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Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:00

Generational management

In any business, a group of employees can consist of a diverse group of people. Differences in race, creed, color, sex, national origin and religion can bring a melting pot of perspectives and talent to the daily pursuit of your company’s mission. Proper management of these generations and a greater focus on the differences among them can enrich your business and ultimately your bottom line.

Building a diverse workforce has been a mantra in business for quite some time and as we become more effective at building that diversity, differences in each generation’s approach will begin to surface. Management and leaders of businesses must begin to recognize that their personal approach and desire may not deliver the same desired results in the future.

Leaders need to understand the personal needs and motivators of individuals within their organization. Individual and generational views of health care, vacation, promotions, bonuses, retirement, loyalty, authority, work hours, work approach, communication, work-life balance, etc. are quite different based on personal needs and expectations. Having polices aiming for one-size fits all will simply not work.

Here are a few characteristics of each generation that could dramatically impact how work gets done in your business:

Baby Boomers

This generation is accustomed to personal interaction. They enjoy teams and a take a collegial approach to most challenges. They tend to be workaholics and are willing to work during time typically reserved for home and family. They’re interested in being rewarded for that dedication whether it comes in a bigger bonus or further advancement.

Alternative appreciation such as more time off or vacation usually does not do the trick. This is a group that receives much satisfaction from work. This group relies on its healthcare and is looking forward to retirement.

Generation Xers

This generation is much more independent. However, they have disdain for rigid work hours and authority in general. They lack trust in institutions and corporations in general, which fits with their independent nature.

They are extremely savvy with computers and technology. The group is adaptive to change and will accept a number of job moves in their lifetimes. They work to live, not the other way around.

Generation Y / Millennials

This generation is likened to next level Gen Xers, meaning they take all the same characteristics further on the trend line. They question authority more and they challenge the status quo. Typically, they expect instant responses and are in touch almost real time with the world around them. They are multi-taskers and leave Gen X slightly behind with their knowledge of technology and the growing world of social media.

Telecommuting would be a fine option for them. They’re also very interested in quality of life and are interested in a good ratio of work/life balance. They are open-minded to differences and expect diversity.

Now that we know a little more about the differences inside the generations represented in the workplace, we can make good decisions accordingly. This knowledge is powerful when dealing with important tasks such as hiring and recruiting and how that may relate to the relocation of a key player inside your organization.

It can help you schedule meetings around preferences on work hours and access to information, and it can be worth its weight in gold relative to the retention of key team members and how you structure your compensation and benefits system for maximum impact.

Embracing the differences in your workforce relative to their generation may provide you with important information in order to make the correct choice on key decision points. Chances are that discussion with your team of HR practitioners and a little research in the areas we covered is all you need to make the most of your team.

 

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com

Published in Columnist
Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:00

Maintain high performance

Someone once told me, “A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.” When I became a mom, I realized that is one of the most truthful statements ever. When one of my children is sick or miserable, it’s impossible for me to focus and be 100 percent right with the world.

I have observed the same phenomenon with teams. Much is written about what high-performing teams look like: they communicate well, they are aligned, they are clear on their purpose and success metrics; and they hold themselves accountable.

However, rarely is it acknowledged that a team is only as effective as its least effective member. It’s like a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. A team cannot realize its full potential if one member is unhappy, working against the team’s vision and efforts, or is behaving inconsistently with what the company is trying to instill in its culture.

The multiplier effect

In mathematical terms, a team’s divisor should be one. The team is as good as it is, not compromised by any single variable. And, when the team is really rocking, there is a multiplier effect that makes its value greater than it otherwise should be. The multiplier comes when teams are hitting on all cylinders and become greater than the sum of the individuals.

However, a non-contributing team member — or worse, one who works against the grain of the team — is like having a divisor greater than one. This diminishes the size of the end product, no matter how large the starting number is. The team will always be less than what it could be.

This weakening of potential can manifest itself strategically, operationally or culturally.

Strategically, it shows up as a leader not supporting enterprise initiatives, not putting the best talent on companywide efforts that will drive major changes, or focusing on a single vertical at the expense of other verticals or the enterprise as a whole.

Operationally, it shows up as a leader running the business in a way that dishonors agreed-to strategies and priorities, or engages in practices that do not support company policy or commitments, or making decisions that favor the local to the detriment of the whole.

Culturally or behaviorally, we see things like not speaking up in meetings on important topics for which they have relevant input, or making/implementing decisions without gathering input from key stakeholders, or behaving in ways that don’t align with the company’s stated values.

Poorly functioning teams a hazard

The ongoing cost of a poorly functioning team can be high. So what can you do about an ineffective team member?

Always start by making the person aware of the effect that his/her actions are having on the rest of the team and the company — and do it in a way that enables learning on both sides. There may be factors not apparent to others that are causing the team member’s behavior.

The conversation must be about listening as well as telling. Feedback should be given by the person’s boss, a senior HR person, or an outside adviser who may be hired to do a 360 assessment. It is important that the dialogue be constructive to enable a more productive future.

If the feedback changes the behavior, that is wonderful. But if not, then ultimately you have to decide whether this individual’s value outweighs his/her cost. If you can’t change the person’s behavior, your behavior may be to change the person.

 

Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010), and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2000, 2007). Dr. Braksick and her team help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or lbraksick@clg.com.

Published in Columnist

Earlier this year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg set off a renewed debate on an old question: Why aren’t more women in executive positions? The answer you get depends on whom you ask. Some say it’s outright discrimination, while others argue that it’s an aggressive, inflexible culture that limits women’s advancement or drives them to opt out.

Who is the CEO?

For anyone who questions that there is a problem, the evidence is quite clear. While research shows a correlation between a company’s financial performance and the number of women in its governing body, women held just 14.4 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies in 2010.

More than a quarter of companies had no women in an executive officer position. And 48 percent of Fortune 1000 companies had one or no women on their boards in 2012.

As an entrepreneur and business owner for 30 years, I know firsthand many of the challenges that women face in the workplace. One of the most pervasive issues is this: a deeply entrenched belief that productivity and effectiveness are defined by the number of hours you spend at the office.

Any executive today knows that working at least 60 hours a week is standard. While technology has simplified our lives in many ways, it has also complicated it. We’re now expected to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to respond to requests at any hour of the day or night.

At most companies, the rewards go to those who are willing to put work above everything else, and to do it over the long haul. Those expectations are coupled with a complex and ever-changing global environment that make us — women and men — more fearful and stressed out than ever before.

With that kind of prevailing climate in many companies, it’s no surprise that people looking for a sense of equilibrium choose to leave.

Gender representation needs

Until productivity and effectiveness are redefined to allow and encourage contributions of varying levels, we’ll never achieve fair gender representation. Even worse yet, we’ll never get the best we can from each person. We need to redefine successful leaders not as those who work through the night, but as those who are empathic and balanced, those who cultivate productive and healthy people and work environments.

Eventually companies will have to heed the call to re-examine their work cultures, asking themselves hard questions about who is best served by maintaining the status quo. Finding a balance between work and life is gaining increasing importance and can’t be ignored.

Find the right balance

In a global study conducted this year by LinkedIn, entitled “What Women Want @Work,”  63 percent of respondents defined success at work as “finding the right balance between work and personal life.” To the question, “Would you like a more flexible work environment,” 65 percent answered that flexible working would better enable them to manage career and family.

If you’re wondering how to get started, open-mindedness and creativity are essential. You have to be willing to throw out the old to bring in the new. That means a willingness to redefine roles and responsibilities, focusing on what needs to get done rather than how it gets done.

People don’t need to work overtime or full time to be productive, and responsibilities can be divided in innumerable ways.

We must begin by deeply examining our prevailing notions of work and being willing to consider that people can be more productive and effective if we create more flexible, empathic work environments. Only then will we create truly productive, efficient, profitable businesses that add value to the well-being of individuals, families and communities.

 

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com

Published in Columnist
Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:00

Helping your team work together

Whether in the workplace or in sports, teamwork can produce extraordinary results. While this seems like a relatively simple task, teamwork does not happen automatically. There are a number of factors that are required for a team to develop and work cohesively and seamlessly.

At Clark-Reliance, we attempt to always use the following rules in our interactions:

Help each other be right, not wrong.

This is the underpinning of all successful teamwork. Our employees are encouraged to try to help their colleagues make a correct decision. This helps to avoid duplication of tasks. It also helps to avoid tasks being executed which are not in the best interest of the company.

Look for ways to make ideas work, not for reasons they won’t.

Make sure that you are promoting listening skills. Never dismiss an idea from someone. Listen to what someone else has to contribute and to try to help make that idea work.

If in doubt, check it out!

Don’t make negative assumptions about each other.

Simply stated — don’t engage in water cooler banter. Instead of fostering negative communication, create an environment of positive communication. If you are uncertain about something, go to the person directly and verify the facts.

Help each other win, and take pride in each other’s victories.

Celebrate your co-worker’s accomplishments. Share compliments. You will find that your enthusiasm is contagious.

Speak positively about each other and the organization.

When you have a chance (internally or externally) speak positively about your colleagues or your company. This can be at press opportunities or charitable events. Always promote the company and your colleagues.

Maintain a positive mental attitude no matter what the circumstances. 

The adage, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it,” can be applied in life and business.

There will inevitably be difficult circumstances where difficult decisions will need to be made in a decisive manner. You have to carry a positive attitude no matter the outcome of those decisions. Do everything with enthusiasm because if you have a good attitude, it will come back to you in return.

Act with initiative and courage.

This is Clark-Reliance’s “empowerment team rule.” We spend a lot of time ensuring that everyone in our organization understands that they have the right to participate and are encouraged to take the initiative to help drive positive outcomes, no matter how small they believe their idea is.

We want our employees to feel comfortable to take the initiative to do what they know is right. We want them to understand what the company is trying to accomplish.

Whatever you want, give it away.

This is troubling for some. For example if you want someone to trust you and have them respect and trust you, then you need to engender those same values in someone else.

If you want to be trusted and respected, you have to be trusted and respectful as well.  Those who trust and respect others are generally those most trusted and respected by others.

Don’t lose faith.

There are always going to be times when the rules have been stressed, strained and broken. As long as everyone keeps pushing in the same direction, it will heal itself.

Have fun.

We want everyone to have fun doing what they do. We are direct and serious about running a successful business, but we want employees to have a positive, fulfilled and enriching career, and so should you.

 

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

Published in Columnist

Since January 2006, when Jim Weddle first took over the managing partner position at Edward Jones, he has kept a keen focus on growing the investment firm to new heights. In 2007 he and his team laid out a five-year plan that they updated in 2010, but that was a mere steppingstone to the vision the firm rolled out last year.

In January 2012, Weddle unleashed what Edward Jones is calling its Vision for 2020. Focusing on growing the firm in three key areas — financial advisers, assets under care and households deeply served — Weddle’s vision won’t just have Edward Jones reaching new heights, it might just be soaring.

“Today, in a lot of markets, we are not the top-of-mind choice,” Weddle says. “We don’t have the presence that we need. It’s going to take us several years to get there, but we think we’ve got the way to do so.”

Edward Jones is a leader in the financial services industry that serves nearly 7 million clients with the help of 12,500 financial advisers and more than 34,000 total employees. The firm reported 2012 revenue of $4.96 billion, a mere fraction of what is planned for the years ahead.

“There is a huge demographic opportunity, and we need to better position ourselves,” Weddle says. “We’ve put a lot of tools in place. We’ve put additional products and services in place to enhance the client’s experience and to enable us and position us to do an even better job for them.”

Here is how Weddle formulated Edward Jones’ long-term vision and is beginning to make it a reality.

 

Create your strategy

In January 2012, Weddle made a big deal of explaining the long-term vision to the team at Edward Jones, not just what the vision was but why it was needed.

“Laying out a long-term vision provides the opportunity and the potential to get everybody aligned,” Weddle says.

The early success Edward Jones has seen with its plan is due to a thorough self-analysis the company performed when it first decided to create this vision.

“When we worked on our five-year plan we did so with the guidance and assistance of two gentlemen, one being Jim Collins who wrote, ‘From Good to Great,’” Weddle says. “One of the things that he suggests is that you ask yourself three questions.

“The first one is, ‘What do you do better than anybody else?’ The second is, ‘What are you most passionate about?, And third is, ‘What’s your economic driver?’”

Weddle says that Edward Jones’ business model makes the firm the better than anybody else in the investment process.

The firm is most passionate about helping its current and potential individual investors live a better life.

And lastly, its economic driver is its financial advisers.

“It’s not easy to get your arms around the answers to those questions,” Weddle says. “We had a lot of answers before we got it right.”

The second adviser that Edward Jones used in its planning process is Michael Porter, a world renowned expert on strategy, who preaches that strategy is all about a sustainable difference.

“It’s about doing things differently or doing different things than your competition and making trade-offs,” Weddle says. “It’s about making decisions as to what you’re going to offer and what you’re not. Who you’re going to serve and who you’re not. How you run your business comes down to the choices that you make.”

Those two things, the three questions and the tradeoffs, are the core of Edward Jones’ long-term plan.

“If you haven’t gone through the process of thinking those things through, good luck,” he says. “I don’t think you understand who you are or what business you’re in, which means it’s going to be very hard to optimize your results. That’s the value of the planning process for us. Yes, it does bring alignment, but it also brings focus.”

 

Identify your objectives

In order to better serve existing clients as well as to land many more clients by the year 2020, Weddle needed to set reachable goals for the staff.

“We have identified three peaks, three objectives related to that vision,” Weddle says. “First is growth of financial advisers, the number and our presence in the marketplace.”

Edward Jones currently has more than 7 million client accounts and 4 million households. However, the firm has identified about 40 million U.S. and Canada households that look like Edward Jones’ best clients.

“There’s no way that we can possibly serve even a fraction of that number of folks without increasing our presence in the market,” he says. “You might think, ‘Holy cow, how can you possibly to do that?’ Well, by growing 5-6 percent a year gets you there.”

Edward Jones has grown by more than that rate in the past, and Weddle believes the firm can reach this goal with the help of a new talent acquisition organization that was put in place, revamped FA compensation and significantly updated training and support programs.

“We anticipate supporting a good number of new folks that will be joining us each year,” Weddle says. “We’ve got amazingly strong pipelines right now. We think we’ll grow this year by 700 financial advisers in the U.S. and 80 in Canada and that will be a good start on that 2020 vision.”

The second objective of the 2020 vision is the firm’s assets under care. When the vision was first laid out, the firm had about $600 billion. In 2012 it had about $660 billion-$670 billion.

“By the end of 2020 we’d like to see those assets under care be $1 trillion,” he says. “You get there by growing 10 percent a year. We added about $34 billion of net new assets last year, which exceeded our objective of $30 billion.”

The third objective for the firm surrounds its deeply served households. Of those 4 million households Edward Jones currently serves, it identified 1 million households that the firm has a current deep relationship with. The firm wants to increase this number.

“We want to drive our deeply served households from the 1 million we had a year ago when we rolled out our vision to 4 million deeply served households in 2020. That’s a 15 percent compound annual increase and we’re ahead of where we need to be on that. I know 15 percent sounds high when we’re growing our FA’s by 5 percent and our assets by 10 percent.

“The reason we have set it at that level is because so many of our existing households can be moved to what we have defined as deeply served. It’s not just new households, but it’s going deeper with the folks that we already have a relationship with.”

 

Drive your plan forward

Now that Edward Jones had gone through the self-analysis and identified its objectives, the next step was to begin to roll out the vision and communicate how the business’ various departments and segments are going to have to contribute to meet those goals.

“One of the outcomes of the roll out of the long-term vision was to then say to every division of the firm, ‘We need you to look at the work you do and bring a critical eye to it and identify those things that need to be increased or put in place that will help us to achieve the 2020 vision. We also need you to identify the legacy work that we’re real comfortable with and we do really well, but maybe doesn’t add the value that it used to,’” Weddle says.

“You outgrow some things. You can’t just add on and add on and add on. You’ve got to also abandon things that no longer deliver value to your chosen client.

Every division of the company has got to come up with its business plan for reaching goals of the vision.

“We challenge each other, but it also allows me, if I’m in operations, to understand what the service side is doing,” he says. “It creates alignment and synergies and often times opportunities for working in a highly coordinated way that eliminates some cost and enhances productivity all driven by the vision.”

The No. 1 key to making a strategy implementation successful is having the right people driving results.

“Your results will be no better than the quality of the individuals who make up your organization,” he says. “You have to be brutally honest. At times you will outgrow some individuals.”

Sharing the business plans, challenging each other and making sure that everyone is working on the same priorities and holding people accountable is crucial to success.

“One area is dependent upon progress being made in another,” Weddle says. “We just need to make sure that we’re doing an absolutely terrific job for each one of those individual investors that we help to reach their financial goals. If we can stay focused on that we’re going to have a lot of success.” 


Takeaways:

  • Answer important questions about your business and its future.
  • Develop objectives to reach in a long-term plan.
  • Implement your plan with the right people and measures.

 

The Weddle File

Name: Jim Weddle

Title: Managing partner

Company: Edward Jones

Born: Elgin, Ill. He grew up in Naperville, Ill.

Education: Attended DePauw University and received a double major in psychology and business. He also got a MBA with a major in finance from Washington University in St. Louis.

What was your very first job, and what did you learn from it? I had a summer job in 7th grade where I worked Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until noon for a gentleman who was a retired banker. He had a large property and I drove a tractor, cut the grass, pulled the weeds, painted the house and the barn and worked every day doing that. I learned that you make your own luck if you aspire to do or to have, there’s a way that you can go about making that a reality.

What is the best business advice someone has given you? I had interned here at Edward Jones, and I went out to Indiana where I established a new office and built it up. I had a mentor who was a very senior individual in our firm at the time named Jack. I remember confiding in Jack and he said, ‘What is your concern?’ And I said, ‘Jack, my concern is I’m 23 years old, and I look even younger. I’m afraid people won’t take me seriously.’ He said, ‘People will treat you the way that you act. If you act like a professional, they will treat you like a professional. If you act like you’re 23, they will treat you like you’re 23.’ He also said, ‘Prepare for every day, but do it the day before.’

Who is someone that you’ve admired? One was an accounting professor who had a huge impact on me. For his class he said, ‘You need to show up to class prepared or I suggest you don’t show up at all.’ He was teaching us how to be ready for the rest of our lives.

The second guy was a business adviser named Peter Drucker. We worked with Peter for 20 years. He helped us to understand very clearly who our customer was, what our value is, and the purpose of our work.

HOW TO REACH: Edward Jones, (314) 515-2000 or www.edwardjones.com

Published in St. Louis
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

Finding character and cultural fit

It is always difficult to find the right employees, not only people with technical skills but with other traits that will ensure long-term success for your organization.

Finding the right culture “fit” in terms of character and personality traits begins with the creation of the job requirements, preliminary candidate screening and the interview process. Preparation is critical before the interview to develop a series of questions designed to reveal the key traits desired of an employee.

At Clark-Reliance, our first hiring objective is to find candidates with superior technical qualifications and skills necessary to perform the tasks of a particular position. However, a candidate must also have the personal qualifications and skills to thrive in our corporate culture.

Identifying the major character traits that allow employees to fit comfortably into your organization and excel in their work allows you to create the appropriate interview questions. At Clark-Reliance, we have identified four major character traits necessary for an employee to have so that he or she will fit into our culture.

Self-awareness and personal accountability

Our goal is to find employees who have the ability to analyze and critique themselves. We want people to take accountability for their actions and success.

Continuous improvement

We want to find employees who are constantly seeking to sharpen their skills, which means either developing skills further or seeking skills they do not currently possess.

Passion

Simply stated, we want employees who have passion for their job and for our company.

Communication

We want employees who are willing to speak their mind as well as listen to other’s thoughts and ideas. A collaborative environment makes all employees invested in the development of the company.

In order to identify these traits in potential employees you should use behavioral type questions like the ones below:

Self-awareness

  

  • What are three accomplishments or significant successes that you identify with and take great pride?

  

  • What would your present or former boss say about you? What would he or she have liked to see you do differently?

  

  • Can you tell me about a mistake you made, either work or personal, that taught you a significant lesson?

  

Continuous Improvement

 

 

  • Where have you sought to improve yourself over the last three months?

 

 

  • How would a co-worker describe you?

 

 

  • What personal needs do you think this position will satisfy?

 

 

Passion

 

 

  • What has been your toughest job? How did you handle this job?

 

 

  • Has a job ever conflicted with your thoughts of what is right or wrong? If so, how did you handle it?

 

 

  • What work situations irritate you or make you angry?

 

 

Communication

 

 

  • If you were involved in a heated discussion with a fellow co-worker, would you be more comfortable in the role of the peacemaker or decision-maker? Why?

 

 

  • Have you taken the initiative to handle something that is technically out of your area of responsibility? Why did you choose to handle the situation that way?

 

 

  • How do you deal with your boss when he or she overrides a major decision that you have made?

 

 

 

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate cochairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

Published in Columnist

Critical thinking: It sounds like it should be limited to academia; right? Wrong.

While critical-thinking skills are, in fact, central to academic research, they are equally important in the business environment.

As we explore effective techniques to increase visibility and influence in the workplace, we need to become the “professor” of critical thinking for our vital team members. We need to serve as a model for them to follow. Critical thinking, in its simplest of terms, is a questioning process. Consider these three questions to encourage your employees to start thinking critically about their own individual actions.

•           I hear your question. What’s your answer?

•           What would you do if I weren’t here?

•           Are you using your brain or your gut?

“I hear your question. What’s your answer?”

In their haste to keep projects moving, most management teams instinctively want to provide quick solutions when employees have problems or questions. This approach is archaic in today’s business world and does not foster critical thinking. It teaches employees to only rely on your strengths rather than developing their own.

Consider this as an alternative: Make it a policy that whenever an employee comes to you with a problem, he or she must also offer at least one solution. Force them to do some advanced thinking. This gives you, then, an opportunity to have a more constructive and fruitful discussion.

“What would you do if I weren’t here?”

Being a good manager does involve some parenting. Sorry about that. Your job is to use your leadership skills to coach employees to become self-sufficient. Continue to strengthen their critical-thinking muscles by turning the questions back to them, answering a question with a question.

•           “What are the downside risks if we take this action?”

•           “What if we did A instead of B?”

•           “What if the opposite were true?”

In most cases, that employee already knows the answer. Don’t do their work for them; but rather use it as a development opportunity.

“Are you using your brain or your gut?”

Many managers pride themselves on the soundness of their “gut instinct.” They often make quick decisions based solely on sudden flashes of intuition.

Bad idea! That’s not to say that intuition is invalid. But to be effective, it needs to be backed up with logic. If you’re modeling decision-making behavior based solely on gut instinct, you might be doing your associates a disservice.

Remember the old bumper sticker “Question Authority”? When an employee comes to you with a gut-based decision, you need to start questioning.

Consider the following questions in your dialogue.

•           “Why do you think this will work?”

•           “What assumptions have you made?”

•           “What alternatives might we consider?”

When an employee’s decision is successful, acknowledge it. Remember: praise in public (and criticize in private). If he or she makes a mistake, use it as a learning opportunity. Our job as leaders is, again, to be the catalyst for positive change. Serve as that role model for others to follow and use your “PhD in critical thinking” to move your company forward.

G. A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at tfernley@fernley.com, or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Published in Columnist

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon on a sweaty Wednesday. You answer what feels like millions of emails, check a few items off your to-do list and take a lap around the office to stretch. You look sure that enough time has passed to make it 5 o’clock. But it’s only 2:35. Only five minutes have gone by.

It’s easy to get stuck in a summer rut. Unless there’s a BBQ and lemonade stand in each of your employee’s cubicles, being in the office is probably not an employee’s ideal location on a summer afternoon. It’s harder to stay focused and on track with projects and assignments when it seems like virtually everyone is on vacation or taking on new shift hours.

Don’t let the temperature and the temptation of playing hooky to go to the beach get to your employees before you can. Here are a few tips to keep your team focused while still having fun in the office all summer long.

Go on the occasional field trip

During the summer, I like to take my team on a “field trip” every now and then. We’ll walk to the nearest frozen yogurt establishment for a cool treat or to our local Starbucks to get just the right amount of caffeine to finish out the day.

It’s a nice break in the day that everyone appreciates. Sometimes it’s all you need to get motivated to finish out the afternoon strong.

I make it a point to get the team talking on our outing — do a little team building together with some quick exercises. Last summer, I asked my employees to go around and each say a word they associate with starting a small business and their favorite summer memory. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

Be understanding when it comes to time off

I am a firm believer in fully being a boss when I’m at the office and fully being a mom when I’m at home. As long as I work the absolute hardest I can during the day and get everything on my to-do list checked off, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to head out early to catch my son’s soccer game.

I apply that same principle to my employees. As long as they have everything done and done well, early dismissal and later arrivals in the morning every now and then is fine.  During the summertime, it’s important to be flexible with everyone’s schedules and work around them.

That’s not to say your employees should get out of the office for every little thing that comes up. But when something important unexpectedly happens, try to accommodate around that moment as best as you can.

Keep the watercooler filled

Obviously, you’ll be doing this for hydration purposes, but what I’m getting at here is to make sure your office has a laidback, summer-friendly atmosphere. Keep plenty of water available for everyone, a steady stream of A/C (with plenty of fans on hand) and a nice refreshing fruit bowl for a healthy summer snack.

It’s the small gestures that let your employees know that you have their best interest at heart, especially when it’s 104 degrees outside.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.

Published in Columnist

Trina Gordon looked at her company’s clients and could see that they wanted more. It wasn’t that Boyden World Corp. had done a bad job of meeting their needs. They just had more needs to be met.

“What we began to notice out of this downturn was challenges in the macroeconomic environment continued to persist globally,” says Gordon, president and CEO at the professional services firm.

“Clients, particularly global clients and emerging global clients all over the worldwide landscape were becoming more demanding about greater consistency and quality of service from their advisers,” she says. “What that meant was we needed to take a really hard look at what was an effective client advisory relationship.”

It can be a tough pill to swallow when you feel like you’re giving maximum effort to help your clients and then you find out that you could be doing it better.

“There’s a little bit of that in your psyche that says, ‘I want to hear the great things I’m doing,’” Gordon says. “I’m not sure I want to hear where I didn’t do as well or where I need to improve. But it’s the only way we’re going to get better at what they want us to do and deepen the relationship.”

Sometimes, you’ve got to set your ego aside, even when you’re a top 10 global executive search firm with 250 associates in more than 70 offices and 40 countries around the world.

“Sometimes partnerships tend to be more process-driven and internally focused and concerned with the practices and processes of how we do our work,” Gordon says. “In this case, we had to turn that perception completely around and push our organization facing outward at potential and existing clients. We had to build a foundation for how everything we did focused on what they told us they needed and how we performed against those needs and requirements.”

Get to the point 

In the simplest terms, clients were looking for more bang for their buck with Boyden.

“Clients were no longer saying we have talent or human capital needs in emerging markets and anybody sitting in an emerging market can help us,” Gordon says. “What they began to say was we want real sector expertise, sometimes even deep functional expertise. You need to understand our business in a unique way. We began to see as a board, as a partnership, a real tipping point in how clients look at the professional services sector.”

Gordon wanted to respond swiftly, but methodically to this change in the marketplace. It needed to be done, but it needed to be done right.

“The challenge for a firm like our’s is how do you respond to those trends in a way that really adds differentiating value to clients,” Gordon says. “How were we going to uniquely stand apart from our competition and ensure that we could meet those client needs at an increasingly and more complicated demand level?”

One of the first things Gordon did was meet with all Boyden’s global partners and her leadership team. It would serve as a foundational meeting to begin developing a strategy to transform the firm.

“The message was we have this opportunistic window in our own retained search business to drive this concept forward and lead it as a premier global search firm, the first to do so,” Gordon says.

One of the next steps was a global conference in Asia where many of the firm’s key leaders sat down and defined the things that they felt the firm needed to represent going forward. These leaders had spoken with clients and gathered feedback. Now it was time to lay it all out there so Boyden could begin to shape its strategy.

“Part of what clients have shared with us is we want to have a singular kind of experience with you,” Gordon says. “That means you need to understand who we are and what our business strengths are. Understand our business. Get under our skin. Be sector specific with us. You have to demonstrate a genuine understanding of who we are, which meant the difference between a robust client relationship and one that isn’t robust.”

Know what you don’t know

There is a word of caution that must be addressed for any firm that is looking to adapt what it does for its clients. You better have a good idea of what you stand for before you begin the transformation.

“When we stray from our core expertise and we stretch out and try to do something we’re not capable of doing, we’re no longer acting with integrity and it ultimately will affect the client relationship,” Gordon says.

“We have to be able to know what our strengths are, be true to them and have the courage to say, ‘This is how we can best help you.’ We also have to be honest with the client and say, ‘This is what we can do and this is what we can’t do well.’ We’re not going to risk our relationship for the sake of saying we can be all things to a client.”

If you don’t know what your core beliefs and expertise are, then how will you know whether the thing you’re being asked to do fits in? You have to be clear about it so that you can give your best effort and performance on the project.

“It’s one thing to stretch in an area where we have done some work and there’s expertise elsewhere in our firm to help us and guide us and draw upon and bring into the client equation,” Gordon says.

“It’s another when it’s completely further afield from the core expertise of the firm. That’s where you can get into trouble with a client. And it’s very hard to recover a relationship that you’ve damaged.”

Be methodical

Boyden is a big firm and so there was a ton of information and data to sort through as this transformation took place. It was incumbent upon Gordon to not let it overwhelm her team.

“It’s important to take a step back, center yourself and think through what’s really important,” Gordon says. “Prioritize and move in steps. You’ll overwhelm the organization if you try to do much too soon without a coherent message, without responsible buy-in and without a very clear approach to staying true to who you are. “We’re still evolving as an organization because change is not always an easy thing. What I’ve learned is to take a deep breath and make sure you’re confident in the people around you and confident in what your clients are telling you.”

You want to please your clients and that’s obviously the most important thing. But don’t let it affect your work and force you into a pace that will result in a substandard final product.

You also need to make sure you’re cognizant of your personnel resources. What skills can your people jump right in and take on and which ones will require some level of training?

“You can’t just assume you have a completely homogenous organization that all can move forward at the same time toward this enhanced approach with clients,” Gordon says. “One of the things I tried to do very early with our leadership team was reach out to those key voices inside our firm who embody this work already and who are our greatest client advocates.”

You undoubtedly have some people in your company who can be trainers and who can help their peers grow. Tap into that resource and put it to use. And for other people who need to learn some new skills, do what you can to help them.

“There’s a lot going on inside a complex organization,” Gordon says. “Not everybody can drink from a fire hose at the same time. So you need to be able to call upon your leadership, those individuals that people respect and know that already embody this expertise with clients and utilize their knowledge base and their talent to train, teach and enrich younger partners or partners that are new to the profession. That is a continual process.”

It’s a process that will likely never be completely wrapped up. There’s always more to learn and more to figure out and Gordon says they’ll just keep on trying to do the best they can for their clients. But this process has already put the firm in a better position to serve those clients.

“Our dashboard is built, our metrics are built, so all of it is now launched,” Gordon says. “We’re at this exciting period where you’re diving off the board hand in hand with your client into this brave new milieu. I see it as a continual evolution that our own firm and each and every one of our partners will sort of continuously travel together.”

How to reach: Boyden World Corp., (312) 565-1300 or www.boyden.com

 

The Gordon File

Trina Gordon, president and CEO, Boyden World Corp.

Born: Alliance, Ohio

Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science; master’s degree, public administration, Auburn University

What did you want to be growing up?

From the time I was little, I always wanted to be an equine veterinarian. So my interest in Auburn, at least prior to going there, was they have one of the finest equine veterinary schools in the country. When I went there, I fell in love with the philosophy of the university, the campus and the people. But I found that the pre-veterinary program, I didn’t have the constitution for invasive medicine. So my dream of becoming an equine vet versus the leader of a professional search firm is quite different. So I switched majors, I stayed and I loved it.

What was your very first job?

In the summer, my brother and I ran a custom car detailing business part of the day out of my parents’ garage. Then in the afternoons, I ran a daycare nursery school for kids in our area. I had about 10 to 12 kids at a time and they were ages six to 10.

Who would you like to meet and why?

I love history, so if I had the opportunity to sit down with anyone, it would be Elizabeth I. I would like to know how a woman who was the first leader of a powerful, yet fledgling nation was able to bring a divided country together and bring them to global prominence. How she was able to unify them behind an individual who heretofore in their history, had never been a woman and reign long and lasting over a very respectful populace. She was able to gain the credibility of all the men around her and win respect around medieval Europe.

Takeaways:

Be clear about your goals.

Understand your limitations.

Don’t rush just to get it done.

Published in Chicago

The fear of failure is something that even the most successful and gifted of employees can bring with them to the office.

They are afraid the product won’t be successful or the phone call won’t be returned. I can still remember being almost terrified to make a sales call on one of the largest food companies in the world because I was afraid I would fail.

If we don’t work through this fear, it will almost certainly lead to paralysis.

We procrastinate while waiting for better conditions to develop and remain “stuck” where we are, rather than where we want to be. I must admit I put off starting some new initiatives using that same fear-based rationale. I can clearly recall thinking, “Maybe I will launch my own business, once some additional favorable elements fall into place.”

I was stuck.

But it is our job to help our people overcome their fears and prevent them from becoming stuck. We need to create a courageous workplace. Here are a few techniques I have used to build a courageous workplace for my wonderful employees.

Pursue excellence 

The tool that best fights fear is the pursuit of excellence. It’s the vitamin shot that gives everyone the confidence to move forward. Teach your employees that their performance goal is excellence and giving their best effort in everything.

Aiming for perfection will drain an organization of its confidence and vigor. The goal is excellence! Write it on the office walls, put it as your email footer and repeat it often when you address the organization. Live it. The relentless pursuit of excellence should be part of the fabric of your company.

Embrace failures 

To paraphrase a brilliant sentiment by Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” we shouldn’t fear failure — it is mediocrity we should be afraid of. Failures mean people were trying new things, rather than standing still.

Encourage employees to take risks. Empower them to fail. Foster curiosity and innovation. Embrace the belief that mistakes are how we grow, and growing employees build strong, innovative and dynamic workplaces.

Overcome paralysis 

This technique involves getting the person to clearly decide a specific time when they will “stop working” on a project rather than a stop time. A stop time is far more helpful if they are already struggling to get it started or keep it moving.

In this way, the person moves on to another project, rather than feeling that frustrating, wheel-spinning experience of getting nowhere fast.

Stop time works at home, too. For example, instead of asking my teenage daughter when she will begin her homework, I ask her to set a time when she will stop doing her homework. “I will be done with my homework by 8:00 so I can watch ‘The Bachelor’ on TV,” she responds with a big grin on her face.

Be quick to encourage 

As the senior leader, your ability to encourage is essential for a healthy, courageous organization. You are watched closely by your people and are expected to “give heart” (which defines courage) as they pursue routine and difficult objectives. Remember — a courageous, encouraging heart is a talent multiplier!

As we help our employees overcome the fear holding them back at work, we begin to build their energy, confidence and freedom. And you need all three of these qualities flourishing in your people in order for you to operate a successful business.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of Fona International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com

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