Thursday, 28 February 2013 19:00

Donna Rae Smith: Face your fear

Growing up, I was terrified of heights. To cope with my fear, I did what many people do: I avoided it. The funny thing about avoidance is that, while it sounds like a passive tactic and an easy way out, it actually requires energy.

I would plan ways to avoid being confronted with heights. Eventually, I had enough of avoidance. I decided that I wanted to confront my fear. So I booked a trip to the most challenging place I could think of: the Grand Canyon.

It would have been terrifying enough to stand at an observation point and peer down into the canyon. But that wasn’t my plan. I was going for broke. I was going to descend into the canyon on foot.


One step at a time

That slow descent into the Grand Canyon has become for me a metaphor for confronting any fear. The message is simple: Instead of allowing fear to be a paralyzing force, confront it one step at a time.

You don’t need to be afraid of heights to know fear. Fear is the single most limiting force in our lives — whether it’s fear of failing at a new venture, fear that our ideas will be rejected, fear that we’ll lose our jobs, or fear that people will discover we’re not as competent or talented as they think.

The difference is that unlike my fear of heights, many of us don’t realize our fears and we don’t comprehend how they hold us back. Until we can name them, we can’t confront them.

I realized that my fear of heights was crippling when I admitted the lengths I was taking to avoid my fear. People use avoidance around fear all the time: we avoid speaking frankly or truthfully for fear of confrontation or for fear of being perceived as a whistleblower.

We avoid showing emotion or appearing too human for fear of being perceived as weak; we avoid excelling, for fear of being given more responsibility that we won’t be able to handle.


We become conditioned

In some cases, our mechanisms for avoidance are so ingrained we fail to notice we’re even doing them anymore. A boss who has a longstanding habit of intimidating employees and creating a climate of fear will be slow to admit that his behavior is masking his own fears — fears of his authority being challenged or undermined, or fears of being exposed as an ineffective leader.

An employee who fears management may go to great lengths to hide issues of safety on the plant floor; he fears that if management finds out, he’ll lose his job. Avoidance takes energy — negative energy, and can leave us physically and psychologically exhausted over time.

Both the boss and the employee may be so accustomed to avoidance that they fail to realize the toll it’s taking on them. They don’t realize that they would be more effective (and safer) if they confronted their fears rather than avoided them.

Are you using avoidance as a tactic when it comes to fear? Are you spending energy and devising tactics to avoid what you fear?


Where to begin a solution

Begin by paying attention to what you’re avoiding. Listen to your gut as you go through your day. Are there instances where you avoid doing/saying what you know is in your best interests because you fear the result?

Take small steps. Once you know what you’re avoiding, force yourself to take small steps in the direction of your fear. If you’ve gotten feedback that employees find you unapproachable, what can you do to be more open? Start with a small time commitment, such as five minutes.

What can you do in five minutes? Believe it or not, five minutes can be powerful. Perhaps initiate a five-minute conversation with an employee — ask a question, listen attentively to the answer, and then restate what you heard.

Fear keeps us stuck in place — for weeks, months, or even years. The only way forward is through awareness and willingness — awareness of what we fear and willingness to take the first step.


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

Published in Akron/Canton

During a difficult economic environment or in markets with significant price pressure, sales growth is often elusive and seldom a near-term solution for increasing the profitability of a business. Cost reduction, on the other hand, can have an immediate positive effect.

When companies do a “deep dive” analysis of their cost structure, they can almost always find ways to cut costs without sacrificing quality or customer service, and that “win-win” drops right to the bottom line.

In our experience, a 30-day review of costs will yield extensive insight that can translate directly into cost reduction. We recommend a “quick and dirty analysis” led by a strong cross-functional team. We suggest two specific techniques for conducting this kind of analysis:

Ratio analysis

This is a tool used to conduct a quantitative assessment of a company’s financial statements. Ratios are evaluated by comparing each major cost category to prior years. This internal analysis can then be compared to a peer group of companies.

Ratio analysis of financial statements encourages decision-makers to look at the trend of costs versus activity levels (sales) over time. It enables you to spot trends in the business and compare current performance with the best ratios of prior years.

To get a complete picture, the ratios should be measured against peers’ ratios, as well as comparing the business’ performance over several years. We suggest paying special attention to when and how any unfavorable trends may have developed.

When looking internally, the business should evaluate at least five years (ideally, up to 10 years) of historical numbers in fundamental areas such as sales, materials and labor costs, overhead, gross profit, selling, general and administrative costs.

A macro analysis requires the team to identify the best ratio in each category. For example, if the third year has the best ratio in a category, then that ratio provides a snapshot of the “ideal” situation. Once the other best historical ratios in each category are identified, the business will then have a complete picture of what’s possible.

We recommend conducting a macro analysis not only internally but also against a peer group. The macro analysis should be done with the major cost categories on your company’s profit and loss statement.

As a next step, a micro analysis allows the business to drill down into the specific cost elements in each major category. For example, if the macro analysis category was general administrative, that area could be segmented into salary, wages, fringe benefits, supplies, travel and entertainment. These segments would then get a similar ratio analysis conducted upon them.

While this type of analysis is often laborious, it can provide very clear indicators of what can be done to “claw back” unnecessary costs.

The purpose of micro and macro ratio analysis is to take the best ratios of each cost category and build a target profit and loss statement utilizing those best ratios. You then try to get your current P&L statement to replicate those best ratios. The benefit of cost reduction is that it requires little capital cost and no working capital or debt.

Constant dollar sales per employee

This technique measures the average revenue generated by each employee of the company, and is calculated by dividing a firm’s revenue by the total number of employees.

Revenue per employee is a rough measure of how productive a particular company is utilizing its employees. In general, relatively high revenue per employee is a positive sign that suggests the company is finding ways to leverage more sales out of each of its employees.

The reason for measuring constant dollar sales is that the CDS calculation removes inflation. Labor needs vary from industry to industry and labor-intensive companies will typically have lower revenue per employee ratios than companies that require less labor.

Hence, a comparison of revenue per employee is generally most meaningful among companies within the same industry. Ultimately, increasing your constant dollar sales per employee will lead to expanding margins and improved profitability.


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

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

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 28 February 2013 19:00

Tony Arnold: The power of empowerment

Corporate entrepreneurship is picking up a few nicknames as it becomes a trending topic in discussions. “Intrapreneurship,” a term used by Steve Jobs in a Newsweek article in 1985, will still drive your autocorrects and spell checks crazy.

But a quick online search of the term will find an increasing number of articles racing to define the buzzword for the current era. Why the refreshing discussion on the topic of entrepreneurship inside the walls of a corporation? When well-run, these efforts can be a virtual lottery of profit for the company who manages it correctly. Let’s take a stab at addressing the concept and what it means today.

Jobs was, of course, referring to the Macintosh team, the virtual garage band of loyal workers who were long on hours and ingenuity and provided the basis of a new line of computer products that began to lead the company in new directions.

The Mac team exemplified a culture of innovation and made a good case for a strong investment in talent, coupled with a healthy budget for research and development. In the view of many, this remains the current model for companies today.

But daydreaming about inventing the next Mac, iPod or iPhone might be mitigated by reminders of failures, such as New Coke, Clear Beer, Crystal Pepsi or Netflix spinning off their DVD business to Qwikster, the most recent major blunder by a corporation.

Here are a few steps to take on your path to becoming more tolerant of risk while never forgetting to keep a close eye on the costs.


Empower a team.

Keeping the lines of communications open will inform you of breakthroughs before they happen. Define the goal and how success should be measured. Then establish a funding level and clarify your time horizon to reaffirm the commitment. It will help you monitor progress or regress directly and you’ll be able to spot pitfalls while there’s still time to react.

Consider meeting with different people so that you can gain multiple perspectives. Walk the group’s area and they’ll know they have the interest of top management.


Recognize and cultivate top performers.

Support them with complementary people who think like they do but consider fostering an environment of teamwork, not necessarily one of competition with each other.

Resources for the project need to be ample but not extravagant. The team will understand the venture itself should be considered like a start-up, and while they’ll enjoy the same benefits as your other employees, they may relish the opportunity to “rough it” and be considered noncorporate types.


Reward extraordinary performance.

An opportunity for the team to be compensated based on viable success must be a part of the equation.

Entrepreneurs will be highly motivated to share in the long-term value and upside they create. This also will aid in retaining the capability and high-quality talent in your organization. It will come back to your bottom line in spades, so don’t forget to share. Reward efficiency and frugality as well.


Set the pace.

Set, monitor and share data on progress against agreed upon milestones. Hitting goals will energize the team and provide the necessary information to tweak their overall plan and make adjustments. The allocation of resources can also be measured at this time, and if you’re knocking on the door of a breakthrough, you’ll know it. ?


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

Published in St. Louis

One of the patterns I often see are highly talented employees who plunge from being the likely successor to the CEO, the company’s best salesperson or the best hire ever made (aka: the hero) to being questioned whether they have what it takes to remain in the company (aka: the dog).

How does this happen? How can employees who earn such superlatives bottom-out? Can they really be so great and then become so terrible? Were their initial contributions and potential misread or overstated? How can someone plummet from “Second Coming” to “How do we move him or her out?” And why does this happen so often?

When I see this hero-to-dog pattern, I attribute it to three not-so-obvious factors.


Losing your perspective

When a person is selected for a new job, we often see very high levels of performance and potential. We see them doing things we’ve long wanted, at a level we only dreamed about. We attribute all kinds of greatness and possibility to the individual.

However, this may actually be more illustrative of the low baseline they started with. If we become accustomed to an underperforming incumbent, the new hire seems super human by comparison.

You have to set clear criteria for what you expect a fully performing person in the role to look like. Measure the person in the new role against these criteria, not against the predecessor.

You may find you finally have a strongly performing person in the role, doing a great job. That’s what you hired for. By all means, recognize and reward their impressive performance, but don’t exaggerate their incredibleness until you are sure they are truly exceeding expectations.


Wish fulfillment

As executives, our business success depends on the performance of our leaders and key performers. We can’t win with mediocre performers, and we can’t succeed unless our key performers do.

Therefore, although we hate to admit it, we would gladly welcome a person to come along and save the day. Consequently, we often overstate and overinflate greatness from a high performer. We are so hopeful that we start believing that one person can actually save the day.

Don’t burden a high performer with your desire for someone to save the day. Praise and reward the person’s great performance, but don’t allow yourself to believe you are seeing anything other than high achievement by a hardworking person with high standards of excellence.


Reading too much into the start, not the finish

Running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace will burn out the runner before the finish line. A new person may overachieve early, looking like the greatest hero to walk the earth. However, the pace may not be sustainable and holding the person up as an example of best ever only makes the fall harder.

Starting great is extremely important, but finishing greater is what really matters. You want to help sprinters run their best times but at a pace they can sustain to the finish line. Don’t decide the really strong athlete is Olympic material until they win a few races. Better they are noticed for how they finished, in addition to how they left the gate.

Your credibility with the board and the organization can be harmed significantly when a hero-dog situation occurs or, worse, becomes a pattern. Your judgment of people will be questioned and trust will be weakened.

Remember: Keep perspective and skip the superlatives. Success comes from hardworking people, engaging in the right behaviors, sustained over long periods of time. Don’t be lured into believing otherwise. ?

Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. (, co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Dr. Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or

Published in Pittsburgh
Thursday, 28 February 2013 19:00

Jerry McLaughlin: Live outside the box

Most business leaders want to greatly improve customer loyalty, and I am no different.

To drive loyalty to my promotional products business, we have tried all the usual means — low prices, free shipping, membership club benefits, discounts and exclusive product offers.

Once, we even tried sending a vase of fresh flowers after each order. None of these initiatives resulted in the dramatic improvement that we sought. Over the years, we have engaged a series of expert consultants to find even more ideas to try. But in our business, customer loyalty remains a tough nut to crack.

The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. struggled with similar obstacles when it came to problem-solving in their business. Many were scientific, and — even though Eli Lilly’s substantial R&D group is staffed with talented technical experts — some problems resisted a solution for years. However, the company did invent a way to solve some of its problems quickly and cheaply.


Use expert advice — of others

Here is the gist of it: Eli Lilly discovered that it could solve a lot of the most intractable problems by giving them to experts from other fields. Simple? Yes. Counterintuitive? Yes. The surprise is that it seems to work.

The company put together an online network of thousands of scientists from other disciplines and “broadcast” their brain-stumping challenges to these experts from other fields. In many cases, the experts solved the problems by simply drawing on knowledge common in their own areas and applying it to Eli Lilly’s dilemma.

Eli Lilly’s scientists, we may presume, know just about all there is to know in their respective fields of expertise. Likewise, in my company, our experts know just about all there is to know about the industry, our products, our customers, competitors and so on. When the subject-matter experts can’t solve a problem, you need to cast a much wider net. If the specialists are stumped, then a solution, if found at all, will come from people outside the field.


Modify your individual process, if needed

Today, our company is using a version of Eli Lilly’s method in our business, which other organizations might also use to address their toughest problems. I didn’t have the time or means to put together a large team of experts from outside disciplines to work on my company’s challenges. So we use a modified Eli Lilly approach: We deliberately, routinely expose our in-house experts to nontraditional experiences and knowledge.

The idea is to see whether we can find our own answers by investing to acquire experiences outside those we normally encounter. In recent months, this new approach has involved my participation in a variety of eye-opening situations, including a meeting with the Cavalia producers, lots of museum visits, a guided tour of London graffiti and a design school workshop at Stanford University. On a personal level, I’m trying much harder to add new concepts and idea possibilities to my thinking.

I don’t know whether we’ll crack the customer loyalty problem in this way, but I can tell you that the ideas we discuss now are fresher than those we used to generate. That’s why my prescription for increasing the likelihood of solving the toughest problems is this: Live outside the box. ?

Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. McLaughlin can be reached at

Published in Northern California

Businesses don’t grow … people do!

If you are the founder of a very successful company, other business leaders probably often ask you for the secrets of your success. As founder of Defender Direct, I get approached all the time — they all want to know about our “secret sauce.” How did we grow a small company operating out of a spare bedroom into a nearly $500 million business that has experienced annual average growth rates of 50 percent or more, with more than 2,000 employees and a nationwide footprint of 120 offices?

The answer can be found in five simple words: “Businesses don’t grow; people do!”

I believe our company has grown faster than its peers not because we are better at selling and installing home systems but because our people have grown faster than the competition’s people. The key is to stop trying to double your business and realize the way to grow is to double your team members’ enthusiasm, optimism and skills.

Send people to seminars, leadership conferences and self-improvement programs. Build your culture on purpose, not by accident. It’s that simple.

Groom your employees.

This concept has been a humbling learning experience for me as a business owner. I’ve learned that success isn’t about having a better plan or a widget. It’s about helping your employees, because every time they grow, you and your business will grow. That’s what keeps us going, that’s our true purpose — to build and develop leaders. Everything else just falls into place.

You don’t want to be in the business of buying and selling businesses. You want to be in the business of growing and developing leaders.

How do you best invest in your people? At Defender, every new hire attends what we call “Defender Corporate Culture Day” their first day on the job. This is an opportunity to share the company’s unique culture and get each employee engaged and focused on how he or she can be successful both personally and professionally.

On this first day, the focus is completely on personal written goals and a personal growth plan. We don’t talk at all about job-specific skills.

We insist that our employees “work harder on themselves than they do on their job.” Yes, I just said that and I mean it. Every new employee receives a tool called the Defender Leadership Advantage Board. This tool provides a four-year road map that guides employees on a path of self-improvement focusing on three categories: reading for self-improvement, volunteering to serve others and involvement in company culture-building events.

The DLA Board contains items such as reading “Now Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham, attending an Ed Foreman Successful Life Course and even building a home for the poor in Mexico, just to name a few. Participation is always optional but is encouraged for growth. Defender’s investment in the DLA Board is about $16,000 per employee, as all expenses are paid for all employees and, in many cases, all expenses for a family member to attend events are covered, as well.

Don’t stress profit; stress growth.

I realized early on that, as a leader, I can only grow as fast as my employees grow, so I have devoted a lot of time and resources into developing leaders because it’s the only way our company can realize exponential, organic growth.

When you start sacrificing employee growth for profit, everyone suffers. Once Defender started focusing on people versus profit growth, the results were incredible.

Remember, the best thing you can do for your business is grow your people. In doing so, you and your business will realize exponential success because businesses don’t grow … people do!

Dave Lindsey is the founder, board member and chief missions officer of Defender Direct, a leading dealer for a portfolio of home security and digital communication brands including ADT and DISH Network. The company Direct employs more than 2,000 individuals in 50 states with more than 100 branch offices nationwide. Visit for more information.




Published in Indianapolis

It’s an age-old debate: Is character determined by DNA or upbringing? Nature versus nurture? 

Most would argue that character evolves from both. What about companies and their cultures? Is a company’s culture merely a composite of the executives and employees who work there or can a culture be nurtured?

If left to chance, a corporate culture will evolve naturally, but stronger, healthier cultures are nurtured along the way. That doesn’t mean you can manufacture one. At its core, a culture is how a company gets things done. Executives can’t invent an ideal culture that doesn’t align with the way the company actually operates. However, you can help refine your company’s culture and character. Start with the following three steps.

Identify your company’s core values.

A strong company culture, good or bad, reflects the values of the company, its leaders and its employees. What values define your company? What matters most — profits, philanthropy, innovation, safety? If you don’t know, poll your employees. They will have a pragmatic perspective of how things get done.

Once you identify your company’s core values, prioritize the three to five values that are most important.  What do you want to be known for — quality, integrity, or just plain fun?  Keep in mind, this is not what you do; it’s how you do it.  An orthopedic surgeon may be skilled at fixing broken bones, but he gets referrals because of his genuine concern for patients.

Align your actions to your values.

It’s not enough to identify your company’s core values. You also have to walk the talk. Tiger Woods enjoyed a reputation for being a remarkable athlete with extraordinary discipline and sound ethics. However, when revelations of his extramarital affairs surfaced, his reputation was forever tarnished. He’s still considered a great golfer, but no one believes he’s the man he portrayed himself to be.

In the same way, you can’t promote your company as being fair and then challenge your partners at every turn. You’d be better off acknowledging that your company is aggressive. If you try to pass your company off as something it isn’t, you’ll ultimately damage trust with customers.

How can you help ensure that team members model your company’s values day after day? Institute practices that promote your values and the behaviors you want your employees to emulate.

Google, for example, is known for creativity, and its leaders practice what they preach. Google encourages developers to dedicate the equivalent of one day a week to innovative projects outside their job descriptions.

Engage your employees.

The most important, and perhaps the trickiest, piece to this puzzle is engaging employees. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once said, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” The touchy-feely, people side of business is often the most difficult for leaders to manage well, but it is critical to a company’s success. Employees who are satisfied and truly engaged in their work will perform at a higher level and contribute to greater success and higher profits.

Engaging employees is easier said than done (in fact, it’s never “done” — it requires continuous dedication and focus). There are, however, some practical tactics that can help.

For starters, communicate openly, include employees in the decision-making process whenever possible, and seek and provide continuous performance feedback. Show your employees that you care what they think and that you want them to succeed.

Can you nurture your company’s culture? Absolutely, but it has to emanate from your core values and employees have to model those values. The result will be engaged employees who reflect your culture because it’s simply how your company gets things done.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses.  For more information about the company, visit




Published in Columnist

Storytelling is the hottest trend in marketing today, and it’s no wonder. In a world that is moving at the speed of sound, it is nearly impossible to get your message heard. To do so takes imagination, creativity and enchanting your audience in a way that draws them in to hear your story.

When done correctly, storytelling removes people’s awareness that the message is an overt attempt to persuade them, and as a result, it has the staying power to drive them to action.

From the day we’re born, storytelling has helped us make sense of the world. Stories grab our attention and let us have experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have. Stories give us a glimpse into the past and into the future, stir our emotions, and take us places we never imagined.

Storytelling is an ancient art that has evolved in a myriad of forms — from the Bible to books to Broadway to movies and beyond. Creative storytelling captivates audience members, transforming them to active roles, and forms a positive and memorable experience with your brand that gets passed on within social circles.

In 2002, Verizon launched its “Can you hear me now?” campaign. The campaign, as you likely remember, took a Verizon technician to remote areas of the country to test the company’s wireless service coverage. Verizon could have simply stated that its service coverage was good, but embedding that message in a fun and interesting way within the “Can you hear me now?” narrative proved especially effective.

In the first year after the campaign began, Verizon’s net customers grew by 10 percent. In the second year, net customers grew by an additional 15 percent. Customer turnover decreased by nearly 30 percent in the same period.

Simply telling a story, however, is not enough. How you tell it can make all the difference. Here are three things every story needs to give it persuasive power.


The first goal of any story is to grab your audience’s attention. Halftime of the Super Bowl has become an event in itself because of the creativity of the television commercials. We pay more attention to a gecko or a talking duck because the out-of-the-ordinary is more entertaining. A boring story will put your audience to sleep, but a creative story accomplishes the first step of directing attention to your message.


Once you have their attention, get your audience members involved in the story. The story should become their own. Have you ever stayed up too late reading a book because you just couldn’t put it down? Even though we know the book is fiction, we “get into” it. It draws us in and makes us feel like we’re experiencing the action ourselves.

We relate to the Verizon guy because we’ve all been in a cellphone dead spot and know how infuriating it can be. The “Can you hear me now?” message, then, became our own message because we’ve all said those words before. We become involved in the story — our emotions and thoughts are more pliable. People are more apt to be persuaded and to adopt the message as their own when the story becomes their own.

Connection to the brand

Have you ever seen a TV commercial that is creative and involving, but by the end of the commercial, you forget what product or company the commercial featured? The most persuasive stories create a memorable association with your brand so that when someone is ready to purchase, your brand is top of mind.

So what story are you telling? Now more than ever consumers control what they pay attention to. It is up to you to captivate your audience.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, or @brandpro, or for more information, visit


Published in Columbus


While traveling around the U.S. and Canada training managers on the importance of embracing the generational workforce, I have noticed a consistent theme: Managers want to know how they can do a better job engaging their employees.

Every company can’t be like Facebook or SAS, where amenities such as free on-site medical care for employees and their families, low-cost/high-quality child care, a fitness center, a library, and a summer camp for employees’ children are the norm. Or like Google, which provides free food, fitness facilities, massage rooms, hair dressers, laundry rooms and on-site doctors. So what are you to do?

First, you have to understand what employee engagement is and the impact that the lack of employee engagement can have on your company or business.

Wikipedia defines employee engagement as the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission and vision of the organization. Employee engagement has become an area of focus within organizations because it boosts employee retention, thereby helping companies avoid expensive employee replacement costs resulting from staff members who voluntarily quit their jobs.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, the cost of replacing one $8-per-hour employee can exceed $3,500. Information like this obviously gives companies a strong financial incentive to maintain their existing staff members through strong employee engagement practices.

Organizations that recognize that higher employee retention, increased productivity and reduced absenteeism all have financial impact will see that their employee engagement efforts make sound business sense. Engaged workers tend to complete tasks faster, get higher customer service ratings and demonstrate greater loyalty.

Use these five quick tips to improve employee engagement starting today.

? Build trust: Employees need to be able to trust their managers and their company’s leaders. Clear communication is a key element of trust. To build trust, monitor how and what you communicate to people around you. In organizations under stress, sometimes it’s difficult for leadership to be completely forthcoming. Few people expect everything to be perfect all the time.

? Create connections: People want to have meaning in all aspects of their lives. If they do not feel the importance of what they do, they disconnect. Therefore, it is important to highlight the connections between things and people. Help employees see the big picture of how their role and objectives fit into the organization’s objectives.

? Appreciate people: Recognition is an important part of motivation and engagement, and it can be as simple as genuine appreciation. Praise people when it’s warranted and give credit where credit is due. The best recognition is immediate, specific and personal.

? Motivate others: Motivation is our desire or willingness to do something. An organization where people are willing and able to work toward a common goal is stronger than one where people are badgered, threatened or generally reluctant.

? Support growth: There is nothing more demotivating than feeling you’re in a dead-end job. Talk to employees about the directions they’d like to see their career paths take and help them identify opportunities for personal and professional development that will help them achieve those goals.

You don’t have to be a manager or leader of an organization to build trust, create connections, appreciate people, motivate others and support growth. Anyone at any level can make a difference in the work lives of those around them. The payoff shows up in increased innovation and productivity, lower turnover, lower sickness rates, and higher employee satisfaction. In a world warring for increasingly sparse talent, the importance of a strong employee engagement program should not to be underestimated.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small startups to large international corporations. Contact her at

Published in Dallas
Thursday, 28 February 2013 19:00

How 'mind fields' can impact business decisions

According to experts, 85 to 95 percent of new products launched each year are failures. But since companies regularly consider industry data, market intelligence and relevant expertise as part of the decision-making process, these high failure rates are not likely due to a lack of information.

Rather, they are due to defects in our internal mental processes — flaws in the way we gather and process information that often go unnoticed and unaddressed. Here are three that can unknowingly create a virtual “mind field” of risk for business decisions such as new product launches.

1. Influence of the boss: Determining the level of sufficiency based on the source

In business, there are specific results that our boss or other stakeholders desire, and we attach strong feelings to achieving them. For example, if our boss has a significant attachment to launching a new product, we may spend disproportionately more time seeking information that validates the boss’s view than searching for information that conflicts with the boss’s desire.

As a result, we unconsciously go about gathering information under the boss’s influence and create an environment for faulty decisions. We end up living with the unrealistic but confident sense that we have figured out the way things are and that we have done that objectively. And if decisions do not go well, we find comfort that we can always blame our boss later.

2. Snap-judgment defense: The tendency to unreasonably defend decisions made solely on snap judgments

Due to the hard-wired threat response in our brain, we make rapid judgments about what is happening, which allows us to quickly determine what information is most relevant and then take speedy action. This is helpful when the threat is physical and we must act without delay.

But in business, we often find it easy to lose track of how quickly we are judging a situation or how much we’ve explained away.

Since we associate leadership with decisiveness, being decisive becomes a self-driven attribute causing us to focus solely on explaining and defending our snap judgment. Our logic circuits shut down and we are unable to objectively consider points of view that conflict with our own.

3. Shooting the critics: The tendency to marginalize people who disagree with us

Leaders know that any decision they make is subject to their judgment being questioned. And whether they’re fully aware of it or not, they’re really not in the market to have their decisions, beliefs and choices questioned.

Whether we are team leaders or CEOs, we subconsciously develop the tendency to marginalize people who disagree with us. When this happens, people stop telling the truth. They avoid rocking the boat and just quietly stay out of the line of fire.

The solution to this problem requires the courage to challenge our own thoughts. When these flaws in thinking are deeply entrenched, companies are at significant risk of being displaced by competitors, new technology and novel business models. By pausing to look for these cognitive defects, leaders can make better decisions, avoid problems, reduce risk, improve outcomes and never have to lament, “What was I thinking when I made that decision?”

Larry J. Bloom spent 30-plus years helping grow a small family business to more than $700 million in revenue. He is a consultant, the author of “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions,” and the owner of a start-up media and software company that promotes better thinking. For more information, visit

Published in Atlanta