Philadelphia (1114)

One of the signs of a boom — or at least a boomlet — is that companies start wanting to drive their competition crazy. This occurs when “survival” is no longer an issue and optimization or maximization can become a goal. However, the desire to do things to the competition can lead a company astray — or drive it to even greater heights.

Companies go astray when defeating the competition becomes more important than taking care of customers. When companies become obsessed with the pursuit of excellence, by contrast, they often reach new levels of greatness. Here’s how to avoid the former and achieve the latter.

1. Know thyself. Before you can drive your competition crazy, you have to understand what your company stands for. Otherwise, you’ll succeed only in driving yourself crazy. For example, Apple stands for cool technology. It will never represent a CIO’s safe bet, an “enterprise software company,” or service and support. If it decided it wanted to drive Microsoft crazy by sucking up to CIOs, it would drive itself crazy — that is, if it didn’t perish trying.

2. Know thy customer. The second step is to truly understand what your customer wants from you — and, for that matter, what it doesn’t want from you. One thing that your customer seldom wants to do is to help you drive your competition crazy. That’s in your head, not your customer’s. One more thing: A good company listens to what a customer says it wants. A great company anticipates what a customer needs — even before the customer knows it wants it.

3. Know thy enemy. You cannot drive your competition crazy unless you understand your competition’s strengths and weaknesses. You should become your competition’s customer by buying its products and services. I never truly understood what it was like to be a customer of Microsoft until I bought a Sony Vaio and used Windows. Sure, I had read many comparisons and competitive analyses, but they were nothing compared with hands-on usage.

4. Focus on the customer. Here’s what most people find surprising: The best way to drive your competition crazy is to succeed because your success, more than any action, will drive your competition crazy. And the way you become successful is not by figuring out what you can do to the competition but for the customer. You succeed at doing things for the customer by using the knowledge that you’ve gained in the first three steps: understanding what you do, what your customer wants and needs and what your competition doesn’t do. At the intersection of these three factors lies the holy grail of driving your competition crazy. For most companies, the key to driving the competition crazy is out-innovating, out-servicing or out-pricing it.

5. Turn customers into evangelists. There are few things that drive a competitor more crazy than unpaid customers who are evangelists for a company. Create a great product or service, put it out there (“let a hundred flowers blossom”), see who falls in love with it, open up your arms to them (they will come running to you), and then take care of them. It’s that simple.

6. Make good by doing good. Doing good has its own, very sufficient rewards, but sometimes you can make good and do good at the same time. For example, if you own a chain of hardware stores, you can help rebuild a community after a natural disaster. You’re bound to get a lot of publicity and create bonds with the community — this will drive your competition crazy. And you’ll be doing something good!

7. Turn the competition into allies. One way to get rid of your competition is to drive it out of business. I suppose this might be attractive to you, but a better way is to turn your competition into allies. My favorite author of children’s books is Tomie DePaola. My favorite DePaola book is “The Knight and the Dragon.” This is the story of a knight and a dragon that train to slay each other. They are smashingly unsuccessful at doing battle and eventually decide to go into business together. Using the dragon’s fire-breathing ability and the knight’s salesmanship, they create the K & D Bar-B-Q. For example, if a Home Depot opens up next to your hardware store, let it sell the gas barbecues, and you refill people’s propane tanks.

8. Play with their minds. If you’re doing all this positive, good stuff, then it’s OK to have some fun with your competition — that is, to intentionally play with their minds. Here are some examples to inspire you:

  • Hannibal once had his soldiers tie bundles of brush to the horns of cattle. At night, his soldiers lit the brushwood on fire, and Hannibal’s Roman enemies thought that thousands of soldiers were marching towards them.
  • A pizza company that was entering the Denver market for the first time ran a promotion offering two pizzas for the price of one if customers brought in the torn-out phone directory ad of its competition.
  • A national hardware store chain opened up right next to a longtime community hardware store. After a period of depression and panic, the store owner came up with a very clever ploy. He put up a sign on the front of his store that said, “Main Entrance.”

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at kawasaki@garage.com.

Monday, 03 December 2012 16:28

Giving back: How much charity is enough?

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While attending an event we put on with a local charity, I was impressed with the difference that seemingly minor things can make in someone’s life. I was proud of the contribution and effort that our employees put into the event and the dedication the nonprofit showed for its mission.

The event made me think about the business community and all of the wonderful things companies do for those in need. Take the recent destruction from Hurricane Sandy as an example. Businesses have pledged more than $90 million in assistance, two-thirds of which was monetary donations to organizations like the American Red Cross.

While companies give back in as many ways as possible, even during these difficult economic times, I was wondering if there wasn’t more that could be done in our local communities. Not every effort has to always include a financial component.

Here are some nonfinancial ways to give back in addition to what you already do for the community:

  • Give more time. Some organizations have a greater need for man-hours in addition to financial backing. Your business may already give generously on the financial side, but maybe your favorite charity could use a labor boost as well. Nationally, about 35 percent of companies have some sort of formal volunteer program. Consider donating employee time to help out with a big project or basic cleaning and organizing.
  • Offer advice. You probably already serve on one or more boards for a nonprofit, but there is always another charity out there that could use your help. You don’t have to become a full-fledged board member, but you can offer advice as needed to help the existing members navigate through a problem that plays to your strengths. If the nonprofit is looking for a board member and you don’t have the time, help it find the right person by making a recommendation or referral.
  • Hire nontraditional employees. One way of giving back to the community is helping others help themselves. There are many skilled employees with either physical or mental disabilities that could be a great addition to your company if given the chance. When you have a job opening, make sure you are considering all candidates, including those from nontraditional backgrounds.
  • Do pro bono work. If you can provide a service that a nonprofit needs, consider donating it. Marketing, printing, IT services — basically anything an office needs is probably something a charity could use. Find out what the nonprofit could use, then figure out a way to help out. Even if your company can’t help, maybe you know someone else who can.

In this season of giving, it’s not hard to find a worthy cause. There’s also no question that you and your company have most likely already given a lot, assuming you are in a position to do so. But there’s an old question that asks, “How much charity is enough?” The answer is easy: Just a little more.

Take the time to evaluate whether you can do just a little more than what you are already doing to make an even bigger difference.

If you are in search of a worthy cause, consider donating to The Pillar Fund, a donor-advised fund administered through the Cleveland Foundation. For more information, contact Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com.

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

A strategic plan outlines the steps to achieve a desired future, and the process of creating that plan can provide an invaluable opportunity for the exchange of ideas and consensus among your management team and your staff. Defining your shared vision and then planning based on that desired outcome is the essence of strategic planning. With that in mind, allow me to share with you eight gaffes that should be avoided while outlining your strategic plan.

The time frame of the plan is too long.

First, strategic plans need to remain laser-focused on accomplishing strategic priorities in a timely manner. The plans also need to be frequently refreshed to keep them from becoming stale and to keep the organization energized on plan execution.

Long-term planning certainly has its place in a corporate world, but shorter operational plan horizons, going only 12 months out, allow organizations to utilize valuable current information and remain engaged in delivering the plan milestones.

Too many strategic goals.

We all fall victim to this mistake. Organizations often have a laundry list of goals. Dreaming up goals is never an issue. Instead, the issue is having the discipline to narrow down prioritized goals to a manageable and achievable level.

Five goals is a good number to consider as a maximum. When you factor in each goal that will lead to a sequence of programs, initiatives, activities and deliverables to be managed and implemented throughout the organization, it’s easy to see how a long list of goals can inhibit implementation success.

Goals are not tied to measurable outcomes.

Organizational goals should be constructed in terms of outcomes. They should be defined in such a way that they can be measured and managed throughout the layers of the organization to propel action and achievement from those involved.

Employees are unaware of the goals.

Believe it or not, this can be a huge problem in many organizations. When the corporate planning process fails to consider the individuals who will actually implement the plan, breakdowns happen and desired outcomes are rarely attained.

Key vendors and partners not considered.

By communicating organizational goals to key vendors and partners, much needed buy-in and assistance can be gained from these external parties to achieve desired outcomes. Think about it. Are they not critical to your long-term success?

Organizational culture is overlooked.

The corporate planning process must consider the organizational culture. Without this, it is impossible to fulfill the organization’s potential to dominate within their marketplace. Culture determines how the organization functions and how work will be completed.

Operational planning is overlooked.

An effective corporate planning process allows the organization to plan strategically at the enterprise level and then operationally at the business unit level with each part supporting the other.

Failing to reach all the way down through the organizational layers is a common problem with corporate planning processes. Strategic planning, to be effective, must address the entire business ecosystem — from top to bottom.

Customer value is overlooked.

At the end of the day, it is all about the customer. Customer-centric planning puts your No. 1 stakeholder — the end customer — at the forefront of the organization’s activities and goals.

By creating goals that reflect the type of value the organization can create for the customer, you’ll put a face to the name and more effectively connect members of the organization with the desired outcomes.

We have entered into a forever changed business climate. Put another way, the new normal is here and here to stay. Despite all the distractions we encounter every day, we must never lose sight of the fact that we must spend more time on the business rather than in the business, and it all starts with a strategic plan.

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

There was a little disappointment at first.

After 37 years operating as Bayada Nurses, company founder and President Mark Baiada stood before members of his nursing staff and relayed the news: The word “nurses” was to be eliminated from the company’s name. As of January 2012, the company would operate as Bayada Home Health Care Inc.

It wasn’t a decision taken lightly by Baiada or his management team. But it was a decision they felt compelled to make.

“My wife is a nurse, we’ve been a nursing company throughout, so to drop ‘nurses’ when it had been in there for so long, I think there was a little disappointment,” Baiada says. “We still have nurses, but it’s not part of our official name now.”

Baiada and his team made the change as part of a wider rebranding initiative, recognizing that the scope of in-home health care services offered by the company had grown beyond nursing to include services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

The challenge for Baiada and his team was to unify employees in the many different disciplines around the company’s core mission and goals and to ensure that every employee, no matter the occupational field, felt accepted by and engaged with the rebranded organization.

“We created a new logo, with a larger dove icon, to symbolize the Bayada Way, a document which lists our guiding mission and values,” Baiada says.

“But we also wanted it to come to symbolize the extent of our services and the fact that we were doing more than nursing. The culture of excellence that had grown up around our nursing staff — we wanted to be sure our clients associated the same levels of compassion, excellence and reliability with all of our services.

“It was really a case of wanting to be fair to all parties.”

Communicate clearly

Baiada says the initial resistance to losing the word “nurses” in the company’s name was motivated by nostalgia more than anything else. Ultimately, the nursing staff wanted reassurance that the company still valued its nursing heritage and would preserve it alongside the effort to identify the Bayada name with a wider service offering.

Baiada took steps to reassure the nursing staff that the nursing practice would continue to be held in high esteem within the company. But with nurses seeking reassurance over their future role within the company and employees in other disciplines enjoying the recognition implied in the company’s new name, Baiada stepped back.

He surveyed the situation and saw the opportunity to use the rebranding initiative as a means of strengthening the connection between every employee and the mission of the company.

With a properly crafted message, he could renew the sense of purpose throughout the organization, re-energizing the entire workforce, regardless of role or background.

With more than 18,000 employees and operations in 26 states, Baiada encouraged a method of cascading communication that started at the company’s headquarters, eventually reaching all of the organization’s local offices with multiple forms of communication.

“We had a series of meetings, we rolled out a new website to let people know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and we also sent out some mailings,” Baiada says. “We had a lot of positives from the communications office, which handled the communication all the way down to the local offices, which then handed things out and supported the local nurses and field staff.

“If we had a meeting with 20 people, we’d have an introduction. If people couldn’t make it, they’d get something in the mail.”

Every move Baiada and his leadership team made had an eye toward rallying the workforce around the guiding company principles of compassion, excellence and reliability. That included altering the outward appearance of all employees by outfitting them with new uniforms. Bayada issued new scrubs to nurses and new uniforms to the other field employees, all bearing the company’s new logo.

“Everyone received new name tags and new uniforms with the new logo,” Baiada says. “It was another way to mark the change and another way to get it out in front of everyone. Almost everyone got something with the new logo on it.”

Ultimately, Baiada wanted to make the change real to everyone in the company. He wanted to immerse everyone in the new Bayada brand. If employees feel connected to the company’s future, they’ll be able to take more of a sense of ownership in the company’s mission and goals, which will strengthen the culture in turn.

“What you have to remember is, Enron had a beautiful mission statement, but they didn’t follow it,” Baiada says. “You need a sense of commitment that what you are putting down on paper and communicating to everyone is something that you are following continuously.

“If you aren’t following it, you don’t have integrity. And you want your people to agree to it, so you want to get a dialogue going and keep it going. What is in your heart also needs to be in their hearts.”

Start a dialogue

Baiada began to facilitate dialogue well before the rebranding initiative took effect.

If you want your employees to own the change, you have to let them buy in to the process.

“We conducted focus groups with our employees and additional focus groups with people outside the company,” Baiada says. “We conducted focus groups with clients and customers at-large and referral sources and also did surveys. What we really tried to determine was the key characteristics that are important.

“What we found was the research reiterated that the Bayada Way was pretty much on target as a set of guiding principles. When people needed help, they wanted compassion and reliability.”

But generating a renewed focus on the company’s guiding principles was only the first step toward fostering employee engagement. Baiada wanted to engage his people on a continuing basis, allowing employees throughout the Bayada organization to have a say in how the company embodies its foundational principles.

The engagement that employees feel in your brand, mission and values will show in the relationships they build with clients and customers.

“Happy employees and satisfied employees make for happier clients, which means we get more business,” Baiada says. “We’ve brought an analytic statistician on staff, and the research shows that when we compare our employee satisfaction, our client satisfaction and our business growth, they are highly correlated. They say it’s hard to find a good tomato, and it’s also hard to find a good nurse or therapist.

“So when we get them, we have to take care of them. We need to focus them, give them a voice, respect and honor them. If you respect them and engage your people, you’ll be able to build a team that can meet your clients’ needs.”

Engagement is about stimulating the thought process within your people. You want your employees to frequently think about the end users of your company’s product or service and how those people benefit from it.

“Knowing the stories of the people you serve helps employees put a human face on the work they do each day, and it also helps spur ideas around the subject of building better customer service.

“A success for us is when a client improves to the point that they don’t need our services anymore,” Baiada says. “We share those kinds of client stories, and we’re continually trying to put them in writing and record them on video. It’s all about getting that message out there, even in ways you might not immediately realize.

“For instance, all the photography on our website is images of actual clients and employees. We don’t use stock photos or actors.”

Though he can’t be everywhere at once, Baiada also recognizes the value of a visible, accessible organizational leader in maintaining a dialogue with employees and reinforcing the mission and values.

“You have to start out with an open door and a willingness to let people in,” he says. “If you have a story to share or an issue to address, here is my phone, here is my email. If you find something isn’t right around here or you feel something is going on that is disconnected from the Bayada Way, let me know.

“Hopefully, you’ll be able go to whoever is in charge of your area first, but if you need to contact me directly, I’m accessible.”

Hire for the culture

Achieving buy-in with existing employees is critical to the success of any effort to rebrand the company or refocus on your cultural values. But every bit as important as your existing employees is the employees you don’t have yet.

The reinforcement or erosion of your cultural values can hinge in large part on the quality of the hires you make and whether those people can align with the foundational principles of your organization.

As the leader of an organization that provides in-home care to clients who might be struggling to overcome disease or disability, Baiada believes his company’s culture of compassion is essential to success and is a critical pass/fail measurement in the hiring process.

Job candidates are presented with Bayada literature emphasizing compassion as a core value alongside operational excellence and reliability.

“We try to be clear in our materials about who we are and what we stand for,” Baiada says. “A lot of people take a job based on what they think it is or isn’t, and when they start working at the job, it’s not the same thing that they expected.

“For example, if a person is working primarily for money, this really isn’t the place for them. If you don’t like working for the clients and serving them, you’re probably not going to like the job.”

To develop a deep understanding of a job candidate’s behavior and thought patterns, you need to put the person in a work situation during the interview. Bayada’s team asks scenario-based questions and tries to uncover real-life examples of on-the-job situations in which the candidate demonstrated an adherence to Bayada’s core values.

Baiada says reliability is often the hardest to gauge, and if there is a hiring mistake to be made, it will often involve hiring a person who otherwise fits the mold of what you’re looking for but has reliability issues.

“Some of our care is on a one-on-one basis, so if someone doesn’t show up to work, we have a crisis on our hands in trying to find a replacement,” Baiada says. “You can get a feeling for compassion based on how someone behaves in the interview process. You can measure excellence in their performance.

“But the reliability factor can be harder to gauge.

“Ultimately, if you’re serving people, you want to find people who are motivated by serving people. That’s one of the biggest keys to continuing to strengthen our culture moving forward. It’s that focus on people. We like helping people, and the job can’t satisfy you if that doesn’t push your buttons.”

How to reach: Bayada Home Health Care Inc., (856) 231-1000 or www.bayada.com

 

The Baiada file

History: Founded Bayada Home Health Care Inc. in 1975 as RN Homecare. The company was subsequently renamed Bayada Nurses, and then rebranded as Bayada Home Health Care on Jan. 17, 2012 — the company’s 37th anniversary.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

It is all about people. It is getting the right people connected and capable of serving our clients, and in making the Bayada Way come true as they carry out their responsibilities. We have a lot of people who make that happen each day.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

In our system, you have to be compassionate, excellent and reliable. If you can model that and make that come true, we’ll be in a great position to do what our clients require.

Baiada on keeping an eye open for small-scale factors that can make a big difference to the culture: I am a nut like that, personally. I hope we have enough people here like that, to keep things going forward. I am kind of a stickler for connecting the details to the bigger picture. And that takes constant attention. You are always trying to draw a connection. You’re always asking if everything is coherent and connected, if there are any disconnects. Is there any way we can be doing things better? It is a matter of being attentive, like coach, teacher or chef. You have to be attentive to it all, with an eye for improvement.

Intellectual property (IP), whether patents, copyrights, trademarks or trade secrets, is an important asset for almost every company, regardless of industry or market focus.

“Business owners should be careful not to fall prey to the misconception that if their business does not involve manufacturing, research and development, or high-tech innovation, there is no IP to protect,” says Alexis Dillett Isztwan, member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC. “In fact, with reliance on the Internet for the delivery of goods and services, as well as marketing, strong brand recognition and the development of original creative works have become an important driver for generating revenue. It is not unusual today for a business to have only one category of assets — its intellectual property.”

Smart Business spoke with Isztwan about how you can know whether you really own the IP that you paid for.

How does ownership typically work when a contractor develops IP?

Often, owners assume if they paid a contractor to create something — a website design, an Internet platform or portal, a logo design, a software program — then the business owns all the rights. The reality, however, is quite the opposite. Under copyright law, the author — the graphic designer or the software programmer — owns the copyright, and under patent law, the inventor owns the rights. This is true regardless of whether, or how much, the company paid.

For copyrights, there is a narrow, often-misunderstood exception called the ‘work for hire’ doctrine. The work for hire exception covers only two categories: (1) employees who create works within the scope of their employment, and (2) nonemployees who create a work that falls within one of the specifically enumerated categories in the copyright law. The second category applies infrequently, covering only works such as contributions to a collective work, parts of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, translations, an instructional text, a test, answer material for a test, or an atlas. The first exception covers works prepared by an employee, not contractors.

Determining whether a person is an employee requires evaluating the level of control the employer has over the work as well as the creator and his or her conduct. Even if the creator is an employee, it calls into question when the work was created and whether the subject matter is related to the scope of employment.

What can business owners do to ensure they own what they pay for?

The best way to solidify IP ownership is with a written contract signed by both parties prior to any services being performed, whether by an employee or contractor. The contract should clearly grant ownership of all works and inventions and related IP rights to the business. Ownership should not be dependent on or timed with payments.

Even businesses that attempt to cover ownership in a written agreement sometimes limit effectiveness by stating that all work should be considered ‘works for hire.’ Since copyright law does not cover all IP rights, the contract language should contain an immediate, explicit and irrevocable assignment of all rights in the work created.

One pitfall is failing to recognize when the contract is necessary. Whenever a business hires an outside party to prepare a product or other deliverable, a written contract for those services should contain a favorable ownership statement.

Too often, the contractor convinces the owner a written agreement is unnecessary or that the contractor operates on a purchase-order basis only. This is a red flag, as trying to extract an ownership statement later will come with a price and often be refused.

Is this an area of growing concern? 

To many business owners, it is counterintuitive that IP ownership generally resides in the author or inventor rather than the party paying for the work. As a result, a number of owners are unaware of the problem until it surfaces in another context, such as when trying to sell the company, looking for financing, or in a dispute with the contractor or employee who created the work.

The ownership issue is not industry specific, but startup companies are more vulnerable to missteps. Startups, often low on cash, frequently look to friends to work for them based on a handshake promise of future interest in the company. When the business starts growing, those ‘friends’ come looking for their equity, and if you did not obtain an assignment of rights, you have little leverage, particularly when the savvy friend holds the IP ownership hostage in exchange for a

percentage of the business.

During the due diligence of a sale or financing, buyers or potential investors look at whether the company owns all of the asset rights, either to determine the value or ensure security. Increasingly, those assets are entirely or largely IP related. An unclear ownership chain often devalues the business. For example, a business hires multiple programmers to develop software without agreements, and tying up ownership requires tracking down each programmer to obtain an assignment of rights. It may be impossible to find each programmer and, if you do, even harder to convince them to agree to an assignment.

If you don’t have an assignment, what can happen to your property? 

If your company does not own the IP rights, not only is the business potentially vulnerable to infringement claims but the actual owner also has the right to license or sell the work to other parties, including competitors. Imagine having a new software platform developed by a contractor without an assignment, and then that contractor licenses or sells it to your competitor. You lose control over what was supposed to add value to your business, and you could have to focus time and resources on either defending an infringement claim or obtaining the rights from other parties, likely at a much higher cost than originally paid.

Alexis Dillett Isztwan is a member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC. Reach her at (215) 887-0200 or aisztwan@sogtlaw.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC

Workers’ compensation claims and insurance are not things an employer can leave to chance. The company’s managers need to actively work to manage the direct costs of workers’ compensation insurance, as well as indirect costs from lost productivity.

Brian Chance, vice president, Claim Services, at ECBM, says workers’ compensation insurance cost is based on a fairly strict pricing model that is heavily regulated by states. An employer’s actual claim expenses play a large role in the calculations that are done in order to price their insurance.

“An employer’s workers’ compensation claim experience has a direct impact on the cost of workers’ compensation insurance,” he says. “Larger employers may be self-insured to some extent and pay every dollar of their claims, and therefore, time and energy should be spent to reduce claim costs. Each dollar saved could be their own or will reduce the impact the claim will have on their insurance pricing.”

Smart Business spoke with Chance about the best techniques for managing workers’ compensation.

Are there certain industries where managing workers’ compensation is more critical than others?

All employers are subject to the same insurance pricing model, and therefore, all employers benefit from managing their claims. However, in certain industries — especially construction — a company’s claim experience may be reviewed in order to qualify it for contracts. Companies with worse than average claim experience may find themselves precluded from bidding on certain projects. Consequently, employers that ignore their workers’ compensation claims will spend money they would otherwise be saving, and some may find they are precluded from working.

If a company doesn’t effectively manage its workers’ compensation claims, what can be problematic?

The direct impact of not managing workers’ compensation claims is an increase in insurance costs or the out-of-pocket expenses paid by larger employers. However, there are many indirect costs employers suffer when an employee is injured. Studies have shown that for every dollar paid for a claim, the employer suffers $5 in indirect costs. Some of these costs are lost productivity due to the missing employee, the cost of errors or rework caused by inexperienced replacement employees, and poor employee morale.

Another misstep is that many employers assume that their role in the claims process ends after they report a claim. Employers that take a proactive role in managing their claims and the actions taken by their insurance carriers see lower costs as a result. Employers should have an ongoing dialogue with their injured employees and their insurance carrier in order to ensure that all steps are being taken to facilitate a return to work and reduced costs.

What are some best practices to use when managing claims?

The first thing you, as an employer, can do is report employee injuries as quickly as possible after an injury. Injuries reported more than three days after they occur cost more for each day the report is delayed. When you ignore an employee’s injury, the employee might find his or her way to an attorney and feel as though you are trying to avoid responsibility for the injury.

You also should return injured employees to work as quickly as possible by utilizing a transitional duty return-to-work program. Employees working in a modified duty capacity tend to heal faster, return to full duty quicker and are less inclined to use their claim as a way to punish their employer.

Additionally, you should identify local medical providers to treat your injured employees. Medical provider partners are most important to the ultimate cost of the claim because they determine the need for treatment and the extent of the disability. Medical providers who specialize in occupational injuries and understand your transitional duty program are critical to your ability to manage your claim costs.

Are certain areas within workers’ compensation becoming more critical to monitor?

Yes. As all employers know, the cost of medical insurance goes up every year due to inflation. That same inflation impacts workers’ compensation treatment costs, as well. Therefore, it is critical for employers to partner with providers that offer high-quality care at a discount. Employers with transitional duty return-to-work programs enjoy lower medical treatment costs on their claims because employees who are working tend to seek less medical treatment.

In addition, the U.S. government has spent a great deal of time and money in order to protect the interests of the Medicare system. Claims involving Medicare beneficiaries must be handled properly; otherwise, the employer and its insurance carrier could be subjected to extraordinary fines and penalties.

Once you put management techniques in place, how should you measure their effectiveness and then adjust accordingly?

Once you, as an employer, begin to manage your claims, you should see a reduction in the number of lost workdays you record on your Occupational Safety and Health Administration log. You will also observe a reduction in the payments being made on your claims and have fewer employees out of work.

Brian Chance is a vice president, Claim Services, at ECBM. Reach him at (610) 668-7100 or bchance@ecbm.com.

Insights Risk Management is brought to you by ECBM Insurance Brokers and Consultants

The introduction of bandwidth-intensive learning applications, including video and peer-to-peer teaching applications, has fundamentally transformed the way teachers teach and students learn. With funding over the past 14 years from the federal E-rate (EducationRate) program, school districts and libraries nationwide have provided high-speed network access to students and faculty, and deployed learning and teaching applications never before thought possible.

“E-rate–funded Ethernet network connectivity enables the future of education by providing high-speed network access to applications that are hosted elsewhere,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “Both large and small school districts have benefited from E-rate. The most successful districts have developed long-term, comprehensive technology implementation plans that view E-rate discounts as integral, and as only one of many funding sources supporting their infrastructure and curriculum.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how schools and libraries are utilizing technology through high-speed networks to enhance their education offerings.

What is the E-rate program?

A part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the E-rate program has committed more than $20 billion to schools and libraries since its creation. As schools and districts expand electronic curriculum through streaming video and Web-based applications, the demand for E-rate dollars remains strong. Each year, there are more than 20,000 applicants requesting funds for discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent on eligible services, products and e-Education content delivery. This funding has become particularly valuable as school budgets remain under significant pressure.

How does Ethernet technology assist with learning applications?

With Ethernet, a school’s infrastructure will be more scalable, reliable and cost-effective than with legacy technologies such as T1 lines, frame relay and asynchronous transfer mode. Connection speeds can be quickly increased and levels can often be changed remotely to support the high bandwidth the school’s applications need. The technology provides for centralized course curriculum delivery; centralized storage of score and student completion records; attendance tracking and real-time truancy reporting to the district and state level; distance learning, streaming video course content from a central data center; and Internet Protocol (IP) telephony and voice communications.

What are some applications that are enabled because of high-speed technology?

The most frequently deployed technology applications in schools are those that connect content to the student, teacher and parent. The ability to capture, transport, retrieve and store high-definition video has enabled distance learning and safe access to movie file archives from learning channels.

With distance learning, voice-over IP and streaming live two-way high-definition video on large projector screens, the school district can host a French class from a single location to multiple classrooms, for example. No longer is it necessary for a French teacher to be in every school. This allows districts to pool resources. Even access to guidance counselors can be accomplished with an appointment-based telepresence meeting.

By far, one of the most bandwidth-intensive uses of network access is Google Earth. Google Earth offers more than a third of the world’s land surface in high-resolution imagery and requires high-speed access to return refreshed results. Prior to high-speed cable and Ethernet, if every student in geography class performed a search at the same time, the classroom would either be unable to connect or would lose valuable time waiting for the pages to load.

Other applications include:

  • Connected classrooms, where high-tech devices allow students to instantly contribute and collaborate on projects with advanced teacher assessment monitoring.

  • Intelligent tutoring, where homework can be tailored to individual aptitude, with online interactive learning programs providing tutoring based on student responses.

  • Instant feedback to teachers on student performance, identifying difficulties so educators can course-correct upcoming instructions.

  • Software-based learning tools for math, social studies and geography, where wireless devices enable the teacher to ask a question and students to ‘enter’ answers virtually.

  • Remote access is used by district administration professionals to recertify teachers and rank them in the state school system, while allowing parents access to the teacher-student portal to see lesson plans, homework assignments, test scores and teacher ratings. Remote access can also include virtual parent-teacher conferences and email linking that gives parents access to their child’s attendance record and teacher’s desktops.

How can technology improve the security and safety of schools?

As the risks posed by student access to weapons has changed the way schools protect classrooms, students and teachers, it has resulted in increased use of video surveillance. Video storage and collection from schools requires massive bandwidth. Master video banks can store and retrieve 30 days of footage to allow for the playback of incidents. Applications such as these can help deter perpetrators, impress upon parents that children are safe and possibly lower insurance premiums.

There are thousands of success stories in school districts and libraries across the country. High-speed network connections have transformed education in rural districts, where they are now able to deliver Advanced Placement courses that were once impossible to offer. Public libraries offer patrons opportunities for continued education and professional development through resources available via high-speed network access and through easily deployed Ethernet services offered by local cable operators.

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

In May 2012, the Financial Accounting Foundation (FAF) of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) announced the formation of the Private Company Council (PCC). The PCC was created to work with the FASB to determine whether and when to modify U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for private companies. The PCC will replace the Private Company Financial Reporting Committee (PCFRC).

According to the FAF’s final report, Establishment of the Private Company Council, the PCC has two principal responsibilities. The first is to determine whether exceptions or modifications to existing nongovernmental GAAP are required to address the needs of users of private company financial statements and the second  is to serve as the primary advisory body to the FASB on the appropriate treatment for private companies for items under active consideration on the FASB’s technical agenda.

Smart Business spoke with Laurie A. Murphy, director, risk management, at Kreischer Miller about these changes.

Could you give us a brief history of differential accounting standards?

The question as to whether and how to establish differential accounting standards for public versus private companies, which is referred to as Big GAAP versus Little GAAP, has been going on for decades. The movement abroad to address the needs of private companies has already taken place. The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) issued GAAP requirements for small and medium-sized entities in July 2009. These standards are significantly smaller and less complex than the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or U.S. GAAP. The IASB recognized that small, privately held companies usually don’t need the complex reporting standards and disclosures of public companies. Under IFRS, small, privately held companies can utilize and choose reporting standards that make the most sense for their particular size.

In 2006, the FASB created the PCFRC to provide recommendations to the FASB on issues related to standard setting for private companies in the U.S. In 2009, the FAF undertook a nationwide ‘Listening Tour,’ and one of its results was the formation of the blue ribbon panel (BRP) on private company accounting by the FAF, the AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).  The BRP was established to address how accounting standards could best meet the needs of users of U.S. private company financial statements and was charged with providing recommendations on the future of standard setting for private companies to the FAF.

The BRP submitted its report to the FAF in January 2011, in which it included recommendations for how GAAP could best meet the needs of private company financial statement users. Among them was a recommendation for a new board, to be overseen by the FAF, which would focus on developing the exceptions and modifications to GAAP for private companies to better respond to the needs of financial statement users. Importantly, the BRP did not believe that the system of accounting setting had done a sufficient job of understanding the information that users of private company, as opposed to public company, financial statements consider useful and weighing the costs and benefits of GAAP for use by private companies.

Is the PCC the solution that the BRP expected?

The BRP recommended the establishment of a separate private company standards board that would work closely with the FASB but also would have final authority over exceptions and modifications. The BRP also recommended the creation of a differential framework to facilitate standard setters’ ability to make appropriate, justifiable exceptions and modifications. However, the authority to approve exceptions and modifications to GAAP was not granted to the PCC. While PCC is charged with determining whether exceptions or modifications to existing GAAP are required to address the needs of users of private company financial statements, approval by the FASB is required before those exceptions will be incorporated into U.S. GAAP. Since recommendations of the PCC must go through the FASB’s lengthy approval process, it may be a slow process to make changes that will benefit private companies. It is also unclear whether these changes, which will be incorporated into existing GAAP, will result in a differential standard.

What is the FRF for SMEs?

It appears that the AICPA was tired of waiting on the FASB or it lacked confidence that the FASB would accomplish its original charge of simplified standards for private companies. Therefore, in November 2012, the AICPA released an exposure draft on its proposed Financial Reporting Framework for Small-and-Medium-Sized Entities (FRF for SMEs). The FRF for SMEs, otherwise known as a special purpose framework, is intended to be an optional, simpler framework for the millions of small and medium-sized entities in the U.S. that are not required to prepare financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP. The FRF for SMEs is based on a simpler historical cost and accrual tax basis framework and, if adopted, would be a standardized alternative to GAAP if permitted by financial statement users. The FRF for SMEs is considered nonauthoritative and would be an optional method of financial reporting for internal use and for external use when external users have direct access to management. While this is not a replacement for differential standards, it may fill the gap for a subset of privately held companies.

Laurie A. Murphy is the director of risk management at Kreischer Miller. Reach her at (215) 441-4600 or lmurphy@kmco.com.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Kreischer Miller

Friday, 16 November 2012 16:09

The importance of empathy in the workplace

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Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.

Simply put, empathy is the ability to step into someone else's shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs.

In the workplace, empathy can show a deep respect for co-workers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale and loyalty. Empathy is a powerful tool in the leadership belt of a well-liked and respected executive.

We could all take a lesson from nurses about being empathetic. Time and again, nurses rate as the most trusted profession. Why? Because they use proper empathy to make patients feel cared for and safe.

Over the years I have discovered that most people who score high on assessments for empathy have no idea why. They do not completely understand what it is they actually do that makes others see them as empathetic. They can only express that they:

 

 

  • Like people.

 

 

  • Enjoy working with and helping others.

 

 

  • Value people as individuals.

 

 

In order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the importance of empathy in the workplace, I will pose four questions regarding the nature, role and benefits of empathy.

1.    Why does it matter for us to understand the needs of others?

By understanding others we develop closer relationships.

The radar of every good executive just went off when they read the word “relationships.” This is not a bad thing since most people understand the problems that happen when improper relationships are developed in the workplace.

This being said, the baby cannot be thrown out with the bath water. In order for a team of workers and their leaders to work powerfully together, proper relationships must be built and deepened.

When this happens through empathy, trust is built in the team. When trust is built, good things begin to happen.

2.    What traits/behaviors distinguish someone as empathetic?

Empathy requires three things: listening, openness and understanding.

Empathetic people listen attentively to what you’re telling them, putting their complete focus on the person in front of them and not getting easily distracted. They spend more time listening than talking because they want to understand the difficulties others face, all of which helps to give those around them the feeling of being heard and recognized.

Empathetic executives and managers realize that the bottom line of any business is only reached through and with people. Therefore, they have an attitude of openness towards and understanding of the feelings and emotions of their team members.

3.    What role does empathy play in the workplace? Why does it matter?

When we understand our team, we have a better idea of the challenges ahead of us.

To drive home the above point, further consider these:

 

 

  • Empathy allows us to feel safe with our failures because we won’t simply be blamed for them.

 

 

  • It encourages leaders to understand the root cause behind poor performance.

 

 

  • Being empathetic allows leaders to help struggling employees improve and excel.

 

 

Empathy plays a major role in the workplace for every organization that will deal with failures, poor performance and employees who truly want to succeed. As leaders, our role is simple—deal empathetically with our team and watch them build a strong and prosperous organization.

4.    So why aren’t we being more empathetic at work?

Empathy takes work.

 

 

  • Demonstrating empathy takes time and effort to show awareness and understanding.

 

 

  • It’s not always easy to understand why an employee thinks or feels the way they do about a situation.

 

 

  • It means putting others ahead of yourself, which can be a challenge in today’s competitive workplace.

 

 

  • Many organizations are focused on achieving goals no matter what the cost to employees.

 

 

Each of these reasons can be seen as true.

Let me ask a question though: What distinguishes average to mediocre leaders from those who excel?

In my opinion, the distinction comes through the ability of the leader who actively works against all the so-called “reasons” and incorporates an attitude of empathy throughout his or her organization. That type of leader will excel.

By spending more time learning about the needs of their employees, leaders can set the tone and approach taken by their employees to achieve their organization’s goals.

When writing about empathy I am reminded of the famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This is a truth that has long stood the test of time. It is true for our relationships in and out of the workplace.

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

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