Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

Finding character and cultural fit

It is always difficult to find the right employees, not only people with technical skills but with other traits that will ensure long-term success for your organization.

Finding the right culture “fit” in terms of character and personality traits begins with the creation of the job requirements, preliminary candidate screening and the interview process. Preparation is critical before the interview to develop a series of questions designed to reveal the key traits desired of an employee.

At Clark-Reliance, our first hiring objective is to find candidates with superior technical qualifications and skills necessary to perform the tasks of a particular position. However, a candidate must also have the personal qualifications and skills to thrive in our corporate culture.

Identifying the major character traits that allow employees to fit comfortably into your organization and excel in their work allows you to create the appropriate interview questions. At Clark-Reliance, we have identified four major character traits necessary for an employee to have so that he or she will fit into our culture.

Self-awareness and personal accountability

Our goal is to find employees who have the ability to analyze and critique themselves. We want people to take accountability for their actions and success.

Continuous improvement

We want to find employees who are constantly seeking to sharpen their skills, which means either developing skills further or seeking skills they do not currently possess.

Passion

Simply stated, we want employees who have passion for their job and for our company.

Communication

We want employees who are willing to speak their mind as well as listen to other’s thoughts and ideas. A collaborative environment makes all employees invested in the development of the company.

In order to identify these traits in potential employees you should use behavioral type questions like the ones below:

Self-awareness

  

  • What are three accomplishments or significant successes that you identify with and take great pride?

  

  • What would your present or former boss say about you? What would he or she have liked to see you do differently?

  

  • Can you tell me about a mistake you made, either work or personal, that taught you a significant lesson?

  

Continuous Improvement

 

 

  • Where have you sought to improve yourself over the last three months?

 

 

  • How would a co-worker describe you?

 

 

  • What personal needs do you think this position will satisfy?

 

 

Passion

 

 

  • What has been your toughest job? How did you handle this job?

 

 

  • Has a job ever conflicted with your thoughts of what is right or wrong? If so, how did you handle it?

 

 

  • What work situations irritate you or make you angry?

 

 

Communication

 

 

  • If you were involved in a heated discussion with a fellow co-worker, would you be more comfortable in the role of the peacemaker or decision-maker? Why?

 

 

  • Have you taken the initiative to handle something that is technically out of your area of responsibility? Why did you choose to handle the situation that way?

 

 

  • How do you deal with your boss when he or she overrides a major decision that you have made?

 

 

 

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

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

Published in Columnist

Critical thinking: It sounds like it should be limited to academia; right? Wrong.

While critical-thinking skills are, in fact, central to academic research, they are equally important in the business environment.

As we explore effective techniques to increase visibility and influence in the workplace, we need to become the “professor” of critical thinking for our vital team members. We need to serve as a model for them to follow. Critical thinking, in its simplest of terms, is a questioning process. Consider these three questions to encourage your employees to start thinking critically about their own individual actions.

•           I hear your question. What’s your answer?

•           What would you do if I weren’t here?

•           Are you using your brain or your gut?

“I hear your question. What’s your answer?”

In their haste to keep projects moving, most management teams instinctively want to provide quick solutions when employees have problems or questions. This approach is archaic in today’s business world and does not foster critical thinking. It teaches employees to only rely on your strengths rather than developing their own.

Consider this as an alternative: Make it a policy that whenever an employee comes to you with a problem, he or she must also offer at least one solution. Force them to do some advanced thinking. This gives you, then, an opportunity to have a more constructive and fruitful discussion.

“What would you do if I weren’t here?”

Being a good manager does involve some parenting. Sorry about that. Your job is to use your leadership skills to coach employees to become self-sufficient. Continue to strengthen their critical-thinking muscles by turning the questions back to them, answering a question with a question.

•           “What are the downside risks if we take this action?”

•           “What if we did A instead of B?”

•           “What if the opposite were true?”

In most cases, that employee already knows the answer. Don’t do their work for them; but rather use it as a development opportunity.

“Are you using your brain or your gut?”

Many managers pride themselves on the soundness of their “gut instinct.” They often make quick decisions based solely on sudden flashes of intuition.

Bad idea! That’s not to say that intuition is invalid. But to be effective, it needs to be backed up with logic. If you’re modeling decision-making behavior based solely on gut instinct, you might be doing your associates a disservice.

Remember the old bumper sticker “Question Authority”? When an employee comes to you with a gut-based decision, you need to start questioning.

Consider the following questions in your dialogue.

•           “Why do you think this will work?”

•           “What assumptions have you made?”

•           “What alternatives might we consider?”

When an employee’s decision is successful, acknowledge it. Remember: praise in public (and criticize in private). If he or she makes a mistake, use it as a learning opportunity. Our job as leaders is, again, to be the catalyst for positive change. Serve as that role model for others to follow and use your “PhD in critical thinking” to move your company forward.

G. A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at tfernley@fernley.com, or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Published in Columnist

There are a number of people who would argue that St. Louis’ slogan “Gateway to the West” could be updated to “Gateway to the World” — and Elizabeth Stroble, Ph.D., the newest president of Webster University, believes it more than most.

During the expansion of America, St. Louis was indeed a “Gateway to the West.”

“[Today,] I would say the slogan could be reversed as well; the world needs to see St. Louis as a gateway,” Stroble says.

As president, Stroble has been finding ways to continue to expand the institution’s presence globally in an effort to provide students with a more diverse curriculum that not only benefits them, but the businesses and communities that those students then work and live in.

Webster University is based in St. Louis, and has campuses in Geneva, Vienna, The Netherlands, London, China and Thailand. The college employs some 1,200 full-time faculty and staff members and has 21,000 students — 8,000 of them in St. Louis.

Stroble came to Webster in 2009, and with the university turning 100 in 2015, she has been evaluating where the college can grow and improve itself for the sake of its students, communities and business partners.

“What I learned since I arrived here was that Webster University has a tremendous history of being globally excellent with room to grow the global excellence,” Stroble says. “It’s highly innovative and entrepreneurial and its mission, going back to its founding, was to meet an unmet need.”

During the last four years, she has been assessing the university’s strengths and opportunities.

“The strengths and opportunities at Webster are to continue to connect the pieces and parts of that global network so that strength builds upon strength and that we stay connected, not only locally but globally,” Stroble says.

Here’s how Stroble is advancing the university’s strengths and opportunities.

Do a thorough assessment

Before coming to Webster University, Stroble was provost, senior vice president and COO at the University of Akron in Ohio. Wanting to find a presidency position, she came to Webster.

“The move to Webster University was about the presidency of an institution that’s local here in St. Louis but has a global reach and impact, and that was what was most interesting to me about it,” Stroble says.

With the school’s international footprint a big drawing factor, Stroble began to assess the university’s strengths and opportunities in that area and how Webster could benefit students, businesses and communities.

“I spent a great deal of time in the St. Louis community not only interacting with faculty, staff and students here but with local business and community leaders who have a global footprint in their own organizations and want to increase the global interaction in St. Louis, because that makes it a thriving community and a globally competitive community,” she says.

Stroble also began visiting every international location and many domestic locations of Webster University.

“Part of what fascinates me and continues to about Webster University is the diversity that comes from being located in different places,” she says. “While the location is different and the diversity of the students is different, the academic programs reflect local market needs.”

Taking that tour of various Webster campuses helped Stroble assess where the university could improve.

“You have to take plenty of time listening and asking for other people’s advice and counsel,” Stroble says. “One of my fundamental questions was, ‘What do you most hope that your new president will preserve about Webster University, and what do you most hope the new president will seek to change?’

“My sense in every organization is that there are these sacred traditions, values, habits and processes that people hope will continue. It’s always an assessment of whether you, as president or the new leader, will agree with those, but it’s important to know them.”

Stroble’s assessment left her with a sense that Webster University, like most organizations, had some ambition and pent-up hope and demand for change.

“If you don’t know what that is, you can’t help to fulfill the hopes and dreams that caused you to be the president who was selected,” she says. “That is an important learning opportunity, and you need to seize it to its fullest advantage, because when you’re new, it’s the greatest warning opportunity.

“Over time, it’s harder to see things with fresh eyes and … it’s hard to disabuse yourself of the notion that there might be better ways to do things.”

As an incoming leader of an organization, you have to take advantage of not knowing very much about the operation because you can ask the naive question and gain a lot of insight.

“Over the course of my presidency, it’s my role to listen to what’s going on in the external environment,” Stroble says.

For Webster University, that’s an external global environment and what’s happening in the world of higher education but also in the world of culture, diversity, politics, economics and the larger environment that we all live in and hope to shape.

“How do I learn about that and help to communicate that effectively to the university community so that we can truly not only be responsive but lead the change that the external environment wants?” she says.

“In turn, how do I learn well enough what the strengths are of Webster University so I communicate those well to an external environment to continue to attract students, high-quality employees, donors, external support, and local and global support partnerships?”

To help aid in that responsibility, Stroble has been investing in developing Webster’s talent around global diversity and knowledge and is focused on improving curriculum.

“We revised our general education curriculum to focus on global citizenship, and we have been building many more partnerships with international universities, especially in parts of the world where we are not,” she says. “That’s why it’s important for us to expand the campus footprint beyond Europe and Asia.”

Webster University wants to open global opportunities for its students and St. Louis businesses at the same time to bring an infusion of global talent to St. Louis and across the world.

“This focus on people, partnerships, curriculum and programs that help support student travel, more scholarship prospects for international students and raising our profile in terms of how well we communicate about the opportunities we can create at Webster University for businesses and other higher education institutions has been the work I have been doing,” Stroble says.

Develop global talent

True to Webster’s mission to fulfill a need, one of the institution’s goals is to build capacity in potential new geographies. These new international locations need to have a stable political environment, a stable and growing economy, and a need in that local community for American-style education taught in English in the degree programs Webster offers.

Globalization at Webster University is much more comprehensive than most other universities. Some even say that globalization is baked into the university’s DNA.

“It’s my job to help deepen this, broaden it, strengthen it, further it, but it certainly dates back to before I arrived,” Stroble says. “It was such a part of Webster University from its inception that we were ahead of the curve. Again, we’re an institution that prides itself on meeting a need and being entrepreneurial and naturally saw opportunities to do that outside of St. Louis well before it became cool to be global.”

Webster’s effort globally is much more about creating synergies and mutual benefit than it is about carrying the American message abroad.

“We’re much more about being truly global and figuring out how to live that through preparation of students, who we hire and how we think about the geography than we are about how we export an American education that might seek it,” she says.

While constantly looking at new international locations for the college, Stroble is also extremely focused on how that global diversity can benefit the local community in St. Louis.

“We have purposefully built a program with the state of Missouri called the Global Internship Experience that provides interns from international locations for companies here in St. Louis and sends Missouri students to international locations to do internships there,” she says. “We’ve been doing that for 25 to 30 years and it continues to expand.”

Another effort to broaden education and benefit businesses is the creation of a Confucius Institute.

“The point of a Confucius Institute is that you provide an arm for increasing knowledge of Chinese language and culture in your local community,” Stroble says. “Ours was founded in 2008, and it was the first in the state of Missouri. Our Confucius Institute provides resources to local businesses who seek to learn more about how to do business with the Chinese.”

This institute is a direct connection of Webster’s expertise and relationship with the Chinese Ministry of Education that opens up doors and opportunities for young people and businesses.

“It would be hard to know the world without knowing China,” she says.

All of these advancements to the global education of Webster’s students provide a platform for lifelong learning.

“It’s not only about the important topic of being a citizen of the world and seeing things in a large perspective or relating to people who have had experiences different from ours; it’s about creating an open point of view about learning, changing and responding to an environment that will continue to change,” Stroble says.

“If you learn how to navigate a different country, different language, a different culture, different politics, a different lifestyle, that positions you to learn about new technologies, new field development, new environmental challenges across your lifetime. You open up your world in more ways than globally.” ?

How to reach: Webster University, (800) 981-9801 or www.webster.edu

Takeaways

Listen and ask questions about the organization as a new leader.

Evaluate the organization’s strengths and opportunities.

Develop a presence to benefit stakeholders locally and globally.

The Stroble File

Elizabeth Stroble, Ph. D.

President

Webster University

Born: New Castle, Wyo.

Education: She earned a degree in history and English from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. She has two masters of arts degrees, one in history and one in American and English literature, both from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. She received her doctorate in curriculum studies from the University of Virginia-Charlottesville.

Background: She spent time at Northern Arizona University-Flagstaff and University of Louisville-Kentucky. At University of Akron she was the dean of the College of Education and was promoted to provost, senior vice president and COO. She then sought a presidency and came to Webster University.

What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?

I was a waitress. I worked my way through college waitressing. Serving the hungry public teaches a lot about communication skills and being attentive to detail and being pleasant to interact with. I learned a lot about customer service.

What got you into education?

During my next-to-last term at Augustana, I was in the student teaching program. I had this spectacular student teaching assignment and after about the second or third day I decided this was my life.

Who is someone you’ve admired in the education world?

I worked for the chairman of the history department at Augustana, J. Iverne Dowie, and I looked up to him greatly because he had been blind since he was three years old. My job was to read books and papers out loud to him, and he and I would discuss what I had read. I admired his intellect and how gentle he was as an individual and how accomplished he was to be the department chair. A lot of what I learned about teaching and university work was from his direct example.

What are you looking forward to at Webster University?

I’m excited about this institution continuing to live that mission of setting a distinct standard for global education and preparing our students to be individually excellent and citizens of the globe.

Published in St. Louis
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Effective leadership

As leaders, we understand that our actions, whether good, bad, positive or negative, are being continually examined. Our job as leaders is to create a vision, develop and execute strategic plans, define goals, and set objectives aimed at creating excellence through products and services that address the needs of the customers and markets we serve.

Accomplishing these tasks cannot be done in a vacuum; a team of highly skilled and dedicated leaders is needed to accomplish these goals. CEOs and business owners are constantly challenged to seek out the talent needed to build an effective leadership team. Though difficult, it is paramount to find talent that has a keen understanding of your organization’s market, vision, mission and objectives.

Building a team of talented leaders that share similar capabilities, traits, ambitions, and that are qualified to lead an organization is one thing, but getting this group to function together to lead a business effectively and efficiently requires special attention.

It is vital to have a leadership team that consists not only of highly skilled, functional leaders but also those who possess the ability to understand the broader picture. Members of this team must be willing to contribute, provide productive opinions and work as a team to reach consensus, and then collectively execute these decisions throughout the organization.

Leading strong leaders requires managing egos, resolving conflicts, balancing power and integrating opinions in a way that ultimately fosters a team that is aligned with your organization’s vision, goals and objectives.

Reflect for a minute on the qualities that have brought you to your leadership position. You are a visionary and you’re high on confidence. You likely have charisma and years of experience. You have a wealth of important contacts and you are a person that most would consider to be “plugged in.”

Now assume that those in your organization, technically your subordinates, share many of those same qualities that you possess. The possibility and likelihood of friction in these relationships is high if you don’t manage these relationships carefully.

Below are some action steps to take to enhance your leadership within your organization.

1. Set the expectation that leaders actually lead, be accountable, take risks and don’t wait for direction. If those around you are not willing to do the same, then maybe it’s time to make a change.

2. Spend quality time with leaders individually to understand their views on their role and their vision of how their functional area contributes to the mission of the organization. Are they thinking big, stretching their direct reports and delivering the results you expect?

3. Challenge the team and individuals to stretch their thinking and share their “big ideas.” Be clear and concise. Put things into context so they understand the meaning and possible outcomes of decisions.

4. Set clear expectations of leaders and the leadership team. Expect individuals to know the overall business and be able to separate themselves from their functional role and contribute to the enterprise by tackling complex issues.

5. Mandate open and frank dialogue between leaders while reiterating that these discussions remain confidential.

6. Expand their role by asking them to contribute by taking lead roles on enterprisewide matters.

7. Allow leaders to lead so they own their actions and decisions. It is your responsibility to identify and select high-quality talent with the knowledge and experience needed in order to contribute to the organization.

These steps are the beginning to a harmonious relationship with your top team members. Remember, the goal is the respect that you earn along the journey, not friendships or three people to round out a great foursome on the links. Your energy, vision, determination and drive are the active ingredients in leading by example. ?

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

Published in Columnist

If you ask Nicholas DeIuliis about the state of the energy industry these days, he would tell you it’s the nature of the industry that keeps it exciting and evolving.

DeIuliis is president of Consol Energy Inc., a more than $6 billion, publicly owned producer of coal and natural gas and one of the leading diversified energy companies in the U.S. He and Consol have been focused on new technologies, new energies and, above all else, keeping Consol one of the leading producers in its region.

“Energy has always been a big issue within our regional economy, national economy and now the global economy within the last number of years,” DeIuliis says. “Consol Energy still looks upon those tried and true forms of energy, but what’s really changed in the last number of years is how we’ve evolved in deploying technology in both the coal and natural gas side.”

As the industry continues to push forward, the success of companies such as Consol depend upon its ability to keep employees safe, effectively communicating and remaining innovative.

“The most important thing we do is we establish what our values are and we literally numerate them for our teams,” DeIuliis says. “We say what our top values are and which is first, second and third. For us, No. 1 is safety. Second is compliance. And third is continuous improvement and taking a long-term view.”

Here is how DeIuliis is helping to drive those values at Consol Energy that, in turn, help drive the company.

Safety first

In the energy industry, there are all kinds of dangers that employees face while on the job. DeIuliis and his team take great pride in running a company that focuses on keeping its workforce safe.

“Safety has always been something that is critical to us throughout our history, and we’ve been around for about 150 years,” DeIuliis says. “So we’ve learned what works very well and also learned the hard way through those 150 years what doesn’t work very well when it comes to safety.”

DeIuliis wants to take the challenge of safety and turn it into an opportunity, which sounds simple, but it’s often very challenging.

“We first started with the philosophy of safety itself,” he says. “What is our culture going to be when it comes to safety? Is it truly going to be our top value that will not change during market swings? A value is something that is constant. So first and foremost, that is our most important top value.

“Secondly, if it’s our top value, what’s the expectation going to be? Are accidents part of the business of extracting natural gas or coal resources, or can we truly take an approach of zero accidents of any kind across the entire employee base as the expected outcome and expected goal?”

Consol has taken the latter approach and created an absolute zero program that says the only acceptable standard of performance is no accidents to the employees on any given day across the entire company.

“Anything that’s an accident no matter how small or slight is an exception to that rule and a violation to that philosophy,” he says. “So you have that philosophical change that needed to occur to turn a challenge into opportunity, and over the last three or four years, it has turned and evolved into the culture and philosophy.”

Now DeIuliis and Consol have to find the ways to further improve the company’s safety outlook.

“What are the tactical things we’re going to do to improve our performance?” he says. “How are we going to bring the science and technology to the table to get smarter about risk identification, hazardous mitigation and overall employee training? All of those things lead you to a better place on safety performance.”

Communication is king

In conjunction with safety performance, how well Consol Energy communicates its message relates to how easily and effectively it can improve the organization.

“Communication is the lifeblood of taking a concept or an opportunity and making it a reality,” DeIuliis says.

Consol Energy has nearly 10,000 employees and 6,000 to 8,000 contractors on top of that. So communication throughout the organization is critically important to furthering a concept, philosophy, a new technology or standard, and whether or not that comes to fruition — and when it comes to fruition.

“Sometimes the when part is just as challenging and just as important as whether or not it actually comes to fruition,” he says. “You can’t overemphasize the importance of communication, especially in a complex and large organization or a complex and large world such as what we’ve seen in the energy space throughout the U.S. and the globe.”

Saying that your company communicates is easy, but actually getting results from your communication is much more difficult. You have to utilize multiple communication tactics.

“We use what we call a portfolio approach to communication,” DeIuliis says. “We don’t put all our eggs in one basket, one means or one method of communication. We will utilize a range of those like you would in an investment portfolio.”

Consol uses everything from closed-circuit TVs that update employees on safety procedures, initiatives, technological breakthroughs, compliance issues and regulatory issues to training programs to make sure that employees are engaged.

“We look at that as an investment in communication that is going to get that know-how rate of return, which will be very good, not just for the shareholders of the company and stakeholders but, most importantly, for the employees themselves, because they will be in a more safe and compliant place,” he says.

“There’s a whole range of different communication tools that we use … that will put us in a better position to succeed in that communication challenge and opportunity.”

In order for communication to be most effective, especially in a company the size of Consol, there has to be someone who has ownership of the messages being spread throughout the business.

“The communication approach goes back to the messaging and the content of what you’re saying,” he says. “The ownership is across the entire company. In reality, it extends beyond the employees within the company. It extends to our partners and other stakeholders that touch or deal with the company in some, way, shape or form. It might be the customers downstream that we’re selling the coal and natural gas to; it could be our contractor partners providing services at our rig sites and coal mines or anyone in between.”

While everyone owns a part of the communication process, it’s also critically important that that communication process and the messaging behind the communication are viewed as owned by action, not just by words with the leadership of the company.

“The leadership of the company for us means many different people, not just our CEO and chairman,” DeIuliis says. “It’s our CEO and chairman all the way down to the mine foreman, all the way down to the employee working on the barge line or all the way down to someone standing on one of our rigs right now.

“It’s a group effort and everybody has a role and a responsibility. Your actions have to be consistent with what you’re saying.”

Create innovation

Just as important as safety and communication are within the energy industry, so too is the need to remain innovative. Recent substantial growth in natural gas drilling and advancements in clean coal technology are two areas driving energy these days.

DeIuliis and Consol look inside and outside the industry in order to bring the best innovation to the forefront of the company’s operations.

“There are two broad groups I look to over time for help and insight,” DeIuliis says. “One is the management team that we work with and around. They’re the best and brightest in the industry. Getting that comfort level and that trust level with the exchange of ideas and thoughts as time goes on is the lifeblood of any successful organization.”

The other broad group DeIuliis looks at is almost the mirror image of his leadership team. He looks toward entities and individuals with insights and experiences outside the industries Consol works within.

“It’s amazing how many already established processes, technologies and concepts are out there in entirely different industries that are being viewed as innovations and ground-breakers with the coal, natural gas and fossil fuel industry that we operate in,” he says.

“Every time we tend to look outside our box and outside our industries, we always come away with an injection of innovation that keeps us going.”

As the world of business and that of energy continue to evolve and change as time goes on, the success of a company comes back to its values.

“In the energy industry, we’ve seen a lot of volatility and a lot of peaks and cycles through the years,” DeIuliis says. “We’ve become used to a certain extent of the things that will enviably occur. But if you go back to the values, and those that are truly the values of your organization, and if you’re the safest and most compliant operator in that environment, you’re going to be the most successful or profitable whether it’s a market peak or trough.”

The key to managing through those kinds of ups and downs has been simplicity.

“The way we manage in those downturns is sticking to those values and as long as we’re pushing for better safety performance, compliance and continuous improvement, we will be fine in any market,” he says.

How to reach: Consol Energy Inc., (724) 485-4000 or www.consolenergy.com

Takeaways

Find ways to improve the processes of your business.

Implement communication tactics that allow your business to succeed.

Innovate through internal and external channels.

The DeIuliis File

Nicholas DeIuliis

President

Consol Energy Inc.

Education: Graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Penn State. He received a master’s degree in business administration and a juris doctorate from Duquesne University.

Career: DeIuliis began his career in Consol Energy’s research and development group in 1990. He became vice president of strategic planning responsible for optimizing the value of Consol Energy’s assets resulting in the creation of CNX Gas Corporation, where he served as president and CEO from its 2005 inception until early 2009. He has been the president of Consol Energy since February 2011.

DeIuliis is also director at-large of the board of directors of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Bituminous Coal Operators’ Association Inc.

Regionally, he is on the advisory boards of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Catholic Foundation. He is a registered professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.

Published in Pittsburgh
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Focus on the critical few

As businesspeople and business leaders, we have full plates. Whether it’s balancing work, home, community, social obligations, aggressive business targets, strategic initiatives to sponsor/support/implement, unwelcome external influences, or customers expecting more for less, prioritizing all of that can be a daunting challenge.

Prioritize and focus are the business vernacular terms we always hear. We smile grimly, mutter “uh huh,” and return to our overwhelming pressure cooker without changing a thing about what we do or how we are approaching our work.

But those words really are the key to managing our crazy world of over-commitment and under-capacity — when combined with two more words: critical few. Prioritizing and focusing on the critical few results, products and people who truly matter more than others is job No. 1 for executives.

How to look at it

The facts: You have a critical few customers, without whom your business would dramatically suffer. Ensure that your organization serves those customers disproportionately well. That does not mean ignore the others; ideally, all customers would be served flawlessly.

You have a critical few products/offerings that make up the 80 percent in the 80/20 of your business. Ensure you get them flawlessly right. Your brand is set by those core products or services. If you get it wrong there, the rest may not matter.

You have a critical few employees/direct reports who play a disproportionately impactful role in the success of your business. Your time should reflect that understanding. It doesn’t mean ignore everyone else; it simply means that you cannot leave to chance that your key people are sufficiently directed, motivated, feeling challenged by their work and appreciated.

They are people you can build the rest of the organization around. You’ve got to get it right with these folks above all others and then rely on their help to reinforce and motivate the rest of the organization.

Optimize and organize

So clearly, identifying your critical few customers, products and people is job No. 1 for results. How do you optimize your short list of the critical few? Simply answer these three questions:

?  What are the critical business results you need to deliver?

?  Who are the key performers who will deliver those results?

?  What are the critical few behaviors that your key performers must do?

That reads like common sense, and it is. But achieving it isn’t so simple.

Don’t forget reliability

You know your critical results and key performers right now, but what about those all-important critical few behaviors that people must do to make it work? If people don’t do the right things, you won’t get results.

Many initiatives are designed to get those critical few behaviors to occur — behaviors that we think should automatically happen, but they don’t. How do we get people to do the right things reliably?

It’s not about making people happier at work. Many happy workplaces go belly-up. It’s easy to be distracted by things that create fun and do little to improve performance.

It comes down to (1) pinpointing those actions, which if performed reliably, will move the needle for your organization and (2) ensuring there are reinforcing consequences for those critical few behaviors and corrective consequences for behaviors inconsistent with what you need. That alignment is necessary, and it is often overlooked.

So in a nutshell: Ensure focus on the critical few results, people and behaviors. Don’t allow yourself or your organization to be distracted. Without the critical few happening well, you will spend many more hours fixing things than growing your business. ?

Published in Columnist

cle_akr_ftr_LeadingEdge_LogoThe Entrepreneurs EDGE 2013 Leading EDGE Awards Program, now in its seventh year, highlights companies generating great economic value for the Northeast Ohio region. These companies embody a sense of purpose that extends well beyond their shareholders to all of their key stakeholders, including the community in which they reside and each employee they have.

Why midsized companies?

Midsized companies are the backbone of our regional economy. They have the greatest potential to grow and create more value for Northeast Ohio:

?  Value through spinoff business and meaningful job creation.

?  Value through spending with local vendors.

?  Value through civic engagement and philanthropy.

?  Value because they are dedicated to the region.

For instance, GE Capital and The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business came together to establish a research partnership focused on the middle market. The National Center for the Middle Market’s research efforts revealed, “The middle market represents more than a third of American jobs and more than $9 trillion in annual revenue. Further, many of its companies, through their longevity, act as community pillars, providing stable employment and acting as responsible corporate citizens.”

As a strategic resource serving this distinct segment of businesses, The Entrepreneurs EDGE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, sees that collectively this elite group of companies is poised to impact future growth and change in Northeast Ohio. It is the group’s mission to foster and support these businesses as the region moves past a time of uncertainty, and it does so with many great partners at their side.

A glimpse into Leading EDGE honorees

The Leading EDGE Awards targets companies driving the most value in the regional economy. Criteria for consideration include earnings and compensation, spending with local vendors, philanthropy, job creation and percentage of sales outside the region. From 2009 to 2011, an average of 69 percent of sales at the 101 companies was from outside Northeast Ohio, driving valuable sales dollars back into the region.

Further, these companies, representing both manufacturing and service industries, work for a variety of innovative and cutting-edge industries.

Perhaps best of all, they weathered the economic downturn well and not only kept people working but created new jobs. In 2011, they experienced a growth of 22 percent in full-time equivalent employees. That is nearly 1,200 new jobs with manufacturing companies and more than 800 new jobs with service companies.

Recognizing civic distinction

As part of each year’s program, EDGE recognizes one Leading EDGE honoree that has demonstrated civic distinction in their community.

Among the deserving recipients of this award are BrandMuscle, Fairmount Minerals, Human Arc, Main Street Gourmet, Marous Brothers and PartsSource. These organizations build civic engagement and philanthropy into their company culture and corporate value structure, making it a part of their DNA.

In the case of our 2012 recipient, Human Arc, it is a part of the business model as the company serves a segment of the population that otherwise may be forgotten. EDGE is proud to hold up these companies as great examples of companies serving the community in which they reside.

The 2013 Leading EDGE Awards

Our seventh annual Leading EDGE Awards event will showcase one of our university partners, Lorain County Community College, and multiyear honoree Dealer Tire. Honorees and special guests will gather on Thurs., May 23, at the Spitzer Conference Center at LCCC to celebrate.

Scott Mueller, CEO of Dealer Tire, will share how a shift in the business model and a culture driven around success drove the company to the next level. It will be the kickoff to a yearlong series of events that will bring this elite group of midsized company leaders together. ?

About EDGE

EDGE is a strategic resource serving the middle market in Northeast Ohio that develops leaders and builds companies by improving the performance of their management teams. Through engaging leaders of seven different functional areas (CEO, finance, HR, innovation, IT, marketing and operations), EDGE facilitates shared learning, innovation and growth. EDGE even engages the next generation of leaders through student programs that expose top student talent to great local companies.

2013 Leading EDGE Awards Presented by

Glenmede

MAGNET and Smart Business

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland State University

Kent State University

Lorain County Community College

The University of Akron

 

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Emotions are contagious

Long work hours, heightened competition, demands for efficiency, and new laws and regulations are all challenges faced by executive leaders today. It often feels like we’re running up the down escalator — constantly in motion, exerting excessive energy with our adrenaline pumping just to get through a normal day.

After awhile, the demands take their toll. In addition to serious potential health consequences — including heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. — stress has behavioral side effects, making us anxious or depressed.

The result of that chronic stress can severely compromise our ability to lead. It affects not only each of us personally but also the teams we lead and the organizations we run. When we acknowledge the power we have over our people and businesses, this subject takes on real urgency.

Check your emotions

Emotions are contagious, so as leaders we need to be vigilant about the emotions we’re passing on to those around us. Are you carrying fear and stress to those around you?

Imagine different scenarios: a boss who responds to stress and fear by acting aggressively toward employees and becoming overcontrolling, a leader who appears calm but buries his head in the sand, or a leader who remains calm and responsive.

The first two will create fearful, stressed out or frustrated employees whose performance is stunted or paralyzed, while the latter creates an atmosphere of trust and confidence, where people are encouraged to act. Where would you rather work?

We can start by paying attention to the emotions we’re passing on to others and honestly assessing whether we’re contributing to their productivity or inhibiting it. If it’s the latter, we have to find ways to defuse our stress — through exercise, relaxation or levity — and avoid taking it out on those around us.

Be honest

The ability to speak openly and honestly is a critical leadership behavior. If a team member isn’t performing up to par, avoiding a conversation only increases ineffectiveness and raises anxiety.

When we find the courage to have honest conversations, we create a climate of transparency and openness — necessary elements of healthy and productive workplaces.

At the same time, we relieve stress and anxiety by being proactive and confronting tough situations head on.

Stay connected

Being connected through devices means we’re always available.

But are we? Being available to everyone all the time can leave us unavailable at any one time. It’s hard to focus on the conversation you’re in when you’re constantly ready to respond to the outside world.

We can enhance our leadership by demonstrating that we’re present and connected in the moment, in face-to-face conversations. Those human interactions make us better leaders and reduce stress.

Be open to learning

A hallmark of effective leadership is openness to learning. Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock,” said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

As leaders, we’re besieged by information, and the contexts in which we work are changing daily. That’s why it’s more important than ever to be not only willing to learn but eager to learn as well.

Emotions are like an on-off switch to learning. If you’re resistant and fearful, you’re in “off” mode, and it will be nearly impossible to learn. If you face new situations as opportunities for growth with an attitude of willingness and curiosity, you get turned “on.”

Our leadership ability is directly correlated to our openness to learning. Once you’re “on,” learning isn’t a source of stress and anxiety but is a source of energy and creativity. ?

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

Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Who wants a dream that's near-fetched?

Steve Jobs was credited with inspiring Apple’s trademark advertising campaign challenging each of us to “think differently.” But how does one go about thinking differently? Since founding the Alliance of Chief Executives in 1996, I have passionately studied and experimented with how CEOs can generate breakthrough ideas — which are the most visible examples of thinking differently.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Marty Neumeier who in 2003 launched a think tank called Neutron to merge design thinking with business management. He’s written three best-sellers, but his newest book, “MetaSkills: Five Talents for the Robotic Age” suggests that we are entering a new age in which the “left-brain” skills of the industrial age, while still very important, will be surpassed by the “right brain” skills of creativity, sensing and learning.

As computing advances have made information immediately and almost totally accessible, Neumeier believes that we must develop the ability to cultivate five “metaskills” if we are to reshape the world.

Feeling

The ability to draw on human emotion for intuition, aesthetics and empathy is a talent that’s becoming more and more vital. It’s the ability to connect deeply with people through vicarious imagination or “putting yourself in another person’s shoes.”

Seeing

Integrative thinkers don’t break a problem into separate pieces and work on them one by one. Instead, they see the entire architecture of the problem — how the various parts fit together and how one decision affects another. By resolving the tensions that launched the problem, they can craft a holistic solution, which often requires them to reject the urge for certainty and grapple with the messiness of the paradox.

Dreaming

The No. 1 hazard for innovators is getting stuck in the tar pits of knowledge. Knowledge has a powerful influence over creativity. When we’re stumped or in a hurry to solve a problem, our brains often default to off-the-shelf solutions based upon what everyone knows. The proper approach to invention is not logic but wonderment. Creative thinking begins with phrases such as “I wonder,” “I wish” and “What if?”

Making

Creativity is a messy process, and we arrive at better decisions by making not-so-good decisions and then constantly improving upon them. The best designers believe in failing fast. Their drawings, models and prototypes are not designed to be perfect solutions.

Learning

If you’re seeking new information or fresh insights, you need to look beyond your clique, since a clique is a closed system that acts more like a mirror than a window. The antidote to the clique is to open the window and connect with groups outside your own. Put yourself in the way of meeting like-spirited people, not just like-minded people.

So how do normal people like us think differently? Steve Jobs was smart — but not exceptionally smart. However, he learned the trick of divergent thinking. Biographer Walter Isaacson said Steve’s “imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected and at times magical. He had the ability to make connections that other people couldn’t see, simply because they couldn’t let go of what they already knew.”

We need to stop seeking only current best practices and challenge our assumptions about our current limits and ask questions about what might be. Howard Schultz once said, “Who wants a dream that’s near-fetched?”

In order to solve the global problems facing us, we must think differently than we have done in the past. No single individual is as smart as all of us, so we must learn from others with different knowledge and skills. By seeing our problems from new perspectives, dreaming big ideas and fast prototyping new solutions, we can make a dent in changing our world.

Paul Witkay is the founder and CEO of the Alliance of Chief Executives. Based in Northern California, the Alliance of Chief Executives is the most strategically valuable and innovative organization for CEOs in the world. Reach him at paulwitkay@allianceofceos.com.

Published in Columnist

Twenty years ago, Bert Jacobs and his younger brother, John, were looking for ways they could avoid getting typical jobs. Jacobs and his brother never agreed with the standard path for someone coming out of college. In fact, at that time, Jacobs was delivering pizzas and teaching people how to ski to earn a living. The brothers were looking for a unique path to live life how they wanted to live it.

“We wondered if we could create something that fit us better,” Bert Jacobs says.

That fit was The Life is good Co., an apparel and accessories company that spreads the power of optimism in its products and through its nonprofit organization, The Life is Good Playmakers.

Fast-forward to today and Life is good has 260 employees and saw 2012 revenue north of $100 million. Not bad for two brothers who wanted to maintain the fun in their lives.

Jacobs serves as CEO, or chief executive optimist, while his brother John serves as chief creative optimist. The two started their company 19 years ago aided by a drawing of a smiling character named Jake, who has become more than just a logo on the T-shirts but a symbol of optimism and the driving force behind the company and its inspiring message.

“Jake is our hero here at Life is good, and we like to say that Jake has superpowers,” Jacobs says. “Those superpowers guide our decisions.”

Simplicity, gratitude and humor are just a few of the 10 superpowers in total that help shape how the company does business. In recent years, the Jacobs brothers have had to do some self-evaluation as leaders and plan more strategically to understand where to go next with their company and its message.

“We’re 19 years in business and we’re really less about being a clothing company and more about the clothing being a vehicle for an important message,” Jacobs says.

Here’s how Jacobs has overcome the growing pains of leading a small private company into a larger corporation.

Find your direction

Since early in Life is good’s existence, the company’s inspirational message has been both a strength and a challenge for Bert and John Jacobs.

“Our message is so clean and simple that it applies to a tremendous array of different things,” Jacobs says. “So we have a lot of choices, which is a great place to be for a business, but it can also keep you up at night thinking about what we should do and shouldn’t do.”

Jacobs remembers one instance when the company was just above $1 million and he got a call from a large liquor company wanting to purchase more than $6 million worth of T-shirts from Life is good.

“We could have had 600 percent growth, and it was really, really tempting, but it really didn’t have anything to do with the reason why we liked the brand, started the brand or the vision of the brand,” he says.

“There has always been that pressure, and when you’re given an opportunity to go and hit the gas, it’s real tempting to do it.”

That call was the late ’90s, but in recent years, Jacobs says it’s too dissimilar.

“There are always people bringing ideas and opportunities, and I think we have to look and say, ‘How do those opportunities line up with our mission? How do they line up with our vision and with what we’re trying to do with our lives?’” he says.

Knowing what move to make next is one of the biggest challenges in any business. The way to attack that challenge and consider it an asset is to know who you are and act like it.

“That’s how we define branding internally at Life is good,” he says. “The mission of our company is simple — to spread the power of optimism. If we’re going to make a business decision that drives revenue, that’s great. But if it drives revenue and it doesn’t spread the power of optimism, it’s not so great.”

These business decisions come back to the company’s inspirational leader — Jake and his superpowers.

“These superpowers have to start showing up in the deals we do,” Jacobs says. “A big driver of these decisions is knowing our brand. We had good gut instincts back in the early days. Today, we can really line it up against criteria, and it’s pretty easy to take a look and see whether it’s a fit or not.”

Decisions regarding company direction take a great deal of focus. You must consider all that is at stake and who will be impacted by the decisions.

“You need to get away from the details of the business and ask what you want to do with your life,” Jacobs says. “If someone is trying to make a decision about their business and they’re not looking at how that’s going to serve their life, then they’re not going to make the right decision, in my opinion.”

Once you answer that, you have to look at who the stakeholders are of the business and what they want to do.

“You have to start with the highest priorities and who owns that organization and what are they trying to do and where do they want it to be,” he says. “A big part of that is including your customer base in those stakeholders, because a business can’t continue, it can’t thrive, and it can’t grow or do new things without your customers. Then make a decision based on that.”

Regardless of what decision you ultimately make, you have to ensure that you go through a process to understand why you’re making that decision.

“There have been times with this business that we didn’t go through that process, and those are the times that it stings you,” Jacobs says. “We’re lucky that none of those times we did things that sank the ship and we can still live our dream. But if you don’t watch those things, you can lose your dream.”

Enable autonomy

Just as understanding the company’s direction in recent years has been a challenge, so too has having to let go of some of the leadership responsibility both Jacobs and his brother have had in the past.

“Like many small businesses — the people who started the business play a very critical role,” Bert Jacobs says. “You can sort of kid yourself at some point that nobody can do something better than you can.”

The Jacobs brothers began reading about the struggles that companies go through and the mistakes that leaders make. One thing they saw over and over was that leaders have a tendency to place blame on others for issues in the company, but they’re afraid to have a self-evaluation.

“That was a big step for us,” Bert Jacobs says. “What we did was we created a task force at Life is good and we asked them to critique my brother and I and our other four partners. It was sobering. They were really honest and really candid. There were many areas where we weren’t doing a great job.

“The task force and the criticisms forced us to put some structure in place to reorganize the whole company and align on all our major strategies.”

Going through that evaluation opened doors and enabled autonomy to Life is good and its top management and general managers of its different business units.

“When we clearly paint the vision of where we want to go and we get out of the way, they’re not as good as us, they’re better,” Jacobs says. “That decision has been a real revelation and a breakthrough that a lot of small business owners sometimes never make or make too late.”

For Jacobs, realizing that taking an extra day skiing up in Maine isn’t a bad thing every once in a while has helped him and the business grow.

“The business might be better off without me on a given day,” he says. “Maybe by being around we can get in the way of things. Instead, if we put people in place and we trust the job that they can do, then unexpected things can happen.

“I can point to spots through the years where we probably could have grown stronger, faster and smarter if we did a little less. When something is your baby, you hold it white-knuckled sometimes, and I think we have gotten over that and we’re enabling more things to start happening.” ?

How to reach: The Life is good Co., (617) 266-4160 or www.lifeisgood.com

Published in National