Columnist (36)

Tuesday, 29 October 2013 07:52

The pros and cons of taking work on vacation

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Summer may be over, but the trend of Americans working while on vacation is just beginning. Regardless of the industry, it can be difficult for employees to balance responsibilities to employers and customers, and a much-needed break from work.

Our team at PGi recently surveyed our customers about their relationship to the office while on vacation. One of the most eye-opening findings was that 82 percent of employees check in with the office at least once a day while on vacation.

The topic of “workation” has been widely debated in recent months. In reality, there is no one right answer for all jobs and all employees, but there are factors each individual must weigh when considering whether to work while on vacation. 

Some positives to checking in while away:

Peace of mind

The purpose of a vacation is to relax and recharge, but many employees simply cannot flip a switch when they walk out the door. Instead, that last report they sent their boss or the project their team is advancing stays on their mind for a couple of days.

For many, a quick glance at their email from a smartphone to see that projects are advancing and that customers are happy can provide peace of mind and allow them to truly unplug. 

Technology increases vacations

Technology can empower many employees to take a longer vacation than would have otherwise been possible. That Friday afternoon meeting can be taken from a smartphone or a video conference with a customer can be handled from a laptop or tablet while waiting for a flight. 

Higher productivity and less stress

Studies have shown that getting out of the office can lower stress levels and workations help avoid the dreaded “vacation inbox.” By plugging in for short bursts of productivity, employees remain included in new business opportunities, critical client interactions and projects, rather than spending the first couple of days back at the office playing catch-up. 

However, those who want a more traditional work/life balance dread workations and think they can lead to the following: 

An increase in workload

According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, more than one third of employed Americans report feeling that working from vacation increases their workload. The respondents also say workations make it more difficult for them to stop thinking about work during their time away. 

A higher burnout rate

Staying on top of work increases the chance of burnout. Even the most dedicated employee needs to unplug from time to time. If they never have the chance to do so, the next time they leave the office may be for good. 

Setting a precedent for work/life boundaries

Employees may not mind sending a short email or taking a quick call on vacation, but they may have concerns about setting a precedent. Concerned employees need to maintain open communication with colleagues and customers to ensure work does not encroach on their vacation time. 

No matter which side of the debate you fall on, it’s clear that working on vacation is an increasingly common practice in today’s connected world. As we approach the winter holidays, identify which camp you fall into and plan appropriately to ensure you find a balance that lets you enjoy your vacation. ● 

 Sean O’Brien is executive vice president of strategy and communications for PGi, a global leader in collaboration and virtual meetings for more than 20 years. For more information, visit

A common problem for businesses today is that they don’t know their customers as well as they should. Many erroneously believe that it’s too hard or too expensive to understand what their customers want. They try to use shortcuts like relying on survey data or demographics in a feeble attempt to fill their knowledge gaps.

Here are five tips that demonstrate that it’s easier than you think to get to know your customers: 

Tip 1: Talk to your customers

This seems incredibly obvious, but so many companies have never done this. They assume they know who their customers are without actually having a conversation with any of them. These unconfirmed assumptions lead companies to develop products, services or marketing messages that miss the mark. 

The secret: You don’t need to talk to all your customers to start seeing important patterns that drive their decision to work with you or choose your competitor. 

Tip 2: Don’t just talk about yourself

Companies that do talk to their customers may start too narrow and begin with the product, service or market message they want to learn about. Start the conversation broadly. Find out how your company’s products or services fit within the customer’s everyday life. Understand the likelihood you will dramatically impact or change their behavior is slim, so you must instead figure out how to fit within their current needs. 

Tip 3: Go to them

To truly understand your customer, it’s important to get into their personal space. This lets you compare what your customer tells you with what you see in their surroundings. Your customers may present themselves publicly as organized and together. Once you get into their space, you realize they don’t have everything as under control as they would like you to think. 

Tip 4: It’s never really about money

Customers love to use money as an excuse — they will say things like, “If it were cheaper” or “If I were making more money.”

A decision to modify your pricing should only be made after you truly understand what your customer cares about as it relates to what you offer. If your customers want your product or service bad enough, they will be willing to pay your price. 

Tip 5: Provide a way to maintain
the relationship

You will find that some of your customers are fine with seeing your company as merely a place where they spend their money. But others want and respond best to a two-way relationship. This is especially important to understand if you include social media as part of your plan. 

Your interactions should be give-and-take. Use the clues you see in your customers’ profile and other social media shares to determine how you should respond. A customer who shares often and affirms others is looking for affirmation from your company as well. Ignoring an individual’s core need for affirmation will ultimately cause irreversible brand damage. ●

Eric Holtzclaw is the founder and CEO of Laddering Works and a sought-after consultant on consumer behavior and entrepreneurship. He has spent the last decade running a research firm that specializes in unlocking product and service potential for Fortune 500 and other companies. He has just published “Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior.” For more information, visit

Twitter: @eholtzclaw


When your company reaches its goals, receives awards or hits a milestone, what do you do? Do you share the news with the entire company, or just your executive team?

Celebrating wins is an easy way to align your entire team with your company goals, kick up your company culture and overall capitalize on the good news. 

Acknowledge the wins

Take the opportunity to give your team background on how the win came about. Take them on a journey through the process — from goal-setting, to the action plan, to the big win.

Moe’s Southwest Grill recently opened its 500th restaurant  — a milestone in our company’s history. It was a milestone we were proud to share with our customers, our franchise partners and the corporate support center.

In communicating this, I talked about what the company looked like five years ago when I joined, steps we have taken to set a solid foundation, and what we have done since then with our franchise partners to set us up for success as a growth brand. That’s a key piece as well — transition from the past to the present and give your team a peek into the future to get them excited about the next milestone. We’re already talking about what it’s going to take to get to our 1,000th restaurant and ways our team can help get us there. 

Include and recognize your team

Once you’ve communicated the good news, how do you celebrate it with your team? Bring everyone together so you’re not just telling, but showing, your team that their contributions are having a positive impact on the company.

It’s also a good opportunity to get the team together in a social environment outside of the office. Don’t let the cost get in the way — it will be paid back two-fold by having engaged employees and positive team morale.

I like to get the Moe’s team together fairly frequently as a thank you for all they do. They get to know each other on a personal level, which really contributes to the positive atmosphere and family-like culture we take pride in. 

Give mementos to commemorate the wins 

When we celebrated our 500th store, we gave the team plaques that say, “Thank you for being part of a team that rocks — Moe’s 500th Restaurant.” Over time, the mementos you award your team members become a visual timeline of their success and contributions to the organization.

They develop a sense of pride that they were there for those exciting times. It encourages them to continue their hard work so they can build on that collection. It becomes a depiction of their career and of the brand they helped to build.

Given the current state of the economy with companies failing and people getting laid off, it’s more important than ever to take advantage of positive company news, successes and wins by sharing them with the team, recognizing them for their contributions and giving them something to remind them daily that they’re part of something great. ● 

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 500 locations nationwide. He has been a leader in the foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. Damico can be reached at

Twitter: @pdamico


When I was the general sales manager for a Rolls-Royce dealership, there was a lot of ways to elevate the customer experience that translate to all facets of business.

On one occasion, for example, a client was having a birthday party for his wife. He was sure of the model and color he wanted to buy, but then he hesitated. I asked him about the details of the party, and he immediately became enthusiastic. He said he wanted the car delivered in a box.

I asked him, “So if I build a beautiful box for the car and deliver it to your driveway on her birthday, you’ll pay for it?” He shouted, “Yes!” It wasn’t just about selling the car — it was about elevating the customer experience and asking “what else?”

Today’s executive deals with a number of issues when trying to stand out in the marketplace, regardless of industry. Having a great name, strategic pricing and years of experience doesn’t set your product or service apart. When an executive asks why customers do business with them and then do business around that ideology, the customer becomes the center of the business — that’s customer centricity.

Focus on the customer

The ability to meet the customer’s expectation and constantly deliver an elevated experience is a cornerstone for creating word-of-mouth and a business distinct from others.

A customer must have an emotional connection and executives should always monitor how emotionally engaged clients are with their business. In today’s marketplace, you can choose between several brands that do the same thing. On some level your purchase decision is made on something you are subconsciously aware of.

Find a unique value promise

Shaping a unique value promise is defining the mission of your business. This is where you as an executive need to start asking “why?” These are the ones that help executives solve problems in their business. Breaking out doesn’t mean you are ahead; it means you are a trendsetter. Your competitors are left in the dust.

Here are questions to answer:

  • Why are your clients doing business with you now?
  • What is it about your competitor’s relationship to their customers that you have not figured out yet?

Consider these examples of successful promises. Each focuses on the customer:

  • La-Z-Boy: “Live Life Comfortably”
  • Old Dominion Freight: “Helping You Keep Your Promises”
  • Target: “Expect More, Pay Less”
  • FedEx: “When You Absolutely, Positively Need It There Overnight”

Unique selling promotions aren’t so unique anymore

Corporations that use sales promotions to drive business get lost in what they are doing and why they are doing them. When an executive focuses business practice only on sales he or she becomes surpassed by competition.  

J. C. Penney Co. is a prime example of a company with a sales-driven business structure. It has been fumbling to catch up to competitors Kohl’s and Macy’s Inc. with its aggressive pricing strategies to try to stay afloat. Penney’s has constantly jiggered prices and offered discounts but it hasn’t worked.

Focusing on the consumer isn’t a trend. It is about being responsive to the way business is done today.

Markets change and so do the demands of the consumer. As an executive, you must constantly revisit “why” to make sure you are doing all you can for your clients. ● 

C. Richard Weylman, chairman of the Weylman Consulting Group and CEO of the Weylman Center for Excellence in Practice Management, is a Fortune 500 consultant, marketing guru, media expert and the author of the best-selling book, “The Power of Why: Breaking Out in a Competitive Marketplace.”

Twitter: @richard_weylman





Monday, 30 September 2013 08:00

Understanding your ‘natural instincts’

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The animal kingdom has long been instrumental in teaching children about appropriate behavior.

A rabbit named Peter educated us on the importance of conflict resolution. For better or worse, Curious George was habitually inquisitive and, in separate incidents, three bears and three pigs taught us the importance of home security.

But despite a literary reputation as “big” and “bad,” according to Jack Hanna, “A wolf will feed the sick, the old and the young first.”

That’s a pretty impressive character trait for a creature so often maligned by the human race. Over the years, however, we’ve learned to expect Hanna to set the record straight on an important part of our world that most of us will never experience firsthand.


Following the footsteps of a legend

Inspired by wildlife pioneer Marlin Perkins, Hanna parlayed a fascination with animals and a position leading the Columbus Zoo into a television empire spanning 30 years. He’s had countless TV appearances on popular shows such as “Good Morning America” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” In addition, he currently helms two television programs, “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” and “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”

Not surprisingly, Hanna’s high regard for the animal population is also reflected in his view of the public’s acceptance of the animal kingdom: “Most people who say they don’t like animals don’t like people much either.”

Phil Beuth, former president of “Good Morning America,” observes, “With Jack, what you see is what you get — he’s a genuine gentleman.”

Hanna has set a simple benchmark for appropriate professional behavior, “I operate by The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Of course, humans are animals too — complete with instincts, genetic predispositions, unique skill sets and laws to keep us from acting like predatory animals. Yet, prey we do — leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers, foreclosures, etc.


Comparing workforces of nature

When asked about lessons human worker bees can glean from the animal kingdom, Hanna enthusiastically says, “Just look at ants and termites. They each have specific jobs to do.” By performing specific tasks every day, these creatures work solely to serve the greater good — ostensibly without complaining.

Animals = 1 Humans = 0

Hanna also points to an innate respect in the wild that does not always translate into the land of the bipeds: “The animal world does not waste food and animals do not abuse their own children. For example, gorillas may fight but they still work together.”

Working through issues to achieve top performance is apparently part of the natural order of things. It’s about survival. As the concept of business survival has never been more prominent, shouldn’t cooperation receive equal billing?

Animals = 2 Humans = 0

Though Hanna also marvels at the mysteries behind the instinctual and highly effective way animals communicate, many in the office marvel at some people’s overwhelming lack of communication skills.

Animals = 3 Humans = 0

Specifically, according to Hanna, “The elephant is one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.”

So yes, it seems that without the benefit of an iPhone, Twitter or Outlook, an elephant truly never forgets.

Time to hire me an elephant. The Laws of Nature win every time. ●


Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. For more information, visit

Twitter: @randallkjones



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A marketing epidemic, to put it mildly, has been impacting most businesses — and it’s time to think about keeping your message simple if you haven’t already done so.

The roots of this epidemic can be traced back to two events.

First, during the economic fall of 2008, as businesses looked for ways to preserve revenue streams, companies hunkered down and focused on sales to preserve existing customers. Many cutoff or significantly reduced marketing budgets, and others shifted to digital media as a “low-cost alternative.”

The second event was the rapid spread of social media and the skyrocketing use of smartphones and tablets, which provide instant access to relationships, information and communication.

The social media craze and businesses’ desire to market on the cheap led companies to flood the marketing channels with content. Sales sheets, photos, videos, web pages — companies were suddenly all things to all people because they could push content to digital channels for “free.”

The problem — our marketing channels are now very noisy. As consumers of information, we respond to this noise with limited attention spans. The result — companies have sent confusing messages to the marketplace and people aren’t listening.

This current epidemic of marketing noise distributed across all channels leads to a common marketing need for all businesses — simplification.


Keeping it simple

So how do you achieve message simplification? It all ties back to the business. Here are seven steps to help get you started:

1. Identify three to four key business objectives for the next two years. Do you want regional growth or growth in a new industry? Do you want to sell more to existing customers?

2. Prioritize your objectives by placing dollars or number of opportunities next to them. This will help you focus on the most important areas.

3. Brainstorm a list of marketing tactics that can help you achieve each objective. Can you generate more leads from trade shows, your website, your existing customer list? What tactics do you need to adopt?

4. Write a succinct summary, or “elevator pitch.” This should be one to three sentences on how you benefit the people you are targeting in your objectives.

5. Compare your elevator pitch to your marketing tactics and existing materials. Review your website, brochures, email newsletter, social media accounts, videos, trade show collateral, etc. Notice how many “extra” things you say in an effort to cover all your bases.

6. Rework your message. Focus on the audiences for your key objectives. Identify the benefits for these audiences. Your marketing message should speak directly to these audiences so they can understand your value and usefulness to them.

7. Prioritize your marketing tactics. It’s tempting to be trendy and market on social media or through video, just remember to consider which tactics will best reach your audiences. You don’t need to be in every marketing channel, just the ones where your customers and prospects will hear you.


Finally, once you’ve simplified your message, stick to it! It is important so that people understand the benefits and value that you deliver. While it might seem repetitive to you, your audience will appreciate the clarity and with time, will remember what your business does best. ●


Kristy Amy is director of marketing strategy for SBN Interactive. Reach her at or (440) 250-7011.

Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.

If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.

The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.

But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.

Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.

Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.

You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.

At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.

No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.

If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●

Most weeks I get on a plane and attempt to have an out-of-body experience to deal with all the hassles of flying as I travel from point A to point B. When flying, I have a few simple rules. One, I almost never eat the food. Two, I attempt to talk to no one other than obligatory hellos. Three, I never argue with or say a cross word to flight attendants.

One other very important practice I follow on land, sea and especially in the air is that I constantly scan my surroundings for potential troubles and new ideas.

On a recent flight, upon boarding, I quietly and obediently proceeded to my assigned seat.

As I began to sit down, a gentleman asked if I would mind trading seats with him so that he could sit next to his wife. Like most seasoned travelers I try to accommodate reasonable requests. In this case it seemed a no-brainer to agree to move.


Notice the details

As I started to settle in and fasten my seat belt I noted that my new seatmate was very hot. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I mean she seemed to be flushed and radiating heat, ostensibly from a high fever. I’m thinking, this is not good, plus it proves the age-old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

In the next minute I had an epiphany, which happens frequently as I believe that many problems come disguised as opportunities.

I rang the call button and, when approached, asked the cabin attendant to please bring me two cloth napkins. I stated that the purpose was to construct a makeshift face mask by tying the two pieces together to prevent possibly contracting some dreaded disease.

I feared that my intentions could be misinterpreted if I were to don a mask without an explanation; this could cause a well-meaning passenger to drag me to the floor thinking I had nefarious motives.

The stewardess smiled, nodding approvingly of my plan. She then summoned all her co-attendants to my seat and proceeded to whisper what I was attempting. Otherwise, she explained, they, too, could misunderstand my appearance and cause me bodily harm.

As founder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail and marketing chain, I’m always looking for that next special something to share with my team. Therefore, while burying my now masked face in a newspaper so as not to frighten or offend the sick seatmate, I began dictating a memo to my merchandise product group proudly asserting that I just had another “aha!” moment, for which I am well-known, among my colleagues. For full disclosure, however, I am sometimes known for being a bit “out there” on occasion — but no one bats a thousand.


Turn an idea into a product

This particular predicament gave me the idea to develop a product kit that we could sell to weary travelers in our stores and in airports. I suggested a handful of complementary products, including a mask, a disinfectant spray and, if all else fails, relief remedies. I also noted that it probably would be prudent to include a cigarette pack-type “Black Box” warning stating that the mask is not what some suspicious flyers might think, but instead it’s for prevention of disease only. I even proposed we market these kits directly to the airlines to dispense as an emergency prophylactic for passengers exposed to airborne (pun intended) pathogens.


Fleeting thoughts have value

A key role for business leaders is teaching a management team to use fleeting thoughts as a springboard, to pair common problems with sometimes-simple solutions.

Just because it is a simple fix, though, doesn’t mean the idea couldn’t be a lucrative breakthrough.

When something sparks an idea it needs to be taken to the next level before being pooh-poohed. Most likely the vast majority of these inspirations won’t see the light of day, but that’s OK. Just think — what if one transient idea translates into the next Post-it Notes, Kleenex or bottled water?

The next time you sit by a masked man on a plane, it most likely won’t be the Lone Ranger. Instead, you might be witnessing the incubation of the next best thing since sliced bread. ●


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. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at

Many enthusiastic and ambitious employees have worked for years aiming for the prized corner office. Well, with the increasing popularity of the ultra-hip, open-office floor plan, the corner office is fading from existence.

Not only do open floor plans eliminate the corner office, in many cases they diminish productivity and engagement. The Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health found that companies with open-office setups reported 62 percent more employee sick days on average than closed-office layouts. But still, the craze continues.

When I embark on office planning with my clients, seven out of 10 originally envision an open floor plan with sleek modern cubicles. That’s consistent with the International Management Facility Association’s latest study that says 70 percent of American employees work in an open-office floor plan.

Why so popular? A few reasons: 

Hip Factor: Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that headquarters would be moving into the largest open-office floor plan in the world, complete with moveable furniture to enhance collaboration. When huge corporations make moves like this, it sends a message to other business owners and managers that it’s the best option.

Not having to plan for multiple office spaces means architects aren’t restricted and can more easily create a dramatic and hip space. As a result, open floor plans typically end up looking sleeker, which perpetuates their hipness. 

Collaboration: Some studies show the best ideas arise when employees are away from their desks. Other studies point to collaboration inspiring more creativity in the workplace. Office planners have heard the buzz and feel openness stimulates idea exchange and therefore better work. 

Cost: Many business owners are under the impression cubicles cost less than walls. 

When the economy tanked in 2008, the open floor plan’s popularity increase.

Although open floor plans can work well in some companies — it’s all on a case-by-case basis — I usually aim to redirect my clients when they want to jump on the open floor plan train. Here’s why: 

Expense: When negotiating office space, we aim to get our clients’ build-out included in the lease cost — meaning the landlord or seller will pay for office walls. This type of arrangement does not typically include furniture — cubicles/partitions are considered furniture. Yes, you’ll have to purchase desks, but they’re typically more affordable than cubicles and can be re-used if you relocate. 

Open plans aren’t as hip as they seem: The reality is, most employees who work in open floor plan offices are unhappy, that’s according to a Journal of Environment and Behavior study — there’s nothing hip about unhappy employees. Some experts say this could be caused because members without their own office spaces may feel transient, replaceable and undervalued — all contributors to poor company culture and lower retention rates. 

Productivity: Researchers at Hong Kong Polytechnic learned that noises like ringing phones, overheard conversations and machines were the biggest inhibitors of employee productivity. These sounds are all more rampant and amplified in an open-office floor plan.

Further, Andy Bailey, head entrepreneurial coach at Petra Coach, says it takes anywhere from eight to 20 minutes to regain focus after an interruption. Without walls and doors, interruptions from coworkers are commonplace. Bailey suggests enabling focus and productivity by giving team members the option to close their doors and hang up a do-not-disturb sign. 

If you’re relocating or redesigning your office space, think twice before you join Zuckerberg with his mega open-floor plan. What’s right for Zuckerberg may not be right for you. You definitely need a space like a conference room where team members can brainstorm and collaborate, but in most cases, to increase efficiency, productivity and employee morale, preserve the corner office and all the offices in between. 

Stephen F. Graw joined Sperry Van Ness/Nashville in 2012 as senior adviser. Prior to his present role, Graw gained six years of commercial real estate experience at Grubb & Ellis where he focused primarily on office and industrial tenant representation. For more information, visit

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 05:41

Move beyond “shiny and new”

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Say the word “innovation,” and immediately you think about business legends like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, as well as the companies they created – Apple and Amazon. Too often, however, we focus on the people who have been tabbed as innovators and the companies that develop those breakthrough products, services and solutions, such as Apple’s iPod and iTunes, or Amazon’s marketplace and unique ecosystem.

True innovation goes much deeper than a single leader’s vision. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that permeates an organization and defines its purpose for being. For me, at least, I prefer to think about innovation in its broadest terms, extending its definition to include corporate cultures and innovative management styles. Think about how Facebook and Microsoft are run, and how at both organizations employees are a key factor in the idea creation, or ideation, process.

Now, think about the breakthrough products that eventually went bust. Hopefully, you don’t have a basement full of Beanie Babies, boxes of Silly Bandz, or a home library filled with laser discs. It is more common to land on a singular breakthrough product that temporarily revolutionizes your industry rather than develop a product through a process that’s repeatable or scalable. And, just as true, no matter how innovative and creative your management team’s style may be, without the proper processes in place to push ideas through a system that takes them from mind to market, you’ll eventually have trouble keeping the lights on.

It all comes down to developing a culture imbued with innovation at its core. But this also requires having a servant culture in place where every person who works for the organization thinks about the customer first.

Consider San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels, where employees strive to create “Kimpton Moments” by going above and beyond with guests and delivering memorable experiences.

Kimpton overcomes the inherent limitations for creating new innovative products that being a boutique hotel chain includes by approaching innovation through its employee interaction – and then rewarding employees for their creativity. For example, when team members put in the extra hours to ensure world-class service delivery, the hotel chain has sent flowers and gift baskets to their loved ones. And when they create an innovative service experience, the company rewards staff members with such things as spa days, extra paid time off and other goodies.

And then there’s the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm that’s known for developing innovative business processes and systems for its high-end clientele. Part of BCG’s internal process is a focus on team members maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When individuals are caught working too many long weeks, the company’s management team issues a “red zone report” to flag the overwork.

Talk about innovation! And no product, service or solution was developed, marketed or sold.

And finally, few organizations are more innovative than DreamWorks Animation. But beyond plugging out groundbreaking animated movies, the studio’s culture embraces empowerment and innovation. Employees are given stipends to personalize their workstations so that they create whatever inspirational atmosphere they need to succeed. And, as the story goes, after completing Madagascar 3, the crew presented a Banana Splats party, where artists showed the outtakes.

Not only are these three companies known for being innovative in their respective industry spaces, they also share the honor of being members of Fortune’s 2013 “Great Places to Work” list.

So how do you take the first steps toward transformation or put those initial building blocks in place to begin the journey? There’s no magic formula, but there are some common traits – and they revolve around empowerment and establishing a culture that cares. 

Innovation organizations

  • Are open-minded and ask “What if?”
  • Teach team members how to see what is not there and identify opportunities in the marketplace to take advantage of those gaps.
  • Develop cultures where innovation thrives through open and honest communication.
  • Flatten the organizational structure and recognize that innovation can come from anyone and anywhere.
  • Make innovation, itself, a cyclical and continuous process.

Stop and take an internal assessment of your organization, your team and of yourself. If you can’t check a box next to each of these five traits, stop and ask yourself why. Then begin your own journey to greatness.

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