Joseph Slawek

The duty of leadership to effectively reward is essential to the survival and prosperity of any organization. Issues between the leader and his or her people regarding incentive compensation can undermine the entire motivation process. We really are in the “timely rewards” business as company leaders.

Here are four principles for successfully rewarding your people for a job well-done: 


Deploy your people to maximize the use of their unique gifts and talents

When we have people working in areas where their individual gifts and talents don’t match the position well, employee satisfaction and employee performance suffer. Why? Because expressions of trust and gratitude from leadership become much less natural and less frequent.

Contrary to a lot of conventionally accepted wisdom, “People cannot do whatever they want to do or are asked to do.” Rather, “People can effortlessly do whatever they were wired to do.” If people’s talents aren’t lined up with what is being asked of them, redeploy them to make the best use of their gifts.


A leader’s trust and gratitude generate a great deal of employee satisfaction

I believe the greatest reward leaders can give is sincere trust and gratitude. In fact, I consider creating trust and expressing gratitude to be primary leadership requirements.

This critical combination satisfies a nearly universal desire to be affirmed and appreciated. I believe financial incentives alone are necessary, but not sufficient to motivate and drive success. Trust and gratitude create more satisfaction, engagement and enjoyment.


Design compensation rewards in advance and in detail

Compensation plans must be well designed in advance of their implementation with simple, detailed and understandable quantitative measurements, which are really leadership expectations of desired outcomes. All too often, performance bonuses, sales incentives, project milestone payments, etc., rely on qualitative rather than quantitative measurements.

To fix this, qualitative wording like “used best efforts” or “used best judgment” can easily be coupled with added quantitative language: “Used best efforts to complete the project by June 30.” or “Used best judgment in screening five bidders to two finalists by Aug. 15.”


Verify and reward outcomes, not impressions

In my experience, there is often a great temptation to reward the impression of “progress,” the impression of “improvement” and the impression of “hard work.” Yes, these are important qualitative attributes in our people’s performance reviews, but they aren’t reliable measurements for incremental incentive compensation purposes.

To be effective, compensation-based rewards need to be treated as an arm’s length accounting practice including an audit-like review of the accomplishments and calculations. Reward financially only after completing a third party, audit-like review of the quantitative measurements by human resources or accounting. This will ensure the desired final outcomes actually happen and avoid the need to go back and reverse rewards. ●


Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit or call (630) 578-8600.


Learn more about Joseph James Slawek at:

Twitter: @FONA_Intl

Strategic succession is essential in every work group within an organization, not just CEOs. It touches all aspects of the business: family ownership responsibilities, boards, executive teams, management teams, work groups and even new employee on-boarding.

Here are six key areas that make up a complete and successful succession at any level.

The transfer of knowledge, skills and abilities

The first step in succession is to systematically move competency to the next generation of owners, leaders, managers and workers. This is done through targeted education, new work experiences, exposure to positive and negative results, individual coaching and thoughtful mentoring.

Keep in mind that real succession means that we will have to accept occasional — hopefully brief — periods of reduced performance in order to have a greater future gain. 

The transfer of income and wealth

A well-planned upfront compensation program lubricates the wheels of succession. Clarity is important not as a carrot on a stick, but as a marker on the succession track.

The question, “What is in it for me?” is a legitimate and honest one. Planning the compensation transfer in advance keeps engagement high and avoids the distraction of ambiguous promises. With respect to ownership, it includes the well-planned generational transfer of wealth.

The transfer of authority, control and accountability

In the case of a newly appointed department manager, the transfer of the departmental budgeting and expense process must be complete. In the case of the newly appointed CEO, the transfer of the strategic planning process including authority, control and accountability must be complete.

The transfer of these three dimensions truly ensures that the ownership for the work is also fully transferred.

The transfer of roles and responsibilities

Oftentimes, roles and responsibilities are cultural. For example, who opens the meeting? Who sets the agenda? Who speaks first or last? These cultural markers are very important tools that stabilize the culture.

You want the company to improve, change, grow and prosper. At the same time, you want a very strong and steady culture that remains healthy and integrated. Roles, especially cultural roles, become traditions and offer people stability despite the changes that succession brings.

The transfer of people, things and money

We are entrusted with the duty to care for three important “others.” Author Dennis Peacocke says, “We grow by caring for other people, things and money.” I have found that this caring for other people, other people’s things and other people’s money is what best builds our character and is an important action to transfer to the next generation of owners, leaders, managers and workers.

The transfer of risk management and risk elimination

Succession isn’t complete until the risk management and elimination — of both seen and unseen risks — has been transferred to the next generation. Either the successor becomes the risk manager and eliminator, or the succession has not been completed.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit or call (630) 578-8600. 

Will the strategy succeed? Is this the right move at the right time? I know we CEOs have all spent many nights pondering these questions and weighing the possible outcomes. Overall, it can
be a complex endeavor.

There are a variety of variables and unique circumstances that come into play for any business, but here’s a simple equation that can be a handy part of your decision-making process when assessing the probability of success for a strategy:

Confidence in our people x confidence in our strategy x the level of coordinated activity = our probability of success

The equation’s value rests on your ability to be honest. Your evaluations need to be fair and realistic to provide the best data. If you aren’t fully confident in an area, that’s OK. It’s about making the best decisions for your company and your people — and that requires honesty.

Let’s look at each part of the equation:


Ask: What is my level of confidence in their ability to successfully execute the strategy?

Honestly assess: While we all would like to automatically say we have 100 percent confidence in everyone at every instance, in reality, the percentage may be lower for a number of reasons.

Perhaps the responsible leader is new and relatively inexperienced. Or maybe the team already has a full strategic workload with little excess capacity to engage in a new strategy.


Ask: What is my level of confidence in the strategy?

Honestly assess: Not all strategies are created equal. The origins and the completeness of a strategy will determine the level of confidence in the strategy itself. Consider the process and if it was created by the boss, visionaries or tacticians? Is it proactive or reactive?


Ask: What is my confidence in the level of coordinated activity associated with the strategy? 

Honestly assess: All too often, great strategies and great people are handcuffed by the lack of coordinated activities. Before you can execute a strategy well, you may need to stop doing something else to create the strategic bandwidth to embrace the level of coordinated activity necessary for strategic success.

Now, let’s take a look at an example:

People: Let’s say you have a new leader and a fairly busy group. You decide your confidence in your people under these circumstances is at 90 percent.

Strategy: You have a great go-to-market strategy created by a visionary process. The only shortfall is the financials rely heavily on estimates, so your confidence is at 90 percent.

Activity: You believe the activity level is very high, but it lacks a certain level of management coordination, slowing success. It could be something as simple as an uncoordinated order entry process. Under these circumstances, let’s assess your level of confidence at 90 percent.

So here we go — what is our probability of success? At first blush, it looks like a 90 percent average. That’s an A- or a B+. Sounds good, right?

The reality is different, and here’s what you need to remember: Shortcomings, however small, tend to multiply quickly in business. This becomes clear when we work our equation: 90 percent x 90 percent x 90 percent = 72.9 percent. The probability of success is actually a very low C-. 

We have to make the best decisions we can for our people, and this equation can help us evaluate our circumstances and chart our course.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit

The fear of failure is something that even the most successful and gifted of employees can bring with them to the office.

They are afraid the product won’t be successful or the phone call won’t be returned. I can still remember being almost terrified to make a sales call on one of the largest food companies in the world because I was afraid I would fail.

If we don’t work through this fear, it will almost certainly lead to paralysis.

We procrastinate while waiting for better conditions to develop and remain “stuck” where we are, rather than where we want to be. I must admit I put off starting some new initiatives using that same fear-based rationale. I can clearly recall thinking, “Maybe I will launch my own business, once some additional favorable elements fall into place.”

I was stuck.

But it is our job to help our people overcome their fears and prevent them from becoming stuck. We need to create a courageous workplace. Here are a few techniques I have used to build a courageous workplace for my wonderful employees.

Pursue excellence 

The tool that best fights fear is the pursuit of excellence. It’s the vitamin shot that gives everyone the confidence to move forward. Teach your employees that their performance goal is excellence and giving their best effort in everything.

Aiming for perfection will drain an organization of its confidence and vigor. The goal is excellence! Write it on the office walls, put it as your email footer and repeat it often when you address the organization. Live it. The relentless pursuit of excellence should be part of the fabric of your company.

Embrace failures 

To paraphrase a brilliant sentiment by Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” we shouldn’t fear failure — it is mediocrity we should be afraid of. Failures mean people were trying new things, rather than standing still.

Encourage employees to take risks. Empower them to fail. Foster curiosity and innovation. Embrace the belief that mistakes are how we grow, and growing employees build strong, innovative and dynamic workplaces.

Overcome paralysis 

This technique involves getting the person to clearly decide a specific time when they will “stop working” on a project rather than a stop time. A stop time is far more helpful if they are already struggling to get it started or keep it moving.

In this way, the person moves on to another project, rather than feeling that frustrating, wheel-spinning experience of getting nowhere fast.

Stop time works at home, too. For example, instead of asking my teenage daughter when she will begin her homework, I ask her to set a time when she will stop doing her homework. “I will be done with my homework by 8:00 so I can watch ‘The Bachelor’ on TV,” she responds with a big grin on her face.

Be quick to encourage 

As the senior leader, your ability to encourage is essential for a healthy, courageous organization. You are watched closely by your people and are expected to “give heart” (which defines courage) as they pursue routine and difficult objectives. Remember — a courageous, encouraging heart is a talent multiplier!

As we help our employees overcome the fear holding them back at work, we begin to build their energy, confidence and freedom. And you need all three of these qualities flourishing in your people in order for you to operate a successful business.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of Fona International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit

A healthy and growing organization proactively plans for succession and transition. It’s simply the nature of business. As my company recently celebrated 25 years, we turned our focus to purposeful succession. I wanted to share with you the key steps involved, the importance of planning and a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1) Get the next generation involved.

As your company grows and develops, it will become increasingly important to begin transitioning leadership to the next wave of leaders. This process will look different for each individual company. For me, it means moving away from our entrepreneurial leaders (generation one) to our professional, internationally focused leaders (generation two).

Be sure to constructively build on the strengths of each generation and tap into the energy, passion and vision of your current leaders to fuel the transition and create an even better future for your business.

2) Shift your board’s focus to policy.

When your board members focus on operations, they are participating in the day-to-day management of the organization. As you prepare for purposeful succession, the focus should shift to policy where they enact and enforce policies, which broadly govern the business. This move helps your organizational governance become more formal through the creation of an entity that protects your company’s health and well-being.

3) Select the next president and

his or her successor.

Your policy board has one critical succession responsibility: to choose the next president and his or her successor. It’s important to remember that the board’s succession responsibilities end with choosing the president. It is the new president, not the board, who has succession responsibility for the executive team.

4) If it’s a family business,

address the family estate plan.

This plan is critical to any successful generational transition but admittedly can be uncomfortable and awkward to deal with. Questions that need answers are akin to personal estate planning when the attorneys ask, “Who gets custody of your kids?” In family businesses, the first difficult question is, “Do we have a competent family member successor, and, if not, who gets custody of the business?”

Purposeful succession plans set the groundwork for the unplanned successions, which is important because once you have carefully laid out your plans, you may think, “What could go wrong?” But, the reality is whether due to illness, disability, death or any number of other scenarios, unplanned succession is a part of life.

When these challenging events happen, they create an extremely high level of emotion, distraction and added workload, in addition to leadership style changes. They also tend to cause anxiety in the organization’s employees, vendors and partners. As a result, in this “unplanned” scenario, these anxieties must be addressed directly and immediately by an already overburdened executive team.

With that in mind, let me leave you with this: The only difference between planned succession and unplanned succession is the amount of time you have to deal with the situation.

In the case of an emergency succession, communication with employees, vendors and partners begins immediately and must be completed within a couple of weeks. In a planned succession, the communication time is only slightly extended to a couple of months. The exact same emotions and distractions are present in both scenarios — the only difference is the level of intensity.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit


Have you ever stopped to think about what leads to great outcomes in your business? How about when a plan doesn’t work? Was it the plan itself that failed or something larger?

It’s important to remember excellent results come from more than just excellent strategies and tactics. It is the character of our organizations that determines the ultimate success or failure of our plan.

The fact that your success will rise and fall on the collective personal character of your organization can be a sobering thought. Of course, there can be other circumstances at play. But all too often, the missing component in reaching strategic and tactical success is a gap in the company’s collective character.

And make no mistake about it: Your company’s character starts with you.

People turn to leaders who exhibit consistent great character. And customers turn to companies who exhibit consistent great character. This is a chain reaction that begins with you and can end with wonderful success for your organization.

Here are five points of character I believe we CEOs should keep in mind when leading our organizations. Modeling these points drives the creation of a collective culture that delivers excellent results from well-laid strategies and tactics:

Encourage mistakes

Employees who aren’t fearful of mistakes reach for new ideas, create new ways to help customers and develop better methods of doing business. Encourage this desire in your team members. Release them from worry of doing the wrong thing and set them free to create the next big thing.

Treat everyone equally

Some years ago, Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson wrote a booklet of leadership observations in which he cautions, “Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with.”

From your leadership peers to the man hauling out your recycling, treat everyone with the same respect and care. When your employees feel valued at all levels and see that everyone matters to you, it fosters an environment of respect and kindness that will naturally carry over to how they treat your customers. You’ll have employees who genuinely want your company to succeed — and who better to carry out your strategies and tactics?

Continuously improve

Stay on top of the most recent research, tools and education in your field, and encourage your employees to do the same. Provide ample opportunities for them to better themselves, both professionally and personally. Smarter, more engaged, happier employees serve your customers better, deliver more and execute plans better. In simple terms, put the best into your people, so you’ll get the best out.


I often tell my wonderful employees that I want to send them home safer and healthier than when they arrived in the morning, and I work to implement processes and programs to support this. Genuine caring for the people who carry out the business of your business reverberates throughout the organization.

As with all of these character points, they ripple from you to your employees to your customers, helping excellent work be done all along the way, resulting in great successes. Care about your employees and they’ll care about your business.

Do the right thing

Helping others, taking responsibility, owning up to mistakes, honoring your word — when these are the types of things you are known for, they become the types of things your organization is known for. A culture of responsibility, kindness and honesty. That is the type of culture that does the right thing — even when the boss isn’t looking.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit

When working toward my private pilot’s license, I had to learn about the aviation language of time zones. Now, for those of us with our feet on the ground, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) governs our day’s schedules. But up in the air, all pilots, airlines and air traffic controllers coordinate time around the world using UTC and the closely related Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) — the time in Greenwich, England, that is based on a 24-hour clock.

Also referred to as Zulu time, aviation time is calculated as either ahead (+) or behind (-) GMT. For example, if it is 18:30 (6:30 p.m.) in Greenwich, it is -6 GMT (12:30 p.m.) here in Chicago.

Coordinating flights and creating flight plans based on UTC or GMT ensures clear communication, safety and successful transit. Similarly, when creating “flight plans” for your growing, complex organization, leadership must have a systematic vision to ensure you reach organizational goals safely and successfully. Think of it as coordinating around the time zones of planning.

Board of Directors Time Zone: +20 years UTC

If your company is governed by a board, their focus should be on the next 20 years. Discussions and plans should include topics such as succession, compensation and broad strategic business policies. This extremely long-term vision lays the course for your company and helps ensure its viability, relevance and effectiveness for years to come.

CEO Time Zone: +7 to +10 years UTC

As CEOs, we fly in the most critical time zone. We must provide the 7- to 10-year vision for our organizations. Our visionary responsibilities in this time zone are to define reality, fight denial, see patterns, predict the future, select and prune businesses, bring the outside world developments into the organization and harvest the energy from the positive and negative events that occur during any 7- to 10-year time period. We must imagine, plan and then, just as importantly, communicate the 7- to 10-year initiatives our organizations will pursue.

Executive Time Zone: +1 to +3 years UTC

This is your corporation’s most important time zone for the creation of an optimized strategy. Your executives need to deliver detailed plans through at least three years beyond today. They are responsible for developing flight plans that ensure you’ll have the right people, finances and go-to-market execution to achieve company wins.

Management Time Zone: +0 to +2 years UTC

This essential time zone focuses on the here and now. Management’s execution of your company’s strategic plan looks at this day, this week, this month, this quarter, this year. As you know, this narrow scope is crucial to your success. You can have the grandest plans to fly your company around the world, but without people working daily in this time zone, those plans will eventually flop. You need people with the ability to zero in on the present and execute plans with excellence.

Flight check

Are your people flying in their appropriate time zones? Do you have time zones where there is no one in the cockpit to focus on that area’s responsibilities? A successful company needs skilled pilots in all time zones for a balanced flight. Get on the radio and direct them into their designated time zone where their efforts and abilities bring the greatest value to the organization.

And how about you? As you read this, did you realize you sometimes fly out of your time zone? Remember, as CEOs, we are the visionaries. We are the pilots of the entire organization — the captains. If we are flying in the wrong time zone, we are congesting company air space by micromanaging. This creates confusion, slows progress, diverts flights and can swing your entire organization off the careful course you plotted to reach your goals.

Pull your control yoke back and climb up to +7-+10 years UTC where you belong. Set your sights on the horizon and I wish you a smooth flight.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information about FONA, visit

We know the importance of creating a safe work environment filled with opportunities to learn and grow. Employees want to feel both appreciated for their contributions and have the sense that they are a true and valued part of the team.

Many components go into creating this kind of culture in an organization, but there is one method that is both easy and carries with it the potential for longlasting benefits. That would be the act of gathering your team around a meal.

Sharing food together is a foundation of communities both small and large. From families at the dinner table to block parties and neighborhood cookouts, people love to eat in social environments. Bringing people together around food provides a relaxed, familiar environment for communication.

We tend to eat with people we like or will come to like. So, why not bring that environment to the workplace and give everyone the opportunity to share food and build the bonds that lead to liking one another?

Bond over bagels and boost your bottom line

As CEO, you invest a relatively small amount of money in pizza (or ice cream or eggs and bacon), but you are actually investing deeply in your people. While eating together, employees build connections and develop relationships. They share stories about their days, their families and, yes, their work. These interactions can help them feel connected to each other and engaged with the organization that made it possible — the organization that is recognizing and appreciating them.

Engaged employees have a high level of emotional connection to their work and feel a great deal of fulfillment in what they do. They trust leadership, feel recognized for their efforts and are satisfied with the direction of their career. Pizza is, of course, only part of the puzzle, but it is an excellent place to begin the building.

Play an active role

As CEO, you are responsible for driving these efforts and, as much as possible, participating. When we leaders are present, it helps send a positive message to our wonderful people that the event is important, and that they are valued members of the organization. Now, when you attend, don’t sit with your fellow executives. Simply being present isn’t enough. Sit with people you don’t see or interact with very often, if at all. Ask questions and most importantly, listen.

I often sit with our production workers who I don’t see in my daily office routine. It gives me the chance to ask personally how things are going in the plant, ask if they need anything and listen to their stories about the latest company-sponsored soccer team victory. These interactions bring me great happiness and build trust between us. We see each other as individuals and that is key to building a strong culture.   

Here are some tips to bringing your team to the table:

  • Events should be routine — A colleague once spoke about his siblings’ ritual of gathering the first Sunday afternoon of every month “whether they liked it or not.” Of course, you hope your employees like it, but gatherings need to be scheduled and routine to reinforce their importance.


  • Include recognition — Serve breakfast before monthly employee meetings and recognize birthdays, employment anniversaries and business successes.


  • Celebrate little things — There is always a reason to celebrate, even if it is just a beautiful summer day. How about setting up a sundae bar or caramel apples for an afternoon treat?


  • Feature families and special interests — Company picnics for families are nice events, as are lunches that highlight employees’ diverse cultural backgrounds, such as our Cinco de Mayo and Indian celebrations where employees help prepare ethnic dishes to share.


  • Be involved — As I said earlier, being a part of these meals is important for us as leaders of our organizations. We help set the tone. I have seen shared meals generate tremendous goodwill and help build the culture and community needed to be a successful, growing organization. Be part of the experience.


Joseph Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world.

One of the most challenging tasks on any CEO’s plate is the ability to embed a simple and systematic planning process into an organization and then effectively execute upon it. All too often, planning occurs in last-minute, deadline-prompted, organizational binges and the result is goals that are not met. Either that, or the planning due dates trump the content of the plan and quality suffers.

In my experience, there are four principles that guide effective planning in the corporate world. These principles were not arrived at easily. But in concert with both a carefully thought out methodology and a detailed planning calendar, they encourage excellence.

Here are the four principles that can more effectively guide your company’s planning process:

Strategize in three key areas

The concept of strategic planning has lost some of its foundational strength in recent years as companies have abused the process and tried to strategize every aspect of their business. When you take this approach, you end up with a lot of confused employees who aren’t sure which plan they are supposed to follow.

Planning becomes more difficult, and as a result, management procrastination increases.

Great strategic thinking is really only needed in three key areas: The development of a go-to-market plan, a people plan and a financial plan. Each person, department, business unit, function and corporate entity should keep their focus on these three areas. All other plans are usually not strategic, but rather, flow naturally from these three key strategic elements.

If you keep the focus narrowed down, strategic plans are more likely to be completed in a timely manner and be well executed. These plans always outperform their labor-intensive, procrastinated, hyper-strategic alternatives.   

Plan for three time periods

You should keep three time periods in mind when you’re doing strategic planning: Think about the following year, the following three years and the next 10 years. This last one is most easily expressed if you keep it simple by looking at an easy-to-remember year such as 2020 or 2025

So if you were following this schedule, your 2013 plan would have fairly precise detail, including desired activities. The 2013-2015 plan would focus on your intended three-year results. Then, as you consider your business 10 years out in 2020, you would look to focus on the very best vision for your personnel, departmental, functional, business-unit and entity futures.

Follow the natural order

There is a natural sequence to the order of planning for the future of your business. Start with the heart of your business by looking at your customer and the go-to-market plan. After reaching agreement on this stage, proceed to the people plan. Here, you’ll plan for the knowledge, skills, abilities and people needed to successfully execute your go-to-market plan. Only then should you proceed to the financial plan where financial resources and requirements must be rebalanced.

Live the planning calendar

Ask your CFO and finance team to create a calendar with specific due dates for the planning phases to serve as a timetable for the organization. This will help make planning a natural part of your year and not a binge effort as deadlines draw near.

Clearly communicate the planning process to your leaders so everyone knows what is expected of them and when. Keep this communication up throughout the process, reinforcing the importance of planning and how it is a cycle of business, not something that is ever really finished.

Every company has its own style of strategic planning. When new managers join your team and become part of the process, educate them on your specific planning calendar and budgeting methods, so they can become familiar with your expectations and deliver excellent results.

Finally, on a personal note, make sure you take time to provide encouragement and show gratitude to your people for a job well done. You can never show too much appreciation to your people.

Joseph Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world.