Todd Shryock

Thursday, 27 February 2003 08:24

Meeting liability

You plan a corporate meeting to achieve specific goals, like solving problems, establishing better business relationships or exploring opportunities.

The last thing you want is for someone to get hurt.

But what if your best customer slips on the ice on the way into the conference center? What if your speaker falls off the stage on the way to the podium? What if a buffet table collapses and injures one of your employees?

These are all things you hope don't happen, but what if they do? Did you ask about the conference center's liability coverage before the event? Did you check your own coverage?

"Read the fine print in the contract," says Jan Conrad, general manager of the Shisler Conference Center. "Any credible facility will already have addressed the issue."

Once you've confirmed the meeting site has liability coverage, check your own business insurance and talk to your agent about any potential loopholes that would leave you vulnerable at an off-site meeting.

In most cases, the conference center's insurance and your own insurance will protect you, but if you are doing something out of the ordinary, such as having an event at a motor speedway or other high-risk location, you might want to purchase additional insurance.

"It all depends on the group and what type of event you are holding," says Kelly Moir, manager of meeting and event operation for Conferon. "When you reach 1,000 attendees, you'll want to purchase some sort of additional liability coverage to protect yourself. This is also when you should look at purchasing some sort of event cancellation insurance.

"After 9/11, there were millions of dollars that were lost that would have been covered if the groups had had the right insurance." How to reach: www.shislercenter.ohio-state.edu, (330) 287-1486; www.conferon.com, (330) 425-8333

Thursday, 30 January 2003 19:00

Keeping score

Parker Hannifin's manufacturing capabilities span 111 divisions in 45 countries, which presents a unique challenge: How do you measure success?

The answer was to institute the Kaplan & Norton's balanced scorecard model companywide, using readily available software. The scorecard system uses metrics that account for customer measures, financial measures, internal measures and innovation and growth measures.

"The e-business solution we developed uses a plethora of technologies integrated together to gather the data that we didn't already have, consolidate the data into meaningful comparisons and report the information in a flexible manner," says David Armbruster, manager of information management at Parker Hannifin.

To capture the nonfinancial data, Parker instituted a Web page data collection form and placed it on the company's intranet. Any user in any of the 45 countries can use this form to enter requested information.

"At any time, users can simply click on one of the input items to get a full-page definition of what we are looking for," says Armbruster. "This is an important feature when you are dealing with so many currencies, customs, cultures and laws."

Once the data is entered, it is stored in a nonproprietary database. At that point, all the data is translated into U.S. dollars, some smaller locations are combined into a larger divisional scorecard, a consolidated scorecard for each of Parker's 13 groups is created using the numbers from each group's various divisions and all the scorecard data is saved in easy-access databases.

All the calculations are done in Microsoft Excel.

"The reporting side of this whole process is the key feature," says Armbruster. "Every single report is an Excel template that is stored on a Web server. We broke free from expensive hard coding of formulas. Now, when we need to make changes, we simply change the Excel template, resave it and we are done. It doesn't take any programmers to do that."

When a report is requested, the data that matches the report is extracted from the database, then pushed into the appropriate Excel template that is launched on the user's computer.

"Breaking free from the complex programming has allowed us to make on-the-fly changes to any aspect of this project in a matter of mere minutes in most cases," says Armbruster. "Having Excel make the calculations on the client side has proved to be a huge mainframe resource saver, and users get easy-to-understand reports in a format they are used to. When upper management request graphs, we simply build them into Excel in a matter of minutes."

These scorecards bring visibility to the management strategies and measure their success. It helps keep division leaders focused on goals, and will eventually be tied into a bonus compensation program. How to reach: Parker Hannifin, (216) 896-3000

Thursday, 30 January 2003 19:00

Recruiting consultants

Finding the right executive to fill an important post can be a daunting task. A recruiting firm can help you find the right candidate, but first make sure you find the right recruiting firm.

"There are two kinds of executive recruiters -- retainer and contingency," says Rick Taylor, managing partner and president of the search division for recruiting firm Ratliff Taylor and Lekan Inc. "Typically, a contingency firm helps find junior to mid-level people. True recruiters are retained by the company to go out and find an individual to fill a job. They are paid to do work like a consultant."

Contingency agencies are only paid if they make a placement, and will forward as many qualified resumes as possible in an attempt to fill the position. A retainer firm selects candidates that best match not only the job, but also the culture of the company, and they only present the top three or four candidates for interviews.

A contingency firm typically gets 20 percent to 25 percent of the first year salary as payment, while a retainer firm gets 30 percent to 35 percent, with one-third paid up front and the remainder due at some future date.

A recruiter will usually spend two or three hours with a client to pinpoint exactly what it's looking for.

"We need to know the culture and what kind of manager and personality works well," says Taylor. "Typically, I look at the specs as only 50 percent of the job. The management style and personality will determine if they fit, and it's almost as important as the degree."

Retainer firms are typically hired to find the passive job-seeker.

"We are looking for candidates who aren't actively looking for a job. That's what recruiting is all about," says Taylor. "Any size company can use an executive recruiter. The reason we are hired is either they don't have the expertise to find someone or they don't have the time." How to reach: Ratliff, Taylor & Lekan Inc,. www.ratliff-taylor.com or (440) 895 8000


The search

If you hire an executive recruiter, expect to spend some time getting to know each other.

"Our recruiters spend two to three hours with the client really finding out what they are looking for," says Rick Taylor, managing partner of Ratliff Taylor & Lekan. "In many cases, we help them determine what we think their issues and problems are. The more we work with a company, the better we will be able to find someone that matches up with the specs."

Also, have a search team prepared that has the authority to hire.

"If you have a team of six people, you may never be able to get them all together at the same time," says Taylor. "When we come up with people, they have to be ready to go. If the search team is arguing about what makes the ideal candidate, that can be a major problem."


Questions to ask

Rick Taylor, managing partner of Ratliff, Taylor & Lekan, recommends asking the following questions before hiring an executive recruiter.

* What kind of expertise do you have to do this job?

* Have you filled this type of position in the recent past?

* Can you fill this assignment?

* How long have you been a recruiter?

* What is your process going to be in filling this position?

* What's your success rate? Keep in mind that only about 60 percent of vacancies are ever filled.

* How will you communicate with me about your progress?

* Who will lead the search?

* What are the fees and guarantees?

* Are there any blockage issues? Blockage is when a recruiter might be blocked from recruiting from certain firms because they are recent clients. Recruiting firms are typically prohibited from recruiting from previous clients for one to two years after the engagement. If the recruiter has recently worked with all the local banks and you are looking at filling a banking position, that's going to greatly limit who it can go after.

Friday, 20 December 2002 10:10

On site management

Web sites must have up-to-date information to keep users coming back, and the best way to keep your site current is to take control of the content yourself.

"Web sites have gone through an evolution," says Dale Pease, president of Walking Stick Productions, a Cuyahoga Falls-based Web developer. "First you had the brochure sites, then people saw the need to update the information and try to use it as a tool to interact with customers. But this was still based on the model of calling your Web developer to make the changes, and it ended up being a bottleneck.

"The changes were made to fit the developer's schedule, and the content was being separated from the people that know the content best."

With new tools like Walking Stick's siteMpower, it's possible for companies to update their sites without the assistance of a programmer or the need to know any computer code.

"This does two things: It keeps you from having to outsource the updating of your Web site, which helps save time and money, and it also helps you distribute the responsibility of the content within your company," says Matt White, vice president, account services, at Walking Stick. "If you have five departments, you can have someone within each department managing their part of the site. On the outside, it allows you to provide the most updated and relevant information to users of your site. You might update it once a month, or update it hourly or weekly."

Special password-protected sections can be established where sensitive information can be shared by certain clients or employees.

"You can do all of this without Web knowledge and no help from the IT guy," says White.

Someone in the company can screen new information before it goes live, if desired, and dates can be set when information appears and is removed from the site.

"Anything they want to the ability to be changed can be changed," says White. How to reach: Walking Stick Productions, (330) 923-7708


How it works

siteMpower is one of several products on the market that allows even a Web novice to update his or her site.

"When we were creating this product, we tried to design the easiest way to go in and update your site," says Dale Pease, president of Walking Stick Productions. "With siteMpower, you physically go to your Web site and log in on the home page. If you have edit rights, you'll see a little edit button on the page that you click on to go into edit mode.

"There is no disconnect, because you add things right there on that page. If you want to edit text, you click on the text you want to change, then click on edit and change it."

For one client, Walking Stick created 20 base template pages to meet specific needs. The client has taken those 20 pages and created a 300-page site, and is expected to have about 1,000 pages when finished.

"When we sat down to do this, we did a lot of research on what was out there," says Pease. "There were a lot of packages that had all the features, but from a usability standpoint, they still looked like they were written by programmers. We started from the ground up, thinking from the standpoint of, 'If I'm a computer dummy and know nothing about the Web at all, what's the easiest way to get in and update my site?'"

Friday, 20 December 2002 09:16

Design focus

Did you launch your Web site with great fanfare last year, only to find it languishing in the World Wide Wasteland today?

The Web sites of many businesses are not achieving all the goals originally set forth, and a common problem is simply the design -- both from a technical and aesthetic standpoint.

"For a small or medium-sized business, it's about content, content, content," says Jeffrey Rohrs, senior digital marketing strategist at Optiem. "You have to make sure you are providing very specific information about the products and services you offer, and do it in such a way that is search engine friendly. You want to organize your site so it's targeting concepts, keywords and product names that will draw people to the site."

Search engines remain the No. 1 way sites are found. Half of all people looking to make an online purchase start with a search engine.

To attract customers, keep your content current. And to let people know about site updates, offer an e-mail subscription list. E-mails can update customers on new product information or offer tips and advice.

"E-mail is a retention tool," says Rohrs. "If you are launching a site and have a loyal clientele, and you think they want to hear about updates, then integrate a simple registration form. The permission-based e-mails are very powerful, and smaller businesses can take great advantage of that."

Site design should focus on a clean appearance with no broken links.

"Don't do everything on your home page," says Rohrs. "Too many sites have way too much on the main page. Users need a chance to orient themselves. You don't walk into Walmart and see all the products at once.

"If you've got pop-ups flying around and 24 levels of primary navigation, you are shooting yourself in the foot."

A site should have a site map, contact information and a search function.

"Don't think you are done when you launch a Web site," says Rohrs. "Your job has just begun. You have to treat it like it's one of your stores and put effort into it along with a bottom line commitment that lasts for the rest of the life of the company." How to reach: Optiem, (216) 615-9100

Tuesday, 26 November 2002 08:23

Clearing the smoke

Creating a successful smoking policy takes careful planning and a lot of communication. Balancing the needs of smokers and nonsmokers and the requirements of the workplace can be a challenge, especially when faced with outdated policies that have been in place for years.

Morgan Electro Ceramics, a Bedford-based electronic component manufacturer, used to have a policy that allowed smoking any time, except for three half-hour periods in the lunchroom.

"It was hard, because if you went into the lunchroom for a break, it was not smoke-free," says Cindy Baldwin, Morgan's human resources manager. "We had clean air filters brought in, but they weren't doing the trick. Our smoking policy was backwards."

Now, there are nine half-hour time periods where you are allowed to smoke in the lunchroom, but nowhere else.

"We're moving toward becoming a smoke-free environment, but we need to allow time for the employees to wind down," says Baldwin. "Our medical department is providing information on smoking cessation. Our goal is to provide a smoke-free workplace by 2004. At that time, there will be two areas outside for smoking, with picnic tables and the appropriate receptacles."

The company also recently offered a one-month supply of a nicotine patch to interested employees.

The situation was similar at Shiloh Industries in Valley City.

The metal products fabricator's policy was that employees could basically smoke whenever and wherever they wanted.

In summer 2001, the company issued a corporate directive to its human resources managers to be tobacco free by Nov. 1, 2002. The company opted to include all tobacco products because of housekeeping issues.

"We broke it down by quarters, and every three months, the areas where they were allowed to smoke were pushed back," says Judi McMullen, group human resources manager for Shiloh. "The convenience to smoke as you work was being removed. It wasn't abrupt, and the employees grew accustomed to it."

With the phase-out completed Nov. 1, employees are only able to smoke at a location outside during lunch.

The company offered smoking cessation information and the opportunity to attend classes to help employees cope with the changes.

Communication played a key role in the acceptance of the policy.

"We explained what the corporate goal was and the reasons behind it to our weekly shift meetings," says McMullen. "Housekeeping was a big issue, and we do blanking and welding, and the last thing you want to see in an assembly plant is ashes between two blanks."

The company had also had products returned because of the presence of smoke and ash residue.

Baldwin says that Morgan's policy change was announced in a state-of-the-company address, and the new policy was posted in conspicuous places around the plant as a reminder. Managers also sat down with groups of employees to explain the policy and answer questions, as well as emphasize that the company takes it very seriously.

"Somebody asked me in an open forum what we would do if we found someone smoking," says Baldwin. "I told them we would follow our progressive discipline guidelines. Our employees have had a year-and-a-half to prepare, there are posters and signs everywhere and weekly updates outline where we are. We've told them that if there's anyway we can help to let us know. We are helping every way we can."

When instituting a change that will have a profound effect on people's lives and their productivity, it's important to assess what you want to accomplish and formulate a well-thought-out plan.

"The policy change wasn't a popular statement the first time we made it," says McMullen. "But when you supply people with enough information so they can understand the reasons behind it, they can make a decision and base it on facts." How to reach: Morgan Electro Ceramics, (440) 232-8600; Shiloh Industries, (216) 267-2600

Tuesday, 26 November 2002 08:19

Furniture finance

The choice between leasing and buying is usually associated with cars and office equipment, but the advantages of leasing can apply to office furniture, too.

To qualify for leasing, your company must have been in business for at least a year, preferably two. Leasing terms range from 12 to 60 months, but 36 months is the most common.

"There are a lot of benefits to leasing office furniture," says Joe Bartolick, vice president of Budget Office Furniture. "One of the biggest is the tax advantage. The interest rate you pay on leasing may seem like a high rate, but if you talk to your tax accountant and run the numbers, you typically end up saving more in taxes than what you pay in interest."

For example, take a company in the 35 percent tax bracket that takes out a 36-month lease on $10,000 worth of furniture. The company will spend about $12,100 during the three years -- or $2,100 in interest. However, the tax savings from leasing will be about $4,200, so the real cost of the furniture is about $7,900.

"The other benefit is you are spreading your payments over time," says Bartolick. "You have a fixed monthly payment that you can accurately forecast in your budget. If you bought it with cash, you'd be paying out all the money at one time."

Furniture leasing hasn't reached the popularity level of car leasing, and furniture isn't usually returned to the dealer like a car is at the end of the lease. And companies typically keep their furniture for a longer period of time than the standard three-year lease.

Leases are typically set up in one of three ways:

* Dollar buyout. At the end of the lease, the company buys it out for $1. Because there is no large balloon payment at the end, monthly lease payments are higher.

* 10 percent buyout. A company pays 10 percent of the original cost of the furniture to own it when the lease period is up.

* Fair market buyout. This requires the company to pay the fair market value of the furniture at the time the lease ends. The amount can also be used as a basis to release the furniture. The fair market option gives the lowest payments, but you end up owing a considerable amount at the end of the lease.

This option can be used for companies that are growing and plan on moving to a new office in a few years. The company can lease low-cost furniture for a few years, then return it and upgrade to new furniture that matches the new office at the end of the lease.

"The company keeps its costs down by going with a lower priced product during the three-year period, then upgrades to a newer and nicer product using the savings," says Bartolick.

"Different leasing options give you payments that allow you to stay in budget," says Bartolick. "Each company is different on how it's structured. It's important to find out what the options are, because it may be more of a benefit for some companies to buy it all at once." How to reach: Budget Office Furniture, 216-566-1540

Friday, 30 August 2002 06:15

Gateway to the top

 

In 1993, Rachel Torchia knew that her company had to change to survive. Brecksville-based Gateway Title was in the middle of a refinancing boom that year, but market conditions were changing and she needed to find a way to adapt.

"We were no longer allowed to market directly to Realtors," says Torchia, Gateway president. "Agencies were forming their own affiliations with title companies. It really changed the way title companies get business."

Gateway was a young company at the time, putting it at a disadvantage in forging partnerships.

"I knew the refinancing business would not be there forever," says Torchia. "It was an excellent source to get started, but I needed something else. I saw a big, untouched segment in for-sale-by-owners. No title company would admit to or touch them publicly, because the Realtors would have a fit.

"Their thinking was that if you are catering to FSBO, then you are against us. I'm not against anybody, I was just looking at our future."

So in 1995, Torchia broke ranks and targeted the FSBO segment.

She began by attending open houses and checking ads in the paper to target potential clients.

"What most people didn't understand is no matter how you sell your house, you need a title company," says Torchia. "Most sellers didn't know what to do after they got a buyer."

Torchia developed brochures with basic information on the selling process and what sellers needed to do. Seminars followed, and she began refining her information for sellers.

By 1996, Torchia set her focus solely on FSBO business. Her initial brochure evolved into a free 24-page FSBO Training Manual that covers everything sellers need to know. The company also put much of the information, along with closing documents, on its Web site at www.gatewaytitle.com.

Revenue increased with the new focus, but Gateway still lost deals when sellers were tempted to use a different title agency suggested by the buyer, Realtor or lender. Torchia fought back, and in 1998 created the Smart Start program. In it, sellers get $125 off the title examination fee if they commit to Gateway before the contract is signed and pay for it up front rather than through the sale proceeds.

As a result of targeting this niche through educational efforts, gross income has more than tripled since the company opened, and employment has grown from three people to 22. How to reach: Gateway Title, (440) 546-9660
Wednesday, 31 July 2002 11:15

Spreading the message

Training is an integral part of developing a company's work force into a team that plays by the same corporate rules. But training is expensive, especially for companies with multiple locations, and delivering a consistent message can be challenging.

Technology can fix that. The majority of businesses surveyed in this year's SBN/ERC Workplace Practices Survey -- 64.1 percent -- indicated a willingness to try Web-based training. Although that's down from 70.1 percent last year, companies are still finding that technology can solve training woes.

Westlake-based TravelCenters of America manages 153 locations, with employees who range from diesel mechanics to waitresses. The company has found CDs to be particularly effective for its training needs.

"The reason why we choose to do a lot of training by CD is because everybody is getting the same message in the same format," says Dave Raco, manager of safety and training development for TravelCenters. "By taking the training and assisting the managers with the process, it really aids their location. It adds a lot of consistency."

Cleveland-based Pioneer Standard Electronics also likes the consistent message technology can deliver.

"We are doing our training computer-based to the greatest degree that is practical and appropriate," says Jim Richey, vice president of operations for Pioneer's Industrial Electronics division. "It makes the training very consistent and you can stress the things you want stressed and not have to rely on a different person delivering the course in each location."

Richey also likes the fact that once the program is developed, it requires little funding, making it less likely that training gets slashed during corporate cost-cutting in a down economy.

Both Pioneer and TravelCenters tie in their training programs with testing to assess employee knowledge. TravelCenters' programs are tied into a central database that instantly updates each employee's progress, while Pioneer is implementing a similar system.

Richey and Raco stress that these technology tools are just another option for getting your message across to employees and should supplement traditional methods, not replace them.

"We still send people to regular training courses," says Raco. "Online training is just a nice complement. We do not want to cut out the face-to-face time with our employees, because it helps the home office stay current on what's going on in the field."

As with any project any project, careful planning will net you the best results.

"You need to define what the purpose of your training is and determine what the return should be before you go out and pick a media and build anything," says Richey. "Once you do the work, you may not need to develop anything. Just go buy it and save yourself some money. Your needs may not be as unique as you think they are." How to reach: www.pioneerstandard.com; www.tatravelcenters.com

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:09

Dental plans

Dental plans

Adding dental benefits can be cheap and effective.

By Todd Shryock

Looking to enhance your benefits package on a limited budget? Consider adding a dental plan.

If you may think that dental plans are only offered by Fortune 500 companies and are out of reach for the average business, you might be surprised.

"Dental benefits are an easy way for an employer to get the attention of employees," says Robert Winzler, president of R.G. Winzler and Associates, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based benefits consulting firm. A dental plan can help keep current workers and recruit new ones, and the administration burden is minimal.

"It's really a lot less than medical insurance," notes Winzler. "The claims are a lot more straightforward and less complicated."

Low costs

Dental insurance is not only a popular addition to a benefits package, it's also cost effective. Premiums for a dental plan are usually about 15 percent of those for medical coverage. Plans are also available that require no employer contribution, yet because the cost is so much lower than medical insurance, it's still an affordable option for many employees.

Medical insurance is designed primarily to cover the costs of diagnosing, treating and curing serious illnesses. The process can be complicated, and can involve several physicians, testing facilities, laboratories and expensive medication.

Dental insurance works differently. The focus of most dental coverage is preventive care, something medical HMOs and other forms of managed care have tried to imitate. Dental care rarely requires the complex treatments of some medical ailments. An examination and a set of X-rays are all that is usually required, which limits the costs of care. Because most dental disease is preventable, dental benefit plans are structured to encourage patients to get regular care. Most plans require patients to assume a greater portion of treatment costs for dental disease than for preventive procedures.


Plan types

Dental plans each have their own method for patients choosing their dentists:

  • Open panel. This type of dental benefits plan allows covered patients to receive care from any dentist and allows any dentist to participate. Any dentist may accept or refuse to treat patients enrolled in the plan. Open panel plans are often described as freedom-of-choice plans.

  • Closed panel. This type of plan allows covered patients to receive care only from dentists who have signed a contract of participation with a third party. The third party contracts with a certain number of dentists within a particular geographic area.

There are two types of closed panels:

  • Preferred Provider Organization. This plan allows a particular group of patients to receive dental care from a defined panel of dentists. The participating dentists agree to charge the patient base less than usual, providing savings to the plan purchaser. If the patient chooses to see a dentist who is not on the panel, that patient may have to pay more of the fee.

  • Exclusive Provider Organization. This closed panel plan allows a particular group of patients to receive care only from participating dentists. Although there may be some exceptions for emergencies, if a patient decides to see a dentist not listed by the EPO, charges for the service will not be covered by the plan. Because dentists are required to offer substantial fee reductions, many dentists elect not to participate in EPOs. Under some plans, the dentists may be salaried employees of the EPO. Access to specialized care may be restricted, and there may be limitations on the amount of services a patient can receive in a year.

When choosing a plan, it is important to know how the payments are set up. The two most common types are indemnity and capitation.

Indemnity plans pay the dentist on a fee-for-service basis. Employers pay a monthly premium to an insurance carrier, which directly reimburses the dentist for any work done. Insurance companies typically pay 50 percent to 80 percent of the dentist's fee, while the remaining amount is paid by the employer or patient. These plans usually have a deductible that must be met before any care will be paid for by the insurance company.

Capitation plans pay the dentist per patient rather than for actual treatment provided. Participating dentists receive a fixed monthly fee based on the number of patients assigned to the office. Patient co-payments may be required for each visit.

While cost may be a primary consideration when choosing a dental plan, also determine whether your needs and those of your employees will be met. Consider the following questions when choosing a plan:

  • Does the plan give you the freedom to choose your own dentist or are you restricted to a panel of dentists selected by the insurance company?

  • Who controls treatment decisions-you and the dentist or the dental plan?

  • Does the plan cover diagnostic, preventive and emergency services? If so, to what extent?

  • What routine corrective treatment is covered by the dental plan? What share of the costs will be yours? A broad range of treatment can be defined as routine, so make sure you see a list of what the plan considers routine treatment.

  • What major dental care is covered by the plan? What percentage of these costs will you have to pay? Many plans cover less than 50 percent of the cost of major treatment.

  • Will the plan allow referral to specialists? If so, who chooses the specialist?

  • Can you see the dentist when you need to, and schedule appointment times convenient for you? Closed panel or capitation plans may have dentists with preselected hours to see plan patients, or limit them to given days.