It’s not easy to keep a company going for 100 years — there are going to be a lot of challenges to address along the way.
“There has to be a willingness to change and take chances,” says Roger Weninger, Southern California regional managing partner at Moss Adams LLP. “When I think of longevity, I think of growth. Not purely as it relates to size but also ingenuity, the willingness to change and remain relevant. The company that can continue doing the same thing and remain successful is the exception.”
Smart Business spoke with Weninger about common characteristics of companies that stand the test of time.
What are the keys to longevity for companies?
It’s very important to develop leaders, plural. Companies, no matter how successful they are, get to a point where they need to provide opportunities to others. That can be hard for an individual in charge to understand — the concept that he or she can do less and it will result in more. By allowing others to make decisions and feel a part of the success of the organization, you create a strong culture of growth and change. People thrive in these settings, and so will the business.
You also need to have leaders and decision-makers at all levels. To think that leadership takes place only at the highest levels within any organization is a mistake. Instill a culture of risk taking and empowerment where people at all levels feel they can make a difference and aren’t afraid they’ll be punished for making a mistake. You’ll be amazed at the ideas and the level of ownership people will take when they’re asked, and even expected, to contribute to organizational change and success.
Every organization should have strategic plans and goals that have application to every employee. In addition, each employee should know what contribution he or she can make to reach those goals.
How can a company stay relevant in changing times?
It sounds trite, but it goes back to your mission and focus — self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as how you fit into the needs of your clients and customers. Creating this awareness within your organization will provide a clear decision-making and prioritization path for your people. If there’s doubt as to what your value proposition is, or what it isn’t, you can waste a lot of time and send confusing messages to your people and to existing and prospective clients. Being the best at something is always a good goal.
What poses the biggest threat to longevity?
Complacency. When things are going well, there’s a tendency to become satisfied and convince yourself that things will never change. The willingness to listen and actually hear what’s being said, rather than simply assuming you already have all the answers, is crucial. Again, you must have multiple decision-makers and leaders, and this highlights the need for ongoing succession analysis. Succession isn’t something that should be dusted off and practiced when the owner is ready to retire.
People want to see the opportunity to grow into leadership positions from the time they walk in the door. That doesn’t mean they want to take over the top spot in the organization within their first year of employment, but it does mean they want to feel relevant, appreciated and impactful. If they have to wait for someone to die or move on, they may not stick around very long. New leaders bring different ideas and knowledge, and not having that will restrict your ability to grow and sustain the organization through good times and bad.
There’s no such thing as staying flat — you’re either on an incline or decline. You have to always be working to get better. If you’re willing to listen, your people and your clients will tell you how.
Roger Weninger is the Southern California regional managing partner at Moss Adams LLP. Reach him at (949) 221-4047 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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When visiting one of InfoCision’s offices, you’ll notice more than the tables, chairs and water cooler found in a typical workplace. It is not out of the ordinary to pass a yoga class practicing downward dog, a physician scribbling a prescription or a preschool class reciting the alphabet.
While these scenes may be out of place in many employers’ offices, InfoCision has worked hard to make them a staple. The company recognizes its employees are the heart of its business, so it focuses on recruiting and retaining them with a variety of amenities and benefits, says Kim Murphy, vice president of employee benefits at InfoCision.
"We strive to give our employees a work-life balance," Murphy says. "We want to provide opportunities for employees to handle things like exercising at work so when they go home, they can focus on their families. And we believe that contributes to a happier, healthier employee."
- InfoFitness centers: These 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot gyms include top-of-the-line equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines and recumbent bicycles. The centers also offer classes such as aerobics or yoga, and are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. They are free for InfoCision employees and family members covered under the company’s health plans. Many InfoCision employees and even entire departments attend classes together. "My department works through lunch, then at 4 p.m. we all go down as a group," Murphy says. "It's nice to have that support — on the days when you don't want to go, you have your coworkers pushing you, and it makes it a lot easier."
- InfoWellness clinics and programs: InfoCision provides on-site doctors for both employees and family members regardless if they participate in its health plans. The company also has a prescription concierge service so employees don't need to run out to pick up their medications. Other wellness programs include free smoking-cessation programs and subsidized weight-loss programs.
- InfoKids Early Learning Center: This fully licensed child care center at InfoCision's corporate headquarters in Akron can care for more than 90 children ages 6 weeks to 14 years. The center offers summer programs, two infant rooms and toddler and preschool rooms, play areas, educational toys and computers. It provides a creative curriculum education model. InfoCision's satellite call centers offer subsidized child care options.
- InfoCision Management Corporate University: Geared toward salaried staff who have a clear path of advancement within the company, IMCU offers free or discounted workforce development through on-site programs as well as outside classes and workshops through the University of Akron and other local institutions.
- Employee assistance program: InfoCision provides employees with a toll-free number to call for financial advice or free counseling sessions for anything from a death in the family to a divorce. The employee receives recommended local counseling services, and he or she can use the services as much as he or she needs.
- On-site delis: InfoCision's Café 5 on-site delis offer healthy hot and cold meals, snacks and gourmet coffee. In addition, InfoCision's vending machines now offer healthy choices.
InfoCision also offers a comprehensive benefits package for both salaried and hourly employees, Murphy says. These benefits are available upon hire and include health care, vision and dental plans, paid holidays, free life and disability insurance, paid personal and vacation time, quarterly bonuses, paid training and tuition reimbursement. InfoCision also offers 401(k) participation after 90 days of employment.
Aside from amenities and benefits, InfoCision also strives to create a work environment in which employees can excel. "For as big as we’ve gotten, we still have a family feel," Murphy says.
"It starts when you enter the front doors and the receptionist greets you like you're family even if you've never been here before. We also have a newsletter for employees every month, and our executives speak regularly to our employees and are open for questions or available to talk afterwards. That open communication really makes a big difference."
InfoCision also has a group that travels to its facilities and speaks with employees about what's happening at the company and in the workplace. This program, in conjunction with an employee suggestion box, is meant to provide an open forum for employees to voice ideas or concern.
"We have an open-door policy," Murphy says. "Our employees have the opportunity to speak to not only to their supervisors and team leaders — as our supervisor to communicator ratio is one to nine — but our executives as well. That's not something that's typically found at other companies, but we believe it is a key part of recruitment and retention."
For more information on employee benefits and amenities, contact Kim Murphy at email@example.com or visit www.InfoCision.com.
There’s a lot of talk about core competencies in the business world, but people often don’t understand what the term really means.
Some CEOs think their core competencies are the things that generate revenue, so they set off on a wild goose chase of looking for the next great thing in areas where they have no expertise. A true core competency is typically defined as having three general traits: It’s hard for competitors to imitate, it can be leveraged widely across products and markets, and it provides benefit to the consumer.
For example, at Smart Business Network, our core competency is content. We started off as just magazines, providing content tailored to CEOs and other senior-level decision-makers. But as the market started to evolve from analog to digital, we changed with it. Our core competency of content didn’t change, just the way we presented it. We moved into events (presenting content via live speakers), e-mail newsletters (presenting content on a certain topic to a narrow niche), webinars (presenting content via interaction with an editor and subject-matter experts), custom magazines (presenting content from experts to their constituents) and websites (presenting content in digital form.) The common thread among all of these is content.
Content for us meets the three components of a core competency. It’s hard for competitors to imitate what we do because we have a 20-year track record of working with some of the top CEOs in the country to provide insight, advice and strategy to other leaders. The popularity of our magazines with senior-level executives gives us the access that others cannot duplicate. As illustrated by the number of places where our content is delivered, it’s being applied across several products and markets. And finally, our content provides a benefit to both the buyer and the consumer — the buyer gets a professional message delivered to a specific audience, while consumers get information that helps them run their businesses better.
It’s OK to change your products, just don’t change your core competency. We evolved from a magazine-only approach to deal with changing technology. People were consuming information from areas outside of print, and we had to adapt to survive. But through all the incarnations, we never lost sight that, for us, content is king.
Think of your product the way Coca-Cola looks at its soda. If you want a Coke, you can find a vending machine and get a 16-oz. bottle. You can go to the grocery store and buy a 12 pack of cans. Or if you are at a ball game, you can buy a cup from one of the vendors. It’s the same product delivered in a variety of ways. Wherever the consumer wants a Coke, there’s a way to get it.
This is similar to how we have approached content. If you want it in print, we do that. If you want it digitally through a website, we do that. If you prefer e-mail newsletters or microsites, that’s not a problem either. Custom content? We provide that, too.
Now look at your product or service. Are you making it available in every way possible? Are there avenues where customers are looking for your service that you haven’t taken advantage of? Would Coke be as successful if the only way to buy it was in a can from the local store? No. Are you limiting your own success by limiting the ways your product is distributed?
And in a similar vein, are you going outside of your core competency? Coke is a beverage company. It has its flagship products and has added on flavored waters and sport drinks as consumer tastes have evolved. But those market changes were dealt with by staying with its core competency. When people started becoming more health conscious, the company found a way to provide healthier drinks; it didn’t start a line of health clubs.
There are many other examples of companies that leverage their expertise without deviating from their core competency: UPS applies its logistics expertise through consulting and management services for clients; Dunkin’ Donuts sells its popular coffee in grocery stores.
If you truly understand what you do best and can find ways to apply it across multiple markets, success will naturally follow. Just be true to who you are and stick with your core competencies.
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.