More than 800 years ago, medieval philosopher Maimonides outlined eight levels of charity, the greatest of which was supporting an individual in such a way that he or she becomes independent. In Maimonides’ view, support was defined as a gift or loan, entering into a partnership or simply helping that person find employment.
Few things are more powerful than philanthropy — especially when its end goal is to better the lives of others. These days, philanthropy, and corporate philanthropy specifically, has assumed a broader role in society.
Today, companies give back more strategically than ever before. They align themselves with nonprofits that foster missions they believe in. The wealthiest people on the planet have even coordinated the Giving Pledge (www.givingpledge.org), where they’ve committed to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
At last count, more than 115 people had taken the pledge. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates may be the most prominent names on the list, but others include Spanx Founder Sara Blakely, Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert, Progressive’s Peter Lewis and Netflix Founder Reed Hastings.
Last month, one member, David Rubenstein, CEO and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, discussed the importance of philanthropy during a presentation at EY’s 2013 Strategic Growth Forum.
In his pledge letter, Rubenstein explains why: “I recognize to have any significant impact on an organization or cause, one must concentrate resources, and make transformative gifts — and to be involved in making certain those gifts actually transform in a positive way.”
One way Rubenstein is being transformative is through “Patriotic Philanthropy.” He has given $10 million to help restore President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home and underwrote renovations to the historic Washington Monument. Yet Rubenstein’s most noteworthy initiative is the whopping $23 million to acquire a rare copy of the Magna Carta, ensuring it remained in the United States. After its purchase, Rubenstein gifted it to the National Archives.
Not everyone has Rubenstein’s vast resources. But every organization and any individual can make their own impact.
In the workplace, for example, organizations that give back elevate their status perception-wise among competitors and peers. It doesn’t take much. But by being a company that cares, prospective employees want to work for you. For your existing team, deliberate and well-organized corporate philanthropy programs quickly take on a life of their own, becoming a rallying point.
Think strategically and get started by finding your cause. We all have them. They exist at our very core, forming the belief system we live by every day. So why shouldn’t our philanthropy follow that same course? Consider aligning your giving or volunteerism with something you personally believe in or care about; something that fits with what your company does or something that is close to your employees’ hearts.
Most important, get involved and just make a difference. It really comes down to that. One initiative that has always impressed me has been the annual CreateAthon event undertaken by WhiteSpace Creative, a member of the Pillar Award class of 2005. You can read a first-hand account of this year’s program here.
Being a good corporate citizen goes well beyond making good business sense. When you align yourself with causes you care about, whether big or small, you make a difference in someone’s life. And the bottom line is this: It is all of our duties to get involved. It’s no longer a question of if, but rather of what, when and how. ●
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7026.
Growing up on military bases, Suzanne Sitherwood felt right at home when she started in the oil and gas industry as a co-op college student working as a field worker for Atlanta Gas Light Co.
“I was out on trucks, in the dirt, with pipes and meters and so forth,” Sitherwood says. “Growing up on military bases it was an easy connection because of the men, trucks, uniforms, barbed wire fences and pipes. It all felt very familiar.”
She enjoyed what she was doing so much that following college graduation she decided to continue with the gas company. After 30 years at Atlanta Gas Light Co., where she had become president, she was recruited to The Laclede Group Inc. in late 2011 as president, and became CEO in February 2012.
The Laclede Group Inc. is a public utility holding company. Its primary subsidiary, Laclede Gas Co., is the largest natural gas distribution utility in Missouri, serving about 631,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in St. Louis and 10 other counties.
With Sitherwood’s expertise in the industry and The Laclede Group poised for growth, the combination sparked a period of change.
“Part of the reason we created The Laclede Group was for growth,” Sitherwood says. “That was one of the reasons the board recruited me here. I was one of the architects with the prior company I had worked for, and it became the largest in its peer group.
“So the board was interested in bringing me here and growing The Laclede Group so we weren’t just one gas company, but could become several gas companies.”
Here’s how Sitherwood got The Laclede Group off and running toward growth mode.
Prepare for change
Having built her previous employer into the largest in its peer group, Sitherwood knew how to grow a business. Now, she was joining a new company that she had to get acquainted with before making any sudden decisions.
“I came here in September 2011 and that gave me a chance to lay low and meet the executive team, get to know the strength and talent that existed here, and begin to formulate that 90-day plan,” Sitherwood says. “I had a great opportunity between September and February to do just that, so when Feb. 1 rolled around, we were ready to move forward.”
Even more than getting up to speed, Sitherwood was pleased to see that The Laclede Group had balance sheet strength and strong leadership already in place.
“If you’re going to have a growth plan, you need to have a strong balance sheet,” she says. “It was nice to see a 150-year-old company ready for growth. The other piece was the senior leadership. There was a very strong team in place. However, it wasn’t organized in a way that it could integrate other gas companies.”
In order for The Laclede Group to bring in other gas companies to grow its portfolio, Sitherwood led a reorganization to line-up talent in specific roles and build the company into a business unit structure that could integrate additional gas companies.
“I needed to restructure the company to be business units with shared services,” she says. “The other challenge was technology. We’ve implemented a three-year technology plan to have enterprise systems so we can scale our technology to those other companies.
“We also needed to have standardized policies and procedures. They existed from an institutional perspective and generally the company knew how it operated around certain policies, but they weren’t documented, transparent and available. So we did that.”
Lastly, the way Laclede communicated and engaged the rest of the company was very insular because it was just a single gas company. Sitherwood needed to change that mentality.
“If you’re going to have a growth strategy, you need to talk to your employees,” Sitherwood says. “You need to be able to explain your industry and why you’re doing that, and they need to believe in it. But also, there are external stakeholders. We needed to be very proactive about talking to the investment community, regulators, our board and our shareholders.
“We needed to make sure that we were saying the same thing to our employees that we were telling the regulators and investors. We’ve spent a lot of time on that endeavor and quite frankly, I think we’ve done a nice job on that.”
What was most crucial for Sitherwood in those first few months at Laclede was the ability to get acquainted with the company and then create a vision for growth.
“You have to do your homework the first 90 days,” she says. “Don’t come in assuming one thing or the other. Come in and do your homework, but then chart that vision and stay focused on it to keep it alive.
“Sometimes you can come in with a lot of energy and then slow down instead of keeping that pace. If you back off the pedal after six to eight months, it quits feeling real to people.”
While you have to remain focused on your vision and growth objectives, you might also have to adapt to certain circumstances as you go.
“If it’s anything like it is around here, you’re changing the tires while you’re driving the car,” Sitherwood says. “You’ve got to keep the energy and the pace up, but at the same time not overwork people and keep them energized around it.”
Embrace your growth
Soon after Sitherwood came to The Laclede Group, the company had entered into negotiations to buy a company called Missouri Gas Energy. Sitherwood’s restructuring was a big reason the company was a front-runner in those negotiations.
“Had we not restructured, yes, we could have grown, but going through that due diligence process, that bid process, we had a clear line of sight to what that would look like because we already had the organizational structure in place,” Sitherwood says. “If I had closed that transaction and brought that company in while having to reorganize at the same time, it would be more chaos that’s not necessary.”
Some would argue against putting the organization in place first, because there is either an expense to that or there is a danger you won’t grow.
“I find that very interesting, because if I have a growth strategy and we all believe in it, we’re going to grow,” she says. “Why wouldn’t you organize around that? Why wouldn’t you put the fundamentals in place from a financial perspective and policy perspective and then stay focused on your vision?”
Laclede acquired Missouri Gas Energy from Energy Transfer Partners LP in September 2012.
“Energy Transfer Partners was clear from day one that Missouri Gas Energy was not strategic to them and they were going to divest this gas company,” Sitherwood says. “So we started working through a very competitive bid process and at the end of the day we were the bidder of choice.
“This is not a one-and-done. We’ve got a pretty strong corporate development group and we’re constantly modeling and analyzing other opportunities, and we hope to continue to grow the gas business.”
As of August, Laclede Gas Co. served 631,000 customers and with the Missouri Gas Energy acquisition it added north of 500,000 customers.
“When you add the two utilities together, we serve around 1.2 million to 1.3 million customers,” she says. “Why that matters to us is because we’re here to serve those customers as a gas company.
“The other metric I look at is how interested are institutional buyers and retail buyers in us? When we went to market to issue our equity, we ended up having a very strong offering. What that told me was people were very interested in us, had done their homework on our financial metrics and that was validating to me that we had the right strategy.”
In addition to a focus on acquisitions, The Laclede Group started a brand called Spire, which is all about natural gas-powered vehicles, further expanding the company’s services.
“This could be the future of natural gas in our country,” Sitherwood says. “Out of all the hydrocarbons, natural gas is 30 to 40 percent cleaner. The supply is long because of shell gas, about 100 years. The prices are low and volatility is non-existent. There’s a $1.50 spread in terms of a per gallon equivalent. Natural gas vehicles today seem to make sense.”
Spire was launched in partnership with Siemens and is just another part of Sitherwood’s grand vision to grow The Laclede Group.
“I enjoy the idea of growing this company,” Sitherwood says. “We’re now off and running.” ●
- Do your due diligence when acquiring a new company.
- Construct a vision for growth and follow it.
- Find opportunities that expand on your vision.
The Sitherwood File:
Name: Suzanne Sitherwood
Title: President and CEO
Company: The Laclede Group Inc.
Born: Norfolk, Va.
Education: Received an industrial engineering degree from Southern College of Technology and a master’s in business administration from Brenau University.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I was a lifeguard working for the military. I taught individuals to swim who joined the military. I was always amazed the number of people who joined the military and never learned to swim. Living on a military base, I saw how leaders would take young individuals and build a team and inspire them to do the things they needed to do.
What is the best business advice you have ever received? You learn more from your mistakes than you ever will from your successes. You’ve got to take calculated risks and learn from them.
If you weren’t CEO of The Laclede Group, what would you want to do? I would want to take time off and travel around the world. It’s not so much about the travel for me, but about immersing myself in different cultures and appreciating different people and what’s important to them.
If you could speak with one person from the past or present, with whom would you speak? Barack Obama, since he has a few years left there are some critical issues our country has to deal with on an international level and a grass roots home level, and I’d enjoy talking to him about that. I don’t think he’s going to find the time on his calendar for me, but you never know.
Sitherwood on leadership: Leadership to me is not management. It’s about people and really inspiring them to do things individually and collectively that they didn’t think they could do. That’s what gets me up every day.
The Laclede Group Social Media Links:
How to reach: The Laclede Group Inc., (314) 342-0873 or www.thelacledegroup.com
Neil Sedaka’s song “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” was obviously aimed at personal relationships, but when a new hire has to be dismissed, breaking up is hard to do.
No one hires a new team member with failure as the goal. In terms of real world situations, 46 percent of new hires fail in the first 18 months, according to a 2012 report by PR News. And when CareerBuilder researched the cost of a bad hire in 2012, 41 percent of companies reported costs to the organization in excess of $25,000.
Those are substantial monetary costs, not to mention the costs in ways that aren’t so measurable, i.e., loss of credibility of the individual responsible for the hire, negative employee morale, loss of customer/client support and lost productivity. Why does this happen, and what can be done to significantly lessen a negative outcome? Let’s look at three stages that can help avert a bad hire.
Review criteria for the position
Urgency to fill a position is cited as the primary reason new hires fail. Under urgent conditions, a review of job requirements has seldom been accomplished, making the likelihood of the interview process being done well improbable.
If the individual responsible for the hiring process does not have a complete understanding of what this new hire is responsible for, as well as the ability to communicate corporate culture attitudes relative to this position, the interview process will operate under less than ideal circumstances. Taking time for a complete review of the position and establishing skills and attributes necessary for a successful hire is imperative for success.
Create a brand ambassador
The first day a new hire enters the work place offers a unique opportunity for him or her to become a brand ambassador. While getting all the proper documentation for employment is absolutely necessary, it doesn’t need to take place in the first hour.
Imagine how nice it would feel to walk into a new office with signage ready to go, branded golf shirt/pen/mug on the desk and business cards already done.
The on-boarding process is too often relegated to filling out forms, introductions and handshakes. What a wasted opportunity to tell a new hire how he or she is a valued member of the team.
Establish goals and objectives
Of course, the reason someone is hired is to perform certain tasks, achieve goals and contribute to the success of an organization. When CareerBuilder asked about the definition of a bad hire, 67 percent of respondents reported that the quality of work was “lackluster.” This tremendously high percentage begs further questions concerning the process for establishing expectations and goals.
If expectations and goals are not discussed, agreement cannot be reached. Unless they are written down, along with identifying dates when they are to be accomplished, too often the parties involved assume everyone is on the same page.
Have the discussion, write down the goals and objectives using SMART criteria (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) and monitor the progress.
While there are no guarantees in the hiring process, take the time to review the job criteria, create a brand ambassador from day one, establish SMART goals and objectives from the beginning and beat the 46 percent that fail. ●
Julie Nimmons serves as a chair for Vistage International in the St. Louis area. Vistage provides professionally facilitated peer advisory experiences that help CEOs, business owners and key executives grow their business. She can be reached at (314) 301-9823 or email@example.com.
For more information on Vistage International, like its Facebook page www.facebook.com/Vistage and follow on Twitter @vistage. Connect with Julie Nimmons on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/julienimmons
Have you ever been caught in the trap of using the words “performance” and “results” interchangeably? The distinction between the two is important to consider if you want to get the best out of both. It’s pretty simple, actually. Results are the outcomes you produce and performance is how you get there.
However, here’s something you may not have considered. In fact, it might even seem counterintuitive. If you’re focused mainly on bottom line results in what you measure and reward, that will eventually lead to the deterioration of both performance and results. Here’s why.
Outcomes vs. inputs
First, we all know that people tend to repeat behaviors that are reinforced positively. Likewise, people tend not to repeat behaviors that produce a negative response. Next, it’s important to realize that no one has direct control over results — unless the game is fixed or there’s a deliberately unfair advantage. People can only control performance.
Now, if bad performance always led to bad results, and good performance always led to good results, it wouldn’t matter which one you rewarded — results or performance. But that’s not always how things work. Sometimes you don’t get good results even when you give your best effort. Other times, the opposite is true.
That’s not how things usually happen, but look at what you get when they do. If you fail to reward people for good performance because they had bad results, you discourage them from repeating the good behavior. If you reward them for good results in spite of poor performance, you reinforce poor behavior in the future. The cumulative effect over time is inevitable. Every time you focus on results in a way that either reinforces poor performance or discourages good performance, you take a step backward with long-term results.
Performance is the bottom line
Of course, you have to add up the numbers on the bottom line eventually. Even if winning in the world of business means producing results, lasting success still requires focusing on the drivers of those results, and it’s important to reward effective execution regardless of the outcomes in the short term. Think of it this way: Winning is the name of the game, but performance is the bottom line.
Clearly, if effective execution isn’t producing the desired long-term results, you need to find the problem. It serves no purpose, however, to penalize people for poor outcomes if they’re doing the right things in the right way at the right time. If that happens, you need to fix the strategies or systems, not the people. Otherwise, you’ll destroy trust in your organization.
That premise has particular significance for managers in the “people” side of the business. For HR professionals, it’s pretty obvious. Some compensation and bonus programs are notorious for focusing solely on immediate, bottom line results without regard to how they’re produced. That kind of practice often leads to short-term success with negative long-term consequences. Good programs encourage performance that looks at the long haul.
You have to communicate effectively about the steps to success. If it’s results you’re after, you’d better be talking a lot more about what it takes to produce them, because in the end, it’s how you get there that counts. ●
Les Landes is president of Landes & Associates. The firm provides management consulting services in the areas of organizational communication, employee engagement, marketing, public relations and continuous improvement systems. They are the creators of the “ImaginAction System,” a tool for getting employees engaged in systematic continuous improvement. Landes is also the author of multiple articles, as well as a recently published book, “Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement: The Power and Purpose of Imagination and Free Will in the Workplace.” For more information, visit www.landesassociates.com.
Connect with Les Landes on LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/leslandes or find out more about Landes & Associates on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LandesandAssociates and follow on Twiter @LandesAssocs.
Although some aspects of the Affordable Care Act remain uncertain, the act overall is driving the health care market to figure out ways to control costs and allow employers to continue to offer health plans, says Mark Haegele, director of sales and account management at HealthLink.
As a result, managed care companies are increasingly utilizing three tools —reference-based pricing, Domestic Centers of Excellence and narrow networks.
“Some of these concepts are still new, so an employer might tackle one thing at a time,” Haegele says. “Maybe you start with narrow networks, and then move into reference-based pricing or Domestic Centers of Excellence.”
Smart Business spoke to Haegele about how each strategy can drive down costs and the overutilization of health plans.
How does reference-based pricing work?
Within a managed care network, you identify facilities, procedures and/or services that have low costs and high quality, and then establish a plan design that drives plan members to them. If, for example, you’ve identified that
Provider A performs knee replacements for $5,000, then members who go to that provider have their costs covered at 100 percent. If a member goes to another more expensive provider, he or she is responsible for the difference. This schedule could cover a whole host of surgeries and procedures.
Reference-based pricing, which is cutting edge in both contracting and plan design, can have a major impact on costs.
What are Domestic Centers of Excellence?
With this model, you identify high-quality providers across the country to be the hub for a certain procedure type. For example, all transplants might go to the Mayo Clinic, while all knee, hip and shoulder replacements go to Mercy Springfield Missouri. The health plan promises to pay 100 percent for the procedure and the travel for the member and a caregiver, as opposed to just giving a deductible and coinsurance.
The value isn’t just with price points, but also aligning incentives. Providers are willing to offer preferred pricing based on the exclusivity and volume, and employers achieve savings on unit cost. In addition, unlike the traditional fee-for-service model, providers objectively review for appropriateness first. The contract includes a performance component to eliminate waste. So, Mercy, which performs 30 percent fewer back surgeries than the national average, keeps members from getting inappropriate surgeries.
Originally only used by large employers, this model has become more prevalent. Smaller employers can piggyback on either large employers or a managed care network that develops this for its entire block of business with specialized contracts.
How do narrow networks lower health costs?
Depending on your geography and population, you may be able to partner with your managed care network to customize your network. In a rural or smaller market, this may mean exclusively driving the members to one facility. In turn, typically the hospital will provide a better managed care contract.
You may get pushback from members who prefer one facility to another. The employer must convey that this is about looking at cost and quality to find the right facility, which then has an impact on premiums.
Narrow networks have been around for a while, but now managed care companies are starting to wire together narrow networks across a region to create a sub-network.
Can these strategies be used in conjunction with any type of health plan?
Although there is some overlap, you can use a combination of strategies, depending on your readiness for change. The difference is more of a degree of granularity — Domestic Centers of Excellence and reference-based pricing are broken down by procedures, while narrow networks are more geographic-centric.
Self-funded health insurance plans may use any of these tools. Fully insured carriers are now implementing narrow networks and referenced-based pricing. With the health exchanges, narrow networks should become more common as carriers look for ways to keep costs down. ●
Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink
Twelve years ago, EY decided to go global with its Entrepreneur Of The Year awards and establish the World Entrepreneur Of The Year program — and the results have been, shall we say, an international success. The conference, held annually in Monaco, features Entrepreneur Of The Year country winners competing for the World Entrepreneur Of The Year title.
Assembling business leaders from around the world in one place to be honored is a huge accomplishment — the wealth of experience, as well as the variety of successful leadership styles, is outstanding.
Here are some thoughts from the collection of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs — innovators, futurists, turnaround specialists and problem-solvers — about leadership styles. ●
“I built the company based on people, not on experience from before. They were willing to learn and try anything. We had a bunch of people who had never done this before. None of us had run companies. None of us had worked in high levels of companies. None of us were from Fortune 500s. Chobani not only became a business that grew, but Chobani was like a school to us, including myself.”
founder, president and CEO
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 United States
2013 Entrepreneur Of The World
“Early on, the business was centered on me, and I had to make all the decisions alone. Now I share those decisions with my 10 main directors. If there are differences in opinion, I make the last decision.
The other thing is that I have had to ensure that the people who are invited to work here are people with principles, values, integrity, responsibility and passion. If I don’t see a person with passion, they don’t hang around the company very long.”
Lorenzo Barrera Segovia
founder and CEO
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Mexico
“I’m a very passionate person, which will never change. When you grow, you gain more experience and the kind of problems you face change. As you grow, you need to grow with your organization.”
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Argentina
“In the startup days, you have to be very innovative, hire and retain talent, refine your business as you deploy in the marketplace, and you learn things from it. Today, with a solid track record of business success, I can focus on what’s next and think more strategic and long-term than you’re allowed to in the early days. My style has evolved as the business has matured.”
Chevron Energy Solutions
“Entrepreneurship and leadership is about always having ideas, knowing that it is possible even though everyone says it is too difficult. Maintain the positive and always have new ideas.”
Mario Hernandez, founder and president, Marroquinera
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Colombia
“To keep the entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurship alive once you've got past the startup base, I think it is making sure people understand why they are there. There are always things you can do to improve your business. You should be rethinking and retooling it every chance you get. The key thing is to make sure everybody in the organization understands the story, where are you going — how are you going to get there? And the belief that you are doing the right thing —people want to know their purpose. Keep the energy going, keep a strong sense of purpose.”
Dr. Alan Ulsifer
CEO, president and chair
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Canada
“The skill sets of an entrepreneur involve understanding how to create business. Why not work with kids who need it the most and actually teach them and help them to be entrepreneurs? That’s what is going to grow our economy and create stability where otherwise we’re going to have a lot of social unrest.”
President and CEO
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship
“I like to be involved. I want to know everything that is going on. But I have to delegate to my team. That was the biggest adjustment for me, and it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s that delegating to others, trusting them and reinventing yourself. Now that we’ve grown, I put more responsibility on my team and rely on my team more than I once did.”
President and founder
SME Entertainment Group
“If someone makes a mistake, what do you do? You laugh with them. You don’t yell at them. You laugh. It just keeps things light and lively and people want to do their very best. You let them know they screwed up, but you also let them know it’s OK.”
National Heritage Academies
Leaders often talk about how the traits of accountability and transparency helped make them who they are, but to retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for four years under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, leadership is quite simply how you listen, learn and lead.
It’s not just a coincidence that communication is as important in the war zone as it is in an organization — and that’s where Mullen emphasizes listening to what his team members have on their minds.
Smart Business talked with Mullen about the challenges of being in command:
Q. What do you see as the most important trait that any leader must possess?
A. Integrity. Be true to yourself, and obviously true to your values. The value of integrity intrinsically has been a driver for me since I was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. It has served me exceptionally well.
Integrity encompasses being honest, truthful and consistent — both publicly and privately in leadership positions — and representing that in every situation. It is most evident in the toughest decisions you have to make.
Q. And how can you ensure integrity is present in leadership?
A. What I loved about command was the responsibility and authority that came with it. But more than anything else, the other piece was accountability — accountable leadership. That is not just having someone hold you accountable, but having enough strength yourself as a leader to hold yourself accountable.
I just found that even with those decisions that can be very unpopular, if you are true to that value of integrity, even if it may not seem to some to be the best decision, it [integrity] holds you in the best stead as a leader over the long term. And because of that, it becomes incredibly supportive of those very, very tough decisions.
Q. So what can help a leader make those tough decisions more effectively?
A. As a more senior leader, I learned to keep a diversity of views around me. The more senior I got, the more diverse the people, the recommendations and the discussions had to be in order for me to make the right decision.
I had people around me who were willing to say, ‘Hey, this is when you got it wrong,’ as opposed to the opposite, which is isolation, where nobody will tell the emperor [he] doesn’t have any clothes on.
Q. You’ve mentioned the importance of listening to others in order to help you become a better leader. How did you do that?
A. Everywhere I went, whether we had a town hall meeting or we could call an all-hands meeting, I would take questions from the audience. So, for example, when a young enlisted man would give me a question of which I didn’t know the answer, I said, “I don’t know the answer, but give me your email address. I will go research it and get back to you.”
I did that. I went back and looked at whatever their concern was. And some of those concerns generated significant changes in the military, or in the particular service they were in. For me, as chairman, that was a vital part of trying to understand what I was asking them to do, and then taking that feedback and trying to fix the problem that they raised — if it made sense to do it.
A good leader can make such a difference, and create something out of nothing, whereas a bad leader is unable to do that. The ingredient that makes a difference is leadership. ●
Retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen served more than 43 years in the Navy, having served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, and as chief of naval operations from 2005 to 2007. He will be the keynote speaker at the Dec. 5 American Red Cross Hero Awards. Learn more about the Hero Awards at www.clevelandheroes.com.
Consider this business scenario: You’ve landed a big account for your company by converting a highly prized prospect into a valuable client. The new client has hired you to handle a specific scope of work and is counting on your team’s ability to deliver work that goes above and beyond.
While nothing is more important than delivering great customer service to satisfy the client, you may not realize that you’re probably overlooking unrealized opportunities to forge a stronger relationship with your customer.
In today’s business landscape, most large companies offer an array of products and services. More often than not, however, your clients use you for a specific service or skill set. And unfortunately, in this scenario, most companies focus solely on the task at hand — delivering what they’ve been contracted to deliver — failing to take ample time to think about the bond they’re creating with the client and what could be next.
In more simple terms, it is one thing to provide service that keeps a customer; it is another to keep that customer and expand the relationship to become a trusted partner.
Provide value in a deliberate way
The good news is that this is an easy fix. Establish a content marketing program that allows you to distribute thought leadership to your clients.
A content marketing program will help you provide value that other service providers may not, and when clients see you as an informational resource and partner, it will be easier to expand the relationship.
Take this example into consideration: You are an insurance provider and your main product is life insurance, therefore most of the communication you have with your clients surrounds that topic.
With a comprehensive content marketing program in place, however, you can educate your clients on the recent trends in the insurance industry and how that affects the individual. At the same time, you can give them an overview of your company’s wellness program and let them know that if they joined, they could reduce their monthly premiums.
As you can see, you’re not just providing your client with the original service, you’re also providing them with both your thought leadership — aka value — and additional offerings.
Personal connections payoff
Aside from providing value to the client with the content you distribute, a strong content marketing program allows you to showcase your brand’s personality. Clients will be able to connect with your brand on a more personal level.
Providing continually updated content through the right channels to the right clients enhances your day-to-day communications. Clients start seeing you as thought leaders and partners instead of just service providers.
It will help you expand relationships and, as a result, generate new business through more products and services.
Show them more than just what they see on the surface — show them how active you are in the community, or how much fun you had during a recent company outing. If may sound trivial, but your clients do similar things, and seeing you connect with the community and/or employees will help forge a more personal connection. You never know; you and your client may support the same charity, organization or team.
Open communication also will help strengthen relationships to the point where you can capture a premium price and eliminate price-jumping clients. Clients will pay more for a valuable relationship than simply look to get the lowest price elsewhere. ●
David Fazekas is vice president of marketing services for SBN Interactive. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7056.
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. ●
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 email@example.com.