Florida (1036)

Friday, 30 November 2012 19:40

Roger Slade: Saving the holidays

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Imagine that you are sitting at the holiday dinner table with your family — aunts, uncles, cousins and distant relatives from out of town. Someone at the table cavalierly brings up the November election. Next thing you know, World War III breaks out, as your family members debate the merits of the candidates and the future of the country over turkey and mashed potatoes.

Now, imagine that these same people are shareholders and employees in your family business. If these people cannot agree between the two politicians, how will they be able to agree about the joint management of their financial affairs? The answer is only with great difficulty. This is one reason why so many family businesses, and so many families, end up in costly litigation.

Here are some observations from someone who has litigated many intra-family disputes, about what might have been done to avoid a nasty and expensive lawsuit.

Sign a contract

It may seem elementary, but the fundamental concept of a contract is often ignored by people in business. Should you really sign a contract with your brother about the maintenance of a family business? After all, isn’t this the person that you grew up with, shared a room with … your best friend? Of course, you should.

The interesting thing about the negotiation of shareholders’ agreements among family members is how absolutely divergent the views are of different family members about how to run the business and make it profitable. These views often manifest themselves in the negotiation process.

Imagine, however, that there was no negotiation process, and instead, the business began without a written agreement. The likelihood is that chaos would ensue, profits would dissipate through disagreements and nothing of a material nature would be accomplished. Thus, this basic point — the execution of a contract — is a fundamental and necessary component to founding a family business.

Establish a hierarchy

Someone has to be the boss. Historically, it has been Dad. However, in “modern families,” other people can be asked to assume the mantle of leadership. Generally, it is wise to choose the person with the most business experience, the best education, and the most obvious leadership skills.

In any family, the appropriate candidate should be obvious. If the parties cannot agree on this, it is generally a bad sign. Leadership is essential to any business; and a family business is no different.

Treat it as a business

The family business is a real business. The family business should not be run like a family. The conversation between the leaders in the family business should not mimic the conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Rather, family businesses should conduct regular meetings, where notes are taken, minutes kept and tasks assigned. It is a good idea to retain an outside lawyer to help administer the affairs of the business.

You should also be able to judge the potential success of your family business by determining how easy it is to apportion tasks among family members after the Thanksgiving dinner is concluded — who will wash the dishes, the pots, clean the tables, fold the linens, and take out the garbage?

If the parties cannot agree, following dinner, how to clean up, how will they be able to run a business?

Establish an advisory board

Working with a family member during the day and then having Thanksgiving dinner with that family member the following weekend presents some challenges. Issues regarding the family business are more likely to arise at inappropriate times — during holidays, on weekends or after work hours.

If Dad or Mom is in charge of the business, this is even more likely to occur. One suggestion for taking Dad or Mom “out of the loop” would be to establish an advisory board. These are individuals you’ve retained for the purpose of dealing with sticky business issues that place Dad or Mom in an awkward position.

Let the “advisory board” take the heat for a difficult issue. That way, you can explain that the controversial decision — which may negatively impact a family member — was made by the advisory board and out of your hands.

Roger Slade is a partner in the law firm of  Boyd & Jenerette, P.A. and chairman of the firm’s Commercial Litigation Department. Reach him at rslade@boyd-jenerette.com.

Monday, 03 December 2012 17:04

8 bad work habits to avoid

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In our world of quick text missives, sharing the daily joke via inner office email, and generally more relaxed workplaces, informality can become a workplace hazard. Studies show that employers and managers often assess an employee’s career potential based on how that employee carries himself or herself in the workplace. None of us wants to be judged by the externals, but our respective “book covers” matter.

Poor manners at work – however unintentional - can lead to workplace conflict because they distract fellow employees from working or, in the worst cases, offend co-workers who have differing viewpoints and cause potential legal liability for the employer.

Therefore, it’s ideal to avoid these 8 bad work habits:

  1. Talking loudly on telephones and in person in common areas.
  2. Interjecting comments into conversations between other employees, unless your opinion is solicited.
  3. Taking supplies – even if they were bought by the office – from other employee’s work areas without getting prior approval.
  4. Wearing perfume that can be smelled even after you leave an area.
  5. Gossiping about co-workers or people outside the workplace.
  6. Sharing racial, religious or sexual jokes in any format.
  7. Arriving late to meetings.
  8. Regularly using large chunks of work time to resolve personal and family matters.

Most employees want to be viewed as valuable, contributing members of the company team. Thus, it’s worthwhile to periodically assess our workplace demeanor and, perhaps, adjust our behaviors, to help convey that image. Your future with your employer likely depends on it.

Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.

One of the signs of a boom — or at least a boomlet — is that companies start wanting to drive their competition crazy. This occurs when “survival” is no longer an issue and optimization or maximization can become a goal. However, the desire to do things to the competition can lead a company astray — or drive it to even greater heights.

Companies go astray when defeating the competition becomes more important than taking care of customers. When companies become obsessed with the pursuit of excellence, by contrast, they often reach new levels of greatness. Here’s how to avoid the former and achieve the latter.

1. Know thyself. Before you can drive your competition crazy, you have to understand what your company stands for. Otherwise, you’ll succeed only in driving yourself crazy. For example, Apple stands for cool technology. It will never represent a CIO’s safe bet, an “enterprise software company,” or service and support. If it decided it wanted to drive Microsoft crazy by sucking up to CIOs, it would drive itself crazy — that is, if it didn’t perish trying.

2. Know thy customer. The second step is to truly understand what your customer wants from you — and, for that matter, what it doesn’t want from you. One thing that your customer seldom wants to do is to help you drive your competition crazy. That’s in your head, not your customer’s. One more thing: A good company listens to what a customer says it wants. A great company anticipates what a customer needs — even before the customer knows it wants it.

3. Know thy enemy. You cannot drive your competition crazy unless you understand your competition’s strengths and weaknesses. You should become your competition’s customer by buying its products and services. I never truly understood what it was like to be a customer of Microsoft until I bought a Sony Vaio and used Windows. Sure, I had read many comparisons and competitive analyses, but they were nothing compared with hands-on usage.

4. Focus on the customer. Here’s what most people find surprising: The best way to drive your competition crazy is to succeed because your success, more than any action, will drive your competition crazy. And the way you become successful is not by figuring out what you can do to the competition but for the customer. You succeed at doing things for the customer by using the knowledge that you’ve gained in the first three steps: understanding what you do, what your customer wants and needs and what your competition doesn’t do. At the intersection of these three factors lies the holy grail of driving your competition crazy. For most companies, the key to driving the competition crazy is out-innovating, out-servicing or out-pricing it.

5. Turn customers into evangelists. There are few things that drive a competitor more crazy than unpaid customers who are evangelists for a company. Create a great product or service, put it out there (“let a hundred flowers blossom”), see who falls in love with it, open up your arms to them (they will come running to you), and then take care of them. It’s that simple.

6. Make good by doing good. Doing good has its own, very sufficient rewards, but sometimes you can make good and do good at the same time. For example, if you own a chain of hardware stores, you can help rebuild a community after a natural disaster. You’re bound to get a lot of publicity and create bonds with the community — this will drive your competition crazy. And you’ll be doing something good!

7. Turn the competition into allies. One way to get rid of your competition is to drive it out of business. I suppose this might be attractive to you, but a better way is to turn your competition into allies. My favorite author of children’s books is Tomie DePaola. My favorite DePaola book is “The Knight and the Dragon.” This is the story of a knight and a dragon that train to slay each other. They are smashingly unsuccessful at doing battle and eventually decide to go into business together. Using the dragon’s fire-breathing ability and the knight’s salesmanship, they create the K & D Bar-B-Q. For example, if a Home Depot opens up next to your hardware store, let it sell the gas barbecues, and you refill people’s propane tanks.

8. Play with their minds. If you’re doing all this positive, good stuff, then it’s OK to have some fun with your competition — that is, to intentionally play with their minds. Here are some examples to inspire you:

  • Hannibal once had his soldiers tie bundles of brush to the horns of cattle. At night, his soldiers lit the brushwood on fire, and Hannibal’s Roman enemies thought that thousands of soldiers were marching towards them.
  • A pizza company that was entering the Denver market for the first time ran a promotion offering two pizzas for the price of one if customers brought in the torn-out phone directory ad of its competition.
  • A national hardware store chain opened up right next to a longtime community hardware store. After a period of depression and panic, the store owner came up with a very clever ploy. He put up a sign on the front of his store that said, “Main Entrance.”

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at kawasaki@garage.com.

Monday, 03 December 2012 16:28

Giving back: How much charity is enough?

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While attending an event we put on with a local charity, I was impressed with the difference that seemingly minor things can make in someone’s life. I was proud of the contribution and effort that our employees put into the event and the dedication the nonprofit showed for its mission.

The event made me think about the business community and all of the wonderful things companies do for those in need. Take the recent destruction from Hurricane Sandy as an example. Businesses have pledged more than $90 million in assistance, two-thirds of which was monetary donations to organizations like the American Red Cross.

While companies give back in as many ways as possible, even during these difficult economic times, I was wondering if there wasn’t more that could be done in our local communities. Not every effort has to always include a financial component.

Here are some nonfinancial ways to give back in addition to what you already do for the community:

  • Give more time. Some organizations have a greater need for man-hours in addition to financial backing. Your business may already give generously on the financial side, but maybe your favorite charity could use a labor boost as well. Nationally, about 35 percent of companies have some sort of formal volunteer program. Consider donating employee time to help out with a big project or basic cleaning and organizing.
  • Offer advice. You probably already serve on one or more boards for a nonprofit, but there is always another charity out there that could use your help. You don’t have to become a full-fledged board member, but you can offer advice as needed to help the existing members navigate through a problem that plays to your strengths. If the nonprofit is looking for a board member and you don’t have the time, help it find the right person by making a recommendation or referral.
  • Hire nontraditional employees. One way of giving back to the community is helping others help themselves. There are many skilled employees with either physical or mental disabilities that could be a great addition to your company if given the chance. When you have a job opening, make sure you are considering all candidates, including those from nontraditional backgrounds.
  • Do pro bono work. If you can provide a service that a nonprofit needs, consider donating it. Marketing, printing, IT services — basically anything an office needs is probably something a charity could use. Find out what the nonprofit could use, then figure out a way to help out. Even if your company can’t help, maybe you know someone else who can.

In this season of giving, it’s not hard to find a worthy cause. There’s also no question that you and your company have most likely already given a lot, assuming you are in a position to do so. But there’s an old question that asks, “How much charity is enough?” The answer is easy: Just a little more.

Take the time to evaluate whether you can do just a little more than what you are already doing to make an even bigger difference.

If you are in search of a worthy cause, consider donating to The Pillar Fund, a donor-advised fund administered through the Cleveland Foundation. For more information, contact Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Friday, 30 November 2012 19:17

Corey Leff: The entrepreneurial rules of thumb

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There’s no better teacher than experience. That’s especially true when it comes to starting a successful business. Having built one profitable business from the ground up doesn’t guarantee success in your next venture. However, it does provide for some valuable lessons that can be applied to most any business as it grows.

Excitement about the possibilities is a natural part of any new venture. In fact, you should have a passion for your business. But that enthusiasm cuts both ways, and it can cloud judgment and hamper you in making sound business decisions.

So keep that in mind and make decisions with a clear head as much as possible. Turn to your advisers and trusted confidants to keep your zeal in check so it doesn’t run your business into the ground.

One of the main lessons you learn when running a new business is fiscal restraint. Your most precious commodity is the money you have on hand to invest in your business, especially during the start-up phase. Minimize your overhead. Don’t overspend. A good rule of thumb is to have enough capital on hand to get you through at least one year.

The last thing you want to do is end up underfunded, where you have enough cash to get you 90 percent there, but then it runs out just before you get to the finish line. If that happens, you will end up spending the majority of your time looking for new investors — and not on growing your business.

Don’t let perfection be the enemy. You will always be focused on perfecting your product or service — or at least, you should be. For sure, your competition will be, and they will leave you in the dust if you’re not constantly improving. However, it’s critical to get out to market as soon as you can — even if you recognize the need for improvements. Otherwise, you will miss opportunities and give your competition an opening.

Once your business is up and running, you can secure valuable feedback from paying customers and clients that can be used to continually improve.

That leads to another tenet entrepreneurs learn early from their first start-up. Once your business is operating, you must focus on the user or customer experience. In the Web-based companies we have built, that meant making sure that the websites are easy to use and that all client and potential clients understand their value. The same principle holds true whether you sell widgets, insurance, cars or a Web-based service.

As you focus on customer experience, you will find that it is probably very different from your own perceptions. Remember, your audience is not you. It’s paying customers. And you must make sure that they have the best experience possible to keep them coming back and, with hope, referring others to you.

My partners and I learned in building our first Web-based company, an online document management service called Document Nation, that we’re not building a site for hard-core users or “techies.” To succeed, all of our customers — from the entry-level employees to a company’s CEO — must be able to not only use the site but recognize how it makes their lives easier.

We’re applying the same principal to spendLO.com, a website that matches consumers’ service needs with reliable neighborhood companies. Document Nation and spendLO are two very different companies, but they’re the same in the sense that a user who has a basic understanding of the Web can use both.

The same holds true for any product or service. If your customer doesn’t understand how your business will help them, the prospect of success becomes dim.

Finally, a common challenge many entrepreneurs must overcome with their first start-up is finding partners and employees who complement their skills, rather than duplicate them. If you are strong in marketing, you need to find people with the skills to help in finance. If you’re the technical guru, you need to find a top sales executive.

That’s how you build a team that will take your company to the next level, whether it’s your next start-up or current venture. <<

Corey Leff is founder and CEO of spendLO, an innovative Web-based company that allows consumers to shop for local services at the lowest prices. Leff also serves as managing partner and director of business development for Document Nation where he has helped oversee the company’s dramatic growth from a start-up to one of the top small businesses in Florida. Reach him at corey@spendlo.com.

Dan Doyle Jr. wanted his father to be a partner in his new business venture. So naturally, he brought the proposal to the breakfast table. One morning, over egg whites, he thoughtfully laid out his plan, all the while preparing for the possibility of a tough sell. What he wasn’t prepared for though were Dan Doyle Sr.’s terms.

“In order to get him out of retirement, he made me commit a third of our profits to local not-for-profits,” says Doyle, co-founder, president and CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Dex Imaging Inc. “He didn’t take a paycheck. That’s what he wanted.”

Doyle knew giving away a third of the company’s profits would be a tall order to fill. But he also felt confident that with his and his father’s expertise in the office imaging industry — Doyle Sr. sold a previous business for $3.5 billion — they could build Dex Imaging into a high-growth document imaging dealership.

So he accepted his father’s terms. In fact, he took it a step further, agreeing to distribute another third of top line profits back to the company’s noncommissioned employees.

After all, “It’s not easy to negotiate with your father,” Doyle says.

Since the duo co-founded Dex in 2002, they’ve successfully fulfilled their commitment to giving two-thirds of its profits to employees and local not-for-profits. And in the meantime, they’ve still managed to grow the business from $1 million to $100 million in revenue, spreading its footprint to 24 locations across five states and 560 employees.

Here’s how Doyle keeps Dex Imaging profitable while taking care of its employees and the community.

Make it more than money

Starting out, it was pretty easy for Dex Imaging to meet financial commitments to employees and not-for-profits, Doyle says. For one, the company had just 14 employees. But also, Doyle and his father had been involved in the Tampa community and done business there for some time. The area’s recent struggles motivated them to take on a bigger role with Dex.

“It was during a time when the banks were getting all rolled up and moving to Charlotte County in the Bay Area as well as other areas in Florida,” Doyle says. “So Tampa banks used to support all the not-for-profits, and that kind of diminished as the banks moved their headquarters.”

However, as they opened new offices in other cities, not everyone understood the giving back philosophy and its significance for the organization. Profit-sharing was an easy concept for people to grasp. But Doyle wanted the community involvement to be equally valued by employee and the company culture.

“In the beginning, people kind of questioned us,” Doyle says.

“What our management learned is it’s easy to sit there and say, ‘Yes,’ and find people and not-for-profits that are looking for money. But then we would quiz them on ‘OK, well why did we support this cause?’”

To connect people to the why, Doyle asks each branch of the company to choose which not-for-profit they want to support with the third of their profits. And recognizing that every branch operates somewhat differently, he also leaves how they decide up to them.

Some offices meet weekly to discuss organizations they’re interested in supporting, while others get together monthly or quarterly to talk about their plans and criteria.

“We don’t dictate how we should do it and how they should look at each not-for-profit,” Doyle says. “I just want to know that they’re involved with it, they understand it and that they’re willing to commit themselves to it.”

For Doyle, the main concern before committing the money is whether or not people have done their due diligence. So he likes to ask staff as each branch questions to make sure they’ve dug deeper. For example, “How many dollars end up back in the local community’s hands?” and “What support is the organization most in need of?”

“See if they can give you a little background besides just the title or the name,” Doyle says. “If they said Boys and Girls Club, do they say, ‘Oh, they help boys and girls,’ and kind of waffle on it? Or do they say, ‘They get into this particular cause and they’re finding matches, or we’re supporting the program that helps grandparents that are taking care of grandchildren because the parents are deadbeats?’”

As a leader, asking the tough questions helps employees understand their reasons for getting involved with a not-for-profit. By making them dig deeper, you encourage people to choose missions or causes that speak to them personally and will motivate them to make a bigger impact.

That’s certainly the case at Dex, where many employees give back their time to their chosen organizations beyond  the profit contribution, whether it’s serving on boards and committees, getting involved in events, or just reaching into their own pockets to support a cause, Doyle says.

“The only way to really get into it is to understand that particular organization,” he says.

“It wasn’t just that somebody sent them a letter and they agreed to it.”

It’s also a point of pride when employees see your company’s name linked to organizations they feel benefit their local communities.

“People come in with their son’s or daughter’s soccer league, asking can we sponsor that — all the way to their church or their school, to bigger events that are hosted by whatever city,” Doyle says. “And it’s pride. They see our company’s name associated with these things and people are proud of it.”

Give more to get more

Today, Dex has minimal employee turnover. But the company’s people philosophies don’t just help it retain employees. They’re also a way to attract new talent to the company.

“We know we’ve done a good job when people say, ‘Hey, are you hiring?’” Doyle says. “When we’re hiring people, we tell them the story and they’re hooked on it.”

But making big commitments to people can’t just be a story. You also have to follow through.

During the economic recession, many of Doyle’s employees wondered whether the company would stick with its commitment to distribute two-thirds of its profits to employees and their not-for-profit causes.

“In 2009, I was nervous because — especially in Florida — it wasn’t the best financial year for anybody,” Doyle says. “We’d made some commitments to some local not-for-profits. But it would have been great to have the money sitting in our bank as a reserve.”

Despite the challenges, Doyle says the decision to stick with the commitment was a no-brainer.

“I was brought up under the philosophy that the more you give, the more you get,” he says. “So it keeps your pencil sharp, but it motivates you and it pushes you.

“When we stretched ourselves when we gave a third back to employees — and actually we gave them a little more than a third because we didn’t want anybody hurt — it took everybody by surprise. And once they realized that we were sticking to that and making sure that they were receiving their checks, they realized that we were going to stick to the other third going to not-for-profits.

“It was just another one of those moments where they go to raise their head above some other companies that either went by the wayside or turned the other way.”

The key is view community giving as an investment rather than a donation, Doyle says.

“The theory behind it was if we can support our local community and make it stronger, businesses will thrive,” he says. “And if businesses thrive — our business is very dependent upon other businesses thriving — we will thrive.”

The same goes for employees. Investing a third of your profits back into your people obviously has a positive impact on employee morale. But it also gives Dex a competitive advantage. Much of the company’s business is service-related. So when its service technicians have a real vested interest in retaining customers, it creates a better experience for customers.

“Having control of their financial destiny also empowers employees to take on bigger roles in decision-making — something the company already encourages with its hands-off management style.

“So we try to push them to make a decision today,” Doyle says.

“If they think the customer is right, they should give them that credit. And don’t wait and tell the customer, ‘I’ve got to look into it. I’ll call you back.’ That’s the thing people hate the most. People hate being put off.”

To show people he walks the talk, Doyle also subscribes to the management philosophy of leading by example. He knows that employees want to be a part of companies that have leaders who look out for their best interests and the interests of their community.

Sometimes that requires stepping back, for example, when it helps to empower employees. When he sees one of his managers getting overly involved in their people’s decisions, he likes to remind them that micromanaging goes both ways.

“I always ask them if they’d like me to get more hands on,” he says. “If I feel like they might be micromanaging, I’ll say, ‘Do you want me looking at every decision you make every day? And they always say, ‘Well, no.’ And that works doesn’t it?”

Other times it’s about modeling the values he wants to instill in the organization. Doyle serves on numerous not-for-profits boards as well as committees to support causes that inspire him — showing his people that even the CEO can take time to give back.

“I’ve explained to our management that ‘Look, I’m willing to sacrifice my time and my family time to do this,’ and I expect the same from them,” he says. “But they also see what it gets back.”

Admit what you can do

A big concern with giving away a percentage of your company’s profits is what happens if you don’t have the money. What if I need to fund an acquisition, hire new staff or cut costs during a recession? Doyle knows these challenges all too well.

“I don’t think any of us would have predicted what happened at the end of 2008 and 2009,” Doyle says.

“The fear always is that you give away a third of your profits and that’s a third of your profits you could have had as a nest egg, just in case you do end up in a financial crisis.”

But instead of avoiding profit-sharing initiatives, Doyle simply advises businesses considering these kinds of people strategies to be realistic. Don’t overcommit.

“Obviously, the more people see your name out there supporting local causes, the more local causes come to you, which is good and bad,” he says. “You get to learn a lot about local charities that might be small that are underfunded and have a tremendous impact on our community. But it also comes to a point where you have to turn down certain not-for-profits, which is always tough.”

People involved with not-for-profits are typically pretty passionate. And obviously, you don’t want to destroy anybody’s dreams or hopes. But you also need to make sure you don’t promise more than what you can deliver.

“You have to keep in mind that there are things out of your control that might have a financial impact on your organization,” Doyle says. “We took a philosophy that we’re going to push ourselves by donating a third, and even if we give away that third, we can still survive any storm. Obviously, it’s been tested just going through 2009. So just keep that in mind. Don’t overextend yourself.”

One way the company stays accountable to its commitments is by being incredibly transparent about its financials. Three times a year, Doyle convenes all of Dex’s employees at a town-hall meeting, where he goes over the company’s financials.

By letting employees know exactly where the company stands, you show them that everyone is in it together. So the better you do as a company, the bigger impact the company can have for them and their community.

Every now and then Doyle may have a branch overcommit to a not-for-profit. But in these cases, the company has always been able to back up their donation from corporate.

How did Doyle know a third would be a doable percentage for Dex? Well, he didn’t.

“To be honest with you, that was a total crapshoot,” he says. “That was just a deal I cut with my dad.”

So how should you set your goals for community giving? Doyle suggests coming up with a figure that you can stick to as you grow. That way you’ll be able to see your company’s success pay off.

“When we started, we were very small,” Doyle says. “So the impact locally wasn’t big. Now, you look at it, and the last year, we gave away almost $4 million.”

How to reach: Dex Imaging Inc., (800) 886-2329 or www.deximaging.com

Takeaways:

  • Connect people to the organizations they’re helping.
  • View giving back as an investment.
  • Don’t overcommit.

 

The Doyle File

Dan Doyle Jr.

Co-founder, president and CEO

Dex Imaging Inc.

Born: Baltimore, Md., but has lived in Florida since he was five.

Education: Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job?

I would probably work in the marine industry. I love boats.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

I meet my father for breakfast every morning.  This is where the two of us have time to talk about whatever is on our minds with no disruptions.

What do you to regroup on a tough day? 

I walk the seawall behind my house with my 6-year-old son. He loves the outdoors and all living creatures and loves to talk about them.

What do you do for fun? 

I hang out with my family. My wife and I both love having our kids around. We go out for dinner every year on our anniversary with all of them. It’s just fun to spend time with them and hear what they have to say.

Where would you like to go that you’ve never been? 

I would love to go to the Galapagos Islands.

Friday, 16 November 2012 16:09

The importance of empathy in the workplace

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Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.

Simply put, empathy is the ability to step into someone else's shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs.

In the workplace, empathy can show a deep respect for co-workers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale and loyalty. Empathy is a powerful tool in the leadership belt of a well-liked and respected executive.

We could all take a lesson from nurses about being empathetic. Time and again, nurses rate as the most trusted profession. Why? Because they use proper empathy to make patients feel cared for and safe.

Over the years I have discovered that most people who score high on assessments for empathy have no idea why. They do not completely understand what it is they actually do that makes others see them as empathetic. They can only express that they:

 

 

  • Like people.

 

 

  • Enjoy working with and helping others.

 

 

  • Value people as individuals.

 

 

In order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the importance of empathy in the workplace, I will pose four questions regarding the nature, role and benefits of empathy.

1.    Why does it matter for us to understand the needs of others?

By understanding others we develop closer relationships.

The radar of every good executive just went off when they read the word “relationships.” This is not a bad thing since most people understand the problems that happen when improper relationships are developed in the workplace.

This being said, the baby cannot be thrown out with the bath water. In order for a team of workers and their leaders to work powerfully together, proper relationships must be built and deepened.

When this happens through empathy, trust is built in the team. When trust is built, good things begin to happen.

2.    What traits/behaviors distinguish someone as empathetic?

Empathy requires three things: listening, openness and understanding.

Empathetic people listen attentively to what you’re telling them, putting their complete focus on the person in front of them and not getting easily distracted. They spend more time listening than talking because they want to understand the difficulties others face, all of which helps to give those around them the feeling of being heard and recognized.

Empathetic executives and managers realize that the bottom line of any business is only reached through and with people. Therefore, they have an attitude of openness towards and understanding of the feelings and emotions of their team members.

3.    What role does empathy play in the workplace? Why does it matter?

When we understand our team, we have a better idea of the challenges ahead of us.

To drive home the above point, further consider these:

 

 

  • Empathy allows us to feel safe with our failures because we won’t simply be blamed for them.

 

 

  • It encourages leaders to understand the root cause behind poor performance.

 

 

  • Being empathetic allows leaders to help struggling employees improve and excel.

 

 

Empathy plays a major role in the workplace for every organization that will deal with failures, poor performance and employees who truly want to succeed. As leaders, our role is simple—deal empathetically with our team and watch them build a strong and prosperous organization.

4.    So why aren’t we being more empathetic at work?

Empathy takes work.

 

 

  • Demonstrating empathy takes time and effort to show awareness and understanding.

 

 

  • It’s not always easy to understand why an employee thinks or feels the way they do about a situation.

 

 

  • It means putting others ahead of yourself, which can be a challenge in today’s competitive workplace.

 

 

  • Many organizations are focused on achieving goals no matter what the cost to employees.

 

 

Each of these reasons can be seen as true.

Let me ask a question though: What distinguishes average to mediocre leaders from those who excel?

In my opinion, the distinction comes through the ability of the leader who actively works against all the so-called “reasons” and incorporates an attitude of empathy throughout his or her organization. That type of leader will excel.

By spending more time learning about the needs of their employees, leaders can set the tone and approach taken by their employees to achieve their organization’s goals.

When writing about empathy I am reminded of the famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This is a truth that has long stood the test of time. It is true for our relationships in and out of the workplace.

DeLores Pressleymotivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.

She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email atinfo@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

Roadblocks abound in business. Most business owners have been told, “No, we won’t fund your great invention.” Most executives have been told, “We’re not ready yet” to enter that wide-open, new market. But how they respond to those obstacles, the “no”s that are inevitable, is often a good indicator of who will ultimately succeed.

The first step is to step back and assess the causes of the opposition. That likely requires asking probing questions to get insight about the reasons and reasoning behind the rejection. The banker who rejected your idea may have valuable insight into your industry sector, information that could affect how you choose to proceed.

While data gathering, also probe for guidance on how to make your proposal stronger, when to re-pitch your proposal and who else may have decision-making or decision-influencing authority.  The goal should be to identify possible avenues for future appeals.

Armed with the new information, it’s useful to then take a look back at where you are in relation to your goals for the project. Review and celebrate your successes. It will give you the energy to continue onward. But measuring your results, as well as who helped you accomplish the past results, also may shed light on who may be able to guide or assist you in your next steps.

Now, modify your strategy. Every rejection should be viewed as an opportunity to improve. Your planned adjustments should be listed and scheduled. Then, as you progress in making changes, you will be able to see your accomplishments and have a record of how you responded to different scenarios for future reference. It also will give you a clear return on investment in time and energy spent and keep you centered on progress.

Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.

There are many pressures on organizations to make the most out of every customer interaction and maximize the return on investment on marketing and sales spend. However, businesses often don’t have the work force necessary to handle these functions as timely and effectively as they would like or the tools and processes in place to measure and track success. Companies that are able to track interaction, engagement, investments and customer patterns and behaviors often enlist the help of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

“A CRM tool helps businesses manage sales, marketing and customer service operations without significantly expanding their work force,” says Gina Rosen, a consultant at Columbus. “CRM, in the past, may have been nice to have — a luxury technology, but in today’s marketplace, it’s a must have to stay competitive.”

Smart Business spoke with Rosen about CRM, its applications and how it has helped businesses improve processes to better engage customers, target sales and gauge marketing effectiveness.

What are the typical features offered by a CRM system?

The features offered by CRM are very diverse. It’s primary applications are contact management; marketing automation; sales force automation; sales and lead management; reporting and analytics; call center and case management, particularly with respect to customer inquiries or complaints; workflow automation, or automating manual processes; and social media integrations. Businesses have the option for on-premise solutions where the software is hosted at the business on its servers, or they can utilize a Web-based or cloud option, which involves less initial financial investment. The software can also be customized to meet the particular needs of a business.

Is CRM cost prohibitive for businesses?

No it is not, however, had this question been asked six or seven years ago the answer would have been yes. Previously, enterprise-ready CRM software required significant funds to get the software and hardware in place. But with the advent of cloud-based solutions, even businesses run by a sole proprietor can afford CRM and leverage its applications to optimize processes. The cloud-based model allows business owners to pay through subscriptions that charge per user. The pay per user cloud-based model offers a low-cost opportunity to implement CRM, experience the value and see the return on investment (ROI).

What are the most compelling reasons an organization would implement CRM technology?

A recent survey of 200 top-performing small and medium-sized businesses showed that the number one reason businesses implement CRM software is to establish data-based metrics for sales and marketing. It also provides the ability to show ROI and quantitative key marketing metrics that mean a lot to businesses.

The second reason CRM is implemented is to proactively communicate with customers. Customers expect a lot these days, and one of those expectations is that businesses, whether small or large, interact with them. To stay in front of your customers and offer personal interaction is critical.

Within that same vein, the third reason companies take advantage of this software is for custom-targeted sales and marketing. With CRM you can customize that end user experience, which makes your sales force more effective. Customers can interact directly with your CRM custom solution through your existing website and experience a tailored visit based on previous interactions, or your sales force can utilize the standard feature when interacting with customers and have all of a customer’s history available in one spot.

What are the most important value drivers for CRM?

The top value for a business is the software’s ability to help manage marketing and sales campaigns. CRM can help businesses test marketing and distribution strategies and gauge customer reactions. This information can be applied to future marketing efforts.

Another important value driver is that the software serves as a customer data repository, allowing you to consolidate customer knowledge within the organization in CRM. This includes far more than just contact details, but also customer behaviors and attitudes and price sensitivity. This, combined with personal data, can allow businesses to build more effective and predictive sales models and marketing campaigns that result in higher sales.

Further, CRM systems can help demonstrate ROI. With CRM you can quantitatively show increases in sales, customer referrals and participation in promotions.

What is the most common challenge a business faces when implementing CRM?

Typically the challenge is user adoption — getting your sales force and front line users to embrace CRM. They often see populating the fields as double entry, an extra step, or another way for management to check in on them. But once the sales force sees that using the software results in more sales, they can easily overcome that hurdle.

What are the most common performance metrics?

The top one, hands down, is revenue growth. The faster you can show ROI the better.

Second is growth in a business’s customer base, which means adding new customers or converting leads into paying customers.

The third most common performance metric is aggregating customer data. Many companies have customer data spread out over disparate systems. CRM gives businesses a one-stop shop for their records.

Can you give us some examples of companies that have benefited from implementing CRM?

The Toledo Mud Hens baseball team, which works within the media and entertainment industry, had ticket sales go up 88 percent in one year and their internal operations couldn’t keep up with demand. Adopting CRM allowed them to automate and streamline inefficient processes, which translated into more ticket sales. A customer testimonial is available with more information.

Another example is the human resources consulting firm Findley Davies. Implementing CRM in their call center has given them the ability to manage daily responsibilities and track productivity. It has dramatically changed and improved day-to-day operations within their Benefits Administration department.

Gina Rosen is a consultant at Columbus. Contact her at (248) 850-2195 or mva@columbusglobal.com.

With more than 20 years in the market and 6,000 successful business implementations, Columbus is a preferred Microsoft Dynamics business partner for ambitious companies. Columbus’ key deliverables include flexible and future-safe ERP, CRM, BI and related business applications that deliver competitive advantage and immediate impact.

 

Polly LaBarre is the co-author (with Bill Taylor) of “Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win.” The strategies, tactics and advice in “Mavericks at Work” grew out of in-depth access to a collection of forward-looking companies. These maverick companies are attracting millions of customers, creating thousands of jobs and generating billions of dollars of wealth.

Here is a portion of my interview with LaBarre about the book, which covers forming strategies, unleashing ideas, connecting with customers and enabling employees to achieve great results.

Q: Describe what you mean by “maverick.”

A: Mavericks are different, edgy and independent of spirit. Their personal style or message may not appeal to everyone. But that’s precisely the point. Mavericks are defined by the power and originality of their ideas. They stand out from the crowd because they stand for something truly unique. What’s more, they take stands against the status quo, in defiance of the industry elite and offer compelling alternatives to business as usual. Mavericks may be fighters, but they’re not rebels without a cause. Their sense of purpose is not only powerfully distinct (Think: Southwest Airline’s quest to democratize the skies); it’s provocative and disruptive (Think: HBO’s declaration of originality, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO”).

Don’t confuse mavericks’ unswerving commitment to a cause and their lack of patience for the status quo with the egotism, monomania and power mongering modeled by too many celebrity CEOs and moguls. Mavericks, in fact, have a sense of humility.

Q: Are mavericks born or made?

A: It’s probably a little bit nature, a little bit nurture. We wrote this book to nurture the maverick in all businesspeople. What red-blooded working person wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says, ‘I think I’ll stand for business as usual today’? We all want to make a mark, forge our own path and express ourselves in the world. It’s just that some of us need more of a nudge down that path than others.

Hopefully, the maverick individuals and ideas we present are inspiring and instructive enough to move people. The 32 companies we feature have vastly different histories, cultures and business models. We examined glamorous fields like fashion, advertising and Hollywood, as well as old-line industries like construction, mining and household products. The maverick leaders of these organizations are young, old, women, men, Americans, Europeans, charismatic and preacher-like, retiring and almost reticent. They just don’t fit any one mold.

Q: How does a maverick survive within a traditional company?

A: We encountered a bunch of mavericks inside big traditional companies. They all seemed to have a couple of survival strategies in common: They unleashed tough questions and critiques of their organization without losing their sense of loyalty to it. They’re the kind of questions every CEO should be asking. For example, Jane Harper asked of IBM, ‘Why would great people want to work here?’ And Larry Huston, now vice president of innovation at Procter & Gamble, argued, ‘The current business model for R&D is broken. How can P&G possibly build all of the scientific capabilities we need by ourselves?’

Mavericks don’t just ask questions, they act. We saw this again and again: They just got started, usually without a budget or formal permission, by designing an experiment around their question. Jane Harper launched an experimental Extreme Blue lab in Cambridge and spent a couple of years begging and borrowing resources until the program’s impact became clear.

Mavericks look for peers and fellow travelers outside the boundaries of their company. Not surprisingly, mavericks tend to click when they meet other mavericks. They’re great networkers and learners and are always looking for kindred spirits for support and ideas.

Q: Who is the quintessential maverick in American business?

A: Herb Kelleher and the team at Southwest Airlines. In the midst of the financial carnage and heartaches of the airline business, there’s one company that keeps growing, keeps creating jobs and keeps generating wealth. And that, of course, is Southwest. Southwest didn’t achieve these results because its fares were a little lower than Delta’s or its service was a little friendlier than United’s. It achieved those results because it reimagined what it meant to be an airline. If you ask Herb Kelleher what business he’s in, he won’t say the airline business or the transportation business. He’ll say that Southwest is in the freedom business. The purpose of Southwest is to democratize the skies, to make it as easy and affordable for rank-and-file Americans to travel as it is for the well-to-do. That’s a pretty commonplace idea today but largely because Southwest fought the entrenched conventions of the industry so doggedly in pursuit of that purpose. Its unrivaled success is based on its unique sense of mission rather than any breakthrough technology or unprecedented business insight.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at kawasaki@garage.com.