Matt McClellan

Thursday, 25 September 2008 20:00

Body of work

When Carl Daikeler founded Beachbody with Jon Congdon, the pair wanted to be sure that the company’s flag-ship product worked.

So the executives joined the test group and used their before and after photos to help sell the product.

Daikeler is chairman and CEO of Product Partners LLC, the parent company of Beachbody, and his commitment to his products and his “never satisfied” attitude has helped the pair grow the company to $223 million in 2007 gross revenue on the strength of in-home fitness and weight loss products, such as Power 90 and Hip Hop Abs.

“The key to effective leadership is looking at what the problem is with your current leadership,” Daikeler says. “An effective leader is somebody who will not just try to do it the way they read about it in a magazine or a book but who will make sure they’re listening and trying new things and learning every day.”

Smart Business spoke with Daikeler about how to give criticism that inspires your employees, not deflates them.

Be a consistent communicator. One of the most important steps in communicating for effective leadership is to stay consistent. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative within that consistency with good storytelling, examples or statistics to help prove a point, but people need to know that the direction is not going to change on an hour-by-hour basis.

Look to the people you are trying to lead or the organization you are trying to lead for clues. When a problem presents itself, the first reaction is, ‘Oh, this is a problem. I need to solve this.’ But the most productive first reaction is, ‘This is a positive; this is my organization showing me a problem that is symptomatic of a larger communication or systematic failure that can be solved.’

In order to improve the way you lead, look at problems and challenges as opportunities for not just putting out fires but making organizational improvements and making specific changes and clarifications in what you’re communicating to your organization.

On a more granular level, use commute time to get on the phone. Put on the headset and communicate with management that you may not be communicating with enough. Take the temperature, find out the status of projects or find out what their ideas are.

Use the hidden communication time in commutes and other downtimes to communicate with management in a way that is more efficient than necessarily adding meetings to your weekly schedule.

Be honest. When you get close with a management team, sometimes it can be difficult to communicate honestly to make corrections and give people negative feedback or positive feedback to turn around a negative situation.

The important thing with giving feedback is to remember that everybody wants to achieve. Everybody wants to feel like they are contributing to the organization. In addition to getting a paycheck, they want to feel like they are making a contribution. Constructive criticism is a part of helping them make that positive contribution.

The more graceful way to give criticism is to link it to the desire to be productive. The goal is not to make somebody feel bad; the goal is to help somebody achieve their objectives and feel good about what they do.

I don’t know anybody who would rather continue performing poorly rather than getting the feedback to feel like they are excelling. That should be the first topic of the conversation: To get that staff member or that manager on the same page with you, get agreement that their goal is to contribute at a certain level and confirm that is what they are trying to do and that they want to advance their career.

Get buy-in on their willingness to accept constructive criticism to achieve that. Then you’ve got the stage set for having a frank discussion that may not be all that comfortable but will be accepted in the spirit of productivity — not negativity.

Give your employees a voice. People like to participate in the creative process. So if people feel like they have a voice in the collaboration or creative process of creating this vision, while it could start with the CEO, if people have the ability to help shape it, and if they feel heard in that process, they are usually going to support the vision.

Even if it’s not what they would have created themselves, they’ll feel like they have had the opportunity to shape it; they’ll be bought in. They’ll want to help achieve it, because now it’s their offspring and not just the CEO’s.

To shape a vision with management or staff, it’s important for a CEO to be very clear and carefully articulate with how they first present an idea, so they set a foundation that any creativity that comes from staff or management will come from that initial intent.

If the ultimate goal is very specific, then it will be easy for people at the farthest reaches of the organization to exercise good judgment to achieve that goal.

Part of the job of the CEO is to articulate what success means, then encourage contribution and collaboration on how to get to that goal. That’s when you can see your entire organization light up when they realize they’re not just being told what to do but being asked how to do it.

No one performs better than an employee who feels like they’ve got the respect of management to be able to contribute productively. That’s when you get the best out of people.

HOW TO REACH: Beachbody/Product Partners LLC, (800) 207-0420 or

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Supersize it

Every company has goals. Your job, as CEO, is to make sure that your employees’ goals match up with your company’s goals.

Steve Tirado, president and CEO of Silicon Image Inc., says that process of getting alignment is the difference between good companies and great companies.

“In Silicon Valley, everybody is smart,” Tirado says. “Just like graduate school, you walk into the classroom and say, ‘With enough time, everybody can get an A.’ What differentiates the class is you get a limited amount of time. So the people who can organize fastest under pressure and learn the material better than the others, they kind of float to the top.

“For me, business is no different. If you give your competitors enough time, they’ve got a lot of smart people, so they’ll eventually figure out what you’re doing and do it just as well.

“Our advantage is to keep our team very focused on what we have to do and stay very highly aligned as a company. That allows you to execute just a bit better, and that’s all it takes to have an edge.”

Once Tirado found that edge, he kept it. When he joined Silicon Image, it was a $20 million operation with 40 employees and a great idea. Silicon Image invented the high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) and creates the semiconductor architecture for digital content distribution through HDMI, DVI and SATA interfaces. If you’ve ever hooked up any digital device to your high-definition TV or personal computer, you’ve probably used their products. Tirado realized that while having a great product was a good start, companies don’t rise to prominence solely on the strength of their product.

Today, Tirado’s HDMI giant has more than 640 employees and earned 2007 revenue of $321 million. Here are his keys to taking a growing company to the next level.

Get the message out

Tirado says the challenges of running a business change dramatically as you scale your company upward. If you want to be successful, you need to change your management style accordingly.

“You’ve got to spend a lot of time making sure you’re not the only one pulling the wagon,” he says.

When a company is smaller, you can rely on what Tirado calls the “team of superstars.” Everyone in the company knows how to get things done and decisions are made quickly, without relying on other team members for input.

“When you’re smaller, you can get everybody in a single room and work on things together,” Tirado says. “It doesn’t really force you to have a lot of process in place. In fact, in a lot of smaller companies, it can be argued that process gets in the way of creativity.”

However, as the company grows and diversifies, the skill sets needed to manage effectively change. You begin to need the processes to scale your business, and you start realizing the importance of communication.

Each new employee you hire needs to know the company’s goals and objectives. So to make sure that all of the employees are aligned with the vision, you need to be able to communicate to them how each element of your overarching strategy relates to their everyday job. Tirado says explaining the company’s mission can get repetitious, but you have to remind yourself that as the face of the company, you set the tone for the entire organization.

“You have to get yourself comfortable with the idea that you have to repeat your vision and mission again and again and again,” Tirado says. “You can’t get bored with it. Every time you talk about it, you have to have a lot of enthusiasm.

“People look to your body language, your tone, the words you use to describe what you do on a daily basis, and they want to see a lot of passion and conviction. If you talk to the people in my company, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, he does that.’

“You’ve got to be willing to say it again and again, because it takes a long while for messages from the top to get across to everybody in the organization.”

Always be ready for questions, because you never know when you’ll be stopped in an elevator with an employee. Tirado keeps the most recently implemented 10 initiatives firmly in his mind and makes sure he is able to relate the current goals back to the vision and mission of the company.

Don’t forget to tie today’s objectives to the big picture. Many employees can get bogged down in the day-to-day operations, and you shouldn’t miss a chance to remind them how their work fits into the company’s overarching strategy.

“If you don’t continuously reinforce and talk about what you’re doing and where you’re going, you tend to get a loosening of that alignment or you get wandering off in that direction,” Tirado says. “It’s a constant and consistent amount of communication that has to go on related to that to keep the alignment where it needs to be.”

Make it a priority

One of the biggest pitfalls growing companies face is trying to do more than is really possible. Tirado avoids this pitfall by keeping his goals realistic. He works with his staff to carefully calibrate how much growth can occur with a given amount of investment.

“I’m all for stretching my organization, but you have to listen carefully to your managers reporting to you, and maybe even one level below,” he says.

You have to gather this information from your employees because that is your key to finding out which tasks employees are struggling to accomplish. If an employee has too much work on his or her plate, you can simplify the situation by creating a priority list.

If the company’s priorities are clear, your employees will know how to make the trade-offs when not everything can get done.

“As a technology company, we tend to have a larger appetite than

we can go off and execute,” Tirado says. “If you’re very clear that there’s a prioritization of the things that need to get done, then people can go look at that and say, ‘I’ve got to make a trade-off of my time, and according to this prioritization scheme, this is what I should be working on.’”

Tirado has a set process for determining the priority level of tasks for his employees. There are several factors involved in the process. For instance, if the pure monetary return of one product is higher than another product, that will be factored into the priority list.

Also, Tirado takes the strategic value of a product into consideration when determining priority. If a product or process would open a new market in a place where the company was not firmly established or if it would create a new set of customers for the company, those factors would be taken into consideration, as well.

It’s not all so cut and dry, however. Sometimes, you have to consider options that have no short-term monetary return but will pay off two or three years down the line.

“You’ve got to be careful in your prioritization process,” Tirado says. “Because if you only look at the quickest return on dollars, for a technology company that could spell trouble because you’ve got to constantly be looking for the breakout or the novel way of attacking a problem that is going to be enough to get people to be interested in buying not just the current generation but future generations.”

Tirado solves that problem by keeping a healthy mix of products and ideas that are going to result in a shorter- to mid-term revenue or profit, while also investing in some longer-term risky ideas.

Tirado says experience has shown him that if you make all of your longer-term plans low priority, you won’t have enough new ideas to sustain the company’s growth.

There’s always some disagreement among the management team as to whether the order of the list is exactly right. But Tirado says you need to listen to every point and counterpoint because if a department is overcommitted or if there is a contention for resources somewhere in your organization, your employees will look to your prioritization scheme to dictate what gets done first.

Be honest with yourself

One of the most overlooked keys to successfully growing a company is creating a good manager-employee relationship. If you check the HR surveys, the No. 1 reason employees leave a company or stay with a company is their relationship with their boss.

“Companies live and die by how well relationships are managed inside the company,” he says.

“Yes, you have to have a smart idea and a good product, and you have to support it well and price it well. All of those things have to happen, but it’s also true that a lot of what prevents companies from executing really well is all these people relationships.”

So, you want to make sure you have enlightened managers who are not only self-aware but who really understand that part of their job is making sure employees understand what they need to be doing on a dayto-day basis, helping them solve issues they are confronting, and then helping them manage their career going forward.

“As my organization has grown, that has become more and more important to pay attention to,” Tirado says. “You want people in the leadership/management positions with really good people skills — who themselves are personally evolved.

“They know who they are, they know how they come across, and they know what kind of impact they have on people. The larger and more complex the company, the more people you have, the more organization that’s required, the more it requires you to really understand who you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and really be able to form open and solid relationships with the people with whom you need to count on to get things done.”

Good managers can be hard to find, especially ones who don’t mind taking a good hard look in the mirror from time to time. To determine whether a manager has the skills to handle the delicate manager-employee relationship, Tirado created the 360-degree feedback program.

The idea behind the 360-degree program is to present a 360-degree view of the subject. Tirado solicits feedback from the subject’s peers, subordinates and manager(s), sends the results to an outside firm, which summarizes them confidentially and sends them back. The information contained in a 360-degree report gives an unbiased view of what the subject’s colleagues think of him or her.

“If you’re a fairly together and enlightened person, typically your own self-perception is consistent with other people’s perception,” he says. “When I see that other people’s perception is highly different, that’s usually problematic. It shows that you’re not aware of how you’re coming across to people.”

Tirado’s work has paid off, and Silicon Image’s vision of “Digital Content Everywhere” is becoming clearer and clearer.

“That is what I point our employees to,” he says. “Every day you work, you should be doing something to fulfill that vision. And if you’re not — go talk to your manager about how what you do every day is contributing to that.”

HOW TO REACH: Silicon Image Inc., (408) 616-4000 or

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Boomerang effect

Gary Shamis isn’t an inventor, but the managing director of SS&G Financial Services Inc. doesn’t have to be for his firm to be successful.

“We are very good at copying others,” Shamis says. “What I try to do is learn from others who have done things successfully. Once in awhile, we’ll take credit for an original idea. But for the most part, it’s keeping our eyes and ears open and trying to understand what other people are doing successfully in our industry and in other industries and trying to understand the applications and how it can help our business.”

As an example, Shamis noticed that a consulting company was having great success working for cities, communities and companies to make them culturally appealing to young people. He saw the potential benefits of employing such a strategy and immediately hired the company.

As a result, the 450-employee firm has improved retention while posting 2007 revenue of more than $50 million.

Smart Business spoke with Shamis about how to stop young employees from leaving and why it’s worth it to splurge on Starbucks.

Listen to what your employees want. Our people felt that we weren’t giving them the degree of positive recognition we needed to. That was important to them, but we didn’t even understand it was an issue.

Once we understand that [as a result of employee surveys], it’s trying to get our senior-level people to understand the importance of that and then begin doing more of that.

There are other things, too, like looking at quality of life issues, which are very important to young people.

We have a very sophisticated wellness program. We work with nutritionists and have physical activities the firm sponsors and pays for. With the wellness program, if we have people who are healthier, certainly we’re going to have lower health care costs, but that is a long-term project. That’s not something you put in, and in one day, you lower your health care costs.

Also, having the best technology, the best computers, things like that are going to appeal to younger people. ... Even the little things are important.

Like the coffee they drink is important to them, so we switched over to Starbucks. We have Starbucks in all the offices, and it costs us $10,000 extra a year to have Starbucks, but it’s just one little piece of the puzzle.

Convince your employees the grass isn’t greener elsewhere. The focus is on the retention, our ability to keep these young people. I think young people become preprogrammed when they leave college to have many life experiences.

That makes it really challenging when you’re trying to train them and get them working on a consistent basis on a client, and then they’re thinking, ‘I need to spend two years at SS&G, then go elsewhere.’

So the challenge is to convince them that elsewhere is not as attractive as they may think.

Along those lines, we’ve started offering something we call the Boomerang Award. We give that to people who have left our firm and come back.

We’ve had around 30 employees who left the firm at one point, returned and are currently employed by the firm today.

Show employees that you’re willing to promote. We want to grow, and one reason you want to grow is young people are looking for challenge and opportunity. If they see a CPA firm or any organization that’s stagnant, that is the same size now that it was years ago, they’re going to sit back and say, ‘Where’s the opportunity for me?’

We’ve always wanted to let people believe and show them there is opportunity.

If there is somebody (we’re considering for promotion), they know that we know, and they will be recognized.

We’re not going to hold somebody back because they don’t qualify for the right amount of years. If they can continually perform at higher levels, we’ll keep moving them.

Keep the culture together. One of the other things we do is bring all of our employees together once a year for a two-day event.

We pay for them, we transport them statewide, we attempt to talk to them and really do some programming with respect to what our vision is and what our culture is.

... Even though it’s one firm, when you have other offices, you’re going to tend to have some divesting of culture. You can’t avoid that, but we try to have a culture check often. I liaison with every office and just try to be sure we continue to accentuate what we think are the important parts of our culture.

Know your role in the culture. One thing I consider to be my job is to make sure the firm works together as a firm rather than individual offices.

What that does is get people working in different offices that may not be their home office. We encourage multiple people from different offices working on one client relationship. We want them to try to share resources and be more of an organization rather than the four walls that surround Columbus or Cincinnati.

A lot of times, people get confused over management and leadership. Management is managing people on a day-to-day basis. I really don’t look at that as my job. My job is to focus on the organization in terms of the strategy and vision, the direction, and then the people who manage on a day-to-day basis will hopefully manage within those parameters we establish in terms of vision and goals.

HOW TO REACH: SS&G Financial Services Inc., (440) 248-8787 or

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Higher ground

After its first year of operation, Hire Dynamics LLC was $1 million in debt and pulling in $2 million in revenue — during a recession. But for CEO Dan Campbell — who co-founded the firm with Jon Neff in 2001 — a positive mental attitude helped the company through the hard times.

“Even though it might be a soft economy, there are always opportunities to take advantage of the economic climate,” he says.

In hindsight, he’s glad he and Neff started the staffing company at such a difficult time because it forced them to be disciplined and eliminate risk factors. Seven years later, Campbell still runs Hire Dynamics the same way, and the company has prospered, posting 2006 revenue of $43 million and more than $50 million in 2007.

Smart Business spoke with Campbell about how to build loyalty among your employees and how to make sure your company is the one that customers think of first.

Q. What are the keys to effective leadership?

Effective leadership is about laying out a vision and executing it. Stay consistent to that.

One of the biggest challenges for companies is they’re not consistent with what they’re trying to achieve, and it constantly changes.

That becomes difficult, especially if you have turnover with leaders. The companies that I have seen that have stagnated are the ones who haven’t stayed consistent and that keep changing — unless change is part of the strategy of the leader.

Q. How do you portray the leadership as being consistent?

One, it’s behavior. To a certain degree, there is consistency in people knowing how I’m going to respond to a certain situation. When you are inconsistent, it’s more difficult for people to follow you and understand where you’re coming from.

I would start with your behavior being consistent in terms of how you respond. Ensure that your leadership style and the directions and decisions you make are consistent with what you set up as the foundations of the company.

Q. How do you define success?

We define success four ways: One way is growth. If we’re not growing, we don’t view ourselves as being successful. That’s everything from top-line to bottom-line growth.

The second thing is loyalty. That’s the loyalty of our internal employees, our customers, our associates and vendor partners.

The third one is the ability to attract other successful people to Hire Dynamics, whether that be employees or clients.

Finally, top-of-mind awareness. In terms of recruiting or staffing services, is Hire Dynamics the name you think of first? Is that with a positive connotation?

Q. How do you attract quality people and build loyalty?

In the early days, it was about selling the vision and having people buy in to it because you don’t have the track record of performance. Over time, as you have that track record of performance and you have that name recognition, it becomes easier.

In terms of retaining, that’s about building the culture. We’ve built a good culture where we are a fun place to work. Each generation out there has been attracted to different things, but we definitely like to position ourselves as a fun company to work for. We work hard but have a lot of fun.

We very much invest in training. We make sure that every individual within our organization gets 40 hours of outside training on an annual basis. That’s part of our performance measurements; that individual has a responsibility to ensure that happens.

We recognize people and reward loyalty. Every person within our organization gets something for each year they’ve been with the company. For example, when you get to five years at Hire Dynamics, every individual gets a Rolex watch.

It’s a way to preach the importance of loyalty. With our Rolex club, people look forward to that.

Q. How do you develop topof-mind awareness?

It certainly doesn’t happen overnight. We have been around for seven years. In developing top-of-mind awareness, it helps that we’re very good at PR and getting our name out there. We’ve been a fast-growing company, so seeing our name in print a good bit has helped that top-of-mind awareness.

The easiest way to develop that is the concept of paying it forward. You focus on what’s in it for the other person and try to achieve that, rather than just trying to get something from yourself upfront.

Here’s an example: In the recruiting/staffing space in Atlanta alone, there are 500 companies that do what we do. There aren’t a lot of barriers to entry, so when somebody has the need for staffing and recruiting, part of who they decide will be which company is top of mind. What company do they think of?

It could be either through a positive experience or by hearing somebody talk about the company or if they saw it in print.

HOW TO REACH: Hire Dynamics LLC, (678) 482-8041 or

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Maximizing value

Adam Roth’s moment of innovation came when he recognized a void and then realized that he could fill it.

The founder and president of StreamLink Software came to that conclusion in 2004, while he was serving as interim CEO of West Side Ecumenical Ministry. Roth started with the organization in 1998 as the director of operations, and during his time there, he discovered that although many nonprofit organizations already have exceptional leadership, there was a lack of low-cost software solutions to address many different management challenges, including board member and other leadership volunteer management.

Roth began researching various markets and learned that many other nonprofit executives faced the same challenges and needed similar types of solutions. Unlike the for-profit world, nonprofits have dollars allocated to specific programs — not basic systems and infrastructure. So these basic systems and the organizations’ infrastructure generally are inadequate.

During his research, Roth learned about Web-based, software-asa-service models. He found that this “rented” software model could be a way to optimize organizational resources at a low cost, thereby eliminating the requirement to purchase expensive new hardware.

The demand for a system to assist with managing board and leadership volunteers coupled with the option to create a Web-based, rentable software solution led to Roth’s creation of StreamLink Software.

Roth’s philosophy is to maximize the value of every dollar a nonprofit organization has in order to increase its ability to meet its mission. Through managing processes and communication, StreamLink Software provides live feedback and innovative integrated reporting systems to the executive office in the areas of the board, government grants and foundation management.

Roth says the key is to make sure that the right information is effectively communicated to the right people at the right time — both inside and outside the organization. StreamLink’s innovative software provides organizationwide integration of dynamic documents and reports. Prior to StreamLink’s solution, board management software only granted board members electronic access to information. StreamLink changes the value proposition by allowing staff to manage all of the complex disparate data that is collected around a nonprofit board.

HOW TO REACH: StreamLink Software, (216) 346-3902 or

Saturday, 26 July 2008 20:00

The perfect cure

Sometimes Larry K. Ainsworth has to deal with the skeptics — it’s just part of the job. They come out of the woodwork every now and then to chide him for his hospital’s pie-in-the-sky goal of providing “perfect care.” The president and CEO of St. Joseph Hospital of Orange hasn’t yet let the detractors stop him from setting his sights high, and he doesn’t plan on letting it happen anytime soon.

“Some people take an issue with that and say, ‘Look, you’re dealing with human beings — that’s unrealistic to demand perfect care,’” he says. “Our view is, how would you feel about getting on an airplane when the motto of the airline is ‘We hope to get you there 90 percent of the time?’”

But perfect care is just one of the goals set forth for the organization. His staff also strives to create healthy communities and provide “sacred encounters,” which Ainsworth defines as a deep, meaningful interaction that reassures the patient that the hospital is completely committed to treating his or her body, mind and spirit.

“The perfect care goal is more about what we do,” Ainsworth says. “Sacred encounters is more how we do it.”

The three goals — perfect care, sacred encounters and providing healthy communities — were set forth by the hospital’s parent organization, St. Joseph Health System, to improve service across the 14-hospital system.

The enormous task that lay in front of Ainsworth was figuring out how to best address those goals in his particular hospital — without deviating too far from the overall vision of the health system. Once he cleared that hurdle, he would have to get his 3,500 employees on board with his plans and find a way to measure progress toward the hospital’s goals.

Here’s how he did it.

Get everyone involved

The first thing Ainsworth did to drive the new goals through his organization was to set up meetings to discuss them with 30 groups of stakeholders, including physicians, nurses, clinical staff, support staff, trustees and management from both the health system and the hospital.

Communicating those goals to his employees was only the top-level reason for the meetings. The deeper reason he met with so many small groups of employees was to get them all involved in the strategic plan.

Ainsworth says there are several approaches an organization can use to improve customer satisfaction. One way is to hire a consultant, who would generally arrive with a pre-planned program of guest relations or set interactions. But Ainsworth didn’t like the top-down, consultant and management-driven approach, so he chose to look inside his organization instead of outside it and used the meetings to jump-start that approach.

During his meetings, he asked for input on how the hospital can achieve those goals. He wanted to not only raise awareness of the big-picture goals but build employee interest on the local level.

His plan worked. At every meeting, his management team was getting inundated with ways to get closer to perfect care and ways to make sure every patient has a sacred encounter.

“We basically put it in their hands,” he says. “And I think when you put a major objective in the hands of the employees, you get a couple things. No. 1, you get a lot of creativity. No. 2, you get a lot of buy-in, because the end result is really theirs. They created it from the beginning. They conceptualized it all the way through implementation.”

The key to getting that input was as simple as the Socratic Method. Ainsworth’s managers sat down with the employees in small groups — no larger than seven or eight people — and asked them to think through and answer several questions.

Many of the questions were focused on their experiences dealing with patients. Ainsworth wanted to know what needed to happen for a patient to have a positive experience at the hospital — he wanted to know the key to making every patient interaction a sacred encounter.

So he asked questions like, “What is the typical patient thinking and feeling when they come in to receive services in our department?” and “What are the behaviors that would actually yield a sacred encounter for that patient?” This method creates true knowledge in the employee, not just rote memorization of what to do in a certain situation.

“Instead of like the Ritz-Carlton where they have scripted answers to requests or questions, the employees are agreeing amongst themselves to standardized behaviors — not set by management but set by themselves based on their own knowledge of what patient need is,” Ainsworth says.

“It’s a wonderful approach because it tells the employee that management trusts them and trusts their knowledge of what the patient really needs and trusts them to design the more consistent responses that are going to yield sacred encounters.”

Ainsworth took all the ideas and tactics gathered from his employees to the board of trustees. The board narrowed the list down to the tactics it supported, and then included those tactics in the hospital’s five-year strategic plan.

But Ainsworth says the process isn’t over when the board votes on an idea. You need to close the circle of communication. After board approval, Ainsworth scheduled follow-up meetings with each group he had asked for input. At these meetings, he detailed which plans were chosen by the board as well as the reasons why they were picked.

Reach for a higher level

Once the organization’s direction is set, it’s important to let your employees know how their day-to-day responsibilities tie into the big picture. At St. Joseph, this is primarily done through manager-to-employee performance reviews.

At the annual evaluation, the employee and manager sit down and set goals for the next year. Then, the manager indicates how the employee’s work can contribute to the hospital’s overarching goals.

“In some instances, an individual employee can’t affect our ‘healthiest communities’ goals,” Ainsworth says. “But most of the time, they can do something, at least tangentially, to contribute to perfect care or sacred encounters.”

Once that discussion occurs and the goals are set, metrics are set at the same time. Managers will check in periodically throughout the year to determine how their employees are doing, then at the end of the year, they’re evaluated on their performance. Ainsworth rewards the employees who hit their targets — their incentive compensation is determined based on progress toward their individual goals.

Performance evaluation isn’t difficult when you track as many different variables as St. Joseph does. The hospital meticulously collects data on everything that goes on within its doors. If Ainsworth wants to know how many bloodstream infections were acquired at the hospital last year, that information is readily available.

The depth of information at his fingertips helps the leaders of each department set benchmarks for progress toward the goal of perfect care. Each department has several areas on which it focuses, and each employee’s performance is measured against these benchmarks.

There are three levels of achievement for each area: threshold, target and exceptional. Ainsworth says the levels are determined by the likelihood that an employee will be able to meet them. For example, employees have an 80 percent likelihood of achieving the threshold level, 50 percent likelihood of achieving the target level and only a 20 percent chance of reaching the exceptional performance level.

“As you’re progressing up the chain of difficulty, there is a decreasing likelihood that we’ll actually be able to achieve that goal,” he says. “Obviously, exceptional is going to be much tougher to achieve than threshold. That’s the way the metrics are set.”

Ainsworth also ties financial incentives in each employee’s compensation plan to his or her overall performance level. This system gives employees a compelling reason to strive for the higher levels of performance, while making sure the hospital is held accountable for meeting national standards.

For instance, Ainsworth’s executive management team has several performance goals devoted to improving five Medicare-chosen focus areas. The hospital is held accountable for improvements in those areas, which include the hospital’s emergency department response to heart attacks and the staff’s treatment of patients with congestive heart failure, among other things.

Because of the data, Ainsworth knows where his hospital stands. His management team sets its performance-level goals based on how St. Joseph ranks in national databases.

It’s easy to collect easily quantified and measured facts, like the number of patients with a particular disease or the average number of days of their hospital stay. However, it’s a bit more difficult to develop metrics that measure how close an interaction was to being a sacred encounter.

Ainsworth measures the hospital’s particular brand of service by making sure his staff asks each patient several questions about their experience. The staff has a list of seven or eight questions like “Were you looked after in a compassionate fashion?” and “Did people seek to understand your needs before they cared for you?”

By asking questions like those, Ainsworth is able to determine if employees have been exhibiting the types of behavior that will keep the patients comfortable.

Put it all together

While getting existing employees involved in the process and holding them accountable helped drive the changes necessary to make St. Joseph a better organization, you also need to focus efforts on making sure any new employees fit into your new system.

“Hospitals can be very cold,” he says. “When patients are feeling very vulnerable and at risk emotionally, physically, mentally — some hospitals do a real good job of bringing warmth and compassion to that circumstance, others don’t.”

To find employees who can deliver the type of compassion and caring necessary to achieve the organization’s goals, Ainsworth takes extra care in the hiring process. When recruiting, his team tries to find the motivation a person had for entering the health care field in the first place by asking a series of questions that attempt to determine if the candidate is simply looking for employment or something more.

By showing his staff the power of asking questions from the very beginning, Ainsworth is working to ensure that a patient will never feel cold and alone at St. Joseph.

“We clearly understand that just being nice at the bedside isn’t good enough,” he says. “People are here to be healed, and they’re only healed through a combination of people who are treating them with compassion but also people who bring great clinical competency to the bedside, as well.”

Ainsworth knows perfect care is a goal that will transcend many five-year plans. Providing sacred encounters is another goal that will never go away. As part of its goal of creating healthy communities, St. Joseph spent $48 million in fiscal 2007 on wellness outreach initiatives in the surrounding area — but with obesity and other problems still running rampant, that goal won’t be crossed off Ainsworth’s checklist anytime soon, either. Even after achieving significant improvement in patient satisfaction surveys and being showered with awards and accolades, Ainsworth’s work isn’t finished.

“It’s going to be a long time coming,” he says. “But what it does do is it provides motivation for a quest. On a daily basis we’re saying, ‘We’ve got a lot of room to go to be perfect, but we’ve got to keep trying.’”

HOW TO REACH: St. Joseph Hospital of Orange, (714) 633-9111 or

Saturday, 26 July 2008 20:00

Cross-culture visionary

Scott Driggers is a master at finding different roads that lead to the same destination, something he’s had to do as he’s opened offices in other countries.

In 2001, the co-founder and CEO of Gemini Mobile Technologies Inc. established his company in Silicon Valley and Japan, and the wireless software company has since added a third office in China. His greatest challenge with those locations is getting 150 employees across three cultures to achieve a common vision to move the company forward, and he frequently meets with the company’s leaders in each region to discuss the specific challenges they face.

“You have to be frank and honest and create an environment where the senior management team feels comfortable talking about that,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Driggers about how to use different methods to achieve the same goal and how to know which method to use when.

Q. How do you plan a strategy that works across different cultures?

One of the key points would be, ‘Where’s the starting point?’ If you start with collaborative management — soliciting ideas from the other senior managers — you need to start at a point that is relevant to them and the context of their environment.

In the U.S., we might come up with a list of draft ideas. The CEO might come to his team and say, ‘Here are five goals we’re thinking about for this year. Let’s brainstorm around that.’

In Japan, you would collaborate from the bottom up. You would let the managers know, ‘Get together with your team. Bring to me what you think the top challenges or goals are for the upcoming year.’ So the managers there would go to their junior team members, who would solicit ideas. And when it comes back down in Japan, people have all felt they have participated.

In the U.S., it would be OK for the senior managers to come up with some specific ideas, then explain that to the team members and allow them to have their buy-in.

Q. How do you execute the strategy in each culture?

We may have a goal in Japan, which would be very similar to the goal in the U.S. The way we might approach that in the U.S. is ask a junior person to write up a strategy on paper, some targets, get together at a meeting, logically go through A, B, C, D, then call the meeting closed and everybody goes out and executes.

In Japan, we would spend a lot more time upfront. There would be a larger meeting; there might be 20 to 25 people involved depending on the size of the project. You might bring a vendor or a partner or a customer to the meeting. You might have to go through a number of these meetings. It’s not a linear process to reach consensus; it’s a very circular process.

It would seem very frustrating, but the value system in Japan is, we spend more time upfront, but then the execution is a lot faster on the back end because there are fewer unknowns to resolve along the way.

But as an American, you just say, ‘Hey, let’s just get the idea; we’ll solve things as we go along.’

Both approaches are OK; you just need to recognize what’s going to work in that environment. You would create a lot of stress if you tried to fit one of those processes into the other location.

Q. How do you tailor the vision to each group?

It’s not so much a tailoring of the vision; it’s a tailoring of the delivery, acknowledging what’s important to an engineer in Silicon Valley may not be as important to an engineer in Japan. In Japan, something else may be emphasized that would be de-emphasized or a nonissue in the U.S.

For example, in the U.S., people are very interested in how our technology differs from the competition. What are we doing that’s different than the company two miles down the road? We talk enough about the product that they have an understanding.

In Japan, the team members are aware of the competitors. But at the same time, it’s more focused how we are going to do this internally. It’s more focused on the process and less on exactly what this product is going to do.

Q. What’s your advice to a business that is expanding to China or Japan?

The first thing is, the senior person you hire in those markets is very critical. No. 1, make the choice of, ‘Will we open an office, or will we work through a local agent or partner in some way?’

Then if you decided to open your own office, see if you can work with someone who has had a bicultural experience. There is a certain threshold you step over once you’ve worked overseas. Rather than intellectually, it becomes a more intuitive or emotive response to understand what it’s like when you’re in another country.

That allows you to open up and be able to work across these cultural boundaries.

HOW TO REACH: Gemini Mobile Technologies Inc., (650) 227-2380 or

Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

Fame and fortune

Marc Blaushild is a man who knows the value of brevity. Blaushild, president of Famous Enterprises Inc., has set a vision for his 75-year-old company that is only five words: To be a great company.

If it sounds simple, well, that’s the point.“By having a vision that is short and to the point, people can gettheir arms around it and believe in it,” he says.

Blaushild has a system in place to make that vision come true,and it’s based on five core values that he has instilled at thewholesale distributor of HVAC, plumbing, industrial and businessproducts. Those values are family, trust, communication, team-work and continuous improvement, and they are the building blocks for the company’s success.

By adhering to those simple values, Famous grew from $148 million in 2002 sales to more than $200 million in 2007.

Here’s how the five-value system helped Blaushild fulfill the company’s vision by making Famous Enterprises into a better company.

Earn their trust

It’s not that surprising that Famous’ first value is family. Blaushild is the third-generation leader of the company. His grandfather, Hiram, founded Famous, and his father, Jay, is still the company’s chairman.

Although Famous is a family-owned business, Blaushild says it’s important to let his employees, customers and suppliers know that no matter what their last name may be, they are all part of the Famous family.

“We try to do the right thing all the time by our people,” he says. Blaushild backs up his claim by creating initiatives like FamousFamily Night, a popular event in which the company reimburses its employees for spending time with their families. Whether it’s bowling, a movie or just a dinner out, Famous will pick up (or at least help with) the tab.

Blaushild also reinforces his emphasis on strengthening family ties by sending out McDonald’s gift certificates to the participants of a coloring contest for the children of his employees and customers.

Of course, it’s easy to be a big, happy family when things are going well. The key to maintaining this value is keeping everyone’s spirits high even when dark skies are on the horizon.

“When times are tough, we don’t get rid of a picnic,” Blaushild says.

His employees believe in that because of Blaushild’s second core value: trust. Blaushild says that earning trust is the simplest thing in the world.

“To gain someone’s trust, if you make a promise, you keep it,” he says. “If you tell someone you’re going to do something, you do it.If you make a mistake, you apologize and you move on. If you’re doing the right things and you’re doing what you say you’re goingto do and if you do that every day, all the time, and you do it long enough, then you will earn their trust.”

Blaushild says earning the trust of your employees and your customers is critical to a company’s success and the benefits are far-reaching. For instance, say your company has an open position and eight interested internal candidates. That can be a problematic situation, but if you have been building employees’ trust by steering the company in a steady, consistent direction, explainingt o the seven employees who didn’t get the job why they weren’t chosen will be a lot easier.

“Instead of all of a sudden putting together their resume and going to look for another job, they trust us,” he says. “They know we’re doing the right thing for the company, and many times, the right thing for them and their career at that specific time.”

Work as a team

Blaushild says that once you have a family that trusts each other, the value you need to concentrate on is communication.To become a better company, you need to have open, honest,respectful communication.

“We’re not always going to agree with each other, but if we communicate and we understand each other and we understand where we’re coming from, we have a great opportunity to become better and to keep improving as a company,” he says.

One way Blaushild improved communications at Famous was by setting up the “lunch, listen and learn” program. As part of this program, the executive management team would travel to differentFamous locations and spend several hours discussing issues with their employees. He wanted to know what was working, what wasn’t working and what the company could be doing better.

Blaushild says the input from the sessions gave Famous plenty of ideas that eventually evolved into significant company changes.

“It wasn’t a management team discussing it in a boardroom and then telling our people this is what we’re going to do,” he says. “It was truly a dialogue with our people, and there were a lot of things we learned from our associates about what we needed to do to become a better company.”

Some examples of ideas that have been developed with help from employee input are an associate orientation program, an online, real-time Web marketplace and the integration of all ofFamous’ product groups into its central distribution center.

Of course, not every idea is a slam dunk. Blaushild goes off-site with his management team to talk strategically and sort through the input they’ve received. The team tries to determine which ideas align best with the company’s priorities and goals. The group doesn’t always reach consensus, and that’s when Blaushild’s fourth value, teamwork, becomes important.

“We value everybody’s input, regardless of what the discussion is about because everybody has knowledge and experiences to bring something to the table,” Blaushild says. “Because we value it, they offer their thoughts. We try to listen and treat each other respectfully. Even if we disagree, the more we talk, the more information we have to make an informed decision.”

Blaushild has several keys to improving teamwork in an organization. One of the biggest obstacles to creating a great team is making sure you have the right people in the right roles. Blaushild says the first step is evaluating the skill sets and attributes of your employees.

“Everybody’s got strengths and everybody’s got talents,” he says. “It’s up to us to identify the great strengths that each person has.”

Once you know what they can do, you need to find out what they want to do. An employee could have a passion for working at the counter and greeting customers, or the employee may be better suited for taking incoming calls or soliciting business.

“We’ve moved around a lot of people.” Blaushild says. “We’ve let people try different things. Some have flourished in those new areas; some decided to come back to the area they were in. They realized they missed it or that they were very good at it.”

However the results turn out, Blaushild says you should be flexible with your people because if you can get them in the roles that are optimal for them, your company will prosper.

Measure everything

The fifth core value at Famous is continuous improvement. Blaushild says complacency can kill a business without making a sound. To combat the status quo, you need to ensure your employees always have new goals on the horizon, just out of reach.

“Whatever level we’re at, we’re always striving to get better,” he says. “We don’t expect perfection because we don’t believe perfection is something you can ach ieve. But we do strive for perfection, and even if we do fall short sometimes, as we are striving for that, we are reaching our goals and achieving various levels of success.”

The first step to creating a performance-based culture is empowering your employees.

Without the empowerment to make decisions or go after new business, your employees can feel reined in — like their potential is limited. You need to give them the freedom to work independently. Even though much of Famous’ business strategy is centralized, Blaushild distributes empowerment to the company’s branches — where the associates are closest to their customers.

“In order to do well in our company, our people need to feel empowered, that they have the ability to take care of customers,”he says. “We want our people to perform, and that’s why they have control over their destiny, over their goals and objectives.”

The next step in creating a performance-based culture is establishing a performance-based mindset. Blaushild developed a three-level mindset at Famous. So, in everything they do, his employees have a minimum objective, a business plan and a stretch goal.

Then, Blaushild applies the three levels in areas of the businesslike sales, gross profits, inventory accuracy, service levels and productivity.

The next step is encouraging everyone to strive for the higher performance level. Positive feedback and rewards for hitting targets reinforce the system, and as the company performs better,management must continually raise the bar.

“We’re constantly raising our sights a little bit higher on a regular basis and trying to help work with all our people to develop individuals in their respective areas to get to the next level,” he says.

For a performance-based culture to work successfully, you must have processes in place to ensure that each employee’s performance is graded accurately. Anything quantifiable must be measured.

For example, three years ago, Blaushild instituted a program inFamous’ distribution center that measures everything from productivity to damage rates.

“We are measuring more of what we do now than we ever have,in terms of performance,” he says. “Because everything is in our system, every transaction we do, we’re able to measure things on a daily and weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis.”

Blaushild even has metrics in place that measure the lines per hour of labor that each employee is shipping. Now, with that amount of information at his fingertips, Blaushild knows exactly how Famous is doing, and he has a much better idea about how high the bar should be raised for the next goal.

Blaushild says creating a winning culture starts with a vision,but it ends with the people you bring into the company. If you want to be successful, you need to spend time communicating with them, and don’t leave anything out. Open-book and open-door policies are necessary to show your employees that they are truly linked with the organization.

“To create that culture, it takes years, if not decades, to get it right,”he says. “The real lesson is that you never really get it right. You’re always striving to make it better.”

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, his company’s tagline was “Famous for our service.” Blaushild wants to make sure no one forgets that commitment to excellence.

“Whatever level we’re at, I think we have a terrific culture,and the people in our company understand that because they feel it, they live it, they breathe it,” he says. “As good as it is,we want to get a lot better.”

HOW TO REACH: Famous Enterprises Inc., (330) 762-9621 or

Friday, 25 April 2008 20:00

Staffing solutions

Vicki Stanley just loves finding people jobs. The owner and CEO of American Medical Personnel and New Work City Inc. runs the two companies that provide general employment services to the northeastern Ohio region. American Medical Personnel specializes in health care and provides nursing and clinical staff to hospitals, long-term care facilities and private homes throughout the region.

One of the hallmarks of American Medical Personnel is the family-friendly company outlook Stanley has designed.

For four years, Stanley employed an on-site preschool teacher until the children of her office staff were old enough to go to kindergarten.

The friendly atmosphere doesn’t stop with the office staff either. American Medical Personnel has free roadside assistance if an employee’s car breaks down on the way to a job placement. If the car can’t go at all, the company will have a driver take him or her to work. Stanley even hired a housekeeper and a massage therapist and offered their services to the company’s nurses as a reward for great work.

New Work City was founded in 2006 when Stanley’s nurses kept asking her, “Can you find my husband (or brother or friend, etc.) a job?” Having two separate companies allows Stanley to keep the health care division under the American Medical Personnel name and everything else under New Work City.

In 2007, she created the New Work City Neighborhood — a network of community members who offer easier and a more cost-effective solutions to home repairs and maintenance.

Stanley’s companies have grown gross sales in 2007 by 78.6 percent. The number of field staff employees also increased from 450 in 2006 to 750 in 2007.

In 2006, she opened the companies’ second office — and their first in Cleveland. As the number of field staff grew, she also needed to add administrative staff to help put those people to work. There were two full-time employees when Stanley founded American Medical Personnel in 1999, and now American Medical Personnel and New Work City have eight full-time staff members and six part-time job share employees.

HOW TO REACH: American Medical Personnel/New Work City Inc., (330) 433-1080 or

Friday, 25 April 2008 20:00

Polishing the jewel

Anne-Marie Beris knows the value of good customer service. When she opened Anne-Marie’s Fine Jewelry and Gifts as a home-based business in 1998, she was the only employee. She was working part time while raising a 2-year-old and a new baby. The business has grown consistently during its 10 years of operations, posting an 1,100 percent increase in gross sales since the business was founded. Also, the business has transitioned from an appointment-only system of “jewelry parties” to a maxed-out retail space with plans for expansion in the works.

It is a testament to Beris’ commitment to great service that Anne-Marie’s is experiencing growth when jewelry sales are down nationally and many large chains have been closing stores.

Beris built Anne-Marie’s on a foundation of doing business the old-fashioned way. Her staff greets its regular customers by name and is quick to learn the names and preferences of new customers. By remembering these details, the staff makes each customer feel special. A satisfying service experience will encourage each customer to return for their future needs and also add new potential customers through positive word-of-mouth.

One of Beris’ keys to providing excellent customer service is giving each customer equal attention, no matter whether they are browsing or buying.

In 1998, Beris started with about 50 pieces of jewelry, with a total wholesale value of about $25,000. Since then, she’s expanded to a full-service business, including jewelry repair services, appraisals, casting and setting, engraving, trade-ins, and more.

She has also expanded her inventory, now offering product lines from noted jewelry makers Cherie Dori, Ja Bel, Gabriel & Company, and Pandora Jewelry. Also, as part of her commitment to help the local economy, she carries pieces made by local designers whenever possible.

As part of that commitment, Beris donates jewelry items to local charity auctions that benefit children, families and the less fortunate. Some examples are the Angel Auction (Aultman Hospital), the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Domestic Violence Project and the YWCA Night of Champions.

HOW TO REACH: Anne-Marie’s Fine Jewelry and Gifts, (330) 479-9088