How Stephen Mooney transformed the back office operations of Tenet Healthcare into Conifer Health Solutions

Cost center managers tend to lay low during times of change, but not Stephen Mooney. The latent entrepreneur in 2008 proposed the idea of splitting off the patient financial services division of Tenet Healthcare into a stand-alone company to take advantage of an opportunity he saw in the marketplace and to capitalize on the strong relationships already in place with Tenet’s network of hospitals.

To understand what Mooney faced getting this idea off the ground, consider Tenet’s situation:  The organization was in the midst of selling more than half of its 110 hospitals when he floated his idea by Tenet’s CEO. That meant significant change, and during a time when organizations typically are hesitant to champion new start-up initiatives.

“My idea didn’t have a lot of fans at first, but it did get our executives thinking about the future instead of our current dilemma,” says Mooney, who serves as president and CEO of Conifer Health Solutions LLC, a subsidiary of Fortune 100 company Tenet Healthcare.

Mooney was convinced that health care organizations would jump at the chance to boost revenue cycle performance and focus on patient care instead of billing and collections. So Mooney sold his vision to everyone he encountered, turning a $200 million cost center into an outsourcing success story, adding some 7,000 employees and 600 clients in just five years. Here’s how he did it.

 

Build a strong foundation

Providing revenue management to non-Tenet hospitals and health systems would require a hefty investment in technology, a cultural shift as well as the development of a sales and marketing arm. Still, Tenet execs were intrigued by the idea and pledged their support if Mooney could find some way to fund his revolutionary venture.

“My initial forecast had us losing money for the first two years,” he says. “Under the circumstances, the company couldn’t afford to lose a single dime. And since venture funding wasn’t an option, I had to find the cash in our operating budget.”

With the executive team behind him, Mooney set out to achieve buy-in from other constituents. He alleviated any concerns by sharing his vision and offering each group a customized slate of benefits. Servant leadership and creating vested partnerships was his goal.

For example, he grandfathered existing rates during the initial transition period. And, he lowered the cost of processing rudimentary transactions by offshoring selective technology and call center services, using the savings to build a robust technology platform.

“We’re not a tech company, we’re a tech-enabled company,” Mooney says. “I needed to enhance our IT platform so we could drive more volume through our machine and offer our clients greater efficiency and value.”

Next, he approached Tenet’s suppliers and asked them to partner with the company. Could they make near-term concessions by thinking long term?

“I shared my business plan with our suppliers,” he says. “I wanted them to see that they had the opportunity to grow with us if they were willing to reduce their fees. Plus, you need to establish strategic alliances from the outset because you’ll need them to manage growth.”

Tenet’s suppliers recognized the opportunity and jumped on board. But after several years of change, Mooney knew his larger task would be with his own team members.

“Getting this thing off the ground would take a lot of work, so I absolutely needed our employees’ support,” Mooney says. “You need to make sure that everyone’s behind you before you start approaching customers.”

Mooney emphasized the benefits of growth to garner support from workers. Having the opportunity to control their own destiny and career opportunities were his main selling points.

“I had to explain my vision to employees, get them engaged and help them understand that short-term sacrifices would yield long-term gains for them and also add tremendous value to our external clients,” he says.

Mooney credits his team’s enthusiasm and willingness to embrace change with Conifer Health’s early financial success.

“We were supposed to lose money in the first year and to everyone’s surprise, we actually broke even,” he says. “I credit employee engagement for allowing us to achieve a budget-neutral position in our very first year.”

 

Hit a home run

Convincing a prospect to relinquish operational control of vital functions like billing and patient communications isn’t easy.

Mooney and his sales team made ends meet by selling point solutions while devising a strategy to close their first major end-to-end outsourcing deal.

“We bought time in the first year by hitting a few singles and doubles, but we needed to land a big fish to prove our concept,” Mooney says.

“Our executives were wondering if this was going to work, but health care organizations were wary of turning over their entire business office to an outsider from Mars.”

The sales team set its sights on landing a major deal with a member of a faith-based, not-for-profit system. Mooney knew that signing a member of this prestigious fraternity would encourage others to follow. But he and his team would have to sway a host of skeptical attorneys, consultants and stakeholders to ink their illusive inaugural deal. They emphasized their industry experience, their servant leadership model, and cultural alignment.

The looming impact of the Affordable Care Act finally proved to be the tipping point, as Conifer Health signed a number of major deals including a long-term agreement with Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) to provide revenue cycle services for 56 hospitals across the nation.

“Even CHI’s consultants agreed that their current model was unsustainable given the changes under health care reform,” Mooney says. “The market was aligning with partners and we finally convinced our prospects that they couldn’t wait to act.

“All I can say is don’t give up,” he says. “Our first deal died more than once, but I remained involved, and we continued to push the benefits that mattered to our prospects like improving the patient experience and the revenue cycle until the timing was right.”

 

Close service gaps and accelerate growth

Mooney worried that Conifer Health might lose its competitive edge given the massive changes imposed by health care reform. He hired experienced leaders, invested $200 million in the firm’s technical infrastructure and paid another visit to Tenet’s CEO where he presented a plan to leapfrog Conifer Health past its competitors.

“The market was in a state of flux due to health care reform,” he says. “Clients wanted turnkey solutions, and we needed to close a few service gaps to help them transition from a fee-for-service to a fee-for-value environment. The question became, ‘Should we build or buy these capabilities?’”

Mooney proposed a series of strategic acquisitions, and this time he not only garnered support, but funding from Tenet’s executive team and board.

In recent months, Conifer Health has added new services like clinical integration, population health management and financial risk management to its arsenal as well as data modeling and analytics. In the process, the firm has acquired a host of new clients and employees.

While acquisitions can boost revenues and a firm’s capabilities overnight, assimilating an outside organization can be tricky. Depending on whose research you believe, mergers have a failure rate of anywhere between 50 and 85 percent primarily due to a lack of cultural compatibility and the hasty departure of key employees who possess critical institutional knowledge.

Mooney has been successful in assimilating acquisitions by getting Conifer Health’s acquired companies to embrace his unique philosophy and vision for the company.

“We try to retain or find other opportunities within Conifer Health for everyone we acquire,” he says. “If we do lay someone off, we give them severance and outplacement assistance because everyone deserves the right to leave with dignity.”

He’s created new business units within Conifer Health to help him retain key leaders and staff from an acquired firm. He’s also bolstered retention by allowing employees to telecommute as Conifer Health expanded its footprint to more than 40 states.

“The key is empowering people to make decisions so they can serve the client,” Mooney says. “We’ve expanded what we offer our clients, and they’ve embraced them because they add value to their mission and their communities. I keep our staff engaged by relaying our success stories. That’s critical feedback as it validates the work they provide our client every day.”


Takeaways:

  • Build a strong foundation before you approach customers.
  • Prove your concept by hitting a home run.
  • Close service gaps and accelerate growth. 

 

The Mooney File:

NAME: Stephen Mooney
TITLE: President and CEO
COMPANY: Conifer Health Solutions LLC 

Birthplace: Margate, N.J. 

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Stockton State College in New Jersey and a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting from Pepperdine University. 

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I restocked the ice cream vendor on the boardwalk of the Jersey Shore. I learned that every person is important because the business couldn’t operate without a runner. Plus, it taught me responsibility because I couldn’t take a day off unless I found someone to take my place. 

What’s the best advice you ever received? Put people first because it increases their engagement. In turn, they’ll take care of your customers and the bottom line. For example, we let people go home when an ice storm is approaching and they make up for it the next day. They respond because we trust them to do the right thing. 

Who do you admire most in business and why? Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, because he was incredibly focused and a great developer of people and leaders. 

What is your definition of business success? Your business is successful when it’s turning on all cylinders, and it’s sustainable. In other words, you could walk away, and it would just keep going. We’re not there yet because we’re only a five-year-old company, but I believe that we’re on the path to sustainability.

 

Conifer Health Solutions Social Media Links:

Twitter: @coniferhealth
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/conifer-health-solutions

 

How to reach: Conifer Health Solutions LLC (877) 266-4337 or www.coniferhealth.com

 

David McKinnon – Why your company needs goals that are both clear and fluid in order to thrive

David McKinnon

David McKinnon, co-founder and chairman, Service Brands International

Most successful businesspeople agree with Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote when it comes to strategic planning, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” A leader’s approach to strategic planning can vary greatly in length of time, measurement of progress, commitment and ultimately in the results.

I would argue that a detailed, strategic plan spanning longer than three years is too long to be relevant. Tactics identified too far in advance cannot keep up with the fast pace of changing technology, new information and changes in the economy to make the plan meaningful.

Here are my three essential elements to the strategic planning process:

Range of specifics

Leading an organization with an established three-year plan creates an environment where your internal team understands where you are going and what you must do to get there. In a franchise organization, this level of planning helps the franchisor foster confidence in franchisees that your plan is to drive revenue and profit — theirs and yours.

All three years of the strategic plan are not created equal. Here’s how plans are structured in my organization:

  • Current year: Have a one-year very detailed plan where everything is accounted for. Each objective must be specific and outline tactics, deadlines, human and financial resources involved and the method of measurement.
  • Year two: This plan has objectives with projected tactics and resources. The specifics will be incorporated during the annual planning process, where previous performance can be factored and available resources are clear.
  • Year three: Proposed objectives are the only details required for a three-year outlook. The annual objectives outlined help determine your course of action toward the previously stated five-year overall goal.

Monitor progress

Second to the importance of planning is tracking progress toward what you set out to accomplish. Quarterly, the board of directors assembles to receive updates from the divisions responsible for driving the collective success. The company’s leadership team has bi-weekly updates and each month, the entire organization gathers to understand the current status and how they can make an impact.

By building in regularly scheduled reviews, you are building the ability to be flexible into your business.

I’ve written about serendipity before as it relates to purchasing Mr. Handyman and being approached by an owner of PuroClean to join forces. Had our set plans been too rigid, we may have steered clear of these acquisitions due to imperfect timing and missed out on the chance to build our company’s holdings of in-demand professional home service franchises. There are times when it makes sense to adjust.

Embrace commitment

Teams must be completely committed to the annual strategic plan. It is the easy way out to simply change the plan when you don’t think you will make it. Finalize the plan, hold your people accountable to it and find ways to achieve what you set out to do.

Create incentives for your team to benefit when the shared goals are achieved. Years ago, we established a quarterly bonus program which has unified my team to work toward our revenue and store-count goals. Team members know what the company is trying to achieve, and they can also earn additional rewards for setting and meeting personal objectives in their area of influence.

As the assembly line inventor Henry Ford said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Commit to your strategic plans and celebrate the successes of achieving them.

David McKinnon is the co-founder and chairman of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman and ProTect Painters. To contact McKinnon, send him an email at [email protected]

August Movers and Shakers

Bob Seaman, C.C. Hodgson Architectual Group

Bob Seaman, C.C. Hodgson Architectural Group

SS&G recently announced the promotion of Jim Dannemiller, CPA, to managing director of its Akron office.

Dannemiller will focus on growing the Akron office, mentoring new staff, building the firm’s presence in the community and will continue to serve clients. He will be co-managing the office with Mark Goldfarb, CPA. Dannemiller joined SS&G in 1993.

SS&G’s Akron office also welcomes Ilona Aronov as a senior associate in the tax department. Prior to SS&G, Aronov worked as a tax associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

SS&G has also announced three new employees to its Cleveland office.

Courtney Ockenden joins as a senior associate in the entrepreneurial services group. Ockenden worked as a senior accountant at Zinner & Co. LLP before joining SS&G.

Mario Ciclone joins as an associate in the tax department. Prior to SS&G, he worked as a staff accountant at Hobe & Lucas CPA Inc.

J. Ryan McNutt, C.C. Hodgson Architectural Group

J. Ryan McNutt, C.C. Hodgson Architectural Group

Steve Newton joins as an associate in the IT department. Newton worked as an IT service specialist at Progressive Insurance before joining SS&G.

 

First Federal of Lakewood recently announced that Rebecca Ruppert McMahon has been appointed to the board of directors, and Jeffrey Bechtel has been named senior vice president and commercial banking senior lender.

McMahon has devoted nearly 20 years to building a successful legal career in both the public and private sectors. Most recently, from 2009 to 2012, she served as general counsel for Cuyahoga Community College.

Bechtel, a 25-year industry veteran, will lead First Federal’s efforts to establish a broader commercial banking presence in Northeast Ohio, with a focus on traditional commercial and industrial banking opportunities.

 

Michael Gyure, Director and Senior Analyst of Forensic Accounting, Janney Montegomery Scott

Michael Gyure, Director and Senior Analyst of Forensic Accounting, Janney Montgomery Scott

C.C. Hodgson Architectural Group continues to expand with the announcement of the addition of architects Bob Seaman and J. Ryan McNutt.

Bob Seaman brings more than 25 years of experience as a project manager for a variety of building types, with a specialized focus on the design and management of large health care projects. Most recently, Seaman served as director of health care architecture for the Cleveland office of URS Corp.

J. Ryan McNutt has 13 years in the business, most recently serving as Project Manager for Ewing Cole/Belson Design in Cleveland.

 

EYE Lighting International, a leading manufacturer of lamps, luminaires, controls, and related lighting products, is pleased to announce the addition of Suzanne Beatrice as the director of HR.

In her new role, Beatrice will be responsible for expanding organizational development goals for all employees as well as leading recruitment, hiring and on-boarding activities for new employees and managing personnel transitions.

Beatrice has worked for more than 20 years in the HR field, most recently with Airgas USA LLC.

 

Janney Montgomery Scott has announced the hiring of Michael Guyre as director and senior analyst, forensic accounting at the firm’s Cleveland branch office. Guyre, CPA, joins the firm with more than a decade of experience on the sell side as a forensic accounting analyst. He began his career at Arthur Andersen.

How Turner Construction built the Global Center for Health Innovation and Cleveland Convention Center ahead of schedule

John Dewine, Vice President and Construction Project Executive, Turner Construction Co.

John Dewine, Vice President and Construction Project Executive, Turner Construction Co.

John Dewine looks out his window on the ninth floor of the Standard Building in downtown Cleveland at the construction project he has been leading — The Global Center for Health Innovation (GCHI) and Cleveland Convention Center (CCC). Dewine, a Turner Construction Co. vice president and construction project executive, is no stranger to construction as a 37-year Turner veteran, and no stranger to Cleveland either, as he worked on both the Key Tower and Quicken Loans Arena projects.

Turner Construction, a design/build contractor, brought Dewine to Cleveland to head the project, which the firm completed three months ahead of schedule and on budget in June this year with the help of URS and LMN Architects.

“We got hired in early May 2010,” Dewine says. “From May through the end of 2010 we worked with the designers, engineers, Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI) and the county to conduct a series of budgetary estimates and checks to make sure that the project design was staying on budget, providing the programming needs and scope that the county wanted.”

The GCHI (formerly known as the medical mart) and CCC are a $465 million Cuyahoga County project being developed, managed and marketed by MMPI. GCHI brings buyers and sellers together at the world’s first market facility designed specifically for the health care industry.

The state-of-the-art facility integrates permanent showrooms with convention and conference facilities to uniquely meet the innovation, education and commerce needs of the medical marketplace. GCHI showrooms will feature the latest technology from the world’s premier health care and medical manufacturers while the convention center is designed to host health care industry trade shows and conventions.

“The GCHI will be occupied by companies such as GE Healthcare, Cleveland Clinic and Invacare,” Dewine says. “There will be areas for collaboration, which Cleveland Clinic CEO Delos ‘Toby’ Cosgrove hopes will help yield next generation innovations for the medical field.”

The build

The GCHI and CCC project had numerous engineering feats and challenges that Dewine and his team, along with the help of 168 small business enterprise contractors had to overcome.

“On Jan. 3, 2011, at midnight, Armageddon took downtown Cleveland when we started to put in barriers and fencing to corner off three city blocks,” Dewine says.

The GCHI and CCC is located at the corner of St. Clair Avenue and Ontario Street. Before any structure was put in place, a lot of prep work was done to prepare the area for the new buildings.

“In downtown Cleveland the geology is such that the bedrock is almost 200 feet down,” he says. “For heavily loaded buildings, caissons or drilled shafts are imbedded into the rock, and it’s a very unknown-type process. We have an idea of what we’re going to encounter, but you don’t know until you’re drilling the hole.”

Dewine and his team encountered a lot of methane gas, so much that they installed a permanent methane venting system in the facility. But that wasn’t the only issue the Earth’s crust offered.

“The structure and strength of the clays that you drill through are such that if you drilled a hole and left it overnight it would squeeze shut,” he says. “That’s not a good thing, because if it squeezes shut it creates a void somewhere else, maybe under another building. So we had to put steel casings down as we went to prevent the walls from caving in. Getting through that caisson process was huge.”

Besides the groundwork, Public Auditorium and the old convention center provided several challenges for Dewine and his team.

“In the 1960s when they built the old convention center, they successfully incorporated a lot of mechanical and electrical equipment from the convention center to help service and feed Public Auditorium,” Dewine says. “We had to unhook and separate Public Auditorium from the convention center so we could tear the convention center down. Public Auditorium stayed in service, so it was very specific as to what we could and couldn’t do until we had enough of it isolated.”

The other thing that was a real challenge during the build was that the old convention center’s loading dock was at the same elevation as the floor. To create a true loading dock where the trucks are lower for ease of loading in and loading out, Turner had to lower the existing floor by 8 feet.

“As the loading dock goes underneath Lakeside Avenue, we had to lower the subgrade within 2 feet of a 99-inch brick sewer that was installed in the 1880s,” he says. “That took some extra precautions and measures to ensure something catastrophic didn’t happen.

“We had to make sure we didn’t collapse Lakeside Avenue in the process. We had to shore up Lakeside Avenue, remove the columns that supported it with temporary means, dig it out and lower it, put new foundations in and new columns back in, and then release the loads.”

Dewine says the real success of the project and the reason it was completed ahead of schedule was due to a very positive preconstruction period. Turner and its partners were able to sequence the 17-acre site and attack it from a number of locations at the same time.

“I believe the project got completed early because of how successful we were in sequencing the work,” he says. “When we put our guaranteed maximum price schedule together we had about 350 items in the schedule. At the end, we we’re well over 4,000.

“As items became identified and determined in the schedule, we could micromanage it so that you measure and know what you have to accomplish each week. What you don’t accomplish you have to have a recovery plan for how you get it done the next week. It takes a tremendous amount of communication.”

Turner had a general project manager/superintendent meeting every Thursday morning. In addition, the different areas — north of Lakeside Avenue, south of Lakeside Avenue, the GCHI and Public Auditorium — each had their own separate meetings as well.

The result of all those meetings and the hard work done by thousands of people is a finished project ahead of schedule, on budget and without any major accidents. Dewine is happy to now look out his window across the street at a completed GCHI and CCC.

“It’s a real good feeling,” he says. “It’s the successful result of a lot of efforts from a lot of good people. We were blessed with the contractors that ended up being successful in bidding and being awarded the project. We’ve had well over 6,000 employees take home paychecks as a part of this project. The level of cooperation has been unsurpassed.”

By the numbers

The GCHI and CCC is located in the nation’s medical capital, home to the largest concentration of medical leadership in the U.S. More than 230,000 health care professionals, including 43,000 at Cleveland Clinic and 25,000 at University Hospitals, along with more than 600 biomedical companies are located within the region.

Building Size — 1,003,000 million square feet

  • Site Area — 14.6 Acres
  • LEED Certified Silver

Global Center for Health Innovation

  • 235,000 square feet
  • 100,000 square feet of permanent show room space
  • 11,000 square foot junior ballroom
  • 2,000 square feet of retail space
  • Outside windows pattern evokes strips of DNA

Cleveland Convention Center

  • 767,000 square feet under Malls B and C
  • 230,000 square feet of high-quality exhibit hall space
  • 60,000 square feet of high-tech, flexible meeting room space
  • 32,000 square foot column-free ballroom
  • 17-truck capacity loading dock
  • 90-foot interval columns to carry a load equivalent to a 65-story building

How Timothy Yager led a strategy to get Revol Wireless winning again in the prepaid provider space

Timothy Yager, President and CEO, Revol Wireless

Timothy Yager, President and CEO, Revol Wireless

When Timothy Yager started at Revol Wireless in the fall of 2011, the company had been losing customers every month for an extended period of time. Late 2009 through the first half of 2011 were tough years for the organization — rumors of bankruptcy and new ownership were being floated around and the wireless communications provider was in desperate need of change.

“The company was having some financial issues,” says Yager, president and CEO. “So my arrival was a chance to hit the reset button for Revol, not only for our customers, but for our employees and say, ‘It’s a new day. The ownership change has happened and they’ve brought in new management and we’re going to focus the company on winning.’”

When Revol was first launched, it was a more than 300-employee, $100 million company. It had a reputation as being on the cutting edge of the prepaid wireless industry.

“Revol had a lot of success early on because it offered unlimited voice and those kinds of things on a prepaid platform,” Yager says. “They were the only provider in the footprint offering that type of service.”

In 2008 and 2009, other prepaid providers started moving in and the competitive forces grew. In a hypercompetitive industry such as wireless, Revol wasn’t as competitive as it should have been and it quickly began to fall behind.

“They needed some help getting the business turned around,” Yager says.

Here’s how Yager reinvigorated Revol Wireless with a strategy to get the prepaid provider winning again.

Evaluate the business

Prior to Yager’s arrival, Revol’s strategy and day-to-day operations were hindered by its capital structure, which brought about a slow-to-react atmosphere. Once the company was free from that structure, there were a lot of people who were looking for strong guidance, enthusiastic leadership and setting of general objectives to get the company back on track.

When Yager was first introduced to the team, it was a transformation in enthusiasm, direction and general motivation. Everybody suddenly had a place to go and a job to do. Yager brought a lot of that enthusiasm and direction to the table, and that’s exactly what people needed.

“Those first few days and weeks were really about analyzing the team that was here and where the strengths and weaknesses were,” Yager says. “The other thing was trying to change the focus and mindset of the company.”

Yager wanted to instill a strategy that said the company was in it to win it. It didn’t happen overnight, but employees started to recognize that there was a new philosophy.

“Revol had gotten mired in the minutia and a lot of times in companies that are struggling, people retreat from making decisions,” he says. “One of the biggest things I did was come in and start making decisions.”

Simple things like “yes and no” decisions went a long way toward starting to improve morale and helped employees realize there was a new sheriff in town. Yager represented new ownership, new direction and new thought.

“I think people started to feel empowered to be successful,” he says. “In a turnaround situation, one of the biggest things you’ve got to do is make decisions. So often companies get polarized with the fear of making the wrong decision that they make no decision, and I firmly believe that sometimes a wrong decision is better than no decision.

“If people are just constantly treading water and they don’t know whether they’re going up, down, right or left, it zaps the life out of a company.”

People respect leaders who come into a company and lay out a plan of attack, are upfront about the plan and who are forceful.

“I can remember that first meeting and saying, ‘I’m not going to do everything right and I’m not going to pretend to do everything right, but we’re going to make decisions, have short meetings, focus on what needs to get done and we’re going to get it done,’” Yager says. “In our wireless industry, where it is so competitive, we don’t have the luxury of taking six months to analyze everything.

“Sometimes you’ve got to look at the facts, make a decision and move on.”

Be decisive

Revol started 2012 losing customers every month, just as it had been the year prior, but with Yager on board the wheels were in motion for the company to move forward.

“When I came in, one of the first things I did was put some extra incentives out there to our dealers to sell some phones,” Yager says. “I was trying to buy some enthusiasm from our partners to get reinvigorated about selling the Revol brand.”

Another key decision Yager made was to get out in the field and visit a lot of the company’s owned doors and indirect doors to help get the message across that it’s a new Revol and a new day.

“Those were things that didn’t cost a lot of money, but helped move the business forward because it put a face with a name they were starting to see on emails,” he says. “It also gave them a chance to meet me and realize that I’m a relatively aggressive guy.

“When you’ve got five to eight competitors in a marketplace, you’ve got to be aggressive, and by people meeting me and realizing that I wasn’t just saying we were playing to win, they could tell by meeting with me that we want to win the game.”

One of the most crucial issues that Revol and Yager identified that needed to be changed was their network.

“Revol was still operating on an older technology called 1X and had slower data speeds,” he says. “In today’s world of smartphones, Androids and everything else, data is key.”

Shortly after Yager joined the company, the board approved a plan to upgrade the network to a 3G network.

“Our key initiative in 2012 was the company deploying 3G,” he says. “We launched that service in September last year and noticed an immediate uptick in our sales to customers as well as a stickiness of our existing customers.”

Move forward

Yager’s key to helping Revol right the ship was his ability to deliver on his decisions. He was careful not to promise too much.

“I came in and made a few simple promises — two or three key things and then I spent a year beating the drum on those things to do it,” Yager says. “Too often people come in and make a laundry list of 26 items they’re going to promise. No one can get that done in a reasonable timeframe and you lose credibility. Pick and choose what needs to get done and then deliver on it.”

In 2012 Revol was all about getting 3G launched. In 2013 the company is all about selling phones and keeping customers happy.

“When we launched our 3G network we saw an immediate turnaround to our gross sales and our net sales,” he says. “We have more than doubled our sales in January 2013 from January 2012. We’ve really seen that the successes are bearing out.”

Everyone at Revol had to put in the hard work to get the pieces in place, but now that that’s done, the company has seen noticeable improvement. To continue to see those sales and revenue numbers increase, the company has to keep a focus on growing its customers.

“I’m happy to report they are growing,” Yager says. “I’m excited about what we can achieve this year. Last year we had a hard time competing from a sales perspective because we hadn’t upgraded the network. This year we’ve got those key ground-level type things in place, so I’m looking forward to being able to execute and win.

“We have almost a singular focus in 2013, which is to grow the business. There’s really only one way to grow the business, and that’s to be successful in adding new subscribers and keeping existing subscribers.”

How to reach: Revol Wireless, (800) 738-6547 or www.revol.com

Huntington-CSU partnership to provide $1.2 million to Cleveland State

An exclusive partnership between Huntington Bank and Cleveland State University will bring new customers to the bank — and $1.2 million to CSU for scholarships and academic programming over a 10-year period.

“It is hugely significant for Huntington in that we partnered with one of the most important institutions in Cleveland,” says Dan Walsh, Huntington Bank Greater Cleveland Region president. “I think it underscores our commitment to the community.

“This extraordinary university contributes significantly to the vibrancy and economy of our city.”

CSU will receive $50,000 in scholarships, a minimum of three paid Huntington internships per year and $250,000 to support the university’s Allen Theatre Project, the “Power of Three.” In addition, the bank will work with CSU to develop a financial literacy program for students in order to help build a financial foundation in their lives.

Huntington hopes to target incoming freshmen as well as the 90,000 CSU alumni.

“We are very bullish on the growth going forward,” Walsh says. “And we will continue to grow our relationship. We are very excited about this going beyond the next 10 years.

“Huntington will be tracking those alumni who open accounts so we can monitor our deal with Cleveland State. We can give extra credit if we see this threshold of new customers or profitability.”

Huntington, with its launch of branches in Giant Eagle grocery stores, has the largest branch network of Cleveland banks. A full-service branch is now open on the CSU campus, and a new Huntington Bank Vikings debit card will be issued to customers.

CSU President Ronald Berkman welcomed the relationship, which was finalized after a competitive bidding-type process to become “The Official Bank of Cleveland State University.”

“The scholarships and internships Huntington will provide will be invaluable to many of our students,” Berkman says.

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.

Benefits

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.

Safety

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.

Work-life-balance

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 (www.northcoast99.org) 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 www.ercnet.org.

How Steve Bilt positioned Smile Brands to give patients the best dental care they can get

Steve Bilt, co-founder, president and CEO, Smile Brands Group Inc.

Steve Bilt, co-founder, president and CEO, Smile Brands Group Inc.

There are lots of ways to run a successful dental practice, which became one of the biggest challenges facing Steve Bilt and his leadership team as they contemplated the future of Smile Brands Group Inc.

“Defining a simple agenda that supports what your customer wants and needs, understanding who that customer is and then delivering that value has been a big challenge,” says Bilt, the $600 million company’s co-founder, president and CEO.

“I could look inside the 400 different units we support and say, ‘OK, you can find every model under the sun in some way, shape or form working. But if we’re going to continue to expand and refine our services and systems to better serve and support those units, there has to be more consistency in what we do.’”

It’s a question that any business with units spread across the country or around the world must answer for itself. Bilt says it’s only getting harder to come up with the right answer because the market and customer needs are constantly evolving.

“So what may have been a focused-enough strategy five years ago is a path to doom five years from now,” Bilt says.

But as the members of Bilt’s team began to wrap their minds around what needed to be done for the company’s 3,800 employees, more than 1,300 affiliated doctors and hygienists, and their patients, they kept coming back to one philosophical belief.

“There’s no one absolutely right answer, but the right answer is one answer,” Bilt says. “If you think that through, it’s not saying my way is better than your way. You don’t have to make that call. You just have to say, ‘Look. We have to decide on one way, which might be a hybrid of models with each of us bringing something to the table.

“‘But what we have to do as a team is decide on one way and pursue that one way and make sure our systems support that one way and our talk and our attitude and everything we do down to our DNA supports that one way of us adding value into the marketplace.’”

Provide the best service

The operational evolution at Smile Brands was a four-year process that included a number of different opinions, ideas and suggestions. But one of the core ideals that the group settled on was finding the best way to harness all the dental skill that existed in the organization in order for customers to receive the best care.

“We used to say let’s just create a cocoon of support around this doctor so they can just be a doctor, period,” Bilt says. “Don’t have any other level of resource for them other than the fact that they get all the freedom to be a doctor.”

The problem with that type of practice in today’s world is it wastes so much potential to share expertise and solve problems.

“Any peer group is going to have some people who excel at one thing and have a lot of experience,” Bilt says. “But if you’re out in the dental office by yourself staring at a problem you haven’t seen before, you say, ‘Oh boy, I’ll figure this out by trial and error,’ which is what you would do 15 years ago. Or you’d pick up the phone and say, ‘Here’s what I’m looking at. What do you think?’”

Bilt felt Smile Brands had the capability and thus needed to make it possible for dentists who encountered these unique problems to be able to connect with a colleague in real time and reach a solution in minutes.

“There’s this opportunity in this digital age to create an incredible peer group in a lonely profession,” Bilt says.

The ability to use technology to solve problems or even for training purposes was just something that was too good to pass up. And the best part, Bilt says, is that the integration of the right technology at Smile Brands would also reduce expenses.

“The customer has somebody who has access to stuff that is so much more powerful,” Bilt says. “That gives the doctor the ability to charge less, which is great for the consumer as well. The combination of doctors being able to be just dentists so that they can see more patients means they have an ability to charge less because they have higher volume, and all the technology helps them lever their cost structure down.”

Stay focused

You get a great idea for your business and everyone is energized to make it happen. It’s at this point where trouble can be lurking.

“We all love that rush of the initial front-end strategy planning and brainstorming session that we all do,” Bilt says. “What we don’t tend to love is the concept of change management and how do you get from here to there?”

It takes work and effort to make a change happen and some of that work can be painful. This can very easily lead to the drifting of attention away from one project that has suddenly become a lot of work to another project that seems so much more fun to talk about.

“You allow another shiny strategic initiative to start while the change management and implementation of the prior one is incomplete,” Bilt says. “You don’t go back and measure whether the first shiny initiative did what it was supposed to do and then you get distracted with the next one and forget about ever measuring the prior one. That cycle can go on for decades. That gets people into a lot of trouble.”

One key to avoiding stress and keeping your organization focused is to let people who have expertise in certain areas apply that skill to get the work done and isolate the flaws before full implementation.

Listen to their needs, their suggestions and their feedback on the best way to implement your new system.

“The docs are our thoroughbreds, and we’re the plow horses,” Bilt says. “If we’re doing it right, the plow horses plow and the thoroughbreds run. That’s really the point of the model. Let them be the thoroughbreds they are and let us plow the fields or build the track. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Define what you want to accomplish and get it into a plan that everyone understands and agrees to. Make sure they are aware that while there will be highs and lows along the way, the end goal will make it all worthwhile.

“My role is to help provide some vision for what we’re trying to do,” Bilt says. “What do we hope to accomplish? I try to provide support for people executing it so that they can do it properly to make sure the phases are properly led, staffed and resourced to have some level of establishing accountability for the results of each phase.”

Be a good communicator

Another major step in the transformation of Smile Brands was figuring out how to roll out the changes at each of the 400 locations. Who goes first? Who needs the upgrade most? Which locations will be the hardest to change?

Bilt says there’s no perfect way to roll out a big change. But he says communication is always the key to making it work.

“Most people are less attached to the outcome that they want in terms of where they are in the order of priority than they are in understanding why you made the decision you made,” Bilt says. “I love to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. That shows respect for me. Then I want to know how I’m impacted. Are you getting to me and if you are, when? What should I expect?”

Bilt poses a scenario in which somebody might feel strongly that his or her location should be the first to be upgraded because it is the company’s most profitable unit.

“You could say, ‘You know what, I agree with you,’” Bilt says. “‘That’s why you’re going last. You are the best market. You want to go first because you’re the best. I’m saying you go last because I’m not going to mess with you. I can’t afford it and it’s too risky.

“‘So I’m going to the worst market because if we screw it up, it costs us the least.’ We could have the exact same rationale and the exact opposite conclusion.”

Explain to people your thought process behind the implementation of change and they’ll be much more likely to be onboard with you.

“You have to do it multiple ways,” Bilt says. “I always say the rule of three when it comes to communication. If you have a new concept or an important concept, you better give it three passes to get it communicated because there is always a gap between what we think we’re saying and what people are hearing.

“It just takes multiple passes to get it right and allow them to process it and understand it.”

As Bilt looks back on the process, he says there are always things that could have been done better.

“Everything is a journey,” Bilt says. “So how did we go along that journey and how did we carry ourselves and how did we perform and how did we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off when it got tougher than it was supposed to get? Those are the stories that make a career.”

How to reach: Smile Brands Group Inc., (714) 668-1300 or www.smilebrands.com

The Bilt File

Steve Bilt

co-founder, president and CEO

Smile Brands Group Inc.

Born: New York City

What was your very first job?

Delivering The Denver Post in the snow. Back then, it was a crazy job for a kid. You took capital risk. You had to buy your newspapers from the newspaper. You had to deliver them, collect your own money, then pay back your cost of the newspapers and you kept your margin. So if a grumpy old neighbor didn’t want to pay for the paper, it was the 13-year-old kid losing out and not the newspaper. So I learned a lot of lessons on that job.

Who has been your biggest influence?

I have to give a lot of early credit to my dad. He helped me when I was going to fall down too far in the newspaper job by helping me fold the Sunday paper or pull the cart through the snow when it was too deep to physically move it. He did help with that job to make sure I had some success or at least got that job done.

The other thing is he was really good about not knowing all the answers to the stuff he was dealing with in business. He’d actually bring up a lot of the questions he was facing at the dinner table and let me opine.

I got this notion that a business is a living, breathing thing that had to be managed and cared for and fed. It was very formative from that perspective to be able to hear and listen and participate in some of those conversations about what makes a business go and how does it go and how do you do it and how do you care for it?

Takeaways

Don’t try to do it all.

Communicate at every turn.

Finish the job.

Bruce Leon needed leaders ready to tackle any challenge that Tandem HR might face

Bruce Leon, president, Tandem HR

Bruce Leon, president, Tandem HR

Bruce Leon has seen managers who work 12 to 13 hours every day who are not shy about telling others how overworked they are in their job. He’s also looked deeper into the way some of those managers spend their day.

“When you really dive into it, they are doing the same things all the time,” says Leon, president at Tandem HR. “They are dealing with the same sorts of customer issues and complaints.”

Leon tries to encourage managers who find themselves in this predicament to analyze their workday with the goal of getting to the root cause of the problem and coming up with a solution.

“I push them to find the core reason why it’s happening and see if they can get as much done, if not more, and have a regular eight-hour day,” Leon says. “Some of them can’t do it or they are unwilling to admit that there is a better way. They just think it’s a fact of life that they are overwhelmed with work.”

Those who are unwilling to adapt become a big problem for Leon in an industry that is changing by leaps and bounds.

“You can’t make a five-year business plan today with any real comfort that those will be the issues you’ll be dealing with over the next five years,” Leon says. “For many of us, that’s a scary thing not to be able to plan out that far ahead. But I think the critical thing is if you’re able to keep up with those changes, you can have a much better opportunity with customers than those companies that aren’t keeping up with the market.”

And so the key to being one of those companies that can keep up is having leaders who aren’t afraid of change and who see the opportunity in every challenge.

“Are they leaders or are they managers?” Leon says. “I want to know their ability to innovate and I’m really looking to see how much they are proactively looking at change and how much they are reactively looking at change.”

Find your problem solvers

One of the first things Leon wants to see when he’s appraising a leader is proof that he or she is a leader who can get things done.

“You try to find people who have been successful in many aspects of their lives,” Leon says.

“Family, extracurricular activities, philanthropy. What is their involvement? There is no fail-safe method and if there were, we’d all have an easier time of it. But one of the best things you can find is people who can communicate very specifically about how they’ve done leadership things in the past and how they were successful at them. I want specifics and even people I can call to verify it.”

When you’re assessing current leaders, observe how they behave in various situations.

“When a problem arises, they just look for issues where they will perceive to be involved and then quickly exonerate themselves at the expense of throwing other people under the bus,” Leon says. “You see managers who will not let some of their good talent go to other departments, even if it means a promotion to an area where the company really could use them. People who refuse to engage in cross-training and documentation of all the processes they do.”

It takes an effort on your part to get a good read on a person, but it helps you understand which employees you can count on in a tough situation and who doesn’t have what it takes.

“We’re trying to put the right people in place so that we can scale with only having to add lower-level people to build up for the growth,” Leon says. “But I do think the people who are running your company at 30 employees are not always the same people who are going to run it at 130.”

Some of the skills that you look for are a desire to grow, the ability to be self-critical and a willingness to accept constructive criticism.

“It’s the ability to not be threatened by hiring strong people beneath them,” Leon says. “Leaders also have a strong customer service aptitude. They really have a passion for what they do. It’s not a job.”

The ideal leader you are looking for is similar to the manager at Tandem HR who was feeling swamped by his workload and was willing to take an introspective look at what he and his team were doing.

“The ones who are good can step away, get their teams together and go over the core reasons for the problem,” Leon says.

“I had one of them that came up with a call center that has been solving 93 percent of 12 customer issues they were having. It previously took multiple phone calls and voice messages and now we solve issues in eight seconds through the call center. It came about from a manager taking his group out and looking at every customer issue that was coming in and figuring out how they could streamline it.”

Don’t allow silos

Silos are another pitfall for managers. Leaders who feel insecure about their place in the organization often create them.

“People artificially create silos in a way to build their own inner security system or to build a moat around their work,” Leon says. “I think it has to do with egos and peoples’ inability to be open, transparent and willing to share. It’s the perception people feel that if they are the only ones who can do something, they will have job security.”

Having insecure managers in your company is obviously not a good thing. But the bigger problem is created when you have a situation where a leader leaves the company or is unavailable for some reason to deal with an issue related to their department.

“Everybody has to imagine what their job would be like if tomorrow, they were hit by a car and someone else had to step in and do their job for them,” Leon says.

This is not just a mind exercise for Leon, however. He wants a real action plan in place in case such an unfortunate scenario happens.

“I want to see that documented,” Leon says. “I want to see that really existing. I want to see the results of it.”

One of the ways to prevent silos from forming is to occasionally move people around to different areas of your business.

“We switch around a lot of the administrative people in different departments so nobody gets locked into one unit,” Leon says. “It forces people to be cross-trained and it prevents that natural us-versus-them attitude in the company.”

Another step that isn’t always an option for some companies is to put more people under one roof. This was an option at Tandem HR as the company is in the process of consolidating from seven to two locations. The prevention of silos was not the main reason for the move, but it will be one of the benefits when the transition is complete.

“It’s building people to be more non-siloed and building recognition between the family of companies that we have,” Leon says. “We can also streamline shared services. We hope to save a fair amount of money on shared services with the relocation.”

Going forward at Tandem HR, new employees will be given the chance to spend time in different parts of the business.

“Even if they have been brought in as a benefits specialist, they are going to spend some time in payroll or HR or 401(k) or with risk,” Leon says. “They are going to have to learn those units as a new employee.”

The cross training is part of a six-month program where employees learn about other positions as they get up to speed on the job for which they were hired.

“We do monitor their level of competency by their performance,” Leon says. “They take tests along the way as they are learning just so we can gauge how they comprehend the material.”

Check your own ego

As much as Leon works on appraising the leaders in his company, he strongly believes that he needs to fall under the same microscope in terms of how he performs his job as president.

“Many a bad business decision and many a bad leadership decision came from unchecked ego,” Leon says. “Sometimes you have to put people in place, but that can also be you. Every CEO needs their own check.”

The person or people that you ask to judge your performance need to be able to do so with honesty and without concern that negative feedback will be met with hostility.

“Without that, the likelihood that you make ego-related bad decisions or you make bad personnel decisions or you get yourself involved in activities that hurt the company is too great,” Leon says. “It’s a critical point for me personally and one I try to share with CEOs.”

Fortunately for Leon, he seems to have a pretty effective team of leaders, including himself. The company hit $355 million in revenue in 2012 and Leon feels good about the future. But he’s not one to take a lot of the credit for making it happen.

“You have to be thankful every day for having the opportunity you have,” Leon says. “It could change very dramatically tomorrow.”

How to reach: Tandem HR, (630) 928-0510 or
www.tandemhr.com

The Leon File

Bruce Leon

President

Tandem HR

What is the best business lesson you ever learned? Always hire ahead of the curve, both in terms of numbers and talent. There’s more than a 50 percent difference between a $100,000 employee and a $150,000 employee.

As you grow, you need to get better talent and go outside of your budget to get it ahead of time. It’s very difficult to do it after the fact. You often make bad hiring decisions because you’re pressured and then people walk into a situation that’s like a house on fire, which is not a good way to start.

By hiring ahead of the growth curve, it gives you a chance to find the right people, get them trained and not to have the house-on-fire first day. A lot of business people, myself included, say I’m going to wait until I hit those targets or until we get the revenue or our profits are up before we hire that senior level person. Sometimes, it’s too late.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader? Everybody has different leadership styles. For me, my leadership style is that I am very transparent. I admit my mistakes very quickly with my senior executives and let them know they will never get fired here for making a mistake. But they will get fired for withholding information and for not admitting when the mistake happened. I try to lead by example with that all the time.

What’s your definition of success? It’s to know at the end of the day that I did all I could to further the values of this company, and I was able to make an impact in the industry that I serve.

Takeaways

Study your current leaders.

Promote inclusive leadership.

Let people judge your perfromance.