Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Healthy beginnings

I have never been one of those people who create a litany of New Year’s resolutions, hoping to drastically change the way I live my life. It’s an utter waste of time and energy, and most people end up breaking their promises long before President’s Day.

However, I do recognize the significance of closing the door on one year and the opening of another as the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31 and a new year begins.

There is something alluring about “new,” as it is often accompanied by hope and opportunity, as well as a chance to start a new chapter in a continuing saga.

So it’s apropos that we enter 2010 by focusing on Cynthia Moore-Hardy, president and CEO of Lake Health Inc., which in October opened the doors to the newest hospital in the Lake Health chain, its state-of-the-art TriPoint Medical Center.

Moore-Hardy undertook the $155 million project by soliciting input and ideas from the chain’s 2,700 employees, using a team approach during the planning process. That may sound like just another platitude about how to get buy-in and create a sense of ownership in a large project, but for Moore-Hardy, the philosophy is real.

“You have to work within the culture of your organization or the culture you’re trying to create within your organization,” she says. “It’s important to know what your employees, volunteers (and) physicians are thinking, and have a mechanism that allows them to have input into decision-making.”

So Moore-Hardy, who came up through the ranks with registered nurse training, engaged every area of the organization for feedback and ideas. She spoke face to face with as many different employees as possible and developed teams of people cross-staffed from different departments to evaluate ideas.

The result was a facility that had the fingerprints of the entire organization upon it and offers patients and visitors a different type of medical center.

“We wanted to create, instead of a place where people feel like they’re going for sick care, a place that represented health,” Moore-Hardy explains.

With American’s attention firmly focused on health care and wellness, that’s a new approach to an old idea, and one that Moore-Hardy attributes to the innovative nature of Lake Health’s team.

As for me, I’m approaching 2010 like most other years — with a healthy dose of anticipation and hope and with my eyes wide open in search of golden opportunities.

Contact executive editor Dustin S. Klein at

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Do unto others

Years ago, I worked at a company where few people enjoyed coming to work each day.

Too often, managers screamed at their staff in public. Verbal assaults were so brutal at times that otherwise mentally tough people were brought to tears. Watching this display of unprofessionalism on an almost daily basis served as one of the reasons why I left daily newspaper journalism.

I’m certainly not downplaying how important it is to hold people accountable for meeting goals, but I absolutely believe that direct feedback should be done professionally and behind closed doors. Otherwise, you run the risk of sowing the seeds of fear, distrust and disloyalty among your employees.

If you want to kill a business quickly, demotivating team members is a great way to do so. Success depends on people who are fully engaged with your organization’s mission and motivated to do whatever it takes to excel. Much of that is based on treating people respectfully in every discussion. When you don’t, you’re just bullying your way toward achieving goals.

Carl Albright, this month’s cover story subject, understands the importance of respect and motivation. For Albright, president and CEO of InfoCision Management Corp., treating people the right way means he sets a good example of how the company’s culture should work.

It also means communicating clear expectations of what the company’s goals are, how results will be measured and how people will be held accountable.

“If people like being at the job, I think they are going to work harder for me, for the company and ultimately for our clients,” Albright says. “If they don’t like it here … then they are literally going to start phoning it in.”

If InfoCision’s 2,000-plus employees weren’t engaged and excited to be working for the teleservices firm, then many of Albright plans for the company’s future growth would be in jeopardy.

Instead, Albright’s simple, friendly gestures, his desire to get to know his employees beyond the office and his innate ability to show genuine appreciation for their work have combined to help lead InfoCision to new heights year after year.

Unfortunately, the same didn’t hold true for my former employer, which developed a well-deserved reputation for having a revolving door. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. When you think about it, it’s amazing how just a little respect for your fellow man can have such incredible results.

Contact executive editor Dustin S. Klein at

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 14 September 2009 20:00







Published in Akron/Canton
Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Winning ways

No matter how lousy the economy is, a team staffed with star-level talent holds a distinct advantage over competitors that aren’t staffed by superstars.

While the economy and its woes predictably drew top billing from respondents of the 2009 ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey, driving sales and recruiting/retaining top talent ranked a close second and third.

This month’s cover package, which contains the results of our 10th annual survey, reveals that all three issues are interconnected. When you have top talent capable of increasing sales, they are able to roll up their sleeves and sweat a little more than usual to help your organization weather tough times.

But finding those people isn’t easy, as Jeffrey Friedman, chairman, president and CEO of Associated Estate Realty Corp. admits. Keeping them is even harder, especially when you want to hire candidates with the potential to be better than the people making the hiring decisions.

“Good managers really want people who can do their job, because the more people that we have who are that capable, the better the overall company is,” Friedman says.

This “hire smarter and better” philosophy is shared by many successful organizations but can encumber executives who feel threatened that they might be hiring their replacement long before they’re ready to voluntarily give up their job.

That is a shortsighted view.

Having a team of all-stars provides a bevy of benefits that manifest during good and bad times, acting as an insurance policy when people need to step up and take on larger roles. And beyond ample compensation for these employees, it’s imperative to invest in their career development.

AEC offers an extensive training academy for each of its employees. Similar tactics held true for Workplace Practices Survey respondents, who additionally employ a mixture of mentoring (38.5 percent) and Web-based training programs (53 percent) as part of their employee development initiatives.

Further, of the 145 organizations that participated in this year’s survey, manufacturers reported that they dedicate 9.4 percent of their HR budgets for tuition assistance and job-related training while nonmanufacturers dedicate 6.3 percent.

Taken as a whole, it doesn’t matter what your product or service is. Just like a baseball team with great hitting and lousy pitching, or vice versa, if you don’t have talent represented across the board, you’re not going to win a lot of games.

Contact executive editor Dustin S. Klein at

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

Face in the crowd

Generally speaking, people fall into two camps — those who want to be visible and those who want to be invisible.

The latter group represents that segment of people who keep a low profile, aren’t very social at work and tend to eschew anything that draws attention to him or her. Those people are usually the minority.

Most people tend to identify with the other group, and while they’re not all looking for the bright spotlight to shine down upon them, they do want to be noticed.

Nowhere is this truer than in the workplace, where employees desperately want to be more than just a number on a ledger or a run-of-the-mill cog in the machine.

They want to be seen, heard and, most of all, valued for their contributions.

With the carnage continuing to rain down and around us like macabre hellfire, now is a good time to take a few moments away from your survival tactics to show your employees just how much each of them means to your organization.

One of the first lessons that Walt Bettinger, president and CEO of The Charles Schwab Corp. and this month’s cover story subject, learned was that you need to value each person within an organization, no matter what his or her job.

That simple tenet was incorporated into Bettinger’s management philosophy and underscores his belief that how you treat your employees portends your own managerial success.

“If we fail as leaders of people, we will fail as business executives,” he says.

A pat on the back or a “Good job” goes a long way, and it will linger long after this maelstrom has subsided and life begins resembling something a bit more normal.

Today, there is little doubt that hard decisions must be made in order to ensure the future. Sometimes that means letting people go. When that happens, put yourself in those people’s shoes and handle the layoffs as humanely as possible.

Then, for those people who remain, make that extra effort to notice them. It will prove invaluable to helping your organization survive tough times.

Let’s face it: It’s a scary time out there for everyone. Wanting to be seen, heard, appreciated and even comforted is only natural. For the moment that it takes to do so, the payoff is immeasurable.

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Heart of it all

As Ohio companies are demonstrating every day, our economy has evolved in a way that has made it important to think big, to strategically foster commercial partnerships and to seize growth opportunities on a transnational scale.

Much of this is attributable to simple demographics. Consider for a moment the following: 95 percent of the world’s population lives outside the U.S. Two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power lies outside our borders. To capitalize on these markets, we must extend our reach beyond Ohio’s conventional borders.

This is not to suggest that the debate regarding global trade trends does not exist. Rising transportation costs and labor and environmental concerns remain formidable policy challenges as we move forward.

But all signs point to the fact that the globalization of our economy will continue to accelerate. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, exports have been growing two to three times faster than the economy as a whole. Such trends suggest a very real need to build robust partnerships, both regionally and around the world, to get and stay ahead.

In this area, Ohio has some outstanding news to report. In 2007, Ohio exports totaled more than $42 billion and reached 220 countries and territories. We are the only state in the U.S. in which exports have increased each year for the past 10 years. As such, Ohio is recognized as an exporting leader.

Ohio’s export gains are geographically widespread. Total shipments to Europe were up 16 percent compared to 2006, and shipments to Mexico, Ohio’s second largest market, grew by 11 percent to $3 billion. Exports to our No. 1 export market, Canada, were up 6.42 percent.

Our Asian export market also is booming: Japan is currently Ohio’s third-largest export market, and last year, China became Ohio’s fourth-largest market with exports increasing nearly 40 percent to $1.3 billion. Because of an enormous increase in exports to Brazil, Ohio exports to South America grew by an impressive 86 percent.

This growth means more jobs: In 2006, Ohio had 317,700 jobs linked to manufactured exports.

In addition to facilitating export growth, we are aggressively promoting Ohio as a premier business location for international investment. Last year, there were 40 international investments in our state. Approximately 600 foreign-based corporations from 28 countries are operating in Ohio with more than 1,000 facilities, employing between 180,000 to 200,000 people. By partnering with local and regional economic development organizations, we are working to create and retain good jobs through increased foreign investment.

Ohio is uniquely positioned to attract many leading global companies given our state’s track record of attracting new investments of all kinds. In both 2006 and 2007, Ohio won the Governor’s Cup from Site Selection Magazine for attracting the most capital investments for new and expanded facilities. Ohio also was recently awarded a Silver Shovel Award from Area Development Magazine for its 2007 accomplishments in attracting new business opportunities and supporting company expansions that create jobs.

Gov. Strickland and I are strategically focused on how our administration can further support business growth at home and extend our international reach. We are tracking new trends and fostering new relationships with the highly valued collaboration of both our public and private sector partners.

The Ohio Department of Development’s Global Markets Division is tasked with helping Ohio exporters reach new markets and in attracting new international investments into Ohio. And it is doing so through export counseling and finance programs, market research, business missions, and trade shows.

We recently launched three new trade offices in Sydney, Australia, Beijing, China, and New Delhi, India, bringing Ohio’s total number of international offices to 14. This past April, we held our first Ohio Global Summit to discuss export strategies for the critical markets of India, China and Brazil. The summit will become an annual event.

International commerce remains a defining attribute of today’s globalized world. We should be proud that Ohio goods and services are in demand abroad and that we are attracting new foreign investment here at home. This supports and creates good jobs and new economic growth leading to an increasingly competitive and prosperous Ohio.

LEE FISHER is lieutenant governor of the state of Ohio and director of the Ohio Department of Development, where he leads the state’s efforts to retain, attract and create jobs and grow Ohio’s economy. For more information on the state of Ohio and its economic drivers, visit

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 26 July 2008 20:00

Nonnegotiable experiential standards

What if your company applied an experience tax to everything you sold to your customers?

If you did, you would begin to analyze and quantify each stage of your customer experience cycle (points of contact) to understand how important it is to be consistent in delivering your nonnegotiable standards.

The truth is, unless you are the cheapest in your industry, you are probably already charging an experience tax — you just don’t realize it nor break it out. If you weren’t, then your prices — and everyone in your industry’s prices — would be exactly the same. The reason for the difference — some companies promise to provide more of an experience than others.

What’s important about this is that every employee in your organization must realize that you need to actually deliver whatever it is that you’re promising. Otherwise, your customers will move on to a competitor who neither promises nor charges for those things.

The six components of a customer’s experience

To create brand loyalty and customer evangelists, you must operate at a high level in six distinct areas of business and evaluate your company’s customer service across each category.

Physical — The actual brick-and-mortar component of your operation. These are the physical elements that are more permanent or long term and cannot be changed daily.

Setting — The controllable setting you create daily. The setting communicates a message about what you can provide to your customers. This isn’t always visual; it may be the music your customers hear when they call and are placed on hold or the mood your Web site creates. The setting reveals the characteristics of your business as they appeal to the five senses.

Functional — The ease of doing business with you, such as return policies and hours of operations. Functionality has nothing to do with human interactions, such as being pleasant or saying please or thank you.

Technical — Your staff’s expertise in their particular skills and the company’s systems and equipment.

Operational — The actions that team members must execute behind the scenes before, during and after a customer’s experience. These actions assist in the day-to-day transactions with customers, the tasks, compliances and duties of our jobs.

Experiential — The actions that team members execute while interacting with the customer. Experiential actions are the reason why customers return, refer others and become brand evangelists. These include personalization and anticipating customers’ needs.

Task-focused vs. customer-focused

Secret service focuses on the experiential, but it is important that a company be technically and operationally excellent before they can be experientially excellent.

While your emphasis on experiential skills should not come at the cost of technical or operational, being only technically and operationally focused results in employees losing sight of the customer.

But here’s the rub: Experiential training is the least provided and hardest to teach of the components. Conversely, it is also the most rewarding because it provides the largest return on investment. Experiential training is about making the customer’s day. It is about creating value over and above the product you are selling. It is about empowering your front-line employees to have a sense of ownership in their jobs, and it sets you apart from the competition.

Action plan

Get started by examining the standards on which you train your employees. It’s a safe bet that the majority, if not all, the standards fall under operational and technical. But a memorable customer experience requires memorable encounters that extend well beyond your employees dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s.

Employees need to be trained on how to deliver personal service. When getting customer information over the phone, it is imperative that we confirm their address and the accuracy of their order (all operational), but it doesn’t take any longer to ask them about the weather in Minneapolis or thank them for being a customer of your company since 2004. You’ll be amazed how those simple details change your customers’ experiential paradigm.

JOHN R. DIJULIUS III is the author of “Secret Service: Hidden Systems That Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service” and “What’s The Secret.” He is also president of The DiJulius Group, a firm specializing in giving companies a superior competitive advantage by helping them differentiate on delivering an experience and making price irrelevant. Reach him at

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

Clear purpose

If you want to be known as a world-class customer service organization, you must have a

strong service vision that clearly communicates your company’s service culture to all of your employees.

This service vision articulates the underlying purpose of why your organization exists and offers customers something they can’t get elsewhere. The level of service you wish to provide must be established before many other aspects of your organization can take shape. The service vision influences hiring standards, training, leadership philosophies as well as your overall business model.

There are two critical parts in implementing a successful service vision:

  • Finding the words that will properly articulate your company’s purpose and vision to customers and employees.

  • Consistently marketing the service vision internally to your employees and making the connection of how each of their roles impact and support that service vision.

Creating a service vision is a lot like creating a mission statement for the organization. It should be a brief sentence. That may sound easy, but if it takes your leadership team less than 30 hours to develop, your service vision will probably have no meaning. A service vision should be something senior management debates. It must be created from the company’s legacy. It is never the product or service that you sell; rather, it is the underlying purpose of why your company is in existence. Every great service company is a storytelling company. The company should be constantly telling stories of how employees deliver on the service vision to customers. Telling these stories daily keeps the service philosophy front and center in the mind of every employee and puts a burden on both existing and new employees to continue that legacy.

Once you have a strong service vision, you want to support it with service brand promises, which are keywords, phrases, quotes and “isms” that are repeated over and over.

To create your own service brand promise:

  • Define what business you are in

  • List what you sell

  • Determine your “priceless”

  • Identify the customers’ long-term benefits of doing business with your company

  • Figure out how to make price irrelevant

A service brand promise does not always have to be something you advertise to the public. It is an internal marketing tool that reinforces your service vision.

I found a very effective way of helping organizations figure out their service brand promise by borrowing from the MasterCard “Priceless” commercials. Picture MasterCard using your organization in its next commercial; what would be your company’s priceless tagline?

When doing this exercise, most organizations don’t think big enough. For example, I worked with a financial services company that helps people plan for retirement. Management’s first attempt at a priceless tagline was “20 percent return on your retirement investment.” Boring!

So, I asked, “Why do your clients want a 20 percent annual return?”

My clients responded, “So they can create wealth.”

“Why do they want to create wealth?”

“So they can have something to retire on.”

“Why do they need something to retire on?”

“So they don’t have to work till the day they die and so their standard of living doesn’t change.”

After having this type of dialogue, they created a new service brand promise: “Being able to retire five years earlier than you expected and maintain your standard of living.” Priceless.

Like any great marketing campaign, just coming up with clever slogans is not enough to consistently get your message out to your target audience. In this case, your target audience is every employee in your organization.

Use a similar approach to what you use with your customers — storytelling and constant references to how your organization lives its service brand promise.

Phrases, slogans and creative titles don’t change the culture. But they are effective aids in reminding every person the role that comes with his or her position. It is ultimately management’s daily responsibility to constantly demonstrate how each department supports and impacts the service vision of the organization, which, in turn, drives the customers’ experience and their satisfaction level.

JOHN R. DIJULIUS III is the author of “Secret Service: Hidden Systems That Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service” and “What’s The Secret.” He is also president of The DiJulius Group, a firm specializing in giving companies a superior competitive advantage by helping them differentiate on delivering an experience and making price irrelevant. Reach him at

Published in Cleveland
Friday, 25 April 2008 20:00

A fresh look

An interesting survey summary hit my desk in early April: Despite mixed economic reports, nearly half of law firms and corporate legal departments nationwide expect to hire additional lawyers in the next 12 months.

That information arrived the same morning as the U.S. Department of Labor’s report that 80,000 jobs were cut in March. Talk about mixed news.

At first, I thought at least there’s one industry anticipating job growth. But then I read deeper into the survey results and my outlook changed.

According to the survey by Robert Half Legal, the legal profession is expecting to add attorneys to its ranks specifically because the economy is doing poorly. Three practice areas are expecting growth —bankruptcy, litigation, and ethics and corporate governance.

When you sit down and think about it, that makes a lot of sense. Job losses have been widespread across all sectors. Credit is tightening. Businesses and consumers, alike, are feeling the pinch. Next stop: your friendly, neighborhood law firm in search of assistance.

So what will it take for this region to spur job growth and change its stars from shooting to shining? Innovation.

It’s no longer prudent to simply build a fort during the down cycles and wait for the economy to turn around. Rather, if Northeast Ohio is to rise up and stake its claim, business leaders must identify new areas within existing industry sectors — or create new ones — that are designed to solve the pain consumers and businesses face on a daily basis.

Many of America’s periods of true innovation occurred during recessionary times, most recently when the iPod was introduced in the aftermath of the dot-com collapse. Why shouldn’t this time period offer the same opportunities? Rising energy costs have people talking about green initiatives. Tightening credit has people thinking about creative financing mechanisms. And the housing market collapse has forced a new look at real estate.

It almost seems inevitable that if we focus our energies on taking a fresh look at everything instead of staring bug-eyed at our books, we should land on solutions that solve everyday problems in a new way, thereby creating new jobs to deliver those products and services and drag us out of the regional economy quagmire.

Besides, what other choice do we have?

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

Substance over style

Iheard a disturbing comment on the radio last month. It was the morning of the Iowa caucuses, and while describing the U.S. presidential election season a caller said it really didn’t matter who garnered either political party’s nomination because most of what the politicians say they’ll do is nothing more than lip service.

When asked why, the gentleman chucked and said, “Well, there’s an old saying: ‘If given a choice between doing a good job and being perceived as doing a good job, I’ll take being perceived of doing a good job any day.’ That pretty much sums up U.S. elections these days.”

Clearly, the comment was made in jest as a poke at politics, where lip service rules. But it unfortunately rings far too true and applies to more than just politics. Today, perhaps more than ever, perception has become reality. If you think something is true, it is, whether that’s the case or not.

Consider your workplace. Do your employees care more about doing a good job or being recognized by management for doing a good job? If it’s the latter, perhaps it’s time for a change. Try including some sort of recognition that comes from peers, which often have better insight about who’s actually doing a good job rather than appearing to do so.

So that is why this issue of Smart Business, which you hold in your hands, is a tribute to more doing and less talking. Beyond our head-to-toe redesign, which you can read more about in CEO Fred Koury’s column, our two Northeast Ohio editions feature profiles of a group of manufacturing companies that have done more than create the perception of change.

Our 2008 eVolution of Manufacturing honorees have actually done a good job adapting their organizations to compete — and win — in the modern global economy, where action rules.

Our cover story on The Timken Co. Chairman Ward J. “Tim” Timken Jr. describes how even a 108-year-old company can’t allow itself to get by on what it says. It actually has to back up the claims because beyond performance there’s a reputation to uphold. As Timken says, “Don’t ever put your name on something you’d ever have cause to be ashamed of.” <<

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at

Published in Cleveland