When Michael Armento talks about Philadelphia being a tight-knit community, he speaks from the heart. As a young boy, he would often take a ferry across the Delaware River from New Jersey to South Philadelphia where his father worked for the U.S. Navy.

“There is some history and there are some good memories here,” Armento says.

This memorable locale from his childhood is now the place where Armento goes to work each day as leader of the Philadelphia market for Red Bank, N.J.-based Torcon.

That sense of belonging he has always felt for the area was front and center in Armento’s mind eight years ago when the construction management firm set up shop in the City of Brotherly Love.

“What we set out to do was hire only employees local to Philadelphia with deep roots in the region,” says Armento, a vice president in the firm. “Philadelphia is a very parochial community and we knew that for us to succeed, we had to base our Philadelphia office with Philadelphia-based employees.”

Armento and John DeFazio, Torcon’s project executive, felt strongly that potential clients in Philadelphia wanted to do business with people that they felt a connection to, people who understood what they were all about.

At the same time, Torcon was not a new company. It has more than 200 employees and is one of the most active construction management firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. Torcon has done more than $4 billion worth of construction in the past decade.

“The challenge for us was to learn how to introduce Torcon to the local Philadephia community,” says Armento, who has more than 30 employees in his Philadelphia office. “In the beginning, it was a lot of knocking on doors to visit with people John and I knew from years back working in Philadelphia. It was spending a lot of time out on the street, getting out there and introducing ourselves.”

The effort has paid off in the form of 3.5 million square feet of construction work in Philadelphia, amounting to $70 million in 2011 revenue and about $105 million in revenue for 2012.

Here’s a look at some of the steps Armento has taken to build a team that could make those valuable connections and ultimately drive growth.

Set clear standards

If you’re looking to establish a strong presence in your community, make sure your employees and everyone on your leadership team is up to speed with your expectations.

“Our strategy can be very complicated if it’s ambiguous,” Armento says. “We’re in the construction management business. The reality is it’s a customer service business where our client always and without exception comes first.

“I try to provide clear and candid communication with our employees on whether they are excelling or falling a bit short. I’m forever reinforcing the importance of Torcon’s core values so that any confusion is eliminated.”

The message is often conveyed through the prism of Torcon’s own strong history of close relationships. The company was founded by Benedict Torcivia in 1965 and is now run by his sons, Benedict Jr. and Joseph.

“As far as we are concerned, in every respect and in every level of service we provide, we act fairly, with integrity and with honesty,” Armento says. “Ben and Joe are the two brothers who run this organization and through an incredible amount of hard work, they have built a stellar reputation for the company.”

But without the constant reinforcement that helps drive smart decisions, a reputation that took several lifetimes to build can collapse in an instant.

“That is so true in our industry of construction,” Armento says. “It’s very competitive and you work hard to finally win a project for a client that you have been pursuing for quite some time. It’s not just winning the project. You have to work very hard to be sure you are providing the services that the client is expecting.

“All it takes is one little error or mistake and in five minutes, that reputation can be ruined. That is what I teach and profess all the time. Try to look at things from the perspective of your client.

“Then you can understand what is important to them,” he says. “Business is built on reputation and performance and we have to show that in everything that we do.”

Performance has to be strong at all levels in order to maintain your great reputation. If a project is late in being completed, exceeds its budget or doesn’t fulfill your customer’s expectation, it’s clearly not a success.

“The definition of success is when a client says to us at the end of a project, ‘You folks at Torcon delivered on every promise and every commitment you made from the outset of the project,’” Armento says. “That is when we know we were successful in executing the project. We want to be sure that everyone involved views the project as a success and not just the construction manager.”

It’s the difference between possessing a reputation based simply on knocking out projects as quickly as possible and one that is consistently focused on a high level of customer satisfaction.

Reinforce the team concept

One key to building a team that is of one mind and can make strong connections with your customer base is to empower them to do what they do best. Build confidence in your people so that they know you see them as the experts at what they do. Create an environment where they don’t need to check in with you every time a decision needs to be made.

“We try not to be dictatorial,” Armento says. “We believe very much in allowing our people to be autonomous, to allow them to express their opinion and tell us about their findings and what they think the solution is to a particular challenge. We want them to feel like they are an integral part of the solution to problems on projects. When they do, they take ownership in solving those problems.”

Teamwork is part of the culture of the construction industry from your earliest days on the job, no matter where you work.

“Most people who are educated in construction management or construction management-related curriculum understand that every project is performed and completed by a team of those core positions,” Armento says.

“If there is a particular portion of the project that is struggling and needs some extra attention, we would expect the other team members to jump in and help out. It’s understood in our industry that it’s a group effort.”

Teamwork can easily fall apart, however, if that commitment to your team begins to waver or if you begin to provide evidence that you value one group in your organization over another.

“The key is to be consistent with your message and spend as much time listening to your people as you do talking to them and providing direction,” Armento says. “It’s essential for us to reinforce our message and reaffirm our employees’ value to our organization.”

When employees come to you with ideas or suggestions about how to do something better, demonstrate that it hasn’t been a waste of their time to come up with this new idea.

“It becomes a matter of personal pride,” Armento says. “If an employee has an idea after living with a certain situation day to day, they want to know that the time they have spent thinking about how to improve our approach is valued time and that their opinion is respected by management.

“When you hear an employee or a staff member who has a good idea on how to do something better, allow them to act on it. Give them the opportunity to take ownership if it was their idea.”

Take the time

You work each day to build a stronger team that is focused on providing the best service to your customers. Armento felt that was a winning strategy to achieving customer satisfaction.

But to drive home the connectedness that he wanted customers to feel with Torcon’s Philadelphia operations, Armento strongly encourages participation in the community.

“I’m a newly appointed board member with the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” Armento says.

He’s also involved with the American Heart Association and took part in the company’s effort to do a 9/11 memorial along the Schuylkill River.

“That was done gratis by Torcon along with a group of subcontractors,” Armento says.

These efforts were part of an overall push to show potential customers in Philadelphia that Torcon understood what they were all about and could relate to what it meant to be part of the Philadelphia community.

“The way we have overcome that challenge is one, to make sure everybody we employ here in the Philadelphia office comes from Philadelphia construction,” Armento says. “And two, to entrench ourselves as deeply as we can in the community and with community functions.”

How to reach: Torcon, (215) 271-1449 or www.torcon.com

The Armento File

Born: Camden, N.J.

Education: Construction management degree, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pa.

What was your very first job?

My first job as a kid was working for a local concrete contractor who did replacement sidewalks and driveways. My job was to break up the old concrete in preparation for the new. If it did anything for me, it gave me an appreciation for the difficulty of laboring on a daily basis.

What is the best business lesson you ever learned?

This is a very challenging business. We rely heavily on the performance of others in order to make a project successful. When I say others, I mean our own people as well as other members of the team.

To the best of your ability, try to manage situations on a project without emotion. Treat people the same way you expect to be treated. And that is coupled ironically with the understanding that you can’t blindly trust everyone. Remain objective and keep the clients’ interests in mind at all times.

What skills are essential for a leader?

Be firm when you need to be firm. Listen to people as much as you talk to people. Recognize it’s not always about issuing directives and establishing policies. A good leader sometimes has to be a teacher, a cheerleader and sometimes a confidant. Be open to your people when necessary, but be firm when being firm is necessary.

Takeaways

Set clear expectations.

Promote a team concept.

Be civic-minded.

Published in Philadelphia

As a 20-year veteran of the insurance industry, Charlie Rosson has seen his fair share of financial uncertainty, economic downturns and business struggles. So when he was promoted to CEO of Woodruff-Sawyer & Co. on Jan. 1, 2008, Rosson recognized rather quickly that his tenure was going to coincide with all three.

“Right from the start, like everybody, we were thrown a pretty difficult set of circumstances to deal with,” says Rosson, CEO of the San Francisco-based insurance services firm. “So many businesses were impacted in terms of their sales and access to capital and their business overall. The recession impacted our clients directly, and we were challenged to respond to that by coming up with more aggressive programs for them to quickly save them money and to help a lot of them through survival mode.”

Although clients were losing revenue and facing serious financial struggles of their own, the firm still needed to find ways to keep business profitable. But many clients could also no longer afford the firm’s services and products at the same rates or prices as in the past.

Like most professional service firms, Woodruff-Sawyer needed to find ways to keep clients’ businesses afloat but also avoid losing their business.

“Obviously, we had to become more efficient in the way that we do business, and we had to recognize in a lot of cases our clients weren’t willing or didn’t have the wherewithal to pay the same type of fees or commissions that they might have before the difficult time,” Rosson says.

“The way we would structure an insurance program before the financial crisis or before things got really difficult obviously wasn’t implacable anymore. So we had to kind of come to terms and help them with declining values and property, shrinking payrolls and overall downturn.”

Identify must-haves

Finding creative ways to deliver the same types of programs for clients more affordably wouldn’t be simple, especially because each client’s business was so different.

Rosson knew that the firm needed to work much more closely with clients to figure out win-win solutions.

“We had to negotiate greatly reduced premiums for them and come up with coverages that met their needs but were at a price point that they could afford,” he says.

So as Rosson and his team began talking with clients about their changing risks and opportunities, they also asked each client for a list of must-haves.

“We really had to dig in and find out what are the things our clients truly value and what things are sort of “nice to haves” that they didn’t value as much, and frankly, weren’t willing to pay for,” Rosson says.

“We’re fortunate that the clients we serve we have a great relationship with and normally have a pretty deep dialogue with them and attempt to fully understand their business,” he says. “So we can go in and talk about the services we deliver, how they’re delivered and how the team is structured, then drill into what things are important to them. Then we ask them honest questions about what things they can live without.”

Knowing your customer’s “deal breakers” can help you pinpoint the exact value that you add for them, allowing you to identify and recommend business solutions that are cost-effective but that still meet that customer’s needs.

“What clients are looking for is value, and in our case, it’s quality of advice,” Rosson says. “It’s how do we help our clients become more successful? And oftentimes when we partner up with them and really understand their business, we can help them execute a strategy that maybe they wouldn’t be able to execute without us.”

You may see opportunities to meet the future needs of your customers as trends emerge of where their businesses are moving and as new technologies come along. For example, the recession spurred the firm’s investment in technology to help address client issues.

“The current generation of buyers has already adopted technology as a core part of the way they do business, and that curve is only going to get steeper as newer generations come into the workforce and become leaders of companies,” Rosson says. “They’re going to expect that they can interact with service providers and professionals through some sort of technology medium. They’re not going to expect the traditional back and forth model that’s defined our industry for quite a while.”

Trim the excess

Once you identify your clients’ pain points and priorities, you can begin looking for ways to serve their needs more efficiently.

Rosson realized that although Woodruff-Sawyer continued to deliver valuable services and advice for clients, the firm could save time and cost by streamlining its approach — as could its clients.

“We had to get much more efficient in terms of the way we structured our teams, and we had to use technology in ways that we hadn’t before, in terms of delivering things through the Web that may have been done before either face-to-face or through some other lower-tech way to deliver service and advice,” he says. “So we are using technology in different ways, and we’re just more careful in terms of how we assign resources to client teams.”

Rosson restructured the company’s practice teams to put the focus on having the right people in the right roles, instead of just more bodies, to cut down on unnecessary costs.

“Don’t get swept away by how much revenue you think somebody can generate or how dazzling somebody is,” Rosson says. “Really do your homework and find out what that person is all about. Are they really a fit for the organization? Do they really have the client’s best interests at heart? Can they collaborate well with others? Those are really important things.”

Another way Rosson saw to improve efficiency was integrating technologies that could make communication more user-friendly for clients. Most of the technologies Woodruff-Sawyer has deployed are collaborative, meaning they enable communication between clients and associates outside of the traditional email and face-to-face meetings. In addition to saving its clients cost and time, many changes have streamlined the firm’s processes overall.

For example, the firm now issues all of its certificates online and deployed a portal called Passport, which permits document sharing and collaboration with clients over the Web to expedite projects.

Since seeing the positive impacts, Rosson has continued to pursue a direction that involves technological innovation. Recently, the firm launched an online portal for small businesses called, BizInsure, hired a chief information officer and has made investments in online business to ramp up its overall technology component.

“I’m absolutely convinced that emerging technology is going to have a disruptive impact on our business,” he says. “And I believe it’s going to be in a positive way, and we’ll be right there to capitalize on it. The way that we’re going to interact with our clients in the future is going to be different that our traditional model.”

Enable a responsive culture

Of course, it’s difficult to devise efficient and cost-effective solutions for clients if you don’t empower employees to be creative and test their ideas. Businesses that run their organizations with a heavy-handed, top-down leadership structure can easily stifle the kind of creative, engaged culture it takes to provide the most value to clients, Rosson says.

“To be a top-tier professional services firm, by definition, you want to have professionals — and you need to treat them that way,” he says. “The way to treat them that way is to respect what they do and be there if they need advice and guidance. You have to have a certain amount of structure, but listening and not being overly prescriptive or top-down in our approach has really paid dividends.”

Rosson avoids a command and control culture at Woodruff-Sawyer by furthering the firm’s corporate vision to remain an independent brokerage firm. Being a 100 percent ESOP firm gives the company a flexible infrastructure where top people feel empowered to make decisions and operate with more freedom, he says. With no shareholders, employees are able to focus on the client and do things for clients that might be difficult under a different leadership structure.

“We’re able to do things for clients in terms of being flexible and the people who are working with clients have a lot more authority to get things done for them, deploy resources and make decisions that our competitors who might have a different ownership system can’t,” Rosson says.

“Our independence is a key part of our competitive advantage and a big part of our culture.”

The independent structure has also helped the firm attract talented employees who value autonomy and the ability to be responsible to a client’s needs. And for companies that can’t do an ESOP, leadership comes into play even more. As a CEO it’s important to set the tone for your direct reports and other employees by showing that you trust their decision-making abilities.

“I truly believe that we have the best people in the industry,” Rosson says. “These are people who have arrived at a place professionally. They don’t need me to look over their shoulder or a leader to second-guess what they are doing.”

Rosson says in the future, the firm will continue to be prudent and watching the bottom line while making investments in technology and internal perpetuation to keep the firm independent. By successfully delivering insurance services in an efficient and user-friendly way for clients, the firm has not only retained clients, it’s also been extremely successful in adding new business.

“The vast majority of our growth is organic growth through just going out and telling our story,” Rosson says. “With a lot of our competitors, and the large ones, it can be very difficult or very expensive to access very sophisticated resources. What we do is deliver those same resources or the same level of advice — or even better — but do it in a way that’s less expensive and much more user-friendly.”

As a result, Woodruff-Sawyer has grown its revenue approximately 40 percent since 2007, generating approximately $70 million in revenue in 2011.

“Like so many businesses, the downturn forced us to work smarter and more efficiently and embrace technology,” Rosson says. “As the economy has slowly improved and our clients’ businesses has improved, we’ve found that we’ve been able to leverage our technology and we haven’t had to increase our costs at the same rate that maybe we would have. So we’re actually seeing that our business is healthier now, after the downturn, than it was before.”

How to reach: Woodruff-Sawyer & Co., (415) 391-2141 or www.wsandco.com

Takeaways

  • Ask customers where your business provides the most value.
  • Utilize technology to cut down on time and cost in customer interactions.
  • Empower employees to help clients by avoiding a top-down culture.

The Rosson File

Charlie Rosson

CEO

Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.

Born: San Jose, Calif.

Education: B.A. in history from UCLA

On growth: If you’ve got a very strong core business — I’m so bullish on the insurance business — you don’t need to take on too much debt or be overly grandiose in your expansion plans. Expansion and acquisitions all should be driven around acquiring people who fit into the organization, really bring something to the table and add to your organization rather than just executing a geographic growth strategy or putting pins in the map. All of your expansion should be for the right reasons, with the right people with client in mind, rather than trying to fill out (geographically) with different offices all over the place.

What is your favorite part of the business?

The best part of the business is getting out and meeting with clients and prospects. That’s why most of us got into this business and what really drives the passion for it. A lot of our relationships with clients go back 10, 15 and 30 years even. That’s the most fun part of it. I think it’s also really gratifying to successfully run the business and see the impact that you can have on employees’ lives.

What would you be doing if not for your current job?

Teaching English in Argentina

What one part of your daily routine would you never change?

Interacting with our clients and prospective clients

How do you regroup on a tough day?

I try to exercise every day.

What do you for fun?

Cooking, traveling, reading, coaching kids’ sports

 

Published in Northern California
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:01

Adrienne Lenhoff: Think before you post

Have you rethought your opinion of someone because of something they’ve posted on social media? Social media has blurred the line between business and personal acquaintances, with most people having both personal and professional contacts linked to their pages on social platforms such as Facebook.

Social media creates an environment where many of our social filtering inhibitions disappear, and people tend to feel freer in expressing views they would not otherwise express in real-life social and business settings.

We witnessed the best and worst of friends, family, business colleagues and acquaintances during the 2012 presidential election. In the offline world, most of us would refrain from lambasting someone for expressing their opinion. Most of us, however, would not begin verbal attacks against the individual or the candidates.

The election was an eye-opener

The presidential election shed light on the impact that the things we post on social networks has on our relationships with others. Forty-seven percent of respondents to a poll conducted by Mashable had unfriended someone on Facebook because of election-related issues.

Even if you did not actually unfriend someone, think about those you might be avoiding as a result of their comments or whose update settings you’ve changed to take them out of your active friend feed. Conversely, are your business colleagues or acquaintances taking these same actions against you?

Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project has conducted several surveys about people’s use of social networking sites for politics and personal political interaction. Here are some of the findings:

  • 60 percent of American adults use either social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, and 66 percent of those social media users, or 39 percent of all American adults, have done at least one social media civic or political engagement activity.

  • 22 percent of registered voters shared their presidential vote on social media.

  • 22 percent say they avoid making political comments on social media sites for fear of offending others.

  • 67 percent of those who blocked, unfriended or hid someone on a social networking site did it to a distant friend or acquaintance.

  • 21 percent of those who blocked, unfriended or hid someone on a social networking site did it to a co-worker.

  • 16 percent have friended or followed someone because the person shared the user’s political views.

When it comes to blocking, unfriending or hiding someone on social media, overpolitical postings are often the reason why. The biggest complaints regarded someone posting too frequently about political subjects, posting something a user disagreed with or found offensive, and arguing about politics with the user or someone they know.

The loss of anonymity

For better or worse, the presidential election opened the floodgates of online bashing and heated arguments. In the early days of online interaction, most sites and media outlets allowed users to identify themselves using pseudonyms or user names rather than their true-life identities. That cloak of anonymity allowed many users to dispose of their inhibitions and interact as they would not otherwise in a real-world setting.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a shift from the use of pseudonyms or user handles to sites that now require comments and engagement be tied to social media profiles on Facebook that reveal our real names, along with potentially allowing viewers access to our personal and professional identifying information — including employment information.

When you see someone boldly expressing themselves across social media platforms, it has the repercussion of not only fragmenting relationships but also making you lose respect for ones you have always respected. It puts people in a different light and has the potential to make you rethink who you would want to do business with.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management, Shazaaam Public Relations and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. She can be reached at alenhoff@shazaaam.com.  Follow her on Twitter @alenhoff.

Published in Detroit

Effective communication is the vehicle to bring board meeting decisions, annual strategies and initiatives, and support programs for your constituents to fruition in business.

Without a plan to communicate their importance and implementation, time spent participating in daylong retreats, creating charts, finalizing objectives and enduring the wearisome budgeting process are a waste of your time — and who has time for that?

Today’s technology has created myriad options for sending messages across varied time zones and locations inexpensively. I don’t know any business leader or CFO who doesn’t love to see expenses cut, including me. The challenge for all business leaders is to evaluate your communication approach, considering your audience, budget and desired outcomes using the following four topics.

Media

I love my iPad, and in fact, that statement is included in my email signature. Skype is another way I try to tackle communication when my schedule is filled with frequent travel, days with back-to-back meetings and a to-do list with more items than hours in the day.

I appreciate the iPad’s mobility and Skype’s two-way video capabilities to stay connected when I need to.

At the same time, if I have an important point to make or am communicating a new change from an expected direction or have bad news to share, I prefer to pick up the phone or visit the person directly rather than send an email. The immediate connection allows a more substantial exchange with the other person, allowing us both to have a clear understanding of the message, its expectations and to discuss the outcome.

Use a variety of media to ensure the business-building information your team sends is well received.

Frequency

Service Brands International has three home-services franchise companies under its umbrella. Each brand creates six-to-eight annual objectives agreed to by the home office team and its franchise advisory council during a series of planning sessions. If those initiatives were communicated only once, the opportunity for success is small.

A communication is like a marketing message — the sender or the brand will tire of it long before the audience does. If you’ve invested the time and resources to put a plan into place, keep your audience engaged by sharing it at a consistent frequency and with progress updates.

Simplicity

Whether it’s the technology you select to communicate or the written word itself, don’t lose your audience by overcomplicating the message. Use words that are clear, concise and memorable.

I have sat through hundreds of meetings, and I have received thousands of letters and emails throughout my career. I am most impressed by the well-prepared speaker or writer who shares their key points and leaves out unnecessary data and words.

Call to action

A fabulous message that you share across many media channels is not yet complete unless you consider what you’re asking your audience to do with the information. As the leader, it’s your job to create the map to success and make sure your team has a copy of it, understands it and knows what to do with it.

During your strategic planning session, it’s likely you identified specific, desired outcomes of your initiatives. Consider each communication carefully, and decide on your purpose and end result before you begin writing or speaking. Your personal call to action is to measure your results to ensure your communications are being well received and to adapt to your audience if they are not.

These techniques have helped me and my leadership teams manage businesses across state lines, country’s borders and a wide range of tenure and experience. What legend will your vision create?

David McKinnon is the co-founder and chairman of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman, 1-800-DryClean and ProTect Painters. To contact him, send email to davidm@servicebrands.com.

Published in Detroit

No matter what size your business, your employees probably rub elbows a bit in their workspace. It’s both a fact of life and of space limitations. If you create the right company culture, they’ll become more like a functioning family than a bunch of bickering siblings.

But even the most collaborative colleagues will wrestle with pet peeves from time to time. Whether it’s impromptu office social hours that are too close for comfort or phone chatter happening at a few decibels too many, noise pollution tops the list of many workers’ gripes about their neighbors.

At Petplan, we’ve tackled this topic head-on, as our employees share an open workspace that encompasses a call center, claims adjusters, a marketing and creative team, a sales force and managers alike (not to mention our four-legged office mates).

With so many people working for so many different facets of the business, it takes a delicate balance of tolerance and consideration to keep varying noise preferences in check. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned — loud and clear — about sounding off at work.

If you love them, set them free

Setting up your staff so everyone has the option to “go mobile” will help ease tensions when exuberance reaches intolerable proportions for quieter folks. At Petplan, all of our employees have a laptop they can take to less high-traffic areas, such as meeting and conference rooms, if they need some serenity during the day.

Carving out a few quiet places within the workspace gives your employees the option to retreat when they need to nix the noise and get down to business.

Open Pandora’s Box

Streaming music or white noise can greatly reduce the stress of a noisy co-worker and help increase focus and concentration, so we’ve adopted a permissive policy regarding headphone use by employees.

Drowning out the distraction is sometimes enough to manage the situation and keep frustrations in check, and studies have shown that music in the workplace can actually boost motivation and increase productivity. If bandwidth is an issue and you need to block Pandora or other music-streaming sites, radios (with a headphone jack), iPods and CDs can still do the trick.

Communication is key

Create opportunities for regular social interaction among your employees, across all departments. At Petplan, we host a handful of employee outings throughout the year, but we also encourage everyday mingling, with perks like picnic lunches and Friday cupcakes.

Fostering friendships — or at least friendly acquaintance-ships — can help workers manage differing noise preferences themselves. After all, it’s much easier to ask someone you’re friendly with to keep it down than someone you don’t know well.

Practice strategic eavesdropping

At Petplan, being able to hear everything has at times been beneficial. Our marketing department overhears our sales force answering common questions, which has helped shape some of our prospect communications. Our claims manager can hear our “happiness managers” servicing policyholders with pending claims, which has given her better insight into the customer experience.

Never underestimate the power of strategic eavesdropping — mining the melee for useful information can often turn up gold.

As the saying goes, you can’t please all the people all the time, so no matter how you try to accommodate your employees, there are bound to be issues around noise levels in every office. Acknowledging and making allowances for varying preferences can help solve some of the discord, but if all else fails, consider adopting an officewide noise management policy.

As part of an overall approach to providing a positive working environment, an official policy can help make sure everyone’s noise concerns are — ahem — heard.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

Published in Philadelphia

PricewaterhouseCoopers was biding its time. Like many other professional service firms, the recessionary years of 2008 and 2009 kept the company’s leaders conservative in their people strategies, but they were also waiting and ready for growth to resume. Because when it did, they were ready for it.

“During the recession, we were really focused on retaining the people that we had across the firm, expecting that when things started to turn around and client demand increased, that No. 1, we’d want to make sure that we kept as many folks as we could by avoiding reduction in force during the recession — a big investment,” says Jim Henry, who was PwC’s U.S. client and industry leader before becoming the managing partner of the San Francisco market in 2010. “And then No. 2, coming out of it, we knew that we’d need to significantly build up our resources to match client demand.”

As the new managing partner, Henry walked straight into the hiring blitz. In just 24 months, he helped PwC San Francisco grow its head count from 1,000 to 1,400 people, all while retaining a top team in one of the most competitive talent markets in the country — the Bay Area.

Here’s how Henry builds a team of talent that can serve the needs of PwC’s clients.

Expand your search

At PwC, building a top-performing team starts with the hiring process.

Historically, the firm has been a big recruiter of entry-level employees, using local campus hiring as a primary source of new talent. However, as other Bay Area businesses have rebounded, it’s been more of a struggle to attract enough local students to build out the firm’s advisory, assurance and tax business lines.

“To meet the demand, we’ve really expanded our recruiting network to bring in people from schools outside of the Bay Area,” Henry says.

Today, about half of the firm’s entry-level hires come from outside the Bay Area, a significant change from the past. Companywide, PwC has also opened its campus recruiting programs, which used to target only local accounting graduates, to students from a variety of backgrounds — information systems majors, engineering majors and MBAs.

The firm has also put a greater emphasis on acquiring experienced employees from other companies to help broaden its capabilities in strategic and high-growth areas. And again, it’s achieved better results by taking the search national.

“It’s all about us having the right capabilities to serve clients in the areas of their growth strategy, their operation effectiveness, and making sure that they’ve got efficient and effective risk and compliance processes,” Henry says.

“We prefer to find local people, but given that the Bay Area is a really attractive place right now, how vibrant the economy is and that it’s a very desirable place to live, it’s becoming a bit easier to attract people here from out of the area. So we’re really approaching it as a national search in most of our experienced hiring.”

Today, the company utilizes a combination of internal recruiters and outside search firms to identify experienced hires who would be a good fit with the firm. Still, whether these efforts are local or national, the best recruiting leads tend to come from the firm’s existing employees.

“We’ve asked them through our internal communications, and then offer recruiting referral bonuses to help them identify talent that they think would be a good fit in the firm,” Henry says. “As a result, we’ve had more than 40 percent of our experienced hires come through employee referrals. That’s absolutely the best source.”

Offer helping hands

Just because someone makes it through the screening process doesn’t mean that he or she will have immediate success at your company.

As PwC has hired more people in entry-level positions and management roles, Henry has found that many people need help and support as they integrate into their new job and corporate culture.

“It’s critical that both the new people who join the firm and our existing employees have very clear and frequent feedback about how they’re doing and get the support they need to make sure that they’re successful,” Henry says.

One way the company helps employees adapt to the new environment is by plugging new hires into teams where they can quickly understand what’s expected of them. Working in teams allows people to seek guidance and feedback from more experienced peers, who can also serve as coaches and mentors.

“That’s really key to success,” Henry says. “As people are working in teams they better understand how their background and experience fit together with the rest of our people when they are out serving the needs of our clients.”

It also provides opportunities for different teams to learn about each other’s activities. For example, as it began adding more new people from other companies, the San Francisco office began holding a monthly “meet and greet” for its experienced hires.

“They bring their own lunch and meet at our office in a conference room,” Henry says. “It’s an open door thing for whoever is interested and available just to talk about their backgrounds and share some of what we’re doing in PwC.”

New teams are also encouraged to get to know other teams and find ways to complement their efforts if possible. The company’s new national sustainability team recently visited San Francisco to share its goals and learn how it can incorporate them throughout the firm.

“They’re getting their goals and priorities aligned and then trying to understand how they fit into the rest of the firm, someone who might be doing supply chain consulting or tax advice on moving operations,” Henry says. “Just about everything else that we do in serving our clients could have some element of sustainability. And that can be brought into making sure we’re creating the most value for our clients.”

Give people success models

Of course, offering competitive compensation is an easy way for employers to show people value when they bring them on board. However, long-term retention requires that companies show people an ongoing commitment to their financial and professional sucess.

As more people integrate into the company’s culture, Henry and his partners have looked for new ways to connect them to the goals of the business. One way is by helping diverse talent excel in the organization by having each partner sponsor three diverse individuals in the firm who represent strong leadership abilities.

“The sponsorship piece of it originated in our diversity programs, looking at the goal of trying to have the same diverse mix of talent at our leadership levels as we do at the entry levels,” Henry says. “What we find is with all the best work and coaching and development, we still have attrition for different groups at different career points.”

The sponsorship relationship goes beyond coaching. Each partner serves as a personal advocate for their sponsees, whether it’s by creating opportunities for advancement or nurturing their professional growth.

“That’s reflective of the work that we’re doing to make sure that we’re creating opportunities for people who really demonstrate the leadership abilities,” Henry says.

In addition to prompting positive feedback from clients, PwC’s diversity efforts have earned it the No. 1 spot on Inc.’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity in 2012.

Establishing a “milestone rewards” program is another innovative step the firm has taken to show employees their growth potential. The rewards program gives employees special incentives as they rise to different levels within the firm. So a promotion to manager is now accompanied by a large cash payment or an employee who reaches the level of director is rewarded with a brief sabbatical.

“So when you’re promoted, there’s actually something that’s unique to that promotion on top of the normal compensation and reward system,” Henry says. “It’s those kinds of things that change the conversation from comparing dollars to dollars with one job to another to really understanding what people need and value at different points in their career.”

Build a rep

One of the chief reasons that PwC is able to entice experienced hires and new grads to its ranks is its reputation as an enjoyable and attractive workplace. In 2012, the company was named on Fortune’s top 100 best places to work for the eighth consecutive year.

“The really important aspect of people retention to me, aside from all the programs and different focus areas, it’s got to be an environment that people feel connected to, that allows room for innovation and that they can have fun,” Henry says.

Creating an enjoyable workplace requires leaders to be responsive to their people’s needs. Companies that consider options such as flexibility and work-life balance in addition to compensation will have an easier time keeping employees happy long-term.

“Flexibility seems to be the No. 1 issue that comes up as we talk to people in our surveys and direct feedback about areas that they think we can support and help them in their personal and professional career development,” Henry says.

Ask people what they need to be successful in their jobs, and then look for ways to support that, Henry says. PwC has each team work closely with its members to plan for their desired flexibility as they organize client service work. The firm has also adapted certain company policies, such as the flexible summer Fridays program, to account for the way employees want to work.

“Instead of telling people what day we think would be good for them to take off, we’ve now changed it to just say summer ‘flex days,’” Henry says. “Each week everyone should be working with their team, determining what flexibility they would like to have in their work schedule and building that into their team plans. For one person, it might be that they need a Tuesday afternoon off to do something, and for others, it may be a Friday. But that’s got to be something that’s very individual-based.”

Henry knows that another key ingredient in an attractive workplace is an atmosphere where people can let their hair down from time to time. So when it comes to having fun, he is happy to lead by example.

“We’ve done a lot of things here to just put a little humor into work and allow time for people to get together and hear the strategy but also have some celebration and some fun in the process,” he says.

For the firm’s Promotion Day celebration in June, Henry coordinated a celebration at San Francisco’s Port Mason entire office, emceed by an employee who works as a part-time comedian. And when the Giants made it to the World Series several years back, he showed his team that he was more than game for a practical joke.

“Someone got the crazy idea of the Giants wearing beards,” Henry says. “Therefore, I had to have a beard. Even though I didn’t grow one, because I can’t grow a good one, any time I sent out a memo with my picture, my assistant would Photoshop in a beard on it. And then I started wearing fake beards to meetings with our people. We had some real laughs with that.”

In just two years, Henry’s office has added more than 400 new employees, a clear sign that these people strategies are working. But, of course, the number that says the most about the firm’s success is its employee turnover rate.

“Studies generally show that people don’t leave companies, they leave their bosses if they go somewhere else,” Henry says.

“We are at record low numbers right now in San Francisco as well as in PwC for voluntary turnover. That’s maybe the best indication considering, in most cases, people vote with their feet.” ?

How to reach: PricewaterhouseCoopers, (415) 498-5000 or www.pwc.com

The Henry File

Jim Henry

Managing partner

PwC San Francisco

Born: Pontiac, Mich., and grew up in San Diego

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting from San Diego State University

What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job?

Working in an emerging technology company.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

Working out in the morning — after my first cup of coffee!

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? 

I enjoy surfing.

What do you do for fun?

My wife and I entertain a lot at our house, and she is teaching me how to cook.

What are best pieces of advice you’ve gotten in your career?

First, as a leader you’ve got to have a clear vision of what’s important. And by that I’d start with what really are your values. What are you really trying to accomplish from a broader mission perspective? Then agree with your team on a few things that for the next year are most important that you are trying to accomplish. Consistently reinforce that in communication and monitor progress. The other thing I’d say is always be thinking about creating opportunities for people who may be your successor down the road.

Published in Northern California

Gary Rabine has been trying to please people ever since his father questioned whether he was smart enough to go to college.

“He’s always been kind of envious of the college education or threatened by it,” Rabine says of his father. “He didn’t believe in it. The reason I started my business back in 1981 was the fact that I wanted to earn enough money to put myself through college.”

Rabine didn’t make it to college, but it wasn’t due to a lack of intelligence. He had that along with the drive and determination to succeed. Instead of going to school, he ultimately decided to focus on building his business paving driveways, along with the landscaping he did for his father and the patio work he did for a concrete guy he knew.

“I did whatever I could to make a buck,” Rabine says.

As time went on, Rabine’s business kept growing. There were moments when things didn’t go so well too, but Rabine persevered and his company, Rabine Group, began to earn a solid reputation for its paving skills.

“As you make mistakes and experience failure, it’s not a bad thing as long as you learn from those mistakes,” Rabine says. “Early on, I held grudges with my dad. But it’s a waste of time and energy to be teed off for more than a few minutes. It’s a waste to have envy.

“I had friends of mine that always envied the rich guy. Those friends of mine still envy the rich guy and they are not as good of friends with me anymore.”

Rabine didn’t worry about the past and he didn’t dwell on what he didn’t have. The positive attitude helped him take a company that he started with his own blood, sweat and tears and turn it into a $184 million business with about 350 employees.

But it was that idea of trying to please everyone that proved to be one of the biggest hurdles he had to overcome in order to achieve such a high level of success.

Focus your efforts

It was right around 2003 when Rabine took an honest look at his customer base and didn’t like what he was seeing. This was one of those low points for his company, and he wanted to figure out what had caused his business to drop off.

“The rewarding customers were those who owned property that had to maintain it on an annual basis,” Rabine says. “The non-rewarding customers, the ones I was losing money with, were the one-time shots. These were the general contractors who were doing a building in your market for the first time and the last time ever. Or the developers who were trying to nickel and dime you and at the end, only pay you 60 or 70 percent of the job because they didn’t care about the long-term relationship.”

What Rabine began to understand was that not all business was good business. Not all customers were good customers. The reward he got from all his effort wasn’t worth it with customers who didn’t value his strong work ethic and commitment to do the job right.

“Up until that point, I thought I had to work for everybody and anybody as long as they were breathing. I thought I had to do business with them,” Rabine says. “But I began to understand how to fire bad customers and service the heck out of the best customers.”

He gives a lot of credit for this revelation to Victoria Knudson, a facilities manager for a property management company he had done business with in Chicago called Trammel Crow Co.

“She was very tough to work with because she was very demanding,” Rabine says. “But she was very fair. She looks at every property like it’s her own and she cares about them a lot.”

It’s easy to look at a demanding client and see the headaches and stress that often arise in dealing with them. But look beyond that and you’ll probably find a customer who really values your service and is just pushing you to provide the best product or service you can.

When you return that passion, you’re likely to build a relationship that will benefit both you and your client for a long time.

“My thing was to rise to the occasion,” Rabine says. “If I can please this company and this person and I can market for that person with the programs and solutions we develop to make ourselves better for that person, now we can go after the pickiest, choosiest customers there are where there is going to be less competition.”

Knudson changed Rabine’s outlook on achieving success. Working hard had never been a problem. But now he realized that his best plan of action was to find customers who valued his hard work and desired a great result just as much as he did.

“I had to figure out ways to differentiate my business,” Rabine says. “We came up with the slogan, ‘Discover the Difference.’ It pushes our customers to ask the question, ‘What does that mean?’ Here’s how we differentiate with value-added solutions that you won’t find from anyone else.”

Step up your game

The slogan was just a start for Rabine. Now he had to go after those customers who value commitment and hard work and prove that it was more than just talk.

He decided one way he could do that was by guaranteeing not only the end product but the work that went into it.

“We’re the only company we know of in the country that not only warranties the product, the labor and the materials, but we also warranty the engineering specifications on the job at no extra cost,” Rabine says. “If there is a problem with engineering specifications, it’s on our back.”

Rabine hired engineers that had specific expertise in paving. He believes it gives him a crucial edge on his competition. The mindset of being the best and doing whatever it takes to satisfy customers and solve their problems is one that begins with him and has to become contagious to his workforce.

“My conversation with everybody on our team is we don’t accept complacency,” Rabine says. “We want you to challenge everybody around you. We want you to challenge yourself and challenge everybody around you to get better. If you care about the people and care about the company, you’re going to care about challenging old ways. You’re going to care about making a difference and being part of an improved business model.”

It was a dual process of selling his team on the idea of hard work and going after the customers who wanted a company that would apply that hard work toward their needs.

“Most often 20 percent of your customers deliver 80 percent of your revenue and your business,” Rabine says. “So you look at that 20 percent. Who are they? What are their expectations? Why do they like us? How come we are serving them? What do they look at? What do they read every day? How do we become their experts?”

Whatever industry you do business in, you can always do more to connect with your customers. Maybe it’s joining an industry association or becoming more active in one of which you are a member. Make an effort to get to trade shows and keep up with what’s happening out in the field.

“Give back to them and serve them and they are going to serve you,” Rabine says.

As for the customers who do more harm than good, that has a way of working itself out as you spend more time with your valuable customers.

“If you just say, ‘I have to raise my prices to serve this group,’ you’re going to lose a big chunk of those guys just by raising prices because they’re going to be price-driven and not relationship-driven,” Rabine says. “You’ve spun your wheels with these customers that you’re not making a profit with anyway. Take that same energy and use it to market to that target market that appreciates you. I believe that’s when we became much more successful.”

The results of Rabine’s commitment to excellence were crystallized when a friend who happened to see a patch job Rabine’s company was doing in the Chicago area told him about it. The friend didn’t know that Rabine’s company was doing the work, but once he found out, he had to tell Rabine about what he had seen.

“He called me all excited one day,” Rabine says. “One guy had left some pebbles in the curb and gutter. The other guy said, ‘Come on, that’s not world class.’ The first guy said, ‘The rain will wash it away.’ And the other guy said, ‘That’s not world class. Clean it up.’ And sure enough, they cleaned it up and left the job in impeccable shape.

“It’s fun when you get everybody on board and passionate enough to care. If that message doesn’t carry all the way through, we can’t be the same company we are.”

Rabine is realistic and doesn’t expect his employees to completely buy in to the ideals that he preaches every day.

“But if you have 75 to 90 percent buy-in across the board compared to one leader or a couple of leaders saying, ‘This is where we’re going,’ it’s a lot easier,” Rabine says. “Our growth in the last nine years has been about clarity of vision and hiring awesome people who will carry out that vision.”

He says the goal of continuous improvement and of finding a better way to serve those great customers that do business with you is one that should always be a target for you, your team and your business.

“We have strategic planning that goes on for a couple of weeks at the beginning of every year,” Rabine says. “We get feedback from everyone who has new ideas. We love when we have people on our team come up with, ‘Hey, you know what, this works, but this could work better. This really doesn’t work worth a darn. This could really work well if we do it.’

“Those are the people in our business who will continually grow in our company. They are the ones who are consistently thinking outside the box and the ones who are pushing the envelope to change things. That’s who we look for.”

When you find those people and bring them in on what your plan is, your odds of success become so much better.

“If you can get every employee to understand a good day from a bad day, you’re going to be successful because 98 percent of the population wants to go to work and they want to have a good day,” Rabine says. “They want to be successful and they want to create profits for the company they work for.” <<

 

How to reach: Rabine Group, (888) 722-4633 or

www.rabinegroup.com

 

Gary Rabine, CEO, Rabine Group

The Rabine File

Born: North Chicago, Ill.

Rabine on the importance of metrics: Measurements are the key to success. The year I lost money, it was because I didn’t pay attention. When I first started my business and I did a driveway a day and four or five driveways a day, I knew every day, every job within minutes if I was profitable or not, if it was a good job or a bad job, a good day or a bad day.

As I grew, I got complacent. I kind of lost track. I wasn’t keeping track as well as I did early on. Instead of understanding in a couple hours of doing a job if I was successful or not, I wasn’t paying attention. So at the end of an 8-month season, I thought I made money and I lost money. I didn’t have the measurements in place and the dashboards in place that I had early on.

If I had continued to operate like that, today I’d be out of business. If you don’t have clear measurements and dashboards that everybody understands, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Rabine on challenging his people: You’re going to get some people who like being part of it and others who think it’s too much of a challenge. They want to be in a more relaxed environment. You create clarity in the vision and the people who are excited to be on board are passionate and excited and they know what’s coming. It’s a lot better than the alternative where you don’t know the direction, you don’t know what your job is or what your opportunity is and you lack direction.

Takeaways:

Focus on people who want to help you.

Never stop looking at how you can exceed expectations.

Bring your employees in on your plan.

Published in Chicago

Purchasing Power, an e-commerce company that offers a program enabling its clients’ employees to purchase computers and home appliances via payroll deduction, was founded on the belief that people who can’t afford to pay for expensive items up front should have the opportunity to make such purchases responsibly without incurring high interest rates or prolonged payment periods.

Led by President and CEO Richard Carrano, Purchasing Power is in business to give people a better way to buy by providing a responsible alternative to other consumer financing options, but it is the “why” that drives the company. Purchasing Power is committed to its service and its customers.

The company’s phenomenal growth in the past four years has been driven by how it listens to its customers: what’s good for Purchasing Power’s customers is good for the company.

Despite Purchasing Power’s fast growth, all its customers are treated as VIPs with opportunities to receive personal product mailers, promotions and discounts. Customers who enjoy Purchasing Power’s program can share their experiences with their co-workers by participating in the company’s referral program, which rewards every customer who refers new customers to Purchasing Power with a gift card.

Longstanding customers have been extended larger spending availability, personalized policies and white-glove service. And Purchasing Power is in the process of developing a loyalty program to reward more frequent users of its program with additional benefits.

Dave Van Nostrand of Wappinger Falls, N.Y., has been a Purchasing Power customer since 2009 and has placed multiple orders with the company. “I’ve had so many great experiences with Purchasing Power that it’s hard to narrow it down, but one that stands out the most would be when I ordered my son’s HP laptop,” he says. “They were very helpful and informative about the product. They just do everything right. I am a customer for life.”

How to reach: Purchasing Power, (404) 609-5100 or www.purchasingpower.com

Published in Atlanta

Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.

? Roger Ebert, film critic

The 2012 State of St. Louis Workforce Report says that the No. 1 shortcoming of recent hires is the “lack of communication or interpersonal skills.” Also in the top 10 were a “lack of teamwork and collaboration” and “lack of willingness and ability to learn.”

Commissioned by Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College and conducted in partnership with the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, the report seems to suggest that elements of what we often call emotional intelligence are valued but lacking in recent hires.

Why is this important to leaders? There are several reasons.

First, it should give us pause to examine how well we as leaders stack up. Are we exhibiting the qualities we deem lacking in others?

Secondly, it suggests that we should seriously think about whether or not these are the talent deficits we see in our business. If these are the deficits, what will we do about them? How do our attraction efforts need to change? How do our employee development initiatives need to change?

What is emotional intelligence?

In “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, the authors’ definition of “how leaders handle themselves and their relationships” is expanded through the explanation of four domains of emotional intelligence and their associated competencies.

At this point, some leaders may think that while this is interesting, they still just need to hire smart leaders who want to work hard.

Fair enough, as we certainly need to do that. But, the authors suggest that emotional intelligence “contributes 80 to 90 percent of the competencies that distinguish outstanding from average leaders — and sometimes more.”

They admit that this is a “rule of thumb” and a precise measure is dependent on many factors. But we know, as leaders, that we’ve seen great ideas flounder or die because advocates weren’t aware of how they were coming across or hadn’t built up the people capital necessary to support the idea.

Regardless of the ratios involved, the authors are onto something: Emotional intelligence is a significant aspect of leadership.

So, how does one incorporate recognition of the importance of emotional intelligence into leadership development efforts? If a leader needs to develop an aspect of emotional intelligence, is it even possible for that person to change?

What are emotional styles?

Dr. Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley, authors of “The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live — and How You Can Change Them,” suggest that it is possible for people to adapt certain emotional patterns.

Using his 30 years of research in affective neuroscience, Davidson has identified six “emotional styles.”

Resilience: How rapidly or slowly does one recover from adversity?

Outlook: How long does positive emotion persist following a joyful event?

Social Intuition:  How accurate is one in detecting the non-verbal social cues of others?

Context: How well do you regulate your emotions to take your context into account?

Self-Awareness: How aware are you of bodily signals that constitute emotion?

Attention: How focused are you?

Even a cursory review of the six emotional styles will lead one to see connections to important dimensions of emotional intelligence. What if you could help your team members bounce back more quickly from setbacks? What if you could keep a positive attitude that helps keep the troops motivated and promotes creativity? How could you become either more focused or less single-minded? Each point should have relevance to you. Would that be worth some time and effort for you to explore?

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to use the principles of neuroscience to promote better organizational alignment, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400 or andy@dialect.com.

Published in St. Louis
Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:00

Becoming a change monster

Randy Dobbs advocates that CEOs become “change monsters,” a mythical, business beast capable of transforming even the direst business. To rejuvenate and transform a company, you can’t be intimidated by change or what may be necessary to right the ship.

As the former president and CEO of U.S. Investigations Services Inc., Philips Medical Systems North America and GE Capital, IT Solutions, Dobbs, who is now a business leadership consultant, knows what it takes to transform a company.

“My view is that transformational leadership is the key ingredient for organizational success,” Dobbs says. “Most of the businesses that I’ve run have had two very common ingredients — the first one is they are missing their financial portfolio significantly; the second one is they’ve had organizational chaos.”

As the author of “Transformational Leadership: A Blue Print for Real Organization Change,” Dobbs recently spoke at the ASLON Leadership Forum in Cleveland where he discussed advice from his book and his career for best ways CEOs can be transformational leaders.

Find your success factors

To understand how to change your business, you have to know where your success factors lie. The inverted triangle is a great tool for understanding the value of the customer and how your company serves them.

“When I go in to talk to CEOs of $100 million, $500 million or $25 million companies, the first thing I ask them is, ‘What are your success factors in your business? What are your business objectives?’” Dobbs says. “They say, ‘Well, I want to grow revenue 10 percent this year. I want EBIDTA to grow faster than my revenue. I want to get my growth’s margin up three points.’

“I look at them and say, ‘That’s not a business objective. That’s an outcome.’ Your success factors in your business are those things you want to do to drive that outcome. It could be that I want to get premium price for my product in the market. I want to grow my market share, and I want to take a share within my geography. I want to go into adjacent markets. I want to leverage my existing assets. Those are success factors.”

When you define what that success factor is, you then have to look at your strategy for accomplishing that goal.

“Even if businesses have a success factor, what I find is they don’t have strategy,” he says. “At GE, we used to have five-year plans for strategy. Jack [Welch] came in and blew that up. He said, ‘Don’t have a strategy more than 18 months.’ The world changes too much in 18 months. As every business designs and defines its success factors, it needs to have an 18- to 24-month strategy.”

If you identify your success factors and develop the right strategy, you should find gaps within your business.

“There should be a gap between where you were and the strategy it takes to get there,” he says. “If you don’t have a gap when you get through that process, then you don’t have a good plan. You’re doing something that you really haven’t defined well enough in your business solution.”

Drive change

To close this gap you have to use the sides of the inverted triangle — people and processes. Dobbs uses Southwest Airlines as an example to prove his point.

“They were trying to be the low-cost provider in air transportation and they were trying to be the fastest and the simplest,” he says. “They built a strategy that said, ‘We’ll have a spoke and a hub, we’ll use the same airlines, we’ll be very quick with maintenance, we’ll have a quick turnaround time, and we won’t assign seats.’

“With the right processes and the right people and through all this financial turmoil, they’re the only airline to remain profitable. They had good business success factors, they had a great strategy and they continue to work on processes and executing.”

Think about this relative to your business. This is where you have to be a change monster in order to truly make transformation happen.

“To close the gap you have to be a change monster, and that’s really what transformation is all about,” he says. “A good transformational leader is somebody that has overcome one failure and learned, one failure and learned and kept moving through life.”

You have to get people to a comfort level where if you’re going to transform, they believe in the leader to do the right thing.

“What really drives transformational leadership is that ability to never give up and to see where you’re going,” Dobbs says.

“And be that leader and take the organization there when everybody is standing against you and saying that it can’t be done and you have the belief that it can and you keep driving to that point and keep having that vision and keep overcoming those failures.”

Create a transformational environment

Dobbs notes that five key things are important to create a transformational leadership environment.

“No. 1 is building a culture of change,” Dobbs says. “Businesses fail for two reasons: They fail early on because they run out of cash or they fail long-term because of their inability to change. No. 2, you’ve got to improve and grow the spirit of the team or the esprit de corps.

“No. 3, you have to have very strong communications. No one wants to hear about what happened yesterday. They want to hear about where we were and where we’re going.

“No. 4 is you have to change the financial results. You can be a great speaker, you can build a great team, you can have a wonderful environment of change, but at the end of the day, the scoreboard is going to tell the real story about you and that’s how you’re going to get evaluated.

“The last thing is you’ve got to build a cadre of transformational leaders who can run that business when you’re gone.”

Building a culture of change starts with recognizing your current culture and communicating how you plan to change its structure and character.

“One of the critical things is to create a shared need,” he says. “That’s why communication is so important. Most of the people in your organization, until you explain to them why you need to change, don’t get it. When they start to get it, they’re afraid of it.

“You have to continually develop that movie in your head where this business is going. Know where you’re going to be in 18 months and start selling it every day. You have to keep selling it and selling it and selling it until, all of a sudden, people just get it.”

Driving transformation starts with people and processes on top of a vision, mission and supporting strategies. Being a change monster will help you close the gap of where you want to go.

“As a transformational leader you wear a lot of hats,” Dobbs says. “At the end of the day, your primary job as a transformational leader is to be a change agent. You are that change monster and that’s how people see you if you really want to transform.

“For me, there is no better feeling in the world for a true leader than to really try to change and see a business transform and see the people in it be successful and then see the financial results be successful.”

How to reach: Randy Dobbs, www.dobbsleadership.com or rdobbs3@me.com

Published in Cleveland
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