Employers — and subsequently, their employees — are becoming more savvy about the decisions involved in choosing and administering a health plan, often a business’s second- or third-biggest cost of operations. Just as safety initiatives can help reduce property and casualty insurance premiums, health insurance savings can often be achieved through self funding, says Mike Debo, senior sales and renewal executive at HealthLink.
“By instituting wellness programs and encouraging routine physicals and post-condition care for not only employees but for covered dependents, employers can reduce premium and claims costs while increasing productivity,” Debo says. “Instituting wellness programs, encouraging routine physicals and promoting post-condition care are especially beneficial to self-funded groups as they see the savings in the form of fewer claims spent, which can reduce reinsurance costs.”
Smart Business spoke with Debo about how increased involvement on the part of employers and employees can lead to lower health plan costs.
What is driving employers to be more involved with their health plans?
For many employers, the No. 1 reason they are becoming more involved is that they have no other option. They may have already maxed out what they can do from a plan design perspective with greater participant out-of-pocket costs. In addition, fully insured employers are constantly getting rate increases, but over the years, often no one has been able to fully explain the increases.
What are some tools an involved and educated employer can use to lower health costs?
An employer’s decisions are only as good as its information. That is why many business owners move into self-funding, where there is greater reporting about their group and its claims, whether medical or pharmacological.
One of the first tools businesses use is to have participant biometric testing, which provides the employer with information on how many people in the group have high cholesterol, hypertension, weight or smoking issues. From that — combined with reporting and claims — employers can create wellness programs and condition management programs. Wellness programs eventually save money from a claims perspective, but it might take a year or two to absorb the initial cost of testing.
With a year’s worth of information from claims and wellness programs, businesses can begin to change their plan design to address health conditions, utilization patterns or provide unique coverage for their plan participants. For instance, a business may find its participants are frequently visiting chiropractors because of their job type. With that information, they can look at not only how many visits they are allowing for chiropractors and the cost but also institute a condition management program strictly for back injury care.
Then, they can look at pharmacy claims. Are participants using generics as often as they can, brand names as necessary or mail order whenever possible? What does the employer need to do regarding the pharmacy benefit to not only ensure that people get the drugs they need but also to make it cost effective for the group?
By changing the plan design and addressing the specific needs of a group, employers often find they don’t need a particular program, such as condition management or a 24-hour nurse line, further cutting costs.
How can employers overcome initial resistance to wellness programs and other initiatives?
Most people aren’t going to participate in biometric testing, a smoking cessation program, a weight loss program or a condition management program unless there are cost differentials to participants in the form of incentives or disincentives. Plan participants often think such programs are an invasion of privacy or that they require too much of a time commitment, but when there is a 10 to 30 percent difference in premium costs, they get involved.
How can employers communicate to employees the true costs of health care?
One of the easiest ways is to use a plan with no co-pays, where everything goes toward deductible/coinsurance, so that participants understand how getting an X-ray at an outpatient facility versus a hospital can mean the difference between a bill of $700 or one of $1,800.
Reporting is extremely important because it provides the knowledge to make wise decisions. Communication is equally important, whether via traditional posters and payroll stuffers or new technology smartphones, emails and blast texting.
To be effective, the communication must address how to get the most out of plan benefits and programs while avoiding unnecessary costs to the participant and the group.
How do self-funded plans give employers so much more control of their health program?
Employers have full control, outside of federal mandates, to do what is best for plan participants and plan costs. For example, if an employer has a population with an average age of 45 and people taking off work for elderly parents going into nursing homes or going to the doctor frequently, the employer can bring in a vendor to work with employees on how to make decisions about their parents. This takes pressure off employees. They show up to work more regularly and are more committed to the company because of the service their employer provided.
With self-funding, it’s at least a three-year commitment of time and effort to cut costs and provide better benefits for employees. The employer has to sit down on a quarterly to semi-annual basis to go through reports and have someone scrutinizing claims. Employers with healthy groups may stay fully insured because they think there is no risk involved, but the risk is that they pay $2 million for something that costs $1.5 million. With self funding, employers have a program that they are in charge of, a program better suited for them and for their plan participants.
Mike Debo is a senior sales and renewal executive at HealthLink. Reach him at (866) 643-7094, ext. 1, or email@example.com.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink®
In business, as in life, there’s a benefit to having guidance that’s tried and true. Most successful business owners can cite mentors who have directed their paths along the way. As companies grow, those informal relationships are usually replaced by formal boards of directors. A board of directors is a very useful method for allowing significant shareholders to feel they have a say in the strategic planning for the company.
It’s my opinion that all companies – regardless of size – need to have a board. In this two-part series, I will explore the benefits that a small company can gain from having a corporate board and how a small business owner can establish a board.
First, let’s examine the benefits:
1) A good board of directors will do what employees often are afraid to do: challenge the leader. Most employees don’t feel empowered to speak up when they think a strategy is misguided or out of sync with customers or a target market. Board directors should be willing to openly question ideas and the assumptions that guide strategic planning to help the president or CEO suss out their soundness.
2) A board can provide accountability – particularly in family-run businesses where it can be hard for an unbiased assessment of the business without familial issues clouding judgment.
3) Boards can help with recruiting, evaluating and selecting top job candidates, as well as setting compensation criteria that are fair and transparent. Since directors are removed from the daily running of the business, they can help with succession planning.
4) For companies considering a public offering, setting up a board early can help acclimate the owners to the enhance scrutiny that they will face once the company is publicly traded.
5) A board of directors is legally required for registered corporations.
Next column: How to create your own board.
Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.
When Andrew Dorn, Industry Leader, Information Intensive Business, Acxiom Corporation, was recently researching the top manufacturers in the United States, one topic kept coming up — the strong growth expectations focused on the world's emerging markets. With the economies of the U.S. and Europe in flux, Dorn felt that, now more than ever, manufacturers need to be attentive to those emerging markets.
"The world is now flat," says Dorn. "Competition comes from everywhere, so manufacturers need to be everywhere."
Because of that, Acxiom has partnered with Smart Business to present a special one-hour webinar: "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever."
During the webinar — on Wednesday, September 19 at 1:00pm EST — we will discuss why global sales for manufacturers is critical, what factors should be considered in developing or refining the international strategy, and, finally, present a roadmap that can be employed to optimize chances for success.
Featured panelists will be Zia Daniell Wigder, Vice President and Research Director, Forrester Research; Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, Global Privacy and Public Policy Executive, Acxiom; and Michael Biwer, Managing Director, Acxiom.
"As you enter the global market, it is imperative you understand the privacy laws in each country as they are quite complex and some are very stringent, for example, having criminal penalties for some violations," says Barrett Glasgow.
Other topics to be discussed include:
- How to determine which countries to enter and what data to gather to understand regional customer requirements
- Recommended approaches to building country-specific strategies that can help facilitate smooth transitions, lowest possible cost-of-entry, and consistent performance
- Considerations for navigating the complex web of country-specific data protection and privacy laws companies must adhere to in their efforts to connect with customers and prospects
- Best practices used by leading companies that have successfully entered new markets
"The U.S. and European economies are still recovering and the balance of growth is constantly shifting," says Dorn. "For example, China and Brazil have been experiencing strong growth. They are encountering a maturity curve, but that doesn't lessen the importance of the issue — manufacturers need to be diversified and have a presence in all major world markets."
The webinar, "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever" will be held at 1:00 pm EST on Wednesday, September 19.
It was a project that had Michael J. Perry more than a little nervous. He trusted his employees at HBD Construction Inc. and had a high level of confidence in their abilities. But this was something completely different from anything they had ever done before, and Perry wanted to proceed carefully.
Perry had been introduced to a Charlotte, N.C-based company that had expertise in blast- and ballistic-resistant technology, but lacked the building skills that HBD had as a general contractor in the construction industry.
“They had worked on barriers and things like that on military bases,” Perry says. “And while they had done some work on nuclear facilities, they had not done anything that was a structure.”
The two parties discussed the project and decided to put their respective skills to use to build a structure for a nuclear facility that needed it.
“It certainly took analysis and thought because we didn’t just say, ‘Oh sure, it’s a project. Let’s go for it,’” Perry says. “But we quickly adjusted. We have a great staff here, both in the field as well as in our office. We turned them loose to use their abilities and to tackle this new market, and we did it successfully.”
In an industry that had been hit hard by the recession, the project was a great opportunity for the 130-employee company. But it also reinforced for Perry the importance of doing your homework before you take on a project, no matter how much you may need the work.
“The real issue is if you’re going look at other sectors, do it in a slow, methodical way,” Perry says. “It can hurt you if you just decide, ‘I’m going to go over there,’ and you don’t know all the peculiarities of working in a certain environment. The knee-jerk reaction, particularly in a downturn, is the wrong move.”
Here’s how Perry has found ways to make decisions that both fit his team’s talents and make sense for HBD’s growth plans.
Look for a match
Perry and his team put in a lot of time talking about what’s happening in the construction industry. It’s work that takes time, but pays off when opportunities present themselves and decisions need to be made.
“We get input from all our project managers and field their opinion on where they see the market going,” Perry says. “Certainly, multiple heads are better than one.”
The idea of the constant dialogue is to measure what’s happening in the industry against their own capabilities and talent and look for matches.
“You just can’t pursue every opportunity that is out there so you try to make strategic decisions on what is the best fit for your company,” Perry says. “What is profitable work and who are good customers to work for? Our whole philosophy is customer service that ultimately yields repeat customers.”
When you can find customers who you have a good rapport with and you can build on that relationship, it can only mean good things for your business.
“We look for solid customers who are connoisseurs of construction that don’t just consider it a commodity and something to get the cheapest, bottom-of-the-barrel and quickest way to get it done,” Perry says.
“Those types of relationships usually end up in adversity and struggle and do not end pleasantly. We like to work with owners who understand construction or at least want to enjoy the process and want to have a contractor who is going to be looking out for them and build the best product for them of the highest quality within their financial needs.”
The work that HBD did on the nuclear facilities is a great example of the fruit that can be gained from a strong and committed relationship.
“We had to learn and educate ourselves, but we’re good at that,” Perry says. “We’re nimble because of our size, and we were able to provide a service that the larger companies these nuclear facilities were dealing with could not provide.
“We analyzed what it would take in terms of our resources and our abilities. Is this something within our ability to do? We just decided that it was, and in fact it worked out. We have six or eight successful projects under our belt now.”
One of the underlying keys that you should never lose sight of in your pursuit of work is your ethics and your values.
“It is very easy in this recession to see people bidding out of desperation,” Perry says. “It’s very easy to take shortcuts and do things that ethically you wouldn’t have done in a better market when you’re very busy and flush with work. Those will all come back to haunt you. That’s what the leaders of our company prior to me, that was their philosophy, and that’s what we’re continuing on today.”
Perry says it’s just as important during a recession, even one as tough as the one in 2008, as it is during the good times.
“We’re not going to compromise the way we do business, and we’re not going to compromise our product,” Perry says. “If that means we might miss a project or two and possibly our volume might decrease a little bit, then so be it. We’d rather have that and be in a strong position when the market comes back.”
Know who you need
It would be easy if Perry could hire a specialist to handle each aspect of running his company. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have enough room on his payroll for that many employees, so he needs people who can handle multiple tasks.
“Our project managers have to have the ability to go out on a sales call with me, they have to be able to estimate, schedule, run the project and close out the project and have interface,” Perry says.
“We can’t have a one-dimensional employee. So other companies, bigger companies than us, are more departmentalized and so they can have a person who is just good at scheduling, just good at estimating or just good at project management. That’s not the way we’re set up here.”
So to ensure that he has as many well-rounded people on staff as he can, Perry emphasizes opportunities for employees to learn new skills and grow their talent level.
“We tend to make sure all our project managers and superintendents in the field try to get as much experience in various types of work so that they are not one-dimensional,” Perry says.
“If you take a superintendent who has always done new work out of the ground and has never done a renovation project, he is somewhat limited and unavailable for renovation work. So while we do have folks who have more experience, and we will strategically place a guy in his best position, that doesn’t mean he can’t be trained.”
Encourage your people to continue their training and give them the time to learn new skills that can help them be better employees for your business. When you’re looking for new employees, look at their desire to learn and go after the ones who have the energy to broaden their abilities.
When you do that, you end up with people you can count on.
“My guys that I have here — I feel confident I could put them on almost any type of project,” Perry says.
Set employees up for success
If you have a project on the table that you feel your employees would have trouble completing, you’ve either got to find a way to train them or turn down the project. Otherwise, you’re going to have a very frustrated group of workers.
“You don’t want to set up an employee for failure,” Perry says. “As a leader, if you know an employee is weak on a certain thing, you try to shore up his weaknesses and show off his strengths. You don’t want to send a person into a task that you don’t believe they are up to.”
If you choose to train people, you’ve got to take a firm, yet patient approach to get good results. Perry says this has been particularly necessary when it comes to the influx of technology into the construction industry.
Instead of presenting changes as a burden or something else that a person has to do, present it as an opportunity to make their jobs easier to perform.
“The dawn of the tablets is a pretty good example,” Perry says. “We’re integrating the tablets out into the field now. Our guys, probably our biggest hurdle was getting field people used to computers period. That was a big learning curve and was met with some frustration. But to a man, everybody that gets over the fear of doing it can’t believe how they could ever do without it.”
The frustration that comes about when learning a new task or a new piece of equipment is natural. If you try to force someone to get up to speed quickly or make a sudden change in the way they do their jobs, that frustration is only going to grow.
“We have some new technologies that we are utilizing and admittedly, the young guys tend to take to it faster than the older guys,” Perry says. “That’s great because we have a good mixture in our office or young and experienced guys.
“The younger guys are helping us older guys with some of the new tools and so forth that are out there. Not forcing everybody on something immediately gives a little more time and somebody that maybe would be more anti-whatever, they’ll look over and see someone else doing it successfully and it makes it easier to implement.”
It really comes down to working with your team rather than fighting with them. You’re the boss and there are things that they need to do that aren’t optional. But if you proceed with that attitude, you’re just going to turn your people against you.
“It’s a communication business,” Perry says. “When you’re running a business and you have employees, the key with your employees is to communicate with them. Hear what’s on their mind, what’s worrying them, how they are doing personally and in their business environment, how they view you and how you view them.”
One of the ways business has changed over the years is the tilt toward more acceptance of work-life balance in the workplace. Perry says it’s something he accepts and has integrated into the way he runs HBD.
But he makes it clear that whatever culture you want to have in your business, there is no substitute for hard work.
“In the construction business, there is not an easy short cut to hard work,” Perry says. “It takes long hours, it takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. There’s not a way to hit the one big home run. It’s not like picking a lucky stock and you win big. It’s a lot of projects, a lot of time and that, I don’t see changing. So if you’re looking to click your mouse, do your thing and go home in a short work day, there are jobs that can answer that. But that’s not the construction business.”
How to reach: HBD Construction Inc., (314) 781-8000 or www.hbdgc.com
The Perry File
Born: St. Louis
Education: Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, University of Missouri-Rolla in Rolla, Mo.
What was your very first job?
I had a little grass-cutting business that evolved into construction. That’s really what I did all the way through college, just about any kind of handyman work that you could think of. Building out basements, porches, fences. I always enjoyed building things with my hands. I do kind of miss that because I don’t have much chance to do that anymore.
What project stands out that you helped build?
When I was at the tender age of 14, my uncle had a very large house in a wealthy area of St. Louis. He turned me loose on his entire basement to design and build it out. I brought in one of my buddies and we single-handedly over the summer and into the winter did that. That was the first soup-to-nuts turnkey project that I did and that evolved to doing other things around his house.
Perry on having pride in your work: I can remember working on that basement and toiling for hours and hours wondering what it’s going to look like. It’s the same thing today when we cut the ribbon on a project that we just completed. It’s the thrill of having a happy customer and being the one who put the whole project together.
Who has been the biggest influence on you?
Without a doubt, my father. What he was able to instill was being fair with people that you deal with, both from the subcontractors beneath us to the owners above us. He always did that and always had a great reputation in St. Louis and I’m hoping to have the same.
Look for the right opportunities.
Don’t compromise your ethics.
Build relationships with your customers.
Does your company have alignment between its mission, its vision and its strategy? If you don’t, you may want to ask yourself if everyone on your team is on the same page as to what those terms mean to your business.
Maybe you’re like a former client of ours who knew that having a clearly stated and motivating mission was important, but wasn’t sure what a “mission” was or how to lead his team to either create one or uncover the one they were already living.
It may be that “mission” is not something that motivates you as a leader. It’s perfectly natural that some aspects of an organizational identity are not equally motivating to us as leaders.
At the same time, as leaders, we need to recognize that we work with and lead others who do find “mission” to be important. They will evaluate us as leaders and our organization based on whether or not we have a clear mission and whether or not we can deliver on that mission.
One of the most common definitions for mission is to answer the question, “Why do we exist?” For example, Nestlé Purina PetCare has a mission to “enrich the lives of pets and the people who love them.” Notice they didn’t declare a mission to sell the best (or most) pet food or pet care products. While we can safely assume that they want to do both, they’ve chosen to declare a reason for being that connects to those they serve: pets and consumers.
Answering the question of why you exist is helpful to many, but it can sometimes be too abstract for certain organizations and people who prefer the concrete. It can sound like you’re about to launch into a discussion of Socrates’ view of virtue rather than address concrete business issues. There are alternatives that get at the same concept in more concrete ways.
The first is to ask a broad cross section of employees the question, “What problems do we solve for our clients/customers?” Of course, one can also ask your clients/customers directly, “What problems do we solve for you?” This phrasing often helps employees and clients describe the value that you bring in a more concrete form. From that data, one can begin to see patterns that demonstrate the value that you bring to your external stakeholders.
You could also ask employees and customers, “How do we help you?” or “What difference do we make in your life/business?” Follow it up with, “Tell me about why that is important to you?” and you can get to answers that resonate more on an emotional level.
Imagine someone asking a consumer, Mrs. Johnson, who buys Nestlé Purina’s Dog Chow the following series of questions:
Interviewer: Tell me about why you buy Purina Dog Chow.
Mrs. Johnson: Our dog, Butch, likes it.
Interviewer: What other reasons are there?
Mrs. Johnson: He’s been very healthy eating Dog Chow, so that’s important to us.
Interviewer: So tell me why that is important to you and your family. The answer may seem obvious, but go ahead and tell me anyway.
Mrs. Johnson: Well, I know that when I buy Dog Chow, Butch is going to be happy, healthy and ready to play with our family. He has brought immense joy to our family, and we want that to last for as long as possible.
You have a choice when you describe your mission. You can make a laundry list of things you do, or you can describe the difference that you make in the lives of those we serve.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to better align your business to an inspiring mission, you may reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s an old saying that the best way to get yourself out of a hole is to stop digging.
The problem is that, too many times, you think there’s a treasure lurking just a few more shovelfuls down, so the digging continues. As the hole gets deeper, you keep at it because you’ve already put so much effort into it that it would be a waste to stop now.
There are many examples in business of these ever-deepening holes that eat up manpower, time and money. Sometimes, the elusive treasure is a product that’s sputtering along but just can’t quite get going like you had hoped. Other times, it is a person who has all the promise in the world but doesn’t have much to show for it other than a warm chair and a lot of frustration on your part. The “hole” might even be an entire division that is underperforming or a vendor that just isn’t meeting your needs.
Corporate America is littered with decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time but that just didn’t work out. Remember New Coke? It was meant to replace the Coca-Cola that everyone grew up with, but it lasted only 77 days before the classic formula was reintroduced to the market.
The Coca-Cola Co. wisely made the tough decision that its reformulation didn’t pan out the way it had hoped and brought back the old formula. The result was that while New Coke may have failed, the company retained its top spot. It realized the hole was getting too deep with no return in sight, so it got out.
If you’re going to be successful, then you will have to make tough decisions. No matter how close to the buried treasure you think you are, at some point, you have to take your shovel and climb out of the hole and move on.
It’s called cutting your losses. Coke executives could have stuck to their decision because every bit of market research showed that people liked the taste of the new formula better, but it just wasn’t showing up in the sales figures. Maybe you’ve invested a lot of time and money into a product or a person, but there comes a point where you have to give up and focus your resources on more productive areas.
You can’t be afraid to make these tough decisions. It might be easier to justify further expense to keep going, but don’t wait any longer. Pull the plug.
Ending a project that’s bleeding money is an easy decision. The really tough choices come with the marginal performers — people included. To know when enough is enough, you need to set up accountability for projects and people so you can measure how well things are going compared to the standards you’ve set.
If something isn’t measuring up, get rid of it. In today’s business world, profit margins are too thin to waste money on unproductive portions of your business. You can’t afford to have a nonproductive anything — be it a person, division or product — weighing you down. Do everything you can to help the people affected move on, but make the decision and stick with it. These types of decisions are never easy. You never know how they will affect your business. It will always be easier to keep going after that elusive return on your investment, but you have to hold yourself accountable, as well. If it’s not working, it’s time to make a change.
So stop digging now before the hole gets so deep that you are unable to climb back out of it.
If you are interested in learning more about publishing a book, please contact our publisher, Dustin Klein, at email@example.com or (440) 250-7026.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In developing a strategy, creating a new business or launching a product line, intensive preplanning is what can make the difference between success and failure. This same principle applies to negotiating just about anything. No matter what you want to achieve, be it selling a new customer, buying a competitor or hiring a superstar, you must determine what is the end result you want before you put pen to paper or make that first introductory call.
We’ve all heard hundreds of time about the importance of “putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes” or showing some empathy. Good basic advice, but do you really follow these suggestions?
In many business relationships, if it becomes a win/lose transaction, at the end of the day, one side is going to be very unhappy and the other side, albeit temporarily satisfied, could ultimately lose, too. In most instances, both sides have alternatives. Unless you have found the Holy Grail that no one can live without, the other side always has choices. One of which can be to do nothing and take a hike.
Most negotiations begin with the thought, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, the first question should always be, “How can we enable the other side to win (or feel as though they have won)?” It’s all about looking at the objective through the other person’s eyes. This simply translates into giving the “opposition” something that they must have, even if they’ve yet to realize it, while meeting your own needs. Rather than start with figuring out how much can you make on the deal or the positive result that will accrue to you if you hire a particular superstar, ask yourself, “What can I do to make the other side feel like the winner?”
For your next initiative, start at the end and work toward the beginning. You might just be pleasantly surprised with the road map you construct using this technique. Here are a few examples.
You want to buy a competitor because it has a product that will enhance your offering, but you don’t need all of the other widgets that this target manufactures. The traditional strategy would be to make an offer knowing that, if you succeed, you’ll scuttle all of the company’s other operations, cherry-picking what you want from the carcass. This could work and might be the easiest way to achieve your goal, but this Machiavellian method of taking no prisoners likely won’t play well with the target company owner, who has spent years building it and is emotionally invested in the business and the organization’s employees. When you look at the situation through the lens of the founder, you determine that a different approach, such as paying a good price for the entire business, plucking the item you want from the company, and then selling the rest of the company back to the employees could be the ticket to getting discussions started. This way the owner gets his money, he is a hero with his employees, and you acquire the product you need to grow.
Let’s say you want to hire the best salesperson in your industry who, unfortunately, works for your competitor. Instead of just going in and offering a big salary and bonus, which he or she most likely has already been offered by someone else, try to determine, after doing your homework, what this superstar’s hot buttons are. Maybe he has made it known that he would like to work remotely from a desert island while continuing to build his book of business. Looking at it from his perspective, you figure out that you can buy him his piece of sand somewhere with a beautiful view, obtain highspeed Internet connectivity to his paradise and allow him to work six months per year in his dream location. Rather than just making a cash-rich offer, start the negotiations by providing a solution to your target’s fondest expectations.
Putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes is far from a new idea. However, too many executives forget that creating a win-win is preferable to having it only your way. Remember, many times, instead of just knowing the answers, you first have to figure out what questions to ask to ensure success.
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. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
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What does it take to grow rapidly and effectively from mind to market?
This book offers an unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations.
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Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.
Scott Kirsner spent three years immersed in the movie industry in order to write a book called “Inventing the Movies: Hollywood’s Epic Battle Between Innovation and the Status Quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs.”
He talked with directors like Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron, editors, cinematographers, studio chiefs, producers, tech companies that sell technology into Hollywood and even actors with an interest in new technology like Morgan Freeman.
He discovered that Hollywood serves as a great case study for how any long-established, successful and self-satisfied industry responds to new technologies and new ideas.
Even when a new idea seems to have obvious merit and even when its inventor can make a strong case for it, 95 percent of the people involved in the industry fight the new idea with all their energy for as long as they possibly can until they realize it has the potential to grow their business in surprising ways.
Case in point: Within a decade of Hollywood’s fight against the Betamax video recorder, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, the studios were earning more from home video business than they were from ticket sales.
Here are several movies — all of which you’ve likely seen — each with an important backstory that innovators can learn from.
Sometimes technology needs to be just good enough, not perfect. “The Jazz Singer” will forever be remembered as Hollywood’s first talkie — even though it wasn’t among the first dozen to try to sync up the pictures on the screen with a soundtrack. But the technology that Warner Bros. banked on, developed at AT&T’s Bell Labs, was better than what came before it. It was just good enough to turn “The Jazz Singer” into a hit — especially combined with a performance from Al Jolson that practically leapt off the screen. The system still relied on phonograph records that could scratch. If the film broke and needed to be spliced back together, the entire movie would veer out of sync. The Warner Bros./AT&T technology was just good enough to start the sound revolution in Hollywood, though it didn’t endure for very long as a standard. Five years after “The Jazz Singer,” even Warner Bros. had switched over to a technology that more reliably linked the audio with the visuals.
Innovators never underestimate the importance of allies. Shot in glorious Technicolor, “Gone with the Wind” won the Best Picture Oscar in 1939, marking the start of Hollywood’s transition from black-and-white to color. But Technicolor had been working on its technology for making color movies since 1915, developing new kinds of cameras and film-processing techniques.
Like most start-ups, the company nearly ran out of money several times and had to continually hunt for new investors and allies who’d make movies using Technicolor’s technology to show how it was improving. These allies included the swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks and Walt Disney, who won one of his first Oscars for a short cartoon made in Technicolor. Technicolor co-founder Herb Kalmus met another key ally at the racetrack at Saratoga Springs: Jock Whitney, a rich playboy who used his money to option a novel by Margaret Mitchell and help turn it into a movie starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.
Innovators spot market opportunities first and chase them relentlessly. Entrepreneur Andre Blay had no connection to Hollywood, but in the mid-1970s, he was among the first to realize that home video machines like Sony’s Betamax (which sold for about $1,000 at the time) presented the potential for a new business.
He sent “cold call” letters to most of the major Hollywood studios asking them for the right to sell their movies on videotape. Only one studio, 20th Century Fox, consented, offering movies like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Blay’s first ad in “TV Guide” netted his company $140,000 in revenue, and within a year, Fox acquired his company for $7.2 million in cash.
Innovators find collaborators who share their vision, and they’re prepared for things to take longer than expected. Computer graphics pioneer Ed Catmull, while he was still a graduate student at the University of Utah, was one of the first people on the planet who believed that it’d be possible to make a full-length computer-animated movie that people actually would pay to see. As he marched toward that goal, he connected with two people who bought in to his vision: John Lasseter, an ex-Disney animator, and Steve Jobs, who purchased the fledgling Pixar from George Lucas and helped develop it into a company that could stand on its own two feet, selling hardware and software while also pursuing Catmull’s ambitious, audacious goal.
Catmull admits that he thought the goal of making Pixar’s first film would take a decade — it took two. Disney eventually bought Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion.
As a business owner, there are many lessons to learn about innovation from the movies.
Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Left or right? Up or down? Yes or no? The human life is full of choices. We make them on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. It’s what we do, how we live and move and have our being in the world.
Consider some choices you may have made in the last few years:
- What car should you buy?
- Should you ask her to marry you?
- Are you ready for another baby?
- Is this house right for you, or should you keep looking before you make an offer?
- Who should be let go in the next round of budget cuts?
- Will your department reach its goals this year?
- Should you ask for a raise?
- Is it time for your mom to enter a nursing home?
- What do I need to do to lose weight?
- What will you eat for dinner tonight?
Decisions are usually easier when we are only faced with two choices. Blue or red car? Two-story or ranch-style home? Slim Fast or Weight Watchers diet plan? Our brains are somehow wired better to choose between two competing choices.
It’s when we have more options that we sometimes stall, flutter or downright choke.
- Three people from a team of eight in the department must be let go.
- Should we marry now, when we finish college or after we find secure jobs?
- In order to best reach our yearly goals, should we focus our attention on X, Y or Z, and how much of our remaining budget should we allocate to the project we choose?
Life is full of hard choices, and the bigger they are and the more options we have, the harder they get.
Through my years in working with individuals, groups, companies and organization, I have narrowed the questions we need to ask in order to make the right choices both in our life and in business.
Here are 3 of my best tips for making the right choice:
1. Analyze outcomes, not pros and cons.
Many of us have been taught somewhere along the way to take out a sheet of paper and divide it down the middle with a line. On one side we list the “pros” of a certain choice, on the other, the “cons.”
This old school way of making choices is time worn and tested, but I think there is a better focus: outcomes. In the end, the outcome of a choice made is what truly matters.
Working through a big decision can give us a kind of tunnel vision, where we get so focused on the immediate consequences of the decision at hand that we don’t think about the eventual outcomes we expect or desire.
When making a choice, then, it pays to take some time to consider the outcome you expect. Consider each option and ask the following questions:
- What is the probable outcome of this choice? (This is the list we should make.)
- What outcomes are highly unlikely? (This allows them less weight in the choice.)
- What are the likely outcomes of not choosing this one? (These are negative outcomes.)
- What would be the outcome of doing the exact opposite? (Play “devil’s advocate.”)
Our thinking should be in terms of long-term outcomes and not short-term pros and cons. And we should broaden our thinking to include negative outcomes. In doing so, we will find clarity and direction in making the right choice.
2. Ask why – five times.
The Five Whys are a problem-solving technique invented by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. When something goes wrong, you ask “why?” five times. By asking why something failed, over and over, you eventually get to the root cause.
Although developed as a problem-solving technique, the Five Whys can also help you determine whether a choice you’re considering is in line with your core values as a person and a business.
- Why should I take this job? It pays well and offers me a chance to grow.
- Why is that important? Because I want to build a career and not just have a string of meaningless jobs.
- Why? Because, I want my life to have meaning.
- Why? So I can be happy.
- Why? Because that’s what’s important in life.
We now see how the first two tips are interrelated. By asking the Five Whys, we learn that having meaning and being happy are desired outcomes that influence the choice made in asking the first question: Why should I take this job?
The continued relationship can be seen in revealing the third tips for making the right choice.
3. Follow your instincts.
This tip affords you the ability to work through the first two tips with a sense of personal confidence.
Because research shows that:
The conscious mind can only hold between five and nine distinct thoughts at any given time. That means that any complex problem with more than (on average) seven factors is going to overflow the conscious mind’s ability to function effectively, leading to poor choices.
Our unconscious mind is much better at juggling and working through complex problems. People who follow their instincts actually trust the work their unconscious mind has already done.
When we allow ourselves to focus on long-term outcomes rather than short-sighted pros and cons, take on the task of asking “Why?” five different times, and trust and follow our instincts, we put ourselves in a much better position to make the right choice in any given situation in life and business.
Like anything we go through as human beings, this process takes work. Get to work and let me know how it goes.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email email@example.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com
The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is one of the largest pieces of legislation in history, and it has complicated the regulatory environment by increasing the government’s oversight, supervision and resolution authority over financial institutions.
“As a result of Dodd-Frank, there are more agencies with oversight over more and different types of institutions, so compliance can be difficult,” says Michael K. O’Connell, managing director and Financial Institutions Practice leader at Aon Risk Solutions. “There are a lot of new agencies and those with redefined roles. There is new regulation of over-the-counter derivatives, a new agency for enforcing compliance with consumer finance rules, reformed credit rating agency regulation, changes to corporate governance and executive compensation, the Volker Rule, new registration requirements for advisers to certain private funds and significant changes in the securitization market.”
Smart Business spoke with O’Connell and Jo Ellen Thelen, managing director, Aon Risk Solutions, about safely navigating this new, stricter regulatory environment.
What are some of the risks for noncompliance that businesses face with Dodd-Frank?
You might immediately think of the obvious financial risks — fines, penalties and injunctions — of not complying with any regulation, including Dodd-Frank. But before you get to that point, your business can incur significant costs responding to a regulatory investigation. On the back end, there also can be reputational harm, which is hard to pre-quantify but can be quite impactful.
These risks are interconnected, increasing the need for financial institutions to maximize the value of their risk transfer spend. Experts can aid with this process by using robust data and analytic tools that help financial institutions understand their exposure, develop their modeling capabilities and ultimately derive the most value from their investment in insurance and risk mitigation.
How has executive liability changed with Dodd-Frank, and how can companies protect themselves?
There definitely is increased pressure on corporate boards of directors. The provisions of Dodd-Frank create new obligations that will drive shareholder expectations and potentially lead to heightened executive liability exposure. Directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance is designed to protect individual directors and officers, as well as the corporate entity from governmental or shareholder investigations and/or legal proceedings.
It is important to understand the Dodd-Frank provisions of clawback compensation, where boards can force executives to pay back some of their compensation for wrongdoing, corporate governance and whistleblower activity within the context of your company’s D&O liability program. Pay close attention to policies’ definitions and exclusions to understand the extent of coverage available.
In these areas, it’s critical to discuss what you really want to cover and how to achieve that within the context of the policy in the current insurance market. Understanding the scope of coverage is especially important in Side A D&O policies, which can provide dedicated personal asset protection to individual directors and officers when the company is either prohibited from indemnifying or not able to indemnify.
What are the best ways for financial institutions to cover privacy and security liability?
Privacy and security continues to be an area of focus for financial institutions. At the same time that the volume of personally identifiable information is increasing, so is regulatory focus on and awareness of privacy and security risk. With this, it is important for financial institutions and others to really understand and tailor their privacy and security coverage to their exposure.
Base policy forms vary greatly and must be customized to ensure maximum possible coverage. Take a diagnostic approach to privacy and security liability. Review the scope of coverage for first- and third-party exposures in conjunction with your existing insurance program and discuss coverage priorities with experts to fully define what you’re seeking.
The breadth of coverage available has evolved, as have the service offerings that can be bundled with a risk transfer program. An example is with breach management, where insurers offer turnkey solutions that can help financial institutions quickly and effectively recover from a breach. This approach is popular among mid-tier financial institutions that may not have pre-established relationships and resources to quickly handle a breach.
What are some other risks financial institutions are facing with operations and compensation?
Some financial institutions continue to struggle to meet regulatory requirements while maintaining sound compensation strategies. As regulation shifts from being guidance-based to rules-based, for smaller banks the question is when they will have to comply. Regardless of size, all financial institutions are being tasked with balancing risks and results, creating controls to reinforce that balance and ensuring effective management of incentive compensation.
The first step in managing compensation compliance is identifying covered employees. The process, and ultimately the covered population, may vary by firm and is primarily determined by business mix. Often the most effective and well-received approach is to include risk adjustments at the time of award or deferral, with potential future forfeiture, for incentive compensation plans.
With the evolving issues related to compensation, executive liability, privacy and security, and other risks, it’s important for institutions to take an enterprise-wide approach to risk identification, quantification and mitigation. Using experts, many financial institutions accomplish this with the goal of keeping their risk perspectives current in the changing regulatory environment. Risk management professionals can help implement risk frameworks, analyze key risk scenarios and model risk, and then align an institution’s insurance and risk transfer program to their underlying risk profile.
Michael K. O’Connell is a managing director and Financial Institutions Practice leader at Aon Risk Solutions. Reach him at (212) 441-2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jo Ellen Thelen is a managing director at Aon Risk Solutions. Reach her at (314) 854-0710 or email@example.com.
Insights Risk Management is brought to you by Aon Risk Solutions