Whatever sage advice you impart to someone, make it short and memorable

To me, it’s all the more valuable if a person passing along some advice puts it into a short, memorable phrase.

This month’s Uniquely Cleveland focuses on the The Northern Ohio Italian American Foundation, its 20-year history and its philanthropy, including an annual gala, which this year will honor Tommy LiPuma. A Cleveland native and record producer, LiPuma has earned 18 gold and platinum records and 30 Grammy nominations in his 40-year career.

LiPuma has described the phrase he uses for what he looks for in an artist as the “chill factor.” In an interview, he gave this explanation of the nerve-tingling result of a perfect combination of song, voice and style: “I can’t always put my finger on why I know something will work. It’s more the ‘chill factor’ I look for, honing in on that artist whose music reaches inside you and takes you somewhere.”

With that phrase, the “chill factor,” you have all that’s necessary to realize how LiPuma makes his decision and perhaps how you can consider what gives you the “chill factor” when you have to evaluate a performance or product.

Decisive moment

Another phrase that says it all in a few words is the “decisive moment.” Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer who is widely considered the father of photojournalism, coined this phrase, which has come to mean the perfect second to press the shutter.

To quote Cartier-Bresson, the decisive moment is “In the span of a fraction of a second, the simultaneous acknowledgement of the meaning of a fact on one hand, and on the other, of a rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express this fact.”

So when you push the shutter on your decision, you might want to consider if it is the decisive moment.

Leap of faith

Still a third phrase that communicates so much in so few words is “leap of faith,” attributed to 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. While he originally used it in a religious sense, it has been applied more broadly to indicate taking a risk and believing it will go well.

Both “leap” and “faith” are critical to the phrase’s meaning. If you change it to a “movement of little doubt,” it doesn’t convey the message nearly as well.

I first heard this used by someone I was interviewing for a position who said she left her job before she had a new one lined up. She was taking a leap of faith, she said.

I don’t know how it worked out for her but I was impressed both that she left her job without having a new one and that she called it a leap of faith — that by doing so, it was setting forces into play that would help ensure a positive outcome.

What’s your phrase? If you don’t have one at hand, give it some thought. You never know when you’ll be asked for some advice.

Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large for Smart Business Network. He is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Cleveland. 

‘Coaching’ is a fitting term to use when your team needs guidance, encouragement

Use your imagination and guess who might have said this: “We are a success today, but nothing is guaranteed for tomorrow unless we have our game face on.”

If you are thinking about a sports figure, that would be a good guess. If you thought of a public speaker — one of the thousands who have taken to the podium at The City Club of Cleveland, the topic of this month’s Uniquely Cleveland — that would be an astute guess as well.

After all, it’s been said that the fear of public speaking tops the list of all fears. It often takes coaching and practice for the timid person to make a speech.

But it was a president of a $2 billion company I interviewed who told me about a game face as he described how he leads his company.

He admitted that “coaching” might be a bit overused as a term to describe how to keep employees engaged, but it fits well.

“Try to spend time with your family of associates helping them, coaching them, checking in with them, just seeing what is going on,” he says.

What he implies is that there is a certain amount of involvement with your employees, making sure that they are encouraged to perform, but avoiding over involvement.

“I do not micromanage any of our business units or the leaders in them,” he says. “The first thing I always tell them is, ‘I want you to run your operation as if you own it. If you have questions, or if you need guidance, I am here. But if I have to micromanage it for you, I’ve got the wrong person in the seat.’”

One of the best indexes of performance is productivity. If your managers keep an eye on individual productivity, they will be able to manage more effectively where it is needed most.

“You may get fooled by some who can sing a pretty good song,” he says. “But the reality of it is just productivity. When I look at my offices, are they doing comparable to what they did the prior year? If not, why not?

“If you had a smaller office and you have two or three big sales producers, and those producers have an off year, it can impact an entire office. Instead of thinking it’s a leadership issue, maybe it is just that you have a couple of people who are having off years.

“You have to know what is going on in your business. I think if levels of management just go through the motions, those days are numbered for them because you can’t do it anymore. You have to know what the trends are and what the strategic issues facing you are, and how you are going to deal with them.”

While it may seem to be at odds with the practice of empowerment, staying in touch with employees is vital to success.

But one last word: the leader needs to prevent hovering — and to show everyone how to put on a game face.

 

Dennis is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Cleveland. (440) 250-7037 [email protected]

Henry Shaw broke fertile ground for a botanical garden as well as philanthropy

Henry Shaw founded the Missouri Botanical Garden — the subject of this month’s Uniquely St. Louis — in 1859, a gesture that preceded the age of American philanthropy.

Shaw had made a fortune in St. Louis, first by selling hardware and cutlery and then expanding to include investments in agricultural commodities, mining, real estate and furs. He was able to retire at the age of 39.

Originally from England, he resolved to return something to his adopted city, and 40 years after he arrived in St. Louis, he founded a botanical garden for the city’s residents.

The design was influenced by the great gardens and estates of Europe. Shaw wanted to focus on its displays and also on the richness of its architectural heritage and the importance of its botanical research.

It was unusual at the time for such an expression. Land was seen for its agricultural value, and the 79 acres he owned was a choice piece of property. He described the land as, “uncultivated, without trees or fences, but covered with tall luxuriant grass, undulated by the gentle breeze of spring.”

While his gesture was unusual for the mid-19th century, its foundation is similar to what philanthropists follow today. Shaw loved the land and saw its potential as something others would appreciate as well. But he didn’t stop there. Through his acts of philanthropy, Shaw provided substantial support to develop many other St. Louis institutions including Tower Grove Park, the Missouri Historical Society and the St. Louis Mercantile Library.

A CEO I once interviewed — well-known for acts of philanthropy — described his thoughts on the subject of giving:

“There might be something that is really important to a founder of a company,” he says. “You learn from other leaders or your own sense of responsibility that you should give something back to the community. When you start out, you often don’t have enough money to share with others. As you succeed in life and you accumulate assets, it makes you feel good to give some of it back.

“When I was a student, I studied existentialism — Kierkegaard and Sartre wrote about it. It teaches that the purpose in life is to make the world a better place. If you think in those terms, you ask, how do you accomplish that? What can you do with your money and your means to make the future better for human beings?

“Doctors contribute and wealthy people contribute. There are all sorts of ways you can make your town and your country better. I think you get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that when you die you are not known for just clipping coupons the rest of your life after retirement — you’ve actually done some things that are meaningful and lasting for the community. It doesn’t hurt to give. It’s a good feeling.”

What can you do to make the world a better place? Perhaps it is time to give it some thought and take action.

The time had come to think beyond tradition in order to build Key Tower

Originally known as the Society Center, the Key Tower would never have been without the help of a few pioneering city leaders who decided it was time to think out of the box and break the rules.

For 60 years, an edict from the brothers O.P. and M.J. Van Sweringen, who built the iconic Terminal Tower in 1928, was in effect to prohibit anyone from building a structure higher than the Terminal Tower.

That even held true for one of downtown’s tallest structures, the BP America Building, now called 200 Public Square. It was completed in 1985 and measured 659 feet tall, just under the 708-foot tall Terminal Tower.

Seven years later, Key Tower, the subject of this month’s Uniquely Cleveland, was completed, measuring 948 feet (with the spire). Times had changed. City leaders agreed that with an ambitious project such as the Key Tower, it was time to rethink the rules.

A few years ago, a local magazine asked former Cleveland City Council President George Forbes and former Mayor George Voinovich about how the rules were broken.

“I knew that Cleveland was restricted to a certain attitude,” Forbes said. “It was: ‘We did this in the past, this is what we always did in the past and we’ve got to keep doing it.’ “When Dick Jacobs (who developed who built the Key Tower) came with his plan, I said, ‘Build the building taller than Terminal Tower so we can break out of these things that have held us back for years.’ He said, ‘You bet. I’m going to do that.’”

Voinovich also had to break a taboo on tax abatements to grant them to Key Tower.

“Cleveland had no tax abatement to speak of,” Voinovich said. “Other cities were really into tax abatement for five to 10 years. You talk about that kind of a building, and the jobs created and the image for the city? That was a big deal.”

When rules are delaying progress on a new venture and those rules don’t seem to make sense any more, it’s time to think about breaking them. In the case of the Key Tower, the time was right for change. It made sense to relook at the rules for not only the height of a skyscraper, but for providing tax abatements. Add to that the reputation of Jacobs as a community-minded entrepreneur who counted the Cleveland Indians among his properties, and it was a natural fit.

It may have been an easier decision to break the tallest building rule since Jacobs was a known quantity, but that just goes to show that you need to assess the risk of breaking a rule. To break a rule just for the sake of change doesn’t seem sensible. What would be the payoff? What jobs would be created? What innovation would be developed? But to change tradition to permit growth and create progress makes breaking tradition prudent. And in many cases, the risk was well worth taking.

 

Asking how your company reached a milestone can help you plan the future

No matter your organization’s age, I bet there is a memory of its past on display — as a piece of nostalgia in case there’s a desire to relive a moment when times were simpler.

Maybe it’s your first dollar, or the first “write-up” in the newspaper — and that’s a good thing. A little reminder of how things used to be may make you appreciate how far you have come. It’s important to remember where you have been, and it’s a view into simpler times.

I think nostalgia does have a place in the business world. So do the Lake Shore Live Steamers, the subject of this month’s Uniquely Cleveland. Some of the 1/8th scale locomotives actually burn coal and emit cinders just like the real things did back in the 19th and 20th centuries when rail transportation was king.

It’s a valuable thing for a company to look back on its history to review a timeline of the milestones it has passed. Then, executives can ask themselves: How did we reach that milestone?

Perhaps an increase — or decrease — in sales occurred at several points on your timeline. Were new products released? Did a competitor encroach on your market share? How did your company deal with these incidents? Did it stay true to its core values?

Hopefully, your analysis doesn’t lead to an excess of the status quo, finding your employees in their comfort zones saying, “We’ve always done it that way and it works.”

I once asked a CEO how to break out of a habit of thinking like that.

“You need to understand the business cycle,” he says. “The main thing is that there are going to be good times and bad times in any business. No business races to the sky and doesn’t have some bumps along the way.

“What you don’t want to do when things are going well is to expect that there is no way for the business to retract. You want to be aware that it doesn’t always go straight up to the sky.”

So in those times, any business may be tempted to expand and do things that are riskier because you may have been emboldened by your past success or you may feel like you really have nothing that can stop you.

“But you have to be careful because hubris that can occur and lead to problems down the road,” he says. “Overexpansion, too much hiring, too much equipment brought on, new technologies and new acquisitions — all those kinds of things when businesses are doing very well may not get a careful scrutiny than if the business was going through a bad economic cycle. You want to make sure that you are doing those things with the full support of your customers, that you know exactly where the business is going from one month to the next, one quarter to the next, one year to the next, before you make those decisions.”

So look backward as much as you want, but be careful about getting away from your core. Remember what it was that really made you successful.

Dennis Seeds is editor-in-chief of Smart Business Magazine.

Always try to beat the standard, and you’ll land on the green

A.W. Tillinghast will most likely receive some recognition next month when the Rust-Oleum Championship, the subject of this month’s Uniquely Cleveland, opens at Lakewood Country Club in Westlake.

Tillinghast designed the course, which opened in 1921, as well as a number of other famous championship golf courses, including San Francisco Golf Club, Baltusrol Golf Club (Upper and Lower), Bethpage State Park (Black), Aronimink Golf Club and Winged Foot Golf Club (East and West). He also helped found the PGA of America, firmly rooting his name in golf history.

What many don’t know is that he helped popularize the term birdie — a score of one-under par. As the story goes, Tillinghast, an accomplished golfer, and some friends were playing the Country Club of Atlantic City in 1899 when one of them took a 2 on the 12th hole, a par 3. The man exclaimed, “That’s a bird!” (A slang word for “cool” at the time.) The accomplishment soon became known as a birdie and was popularized by Tillinghast, a writer, and later editor, at Golf Illustrated.

Another term popularized by the sport of golf is par — the standard that an expert golfer should be able to meet for a particular hole or course. “Up to par” means as good as the standard or average showing. The winner is ultimately the golfer with the best score under par.

A focus on where your business stands — if your performance is up to par — is a matter in need of constant monitoring. Continuous improvement should always be your goal.

A CEO I interviewed told me that in good times, as well as bad, it’s a mandatory practice to constantly identify and assess problems in your business.

There are many metrics to use to track performance — year over year sales figures, profit and cash flow, for example — and they differ according to the industry. Once a problem has been identified, however, there are certain matters that must be done.

“As a team, in order to get the input from everyone and get people galvanized around making improvements, we first try to create a sense of urgency,” the CEO says.

“To do that, you have to communicate to everyone very effectively what the problem is — why it is a problem, why change is needed and how it would best serve the business, the company itself and also the customer by making those changes.

“Part of your past success can be a hurdle in terms in trying to identify problems. Organizations often will say, ‘Well, this worked before for us, but the reality is it may not work for us in the future.’”

You need to take a fresh look at the problem. As in golf, maybe the wind is blowing from a different direction than expected, or perhaps you’re shooting directly into the sun when previously it was cloudy.

But most of all, keep shooting to beat par, on the golf course and in business.

Dennis Seeds is editor-in-chief of Smart Business Magazine.

How working toward a goal deserves all the resources it takes

In 1916, August A. Busch Sr. spent $250,000 to build the Bevo Mill, his own private dining room, as a halfway site between his home and the Anheuser-Busch brewery of which he was president and CEO.

It was remodeled to the tune of $1 million around 1986, and then again in 2009 to the tune of $500,000.

What drew folks to spend that much money is not that hard to understand — they were chasing their dream, their goal.

The Bevo Mill, subject of this month’s Uniquely St. Louis feature story, is unique for its history and place as an authentic Dutch windmill.

While the building has been owned by the city of St. Louis since 2008, the dining operation has been owned by Milan Manjencich and Louie Lausevich, as L&M Catering.

Manjencich says they didn’t realize the 2009 renovation was going to be as large of an investment as it was.

“Everybody from the city on down told me the renovation would cost about this much, but when it came to fruition it was about five times as much,” he says. “It’s been a large investment on our part.

“All the electrical, plumbing structural integrity of the mill and the balcony that goes all the way around was replaced. All the doors and windows, without affecting any of the historical ones, were replaced or repaired. The main rooms and lower-level rooms were all repaired.”

Updates that were made included safety measures such as a sprinkler system, fire suspension system, hoods and emergency exits.

“We also removed all the items that had been added over the years to the dining room and restored it to the way it was originally when it was opened in 1916,” Manjencich says.

It was Manjencich and Lausevich’s aspiration to restore the site and see it come to reality. If they had been scared off by overspending their budget, the project might have never been completed.

A CEO I recently interviewed says it is important for an entrepreneur to keep striving for a goal and to avoid the thought that he or she has reached as far as possible.

“I think it is impossible to get to that point because I might be where I want to be; and the company employees have dreams, goals and aspirations — people are building their careers with the company,” he says. “And if I say, ‘Hey, I’ve had enough. I’m fine,’ well, that kind of messes them up. I can’t do that. So we continue to grow and develop the company for the betterment of all our people, our partners and our communities in which we do business.”

Community is another key factor with the Bevo Mill. The landmark has given its name to the neighborhood in St. Louis where it stands — all the more reason that the jewel in the crown was enough reason to see that it survives for the people and the community.

Every inconsistency scratches fertile ground for innovation

Some may observe the incongruity of a church across from a casino on Cleveland’s Public Square. The Horseshoe Cleveland opened in 2012 and The Old Stone Church, the subject of this issue’s Uniquely, was founded in 1820. The current structure, built in 1855, is the oldest building on Public Square.

While I’m not making a judgment here, it shows how people have become amenable to little inconsistencies like the one mentioned above. How often do you find gambling and religious institutions across from each other?

If there weren’t inconsistencies or contradictions in the world, there would be few challenges. Without challenges, man would not have developed innovations leading to today’s products.

Inconsistences/challenges appear all the time during the business cycle — not just during the lows. In fact, many executives feel the real challenges occur during the high points.

“The biggest leadership challenge typically comes when things are going well,” a CEO told me. “Companies often think the biggest challenge is when you lose a customer, the economic climate is difficult or conditions are bad. What I have found is truly just the reverse.

“When a business has had serious challenges, whether it be from economic events like 9/11 or the 2009 recession, there is generally a kind of feeling within the organization that there is a challenge, a burning platform that everyone has to respond to.”

During those times, employees will pull together and respond and are willing to make changes necessary to ensure that the business survives.

If a leader allows the company to develop feelings of complacency, and that it’s OK to coast now, it will likely cause damage.

“If you have had some success, it is very easy to take your eye off the ball or do things in your business that may not be the right ones for the long term,” the CEO says. “It’s easy to get a little careless, so it is really important not to lose your discipline on the costs, investments or accountability of your team to execute the plan. You have to use constraint in some respects.”

In other words, if a leader has a nothing-can-stop-him mentality, the leader shouldn’t go in over his or her head.

“You have to be careful because hubris can occur and can lead to problems down the road. Overexpansion, too much hiring, too much equipment brought on, new technologies and new acquisitions — all those kinds of things when businesses are doing very well may not get as carefully scrutinized as they would if the business were going through a bad economic cycle.”

That scrutiny means knowing exactly where the business is going from one month to the next, one quarter to the next and one year to the next before a leader decides on an ambitious route.

If a company has a sense of ambition and urgency, it avoids the slower pace of business as usual, and a new project has a much better chance of succeeding.

You can bet on that.

Editor’s Note: Home Front Park highlights Rosie and the efforts to win the war

If you’ve seen the iconic poster of the bandana-wearing Rosie the Riveter rolling up her sleeve and flexing her bicep, you are struck by the wording on the poster: “We can do it.”

That says it all — those four words are one of the simplest motivational sentences ever written.

The story has it that a photo of a Westinghouse factory worker was the inspiration for the poster. Contrary to the popular belief that the poster promoted women’s achievement, it was designed to boost the morale of women working in the munitions and material plants during World War II. History says it was displayed for a few weeks in 1943 and then forgotten until the 1980s when it reappeared as a symbol for feminism.

In this month’s Uniquely Northern California, we highlight The Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. The park was established in 2000 to tell the local and national story of Rosie the Riveters.

“We tell the local story, but we also really tell the national story of how that tremendous effort really affected society,” says Sue Fritzke, deputy superintendent of the park. “It affected our civil rights movement, the voting rights act and all sorts of things that happened in large part because of the huge number of people and the areas that were all working together to help the country.”

Once people are united with a common goal, amazing things can happen. And it can happen in business at any time, not just wartime.

Here are some tips from my collection on how to set goals:

  • If you set too many goals, your team may pick and choose the most popular goals to work on and leave the rest.
  • Write clear goals that define a specific time frame. Make them ambitious, but realistic.
  • Level the playing field for those who successfully meet goals and those who don’t. There should be no consequences either way.
  • Lean into the tough expectation, not away from it. You’ll likely save time figuring out how to reach the goal rather than trying to diminish it.
  • Make sure the goal is a solid and reachable idea. If it’s an exercise that is only a façade to convey progress, your people will know.
  • Stress that it’s all or none. As one goal is reached, efforts to reach the others should continue. There’s no trading one completion to skip over another.
  • Stay on task. People should commit to a goal and not spend an excessive amount of time planning and studying it instead.

Focusing on a goal and doing it well is much better than focusing on several goals and having mediocre results. That’s how the war was won.

How innovation solves a requirement in a new way

The Cleveland Police Department was one of the first to use fingerprints for identification purposes, one of the first to have radio communications in police cars and the first in the world to capture a bank robbery on film.

This month’s Uniquely Cleveland tells the story of these and other innovations that helped advance the fight against crime.

You can’t ignore the connection between crime fighting and invention. As long as there have been thieves, swindlers and killers, there have been efforts to outwit them.

As the old saying, based on a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson, goes, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” The power of innovation is a strong one, and I venture to say that fighting crime with the latest innovations stands at the top of the priority list of society.

Witness the growing use of DNA tests in forensic investigations. Police have the ability to store the DNA profiles of repeat offenders and by using technology, can compare the profiles with DNA samples from unsolved crimes. Every person has a unique DNA profile. Once the DNA profiles are matched, it speeds up the search and conviction of the perpetrator.

On the other side of the coin, individuals convicted of crimes and serving time have been released following new DNA evidence submitted in court. Unfortunately there are backlogs of samples waiting to be analyzed. It takes years before the DNA in some cases is analyzed.

It’s easy to see that governmental entities need to develop faster methods for analyzing DNA evidence. Equipment is outdated, laboratories are understaffed and more training is needed for law enforcement officers as procedures improve.

Another technology on the rise is the use of video cameras. Surveillance, dash and now body cameras are seemingly everywhere.

Don’t forget stun guns and Tasers. The list goes on …

As I mentioned earlier, there is so much interest, rightfully so, in innovations to help fight crime. But that interest doesn’t have to be overly focused on that field. Many other industries and sectors deserve similar enthusiastic support for innovation. It just takes someone who is inspired and driven to invent and innovate. It’s amazing what one person can do.

One of our Smart Business columnists, Lois Melbourne, recently put it  in one of the best ways:

“The true nature of innovation, solving a requirement in a new way, is taking a risk. An improvement is just doing something better, but an innovation is changing the game. Sometimes people don’t like change. Sometimes the innovation is ready before the market is ready for it.

“But progress depends on innovation, so giving an environment that allows risk-taking is critical. It is actually mandatory, to get real innovation. It is never enough to only give the R&D department the risk taking reins. Allowing voices to be heard throughout an organization fosters engagement and the comfort level that the leaders embrace innovation and the risk that comes along with it.”