Joseph S. Tempio has a bias toward action, but he says moving too soon in business can be a pitfall.
“Make sure you do your homework, make sure you understand what is going on and what makes the machine work before you start to tinker with the machine,” says the chairman, president and CEO of Tunnell Consulting, a 75-employee, $38 million consulting firm focused in the life sciences industry.
Smart Business spoke with Tempio about how to open the lines of communication with your employees and how to face challenges.
Q: What are the keys to being a good leader?
Confidence. You have to believe in yourself, believe you have the ability to share your vision and passion with other folks, and be able to let them set an agenda for what you are trying to do.
In addition, it’s important you have a plan, work the plan, expect there will be obstacles, try to anticipate them, and remain confident and energetic in terms of engaging those problems as they occur.
Q: How do you face obstacles?
Step back and take a deep breath. One of the things I’ve learned is nothing is really as bad as it seems on first blush. It’s important to look at things in a holistic fashion and look at all the aspects. Hopefully, it’s either something you anticipated, have seen before or had some experience with that was close enough that you can define what the next action is going to be.
Q: How do you show employees you have that confidence?
I walk around and talk to people quite a bit. I try to keep in touch with people, and I have a fairly good reputation for being open, honest and fairly direct.
Being in touch with what is going on, talking to people about what they are doing, having an understanding about what they are doing and what is going on in the industry helps to establish that we have control.
Q: How do you know if employees are getting your message?
We try to keep the lines of communication with our employees open. We are an employee-owned company, so people don’t feel reluctant to send in questions or ask anyone on the management team or CEO what is going on. We are generally an informal company. We try to be attentive to what is going on with our employees.
Q: How do you open the lines of communication?
We ask. We are not reluctant to ask people to ask us questions. We will send our head of HR out to sites to interview folks and solicit feedback. An element we instituted about three years ago is everybody on the management team will be interviewed by a member of the board, and information will be compiled to give the CEO another checkpoint on how we are doing.
We have done some surveys in the past. If you do ask questions and do surveys, you need to be open about what is asked, what you get, and you need to respond to it, even if it is to say you don’t agree. The worst thing you can do is ask people for their opinion and then ignore it.
Q: How do you retain employees?
I read some time ago that one of the things that prompts people to leave their firm is when they have lost confidence in their leadership or lost confidence in the ability of their company to accomplish what they have set out to accomplish. We try to make it clear to people what we are trying to do.
We think that is one thing that keeps people working. We are advantaged by the fact we are an employee-owned company, so people feel that if they do good work for the company, then they are able to share into that.
We are also a company that encourages creativity and encourages people to have empowerment and demonstrate initiative. Our folks are generally experienced and highly educated and smart, so you give them opportunities or put them in positions where they can be successful and exercise their abilities. That autonomy, in and of itself, helps in terms of giving people job satisfaction
Q: How do employees know the company is heading in the right direction?
We let them know what is going on. We are very frank about the things that are going right and the things that aren’t going as well as we would like them to go.
We feel that we have a responsibility, because of the employee ownership, to be forthright about almost everything going on in the company. We are pretty open about what we are doing, within the limits of confidentiality, in terms of the clients.
HOW TO REACH: Tunnell Consulting, (610) 337-0820 or www.tunnellconsulting.com
An overachiever is an overachiever, no matter in what profession he may find himself. When hiring someone for a job that requires quick thinking, good customer relations and an eye for detail, it probably doesn’t matter much that he’s unfamiliar with your business, as long as he’s willing to learn.
Jim Bonner, vice president of The Graham Company, is a prime example, as someone who entered into the insurance business after a career in nuclear engineering and hit the ground running.
Smart Business talked to Bonner about the skills he brought from his former profession and how being detail-oriented is a key part of being an effective insurance professional.
How does your background as a nuclear engineer translate to skills used in the field of insurance?
I was an officer on a nuclear submarine, and on submarines, almost every procedure involves two-person control, in that two people are checking on any one operation in order to prevent human error from sinking the ship. When I came to The Graham Company, I was surprised to see that in a very similar fashion, every insurance policy is checked by two people before it goes out the door. We don’t leave anything to human error. We want to minimize the chance of any errors by having two-person reviews of our work product. The insurance policy is a contract that’s going to be relied upon when disaster strikes. That is not the time to find out you have a problem with your insurance policy.
Insurance and nuclear submarines are different fields, of course, but in both cases you have to pay attention to the details, and at the same time be aware of the big picture. In a submarine, it doesn’t help you to know that you’re heading in the right direction if there’s a sea mountain right in front of you. With insurance, you have to be meticulous about the details, but also look at the big picture of whether the coverage is correctly aligned to our customer’s operations.
One of my tours of duty was on a submarine during new construction. We actually lived on the submarine as it was being built. So both from a construction standpoint as well as a manufacturing standpoint, I have a very good understanding of construction sites as well as the manufacturing processes, which has helped me understand the many challenges our customers face on a daily basis.
What is an example of a similar system used in both of your professions?
The two-person check system really works. With the audit process in the Navy, there was always a self-assessment by outside organizations to quantify the effectiveness of the crew. At The Graham Company, we have an auditing procedure that’s done on all of the account managers during their insurance renewal process to quantify their effectiveness at following procedures and providing the best work product for our customers.
Why would someone from a different background be a good fit for the insurance profession? How is one assimilated into the business?
Our company hires people who have the aptitude for the job and have demonstrated success in their prior profession. We are able to train them on the insurance and merge that with the culture of detail that we have here. We also have a nice mentoring program to help with the transition. When I joined The Graham Company, I had six months of classroom training, which was followed by three years of mentoring by an account manager who had more than 11 years of experience. We have continually refined and developed that account manager training process.
As an officer, did you learn about working with people?
Certainly. A submarine crew is a pretty tight-knit group of people. I learned how to communicate effectively and how to work with people who come from all kinds of different backgrounds. Every person is different and has a unique way of learning and working. As different as we may have seemed on the surface, we were united by the same mission in building and operating our submarine.
The environment in my current job is similar we all come from different places and have different educational and vocational experience, but we are united by the common goal of serving our customers. On a daily basis, we deal internally and externally with all kinds of different people from a laborer on a construction site to the chief executive officer.
Working with clients is an enjoyable aspect of the job because you see so many different ways of approaching business. We are fortunate to work with some of the top businesses in the country; our customers are top performers, and they expect the same from their insurance broker.
How else did your background prepare you for your current position?
JIM BONNER is vice president at The Graham Company in Philadelphia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 701-5294.
Judith M. von Seldeneck credits her attendance at her children’s school meetings with teaching her to be a better business leader.
At the meetings at Hyde School in Maine, everyone was encouraged to talk about what was on his or her mind.
“When I would come back from some of those meetings, and we would have a meeting in the office, I would say, ‘We are going to have a Hyde meeting. We are going to go around the table, and everybody’s is going to share what’s on your mind,’” says von Seldeneck, founder, chairman and CEO of Diversified Search Ray & Berndtson LLC, a 60-employee, $15 million generalist retained search firm.
In addition to encouraging open communication, von Seldeneck who served 10 years as executive assistant to former Vice President Walter Mondale is a strong believer in diversity in the work-place, and emphasizes that factor when placing job candidates with client companies.
Smart Business spoke with von Seldeneck about how doing the little things can go a long way and why she sometimes asks employees to show her some love.
Q: What are the keys to being a good leader?
The example that you set in terms of how hard you work, your integrity and the way you treat people. You have to be able to earn respect, and the best way to do that is through example.
People see you are putting in the same kind of hours they are, and you are willing to roll up your sleeves and get your own coffee, pick up the phone, make your own calls. Just because you are the CEO, you are not above doing some of the things everybody else does.
Q: How does getting your own coffee help the culture?
People here know I am not above doing anything. There are plenty of times when I say to them, ‘Show me your love.’ They know that means, ‘I am busy, and would you please get me a cup of coffee?’
It’s not that I’m above it, but I am swamped, and they know it and will do it. The rest of the time, I will get it myself.
If we have a lunch in the office, I will pick up some of the plates afterward, and they tell me not to do that. But I’m a Southern girl and was brought up to where you clear the table. So, I just think it sets a tone.
Q: How do you handle problems?
I’m the kind of person that doesn’t keep things inside of me. People know how I feel about things, and I don’t stew about things for long. If something is bothering me, I deal with it.
It’s benefited me emotionally because I am not all weighted down with this stuff. Sometimes, it doesn’t serve me well because sometimes, I should keep my mouth shut instead of saying what I think. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to say it better. It allows me to get it off my chest and communicate it in a way that doesn’t get me in as much trouble as it did in my youth.
Q: How do you teach your management team what to look for in potential employees?
The best way to teach people is experience. My style is my style. But to be part of the interviews and meetings that I’m involved in, then they can see my style and see what works for me.
Out of that, there’s something that they can adapt to that is going to work for them. Because I really do think experience is the best teacher. You can give people manuals and stand up, lecture and bring in trainers, but at the end of the day, you just have to really experience it.
Q: What are the downfalls to an open culture?
You can create expectations that are beyond what is reasonable to achieve because of your enthusiasm, and you are just talking off the top of your head. It creates an expectation that once you put it out there, then you have to deliver, and that can make things more problematic. If you don’t, then you’ve lost credibility, and you really are damaging the culture. You just have to be careful of that.
Or you may say things or do things that aren’t really the smartest thing to do right now.
Q: What do you do if you speak too soon?
I just explain to them why it didn’t work out. There’s this firm we are trying to acquire, and I’m sure we are going to get them. It’s looking great, and I can’t wait to celebrate, and then things start to fall apart, and it’s not going to happen. I really go into the detail why it didn’t work out and what the reasons were, so they understand.
I take the time to be open and share that kind of information. I put an awful lot out on the table.
HOW TO REACH: Diversified Search Ray & Berndtson LLC, (215) 732-6666 or www.diversifiedsearch.com
According to Kim Sharkey, vice president at The Graham Company, no business is exempt from the possibility of a workers’ compensation claim. “I think every employer in every industry has to worry about it,” she says. “Unless you’re in a firm where most of the staff is sitting behind a desk at a computer, but, even then, you have to worry about such things as carpal tunnel or other unexpected injuries. So I think it impacts everybody’s bottom line.”
Smart Business spoke with Sharkey about managing workers’ compensation claims and the accompanying costs.
What drives workers’ compensation costs and how can they be controlled once a claim arises?
As far as the claims costs themselves, they’re driven by a lot of factors, including medical costs, medical inflation, how well claims are managed by insurers and if you have a return-to-work program. When controlling costs on the back end, the biggest thing is to identify a contact within the organization that’s going to oversee the claims management process. We typically call them claims coordinators. Most of the time they’re involved with human resources type functions already, and they take on this aspect as well. That person works to establish a solid claims management program, part of which is developing relationships with physicians and providers. We help our clients set up a panel of physicians so that when a person gets injured they’re sent to an occupational health provider that knows our client’s business. The goal is to work with those providers to get the person back to work as soon as possible. Returning to work stops the ‘lost wage’ or indemnity component of a workers’ compensation claim.
Is it common for an employer to have relationships with people in the medical field?
Absolutely. We stress that our clients not only develop the panels and have them posted for the employees, but that they also get to know the providers with whom they’re working. We want them to make phone calls and visit the plants and locations so they can see the types of jobs the employees do. Medical providers need to understand the client’s return-to-work program and modified duty, which enables the employee to come back to work even if not fully recovered, and make sure that the physician sees what types of jobs are available with restrictions to get the employee back in the work place immediately.
How much control does the employer have over a workers’ compensation claim?
Ultimately, the relationships with the medical providers are key, because they control how long that employee stays off of work. They treat, rehab and manage the injury. Having the employer work with that physician to make sure that any accommodation can be made to get the employee back into the work place as soon as possible is the key to controlling that overall cost of the claim.
What if the employee is unable to return to work?
If there’s a situation where an injured employee has permanent restrictions, then there are a couple of things you can do. If the employer can accommodate those permanent restrictions and keep the employee working, that would be the first choice. If returning to work would cause an undue hardship or the work place can’t accommodate the worker’s permanent restrictions, in Pennsylvania we have to find that person a job elsewhere in order to get them off of workers’ compensation benefits. If another job is not available at the employer, then we sit down and talk about how maybe a potential settlement would be the best cost control measure. We try to help our clients with a cost benefit analysis of what happens if you can’t take the employee back, if we have to search for another job elsewhere, or if we settle the claim.
How can an employer keep tabs on injured employees?
The biggest key is that centralized coordinator. He or she is responsible for keeping in touch with employees and not just relying on the insurance company or third-party administrator. Find out how they’re doing. Let them know you’d like to have them back as soon as you can and will make a job available for them. You want to make them feel part of the company and you want to make them feel that they do have a job to which they can return. Staying on top of that goes a long way for the ultimate cost of the claim. Stay in touch with them and the physician and make sure that they’re all working together to achieve the best outcome.
Anything else an employer should know?
When accidents occur, it is critical to have solid accident investigation procedures. Ultimately you want to find out why the accident occurred, determine the root cause and then put things in place to prevent that situation from ever happening again. We do a lot of trending and analysis for our clients, analyzing where the claims are coming from and looking at the accident investigations to make sure that all types of programs are put into place to prevent the same incidents from happening. The bottom line is that employers do not want employees to get injured and they want to do whatever they can to create a safe work place.
KIM SHARKEY is vice president of The Graham Company in Philadelphia. Reach her at email@example.com or (215) 701-5278.
“Dare to be great.”
Those four words might sound like a slogan from a break room motivational poster, but to Bill Whitmore, they are four words with which he has done more than just tack to the wall.
He has placed those words in the hands of every employee at AlliedBarton Security Services in a very real way.
Upon being hired and entering training at the $1.2 billion private security provider, each employee receives a “Dare to be Great” booklet. It outlines the company’s core values pertaining to leadership, vision and teamwork, it includes some of Whitmore’s personal beliefs on management, and it gives new hires something of a path to follow to become a working cog in the AlliedBarton machine, which has about 50,000 employees nationwide.
For Whitmore, chairman, president and CEO of AlliedBarton Security Services, “Dare to be Great” is about keeping his work force on the same page and giving it the tools to be successful.
“We describe the core purpose of the organization, the core values,” he says. “We actually list what our ideal culture is. Then we have leadership nonnegotiables, we have operational nonnegotiables and security officer nonnegotiables, and we have to live by those.”
Whitmore says you can leave nothing to chance when it comes to building and communicating your culture. Employees must know what is expected of them and know that the company will support them as they do their jobs.
If you have well-coached, enabled employees, chances are you will have satisfied customers who keep coming back to your company. But it all starts with the words and actions that cascade from the CEO’s office.
A singular vision
Driving a finely tuned culture through an organization involves far more than just standing on your proverbial soapbox and preaching team unity. Whitmore says it’s as much about feedback from employees as it is about what you tell them.
If you don’t give employees a voice in the direction of the company, your chances of getting them to buy in to what you are saying go down, and that factor increases exponentially when you’re dealing with a company of 50,000 people.
In order to give everyone at AlliedBarton including the security guards who provide the company’s end product a chance to have a say in the company’s vision and values, Whitmore employed a third-party research firm to gather data in advance of producing the “Dare to be Great” booklet.
“We hired a third-party firm to go out and do online and in-person focus groups,” he says. “We didn’t do all 50,000 people, but we did do thousands of employees, enough to validate the results.”
The data were evaluated and processed with the help of a strategic planning specialist, who helped compile the “Dare to be Great” booklet.
“Dare to be Great” is a starting point for Whitmore, but it’s intended to be more of a companion guide and quick-reference tool. The most important opportunities to communicate your vision and culture are the face-to-face meetings with your managers and employees. It might not be practical to make face-to-face meetings your primary means of communication, but Whitmore says it’s the most effective means of getting your message across.
Periodically, Whitmore runs a series of leadership “boot camps,” designed to get the company’s various levels of management together and talking.
During those camps, Whitmore makes personal interaction a top priority.
“We were running a leadership boot camp (in May), and every evening I’d go out and do the Jack Welch thing, have a fireside chat with our managers,” he says. “When we do camps in Philadelphia, my wife and I have whoever attends come to our house for dinner.
“Frankly, it drives my wife a little crazy because we have a lot of them, but for a class of 60, we’ll have a buffet at my house and get people to speak and build teamwork. For a class of eight, we’ll sit around the dining room table and have dinner. But at every step, we’re trying to foster a sense of teamwork and let people know they’re empowered to act on behalf of the company.”
Whitmore says that after gaining a certain level of experience, business leaders form a kind of intuition about their company and their people. He calls it developing a “gut feeling,” and it factors heavily in how he manages his employees.
Among other factors, Whitmore places a high emphasis on getting to know his managers personally so he can properly direct them when they come to him with a question or a concern.
“Someone posed a question to me one time about a client, that our employees might be exposed to personal risk,” he says. “Employees and managers spoke to me; they said, ‘I’m really debating this. It’s a big client, a lot of money, but in my gut, I’m a little worried.’”
After listening to their concerns, Whitmore directed them back to the “Dare to be Great” booklet.
“I told them the answer is in there, and we ended up not taking the piece of business. Because if you do feel your employees are your most valuable asset, and you do care about them, you’re not going to expect them to do something you feel isn’t right. That’s how people recognize that they are valued.”
Recognition and engagement
Whitmore says there are two levels of employee recognition. And contrary to popular belief, he says money falls in the lesser of the two.
The first level is the tangible rewards, such as financial compensation and gifts. While the vast majority of employees would never scoff at a cash bonus or a gift certificate, Whitmore says you are missing the point if you think your employees are working hard because they want more material compensation.
The best employees aren’t driven by that first and foremost, he says, and he tries to set his own example.
“What I believe as the chairman and CEO, I don’t come to work thinking about what my paycheck is. I get engaged in our company, and I get excited to come to work to build the company and build a future for our employees and shareholders.”
That’s why the second level of employee recognition the intangibles is more important to Whitmore.
By intangibles, Whitmore isn’t referring to simple pats on the back or applauding someone at the quarterly all-company meeting. When Whitmore talks about intangible recognition, he is referring to reward by engagement.
The more an employee shows a willingness to work toward your company’s goals and objectives, the more that person should be involved in steering the company.
Whitmore says that type of involvement, in and of itself, is a reward to a truly driven worker.
“Don’t think of it in terms of the surface, in terms of somebody getting a pat on the back,” he says. “I’m going deeper than that. Here is an example: We have standing committees in the company. They could be on anything, be it risk, sales and marketing, technology. We rotate membership and invite managers to participate.
“If you’re working at a company and believe the company really values your input, you feel like you’re really creating value here. Not necessarily monetary value but a good customer relationship, a good employee touch.”
Whitmore goes a step further and gauges his employees’ level of engagement. As he did when AlliedBarton was compiling information for the “Dare to be Great” booklet, Whitmore has his staff send out periodic engagement surveys to field offices in various markets.
The object of the surveys is to give management a sense for how connected AlliedBarton’s employees feel. Low scores in a given market means that market gets more attention from headquarters. High scores will also make management sit up and take notice.
“If we come back in a market where employees feel extremely engaged, we want to take that manager and have that person help mentor others,” he says. “It’s a combination of hiring people, giving them the tools, programs and practices to keep people engaged, and the last thing we do is monitor their engagement.”
As the company leader, chances are you are always asking yourself how your company can be more efficient, how your employees can do their jobs better, and how you can draw up policies and procedures that are streamlined and effective.
But even with all the evaluating that you must do on a day-to-day basis, Whitmore says you can’t forget to look in the mirror.
That businessperson staring back at you needs occasional maintenance, too.
One of the traits Whitmore says he most admires in a president or CEO is curiosity. Good leaders are curious about themselves as much as or even more so than they are about the companies they run.
“If you’re not curious about yourself, about others, about how to improve, about how things work, I find that does not make for a good attitude,” he says.
Whitmore says a good leader wants frequent feedback on how he or she can perform better. When he recently attended a leadership conference, Whitmore picked up a stack of 360-degree personal evaluation forms. When he returned, he had just about everyone who knows him personally family, friends, peers, employees complete an evaluation of him.
“I felt I knew how I performed, how people perceived me, but I wanted to know, in an anonymous way, was I the person I thought I was?” he says. “That’s curiosity about your leadership skills.”
Whitmore wanted to know where he stood as a leader in the eyes of other people. He believes that if you aren’t a good leader in the eyes of those who follow you, then you aren’t a good leader, period.
That is why Whitmore believes in taking a people-first approach to leadership. Above all else, he says, it’s motivated, enabled, engaged people who will make your company successful, not necessarily the efficiency with which you do things.
Whitmore’s fundamental business leadership belief is this: Efficiency, prosperity and satisfied customers come when you have great people doing great jobs for your company.
“It’s not just about efficiency,” he says. “I think there are a lot of statistics that will show you that engaged employees perform better than disengaged employees.
“What I’m looking for is, are the employees really engaged, are they delivering great service to our customers? If you do that, efficiency is a byproduct. You can be very efficient and lose every customer you have. It isn’t the be-all, end-all. But if my employees are engaged, my fundamental belief is that they’ll deliver great customer service, and we’ll have good financial results.”
HOW TO REACH: AlliedBarton Security Services, www.alliedbarton.com
A lot of executives stress the importance of communication, but how many of them have their own blog? At least one does. Bob Kreider, president and CEO of The Devereux Foundation, keeps and maintains “The President’s Blog,” in which he keeps the organization’s 6,000 employees updated on the current happenings and future goals of the nation’s largest nonprofit provider of behavioral health care services. Kreider touches on everything from the organization’s mission statement to informational briefs on Devereux-relevant legislation in his blog, which is designed to be useful for both clients and employees.
Smart Business spoke with Kreider about why it’s a good idea to smile once in awhile.
Prove you know your business at every level. I don’t think a strong leader can be afraid of going into the details when necessary. You have to give your people room to operate and be successful.
But if it doesn’t feel right, you have to understand your business at the detail level well enough to go after a problem. If you show that willingness once or twice, it makes the quality of information you get in other circumstances better, if people know you can go into the details.
Keep your growth on pace with your resources.
The (pitfall) that seems most tempting in our business is growing too fast. Once you achieve a basic level of success, and you’ve proven your product, and you have access to capital, the temptation is to grow as fast as you can finance.
In our strategic plan, we lay out a 6 percent to 12 percent growth rate as the maximum sustainable rate for Devereux based on an analysis of our financial resources and our human resources. If we outgrow either one, that’s a formula for trouble.
You need an understanding of what limitations you have of your financial resources and human resources, what growth they can sustain as far as capital and additional work capacity.
Smile every now and then. The toughest challenge I faced in a senior leadership role was being a real person to my staff. I was trained as a lawyer, an investment banker, and I also am an introvert.
When I first joined Devereux, I was told by a key person in the organization that people couldn’t read me, and that was a very bad thing. In my prior jobs, that wasn’t a bad thing. But I was told I was scaring people.
So I learned to smile a little more, be more expressive, engage in small talk a little more. It’s made me more effective, and I know it’s made my team more comfortable.
Take the blame. The most critical and difficult times are obviously when something bad happens or a bad decision is made. You
need to acknowledge it, not look through rose-colored glasses; then move on.
Nothing builds a team like the senior person shouldering the most blame, saying, ‘I’m most accountable.’ And telling your team, you’re still batting .800, let’s minimize the damage and move on.
Don’t look in the rearview mirror. Vision is important. We all feel we’re in fast-changing markets, and the demographics of markets are changing.
You have to manage toward where the industry is going, not in the rearview mirror. You can’t manage based on history; you have to see the changes coming. That is important, but even more important is humility.
One of my favorite books is ‘Fooled by Randomness’ [by Nassim Nicholas Taleb]. (Taleb) makes the wonderful point that human beings naturally assume that when something happens, it’s because they caused it. My approach is, you’re never as good as you think or as bad as you think.
That’s a hard thing to do as president of an organization. When things go really well, it’s easy to stand up and take credit for it all. The flip side is if things go poorly, you really got stupid quickly.
Try to keep things in perspective and not react too much to temporary fluctuations.
Get feedback. When I joined Devereux, I had
never been involved in strategic planning. But I found I really enjoyed that process. I used that strategic planning process as a way to communicate with the organization.
I used it both to communicate how I saw the organization and the industry and where it was going, and also to listen to all levels of the organization and where they saw it going. There are a lot of important insights that our staff who are working with our clients every day can help me with.
Strategic planning is a wonderful way to create a shared vision of where we’re headed.
Every five years or so, we go back and put together where the vision is going; what are the critical elements we need to be ready to address. Then I go on the road and get reaction from the organization.
We have the process take a full year. It’s an iterative process that gradually hones into something that we hope a good percent, if not all, of the staff can buy in to and feel ownership of.
Offer a career, not just a job. Our strategic plan is focused around three areas. We want to be the provider of choice for the services we deliver, we want to be the charity of choice for our communities, and we want to be the employer of choice. In many ways, that is the most challenging one.
The service industries are going to be very competitive in terms of being able to attract an adequate, high-quality work force. We make a real investment in training and trying to offer all our employees a career path, a way they can see an interesting future at Devereux. Even if they can’t, the training will offer them a solid base for whatever direction they go.
We attract them with what it is we do. For the right idealistic person who wants to save the world helping others who have significant challenges, Devereux is a wonderful opportunity. We attract them with our mission and keep them with the training.
HOW TO REACH: The Devereux Foundation, (800) 345-1292 or www.devereux.org
In the current economic climate, employees rank among a company's most important assets. It makes sense that healthy people make for healthy companies. Yet, experts suggest preventable illnesses make up approximately 70 percent of illness and associated costs in the United States.
“Investing in your employees’ health is one of the soundest investments employers can make,” says Eugene Sun, M.D., M.B.A., vice president of Medical Affairs for HealthAmerica. “By initiating a health promotion program, employers can take important steps toward preventing unnecessary sickness.”
Smart Business spoke to Dr. Sun about why employers should be concerned about their employees’ wellness.
Why would a company invest in workplace wellness?
More and more health experts are turning that question around and asking, ‘How can a company not invest in the health of its employees?’ The evidence is becoming quite convincing that keeping employees healthy and on the job is worth the effort. After all, if you can reduce the burden of illness among your work force by preventing major causes of sickness, more of your employees will remain healthy and productive. You most likely will save money in the process.
What’s the real return on investment with worksite wellness programs?
That turns out to be one of the most incisive questions of all. In the last decade, large-scale studies on the effects of work-place health programs have shown a dependable bottom line. These studies show worksite wellness programs often result in a reduction of health care and insurance costs, as well as declines in absenteeism, injury rates, and improvements in performance and productivity.
One recent study showed that when employees used fitness facilities at least eight times a month over two years, hospital and clinic claims declined by more than 64 percent, physician claims dropped by 13 percent and claims for prescription drugs decreased by more than 9 percent. It’s encouraging to see when facts match your intuition; healthy people really do use health care less.
Have you seen an increase in companies investing in wellness programs?
Definitely. According to the United Benefit Advisors' (UBA) 2007 Employer Survey, the number of employers of all sizes and industries that are adopting personal health management strategies continues to increase. Roughly, 25 percent of all employers currently provide various wellness or health risk assessment programs, and an additional 50 percent of employers would like to add such programs in the future. In addition, employers now overwhelmingly believe there should be a difference in benefits or costs based on an employee's involvement in managing chronic conditions.
What would you say to an employer who says starting a worksite wellness program is too expensive?
Successful workplace health interventions don’t always need to be big-budget affairs. Most health insurers have a variety of health resources to make it easier for employers to start their own wellness program.
Ask your health insurer about integrating worksite wellness and benefit plan design through consumer-directed health plans. These lifestyle-driven plans reward healthy choices. One study found that employees in consumer-directed programs are 25 percent more likely to engage in healthy behavior and 20 percent more likely to participate in wellness initiatives.
Several excellent Web sites provide free information employers can use. Welcoa at www.welcoa.org/freeresources provides employee presentations, incentive campaigns, free reports and much more. Wellness Proposals at www.wellnessproposals.com is also a good place to start, as is the American Journal of Health Promotion at www.healthpromotionjournal.com.
Anything else an employer should consider?
Every little bit counts. The most cost-conscious program can help create a health-positive environment. When the goals are well-defined and the approach well-designed, success can be affordable. Furthermore, worksite health programs that appear to have only a modest, immediate result are of great value. Not only will the programs improve performance and satisfaction of current employees, good health and fitness programs tend to attract good applicants.
EUGENE SUN, M.D., M.B.A., vice president of Medical Affairs for HealthAmerica. Reach him at (412) 553-7385 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technology in business has evolved from being a tool to help master tasks, such as basic communications and
record keeping, to serving as a critical success factor in a company’s productivity, customer satisfaction, processes and profitability. Owners invest large dollar amounts in information technology (IT), and they expect a sizeable return-on-investment (ROI).
While companies spend considerable amounts on IT, their ROI depends on whether the owner has integrated technology into the business plan, rather than making it an afterthought. “Business owners should ask how technology will impact the company,” says Sassan Hejazi, director of Technology Solutions at Kreischer Miller. “Will it enforce their goals? What value will IT generate both quantitatively and qualitatively?
“Technology projects are really business improvement projects,” he says.
Obviously, investing in must-haves like billing or e-mail systems is critical. These rudimentary “cost of doing business” technologies are baseline components that must be upgraded. But innovative technologies that help a business become more “lean” will separate a company from its competition, Hejazi says.
Smart Business spoke to Hejazi about how to align your IT investment with your business strategy to realize a return through improved profitability.
Explain the difference between ‘must-have’ and innovative IT.
There are certain technologies that are essential to doing business, which should be world-class in terms of uptime, reliability and accuracy. Without them, it’s comparable to not having power. A Web site that isn’t functioning or e-mail that is down will inhibit customer service and your ability to communicate with vendors, customers and employees. Outages and security breaches are serious disruptions to your business. You have to make sure this technology is updated, and doing so is a serious investment for most companies. Still, this ‘must have’ IT won’t set you apart from your competition. That’s where innovative IT comes in. This is technology that will help you improve processes and profitability, and it should be closely linked with your strategic business plan.
How can IT increase a company’s competitive advantage?
First, it’s important to recognize that no two businesses are alike. When you consider ways to integrate IT into your business, you should evaluate the following categories: customers, suppliers, competition, employees and processes. What type of technology will enable your customers to do business with you more easily? Can you attract new customers by offering a certain technology, such as a customer service function on your Web site? What is important to your suppliers? Supplier transactions, shipping, receiving, accounting and other activities can be modified for convenience and ease. What is the competition doing? Also think about your employees and what technology capabilities they require to work productively. From there, review all of your processes and your operation. Are there areas where you could eliminate paper, waste, downtime, etc.? Finally, what ROI do you expect from this technology?
How do you measure a technology ROI?
Before you invest in any technology, you need to take a look at the current state of your business. Figure out how long it takes your company to complete a certain process. Survey customers and employees. Learn where the weak points are in your business so you can decide how technology can provide an advantage. If, for example, your current technology enables you to ship orders in two days, how much time and money could you save by cutting this shipping time in half to just one day? From a customer service perspective, perhaps an average service call takes one hour. Can you provide an online tool for customers so they can solve their own problems? And, if so, how much labor, time and money will that save you? This measurement process is tedious, but important to determine the true ROI of technology.
What is the biggest mistake business owners make when investing in technology that prevents them from realizing a substantial ROI?
Often, we forget to include people who understand technology early on in the business-planning process. As I mentioned before, technology projects are business projects. Management has to be aware of technology and include it in their strategies. If you devise a business plan and technology isn’t a part of it, you will put yourself at a disadvantage. Technology sets the stage for your success.
SASSAN HEJAZI is director of Technology Solutions for Kreischer Miller in Horsham, Pa. Reach him at (215) 441-4600 or email@example.com
For certain businesses, the right people make the difference between a service that’s just average or the kind that’s above and beyond industry standard. So why limit yourself to the types of people you can hire?
Smart Business spoke to Margaret Jones, vice president, corporate secretary at The Graham Company, about how training programs can allow a company to bring in the best and the brightest regardless of their background.
Why implement a training program?
One consideration might be the ability to hire people from outside of your industry, especially when a lot of good people do not have industry-specific training. Some of the attributes that an employer might look for are things that you can’t really teach.
If you can hire people who have been really successful in their fields, with a strong work ethic and resourcefulness, you potentially have somebody with an aptitude for meeting client expectations. Once you identify the types of people you want for your business, the next step is to design a training program to teach them your industry.
When we started our program 22 years ago, it was almost unheard of for anybody to hire anyone outside of the insurance industry because there was so much technical knowledge required. What we decided was that we had the ability to train somebody in the technical part of the business. In our vision, it was those skills that were trainable. In our people, we looked for the intangible skills that were more innate.
What’s your advice for a business that wants to invest in training?
First and foremost, identify the types of people that you want to attract and determine what kind of training is going to be required for them to be successful.
In our business, we’ve created a three-year training program six months of classroom training and two-and-a-half years of on-the-job training. Depending upon your business and the level of training required, you may not require this kind of commitment.
You also have to focus on what is the most important component of your business. If it’s your people, you have to invest in them. That’s really the main decision. If your business is such that your people are not your strength it’s your technology or it’s your product then extensive training may not make sense. When you’re a professional organization providing a professional service, then your training department is almost like what a research and development department might be for a manufacturer that’s how we look at it.
Are there certain fields from which you’ve found excellent employees?
We have success in recruiting engineers and people with financial backgrounds, such as CPAs. We’ve also found that a lot of good hires are individuals who have attended military academies like West Point or Annapolis. They’re not really raw talent, because they have been successful in other fields, and they are going to be successful in whatever they do as long as they’re prepared for it. It’s our experience that the only way a business owner can attract these types of people is to not only assure them that they are going to be successful, but to demonstrate that you have invested in the resources to give them the training they need to achieve this success. Somebody like that is not going to change fields and industries without the assurance that they’re going to have the support to be trained.
Why don’t more companies invest in training?
Basically it’s a financial decision. It’s very hard for them to get the support of senior management because of the cost involved. In our agency, we have a ratio of one person in our technical development department that does training, continuing education and quality assurance for every 12 employees. That’s a huge investment. But we didn’t start off like that. We started our training initiative with one person 22 years ago when our company had 42 employees.
Anything else an owner should consider?
As a business owner, you can create a competitive advantage in the marketplace by having better trained, more knowledgeable employees than your competitors. Well-prepared, highly trained employees will make a difference for your clients and your business. Also, with an extensive training program, you’re able to determine whether or not somebody is qualified for the job during the training process, before they are on the front line servicing your customers or clients.
MARGARET JONES is vice president, corporate secretary at The Graham Company. Reach her at (215) 701-5264 or firstname.lastname@example.org.