At the highest levels of the martial arts, there is a test given to those who apply to become a master. Following hours of intensive skill demonstration, both in solitary forms and in combat with multiple opponents, the student is asked to sit in complete stillness on the floor. A thin glass rod is then placed in his hands, and he is given the simple instruction: “Bend without breaking.”
Over the next several hours, the student must bend the glass rod, using a careful combination of pressure, heat from his hands and patience.
Are the circumstances of your life or your job forcing you to change, perhaps even to the point of breaking? If so, then the lessons of this simple but demanding test can help you master the challenges you face.Apply constant gentle pressure.
Most students who hold the glass rod break it within the first few minutes. Because they are anxious to finish and see the end result, they unconsciously apply more and more pressure until the sound of the rod suddenly snapping in their hands signals their failure.
When the requirements of your job are changing, it’s easy to believe that you must master every new aspect immediately. Not only is this impossible, it can overwhelm you to the point that you lose your ability to perform even in areas where you were already strong. Focusing on too many changes at the same time will ultimately lead you to a break — in your results and in your confidence.
Instead, identify the few most important changes you must master and then build a plan for the daily or weekly improvements that will lead you to that level. Designate a specific objective for each week, such as practicing a new skill for a certain number of hours or reading background material, and then build your confidence by consistently accomplishing it.
Approaching a significant change through small adjustments will not only lead you to the outcome you want more quickly, it will make you stronger in the process.Use the heat of your inner fire.
Pressure alone would not allow the glass rod to bend. The martial artist knows that it is the heat from his hands that also enables the result to be achieved.
Every time you allow your mind to dwell on thoughts about what has happened to you, whether or not it was fair or who was to blame, you are literally dousing the inner fire that is essential to your success. These thoughts, whether true or not, place you in the role of victim — a role from which you will never generate the heat needed to change.
Instead, use the power of your mind to reinforce the outcome you truly want: success in this new chapter of your life.
The most powerful way to shift your thinking is through gratitude. Each time you are tempted to focus on your difficulties, simply begin to list all the things for which you are grateful. While it may feel awkward at first, saying phrases such as, “I am grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful to have a job and the ability to support the people I care about,” will literally transform your thoughts and will give you the energy and optimism you need to change.Be patient.
Real change takes time. You cannot force a plant to grow faster by commanding it to hurry. Most often, the pressure you are placing on yourself is actually greater than any that is being placed on you by others.
By making a plan for consistent progress and harnessing the power of your thoughts to keep your confidence strong, you will have the tools you need. All that remains is to give yourself time to make them work.
No matter how dire your challenges may seem today, they are just as likely to represent the beginning of a great new chapter in your life for tomorrow — one where the changes you are making are a needed prerequisite. By using the lessons of gentle pressure, inner fire and patience, you will be able to adapt and move into the future that is waiting for you.
Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at email@example.com.
Thom Freismuth is president and founder of FAS-EBA Insurance Services Inc. and has more than 37 years of experience in benefits consulting with a focus in executive compensation programs. Freismuth’s work experience has earned him multiple awards and association with professional societies. He is a life member of the Million Dollar Round Table and is included at the Top of the Table forum for top-producing independent insurance executives.
Q. How does cutting your health benefits help save you money?
Cutting health benefits absolutely does save premium dollars, certainly the higher the deductible the lower the premium. But what this does is it shifts additional expenses and burden off to the employees to higher co-payments and deductibles. While the employer’s savings are real, they can be short term. Often the increased employee out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles can potentially discourage them to delay medical treatment. That ultimately results in an increase in health care costs down the line.
Q. How do you determine what benefits plan is best for your company?
We first determine the company’s objectives. Once we determine their culture and what kind of benefits they want to provide to their employees, which is often driven by their retention and recruiting needs, then we go to the marketplace with those specifics and order quotations based on those plans. If they want to recruit people to their firm and keep the people that they have, it’s certainly incumbent of them to provide a high level of benefits.
Q. How can you effectively communicate the plan details to employees?
We suggest that you have a formal communication plan that is linked to benefits, using various media. You should have open enrollment meetings where the employees have an opportunity to hear about the plan. We believe that, if the company has an intranet, that the basics of the plans should be on the intranet, and a link to the set of providers should be easily accessible for the employees. We also use brochures, e-mail programs and ghostwrite articles for their company newspaper.
In today’s highly technological world, if your business doesn’t keep up with the times, you’ll be quickly left in the dust. And, in this day and age, a well-designed Web site is not enough. The rise of social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or even YouTube, has forced businesses to adjust their approaches to branding and marketing.
Despite other companies’ successes and a seemingly nationwide push to embrace social networking, many businesses are not jumping on the bandwagon, simply because they feel that it cannot and will not benefit their organizations. But, if done right, social networking sites can be great ways to drive your business into the future. They can help you build your brand, gain recognition around the world, reach audiences never before possible and network with clients, colleagues and customers. At the same time, however, there are risks you need to be aware of.
“With the proliferation of social networking sites comes risks and drawbacks, not the least of which are security and confidentiality breaches and employee nonproductivity,” says Peter B. Maretz, a shareholder with Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner. “But, one cannot ignore the business potential of such an efficient and comprehensive medium. Social networking is an inexpensive way of getting and keeping your name and business profile in front of your existing and potential clients. One can hardly argue with that.”
Smart Business spoke with Maretz about social networking and the risks and rewards that come with it.
What are the benefits of a company and/or its employees joining a social networking site?
We are only just learning the business value of social networking sites. In addition to ‘advertising’ yourself to clients, you are able to present a profile of your company to potential new employees, in an even more fluid and accessible way than a Web site. Now, you find information good and bad about job candidates that you never could before. Learning that a candidate is an avid photographer or triathlete might give you a better sense of how that person will fit into the culture of your firm. On the other hand, another candidate’s social networking site might indicate a maturity level you’ll be grateful you knew about before you invested in that person.
For the time being, a business presence on a social networking site is an indication of a more progressive company. It gives you an online brand, and it helps you attract more forward-thinking individuals. In fact, recent studies have shown that upward of 20 percent of young recruits would choose not to take a job with a firm or even leave a current employer if they were not allowed to access social networking sites at work.
Other reports indicate that limited access to social networking sites by employees while on the job, even if it is for strictly personal pursuits, acts as a mental refresher, resulting in more productivity overall.
Finally, when it’s necessary to share large electronic files, such as videos, with people at other offices, posting the video on YouTube is more efficient than trying to e-mail the large files.
What are the drawbacks?
Of course, the concept of limited access to the Internet is fine in theory, but that’s like asking someone to put away that open bag of potato chips. No one eats just one. The technical problems of the Internet also remain, and increased access to social networking sites raises the potential for viruses, spyware and hackers.
For reasons well beyond the scope of this article, people tend to have a heightened sense of empowerment on the Internet. With that comes the potential for abuse, including harassment. Likewise, employees with material on their personal sites that is considered inappropriate for the workplace may appear to be bringing material into the workplace by networking with co-workers, especially if it’s done on company time and using company equipment.
There are pitfalls in recruiting, as well. Say a candidate’s Facebook page indicates he or she is a member of a legally protected class of persons you wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of. Even if you reject that candidate for legitimate reasons, you may still face a wrongful failure to hire claim if it’s learned you accessed that candidate’s page.
How can a company protect itself once it joins a social networking site?
Make sure you have a strong electronic systems policy that clearly defines what your employees are allowed to do, and affirmatively address it with your people. Don’t be content to merely bury it in your handbook. Remind employees that you will be monitoring their Internet activities, and that while the occasional dalliance onto Twitter is OK, it must be limited.
Make sure your employees know the repercussions for inappropriate conduct, such as harassment and confidentiality breaches on social networking sites. And caution employees about mixing business and personal spaces. There are sites, such as www.ning.com, where you can create password-controlled spaces for exchange of information, videos, blogs and discussion groups among specific employee or client groups.
Peter B. Maretz is a shareholder with Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner. He regularly advises businesses on all aspects of employment law. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (619) 237-0909.
“Jim, I’m completely lost,” said an angry young man, raising his hand to interrupt my presentation. “As a vice president, I had an identity I believed in, and over the last several years, I’ve done everything that identity required, even sacrificing my relationships and my health. Now that it’s gone, what am I supposed to do?”
I was speaking to a group of executives who were searching for their next opportunity, having been laid off from their previous companies. Every seat in the room was filled, and in their faces, I could see a mixture of hope and fear, as well as anger and desperation.
“What advice do you have for someone who has nothing left to believe in?” asked the young man.
The murmur of agreement that echoed through the room following this question told me he was not alone. I prayed that the words I was about to speak would reignite his inner fire.
Believe that your life is bigger than your job.
Over the course of your career, it’s easy for your world to become very narrow. Thoughts about your job and the challenges you face start to consume you, no matter what you’re doing or whom you’re with. You slowly begin to value people and relationships based solely on how they can help you succeed, and you are unable to have a single conversation that isn’t punctuated by checking your BlackBerry for incoming messages.
And then, one day, the job is gone. Only then do you realize that you’ve lost the perspective and the sense of purpose that originally drove your success.
Stop now and remember the dreams you once held, the vision of what you wanted to do with your life and, more importantly, why you wanted to do it. Remember, also, the people and relationships that bring real meaning to all that you do. Open your journal or laptop and begin to write the story of your life as you will want it told at the end when all your days are finished.
Don’t allow your life to be defined by your job. Instead, rediscover your true vision and you will see that your job is only one important aspect of the life you were born to live.
Believe in the talents you have been given.
When you’ve been rejected from an interview or a position, your first reaction is to conclude that you were not good enough or that you somehow lacked the ability or the intelligence to succeed. But what if, instead, your talents were simply not matched to the requirements of the position?
Do you remember watching Michael Jordan play major league baseball? If you had only seen him on the baseball field, you would have judged him to be average at best, never imagining his amazing abilities at basketball. Likewise, you may have been struggling to succeed at a job where your greatest skills were not utilized or valued.
Begin to reassess your true talents by listing your greatest achievements and the core abilities that drove them. Use outside tools and coaches to identify other talents that may be dormant or undeveloped. Then build a profile of your ideal job one that focuses on the things you do best and watch your confidence begin to grow as you begin to align your career direction with your strengths.
Believe in the support of people who believe in you.
The strangest paradox in life is that when you need help the most, you are least likely to ask for it. Embarrassment, pride and shame are the real obstacles in your way, not the absence of your next job.
Reach out to the people in your life, ask for help, and then be willing to accept it knowing that one day, you will do the same for them. The power of your personal network to help find your next opportunity exceeds all other resources combined. In the process, you will strengthen your connection to the people who matter most.
Whatever the challenges you face, remember there is always a reason to believe in your purpose, your talents and, ultimately, in yourself.
As I said goodbye to the young man who had spoken, he smiled and said, “Thank you for reminding me of all I have to believe in.”
Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at email@example.com.
As a business owner, you’re always looking for ways to improve your company. You invest in the latest technologies, your buildings and equipment are efficient and functional, and you only hire the best and brightest. But, are you as diverse as you can —or should — be?
Surely you have anti-discrimination policies in place and you employ a variety of people from different races and cultures. The question is: Are your suppliers diverse?
Many companies have implemented supplier diversity programs, which help them find suppliers that have been historically disadvantaged for various reasons. A supplier diversity program will partner your company with businesses that are owned and/or operated by women; African, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans; gay and lesbian individuals; and veterans. It will also connect you with companies that may have been overlooked because of their size as well as those located in economically distressed areas.
“Supplier diversity programs are great social and economic development tools,” says Peter Wiersma, the manager of the supplier diversity program at Technology Integration Group (TIG). “If you have a diverse customer base, you can boost business by supporting the demographic groups of your customers. Plus, supplier diversity shows social responsibility — it is the right thing to do for your company and the community.”
Smart Business spoke with Wiersma about supplier diversity programs, how to implement one and why they’re so important in today’s business world.
What makes a good supplier diversity program?
First and foremost, you have to have complete commitment to the program from the owners down to the employees. If you don’t truly support supplier diversity, the program will never work. It often helps to tie in your supplier diversity program with an overall strategic plan to make the company more diverse. When you do implement a plan, establish goals for working with diverse suppliers. These goals don’t necessarily have to be sanctioned and monitored like other company goals, but they will help your program stay on track. Also, select an upper-level manager to run and monitor the program.
Create and maintain a comprehensive database that not only tracks how diverse your suppliers are but also determines what suppliers you should target in the future. Finally, you’ll want to promote your supplier diversity program on the company’s Web site, complete with information on the program, what companies you’ve worked with and what specific products and services you’ve purchased.
What benefits can a supplier diversity program offer?
As markets have changed due to the diversity of America, supplier diversity programs have become a part of many corporate marketing strategies. A successful supplier diversity program will enhance your company’s presence in the market, while strengthening your supply chain and boosting your image in the community. A supplier diversity program isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also a value-added way to fortify your company. The programs are most successful when they help your organization find new business. By partnering with diverse businesses, you’ll not only grow your company, you’ll help lesser-known businesses become economically viable. It helps your economy, the local economy and the country’s economy.
What is involved in implementing a supplier diversity program?
To take advantage of a supplier diversity program, your company first has to be certified by the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) or other certification organization, generally state
or local government agencies or the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The NMSDC — the leading private sector supplier diversity organization comprised of major corporations — has standardized procedures to assure consistent and identical review and certification. The certification process is long and arduous — you respond to questions and provide supporting documents that result in a 6-inch stack of papers establishing that the company’s qualifying owner(s) exercise unrestricted ownership, management and control of the business. You’ll also have to disclose personal as well as your company’s financial records. It’s a very probing process, and some companies are scared off by it. But, it’s definitely a process worth going through. Once your company is certified, the NMSDC or SBA will help you grow and nurture your program. If you are successful, you can become a national strategic sourcing partner. From there, you’ll be partnering with diverse suppliers across the country.
What consequences can companies see from not implementing a supplier diversity program?
If your company is owned and/or operated by any of the minority groups discussed and you don’t have a supplier diversity program and you’re not part of the NMSDC, you’re facing the obvious consequences of missed opportunities to grow and develop your company. If you’re not minority owned and/or operated, you should implement a supplier diversity program, but there are things to watch out for. The most important thing is to be completely honest about your company. If you falsify information, you’ll face a heavy downside, including fines, penalties, and the loss of current and future business.
If you don’t implement a supplier diversity program, you are not availing yourself of the resources available to grow your company. You potentially face the consequences of a stagnant business, a company culture that isn’t diverse and doesn’t grow, and the loss of potentially lucrative partnerships that you can only obtain through a supplier diversity program.
Peter Wiersma is the manager of the supplier diversity program at Technology Integration Group (TIG). Reach him at (858) 566-1900 x4340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eldorado Stone is a case study in the domino effect of an economic downturn. And Murphy Lents has had a front-row seat to watch the fallout.
Eldorado Stone Operations LLC makes stone veneer used primarily in housing construction, so when the economy sags, fewer people buy houses, which means fewer housing starts, which means fewer projects for Eldorado, a business with a nationwide customer base.
“In 2006, housing starts were approaching 2 million,” says Lents, the company’s president. “This year, they were forecasting somewhere around 550 (thousand) to 800 (thousand). It’s significantly off the peak. As a nationwide business, we have a pretty good view of what is going on across the entire U.S. What is happening in the building products industry is a direct reflection of what is going on in the housing markets.”
The company has been hit by cutbacks and layoffs, though Lents declined to discuss the specifics of Eldorado’s revenue and staff reduction. Hoovers.com lists Eldorado’s 2007 sales at $171.9 million and its employee count at 1,700.
While navigating the murky waters of an uncertain economic climate, Lents had still been charged with painting a clear picture of his company’s situation for his employees — and he’s had to do that while cultivating a positive, achievement-oriented mindset throughout the company.
“You still have to have an upbeat, positive attitude,” Lents says. “Our business, like most businesses, is about selling things. To sell things, you have to be upbeat and have a smile on your face when you see a customer. You have to be enthusiastic about your product and life in general.”
Lents won’t deny the current state of the economy and the effect it has had on his business. But when it comes to his employees, he can’t let bad news drag them down. It’s a mentality he’s had to tirelessly communicate and cultivate as the economy has worsened.
In times of uncertainty, the worst place you can keep your employees is in the dark.
If your company is forced to undergo cutbacks or downsizing, remember that your employees might not like the news, and you might take some heat for it, but the consequences of clamming up are potentially far more severe.
“You really need to make sure everybody on the team understands the situation,” Lents says. “Just as it’s important to keep your employees informed when things are going well, it’s important to do the same when things are not going well. When everybody understands the facts, if you have good people working for you, most people will understand why your decisions are being made, even though they might be difficult decisions.
“If everyone understands the reasons why you are doing what you are doing, it helps everyone have a good attitude. Uncertainty is the real attitude killer. It’s very dangerous to have people who are scared every day.”
Don’t dance around the subject when talking about layoffs. Layoffs and cutbacks are a negative development no matter how you slice it, but downsizing with an explained reason is always better than downsizing with silence from the top levels of the company.
“Nobody wants to be subjected to an arbitrary process,” Lents says. “But everyone understands that in a bad market, you have to do some things to stay healthy. That’s why we work hard to make sure that everyone has a good view of reality.”
However, a rational approach is often not enough, especially when it comes to layoffs, which are often an emotionally draining time in a company. Employees need to know the logic behind the decision, but they also want to see that you’re not just mechanically performing cutbacks.
Lents says you can’t manufacture sympathy or emotional appeal. It either comes from the heart or it looks phony.
“If you truly care about your people and care about the hardships that layoffs cause, they know. And if you don’t care, they’ll know that, as well,” he says. “That caring aspect isn’t just something in a leader; it’s something innate in the organization. It’s not just a business thing.
“That’s not the kind of news you want to send out in an e-mail. Whenever we have had to deal with work force reduction, we’ll have our senior people go out in the field, explain why this is happening and get all the facts on the table. If you have a good team spirit and a group of people that care about each other and the business, when times get tough, they’ll still care about the other folks on the team, even though you might have to make some changes on the team.”
As the economy sinks, your personal contact with your employees needs to rise. They need to see and hear more from you, even if you think you’re repeating the same messages over and over. Lents says repetition and reassurance from the top is essential to salvaging the morale of your work force.
“In situations like this economy, it’s more important than ever to have personal, one-on-one conversations with your team,” he says. “There really is no substitute for direct conversations, especially when things aren’t going well. That means you need to have a positive attitude yourself, and remember that even in a bad environment, there are still things going right. Even if you make the decision to close a plant, it can be done in a fair way and done well.
“When you talk openly about it, you get people involved in the decision, which means those decisions aren’t just being forced down through the organization from the top.”
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day challenges presented to your company. The challenges become magnified in an economic downturn. But you can’t let that get in the way of interacting with your employees and keeping them in the loop.
There is no secret formula to staying engaged. You have to make time for it. If that means blocking off time on your calendar for communication, you need to do that.
“Especially at the senior level, it is so easy to get wrapped up in the corporate-type things, which really don’t have to do with the business of making and selling your products,” Lents says. “That is really one of the big challenges, how to stay engaged at the operating level and not let other priorities stop that. That does happen, and you have to make sure you watch out. When you see that you’re starting to push communication down on your list, you need to pull the plug on some of those other activities and get out in the field.
“Those other activities not focused on your people are not the most important things on your plate. Sometimes they are the most pressing things but rarely are they the most important things. Sometimes you simply have to stop doing those things for a while. Like most things, it can almost always wait.”
The mindset to weather bad economic times must be forged during good times. It must be part of your overall approach to conducting business — an approach that you teach to your employees.
Lents says you shouldn’t lull yourself into a secure feeling when the economy is on the upswing. Always prepare for what might lie ahead, because six months later, the situation surrounding your business might have changed drastically.
“It’s difficult to prepare for a downswing because what you are used to preparing for and dealing with is explosive growth,” he says. “That’s what we had been dealing with in coming off such a large period of prosperity in the building products business. But within a six-month time fr ame, your serious questions can go from how are you going to grow fast enough to keep up with your customer base to suddenly dealing with the opposite: How can I shrink the company fast enough so that we can remain profitable even though sales are half of what they used to be?
“It’s difficult to predict. But you have to prepare for it, and when you see it start to happen, you need to be responsive. Six months is a very long time in business today. You have to react quickly. That reaction speed is really the key.”
You can prepare and maintain an ability to react quickly by revisiting your strategic plan at regular intervals.
“Looking back over the past 10 or 11 years that I’ve been in the building materials business, even when times were good, we would make some revisions to our strategy as often as every 60 to 90 days,” Lents says. “That’s pretty quick when you’re talking about strategic things. I think you have to, over time, build that reactivity into everyone’s thinking. You can’t get too wrapped up in the way you did things yesterday, you always have to look at new ways of doing things. If you can get everybody in that mindset, it’s just as important when things are good as when things are bad.”
You coach your employees to have a forward-thinking, ready-to-react mindset by constantly reinforcing it through multiple communication channels. Whether you are walking the halls, conducting the meeting or sending out a company e-mail, each opportunity provides you with a chance to reinforce your message.
“You have to talk about it a lot,” Lents says. “We talk about it quite a bit. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve told people to not expect things to stay the same. Nothing ever stays the same, so don’t try to make it stay the same. It’s important to keep saying that to your employees.”
Communication must also move laterally. Your company will remain more adaptable and able to react if employees frequently work together on projects in cross-functional teams. Lents says cross-functional teams help maintain a flat organizational structure and will give employees a complete view of the challenges your company is facing.
“When we talk about marketing, for example, we like to get someone from manufacturing in the room, and vice versa,” Lents says. “Having that inclusive and different point of view really helps the decision-making of the whole group. Business is a 360-degree process. You can be great at manufacturing, but it doesn’t help you if you can’t sell. If you’re great at selling, it won’t help you if your manufacturing cost is too high. That’s why the more people you can have on a team who can see the entire process, the better off you are and the better decisions you’ll be able to make.
“You have to maintain a good relationship between your staff. If you don’t keep that relationship reasonably well, ultimately everyone is going to suffer. It’s a challenge in a falling market to do that and have all the moving parts fit together. But it can be done.”
How to reach: Eldorado Stone Operations LLC, www.eldoradostone.com
The hits just keep on coming. It started last fall with the banking industry crisis and stock market meltdown that left most everybody shocked, awed and a whole lot poorer. These events triggered reactions, some knee-jerk, causing businesses to rethink and adjust their modus operandi to ensure that they could live to fight another day.
The government came to the rescue with the TARP bailout, followed by “Son of TARP,” aka the stimulus package. These elixirs included everything from stemming mortgage foreclosures all the way to fostering pork-laden catalysts to spur new jobs.
Culminating a now infamous all-night February congressional drafting session, Congress passed this imperfect panacea, more than 1,000 pages of legislation, and our new commander in chief signed the plan, making it the law of the land. This marked yet another well-intentioned but questionable “Hail Mary” government set of solutions. From the get-go of this economic debacle, few organizations escaped unscathed. Sales and profits withered and liquidity evaporated as consumers worldwide went on a protracted spending hiatus.
In response, companies around the globe started paring costs and programs. Virtually every day businesses proclaimed that because of the bold steps they were taking, they would ultimately emerge stronger while crossing their fingers and thinking, “From our lips to God’s ears.”
The question now emerging is: Were these newly minted methodologies and cuts penny-wise or just pound-stupid?
With the probability of little immediate relief from the sagging results on the horizon, management must again examine the newly made promulgations to ensure the decisions actually accomplished a goal.
In good times, smart businesses and organizations share the gains. Now, it is appropriate for companies to have their employees, suppliers and even tangential partners share the pain. The trick is that whatever is done must serve a purpose that can sustain the test of time. The worst scenario is eliminating something only to reinstate it, often at a much higher cost, because it was quickly recognized that the medicine was worse than the cure.
Most companies’ short list focuses on hunkering down and pruning excesses, be it people, processes or even unprofitable customers. Certainly, saving money in most cases makes sense, provided savings for the sake of savings don’t cause even further damage. As an example, is it smart to stop face-to-face meetings with your best customers just to save the price of a no frills, coach-fare plane ticket? Remember, if you’re not staying in front of customers, it’s a good bet your competition will be your more-than-willing substitute.
Not spending money to improve or maintain mission-critical undertakings can translate into huge blunders that companies will live to regret in the months and years ahead.
Here are a few penny-wise steps that could produce tangible benefits. Instead of arbitrarily implementing an across-the-board RIF (reduction in force), consider creative alternatives that will better serve the greater good of your employees, customers and business. Rather than the traditional spare-no-department layoffs of X percent of people, ask employees to take a temporary pay reduction. Turning this negative into a quasi-positive tells employees that they will need to endure this pay hit for, say, only six months. Then add the twist that normal pay rates will resume in November and December to make the holiday season just a little more tenable.
Do the math and determine if this savings tactic gets to the same bottom line number as more disruptive firings, while allowing you to maintain your full existing work force for the better days ahead.
Also, be creative with your suppliers. One example is if you have equipment coming off a lease, instead of replacing it with the latest and greatest updated version, make a deal to keep the older devise for a longer period of time and negotiate a meaningfully lower monthly fee. This is a real win-win, as your vendor continues receiving revenue on something that is possibly already written off of its books while you can reduce your cost.
Focus on the end objectives and consider made-to-fit alternatives, rather than using off-the-shelf traditional methods. Don’t be afraid to spend money to make money, and be weary of actions that risk saving yourself out of business.
Executives are paid to make the tough decisions and then sell them to key constituents, whether they are popular or not. Abdicating a thoughtful risk-reward assessment of significant economic counter-measures is not penny-wise and can prove to be painfully pound-stupid.
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 it for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003 to Boise Cascade Corp. Feuer is CEO of Max-Ventures, a retail venture capital/consulting firm, and co-founder and co-CEO of Max-Wellness, a new health care product retail chain concept that is launching in 2009. 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 email@example.com.
Last November, an African-American was elected president of the United States.
This one event illustrated how far our country has come in regards to race relations. Does it mean everything is perfect? Absolutely not. There are still many things that need to be done, but it at least shows progress.
Ten years ago, if I asked you if an African-American could be elected president, what would you have said? What about five years ago? In just a short time, attitudes changed, and Americans picked who they felt was the best person for the job.
In business, that’s essentially what we are trying to do every time we hire. We want the best person for the job regardless of race, sex or ethnicity. People would be foolish to exclude potentially great candidates based on personal bias. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but those that pursue such policies will ultimately suffer in the end as their talent pool is limited to only those that closely resemble themselves.
America’s demographics are rapidly changing. Minority and ethnic groups are rapidly gaining ground in personal wealth and influence and are having a direct effect on the marketplace. How are you potentially going to market to these groups if you don’t understand their point of view? Having a diverse work force can help you be more competitive. But beyond that, having the best person in every job can help you with more than just diversity outreach.
Obviously, CEOs see the importance of diversity. In a national Smart Business survey of CEOs, 48 percent indicated that diversity was “very important” when hiring and 62 percent have an official diversity policy.
We need to make sure we have created an equal playing field for all candidates. Having a diversity policy is one way to do this, but you can also start by reviewing where you are searching for applicants. A big failing of many companies when it comes to diversity is only posting jobs in places where nonminorities look. If your job openings are only seen by a predominantly white applicant pool, then obviously you are going to get predominantly white applicants. By putting in a little extra effort, you can get a better diversity of applicants and increase the overall quality of the candidate pool at the same time.
Diversity does not mean hiring people just for the sake of being diverse. In fact, of those surveyed, 83 percent said it’s possible to go too far with diversity efforts. You do not want to create a situation where you are hiring unqualified candidates for your positions. That just creates bitterness and sets up the person hired to fail — neither of which benefits your business. An equal playing field equals an equal opportunity for all.
Attitudes about diversity are changing. There is still much to be done, but the smart business leaders are taking a proactive attitude toward creating the most talented and best-equipped work force possible.
When it comes down to it, diversity is an issue of the heart. Biblical teachings emphasize that in the eyes of God, we are all the same people. Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal.” But some people don’t believe this in their heart. Once their heart embraces this idea, their beliefs and behavior will change, and when it does, America will take another big step forward. In the meantime, why not take a step forward at your business?
Other survey highlights:
? 89 percent said they hire across a broad range of ages to relate to a broad range of clients
? 72 percent said it’s important to their customers that they have a diverse work force
? 75 percent make some sort of effort to have a diverse work force
? 58 percent spend between $1,000 and $10,000 annually on diversity efforts
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with yourcomments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arkadi Kuhlmann is out to save the savers and convert the spenders. As founding CEO of online bank ING Direct, Kuhlmann and his organization are among the few current financial institutions whose previous practices are still getting great results. Kuhlmann and co-author Bruce Philp, a branding consultant who has worked extensively with ING Direct, recently released the new book “The Orange Code.” Kuhlmann shares some thoughts with Smart Business on the principles of the code and how ING succeeded in making saving a hip thing to do.
ING Direct began with the phrase, ‘We are not a bank.’ What traditional banking barriers were you were able to knock down?
It started with the idea that people really didn’t like their banks very much. They basically felt they were a necessity, but they charged a lot of fees and they do it in the way that suits the bank, not the customer. For us, we wanted to do things in a different way. Think of a bank as a retailer and not as a traditional bank with a branch, a counter and a lineup. So, not having any branches but instead dealing with electronics and cutting out paper, [these are] things that should save people time and should also save them money.
What advice can you give to help leaders convince their teams that a new company is different from the norm?
Mostly, leaders sell visions to their customers and to the marketplace to create a persona for the company. But at the end of the day, it’s the thousand, 10,000 or 100,000 touchpoints in the form of employees and staff that really make the business run. They basically have to internalize and believe that the vision is good and can be executed and will create success for them (personally) as well as for the company. Most leaders take the view that, ‘If you’re working for us, you automatically accept the mission and the vision.’ That’s probably a challenge that is underestimated by most leaders.
ING Direct made savings sound cool during a spend-first era. What’s the secret to selling a difficult concept?
From a marketer’s point of view, if you’re going to take something that’s not the current fad, you have to instead sell the value underneath, which is what we’re doing. It may not appear logical on the surface, but deep down it’s true and the consumer knows it.
If you were a farmer who put a windmill up behind his house to get the benefits of wind energy, he knows that it’s going to cost him more than fossil fuels. But deep down, the farmer knows that from a value perspective, it’s a never-ending source of energy and that somehow, we can find a way to make the economics work.
Why is the phrase, ‘We will constantly learn,’ an essential part of ‘The Orange Code’?
I think it’s a bit of refinement from what a lot of good, leading businesses already do. They’re focused on innovation and continuous improvement. The new twist that we have on it is that you can’t just improve at the margins. … It’s pretty clear that if you’re going to be a company that wants to constantly improve, you have to take nothing for granted and rethink the business from beginning to end every day.
As a business owner, you take care of your company’s assets. You have insurance on your buildings and vehicles, warranties on your equipment and backup for all your critical files and data. But are you taking care of your most valuable asset: your employees?
In addition to a health care plan, many companies — both large and small — are implementing corporate wellness programs to encourage healthy choices and positively impact workplace culture.
But, as we all know, times are tough. In today’s economy, companies aren’t adding programs; they’re cutting them. With that in mind, can an effective wellness program be implemented during a difficult economy? According to Peter B. Maretz, a shareholder with Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
“With health costs spiraling out of control, wellness programs initially came into vogue as a means of a controlling those costs, but they also have the added benefit of decreasing absenteeism and increasing employee productivity,” says Maretz.
Smart Business spoke with Maretz about wellness programs and how they can benefit you, your employees and your company.
What is a corporate wellness program?
The exact makeup of wellness programs vary widely according to the needs and goals of the company and its employees. A successful program can be as simple as arranging sports teams, organizing walking classes or running clubs or hosting speakers on lifestyle improvement issues. Professionals may be brought in to assess employees for such things as cholesterol levels. Companies can sponsor behavior modification programs to assist employees at losing weight or quitting smoking, including rewarding success in these programs with modest incentives, including cash. Firms can also reward such things as visits to a primary care physician or submitting to a personal health assessment.
How should a company go about setting up a corporate wellness program?
First, one must be mindful of employee privacy issues, particularly the obligations arising under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Under HIPAA, employment decisions cannot be based upon health conditions or characteristics, medical history, or existence or even perceived existence of a disability.
Programs such as personal health assessments or weight management assistance may raise HIPAA concerns. On the other hand, programs that reward based on participation in a wellness activity, such as incentivizing primary care visits or paying for a portion of health club memberships, do not. That being said, there are limitations on the amounts that can be contributed, the program must be available to all employees and accommodations must be made for employees who, due to their medical conditions, cannot participate.
One effective approach to limit HIPAA concerns is to retain an outside wellness program administrator. Such professionals can likely better tailor a program to effectively meet your goals but also serve as a repository for employee information, providing employers with aggregate data only — not data personal to any employee. This way, the company would not be exposed to a claim of improper use of an employee’s health information by showing this information was never disclosed to the company.
What other considerations does a company need to be aware of when implementing a wellness program?
Personal health assessments may also raise concerns under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, employers are limited in the inquiry that may be made related to any employee’s disability. There is an exception for voluntary wellness programs under the ADA, but the level of incentive may make the program so attractive as to no longer be considered voluntary.
Similarly, should an employer become aware of an employee’s disability by virtue of that employee’s participation in a wellness program, that employer may be deemed on notice of that condition, and then would be under an obligation to engage in a discourse to determine appropriate accommodations.
More elaborate wellness programs may also be subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which covers programs established or maintained by employers for providing benefits, including medical care, to employees. If a wellness program is considered to be providing medical care, a company’s obligations under ERISA may be implicated. As with HIPAA, this concern is mitigated or eliminated by engaging an outside wellness program administrator.
What are the keys to a successful corporate wellness program?
To be sure, the potential benefits of carefully tailored workplace wellness are real, and likely sorely needed in these trying economic times. For such programs to be successful, companies must first carefully scrutinize what their employees’ needs are in this arena and make sure the program is crafted to best meet those needs. Make sure the results are verifiable and quantifiable. Finally, make the investment in both wellness and legal professionals to ensure the cost savings realized in the wellness program is not eaten up by employee claims.
PETER B. MARETZ is a shareholder with Shea Stokes Roberts & Wagner. He regularly advises businesses on all aspects of employment law. Reach him at email@example.com or (619) 237-0909.