Tim Smith faced a big challenge at Verizon PA/DE, but he had the confidence and track record to win over the skeptics

Tim Smith, region president, consumer and mass business markets, Verizon PA/DE

Tim Smith, region president, consumer and mass business markets, Verizon PA/DE

When Tim Smith arrived to lead Verizon’s Pennsylvania/Delaware Operations, he found a group that thought it was performing quite well both from a metrics perspective and in the way it served its customers.

Unfortunately, the data Smith had reviewed painted a different picture of what was happening in the PA/DE region of the $115.8 billion broadband and telecommunications company.

“The challenge I had was taking a group of individuals that had a lot of tenure, with most of them having been in their positions for more than 10 years, and convincing them that they really weren’t as good as they thought they were,” Smith says. “We had a long way to go to provide a compelling service experience.”

Smith was in the midst of a transition from Verizon’s vice president of operations in Florida and Texas to his current position in Pennsylvania/Delaware.

“I had come from an environment in Florida and Texas where, when I left, the operations budget was $4.5 million under budget,” Smith says. “When I came to Pennsylvania/Delaware, they were $7.8 million over budget.”

These numbers were clear evidence of a problem. But when Smith met with operations directors and later with his sales directors in the 3,100-employee region, he sensed very little energy to get things turned around.

“I said, ‘Do you believe that you can get better?’” Smith says. “And they said, ‘Well, yeah, but we’re No. 1 on this and No. 1 on that.’ I looked at the numbers and said, ‘You may be comparing yourself to a certain part of the region. But if you look at this team nationally, you’re not No. 1. That may come as a surprise to you, but you’re not.’ At that point, you could see the expression on their faces change a little bit.”

It was becoming clear to Smith that he had a tough job ahead of him.

Get people actively engaged

As Smith emerged from his first meeting with regional leaders, he felt he had to take immediate action.

“The first thing I wanted to put in place was for them to work with a sense of urgency,” Smith says. “The numbers were decent, but they weren’t where they needed to be or where they could be.

“I talked to them about how they needed to work with a sense of urgency and mapped out where I thought we could be both on the service side and on the expense side and then eventually on the revenue side so we could turn the margin picture of Pennsylvania/Delaware around.”

With that initial message conveyed, Smith then wanted to speak to everyone who worked in the PA/DE region and make sure they understood what he was trying to do.

“I wasn’t just dealing with my direct reports,” Smith says. “I had to make sure the messaging that I wanted filtered down into the organization and got down to the technician level so that they really understood what was going on.”

To get that message across the way he wanted, Smith gathered the directors to develop a new mission statement that had proven effective for him in the Florida/Texas region.

“I changed just a little bit of it so that it fit exactly what was going on in Pennsylvania/Delaware,” Smith says. “I worked with the directors because my philosophy around how I lead is I want to make sure that the team is involved in everything I do. I don’t just create something and throw it out there and see if it sticks and then move forward.”

Smith didn’t want it to be his mission statement. He wanted the directors to take ownership and feel like it was a mission statement that spoke for the entire group.

“I brought in the directors, gave it to them and said, ‘How can we change this to make sure it really fits what we’re going after?’” Smith says. “‘What are our goals? What do we want to do? Do we want to be best in class? If we want to be best in class, how are we going to do that? How innovative is this team? How innovative have we been?’”

Smith talked about innovation, culture, competition and revenue. He wanted to drive home the message that eventually, complacency would lead to bigger problems.

As a means of continuous reinforcement of the mission statement, Smith made sure the statement was always visible to his team.

“I put together a mission statement that I wanted everyone to put in their cubicle, their office and in their garages,” Smith says. “I sensed that if my direct reports were complacent, then there was no question the rest of the team would be that way as well.”

Making the tough call

Smith had offered some tough feedback to directors in the region about their performance. But it was about to get even tougher when he came to the realization that the team needed an overhaul.

“I came in and within the first 30 days that I was here, we reduced almost 400 technicians and a director,” Smith says. “We called it an ISP offering, an income security plan. It allows individuals in the business to elect to leave the business if they so choose. We sweetened it with a pretty good chunk of money. Not only did they get their years of service, but they also got a huge stipend to leave the business.”

It was obviously a difficult decision to make, but Smith felt it was the right call to get things turned around in the PA/DE region. It also made it clear that the status quo was not going to be acceptable.

“I had to be really self-confident in the decisions I was making when I came into this job,” Smith says. “And that had to be really consistent with my values and my belief system. You need to trust that gut instinct that you have to make the right decisions. I didn’t have a whole lot of folks that were cheering for me to do the things I did or make the decisions I made.”

If he did not produce any results, Smith would face a lot worse than the lack of cheering and he understood that. But that confidence he had in his leadership abilities, and the knowledge that he had done it before and succeeded, kept him moving forward.

“I had to show them I could get results and I had to show them I could do it in a relatively short period of time,” Smith says.

Implementing change

Smith’s goals were to cut expenses, improve customer experience and energize employees to work as hard as they could for the company and its customers.

One of the key metrics Verizon looks at is the meantime to restore high-speed Internet due to outages from weather, equipment malfunctions or other problems.

When Smith arrived, he was coming from the best-run operations region in the nation. “We were running in Texas and Florida right around 30 hours for restoral,” Smith says. “In Pennsylvania/Delaware, it was around 56.”

There were other metrics in which PA/DE was way behind as well. And Smith set out to create a sense of accountability at every level of the region.

“I taught them how to look at what I would consider the numbers or the metrics and put together action plans that really drove those numbers where we wanted to go,” Smith says.

As he looked at the team and who knew how to do what, he discovered that some people weren’t trained in all that they needed to know.

“They had groups of individuals that just focused on one piece of the install,” Smith says. “I said, ‘We can’t do that. We need everyone to be accountable for every install every time.’ So we changed our philosophy.”

The key to making this type of improvement work is listening to your team and working with them to bring everyone up to the desired level.

“I have a call with my directors and second-line managers every Friday,” Smith says. “It’s not a call I beat people up on. It’s a call where I hold them accountable and we talk about the actions they had taken the previous week and how those actions either helped them or didn’t help them.

“If it didn’t help them, now I’ve got the team on the call to help them so they can improve the next week. Leaders need to excel at giving feedback and it has to be quantitative feedback.”

Smith says the efforts of the team have paid off in a big way for the company, the region and its customers. The budget has been trimmed, everybody has clearer goals and the end result is actually less work that now needs to be done.

“When I came in here, the amount of work we had every day was more than double what we have today,” Smith says. “Once we reduced it down, we were able to provide a more compelling service experience for our customers. We improved our business meantime restore by 49 percent over the past two years and reduced our overtime by 31 percent. So it speaks to the quality of life our employees now have.”

How to reach: Verizon,  www.verizon.com

Tim Smith

region president, consumer and mass business markets

Verizon’s Pennsylvania/Delaware Operations

Born: Fort Wayne, Ind.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration, Indiana Wesleyan University.

What was your very first job and what did you learn? Danny’s Pizza Shop. I was making $1.25 an hour. I didn’t live close to the pizza shop, so I had to get up and catch the bus because I wasn’t of age to drive. It taught me discipline. I wanted to sleep in, and I couldn’t sleep in because I had to catch the bus. If I missed the bus, there was nobody at home to take me to work.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life?  My parents always instilled in me a good work ethic. I watched my dad work, and I can’t remember my dad not being at work through the week, other than vacations. Even a few hours on Sunday, he would go in. My mom was the same way. I watched them do the best they could to make ends meet for our family.

What one person would you like to have met? Martin Luther King Jr. It is not because he’s an African-American, but it’s the vision he had for America. Most people have a hard time creating a vision for their own life or household. When I look at my job here at Verizon, I want to make sure I have a vision for not only growing revenue, margins going up and expenses going down, but there are more than 4,000 individuals that count on me to make the right decision. I don’t take that lightly. Meeting a person like Martin Luther King Jr. would just help me even today to solidify the vision that I not only have personally, but it would also help me in business as well.

Takeaways:

Be confident in yourself.

Think before you act.

Instill accountability.

Jim Weddle is positioning Edward Jones to be the top of mind choice

Since January 2006, when Jim Weddle first took over the managing partner position at Edward Jones, he has kept a keen focus on growing the investment firm to new heights. In 2007 he and his team laid out a five-year plan that they updated in 2010, but that was a mere steppingstone to the vision the firm rolled out last year.

In January 2012, Weddle unleashed what Edward Jones is calling its Vision for 2020. Focusing on growing the firm in three key areas — financial advisers, assets under care and households deeply served — Weddle’s vision won’t just have Edward Jones reaching new heights, it might just be soaring.

“Today, in a lot of markets, we are not the top-of-mind choice,” Weddle says. “We don’t have the presence that we need. It’s going to take us several years to get there, but we think we’ve got the way to do so.”

Edward Jones is a leader in the financial services industry that serves nearly 7 million clients with the help of 12,500 financial advisers and more than 34,000 total employees. The firm reported 2012 revenue of $4.96 billion, a mere fraction of what is planned for the years ahead.

“There is a huge demographic opportunity, and we need to better position ourselves,” Weddle says. “We’ve put a lot of tools in place. We’ve put additional products and services in place to enhance the client’s experience and to enable us and position us to do an even better job for them.”

Here is how Weddle formulated Edward Jones’ long-term vision and is beginning to make it a reality.

Sue Chase: Eight great traits that demonstrate successful leadership

akr_clm_SueChaseThink of the best leader that you have ever known. What is it about this person that made him or her such a great leader? It is very likely that we are all describing someone who is highly passionate, respected, driven, caring, servant-minded, ambitious, motivating, knowledgeable, confident and who gets things done.

What is it about that person that motivated you to put forth extra effort to perform? Better yet, how can we each be leaders or be that person who others want to follow?

Actually, leadership does require those traits described above or those exhibited by the person you thought of as the best leader. Those traits are often inherent, although they can also be enhanced through experience, mentoring and education.

Let’s understand the important qualities and behaviors that demonstrate successful leadership.

Leading by example. Whether it is working hard, making the difficult choices, taking risks or sacrificing personal time, a successful leader needs to consistently lead by example. It’s the key to authenticity.

Integrity. Leaders are honest and dependable. Others need to count on you to not compromise on your principles. Others need to see that you can and do take the tough road through a situation to “do the right thing.”

Solid goals. Know your goals and what you are seeking to achieve. A leader needs to have a solid objective. A successful leader has direction, and when others know what it is, they know the expectations, catch the vision and seek to work with the leader to achieve it. It is difficult to get others to do what you want if you don’t know what you want.

Knowledge. Know and understand your obstacles, competition and risks. You need to leverage yourself and your group for the best chance of success. This may mean that you need to consult an expert.

Provide for autonomy. Those working with a leader need to understand the defined goals and from there, individuals need to have the ability to be creative and have the ownership to decide how to achieve the goal. Successful leaders encourage people to think, innovate and own the solution.

High standards. Leadership should expect a high level of excellence. People want to be proud of what they are doing. High standards should not be ones where the goal is perfection. The standards should be high but still maintain the allowance and the realistic expectation that people will make mistakes. Good leaders minimize the lessons learned through errors and oversight, although they take optimal advantage of these opportunities to learn.

Humility. Leadership is not about you; it is about others and reaching the goal. As one has more successes, this trait may become more challenging to maintain. Leadership focuses on what was accomplished and acknowledges those who accomplished it. Humility understands that the accomplishment came through those you lead. Humble leaders encourage others and give them credit.

Execution. Execution requires discipline to get things done. Many leaders have the ability to define great strategies but often there is a gap between what is desired and one’s ability to achieve it.

True leadership is a demonstration of all the characteristics listed above. To some extent, they are inherent in each of us and it is our choice to develop them. We each have the opportunity to search ourselves for these characteristics and step up to be the leader for someone in our lives.

Sue Chase is COO of Clinical Research Management Inc., www.clinicalrm.com. She is filling in for quarterly columnist Victoria Tifft.

How Phil Libin is building a 100-year start-up at Evernote Corp.

Having employees who tolerate stupidity is literally Phil Libin’s worst nightmare.

“I’ll wake up from a dream in which somewhere, someone at Evernote is working on something right now and they don’t understand why they are doing it — they think it’s stupid. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. It’s dumb. I’m just doing it because somebody told me,’” says Libin, CEO of Evernote Corp., the company responsible for popular Evernote and Skitch applications.

“As soon as you have someone who is doing some work and they don’t understand why they are doing it, then you’re not a start-up anymore. You’re something worse.”

Considering the noteworthy changes that Evernote has gone through over the last two years, it’s no surprise that culture is ingrained in Libin’s mind. Since launching the Evernote product public in 2008, Evernote’s apps have gained fast traction with users who rely on them to organize personal data and information on mobile devices and platforms.

Since 2010, the company has tripled revenue annually while increasing head count from 30 to 250 employees. It also plans to reach a level of 500 employees by the end of 2013.

Taking notes yet?

While Evernote’s success is undeniable, Libin’s permanent challenge is creating what he calls a “100-year start-up” — i.e., maintaining the entrepreneurial culture that makes Evernote great while continuing to grow.

“I want everyone at Evernote, no matter how big we get, to understand why it is that they’re doing something and to see the impact of their work,” Libin says. “If we can maintain that, then we have a good shot of scaling the company in the future.”

Here’s how Libin keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive at Evernote.

Eliminate obstacles

Like many Silicon Valley companies, Evernote offers employees a number of unique perks, including unlimited vacation time and catered lunches. Yet Libin knows enhancing employee productivity isn’t just about add-ons; it’s about removing the obstacles that inhibit people’s success.

“All of our benefits and our office life are structured around this idea that people who are here want to do excellent work, and it’s our job to eliminate any obstacles that get in the way of that,” Libin says. “Whenever we find things that impede people’s natural desire to be productive, we ask if we can eliminate that.”

Libin and his leadership team actively look for ways to make people’s jobs easier on a day-to-day basis, especially when it involves enhancing productivity. It’s why Libin played an active role in designing the company’s new 90,000-square-foot Redwood City, Calif. headquarters, which employees moved into last summer to incorporate features that improve workflow, such as an open work plan to facilitate open communication.

“It’s the first time that we’ve been in a space that we’ve actually designed,” Libin says. “Our previous two offices have been little start-up things — whatever we could afford at the time. This is the first time we’ve had a chance to think about our surroundings a little bit.

“There are a lot of small things. A lot of times you need something from IT. You need a power cord or an adapter or a keyboard or a mouse or a network cable … so you have to track down an IT person and ask them for it, and then they go into the supply closet and get it. Now you’ve tied up two people: the person who wants it and the IT person. It’s a small waste of time, but it’s a waste of time.”

Evernote solved this problem by stocking a vending machine in the cafeteria full of equipment such as headsets, power cords, mics and keyboards, which employees can freely access by swiping a card.

“You decide when you want something, you can go down and get it, but now it takes one person two minutes to do what two people took 20 minutes to do,” Libin says. “So there’s a lot of stuff like that, where it’s something that’s not a huge thing in itself, but it adds up.”

Ideas to improve a culture don’t need to be radical to make an impact on productivity. Removing a small obstacle can actually have huge benefits, especially if it affects a lot of people.

For example, Evernote’s open work plan makes talking on the phone the biggest source of noise for employees throughout the office. So instead of having everyone work around that, Libin and his team decided to do away with desk phones entirely. If someone needs to make a call, they are encouraged to use one of the company’s numerous conference rooms or meeting spaces.

“We find an obstacle and we try to get rid of it,” Libin says. “You can find 100 things like this and it adds up to a culture where people feel like they are trusted and respected. We don’t have to explain to people that you’re only allowed to take one mouse every six months. We don’t have a policy. Take as many as you want.”

Bring on the best

Evernote isn’t Libin’s first time leading a start-up business. Before founding the company in 2007, his career as a successful engineer led him to serve as president and CEO of the software companies Corestreet Ltd. and Engine 5, respectively. In both cases, Libin found that his programming background played a direct role in his leadership style — and not in a good way.

“At my first company, I had this weird idea about people who work for me,” he says. “I thought, well, I can do their job better than they can, but I’m too important. I don’t have enough time.

“So I’d walk around and look at some programmer writing database code, and I would think to myself, I’m a programmer, too. I could write that better than he could, but I don’t have time so we can let him do it. And I’d look at a sales guy working and I’d think, well I could sell the product better, but I don’t have time so let him do it. I’d listen to the receptionist and I would think my phone voice is so much nicer than hers. But I don’t have time to answer the phone so let her do it.”

What Libin realized is that this superior mentality is self-fulfilling, breeding a culture where leaders are always second-guessing and micromanaging their people and where talented people don’t want to work. But if you’re trying to build a 100-year company, this kind of thinking just won’t fly.

“A lot of people instinctively are afraid of hiring people better than them,” Libin says. “So they tend to surround themselves with people who are mediocre. That’s the thing that kills a lot of companies.”

Finding and keeping the right is critical in fulfilling the vision of a 100-year start-up, which is why Libin encourages his direct reports and managers to follow the “hire better than you” philosophy for any position,

“I have to hire people who are so good that they can wind up running the company, and that’s true all the way down the ranks,” Libin says.

“Really embracing that philosophy is the only way I think you can scale and manage and really reduce stress, because anything I’m worried about, I know that there’s a person who’s much smarter than I am in that function, who’s also worried about it but actually in charge of dealing with it.”

Stay connected

Evernote may have a start-up culture, but the company has also come a long way from its start-up roots. In addition to its employees on five floors of its Redwood City office, Libin now leads an organization with offices in Austin, Texas, to Tokyo, Zurich, Moscow and Beijing.

“As we grow to be a bigger company, we’re not 10 nerds anymore,” Libin says. “We have designers. We have marketing people. We have people from all sorts of demographics. We are really broadened, and that broadens the products that we want to work on.”

It also broadens the scope of any given project, which can create a disconnect between a company’s departments, offices or teams.

“Very often in companies, and especially a big company, if you ask an average employee at the company, they kind of feel, ‘Well, I’m doing a job, the five or 10 people that I’m working with and I understand what they’re doing — they’re doing a good job,’” Libin says. “‘But those other guys two floors above me, I have no idea what they do. They’re probably just dumb.’”

One way that Evernote avoids communication and innovation breakdown is through cross-training. Taking a lesson from a friend who is a submarine officer, Libin implemented Evernote’s Officer Training Program, which mimics the idea of officers who must be trained in many different roles.

Each week, employees who sign up for the program are assigned to several random meetings outside of their department where they are encouraged to act as full participants. While the company is currently tweaking the program for simpler execution, the idea is that both the trainee and the group will benefit from the exchange.

“So if you are in IT and you sit in a marketing meeting, you see that the marketing guys do a lot of work, and they have difficult questions and problems,” he says. “It also works the other way, having a person in the room who hasn’t mastered the jargon. You wind up having to speak differently. You wind up having to think about things that you may not have thought about if you’ve been doing this job for 10 years.”

Other ways that Evernote promotes connectivity are using remote-controlled Anybots for telecommunication and video walls and “windows” to connect Evernote’s domestic and international offices. Set up near the coffee machines, the video walls are synced up to mirror Evernote’s different offices at the same time of day.

“When it’s 9 a.m. here and you’re getting coffee, you’re going to see 9 a.m. in Tokyo as somebody is getting coffee,” Libin says. “The point is you can connect with people. You can see who is there. You can see what they are wearing. You can have this ambient feeling because you know that you’re not the only person there. There are people all over the world working at Evernote that are also getting coffee.”

Experimenting with cultural perks, programs and policies should be an ongoing process, and leaders need to be willing to try and fail.

“The basic idea is we want people to be able to connect in as many different ways as possible,” he says. “When I’m traveling out of the office, and I connect to the Anybots, and I drive it around, and point the laser pointer at people, and yell at them to get back to work, everyone loves it.

“There’s no silver bullet. You say the core value is communication, and then you just find ways to make it a really magical experience.” ●

How to reach: Evernote Corp., www.evernote.com

 

The Libin file

Phil Libin
CEO
Evernote

Born: St. Petersburg, Russia
Education: Boston University

Why there’s never been a better time to be in business: I don’t think it’s ever been a better time to have a company, to be in business. This is the best time in the history of the world actually to be trying to build something because it’s much of a meritocracy than it’s ever been. If you build something great and you really focus on building something great then you get massive leverage in everything else because of app stores, smartphones and social media. If you make something great, then everyone is going to know about it. And everyone is going to be able to get it. … All I really want is to make great stuff. And that’s what all the people who work for me want, and it’s enough. It’s enough now to just make great stuff.

Why stress helps: As a CEO, it’s good to have a balanced diet of stress. You stress out about the product. You stress out about the finances. You stress out about improving about the office space. It’s good to have multiple completely different things to worry about and sort of balance those things.

Libin’s best business mantra: I think the most important phrase is ‘simple is hard.’ That says a lot of stuff. In all ways it’s better to be simple than complicated, in terms of your product, your benefits, everything you do. You’re much better off being simple; and it’s the hardest thing to do. Always strive for simplicity, but also realize that it’s far harder to make something simple than to make something complicated.

 

Steve Klingel: A premium offering

Stephen J. Klingel, president and CEO, NCCI Holdings Inc.

Few issues have gained more national attention over the past few years than the rising costs of health care and the importance of a healthy workplace. More businesses and families are struggling to afford higher insurance premiums as they engage in a tremendous national debate about the government’s proper role in health care and health insurance.

In this environment, businesses that provide health insurance coverage for their employees are confronted with two critical tasks:

  1. How to find the most comprehensive health insurance plan with the least cost.
  2. How to educate and engage employees in a cooperative effort to improve their health on an ongoing basis.

The first task is appropriately specific to each organization and its insurance carrier. But the second priority — identifying and implementing effective employee education and wellness programs — can be universally applied to employers of almost any size.

NCCI recognizes that keeping employees healthy is an important means of controlling workers compensation costs, specifically in regard to the detrimental effects of obesity and the rising costs of treating injured workers.

As a self-insured corporation, we are faced with the same rising health care costs and need to control workers compensation expenses just as every other American business has to. But after looking at the research showing just how effective wellness programs could be, our firm determined to implement our own companywide push for employee wellness in 2008.

The mission of the initiative was to develop a multifaceted approach to assisting and educating employees in making behavioral changes designed to reduce health and injury risks, improve their ability to make healthy choices, and enhance their productivity and well-being. We also wanted wellness to extend beyond the physical to include mental wellness, financial wellness and more.

Get your numbers

The first step was encouraging employees to participate in annual biometric screening and online health assessments. We’ve sponsored the screenings — designed to raise employees’ awareness about their personal health numbers — since 2009. Just knowing their critical health care numbers gives employees the information they need to begin taking better care of themselves.

Choose a theme

A successful wellness program includes programs and activities around clear goals. One way to clarify the goals is to use themes. In 2010, our firm embraced the theme “Mission Nutrition,” which included offering a weight-loss class and nutrition counseling plus retooling our on-site cafeteria and vending machines to provide healthy food options.

The following year our focus was “Get Moving,” and we improved our on-site fitness facilities — adding additional exercise equipment, expanding hours and offering free membership to all employees.

Make it an ongoing effort

This year — as part of our “Choose Well” theme — we are building upon the foundation we’ve started by offering employees increased support and education around health and financial issues that may arise, adding programs including:

•           one-on-one nutrition counseling

•           on-site smoking cessation program

•           free annual flu shots

•           fitness center programs

•           celebration of national employee health and fitness day

•           participation in the local corporate fun run

•           financial workshops

•           a holiday weight loss program

The result? Employees have not only responded enthusiastically to the wellness offerings and our goal to improve overall health, they’ve taken action. Our company’s biometric screenings show that blood pressure and blood sugar results are better. Employees are increasing fitness levels, eating more nutritiously and smoking less.

In fact, many screening participants have moved from a medium- or high-risk category to a low-risk category since the original assessment.

Even as health care costs continue to rise with inflation, many companies are steadying overall expenses by taking this proactive approach to corporate health. In the end, making wellness a company priority not only makes for healthier, happier employees — it supports a healthy bottom line.

Stephen J. Klingel, CPCU, was appointed president and CEO of NCCI Holdings Inc. in 2002. Before joining NCCI, he was a leader with the St. Paul Companies for more than 25 years.

 

G.A. Taylor Fernley: How to be the leader people want to follow

G.A. Taylor Fernley

G.A. Taylor Fernley, president and CEO, Fernley & Fernley

No one said it was going to be easy. Managing others is, in fact, a very difficult process, especially when stress levels are high and you have 37 other urgent tasks to complete that day. No matter the scenario, being a great leader means being a great manager and that takes considerable time, forethought and dedication. Let’s also remind ourselves again that our associates are “the most valuable unlisted asset on our balance sheet.”

Here are a few little known factoids:

■ 71 percent of all workers feel stressed.

■ 40 percent of adults get less than seven hours of sleep during the weekdays.

■ 34 percent of lunches are eaten on the run.

■ The average person receives 156 emails per day.

Despite these statistics, the bottom line is that you can get more than these 37 tasks completed and still lead your team to success if you know how to manage them effectively.

The key is finding the time — and the discipline. Time is something we can never get back and is more important than money itself. Here are 10 steps to becoming the leader your associates want to follow:

1. Make the time.

Don’t use time as an excuse or a crutch. Prioritize your calendar to be in alignment with your goals and those of your company. Set two hours each week for strategically “managing” your schedule.

2. Provide direction.

Clearly articulate, in writing, tangible deliverables to your team, complete with timelines. Review those tangibles on a regular basis to hold your associates (and yourself) more accountable.

3. Run effective staff meetings.

Meetings are the bane of our existence — you can’t live with them; you can’t live without them. Keep them focused (one hour or less), keep them interactive and keep them content-rich.

4. Set stretch objectives.

Set high (yet reasonable) goals. Limit the number of homework assignments you assume during a meeting. Again, delegate to allow you, as the leader, to focus on high-level initiatives. By doing so, you will empower those around you.

5. Evaluate your style.

Is it effective? Leaders must create an environment of trust and transparency. And, most importantly, spend more time listening.

6. Inspect what you expect.

Never delegate without management control. Challenge your team with tasks, but circle back to ensure they are getting done.

7. Promote risk taking.

Nothing stifles creativity and growth more than “the traditional leader.” Give your associates permission to push the envelope and to do things differently than you do.

8. Get out of your comfort zone.

Surround yourself with people unlike you. And, with people who have the self-confidence to challenge traditional thinking.

9. Step away from your desk.

Limit the number of meetings in your office; make “house calls” and go to your associate’s office or even the conference room. It will foster open and positive communication.

10. Do what you say you will do.

“Walk the talk” is vital to obtain and retain the trust and respect of your colleagues. You have enormous influence, and it is pivotal to understand this enormous influence you have on people. It all starts with trust and respect.

Managing a team is challenging, but it’s profoundly rewarding if done right. When you find the time to focus on your associates, remember:

■ Engaged employees are 3½ times more likely to stay with your company.

■ Empowered employees are more productive, creative and resourceful.

■ The more you trust your team to do great work, the less stress for everyone.

■ The higher the morale, the more fun for everyone.

Once you’ve developed an empowered team you can trust, you will be well on your way to being that leader they will follow.

G. A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at [email protected], or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

How Ann Fandozzi takes a comprehensive approach to growth at vRide

Ann Fandozzi

Ann Fandozzi, CEO, vRide

Throughout its history, vanpooling has been very good to Ann Fandozzi’s company.

For more than 35 years, VPSI Inc. — which is now branded as vRide — has grown and profited from running vanpools for commuters who want an alternative way to negotiate rush-hour traffic. After becoming the company’s CEO this past June, Fandozzi likely could have continued focusing solely on vRide’s vanpooling expertise with no ill effects to the company’s bottom line.

But Fandozzi saw more. She saw vRide’s potential to grow outward from its staple business, with a goal of becoming a comprehensive commuter solutions company. So Fandozzi challenged her company to expand and employ its expertise in new ways.

“My vision, and something that is palatable for us, is really broadening what we do,” Fandozzi says. “There really isn’t any type of commuter solutions company that does what we do, so that made it kind of exciting.

“When you think about it, we are really at an all-time peak of forces coming together, be it congestion in cities, be it gas prices, be it people’s time worth more of a premium than ever before. All of those forces coming together is something that allows us to come in and really offer a unique solution for commuters.”

To make her vision a reality, Fandozzi has needed to develop and implement a methodical approach that helps vRide — which generated $75 million in 2011 revenue  —  identify its target customers and create new ways to serve them by employing internal resources in the most effective way possible.

“If you have a commute of, say, 45 minutes or longer, you might come to us because of our vanpooling reputation,” she says. “But as we grow, we’ll be able to offer you a multitude of different solutions. We can certainly still put you in a vanpool, but we might also be able to put you in a carpool if you have a smaller group. No matter the service offering, the goal is commuter focus.”

Form a vision

To expand your company into new areas, you need a reachable vision, guidelines for achieving that vision, building blocks that will help you turn the vision into a reality and metrics that will help you measure your performance in relation to the guidelines and building blocks.

“Your vision has to be both broad and targeted,” Fandozzi says. “It has to be broad enough to capture the various value streams that the business model can deliver but focused enough that you’re not trying to be all things to all people.

“When we thought about broadening our company from a vanpool company to a commuter solutions company, our vision was significantly broader, but it was also very targeted from the sense that we are going to go after commuters and focus on solving their needs.”

To formulate an achievable vision for vRide, Fandozzi and her leadership team had to connect with the needs and pain points of current and potential customers. It required vRide’s representatives to gather customer data and conduct market research with an eye toward finding the holes in the marketplace that vRide could capably fill.

“A lot of it really has to do with delving deep into the customer’s world,” Fandozzi says. “In order to know where you want to go, you really have to take a step back and see what needs there are from a customer standpoint, areas that being underserved, and those are where the juiciest opportunities will usually present themselves. You go where the needs exist and where potential customers are being underserved.

“In our case, we’ve been looking at traffic congestion, people who are becoming frustrated with commute times, the state of the economy and gas prices, and people wanting more money in their pockets,” Fandozzi says. “We know those are the pain points, and from there, we dig a little deeper and get a read on whether we can expect those factors to increase or decrease over time.”

With traffic congestion and high gas prices remaining as fixtures of day-to-day life, Fandozzi’s team felt comfortable building a vision around how to address those needs. Then, she moved her company into the implementation phase.

“You don’t need to know every step of the 100 steps you’re going to take to get from here to there, but in general, you need to have a pretty good plan for how that vision can be achieved,” she says. “For us, a big fundamental building block has been the Web and mobile technology.”

Under Fandozzi’s leadership, vRide has taken steps to create a mobile-device app that can give would-be commuters instant access to potential solutions provided by the company.

“It’s the nature of addressing consumers who are on the go,” Fandozzi says. “You need an on-the-go solution. You need to automate instantaneous answers for consumers. For 35 years as a vanpooling company, that is a competency we didn’t have. So then the question becomes, ‘How do you scale to add those competencies?’”

It was a question of whether vRide needed to add new resources and competencies, or find new ways to utilize what was already in-house. Through rounds of organization analysis, Fandozzi’s team realized the company had a great deal of physical infrastructure already constructed, meaning scalability would be a mixture of the old and new.

It was a matter of creating new technology platforms and plugging them into what already existed in terms of vans, people and facilities.

“Currently, we have more than 5,000 vans, and there is a set of solutions that works really well there,” Fandozzi says. “So the question to the leadership team is, how do those get scaled? Anything from the way the vehicles get serviced and delivered, and anything or everything in between. That is why it really becomes a function of having those building blocks and being very honest with your assessment of whether you have them in-house, versus the items you need to bring in.”

Develop a marketing plan

With a vision and implementation plan in place, you need to get potential customers interested in your organization’s new direction. That is where a comprehensive marketing campaign comes in.

Fandozzi divides vRide’s marketing campaign into various phases focused on educating consumers and driving traffic. Once those phases are fully implemented, marketing can become an effective tool to spur further growth.

“You need to develop a phased marketing strategy that is appropriate for where you are in your development cycle,” Fandozzi says. “For us, we are kind of in a heavy learning mode right now, because we are still in the process of putting our fundamental building blocks in place.

“The next phase is once those building blocks are in place, you want to take what you’ve learned and use it to educate consumers. Then, once everything is place, you can expand your marketing efforts as you grow.

“For instance, we could then say that every man and woman in America who commutes more than 45 minutes to work is our target consumer,” Fandozzi says. “But that is a different kind of marketing effort from where we are now.

“The trick is in knowing what phase you are in at that moment but planning for the next one as you are in the current one.”

Developing a successful marketing effort around your vision often requires a combination of developing internal expertise and utilizing outside resources. Your internal marketing experts have an intimate knowledge of your business and your customer base. Third-party marketing firms will bring an outside perspective, along with data gathering and research capabilities that your company may not possess.

However, Fandozzi says external consultants should not drive your marketing philosophy. Though third-party firms bring useful skills and resources to the table, you and your team know your business the best.

“You want the latest and greatest, but you want it centrally managed with internal resources,” Fandozzi says.

“That is why you assign and train a leader who is centrally responsible for your marketing vision, because that is the person who is going to really understand where you’re going as a company, what building blocks are in place and what phase of marketing you’re going to need to be in for each phase of growth — are you in a heavy learning mode, or a heavy execution mode, and so forth.

“Those are the people who will be in charge of bringing in experts along the way to help them execute on each of those facets.”

If you make a misstep in your marketing, learn from it quickly and correct it — and have those systems in place from the outset.

“You’re testing along the way, fully preparing to fail,” Fandozzi says. “One of the things we do here is we like to learn fast-forward. You want to do something quickly and you want to learn from it quickly. Failure is OK if you learn from it, but you want to do it and correct it quickly. You are trying to fast-forward the entire process so that you develop definite answers on what you can move forward with.”

How to reach: vRide, (248) 597-3500 or www.vride.com

 

The Fandozzi file

Ann Fandozzi

CEO

vRide

More from Fandozzi on self-assessing as a business: There are several modes of self-assessment. One is having some conversations about just looking in the mirror with the leadership team and saying, ‘Hey, this is where we need to go and this is where we are.’ Another is bringing in experts, because sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes since you are just so close to the business, and it’s tough to see. One of the hallmarks of good leadership is knowing when to ask for help, and looking at experts instead of thinking that you have all the answers.

The third method is looking around at adjacent industries and seeing how they’ve been able to solve similar problems, to also free up your thinking. So, you may be stuck, but they’re going to bring in an expert and give you an expert solution along the lines of how you’re already thinking.

Fandozzi on hiring and retaining top talent: That is always the silver bullet to a business, having the right people. It comes from a multitude of sources. First and foremost, it comes from having the right screening techniques in place to make sure that as we’re bringing in people, they’re the right people. There is a lot of ownership on the part of the leader to make sure the vision is exceptionally clear, that people aren’t hunting in the dark and hoping they find the right answer.

There is a lot of personal ownership, for example, in order to develop and work with my people, I overinvest. People tend to underestimate how much investment this takes, but overinvesting on tools, resources — making sure we’ve put the right metrics in place. Then, it’s taking a step back and seeing if they can do it. It’s guaranteed you are going to make mistakes along the way, but you want those mistakes to be smaller-sized, and you want the wins to be bigger, and you want to course-correct as you go.

How Lizanne Falsetto saw beyond the numbers to position thinkThin for success

Lizanne Falsetto, founder and CEO, thinkThin

It was a tough decision for Lizanne Falsetto, one that had the potential to go badly whichever way she decided to turn.

On one hand, she could continue selling the popular thinkFruit bar and risk confusing other customers who latched onto thinkThin as a company that makes snack bars that are low in sugar and high in nutrition.

Or she could drop the fruit bar, which had more sugar than Falsetto wanted in her products, and make a statement about thinkThin’s commitment to its brand name. She just had to hope that customers would appreciate the commitment more than they would mourn the loss of a popular product.

“It was very hard to explain the future of the vision because everyone just saw the numbers,” says Falsetto, who founded thinkThin in 2000. “Even the board saw the numbers. But I was adamant that this was about future growth. This was where the brand needed to be for the future to communicate one simple message that thinkThin is the weight wellness brand.”

Falsetto ultimately decided to drop the thinkFruit brand and hope that her customers would understand. Three years later, the 300-employee company seems to be doing OK without it.

The company is ranked No. 4 out of 119 national competitors in its segment, according to SPINS, a market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry.

The key to maintaining success will be Falsetto’s ability to keep her finger on the pulse of her customers and remain proactive about what they want from her brand.

“It’s about leveraging industry trends and really watching what’s happening and seeing the future before it gets there so you can be ahead of the curve,” Falsetto says. “Those are probably the two biggest parts of leadership.”

Here’s a look at how Falsetto makes tough decisions and grooms her people to meet their full potential to help thinkThin keep growing.

Let people do their jobs

Falsetto was confident in her decision to drop the thinkFruit brand. But she didn’t approach the decision-making process with her leadership team exhibiting an attitude of “I’m the boss and this is what we’re going to do.”

“I let the team, the executives that run their departments, speak for their department,” Falsetto says. “If I can’t rely on them to do that, then I don’t have the right people. I can’t be everywhere all the time. If I can’t open up the trust and let them see that I believe in what they are doing, then I’m not doing a very good job.”

So if there’s going to be a presentation on marketing, it’s the VP of marketing who leads the talk — the same thing with operations or any other department in the company.

The meetings are a visible demonstration of Falsetto’s philosophy to empower her people to do what she’s hired them to do and to take advantage of the unique expertise they possess.

She recalls an analogy her father once made about a business being similar to a basketball team.

“He would say to me, ‘You know, you have the two guards, the two players underneath and the center, and you look at that team and say everybody has to touch that ball to get it in the net,’” Falsetto says. “It’s very similar to business to me. I kind of look at building a team with individual skills, and I’ve gotten much better at finding what the skills are for the moment and what the brand needs.”

She says the key thing to think about with this analogy is that not everybody has to be able to shoot from the outside, have a good inside game and play great defense. If you take advantage of the skills each person brings to your business, and you’ve done a good job trying to fill your needs, you have an effective team.

“You don’t need to have everybody understand everything,” Falsetto says. “They need to have a passion in what they understand and what they bring to the table. That’s really important.

“A marketing head might not completely understand what’s going on in the financial world and doesn’t understand the details of accounting. But accounting really doesn’t understand marketing. They just know the numbers behind it. But together, there’s a passion.”

You get people who love what they do and you let them do it to the best of their ability, and then you do what you do best. You be the leader who brings it all together.

“If I see there is something that needs to be sewn in between the departments, then I will definitely bring it to the table,” Falsetto says. “How does that operations decision reflect on the sales side? Obviously, we’re all intertwined. It’s my job to make sure we’re all seeing the connection to that big pie. It needs to be one vision, but together, they all have a different piece of that vision to get there.”

When you operate that way and you have a tough decision to make, you can feel more confident in your ability to work through it because you know that you’ve got the best information at hand to help you make the right decision.

“When you surround yourself with really wise people, you are wiser and you make smarter moves,” Falsetto says.

Enhance your talent

The search for talent begins when you look beyond the slot you need to fill in your organization and think about what skills a person could bring to your business — and you talk to them about it and make them feel like an important part of the whole operation.

“People want to work for a company that has a purpose,” Falsetto says. “Every person around the table that works with you, if they feel like they have a stake in it, if they own it like you do, it becomes easier to communicate on that basis. They are in. It’s really important to empower them around you so that you can put your ego in check yourself.”

Falsetto regularly speaks with her employees about their own futures and what they can do collectively to make that future better, both for the business and the individuals.

“I have different tiers of goals for employees, and when I keep bringing them back to those tiers of goals, it puts it in perspective,” Falsetto says. “Did we successfully do this? Can we go back and look at this again? It’s organizing the goals per employee and making sure you come back to touch on those with them. It’s when you don’t communicate with employees that they start to wonder.”

Alignment is obviously crucial when it comes to personal and business goals. If the personal goals don’t match up with the goals of the business, then you’re not going to accomplish a lot. So you take the time to get updates and make sure everybody is on the same page and you don’t worry if you have to make course corrections along the way.

“ThinkThin is going to own the weight wellness sector. That is my goal,” Falsetto says. “What falls underneath that vision could change depending on what is happening.

“It could slightly tier to the left or the right, but yet the main vision is still there. It might be communicated differently. It might look a little different when you get there because of the roadblocks you must conquer to achieve the true vision of what you’re doing. But it’s ultimately having the steps of the goals to get to the topline vision.”

Don’t be afraid to let go

As the company founder and CEO, Falsetto spends a lot of time thinking about what she can do next to keep her business growing.

“What else can I make?” Falsetto says. “What other kind of flavor bar would people want? What’s unique? So that’s always something that I think you become better and better at. I think it’s surrounding yourself with people who are in the industry, knowing your customers and keeping hold of your vision.”

Falsetto knows what her place is in the company, but she has to rely on those conversations and relationships with her people to know where they stand. And there comes a time with some people where they just can’t grow anymore with you.

“Like they say, you only have your personal assistant in that chair for three years and then you move them to a new position,” Falsetto says. “You always want to rotate certain positions to be able to have them strive to be either better within themselves or bring some new depth to that position.

“When an employee feels that they can’t grow any more within the company, it’s better that I don’t find a place for them. I let them grow on their own. When you maneuver your business around that individual, you disrupt everything.”

Certainly when someone leaves who you’ve grown attached to, it can be emotional. But it helps to view it as a positive event. You helped this person grow and now they are taking what they have learned and applying it to continue growing.

If you’re constantly focused on bringing new talent in and helping existing talent thrive, your business will benefit from your efforts.

“You just strive to be better and better at it,” Falsetto says.

How to reach: thinkThin, (866) 988-4465 or www.thinkproducts.com

The Falsetto File

Lizanne Falsetto

founder and CEO

thinkThin

Born: Seattle

Education: I’m a high school graduate. I was a basketball player, and I had a college scholarship offer. I had an option to go to a community college orSeattleUniversityand play basketball. I turned it down because I had a modeling contract on the table, and I decided I would rather travel the world.

What was the biggest takeaway from your modeling career? I didn’t do modeling to be famous because I knew I never would be famous. It was about making the money, it was about traveling and it was about the culture of where I was at. All of that really taught me the vision of looking ahead and thinking about where I want to be.

Who has been the biggest influence on you? My father has been the biggest influence on me. He is no longer with us as it’s been eight years since he passed. But he said many things that were very wise. My dad said, ‘You need to follow your dreams. When you follow your dreams, you will be successful.’ The other thing he said to me was if you ever lose those butterflies before a board meeting or before anything you’re doing, you have to stop and think about what you’re doing because you’ve lost the passion. Those things are so vivid in my head.

What one person past or present would you like the opportunity to talk to? I was thinking Margaret Thatcher. I just am in awe of her and think she’s a brilliant woman, very strong and statuesque. She really held true to what she believed in. But Lady Diana would be the other. The challenges that she was thrown into were not a choice.

Takeaways:

Don’t get too locked in on the numbers.

Let your people use their talents.

Don’t shake up your team to keep someone.

Jerry McLaughlin: The firing squad

Jerry McLaughlin

Jerry McLaughlin, CEO, Branders.com

Life is not only lonelier at the top, it’s shorter. After a recent study of CEO succession events in the S&P 500, The Conference Board has identified this general trend: CEOs have been getting fired faster. Why?

The Conference Board thinks it has something to do with shareholders becoming more aggressive in making changes at the top. That may be. But if so, then why are boards of directors — and the shareholders they represent — increasingly dissatisfied with CEO performance?

In one sense, the job of the CEO is the same as ever: to deliver a good result for shareholders. But excelling in that job today is much harder, particularly because the world has changed.

They say old dogs can’t learn new tricks. But not long ago, successful CEOs didn’t need to. The right person to have in the top job was the one who “knows the way we do things here” and wouldn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken.

As a result, the refrain, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” wasn’t so much unimaginative as it was prudent. The prevailing mentality was it’s hard to grow a big business. So if you’ve found a way that works, count yourself lucky — and stick to it. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel — or the Coca-Cola.

Get a picture of the path ahead

But globalization, the rise of the Internet and the increasing rate of technological discovery have changed the very nature of being a CEO. Just because you’re in the right business, the right way, today, doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow.

Imagine it’s the year 2000, and you are CEO of a large call center serving the pharmaceutical industry. Your three tasks are to keep quality up, customers happy and land new accounts — until a company in Mumbai starts drastically undercutting your prices. Perhaps for the first time, you must find entirely new ways to think about the business.

That takes time, if a solution can be found at all. So you’re working to formulate a promising response — when you’re fired.

Now imagine you’re the CEO of a video rental company in 2000. Even if it’s a big business, the business is conceptually simple: Your job is to sell more video rentals and to increase the profit on each one.

How? Mostly by opening new stores and by making sure you have many copies of the most in-demand movies on the shelf every Friday night. Plus, you collect late charges. You are really good at those things. You even smoothly make the shift from videos to DVDs. But then someone in California comes up with a novel equation: DVDs + U.S. mail + subscription – stores = Netflix. A seemingly short time passes. You’re fired.

Take time to stop at talents

Corporate America has changed. In the past, a well-regarded CEO was one who could optimize the business model that he or she had. Today, CEOs must not only do that, they need to be skilled in redeploying resources into better businesses. Leaders who excel in running the core business must also be equipped to evaluate nascent opportunities beyond it. And frankly, most of them can’t.

Why not? For the same reason pitchers rarely hit well, and hitters can’t pitch. In baseball, you draft a player for his strengths, knowing he won’t do everything well. That’s why every big league manager knows better than to send the slugger to the mound or bat his closer at clean up.

Is it possible that your big hitter is also the unhittable pitcher? Well, maybe in your dreams.

You may find the CEO who can run the current business better than most or the one who starts and nurtures tomorrow’s winners today. But how many CEOs of large companies can do both very well? All of them could sit together in your living room, comfortably.

Boards that expect old dogs to learn new tricks — while continuing to perform the old ones — simply haven’t come to terms with the new realities of competition. CEOs hired to do both are well advised to cover their bases, and negotiate a severance package up front.

Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. Reach him at [email protected]

 

Victoria Tifft: What’s your story?

Victoria Tifft, founder and CEO, Clinical Research Management

Every business has a story. Most of us are familiar with the stories of how Starbucks and Facebook were created. These stories touch us emotionally and we connect with them. Understanding and conveying the story of your business should be part of your firm’s branding strategy. The story should reveal how and why the business was formed and some essential facts that make your business unique.

If your firm doesn’t have a story or has evolved and grown since the time of its inception, it might be time to think about writing the story or sharing how the firm has changed over time. Revisiting your story is a great way to reintroduce your firm to existing and potential customers.

About two years ago, my firm decided to put pen to paper and share our story with customers. To help with this, I enlisted the aid of a local consultant with a Ph.D. in theater/arts performance.

The consultant asked many questions, and he told us that we had a great story to tell; we just needed to think about how and why we created our firm. He advised us to think about the obstacles and challenges we endured and the lessons we learned as a result. Finally, he taught us how to weave the emotional experiences gained from both challenges and successes throughout our corporate story. Here is what we came up with.

The history of ClinicalRM

ClinicalRM embodies the vision set out by our founder and CEO Victoria Tifft in Togo, West Africa, two decades ago. Tifft served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa, as an infectious disease biologist.

While in Africa, she experienced the devastating conditions that Third World countries endure firsthand. In her work to improve health conditions in Togo, she contracted malaria three times and came back to the U.S. fully committed to the idea of spending her life working to provide treatments for devastating diseases.

As part of this commitment, she worked on-site at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease.

Working alongside many military and government researchers throughout the U.S. Army, Tifft gained a thorough understanding of the U.S. Army’s culture and research objectives. Opening a second operating center in Cleveland, Tifft tapped into the very rich medical, device and clinical research community in Northeast Ohio.

Just after 1999, she expanded the business into a full-service contract resource organization. Today, ClinicalRM operates nationwide and in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.

Ask questions of yourself

If you are a business owner, there are many benefits to sharing your story. But telling it requires you to look at your company from many angles. When putting our story on paper, our company was able to do this by asking ourselves several questions, including:

  • Where did the idea for starting the company come from?
  • Were there times when you thought the company wouldn’t make it — how did that feel and what did you do to overcome the obstacles?
  • Were there early successes?
  • What have we learned along the way?
  • Was there a consistent culture and philosophy that should be highlighted?
  • How is the firm different today in comparison to the beginning?
  • Were there moments when you knew the company would be successful?

Analyzing the company in this manner gave us a broader perspective and allowed us to see the firm as an entity with a story — a story that needed to be told. We diligently put our story on paper, and now, we use it as a starting point for discussion with new employees and customers.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at [email protected]