Paul R. Harvey

Thursday, 26 October 2006 07:17

Toward better health care

When someone secures a new job, one of the first questions they’re asked by friends and family is “How’s the health plan?”

While our parents and grandparents likely had little if any health care coverage when they entered the working world, today’s employee expects, if not demands, a comprehensive health care plan as part of their compensation package.

“We’ve created in a very short period of time a huge sense of entitlement in this country,” says Tina Antram, vice president of Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs. “We expect our employers to provide health care, but nobody said how they are supposed to pay for it.”

Smart Business spoke with Antram about how employers can maximize their employee health care plan while keeping a close eye on controlling costs.

Where has the industry landed, and where does it appear to be heading?
Employers have stepped up to meet the sense of entitlement by providing health care. But until we grapple with what’s driving the costs, it may become an unrealistic expectation for the employer to continue to do that.

We’ve squeezed nearly everything we could out of managed care over the last decade or two. Employers started cost-shifting just as the government cost-shifts. But you can’t just cost-shift and expect to manage costs. I think employers have been and will continue to put efforts toward managing their plans. They need to perform a continual analysis of their networks, their level of discounts, and new concepts like the tiered networks we are creating based on costs and outcome.

How can employers better determine a global health care strategy?
One issue that should be addressed early is what they want their plan to accomplish. Employers should look at what they’re doing with the population and align their plan with desired behaviors. They should make sure it speaks to what they are trying to accomplish.

Do they want people to make healthier lifestyle choices? If so, are programs in place to help them? If they have a lot of smokers in the population, will they provide smoking-cessation programs? Do they provide 100 percent coverage for preventive care? Employers need to step back and look at this globally.

There’s certain due diligence that should be conducted by every employer to ensure that the provider network they’ve selected is effective in terms of cost and quality and is in line with their desired outcome. They need to manage the specifics where they can — behavioral health, disease or case management, pharmacy plans and the network. They also need to understand how their vendors are interacting with the insurance company. A smaller employer can look at this through its vendor or insurance company just as a large company may have contracts out on its own or through a third-party administrator. The concept applies to all employers.

What about behavioral health and disease management?
Employers need to investigate these primary areas of health care. Behavioral health is a big component in terms of care management. We often find a huge co-morbidity between areas such as heart disease and depression, or between cancer and depression. It’s very common, and often the depression aspect isn’t being treated. Someone may have one of these diseases and still work, but the depression exasperates it to the point where he or she can’t work.

A disease management program can help reduce long-term costs. Different from catastrophic care, it targets conditions like asthma and diabetes that can be controlled and managed to a significant reduction of costs in the long run, but if left untreated and unmanaged can escalate into a substantial impact on the cost of a health plan. Chronic conditions make up roughly 50 percent of health care costs, but they are treatable conditions. These are areas that employers can help their population assess.

What tools should employers provide to maximize their health plan?
More than ever, an employer has the ability to support employees and help them make informed decisions when selecting benefits. Many health insurance companies now provide modeling tools for use with some of the new plan design options that are often referred to as consumer-directed plans. These tools help employees choose benefit levels for items like deductibles and coinsurance.

Additionally, employers can provide health advocate services to assist employees in researching and resolving claims issues, and many tools exist to support wellness initiatives. For example, employers can easily provide newsletters designed to help the population make better lifestyle decisions — creating a healthier work force — and ultimately impacting health care costs.

TINA ANTRAM is vice president at Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs in Tampa. Reach her at (813) 261-7979 or tina.antram@hrh.com.

Wednesday, 25 October 2006 07:43

Gambling in the Gulf

A group led by Chevron recently reported a discovery of up to 15 billion barrels of oil under the Gulf of Mexico. Company geoscientists say it’s there, buried below 7,000 feet of seawater and four miles of earth.

What impact will the discovery, located less than 200 miles from the world’s largest petroleum-consuming country, have on America’s growing dependency on imported oil?

“If it proves to be a 15-billion-barrel field, and in the near future we find another 15-billion-barrel field, it would be the first time in over a decade that we found as much oil as we used in one year,” says Bill Barnes, managing director of B&R Energy. “Those are sobering statistics.”

Smart Business spoke with Barnes about the enormous challenge of drilling for deepwater oil in the Gulf of Mexico and when it might influence the U.S. market.

How has the oil industry responded to the Gulf of Mexico find?
The industry is taking a wait-and-see approach. We’ve all heard of promising new fields, some of which hold up. One or two wells won’t make a field, but a potentially large discovery is better than finding a dry hole.

Last year, Mexico’s Pemex announced a find of up to 10 billion barrels — a fountain of gold — but that’s since been revised down to about 43 million barrels.

What are the challenges of tapping deepwater oil?
This well requires leading-edge-technology drilling. So far, there have been 14 technological records set to reach these depths. Then there’s the cost. This type of project is something only the giants can take on, with expenses approaching $120 million per well.

Another issue is the vulnerability to hurricanes. And because the water is too deep for a pipeline, the oil, which will likely be heavy gas and heavy oil at those depths, will have to be liquefied and loaded directly onto ships. It’s amazingly complicated, and the risks are high.

When will the Gulf of Mexico oil impact the marketplace?
Production won’t start until 2010. Full production certainly would not begin until 2013, and most of these types of projects are delayed a few years. So we’re probably looking at 2015. By the time it gets to production, it may offset some of our country’s oil depletion and may help us maintain our current production levels.

Will other companies expand their Gulf of Mexico exploration?
At $80 to $120 million per well, only a handful of refiners could drill there. One of the rigs used in the Gulf exploration has been under a long-term lease for $195,000 per day. The lease is coming due for renewal at a cost of $500,000 per day, plus all of the expenses relating to it.

These wells present considerable risks, and you don’t know for sure if any oil exists until you drill. I’m sure Chevron is relying on seismic analysis, which shows structure but doesn’t necessarily show hydrocarbons. Companies must project substantial potential profits to take on these risks.

What political issues surround the Gulf discovery?
Throughout history, the oil business has been incredibly vulnerable to political events. It was interesting that Mexico’s recent oil discovery was announced just prior to parliament’s vote on the Pemex budget. The U.S. Gulf discovery certainly wasn’t timed, but surely one of the partners realized that with an upcoming Senate vote on offshore drilling, the announcement of a large find might spur interest in passing the legislation.

Until Congress announced royalty relief for companies taking on these experimental offshore projects, these wells could not be drilled and we would not have this additional three to 15 billion barrels of oil to help shore up our energy security.

Could the promise of huge Gulf reserves and other finds slow the recent push for alternative fuels like E85?
We’ll have E85 because the federal government wants it. It’s not viable without federal subsidies. It falls under farm policy, not energy policy. E85 production uses almost as much hydrocarbon energy as it provides, meaning it offers only a marginally positive net energy.

We need to develop alternative sources that make money sense. Meantime, we’ll have to increase offshore drilling and develop areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). I don’t know how we can keep producing and using more oil than we find.

BILL BARNES is managing director of B&R Energy. Reach him at (214) 445-6804 or bill_barnes@BandREnergy.com.

Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Defusing stress

The effects of chronic anxiety are rippling through organizations large and small as workers face ever-increasing internal and external pressures. Left unchecked, stress in the workplace is passed like a virus from employee to employee impacting morale, productivity and, eventually, physical and mental health.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor visits are stress-related, including at least 11 million Americans who suffer from unhealthy levels of stress at work. Therefore, it’s important for leaders to find a healthy way to deal with employee stress.

“Communication and building trust is critical to help employees manage their anxiety about uncertainty and change,” says Julie Sanon, senior vice president and innovation officer, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “It takes effective communication at all levels of the organization, and it has to be timely.”

Smart Business spoke with Sanon to find out more about the factors that are eroding employee confidence, how to assess workplace anxiety, and why empathy is crucial for building productivity, morale and loyalty.

What is contributing to the shaken confidence and increased anxiety in the workplace?

With current economic conditions as they are, employees are working in an increasingly changing environment. Companies are going through reorganizations, mergers, leadership changes and downsizing. So employees today are faced with shifts in the workload, random interruptions, lack of pay increases, and in some instances either pay decreases or a decrease in work hours. Workers also experience anxiety when the communication in the company is not forthcoming. They are stressed when they perceive they have little or no control over their participation or in the outcome of their work. These factors and others tend to have employees’ levels of anxiety rising due to the fears of not knowing what the future is going to hold for them.

How can leaders best assess employee anxiety about reorganization and change?

Leadership should recognize that employees react differently to stressors in their lives, be it in the work environment or in their personal lives. Today, there are many stressors in the environment, some over which employees have control and others not so much. So it’s important for managers to maintain a pulse over their organization and watch for indicators. For example, there may be a noticeable change in employee morale, productivity, or loyalty. These are all potential signs of distress. Leadership should watch and listen and communicate effectively to try to minimize levels of distress and anxiety.

What are examples of adjustments a company can make?

Communication and building trust is key. For example, effective communication during a company reorganization needs to begin early and take place often. It is important to explain the role the employee is going to play in the reorganization, walk them through the new workflow and explain what’s required for the reorganization. A sense of shared responsibility should be communicated. Send the message that everyone in the organization is adjusting and going through the same change together, so the employees understand they are not going through the changes by themselves.

How does empathy and understanding come into play?

When empathy and understanding is displayed, it strengthens the team, and oftentimes it increases productivity, morale and loyalty. It is necessary to talk openly about the kinds of job stresses employees may experience, and equip them with the tools to be able to effectively deal with those stresses as they arise. Encourage employees to feel they are personally part of the solution to the challenges the company is going through, and that what they have to say matters.

Further, always be exploring ways to motivate your staff with awards and recognition programs, and creating ways for employees to express what makes them feel accomplished or energized during time at the office. In these ways, empathy can make the difference between success and failure of your business by ensuring employees remain engaged in positive activities.

Does this require creative levels of communication and reassurance, and what is the message?

Effective communication is going to be essential at all levels within the organization to ensure the work environment is a healthy environment. And it’s important for that communication to be timely as well as appropriate. For example, you have to communicate effectively and in a timely manner why pay raises, company sponsored events or other annual events are not possible without diminishing appreciation for the employees’ contributions.

Reassurances to employees that everyone is observing the appropriate actions can make a difference in the workplace, for example, being good stewards, taking responsibility, supporting the work they do on behalf of their customer and sharing the company’s values.

Julie Sanon is the senior vice president and innovation officer for Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach her at (813) 740-4680 or sanonj@workforcetampa.com.

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Pearls of excellence

Repeating a business process again and again may get the job done and even meet desired business goals, but repetition can also mire an organization waist deep in the status quo, preventing it from driving toward a culture of excellence.

So, how can companies punch a hole in the box and change course?

“You need to align the work activities with the business needs in lieu of sticking with the traditional job functions,” says Dana Chatelain, SPHR, an employee relations professional with SCI Companies. “This leverages employees’ strengths and improves engagement while focusing on the bottom line.”

Smart Business spoke to Chatelain to learn more about hiring and training A-players, fostering a people-first culture and breaking out of the status quo to build synergy and a competitive edge.

What elements of hiring and training are building blocks for a culture of excellence?

You’re looking specifically for your highest performers, or what I call your A-players. Start off by benchmarking current employees to determine the skills and competencies needed for A-players within your organization. This benchmark should guide the company during the hiring and performance management processes allowing for only A-players. Eliminate employees who are not meeting the needs of your culture, and those who consistently perform below your standards.

It’s also crucial to promote and build a learning organization, where everyone is striving to be their best, learning new and changing industry particulars and understanding the impact of the economy on the organization. Encourage an entrepreneurial spirit within individuals utilizing a performance-based compensation plan to continuously motivate people.

Align all positions, training objectives and performance measures to the business goals of the company so that everyone sees their role in the overall success or failure of the company.

How does this lead to committed, enthusiastic employees and an energized organization?

A-caliber employees thrive in an environment where expectations and standards are high. They need to know how their performance is going to tie in to departmental and company business goals. Knowing this information will help them remain committed, enthusiastic and energized for the organization’s purpose. Giving employees the knowledge, providing them with the tools and resources to perform their jobs in a successful manner, and offering fair and equitable compensation helps build and retain motivation. They can keep their eyes on short-term plans as well as long-term plans for personal and organizational success.

Considering the current economic pressures, how can companies foster a culture of excellence that puts people first?

Layoffs can be a touchy situation for companies. Careful consideration must be given to eliminating nonessential personnel and wasteful work. Even A-players can get a bad taste and become underperformers if transitions are not adequately managed.

Putting people first means providing meaningful work and measuring how that work helps the company achieve success. Communication is key. Sharing the results of these measures with employees so they are knowledgeable regarding where the business is going and what they are doing will help the business achieve these results. Offer fair compensation. Keep employees engaged in looking for ways to increase the bottom line while consistently working smarter. They may be able to move along your company philosophy, return on investment, whatever it may be, because more often than not, these individuals have the day-to-day, hands-on experience that can eventually help improve the company and eliminate waste.

What are the dividends of developing satisfied employees?

Employee satisfaction should have a positive return on investment because the tangible and intangible costs of turnover can have a huge impact on business. Developing an inclusive corporate culture that informs and empowers employees to be part of the overall success of the company creates an environment of engagement where you have a reduced cost of turnover and increased productivity.

What are first steps to reframing an organization’s strategy to reach new and higher levels of excellence?

We hear a lot about stepping outside of the box. My philosophy is not only stepping out of the box, but also stepping away from the status quo, eliminating the waste and looking at things in a different way. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut thinking things have to be done a certain way, but there are actually multiple ways of doing them if you’re truly open to ideas, which will help to eliminate some of the waste. Re-engineering and diversifying your positions outside of the traditional roles to allow employees to become part of the business solution will make a significant impact on the business. Challenge employees and offer them opportunities to engage in meaningful projects. A-players will deliver in environments that provide opportunities to step outside of the norm.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Gap control

Organizations are hiring candidates from the deepest talent pool in history, and they’re expecting them to do extraordinary things right out of the gate. These new hires aren’t all young, either. Companies are mining talent from a large spread of generations, from pre-boomers to millennials.

So how does this generational collision impact business at today’s organizations?

“It can create tension, where one group may feel the other is almost holding them back and resisting change,” says Craig Johnson, vice president of academic affairs at Hillsborough Community College and a board director of Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “But the more people work together, the more they understand each other.”

Smart Business spoke to Johnson about the challenges and opportunities presented by employing members of different generations and how co-mingling generations and fostering two-way mentoring relationships can advance corporate culture and bridge generation gaps.

How many generations can be represented in today’s organizations?

There are multiple generations in today’s workplace. It depends on how you want to define the generations. You have the pre-boomers, the baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. Some people are calling the latter half of the baby boomers ‘Generation Jones,’ a term that became popular during the most recent presidential election.

You can also define generations by differences in technology and pop culture. You have the baby boomers who were the original TV generation, the Gen-Xers who are the original computer and MTV generation, and then the millennials, who are seen as a gaming and iPod generation. But if you want to break it in half, you can say there are those who are the digital natives and those who aren’t.

What are the challenges and opportunities when integrating multiple generations?

Generation gaps do pose challenges in getting people to work together and understand one another, but they also present opportunities. There is a general feeling that the digital natives are a little more open to technological change. But, all of the generations have lived through or will live through incredible change, therefore, nobody is really the dominant party in terms of change. In fact, your more seasoned employees, baby boomers and the pre-boomers, are perhaps more experienced in dealing with change.

Therefore, while younger employees may be more open and more experienced with technology, the older generation, because they have dealt with more change, may actually be better at understanding the ramifications of change and analyzing what change may or may not bring.

How can companies avoid stereotypes and instead embrace and learn from generational differences?

Stereotyping and overly categorizing people give you a far too limited view. For instance, there’s that stereotype that the newer generation is more comfortable with technology. However, I think that innovative people, no matter from what generation, are just that: innovative. They’ll embrace whatever tools are out there and utilize them quite well. Some of the people who were first to jump into technology in the late 1970s and early 1980s are still innovative users of technology.

You have to deal with the individual and see what the individual really has to offer. And you have to create the opportunities for people to work with one another and to learn from one another.

What business functions should be integrated on a daily basis to avoid generation collisions and further bridge generational gaps?

When you’re creating committees and task forces, one of the considerations is trying to team up diverse groups of people from various generations. Then, they’ll have even more opportunities to learn from and share with each other.

It factors into hiring, as well. There’s this idea that everyone you hire is a member of a newer generation. That’s just not true in this day and age. You’re hiring people with various levels of experience who represent various generations. You have to find people who have the necessary soft skills, no matter which age group they represent. As long as you keep that approach up in your hiring processes, you’ll tend to find people who can work together, regardless of their generational differences.

What do companies gain by closing the generational gap through mentoring?

Mentoring is an effective way for any newer employee to learn about the institutional culture that exists within your organization. When newer employees come in, they sometimes have trouble understanding not only how you do things, but also why you do them. A mentoring relationship gives them the person to go to for answers to these questions.

But a healthy mentoring relationship is as good for the mentor as it is for the mentee. If you’re acting as a mentor, if you listen, you’ve got a chance to get a different perspective from the new person. A younger person with different life experiences is truly looking at your organization with a fresh set of eyes, and if the person can communicate that effectively, you’re going to learn a great deal. Plus, you may get ideas that you may be able to apply successfully to help your company. It can be a truly enlightening experience.

The more people work together, the more they understand one another, and the more these generational gaps close.

Craig Johnson is the vice president of academic affairs at Hillsborough Community College and a board director of Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach him at (813) 253-7557 or cjohnson@hccfl.edu.

Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

Building biotech

The biotech revolution is widespread,with innovative technologies evolvingaround agriculture, industrial applications, marine and aquatic uses, medical andpharmaceutical applications, and advancements that cut across multiple areas of thesesciences and others. But with innovation andgrowth comes the immediate need for achanging work force.

“Employees moving from large pharmaceutical companies to small biotechnologycompanies are confronted with the need tobroaden their skill sets. One promisinggrowth area is the translational researcharea,” says Jim Horan, COO, PennsylvaniaBiotechnology Center and Institute forHepatitis and Virus Research, adjunct professor, Delaware Valley College. “A combinedregional market of 75,000 incumbent workers exists for graduate and education trainingprograms, in addition to the annual graduating class of bioscience degree recipients.”

Smart Business learned more from Horanabout a changing biotech environment.

What trends have precipitated emergingbiotechnologies?

In today’s market, some of the hottestbiotechnologies are molecular scaffolding ofsurfaces for tissue compatibility in medical/prosthesis devices, and tools for DNAand protein diagnostics that facilitate geneticpathways. A growth spurt has occurredbecause nanotechnology has evolved anddeveloped the molecular analytical tools ofresearch so that investigators can actuallysee and measure, where in the past this mayhave been inferred. For example, nanotechnology deals with products and processesthat are measured in almost unbelievablysmall increments. At the nanoscale level,materials differ from larger objects in theirphysical, chemical and biological properties,and therefore lend themselves to new andimproved materials, systems and devices.Nanotechnology is behind the developmentof such diverse advancements as drug delivery, biofiltration and separation sciences, andimproved coatings for medical devices.

Additional trends leading the growth areadvancements in micro-systems development, and a clearer understanding of biochemical mechanisms and pathways. We seean increase in discoveries developing and evolving out of academic institutions as wellas industry/entrepreneurial initiatives.

How is higher learning changing to keeppace with the evolution?

There is a need for learning institutions toexpand their curriculum, and curriculumsare growing to encourage cross-disciplines,including a more prominent role for microbiology, chemistry, physics, computational sciences, business and bio-entrepreneurship.We conducted a review of the graduatedegrees in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey areacombined with a review of work force andeducation studies since 2000 that indicatetwo possible areas of graduate degree studiesthat are emerging in the biotechnology/medical research areas and one at the executiveMBA level for industry entrepreneurs.

What graduate degree studies may emerge?

The first is the area of translationalresearch and medicine. This degree is inresponse to the need to train scientists intranslational biology and clinical science,from bench to bedside. The second is theunique area of applied biotechnology and medical laboratory techniques — a Mastersof Applied Science. There is a strong need fortraining incumbent laboratory technicians,bench scientists and clinical associates andrecent college graduates in the sciences inapplied laboratory techniques. This includesrequired laboratory certifications, techniquesand procedures. The Institute’s initialresearch failed to locate a program availablein the Philadelphia region either full time orpart time. The degree would be a combination of clinical laboratory techniques, analysis and procedures performed in microbiology, hematology, immunology, biochemistry,pharmacology and molecular procedures,and include required OSHA laboratory certifications and procedures such as ELISA,Cytoxix T, Gel Electrophoreses and others.

How will the business side be addressed?

A third degree is a unique executive MBAprogram focusing on the business expertiserequired to bring a discovery concept to successful launch as a start-up biotechnology/pharma/medical business. The programwould include the basics needed in any business including finance and capital formation,marketing, QA & QC, strategic planning, project management, written communicationsand presentation skills, etc. — but directlyfocused on industry issues. There are literally hundreds of executive MBA programs inthe entrepreneurial biotech/pharma fieldsnationally and internationally and many inthe Philadelphia region.

What should all sectors of business understand about emerging biotech opportunities?

Businesses both big and small should beaware of the impact of emerging biotechnologies on society. Translational researchhas proven to be a powerful process thatdrives the clinical research engine. However,a stronger research infrastructure couldstrengthen and accelerate this critical part ofthe clinical research enterprise. For example,if these technologies can be developed andcommercialized, they ultimately could leadto improved health care, a better quality oflife and reduced health care costs.

JAMES HORAN, MBA, CPA, is Chief Operating Officer, Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center, Institute for Hepatitis and Virus Research,and adjunct professor, LaSalle University and Delaware Valley College. Reach him at (215) 489-4902 or jim@ihvr.org.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Too much legal control?

Research shows that 43 percent of employers use technology to block the popular social networking Web site called Facebook. Other organizations go further, limiting or banning additional sites, including the online career boards.

While removing these distractions may be a not-so-subtle strategy to increase productivity and retain key employees, it begs a serious question: If your employees were more engaged, passionate and proud of the work they did, would you need to enact such restrictions?

“An organization that controls too tightly the manner in which its professionals think will come up short on innovation and will stagnate,” says Michael Tuchman, partner, Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. “It’s the objective-driven employees who drive the highest value outcomes.”

Smart Business asked Tuchman how to read covert symptoms that indicate unfulfilled potential and how to create an environment where motivation is organic and filters are minimized.

How can companies create an environment to intensify employees?

The best management and professional employees operate within organizations that have an identifiable culture and embrace it. Culture is not how the organization projects itself externally. Culture is about how the organization views itself. Effort should be devoted to articulating your culture and promoting it within the company. Shared pride in company culture ties directly to motivation. A culture that embraces change and looks for ways to challenge and educate its people, without trying to measure only by the bottom line, will increase the bottom line. Think of continuing education not as a perk but as part of a culture of learning and betterment for staff. Think of challenges not in terms of higher objectives for an employee, but in terms of how much stronger that employee will be for having met the challenge. By connecting organizational objectives to culture, motivation will be organic rather than externally imposed, and your people will be stronger for it.

Should leaders place an emphasis on objectives or processes?

The emphasis should be around instructing employees on objectives, not processes. The organization will, of course, have its processes, but good employees know what those are. Respect for intellect and initiative is evident when you articulate the desired objective and let the employee think through the paths to getting it done. If you look at what creates value in professional organizations or what are the attributes of the best management, it is the ability to think creatively and adapt to changes. Processes are useful for refining efficiency and are a necessary part of an organization educating itself. But only objectives-driven employees will have the motivation to realize the highest value outcomes.

What is the most productive role for feedback?

Feedback — it can be constructive yet perfunctory and thus pointless. Or it can be part of a culture of teaching and learning.

Feedback is not so much about what someone did right or wrong on the last undertaking but about how to better tackle the next one. It is about making the employee a better professional, not merely about preventing mistakes. An employer who reminds himself of this before providing feedback will tone the message in a powerful way.

It is a common refrain that we too often forget to say, ‘Thank you; good work.’ But the frequency of positive feedback is not a substitute for meaningful substantive feedback. At an individual level, substantive feedback motivates because it evidences the organization’s commitment to and respect for the employee. Finally, at an organizational level, celebrate wins. This takes feedback to the next level and emphasizes the team and challenge aspects of company culture.

What are the benefits to minimizing filters?

Productivity is enhanced when employees interact with outsiders on behalf of the company or outside of their group and do not merely push things to someone else in the group. Here I can draw parallels to my own professional experience as a lawyer. In my early years of practice, I would research and write memos on points of law. The work was interesting and challenging, to be sure. I recall the first time I was told I would present my findings and recommendations directly to a client. My work, myself and my firm as a whole now were to be judged by this client. As a result, the way I saw my firm, myself and my motivation to perform changed markedly as my role was externalized. The best employees thrive when representing their company or group. The intensity of an employee’s commitment and the quality of his or her work is at its highest when the employee is exposed to the organization’s constituents and filters are minimized.

MICHAEL TUCHMAN is a partner in the Corporate Practice Group with Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC in Chicago. Reach him at (312) 476-7550 or mtuchman@lplegal.com.

Saturday, 26 July 2008 20:00

Managing up

As business leaders compete to boost their return on human capital while perfectly executing their company’s latest business strategies, it’s no wonder that employee passion remains a top priority. So how are today’s leaders creating a passionate work force, energized and prepared to meet the challenges of today’s agile organizations?

“We have companies that are trying to do more with less, with a shrinking employee population,” says Phil Reynolds, senior consulting partner, The Ken Blanchard Companies®. “So companies must create self leaders who will give the extra energy toward the key performance indicators critical for overall organizational vitality.”

Smart Business recently spoke with Reynolds about certain key concepts discussed in Ken Blanchard’s book “Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager,” (coauthored with Susan Fowler and Laurence Hawkins) including how managing up helps self leaders get the job done, builds trust and creates passion in the people who are willing to give extra effort.

What is the definition of a self leader?

The book ‘Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager’ defines a self leader as someone who has both the skill sets and the mindset to lead themselves to reach their critical tasks and goals.

How is self leadership a benefit to organizations?

Companies want to create a work force that is both able and willing to meet the challenges of today’s fast-paced, flatter organizations. There’s been a lot of focus on retention as the grand prize, but sticking around might actually mean that people are stuck in a rut, and retention doesn’t automatically deliver stellar performance or extraordinary effort.

Self leaders are employees who will be both productive and also go the extra mile toward achieving those key performance indicators and key work areas. So it’s not just people sticking around or hanging around — it’s retaining people who are actually giving their best to the customers and to their job.

How does an employee ‘manage up’?

As a self manager, you must first honestly ask yourself a set of questions including, what is the task or goal I’m being asked to do? Am I competent? Do I have the skills to do this task and goal? What’s my commitment level? Am I motivated? Am I confident I can do this task without help? Once you determine these needs, then you can begin to ask yourself if you need additional direction or support. Managing up means not just going to your leader but also taking the responsibility of going wherever you need to go to get what you need. It could be your boss, it could be your colleague, or it could be a team member.

What is a major roadblock to managing up?

Mindset can be the most difficult aspect of managing up. You can have the skills in place, but if your mindset is that you believe you can’t manage up, you won’t. Let’s say you feel your boss won’t listen to any of your ideas — that is a constraint you have around your working conditions. So that assumed constraint — a belief based on past experience that limits current experience — actually limits you from managing up. One of the things that research has shown is that the truth will not set you free. Someone can come in and tell you the truth about something, but unless you have a mindset and framework that reinforces that, you’re not going to act on it.

Where do you see companies struggling with building self leaders?

We’ve taught leaders how to let go, but we haven’t taught people how to hang on. Companies teach leaders how to delegate, communicate and lead through change, but we don’t teach the employees how to manage themselves through that process. When you empower leaders but they don’t know what you’re empowering them for, they become frustrated because they feel that the organization is dumping work on them. With no sense of enthusiasm around what they’re doing, they’ll do the very minimum required.

What are the managers’ responsibilities for self leadership?

The managers’ responsibilities are communicating to employees a clear picture of what a good job looks like, a clear outcome or target, and then providing the communication mechanism or venue for the employees to be able to share with them what they need. The main responsibility of the manager is to provide the followers what they cannot provide for themselves by building trust with fair practices and helping them reach their goals.

What are the responsibilities of self leaders?

As a self leader, your job is to diagnose and determine what you need from your leader. Most of the research that has been done on the subject of leadership has been written from the perspective of the leader — the top-down approach. The leader ‘empowers’ you or tries to ‘engage’ you in the workplace. The self leader takes ownership for the power and responsibility that is given to him or her in the workplace.

PHIL REYNOLDS is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Reach him through The Ken Blanchard Companies Web site at www.kenblanchard.com/reynolds.

Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

Brain-computer interfaces

Rolling out of bed, brushing your teeth and saying goodbye to your family — most of us take these routine acts for granted, but for people locked into their bodies due to diseases like ALS or the resultant disabilities from strokes, these actions may be impossible or, at best, difficult.

But what if technology could bypass these disabilities, allowing humans to conquer genetics or disease and enable a return to a normal or improved life? These breakthroughs may be closer than you think.

“The BrainLab is working to discover impactful solutions for brain-computer interfaces by uncovering the underlying characteristics that affect users’ control,” says Dr. Adriane Randolph, director of the BrainLab, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University.

Smart Business spoke with Randolph about how brain-computer interfaces may help mitigate debilitating illnesses and injuries and create a new paradigm for the ways in which humans interact with computers.

What is the working definition of brain-computer interfaces?

Brain-computer interfaces are also known as direct-brain interfaces and brain-based interfaces. They are tied to the emerging fields of neuromarketing, neuroeconomics and neuroinformation systems (IS). Brain-computer interfaces allow people to communicate and control devices in their environment without the need for voluntary movement but instead through the use of signals from the brain. In addition, brain-computer interfaces allow for applications more informed about their users’ states of mind.

At this time, we cannot determine exactly what you are thinking, but we can read the patterns of your thoughts. You can learn to control certain patterns at will and these can be mapped to interfaces for control. For example, I cannot read your mind to see directly that you want your coffee with cream, but I can offer you an interface with which you may select coffee with cream by perhaps concentrating on a related image while that and other nondesired options are highlighted, and I can then see a certain area of your brain light up when the desired option is highlighted.

What types of brain-computer interface applications are studied?

Activity is recorded through direct means, such as using electroencephalograms (EEGs) where electrical activity of the brain is recorded and functional near-infrared (fNIR) imaging where oxygenated blood in areas of the brain needed to fuel different thought processes is monitored. Also, activity is recorded through indirect means, such as by using galvanic skin response (GSR), which is similar to a basic polygraph system where small changes in sweat are recorded. These techniques have just begun to move from clinical use to real-world application for control and assessment of user states.

Who are ideal candidates for the interfaces?

Brain-computer interfaces have been found useful for some able-bodied populations, but the target end-users are people who are literally locked into their bodies due to diseases such as ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) or after strokes. Individuals suffering from locked-in syndrome are completely paralyzed and unable to speak but otherwise cognitively intact. Traditional assistive technology is ineffective for this population of users due to the physical nature of input devices, such as mice and keyboards. Unfortunately, we do not yet know the specific profile of an ideal candidate for the various types of brain-computer interfaces, and this is the primary mission of the KSU BrainLab.

What is the biggest challenge of changing thoughts into actions?

In order for brain-computer interfaces to be used as nonphysical input channels for communication and control, they require that users be able to harness their appropriate electrophysiological responses for effective use of the interface. There is currently no formalized process for determining a user’s aptitude for control of various brain-computer interfaces without testing on an actual system. I developed a model for matching users with various interfaces in a way that predicts control, and seek to further validate that model. In addition, current brain-computer interfaces still are quite slow and error-prone where a user may only generate three words per minute in contrast to the ability for unassisted communication by humans at 200 words per minute. Although perhaps not a selling factor for use by able-bodied individuals, this is a significant triumph for someone who might not otherwise have an outlet.

How might brain-computer interfaces cut across business methodologies?

Brain-computer interfaces offer a new paradigm for the ways in which humans interact with computers. They provide for more informed, ‘natural user interfaces.’ Thus, organizations may better understand their clients’ true motivations. Further, we have seen incredible leaps in nanotechnology and changes in the way business is conducted due to innovations such as the Internet and wireless technologies. Brain-computer interfaces sit just beyond the horizon of technological breakthroughs that will impact business methodologies in the future. Already, companies like Microsoft and IBM are exploring these potentials.

DR. ADRIANE B. RANDOLPH is an assistant professor of Business Information Systems and director of the BrainLab at the Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. She can be reached at (770) 423-6083 or arandol3@kennesaw.edu.

Friday, 25 April 2008 20:00

Mining the mountain

Until recently, a massive amount of data was simply thrown away because it was not economical to collect, store, analyze or interpret. But when more than half of the human race moved a major portion of its daily habits onto the Internet and more economical storage technologies evolved, a mountain of digital data began piling up — data that can be mined for gold by forward-thinking strategic leaders.

“Several trends in market research are likely to have the greatest influence on strategic leadership in the next few years,” says Dr. Joseph Hair, professor, Kennesaw State University. “Strategic leaders need to be aware of and prepared to respond to these emerging trends.”

Smart Business recently spoke with Hair about how leaders, to be successful in today’s global economy, must be able to approach their work with a more strategic tactic.

How do you define strategic leadership?

It is the leader’s ability to anticipate and position his or her company for the future by mobilizing and focusing time and resources on tasks that make a difference and ensure future organizational success. Strategic leaders apply creativity, intuition and planning to help organizations identify and reach their goals. They think and act before they are forced to — before they are in a defensive or reactive position. They also must know their customers — why they do business with you and what they will be looking for in the future in an evolving market. Finally, they must be familiar with competitors and be sensitive to signals that provide insight about their own team, senior management and suppliers.

What factors are producing the information explosion?

Experts are forecasting that in 2007 to 2009 we will generate more information than we have in the past 1,000 years. The major factors causing this explosion of information is the increased data from retail point-of-sale systems, order entry systems and online purchases. But many other sources are generating tons of data — including government, medical, financial, insurance, pharmaceutical, education and scientific sectors. One important enabling factor is the lower cost of data collection and storage. A study reported by the CIO of NCR concluded that in 1992 the cost of storing one megabyte of information was $15; by 2007, the cost was only 1 cent.

How will strategic leaders tap this mountain of information?

Strategic leaders in large and small organizations can convert what had been a ‘waste byproduct’ — information — into a new resource to improve decision-making and provide added value to customers. New technology will facilitate an expansion of the growing reliance on information/knowledge to improve decision-making in marketing and other functional areas of business. But knowledge-based decisions in marketing will be fueled by other developments, as well, including more comprehensive marketing research, real-time interactions between buyers and sellers that reduce response time, expansion and coordination of communication channels that enhance the ability to interact with customers, and the development of enhanced metrics to measure and benchmark performance. The result will be greater application of knowledge-based approaches and ‘one-to-one’ customer targeting.

How is this impacting customer decisions?

Customers have more and better information at their fingertips than they can even make use of in decisions. The challenge for Google and other popular search engines will be to design systems that help customers sift through and find the critical pieces of information — probably less than 5 percent of the available information. With more than one-half of customers searching online before making a purchase, and 66 percent regularly watching TV and accessing the Internet simultaneously, marketers are able to collect data on these interactions and develop metrics to understand how search behavior ultimately impacts product and service choices. To remain competitive, strategic leaders in both consumer and industrial buying situations must understand and react to a better informed and more demanding customer.

How are buyers and sellers leveraging enhanced interconnectivity?

Real-time buyer-seller contact in which feedback is obtained and utilized almost simultaneously by both sides will be an integral part of marketing planning and, therefore, strategic decisions. Enhanced interconnectivity also will mean more and better methods of communication. Connections with customers via mobile devices as well as the Internet, WiFi and satellite-based communications will complement more traditional methods of conventional mail service, telemarketing and face-to-face selling.

How has this changed marketing research?

Global sourcing of marketing research services will increase substantially. Technology will enable companies to bypass existing research vendors and choose those that most closely meet their needs. Strategic leaders must embrace this global trend in outsourcing research because it will impact not only their bottom line but also the ability to respond to emerging opportunities.

DR. JOSEPH HAIR is a professor in the Marketing & Professional Sales Department, Kennesaw State University. Reach him at (770) 499-3280 or Jhair3@kennesaw.edu.