Columbus (2544)

Monday, 30 September 2013 20:00

World Entrepreneur of the Year: Overcoming Challenges

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Monte Carlo has seen a lot of risk takers in its day, but not many have been like those who attended the recent EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year conference. These risk takers may use the term “gamble” every now and then, but they more often use their willingness to take a risk as a way to overcome the challenges of running a business.

The collection of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs at the conference were innovators, futurists, turnaround specialists and problem solvers.

From this highly qualified group of leaders comes some quality insights into rising above the challenges that could have blocked the success they envisioned for themselves and their companies. ●

 

“We have a phrase: ‘Market leaders need to meet market innovators.’ It’s a ‘two-fer’ because the innovators often need to have partnerships with the market leaders in order to really scale their companies. That could be as simple as a distribution agreement. It could be joint R&D. It could be capital. It could be a variety of things that form a partnership.

Likewise, if you think of firms like Procter & Gamble that have had edicts from the top that half of their innovation will come from outside the ivory tower, then those are the kinds of opportunities that we hope to be able to continue to bring.

Go and find those innovators … and likewise for the innovators, make sure your reach out and look for strategic partnerships that help your business grow.”

Bryan Pearce, Americas Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year and Venture Capital Advisory Group, EY

 

“Cost pressures are always high. What we need to make sure we do is continue to innovate our audit services and all our services to make sure we make maximum use of technology. We also need to make sure we take advantage of both time zone arbitrage and cost arbitrage where talent zones are present.”

Jim Turley, retired global chairman and CEO, EY

 

“The drive to always want to get better and do more is what keeps me going. It’s hard for me to turn it off and say, ‘That’s great.’ I’m always thinking about tomorrow. You can’t take things for granted in our business.”

Corey Shapoff, president and founder, SME Entertainment Group

 

“When you have a monopoly, it slows innovation. It reduces competition and is generally not good for the market. Once you have an open Internet with no government operating on top of it, then I’m very optimistic about humanity when it comes to producing things.”

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

 

“As a startup you go to the specialty stores first. That’s how you start and you grow and once you reach a certain level, then you go to the big retailers.

I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go to the big retailers and be in the regular dairy isle. That was a crazy idea and nobody thought that would go, but at least we tried. When we tried, we convinced one retailer in New York. The result from that was we were able to expand to a couple of other retailers. After the second or third customer that we had success with for our yogurt, I knew it wasn’t going to be about selling, it was about making enough.”

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and CEO, Chobani Inc., Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 United States, 2013 World Entrepreneur Of The Year

 

“In our country, our main challenges are new regulations and new financial reforms that we have to comply with. We are getting together for meetings inside the bank in different areas to study each one of the reforms.

Also at the Association of Banking Industry in Mexico, we have an association of the 44 authorized banks where we get together in different commissions to make sure that we can modify some of the new policies that are going to come out later this year.”

Lorenzo Barrera Segovia, founder and CEO, Banco BASE, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Mexico

 

“One of the main challenges is how to train the talent we have in Latin America. Latin America has 600 million people and 1 million IT workers. The next step is to train more people and convince people to adopt technology as a career. If you provide the proper entrepreneurial environment to that, maybe the next Google or Facebook can come from Latin America.”

Martin Migoya, CEO, Globant, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Argentina

 

“One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is trying to figure out what the impact of the natural gas/shale gas revolution is going to have on us. Suddenly there is cheap natural gas, which is going to be more challenging for renewable projects to compete with. Rather than looking at it as an either-or world, you have to look at how the two technologies can work together.”

Jim Davis, president, Chevron Energy Solutions

 

“Zonamerica is a different kind of company, a business and technology park. But in general, we have a financial sector, we have 60 banks, a wealth of private funds, we have call centers, cell services and headquarters for companies that want to develop business in the region. The problem is all these companies require very qualified personnel. Our core purpose is to attract the best human resources to produce or offer the product. So we created a database and we have, at this moment, more than 24,000 people registered. Then these companies, according to the needs they have, can see and select the personnel they want. And then we also have schools to teach skills to prepare people for these kinds of employment.”

Orlando Dovat, founder and CEO, Zonamerica, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Uruguay

 

“Zonamerica is a different kind of company, a business and technology park. But in general, we have a financial sector, we have 60 banks, a wealth of private funds, we have call centers, cell services and headquarters for companies that want to develop business in the region. The problem is all these companies require very qualified personnel. Our core purpose is to attract the best human resources to produce or offer the product. So we created a database and we have, at this moment, more than 24,000 people registered. Then these companies, according to the needs they have, can see and select the personnel they want. And then we also have schools to teach skills to prepare people for these kinds of employment.”

Orlando Dovat, founder and CEO, Zonamerica, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Uruguay

 

“Probably the most difficult cost control challenge is managing staff salary software. There is a specific reason for that within our company — we are going through a system conversion, so when we acquire practices, they each have their different practice management software. Some are fully computerized; some are not computerized at all. We at one point had 18 different systems within our company. We have converted all of our 107 locations onto one platform this year, so with training and obviously the unknowns that occur with changing people's worlds by changing their operational platform, that's our biggest challenge this year. Having said that, that will allow us to create a line of central efficiencies in the coming years.”

Dr. Alan Ulsifer, CEO, president and chair, FYidoctors, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Canada

 

Monday, 30 September 2013 08:00

Understanding your ‘natural instincts’

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The animal kingdom has long been instrumental in teaching children about appropriate behavior.

A rabbit named Peter educated us on the importance of conflict resolution. For better or worse, Curious George was habitually inquisitive and, in separate incidents, three bears and three pigs taught us the importance of home security.

But despite a literary reputation as “big” and “bad,” according to Jack Hanna, “A wolf will feed the sick, the old and the young first.”

That’s a pretty impressive character trait for a creature so often maligned by the human race. Over the years, however, we’ve learned to expect Hanna to set the record straight on an important part of our world that most of us will never experience firsthand.

 

Following the footsteps of a legend

Inspired by wildlife pioneer Marlin Perkins, Hanna parlayed a fascination with animals and a position leading the Columbus Zoo into a television empire spanning 30 years. He’s had countless TV appearances on popular shows such as “Good Morning America” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” In addition, he currently helms two television programs, “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” and “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”

Not surprisingly, Hanna’s high regard for the animal population is also reflected in his view of the public’s acceptance of the animal kingdom: “Most people who say they don’t like animals don’t like people much either.”

Phil Beuth, former president of “Good Morning America,” observes, “With Jack, what you see is what you get — he’s a genuine gentleman.”

Hanna has set a simple benchmark for appropriate professional behavior, “I operate by The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Of course, humans are animals too — complete with instincts, genetic predispositions, unique skill sets and laws to keep us from acting like predatory animals. Yet, prey we do — leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers, foreclosures, etc.

 

Comparing workforces of nature

When asked about lessons human worker bees can glean from the animal kingdom, Hanna enthusiastically says, “Just look at ants and termites. They each have specific jobs to do.” By performing specific tasks every day, these creatures work solely to serve the greater good — ostensibly without complaining.

Animals = 1 Humans = 0

Hanna also points to an innate respect in the wild that does not always translate into the land of the bipeds: “The animal world does not waste food and animals do not abuse their own children. For example, gorillas may fight but they still work together.”

Working through issues to achieve top performance is apparently part of the natural order of things. It’s about survival. As the concept of business survival has never been more prominent, shouldn’t cooperation receive equal billing?

Animals = 2 Humans = 0

Though Hanna also marvels at the mysteries behind the instinctual and highly effective way animals communicate, many in the office marvel at some people’s overwhelming lack of communication skills.

Animals = 3 Humans = 0

Specifically, according to Hanna, “The elephant is one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.”

So yes, it seems that without the benefit of an iPhone, Twitter or Outlook, an elephant truly never forgets.

Time to hire me an elephant. The Laws of Nature win every time. ●

 

Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. For more information, visit randallkennethjones.com.

Twitter: @randallkjones

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mindzoo

https://www.facebook.com/RediscoverCourtesy

LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1cQ7A5J

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/randallkennethjones - http://bit.ly/17G550A

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A marketing epidemic, to put it mildly, has been impacting most businesses — and it’s time to think about keeping your message simple if you haven’t already done so.

The roots of this epidemic can be traced back to two events.

First, during the economic fall of 2008, as businesses looked for ways to preserve revenue streams, companies hunkered down and focused on sales to preserve existing customers. Many cutoff or significantly reduced marketing budgets, and others shifted to digital media as a “low-cost alternative.”

The second event was the rapid spread of social media and the skyrocketing use of smartphones and tablets, which provide instant access to relationships, information and communication.

The social media craze and businesses’ desire to market on the cheap led companies to flood the marketing channels with content. Sales sheets, photos, videos, web pages — companies were suddenly all things to all people because they could push content to digital channels for “free.”

The problem — our marketing channels are now very noisy. As consumers of information, we respond to this noise with limited attention spans. The result — companies have sent confusing messages to the marketplace and people aren’t listening.

This current epidemic of marketing noise distributed across all channels leads to a common marketing need for all businesses — simplification.

 

Keeping it simple

So how do you achieve message simplification? It all ties back to the business. Here are seven steps to help get you started:

1. Identify three to four key business objectives for the next two years. Do you want regional growth or growth in a new industry? Do you want to sell more to existing customers?

2. Prioritize your objectives by placing dollars or number of opportunities next to them. This will help you focus on the most important areas.

3. Brainstorm a list of marketing tactics that can help you achieve each objective. Can you generate more leads from trade shows, your website, your existing customer list? What tactics do you need to adopt?

4. Write a succinct summary, or “elevator pitch.” This should be one to three sentences on how you benefit the people you are targeting in your objectives.

5. Compare your elevator pitch to your marketing tactics and existing materials. Review your website, brochures, email newsletter, social media accounts, videos, trade show collateral, etc. Notice how many “extra” things you say in an effort to cover all your bases.

6. Rework your message. Focus on the audiences for your key objectives. Identify the benefits for these audiences. Your marketing message should speak directly to these audiences so they can understand your value and usefulness to them.

7. Prioritize your marketing tactics. It’s tempting to be trendy and market on social media or through video, just remember to consider which tactics will best reach your audiences. You don’t need to be in every marketing channel, just the ones where your customers and prospects will hear you.

 

Finally, once you’ve simplified your message, stick to it! It is important so that people understand the benefits and value that you deliver. While it might seem repetitive to you, your audience will appreciate the clarity and with time, will remember what your business does best. ●

 

Kristy Amy is director of marketing strategy for SBN Interactive. Reach her at mailto:kamy@sbninteractive.com or (440) 250-7011.

Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.

If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.

The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.

But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.

Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.

Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.

You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.

At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.

No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.

If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●

Most weeks I get on a plane and attempt to have an out-of-body experience to deal with all the hassles of flying as I travel from point A to point B. When flying, I have a few simple rules. One, I almost never eat the food. Two, I attempt to talk to no one other than obligatory hellos. Three, I never argue with or say a cross word to flight attendants.

One other very important practice I follow on land, sea and especially in the air is that I constantly scan my surroundings for potential troubles and new ideas.

On a recent flight, upon boarding, I quietly and obediently proceeded to my assigned seat.

As I began to sit down, a gentleman asked if I would mind trading seats with him so that he could sit next to his wife. Like most seasoned travelers I try to accommodate reasonable requests. In this case it seemed a no-brainer to agree to move.

 

Notice the details

As I started to settle in and fasten my seat belt I noted that my new seatmate was very hot. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I mean she seemed to be flushed and radiating heat, ostensibly from a high fever. I’m thinking, this is not good, plus it proves the age-old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

In the next minute I had an epiphany, which happens frequently as I believe that many problems come disguised as opportunities.

I rang the call button and, when approached, asked the cabin attendant to please bring me two cloth napkins. I stated that the purpose was to construct a makeshift face mask by tying the two pieces together to prevent possibly contracting some dreaded disease.

I feared that my intentions could be misinterpreted if I were to don a mask without an explanation; this could cause a well-meaning passenger to drag me to the floor thinking I had nefarious motives.

The stewardess smiled, nodding approvingly of my plan. She then summoned all her co-attendants to my seat and proceeded to whisper what I was attempting. Otherwise, she explained, they, too, could misunderstand my appearance and cause me bodily harm.

As founder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail and marketing chain, I’m always looking for that next special something to share with my team. Therefore, while burying my now masked face in a newspaper so as not to frighten or offend the sick seatmate, I began dictating a memo to my merchandise product group proudly asserting that I just had another “aha!” moment, for which I am well-known, among my colleagues. For full disclosure, however, I am sometimes known for being a bit “out there” on occasion — but no one bats a thousand.

 

Turn an idea into a product

This particular predicament gave me the idea to develop a product kit that we could sell to weary travelers in our stores and in airports. I suggested a handful of complementary products, including a mask, a disinfectant spray and, if all else fails, relief remedies. I also noted that it probably would be prudent to include a cigarette pack-type “Black Box” warning stating that the mask is not what some suspicious flyers might think, but instead it’s for prevention of disease only. I even proposed we market these kits directly to the airlines to dispense as an emergency prophylactic for passengers exposed to airborne (pun intended) pathogens.

 

Fleeting thoughts have value

A key role for business leaders is teaching a management team to use fleeting thoughts as a springboard, to pair common problems with sometimes-simple solutions.

Just because it is a simple fix, though, doesn’t mean the idea couldn’t be a lucrative breakthrough.

When something sparks an idea it needs to be taken to the next level before being pooh-poohed. Most likely the vast majority of these inspirations won’t see the light of day, but that’s OK. Just think — what if one transient idea translates into the next Post-it Notes, Kleenex or bottled water?

The next time you sit by a masked man on a plane, it most likely won’t be the Lone Ranger. Instead, you might be witnessing the incubation of the next best thing since sliced bread. ●

 

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a study that stated premiums available on state-based health insurance exchanges would be lower than expected. In Ohio, rates cited were even lower than the national average, with costs for the second-lowest silver tier plan at $249 compared to $320 nationally.

However, Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor had earlier announced that individual premiums were expected to increase by 41 percent.

Smart Business spoke with William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent, about whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) will succeed in driving down health insurance costs.

Do the rates cited in the Kaiser study mean costs are going down?

Possibly for a couple of years — we’ve still not seen the community rating prices for small group coverage, and just maybe the lowest prices were illustrated in the Kaiser study. The rates indicate a very low and attractive premium structure. It’s unlikely these rates will be sustainable after 2016 because carriers don’t know the real cost of insuring this group yet.

In addition, the paper didn’t address complex tax implications for both the company and employees that must be considered for total cost. For example, the new taxes on insurance premiums paid by carriers, but collected from employers, are a protection for the carriers. The tax will be set aside to help carriers offset the real cost of coverage for the first two years. After that, the exchange carriers will be on their own, with no government subsidy.

What impact will these rates have on businesses and their health care plans?

One of the leading actuarial firms, Milliman, has an analysis tool to help any company dig through the ‘play or pay’ considerations. Having completed more than 250 separate analyses, Milliman reported it made sense to ‘pay’ for only two of those companies. However, it’s difficult to access the individual total costs relative to plan designs.
 
What do the delays mean for 2014?

This is a practice year for everyone; 2014 is a penalty-free zone. With the rollback in enforcing penalties and a delay in reporting incomes for the affordability test, people think they are off the hook regarding ACA requirements. But everything else is going forward, including a big increase in taxes.

Unfortunately, the early testing on the exchange, scheduled for early September, was delayed. The Department of Health and Human Services also delayed the deadline to sign final agreements on health plans that will be available to consumers on the exchanges, which might have occurred because some insurers have been hesitant to sign up.

Many people anticipate there may be massive technology glitches relative to the exchanges, including a brewing concern in the technology arena about confidentiality and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance. The system is going to be large and unwieldy.

Who is going to buy insurance from the exchanges?

Even with the individual mandate — which still could be delayed by the government — beginning next year, most people will not be making changes regarding their health care, whether they have insurance or not. If you haven’t purchased coverage because you’re young and invincible, you’re not going to purchase coverage now with minimal individual mandate penalties in the first year.

The people who will be truly interested in participating are the most needy — those who cannot afford other coverage because they are ill and not working.

As for businesses, depending on the average income per worker, some might drop plans and let employees go to the exchanges. Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees will not be penalized when penalties are assessed in 2015. So, they could drop coverage, give everyone a $4,000 raise and let employees buy their own insurance. But companies need to remember that giving a raise to buy exchange coverage causes everyone’s taxable income to increase. Therefore, the employee pays more in taxes, the company pays more in taxes and the increase might bump income over the subsidy limits.

It’s still very difficult to predict what exactly is going to happen because there are so many unknowns.

William F. Hutter is CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or bhutter@sequent.biz.

Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 00:00

SeibertKeck: Insurance marketing 101

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Do you hire multiple agents for every renewal and shop for the lowest price? Do you spend countless hours each year reviewing the same business information with several agents? If you answered yes, you may be making simple insurance marketing mistakes.

“Business owners need to have a strategic plan for marketing insurance, part of the plan is a defined marketing and renewal process,” says Ryan Clugston, a client advisor at SeibertKeck.

Smart Business spoke with Clugston about common misperceptions regarding the insurance renewal process and how to make better use of your time and resources.

Why not purchase the policy with the lowest price?

Saving money may seem great, but it also could mean gaps in coverage. Every carrier’s policy differs in language and coverage offerings. The variables in the policy language and how the coverage is structured will greatly influence the cost of the policy. Sometimes the least costly policy has the right coverage, but not always.

Many times the least expensive policy has more constrictive language, including warranties that the insured must adhere to for coverage to respond in the event of a claim, such as having certificates of insurance for all subcontractors or that claims notifications have to be made within a specific time period for coverage to be provided. There are a number of other examples where a policy may restrict coverage. These can be removed or adjusted, for a charge, which would vastly improve the claims experience.

Always review the policy to make sure it is complete before switching based on price.

Should you shop insurance companies every year?

In the long run, businesses that shop their insurance every year looking to beat down their cost of insurance are doing themselves a disservice. When an underwriter sees the same submission to quote a business, year after year, from multiple agents, the underwriter will become less interested in quoting it. They assume that if they do write the insurance, they have a great opportunity to lose it the following year because it will be marketed again. It is beneficial to build a relationship with your agent and carrier; this allows them to get to know your business and business practices and can assist at the time of a claim or renewal.

Should you have multiple agents quote your insurance?

You should not use more than two agents to quote your insurance at any one time. When you have three or more agents involved in the quoting process, the amount of time the business owner and staff has to commit to answering underwriting questions, allowing time for loss control visits, etc., becomes overwhelming. By limiting yourself to two agencies to quote your insurance the process should be more manageable and effective. It is helpful to have a market selection between the agents, this helps streamline the quote process.

How can you find a knowledgeable agent?

Industry associations sometimes endorse an agency because of their familiarity with the industry. Sometimes the agency has a program specific to that industry as well.

Also, reach out to people you trust, such as your industry peers or another service provider like your banker, attorney, accountant or payroll provider.

Can I keep my current carrier, but change agents?

Business owners may wish to do a request for services (RFS) to determine who they want to represent their insurance needs. An RFS does not involve the marketing of your insurance. It is a process where the business owner may learn of the services and capabilities of multiple insurance agencies. Upon completion, the business owner will make their choice of agency and assign the policies to them to review, adjust, market and service.

Avoiding common misconceptions of the insurance renewal process can greatly reduce time, costs, and stress spent and created at your annual insurance renewal. Being strategic about selecting your agent and quoting your insurance can help you build a strong insurance team around your business, ensure the correct coverage is in place and provide competitive marketplace pricing.

Ryan Clugston is a client advisor at SeibertKeck, Best Hoovler McTeague. Reach him at (614) 246-7475 or rclugston@seibertkeck.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck

Lean and Six Sigma were developed for manufacturing, but are gaining momentum within service industries.

“Both Lean and Six Sigma have been used almost exclusively in manufacturing. Now you’ll see black belts in all fields, from IT to financial services to health care,” says Chris Liebtag, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt with Rea & Associates.

Smart Business spoke with Liebtag about Lean Six Sigma, a program that melds the two disciplines for maximum benefit.

What are the origins of Lean and Six Sigma?

Six Sigma originated at Motorola, but its roots can be traced through the Quality Circle Movement of the ’70s to the Total Quality Management teaching of the ’50s. It is a project-based methodology seeking quality and consistency. Lean, on the other hand, has a very complete toolkit and is mostly concerned with identifying and eliminating waste or non-value-added steps.

Lean Six Sigma combines the basic tenants of both to look at ways to remove non-value-added steps in a process and improve quality.

What types of businesses can be improved by implementing Lean Six Sigma?

It’s been very strong in health care and financial services. An emergency room might want to look at the process of admitting patients, or a medical billing organization that sends bills to multiple entities might want to determine how long it takes and ways to accelerate the process.

There must always be a business rationale; clients define the value and you’re looking to satisfy their needs and remove wasteful steps.

Should everyone in the company be trained?

It’s important to at least be exposed to the concepts. It does involve a cultural change within an organization, so implementation will require everyone to adopt the mindset of always looking for ways to continuously improve. Select employees should be trained as facilitators, but everyone should be thinking about how to better serve clients.

The results likely will be increased customer satisfaction, an enhanced business reputation and a competitive advantage. If you can deliver your product or service faster than competitors at a higher quality or even a lower price because of operational efficiency, it provides an enormous advantage.

Does that require Lean Six Sigma?

Efficiency and customer satisfaction initiatives can be tackled without Lean and Six Sigma. However, these techniques have been proven to be very effective when it comes to controlling costs and improving satisfaction among clients and employees. Employees are empowered to better their work environment, which eliminates turnover and produces a happier workforce. In turn, that leads to improved customer satisfaction. Lean Six Sigma provides a framework to generate these gains.

Does Lean Six Sigma need to be adjusted to fit the company?

The most successful projects are tailored specifically to address industry- or business-specific circumstances. The 30,000-foot view concepts and methodologies can be applied almost universally — define a problem, measure the variety of steps within that problem or process, and then analyze and improve it. However, the best results are produced by combining the tools and methods of Lean and Six Sigma with industry expertise. That industry expertise component also helps generate buy-in among employees.

How important is it to set goals for improvement?

You should always start with the end in mind, even if that goal might not be immediately achievable. If you want to reduce costs by 10 percent, process changes are designed to produce that result. You might only get to 8 percent — that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a worthwhile enterprise, it just presents an opportunity to continually improve toward that goal.

The idea behind Lean Six Sigma is continuous improvement. It isn’t designed to be a ‘one-and-done’ initiative. It’s a change in culture whereby employees embrace the mindset that the business needs to get a little better each year and sustain the gains. Lean Six Sigma is more than a technique or a process, it’s a discipline and approach to running your business.

Chris Liebtag is a Lean Six Sigma black belt at Rea & Associates. Reach him at (614) 923-6586 or chris.liebtag@reacpa.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Rea & Associates

Technologies such as smartphone apps offer quick access to information, which leads to better decision-making. But technological improvements are only part of a solution to any given problem.

“You don’t start by simply adopting technology. You start by seeking a solution to a problem,” says Keith Stump, vice president of sales at Blue Technologies.

For example, the cost of labor is a business’s most significant expense. The more a company can influence what its employees do, how they do it and the time it takes, the more productive and cost-effective the business becomes, he says. And often technology can help achieve that goal.

Smart Business spoke with Stump about coupling technology and processes to create efficiency.

How do process improvements and technological upgrades intertwine?

Consider the problem you’re trying to fix, and then examine all aspects of the surrounding process to understand it. You should start to see how everything fits together, and if there’s a better solution. For instance, you may have excellent hardware for copying, printing and faxing, but the software managing the information and devices is in need of an upgrade.

Attack the problem piece by piece. Determine your outcome and develop a strategy to work toward that goal. There must be milestones along the way, as well as consistent, structured reviews.

How might technology boost productivity?

It’s common for some technology to be well structured within the business. For example, a company has specific IT help desk procedures, remote monitoring and data backup. However, the print management could be unstructured. Employees may be buying printer supplies from several stores. There’s no typical process for toner delivery. Support comes in a variety of fashions.

Nationally, on average, 19 percent of service calls to internal help desks are related to printers. If your IT department is supporting printers, it means high-paid people are doing a low-paid activity, which isn’t cost-effective. With the right service provider, software can automate your print management with supply alerts and service triggers. Now, toner is automatically shipped. If there’s a problem, the machine notifies the provider to send a repairperson.

How can companies better integrate mobile devices?

Today, there’s a greater proliferation of tablets and other mobile devices in the workplace, especially for employees operating in the field or at multiple locations. However, it’s still necessary to print and scan documents. There are free, downloadable apps that enable mobile devices to automatically sync with the multi-functional scanner/printer as soon as the device is brought into the facility.

What can be done to improve document management?

There are software applications that allow users to search for business documents, similar to how information from the Web can be pulled up through a search engine.

The information is housed within an infrastructure, and a software application allows you to easily access business documents, such as contracts, packing lists, invoices, copies of checks, etc. It’s a huge advantage in terms of speed and efficiency.

Also, when scanning, it’s important that everything ends up in the right place, accessible to the right people. With auto-capture software on multi-functional devices, an employee hits a speed dial button and the machine routes the scan to the appropriate storage place. Documents are more accessible and secure with fewer errors.

What is key to successful change?

Business technology — and the processes it improves — touches many areas. All employees must embrace changes that are implemented to enhance productivity, whether in the IT infrastructure and support, hardware or software applications. Designate champions within your staff to help employees understand why change is necessary. Having C-level support and a well-designed rollout is critical.

Buying hardware, software or managed services is a part of doing business. But the best companies ensure each purchase decision starts with an effort to improve processes and create cost efficiencies.

Keith Stump is vice president of sales at Blue Technologies. Reach him at (216) 271-4800 or kstump@btohio.com.

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More companies are using non-competition agreements as a means of protecting business interests when employees leave.

“Historically, the agreements in the employment context were narrowly focused on people exposed to technological secrets, or very high-level executives. It’s become more common to have contracts with employees who aren’t in the control group, such as salespeople,” says Robert Cohen, a director at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter.

However, there are legal problems that arise, and courts have held that non-competition restrictions must be reasonable and exist for the purpose of protecting the business by ensuring fair competition.

Smart Business spoke with Cohen about when non-competition agreements make sense and what to incorporate in the language to avoid legal complications.

When are non-competition agreements being used in the employment context?

One example is an agreement that is used to protect confidential information in the employment context and prevent certain post-employment competition. Such an agreement typically spells-out that the employee will be exposed to confidential, proprietary information, and he or she agrees to only use that information to the benefit of the company. These restrictions are typically accompanied by a more direct restriction in the form of a non-competition covenant stating that the person cannot work in the industry for one year, or within a certain geographic radius of their work location, or that he or she cannot perform certain services for the employer’s clients.

How restrictive can companies be?

The general answer, based on Ohio Supreme Court decisions, is that agreements are enforced only if they are reasonable. Obviously the concept of reasonableness is a very general one. A test of reasonableness takes into consideration several factors, including:

  • Temporal and geographic restrictions.
  • Whether the employee represents the sole company contact with a customer.
  • Whether the employee possesses confidential information or trade secrets.
  • Whether the covenant seeks to eliminate unfair or merely ordinary competition.
  • Whether the restriction serves to bar the employee’s sole means of support.
  • Whether the talent the employer seeks to suppress was actually developed during the period of employment with the former employer.
  • Whether the forbidden employment is incidental to the main employment.

These factors don’t serve as a checklist, they don’t apply in all cases and they are not weighted equally. The overriding law is that non-competition restrictions are enforceable so long as they preclude unfair competition, but are not acceptable if they are being used to eliminate ordinary competition.

Court decisions vary regarding what is reasonable. There are decisions upholding competitive employment and customer restrictions for time periods of six months to five years. But there are also court decisions holding that restrictions of this same time range are not reasonable on the facts of particular cases. Ohio law also allows the court to shorten the time period set forth in the non-competition restriction to one the court believes is more reasonable.

What is your advice as to whether companies should have non-competition agreements?

Focus on whether either of the following is occurring in the particular business:

  • Is the company investing time and money to train employees or establish relationships between those employees and the company’s customers?
  • Is the company exposing its employees to confidential or trade secret information?

In those cases, the company has an interest in protecting its investment from being misappropriated to the competition.

If you’re going to have a non-competition agreement, include a question on the employment application asking if the person is willing to enter into such an agreement. This allows potential employees to consider the restrictions before committing to the employment relationship.

Narrowly tailor the agreement to protect your legitimate business interests. For example, geographic restrictions should be limited to your market area, or in some cases to the particular area where the employee functions.

Robert Cohen is a director at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter Co., L.P.A. Reach him at (614) 462-5492 or rcohen@keglerbrown.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter