Are you a perfectionist? Many type-A leaders are. If so, chances are good that your perfectionist ways are keeping you from getting more done.

Perfectionism is not an enviable attribute but rather a trap. According to Kris Taylor, of K. Taylor & Associates (Evergreen Leadership), perfectionists:

? Should have all the answers

? Must do it all

? Have a fear of trying something new or improving areas of weakness

? Think that more is better

? Hesitate to ask for help

? Don’t have time to take care of themselves

? Have old files, half-finished projects and clutter

? Tend to have high-maintenance customers that divert them from ideal clients

If this sounds like you, Taylor recommends lightening your load. Release a few projects or time-intensive tasks from your to-do list. Hire a consultant to take old, unfinished projects off your plate. Give more repetitive or time-consuming jobs to others. Free yourself for the important stuff, including the projects you most enjoy.

Get down to the nitty-gritty

What does it take to be a success, to beat your competition, to be a winner?

The most common answer is hard work. Although that’s certainly part of any achievement, there’s something else at work that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

That something else is being able to decipher what truly matters. It could be the culture of the situation, comprehending what’s truly at stake to the buyer or even understanding and being able to capitalize on the mood of the event.

Whatever it is that is most important is perfected — and the rest is ignored. Both parts of this equation are difficult, but when you trust your instincts, sniff out what’s most important and seize the opportunity, you’re onto the right stuff. That’s the winner’s circle.

Become a list-maker

Work on what truly matters by making lists. I have quite a number of lists, with many next actions, projects, calls to make and big ideas. Some question my efficiency, if not my sanity.

“You’ve got so many lists. That’s just too much work,” they say.

I’m here to defend these never-ending lists. Why? Because I rarely waste time worrying or becoming distracted over forgetting a meeting, an action, callback list, date or a promise to look into something. I have my appointments, phone numbers and notes tracked in a system I trust, one that I know works for me.

The problem with most people’s systems is that their calendar is the only list they trust. More than 95 percent of what they really need to keep track of is not a set of appointments but all the things to be done in between those appointments.

Your head is not the best place to keep track of things. And finding it critical to maintain a calendar seems to me a great way to clutter. Lists leave room in your mind to be more creative and allow you to think more about the big picture. Find a way to reduce the clutter in your head and you will be less stressed, sleep better and probably enjoy life a lot more. ?

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at dharding@hardingpoorman.com. For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com.

 

Published in Indianapolis

We are barraged each day with opinions on the economy, jobs, health care costs and a host of other topics that can affect consumer confidence. Information is plentiful, but it is often contradictory, leaving people to decide who and what to believe.

As business leaders, you must face not only the realities of the business environment in which you operate but also the mindsets of employees and customers.

As the economy shows signs of improving, they look to see if you’ll react. But leaders often rely on others, and being fearful of making the wrong move, they wait for the percentages to improve and for more certainty to prevail. Even the optimists are finding it challenging to break out of the pack and do something bold.

Emergence depends on factors

The reality is that not every sector will enter or emerge from a recession at the same time. It is important that you understand your market and where your business is in the cycle. If you don’t already have a list of leading indicators, then you need to develop one.

Demand the best information from which to make decisions regarding your business. Rely on facts, trends and data to help make better and timelier decisions. Act quick, be decisive, and don’t be a naysayer. Focus on what can be done versus what can’t. Motivate and energize your organization and set goals to break out and show what can be accomplished.

Being an early mover can give your business a substantial competitive advantage. When you see signs of enduring strength, you need to lead changes in your organization to improve the mood and atmosphere, to build confidence that things are going to improve, and to implement the plans you have developed.

Time to take action

Here are some steps you can take:

? Leverage your competitive advantage

? Take price increases in key segments while locking in cost in others.

? Get aggressive in marketing and selling efforts

? Expand into new markets or launch new products

? Invest in training staff and hire high-quality people

? Make acquisitions of products or businesses

? Invest in incremental capacity to enable growth

? Create a contagious atmosphere where people can prosper and customers can enjoy themselves

These actions within a company become contagious and can foster creativity and risk-taking. When done effectively, these actions will position your business for success.

Setting the tone

The way you think and talk about your business, the market and the situation you face will set the tone for the organization. Your actions and words can be the difference between breaking out or being a laggard.

Do you focus on the problem or the solution?

Do you think about the opportunities to grow share or focus only on retaining customers?

Have you ever noticed that, during tough times, the sales gap between the A and B/C players widens? Their attitudes shift and you start hearing excuses from B and C players as to why they “can’t” get sales.

Even when things start to recover, the A players will distance themselves even more from the others. When you go on sales calls with the A players, they acknowledge the circumstance with the customer but will quickly focus on what should be done to make the best out of the situation.

As leaders, we can set this expectation across the organization. It’s a mindset and an attitude. Do your part to create an environment where people can be creative, develop plans and execute with passion so they can win.

 

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

Published in St. Louis

Businesses must change in order to maintain a competitive advantage.

However, employees at any level can become an impediment to change as John Kotter noted in a 1995 Harvard Business Review article on leading change and why efforts may fail. The problem is employees might not understand why they need to do things differently and what the benefits of the change will be.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your entire organization supports necessary change:

Understand the dynamics of change

Be aware of the stages that people tend to experience throughout the change process so you can effectively guide your employees. Jeanie Daniel Duck noted the following significant stages in her 2002 book, “The Change Monster.”

* Getting stuck in old thinking

* Recognizing the need to change

* Preparing for and implementing

the change

* Following through with gains made

Unless you address feelings and concerns of employees in each of the above stages, any desired changes will likely fall short.

Adopt effective leadership approaches

Leaders who tend to take a nonproductive approach, such as what we’ll call “The Winner” or the “The Avoider,” have to be aware of how their actions can affect their employees’ ability to accept the change.

The winner will take an attitude of winning at any cost and impose his or her authority on employees. It is better, instead, to focus on the process of building and maintaining relationships with employees. This approach will highlight the importance of the change and build collaboration.

On the other hand, the avoider will not want to make any waves. This risk-averse approach discourages employees who want to align with a progressive organization. Be up front and straightforward with employees about the upcoming transition.

Keep employees informed

As you develop your leadership strategy for the change, remember that open communication is crucial. Employees at all levels need to see and hear from senior executives to believe the change is important.

Employers should continue to promote and discuss the change, even after there is support from employees. This will help sustain the high level of energy and excitement needed for the change to be successful.

Align people of influence

Though it’s your responsibility to lead the change, it’s not all on you. Employers should engage respected leaders and other influential team members. If leaders take the time to sell the value and the benefits of the change to influential people, their support can help lower resistance from more hesitant employees.

Don’t assume which leaders will easily accept the change and which ones will combat it. The employees whom you think are least likely to accept the change might become your best allies.

Make the change sustainable

Finally, if you do not build the change into processes that ensure a consistent and routine approach, then old habits might resurface. It is important that employees do not see this change as the flavor of the month, but rather as a lasting one that will improve the long-term success of the company.

Change won’t happen right away. But with dedication, focus and clearly outlined strategies, you can cross the finish line with your employees at your side.

 

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. Dr. Colker also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at jcolker@adler.edu or at (312) 213-3421.

Published in Chicago

Kelly BorthBuilding a strategy to earn name recognition in the marketplace is more complex today than ever, and increased competition breeds more choices.

The Internet feeds prospects’ desire for 24/7 access to information and, at the same time, has changed the face of publishing. Email provides messaging directly to someone’s personal mailbox. Smartphones connect us around the clock and around the globe. And social media has revolutionized communication by providing a vehicle that gives a voice to the masses.

Much has changed and the new paths have opened the way for businesses to chart their own course. There are fewer barriers to getting your message to your targeted audience (unless you are trying to reach them on their office phone, right?) but many more fragmented choices to reach out and connect with them to get your message heard.

 Develop a well-thought-out strategy

As with all marketing, the best-laid plans produce the best results. Businesses today need an online strategy, an industry strategy and a direct-marketing effort to build exposure.

Understanding what potential customers want and need is imperative to success, as is knowing where potential customers hang out so you know the best opportunities to connect with them.

Chart your own course

The Internet offers no barriers to entry. Unlike having to pitch your story or white paper to an editor to get it published, the Internet freely accepts whatever information you would like to create and share with its open universe of information seekers.

This accessibility means opportunity is at your fingertips to populate that universe with your information. Popular forms of providing information include websites, blogs, press releases, white papers, case studies, educational videos, virtual webinars, various forms of presentations and pictures of products, comparison matrices, social media sites, such as YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, and so on.

Some Internet services, such as those that distribute press releases, charge a fee, whereas posting sites, such as blogs or social bookmarking sites such as Digg, are free. Tracking engagement and turning engagement into opportunity begins with a solid website that effectively communicates your message, is connected to all of the information you have placed on the Internet and is optimized for search engines.

Becoming visible within targeted industries is more traditional. Strategic sponsorships of industry association events, trade shows, informational seminars and forums, as well as advertising and editorial within trade news vehicles — both print and online — are just a few options.

Think of sponsorships as your connection with the industry that can match you with potential customers. You are benefitting from relationships these industry associations have with the individuals and companies you want as customers.

Your direct strategy is about getting your company in front of a prospect so that when there is a need for what your company sells, the prospect is already familiar with you. This can include direct mail, email campaigns (make sure they are opt-in) and invitations to webinars or seminars where you present meaningful information.

Other options include Google AdWords or other pay-per-click campaigns, trade advertising, trade shows, online advertising, etc.

Plan for a comprehensive, integrated approach

To get noticed today, companies need to have an integrated plan of action, one that is comprehensive in nature to reach the intended target audiences. Just having a website is not the answer, nor is just going to a trade show or having a video on YouTube. It is much more complex than that.

Building a known name in the marketplace takes a commitment to a planned approach and follow-through. And don’t forget the importance of a consistent brand message and voice, as well.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com, @brandpro or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

 

Published in Columbus

Often overlooked in discussions about improving Ohio’s economy is the fact that actions taken by state and local governments are primary drivers of the cost of doing business. Their ability to levy taxes and impose costly regulations directly impact a company’s bottom line. When governments are inefficient, they need more revenue. When they take a command and control approach to regulations, they often become an obstacle to growth.

To ensure a strong, competitive economy, we need efficient governments that tax less and provide greater value. That’s why the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and our state’s eight metropolitan chambers undertook an important study issued in December 2010, called Redesigning Ohio. It offers a road map for transforming Ohio’s state and local governments into 21st century institutions.

Burdened with an unprecedented fiscal crisis and a projected $8 billion deficit, state government leaders were at an important crossroads. They could continue to accept the status quo or they could embrace reforms aimed at improving services and heightening productivity through greater flexibility and innovation.

The ideas advanced in Redesigning Ohio provided a framework for thinking boldly about ways Ohioans can receive more value for their state and local tax dollars.

Redesigning Ohio offers 10 specific areas for reform. The first proposes changes to the budgeting process itself by employing a unique approach called Budgeting for Outcomes. Two other innovations, Charter Agencies and Entrepreneurial Management, incentivize greater efficiency by providing more freedom to manage in exchange for less funding and by bringing market-based competition to government services.

Redesigning Ohio also proposes pension and civil service reforms that harmonize the public and private sectors and regulatory reforms that use incentives to boost voluntary compliance. In the health care arena, the report urges the government to leverage its buying power to foster greater competition, lower costs and better results. Redesigning Ohio also offers ways to reduce the cost of the criminal justice system and urges a more thorough and regular review of tax credits, exemptions and deductions.

Finally, Ohio has a costly and outdated system of 3,700 local governmental units that must be brought into the 21st century by enhancing productivity and promoting greater collaboration.

Now, two years after the release of Redesigning Ohio, the same nine Chambers of Commerce have issued a Redesigning Ohio Update. The new report details the progress that has been made and sets out the next steps in this critical transformational process.

As a result of bold actions taken by Gov. John Kasich and Ohio lawmakers, clear progress has been made in reforming our criminal justice system and Medicaid program. Most importantly, the reforms are not just reducing costs; they are also improving results.

One of Gov. Kasich’s first actions established the Common Sense Initiative, which focuses on creating a more jobs-friendly regulatory climate in Ohio. CSI has achieved a number of successes that are making Ohio’s regulatory process more transparent, efficient and less costly for businesses.

Also in 2012, the Ohio Legislature enacted public employee pension reforms that are an important first step in ensuring the long-term solvency of those funds and reducing the cost for taxpayers.

During the past two years, many local governments and school districts embraced greater innovation and collaboration, but additional work remains. The successes highlighted in the Redesigning Ohio Update can serve as excellent models for the additional work ahead.

Today, our economy is improving. Unemployment is at 6.9 percent and tax revenues are increasing. But, we cannot allow these improvements to justify a return to the status quo. With Redesigning Ohio as a guide, we must continue the work necessary to transform our state and local governments into 21st century institutions. ?

 

Linda Woggon is executive vice president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. As Ohio’s largest and most diverse statewide business advocacy group, the Ohio Chamber has been an effective voice for business since 1893. To contact the Ohio Chamber, call (614) 228-4201 or visit the website at www.ohiochamber.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

One of the most significant and enduring ways to increase business profitability is to continuously evaluate your cost structure and reduce costs where possible without sacrificing quality and customer satisfaction. You need to reduce both direct costs of producing your finished goods and business overhead.

Your profit improvement program should help you identify specific steps for cost reduction. These steps often include lowering total delivered costs with your suppliers and reviewing production processes and systems to eliminate waste.

Define material content

You want to start with an evaluation of each category of your cost of goods sold. This evaluation requires each category to be identified with the actual dollars spent and its percentage of sales.

The next step is to look at material content, which is usually your largest cost of sales category, both in actual dollars and as a percent of sales. It is not uncommon in industrial products for your material content to be between 40 and 60 percent of sales. Reducing material costs will immediately and directly benefit the bottom

line and does not require any working capital.

The next thing you need to do is define the specific material content of your products.

Work with suppliers to reduce cost

Companies should be sure to develop a global supply chain for procuring material and evaluate the suppliers for their ability to deliver on time with the required quality and lowest possible cost. Intensive Internet searches, referrals and supply chain conference seminars are all useful for finding and evaluating suppliers.

Displaying your products at supply chain open-house events can also be very effective for developing new sources of supply. Effective supply chain partners will constantly suggest product improvement and cost-reduction ideas.

Adopt an open-door policy for the supply base. You should always be willing to talk to anyone who has a potential way to help you reduce cost and improve quality.

Stratify material purchases

The ABC methodology stratifies all materials and parts purchased by a company into three groups. The A parts are the most expensive and critical to the company’s operations. They will make up 70 to 75 percent of your total material spend, but represent only 5 to 10 percent of the total number of part numbers you purchase.

B parts represent 20 percent of your material spend and about 20 percent of the total part numbers purchased. C parts represent 5 to 10 percent of your material spend but represent 70 to 75 percent of your total number of part numbers purchased. This stratification gives you and your supply base the focus to work on reducing the greatest costs.

Next you want to develop and analyze a purchase price variance report. Ask yourself what your actual spend is versus standard. What are the year-over-year changes? You should evaluate your supply chain’s delivery and quality by developing a scorecard to know how delivery and quality are influencing your total costs.

Product simplification

Another way to reduce material content and costs is product redesign or product simplification. Product simplification is the discipline of integrating the greatest performance functionality into the fewest number of parts using the most suitable and cost-effective materials and manufacturing processes.

Through product simplification, cross-functional product development teams have found that the rigorous combination of design and process innovation can significantly enhance market desirability and engineering efficiency.

Not only is it a team-building experience, but it is also a business opportunity that typically nets significant cost reduction and improved efficiency without sacrificing quality or product performance.

Scrap analysis

Make an effort to become a greener company by recycling. This can contribute to reduced total material content and increased profitability.

 

Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multidivisional manufacturing company with sales in more than 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.

Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.

Published in Cleveland
Wednesday, 02 January 2013 16:09

Hidden costs: Leslie Braksick

Board members are chosen intentionally for their experience, functional expertise and potential to add measurable value. But not all board members are created equal.

Often, impressive experience comes with little knowledge of the company’s industry, competition or market dynamics.

Sometimes members might possess industry content expertise but have no experience with a for-profit/publicly traded company. They bring the passion but not the necessary sense of accountability to shareholders by which for-profit companies live and die.

Look for hidden costs

A board is essential for good corporate governance. However, boards can bring many nonvalue-adding costs that are hidden beneath their dynamics and interplays. These costs often sacrifice the realization of maximum benefit.

An example is the complex dynamics among members or between the chairman and CEO that lead to much off-line conversation, churning and defensiveness — or, worst of all, rocked confidence of the CEO or his team to act boldly in the best interest of the company.

Another example is time wasted while these members attempt to outdo others with positions and comments that do not advance the business of the company.

Yet another cost is staff time spent in preparing special reports or analyses that less-informed board members are “just wondering about.” These requests can tie up human capital for days and days. Such board requests from members who are “just curious” — or worse, who want to escalate their pet issues to center stage — divert the efforts of key management teams and staff from solving the real issues of the business.

Thankfully, solid board members often try to offset the behavior of such peers — but that is a time and energy drainer for the “good guys who try to do the right thing.”

The makeup gives a clue

I often contemplate these questions: Do ineffective board members know who they are and do they care? Do they come from environments that value being difficult for no reason? Do they somehow think that behaving in a belligerent manner is what board members are supposed to do?

Some encouraging news is that we increasingly see board members who are sitting CEOs or executives of other companies. In our experience, they make the very best board members. They are deeply immersed in the real world and active in the trenches of business today, so they better understand the marketplace dynamics of the season.

They participate on the board to learn and grow to further their own careers versus just seeking income. Their challenges tend to be issues-based versus people-based. They are sensitive to the time constraints of the CEO and management team because they live in a similar world, so they tend not to ask for unnecessary reports or additional work.

 

Good board members have no peer

There is no substitute for the board members who do their homework prior to the meetings, get along well with others, challenge issues versus people and are always clear about two things: What problem am I trying to help solve with my requests and comments? And have I behaved constructively and added value to this management team through my comments and questions?

Never rush into a board member selection until you are very sure about how this prospective member has behaved in similar settings.

The hidden and often not-so-hidden costs of an ineffective board member can be incredibly detrimental to the company, the board and the management team. ?

 

Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010), and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG adviser colleagues work with boards, board chairs and CEOs to improve their effectiveness. You can reach her at (412) 269-7240 or lbraksick@clg.com

Published in Pittsburgh

How often do you go to market without a solid business strategy? Probably never, right?

Wrong.

The reality is that if you’re like most organizations, then you’re doing this right now — and you don’t even know it.

That’s because most organizations do not have a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Instead, most are doing what somebody told them they should do. This includes creating a mobile website, engaging in social media and advertising.

All of these are “smart” marketing initiatives. But if they’re done in a vacuum, there’s no way to measure what results those initiatives are intended to accomplish. Worse, you’re chasing tactics instead of delivering results.

There is a significant difference between marketing tactics and marketing strategy. Marketing tactics are ways to bring channels to life. This could be a new website or a mobile-optimized version of your site. Or it could be creating new sales collateral. Tactics should be used to bring your brand message and value proposition to life.

Unfortunately, if they’re not tied to a cohesive strategy, you will not achieve the results you desire.

A marketing strategy, however, allows you to understand the results you should achieve. It also keeps everyone aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in the process.

As an example, there are three main reasons for a website: to verify your organization’s brand message to potential customers, to deliver your value proposition and conversion.

Conversion can mean different things for different industries. In retail, it might mean picking out a product, putting it in your shopping cart and making the purchase. In business-to-business, conversion might mean picking up the phone to contact the company, providing a name, email and phone number, or signing up to receive a newsletter.

Without understanding how consumers behave, you may be selling your marketing efforts short. You might not be providing enough information to clearly articulate your brand message or value proposition or you might not be offering users an easy experience that allows for conversion. So how do you ensure that a consistent brand message, value proposition and the ability to target customers converts across all marketing channels?

First, understand who the target consumer is and their needs, attitudes and behaviors. This can be discovered through research, including focus groups or through industry-based segmentation.

Then, conduct a deep dive to understand your business goals and objectives. In retail, this might be the number of sales you want to drive. In B2B, it could be increasing the numbers of prospects in your pipeline.

Finally, evaluate your company’s existing marketing tactics — your website, marketing collateral and overall brand message.

Only then will you be well-equipped to evaluate your overall tactics and compare them to marketing best practices and the competitive landscape. This results in recommendations that include expected business results and return on investment.

Prioritize these by measuring the highest impact against investment levels, and then create a timeline to implement them over a one- to two-year period. Share this strategy throughout the entire organization so everyone understands what will be accomplished and what the expected results are.

Without strategy, and an understanding of everything that goes into it, any money you pour into tactics tends to be money poorly spent. Done correctly, your marketing strategy suddenly becomes your organization’s key driver and leads to tangible and measurable business results.

Dave Fazekas is director of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at dfazekas@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7056.

Published in Akron/Canton
Wednesday, 02 January 2013 13:41

Should you be friends with your employees?

What is the best way to motivate employees? Some successful CEOs treat employees as friends, while other equally high-achieving leaders regard employees as merely hired hands, giving them a day’s pay for a day’s work and nothing more.

What’s the best approach to produce the best results for the company, the employee and the employer? Much of the issue lies with one’s definition of a friend and the culture of the organization. Many companies boast that their employees are like family. This sounds great, but can it work?

If either party crosses the fine line that separates the difficult-to-define business and personal space, both employer and employee can become disenchanted or worse. One way to think of it is that friendship is more unconditional. We accept a friend for what he or she is or isn’t. On the flip side, the reality is that most bosses embrace or reject employees for what they do on a consistent basis.

The military has its own way of handling fraternization between officers and the enlisted by making it a possible court martial offense. This stance is predicated on the belief that socializing between these two levels is “prejudicial to good order, discipline and partiality.” It is well recognized that business relationships without boundaries can produce too much drama.

Perhaps what we need is a new definition for a nonemotional, congenial, enjoyable and productive day-to-day relationship between leader and follower. This moniker could be employee-friend, or “e-friend” for short. “E-friend” isn’t an app but would describe an employer/employee relationship where there is mutual respect and a genuine appreciation of one another, underscored by an understanding, albeit perhaps unspoken, that when the time for talking is done, the boss has the final word on matters that occur between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Using these ground rules, both sides can have it both ways by using good judgment and treating each other as they would want to be treated if their roles were reversed.

The employee should expect from the boss that, when the chips are down, either on a business basis or when the employee has a personal problem, he or she knows that the boss will be there for him or her, providing understanding and advice and, when requested, helping the employee maneuver through rough patches. From the employer’s perspective, the employee would be someone who, through thick and thin, is there for the company and can temporarily put personal needs aside when there is a business issue that can’t be postponed.

The e-friend boss should know as much about the employee as the employee wants the boss to know, which can include sensitive professional problems or even family or medical issues. In a good relationship, the boss could certainly know, as one example, what the subordinate’s kids are up to in their lives and be the first to say to the employee that it’s more important for him or her to go to an offspring’s ballgame or play, rather than putting in extra time on the business project du jour.

Instinctively, employees know if a boss truly cares or is just going through the motions to be politically correct. They know if the head honcho is sincerely concerned about them as a person, not just another set of hands.

Not everything and everyone in the workplace are created equal. There will always be a pecking order; however, there is nothing wrong with truly enjoying the people with whom you work every day and sharing meaningful experiences, all of which lead to a more fulfilling role for both the employer and the employee. The best criterion to avoiding problems is using generous doses of plain common sense. There is a much-quoted line from the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” starring Michael Douglas as the ruthless tycoon Gordon Gekko, who proclaimed, “If you want a friend, get a dog.” This provoked both laughs and sighs, but in the real world, this attitude makes for a very lonely Ebenezer Scrooge-type life for the boss and a shallow existence for employees who must spend more than half, at the very least, of their Monday through Friday waking hours working.

At times, people can be difficult, both to work for and with. However, it’s the people who make the company and relationships that combine respect and a form of e-friendship that can make the real difference.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.

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Published in Akron/Canton

Richard Branson is full of big ideas. The man who founded six companies that each rake in more than $1 billion annually dares to think big. For him, it’s all about the experience, making a difference and not doing things the same way as the competition. An idea captures his imagination and he sets out to turn it into reality.

For him, it’s not about the money. It never has been.

When he sees a situation where he thinks he can make a difference in people’s lives, he looks for a way to make a difference. He understands that “why” he is doing it is more important than the “what” or the “how.”

Author and consultant Simon Sinek agrees (see video link). He explains that Apple is wildly successful at what it does not because it can build computers better than anyone else but because it understands “why” it is doing so. It’s not that the competition doesn’t know what it is doing or that it doesn’t have talented people creating good products. It’s just that Apple understands why it is in business and focuses its message on that instead of what it does — which is build electronic devices.

Sinek says that people like to do business with people who believe what they believe, so they buy more on the “why you do it” rather than what you are actually doing. Notice that profits are secondary. If you do things the right way for the right reasons, profits come naturally.

You might already have a big idea for your business, but it will most likely never reach its full potential unless you understand why you are doing it. Have you ever stopped to think about why you are in business or why you are doing what you are doing? It can be an enlightening exercise.

With the demands of daily business, we seldom stop to think about the reasons behind our actions, and if we do think about it, the answer is often “to turn a profit.” But to what end?

When you understand why you are trying to make a profit and the answer goes beyond simple wealth, then you are getting to the heart of what differentiates a good business from a great one. Maybe the reason why is a social issue, such as eliminating hunger, or maybe it’s a medical issue, such as curing a disease. But it doesn’t have to be grand. The “why” can be something like “making computers easy for everyone to use.” The important part isn’t the scope; it’s understanding your business’s basic reason for existence.

When you’ve taken the time to understand that, your business will have the potential to do great things because employees and customers alike can unite around a common understanding.

It’s why Apple is a great company and it’s why Richard Branson is wildly successful. If you’re already doing it, you’re on your way. If not, take the time to think about it.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or  fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Published in Akron/Canton