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Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Under the microscope

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Danny Wade says it’s one of the hardest things a leader can do. But it’s also one of the most necessary: Sometimes, you have to show that you’re human.

You might think it decreases your employees’ confidence in your leadership abilities when you step up and tell them that you don’t know something or that you were wrong about an idea or initiative. But the president and chief operating officer of Goodman Networks Inc. — a network solutions company that generated $221 million in 2008 revenue — says it can actually do the opposite. Admitting that you don’t have all of the answers shows your team that you’re willing to admit fault, seek input and continually improve yourself as an executive.

“One of the things is that organizations need to see their leaders willing to accept and acknowledge when a decision they’ve made may have gone in the wrong direction,” Wade says. “It makes you more human and relatable.”

Smart Business spoke with Wade about how you can use self-evaluation, feedback and criticism to better your leadership skills.

Learn from failure. Self-evaluation is one of my strengths on a personal level. I am the youngest of 10 boys, so I had nine older brothers, which tends to put you in a more humble position. And I have just been the type of person who steps back and truly looks at myself and what I’ve done and decisions I’ve made.

I’ve told the organization numerous times that I learn more by my failures than my successes. By analyzing our failures and determining where we went wrong is how we truly improve in our personal lives or our professional lives. So I do a great deal of introspective thinking and putting myself in other people’s shoes, seeing how they perceive things. Those two traits and characteristics make for a better environment in an organization. It shows employees that this is leadership that is truly going to work with them to evolve and get better versus being set in your ways and driving things down the way they always have, not making adjustments along the way.

It’s a balance, because on one hand you want to use the methods and the tools in the past that have made you successful. But the problem is that you can’t bring everything you’ve done in the past into different environments. As you come into a different environment, you have to know how to be able to adjust, how to tweak yourself so you can drive the organization to achieve optimal execution. The success is in how the organization performs, not how we as leaders perform.

Encourage feedback. I tell everyone in my organization to come talk to me about anything you want. Just do it in a professional, nonattacking, nonthreatening manner. If you do that, I’ll listen to anything you have to say.

You can be argumentative with me as long as it’s done tactfully and professionally. You can tell me that you think I’m not moving in the right direction, express why you think it’s wrong. We’ll have a conversation about it, and if you have an influential message and can sway me to some degree, I’ll accept that. If not, we’ll maybe agree to disagree or I’ll sway you.

You have to allow people the opportunity to have their say. If you give people the opportunity to get stuff out in the open, it cuts down on rumors and it cuts down on back-door conversation. It ultimately cuts down on people getting distracted. If the things on your employees’ minds don’t involve how they can be successful and how to better serve the customer, if they’re focusing on how they felt they were treated incorrectly, you’re not getting the best performance out of them. So you have to be willing to let people share things and you have to be willing to listen to some criticism. Sometimes you learn something from the criticism.

Stay close to the ground. Some-times leaders get too far away from where the rubber meets the road in the business, sometimes feedback has to go through so many layers that it can’t reach you. So it’s critical to get that firsthand feedback from your people that are down the ladder, doing the tactical jobs. You really can learn a lot from them.

Keeping feedback channels open has been a big challenge. There is no one model that I have been able to uncover that says, ‘This is what you do.’ It’s a matter of making sure you keep yourself tied to what is going on in the organization. You have to have very consistent and formal communication with regard to what is happening inside your business and in your distributed markets.

We try to spend a lot of time and focus on how we get that information up to the executive level, so that as executives, we really understand what is happening.

Be willing to adjust. You make adjustments by constantly looking at how things are performing and executing in the business. If you see something not making progress or trending in the right direction, you’re evaluating what the root cause is. If it’s something we can control or something we initiated, we go back and adjust.

Maybe you picked the wrong person for a role, someone who is not following through, you have coached them and worked with them, and you just need to accept that they are the wrong person in the wrong role. If there are tools and systems that got implemented incorrectly, you need the commitment of resources to correct those. The tweaking is that you’re constantly looking at whether you have the right people in the right roles — are they executing and trending correctly? Do you have the right environment for them to be successful? If not, you make the appropriate changes.

How to reach: Goodman Networks Inc., (972) 406-9692 or www.goodmannetworks.com

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Thinking together

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Ugo Ginatta is in the gelato and coffee business. But he’s also in the idea business.

The co-founder, chairman and CEO of Paciugo Franchising LP knows that the best possible products won’t reach his customers if the best possible ideas aren’t placed on the table and considered in the company’s management meetings.

With that in mind, Ginatta has focused on becoming a kind of peer leader who oversees operations for the gelato store franchisor — which generated $10.4 million in 2008 revenue — while still giving both corporate employees and franchisees varying degrees of latitude to come up with better ways of marketing and selling their products.

“I like to be informal as a leader and like to be peer to peer when possible,” Ginatta says. “I have a completely open door because I am here for long hours. I’m normally the first one in the door and almost the last to leave in the evening.”

Smart Business spoke with Ginatta about how you can create a collaborative, idea-driven culture in your business.

Build a wide-angle view. If you want to lead your company effectively, always remind and completely demonstrate to your colleagues that what you are arguing for is not your point of view, not your pet project, but what you believe is good for the company. When we argue, we all tell each other that this is not arguing for the sake of arguing. It is because we believe in what is best for the growth of the company. Everybody has a stake when you have a small company like we do. Everybody is rooting for the company to grow and not only give us financial satisfaction but professional satisfaction, as well.

You need to continue to create that wide-angle view among your employees. In our meetings, we all sit there and talk. We know each other, and our comments are driven by keeping focused on what is good for the project or the company. We really try not to have groups or subgroups or let somebody insist on something without hearing everyone else out. Everybody needs to have the mindset that they’re going to do their best to understand our customers and our franchisees and come up with recommendations that is best for them and best for our products.

Involve people from the start. Understand that everybody wants to contribute. We keep saying to each other that we’re all ready to unplug the restroom toilet or sell the company or do anything in between. In other words, we all wear multiple hats according to our capabilities. You need to find people and train people who have a phenomenal ability to jump from task to task. If we have a potential franchisee to see how we make our gelato, anybody here can take them on the tour, whether it’s someone in accounting, shipping or wherever. The more you can build that all-around knowledge with all your people in all areas of the company, the better off you’ll be.

People we hire are sent to the first available franchisee training session. Early employees, they all came from stores. They started as store employees, then store managers and then they moved into corporate. So they develop an extremely clear idea of where the income comes from. The employees who came along later on did not go through the stores. Those are the ones who need to go through a training course to understand where our income comes from.

When you have developed a sufficient number of employees that are so well attuned to the corporate objective, they tend to pull in friends and acquaintances that have the same characteristics. If you end up mishiring someone into that kind of environment, they probably won’t last that long because they have a different philosophy. They don’t care about the product or the company, so they’re not happy and they need to look for a different job. You need to be kind of homogeneous in your hiring, like in a rowboat, everybody is rowing at the same tempo.

Know when to take a backseat. You tend to listen more closely to colleagues that have specific knowledge or experience on the given topic being discussed. I tend to keep myself very much restrained in the marketing meetings. We recently had a marketing meeting about how to relate things to customers when they walk into our stores for the first time — why is it a healthier option than ice cream, why we make it by hand and so forth. Those points need to be crafted very creatively and in as few words as possible because people don’t want to read pages and pages.

During meetings like that, I tend to keep myself more in the role of a member of the general public. I want to let the people who have the expertise run the meeting, even though I do have some background in marketing. It goes back to the idea that you want the most specialized and trained people on your team to run the show in each given situation. You don’t want to step over or around people just because you run the company.

In all situations, you have to take a look at ideas from everyone very seriously and let the people on your leadership team debate it. The proponents of the idea try to lay down the case as to why we should try something, and the idea’s opponents lay down the case as to why this might not be the best fit right now. But in the end, you want everybody in those meetings to leave with the idea that their idea was seriously considered, that no one was slighted, that both sides had a chance to give their story and the idea was thoroughly debated.

In our case, we don’t deal with a lot of weird ideas to begin with, but we do get some different types of ideas. Someone might come to management with an idea on how to enhance the grand opening of a store, drum up some publicity, and it might be something strange or a little off the wall, and we would certainly look at that because it’s a unique marketing chance for a new store that is looking to attract attention.

How to reach: Paciugo Franchising LP, (214) 654-9501 or www.paciugo.com

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

3 Questions

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Stephen Good is the managing partner at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP in Dallas. Good has developed a tax law practice that focuses on corporate and partnership tax issues. For more than 25 years, he’s been advising clients on the purchases of stocks and assets as well as a variety of other related matters.

Q. How can a business best utilize its lawyer?

The main thing is to communicate. A lawyer is like a doctor; if you don’t tell them what’s going on, they can’t help you. Tell the lawyer what services you expect and what kind of experience you want. Like health care, it’s more preventive. It’s a lot cheaper to plan in advance and avoid problems than afterward when you have to deal with the issues.

Q. How should a company prepare for a meeting with its lawyer?

The client can do a lot of the legwork ahead of the time so that they come prepared to the meeting. If there is a particular issue they want to discuss, then they should get the necessary information together and send it to the lawyer ahead of time. The goal is the best legal advice on the most cost-efficient basis. The more homework a client can do, the less time will be wasted in the meeting.

Q. What steps should a company take to find the best legal advice?

Traditionally, people have gotten lawyers through referrals from friends or business acquaintances. I suggest that people get those referrals and then meet with two or three of the lawyers, because a lot of it is a personality fit. There may be three great lawyers, but you get along better with one over the others. Good communication is also key. The easier it is to communicate between the lawyer and the client, the better the lawyer will understand the scope of the operation.

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Bearing fruit

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Dan Kim believes in the power of a brand.

As founder, president and CEO of Red Mango Inc., he says you have to have a strong brand, and you can’t deviate it from that if you want to be successful in business.

“If you constantly change who you want to become, the strength of your brand goes away,” he says. “If you try to do too much and address too many things, you stretch yourself too thin and really can’t accomplish anything.”

Kim says you have to know who you are as a brand, and then you have to keep your ideas and people focused on that. This helps him keep his 800 people across 55 frozen yogurt stores moving the company forward.

“It’s discipline, it’s focus, and it’s appreciating the brand at all times and understanding that the success of the company is not going to be determined by short-term wins but really how well we position ourselves as a brand,” he says.

Know yourself

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s not just a question for a young child or a student entering his or her college years. Instead, it’s a question that Kim says you should be asking yourself about your business.

“We always start with, ‘Who do we want to be when we grow up and who are we as a brand?’” he says. “We always keep that top of mind in terms of everything we do.”

Kim wants Red Mango to be the leading retailer of healthy and delicious treats, using frozen yogurt as the first platform to do that.

“So now you know what you want to become,” Kim says. “How are you going to get there? What are the values that are important to us? What are the values that are important to our customers?”

Identifying your company’s values may seem like a tedious process, but it boils down to what you believe in.

“It really depends on who you are and what’s important to you and your company and your managers and your founders as a team,” he says.

For example, if you’re in the computer industry, maybe being environmentally friendly is important to you or maybe it’s building the smallest computer. Neither one is wrong.

“But if you start wavering between the two, you start losing your own focus and start losing the focus of your management team and your resources,” Kim says. “Most importantly, your consumers get confused as to who you are.”

Identify what you’re most passionate about so that you stick with those values.

“Make sure you’re passionate about them, and the reason why you want to be passionate about them is actually so you don’t waver back and forth between the different passions,” he says. “When you’re passionate about something, that keeps you on track.”

Kim created a brand trifecta that says that Red Mango is a convergence of health, taste and style, so anything Kim does should support those things. He also created a “MangoFesto,” which is a two-page document that outlines what the company stands for, its values, objectives and goals. He’s taken that document and made it into a poster for each store so that the employees know what the goals are and to make sure that every decision is consistent with that brand philosophy.

This may sound all well and good, but how do you create your own version of the MangoFesto?

“Writing one is very important, but I guess the question is how to go about writing one,” he says. “For me, it’s keeping it very simple. Some people will have 10 or 15 objectives — we have three.”

His three objectives are get people to try the product, get them to know it’s good for them and give them a great in-store experience. He could have added other things like make sure your floors are clean or make sure you train people properly, but instead, he looked at the bigger picture.

“At the end of the day, kind of boil it down to what are the three most important things that you need to do that will enable everything else that you want to do and make those possible,” Kim says.

Then the objectives you come up with will naturally encompass the other things you want to accomplish. For example, if you make sure your floors are clean, it’s going to help the customer have a good in-store experience.

“The thing that you can do that’s not cool is you write it once, and you never come back to it, and it gets lost,” Kim says. “You have to make that part of the cultural fabric of your organization.”

Keep ideas focused

When a franchisee wanted to sell frozen yogurt cones at his store, Kim had to do some evaluating based on what he’s established the company to be.

“Once the idea comes to me, I’ll have them explain why they need it, why they think it will work or help improve their store, and then why they’re so passionate about it,” he says.

In this case, the owner said he wanted to be able to sell to more people and operate at a lower price point and give people a reason to come to his store instead of places like McDonald’s.

With some reasoning behind the idea, then Kim and his team assess it using a few guides.

“One, does it make sense to the brand and will it not deteriorate what the brand stands for?” he says. “No. 2, if I were to do this and the test was successful, could I really roll it out nationally or regionally because consistency and repeatability are important to us? Then I look at the variables, like cost. How much is this going to cost to execute and promote?”

By putting the cone idea through these filters, he concluded that it wasn’t a good idea and said no.

“We’re not ice cream, and we don’t want to do anything that reminds people that we’re ice cream, …” he says. “We don’t compete with McDonald’s. You’re not going to make incremental revenue by selling cones, because you’re selling them at a lower price point, and it doesn’t promote the core product.”

But on the opposite end, when an owner in Hawaii proposed serving papaya at his store as a topping, Kim ran the same filters and came to a different conclusion than the cone idea and told him to go for it.

“Papaya is really cheap in Hawaii,” Kim says. “Hawaiians love papaya like strawberries are to the rest of the country, and it fit with the brand — papayas are healthy, delicious fruit that can be served fresh and went well with our yogurt.”

It all goes back to evaluating ideas based on what’s important to you and your company.

“It goes back to analyzing it with regard to our brand trifecta and making sure that it makes sense for the brand and makes sense from an economic perspective and make sure it makes sense for the business,” he says.

Having a process like this helps you maintain your focus and not get distracted by ideas that seem great but in reality aren’t.

“I’m a big believer in brands and the power of brands,” he says. “The way I exercise my leadership is to constantly stay dedicated to not redefining who we are for the wrong reasons — especially if it has to deal with short-term ways to overcome obstacles.”

This can’t be a once-a-quarter or once-a-year thing either — instead it should be constant.

“When new things come up that you haven’t thought of or it wasn’t there last week or it gets proposed to you, always go back and assess it,” Kim says. “ … Make sure that resonates well.”

Keep people focused

What are your company’s blue chips — the things that are most important to your business?

“You can have all the chips in the world, but you want to keep the blue ones,” he says.

To stay focused on the blue chips, Kim has a mandatory weekly Wednesday meeting for him and his top 10 people. All 10 staff members prepare a report that addresses the following: What they’re working on this week, things they’ll be working on next week, things that are on the back burner, and things that they wish they were working on but don’t have time for.

“It kind of annoys them because they have to do it every week, but I find it very, very effective in helping them manage their time and helping me understand what they’re working on and helping other people understand what their colleagues are working on,” he says.

This also helps him know if his team is working on the best things to move Red Mango forward.

“There are two levels of decision-making,” he says. “If you break it down to the micro level of an individual — what are the things that I as a CEO want him working on? It’s a delicate balance — are the things that he’s working on consistent with what the company as a whole needs to do, and then do we have the money or the budget to execute that?”

This is helpful in knowing both your time limits and monetary limits.

“A lot of times when you work with a lot of ambitious people, they want to do more than they can,” he says. “That’s the first filter I put it through — does it align with the company, does it have the right resources to do what he needs to be doing and is he doing too much?”

Knowing these answers helps you say no to others who may want you to do more. For example, if Kim says that he’s going to open up X number of stores, with an average unit volume of Y and he’s going to recruit Z number of franchisees, everyone knows those are his top goals. Then when someone asks him to do something else, he can say he’s not able to because the money and people need to be used on the first three goals instead of the fourth, fifth or sixth thing they want done.

“It’s really having a budget in place and a well-thought-out plan that gets you to where you need to get to because if you don’t have that, and you have a lot of outsiders or board members or executive managers who don’t understand how the strategy is executed in regards to having the right resources, then you’re in a situation where you just constantly want to do more and more things without people understanding why you can’t do them,” he says.

You may have everyone else on track and moving forward, but lastly, you have to keep yourself focused, as well.

“Every week you’re doing something,” he says. “Assess what you’re doing against those goals or your brand mission.”

Do this for everything you have on your schedule, and you’ll keep yourself — and ultimately your business — on track.

“Even if I’m traveling to Seattle to meet with a customer or going to New York to meet with a supplier — is that meeting in and of itself consistent with the brand mission and brand values?” Kim says. “Always ask yourself that because if you don’t, you’re just going to get caught up in a very busy schedule doing stuff that you think is important. Again, people’s time and money are limited, so you have to constantly assess.”

How to reach: Red Mango Inc., (214) 302-5910 or www.redmangousa.com

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

3 Questions

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Ted Fredericks is the president and chief operating officer of Mohr Partners Inc., an international corporate tenant representation real estate firm. Fredericks joined the company 12 years ago when his project management firm merged with Mohr Partners. He has been instrumental in guiding the firm since his promotions to managing partner in 1999, COO in 2000 and president in 2003.

Q. Does the current economic condition create opportunities for commercial real estate?

There is a great opportunity to renegotiate into the market. If you have a creditworthy tenant with a good debt rating and a good payment history, landlords want to keep that tenant. If you are in that position, then you can go out and renegotiate your lease. If an investment and a purchase is something a client is interested in, then it’s a good time to be doing that.

Q. If a business is uncertain about its future, can it still take advantage of renegotiation options?

With the uncertainty of the market, a lot of clients are doing one-year renewals. That is the worst thing they could do. I understand that their business is uncertain, and they’re concerned about the viability of the company. But if they feel relatively confident they are going to stay in that market, they should do a longer deal. When you go into a one-year renewal, landlords want to do it at the same terms as you have. They’re not going to suddenly drop rates because you’re adding one year.

Q. What should a tenant look for when analyzing a new lease?

They should be looking at the expenses on the building they’re going into and getting a cap on those costs. They need to look at the financial stability of the landlord. If the landlord goes bankrupt, a bank may come in, take over and change the whole management. They can also look for flexibility in the work letter. If the landlord is going to do work, they may use a favored general contractor that may not be cost-competitive.

Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

The best investment

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Chuck Gummer has been working for Comerica Bank for 39 years. These days, it’s a rarity to see someone with the same company for that length of time, but then again, that’s what his company is all about.

The banking giant has been around for 160 years, and it attributes the majority of its successful growth to having long-tenured employees who are able to grow and develop within the business.

So it’s no surprise that Gummer started with the bank in Michigan, and when it moved into the Texas region 20 years ago, he was on board with that and now is president of the bank’s Texas market, which consists of overseeing 1,500 employees in the Metroplex, Houston and Austin.

In order to see that both the Texas region and the bank as a whole continue growing, Gummer focuses on recruiting the best people to the organization and then working to develop them within the business.

“You have to have a perspective on your company and where you want it to be over time,” he says. “If you want it to be around a long time and you want it to have a truly life of its own, then having a stewardship approach of people and developing leaders is very important to doing that.”

Get the right people

Your business won’t get anywhere without having quality people in place. You not only have to hire the best people, but you also have to know what you’re looking for in both job skills and personal characteristics.

“We start off by saying, ‘What’s the ideal profile of this person?’” Gummer says. “List all that out, and then as we interview people, compare what the traits and qualities of that particular person is compared to our template or profile, and make sure there’s a good fit here.”

If it’s a job that somebody has already been in, you can use that person’s traits — or lack thereof — to guide you in forming that list, but if it’s a new position, lean on your colleagues to help you develop the list.

“Start with a job description so you know what you want,” he says. “Then you have to go through and identify what are the educational experiences, the business experiences, maybe the life experiences that are good for a person to be successful in that job.”

While the job skills may change between positions, some of the values that Gummer is looking for do not. For example, because Comerica has been around for 160 years and in Texas for 20, he wants people who want to be with the organization for a long time. Comerica also has a commitment to serving the community, so he also looks for people who care about that. Focusing on your organization’s values will ensure that you get someone who meshes well with your business.

Once you know what you’re looking for in a candidate, then you can begin searching for the right person.

“Another thing that’s real important to understand is academic achievement does not assure business success,” Gummer says. “By that, I mean you can be very smart and well-educated, but do you really have what it takes to be successful?”

Instead of focusing on where people went to school or what they achieved while they were there, Gummer follows the GE method of evaluating people on four E’s: energy, enthusiasm, edge and execution.

“Those are four things that you don’t necessarily get in your education, but you have to evaluate that on the people that you’re interviewing if you want to pick people who will be successful,” he says.

But first, you have to check candidates out on paper first.

“First thing you do is study and evaluate the resume of the person,” he says. “If they’ve had a lot of jobs over a short period of time without good reason, there may be a question there.”

He also looks for signs of community involvement, such as charity work or church activities, on their resumes.

“Are people involved in the community and the nonprofit world and have they provided leadership in that area?” Gummer says. “I think that’s a tell-tale sign of what kind of person you may be getting.”

Once you’ve found some people who look good on paper, then bring them in for interviews.

“Have more than one interview,” Gummer says. “I don’t know how you can evaluate somebody and make a decision based on one one-hour interview. I think having interviews in multiple venues is important.”

He says the type of venue isn’t as important as recognizing the need to get to other venues aside from your office.

“From the office to a cup of coffee someplace, to whatever else might fit in, there’s nothing special about a particular place, but I think getting off-site is important,” he says. “It tends to relax everybody a little bit more.”

As you’re meeting with people, then it’s important to ask questions that get to the heart of those values and skills you made on the list. If you had any red flags, such as the multiple jobs in a short time frame, you need to drill down into those, as well. One way to do that is to ask them very broad, personal questions.

“You just got to ask that person to share their life story and the challenges that they’ve met and they’ve overcome,” Gummer says.

Taking this approach ensures that you get people that fit well with both your job description and your organization as a whole.

“Know what your values are, and then ask the questions around those values,” Gummer says. “Clearly, as much as we’ve tried to put science behind the hiring, there’s an art to it, and that art is identifying all the right questions and getting the answers that you think are appropriate and spending enough time so you think the person is sincere.”

Evaluate employees regularly

You may get the most amazing people coming into your organization, but if you don’t set expectations and measure their progress, then they, like your organization, aren’t going to grow.

“Put together a performance plan before they come on board so they already know what the clear expectations of the job are,” Gummer says. “Once you have that, you can evaluate folks as you go along.”

He says to evaluate your new people at least monthly. Once people prove themselves and get acclimated to the job, then you can relax that to quarterly or semiannual reviews. With any evaluation, whether it’s a brand-new hire or a seasoned employee, you have to ask a lot of questions though.

“Part of that evaluation is what’s going right?” he says. “What do we need to do differently? How can we help you be successful? The success of the person, as much as it needs to be driven by our colleagues, the manager has to take responsibility in their successes and wants to do what they can to help them be successful.”

In addition to simply asking those questions and reviewing their performance, it’s also important to create action steps to move the employee forward in their job and career.

“Any performance plan that we have here has a development plan as well — what can we do to help that person as we move along?” Gummer says. “[How can we] make sure they’re taking advantage of the training we have here and make sure they’re taking advantage of workin

g with other colleagues that we have here and putting together different programs to help them be successful?”

Remember to keep both the end goal and action steps to get there in mind when putting together a development plan.

“It has to be results-based and efforts-based,” he says. “That is, we have to get results if we’re going to continue to be successful overall, but we have to know what gets to those results, and those are certain effort goals. You need to measure both of them, but the ultimate measure tool is the result.”

Besides simply measuring employee performance, you also need to identify their skills and desires and those who have the capacity to move into leadership roles in the future.

“Evaluate them on leadership qualities — what they desire to do, what they would like to do within the company over time and where we see them headed — and then create opportunities or experiences to help them get that recognition that they need in order to be considered for other positions in the future,” Gummer says.

This process of molding people into leadership roles can take years.

“It starts off, you take care of the immediate needs and to make sure they can be successful today, but you have to have an eye to the future as to where that person might be and be willing to put in some additional training,” he says.

That may mean sending them to an outside coach or having them attend internal programs. Other times it may mean sending them to external programs and conferences around the country that are available to them.

“Part of it may be moving people to different positions within your company for different periods of time and getting them to have those various experiences as you see them move up in the organization,” Gummer says. “If you think that they’re going to continue to want to move up in the hierarchy, they have to have a variety of experiences. They can’t be one-dimensional.”

The last piece of this though is to make sure you stay in touch with your employees’ needs and desires and aren’t trying to force people into leadership roles who don’t want them. Instead of having a preset group of people who are identified as “leaders” and get all the special attention, Gummer and his team instead identify every person’s needs and desires and focus on giving more to those who want it.

“People change what they want to do over time,” he says. “To slot somebody or predestine them to something is not what we’re about. We’re about, ‘Does this person want to move upward in the company? Do we see their performance as supporting that?’”

It’s also important to touch base with people in those regular reviews to see if their goals or desires have changed at all. Oftentimes, someone may have wanted to climb the corporate ladder, but if he or she is now starting a family or caring for an ill relative, that person may not want the additional responsibilities that he or she desired in the past.

“That’s why we need to have constant communication so we’re not trying to get them to be something they don’t want to be,” Gummer says. “We have to stay focused on the employees’ needs as well as our own, and if there’s change, we have to take another avenue.”

If you’re able to take these approaches with your people in developing them, then, like Comerica, you’re likely to see long-term growth and success.

“If you want to be able to have a company that’s successful over a long period of time, leadership development is an absolute must,” Gummer says. “Sitting down with your folks and knowing what they want and discussing with them what you believe their potential is and getting them to agree to a development plan and executing on a development plan is what’s going to assure that that person is growing in the company as the company grows.

“If you don’t do that, you’re probably destined for a very short tenure in your company, whether that’s selling out someday or just closing up someday. If you have a desire to make your company an enterprise and not just a small business and have long life, then leadership development is very important to do that.”

How to reach: Comerica Bank, (800) 589-1400 or www.comerica.com

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Cost-effective marketing

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With less money to spend and smaller marketing departments, it’s time to rethink the way you look at marketing.

“The challenge is that the number of marketing tools available are increasing exponentially,” says Bo Bothe, president and chief creative officer of BrandExtract. “With so many options available, CEOs need to stop thinking about the way they’ve always done things and start thinking about how to market more effectively and efficiently.”

Smart Business spoke with Bothe about how to get more marketing impact today for less money.

How can you begin to market more effectively?

Start over. Start thinking strategically instead of tactically — force yourself to rethink what you’re doing. Companies waste far too many resources on tactical solutions, before they get their brand position and messaging in order. Right now, you should be asking yourself, ‘If I can only have one marketing goal this year, what would I do to achieve it? What would move the needle most?’ Then work backward from there.

The business landscape has obviously changed in the last 18 months, and a company that doesn’t take the time to re-examine whether or not their marketing and messaging is in line with their customer needs will be left behind as business continues to improve. Talk to the key stakeholders in your company — sales, marketing, customer service, distribution — and find out what they need to do their job more effectively. You may be surprised to find out that it isn’t a brochure or flashy Web site. Then, talk to your customers to find out what really matters to them today; they need you to convince them why they should be interested in you.

What is the most important step you can take to market more effectively?

The biggest mistake leaders make is not engaging their employees. Companies come up with mission, vision and value statements, but they often don’t communicate with employees about how to talk about them and what makes them valuable to the customer. Whether you have 20 employees or 20,000, imagine if every one of them had a clear understanding of the value the company provides — they would all become an extension of your sales force. Now think about the media channels they have at their disposal today. Your sales efforts can be much more effective if your whole employee base is on message.

Engaging your employees to sell is done most effectively through constant and consistent communication. It’s not just posters and newsletters. It’s town-hall meetings and training managers to train their people — not only about what you want them to say but why it is important. You need to set the strategy and make sure it is communicated to leadership and that leadership is communicating it to management and that management is communicating it to employees. This ensures that your employees are educated about what’s going on and that everyone knows where you’re headed and why it’s valuable for both them and for the customer. If you do that, they’ll be able to bridge the gap for you and make your marketing efforts more efficient.

How can you better target potential clients?

Profile your customers. What does your best customer look like? If you know that, then you know where to most effectively focus your marketing and sales efforts.

You also have to know what you’re good at and focus on it. That doesn’t mean you stop marketing or reduce your investments, it just allows you to invest in the right things. Cost-effective marketing is about knowing your audience, knowing what you want to get from that audience and focusing on the best people to get it from. That allows you to reduce inefficiency and become more cost-effective because it doesn’t have you running down the wrong path. You also need to talk to your customers. I don’t mean polling, I mean actually talking to your customers to find out whether or not they have a clear understanding of your company, the range of products and/or services you offer and what differentiates you from the competition.

What do you need to beware of when considering your marketing options?

Be wary of shiny objects. Remember that all of these new media choices are additional tools (just like a brochure or Web site) and, whatever you do, make sure you have a strategy to make them work for you. Just because everyone’s on Twitter doesn’t mean you should be doing it. Focus on what can move your brand forward, as opposed to doing something just because everyone else is doing it.

How do you measure results?

It comes down to understanding what matters most. Is it increasing order size, growing the client base, driving more people to the Web site or something else? You need to define what is going to make a difference and ask how much, if any of it, is moving the needle. Approaching your marketing efforts with specific goals in mind increases your chance of success and provides a foundation that enables you to make decisions about your marketing spend. Marketing needs to be thought of as a revenue generator, not an expense. If you don’t have an internal system of measurement, you don’t know what’s working and what’s not, so everything becomes important. And we all know that approach is a very costly proposition.

Bo Bothe is the president and chief creative officer of BrandExtract, an integrated branding and communications firm that guides growing companies by providing strategic branding solutions, marketing communications, advertising, print and interactive services. Reach him at bbothe@brandextract.com or (713) 942-7959 or visit www.brandextract.com.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

The Manning File

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Born: I was born in a town called Bedford, which is about 50 miles north of London. I moved to the U.S. in 2002, and I lived in Charlotte, N.C., and I was only there for 15 months, and then I moved out of the U.S. and into Texas. I like Texas. It took me about 10 days to go native. I’m collecting boots and hats and stuff like that. I have 23 pairs of boots now. I just keep seeing a pair somewhere that I can’t live without, so I keep buying another pair. People look at me with some amusement. I think they think I look like a fully fledged Texan, but when I open my mouth, they sort of stand there open-mouthed.

Education: I went to Pilgrim Grammar School. I left school and joined the police force.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a professional soccer player.

What was your first job ever?

I worked on a farm. That was before I left school. I actually milked cows and drove a tractor because that was the macho thing to do, to drive a tractor.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I think I’ve ever been given was actually listen to the old folk. As much as I love listening to the young folk because it’s so refreshing what they have to say, the old folk come out with some things that you should never forget because it’s wisdom. I think, above all, it’s simply treat other people the way you expect to be treated yourself.

What’s your favorite board game and why?

My favorite board game is backgammon. I guess the reason is because, like most other things in life but people often don’t recognize it, it’s about skill, strategy and a lot of luck.

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Game-changing marketing

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In today’s marketplace, companies are looking for every advantage they can get to not only survive but thrive. And to do this, you as a chief marketing officer or CEO must find a way to change the game for your company.

“The market has changed, the economy has turned and clients aren’t thinking about the rational buying decisions they made in the past,” says Jonathan Fisher, CEO of BrandExtract. “If you’re selling the same way and approaching and reaching out in the same way you’ve always done, you’ve probably lost all competitive advantage. You really have to think about new and fresh perspectives in the way you do business to change the game and make the playing field a little less level.”

Smart Business spoke with Fisher about how to take a fresh look at your business and leverage that information.

How do you get started with looking at your company in a new way?

It’s about rethinking what you know and what you’re doing in the marketplace. It’s about looking for the obvious. You have to challenge the norms and ask, ‘What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Is there anything we could be doing differently?’

At the same time, you need to take a close look at current gaps — ‘What aren’t we doing? What’s missing from the industry right now that we can provide?’ — and then start thinking, ‘We could sponsor that. We could build that. We could survey that.’

As an example, there is a law firm that has been doing industry surveys for six years, and it creates trend data that it gives away for free. Now, survey processes aren’t new, but most companies do it for their own benefit, not for the industry’s benefit. By taking a leadership position in the industry where this kind of information previously didn’t exist and putting the survey together of its own accord and of its own time and money, this firm now owns this space. And because it has the intelligence from the trend report it does every year, it was able to completely shift its sales tactics. It’s able to use this to shape fees, proposal processes and messaging on the Web, and carve the data up for vertical industry segments for a greater competitive advantage.

This firm uses the data as a door opener and a reason why you should talk to its attorneys versus someone else’s — which is always the challenge to developing new business: Why you?

When you’re looking for that game-changing idea, who should be involved in the process?

You have to be willing to step back and engage people who have the ability to offer a different perspective about your products or services, whether that’s an outside consulting or marketing firm or your customers or someone within the company who hasn’t had a chance before to bring ideas to the table.

It’s all about listening with a fresh viewpoint. Ask your clients for their perspectives on how they see your products and services being used, or bring in outside consultants who have experience helping people identify fresh points of view. Or reach down into your organization to hear from people you don’t usually have contact with.

Smart leaders look at the whole company. It takes strong leadership to recognize that there’s always something you don’t know. If you’re open and receptive to finding out the unknowns, then you are typically going to uncover a game-changing opportunity.

This means creating a culture that’s willing to constantly evaluate and improve, that knows it’s never maximized its opportunities. I don’t know any CEO who would say he or she can’t do something better. You need to create open-door policies, create a cross-pollination of ideas and get different people and different teams together on a regular basis so those opportunities can flourish.

If a business is doing well as is, why does it need to seek game-changing opportunities?

Your competition is always looking to move up, and they will find a better way to do business. The number of businesses unaffected by the economy and satisfied with current sales are few. If this describes your business, then congratulations because you’re the exception. But if not, then uncovering new opportunities and creating competitive barriers can swing the pendulum back to having the marketplace edge.

Category leaders rarely maintain their category position. It’s only a matter of time before someone will outthink you. For CEOs who say what they’re doing works just fine, obviously they’re not thinking about the future because change is inevitable, whether it comes from the competition, from the technology, or from the market forces that are out there. You always have to be looking ahead, and you have to be thinking about your game-changing strategies.

Jonathan Fisher is CEO of BrandExtract, an integrated branding and communications firm that guides growing companies by providing strategic branding solutions, market positioning communications, advertising, social, print and interactive services. Reach him at (713) 942-7959 or (214) 770-7378 or jonathan@brandextract.com.

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Start it up

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For Eric Werner, everything starts at the top.

In any organization, the leader’s job is to set the vision that everyone else will follow, affirm the mission for which the company will stand, and help craft the goals that will serve as the means for realizing the vision and mission.

They are lessons Werner has learned in a career as an entrepreneur in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Werner is the CEO and owner of both Texas Subs and DFW Tanning, and he is also president of Sunset Tan Franchising LP. His Subway and LA Sunset Tan franchises generated a total of $35 million in revenue last year.

“The first thing is that, as a company, you want to have a mission statement and goals,” Werner says. “Where do you see the company three to five years from now, what is the mission statement of the company, what is your purpose of being in existence?”

Smart Business spoke with Werner about how you can build your company to be a success, both now and in the future.

Be the starting point. The CEO is the face of the company. Using the example of Wal-Mart — for years, people saw Sam Walton. He was the face of Wal-Mart. No. 2, the CEO needs to set the company’s philosophy and principles. Whatever we do, I want the people in our company to be honest, upfront and fair. If we make a decision for one person, we have to make it for another person. The third thing is, the CEO has to set the vision. Where are we going with this company, where do we see ourselves in two or three years? Most of the successful companies out there do goal setting. The leadership at Wal-Mart, Subway and other successful companies do goal setting. And that gives people something to shoot for. You might make it, you might not, but you’ve set that goal. If you don’t make it, chances are you’re going to at least fall close to it.

The person at the top of the company, even when they are around an employee, that employee looks at that person in a different light. You try not to be intimidating, but at times, being around the leader will be intimidating for an employee, just because of the position you hold. Regardless of how you’re viewed in a given situation, you do have a sense of professionalism to project out there. People are going to emulate your attitude. If you’re out there and have a poor work ethic, it will trickle down through the company. That underscores how important it is to set the tone for your company.

Build successful employees. You build confidence in employees with recognition and praise that is sincere, not just praise that you hand out all the time. If people know you are a good judge of character, they’ll respect your opinion more. I liken it to Simon Cowell on ‘American Idol.’ When Simon gives praise, it means something.

A second method is to have contests with awards. People are competing against each other, and you have an award at the end of the contest, which gives the winner a sense of accomplishment. A third method is simply the time you spend with your people in group meetings. That gives them a sense of self-worth because they know they belong to the team.

A lot of people don’t need praise, but a lot simply need to know they’re doing a good job. When they do get praise and recognition, they work harder for the company. Too many times people focus on the negative, and I always try to lead people with a positive feeling about the company and try to instill a sense of pride in working for the company.

Promote the mission. You have to have a mission statement promoted throughout the company. We have a company workbook in six or seven sections. The orientation section outlines the company, the philosophy, the policies, what you can be terminated for, how to increase your pay. We give people the ability to control their own destiny with their pay based on the number of training classes they take and based on their performance. You also could display plaques in your office that show your employee of the year or store of the year. There are many different ways to promote your mission.

Where leaders might go wrong with communication is that they’re strong on delegation, but they’re weak on following up. I always follow up, and people know I’m going to follow up. If people know you’re going to follow up, you probably won’t need to repeat yourself too much, because they know you’re going to ask. But if you’re weak at following up on whatever you’ve directed or delegated to somebody, then you’re going to be telling them over and over because they know you’re not going to follow up.

Seek support and feedback. Find a monthly CEO round table in your area, other leaders you can bounce ideas off of. They will make you accountable when no on else will. They can help you address situations to make you a better CEO. There are also CEO coaches out there, if you prefer more one-on-one coaching. They can go over how to better yourself as a CEO.

In-house, with your own employees, you can hand out surveys and set up anonymous feedback channels. Those types of surveys will ask employees questions like, ‘Do you think the company treats you fairly?’ and, ‘Do you think your manager treats you fairly?’ and give employees an opportunity to give their input on how management is leading.