Deborah Garofalo

Thursday, 26 July 2001 20:00

Transition management

One of the most difficult tasks a business owner faces is that of dissolving a business relationship with employees, whether through layoffs, firings or corporate reorganization.

To the employee, the value of his or her job reaches beyond the paycheck. So, too, does the effect of the job loss.

But losing a job doesn't have to be synonymous with losing dignity and self-esteem, says Dennis Lekan, president of Ratliff, Taylor and Lekan Inc. When done properly, he says the process can be a smooth one that causes little or no disruption in the workplace. Employing the proper methods can also result in a less volatile situation with the ex-employee, who will be ready to tackle the task of finding a new job.

In 1995, Lekan founded Lekan and Associates. Earlier this year, he merged with Ratliff and Taylor and established corporate headquarters in Independence, with offices in Rocky River, Fairlawn, Hudson and Willoughby Hills. Twenty associates serve the Greater Cleveland area with executive retain searches, outplacement and organizational development counseling.

Lekan built his company around understanding human nature while individualizing services to meet the needs of the job seeker and work provider. He has 20 years experience in staffing and earned his doctorate from Columbia University, where his dissertation was on people's reactions to job loss and how they cope with and develop from it.

In his study, Lekan concludes that reactions are much better if employees feel they have some control, are treated with dignity and respect, and management provides reasons for the termination.

The transition in a job loss situation, however, lies mainly with the balance the employee has in his or her life. Some have the unhealthy attitude that the job is their identity, and their entire ego hangs on their work.

''Think of any transition,'' Lekan says. ''No matter how tragic, the ones that cope with job loss the best are the healthiest ones.''

Leave the ego at the door
While professions are important and provide a sense of accomplishment, intellectual stimulation and personal growth, Lekan says one's ego should not be solely dependent upon one's job.

But when it is, and the company severs ties, the terminating manager can benefit by understanding the employee's balance and being prepared.

Few managers avoid involvement in some type of termination process in the course of their careers. But limited practice at it results in anxiety, nervousness and errors. Lekan stresses the importance of training programs that teach safeguards against actions harmful to the company as a result of statements made during the process.

Business leaders and human resources professionals dealing with layoffs, downsizing and terminations know the stress created on a business as well as on the individual when displacement occurs. To help minimize environmental disruptions with other employees, as well as make the task as painless as possible for the employee, the terminating manager needs to keep in mind that each situation is unique because the problems each individual has are unique.

For example, has there been a recent death in the family or a divorce? Is the employee the mother of small children or the sole provider?

Lekan explains the importance of being cognizant of what is occurring in the employee's life so help can be made available if other burdens make him or her overly sensitive or overly stressed. Being prepared with phone numbers for the Employee Assistance Program or even a specific social worker is helpful. And, he says, be ready with the name and number of the outplacement agency if one is provided. In some instances, managers may request an outplacement counselor be on site to deal with initial reactions and issues.

''You need to handle it with the greatest dignity and care that you can,'' says Lekan.

When planned well, management shows respect for the individual's privacy, helps minimize adverse reactions and diminishes the possibility of severe anger and depression on the part of the employee. It also reduces the chance of lawsuits.

Even if the work dissolution is the result of poor performance, termination day is not time for management to get even. Lekan says it is paramount to proceed in a dignified fashion and make sure the process does not become a show for the amusement of co-workers.

Productivity can take a nosedive when an employee walks out the door. Left unchecked, the rumor mill will spread creative versions of the event. Lekan says managers must take control of communication, get with related departments quickly, convey the action that occurred and deal with the facts only on a need-to-know basis.

Then discuss the workload of the now-open position and the backup system to ease concerns about being overburdened.

Co-workers will be even more concerned if the loss involves several people at once. Multiple terminations require greater logistics to be sure people are not waiting in line during the process. And an organizationwide meeting serves best to communicate changes to the remaining employees.

Keeping it smooth
Lekan offers several other suggestions for smooth terminations:

  • Have a neutral third party on hand to escort the employee back to his or her office.

  • Give the employee the option of clearing his or her office at a later time.

  • Set up a time when the employee can return to say goodbye to co-workers.

  • Be prepared with names and phone numbers of support systems.

  • Do not use armed guards to escort the employee out the door.

  • Avoid small talk and niceties.

  • Do not defend yourself, the decision or the company. And, do not debate the reasons.

  • Communicate the decision clearly and listen empathetically.

  • This is not the time for a performance review. Schedule a follow-up meeting if the employee requests one.

Life changes are inevitable, and Lekan suggests everyone should constantly reassess priorities, reflect on values and learn to incorporate balance between life and work. When a manager is involved in an unplanned transition, either by initiation or on the receiving end, reactions will be less adverse if that person's life is holistically balanced.

Explains Lekan, ''Constant reflection and making new meaning out of your life is the way we adjust to change.''

How to reach: Ratliff, Taylor and Lekan, (216) 328-9494

Thursday, 26 July 2001 20:00

After the axe

Finding and retaining quality people is the biggest challenge employers face, according to the Workplace Practices survey conducted by SBN Magazine and the Employers Resource Council.

More than 25 percent of the business owners and human resources managers who responded are concerned about finding skilled workers, double the number in last year's survey.

With companies well aware of the problems they face attracting and keeping employees, it is no surprise that 84 percent of companies surveyed include financial subsidies for training and education as one of their perks.

Part of the impetus to subsidize employee training comes from the recent economic downturn. Cutbacks and layoffs have left fewer staff members with more work, but the average corporate training budget this year have dipped only two-tenths of one percent from 2000.

Training and education are seen as win-wins for both the employees and the employer. Employees add to their skill base, while employers get a better-educated employee. Doing more with fewer people is the part of the drive behind in-house training programs and the increasingly popular Web-based training.

As senior director of solutions marketing for SmartForce, Rajeev Venkat has noticed a trend toward more job-specific training, in part, he believes, because it provides the biggest bang for the buck for employers.

SmartForce, a California-based company, works closely with key Ohio-based businesses such as Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Iams. The global training provider generated $168 million in revenue last year providing individualized Web-based training programs.

Myers University has also seen an increase in adult learning, says Joyce McGrath, dean of Myers' Academic Centers. Myers is keeping pace with the trend by introducing online learning for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as a corporate university to give job-specific training on site.

As McGrath sees it, education is leaning toward skill-specific learning. She explains, "People are going for the degree that is going to get them what they want, get them the jobs they want," in areas such as information management and information technology.

Corporate-driven education doesn't stop with the employee; more and more, it involves every level of the business.

"It's an extended enterprise. They (companies) also want to train their partners, suppliers and customers," says Venkat. "Trained customers are actually going to be better customers."

Even traditional manufacturing companies are training suppliers in conjunction with employees as they introduce new technologies. Without the inclusion of all those involved, Venkat says "the supplier becomes the weak link in the chain."

Both employers and employees are continuing to look to continuing education and training to increase skills and productivity.

"Executives have always been saying people are our most valuable asset," says Venkat. "I think they've finally taking action to support those statements, and one of them is training."

How to reach: Myers University, (216) 696-9000; SmartForce, (888) 395-0014

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine.

SmartForce

Wednesday, 12 September 2001 20:00

Driven

Ed Yan will be driving a new Land Rover home to Sagamore Hills, compliments of Sprint PCS.

The Cleveland-based Sprint account representative helped the global communications company boost sales this year for its new Total Digital Connections plans. The sales program was nationwide, but Yan was a tough competitor, compiling average monthly sales of 135 percent of his sales quota.

Yan joined Sprint while attending the University of Akron, and being new to the company, he simply wanted to do the best job he could.

"I never really gave the contest much thought because I never thought I'd win," he says. "I figured I was in the company of some of the best salespeople and I wouldn't have a chance." How to reach: Sprint PCS, www.sprintpcs.com

Thursday, 13 September 2001 08:03

16 steps to win or lose an organizing drive

As unions develop and operate more like big businesses, the same strategies used can be used to prevent them from organizing.

1. Establish regular communication lines with your employees, both at home and on the job.

2. Establish programs for boosting employee loyalty.

3. Know who your informal leaders are within the work force. Their influence is present at all times. A company should attempt to utilize this to its advantage.

4. Have very clear work rules, including a no solicitation rule. Make sure your employees are aware of these rules.

5. Pay attention to your supervisors. Keep them well informed and do all you can to better their relationship with their subordinates.

6. Train supervisors as to your policies and procedures. Be sure they have ready access to a policy/procedures manual.

7. Review all company benefits periodically with your supervisors.

8. Keep records of good performances by employees.

9. Make sure employee lounges and restrooms are safe, reasonably clean, well lit, ventilated and adequate.

10. Review job descriptions frequently to see if they need upgrading due to additional responsibilities.

11. Make sure there are no items in your wage/benefits package that are lagging far behind for your area and your industry.

12. Hasten your plans for improving benefits.

13. Take special care in screening job applicants. Review work histories to determine union affiliations or tendencies.

14. Be firm but fair in your discipline. Employees do not resent being disciplined if they know what they were doing was wrong and the discipline is handled in a professional and courteous manner.

15. Make sure supervisors have good relationships with employees. If they don't, find out why and rectify it.

16. Employees should be recognized for good performances. They feel more secure when they know their efforts are recognized and appreciated. Source: "Union Prevention," by Millisor & Nobil Co. LPA

Millisor & Nobil website

Monday, 31 March 2003 08:47

Waste not, want not

One person's garbage is another person's gold. Ask any garage sale addict and they'll tell you its true. Now, the industrial garage sale is coming of age thanks to a few smart-thinking schools and industrious companies.

Youngstown State University founded the Mahoning Valley Materials Exchange, a business unit within the school's Center for Engineering Research and Technology Transfer (CERTT). Unused chemicals, plastics, metals and wood products, along with agricultural and demolition byproducts and even hazardous waste, are resold through the exchange.

The Exchange has only been around for a few years and already more than 200 organizations in the Youngstown area participate in the opportunity to make money from waste. Marcia Barr, program manager, says numerous recyclable products are generated every day from inbound shipments, changes in suppliers and left over raw materials.

The Mahoning Valley Exchange has been so successful, Barr was asked by the University of Toledo to help establish a similar program there.

Every type of company generates useable waste. The notorious packing peanuts are a good example. The Styrofoam packaging product is a necessary evil.

It protects fragile or breakable components during shipment but is difficult to handle and expensive to dispose of properly. The peanuts are used en mass by electronic companies and purchasing through an exchange program can significantly reduce a company's packaging costs.

Hazardous products are also expensive to get rid of.

Barr says while exchange companies accept hazardous products, the burden of safety lies with the seller. "A generator (of hazardous waste products) has the liability from cradle to grave for their material," she says.

Amy Drummer is a marketing manager at the Ottawa/Sandusky/Seneca Materials Exchange in Fremont (OSS). She says even governmental agencies are wising up to the recycling opportunity. "It's kind of like a Yellow Pages for waste," Drummer says.

OSS has a client base of more than 1,800 organizations nationwide. "We've found that there are a lot companies out there that can reduce their costs by utilizing something another company doesn't want," says Drummer.

Raw materials are not the most expensive component of business. But in a down economy, the companies that survive are the ones that do all the right things, large and small, to trim overhead.

How to reach: Mahoning Valley Materials Exchange, (330) 742-2742 or http://certt.eng.ysu.edu; Ottawa/Sandusky/Seneca Materials Exchange, (419) 334-7223 or www.ossjswmd.org

For more contact information on material exchange recyclers, go to "Best Bets."

Tuesday, 26 November 2002 07:00

A clear mission

Cleveland Glass Block has quite a reputation in Euclid. The company and its employees work with, or donate to, two dozen local nonprofit organizations and community projects, including El Barrio, the Spanish American Committee, Habitat for Humanity and Orien, an organization serving the unemployed.

Cleveland Glass Block's CEO Michael Foti says the philanthropic corporate culture comes in large part from his employees, because he surrounds himself with people who have strong values.

"It goes back to hiring philosophy ... There are two key elements to hiring-- one is competency and the other is values," says Foti. "If we hire good human beings that are competent, we have winners. We're not looking for human capital -- we're looking for good people."

Foti's management style is hands-on, but he isn't hesitant to turn the company's service programs over to his employees. That gives him more time for his passion -- working on nonprofit boards in the areas of education and regional development.

Foti says that as an entrepreneur, there never seems to be enough time to do it all,but he also believes running a business is more than just the bottom line -- it's being a part of the community.

"When I'm gone, people aren't going to remember how much money I made," says Foti. "All the stuff, all the assets, they'll just get split up. What they do remember is your time, your effort, your touch, whatever that touch may have been."

One company-sponsored program brings employees together for a day of voluntary service. Last year's Day of Caring was spent with children of the Berea Children's Home at their Community Respite Summer Camp, with nearly 100 percent participation from Glass Block employees.

Foti says that as a smaller company, Glass Block's programs have to be creative. Funds are limited, but with devoted, dedicated employees, ideas are abundant.

In 2001, the company contributed to the Cleveland Bridge Builders, Euclid High School, Coats for Kids, the Bellflower Center for Abuse, Providence House, the Euclid Fire Department, the Cleveland Food Bank, Harvest for Hunger and the Jain Society of Cleveland.

Its employee commitment proves that any size company can make a difference. How to reach: Cleveland Glass Block, (216) 531-6363.

Friday, 19 July 2002 07:06

Circle of giving

As the holiday season becomes a distant memory, the frenzy of charity drives and donations fades.

But for some companies, incorporating philanthropy into their business plan does more than just help the needy. Putting owners and employees in touch with local movers and shakers can integrate an organization into its community with a reputation that helps translate into success at its most important level -- the bottom line.

Our daily bread

In 1996, when Randy and Gerri Verdi opened a bakery in Lake County, they sought to join the community where they grew up. Since then, their continued fund-raising activities have become a core ingredient of their business success.

The mission statement of Great Harvest Bread Co. incorporates Randy Verdi's personal philosophy: "Bread is our excuse and our opportunity to connect and care for our community and one another."

Verdi is one of more than 140 owners of the Montana-based franchise that offers fresh bread products from wheat milled in each store. While on the fast track to success with an investment brokerage firm, Verdi says he realized that reaching the top was not bringing him personal satisfaction. Simply put, he needed more from his work than just a paycheck.

"I lost the passion for corporate America," he says.

Verdi describes his Mentor shop as a ministry that offers him the opportunity to touch and serve people. Through that process, he shares his good fortune with local and national nonprofit organizations.

"I believe for whatever you do, there can be a higher calling," he says.

While donations are typical, unusual programs bring Great Harvest's 17 employees together with the people they serve. The net result is that those in need get help, and the corner building is turned into the community bakeshop.

"Baker for the Day" is a popular fund-raiser held several times a year on days when the bakery is normally closed. Verdi and his employees donate their time, leading nonprofit groups such as the Mentor Rotary Club through the bread-baking business.

Verdi supplies the ingredients, and about 30 people prepare, shape, bake and sell bread from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The day's profits go directly to a designated charity; to date, the program has raised more than $15,000.

Another annual program teams Great Harvest with United Way of Lake County. At the Ugliest Gift Exchange, household items are exchanged for a free loaf of bread. Plans are also underway for a sports competition to promote the American Red Cross blood drive.

A strong foundation

Russ Masetta and his wife, Antonia, took a different approach in 1989 when they founded Nature Stone. The company, with offices in Bedford and Columbus, promotes giving through its Good Neighbor Program.

One percent of every sale, or a minimum of $10 per sale, is donated to any charity designed by the customer.

Nature Stone repairs and beautifies cement flooring with an epoxy resin combined with natural stone such as quartz, river stone or pebbles. While it corrects uneven and cracked cement, the granular flooring also offers designs and patterns.

During the start-up process, Masetta had more good ideas than good sales. The former cement layer says, "There's some benefit helping us by letting the community know we're involved and trying to give back a little bit."

To date, the company has given $250,000 to local organizations, and as sales increase, so do the donations. Nature Stone distributed approximately $60,000 last year alone.

Catholic Charities has been a popular destination for the funds, and Patrick Grace, vice president of development for that organization, says he appreciates the consistent and unusual method of donations.

"There's only a handful of businesses that operate under that premise," Grace says.

Nature Stone representatives do not use the program as a sales tool, discussing it with customers only after the sale is confirmed. The company's growth reflects its reputation; what began with two people has grown to 46 employees, 3,500 yearly installations and about $6 million in annual sales.

But cutting a check is not enough, says Masetta.

"Going out of our way to make sure customers are satisfied ties in with the philosophy of charitable giving." How to reach: Great Harvest Bread, (440) 205-8199; Nature Stone, (440) 786-9100

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com)is an associate editor at SBN Magazine

Friday, 19 July 2002 06:26

Changing roles

Marilou Myrick has seen the business world from the vantage point of employee, business executive and, most recently, as owner of ProResource Inc., an executive staffing firm headquartered in Cleveland.

She talks openly about her experience as a woman in business and her perceptions on how things have change for women in the business world. Although she doesn't want to stereotype, Myrick believes that women's presence in the workplace has forced employers to become more flexible. Women's childcare responsibilities, as well as the death of the tradition of staying with the same company for an entire career, has resulted in both genders expecting more work flexibility.

Myrick admits, "There is certainly a little more stability to a traditional job," but for those with depth of expertise, maturity and an ability to handle problematic situations, temporary project work can be the answer.

A lack of job security often hits women hardest.

"It's very difficult to work today's multiple-hour, constant-stress, high-pressure deadline kind of job and be the person who has 90 plus percent, or in some cases 100 percent, of the child care, the home maintenance," Myrick says.

But this doesn't just apply to women any more.

"More and more people are looking at life value issues, like traveling five days a week. More people are learning that in sacrificing too much, they risk other, very important aspects of their life," says Myrick.

Myrick saw employer flexibility coming years ago. As one of the first talent acquisition firms in the country focusing on the futuristic idea of renting highly specialized upper management executives, her company met with skepticism. Not until the last few years have organizations recognized the need for more elasticity and come to value their human capital as a means to change direction and stay competitive.

Myrick has developed the art of understanding behavior and culture and of matching personality with skills to meet her customers' immediate expectations. Understanding that it is people who respond to change and people who plan and build, she has made a business of understanding people, thousands of them.

Myrick has grown her staff to 25 resource professionals who provide contract management and professional staffing nationwide. In 1996, the National Association of Women Business Owners recognized her as one of the Top 20 Women Business Owners in Northeast Ohio. ProResource was also an Ernst and Young regional finalist for the Entrepreneur Of The Year Award and was twice honored as a Weatherhead 100 company.

Myrick's company can place a middle manager into a firm in five to seven days and an executive in two to four weeks, depending on the obscurity of the skill set required. Even with a strong economy and record low unemployment, she is able to find experienced business professionals who want more options.

Women who want flexibility have the skills to fit many of her clients' needs. As Myrick explains, "Success at an executive level is 90 percent behavioral."

There are just as many styles as there are approaches to problem solving, and although she's hesitant to make broad, gender-related statements, Myrick says women are naturally good listeners, something that comes less from genetic programming than from cultural conditioning.

"What that means in a business situation, I think, is that we are probably a little less likely to come into a situation with a preconceived notion about what the ideal solution is... before we've listened ... I think we tend to be more collaborative in coming up with solutions," says Myrick.

So she reaches out to the "fixers," the traditional risk-takers driven by outcome, and offers them challenges. But she acknowledges that things have changed for women in the business world.

"Within the early days of my career, I believed that I needed to act like a man in order to be successful. And in the big business environment I was in at that time, that was probably pretty close to the truth," she says.

The stereotype of women only wearing dark suits and ties, walking tough and using swear words was more or less true.

"We tried to act like the guys, and most of us learned that it was not only not doable, but very unsatisfying," Myrick says.

A lot has changed, and she chalks it up to maturity.

"Maturity comes through a series of experiences, and we all have had our rough edges knocked off through experience one way or another," says Myrick.

With those experiences comes a clarification process that Myrick says has many women asking themselves, "What is integrity for me ... and what am I not willing to do anymore?"

Instead of women conforming to the business world, the business world seems to be learning to work with the needs of women. For Myrick, that is good for business. She predicts that in 10 years, short-term staffing will be more widely accepted, in part because men and women are no longer willing to sacrifice everything for their jobs.

Instead, their new attitude is, "My loyalty should be to my portfolio," she says. How to reach: ProResource Inc., (216) 579-1515 or www.proresource.com

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine

Friday, 28 June 2002 06:03

Bouncing back

Malone Advertising wasn't dead in 1996 when Fred Bidwell took over majority ownership of the Akron-based advertising agency. But its lifeblood had all but dried up with the loss of a major client that accounted for 70 percent of its business.

Bidwell didn't get the mature, thriving firm he'd bargained for. He had talented employees with too much free time and no outlet for their creativity. But they were unwilling to give up.

"Maybe we were in denial," Bidwell says. "We just believed we were a great company and couldn't quite wrap our hands around the idea that we were in a life-threatening situation."

Rather than spend valuable time looking for capital and ways to cut costs, he rallied his staff, got the adrenaline flowing and hit the streets.

"We went back to the basics and pounded the pavement with good old-fashioned selling," Bidwell says.

He switched from a departmental structure to a team-based system. Each team included someone from each department, from creative to operations.

"When you have teams of people responsible for the success or failure of their accounts, they really have ownership and know what's going on," says Bidwell.

The change in management style sparked the creativity of the staff.

"People were entrepreneurial, and the clients could see that," he says. "They were having fun. They were able to make quick decisions. Creativity isn't just confined to the creative department."

The small successes motivated employees and kept them from walking. That allowed Bidwell and his creative team to rebuild the company one client at a time and reinstalled the confidence to challenge larger firms for business in the consumer retail market.

In today's competitive economy, major retailers like WalMart and Target influence purchasing decisions. So Bidwell went after their suppliers, such as Kimberly Clark, Goodyear, Schwinn and Pfizer.

Malone made it attractive for chain stores to display and feature the products of these companies. Consumers responded, and today, Malone is a dominant player in its market. How to reach: Malone Advertising, (330) 376-6148

Thursday, 28 March 2002 08:43

Waste not want not

One person's garbage is another person's gold -- just ask any garage sale addict. Now, the industrial garage sale is coming of age thanks to a few smart-thinking schools and industrious companies.

Based on that premise, Youngstown State University founded the Mahoning Valley Materials Exchange, a business unit within the school's Center for Engineering Research and Technology Transfer (CERTT). Unused chemicals, plastics, metals and wood products, along with agricultural and demolition byproducts and hazardous waste, are resold through the exchange. The Exchange, active for a only few years, has more than 200 organizations in the Youngstown area taking advantage of the opportunity to make money from waste. Marcia Barr, program manager, says numerous recyclable products are generated every day from inbound shipments, changes in suppliers and leftover raw materials.

The Mahoning Valley Exchange has been so successful that Barr was asked by the University of Toledo to help establish a similar program there.

Every company generates useable waste; packing peanuts are a good example. The Styrofoam packaging product is a necessary evil. It protects fragile components during shipment but is difficult to handle and expensive to dispose of properly. The peanuts are used en masse by electronics companies, and purchasing through an exchange program can significantly reduce costs.

Hazardous products are also expensive to get rid of. Barr says while exchange companies accept hazardous products, the burden of safety lies with the seller.

"A generator (of hazardous waste products) has the liability from cradle to grave for their material," she says.

Amy Drummer is a marketing manager at the Ottawa/Sandusky/Seneca Materials Exchange (OSS) in Fremont. She says even governmental agencies are wising up to the recycling opportunity. "It's kind of like a Yellow Pages for waste," Drummer says.

OSS has a client base of more than 1,800 organizations nationwide. "We've found that there are a lot companies out there that can reduce their costs by utilizing something another company doesn't want," says Drummer.

Raw materials are not the most expensive component of business, but in a down economy, the companies that survive are the ones that do all the right things, large and small, to trim overhead. How to reach: Mahoning Valley Materials Exchange, (330) 742-2742 or http://certt.eng.ysu.edu; Ottawa/Sandusky/Seneca Materials Exchange, (419) 334-7223 or www.ossjswmd.org.