When the economy dips into a recession, companies have two basic responses: hunker down to weather the storm or be aggressive by attacking weakness in competitors and opportunities in the market. I have always preferred the latter approach.

During the past two years, our company made several important acquisitions and recruited top talent to forge a new business that positions us as a leading provider of a full range of marketing services for clients ranging from manufacturers and professional service firms to nonprofits and consumer products companies. I am pleased to announce the official launch of SBN Interactive, our content-driven interactive marketing firm.

SBN Interactive is the culmination of months of planning and hard work. It combines our long-standing expertise in creating award-winning content with our intimate knowledge of the latest marketing trends and tools. More importantly, it allows us to leverage our expertise in offline and online marketing to drive measurable business results for our clients across the full range of marketing channels: Web, mobile, video, social and print.

Today, customers move seamlessly across online and offline channels and expect the experience to be consistent, connected and available when they want it and how they want it. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that businesses need to deliver a consistent brand across the spectrum of marketing channels that their customers use. Some prefer print, others video, still others social media. Regardless, marketers need to present the right message to the right customer through the right channel.

Our team of interactive marketing strategists, content strategists, content creators, designers, developers, optimization experts and technologists understand and embrace this. They collaborate to develop strategies and solutions that meet the specific business goals of our clients. From custom magazines and website content optimization to social media strategies and fully outsourced marketing services, they have the expertise — and dozens of proven tactics — to help move the needle for a business.

At the heart of everything we do is our core competency: content. Content drives differentiation, and there are few organizations that exist or are organized in a way to efficiently deliver relevant content in the context of the connected world we live in. But we, at Smart Business, live and breathe content on a daily basis.

We have spent more than two decades working with and writing about some of the most successful business people in America, from iconic business builders like Wayne Huizenga and Les Wexner to maverick billionaires like Ted Turner and Mark Cuban. Now, we are putting those same skills — and many more we have developed over the years — to work for other companies.

We will still continue to bring you management insight, advice and strategy from the best and brightest business minds in the pages of Smart Business. However, thanks to SBN Interactive, we now have a more direct way to help businesses like yours meet their goals and prosper.

I invite you to learn more about SBN Interactive by visiting our website at www.sbninteractive.com or by contacting me directly at fkoury@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7034.

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

When significant change is on the horizon for your business, it is important to recognize how people react to the unknown.

In an article by David Rock, the co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, two broad themes are discussed.

The first is that each of us is driven by an “overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward.” Those immersed in the drama of an acquisition are biologically driven to wondering and worrying about what will happen to the existing social order.

The second theme is that there are parallels between the way we respond to how well our social needs are met and how we respond to the meeting of our physical needs. He cites a study indicating that it hurts just as a much to be left out as it does to experience a hammer meeting our thumb.

Rock proposes a model, SCARF, which includes these two themes as a way to help us navigate what can trigger reward or threat behaviors in social situations. The model, in short, is as follows:

Status - This refers to how important we are or perceive we are within a particular group. When a company is acquired, employees may believe they will be viewed as lower on the totem pole than employees within the acquiring company.

What can you do?

Promote a culture of respect in which everyone’s opinion is valued in ways appropriate for their areas of expertise. When discrete events occur (e.g., promotions, acquisitions, etc.), be proactive in communicating how and why personnel decisions have been or will be made.

Certainty - Certainty refers to the need our brain has to respond to recognizable patterns. When we can’t, error messages akin to a “flashing printer icon” go on.

What can you do? Be clear. Be as specific as possible. For big projects, break them down into specific steps. In individual interactions, remember that the level of clarity necessary will be different for each person. When details are pending, promise that more details will follow, communicate a timeline for the additional information and deliver on that promise.

Autonomy - The third point refers to how much choice and control we perceive we have over our lives. As a leader, do you find yourself telling others what to do in their area of expertise? If so, you may be restricting their autonomy.

What can you do? Don’t micromanage. Enough said?

Relatedness - This refers to whether or not someone is “in” or “out” of your group. We’re all familiar with the student who doesn’t have an “in” group and sits by himself at lunch. His brain is firing the message that he’s on the outside looking in.

One way to promote relatedness is to encourage affinity groups. These could be either related or unrelated to workplace initiatives. Be a role model. Make an effort to relate to people that may be on the outside looking in.

Fairness - The fifth and final point refers to the belief that others aren’t being treated preferentially. Think executive elevators, executive washrooms, etc.

What can you do? Be clear about your reasons for decisions you make and changes that must be made. Be clear about the “why” and “how” of your decisions. There should be no hint that you’re trying to hide an unfair process by not being transparent about your reasons.

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense:  One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to promote organizational sync by minimizing threat responses, you may reach Andy Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or andy@dialect.com.

Published in St. Louis

When Facebook bought Instagram for nearly $1 billion, the social networking site was all but admitting that a smartphone app was poised to decimate its user base. But Facebook knew what all businesses must accept: When it comes to communications, we are in hyper drive.

As quickly as Twitter captured the public’s attention, the next new thing could replace it. Facebook is intent on keeping pace. You should be too.

Businesses must select the apps, sites, social networks and other modes of communication that best reach their client base and then create messages that can pierce through the blizzard of other messages. At no time is this more important than when a crisis hits or an opportunity suddenly emerges.

You need a rapid response team that can instantly craft the right message and get it to everyone who matters.

You must get your message out first. If you don’t, your critics or competition will define you. Every organization needs a rapid response plan that can be launched at a moment’s notice. Here are the basics:

1. Have your communication platforms in place. Facebook is losing some popularity, but it remains an excellent way to connect with people. If you don’t tweet, you should still have a Twitter account to follow trends that relate to your business.

Do you belong to or host Internet chat rooms that pertain to your industry? Do you have an 800 number you can direct people to if you must respond to a sudden crisis? Email is still a valuable way to communicate, so keep your email list updated. Texting allows you to instantly contact your base.

Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr are hot right now. Decide which options you want to use and assign people to manage them on a daily basis.

2. Use technology to take the public’s pulse. Never assume that you know the public’s reaction to an event. Track their opinions on Twitter, and set Google alerts for keywords that relate to your business or events that will affect it. These free resources can guide you even if you don’t have a large budget.

If you need specific data before responding to a crisis or capitalizing on a news story, consider online surveys or smartphone survey apps. Before you react to a critical situation, make sure you know how your base is feeling about it.

3. Gather your rapid response team and give them three messages. The key to any good communication — and to winning any battle — is consistency. Having one person make a statement and the next person contradict it is the worst possible scenario.

You need to develop three messages that make the same point in different ways. The basic message must be succinct and all members of your team should consistently employ these three messages.

The most effective messages either use a third party to make your point or place the situation in a larger context. When reacting to a crisis, having a loyal client or customer defend you is much more powerful than defending yourself.

As for creating a larger context, choice, fairness and accountability are three concepts that everyone can relate to. You have 15 seconds or less to capture your audience’s attention, so make your point bigger and broader. That’s how to respond in a world that is moving faster every day.

Chris St. Hilaire is founder and CEO of Surveys On The Go, a smartphone market research application.

Published in Los Angeles

Dear CEOs, managers, sales presenters and meeting facilitators:

My name is Y.A., (short for Your Audience). You may think you know me well, but you probably would be surprised at how little you do. See, all those things you do incorrectly when you make a presentation or run a meeting are not fair to me. Yet, I’ve come to realize that while you’re not being fair to me, I’m not being fair to you either. I mean, how would you know where you could do better unless I tell you?

The things that make me pay attention, influence my decisions and help me perform more effectively are what can make you successful when you speak, but you’ve got to inspire me to stick around to listen to you. So, it’s time to give you the gift (seven gifts actually) that will help you become a much more successful presenter. After all you’ve put me through, it’s the least I can do. So here you go:

? Identify who you are and why you are here so I’m not asking myself these questions while you are moving on to the next point. Create alignment right from the start so we’re on the same page.

? Explain up front what you hope to accomplish in two to four points because if you think I want to listen to pointless rambling tangents, I will fall asleep with my eyes open right in front of you. Keep it simple and none of us will be stupid.

? Look at me when you talk because when I feel included and valued, I’m less likely to drift off and more likely to want to listen. Comfortably move your eyes and body throughout your presentation and I will stay engaged.

? Explain how I benefit because I want to know “what’s in it for me?” Like you, I operate out of self-interest first. Even if there’s not a direct return on listening to you, at least let me know how I play a role in the topic you address.

? Speak with genuine passion because falling asleep in my drool is not fun for me and certainly doesn’t build you a group of loyal followers. By speaking loudly and with enthusiasm, you become contagious, and I want to hang around and listen to what you to say.

? Remind me what I should be doing before you leave because I’m more likely to retain your message. Even better, if you can provide action steps for me to put into practice, your message might stick around and make our organization a better place to be.

? Be confident when you speak. If you want me to believe in you, you must believe in yourself. The biggest heckler in the room is not me; it’s you. Own your value and think positively even before you walk in the room to greet me.

I certainly hope you consider these suggestions because I want nothing more than for you to succeed when you present to me. If you do, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Good luck!

Your Audience

 

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based executive and organizational development firm. He advises clients on leadership strategies and has helped executives prepare for $3 billion worth of sales presentations. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales meetings and management conferences and has appeared in numerous media outlets. Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com.

Published in Chicago
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:00

Donna Rae Smith; Originality factor

When my great grandparents immigrated toAmericafromItalyin the late 19th century, they sought to assimilate. Like many newcomers, their goal was to work hard and blend in with their American neighbors.

A lot has changed since then. We’re a far more diverse nation than we were 100 years ago and technology has made the world a much smaller place. Success still requires hard work, but it no longer hinges on blending in. In fact, the opposite is largely true: In order to compete and thrive, individuals increasingly need to identify and magnify what it is that makes them different.

The same holds true for organizations: They must stake a claim to what separates them from the rest and create environments where employees’ diversity is an asset and an advantage.

It’s obvious to me that this is the wave of the future. Yet, I still encounter a surprising amount of resistance to embracing differences on a personal level. Many work environments continue to be characterized by an atmosphere of conformity. I can only assume that this is because people find differences to be threatening and uncomfortable. In this setting, employees are stifled rather than encouraged when they think or behave differently from the norm.

Working exclusively alongside people who share similar skill sets and worldviews is like trying to comprise a winning football team with 11 quarterbacks: You’ll be great at passing, but the rest of your game will be lacking. Or like trying to win a game with only two plays: It doesn’t matter how brilliant those plays are, you need greater versatility.

Today’s pioneering businesses know that thriving in a complex, ever-changing market requires being nimble and well-rounded. They know they must respond quickly and creatively to challenges and barriers. They do that by leveraging their “originality factor” — getting the most from the distinct skills and talents of each member of their workforce.

How do you maximize the benefit of your employees’ different skills, talents and views? By fostering a work environment that supports limitless, non-conformist thinking. The way work is produced dramatically influences what work is produced. You can’t separate process from outcomes. Here are a few proven ideas:

Cross-train. We can deepen our strengths when we actively seek to develop new, boundary-spanning skills and knowledge, like athletes who work their muscles through a variety of exercise routines. In the process we make ourselves more well-rounded and bring greater value to our businesses.

Limitless idea-making. Provide employees with an innovation room — a dedicated physical space where free-thinking is not only encouraged but expected. The space should inspire creativity. Its design is hemmed in only by your imagination. Think large work tables or no tables at all, pedestals, chairs in uncommon configurations, writing tablets, colorful pens or even crayons.

This space shouldn’t be reserved for special-occasions, but accessible at all times with the understanding that it’s for generating innovative and creative ideas.

Boost morale. A strong sense of team membership fosters feelings of inclusion. Once each team member believes that they are a valued member of the team, they’ll feel much more comfortable to offer creative solutions to problems.

Promote teambuilding through an emphasis on open and honest communication; encourage broad input during meetings, making sure that the stage isn’t monopolized by a few; publicly applaud team successes; and create opportunities for team members to develop relationships.

Push your boundaries. Most people have strong notions of what they are and are not good at doing. They tend to play to their strengths and quickly dismiss the time and energy required to learn a new skill, cutting off opportunities for growth. Push yourself and others to go beyond current strengths by experimenting with new and different skills and behaviors.

Businesses and people that embrace differences and actively experiment with them will overcome barriers and gridlock in an accelerated way and reach their targets more rapidly. Those who resist will be left behind.

As a leader, what are you doing to create an environment where differences are encouraged and valued? You can start by modeling what you value and desire: If you’re not afraid to be an individual and go against the grain, it frees others to do the same. Leaders who demonstrate a willingness to be different and set themselves apart will prompt others to follow suit.

But it doesn’t stop there. The work environment has to be one where different skills and strengths are valued equally.

Are you making the most of your originality factor?

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:00

Stephan Liozu; The next 50 years of business

The world is changing faster than ever. We now face megatrends of monumental proportions: a global population of 7 billion, greater disparity between rich and poor, increasing numbers of cataclysmic events, the rise of emerging countries, increased consumerism, increased social and technological complexity, increased globalization trends, and so forth.

As leader of a business, how do you face these trends and events?

Can you survive by conducting “business as usual,” or do you embrace, adapt and leverage their potential? Fundamentally, can a firm and its leaders operate without facing these trends and transforming their business to play a productive role in society?

For many decades now, economics and management scholars and behavioral scientists have studied and debated the role of the firm in society.

Why does the firm exist, and what is its role? From these discussions, the theory of the firm has evolved over the years from concepts of profit maximization (neoclassical economics) to customer satisfaction (customer-value theory of the firm) through the management of resources to create competitive advantage (resource-based view of the firm) and the organization of agents and actors to make choices and decisions (behavioral theory of the firm).

Among the vast array of derivative theories and multiple schools of thought surrounding the theory of the firm, none of them actually captures the fundamental question facing our businesses today: Why do firms exist in society, and what will their role be during the next 50 years?

More recently, the concept of sustainable value has emerged at the nexus of discussions about sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Based on Chris Laszlo’s work, this concept proposes that just “doing good” is no longer enough. Firms need to think strategically about their long-lasting value to all stakeholders and make it part of their strategic orientation.

This is a holistic approach that requires vision, action, support and resources. The following quote captures this concept well:

“Companies that are breaking the mold are moving beyond corporate social responsibility … to social innovation. They view community needs as opportunities to develop ideas and demonstrate technologies, to find and serve new markets and to solve long-standing business problems.” — Rosabeth Moss Kantor

So, you might ask, what does this mean for me? It means that you cannot ignore the megatrends. You and your firm can make a difference in society. The question then becomes how to get started.

The following are some recommendations for starting your journey.

Start small, but do it fully.

Select a few programs and partnerships to work on, and fully engage your firm and your staff. Less is better. At Ardex, we work closely with Habitat for Humanity and the local food bank, and we support veterans in need every holiday season. It starts at the top: Business leaders and owners are the organizational champions.

Capture the energy of your employees.

You will surprised by the amount of employee support you receive, as well as the positive impact on the organizational climate. You might not reach everyone, but many of your employees will be motivated and enthusiastic.

Leverage the power of social innovation.

Study the trends and capture their innovation potential without trying to make additional profit. Make it part of your regular business model and be realistic.

Include it as part of your DNA.

Sustainable value is not short term. It is a journey for the long term, and programs cannot be cut at every downturn. It is a transformational journey toward becoming a better corporate citizen and leading with compassion at the organizational level.

Whether you work for a small business or a large corporation, you can make a difference and create lasting value. Everything counts. The role of business is changing, and the best-in-class companies have emerged. Do not sit on the sidelines. Your community, your customers and your employees are watching. The world is watching. ?

Stephan Liozu (www.stephanliozu.com) is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors. He specializes in disruptive approaches in strategy, innovation, pricing and value management. He earned his PhD in Management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at sliozu@case.edu.

Published in Pittsburgh
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:00

Mike Berlin; Planning for the unexpected

In 2000, I founded Briteskies LLC, a Northeast Ohio technology company. While we’ve had our share of challenges, we had experienced steady growth and success for more than a decade, and I felt significant pride in my leadership role in the organization.

However, on Easter Sunday 2011, with little warning, I experienced a sudden, serious side effect of my Crohn’s disease. I woke up with a 106-degree fever that we ultimately found out was caused by e-coli in my bloodstream. Diagnosis and a subsequent nine-plus hour surgery to replumb my “insides” left me hospitalized for the next 30 days. All told, with the addition of another surgery, my recovery took over five months.

So for five months and without any time to plan, I was unable to return to work. The company I had founded, built and helped run day-to-day needed to go on without me. There was no certainty regarding when — and in what condition — I’d return.

Having suffered from Crohn’s disease since my 20s, I should have seen it coming. I had been told about the warning signs. Of course, as humans, and especially as entrepreneurs, we believe that it won’t happen to us. Additionally, as successful leaders, we feel that we are bulletproof. Otherwise we wouldn’t take the kinds of risks necessary to build a successful business or demonstrate the dogged persistence it takes to overcome obstacles in pursuit of a vision.

Those factors combine to make us a group of people who are less likely than most to consider, and plan for, the fact that one day the buck really may stop here.

Plan for ‘getting hit by the bus’

Now that it happened to me, I would like to let you know that there are several ways you can plan.

First, talk about the what-if scenarios with your team. By sheer chance, my co-founder and I had that very discussion four days before I got sick. We verbally agreed to a pay structure should anything happen to either of us.

Although verbal agreements are nice and worked out for me, I would still recommend that everything is put in writing. Meet with advisers or attorneys to determine what you need in place should you become incapacitated.

Next, ask yourself, ‘Can my company run without me? If I didn’t show up tomorrow, does someone know how to pay the bills? Sign paychecks? Are client projects being documented in a way that they can be easily handed off? Does my management team know where long-term projects stand?’

It is hard to carve out time to ask these questions, but if we as leaders build them into every aspect of our business, time will ensure the answers to these questions become part of how we operate.

What I wish I had known

I learned a lot of life lessons from this experience, but one tactical lesson sticks with me now more than a year later: While it’s important to plan the exit, it’s even more important to carefully plan your return.

Five months is a long time to be away. I didn’t take calls or respond to emails, and to be honest, I didn’t care. My goal was getting back on my feet and spending time with my family. In turn, the team at Briteskies rallied to make sure that our clients got the same level of stellar service they had come to expect.

I finally arrived back at the office with a mentality of, “I’m here, I’m back, let’s get to it.” But the company’s success in my absence meant that things had changed. There were different ways of doing things, conversations I had missed and judgment calls that had to be made and, consequently, were made.

It’s important for both sides to be patient and to communicate openly about the challenges of re-integrating back into the business. While it’s not possible to rewind and plug in exactly where you left off, it is possible to ensure a smoother transition.

Please don’t wait until you get hit by the bus. At times, we may forget how many people depend on us. Go above and beyond as a business leader and consider that it may happen to you and plan for what it will mean for your business, your clients, your employees and even their families. ?

About: Michael Berlin is the founder of Briteskies LLC. He can be reached at Berlin@Briteskies.com or (216) 369-3600.

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:00

Tom Nies; The sales Rubik’s Cube

The Rubik’s Cube — you may have seen this toy as a child and either solved it or became frustrated with and discarded it, never to think of it again. However, I ask that you recall this strategic puzzle now, as it is more relevant than ever in your business life.

There are more than 43 quintillion different combinations in which a Rubik’s Cube can be exhibited — that’s 18 zeros. That huge number makes it seem as though it would be impossible to solve the cube and have a solid color on each of the six sides, but it’s not.

In fact, speed-cubing competitions are often held and people try to break Australian Feliks Zemdegs’ world record time of 5.66 seconds to solve the cube. Michal Pleskowicz of Poland even holds the record of solving a Rubik’s Cube with one hand in less than 13 seconds.

Sales cycles, or buy cycles as I like to call them, are growing increasingly complex like a Rubik’s Cube. Information is readily available on the Internet and sales representatives — while still crucial to a sale — are brought in at later and later stages.

In fact, some reports say that a customer can know up to 80 percent of the information they will need to know before making a purchasing decision prior to speaking with any sales representatives.

As all this occurs, the Rubik’s Cube of that sale becomes more and more scrambled.

The analogy of the cube

Not only does the complexity of the Rubik’s Cube contribute to this analogy, but the sides of a Rubik’s Cube adeptly describe a sale.

Each of the six sides represents a person or department a sales representative will interact with in a cycle.

The salesperson never knows which combination he will be given in the Rubik’s Cube each time he calls on a customer. Things change on a daily and even hourly basis as customers deal with situations in their business, staff changes, budget requirements and every other critical detail of sales cycles.

It takes a very adept salesperson to understand how to solve each of these new combinations of colors by working with the situation to finesse the colors into the solved puzzle and — in a buy cycle — close the sale.

An untrained salesperson may find a sale daunting, but like those who train to compete in speed-cubing, a salesperson who trains in the best practices of selling, a complex sale can seem relatively simple.

Just like with a Rubik’s Cube, there are salespeople of varying capabilities. Some can solve the cube in six seconds, some in three minutes, others in a couple of days, and still others take months. It all depends on how much time they devote to the practice of turning those blocks and learning the intricacies of the cube.

Make an assessment

I am not advocating that you go out and purchase your own Rubik’s Cube to practice your sales — though they are a fun puzzle to play with. Instead, making an assessment of your strengths as a seller and then working to improve those areas where you’ve been lacking would be a better use of your time.

Even bad salespeople will close a sale every once in a while. But just like a person might solve a Rubik’s Cube by turning the sides without a plan, luck is not repeatable. You must know, as in any science — and selling is definitely a science — what you’re doing if you want to be able to repeat the action.

Over time, discipline in how you approach sales can speed up the process. I’m not saying that practicing selling will lead to a very quick sale as customers set their own parameters on their schedule, but if you know what you’re doing, you can speed up your portions of the sales process.

Practice will also help you better anticipate the twists and turns of the Rubik’s Cube that the sale will present to you. ?

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, health care and insurance. Go to tomnies.cincom.com/about/

Published in Cincinnati
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:07

Steve Klingel: A premium offering

Few issues have gained more national attention over the past few years than the rising costs of health care and the importance of a healthy workplace. More businesses and families are struggling to afford higher insurance premiums as they engage in a tremendous national debate about the government’s proper role in health care and health insurance.

In this environment, businesses that provide health insurance coverage for their employees are confronted with two critical tasks:

  1. How to find the most comprehensive health insurance plan with the least cost.
  2. How to educate and engage employees in a cooperative effort to improve their health on an ongoing basis.

The first task is appropriately specific to each organization and its insurance carrier. But the second priority — identifying and implementing effective employee education and wellness programs — can be universally applied to employers of almost any size.

NCCI recognizes that keeping employees healthy is an important means of controlling workers compensation costs, specifically in regard to the detrimental effects of obesity and the rising costs of treating injured workers.

As a self-insured corporation, we are faced with the same rising health care costs and need to control workers compensation expenses just as every other American business has to. But after looking at the research showing just how effective wellness programs could be, our firm determined to implement our own companywide push for employee wellness in 2008.

The mission of the initiative was to develop a multifaceted approach to assisting and educating employees in making behavioral changes designed to reduce health and injury risks, improve their ability to make healthy choices, and enhance their productivity and well-being. We also wanted wellness to extend beyond the physical to include mental wellness, financial wellness and more.

Get your numbers

The first step was encouraging employees to participate in annual biometric screening and online health assessments. We’ve sponsored the screenings — designed to raise employees’ awareness about their personal health numbers — since 2009. Just knowing their critical health care numbers gives employees the information they need to begin taking better care of themselves.

Choose a theme

A successful wellness program includes programs and activities around clear goals. One way to clarify the goals is to use themes. In 2010, our firm embraced the theme “Mission Nutrition,” which included offering a weight-loss class and nutrition counseling plus retooling our on-site cafeteria and vending machines to provide healthy food options.

The following year our focus was “Get Moving,” and we improved our on-site fitness facilities — adding additional exercise equipment, expanding hours and offering free membership to all employees.

Make it an ongoing effort

This year — as part of our “Choose Well” theme — we are building upon the foundation we’ve started by offering employees increased support and education around health and financial issues that may arise, adding programs including:

•           one-on-one nutrition counseling

•           on-site smoking cessation program

•           free annual flu shots

•           fitness center programs

•           celebration of national employee health and fitness day

•           participation in the local corporate fun run

•           financial workshops

•           a holiday weight loss program

The result? Employees have not only responded enthusiastically to the wellness offerings and our goal to improve overall health, they’ve taken action. Our company’s biometric screenings show that blood pressure and blood sugar results are better. Employees are increasing fitness levels, eating more nutritiously and smoking less.

In fact, many screening participants have moved from a medium- or high-risk category to a low-risk category since the original assessment.

Even as health care costs continue to rise with inflation, many companies are steadying overall expenses by taking this proactive approach to corporate health. In the end, making wellness a company priority not only makes for healthier, happier employees — it supports a healthy bottom line.

Stephen J. Klingel, CPCU, was appointed president and CEO of NCCI Holdings Inc. in 2002. Before joining NCCI, he was a leader with the St. Paul Companies for more than 25 years.

 

Published in Florida
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:46

Great partnerships = great success

Peanut butter and jelly. Nuts and bolts. Lennon and McCartney. Love and marriage. What do all these things have in common?  They represent great partnerships — things that go together, like, well, a hamburger and fries (when I’m not on a diet, of course).

Great partnerships epitomize the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Vanilla ice cream is great, right? And who doesn’t love an ice cold glass of root beer? But put the two together and you’ve created an American classic: the root beer float.

Business can be like this, as well. Your company may be doing fine, but perhaps it can do even better with the help of a well-chosen partner.

After many years of being an independent businessman, I’ve followed my own advice and taken on a partner for the first time ever.

I’ve always felt that to be successful, I had to genuinely believe in my products, so it’s safe to say that my high hits-to-misses ratio was precisely because I considered them all to be labors of love. The Gazelle, Body-by-Bison, Cheeks footwear — they’re like my children in many respects. Still, there are limitations to what one individual can do.

Look to expand

I’ve wanted to expand the reach of my products for quite some time, and the financial resources that a new partner brings are certainly a critical component to achieving this goal. However, the scope of the endeavor also means the partner that I choose must be able to provide more than just cash; they must understand the business I’m in, backward and forward.

Look at what a partner can bring to the table to supplement your strengths. If I approach things intelligently, I can work with my partner to get the right buyers with negotiation skills so we can source products at the best possible prices in order to make a decent profit.

Of course, having a partner who is also willing to put the money up to buy the products is also key because of the importance of having an equity stake in what you sell beyond just collecting royalties.

What makes someone a good partner may vary depending on the business that you’re in, but it’s critical to understand that a true partner contributes more than just money to the venture.

Decide if a partner is a good fit

At the end of the day, the decision to take on a partner will hinge largely on what you determine to be your ultimate goal for your business.

For me, at this stage of my life, it’s about expanding the availability of my products internationally and to broaden my retail distribution channels.  Some of it is driven by my desire to be the best I can be — but it’s also fair to say that I’m looking at monetizing the value of my trademarks, copyrights and patents so that there’s a tangible value to the company that can be sold someday.

The thought of giving up 100 percent ownership and control of your business to have a lesser share might be difficult at first. I admit it, I like calling the shots. But I also know that I can’t do everything at that level. The key is to focus on the big picture and try not to let your emotions get in the way of success.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently — nobody wants to run a company forever. And if you can build your company up to the point where it’s functioning well and is highly desirable, there’s a great deal of satisfaction in that, not to mention a nice pay day, when you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor — especially if they’ve been labors of love.

Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp., and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

Published in Columnist