Prepare your company: Don’t let the potential of legal weed choke your business

Any reasonable reading of the data should have led voters to reject the approach to legalization of marijuana on the ballot. The passing of Issue 3 would mean an oligopoly of 10 farms for growing marijuana; a marked increase in positive marijuana drug test rates, traffic fatalities, teen and preteen use and workplace accidents in “legal” states; lower workplace productivity and higher absenteeism; and higher turnover for workers that use marijuana.

But with more than $30 million to spend and the promise of a billion-dollar market for Issue 3 campaign investors, legalized marijuana is the latest threat to your ability to manage your workplace. For a business with a big internal legal and human resource team, this may just be business as usual. But for the vast majority of businesses, the costs and implications are a lot scarier. Whether or not Issue 3 was approved on Nov. 3, there are a few steps you should take.

Take action

Get your policy manual in shape. If you have a policy manual, it probably does not address marijuana specifically. A strong statement of zero tolerance for substance abuse and impairment on the job is your first layer of defense. Being clear about a prohibition on any state or federally controlled substances and any substance that could impair performance (including prescription drugs), gives you the most protection as an employer. It’s your right and your responsibility to set clear policy for your business.

Put testing protocols and substance use expectations in place. Being clear with employees that getting tested for use and impairment are part of the employment contract. Periodic, incident-based or random testing should all be enabled by your policy. Conduct pre-employment and new employee testing for illegal and legal substances that could be a problem. Also have an accident response plan that includes follow-up testing in any situation where impairment could be a factor.

Prepare to stand by your policies. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration gives employers liability to maintain a safe working environment. We know marijuana and other types of drugs that impair make the workplace less safe. You need to demonstrate you took reasonable steps to protect your employees from substance abusers.

Proactive steps

Consider an employee assistance program to help first-time offenders, and to help you salvage some of your training costs. Put a little money away to settle or fight claims. The average marijuana claim is a $70,000 to $110,000 drain on your resources. Any employer could end up as the test case for these new Ohio rules.

Keep your peers and advisers close. Your lawyer, trade organizations and peer groups are the best resources to provide advice and keep you informed on what is emerging and how to respond. Share your concerns and your ideas. In an increasingly difficult policy environment for business, we’ve got to do a better job helping each other achieve growth and success.

Issue 3 is clearly bad policy. But, not taking the cue to get prepared for the impact on your business is worse.

Steve Millard is president and executive director of COSE, the Council of Smaller Enterprises. For the last 15 years, Steve has guided COSE’s work to support the success of small business owners and act as a nonpartisan advocate and resource for their needs on the state and national levels.

2013 ERC / Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey: Workplace makeover

Sue Ann Naso

Sue Ann Naso, President, Staffing Solutions Enterprises

If you had any doubt about the recession being in the rearview mirror, consider this tidbit from the ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey. In the last 14 years, only two years — 2009 and 2010 — have returned results with Northeast Ohio companies reporting the poor economy as their toughest challenge. For the 11th year, companies in 2013 are reporting that their biggest challenge has been hiring and retaining talent.

The survey, which has been a collaborative effort between ERC and Smart Business since 2001, is aimed to let you know what companies in Northeast Ohio are doing to drive their businesses forward.

This year in particular showed an overwhelming amount of companies, 49.5 percent, listing hiring and retaining talent as their No. 1 challenge.

The other concern many Northeast Ohio workplaces have includes health care costs and the uncertainty of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The good news is that a mere 5 percent of companies named economic conditions as the toughest challenge.

Lauren Rudman, President, Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Lauren Rudman, President, Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

“Hiring continues to be strong,” says SueAnn Naso, president of Staffing Solutions Enterprises. “We see more and more companies adding recruiting talent, and it’s getting much more competitive to find those people, which is a good sign.”

Companies in Northeast Ohio are ramping up their recruiting efforts with 84.2 percent utilizing Internet job boards, and 50 percent utilizing social media to recruit talent.

“On the hiring side, you see a lot more LinkedIn activity,” says Lauren Rudman, president of the Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “LinkedIn is still the No. 1 way to go, but I’ve also seen job opportunities pop up on Twitter and Facebook.

“Word of mouth is still a great way to go if your company has a referral program. Between social media, specifically LinkedIn, and word of mouth, those are still the No. 1 and No. 2 ways that work for recruiters and talent acquisition teams.”

While companies are finding ways to recruit more talent, they are also very focused on retaining that top talent once they have it.

“We’ve seen a continued emphasis on things like workplace flexibility and investing in training and development as ways to retain employees,” Naso says. “They’re focusing on keeping their turnover numbers as low as possible.”

According to the survey, 77.7 percent of companies provide financial assistance to employees to upgrade their skills through advanced education or job-related training. In addition, 28.6 percent offer a mentoring program.

“Training and development is a big one, especially for some of the millennials (Generation Y),” Naso says. “They really are focused on learning and growing, so I’ve seen a lot more hiring of people that do training and development, creating leadership training programs and having a leadership track so these young professionals see a career path and aren’t looking outside the company for growth.”

Today, there are more training and development programs than there were in the recent past and there are a couple of things that factor into that.

“One is the economy,” Rudman says. “Unfortunately, when things go bad, training and development is the first thing to get cut. As the economy continues to get better, those will either come back into play or grow.

“Another big part of it, too, is Generation Y in the workplace. Generation Y wants development, training and to know how they’re doing. Companies need to recognize that in order to retain top talent they have to provide these resources like mentoring, coaching and development opportunities because they want it more than some of the generations in the past.”

According to the companies that responded to the survey, roughly 75 hours of training are provided to new-hires in their first 90 days. Another way more companies are incentivizing employees to stay at their current company is through workplace flexibility.

“That has been a huge trend,” Naso says. “There has been a study that mentioned that about 78 percent of U.S. workers are looking at workplace flexibility as a primary reason why they’re either staying where they’re at or making a move. That is as important to them as compensation.”

According to the 2013 survey, 44.3 percent of companies in Northeast Ohio are offering flextime, 14.8 percent are offering compressed workweeks, 17.2 percent offer telecommuting and 32 percent offer a work-from-home option.

“It’s interesting because workplace flexibility tends to be something a little different to each person,” Naso says. “We’re seeing companies trying to put things in place that provide a variety of options for employees. It depends on the type of job or their focus and how they can create that flexibility.”

While hiring and retaining employees remains the top challenge, the upcoming ACA and its pending changes to health care costs have companies anxious about what the result will be.

“One trend we are seeing that was published recently in one of the staffing industry magazines is that temporary staffing jobs hit a record high in May as companies are trying to lighten the burden of the whole Obamacare regulation,” Naso says. “Instead of adding staff, they are using contingent labor to manage some of that.”

In fact, according to the survey, the average percentage of the workforce that was temporary of the companies polled was 3.6 percent, the highest since 2006. The percentage of contingent workers in 2013 was 8.6 percent.

“In preparation (for the ACA), a lot of companies are attending conferences and meetings,” Naso says. “However, I haven’t seen any hard and fast actions yet. I haven’t seen companies that have actually reduced their part-time staff from 35 hours to 28 hours or anything like that. They’re all in that wait and see mode.”

Due to the uncertainty of the ACA, a lot of employers and companies are being proactive.

“We’re seeing companies bringing in wellness coaches, reimbursing employees for gym memberships and bringing healthy food into their organizations via vending machines or fresh produce stands,” Rudman says.

“Biometric screening is another big one. You see a lot of those efforts happening, which down the road can hopefully impact and decline health care costs for those companies, as well as employee’s out-of-pocket costs.”

The biggest decision looming for companies is whether they will “play” or “pay” with the ACA.

“Pay means that the company is not going to offer health care and they will pay the penalty, which is $2,000 per employee, and then those employees will be a part of the health care exchange that the government is offering,” Naso says.

“Play means a company will provide a health insurance plan that meets all the new government standards. Even companies that currently offer insurance could be affected because their current plan may not meet those requirements anymore.”

One of the requirements is that health care doesn’t cost an employee more than 9.5 percent of their salary. There is also a minimum coverage.

“Companies that currently have a plan could have increased expense because they may have to pay more of the premium or increase the amount of coverage, which increases the cost of the premium,” she says. “At the moment I have heard that more companies are going to play than pay. But it’s still a huge unknown.”

Despite what may result from the ACA, there is no doubt that companies in Northeast Ohio are once again flourishing and waving goodbye to the recession. Smart Business thanks ERC and those companies that participated in this year’s Workplace Practices Survey.

2013 ERC / Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey: In pursuit of a better workplace

Pat Perry, President, ERC

Pat Perry, President, ERC

Workplace practices and policies ranging from innovative flexible work arrangements to the debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were topics of this year’s ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey. Watching the discussions around these events unfold serves to reinforce the fact that the decisions we make as employers have the ability to significantly impact the well-being of both our individual employees and our organizations.

Now in its 14th year, the 2013 survey collaboration between ERC and Smart Business aims to shed light onto how employers in the region are effectively applying these practices, enhancing their workplaces and ensuring that they retain their top performers and attract new talent in the region.

So, whether you are pursuing the latest innovative trend or simply looking to meet the basic needs of your workforce, you are likely doing so for largely the same reason as the vast majority of other organizations in the area — to overcome the challenge of attracting and retaining the best and brightest employees here in Northeast Ohio.

Below are a few hot topics from this year’s survey. Also included are a few suggestions about how each can be used to help attract and retain top talent at your organization.


Organizations are increasingly expressing concerns about health care costs with 42.6 percent of manufacturers and 28 percent of non-manufacturers reporting that they are “unsure” whether they will “‘pay” or “play” when the new ACA regulations take effect.

Two-thirds of organizations are choosing to “play” and will continue to offer health insurance to their employees. With many unknowns still on the horizon, try to understand the drivers of these costs for your business and explore new ways to manage them in the long-term. Investing in wellness initiatives helps manage costs and still allows you to provide the benefits that are most important to your workforce.


Creating a physically safe work environment starts with putting specific policies on the books that will keep employees safe on a day-to-day basis. We’ve been fortunate to see very low rates of violence in the workplace in recent years among participating organizations, 77.5 percent of which prohibit firearms and other weapons. But safety isn’t always as cut-and-dry as having a policy in your handbook.

While violence has declined, incidents of bullying have actually risen to a high point of 19 percent in 2013. Creating an environment that encourages employees to speak out if they experience or see inappropriate behaviors can be challenging, but results in a healthier, safer workplace.


Respondents are making this popular concept into more than just a catchphrase. This year, flexible work arrangements rose to 68.9 percent — the highest level seen in the past 13 years. While we understand not every job is conducive to off-site work arrangements like telecommuting or work-from-home, even manufacturing organizations have some options. In fact, manufacturers in this year’s survey allow their employees some degree of flexibility with 34 percent allowing part-time schedules and 36.2 percent granting flextime.

Social Media

While social media use is seeing growth on the whole, the most prominent role it plays in organizations is in recruitment strategies. Half of respondents report using some type of social media tool for recruiting. But this year organizations made it abundantly clear that not all social media tools are created equally.

When it comes to finding the right employees, organizations appear to be taking their recruiting responsibilities more seriously, with 90.9 percent sticking to professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Facebook ranked second with only half that number of users at 45.5 percent.

Sincerest thanks to this year’s survey participants and to Smart Business magazine for 14 years of survey collaboration. In addition, we would like to acknowledge the NorthCoast 99 winners over the past 15 years ( who also demonstrate excellence in the attraction and retention of top talent.


Pat Perry is president of ERC, Northeast Ohio’s largest organization dedicated to human resources and workplace programs, practices, training and consulting. Reach him at (440) 684-9700 or [email protected] For more information, visit

How using a scorecard gets everyone working toward a common goal

Paul Damico, President, Moe's Southwest Grill

Paul Damico, President, Moe’s Southwest Grill

“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose; it’s how well you played the game.”

Do you agree? Or should the quote be, “Knowing the score will push you to play the game your hardest”?

I recently read “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. The discipline that stuck out in my mind most was Discipline No. 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard. While it may be true that it’s not whether you win or lose, a very important factor in determining how well you played is keeping a scoreboard.

Create a focal point

Whether on the field or in the office, if you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing. Imagine you’re watching a lacrosse game with players that aren’t keeping score. You might see the players screwing around, not passing or cradling the ball, being careless about field positioning, taking risky shots or playing without any strategy in mind. No one’s trying to win.

Now, imagine there’s a scoreboard. You see the teams start to develop strategies on how they can work together to outsmart their opponents, maintain possession and defend their goal. The players play with more intensity and have a will to win, and there’s more sweat and blood.

When you have a team working together to drive your business forward, unfortunately, there’s no time for practice shots. Your team needs to keep score and be “game on” — working hard strategically and pushing toward the same goal.

Let the team set goals

Many organizations have their top leader develop their scorecard, filled with a bunch of information and lofty goals that no one on the team knows about. Or if they do know about it, they’re not sure how it was derived or what it was based on. When the leader sets the goals and puts them in their office, how is the team to know what they’re trying to achieve?

Allowing your team members on the ground to develop the scorecard helps it become personal to them. They buy in to it. They have a passion for updating it and have a desire to reach the goals they help set. Ultimately, the scorecard is for the team, not the boss. So let them set it.

Display score clearly

Some scoreboards have data on every point played, stats on every player and even stats from the entire season. Some have graphs and charts. Cut through all the clutter and help your team stay focused.

What is the main goal the team is seeking? They should be able to figure out the score within seconds of looking at the scoreboard.

Also, where is the scoreboard displayed? Is it in the boss’s office? How are your team members to know whether or not they’re close to reaching it?

Don’t be afraid to put your scoreboard on display in a common area where people congregate. They should see it every day and know right away what they’re working toward. If you have people in the field, take your scoreboard on the road.

Everyone wins

When you keep score, allow your team to help set the score and provide constant updates, everyone wins. At Moe’s Southwest Grill, we have to be “game on” every day for the team, for our franchise partners and for our customers. Because when we meet our goals, our guests win, too. They get clean restaurants, the freshest food and high scores on the board across the system. This tells us that the guest is really enjoying the game.

But at the end of the day, I know our team can say — with confidence — that they set the score, they knew the score and they played their hardest to win.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at [email protected]

Adrienne Lenhoff: Is social media the enemy of productivity?

Adrienne Lenhoff

Adrienne Lenhoff, president and CEO, Shazaaam PR and Marketing Communications

Currently, more than half of employers in the U.S. are blocking workplace social media access. They give a number of reasons for blocking access to social media sites.

Most prevalent, those employers believe time spent on social networks is lost productivity that the company will never regain, so when you block social media, you know your employees are spending time doing their work.

But the reality is employees who were time wasters before social media are still going to have productivity issues. A recent survey by OfficeTeam showed that 22 percent of respondents working for companies that blocked social networking, shopping and entertainment sites admitted to frequently using their personal mobile devices as a workaround.

Any employee with a smartphone can access social media sites and the Internet, even if access is restricted via workplace computers. When access is blocked, employees are prone to take more work breaks or spend time finding a way to access restricted sites.

If you block social media access for your employees, it might be time to take a look at your company’s policy. Social media access might not be the problem. Here are some other things to consider.

Increased productivity

According to a study conducted by the University of Melbourne, employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. The study went on to explain that employees who rewarded themselves by visiting their social media pages between the completion of work tasks accomplished 9 percent more than their blocked counterparts.

Increased productivity doesn’t stop in the physical workplace. Employers who embrace social platforms also enable workers to be able to work virtually from nearly any location. From home or on the go, networked employees are completing tasks.

Attracting and retaining workers

According to a survey of 870 employers and employees by recruitment company Hays, almost 20 percent of job applicants say they will turn down a job if they do not have reasonable access to social networking sites.

About half of those surveyed already accessed social media at work, with 13.3 percent accessing it daily and 36.4 percent checking occasionally.

As for employers surveyed, 44.3 percent believed that allowing employees access to social media at work will improve retention levels, and a third already gave their staff access to it.

Only 23.7 percent of employers allowed no access to social media sites.

So how should you define your social media policy? Here are some questions to ask.

  • How do you expect social media to be used during work hours? Define proper and improper use of work equipment.
  • Will you offer full or limited access?
  • What restrictions or parameters will be placed on workplace usage?
  • How will you monitor employee social network activity for any excessive use? Employees will need to understand that they have no right to privacy with regard to social media in the workplace, and as the employer, you have the right to monitor or retrieve data pertaining to their social media usage at work.
  • How will you deal with any employee misuse?
  • Are you going to encourage employees to leverage social media as a business tool or will you restrict its use as a business tool? If you have concerns about the sharing of the company’s confidential information, you will need to outline confidentiality guidelines.

Don’t issue a blanket policy banning all social media speech about the business; it could get you in trouble. Instead, craft a policy limiting use during work hours and banning false statements, circulation of proprietary information and profanity related to management or co-workers. Have your lawyer review all social media policies prior to introducing them to your employees.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria, Shazaaam PR and Promo Marketing Team. Reach her at [email protected]

How to keep your younger workers engaged and on the job longer

Sherri Elliott-Yeary, CEO, Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght

The average American worker today stays at his or her job for less than four years, while millennials, also known as Generation Y’ers (those born between 1977 and 1997), are leaving in a fraction of that time. Ninety-one percent of millennials expect to stay in a job fewer than three years, and the average is eight to 12 months.

New data reveals that a lack of longevity with one company has no effect on length of stay at the next, so the old stereotype of “Once a job-hopper, always a job-hopper” is becoming less relevant to employers, possibly debunking workers’ fears of not being offered new work just because their lengthy resumes are littered with short-stint positions.

As an employer, you obviously want to keep turnover among workers low. Losing workers after a mere year means wasted time and resources invested on recruiting, training and development. Millennials with high expected potential to perform are especially precious to keep around, even more so than workers with proven achievements in key positions such as engineering.

So how do you prevent millennials and other workers from leaving your company quickly? Try the following:

  • Hire well initially. The economy has made every open position look tempting to a wide array of job seekers. Even if your company’s applicant tracking system successfully weeds out over- or underqualified candidates efficiently, some workers who aren’t the right fit inevitably make it through.

To keep high-potential millennials and other workers at your company, ensure you’re hiring the right people first. Use video interviews to broaden your search efforts geographically and to better establish an accurate feel for potential workers, all while saving time and money.

  • Embody values. A 2012 survey by Net Impact found that 58 percent of respondents said they’d be willing to take a 15 percent pay cut in order to work for a company that has values similar to their own.

To keep high-potential millennials at your company, do more than just hand employees a list of the company’s values on day one; actually embody the values day in and day out and reward employees who do the same.

  • Encourage communication. If today’s social marketing campaigns illustrate one thing, it’s that consumers enjoy engaging in open conversation.

Likewise, employees, especially millennials, appreciate the opportunity to share ideas and opinions openly in the workplace. To keep high-potential millennials at your company, encourage open two-way communication among all employees through various channels.

  • Integrate technology. Millennials are stereotypically the most tech- and digital-savvy generation in history. In fact, Gen Y’ers are prioritizing acquiring the latest smartphone or tablet above purchasing a car.

To keep Gen Y’ers at your company, demonstrate your company’s desire to be a technology leader by implementing the latest technology, beginning with video interviews in the hiring process.

  • Offer flexibility. More young workers in industries that don’t demand in-office face time prefer to do their work outside the office, according to a recent Detroit News article. And for Gen Y’ers in industries where face time is required, flexible hours can be more important than high salaries.

To keep your high-potential Gen Y’ers around, try to offer more workplace flexibility. If more schedule and telecommuting flexibility isn’t possible at your company, see the next tip.

  • Ask for input. Assuming that Gen Y’ers at your company want holiday gift baskets or other outdated employee perks that won’t inspire gratitude will have them running out the door before their first year is up. To keep Gen Y’ers at your company, ask what benefits they want to receive or take inspiration for employee benefits from other companies with cool perks.
  • Offer training. Information today is doubling every 18 months. By some estimations, that means workers need to recover a quarter of their college education every five years just to keep up with industry standards.

To retain Gen Y’ers value and keep them at your company, offer training opportunities for workers to learn new and refreshed information and knowledge. Your company can even offer education benefits for Gen Y’ers itching to return to the classroom.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small start-ups to large international corporations. Contact her at [email protected]

The HR Awards

The HR Awards recognize Northeast Ohio HR professionals who have demonstrated excellence in the field of human resource management. Their achievements and unique skills show they are dedicated to improving themselves and their organizations. The awards honor all levels of HR practitioners, from individuals in local SHRM student chapters to HR executives.

The awards are co-hosted by ERC and CSHRM, two of the area’s leading organizations in the HR industry. Each award category is judged by an independent panel of distinguished representatives from the local HR community.

The following is a letter from  SueAnn Naso, the president of CSHRM and Staffing Solutions Enterprises, and Patrick Perry, the president of ERC:

Congratulations. It is a great honor for ERC and CSHRM to host and honor the human resources leadership in our region. Our inaugural “class” of winners and finalists reads like a “who’s who” of professionals who continue to make a difference through sound, creative and proactive HR management. We are also pleased to recognize the leading faculty adviser and student participant for Student SHRM Chapters in our region who are developing the next generation of HR leadership.

The HR Awards will be an annual event where individual professional achievement in HR will be recognized. We appreciate the tremendous response received in this first year of the program and look forward to ERC and CSHRM working together to showcase individuals making a big difference in their profession and respective organizations.

Check out our winners’ information in this issue and also at They are truly leading by example and our hats are off to them for making a positive impact on others. There is no greater recognition than with your peers and that is certainly the case with this year’s HR Awards winners and finalists.

Last but not least, thank you to The HR Awards committee, judges and, of course, our sponsors. Their hard work and support was critical in launching this regional initiative.

Check out the HR Awards Finalists

Check out the HR Awards Winner List

How to use positivity to enhance your company’s meetings

Lois Melbourne

Lois Melbourne, Co-founder and CEO, Aquire

Optimism and pragmatism can go a long way toward achieving success. If you strategically put optimism to work through a focused agenda and celebrate successes, you can see a positive influence on attitudes and results.

A great example is the story of the pessimist who argued the glass was half empty, the optimist that exalted that the glass was half full, and the college student who grabbed the beer, drank it and was the only one who quenched her thirst. The college student was optimistic, pragmatic and focused — and she achieved the desired result.

I was first introduced to a meeting concept called Positive Focus while attending a Strategic Coach session taught by Colleen O’Donnell of Strategic Wealth Partners and designed by Dan Sullivan. She revealed the importance of kicking off staff meetings with positive energy derived from the attendees themselves. This is not a New Age method or fluff but rather the celebration and recognition of successes as seen by the eyes of your employees.

How it works

In the opening of management meetings or departmental meetings, each attendee shares one item he or she feels is positive and deserves the spotlight. It should be quick and it should avoid dragging a lot of detail into the explanation. This meeting concept:

■ Actually highlights challenges — and how they were resolved — without the dreaded “update” process that slows down meetings.

■ Provides recognition.

■ Gives managers the opportunity to congratulate their staff or others on the recognition and praise being given.

■ Starts the meeting on a high-energy note.

■ Shows that challenges can be overcome through teamwork and any challenges that are going to be discussed in the meeting have a positive precedent to follow toward resolution.

■ Reinforces the culture of collaboration and communication.

Story examples

It is tough to say that there is a “typical” positive focus in our meetings. The majority of the comments include a shout out for an employee or a team of employees by name for what they have been able to achieve. We also have customer stories and the success that a great win or implementation is doing for the company. We have had cheers for an improved bill of health or a clear cancer screen after a long health issue. We have celebrated the refreshed feelings after taking a vacation.

The content is not controlled or restricted. The purpose is to reflect on what is making our work lives better. This purpose helps us focus on what is right in the world and reminds us that we are among great, talented people and we can tap those resources.

Positive attitudes are proven to improve results and health. I believe executive teams should spend additional time developing more of the “can-do” attitude in our approach toward business. By focusing on optimism, it’s easy to see the pragmatic benefits to the organization.

The next time you are facing the dreaded update drudgery of a departmental meeting, I highly encourage you to turn the agenda around a bit and start with a Positive Focus moment. Then incorporate the agenda of every appropriate meeting. There will be time to discuss and solve the challenges you are facing, but the mental approach to the problem will make a difference in the approach.

My Positive Focus

Today, my Positive Focus is that I have had this opportunity to share a tactic that really works and has changed the complexion of meetings in a highly successful business. I believe it can have far-reaching impact elsewhere, too. <<

Lois Melbourne is co-founder and CEO of Aquire, a workforce planning and analytic solution company based in Irving, Texas. Visit for more information.

Natasha Ashton: How to build a better company, one hire at a time

Natasha Ashton

Natasha Ashton, co-CEO, Petplan

Hiring the right talent to manage and operate your business is one of the biggest challenges any executive faces. No matter how amazing your product or how visionary your plans, success won’t come easily without a workforce in place who can cultivate and enrich your company’s core values.

Figuring out how to attract and employ this talent can be tricky — candidates who look good on paper aren’t always the best fit in person.

Here’s how Petplan picks winning personalities who support and sustain our company’s culture.

Know thyself

When your company’s core values are clearly defined, hiring decisions become much easier. At Petplan, we have established ourselves not as an insurance company but as a pet health company that sells insurance. Putting pets first is the central idea from which our entire company culture has evolved. Thus, our staff absolutely must have a passion for pets.

Our goal to help pet parents afford the best care for their pets is something that resonates with all our employees personally, and this personal investment drives our customer service, helps determine our business partners and defines our marketing and communications strategies.

Understand your needs

To make the best hiring decisions, you need to know what you need. Because we are a business with a start-up culture, Petplan needs people who are excited about building solid, scalable infrastructure to accommodate explosive growth.

Because we are dedicated to advancing pet health, we need people who have the vision to identify key partnerships and who have an inherent passion for the product.

Above all, we need people who can think and communicate in the brand’s fun and friendly voice, whether connecting with our customers, our partners or each other.

Don’t be afraid to pass over talented people who may not be a great fit for your company’s culture. There’s more to a great team than talent. While skills can be taught, passion and personality tend to be part of the package or not.

Pass it on

Once you’ve determined your company’s modus operandi, you must effectively communicate it to your employees. For Petplan, culture is king. We strive to maintain the classic start-up culture — an environment in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and shares ideas. We use an open floor plan that promotes interaction throughout the staff, managers and executives alike.

We balance productivity and play. Our offices feature a plethora of pet-inspired décor, plus a treat table we keep filled with staff and visitor favorites. When one of our claims adjusters passes an exam, we order mini cupcakes for everyone.

When we debuted at No. 123 on Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing privately held companies last year, we filled the office with balloons and had a party.

These are small perks, but they reinforce our belief that hard work can be punctuated by playful pick-me-ups now and then.

The rules of attraction

Find the sweet spot in your company’s culture for wooing the talent you want. For Petplan, one of the biggest perks we offer is that we allow pets in the workplace. Encouraging our employees to bring their pets to work helps foster a uniquely creative work environment and has given us a distinct advantage in attracting new talent.

So many prospective employees place a real premium on being able to bring their pets to work as it provides more quality time with their beloved companions and reduces expenses like dog walkers.

Most importantly, we have found that sharing our office with pets serves to reaffirm our commitment to pet health and well-being — and keeps our “pets first” philosophy at the heart of everything we do.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at [email protected]

How to integrate a new employee into your organization

Merrill Dubrow, President and CEO, M/A/R/C Research

A few weeks ago, I met with a member of our new business development team who had been on the job for a week or so. A few days before the meeting, I started jotting down notes about the message I wanted to convey and the points I wanted to make. These notes are the basis for my column this month.

There were seven points I wanted to stress to help the new team member be successful in our organization. Since my notes were a little cryptic, I will not only list them but expand on what they mean.

1. 900. My belief is that everyone has 15 minutes, or 900 seconds, of extra time during the day. Nine-hundred seconds where they have nothing to do; 900 seconds of basically free time.

For me, you need to take advantage of those 900 seconds and get better at something every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s gaining better computer skills or becoming a better presenter, just as long as you get better at something every day.

2. A new best friend. This was not only easy for me, but it’s essential. You need to make LinkedIn your new best friend. Since LinkedIn will be your new best friend, you need to spend time with it and get to know it. You need to understand the value of the tool and the power it has.

I truly believe if you aren’t using LinkedIn every day as a business tool, you are not as successful, efficient or smart as you could be.

3. Uncover hidden jewels. No, this isn’t about “Storage Wars.” (Even though I love that show, it isn’t what I’m referring to.) Every company has hidden jewels.

The question is: Where are they located? Where is that great proposal hiding? Who can fill you in on the company history, and who has the best value proposition that will help me sell our products and services and turn prospects into clients?

4. Get off to a quick start. I truly believe that if you get off to a quick start in the morning, you’ll accomplish more during the day. If you get off to a quick start prior to 8:30 a.m., this will be a springboard for a successful day.

People tend to feel good about themselves if they make things happen as soon as their day starts.

5. Each “no” gets you closer to a “yes.” Sales is a numbers game. Every time you get a no, even though it might hurt or upset you, it will get you that much closer to a yes and a new client.

6. Be a creature of habit. Without question, I am a creature of habit. I get in to the office and leave at the same time almost every day. I eat oatmeal at the same time, and I check the revenue of the company as soon as I arrive. The quicker you get into a routine, the better off you will be.

If you are in new business development, set aside the same time in the morning and afternoon to call prospects. Call your friends back at lunchtime when it might not be the most productive time.

7. You’re only alone if you want to be. This point is very important — especially if, like our new team member, you work at home. It’s very easy to bury yourself in your job and try to figure everything out yourself. Don’t do that. Stay connected to your office.

When your technology isn’t working perfectly, don’t try to fix it yourself. Call your IT department. When you’re responding to a proposal, if you have writer’s block, call a team member. Don’t struggle for hours. Remember, time is money.

Incidentally, the reason I had seven points was not that I couldn’t think of another few. My belief is that there are too many top 10 lists, and a top seven list would have a better chance to resonate with our new team member.

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, located in Dallas. The company is one of the top 25 market research companies in the U.S. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than four years. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (972) 983-0416.