Procrastination eats up a ton of energy — in worry, negativity, angst and efficiency, not to mention wasting time itself.
When you think about the basic allotment of time you and I have each day, I can’t think of a more precious thing to waste.
It’s been said that when you eliminate procrastination forever, you become a “master of your time.” But how to end that thing we all do — especially when we are up against a difficult project or deadline?
Time to reinvent yourself.
Begin by retooling yourself. Start with time management, and divide your day into “small bites.” Schedule and organize each portion of every day. Set daily goals, then prioritize and organize your schedule to meet those goals.
If you are most productive in the mornings, schedule your most intense tasks then. If you are full of energy toward the middle of the day, don’t waste that part of the day on lunch.
Work to eliminate time wasters such as frequent checking of email, side chats and taking phone calls when you are in the middle of the most productive (scheduled) part of your day.
Make this month your most productive month by ending your tendency to procrastinate — forever.
Get in the right frame of mind.
What else drains your energy? No doubt about it, cynicism and skepticism is heaped high and pretty prevalent now, professionally, politically and personally. Much of it is warranted and probably even useful.
The best place to be, though, is open-minded and open-hearted.
Sure, you could say that’s a pretty “Hallmark moment” perspective. But carrying heavy chips of skepticism on your shoulders absolutely closes you off to hearing the good and mires you down in negativity.
Develop a more caring attitude.
Care more. Ghandi and Jesus embraced the concept. So did Mother Teresa. In fact, so did Steve Jobs. And although he wasn’t liked very much, Jobs was known for caring deeply about what he was making and how it was used.
But really, who talks about caring these days? Certainly not most businesspeople or Congress or those depicted in reality shows.
In business terms, caring is what you do to increase customer retention and keep the value of your brand. Caring = profitability. But caring also gives you a compass. It’s the reason you do the work you do in the first place.
I recommend not just simply caring but caring more. Sure, the mantra may help your organization’s bottom line. More importantly, in the process of caring more, there’s an opportunity to take “the road less traveled,” the road of someone who truly cares about what’s being made and who it is for.
Beware of consequences of apathy.
It has been said that anything left to its own devices with no oversight will degrade to its lowest common denominator and eventually lose its beauty and function.
That’s why we have laws, industries are regulated, bushes get pruned and products have designers.
It’s also true with regard to leadership. A business leader not only sets standards but also helps prune and hone his or her business, staff, products, methods and strategies.
A good leader sets the tone for all this and doesn’t get bogged down in the details. But — the leader is careful to take the pulse of the business area, to make sure those very same standards, staff, products, methods and strategies are not losing beauty and function. It’s an artful dance.
This time of year is natural for taking stock and looking ahead. Take some time to see what pruning needs to be done for the betterment of your business. ?
David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com.
Turbocharger: Bob Duncan takes the wheel at Indianapolis Airport and brings the ship in for a three-point landingWritten by Dennis Seeds
Bob Duncan was taken aback a little when he went to a meeting last year as the new Indianapolis International Airport executive director.
There were only three people at the meeting. It was the employee engagement committee.
“I said, ‘What’s going on? Where are the rest of them?’”
It turned out the committee hadn’t been maintained that well. The group needed new leadership and was ready for a revival.
When Duncan along with the HR director breathed new life into the committee, it was re-energized into a much more interactive and robust employee group.
“So that’s worked really, really well in the last year,” he says.
It turns out that making things work well is Duncan’s signature. He had been with the Indianapolis Airport Authority for nearly 40 years and previously served as general counsel and COO. Duncan was closely involved in the planning of the airport’s new midfield terminal, which opened in 2008. Add serving as interim executive director in 2012 to his resume after the previous director and the board of directors parted ways.
As he came into the leadership post, he was fortunate that he had a fairly clear picture that the culture under the previous administration was not as collaborative as he would have liked. He already got to know over the years hundreds of employees by their first names, so the territory was familiar.
“But I viewed the culture as tense,” he says. “Kind of silo-ish. You hear that a lot, that people had developed silos, which was not efficient in my mind. With the reorganization that I did, I broke down the silos.”
Here’s how Duncan eliminated the silos, built up teamwork and put his signature on the culture at the Indianapolis International Airport, which had revenue of $193 million in 2011, serving 7.5 million passengers.
Instill a sense of teamwork
If you’ve determined that your mission is to make your organization’s culture more collaborative, the most important sense to instill is that of teamwork.
Duncan realized that he needed to focus on the senior team members as well as the line service. He wanted to gain their trust, which would increase their commitment.
As a first step, Duncan recommends making yourself known.
“I made it a point to get out and about at virtually all hours,” Duncan says. “I have been known to show up at 5 o’clock in the morning and go to police roll call. I show up on Saturdays just to talk to people, particularly on second and third shifts, to let the folks know that I am interested in what they do and how they do it.”
As you cover your territory on foot, you will get to know your people better.
“I insist that my employees call me by my first name so that we can develop a team spirit,” Duncan says. “At the same time, you have to establish trust in management so that they know when a decision is made that may impact them, they understand why it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise.
“Be credible. Be open. Be approachable. Recognize the type of workforce that you have. I want them all to call me by my first name.”
As an example of building trust, he cited a recent instance when the airport’s public safety officers, which are not law enforcement personnel, were privatized. Rather than eliminating the 38 jobs, Duncan found a private security firm that would start to re-employ the officers at the airport in similar roles.
“So everybody that day walked out knowing they had a future,” Duncan says. “That is the right thing to do when that happens. It established trust in management, that we were sensitive to the feelings of the people, and I didn’t want people walking out with a change like this without the security that they knew they were going to have a job and benefits. That’s what we did, and it worked really well.”
Look for inefficiencies
A shakeup will always cause people to sit up and take notice. It’s a sign that you are in charge and want to try a better idea, hopefully to get better results.
Duncan reorganized his senior leadership staff, and it resulted in the reduction of some positions. However, it not only shrank the senior management numbers, it improved the organizational efficiency.
“I literally abhor bureaucracy,” Duncan says. “We are a quasi-governmental entity so there is a certain amount of statutory bureaucracy that we have to deal with. But what you deal with about internal planning and internal decision-making, you try to cut down layers of the approval process so that you empower people to make decisions and do that in a collaborative manner.”
A sore subject for some executives is the number of hours of meetings they often have on their calendars. Duncan is a firm believer that such time often could be spent more productively.
He took 18 hours of senior-level meetings a month down to four.
“Let’s say there was a senior-level meeting, and then two days later, there would be a senior-level meeting with the director-level people,” he says. “So there are five hours of just talking. What I’ve done is to have all the senior managers meet at the same time with most of the directors at 9 o’clock every Monday morning.
“Everybody brings everybody up to speed, and then once a month, we bring in directors, managers and supervisor levels so anything that they want to talk about, we can bring up. That’s worked really well for me.”
Spending less time on unproductive discussions forces managers to organize their thoughts and prioritize issues. It’s important that everyone gets together on the same page, and it should be done at least once a month.
“We have a project coordination meeting; it doesn’t last very long,” Duncan says. “We go down all the projects, so all the department heads know what projects are, where they are and what’s going on with them. So that’s the kind of attitude I want. I don’t want anybody sitting in their chair without getting up and talking to other department heads.
“Let senior directors and their directors develop their own action plans, their goals and initiatives,” Duncan says. “I can count on one hand and two fingers the number of times that I have gotten directly involved and changed something. That is because I know a lot of these people, and I trust their judgment, they trust mine, and that’s really important to the effective operation of the organization.”
Duncan says it is essential that the CEO encourage his team to challenge the leader’s ideas without fear of any potential negativity. It’s part of being flexible.
“I can remember when I reversed myself twice in the same day,” he says. “Someone came up to me and said, ‘You sure you want to do that?’”
Members of a team should feel free to make mistakes and get the experience of surviving through them.
“I always ask folks that I come in contact with, ‘Do you know what experience is?’ I will get a wide variety of answers,” Duncan says. “Then I will say, ‘No, experience is the exercise of good judgment,’ and you get experience through the exercise of bad judgment. Everybody is going to have some of the bad judgment experience.
“Let people know that if they make a mistake, they are not going to get their head chopped off. As a team, we will work around those kinds of problems the best we can.”
You don’t necessarily have to say you’re not an asset to the organization because you just made a mistake.
“I don’t do that, I mean, there are certain folks that sometimes you try to do all you can to improve them and like all organizations, there are just sometimes when you have to say this just isn’t working,” Duncan says. “I work real hard not to have that happen.”
Nurture success and keep it alive
There comes a point in your effort to build teamwork that you want to know if your approach is working. If you aren’t seeing more employee engagement, it’s not working. Employees should feel a more collaborative effort. They know that you are in charge ultimately, but without teamwork, there is no progress.
“I think as an executive director or CEO, sometimes you have to keep your ego in check,” Duncan says. “At the same time, you are earning the respect of the people that you’re working with and maintaining that respect. You do that by empowering people.”
Also, look at your turnover rate.
“At the senior director, manager director level, we don’t have much turnover,” he says. “Since we do run three shifts a day, we have a little higher turnover rate in third shift janitorial services. But I am trying to figure out how I can reduce that rate of turnover, and it could just be the hours that the third shift works or things like that.”
Once the operation shows improvement, don’t get complacent about communicating with employees — and fall into the lure of email’s convenience. Duncan believes email has become too impersonal.
“If you are not careful, you can say things in emails that don’t mean or that people take the wrong way,” he says. “It is much better to walk around and talk to people — more of a face-to-face thing. Again, that’s part of my concept of openness and having people come in. I have two doors in my office and they are always open. People can walk right in anytime they want. “That’s the way I like it; some people don’t. I do.” ?
How to reach: Indianapolis International Airport, (317) 487-7243 or www.indianapolisairport.com
The Duncan File
Indianapolis International Airport
Born: Philadelphia. I lived in New Jersey until I was 15. Then I moved to Indianapolis. I learned to fly when I was 16 years old, and I was a professional pilot when I went to law school. Flew all day, went to law school at night.
Education: Bachelors’ degree from Hanover College in Indiana, with a major in history and political science. I went to law school at Indiana University.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
I worked in service stations. I pumped gas, cleaned windshields, and I was a pretty good car mechanic back in the early to mid-’60s. Then I started flying.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
The gentleman that hired me, Dan Orcutt, executive director of the airport for 25 years — I’ve had the deepest respect for. I think part of my business attitude came from him. It was kind of what I have already said. He said, ‘Be credible. Be trustworthy. Be firm but be fair.’ I think that that works because sometimes in business negotiations, you have to be firm, sometimes vocal, but you always want to be fair. We work hard at being fair to ourselves and our business relationships but also to our customers and tenants. Sometimes we have to say no, and they don’t like hearing it, but they will always understand why and why the decision is what it is.
Who do you admire in business?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if I could drag it down to one particular industry. The aviation industry — one is Elaine Roberts, the president and CEO at the Port Columbus International Airport. She started here at the airport. I always admired her sense of fairness and her sense of doing the right thing, and at the same time making very sound business decisions. I really kind of admire her in my particular industry.
What is your definition of business success?
For me, it would be respect, that people shoe respect knowing that they would be treated fairly in dealings with the airport, that we are recognized for our integrity. That would be business success for me in addition obviously to positive financial results.
Business leaders understand the value of employee engagement, yet many have been slow to implement plans within their organizations.
“It’s interesting that 75 percent of leaders have no engagement strategy, even though 90 percent say it has a positive impact on business success. So while they think it’s important, they’re not actively engaged in affecting change. I think they don’t fully understand the impact it can make on the bottom line,” says Beth Thomas, executive vice president and managing director of consulting services at Sequent.
She says employee engagement is about creating an environment where employees understand the company’s values and what is expected of them, and are committed and dedicated to their work.
“Employee engagement is probably the biggest reason why companies are successful. Engaged employees generate 40 percent more revenues than disengaged ones and are 87 percent less likely to leave an organization,” says Thomas.
Smart Business spoke with Thomas about ways to boost employee engagement and the impact it can have on an organization.
What can companies do to foster employee engagement?
There are five keys to creating conditions for thriving, engaged employees:
- Empowering employees. No one wants to be micro-managed; they want to feel that what they bring to the table is valued. They were hired for a reason — let them do that job.
- Sharing information. People get anxious and disconnected when there are a lot of closed-door leadership meetings. Create a connection by bringing employees into the growth of the company with quarterly or town hall meetings.
- Minimizing toxic behavior and negative feedback. Hire the right talent that will fit the culture and bring positivity. Then hold employees accountable to the values and expectations of the organization.
- Offering performance feedback. Everyone wants to know how he or she is doing, and it shouldn’t be just once a year. Empower them and let them know they’re in charge of their careers, and can move forward if they are motivated and dedicated.
- Appreciating employee value through reward and recognition. Have an employee of the month award and profile that person because people will want to emulate what they are doing. Make it very clear what is needed in order to be successful and profile those behaviors, characteristics and performance standards so everyone knows what is valued. That includes recognizing all the qualities that are valued; it doesn’t have to be based on the same performance. An employee might not be a high-powered salesperson bringing in six-figure deals every month, but might be the most positive person in the office and contributes to the organization’s culture.
Does employee engagement start with the hiring process?
Absolutely. When you are hiring people, it’s just as important to assess their ‘soft skills’ as their knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s more difficult to train people to be team players. Having the personality to go above and beyond to meet a customer’s needs or to be a trusted adviser is a soft skill that is largely innate and takes a lifetime to build. It’s important to evaluate those qualities to ensure they match the organization’s culture beyond the skills they bring.
Is it the workplace culture that promotes engagement?
Yes, it’s about the culture, but also all the employees and the leaders. It’s important for employees to ‘hang with the gang that gets it’ — those people at work who are successful — steal shamelessly and emulate what they do. Conversely, when employees hang with the people who are negative and contribute to toxic behavior, leadership sees them as being one of them, even if they’re not participating in those activities.
Engagement goes hand in hand with happiness. In a work context, happiness is about finding what in your career makes you happy. While it may sound trite, happiness leads to engagement in your work, which motivates you to give 110 percent or more discretionary effort. This is what contributes to business success, not only boosting your own career but at the same time increasing the company’s bottom line. Who wouldn’t want that?
Beth Thomas is an executive vice president, managing director of Consulting Services and author of “Powered By Happy” at Sequent. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Event: Get your company “Powered by Happy” with the employee engagement workshop.
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When you stay in a hotel there are so many things that could go wrong. The hotel could lose your reservation, a TV remote control might not work, a light could be burnt out, the air conditioner may be noisy, or in David Kong’s case, the room may not contain an iron and ironing board.
On a trip to Germany to attend a black-tie event, Kong’s attire became wrinkled while traveling. His hotel had no extra irons or ironing boards, but the staff took his clothes and got them ironed. The next day, the staff bought a new iron and ironing board for his room and also sent a fruit basket to apologize for what had happened.
“My impression of the hotel went sky high, because they went out of the way to make it right,” says Kong, president and CEO of Best Western International Inc. “When something goes wrong, it’s an opportunity to build guest loyalty if you take care of the problem correctly.”
The customer experience is exactly what Kong is focusing on to keep the Best Western brand relevant after nearly seven decades. Headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz., Best Western International Inc. is the world’s largest hotel family with more than 4,000 hotels in more than 100 countries and territories. The company has 1,200 corporate employees and annual revenue of more than $6 billion worldwide.
Over the past eight years, Kong has been working diligently to build and capitalize on Best Western’s strengths surrounding the customer experience.
Here is what he and his team at Best Western have done to keep the company’s brand relevant through the years.
When Kong joined Best Western, most of his friends couldn’t understand why he would make the move to Phoenix to work for the midscale hotel.
“I saw tremendous potential at Best Western, and I wanted to be a part of the team to unlock that potential,” Kong says. “When I started as CEO, I wanted to define the key strengths of Best Western but also look at how we can make the brand more relevant and contemporary.”
The Best Western brand is 67 years old, making it the most senior hotel brand. Kong’s objective was to not appear as anything less than relevant and contemporary and to fit with today’s customer tastes.
“In that regard, we had a concerted effort in separating from hotels that detract from the brand, meaning they didn’t provide the cleanliness, upkeep or service that the brand should be known for,” he says.
Best Western split from more than 1,000 hotels during the last eight years and implemented standards that ensured delivery on the brand promise. The hotel family also created partnerships with Harley Davidson, Disney, AAA and others to not only penetrate those customer bases but better position the Best Western brand.
“We’ve done a lot in terms of how we keep the brand relevant and contemporary and deliver on the brand promise,” Kong says. “That was just step one. You have to do the basics.”
Kong also thought that Best Western needed to be known for certain aspects of the hospitality industry, so the company launched the I Care Clean program, which uses UV wands for cleaning and black light for inspecting cleanliness in rooms. It also launched the Descriptor program, which allows travelers to choose the Best Western that meets their needs out of the company’s three different hotels — Best Western, Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier.
“Ultimately, when I talk about unlocking potential and looking at who we are and what we stand for and capitalizing on that, it’s really about what is Best Western,” Kong says. “If you look at how Best Western is different from any other hotel brand, it’s because we have some very caring, sincere, salt-of-the-earth type of owners in our brand who are very passionate about the brand.
“The big opportunity for us was to capitalize on that, because that is something we have at Best Western that nobody else has and we want to turn that into something that’s relevant to the consumer.”
Connect with the customer
To drive that desire forward, Best Western crafted its vision statement to lead the industry in superior customer care. Today, everyone talks about customer service, but in this digital world, the human touch is disappearing very quickly.
“Everybody is focused on innovation, efficiency and productivity like using kiosks to check in and ordering food and beverage from a tablet computer, and there is very little chance to interact with the guests,” Kong says.
“Our industry is the hospitality industry, and it’s about hospitality and caring for people. We have made that our vision, and we started to create programs to capitalize on how we care more than anybody else.”
If you’re looking to keep your brand relevant or expand upon it, you have to find what you want to be best at.
“Take a look around you, study the environment and assess what the unmet need is,” Kong says. “I talked about us living in a fast-paced digital world and ‘humanity’ is disappearing because people are so focused on efficiency and productivity. So our unmet need was that ‘humanity’ was disappearing.
“Then you have to define yourself. Look at yourself and see if you have any attributes that can be leveraged to capitalize on that unmet need. The third thing is to begin to develop a plan to meet your end goal. The last thing is you set measurements and you make continuous improvement.”
To make the message of caring and top-notch customer experience stick, you have to ingrain it into your culture.
“That cultural shift is what we are working on now,” Kong says. “To live our vision, we have to make sure that every single employee cares. We have put together a cultural change initiative that involves selecting the right employees and giving them the right training and resources.
“It involves aligning all our business systems and business processes along this caring initiative, so at the end of the day, all our people, systems and processes are all aligned to deliver superior customer care.”
Creating this culture change is so important because a lot of companies simply have a program of the day, which is a one-time event rather than a system for creating a company mentality.
“Employees can see right through that,” he says. “It doesn’t stick. You have to have the right people in place. They have to feel empowered. They have to feel like they have all the tools to do what it is that you want them to do. There needs to be compensation systems and performance management systems aligned with that, and it has to be customer-centric.
“All those things need to be lined up. That’s how you can affect the cultural change.”
In addition, the leadership team has to be involved for the cultural change to take effect and for it to be sustained.
“If the leader doesn’t walk the talk, then employees see right through it,” Kong says. “If the leader is always, every day, every moment, living what he is preaching, then people get invigorated and inspired by that. The leadership is everything.”
Through these brand relevance initiatives, Kong and his team at Best Western want to be the dominant player in the broad midscale market.
“If you take all the industry measures, whether it is revenue per available room, market share in that respect, our relationships with all the major buyers, whether they are travel agencies, big corporations or independent travelers — in all those aspects, we want to have the superior market share,” he says.
“Every company should set goals for themselves, because if you don’t set goals, you don’t know whether you’ve gone there or not, and you can’t stay on that path.” ?
How to reach: Best Western International Inc.,
(800) 780-7234 or www.bestwestern.com
Decent bosses typically try to lead by example. As a leader, you must model appropriate behavior to promote the greater good and to send a constant message with teeth in it.
The French term “esprit de corps” is used to express a sense of unity, common interest and purpose, as developed among associates in a task, cause or enterprise. Sports teams and the military adopt the sometimes-overused cliché, “One for all and all for one.” “Semper Fi” is the Marine Corps’ motto for “always faithful.” We commonly hear, “We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”
However, the real test of team-building and motivational sayings is that they are good only when they move from an HR/PR catchphrase to a way of doing business — every day.
As soon as you put two or more people in the same room, a whole new set of factors comes into play, including jealousy, illogical pettiness and one-upmanship, all of which can lead to conflicts that obstruct the goals at hand. Certainly, much of this is caused by runaway egos. Perhaps a little bit of it is biological, but most of it is fueled by poor leadership. Everyone has his or her own objective and it’s the boss’s responsibility to know how to funnel diverse personal goals in order to keep everyone on track. This prevents employees from straying from the target and helps avoid major derailments. Essentially, it all gets down to the boss leading by example with a firm hand, understanding people’s motives and a lot of practicing “Do as I say and as I really do myself.”
Communicating by one’s actions can be very powerful. A good method to set the right tone is stepping in and lending a hand, sometimes in unexpected and dramatic ways. This shows the team that you govern yourself as you expect each of them to govern their own behavior. In my enterprises, I constantly tell my colleagues that the title following each person’s name boils down to these three critical words: “Whatever it takes.” Certainly, I bestow prefixes to this one-size-fits-all, three-word title, such as vice president or manager, but I consider these as window dressing only.
After speeches, when I explain this universal job description, I always get questions from the audience about how I communicate this concept. I follow with a real-life experience that played out in the first few months after I started OfficeMax. As a new company, we had precious, little money, never enough time and only so much energy, which we preserved as our most valuable assets in order to be able to continually fight another day.
In those early days, too frequently, I would see what looked like a plumber come into the office, go into the restroom and emerge a few minutes later presenting what I surmised to be a bill to our controller. I knew whatever he was doing was costing us money and probably not building value. The third time he showed up, in as many weeks, I immediately followed him into the restroom (much to his shock and consternation). I asked him what in the world kept bringing him back. He then proceeded to remove the john’s lid and give me a tutorial on how to bend the float ball for it to function properly. That was the last time anyone ever saw this earnest workman on our premises. Instead, after making known my newly acquired skill, whenever the toilet stopped working, I became the go-to guy.
This became an object lesson to my team about how to save money. At that time, 50 bucks a pop was a fortune to us. It got down to people knowing that all of us in this nascent start-up were expected to live up to their real, three-word title. This was our version of how to build esprit de corps. Others began boastfully relaying their own unique “whatever it takes” actions, and it became our way of doing business.
The lesson I learned in those early days was that it wasn’t always what I said that was important but rather what I did that made an indelible impression. A leader’s actions, with emphasis on the occasionally unorthodox to make them memorable, are the ingredients that contribute to molding a company’s culture.
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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Steve Jobs was the master of spotting trends and the opportunities that go with them. He was so good at it that he could see trends when they were still in their infancy. This allowed him to create products that kept his company at the front of the waves of change and ultimately drove massive profits and stock growth for Apple.
While not many people possess the uncanny sixth sense that Jobs had, it’s important to spend time studying your industry and what’s happening at various levels, from customers to suppliers to competitors.
You need to recognize when the trend is pushing positive growth and when it’s not. The additional challenge is to know the difference between a trend and a fad. A trend is more long-lived and drives a lot of long-term opportunity, while a fad tends to burn out quickly. This isn’t to say that trends last forever, because they don’t. An important part of studying trends is to know when to jump off the wagon and find the next opportunity, because if you ride a trend too far, you may find yourself in a rapidly declining industry or an area of waning interest.
For example, Y2K was a fad. For those who don’t remember, the Y2K boom was caused by old computers that only saw years as two digits instead of four, and widespread computer issues were predicted if systems weren’t upgraded. A giant boom in computer consulting and sales resulted from this issue, but it was short-lived. The moment 2000 rolled around, the need for Y2K upgrades dried up.
The dot-com boom, which was partly fueled by Y2K, was a trend. For a number of years, a ridiculous amount of money was being thrown at any project that contained the word “Internet,” regardless of its business model or competitive factors. While it was active, there were plenty of online growth opportunities for businesses to take advantage of.
Those who recognized the trend were able to capitalize on it, and more importantly, those who recognized the end of the trend were able to cash out before it went bust. Not every trend will be as big as the dot-com boom, and depending on your industry, they may not be so obvious.
Finding and recognizing trends starts with studying your industry. You need to stay in tune with what’s happening with competitors and constantly read about not only your industry but related ones as well. Talk to suppliers and vendors to get their opinions as to what direction your markets may be headed. But the most important thing may be to have an open mind. Don’t assume that because something hasn’t changed for 20 years that it isn’t ever going to change.
With an open mind, you are more likely to recognize an emerging trend before everyone else has rushed to capitalize on it, putting you ahead of the curve. Once you are exploiting a trend, you have to be equally diligent to know when it’s going to end, and that’s done in a similar fashion to identifying it in the first place: Stay plugged in to your industry.
These are exciting times and change is all around us. Look for the hidden clues that can lead you to the next big opportunity, and never stop challenging your own beliefs. The CEOs who do the best over time are the ones who don’t accept the status quo.
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.
He was hired as president and CEO of a foundation to raise funds to build a new hospital in Indianapolis to replace an existing one — a public facility that never had a major fundraising drive in its more than 150-year history.
Previously known as City Hospital and Indianapolis General Hospital, the public entity had been renamed Wishard Memorial Hospital in 1975. The last time there was new construction there was in 1914. So Vargo was tilling new soil, and he went ahead with his efforts to survey the situation.
“We were talking to a lot of people, and we were not on their priority list,” Vargo says. “There were so many groups ahead of us. People were already involved with some really good causes for a number of years. We did not have that long-term base of support.”
Undeterred, Vargo developed a strategy to get the buy-in from his target groups. He focused on going out into the community, to educate and inform citizens about the great things happening at Wishard Hospital, which served the most vulnerable people in the community.
His most successful visits were with Sidney and Lois Eskenazi, who owned Sandor Development Co. and who donated one of the largest gifts ever made to a public hospital in the United States — $40 million — and Fifth Third Bank, which donated $5 million.
In honor of the Eskenazis’ gift, the foundation was renamed the Eskenazi Health Foundation, and the new hospital will be the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital when it opens in December.
Having grown up on the South Side of Indianapolis where the hospital is located, the Eskenazis wanted to give back to the community in a way that would impact many people.
The fundraising efforts didn’t stop there. Vargo gave tours of the current facility just to familiarize potential donors with the hospital — and he knew he was getting the buy-in when long-time area residents were admitting, “I never knew that! I never knew!”
Here’s how Vargo achieves buy-in by staying in focus to his mission.
Concentrate, focus and deliver
When it comes to getting people to donate to a cause, it’s not that different from getting employees to buy in to a new corporate vision statement. The main premise is to focus on the mission.
A hospital’s mission is to advocate, care and serve — those are its core values. By keeping those core values in focus, Vargo believed he could engage his staff who would then engage people. That meant crafting a sales pitch that would be consistent with the mission.
“Be very thoughtful in your approach,” he says. “We don’t ask people for money the first time they come here. But we are trying to engage them so that they feel good about a gift and hopefully, that results in bigger gifts for us.”
The sense of making a contribution to a team, even an emotional feeling of belonging to a worthy effort, is as important as an employee who has been newly empowered with new responsibilities at his company.
Vargo also stresses that his team is in many ways a collection of networks. As many company leaders find early adopters among employees, Vargo found early contributors. These are thought leaders, and their enthusiasm is an invaluable asset to engage others.
“All of those folks on our board of directors and our campaign cabinet were all early contributors,” he says. “So they also had credibility when they were calling on people because not only have they volunteered to give their time to do fundraising but they have already made a sacrificial gift.”
Vargo says the Eskenazi gift never would have come into being if the board chairman hadn’t personally known Sidney and Lois Eskenazi. The chairman had been having a conversation with Sid Eskenazi when the potential donor asked what was going on at the Wishard Hospital project. It opened the door.
“That was the beginning of that conversation,” Vargo says. “It has really been a networking success.”
While there was a certain amount of good fortune in landing that donation, Vargo is careful not to rely solely on luck. That’s why so much effort goes into education and contacting people — to communicate the mission.
“It has really been an outreach to folks,” he says. “Not surprisingly, most people we ask in the community if they have ever been to Wishard say, ‘No, I should have. I’ve lived in this community all my life, but I haven’t been.’ And in many cases, they will say nobody has ever invited them.”
So Vargo and his staff invited them to take tours. It was a teaching moment and the lesson was to weave value-added features into the approach.
“So when you take components of a new, modern facility, plus our relationship with the school of medicine — all our physicians are on the faculty of the Indiana University School of Medicine — there are a lot of compelling reasons for people to give to the foundation,” Vargo says. “The other thing that is very compelling especially to the business folks is just that we have a good business plan — our finances show how we have been turned around.”
The personal touch, the tours, the face-to-face conversations show people what is happening and what the vision is for the new hospital has really resulted in phenomenal support for an organization that had not done this type of campaign before, Vargo says.
Grassroots support is not overlooked. Nonphysician employees of the hospital have donated $2.2 million to the fund, whose annual revenue for 2011 was $48 million.
“It’s just been an amazing outpouring from our employees,” Vargo says. “Forty percent of those gifts came after we announced the Eskenazis’ $40 million gift.”
Don’t get sidetracked after a ‘no’
After a process has been developed and is put into use, there may be occasional challenges. These give you an opportunity to meet the challenge by staying true to your mission focus.
For instance, Vargo closely followed the caring approach when faced with an unusual rejection from a potential donor.
“Out of the blue, the man called me one day and said, ‘I feel really bad about this, but my wife had breast cancer years ago, and we’ve really never done anything for the hospital that treated her. We are not going to make a gift to you. We are going to make a gift to this other hospital.’”
Vargo assured the couple that it was the right thing for them to do. With his thoughtful approach, he enabled them to see the value of a philanthropic donation, although it was to another hospital.
Afterward, he did some self-reflection, and saw how this experience reinforced that his message was delivered clearly but it was only the outcome that was different.
“We are all in competition obviously, but it is ultimately what is in the best interests of the donor — and all donors are different.”
Capitalize on your success
If you complete a successful merger, acquisition or turnaround, there is a payoff — and that payoff is often only a new beginning, not the culmination of your efforts.
The next step is about taking advantage of that accomplishment. For the hospital campaign, the large gift from the Eskenazis allowed for construction to begin — and it offered another opportunity.
“One thing that obviously has been helpful is having this new magnificent facility because it can be that stepping stone to get people involved,” Vargo says. “We are having this success but it will be a failure if we don’t capitalize in the future on the success we are seeing today.”
If your project reaches its goal, it is time to enjoy the moment but keep looking ahead. For the Eskenazi Health Foundation, it was resetting the original $50 million goal to $75 million after the campaign’s large shot in the arm.
“We want to keep the same fundraising staff moving forward because it would be silly to ignore all these people who made gifts to us once the new hospital has been built,” Vargo says.
To build on that intention, continue to be in front of people to take the vision as far as what the future is going to be in regard to funding priorities, he says.
“One of the things that we have done is to begin adding new board members who are key players in the community,” Vargo says. “Our incoming board chairman and vice chairman are some higher profile people in the community who are really engaged.
“There is something about building a brand-new project that is exciting,” Vargo says. “But I also think that there are people who would prefer to give to programs. I think we will continue to have success. It is really identifying and articulating what it is that we are going to do.” ?
How to reach: Eskenazi Health Foundation,
(317) 630-6451 or
Get a focus on your mission.
Don’t get off track after hitting a brick wall.
Capitalize on your success.
The Vargo File
President and CEO
Eskenazi Health Foundation
Born: Akron, Ohio.
Education: University of Akron. I majored in communications.
What was your first job?
Working at a car dealership in the Akron area. When people bought a new car, I was one of the guys who got them ready. I learned the importance of doing your job well. If we could work really hard and get it done right the first time, you didn’t have to take it back and do it over. I also got to be involved with the business a little bit. I became familiar with the owner and learned a little bit about how a car dealer business runs.
Who do you admire in business?
A good friend of mine whom I got to know well when I served on the school board here in town was a man named Bob Laikin. He was the founder/entrepreneur of BrightPoint. He’s a guy who is just a passionate, driven person, but also a very caring person. He is just this incredible entrepreneur who just has a lot of integrity.
What is your definition of business success?
The reason I like fundraising is that we have tangible goals. You either make them or you don’t make them. I am really driven by goals and like to have numbers in front of me. But take those short-term goals and incorporate those into long-term goals — how can we be judged and be successful today and raise the money that we need to raise but also how can we take that and make that a long-term success — that’s what motivates me. I am really goal-driven.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
I came to Indianapolis to work for my college fraternity. I worked for the executive director who was this really brilliant guy, George Spasyk, and he taught me so many little things, such as, ‘Always carry a pen in your pocket so you’re ready to write down whatever you need.’ But more importantly, ‘Treat everybody equal. It doesn’t matter if you are an executive or you are the person in environmental services, they are all important. And if you treat everybody the same, it comes back to you, and you will be successful because of that.’ And the other thing that he taught me was just the importance of having a strategic vision, having a goal for what it is that you were going to do.
Businesses don’t grow … people do!
If you are the founder of a very successful company, other business leaders probably often ask you for the secrets of your success. As founder of Defender Direct, I get approached all the time — they all want to know about our “secret sauce.” How did we grow a small company operating out of a spare bedroom into a nearly $500 million business that has experienced annual average growth rates of 50 percent or more, with more than 2,000 employees and a nationwide footprint of 120 offices?
The answer can be found in five simple words: “Businesses don’t grow; people do!”
I believe our company has grown faster than its peers not because we are better at selling and installing home systems but because our people have grown faster than the competition’s people. The key is to stop trying to double your business and realize the way to grow is to double your team members’ enthusiasm, optimism and skills.
Send people to seminars, leadership conferences and self-improvement programs. Build your culture on purpose, not by accident. It’s that simple.
Groom your employees.
This concept has been a humbling learning experience for me as a business owner. I’ve learned that success isn’t about having a better plan or a widget. It’s about helping your employees, because every time they grow, you and your business will grow. That’s what keeps us going, that’s our true purpose — to build and develop leaders. Everything else just falls into place.
You don’t want to be in the business of buying and selling businesses. You want to be in the business of growing and developing leaders.
How do you best invest in your people? At Defender, every new hire attends what we call “Defender Corporate Culture Day” their first day on the job. This is an opportunity to share the company’s unique culture and get each employee engaged and focused on how he or she can be successful both personally and professionally.
On this first day, the focus is completely on personal written goals and a personal growth plan. We don’t talk at all about job-specific skills.
We insist that our employees “work harder on themselves than they do on their job.” Yes, I just said that and I mean it. Every new employee receives a tool called the Defender Leadership Advantage Board. This tool provides a four-year road map that guides employees on a path of self-improvement focusing on three categories: reading for self-improvement, volunteering to serve others and involvement in company culture-building events.
The DLA Board contains items such as reading “Now Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham, attending an Ed Foreman Successful Life Course and even building a home for the poor in Mexico, just to name a few. Participation is always optional but is encouraged for growth. Defender’s investment in the DLA Board is about $16,000 per employee, as all expenses are paid for all employees and, in many cases, all expenses for a family member to attend events are covered, as well.
Don’t stress profit; stress growth.
I realized early on that, as a leader, I can only grow as fast as my employees grow, so I have devoted a lot of time and resources into developing leaders because it’s the only way our company can realize exponential, organic growth.
When you start sacrificing employee growth for profit, everyone suffers. Once Defender started focusing on people versus profit growth, the results were incredible.
Remember, the best thing you can do for your business is grow your people. In doing so, you and your business will realize exponential success because businesses don’t grow … people do!
Dave Lindsey is the founder, board member and chief missions officer of Defender Direct, a leading dealer for a portfolio of home security and digital communication brands including ADT and DISH Network. The company Direct employs more than 2,000 individuals in 50 states with more than 100 branch offices nationwide. Visit www.defenderdirect.com for more information.
Employers are scrambling to figure out the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) on their business and whether it makes sense to “pay or play” when it comes to providing health insurance coverage for employees.
“Pay or play regulations were released Dec. 28, so we’re all trying to digest this. Employers want to know what the rules mean for them,” says Dwight Seeley, vice president of Employee Benefit Programs at Sequent. “I have several meetings scheduled to review the math of the penalty phase with companies so they know where they stand.”
Smart Business spoke with Seeley about the pay or play provisions under PPACA and what employers need to do in preparation for the Jan. 1, 2014, start of health care exchanges.
How do companies prepare?
They need to determine answers to these questions:
- Do they have a general understanding of pay or play?
- Are they considered a large employer?
- Will any employees receive federally subsidized exchange coverage?
- Does the company plan offer minimum essential coverage?
- Does the plan provide minimum value?
- Is the plan affordable?
- What penalties could apply and what is the potential cost?
First off, pay or play applies to employers with at least 50 full-time or full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, so you have to determine if that applies to you. PPACA rules are different from those of the IRS. Under PPACA, a full-time equivalent is considered 120 hours per month, 30 hours per week. There’s a fairly detailed structure for measuring FTEs based on employees with variable hours, seasonal employees, etc. Companies that have variable schedule employees, part-timers or a lot of seasonal employees are going to be challenged to determine how many FTEs they have.
If you have 50 or more FTEs, what do you need to do to avoid penalties?
Businesses can avoid penalties by providing minimum essential coverage with a plan that offers at least minimum value and is affordable. No guidance has been given on minimal essential coverage but there’s a general idea of what it’s going to look like based on industry standards.
Once you’ve established that a plan provides minimal essential coverage, you then look at whether it meets the minimum value requirement and if it’s affordable. It’s considered poor if it pays less than 60 percent of total benefits under the plan. To be affordable, it has to cost less than 9.5 percent of an employee’s household income.
What are the potential penalties?
If you do not offer coverage and at least one full-time employee receives a federal subsidy, the tax is $2,000 per the number of full-time employees minus the first 30. An employee can get a subsidy if their income is between 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — about $92,000 for a family of four.
If you offer coverage that’s considered unaffordable and at least one full-time employee receives a federal subsidy, the annual tax is the lesser of $3,000 per subsidized full-time employee or $2,000 for all full-time employees.
Should some employers drop health care coverage and pay the penalties?
Studies corroborate the fact that a lot of employers feel they still need to offer health insurance as a differentiator and as a recruitment and retention strategy. What they want is to get the numbers straight in order to make an informed decision. That means going through the penalty scenarios and working out the math. Any penalties will not be deductible or tax favored, whereas the health insurance you’re providing is tax favored, so you have to calculate the impact from pre-tax and post-tax perspectives.
One other challenge that’s not being talked about is the cost companies are going to incur to implement the administrative changes required by the law. They’re going to have to put in new processes to allow easy access to data the way it is defined by the PPACA, such as an ongoing way to monitor the number of FTEs.
The published regulations contain many detailed examples so there has been an attempt to provide direction. Still, the sheer volume and complexity make it a lot to absorb.
Dwight Seeley is a vice president, Employee Benefit Programs, at Sequent. Reach him at (614) 839-4059 or email@example.com.
Save the date: Learn about the changing landscape of health care reform. Register for the March 19 Pay or Play Webinar at http://bit.ly/XFjwB3.
Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent
When I meet with business-to-business and professional service clients to discuss their marketing strategies, one comment that consistently arises is “No one buys professional services through the Web.”
While that may be true — you don’t typically buy an accountant online as you would a product through e-commerce — how your brand is perceived most definitely will impact a prospect’s buying decision.
Decisions to work with professional service firms don’t happen overnight. They take time. And because of this, any B2B organization must ensure it is “seen” in the strongest possible light before the sale actually occurs.
In fact, it’s just as important to not lose prospective customers because your organization is perceived as weak or subpar as it is to convert a prospect into a client.
The simple truth is that you never know at any given time who is researching your brand and through what channel. Having a consistent brand message, whether they’re looking to engage you now or somewhere down the road, helps you to not lose them before they need your solutions.
To accomplish this, you must get your brand messaging across in a consistent manner across multiple channels.
So how do you that?
First, a solid marketing strategy must include a website that clearly articulates the brand message and value proposition of your services — and it has to be on the home page.
It also should include supporting content that allows a prospective customer to quickly understand who you are, what you do and why you’re different.
For example, let’s say you’re an accounting firm. Being able to articulate why you are the best at providing risk management solutions for clients can help you differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
Providing and highlighting content that explains your service, along with case studies and client examples that include measurable results, is a smart move. It allows prospects and site visitors to get a feel of what it would be like to work with you.
Additionally, your website should offer prospective clients an easy way to contact you — either through a phone number or a simple contact form that includes a name, email address, phone number and short explanation of the prospect’s business problem.
Beyond your website, other channels to consider include social media, which includes LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. In these social media channels, you need more than just simple company pages. Instead, you should offer visitors relevant and current content that consistently supports the brand message and your organization’s value proposition, along with company information and executive profiles. And it’s extremely important to continually be “active.”
Using the same accounting firm as an example, it could utilize consistent content around recent changes to government policies, updates on recent business wins or sharing a solution that helped one of its clients overcome a business challenge across all social media channels.
And when that information isn’t timely, something as simple as new hire announcements or employee promotions will show visitors and followers that there is activity within your brand — and your organization. It makes you “active,” which makes you more attractive to prospects.
Other channels to think about include mobile or tablet experiences, print marketing and event sponsorship. Every channel you can imagine should be used to express your organization’s brand message because there are always people watching.
So while your clients may not choose or buy their professional services online, they will evaluate your brand even prior to consideration. And while it’s impossible to measure what clients you may lose by not having this strategy in place, it is clear that a solid marketing strategy of this type can save you from losing consideration — even when you don’t know you’re being considered.
David Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7056.