“Online banking allows businesses and their staff members to increase their efficiency by tapping into powerful new technologies that help save time, reduce costs and improve productivity,” says Ditz Rabel, a principal business relationship manager with Wells Fargo. “Also, online banking provides many tools that can help reduce the risk of fraud by giving a company more controls and more instantaneous access to account information.”
Smart Business spoke with Rabel about the significant benefits available from online business banking services.
What online services improve the speed and convenience of business banking?
Online banking services can connect customers to the right solutions at the right time with the right resources. For example, online business banking can provide customers with tools that help them with financial record keeping including maintaining check registers, reconciling accounts, reducing fraud risks, viewing images of deposited and disbursed checks, and printing and downloading activity reports.
How can self administration facilitate the online banking experience?
Account access makes online banking more efficient. Self administration gives business owners and designated employees the ability to create, delete and maintain their own user identifications. They no longer have to wait for the bank to process requests.
Also, self administration allows the system administrator to know the company’s account structure. This allows key staff members to retain full control over when and how they manage the company’s accounts, which results in more control.
How can downloadable reports increase accuracy and reduce processing time on financial statements?
The success of any business correlates directly to the quality of financial information it receives and utilizes. Being able to download reports from an online banking service and then upload them onto a business accounting system means having reliable (99 percent average uptime) account data in a variety of formats (BAI, BAI2, .CSV, HTML). With these reports, the sole proprietor of a home-based startup now is able to know his cash position as quickly and easily as the CFO of a Fortune 500 Company.
Additionally, the reconciliation process no longer requires sifting through stacks of documents, electronic versions of accounts receivable and accounts payable detail, and ACH and wire transactions. Individual account activity and overall relationship analysis statements all are available electronically without having to wait for a mailed paper copy.
How can electronic services enhance the accounts payable and accounts receivable processes?
Electronic services ensure that business owners have quick access to accurate information. Direct transmission and downloadable reporting options enable a true system-to-system pipeline of communication. This dramatically reduces reconciliation time and human error in the data transmission between businesses and banks.
In addition to reporting advantages, there are invaluable electronic support services such as:
Desktop deposit - Cutting-edge technology that allows qualifying businesses to deposit checks to their bank accounts by scanning check items in their own office. This can accelerate the collection of funds and features convenience and security benefits.
ACH - Direct transmission of client files and Internet ACH offers more secure and reliable connections over old modem connections. This service allows businesses to send transactions electronically and attach information to the dollar amount, including invoice numbers, account numbers, and customer ID information.
Lock box - Image enhancements and electronic reports for lockbox activity help expedite reconciling the accounts receivable.
Online initiated wires - These wires are easy to use and provide maximum flexibility in security features and user parameters. This service allows for up-to-the-minute access to wire activity in initiating outgoing and tracking incoming wires.
What special security measures protect online business banking processes?
Online security measures include Positive Pay and ACH Fraud Filter. These electronic programs help ensure that only legitimate, fully authorized transactions (check or electronic) are processed.
Through self administration, companies are empowered to perform tasks that save them time and give them more control. This increased control and account contact can help businesses prevent fraud. Some of these tasks include: resetting passwords, deleting or disabling users, adding and updating access to online services, and establishing dual control.
Also, using services such as direct deposit and bill pay through online or ACH transfers helps reduce the risk of fraud. These electronic money transfers decrease or in some cases eliminate the need to use paper checks.
DITZ RABEL is a principal business relationship manager with Wells Fargo. He has 26 years of banking experience in analyzing, managing and advising commercial and financial institution relationships. Reach him at (713) 209-6608 or email@example.com.
Executing a successful IT project requires choosing the right project in the first place and knowing just how far to take it, according to Brad Wealand, vice president of Systems Evolution’s Consulting Division.
Smart Business asked Wealand how companies can improve their IT success rates.
What are the fundamentals of a good IT project?
More than anything, in today’s environment where business competition and technology are changing all the time, companies have to decide if an IT solution will either solve a problem or help the company take advantage of a new business opportunity.
There’s also a place for projects that help reduce maintenance and support, but even those projects should solve a problem or create opportunities by shifting operational expense money over to the capital expenditure side where it can return an ROI. If an IT solution is not doing one of those things, chances are companies are better off doing something else with that money to drive competitive advantage.
What project management aspects tend to get overlooked?
Most people minimize the importance of up-front requirements analysis to determine exactly what they really need.
With IT, it is easy to spend a little money and come up short on important features, or to spend a lot and get something much different than what you really need. Both scenarios waste cash, and may not improve a company’s capabilities much at all.
A good project is set to deliver a system that will meet your business expectations. The key is to appropriately define the problem before attempting to define the solution. Do not start defining what the solution needs to be (screen shots, data requirements, etc.) until agreeing on desired business outcomes and activities that need to be supported.
How can companies determine if a project should be done in house or by an outside IT provider?
It all depends on a company’s circumstances and priorities. If something is mission-critical to operations and also complex or unique to one’s business, it might be good to keep the project in house so the expertise stays there. However, in-house people may not have the skills or time to build it effectively, so some kind of hybrid team may be most appropriate.
If a project is relatively simple and not mission-critical, outsourcing, third-party commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software purchases or hosting by an MSP (managed service provider) may be adequate solutions that leave your organization free to tackle other more important challenges.
A lot of solutions are touted as ‘complete’ or ‘integrated,’ yet no one will say they want an incomplete solution or a nonintegrated system. What do companies really need?
There’s no checklist or definition of what makes a complete solution. We consider a complete solution one that gives the customer everything he needs. A large percentage of IT projects fail, but it’s not always due to mismanagement or poor execution. It’s often a case of a project not meeting expectations, which may have been unrealistic or undocumented in the first place. It really goes back to understanding the true requirements.
The integration issue is similar to the constant challenge with school finance: no one will say they are in favor of bad schools or poor performance, but that doesn’t find the best model for how to derive the desired outcome. Similarly, no one wants a nonintegrated solution, but how integrated does it need to be? Within a given division? Through all departments? Across the company? Sometimes the case for integration doesn’t support the cost of getting there.
There is a lot of mistrust and resistance to IT projects today. To some degree, vendors brought it on themselves during the past decade by hyping and selling a lot of things customers didn’t necessarily need. In response, companies are often hesitant to move forward with projects they do need. The resulting technology stagnation can be very disruptive and harmful to the bottom line, but can be effectively countered by simply taking back control.
Companies need to invest the time to understand what they need today, and to find partners they can trust to sell them only what they need, and only what can be delivered.
BRAD WEALAND is vice president of the Consulting Division at Systems Evolution, which provides software development solutions, EPM consulting, managed network support and permanent placement. Reach Wealand at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web site www.systemsevolution.com.
Lehne started Sun Coast because the petroleum distributor she was working for closed its Houston office, and she didn’t want to leave her home state. And she knew the petroleum business and was determined to succeed on her own, no matter what her critics said.
“In 1985, the wholesale petroleum business was dominated by men,” says Lehne, president and CEO. “I’m sure I created quite a stir when I started Sun Coast back then, and I doubt very few thought I would be successful. My vision was to do the best I could, to give it 100 percent commitment, and I never permitted the possibility of failure to cloud my thinking.”
Although Lehne faced her share of challenges starting and growing the business, she learned as she went.
“There have been all sorts of challenges over the years,” says Lehne. “In the beginning, it was banking alliances and supplier credit lines the life blood of any starting company. Securing adequate office space, meeting payroll and establishing the many internal functions of finance, accounting, operations, IT, sales credit, dispatch, safety and marketing were all new to me and offered a real challenge.”
Today, Lehne has overcome the challenges of a start-up and says that the keys to her long-term success are based on knowing how and when to delegate, excelling at customer service and communicating honestly and consistently with employees.
Know when to delegate
Lehne says that the most important thing she can do as a leader is simple: Just lead. And to be a good leader, you need to be able to take a step back from the company and look at it as a whole.
“Any leader needs to be able to communicate their vision and earn the respect of their staff,” says Lehne. “They must have control over their operations but be willing to delegate effectively while monitoring the progress of every business unit.”
The majority of Sun Coast’s management team has been with the company for years, many since the very beginning. Lehne says that these key people are a large part of her success, because she tells them her vision and goals for the organization and then trusts them to communicate her message to the employees under them.
“(Delegation) is the single most important factor in achieving success,” says Lehne. “Hiring professional, competent people with the skill sets and the temperament to get the job done and then giving them the authority to make it happen is critical to succeeding in this business.”
Lehne realizes that she can’t do everything herself and that it is in Sun Coast’s best interest for her to oversee everything but let her managers take charge of the daily operations. To ensure managers are competent and loyal, Lehne likes to hire people she knows.
Trusting someone she’s only spoken to a few times in an interview to run her business makes her uneasy. When you know someone outside of work, she says, you are more likely to get a true picture of that person because he or she is not trying to impress you.
But although Lehne has a lot of trust in the members of her management team and places a large amount of responsibility upon them, she says that leaders should never completely remove themselves from any aspect of the business. It is essential to hold employees accountable for what is going on in the company.
“Delegation without accountability ... can lead to disaster,” says Lehne, who holds managers accountable by setting goals for the organization.
If they don’t meet those goals, then they failed that task. By holding managers accountable, they, in turn, hold their employees accountable.
And since it is management’s job to oversee and evaluate employees, she leaves the hiring decisions up to them.
“I am intimately involved in the hiring decisions of our top managers, but for other positions, I leave it up to the discretion of each specific manager, since they are the ones that will ultimately be responsible for the results,” says Lehne.
Service the customer
Lehne says that one of thing that has set Sun Coast apart from the competition is customer service.
“My strategy has always been to figure out what prospects and customers wanted and to provide the products and services faster, cheaper and better than my competitors,” says Lehne. “Customer focus and superior service has been the primary reason for our success.”
Any company can excel at customer service if it is willing to put time and money into doing so. Lehne has put a lot of both into Sun Coast, and it is an investment that has served her well.
“Sun Coast has added the physical and human resources required to take service from ordinary to extraordinary,” says Lehne. “By offering on-time delivery service 24/7/365 and backing it up with an unconditional guarantee ... we have been very successful in attracting new business and retaining our existing accounts, as well.”
A large part of Lehne’s investment in customer service involves hiring enough employees and continuously training them so that they are up-to-date with the technical aspects of Sun Coast and its products, as well as with customer service skills. By having an adequate number of employees, Lehne ensures that her customers are being served around the clock.
“The company runs 24/7,” says Lehne. “Our trucks run 24/7. There are people here in the office 24/7. Salespeople are required to answer their phones 24/7. The same with department heads. So if a customer needs something, that’s all we’re about is delivering the product to the customer and making sure the customer is taken care of. That’s just what we do.”
Sales associates receive extensive, ongoing training to improve their customer service skills and are encouraged to attend educational programs on their own. Also, every employee is educated on what everyone else in the company does, which helps employees better service the customer because they know every aspect of the business.
Keep employees in the loop
Another secret to Lehne’s success is Sun Coast’s culture, which she says evolved over time and is a result of hiring people she knows or referrals from employees and openly communicating with them.
“Sun Coast’s culture is based on the belief that people are the key ingredient in our success,” says Lehne. “Moreover, our culture is based on mutual respect, teamwork and a strong sense of family.”
Lehne views her employees as her extended family, which she says creates a certain level of trust in the organization and creates a culture where people feel comfortable around one another. By having a family-like atmosphere where employees feel respected and appreciated, employees are much more likely to stay with Sun Coast and be motivated to work together to better the organization.
“Happy employees are productive employees, and you can’t force happy; they either are or they aren’t,” says Lehne.
To create and maintain a family-like atmosphere Lehne holds nothing back from her employees and informs them in a constant and consistent manner of what is going on in the company. That lets them know that they are valued and an important part of the company.
“Every company is no more successful than its parts its human resources parts and we understand that basic principle very well,” says Lehne. “Without a well-informed work force, employees will fill in the blanks themselves around the water cooler. This leads to rumor, speculation, misunderstanding and frustration. Communicating effectively and frequently just makes sense.”
To ensure that the communication is doing good, not harm, Lehne sends out a consistent message.
“If I give my staff conflicting signals or signs of weakness, it could have a negative impact on morale and results,” says Lehne. “I need to give a consistent message to all of my management team while establishing guidelines and goals for each one separately, as well.”
And that means making sure that all managers know the overall goals of the organization and how their role fits into it. It is then up to those managers to effectively communicate the goals of the organization to their employees and keep them on the right track.
“Communication must be positive and constructive, because we all make mistakes,” says Lehne. “Our goal is to eliminate costly errors and unproductive activity. And effective communication goes a long way in staying on the right track.”
Lehne makes it a point to stress to employees through verbal and written communication what is happening and to encourage questions and suggestions. She provides motivational seminars on a variety of personal and professional topics, noting that people have lives outside of work. If their personal lives are in order, it is more likely that their professional lives will fall into place, as well.
Finally, Lehne stresses that honesty is essential in building a good culture, as well as in succeeding in business in general. You can grow fast by being dishonest, but success won’t last without the trust and respect of those involved with the business.
“A leader must be able to earn the confidence of customers, employees, suppliers and business partners to really make things operate smoothly,” says Lehne. “I think by being honest and having integrity over the years we have developed that reputation. ... We treat our people right. We take care of our customers. We couldn’t be the size we are today without that.”
HOW TO REACH: Sun Coast Resources, (800) 677-3835 or www.suncoastresources.com
Smart Business spoke with Berry, a published author of books on business success, who explained how service can create a competitive advantage, how to avoid common service management mistakes and how to beat Wal-Mart.
What fundamentals of good service tend to get overlooked?
First is showing basic fundamental respect for the customer. This includes respecting the customer’s time and showing respect for common courtesy.
For instance, what if a bank only has two of its seven teller windows open at noon, which is the only chance a lot of us have to go into the bank? That’s a basic failure to respect the customer’s time.
The second is basic fairness. Berry’s Law is that if customers hate a policy that is designed to save the company money, the policy will end up costing the company money.
The airlines are a great example. Frequent fliers routinely become enraged because of what they consider unfair policies about pricing and reservation changes. The airlines’ perfection of Berry’s Law is a primary reason so many of them are in bankruptcy or on the edge of it.
Do executives have common misperceptions about service?
Again, there are two. The first is that improving service will cost a lot of money -- which is a very damaging misperception because it discourages investment.
Excellent service contributes to profitability in many ways. Better service improves the top line, but it increases efficiency because you’re doing things right the first time. It also strengthens loyalty and builds good word-of-mouth, which is like free promotion.
The second widespread misperception is that customers only care about low price. What customers really care about is getting a good value. Price is a component of value, but not the equivalent.
If companies think customers only care about price, they concentrate on cutting costs. Focusing on price takes the focus off the value part of the equation.
Unfortunately, the trend is for lower price and less service. I call this the ‘Wal-Mart Effect.’ But it’s been proven that the absolute best way to compete against Wal-Mart, regardless of your business, is to give the customer a better shopping experience.
Is there a correlation between quality of service and profitability?
Absolutely. A lot of research in the past five years from multiple sources clearly shows that service leaders are more profitable than average performers.
There are only three ways to increase market share: get more customers, get more business from existing customers, and/or reduce customer attrition. Many initiatives focus on one of these areas. Improving service is very powerful because it addresses all three.
How difficult is it to go from being average to making service a competitive advantage?
It’s a series of large steps. Companies shouldn’t think in terms of making quantum leaps, they should focus on getting better every day.
To excel at service, companies need service-centric values, and values don’t change overnight. Service excellence needs to be more than a top-level initiative. The key is having mid-level leaders in the organization who want to provide good service.
Companies also need to take a long look at all their HR practices: hiring, pay and recognition. True service excellence requires treating employees well, so they will want to serve customers well.
How should organizations measure their service effectiveness?
Whether the company is large, small or somewhere in the middle, it needs to create a customer listening system, including multiple listening posts. These can be formal, such as regular customer surveys, or informal, such as a store manager walking the store with a customer every day. If done daily, that can be incredibly powerful.
There are three types of customers to listen to regularly: current customers, because they’ve actually experienced the service; competitor’s customers, to know what they want; and internal customers -- the employees who have, in effect, ‘purchased’ a job or career from the organization.
Have you seen any new methods organizations can use to differentiate their service?
There is a lot that’s new, but nothing that particularly excites me. We don’t need a lot of new. We need to better execute the old.
LEN BERRY is Distinguished Professor, M.B. Zale Chair in retailing and marketing leadership at Texas A&M University. Reach him at (979) 846-1007 or email@example.com.
By developing junior- and senior-level management programs, he’s maximized opportunities for Cherry Cos. and kept the company focused on its core.
“It’s a progression of growth that all ties back,” Cherry says. “Visually, I like to think of it like a circle. Our client is in the middle, and we do everything we can to encircle our client with the services that we provide.
“We’re a house-moving and demolition company, and we’re a recycler. There may be wonderful opportunities in other areas, but we like to stay focused on what we’re good at and what we do. That focus doesn’t mean we can’t grow and can’t expand.”
It certainly doesn’t, as Cherry Cos. posted $43 million in revenue last year, a 59 percent increase over two years.
Smart Business spoke with Cherry about how he focuses on his 220 employees to grow his companies.
How do you manage growth?
There are multiple facets to the issue of growth in business. There’s market opportunities, liquidity demands, personnel benefits, equipment acquisition, the administrative function of overseeing increased values. If you don’t have dedicated people to accomplish the goals, what you really just have is still a dream.
Focus upon the process, which is mainly driven by the people. Our employees are our single greatest asset. Anybody can buy equipment you just need a friendly banker. Focus on the individuals and the people that perform the work, and if you do your work correctly, relative to your people, the volume and margins will follow.
Without the people dedicated to the common goal, it’s not going to happen. Concentrate on qualified people and passing on to them your vision, having them buy into that vision.
How do you get employees to buy into your vision?
I express to them what I think, where I think we need to go, the reasons why I think we need to go there, and because our management team has grown, they then have that opportunity for open input and, ultimately, a vote. That’s a growth process.
You don’t bring somebody brand new into the management team they’re still weak in the concept and the vision and the goal, and they haven’t had that opportunity to show that commitment and give them a vote. You nurture these individuals until they get to that point, and then you empower them responsibility with authority.
If they’re responsible, you have to get out of the way and give them some authority. If you choose your individuals correctly and you give them the support they need, they will respond in time.
How do you strengthen the team as you grow?
Education and communication. There’s a constant flow of information that moves in multiple directions. We’ve brought in an outside consultant that communicates with our junior management team and our management team on a weekly basis.
They always have reading material. Whether you agree with the concepts of whatever that book may be at the time, it helps them to broaden their horizon and makes them think beyond the issues of today.
They, in turn, can take that broadened horizon and verbalize it to their people and instruct in their own divisions.
How do you show employees you care?
I’m a firm believer in leading by example. When I’m starting to feel a little frayed and ragged, my people usually are as well, so we need to tone it back a notch - slow down, take a break.
Monetarily, we’re all here to make a living. These individuals’ first responsibility is to provide for the needs and wants of their family, and so much of that is driven financially, so that’s the first issue we need to cover.
Their second issue is they want to feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves. We all do. That’s why we work with the open lines of communication, so everyone understands they are part of the larger picture, and each individual’s application does apply toward the end result, whether that end is positive or negative.
With a company that’s been here over 50 years, we’ve lived through those times when an individual reached retirement age, you’d pat them on the back, and they’d have Social Security to rely upon, and they can watch and come back and visit whenever they want.
We have a number of third-generation employees. It’s important to continue to send the message to the new people coming in that this is a different environment. This isn’t just a place to collect a paycheck.
This is a career. This is a place to stay. You can live out your professional career here with those opportunities for advancement.
HOW TO REACH: Cherry Cos., www.cherrycompanies.com
Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, Fla.; graduate work, Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla.
Biggest business challenge:
Getting people to understand the value of the product U.S. Concrete sells concrete. It has long been undervalued, because customers think of it as a commodity, which it is not.
This is a product that can be value-differentiated, value-added, in many, many ways. It has durability, it doesn’t burn, it doesn’t rot, termites don’t eat it, and hurricanes don’t blow it down.
As an industry, we could probably double the price of the product and not lose any market share. This is a pretty significant upside for our company.
Most important business lesson learned:
Business is about people, not X’s and O’s and numbers. That’s all part of it, but unless you have a philosophy embraced by people, you’re not going to succeed.
“It’s an evolution,” says Robert C. Rhodes, CEO of Systems Evolution. “In the 1980s, business users were able to start entering and storing data in spreadsheets and lists islands of data with specific uses, stored in diverse locations. The early 1990s saw deployment of these islands of data into departments and smaller business units (client/server) and a new emphasis on drill-down reporting capabilities. The late 1990s saw the ubiquitous deployment of information and shared data on the Internet, which has brought the 2000s focus on open standards and the need for better security.”
Smart Business talked to Rhodes about this evolution from islands of data to information available anywhere, any time, over the Internet.
How do you start to implement a new IT system?
Integration of these islands of data requires business professionals with an eye on business requirements what data, where is it, how you got it, the business process, and how users need to view the aggregated information. Many IT professionals adhere to the oft repeated mantra, ‘You get started programming, and I’ll figure out what the client needs.’ This is a surefire recipe for disaster, and believe it or not this still reigns as a business practice.
To be successful in implementing a new system, put a plan together for what your business needs, set short milestones for its implementation, and document your progress.
Creating the applications that capture your data and report on the information is becoming easier, as most applications are available off the shelf. The leading software vendors such as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle provide 75 percent or more of required functionality for most businesses; it’s that last 25 percent that requires the IT professional to bridge the gap between provided functionality and customization.
How do you tie it together?
Systems integration costs as much or more than the off-the-shelf software itself, but this is where the true payoff is. Today’s custom solution development is much easier than in the past. With IBM Rational and Microsoft or IBM graphical development business requirement suites, purchased software and custom-developed software provide excellent documentation for future customization and business process re-engineering.
What do these solutions look like?
For the end user, they look like one system available 24-7. In the back end, the application may tie together hundreds of interactions with diverse applications running on mainframes, Microsoft Windows servers or UNIX boxes all over the world. The application might take the view of an ‘executive dashboard’ management’s pertinent daily financial indicators updated in real time (such as backlog, works in progress, or what manufacturing machines are down) available via HTML in a custom-designed portal like Yahoo! or deployed to your Blackberry.
What can outside service providers do for a company?
Knowing your business requirements and having a solution integrating your diverse data and systems only helps you if you can access it when you need it, and if others are kept out.
Most businesses aren’t equipped to handle the constant tide of attacks, constant security monitoring, nor software patches coming out on a daily basis for your operating systems, hardware, servers and communication infrastructure. Using outside service providers that specialize in the ‘managed care’ of your computing resources allows business executives to be sure that their computing resources are being proactively reviewed and managed, as opposed to allowing those resources to break and then fix them.
These managed service providers can totally outsource your computer servers offsite, or they can provide a level or monitoring interacting with your internal IT employees.
So how do you use IT as a strategic tool?
In business today, every employee, client and machine in your organization are generating data in real time, which causes information overload. Start with your business requirements, integrate your systems, and pro-actively manage your infrastructure. In other words, let your business drive IT not IT drive your business.
Listen and act with the highest levels of integrity and only commit to what you can deliver and deliver what you commit to. Assure your clients that you meet your commitments by following consistent and repeatable processes whether it’s in the way you manage projects, develop software or maintain your client’s information technology. Follow well-documented methodologies that help assure that you deliver your projects on time and within budget.
ROBERT C. RHODES is CEO of Systems Evolution in Houston. Reach him at (713) 979-1600, ext. 105 or Robert.Rhodes@systemsevolution.com.
Understand your business’s personality.
Every company is like a person they all have a personality. They have a strategy they use in the market, they have a reputation and a brand, and that’s how they’re recognized by customers.
All of those aspects have to come together to be successful. The ones where I’ve been successful are where that personality came together that combination of strategy, customer satisfaction, brand recognition, management team, people who really came together and really liked the business and were excited about building it.
That personality and gut feel has been a better indicator of which of all the businesses that have a strong financial model will be successful.
Once the numbers make sense, follow your gut feeling.
In general, the cold, hard figures are the hurdles. If you don’t get through those numbers, just walk away.
Once you do get sets of numbers that will work for an investment decision, then you have to spend enough time understanding what are you really trying to do. It’s all about the people.
Spend enough time with people and find out how excited they are, and then let your gut tell you, ‘OK, the numbers work, and not only do the numbers work, but it really is something that makes sense.’
I use my gut a lot, but never without the numbers. You have to use the numbers to get through the hurdles first.
You will never get every hire right every time.
I wish I could tell you I’ve got a 100 percent hit rate on hiring the right people. I’m far from it, unfortunately. The interview processes are so inexact, and I’ve had my share of wrong hires.
For me, you have to spend as much time as you can with the candidate to make a decision. You’ve got to get as many people in the organization as you can afford to take the time to really spend time with the candidate, because then you get a lot of perspectives. In the end, you have to go with your gut. And unfortunately you don’t always get it right.
People don’t always come across as they really are in the interview process. I’m always trying to find ways to improve our hit rate of getting the right people the first time.
If there is potential, work with a new hire.
Our hit rate in finding the best person to fill a spot is probably 75 or 80 percent. There’s a flip side to that: How many times have you picked the wrong person and you need to push them out the door?
That’s probably only 10 percent of the time. That other 15 percent or so is when, after a year or so, you say, ‘We may not have hired the best candidate, but they’re not so bad we have to push them out the door.’
There’s that middle ground that’s a little more tricky. The ones you have to push them out the door, bite the bullet and make the call as fast as you can so you can get someone better suited in the role. That doesn’t happen that often.
Be prepared to coach and train.
It could be something as simple as in the interview process, you thought someone had a lot of experience doing a certain aspect of their job, then after they got here, you realize maybe they don’t have quite as much experience or maybe they did it totally different and you need to train them how we would like to do it.
Maybe it’s someone who is hard on people and they’re in a management role, so you have to coach them on better ways to manage people and lead people and get good production and keep people happy. There will be some aspect where we missed something in the process, but they’re still a good person to have, so they might need some coaching or training to get them where we want them to be.
Hear other perspectives before making decisions.
It starts by doing all the analytics and crunching the numbers to make sure you understand those hurdle issues. Take as much time as you can and talk about it as thoroughly as you can with as many people in your management team as you can.
Go find people with a totally different perspective who are likely to come at it very differently. I happen to be very collaborative because I think having a lot more input is a lot better than having me sit around trying to make a big decision. Typically, if it’s a big decision, you have a lot of input from people wanting to go in different directions.
You go through the data, make the call and say, ‘OK, we’re going to walk out of this room, and even though some of us thought another way was a better way to go, we’re going to stand behind this decision and give it our all, and if we’re wrong, we’ll change our minds later. But let’s get together and make this successful.’
Establish your vision.
When you’re talking vision, there’s no hard data or facts. You need credibility that comes from just a few things. Have you been right and successful in the past? Can you articulate it in a way that is convincing?
You can take someone’s objections and say, ‘Yes I understand those objections, yes, they’re good points, and here is why I think we can overcome that or why we should go this way anyway.’ And the last one is honestly just success.
If you have not been successful, it will be very difficult to get people to buy into your vision. The more successful we are, the more that vision becomes contagious.
Provide the best possible service.
I define success as first and foremost continuing to provide the best service to our customers, to continue to add value to them beyond what they’re paying us.
If we keep doing that, we should be able to grow, which provides opportunities for growth to our employees opportunities to move up in the organization, opportunities for more responsibilities, opportunities to learn new things and see new challenges, and the opportunity for financial reward. That’s what I consider successful.
We’re protecting the core of who we are, we’re serving our customers and we are growing our business to provide opportunities for everybody. To me, that’s what’s exciting. That’s what gives me personal reward.
How to reach: CapRock Communications, (832) 668-2300 or www.caprock.com
With a new year upon us, many people approach both their business and personal finances with renewed vigor. Whether the goal is to better track expenses, pay off debt, or to grow savings, there are a few questions individuals and business owners should ask to get their finances in order for 2011.
Smart Business spoke to Tracie Gusola and Theresa Bazan of Comerica Bank about how to organize your finances, get the most out of your banking institution and reach your financial goals in 2011.
What is the first step in getting your business and personal finances in line?
Tracie: I believe that in today’s digital world, face time with your banker is extremely important. Get to know your banker and make sure his or her financial viewpoints align with yours. Ask plenty of questions and make sure your banker is explaining their recommendations to you clearly. It is important to tell them about your business or personal needs and goals so they can help you develop a customized financial plan. Building a good rapport with a banker will not only help them better understand your business or personal financial situation, but can also give you the peace of mind that you have a trusted financial adviser and partner.
How can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your money in 2011?
Theresa: The best way to make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck is to be proactive with your account and work with your banker to identify opportunities to make the most of the money you already have or expect to earn.
For example, research different types of business or personal checking accounts to see which one is right for you. Popular checking accounts for individuals include basic, interest-bearing, joint and senior or student checking accounts. And most banks offer a variety of business checking accounts, too, based on your cash flow and deposit levels. Discuss with your banker what types of accounts will make the most of your money.
What are some easy ways to keep track of what you’re spending?
Tracie: One of the best and easiest ways to know what you’re spending is to develop a budget. Developing a budget allows you to see exactly what you have, what you spend and where there is room for saving. Having a budget also allows you to get out of debt by developing a payment plan that aligns with what you can afford each month.
Another way to keep track of your spending is to keep an accurate register in your checkbook. Always remember when you write a check to keep a record of it and to balance your checkbook each month.
Most banks now offer online banking and a great benefit of it is you can instantly see any charges to your account and your account balance. By regularly checking your account, you can keep track of your spending and how much money is in your account, which can ultimately help you avoid unnecessary overdraft fees.
What institution should you be using?
Theresa: Every banking institution offers an array of financial products and services so it’s important to find one that best meets your needs. If you own a business, then you may need special banking products and services like small business loans, business checking accounts and cash management products. If you have a large amount of money to invest, you should look for a bank that has a dedicated wealth management team that can help you with everything from portfolio management to asset management accounts. Before you put your money into any bank make sure the services they offer align with your financial needs.
What other services do banks typically offer?
Tracie: Very often banks offer more products and services than you think. Many institutions offer online bill pay services, allowing you to save money on postage stamps and envelopes. You can also find insurance and business services at banks, as well as financial planning tools, loans and investing services. Comerica has a team of financial planners that can help you with retirement planning, education funding and estate planning. We also offer personal insurance services like life and estate planning, disability and long-term care, and business insurance like business succession plan funding.
Tracie Gusola is a senior vice president and North Texas retail regional manager for Comerica Bank. Theresa Bazan is a senior vice president and South Texas retail regional manager for Comerica Bank. Comerica Bank is the commercial banking subsidiary of Comerica Incorporated (NYSE: CMA), the largest banking company headquartered in Texas, and strategically aligned by three business segments: The Business Bank, The Retail Bank, and Wealth & Institutional Management. Comerica focuses on relationships, and helping people and businesses be successful. In addition to Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas, Comerica Bank locations can be found in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan, with select businesses operating in several other states, as well as in Canada and Mexico. Comerica reported total assets of $55.0 billion at September 30, 2010. To receive e-mail alerts of breaking Comerica news, go to www.comerica.com/newsalerts.
As businesses evolve, the capabilities of reliable and secure communications network systems evolve along with it. Since businesses are turning to the Internet to extend their networks, significant advantages emerge as a result of the real-time connectivity created by virtual private networks (VPN).
A VPN is a method of hiding such connections from the outside world while giving employees 24-7 worldwide access to internal business network resources. Users are set up on a server and connected to a router. An established host assigns a recyclable security identifier. Each PC then becomes a remote extension connected through the Internet. Data, once encrypted and tunneled, is verified and decoded so only the intended recipient can access the authorized information.
Smart Business spoke to Ray Hernandez, president of ATW Management Inc., about how a VPN can transform a business’s communications, operations, customer service and productivity.
Once a VPN is established to connect remote employees and offices, what can it accomplish for businesses?
Typical email usage, access to pertinent records and phone call capabilities are always ‘on’ anytime and anywhere, deploying employees to the front lines. Here they are armed with vital information to quickly respond to and address the specific needs of their clients across all sectors of the economy.
In the service industry, real-time connectivity through a VPN can convert a field technician into a front-line sales and customer service representative. When a service order is entered into a dispatch application, the technician instantly has access to it as well as customer information such as site contact, materials required and other specific customer requests. Customer pay history, or past due invoices requiring collection prior to providing service, may also be accessed.
A GPS application may be integrated to not only assist the field technician in finding the customer location but also to report that tech’s location back to the home office. Once an authorized signature is obtained it is instantly submitted to the billing department, and that signature also verifies that the customer agrees all work has been completed to his or her satisfaction.
When a customer requests additional services, the field technician can update customer data and create new service orders as well as access pre-determined price schedules to instantly provide a quote to the customer. Better communication between the customer and the service industry leads to future business.
How can a VPN streamline the supply chain?
As for manufacturers and suppliers, a VPN, when utilized in cooperation between the two businesses, can create a unique streamlined system. Just-in-time manufacturing reduces costs all along the supply chain. Both businesses work in consensus to eliminate the costs involved in expediting, excessive stock inventory and material waste to optimize order scheduling. Shortages can be avoided by both businesses sharing
market information all via the VPN. Suppliers can place an order and have it shipped directly from the manufacturer to their customers, reducing the costs of storage, transportation, handling, etc. Instant communication between the supplier’s customers and manufacturer provides feedback the manufacturer can respond to resulting in a better product.
What are some industry-specific examples of the benefits of a VPN?
For the professional service provider, the VPN has created the stability a client expects of that professional being constantly ‘in the office.’ They can improve services to clients by offering concise solutions accurately and expeditiously.
Physicians require many sorts of accurate up-to-the-minute research data in order to correctly diagnose and respond to situations regarding their patients. Utilizing tablet PCs, physicians can instantaneously obtain patient medical records from multiple offices or hospitals, lab results,
prescription orders, note dictations and x-ray interpretations in mere seconds. Armed with this information, a physician is able to make more accurate decisions. Consent for treatment documents, authorization to submit insurance claims and authorization for specialist referrals can be submitted through a dedicated VPN, ensuring patient privacy and security of data.
Attorneys require access to network resources for various documents, precedents and references regarding cases pending or actively in session. Should a judge change a court date or newly discovered evidence be submitted to the court, changes can be accessed and addressed immediately. Voice wave files recorded via the attorney’s laptop can be downloaded and saved in the network as legal depositions. Signature recognition laptops now replace settlement or court documents.
The insurance industry benefits from its agents having access to network resources for front-line sales support. Again, voicemail wave files can be saved as legal documentation when a customer purchases a policy, processes a claim or makes coverage change requests. Accident forms are completed and submitted at the scene, which allows adjusters to instantly begin the claims process.
Manufacturers and suppliers reduce costs utilizing just-in-time manufacturing, and the cost reductions create a leaner competitive market to the service companies purchasing the material. The service companies can then be more competitive in their marketplace. Across the sectors, internal operations staff assists the accounting staff with accurate documentation of orders for accurate billing. The accounting staff creates a productive cash flow resulting in an overall profitable return on investment.
The ability to create a front-line customer service advantage is conceivable when a virtual private network is fully deployed. That advantage lies in every business tactic that drives the outcome of the endeavor.
Ray Hernandez is the president of ATW Management Inc. Reach him at (281) 931-8400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.