to provide employee training. Look at local colleges and universities first, as these organizations have flexibility in training formats and delivery.

“Universities can help you form the right programs,” Hoag says. “Academic institutions are in a better position to customize programs (to) fit a business’s needs. The better your communication with the university, the better formed the program will be. Training firms need to make money and offer off-the-shelf programs to employers. If you have to design the program each time, it would be cost-prohibitive.”

Universities are often willing to consult with businesses to determine what the immediate training needs are. Community colleges, business schools and specific work force training centers can also provide tailored programs as opposed to off-the-shelf training that serves as a one-size-fits-all education.

“Trying to teach a person about technical details or jargon-loaded facts takes time and education,” Ledgerwood says. “A glossary and readings assigned before class can help make a successful training experience. No matter how good the trainer is, if the material is disconnected from the job or too theoretical, employees will lose interest — which is why your program needs to be tailor-designed.”

Don’t think of continued education as a perk to employees, but think of it as a way to keep the business growing.

A common error employers make is accepting a program where the employee misses a significant amount of work to go to school. Options exist that allow you to dictate within reason, how, when and where your employees are educated.

“Computer-based resources are good,” Bell says. “Local and junior colleges tend to be the most cost-efficient and allow the employee to stay on the job while getting an education. Decide how you want your employees to be educated and seek out a college willing to work that out for you.”

After you select a program and a university, your strategy must carry over into measuring tactics. Make sure you have a way to calculate the benefits of training and the reason you have selected the specific program.

Measuring results

Before an employee begins training, testing the skills that will be built upon is important. Testing will help determine where the employees’ skills are today and where they need to be after training. Making sure the employee, trainer and you are on the same page with expectations will help eliminate any miscommunication about future performance expectations.

“Self-assessments don’t work,” Bell says. “Determine what you want to get out of it and form questions to ask the trainees accordingly. You need to know where the employees’ knowledge stands before and after training. Test them again at a later date to see if the information has been retained.”

Prior to training, discuss the reason for the education and the way the training will be measured with the employee. Tell the employee how the new knowledge directly impacts his or her daily responsibilities. Managers should tie the training into performance evaluations to determine its true impact on the enhanced ability to perform.

“Many times, employers give employees training, then don’t follow up,” Hoag says. “You really need to have a continuous review process that is measuring the knowledge that was retained and is being used in the job. You can also follow this up with coaching and additional in-house reinforced training.”

Even after trimming the education budget, some companies say the cost is too much to handle right now. If you still believe in education, but can’t afford it, reassess it in nine months. In the meantime, use in-house training and coaching capabilities.

“Once companies give up on education, they are destined to go the way of Rome,” Hoag says. “You don’t want to lose your industry stance because you didn’t keep up with your brain.”

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Healthy returns

Revenue is down, the budget has been hacked away and now you’re edging toward reducing employee health care coverage — or even eliminating it outright. Before taking action, take into account the short-term benefits and long-term effects of your options.

A knee-jerk reaction may be to shift the benefit burden to employees. But those who have been down that road, say there are ways to take a strategic approach to generate value from a shrunken budget and employee pool. The most successful organizations over the long-term will be the ones that cut costs now, while improving the health of their employee populations.

Utilize existing resources to find out how you can save money, starting with your health insurance provider.

“Work with your insurance provider and utilize its wellness program’s risk profile capabilities,” says John C. Caverno, chief human resource officer and senior vice president of human resources, Excela Health. “This will help you design and implement programs customized to meet your employees’ needs, such as fitness, weight loss, smoking cessation, etc.”

Awareness of the claims filed by your employees will allow you to determine the best health plan move that will work for their needs and devise a health promotion program that will be most appealing to them. While moving to a lower-cost plan may be a necessity, it is a temporary fix and should be complemented with an emphasis on health that will have a more lasting impact.

A 2009 Watson Wyatt report shows that 67 percent of employer respondents to an Annual National Business Group on Health survey say the top challenge to maintaining affordable benefits coverage is employees’ poor health habits. Only by managing these habits can you truly get your costs under control.

Work with your provider

Work with your health insurance provider to decide what the best options to your budget will be. Negotiating rates with insurers isn’t usually effective, as insurers aren’t offering massive discounts because of the economic downturn. The option you usually have is a different plan with reduced coverage.

One option is cost shifting to save the company money while increasing the cost to employees. But altering plans and shifting costs to employees isn’t solving the problem of high premiums. A Hewitt Associates LLC executives’ survey shows that participants found cost shifting didn’t bring out desired behavior changes in employees and that an emphasis on health at the workplace is needed.

Another money-saving health care option is risk sharing.

“You can measure your employees’ workers’ compensation injuries, short-term and long-term disability claims, and absenteeism reduction when there’s good health initiatives and compliance,” Caverno says.

A third option is a health savings account, which takes money out of an employee’s check pretax and the employer has the option of adding money to the account, as well. If the employee switches jobs, he or she will take this health savings plan to the new position and the employer will retract its contribution from the fund.

“Insurance companies are reintroducing old plans all dressed up because of the economy,” says Fred Shugars, vice president of product management and development, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. “What you really want is healthier people working for you.”

While health promotion — or wellness — programs aren’t usually at the top of the list when contemplating short-term health insurance savings, a program will have positive results in the short term with the best outcomes in one to three years. Companies that effectively promote health see immediate savings in premiums of 10 to 13 percent with the potential of reducing future medical costs. The investment has a $3 to $6 payback on the dollar.

Your best bet to cut costs will be a two-prong approach. Change your health plan for instant budget relief and initiate a health promotion plan.

“Give your employees health plan information so they can help choose the best plans for them,” Shugars says. “If you have employees’ risk profiles, you can pass on some fees to employees who have increased the insurance premium based on their risk characteristics.”

Design your health awareness plan with consideration of the number of employees that will be participating. A smaller company of 50 employees or less shouldn’t invest more than $25 per employee initially, but should focus on raising awareness by providing educational material that emphasizes preventive care, proper nutrition and health-related Web sites.

A midsized company of 300 or more employees should invest about $90 per person. Providing educational tools, focusing on the population’s main areas of concern and taking a competitive, fun approach is effective. A large company with a willingness to invest about $240 per employee can have a comprehensive program that includes education, financial incentives, the inclusion of spouses and perks like gym memberships.

Your insurance provider may have free online health risk assessment surveys. By surveying your employees you can determine ways to meet the company’s and employees’ financial needs. Ask questions about physical activity, stress management, tobacco use and general disease risk factors.

“A health assessment gives you a benchmark to start from in measuring the success of any wellness program,” Caverno says. “Each year you can monitor your score to track your progress and continue to update your program to meet your employees’ needs.”

Discussing what your insurance company provides to you at no cost or at reduced rates is a great first step. Many employers are unaware of fringe benefits included in their plans. If the insurance provider doesn’t offer what you need for free, it should be able to direct you to an organization or local hospital program that does.

The process

After you’ve determined a health awareness focus for your employee population, you can create a plan of action.

“Creating a wellness program that starts with a health fair is a great way to get employees’ attention,” Caverno says. “It’s amazing to see how employees don’t receive their routine screenings or establish a relationship with a physician to monitor their health.”

You also need to make an assessment of your workplace wellness environment. Identify strengths and areas that need improvement. Enforce no smoking on the campus; provide healthy choices in vending machines and the cafeteria.

“Promote a culture of health,” says Rose K. Gantner, senior director of health promotion, sales and product development, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health Plan. “Paint a stairwell to promote taking the stairs as opposed to the elevator, have weekly walks for employees.”

Provide health tips, programs, discounts to gyms and other information through multiple delivery sources. Some employees are more receptive to e-mails or newsletters — or they just need to hear the same message multiple times to get motivated into action.

“Saving money is all about member engagement,” Shugars says. “Make sure your employees are educated on how to use their health insurance coverage properly and they know what the right physician to see for a specific ailment is. Promote wellness and measure your efforts to document what works best for you and your employees.”

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Healthy returns

Finalists
Distribution, Manufacturing

 

Revenue is down, the budget has been hacked away and now you’re edging toward reducing employee health care coverage — or even eliminating it outright. Before taking action, take into account the short-term benefits and long-term effects of your options.

 

A knee-jerk reaction may be to shift the benefit burden to employees. But those who have been down that road, say there are ways to take a strategic approach to generate value from a shrunken budget and employee pool. The most successful organizations over the long-term will be the ones that cut costs now, while improving the health of their employee populations.

Utilize existing resources to find out how you can save money, starting with your health insurance provider.

“Talk to your insurance provider to find what is prompting the majority of your claims,” says Talei Y. Akahoshi, corporate director of occupational health services for Piedmont Healthcare. “Your provider should be able to provide you with a list of the most common claims and causes for prescription drugs, such as diabetes and high cholesterol.”

Awareness of the claims filed by your employees will allow you to determine the best health plan move that will work for their needs and devise a health promotion program that will be most appealing to them. While moving to a lower-cost plan may be a necessity, it is a temporary fix and should be complemented with an emphasis on health that will have a more lasting impact.

A 2009 Watson Wyatt report shows that 67 percent of employer respondents to an Annual National Business Group on Health survey say the top challenge to maintaining affordable benefits coverage is employees’ poor health habits. Only by managing these habits can you truly get your costs under control.

Work with your provider

Work with your health insurance provider to decide what the best options to your budget will be. Negotiating rates with insurers isn’t usually effective, as insurers aren’t offering massive discounts because of the economic downturn. The option you usually have is a different plan with reduced coverage.

One option is cost shifting to save the company money while increasing the cost to employees. But altering plans and shifting costs to employees isn’t solving the problem of high premiums. A Hewitt Associates LLC executives’ survey shows that participants found cost shifting didn’t bring out desired behavior changes in employees and that an emphasis on health at the workplace is needed.

Another money-saving health care option is risk sharing.

“The key is to design the risk sharing among the employer, the employee and the insurance carrier, based on the employer’s risk tolerance,” says Dell Kubler, vice president of Swerdlin Benefits Co. “Health actuaries can quantify these risks by costing alternative risk-sharing scenarios. New market tools provide the opportunity to lower health insurance premiums and reduce an employer’s overall health care budget.”

A third option is a health savings account, which takes money out of an employee’s check pretax and the employer has the option of adding money to the account, as well. If the employee switches jobs, he or she will take this health savings plan to the new position and the employer will retract its contribution from the fund.

“Health savings accounts are typically more beneficial to a person purchasing single insurance and not for an entire family,” says Staycee A. Benjamin, program manager of employer consulting and worksite wellness for Kaiser Permanente of Georgia. “This isn’t the most receptive form of insurance for most lifestyles.”

While health promotion — or wellness — programs aren’t usually at the top of the list when contemplating short-term health insurance savings, a program will have positive results in the short term with the best outcomes in one to three years. Companies that effectively promote health see immediate savings in premiums of 10 to 13 percent with the potential of reducing future medical costs. The investment has a $3 to $6 payback on the dollar.

Your best bet to cut costs will be a two-prong approach. Change your health plan for instant budget relief and initiate a health promotion plan.

“If you have 70 percent or more participation from your employees [in a wellness program], your insurance rates will drop,” Benjamin says. “You need to make health care goals that help you today and in the future. Moving furniture around to disguise the real problem isn’t a solution.”

Regardless of the plan you choose, to save now and in the future, you must have healthier employees.

Design your health awareness plan with consideration of the number of employees that will be participating. A smaller company of 50 employees or less shouldn’t invest more than $25 per employee initially, but should focus on raising awareness by providing educational material that emphasizes preventive care, proper nutrition and health-related Web sites.

A midsized company of 300 or more employees should invest about $90 per person. Providing educational tools, focusing on the population’s main areas of concern and taking a competitive, fun approach is effective. A large company with a willingness to invest about $240 per employee can have a comprehensive program that includes education, financial incentives, inclusion of spouses and perks like gym memberships.

Your insurance provider may have free online health risk assessment surveys. By surveying your employees you can determine ways to meet the company’s and employees’ financial needs. Ask questions about physical activity, stress management, tobacco use and general disease risk factors.

“A health assessment will measure blood pressure, body mass index and glucose levels as well as surveying employees’ health concerns,” Akahoshi says. “Make sure employees know all health information is confidential as some show concern about job loss once they comply.”

Discussing what your insurance company provides to you at no cost or at reduced rates is a great first step. Many employers are unaware of fringe benefits included in their plans. If the insurance provider doesn’t offer what you need for free, it should be able to direct you to an organization or local hospital program that does.

The process

After you’ve determined a health awareness focus for your employee population, you can create a plan of action.

“You have to create a culture of wellness and practice what you preach,” Akahoshi says. “When employees see you smoking or eating Twinkies, your plan will lose credit. Make better health fun. Initiate no-fry Fridays and provide healthy food in place of doughnuts at meetings.”

You also need to make an assessment of your workplace wellness environment. Identify strengths and areas that need improvement. Enforce no smoking on the campus; provide healthy choices in vending machines and the cafeteria.

“Consider how your employees spend their days,” Benjamin says. “If your staff eats a Hostess breakfast from your vending machines and sits at a desk for eight or more hours a day, you are fueling the fire. Perform a worksite assessment and make sure water and fruit is an option and not just pop and sugary snacks.”

Provide health tips, programs, discounts to gyms and other information through multiple delivery sources. Some employees are more receptive to e-mails or newsletters — or they just need to hear the s ame message multiple times to get motivated into action.

“Your insurance provider will be able to give you specifics to test for, follow-up surveys and arrange additional health screenings,” Akahoshi says. “Arrange your plan accordingly, but concentrate on promoting wellness.”

Saturday, 25 April 2009 20:00

Wheels of change

The transportation industry has taken a hit in the past couple of years — first pummeled by fuel costs, now endangered because of lack of product demand. Even though the economic forecast may be grim, this is a prime time to evaluate your current network to find wasted money and inefficiencies that may be hurting your customer service.

Delivery delays and poor packing and routing methods can all cost your company money.

The good news is that there are software solutions out there that can help you fix your problems with a minimal investment and lower your logistics and transportation costs by 8 to 15 percent.

“Companies that rely on humans to control all aspects of the shipping process can seriously be hurt without the use of technology,” says Don Fitchett, president of Business Industrial Network, an industrial training company and author of the e-book “The True Cost of Downtime.” “Software will help streamline the process and eliminate the need for additional employees. Technology assists in all aspects of the business. Some available software will eliminate the need for paperwork because it will be handled digitally. The use of technology will also reveal bottlenecks in the process and help create a more efficient flow.”

Software programs are available to assist companies from the time an order is placed through the successful delivery of the order. Many executives view their transportation department as a cost center, but through successful management, it can be another way to earn money.

Why logistics software is important

The addition of software to your logistics department will optimize daily and long-term transportation plans and scheduling, carrier selection, route planning, inventory management and small parcel shipping, which can reduce costs.

While a software investment may cost at least $10,000, improving your shipping processes will allow you to serve more customers and increase profits in the long run.

“Executives view transportation logistics as a cost center and don’t communicate with the logistics team to see how software can save the company money,” says Daniel L. Rust, assistant director of the Center for Transportation Studies, University of Missouri-St. Louis. “But the companies that are acknowledging software benefits see that it speeds up the process through efficient planning and actually adds money to the business’s bottom line.”

A common transportation management issue has businesses keeping more inventory on hand than necessary. This typically happens when stock is manually cataloged instead of tracked with software. This means more of your money is sitting in warehouses instead of in your pocket.

“Some companies want to focus on their core competencies and outsource to a third-party logistics firm,” Rust says. “This is a great way to gain visibility of your goods and operation. You need to create a flow chart detailing the current glitches and how software will improve them, then determining if in-house workers or an external company would work best for you.”

Human error is a big part of what can go wrong in logistics. Depending on the volume of orders you are receiving, this can add up. The use of software can eliminate these errors and make your inventory and tracking easier to manage. Software can also determine the best carrier for a particular type of shipment and contractual agreements.

“Efficiency means better customer service,” says Jamison Day, professor, University of Houston, C.T. Bauer College of Business. “Software helps you move through the process better, faster and cheaper. If you don’t have the capabilities to purchase all of the necessary software, but your company relies heavily on shipping, you should consider a third-party logistics firm.”

What you need to know

Before making a software purchase, you need to assess what areas of your process are in greatest need of assistance. While some companies package their software options, others individualize the programs for specific areas of interest such as shipping and loading.

To figure out where you need help, you will need to perform an audit that tracks products from production to delivery.

Start by making a checklist. Are your shipments on time? Are your trucks traveling with full loads? What are your current fuel expenditures? Are you utilizing the best routes? What rates are you paying carriers? Are you paying your employees overtime? Are your orders accurate? If you don’t know how to obtain this information or you’re finding inconsistencies, software can probably help you reduce errors and delays.

“There are a fair amount of laws that must be obeyed in shipping, as well,” Day says. “Software will keep you abreast of what is necessary when sending out loads. You will, of course, have to keep upgrading your software, but this cost is much lower than fees and penalties that can be accrued when you don’t have paperwork in order. This delay will also make your customers unhappy.”

After you’ve determined the area you need the most help with, choose a software company you feel comfortable working with. Find a company that will be accessible when you need them. If you decide handling everything in-house is too expensive, find a third-party logistics firm that handles the details while you focus on your core competencies.

“Computers tend to find ways that reduce driving time and improve loading of shipments,” Day says. “The technology doesn’t replace the humans; it augments them, making everything more efficient. Depending on the industry, a third-party logistics firm will be a must. Calculate the rate to bring this service in-house compared to that of a logistics firm. Make sure that you find the right company to fit your needs. Don’t partner with the first guy holding a hammer looking for something to hammer even if it’s not the right tool. Look for a tool-independent firm.”

Today’s economic climate may be tough, but by looking for savings in every area of your business — including transportation — you can find money that can be better used elsewhere in your organization.

“Anything that can be done digitally and anything that gives you faster and better visibility to your stock will make you more efficient,” Fitchett says. “Taking as many things out of human hands as possible will eliminate errors and free up human workers for the jobs software can’t do yet. Barcode technology, which can also be produced through software, will also eliminate the need for forklifts by using conveyor technology that delivers the product all the way to the truck for loading — already labeled for their destination.”

Saturday, 25 April 2009 20:00

Wheels of change

The transportation industry has taken a hit in the past couple of years — first pummeled by fuel costs, now endangered because of lack of product demand. Even though the economic forecast may be grim, this is a prime time to evaluate your current network to find wasted money and inefficiencies that may be hurting your customer service.

Delivery delays and poor packing and routing methods can all cost your company money.

The good news is that there are software solutions out there that can help you fix your problems with a minimal investment and lower your logistics and transportation costs by 8 to 15 percent.

“Without transportation logistics, businesses can’t operate,” says Luis D. Lopez, president of Dangerous Goods Declaration Inc. & DGD Transport Inc., a Miami-based hazardous materials transportation company. “Software use is critical in transportation logistics because it manages all areas of the process. Using software can eliminate at least two employees. The efficiency you’ll see immediately after the software is installed. Some types of software will allow you to check inventory or tracking on a load without calling the company. This software is Web-based and allows you to visualize your goods regardless of where they’re housed or where they are being sent.”

Software programs are available to assist companies from the time an order is placed through the successful delivery of the order. Many executives view their transportation department as a cost center, but through successful management, it can be another way to earn money.

Why logistics software is important

The addition of software to your logistics department will optimize daily and long-term transportation plans and scheduling, carrier selection, route planning, inventory management, and small parcel shipping, which can reduce costs.

While a software investment may cost at least $10,000, improving your shipping processes will allow you to serve more customers and increase profits in the long run.

“Some businesses shy away from the investment of software, but technology provides techniques that can increase the size of each shipment,” says James Moore, vice president of sales for Ryder System Inc. “Software can tell you your savings if you can get customers on board with two-day shipments instead of same-day, and the rates will be automatically lower for them and you.”

A common transportation management issue has businesses keeping more inventory on hand than necessary. This typically happens when stock is manually cataloged instead of tracked with software. This means more of your money is sitting in warehouses instead of in your pocket.

“Companies don’t need to keep a ton of extra people on board when they don’t have work for them and the economy is down,” says Cynthia Cabrera, president and lead consultant of Global Solutions & Services Inc. “Less people also means less to plan. Software can be very useful as long as it is necessary for your operation and the people using it know what they’re doing. This can save you a ton of money, but like everything else, you have to have a reason for it and know what return to expect.”

Human error is a big part of what can go wrong in logistics. Depending on the volume of orders you are receiving, this can add up. The use of software can eliminate these errors and make your inventory and tracking easier to manage. Software can also determine the best carrier for a particular type of shipment and contractual agreements.

“Efficiency means better customer service,” says Jamison Day, professor, University of Houston, C.T. Bauer College of Business. “Software helps you move through the process better, faster and cheaper. If you don’t have the capabilities to purchase all of the necessary software, but your company relies heavily on shipping, you should consider a third-party logistics firm.”

What you need to know

Before making a software purchase, you need to assess what areas of your process are in greatest need of assistance. While some companies package their software options, others individualize the programs for specific areas of interest, such as shipping and loading.

To figure out where you need help, you will need to perform an audit that tracks products from production to delivery.

Start by making a checklist. Are your shipments on time? Are your trucks traveling with full loads? What are your current fuel expenditures? Are you utilizing the best routes? What rates are you paying carriers? Are you paying your employees overtime? Are your orders accurate? If you don’t know how to obtain this information or you’re finding inconsistencies, software can probably help you reduce errors and delays.

“There are a fair amount of laws that must be obeyed in shipping, as well,” Day says. “Software will keep you abreast of what is necessary when sending out loads. You will, of course, have to keep upgrading your software, but this cost is much lower than fees and penalties that can be accrued when you don’t have paperwork in order. This delay will also make your customers unhappy.”

After you’ve determined the area you need the most help with, choose a software company you feel comfortable working with. Find a company that will be accessible when you need them. If you decide handling everything in-house is too expensive, find a third-party logistics firm that handles the details while you focus on your core competencies.

“Computers tend to find ways that reduce driving time and improve loading of shipments,” Day says. “The technology doesn’t replace the humans; it augments them, making everything more efficient. Depending on the industry a third-party logistics firm will be a must. Calculate the rate to bring this service in-house compared to that of a logistics firm. Make sure that you find the right company to fit your needs. Don’t partner with the first guy holding a hammer looking for something to hammer even if it’s not the right tool. Look for a tool-independent firm.”

Today’s economic climate may be tough, but by looking for savings in every area of your business — including transportation — you can find money that can be better used elsewhere in your organization.

“Make sure you have the appropriate network to support your needs,” Moore says. “If your needs have adjusted with the economy, use software to help eliminate unneeded assets and plan the process more efficiently. Because of the economy and companies’ need to take less profit to keep customers, rates of purchasing software or going through a third-party logistics firm are very low compared to even a year ago. Although the rates will rise with the economy, you can take advantage of them while they last. If you maintain your software, your capabilities won’t decline with the economy.”

Saturday, 25 April 2009 20:00

Wheels of change

The transportation industry has taken a hit in the past couple of years — first pummeled by fuel costs, now endangered because of lack of product demand. Even though the economic forecast may be grim, this is a prime time to evaluate your current network to find wasted money and inefficiencies that may be hurting your customer service.

Delivery delays and poor packing and routing methods can all cost your company money.

The good news is that there are software solutions out there that can help you fix your problems with a minimal investment and lower your logistics and transportation costs by 8 to 15 percent.

“Express delivery is the most expensive,” says Jim Graham, director of corporate sales for Capitol Express Enterprises Inc. “Sometimes companies are using the wrong carrier for their needs and paying for services unnecessarily. You could be paying for express delivery when three-day would do. Software can eliminate these types of oversights by suggesting the best carrier for individual needs of shipments. In the moment you need to get a shipment out, you don’t want to be going through lists to find the best guy for the job, you’ll want to push a few buttons and get an answer fast.”

Software programs are available to assist companies from the time an order is placed through the successful delivery of the order. Many executives view their transportation department as a cost center, but through successful management, it can be another way to earn money.

Why logistics software is important

The addition of software to your logistics department will optimize daily and long-term transportation plans and scheduling, carrier selection, route planning, inventory management, and small parcel shipping, which can reduce costs.

While a software investment may cost at least $10,000, improving your shipping processes will allow you to serve more customers and increase profits in the long run.

“I’ve been in the industry for more than 23 years, and I’ve seen the best results from companies using software to run their shipping orders,” says Doug Bierman, logistics manager for HG Logistics LLC, a third-party logistics provider. “Certain software will allow you to get the best rate for every shipment instead of making a yearly or biannual deal with a carrier. This will save you money.”

A common transportation management issue has businesses keeping more inventory on hand than necessary. This typically happens when stock is manually cataloged instead of tracked with software. This means more of your money is sitting in warehouses instead of in your pocket.

“This economy has been like getting bariatric surgery,” says James Moore, vice president of sales for Ryder System Inc. “If you lose 100 pounds all at once, your clothing isn’t going to fit anymore, and that’s what’s happened with many companies’ networks. They are now way larger than what they need to be and their one-time assets are now financially draining them. If efficiency is a problem with your transportation process, software will help eliminate errors and make the most of all efforts.”

Human error is a big part of what can go wrong in logistics. Depending on the volume of orders you are receiving, this can add up. The use of software can eliminate these errors and make your inventory and tracking easier to manage. Software can also determine the best carrier for a particular type of shipment and contractual agreements.

“You’ll see your investment back in about a year,” Bierman says. “The more your business relies on shipping, the faster you’ll see your return. You can make decisions on who will best suit your shipping needs. One shipment may need to go out fast while another can get there in three days. These deliveries may need two separate carriers whether that’s based on cost or accuracy in delivering in time.”

What you need to know

Before making a software purchase, you need to assess what areas of your process are in greatest need of assistance. While some companies package their software options, others individualize the programs for specific areas of interest, such as shipping and loading.

To figure out where you need help, you will need to perform an audit that tracks products from production to delivery.

Start by making a checklist. Are your shipments on time? Are your trucks traveling with full loads? What are your current fuel expenditures? Are you utilizing the best routes? What rates are you paying carriers? Are you paying your employees overtime? Are your orders accurate? If you don’t know how to obtain this information or you’re finding inconsistencies, software can probably help you reduce errors and delays.

“There are too many options for error when shipping is being done by hand,” Graham says. “You need to use software to let customers know you are professional and invest into your company. You will be more than embarrassed — you’ll lose customers when you miss deadlines and make mistakes. Companies are hurting across the board right now and shipping rates are lower because companies are trying to hold onto their customers and attract ones that are unhappy with their current company. You don’t want to be one of the companies that are getting a bad rap in this economy.”

After you’ve determined the area you need the most help with, choose a software company you feel comfortable working with. Find a company that will be accessible when you need them. If you decide handling everything in-house is too expensive, find a third-party logistics firm that handles the details while you focus on your core competencies.

“If shipping isn’t your core competency, a third-party logistics firm can get you the best deals as soon as they’re available,” Bierman says. “If you don’t have the time or money to invest in software for your company, a third-party logistics firm is your best bet.”

Today’s economic climate may be tough, but by looking for savings in every area of your business — including transportation — you can find money that can be better used elsewhere in your organization.

“It’s a fast-paced industry, and those who aren’t at the top of their game get pushed aside,” Graham says. “It doesn’t seem like companies would be relying on such primitive means of operation like spreadsheets and hand-counted inventory when there are software solutions available for anything you could need or want for shipping, but they do. The most successful companies don’t.”

Thursday, 26 March 2009 20:00

Debunking diversity

The million-dollar question about making an investment in diversity is: Will it pay back?

While experts say diversity in the work force is a business imperative, defining diversity by employees’ physical attributes won’t foster a functional or profitable environment.

In fact, the definition of diversity is always evolving. Twenty years ago, the word spurred thoughts of gender issues since men held a high majority in the work force, while today the gender gap is narrowed and is less of a concern. Diversity’s definition has expanded, and diversity of thought, education, socioeconomics, religion and life goals are only a few of the seemingly endless list of terms people use when defining the term for themselves. These differences in your employees can make or break your business. If you foster an inclusive environment, where all employees can contribute thoughts and plans to improve your product or service in confidence, you will improve your bottom line.

A February 2009 Groundbreakers report by Ernst & Young defines diversity as an equation for success and notes that research has proven diverse groups outperform homogenous groups even in cases where the nondiverse groups have heightened abilities. Scott Page, a professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, created the diversity prediction theorem, which says the collective ability of any crowd is equal to the average ability of its members plus the diversity of the group, claiming diversity is a sure way to attain a strategic advantage.

“Finding talent always comes first,” says Candice Barnhardt, vice president, chief diversity officer, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. “This isn’t with the sacrifice of diversity. If you’re not naturally surfacing a diverse pool of candidates, you’re not doing something right.

“Having a diverse team is a powerful way to attract and retain clients. They want to know that they are represented and understood. It is worth making sure you are posting the position in areas that all age groups and diverse individuals will look. Having a network of local diversity groups can help pull in a list of candidates, as well. Having a good relationship with the community and employees goes hand-in-hand.”

Still, the return on investment is the hard evidence you want to justify devotion of time and money. Some say it’s difficult to quantify diversity ROI, but metrics are attainable. If you start with a plan that establishes your company goals and maps out a strategy, you can document the benefits and obstacles of a diverse team’s functionality that will best benefit your business.

Why it’s important

Since the country’s demographics are continually changing, a failure to branch out and move past your comfort zone when hiring and communicating with employees will ultimately result in financial punishment for the business.

“Clients change, and to be impactful, you as a business need to change, too,” says Joel Howell, diversity leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “In order to become literate in other cultures, you have to bring inclusion to life. A diverse group of employees can help you understand the full range of likenesses and differences you will find in customers.”

U.S. Census Bureau reports show Hispanics are the fastest-growing population, with an increase of 121 percent since 1999. The Asian population nearly doubled since 1990 and the African-American population is predicted to increase to 65.7 million strong by 2050, an increase of 15 percent since 2008.

“You can initiate an internship that will encourage and attract diversity,” says Andrew Kramer, area executive director for the American Cancer Society. “The internship will allow a diverse group of workers to grow acclimated to the company, then perhaps begin working with us. If your company has volunteers, they can also help form tentacles that can attract diverse talent.”

Affinity networks — employer-recognized employee groups who share a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation — are a great way to attract and retain diverse employees. Networking by affinity groups reduces turnover and gives companies insights to consumers they otherwise may have never understood.

General Motors Corp.’s People with Disabilities Affinity Group has been a consistent resource for providing input and support relative to accessibility of products and services. The group played a role in helping OnStar develop the addition of TTY capability, the text telephone for the hearing impaired, for OnStar-equipped vehicles. Another example of diversity was witnessed in PepsiCo Inc.’s Hispanic professional organization called Adelante. Its Hispanic employee network provided insights that resulted in the development of the guacamole chip. In the first year of distribution, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division sold $100 million in Lay’s guacamole chips.

“Customers demand that you can speak internationally,” Howell says. “Any company that ignores diversity risks becoming obsolete. Leveraging teams with diversity helps in all business challenges. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the only thing to do.”

What you need to know

Diversity isn’t about being politically correct; it’s about keeping your business competitive.

“Diversity allows for differences in creative minds,” Kramer says. “You wouldn’t be able to capture a different way of thinking if you limited yourself to a common staff. Most companies are world economists and want to appeal and relate to everyone and the way is through the staff.”

Keep in mind the customers who you want to attract and then investigate opportunities in markets in which you want to expand or improve business. If you’re interest is in attracting a broader customer base, employees should mirror the communities in which you want to expand. Forge relationships with diverse community organizations and let them know about opportunities in your organization. Sponsoring events that interest diverse groups makes your company more attractive to diverse candidates. For example, host events in coordination with Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year or Disability Awareness Month, and make your business’s diversity interests and job openings known.

If you’ve established affinity groups within your company, they can also help with recruiting. They may be able to give you suggestions that will help your business attract more diverse candidates and offer ideas of where to post positions.

Starting an affinity group is easy.

“Diversity isn’t an issue you can just throw money at and it goes away,” Howell says. “You need to encourage group thought and provide an environment in which that is possible. Creating affinity groups is a way to get employees to feel secure enough to discuss issues that will benefit customers that they may not feel comfortable discussing in a broader forum. By giving affinity groups a marketed project, they can tell you ideas that will work best as they see it.”

Hiring managers also need to keep in mind how to motivate and manage their staff as part of a recruiting plan. Experts encourage incentives for staff contributions to a diverse work force, considering employees’ job satisfaction can be your best advertising.

“When you get new hires, tell them how your company handles diversity on day one,” Howell says. “Explain diversity the way you define it and what it means to the company. Letting them know why diversity is important will help them understand the process and get on board with ways to make it work best.”