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The results of the 2011 ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey show many positive signs of recovery and optimism for employers and a renewed focus on attracting and retaining top performers.

According to respondents, the economy is no longer their most pressing challenge. Organizations are more concerned about attracting and retaining talent and managing the growth of their businesses. This is especially evident in employers’ hiring practices. Fewer than 6 percent of responding organizations, the lowest percentage in the survey’s history, are anticipating layoffs this year, and many employers in the region appear to be hiring. More employers are using online methods to hire, including job boards, online career centers and electronic advertising. Social media is also being adopted into hiring practices at a fast pace, and the use of psychological assessments for selection has also increased. These practices may suggest that employers are increasingly focused on hiring this year and ensuring that they recruit the best talent.

Likewise, many organizations are improving their compensation practices. Pay raise projections are gradually returning to around 3 percent, up from the past two years, and more employers plan to provide pay increases compared to last year. Similarly, the percentage of employers providing cash bonuses to management and nonmanagement employees has increased and is the highest in five years.

Additionally, more employers are making investments in their staff’s development compared to past years. The percent of organizations providing financial assistance to employees for training and development has increased and is the highest it has been in four years, with 91 percent of organizations providing such assistance. Web-based training, in particular, has increased in popularity — by 43 percent in the past seven years. Tuition assistance, job training and mentor/career development programs also continue to be commonly used by employers to help enhance employees’ skills.

Employers also continue to offer competitive benefits — despite rising costs. More employers are offering employees health savings accounts and sharing costs for health insurance. Despite a 10 percent rise in health insurance premiums reported in the survey, the average percent of premium employees make toward their health insurance coverage remained fairly stable in comparison to the past few years. Additionally, organizations continue to offer 401(k) plans with matching contributions. The percentage of employers offering work-life benefits, such as flexible scheduling, paid time off and child-care/elder-care support, also continue to remain stable.

These are just a few examples of how organizations are enhancing their workplaces to ensure they retain their top performers and attract new talent. We applaud these organizations, as well as our NorthCoast 99 winners, who continue to improve their workplaces to retain their key talent. Based on the exceptional practices of these organizations, we’ve included a few suggestions to help you retain your top performers.

Manage benefit costs. It’s important to find different and more effective ways of managing employee benefits costs, particularly health insurance, as these costs continue to rise. Understand the drivers of these costs for your business and explore new ways to manage and cope with them in the long term, such as by investing in wellness initiatives. Also, be sure to invest in the benefits that are most important to your work force.

Compensate and reward for performance. Ensure that top performers are rewarded in meaningful ways, especially through compensation. Continue to keep pace with compensation trends and differentiate monetary awards, such as salary increases and incentive pay, based on performance. Additionally, you may consider involving top performers in a discussion about rewards to help identify alternative ways to recognize performance or to determine which rewards are most valuable to them.

Develop and advance your talent. Offering training and development opportunities is essential to manage continued growth and success but also to engage and retain your top people. Provide your top performers with numerous opportunities to be challenged and advance within your organization by offering opportunities to attend workshops, expand their education, gain credentials, network, volunteer and become leaders.

Encourage innovation. To sustain growth, continue to encourage employees to think creatively and look for ways to improve your products, services and processes. Provide them with opportunities to share their suggestions and ideas, either formally or informally. Additionally, strive to do business simpler and smarter and invest in new innovations and technological improvements. Engage your top performers to lead these efforts. Similarly, continuously improve and innovate your workplace practices, as well. You may even consider involving your top performers in discussion of workplace policies and practices.

Thanks to the organizations that participated in the survey and to Smart Business Magazine for 12 years of survey collaboration. In addition we would like to acknowledge the NorthCoast 99 winners over the past 13 years (www.northcoast99.com) who also demonstrate excellence in the attraction and retention of top talent.

Click here to see the survey results.

Published in Cleveland

Immigration is currently a hot-button issue, so it’s not surprising to hear that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently hired 500 new auditors in its quest to crack down on undocumented and unqualified workers.

Businesses who rely on undocumented workers take note: If ICE audits your business and finds you have knowingly or mistakenly hired illegal aliens, it will assess up to a $250,000 fine per undocumented worker and $1,000 per mistake on each completed I-9 form.

In my experience, I often find that employers are unaware of the stiff penalties associated with hiring undocumented workers. They believe their audit risk is low, and in many cases, it’s easier for them to staff undesirable jobs with undocumented workers than with documented ones. But the penalties and PR repercussions associated with immigration busts quickly destroy any benefits you may have received from hiring illegal aliens in the first place. Your reputation is hard to replace and so is loss of client confidence.

When ICE does come knocking, companies who rely heavily on undocumented workers find themselves facing a twofold problem. First, the potential fines can easily run into the millions of dollars. Second, the moment your undocumented workers get wind that ICE is at the door, they will leave. Suddenly, your business is missing 30, 50, or in one case, even 80 percent of its workers. You have to figure out how to backfill those positions quickly to avoid business interruption and significant revenue loss. Once you’re in that hole, it’s incredibly difficult to get out.

There are a number of steps organizations can take to minimize the risk of an ICE audit. First, do not attach photocopies of a worker’s documents to his or her I-9 form. When immigration comes in, the agent asks for the I-9s, and he or she will see the photocopies. If the photocopied documents don’t look authentic, you’re in trouble. All of a sudden those photocopies become evidence against you, and it’s now easier for the government to prove you’ve engaged in negligent hiring practices. When you are filling out an I-9, all you’re required to do is visually inspect the documents presented to you and attest that they appear to be authentic. Sign on the appropriate line and skip the photocopies.

Second, make sure you train your employees on how to spot forged documents. For example, authentic green cards and resident alien cards have holograms on them. Fake ones do not. Many fake social security cards don’t have the right number of pillars on either side, or they’re the wrong color blue. Knowing how to spot a fake can go a long way toward protecting your business.

Third, ensure that the employee who is charged with filling out the I-9s for your business is adequately trained on the proper way to complete the form. When I conduct HR assessments for my clients, I frequently see multiple errors on various I-9 forms. If ICE audits these forms, it will fine you $1,000 for every mistake  — not every form with mistakes on it.

Common mistakes include using abbreviations, writing in the wrong color ink, omitting signatures, and not adhering to the rules regarding dates. Proper training and preventative measures in this area can save tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

Fourth, it’s important to obtain social security validation and verification through a reputable provider. E-Verify is the government’s verification service, but many businesses find it to be overly burdensome and time consuming. At the very minimum, find a reputable provider who will match the name, date of birth, and address to the given social security number.

Taking the time to do these four things will minimize your risk of an ICE audit. If all else fails and ICE does come knocking, call an immigration attorney or qualified and knowledgeable HR professional who can help you correct errors in your hiring process and put a plan into place for backfilling positions that may now be vacant.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small start-ups to large international corporations. She is a Senior Professional in Human Resources and holds an Associate designation in Risk Management. Contact her at sherri@geninsyght.com.

Published in Dallas
Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:01

John Allen on customer loyalty

Today, having customers simply satisfied isn’t enough. We want customers to feel an undying sense of loyalty to our company and its products, but like any relationship, building that level of devotion is hard work. It requires a service-oriented company culture with employees who are relentlessly committed to delivering exceptional care.

I am not a customer service expert, but as co-owner of a company that recently overhauled its customer service protocol, I now understand the difference between simply addressing clients’ needs and demonstrating genuine care during every client interaction.

Top-down culture and commitment

Leaders don’t always recognize the significant role they play, but they are implicitly responsible for fostering a caring culture that embraces service as a platform. Employees rally behind initiatives that executives endorse, because those will be perceived to be the most strategic endeavors. When an initiative is not outwardly supported by top leaders, it is perceived as less important.

Identify internal champions

Successfully effectuating cultural change requires top-level commitment, but implementing related process and procedural changes takes something more. When our company recently revamped its customer service protocols, we first researched and tested a new service system. More importantly though, we trained a team of qualified people who were not only knowledgeable about our business but also excited about the service role they would perform. To oversee a project of this magnitude, we identified an internal champion who was personally committed to customer service and also had the passion and conviction to motivate others.

Commit resources

If you are truly committed to improving your company’s level of customer care, you are going to have to give more than mere lip service. Delivering exceptional service requires teams of talented people who are equipped with progressive technology and top-notch tools, so be prepared to commit dollars and resources to the initiative.

Hire the right people

Whenever someone recounts a story about customer service, a large part of his or her experience relates to the person whom he or she had the pleasure, or displeasure, of dealing with — an especially engaging flight attendant, a sales associate who went out of his or her way to locate an item, an inattentive waiter. Because one person can make or break a customer encounter, it’s critical that the right people are working for your company. Identify service-oriented people during the hiring process. Whether you are hiring a sales rep or a receptionist, ask interview questions that gage an applicant’s level of customer care.

Empower employees

A few years ago, an employee contacted me about sending flowers to a client whose mother had passed away. At first I was frustrated that she felt it necessary to ask my permission to do something so appropriate, but I realized I had failed to properly empower her. Guidelines are useful and monetary limits are often warranted, but your employees deliver front-line customer service. Empower them to overwhelm your customers.

Make training a priority

Our company needs front-line customer service representatives who understand our business and are well-versed in all aspects of our service offering so they can address client concerns that are often complex or technical in nature. As a result, we’ve made training a priority to ensure that our customer service representatives are capable of dealing with the most complicated customer issues. It is equally important that we train our front line representatives to effectively deal with people under the most delicate of circumstances.

You don’t need to be an expert to know that keeping loyal customers by delivering exceptional service is smart business. Customer service, however, isn’t a box that can be checked off a “to do” list. New protocols and systems are not enough. Delivering remarkable service requires ongoing companywide commitment and continuous attention.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based human resources and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. To reach him, go to www.gnapartners.com.

Published in Houston

For Charles Schreiber, finding the best talent is only the tip of the human resources iceberg. At KBS Realty Advisors, that talent needs to be trained and prepared to jump directly into their new jobs.

KBS has a work force of 200, and Schreiber wants any new hires to be able to assume their full job responsibilities with 60 to 90 days of coming aboard. In that two- to three-month window, new hires need an education in the culture and structure of the real estate and investment firm, which CEO Schreiber co-founded in 1992.

Smart Business spoke with Schreiber about identifying and grooming top performers.

What are some of the key factors that you want to see in someone you employ?

An overused term is looking for the self-starter, but we are looking for people who are really thinkers. We give people a lot of responsibilities and the ability to grow in their job. So the people within KBS are problem solvers. They’re looking to improve not only their performance, but the performance of their whole team. We’re looking for leaders who not only finish their tasks by the end of the day, but sometime during the day and week, they take time and focus on how things can be improved, how things can be changed.

Another big one is integrity. That is our whole culture here. We work as a team, so we’re accountable to each other, so for example the performance in our reporting group and the fact that they’re completing their reports on a timely basis will have an impact on our reporting group. So if the accounting group is late, the reporting group is going to have trouble getting their reports out and distributed within a time schedule. They have to work evenings or weekends because the accounting group didn’t get their work done. So that is critical, the effort each group puts into their job and working as a team.

How do you identify a self-starter?

Sometimes it’s really simple. It’s something we’ve embraced and done for 20 years. All of the leaders in our company, I request that when somebody within their team comes to them with a problem, don’t bring the problem to them without bringing a recommendation along with it.

That is a fundamental step. If I have to solve the problem, I don’t need that employee. I just have to go do it myself. The positive is it requires everyone to think. The negative is that if somebody comes in with recommendations and you’re the supervisor, you really don’t want to say no. You want to encourage their ideas. So you need to manage that appropriately. So I think that it is a fundamental trait within a company like ours. Everybody at every level is solving their own problems, coming up with recommendations, and having the approvals that allow people to solve their own problems.

In the recruitment and interview process, how are you getting a feel for whether a person will be the right fit?

You have to be fairly challenging in the interview process. If I’m interviewing the person, they’re going to come in and have a key role within the company. I’ll go through at least two, if not three, meetings with them, and I’ll challenge them on their business skills. On the skills of etiquette, timeliness and just the fundamentals of being a good business person. I’ll challenge them on their dedication to their career, on their priorities, not only in their career but their life. You want people who are going to be successful not only in their business, but in their entire life. Hopefully by working with KBS, they’re going to have the tools where they can pursue personal goals. Those personal goals are really of interest to me.

How to reach: KBS Realty Advisors, (949) 417-6500 or www.kbsrealty.com

Published in Orange County

It was the year 2000, and John Scardapane was in his salad days leading Saladworks LLC.

The phrase “salad days” derives from a line in the first act of William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” in which Cleopatra laments her earlier involvement with Julius Caesar:

“My salad days, when I was green in judgment, cold in blood…”

Scardapane isn’t cold-blooded, but the former chef was green in judgment as he led the restaurant chain he founded in 1986 toward a franchising concept that could serve as a springboard to rapid growth, but required the corporate leadership to provide a strong, stable support system for prospective store owners. It was something Scardapane had yet to address.

“I was very green about multi-unit operating,” he says. “We had no structure, we had no core values, we had no manuals, no training programs. We were doing extremely well, but our volume was covering a lot of our seams.”

Scardapane — also the chairman and CEO — decided to begin franchising the stores to family members and friends, hoping they would take the restaurant concept and run with it the way he had. Scardapane’s family and friends had expanded Saladworks to 25 locations as the century turned, but nothing was standardized except for the restaurant name.

“It got to the point where I either had to start building an infrastructure to support them properly, or find someone who could do it,” Scardapane says. “I had no success finding anyone else, so I decided to start building the infrastructure.”

In 2002, Scardapane began selling franchises to the public, and now Saladworks is a chain of more than 100 stores with locations in the New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta areas, along with locations in California, Florida and Missouri. The company employs 2,500 between corporate and franchised locations.

But to get there, Scardapane had to build a growth plan, a strategy for the future and a culture. In short, Scardapane needed a system that worked.

Define your culture

In the early years of the previous decade, as Scardapane began franchising Saladworks locations to family and friends, he knew something was missing from the business equation. But he wasn’t sure what it was.

Scardapane sought out the assistance of executives at Commerce Bank and Wawa Inc., two companies he admires. Through those companies, he found a pair of experienced executives who were willing to mentor him and help grow Saladworks.

“We found a banking executive at Commerce Bank who showed me how Commerce developed their culture and strategies,” Scardapane says. “The gentleman from Wawa came in as a consultant. I asked him to spend a couple of days in the company, go around to every employee and talk to them, come back and give me your opinion on what is happening. He came back to me after a few days, and told me he was extremely impressed. He felt we were running a company structure like you’d have for 500 stores, but he felt the one thing that was missing was a culture.”

Scardapane wanted to know the reasoning behind the need to develop a culture, and why it was critical to his company’s success.

“I asked him, ‘What is a culture and why do I need it?’” he says. “We talked about it, he helped me put everything in writing, and everything else evolved from there. I found out that once you have that culture in place, that is when you can start empowering everyone in the company to make decisions because you know they’re all going down the same path.”

Scardapane decided to craft five core values that would serve as the foundation of Saladworks moving forward: customer service, a passion to be the best, valuing other team members, doing what is necessary to get the job done, and hiring the best people. Those five principles became Saladworks’ DNA, and something at the heart of the vetting process when Scardapane and his team are searching for new franchisees.

“Whenever we’re interviewing potential new franchisees, we want to see if they match our culture,” he says. “We’re really interviewing them concerning whether they have the passion to be the best, are they willing to do the right thing, do they have integrity and honesty. Are they going to do whatever it takes to get things done, and are they going to grow future leaders? Each department has specific questions that pertain to their area, but they all follow those guidelines.”

But even if you hire the right people, you won’t be able to fully engage them in your company’s culture without involving them in the process of shaping your plans for the future. Each year, Scardapane involves his corporate staff in the strategic planning process. Involving the corporate staff allows the home-office work force to better reinforce the culture among the franchisees.

“Everybody has a chance to ask whether we have lived up to our values in the past year,” Scardapane says. “And we look at whether those values are reflected in our programs for the next year. So it’s basically us asking ourselves, ‘Do we still believe in our values?’”

Scardapane drives the discussion down to the franchisee level by taking selected franchise owners and putting them through the same process. To make a truly open forum where no opinion is off limits, he bans members of corporate leadership from the franchisee discussion.

“Nobody from the home office is there,” he says. “I have a consultant help them get through the process, but anything they say never gets back to the home office regarding who said it. Then we compare their strategic plan and what the franchisees think the strategic plan should be for the coming year to the one we did for the home office.

“That way, we have a home office strategy and a strategy from the field, from the people who are actually out there working in the stores. It does two things: It helps us understand what is going on in the field, and it gets the franchisees to buy into the company culture. We share the information in a PowerPoint presentation every year at our convention for all of the franchisees.”

If you need to build or revamp your culture, Scardapane suggests you do what he did: find a mentor and have that person analyze your business.

“There are a couple of books out there, like ‘Good to Great,’ but they won’t give you the details and development, how to actually put a plan together,” he says. “You really need some support and structure and someone to take you through the process. Once they’ve gone through once or twice and shown you how, you and your team can take the ball and run with it.”

Maintain your momentum

Scardapane has learned that without an established culture and empowered, educated work force, you’re going to find growing your company to be a difficult prospect. You may have the capital and manpower to grow, but you won’t be able to harness it in any meaningful way.

Once you’ve established a culture and have the right people on board, however, you need to become something of a maintenance man, with team members constantly on the ground in all of your locations, offering support and promoting accountability.

Scardapane keeps his cultural momentum strong with a team of business coaches who each oversee a handful of Saladworks franchises. It’s the coach’s job to maintain contact with their franchise owners and address any issues they might be having.

Finding business coaches and training them is an involved process in and of itself.

“We’ve found that even if you have experience in your field, even if I bring in a guy who has 15 years of experience in the restaurant, it takes about six months before he can go out and support franchises. He has to know everything possible about owning and operating a Saladworks store. He can’t just read the manual. You have to spend a lot of time in the store working as a business coach before you can adequately support the franchisees. It takes a lot longer than most companies realize.”

One of the continuous challenges facing Scardapane is how to maintain a growth support structure that can stay ahead of the rate of growth. He wants to have a system that is capable of continually absorbing new stores into the fold, which means committing people and dollars to support locations that haven’t opened yet, and doing it months in advance.

“You really have to bring in the structure before you expand,” Scardapane says. “If I know we’re opening 25 stores this year, I’ve already brought in two business coaches, and they’ve already been in the pipeline for four months. That’s why the whole system needs a lot of cash flow.

“Where companies fail is they go out and sell a lot of franchises, but they don’t have the infrastructure to support it. They’re trying to backfill the infrastructure, and they don’t have the people to support the stores that are opening.”

If you’ve built the system properly and everyone in your organization is adequately supported, your company will begin to develop its own momentum. Leaders will groom other leaders, the daily business of the company will be well-managed and you will be free to pull back and view your company’s course with a wide-angle lens.

“Once you’ve been doing it for a while, you can do more managing on a macro level,” Scardapane says. “Once you get used to the ideas of others paying off, and watch them start to grow future leaders, you start believing in people and you start giving them more responsibility. And you become more open because of that. You start to realize that you don’t have to do everything yourself. That’s important, because as a leader, you really have to recognize that you’re going to need the help of others, and that sometimes their ideas are going to be better than yours.”

Scardapane wants team members who are smarter than him in their area of practice. He doesn’t want to have to be the expert on everything in his company. He wants to know that once he’s defined the boundaries of the company playing field through the culture and strategic plan, he’ll have star performers on the field making plays.

It’s the only way to ensure the culture he established more than a decade ago remains strong and allows Saladworks to continue its rapid growth, carrying Scardapane well away from those salad days of old, when he was learning on the job.

“It’s about what the leader does once he’s built the infrastructure of core values and strategic planning,” Scardapane says. “Then, it’s time to let people grow and make their own decisions. My entire team knows that the only time I get upset is when they don’t make a decision. I don’t get upset over a wrong decision. I get upset when they make no decision.”

How to reach: Saladworks LLC, (610) 825-3080 or www.saladworks.com

The Scardapane file

Born: Camden, N.J.

History: I was a chef at a New Jersey country club in 1985 or so, and I could see our golfers were eating more salads than burgers. We had a section of the kitchen that would make these very attractive salads with various vegetables, and I started to have an idea for putting the salad concept into a food court environment. An opportunity came up to buy a location at the Cherry Hill Mall, and I brought the idea in there. But the people who ran the mall told me that salads wouldn’t be successful enough to pay the rent. They asked me to find another concept.

On the third try, they agreed to give me a chance if I’d sell sandwiches as well. They thought sandwiches would be strong enough in sales. I agreed, and opened my first store in 1986. The salads were so successful, we became the highest-grossing counter in the food court.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Our major tipping point as a business was bringing the culture into the corporate office and franchise system. So my most valuable lesson is you need to have a culture.

What is your definition of success?

Realizing our vision would be our success, and that vision is to be the greatest restaurant brand. What I love to do is build something great. I get a sense of satisfaction watching our home office people rise through the ranks and watching our franchisees become successful.

Published in Philadelphia

Most businesses profess a desire to have empowered employees who are able to think for themselves, who can handle issues on the spot without recourse to a long management chain, who look at the business as their own and thus come up with creative solutions and put them into effect.

Balancing it, and usually countering it, is the fear that if left to their own devices, their employees will make idiotic decisions that will have financial and public relations consequences of far greater detriment than any possible benefit. The result is a mixed message — “We sort of want you to be innovative, but don’t do anything that carries any risk of a negative outcome because we’ll be checking up on you.”

Small wonder so many employees aren’t eager to use their initiative.

How gratifying it is when one finds an exception. Traveling for business, I rent from my local Enterprise Rent-A-Car office. I am constantly impressed by their enthusiasm and professionalism, and most of all for their ability to make decisions on the spot. Not monumental decisions — I don’t expect them to be able to sign me over the registration of their cars or redesign the corporate logo, but certainly the sort of day-to-day issues that so many other companies make a big deal over.

They are able to make decisions that do have an effect on the income of the business and they are confident about using their initiative to bend the rules when common sense dictates.

Anyone who has ever brought a rental car back an hour late and been charged for an entire extra day will appreciate this. I always leave Enterprise feeling that I have been dealing with people I like, who like me, and most importantly who are on my side. Not, as could so easily be the case, with a large nervous rental car organization, one of whose $25,000 assets they are about to hand over complete control of to me for $35 a day. Consequently they are one of the few companies that I feel a genuine loyalty towards without any of the gimmicks of points and loyalty programs.

How do they and others like them achieve it? Most important, they trust their employees and let their employees know it, but not blindly. The key is for line managers and employees to feel confident about the kinds of decisions they can make. In order to do this, they need to know their limits, which should be as wide as reasonably possible, and to know they will be supported by the management chain.

These parameters need to fit into the company’s vision, be clearly laid out and be an ongoing part of their training. Poor managers are scared of losing control, so they give their employees no leeway to think for themselves. Terrible managers deliberately avoid giving their employees firm guidelines so that they can claim credit in success and apportion blame in failure.

Encouraging innovation and creativity in employees needs to be just one part of fostering a positive corporate culture in a well-led organization. Assuming most employees are neither thieves nor charlatans, that they are able to eat breakfast without stabbing themselves in the eye with a fork, bring up children without misplacing them, and make it into work without falling in front of a subway train, then they can probably be trusted to make decisions, and to come up with creative ideas in the interests of the company.

Demonstrating this level of trust, within reasonable boundaries, goes a long way to making employees feel they are doing something that is important, and that they are personally valued. That’s leadership.

Julian K. Hutton is president of Merlin Hospitality Management, where he oversees the company’s hotel management and distressed asset management operations, drawing on 20 years’ experience in the worldwide travel and hospitality industry. Reach him at jhutton@merlinhospitality.com.

Published in Philadelphia

When Chuck Wade worked as a narcotics officer, he seized more than $25,000 in drugs 11 times, and every operation didn’t start with shady people in sketchy alleys — they began undercover in a company, where he would, inevitably, end up arresting the No. 1 drug dealer in that business.

“I saw firsthand the problems (drugs) were causing with productivity and absenteeism and tardiness and leaving the worksite without permission, and it was truly destroying a company from within,” says Wade, president and CEO of The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Inc. and state director for Drugs Don’t Work in Georgia. “Quite often, upper-level management wasn’t even aware it was happening until it was too late and the company was suffering and they were bleeding red ink, and they began to realize there was a problem there.”

But often, management wasn’t aware that drugs were the issue, which is why creating a certified drug-free workplace can help prevent problems from even forming. On top of reducing problems, there’s a financial incentive, as well. Twelve states in the country, including Georgia, have a state-mandated discount on workers’ compensation insurance for certain state-certified drug-free workplaces. The discounts range, but Georgia has the highest with a 7.5 percent discount, which means savings of a few hundred dollars a year if you’re a smaller business, all the way up to as much as $100,000 for some large companies. 

If these numbers have caught your attention, then the first step to becoming a certified drug-free workplace is to put a substance-abuse policy in place.

“If a company does not have a substance-abuse policy in place, then the company has put themselves in a precarious legal position,” Wade says. … “Every company, regardless of size, needs to have a substance-abuse policy.”

If you don’t have anything in place, the simplest way to get started is to contact Wade, who can e-mail you a fill-in-the-blank policy that was created by the organization’s attorney, who has more than 25 years of labor law experience and specialized in workplace law.

“He wrote the law on drug-free workplace here in Georgia, and he wrote the law on substance-abuse policy,” Wade says. “It’s the most legally sound substance-abuse policy a company can have.”

The policy is written in a way that it can be customized to any size business, and it’s absolutely free.

Once you have a policy in place, then the second step is to do drug testing. On average, a drug test costs $25 if it’s processed externally.

“All companies need to be doing drug testing, primarily because they don’t want to inadvertently hire a drug user,” Wade says. “One drug-using employee can single-handedly destroy a company from within, and I’ve seen that happen many times.”

In addition to applicant drug testing, participants are required to do post-accident testing. Not only does it increase safety in the workplace, but it protects the employer. For example, Georgia law states that if an employee tests positive for drugs within eight hours of an accident or for alcohol within four hours, the employee will not win a workers’ comp claim against the company. On average, it costs about $75,000 to treat a back injury, so if one of your employees gets hurt, and your insurance provider has to pay that much, your rates will go up.

“There are companies that have gone out of business for one reason and one reason only, and that’s because their workers’ comp rates got so high because there were so many claims filed against them they couldn’t afford workers’ comp insurance anymore, and they were forced out of business,” Wade says.

In addition to these two types of testing, participants are required to do reasonable suspicion testing and post-treatment/rehabilitation testing.

After testing, the third step to becoming a certified drug-free workplace is drug education. This is critical because Wade says 77 percent of drug users are employed, so education in the workplace is the most effective way to reduce demand.

Education can be through guest speakers, DVDs or newsletters. Most companies opt for the newsletter option, which costs $150 a year, as it doesn’t require employees losing productivity to sit through a speaker or DVD. Newsletters are often more effective than the other options, because employees can refer back to them and share the information with family, too. Additionally, Wade says research shows that employees will retain only 9 percent of the information they hear in a presentation.

The fourth step is supervisor training, which can also be done through the same three ways as employee education. The supervisor newsletters cost a company $110 a year, and the training helps teach supervisors to recognize warning signs of drug use.

Then the last step is to provide either an employee assistance program or a list of treatment counseling centers to give employees if they test positive, so they know where to get help.

Overall, it costs $35 a year to apply for certification, which goes to the state. Other than that, the only costs are for the newsletters and drug testing, but given the payoffs that creating a drug-free workplace can provide, it’s cost-efficient.

“For more than 20 years now, all the Fortune 500 companies have been drug-free workplaces — not because of the workers’ comp discount,” Wade says. “The reasons these big boys and girls have done this — and this is one of the reasons they became the big boys and girls to begin with — is because they do the right things right. And they know with a drug-free workplace, you increase productivity, reduce your absenteeism and your tardiness, cut workers’ comp claims in half, reduce medical costs by up to 300 percent, increase overall workplace morale, cut turnover rate, reduce death and crime in the workplace, and all of that positive affects the bottom line.”

 How to reach: The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Inc., (404) 223-2480 or www.livedrugfree.org

Published in Atlanta

Jean Birch finds it quite difficult to pick a favorite item on the menu at IHOP. Actually, that’s not really true. She just has a hard time staying loyal to one item as her favorite when there are so many tasty treats to choose from.

“It switches just about every week,” Birch says. “Last Saturday, I ordered the Cinn-A-Stacks pancake combo. It’s like the inside of the cinnamon roll rubbed all over your pancakes. I can’t get enough of those. Good stuff, man.”

Birch, the president of International House of Pancakes LLC, sees herself as the restaurant chain’s chief cheerleader. The company finished 2010 with 1,504 IHOP locations and expects to add as many as 65 new locations this year, with an additional 330 units planned over the next 19 years.

Birch loves to get out and visit as many restaurants as she can fit into her schedule, but she’s not just there for the pancakes. She wants employees to feel her energy and see her passion for the business. That often takes some effort as many employees find it hard to see past her title.

“People tend to drop more dishes when I’m around,” Birch says. “They’re on their best behavior and they want to make a good impression, but I don’t personally see myself as any different than when I was a bus girl in the restaurant or when I was a manager in the restaurant.”

IHOP is owned by DineEquity Inc., a 17,700-employee company which also owns Applebee’s Restaurants and took in $1.33 billion in 2010 revenue. Before she came to IHOP, Birch recalls those younger days and the visits she had from executives who weren’t there to enjoy a meal or exchange a few laughs with the hired help.

“They were looking for things to be wrong in the restaurant instead of trying to find things that were working well and that we were proud of,” Birch says. “I have plenty of people in my organization that can tell people how to improve their business and what they can do to be better.”

Birch says her job is to break down any barriers that exist between her and her people, establish a rapport with them and get them as excited as she is about being part of the IHOP brand.


Show you care

One of the challenges Birch faces in building passion and energy is that IHOP is a franchise operation. Franchises thrive on consistency, and with the wrong approach, that commitment to doing it a particular way can restrain passion and create robots.

It’s up to you take the right approach.

“In a franchise community, you don’t just make a decision and send the word out,” Birch says. “In a franchise community, you want to engage the franchisees and make sure you fully understand their perspective on a particular issue. Enroll them in wanting to solve the problem in a meaningful way. It’s a lot more about vision and understanding what the big brand is all about, collaborating on how to solve particular issues and fundamentally we get where we need to go.”

You need to make sure people understand your brand and the things that you stand for and the vision that guides your business. That is a key to having a successful franchise operation.

“Without strong vision and leadership at the top, franchisees will tend to move in different directions as they see the world from their perspective,” Birch says. “These little decisions, if not tied to a cohesive strategy can get your brand off track very quickly. It becomes a different IHOP in L.A. than you have in Nebraska than you have in Boston, which undermines the strength of the brand overall.”

But just because you have a brand, you don’t have to, nor should you dictate every step and every action that your people take. You need to provide outlets for their skill and creativity to be unleashed and put to use on the job.

“We want their creative energy, but we want it channeled into the areas that are going to do the most good for our business,” Birch says.

Birch takes it upon herself to get out of the office as much as she can to provide opportunities for employees to feel more connected to her and to the brand.

“You have to have a lot of self-awareness,” Birch says. “The biggest thing you can do is listen. Ask an open-ended question and then listen. Tell me about your restaurant. Tell me your story. How did you get started at IHOP? Clearly, those are questions they know the answer to. This isn’t a trick question like, ‘What was your labor percent last week? What market share do you have here?’ This isn’t trying to trick anyone. Just tell me your story about why you’re involved in this business. What’s on your mind? What are you most proud of in your restaurant? You get people talking about those kinds of things and pretty soon, you’re just two people having a conversation.”

Show people that you’re not just there to dig up dirt and find excuses to complain, but to get them even more engaged in what your company is doing. Take a supportive and encouraging tone and you’ll garner a lot more loyalty.

“It’s not as hard as you think,” Birch says. “These folks are relying on myself and the team to do a good job of leading this brand and creating opportunities for them today and tomorrow. I don’t take it lightly.”


Put the work in

When you communicate with your people, you need to be aware of how they process information and which modes of communicating work and which ones don’t work. That’s going to be key to establishing the healthy rapport you’re seeking.

“We all have our way that we hear things or like to communicate,” Birch says. “It’s probably far more important that we understand how those who work for us want to hear things and want to communicate. It’s not about my dominant style. It’s more about what that individual who works for me needs. So how do I explain it in a way that makes sense for them?”

It’s a valuable lesson to learn ? the idea that you can’t just think about yourself and your own personal needs when you’re pondering the next step for your business.

“It’s not about the leader’s needs,” Birch says. “It’s about the subordinate’s needs and how they are going to work through this problem.”

You’ve got to put in the work to come up with solution that you and your team can execute. It’s not a solution you’re likely to find sitting behind your desk.

“You go to the people who do the work, the people who are in it every day that get a multitude of perspectives,” Birch says.

“From the dish washer to the franchise owner to the franchise business consultant to the people at the support center. If you talk to the right people, the real issues come to the surface. And the solutions to those issues, although never easy, they’re not as hard as they sound when you’re trying to do everything locked in an office by yourself. The people have the solutions if you can just uncover them and bring them to the surface.”

And when you engage people and show them that you care about their opinions and demonstrate that you need them to succeed and grow your business, you’ll have taken another step toward earning their loyalty.

“As a mid-level leader, I was confident I had all the damn answers,” Birch says. “I was ready to go off and just go do it and make sure everybody followed in line and I was just brilliant. Follow me and off we go. The more I’ve grown as a leader and the higher up I’ve gone, the more I’ve realized you don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t start with all the answers.”


Stay in touch

If you find that you’re not getting a lot of ideas from your people, that’s not a good sign for you, for your business or for the two-way flow of communication in your business.

“If I stop getting a lot of good ideas from franchisees, I get a little worried that they are starting to withdraw and distance themselves from the brand overall,” Birch says.

Getting ideas requires more than just a drop-in by you at a distant location away from the corporate office. You need additional personnel who can fill in the gaps and provide a regular outlet for ideas on how to make your business even better.

“We have field-based franchise consultants that work day in, day out with our franchisees,” Birch says. “They are a collector of ideas for us. We have regular meetings with our franchisees, both formal and informal, which is consistently a two-way dialogue. Here’s what we’re doing and here’s where we’re going. This is what the consumer is involved in. These are the great things on the horizon for our brand that we’re getting ready to go. Then we open it up to, ‘What’s on your mind? What do you think we should be working on? What are some ideas we can save money on?’ We get a tremendous amount of really good input. When you start to do a number of those, you see patterns.”

One thing to keep in mind as you’re implementing methods to gather feedback is that in most companies, you’re not trying to solve matters of national security.

“It’s not like we have to go figure out a nuclear physics problem,” Birch says. “We’re in the restaurant business. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that it’s just that simple. Great food. Great service. Great place. Do that over and over and over again and you’re going to have a pretty good restaurant company.”

Birch says it takes special people to learn to manage their creativity and apply it to a business where they can’t do whatever they want to.

“The biggest challenge in leading IHOP would probably have to be this unique opportunity to be the leader of some really independent-minded entrepreneurs,” Birch says. “They are very involved, very active, very bright individuals that are running their businesses every day and have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. But they have chosen to align their efforts with a proven brand and proven formula for success, which is what IHOP and franchising is all about.”

You just need to make sure you’re staying in touch, showing your passion and constantly engaging them in the effort to make your brand better. Don’t waste their talents. Find a way to harness them.

“As you look at this compared to other leadership situations, you really have to think through the fact that they are the leaders in their businesses and they are bringing so much value to the table day in and day out,” Birch says. “You can’t just command and control.”


The Birch File

Name: Jean Birch

Title: President

Company: International House of Pancakes LLC

Born: Boone, Iowa

Education: Bachelor’s degree, double major in economics and oriental studies, University of Arizona; MBA, Southern Methodist University

Who has had the biggest influence on you? I had a very strong mentor in one of my previous jobs. Aylwin Lewis. I worked for him at Pizza Hut and he was a tremendous mentor and role model. He told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. I worked for him for about two and a half years. He mentored me for about 10 years.

It was mid career when I was at Pizza Hut as a district manager. He told me how the organization saw me, how I could be more effective, what I did right, what I did wrong and more importantly, because of the roles he created around me, he stretched me far more and far faster than I ever would have gone on my own.

Birch on looking in the mirror: I think it’s from “Good to Great,” the concept of the mirror in the window. The idea is, when something goes wrong, a good leader should first look in the mirror. What did I do that caused this not to go right? Did I not communicate well? Did I not research the project well enough? Did I not communicate effectively? When things go well, you should look out the window to your team and congratulate them for the great work that they did. That piece of advice has done more for helping me frame the best ways to get the most out of folks than any other piece of advice that I’ve had.

Learn more about IHOP at:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IHOP
Twitter: @IHOP
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/IHOP


How to reach: International House of Pancakes LLC, (818) 240-6055 or www.ihop.com

Published in Los Angeles

The decisions that impact your company’s future might ultimately rest on your shoulders, but the process by which you arrive at those decisions can be far more collaborative.

The best leaders are the ones who solicit input from managers and employees at all levels of the organization and formulate a system by which ideas and feedback can be submitted to and considered by the company’s main decision-makers. Whether employees want to give you input on the strategic direction of the company or the new light fixtures in the restrooms, it’s all a part of keeping ideas flowing and keeping your work force engaged.

Over the past few years, Smart Business Philadelphia has talked to a number of local business leaders about how they keep their employees focused by engaging them. Here are what three of them had to say:


“What I tell my employees is to come back to me with a game plan, tell me what you would do to solve it, because you’re closer to the issue than me. Nine out of 10 times, employees solve their own problems. They understand what they have to do and end up bringing back great results.”

-- Richard Miller, president and CEO, Virtua Health

“Part of building a team-oriented culture is building consensus, seeking input. Two heads are better than one; three heads are better than two. So we encourage people to seek others’ opinions because it absolutely yields better decisions, and we develop a culture where we respect each other’s

opinions. That’s the way we operate.”

-- Bill Hankowsky, chairman, president and CEO, Liberty Property Trust

“It’s amazing how many people are doing some best practices that we don’t even know about. When people hear stuff from their peers at work and they get a live testimonial, it ignites them to go back and try that, it ignites their thought process to say, ‘What can I do to better please customers, to get a better spirit in my store?’ It creates such wonderful momentum.”

-- Judy Spires, former president, Acme Markets Inc.


Get your employees to think like problem solvers.

Always look to build consensus on decisions.

Never underestimate your employees’ ability to generate new ideas.

Published in Philadelphia

Thousands of would-be retirees, their retirement accounts depleted, remain in the ranks of the employed. At the same time, another graduating class enters the job market every year. These two factors are creating a clash of the generations, and managing a multigenerational work force continues to get more and more challenging for business leaders and managers.

Most companies and managers are doing their very best to remain strong and deliver on expectations through the recession. But this becomes extremely difficult when, for the first time in history, the work force comprises four distinct generations: traditionalists, boomers, Generation Xers, and millennials.

Each group has strong assets that managers can tap into in order to make their businesses more effective and successful. For example, traditionalists and boomers tend to bring drive, determination, and vast amounts of knowledge and experience to any company that they work for. Boomers, however, tend to be less team-oriented than millennials. Boomers are also used to acquiring information and more inclined to keeping it to themselves because they feel like knowledge is power. But the problem is if they can’t effectively communicate with and train younger generations, their employers will lose profitable knowledge. Millennials, after all, must be effectively trained. Because Xers tend to be fundamentally independent, they are often free thinkers and can be a valuable source of fresh ideas to revamp your organization. You should always ask for their input. And the millennials usually thrive in team environments and typically are not shy about putting in their two cents about anything you may ask them about or want an opinion on. They are also a fountain of fresh ideas. Additionally, they tend to be highly productive and excellent multitaskers.

Right now, millennials are a hot commodity on the job market, mainly because they are cheap hires. After all, older Xers and boomers are looking for higher wages and the corner office, and sometimes executives mistakenly think it makes sense to lay them off and replace them with cheaper labor.

Yet this strategy creates a problem. It might seem like replacing older employees with lower-paid millennials makes financial sense, but it really doesn’t if you stop and think about the true implications of doing something like this. If there are no boomers and Xers around to train the millennials, the company will suffer. Untrained millennials may take hours to complete tasks that a trained boomer could complete in five minutes, so this would actually increase a company’s cost of doing business.

It’s important to make sure you’re maintaining a good generational mix and facilitating communication and knowledge transfer across generations. It can only help your bottom line.

Consider these three tips for managing today’s multigenerational work force:

1. When you are trying to get a point across, always keep your audience in mind. If you can understand generational differences, then you can tailor your communication to speak powerfully to your targeted demographic.

2. Abandon “one-size-fits-all” thinking. Different generations are motivated by different things. Accordingly, you should use a range of recruiting and incentive strategies to make sure your company appeals to all four generations instead of just one or two.

3. To make sure incoming employees are properly trained, allow them to choose their own training methods, as they each have different preferences. Whereas a boomer may learn best by attending a live class, a millennial may prefer to take a webinar instead. Allow your employees to choose the training methods that work best for them, and in doing so, they’ll respond better to the training and be more effective in the organization.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is CEO of Optîmance Workforce Strategies, founder of Gen InsYght and author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” Contact her at sherri@geninsyght.com.

Published in Dallas