Joseph Slawek – How to add a little spice to your workplace culture

Joseph Slawek, Founder, Chairman and CEO, FONA International

We know the importance of creating a safe work environment filled with opportunities to learn and grow. Employees want to feel both appreciated for their contributions and have the sense that they are a true and valued part of the team.

Many components go into creating this kind of culture in an organization, but there is one method that is both easy and carries with it the potential for longlasting benefits. That would be the act of gathering your team around a meal.

Sharing food together is a foundation of communities both small and large. From families at the dinner table to block parties and neighborhood cookouts, people love to eat in social environments. Bringing people together around food provides a relaxed, familiar environment for communication.

We tend to eat with people we like or will come to like. So, why not bring that environment to the workplace and give everyone the opportunity to share food and build the bonds that lead to liking one another?

Bond over bagels and boost your bottom line

As CEO, you invest a relatively small amount of money in pizza (or ice cream or eggs and bacon), but you are actually investing deeply in your people. While eating together, employees build connections and develop relationships. They share stories about their days, their families and, yes, their work. These interactions can help them feel connected to each other and engaged with the organization that made it possible — the organization that is recognizing and appreciating them.

Engaged employees have a high level of emotional connection to their work and feel a great deal of fulfillment in what they do. They trust leadership, feel recognized for their efforts and are satisfied with the direction of their career. Pizza is, of course, only part of the puzzle, but it is an excellent place to begin the building.

Play an active role

As CEO, you are responsible for driving these efforts and, as much as possible, participating. When we leaders are present, it helps send a positive message to our wonderful people that the event is important, and that they are valued members of the organization. Now, when you attend, don’t sit with your fellow executives. Simply being present isn’t enough. Sit with people you don’t see or interact with very often, if at all. Ask questions and most importantly, listen.

I often sit with our production workers who I don’t see in my daily office routine. It gives me the chance to ask personally how things are going in the plant, ask if they need anything and listen to their stories about the latest company-sponsored soccer team victory. These interactions bring me great happiness and build trust between us. We see each other as individuals and that is key to building a strong culture.   

Here are some tips to bringing your team to the table:

  • Events should be routine — A colleague once spoke about his siblings’ ritual of gathering the first Sunday afternoon of every month “whether they liked it or not.” Of course, you hope your employees like it, but gatherings need to be scheduled and routine to reinforce their importance.

 

  • Include recognition — Serve breakfast before monthly employee meetings and recognize birthdays, employment anniversaries and business successes.

 

  • Celebrate little things — There is always a reason to celebrate, even if it is just a beautiful summer day. How about setting up a sundae bar or caramel apples for an afternoon treat?

 

  • Feature families and special interests — Company picnics for families are nice events, as are lunches that highlight employees’ diverse cultural backgrounds, such as our Cinco de Mayo and Indian celebrations where employees help prepare ethnic dishes to share.

 

  • Be involved — As I said earlier, being a part of these meals is important for us as leaders of our organizations. We help set the tone. I have seen shared meals generate tremendous goodwill and help build the culture and community needed to be a successful, growing organization. Be part of the experience.

 

Joseph Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Joy Gendusa: Gain a following

Joy Gendusa, owner and CEO, PostcardMania

Believe it or not, one of the most overlooked characteristics of leadership is the ability to draw and motivate followers. But without followers, you aren’t really “leading” are you? In business leadership, this skill translates into the ability to get your employees to “buy in” to the mission and goal of your company or department.

Outside of the workplace, your employees are all very different individuals, each with their own set of life goals and often goals of other organizations with which they are affiliated. So how do you motivate them to concentrate on your company’s goal for the time that they are at work?

You could demand that they do so, but this kind of top-down brute force only goes so far — and usually results in employees faking devotion to the company’s cause for fear of losing their jobs.

The better option is to genuinely love and appreciate your staff. That sincerity will shine through, and in return, your employees will want to help you achieve your goals.

So if you are interested in real ways to motivate employees to buy in to your vision, implement the following actions.

1. Go heavy on the accolades.

A simple “well done” goes so much further than you would think. Deep down, everybody wants to be recognized for their hard work. If you don’t take the time to give voice to your appreciation, it can rot away at your employees’ motivation and overall happiness at work.

Make recognition of a job well done part of your company’s culture. At staff meetings, open up the floor to team members so they can brag about other members of the team or inform the team about an action that another member took that would normally go unnoticed. Even if you think you are good about this, look to improve. Don’t be afraid to lay it on thick!

2. Be an open book.

You would probably be shocked to hear what your employees think your schedule looks like. If they don’t know what you are up to, they are more likely to assume you are on the golf course than off at a three-day conference trying to soak up all the information you need to lead the company to success. That’s just the way it is.

Take pains to avoid being closed off from your employees. Be open. Be available. Be friendly. Let them know what you are working on. The more your employees know you, and like you, the more likely they are to invest in your vision and actually desire to see it come to fruition.

3. Offer perks.

Perks are not the same as rewards. Rewards are prizes that your employees can receive for a job well done. These are important, and you should have them available in the form of company-wide and department-wide games, etc. But perks are something that employees get simply for being a part of your team, and they are that much more effective at building motivation and loyalty.

When somebody is rewarded for effort, they feel accomplished and acknowledged. But when someone is offered a reward simply for being a part of the team, they feel gratitude and team spirit. I offer my employees free exercise classes and recently installed a cafe in our company headquarters. These are perks that my employees can enjoy just for being part of the team, and it helps build overall happiness and motivation to achieve company goals.

Give this a whirl in your company and watch as the culture surrounding your company’s vision shifts in a very positive direction.

Joy Gendusa is the owner and CEO of direct mail marketing firm PostcardMania. Joy began PostcardMania in 1998, with nothing but a phone and a computer, never taking a dime of investment capital. Since then, PostcardMania has expanded to offer its clients more services including website and landing page design and development, e-mail marketing and full marketing evaluations — all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice. Contact her at www.postcardmania.com.

Tom Strauss leads a new vision for patient care at Summa Health System

Thomas J. Strauss, president and CEO, Summa Health System

The fact that Tom Strauss sees some major flaws with the national health care system shouldn’t just raise eyebrows for hospitals or the patients in them. As CEO of one of the largest integrated healthcare delivery systems in Ohio — employing 10,000 people and more than 1,000 physicians across seven hospitals — Strauss knows the problem is one that affects every person in the country.

“I think everybody would admit that what we have in health care in this country today is unsustainable,” says Strauss, the president and CEO of Akron, Ohio-based Summa Health System. “When you’re spending $2.5 trillion, 17.6 percent of the GDP on health care and the health premium now for a family has exceeded what a minimum wage worker makes in a year — think of that … it’s going to affect the way that we do business.”

The glaring problems with the current care model have been compounded by the increasing number of people without health insurance, which creates a shrinking base of patients from which hospitals can generate any income — the sick ones.

“We’re really a sick care system, which means when we get paid traditionally in hospitals, it’s only by treating a bunch of sick patients,” Strauss says. “So if a good flu season rolls in … our beds are full and we’re billing a lot of revenue, but we have a lot of sick patients. There’s something wrong with that picture.”

With mounting costs, anticipated reimbursement declines and payment model that rewards based on sickness rather than health, Strauss and his team finally said enough is enough. After spending two years devising a new vision for the organization to evolve and improve the system, Summa Health launched a pilot program for an accountable care organization, called NewHealth Collaborative. In January 2011 it moved 11,000 patients in its SummaCare Medicare plan to the new collaborative.

“Some of these places are holding onto the revenue as long as they can because they believe there is a way to survive that,” Strauss says. “We don’t think there is.

“So with us, it’s what do you do to transform yourself to focus differently to create true value in health care.”

Here’s how Strauss has led the implementation of the accountable care vision across the seven hospitals.

Get organized

Because Summa Health is one of the first organizations in the community to create a prototype for accountable care organizations, Strauss knows it will be an example for future organizations in the way it implements its vision and strategy. To make sure the shift toward population health management is successful, one of the first steps is putting in place the right tools, processes and infrastructure to support it.

“You’ve got to know where your vision is, where you’re going and what your objectives with the strategy are and then put in place the executing tactical plans to make that happen,” Strauss says.

Strauss says that a key problem with the old system of that care was it could be very fragmented. With different physicians in charge of different services, handing off tasks and having limited knowledge of a patient’s needs, an estimated 30 percent of what is conducted in health care and in hospitals today is unnecessary.

So part of the transformation has been changing the organization’s siloed infrastructure to create multi-disciplinary approach to services, eliminating the overtreatment of patients and saving costs by keeping everyone on the same page, including the patient.

“People like me have to start to prepare ourselves structurally to be able to do these things for population health and population management,” Strauss says.

“What’s nice is it’s easier to do the right care, the appropriate care, and eliminate this 30 percent that’s unnecessary than to not do it. So we’ve made it easier for physicians to do that.”

Frequently inefficiency is the result of lack of communication and knowledge-sharing. So a critical step to becoming more organized and efficient is looking for ways to improve your technology.

“Some organizations are used to living on very high revenues,” Strauss says. “When you realize that eventually that is going to go away, you have to reposition your organization to be able to function at lower rates of reimbursement.”

Strauss says that the organization is investing $80 million in IT over the span of five years. It has already added a new call center so physician’s phones roll over to the 24/7 call center with care nurses during off hours. The system’s Akron City and St. Thomas hospitals also became some of the first in the country to have computerized physician order entry so physicians can access and manage orders through a portal at any time.

The other piece was implementing new evidence-based medicine protocols and procedures in the care delivery process to integrate the 10 service lines for increased efficiency.

By structuring your organization for more effective collaboration, you can align the people on shared goals and your new vision.  At the same time, you give people a clearer idea of how their role contributes to the big picture of your mission and vision.

“Those are the kinds of structures that you have to have in place to be able to thrive under this new health care reform move towards population health and population management,” Strauss says. “So it’s more than just technology.”

Be an open book

Once they came up with the model, Strauss and his leadership team presented it to the physicians and the board and held retreats to walk employees through the vision, its benefits and how the transformation would occur.

“I think most physicians understand that the old way of doing things is not very effective,” he says. “The days of fee-for service — the reimbursement is just going to be cut and cut and cut. It will be death by a thousand cuts. They understand they can’t survive the way that it is today, so we have to do something differently.”

With most people on board, the real challenge was making sure the 400 physicians and other employees involved could understand, execute and share the vision. Developing strong partnerships among the hospitals and other care providers requires strong alignment on goals as well as new patient care protocols and procedures. So for Strauss, the key to success has been having the organization be as open as possible with employees about the vision, what it involves and any changes being asked of them.

“It’s creating a vision for the future and getting people to understand what that vision is and then educating the components to engage in that process when it might be different than what they were used to in the past,” Strauss says.

“If you don’t, and they don’t believe in where you are going you will be unsuccessful. So for us, we really took the time and even after it was implemented went back to reinforce the vision of why this is so important.”

By explaining how a new vision complements your organization’s core values, mission and culture, you can get more buy-in by aligning people behind shared goals as well as a shared culture. So aside from instituting training and education programs for employees, Strauss has spent a lot of personal time working to put the vision into a clear framework. His efforts include teaching a class for employees called “The Philosophies of Summa,” speaking at monthly new employee orientations and hosting monthly “Talks with Tom” for several hundred employees with representatives from each department.

“There are no secrets,” Strauss says. “I give them financials. I talk about what’s happening good and bad and ugly, and it’s been very effective. It’s information. It’s listening. It’s being by their side and nurturing them when they are down.

“We believe that the employees that work here are the soul of the firm. Your employees represent your greatest strength or your greatest weakness. So they have a culture that supports them — servant leadership — and it says if I’m not serving that patient I’m going to serve you.”

Strauss says that another goal of the open communication is to reciprocate the attitude and culture he wants to drive in the system, which is one of servant leadership and mutual caring.

“The moment of truth is the first 15 seconds when you come in contact with a patient in need, and it’s how you seize that moment to make the difference to satisfy their needs,” he says.

“If you’re too busy or you’re having a bad day or the Browns lost or the Steelers lost, and you translate that at work to your patient, we will fail as an organization.”

To strengthen the mindset they want all employees to have, Strauss has charged managers to be more active in talking to employees and patients to see what their needs are and helping them carry out the vision for accountable care.

“If you’re engaging your work force to go after a vision, then you need to give them as much information as you can about the reason for that vision,” he says. “That’s one of the pieces that I love to do.

“We’re actually making a concerted effort to do rounding with a purpose. You’re going to see every leader at Summa being out more on the floor talking to patients, talking to employees both on satisfaction and safety.”

Motivate results

But once you give people the information, you then want them to drive its success as much as possible. To help employees feel like they have a stake in that vision so they will drive it with enthusiasm, Summa Health has tied more employee financial incentives to the positive patient outcomes it’s seeking from the new care protocols and procedures.

For example, all employees in the system receive a bonus each year based on the company’s financial performance and levels of patient satisfaction.

“We’ve paid out millions of dollars to the employees,” Strauss says. “This is beyond managers. This is all of the employees. We want them to feel like if they produce, if they work with us, if they exceed the expectations of the patients — that’s the definition of quality — they will benefit, their organization will benefit, and we will be the provider and employer of choice.”

Eventually, seeing the positive results of changes helps employees realize that your vision is a viable one.

As a result of its technological innovation, the NewHealth Collaborative received 2012 certification from the federal government for its ability to meet standards of meaningful use guidelines. Its Akron City and St. Thomas Hospitals will acquire $5.1 million in federal incentives, which will be distributed to the hospitals and its doctors.

“In the old days you would just throw services out there and market those services and try to grow this population of sick patients,” Strauss says. “Now we’re going to get paid on the population’s health.”

Although he’s been with Summa Health for 13 years, Strauss believes that the organization is just starting to scratch the service in the excellence it can achieve by transforming the community’s health. Despite the uncertain future of health care reform, he sees more and more people are now realizing that action needs to be taken to change the industry.

“When you deliver that kind of quality and safety and you see the savings we’re starting to generate, you realize that there’s an answer here,” Strauss says.

How to reach: Summa Health System, (800) 237-8662 or www.summahealth.org

Takeaways

1. Put the structures in place to implement your plan.

2. Help infuse the vision with transparency and an open-door policy.

3. Offer employee incentives to drive results.

The Strauss File

Thomas Strauss
President and CEO
Summa Health System

Born: Pittsburgh

Education: Duquesne University for undergraduate and graduate schools. B.S. in pharmacy in 1975 and a doctorate of pharmacy in 1978

What do you like most about working in health care?

That you are caring for patients at their most vulnerable time, you can make a difference in every patient’s life and you can make a difference in employees’ lives. We’re the largest employer in five counties, so for us we take that pretty seriously. And improve the health status of the communities, not only once you educate and take care of patients but you can go out into the communities and you can make a difference.

What mistakes can you make in a growing business?

The first thing you’ve got to realize is that you can’t make everybody happy. That’s the hard one, especially for somebody like me who really prefers to have people holding hands singing ‘Kumbaya.’ The other area is trying to micromanage. You cannot in this environment micromanage. You’ve got to empower your people and let them go. They will make mistakes and that’s OK as long as they learn from their mistakes. I would think trying to stay in the old system, trying to stay in the old ways was a mistake that got us starting to transform toward population health and population management.

What’s the best business advice you’ve received?

Love what you do. If you think about the hours we all work, that gets pretty challenging if you don’t love what you do because I probably put in as many hours here as I do at home, unfortunately. So that’s one. Make sure you love what you do, and if you don’t love what you do, go find something you will.

How Dan Myers built Bridge Bank’s culture around change management

Dan Myers, founding president and CEO, Bridge Bank N.A.

When Dan Myers and his partners capitalized Bridge Bank N.A. in 2001, it was the largest new bank IPO in the state of California at the time. More impressively, they did it during the most brutal economic downturn in Silicon Valley’s history. Even then, the biggest challenges were still ahead.

“We expected to grow rapidly, and based on experiences at other banks that were also somewhat recognized as high growth models, we understood and appreciated that we would transition rather quickly from a de novo, to a $250 million bank, to a $500 million bank to $1 billion bank, and the infrastructure and risk management challenges inherent in each of those milestones were significant,” says Myers, the founding president and CEO of the San Jose-based company.

In addition to its differentiated business model, which focuses exclusively on business – not on retail, the bank’s strategy involved executing a high-growth business model. From the beginning, the founders were cognizant that the company needed to be able to handle change extremely well if it were going to be successful with this vision.

“We had to be adept at change because regardless of economic environment, the company was going to go through some accelerated phases of growth in an accelerated manor that demanded we be good at change,” Myers says.

To ensure that everyone in the company was proficient at change management, Myers and his team knew they needed to weave it into the culture of the bank itself.

Stay several steps ahead

To handle the continuous change that comes with fast business growth, Myers realized that the bank couldn’t afford to not plan ahead when it came to its strategies, infrastructure and growth goals.

“You have to think ahead, not only a couple of quarters or to the end of whatever fiscal year you’re operating in,” Myers says. “You have to look down the road one to five years, which most banks do on a strategic basis. But their five years we’d be looking at in one to two years.”

Proactively building up your infrastructure prepares your company for fast growth by enabling a smoother transition from one phase of growth to the next. This allows you to focus your attention and resources on the core business, such as finding good clients that fit your target profile, soliciting new business and producing the results for its shareholders, rather than trying to constantly re-adapt a long-term strategy.

“We would never want to be in a position where we’re playing catch-up,” Myers says. “So we’d build infrastructure, we’d build capabilities before we actually needed them. When it came time to execute at that higher level, from an internal cultural management perspective, we would already be there.”

To develop a culture of forward-thinkers, it’s important to talk to employees about what kind of growth you are anticipating so they understand why it is important to create a culture that is accustomed to change.

“A lot of that success was focused on explaining that to the bankers that we had already hired, the founders and making sure that as we brought people in they understood not only were we going to execute a sound bank business plan but we were going to do it in a way that would anticipate this high growth and prepare for it,” Myers says.

Myers and his team also spend a lot of time talking to employees, customers and stakeholders about how the company’s value proposition is being received by clients and the bank’s more active referral sources in the community – that includes professional services groups such as CPAs, attorneys, venture capitalists and investment bankers, in addition to the management of all the companies who bank with Bridge Bank on a direct basis.

Having this dialogue is helpful to stay on top of trends and shifts in thinking among key groups in your industry, allowing you to adapt proactively.

“We took it a level higher and said we want to be even more differentiated in that we’re going to be the only true professional, business bank operating at the community bank level in our region,” Myers says.

“So it’s the constant, ongoing conversation are we offering the value proposition, products, services that are relevant in doing what they’re supposed to do for their clients,” Myers says.

The company recently expanded this effort to include brand analysis, which seeks input from its stakeholders and also from prospects that it didn’t manage to turn into customers.

In today’s tough environment, it isn’t easy to attract new clients and retain them for growth, so it’s critical to be part of the industry conversation if you want to be successful tomorrow.

By planning ahead, the bank has been able adapt quicker than many competitors in times of great change, including through two significant economic downturns.

“It’s making sure that we’re questioning those out in the market and getting feedback to expand our target,” Myers says.

Be clear on strategy

When looking at how to set up Bridge Bank, Myers and the other founders analyzed the structure and organization of other local de novo banks — banks that have been in operation for five years or less. What they figured out was that in California, the average de novo community bank would grow to anywhere from $300 million to $500 million in size in a 10-year period. Yet Bridge Bank planned to grow even faster than that.

“We were intending to be roughly double that in the same amount or a lesser amount of time,” Myers says. “So our time horizons were moved up a little bit with the same challenges imbedded in them.”

To execute this growth efforts, he felt it was even more important that the company set clearly defined goals for the bank and its employees for how they would achieve growth.

“You need to understand your organization, not only what it really is — and that’s a challenge, too — but where you intend it to go,” Myers says.

He says that much of his time goes toward developing a culture and communication system to make sure the growth strategy and vision remain clear for everyone.

“There can be a disconnect that develops over time,” he says. “You simply have to encourage the folks that you rely on to run various aspects of your business to keep you informed in an accurate way so that you can manage accordingly.”

It’s beneficial to have a communication system that provides top level management accurate, honest input and feedback so that your top leadership can best understand the organization as it matures. Because fast growth companies tend to be adding new employees all the time, part of that involves devoting significant time and resources to encouraging open communication within your organization.

In other words, talk to people.

“I know it’s a simple concept, but as you grow very rapidly you have people coming in from different organizations,” Myers says. “You have a constant mix and evolution of culture. You really have to proactively develop lines of communication, methods of communication and provide people with the tools to communicate effectively.”

This helps you avoid falling into what Myers calls the “big bear trap” of pursuing areas that are not consistent with your primary model, a pitfall he’s observed for many banks.

“Over the years, it’s been important to remind our folks from top to bottom in the organization that it’s not only critical to focus on what we said we’re going to do,” he says. “It’s to have the discipline to stay away from things that we know are not complementary, which again is running counter to what most other larger banking organizations have done even in the last 10 years.”

Engage people in decision-making

As the second or third startup for many of its founders, Bridge Bank has had the benefit of an experienced leadership team throughout its growth. Yet from this experience, Myers and his partners have also learned that leaders cannot be the only ones coming up with ideas if they want their company to flourish. It is collaboration at all levels that gives companies the greatest advantage when planning for the future.

“Our best solutions for managing the challenges as the company continues to grow don’t necessarily come from the top,” Myers says. “Some of the best ones come from team building and teamwork at all levels of the company, top to bottom, as they work at their own individual levels on different aspects of those challenges.”

By asking people to play a more active role, you empower them to make decisions so they can take initiative to solve problems and come up with solutions or ideas proactively. Being able to acquire clients and build the bank’s business today relies on this efficiency in decision-making. Therefore, the bank’s culture is built around continuous improvement and finding new ways to grow its value proposition, no matter what the economic climate looks like.

The No. 1 driver of this culture is recognition, both verbal and financial.

“It lets us all continuously look for ways that we can improve everything that we do in a positive, constructive context so that we can execute better, we’ll take better care of our clients and we’ll have better performance not only for our shareholders but then how that comes back to our employees in terms of the ways they benefit with their relationship to the bank, including compensation,” Myers says.

“Although we have an economic recovery under way, it’s tepid at best. Therefore, your growth aspirations are really driven by your competitive positioning and abilities to take business from competitors. The overall growth in the economy isn’t going to float all boats.”

Engaging people in your company’s growth goals is more successful when it comes in the form of enthusiasm rather than censure. When you reward people for bringing ideas to the table about how your company can improve its performance, it helps them engage in innovation as a challenge to do better rather than a disapproval of the way thing are being done.

“Unfortunately in some companies it is a form of criticism,” Myers says. “You can do this better — do it better.

“Going hand-in-hand with the collaboration and teamwork, if they identify a challenge within the company, we encourage them to recommend a solution and a way of dealing with that challenge at their level with decision-making authority. That encourages an efficient resolution of whatever the challenges but also understanding that there’s accountability that goes with that.”

Today, Myers says the bank continues to focus on developing its bankers and its change management culture to stay competitively positioned for high growth.

Through continuous effort to take better care of its clients, the bank not only survived through the worst of the financial downturn but actually had its best years for new client acquisition and issuing new credit commitments. Over the last 10 years it has grown organically to some $1.2 billion in assets in 2011, an increase of $131.3 million from just the year before.

“It’s that core competency of change management that served us well when we launched in worst economic environment in Silicon Valley, which has since been bested by the great recession,” Myers says.

“When the banking industry as a whole was really taking it on the chin from a PR and creditability perspective, we had our best years at bringing new clients in, which I think says something about the validity of our value proposition, how it resonates in the market and how our people have executed in delivering that value proposition so that it’s appreciated for what it is.”

How to reach: Bridge Bank N.A., (408) 423-8500 or www.bridgebank.com

Takeaways

  1. Stay ahead of the game.
  2. Set clearly defined goals.
  3. Use teamwork to make decisions.

The Myers File

Daniel Myers
Founding president and CEO
Bridge Bank N.A.

Born: Dayton, Ohio

Education: DePauw University, liberal arts. Pacific Coast Banking School, Seattle, Wash.

First job ever: I bailed hay part time.

First job after college: Pacific Valley Bank in San Jose, Calif., as a reconcilement clerk

Who are your heroes in the business world and why?

Entrepreneurs. They have the vision, the can-do-anything attitude, and perseverance that is the basis for new company and new job creation, even in the face of monumental challenges in today’s environment.

What do you do to regroup on a tough day?

Take our golden retriever, Belle, on a long walk. She’s a good listener.

What is your favorite part of your job?

At Bridge Bank, I get to meet and work with so many exceptional and interesting people, including the entrepreneurs, business owners and all of the top tier career professional business bankers that have joined me at Bridge Bank.

How Mike Kahoe started a health-smart program and cut insurance premiums at Group Management Services

Mike Kahoe, president, Group Management Services Inc.

Mike Kahoe was not happy with the 15 percent increases for health insurance premiums that his company, Group Management Services Inc., was facing each year. It was time to take control to lower health insurance costs for the 50-some people on the plan.

Once Kahoe, president of the $24 million professional employer organization, searched for some information, he was swayed over to a plan of wellness for his business. He believed he could cut the health insurance premiums significantly ­― and there were other benefits.

“At the end of the day, you have a bunch of people who you work with that are healthier and happier,” he says. “And that means happier customers.”

Here are some of the steps he took to reach his goals.

“One of the first steps is to get nurses to test everybody’s cholesterol and blood sugar levels, height and weight and so on,” he says.

This will establish some base-line statistics that you can work on to improve, and the recommendation that some health behaviors need to change has more substance coming from a health professional.

“You should use nurses rather than staff,” Kahoe says. “A lot of times, it’s delegated to an HR person who tells you to quit smoking or says you should quit smoking. I just don’t think it’s very powerful. I think when a nurse or a doctor tells you, it’s a different story.”

The company leader needs to support the efforts.

“Don’t be afraid to get involved in it personally. Take a look at yourself first,” Kahoe says. “People tend to replicate your behavior; for example, if you’re out back smoking a lot, I think it’s bad for the company.

What Kahoe found out about his personal base line became a driving force for the program.

“Honestly, at the time, the thing that was most shocking was that I might have been the biggest violator of all,” he says. “I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, working hard and not watching what I was eating. I was also on the obese level, and I really didn’t like that term associated with me.”

The second step is to develop the programs by getting information from health sources on popular initiatives such as smoking cessation, weight loss and healthy eating programs.

“We just put together some programs and some incentives for people to quit smoking and live healthier lifestyles.” Kahoe says. “We had some weight-loss competitions and things like that.”

As soon as he knew what his initiatives would be, Kahoe devised ways to make it easier to stay focused on goals.

“There has to be a carrot, and there has to be a stick,” he says. “I think the people that are making bad choices in their behavior should pay a little bit more for health insurance. I mean it takes a little bit of work to be healthy, to get on a treadmill for a half-hour a day or whatever it takes. I think those people should be rewarded for the work they put in.

“If you are a smoker, you pay a little bit more for your insurance, but can get a bonus if you quit; if you are a nonsmoker, you actually get another contribution to your health savings account every year to help fund your health insurance.”

As a last step, you should invest in tools to help employees reach their goals. Kahoe built a workout room where there are treadmills, an elliptical machine and weights.

“It gets very heavy usage,” he says. “The goal is just one more way to get people involved.”

After the programs have been in effect for some time, you should see some impressive results.

“We are down to single digits for the percentage of smokers, we cut in half the obesity numbers and the overweight numbers. Our health insurance costs were cut in half and continue to go down every year. Your people are just healthier. You should get less sick days and a happier environment.”

How to reach: Group Management Services Inc., (330) 659-0100 or www.groupmgmt.com

Peer support

When Mike Kahoe, president of Group Management Services Inc., wanted to start some wellness initiatives at his company, he knew that peer involvement would be a key point.

Getting people involved starts with your initial event, which is a type of health inventory. You should make it voluntary to participate in the health professional-run event, which includes blood pressure, cholesterol tests and blood tests. With some promotion, you should get a high rate of involvement in the kick-off event. You want to get as many involved as possible to be a success.

“We had almost 100 percent participation,” he says. “People need some awareness and a little bit of a nudge sometimes.”

A good idea is to open the programs to all employees, not just the ones enrolled in the health care plan. This will help unify the participants even more. Team members will give each other encouragement.

“It would be a complete failure if you don’t get the employees inspired,” Kahoe says.

A smoking cessation program featuring a bonus for quitting can start small, but with participation and positive results, it will likely grow.

“A lot of people will encourage each other,” he says. “Once it catches on, and 10 people quit smoking, I think the other people could figure out that they could too.”

How Paul Gaffney pushed decision-making down to the lowest level to drive new growth at AAA

Paul Gaffney, president and CEO, AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah

When Paul Gaffney became president and CEO of AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah, the company had more than 4.3 million members, a century of history and $2.6 billion in revenue. At the same time, it was essentially a startup.

That summer the milestone decision had been made by the California State Automobile Association to split up its two big operating businesses, a motor club and an insurance carrier, into two separate companies.

“Whenever you have things combined that have some different business drivers, you end up being inefficient in surprising places,” says Gaffney, who assumed leadership of the auto club in 2010.

He wasn’t surprised to find that the 111-year-old company had gravitated toward a hierarchical culture, but he realized that the transition was a perfect time to reengage employees at the “new” company in a culture that was participative and would drive the kind of ideas needed to excel in the service business.

“So we really wanted to invert that leadership pyramid and put the folks who are on the front lines with our customers at the top,” Gaffney says. “That’s a change for people. People actually like where that’s going, but it’s different than their historical experience. So we’ve had to do a lot of work to explain to people what we mean by that.”

Raise engagement

When you’re coming into hierarchical culture, not everyone in the organization may be jumping to start sharing his or her ideas. So the first step for Gaffney was to get people at all levels of the company motivated to play a more active role.

One way to do this is by reminding people how they fit into your company’s vision and mission. Because the company’s heritage had been lost a little bit when it was tied to the insurance business, Gaffney began highlighting aspects of this history using storytelling, for example, the fact that the club invented the eight-sided stop sign.

“We have a historian on staff and we try to make those rich elements of the history of the club very apparent to our employees and in our Via (member) magazine,” Gaffney says.

He encouraged his leaders in the organization to utilize meetings and other internal communications as opportunities to share member stories and anecdotes.

“One thing that we’ve done very proactively is to make sure that our club member is always front and center, even if the thing that we’re working on might seem so ‘back-officey’ that you don’t know how it could be connected to the member,” Gaffney says. “So we tell a lot of member stories. That’s a very important part of our culture, is to remind everyone why we’re here.”

Sharing stories about your company helps employees to connect to your customers and your business in a more participative way, because it facilitates a more personal response.

“It just seems to work well though because it is a tool that lowers the barriers to having dialogue versus monologue, because people can tell you what parts of a story resonate with them, what parts they have questions about and what parts trouble them,” Gaffney says. “Storytelling just seems to be a medium that unlike PowerPoint, really draws people in.”

Another way to motivate employee participation is to ask more questions. This helps draw out people who may be more reserved in bringing their ideas to the table.

“When you ask folks, they usually have things they want to tell you, but when you don’t ask they generally don’t want to bring them up,” Gaffney says. “It’s the rare individual that will proactively bring up something that they know could be improved. But when you ask them, most people respond to that invitation.”

Gaffney now asks everyone in a leadership role at the company to double their question-to-statement ratio.

“The way we find inefficiencies is we try to make the environment one that is really conducive to everyone being curious, because you can’t find inefficiencies by having some specialized group looking for them or by expecting that a couple people at the top will do things,” Gaffney says. “You actually have to have the whole company constantly looking at things and saying, ‘Why do we do this that way? Could we do this more efficiently?’ That has yielded for us a lot of great opportunities that we might not have otherwise uncovered.”

Get with your top people

Gaffney knew his top leaders were historically used to a top-down culture. So to facilitate the transition, he has spent a lot of time coaching the company’s management to help them shift toward a bottom-up leadership structure.

“I spend a lot of time with the folks at the top couple layers of the official org chart, just talking to them about what it means to be in service to the folks who are in service to our customers — so in service to them rather than in charge of them,” Gaffney says.

Providing a model for what you want leadership to look like is important in helping people evolve their approaches and buy into the changes.

One way Gaffney offered this was by implementing a training program to help people examine different approaches to leading. He also decided to run the program personally.

“It’s a leadership development program that is based on reading about leaders in other situations and engaging in a group dialogue of how did those leaders approach the situation, and how did they model the kind of leadership that we’re looking for,” Gaffney says.

In the process, Gaffney realized he had to make some changes in his own leadership style to be more inclusive. As CEO, you are the number one model your managers will look to copy.

“In wanting to be a great role model for how we want every manager and leader around here to behave, that’s helped me even more focus on ‘Hey, am I asking enough questions and reducing the amount of statements that I make?” Gaffney says. “Becoming more aware of that boundary line of when do you really need to tell the organization to do something versus giving it a lot of room to be a healthy organism — that’s a line that is difficult for any CEO to find.”

Because his ideas could easily dominate the conversation, Gaffney says he must make a concerted effort to delegate lower level projects and push decision-making out in the company.

“I don’t think there’s any circumstance where the CEO doesn’t make a couple calls, but out of 100 things, is it 12?” Gaffney says. “Certainly a couple years ago, I think I would have been more toward the ‘We’ve got to get this done and we should do this this way,’ and moved more toward ‘You know what there are only a few things that I’m actually going to weigh directly in on and I’m going to work more aggressively on the other things to make sure that the way that those decisions are getting made is as participative as possible.’”

Although it may require some personnel changes — which it did at AAA — Gaffney says that the real driver of the change in your leadership team is getting people to see the benefit of doing things differently. And this is a more gradual process.

“What I try to do and what I encourage the people who report directly to me to do is to be very aware that we’re asking for a transition in a collection of learned behaviors,” Gaffney says. “To me, the successful way to coach folks through that is not to criticize their historical approach but to ask them some questions about how they might do things differently if they really wanted to be in service to others rather than in charge of others. That takes a lot of time but it can be a very important ingredient in the transformation.”

In this kind of transformation, Gaffney recommends making sure that your top leaders are high in their sense of urgency. Those will be the people who will be worth the big investment of your time.

“Do they tend to be the kind of person who when there’s something to work on, they own it?” Gaffney says. “When there’s something to work on, they believe they have the capacity either to work on it themselves or find the right kind of help to work on it, versus someone who has low urgency and someone who tends to look at circumstances outside themselves to explain why they can or cannot fix something. It’s very difficult to help someone if they’re low in their own sense of urgency. It’s very unlikely that my investment in them is going to help make any change.”

Create an idea system

A bottom-up culture is most successful when you can actually implement ideas into your company to solve problems, innovate and improve. So with more people involved in the decision-making process, you need to teach employees how to evaluate ideas so the best ones rise to the top.

“Everyone is in touch with the emotional goodness of coming up with an idea,” Gaffney says. “It’s a little bit more of a challenge to get people to balance their emotional enthusiasm for something that sounds right and seems to intuitively be a really good idea and then put it through the rigor of could it possibly be big enough for us to actually work on and be excited about.”

Gaffney says to first acknowledge the quality of the idea, particularly if it’s being delivered enthusiastically, then ask questions to turn the thought process back on the employee.

“When trying to flesh out an idea — even if I know instinctively that it could never be big enough or it couldn’t make a profit — instead of sharing my point of view, I try to be in a place where I ask the employee, ‘OK, if you were to run this business, how much do you think you’d sell this for, and how much do you think you’d sell, and how would you go about figuring that out, and what did you think the costs of this thing would be?’ Really what I’m trying to do is get all 2,200 of these folks to think through those things all the time, even in their day-to-day operation.”

Even if the idea doesn’t end up working, pushing employees to find solutions themselves teaches people how to come up with ideas that will work.

“I’m sure there are some people who would rather not have to do that, but those ideas don’t make it anywhere anyway,” Gaffney says. “I think a lot of people react to that by realizing, ‘OK maybe this one wasn’t good enough, but I now know a lot more about what ingredients need to be in my next idea.’”

That also pushes decision-making down in the organizations, which frees your senior leaders up to focus on other priorities and pursue new opportunities as well.

“I think the number one advantage is people have wider ranges of responsibility now,” Gaffney says. “They go to fewer meetings. They have to prepare fewer presentations and that inspires them to just get things done.”

As an example, the company was able to deploy its new finance, HR and payroll backbone in just four short months.

“We were able to do that that quickly because the people that had to do the work had that insight that ‘Hey, there are so many opportunities here, we need to unlock them right away and take a little bit of risk in moving quickly onto a new platform,’” Gaffney says.

“It’s perhaps an inevitable consequence of making an organization leaner, but it’s also the kind of environment that you encounter in a startup, where there’s more work to do than there are people and you have good people in the roles. You give them authority. You let them make decisions; and in my experience people embrace that kind of environment with great enthusiasm.”

How to reach: AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah, www.csaa.com or (800) 922-8228

Takeaways

1. Engage people through dialogue

2. Be a model of participative leadership

3. Help people evaluate their own ideas

The Gaffney File

Paul Gaffney
President & CEO
AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah

Education: AB in Computer Science from Harvard College, Cambridge, Mass.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve gotten?

Essentially to never stop learning. That has come in a variety of forms, some of them more harsh than others. One of them is to remember that even in moments of great success, you’re just a human being and something else is going to go wrong tomorrow and you better not rest for any period of time on success.

Why do people like working for you?

I’d hope they would tell you that we try to do this in a pretty fun way, and it’s an environment where all 2,200 people in the company speak to everyone else on a first-name basis. I’m Paul out in the field. I’m not the president. And I think that helps people see their work as a pretty natural extension of their life.

What do you like most about your job?

What I love about this company and the businesses that we’re in and the people that are in it is we have no inherent conflict between any other party and the needs of our customers. We don’t have stockholders to please – this company is essentially owned by its members. We have a pretty clear business model that articulates making just a small amount of profit each year that helps sustain the long-term viability of the company and provides great value to members. We don’t sell anything, and as long as I’m here we won’t sell anything where the nature of the sale benefits someone in a way disproportionate to how it benefits the customer. It’s really a blessing to not have any of those conflicts. And most other business it’s not nefarious, it’s just easy for those conflicts to creep up.

How G. Brint Ryan installed a results-only work system at Ryan LLC

G. Brint Ryan, Founder, CEO and Managing Principal, Ryan LLC

It was the middle of 2008, and G. Brint Ryan was uneasy about his business. Overall, he was confident that the Dallas-based tax firm he’d founded 17 years earlier was on solid ground and was poised for continued success. But one thing was bugging him: Workers had been leaving the company in growing numbers. Ryan LLC’s annual attrition rate — though still below the accounting industry norm of 27 percent — had been creeping up. Eighteen percent. Twenty. Twenty-two.

Then, one day late that summer, as Ryan recalls, “the critical event” happened: One of his firm’s fast-rising employees, a young woman a couple years out of college, asked to meet with him. Her request got his attention. It felt urgent.

“Her name is Kristi Bryant,” Ryan recalls. “At that time, she was a brand-new team leader. She came in and said, ‘Brint, I have to tell you, I love this company. I love the work I do. I find it challenging; I find it rewarding. I just love this place … and here’s my resignation letter.’

“I said, ‘Whoa, time out. Tell me why you’re leaving. Are you going to a competitor?’ She said no; then she repeated, ‘I love this place, I love the work. … But, you know, I’m recently married, and I’ve decided to start a family, and we’ve made the determination that work at Ryan is incompatible with a life outside work. It’s just not possible.’”

The words hit Ryan like freight train.

“It laid me out,” he says. “It’s one thing when you have a marginal performer that leaves; you don’t shed a lot of tears. But this was different. When your very top people [opt out] because of the work environment — well, that’s a problem.”

Strike a deal

So Ryan cut to the chase with Bryant. He said, “Look, Kristi, I don’t want to lose you. But more importantly, I see you as a representative of a large class of our younger top performers. So I’ll make a bargain with you: If you’ll stay and give me a chance to work on this, then I’ll let you head up the initiative, and we’ll figure out what’s wrong with this work environment, and we’ll change it.” She said, “Well, let me think about it.”

“So she went away and thought about it for a couple days, then she came back and said, ‘Now, look: If you’re sincere about this — I mean, if you’re truly ready to embrace meaningful change — then I’ll stay and I’ll lead the initiative.’ And I said, ‘Fine, you’re on.’ So that’s what we did.”

Ryan next sat down with his company’s human resources team, and together they decided that their first step toward determining what the company’s new work environment should look like would be to conduct some research to assess how the accounting industry was changing. They quickly did that, and their findings underscored some tectonic shifts in the marketplace that the company’s leaders were aware of but hadn’t been paying much attention to. The accounting industry had changed dramatically from the time G. Brint Ryan began working in the 1980s. It had gone from a male-dominated sector to a female-dominated one. And in response to that shift, some of Ryan LLC’s big competitors had installed flextime and telecommuting programs to make their work environments more suitable for families and women with young children.

Ryan’s firm, conversely, hadn’t made any such moves and was gaining a reputation for being, as the CEO puts it, “a sweatshop” — especially on college campuses, where accounting and tax firms compete for the young talent that feeds their business.

“I had started [the company] in 1991, and at that point I had a little over three years of professional experience,” Ryan says. “I was very much a product of public accounting. And public accounting in the 1980s was very rigid. People wore the amount of hours they worked like a badge of honor. It was very inflexible. And we adopted that model. From 1991 to 2008, we operated in that fashion. We had mandatory work hours of between 50 and 55 hours a week year-round. We communicated to new hires that that was our requirement. We expected people to be in their seats at 8:30, and we expected them to be here until the work was finished. There wasn’t a lot of give in that model. And it worked fine. … I mean, we were successful.”

Seek fresh input

Clearly, though, signs were pointing toward the need for change. That old model wasn’t necessarily working fine anymore. Ryan LLC’s attrition rate was inching up, and it was getting tougher to recruit and retain young talent. So Ryan brought in a consulting firm that had experience working with companies in similar predicaments.

“This [consulting] firm had done a number of assignments and had coined the term ‘results-only work environment,’” Ryan says. “Their idea was truly radical: You throw out the work schedule, you throw out the work location, and you basically just measure people on results. You tell them, ‘I don’t care when you come to work; I don’t really even care if you come to work. Here are the things I want you to accomplish. And as long as you accomplish them and do them well, your life is your own. There are no rules.’

“We were intrigued by that. We saw it as a way to catch up; we saw it as a way to even leapfrog our competition. Because we knew that success comes, for us, by creating a talent magnet: a work environment where everybody wants to be here, where people from other firms are envious and want to be here. We knew that was critical. We knew we could not continue losing our top talent because of a set of work rules that didn’t fit today’s professionals.”

The consulting firm sold Ryan on its results-only approach, and shortly thereafter, Ryan announced to his employees that the company was going to institute the system, initially for a three-month pilot program in the last quarter of 2008.

“We knew this was a radical change, but the old rules weren’t working for us anymore,” he says. “So we ripped off the Band-Aid. I told the organization we’re moving forward with this.”

Not surprisingly, the younger employees at Ryan LLC were elated. They embraced the new system — immediately, enthusiastically. But most of their bosses did not. In fact, many of the senior staffers hated the concept. Ryan says he had expected there would be some discomfort; change is always unsettling. He had even anticipated a few pockets of resistance throughout the firm. But he was taken aback at the intensity of the disapproval from many of his upper and middle managers.

“I greatly underestimated the organizational resistance we were going to get,” he says. “I was caught pretty much flat-footed by it. I had senior partners coming to me and saying,

Look, we don’t know what’s happened to you, but you’re going to tank this place. This won’t work. People will not show up to work. If there’s not somebody standing over them making sure they’re producing, then production’s going to go in the tank. And by the way, Brint, we get paid for the time we put in on the services we provide to our clients.’

“I said, ‘Well, you know, that may be right, but I’m willing to take that chance, because I want to create something that is truly dynamic, and we’re 20 years behind the curve. We’ve not only gotta catch up, we’ve gotta get in front of the competition. And this is the only way that I see that we can do it.’”

Ryan knew he was taking a big risk. He knew the results-only system represented a drastic shift for his organization. But he sensed that the firm needed to make a deep-seated change and that he had to be aggressive in making it happen.

“We knew the old way didn’t work,” he says. “And to be honest, we didn’t know if this new way would work or not. But we knew we had to do something. And I felt deeply that we had to do something radical — that an incremental change was not going to get us where we needed to go. We felt like we were too far behind to just incrementally, you know, put a Band-Aid on it and keep going.”

Ryan and his leadership team knew they had an uphill battle ahead of them, but they were determined to push through it.

Be persistent

When they installed the new system, Ryan says the firm encountered a lot of what he calls “malicious compliance,” as well as some outright noncompliance, mainly on the part of some of the managers. In some cases, people were so adamantly opposed that they ultimately had to leave the firm.

“That was one of the unintended consequences of this,” Ryan says. “When we went to this program full time, we found that there was a small subset of our population that simply couldn’t work under those arrangements. They needed constant supervision. They needed somebody directing them on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, sometimes minute-by-minute basis. And within a relatively short period of time, those people left the firm. And frankly, overall that’s good for the organization — and it’s good for them too because they need to find an environment that’s suitable for them.”

But overall, Ryan and his leadership team were able to convince most of the firm’s managers to give the new program a fair shake.

“Here’s the way we got most of our management team on board,” Ryan says. “When you look at those teams that have low attrition rates, they are dramatically more productive and more successful than those that have high attrition rates. So we sat our management team down and said, look, whether you philosophically agree with this or not, the key to your success is developing a team environment — just like our overall [company] work environment — where people want to come to work, they’re happy with the leadership they get, and there’s flexibility so they can achieve a work-life balance. And the sooner you get on board with that, the more successful you’re going to be.

“So one by one, we chipped away at it. One by one, we moved them in that direction. And while we still have some issues that we encounter from time to time — where managers have their own interpretation of how the program is supposed to work — for the most part, we have the team on board. And now it’s become expected.”

Patience rewarded

A little more than a year after Ryan LLC initiated its results-only work system, Ryan says his risky move started to pay dividends.

“At the end of 2009, a miraculous thing happened,” he says. “When we looked at the metrics at the end of the year, we had done some remarkable things. First, we had reduced our turnover from 22.5 percent all the way down to 8 percent. We had to go back and recheck the numbers because we thought, wait, that can’t be right.

“In addition, we posted the highest revenue we’d ever posted as a firm, and a record profit, in what was one of the absolute worst economic environments I’ve seen in my professional career. So we were beside ourselves.”

Ryan says he and his leadership team are now fully invested in the results-only work system for the firm.

“We’re big believers in creating a work environment where people can do their best work, not one where we try to second-guess when they should come to work, or where they should work from,” he says. “We know that people work differently. Some people like to get up early in the morning and knock things out. Other people work later in the day, or they work at different times. And sometimes they’re more effective when they’re away from the office than when they’re in the office.”

Perhaps most importantly, Ryan says the flexible work program has made his firm a hit on the college recruiting trail.

“It’s become one of the most valuable recruiting tools we have,” he says. “When you can go to a college campus and say you’ve won several best-place-to-work awards — and, oh, by the way, here’s how the program works, and this is the type of flexibility you’re going to have — they’re overwhelmed. So we’re getting more than our fair share of the top talent as a result of the program.”

HOW TO REACH: Ryan LLC, (972) 934-0022, www.ryan.com

 
 
 
 

THE RYAN FILE

Name: G. Brint Ryan

Title: Founder, CEO and Managing Principal

Company: Ryan LLC

Born: Big Spring, Texas

Education: University of North Texas, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

I was a newspaper carrier for the Big Spring Herald. That was one of my most difficult collection jobs. But you know what? You learn that if you don’t collect the money, you don’t eat. So it was a valuable skill. Also, there’s nothing like dealing with the public, dealing with the retail trade, to put your mind in the right frame of reference. Because you deal with all types of people. And the objective is to get them all to take the paper and to pay on time. So you learn to be persuasive, and you learn to be persistent. You get turned down more times than bedsheets, yet you just keep on going.

Do you have a core business philosophy that you use to guide you?

Since the beginning of this firm, the thing that’s always guided me is that if you take good care of your clients and you do your best work, everything else falls into place: the money, the opportunities — they are all byproducts of just doing the best job that you can.

What trait do you think is the most important one for a a business leader to have in order to be successful?

Probably the one that’s most important is communication. The ability to connect with people, the ability to understand and empathize with people, is a critical leadership skill. You can’t do anything big by yourself, so you’ve got to be able to build and lead teams to success. And you can’t do that if you can’t communicate — if you can’t identify with and connect with the people you’re trying to lead.

Donna Rae Smith: Avoiding the blame game

Donna Rae Smith, founder and CEO, Bright Side Inc.

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” — Henry Ford

There’s no shortage of blame going around. Pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV and you’ll see accusations being hurled across political divides, within families and over international borders. I often think of all the wasted energy that goes into blaming and accusing others. That same energy could be used constructively, to build and create instead of to tear down.

Blame is just as poisonous in the workplace, debilitating teams and stifling productivity. Think about how you’ve felt in the past when you blamed someone for something that happened. You were likely holding on to a host of other accompanying emotions — anger, resentment, frustration. Now think about releasing all of that negativity and charting a course forward using your energy to be proactive instead of reactive.

Once you recognize that blaming others isn’t a solution, the question becomes how can you break the cycle and respond instead with healthier behavioral strategies? One of the techniques we use at Bright Side is to get leaders to “unpack” their assumptions around blame. A case in point:

Elizabeth, a senior executive, paints a dismal picture of her staff that includes infighting, poor cooperation and lack of accountability. Discussing a recent project failure, she offers no shortage of accusations.

Without dismissing her frustrations, we ask her to dig deeper. What was her role? Did she set clear expectations? Clarify roles and responsibilities? Provide feedback? Does she model the behaviors — accountability, clear communication, collaboration — that she expects from others?

This self-assessment isn’t easy. It’s typically uncomfortable for people to step back and see their role objectively. Once Elizabeth acknowledges that she isn’t simply an innocent bystander, and that some of her behaviors aren’t constructive, we work to identify new behaviors that will achieve the desired outcomes.

At this point, Elizabeth has already made considerable progress. She is able to see her actions more clearly and to propose more effective behaviors. The next phase is to work with her (and leaders like her) to think through what some of the barriers might be when she goes to apply this in the workplace.

In Elizabeth’s case, one problem area is that she isn’t comfortable with confrontation, and therefore, she avoids addressing problems until it’s too late. By recognizing the obstacles and identifying concrete situations where she can start to behave differently, she is prepared for the challenges and can hold herself accountable.

The path to real solutions and progress occurs when people accept accountability for their own behaviors and resolve to work on themselves rather than on those around them. Here are a few ways that you can get started:

1. Communicate clearly and civilly. Even if others are engaged in finger pointing and name-calling, stay above it. Set a standard for the kind of interactions and conversations you expect from others.

2. Kudos to you. Recognize that when you exhibit positive behaviors, you have a beneficial impact on business outcomes. Acknowledge that you’re demonstrating these behaviors despite the personal discomfort, and commend yourself for establishing new patterns of behavior.

3. Clap your hands! OK, you don’t necessarily have to give applause, but you do need to counter blame and negativity by recognizing the good work and positive behaviors taking place around you. Extend words of praise and acknowledgement where deserved. Intentionally identify when colleagues exhibit positive behaviors. Do this daily. It reinforces the message that you value positive, constructive behavior, keeps you on your toes and exposes you to learning (and hopefully adopting) the effective behaviors from those around you that diminish the blame game.

The process of replacing entrenched, deep-rooted behaviors with new ones doesn’t happen overnight. It takes repeated effort and hard work to unlearn and then re-learn. But the effort is well worth it for ourselves and those around us.

Donna Rae Smith is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a behavioral strategy company that teaches leaders to be masters of change. For more than two decades, she and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in organizational and leadership development and the key partner to more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. Smith is a guest leadership blogger for Smart Business and the author of two leadership books, “Building Your Bright Side” and “The Power of Building your Bright Side.” For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact her at [email protected]

How Barry Wolfson restructured Tervis to keep up with consumer demand

Barry Wolfson, president and CEO, Tervis

Barry Wolfson joined Tervis at a time when the company was expanding nationally, increasing sales and enjoying double-digit revenue growth. From the outside, it was a CEO’s dream. Internally, the company’s 700 employees could barely keep up.

“When your business is growing 60 percent a year, it’s everything you can do to just focus on running the business day to day,” says Wolfson, CEO since 2010.

“I just think that there wasn’t an opportunity for anyone to say ‘Hey, we need to step back for a moment,’ because there really wasn’t time to step back.”

By restructuring the business in a way that allowed it to scale, Wolfson has helped the company — known for its tumblers that “keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold” — manage the demands of fast growth.

Smart Business spoke with Wolfson about the keys to scaling a fast-growth company.

Set your timeline. There were things that we put on the timeline that we said, ‘In 2011, we need to get these things done.’ There are other things that we’ve started to work on during the year and say, ‘OK, now over the next five years, where do we see the company going and what are the capabilities that we have to put in place to get there? So there were short-term things — less than a year — that were very critical for us to do… and then the other is developing this longer-term vision and strategy for the company. Phase one was a little bit of an Extreme Makeover Tervis edition as we just put in place the basic capabilities to support growth. But the phase that I’m in with my senior management now is a little bit longer-term vision in terms of what products and markets do we want to focus on.

Take a forward-thinking approach. This is not something that happens in one day, that you go from ‘This is the right way to do it’ to ‘You can’t do it this way.’ It happens over time.

When you are in senior management, you have to look a little bit further down the road and say [what’s] fine today are the things that we need to do differently. It wasn’t necessarily changing every aspect of the business. Tervis has been a successful company for 65 years and so it’s a matter of saying ‘Hey, what can be preserved the way that we’re doing things and what needs to happen differently to be able to continue to grow profitably, and grow in a way that makes sense for all involved?’

Allocate resources. It was first huddling with my senior management team…then between us prioritizing here are the things that we believe in our experience and at our level that we needed to do and the time frame of doing them. We went through that process, identified a number of things that we needed to get after, and then it was a process of saying, ‘What are the resources involved in doing this — people and investment capital?’ At that point, it’s engaging with the ownership of the company and getting their support in making the investments that we needed to make both in people, systems and plant equipment.

Build a deep bench of talent. You look at how fast we’ve grown — there are many, many people in the organization who have not been here very long. So continuing to develop a culture and the key people in the organization is something that I spend a lot of time on. Generally, besides the culture, it’s continuing to develop intellectual capital that’s required in the business. Develop people from within with additional skill sets and complement that with bringing people in from the outside that can give us different perspectives on the various levels of growth and business that we are trying to achieve.

Think sustainability. Sustainable growth will come from us continuing to reach out to a wider audience of potential customers in various different markets and geographically. Staying very fresh, relevant and innovative in our product offerings is something that again fuels growth.

You have to be very intentional about the growth. We don’t see growth for growth’s sake. We want to be a strong consumer brand out there in the marketplace that is a high value brand. We don’t want to grow just to sell more tumblers. … Resisting that growing for the sake of growing is extremely important in a business that has the opportunity to grow.

How to reach: Tervis, www.tervis.com or (888) 508-8859

Steve Pittman harnesses the power of ‘We’

Steve Pittman, managing partner, Bruner-Cox LLP

Steve Pittman had some definite ideas that he wanted to launch as the new managing partner of accounting firm, Bruner-Cox LLP. In fact, he had been working on them for quite a few months before he became managing partner last year, and he felt they would differentiate the firm from the competition by using a simple catchphrase ― “We.”

“That’s the collaborative culture within our organization, and part of that collaborative dynamic is the relationship we have with our clients. We are working together, and we are extremely effective,” Pittman says.

The feedback, in a word, has been positive.

“The response from our associates has been outstanding,” he says. “The response from our clients has been outstanding.”

Smart Business talked with Pittman about incorporating the message of “We” to a firm’s mission.

How do you decide if your brand needs polishing?

This was something I had been working on with the partners. I think it’s one of those things where you look and say, ‘OK, we’ve got a great organization. We have great people. We’ve been able to be really effective even during the tumultuous economic environment we’ve been in. So what are we doing that we can do better?’ We felt like it was finding a message ― the brand, if you will ― that we could all recognize, all feel good about and talk to our clients about.

It’s not that just the leader can drive the vision; the whole organization has to drive it.

Think of the late Steve Jobs as an example. If you talk about visionaries, he had a vision. He drove that vision. He wasn’t actually building the products, he wasn’t building the retail stores, but he had visions of what Apple was going to be. He constantly reminded people, ‘This is what we are. This is what we what we do. Nothing less than that.’

How do you get your organization to buy into your approach?

Over time, you build up your reputation as an organization, as having quality people who are excellent, who have high integrity, who have this concept of collaboration. Be sure that every person in your organization never deviates from that. If you do have people who aren’t consistent with your culture, they should not be with your firm.

You want clients to always feel like that whoever they are working with from your organization, they will get to know him or her because that person is most interested in them. First of all, they’re highly intelligent, they’re well-trained, they’re focused and they have all the professional attributes that you want in a service provider but also they get the relationship concept. They get the collaborative dynamic concept.

A culture has a life of its own. If you feed it well, if you nurture it, then it takes care of deviations because as a group, you are making sure that you all stay focused, you all stay disciplined. You don’t let variability occur.

How do you control variability?

If you hire interns, that’s an excellent opportunity to evaluate people. Whether or not you are recruiting somebody young into the profession, or someone who’s lateral, spend a lot of time making sure that they understand your culture, making sure they are going to fit in and constantly monitor that and make sure they understand that the culture is the most important thing you have.

But you don’t want to discourage independent thinking because a key value should be innovation ― innovation within the culture. Here’s an excellent example: 90 percent of the competition may look at an issue one way and one of your people looks at it a different way, which is a tremendous value-added feature for the client. So that’s the idea; you always have to be thinking. You always can’t just fix up something on its face value. You have to say, ‘OK, how can we look at this in a way that it can add value to our client?’

Company facts:

City: Akron

Founded: 1925

Size: About 105 employees

Pittman on maintaining a culture: Culture is self-managing … if it is working the way it should. The key is having people who get it and understand it, and they feel good about being in that environment. That’s what you need to do best.

How to reach: Bruner-Cox LLP, (877) 339-1040 or www.brunercox.com