SBN Staff

Wednesday, 31 October 2012 21:01

Endless Referrals: The Go-Giver Way

On November 15, spend the morning with world renowned speaker and author Bob Burg at the special event, "Endless Referrals: The Go-Giver Way," and you’ll learn how to quickly and easily build a prospecting and referral "machine" to continuously create more sales than you ever dreamed possible.

If you’ve ever asked yourself the question, “Who do I talk to next, now that my list of prospects has run out?” then this program is for you. Combining humor, entertainment, and a whole lot of “nuts & bolts” information, bestselling author and internationally-acclaimed speaker Bob Burg shares principle-based methods that will accelerate your ability to meet and connect with new people and build the trust that is essential in life and business!

During this powerful program you will also learn the philosophy at the heart of The Go-Giver embraced by so many of today’s top producers and leaders, including the principle behind Law #3: The Law of Influence; specifically how to apply this principle in order to cultivate a network of endless referral business. In fact, by the time you leave this event you will have a complete action plan ready for immediate application and success.

For more information and to register, please click here.

Before that, though, check out this special interview that Kristopher McCrone, the founder of Interdependent Coaching, conducted with Burg about the program:

Indemnity clauses are included in contracts to provide a means by which the contracting parties can shift the responsibility of risk.

“Indemnity clauses can expand, limit or even eliminate the obligations of one party to another with regard to property damage, personal injury and contractual obligations,” says Paula Devaney, Director, Claims Services, at ECBM. “Indemnity clauses are drafted in order to establish the terms and conditions upon which one party can shift risk associated with the performance of the contract.”

Smart Business spoke with Devaney about how to make indemnity clauses work for you, shifting risk away from your business.

What’s an example of how indemnity clauses work?

Here’s an example: Company A owns a building and retains Company B to complete parking lot repairs. As a result of the activities of Company B, a visitor to the building falls and sustains an injury. The visitor files a claim for damages against Company A. Pursuant to the indemnity clause in the contract, Company A demands that Company B respond to the claim since it arose out of their operations. If the contract did not include a properly drafted indemnity clause, Company A would have to bear the risk and costs of resolving the claim on their own behalf.

Do indemnification or insurance provisions apply first?

Indemnification provisions are evaluated first, as these clauses establish the parameters that will govern the risk being shifted. Insurance provisions are then evaluated to determine if the circumstances of the claim or demand will fit within the purview of the insurance coverage requested to be purchased. Not all of the risk that is shifted by an indemnity clause is or can be covered by insurance.

Both indemnity clauses and insurance are risk transfer vehicles. In a contractual relationship where an indemnity agreement exists, the parties will also include insurance language to support the indemnity. In the insurance world, the indemnity clause is commonly referred to as the ‘belt’ and the insurance provisions are referred to as the ‘suspenders.’

If the indemnity clause and insurance provisions are successfully drafted and implemented, the insurance purchased by the indemnitor will provide the indemnitee with a certain level of comfort that there is a means by which the indemnitor will be in a position to pay for the risk that has been shifted to them.

How does the language of the indemnity clause affect the end result? 

Language that must be thoroughly evaluated is anything in the clause that establishes very broad terms of the risk being transferred. Both parties who are depending on the viability of an indemnity clause should draft indemnity language that is specific to their relationship, complies with the jurisdiction in which the clause will be interpreted and clearly, or as best as possible, defines the proposed intent of both parties entering into the agreement. Effective communication is paramount to ensure that intent is clearly understood.

What must you include when creating a contract’s indemnity clause to provide the most protection for your company?

One way to establish a high level of clarity is to include or create definitions of key terms in the indemnity clause. Terms such as claim, damages and contractor/vendor conduct can be included in a definitions section of the contract so that there is little to question as to what type of act constitutes a breach, what constitutes a claim and what damages are subject to indemnification. Simplifying and defining the terms can allow a more clear and concise interpretation of the indemnity clause against the circumstances giving rise to the demand for indemnity.

The identification of the parties to be indemnified is also crucial. The party potentially granting indemnity will wish to limit the parties to be indemnified, whereas the party requesting indemnity will seek to expand or broaden the list of potential indemnitees.

The duty to defend and associated costs must be clearly established and can also include issues such as which party controls and/or must consent to defense, the degree to which one party must consent to settlement and the remedies available if there is a refusal to defend an indemnified claim.

Other factors to be addressed are:

  • Losses/damages or limitations on types of damages. Issues such as attorney’s fees must be included as a recoverable cost, while consequential damages should be contemplated along with fines and penalties.

  • The period of time in which an indemnity clause survives the contract.

  • Including and/or defining the type of event that can trigger the obligation to indemnify.

  • Insurance procurement. The indemnity clause in a contract should not rely on the viability of the entity granting the indemnity. If the indemnitor goes out of business, their insurance may still be in effect.

When your business is signing a contract that includes indemnity clauses, what should you watch out for?

It is crucial for both parties to read the contract, and specifically the indemnity provisions, carefully. Every indemnity clause is different. There is nothing standard, and many times nothing fair, about an indemnity clause. If you do not read the clause and carefully consider the implications, you can be accepting a tremendous amount of risk you never intended to undertake.

The indemnity clause should be drafted in a manner that carefully considers the intent of both parties. When negotiating indemnity provisions, you may win some battles and lose others. However, with effective communication between both parties and effective review of the contract by legal counsel and, just as importantly, your insurance broker, the intent of the contract will at least be understood. Therefore, you can enter the contractual relationship with an understanding of the risks and liabilities.

Paula Devaney is a Director, Claims Services, at ECBM. Reach her at (610) 668-7100, ext. 1216, or

Insights Risk Management is brought to you by ECBM Insurance Brokers and Consultants

The Internet is an integral part of doing business — from sending emails and hosting a website to setting up virtual private networks and interconnecting locations. Today, more than ever, organizations require reliable Internet connectivity with increasingly higher speeds to satisfy growing application requirements, while carefully managing IT costs.

“Internet usage continues to grow and evolve significantly from its simpler Web browsing and email origins,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “Organizations, large and small, now extensively rely on the Internet to increase productivity, provide business-to-business or business-to-consumer services, streamline their supply chain and outsource IT applications to reduce costs.”

With Internet bandwidth requirements continually increasing, Ethernet dedicated Internet access is becoming a cost-effective and more flexible option to connect to the Internet, Maloney says.

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how Ethernet stacks up against T1 connections.

How has the adoption of new technology increased the need for better Internet connections? 

The potential for new technology to lower the cost of business operations is clear. For example, by moving applications to hosted or ‘cloud-based’ services, an organization can eliminate the capital expense of the application servers and operational expense of software licenses and support, while reducing the burden on their IT support staff. Spending on public IT cloud offerings is forecast to reach $55.5 billion in 2014, representing a 27.4 percent compound annual growth rate, according to a recent report from the International Data Corporation. This rapid growth rate is more than five times the projected growth rate for traditional IT products.

Meanwhile, utilizing this new technology will require a higher-speed Internet connection. An organization’s bandwidth requirements may increase due to:

  • An increasing number of visitors to your locally hosted public website for e-commerce transactions.

  • An increasing use of cloud-based services where you move applications from running locally to a remote data center or hosted server in the cloud.

The capital expenditure and recurring operating savings of cloud-based services typically provide a better return on investment than the additional Internet bandwidth costs. During times of accelerated growth, organizations can leverage the Internet to rapidly respond to increased productivity and supply chain, while carefully managing costs.

How have businesses been using T1-dedicated Internet access?

A popular way for organizations to connect to the Internet has been via a T1-based dedicated Internet access (DIA) service. T1 DIA services are typically offered over one or two T1 circuits so the bandwidth options are limited, inflexible and costly as an organization’s bandwidth and application requirements grow. To be competitive, you need to quickly and cost-effectively adapt your Internet access bandwidth, so T1 DIA services are challenged to meet these elastic bandwidth requirements.

With a single T1 circuit operating at 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps), you need to purchase upgraded service to get more bandwidth, which may require a new T1 router to support the bonding of the two T1 circuits. Typically, that will cost another setup charge, as well as a higher monthly recurring cost for the service. Additionally, there will be service disruption if you must replace the existing T1 equipment, and new equipment or circuits may delay the upgrade days or even weeks.

Many T1 DIA service providers cannot provide Internet access beyond two T1s. If your Internet access bandwidth needs increase beyond that, you will have to switch to a different technology with higher bandwidth choices.

Why is Ethernet-dedicated Internet access a better choice for businesses?

Ethernet DIA services are typically delivered over a single Ethernet fiber optic connection that can handle any amount of bandwidth between 1 Mbps and 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). Ethernet DIA service can be purchased in flexible bandwidth increments up to the Ethernet port speed, and the port speed depends upon your initial and anticipated bandwidth needs for the duration of the service agreement. A 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port speed is sufficient for most organizations. Unlike T1-based DIA services, Ethernet DIA services are not offered based on circuit speed.

Capital expenses are also low to non-existent with Ethernet DIA. If your building does not have a fiber optic connection, your Ethernet DIA provider will deliver a fiber optic connection, which has a one-time cost associated with that installation. Otherwise, if you can use an available Ethernet port on your router you are ready to go, as the Ethernet DIA service demarcation device is included in the setup cost. Ethernet DIA enables you to better manage your IT capital and operating expenditures during varying economic cycles. Cost savings can be achieved because you don’t have to switch Internet access technologies or providers when your organization’s bandwidth needs exceed 3 Mbps (two T1s).

Your Ethernet DIA service provider can remotely reconfigure the Ethernet service demarcation device to support the new bandwidth you require, and you can continue to use the service up until that upgraded amount. If the Ethernet service demarcation device needs to be restarted, you may only experience a minimal service disruption. This is in contrast to T1 DIA service, where new equipment and new, higher speed circuits may take days or even weeks to get implemented.

Organizations increasingly utilize the Internet as a critical business tool, and Ethernet-based DIA services provide many benefits over T1-based DIA services. The most obvious benefit is higher bandwidth. Ethernet DIA services also enable organizations to more quickly and cost-effectively add Internet access bandwidth to optimally manage their IT costs while they grow their business.

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Thursday, 18 October 2012 17:44

People first

When visiting one of InfoCision’s offices, you’ll notice more than the tables, chairs and water cooler found in a typical workplace. It is not out of the ordinary to pass a yoga class practicing downward dog, a physician scribbling a prescription or a preschool class reciting the alphabet.

While these scenes may be out of place in many employers’ offices, InfoCision has worked hard to make them a staple. The company recognizes its employees are the heart of its business, so it focuses on recruiting and retaining them with a variety of amenities and benefits, says Kim Murphy, vice president of employee benefits at InfoCision.

"We strive to give our employees a work-life balance," Murphy says. "We want to provide opportunities for employees to handle things like exercising at work so when they go home, they can focus on their families. And we believe that contributes to a happier, healthier employee."

Amenities include:

  • InfoFitness centers: These 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot gyms include top-of-the-line equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines and recumbent bicycles. The centers also offer classes such as aerobics or yoga, and are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. They are free for InfoCision employees and family members covered under the company’s health plans. Many InfoCision employees and even entire departments attend classes together. "My department works through lunch, then at 4 p.m. we all go down as a group," Murphy says. "It's nice to have that support — on the days when you don't want to go, you have your coworkers pushing you, and it makes it a lot easier."

  • InfoWellness clinics and programs: InfoCision provides on-site doctors for both employees and family members regardless if they participate in its health plans. The company also has a prescription concierge service so employees don't need to run out to pick up their medications. Other wellness programs include free smoking-cessation programs and subsidized weight-loss programs.

  • InfoKids Early Learning Center: This fully licensed child care center at InfoCision's corporate headquarters in Akron can care for more than 90 children ages 6 weeks to 14 years. The center offers summer programs, two infant rooms and toddler and preschool rooms, play areas, educational toys and computers. It provides a creative curriculum education model. InfoCision's satellite call centers offer subsidized child care options.

  • InfoCision Management Corporate University: Geared toward salaried staff who have a clear path of advancement within the company, IMCU offers free or discounted workforce development through on-site programs as well as outside classes and workshops through the University of Akron and other local institutions.

  • Employee assistance program: InfoCision provides employees with a toll-free number to call for financial advice or free counseling sessions for anything from a death in the family to a divorce. The employee receives recommended local counseling services, and he or she can use the services as much as he or she needs.

  • On-site delis: InfoCision's Café 5 on-site delis offer healthy hot and cold meals, snacks and gourmet coffee. In addition, InfoCision's vending machines now offer healthy choices.

InfoCision also offers a comprehensive benefits package for both salaried and hourly employees, Murphy says. These benefits are available upon hire and include health care, vision and dental plans, paid holidays, free life and disability insurance, paid personal and vacation time, quarterly bonuses, paid training and tuition reimbursement. InfoCision also offers 401(k) participation after 90 days of employment.

Aside from amenities and benefits, InfoCision also strives to create a work environment in which employees can excel. "For as big as we’ve gotten, we still have a family feel," Murphy says.

"It starts when you enter the front doors and the receptionist greets you like you're family even if you've never been here before. We also have a newsletter for employees every month, and our executives speak regularly to our employees and are open for questions or available to talk afterwards. That open communication really makes a big difference."

InfoCision also has a group that travels to its facilities and speaks with employees about what's happening at the company and in the workplace. This program, in conjunction with an employee suggestion box, is meant to provide an open forum for employees to voice ideas or concern.

"We have an open-door policy," Murphy says. "Our employees have the opportunity to speak to not only to their supervisors and team leaders — as our supervisor to communicator ratio is one to nine — but our executives as well. That's not something that's typically found at other companies, but we believe it is a key part of recruitment and retention."

For more information on employee benefits and amenities, contact Kim Murphy at or visit

Years ago, a friend told William F. Hutter that every organization is perfectly designed to achieve the results it is getting. Hutter, president and CEO of Sequent, explains it this way.

“The easiest way to explain this idea is to look at a sports organization,” says Hutter. “As a spectator, it is really easy to see things about a play, a player or a team dynamic that the coach must not be seeing. Everyone has played the role of Monday morning quarterback or armchair coach. In that role, we see things that need to be fixed for the team to perform more effectively. Passing stats are off — ‘get a new quarterback.’ Two missed PATs — ‘get a new kicker.’ The armchair coaches will tell you, ‘The team is designed to get the results it is getting.’”

Smart Business spoke with Hutter about this analogy and how it relates to leadership.

How does ‘Every organization is perfectly designed to achieve the results it is getting’ relate to leadership?

To answer this, it is important to understand the difference between managers and leaders. In the most basic definition, leaders help define the direction, the culture and the belief in the yet-to-be-accomplished objectives for the organization. While managers execute directives and tasks critical to the operations of the organization, neither managers nor leaders can exist without the other.

Generally, leaders don’t manage well and managers often don’t lead. Leading and managing are different skill sets that are both necessary and that must complement one another. Now that the ground rules are defined, let’s look at a common mistake companies often make in selecting their next leader. It’s called the ‘last person standing’ rule.

What is the ‘last person standing’ rule?

Consider a common method for selecting the next person in leadership, the ‘last person standing’ rule. This is essentially what happens when companies choose to not be purposeful in determining the next level of leaders. Instead, a decision is made by default.

So why does this happen within good companies? The collective knowledge of employees is extraordinarily important to all companies. Any company that has suddenly lost a key, long-time employee knows how this affects the entire organization. As a result, seniority or longevity of service tends to justify to business owners that the employee who has been there the longest and/or is the most technically competent should be in a leadership role. These employees may also have a leadership expectation due to their length of service and contribution to the company.

Does every outstanding manager or worker have the potential to be an effective leader?

Consider this illustration of what can happen when a business begins to grow and evolve. The business owner of a thriving small business has relied on a key employee, Bob, for more than 15 years. The owner trusts Bob to manage the day-to-day aspects of running the business. Bob is also genuinely liked by the staff and has a good understanding of the owner’s goals. Due to the owner’s leadership and Bob’s ability to manage, the company grows and prospers.

Then, after years of working together, the owner decides to hire another person to help lead the company. Following the ‘last person standing’ rule, Bob is given the opportunity and is now focused on the overall business, not on operations. As a result, Bob needs to hire a new manager. Not wanting to disappoint, he, too, makes a decision by default rather than on purpose and hires his best worker to be the new manager. Unfortunately, the company is left without a good leader or effective manager and the best worker is now a manager.

Why does this rule continually play out in business?

Essentially this happens because it is easier to let it happen than to make a purposeful decision on leadership and address the difficult discussions with employees who will be disappointed when their expectations are not met.

Just because the key person is a great manager does not mean that he or she is prepared to be the next leader. Longevity and great results from an exceptional employee in a defined role could mean that the person is exactly where he or she fits best within an organization.

Every business has a key employee who works diligently, making sure the daily operation runs smoothly. However, the real challenge comes in knowing how and when to train key employees for natural transitions in the growth of the business. Unfortunately, businesses do not spend as much money training their employees as they do on keeping equipment running smoothly. Most entrepreneurs tend to think that everyone is blessed with the same leadership skills that they possess, but that is often not the case.

How can business be more prepared to avoid this situation?

It is imperative for any organization to plan for a transition by providing training for employees and helping them prepare for their next responsibility. As the leader, the business owner should work on the following:

  • Create a culture that emphasizes the importance of every function.

  • Acknowledge and remember the value of long-term employees.

  • Match the skills of individuals with the jobs to be performed.

  • Be honest with every employee about their potential and their fit within the organization.

  • Purposefully plan for transition.

  • Make the investment in training your most important people.

  • Don’t be afraid to hire people with the skills your organization needs to grow.

If you know you need to change your organization, you must change first. Do things differently than you have in the past. It’s not easy ... be a leader ... decide to make the change.

William F. Hutter is president and CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or For more information about Sequent, visit

Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent

Tuesday, 28 August 2012 16:30

Fiscal cliff fears vs. probabilities

Who's afraid of the fiscal cliff? Apparently just about everybody! In our opinion, this topic is nearly as overplayed as last year's debt ceiling fiasco. People feared the U.S. debt ceiling would not be raised and the government would have to shut down. We disagreed, partly because we are realists and partly because of the "Laws." First, economist Herbert Stein's Law states: "If something cannot go forever, it will stop." I have morphed that into Leggett’s Law: "If something is impossible, it will not occur."

Using our Laws, we determined the U.S. would not shut down its great fiscal machinery that extracts and/or borrows money from some people so it can be given to other people. An actual "debt default" was totally out of the question, but there was still a great fear that we were headed for one.

A similar situation is taking place now, only with a broader topic, the fiscal cliff. It is certainly not impossible for a few people (as in the movie, "Thelma & Louise") or even for a segment of the population (Arctic lemmings) to go over a cliff, but intentionally driving the U.S. economy off a cliff seems, well, impossible.

The fiscal cliff is a mix of expiring tax cuts (Bush tax cuts, Alternative Minimum Tax inflation patch and the payroll tax cut) and spending cuts (the "sequestration" which chops 10 percent from defense and 8 percent from all discretionary spending; Medicare doctor payments; and extended unemployment benefits).

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office added fuel to the fire recently with their projection that the fiscal cliff will amount to $487B in 2013, a 3.1 percent GDP reduction. With real GDP currently creeping higher at a 2 percent pace, that reduction would result in negative GDP (a recession). That's worth fearing! But what is the probability of such an outcome?

It is very close to impossible to imagine that none of the fiscal cliff issues will be addressed, either in a lame duck post-election session, or retrospectively by the President and Congress, whoever they may be. In fact, several of the fiscal cliff issues are perennials. AMT, Medicare payments and tax increases threaten the economy year after year — much like the dreaded debt ceiling. Somehow, the cliff dive is averted each time. To quote Sherlock Holmes, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." So, however improbable it may seem that our politicians will act like grownups who care about our country's future, in the end they will (as always) be forced to act.

Does that mean we are home free? Alas, no. We believe the unrelenting barrage of negative campaign ads and the real uncertainty as to exactly which fiscal cliff issues will be avoided (and when) are a major factor in the 2012 economic slowdown. Since businesses and consumers are uncertain, they are slowing their spending and investment, which has caused a minor negative feedback loop and dropped GDP into its current 2 percent stall speed growth rate.

Nonetheless, despite the distressingly slow pace, both business and consumer spending are growing at a rate that more than offsets government spending cuts. Some key sectors such as housing and energy production are improving, but that's not enough to reaccelerate the economy. What we need is a resolution to the fiscal cliff fears. Before the election is highly unlikely, but soon thereafter looks highly probable to us.

Our plan is to step away from the fears and concentrate on the impact of the probable fiscal cliff resolution. Coupling that with a very friendly Federal Reserve (QE3 anyone?) and a more-friendly European Central Bank, we expect economic expansion into 2013. With the Market Meter at +2, we remain fully invested in client equity accounts, but with a modestly defensive tilt to our tactical asset allocation recommendations.

The opinions and information contained in this message have been derived from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but FirstMerit Bank, N.A. makes no representation as to their timeliness or completeness. This message does not constitute individual investment, legal or tax advice. All opinions are reflective of judgments made on the original date of publication and do not constitute a guarantee of present or future financial market conditions.

Bob Leggett, CFA, is the Senior Investment Strategist at FirstMerit Wealth Management Services. Reach him at

The big buzz in the insurance industry today is around Core Systems Modernization.

“Core Systems Modernization is the process of insurance companies adapting to the needs of customers by bringing their processes and technologies using the numerous possibilities available today,” says Vani Prasad, vice president of Insurance Technology for HTC Global Services.

There’s a big push toward modernization as companies continue expanding their web presence and establishing mobile solutions to make their products accessible to more customers. By using new technologies such as mobile, virtualization and cloud, companies are building bridges with their current core systems, creating new value from existing assets. Modernization is helping companies not just improve their bottom line but transform the way their core systems such as policy administration, underwriting, distribution, billing and receipts, and claims are functioning to enable businesses to grow. Some companies are going beyond operational or technology improvements and are reshaping their business models.

Many large and mid-sized insurance companies are in the process of executing modernization projects to keep up with technology and increase customer engagement through powerful analytics. The last two years have seen a big growth in modernization projects, and this wave is gaining intensity.

Smart Business spoke with Prasad about what insurance companies need to know when it comes to modernization and its effect on business.

What is driving modernization?

Modernization has come from many forces in the marketplace, such as innovation in new types of insurance products. Introduction of products poses new challenges to execute through the current operational and technology setup in an organization. This is one of the biggest drivers for core systems modernization.

From a technology standpoint, one of the prominent driving forces is popularizing the use of mobile technology for business purposes to improve customers’ ability to view and change products and their coverage. This also makes it easier to communicate with customers, for example, after an accident, getting them back on track faster. Customers today expect to get what they want, when and where they need it, making it critical for companies to connect smart devices to core insurance systems. CEOs want to address business growth and operational efficiency at the same time and are looking for smart ideas that fuse these two aspects.

Also driving modernization is analytics, the intelligent use of data stored by a company to target consumer-oriented marketing specific to customers’ needs and to develop new products. Previously, the agent was the key source of analytics. That person had contact with customers and could offer products as the need arose. But now, as customers are rarely present when deals are made, companies are using technology to do this.

What are the benefits of modernization?

Companies should modernize either to increase their top line through new sales that capture market share, or improve their bottom line through internal efficiencies. Those wanting to increase market share have to simplify processes and be able to adapt to changes and make improvements quickly. These days, customers relate to businesses differently, and the old ways of doing business aren’t as effective anymore. Businesses have to evolve and change to keep pace with the market to retain their market share. In today’s marketplace, it’s easy to take their foot off the gas pedal for just a brief moment and find themselves with lost sales or retention issues.

For example, customer inquiries need to be processed quickly. If a web page takes too long to load, the customer drifts off. If a phone call takes too long, the call is lost. If the number of pages, clicks or paths on the customer contact is too many, the customer moves away. By modernizing the technology systems, these seemingly simple adjustments are resolved. No one drops the ball on the customer and one can better capture those customers who are trying to engage and reach out to them a second time if the process was not finished quickly enough.

How does modernization differ from fixes or repairs?

Modernization goes beyond maintenance. Everybody feels they are contributing to improvements in their own way; every department has their own ‘quality circle.’ But going beyond semantics, look at modernizing from a leadership perspective and ask what will actually make a difference to the top and bottom lines. How does it help in reputation, reduce operating costs, enhance customer satisfaction, increase market share, increase earnings per share or maintain a healthy underwriting ratio? If the impacts are at that level, then that’s a modernization project.

Companies that perform maintenance work, such as keeping software up to date or fixing bugs, are still modernizing in that they use newer and better technology to better meet consumer needs. However, performing maintenance work on its own doesn’t allow companies to easily add new features or embrace new technologies. The main difference between maintenance work and the modernization described above is one of scale and adding business value: Rather than fixing and repairing smaller systems, everything is being fixed and repaired. This allows for future growth because the large-scale changes can be structured to make it easier to add features such as a mobile presence or a shift to cloud-based technology.

Some businesses put off modernization because it requires time, effort and new technology skills to execute. However, over time, the problems these companies face worsen. If a company is more than two or three generations behind in the use of technology, it is very difficult to fix even minor problems. While it is possible to sustain in the short-term, these companies are in danger of becoming obsolete in the long-term.

What are some tools used to modernize?

Insurance companies are struggling to deal with the massive amounts of information they collect. It is not enough to just add more hardware or network bandwidth if the processes are inefficient and are not yielding the desired outcomes. Sometimes, companies fear that it costs too much to modernize. However, there are numerous tools and approaches available in the market, depending on the scale of improvements intended, and the extent of modernization requirements can be taken up.

While everyone knows the power of mobile and cloud computing, companies are also looking into techniques such as crowd-sourcing to maximize their benefits. Cloud computing is not yet leveraged in many insurance companies, but it provides the ability for insurers to leverage large-scale technology with little or no investment up front. To insurers, this means easier storage of the huge amount of information coming to them, such as photographs, depositions and other documents. A lot of managers are being designated and groomed to help focus on using cloud technology and how it can reduce the bottom line. It also enables customers to access information anywhere, any time, with minimum fuss. Insurance companies can leverage the cloud to ease the transition to mobile devices, using them as vehicles for meeting the increasing amounts of data gathered and processed. It is not just technology tools alone that matter, it is the newer processes and approaches that make a big difference in modernizing.

It is also common for companies to wait for a silver bullet to remove inefficiencies. Is this the right time to modernize? Of course it is. Technology is never static, it is ever changing and driven by innovation. There are numerous options available, and these will only increase over time.

How can modernization be executed?

Strong leadership that focuses on building a solid approach to modernization is vital. Building a roadmap to modernizing with options and scenarios is a big step. Modernizing should bring a positive impact to everyone in the company for it to have lasting value.

Once an approach is chosen and an investment decided upon, it is important to dedicate specific people for the planning and implementation. Projects are initiated with the right scope based on the investment and professionally managed. Process engineers that have a broad understanding of company operational processes are vital ingredients to the modernizing journey. Sometimes, the changes to technology or a business process need to be tested on small groups to refine the approach, measure the benefits and then apply to the rest of the company.

Some companies have the aptitude and skill to modernize in house. There is a vast amount of information available online on how to approach and prioritize modernization projects. Consulting companies and third-party product and service providers can also help an organization reach its goals.

Vani Prasad is the vice president of Insurance Technology with HTC Global Services. Reach him at (309) 287-0229 or

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 21:01

Top gun retention

Retaining top talent in these turbulent times remains very high on today’s executive agenda. Equally critical is the need to minimize the crippling effects that key talent departures have on organizations, especially those that rest much of their success on these high output, unique talents. Yet very few firms create and follow through on a retention strategy that really makes a difference. Why is this? And how can organizations "crack the code" on talent retention? Based on recent interviews with a several executives in firms with outstanding reputations for leadership retention, there are several ingredients that, when effectively blended, result in an environment where the very best talent thrives. They raise their own performance bar, often feeling a synergistic relationship with the organization, and are less likely to abandon ship. Key ingredients in the retention of top talent cited by these executives in the know include:

  • Culture focused on talent development
  • Broadened leader bandwidth
  • Effective general manager
  • Well-developed retention strategy
  • Effective orientation and on-boarding

Culture focused on talent development

I pull my team together for just about every morning to discuss briefly what took place the day before. We often cover highlights and lowlights, recognize combined contributions and review what we need to do better. We refer to these sessions as our morning huddle — whether in person or by conference call. When we break, people are pumped to reinforce our customer-focused atmosphere.

Comments such as these define the benefit of a work climate or culture that focuses on individual and team development. They don’t just talk about it, they live it! Retention is typically very high in organizations where the culture supports team work, individual development, recognition for contributions, and encouragement to perform.

Broadened leader bandwidth

Organizations that enable leaders, through a variety of means, to identify individual needs and respond with a portfolio of styles typically achieve significantly higher levels of retention. One size does not fit all! Top performers need to be treated as exceptions, because they are indeed exceptions. If leaders over rely on their most comfortable style, they’re bound to miss the mark on many occasions. It’s interesting to note that in cases where leaders have the capacity to respond with a number of styles, the total team and organization benefits.

Effective general manager

The factor that seems to have the greatest influence on retention of key talent is the effectiveness of the general manager in creating and maintaining a high performance culture. One executive vice president commented that her most promising general manager has a deep-seated need to raise the bar for each employee just enough so they feel truly stretched all the time. Her leadership cascades down the organization to every contributor to the point where individuals choose to raise their own bars. The signal here is for organizations to both unleash leader capacity and invest in development so leaders can realize extended capabilities.

Well-developed retention strategy

Some organizations have actually created "offices of retention" to elevate the challenge to a higher level. Often a very senior executive is accountable to the CEO for shepherding retention-related efforts and takes the lead. Even without this level of focus, many organizations see significant retention progress with well-developed and communicated retention goals and objectives for the entire organization.

Effective orientation and on-boarding

By my third week with the company I felt totally connected and ready to do battle! By my second month I realized that everything I was told on the way in was accurate. Now, three years into my relationship with the firm I realize that a solid beginning was a key reason for staying.

Comments like these are common in organizations recognizing that effective induction, orientation, and on-boarding have a huge impact on retention. Yet, very few firms treat these early phases with the attention they deserve. This impact is magnified for top talent.

A final observation on "cracking the code"

Organizations should remain in close contact with top talent, being careful to consider adopting retention practices that are truly desirable, and can be effectively managed. Too often firms select more initiatives than they can handle, and more than they need. Firms that have achieved their desired levels of top gun retention know all too well that just around the corner is another lure tempting their most prized possessions.

Sheryl Dawson is an executive partner with Talent Strategies Group, a Division of Career Partners International (CPI), Houston. She has over 25 years experience in talent management, team assessment, leadership development, and career coaching and consulting. She can be reached at or (713) 784-3197.

Read more from Dawson: Talent management solutions: How CPI Houston helps companies optimize their bottom lines

I have discussed the retirement process in my two previous articles and have given them the tag-line of a “retirement dress rehearsal.” Too often, the concept of retirement is so esoteric that most people refuse to identify with it early on. They wait until retirement happens to them. My hope by using the terminology “dress rehearsal” is that I would persuade you to immerse yourself in that role now. I liken it to attending a live theatre performance. There are actors who “act” the part, and then there are actors who “are” the part. I’m sure you’ll agree the actor who “owns” that role gives a much more commanding performance and better outcome to the evening.

So “own” that role for the time being, and let’s explore a third facet of retirement preparedness:  legacy planning. There are by no means only three phases to retirement preparedness. I will assume that you have identified the purpose, values, passion and strategic direction of your life-plan as you integrate these thoughts into your conversation with your wealth manager and life-planner. Research has shown that the graying baby boomers are starting to worry about the kind of legacy they will leave, and in what ways they can best influence the well-being of their families, friends and even the world beyond their own lives. In other words, they are seeking to plan their legacies. Legacies are too often trivialized to being re-defined as inheritance. Today, legacy is becoming more complex than just assets and financial transfers.

A recent study by Across Generations showed that 72 percent of parents said they would like help from their financial advisor in speaking with their children about legacy issues. Furthermore, 89 percent of high-net-worth respondents said that a financial advisor would be important to help manage the assets for the surviving spouse.

In 2007, The Allianz American Legacies study was released. The opinion then and today is that the convergence of two dynamic forces will have resounding personal and financial implications during the next several decades — the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in history and the unprecedented longevity of Americans. With a wealth transfer of approximately $25 trillion, complex family structures, and an expanding retiree segment, only 25 percent of boomers have discussed legacy and inheritance transfer with their parents.

This landmark survey commissioned by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz Life®), in conjunction with Dr. Ken Dychtwald, president of AgeWave, found that there is a huge generational gap on views of inheritance and legacy. The lack of communication or the "legacy gap" between boomers and their parents are among the key findings in The Allianz American Legacies study.

The key findings of the study included:

  • There are significant gaps in what baby boomers and their parents expect from and define as inheritance.
  • Nonfinancial items that parents leave behind — such as ethics, morals, faith, and religion — are 10 times more important to both boomers and their parents than the financial aspects of inheritance.
  • Legacy gaps exist because boomers and their parents are not having the in-depth conversations about legacy and inheritance in any truly productive and meaningful ways — even though they say they are having such conversations.

  • Thorough discussions about legacy planning should include talking about the "four pillars" that are the core of a true legacy: values and life lessons, fulfilling final wishes and instructions, personal possessions of emotional value, and financial assets and real estate.

What is legacy planning? In a recent article by Mark Colgan, Legacy Planning: An Emerging Industry Niche," Colgan described legacy planning as the soft side of estate planning. It is the process of helping individuals articulate, create and implement an end-of-life plan that is consistent with their values and final wishes.

Addressing these issues as part of a comprehensive financial plan may give your family and heirs peace of mind that extends far beyond the benefits of a will, life insurance and health care medical directives. Taking the steps to incorporate a legacy plan within your retirement preparedness plan puts you in charge of how you want to be remembered and gives you the opportunity to express your wishes, prevent family feuds, share precious memories and pass along family values.

The legacy component of a retirement strategy is driven by your qualitative goals: your purpose, passions and values that you intend to fulfill and transfer to future generations. As we age and enter the golden years of our life, we are faced with different uncertainties. A legacy plan can alleviate some of the stresses that accompany physical changes, psychological and emotional concerns, and end-of-life realities.

If you have personally faced a premature death or incompetency issue within your immediate family, you are very aware of how ill-prepared you may have been. My experience has demonstrated that people are often unprepared for all the decisions they must make when a loved one needs critical care or dies. We need more formal ways to document our final wishes, as well as the memories and personal values we want passed on to future generations.

Wealth management is a life-plan strategic process, incorporating the legacy planning dimension. Shakespeare said it best in "As You Like It," that "All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

Begin your retirement “dress rehearsal” now. Don’t just play the part. Be the part. Be part of your legacy and life plan.

Robert A. Valente, CFP®, AEP®, is CEO and Managing Member of RAV Financial Services LLC. He can be reached at

This is the third part of an interview with Bernie Moreno, the owner of Collection Auto Group. For more, please see:

Collection Auto Group

Managing growth while maintaining culture

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Make a decision. Too many times in business we are faced with hundreds of choices and options. Given the fast pace at which business moves today, you have to trust your judgment and make a decision. Second piece of advice that goes along with this: be right at least 51 percent of the time!

When you think about putting your customers first, describe your philosophy for what that means and how you impart that to your team members?

Customer’s first is a philosophy EVERY business CLAIMS to have as part of their culture. There is no organization that would say they don't value their clients. However, saying it and LIVING it are two entirely different issues. We live that philosophy by creating a culture in which our team members put the customer at the center of everything we do. We know our clients can "fire us" at any time and we never take for granted that we must execute every day. Of course, that culture hinges on having great people, which we are very fortunate to have an abundance of.

How do you empower your staff to go above and beyond for customers?

They are defaulted to say "yes." If a team member is going to disappointment a client, that’s my job. I am the only one allowed to say "no."

What is your philosophy for continuous growth — and continuous improvement?

The business world is changing at a speed that is unprecedented in history. We look at ways of reinventing ourselves, not just changing and evolving.

When you think about your business, what keeps you up at night, and what do you do to resolve it?

Nothing keeps me up at night. Business is my career and I never personalize it by letting it stress my personal life. That would not be fair to my family.

Collection Auto Group

28450 Lorain Road

North Olmsted, OH 44070

Phone: 440,716.2700