“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose; it’s how well you played the game.”

Do you agree? Or should the quote be, “Knowing the score will push you to play the game your hardest”?

I recently read “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. The discipline that stuck out in my mind most was Discipline No. 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard. While it may be true that it’s not whether you win or lose, a very important factor in determining how well you played is keeping a scoreboard.

Create a focal point

Whether on the field or in the office, if you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing. Imagine you’re watching a lacrosse game with players that aren’t keeping score. You might see the players screwing around, not passing or cradling the ball, being careless about field positioning, taking risky shots or playing without any strategy in mind. No one’s trying to win.

Now, imagine there’s a scoreboard. You see the teams start to develop strategies on how they can work together to outsmart their opponents, maintain possession and defend their goal. The players play with more intensity and have a will to win, and there’s more sweat and blood.

When you have a team working together to drive your business forward, unfortunately, there’s no time for practice shots. Your team needs to keep score and be “game on” — working hard strategically and pushing toward the same goal.

Let the team set goals

Many organizations have their top leader develop their scorecard, filled with a bunch of information and lofty goals that no one on the team knows about. Or if they do know about it, they’re not sure how it was derived or what it was based on. When the leader sets the goals and puts them in their office, how is the team to know what they’re trying to achieve?

Allowing your team members on the ground to develop the scorecard helps it become personal to them. They buy in to it. They have a passion for updating it and have a desire to reach the goals they help set. Ultimately, the scorecard is for the team, not the boss. So let them set it.

Display score clearly

Some scoreboards have data on every point played, stats on every player and even stats from the entire season. Some have graphs and charts. Cut through all the clutter and help your team stay focused.

What is the main goal the team is seeking? They should be able to figure out the score within seconds of looking at the scoreboard.

Also, where is the scoreboard displayed? Is it in the boss’s office? How are your team members to know whether or not they’re close to reaching it?

Don’t be afraid to put your scoreboard on display in a common area where people congregate. They should see it every day and know right away what they’re working toward. If you have people in the field, take your scoreboard on the road.

Everyone wins

When you keep score, allow your team to help set the score and provide constant updates, everyone wins. At Moe’s Southwest Grill, we have to be “game on” every day for the team, for our franchise partners and for our customers. Because when we meet our goals, our guests win, too. They get clean restaurants, the freshest food and high scores on the board across the system. This tells us that the guest is really enjoying the game.

But at the end of the day, I know our team can say — with confidence — that they set the score, they knew the score and they played their hardest to win. ?

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.com.

Published in Atlanta

Currently, more than half of employers in the U.S. are blocking workplace social media access. They give a number of reasons for blocking access to social media sites.

Most prevalent, those employers believe time spent on social networks is lost productivity that the company will never regain, so when you block social media, you know your employees are spending time doing their work.

But the reality is employees who were time wasters before social media are still going to have productivity issues. A recent survey by OfficeTeam showed that 22 percent of respondents working for companies that blocked social networking, shopping and entertainment sites admitted to frequently using their personal mobile devices as a workaround.

Any employee with a smartphone can access social media sites and the Internet, even if access is restricted via workplace computers. When access is blocked, employees are prone to take more work breaks or spend time finding a way to access restricted sites.

If you block social media access for your employees, it might be time to take a look at your company’s policy. Social media access might not be the problem. Here are some other things to consider.

Increased productivity

According to a study conducted by the University of Melbourne, employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. The study went on to explain that employees who rewarded themselves by visiting their social media pages between the completion of work tasks accomplished 9 percent more than their blocked counterparts.

Increased productivity doesn’t stop in the physical workplace. Employers who embrace social platforms also enable workers to be able to work virtually from nearly any location. From home or on the go, networked employees are completing tasks.

Attracting and retaining workers

According to a survey of 870 employers and employees by recruitment company Hays, almost 20 percent of job applicants say they will turn down a job if they do not have reasonable access to social networking sites.

About half of those surveyed already accessed social media at work, with 13.3 percent accessing it daily and 36.4 percent checking occasionally.

As for employers surveyed, 44.3 percent believed that allowing employees access to social media at work will improve retention levels, and a third already gave their staff access to it.

Only 23.7 percent of employers allowed no access to social media sites.

So how should you define your social media policy? Here are some questions to ask.

  • How do you expect social media to be used during work hours? Define proper and improper use of work equipment.
  • Will you offer full or limited access?
  • What restrictions or parameters will be placed on workplace usage?
  • How will you monitor employee social network activity for any excessive use? Employees will need to understand that they have no right to privacy with regard to social media in the workplace, and as the employer, you have the right to monitor or retrieve data pertaining to their social media usage at work.
  • How will you deal with any employee misuse?
  • Are you going to encourage employees to leverage social media as a business tool or will you restrict its use as a business tool? If you have concerns about the sharing of the company’s confidential information, you will need to outline confidentiality guidelines.

Don’t issue a blanket policy banning all social media speech about the business; it could get you in trouble. Instead, craft a policy limiting use during work hours and banning false statements, circulation of proprietary information and profanity related to management or co-workers. Have your lawyer review all social media policies prior to introducing them to your employees.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria, Shazaaam PR and Promo Marketing Team. Reach her at alenhoff@shazaaam.com.

Published in Detroit

The average American worker today stays at his or her job for less than four years, while millennials, also known as Generation Y’ers (those born between 1977 and 1997), are leaving in a fraction of that time. Ninety-one percent of millennials expect to stay in a job fewer than three years, and the average is eight to 12 months.

New data reveals that a lack of longevity with one company has no effect on length of stay at the next, so the old stereotype of “Once a job-hopper, always a job-hopper” is becoming less relevant to employers, possibly debunking workers’ fears of not being offered new work just because their lengthy resumes are littered with short-stint positions.

As an employer, you obviously want to keep turnover among workers low. Losing workers after a mere year means wasted time and resources invested on recruiting, training and development. Millennials with high expected potential to perform are especially precious to keep around, even more so than workers with proven achievements in key positions such as engineering.

So how do you prevent millennials and other workers from leaving your company quickly? Try the following:

  • Hire well initially. The economy has made every open position look tempting to a wide array of job seekers. Even if your company’s applicant tracking system successfully weeds out over- or underqualified candidates efficiently, some workers who aren’t the right fit inevitably make it through.

To keep high-potential millennials and other workers at your company, ensure you’re hiring the right people first. Use video interviews to broaden your search efforts geographically and to better establish an accurate feel for potential workers, all while saving time and money.

  • Embody values. A 2012 survey by Net Impact found that 58 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to take a 15 percent pay cut in order to work for a company that has values similar to their own.

To keep high-potential millennials at your company, do more than just hand employees a list of the company’s values on day one; actually embody the values day in and day out and reward employees who do the same.

  • Encourage communication. If today’s social marketing campaigns illustrate one thing, it’s that consumers enjoy engaging in open conversation.

Likewise, employees, especially millennials, appreciate the opportunity to share ideas and opinions openly in the workplace. To keep high-potential millennials at your company, encourage open two-way communication among all employees through various channels.

  • Integrate technology. Millennials are stereotypically the most tech- and digital-savvy generation in history. In fact, Gen Y’ers are prioritizing acquiring the latest smartphone or tablet above purchasing a car.

To keep Gen Y’ers at your company, demonstrate your company’s desire to be a technology leader by implementing the latest technology, beginning with video interviews in the hiring process.

  • Offer flexibility. More young workers in industries that don’t demand in-office face time prefer to do their work outside the office, according to a recent Detroit News article. And for Gen Y’ers in industries where face time is required, flexible hours can be more important than high salaries.

To keep your high-potential Gen Y’ers around, try to offer more workplace flexibility. If more schedule and telecommuting flexibility isn’t possible at your company, see the next tip.

  • Ask for input. Assuming that Gen Y’ers at your company want holiday gift baskets or other outdated employee perks that won’t inspire gratitude will have them running out the door before their first year is up. To keep Gen Y’ers at your company, ask what benefits they want to receive or take inspiration for employee benefits from other companies with cool perks.

  • Offer training. Information today is doubling every 18 months. By some estimations, that means workers need to recover a quarter of their college education every five years just to keep up with industry standards.

To retain Gen Y’ers value and keep them at your company, offer training opportunities for workers to learn new and refreshed information and knowledge. Your company can even offer education benefits for Gen Y’ers itching to return to the classroom.

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 start-ups to large international corporations. Contact her at sherri@generationalguru.com.

Published in Dallas
Tuesday, 06 November 2012 14:58

The HR Awards

The HR Awards recognize Northeast Ohio HR professionals who have demonstrated excellence in the field of human resource management. Their achievements and unique skills show they are dedicated to improving themselves and their organizations. The awards honor all levels of HR practitioners, from individuals in local SHRM student chapters to HR executives.

The awards are co-hosted by ERC and CSHRM, two of the area’s leading organizations in the HR industry. Each award category is judged by an independent panel of distinguished representatives from the local HR community.

The following is a letter from  SueAnn Naso, the president of CSHRM and Staffing Solutions Enterprises, and Patrick Perry, the president of ERC:

Congratulations. It is a great honor for ERC and CSHRM to host and honor the human resources leadership in our region. Our inaugural "class" of winners and finalists reads like a "who's who" of professionals who continue to make a difference through sound, creative and proactive HR management. We are also pleased to recognize the leading faculty adviser and student participant for Student SHRM Chapters in our region who are developing the next generation of HR leadership.

The HR Awards will be an annual event where individual professional achievement in HR will be recognized. We appreciate the tremendous response received in this first year of the program and look forward to ERC and CSHRM working together to showcase individuals making a big difference in their profession and respective organizations.

Check out our winners' information in this issue and also at www.theHRawards.com. They are truly leading by example and our hats are off to them for making a positive impact on others. There is no greater recognition than with your peers and that is certainly the case with this year’s HR Awards winners and finalists.

Last but not least, thank you to The HR Awards committee, judges and, of course, our sponsors. Their hard work and support was critical in launching this regional initiative.

Check out the HR Awards Finalists

Check out the HR Awards Winner List

Published in Akron/Canton

Optimism and pragmatism can go a long way toward achieving success. If you strategically put optimism to work through a focused agenda and celebrate successes, you can see a positive influence on attitudes and results.

A great example is the story of the pessimist who argued the glass was half empty, the optimist that exalted that the glass was half full, and the college student who grabbed the beer, drank it and was the only one who quenched her thirst. The college student was optimistic, pragmatic and focused — and she achieved the desired result.

I was first introduced to a meeting concept called Positive Focus while attending a Strategic Coach session taught by Colleen O’Donnell of Strategic Wealth Partners and designed by Dan Sullivan. She revealed the importance of kicking off staff meetings with positive energy derived from the attendees themselves. This is not a New Age method or fluff but rather the celebration and recognition of successes as seen by the eyes of your employees.

How it works

In the opening of management meetings or departmental meetings, each attendee shares one item he or she feels is positive and deserves the spotlight. It should be quick and it should avoid dragging a lot of detail into the explanation. This meeting concept:

? Actually highlights challenges — and how they were resolved — without the dreaded “update” process that slows down meetings.

? Provides recognition.

? Gives managers the opportunity to congratulate their staff or others on the recognition and praise being given.

? Starts the meeting on a high-energy note.

? Shows that challenges can be overcome through teamwork and any challenges that are going to be discussed in the meeting have a positive precedent to follow toward resolution.

? Reinforces the culture of collaboration and communication.

Story examples

It is tough to say that there is a “typical” positive focus in our meetings. The majority of the comments include a shout out for an employee or a team of employees by name for what they have been able to achieve. We also have customer stories and the success that a great win or implementation is doing for the company. We have had cheers for an improved bill of health or a clear cancer screen after a long health issue. We have celebrated the refreshed feelings after taking a vacation.

The content is not controlled or restricted. The purpose is to reflect on what is making our work lives better. This purpose helps us focus on what is right in the world and reminds us that we are among great, talented people and we can tap those resources.

Positive attitudes are proven to improve results and health. I believe executive teams should spend additional time developing more of the “can-do” attitude in our approach toward business. By focusing on optimism, it’s easy to see the pragmatic benefits to the organization.

The next time you are facing the dreaded update drudgery of a departmental meeting, I highly encourage you to turn the agenda around a bit and start with a Positive Focus moment. Then incorporate the agenda of every appropriate meeting. There will be time to discuss and solve the challenges you are facing, but the mental approach to the problem will make a difference in the approach.

My Positive Focus

Today, my Positive Focus is that I have had this opportunity to share a tactic that really works and has changed the complexion of meetings in a highly successful business. I believe it can have far-reaching impact elsewhere, too. <<

Lois Melbourne is co-founder and CEO of Aquire, a workforce planning and analytic solution company based in Irving, Texas. Visit www.aquire.com for more information.

Published in Dallas

Hiring the right talent to manage and operate your business is one of the biggest challenges any executive faces. No matter how amazing your product or how visionary your plans, success won’t come easily without a workforce in place who can cultivate and enrich your company’s core values.

Figuring out how to attract and employ this talent can be tricky — candidates who look good on paper aren’t always the best fit in person.

Here’s how Petplan picks winning personalities who support and sustain our company’s culture.

Know thyself

When your company’s core values are clearly defined, hiring decisions become much easier. At Petplan, we have established ourselves not as an insurance company but as a pet health company that sells insurance. Putting pets first is the central idea from which our entire company culture has evolved. Thus, our staff absolutely must have a passion for pets.

Our goal to help pet parents afford the best care for their pets is something that resonates with all our employees personally, and this personal investment drives our customer service, helps determine our business partners and defines our marketing and communications strategies.

Understand your needs

To make the best hiring decisions, you need to know what you need. Because we are a business with a start-up culture, Petplan needs people who are excited about building solid, scalable infrastructure to accommodate explosive growth.

Because we are dedicated to advancing pet health, we need people who have the vision to identify key partnerships and who have an inherent passion for the product.

Above all, we need people who can think and communicate in the brand’s fun and friendly voice, whether connecting with our customers, our partners or each other.

Don’t be afraid to pass over talented people who may not be a great fit for your company’s culture. There’s more to a great team than talent. While skills can be taught, passion and personality tend to be part of the package or not.

Pass it on

Once you’ve determined your company’s modus operandi, you must effectively communicate it to your employees. For Petplan, culture is king. We strive to maintain the classic start-up culture — an environment in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and shares ideas. We use an open floor plan that promotes interaction throughout the staff, managers and executives alike.

We balance productivity and play. Our offices feature a plethora of pet-inspired décor, plus a treat table we keep filled with staff and visitor favorites. When one of our claims adjusters passes an exam, we order mini cupcakes for everyone.

When we debuted at No. 123 on Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing privately held companies last year, we filled the office with balloons and had a party.

These are small perks, but they reinforce our belief that hard work can be punctuated by playful pick-me-ups now and then.

The rules of attraction

Find the sweet spot in your company’s culture for wooing the talent you want. For Petplan, one of the biggest perks we offer is that we allow pets in the workplace. Encouraging our employees to bring their pets to work helps foster a uniquely creative work environment and has given us a distinct advantage in attracting new talent.

So many prospective employees place a real premium on being able to bring their pets to work as it provides more quality time with their beloved companions and reduces expenses like dog walkers.

Most importantly, we have found that sharing our office with pets serves to reaffirm our commitment to pet health and well-being — and keeps our “pets first” philosophy at the heart of everything we do.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

Published in Philadelphia

A few weeks ago, I met with a member of our new business development team who had been on the job for a week or so. A few days before the meeting, I started jotting down notes about the message I wanted to convey and the points I wanted to make. These notes are the basis for my column this month.

There were seven points I wanted to stress to help the new team member be successful in our organization. Since my notes were a little cryptic, I will not only list them but expand on what they mean.

1. 900. My belief is that everyone has 15 minutes, or 900 seconds, of extra time during the day. Nine-hundred seconds where they have nothing to do; 900 seconds of basically free time.

For me, you need to take advantage of those 900 seconds and get better at something every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s gaining better computer skills or becoming a better presenter, just as long as you get better at something every day.

2. A new best friend. This was not only easy for me, but it’s essential. You need to make LinkedIn your new best friend. Since LinkedIn will be your new best friend, you need to spend time with it and get to know it. You need to understand the value of the tool and the power it has.

I truly believe if you aren’t using LinkedIn every day as a business tool, you are not as successful, efficient or smart as you could be.

3. Uncover hidden jewels. No, this isn’t about “Storage Wars.” (Even though I love that show, it isn’t what I’m referring to.) Every company has hidden jewels.

The question is: Where are they located? Where is that great proposal hiding? Who can fill you in on the company history, and who has the best value proposition that will help me sell our products and services and turn prospects into clients?

4. Get off to a quick start. I truly believe that if you get off to a quick start in the morning, you’ll accomplish more during the day. If you get off to a quick start prior to 8:30 a.m., this will be a springboard for a successful day.

People tend to feel good about themselves if they make things happen as soon as their day starts.

5. Each “no” gets you closer to a “yes.” Sales is a numbers game. Every time you get a no, even though it might hurt or upset you, it will get you that much closer to a yes and a new client.

6. Be a creature of habit. Without question, I am a creature of habit. I get in to the office and leave at the same time almost every day. I eat oatmeal at the same time, and I check the revenue of the company as soon as I arrive. The quicker you get into a routine, the better off you will be.

If you are in new business development, set aside the same time in the morning and afternoon to call prospects. Call your friends back at lunchtime when it might not be the most productive time.

7. You’re only alone if you want to be. This point is very important — especially if, like our new team member, you work at home. It’s very easy to bury yourself in your job and try to figure everything out yourself. Don’t do that. Stay connected to your office.

When your technology isn’t working perfectly, don’t try to fix it yourself. Call your IT department. When you’re responding to a proposal, if you have writer’s block, call a team member. Don’t struggle for hours. Remember, time is money.

Incidentally, the reason I had seven points was not that I couldn’t think of another few. My belief is that there are too many top 10 lists, and a top seven list would have a better chance to resonate with our new team member.

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, located in Dallas. The company is one of the top 25 market research companies in the U.S. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than four years. He can be reached at merrill.dubrow@marcresearch.com or at (972) 983-0416.

Published in Dallas

Regardless of what products you’re selling, we’re all really in the people business, aren’t we? And as a business, we are really only as good as the people running the ship. Needless to say, attracting the best people and keeping them inspired to perform at their highest potential is one of the most important things you can do as a business leader.

Not only is recruitment expensive, but it is also time-consuming, which is why it makes great business sense to get it right the first time.

Commit to the fact that it will take more than just your human resources department to create a top-performing team. Recruiting is part of everyone’s job, and the company culture should reflect the importance of it. At Moe’s, we make the interview process a priority. No fewer than seven associates interview, regardless of what position the candidate is interviewing for.

Use a list as a guide

It all starts with the job description. You know the skills and experience it takes to perform a particular job, but what does that job look like when performed by a superstar? What skills and what personal attributes are most critical in order for a person to exceed expectations in a particular role?

Identifying what is needed, prioritizing and committing to not settling for less will help you get the right candidates through the door. Use the job description to guide the interview process. Get the interviewing team aligned around what to look for and around your intent to hire only the best.

Interview with purpose

Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of reviewing a candidate’s resume a few moments prior to the interview. It’s easy to get busy and let preparing to be a good interviewer slip. However, to get the most out of the interview process, do research on the candidate, follow up with references and ask the open-ended questions that will get at the skills that are most needed to be successful at the job.

Some candidates may have all of the required skills, but they may not be a strong cultural fit, which in my opinion is more important. At Moe’s, we often ask questions such as, “What do you enjoy doing on the weekend?” This helps us understand the candidate on a more personal level.

To combat that concern, have several key players on your team interview candidates, and take their feedback to heart.

Also, bring in as many people as possible for an interview. The more people you interview, the greater the odds that you’ll find the perfect fit.

Complete and repeat

Once you’ve hired the candidate that fits the top-performer description, the next step is keeping him or her happy. Typically, top performers are highly motivated people who are eager to make an impact on the organization and advance their careers.

Be sure your top performers know they are appreciated. They will enjoy added responsibility and will appreciate a company that offers a clear vision of the future and goals upon which they can measure their success.

The best part about recruiting great candidates is that they will attract other great candidates. Next thing you know, you’ll be surrounded by a team that is talented, motivated, smarter than you and ready to grow your business beyond what you thought was possible.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.com.

Published in Atlanta

In business, growth equals success, but growth also usually comes wrapped in challenges, sometimes extremely difficult ones. Liaison Technologies CEO Bob Renner has seen this firsthand over the last few years. The main complication Renner has encounted is keeping his data management company stocked with enough talented workers to keep its growing customer base happy and satisfied.

“The market we participate in is an active one; it’s consolidating and there’s a lot of competition,” Renner says. “And over the last five years we’ve grown at a 50 percent compounded annual rate. So attracting and retaining top talent at the velocity we’re growing is a challenge that has been top of mind for us, especially in the last 12 to 18 months.

“Finding people that have the right skill set and fit into your company’s culture is tougher when you’re growing,” he says. “Some days it seems like there’s zero percent unemployment in the space we’re in. So when I think about business challenges, that’s the key one for us.”

The problem became apparent about two years ago, as Liaison’s leaders started noticing several factors impinging on the company’s ability to attract and retain talented knowledge workers: a sudden salary inflation trend; competitors’ direct attempts to lure Liaison employees away; and a shortage of suitable talent coming from colleges, notably Georgia Tech, the technology-education giant sitting in Liaison’s backyard.

“Over the last 18 months or so, in the local market here in Atlanta, we saw salary inflation that was accelerating more quickly than our standard practices were to raise salary and compensation,” Renner says. “This was counterintuitive, because at the same time you’re hearing a lot of economic news talking about high unemployment rates, which, depending on who you’re listening to, ranged anywhere from 8 percent to 15 percent in our local market. That was the first indicator.

“A second factor that has led to this being a focus issue for our executive team is that as Liaison has grown rapidly, we’ve become more visible to the larger competitors in our space,” he says. “So we’ve seen some very active recruiting efforts from competitors into our organization. Some of those were successful, some were not so successful, but they became quite visible. We saw a lot of pressure being put on by competitors looking at Liaison. Before this, we had been under the radar screen, but once you reach a certain size and visibility, you end up with a more competitive recruiting environment.

“Lastly, we faced a shortage of talent coming out of the colleges. We recruit heavily from Georgia Tech, and you’ve got a lot of other firms like Google, Facebook and Microsoft also fishing in that same pond. So bringing in new recruits from the Atlanta area, even once you recognize and resolve the other two challenges, continues to be a challenge for us.”

Attack head-on

Liaison has taken a number of steps to help make it easier to attract and retain talent. Among those initiatives, the company has:

  • Hired a full-time recruiter.

“We decided to bring on a full-time permanent employee as a recruiter at Liaison,” Renner says. “This company has been around for 12 years, and this is the first time we’ve staffed that position with a permanent employee.”

  • Communicated to employees its vision and the importance of retaining employees and attracting new ones through networking.

“The most rudimentary thing we did, which is something a fast-moving company can overlook, is we began to communicate a message to the employee base focused on retention and on networking to attract new talent,” Renner says. “We began to get much more active in our internal communications about the culture and the mission of the company. We used lot of the methodologies from the Jim Collins ‘Good to Great’ model, which we think fits our culture very well. We ramped up the communication so people understood the vision of the business, how important top talent is to us, and how serious the executive management team takes that. We did this through a series of road shows to all of our facilities. This took a lot of investment by the executive team, by our HR team, a consistent level of communication.

“This galvanized the team in understanding our mission, understanding what we’re looking for, reinforcing how important our people are to our success and to us getting to where we want to be.”

  • Created more flexible work schedules for employees.

“We made some adjustments along the way in terms of work flexibility,” Renner says. “We have a lot of people that telecommute now, quite a few more than a couple years ago. We’re probably up to about 25 percent of our workers that telecommute. Some people work two days from home; some work from home all the time. And our Dallas office is 100 percent virtual at this point. That was by their preference. All of our people in the Dallas area are now virtual workers only. So that has ramped up a lot.”

The transition toward having more workers telecommute has been smoother than some of Liaison’s leaders expected it would be.

“I was probably the biggest skeptic of that,” Renner says. “I’m pretty old-fashioned in terms of coming in to the office. But now, seeing this at work, we haven’t seen anything in the way of downside, so I’ve gotten over my apprehension about it. The company has adapted very well to it. We’ve embraced it more than a lot of other companies I talk to on a regular basis. Having people telecommute is one of those things that you wish you would’ve done sooner, once you’ve seen it at work.”

  • Consolidated its Atlanta operations into a single headquarters facility.

“In Atlanta, we were spread across multiple offices, but in the last 12 to 18 months we consolidated into one facility,” Renner says. “This created more unity and more visibility across the company. I think it has really helped with the culture, and with retention and motivation. It represents a big financial investment by the company. We took a pretty big hit in doing this, just so we could have a bigger facility everyone could fit into. I think that helped a lot.”

Get results

The employee attraction and retention initiatives set in motion by Renner and his team have started to bear fruit for Liaison.

“To give you a perspective on that, we hired 45 people in the last 120 days,” Renner says. “When you’re a 300-person company, that’s pretty serious growth. And we’re really looking for specialized talent; some of it is coming out of college directly, and some of it is experienced knowledge workers.

“In the previous environment we were operating in, in terms of finding talent, that would have been a yearlong process, at least,” he says. “We had been having a lot of open head count go unfilled. The way that manifested itself, in terms of our numbers, is our profitability was far higher than we had experienced in previous years, and that was simply because we had open head count we couldn’t fill. Sometimes it’s not a good thing to have profitability above what you’re expecting. It doesn’t necessarily set you in a good place for the future.”

Liaison’s employee turnover has decreased noticeably.

“We have a human resources executive that sits in on our weekly senior team meetings, and the report from HR has been very good in terms of retention and turnover, especially since we started with the road shows and some of the other things we’ve been doing,” he says. “Anecdotally, that has improved quite a lot.”

Liaison has begun to see the labor market loosen up, so employee referrals are rising, and the company has been able to reduce its reliance on employee recruitment firms.

“In terms of finding qualified candidates, if you go back a couple years or more, we always did most of our recruiting through networking,” Renner says. “We basically had employee referrals, which our employees are incented to do, and we really didn’t use contract recruiters for anything. Then we went through a period of time 12 to 18 months ago where we had to pay an outside recruiter to help us fill almost every open position. We just could not find qualified candidates through the standard means of recruiting that we had used internally. But now we’re back to a place where, to fill these positions, we use recruiters for less than half of them. So that’s a positive sign in terms of good talent being available within the Atlanta market for us.”

Put the word out

Asked what advice he would offer other business executives facing the challenge of recruiting and retaining scarce talent while growing rapidly, Renner says getting the word out to your staff is crucial.

“If I were to give one key piece of advice, it’s communicate, communicate, communicate,” he says. “Create an environment where the staff has a lot of transparency to what it is you’re doing, and they understand the mission, and they’ve bought in to it. Doing this greatly helps with retention, because then when they get a call from a competitor, they tend not to listen as much.

“I think we undercommunicated for a period of time, and when we were a smaller company, communicating was easier. But as you scale the business, more effort needs to go into communicating your message. I know it’s a cliché, but as you grow, it’s easy to lose sight of the exponential communication requirement. It’s not linear. If you’re growing 50 percent a year, the communications requirement to keep everybody on the same page, to keep the culture intact, and to keep the employees engaged and motivated, is an exponential growth in terms of the effort that you have to put into it. I underestimated that at times, and I certainly won’t do that again.”

Liaison has also been challenged because it operates in a fast-changing market sector and finds itself facing larger, more sophisticated competitors than it has dealt with in the past.

“When the landscape you’re working in is dynamic and your competitors are changing, it’s important to spend a lot of time to determine where the white-space opportunity is — that is, where there’s a unique place you can position your company — and not try to compete head to head with the new competitors that you’re being stacked up against. Because the reality is, if you compete on the same basis as the new competitors, due to scale-based economics, etc., you’re just not going to be able to be effective. We’ve continually tried to determine what are the things we can do, based on our expertise and our assets, that will set us apart from the larger competitors.

“That’s a key piece of advice: Don’t try to do the same things they’re doing, because you won’t win. Within our company, we sometimes have senior people slip into the trap of ‘So-and-so’s doing this, so we should go do some of that.’ So you quickly come back with, ‘Can we do it better than them?’ The answer is usually no. So we dust ourself off and say, ‘Yep, we’re not going to go down that path.’ It’s important to leverage your capabilities and assets to do something different to achieve the same objective.”

HOW TO REACH: Liaison Technologies Inc., (770) 442-4900 or www.liaison.com

THE RENNER FILE

Name: Bob Renner

Title: President and CEO

Company: Liaison Technologies Inc.

Born: Streator, Ill.

Education: MBA, Emory University; B.S., Electrical Engineering, California State University, Fullerton

What was your first job, and what important lessons did you take from it?

The first meaningful job I had was I worked in a gold mine in Northern California. And what I learned from that is that I needed to go to college, because it was hard, physical work, and you can do that up to a certain point, but not much beyond that.

Do you have an overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you?

I’m driven and impressed by people that really put their discretionary effort into the business. In some cases, it’s not necessarily the smartest person in the room or the cleverest person in the room. I believe in people committing themselves to the business, in terms of interest. I like to surround myself with people that are engaged and love what they’re doing, so they’re thinking about the business not because they have to but because they want to. And I’ve been fortunate in this job to surround myself with some people that fit that mold to a T.

What trait do you think is the most important for a CEO to have in order to be a successful leader?

You need to be humble. A lot of people that get into executive positions quickly lose touch with how they got there. Most people get to this position through a lot of hard work, and with a lot of luck along the way. So staying approachable, staying humble, understanding that you’re fortunate to be doing the job that you’re doing — I think this is a very important attribute.

How do you define success in business?

Delivering something that’s valuable to the market. That’s not always easy to find, but you have to find it because it anchors everything else that you do.

Published in Atlanta
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:00

Honoring the best of the best

Jamie SimpsonFor more than 25 years, Ernst & Young has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who make our economy vibrant.

Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year program to recognize those with a passion for “thinking big” and to bring together visionaries and leaders to inspire each other and our communities. We have gathered here and in 25 other cities across the United States to honor all of our regional semi?nalists and welcome a new class of entrepreneurs into our Hall of Fame, recognizing their resilience, ingenuity and innovation.

We applaud them for overcoming challenges, inspiring others, opening new markets and, ultimately, fueling economic growth in Michigan and Northwest Ohio. Let’s celebrate their achievements, perseverance and tireless pursuit of business excellence.

Congratulations to all our 2012 Michigan & Northwest Ohio semi?nalists.

-- Jamie Simpson, Partner/Program Director, Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst & Young

2012 Winners, Finalists and Semifinalists

Business Services

Bradley Oleshansky, BIG Communications LLC (Winner)

Donald A. Hicks, LLamasoft (Finalist)

Frederick Minturn, MSX International (Finalist)

Richard B. Sheridan, Menlo Innovations LLC (Finalist)

Sabah Ammouri, ATM of America Inc. (Semifinalist)

Lynn Mustazza, JAWOOD Business Process Solutions LLC (Semifinalist)

Mark Symonds, Plex Systems Inc. (Semifinalist)

Consumer Products

Ryan J. Blair , ViSalus Sciences (Winner)

Pam Turkin, Just Baked (Finalist)

Michael Eckele, Eckele Health & Nutrition (Finalist)

Joseph M. McClure, McClure’s Pickles (Semifinalist)

Mark Peters , Butterball Farms Inc. (Semifinalist)

Distribution

Kevin and Carole Chase , Chase Plastic Services Inc. (Winner)

John Eldred, Midwest Tap LLC (Finalist)

Jameel M. Burkett , Burkett Restaurant Equipment (Semifinalist)

Charles Elliott, Lake Court Medical Supplies Inc. (Semifinalist)

Industrial Products

Douglas J. Grimm , Grede Holdings LLC (Winner)

Tanvir Arfi, SPX Service Solutions (Finalist)

Charles G. McClure, Meritor Inc. (Semifinalist)

Manufacturing

Christopher J. O’Connor, Humanetics Innovative Solutions (Winner)

Shiela Kaye Rossmann, Paramount Precision Products Inc. (Winner)

Noel Cuellar, Primera Plastics Inc. (Finalist)

Wilbert W. Williams, Williams-Bayer Industries (Finalist)

Jonathan Paul DeWys , DeWys Manufacturing (Semifinalist)

John Sztykiel, Spartan Motors (Semifinalist)

Master

Manoj Bhargava, Innovation Ventures LLC and Living Essentials LLC (Winner)

Services

Dr. David Kent, Lifestyle Lift (Winner)

Dr. Christopher Newton , Emergency Physicians Medical Group PC (Finalist)

Jeffery S. Prough , Critical Signal Technologies Inc. (Finalist)

Jane E. McNamara, GreenPath Debt Solutions (Semifinalist)

Jason Teshuba, Mango Languages (Semifinalist)

Spirit of Entrepreneurship

Nancy Schlichting, Henry Ford Health System (Winner)

Staffing & Support Services

Claudine George, ICONMA LLC (Winner)

Tel K. Ganesan, Kyyba Inc. (Finalist)

Dianne Marsh and Bill Wagner, SRT Solutions Inc. (Semifinalist)

Marie Seipenko, Preferred Solutions Inc. (Semifinalist)

Published in Detroit
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