Richard Branson is full of big ideas. The man who founded six companies that each rake in more than $1 billion annually dares to think big. For him, it’s all about the experience, making a difference and not doing things the same way as the competition. An idea captures his imagination and he sets out to turn it into reality.
For him, it’s not about the money. It never has been.
When he sees a situation where he thinks he can make a difference in people’s lives, he looks for a way to make a difference. He understands that “why” he is doing it is more important than the “what” or the “how.”
Author and consultant Simon Sinek agrees (see video link). He explains that Apple is wildly successful at what it does not because it can build computers better than anyone else but because it understands “why” it is doing so. It’s not that the competition doesn’t know what it is doing or that it doesn’t have talented people creating good products. It’s just that Apple understands why it is in business and focuses its message on that instead of what it does — which is build electronic devices.
Sinek says that people like to do business with people who believe what they believe, so they buy more on the “why you do it” rather than what you are actually doing. Notice that profits are secondary. If you do things the right way for the right reasons, profits come naturally.
You might already have a big idea for your business, but it will most likely never reach its full potential unless you understand why you are doing it. Have you ever stopped to think about why you are in business or why you are doing what you are doing? It can be an enlightening exercise.
With the demands of daily business, we seldom stop to think about the reasons behind our actions, and if we do think about it, the answer is often “to turn a profit.” But to what end?
When you understand why you are trying to make a profit and the answer goes beyond simple wealth, then you are getting to the heart of what differentiates a good business from a great one. Maybe the reason why is a social issue, such as eliminating hunger, or maybe it’s a medical issue, such as curing a disease. But it doesn’t have to be grand. The “why” can be something like “making computers easy for everyone to use.” The important part isn’t the scope; it’s understanding your business’s basic reason for existence.
When you’ve taken the time to understand that, your business will have the potential to do great things because employees and customers alike can unite around a common understanding.
It’s why Apple is a great company and it’s why Richard Branson is wildly successful. If you’re already doing it, you’re on your way. If not, take the time to think about it.
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.
According to Merriam-Webster, management is “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.” While “controlling” is a bit harsh in my book, the definition is correct in it's focus on management of people. To be a good manager or team leader, you have to have an above average interest in people. Success in management is found in the relationship developed between leader and team.
The best managers see themselves as catalysts. They become that agent or force that provokes or speeds significant change or action. These managers get things done quickly by leading with solid people skills.
Here are 4 people skills that every good manager must possess:
1. Understanding the right way to give a critique.
The worst thing you can do if you want to get someone to listen to you is to criticize.
As human beings, we hate to be criticized. When we feel attacked, we usually attack back – even when we are in the wrong. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking “I know I am right and I am going to prove it to you.”
Over the years I have learned that this way of thinking simply does not work.
A good manager has the self-control and presence of mind to put aside the needs of his own ego and say “I've got a problem, will you help me?” Enlisting cooperation in this manner will always lead to better results.
2. Understanding the need to help.
If someone comes in to criticize you or to raise your game, under what circumstances would you be willing to accept the critique?
The answer for me is simple. If I think someone is really trying to help me, then I'll engage and listen.
On the other hand, if I feel that the person is just trying to get the job done or make himself look good, I may listen, but my heart will not be in it. My interest and creative energies will be lost.
The truth of the matter is: Managers will only have influence over their people to the extent that their people think they are sincerely trying to help them. It is simply the way human beings work. Good managers truly care about their team and work hard to help them.
3. Understanding no two people are the same.
As a manager, you do not influence everybody the same way. People do things for their own reasons – not for others and not for you.
Inspiring people to your company vision happens best when you help them to see what's in it for them. This varies from person to person. It is your job to discover what things motivate each member of your team.
Some people are motivated by a challenge, some by money and others by recognition.
It is about reading their needs, desires and wants and then leading in such a way that ensures their success at obtaining them.
4, Understanding the best way to get tasks completed.
An effective manager realizes that each time he has an interaction with someone about a task, there are two things going on:
a. A discussion about the task and how to get it done.
b. The way in which the interaction affects the managers relationship with the collegue.
The first is pretty straightforward, but it's success is determined by the tenor of the second.
It must be said that the task should not be sacrificed for the relationship at all costs. It must also be said that winning on the task is not good if the manager ruins the relationship. Both are important and the manager must do well in each area.
I refer again to the need for the manager to develop relationships with the team in order to understand the best way to get things done according to individual members needs, desires and strengths.
In the end, good managers know how to use their influence and power to help others achieve beyond their wildest dreams.
I like management guru Tom Peters' definition of power:
“My definition of power is understanding that all of managing — and this comes out of the old grade school book — is the notion of doing more than you and I can do by ourselves; that is, doing things through other people.”
He goes on to say:
“If you are interested in getting things done effectively and imaginatively through other people then what you're trying to do in the workplace is exactly what you're trying to do on the football field – which is to get people who work with you to achieve beyong their wildest dreams.”
Workplace managers understand that good people skills determine their success. They work hard to develop the skills needed to lead in ways that shows their interest in people.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email email@example.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Everyone knows the economy has been challenging, difficult, irritating and many other things in the past few years. When did it start to affect your enterprise? When did you start feeling business was a little soft? For us at M/A/R/C Research, it was July 2008. The interesting thing for me is that was more than four years ago.
In my opinion, the last four years have been the most difficult that my generation of business executives will ever face. Since I always wanted to be a professional athlete, I think of this environment as my seventh game of the World Series, my Super Bowl, my NBA final.
In some ways, this is my quest. There is no better way to see how good you are as a business executive, strategist, leader or motivator than to see the results you have had during the current economy.
I also believe there have been tremendous lessons during this time. Here are a few I wanted to share with you.
1. Don’t hire ahead of the curve. I have made this mistake more than once. This volatile economy has taught me many things and at the top of the list is this one. I don’t want any of our staff working 60 hours a week consistently, but occasionally, this type of extra effort will be needed.
Before we have traction with a new strategy or a new revenue stream, we need to find a way to use internal resources. Once the revenue starts to roll in, then we can add staff — not before.
2. You have a new best friend. Not everyone wants or needs a new best friend, but this is one everyone should have. I am actually not talking about a person; your new best friend is LinkedIn. You need to be a power user and understand all the benefits associated with this amazing tool.
LinkedIn is the single most important business tool I use daily. With industry contacts changing jobs frequently, it’s critical to stay in touch and know where they are. LinkedIn is the largest business database that exists, and the basic version is free.
3. You need to be relevant. You need to be relevant to your staff, your clients and the industry you are in. If you aren’t relevant to your staff or clients, they eventually will leave.
You need to be considered an innovator or thought leader in your industry. If you are, this will give you a tremendous lift over your competitors and protect you during economic declines.
4. Don’t let clients pigeonhole you. This is one of the more painful mistakes that companies make. When we have senior leadership meetings and discuss clients and partnerships, our team gets confused with longevity as a core reason they consider a client a partner.
Longevity is great with any given client, but if they are using only one of your services or think of you for only one solution even though you sell 10, are they really a partner? I say no, and we have changed our thinking and spent months strategizing about increasing revenue with current clients and expanding our service offerings to them. And, thankfully, it has worked.
5. Expect the unexpected. What are you going to do when your largest client has a layoff? Or you lose a significant amount of business to a small competitor? Or your top salesperson leaves? All of these things are real. They can happen. Are you prepared? Do you have a solution ready that you could implement quickly? If not, sudden events like this could cost you a lot of money. ?
Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of Dallas-based M/A/R/C Research, one of the top 25 market research companies in the United States. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than six years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (972) 983-0416.
As the U.S. housing bubble started to burst in late 2006, Bill Darling monitored the situation from his home base in Dallas with deep concern. Homebuilding markets were collapsing around the country — first in California, then in the Southwest, then in several other economically vulnerable pockets around the United States.
“We first heard about it happening out on the West Coast in 2006,” says Darling, chairman and CEO of Darling Homes, which today employs 190 and generates $176 million in annual revenue. “Then we heard about it in other markets. Our own sales didn’t really start to slow until six to nine months after we’d first started hearing about it around the rest of the country.”
In fact, says Darling as he recounts those dark days, the “slowing” of sales that Darling Homes experienced was actually more like a dead stop for his company, which builds homes in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas.
“It was like the faucet shut off in our sales offices,” Darling says. “Sales stopped in Dallas first, and then about 90 days later in Houston. Obviously, we weren’t totally shocked by these developments because we’d been seeing this happening elsewhere in the country. But we didn’t have any idea how severe it would be until ’08, when the larger financial crisis started impacting the whole economy. That’s when we started to realize we were in for something maybe a lot deeper than a typical housing downturn.”
There were no maybes about it; it would go a lot deeper indeed.
“Our main metric that we use is housing starts,” says Darling, who co-founded the company with his brothers Bob and Steve in 1987. “In our markets, we determined that by 2008 both of them were off 75 percent. Obviously, we had a huge challenge on our hands. We had to figure out how to guide a 21-year-old company with responsibilities for our 250 associates’ families through the most difficult housing market in more than 60 years. From the CEO’s standpoint, I had to figure out, first, how do we survive this? And then, eventually, as we began to see that we actually were going to survive, how do we start thriving again?”
As Darling Homes’ sales started plummeting in 2007, the company’s leadership team pulled itself together to decide how to address the unfolding crisis. They quickly determined that it would be critical for them to be realistic in their assessment of the situation and forthright and transparent in communicating with their staff about the gravity of the problem — and how they planned to get the company through it.
“One of the most important things was that, as a CEO, I knew this was significant, and it was going to be deeper than other downturns in the past,” Darling says. “So it was going to be very important for me and the rest of our management team to be realistic, not just your typical optimistic executive management team.”
Darling and his team put together a multipart plan based on a series of benchmarks, with actions to take depending on how deep the company’s sales plunged.
“We had action plans outlined to execute if we saw our results tick to certain levels,” he says. “The way it worked was if we saw sales fall off and margins start to get eroded, and we found ourselves missing budget by a certain percentage, then we would implement the first part of the plan, which would consist of various cost-cutting measures. We didn’t go super-deep with these benchmarks at first because we didn’t know how deep the downturn was going to get.”
Ultimately, Darling Homes’ leaders found it necessary to create a series of action plans for four declining benchmark levels — four levels of “Defcon,” as the company referred to them internally.
“As the market took us to each of these levels, we executed some operational types of restraints to measure up with those kinds of results,” Darling says. “Those restraints would be, first of all, cost-cutting measures internally — operational costs, belt tightening. Then, after that, as it got deeper, it went to cutting benefits, unfortunately. As it got even deeper, we had to get into some personnel issues.
“And it even went as far as the remaining employees having to take a cut in salary for a period of time.
“Here we were, from one end of this downturn to the other. We started with 240 employees, and we eventually went down to 140. And those that were left were making less money with fewer benefits.”
Retain key people
Two other crucial elements of Darling Homes’ survival-and-turnaround plan were clear communication, both internal and external, and keeping the company’s management team intact.
“A real key in the whole downsizing plan was communication,” Darling says. “Communication internally, communication with our vendors, communication with our developer friends and partners. There was no way we could communicate too often about what was going on.
“Our executive management team and leadership team needed to do the same with the rest of the Darling Homes team. We did some all-hands-on-deck conference calls for the bigger issues and written communication for some of the updates in between those bigger calls. On a regular basis, we kept the executive management and the leadership teams on their toes to offer guidance to any of their associates who wanted to know what was going on.”
Retaining key management personnel was important because Darling Homes’ executives felt it would make it easier for the company to spring back quickly once its markets began to recover.
“We wanted to make sure to keep our management team in place because we knew at some point in time the markets would turn around for us,” Darling says. “Going into this, we knew there were going to be some companies that weren’t going to survive this downturn, but we felt that we could, and if we did, we wanted to be able take advantage of our two platforms in Dallas and Houston.”
The management team’s clear, forthright communication with staff benefited Darling Homes in several ways.
“As some people left that had been with the company for a long time, as difficult as that was, we got responses from them saying that they appreciated the openness and the caring attitude and that we kept them as informed as possible,” Darling says. “And they said they’d be ready to come back when things turned around. And it was certainly appreciated by the rest of the management team, because they were well-prepared and knew how to address their associates’ questions.”
As a result, some employees indeed have returned as Darling Homes’ fortunes have begun to turn back around.
“We’ve started hiring again this last 12 months, and a good percentage of people have come back,” Darling says. “We have a special culture at Darling Homes. It was special going into the downturn, and it’s only been strengthened during the downturn because of the way we handled it, particularly being upfront with our communication. So not only have we attracted past employees back, we’ve also maintained our subcontractor base, and we’ve maintained our developer relationships and taken those to another level.”
Keep it real
Darling says if he were to offer a few key pieces of advice to CEOs facing a similar challenge, they would be to avoid excessive optimism, to see and call things exactly as they are, to create a solid, well-thought-out plan, to follow through with the plan, and to communicate the plan clearly and openly to everyone involved.
“Most of us CEOs are very optimistic people,” Darling says. “We always think that things are going to get better. But you’ve got to be realistic first and optimistic second. Also, it would be a mistake to just take the problem into the boardroom and work it from there. If you do that, no matter what type of plan you come up with, you run the risk of coming across as secretive. You can scare people and lose their confidence by not being upfront and communicative with your operating team. There’s a real danger there.”
But the plan itself is the most important element, according to Darling.
“The benchmark plan we came up with was invaluable to us,” he says. “It’s a document that we put together as an executive team. And we executed it step by step as we hit each benchmark. If the results were there, we implemented the part of the plan related to it. You’ve got to stay true to your plan and make the difficult decisions as they become necessary. Be realistic, put a plan in place, stay true to the plan and communicate it clearly.”
Darling Homes’ executives knew they had turned the corner about a year ago when credit facilities came back into play and banks started lending them money again, enabling them to start building and hiring again.
“At that point, we knew the worst was over for us and we could start planning our growth and take advantage of the platforms that we’d been able to enhance during the downturn,” Darling says. “We knew then that it was time to move from our heels back to our toes. We have a surplus of credit lines available to us now. They wouldn’t be here if we weren’t doing things right.” ?
How to reach: Darling Homes, (469) 252-2200 or www.darlinghomes.com
THE DARLING FILE
Chairman and CEO
Born: Tucson, Ariz.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in marketing, University of Arizona
Looking back over your years in school, what business leadership lessons did you learn while you were there?
I played baseball in college, and football, basketball and baseball in high school. I think I learned a lot about my leadership abilities through sports. I’ve always seen myself as a quarterback.
What was your first job, and what important business lessons did you learn from it?
My first job was as marketing director and promotion director of the Dallas Tornado soccer team in 1975. My first two bosses — in the Dallas Tornado job and in the real estate business right after that — were two of the best marketing people I’ve ever been around. I learned from them how important marketing and promoting your service is.
Do you have a business philosophy that you use to guide you?
Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself, and treat people the way you want to be treated. Those philosophies have built one of the finest cultures a company could have at Darling Homes today.
What trait do you think is most important for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?
Optimism, because you go through goods times a lot more often than you go through downturns. Of course, if you just keep doing things the same way during downturns, you’re going to struggle. There has to be a balance on that optimism during difficult times.
How do you define success in business?
When a team comes together and executes a plan and grows as a team while the members grow as individuals at the same time.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Keep your nose clean. You’ve got to be able to wake up every day and look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about yourself. That was from my dad.
As a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and its effects, employers are taking steps to manage the cost of care by moving toward self-funded insurance and greater oversight of health benefit plan subcontractors. Others are making a cost trade-off between the tax burden of providing versus not providing coverage.
Selvadas Govind, a senior manager in Assurance Services at Weaver, says it’s too soon to say whether costs will go up or down in our complex health care system.
“The only thing one can do is try to manage the risks that are presented at a particular point in time,” he says. “You’re not going to be able to influence the market or analyze it in any significant way.”
Smart Business spoke with Govind about some of the risks employers face in this new era of health plan benefits.
What is the impact of companies increasingly self-insuring?
Larger businesses are making the shift toward self-insurance, which is more transparent in terms of management. Insurers no longer go to a company and give them a rate; rather, companies can pay medical costs themselves and hire a third-party administrator (TPA) to handle administration. It’s a great business practice, but the downside is employers are on a less-than-level playing field with insurance companies that know how the industry works.
It’s a big risk that needs to be managed, and many organizations are not in a position to mitigate those risks. In fact, one study found employer audits of TPAs had error rates for medical claims of 3 percent to 16.8 percent. Similarly for pharmacy benefit programs, errors ranged between 3 percent and 8 percent. A 3 percent error rate by a plan’s pharmacy benefit manager in a medium-sized entity of 2,000 employees can amount to an overpayment of $155,000. For this reason, it is often worthwhile to bring in external auditors with specialized knowledge to mitigate this risk exposure.
Employers also need greater oversight of health benefit plan subcontractors. For example, after an employee pays his or her pharmacy co-pay, the balance is charged to a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) which, in turn, pays off the distributor or manufacturer and submits the claim to the self-insured company. However, there is usually a rebate from the distributor or manufacturer to the PBM. By right, that rebate — which can be quite substantial — belongs to the employer, not the PBM.
How does the individual mandate create new risks for employers?
With the individual mandate and the increased dependent eligibility age of 26, there’s a financial incentive for children to remain on their parents’ health care plans. The risk companies should consider is that some may try to retain children on their plans beyond age 26 and/or include dependents who are not necessarily their own. The benefit of this abuse to perpetrators is that they can choose to pay the lower tax penalty for not having individual coverage and still obtain coverage through their parents at employer-subsidized rates. So, the situation leads to an educated decision on whether it is more cost effective to try to stay on the parents’ plan, pay the penalty for not buying coverage, or buy coverage through an employer or a health benefit exchange.
You can audit this risk, but health benefit plan audits tend to be invasive, which could irritate employees. A way to sensitively handle it is to educate employees on the potential issue and what the cost could be if even a small percentage of employees are dishonest. Companies should also review the amount of evidence required to justify a dependent; however, if the requirements are too stringent, employees could resist.
Are many employers deciding to take the penalties and not offer insurance?
It depends on the attitude of the employer and the type of work force. There will always be employers who offer better benefits than others. However, it’s a very industry-specific question, and in an industry with narrow margins, businesses may simply not be able to offer insurance. There could also be a shift away from full-time employees who qualify for health care benefits to the use of more part-time employees who would not qualify for employee-sponsored health benefits.
Selvadas Govind, MPA, CPA, CIA, CICA, CRMA, senior manager, Assurance Services, Weaver. Reach him at (512) 609-1940 or Selvadas.Govind@WeaverLLP.com.
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An effective screening process tailored to each job opening can help eliminate candidates who are unsuitable for a position early in the hiring process and minimize hiring mistakes. And in today’s sluggish economic environment, the process of pre-screening applicants is more critical than ever.
Lisa Deramo, branch manager at The Daniel Group, says taking the time to create individualized assessments is worth the effort.
“You need to be thorough with your interview questions and your screening process,” she says. “Make sure you’re setting somebody up for an assessment or pre-employment test based on the kind of job for which the person is applying.”
Smart Business spoke with Deramo about the importance of assessing a job applicant’s skills, knowledge and personality through testing.
Why should employers use pre-employment assessments?
Tests and other selection procedures screen applicants by gauging skill levels, which helps determine the most qualified candidate for a particular job. A number of assessment tools can be used, including cognitive and personality tests, medical exams, and credit and criminal background checks.
Pre-employment assessments are important for high-skill jobs such as machinists or welders in the manufacturing and oil and gas industries. A welder applicant, for example, might be required to take a welding test and demonstrate his or her ability to read a blueprint. For other jobs, such as receptionist, the applicant should take a software test to prove they can utilize common programs like Excel.
How should the interviewer approach the interview?
As an interviewer, you should tailor your interview questions to each candidate and ask probing questions. It’s important to investigate any gaps in the resume and discover the applicant’s exact experience. For example, if the job opening is for a machinist, it’s important to determine what kinds of products or materials the applicant has worked on.
In addition, look at the candidate’s social skills, personal presentation and other contextual factors while the interview is being conducted. How are they presenting their self? Are they twitching or not making eye contact? Are they outgoing or just sitting back as if they don’t care?
If an inexperienced employee is doing the hiring, it is a good idea have an experienced mentor help throughout the process and possibly sit in on the interview.
How essential are testing or screening measures?
They are important and are commonly used to screen out unsuitable applicants and minimize hiring mistakes. You might do drug and personality testing as well as aptitude and integrity tests. It’s worth taking the time to create the best tests for the job opening.
With aptitude tests, it’s a good idea to have job applicants take both written and performance exams. For example, if the job requires driving a forklift, applicants should be qualified by a skills test, where they’re asked to successfully perform certain commonly used maneuvers, and a written forklift safety test. It’s surprising how many applicants aren’t as strong on the forklift as they claim to be, which can be shown by how they do with the safety questions.
Personality testing is used a lot. Does it make much of a difference?
Personality testing can make a difference. Maybe you’ve got a number of quiet people working in an office and then someone with a strong, dominant personality comes in, making a big impact.
The personality tests are customized, based on what you’re looking for, and give an indication of how people will likely work with each other. Outside sales is a good position for employers to apply that type of test because it can offer clues as to how successful a candidate is going to be.
Most companies know the key to long-term growth is generating repeat business. Repeat customers mean greater brand loyalty, higher referrals and a steady stream of sales. Adding a new customer also costs considerably more than retaining an existing one.
But creating the kind of brand relationships that drive customers back again and again isn’t easy, especially for businesses that outsource their marketing and sales efforts to third-party call centers.
Smart Business spoke with Monica Ross, the vice president of training and development at InfoCision, on the value of first impressions and how to enhance customer relationships.
It’s about more than just taking orders
You don’t want your brand to get lost by having representatives who might treat a call with your customer as just another interaction. While they can help your customers make their purchases and answer their questions, it’s not creating a customer experience that is going to convert into future sales.
Companies need more than just order takers. To be competitive in this disjointed marketplace you need call centers that can build outstanding interactions by being as professional and connected to the brand as your own employees are. The order taker will process an order and get it done, but brand ambassadors will take it to a higher level to ensure the person feels good after the call.
You need to leverage the people on the phones if you’re looking to create outstanding customer interactions. Your call center is the voice of your company, so it's crucial to have mature, experienced professionals on the phones. The agents making and taking your calls are representing your company in front of your most valuable asset — your customers. Reputable call centers have highly selective hiring policies. At InfoCision, the average age of our Communicators is 42 years old, close to 80 percent are full time and almost 75 percent are their family’s main provider. Successful call center companies will also have robust recognition programs to retain and reward top performers.
Separate yourself from the crowd
With the trend toward multiple communication channels and a brand ambassador approach, an extensive training curriculum is essential. What separates brand ambassadors from typical call center representatives is their deep level of product and client knowledge, which can enhance the value of a call in a number of ways. Instead of just answering questions, brand ambassadors act as an extension of the brand they’re calling for, so they do a better job connecting with the customer from the first phone call. Brand ambassadors convey the feelings and voice of a brand. They are also comfortable enough with product and service lines to present other opportunities and upsell the customer and boost conversion rates.
Often, people are not 100 percent sold when they call in initially, and it’s going to translate into lost revenue. The phone call should be looked at as an opportunity to pin-point customer wants, answer questions and create need. Because of their training, a brand ambassador is going to know what questions to ask and what benefits their product or service offers. They will take this information and build on it to create that need for the customer.
Creating stronger brand ties
By enhancing brand value, brand ambassadors also add future value in customer retention. The real value of the brand ambassador comes after the phone call is completed: The prospect will have a stronger tie to the particular brand as well as a clearer feeling of who the company is and what it has to offer. Even if it’s a purchase of a singular item, it’s a company that the customer will want to go back to.
The success of brand ambassadors really comes down to the investment a company is willing to make upfront with time and training. The more involved they are in developing training materials and programs, the more ammunition they can provide to brand ambassadors. When those on the phone know the product and client, it’s going to positively impact the bottom line on that initial call. It’s about creating a better impression of who we represent. And, in this economy, where competition for customers is extremely fierce, strategic use of call centers can provide a company with far-reaching benefits that will help them to achieve goals, to enhance market position and to maintain their good reputation.
We’ve reached an age where technology is bringing businesses and customers closer together. Communication channels like teleservices, direct mail, Web allow for a customer’s diverse needs to be met. But it’s only as good as the person on the other end. By improving the quality of a customer’s experience, they will form a stronger bond with your organization and, as a result, increase your profit potential.
Monica Ross is the vice president of training and development at InfoCision. Reach her at (330-) 668-1400 or Monica.email@example.com.
A survey conducted by the Construction Financial Management Association revealed that participants felt their companies were ineffectively managing several key functional areas of business.
• 54 percent of respondents said contractors were ineffective in managing people;
• 37 percent said project sales and customer satisfaction management were ineffective;
• 35 percent said there was ineffective management of risks insurance, contracts, risk and safety; and
• 27 percent said there was ineffective management of project delivery.
Marc McKerley, CPA, partner at Crowe Horwath LLP, said the survey demonstrates the challenges the construction industry faces and the opportunity for improvement through a strategic planning process.
“Every business is faced with the same issue — limited resources. A dollar can only be used once. Material can only be used once. Organizations that best leverage limited resources have a greater chance to succeed,” McKerley says.
Smart Business spoke with McKerley about ways companies can simplify the planning process and implement performance management techniques that will get results.
What are the barriers to an effective implementation strategy, and how can they be overcome?
Several barriers exist that prevent successful implementation of strategic goals:
• Management — Management is busy ‘putting out fires’ and rarely discusses strategy.
• Resources — Budgets often are not linked to strategy.
• Vision — The work force does not understand management’s strategy.
• People — Incentives are not linked to strategy.
Overcoming these barriers is crucial to successfully implementing strategy. Using tools like strategy maps can help translate vision and strategy into action and results.
How can a project scorecard help with performance management?
Most people think of a scorecard as a tool to measure financial performance. Building an effective project scorecard that moves beyond the traditional financial performance model requires an understanding of the construction project lifecycle, including the significant risks inherent throughout this process and business processes designed to effectively manage those risks.
A well-designed project scorecard should include key processes intended to manage critical risks throughout the construction lifecycle. It should also define key performance indicators (KPIs) that represent desired performance thresholds. The exhibit provided (on the following page) illustrates a working grid for building a project scorecard for several key areas of the construction lifecycle. Other important factors in building a scorecard include:
• Weighting critical processes or KPIs.
• Identifying the source of data input. Is the information contained in the existing accounting information system or does it reside in spreadsheets or manual logs? Accessibility of the information is critical.
• Who is the responsible person? The project manager? The contract administrator? The project accountant?
The final scorecard can take many forms. Some choose to use a traffic light approach:
• Green light — Acceptable and desired compliance and performance.
• Yellow light — Warning signal that compliance and performance are below desired levels.
• Red light — High-risk issue that requires immediate attention.
When implementing performance management in your company, remember the following simple goals:
• Know what you’re trying to accomplish and why;
• Keep yourself accountable; and
• Move beyond traditional financial ‘rear-view mirror’ performance measurements.
Marc McKerley, CPA, is a partner with Crowe Horwath LLP. Reach him at (214) 777-5209 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SAVE THE DATE Webinar: Implementing Performance Management Techniques, Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 10 a.m. CST. To register, visit www.crowehorwath.com/events.
Companies typically want to do what’s right for those they serve. Key priorities should be customers, investors, employees and the communities in which the company is located — but not necessarily always in this order. The dilemma, however, is that many times short-term decisions can prove to be long-term problems that cause more pain than the initial gain.
It’s difficult to make all constituents happy every time. As a result, management must prioritize decisions with a clear understanding that each action has ramifications, which could manifest themselves in the short, intermediate or long term. Seldom does a single decision serve all of the same timelines. There are no easy answers and anyone who has spent even a short amount of time running a business has already learned this fact of life. So what’s a leader to do?
It’s a sure bet that investors want a better return, employees want more money and benefits, and customers want better quality products, higher levels of service and, oh yes, lower prices. This simply all goes with the territory and is a part of the game. The problem can be that, most times, it’s hard to give without taking something away from someone else. Here are a couple of examples.
Take the case of deciding to improve employee compensation packages. Ask the auto companies what happened when they added a multitude of perks over the years, as demanded by the unions? The auto titans thought they didn’t have much choice, lest they run the risk of alienating their gigantic workforces. History has shown us the ramifications of their actions as the majority of these manufacturers came close to going belly up, which would have resulted in huge job losses and an economic tsunami.
Basic math caused the problems. The prices charged for cars could not cover all of the legacy costs that accrued over the years, much like barnacles building up on the bottom of a ship to the point where the ship could sink from the weight. Hindsight is 20/20, and, of course, the auto companies should have been more circumspect about creating benefit packages that could not be sustained. Yes, the employees received an increase to their standard of living for a time anyway, but at the end of the day, a company cannot spend more than it takes in and stay in business for long.
Investors in public companies can present a different set of problems because they can have divergent objectives. There are the buy-and-hold investors, albeit a shrinking breed, who understand that for a company to have long-term success, it must invest in the present to build for the future. The term “immediate gratification” is not in their lexicon; they’re in it for the long haul. Another type of investor might know or care little about a company’s future, other than whether its earnings per share beat Wall Street estimates. These investors buy low and sell high, sometimes flipping the stock in hours or days. And, actually, both types are doing what’s right for them. The issue becomes how to serve the needs and goals of both groups. When a company effectively articulates its strategy, it tends to attract the right type of investors who are buying in for the right reason. This will avoid enticing the wrong investors who turn hostile because they want something that the company won’t deliver.
When interviewing and before hiring employees, it is imperative that candidates know where the company wants to go and how it plans to get there. Many times, this means telling the prospective newbie that the short-term compensation and benefits may not be as good as the competitors’ down the street, but in the longer term, the company anticipates being able to significantly enhance employee packages, with the objective of eventually outmatching the best payers because of the investments in equipment being made today.
The key to satisfying employees (present and prospective), investors, et al, is communicating the types of decisions a company will make over a specific period of time. Communication from the get-go is integral to the rules of engagement and can alleviate huge problems that can otherwise lead to dissatisfaction.
Knowing what is right for your company, based on your stated plan that has been well-communicated, will help ensure that you do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
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In our world of quick text missives, sharing the daily joke via inner office email, and generally more relaxed workplaces, informality can become a workplace hazard. Studies show that employers and managers often assess an employee’s career potential based on how that employee carries himself or herself in the workplace. None of us wants to be judged by the externals, but our respective “book covers” matter.
Poor manners at work – however unintentional - can lead to workplace conflict because they distract fellow employees from working or, in the worst cases, offend co-workers who have differing viewpoints and cause potential legal liability for the employer.
Therefore, it’s ideal to avoid these 8 bad work habits:
- Talking loudly on telephones and in person in common areas.
- Interjecting comments into conversations between other employees, unless your opinion is solicited.
- Taking supplies – even if they were bought by the office – from other employee’s work areas without getting prior approval.
- Wearing perfume that can be smelled even after you leave an area.
- Gossiping about co-workers or people outside the workplace.
- Sharing racial, religious or sexual jokes in any format.
- Arriving late to meetings.
- Regularly using large chunks of work time to resolve personal and family matters.
Most employees want to be viewed as valuable, contributing members of the company team. Thus, it’s worthwhile to periodically assess our workplace demeanor and, perhaps, adjust our behaviors, to help convey that image. Your future with your employer likely depends on it.
Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.