Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:05

The larger scope

When Dolf Kahle and the employees at Visual Marking Systems Inc. sit down with a client they don’t just offer a quote straight from the blue print. They dig deeper.

Kahle, CEO of the custom graphic design firm, expects all his employees to get inside the heads of their clients and ask the questions the blue prints don’t offer answers to. The company developed an innovation center just for this purpose. When the company meets with clients prior to giving a production quote, employees will brainstorm ideas on the best way to manufacture a product for customers, cutting options, shipping and packaging methods, and best materials to use.

As a result of these brainstorming sessions, the folks at VMS typically offer ideas above and beyond what clients were expecting. By relentlessly looking for ways to improve products they demonstrate that they have their customers’ best interests at heart.

The company has several clients it considers VIP customers due to loyalty and the size of their business. However, VMS strives to make every client feel like a VIP. The company offers a plant tour that makes customers feel welcomed and provides an inside look at the business.

The tour is themed after the Hollywood Red Carpet and leaves an impression that clients remember for months. Every customer at VMS is considered a “star” and the top 10 VIP customers have their names printed on Hollywood stars on the entrance floor. After customers walk through the VMS hall of fame, they get their photo taken on a Hollywood backdrop with the VMS logo and the customer’s logo, which gets framed and the customer can take it back to the office with them.

As customers are guided through the VMS plant they participate in interactive, hands-on projects along the way. As if that wasn’t enough, VMS also writes thank-you notes to all its customers for all their hard work.

HOW TO REACH: Visual Marking Systems Inc., (330) 425-7100 or www.vmsinc.com

Published in Akron/Canton

When Mark Leuenberger was considering integrating GPS technology into part of Cox Enterprises Inc.’s 13,000-vehicle fleet a few years ago, he was looking at it from a customer service improvement standpoint. But in doing so, he discovered a way for the fleet to be more environmentally friendly, as well.

“As part of collecting that data, we monitored idle time, and that’s really where it came up, and we had a real opportunity to reduce our carbon output and create a fairly large green initiative with that,” says Leuenberger, assistant vice president of supply chain services and fleet management.

He saw that many of the drivers were idle more than they were driving, so they implemented GPS technology into 5,000 vehicles that sends alerts when the vehicle has idled too long and shuts it down. This encourages employees to finish paperwork up in the home instead of in the vehicle. They also implemented a new routing system that leads the trucks on tighter routes, which reduces the mileage and the amount of time the vehicles are on the road.

“Telling your techs where to go next and how to get there really has an impact on our green initiatives,” he says.

As a result of these initiatives, the drivers were able to reduce idle periods by as much as 84 percent, depending on the market. The new routing system reduced mileage by about 15 percent. On top of these reductions, Cox was able to reduce its fuel consumption about 8 percent, and it has reduced the overall fleet size by about 400 vehicles over the past few years, because not as many were needed anymore as a result of the efficiencies created.

One of the biggest things he says you have to keep in mind when rolling out new green initiatives is communication.

“Start communicating long before you implement the initiative,” Leuenberger says. “Prepare people for its coming and the why component of that communication is extremely important. You definitely want to lay out that this is going to be advantageous to you.”

For Cox employees, the changes gave them the ability to perform more work, which meant more money in their pockets. Additionally, it was simply the right thing to do.

While these are great reasons to make the changes, he says it also comes down to costs.

“It has a positive impact on vehicle repair costs and vehicle wear and tear,” Leuenberger says. “All that behavioral changing, all that doesn’t just save us the amount of fuel we burn. It has impacts in all these different areas, so you really want to communicate all the different areas of the job or the company where it has a positive impact.”

He says if you want to make green changes, you have to look at what the cost and return is.

“The biggest challenge is financial,” Leuenberger says. “You’re obviously not going to put in big components that have a negative impact.”

Another big key to implementing a greener fleet also comes down to leading by example. Cox has one of the largest executive fleets in the country with more than 600 vehicles and quite a few more on a cash allowance for driving their own vehicle. All of the cars in the company fleet must meet a minimum of 27 miles per gallon.

He says, “The company cars that are driven by everybody from our chairman all the way down to direct levels are fuel-efficient vehicles.”

How to reach: Cox Enterprises Inc., www.coxenterprises.com

Find a plan that fits you

By Mark Scott

You can make a difference in the environment even if your business does not have a fleet of thousands of vehicles taking the road each day. That’s the message from Jason Mathers, project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund. The nonprofit organization helps businesses find solutions to environmental challenges.

“Anything an employee is doing for the company on behalf of the company, the emissions associated with that are part of the environmental footprint,” Mathers says. “Just because you’re not able to easily track something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Figure out what impact your company does have in terms of the number of vehicles you put on the road and how much they are used. Encourage your employees to be better drivers by not speeding, idling or hauling unnecessary weight in their vehicles.

“You’re talking about vehicle efficiency and routing, driver behavior and all these things that have a very significant return on investment,” Mathers says.

If you do have fleets, look at the vehicles you have and whether a more fuel-efficient model could do the same job.

“If you can take a modest step over your entire fleet, that can add up to a significant impact,” Mathers says.

How to reach: Environmental Defense Fund, (617) 406-1806 or www.edf.org/greenfleet

Published in Atlanta

It’s hard to forget your first job out of college — learning office protocol, building a rapport with the team, impressing your boss and meeting the ever-intimidating CEO. You may have felt eager to be noticed or eager to just blend in — either way, there were likely moments of discomfort that you do not want to revisit anytime soon.

Similarly, you may recall the moment you first engaged with your mentor. The way that person took you under his or her wing, made you feel confident and inspired you to become the great leader you are today.

As leaders, we all want to be like our mentors but are cognizant of the intimidation factor that often comes with being a CEO.

It’s no secret that the best teams are made up of happy people who feel respected, appreciated and challenged in the workplace. In my experience, I have found that connecting with people makes them feel at ease in the workplace and more apt to thrive.

The best meetings are one on one

One way I connect with a team is by having one-on-one meetings with associates at all levels of the organization. As a rule, no one says no to a one-on-one. As the name implies, it is a face-to-face meeting with just me. It provides a dedicated time to discuss ideas, feedback, goals, personal development or anything the associate wishes to discuss.

When someone within the organization, whether it’s me, a member of the executive team or an associate, requests a one-on-one, all parties know that no one is ‘in trouble,’ as is often assumed when you’re called into the boss’s office.

Not only are these meetings helpful for the team but also for me to keep my finger on the pulse, offer recognition, provide coaching and/or hear great suggestions.

Live the open-door policy

On my office door I have a sign that reads ‘This wood panel may look closed, but it’s open — no, really, come in.’ I want to be sure everyone knows, quite literally, that I have an open-door policy. I want the team to feel free to pop their heads in and ask a question or pull me into an impromptu meeting at any time.

I have found that the team can run faster and leaner with this policy in place. We can make decisions and go through the proper approval channels in a speedy manner when we eliminate the need to have a meeting to discuss setting up a meeting for another meeting. We’ve all been there.

Get personal

Another way I connect with my team members is by making the effort to get to know every one of them personally. I make it a goal to ask them about their personal lives, interests, families and goals. In fact, when we do our annual goal-planning sessions, we ask that associates include personal goals on their list. We find that if you’re fulfilled outside of work, you’ll be happier on the job. A happy associate is, more often than not, a more productive one.

Mi casa es su casa

I think one of the most effective ways to instantly break down the barriers between myself and the members of my team is to open up my home. When we have company parties, I like to host them at my house with my family. When possible, we have the team invite their spouses, and we keep the vibe very laid back.

One of the guiding values at Moe’s Southwest Grill is to be yourself. We go out of our way to ensure everyone feels comfortable to do just that.

Next time you see the newest member of your team quietly lingering outside your office door, tell them to come in, just like your mentor may have done to you many years ago, and get to know them. And if all else fails, you can always just hang a sign on the door.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 400 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.com.

Published in Atlanta

Louis D. Astorino and Louis P. Astorino solve problems within their business differently, but that makes them a good father and son team. Astorino, an architecture and engineering firm, has survived the down economy and found ways to expand its business by finding solutions to the problems.

“The last two years have been a challenge because of the economic crisis,” says Louis D. Astorino, chairman and CEO. “Overcoming that and trying to keep the organization together has been extremely challenging.”

Despite the economic roadblock, Astorino has continued to be recognized as one of the best firms in the area.

“We learned to work smarter and more efficiently with less staff even though we’re continuing to grow,” says Louis P. Astorino, senior principal. With more than 100 employees and revenue in excess of $33 million in 2010, Astorino keeps looking for opportunities to grow.

Smart Business spoke to the Astorinos about how they expand their business.

Look for growth.

Louis P. — You need to go where the growth areas are. You also need to have key people in those areas. It’s important that you find the right growth market and have a leader there that you can depend on and trust in their abilities to help you grow that market. You have to be cautious when you are expanding in terms of where you are looking to expand and who you are bringing on staff.

Louis D. — You’ve got to make sure your opportunities are solid, especially when you are moving out of your local area, and you’ve got to be cautious. Secondly, internally you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right culture. You need people behind you who are looking to help you grow and to make your company a better company. One of the things you have to do is look at the risks and make sure your risks are as minimal as can be. And if you are taking a risk, make sure it’s for a long-term advantage.

It takes a lot of strategic thinking to find all the business opportunities that are available. You have to have a mentality to take a good look at everything because it could be a good business possibility.

Know your clients.

Louis P. — You have to find clients that want a good service and want the best value that can help their business. If you can find a way to help their business and your goals are aligned, that’s the best way to deliver the best product.

Louis D. — You’ve got to sit down and have extensive discussions with your clients. You’ve got to find out what’s on their minds. Find out what’s important to them rather than what’s important to us. Don’t use intuition. Find out what’s important and then solve that problem. We use something called the blue door theory. A client will have ideas for a building and say, ‘Do this, this and this.’ But the designer will be thinking in the back of his mind, ‘That’s not going to work. So I’m not going to draw that, I’m going to draw what I think works.’ If you go back to a client without his idea drawn and say, ‘Here are some other ideas.’ You’re basically slapping him in the face saying, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Our expression is if a client wants a blue door, you better sure as hell draw a blue door. That’s the only way of showing him that the red door, the yellow door, or the green door is better.

Be flexible.

Louis D. — Some periods of time schools are strong. Some periods of time housing is strong. Some periods of time sports are strong, but then it dies off. The way we deal with it is by participating in all of those market segments. You have to remain flexible. There’s more than one way to do something and you have to be flexible in your thinking. 

Louis P. — You have to also be aware of trends in the marketplace. Be prepared to respond when new opportunities present themselves. You have to do enough research to know where the market is going and where the money is going to be spent. As the markets fluctuate you have to be able to react to that specific market segment.

HOW TO REACH: Astorino, (412) 765-1700 or www.astorino.com

Published in Pittsburgh

Companies often launch special project teams, task forces and committees to get important work done. Often it makes great sense: charter a small group with a distinct purpose, let them work quickly, and get their findings/recommendations.

These special teams offer tremendous advantages. They give executives the chance to observe different people’s performance. Special groups can bypass the bureaucracy and avoid organizational churn that mainstream efforts can stir up. There are all kinds of benefits for using special teams.

However, lurking behind the launch of special project teams may be an unacknowledged dissatisfaction with those accountable for that work. Rarely are there honest conversations with them about why the project team is being launched instead of asking them to either perform or oversee the work. Rarely are they given such caring feedback, which might help them to actually get better.

Let’s consider a few real-life examples:

A team is formed to evaluate a potential joint venture in China. (The head of strategy and business development group were bypassed for this important work.)

A small group is assigned to evaluate the organization’s culture change needs. (The CEO lacked confidence in the human resources organization but that feedback was never shared directly with HR. It was, however, shared obliquely with others when they asked why HR was not leading this effort.)

A team is pulled together to determine if a new product line, targeting a growing demographic, makes sense. (Corporate’s new product development group and head of innovation were both bypassed when this project was launched. And the special team was told to keep its work confidential until they were told otherwise.)

You have to stop and ask: was a special project team really necessary in each of these situations? Or did the executives opt for special teams because they lacked confidence that those normally responsible could perform the quality of work they were seeking? And if they lacked such confidence, did they give the individuals who hold those jobs the respect of telling them, which would have been a step toward helping them get better?

I would say this: If, in fact, the special project teams are a workaround, then the first one who needs to change behaviors is the executive in charge. Delaying the dealing with a performance issue or competency gap only perpetuates mediocrity in the organization, and weakens the leader’s effectiveness. Imagine if the whole organization did that same thing.

Another issue to watch for is how implementation of project team recommendations are handled. Because the team was structured from the outset to work in parallel to the core organization, there is no “permanent home” or ownership for what is recommended, let alone what is implemented. This is a serious problem, because the game is won or lost on execution, not on the greatness of the ideas.

So what should your takeaways be? First, sometimes using special project teams is exactly the right thing to do. However, before you launch a special project team, task force, or committee, ask yourself: are you working around a capability or performance gap in your own organization? If so, have you dealt with the people/performance concerns directly — in a caring, yet clear and constructive way?

And second, if you want to be a respected leader whom others look up to, and if you want others to freely discuss the “real issues” and to address performance issues, you need to be the first in line to model the right behavior. As a leader, people are watching you for cues all of the time. Be the leader you want and expect others to be.

Leslie W. Braksick, PhD is the Co-Founder of CLG, Inc. (www.clg.com) and author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010) and Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2006). Dr. Braksick coaches and consults with top executives and their boards on issues of leadership effectiveness, succession, and strategy execution. Braksick can be reached at lbraksick@clg.com.

Published in Pittsburgh

It wasn’t too long ago that we had to eliminate the use of offensive language from the workplace, bringing an end to the old way of doing business. But we missed a certain four-letter word when we cleaned up our office talk. Can't is just as vile to the business environment as any other four-letter word. It facilitates resistance against change and hurts our ability to receive the gift that change brings – the opportunity to reevaluate and improve our business models. 

Training teams to get past can't allows businesses to respond quickly to the ever-changing markets in which we operate. 

The first step is to create a culture that embraces change. When faced with a challenge, the tendency is to first focus on what can’t be done when we should instead be seeing what is possible. Change is a chance to take a deeper look at your business, your customers and your environment to make sure the business model meets the needs of your target market.

For example, when Hurricane Ike and the recession dealt a double blow to my Houston-based yacht sales company, we updated our sales strategy. We created customer support programming that put us ahead of our competitors, who had little success with hurricane clearance sales in a devastated community. 

Change provides the opportunity to make competitive gains by being the first to create new approaches and develop innovative solutions. Today’s most successful organizations are driven by people who understand the value of change and thrive off of it, instead of responding to it with can’t.

In order to overcome the destructive can’t attitude, you must challenge it. Can't holds us back because it focuses us on all of the problems instead of the solutions, which prevents creative thinking. Being blind since birth, I’ve heard this word a lot in my life. Whenever I was told I couldn't do something, I learned to ask, “Why not?” In doing so, I eventually found that I could succeed if I stripped away the menacing roadblock of can’t.

This approach has proven effective for solving problems in both business and personal pursuits. Every time employees or team members say “can’t,” respond with “why not?” Plow the path to creative and innovative solutions by throwing out objections and turning the focus to how.

Most importantly, eliminate the distraction of can’t by implementing a creative thought process and motivating your team to understand and believe that all things are possible. This is done by facilitating discussions and challenging your team to tear down convention and remove preconceived thoughts to enable fresh, creative ideas to flow. 

When evaluating the current business model, ask your team to define the problems and come up with potential solutions. Challenge each team member to write five answers on sticky notes and place them all on a board. Then do it again. After a few iterations, all preconceived solutions are on the table and you can move to new creative ground. The result will be a new business model backed by the synergy and fresh thinking that has emerged within the group.

When you eliminate the negativity of can’t among your team, you set the stage for a brighter, more productive future for your organization.

Vince Morvillo is founder of Sea Lake Yacht Sales and an entrepreneur and motivational speaker based in Houston. He was the first blind person in history to win a national sailing championship. To contact Vince, visit www.VinceMorvillo.com.

Published in Houston

Ravi Kathuria is president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting and executive coaching firm that he founded in 2002. His objective is to make business leaders think about and implement ways to make their companies more coherent. That objective is what made Kathuria write his book, “The Coherent Company: The Struggle for the Next Level – A Business Parable.” The book follows a fictional senior sales executive, Trent Wertheimer, as he becomes CEO within a business intelligence company, Hintec. Trent quickly digs himself into a hole because he thinks he knows how to lead a company, but doesn’t. With the help of a mentor, Trent learns how to transform the company and himself by implementing the Cohegic method to give Hintec coherence and clarity. “The Coherent Company” is a look at leadership in practice as Trent implements the Cohegic method and tries to turn around the company in his new role as CEO.

What is the message of the book?

This book offers the road map for business transformation. Most business books focus on one aspect such as strategy, execution or work processes. Few business books tie them all together. This book connects mission, vision, philosophies, work processes, strategies, goals, roles and responsibilities, culture, execution and measurement.

What business problems are addressed in the book?

The primary reason that the book was written was because companies lack clarity and coherence. The issue that companies have is that they are not really crystallized in their business spirit. Their mission statements are not well-written and they have not crystallized very clearly their business model. When you look at a majority of mid-level companies, you’ll find that their mission statements and core philosophies are not crystal clear. Because they don’t have clarity around that, it creates a lot of confusion in the organization.

Companies get confused between mission and vision. They are confused about what vision should stand for. Companies have to connect their strategies, goals and visions together so that they drive clarity in the organization.

What makes the book different from other business books about leadership methods?

It’s the fact that the book is presented in the backdrop of a very intense and realistic story. It shows leadership in the real world, leadership in practice as opposed to leadership in theory. Leadership in theory is very easy to talk about. Nobody is challenging you. Leadership in practice is very difficult. Your ego, your self-awareness, your inhibitions, your preferences, your tendencies, your habits, all comes into play. Overcoming all of that is a huge challenge and as a leader you have to really perform at a much higher level and you have to help the organization succeed in spite of yourself.

What would a new leader or entrepreneur take away versus what an experienced leader would take away from the book?

I think a new leader and an entrepreneur must understand that the core of their business is the most important. They must seek to drive very clear thinking in their business model and define why they are creating that business and that company. They have to ask, ‘Do I have clarity about what I am doing and why I am doing it?’ If they don’t have that, success will be a little harder.

Experienced leaders need to understand that clarity cannot exist just in their mind. Clarity has to exist in everyone in the organization and they have to make sure that that clarity is consistent and coherent.

If a leader cannot connect all those strategic aspects, a company cannot perform. The questions that the book raises are not easy questions to answer. Those questions are difficult and take time to answer. If companies can go through and ask themselves these questions, it will make a powerful impact.

HOW TO REACH: Ravi Kathuria, 281-403-0250, or www.cohegic.com

Published in Houston
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:01

Tom Nies: Encouraging Intrapreneurship

Innovation and speed to market are two ways to launch and grow a business. Creating, fostering and sustaining the right working environment to do this can be tricky. One way is intrapreneurship, unleashing the power of employees who have entrepreneurial skills and mindsets that work within your company.

As someone who founded Cincom with $600 and a card table, I will always be an entrepreneur at heart. So, I could never even imagine allowing us to become a company that doesn’t support creative free spirits who also seek to pursue good opportunities and, in the process, build new businesses within the company, which will provide new and different ways to better satisfy customers.

For intrapreneurship to work effectively, several important considerations should be taken into account that balances risk with reward and opportunity with difficulty.

Creative listening

Leadership has to be willing to listen to and recognize good ideas whenever and from whomever they arise if intrapreneurship is to flourish. This message must be constantly reinforced from the highest levels of the organization.

Create an environment where an employee’s ideas are taken seriously, properly supported and recognized. You never know where good ideas will come from, especially in a corporate culture that supports intrapreneurship. An account representative could become the catalyst for revolutionizing a company’s entire business strategy when presented with the ongoing opportunity to approach company leadership with good ideas.

Cut the red tape

Create an environment where anyone can come forward with an idea on how to improve any aspect of the business. It should not matter where that person fits on the organizational chart. If the idea is good and the benefits and risks are clearly stated, that idea should get the green light and the support it merits.

There must still be a business approval process, but it should be efficient. Projects that deserve support should be quickly expedited.

Freedom to fail

Many entrepreneurial careers and businesses are built on a succession of minor failures, with the accumulated lessons learned from each leading to ultimate success.

It’s important for companies to allow for a degree of inevitable failure around new projects and initiatives without sending the message that failure is not tolerated.

Companies must strive to provide a “freedom to fail” culture and environment. Although failure resulting from poor planning and execution is not accepted, there should be no penalty for those who come forward with good ideas, assuming they’ve been well presented and competently executed.

Swing for the fences

Many companies are filled with reliable “singles hitters” who play it safe and never really aspire to greatness. Intrapreneurs, on the other hand, swing for the fences. Sometimes they strike out, but when they connect, they can hit it big.

Share credit

It doesn’t do any good to encourage team members at all levels to bring innovative ideas to company leadership if the leaders then take those ideas and make them their own.

“Leaders deal in hope,” as Napoleon noted. But in top-performing organizations, “Leadership is always plural.” No one ever succeeds alone.

Look forward to breaking precedent

Every organization must have processes and rules of procedure and behavior.

The ability to differentiate between rules needed to guide and perform within the current business and rules that may restrict success in building a new business is what discernment and opportunity awareness are all about. Going forward is always a journey.

Ignite intrapreneurs

To start a revolution of initiative and innovation, ignite the intrapreneurs and then get out of the way. Lift off generates a lot of heat.

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, health care and insurance. Learn more about Nies at http://tomnies.cincom.com/about/.

Published in Cincinnati

In the early ’90s, Neil Hoynes and some college buddies wanted to tour the country following the Grateful Dead. To do it, they needed money, and that discussion sparked what would become Ripple Junction, a manufacturer and licensee of apparel.

“We discussed different options to pay for it like veggie burritos, grilled cheese and then T-shirts came up,” says Hoynes, founder and president. “We figured that T-shirts would be best, and we did the math on it, and the goal was to sell 15 T-shirts at every show to pay our way around for the summer.”

They sold all 80 shirts they brought to that first show, and from there, the company took off. Today, Ripple Junction is a leader in its industry and employs more than 40 people.

Smart Business spoke to Hoynes about how he grew Ripple Junction from the ground up.

How do you find the niche that your company serves best?

You’ve got to be able to adapt, and you’ve got to be able to adjust quickly to things that aren’t working and change them. If you don’t feel like you’ve found your niche, you’ve got to keep trying new things.

Also, finding something that generates cash flow while you’re looking for that niche is really important. That cash will let you live on for another day so you can find that one thing that you’re going to do and do well.

What challenges did you face growing from an entrepreneurial business to the next level?

The first thing is policies. When you’re a small company, you don’t have a lot of them. You try to balance policies and procedures without having too many of them because you don’t want to become bureaucratic. You also need to have standard operating procedures for everybody who’s doing any repetitive task or any sort of job. That’s the kind of stuff you have to get ironed out, and you’ve got to have a way to do it that everybody knows how to do.

It’s also determining specializations. As you grow, you’re going to need to start hiring specific individuals to take ownership of what you identify as a key success. If it’s a key success factor, there has to be somebody that owns it so they can really drive it forward. When somebody’s in charge of something and it’s not a natural part of their job, if it’s a small thing, that’s OK. If it’s a big thing and it’s crucial to your company’s success, you’ve got to have somebody that owns that and can drive on that.

How do you plan and hire for growth?

As you grow you start seeing the gaps that just kind of naturally present themselves. You start realizing that this isn’t happening, this isn’t getting done and you ask yourself, ‘Can we get this done with the people we have?’ When you’re growing, the answer is usually no.

You have to go out and hire somebody to do that specific thing. The quicker you can identify that gap and fill it, the better off you are.

More important than the timing is making sure it’s the right person. We’ve done the snap-hire before and it almost never works out. It’s better to be thorough and find the right person who is comfortable in your environment and also you’re comfortable with them. You spend more time upfront, but then a year later, you’re not filling the position again.

How do you find new hires and areas where your company can grow?

You have to hire people that round you out. You don’t want a bunch of people that have the same skill sets. I’m always trying to hire people that can shore up my short-comings or shore up someone else’s short-comings. You have to look to find that person that will complement other skill sets.

That’s my big thing is trying to chart the strategy of where we’re going looking at what our business is right now and then identifying how we are going to keep growing.

You look at who you’re selling to now and then look at that customer and find out what their needs are. Find out if there is an opportunity for a new product that nobody’s selling them or if there’s a new way to do things. Then try to put the pieces together and create a great product for them.

HOW TO REACH: Ripple Junction, (513) 559-3900 or www.ripplejunction.com

Published in Cincinnati

Too many leaders take internal company communications for granted and fail to capitalize on one of the most powerful components in a manager’s tool kit.

They dutifully explain decisions and provide directions to their staff, expecting that managers will pass on the relevant information to their direct reports, who in turn will do likewise, and so on down the line.

The problems with this approach are many. Parts of the message can get lost in translation, some managers simply don’t communicate well, some just get it wrong, and still others choose not to communicate at all.

I’ve learned that when communication from management breaks down, the organization at large makes its own assumptions as to what is behind the company’s actions and decisions, and often those assumptions reflect poorly on the current management team’s competence.

Over the course of my career, I’ve experienced the benefits that accrue to a company from a well-designed, comprehensive internal communications strategy that is well executed.

There is no better way to gain employee alignment with the company’s mission and objectives or to short circuit the company rumor mill that so often negatively impacts employee morale, performance and productivity. Equally important, all employees, regardless of job level, want the same things from their employer: to be respected as individuals as well as for the value they bring to the company and to be recognized for their contributions to the company’s success. These elements can and should be integrated into the company’s communication plan.

Periodic, planned messages from the top to the entire organization are also fundamental to a good plan. These messages are best delivered live to a group audience with time allocated for questions, but video or written communications can also be effective if the coordinating managers are fully able to respond to questions or concerns expressed by those receiving the message.

In addition, business unit and department heads must also hold team meetings at least quarterly to review progress against the team’s objectives, provide updated company information and respond to concerns expressed by their teams. It is important to communicate both good and bad news and to reaffirm the objectives going forward.

I’ve found that setting up common metrics and targets that foster friendly competition between groups or departments ensures that goals remain visible and encourages employees to work in teams and build on each others’ ideas. To be effective, top managers must routinely review and comment on posted charts and graphs and openly discuss progress toward goals or the lack thereof. When managers pay attention to metrics, so do employees.

Of course, individual employee goal setting and performance measurement must be part of the plan and linked to the overall company objectives. Often, this critical link is missing, and employees have little to guide them when they encounter what appear to be conflicting objectives. This can cause a program to go off track or at least slow down progress until the direction is clarified.

Take advantage of all of the possible benefits a sound communication plan can bring to your company. So far I’ve found only one drawback; no matter how often you communicate and how much information you provide, it will not be enough to satisfy your employees.

Now that’s a good problem to have!

George Perry has more than 40 years of experience in engineering, operations and executive management. He retired as president and CEO of Yazaki North America Inc. in December 2009.

Published in Detroit