Carolyn LaWell

Most people worry about adding space as they grow, but Mark

Trushel isn’t one of those people.

Mantaline Corp. Inc., the manufacturer of which Trushel is

president and CEO, made company processes so efficient it no longer needed two

Northeast Ohio locations. The company closed its Aurora facility, moving all

operations to its Mantua location. The feasibility study and planning process

took 11 months.

“The key is that you spend the time to make sure you’re

confident that you have a good plan,” Trushel says.

Smart Business spoke with

Trushel about how to develop a plan for a large company undertaking.

How do you put together a plan?

The plan needs to be built and challenged by as broad a

cross-functional team as possible. With truly a good team effort you’re going

to get better ideas, you’re going to get more concerns, you’re going to get a

more complete product than if one person tries to sit down and think of

everything that should happen or could go wrong.

That was certainly the case in this activity. We had a couple

of teams that were involved in different points in the planning process. The

planning process was done in pieces over a number of months so that people had

time to think about it and sleep on what we were doing, reflect on, ‘No, this

is a better way. No, we shouldn’t do this. Geez, should we think about these

kinds of things.’

The plan had a lot of challenge. I really think it’s that

challenging the plan that may be more important than managing the plan through

the implementation phase. If you have a bad plan to start with, the

implementation is kind of doomed even if you’re executing the plan well.

There are always things that will go wrong. You want to try to

minimize those, and I think the best way to minimize those is to make sure

you’ve thought about all of the failures and challenges that can go wrong to

make sure that more things go right than go wrong.

How do you identify who to put in charge of the plan?

People who take a lot of ownership in what they do and have a

high level of pride that will make sure they continue to push to get the

results.

We had a couple of different people that were involved as far

as leading the plan through different phases. I think every plan needs a

champion, a good project manager to manage the project.

As you look at your team internally and think about massive

efforts that are kind of only one time — everybody probably has good managers

who can lead this kind of project — the issue is will they be so overburdened

that the results may be that the normal day-to-day customer care and service

gets neglected or overlooked.

In our situation that didn’t happen, but in hindsight the

people we had leading at various points in time were all probably unfairly

taxed as far as what the expectations I put on them and probably, more

importantly, the expectations they put on themselves. While we didn’t use an

outside project management consultant, I don’t think that’s a bad idea. You

have to really look at the situation and decide that you’re not going to use an

outsider for good reasons.

Whom do you involve to get that broad insight for the plan?

It was cross functional so it was basically department

managers, certain operators were involved in various pieces of the plan, people

that knew their work area and understood what truly happens on a

minute-by-minute basis as well as production, engineering, maintenance. Everybody

in the company was really involved at one point or another as we worked on the

plan.

We had small group meetings. There was basically a planning

team and various people were added to the group during the process. People

could basically offer their thoughts and their insights in their own work areas

or the areas that played the most importance to them.

For example, before our tooling shop, where we build most of

our production tools, was located in the Aurora facility. In the starting point

in the plan, our engineering team and, most importantly, our tooling designer

they had the initial ownership for their piece of the plan. What kind of space

are you going to need? How would it be best to configure your equipment? That

changed over time, but they were definitely involved with both the planning and

the tugging and pulling that goes as you’re trying to meet everyone’s needs in

coming up with how the new layout is really going to work.

Then there’s ownership in the plan, and they’re responsible or

have a large stake in the implementation phase in their area.

What role should the CEO play in the process?

I use the CEO’s role pretty much from an internal perspective

as a cheerleader. Making sure we’re focused on the right things, making sure we

understand what the objectives are, how we’re measuring those objectives.

Things will not always go exactly as expected. You have to be

a cheerleader to push through those minor adversities and go to the next step.

It means how you interact with the team. Not focusing on what

went wrong, but focusing on what has gone well. If there are places where we’re

running behind, OK how are we going to adapt to move to the next level?

You pick people up and say, ‘OK we got beat up a little bit

here; let’s keep pushing on.’

How to reach: Mantaline Corp. Inc., (800) 321-0948 or www.mantaline.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Offering insight

Tim Thornton finds his employees’ motivation for their work makes his job pretty easy. But every once in awhile, the Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale PC president is confronted with a challenge.

The economy has caused most companies to make tough decisions, and the Greensfelder law firm is no different. For Thornton, part of the process has been calming employees’ anxieties and maintaining motivation.

“There is a natural tendency in troubled economic times to want to cut back, but it may not be the time to cut back; it may be the time to actually invest and seek out opportunities,” Thornton says. “With that kind of outlook, there may be some anxieties that may need to be calmed.”

You can ease minds by providing thorough information and recognizing employees for their contributions to the company. Those are two keys for Thornton who has 289 employees, 171 of which are attorneys.

Smart Business spoke with Thornton about how to keep employees calm and engaged during tough economic times.

Maintain employee morale. The starting point is open communication.

Telling folks within the organization where we are, where we’re headed, what we’re confronting and how we’re confronting it, I think, is essential. Within any environment, not being told anything is a lot worse than being told bad news.

If you say nothing, that rumor mill is going to fill the void, and typically, what the rumor mill fills in won’t be good.

You have to be open, explain where you are, what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If there is some piece of information, and there always are pieces of information that you can’t share for whatever reason, be open about that. Simply say there are certain things that you can’t share. Explain to them why that’s not information that is going to be released within the organization. Generally, I’ve found that people are satisfied with that. They simply want to be told, and they want to be treated like any of us would want to be treated. If you do that, that helps create a positive environment.

The second thing, I think, beyond open communication is recognition of employees, giving credit to them where credit is due, valuing their contribution. Those are all things that I think motivate employees. They make them want to do a good job for the organization.

If they understand where we are and what we’re doing and they’re being recognized for their efforts, I think that’s a pretty good combination.

Explain in person. One of the things we do — and have done since I’ve been president — is on an annual basis we have an open forum. I meet with the groups of employees within the organization. That might be one group is administrative staff, another group might be the paralegals, another group might be associate attorneys.

I meet with them, and I roll out for them whatever issues are on the table. It’s not completely formal, but it’s kind of a state of the firm discussion about: Here’s what we did last year, here’s what we hope to do this year, here’s how we’re going about doing things. As a part of that, I always try to open it up for discussion, questions and answers. There was some reluctance by some employees to actually engage in that dialogue early on, but I think as we do those every year the exchange increases and I think it’s a good back and forth.

I frankly love those days that we do that. It certainly gives me a chance to connect with everybody in the organization. It helps for me to communicate that, on behalf of the firm, I respect what they’re doing, I want them to know what we’re doing — that is kind of a broad way of communicating.

The other thing I try to do, I try to convey both in that meeting and every other time that I really do have an open-door policy, so please if you have any thoughts or ideas or questions or concerns, please come talk to me. A surprising number of people have become comfortable enough to do that, and that’s another way of communicating.

Engage in dialogue. It would depend on every organization and how they operate, but I think the smaller groups do lend themselves to more personal connection. They do lend themselves to more discussion.

If you’re sitting in a room and there’s 100 people in there, there may be some reluctance on the part of somebody to ask a question that they wouldn’t necessarily have if they were sitting around a table with five or 10 people.

To the extent you have the ability to have that dialogue in a smaller setting, it’s probably more conducive to back-and-forth communication. Can everybody do that, probably not? In an organization of our size we can do that, and it’s effective when we do.

One of the things I mentioned a moment ago is to recognize people. Say, ‘Thank you.’ When people do a good job, it’s nice for somebody to say, ‘Thank you; job well done,’ and to give them credit, to be positive and constructive as opposed to negative or destructive.

(Getting employees to participate in dialogue is) a kind of thing that really, truly I believe takes time. You need to be yourself and communicate who you are.

If you are the sort that is open and interested in having that kind of dialogue, over time that will begin to stick, and people will begin to accept that you really are what you say you are, and you’re open to that dialogue. It doesn’t happen overnight.

As long as the employees know what it is you’re doing and why and why you believe that this particular action that you’re engaging in will make the institution stronger, I think that that helps give everybody a sense that we have a purpose, we’re headed in a particular direction and an ability then to sign on with that purpose.

How to reach: Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale PC, (314) 241-9090 or www.greensfelder.com

Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Focusing on the keys

George W. Roth measures customer service by whether a client calls back for repeat service.

“There’s no better recommendation than a happy client who calls you back for more work,” says Roth, founder, president and majority owner of Augere Construction Co.

Roth and his partner, James L. Stewart II, pride themselves on customer satisfaction — a result of building relationships, good communication and quickly taking care of problems.

That process helped the construction company reach revenue between $10 million and $12 million in 2009.

Smart Business spoke to Roth about how to grow a business and keep customers happy.

Q. What are the keys to growing a company?

The relationships with the owners and clients — it is key. If you don’t do your job every time, you won’t get an opportunity to perform more work for them. We pride ourselves on most of our work is from repeat clients, whether they’re grocery store chains, churches, manufacturers or office warehouse owners.

It’s key because if you lose that relationship with that client, No. 1, you won’t be doing any more work for them, and then word-of-mouth spreads.

They will be one of your references that you can use for picking up other jobs, so it’s very key to have great client relationships.

It’s key to retaining the business level that you have and finding more and helping you expand.

We go above and beyond for all of our clients and leave them happy at the end. If there’s an issue, we make sure it’s corrected and fixed to their satisfaction every time.

Q. How do you handle issues when they occur?

Everybody is going to make mistakes, and the key when you make a mistake is not to make the same mistake twice. What you want to do is learn from your mistakes and watch other contractors, your competitors and other successful contractors that are in the area.

In Canton, a good friend of mine owns Beaver Excavating. They have done work for me in the past and we have done work for them in the past, and you can learn from people like Beaver Excavating. Their client relationships have been great throughout their career and then they take care of their employees. What we try and do is build on those same features. Put your clients first and don’t make mistakes, and if you make a mistake, don’t make it twice.

You have to get to know your clients. You know how they want things done. Everybody has their little quirks so you try and work with them. Really the key is communication with your employees and your clients so everybody knows what’s going on and there are no surprises. If you have a problem, everybody knows about it, so you can get it rectified immediately.

Q. How do you handle mistakes made by employees?

What you do is you lead by example, No. 1. If you have a presence — my partner and I have a presence on the job, maybe not on a daily basis but on a weekly basis — you help see what is going on and what a possible conflict may be.

You’re not going to be there all the time, so your superintendents are hopefully trained, they have the experience and knowledge to do what you have them out there on-site doing.

But they do make mistakes. What you do is you help them through that. Obviously, you get the mistake corrected first, show them what went wrong, and encourage them not to make that same mistake again.

That’s where the problem is. People make mistakes, and I don’t have a problem with people making mistakes. Where the difficulty is is making the same mistake the second or third time. That’s where the problem is.

A process we use with our superintendents is properly vetting them when we hire them. Initially when we hire people, we hire them on an hourly basis and see how well they can do, what they know, what they don’t know. Give them the directions that we need or they need to do the work for us. If they succeed and are successful at that on an hourly basis, then we will put them on salary with benefits and 401(k)s, company vehicles.

The people we have working with us have helped make us successful, and that’s key. You can’t do this alone. As an owner, you can’t do this alone. You have to depend on your partner and your employees in the field as well as your employees in the office. This is not a solo act; it’s a team effort.

Q. How do you communicate with clients to understand their needs and build trust?

The owners periodically come and visit the site whether it’s once a week or a couple times a week. You need to be there and need to show them around and explain to them what’s going on.

If you explain to them what’s going on, what’s going to happen next, show them any potential problems or conflicts, you can all work these things out ahead of time. By being proactive and communicating with your clients, you have a knowledgeable, proactive customer all the way through the process until completion. And I think that’s key.

You have to communicate and establish trust and relationships with your clients.

Regarding building trust, you need to be open and transparent. With open lines of communication, you must be honest with the information and give the best recommendations as proposed solutions.

The owner/client may not like the answer or solution, but you have given them the straight truth.

How to reach: Augere Construction Co., (330) 342-4287 or www.augereconstruction.com

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Client engagement

Customer service isn’t a one-person job. So while Laura K.T. Schriver pushes a culture of customer engagement, she includes herself in the equation.

Schriver, president and CEO of Language Services Associates Inc., contacts all new clients with information on how they can reach her personally and an outline of intentions for both parties.

“Customer service is the line of the future,” Schriver says. “If you sell widgets, several manufacturers can make widgets and they’re all the same. What’s going to make the difference in the client buying from you versus somebody else? It’s going to be that personal relationship, that attention to their needs, and I think if you don’t have customer service in whatever industry you’re in, you’re at a loss.”

To survive today you must stay connected with customers and on top of their needs, which means thorough communication. Schriver stresses the importance of engagement to her 140 employees at the foreign language communication solutions provider.

Smart Business spoke with the LSA founder about how to connect with customers throughout the relationship.

Engage customers. That starts in the selling process.

When you’re selling the client, you’re really gathering all of the information that you’re going to need from the client. Then maintaining from the installation part — sometimes we have to go to a hospital for instance and install all of the systems for them, you really get to know what they’re doing, so you (develop) somewhat more of a personal relationship with a client.

Selling yourself first is more important than selling the product. They have to believe in you and trust you before they can really buy your product. Showing a true interest in what they do and showing that you really care and know about what they do makes them a better client, a better customer, and they trust you more.

Be involved. Once the client has a contract or an agreement with the sales team, I send them a welcome letter. I tell them how they can reach me directly, to please let us know of everything that is happening in their company, to please let us know of all new initiatives that they have, and let us make suggestions so that we’re not just a vendor to them, so that we’re actually a partner with them. So that they feel that whatever input we have and the knowledge that we have … we will share that information with them.

Of course, I welcome them to the group of clients and assure them that everything will be resolved. That’s what I do. And every time that there is an issue, I get the comment on it, and I get a copy of the complaint. If I feel that more direct contact from me is necessary, I will do that.

That’s what makes the difference in a company that is just a job for somebody and the difference between a personal interest of the CEO or president or owner of a company to be involved — you’re going to care more. I want to make sure that all of my folks are in fact instilled in the same caring process that I feel for my clients.

Maintain the relationship. I would say the most important thing is keep in touch.

Don’t just assume that once you have the client that you’re going to have them forever because you don’t. You want to, but the client has to stay engaged.

It’s like any love relationship, you can’t say, ‘Oh, I have a girlfriend,’ and go visit her once a month. You really have to have a daily enamored feeling with your client so they know that you’re there, they know you care and that you’re responding to their needs.

There are also times when you have to follow your client on Twitter or on Facebook or on LinkedIn just to find out what they’re talking about, what they’re doing, things that maybe even after you’ve signed the contract with them to make sure that you maintain a live connection with all of the changes that they may not think of telling you but really would make a difference in us helping them.

Solve problems. Everybody has a problem once in awhile with their service or product. It’s not so much that you have the problem; it’s how you resolve it that makes the difference. Everybody understands that nobody is perfect, nobody can sell perfection, but you can say, ‘Hey, listen, if you have a problem, don’t wait to get mad, come to us and we’ll resolve it in the most satisfying way necessary for the particular issue.’

We give them absolutely the chain of command in resolution and how their problems are going to be taken care of, and we give them a report of what we did to take care of the problem. Whether it is an interpreter issue or a hardware issue or anything like that, we have an absolute resolution plan so that they know what we’re doing.

It’s not like they complained and nobody heard. We give them a response and an action to every single complaint or issue.

We don’t like to have many, believe me, and we learn every time we have an issue. We learn how to avoid these other issues that come up.

Making sure that when you have an issue that they feel comfortable that their issue was resolved in a proper way that you don’t say, ‘Well, this is what we can do,’ and if the customer isn’t satisfied with you saying, ‘This is what we can do,’ then you go and never give them (what they need).

Just say, ‘Are you satisfied? Is this what you wanted to see? We have learned from this issue with our resolution, we’re going to see to it that this isn’t going to happen again.’ Just reassure them.

How to reach: Language Services Associates Inc., (800) 305-9673 or www.lsaweb.com

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Finding value

David Abraham had the solution — a video tour. Send a video tour of Accel Inc. to potential clients to spur growth.

More people would see the value that the fulfillment, distribution and contract packaging company could offer. It seemingly worked, Accel signed 15 new clients.

“Well it was a big mistake,” says Abraham, co-founder, co-CEO and chief operating officer.

Accel has seen its best years since the endeavor six years ago. Revenue in 2008 surpassed $20 million. But Abraham and his wife, Tara, who shares CEO duties, learned you can’t chase dollars. Now they’re more selective with whom they partner.

What it comes down to is, before contracts are signed, you need to determine how you can add value and whether the new client adds value for you.

“It should be black and white, and you understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish,” Abraham says. “Any gray area in there is just going to prolong the goal and the timeline to get to your goal.”

Smart Business spoke with Abraham about how to find the right clients.

Prescreen others and yourself. Our marketing manager in business development goes out, and we have a list of customers that we know about. There’s a deep dive in the information on there that they can obtain for us and, at the same time, create more for that list that we can explore.

I don’t like using the word list because we’re not looking for 50 new clients — that’s not our business. Our business is to find companies that want to partner with us, and then we will grow with them throughout their organization.

A lot of companies use lists. I think lists are a waste of time. You have to do trial by error. You just need to be so focused on who you are and what value you bring. Then you go use that to explore what the opportunities might be that you can marry up to that.

I don’t want to be something that we’re not. That’s very important as a CEO, as a company, that we stay focused on what value we bring to our client and not trying to sell something that we aren’t. That prescreening is all about understanding who we are. If we don’t understand who we are, then we have no chance in going out and finding out how to prescreen anybody else. It starts with your own company.

Have exploratory conversations. Our first meeting with any potential client is an exploratory one, which gives our potential partner an opportunity to present what their needs are without feeling like they’re being sold.

Once we’ve identified or they’ve identified us as a potential partner, typically what will happen is the client will visit our facility. Way before they visit us, we will have an itinerary put together (of) what they believe they’re looking for so we have some structure for the meeting.

Again, I think the most important part is at that point in time we’re not chasing dollars, we are just exploring, whether we listen to them, we identify what their needs are, and then see if we can add value to that. In the first meeting, at no given time, are we trying to pick up their business because we don’t know yet, we don’t know if we can add value. To have a pure partnership, you have to add value.

Think about it from both sides. If you’re a customer walking in and you don’t know who Accel is and my chief sales officer and everybody else is trying to sell you, how are you going to accomplish anything in that meeting?

When you go shopping, you take a look and you see what you need. We’re doing the same thing. We want our customers to come in and shop and see what they need and share what they’re shopping for. Then we tell them what we have, and we make those decisions. It’s the most important thing; you can’t sell on the first day because you don’t know that you want to buy it.

Listen to potential partners. Especially in this day and age, I will tell you I have very few potential opportunities that come into our facility that are trying to sell me. They’re coming in because they have a problem that they want us to help solve. They’re there because they have a need. You can find out pretty quickly if that customer is really there to solve a problem and they really want that problem solved by sharing what their critical issues are, what their own customers need.

You find out if you have the right partner sitting across from you by how they’re presenting their challenges.

We’re not here to tell them about us yet; we want to hear about them. By how they share that with us, you can pretty much determine somebody who truly wants to be a partner and solve our challenges together.

We’re very upfront and honest with them that we don’t think you should come in here because we want to be your supplier. We want you to come in here because we don’t know if we should be your supplier, so we’re asking you to take the time to share with us what your needs are, and we would like to take the time after that to show you what we do. If those dots connect, then it’s magic.

Justify turning work down. We make sure that our infrastructure is structured for worst-case and best-case scenario. You have to be. You have to build a flexible organization that can prepare for both.

We can pick up 20 new clients right now and not bat an eye. And we can lose 40 percent of business and still manage today. That’s the key to any business plan that you have, any infrastructure that you have. When you do that, you can say no. Even during these economic times, you can say no. If you don’t do that and you have to take care of a lot of things — you didn’t build in there that flexibility — then you will start chasing dollars. You will end up with a lose-lose situation.

How to reach: Accel Inc., (740) 549-0606 or www.accel-inc.com

Let’s draw on George E. Yund’s background for a minute.

After years representing employers in labor and employment law, after years of extensive experience in litigation over those same matters, after years working with unions on negotiation and arbitration, Yund has tucked away a few lessons on leadership that he has been able to reference while guiding Frost Brown Todd LLC.

Take, for instance, the employees who are considering unionizing. Yund’s experience shows that his clients who win union elections aren’t going through the process because they necessarily want better pay or benefits. They think about unionizing because of leadership.

“Supervisors who are trusted are consistent in what they expect of their employees,” Yund says. “It’s the supervisor who is a bully or is inconsistent or can’t be trusted who causes people to think that they need a union, not better pay and better benefits. Whether it’s people deciding to unionize or leave and go elsewhere, I think it’s because of good supervision — people are in positions of authority at the company who they can trust, people who are consistent in saying one thing and meaning it, not saying one thing and doing another.”

What does this have to do with how Yund leads his 925 employees as the firm’s managing member? Well, first of all, it’s a lesson in how to retain quality employees and it’s a lesson in the importance of good leadership.

Consistency and trust are also wound into the keys Yund sees as essentials to being a good leader.

Here’s how Yund uses the fundamentals of leadership to guide his employees.

Convey confidence

To lead in any industry, you must have experience and be knowledgeable about the company you plan to guide. That’s understandable. But Yund’s reasoning behind the obvious is that it is linked to an essential trait that good leaders must possess: confidence.

“That’s necessary in order that the leader can have the confidence to know what to do,” Yund says about being an expert on your company. “If you don’t have the confidence to know what to do, nobody else is going to have confidence that you know what you’re doing. To lead others, you have to inspire confidence, and to inspire confidence, you have to be confident, and to be confident, you have to have that experience and knowledge of the business.”

Confidence can be a chain reaction. If you’re the first domino to fall, you can’t expect others around you to stand strong.

Having confidence in your own abilities and your own decisions to lead a company starts with understanding your business. And understanding really comes down to being a better listener than a talker, Yund says. Separate yourself from anything that can be a distraction — your BlackBerry, your e-mail — and take the time to really be in the moment, ask questions, and listen to what your employees and clients are saying about the business.

“You have to commit yourself to spend the time necessary to get to know the people, the product, the company,” Yund says.

Yund had been with Frost Brown Todd for 32 years before being named as the managing member, so the learning curve wasn’t quite as steep when he was named to his current position a year and a half ago. However, that doesn’t keep him from continually learning about what is happening within the firm. Even after three decades with Frost Brown Todd, do you think Yund knows it all?

“The answer is no,” he says. “I do think that’s necessary to keep (a commitment to understanding the company). Just because you have to have confidence that the path you’re taking is the right one, you also have to be flexible and adjust where necessary.”

Case in point, when Yund took over as managing member, the country was in the thick of the recession. So he worked with Frost Brown Todd Chairman John R. Crockett III to develop a plan that would guide the firm through the economic downturn. The goal was to make sure that the economy and its continual uncertainty didn’t negatively affect the firm in a way that it lost key people.

Yund wanted input from his partners and clients. Receiving input — listening to your employees’ ideas — can’t simply come from walking around the hallways and having meetings with your senior executives. Frost Brown Todd surveyed both employees and customers. Questions were sent to the firm’s 100 largest clients. In addition to an online employee survey, Yund and Crockett personally interviewed 40 partners asking questions such as what they needed, what could management do better, and where they saw opportunities for the firm to improve and prosper.

You have to put in the effort that will allow you and your employees to have confidence in your decisions and your ultimate plan for the company. And that effort means constantly keeping the pulse of the organization.

Taking the second step of inspiring confidence in employees comes from how you present yourself and your decisions. You need to not only be communicative but open and honest.

“Make sure you never appear to be hiding the ball,” Yund says. “Make sure you don’t do anything that makes people doubt that they can trust you. That’s probably the biggest thing, so that they not only have confidence in you but confidence in their own ability to push the agenda of the company forward and the confidence to make mistakes.”

As Yund communicates the plan and the firm’s message to his department heads and practice group leaders, he asks them to use the same confidence and to lead their people in a direction that is consistent with what has been laid out for them. You do that by sending a clear message but also by consistent communication and consistent expectations. You should expect the same standards of your managers that you want them to expect of others.

“Why is consistency important?” Yund says. “Because people get confused if they get mixed messages.”

Be approachable

Yund spends a lot of time in his car. And if Frost Brown Todd’s eight locations were more than 250 miles from the home office, his sky miles, not his odometer, would be the true testament of his efforts to reach out to all of his employees and partners.

You’re never going to have as much time as you’d like to interact and communicate with employees, so you have to spend your time wisely when it comes to spreading your message. One thing Yund wants his employees to know is that he is approachable.

“You have to be approachable,” he says. “I don’t mean that in I wish I had more time to spend in walking-around management, but when I do walk around, I want to let people know I’m having fun at work, so they can feel that they can have fun at work and they should have fun at work. I think the better companies are ones where people really like their jobs as opposed to just dread Monday morning and can’t wait for Friday evening.”

When Yund talks about fun and approachability, he doesn’t mean performing juggling acts or playing practical jokes in the hallway; he means simply letting employees know that you enjoy doing your job. It’s like with any lead-by-example scenario: If you are able to demonstrate to your employees that you like your job, that sentiment rubs off.

“When I hear peopl

e complain about their jobs, and this goes back long before I was the managing member, my general response was, ‘Man, I really like what I do. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. It’s a fun place to practice law with great partners and great clients,’” he says. “If you give off the aura that that’s the way you feel about your job, I think you’re more likely to have other people feel that way, too.”

Building that approachability starts with taking advantage of whatever opportunities you have, no matter how short or how limited, to demonstrate that you enjoy talking to your people and you enjoy getting to know them. Yund tries to reach out to his 925 employees, a little more than half of whom are lawyers, by not only traveling to all of the Frost Brown Todd offices but by inviting employees to visit the larger Cincinnati and Louisville offices in order to spend time with them and introduce them to other firm employees.

It’s a circular answer, but in order to build relationships with employees and show them they can reach out to you, you must be accessible.

“That doesn’t mean sitting in my office with the door open because there are, of course, times when I can’t do that,” Yund says. “It means getting out of my office and making sure that when people come to talk to me about a problem, which is most of what I do, I don’t look at it as a chore.”

Naturally, when employees have a problem or they did something wrong, they might be worried about the reaction they’re going to receive from you. Yund takes a tip from former President Ronald Reagan by using a bit of tough-minded optimism. You have to make sure the problem gets fixed, but you also have to reassure your employee that everything is going to work out.

If you want your employees to feel that they can approach you with a problem, you have to be willing to help walk them through their dilemmas.

“I think there’s a lot to be said for helping people solve problems. That’s mostly what lawyers do anyway, so maybe it’s easier for me,” Yund says. “But I look at when people bring problems to me as an opportunity to do my job. I’ve already said I like doing my job, so I don’t want to make them think it’s difficult to bring a problem to George because my reaction is something other than optimistic.”

Relay a simple message

A big part of leadership is keeping everyone working toward the same goal. You do that through your vision.

When it comes to communicating a vision, there are two things that you need to keep in mind, Yund says. You have to keep it simple, and it must be something that is important to your business.

“It has to be something that is specific to your business theme, something that will explain a lot of what you do when you’re consistent about sticking to your plan,” he says. “That helps communicate your confidence. It helps you do what you say you will, and it helps you align your actions to your message. But I think it’s important to develop an important-to-your-business theme that is very simple.”

In Frost Brown Todd’s case, the firm thinks clients are more likely to seek services at a larger company because they expect that their needs will be met with the range of lawyers provided. In order for that to happen, the firm has to be organized and communication structures have to be such that it can meet each client’s need. The message is simple, but it’s important to the firm based on its history of having offices scattered throughout several states.

Put it this way, Yund says, “I think the easiest message to get across is the one that is simple.”

How to reach: Frost Brown Todd LLC, (513) 651-6800 or www.frostbrowntodd.com

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Focusing on the keys

George W. Roth measures customer service by whether a client calls back for repeat service.

“There’s no better recommendation than a happy client who calls you back for more work,” says Roth, founder, president and majority owner of Augere Construction Co.

Roth and his partner, James L. Stewart II, pride themselves on customer satisfaction — a result of building relationships, good communication and quickly taking care of problems.

That process helped the construction company reach revenue between $10 million and $12 million in 2009.

Smart Business spoke to Roth about how to grow a business and keeping customers happy.

Q. What are the keys to growing a company?

The relationships with the owners and clients — it is key. If you don’t do your job every time, you won’t get an opportunity to perform more work for them. We pride ourselves on most of our work is from repeat clients, whether they’re grocery store chains, churches, manufacturers or office warehouse owners.

It’s key because if you lose that relationship with that client, No. 1, you won’t be doing any more work for them, and then word-of-mouth spreads.

They will be one of your references that you can use for picking up other jobs, so it’s very key to have great client relationships.

It’s key to retaining the business level that you have and finding more and helping you expand.

We go above and beyond for all of our clients and leave them happy at the end. If there’s an issue, we make sure it’s corrected and fixed to their satisfaction every time.

Q. How do you handle issues when they occur?

Everybody is going to make mistakes, and the key when you make a mistake is not to make the same mistake twice. What you want to do is learn from your mistakes and watch other contractors, your competitors and other successful contractors that are in the area.

In Canton, a good friend of mine owns Beaver Excavating. They have done work for me in the past and we have done work for them in the past, and you can learn from people like Beaver Excavating. Their client relationships have been great throughout their career and then they take care of their employees. What we try and do is build on those same features. Put your clients first and don’t make mistakes, and if you make a mistake, don’t make it twice.

You have to get to know your clients. You know how they want things done. Everybody has their little quirks so you try and work with them. Really the key is communication with your employees and your clients so everybody knows what’s going on and there are no surprises. If you have a problem, everybody knows about it, so you can get it rectified immediately.

Q. How do you handle mistakes made by employees?

What you do is you lead by example, No. 1. If you have a presence — my partner and I have a presence on the job, maybe not on a daily basis but on a weekly basis — you help see what is going on and what a possible conflict may be.

You’re not going to be there all the time, so your superintendents are hopefully trained, they have the experience and knowledge to do what you have them out there on-site doing.

But they do make mistakes. What you do is you help them through that. Obviously, you get the mistake corrected first, show them what went wrong, and encourage them not to make that same mistake again.

That’s where the problem is. People make mistakes, and I don’t have a problem with people making mistakes. Where the difficulty is is making the same mistake the second or third time. That’s where the problem is.

A process we use with our superintendents is properly vetting them when we hire them. Initially when we hire people, we hire them on an hourly basis and see how well they can do, what they know, what they don’t know. Give them the directions that we need or they need to do the work for us. If they succeed and are successful at that on an hourly basis, then we will put them on salary with benefits and 401(k)s, company vehicles.

The people we have working with us have helped make us successful, and that’s key. You can’t do this alone. As an owner, you can’t do this alone. You have to depend on your partner and your employees in the field as well as your employees in the office. This is not a solo act; it’s a team effort.

Q. How do you communicate with clients to understand their needs and build trust?

The owners periodically come and visit the site whether it’s once a week or a couple times a week. You need to be there and need to show them around and explain to them what’s going on.

If you explain to them what’s going on, what’s going to happen next, show them any potential problems or conflicts, you can all work these things out ahead of time. By being proactive and communicating with your clients, you have a knowledgeable, proactive customer all the way through the process until completion. And I think that’s key.

You have to communicate and establish trust and relationships with your clients.

Regarding building trust, you need to be open and transparent. With open lines of communication, you must be honest with the information and give the best recommendations as proposed solutions.

The owner/client may not like the answer or solution, but you have given them the straight truth.

How to reach: Augere Construction Co., (330) 342-4287 or www.augereconstruction.com

Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

Lasting results

Edward Kaloust couldn’t believe it when his named was called to receive Medi-Weightloss Clinics’ Brand Man Award.

Kaloust, the founder and CEO of the franchised weight-loss centers, shakes off the award as a bit of a joke the company’s president pulled at the annual conference, but it has deeper meaning.

“When you get up in front of an audience and it’s all your peers and all of your employees, and they name you the brand man, you have to feel like you’re doing the right thing as far as setting the vision for everybody,” he says.

Being able to clearly share the company plan plays a vital role in execution. But you first need to build the plan on a strong foundation and adjust where needed.

The process has helped Kaloust grow Medi-Weightloss Clinics even during the recession. The company had 73 locations at the end of 2009 and more than 500 employees work under the MWLC brand nationwide.

Smart Business spoke with Kaloust about how to build a plan and get employees to live it.

Create a plan. My advice to other CEOs on how to maintain growth — and even in a down economy maintain growth — is to follow a business plan that is written. It’s sort of like a goal.

I recall one of my sons wanting to become a lawyer when he was in high school. I challenged him and said, ‘Look, if you can get on the National Honor Society and you can finish high school on the honor roll, I will purchase an automobile for you for college up to a certain amount of money.’

We took a picture of that automobile. He looked at that every day. He not only made the National Honor Society, he made the honor roll at the high school. Then he became not only a lawyer, he went on to get a master’s degree in taxation.

That’s a really simple explanation, but that was all a goal-oriented thing. There was a plan there. The plan was ‘Look, if I do this, this and this, I’m going to achieve this.’

To me, if you’re a CEO, that’s the thing you should do. You should actually have a written plan, you should follow your plan, you should make adjustments when you need to. You need to have faith in the plan and, more importantly, the employees. And you have to lead them by example.

The business plan is made up pretty much by the sales organization submitting their budget and their thoughts … all of the department heads submitting their budgets and their thoughts. And besides thoughts, they have to tell us what new employee they will need during the year and why.

Then we take all of that information together, we meet with them separately and we build the plan for that particular year.

Every single department is involved mainly from the department head.

Communicate your plan. When you develop your brand and you create your vision, you’ve got to be realistic and you’ve got to do the research and the development. You’ve got to understand and study the industry, the historical trends. You’ve got to present the economy, the social conditions.

You’ve got to develop an attitude and you’ve got to keep the vision in front of everyone and keep them aware of that vision.

It starts at the top and filters all the way through the organization right to the smallest position in the company. If you came into this company without me even talking to you, I think you would recognize (the vision) and be able to pinpoint it just by walking around and talking to the individuals and see the attitude in which they’re all working.

We do constant training on the vision. We challenged our (marketing director) and said, ‘Look, we need to keep the brand working.’

The marketing director came up with this thing called ‘Brand Jeopardy.’ We broke up in groups and we established this Jeopardy game. You got points if you could answer the question properly about the brand and we awarded the team that did the best job.

You know what happens there? Everyone got excited, they all got involved, and if they didn’t know before they got in the room, they knew when they left more about the brand. I think it’s constantly reminding the team that the brand is this. They have to believe in it and they have to drink the Kool-Aid on a regular basis.

Review your plan. A good business plan covers all facets of your company, and we review the plan. I would like to do it more, but we do it semiannually.

In a difficult period where a company might be experiencing some difficulties, we would actually do it on a quarterly basis.

We’ll sit with our plan in six months and we’ll check every area. How are we doing in sales — that’s the most important thing —how are we doing in customer service, are we maintaining the clinics that we started, which clinics are difficult, how are we going to manage those difficult clinics, and then financially, where are we according to our budget?

Our budget tells us that we should be at $10 million in revenue by the end of six months, are we there? If we’re not there, what do we need to do? If we’re there, how do we increase it perhaps in the second half of the year?

These adjustments come through logic, actual experience and real planning.

There’s nothing you should not look at within your company. The minute you don’t focus on something that’s the minute that things can start turning on you.

There is probably an eight- or 10-pronged list that CEOs, at least in my industry, they need to be aware of. If there’s anything wrong, they need to get in and fix it soon because one thing goes wrong then it’s another thing and another thing.

There are forces outside that can cause it like an economy or not having discretionary income, those you have to deal with but you certainly should be able to manage the ones you can manage and the ones you can manage are your own internal operations.

How to reach: Medi-Weightloss Clinics, www.mediweightlossclinics.com or (877) 633-5677

Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

An operating procedure

Euan S. Thomson understands the opportunities that growth brings and, well, the challenges.

In eight years, the president and CEO grew Accuray Inc.’s employee base from 50 to 450 and the number of customers from five in the U.S. to 200 in 20 countries.

“As you grow, and as you grow that fast, it’s inevitable that you get cultural challenges,” Thomson says. “Managing a culture change as well as managing a company at each level that it happens to be at, I think, is probably the biggest challenge.”

Changes such as growth can mean needed adjustments to your company culture. Accuray reached a natural evolution of moving from technology-focused to customer-centric.

Getting those changes across to your employees means you, as the CEO, need to live the culture and communicate the culture. Explain the reason for the changes in a positive light and involve employees where possible.

The developer of the robotic radiosurgery CyberKnife System reached net revenue of $233.6 million in fiscal 2009.

Smart Business spoke with Thomson about how to deal with changes to the company culture.

Start at the top. Any culture has to start at the CEO. It has to be something engrained in them. Quite frankly, if that culture isn’t part of their personality, then they’re probably not the right person for the job.

It has to start with the character of the CEO. Then I think as the management team develops, as the management team comes together, you have to be able to choose and select people who also epitomize that culture and believe in that culture and get behind that culture.

Then it has to permeate its way through the organization and it has to be represented in all aspects of the business. Everything from customer relations to human resources to the way the company presents itself to investors and the outside world.

After awhile, you tend to find that when the culture becomes obvious that the right people are attracted toward the company. Employees who fit with that culture tend to want to join the company and they want to stay at the company. People who don’t fit well tend to leave. It tends to feed upon itself.

Communicate to permeate. The one thing that is important is consistency. Today, in particular, there are so many ways of communicating, and it’s impossible to generalize exactly what the formula for communication would be, but ... whatever form of communication you use, I think the key is consistency.

There’s also some positive reinforcement there that has to be done. You have to recognize when people recognize that culture and praise them for it.

Also if you see examples that are counter to the culture, you have to explain to people that’s not the way you want the company to be represented. Again, consistency and time are the most important aspects I think.

Manage changes. Really never get too entrenched in what is being set up. We have something we say to ourselves very often inside Accuray, which is, ‘Because it was right yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to be right tomorrow.’

What we really want to get across is making a change doesn’t mean the decision we made yesterday or last year was incorrect. It just means it was right for where we were then, but it’s not right for where we are now.

Try to encourage people not to feel a need for change somehow implies a previous failure; that it’s just changing priorities and being open-minded to that change.

A lot of that (open-mindedness) comes from just generally open communication with people, making people feel comfortable with discussing things and discussing their challenges and finding solutions together. I think that’s a real key.

You can’t have a culture where people aren’t afraid to bring up the need for the change of moving priorities, and they must feel encouraged about identifying things that need doing and need changed in the organization.

Nobody should feel defensive about it. You have to encourage people to not get defensive if the need to change is brought up.

One of the keys to (embracing change) is not being critical during the change process, always focusing on the positive aspects of change: where it will lead you, what it will bring to you and the employees of the company if we make a change in a certain way.

Not criticizing where you’re coming from but being focused on where you’re going to so that people don’t feel the change process will naturally be accompanied by some form of criticism.

It has to be a very positive thing for everybody and you have to maintain a positive atmosphere around the change. I think in that way people naturally adapt.

Include employees. We were actually successful at selling and maintaining growth in an era when many companies failed. The way we did that, the way we maintained sales momentum was we brought many more people than just the salespeople into the sales environment.

We recognized that our customers were much more concerned; they had a level of fear, if you will, on spending large sums of money. Our equipment costs $3 million to $4 million.

We analyzed the situation, we recognized there was a need for it, and we brought people in. We brought in technical specialists who could explain the technology, we also reached out to our customers and we involved our customers as part of the team in talking to prospective customers.

It’s natural that, as a company grows, certain silos develop because when you’re a small company everybody tends to know what everybody else is doing and everybody tends to be somewhat involved in everything.

As you develop as a company it becomes natural that you move away from that model and people’s tasks and jobs become more specific.

In that process, there’s a risk that silos develop. Any CEO needs to be proactive in recognizing that and working hard at ensuring cross-company communication and teamwork.

It’s probably something all companies face and a problem in which CEOs have to face up to.

How to reach: Accuray Inc., (408) 716-4600 or www.accuray.com

Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

Everyday actions

Chef is not part of Michael B. Weidner’s job description, but he doesn’t mind picking up a spatula now and then.

Recently, the president and CEO of ACRT Inc. was found flipping pancakes and sausages for an employee breakfast.

Similar events, including a chili cook-off, are a small gesture to keep employees motivated, but a leader’s real work is shown through everyday actions, Weidner says.

Communication and transparency are the two factors that Weidner uses to empower his 400 employees at the utility vegetation management consulting company.

Smart Business spoke with Weidner about how to motivate and empower employees.

Q. How do you keep employees motivated today?

The job can be stressful. We’re contractors; we’re always bidding on work. We have a lot of stuff going on and (people need) distraction and a sense of team outside of just pounding out numbers, trying to reduce costs, dealing with the economy.

The best way to do that a lot of times is to get people involved in doing something else, something as simple as making them breakfast. They can get a raise and a nice review and whatever else, but you need to say things during the course of the year that show them more than just tell them, actually demonstrate you care about them as people.

(Breakfast) that is just a little thing, it’s what you do every day. My grandfather always talked about doing what you say and saying what you do is the best means to gain respect.

People hear your words, but they watch your actions. What sticks more is what you do. We expect from our executive team, our leadership, our managers, to exhibit these qualities. The qualities of the company are honesty, hard work, respect, trustworthiness.

Q. What are the keys to empowering and motivating employees?

Personally, I’m a transparency guy. The more the people know, the better off they are.

If you give everybody the whole picture, then they can be engrossed in the whole story not just a little piece of it. Let’s say you’re the receptionist here, if you know exactly what’s going on, then in your job if somebody asks you a question, you have a better answer than if you just keep them in the dark.

We’re in a competitive environment so there are certain things, if they got out in our industry, it would take away some of our competitive advantage. What we share with (employees) is pretty much everything except for the secret sauce: how we do pricing, what are some of our key advantages over our competitors, how do we bid for work.

We’re having our annual shareholders meeting and all of our employees, because we’re employee-owned, have the opportunity to sit and watch. I just give them an overview of the last year and what our plans are for the next.

We provide all of our financial information to our middle management so that when they’re out talking to employees they can tell employees what’s going on, how we’re doing and why we’re doing the way we’re doing.

We have newsletters. We do a lot of things to keep people informed.

Our biggest challenge is communication. We’re about 400 employees spread across 25 states and our people don’t report to an ACRT office, they often just work out of their truck out in the field. Communication is really a difficult thing.

On an annual basis, I see probably 50 percent of our employees in person. I go out and visit customers, visit employees and just find out how they’re doing and how their lives are going.

Because we’re an ESOP company, if our employees know more, then they make better decisions that lead to a better line for the company.

If you don’t know something, you’re going to make up an answer. That’s what people do. We all do it.

If nobody tells you what the answer is, you’ll figure it out yourself and maybe it’s the wrong answer. By being transparent — ‘This is what we’re doing; this is why we’re doing it’ — people all have the correct answer and people can make good decisions on spending money, on how they work, customer interactions.

Overall, it’s a wonderful thing when everybody gets it. Now, that’s impossible because not everybody gets it every day. But the closer you can get to that, the better off you are.

Q. What is the best way to effectively communicate?

I would get out of my office and go and physically see the people and talk to them as individuals. Not from the role of CEO but from, ‘Hi, my name is Mike. I work at ACRT. Can you help me understand what’s going on?’ And tell them what you see is going on so they see your opinion, too; have a conversation.

I’ve often said we do a good job of providing information to our employees but we really don’t have an all knowing. We don’t have complete understanding until we have a conversation so we can ask questions of each other.

‘Did you understand what I said?’ And if they said no, ‘Well, what didn’t you understand?’

I can send you a list of all the things I think, and if you just take that and write that down, you have no clue what I really think because you didn’t get to ask me any questions. If you get to ask me questions, I get to answer your questions. I get to ask you questions. Then we have thorough understanding.

I would get out of my chair, and if I was in another company and I didn’t know the answer, I would go find the answer.

How to reach: ACRT Inc., (800) 622-2562 or www.acrtinc.com