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Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:37

Watch your margin

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You would think someone like Douglas Merrill would be a heavy multitasker, with multiple devices in hand, fielding several conversations — both real and virtual — simultaneously.

But you would be wrong.

Merrill, who was the CIO at Google until 2008, doesn’t like to multitask. He says that when you do it, you aren’t using your brain’s full capacity and aren’t as effective. He recommends focusing on one thing at a time.

Billionaire Mark Cuban has his own time management strategy. Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, says you should completely avoid meetings unless you are closing a deal. Otherwise, he says, they are a waste of time.

Both of these proven leaders have learned that how you manage your time is paramount to your effectiveness.

As a CEO, you are swamped every day with calls and emails from people wanting a piece of your time. Some are internal, some are charity requests, some are from friends or family members and others are from service providers.

To help wade through this sea of information, it’s important to have a system in place to help you free up time to think about your business and the things that matter most in life. These open times are what author Richard Swenson refers to as “margin.” They are the spaces between ourselves and our limits that are reserved for emergencies.

But for many business leaders, there are no spaces left.

The way out of this trap is to set clear goals and values for yourself and your organization. Once you do that, you will have a filter through which to evaluate everything. Everything will have an immediate yes or no answer, eliminating the “let me think about it” category completely.

The key is to establish what your goals are first and then prioritize what is important. With your priorities straight, you will find more time to put toward important things on your goals list, but don’t forget to leave time on your daily schedule. There is no way to foresee all emergencies, so by leaving yourself some margin, when something unexpected happens, you already have time built in to deal with it.

Once you have margin built into your life, you have to have the discipline to stick to it. There will always be the temptation to take every meeting or answer every email. But if you use your goals and priorities as a filter, those requests are easily either accepted or declined based on where they fall on your priority list.

If you want a life where you can experience more peace and joy and less anxiety, start looking at your priorities and establish some margin in your daily schedule. ●

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 07:31

What to do if you’re under a public, verbal attack

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Deny, deny, deny; fall, tuck and roll; or put your head in the sand?

The quick answer to this headline is none of the above. A leader, by definition, must do exactly that — lead, which means being in front of a variety of audiences, including employees, investors and customers. Not everyone is going to be a gung-ho supporter. Sooner or later you’ll encounter a naysayer who either has a point to prove or is on a mission to make you and your company look bad.

Many of these verbal confrontations come out of nowhere and when least expected. As the representative of your organization, it is your responsibility to manage these situations and recognize that sometimes a “win” can simply minimize the damage.

When under siege, it’s human instinct to fight, flee or freeze. Typically these behavioral responses aren’t particularly productive in a war of words. Engaging in verbal fisticuffs could simply escalate the encounter, giving more credence to the matter than deserved.

If you flee by ignoring the negative assertions, you’ll immediately be presumed guilty as charged. It’s hard to make your side of the story known if you put your head in the sand.

By freezing, you’ll appear intellectually impotent. Worse yet, pooh-poohing a question will only fuel the aggressor’s determination to disrupt the proceedings. You could use a SWAT-type police and military technique to elude a confronter by falling, tucking and rolling to safety, but that usually only works on the silver screen.

Perhaps the best method to manage unwelcome adversaries is to be prepared prior to taking center stage. This applies to live audiences or a virtual gathering when you’re speaking to multiple participants, which is common practice for public company CEOs during quarterly analyst conference calls.

Most gatherings of this nature include a Q&A segment where the tables are turned on the speaker who must be prepared to respond to inquiries both positive and negative.

Before any such meeting, it is critical to contemplate and rehearse how you would respond to thorny or adverse statements or questions.

A good practice is to put the possible questions in writing and then craft your responses, hoping, of course, that they won’t be needed. This is no different from what the President of the United States or the head of any city council does prior to a press conference or presentation. The advantage of this exercise is that it tends to sharpen your thinking and causes you to explore issues from the other perspective.

In some cases you’ll find yourself in an awkward or difficult situation where there is no suitable yes or no answer, or when the subject of the interrogatory is so specific it is applicable to only a very few.

The one-off question is easiest to handle by stating that you or your representative will answer the question following the session rather than squander the remaining time on something that does not interest or affect the majority.

The more difficult question is one that will take further investigation and deliberation, in which case the best course of action is to say exactly that. Answer by asserting that rather than giving a less-than-thoughtful response to a question that deserves more research, you or your vicar will get back with the appropriate response in short order. This helps to protect you from shooting from the hip only to later regret something that can come back to haunt you.

Effective speakers and leaders have learned that the best way to counter antagonism is through diplomacy. It’s much more difficult for the antagonist to continue to fight with a polite, unwilling opponent.

Finally, when being challenged, never personalize your response against your questioner; always control your temper; and don’t linger on a negative. Keep the proceedings moving forward and at the conclusion keep your promise to follow up with an answer. This will build your credibility and allow you to do what you do best, lead. ●

 

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:26

Is your next big thing built to last?

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My 7-year-old son Cole recently gave me a Rainbow Loom bracelet, which is made of linked rubber bands. It is today’s school-age children’s craze, and Novi, Michigan-based Choon’s Design LLC is churning out the kits at a record pace.

With more than 1 million units sold in the last 24 months, Rainbow Loom is the brainchild of Choon Ng, a former Nissan crash safety engineer who invented it while working on a craft project for his daughters.

And Rainbow Loom, it turns out, isn’t its original name. When it was created, it was called Twistz Bandz.

Timing is everything, and Twistz Bandz may have sounded a bit too much like Silly Bandz — the last “wrist” craze that swept the nation. Between November 2008 and early 2011, every school-age child in sight was wearing layer upon layer of Silly Bandz on their wrists. It was as hot a product as anything since Beanie Babies.

Twistz Bandz’s arrival, it seems, happened just as Silly Bandz ran into what every hot new product eventually faces: competition. Look-a-likes with similar-sounding names began flooding the market. They were cheaper, and you could buy them more readily at more retail locations. The core brand quickly diluted. So Ng did what any smart businessperson would: He changed the dynamics of the situation.

Thus, Rainbow Loom was born.

Enter social media

Within a few months, the product — which allows its young owners to custom-create bracelets — was gaining attention. Much of this was due to a full-tilt social media blitz, including videos on YouTube and an engaging Facebook page, where users could share their designs.

More recently, Ng has become vigilant in protecting his patent and U.S. trademark — battling all wannabe competitors from launching similar-sounding products and flooding the market to dilute his own brand.

His success — or failure — is yet-to-be determined. But his efforts will prove fruitless if he’s not already looking ahead to the next product. This is the dirty little secret to any hot toy craze and the core dilemma every business leaders faces: How do you remain relevant as consumers’ wants, needs and desires ebb and flow — sometimes as swiftly as the wind changes direction. 

Get beyond being a fad

Success in business relies upon building a sustainable operation that will outlast any cyclical “must have” product explosion.

There needs to be the creation of an idea continuum — an innovation factory, if you will. Innovative leaders must review, measure and adapt a company’s products, services and solutions to the changing whims of the marketplace. You need to talk to customers, vendors and prospects. And you need to regularly take the pulse of the market.

If you haven’t taken at least some of the gains from today’s success and invested it into research and development for tomorrow, you’re already losing ground. Today is today, and just like the disclaimers for financial investing warn — past performance does not indicate future results.

In the end, the only thing that matters is this: Is your next big thing built to last? Or, like every other craze that’s every hit the market, will your opportunities to remain relevant long into the future fade away after the competition creeps in and dilutes your market? ●

 

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

After working in executive positions for companies such as Philips Oral Healthcare and S.C. Johnson & Sons Inc., Christine Robins decided she needed a change. Always willing to take risks when it comes to business, she decided in 2009 to leave the comforts of those global companies and take the CEO role at a struggling, venture-backed BodyMedia Inc.

“I wanted to try something different,” Robins says. “I wanted to come into an organization or a business that had an interesting product or business model that needed to get to the next level.”

Founded in 1999, BodyMedia was exactly what Robins was looking for. The company is the pioneer in developing wearable body monitoring systems that are designed to help people lose weight, improve performance and live a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, the direction of the company and the purpose of its products weren’t always that cut and dry.

“Early on, the founders had developed a technology and a product that was well before it’s time,” Robins says. “When we commercialized our first product in 2001, this notion of wearing multiple sensors on your body on a 24/7 basis — if you weren’t chronically sick and in a hospital, or you weren’t a performance athlete — was a weird notion. We didn’t even have cell phones in our pockets in 2001.”

The founders spent years trying to figure out what market, customers, channels, and partners this technology and know-how could help assist. It wasn’t until 2008 and 2009 that BodyMedia found a bit of a groove.

“We were primarily focused in the medical and research space early on and in late 2008/early 2009, we augmented the portfolio to also have a consumer-based solution, and that’s when our business took off,” Robins says.

Here’s how Robins helped steer BodyMedia in the right direction and kept the business at the forefront of a budding industry.

 

From idea to in-demand product

Early in the growth of BodyMedia, the company struggled to understand where its product would fit best. It would be fair to say that BodyMedia had a lack of focus.

“I said, ‘We’re never going to have sustainability or keep the lights on if we continue to just dabble in stuff.’” Robins says. “The founders kept waiting for the market to tell them where the best place was. The challenge with that is if you have an early-to-market technology, the market’s not going to tell you, because the market doesn’t know yet. You have to create a need.”

As a result of waiting for the market to indicate a direction, BodyMedia was all over the board. It needed to place a bet.

“If you’re running a company, you’re making decisions every day that have risk,” Robins says. “But if you’re running a smaller company, you’ve got to place a bet and it’s got to be a focused and well-informed bet. Then you have to go with it and be willing to listen to the reactions of people and figure out how to be a continual learner.

“You have to get a product or service built that satisfies your hypothesis of the market and who you’re going after, and build your messaging and get it to market to get real feedback. You can iterate in an office and give your opinions until you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t put it out in the real world and it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t matter what you think.”

BodyMedia’s technology is a lifestyle management system that helps people manage various health-related conditions. With the help of Robins, the company geared its assets toward delivering a solution that helps people lose weight.

“We picked the weight management market and built a solution that’s solid and works for those people and has the types of things that they need,” she says. “There are a number of chronic conditions it can help, but they all have one underlying key driver, and that’s lack of lifestyle health, and our sensors can help people understand that.”

BodyMedia’s product has an accelerometer and three physiological sensors that have to be in contact with the skin. The product has received clinical validation and has accuracy that’s unmatched in the market.

“If you’re trying to manage your weight, it’s calories in, calories out,” Robins says. “They need that math and they need it simple. We built something that people will wear on a 24-hour basis, because losing weight isn’t just about going to the gym.

“It’s the things you do at home. It’s parking in the back of the parking lot. People don’t manually track that stuff because it’s too difficult to do. If you put a device on and let it do all the tracking and have it present data in software that shows them their targets, it’s much easier.”

BodyMedia’s product has hardware that’s wearable and software that targets a specific user base. The third thing Robins focused on was finding partners — those who people would trust to be committed to the product.

“We started to partner with Jenny Craig, 24-Hour Fitness, health plans and then we put it in select retail stores. We make sure that those retailers are committed to the category, and it’s consistent with where our consumer target would go to look for this product.”

It wasn’t just a clear focus for the product that launched BodyMedia into growth mode. Once the company turned to the consumer market, it had to turn its attention toward making the product more functional and attractive in terms of design.

“It was around form factor and getting something that people would engage with,” Robins says. “Over the years we have gone from a product that was bigger than a hockey puck that you would wear on your upper arm to, by the time I came, an inch and a half square. This year we launched a product that is the size of a quarter.”

BodyMedia saw significant moves in its sales volume as it went away from bulkier products to slimmer models. Its new Core 2 product launch also improved the design perspective, giving the device an industrial, almost jewelry-like feel and look.

“Over the years, we’ve really evolved the form factor,” she says. “As we moved into the consumer arena four years ago, that was a big reason for the uptick.”

 

Keep evolving

Since Robins’ arrival in 2009, BodyMedia has improved its business by leaps and bounds, and has single-handedly been responsible for growing the credibility of the wearable sensor market. Now Robins is focused on the next steps.

“We are continuing to look for new features that we can build into the hardware or the software,” Robins says. “We have four sensors today, and are looking to add a fifth sensor for heart rate.”

BodyMedia has done such a great job in the wearable sensors arena that the company has created a more competitive market.

“That opens the next chapter for this company,” Robins says. “We’ve done what we wanted to do, which was have this category be established as credible.

“We were the first ones in wearable sensors period, back in 1999, but we were serving a different target in terms of the medical and clinical focus. We were the first ones to bring it to consumers in late 2008 and early 2009, and since then we’ve seen a huge influx of competitors.”

Robins’ philosophy about competition has always been that new competition isn’t bad because it does several things.

“No. 1, it gives the category credibility,” she says. “No. 2, it brings awareness to the category. No. 3 is that competition keeps you on your toes. I don’t fear competition. I fear that we can’t continue to innovate and differentiate. Competition makes you be sharp in your decisions, strategy and execution.”

In this category there were a couple of other smaller players, but a year and a half ago, both Nike and Jawbone came into the space.

“That’s when I stood back and said, ‘Yes! This category has arrived,’” Robins says. “When you get players like that putting their marketing muscle into it, you know that they believe this category is in it for the long haul.”

In fact, this past April, BodyMedia announced that it was being acquired by Jawbone, a major player in wearable technology and audio devices. This move gives BodyMedia and Jawbone a leg up on the competition.

“The competition has some barriers in terms of entering this market, some of which are technical and some we’ve created by our patent landscape,” she says. “That’s allowed us to be uniquely positioned in the market.

“Our acquisition gives Jawbone a really nice combined platform that has a single-sensor device that serves certain markets and needs, and the other multi-sensor platform that we have can serve other markets and needs.

“Together we can accomplish far more than we ever could apart. That’s pretty exciting. My immediate focus is to try to get this company integrated, but in parallel, it’s also continuing to drive our strategy and our innovation pipeline with a new owner, assets and synergies we can now leverage.”

 

Takeaways

  • Discover where your product or service fits best.
  • Get market feedback and make improvements.
  • Look for ways to make the leap to the next level.

 

The Robins File

Name: Christine Robins
Title: CEO
Company: Body Media Inc.

Born: Beloit, Wisc., and raised in Green Bay, Wisc.

Education: Double major in finance and marketing from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a master’s degree in business administration from Marquette University.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? I worked in a fabric store in high school. I have been a big seamstress since the time I was 10. What I learned was it exercised the creative side of me.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received? When I was working at SC Johnson, the CEO at the time was Bill Perez, and I was running various brands for them as part of my marketing capacity. We had to do regular business updates, and I had screwed up. I had made a decision to launch something and it didn’t go well, and I had to go in and tell him.

He looked to me and said, ‘What did you learn? What would you do differently?’ I was prepared for that question, thankfully. He then said, ‘A well-thought out mistake I can tolerate. Just don’t make it again. If you ever place a bet, and it’s not well researched and it fails, then there’s no turning back.’

It was a great lesson of having to take risks in business, but they have to be well-educated and well-informed risks.

Do you use the BodyMedia sensor? Absolutely. I wear it 24/7 because it captures both your activity and your sleep efficiency, and as a CEO, a working mom and a wife, I don’t have much time to sleep. When I look at my data and the reality of it, it has caused me to try to focus on getting more sleep.

Do you have a favorite capability of the product? I like that it tracks sleep efficiency. I call that feature the Cracker Jack prize.

 

How to reach: BodyMedia Inc., (412) 288-9901 or www.bodymedia.com

 

I grew up in the Northeast, where the year had two seasons: winter and construction. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we have five seasons: fall, winter, spring, summer and a fifth I have come to know as repainting the lines. Repainting the lines comes as predictably as the other seasons, and it happens every August, just before children head back to school.

You can see the fifth season everywhere: workers wearing neon vests, orange cones and bright floodlights highlighting workspaces at night when traffic is lightest. The season disappears as quickly as it comes, leaving crisp center lines down the middle of the road, “fog lines” along the edges, crosswalks clearly drawn and parking spaces neatly marked. White and yellow paint, perfectly applied, all to prompt the desired behaviors of drivers.

We have our corporate seasons, too: planning and reviews of strategy, capital, operating expense, succession, talent and performance. They happen predictably no matter who is in the leadership chair.

But do businesses have a season where the lines routinely get repainted? Should they?

Boundary lines are multipurpose

In companies, lines that are regularly repainted are highly visible to employees and customers alike. They remind everyone what your company stands for and what the boundaries of desired behavior look like.

You might assume that everyone knows where these lines are, even if they are faded or invisible. You want to believe that centerlines are never crossed, crosswalks are honored and parking lines are respected. But in reality, what is not visible to people does not influence behavior. More often than not, the absence of clear lines leads to inconsistency, confusion and even chaos.

As a leader, it is your job to ensure lines of importance are repainted regularly. They are needed to prompt and guide the right behaviors — and clarify when unwanted behaviors occur. The business performance will never be advanced by higher-order work if the basics are not happening well on a consistent basis.

Include in your communications examples of compliance/non-compliance and the impacts on the business. Quote customer feedback so people are reminded what is valued and not. Or take actions that engage people even more, such as asking your employees to specify or renew the company’s core values and behaviors that underlie business success and definition of the brand. 

It’s all about execution

Every game, including that of business, is won or lost on execution. Execution is often a lot less glamorous than strategy development, and often feels about as rewarding as painting lines on roadways — but those lines of execution define your culture and your brand, and are critical to getting the right base behaviors that ultimately determine the performance of your business.

You may be the most visible line painter in your company, but know there are others who, day-in and day-out, have to follow those lines to enable everything else to happen. They are the people who check valves, tighten screws, review orders and inspect products. They match orders with invoices for correct billing and ensure service contracts are renewed.

They are the people whose actions must stay within the lines, day-in and day-out, doing the basics reliably, in order for your enterprise to perform well. Is it time to repaint the lines in your company? ●

 

Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc. coauthor of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits.” 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 lbraksick@clg.com. For more information, visit www.clg.com.

 

 

Population health management is becoming an increasingly popular concept for health care organizations. Population health management — defined as an approach to health that aims to improve the health of an entire population — goes far beyond the concept of only treating patients in need of immediate care.

“Population health management helps health care delivery organizations better manage all aspects of health, from wellness to complex care,” says Dr. Marc Manley, vice president of Population Health Management for UPMC Health Plan. “Population health management has the ability to deliver better health outcomes at a lower cost.”

Smart Business spoke with Manley about population health management and how it will affect health care results and costs.

Why is population health management getting more attention now?

Population health management is gaining more attention because the fee-for-service model is going away. Hospitals, health care systems and physicians understand that they are living in a world that increasingly rewards those who meet quality objectives for their entire population, not just those who present themselves for care.

Population health management also shows the promise of delivering better health at a lower cost by creating an integrated system of care, rather than forcing consumers to figure out how to make their own way through the current health care system.

Aren’t many factors that influence the health of a population beyond the scope of any care organization?

There are many factors that influence the health of a region: environmental factors, economic factors, the social structure, etc. But many health care organizations are already involved in community efforts to improve health. In a lot of ways, population health management complements these organized efforts by addressing factors that impact an entire population. Population health management also puts added emphasis on reducing health care delivery inequities.

How does population health management impact providers?  

Most clinicians already recognize the limitations of traditional care in keeping people healthy, and they’re looking for ways to be more effective. But preparing for population health management requires a significant change for providers.

Providers will no longer be rewarded for doing more, but rather for producing quality outcomes more efficiently. Providers need to assess the health of their entire population across the entire spectrum of health — that includes those who are well, and who can stay well by getting appropriate preventive services. Those who have health risks need help changing their health behaviors in order not to develop the diseases for which they are at risk. For those with chronic conditions, providers can prevent further complications by closing care gaps and working on health behaviors.

Technology will have a key role in population health management, as it can help to assess and stratify patients and target interventions to the right people.

What are the objectives of population health management?

Population health management strives to keep a patient population as healthy as possible, thereby minimizing the need for costly interventions such as emergency department visits, hospitalizations, imaging tests and procedures. In addition to being less costly, it redefines health care as being more than just reactive sick care. By considering the needs of an entire population, population health management systematically addresses the preventive and chronic care needs of every patient.  

What is essential to make this work?

First of all, it will require those of us involved with health care to think in new ways and be willing to try new things. It will also require new financial arrangements in health care that reward positive health outcomes, not more services. And there must be a strong technology foundation, including Web-based tools for patients and providers, and data systems that support analytics across a wide spectrum of inpatient, outpatient, post-acute and community services.

Dr. Marc Manley, M.P.H., is a vice president, Population Health Management, UPMC Insurance Services Division, at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-0892 or manleym@upmc.edu.

SAVE THE DATE: Thursday, Nov. 7, UPMC WorkPartners will present a webinar on “Wellness and Risk Control.” Register here.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Workplace dynamics continue to change. Regardless of industry, employers need to set themselves apart.

“With more women in the workforce, a divorce rate of 50 percent creating more single parents, and a significant increase in mobile or remote employees, the need for a competitive and employee-centric benefits package is critical,” says Ron Carmassi, a sales executive at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice.

“A package that includes voluntary benefits will help attract and retain quality employees, while at the same time reducing overhead and improving morale. A win-win scenario,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Carmassi about how your company can use voluntary benefits to create flexibility for employees, while saving money on benefit premiums and underwriting.

What are voluntary benefits?

Voluntary benefits consist of a variety of insurance products offered at the workplace through the convenience of payroll deduction. They can be added to your current benefits package.

Employers might offer a mix of products including critical illness, cancer, accident, disability, life, pet, auto, homeowners insurance and more. Employees then have the flexibility to choose the coverage that fits their personal needs and budget.

What is the value of voluntary benefits?

The needs of each employee vary based on family and financial dynamics. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for benefits in today’s work environment.

Full-time employees still expect their employer to provide some level of health insurance. However, they are looking for additional offerings to protect themselves and their families. One employee may have a need for pet insurance. Another may have young children and find peace of mind in an accident plan. While another has a family history of cancer, thereby finding great value in a cancer policy.

In addition to choice, voluntary benefits offer a one-stop shopping experience, making it easier for employees to purchase insurance that typically is not offered at the workplace, such as auto and homeowners. These types of benefit packages also often have discounted premiums and/or reduced underwriting.

What is the future of voluntary benefits?

There is a marked increase in the number of employers offering a defined contribution model, which provides a complementary platform for voluntary products. A defined contribution or cafeteria-style approach offers choice among medical, dental and vision benefits and also includes a variety of voluntary benefits.

The defined contribution model allows employers to identify a specific dollar amount or ‘defined contribution’ for each employee, typically by coverage tier. Each employee selects benefits based on their individual needs. Any costs in excess of the defined contribution allowance are the responsibility of the employee.

The defined contribution model gets away from the one-size-fits-all mentality and allows employees greater choice while offering the employer more budget certainty.

How can business owners get started with adding voluntary benefits to their benefits package?

Voluntary benefits are a great way to enhance your benefits package, differentiate from competitors and increase employee satisfaction — all with little or no impact on your budget.

Work with your advisor to decide what voluntary product offering makes sense for your team and educate your employees on the advantages of these voluntary benefits so you both can reap the rewards.

Ron Carmassi is a sales executive at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice. Reach him at (412) 456-7015 or ron.carmassi@jrgadvisors.net.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by ChamberChoice

So the construction of your new office is nearly done and you’re getting ready to move in. Have you considered how you’ll populate your space with furniture, what type it will be and where you’ll purchase it?

“Practicality and well-being should be considered first when selecting office furniture,” says Kelly Colamarino, interior designer at SMC Consulting, LLC. “We all want our offices to look cool, but aesthetics should be accompanied by functionality. Choosing the right furniture for your office will increase productivity, employee satisfaction and company profits.”

Smart Business spoke with Colamarino about selecting furniture for your office space — from comfort and aesthetics to styles and finishes, and even where to go for the best prices and service.

What’s involved in the furniture selection process?

The first step in selecting furniture for your office is to hire a design firm to do programming on your current employees’ needs. Programming includes evaluating your existing furniture to find out what is working and what isn’t. It also involves assessing the way your employees and company groups work — whether they need an open, collaborative space to work together or closed spaces for privacy. This will help determine what type of furniture will work best in your office.

The next step is to select a furniture style. A design firm can help to decide if traditional, modern or transitional furniture is best for your office. The firm also will make sure to select finishes that relate well to the atmosphere and functionality of your office. Careful selection of fabrics and finishes will enhance office functionality.

Make sure to keep your future needs in mind while going through the furniture selection process. If your company is projecting growth in the next few years, it might be smart to look into systems furniture that can be easily reconfigured and added to, which will accommodate additional workspaces.

What comes after choosing furniture?

Now that you’ve selected your office furniture, you need to decide where to make your purchases.

There are many furniture stores that sell practical office furniture but do not offer the same benefits as purchasing through a dealership. A design firm can provide expert advice and guidance to help you select a furniture vendor, offering an objective opinion when it comes to vendor selection, and negotiating on your behalf. Your designer will review each vendor’s bid and help you understand the content of each, reading between the lines to provide insight.

Designers at the firm will help you find furniture that is within your budget. However, it is important to hold value over price. With furniture, like most purchases, you get what you pay for. Buying an inexpensive chair might help your immediate budget, but in the long run you must think about the costs of repairs and replacements of cheap chairs. Rather, it’s often better to pay a little extra upfront for something that will last longer.

What are the benefits of hiring a design firm to help furnish an office?

Hiring a design firm establishes a long-term relationship with the firm as well as the dealer. A good design firm will ensure that the dealer will be there for your company long after the point of sale.

After you’ve made your purchase, client support is necessary for any problems that may arise with your furniture. The firm will be there to help with any issues that may arise through the furniture purchasing process. It will work with the dealer to give you warranty information, as well as replacements for damaged or defective purchases. The firm also will keep your furniture selections on file, making it easy for the firm to contact the dealer to purchase additional furniture as needed.

Selecting office furniture is an important process every company should go through wisely. Working with a design firm through the process can ensure a functional and aesthetically pleasing office.

Kelly Colamarino is an interior designer at SMC Consulting, LLC. Reach her at (724) 987-7784 or kelly@smcconsulting.net.

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Networking is key to growth when it comes to business development. Women business owners, however,  face unique challenges, especially in a rapidly growing, male-dominated energy industry.

In a recent survey conducted by First Commonwealth Bank® and Campos Inc. of 125 local women-led businesses, more than 47 percent of respondents said business development was their greatest need.

“Based on this percentage, it shows that there is a significant opportunity for women to better understand how to network and successfully grow their businesses through these unique relationships,” says Megan A. White, Vice President and Regional Manager at First Commonwealth Bank.

Smart Business spoke with White about how women in business, particularly within the energy industry, can tackle business development.

What challenges do women face with developing their businesses?

In the same Campos survey, 67 percent of respondents said they seek business advice and guidance from peers and colleagues.

However, the challenge for many women is that they do not know who to network with for business advice beyond their peers and colleagues, and sometimes need help getting outside of their industry. When they expand to other industries, such as education, finance or government, it helps them build a solid network and creates many opportunities for developing their business.

How can women build networks that become their center of influence?

One way to create a networking system to benefit your business is to reach out to business professionals — your banker, attorney and accountant — who each have networks that you can plug into.

People often have tunnel vision, thinking a banker only does loans and deposits, but a good banker who wants to see your business grow and succeed can help with all your business needs, and connects you to community leaders or business owners.

A banker, along with the network of other professionals, can open doors, make introductions and be your strongest advocate.

With the energy industry’s growth, what’s important for women to understand about business development in this arena?

According to Rigzone, which provides oil and gas industry news and information, in the first quarter of this year, more women than men entered the oil and gas industry. Locally, many women operate in leadership positions within the manufacturing and service industries related to oil and gas. People may think of the energy industry as male-dominated, but it’s an avenue for women to build leadership roles and own companies within the industry.

Like many, when I first started to develop contacts within the energy industry, as a woman I thought there might be hurdles to overcome. However, in general, everybody within the industry is very welcoming, which helps you learn the network, and a lot of women already operate within the space.

Women shouldn’t hold back, assuming they may have a hard time, when they actually have a skewed perception of the industry. It’s also short-sighted to assume their company may not tie into the energy industry because they’re just thinking of the wells, pads and drilling. That’s not really looking at what the industry can do, or what your business can do for the industry.

Is there still a ‘boy’s club’ mentality in the energy industry?

Not as much. We do have a lot of room to grow, quite frankly, but there are women’s organizations that help with that. For example, the Women’s Energy Network, which was primarily Texas-oriented, formed an Appalachia chapter in 2011 that focuses on Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Women in the energy industry are being proactive. They want to get together to form a team and network within themselves, as well as being able to work together to become an industry force.

Business is still very much relationship driven. Yes, you need to have a competitive product and know what you’re doing in your industry. But in order to grow with other companies in your market area, it’s important to understand what each industry is doing and how you can work with others, or create something that makes your market stronger.

Megan A. White is a vice president and regional manager at First Commonwealth Bank. Reach her at (724) 836-6694 or mwhite@fcbanking.com.

Call (800) 711-BANK (2265) or visit fcbanking.com/womenfirst for resources specific to women in business, local events and more.

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