Indianapolis (1038)

More than 800 years ago, medieval philosopher Maimonides outlined eight levels of charity, the greatest of which was supporting an individual in such a way that he or she becomes independent. In Maimonides’ view, support was defined as a gift or loan, entering into a partnership or simply helping that person find employment.

Few things are more powerful than philanthropy — especially when its end goal is to better the lives of others. These days, philanthropy, and corporate philanthropy specifically, has assumed a broader role in society.

Today, companies give back more strategically than ever before. They align themselves with nonprofits that foster missions they believe in. The wealthiest people on the planet have even coordinated the Giving Pledge (, where they’ve committed to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

At last count, more than 115 people had taken the pledge. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates may be the most prominent names on the list, but others include Spanx Founder Sara Blakely, Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert, Progressive’s Peter Lewis and Netflix Founder Reed Hastings.

Last month, one member, David Rubenstein, CEO and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, discussed the importance of philanthropy during a presentation at EY’s 2013 Strategic Growth Forum.

In his pledge letter, Rubenstein explains why: “I recognize to have any significant impact on an organization or cause, one must concentrate resources, and make transformative gifts — and to be involved in making certain those gifts actually transform in a positive way.”

One way Rubenstein is being transformative is through “Patriotic Philanthropy.” He has given $10 million to help restore President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home and underwrote renovations to the historic Washington Monument. Yet Rubenstein’s most noteworthy initiative is the whopping $23 million to acquire a rare copy of the Magna Carta, ensuring it remained in the United States. After its purchase, Rubenstein gifted it to the National Archives.

Not everyone has Rubenstein’s vast resources. But every organization and any individual can make their own impact.

In the workplace, for example, organizations that give back elevate their status perception-wise among competitors and peers. It doesn’t take much. But by being a company that cares, prospective employees want to work for you. For your existing team, deliberate and well-organized corporate philanthropy programs quickly take on a life of their own, becoming a rallying point.

Think strategically and get started by finding your cause. We all have them. They exist at our very core, forming the belief system we live by every day. So why shouldn’t our philanthropy follow that same course? Consider aligning your giving or volunteerism with something you personally believe in or care about; something that fits with what your company does or something that is close to your employees’ hearts.

Most important, get involved and just make a difference. It really comes down to that. One initiative that has always impressed me has been the annual CreateAthon event undertaken by WhiteSpace Creative, a member of the Pillar Award class of 2005. You can read a first-hand account of this year’s program here.

Being a good corporate citizen goes well beyond making good business sense. When you align yourself with causes you care about, whether big or small, you make a difference in someone’s life. And the bottom line is this: It is all of our duties to get involved. It’s no longer a question of if, but rather of what, when and how. ●


Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at or (440) 250-7026.

First, the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) health insurance exchange was delayed. That was followed by a delay in the release of community ratings for small group programs. On top of that, there’s confusion about whether businesses with less than 50 employees, which are not governed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate to provide health insurance, can utilize health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) to buy individual coverage.

“The ACA places significant limitations on HRAs, and they are the only vehicle these companies have to distribute dollars employees can use to pay for premiums. The question is whether businesses that are exempt from the mandate are impacted by other aspects of the ACA. There will need to be some guidance as to whether it applies,” says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent.

The delays and uncertainty have left small businesses with few options for health insurance at a time when they need to finalize plans for 2014.

“That inherently creates a violation of rules because there’s a 60-day notice requirement to inform employees of any plan changes,” Hutter says. “We think the notice will be interpreted so that companies might be able to make a plan change, but not a cost change — the employer would have to pick up any difference. But that factor also has to be determined.”

Smart Business spoke with Hutter about problems with the rollout of the ACA exchanges and how reform continues to affect businesses of all sizes.

Should the 19 million people who were told their coverage was terminated have been surprised?

That was known back in 2010; it was written about. Plans were cancelled because the ACA changed requirements for insurers and the plans they provide. Plans are not only registered on a federal level but also on a state-by-state basis. Each state has a department of insurance to oversee plans and rate structures. A carrier needs to meet new requirements under ACA and state mandates, but when a plan design is changed, it is no longer grandfathered. It has to be terminated or withdrawn, and a new plan is submitted and approved. Whether this will be true going forward is uncertain.

If you are self-insured, the opportunity to keep the same plan is greater. Companies that self-insure can continue their plans as long as they don’t make significant changes.

Are self-insurance plans exempt from many ACA requirements?

Yes, that’s why companies have been exploring the option of self-funding arrangements. It’s a strange set of rules, but you can choose to cover or not cover certain things as long as they aren’t considered minimum essential coverage requirements. However, you can’t do it in a limited way; you can’t decide to cover autism, but only up to $10,000 a year. You have to choose to not cover it or cover it completely.

What self-funding does is create more predictability for companies because they purchase a stop-loss policy to limit their liability. Health insurance costs will continue to rise because of an aging demographic. The plan design can help keep increases to 4 to 6 percent annually instead of 30 or 40 percent.

Is that option also available to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees?

It can be, although you can’t do it like a big company would because a small employer doesn’t have the numbers to mitigate the risk of large claims.

Self-insurance is a design plan issue. Being self-insured with a specific stop-loss point might work. If you have 30 employees, you can have a stop-loss of $10,000 each. Then you need to figure out your actuarial funding for it and reserve that amount to pay for claims and expected losses. If you have a healthy group, it makes sense.

Small businesses also can join a pool for health insurance. That’s a service HR consultants or chambers of commerce provide, through an aggregation model, for clients or members to get health care. They don’t provide health care but establish a contractual arrangement with a company that does.

But the problem with the ACA is that new information is coming so quickly, and it takes months to rethink your health insurance strategy. This will continue to be difficult for companies to work through.

Willliam F. Hutter is CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or

Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:57

How top executives procure success

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Twelve years ago, EY decided to go global with its Entrepreneur Of The Year awards and establish the World Entrepreneur Of The Year program — and the results have been, shall we say, an international success. The conference, held annually in Monaco, features Entrepreneur Of The Year country winners competing for the World Entrepreneur Of The Year title.

Assembling business leaders from around the world in one place to be honored is a huge accomplishment — the wealth of experience, as well as the variety of successful leadership styles, is outstanding.

Here are some thoughts from the collection of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs — innovators, futurists, turnaround specialists and problem-solvers — about leadership styles. ●


“I built the company based on people, not on experience from before. They were willing to learn and try anything. We had a bunch of people who had never done this before. None of us had run companies. None of us had worked in high levels of companies. None of us were from Fortune 500s. Chobani not only became a business that grew, but Chobani was like a school to us, including myself.”

Hamdi Ulukaya

founder, president and CEO

Chobani Inc.

Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 United States

2013 Entrepreneur Of The World


“Early on, the business was centered on me, and I had to make all the decisions alone. Now I share those decisions with my 10 main directors. If there are differences in opinion, I make the last decision.

The other thing is that I have had to ensure that the people who are invited to work here are people with principles, values, integrity, responsibility and passion. If I don’t see a person with passion, they don’t hang around the company very long.”

Lorenzo Barrera Segovia

founder and CEO

Banco Base

Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Mexico


“I’m a very passionate person, which will never change. When you grow, you gain more experience and the kind of problems you face change. As you grow, you need to grow with your organization.”

Martin Migoya



Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Argentina


“In the startup days, you have to be very innovative, hire and retain talent, refine your business as you deploy in the marketplace, and you learn things from it. Today, with a solid track record of business success, I can focus on what’s next and think more strategic and long-term than you’re allowed to in the early days. My style has evolved as the business has matured.”

Jim Davis


Chevron Energy Solutions


“Entrepreneurship and leadership is about always having ideas, knowing that it is possible even though everyone says it is too difficult. Maintain the positive and always have new ideas.”

Mario Hernandez, founder and president, Marroquinera

Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Colombia


“To keep the entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurship alive once you've got past the startup base, I think it is making sure people understand why they are there. There are always things you can do to improve your business. You should be rethinking and retooling it every chance you get. The key thing is to make sure everybody in the organization understands the story, where are you going — how are you going to get there? And the belief that you are doing the right thing —people want to know their purpose. Keep the energy going, keep a strong sense of purpose.”

Dr. Alan Ulsifer

CEO, president and chair


Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Canada



“The skill sets of an entrepreneur involve understanding how to create business. Why not work with kids who need it the most and actually teach them and help them to be entrepreneurs? That’s what is going to grow our economy and create stability where otherwise we’re going to have a lot of social unrest.”

Amy Rosen,

President and CEO

Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship


“I like to be involved. I want to know everything that is going on. But I have to delegate to my team. That was the biggest adjustment for me, and it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s that delegating to others, trusting them and reinventing yourself. Now that we’ve grown, I put more responsibility on my team and rely on my team more than I once did.”

Corey Shapoff

President and founder

SME Entertainment Group


“If someone makes a mistake, what do you do? You laugh with them. You don’t yell at them. You laugh. It just keeps things light and lively and people want to do their very best. You let them know they screwed up, but you also let them know it’s OK.”

J.C. Huizenga


National Heritage Academies

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:46

Listen, learn and lead

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Leaders often talk about how the traits of accountability and transparency helped make them who they are, but to retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for four years under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, leadership is quite simply how you listen, learn and lead.

It’s not just a coincidence that communication is as important in the war zone as it is in an organization — and that’s where Mullen emphasizes listening to what his team members have on their minds.

Smart Business talked with Mullen about the challenges of being in command:

Q. What do you see as the most important trait that any leader must possess?

A. Integrity. Be true to yourself, and obviously true to your values. The value of integrity intrinsically has been a driver for me since I was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. It has served me exceptionally well.

Integrity encompasses being honest, truthful and consistent — both publicly and privately in leadership positions — and representing that in every situation. It is most evident in the toughest decisions you have to make.

Q. And how can you ensure integrity is present in leadership?

A. What I loved about command was the responsibility and authority that came with it. But more than anything else, the other piece was accountability — accountable leadership. That is not just having someone hold you accountable, but having enough strength yourself as a leader to hold yourself accountable.

I just found that even with those decisions that can be very unpopular, if you are true to that value of integrity, even if it may not seem to some to be the best decision, it [integrity] holds you in the best stead as a leader over the long term. And because of that, it becomes incredibly supportive of those very, very tough decisions.

Q. So what can help a leader make those tough decisions more effectively?

A. As a more senior leader, I learned to keep a diversity of views around me. The more senior I got, the more diverse the people, the recommendations and the discussions had to be in order for me to make the right decision.

I had people around me who were willing to say, ‘Hey, this is when you got it wrong,’ as opposed to the opposite, which is isolation, where nobody will tell the emperor [he] doesn’t have any clothes on.

Q. You’ve mentioned the importance of listening to others in order to help you become a better leader. How did you do that?

A. Everywhere I went, whether we had a town hall meeting or we could call an all-hands meeting, I would take questions from the audience. So, for example, when a young enlisted man would give me a question of which I didn’t know the answer, I said, “I don’t know the answer, but give me your email address. I will go research it and get back to you.”

I did that. I went back and looked at whatever their concern was. And some of those concerns generated significant changes in the military, or in the particular service they were in. For me, as chairman, that was a vital part of trying to understand what I was asking them to do, and then taking that feedback and trying to fix the problem that they raised — if it made sense to do it.

A good leader can make such a difference, and create something out of nothing, whereas a bad leader is unable to do that. The ingredient that makes a difference is leadership. ●


Retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen served more than 43 years in the Navy, having served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, and as chief of naval operations from 2005 to 2007. He will be the keynote speaker at the Dec. 5 American Red Cross Hero Awards. Learn more about the Hero Awards at

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:42

Beyond conversion

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Consider this business scenario: You’ve landed a big account for your company by converting a highly prized prospect into a valuable client. The new client has hired you to handle a specific scope of work and is counting on your team’s ability to deliver work that goes above and beyond.

While nothing is more important than delivering great customer service to satisfy the client, you may not realize that you’re probably overlooking unrealized opportunities to forge a stronger relationship with your customer.

In today’s business landscape, most large companies offer an array of products and services. More often than not, however, your clients use you for a specific service or skill set. And unfortunately, in this scenario, most companies focus solely on the task at hand — delivering what they’ve been contracted to deliver — failing to take ample time to think about the bond they’re creating with the client and what could be next.

In more simple terms, it is one thing to provide service that keeps a customer; it is another to keep that customer and expand the relationship to become a trusted partner.

Provide value in a deliberate way

The good news is that this is an easy fix. Establish a content marketing program that allows you to distribute thought leadership to your clients.

A content marketing program will help you provide value that other service providers may not, and when clients see you as an informational resource and partner, it will be easier to expand the relationship.

Take this example into consideration: You are an insurance provider and your main product is life insurance, therefore most of the communication you have with your clients surrounds that topic.

With a comprehensive content marketing program in place, however, you can educate your clients on the recent trends in the insurance industry and how that affects the individual. At the same time, you can give them an overview of your company’s wellness program and let them know that if they joined, they could reduce their monthly premiums.

As you can see, you’re not just providing your client with the original service, you’re also providing them with both your thought leadership — aka value — and additional offerings.

Personal connections payoff

Aside from providing value to the client with the content you distribute, a strong content marketing program allows you to showcase your brand’s personality. Clients will be able to connect with your brand on a more personal level.

Providing continually updated content through the right channels to the right clients enhances your day-to-day communications. Clients start seeing you as thought leaders and partners instead of just service providers.

It will help you expand relationships and, as a result, generate new business through more products and services.

Show them more than just what they see on the surface — show them how active you are in the community, or how much fun you had during a recent company outing. If may sound trivial, but your clients do similar things, and seeing you connect with the community and/or employees will help forge a more personal connection. You never know; you and your client may support the same charity, organization or team.

Open communication also will help strengthen relationships to the point where you can capture a premium price and eliminate price-jumping clients. Clients will pay more for a valuable relationship than simply look to get the lowest price elsewhere. ●


David Fazekas is vice president of marketing services for SBN Interactive. Reach him at or (440) 250-7056.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:37

Watch your margin

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You would think someone like Douglas Merrill would be a heavy multitasker, with multiple devices in hand, fielding several conversations — both real and virtual — simultaneously.

But you would be wrong.

Merrill, who was the CIO at Google until 2008, doesn’t like to multitask. He says that when you do it, you aren’t using your brain’s full capacity and aren’t as effective. He recommends focusing on one thing at a time.

Billionaire Mark Cuban has his own time management strategy. Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, says you should completely avoid meetings unless you are closing a deal. Otherwise, he says, they are a waste of time.

Both of these proven leaders have learned that how you manage your time is paramount to your effectiveness.

As a CEO, you are swamped every day with calls and emails from people wanting a piece of your time. Some are internal, some are charity requests, some are from friends or family members and others are from service providers.

To help wade through this sea of information, it’s important to have a system in place to help you free up time to think about your business and the things that matter most in life. These open times are what author Richard Swenson refers to as “margin.” They are the spaces between ourselves and our limits that are reserved for emergencies.

But for many business leaders, there are no spaces left.

The way out of this trap is to set clear goals and values for yourself and your organization. Once you do that, you will have a filter through which to evaluate everything. Everything will have an immediate yes or no answer, eliminating the “let me think about it” category completely.

The key is to establish what your goals are first and then prioritize what is important. With your priorities straight, you will find more time to put toward important things on your goals list, but don’t forget to leave time on your daily schedule. There is no way to foresee all emergencies, so by leaving yourself some margin, when something unexpected happens, you already have time built in to deal with it.

Once you have margin built into your life, you have to have the discipline to stick to it. There will always be the temptation to take every meeting or answer every email. But if you use your goals and priorities as a filter, those requests are easily either accepted or declined based on where they fall on your priority list.

If you want a life where you can experience more peace and joy and less anxiety, start looking at your priorities and establish some margin in your daily schedule. ●

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 07:31

What to do if you’re under a public, verbal attack

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Deny, deny, deny; fall, tuck and roll; or put your head in the sand?

The quick answer to this headline is none of the above. A leader, by definition, must do exactly that — lead, which means being in front of a variety of audiences, including employees, investors and customers. Not everyone is going to be a gung-ho supporter. Sooner or later you’ll encounter a naysayer who either has a point to prove or is on a mission to make you and your company look bad.

Many of these verbal confrontations come out of nowhere and when least expected. As the representative of your organization, it is your responsibility to manage these situations and recognize that sometimes a “win” can simply minimize the damage.

When under siege, it’s human instinct to fight, flee or freeze. Typically these behavioral responses aren’t particularly productive in a war of words. Engaging in verbal fisticuffs could simply escalate the encounter, giving more credence to the matter than deserved.

If you flee by ignoring the negative assertions, you’ll immediately be presumed guilty as charged. It’s hard to make your side of the story known if you put your head in the sand.

By freezing, you’ll appear intellectually impotent. Worse yet, pooh-poohing a question will only fuel the aggressor’s determination to disrupt the proceedings. You could use a SWAT-type police and military technique to elude a confronter by falling, tucking and rolling to safety, but that usually only works on the silver screen.

Perhaps the best method to manage unwelcome adversaries is to be prepared prior to taking center stage. This applies to live audiences or a virtual gathering when you’re speaking to multiple participants, which is common practice for public company CEOs during quarterly analyst conference calls.

Most gatherings of this nature include a Q&A segment where the tables are turned on the speaker who must be prepared to respond to inquiries both positive and negative.

Before any such meeting, it is critical to contemplate and rehearse how you would respond to thorny or adverse statements or questions.

A good practice is to put the possible questions in writing and then craft your responses, hoping, of course, that they won’t be needed. This is no different from what the President of the United States or the head of any city council does prior to a press conference or presentation. The advantage of this exercise is that it tends to sharpen your thinking and causes you to explore issues from the other perspective.

In some cases you’ll find yourself in an awkward or difficult situation where there is no suitable yes or no answer, or when the subject of the interrogatory is so specific it is applicable to only a very few.

The one-off question is easiest to handle by stating that you or your representative will answer the question following the session rather than squander the remaining time on something that does not interest or affect the majority.

The more difficult question is one that will take further investigation and deliberation, in which case the best course of action is to say exactly that. Answer by asserting that rather than giving a less-than-thoughtful response to a question that deserves more research, you or your vicar will get back with the appropriate response in short order. This helps to protect you from shooting from the hip only to later regret something that can come back to haunt you.

Effective speakers and leaders have learned that the best way to counter antagonism is through diplomacy. It’s much more difficult for the antagonist to continue to fight with a polite, unwilling opponent.

Finally, when being challenged, never personalize your response against your questioner; always control your temper; and don’t linger on a negative. Keep the proceedings moving forward and at the conclusion keep your promise to follow up with an answer. This will build your credibility and allow you to do what you do best, lead. ●


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. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:26

Is your next big thing built to last?

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My 7-year-old son Cole recently gave me a Rainbow Loom bracelet, which is made of linked rubber bands. It is today’s school-age children’s craze, and Novi, Michigan-based Choon’s Design LLC is churning out the kits at a record pace.

With more than 1 million units sold in the last 24 months, Rainbow Loom is the brainchild of Choon Ng, a former Nissan crash safety engineer who invented it while working on a craft project for his daughters.

And Rainbow Loom, it turns out, isn’t its original name. When it was created, it was called Twistz Bandz.

Timing is everything, and Twistz Bandz may have sounded a bit too much like Silly Bandz — the last “wrist” craze that swept the nation. Between November 2008 and early 2011, every school-age child in sight was wearing layer upon layer of Silly Bandz on their wrists. It was as hot a product as anything since Beanie Babies.

Twistz Bandz’s arrival, it seems, happened just as Silly Bandz ran into what every hot new product eventually faces: competition. Look-a-likes with similar-sounding names began flooding the market. They were cheaper, and you could buy them more readily at more retail locations. The core brand quickly diluted. So Ng did what any smart businessperson would: He changed the dynamics of the situation.

Thus, Rainbow Loom was born.

Enter social media

Within a few months, the product — which allows its young owners to custom-create bracelets — was gaining attention. Much of this was due to a full-tilt social media blitz, including videos on YouTube and an engaging Facebook page, where users could share their designs.

More recently, Ng has become vigilant in protecting his patent and U.S. trademark — battling all wannabe competitors from launching similar-sounding products and flooding the market to dilute his own brand.

His success — or failure — is yet-to-be determined. But his efforts will prove fruitless if he’s not already looking ahead to the next product. This is the dirty little secret to any hot toy craze and the core dilemma every business leaders faces: How do you remain relevant as consumers’ wants, needs and desires ebb and flow — sometimes as swiftly as the wind changes direction. 

Get beyond being a fad

Success in business relies upon building a sustainable operation that will outlast any cyclical “must have” product explosion.

There needs to be the creation of an idea continuum — an innovation factory, if you will. Innovative leaders must review, measure and adapt a company’s products, services and solutions to the changing whims of the marketplace. You need to talk to customers, vendors and prospects. And you need to regularly take the pulse of the market.

If you haven’t taken at least some of the gains from today’s success and invested it into research and development for tomorrow, you’re already losing ground. Today is today, and just like the disclaimers for financial investing warn — past performance does not indicate future results.

In the end, the only thing that matters is this: Is your next big thing built to last? Or, like every other craze that’s every hit the market, will your opportunities to remain relevant long into the future fade away after the competition creeps in and dilutes your market? ●


Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at or (440) 250-7026.

Allison Barber isn’t surprised that there are more ways to communicate in business today than ever before, but the top complaint on workforce surveys is a lack of communication.

“If you look at employee surveys across every sector, every business — even nonprofits — the top complaint about the organization is a lack of communication,” she says. “But let’s review how much we are communicating. We have never had more communication in business than we have today, be it from social media, newsletters, e-newsletters, intranets and websites.”

So what’s the problem?

“There is a major disconnect, and I think it comes from a lack of authentic communication and a lack of targeted communication,” says Barber, chancellor of WGU Indiana, an online university established by the state of Indiana in partnership with Western Governors University. “We need leaders who we can trust; trust is connected to authenticity.

“A lot of times leaders will just blast everything out to everybody — the equivalent of direct mail, when you go home and you go through your mailbox and you just start throwing stuff away. It’s not speaking to you.”

Barber should know a thing or two about communication challenges. WGU Indiana is a virtual organization, and all 157 employees in Indiana work from home.

“We have had to be even more creative because I never see anybody at the water cooler,” she says. “How do we communicate to our employees in an authentic, targeted and consistent manner? I think those are the keys.”

Founded in 2010 as a nonprofit online university, WGU Indiana enrollment tripled in the first six months as demand for an affordable college education grew among working adults. More than 3,300 Hoosiers currently attend WGU Indiana and 40,000 students attend WGU throughout the U.S.

Here’s how Barber uses authentic, targeted and consistent communication to eliminate the disconnect that, once removed, can help leaders build camaraderie and collaboration among employees.


Be authentic in your communication

As a leader, you have to be committed to the value and power of communication. As with any powerful tool, its effective use can make or break an organization. One of the first steps in effective communication is authenticity.

“People are just smart — they will see right through communication that is not authentic,” Barber says. “Sadly, we have had a decline of respected leaders. The American people have started to distrust their corporate leaders. So the way to rebuild trust is through authenticity.

“Leaders show authenticity in several ways. We show it through transparent communication, being honest with our employees, being honest with the public and through passionate concern for our employees.”

Many companies are looking for new ways to care for their employees through benefits, work-at-home policies and family leave policies.

“Society is starting to say, ‘How do we connect better with the people who we value — the employees?’” Barber says. 

One of the best methods for a leader to demonstrate caring concern for employees is by supporting efforts to give back to the community.

“You have entrepreneurs who are starting their own foundations, they are giving back to the community and when that starts to take place, it pulls back the veneer to show the heart of the leader,” she says. “And that’s where the authenticity comes in.”

If you’re trying to achieve authenticity, however, you’ll have to do much more than just go through the motions.

“Where you can go south is when a leader says, ‘Oh yeah, today is Clean the Park Day. I’d better go out there,’” Barber says. “If the CEO says, ‘I’d better go out to a volunteer project,’ your employees will see right through it.

“If you really want to be a strong leader, it has to be authentic, or don’t do it because your employees and consumers will see right through it.”


Talk to the right people about the right thing

Every piece of communication needs to be targeted to a specific audience in order to be effective. You need to be talking to the right people about the right thing.

“You have to understand where your employees are, what space they are in, what is the best way to communicate to them and what tool you use to target them,” Barber says.

“If I am trying to reach my employees, who are working from home, I’ve got to be in their space. They spend a lot of time with email and phone calls because we are a technology-based university. So everything we do is technology.”

Well, not everything. Barber is a staunch supporter of the power of the pen, which can be used very effectively and can make a lasting impression.

“If I want to target a communication to the employees in Indiana, I spend a lot of time writing handwritten notes because I am a big believer in them,” she says. “I write hundreds a year.”

The point is that there is no one-size-fits-all tool to communicate. If you aim to communicate to your employees through a 30-minute webinar, you may be wasting precious time and energy. If, however, you assemble a short video that tells about a single topic or two, your employees will watch it.

“My general manager and I do video announcements — commercials that are two minutes or less,” Barber says. “Employees really don’t have time to call in for a webinar because they are busy helping students.

“But if I create a communication tool that is two minutes long, and they always know that it is going to be two minutes or less, and it is going to be some upbeat video message about the next thing happening in our university, then they will watch it. They know it is a communication targeted and created specifically for them with respect to the rest of their busy day.”

There are different communication tools for all your audiences if you wish to communicate effectively.

“Whether I talk to my employees, students, prospective students or to corporate partners, all four audiences require a very different communication tool that I use so that it meets my listener where they are,” Barber says.

A generic approach won’t reach anyone effectively. The goal is a targeted communication that will engage the recipient.

“I am so committed to employee engagement because I think it is one of the missing elements in so many companies,” Barber says. “This is part about reaching your employees where they are, as you have to know them. We spend a lot of time trying to memorize all 150 people’s names, we have company picnics, we send them birthday and anniversary cards, we send them notes when they have a baby; we just try to embrace our employees in as many ways as possible.”


Establish consistency by being persistent

Everyone today seems to be incredibly busy in his or her job. So is there a way to find the time to do what needs to be done?

“Everyone has time — to do what they care about,” Barber says. “So if you are committed to employee engagement, committed to being the kind of executive who says, ‘Hey, my internal team is my first team, and if I get this right, for my external customers or my students or parishioners — fill in the constituents — it will work.’

“But it won’t work if you don’t get this right with your internal team. You are committed to them, and if you are committed to them, that will drive your consistency. Commitment is the value system. The consistency is the tactic.”

One of the fundamentals to ensure consistency is to manage to the best of a scenario, initiative or situation.

“When you have a remote workforce, you have to kind of throw all the spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks,” Barber says. “So you try as many things as possible, and try to manage to the best of these.”

The more challenging the workforce situation, the more you just have to be persistent. A perfect scenario would be nice to have, but there may never be one.

“I’ve seen in some corporations that people manage to the least of these; so it is like, if only four people show up, we are not going to do it,” she says. “At WGU Indiana, we manage to the best of these, so if four people show up, we are going to make it the best opportunity for four people, because next time, maybe 14 people will show up.

“For leaders who are looking for a kind of forced morale building, which I am really offended by, somewhere along the line you have missed the boat in employee engagement if you have to make your holiday party mandatory,” Barber says.

“You get discouraged unless you manage to the best of these and be encouraged by the ones who do show up. Just keep swinging for the fence for those who will continue to show up. It’s a long-term deal. But that’s what you have to have as a leader.”



  • Authenticity is the first step to effective communication.
  • Talk to the right people about the right thing.
  • Establish consistency by using persistence. 


The Barber File

Name: Allison Barber
Title: Chancellor
Company: WGU Indiana

Birthplace: Gary, Ind.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Tennessee Temple University; master’s degree in elementary education, Indiana University.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? I was 10 years old, and I was anxious to work, but there were not too many opportunities for someone my age. I saw an ad for a door-to-door salesman, selling packets of seeds. The ad did not mention an age requirement so I sent in my name and address and a few days later, I received several packets and a bill for $18. I immediately went outside and started knocking on doors. I was turned down seven times. I remember reciting the Bible verse Proverbs 24:16. “A just man falls seven times and rises again.” (I attended a Christian school.) I was determined to keep trying, but I recognized that I needed a different strategy.

I rode my bike to my great uncle's house, told him my plight and he couldn't believe his good fortune. He was just thinking about buying seeds. He bought everything I had.

The lessons I learned: 1. Don't sell seeds in the late fall (market research); 2. Don't quit (personal determination); 3. Sell to people who want to buy (consumer research). 4. Always support a kid who is working hard.

What was the best business advice you ever received? It is actually a quote by President Harry S. Truman: ‘You can always amend a big plan, but you can never expand a little one. I don't believe in little plans. I believe in plans big enough to meet a situation which we can't possibly foresee now.’

Who do you admire in business? I admire Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, because his mantra is “Everything matters.” I appreciate his focus on details and experience.

What is your definition of business success? To play offense, not defense. That is true in any area of life, not just business. I have yet to find a successful leader who doesn't take risks and doesn't play offense. As my dad has always said to me, ‘Take it to the hoop.’ That is success!

Barber on being personal in an impersonal world: I really believe that what is important at WGU Indiana is that we are on the front lines of emerging technology, but yet we have this commitment to this high-tech and high touch formula. I think that is where engagement, transparency and commitment really come into play because if we didn't create the culture with our employees, if we didn't create an environment where people care about people, then we really lose the value of leveraging technology. Then it is a robotic system and people won't succeed and won't learn and won't graduate in a system that doesn't embrace them as people and individuals and support them in that way. I think that is always the risk with emerging technology. If we embrace technology, we can’t forget the people side of the business that we really all are in and should be in. That is the blend that we really try to get right at WGU Indiana.


How to reach: WGU Indiana, (877) 214-7014 or

The last thing you should worry about when a disaster hits is your company’s disaster recovery plan — you should have a solid DR plan, proven effective and designed to move immediately into motion if and when needed. That way, you can bring operations back to normal as soon as possible. And, as a board member, understanding the organization’s plans is paramount to your role.

Here are five questions every board member should ask their CIO or IT director to ensure the organization can continue operations in the event of a disaster. 

1. What is the economic risk if core applications go down for one day, one week or even longer?

With technology, disruptions happen. Short disruptions are more common, while multi-day, prolonged outages are much more rare. When it comes to your revenue-generating applications, can your business’s bottom line withstand a disruption?

Determine the value your applications bring to the business on a per minute, per hour and per day basis to understand the financial implications if they go down.

2. How are applications protected currently? Are core applications protected differently than lower-ranking applications?

All businesses have some applications that are more critical than others. Are your business- and mission-critical applications currently protected in the event of a power outage, human error or tornado? How are they being protected and how quickly can they be brought back online in the event of a disaster?

Understand which applications are protected and to what extent, so you know where your vulnerabilities stand.  

3. What will happen to key data in the event of a disaster?

The integrity of your data is the most important reason to protect your applications. Ask your team what would happen if a virus corrupted your data. Could it be recovered? If your data gets out of sync when it tries to come back up during a recovery, will transactions be lost or will your team need to allow for extra time to realign databases?

Make sure your DR plan ensures continuously protected, secure data, regardless of what type of disaster strikes. 

4. What types of disasters should be guarded against?

Are your applications protected if your geographic region is hit by a natural disaster like a tornado or earthquake? What about pure human error? Does your solution allow you to choose from multiple points in time or just the latest backup checkpoint?

Solutions are available to remediate a variety of disruptions. Find out what you’re already protected against and where you may have gaps. 

5. What were the results of your latest full recovery test?

Ask your team for a complete report on how the last full disaster recovery test went, and when the next test is planned. Most organizations should test their technology DR plan at least twice a year.

Don;t be afraid to push for a more robust test. The more well tested the solution, the better the likelihood your company can survive a real-life scenario. 

Martin Van Buren brings nearly 25 years of financial and information technology leadership experience to his role as COO at Bluelock. Prior to joining Bluelock, he served as the CIO and senior vice president of learning technologies for ITT Educational Services. For more information, visit