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Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Identity master

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What’s in a name? Quite a bit if you ask Daymond John, founder of clothing manufacturer FUBU and star of the hit TV show “Shark Tank.”

“Having a strong brand, whether corporate or personal, always creates a halo effect,” John says. “A lot of time, that’s the only thing that separates you from everybody else.”

Standing out from the pack was John’s intent when he named his nascent company FUBU, an acronym for “For Us, By Us” that conveyed the business’s original, largely African-American target market.

John has since stretched the FUBU brand to reach a broader market and expanded into entertainment-related products and services. Yet, he has always remained true to serving the company’s core customer.

“It always comes back to the mission statement and the base,” he says. “Like a building, if you have a weak base, the building will crumble. Whatever the identity and the product you’re building, you have to stay true to that first.”

John’s new book, “The Brand Within,” hit bookshelves in April. In it, he explains how branding relationships have become integrated with everything we do — from buying products and services to determining which television shows we watch, what music we listen to and the food we eat.

Smart Business caught up to John, the 2003 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winner in the retail category of the New York City region, and discussed the importance of personal brands, how to nurture a company’s identity and why you better sum your identity up in three words.

Q. How can a company benefit from having a strong brand?

In a tough time like this, when everybody is holding their purses and wallets very close, (what) they will end up spending the money on are the brands they are comfortable with because the brand is portrayed as something that gives them a comfort level.

Q. Should CEOs view their brand identity as an asset that can be managed, nourished, invested in and leveraged?

A lot of people or companies try to chase the market. If you chase the market, then you’re behind the market. ... So you always have to stay true to your customer base and what you created, but you have to come up with innovative ways and take those leaps and bounds and chances to improve the brand you have.

I believe that every brand should be able to be spoken about in three words. Whether it’s BMW — fine German engineering — or any other company, you need to be able to wrap up your whole mission statement and identity in three words.

Q. In your book, you detail how people are brands just as much as companies are brands. What does that say about the power of a personal brand?

A personal brand is actually more effective than a corporate brand because everything starts with a person. Think about it. If Steve Jobs gets sick, the brand itself, the stock, goes down 20 percent.

As a personal brand, you’re judged hundreds, thousands and, if you’re on television, millions of times a day. You’re selling every single action you take and every single word you speak. You’re selling yourself, and that is the brand you represent or own. That’s why that’s more important than anything else.

Q. Are there warning signs you’re stretching your brand too far?

Yes. Once you put it out there in that space — and you have to find creative ways to put it out there these days — and people just don’t like it, support it or ... are appalled by it.

The days of focus groups ... are over because you have the Twitters of the world. These people don’t owe you anything. You’re trickling it out there and putting out test balloons and seeing what happens.

You can’t have thin skin. People fall in love with their brands and ideas and don’t want to listen to anyone else and hear that they do have an issue. ... Egos have taken down way too many companies.

How to reach: Daymond John, www.daymondjohn.com

As the regional winners from Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards are announced later this month at awards recognition banquets across the U.S., it’s not too early to be thinking ahead for the CEO invitation-only Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum 2010, which will be held Nov. 10-14 in Palm Springs, Calif.

This program convenes more than 1,500 of the nation’s top CEOs, entrepreneurs, advisers, investors and other senior business leaders and is the country’s most prestigious gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies.

The forum delivers leading business advice designed to help entrepreneurs master strategies for company growth, discuss ideas on the transaction market and available capital, learn the critical success factors of mergers, acquisitions and IPOs, hear inspiring stories from game-changing entrepreneurs, and meet potential customers, investors, partners, acquisition targets and buyers.

It concludes with the 24th national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® awards, the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in America, hosted by Jay Leno.

This year’s speaker lineup includes a who’s who of business, such as:

  • Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO, The Coca-Cola Co.
  • A.G. Lafley, former chairman of the board, president and CEO, Procter & Gamble
  • Deepak Chopra, co-founder, The Chopra Center for Wellbeing
  • Tom Adams, CEO, Rosetta Stone
  • Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Jeffrey Joerres, chairman and CEO, Manpower Inc.
  • Rob Enslin, president, SAP North America
  • Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder and CEO, Boston-Power Inc.
  • Debi Fine, president and CEO, Direct Brands
  • Greg Norman, professional golfer and entrepreneur

Learn more at www.ey.com/us/strategicgrowthforum.

Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

3 Questions

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Kevin Gillen is the regional president for Metro D.C. and Florida, which includes South Florida, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Prior to being appointed to his current position, Gillen served for 10 years as the market manager for the bank’s central market, which includes portions of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Q. Communication is important, but how else can a business develop a strong relationship with its bank?

Whether or not you’re using your bank for treasury cash management services or credit, your accountant, your attorney and your banker are absolutely essential. Is the bank safe? Do they have the capacity and capability to lend money? Safety today is a huge concern for businesses of all sizes. The ability to work with a safe bank that is well-capitalized and well-run is an indication that the bank is not going to go through a merger or an acquisition.

Q. Is it any more difficult now than it was in 2009 for a business to obtain a loan from a bank?

The underwriting standards and parameters have definitely been tightened throughout the industry, and in many cases, rightfully so. I’ll just throw out one example. If you have a lender who might have done a credit at 1-to-1 or a buck-ten, and you haven’t done any kind of sensitivity analysis in there and there’s a problem, any number of things could happen. I just think you’re setting your customer up. While the customer may think they need and want us, a certain level of debt and the access to credit is a crapshoot, especially if they haven’t been able to demonstrate the ability to support that in the past.

Q. What general advice do you give your own clients today?

Small and medium businesses, especially today, have to do a budget and it has to be updated a minimum of once a quarter. The other important tool is a monthly cash-flow analysis. What did I sell? What did I bill? What did I collect? What was my beginning cash? What did I pay out in all my bills? What’s my ending cash? At the end of the day, there is no better tool.

Friday, 26 March 2010 20:00

Group effort

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At times, Mark Lettelleir and his employees at Modern Business Associates have experienced a huge influx of clients and many last-minute tasks had to be completed, resulting in all-nighters for the employees at the human resources company. But Lettelleir isn’t wishing them luck as he’s walking out the door. Instead, he’s getting his hands dirty with the rest of the team.

“Being a leader is also being somebody who is willing to dig in, and those people respect you and they know you’ve walked a mile in their shoes already,” says Lettelleir, founder and CEO of the company, which posted approximately $450 million in 2008 revenue.

Lettelleir isn’t helping out because he doesn’t trust his people. He’s not doing it because his people aren’t capable of completing the task. And he’s not doing it because he doesn’t have anything better to do.

He’s doing it because he is part of the team, and if that’s what it takes to help make the company successful, then so be it.

“I was here all night with them helping move data over here and rolling up my sleeves and doing whatever needed to be done,” he says. “Did I have great people here to do it? Yes. Could I have gone home and gone to sleep? Yeah. But I don’t think that sends the right message to your people.”

Instead, employees get the message that he is ready to tackle any challenge, which rubs off on them.

“They were willing to go the extra mile, because they knew that I was willing to do the same thing and that we were going to do it together as a team,” he says. “I just think it sends a message that we are all on the same team and we are all willing to pitch in and help wherever we need to.”

Pitching in is just one way to help create a team environment. If you reach out to every level of the company, you’ll find good ideas that can help your company grow.

Communicate with all levels

There was a great idea floating around the offices of MBA, but no one was doing anything about it. The company talked about digitizing everything it was doing, but the company thought it would be too expensive, and the idea was tabled.

However, during an employee group lunch with Lettelleir, someone brought the idea up again. This time, someone in the IT department knew of a way to make the idea a reality.

“What’s nice is our clients can now go onto the Web and they can actually pull up the documentation that they faxed or e-mailed over to us,” he says.

The idea helped sell some clients shortly thereafter because they were attracted to the electronic process.

No one planned the lunch to discuss the idea and there may not have even been a plan to bring up the idea, but because Lettelleir created the opportunity to interact with employees and for employees to interact with each other, there was initiative to push the idea forward.

“It starts a conversation that never would have took place, because they would have thought it was a dumb idea or, ‘I think it’s a good idea, but I’m not going to put my neck out there,’” he says.

Creating opportunities for you to get to know employees and employees to get to know each other is a major driver of developing a team environment.

Not only can great ideas come out of it, but it also gets people talking, which is sometimes hard when people are in silos working on daily tasks.

Of course, as you grow, that becomes more difficult as you spend more time on big-picture strategies and you add more employees.

Lettelleir ran into that problem as MBA grew from 20 employees to 100, but he didn’t completely stop trying. When the company was smaller, Lettelleir would take a new employee out to lunch to welcome him or her to the company and to get to know that person. But that has became harder as more employees joined, so he started the “12 at 12” program.

“I get 12 people from all different departments and have lunch in the conference room and just kind of go around and find out where everybody is from and if they have family and what their interests are,” he says. “I just kind of get a little flare for what they do and then give them an open forum to ask questions.”

Lettelleir likes to do the lunch every month, but sometimes because of his schedule, he can only do it every other month. Employees are randomly selected from different departments, but he tries to invite newer employees who haven’t participated before. You want to keep the number of people participating at one time small, because the bigger the group, the less people will want to talk.

“We have a monthly team meeting where everybody is there, but when you’ve got 100 people, it’s less likely somebody has a question or anything else that they are going to raise their hand in the middle of a big group,” he says. “This gives them a little bit of a forum to ask questions and offer ideas and advice.”

You will get some great ideas in forums like this, but you will also get a number of suggestions that don’t work. In that case, you have to explain to the person who came up with the idea why you can’t use it.

“I definitely think it is important to explain that and certainly get their buy-in, because you don’t want them walking away with the answer of, ‘No, we’re not going to do that,’” he says. “Because then it squashes their reason for even wanting to talk out loud and express their ideas and come to the table with something new.”

It also helps to be honest and admit that you know not everyone is going to see your side of things.

“One of the things that I preach from our end is, ‘You’re not going to always agree with my decision, but I hope you will at least understand my reasons for making that decision,’” he says.

“I try to get everybody’s feedback, and I encourage our department heads and managers to do the same. Get everybody’s feedback. Get the information because there may be something you are missing or don’t know about. Get it all and then make the decision and if somebody doesn’t agree with the decision, at least explain why you are making that decision.”

Keep the door open

While driving around one day, an employee at MBA noticed three new restaurants were opening in the area. Instead of making a note of three new places she could dine at in the future, she brought the names, addresses and phone numbers of the potential clients to Lettelleir.

He expressed his appreciation for the information and told the employee he would let her know how it turns out. It may turn into nothing, but the fact that the employee brought the potential clients to the boss speaks volumes. Lettelleir is constantly preaching an open-door policy for himself and all managers.

“If they see that they have success, and what I mean by success is that they get in, talk to me, and that I’m really listening and taking their ideas into account, I think that message is going to come back and filter down,” he says. “At least I hope so, and I think it has for the most part.”

In a perfect world, you’d talk about an open-door policy and situations like the above would happen all the time. You’d get information that you can use, and employees would take all of their other issues to the individuals who should be dealing with them.

However, if you drive an effective open-door policy, you may hear things that are someone else’s responsibility.

“It’s important to express the message down to your people,” he says. “Not only your management team but even … to your line-level workers that, ‘We have a lot of stuff to do and everything is important, but let’s make sure we prioritize what we need to bring to the forefront. If there are small issues, if it’s facility-driven or anything else, talk to so-and-so.’”

You also have to be careful not to get caught up in employees jockeying for a better position in the company

“When you have an organization that is large, there is going to be office politics,” he says. “Even each department has their groups. I don’t think you can avoid that aspect. But I think the key is, in this case, I listen to it and I listen to the situation, but I also say, ‘Have you talked with your department head about this and what was their take on it?’”

If people feel they can come directly to you, they may get in that habit and start viewing you as someone they report to directly.

“The one thing you don’t want is you don’t want to have somebody who’s playing office politics and trying to go around managers,” he says. “That’s why I said, I may listen to people, but the first thing I will say is, ‘Have you brought this up to your supervisor or your department head?’

“Because, I don’t want to see people going ... behind people’s backs because that does cause problems and it does create issues.”

Some managers will feel uneasy because an employee may jump ranks and go directly to someone above his or her manager with information or an issue.

“Unfortunately, some managers, they get paranoid, if you will, about their people and what goes on in between them and who they are talking to,” he says. “I think sometimes that part of the problem is not necessarily the line worker but more the manager and their insecurity with handling situations.”

To deal with that insecurity, you have to handle it promptly and directly.

“The best thing to do is meet it head-on and talk to them … and reassure them that you have their back and that you are on board with them,” he says. “But also encourage them to develop their people. There’s no bigger compliment then having one of your people that used to work for you move up into a management-type position or continue to grow because that means that you did a great job in developing them through the ranks and as a leader.

“What I think people do sometimes is they try to keep people at bay because they get concerned that they are going to try to take over their job.

“But they should be developing their people and getting them to grow and get better. That’s the way we are going to grow as an organization is with a stronger team.”

Having a cohesive work environment will help build that stronger team to get the job done.

“That open door and making sure that people understand and know that they are part of the team, I think they are willing to do anything,” he says. “They are willing to push it to do whatever needs to be done to get the job done.”

How to reach: Modern Business Associates, (888) 622-6460 or www.mbapeo.com

Thursday, 25 February 2010 19:00

Readying for health care reform

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Daniel Touizer doesn’t know what his company will be dealing with next year. But that doesn’t mean he’s not ready for it.

“We’re always researching the industry for ideas to bring in-house and coming up with new strategies that’ll make our company stronger and more profitable,” says Touizer, the chairman and CEO of Cinergy Health Inc.

Leaders have always had to prepare for uncertainty, but it seems like change is now the norm — especially for Touizer, who is staying tuned to the health care reform discussion that could change the health insurance industry.

Smart Business spoke to Touizer about preparing for changes you can’t control.

Q. What advice would you give leaders for staying on top of external changes?

Listen, there’s a lot of regulation coming down in many industries. Stay abreast of what those regulations are to make sure they wouldn’t impact where you’re headed in business.

You just need to make sure that your business is always preparing for certain changes … that you can’t stop. But you have to keep your company alive so you have to plan ahead and make sure you have other strategies so that you can weather any of those storms and still have a viable business model.

Always look for other opportunities because you never know where you can uncover an opportunity that never existed a day ago. You have to stay in tune and keep your eyes open because that opportunity can be the one that can really turn things around for you.

As a leader, I’m really thinking one year, two years ahead and taking steps now that will ensure that — even if health care reform does move my business in a different direction — that we can survive and prosper for many years.

[Leaders need to] be ready with other strategies so they can keep their customers, their employees and their shareholders happy. That’s what a leader needs do: Always be accountable for the future of the business. Always be the leader and the visionary, because no one else will do it unless you do. So leaders need to be on top of their game and be ready to make changes and just plan ahead.

Q. How are you preparing Cinergy for what may come?

In my industry, you really can’t tell what’s going to finally happen. You still have the public option, which is looming, and no one knows if it’s going to be in the bill, if it’s not going to be in the bill. And if it is in the bill, does it end up crushing health insurance companies because of the way that public plan will operate?

So if that’s the case, then as a national insurance agency, we look into now creating different products in the insurance industry that are not health-related, such as life insurance, dental insurance, property and casualty insurance — other lines of insurance that we can market the same way using the same marketing principles.

If health care were affected in a very bad way businesswise, we would survive because we would be involved in other distribution platforms. And if health care reform doesn’t affect the health care industry, we will just have grown our business and done things to enhance revenue and profits. Either way, it’s a win-win. It’s offensive and defensive, and that’s always a good approach.

Q. How do you keep customers and employees reassured during change?

With customers, we just let them know that we’re always going to do as best we can given the framework that we have to work with; that no matter what, there’s going to be someone on the other end of the phone to help them. There’s some external things — like health care reform, let’s say — that even consumers understand companies have no control of. But we field the call. We take the time to speak to our customers, to educate them if they hear things that they’re frightened about. We’ll take the time to give them the facts so they’re not as panicked.

There’s always things you can’t control. But you can control what you do inside your company. We’re controlling the customers to service them the right way so that we keep them. We’re controlling how we compensate our people to stay competitive so that we can retain them when the market’s getting very competitive. We try to control the environment where they work so they’re happy and they have no reason to go anywhere.

You need to communicate — very important. I’ll pull [employees] into my office and say, ‘Hey listen, we’re going through such-and-such situation, and I want you to know that I really value your input. This is what companies are all about: sticking together and getting through anything.’ So when they feel that bond, it goes a long way.

I’ll even sometimes give a little extra financial compensation at a time like that because that really seals it where they feel that not only are they feeling that bond, but their work is even valued more.

A little goes a long way in times of big change because it makes people feel that they’re part of the change or they’re being valued for the extra effort they’re putting in in a time of change. That makes people feel part of a team. They can weather the storm better when they feel included and reinforced by leaders that, hey, we’re all family, we’ll get through anything together.

That’s usually a good way to make them feel comfortable even through rocky times, as opposed to being hush-hush and having people with question marks in their mind. That usually breeds uncertainty in people and it’ll always affect the way they work.

How to reach: Cinergy Health Inc., (800) 847-1148 or www.cinergyhealth.com

Want more? Get more in-depth with Daniel Touizer as he discusses how he adapts Cinergy Health for changing times.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Building credit

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Ian MacKechnie doesn’t care where an idea comes from. It can come from him, someone on his management team or someone who’s been with the company for two days. If it’s a good idea and can help the company, sign him up.

“A lot of my ideas get shot down,” he says. “And I don’t mind, because that’s OK. We want the best idea to win.”

MacKechnie has used that attitude to lead Amscot Financial Inc. from $85 million in revenue in 2006 to $145 million in 2008.

The chairman, president, CEO and founder of the financial services firm checks his ego at the door for most decisions. Of course, being the leader, if he really believes in a decision, he wants the organization to buy in.

“If I’m passionate about it, it’s kind of first among equals, if it’s a pretty important decision,” he says.

But that doesn’t happen often. If it did, MacKechnie would be driving away those who have good ideas or have valuable input. He could also be consistently making the wrong decisions since he is more at the 30,000-foot level of management than those who are below him and on the front lines dealing with customers.

“We want the best solution,” he says. “We don’t care where it’s coming from. It’s not who’s right; it’s what’s right. It truly is because you have to remember, why would I not want the best thing? When you’re running a company, if you are a leader, you want what’s best.”

Such was the case when the company wanted to tweak its brand. It wasn’t MacKechnie on his own who came up with idea of referring to Amscot in advertisements as “The Money Superstore.” It was everyone involved in the process.

“If you don’t mind other people getting the credit, you’ll be really successful,” he says. “That is the trick. You are going to get a lot of the credit anyway, if you are the leader. So who cares where the ideas come from?”

And that’s what MacKechnie wants Amscot’s atmosphere to revolve around.

“Running a company is not about me, and it’s not about the chief executive,” he says. “It’s about all of us growing the company. It’s not me that built this company. I’ve helped to get it started, but it’s all these great people around that are making it happen. The bigger it gets, the more they are making it happen.”

Here’s how MacKechnie drives that message home by inspiring people, setting guidelines and coaching those who fall short at delegating.

Be inspirational

MacKechnie recalls reading a report that people want their direct report or supervisor to be inspirational.

While he says your employees have to possess their own inner motivation, you as the leader can still inspire the people around you to be better.

“It’s got to come from within,” he says. “I don’t believe I can really motivate anyone. I think what we can do in a company is we can create the environment, which is a new kind of trend.”

You are part of creating that environment by the vibe you put out to employees.

“If you are a wet rag as a leader, you aren’t going to lead anyone,” he says. “If you don’t have any spark in you, how are you going to get spark in other people? So enthusiasm is critical in any walk of life but certainly as a leader.”

When you hear the words “inspirational leader,” it may conjure up thoughts of a motivational speaker throwing out new age sayings or an over-the-top, always smiling, cheerleader type.

But that isn’t what it takes to inspire people.

“We all show enthusiasm in different ways,” he says. “One leader may have a low-key form of enthusiasm, but his people still can get it. He quietly has that enthusiasm for the task and for what we are doing and so forth, where someone might be more at a different level. I’m not talking about jumping around and singing songs and holding hands or hugging. If you listen to President Barack Obama or Warren Buffett, you can just here the enthusiasm from what they do in their voice.”

You can do little things like sharing good news with the whole company or sharing a compliment someone received from a client or a customer. You can also e-mail something to employees that relates to the company.

“If I see a nice quote or a great quote that seems appropriate about customer service or something, I just go on and send it to everyone,” he says. “Then I’ll get feedback from them. We try to make sure that we are listening and that our management is approachable and people are able to talk to us easily; that’s the culture we want.”

Set guidelines

You have to be effective at delegating to be an inspirational leader who creates a team environment.

You may think you are delegating by pushing off tasks that don’t interest you and telling other people to take care of them.

But, that’s not the case.

“One of the things I learned early in business life is you can delegate but you can never abdicate,” he says. “If you give someone a task to do and they are not able to do it, you are abdicating that responsibility and I can never abdicate my responsibility.”

Abdicating your responsibilities can create chaos. You have to have systems in place to guide employees so they know what they are doing when you give them a task or a problem to solve.

MacKechnie refers to setting up guidelines and then delegating as a culture of discipline.

“When you have a culture of discipline, you need less hierarchy and people can be left alone and they can be encouraged to grow and blossom without someone looking over their shoulder all the time,” he says. “Typically, you and I don’t want someone looking over (our) shoulder all the time. That’s not fun. We want it to be fun.”

For instance, a branch leader at Amscot is trained to follow procedures from the minute he or she enters the parking lot to the minute the branch leader leaves. While that sounds like it may create a stifling environment, MacKechnie sees it as quite the opposite.

“I would say it does the reverse,” he says. “It frees them. It frees them because they now know beyond that, it’s just looking at customers.”

You have to explain to employees that the rules and guidelines aren’t meant to micromanage them. That gives employees a better idea of what is expected of them, and gives them the freedom to make decisions within the set guidelines.

“If you create these strong procedures, you can leave people,” he says. “You can leave the branch leader once they know these procedures, … [and] then we can delegate because they know the procedures and they can be more empowered to go help customers.”

You want to monitor what you’ve delegated, but you also want to show faith in your employees.

“You have to go back to trust and verify,” he says. “But you’ll never grow your business if you can’t delegate.”

Lend help

While you have inspired your team by delegating, you also have to make sure your managers are following the same practice.

For MacKechnie, it’s easy to identify a le

ader who is great at delegating.

“You can see it,” he says. “One of the best ways to tell is (to find out) how many people has that individual developed in the company.”

If you see a manager who has people below him or her rising up the ranks, you know you have someone who is strong at following guidelines and delegating.

“A great leader develops lots of great people,” he says.

However, you may also have a manager who is slow to delegate, but fantastic at his or her position. The manager works hard, he or she is dependable, and when something needs to get done, you know he or she will come through in the clutch. But the one problem is that the manager doesn’t share your philosophy that delegation is more effective than doing everything yourself.

You have to go beyond simply telling someone to delegate.

“We are going to be coaching them and working with them to improve their skills,” MacKechnie says. “If they’ve got all the other qualities, but just lack that a bit, we are going to work very hard with them.”

Don’t be so quick to dismiss someone because he or she isn’t buying in to the procedures or delegating. You spent a lot of time and resources to hire or promote a manager, so don’t be so quick to dismiss that person if you see some flaws you didn’t see before.

“It’s expensive for us to hire people and train them,” he says. “So, we want them to succeed. We want our management team to do everything we can to help mentor them, and foster and explain to them why they are doing these things. They’re not doing them just blindly, but, ‘Here’s why we want you to follow this procedure.’”

That’s why you can’t just tell someone to be better at delegation and hope for the best. You are going to have to step in and help him or her realize the benefits of delegation.

“It’s got to be done with one-on-one coaching,” he says. “You really have to spend some time and care about these people,” he says. “Good leaders don’t want to lose people. They don’t want to lose talent. But at some point, a decision has to be made.”

You can give that person a couple of years to adjust, but if he or she still hasn’t learned to delegate, you need to step in and bring in someone to whom he or she will have to delegate. You involve the manager in the selection of the person, but you have to let the manager know this person is being hired to help with managerial duties.

If that doesn’t work and you’ve exhausted every avenue to help the manager delegate, then you will have to part ways.

“We can’t retain them if they are unable to delegate,” he says. “By delegate, I would say that is the ability to get great results through other people. If they’re not able to do it, they shouldn’t be in a leadership position.”

It might not be the result that you wanted, but you did everything you could to help the person. If the person isn’t promoting the team environment by delegating, then you won’t get an environment where people are motivated and will feel free to come to you with ideas. Because, as a manager and a leader, you are only as good as what your team produces.

“It’s not managing what people do in a company,” he says. “It’s managing what they do together.”

How to reach: Amscot Financial Inc., (813) 637-6100 or www.amscotfinancial.com

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

On the offensive

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Whether the ball is in his court or not, you can be sure that Michael Rich is playing offense. For proof, just look at what he’s doing with Equitrac Corp. in the midst of a recession.

The president and CEO led the company to record product sales and $60 million in revenue for fiscal 2008 by expanding into the education market. Now, you’ll find Equitrac’s print management solutions in 50 of the top 100 universities, in addition to the offices of about 20,000 customers in 40 other countries.

“We could have said, ‘Let’s brace for the worst recession ever,’ and the next thing you do is you start retrenching, limiting your plans, cutting costs, firing people,” says Rich, who manages 300 employees. “If you believe in your vision, you’ve got a great team and you’re executing in the market, you don’t go into a highly defensive posture. You’ve got to stay on offense and work through those challenges.”

Smart Business spoke with Rich about weighing opportunities to grow during a recession.

Maintain marketplace awareness. Customers and partners are the best resource to help guide your direction and strategy. So we spend a lot of time in the field engaging our customers and partners. Over the past year, I have been in the field almost on a weekly basis meeting with C-level executives of our end customers as well as our channel partners.

It’s very easy when you engage your customers and partners to want to deliver some presentation to them and do most of the talking. We are disciplined in making sure that we’re doing more listening than talking, and as a result, we get a lot of excellent input. We have to stay on top of (their requirements), and the best way to do that is by direct interactions.

We have to span a number of different conversations with our business partners, not only in terms of what the end customer wants but what we need to do as an organization to support the business relationship. With end customers, you look at their specific feature requirements. You look specifically at their workflow needs in their firms and how to tailor your applications to provide a compelling value proposition. You need to ensure that you’re solving real pain points for the customer.

You need to amalgamate that customer feedback into a set of market requirements. Customers and partners will ask us for enhancement requests for the product. We try to assess how many of our customers are asking for similar things, and then we can make a priority call in terms of what to actually include in the end product.

We will author a document, which lays out the feature requests. Before you actually commit to any specific development agendas, we like to have our partners and customers review those expressions of their requirements to ensure that we have them right.

So the first part is getting the feedback. The second is synthesizing it. And then thirdly is reviewing that information with the customer to make sure that we’ve heard them correctly.

Weigh requests against plans. You can be completely facing gridlock responding to every single opportunity that comes up. We’ve got a game plan that we execute, and that’s how we stay on track. We know what exactly we’d like to accomplish for the year. We’ve got a level of financial discipline to make sure that we pursue opportunities that can deliver profitable growth to the company, not just pursuing revenue for revenue’s sake. In other words, don’t respond to any opportunity just to get another couple of bucks of revenue in the business.

Make sure that you’re looking at every opportunity through a strategic lens. You’ve got to look specifically at: What are you trying to accomplish in the marketplace? How do we define success? What kind of growth targets are we looking at, and how does the market support those?

You need to ensure that you don’t let opportunistic revenue scenarios take you too far afield from your core strategy — not to say that you don’t look at and seize opportunity when it presents itself, but it’s got to be in the context of not only your strategy but your core competency as a company.

When we start a new opportunity, we look at the market size, the product fit. We evaluate our go-to-market strategy — in other words, how are we going to deliver the product to market, how is it going to be serviced and supported, what kind of investments are going to be required to evolve the product over time?

Some days you say to yourself, ‘Why are we not running after that revenue opportunity?’ You can always sell a couple of products to a couple of customers — a market that does not make. So we’re looking at the broader market opportunities. When you’re looking at scaling your business, you can’t have a lot of one-off solutions for a single customer. You’ve got to build your products with an eye toward the market so you can continue to grow and scale your business.

Research decisions. We don’t have infinite resources here. We’re always evaluating where to put the next incremental or marginal resource. While you might have a broad market opportunity, the momentum in those markets can help guide your resource allocation decisions.

The momentum of our business is typically defined by our sales results. So if we see particular strengths in one geography versus another, we’re more confident in investing in those. If we see a specific market that’s growing faster than another, it becomes somewhat of an easier decision to invest in those growth opportunities that have shown and proven that the value proposition is working.

Our greatest challenge is where to make those investments first and how to prioritize them. Sales results tend to be an excellent guide for that. You don’t double or triple down on a particular strategy until you see some results.

We have the operational systems in place that we can track revenue against those product categories. We have daily reviews of our sales results. ... So if something is not achieving its targets, we know it very quickly.

How to reach: Equitrac Corp., (800) 327-0183 or www.equitrac.com

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Brand value

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Every time Shelly Lazarus talks to executives who are managing through tough times, she poses a straightforward question: What is the value of a brand?

It’s a simple question that often leads to a more detailed discussion.

“Is is a revenue or a cost?” asks Lazarus, chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, an advertising firm that, over the past 60 years, has helped build some of the most recognizable brands on the planet. “I would argue a revenue driver. If you spend money during a recession, you can come out ahead. Those companies and brands that invested through this (recession) will come out stronger and ahead of their competitors.”

Lazarus shared her thoughts on brand value, managing through tough times, how to deal with Gen Y and the future of advertising at the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum 2009.

On managing through tough times

The best thing you can do is state the problem clearly but stay optimistic about the outcome. It’s not ‘rah rah’; people can see through that. But you have to get yourself to a place where you see the path. And when you’re comfortable, communicate, communicate, communicate. You have to get out with people and share what’s going on so they can assess the situation and have an understanding of where you’re heading and feel a sense of comfort.

Everybody is looking at you to see how you react to the ups and downs of the marketplace. The biggest mistake people make in communicating is that in many companies, the last group of people that the leaders communicate with is the employees. That’s a mistake — they are the most important constituency you have.

The second biggest is that you better not sugarcoat the news. You need to have a good sense that people in the company trust the leadership. And to have that trust, you need honesty and transparency.

On managing Generation Y

This is a different generation in the workplace than the previous generation. The average tenure for Generation Y employees today is 16 months. You’ve got a sea change coming toward us that we have to deal with. But there are things you can do. If there is an expectation that jobs are episodic, is there something you can do with jobs in a company? Can you make the job more satisfying? And how do you create the balance they seek? We are dealing with a population, a generation really, that doesn’t want to do things the same way you do. You need to rethink the nature of the job.

On the future of marketing

Less than 50 percent of our revenue comes from traditional advertising. There are so many new ways to communicate that we’re inventing it as we go along. But there’s a danger of fragmentation. It’s imperative to ensure your message and brand is consistent. That way, wherever people choose to find you, the brand message is the same.

No matter what you choose, a mix of media always works better than a single medium, and the more different media that you use, the better your results. But you need to know what role each effort plays and how it’s going to get to a transaction. Things are so fast that you can now move from ‘I never heard of that before’ to a transaction within 24 hours.

So, when determining where to advertise or market your message, be demanding. Find out how you’re getting from the first insertion to a sale. If that is your mindset, it becomes much easier to adapt.

How to reach: Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, www.ogilvy.com

The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® awards recognize the men and women who put everything on the line to turn ideas into viable enterprises. Now in its 24th year, the awards honor those who build the market-leading companies that make our communities, our country and, indeed, the world a better place.

Being a recipient of this prestigious business award means that you’re at the top of your game and puts you in the company of such entrepreneurs as Tom Adams of Rosetta Stone, Michael Dell of Dell Inc. and Pierre Omidyar of eBay Inc.

An Entrepreneur Of The Year® nominee must be an owner/manager of a private or public company with primary responsibility for the recent performance of the company and an active member of top management. The nominee’s company must be at least two years old.

Successful entrepreneurs, whether company founders or current leaders, have a knack for taking businesses to the next level. They employ creative ways to find the capital and resources they need to reach their goals as well as build and grow businesses.

If this sounds like you, consider applying to be a 2010 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year®.

Nominations are now being accepted and are available at www.ey.com/us/eoy for downloadable forms or electronic submissions or by calling (800) 755-AWARD.

Recognizing entrepreneurial excellence

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Standing ovation

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Ken Young doesn’t want to be the sole mind or voice behind a decision.

“I encourage the people in our organizations to come up with offbeat ideas,” he says. “I’ll do it myself. Then, let’s all shoot holes in it, and who knows, maybe by the time we’re done, we come up with something that is excellent or we’ve decided not to do something.”

But Young, co-founder and president of Ovations Food Services LP, hasn’t always led this way.

“When I was younger, I didn’t delegate nearly as much in decision-making,” he says. “I was much more hands-on. But as I picked up more responsibility, at a certain point, I said, ‘I’ve got to let other people make some of these decisions. I’ve got to let them do their thing. I can’t be involved in everything.’”

He’s led the company from $112 million in 2006 revenue to $170 million in 2008 revenue.

“I think that’s one of the things that has permitted our food services company to grow at an accelerated rate because our clients know that our management is permitted to make those decisions, and I’ll explain that to our clients also,” says Young, who also owns four minor league baseball teams and one minor league hockey team.

It’s not to say that Young wouldn’t have been successful with his old style of decision-making. Certainly, there are plenty of old-fashioned, strict leaders who want everything done their way. While that could work, they could be missing out on great opportunities.

“When you start looking at someone who is a dictator, it’s tough changing their opinion,” he says. “The old manager could have been successful, but he could be three times more successful if he did it a different way.”

Guide the decision

When Young needs to make a decision that involves key people in the organization, he receives input from those people and they have a healthy discussion. Young won’t share his opinion unless it’s needed.

“I purposely don’t let people know where I want the decision to go,” he says. “I’d rather have them come up with it. ... I feel that’s part of leadership.

“If you can get buy-in and feel that others have made that decision, I think that’s important. The way you do that is just talking things out.”

You can guide the conversation, but you don’t want to let it be known you have chosen a side in the discussion. Once the decision is made, you don’t necessarily need to take ownership of it.

“I don’t think in leadership that people need to know that you have made the decision,” he says. “There can be subordinates and others in the organization. As long as you buy in to that decision, let them think that they’re the ones that made the final decision.”

If the discussion is veering off in a way that is getting away from the main topic, he will bring everyone back on course. But he still will keep his opinion to himself.

“Because I realize one of the things when you’re leading, whether you are the president of one organization or even the leader of a committee, often people want to hear your opinion and then they’ll buy in to that opinion,” he says. “But that doesn’t always make the best decision.

“I don’t want people to agree just for the sake of agreeing. That is something that you need to convey to your employees, and then have them buy in to it. If I say something is red, and it’s really blue, I want them to tell me that.”

To reach that level of comfort will take time, so you have to continually work at it.

“It’s easier if they’re not sure where I am on an issue,” he says. “They’ll open up a little bit more. That’s where I think the best discussions take place.”

Learn to live with mistakes

Part of delegating decision-making is dealing with the mistakes that come along with it. If you want your lower-level managers to make decisions and take ownership, you have to let everyone know that you know mistakes will be made.

“The biggest thing I tell them is, ‘If you make the wrong decision about something, I’m not going to be overly upset about that. We can use that as a learning experience. However, if you make the wrong decision because you were careless or you didn’t gain the knowledge you needed, that upsets me,’” he says. “I’ll tell people that right upfront.”

When Young was 26, he was working for a food service company in Kansas City. The company was running the food service for the 1976 Republican National Convention, and he had the opportunity to put together a program for the convention.

It was a pretty substantial investment, but he received permission from his superiors for the project.

At the time, Young thought it was a great idea, but after the first day of the four-day convention, the programs weren’t selling like he thought they would.

“After one day, you get this pit in your stomach that you think, ‘Maybe tomorrow will be better, and I know it’s not going to be,’” he says.

“So, it turned out it was a bad decision. I’ll never forget this because I did think this was a bad enough decision that this could cost me my job.”

It didn’t cost him his job, but his boss did have a talk with him about it.

“We’re talking, and he says, ‘You know Ken, we could have sent you to Harvard Business School for what you lost on this,’” Young recalls.

“It relieved me because he was able to joke a little bit about it, but at the same time, we saw what the seriousness of that situation was.”

That situation hit home with Young because it said something about leadership and dealing with somebody who made a bad decision.

“If somebody has weighed something similar to how I would weigh making a decision and it just isn’t the right decision, I think you have to support the person usually in that case,” he says.

If someone makes a mistake that cost the organization $20 million, Young will have to hold himself accountable for allowing someone to make that decision. You have to avoid putting a manager in the position where he or she is left on an island when making a decision with big financial consequences.

“There’s obviously a point, especially with financial decisions, there’s a point where I am either going to buy in or make the final decision,” he says. “When you look at something that can do great harm to a company if it’s the wrong decision, I’m going to at least approve that decision.

“You come down to at what point is the risk that you are not going to permit somebody to make the final decision without coming to you. That just depends on the circumstance.”

If a wrong decision is made, then you need to sit down with the involved parties and talk about why the decision didn’t work.

“Because you have some great employees that just aren’t always going to make the right decision, just as I’m not always going to make the right decision,” he says. “When I make a bad decision, I just tell my own people, ‘I blew this decision. It wasn’t a good one. Here are the reasons I made it, but XYZ didn’t pan out so it turned out to be a poor decision.’”

Go your own way

W hile you may make a move to involve others in decisions, and you are ready to live with possible mistakes, at times, you still have to go with what you want.

“A good leader just doesn’t always go with the consensus if you think the consensus is wrong,” he says. “A good leader looks at why he thinks a decision is a right one and tries to explain why it is a right one, even though a larger number of people don’t agree with that.”

If you are in a situation where the room is against what you were thinking, but you believe your way is the best direction to head, then you have to make that decision.

Such was the case with an idea Young had about one of his baseball teams. The team would allow kids to run the bases a few Sunday afternoons a year, but Young wanted it to be an every-night occasion.

Young presented the idea in a meeting with about 20 staff members.

“We went around and there were probably 15 reasons why maybe you didn’t want to do it every night,” he says. “But every one of those reasons, they weren’t very good ones — ‘It’s going to keep the staff there an extra 20 minutes, it’s going do this, or it’s going to do that.’

“At the end, I said, ‘OK, I’ve heard everything you said, but the customer service and having those kids and their parents go home as happy as can be because they got to run … that’s going to send a great message, so we are going to do it every night.’”

You don’t want to make a habit of making decisions this way, but in instances where you feel very passionately, you should.

“It’s something like that where if I feel strong enough about something, I may listen to everybody, but in the end ... I haven’t been able to convince them to look at it from the same perspective I have, but that’s the way we are going to go,” Young says.

After making a decision that goes against the majority, you have to explain your reasons why you made the decision you did.

“When I explained in the end, ‘This is why we are doing it this way,’ they may or may not agree with me, but the fact is they say, ‘OK, he is doing it for a certain reason and we looked at it from a different perspective.’

“So, you get them to buy in. Then, the proof is in the pudding. They see the reaction of the fans and so forth, and if it’s a ho-hum, they might say, ‘Ken, this didn’t work the way you thought.’ Or come back and say, ‘This is pretty enthusiastic for everybody,’ and so they are then eager to go along.”

How to reach: Ovations Food Services LP, (813) 948-6900 or www.ovationsfoodservices.com

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Following your footprints

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Even without leaving a footprint, Brian Scheinblum is gaining quite a following.

Through green cleaning supplies, new light bulbs, efficient HVAC systems and the LEED-certified buildings themselves, he’s trying to make Cambean Hospitality LLC carbon-neutral. And he can back every green decision for customers, investors and his 70 employees.

“Any time you make changes, it takes time for people to understand the reasoning behind it,” says Scheinblum, president of the hotel management company.

He began by hiring HVS, a hotel valuation and consulting firm, to conduct an operations sustainability analysis to quantify the company’s greenness. And then, as he acted on its suggestions to be more energy-efficient, he researched every step to make sure that it benefited more than his own eco-consciousness.

“We’ve learned that there are considerable saving opportunities, which will give us — hopefully — an advantage over some of our competitors with a lower cost structure,” says Scheinblum, who led the company to 2008 revenue of about $10 million.

Smart Business spoke with Scheinblum about how to be sure about being green — and how that convinces others to follow.

Analyze potential savings. I strongly recommend to anybody out there that they analyze what their [energy] costs are, what their impact on the environment is and what the benefits are.

[To conduct an operations sustainability analysis], they do a full walkthrough of the property, looking at everything that utilizes energy. We looked at transportation of our employees. We looked at transportation of trash. Of course, we have the standard: the gas usage, the electricity usage, water usage.

They gave us an analysis of what we were spending and then they gave recommendations of things that we can do, costs to do these different things and what the savings would be. Like our water fixture retrofit — they’re estimating an $800 cost and the payback period of .8, which means the return on investment’s 125 percent. So that’s something that we look at and say, ‘OK, that’s something that we should do immediately because there’s a great return on investment.’ And this was a matter of just changing aerators on faucets.

I’m not saying that somebody has to go out there and hire a company to do this. I think people can do this themselves. They can find all of that data within their operations. Look at all the different light bulbs. Look at all the different faucets, the toilets, everything else that they’re using and say, ‘Where can I get savings here?’

It’s pretty easy to go online these days and do a search and see the cost of a replacement item and make a determination: ‘OK, well, if I’m using a 60-watt bulb now but my replacement bulb is a 13-watt compact fluorescent, I’ve saved 47 watts. My cost per watt on my electric bill is this amount. I’ve paid for that replacement bulb in six months. I’ve got a 200 percent return on investment.’ It’s pretty simple math; it’s a matter of taking the time and making the effort. These are not things that just necessarily help the environment; they definitely help the operating cost of any business.

Share your research. As far as my employees, my investors, my staff, there were different people to get on board in this. Obviously, [investors] expect to get a return on investment over time. Things like cleaning supplies — where we’re able to do an analysis and show that after the initial expense we’re going to be saving 70 to 80 percent on our recurring costs — that was an easy sell and that’s an immediate return. Something such as lighting, you have to show them that over time it’s something that’s going to pay for itself in reduced maintenance expenses, reduced energy costs, longer life. Investors are in business to get a return, so you have to show them where that works.

Just do your homework. The numbers are there. It makes financial sense to make these changes, not just environmental sense. We’ve been able to show that we’re going to have 70 percent savings on cleaning supplies by making these changes. There was a little bit of cost upfront and purchasing the machines that are required for mixing the chemicals — which, in cases, companies will give you for free. But in the long run, it’s a big savings in cost with a quick return.

So if you have to present the budget for it, the numbers are very easily attainable. Any of the suppliers for the products will be able to give you those numbers.

Whereas I’m personally extremely concerned for the environment, I have to be aware that not everybody is. It has to be a decision that makes sense. You can’t be altruistic and not be profitable. At least be able to show that eventually you’ll be profitable. Otherwise, you’re not going to get the financial support to do these things.

Pass on the savings. One of the things that we really tried to do is educate people so they see how easy it is to do certain things. They can take this information home with them and be more environmentally conscious when they’re at home, as well. Show them that there isn’t a lot of cost involved in some of the things [and that] they can be done without any inconvenience to them or any change in their lifestyles.

People that are working for us also have homes. They’ve seen that we’ve been able to be just as efficient but we’ve been able to do it at a lower cost, and that’s something that hits home with these people who are living paycheck to paycheck right now. If we’re making changes that are going to save us money, it’s something for them to follow. So getting the employees to adopt these practices has been pretty easy.

We’ve set up a sustainability committee that is made of different department heads. We’ve asked those people to come up with ideas and suggestions on changes that they could see us implementing. And then on almost a daily basis, the department heads meet with their employees, and if there’s something new that we’re going to implement, they’re explaining to them, training them.

How to reach: Cambean Hospitality LLC, (305) 672-5858 or www.cambean.com

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Setting sail

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Michelle Fee was frustrated. Cruise Planners Inc. was created to help people escape on a great vacation to beautiful islands and luxurious tropical resorts. But it seemed like her employees were creating their own islands in the workplace and the escape from each other was causing problems.

“The most difficult challenge is to be able to get all of your departments within your company to communicate,” says Fee, co-founder, president and CEO of the travel agency. “It’s not just about what you’re doing. It’s about how what you’re doing affects others.

“We had a franchise department who was selling people our business in a box, in essence. They didn’t quite understand what some of the business development team was doing or what the marketing team was doing to help the agents grow their business.”

Cruise Planners’ franchisees were therefore getting mixed signals about how to run their part of the business and they were passing them along to clients. Fee knew this lack of a coordinated message would eventually come back to hurt both her and the company’s 40 employees and 800 franchisees.

“It’s essential that everyone is on the same page and everyone buys in to your vision,” Fee says. “Sometimes that’s hard because everybody has a way that they have done business in the past. They want to come in and infuse it with their good ideas, but it has to be what the vision of the entire company is.

“Everybody was running like they were their own island. The attitude was, ‘We’re going to do our job and get it done,’ but it didn’t necessarily work for another department, because at the end of the day, we’re all intertwined. To make it happen, you all have to be one team and not individual teams. Otherwise, you’re playing against each other instead of playing for that same team.”

Fee set out to tear down the silos that had formed at Cruise Planners and build connections and regular interaction between her employees and franchisees. She also needed to deal with resistance to ensure that this important and valuable dialogue was taking place and that the silos didn’t come back.

Eliminate silos

Fee knew there were a lot of good ideas being discussed between her employees and some good suggestions that were being presented to new Cruise Planners franchisees. But since these nuggets weren’t being shared with everyone, the benefits were not being realized.

“We’d get agents in that would go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know it was like that because so-and-so told me that’s how you handled it,’” Fee says. “I’d say, ‘Oh my gosh, we haven’t done that in a year.’ So it was just trying to get everybody in a room to communicate.”

Fee had to show her people the value of interdepartmental dialogue if they were going to buy in to it. She wanted to demonstrate that the actions of one department really do affect another department and that there is value in getting those departments to talk to each other.

“We’re all intertwined,” Fee says. “If franchise sales brings in a new member and business development drops the ball, franchise sales is definitely going to bring that up at the meeting. Business development isn’t necessarily going to bring up all their faults and issues. But they can say the reason this happened is this and this and this. Nobody is bringing it up to shoot the duck. They’re bringing it up because we have to figure out how we can fix it.”

It’s impractical to gather everyone in a large organization every time you have something to discuss. So you need to stress the importance of having direct reports who can take a message and deliver it to their people to keep them abreast of what is happening throughout the company.

“Sit with each one of your management-level staff and find out what are their challenges,” Fee says. “What is their team feeling? So then they, in turn, go back and summarize it to their staff so that everybody is again on the same page. Obviously you’re not going to have a weekly meeting for every single person that works for you. But you have to make sure it’s funneling down.”

It could be as simple as having someone assigned to take notes at each meeting and distributing the notes to everyone involved. Stress that they take those notes and tell their people about what happened at the meeting.

“Maybe it’s somebody taking notes for the entire company and then typing them out and bringing them to somebody like myself to say, ‘Here’s what you discussed today. Are these the points you want the entire company to know?’” Fee says. “Here’s what we need to make sure is communicated. Send it to everyone in the company so they understand what is happening in franchise sales or marketing or technology or whatever.”

Many companies have weekly newsletters or bulletin boards or some way of communicating with their people. It’s not the medium that you use, but how you use it that will determine whether it helps your people stay informed.

If you don’t keep up with it, people will lose interest and not see it as a way to stay tuned in to company happenings.

“We have to make sure that we’re out at them,” Fee says. “We do a Friday home office newsletter. It’s a synopsis of the week, and we pull all the information together and say, ‘Here’s what we added to the intranet and here’s some other happenings.’ We put it all in one place so Friday at 5:30, they can all read what either happened during the week or what’s going to happen next week.”

Your goal is to create a culture in which employees feel like there are no secrets and that they are all working toward common objectives. By making yourself visible in the office and at meetings, you also present yourself as an option to address concerns.

“Make sure you’re infusing yourself into every department,” Fee says. “We’ve had managers who we might have on the surface thought they were doing a good job, but guess what? To their team, they weren’t.”

The goal isn’t to turn your office into the complaint department. It’s to show you’re serious about your plan.

“You just want to make sure that the people understand that if the company’s vision is not being sought, you have a door to walk in to,” Fee says.

Never underestimate the danger of leaving someone out of the loop.

“Believe it or not, the most powerful person in your company is typically the one answering the phone,” Fee says. “Typically, that’s probably the lowest level of employee you have. They are the one that’s empowered because they are speaking and talking on your behalf and selling your product or whatever it is you are selling. Unless they know and understand your vision and all of the things that are happening, you’re giving that person the ability to give the wrong message.”

Be patient with resistance

Employee resistance to working with each other usually isn’t anything personal. Fee says it’s more often a result of an employee feeling the need to focus more intently on their own to-do list.

“I don’t think people don’t want to come together and talk,” Fee says. “Everybody just gets caught up in their own world and thinks, ‘I have to get my job done.’”

But whether it’s pa

ssive or more obvious, it’s still resistance. And it’s something you often need to overcome in trying to maintain open dialogue between different departments in your organization.

“There are certainly times during our management meetings where two departments are going back and forth across the table about whatever, an issue or a challenge or something to help the business grow,” Fee says. “And another department is saying, ‘This has nothing to do with me.’”

You need to approach those situations directly, but with an open mind — at least at first.

“I give every college effort to make sure that person knows that they are just not fitting in to what it is we are looking to accomplish,” Fee says. “It’s not done that quickly, it’s over a long period of time of saying, ‘Here’s what we need your department to do and here’s what we want you to do.’ If there is failure along the way, it’s showing them that, ‘You failed, but that’s OK. Let’s try to pick you up and give you another chance.’”

You can often make inroads by reinforcing the larger goals that can be achieved through collaboration with everyone in the company. If there is a disagreement on a particular issue, show your willingness to hear various opinions. Give them a chance to state their case.

“Maybe my vision is one thing and somebody like that comes in and says, ‘Well, I kind of see it a little differently and I see it this way,’” Fee says. “Maybe I don’t see it that way at all, but I say, ‘Hmm, maybe if I take this part of what you were thinking and add it to what I’m thinking, it could be even better.’ So you really do have to be open to change yourself. You make that person feel like they are part of it.”

Fee says she’s lucky to have not encountered severe resistance along the way to implementing a more collaborative culture at Cruise Planners. But when things aren’t so smooth, you need to know when it’s time to move past the debate.

“That person has to learn to come along and buy in to your vision or the vision of what the rest of the staff members believe,” Fee says. “You have to have a cohesive team. You can’t have one member dictating how they feel it should be run if it’s not what the whole team feels.

“You can’t have one person standing on the sidelines when the rest of the team is playing really well together. Everybody has to be part of it. Along the way, I’ve learned that sometimes you might keep someone on too long and they are not willing to change. So the company is going in this direction and they are standing there.”

When someone is starting to become a cancer in your organization, it’s usually pretty obvious to other employees.

“Everybody knows who that John Doe person is,” Fee says. “You just have to know when that one person is holding back the rest of the company. And guess what? All the other managers know who that person is, as well. Some of it is hard. I’m not going to say it’s an easy thing being an executive. But sometimes you have to make hard decisions.”

That often requires that you take a blunt approach.

“It’s like, ‘I’ve given you every advantage,” Fee says. “‘We’ve had multiple sit-downs. Our vision is this and the rest of the company is moving in that direction and you’re just holding us back.’

“If you have employees that are sitting there saying, ‘I’m only here for the paycheck,’ you need to look for new employees. Everybody should have that common goal, and the common goal is to make sure the company continues to grow in a positive direction. And if you have somebody that is sitting there that couldn’t care less about anything but what they are doing, then they are not part of a team.”

How to reach: Cruise Planners Inc., (800) 683-0206 or www.cruiseplanners.com