In this pre-primary season, we are all enjoying fall evenings that are free of attack-style political ads, but now is the time to do some homework. Before the mudslinging begins again, lets decide which candidate will best represent the needs of business in your region.
We should not wait for the politicians to bring the campaign to us for the next election. We should demand clear positions now on issues that matter for businesses. Together, we can make the candidates hear our voices and address our concerns.
On a daily basis during the past 10 years, we have received numerous telephone calls, letters, faxes and most recently e-mails with questions on many topics and issues that affect businesses.
Because of our large readership, leaders within the business community have looked at us as much more than a chain of local business publications. We are viewed as a large advocate of business and are in a position to influence change.
In an extra effort to help our readers make the most informed decisions come Election Day, we are considering starting our own Political Action Committee along with a newsletter that would help educate and inform our readers on the politicians running for office. This would be sent to anyone who would like to participate.
For those unfamiliar with the political process, a PAC is an independent organization that provides more financial flexibility than individual campaign donations, allowing groups of people to pool their resources to educate voters on issues that may affect them. Individual campaign finance limits dont apply to PACs.
Congress opened the doors for PACs in the wake of Watergate in 1976, when it passed a campaign finance act that allowed people at the federal and local levels to form groups that wielded more power through their combined donations. Besides donating money directly to a candidate that supports ideals shared by members of the PAC, these organizations can independently finance television and radio ads for or against candidates or issues.
Some major organizations, such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, AFL/CIO and Teamsters Union have their own PACs to further their causes.
The goals of this PAC would be to:
1. Donate money to candidates who are pro business, regardless of political party affiliation.
2. Create a more unified voice for business owners and leaders, and bring attention to the issues that affect them.
3. Educate our readers about issues that may affect their businesses and the politicians who have a direct influence on corresponding legislation.
4. Influence change to help businesses grow and prosper.
Our right to vote is a privilege and should not be taken lightly. Many people dont bother to get involved because they dont see the importance of voting and elections, or the power that politicians wield over the business community.
Take, for instance, the two people who represent your state in the U.S. Senate. Members of the Senate help shape federal laws and regulations that affect every aspect of every business, including tax codes, postal regulations, minimum wage, trade laws, anti-trust legislation and health care reform.
Actions by elected officials can determine whether you stay in business or go broke, so it is vital that each elected official represents the best interest of business.
Unlike many of the politicians who will be campaigning for your vote, we dont hide our agenda. We are in the business of helping businesses succeed. Please share your feedback.
Fred Koury (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president and CEO of SBN.
Some members of my senior management team told me in early July that it was time for our annual company meeting and that we needed to plan for it.
They reminded me of the importance of the meeting and how we needed to make sure the day was filled with recognition, education, communication and motivation.
As we started planning, I thought about what a long way we have come with these meetings. In the past, there were times I dreaded these meetings, and I am sure our people did, too.
We used to do them just to do them. They were often too long, lacked a clear focus and strayed from our objectives. Through experience, we have put a much greater value on the meetings than we did in the past. This is especially important, because there is a direct expense related to having them.
In the past, it was hard, at times, to gear up for this yearly event. At one meeting, which took place during a challenging time for the company, one of our employees asked in front of the entire work force, "Don't you have anything good to say this year on how the company is doing?"
I remember I was so burdened with difficulties in a number of our expansion markets that I stood there with a blank stare on my face and nothing to say. It took the next several months to pick up the morale in the company, and I was scolded to never do that again.
I was told if I were upset, I should get up there and fake it, because it wasn't fair to our people, who came in once a year from all our offices, to get that type of response. I was further told I needed to look as if I am always in control.
I thought to myself for a short moment, "Maybe this is the person that should be running the company." It was a valuable lesson in management.
We have come a long way from those days. This year, we decided to go all out with our company meeting. This was quite easy for several reasons. First and foremost, this is the best year we have ever had after the first six months.
Our employees have won numerous awards from several professional organizations. We have created several events, that have been wildly successful, that have opened up sponsorship opportunities for area companies. With these and many other victories to celebrate, our meeting was a great success.
Here are four steps to ensure a great meeting.
1. Recognition. The day was filled with recognition for our employees. We have had outstanding years in the past, but sometimes didn't recognize the people who deserved it the most.
2. Education. We had all of the department heads, as well as the market managers, give updates on how each area was doing as a way of getting people involved. We strongly believe in benchmarking as a means of measuring our progress in every department.
3. Communication. We had a guest speaker who spoke on communication and team building. This proved to be a very beneficial exercise.
4. Motivation. This was built into the schedule from morning until the end of the day. We started with a great continental breakfast and a warm welcome. We kept the meeting moving quickly with a lot of involvement. Our goal was to keep people from getting bored and keep them involved throughout the day.
We received more feedback than we ever had in the past, which shows us we acheieved our goals. People didn't want to leave. We decided instead of overwhelming them with information, we would give them just enough so they couldn't wait to come back. Fred Koury (email@example.com) is president and CEO of SBN.
The Information Superhighway. It's supposed to make everyone faster, leaner and more competitive.
Look at your stock report -- probably on the Internet -- and note all the high-flying Net stocks. Maybe they're not as high as they used to be, but investors obviously see the Internet as the future of business.
By the way people talk, every bit of news and information is available online. Just turn on your computer and it's at your fingertips -- after your fingertips spend a few hours sifting through piles of irrelevant information returned by search engines. This is why most search engines turned themselves into portals, displaying the most sought-after information -- news, stocks and sports scores -- on the home page.
This may be fine for the masses, but what do business leaders want from the Internet?
Recently, we conducted a number of surveys of our readers and created several focus groups to find out about their Internet needs. Interestingly, there was a consistent pattern across the board.
Not surprisingly, those participating in the survey are all busy people who spend most of their day trying to make their businesses better. However, when it comes to spending time on the Internet, there is a certain amount of frustration. They know it is a valuable resource but are not exactly sure how to get the most out of it in the least amount of time.
They want information but don't have the time to search for it.
If you are targeting your Web site at this audience, here are four things to keep in mind:
1. Ease of use. CEOs are not Internet savvy. Keep things simple and to the point. Navigation of the site should be intuitive. Put a link to each relevant section in a prominent place on the home page.
2. Time efficiency. The Web is too complicated to use efficiently. Plug-ins, animation and lots of graphics look nice, but can make it more difficult to communicate your message. They also greatly slow download times, so you may be losing a potential customer before your page ever finishes loading.
3. Local insight. CEOs primarily buy, sell and network in their home communities. It might be called the World Wide Web but your best bet may be to focus locally. Advertise your site locally and focus on local customers.
4. Cost efficiency. Make it worth their while to visit your site. If someone is pressed for time, why should they come to your Web page? Will they save money? Get information quicker than through other means? Get a comparison of rates? This is where you can gain a competitive advantage. If you can make better use of a CEO's time, you've just given him or her a reason to buy a commodity from you rather than from the business across the street.
When done properly, buying products on the Internet can save a great deal of time and money. There will be significant growth in higher-end products and services purchased online. More than 50 percent of CEOs indicated either a high or very high interest in e-marketplaces. High interest was shown for things such as group discounts or the e-mall concept, as well as for getting price quotes for products.
The Internet might reach the masses, but if you're marketing to CEOs, make sure you take the proper approach in appealing to this market.
Fred Koury (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president and CEO of SBN magazine.
The joy we derive from success can be nearly bottomless.
To transform an idea into a profit-making venture is the goal of every business, and the process is not unlike watching your child change from a helpless infant to a crawling baby and finally, to a toddler taking his first wobbly steps. Anyone who has been involved in starting a business and watching it grow into a vibrant enterprise can instantly relate to the deep sense of pleasure it brings.
But success can just as quickly become a sword with two edges. Money and power can transform the humble friend you grew up with into a ruthless cutthroat who will stop at nothing on the road to becoming an arrogant Master of the Universe. Like drugs, success, when it's attained, is sweet, but we can never get enough, despite a spiraling search for ways to sustain the pleasure. The addict always needs a slightly larger dose to top that last high.
And yet we inevitably set goals to achieve ever greater success in a vain attempt to surpass ourselves; rarely do we take the time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. The paradox is that success demands a certain amount of discontent -- healthy in proper doses, though never when that discontent turns destructive.
Hollywood is overflowing with examples of the excesses that often come wedded to success. The soap opera lives of many of its leading figures make them the figures of Greek tragedy: After attaining fame and wealth, their lives begin to spiral out of control as they wander from one drug rehab center to another, forever trying to one-up that initial high.
Is there a purpose to all this seeking after success? Is the goal of success merely to build a bigger and brighter monument to ourselves before we die?
There are two other life questions we should ask ourselves as we go about growing our businesses. Why do I want to be successful? And what will I do when I am? Only by first answering these questions can we hope to begin charting our course.
Those who search for happiness in our possessions are destined for disappointment. The rush is fleeting, the satisfaction short-lived.
Why not try an alternate path? You need not practice philanthropy on so grand a scale as Carnegie's to derive a full measure of psychic pleasure. The next time you feel down, try visiting a nursing home and talking to someone who has no one else in life. Or volunteer to cook dinner at a homeless shelter. See if life doesn't soon begin to take on a deeper meaning.
You'll depart from this session of service with a great feeling, and it won't cost you anything but a modest investment of time. You'll receive in emotional satisfaction several times what you gave in time and effort.
The purpose of your success, once shrouded in impenetrable fog, may well come into sharp focus as you pursue goals more meaningful than the hunt for ever-greater love of self. And you won't have to share your little secret with anyone. You alone will know about your good deed, and that's more than enough.
Try it and let us know the results. Fred Koury (email@example.com) is president and CEO of SBN.
This year brings one of the most important elections for local business owners. There is a very real -- and potentially ongoing -- threat to being able to build and grow a business if the current environment does not change.
Most people will assume I am referring to the presidential election. I'm not. The more important battle, at least from a business owner's perspective, is being fought right here in Ohio for arguably the most powerful job in state government: Supreme Court justice.
The court has taken on an increasingly anti-business slant in recent decisions that should raise alarms in the minds of business owners throughout the state. The main reason it doesn't is that the major media outlets spend their time reporting on Supreme Court issues that impact individuals, not those that impact businesses. Of course, what is a business but a collection of individuals banded together with common economic interests?
So what, exactly, has the court decided of late? Try these examples.
- An employee killed in an auto accident is entitled to underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage under the employer's policy, even though the worker was NOT driving a company vehicle and was NOT on company business when the accident occurred. (Scott-Ponzer v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., 1999)
- Supervisors and managers may be held personally liable under state discrimination laws, potentially resulting in individual discrimination suits and defense costs for all supervisors in a company's management hierarchy. (Genaro v. Central Transport Inc., 1999)
- Employees who suffer purely psychological injuries on the job may bring common law action against their employers, effectively extending a company's liability beyond the existing workers' compensation system. (Bunger v. Lawson Co., 1999)
The court also overturned tort reform legislation that would have curtailed the outrageous punitive and noneconomic damage awards being dished out by juries.
If you think these kinds of decisions don't impact business, think again. Better yet, just ask the Michigan Chamber of Commerce what it thinks. This summer, our neighbors launched an advertising campaign to lure businesses out of anti-business Ohio and into pro-business Michigan.
Here's what one of its ads said, under a photo of a storefront with a going-out-of-business sign:
"We understand the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected reasonable legal reform. In Michigan, we know a good legal system is fair to consumers, families and businesses. ...When it comes to legal reform, Michigan uses common sense."
As much as I hate to admit it, the Michigan chamber hit it right on the head: The Ohio Supreme Court lacks judicial restraint. Rather, we are saddled with a group of judges whose judicial activism has led to a number of antibusiness rulings, such as overturning tort reform legislation. These judges have been the majority in all of the decisions mentioned above.
Fortunately, we have the ability to change what is happening. Justices Alice Robie Resnick and Deborah L. Cook are up for re-election this month. Resnick is one of the most anti-business of them all. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce gave Resnick a pro-business score of 18 percent. Cook's rating was 59 percent.
Resnick's opponent, Judge Terrence O'Donnell of the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals, offers a reasonable alternative. While we may not be certain how much of an impact he would have on the court, it's hard to imagine anyone being more anti-business than Resnick. In fact, O'Donnell has stressed his intention to show "restraint" in his deliberations.
Cook's opponent, Judge Tim Black of Hamilton County Municipal Court, appears to be a solid trial judge who is tough on crime. But he has openly criticized Cook, saying she has "the overwhelming support of the insurance companies." In addition, The Columbus Dispatch reports that Black willingly describes himself as "progressive." The fact that Black is supported by the same groups backing Resnick -- big labor and trial lawyers -- speaks volumes.
When you head to the polls Nov. 7, don't just go prepared for the national campaigns. Be prepared to make a difference in how the Ohio Supreme Court affects your business. Fred Koury (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president and CEO of SBN.
The person leaving is doing so for his or her own best interests. However, it's often difficult for a company's leaders to look at the departure as a positive, even though they do their best to disguise their disappointment. It's not that we don't want to be happy for that person; the difficulty is that we are the ones left behind to fill the gap and make up the difference.
The difficulty is greater when the business is based more upon a person than a product. Relationships with customers the employee has nourished over the years have to be re-established with someone new. Having an understanding of your customers' businesses and knowing them on a personal level is a major competitive advantage -- an advantage that walks out the door when that key employee leaves.
If we look at the person we are losing, we only see the potential negative impact to our business. However, if we look at that person and all he or she has done to help the company get where it is today, we'll be grateful we had them with us as long as we did.
Here are several steps to ensure that our perspective and attitude are in the right place when we lose a top employees.
1. Be prepared. Don't let a major portion of your business walk out the door with the employee. Make sure the knowledge of all key employees is shared or documented. Where possible, cross train employees and have more than one person work on important accounts. That way, if one leaves, the other can continue the business relationship without starting from scratch.
2. Examine your business model. Top people can do dynamic things, but major portions of your business shouldn't rely on one person. Evaluate all of the responsibilities this person has and see if he or she is replaceable. If someone else could not come in and easily take over the job, you might want to consider changing your business model.
3. Be professional to the end. An important employee should be treated like one until he or she leaves. Sometimes when we know someone is leaving, we stop paying attention to that person as we scramble to deal with the departure and fill the opening. Other employees are watching, and you are setting a tone for them. This person has played an important role in your business to this point and should be treated professionally. Situations change, and he or she may want to return some day.
4. Promote from within. This gives other people a chance to move up. Studies show that a major reason for leaving a company is a lack of advancement opportunities. You may be losing one employee, but retaining a future star.
Losing a key employee is never easy, but it doesn't have to be traumatic. If you are prepared, have a proper business model and don't rely too much on one person, a departure can turn out to be a positive experience for both you and the employee. Fred Koury is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.
Imagine for a moment that you are on a plane flying at 30,000 feet. As you cruise along, suddenly the door to the cockpit opens and the pilot walks back into the passenger compartment and starts getting drinks ready for the passengers and then leaves to deal with an unruly person in row 23. What would you think? First, you need to fly another airline. Second, why in the world is the pilot out dealing with things that are clearly the responsibilities of others?
There are two possibilities to this exaggerated example. Either the pilot isn’t very good and can’t focus on the task at hand or the people working with the pilot can’t get the job done on their own, so he has to come out and help. Either way, the plane doesn’t have anyone at the controls and the ramifications of that are very serious for everyone on board.
The answer is, probably no one, which also means your business is probably going nowhere fast, except maybe into a nosedive. The fact of the matter is, you can’t keep your business pointed in the right direction and navigate around hazards if you are distracted and forced to deal with issues that really belong to someone else. You have to have the right team to make your business ascendant.
Much like our mythical pilot described above, either the problem is you or the people who work for you. Either case requires you to take action. If the problem is you, then your management style needs to change. The only way you are going to be successful is if you start piloting your plane and leave the details to the people below you. At some point, you have to trust that they will get it done — maybe not the same way you would have done it — but done nonetheless.
If you talk to any successful CEO about what his or her average day looks like, it typically is all about strategic planning, meeting with investors, advisers or checking in with direct reports on key initiatives. Successful CEOs will not normally mention things like going on sales calls, troubleshooting a minor project or game planning about how to improve workflow within a department.
Why don’t they mention these types of activities? Because they aren’t doing them. If they were “down in the weeds,” dealing with details, who would be piloting the company from a strategic standpoint? The moment they started getting lost in the details is the moment the company would start to drift off course, because no one was there to steer it.
If the problem is your people, then that’s another issue. If you’re trying to pilot the plane but you have no choice but to go back and remind someone for the third time that you need some key piece of information or something else that should have long since been taken care of, then you may have a people problem. If you can’t trust the people below you to get the job done and they are doing poorly enough to where it’s a distraction to you, your only choice is to make a change.
That might mean training, it might mean moving someone to a different position better suited to his or her skills, or it might mean parting ways. But you can’t jeopardize the business by wading out into the weeds while the strategy goes on autopilot.
Being CEO is never easy. It’s up to you to decide whether the problem is the pilot or the crew, but one thing is for sure, you are never going to be able to pilot a plane if you are stuck in the weeds.
In this economy, “reinvention” is an overused term.
Companies are forced to make cuts, and they are spinning it as a reinvention of what they do. Unfortunately for most, the cuts are made simply to survive and there’s no real vision for where they are going or what they want to do. It’s strictly a financial move meant to cut costs, not part of some larger plan to move the organization forward.
If you want to survive, you better figure out how to transform your company into something relevant for your customers. Eliminating a few positions and hunkering down to try to ride out the storm isn’t much of a strategy it’s just hope. You need more than hope; you need a strong plan.
Everyone is in the same economic boat, and as a result, everyone has the same basic needs. People want everything faster. They want more value out of it, and they want the best price. Stopping your strategy at eliminating positions might enable you to offer a lower price, but what are you doing about speed and value? These might be the two most important factors of the three.
There are different ways to increase your speed and value, but technology is probably one of the best methods to achieve your goals. For example, investing in enterprise resource planning software an integrated package that manages internal and external resources can help unite all of the information that’s in your business and put it within one system. It can get all of your departments working together and help break down silos that exist within your organization.
All of the extra data will allow you to make quicker decisions because it will all be at your fingertips and more informed decisions to help guide your business. Not waiting on someone to compile information or a report means you get answers to customers quicker, increasing your response times and thus increasing your speed.
With everyone having easier access to information and getting computer assistance for things like inventory management, you’ll gain efficiencies, as well. Now granted, ERP systems aren’t cheap. But if it’s part of a carefully laid out plan to transform your business, the investment makes sense. There are obviously other ways to increase speed and efficiency, but the point is that it needs to be part of a bigger plan. Simply cutting costs isn’t enough. You have to spend money in this case, investing in technology upgrades to make money.
Look at what other opportunities are out there. You want to stay focused within your core competencies, but maybe there are some things worth pursuing that play to your strengths that would help diversify your revenue streams.
Take IBM for example. At one point, it was a computer giant. Now IBM is primarily a software and consulting company. The company took its technology expertise and applied it in new ways and now it is a leader in the software and consulting business.
Regardless of what avenue you take, you need to have a plan that will set your company up to be ahead of the competition now and in the future. Cutting costs might be a necessary step, but it shouldn’t be the only step. Look at every opportunity you have and make sure you are optimizing your revenue and your chances for new business.
As the Old Testament says: In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
Don’t change for the sake of change. Change to transform yourself into a leaner, more competitive company.
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
In this economy, a good culture can be the difference between an effective company that is riding out the storm and ready to move forward again and one that is in complete disarray.
Employees are hearing about bad news everywhere they look. People they know have been laid off, companies have eliminated bonuses, hiring freezes are in place and workloads have increased. How they handle all of this negativity is really reflective of what kind of culture you have.
If employees are spending time gossiping, it’s because leadership hasn’t shared any information with them, so they are speculating as to what the little bits of information they do know actually mean. This creates an environment that is filled with rumors. When people start hearing negative rumors that might directly affect them, they start to fear for their jobs.
Even if you have assured people that their positions are safe, if the rumors are all about their responsibilities being eliminated or transferred, the only conclusion they are going to draw is that their position is not safe.
How productive do you think people are if they are living in fear each day they come to work?
Wouldn’t you be better served by having a culture that is more open and fair?
If you share information even the bad news and explain what you are basing your decisions on, people are more likely to respond in a positive manner. Not everyone will agree with your decisions, but at least they will understand why they are being made and what they are based on. Employees also appreciate being treated like adults and not children. Sharing information helps create buy-in and a team atmosphere where everyone is in it together.
Being open with information is a cultural decision within a broader human resources strategy. It takes time and effort to build trust with your employee base. Once your employees see that you are being honest with them on a regular basis, the rumors will dry up and productivity will increase. People like to know what’s going on. Nothing fuels rumors more quickly than a lack of information.
You need to overcommunicate to your work force. Key details need to be conveyed multiple times in as many ways as possible e-mail, newsletters and in person. Make sure you have a master plan that everyone is aware of. When employees understand where the business is going and what factors are affecting it, they can more easily buy in to your vision and help you get there. Goals need to be clear and broken down to the lowest level possible all the way down to the individual if you can.
With a plan in place, you can use metrics and accountability to make sure everyone is doing his or her part. Those who can’t cut it become the obvious choices to everyone to cut loose. Everyone knows that there is no room for deadweight in these economic conditions.
If your culture is open and you’ve shared information and held people accountable, it should be no surprise to anyone that the worst performer on staff is the one eliminated to save money. Without the information, the elimination of a position can seem random and arbitrary, which stokes fear and rumors.
If you aren’t sure how to go about sharing information or how to set up a system of accountability, I suggest you seek out a third-party human resources firm to help you. The third-party firm can share best practices and find a system that will fit your company.
In the end, it’s all about how you treat employees. If your culture treats them like commodities, performance will suffer, and you’ll have a hard time surviving to see the recovery. If you treat them like people and create a culture of fairness and honesty, you will most likely do well. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to make tough decisions or that positions won’t be eliminated, but it does mean that if it happens, both sides can share a mutual respect for each other and move on in a positive fashion.
Have you ever taken a moment to think through all of the possible risks your business faces each day?
What if your data center was flooded? Are you insured? How would it affect your business? Could you afford to replace the equipment and data?
What if your company headquarters burned down or some other disaster struck that destroyed all of your records? Could you continue to do business? What would you do the next day?
These are the types of questions that CEOs need to be thinking about. The problem is there are so many what-if scenarios that it can be hard to envision them all, especially when it comes to things like cash flow or taxes. How would that data loss affect your cash flow? If the headquarters building burned down, how would you make payroll?
There also may be opportunities out there that you aren’t even aware of, whether it’s a tax break or some sort of government-sponsored incentive that could save you money. The best way to work through all of these scenarios is to build a solid relationship with your accounting firm.
These days, your accounting firm is far more than some people who can help you file your taxes. Most firms now have a full range of business services and are looking to develop long-term relationships that can help you grow. You have to look beyond the hourly charge and deepen the relationship. When your firm gets to know your business better, it can help you prepare for things like a stoppage in business. It can also help you determine whether that data-loss scenario is worth the additional cost of specialty insurance or if, in the big scheme of things, it would be a relatively minor disruption to your business.
Unfortunately, too many CEOs take a reactive approach, only seeking out expertise when they need it, rather than being proactive to prevent many situations before they ever occur. It’s understandable because the day-to-day issues always seem to take priority over doing something like taking time to build a better network of experts. But if you can find the time, the payoff can be big. It won’t take but perhaps one tax credit you would have missed or one disaster that you prevent before that hourly charge suddenly looks like a bargain.
On the other hand, there’s also the risk of going too far and over-relying on your experts. While it’s important to build a relationship and listen to their counsel, it’s ultimately up to you, the CEO, to take responsibility. Only you completely understand the business. And while it’s important to listen to advice, the decision about whether to follow it or not rests with you.
Educate yourself on as many of the issues as possible so you better understand where your accounting advisers are coming from. It will also allow you to ask better questions so you can fully understand the issue and make a more informed decision. Build the relationship so that your accountant is confident he or she comprehends the issues you face and that he or she is looking at all the possibilities before recommending a course of action.
At the end of the day, it’s you who has to make the decision. But by taking the time to build a stronger relationship with your accounting firm, some of those decisions will be a lot easier.