Meredyth McKenzie

Wednesday, 26 March 2008 20:00

The next generation

While few family-owned companies survive past the first or second generation, Schantz Organ Co. Inc. is laying out plans for the fifth generation to take control.

President Victor Schantz is the fourth generation family member running the 134-year-old, Orrville-based business that builds pipe organs for churches. And after his father, Bruce Victor Schantz, died in January 2007, Schantz reorganized and expanded the company’s board of directors to better represent various family groups and began the succession planning process for the company’s fifth generation.

In succession planning, Schantz says that first you must consider all possible options for the future, ranging from family members or management staff taking over the business to selling to someone outside the company. Then you have to zero in on what’s best for the company.

For Schantz Organ, that means the fifth generation has committed to keeping the company in the family and that everyone recognizes that a portion of the family’s capital must stay in the business in order to keep the company moving forward.

Once that’s determined, implementing a succession plan and getting buy-in requires constant communication, Schantz says.

“It’s a constant working over many years at keeping the family from becoming fractured, maintaining good relations, being honest and open, and having a value set that drives the organization in terms of ethical dealings, openness and sharing of information,” he says.

Keep communication honest and open by sharing the company’s succession history, laying out common interests, getting the board to commit to making succession planning a priority so it does not drag on and reinforcing the need for succession planning and working on it at the right time for the company.

“There must be time spent bringing them up to speed so they see that the process is fair and equitable,” Schantz says.

Make sure you get everyone’s input into the process.

“It’s management by walking around,” Schantz says. “If the families are in various parts of the country, find ways to visit them and talk periodically.

Talk and gauge their needs and wishes and try to be sensitive to that. It’s the same with employees.”

Using a neutral adviser can be helpful in the process.

“We felt that previous experience in succession work and a solid knowledge of finance and accounting was important, along with resources and contacts from the legal side,” Schantz says. “And then a personality that can listen, keep us on task and direct things toward a conclusion.”

You need to be actively involved in the process and believe in it so that others will buy in to it.

“The leader has to be proactive,” Schantz says. “After all, he or she is the one who is going to have to change his or her career path, in the sense that he or she is getting out of the way and mentoring the next generation. It’s an emotional thing. Not everybody wants to give up the reins or face that question.”

Things may change during succession planning — new business partners might come forth, or the person you wanted to pass the company on to may not be interested. Schantz says it’s important to be flexible and to not come into the process with a preconceived agenda.

Planning your company’s future and starting to do so early with a commitment to the process will help smooth the transition, Schantz says.

“We’ve succeeded at that four times,” he says. “In any business, that’s almost unheard of, but it isn’t going to happen in the future without planning.”

HOW TO REACH: Schantz Organ Co. Inc., (800) 416-7426 or

Successful succession planning

Succession planning should start on day one of a business, says Bruce Hendryx, director of succession planning at the private client group for National City Bank.

“Most people get into business and dedicate themselves to that single thing,” he says. “As time goes on, they start to think, ‘How do I bring somebody in who will take this over? Or get my family involved?’”

Hendryx says you need to prepare for a role change as the plan unfolds, which can be tough. To ease the transition, an owner may want to take some time away from the business.

“It’s finding things they’re already doing,” he says. “Maybe they want to spend a few months away, so we tell them to do management from afar and see how the company runs.”

And while you’re taking care of the future of the business, don’t forget to take care of your own future, as well.

“We’ll run a financial plan ... to say, ‘If I get this much money in what I already have, here’s what I can do over time to live, then factor in things to make sure what we’re talking about on the succession side will roll into their personal life,” Hendryx says.

Once the plan is done, don’t just put it on the shelf and forget about it. You’ll need to review and update it periodically to accommodate any changes that may occur.

“Keep it fresh and look over what you’re doing to make sure it still applies,” Hendryx says.

HOW TO REACH: National City Bank, (216) 222-8933 or

Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

The perfect combination

Andy Hannah says the key to growing a company is having the right combination of people, money, technology and customers.

“You can’t have too much at one time; you need to have the right balance of those things,” says the co-founder, president and CEO of Plextronics Inc., an innovator of technology for printed electronics.

Hannah’s focus on maintaining that balance has helped Plextronics, which was founded in 2002, increase revenue 7,700 percent over the past three years and develop leaders among its 50 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Hannah about how to create a balance at your company and how to find the right people to help you do that.

Q: How do you achieve a balance among people, money, technology and customers?

It starts with what the market opportunity is, what the customer wants and how important that product or service is to the customer. It’s the voice of customer process, not only talking to your customers but to your customers’ customers.

Once you understand those details, you can develop a road map of being able to provide that product or service. That road map is how you achieve balance because it tells you when to hire, at what point technology has to be developed to deliver it to the customer and the interaction with your customer.

Q: How do you make sure the financial component is balanced with the others?

Make sure you have enough money in the bank to do what you need to do. The road map tells you how much money you need.

Be honest with your road map in terms of what you think revenue is going to be. If you have an honest and good road map, it determines how much money the company needs to grow. Whatever that number is, raise it by some margin more than that because you know that things don’t always go smoothly.

You have to understand the road map process to be able to determine how much money you need. That’s when you talk to your customer.

Q: How do you find the right people to help grow your company?

You want to be in an area where you can draw from local resources and a geographic area that is appealing to others coming from outside.

I’m a believer in behavioral interviewing. When you’re hiring for a particular position, know what the role is and what the behaviors are that you are looking for. Find out what the behavior beneath the actual role is and continue to probe on that behavior. Then you have good hires.

Everybody has one story related to the role. In behavioral interviewing, you ask the question three times. You say, ‘Besides the example, give me another. Besides that example, give me another.’ It’s seldom that people have three stories lined up for a particular question.

The benefit is that people can’t hide. If a person has the behavior that you’re looking for, you will know after you ask the third question. If they can’t come up with a third example, they don’t know or don’t have the depth of experience that you thought they did.

Q: How critical is culture to achieving balance?

You need to be true to your culture, especially in your early days. It gets difficult to maintain the culture the bigger that you get, and it is going to fray a little at the edges, but you need to teach your managers how important culture is.

You don’t teach them that you have to hire people who have the same culture because diversity is good, but teach them how important culture in general is.

Culture can change over time, as long as it changes for the good. You don’t want it to change into bad culture. Culture is what it is because of the people. It’s not like you can preach rotten culture.

It’s about examples and how you act. Maintaining culture is about teaching behavior, and when you see bad behavior, you correct it immediately. It’s not the best method to preach, it’s about showing and communicating examples so that it gets reinforced.

Q: How do you communicate the culture?

It starts with openness and honesty. You have to have an environment where people are comfortable telling what’s on their mind. Create a forum to communicate your message.

It starts with asking for feedback. You can’t just stand up one day and say, ‘I want everyone to be open and honest with everybody.’ It starts with an example or behavior and repetition of that behavior.

People like to feel committed to the organization, and the only way they can do that is if they feel a personal connection. People like to belong and feel like what they do matters. The more personal relationships are, the more people feel that they are valued and part of the team, more than just going to a job.

HOW TO REACH: Plextronics Inc., (412) 423-2030 or

Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

George A. Pontikes Jr.

As a young man, George A. Pontikes Jr. was taught that it was best to learn business from the bottom up. So that’s what he did, working every job in the construction industry, from craftsman to superintendent, before founding Satterfield & Pontikes Construction Inc. with Tom Satterfield in 1989. Since that first year, Pontikes has grown the company from $1 million in revenue to an estimated $300 million in 2007. As president and CEO, Pontikes shares his expertise daily with his 500 employees, using his experience from previous jobs to help those in tough situations. He says doing so lets them know that he understands what they are dealing with because he has been in their shoes, and that creates a sense of unity. Smart Business spoke with Pontikes about why you have to put the client first in every situation.

Communicate and listen. Communication is key. Listen to your clients. They’re going to tell you their side, what’s going on and the way they see it. An employee can come and tell you that everything is rosy and everything’s going well, but if you’re not communicating with your client, you’re only hearing one side.

You may find that the client has a completely different understanding of your company than your employee does. I can’t tell you how many times somebody tells me that the client’s happy, and you go talk to the client, and they’ve got a different opinion.

A lot of people go out there and try to tell their clients what they want. You can’t do that. You’ve got to listen to what your clients tell you. If you’re not going to listen to your clients, you’re not going to get work.

If you’re not careful and don’t question, it’s easy for employees and clients to dance around questions. Pay attention to what they have to say and follow up with questions to try and dig deeper and see what you can find out.

It’s easy to dodge a tough question if you don’t want to provide an answer. Dig deeper to find out, and make sure that you’re not missing the true intent of their response.

Put the client first. Frequency of communication is key because things change. Your clients have to have trust and faith in you.

Work hard to do everything you can to let the client know that you’re working in their best interest. When a client loses confidence in you and doesn’t think that you’re putting their best interest in the front, then you’ve got a problem.

It’s hard to get that back. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard. Any time a client loses faith in you, it’s generally because they think you’re putting other interests in front of theirs, and you can’t do that. Try and demonstrate your good will at every opportunity.

Meet frequently with the owner and see what the owner’s feedback is. Meet with your clients; your clients will tell you what’s going on. Stay close to the client; he’ll tell you if he’s satisfied or if he’s not. If you know he’s not satisfied, you have an opportunity to correct the situation.

Don’t hide the truth, but be cautious.

Encourage your team to be open and realistic with clients. You’ve got to have realistic expectations. I encourage my employees to work hard, be tough but fair, and be open and communicate with their clients.

Be cautious of the expectations of your clients. You don’t want to oversell your capabilities, and you don’t want to under-sell. Be realistic with your clients. If a client has a request that’s unreasonable and you don’t diplomatically inform them that it’s not realistic, even if you do perform well, you’re going to have a problem down the line.

Recognize a job well done. Give employees responsibility, hold them accountable and provide strong support. You’ve got to create a positive environment for your employees, and then you’ve got to reward them if they do the right thing and if they meet your expectations. Let them know early on if you think they can do better, and if they continue to succeed, provide them with more and bigger opportunities.

Recognition goes a long way. Compensate them fairly, recognize their efforts publicly within the organization and encourage them to not be afraid to make mistakes.

You’re never going to have all of your employees reading the same sheet of music; you’ll always have a handful who are trying to prove you wrong and not following your direction. Do everything to try and reward the people that are on board, and get rid of the people that aren’t.

Face your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to encounter your vendors or your clients or your suppliers. You don’t want to express an opinion when you don’t know the topic, but don’t be afraid to tell somebody you don’t know the answer.

A lot of times, you’ll see people try and bluff their way through a difficult situation. You’re better off being truly open. Clients are going to have more than one issue, and you answer the ones you know the answer to and go out, research and do whatever you have to do to resolve the other problems. Just don’t try and bluff your way through.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You can fix mistakes. Inaction is the worst thing that you can do. Just jump in there; just go do it.

You’ve got to make your own brand, but you’ve got to work through the process. Don’t be timid, make your move, make your brand, you’ll do fine.

If you’re in a situation where it’s not exactly like another problem you’ve dealt with, or it’s one you’ve never dealt with, research the problem and make the practical recommendations. Use associates, peers, outside consultants, employees in other areas to chase down an answer. Most questions have a practical answer.

HOW TO REACH: Satterfield & Pontikes Construction Inc., (713) 996-1300 or

Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

Planning for the future

Employers who offer retirement plans have a responsibility to their employees to manage that money wisely, says Randy Carver, president of Carver Financial Services Inc. and branch manager of Raymond James Financial Services Inc.

And the key to managing a successful retirement plan is reducing your liability as a fiduciary.

“A fiduciary is anyone who has control over assets of others,” Carver says.

Carver manages more than $680 million in assets for clients, specializing in retirement and wealth management.

Talking to an expert can help clear up confusion over your role as a fiduciary before you create a plan. Ask other business owners for referrals, and look for an expert in retirement planning and fiduciary advising.

“The key is that they’re not selling their own investment product or representing a single company, so there’s some objectivity,” Carver says. “Also, find out what type of business they do and how they are compensated.”

In your role as a fiduciary, it’s also important that you understand your vulnerabilities.

“There’s civil litigation from unhappy employees, and other litigation from the Internal Revenue Service or the Department of Labor,” Carver says. “Finally, there are just unhappy employees.”

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to create an investment policy statement (ISP), which defines how investment options are selected, monitored and evaluated. Although not required, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 encourages employers to have something in writing.

“The first thing the Department of Labor or IRS will ask for if they audit you is a policy statement,” he says. “It’s also the kind of thing that sets the benchmark for all decisions.”

It is important to educate employees about your retirement plan, and holding informational meetings is a good way to do this. Carver suggests you hold the meetings on company time and make note of attendance, so if a problem arises, employees cannot claim that they knew nothing about the plan.

“Meetings are a way to tell them about their plan and benefits and to encourage them to save,” he says. “But it also protects the fiduci-aries because they have a documented way to say that this person was educated about the plan.”

For example, Carver worked with one company that had about $4 million invested in its retirement plan but no ISP. The company had chosen the plan because the person who sold it was a friend of the owner, and Carver says without an ISP, the company had no way to justify to employees that it was a good plan.

“By adding a policy statement and some outside investment choices, they were able to keep working with their friend but also protect themselves and offer a better plan to employees,” he says.

Participation in the company’s plan also increased from 70 to 90 percent once it started conducting employee meetings and employees were more informed about the plan.

Another mistake companies make is not offering enough choices in their plans. Plans should have multiple investment managers and companies available, Carver says, and companies should offer managed or lifestyle accounts instead of just individual investment choices, allowing employees to either choose a set mixed portfolio or build their own.

Carver says leaders should determine what they are trying to accomplish before setting out to create a retirement plan.

“Once you have an idea, talk to a number of providers,” he says. “Working with a professional can make it a lot easier. Once you pick a plan, it’s a team effort between your accountant, possibly your attorney and then your HR people.”

HOW TO REACH: Carver Financial Services Inc. and Raymond James Financial Services Inc., (440) 974-0808 or

What is ERISA?

For decades, many employees thought they were financially set for retirement, only to find that their employers had mismanaged the funds in their private pension plans, leaving them with little to no money.

As a result, Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which sets minimum standards for retirement and health benefit plans in private industry. ERISA sets minimum standards for employers to provide plan participants with information and provides fiduciary responsibilities for those who manage plan assets. Those guidelines apply even if someone doesn’t realize they are a plan fiduciary, says Randy Carver, president of Carver Financial Services Inc. and branch manager of Raymond James Financial Services Inc.

“The scary thing is that ERISA says that any fiduciary in a company is personally liable,” Carver says. “So you can have people who sit on a board or a finance committee, it could be an officer, an employee or the business owner, and they can be fiduciaries and not even know it.”

Fiduciary responsibilities include having an investment policy statement in writing, making investment decisions against a “prudent expert” standard, diversifying assets, monitoring plan performance, avoiding prohibited investment transactions, and conducting business solely for the purpose of providing benefits to participants and to defray reasonable administrative expenses.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007 19:00

Service learning

Stanley Slesnick started Slesnick Iron & Metal Co. in 1957 with a mission of putting service first, and he has grown his company by getting his 75 employees to believe in that mantra. Many of Slesnick’s customers at the scrap metal recycling business are the second or third generation in their families to patronize his business — which posts revenue of between $7 million and $10 million each year — and they keep coming back because of his focus on service, he says.

Smart Business spoke with the company’s president about the keys to sustaining a business.

Q: What are the benefits of strong customer service?

I liken it to a maitre d’ in a restaurant. People like to be recognized and know that you appreciate their business. You frequent a restaurant because you like the help or the owner, and you want to give them business because they appreciate your patronage. Then you walk into a place where they ignore you completely, and you don’t feel like you want to go back there or even tell your friends.

Know what your customers want and like and what sells and doesn’t sell. You need to know your industry. You need to know everything about what your people are doing. You have to be hands-on, especially in the beginning, and as you grow and become successful, you hire people to be hands-on, and then you watch them and make sure that they’re doing what you know has to be done.

Q: How do you get customers to trust you?

It’s easy to get people to like you if you acknowledge them and take a few minutes to talk to them and ask how they’re feeling, how they’ve been, how their family is doing. Keep it on a personal relationship, and then talk about business. And they’ll talk to you and tell you how they’ve been doing.

I had a man tell me years ago about how he used to travel selling luggage and would make a file of each customer and the customer’s wife and children. After he became successful, he would call the customers, and the first thing he would ask was how their family was doing. Whether he remembered them or not, he had a file on them and knew everything about them.

This is what people like — the personal touch.

Q: How do you get employees to know you care about them?

You’re here every morning when you open up; your employees know you’re here. Get out of your office and go out and see what your people are doing. They see you. Employees like to know that their boss knows what they’re doing. Make the rounds, talk to everybody, and tell them they’re doing a good job; they want to hear it. People do not like to be ignored. You talk to them.

You should be 100 percent involved if you want to be successful. You should know just about everything that’s going on. It’s hard to run a business being an absentee manager, and it’s hard to run a business even being on top of everything.

Q: What are keys to starting your own company?

Pursue your interests. It’s hard today to start in any business. You have to know something about whatever the business is that you’re starting. You need to know your industry.

Education is a big thing. If you want to delve into any particular area, then definitely an education, and there are all ways to get them. Or else you go to work and have someone teach you your field. Talk to the customers and see what they like.

See what sells and what doesn’t sell, and you get an idea of people’s tastes. Then you get an idea of what looks attractive and who’s successful and who’s not successful in the same type of business you want to go into.

Q: What advice would you give to leaders to be successful?

Start with hard work and a love for what you’re doing. If you have family in the business, you’ve got to get along. You’ve got to know when to back away and give control to others. And there’s a certain amount of luck involved in any business over the years.

They have to like what they’re doing. They have to like getting up in the morning and coming to work. If you reinvest your time, money and experience in your own business, it will grow. Do something that you know and will profit from, instead of investing money in somebody else’s business and not know anything about it.

HOW TO REACH: Slesnick Iron & Metal Co., (330) 453-8475

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

Jerry Winchester

Jerry Winchester likes his employees to do things on their own. The president and CEO of Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc., an emergency response company that offers prevention, response and restoration capabilities to the gas and oil industries, says that in his work experience, his greatest bosses gave him an assignment and the freedom to accomplish it, something he does today with his 400 employees. Empowered employees help companies reach their goals, Winchester says, and last year, Boots & Coots hit revenue of $97 million. Smart Business spoke with Winchester about how to play to your employees’ strengths and empower those who are willing to be empowered.

Empower those who want to be empowered. It’s important to understand the dynamic of your company. Look at where people’s strengths are. Assign certain tasks, stand back and observe. Those strengths will then surface quickly.

We have employees who thrive on being empowered and those who are scared of it. When you have people who are capable of doing and achieving more, giving them the ability to go do these things, not getting in the way and empowering them to make decisions on behalf of the company can have a positive effect, especially when you are developing people and want to see how they will react in certain situations.

You’re talking about people you can develop and see how comfortable they are going out on a limb. Do they believe in themselves? Do they believe in what they’re saying? Are they confident enough in their abilities to take a risk? That’s one of the things that as a leader you are always looking for — people who are aggressively moving ahead so that you’re not constantly trying to prod them into a situation, but you’re out there trying to rein them in some.

It’s like athletics; you can’t coach desire. When you’ve got people who have desire, empowering them is just the fuel to move them forward. When you can get that mix together, you’ve got somebody who can go do some strong things.

Work with those you can’t empower. If you’ve got somebody who’s great at taking direction and doing exactly what they’re told, and they pride themselves on following the rules, then trying to move them out of their comfort zone into this aura of empowerment sometimes is the wrong thing to do.

If you’ve got a person who is an introvert and you’re expecting them to be in a job where they have to be an extrovert, they spend all their time supplying the energy to be extroverted instead of spending their time doing other things. It’s counterproductive. It’s difficult on them because they are not as happy in their position.

If an employee is good at following processes and implementing established rules, then you want him in a job that allows him to do that, that works well both within the way his personality is, the way he makes decisions and the way he is comfortable working. It would be a lot better to try and define his strengths and make sure that his job is aligned with that or allow him to work within the dynamic of a team where his diversity helps the team dynamic rather than hurts it.

Align company and personal goals and objectives. You can’t imagine how much smoother it is when everyone is moving in the same direction, so you’re not constantly dealing with conflict within your organization about the direction in which you are headed or how to resolve something. It’s a whole lot easier to manage and communicate within a company whose goals are aligned from top to bottom.

Clearly communicate what the company’s goals are and empower senior management with the flexibility and right tools to effectively manage employees’ expectations.

For certain employees, even though they think they don’t affect share price or overall financial performance of the company, they absolutely do, so you’ve got to set goals and objectives for them so that they align with the same goals and objectives that you’re working on.

If someone was struggling with either aligning or understanding the goals, sit them down and ask them what the issue seems to be and listen to them. If they’ve got a problem or some preconceived notion of what the problem is, hear that and deal with it rather than just telling them over and over again and trying to make them understand what you’re saying because obviously you’re not connecting.

Reward employees. Set goals and objectives for employees and deal with that monetarily or whatever manner is the best. We look at people who have been successful or have done a good job and want to give them the opportunity for advancement.

We’re looking for the next group that can step up. Not only can they measure success by saying, ‘I’ve been rewarded well for this,’ or, ‘I got a promotion,’ but, at the same time, they can see that the company has done well, and they’ve left a legacy, and they’ve helped build a program that they can look back and say, ‘I did these things; I accomplished this stuff.’

For the people that are driven to do that, those are the kinds of things they’re looking for. Somebody that’s in the mode of ‘I like a more comfortable job here and don’t have to make any decisions,’ success for them is that they get through the day without getting nicked up or running afoul of the rules.

For other folks, success for them is measured in a different way. It’s looking at the individual and what they think. Some of them want to see the tangible effects of their work, and some are happy just knowing that the ship is still moving along and the company’s still afloat.

HOW TO REACH: Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc., (281) 931-8884 or

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

Walking toward health

Like most companies, Invacare Corp.’s health care costs have risen over the years, and the medical equipment manufacturer knew it was time to take action.

“There’s only so much you can do to pass your cost on to employees, and you have to look at the root of why the costs are going up,” says Karen Chapple, Invacare’s director of safety and health. “So you start looking at, what are programs you can put in place.”

Invacare created a team of employees to research the problem and find a solution. The team, together with the company’s benefits department, determined the conditions most prevalent in its population and those that had the biggest impact on employees’ quality of life. From that, the team built a wellness program based on lifestyle choices and worked with CIGNA HealthCare and The Wellness Council of Northeast Ohio to create events such as walks and weight-loss challenges. The program also made coaches available to help employees with specific conditions.

When implementing a wellness program at your company, make sure the program is attractive for employees and easy to participate in.

“Walking is something anyone can do, so you don’t have to go out and buy equipment,” Chapple says. “Things that are team-oriented seem to go better. And present it as a positive for them as opposed to a positive for the bottom line of the company. We’re careful to focus on what’s the benefit for them when we advertise the program.”

Also make sure that the program involves something employees can easily do while at work and that it doesn’t cut into their personal time.

“We did a great information session on a specific disease and made it after work, and it wasn’t as successful,” Chapple says. “Make it so that they can do most of what they are going to during work, so it doesn’t take them away from their normal activities after work.”

Chapple says Invacare’s program succeeded because of the company’s communication strategy.

“We did a lot of e-mail, postings and meetings,” Chapple says. “We always tried to make it as positive as possible, upbeat and something that people wanted to be part of. Communicate often what you’re trying to accomplish and what their role is.”

To get people to participate in the programs, offer rewards. Even small prizes can convince people to get involved.

“The biggest individual thing we offered was a $50 gift certificate to a local sporting goods store,” Chapple says. “We’ve never given an individual a lot of money, but everyone who finishes the event gets a T-shirt. We’ve given water bottles, caps, a variety of things.”

The program has helped keep company health care costs down and has brought employees together and pushed them to work toward a common goal.

“It helps with morale; it really gives an esprit de corp when they’re all competing against each other,” Chapple says. “It generates teamwork and just a positive attitude about coming to work.”

HOW TO REACH: Invacare Corp., (440) 329-6000 or


Keys to healthy living


Creating and maintaining a workplace wellness program is hard work, and it doesn’t happen overnight, says Joseph Gregor, president and general manager of CIGNA HealthCare for the Great Lakes market.

Gregor offers several steps you can take to make the healthy workplace concept succeed at your company. n Take the time to understand the problem and the drivers. When you understand these, you can communicate effectively about them.

“Most employers understand that they have a real cost problem with health care benefits, and they need to do something about it,” Gregor says.

You need to understand why costs are rising, as healthy people become less healthy and make more use of the health care system. n Know yourself and your employees, and build a specific strategy that you can publish, get behind and get your people behind. n Treat a wellness program like any other mission-critical marketing campaign. n Communicate, communicate, communicate, and reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. n Pick a partner who can take you where you want to go. You need to have a first-year, a second-year and a third-year strategy, and that requires knowledge, tools and analysis, Gregor says. You need a partner who is there philosophically and practically and who can lead you where you want to go. Look for someone with experience and capability in articulating the program.

HOW TO REACH: CIGNA HealthCare, or

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

Walking the talk

It’s not uncommon for employees at Bethesda North Hospital to see Sher McClanahan out mingling among them.

She loves spending time out of her office to know what is happening in the hospital and with her 4,000 employees. And that’s not unusual for a woman who started her career as a nurse and has been the hospital’s top executive for the past eight years.

In that time, she’s helped dig employees out of the parking lot, shoveled the sidewalk during heavy snows, delivered meals to employees working extra shifts and helped employees get the little things that allow them to do their jobs better.

“That lets people know that you care about what they’re doing, and that you’re willing to pitch in, in those situations, roll up your sleeves and do what needs to get done,” McClanahan says.

It also gives her opportunities to share her vision with a very diverse group of employees, and getting it across to all them is one of the biggest challenges she faces at the $375 million organization.

McClanahan says to be successful communicating your vision, you must model it, get to know your employees and reward those who help the company achieve its goals.

Communicate by example

When it comes to getting employees to buy in to your vision, communication is the biggest component.

“You’ve got to say it a number of times in a number of different ways and in a number of different forums,” McClanahan says. “Some people may get it the first time around, and it may take others a couple of times and some dialogue to understand what it is.”

If an employee does not understand the vision, you need to focus on that person and his or her words and body language.

“You can often tell a lot more about what’s not being said, and if you need to understand what’s not being said, then ask for further clarification,” McClanahan says.

In these situations, McClanahan uses the “help me understand” methodology, and questions the person with, “Help me understand this better,” or, “Help me understand what you mean by this.”

“What I am trying to do is understand what they are telling me,” she says. “It’s far different for somebody to hear that I don’t understand and I want them to help me understand it, than for me to turn back and say to them, ‘Where’d you get that idea?’ So I need to understand what they’re telling me, and in doing so, listen to what they’re saying.”

When you really listen to what they are saying, you can start to get at the root of the problem.

“I can remember hearing as a kid, ‘You have two ears for a reason and one mouth; use your ears twice as much as you do communicating, you probably will be able to be successful,’” she says. “If you listen to people, you’re going to be able to meet them and what their needs are, and then connect the dots between their needs and your organization’s needs. You’ve got everybody going in the same direction and feeling good, that this is what I’m getting out of it and what the organization is getting out of it, and it becomes this perpetual cycle.”

McClanahan says one of the best ways to communicate it is to let people see the vision in action and lead by example.

“In order for anybody to want to follow or be willing to go in the same direction, they’ve got to know that the leader is going in that direction, not only by word but by action, as well,” she says. “It’s important to be out and about a lot with the team members and to make certain that they understand the direction that we’re going and how their role fits into it.”

Part of Bethesda’s vision statement says that the organization will be a strong and caring community citizen. McClanahan demonstrates that by caring about her own employees first. She says if employees see you modeling the vision, they know you are dedicated to the same goals as they are.

“Stories are created and people see things,” she says. “I don’t want my employees coming in on an icy sidewalk, and if we haven’t been able to get somebody out there to get it taken care of, I’m going to go do it so somebody doesn’t get hurt. It’s things of that nature.

“It’s about reaching out and touching, being approachable, visible and a communicator, and coaching and counseling people, and rewarding them when they do their job well, so they get to their highest performing point.”

Get down to the employee level

McClanahan says getting to know your employees is critical when trying to communicate the vision to a diverse group. While she has more than 4,000 employees under her command, she gets to know them by walking around various areas of the hospital each day, speaking with employees or working alongside them.

“I ask them what they’re doing or ask them if there is anything that gets in the way of them doing the best possible job for the organization, and helping to remove any barriers that they might be bumping up against,” she says.

McClanahan says walking about allows her to truly know her employees more than just watching them from the sidelines.

“I call it keeping your finger on the pulse of the organization and what’s going on,” she says. “It’s one thing to hear about an organization’s performance when you’re sitting in a boardroom and looking at numbers, and it’s another to go out and see how those numbers are being enacted.”

McClanahan has countless duties each day, but she still takes time to go on rounds because of what she is able to accomplish during this time.

“When I’m out walking around, I’m still doing my job because I typically will see this physician or that director or this staff member who I need to have some interaction with, and I’d rather do it when I’m out and walking around than calling a meeting,” she says. “There are times when you need to set aside several hours to sort through a significant issue or develop a plan of action, but I like to see a little bit more of the management by walking about.”

Going out and talking to employees lets them know that you do care about them and their work, and also lets them know how they are important in achieving company goals.

“You care about them as a person and their contribution to the organization,” McClanahan says. “You can translate for them how their contribution is helping meet the vision of the organization.

“Sometimes, it’s trying to figure out where they are, what’s important to them and making the connection between what’s important to them and how that’s going to contribute to the vision. Find out where they’re coming from and understand their frame of reference in order to be able to help connect the dots.”

When people get the vision, they are enthused and energized about it and get on board to help that vision become a reality.

McClanahan says you need to get to that point, and you also need to be with your employees to know them on a deeper level.

“Interact with them, see and evaluate the performances that they do, help them understand what their strengths are and play to those strengths,” she says. “And if they have areas where they could improve, understand if they see that same need and help them get that improvement.”

Reward a job well done

Once you have all employees working toward the same vision, it’s important to reward them when they achieve goals that meet the vision and make the organization successful.

Rewards can be monetary or as simple as saying “good job” or “thank you” to employees. McClanahan receives recommendations from her leadership team regarding employees who have done a good job, and then sends a letter to the employees’ homes commending them on their hard work and dedication.

“Sometimes the greatest reward for an employee is to be recognized for what they do and do well,” McClanahan says. “When employees are recognized for a job well done, they don’t feel invisible, they realize what they do makes a difference and is contributing to the mission. An individual who feels like he or she is recognized and applauded for good work tends to do more work.”

McClanahan says it is also important to work with those employees who may not be performing at their highest level to get them to achieve the goals.

“Understand why they may not be performing at the level that you think they should be,” she says. “Do they lack the knowledge, the skill set or the motivation to do it? Depending on what you find out, you address each one differently. You get them the help they need in order to accomplish what they aren’t accomplishing.”

Bethesda North, a member of the TriHealth System, has received or been nominated for many awards over the years, including Top Employer by The Cincinnati Business Courier, Best Place to Work by Working Mother magazine, and one of the Top 100 hospitals for quality, continuous improvement and most wired with the latest technology. The hospital also recently opened a new seven-story patient tower, which allows it to serve about 10,000 more patients a year.

McClanahan said these achievements would not have been possible without the hard work of her employees, who were rewarded appropriately when these honors were achieved.

“I could never accomplish all of those things by myself, even pieces of them, so it means that it needs to come from the team,” she says. “The quarterback doesn’t win the football game, the team wins the game. The coach doesn’t win the game, the team wins the game under the leadership of the coach.”

McClanahan says showing appreciation toward employees makes them proud of their work.

“There’s nobody that gets up in the morning and comes to work and says, ‘I’m going to do a bad job today, and I like working for an organization that’s yucky,’” she says. “Most people come to work and say they want to do the best they possibly can. There’s a real sense of energy that’s gotten from being proud of the place where you work and the people that you work with.”

McClanahan says to be successful, you need to have the basic skill sets, know your business and people, and be willing to put yourself out there to communicate the vision and help your company reach the next level.

“Listen, know your business, communicate, be out there, be visible, be seen, roll up your sleeves and have fun,” McClanahan says.

HOW TO REACH: Bethesda North Hospital, (513) 745-1111 or

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

Brenda Harris

Once a year, you’ll find Brenda Harris on the beach somewhere like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta with some of her 270 employees. The getaway is a chance for the president and chief operating officer of Talent Tree to reward employees at one of the 65 branches who have met yearly goals. Offering this type of reward and others, Harris says, motivates employees to work harder to reach their goals and lets them know that their work is appreciated at the full-service staffing and placement services company that estimates its revenue to reach $200 million in 2007. Smart Business spoke with Harris about how getting to know your employees from the bottom up can make a company successful from the top down.

Start with the little things. I send out e-mails daily to recognize individuals or branches or regions. Sometimes it might be small things; sometimes it’s a big deal. It’s just all about letting them know you saw it, and you know about it, and it’s great.

Try it with the small things. It doesn’t have to be very costly. You have to be listening to what’s happening in your business to know where those successes are or where someone has done something that is special or that they should get a hurrah for.

Make sure you’re hearing those things so that you can send that special note or that special e-mail or pick up the phone and call them. You can give rewards, like employee of the month or employee of the quarter, but most of it comes down to that individual attention.

Let others lead. You’re always listening to the problems and the issues, but when you’re listening, ask the people for what their recommendation is to fix those. I don’t feel like you personally have to always come up with the solution — most of the time the employee knows the solution if they’re the one having the problem. Try to help them help you resolve the problem, and let them be part of the fix.

Make the time. No matter what their issue or problem is, sit down with them, try to resolve it, listen through it, make the decision, and empower them to go out and resolve it.

If they are part of the solution, they’re going to put it out there, and they’re going to make it happen. People want to be a part of something that they feel like they can be a big piece of and they can be a big contributor to. If you can paint that vision to them, and they’re on board, they want to be part of that success.

Live your culture and vision. A culture is not announced. It is created by a constant focus on values. Do what you say you are going to do.

You can recognize a healthy culture by its employees. Do they embrace and live the values? Are they excited about what they do? A culture is the foundation of the company, and the leaders must embody the values and live it daily. Culture is how you treat one another.

The decisions that you make for the company have to constantly tie back into that vision. If you go out there making random decisions that are not tied to that, you can get off on a different path.

It’s just constant reinforcement of what that vision is. It has to be specific for each individual in the company about what part they play in it. Using flowery words, people don’t really embrace that. Articulate the vision in the language that makes sense to them. Communicate it constantly.

Be involved. If you’re involved and you’re out sitting with employees and being a part of whatever’s going on in your company and not putting yourself above them, employees will understand that they have that openness with you. Sitting in training classes, sitting in meetings, going out and bringing in lunch, and sitting down with employees and talking about issues creates that openness.

Don’t take the easy way out. The hardest part of being a leader is that you have a lot of issues coming at you all at the same time and learning to prioritize those issues of which one will give the company the greatest impact. Sometimes it’s easier to take the ones that are easy to fix first or those that are making the most noise versus looking at them all and going with the one that will make the most impact on everyone if it’s resolved first.

That’s always a juggling act. You have to look at all of them on a regular basis to figure out what that is, make the decision and go after that one first.

Learn to lead. I have worked in all the jobs at Talent Tree, moving up from the field level to here. If someone else has not had that opportunity, they need to go out and learn as much as they can.

Spend some time with employees. You don’t always have to be the one telling everyone how to do and what to do; you can be there as a partner and try to understand what’s going on. Then you can come back and lead the company.

Realize that you don’t have to know everything. When I came into the corporate environment, all of a sudden I was faced with IT, accounting, billing and collections.

I thought I had to learn all of that, but I learned pretty quickly that you don’t have to know about every detail, about every department. Just know enough to know how it affects your internal and external customers, and then you can ask the right questions. Once you know the right questions to ask, you’ve got to make sure you bring in the experts that can mirror your culture and can get the job done. You don’t have to know all of that yourself.

HOW TO REACH: Talent Tree, or (713) 789-1818

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

The learning curve

Leslie Braksick is truly passionate about her job at Continuous Learning Group, a consulting firm that helps companies develop human resources strategies, processes and behaviors.

But even with that passion, the company’s founder and chairman knew she couldn’t do it all, and her greatest challenge became changing her role as a leader so that others could grow as the company evolved. Braksick says it was a difficult but necessary step for her company as it has grown to 152 employees in the 14 years since its inception.

And that growth shows no sign of stopping as CLG grew revenue to $30 million in 2006, a 26 percent increase over 2005.

Smart Business spoke with Braksick about how taking that step to change your role and being a model for other employees can help a company grow.

Q: What is the hardest part of leading a growing company?

The leader having to change his or her role to match the evolving needs of the business. In a small company, there are a lot of craftspeople who do the work themselves, and they love it, and they do it well. As you grow, you become a manager of other craftspeople, in addition to maybe still being a craftsperson.

Eventually, you become a leader who manages managers of craftspeople. So as a leader of a growing company, you may, in fact, be moving further away from the very thing that brings you joy and passion, that got you into the business to begin with. You have to not only be OK with that, but you have to embrace that to ensure that you’re being the leader your organization most needs to grow.

Q: How can leaders deal with the change in their leadership role as their company grows?

Be clear about what problem you’re trying to solve, and then solve it. Sometimes issues mask themselves as other issues.

The struggle could come from the fact that you have inadequate talent inside the organization, or that the great talent you have inside the organization lacks strategic clarity as to what they should be working on.

Or maybe they have that, but they are not feeling motivated to do what needs to be done. Or maybe the tools they’re asked to work with are somehow inadequate.

Maybe the leader doesn’t want to be leading others; maybe he or she would just as soon be back as a craftsperson.

Q: How do you manage growth so that it does not spin out of control?

It’s key that you have some leading indicators that let you know how the business is doing so that you’re not surprised or caught off guard. It could be something as simple as number of inquiries or, if you’re doing any kind of marketing, what kind of hits you’re getting.

You need to manage those leading indicators, so if you see prospects coming into your sales pipeline, you need to staff up or make changes so that you’re ready to deliver on that.

Q: What are some things that can stop a company from growing?

Dissatisfied clients or customers. If people are highly satisfied, that doesn’t guarantee they will repurchase. They have to be truly delighted, they have to be off-the-chart pleased with the product or service, or you’re not guaranteed repurchasing or referring. Unless you have truly delighted clients, you’re not assured growth, and you are not guaranteed that you will continue to see the growth.

That’s followed by having great people inside your organization. It matters a lot that your customers and clients feel good about interfacing with your people and that they feel people are responsive to their needs and wants and care about them.

We look for people who are humble, who can be empathetic with the needs of the people that we serve. We’re not looking for people that are boastful or think they are right all the time.

And yet, we look for people who bring a real passion and a spark to the workplace, people that are excited to do a great job.

Q: How do you know if you’re headed in the wrong direction?

Heed the warning signs. If things are not right, there are usually signs they are not right. Don’t wait until it gets bad to intervene and talk about it. We are highly imperfect, but as long as we’re talking about it, it’s really all I care about.

It’s when people stop talking and telling a leader honestly what’s happening, what’s working and what’s not working, when the leader gets in trouble and, ultimately, when the organization gets in trouble.

Leaders need to remain open and inviting and understand what the warning signs are telling them and not wait until there are issues. Don’t wait until your top person walks out the door because they’re miserable. You’ll see signs a lot earlier than that.

HOW TO REACH: Continuous Learning Group, (412) 269-7240 or