Northern California (1069)

According to The Business Dictionary, attitude is:  “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual's choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards (together called stimuli).”

The words that jump out as important in this definition are:

 

 

  • Respond

 

 

  • Positively or negatively

 

 

  • Influences

 

 

  • Action

 

 

In light of this, we can say that when we respond to things with a positive attitude, that response influences positive action in us and others. We can also say that the opposite is true.

We could end this article right now by simply saying – As a leader, manager or executive in business; do the former and not the latter. But if you are like me, I bet that you could use some “how to” examples and tips.

Here they are, six tips for having a positive attitude in business:

1. Keep an open mind.  Always be open to the possibility that a life change you have refused to consider might be the key to transforming your life for the better.

This type of attitude impresses your colleagues. Why? Because most of them have been faced with the same challenge and chose to not change. Their attitude towards the change has been clouded with self-doubt and lack of courage.

When you are willing to keep an open mind, you are responding positively to the challenge of a life change that has the possibility of a great reward.

Be different than those around you. Be open.

2. Be proactive, not reactive.  A reactive individual is at the mercy of change. A proactive individual sees change as a part of the process and takes action to make the best of it.

Having a proactive attitude requires work. You must be able to think ahead and anticipate. It involves being involved.

In business (and life) you cannot simply sit back and let things just happen as they will.  In truth, you could, but that attitude is a negative response that influences negative action, namely, reaction.

Do a little mental work beforehand. Get in the game and be proactive.

3. Go with the flow.  Present an easy, casual and friendly attitude that shows your flexibility, yet at the same time portrays your persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity.

This is not the negative “sit back and let things happen” attitude described above. Persistence in the face of obstacles and adversity is what sets it apart.

Having an attitude that is easy and casual, without stepping outside the bounds of proper etiquette and being friendly, is some of the best advice I can give to leaders in business.

Be persistent while going with the flow.

4. Think big. If you think small, you will achieve something small. If you think big, then you are more likely to achieve a goal that is beyond your wildest dreams.

When we allow ourselves to have an attitude that pushes boundaries and explores possibilities, we draw in people who have the same attitude. In other words, by thinking big we find big thinkers.

Want to have a team full of big thinkers? Want to have meetings where ideas are shared and positive plans are made? Want to grow leaders out of your team and promote them to new heights in their career? It all starts with your big-thinking, boundary-pushing, dream-inspiring attitude.

Go ahead – think big.

5. Be persuasive, not manipulative. Use your persuasive talents to persuade others of your worth. Don’t use it to convince someone that others are worth less than you.

Have you ever had a manipulative boss?  Have you ever had a persuasive boss?

6. Enter action with boldness. When you do something, do it boldly and with confidence so that you make your mark. Wimping out is more likely to leave you stuck in the same old pattern and immune to positive change.

In the end it’s all about getting things done – with a positive attitude. As leaders, we need to be able to move and work with a certain sense of boldness. A boldness that inspires us and those around us to reach for new horizons in all we do.

It’s obvious, action is better than no action – but bold action that leaves a mark is what we should be doing in our life and business.

Do something and do it with a bold attitude.

Attitude really is everything in business. It is the force that empowers us to respond positively to the challenges we face on a daily basis. It allows us to enjoy what we do as we do it. It builds us and our teams.

DeLores Pressleymotivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.

She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email atinfo@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

Should hard-nosed, thick-skinned, ice-water-running-through-their-veins executives who live and die by facts and profit and loss statements believe in things they can’t totally understand and certainly can’t explain?

We have all been there. At various times, for virtually inexplicable reasons, an undertaking that has been struggling suddenly takes a 180-degree turn and begins an upward trajectory. There was no indication from the numbers, substantively nothing extraordinary was changed, but all of a sudden, it’s as if the sun, moon and stars all aligned and you are heading toward Fat City.

Of course, we’ve all experienced the converse, when everything seems to be jelling and all of a sudden out of the blue your project takes a nosedive, plummeting to earth faster than the fastest falling star — or the stock market crash of 2008.

Even though you fancy yourself as tough as nails, you must hope against hope, experiment with unusual fixes, devise out-of-the-box solutions — do just about anything, including making promises to a higher power, along the lines of, “Let me get through this, and I’ll never ______ again.” (You fill in the blank as it is best kept between you and the great power in which you believe.)

Don’t get me wrong I don’t really believe in the good fairy or the ability to make everything better with the wave of wand, but I do very much believe what the famous New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

There is “magic” when some inexplicable ingredient kicks in that enables the best leaders to continuously generate “what if I try this” scenarios and then, out of nowhere, one of those ideas turns sure defeat into a salvageable success. Is this skill and intelligence at play? To a certain extent, yes, but there is more to it than that. The only thing I believe about unadulterated pure luck is the explanation from that overused phrase, “The harder one works, the luckier he or she gets.” The real answer more likely is a combination of knowing how to run a business: using your head, your heart and your gut to tackle a dilemma, recognizing that on any given day one of these faculties will get you through a difficult issue. On a great day when all three kick in, it’s almost as if it were magic, and you start hearing sounds that become music to your ears as the needed solution suddenly emerges.

In reality, the “magic” is having faith in the people with whom you work, maintaining a strong belief that for most of the seemingly insurmountable questions there are answers, trusting that good things do happen to good people, and knowing that every once in a while the good guys do win. This doesn’t mean becoming a naive Pollyanna. Instead, it all gets down to not throwing in the towel until you have exhausted all possibilities and logically and systematically explored all the alternatives, some of which may be very nontraditional.

This approach is also a direct reflection of positive thinking and mindfulness, which is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and ignoring all other distractions. In essence, some psychological studies have shown that when one is committed to success and has the discipline not to let the mind travel down a negative path, the brain can focus on producing unique solutions. Using positive psychology techniques can result in intense absorption that can lead to coming up with unlikely fixes. Some shrinks call this increasing mental flow. I call it a little bit of magic.

My simpler explanation for this phenomenon, which I’ve written about many times, is that success is achieved when you combine preparation, persistence with a bit of perspiration, along with a few ingredients that can’t always be explained, including having a little faith.

My advice is don’t always worry about your image of being a buttoned-up, corporate type. Instead, when the going gets particularly tough, it’s OK to become a Dorothy, as in the “Wizard of Oz,” click your heels twice and quickly repeat to yourself, “I believe, I believe.”

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

A unique new book with an unorthodox, yet proven approach to achieving extraordinary success.

What does it take to grow rapidly and effectively from mind to market?

This book offers an unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations.

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

Published by John Wiley & Sons. AVAILABLE NOW! Order online now at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz

Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.

Everybody’s telling you that you need a content strategy, but what exactly is content strategy?

An effective content strategy coordinates all of your organization’s messaging — internally and externally — and gets the right message to the right people through the right channel at the right time.

When it works, people are motivated to interact more with your company. You attract new prospects. And you increase opportunities to secure new clients and expand existing business relationships.

Your content may consist of feature stories, press releases, videos, Web content, blog posts, books, whitepapers and even case studies. Essentially, it is everything and anything that discusses your business, professional expertise and ability to solve clients’ problems. It includes news about your organization and human-interest stories that feature your employees.

You can deliver your content through traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio or television), a corporate website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, e-book, TV show, movie or social media. It is quite literally every single way you digest information online, offline and on the go.

Any content strategy starts with understanding your audience. Learn who that audience is, what different groups are in it and what messaging resonates most with each group.

Every audience comprises two unique segments — those who support you, such as vendors, investors or employees, and those who use your services, including clients and engaged prospects.

It’s also important to take a hard look at this list and ask, “Who is missing from this picture?” By doing so, you may identify new prospect streams to target that you previously had overlooked.

Next, identify your key messages. What is it that you want people to know about your organization and why?

Start at the most macro level so that your brand message becomes part of the content — the part everyone receives. Then get into the specifics. As you do this, you create a series of customized messages for each specific group in your audience.

Third, recognize that not everyone digests information the same way. Learn the best channel or channels to use for each group. Some like to read it — in print or online. Others prefer to watch or listen to it — live in-person or through a mobile video. And still others prefer their information delivered in 140 characters or less.

What works for your website visitors doesn’t necessarily resonate face-to-face with people at a trade show or conference. And print ad messaging may not be aimed at the same people who devour industry whitepapers or read thought leadership articles in trade publications.

The actual format of the content won’t matter as long as it provides the “why” people should care about your organization, frequent your establishment, buy your products or services, or use your solutions. If you accurately match message with audience and channel, you’ll do just fine.

Effective content strategy can quickly become a powerful tool in moving your business forward. Treat it as you would any highly critical strategic business initiative.

 

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As sustainability continues to gain momentum, business leaders need to address how this movement will influence the way they run their organizations. Doing so can lead to immediate savings in power and other costs, and boosts the market value of the property.

“It’s a change in culture versus something that’s just an on-and-off switch,” says Greg Martin, partner and National Real Estate & Hospitality Practice leader at Moss Adams.

Smart Business spoke with Martin about what’s happening in the field of sustainability and how an accountant or adviser can help.

What’s happening with sustainability today?

Sustainability and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings have been talked about for some time. Early sign of sustainability in practice started out simply with hotel properties putting out signs about reusing towels or unplugging phone chargers. Then, many moved on to using low-flow showerheads or locally sourcing food. That sentiment has crossed over into the expectations of commercial building tenants, many of whom got the idea, at least in part, from attending conferences in energy-efficient hotels.

From a real estate perspective, more and more tenants in a commercial office building want to see sustainable practices followed in their workplaces. Those companies that can show they are concentrated on green living can use that as a competitive advantage. Eventually, sustainability will be part of our everyday psyche, so you want to take advantage of these competitive strengths when you can.

How does going green translate to the bottom line and profits?

It’s expensive to put energy-efficient measures in place, such as those that limit water or power consumption. But in doing so, you can significantly reduce your operating costs from day one and possibly attract sources of capital — some investment groups will only invest in properties or companies that have sustainability policies and procedures in place.

A number of studies found increased operating incomes and higher market values and returns for sound sustainable properties versus non-sustainable properties. A green label such as LEED or Energy Star raised market rents and values of commercial space, including a 16 percent increased sale price, according to a 2010 University of California, Berkeley study of 10,000 U.S. office buildings. A Davis Langdon study estimated upfront costs for high-sustainability design can be $1.50 to $3 per square foot, but those outlays also can bring up to 14 percent reductions in energy costs. In addition, PNC Bank put together a study of their LEED-certified branches compared to non-LEED branches, and found LEED branches had more income, deposit accounts opened and consumer loans.

As more data becomes available on the returns, cash flow and market appreciation of sustainability, we’ll likely see more and more benefits from following these types of policies and practices.

How can an accountant or adviser help with sustainability reports and programs?

CPAs are getting involved in reporting on whether companies are meeting sustainability policies and procedures. Often, an independent and objective CPA will look at the data provided by the management of the company on what they have done in the area of sustainability, referring it back to the company’s policies and procedures. The CPA basically concludes whether they are in agreement or not with management’s assertions. It lends another level of credence and credibility by generating a report based on benchmarks.

Another value-added service that’s gaining momentum is our sustainability consulting group, which consults with companies on setting up green policies and procedures as well as a process to monitor how companies are doing against their goals.

Is this a newer aspect of sustainability — showing that you are accountable?

It’s catching on. Is there some set of rules that say, ‘Thou shalt,’ like the SEC says that public companies shall present audited financial statements? Not really — it’s a best practice. It shows how the company is serious enough that they are going to bring in a credible, objective, independent party to verify what they have represented to others.

Sustainability is not a fad. Ignoring it is not going to make it go away. And because it’s here to stay, it will only continue to gain importance.

Greg Martin is a partner, National Real Estate & Hospitality Practice leader at Moss Adams. Reach him at (415) 677-8277 or greg.martin@mossadams.com.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Moss Adams

Having employees who tolerate stupidity is literally Phil Libin’s worst nightmare.

“I’ll wake up from a dream in which somewhere, someone at Evernote is working on something right now and they don’t understand why they are doing it — they think it’s stupid. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. It’s dumb. I’m just doing it because somebody told me,’” says Libin, CEO of Evernote Corp., the company responsible for popular Evernote and Skitch applications.

“As soon as you have someone who is doing some work and they don’t understand why they are doing it, then you’re not a start-up anymore. You’re something worse.”

Considering the noteworthy changes that Evernote has gone through over the last two years, it’s no surprise that culture is ingrained in Libin’s mind. Since launching the Evernote product public in 2008, Evernote’s apps have gained fast traction with users who rely on them to organize personal data and information on mobile devices and platforms.

Since 2010, the company has tripled revenue annually while increasing head count from 30 to 250 employees. It also plans to reach a level of 500 employees by the end of 2013.

Taking notes yet?

While Evernote’s success is undeniable, Libin’s permanent challenge is creating what he calls a “100-year start-up” — i.e., maintaining the entrepreneurial culture that makes Evernote great while continuing to grow.

“I want everyone at Evernote, no matter how big we get, to understand why it is that they’re doing something and to see the impact of their work,” Libin says. “If we can maintain that, then we have a good shot of scaling the company in the future.”

Here’s how Libin keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive at Evernote.

Eliminate obstacles

Like many Silicon Valley companies, Evernote offers employees a number of unique perks, including unlimited vacation time and catered lunches. Yet Libin knows enhancing employee productivity isn’t just about add-ons; it’s about removing the obstacles that inhibit people’s success.

“All of our benefits and our office life are structured around this idea that people who are here want to do excellent work, and it’s our job to eliminate any obstacles that get in the way of that,” Libin says. “Whenever we find things that impede people’s natural desire to be productive, we ask if we can eliminate that.”

Libin and his leadership team actively look for ways to make people’s jobs easier on a day-to-day basis, especially when it involves enhancing productivity. It’s why Libin played an active role in designing the company’s new 90,000-square-foot Redwood City, Calif. headquarters, which employees moved into last summer to incorporate features that improve workflow, such as an open work plan to facilitate open communication.

“It’s the first time that we’ve been in a space that we’ve actually designed,” Libin says. “Our previous two offices have been little start-up things — whatever we could afford at the time. This is the first time we’ve had a chance to think about our surroundings a little bit.

“There are a lot of small things. A lot of times you need something from IT. You need a power cord or an adapter or a keyboard or a mouse or a network cable … so you have to track down an IT person and ask them for it, and then they go into the supply closet and get it. Now you’ve tied up two people: the person who wants it and the IT person. It’s a small waste of time, but it’s a waste of time.”

Evernote solved this problem by stocking a vending machine in the cafeteria full of equipment such as headsets, power cords, mics and keyboards, which employees can freely access by swiping a card.

“You decide when you want something, you can go down and get it, but now it takes one person two minutes to do what two people took 20 minutes to do,” Libin says. “So there’s a lot of stuff like that, where it’s something that’s not a huge thing in itself, but it adds up.”

Ideas to improve a culture don’t need to be radical to make an impact on productivity. Removing a small obstacle can actually have huge benefits, especially if it affects a lot of people.

For example, Evernote’s open work plan makes talking on the phone the biggest source of noise for employees throughout the office. So instead of having everyone work around that, Libin and his team decided to do away with desk phones entirely. If someone needs to make a call, they are encouraged to use one of the company’s numerous conference rooms or meeting spaces.

“We find an obstacle and we try to get rid of it,” Libin says. “You can find 100 things like this and it adds up to a culture where people feel like they are trusted and respected. We don’t have to explain to people that you’re only allowed to take one mouse every six months. We don’t have a policy. Take as many as you want.”

Bring on the best

Evernote isn’t Libin’s first time leading a start-up business. Before founding the company in 2007, his career as a successful engineer led him to serve as president and CEO of the software companies Corestreet Ltd. and Engine 5, respectively. In both cases, Libin found that his programming background played a direct role in his leadership style — and not in a good way.

“At my first company, I had this weird idea about people who work for me,” he says. “I thought, well, I can do their job better than they can, but I’m too important. I don’t have enough time.

“So I’d walk around and look at some programmer writing database code, and I would think to myself, I’m a programmer, too. I could write that better than he could, but I don’t have time so we can let him do it. And I’d look at a sales guy working and I’d think, well I could sell the product better, but I don’t have time so let him do it. I’d listen to the receptionist and I would think my phone voice is so much nicer than hers. But I don’t have time to answer the phone so let her do it.”

What Libin realized is that this superior mentality is self-fulfilling, breeding a culture where leaders are always second-guessing and micromanaging their people and where talented people don’t want to work. But if you’re trying to build a 100-year company, this kind of thinking just won’t fly.

“A lot of people instinctively are afraid of hiring people better than them,” Libin says. “So they tend to surround themselves with people who are mediocre. That’s the thing that kills a lot of companies.”

Finding and keeping the right is critical in fulfilling the vision of a 100-year start-up, which is why Libin encourages his direct reports and managers to follow the “hire better than you” philosophy for any position,

“I have to hire people who are so good that they can wind up running the company, and that’s true all the way down the ranks,” Libin says.

“Really embracing that philosophy is the only way I think you can scale and manage and really reduce stress, because anything I’m worried about, I know that there’s a person who’s much smarter than I am in that function, who’s also worried about it but actually in charge of dealing with it.”

Stay connected

Evernote may have a start-up culture, but the company has also come a long way from its start-up roots. In addition to its employees on five floors of its Redwood City office, Libin now leads an organization with offices in Austin, Texas, to Tokyo, Zurich, Moscow and Beijing.

“As we grow to be a bigger company, we’re not 10 nerds anymore,” Libin says. “We have designers. We have marketing people. We have people from all sorts of demographics. We are really broadened, and that broadens the products that we want to work on.”

It also broadens the scope of any given project, which can create a disconnect between a company’s departments, offices or teams.

“Very often in companies, and especially a big company, if you ask an average employee at the company, they kind of feel, ‘Well, I’m doing a job, the five or 10 people that I’m working with and I understand what they’re doing — they’re doing a good job,’” Libin says. “‘But those other guys two floors above me, I have no idea what they do. They’re probably just dumb.’”

One way that Evernote avoids communication and innovation breakdown is through cross-training. Taking a lesson from a friend who is a submarine officer, Libin implemented Evernote’s Officer Training Program, which mimics the idea of officers who must be trained in many different roles.

Each week, employees who sign up for the program are assigned to several random meetings outside of their department where they are encouraged to act as full participants. While the company is currently tweaking the program for simpler execution, the idea is that both the trainee and the group will benefit from the exchange.

“So if you are in IT and you sit in a marketing meeting, you see that the marketing guys do a lot of work, and they have difficult questions and problems,” he says. “It also works the other way, having a person in the room who hasn’t mastered the jargon. You wind up having to speak differently. You wind up having to think about things that you may not have thought about if you’ve been doing this job for 10 years.”

Other ways that Evernote promotes connectivity are using remote-controlled Anybots for telecommunication and video walls and “windows” to connect Evernote’s domestic and international offices. Set up near the coffee machines, the video walls are synced up to mirror Evernote’s different offices at the same time of day.

“When it’s 9 a.m. here and you’re getting coffee, you’re going to see 9 a.m. in Tokyo as somebody is getting coffee,” Libin says. “The point is you can connect with people. You can see who is there. You can see what they are wearing. You can have this ambient feeling because you know that you’re not the only person there. There are people all over the world working at Evernote that are also getting coffee.”

Experimenting with cultural perks, programs and policies should be an ongoing process, and leaders need to be willing to try and fail.

“The basic idea is we want people to be able to connect in as many different ways as possible,” he says. “When I’m traveling out of the office, and I connect to the Anybots, and I drive it around, and point the laser pointer at people, and yell at them to get back to work, everyone loves it.

“There’s no silver bullet. You say the core value is communication, and then you just find ways to make it a really magical experience.” ?

How to reach: Evernote Corp., www.evernote.com

 

The Libin file

Phil Libin

CEO

Evernote

Born: St. Petersburg, Russia

Education: Boston University

Why there’s never been a better time to be in business: I don’t think it’s ever been a better time to have a company, to be in business. This is the best time in the history of the world actually to be trying to build something because it’s much of a meritocracy than it’s ever been. If you build something great and you really focus on building something great then you get massive leverage in everything else because of app stores, smartphones and social media. If you make something great, then everyone is going to know about it. And everyone is going to be able to get it. … All I really want is to make great stuff. And that’s what all the people who work for me want, and it’s enough. It’s enough now to just make great stuff.

Why stress helps: As a CEO, it’s good to have a balanced diet of stress. You stress out about the product. You stress out about the finances. You stress out about improving about the office space. It’s good to have multiple completely different things to worry about and sort of balance those things.

Libin's best business mantra: I think the most important phrase is ‘simple is hard.’ That says a lot of stuff. In all ways it’s better to be simple than complicated, in terms of your product, your benefits, everything you do. You’re much better off being simple; and it’s the hardest thing to do. Always strive for simplicity, but also realize that it’s far harder to make something simple than to make something complicated.

 

Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:45

How health care reform could impact your business

Written by

[caption id="attachment_61899" align="alignright" width="200"] Bill Norwalk, tax partner-in-charge, Sensiba San Filippo LLP

Richard Leasia, shareholder, Littler Mendelson, P.C.[/caption]

On Mar. 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) with the intention of providing comprehensive health care coverage to nearly all individuals. The law is being rolled out in phases and arguably the most significant aspect for employers is set for implementation on Jan. 1, 2014.

“We have found ourselves at the intersection of streets paved with good intentions and unintended consequences,” says Richard Leasia, shareholder at Littler Mendelson, P.C.

Effective Jan. 1, 2014, employers with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees will have to choose between providing affordable health insurance coverage to qualifying employees or paying a penalty. There is no per se requirement that all employers provide health insurance coverage and employers will need to evaluate the pros and cons of providing health insurance coverage or paying various penalties.

“Each business owner’s analysis should include not only the financial implications of one option over the other, but also issues of employee morale, competitiveness within the marketplace, tax implications and benefits, and potential internal compliance and monitoring requirements,” says Bill Norwalk, tax partner-in-charge at Sensiba San Filippo LLP.

Every company, regardless of size, will need to continue to decide whether and to what extent they will provide health insurance coverage for employees. While the PPACA mandate directly affects only those employers meeting the minimum threshold number of employees, small businesses, some of which are not legally required to provide health insurance coverage, may wish to do so as an incentive for employees, as a means of staying competitive within the market, and/or in order to take advantage of certain tax credits.

At a recent event hosted by Sensiba San Filippo, Littler Mendelson, ABD Insurance and Financial Services, and the Small Business Majority, panelists from each firm discussed the implications of health care reform

on small and medium-sized businesses.

Smart Business spoke with Leasia and Norwalk after the event to gather feedback and to have them answer questions about the basics of health care reform laws and what the laws will mean to businesses from a financial, tax, and legal perspective.

What are the legal implications?

Although the PPACA indicates in general terms what will be required on Jan. 1, 2014, many questions concerning the specific application of the law remain unanswered. A few of the open questions include:

1. When does an employee qualify as full-time or full-time equivalent?

2. What standard will be used when assessing whether the employer-provided health insurance coverage is ‘affordable’?

3. How do contractors affect the analysis?

4. What about seasonal employees?

5. What effect will the PPACA have on current city-specific mandated health care (e.g., San Francisco’s Health Care Security Ordinance)?

Unfortunately, answers to these questions will be dependent on yet-to-come regulations, but business owners should address them with their advisers.

What are the tax and financial implications?

Many business owners remain focused on 2014, but they should not lose sight of some very specific requirements that will be rolled out this year. These include, for example, an implementation of a $2,500 cap on employee contributions to health flexible spending accounts for plans beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2013; W-2 informational reporting for the 2012 calendar year was due for many employers by Jan. 31, 2013; additional notice requirements to employees; and beginning Jul. 31, 2013, there will be the imposition of certain temporary taxes for insured and self-insured group health insurance plans. Additionally, businesses should ensure that they are harnessing the full potential of the various tax credits currently available, including those available to small businesses that offer health insurance coverage to their employees. Now is the time to start planning with your tax adviser.

Throughout the coming year it will be imperative for businesses to examine their particular situation, learn how the PPACA affects their specific workforce, and prepare a plan for implementing the requirements that will go into effect in 2013, 2014 and beyond.

Richard Leasia is a shareholder with Littler Mendelson, P.C. Reach him at (408) 998-4150 or rleasia@littler.com. Bill Norwalk is tax partner-in-charge at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. Reach him at (925) 271-8700 or wnorwalk@ssfllp.com.

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As discrimination and harassment claims continue to rise, an up-to-date employee handbook has become a practical and affordable first line of defense for beleaguered employers. Between legal costs, court costs and settlement fees, an employer’s tab for a single claim now averages $100,000 to $250,000.

“A well-written handbook not only communicates the company’s policies and procedures, it nips problems in the bud by establishing the framework for a professional work environment,” says Elise Vasquez, labor and employment partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC.

Smart Business spoke with Vasquez about the all-important role of an employee handbook in preventing lawsuits and claims.

What are the traditional components of an employee handbook?

Every handbook should start with a statement from the company, which establishes the expectations for a professional work environment where people are treated with dignity and respect, and violations won’t be tolerated. Other bare bones policies include:

• Equal employment opportunity and anti-discrimination — Make sure your policy covers all protected classes including disabled workers and applies to promotions and compensation as well as hiring practices.

• Employment verification and eligibility (I-9) — Require new hires to provide proof of their eligibility to work in the U.S. within 72 hours.

• Anti-harassment — Prohibit all forms of workplace harassment and retaliation, not just sexual harassment.

• At-will employment — Make it clear employment is not for a guaranteed time period and can be terminated at any time by the employee and employer.

• Family and Medical Leave Act — A must-have policy for companies with 50 or more employees.

• Maternity/paternity leave — Your policy should cover all California laws that pertain to disability pregnancy and paternity leave.

• Written acknowledgement and right to revise — Reserve your right to revise the handbook and include a receipt, which states that the employee has received, read and understood the material.

Should employers include other policies based on recent changes in the law?

Employers bear the burden of proof in wage and hour disputes. Employers, therefore, need to include a break and meal period policy for all their non-exempt workers consistent with the most recent California Supreme Court decision in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court of San Diego.

Another good practice is to include policies governing employee sick time, vacation, jury duty, and other forms of paid or unpaid leave.

Lastly, a policy setting forth the unacceptable or acceptable use of social media during work hours — especially on company-issued technology — is recommended and ensures compliance with California’s Social Media Privacy Act.

What are the best practices for enforcing the rules?

Employers must have systems in place to enforce the mandatory anti-harassment and discrimination policies and complaint procedures. Likewise, employers should not impose non-mandatory policies and procedures they do not intend to follow.

Inconsistent enforcement and subjective decisions will favor the litigious employee. Close loopholes, clarify gray areas and ensure reliable application by providing complementary policy training for employees and managers. Managers play a key role by modeling appropriate behavior and consistently enforcing the policies and procedures.

How often should employers review and update their handbook? 

Employers should revise their handbooks annually at the end of the year. This ensures compliance with any new laws moving into the new year. Should you need to revise a policy sooner, notify employees via a companywide email and, where possible, include a copy of the policy with an acknowledgement in employees’ paychecks. While no policy is foolproof, an employee handbook is a cost-effective way to reduce risk when combined with open communication, consistent enforcement and appropriate training.

Elise Vasquez is a partner in labor and employment at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC. Reach her at (650) 780-1631 or evasquez@rmkb.com.

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When a business owner wants to relocate, the task can seem daunting. However, by exploring some key considerations, you can prioritize the move and find a location that works well for your present company and your future growth.

One such location — Irving, Texas — is in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Irving has more than 8,500 businesses already operating in the region.

“You need a value-driven proposition,” says Carter Holston, general manager of Real Estate NEC Corporation of America. “You have to have a good location. You have to have a great office space. You have to have access to your employees and pay the right amount of tax, both school and other. All that goes into the mix when you make the decision.”

Smart Business spoke with Holston about what employers need to consider for relocation and why the Greater Irving-Las Colinas area fits that bill.

If you’re thinking of relocating to a new city, what needs to be considered? How does that relate to the Irving area? 

There are three components any company needs to weigh:

• Workforce.

• How you access the workforce, the accessibility within the region, and how you move about via the roadways and mass transit.

• The business-friendly environment.

Irving is in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, so access to an available work force is not a problem. The area also is adjacent to a major airport — the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

The Irving area has accessibility from the standpoint of mass transit, which is a game changer in business today. The new work force prefers living, working and playing in the same area.

Then there’s the business-friendly environment, one of the most important factors. Companies need to be in cities that believe in business, that understand the revenue derived from taxes and what it means to have citizens employed.

What’s the current state of Irving’s commercial real estate market?

Commercial real estate in Irving is firming up. Generally Texas and specifically Irving represent good market value to corporations considering relocating.

Irving has more than 30 million square feet of commercial office space and is the third-largest submarket in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Typically, there is about a 20 percent vacancy rate, which has been as high as 25 percent, so Irving is a value-driven market. Most companies seem to be taken aback at the leasing rates in Dallas compared to other regions.

Irving also has a new light rail system running through the central urban center, which should positively affect commercial real estate.

What else makes the North Texas region so attractive?

Texas and Dallas, in particular, are ‘can do’ regions. There’s no geographic reason for Dallas to exist, no great river system or other natural resources. In spite of its lack of natural resources, the people who settled here on the prairie a long time ago made it work, and that theme and attitude have carried through the years. Even when the oil business was in decline, Dallas found a way to diversify and sought other industries to attract such as banking and insurance, real estate and huge service industry providers.

This ‘can do’ attitude holds true for the area’s longevity and its future, which is based on finding a way to get things done.

How can an employer find tax breaks and incentives when moving into a new area?

You should be represented well and ask your representative what types of incentives have been granted previously.  However, don’t let incentives be the only factor that you consider when relocating your company.

The Greater Irving-Las Colinas area is certainly very affordable with available space and incentives. It’s clearly a value driven proposition for business owners in a business-friendly environment.

Holston oversees all domestic commercial real estate functions at Real Estate NEC Corporation of America and is responsible for more than 1 million square feet of leased and owned facilities. He also serves as a consultant to the Irving Economic Development Partnership at the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.

Carter Holston is general manager of Real Estate at NEC Corporation of America. Reach him at (214) 262-2190 or carter.holston@necam.com.

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A company’s brand can be thought of as the sum of all of its customers’ experiences with its products, employees, physical locations, etc.

“Brand is especially important for businesses in the service sector because what they do within their industries is similar across firms,” says Ryan Barringer, senior vice president, marketing and brand strategy, at Bridge Bank. “Banks, for example, provide customers with access to credit or capital so they can achieve their goals. That’s true for most banks, so it’s important in a financial services context to determine how your brand is different from a competitor’s and how you leverage that difference to stand out.”

Smart Business spoke with Barringer about the benefits of establishing brand differentiation.

What are the benefits of having a strong brand?

A strong brand makes it easier for customers to make buying decisions and serves as a shortcut in the process. Strong brands can be considered assets that have future earnings potential. If a firm has a strong brand it can serve almost as a guarantee of future business and it can help unify employees of a company under one strategic approach.

Which kinds of firms can benefit the most from having a strong brand?

All companies would be well-served to think through how they are different from their competitors. Firms that compete in undifferentiated markets or business sectors can especially benefit from a strong brand. Professional service companies such as CPAs, law firms and hospitality companies are providing the same service, but the delivery of that service can help them differentiate and earn more business.

Conversely, for firms competing in commodity markets, say for instance wheat, a brand isn’t going to help much because as price takers they sell based on what the market will pay. For price setters in undifferentiated markets, however, there are tremendous opportunities to use brand as a competitive advantage.

How can companies measure brand value?

Brand consultants have created proprietary systems to assess the financial value of a company’s brand equity, but this can be quite expensive. And while the accountants do not have a defined method for measuring brand as an intangible asset, new methods are being designed as part of International Financial Reporting Standards. What is most important is for companies to try to understand what role their brand plays in the decision making process of their customers. They can engage in market research with existing customers — ask about their perceptions of the brand and compare those perceptions across competitors.

Companies also can create a brand report card that measures different aspects of the brand, such as how integrated and consistent are its marketing messages and whether its operation is delivering on the promise it makes in its marketing. There are great examples of scorecards, but companies really want to track brand perception and performance over time.

Another easy way to get a grip on whether a brand is a source of future business is to ask customers if they would recommend the product or service to a friend. It’s called a Net Promoter Score, used by many firms to measure loyalty, which can help to indicate a strong or weak brand.

Smaller to mid-size companies that haven’t adopted brand management, as a formal competency, should take it seriously. It’s an investment with future dividends and something to aspire to over time.

How can businesses build their brands?

First, realize a brand is not a logo, color scheme or a tag line, but it’s the summation of all experiences or brand touch points — all the ways a customer interacts with your company builds brand perception. Map out all these ways and make sure each touch point aligns with a company’s true brand essence. (This supposes that the company understands the meaning of its brand from a variety of perspectives including its employees, customers and target market.) Every time a person interacts with a company it’s an opportunity to reinforce or detract from brand values. Breaking it up into small experiences and ensuring they all integrate well and send the same message is a great way to engage in brand building.

Ryan Barringer is senior vice president, marketing and brand strategy at Bridge Bank. Reach him at (408) 556-8677 or ryan.barringer@bridgebank.com.

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