Controversy sparks conversation, and the recent Penn State scandal is no exception. After details unfolded of the abuses committed by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the school’s complicity in covering it up, professionals have been talking about the steps taken and not taken by university officials to properly manage the crisis.
If there can be a silver lining, it is that business owners are examining — many for the first time — how they would handle a similar crisis. Organizational crises can explode in an instant. These incidents briefly capture headlines, but the physical, physiological and financial repercussions can have a lifelong impact on people and threaten an organization’s profitability, productivity and brand image indefinitely. Companies must act quickly to contain the damage and minimize the impact.
Prepare a management plan
A crisis management plan helps a company coordinate its response and prioritize its concerns, whether that involves protecting people, the environment, assets or the company’s reputation. A crisis plan also outlines all aspects of communication flow and who has what responsibilities.
Those identified to serve on a crisis response team should be familiar with the plan. Some companies conduct practice drills to rehearse procedures and identify weak spots.
In the heat of a crisis, a multitude of operational units and functional areas assemble to tackle immediate and tactical matters. But when an employee’s actions, intentional or unintentional, cause or contribute to a crisis, HR often plays a more significant role, advising management on how to deal with employees involved, as well as those impacted.
Immediate suspension of employees may be appropriate to allow time to investigate details or accusations. Consider, too, whether authorities should be contacted. If a law has been broken, the company has an obligation to notify law enforcement officials. Management may be reluctant to move too hastily, but inaction or a delayed response can be perceived as ambivalence and further damage the company’s reputation.
Companies should have a policy that dictates the precise steps to be taken when there is suspected or alleged misconduct so management can ensure it is following company policy as its continues to examine the matter.
Above all, communicate
Communicating internally and externally becomes paramount in a crisis. Prompt and proactive communication provides companies the opportunity to tell their side of the story. Ignoring or burying bad facts won’t change them nor can any amount of spin, but open and honest communication can shape how the company is perceived during and after the crisis.
After the initial impact, consider the steps necessary for the company to fully stabilize and ultimately recover. There could be ongoing investigations, questions of liability, or required actions involving workers’ compensation claims or potential lawsuits. Also consider what additional employee assistance may be needed.
As with many things in business, the best defense to a crisis is often a good offense. Businesses can prevent many mishaps and certain misconduct by ensuring that employees are familiar with company policies and thoroughly trained on safety protocols. And if something still goes wrong, having provided the proper instruction may mitigate some company liability. Also, as with the Penn State scandal, ongoing abuse could be stopped and damage minimized if wrongdoing, once discovered, is immediately reported to appropriate authorities inside and outside the organization.
Companies should have procedures in place that allow employees to anonymously report incidents without fear of retribution. Familiarize employees with those procedures, as well as the possible disciplinary or legal ramifications of not reporting illegal activities.
Promote an open culture that encourages forthright communication and forbids collusion and cover-ups. The most visionary business managers cannot predict the timing or nature of their next company crisis, but they do acknowledge that a crisis will eventually occur.
Preparedness, precautions and practice can help companies respond promptly to crises and minimize the damage they can cause.
John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com
Texas offers specific sales tax exemptions that can benefit the energy and manufacturing industries.
“These two industries are considered ‘tent poles’ for the Texas economy,” says Chris Wallace, senior manager in Weaver’s state and local tax practice. “Even in the information age, a large percentage of the state’s economy is directly or indirectly tied to energy companies and manufacturers. The state wants to encourage businesses to stay in Texas, expand in Texas and locate to Texas.”
Smart Business spoke with Wallace about how energy companies and manufacturers can fully take advantage of the available tax incentives and exemptions.
What should energy and manufacturing companies know about Texas sales tax exemptions?
It’s a good news, bad news scenario. The good news is that Texas offers numerous exemptions to the energy and manufacturing industries related to equipment, supplies and other operational purchases. The bad news is that the exemptions can be complicated, subject to change and difficult to track when you consider how many vendor invoices companies have to process. The bottom line is that companies need to be proactive if they want to benefit from the exemptions that the Texas legislature has granted to them.
What are examples of specific exemptions that lead to refunds?
Exemptions for exploration and production companies are all over the board — well services, lease equipment, chemicals, etc. One simple exemption many businesses miss out on is oil-soluble chemicals. Since these chemicals become part of the oil and gas stream and are later resold, clients can purchase them tax free. However, vendors are required to charge tax on these chemicals unless they receive an exemption form from the purchaser.
As for manufacturing, operations obviously vary greatly from company to company. Let’s use an example everyone is familiar with — restaurants. A restaurant can issue an exemption certificate in lieu of tax when purchasing cooking equipment such as a microwave. Since the microwave causes a physical change to the product that is being sold, it qualifies as exempt manufacturing equipment. Again, it is the purchaser who is ultimately responsible for issuing the appropriate exemption form when making the purchase to ensure they take advantage of the exemption.
How can energy and manufacturing companies take advantage of sales tax exemptions in Texas?
It’s a three-step process. First, companies need to understand the exemptions that the legislature has granted to them. Next, they need to identify the vendors from which they make exempt purchases and that may have erroneously charged sales tax on exempt purchases. The last step is to communicate with the vendors, provide any needed exemption forms and then monitor them to minimize or eliminate future tax overpayments.
Are Texas sales tax exemptions significantly different than other states?
Not surprisingly, it is difficult to find a state with sales tax exemptions for the energy industry that are as generous as those in Texas. Most states do not offer any specific exemptions for the energy industry. Many states offer some exemptions related to manufacturing. However, with a high sales tax rate and many useful exemptions, Texas manufacturers stand to benefit more than most others.
What are some mistakes companies might be making regarding tax incentives, and how can they mitigate them?
All companies take steps to ensure that they are charging tax correctly to their customers. However, most companies do not make the same effort with regard to the taxes they pay to suppliers. The most common mistake, which leads to tax exemptions being wasted, is when companies assume their vendors are charging tax correctly without proactively addressing the issue. Reviewing all vendors that make a material amount of sales to your company is the best way to improve your sales tax compliance and reduce both overpayments and underpayments. Comptroller regulations require that a vendor charge tax on a purchase even if an exemption can be applied if the vendor does not receive the required exemption forms from the purchaser.
If a company is audited for sales tax by the Comptroller, won’t the auditor explain the exemptions that apply to that business?
Unfortunately, it is exceedingly rare for an auditor to be forthcoming with information about exemptions and potential refunds when conducting an audit. Their audit procedures are specifically designed to focus solely on underpayments. Offhand, I can only remember one audit in my entire career where an auditor voluntarily scheduled refunds related to these kinds of operational exemptions.
How can businesses ensure they’re utilizing all of the exemptions available to them?
One option is to engage a service provider to do a sales tax refund review. This consists of a detailed review of a company’s purchases to identify vendors who charge tax on exempt items. The adviser would communicate its findings to management and review specific vendors and invoices where tax was charged in error to help reduce future overpayments.
The service provider can tailor reviews to require minimal assistance from the company’s personnel. It’s not uncommon to only need five to 10 hours of a company’s time to complete a sales tax refund review. Saving money by taking advantage of available exemptions is much more ‘knowledge intensive’ than
Chris Wallace is a senior manager in state and local tax services at Weaver. Reach him at (972) 448-9294 or
Training really sets a foundation for your staff as to what you’re trying to get accomplished — your goals and visions. In addition, it gives employees an idea as to what’s in the future, because as an employee goes through the interview and training process, he or she wants to know what he or she gains from taking the position.
“Specifically in Houston, there are so many competitors here that if we don’t have a good training program in place — if we don’t have a good development program in place — we can lose some of our good talent to our competitors,” says Jeremy Wilcomb, the operations manager at The Daniel Group.
Smart Business spoke with Wilcomb about some best practices to follow when implementing an employee training and development program.
Why might some employers hesitate to put formal training or employee development in place?
Maybe in the past, you’ve hired experienced employees or didn’t have the manpower to put forth a formal training program or dedicate anyone to training employees. You just trusted that those you hired had enough experience to develop themselves. You might hesitate because of the time and effort that goes into putting a program in place. With any company, you want to see an instant return on your investment, and that isn’t always clear with a training and development program.
Also, employees sometimes have the tendency to hop to the next best paycheck, so it’s hard for companies — small companies specifically — to put a lot of money into training or development with the fear that trained employee will inevitably leave. However, that’s why it’s so important to set the standard up front with employee training, career development and constant education throughout the course of an employee’s employment. It will help the employee feel more valued and assist with retention.
What training and development opportunities should employers make available to employees?
Industry-specific training is always good to have, whether employees have been in the industry for a long period of time or are new to the industry. Make the training specific to their job so they are constantly getting educated about changes. That constant training will help keep them up to speed and potentially allow them to think ahead of the curve.
Even if it’s just little tidbits here and there, you can try to do some sort of continuing education quarterly. A lot of the continuing education is very minimal in cost — maybe someone comes up with a new idea that you can share. As long as someone is taking some sort of nugget away from a training session, you can consider it to be successful.
What type of training you should implement depends on the employee and situation. A lot of companies do online training. It can be inexpensive and really effective, but there’s no one-on-one interaction and it’s hard to ask questions. It’s more of an information dump, which works with busy schedules and provides people time outside of the workplace to continually educate themselves. With open forum topic training, there’s a dialog that is created between the trainee and the trainer so you can dive a little bit deeper into a particular topic. There are also webinars, which always open up to questions at the end.
You can create a combination that works for you. For example, it’s great to have some sort of roundtable or open forum training quarterly, with other supplemental training as necessary.
How should you deal with the cost while ensuring employees are making the most of the training?
There’s never a perfect science to that. However, you can have anyone who undertakes training write up an overview of what they learned — what they took away from it, what they liked, what they didn’t like. This can help you decide whether it was worth the cost. If you’re sending employees to a conference, which is expensive, that’s always the big question: Is it worth the cost, and which employees are ‘A players’ who can get the most out of it?
You should set up goals and parameters that you want your staff to meet, while budgeting additional training costs for new employees up front. As long as they are bringing some sort of piece out of any type of training and using it in the field to some success, the cost often will justify the means.
What are some common mistakes employers make when creating an employee training and development plan?
Some of the common mistakes include reading too much into it and putting too much information in it, or being too vague by rushing through it and saying, ‘Hey, here’s a pamphlet. Go get ’em, tiger.’ It’s like training your kids; there’s that medium level that you need to have to make sure that it’s comprehensible and that they can retain the information, while bringing in different inserts into the ongoing training. Another mistake is if there’s no followup.
The plan should have a small overview, a table of contents, as well as go over company values and all of the pertinent information of whatever area they are in. Then later, you can do the ongoing education and training and key in on specific points of their position. This keeps them from information overload.
Jeremy Wilcomb is the operations manager at The Daniel Group. Reach him at (713) 932-9313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Staffing is brought to you by The Daniel Group
Seventy-five percent of small businesses have expressed that their financial institution doesn’t effectively understand their needs. As a result of this dissatisfaction, the banking industry is moving to more of a relationship manager model to service the small business segment.
“Banks are hiring full-time relationship managers who have a number of small businesses that they call on,” says Gary Wright, senior vice president, small business banking executive, at Cadence Bank. “These relationship managers offer expertise in the ‘business’ of small business, and also bring an understanding of particular segments and industries that can be extremely effective in identifying the right solutions to meet a small business’s financial goals.”
You, as a small business owner, have a person to call on if you have an issue — rather than an 800 number — and that banker knows who you are and is informed about the issues impacting your business, he says.
Smart Business spoke with Wright about choosing a bank and how relationship banking can give business owners the best service for their financial needs now and in the future.
As you begin to shop for a financial institution, what should you consider first?
First, you need to give thought to why you need a bank in the first place. Are you looking for deposit services? Do you need cash management solutions? Are you looking for loans or sound advice regarding what it takes to qualify for a loan or a loan that best fits your needs? While it’s important to evaluate a bank’s pricing or incentives, also think about the overall banking relationship that the bank is offering.
Look for a bank that can grow with you as your business progresses. You may only need a business checking account today, but what might your business need in the next five to 10 years? Think long term — approach the decision as you would consider any long-term investment. Do research to find a bank that is fiscally sound and will be around long term, as the industry deals with increased costly regulations.
Size is important, too, especially when it comes to lending. Regional banks generally can offer you more competitive rates compared with local community banks, as well as less bureaucracy and more personalized service than larger institutions. Regional banks often offer the advantage of online banking and treasury management services that can help increase your company’s efficiency.
How can businesses benefit from banks that are relationship focused?
Relationship-focused banks are concerned with building relationships with small business customers by focusing on the long term and incorporating forward-thinking strategy. Their bankers take an interest in you and your business. They want to know how you got started and about the successes and challenges that led you to where you are. They really dig deep into the nuts and bolts of your company to learn your business and financial operations so they can offer solutions that are specific to your needs.
With a relationship focus, there’s greater accessibility. Working with a bank that knows you and your business can speed up problem solving, for example, as the bank already knows your company and can easily inform you about the different options that are available. The bank can match the solution to the need, rather than just pushing a product. That’s the whole point of building a relationship with the small business.
As a business owner, you may often be on the go and require banking services that allow you to bank 24/7, wherever you are. What sort of solutions should you look for?
Technology is one of the fastest-growing areas in banking. You should consider a bank that is committed to technology, such as:
• Online banking that provides businesses with access to business online banking and treasury solutions.
• Mobile banking. As the number of smartphone users grows, coupled with the countless demands small business owners face daily, mobile banking is increasingly becoming a necessity. Many banks offer mobile banking apps and specially designed mobile sites that allow small business customers to access online banking services using smartphones or tablets.
• Text banking, where you can text your request and receive details on your account almost instantly. You also can transfer funds from one account to another via text.
How does the bank provide cash management solutions that take into account a small business consumer’s needs?
Generally, treasury management solutions cater to larger commercial businesses, but many of these services are increasingly in demand by smaller businesses. Treasury management solutions now are being structured to affordably help small businesses with their cash flow processes and protect them from fraud. For example, remote deposit capture services can allow you to deposit checks to your business checking account from your desk and are designed and priced for businesses with a lower volume of checks.
Whatever services you need, the goal of the relationship manager is to help you identify and enact financial solutions that will help your business prosper today and tomorrow. Small business owners are busy juggling numerous responsibilities, and it’s valuable to have a steward that understands your business and can provide the tools necessary to make the right
Gary Wright is a senior vice president, small business banking executive, at Cadence Bank. Reach him at (713) 871-3970 or email@example.com.
Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Cadence Bank
Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.
Simply put, empathy is the ability to step into someone else's shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs.
In the workplace, empathy can show a deep respect for co-workers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale and loyalty. Empathy is a powerful tool in the leadership belt of a well-liked and respected executive.
We could all take a lesson from nurses about being empathetic. Time and again, nurses rate as the most trusted profession. Why? Because they use proper empathy to make patients feel cared for and safe.
Over the years I have discovered that most people who score high on assessments for empathy have no idea why. They do not completely understand what it is they actually do that makes others see them as empathetic. They can only express that they:
- Like people.
- Enjoy working with and helping others.
- Value people as individuals.
In order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the importance of empathy in the workplace, I will pose four questions regarding the nature, role and benefits of empathy.
1. Why does it matter for us to understand the needs of others?
By understanding others we develop closer relationships.
The radar of every good executive just went off when they read the word “relationships.” This is not a bad thing since most people understand the problems that happen when improper relationships are developed in the workplace.
This being said, the baby cannot be thrown out with the bath water. In order for a team of workers and their leaders to work powerfully together, proper relationships must be built and deepened.
When this happens through empathy, trust is built in the team. When trust is built, good things begin to happen.
2. What traits/behaviors distinguish someone as empathetic?
Empathy requires three things: listening, openness and understanding.
Empathetic people listen attentively to what you’re telling them, putting their complete focus on the person in front of them and not getting easily distracted. They spend more time listening than talking because they want to understand the difficulties others face, all of which helps to give those around them the feeling of being heard and recognized.
Empathetic executives and managers realize that the bottom line of any business is only reached through and with people. Therefore, they have an attitude of openness towards and understanding of the feelings and emotions of their team members.
3. What role does empathy play in the workplace? Why does it matter?
When we understand our team, we have a better idea of the challenges ahead of us.
To drive home the above point, further consider these:
- Empathy allows us to feel safe with our failures because we won’t simply be blamed for them.
- It encourages leaders to understand the root cause behind poor performance.
- Being empathetic allows leaders to help struggling employees improve and excel.
Empathy plays a major role in the workplace for every organization that will deal with failures, poor performance and employees who truly want to succeed. As leaders, our role is simple—deal empathetically with our team and watch them build a strong and prosperous organization.
4. So why aren’t we being more empathetic at work?
Empathy takes work.
- Demonstrating empathy takes time and effort to show awareness and understanding.
- It’s not always easy to understand why an employee thinks or feels the way they do about a situation.
- It means putting others ahead of yourself, which can be a challenge in today’s competitive workplace.
- Many organizations are focused on achieving goals no matter what the cost to employees.
Each of these reasons can be seen as true.
Let me ask a question though: What distinguishes average to mediocre leaders from those who excel?
In my opinion, the distinction comes through the ability of the leader who actively works against all the so-called “reasons” and incorporates an attitude of empathy throughout his or her organization. That type of leader will excel.
By spending more time learning about the needs of their employees, leaders can set the tone and approach taken by their employees to achieve their organization’s goals.
When writing about empathy I am reminded of the famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
This is a truth that has long stood the test of time. It is true for our relationships in and out of the workplace.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Roadblocks abound in business. Most business owners have been told, “No, we won’t fund your great invention.” Most executives have been told, “We’re not ready yet” to enter that wide-open, new market. But how they respond to those obstacles, the “no”s that are inevitable, is often a good indicator of who will ultimately succeed.
The first step is to step back and assess the causes of the opposition. That likely requires asking probing questions to get insight about the reasons and reasoning behind the rejection. The banker who rejected your idea may have valuable insight into your industry sector, information that could affect how you choose to proceed.
While data gathering, also probe for guidance on how to make your proposal stronger, when to re-pitch your proposal and who else may have decision-making or decision-influencing authority. The goal should be to identify possible avenues for future appeals.
Armed with the new information, it’s useful to then take a look back at where you are in relation to your goals for the project. Review and celebrate your successes. It will give you the energy to continue onward. But measuring your results, as well as who helped you accomplish the past results, also may shed light on who may be able to guide or assist you in your next steps.
Now, modify your strategy. Every rejection should be viewed as an opportunity to improve. Your planned adjustments should be listed and scheduled. Then, as you progress in making changes, you will be able to see your accomplishments and have a record of how you responded to different scenarios for future reference. It also will give you a clear return on investment in time and energy spent and keep you centered on progress.
Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.
There are many pressures on organizations to make the most out of every customer interaction and maximize the return on investment on marketing and sales spend. However, businesses often don’t have the work force necessary to handle these functions as timely and effectively as they would like or the tools and processes in place to measure and track success. Companies that are able to track interaction, engagement, investments and customer patterns and behaviors often enlist the help of a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
“A CRM tool helps businesses manage sales, marketing and customer service operations without significantly expanding their work force,” says Gina Rosen, a consultant at Columbus. “CRM, in the past, may have been nice to have — a luxury technology, but in today’s marketplace, it’s a must have to stay competitive.”
Smart Business spoke with Rosen about CRM, its applications and how it has helped businesses improve processes to better engage customers, target sales and gauge marketing effectiveness.
What are the typical features offered by a CRM system?
The features offered by CRM are very diverse. It’s primary applications are contact management; marketing automation; sales force automation; sales and lead management; reporting and analytics; call center and case management, particularly with respect to customer inquiries or complaints; workflow automation, or automating manual processes; and social media integrations. Businesses have the option for on-premise solutions where the software is hosted at the business on its servers, or they can utilize a Web-based or cloud option, which involves less initial financial investment. The software can also be customized to meet the particular needs of a business.
Is CRM cost prohibitive for businesses?
No it is not, however, had this question been asked six or seven years ago the answer would have been yes. Previously, enterprise-ready CRM software required significant funds to get the software and hardware in place. But with the advent of cloud-based solutions, even businesses run by a sole proprietor can afford CRM and leverage its applications to optimize processes. The cloud-based model allows business owners to pay through subscriptions that charge per user. The pay per user cloud-based model offers a low-cost opportunity to implement CRM, experience the value and see the return on investment (ROI).
What are the most compelling reasons an organization would implement CRM technology?
A recent survey of 200 top-performing small and medium-sized businesses showed that the number one reason businesses implement CRM software is to establish data-based metrics for sales and marketing. It also provides the ability to show ROI and quantitative key marketing metrics that mean a lot to businesses.
The second reason CRM is implemented is to proactively communicate with customers. Customers expect a lot these days, and one of those expectations is that businesses, whether small or large, interact with them. To stay in front of your customers and offer personal interaction is critical.
Within that same vein, the third reason companies take advantage of this software is for custom-targeted sales and marketing. With CRM you can customize that end user experience, which makes your sales force more effective. Customers can interact directly with your CRM custom solution through your existing website and experience a tailored visit based on previous interactions, or your sales force can utilize the standard feature when interacting with customers and have all of a customer’s history available in one spot.
What are the most important value drivers for CRM?
The top value for a business is the software’s ability to help manage marketing and sales campaigns. CRM can help businesses test marketing and distribution strategies and gauge customer reactions. This information can be applied to future marketing efforts.
Another important value driver is that the software serves as a customer data repository, allowing you to consolidate customer knowledge within the organization in CRM. This includes far more than just contact details, but also customer behaviors and attitudes and price sensitivity. This, combined with personal data, can allow businesses to build more effective and predictive sales models and marketing campaigns that result in higher sales.
Further, CRM systems can help demonstrate ROI. With CRM you can quantitatively show increases in sales, customer referrals and participation in promotions.
What is the most common challenge a business faces when implementing CRM?
Typically the challenge is user adoption — getting your sales force and front line users to embrace CRM. They often see populating the fields as double entry, an extra step, or another way for management to check in on them. But once the sales force sees that using the software results in more sales, they can easily overcome that hurdle.
What are the most common performance metrics?
The top one, hands down, is revenue growth. The faster you can show ROI the better.
Second is growth in a business’s customer base, which means adding new customers or converting leads into paying customers.
The third most common performance metric is aggregating customer data. Many companies have customer data spread out over disparate systems. CRM gives businesses a one-stop shop for their records.
Can you give us some examples of companies that have benefited from implementing CRM?
The Toledo Mud Hens baseball team, which works within the media and entertainment industry, had ticket sales go up 88 percent in one year and their internal operations couldn’t keep up with demand. Adopting CRM allowed them to automate and streamline inefficient processes, which translated into more ticket sales. A customer testimonial is available with more information.
Another example is the human resources consulting firm Findley Davies. Implementing CRM in their call center has given them the ability to manage daily responsibilities and track productivity. It has dramatically changed and improved day-to-day operations within their Benefits Administration department.
Gina Rosen is a consultant at Columbus. Contact her at (248) 850-2195 or email@example.com.
With more than 20 years in the market and 6,000 successful business implementations, Columbus is a preferred Microsoft Dynamics business partner for ambitious companies. Columbus’ key deliverables include flexible and future-safe ERP, CRM, BI and related business applications that deliver competitive advantage and immediate impact.
Polly LaBarre is the co-author (with Bill Taylor) of “Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win.” The strategies, tactics and advice in “Mavericks at Work” grew out of in-depth access to a collection of forward-looking companies. These maverick companies are attracting millions of customers, creating thousands of jobs and generating billions of dollars of wealth.
Here is a portion of my interview with LaBarre about the book, which covers forming strategies, unleashing ideas, connecting with customers and enabling employees to achieve great results.
Q: Describe what you mean by “maverick.”
A: Mavericks are different, edgy and independent of spirit. Their personal style or message may not appeal to everyone. But that’s precisely the point. Mavericks are defined by the power and originality of their ideas. They stand out from the crowd because they stand for something truly unique. What’s more, they take stands against the status quo, in defiance of the industry elite and offer compelling alternatives to business as usual. Mavericks may be fighters, but they’re not rebels without a cause. Their sense of purpose is not only powerfully distinct (Think: Southwest Airline’s quest to democratize the skies); it’s provocative and disruptive (Think: HBO’s declaration of originality, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO”).
Don’t confuse mavericks’ unswerving commitment to a cause and their lack of patience for the status quo with the egotism, monomania and power mongering modeled by too many celebrity CEOs and moguls. Mavericks, in fact, have a sense of humility.
Q: Are mavericks born or made?
A: It’s probably a little bit nature, a little bit nurture. We wrote this book to nurture the maverick in all businesspeople. What red-blooded working person wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says, ‘I think I’ll stand for business as usual today’? We all want to make a mark, forge our own path and express ourselves in the world. It’s just that some of us need more of a nudge down that path than others.
Hopefully, the maverick individuals and ideas we present are inspiring and instructive enough to move people. The 32 companies we feature have vastly different histories, cultures and business models. We examined glamorous fields like fashion, advertising and Hollywood, as well as old-line industries like construction, mining and household products. The maverick leaders of these organizations are young, old, women, men, Americans, Europeans, charismatic and preacher-like, retiring and almost reticent. They just don’t fit any one mold.
Q: How does a maverick survive within a traditional company?
A: We encountered a bunch of mavericks inside big traditional companies. They all seemed to have a couple of survival strategies in common: They unleashed tough questions and critiques of their organization without losing their sense of loyalty to it. They’re the kind of questions every CEO should be asking. For example, Jane Harper asked of IBM, ‘Why would great people want to work here?’ And Larry Huston, now vice president of innovation at Procter & Gamble, argued, ‘The current business model for R&D is broken. How can P&G possibly build all of the scientific capabilities we need by ourselves?’
Mavericks don’t just ask questions, they act. We saw this again and again: They just got started, usually without a budget or formal permission, by designing an experiment around their question. Jane Harper launched an experimental Extreme Blue lab in Cambridge and spent a couple of years begging and borrowing resources until the program’s impact became clear.
Mavericks look for peers and fellow travelers outside the boundaries of their company. Not surprisingly, mavericks tend to click when they meet other mavericks. They’re great networkers and learners and are always looking for kindred spirits for support and ideas.
Q: Who is the quintessential maverick in American business?
A: Herb Kelleher and the team at Southwest Airlines. In the midst of the financial carnage and heartaches of the airline business, there’s one company that keeps growing, keeps creating jobs and keeps generating wealth. And that, of course, is Southwest. Southwest didn’t achieve these results because its fares were a little lower than Delta’s or its service was a little friendlier than United’s. It achieved those results because it reimagined what it meant to be an airline. If you ask Herb Kelleher what business he’s in, he won’t say the airline business or the transportation business. He’ll say that Southwest is in the freedom business. The purpose of Southwest is to democratize the skies, to make it as easy and affordable for rank-and-file Americans to travel as it is for the well-to-do. That’s a pretty commonplace idea today but largely because Southwest fought the entrenched conventions of the industry so doggedly in pursuit of that purpose. Its unrivaled success is based on its unique sense of mission rather than any breakthrough technology or unprecedented business insight.
Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It seems that every other week there’s a major story in the media about a company claiming that one of its competitors has purloined a cherished secret that provided an unfair competitive advantage. This is all part of running a business in today’s fishbowl environment, where sensitive information is too abundant and can be obtained by almost anyone and everyone who is so inclined.
In this era of heightened visibility, some of the best companies, especially high-tech firms, play everything incredibly close to the vest, particularly when it comes to providing information about current sales trends, new products and projects that they are exploring or developing. This is because such information is a coveted company asset. In today’s “victory at almost any cost” world, too many are looking for that edge to leverage whatever they can to stack the odds in their favor.
We also read too frequently about how easily these secrets have somehow wound up in the wrong hands. Sometimes a loose-lipped employee simply talks too much to too many people in the wrong places. Occasionally, someone simply leaves a briefcase or smartphone, jam-packed with confidential information, in a bar, at a restaurant or on a plane.
What’s not talked about much is the frequent practice of competitors simply asking what appear to be innocuous questions of lower-level personnel in a company in order to garner nuggets of “inside information” usually without risking the perils of violating any legal statutes. It’s also common practice for Wall Street security analysts to simply walk into a retail store, as an example, and begin asking questions about trends, what products are selling and which aren’t. It all gets down to the reality that it never hurts to ask a question because one never knows when a valuable tidbit will be revealed.
Like it or not, this is just the way it is, and there will always be people who ask and others who tell. What can you do to protect your coveted information? The answer is basic: mandate that providing revealing responses to specific questions is a violation of company policy and could result in draconian consequences for anyone who spills the beans, no matter if well-intended. Once your employees and suppliers know the ground rules and the consequences, you’re one step closer to closing the possibility of vital information inadvertently slipping through the sieve.
The best way to accomplish this is to establish, enforce and continually reiterate a “one voice, one company” policy. This translates into all hands within your organization knowing what can be told to outsiders and, more importantly, what can’t. This policy must be in writing and must state what types of questions are off limits. It must also explain how the questioner is to be handled when the interrogatory is posed. In my retail chain experience, we often had competitors, vendors and industry analysts visit stores and ask all types of questions. Candidly, I don’t blame them, but with a clearly understood policy, employees know how to respond by referring the questions to headquarters and a specific department or individual. Ninety-nine percent of the time the person asking the question never follows up with the corporate office because he or she knows the desired answers will not be forthcoming.
Most employees want to please their employer and most want others to think they are in the know. When you create an ironclad policy, it takes the pressure off of your people and adds another layer of security about things no outsider needs to know. For your suppliers, require that each sign a confidentiality agreement and specify that you have a simple “one strike and you’re out” policy. Also use your own secret shoppers to test your vulnerability by having them ask the forbidden, just to verify that the company veil is not being lifted by the unauthorized.
This protocol is certainly not foolproof, and periodically, there will be lapses — the most frightening of which are the ones you’ll never learn about. It all gets down to a numbers game. Confidential information, just like the cash, equipment and other assets on your balance sheet, can never be taken for granted and must be protected. Anyone can look in your fishbowl in this day and age, but it is your job to make sure that what they think they might find is not what they get.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
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Are we grateful for the things we have? Are we grateful that we live in a country where the government can’t seize our businesses, where there’s no threat of rebellion and where we can go home to the comforts of our modern homes?
Many people in the world don’t have any of those luxuries. Some can’t even look forward to a good meal or clean drinking water. Most of us here in the United States don’t have to worry about such problems because the people that came before us worked hard to create a nation that has an amazing standard of living. The generation before us rose from the troubles of the Great Depression, led the fight against Nazi aggression that killed millions and returned home to finish making America into a superpower, but do we ever pause to think about the contributions our mothers and fathers made to make things easier for us today? They lived in small houses, often sheltering multiple generations, and worked long hours to make a better life for their children and grandchildren and selflessly went off to war to protect our freedom.
Do we ever think about any of that? The answer for many is no. Gratitude is in danger of becoming a lost art as we focus on accumulating money and possessions, always looking to be better or richer than the next person.
How many times have you read about or talked to someone who had everything you could ever ask for — nice home, nice car and no money problems — lamenting the fact that he or she doesn’t have as much as or more than someone else? We sometimes catch ourselves comparing who has more instead of who has less.
As business leaders, we should have some sense of moral obligation to help those within our sphere of influence, whether it’s our peers, employees or the person who lives down the street. We should be doing our best to look out for those around us, but too often, our days are consumed with the details of business.
Our world may be built on information, but wisdom is lacking. Business has been boiled down to statistical analysis and quarterly earnings reports while people are just another line on the ledger. There is often little room for gratitude in corporate America, and that’s a shame.
When our focus is on accumulating things, we can never enjoy it, because we don’t know how. How can we enjoy something when we’ve already raced off to try to get more? Like a kid tearing through a pile of Christmas presents, we never really take the time to appreciate each gift.
In this season of giving thanks, we should take a moment to think about those who came before us and who helped us get to where we are. Let’s thank those around us for a job well done and consider reaching out to someone who could use a helping hand. But most importantly, let’s consider putting our lives in perspective by thinking about those who are less fortunate.
When we focus more on gratitude, we’ll make a difference that’s far more effective than any business plan. It will allow us to take the time to celebrate success and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Gratitude doesn’t require a giant donation or a huge event; sometimes the little things are more effective.
In the end, we’ll find that the only things truly worth accumulating are good will and happiness. It’s in our control to start helping everyone around us get their fair share, and that’s something all of us can be thankful for.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.