Friday, 30 November 2012 21:49

How to create an actively engaged work force

When employees understand where their company is headed and the role that they play in the process, they are naturally motivated to do a better job.

“Actively engaged employees become emotionally vested in an organization and are willing to go the extra mile to get their jobs done well,” says Mark Matuscak, President and CEO of Benefitdecisions, Inc. “Actively engaged employees thoroughly understand the strategic goals of the organization and where they fit into those goals.”

However, studies indicate that approximately 27 percent of employees are actively engaged with their employer, while 60 percent are ambivalent toward their jobs and 13 percent are actively disengaged in the workplace, Matuscak says.

Smart Business spoke with Matuscak about how to promote  employee engagement and the ensuing benefits of increasing the number of actively engaged employees.

What is employee engagement, and how does it differ from employee satisfaction?

Employee satisfaction is about whether people are happy to get up and go to work. Engagement goes well beyond that and addresses whether employees are aligned with the mission of the company and are living it. Employee engagement measures the willingness of an employee to proactively apply extra effort toward the goals and mission of the company. It measures the emotional commitment of an employee toward his or her employer.

Actively engaged employees become ambassadors of your brand and your mission.  They have the ability to transform the customers they interact with into your brand ambassadors.

How can companies measure employee engagement?

There are very sophisticated measuring tools, but there are also basic questions that companies can ask their employees on a periodic basis to determine their level of  engagement. Questions should include:

  • How valued do you feel?

  • Can you see the next step in your career here?

  • Do you believe in the company’s mission?

  • Do you see yourself staying here?

  • Would you recommend this company to your friends and family?

There are also certain characteristics of people at each engagement level that an organization can assess. For instance, those who are always willing to work past normal hours without having to be asked and without complaint are actively engaged. An ambivalent employee is one you have to ask to work late to get the job done and that person, begrudgingly, might be willing to do so. Actively disengaged employees watch the clock and are ready to punch out at 4:59 and 59 seconds.

As a manager, observing the actions and behaviors of your employees is also a powerful method to use in conjunction with employee surveys.

What are the drivers of employee engagement?

There are four key drivers for actively engaging employees: believing that the company has a purpose-driven mission and that it is working toward that mission; trusting in the company and the leadership; feeling valued; and having confidence in the company’s leadership while believing that they are leading with the company values toward the corporate mission.

It’s interesting to note that none of the studies on employee engagement show compensation as one of the top drivers of employee engagement; earning the emotional commitment of an employee is about much more than money.

How do you create a mission that will motivate your employees?

Creating a mission that will actively engage your employees and customers is essentially explaining why your company is in business. What is the intrinsic reason or belief that drives your organization? Most employees can easily answer what their company does and even how it does what it does, but answering why can be difficult.

The most powerful thing you can do for employees is to identify why you do what you do and clearly communicate it throughout the organization. You know you have done this well when you can ask any employee for the mission of the organization and you receive the same answer from each person. Your employees will know that they stand for something and that they have a purpose-driven career.

What are the returns on investing in employee engagement?

There exists a strong correlation between high levels of employee engagement and all of the traditional metrics associated with an organization — sales, service, quality, safety, retention, profit and shareholder returns. In organizations that have actively engaged employees, studies have shown that there can be as much as five times higher  total shareholder return over a five-year period than in companies with lower engagement. Studies also show faster revenue growth and nearly twice the customer loyalty.

At an individual level, actively engaged employees provide  better customer interactions, higher individual customer loyalty, and increased sales and productivity, and they report greater overall job satisfaction. This serves to  create a cycle that feeds on itself, to everybody’s benefit. High performance becomes contagious in the right environment. Such a culture attracts those who want to be actively engaged with their careers and tends to select  out those who are actively disengaged.

It is worth the investment in taking actions that make employees feel a valued part of an organization. Invest in them personally, invest in their career development and invest in their performance management. Make the effort to get to know them and recognize their contributions.

Maximizing employee engagement isn’t easy and it isn’t automatic, but the dividends it pays  are very much worth the investment.

Mark Matuscak is President and CEO of Benefitdecisions, Inc. Reach him at (312) 376-0431 or mmatuscak@benefitdecisions.com.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Benefitdecisions, Inc.

Published in Chicago

An employee’s commute to and from work can be costly in terms of money spent on gas, insurance, and wear and tear on a vehicle, and the increased stress it brings. However, there are programs available that companies can support that will help alleviate employee stress, reduce absenteeism, save employees money and improve productivity.

“One of the benefits of a commuter program is that it provides a less-stressful commute to and from work,” says Tim Dilsaver, Pace Suburban Bus’ community affairs representative for Lake County, Ill. “It leads to a better parking situation, with companies often providing preferential parking to commuters; fewer cars in your office parking lot; and commuters getting a break on their personal car insurance because they’re not using their primary vehicle to get to and from work.”

Smart Business spoke with Dilsaver about commuter programs and the benefits they bring to both employees and companies.

How does a commuter program get organized at a company?

There are several types of commuter programs that people use. A couple of examples include public transportation and an informal employee carpool. But there are also commercial programs that can benefit both passengers and companies alike. One program, operated by Pace, uses vans that pick up passengers at existing bus and train stations and also can pick up people from their homes or at other predetermined locations.

Similar to an employee-organized carpool, this ride-sharing program utilizes vans that pick up groups of up to 13 people along a route and transport them to and from work. The vehicle is provided, as is the maintenance, gas, insurance, van washes and tolls.

Participants can choose their routes and select their pickup times. Furthermore, this program offers a Guaranteed Ride Home program in the event that a participant has to leave work early for, say, a family emergency. The cost of a taxi is reimbursed up to a certain amount when situations prevent a rider from being able to use the vanpool.

How do employees benefit from a commuter program?

Employees benefit by saving thousands on commuting expenses during the course of a year. They also benefit from having less stressful commutes. They don’t have to deal with the drudgery of a morning drive. Instead, while someone else is driving, they can sleep, prepare for the workday, talk with the other commuters or just watch the world go by. Employees also save because they’re putting less wear and tear on their personal vehicles and refueling less often.

How do companies benefit from commuter programs?

Companies benefit from commuter programs by having employees who arrive at work less stressed. It’s also a great way for those who don’t have reliable transportation to have an affordable and reliable way to get to work, which ultimately improves attendance and employee retention. Companies can provide premium spaces for vanpools and carpools and free up spaces in the company lot because the vans can hold as many as 13 passengers, which opens up additional parking.

They often appoint a transportation coordinator who oversees the program, enrolls employees in the pretax payroll deduction program, and chooses pickup and drop-off locations at the place of business.

A commuter program also can provide businesses with matching grants that can be used to set up a program. For example, with one program in Chicago and the collar counties of northern Illinois, the company puts up $2,000 that’s matched by the provider.

It can be used for a range of things, including signage that designates commuter program parking and to support raffles for items such as bikes to promote green transportation. It’s a great way for a company to support environmentally friendly alternatives to driving.

What are the common responses from companies and employees using such commuter programs?

Companies that participate in commuter programs are excited by the results. These programs start with one vehicle, and then word of mouth spreads quickly and companies soon have as many as 10 commuter vehicles bringing employees to and from work for all shifts, day and night.

Human resources personnel who promote the program say their employees really enjoy it. The HR representatives put sign-up sheets on the Internet to allow people to sign up and fill open spaces, which are quickly taken.

Employees say they save money compared to what they would spend driving their own car because the fees associated with the commuter program don’t come close to what they spend driving alone to and from work. They also skip the drudgery of daily drives and the traffic jams, and many employees say they would never go back to the daily drive.

Are there any environmental benefits companies can promote that are related to providing commuter programs to employees?

Commuter programs allow companies and employees a chance to reduce their carbon footprint by having fewer cars drive to and from the workplace. Less gas is consumed, traffic is reduced and many issues with crowded parking are resolved. Some companies have multiple vehicles running in the program, which means significantly fewer cars are traveling to the facility.

Tim Dilsaver is the community affairs representative for Lake County, Ill., at Pace Suburban Bus. Reach him at (847) 228-4282 or timothy.dilsaver@pacebus.com.

More information on Pace’s RideShare program is available at www.PaceRideShare.com.

Insights Transportation is brought to you by Pace Suburban Bus

Published in Chicago

As technology continues to move forward exponentially, end users are flocking to the latest versions of notebooks, tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices.

Against this backdrop, remote data security (RDS) is becoming increasingly important for businesses. Having an appropriate data protection strategy across the board in any organization can help ensure that the company protects its end users, shields its intellectual property and protects its rights.

However, many businesses fail to do so, as convenience tends to trump security, says Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P.

“We try to make small and medium-sized businesses aware that it’s a mistake to only focus on convenience,” he says. “Security should never be a subordinate element when transitioning toward remote data platforms.”

Smart Business spoke with Carter about what businesses need to know about RDS to keep their data safe.

What are the challenges associated with RDS?

First, it’s important to understand how the concern of RDS came to be: We, the users, created it. The introduction and proliferation of mobile computing devices put business-centric technology in the hands of an increasingly mobile work force.

In recent years, laptops, notebooks, tablet PCs, iPads, smartphones and other devices have become instruments of the business enterprise. In other words, they became information interchange enablers.

One thing that has remained constant is that data is still the end user’s primary concern. As such, access to and exchange of corporate data — now through remote devices — has surfaced as one of the most pressing needs of businesses.

Safeguarding the transfer of corporate data across remote devices requires controls. However, to an end user, controls mean inconvenience. And inconvenience often translates to, ‘I won’t take the necessary precautions to protecting my data.’

As a result, data is now being transmitted across more open or mobile platforms by users who are sidestepping security in favor of convenience.

Hasn’t technology adapted to address the needs of exchanging corporate data?

Absolutely. In fact, every generation of new mobile technology devices is amazingly more capable of delivering and exchanging data remotely. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the ability to exchange information is much more effective than our ability to control data security remotely.

Having data secured in a mobile environment is the essential ingredient. It’s not enough just to have it delivered. We are all in support of making data convenient, but it has to be secure, as well. There has to be a balanced strategy.

What is the weakest link with RDS?

In some regards, this is a real paradox.  Remote data access was designed for the end user, but the end user is, without a doubt, the weakest link. Something as simple as password management provides a great example of how end users tend to overlook security measures. Users will write down their passwords, tape them underneath the keyboard, use the same one for everything, or store them in the cloud.

The increase in the loss of information, malware intrusion and identity theft is due to the nature of the end user who is unaware of the importance of secure protection in their environment, and has difficulty seeing the value when technology serves as an inhibitor of their convenience. The bottom line is that end users will always default to convenience over security. It will take a behavior change at the end user level to correct this.

Bring your own device, or BYOD, is becoming more commonplace at businesses. How will this affect RDS?

It’s important to keep a close eye on this development. The market initially said, ‘Mobile devices are opening up the dynamics of enabling global business. There is no need to stay confined in the office any longer. This is more convenient for the user.’

Next, the market said, ‘It’s more effective and efficient to allow end users to pick their own technology platform. So let them bring their own device to work. Just make sure they can access their data. This is more convenient for the user.’ Then the market said, ‘Store your data in the cloud, where it’s easier and faster to access and stockpile. This is more convenient for the user.’

Put this all together and there is an accelerating adoption of every mobile computing technology — each calling for faster remote access to business-critical corporate data — residing in virtual data repositories. And if you ask end users which is more important to them, convenience or security, the answer you’re most likely to receive is convenience.

How should small to medium-sized businesses approach the RDS challenge?

The market is calling for a robust solution that secures the end user from a variety of different functionality levels, from remote identity and access management to a secure, portable computing environment on managed and unmanaged workstations or devices. However, because convenience is trumping security at the end user level, businesses should investigate those products that make it easy for the end user to embrace RDS.

Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or scarter@ii2p.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by ii2P

Published in Dallas

Ohio’s incentive programs can assist businesses undergoing expansion projects such as job creation, facility changes, employee training and energy management. But taking full advantage of them requires company resources to negotiate, apply for and manage these incentives. Putting together the right team can help negotiate the best deal and make realistic projections related to the project.

“Having the right team on both sides of the table — the company’s side and government side — can help secure an optimal incentive package,” said Marti Brenner, location and incentive practice leader at GBQ Partners LLC. “Not only will you get the best deal, but you also will alleviate issues and ensure the project remains on schedule.”

She says when your company is growing, you must simultaneously prepare the business for expansion while attempting to secure an incentive package. “Having the right team in place can help streamline the incentive process and avoid costly distractions.”

Smart Business spoke with Brenner about a few Ohio incentive programs and getting key people in place to manage the process.

What are some of the major incentive programs in Ohio?

A popular Ohio incentive program is the Job Creation Tax Credit, which is a refundable state income tax credit determined by net, new payroll in the state. Another prevalent program is the Ohio Workforce Guarantee Program, which offers a 50 percent reimbursement of your eligible training cost.

Property tax abatements, available locally, can offset up to 100 percent of that tax for up to 15 years through a Community Reinvestment Area or an Enterprise Zone.

A new program on the horizon creating a lot of buzz is the Ohio Incumbent Workforce Training Voucher Program. It is expected to provide a 50 percent reimbursement of eligible training costs totaling up to $4,000 per trainee. The program was allotted $50 million in the state budget that will be disbursed over two state fiscal years — from July 1 to June 30. There is $20 million available this fiscal year and $30 million available in state fiscal year 2014. It is planned to be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

What are the steps you need to take in order to create a team? 

Every project presents different needs and the application of various incentive programs touches many aspects of a business. As a result, the ideal core dream team is comprised of a combination of the following:

  • Accounting, finance and/or controller — They tend to have easy access to company and project information including capital investment, operating costs and financing needs that typically are required information on the various incentive applications.  Completing accurate incentive applications will avoid issues in the agreements and/or costly mistakes in calculating incentive benefits.

  • Tax — Many of the incentive programs are tax credits, but more importantly analyzing and drawing attention to the positive economic impact will only enhance the incentive package offered.

  • Operations (plant manager or project engineer) — They are usually aware of operational and facility needs related to the project from building specifications to utility needs. It is a best practice to have identified these needs early in the discussions with state and local officials because it is difficult and sometimes impossible to secure additional incentives after commitments have been made.

  • Human resources — HR representatives tend to have a better understanding of the specifics when it comes to training, pay and benefits related to current and future employees. The HR representative is one of the most critical team members because of the application and ongoing reporting information associated with incentives. If ongoing incentive reports are not filed properly, your company may not realize the full, or any, benefit of the incentives awarded.

Depending on project plans, it’s critical for the core dream team to utilize other resources as ancillary team members at various points in the incentive process. Other dream team players may include:

  • Executive level — Officers of the company that have a thorough understanding of the company growth strategy and have final location or project decision authority.

  • Public relations — As many of the incentives involve approvals in a public setting, marketing and public relations professionals may help control the overall project message and information that may be published in the media.

  • Government affairs — Companies may tap these practitioners for their government relationships with state representatives and/or senators to raise political support for the project.

  • Legal counsel — Attorneys should review the various legal agreements between the state or local jurisdiction and the company, as it is a legal contract that often covers multi-year periods.

How can you stay on top of the latest news to be the first in line to apply for these incentives?

It all relates to partnering. The goal of economic development is to attract and partner with companies in the community. Incentive opportunities are sometimes missed if the company is not partnered with state and local economic development organizations. Even without a current expansion project, it is generally a best practice to develop relationships at the state and local levels, whether with the Development Services Agency, JobsOhio or your regional network partners such as, but not limited to, Columbus2020, Team NEO/Cleveland+ and Cincinnati USA Partnership. It is important to establish economic development relationships to give a name and face to the company.

Marti Brenner is the location and incentive practice leader at GBQ Partners LLC. Reach her at (614) 947-5287 or mbrenner@gbq.com.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by GBQ Partners LLC

Published in Columbus

More than 13.4 million people are currently working from home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The challenging economy has forced employers to cut back on costs, such as office expenses, and let people work remotely. There’s also evidence that those unable to find traditional jobs are earning a living by starting home-based businesses and work-from-home businesses.

In order to be successful at telecommuting, an employee — or even a home-based business owner — needs to have the right phone equipment.

“When a client is contacting you, you want to put your most professional foot forward,” says John Putnam, vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. “You don’t want your client to see that you’re sending calls to people working from home; you want them to get that same professional experience, regardless of where  that call is being taken.”

Smart Business spoke with Putnam about how the right virtual phone technology can ensure a seamless transition from the office to home and back again.

What are some of the advantages that can be found with telecommuting?

It reduces cost. Employees don’t have to drive to work, avoiding wear and tear on their cars, paying for gas and spending time stuck in traffic. Business owners don’t need as much space in their facilities and can reduce the heating, air conditioning, electricity, etc., that go along with having that person in your building.

Another advantage is flexibility. When a client calls on the East Coast at 7 p.m., you can route those calls to someone’s home or someone on the West Coast, giving business owners the ability to expand their service hours.

It’s also a recruiting tool. If the employee is disciplined and can do the work from home, it gives him or her the opportunity to work flexible hours that fit better into his or her schedule.

Why do employers need to ensure telecommuters have the right phone technology?

Along with having a dedicated workspace, telecommuters need technology that doesn’t limit their ability to do their jobs. With a home phone, someone within the household could pick up a phone and interrupt a call, and a cell phone only gives you the ability to answer and place calls. A cell phone also has more of a chance to be used for personal calls or get lost or stolen.

With a dedicated work-from-home handset, you have the ability to transfer calls, put calls on hold, place conference calls and create hunt groups that select which of several phones will receive the call. This creates the appearance of the telecommuter being at your facility, while providing customers with a more professional experience.

Using a home or cell phone can lessen the client experience. A prospective client may even think twice about giving you their business because of questioning your company’s level of commitment. The prospect might think, ‘If this guy is working off his cell phone, is he really in business or is he just doing this until he finds something better?’

How does this phone technology create efficiencies for telecommuters?

With a premise-based IP or  a hosted IP private branch exchange (PBX), phone handsets can be used anywhere in the world, as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection.  With both of these solutions you have all of the business-class features unavailable on a cell phone.

There’s also a higher level of accountability with a phone system that is tied back to the company. The service provider can put limits — such as limiting international calling and the time of day that the phone is in use — on that phone versus just handing someone a cell phone. Also, if an employee uses a personal cell phone, it can raise questions about them receiving business calls after separation from the company.

How expensive are these types of phones? 

It’s not that expensive. For between $25 and $35 per month, you can lease an IP PBX handset and get phone service. The company gets a more professional experience for clients that makes that expense easy to justify. Otherwise, the company would be paying for a cell phone or reimbursing for a home line at the same cost, with fewer features.

How will phone technology continue to assist with telecommuting in the future?

As more applications continue making it ‘into the cloud,’ it makes telecommuting even easier. The applications a person needs to do their job — whether voice or data related — are getting taken off office computers and phone systems, so it doesn’t matter where you are located to access those resources.

As more companies replace their internal phones with an IP phone system, it also gives employees the flexibility to work from home part of the week, for example, by taking their phone home and then bringing it back to the office. They can move that handset to anyplace with a high-speed Internet connection, working as if they were in their office. Employers get the best of both worlds by giving employees the flexibility of working from home one or two days per week, while keeping the same phone system and having the accountability that comes from seeing them daily and knowing they are working.

John Putnam is vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329 or pngdirectsales@pngmail.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Published in Cincinnati

The way business owners can raise private capital is undergoing an unprecedented expansion.

Pursuant to the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) act, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has proposed new rules that would permit general solicitation and general advertising for certain private placements.

Comments were due by Oct. 5, with the final rules due out shortly.

“It should certainly spur investment,” says Peter J. Smith, a member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC.

“The average small business owner might have a $10 million per year company and want to raise a million dollars for an acquisition, a new product line, division or plant, or want to hire or need to grow,” he says. “They may not know the kind of people who can write those checks, and if they don’t, they can now advertise for

investors.”

Smart Business spoke with Smith about how private placements work and what the future holds.

What is a private placement? 

Under the Securities Act of 1933, the sale of securities must be registered or meet a ‘safe harbor’ exemption.

These exemptions are primarily contained in Rules 504, 505 and 506, although Rules 504 and 505 are not often used. Rule 506 provides that a company can sell an unlimited dollar amount of securities to an unlimited number of ‘accredited’ investors, and up to 35 nonaccredited investors.

An individual accredited investor is someone who meets one of the qualification criteria, including:

  • Net assets in excess of $1 million, excluding private residence.

  • An individual annual income of $200,000 per year or a joint income of $300,000 per year for the last two years and anticipate reaching that level again in the current year.

Entities have to meet different criteria to be considered accredited. Under current rules, companies can take up to 35 purchasers who do not meet the accredited investor test. If you are issuing securities to nonaccredited investors, however, you will want to provide adequate disclosures.

Additionally, there are prohibitions on general advertising and solicitation. This significantly restricts who you can solicit.

Why might a business owner utilize a private placement to raise capital?

Growing companies in need of capital and not in a position to borrow could benefit from a private placement. In this lending environment, banks are extremely conservative in their underwriting criteria. So, if a company is growing quickly, capital is generally not available to it through traditional means if it doesn’t have the collateral.

Smaller, privately held companies can’t afford a public offering’s cumbersome registration and reporting requirements. By doing a private placement, the business can raise additional capital through the issuance of equity. Owners give up a piece of their company, but theoretically, are growing the company, so the owner has a smaller piece of a larger pie.

By retaining an experienced attorney, you can structure a private placement in a way that meets your long-term business goals and is attractive to potential investors.

The attorney can assist the business with preparing a private placement memorandum, describing who they are, what they do, why they’re raising capital, the uses of the funds, and includes their business plan, projections, financial statements and risk factors.

This information becomes part of the solicitation materials used to attract potential investors and also protects the company from liability.

What are the new rules for private placements?

The new SEC proposed rules will permit the use of general solicitation and general advertising to offer and sell securities so long as you meet specific criteria, including:

  • The securities can only be sold to accredited investors.

  • The issuer of the securities has an obligation to take reasonable steps to verify that an investor is in fact accredited. For example, if a purchaser claims his net worth is in excess of $1 million, the issuer should ask for a personal financial statement and supporting documentation to demonstrate that net worth.

The intent is to open up additional avenues of capital for small business in order to stimulate the economy and job growth.

How much will the solicitation rule change private placements? 

Most small businesses don’t have a group of high-net-worth individuals waiting to invest.  It’s hard to go to your friends and family and ask for a million dollars. There are a lot of companies with good stories to tell and solid financial statements, but without the right kind of investor contacts. So, if they could go to an attorney or investment banker, put together a package, advertise and openly solicit accredited individuals and companies, it’s going to significantly increase the flow of funds into small businesses.

What are the risks regarding general solicitation and advertisement?

It does create an environment where there is more opportunity for fraud and misrepresentation. Investors will have to be careful and do their due diligence to assure they are making good investments in good companies. The documentation and disclosures will become that much more important. If we weren’t coming off a very difficult recession and sluggish economy, it’s unlikely this rule would have been implemented. For now, it is a way to get capital to small businesses to spur growth. Banks can say they have money to lend, but they’re not lending it. There are many companies that are struggling to get capital; they’ve had lines of credit reduced and borrowing bases limited. It’s very difficult for a growing company to get enough capital to continue on its growth cycle. This new rule should help.

Peter J. Smith  is a member at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC.  Reach him at (215) 887-4132 or psmith@sogtlaw.com.

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

Published in Philadelphia
Thursday, 18 October 2012 17:44

People first

When visiting one of InfoCision’s offices, you’ll notice more than the tables, chairs and water cooler found in a typical workplace. It is not out of the ordinary to pass a yoga class practicing downward dog, a physician scribbling a prescription or a preschool class reciting the alphabet.

While these scenes may be out of place in many employers’ offices, InfoCision has worked hard to make them a staple. The company recognizes its employees are the heart of its business, so it focuses on recruiting and retaining them with a variety of amenities and benefits, says Kim Murphy, vice president of employee benefits at InfoCision.

"We strive to give our employees a work-life balance," Murphy says. "We want to provide opportunities for employees to handle things like exercising at work so when they go home, they can focus on their families. And we believe that contributes to a happier, healthier employee."

Amenities include:

  • InfoFitness centers: These 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot gyms include top-of-the-line equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines and recumbent bicycles. The centers also offer classes such as aerobics or yoga, and are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. They are free for InfoCision employees and family members covered under the company’s health plans. Many InfoCision employees and even entire departments attend classes together. "My department works through lunch, then at 4 p.m. we all go down as a group," Murphy says. "It's nice to have that support — on the days when you don't want to go, you have your coworkers pushing you, and it makes it a lot easier."

  • InfoWellness clinics and programs: InfoCision provides on-site doctors for both employees and family members regardless if they participate in its health plans. The company also has a prescription concierge service so employees don't need to run out to pick up their medications. Other wellness programs include free smoking-cessation programs and subsidized weight-loss programs.

  • InfoKids Early Learning Center: This fully licensed child care center at InfoCision's corporate headquarters in Akron can care for more than 90 children ages 6 weeks to 14 years. The center offers summer programs, two infant rooms and toddler and preschool rooms, play areas, educational toys and computers. It provides a creative curriculum education model. InfoCision's satellite call centers offer subsidized child care options.

  • InfoCision Management Corporate University: Geared toward salaried staff who have a clear path of advancement within the company, IMCU offers free or discounted workforce development through on-site programs as well as outside classes and workshops through the University of Akron and other local institutions.

  • Employee assistance program: InfoCision provides employees with a toll-free number to call for financial advice or free counseling sessions for anything from a death in the family to a divorce. The employee receives recommended local counseling services, and he or she can use the services as much as he or she needs.

  • On-site delis: InfoCision's Café 5 on-site delis offer healthy hot and cold meals, snacks and gourmet coffee. In addition, InfoCision's vending machines now offer healthy choices.

InfoCision also offers a comprehensive benefits package for both salaried and hourly employees, Murphy says. These benefits are available upon hire and include health care, vision and dental plans, paid holidays, free life and disability insurance, paid personal and vacation time, quarterly bonuses, paid training and tuition reimbursement. InfoCision also offers 401(k) participation after 90 days of employment.

Aside from amenities and benefits, InfoCision also strives to create a work environment in which employees can excel. "For as big as we’ve gotten, we still have a family feel," Murphy says.

"It starts when you enter the front doors and the receptionist greets you like you're family even if you've never been here before. We also have a newsletter for employees every month, and our executives speak regularly to our employees and are open for questions or available to talk afterwards. That open communication really makes a big difference."

InfoCision also has a group that travels to its facilities and speaks with employees about what's happening at the company and in the workplace. This program, in conjunction with an employee suggestion box, is meant to provide an open forum for employees to voice ideas or concern.

"We have an open-door policy," Murphy says. "Our employees have the opportunity to speak to not only to their supervisors and team leaders — as our supervisor to communicator ratio is one to nine — but our executives as well. That's not something that's typically found at other companies, but we believe it is a key part of recruitment and retention."

For more information on employee benefits and amenities, contact Kim Murphy at kim.murphy@infocision.com or visit www.InfoCision.com.

Published in Cleveland

When selling your company, parting with it can be difficult. You’ve spent countless hours growing the business from a small operation to the enterprise it is today, and that shouldn’t be minimized. But decision making in the early stages of this process can be guided more by emotion than logic, says Kenneth M. Haffey, CPA, CVA, a partner at Skoda Minotti.

As the project progresses, however, he says emotion lessens and upfront planning on both sides predicates whether the deal is finalized.

“Almost always when a deal doesn’t work, it’s because the proper things leading up to the merger and acquisition weren’t done — they were shortcut — and sometimes that leaves a nasty trail that has to be picked up,” says Haffey.

Smart Business spoke with Haffey about mergers and acquisitions and what both buyers and sellers should consider.

What factors should be first considered with mergers and acquisitions?

When looking to acquire a business, determine your strategic goals. Do you want to expand geographically, add to your current type of business or acquire a tuck-in or bolt-on that could be a smaller, complementary piece to your existing company? Does it make sense to stay in your area or expand to another part of the state or country? Pricing is another factor. What can you truly afford and how will you pay for it — with your own working capital or borrow from investors, a bank or a private equity group?

On the other side, a business owner looking to sell needs to find individuals or companies with which he or she feels comfortable while getting ready for the liquidity event. Hire experienced professionals — CPAs, lawyers, investment bankers or financial advisers — who work on mergers and acquisitions. Price is important for this side of the deal, too, and could be determined by a multiple of sales, net income, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

Who should be a part of the transaction team?

Deals happen or don’t happen depending on advisers. For example, if you let your recent law school graduate nephew be your deal attorney, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Internally, your team would be made up of human resources, operations, marketing, finance and possibly legal advisers.

Who should be on the list of potential suitors/targets?

There are different ways to compile lists of suitors or targets. For example, some advisory firms keep lists of companies that they’re working with to continually connect dots. Other options include trade associations, contacts you know from conferences and newsletters to find those who might be interested. Also, chat with others who have gone through such transactions.

There are two types of buyers — financial and strategic. Strategic buyers are in the same business space and want to expand geographically or absorb new technology. A strategic buyer usually gives the largest selling price. A financial buyer looks to get into a new business, using his or her own means to take on a new venture. There’s nothing wrong with selling to a financial buyer — that’s how private equity groups build — but the learning curve and pieces of operations are easier and quicker on the strategic side.

How can business owners determine what to pay?

Each side should have an independent valuation done by a professional. Appraisers or valuators specialize in valuing companies for M&A purposes, which differs from valuing a company for estate tax purposes — a CPA can have specialized accreditations, such as being a certified valuation analyst or accredited in business valuation. Then, stick to the value the professionals tell you. If a business owner has a preconceived, unrealistic notion of the worth, it may be impossible to continue.

Value also depends on timing. At any point, retail, service or manufacturing may be hot or ice cold. If your business is flying high and the industry isn’t, you probably won’t get the multiple of earnings you think you’re worth as buyers won’t trust what’s going on. Value is difficult to gauge because supply and demand can jack prices up overnight — some of it not based on any financial reasoning.

After the transaction is completed, what should be done to integrate the two companies?

The make-or-break point is what you’re going to do with the individuals and assets after you purchase them. You need to know where you’re going long before you finalize the deal. Once you’ve found suitors or targets, understand the financing and have hired advisers, complete your due diligence before discussing offers and finalizing paperwork. The whole process usually takes between five and 10 months; if it’s taking longer, both parties need to take a step back and determine the holdup.

Integration ranges from taking all aspects of one organization and folding them in under another — eliminating human resources, marketing, accounting and some operations — to leaving it alone because the new company is five states away or in a new business space. The integration team should analyze the company workings to figure out if one system is better. Forget who is bigger or smaller, or whose name is on the door. The smaller company may have a far superior system because, for example, it kept up on technology.

Most people run their company, do a good job and then go home. Many employers will only have one transaction their whole life, so competent professionals are necessary to meet your needs and maximize your situation.

 

Kenneth M. Haffey, CPA, CVA, a partner at Skoda Minotti. Reach him at (440) 449-6800 or khaffey@skodaminotti.com.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Skoda Minotti

Published in Cleveland

An employee is critically hurt in a taxicab accident while on business in China. He had to be stabilized at the scene, flown to the coast and then to Hong Kong. Two operations and two months later, he is sent back to the U.S. on a private charter plane with two nurses and a doctor. The repatriation trip alone costs $140,000, which he would have had to pay had he not had foreign insurance.

Richard B. Hite, CEO of SeibertKeck Insurance Agency, says domestic U.S. policies only cover incidents occurring in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico or any U.S. possession.

“A standard domestic insurance policy doesn’t insure against foreign business exposure in general,” he says. “As long as your company has goods, services or people going overseas, you’re going to need foreign

insurance.”

Smart Business spoke with Hite about how to get the most out of your foreign package coverage.

What are the characteristics of international insurance?

There are a number of scenarios where foreign insurance is necessary. For example, a salesperson at an international conference demonstrating a product causes bodily injury or property damage. Maybe you’re exporting products and have a product failure — a propane tank explodes and kills 20 people. If sued, your domestic policy does not respond to lawsuits outside of the U.S. and Canada.

Under a foreign package policy, there are five types of coverage. They are:

  • General liability — Covers public liability, including product liability.

  • Property coverage — Protection for laptop computers, sales samples, personal property at trade shows, etc.

  • Foreign voluntary workers’ compensation — Provides employees workers’ compensation and covers medical costs and loss of earnings as if the employee was hurt in Ohio or whatever the state of domicile. With 24/7 coverage, it also provides medical assistance services and repatriation expenses to get an employee to the U.S., including immediate family traveling with him or her or allowing family to fly to the foreign location where the employee is being treated.

  • Accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) coverage.

  • Automobile liability — When an employee rents a car, there is certain compulsory insurance coverage in that country, but this provides excess liability.

Other types of foreign insurance exposure include kidnap and ransom, business interruption, crime and ocean cargo for when you’re responsible for your export shipment of goods in a container until it arrives.

How has foreign insurance changed to better serve small and mid-sized businesses?

With globalization and international trade agreements, even a small company could be distributing products abroad, but many small and mid-sized businesses don’t realize the protection needed. Insurance companies have different coverage levels, but usually a minimum premium with all five basic types of coverage runs an affordable $1,500 to $2,500 per year.

How do you decide which coverage and options or limits to buy?

Analyze the exposure — what employees, goods or services are doing and where they are going. Public liability and foreign workers’ compensation are necessary, but property and automobile depend on the circumstances. Property could be worth it if you have sales samples or laptop computers going abroad, but your employee might not be driving anywhere. Additionally, the AD&D for many mid-sized business is already an international 24/7 policy, so there could be a duplication of coverage. The insurance company takes a census of the number of people, where they are going and for how long, and then creates different rates for different risks.

Many policies exclude countries not aligned with U.S. foreign policy, such as Syria, Iraq, Iran and now, Mexico. To get around it, underwriters want to know the finite trip details. For example, Monterrey, Mexico, is a medium risk, while Mexico City is very hazardous and has become its own cottage industry considering the high incidence of kidnap and ransom occurring there. In general, the insurance company writes a blanket policy for all countries, excluding certain ones, and then underwrites exceptions on a per-trip basis.

What’s the difference between buying international insurance in the U.S. or local insurance in the foreign country?

If you write a policy in the U.S., called a nonadmitted basis, most countries accept it. However, some foreign countries require a domicile insurance company and a broker to write the policy as a form of protectionism. Therefore, big companies — Travelers, Chartis and Chubb — have foreign divisions writing policies, called an admitted basis. You might need a combination of nonadmitted and admitted insurance to ensure the proper coverage.

It’s almost always advantageous to buy U.S. coverage rather than admitted coverage in the country itself. U.S. coverage provides compulsory insurance on a broader basis and uses a U.S. company and adjuster, with the cost not necessarily more expensive.

What steps should employers take if something happens to an employee or property abroad?

The planning should be part of your disaster preparedness program. Insurance companies have emergency response teams globally who speak the local languages. As part of the service, you reach out to these key contact people if there’s a problem. They also know what steps to take to get the best medical care. For example, in Shanghai, China, hospitals won’t operate unless they know they will be

compensated.

Additionally, the insurance company will set up a website to be checked throughout the trip. It gives tips on how to travel, how to dress, what areas to avoid, and a security and weather report. It helps employees blend in and act accordingly, which also prevents them from becoming a target.

Richard B. Hite is the CEO of SeibertKeck Insurance Agency. Reach him at (330) 865-6573 or rhite@seibertkeck.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck Insurance Agency

Published in Akron/Canton
Sunday, 30 September 2012 21:01

How to maximize your banking relationship

Establishing a good relationship with your banker is beneficial to your business because a bank can be a source of ideas to improve your company.

“Think of your banker as an extension of your team, just as your CPA or attorney is part of your advisory team,” says Susan D. Steiger, vice president, commercial loans for Lorain National Bank.

“When we come out to see you, we don’t have the meter running. It’s part of our job to spend good quality time with our clients. We don’t send you a bill at the end of a meeting, so it’s something you should take advantage of,” she says.

And if your banker understands your business, he or she can bring you ideas that make your life easier.

Smart Business spoke with Steiger about how to establish a better working relationship with your lending partner.

How should business owners get their bank involved as they consider making investments?

Get your banker involved early when you’re weighing any kind of investment. Ideally, we’d like to be the first call when you have a major strategic move to consider. Whether an acquisition, buying out a partner or making a capital investment, it’s always better to start the discussion sooner rather than later.

Use us as a sounding board, bounce ideas off of us. We may have advice on structuring the deal or may have seen similar situations with other clients, so use that experience to your advantage.

On the other hand, you may be a nonborrowing client who doesn’t anticipate a need to borrow; maybe you’re just using the bank’s treasury services. It still is wise to begin a regular dialogue with your banker; the relationship ideally should be established before you have a borrowing request. Invest the time to educate your banker about your business, your markets and your industry — it will pay dividends down the road.

What else should a business owner expect from a banking relationship?

You should expect to have access to multiple levels in the organization.  Make sure your banker is introducing you to others, especially top management. Your banker is your primary point of contact, but he or she is only one person and no one person is calling all the shots. Others at the bank are part of your team too, and you’ll benefit from everyone’s experience.  Interaction with all the bank’s decision makers will pay dividends when your next credit request goes before committee.

We can also connect you with other valuable advisors.  It’s our responsibility to introduce you to others, both inside and outside the bank, who have relevant experience.  It might be for treasury management, investments or estate planning solutions, or tax advice — we can give you access to those professionals.

When is it a good time to talk with your banker about problems?

From the get-go, be forthcoming with information, both good and bad. It just is not a good practice to surprise your banker. When something happens seemingly out of nowhere, it raises red flags. We need to know if you’ve just lost a major customer, your new product launch is delayed or you’re in danger of tripping a loan covenant.

It’s a banker’s job to understand your business, and we know things don’t always go as planned. It is much better to deal with it as soon as you know about it because then we can help plan and strategize the next steps. Remember, we’re your advocate inside our organization.

Positive news often requires advance planning, as well. So let us know if you have just landed a major contract or are in negotiations for the purchase of a new warehouse.

How often should you be talking with your bank?

Your banker should be scheduling annual reviews with you. If not, then ask for it. This annual review is part of keeping the lines of communication open, but it also serves as a more formal process to review your year-end financials and the outlook for the coming year as well as to discuss any other needs you might have. But certainly meet with your banker quarterly, if not more frequently, on a more informal basis.

Also, get the other key people at your company involved in these meetings. Banks like to see that you have bench strength on your team and that the whole business isn’t being carried on your shoulders alone.

How crucial is it to negotiate rates?

Price isn’t everything. It is not necessarily the best strategy to negotiate every rate and price down as low as you can go. In the long run, if your banker is forced into that kind of relationship, when things get tough, he or she may not have the staying power to maintain the relationship. The financial relationship has to be a win-win. If the company is doing all of these things to foster a good relationship, it is going to get competitive pricing over the long haul.

I think it’s often frustrating for owners or managers to deal with the bank. They just would rather not do it or would rather delegate it to someone else, perhaps their controller. But that interaction is too important to ignore. The success of any relationship — personal or professional — always comes down to communication; it is the most important variable.

We are people and we are in a people business. Communication over time builds trust, and mutual trust is at the core of any good relationship. Everyone pays lip service to it, but it really is the key.

 

 

 

Susan D. Steiger is vice president, commercial loans for Lorain National Bank. Reach her at (330) 655-1824 or ssteiger@4lnb.com.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Lorain National Bank

Published in Akron/Canton