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Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:01

Kendra Ramirez; Social Media Strategy

It’s no secret that strong recruiting is essential when it comes to identifying and attracting high-quality job candidates. But in today’s world, what is the best way to recruit and what kinds of resources are available that will give you top results?

Once you have a solid recruiting and employment branding strategy in place, social media can be extremely beneficial in augmenting your efforts. Consider starting with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogging. The following are some effective methods for strengthening your recruiting strategy and employment branding using these popular social media tools.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most professional of all of the social networking sites and it has more than 100 million users. The median age of LinkedIn users is 41, and the average user has 60 connections. There are several features in LinkedIn that can be used for successful recruiting and employment branding including; Jobs, Groups, Events, Search, LinkedIn Ads and the Recruiting Solutions link at the bottom of the home page.

Twitter

Twitter has more than 150 million users and adds about 6 million new users per month. The median age of a Twitter user is 35 years old and the average user has 70 followers. Many companies are successfully using Twitter to boost their recruiting efforts. Your company can use it to interact with potential recruits, post job openings and provide informational tweets for your followers.

While many people think of Twitter as one site (Twitter.com), there are actually multiple Twitter-related sites and tools available to assist you in your recruiting efforts, such as search.twitter.com and Twellow.com. You can also use hashtags to categorize tweets by typing “#” in front of a category name. For example: #city, such as #Cincinnati, the city where you are recruiting; #skill set such as #sales. In addition, targeted chats for job seekers and recruiters are held every day on a variety of topics in Twitter.

Facebook

Facebook has more than 600 million users, and on any given day, 50 percent of its users log in. Facebook’s median age is 31 and its average user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 community pages, groups or events. To help support your recruiting and employment branding strategies, consider creating a Facebook business page. This can be a valuable extension to your website because it gives you the ability to engage and interact with your community and post job openings on your page. To build a Facebook business page, visit www.facebook.com/pages and click the “Create Page” button.

YouTube

YouTube has 2 billion views per day, and 24 hours of video is uploaded every minute. One way that you could consider YouTube in your recruiting efforts is to create a video to entice potential candidates, help them learn about your culture and share mentoring stories about your organization. You don’t need a full video production in order to post a video on YouTube — it is completely acceptable to use a Flip video camera to capture your story. However, be sure that the video length is two minutes or less.

Blog

Don’t forget to post your exciting job opportunity in your company blog. This also allows the reader to share the job posting with others.

One of our clients used these tools to hire more than 40 people last year saving them more than $200,000 in recruiting fees and job board postings. We use them for all of our job opportunities as well and have never posted a job on a career board.

If you haven’t used any of these social media sites for recruiting, you’re missing out on great opportunities to reach millions of people. Along with a social media strategy, these sites should become integral recruiting tools.

Kendra Ramirez is a social media strategist at Accelerated Business Results. Since 2005, she has helped hundreds of organizations successfully leverage social media for business growth. Reach her at Kendra.ramirez@acceleratedbr.com or (513) 615-3907.

Published in Cincinnati

Adam Coffey is fond of comparing the company he took over more than seven years ago, WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems LLC, to a World War II battleship.

“It was a World War II battleship that went out to sea in 194,7 and it never came home,” Coffey says. “Over the 60 years it had been running, everything still worked. The teak decks were beautiful and the brass was as shiny as it was on day one.”

The problem Coffey saw was that under this shiny exterior, there was a company that was hopelessly behind the times.

“The infrastructure and technology, everything was outdated,” says Coffey, the 500-employee company’s president and CEO. “At that time, the company had around 60,000 locations that it conducted business in. They literally kept track of every one of those locations on 3-by-5 paper index cards.”

Coffey traced this lack of progress back to the laundry service company’s founding family. He praised them for building such a strong business based on core values and beliefs. But he looked at the family’s next generation of leadership and saw a lack of drive to bring the business into the 21st century.

And that was making it pretty tough for the company to grow its profits.

“Over the 10 years prior to my arrival, revenue had grown by about $75 million to $80 million over what it had been,” Coffey says. “So they added about $80 million of revenue, but they weren’t making one more dime in profit.”

Coffey wanted to change that. But he had been recruited to the company and so he didn’t want to come in and cast aside all the history and heritage that the business had been built upon over the past 60 years.

“We wanted to modernize it, drive change, but at the same time, embrace the best parts of our culture without destroying it,” Coffey says. “We wanted to keep the uniqueness of the firm that it had had in being a larger family-owned and operated business where everybody felt like they were the piece of some gigantic puzzle and were respected and listened to and cared for.”

Set the right tone

Coffey didn’t know a lot about WASH when he joined the company and that was a good thing.

“The best part of being an outsider for me was I was a blank canvas,” Coffey says. “I had no preconceived notions about what I was going to find at the company. I knew they provided coin- and card-operated laundry equipment to apartment communities with common-area laundry rooms. I knew they did a lot of service calls. I knew they collected a lot of quarters.”

He also learned pretty quickly that the company was a bit behind in its technology. Beyond that, he was a novice. And that was the way he liked it.

Because it was going to make his trip to the company’s 28 markets across the country a whole lot more interesting.

“I carried around a banner with me as I went from city to city,” Coffey says. “Every time I conducted a meeting, I had the employees sign my banner with a permanent marker.”

The banner idea was a hit with employees, but these meetings weren’t just for show. Coffey wanted to get to know the people in this company he was now leading and learn from them what it would take to get it moving forward again.

So before he headed out on his tour, he composed not an e-mail, but a letter that he wrote and mailed to each and every one of his employees. He introduced himself and explained that he was going to be visiting their location. He referenced the company’s history and explained that he wanted to help and not hinder their efforts. And he closed the letter by explaining how important their feedback was to him.

“What you have to say is going to be heard and it’s going to be listened to,” Coffey wrote in the letter. “It doesn’t mean that everything you say is going to be adopted. But I’m going to be a sponge and you’re going to teach me about this company.”

Coffey wanted employees to have complete assurance that it wasn’t going to be his way or the highway when it came to making changes in the business.

“I knew some of the executives I had exposure to early in my career didn’t listen,” Coffey says. “They didn’t know the real world. There was a disconnect and they were out of touch. So I tried to add the personal touch. I tried to let them know, ‘Hey, I’ve walked in your shoes. I’ve understood your challenges and you’re going to help me effect change in this organization.’”

As he arrived at each location, Coffey did indeed take the time to meet with employees at all levels on the organizational chart.

“I spent time in each of the major job classifications that existed in the company,” Coffey says. “So I was out riding with the service techs. I was out collecting from machines with collectors. I was working in the plant with the people who do the refurbish work. I was traveling with the sales team. I talked to the people about their jobs. I observed the processes that they followed and the things that they did. I asked them about their challenges. I talked about their desires and their future plans and what they thought about how they could improve and modernize their business.”

What he began to see was that the people out in the field had become severely disconnected from the corporate office.

“What I found was people in the trenches were thirsty for leadership,” Coffey says. “It’s far more important to be a better leader than it is to be a better manager. I can surround myself with people who are smart. I can hire people who know the latest methodologies for managing a piece of the process or a business. But I can’t necessarily get all my employees to follow me unless I get out there and inspire them.”

If you’re not inspiring your employees and you’re not being clear with them about what they should be doing, they are wasting their time and your time.

“If you’re not communicating with them, they are expending energy every day and they are expending it in different directions,” Coffey says. “They may be doing what they think is right. They may be doing what they’ve been told by local leadership or management. But they are all expending energy. The job of a leader is to harness all of that energy and get it to move in unison like a flock of birds or a school of fish.”

Build a solution

As Coffey met with his people and got to know them, he tried to isolate themes. He wanted to note the things he was hearing or seeing over and over again.

“When I watch someone do a job and they tell me and I only hear it once, I’ll tend to discount it,” Coffey says. “But when I hear it 10 times from 10 different people, I start to see a trend.”

The wooden boxes containing index cards in company trucks were definitely a trend.

“They pull the first card out,” Coffey says. “‘Oh, I have to go here.’ They go there and they write on the back of it, ‘Joe was here on this date.’ They stick it at the end of the card catalog and they pick out the next card. ‘Oh, here’s where I’m going next.’ When you look at that over time with 60,000 plus locations, you’re losing business during the year, you’re gaining new businesses. Where do you take out this card? Where do you put in that card? How do you do that when you’re a human?”

Coffey knew that technology was the answer. He knew that GPS and electronic routing systems would make the work of his employees infinitely easier. But he still refused to take the approach of mandating anything when it came to change.

“I could have walked in and said, ‘You know what, this is the product we’re using,’ Coffey says. “But going to an enterprisewide system is one hell of a huge task and undertaking for my company. So what I wanted was buy-in from key constituents. We brought in all the manufacturers. I let the team decide what the best product or solution was for our company.”

The result was employees picked the same solution that Coffey would have selected. But because they worked through the process and came to a conclusion on their own, it earned a whole lot more support than if it had been a mandate.

“Assemble a team,” Coffey says. “Get some key stakeholders and bring some people in and present the problem. Let them be part of the solution. Then instead of one person selling this solution, I wind up with a dozen people selling this solution. They are part of it, they own it and they go back and become my local champions of change.”

Don’t fear change

If you want change to be embraced in your business, you can’t fear it and you can’t let your people fear it.

“There’s one myth that I’ll bring up that I’d like to dispel,” Coffey says. “Ideal organizations are stable and orderly. That is so far from the truth, it’s not even funny. A progressive company that is managing change and constantly working to improve itself is hardly ever stable and orderly. There will be growing pains. You have to communicate what the expectations are.”

You have to explain to people why you’re pursuing change and how the changes are going to help your people do their jobs more effectively. And if you’re the one that fears change and is holding back your business, you need to get over it.

“Don’t be content,” Coffey says. “If it weren’t for seeking change and looking for other opportunities and pushing the envelope and taking a risk now and then, I’m not a successful CEO. Force yourself to get outside your own comfort level and work hard to push yourself to achieve even more.”

The big things you change garner a lot of attention. But you take the time to talk to people and get to know them so that you can address the small things too and build an organization that is truly effective from top to bottom.

“You get your ’57 Chevy, you don’t paint it before you do the body work,” Coffey says. “You don’t do the interior while the frame is still being grinded on. There has to be some type of methodical approach. You have to recognize the totality of the job and then break it down into pieces that are appropriate and then break it down into the order that is appropriate.”

It’s that approach that had Coffey feeling perfectly comfortable when he arrived on board at the company with very little knowledge of the business. He had no fear of the unknown and that put him in a great position to learn from his people.

“A lot of times, executives can become closed off from the people in the trenches,” Coffey says. “It’s unfortunate when that happens. But when it does, you lose touch with what is the reality? What is the customer’s reality? What is the employee’s reality? What’s going on day to day in all of these jobs that are being performed by people in the organization?

“When I saw a job classification, I saw people. I knew what those people did for a living. I understood what their challenges were. It gave me a bigger sense of reality very quickly to where I could assess what the challenges were that we faced.”

Coffey’s efforts and energy are paying off. After growing by only 1 percent in the three years before his arrival, the company has grown 32 percent in the past three years and earned a profit of 9 percent in 2010 alone with revenue of $231 million.

“Good ideas come from everywhere in the organization,” Coffey says. “You need to create a culture where that person at the bottom of the line can have an idea and it can be a good one and it doesn’t have to be owned by you.”

How to reach: WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems LLC, (800) 421-6897 or www.washlaundry.com

The Coffey File

Born: Chicago. I grew up in southeast Michigan.

Education: La Salle University, Philadelphia

Coffey’s path to success: I left home at 17 and went into the service. I cobbled together a business degree over time. I was in the U.S. Army for four years. I was a radar repairman and I worked in missile defense systems and radar stations.

At General Electric, I started off as an engineer and then crossed over to business after I finished a degree program through General Electric at the famous [John F. Welch Leadership Development Center] in Crotonville, N.Y., which was a great place to learn to run a business. I learned public speaking. It was Jack Welch and his speech writer who taught the class.

What one person in history would you like to meet and why?

The one person I’d want to sit down with is Jesus Christ. In the entire world, no matter what your religious beliefs are, no one disputes the man lived and no one disputes the man made an impact on mankind as a whole. I would like to learn from the man. Why am I here? What is my purpose?

If you want to talk business people, I have been fortunate to sit down with a lot of the country’s leading business people. What I tend to find is that CEOs and presidents are inside of everybody. There is no special boy’s club or girl’s club that you need to belong to to become president.

Some people get there through an Ivy League education and work their way up. Some people tend to work their way up from the bottom as I did. There’s no reason anybody out there can’t become a CEO or a successful person.

Published in Los Angeles

Audrey Dunning is CEO of Summa, an IT consulting and software engineering firm. Dunning and the folks at Summa are helping companies cut through the hype and understand how they can identify real opportunities for accelerating the business value for their business with cloud applications.

“That’s our role as a consulting and integrating firm,” Dunning says of the $14 million company. “Cloud computing is really a way for companies to add new capabilities, increase capacity, essentially on demand, without needing to invest in new infrastructure, training new people, and licensing new software.”

Cloud computing is being used more and more and it’s companies like Summa that help others better understand how it can be utilized to it’s best and fullest potential. “It’s clearly one of the fastest growth opportunities that we’re seeing in the business,” she says. “Some see it as a seismic shift in IT and others just sort of see it as a next-step evolution.”

Generally, cloud computing is a subscription-based pay-as-you-use versus more traditional models of acquiring IT computing resources. People tend to think of cloud computing as covering three areas. “Software as a Service (SaaS) is one,” Dunning says. “There’s also the notion of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). That’s an aspect of cloud computing about getting access to compute cycles. The third area of cloud is Platform as a Service (PaaS). Platform as a Service is probably the newest notion of cloud that’s really hot right now for 2011.”

Whatever area of cloud you may be considering or already using, it is important to have someone help you make sense of it all. Summa uses the cloud application readiness assessment offering.

“That allows us to work with an organization, help them evaluate whether [cloud] fits and the intersection of the business value of a cloud solution with technology within their company,” she says. “It looks at the economic drivers for leveraging cloud in their environment. It helps educate them on the different cloud types and associated services that might be out there. We help them take a look at the real opportunities in their organization and where they can take advantage of it. We help them rank the different potential initiatives and which might have the nearest-term business benefits.”

Cloud computing is everywhere right now and gaining a solid understanding of it and where you can use it moving forward is what will set your company apart.

“Starting with a pilot somewhere is something we advocate a lot to take a look at what are the candidates,” Dunning says. “Pick a place to get started and then work through a pilot application. Something we advocate a lot to organizations is transitioning to new technologies in an incremental way versus a big bang approach.”

There is a lot of information available so you’ve got to take that into account and make sure you know what area of cloud you want to start using.

“There is a lot of hype around the cloud right now and a lot of product vendors and technology vendors are seeking ways to rebrand their solutions with cloud in the name,” Dunning says. “You have to be a bit careful of the vendor hype. You have to educate yourself and really understand your organization. Take a look at where it might make sense to get started based on the needs of your organization and priorities and your readiness to adopt a new solution. And obviously work with a provider who can help give you good advice in that process. You have to get educated about the space and what it is and what it isn’t and where would be a good place to get started.

“There’s all sorts of research and statistics out there that say large percentages of organizations are going to be shifting to this model. I think at this point it’s become something to not really avoid, you have to have an eye to it. You have to look at where you can get started and get your feet wet.”

HOW TO REACH: Summa, (412) 258-3300 or www.summa-tech.com

Look Out

While cloud computing is stirring up a lot of interest, Software as a Service is still largely the model that most companies are utilizing.

“Salesforce.com is an example,” Dunning says. “Salesforce.com is a pretty popular application for customer relationship management and sales force automation. The Software as a Service model is basically a way to deliver functionality to many customers at once through a service versus installing that software on premises.

“Some of the advantages of that to businesses are it increases their agility and the ability to bring up new functionality and new applications quickly. It has the promise of reducing their costs.”

Summa got involved in that particular part of the cloud computing space. It acquired a company last summer.

“We acquired a local firm called Harvest Gold,” she says. “They were an existing Salesforce.com business partner, so their experience was more along the lines of helping organizations with their sales business processes. As more companies and larger enterprises are looking to the SaaS model for deploying application functionality, Summa was involved with Harvest Gold as a partner. We saw an opportunity to bring Harvest Gold into the firm as a way to really represent an end-to-end solution from the business through the IT organization. It helped to fuel our growth.”

Published in Pittsburgh

Eileen Gittins knew creating an online book publishing business meant she wouldn’t have physical stores where she could her meet customers face to face. And yet, she’s found other ways to reach out, from sponsoring international events to opening temporary pop-up stores in London and New York.

“Without having permanent retail locations, when you are an online brand like this whose product makes physical things, how do you get out there in the physical world?” says Gittins, founder, president and CEO of Blurb Inc.

And by answering the desire of digital consumers for shared, interactive experiences, she’s grown Blurb to $45 million in revenue in five short years.

Smart Business spoke with Gittins about how to build relationships with consumers as an online brand.

Focus on your customer. You are just uncommonly focused on the people, on your sweet spot. And just staying ahead of that is the way that you continue to become the one that matters.

For us, it’s the creative enthusiast and the creative professional markets. So we’re explicitly not focused on what others call the ‘chief memory officer,’ the mom at home who’s got 40 minutes to whip something out before the baby wakes up. That’s not our market. Our market is people who are creative at some level and who are really enthusiastic about their photography, their design — whatever it is, they’re into it — all the way up through creative professionals. When you focus your efforts like that, it becomes possible to stay ahead of the curve because you’re not spread too thin.

Build an experience. Instead of looking at this challenge as: We print books, so that’s the business you’re in, we said, ‘No, no, no.’ What this is about is experiences increasingly for people who are digital natives and they want an experience of making the book that frankly helps them relive the content, whatever it was — their trip to Jamaica, their family reunion, a recipe book, when they had that fabulous meal for Christmas every year when they were a kid.

We knew if we built an experience, where the experience of making the book was frankly as fun and rewarding as getting the book, then this would be the kind of product that people would talk about and it would get its own viral adoption.

Create opportunities to connect. Every year we have a big, worldwide competition called ‘Photography Book Now.’ It invites people all over the world at all levels of skill to submit their books in different categories. And it’s not just a competition online. … Last year we had meet-ups in 11 cities all over the world, so that there are opportunities for people to come and meet us and frankly for us to talk to folks who are customers or would be customers about their experience.

They feel a personal connection to this brand, and I think it’s because we enable them to do something that makes them look better than they ever thought.

This last year we had almost 40 percent of the entries from outside of the United States, which is why we go to Paris and Berlin and London and New York and L.A., Toronto, just all over the place in these meetups. So that’s a huge part of our approach to the markets. We joke here — but it’s not a joke — that offline is the new online for Blurb. Our books are physical, tangible things, and people want to meet up in physical space and check each other’s books out, look at books, hold books — hold them in their hands.

Share your passion. I joke that my title should really be chief storyteller not chief executive officer, because that’s how I manage and lead is through stories, great stories that help people understand why things matter, instead of just the data telling them why things matter. When there’s an emotional component to that, it’s memorable and actionable.

The first thing that we look at in terms of hiring people is passion … and the reason for that is if you are passionate about something, anything, whether it’s skydiving or making cupcakes, then you are going to have a lot of empathy for our customers, who are extremely passionate about the thing that they are making. You get it. You just get it. So that’s like music is to you. That’s like skydiving is to you. This is somebody’s passion.

How to reach: Blurb Inc., www.blurb.com

Published in Northern California

Jon Yob’s company is filled with talented, capable people. Yet when building a team, he looks for more out of his employees than just, ‘Do they have the right skill set?’

“[It’s] a passion for what we do and a commitment to the company and the ability to be a strong team player, because ultimately you can have the best A player, but if they won’t work as a team, you’re not going to meet your objectives,” says Yob, founder, president and CEO of Tampa-based Creative Recycling Systems Inc.

It’s through strong teamwork that Yob and his 237 employees have grown the company in the midst of a global financial crisis.

Smart Business spoke with Yob about how he fosters a culture of teamwork.

Give people time to fit in. We have a culture where people really like each other … but it’s a process to bring them on board and it’s a very important time; they have to understand and see that this is maybe a little bit different culture than what they were used to. Physically, within six months, you’ve got a pretty good sense, and maybe sooner.

There’s a certain amount that they have to take the initiative for themselves and they have to really care and commit themselves to really doing an excellent job for the company. It’s just a process of bringing them on board and being fair to them, because the first period of time is a significant adjustment.

Be clear about people’s roles. With my employees I’m very forthright. I do not try to sugarcoat because they expect from me what I really think. I think [2008] was a time of uncertainty, and we did not know necessarily all of the issues we would deal with as a result of the financial crisis. What I did know is that we were in a very good position and that with a plan for incremental growth we would be fine.

These people are looking for someone to help them understand where it is going, and that, to me, is the critical role of the leader ? it’s for people to have a sense that ‘I don’t know everything that’s going on, but I believe in the leadership and I’m going to do what I need to do as my part of it, because I believe that we’re going to do what leadership is telling us we can do.’ That tie in is critical for every organization.

Show you care. Any leader in any organization faces challenges in regard to building their team and really making sure that you value and you care for your employees. Those are very important things ? that you are genuine, that you care. People see that. When you care about people, you’re going to get one level of return back to you. You’re going to get one level of dedication. If you cannot care, you will not get it.

I believe that my team really gets it done, and I can’t say enough about how good they are. They are a great group of people, but I think it takes a leadership, and that leadership should really excite, a passion and the sense of what we are capable of accomplishing – they truly believe in that.

Look for team players. I’ve seen people who maybe work better as loners, and that’s OK in maybe some aspects of business, but when it comes to your core team, you really need good team players. And it’s really more about the character and the ability to work as a team really than it is if you have all A-plus people. That’s my opinion. Those are the ones that stick with you, that are loyal.

To me, I know that I have total confidence in my team. Part of that is because we’ve worked together for so long … I think for me what it has really done is allowed me to be the leader and spend a lot more time on the overall plan and on innovation and interacting with people who can really help the company go to the next several levels.

HOW TO REACH: Creative Recycling Systems Inc., (813) 621-2319 or www.crserecycling.com

Published in Florida

Rob Myers thought the grass looked at least as green on the other side, so he took a leap.

He was on a stable regional banking career path at Wells Fargo & Co. after rising through the ranks to president of the South Orange County market’s retail channel.

“At that point, I realized I needed to try something a little bit different to expand my horizons and learn a different line of business,” Myers says.

With the help of Wells Fargo’s Executive Development Program, Myers went over to business banking, becoming the division manager in Southern California after a year of training.

Some may call it a meandering career path, especially since last August when Myers came back to the retail side as the regional president of Orange County Community Banking. But Myers sees veering off the traditional path — even within the same company — as a growth opportunity. Whether you’re switching business lines, taking a new position or pursuing other development opportunities, career mobility is important for enhancing skills at any level.

“If you’ve only lived that line of business (and) if either the economy dictates a change in that business or if the company dictates a change, then you become very limited in your options,” he says. “But if you expand your horizons … you become more valuable to the company.”

Myers’ development serves as an example to the 1,750 employees he manages in the region, which had $15.7 billion in deposits as of June. He encourages them to individualize their growth goals, even if that means straying from the traditional career path.

“If we are fostering an environment where we’re communicating and celebrating those successes, [like] switching business lines, then I think people realize they have the permission to explore things that will allow them to grow,” Myers says. “They’re not going to be pigeonholed. They’re not going to be stuck. It’s great for the company; it’s great for the team member.”

Plan for development

Myers’ move began with a plan, as all courses of career development should. Working with Wells Fargo since 1994, he realized his passion for small business banking. He actively researched other areas of the company that would allow him to explore that —seeking a position that would align with his passion and enhance his skills instead of just following a predetermined hierarchy.

“You have to be really careful and calculated in when and how you move,” Myers says. “To move for the sake of moving isn’t a benefit. You really have to identify what you’re passionate about and what you have skills for and what you’re doing today that’s transferrable to the job and the line of business you’re looking to go toward.”

Any kind of career development should be part of a long-term strategy around where you want to be and what you want to achieve.

“To go somewhere that isn’t congruent with what you’re doing today or where you want to go doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he says.

To instill a growth culture and help employees view development as an ongoing strategy, Wells Fargo provides tools for plotting career paths. Managers help guide direct reports through the planning process.

“Whatever your course is, if you want to be successful in the job you’re in and stay there, we have different programs and classes and trainings,” Myers says. “If you want to progress, we have made it very clear what the options are. We know that the opportunity to learn and grow and develop is something that keeps people here and keeps them engaged and developed and makes them successful at what they do, and we make it very public what the routes are.”

For example, an aspiring business banker who comes in as a personal banker would need to progress through the ranks to become a business specialist. But because each employee has different aspirations, career paths are more about helping employees get to their destination, wherever that may be.

“Not everyone takes the same route,” Myers says. “It really is about what you’re skilled at, what you enjoy doing and where you want to go. … It really is about helping them achieve whatever they want to achieve. If it’s promotion or just getting really great at the job they’re doing, both are important, and there needs to be development plans in place for both those types of people.”

That’s why it’s important to provide options. Wells Fargo employees periodically re-evaluate their career paths with a flowchart-type diagram that maps out some possibilities, whether a teller wants to pursue branch management or wealth management — or take care of horses for the stagecoach.

By helping employees understand the skill sets necessary in various positions, you can equip them for any direction they take. To determine the skills necessary in each position, Wells Fargo analyzed previous employees, comparing and contrasting key characteristics of both the successful and the unsuccessful to qualify the definition of a natural fit.

“Something that will make you successful in one job may not make you successful in another,” Myers says. “The key is identifying what a successful team member looks like where you’re going, what they do every day, what the characteristics are.”

Align passion and skill

Myers underwent a year of hands-on training for his new position to ensure a fit. Now, as a coach, his challenge is making sure employees align with opportunities.

“The first thing as a manager is to understand what opportunities are available,” Myers says. “The ability to work with partners [to] identify the traits of the successful folks that they have is important for a manager. I want to make sure, as I work with my team member, that if I identify those same characteristics, I know that may be an opportunity.”

This requires a balance of understanding the employees you’re coaching and being aware of opportunities.

Don’t limit mentoring sessions to a couple of times a year. Coaching should be an ongoing effort of continuous conversation. In addition to one-on-one meetings, for example, Myers may observe his direct reports coaching their direct reports to see how they function. That candid observation will help you get to know your mentees better, which will make it easier to match them to open opportunities.

“It’s really hard for a coach to watch the scoreboard without watching the plays,” he says. “If we’re truly in the game watching, we’ll have a better idea of what their strengths are and what they do really well and what the areas of opportunity are. And if we understand what our partners’ groups do, then we’ll be able to say, ‘You have these great skills. I think they’ll be transferable here.’”

Matching employees with opportunities is a matter of closing gaps between their current strengths and the required skills. Sometimes, it’s just not realistic, like when employees don’t possess the skills for the management position that they desire. That’s where you need frank conversation, because pushing a square peg into a round hole won’t benefit you or the employee.

“Sometimes, they want to jump into a position that they’ve always aspired to do,” Myers says. “Well, in observing them, their skills aren’t aligned with that. It takes the courage of a manager to say, ‘Look, this isn’t consistent with what you’re (ready for). You may have a passion to do it, but my goal as a leader is to make sure you have passion and skills. When those two are aligned, only then will you be successful.’”

Good coaching means the door of opportunity doesn’t close there, though. Sometimes, it’s as easy as steering them toward another opportunity that does satisfy both passions and skills. But the perfect position isn’t always available, so a good coach helps employees prepare for the next step of growth — even if that just means suggesting a course or assigning a project to develop untapped skills.

“Show them that you may not be ready for what you’re looking for today, but let me find something within the job you’re doing today that could help you get better prepared for that,” Myers says. “How can I fit someone within the framework of what they do every day today that still has a learning opportunity for them, at the same time helps the company?”

Stay employee-centric

What if, through this extensive career planning and soul-searching, an employee decides that his or her calling is in another field? Is it counterproductive to develop employees right out of your company? At a big company like Wells Fargo with 80 lines of business and 9,000 stores, Myers can usually find something with the organization to suit anyone. But that’s not always the case.

“If you have someone that you know isn’t engaged and they’re looking to do something else, you keep the team member at the center of what you do — and if it means losing them to a different industry, then so be it,” Myers says. “I think that’s the best thing for the team member. If you don’t do that, you have a team member that’s not engaged, that’s not working for your customer, that’s not doing what they need to be successful and is not happy.”

Stay employee-centric by continually communicating and celebrating development —even for untraditional paths.

“I’ve seen far too many examples of companies that, when someone promotes outside the line of business, it’s frowned upon,” Myers says. “There’s nothing that gives me greater satisfaction than seeing one of my team members grow to a different job — and if it’s outside of the group that I’m in, that’s fantastic. If we’re doing the right things from a succession-planning perspective, we’ll have someone that can jump into that role.”

Being focused on employees isn’t just about creating a warm, fuzzy feeling internally. It really translates into overall business success.

“This is about our team members growing and learning and succeeding,” Myers says. “If we keep the team member at the center of what we do, we’re going to have successful, well-rounded team members in all of our groups. We’re going to have advocates for the company. We’re going to have lower attrition rates.

“If we have really well-engaged, focused team members who are developing, it’s going to result in satisfied and engaged customers and then our stock price goes up, our shareholders are happy, everything works. But it starts with that engaged and developed team member and if you don’t have that, then whatever success you have is going to be short-lived.”

How to reach: Wells Fargo & Co., (800) 858-4062 or www.wellsfargo.com

Making the Move: Tips for scaling the corporate ladder

Whether you’re switching lines of business or exploring a promotion across the country, executive moves are challenging. Rob Myers, who successfully navigated from retail to business banking and back again at Wells Fargo & Co., shares a couple tips.

Do your research. Myers sought key business banking players at community events and meetings to inquire about the job he was jumping in to.

“I approached them not with, ‘I want your job,’ but, ‘I really want to learn more about what you do and how you do it and what you’re looking for in people,’” he says. “I would find out what they liked, what they didn’t like, what their challenges were, what their opportunities were. I identified who the managers were. I found out about career opportunities — not just the job I wanted but: Are people moving? Are they developing? What’s their retention rate?”

On broader scope, also look at the potential job’s viability in the overall marketplace. Myers evaluated economic drivers in Orange County like employers and jobs. He affirmed that many employees work at small businesses, and that Wells Fargo was investing capital in business banking to better serve the owners.

“I’d like to look five years from now and say, ‘OK, is my line of business going to be operating and growing, or is it a line we could and would contract?’” he says. “You have to do a great deal of research into how the business line fits into the community, where you think the economy’s moving, are there any regulations coming down the pike that could impact the business?”

Learn to learn again. The challenge of moving around once you’re in an executive position is that you go from senior council to being a freshman again.

“I knew my business really well and so my learning curve (shifted),” Myers says. “In jumping into a different business, you really have to learn how to learn again — and you’re learning from people that you may be managing, but they know far more than you do. You have to be humble and modest and appreciate what they can contribute and how they can help you and the fact that you’re dependent on them.”

Wells Fargo’s Executive Development Program exposed Myers to most business banking positions so he learned firsthand what was important to employees and how each function drove success.

“I don’t think everybody knows everything about an organization or a job,” he says. “It would be really arrogant of me to think that I do. In any job, I want to make sure I’m serving the team members that are working for me. I realize that they have a lot to offer me. Everybody has the power to learn different things and they can make an impact on our organization.”

The Myers File

Education: B.A. in social psychology from the University of California at Irvine; MBA from Pepperdine University

What was the first job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

My first job in the world was delivering pizza when I was in high school. I realized then that whatever I did, I wanted to do really well. I wanted to be the best pizza delivery guy we had, and that was my goal — not to beat everybody, but I wanted to go home at night and say, ‘I did the job well,’ because every job out there is important and we need to approach it with that passion of being successful.

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose and why?

I would love to time travel. I’d love to see what the future holds. I’d love to see things that have happened in the past, meet people in the past. I’d love to go back and see Henry Wells and William Fargo and find out what their mindset was in starting the business and tell them what their business has become 150-plus years later. I’d love to meet some of our past leaders, people that are really influential in history. I would love to meet some sports stars; I’d love to witness some previous sporting events.

What was the last book you read?

I started reading a David Baldacci book. I like the mystery, spy and murder books. He’s probably my favorite. Every six months, he comes out with another book; then I know what my vacation reading is.

Published in Orange County

When local airports canceled flights to Portland during a horrible snowstorm, many travelers were left stranded in Seattle hotels on Christmas Eve. One of the hotel’s guests hadn’t celebrated Christmas Day with family in three years and thought he would be missing the holiday once again.

Instead, the hotel’s bellman, an employee of Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC, offered to brave the eight-hour trip through the snow to drive the guest home to Portland in time to spend Christmas with his family.

Niki Leondakis, Kimpton’s president and COO, says that what differentiates her company from competitors is the fact that employees are always striving to create meaningful customer experiences, or “Kimpton moments,” by going the extra mile to take care of guests and show them random acts of kindness. In the Market Metrix Hospitality Index, Kimpton consistently achieves the highest scores in customer satisfaction and emotional attachment of any U.S. hotel company. This commitment to customers played a key role in the company’s strategy for dealing with the impact of the worldwide economic recession.

When your business is facing financial or economical challenges, you have to reinvest in the areas that set you apart from competitors and that make your business successful. For Kimpton, this meant reinvesting in the people who make Kimpton moments possible every day — the front-line employees at its hotels and restaurants.

Prepare for change

Easing employee fears at the start of the recession was a primary concern for Leondakis. Stressed out employees typically don’t deliver top service. Many people were fearful about the future of the company, seeing friends and family lose jobs and hearing about mass layoffs at high-profile companies. They were under a great deal of personal and professional stress that was directly related to the economy. Leondakis realized employees needed help managing this added stress if they were to overcome the new challenges placed on them.

The first step was to provide them with tools and information to better manage this stress, such as situational leadership training, stress management and self-care classes for employees to address their pain points. Easing their worries also meant keeping their spirits up, which can be as simple as cheering an employee up with a funny joke to take off some of the pressure.

“We went out of our way to create a spirit of fun and laughter and not take ourselves too seriously,” Leondakis says. “While we spent an appropriate amount of time dealing with brass tacks and business needs at hand, we also balanced that with some fun and making them laugh and just being silly. I think that combination helped keep people inspired, because at the end of the day, it’s got to be fun to come to work every day or you aren’t very engaged or motivated. We worked extra hard in the last two years to make sure we were providing our people with stress release.”

Keeping the emphasis on the vision and goals of your company is another way to motivate employees to stay committed to its long-term success. In the wake of any kind of major change, uncertainty and fear can distract people from their goals. Therefore, you want to reinforce the goals that are most important in carrying out your vision.

“I think one of the mistakes companies make is changing the focus for their employees too often,” Leondakis says. “Another mistake is having too many goals for employees to focus on. That’s why we’ve narrowed our focus to one wildly important goal, so that 6,500 employees in the organization know which way is north, what’s most important and, at any given moment, what is their highest priority.”

In Kimpton’s case, simply increasing the focus on its No. 1 goal, customer satisfaction, was much more beneficial than increasing the number of goals for employees.

“We increased the focus,” Leondakis says. “We talked about it a lot more. We got very granular with metrics around our customer satisfaction scores and set very specific targets for continuous improvement, specifically in the areas that don’t require financial investment.

“Being friendlier or more helpful doesn’t cost any more money. Focusing our people on what they can control — them and their employees and their attitudes and the way they take care of our guests — made people feel empowered in a situation like this great recession, where there’s a tendency to feel out of control. People felt like they did have control over certain things, and that was our customer experience.”

Giving employees more focused goals eases their stresses by creating more certainty about their role in the company and how to handle the changes that affect your business. In having this control and accountability, they then have more opportunities to be proactive and to act on change rather than react.

Be visible

In times of crisis, the reaction of some business leaders is to stay out of the spotlight and avoid confrontation by hiding from tough questions. However, when the head of a company is not visible and unwilling to address organizational challenges, it can leave employees fearful of the worst, which, in turn, can hurt your service level.

Leondakis says that though you can manage your company from the corporate headquarters, you cannot lead from one, especially when your business is facing potentially difficult times.

“People don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says. “They read the headlines. They read that thousands of people lost their jobs during this recession. They read about businesses closing. They want to know what’s happening with our business. Being able to answer that firsthand is incredibly valuable.”

If you want to keep employees motivated and united in your vision, you have to open up communication and show them that you are not abandoning them to ambiguity. When Kimpton started feeling the impact of the financial crisis in 2008, Leondakis knew that her presence at the company’s businesses was even more essential. In the past few years, she has spent more time traveling to Kimpton’s hotels and restaurants than ever before.

“Part of my strategy for dealing with the recession was to be more visible, to be more hands on,” Leondakis says. “I’ve always been pretty visible and out there, but I just felt that now, more than ever, people need to know we’re in this together, and we will get through it together. If you have problems or barriers, I want to be there to help you.”

Increasing your face-to-face communication and personal interactions with employees also increases organizational transparency, which is an important part of building trust between employees on the front lines and the corporate side of the business.

“It’s modeling the behavior, and if I do that, then my direct reports do the same thing, and then it trickles through the entire organization,” Leondakis says.

Whether it’s holding formal presentations or conducting fireside chats with employees in a relaxed setting, Leondakis has increased opportunities for direct communication with employees. By doing so, she’s given them more opportunities to share their ideas, goals and barriers, and ultimately, ways to add value to Kimpton businesses.

“When I travel, I do fireside chats with employees and ask them, ‘If you owned this hotel or this restaurant, what you would do differently to better serve our guests and to make it a better place to work for all of the employees?’” Leondakis says.

“When people see you being honest and genuine and authentic, they begin to trust you, and they will talk to you and tell you what’s happening.”

Being responsive to employee insights and feedback is incredibly valuable because it can give you ideas to improve your business that you may never have considered.

“We take that feedback very seriously and we share it with our senior leaders; we share it at our operations meetings, and we actually put action plans to that feedback to implement,” Leondakis says. “As a result, some of the best ideas, some of the most iconic ideas at Kimpton have come from our employees.”

One example is Kimpton’s well-known goldfish program, where its hotels deliver live goldfish to the hotel rooms to keep guests company while they are traveling. The idea started with one employee at one hotel but was developed into a brand program.

Reinforce your values

Because what separates the Kimpton brand from its competitors is its customer experience and the emotional connection the company’s guests have with its employees, reinforcing operational excellence has always been a key part of the company’s business strategy.

“We could, like a lot of other hotel companies, compete on geographic distribution, but that would require significantly more hotels and much more markets than we have today. It would take a long time, just to compete on, ‘We have a hotel in every primary, secondary and tertiary market in America,’” Leondakis says. “Rather than compete on, ‘We have a hotel where you go,’ we’re competing on operational excellence as a point of differentiation. And that operational excellence is really defined as the way every Kimpton employee interacts with every Kimpton guest, creating an emotional connection. We create a loyal following that way.”

In lean times or times of growth, achieving operational excellence always begins with the hiring process and always bringing on people whose values and personality align with your company’s core values. These are the employees who will strive hardest to carry out your vision, because they truly care about its success.

“To see how a potential employee might treat another potential employee is a very good indicator of how they would treat a guest; it’s just how they react and respond to other human beings,” Leondakis says.

“I’ve never believed in the idea that, ‘OK, we’re on stage, everybody get on stage.’ You hire genuinely kind people and you inspire them to be themselves and be their best selves. I’ve never supported the idea of, ‘OK it’s 5 o’clock. The shift’s starting. Doors are open. Everybody put your smiles on.’ It’s a more authentic and genuine approach hiring people who are genuinely caring people, not people who are great actors.”

She says you can always train employees to execute job processes and set targets for continuous improvement, but you can’t train them to have self-initiative, like the bellman that drove the Kimpton guests through the snowstorm or the Kimpton employee who stayed up until 1 a.m. to help a guest deep condition her hair after she burned it with a blow-dryer.

By hiring employees who are committed to Kimpton’s core values, then providing them with stress release, a clear vision, priorities and increased communication, the company has helped employees continue to achieve success and create Kimpton moments for guests every day.

“It’s an opportunity to pay it forward,” Leondakis says. “We believe in treating our employees as though they are guests. The idea is, if we treat our employees as individuals and we take care of them in a personal way, in an individual way, and see them as our customer, they will go the extra mile to take care of our paying guests.”

HOW TO REACH: Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC, (800) 546-7866 or www.kimptonhotels.com

The Leondakis File

Niki Leondakis

President and COO

Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC

Born: Springfield, Mass.

Education: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass.

What was your first job?

Working the fry station at a Hardee’s when I was 15

What do you think are the keys to building a successful culture for employees?

It has to be unanimous. Every individual at every level has to be committed to this culture and has to be in agreement about what the tenets of the culture are and how they are brought alive. Every individual has to see themselves as an ambassador of that culture. It cannot be viewed as human resources job.

Published in Northern California

For the fourth consecutive year, PNC Bank is honored to partner with Smart Business to host the Perspectives: Women Who Excel conference in northern Ohio. We frequently hear from our female clients who own or run businesses that they appreciate opportunities to learn from other successful businesswomen. That’s one reason we continue to support forums like the Perspectives conference that provide a platform for women to share their knowledge and experience with other women, as well as men, in our business community.

Supporting the achievement of women entrepreneurs and executives is vital to the economic health of Northeast Ohio, and it’s important to PNC. Throughout our company, more than 450 employees have been certified as women’s business advocates and are energetically engaged in helping women who own and run companies achieve financial success in their businesses and personal lives. Through these experts, we provide financial solutions ranging from capital to help grow their business to resources, such as our Insights for Women in Business magazine that inform, inspire and support them. You’ll find more information on how we’re helping women in business achieve at www.pnc.com/women.

Being a great place for women to work is another way PNC fosters the achievement of women in business. In 2010, we were recognized as among the Top 50 Companies for Executive Women by the National Association of Female Executives and among the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers by Working Mother magazine. Further, as to commemorate Women’s History Month this year, several PNC associates recently shared their experience as businesswomen with career-bound college women. You can view their stories at www.YouTube.com/pnc.

We hope you join us in saluting the women who represent a bright future for our region.

Elizabeth Berry

Jodi Berg

Jenniffer Deckard

Sarah Sinclair

Paul Clark is regional president of Northern Ohio for PNC. Learn more at www.pnc.com.

Published in Cleveland

How much of your day is spent persuading people? Persuading prospects to become clients, employees to step up, customers to buy?

In all aspects of life, nearly every conversation involves some type of persuasion. Politicians, whose careers depend upon their ability to persuade, know that there are three magic words when it comes to convincing people: choice, fairness and accountability. If you know how to use those words, you too can tap their power.

To get a sense of just how potent those words are, consider any political message you’ve been exposed to. There are “pro-choice” campaigns for reproductive rights and “school choice” initiatives for school vouchers. There are countless organizations based on “fairness”: Citizens for a Fair Share, Fair Vote Count, Fair Trash Contract (really!) and many more. There are myriad legislative acts promising “accountability” in everything from leadership to education to presidential pardons.

The typical response to the words “choice,” “fairness” or “accountability” is almost Pavlovian. No matter what the topic, you can say, “I just want to make sure you have choices, and that in the end someone is held accountable so that we ensure the fairest result,” and the whole room will nod in agreement. Obviously, you’ll want to wield these words (and the concepts they stand for) with a bit more finesse than that. Here’s how:

Choice

Choice always evokes a positive response — we think of it as free choice, almost synonymous with freedom. For that reason, offering your clients a choice is an excellent way to present a plan. Give them two or three options, making sure you could live with any they choose. It’s fine to state your own preference while emphasizing that ultimately the choice is theirs. When I’m hired as a consultant, I always say,I work for you, so this is your decision. Here’s my recommendation.” Nine times out of 10, they take my advice.

The same strategy works with employees. Instead of simply passing out work assignments, offer several viable options. Does this mean you should convert every task to a multiple choice question? No, but for important jobs you stand a better chance of enthusiastic buy-in if you ask, “We could do A or we could do B. Which do you think would be most effective?”

Fairness

People’s definition of what is fair may vary, but everyone instinctively grasps the concept. We all passionately believe that things should be fair. Stating upfront that fairness is one of your top priorities will immediately get your listeners’ attention and make them more receptive to your ideas. You can also use words such as balance to suggest fairness. If you say, “It’s important to me that this is a balanced proposal,” you’re inviting other people to contribute their opinions — an equitable approach. Perhaps most important, talking about fairness builds trust, an essential element of any strong business relationship.

Accountability

Accountability is a way to ensure fairness. It strikes the same emotional chord, but it’s more tangible. In a business setting, the most effective way to use accountability is to start with yourself: “The plan I’m proposing will have built-in checks and balances, so you can hold me accountable and we’ll all be working together.” Then you can take suggestions from the group about how to construct the checks and balances. The end result: everyone has agreed in public to take responsibility.

Choice, fairness and accountability are concepts you probably incorporate into your workplace without consciously thinking about it — and that’s why saying the words out loud is so powerful. You’re giving voice to basic human values, and by doing so, you’re creating unity.

The most effective leaders not only persuade, they also unite.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies” (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams and politicians. He is the founder, president and CEO of both Jury Impact and M4 Strategies consulting firms. Reach him at csthilaire@m4strategies.com.

Published in Orange County
Wednesday, 02 March 2011 13:12

Michael Fetsko encourages innovation

When Michael Fetsko lands a contract to build a train system, it’s not because he is the best salesman in the industry. He gets contracts because he has dedicated himself to driving industry-leading innovation that has helped build Bombardier Transportation’s reputation as one of the best rail transit manufacturers in the world. When Bombardier was awarded the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport job, it was the innovation of Bombardier Transportation and its Systems Division’s automated people mover train system that won them the job at one of the world’s busiest airports.

Bombardier’s Systems Division faces a tough competitive market for their products. Fetsko, vice president of the Americas regions for Bombardier Transportation’s Systems Division, is constantly focused on innovative ideas and ways to stay ahead and on top of his industry.

“Ideas are encouraged, and our company encourages the divisions to do exactly that, to develop the next idea, the next game changer,” Fetsko says. “That philosophy is instilled throughout the company, and I think it is one of the foundations to our success.”

Innovation is ingrained in the roots of Bombardier. Even when Bombardier was just a small snowmobile maker, innovation and entrepreneurship is what led them to where the company is today. The Systems Division saw annual revenue greater than $1.3 billion in 2009, just a slice of Bombardier Transportation’s total annual revenue of more than $10 billion that year.

Here’s how Fetsko’s continuous drive and dedication to leading innovation at Bombardier has helped establish it as an industry leader.

Build trust

Due to Bombardier’s commitment to being the best at what they do, Fetsko and his team need to always have an ear to the ground about prospective projects. A commitment to excellence and their ability to create strong business relationships help get them in the door.

“When we find out about projects, in this type of business, you really can’t walk into a particular city at the last minute and say, ‘Hey, I’m here to bid on your project,’” Fetsko says. “Our strategic plans take us out five plus years. We are already looking at the cities where we think and know transportation systems will be built. And we are going in and meeting with the decision-makers, the customers, the politicians and really trying to secure our foothold in that particular location. What it comes down to is building the relationships with the right people and making sure the community sees you as a viable player.”

Companies in big industries and companies that face tough competition have to rely on their ability to offer strong products that come with the support of the company from multiple areas. Bombardier is often selected because of its ability to provide the best price and the best value for the customers’ money. Bombardier’s drive for innovation is also a key factor.

“Over the last two years, for us in the Systems Division, (innovation) has become a core part of our workload,” Fetsko says. “We have 100-plus people working on various forms of innovating our products and making them better. For us, it really comes down to trying to stay ahead of the competition. It also impacts cost savings. We are working on product development right now called energy storage. We are trying to push the envelope to try and make our systems faster, more cost-effective, more energy-efficient, more environmentally friendly, and it takes a team of people to do that.”

Encourage innovation

Innovation is not just a one-off thing. If a company doesn’t work hard and continue to innovate, then it is not an innovative company. Fetsko and the Systems Division work continuously to encourage and drive innovation. Finding ways to innovate and ways for employees to bring new ideas forward are keys to the company’s success.

“It really starts at the group level, the transportation group level, and it gets pushed down through all the divisions,” Fetsko says. “Bombardier has an innovation website where we encourage employees to submit their new ideas. Each idea gets reviewed by a committee and a team, and, of course, not all of them can get implemented but many of them do. They could be simple ideas on how we might be able to save more labor hours to do individual tasks, or they could be ideas on how to create the next big product breakthrough. It’s highly encouraged, and there are a number of mechanisms we have in place for employees to submit their ideas and creativity on how we could better the business.”

Ideas like an innovation website and innovation meetings are smart and fun ways to encourage employees to submit their ideas. Without these mediums for employees to speak what’s on their minds, innovative ideas can go to waste and will only hurt your company. Three years ago, Fetsko even created a full-time position for someone to head up their innovation efforts.

“You’ve got to encourage innovation,” Fetsko says. “Part of that is you have to have people who are dedicated to leading the effort. You can’t just talk about it and hope it’s going to happen. I think that’s one of the reasons that we have been successful. Companies may not want to do it, because it’s an overhead kind of position, but we have found that it more than pays for itself in a lot of the ideas we’ve already implemented and things that we’re doing to better the business and better the product. You’ve got to have a person or a small team of people that are responsible for it and committed to driving it throughout the business.”

At Bombardier, they also have quarterly meetings where the top-level executives from the company’s numerous locations gather for a two-day discussion that is strictly focused on innovation, product development and product improvement.

“You have to look at where you want to go and what you’re trying to strive for your business to achieve,” Fetsko says. “If you want to achieve big things, you’ve got to dream big things, as well. You’ve got to put time into it. You have to run your product improvements like you would a particular project. They all have budgets they have to meet, and they all have schedules they have to meet, and finally, you have to make sure you drive it to completion.

“When we say innovation here, it’s not necessarily the next big breakthrough on a train system. It could be things on how we could manage our business better. It can even be discussions on a particular task and whether we can do it with less people and still accomplish the same thing. Can we get it done on time with the same quality perhaps for a lesser amount of hours? That all translates to cost savings. Innovation relates back to us being able to offer customers a lower price for a product in the future. When we say innovation, it’s more than just product innovation, and that’s why it’s encouraged by everybody. If you have ideas on how to make the business more efficient or how we could improve the business, that’s how we make better products.”

Be accountable

Of course, with any new product or innovative idea, testing has to be done before that idea can be declared innovative and useful to the company and to its customers.

“Some customers are reluctant to be the guinea pig for some things that are new,” Fetsko says. “One thing that we do here very well within our division is our expertise to build a transportation system from the ground up. Integration, testing and commissioning are our core areas of our expertise. When we put something new into a project and the customer says, ‘Yes, I’ll take it,’ from our standpoint, it goes through a rigorous level of internal testing and external testing. We go through rigorous design reviews with our customers, so these types of ideas if they are new and get implemented, really go through a high level of scrutiny.

“Everything has to pass through our safety group as part of our governance. They are the ones that have to give the final blessing that a system is safe to carry passengers. Anything that gets implemented that’s brand new or might get integrated into a system goes through that sequence of testing and conditioning, so both the customer and Bombardier are confident it’s going to work.”

Bombardier uses test tracks to make sure its products are up to the company’s high standards and are tested a second time once the product gets shipped to a customer.

When innovation plays a big part in your company, it is often very difficult for only one person to overlook the entire operation. Fetsko says that he encourages and expects his employees to know how to do their jobs and to be independent enough to make their own decisions.

“My philosophy is to allow for accountability for running your part of the business,” Fetsko says. “I’m not going to step in and tell people what they’re supposed to do on a daily basis and how they’re supposed to go about it. We have levels of governance and reviews that are put in place so that we can review what is going on in every part of the business. The people here are empowered and are expected to run their part of the business. My style is not to micromanage at all, but I will routinely walk around the building and interact with the employees. To them, it really shows a sense of caring and says, ‘Hey, here’s the guy that’s running the business, but he spends a lot of time with the employees.’ Not necessarily telling them what to do — I don’t do that — but rather asking them how I can help and asking them how things are going and really telling them and showing them your appreciation for what they accomplish for us every day.”

Establishing a culture where employees know that they are empowered to do their jobs is critical for a corporate environment that is innovative.

“The one thing you have to focus on is to set up a structure so that people feel empowered to do their work,” Fetsko says. “You have to make sure those parts of your business and leaders of those areas can handle the work and that they’re not too overburdened with trying to manage too much. You verbally and physically have to tell people what you expect from them.

“I’ve got monthly meetings with all the folks on my team. They are very short meetings, face to face, not through e-mail and not through the phone, to really interact on that basis is very important. If they come to me with a problem, I want them to come to me with three solutions or more, as well. I try to tell them, ‘Don’t expect me to solve all your problems.’ You’ll always have the folks that come in and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a problem, what do you want me to do?’ My response to them is, ‘What do you think we should do?’ Certainly, I could give them my opinion, but I really try to encourage our folks and help them find solutions to their own problems. It comes down to empowering people and telling them that it’s theirs to do, it’s theirs to run. It raises a level of passion and it all translates to results.”

How to reach: Bombardier Transportation, (412) 655-5700 or www.us.bombardier.com

The Fetsko file

Michael Fetsko

vice president, Americas regions

Bombardier Transportation, Systems Division

Born: Pittsburgh

Education: Bachelor of arts degree and a master of science degree both in environmental sciences, from the University of Virginia; master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Pittsburgh

What was your first job out of college, and what did you learn from it?

My first job out of college was working for a company called Ensr, and I worked as a geologist. They were an environmental engineering consulting firm. What I learned was how important it is for projects to meet their deadlines and their goals. I also got a lot of chances to travel and meet with customers.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve received?

The best advice is the importance of relationships and developing relationships in your business, both with internal customers and external customers, and having that face time with them. People really appreciate that level of interaction versus conversing through phone or e-mail.

If you could choose one person, past or present, to have a conversation with, whom would you speak to and why?

Going back to my athletic days of playing football for the University of Virginia, one person I would really like to have a conversation with would be Lou Holtz. I have read some of his books and I am a fan of his style of leadership and what he has been able to accomplish as a football coach and what he has been able to accomplish with people who have played for him and passing on the values he’s lived by.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

If I could have a crystal ball and I could see into the future of what’s going to happen, that would probably help, as far as being able to make the right decisions and growing the business.

Published in Pittsburgh
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