When Jason Bernal started teaching at YES Preparatory Public Schools 15 years ago, he began every day by picking up students in a van — and he quickly learned that going the extra mile would be routine in this job.

“I would have four stops, picking up students in a van and then bringing them to school every single day,” he says. “I can’t tell you the amount of time that just not me but every teacher put into every single student.”

He often took students home at night, when they stayed after school to crack the books.

As a charter-managed school organization whose goal is to give low-income students exposure to high-quality educational opportunities, YES Prep knows about engaging both teachers and students. In a big-city setting, where in the past, quality education for low-income families was hard to find, YES Prep has a current enrollment of 7,000, a waiting list of 7,000 students and is recruiting to boot.

“Our big focus is increasing the number of low-income Houstonians who will graduate from a four-year college or university,” Bernal says.

In order to graduate from the high school, students have to be accepted to a college or university.

“Currently, we have 80 percent of our kids who have graduated from college come back to Houston to work. From the very beginning, we always talked to our kids about, ‘We want you to be leaders in your communities. We want you to go to college, and we want you to come back and work in your community.’”

Driving that kind of visionary change begins with people who have a mental picture idea of what the educational process should be like, Bernal says.

Here’s how Bernal, president of the 700-employee organization of 11 schools (and growing) uses engagement so students and teachers will burn the midnight oil — and help drive visionary change.

Get in at the ground level

Every vision has a beginning, and every company has a founder. Chris Barbic, the founder of YES Prep, wasn’t satisfied where his children were going after they left his sixth-grade classroom. It was the impetus for the open-enrollment YES Preparatory Public Schools, which operates on $77 million revenue, including state funding, donations and fundraising efforts.

Simply defined, a vision is where you want to be or what an organization wants to realize at a certain point in time.

“To YES Prep, it’s really just raising that bar and how we meet the needs to make sure that every student becomes successful in life,” Bernal says.

Getting quality front-line managers — in this case, the teachers — is so important that numerous steps are taken. If applicants pass the first screening process, they then go through a series of interviews. The candidate is then interviewed by a school leader, the equivalent of a principal, who sets up a sample teaching lesson for the person to be delivered to a class — where the candidate can be viewed in a virtual on-the-job experience.

While the hiring process takes an extensive look at the candidate, it’s only the beginning of how deep YES Prep will go to support the right teacher.

Mold your new faces

Call it on-boarding or orientation, the process of bringing new employees into the fold is receiving more attention now from companies and organizations than ever. And no wonder when there is so much competition for good talent.

“When we are hiring brand-new teachers, we have to make sure that they have the necessary training to go into the classroom day one and be an effective instructor,” Bernal says. “We don’t have time for a teacher to get his or her feet wet for a few months or even a year.”

A Teaching Excellence program trains the first-year teachers, starting in July before classes start in the fall. This intense two-week induction program focuses on the basics: what it is to be a YES Prep teacher, what the expectations are and best practices to be a good teacher.

While that step is similar to what happens in many fields with new employees, the next step is less common but is very effective.

In addition to the training, the teachers are paired with an instructional coach, a non-evaluative mentor, Bernal says. The coach meets weekly with the new teacher.

“That is extremely important,” he says. “There are lots and lots of observations, lots of communication.”

Once a month, on Saturdays, the teachers also have professional development time as well as on Wednesdays when schools are let out early to accommodate the program.

The Wednesday sessions are kind of quality control meetings, organized by grade level, and they address concerns and other issues.

“You have your logistical items of what has to be taken care of, but you spend the majority of the time in those meetings talking about individual students and how you can meet students’ needs,” Bernal says.

“You need to have a full network of support counselors at every school so when you have a student that is a concern, you’re not a teacher on an island. In fact, we make sure that our teachers bring up those concerns with other teachers in the meetings or with school counselors to ensure that we find a way to help the student.”

Consider salary bands on merit

When it comes to the subject of wages and salaries, it’s one topic no company or organization can afford to ignore. Some companies put a salary cap on positions, limiting advancement and often denoting a dead-end job.

However, YES Prep realized that there are some people who just want to teach and be great teachers so a pathway called Teacher Continuum was created, a system on how teachers are paid based on performance and not tenure.

“With the Teacher Continuum program, we have teachers who start out at in a certain band; if you are a first-year teacher, you start off at the novice level,” Bernal says. “Then you can move throughout the bands to mastery teacher. So based on how your performance is throughout the year, you can move into a higher position.”

This is the second year of the program, and there are no mastery teachers yet.

“A big part of this is that we don’t want to lose great teachers and people who don’t necessarily want to go on to be administrators,” he says. “They just love teaching. We want to keep those teachers. It gives teachers the incentives just to continue doing really well in the classroom.”

Commit with a contract

Another part of the engagement process involves a contract — contract learning, while not a new concept, serves in a way to bind the teacher, the student and the family.

“We sit down with the parents, talk about what YES Prep is, and we have the teacher sign a contract basically stating that the teacher will be there with the students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure that that child can receive the support to go to college,” Bernal says. “Parents do the same thing; students sign the contract too.”

YES Prep keeps the contract all the way through graduation. Though not a binding legal document in the strictly legal sense of a contract, the support the document provides offers one more layer to the commitment process that can lead to graduation.

Actually, 100 percent of the seniors are accepted to college and matriculate, but this is a tricky statistic because students who are retained as juniors or choose to leave the school on their own accord aren’t calculated in that number. A little more than 90 percent of the class is retained each year. Currently, 72 percent of alumni are enrolled in a four-year college or university or have graduated.

While some critics may require numbers to provide success rates, Bernal sees it otherwise.

“I think the nice thing today is our next campus, Campus 12, will be opened in 2013 by a YES Prep alum,” he says. “More than 20 of the students that have graduated from YES who went off to college have now come back and are teachers, administrators, school leaders and school directors. It is really cool to see how this whole thing comes full circle.” ?

How to reach: YES Preparatory Public Schools, (713) 967-9000 or www.yesprep.org

The Bernal File

Jason Bernal


YES Preparatory Public Schools

Born: Denver. I’m a big Denver Broncos fan. Later, when I was in third grade, we moved to Montana.

Education: I graduated from Helena High School and went to Montana State University-Billings. I have a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Sam Houston State University.

What was your first job?

During college, to try to make ends meet, I did what any college kid would do — shovel snow before class, and in the summers, I worked for the city as a garbage man.

Who do you admire in business?

Our founder, Chris Barbic. He was the visionary for YES Prep. He is definitely the one whom I look up to. Another one is my sister, Michelle Berg. I would not have gone into education if she didn’t encourage me to apply for a job with YES Prep.

What is the best advice you ever received?

When I took this position over, I had a case of nerves when I started, and Chris Barbic said, ‘Just be yourself.’ Maybe it’s too simple but that’s the best advice. Things won’t work out if you are trying to be someone you aren’t, and it’s going to come across as not being genuine. That has gotten me through a lot of difficult situations.

What is your definition of success?                      

When I think about success at YES Prep, I think I always want the best for students, to provide great opportunities for them. It’s students going to college, graduating from college, doing something that they love to do and being leaders and seeing that every day. I think that’s an easy way to define success for our kids. And I want to be able to create opportunities for our staff members, too, so they excel, so they grow professionally, and that they are doing things they never thought they would be able to do.


Published in Houston

Most leaders understand that it’s critically important to collaborate regularly on initiatives with their employees, but are they getting all they can out of these interactions?

What leaders may be missing is a new paradigm for employee engagement and competitive advantage.

Many of them are working from an old style of management in which business decisions are made at the top and leaders follow a hierarchy of authority. Senior executives must still set strategy and manage for results, but they can likely achieve better outcomes by letting go.

Authors Craig Schreiber and Kathleen M. Carley explain that adapting a participative-style leadership environment allows people and the business to co-evolve into higher levels, enhancing personal responsibility, accountability, collaboration, innovation and business outcomes.

To do this, leaders need to empower employees to collectively make decisions that drive results and train employees to work in this model.

Empower employees

Employees on the front line are often in the best position to see trends and market opportunities.

Leaders can help drive businesses in new directions and enhance their bottom line by giving lower-level managers and line employees the support and encouragement to assume a much higher level of accountability and responsibility.

Information creation and sharing based on trust are critical components of innovation, according to author R.E. Miles. As they feel more engaged, employees are also more motivated to contribute and add value.

To achieve this, leaders must create an environment where risk within certain boundaries is rewarded so that employees feel comfortable enough to act on their abilities and instincts.

Leaders can support employees by encouraging ideas to grow and flourish among employees rather than through the manager. This will allow employees to identify and pursue opportunities that benefit the company.

Provide training

The most important — and often most challenging — aspect of leadership is constant follow-through. It is important to discuss leadership techniques with employees and provide training.

Talking through leadership strategies with employees calibrates the group to be more in alignment. It also increases follow-through from employees who feel a part of the process.

Leaders can do this by:

?  Discussing best practices among participants

?  Identifying leadership needs

?  Generating solutions that fit with the needs of the group

?  Sharing best practices of employee collaboration throughout the company

?  Recognizing work among employees and outcomes

For example, a bank executive wanted leadership training for her front-line managers. Her goal was for them to be able to work out problems and challenges independently or as a leadership group without constantly seeking guidance.

For 10 weeks, we challenged the managers to take more risk and encouraged them to make more decisions at their level. Through group coaching meetings, the employees helped each other consider best alternatives and the executive learned how to manage by letting go. The managers reported feeling more encouraged and engaged, which considerably enhanced results. ?

Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Colker also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at jcolker@adler.edu or at (312) 213-3421.



Published in Chicago

Most leaders understand that it’s critically important to collaborate regularly on initiatives with their employees, but are they getting all they can out of these interactions?

What leaders may be missing is a new paradigm for employee engagement and competitive advantage.

Many of them are working from an old style of management in which business decisions are made at the top and leaders follow a hierarchy of authority. Senior executives must still set strategy and manage for results, but they can likely achieve better outcomes by letting go.

Authors Craig Schreiber and Kathleen M. Carley explain that adapting a participative-style leadership environment allows people and the business to co-evolve into higher levels, enhancing personal responsibility, accountability, collaboration, innovation and business outcomes.

To do this, leaders need to empower employees to collectively make decisions that drive results and train employees to work in this model.

Empower employees

Employees on the front line are often in the best position to see trends and market opportunities.

Leaders can help drive businesses in new directions and enhance their bottom line by giving lower-level managers and line employees the support and encouragement to assume a much higher level of accountability and responsibility.

Information creation and sharing based on trust are critical components of innovation, according to author R.E. Miles. As they feel more engaged, employees are also more motivated to contribute and add value.

To achieve this, leaders must create an environment where risk within certain boundaries is rewarded so that employees feel comfortable enough to act on their abilities and instincts.

Leaders can support employees by encouraging ideas to grow and flourish among employees rather than through the manager. This will allow employees to identify and pursue opportunities that benefit the company.

Provide training

The most important — and often most challenging — aspect of leadership is constant follow-through. It is important to discuss leadership techniques with employees and provide training.

Talking through leadership strategies with employees calibrates the group to be more in alignment. It also increases follow-through from employees who feel a part of the process.

Leaders can do this by:

?  Discussing best practices among participants

?  Identifying leadership needs

?  Generating solutions that fit with the needs of the group

?  Sharing best practices of employee collaboration throughout the company

?  Recognizing work among employees and outcomes

For example, a bank executive wanted leadership training for her front-line managers. Her goal was for them to be able to work out problems and challenges independently or as a leadership group without constantly seeking guidance.

For 10 weeks, we challenged the managers to take more risk and encouraged them to make more decisions at their level. Through group coaching meetings, the employees helped each other consider best alternatives and the executive learned how to manage by letting go. The managers reported feeling more encouraged and engaged, which considerably enhanced results. ?

Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Colker also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at jcolker@adler.edu or at (312) 213-3421.



Published in Chicago

It was 2008, times were tough, and Ruscilli Construction Co. Inc. saw that many contractors were submitting rock-bottom bids just trying to keep their heads above water. While it may have been tempting to follow suit, the family-owned company refused to throw away what four generations had built into a total construction resource. It was a calculated risk.

“There was a lot less work out there to go after, and as a result, we witnessed a lot of our competitors change their approach to the business and their culture,” says Lou Ruscilli. “They were doing this in an attempt to survive.”

Before 2008, the business of Ruscilli Construction was hitting record highs as far as the volume and the number of projects. Then it appeared the plug had been pulled.

“In our industry, just like a lot of other industries then, we all took a lot of things for granted,” he says. “I hate to say that the phone would ring, and you would pick it up — don’t pass up the opportunity. We were always providing fantastic customer service. But how that was communicated down to the project level and how we evaluated our project teams, as it relates to how that experience was for the client, I don’t know if we were drilling down quite that far.”

The company, operated by Jack Ruscilli, chairman, his son Lou, CEO, and his nephew Tony, president, took a frank look at its culture, saw what needed to be done and is now actually back to pre-recession levels in terms of volume.

“We feel that our company is busier than the majority of our competitors,” Lou Ruscilli says. “The work that we have is good work and with very good clients. In 2012, we were in five states. In 2013, we will be in at least 10 states. Our increased workload has allowed us to attract very talented professionals from all over the nation.”

Here’s how drilling down farther brought substantial benefits for the 72-employee company, which tallied $100 million in revenue for 2012.

Find the right route

Once a recession hits and business drops off, a business has to act — and fast if it wants to cut its losses. But the knee-jerk reflex action may not be for everybody.

“Our competitors tried to keep the same number of people, the same number of volume and just go after just about everything,” says Tony Ruscilli. “It became more of a conflicting relationship than a team relationship. That wasn’t the approach we wanted to take.”

“We made a very conscious decision at that point not to change the way we did business but rather to find new ways to bring value to our clients,” Lou Ruscilli says.

If a company has been around for some time, looking at its history may give a clue about how the current problem could be handled. Take for example when Ruscilli Construction drew up its core values in response to some concerns during the 1980s when the company saw a big growth spurt.

“We probably had hired about 100 people,” Jack Ruscilli says. “I remember sitting at a table with the managers, a lot of people I didn’t personally hire. I saw a leaking culture, and I didn’t like it.”

This was an opportunity to lay down the company’s core values, what is called The Ruscilli Way. The values include safety, integrity and honesty, but more importantly, they are what the company stands for.

“We had some people who didn’t have the same values that we did,” says Jack Ruscilli. “They came from other companies, and we weren’t doing things in unison. But today, The Ruscilli Way is used when we are hiring someone. It is discussed with them to make sure we are up front, that they understand how we intend to do business.”

Customer satisfaction would be something that was openly discussed throughout the company and constantly reinforced.

“You have to go out and challenge your associates to enhance your clients’ experience, primarily through better communication and responsiveness,” Lou Ruscilli says.

To do that, one of the most effective methods is to create a sense of ownership.

“That meant our project managers, our project engineers, superintendents and field labor had to take ownership as if they were owners of the company and were responsible for how the clients would be treated,” Tony Ruscilli says. “Go the extra mile; do whatever it takes.”

Focus and communicate

Communication in any form motivates people. That’s an accepted observation inside and outside the business world. The key to using it effectively to achieve your goal is narrowing your focus to find the most effective forms of communication.

Once Ruscilli Construction realized its best route out of the recession was through a refocus on its core values, it was a simple but extensive task.

“It really started with communicating with our associates — sitting down with them, taking them to lunch and really making sure that they understand our definition of client satisfaction and that they understand our definition of responsiveness,” says Lou Ruscilli. “And the folks who didn’t understand it, well, they pretty much are gone.”

To achieve that understanding, a key point to make is that it is a win-win situation.

“It is much easier to manage and be a part of the team that is a team working together for the same goal,” Tony Ruscilli says. “We are all working toward the same end, and it is more of a team atmosphere than it is an adversarial relationship. So for them, it’s an easy buy-in, an easy way to say, ‘Hey, this is the way I always want to be a part of any project or any team.’”

There is one point to remember about customer satisfaction versus making money — profit isn’t everything.

“Stress to your associates so they all understand and appreciate that profit isn’t the No. 1 driver around,” Lou Ruscilli says. “It is customer satisfaction. It is relationships. You satisfy those two criteria, and at the end of the day, the profit will come — even more so, in the form of repeat clients.”Ruscilli Construction didn’t panic as the recession roared and now has pre-downturn volume levels to show for it

A new emphasis on core values, as it were, can repair broken links in the chain of success.

“As we started building the volume again, we just have had a wonderful selection of other new hires that have come to work for this company because of the fact that it’s really a revitalized company and it’s progressing and doing more and more business,” says Jack Ruscilli.

Happy customers mean more business. One of the best tools to determine customer satisfaction is a client survey. Ruscilli Construction makes note of accolades or beefs about its managers and associates with surveys throughout the entire project. If there is something that is a problem, it can be addressed at the time.

“All throughout the project we give them a chance to say, ‘Hey, I don’t like this, or should we consider this?’ says Jack Ruscilli. “The objective is that when we are done, we have a perfectly happy client. And if there is something that comes up wrong, it is addressed, and it is taken care of immediately so there is no excuse for us or the client not to have a great project.”

If your company is serious about improving its perception among clients, you should be able to accept criticism given in a survey or by other means.

“I can remember one engineer saying, ‘You mean you would actually put yourself up to that kind of scrutiny?’” Jack Ruscilli says. “And we said yes! You want that. You cannot improve if you don’t know what you are doing wrong. You want to nip problems in the bud, and that’s what we to do on the job site, every step of the process.”

The results of the refocus on Ruscilli core values have been beyond expectations.

“It has been amazing,” Jack Ruscilli says. “I have had some of our associates even say that it has affected them at home; they are taking a different look at how they are acting and how they are treating people.”

To carry that one step further, re-examine the prospective clients.

“Now we are looking for those same values in our clients,” Lou Ruscilli says. “We are more selective today than we probably have ever been with these types of projects that we pursue the clients who we want to.”

Keep in mind that relationships build over time, and can be lost in a second.

“With any organization, when you engage with your client, you are making at some level some sort of investment in that relationship,” Lou Ruscilli says. “What we have learned over the years is that the folks you have interacting with that client need to really understand what their expectations are and how they are going to be evaluated. You need to be caring for those same requirements, those same beliefs, to your clients or to the people you are working with. If they are not going to appreciate the investment you are making, it is probably not the right arrangement.” ?

How to reach: Ruscilli Construction, (614) 876-9484 or www.ruscilli.com

The Ruscilli File

Jack Ruscilli, chairman

Lou Ruscilli, CEO

Tony Ruscilli, president


Born: All are from Columbus.


Tony: I went to Michigan State University and received a degree in business.

Lou: I went to Clemson University and earned a degree in construction management.

Jack: I went to Findlay University and graduated with a degree in marketing.

First job: All worked for the company as teenagers. Jack started at 12, Lou at 14, and Tony at 15. Jack: We all had experience in the field. There probably wasn’t anything that I asked somebody to do that I probably hadn’t done myself.

What was the best business advice you received?

Jack: Mine is probably from my grandfather, Louis Ruscilli Sr. Years ago he would see me as a young man struggling with a big decision, and I can always remember him in his common way saying, ‘Hey, you do the best you can. You be honest. And don’t worry about it. Quit worrying about these things.’ In his way, he was saying do what you can do and back off. One of the things I remember my father always saying is, ‘Little profit is no loss.’ I remember when he first said it. I thought what is the big deal about that? What he was really saying was, ‘Don’t be greedy. Treat the customer right and ask for a fair profit and everything will work out.’

Lou: When I first got in the business, I would get nervous a lot. We were going into a meeting with a client, or we had an important meeting coming up and my father would always say to me, ‘Just be yourself. At the end of the day, just be yourself and everything will work out.’

Tony: My dad, Bob Ruscilli, was vice president, and he kind of oversaw all the guys in the field, So having worked with him for many summers as a kid growing up, I saw that he was willing to get in and do whatever he needed to do to make things happen. If it meant getting in the trenches, he would get in the trenches. So as my uncle alluded to earlier, the one thing he taught me was, ‘Don’t ask somebody to do something that you are not willing to do yourself.’ I’ve lived by that pretty much all through growing up and watching him.

What’s the secret of a family business success?

Jack: I think it is straightforward honesty. We all tend to be pretty blunt, myself and Lou in particular; Tony sometimes is the mediator. But we put it out on the table and walk away, and we are still family.

Tony: I would say one of my Uncle Jack’s strongest attributes is he embraces family and finds ways to bring us all together as a group.

Lou: I would just reinforce what both my father and my uncle said. It is about communication, and it is about, at the end of the day, we are family. We all have to look out for each other’s interests and that’s what we do. There are no divided lines in this. We are going to succeed as a team or we will fail if we are all individuals.

Published in Columbus


While traveling around the U.S. and Canada training managers on the importance of embracing the generational workforce, I have noticed a consistent theme: Managers want to know how they can do a better job engaging their employees.

Every company can’t be like Facebook or SAS, where amenities such as free on-site medical care for employees and their families, low-cost/high-quality child care, a fitness center, a library, and a summer camp for employees’ children are the norm. Or like Google, which provides free food, fitness facilities, massage rooms, hair dressers, laundry rooms and on-site doctors. So what are you to do?

First, you have to understand what employee engagement is and the impact that the lack of employee engagement can have on your company or business.

Wikipedia defines employee engagement as the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission and vision of the organization. Employee engagement has become an area of focus within organizations because it boosts employee retention, thereby helping companies avoid expensive employee replacement costs resulting from staff members who voluntarily quit their jobs.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, the cost of replacing one $8-per-hour employee can exceed $3,500. Information like this obviously gives companies a strong financial incentive to maintain their existing staff members through strong employee engagement practices.

Organizations that recognize that higher employee retention, increased productivity and reduced absenteeism all have financial impact will see that their employee engagement efforts make sound business sense. Engaged workers tend to complete tasks faster, get higher customer service ratings and demonstrate greater loyalty.

Use these five quick tips to improve employee engagement starting today.

? Build trust: Employees need to be able to trust their managers and their company’s leaders. Clear communication is a key element of trust. To build trust, monitor how and what you communicate to people around you. In organizations under stress, sometimes it’s difficult for leadership to be completely forthcoming. Few people expect everything to be perfect all the time.

? Create connections: People want to have meaning in all aspects of their lives. If they do not feel the importance of what they do, they disconnect. Therefore, it is important to highlight the connections between things and people. Help employees see the big picture of how their role and objectives fit into the organization’s objectives.

? Appreciate people: Recognition is an important part of motivation and engagement, and it can be as simple as genuine appreciation. Praise people when it’s warranted and give credit where credit is due. The best recognition is immediate, specific and personal.

? Motivate others: Motivation is our desire or willingness to do something. An organization where people are willing and able to work toward a common goal is stronger than one where people are badgered, threatened or generally reluctant.

? Support growth: There is nothing more demotivating than feeling you’re in a dead-end job. Talk to employees about the directions they’d like to see their career paths take and help them identify opportunities for personal and professional development that will help them achieve those goals.

You don’t have to be a manager or leader of an organization to build trust, create connections, appreciate people, motivate others and support growth. Anyone at any level can make a difference in the work lives of those around them. The payoff shows up in increased innovation and productivity, lower turnover, lower sickness rates, and higher employee satisfaction. In a world warring for increasingly sparse talent, the importance of a strong employee engagement program should not to be underestimated.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small startups to large international corporations. Contact her at sherri@generationalguru.com.

Published in Dallas
Thursday, 18 October 2012 17:44

People first

When visiting one of InfoCision’s offices, you’ll notice more than the tables, chairs and water cooler found in a typical workplace. It is not out of the ordinary to pass a yoga class practicing downward dog, a physician scribbling a prescription or a preschool class reciting the alphabet.

While these scenes may be out of place in many employers’ offices, InfoCision has worked hard to make them a staple. The company recognizes its employees are the heart of its business, so it focuses on recruiting and retaining them with a variety of amenities and benefits, says Kim Murphy, vice president of employee benefits at InfoCision.

"We strive to give our employees a work-life balance," Murphy says. "We want to provide opportunities for employees to handle things like exercising at work so when they go home, they can focus on their families. And we believe that contributes to a happier, healthier employee."

Amenities include:

  • InfoFitness centers: These 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot gyms include top-of-the-line equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines and recumbent bicycles. The centers also offer classes such as aerobics or yoga, and are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. They are free for InfoCision employees and family members covered under the company’s health plans. Many InfoCision employees and even entire departments attend classes together. "My department works through lunch, then at 4 p.m. we all go down as a group," Murphy says. "It's nice to have that support — on the days when you don't want to go, you have your coworkers pushing you, and it makes it a lot easier."

  • InfoWellness clinics and programs: InfoCision provides on-site doctors for both employees and family members regardless if they participate in its health plans. The company also has a prescription concierge service so employees don't need to run out to pick up their medications. Other wellness programs include free smoking-cessation programs and subsidized weight-loss programs.

  • InfoKids Early Learning Center: This fully licensed child care center at InfoCision's corporate headquarters in Akron can care for more than 90 children ages 6 weeks to 14 years. The center offers summer programs, two infant rooms and toddler and preschool rooms, play areas, educational toys and computers. It provides a creative curriculum education model. InfoCision's satellite call centers offer subsidized child care options.

  • InfoCision Management Corporate University: Geared toward salaried staff who have a clear path of advancement within the company, IMCU offers free or discounted workforce development through on-site programs as well as outside classes and workshops through the University of Akron and other local institutions.

  • Employee assistance program: InfoCision provides employees with a toll-free number to call for financial advice or free counseling sessions for anything from a death in the family to a divorce. The employee receives recommended local counseling services, and he or she can use the services as much as he or she needs.

  • On-site delis: InfoCision's Café 5 on-site delis offer healthy hot and cold meals, snacks and gourmet coffee. In addition, InfoCision's vending machines now offer healthy choices.

InfoCision also offers a comprehensive benefits package for both salaried and hourly employees, Murphy says. These benefits are available upon hire and include health care, vision and dental plans, paid holidays, free life and disability insurance, paid personal and vacation time, quarterly bonuses, paid training and tuition reimbursement. InfoCision also offers 401(k) participation after 90 days of employment.

Aside from amenities and benefits, InfoCision also strives to create a work environment in which employees can excel. "For as big as we’ve gotten, we still have a family feel," Murphy says.

"It starts when you enter the front doors and the receptionist greets you like you're family even if you've never been here before. We also have a newsletter for employees every month, and our executives speak regularly to our employees and are open for questions or available to talk afterwards. That open communication really makes a big difference."

InfoCision also has a group that travels to its facilities and speaks with employees about what's happening at the company and in the workplace. This program, in conjunction with an employee suggestion box, is meant to provide an open forum for employees to voice ideas or concern.

"We have an open-door policy," Murphy says. "Our employees have the opportunity to speak to not only to their supervisors and team leaders — as our supervisor to communicator ratio is one to nine — but our executives as well. That's not something that's typically found at other companies, but we believe it is a key part of recruitment and retention."

For more information on employee benefits and amenities, contact Kim Murphy at kim.murphy@infocision.com or visit www.InfoCision.com.

Published in Cleveland

Warren Barhorst was getting into trouble at his previous job. His performance reviews weren’t commendable when it came to his interaction with other employees. But as a technical salesperson with a degree in industrial distribution, he was able to stick it out for six years, hoping for a reasonable outcome.

“I would get a performance review, and it would say, ‘Warren is intolerant of other people’s inability to get the job done,’” he says. “That made me realize I probably wasn’t going to be successful in the corporate world. If I wanted to get where I wanted to go, as a human being, I was probably going to have to build something myself.”

Barhorst turned in his notice and had an exit interview of sorts with his supervisor.

“I went to my boss who was a great mentor of mine,” he says. “I left on very good terms. I said, ‘I’m going to quit this gig and start an insurance agency.’ And the boss started laughing and said, ‘You know, Warren, there is an insurance agency on every corner.’ I laughed, and I said, “You’re right. The problem is that none of them are any good.’

At that point, Barhorst made a commitment to himself that his belief and passion would help make him an entrepreneur — and a successful leader.

“You only have to be just a little bit better than your competition, and you can start taking market share,” he says. “That was my belief then when I analyzed it and is still my belief today. My No. 1 requirement for being a leader is that you’ve got to have passion; you’ve got to have belief.”

Barhorst was more than committed; he knew that passion and belief to create a better customer experience was a winning combination.

“You can call insurance companies and they won’t answer the phone, they won’t return your phone call, they won’t give you a proposal or a quote on your insurance,” he says. “It goes on in lots of other businesses. You walk into a car dealership; sometimes it’s hard to buy a car. Nobody seems to want to serve you; no one seems to want to sell you anything.

“I think that attitude is what got me into the business. It could have been any other industry. The insurance industry just happened to present itself.”

Here’s how Barhorst inspires passion and belief in the employees of the company, which was recently rechristened Iscential.

Start with managers

While some leaders and managers may have no problem using their passion and belief to encourage employees to go the second mile, others may have difficulties. The source of the shortcomings may often lie with the manager and not the employee.

“I see it a lot of it in those who lead departments or segments of a business,” Barhorst says.

“Usually if they are struggling with something, if you go back and look at it, their fundamental challenge is their lack of passion and belief for what they’re doing. If people can’t feel passion or belief on you, or see that on you, or smell that on you, for lack of better ways to describe it, you probably can’t lead people. They won’t follow you.”

The fundamental solution is for a leader to teach employees all the tasks necessary to continue to grow the company. By doing so, a leader does not only rally employees to strive for company growth, but it also solidifies the leader’s position as one who can communicate his passion and belief.

“I think our company is no different than any other I have studied,” Barhorst says. “You start it and you run it on the power of yourself and a couple of other people, and then you realize pretty quickly that if you really want to take it somewhere, you’ve got to leverage yourself and other people. You’ve got to teach other people how to do things so that you can continue to grow the company.”

That’s the role of influence: take employees’ passion to improve and encourage their attitude to become contagious to the rest of the organization.

“What has to happen to an owner or a manager, it doesn’t matter which, once you realize that for you to be successful you have to leverage yourself to other people,” he says.

A frame of mind that includes a picture of the organization showing its outdated conceptions must be updated.

“You have to change your mindset about employees,” Barhorst says. “I know this buzzword has been around for 50 or 100 years — that we should treat employees as assets. It’s kind of a paradox because if you look at a balance sheet, or a P&L or any financial documentation for a business, the employees are always on the liability side of the ledger and a chair that you buy that gets tattered and worn out is considered an asset.”

This is a matter of retraining your thoughts that employees actually appreciate in value over time.

“An asset doesn’t depreciate in value,” Barhorst says. “A chair that you buy, the day you get it, it’s getting older and uglier; whereas an employee that you hire, if you mentor, teach, coach and train them, they actually become increasingly valuable to your company.”

Recognizing opportunities for existing employees and delegating responsibilities appropriately can go a long way toward pleasing employees who want to grow personally and professionally.

“People talk about the buzzword of employees as assets, but it starts with that fundamental mind shift. What we are talking about here is, ‘Do I understand that they are an asset to our company and that through them I can actually grow this business?’

“I think the managers and leaders that get that — those are the ones that really rock and roll. The ones that don’t, you can tell by a couple of questions about their employees and just their mindset that they’re probably not very good leaders because they look at the employees as a liability or a pain in the rear.”

Change your mindset

If you are going to value an employee as an asset rather than a liability, you need to put employees in positions to utilize their strengths, which may mean changing the company culture. Managers and leaders who value employees that way will find the team just bursts at the seams and goes forward.

One of the modifications that Barhorst made to show his commitment to employees was to change the name of his company.

“When you name it after the founder, no matter what you do, no matter how you try to build the culture, no matter how you try to make things work, it always ends up being about the founder,” he says.

His team made up the name Iscential, a play on the word “essential.”

“We didn’t want to be about Warren Barhorst the founder,” Barhorst says. “It’s really about you, you as a customer, you as an employee and you as a vendor or partner of ours. That reflection or realization for me was a big change in the way our company acts and in the way it looks. That realization made me understand how important the culture element is in a company.”

One culture that often forms on its own and should be avoided is the interruption culture. This is when the phone rings or a customer walks in the front door, and you almost hear people say, “Oh darn. There is a customer” — you are interrupting their day.

“If you don’t work on your culture, the interruption style ends up becoming the default culture in a lot of businesses,” Barhorst says. “The culture element really characterizes how to act as well as what to do with customers — or with employees or with your vendor partners.

“You see so many people talk about the one way they want to be but then you look at how they treat their employees, and you realize, ‘Well, if you’re going to live that culture, you’ve got to live that in your entire business.’ You’ve got to treat your employees, the people who are supporting you, your vendors or your partners in business and your customers all the same. You can’t have a different culture for those people, or those things, because that dismantles the effort, it’s not aligned, and the company blows up because of that.”

Most companies have a mission statement and a vision statement as well as a set of core values or behaviors as important elements of the culture. These in a way can be used as metrics.

“We kind of think of them as our measurements or our ways that we want to be,” Barhorst says. “So if you look at them in general, they are teamwork, dedication, attitude, communication, goals or objectives and respect — those are the measurement devices or the things you aspire to be. Then you build them on a foundation of a process or program.”

Use continuous learning as a tool

Customers who call wanting your help are not an interruption and a company should be thankful for them. To drive home that attitude to employees, a process called repetitive continuous learning is very useful.

“When you graduate from college, and you get into a professional environment, you really stop practicing, you really stop learning,” Barhorst says. “You might go to a training seminar, or you might go something to learn a new system for your business or whatever, but you don’t really practice. You don’t do your math tables like you did when you were in the third or fourth grade.

“Repetitive continuous learning is the practicing of the same thing over and over — you keep teaching the class over again,” he says “Over time, their proficiency, their learning, their skills grow.”

To analyze the most effective way to teach continuous learning, use a model originated by Gordon Training International about the four stages of competence:

“The first stage is what I would call ‘ignorant bliss,’” Barhorst says. “It’s what they call unconscious incompetence.”

The employee does not know how to do his task and does not recognize that it’s a problem. To move on to the next stage, the employee must acknowledge the lack of knowledge and want to learn the new skill.

“Then you can move up so you discover something and you advance to conscious incompetence, where you are unsettled about something — ‘Now I learn that I am consciously incompetent about this,’” Barhorst says.

Next, you start learning and you become consciously competent, or driven to do something.

“Then ultimately, hopefully, you get into the zone and you become unconsciously competent,” Barhorst says. “A good example is like driving a car. If you have any kids or you know someone who’s ridden in the car, they probably have the knowledge of how to drive a car but they don’t have the skill to drive the car. You have to transition that.

“When I talk about that repetitive continuous learning from a perspective of the fact that I’m in ignorant bliss and I need to be unsettled, I need to be learning every day, learning something — that’s kind of the core piece that we use or apply to the business.

“We continually teach our employees that this is the mindset that you should have. Teach them to ask themselves, ‘Maybe I don’t understand where this is coming from. Maybe I’m in ignorant bliss. Maybe I need to ask some questions. Maybe I need to get unsettled about this. Why is this important?’”

Then it’s time to reinforce the core values in respect to the measurements of where you want to be.

“We call it ‘Always say please and thank you,’” Barhorst says. “The thank-you part is pretty easy. It’s about being thankful and being gracious and thankful for the opportunity you have. The ‘please’ part involves a lot more.”

Barhorst’s PLEASE acronym is not just about selling a product, it’s about developing the person.

“P is for passion,” Barhorst says. “Are you passionate about the business, about what you are doing? If you’re not, life is too short. Go find something you are passionate about.

“The L is for learning. Are you learning something every day? You have to understand that people should learn from their mistakes and from their successes. So many of us chastise people over failure and you can’t do that.

“The first E is for enthusiasm. Are you enthusiastic? I will tell you this, of all the things that we do, this is the one you can ‘fake it until you make it.’ If you act enthusiastically, you will become enthusiastic. It really is, ‘You reap what you sow’; that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, rooted in enthusiasm.

“The A stands for action. You’ve got to have a bias for action. A great plan poorly executed will never outperform a poor plan greatly executed. That’s all about action. Take action. Some action is better than no action in every case.

“The S stands for skills. Skills is an interesting subject because if you poll or talk to people, they believe that knowledge is what pays the bills. I know a lot of smart librarians who don’t make very much money. In order to convert your learning to a skill, you must take action. There must be physical practice, physical action to convert your knowledge to a skill. Skills are what pay the bills.

The last E is for Educating. Are you taking what you have learned and teaching other people? It could be a customer; it could be a colleague on your team. It could be a peer. It could be a vendor. It could be your child or just a friend. Are you sharing that? “PLEASE is actually a circle or a wheel and you can put whoever you want in the middle. Put the customer in the middle, you can put anything in your life in the middle. All of those concepts will apply to that situation.”

Now in its 19th year, Iscential is a $60 million company with about 100 employees and is a captive hybrid agency representing more than 50 insurance carriers

“Some employees have been here 15 years,” Barhorst says. “You can actually see when we brought people in by the length of time they are with the company. So there are two or three guys with 13, 14 or 15 years of experience.

“Then there’s a bigger group of people with 10 years of experience, and a bigger group of people with five years of experience as the company has grown. That bucket of people stays around. But the bigger thing for me was to see how people have developed, how they have changed over time, to watch them interact at a company function and see how well they like each other.”

How to reach: Iscential, (800) 582-4368 or www.iscential.com

The Barhorst File

Born: I was born in Dayton, Ohio. My father worked for Honeywell for 42 years. He grew up in the Cincinnati area, moved to Dayton in probably 1963 or ‘64. We moved to Texas in 1972, and I have lived in five houses in the same neighborhood in Texas.

College: I went to Texas A&M University and studied industrial distribution.

What was your first job?

I probably always had been an entrepreneur. I had a paper route as my first job. I had a pretty good lawn mowing business when I was 12 or 13. My first W-2 paying job was as a busboy in a restaurant called Hickory Hollow. Its claim to fame was the biggest chicken fried steak and baked potatoes in Texas. But the chicken fried steak was kind of a trick. They would take chicken fried steaks, put them on a 25-inch pizza plate together then pour the gravy over them, and it looked like just one giant steak.

What was the best business advice you ever received?

My father-in-law, Ray Highsmith, told me something. I used to worry about outside influences on our business. His advice to me was to just spend very little time worrying about those outside influences. You can’t control them, so just focus on some (that) you can control. It was great advice from him. He is a very dear friend of mine.

Who do you admire in business?

I have a lot of people who I admire; most of them are nonfiction authors because I read a lot, and I admire them because of their creativity, and thought process — that they can come up with an idea: Malcolm Gladwell; Marcus Buckingham; Larry Bossidy, who used to run Honeywell; Jon Gordon and “The Energy Bus.” I look at those people more just because the creative side of them makes me in awe of their skill sets.

What’s your definition of business success?

Happiness. Shawn Achor is an author from Waco, Texas. He went to Harvard and wrote a book called “The Happiness Advantage.” Achor says it best in his book. People try to become successful to get happy, and the reality is happiness drives success. If you’re happy, everything else doesn’t matter.

Published in Houston

Tom Dailey had been CEO at 2Checkout.com Inc. only a short time when he realized the company, no longer in start-up phase, was settling down and becoming larger ? and it needed to join the big leagues where formal accounting and strategic planning were mandatory.

“The company’s performance was flattening out, quite frankly,” he says. “We were having some challenges with revenues and expense management.

“Sometimes that is an awkward period in companies’ developments because they are moving from an environment where decisions were made quickly and things weren’t very well-documented. You could sort of do things on the fly and go forth into an environment that is more formalized because you are getting bigger and more money is passing through your hands. At times, that’s a little bit of a challenge for various companies, and that’s definitely where we were.”

Previously, Dailey was in charge of a large organization of more than 2,000 people with a large call center ? and knew the challenges involved in changing a company’s processes.

Working through the challenges took a vision, and more importantly, connecting with employees so they know that they play a part in making the vision a reality.

Adding to the situation was that 2 checkout.com employees just didn’t feel like management was communicating enough with them.

“Today, it’s not enough to articulate the vision and ask people to follow,” Dailey says. “People have to understand why a company is going in a certain direction and more importantly, people want to understand what role they play in the big picture of achieving a vision. It’s not just enough to say, ‘March this way.’ You have to say, ‘March this way; here’s why we’re going this way, and here’s the key role you play.’

“So one of the things that I think is you cannot over communicate to people; it’s literally impossible to over communicate,” he says.

So Dailey reached into his CEO bag and pulled out some tools that helped the company achieve 20 percent growth per year to reach $325 million in revenue.

Here’s how he led the Internet payment processing company to become a stronger company in a tough economic environment using a clear mission statement, effective communication techniques and by encouraging the workforce to take on the mission.

Clarify your mission first

In order to lead people, you have to communicate constantly. Many business executives are proponents of the principle that the best way to motivate employees is to communicate with them, and Dailey was one of them. The first step he took was to work on the message to communicate.

“Nearly three years ago when I joined the company, we had this very verbose, long paragraph of a mission statement that had been developed by committee. It included every buzzword that you could imagine and was posted on every conference room wall,”

Dailey says. “If I walked around the building and asked anybody without looking at a sign to tell me what the mission statement is, very few individuals in the company would have been able to answer correctly. Even if they could have, it wasn’t really meaningful. It was just the buzzword mission statement.”

In other words, it was full of clichés like “think out of the box,” “maximize employee engagement” and “to drive value-added processes in a profit-maximizing system.”

Dailey would have no part of it, and wanted to reduce the mission statement into a single line.

To do so involves taking the simplest definition of your company’s purpose and formulating it so that it can be remembered and applied. It may take some time, and in Dailey’s case, his team worked on it close to a year.

“We wanted to make sure we got it right. We kept coming up with different iterations of it,” he says. “Finally, we had a moment of clarity that said, ‘Let’s get rid of all these. Let’s get rid of every word in the mission statement that isn’t core to what we do.’

“That’s when we ended up going from a mission statement that was some nebulous paragraph down to a mission statement that was one sentence.”

Getting to the point where clarity is achieved often crystallizes everyone around the mission.

“We are an Internet payment processing company, so our new mission statement says, ‘We help sellers sell more.’ And that’s it,” Dailey says. “That’s our whole mission statement. Just the mere fact of us clarifying that, and articulating it to everyone, I can tell you that everybody in this company can recite our mission statement now.”

The clarity of such a simple statement makes it easy to remember and easy to apply against any improvement, revision or project to see if it is in line with the mission statement.

“When we did our recent budgeting and planning process, the mission statement was our litmus test for everything we did ? every expense, every project, every strategy,” Dailey says. “We threw them up against that mission statement and asked, ‘Does that help us get closer to helping sellers sell more?’”

Little by little, the test separated the items that would support the mission statement from those that didn’t ? a method that was another of Dailey’s principles.

“I don’t think progress is always achieving big things; a lot of small wins along the way can move you forward as well,” he says.

Use multiple delivery methods

When you get in a room together with your employees and everybody understands the vision and has a stake in the game, you get much more passionate discussion among people about what you are trying to do, because they suddenly want to do things in the most efficient way.

To obtain that understanding requires communicating effectively ? and that may mean using several delivery methods.

“One of the things I’ve learned over time is that not everybody responds to communication in the same way,” Dailey says. “Not everybody learns the same way, and not everybody processes data the same way. Some people you can send them an e-mail and they will go off, read that on their own, digest the data and that will be meaningful for them. Other people need to see it graphically. Still other people are going to respond much better to a meeting or an individual conversation.”

To reach the largest number of employees, you should employ a number of media. You may want to institute all-employee meetings, e-mail communication and an internal newsletter that pops up every morning when an employee logs on to his or her computer that includes snippets of what’s going on during the day. You can’t just use one channel, because one channel is not going to be meaningful to every individual.

“That was a tricky lesson for me because we tend to think that what works for me is going to work for others,” Dailey says. “I’ve learned over the years that it’s not true. There are a lot of different ways of thinking and processing data. You’ve got to understand that if you are going to try to get through to everybody, you’re going to have to employ a number of different methods.”

The next steps involve the attempts to carry out the vision and monitor the progress.

One of the ways you’ll know if you have been successful with your message is when everyone in the company can articulate the vision.

“You can do some fun things where you walk around the building, and just ask somebody randomly, ‘Hey, what’s the mission statement?’ If they answer correctly, you can give them a gift card or something like that,” Dailey says. “When people understand the vision, when they are engaged in it, then you know you’ve really gotten through to them.”

Be aware, however, that there’s a difference between inspiring people to achieve the vision and intimidating them to do so.

“You can lead by intimidation or you can lead by inspiration,” he says. “I find that over the long run, inspiration is far more effective than intimidation.

That gets back to the whole buy-in for the vision.

“I think you have to empower your employees to achieve the vision,” Dailey says. “So many companies are scared to empower the employees who actually deliver on the promise to the customers, because they are afraid the employee could do something wrong.

“You may embrace that ? part of empowering people to satisfy customers is that occasionally somebody will do something that might be different from what you would otherwise have thought it would be. But along the way, you are going to have satisfied more customers than you might have otherwise done.”

Keep the momentum going

If you want to satisfy customers and stay true to your mission statement, you have to keep your communication avenues to employees capable of growth and revision. Once you have spent a lot of time and effort to clarify your mission statement and your employees begin to embrace it, you need to exert the same effort to make sure it thrives in your company. That means introducing new avenues to reach new levels of engagement.

“The people who are closest to the processes are typically the ones who are best equipped to tell us better ways of doing things,” Dailey says. “So make it a safe environment for people to understand that you welcome input and that you don’t necessarily consider yourself to have all the answers. Create venues, whether they are the round-table type of thing or a suggestion program.

“That’s all just part of empowering people to help make improvements in the company. It will make your job easier because, you know what? You don’t have all the answers. Welcome other people’s ideas. People come up with great ideas.”

A round-table meeting is an opportune time to solicit some off-the-wall suggestions. Ask

employees if they had a magic wand and could change one thing about the business ? anything ? what would that one thing be?

“You will be amazed at the input that you will get back,” Dailey says. “Sometimes there are really good ideas and sometimes there are only very small things. But I think people appreciate the opportunity to participate in that way.

“Once, I came in on the third shift and one of the employees said, ‘I really wish the second shift would not leave dirty dishes in the break room sink, because I feel like I have to clean them.’ That was a small thing in the grand scheme of things but it was a big matter to that person, because she felt she had to clean up the break room because of the second shift. It was a very easy thing to fix. It’s not always the big stuff that causes people to be more satisfied.

“If you can eliminate some small hassle in a person’s life, sometimes that goes a longer way than something you might perceive is a bigger deal.”

While this method is sort of an informal one for employees to make suggestions, you should also offer a formal method.

Employees can submit a written suggestion, and it could go to an innovation committee that reviews it and then decides whether or not it can be implemented. However, you have to have an established feedback loop because people don’t want to feel like their suggestion went into a black hole.

“You have to come back to them and say, ‘You know what, we looked at your suggestion and we’re going to adopt it,’ or, ‘We looked at your suggestion, and we considered it but we can’t adopt it for the following reasons …’

“So the people will at least understand it got a fair review,” Dailey says. “With respect to walking the talk, if you ask people for their input, and they give it to you and they see that nothing happens to it, you would have been better off not asking for it in the first place as they will perceive you as just giving lip service.”

You should plan to solicit suggestions from the broadest range possible of employees.

“When people know that their opinion counts, they get much more engaged in the business,” Dailey says. “Along those same lines, if you really want to understand how you can improve your processes, don’t talk to the managers. Talk to the person who does the process. More often than not, if you give them the opportunity, those people are going to have a lot of answers about how to improve your business.”

How to reach: 2Checkout.com Inc., (614) 921-2450 or www.2checkout.com

The Dailey File

Born: Chillicothe, Ohio. After college, I spent about 25 years in Chicago working there, and then I came back and took this opportunity.

Education: The Ohio State University. I studied social and behavioral sciences. I didn’t end up being a therapist. Sometimes people talk to me about, well, did that have any relevance to business? I think so; some behavioral sciences have a lot of things to do with business.

What was your first job?

My very first job was a paper route. It was interesting because back then, the carrier also had to do the collection. So I had to go to all 96 of those people every week and collect the money, then fill out the receipts for the customers, then remit the money balance and reconcile the money. You talk about empowerment ? I was a 13- or 14-year-old kid and was basically doing collections, reconciliations and remittances and so forth. That taught me a lot about responsibility. You are really running a business, and that’s probably what got me interested in business in the first place. It probably improved my social skills, my responsibility and everything else. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I thought it was great.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Don’t assume you are the smartest person in the room. Somebody I consider a great mentor of mine once told me that, and I have never forgotten it. He was my boss and mentor fairly early in my career who was constantly saying that phrase and advising me not to let my position go to my head. I’ve always tried to live by that, and it always really served me well.

Whom do you admire most in business?

Probably Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric. Here’s a guy who has intensively focused on goals and mission and has a fantastic track record of achieving them. I’m a little bit of a Jack Welch disciple.What is your definition of business success?

What's your definition of business success?

If we leave the company each day in a little better shape than it was when we got there that morning, to me that’s success.

Published in Columbus

As founder and president of the 250-employee consulting firm, Leadership Dynamics Inc., Nancy Clark is regularly working shoulder to shoulder with business executives to help them overcome their leadership challenges. From this perspective, she frequently sees leaders struggle to adapt to new expectations as they are promoted up through management.

“It is not simple, and for many, it is not natural,” says Clark, who is also the author of “18 Holes for Leadership: How a Round of Golf Can Make You a Better Leader.” “Some have to develop the capabilities. Some need to depend on others to fill in the gaps, and some may have strengths that directly conflict with achieving a leadership position.”

Smart Business spoke with Clark about her book and why self-awareness can help you become a better leader within your organization.

What example in the book do you think best illustrates how leaders can become more successful?

The importance of self-awareness is a thread throughout the book and is considered one of the most critical foundational elements.

I formally introduce it when Sam, the executive coach, and Paul are waiting to tee off on the fourth hole. Sam helps Paul to see how he approaches golf, which is completely different than Sam. Neither is right or wrong, but the result can be completely different. Paul is very thorough, analytical, task-focused. He is not ‘people-focused’ and is surprised that he may be perceived by others as unfriendly or distant. Given that Paul is experiencing a high number of defections from his team, he may want to adjust his style to achieve different results.

Why is self-awareness a trait that business leaders need as they move up in a company?

What really seems to implode for some leaders when they make it to the top is their guiding values get sideways, whether they just get so pressured by really earning or they drink the Kool-Aid believing that they are all powerful and above all of this. But they end up sort of throwing their values under the bus.

Sometimes they think they are so unbelievably great that they could run any business any time anywhere, and they begin going a little bit outside of their competency areas.

A lot of it is there really isn’t that self-awareness, that they don’t really understand the impact that their behaviors are having on other people and how that really is creating havoc. Then they go through one of our workshops or learning or coaching, and all of a sudden you see these lights go on. It’s literally waking them up. The real strong first step is self-awareness, because they have to understand and recognize what their strengths are and how best to utilize and how to adjust.

How can a leader become more self-aware?

Some CEOs are very reflective and more naturally aware of their strengths and work styles. For others, it is not as straight forward.

Often when I ask a CEO or leader, ‘What are your strengths?’ I hear more of a chronology of work experiences and education. That is not what is being asked.

The first step is find out that there are great tools out there that can help you be much more effective, also be much more productive and drive performance so much better as well as make people happier and more productive in their positions.

There is a great quote from Dr. Edwards Deming: ‘Experience alone teaches us nothing.’ If CEOs do not have a theory or framework to understand themselves and others, they are left to recurring experiences with no possibility of predictable improvement.

How to reach: Leadership Dynamics Inc., (925) 831-9100 or www.leaders-inc.com

Published in Northern California

When Jeff Miller became president and CFO of Dawson Resources five years ago, he found a phenomenal service organization, but it wasn't as outbound as it needed to be to grow.

To be more outbound, he wanted to see more “push” marketing, rather than “pull.” There needed to be more marketing such as commercials, print advertisements, cold calling, tradeshows and e-mail blasts. In short, the staff needed to think more like a salesperson.

“Ask for the business,” Miller says. “Talk about the company. Spread the word.”

At nearly the same time, he could see that the economy was heading toward recession, and it necessitated reducing nine offices down to two, with the money saved being reinvested on the sales and service side of the business.

The reorganization allowed him to focus on developing a management strategy that would motivate the employees to excel toward being more outbound. The approach was to educate employees, to treat them — and get them thinking — like business owners. Initially, it involved finding out what was on employees’ minds.

“The first thing you have to do is ask and listen,” he says. “It seems simple but they often never do get asked. I was in on every meeting, asking and listening, caring about what they thought.”

Putting employees in hypothetical situations allowed them to wear bosses’ hats. Miller posed questions that would exercise their analytical and decision-making processes.

“What would you do to improve your own division?” he says. “Where would you spend money? If I had $5,000 to improve your division, where would you spend it? Put together a plan for me.”

Along with making those types of executive decisions, employees have to learn that business owners largely can set their own hours but have to decide what is the most effective use of their time.

“There used to be a distinction between home and work,” Miller says. “Today, it is blended. Sometimes it is hard to see the difference. You have to kind of embrace that now.”

While many companies may frown on employees taking time off for doctors’ appointments, Miller’s plan gives it merit because it requires the employee to decide how a business owner would make a decision.

“If it makes sense for you to go there and sacrifice two hours of work, then do it because that’s what you need to do,” he says.

In addition, many of the younger workers have grown up being connected 24 hours a day and have no problem working at home, especially if it means getting paid for results rather than by the number of hours put in.

“If it’s eight o’clock at night and something pops up, you check your e-mails or voice mails ? and address them,” Miller says. “You know that time is now and if somebody took the time to send you something at eight o’clock at night it seems they want to hear from you.

“It’s like we kind of expect you to have the same mentality when it crosses into your personal life,” he says.

You don’t have to send an elaborate reply but at least send an acknowledgement.

Getting paid for results involves a salary-plus-incentives arrangement. While not exclusive to business owners, it still offers the opportunity for self-direction.

“Show the employees what the return on investment is, how much money they are making the company and what percentage they’re getting,” Miller says. “Keep your fixed costs down by keeping salaries and other areas set.”

Then if employees want to earn more, it’s based on sales results, and they control that.

“So you give them that good culture but also tie it to their W-2s,” he says. “Make them produce.”

The result of Miller’s approach is an engaged work force that tries to create a partnership with clients.

“We’re trying to make their business better,” he says. “That’s something we all strive to do.”

How to reach: Dawson Resources, (614) 255-1400 or www.dawsoncareers.com

‘I got this’

As Jeff Miller was wondering whether his strategy was working to increase employee engagement through a method of treating them as if they were business owners, he came upon a valuable method to determine the buy-in.

He didn’t take a survey or wait for employees to e-mail him about their appreciation for the opportunity for personal growth.

Miller could tell from the one-on-one conversations with employees about a client if his message was hitting home.

“They will come in if they complain about a client or what not, and say, ‘I will get this thing handled because this is my account,’” says Miller, president and CFO of Dawson Resources, a 55-employee company with annual revenue of $26 million.

“You see the ownership of it,” he says. “‘I’m just letting you know so you are aware of this, but I got this.’ There is a lot of ‘I got this.’ I always use the term ‘punt.’ I don’t like it when people just punt ? ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do; I’ll just punt. I’ll just send it somewhere else.’

“We don’t have a lot of punters here, which is a good thing,” he says. “On fourth and long, you go for it.”

How to reach: Dawson Resources, (614) 255-1400 or www.dawsoncareers.com

Published in Columbus
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