Whether it’s a major event such as Hurricane Sandy or simply a snow day, businesses need to be aware of the wage and hour implications of weather-related absences.
“It is important to have clearly defined policies in place that address the many pay-related issues that are involved with a weather-related closing,” says Jenny Swinerton, general counsel at Sequent. “In addition, it’s always a good idea to implement a contingency plan that identifies essential personnel who are vital to the continued operations of the company and establish procedures for communicating with employees regarding emergency closures.”
The same issues apply in cases when businesses close because of an outbreak of the flu.
“This is expected to be one of the worst flu seasons we’ve had in years, so it’s a good time for businesses to review their existing policies to ensure that they address all of the various issues that arise when an employer is forced to close for any reason.”
Smart Business spoke with Swinerton about weather-related absences and how the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictates pay requirements.
What happens to employees’ pay when a business closes because of weather?
Employees are treated differently under the FLSA depending on whether they are classified as nonexempt or exempt. Briefly, nonexempt employees are those who are entitled to overtime pay. Exempt employees are those who are paid on a salaried basis and also meet specific legal requirements to be exempt from the overtime pay requirements.
The FLSA requires employers to pay their nonexempt or hourly employees only for those hours that the employees have actually worked. As a result, if a nonexempt employeed are unable to come to work or the office is closed, the employer is not required to pay them.
Exempt employees generally must be paid their full salary for any week in which they perform work. So, if an employer closes the office because of inclement weather or other disasters for less than a full workweek, the employer must pay the exempt employee’s full salary for the week. The employer may, however, require the exempt employee to use vacation or paid time off.
Does the length of a shutdown determine how you handle absences?
It really doesn’t matter for nonexempt employees because they’re paid only for hours worked. So if you shut down for a week, you don’t have to pay nonexempt employees during that time. With salaried employees, unless an employer suspends operations for an entire workweek, they must be paid their regular weekly salary regardless of the number of hours they worked. This becomes tricky with telecommuting because an exempt employee is often going to be checking email or responding to phone calls even while stranded at home during a storm. If exempt employees work for a small portion of the workweek, they must be paid for the entire week.
If you make deductions from exempt employees’ compensation for absences attributed to inclement weather, you may jeopardize the employees’ exempt status and incur liability for any overtime they may have worked.
What happens if an employer’s business is open, but exempt employees don’t show up?
If the employer remains opens during or after a natural disaster and an exempt employee cannot report to work, the Department of Labor considers this to be an absence for personal reasons. But deductions may only be made from the exempt employee’s salary in full day increments. However, it is important to remember that if a salaried employee performs even a little bit of work during the day, employers are still required to pay the employee’s full day salary.
What else should be considered?
Employees who are instructed to remain on call during inclement weather and who cannot use the time for their own personal benefit must be compensated for this time. Additionally, if employees are performing job duties outside their normal scope, such as sweeping the floor, they may be considered a volunteer and do not need to be paid for that time.
Read Sequent’s blog — frequent posts from a wide range of Sequent experts regarding HR, technology and consulting.
Jenny Swinerton is general counsel at Sequent. Reach her at (614) 410-2362 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jim Litten has a saying that sums up his approach to operating F.C. Tucker Co. Inc.: “We are a success today, but nothing is guaranteed for tomorrow unless we have our game face on.”
But it’s not the only line of attack that helped him guide the largest Indianapolis-area residential real estate agency through a real estate market that dropped 32 percent between 2007 and 2009.
“Look at most businesses; if their business was off 32 percent, that would require monumental change to everything they do,” says Litten, president of F.C. Tucker. “Do you quit matching on the 401(k)? Do you put a hiring freeze on? Do you evaluate every single expense line that you have? We went through all those different processes, and as we saw the market continue to contract, we continued to cut. If we saw the market dropped 10 percent, we cut 10 percent.”
While cutbacks were necessary, it was disheartening for Litten to make them and to see his family of agents suffer as a result. Nevertheless, he knew he had another job on hand — to keep up the spirits of his employees.
“As a CEO of a company, you have to be realistic about what’s going on, but you can’t be pessimistic,” he says. “In a sales-driven organization, there has to be a cheerleader that keeps the organization moving forward.”
Litten’s 40-year career in real estate sales has taught him that he needs to keep his associates focused when facing challenges. He says that means not backing off and staying engaged.
“And it’s letting the agents know that we were in it with them,” he says. “The downturn wasn’t something that was their problem; it was all of ours.”
Here’s how Litten leads 1,500 agents across Indiana to stay engaged, focused and on top, with more than $2 billion in annual sales.
Empower, but don’t micromanage
Many leaders understand the value of empowerment. You give your employees more responsibility, they have more control of their position, and they start looking for solutions rather than making excuses.
With empowerment, however, comes the ability to delegate. It doesn’t work if the leader is a control freak. Litten says that he doesn’t micromanage the company’s business units or their leaders. When someone is hired to run a unit, the first thing he tells that person is that he expects him or her to run the operation as if it were his or her own. That doesn’t mean that Litten is unwilling to answer questions or offer guidance.
“But if I have to come out and micromanage it for you, I’ve got the wrong person in the seat,’” Litten says.
While empowerment means more authority for employees, it also means more responsibility — and being accountable. Leaders need to have quarterly reviews with each of the division heads and branch managers and review metrics to evaluate where they are, where the market share is and the growth they’ve experienced in the position. Litten also discusses every agent in the office with their managers to see how they are doing and find out where they may need help.
He says that one of the best indexes of performance is productivity, and if your managers keep an eye on individual productivity, they will be able to manage more effectively where it is needed most.
“You may get fooled by some who can sing a pretty good song,” Litten says. “But the reality of it is just productivity. When I look at the offices, are they doing comparable to what they did the prior year? If not, why not?”
In a smaller office, if there are just a few big producers and they are having an off year, it can impact the entire office. A leader who is tuned in to what is going on will be aware of why that office’s sales are off, and instead of thinking it may be a leadership issue in that office, will be aware that agents are simply having an off year.
“You’ve got to know what is going on in your business,” Litten says. “If levels of management just go through the motions, those days are numbered for them because you can’t do it anymore. You’ve got to know what is going on, what the trends are, what the strategic issues facing you are and how you are going to deal with them.”
Communicate, but don’t hover
While it may seem to be at odds with the practice of empowerment, staying in frequent touch with employees is vital to a company’s success. However, the leader needs to draw a fine line, because if it appears he or she is hovering, employees will not feel truly empowered.
Litten says that coaching is critical. Spend time with associates not only to help them but to simply check in and see what is going on with them. If you fail to do so, it may send a message that you don’t really care enough about them to ask or that you are making assumptions about their situation.
“The worst thing that you can do is to assume that somebody is OK,” Litten says. “You have to touch them regularly. Often, unless you are checking in with them, you really don’t know if there is something going on attitudinally on which you need to work with them or just be a good listener to them and let them come in and vent.”
Your leadership team, and thus the company as a whole, needs to understand what the fuel is that runs the engine. In the case of F.C. Tucker, that fuel is the agents, which is why Litten says it is critical to be plugged in to their needs.
In any business, employers try to retain their top performers. Litten says doing so is even more critical in real estate, as the top performers are usually independent contractors with the option to go elsewhere. Litten uses a sports analogy to make his point.
“Imagine the Indianapolis Colts having a stable of superstar players, with virtually no contracts with them, and those players have the ability to take their talents to any team in the NFL,” he says. “As an owner of the team and coach of the team, you would make sure that you bring value to them every day in what you do and the systems that you put in place, the platform and the tools of differentiation that you give them.
“In our case, if an agent doesn’t like what management is doing, he or she can pick up and move across the street in a New York minute. You don’t want that. Our only real asset is our sales force.”
Use tools to be proactive
Businesses today have to be proactive, says Litten. If they just react to what’s happening around them, it can be fatal.
“And never, ever, ever, ever be satisfied with the status quo,” he says. “One of two things happen in life: you grow or you die. The same thing happens in business. You either grow or you die.”
Business is continually evolving, and if a business tries to rest on its laurels, it will find itself left in the dust, because there is always someone behind you looking to take your market from you.
“Certainly it would be nice to be able to sit back and catch your breath, but business today is just so competitive that if you back off, you become vulnerable.”
To help agents stay on top of trends, changes and sales techniques, F.C. Tucker Co. established Tucker University to offer tools of differentiation for the agents who are interfacing with the consumer and keep the management team’s skills at a game-day level. Tucker University recently started a new sales training class. During classes, Litten usually talks to agents about the company culture, its values and its belief system. He also tells them that the only things they can really control are their attitudes and their activities.
He says that if you can control those two things, you are going to get your share of the market that you are operating in. But if your activity level isn’t top-notch and your attitude is bad — whether it’s because of the economy or worrying about what will happen if the mortgage interest deduction goes away — you will find yourself struggling.
“And if you play the best you can play by being on top of your game every day, you’re going to win,” Litten says. “If you don’t, shame on you; you are going to lose.” ?
How to reach: F.C. Tucker Co. Inc., (888) 588-2537 or talktotucker.com
The Litten file
F.C. Tucker Co. Inc.
Born: Dayton, Ohio. I was raised in a small town called Martin’s Ferry. It’s on the Ohio River by Wheeling, W.Va.
Education: I went to Ohio University on a football scholarship. I studied physical education and was going to be a football coach. When I tell people that, they look at me and say, ‘You’re doing what now?’
What was your first job?
When I was 15, I delivered groceries for a small grocery store in Bridgeport, Ohio. When I became 16, I could drive, so I could go further on the route. I was very blessed. My dad was a salesman for an oil company, and he had a tremendous work ethic. Every morning by 7:30, he had his suit and tie on and was out making calls to steel mills. I also think athletics instilled a discipline in me so that if I were going to get ahead, there were no shortcuts.
Whom do you admire in business?
I have friends in the Realty Alliance. There is a man named Ron Peltier who is president of HomeServices of America, a Berkshire Hathaway company. Ron and I have been friends for 25 years. He’s a good businessman and an exceptionally good person. I have a friend who is a U.S. senator from Georgia, Johnny Isaacson. He used to run a real estate company in Atlanta. I have tremendous respect for Johnny. He is a very, very bright and a very compassionate individual.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
Our office used to be in the OneAmerica Tower (formerly AUL Tower) in Indianapolis. When we bought the company, we were on the 25th floor. My mother and father came up to visit, and my dad was always scared of heights. He walked into my office and looked down. It was shortly after we bought the company. We were sort of all starry-eyed about it, and he looked at me and he said, ‘Son, be nice to everybody on the way up because on the way down, you're going to need friends.’ He was holding on to the side of my desk and looking out the window at the time. My father was just a wise, wise man and just a very good person.
What is your definition of business success?
To be respected by the people who you serve and to be respected by your competitors. You go about doing things the right way, and you treat people the way they are supposed to be treated.
Just because someone holds a position of leadership doesn’t mean he or she is an effective leader. Although there are many analytic evaluations and theoretical assessments that offer insight into leadership ability, many ineffectual “leaders” maintain their positions. Why? Leadership change is hard on everyone. Maintaining status quo is often the easier route.
Here are a few ways to identify real leaders.
? Leaders need vision, character and integrity. Those who do not have these qualities cannot inspire teams or performance or generate sustainable value.
? Performance talks louder than promises. Someone who has consistently experienced success in leadership roles has a much better chance of success than someone who has not.
? The best leaders are keenly aware of how much they don’t know. One of the hallmarks of great leaders is their insatiable curiosity, especially as it relates to their organization.
? Great leaders communicate well, both up and down the ranks.
? Real leaders bear the blame and bestow the credit, not the other way around.
? True leaders also develop, mentor and prepare talent for the future.
For a true test of leadership, give someone some responsibility and see what that person does with it and test their organizational skills.
Develop your inside talent
Do you have someone leading “inside talent development” within your company? If not, you should and for several important reasons.
Companies that build a reputation for aggressively developing their talent keep motivated, effective individuals from looking outside the company for their next promotion. That keeps your organization moving forward, helps prevent employee stagnation and saves money, since bringing new people on board is much more expensive than you may realize.
Someone whom you trust should be spending at least one day per week thinking about, tracking, scheduling, sourcing and driving talent development within your firm.
In growth times, the smartest leaders will look beyond hiring and focus on making the most of their existing talent.
The skinny on meetings
True leaders also hold organized meetings.
I’ve been consistent about my feelings about meetings for as long as I can remember. Simply put, I detest them. Why? Let me make this short, because I have to go to a meeting.
1. No clear agenda. Every meeting should have a clear agenda and a few simple objectives. When you leave the meeting, everyone should know his or her responsibilities.
2. Most meetings delay decisions. You meet, you mull things over, you kick the big decision down the road or, worse, await buy-in. Ridiculous. If you are that afraid to make a decision, you shouldn’t be in management.
3. Too many people. Most don’t need to be there: The evidence? The folks checking their messages and responding to emails.
4. PowerPoint presentations: A waste of time and resources. Almost always a way for someone to show off his/her knowledge. And always too long.
5. Too long. Come together, bring up what’s relevant and decide what works and what doesn’t. Move forward. In most cases, you don’t even need to sit down.
Is there a place for meetings? You bet, provided the result of any meeting is to make your business better.
Are your meetings doing that? ?
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.
In executive roles at Baker & Daniels LLP over the past 10 years, Tom Froehle had weighed in on some 20 inquiries from other law firms about possible mergers with Baker & Daniels.
However, none of those led to serious discussions until the economy began its downward spiral.
“What we saw during this downturn was that clients wanted to look much harder at value,” says Froehle, who was, at the time, chief executive partner at Baker & Daniels. “Law firms were consolidating, and quite frankly, clients were consolidating in terms of using fewer law firms and looking for firms that had more extensive depth and breadth. We told ourselves that rather than be reactive, we have to try to be proactive.”
That meant going on the offense to find the right partner to create a successful merger. So the Baker & Daniels team started sorting through offers to narrow down the prospective suitors. While doing so, they came upon a firm called Faegre & Benson, located Minneapolis. Froehle said Baker spent a great deal of time trying to identify a partner that it thought would be a good fit, although the leaders could only do so much in terms of looking at websites and seeking out information. They also turned to anecdotal information that they heard from people familiar with the firm. Then they spent a lot of time evaluating and talking with the Faegre & Benson leadership team about the firm’s culture and strategic vision to ensure, before they made a move, that there would be alignment.
Here’s how Froehle, now chief operating partner, and his team scored a win at the newly merged Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, in operation one year now.
Finding a fit
When the topic of a merger comes up, the process can often seem overwhelming, especially when companies of considerable size and expertise are involved. To make the task less intimidating, start by looking at companies in complementary markets to yours, those that occupy the same market position and that serve at the top of their market.
Comparing those statistics gives you a better chance of finding the right fit, and every place in which similarities are identified increases the odds of success. After determining which factors would make or break the deal for your company, it’s time to go through the list to match potential suitors with your company.
“We looked at firms that appeared to have a similar qualitative excellence,” Froehle says. “There is some pretty good data in terms of rankings in those things that can help you identify companies from a qualitative standpoint.”
Then it’s time to look at culture to determine whether there is a good fit.
“On the cultural front, some things will stand out,” Froehle says. “Baker & Daniels was founded in 1863 and Faegre & Benson in 1886. So you had two very long-standing firms. Both firms had histories of civic involvement, with people committed to the community; they did pro bono and were diverse, and we saw really similar cultural values there.”
The next step can command the most time of anything else in the process. It’s time to get beyond the facts and figures and meet with the players face to face.
“A lot of it is just spending time with people; certainly both leadership teams should spend a lot of time together,” Froehle says. “We had what turned into an opportunity when we started discussions in 2010, but there was a client conflict situation that we just couldn’t resolve. That client conflict went away in early 2011, and we recommenced discussions. I think the fact that we had a pretty extended amount of time to spend with each other and to get other partners involved in those discussions helped us figure out whether we thought there was going to be a compatible culture.”
Froehle says it is valuable to flush out concerns early, rather than to wait until after the merger vote occurs. The goal was to combine the firms and the way they did things, so a lot of time was spent early in the process talking about how to develop the best governance structure for a new firm. But instead of taking one thing intact from one firm and another thing from the second firm, they instead approached it to determine what made the most sense so that they could tell the partners what the new firm would look like.
In effect, they built a model of the new company.
“By having that in place, and then being able to share with partners at both firms, ‘OK, here is what this new firm looks like,’ was really helpful in terms of allowing people to deal with the hard part about change, the uncertainty. Although we still have plenty of uncertainty, we tried to provide a real framework of what this is going to look like.”
Working it out
The last task is to determine the mix. This may be the most important task as you discuss common goals to reach a consensus.
“There were those who wanted to do something to not just get bigger but to actually help us serve clients better, and we saw some real synergies and opportunities to combine strong practices that would make even stronger practices,” Froehle says.
“Look for opportunities to complement and supplement strengths in each firm. We had no geographic overlap. Sometimes when you have offices in the same geography, it causes real friction in terms of how you deal with that. We didn’t have any of that, and so we had a lot of additive benefits. I think when people saw that and saw the opportunities to work together, they found that they like each other.”
Froehle says one of the fundamental underpinnings of the merger was the ability it created to serve clients better by providing broader and deeper expertise across a wider range of services. Helping employees understand that and the positive opportunities created has been an important piece of helping them get comfortable with the new organization and create a culture of excitement about being able to better serve clients. Even before the combination was complete, Froehle and his team set in writing what the expectations were of the partners.
“It has been a way for people to buy in to, ‘Here’s what we all expect of each other,’ and that’s been very useful,” he says. “This year, we are in the process of doing a similar thing for our associate lawyers in terms of trying to be much more definitive about what those expectations are, and that is going to be something that was necessarily different from what we had in either of the legacy firms.”
The other issue to address is the clients, as they need to be reassured that their relationships with the firm will not be changing for the worse.
“We went to our top 100 clients over the course of a year to talk about the combination,” he says. “It was interesting to share feedback with other folks in the firm about what we were hearing. Many clients were excited to hear about the new capabilities that were part of the combination. That has been really positive.”
Spread the good news
After the dust has settled and a single company is arising, the task turns to communication and feedback. Sharing positive news goes a long way toward reinforcing the common culture that is being developed.
“We try to open every meeting we have of any kind of group with a sharing of good news,” Froehle says. “These are things that are happening across the firm and with a real focus, at least this first year, on things that involve collaboration of people from the two different legacy firms.
“Those examples have been really helpful to others, who may say, ‘Wow! Somebody I know down the hall has been working with somebody I don’t know and that’s been a really positive thing that will help me be more inclined to step out of my comfort zone.’”
Froehle says that the effort to share good news about effective client collaborations, an additional focus on travel to allow people at the different locations to meet one another and other communication about what was happening across the firm were geared to help people recognize that there was a developing sense of a singular, combined culture. The feedback from those who have had those interactions and the opportunities to connect with each other have all been very positive and have helped to reinforce the internal message.
While recognizing that it would have been easier in some ways to maintain the status quo, Froehle says the long-term benefits of this approach are going to be very positive for the 1,600 employees.
“Obviously, it required the people and the leadership teams from both firms to have that mindset going in, but once they got that mindset, it became really exciting to think about creating something new.”
How to reach: Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, (317) 237-0300 or www.faegrebd.com
The Froehle File
Chief operating partner
Faegre Baker Daniels LLP
Born: Grand Forks, N.D., but I really only lived there for a couple of years. I grew up in and had all my schooling in Bloomington, Ind.
Education: Undergraduate degree at Indiana University in Bloomington and my JD from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
What was your very first job?
My dad operated a small store that sold hockey equipment, so from the time I was about 12 I worked there. My dad ran the business and I sort of helped. I really just learned a lot about customer service, how important each individual customer was and how you could really make an impact on each individual customer’s experience by how you responded. The individual experience of working with customers was really valuable.
Whom do you admire in business?
I really admire John Lechleiter, Ph.D., who is the CEO of Eli Lilly and Co. I admire his vision and his ability to help people in the company to understand what an important role they can play in the world in terms of a pharmaceutical company. I often think people are not all that excited about that but he really has talked about innovation and how they are helping change lives. I think he has done just a really marvelous job of doing that.
What has been the best business advice you ever received?
Two things. One, communication is important. Somebody once told me that no matter what you think, it probably takes you 10 times to say something before people really hear it, listen to it and understand it. The second is to remember that everything you do sends a message to those people around you. That is something I think we often forget.
What is your definition of business success?
Because it is a little bit different, the organizational hierarchy, I think a big part of my view of success is when my partners feel like they have succeeded or at least when they feel like they’ve been a material part in achieving that success.
Are you a perfectionist? Many type-A leaders are. If so, chances are good that your perfectionist ways are keeping you from getting more done.
Perfectionism is not an enviable attribute but rather a trap. According to Kris Taylor, of K. Taylor & Associates (Evergreen Leadership), perfectionists:
? Should have all the answers
? Must do it all
? Have a fear of trying something new or improving areas of weakness
? Think that more is better
? Hesitate to ask for help
? Don’t have time to take care of themselves
? Have old files, half-finished projects and clutter
? Tend to have high-maintenance customers that divert them from ideal clients
If this sounds like you, Taylor recommends lightening your load. Release a few projects or time-intensive tasks from your to-do list. Hire a consultant to take old, unfinished projects off your plate. Give more repetitive or time-consuming jobs to others. Free yourself for the important stuff, including the projects you most enjoy.
Get down to the nitty-gritty
What does it take to be a success, to beat your competition, to be a winner?
The most common answer is hard work. Although that’s certainly part of any achievement, there’s something else at work that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
That something else is being able to decipher what truly matters. It could be the culture of the situation, comprehending what’s truly at stake to the buyer or even understanding and being able to capitalize on the mood of the event.
Whatever it is that is most important is perfected — and the rest is ignored. Both parts of this equation are difficult, but when you trust your instincts, sniff out what’s most important and seize the opportunity, you’re onto the right stuff. That’s the winner’s circle.
Become a list-maker
Work on what truly matters by making lists. I have quite a number of lists, with many next actions, projects, calls to make and big ideas. Some question my efficiency, if not my sanity.
“You’ve got so many lists. That’s just too much work,” they say.
I’m here to defend these never-ending lists. Why? Because I rarely waste time worrying or becoming distracted over forgetting a meeting, an action, callback list, date or a promise to look into something. I have my appointments, phone numbers and notes tracked in a system I trust, one that I know works for me.
The problem with most people’s systems is that their calendar is the only list they trust. More than 95 percent of what they really need to keep track of is not a set of appointments but all the things to be done in between those appointments.
Your head is not the best place to keep track of things. And finding it critical to maintain a calendar seems to me a great way to clutter. Lists leave room in your mind to be more creative and allow you to think more about the big picture. Find a way to reduce the clutter in your head and you will be less stressed, sleep better and probably enjoy life a lot more. ?
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 one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com.
How often do you go to market without a solid business strategy? Probably never, right?
The reality is that if you’re like most organizations, then you’re doing this right now — and you don’t even know it.
That’s because most organizations do not have a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Instead, most are doing what somebody told them they should do. This includes creating a mobile website, engaging in social media and advertising.
All of these are “smart” marketing initiatives. But if they’re done in a vacuum, there’s no way to measure what results those initiatives are intended to accomplish. Worse, you’re chasing tactics instead of delivering results.
There is a significant difference between marketing tactics and marketing strategy. Marketing tactics are ways to bring channels to life. This could be a new website or a mobile-optimized version of your site. Or it could be creating new sales collateral. Tactics should be used to bring your brand message and value proposition to life.
Unfortunately, if they’re not tied to a cohesive strategy, you will not achieve the results you desire.
A marketing strategy, however, allows you to understand the results you should achieve. It also keeps everyone aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in the process.
As an example, there are three main reasons for a website: to verify your organization’s brand message to potential customers, to deliver your value proposition and conversion.
Conversion can mean different things for different industries. In retail, it might mean picking out a product, putting it in your shopping cart and making the purchase. In business-to-business, conversion might mean picking up the phone to contact the company, providing a name, email and phone number, or signing up to receive a newsletter.
Without understanding how consumers behave, you may be selling your marketing efforts short. You might not be providing enough information to clearly articulate your brand message or value proposition or you might not be offering users an easy experience that allows for conversion. So how do you ensure that a consistent brand message, value proposition and the ability to target customers converts across all marketing channels?
First, understand who the target consumer is and their needs, attitudes and behaviors. This can be discovered through research, including focus groups or through industry-based segmentation.
Then, conduct a deep dive to understand your business goals and objectives. In retail, this might be the number of sales you want to drive. In B2B, it could be increasing the numbers of prospects in your pipeline.
Finally, evaluate your company’s existing marketing tactics — your website, marketing collateral and overall brand message.
Only then will you be well-equipped to evaluate your overall tactics and compare them to marketing best practices and the competitive landscape. This results in recommendations that include expected business results and return on investment.
Prioritize these by measuring the highest impact against investment levels, and then create a timeline to implement them over a one- to two-year period. Share this strategy throughout the entire organization so everyone understands what will be accomplished and what the expected results are.
Without strategy, and an understanding of everything that goes into it, any money you pour into tactics tends to be money poorly spent. Done correctly, your marketing strategy suddenly becomes your organization’s key driver and leads to tangible and measurable business results.
Dave Fazekas is director of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7056.
What is the best way to motivate employees? Some successful CEOs treat employees as friends, while other equally high-achieving leaders regard employees as merely hired hands, giving them a day’s pay for a day’s work and nothing more.
What’s the best approach to produce the best results for the company, the employee and the employer? Much of the issue lies with one’s definition of a friend and the culture of the organization. Many companies boast that their employees are like family. This sounds great, but can it work?
If either party crosses the fine line that separates the difficult-to-define business and personal space, both employer and employee can become disenchanted or worse. One way to think of it is that friendship is more unconditional. We accept a friend for what he or she is or isn’t. On the flip side, the reality is that most bosses embrace or reject employees for what they do on a consistent basis.
The military has its own way of handling fraternization between officers and the enlisted by making it a possible court martial offense. This stance is predicated on the belief that socializing between these two levels is “prejudicial to good order, discipline and partiality.” It is well recognized that business relationships without boundaries can produce too much drama.
Perhaps what we need is a new definition for a nonemotional, congenial, enjoyable and productive day-to-day relationship between leader and follower. This moniker could be employee-friend, or “e-friend” for short. “E-friend” isn’t an app but would describe an employer/employee relationship where there is mutual respect and a genuine appreciation of one another, underscored by an understanding, albeit perhaps unspoken, that when the time for talking is done, the boss has the final word on matters that occur between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Using these ground rules, both sides can have it both ways by using good judgment and treating each other as they would want to be treated if their roles were reversed.
The employee should expect from the boss that, when the chips are down, either on a business basis or when the employee has a personal problem, he or she knows that the boss will be there for him or her, providing understanding and advice and, when requested, helping the employee maneuver through rough patches. From the employer’s perspective, the employee would be someone who, through thick and thin, is there for the company and can temporarily put personal needs aside when there is a business issue that can’t be postponed.
The e-friend boss should know as much about the employee as the employee wants the boss to know, which can include sensitive professional problems or even family or medical issues. In a good relationship, the boss could certainly know, as one example, what the subordinate’s kids are up to in their lives and be the first to say to the employee that it’s more important for him or her to go to an offspring’s ballgame or play, rather than putting in extra time on the business project du jour.
Instinctively, employees know if a boss truly cares or is just going through the motions to be politically correct. They know if the head honcho is sincerely concerned about them as a person, not just another set of hands.
Not everything and everyone in the workplace are created equal. There will always be a pecking order; however, there is nothing wrong with truly enjoying the people with whom you work every day and sharing meaningful experiences, all of which lead to a more fulfilling role for both the employer and the employee. The best criterion to avoiding problems is using generous doses of plain common sense. There is a much-quoted line from the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” starring Michael Douglas as the ruthless tycoon Gordon Gekko, who proclaimed, “If you want a friend, get a dog.” This provoked both laughs and sighs, but in the real world, this attitude makes for a very lonely Ebenezer Scrooge-type life for the boss and a shallow existence for employees who must spend more than half, at the very least, of their Monday through Friday waking hours working.
At times, people can be difficult, both to work for and with. However, it’s the people who make the company and relationships that combine respect and a form of e-friendship that can make the real difference.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Richard Branson is full of big ideas. The man who founded six companies that each rake in more than $1 billion annually dares to think big. For him, it’s all about the experience, making a difference and not doing things the same way as the competition. An idea captures his imagination and he sets out to turn it into reality.
For him, it’s not about the money. It never has been.
When he sees a situation where he thinks he can make a difference in people’s lives, he looks for a way to make a difference. He understands that “why” he is doing it is more important than the “what” or the “how.”
Author and consultant Simon Sinek agrees (see video link). He explains that Apple is wildly successful at what it does not because it can build computers better than anyone else but because it understands “why” it is doing so. It’s not that the competition doesn’t know what it is doing or that it doesn’t have talented people creating good products. It’s just that Apple understands why it is in business and focuses its message on that instead of what it does — which is build electronic devices.
Sinek says that people like to do business with people who believe what they believe, so they buy more on the “why you do it” rather than what you are actually doing. Notice that profits are secondary. If you do things the right way for the right reasons, profits come naturally.
You might already have a big idea for your business, but it will most likely never reach its full potential unless you understand why you are doing it. Have you ever stopped to think about why you are in business or why you are doing what you are doing? It can be an enlightening exercise.
With the demands of daily business, we seldom stop to think about the reasons behind our actions, and if we do think about it, the answer is often “to turn a profit.” But to what end?
When you understand why you are trying to make a profit and the answer goes beyond simple wealth, then you are getting to the heart of what differentiates a good business from a great one. Maybe the reason why is a social issue, such as eliminating hunger, or maybe it’s a medical issue, such as curing a disease. But it doesn’t have to be grand. The “why” can be something like “making computers easy for everyone to use.” The important part isn’t the scope; it’s understanding your business’s basic reason for existence.
When you’ve taken the time to understand that, your business will have the potential to do great things because employees and customers alike can unite around a common understanding.
It’s why Apple is a great company and it’s why Richard Branson is wildly successful. If you’re already doing it, you’re on your way. If not, take the time to think about it.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
According to Merriam-Webster, management is “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.” While “controlling” is a bit harsh in my book, the definition is correct in it's focus on management of people. To be a good manager or team leader, you have to have an above average interest in people. Success in management is found in the relationship developed between leader and team.
The best managers see themselves as catalysts. They become that agent or force that provokes or speeds significant change or action. These managers get things done quickly by leading with solid people skills.
Here are 4 people skills that every good manager must possess:
1. Understanding the right way to give a critique.
The worst thing you can do if you want to get someone to listen to you is to criticize.
As human beings, we hate to be criticized. When we feel attacked, we usually attack back – even when we are in the wrong. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking “I know I am right and I am going to prove it to you.”
Over the years I have learned that this way of thinking simply does not work.
A good manager has the self-control and presence of mind to put aside the needs of his own ego and say “I've got a problem, will you help me?” Enlisting cooperation in this manner will always lead to better results.
2. Understanding the need to help.
If someone comes in to criticize you or to raise your game, under what circumstances would you be willing to accept the critique?
The answer for me is simple. If I think someone is really trying to help me, then I'll engage and listen.
On the other hand, if I feel that the person is just trying to get the job done or make himself look good, I may listen, but my heart will not be in it. My interest and creative energies will be lost.
The truth of the matter is: Managers will only have influence over their people to the extent that their people think they are sincerely trying to help them. It is simply the way human beings work. Good managers truly care about their team and work hard to help them.
3. Understanding no two people are the same.
As a manager, you do not influence everybody the same way. People do things for their own reasons – not for others and not for you.
Inspiring people to your company vision happens best when you help them to see what's in it for them. This varies from person to person. It is your job to discover what things motivate each member of your team.
Some people are motivated by a challenge, some by money and others by recognition.
It is about reading their needs, desires and wants and then leading in such a way that ensures their success at obtaining them.
4, Understanding the best way to get tasks completed.
An effective manager realizes that each time he has an interaction with someone about a task, there are two things going on:
a. A discussion about the task and how to get it done.
b. The way in which the interaction affects the managers relationship with the collegue.
The first is pretty straightforward, but it's success is determined by the tenor of the second.
It must be said that the task should not be sacrificed for the relationship at all costs. It must also be said that winning on the task is not good if the manager ruins the relationship. Both are important and the manager must do well in each area.
I refer again to the need for the manager to develop relationships with the team in order to understand the best way to get things done according to individual members needs, desires and strengths.
In the end, good managers know how to use their influence and power to help others achieve beyond their wildest dreams.
I like management guru Tom Peters' definition of power:
“My definition of power is understanding that all of managing — and this comes out of the old grade school book — is the notion of doing more than you and I can do by ourselves; that is, doing things through other people.”
He goes on to say:
“If you are interested in getting things done effectively and imaginatively through other people then what you're trying to do in the workplace is exactly what you're trying to do on the football field – which is to get people who work with you to achieve beyong their wildest dreams.”
Workplace managers understand that good people skills determine their success. They work hard to develop the skills needed to lead in ways that shows their interest in people.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
Health care reform is on the way, with most mandates starting in 2014, but it will be 20 or 30 years before we really know how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will work, says William F. Hutter, president and CEO of Sequent.
“That creates much uncertainty for small and middle-market companies.
They don’t know what to do. And that uncertainty is bad for the economy and it is bad for business. When business owners can’t make decisions, it’s bad for all of us,” says Hutter.
Smart Business spoke with Hutter about some of the lesser-known aspects of the PPACA.
What are the minimum participation standards?
There are two standards for minimum participation:
• 80 percent of all eligible employees must take coverage from the employer.
• 70 percent of net eligible employees must take coverage from the employer.
Net eligible employees won’t include those who decide to get coverage from a spouse’s plan.
A really unique caveat about this is that if a company cannot maintain those participation requirements, technically no carrier has to write it coverage. That would force the company into a state health care exchange because it would be unable to provide a health insurance program for employees.
You could try to increase employee participation by improving the plan, but then the cost goes up and the company can’t afford it. Or the cost goes up and somebody can go to the state health care exchange and get a subsidized plan for less.
A lot of companies with between 75 and 150 employees are really going to be challenged. If they can’t meet minimum participation requirements and can’t afford to design a plan to compete with the exchange, they can give up and let everybody go to the exchange. But then they have to pay a $2,000, per employee, nondeductible penalty. For a company with 100 full-time equivalents (FTEs), that’s a $200,000 tax and they still don’t have a health plan.
How can companies that provide adequate health insurance still wind up paying penalties?
Say I run a company that has more than 50 FTEs and I’m offering a good health care plan. However, because of the subsidies that are offered, an individual opts out of my health care plan and instead seeks out insurance from a state exchange. A family of four can earn up to $80,000 and get a subsidy for buying on the exchange. I could still wind up paying a $3,000 penalty if I have an employee who opts out.
So companies will be weighing whether it costs more to provide health care or simply pay the penalty?
Correct. If that’s the case, how does that impact my company culture and how do I want to take care of my employees and their families? We don’t know how some of those questions are going to manifest. Or the fact that, as an employee, I get my health care out of an exchange, therefore I can go to work anywhere I want to. That begins to break down the loyalty factors between employees and companies.
What impact will the PPACA have on health insurance costs?
Based on the average cost of $440 per month for an individual, 75 percent is used for claims. That means the remaining 25 percent, or $110, goes for administration costs, profits, compensation, rents and other expenses related to the health care plan. The legislation says that 85 percent of every dollar must be used to pay claims. In order to maintain that same $110 a month, the cost for an individual goes up to $730; it’s just a reverse calculation. This can be attributed to the legislation and how it ultimately impacts the medical loss ratios.
William F. Hutter is president and CEO at Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or email@example.com.
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