A business is mobile. And like any vehicle that has to get from point A to point B, it needs good sight lines for the driver.
Peter Ross, co-founder and CEO of Senior Helpers, maintains his good sight lines through communications with employees and franchisees of the in-home assistance provider for senior citizens, which generated $65 million in 2009 revenue.
“Line of sight in any organization is very important,” Ross says. “You do that shared vision and line of sight by constantly communicating those messages throughout the organization.”
Ross says the key to keeping your basic operating principles in front of your employees is to keep yourself in front of your employees. You need to get out of the office and engage your people in formal and casual settings. When in-person communication won’t work, use other communication methods at your disposal to keep the vision and mission out there.
Smart Business spoke with Ross about how you can keep your employees focused by keeping your communication focused.
Display the message. Messaging on all communication needs to be something you value as important, whether it’s mission, vision, core vales, tagline or any of those kinds of things. Whether you’re communicating in writing or electronically or the old-fashioned mail, you need to keep continuing to remind folks what that is. But it’s really all about reaching out to people and not assuming. I worked for a lot of Fortune 500 companies before I started Senior Helpers, and I was always amazed that the CEOs would basically walk around and ask anybody, ‘What is your vision, what is your mission, what is the most important thing for your department?’ This could be the person emptying the trash cans, let alone an executive.
I’ve always thought that was very powerful and that was good feedback to the department heads and the organization that everyone is on the same page. In this organization, I’m not dealing with thousands of people like I used to do. It’s a group of people that are very focused. The challenging part of our organization is that we have 300 offices around the country owned and operated by franchise owners. Unlike the days when I had offices that were basically managed directly by myself, now I’m working with franchisees who own the businesses. So in this case, you do need to constantly communicate, solicit feedback and test for understanding to make sure that everyone is on board with the message.
It doesn’t help if you have a message that no one believes in to start with because no one is going to keep that core value and take it to heart. That’s why I always look for participatory input upfront, so that I’m jumping into a pool that has water in it. But it’s a never-ending story with different levels of communication and different levels of acceptance. Do they buy in to the message; do they buy in to the strategy?
Repeat yourself. You have to do it often, and you have to do what I call, ‘inspect the expect.’ You can continue to mention it, but are they paying it lip service or do they get it? Unfortunately, for adults, it takes hearing a message seven times to actually get it. That means you have to get their buy-in initially and keep repeating it over and over, making it a part of your everyday encounters with your staff.
It’s making sure that you do review the mission and vision as part of meeting, as part of the go-forward strategy. We don’t just sit around and talk about the strategy all day, but we want to make sure that we’re reviewing it, that we’re talking about it is it resonating; are we living the values of the organization? You do that through action, but you also do it by ensuring that everyone lives those values, and make sure that it’s always mentioned and talked about whenever anyone is talking with any of our franchisees.
Know your audience. There is an overarching vision and mission for us as far as wanting to be the No. 1 home care provider in the world. Everyone needs to embrace and understand that, but the people on the ground level might not need what is behind every core value. They might not need to know what was the thinking process behind the vision ‘How do we make that vision live within the client?’ Those kinds of things are more geared to the people actually dealing in those business environments, like the owners and business consultants.
Understanding all the details might not be key to everyone’s success in an organization, but it is key that they understand the overarching vision and mission of the organization. The people on the ground level will need to live them every time they pick up the phone.
Be willing to change, to a point. Missions and visions aren’t in stone; they’re living and breathing things that change with changes in the markets and industry. Which is why it’s important that your people are well-grounded on the basics of the business that don’t change. That’s why you have to stay on your messaging. It’s not just one time.
The parts of your vision and mission that talk about your core values as an organization, those aren’t going to change. Those are going to be overarching. But, for example, one of our goals is continually improving our systems and support. We’re not just going to rest on our laurels. You can get more specific on those types of things when you’re communicating.
You are going to have the foundational core values that aren’t going to change, but then there are certain core values that are detailed to specific missions within the organization, which need to be modified over time. I don’t want to change the core values statement, but I don’t have a problem changing what’s behind it.
During the course of the last year, executives at a large company in one Midwestern city scheduled an event to thank their present clients for remaining with them through the recession and to reach out to potential clients in an effort to prepare for growth. They rented a hall in a beautiful building for the morning, hired a speaker with a prominent name and attracted a crowd of about 2,500 people.
Nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps, you have even scheduled a similar event.
But as the event neared, the executives realized that they had a large problem. They had scheduled the event during the middle of the week, and with hundreds of thousands of other people already in the city, there was no parking anywhere near the building. So they scratched their heads. They worried. They wondered how they could have overlooked such a simple detail. They wondered how they might solve the problem. And only then did they call an event management firm.
When the recession started to rock the financial world in 2008, internal event management personnel were among the first to be laid off. Many then planted roots with independent firms or started firms of their own. Less than two years later, a December 2009 feature in U.S. News & World Report posited that a position as an event manager or event planner ranked among the 50 best jobs for 2010. The industry has transitioned and is positioned to grow a projected 16 percent between now and 2018.
That might be good news for you and your business, because the odds are high that, at some point, you will want to hold some sort of event, and unless you have an event manager on staff, you might find yourself in a situation every bit as sticky as those Midwest executives with thousands of guests and no parking spaces.
“In today’s environment, destination and event management firms help companies do more with less,” says Christopher Lee, CEO, ACCESS Destination Services. “They save time and stress by leveraging their expertise, experience and extensive local knowledge and connections for their client’s benefit in planning and producing corporate events.”Plan in advance
Event managers are more than just party planners. In fact, those words are like nails on a chalkboard to many in the industry. Event managers aim to feature your message and work with you to help you reach your goals for each event. They are able to save you significant amounts of money and time, measure the returns on your investment, and, of course, coordinate an event that will be effective and leave your employees and clients talking.
“The best way to ensure that you are working with a professional event manager is to check their professional credentials, memberships and references thoroughly,” Lee says.
Just look at those Midwest executives, for example. They worked with a good professional firm, and during the 24 hours after they called the event management firm, the firm started to contact all of its guests to relay the parking situation, paid parking lot fees to ensure there would be available spaces somewhere within the city limits, hired buses and created a route to the building. All of that would have taken weeks if an internal employee with little event management experience had handled the task. On the morning of the event, those thousands of guests parked at remote lots and were shuttled a couple of miles on city roads. It was hardly ideal, but it worked.
It also cost the company an extra $20,000.
“I don’t want to contribute to the misnomer that it’s going to cost you less to hire us than to do your event,” Lee says. “But if you add up the true cost of doing it yourself, including your time and the time of your employees, then we are definitely saving you money. You have to look at the whole cost.”
Many firms also have considerable influence at hotels and venues and with vendors. Because they direct so much business and so many sales to those outlets, they often receive a discount somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, which they normally pass along directly to you. Their knowledge of your city allows them to track down the lowest prices in a matter of hours or minutes, as opposed to days or weeks.
There are four primary reasons to work with an event management firm. First, you will save a little more money in the end, even if you spend a little more at the beginning. Second, companies often need fresh ideas for old events, and an objective pair of eyes can provide those new thoughts. Third, it does simplify your work. And fourth, many businesses no longer have the internal resources necessary to handle events.
“Most companies see the value upfront and understand that they don’t have the manpower or the resources or they may not have a person on board who has that expertise,” says Greg Jenkins, partner, Bravo Productions.Open your doors
Just as with any business partner who provides value-added services, you need to develop a relationship with your event management firm. It is not enough to call once and spend a couple of minutes determining when and where you should hold the annual sales meeting.
The more your firm knows about you and your business, the more it will be able to implement continuity in your events from one year to the next. The firm will also be able to understand how each event fits into the larger scope and culture of your business and be able to remain on budget throughout the year.
“Once you gain their trust, you do receive some inside information, and there is that trust and partnership,” Jenkins says. “You need to know certain things so you’re not making any mistakes. It goes down to the smallest kind of things, but if you don’t have that information, it defeats the purpose. You can only give as much as the client is willing to give.”
They can help keep you up to date on newer technology, too. Online event registration has proved popular during recent years because of low costs and the relative ease with which event attendees can sign up. Virtual events are also popular, especially now that travel budgets are reduced and fewer people are flying extensively. And social media is gaining momentum. Event management and social media work hand in hand. Whether promoting an event or a product launch, many event managers embrace the technology because of its ability to all but eliminate marketing costs while also reaching a far wider potential audience.
“There is a responsibility in social media,” Lee says. “We have clients now who are putting wording in the confidentiality section of their contract that applies to their company and ours. No one is allowed to put information about the company on Facebook or Twitter, what they’re doing at their event, who they’re having there.
“Social media is now being held to the same standard as professional e-mail, in terms of confidentiality.”
The world is smaller. Your events might be, too, but keep holding them. Maintain your public image. The business world, after all, might not be a party right now, but it is an event not to be missed.
Adam D. Singer, M.D., says the doctors whom he oversees are living Shakespearean plays.
“There’s happiness and new birth, and then there’s tragedy and death and everything in between going on in these hospitals,” says Singer, the founder, chairman and CEO of IPC The Hospitalist Co. Inc. “They’re comrades-in-arms because they’re dealing with so much human emotion every day they’re at work. So it’s very important that they find the right people that are going to live that tragedy with them.”
Singer puts a lot of effort into hiring employees who will mesh with the rest of their team, but it’s not just for the sake of a cultural fit. Because he manages more than 1,000 affiliated health care providers in more than 150 private practice groups, he can’t be constantly looking over their shoulders. So his employees need to be able to fend for themselves and each other.
“I want people that are out there self-starting, self-motivated, self-correcting,” says Singer, who also serves as IPC’s chief medical officer. “That’s how life becomes a lot easier for us in management.”
Instead of telling employees what to do or how to do it, Singer is more intent on providing the tools they need to make those decisions themselves.
That empowerment means he has to be prepared for mistakes, but Singer says you’re better off allowing those flops.
“You have to be prepared to allow those mistakes to happen in order to move forward,” he says. “You learn a lot more from your mistakes than you do from your successes. The more [mistakes] that you have, the more people are trying to stretch the environment with new ideas, the better I think your company is.”
Singer manages a mobile dispersed work force across more than 500 facilities in 21 states by giving employees the power to manage themselves and their teammates. Their self-improvement also drives the company’s success, taking it from 2007 revenue of $190 million to $251 million in 2008.
“We try to empower our employees to have a lot of autonomy in the way that they function and deliver results to their clients,” Singer says. “We don’t have a situation where you just come here and we tell you what to do. … You really just have to lead the horses to the water. They figure out how to drink it themselves.”Finding a fit
The first step to empowering employees is finding ones who can handle the power.
For Singer, finding the right employees goes beyond interviewing candidates over dinner to learn about their interests outside of work. In fact, you don’t want them to stay too relaxed because you want to see how they’ll handle the stress of the job when you’re not sitting across the table.
“One of the challenges is that people act differently in an interview than they do when under stress, and in our world, they’re under stress a lot,” Singer says. “And so, in some ways, it’s very difficult to interview someone if you don’t put them under stress during the interview. How they’re going to respond in an interview may be very different to what happens to them when they’re in the heat of battle of saving someone’s life.”
To see how they might react under stress, you can ask candidates about stressful situations they’ve handled in the past. But a candidate can say anything, and it might not be indicative of his or her actual behavior. Singer takes it a step further by simulating stress in the interview.
“In the middle of the basic questions Where are you from? What kind of schooling did you have? I’ll all of a sudden launch a question like, ‘By the way, why did they make manhole covers round?’” he says. “And then you watch how they respond to that. Do they creatively come up with some goofy answers? Do they just say, ‘Look, I don’t know,’ and fail to respond?”
The point is that you won’t always be around to hold employees’ hands. You want to see how they handle the unexpected whether they think through the problem calmly or freak out.
“All of a sudden they’re thrown a question that they never anticipated getting, so they’re under a little stress,” Singer says. “So finding some kind of question that’s totally out of the blue that throws someone a little bit of a curveball will allow you to see how do they think, how do they process, how do they problem solve. The point of the exercise isn’t to get to the right answer. It’s to watch them struggle.”
You also want to see how candidates acted independently in the past. If they’ve taken risks by making autonomous decisions, they’ve likely made mistakes. So Singer asks them about their failures and more importantly what they learned.
“I ask a lot more about people’s failures than their successes,” he says. “It’s really interesting because in an interview, the interviewee never wants to talk about their failures. They’re trying to pump themselves up and talk nice of themselves, of all the things they’ve done. I’m almost not interested in that.”
So you’re making progress with a candidate if he or she answers the question at all. Singer spent two years interviewing 65 candidates for the position of chief operating officer before he hired one the only one who was willing to discuss his failures.
“I could spend an entire interview dissecting why someone failed at something and, at the end, think they’re the best candidate for me because they won’t make those mistakes again,” he says.Empower with policies
A few years ago, IPC employees complained about the increasing complexity of their incentive plan in both surveys and exit interviews. So Singer simplified it in 2006 by aligning incentives with the company’s success. But the catch is that the incentive is tied to each practice group’s performance as a team.
The plan also came with the power for teams to make their own changes in order to earn their incentive. Singer learned that even details like the structure of your incentive plan can foster an environment of empowerment.
“What it does is it forces the high-productivity individuals of the team to work with the lower-producing members of the team to improve their productivity so the overall team does better,” Singer says.
At IPC, 40 percent of each employee’s income is incentivized. But individual incentives ride on the team’s success.
“Either the group hits its target and then they get their bonuses, which are individually based,” Singer says. “Or the group doesn’t hit its target and nobody gets a bonus.”
You make your job easier by giving employees the power to control how they achieve goals. When the plan dictates that each employee’s success depends on their team’s success, everyone is motivated to pull each other up to par so you won’t have to.
“If there is someone in that team that’s not pulling their weight, it comes out of the bonus of the higher producers,” Singer says. “The higher producers get penalized for a lower-producing person on their team. So it has the team working together to get eve rybody profitable, as opposed to the company coming down on an individual.”
The structure of your plan can inherently empower teams to help each other, but you have to give them permission. Singer’s groups which typically consist of four to six doctors can divvy up workloads and rearrange work shifts to give lower performers the right amount of work in order to reach their goal. They’ve even asked underperformers to lower their base salaries so they don’t create a loss.
“The beauty is that the compensation plan itself (empowers people),” Singer says. “If I’m losing money because you’re not producing, I’m motivated to make changes to identify what the problem is and fix it.”Encourage idea-sharing
Maybe underperformers are reluctant to lower their salaries or take on more shifts for the team. Or maybe top performers are frustrated because a low-performing teammate is keeping them from their incentives.
It’s one thing if you order those changes, but when employees are empowered to control their own and, to a degree, each other’s success, they might not be certain about the best way to achieve it. Empowerment is not just giving employees the opportunity to set their own path but also the tools to navigate in the right direction.
It might be easier for you to just tell them, but that doesn’t necessarily produce the best results.
“In some ways, I want them to be frustrated because that frustration leads to better performance. It leads to changes in what they’re doing, to figuring out how to excel, and how to be more productive and more effective,” Singer says. “I think it’s OK to allow some frustration to enter into your company. It can be very revealing and motivating.”
The best way to nudge employees in the right direction is to show them their progress. Singer calculates how much incentive each team member earns by looking at individual productivity through a lens of metrics including encounters per day, week and month, revenue per encounter, length of stay, readmission rates and client satisfaction. In other words, monitor both quantity and quality of performance.
The key is that those metrics should always be visible to employees. You can’t hover over them to provide step-by-step directions on meeting their goals, so you need to give them tools to make those adjustments themselves. Singer publishes dashboards monthly for each employee, which are benchmarked against the practice, the region and the overall company.
“They can see how they stack up,” he says. “If you’re an outlier on any of these measures, you start figuring out strategies to not be an outlier.”
Singer recommends paying bonuses monthly, too, rather than annually, so employees see a more immediate reward to their productivity.
That transparency will foster self-correction. But it’s also important to have a forum for open communication so employees can share ideas and struggles especially when team members may spar over the best corrections to make.
Thanks to technology, you have several options that can allow employees across the country to serve as each other’s immediate sounding boards. Singer uses Yammer, an “intranet of Twitter” that lets employees post questions for the entire company to ponder and respond to.
“If I’m having trouble with my team leader or my practice partner, I have the ability to say, ‘You know what, let’s find out what the other thousand doctors would do,’” he says. “Either I’m right or I’m wrong, but I’m going to hear about it from lots of people. It allows a massive jury to be put into place to help resolve my conflict.”
Singer also uses videoconferencing systems to allow entire practices to share their struggles and ideas.
“If you’re having some unique issue and not able to get consensus, we [find] a practice that’s either further along or equally struggling on a topic, and we videoconference them together. We have them brainstorm their issues,” Singer says. “As much as possible, you want your employees empowered to figure this stuff out themselves. What you don’t want is to come in and tell them what to do. That’s the least effective way to enhance your business.”
Besides allowing that open communication, Singer also provides plenty of data about other employees’ results. If you provide people with the financial performance and experiences of others who have faced the same issue before, they tend to make similar decisions without you dictating what to do.
And if they disregard that data to make a decision out on a limb, they’ll learn from it.
“A large part of that empowerment is let them take some risks; let them try something that maybe you wouldn’t agree with,” Singer says. “What that does is really engenders a better trust between you and your employee one, that it’s OK to take risks, but also maybe next time, they want to listen a little bit more to our experience.”
How to reach: IPC The Hospitalist Co. Inc., (888) 447-2362 or www.hospitalist.com
Week after uncomfortable week, Donald Trump leaned across the edge of his famous boardroom table, his hands locked together, his lips curled in a sneer, and stared some poor sucker right out the door. During eight seasons of his reality television show, “The Apprentice,” Trump has mastered the ability to pound out the two words that no employee, not even a contestant eager for fame and fortune, wants to hear.
As has been the case so many times during the last couple of decades, Trump proved to be far ahead of the curve. He mastered the fine art of the fire long prior to the start of our current recession, long prior to millions of workers hearing the same words, more or less, as that unfortunate contestant on the other side of the table. But perhaps Trump and you will not need to utter those words as often this year as you did last year.
The national unemployment rate dropped to 10 percent in November 2009 from 10.2 percent in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure, however slight, represents enough of a drop to provide some glimmer of hope to human resources and human capital experts across the nation and some hope that the start of a long recovery will soon be under way.
“This is providing an opportunity to step back, re-evaluate and reset the human capital agenda,” says Jan Rose, market business leader for human capital, Mercer LLC. “Everything is up for examination. Many of our clients are reviewing the effectiveness of all their human resources programs and assessing whether the programs are having the effect they want it to have for their investment.”
All of which means that, after a long and frustrating year filled with layoffs, wage freezes, the elimination of bonuses and perks, and the addition of more assignments for employees already under stress, the economy and the human resources industry might start to take a turn for the better at some point this year. Challenges do remain, of course, but there is hope.
Whenever the figures and charts tick upward, the time to move will be as soon as possible. Will you be prepared?Focus on your top employees
The challenges throughout the last year focused on how to maintain the revenue, trim the budget and retain as many employees as possible. Almost every business of every size lost something and, more important, somebody as evidenced by that aforementioned unemployment rate, which has increased during almost every month since April 2008.
You might still need to trim your budget, but you will also need to focus on identifying and retaining your high-performance and high-potential employees. So often, those employees might think the grass is greener on the other side of the proverbial fence. But what about when the grass is brown? What about when there is no grass? Heck, forget the grass, what about when there is no fence? They remain where they are for as long as necessary, as they are doing now because there are so few available positions in the marketplace.
Then they leave.
That is, at least, the consensus among dozens of human resources and human capital experts.
“When the economy turns around, and we all believe it will, and jobs become more available, employers will have to ask themselves what they have done to ensure that the people who are important to their success are going to stay with them, that they are engaged, that they are motivated and that they are committed to the organization,” says Thomas Grass, senior consultant, Towers Watson. “Because what they don’t want is to be in a position where they have their employees right now, but as soon as things turn around, those employees say, ‘Good, I made it through that. Now let me go and find a good job.’”
The process of retaining those high-performance and high-potential employees has already started, with your top workers likely influenced by how you handled the fallout from the shock of the recession. If you handled layoffs with dignity, communicating why decisions were made and what they meant for the future, that helped so did any revenue investment in those top workers, from compensation and bonuses to training programs and seminars. And if you talked with those top workers and relayed to them where they fit in the vision for your business, that would have been about the best thing you could have done.
“One thing we’re beginning to understand that is really important, perhaps the most important thing, is to have employees feel connected to their sense of purpose in the organization,” says Bruce Barge, market leader and principal, Buck Consultants LLC. “There’s more and more research showing that’s the most important motivator. Not that compensation and other more traditional motivators aren’t important, but what really matters, especially for your highest-performing employees, is that sense of purpose. They want to feel like what they do makes a difference.”Develop and share your plan
In addition to identifying and targeting your high-performance and high-potential employees to prepare for a future of healthy economics, you should develop a plan to address possible human resources challenges and plot the path you want your business to follow during the next couple of years.
“One thing that will hinder your growth is a lack of a plan,” Grass says. “Planning is really important.”
Chief among your objectives for that plan should be the development of a balance between continued cost reduction and simultaneously positioning for growth. During the last year, many companies have aimed to manage and contain all costs related to human resources and human capital because they have been trying to do little more than survive. Survival is important, but it is also important to not damage the viability of your business in the big picture, well beyond these few years and even beyond this new decade.
Once you develop your plan, share it with your employees, especially your key employees. That advice might sound obvious, but experts say that too many business owners fail to relay information to their managers and their employees. And even in a good environment, employees who only hear about meetings behind closed doors and have no idea what is happening and what is about to happen will often speculate incorrectly, either causing additional stress or inadvertently spreading incorrect information. In short, you can still have those meetings behind closed doors, just be sure to share what is said on the other side of the oak.
“A lack of communication could really hinder any type of growth or improvement,” says Mistee Torres, director of human capital consulting for Southern California, TriNet Group Inc. “If people are uncertain, it can hinder your business, too.”
Communication is a key to developing a successful human resources department, either internally or by bringing in an outside firm. You want your employees aware of what is happening in your business, and you want them to be engaged.
“I want someone who knows where we’re going as an organization and who knows how they’re helping us get there,” Grass says. “That’s engagement.”
Martha Corbett eschews the traditional perch above her employees, clients and community organizations. Instead, she focuses on creating lateral connections, with her networks stretching out like a web around her.
The way the PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP executive looks at it, she’s simply building relationships out in every direction to stay in the loop.
“I want to make sure that I don’t just have my own view of what’s going on — that I have a wider and broader perspective on what’s happening, what’s on their minds,” says Corbett, managing partner for the accounting firm’s Southern California/Phoenix market. “I don’t want to be the last to know.”
She doesn’t just stay in touch with the 1,200 employees in her region — which spans from Los Angeles to San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas — and their clients to form that knowledge. Her network also includes other organizations unrelated to accounting or auditing. Deeply involved with charities like The United Way, she encourages employees to find similar organizations they can support, and she makes connections for them within her web whenever she can.
Her focus is on sustaining relationships with — and between — all of those groups. Beyond building her own relationships with her constituents, she helps them do the same with their own co-workers, clients and charities. Her role is even built around the importance of those relationships, as she’s charged with coordinating teamwork across her market and honing relationships between her employees and their clients.
Corbett’s approach starts with the basics — an open-door policy and a philosophy of managing by walking around to get input from others — but also involves a steady flow of communication back at employees.
So while there’s an aspect of leadership that reaches out from the center, it isn’t dictatorial. Rather, Corbett thinks communication should be built on and feed off of your relationships with those around you.
“You often see leadership speaking from the center or speaking from a podium,” she says. “What’s even more important is the one-on-one relationships that you have with your people. You can’t just stand at the podium and espouse your vision and your strategies without really knowing what everybody’s thinking and what they’re able to do.”
Here’s how Corbett emphasizes the importance of relationships built on communication and how she keeps it flowing both ways.
Stay in touch
To find out what people are thinking, you have to get out there and ask.
Taking the temperature of your organization’s morale through employees can be a “touch and feel” process. You can even ask them directly what morale is like and how their co-workers are feeling, as Corbett does.
She takes management by walking around seriously, whether she’s at the L.A. office or any of the others in her region. She compares it to a networking exercise within the organization.
But it’s not just the traditional definition of MBWA she’s talking about. She’s also walking to meetings, because they’re not always in her office.
“When I meet with people, I don’t usually ask them to come into my office. I usually go to theirs,” says Corbett, who got the advice from a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner in another market. “It just sets a different tone and openness for the meeting.”
By literally meeting employees where they are — and, consequently, where they’re comfortable — you create an inviting setting for an open conversation.
Beyond the general “how’s it going?” that she asks employees, Corbett makes sure to ask partners about specific concerns or issues they’re facing. Then she asks how she can help.
“What I’m trying to find out is how their business is going and what kind of challenges they’re facing and how I can support them,” she says. “Sometimes it can be a simple thing like … I can get them a spot on an agenda to speak about the business that they’re trying to build.”
To help employees relax and open up, you need to create an air of approachability around yourself. That can be as simple as keeping your door open so employees have the opportunity to initiate a conversation if they need to.
Corbett also opens them up by sharing about herself first. For example, she may get started by sharing some of the challenges she faces trying to balance running a company with raising three children.
“I think if you share, they will share,” she says.
Still, it’s hard to connect with every single employee if you have as many as Corbett does and especially when they’re stretched across multiple states. So you can rely on some employees to channel multiple lines of communication to you.
“I will gather a staff council in one of our lines of service,” Corbett says. “And I view that as a voice of the people. So I ask them if I can come to one of their meetings and I sit with them and find out what’s on their minds.”
Listen to those around you
There is some degree of speaking from the center in leadership. As important as it is to get input from employees, you should always be communicating back to them, as well.
Sometimes, that’s just to keep them informed and answer questions about issues that come up through your walk-arounds and client feedback. You can do that through multiple methods, from monthly newsletters to an intranet and team meetings to marketwide all-hands meetings at the start of each fiscal year.
Corbett also does that more intimately by pooling groups of employees to discuss topics in a smaller setting, which she describes as both mini town halls and fireside chats. About every six months, groups of 10 or 12 staff members sit with a partner. The partner explains what you’ve been hearing from employees and clients while reiterating bigger messages like the importance of building relationships with each other and with clients.
You can adjust the messages and methods based on the input you get back. For example, Corbett realized that her employees — especially younger ones who haven’t experienced a recession — were feeling pressed by the economy. So, it became a mini town hall topic.
You can also look for cues about how your employees communicate to adapt your methods. Corbett saw the tools young employees were using and rolled them out across her market, for example.
“A lot of the young people really like to be connected electronically, so we have our own internal Web pages that are unique to each of the offices,” she says. “There’s lots of information for them and lots of forums for them to give us their feedback and communicate.”
Corbett arranges similar mini meetings with customers, too, bringing several of them to sit in on executive board meetings. In addition to hearing about your thought leadership on a topic, customers can also learn what their other peers are doing about it.
Those round tables are preceded by plenty of research about the market, such as CEO surveys, to ferret out topics that are relevant to them. The forums are further planned with a steering committee. But it’s not made of PricewaterhouseCoopers employees; it’s the clients themselves decidin
g what would make the most meaningful conversations for them.
“That [study and research] is a starting point,” Corbett says. “And then it’s listening to our clients as to what part of that they want to hear about. So there’s this ongoing dialogue.”
You can keep the atmosphere more open and relaxed by keeping the meeting small.
“The key is to keep it small and intimate and create that one-on-one feeling, that feeling of trust,” she says.
Corbett also emphasizes the importance of building relationships and communicating by — you guessed it — communicating just that. Her messages to employees almost always include a reminder about it. But you shouldn’t stop there.
“It’s a soft skill, but I actually believe and the firm believes that that relationship-building culture is also a skill that you need to build,” she says. “So as opposed to just saying that it’s one of those softer sides of our strategy, we actually do have some training around that, and we actually do have a feedback process around that so that we can test the strengths of our relationships.”
A lot of the training revolves around the different styles of interaction and communication people have.
It starts with tests and evaluations to help employees identify their own styles, and that helps them connect those with other styles they might encounter.
“Everybody has a different style, and understanding and adapting to a style — even just in a conversation — is a skill that you need to build and have experience on,” Corbett says.
The training provides some of those skills by helping employees look for cues in conversations and gestures to improve their communication.
“If you have a style that’s very methodical and can be slower, when you’ve got a client sitting across the table from you tapping their fingers, it means that you should pick up the pace,” says Corbett, offering an example.
You can further train relationship-building by letting employees observe it in action as a third party. Corbett encourages that through shadowing.
“If you’re going to meet with a client, bring the intern with you. Bring the staff person with you,” she says. “Let them shadow you to experience and to get exposure, whether it’s [with] the client or firm leadership or whoever it is.”
She also urges her managers to adopt the same mindset.
“It’s easy to go to that meeting with just yourself or with a partner,” she tells them. “Take a second and think about bringing somebody with you.”
It’s one thing to give employees those tools and opportunities, but you should also get feedback about how they’re using them. Evaluate the relationships they’re building and how they’re communicating within those.
“You develop to high performance; it doesn’t just happen,” Corbett says. “It’s all supported by coaching and developing and feedback. And that feedback loop is a big part of that.”
She uses a 360-degree survey process and asks employees to give feedback on their peers and their direct reports.
Questions on the survey cover how employees communicate with questions such as, “Do you voice your opinions?” The survey also tries to uncover what kind of relationships their managers have built with them by asking, “Does your leader inspire you?” It also asks if they’re getting all of the tools they need to improve those areas through coaching and development.
“Our values and behaviors are imbedded in our coaching and development and evaluation process, so they illuminate the standards that we have as a profession,” she says. “They’re observable behaviors and they’re coachable behaviors.”
“It’s somewhat cultural — the importance of that relationship and the basis for establishing those relationships around our values and the way that we treat one another.”
How to reach: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, (213) 356-6000 or www.pwc.com
It’s been a decade since the Institute of Medicine sent out shock waves with its report of widespread medical errors in America’s hospitals. While hospitals clamored to start measuring and improving patient quality and safety, MemorialCare Health System had started its journey years earlier by bringing together physicians, nurses and other clinicians to develop best medical practices that have been implemented at each of its hospitals.
To learn more, Smart Business turned to Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System and past chair of California Hospital Association.
What else triggered the attention to quality?
Quality has never been more important for health care providers. Employers are asking for it. Payers are demanding it. Pay-for-performance is emerging, while physicians are choosing hospitals known for high-quality care. External rating agencies are measuring medical outcomes and sharing results for all to see. Consumers are using the Internet and social networking to research and identify best health care practices. All are demanding information on health care value, quality and safety. And the market is responding with an explosion of information and public reports, and an increase in legislation and regulations.
What role does quality play among health care providers?
Quality and safety must be central to the mission of every health care provider hospitals, physicians’ offices, home health services, ambulatory facilities and other settings. Scores of quality measures are being implemented. These include rapid response teams that quickly respond to declines in patient conditions, safeguards and quality control measures to reduce medication errors, and checklists to decrease surgical complications and injuries. That is because we know even one preventable death or complication is one too many.
How can health care providers implement quality initiatives?
Well before the Institute of Medicine’s first report, MemorialCare Health System decided to aggressively document our quality through extensive clinical outcome studies. Through teams of doctors, nurses and clinicians coming together from our hospitals, we pioneered and created best practice, evidence-based medicine and clinical guidelines that are able to identify best diagnostic, treatment and preventive techniques. Our teams focus on specific populations of patients or diseases, and develop guidelines that have become the standards of practice at all our Southern California facilities.
What is the result of best practice standards?
Spending many months identifying and implementing optimal clinical standards allows organizations to achieve outcomes that can surpass national and regional benchmarks for most diseases. It can result in extraordinary quality, proven treatments and comprehensive care that continually raise medical standards. An empowered and powerful network of clinicians and support staff work in the best interest of every patient. With bold goals and shared purpose, every health care team member is devoted to aligning safety and quality aims, offering support and continually learning from one another. Quality, safe health care and a passion for excellence remain MemorialCare Health System’s top priorities, keeping us clearly focused during challenging times.
How do electronic medical records fit into the quality mix?
Electronic medical records (EMRs) are critical to patient quality and safety. In earlier columns, we discussed how EMRs place a patient’s full medical history onto computers and information systems, which allows clinicians to better coordinate care through immediate access to secure patient data. This facilitates clinical workflows and handoffs. It also maximizes clinical quality through real-time decision support at points of decision-making and eliminates most paper used in patient documentation and education, since paper slows care and creates environments ripe for error. Efficient care delivery prevents unnecessary orders and diagnostic tests, reduces medical errors and improves patient quality, safety and health. MemorialCare is among the first to implement a fully integrated medical record linking inpatient, outpatient and emergency patient records.
What can employers do to ensure their work force receives highest quality care?
Query physicians and hospitals about their quality initiatives. Do they have best practice teams that collaborate to design and implement best practice tools, offer education and monitor outcomes and opportunities for further improvement? Are clinical outcomes documented and, if so, easily accessible? Have they implemented, or will they be implementing, electronic medical records in inpatient and ambulatory settings that interface with affiliated physicians? How intensive is their focus on supporting a strong culture of patient safety and vigilance? What procedures have they implemented to reduce hospital acquired infections and risk of complications? And what awards and recognition have they received for quality and safety performance?
BARRY ARBUCKLE, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCare Medical Centers (www.memorialcare.org) and past chair of the California Hospital Association. Reach him at email@example.com or (562) 933-9708. MemorialCare Medical Centers include Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in San Clemente. To help patients make decisions about personal health and treatment choices, MemorialCare provides detailed information on quality and safety at www.memorialcare.org.
Born: Lawton, Okla. My dad was in the Army; Fort Sill is the Army base there. I’ve also lived in Japan, Italy, Honduras, Connecticut, Virginia and Kansas.
Education: B.A. in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin. I don’t think I ever really had a good plan for that. I certainly enjoyed going on archaeological digs in the summertime, but that really wasn’t a career.
What was your first job; what did you learn from it?
My first real job was working in a grocery store. I learned that I didn’t like working at a grocery store. It was kind of boring after awhile. I wanted to find something that was more interesting, and I think I did.
Whom do you admire most and why?
I like reading history. I guess if I had to pick a historical figure, it might be Abraham Lincoln. I really enjoyed Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, ‘Team of Rivals.’ He certainly had a big challenge with what was going on around the country. He addressed it in a unique way and built a team from a lot of very talented but not necessarily teamwork-oriented guys.
What’s your definition of success?
I think certainly happy customers and happy employees would make me happy.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
The human interaction, dealing with each other and creating a team and working together is what I enjoy the best about it.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
If I had to get it down to one word, I’d say listen. Listen and learn.
Your workday is off to a bad start. How do you turn it around?
Well, out in California, it’s pretty easy I go for a walk. The weather’s always nice, and there’s always a Starbucks a few blocks away in one direction or another. That’s an easy way to get out, get some fresh air and start over again.
If you weren’t in your current position, what might you be doing instead?
I certainly enjoy reading history. I do like to visit historical sites and museums. I think I’d like working in the field of nonprofits, especially museums and history and stuff like that. Maybe that will be my next career.
Rick Rayson has more than 30 years of experience in the industry, including 20 years as a partner, during which he has worked with companies in the realms of technology, energy, manufacturing, distributing and media. He is Deloitte’s regional managing partner of audit and enterprise risk services in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada.
Q. How often should a company meet with its accountant?
In this age, we’re all Twittering, but I think constant and consistent communication does get back to the personal relationship and trust though the number of meetings does depend on the nature of the relationship and the size of the company. I use Twitter because that’s the big buzzword. I was just reading about the resistance some people have to this, but I think e-mails and texts help, particularly in real time because the world moves very fast and timing can be critical. But there is the risk that if you don’t meet face to face and set the agenda, you can have missed communication, you can have ambiguity in the messages, you can reach wrong conclusions. When you’re really tackling the complex issues, there’s nothing like the face to face to make sure you’re really getting everything on the table.
Q. How can an accountant save money for a company?
Taxes are a great example, either income taxes or sales taxes. Accounting firms normally have very appropriate tax planning techniques and strategies. Internal accountants typically look for waste in the operations or manufacturing that can lead to cost savings, and external accountants have a broad perspective of what they’ve seen other clients doing. Analysis can really drive down cost or increase revenue production.
Q. How should a client prepare for an audit?
Tackle the tough stuff first. Get that on the table as it happens during the year. Depending on the level of complexity of your accounting department and your systems, there are a lot of documents and analyses that are just prepared in the normal course of closing your books and completing your evaluations. I would encourage companies to ask their accounting firms how much of that information could be used.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, UCLA; MBA, Golden Gate University; graduate of The University of Virginia Darden School of Business Executive Program and the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School
At ValueClick: Vadnais has been CEO at ValueClick since May 2007. Since joining the company in October 2001, he has also served as general manager of the company’s Mediaplex and Commission Junction subsidiaries and president of U.S. operations.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
Summer intern with IBM. I learned the importance of learning a lot about your business and your fellow workers in order to be successful in your job. When I was hired, IBM sent me to a two-week training program where we worked long hours going into a lot of detail. I could be a lot more effective in my summer intern role because I knew at least a little bit about the business before I was put on the firing line.
Whom do you admire most and why?
Probably former chairman and CEO of IBM, Frank Cary. For two years, I was his administrative assistant. I was doing a lot of work for him fact gathering, briefing him on competitive situations, briefing him on product issues and so on, because I could delve into what was going on in some part of company that he really couldn’t. So I learned the value of having somebody you can trust be your eyes and ears in a company. I have a lot of respect for him because he realized that, as brilliant as he was, he needs a lot of help to run a big company. That’s the same way I feel today.
What’s your definition of success?
Being happy and satisfied with what you’re doing. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you’re getting personal satisfaction from it, then I think that’s success. Being a CEO doesn’t mean you’re successful. You could be miserable in that role. In my mind, you’re unsuccessful in life if you’re miserable. I don’t care what your title is. If you’re promoted into a high management role and you’re not enjoying it, you may be successful in somebody’s eyes but I don’t think you’re successful.
No matter what business you’re in or where you’re located, every business needs to communicate. If your customers can’t reach you and/or your employees can’t reach your clients, your business is at a standstill no matter how great your product may be.
Every business knows it needs to communicate, but many don’t spend the time or the effort to put together a truly functional communications plan. Telecommunication technology is constantly changing, and the next generation of communications solutions and services are revolutionizing the way in which businesses are communicating. Because of this, businesses need to evaluate their systems and services to make sure they are being as productive and efficient as they can and should be.
Over the last 20 years, many companies with multiple locations have realized the vast benefits of combing and centralizing their data communications systems (databases, e-mail, customer relationship management, etc.) across their multisite locations. Today, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is the new underlying technology for the next generation of voice communications systems.
VoIP helps an organization centralize its voice communications well beyond the corporate office to any and all remote locations. Many organizations have deployed a centralized voice communications solution over the last 10 years, and those companies are already reaping the many benefits of having all employees and offices under a centralized system.
“There have been more changes in the voice communications industry in the last five years than the previous 25 years,” says Monty Ferdowsi, the president of Broadcore. “It is well worthwhile for multisite organizations to proactively evaluate these solutions, as they can greatly benefit their businesses.”
Smart Business spoke with Ferdowsi about multisite integration and hosted telephony, how to implement it at your organization and how it can benefit your business.
How can organizations benefit from centralized voice communications systems?
Traditionally, organizations purchased separate telephone systems for each site and used telephone lines from the local telephone companies. For the most part, every office existed in silos and voice calling across sites was the same as an outsider calling into the office. These communications were slow, costly and inefficient. It generally created a feeling that each office was a separate organization when associates wanted to talk to one another.
However, there are many benefits to centralizing your voice communications system, including:
- Easy and quick extension calling between users site-to-site
- Easy call transfers across sites and users
- Easy monitoring of users’ phone status at local or remote sites (busy lamp field)
- Elimination of usage cost across sites
- Centralized answering of calls for all sites (as needed)
- Single system to administer and maintain via Web browser
- Easy movement of associates’ phones between offices
- Single vendor for all systems and services
- More robust disaster recovery when hardware and services fail
- Central call accounting of all voice calls (in/out)
- Easy deployment of remote workers (telecommuting)
There are many other tangible and intangible benefits in centralizing voice communications across a multisite company. These benefits can be summarized in cost savings, efficiency gains and productivity boosters, particularly when a professional in a company’s specific field conducts a good evaluation.
When implementing multisite connectivity, what options do you have in terms of telephony?
There are two distinct choices for deploying a central voice communications solution for a multisite company. First is a premise-based voice communications system solution that companies purchase, deploy and maintain at their sites. Second is a hosted voice communications service. In the last 10 years, a new unique concept of hosted voice communications systems has emerged that has been growing rapidly. Both premise-based and hosted services have their benefits, but the new trend emerging in both voice and data communications services is pushing the services into the cloud (cloud computing, hosted PBX, etc.). This promises to eliminate the need for companies to invest into expensive new technology and to subscribe to the service providers who offer them ‘as-a-service.’
Hosted communications service providers generally eliminate the need for system purchase, system upgrade and system maintenance, and generally most of the additional cost associated with ongoing training and support services.
How can a company evaluate the best telephony services for a multisite organization?
Central communications systems are generally more complex to evaluate, design, deploy and support. Companies should take a more methodical approach in the evaluation of solutions in order to get the exact services that are required for their multisite offices. A good approach to evaluate any solution is to invite solution and service providers to conduct a thorough review of your current voice communications systems as well as any new requirements that you feel would improve your communications.
A good solution and service provider should also provide recommendations based on best practices in the field on how to further optimize the voice communications, both internally and externally. Generally, an overhaul of the way companies communicate with their clients can lead to more business and happier customers.
Monty Ferdowsi is the president of Broadcore. Reach him at (800) 942-4700 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Broadcore (www.broadcore.com) has more than 20 years of telephony experience with five years of deploying advanced hosted telephony for major U.S. companies.