Carter Logistics’ fights turnover with training, but the biggest lesson is copping to mistakes

John Paugh is used to looking for new truck drivers. The president and CEO of Carter Logistics LLC employs 1,150 people in six states, and 800 of those employees are truck drivers. Out of that group, Paugh expects to replace 240 drivers each year.

It sounds like a high rate of turnover, but statistically speaking, Paugh is doing much better at retaining truck drivers than the rest of the industry.

The most recent data from the American Trucking Association shows driver turnover at large truckload fleets — those with more than $30 million in annual revenue, which includes Carter — averaged 96 percent for all of 2013, down 2 percent from the previous year. And that’s a drastic improvement over the all-time high of 130 percent turnover in 2005.

Carter is significantly better the industry average at just under 30 percent turnover, but even at that rate, he’s still looking at a lot of change.

“Internally, when you get to the dock or dispatching, turnover is not that big of an issue,” Paugh says. “But for the drivers themselves, there’s a big shortage nationally.”

He says the high turnover rate in the industry makes it very easy for a truck driver who’s upset about something to switch.

“You have all your competitors, and myself included, that give drivers sign-on bonuses. So if an individual becomes upset or dissatisfied with your company, he can have a job the same day and probably get a sign-on bonus for switching.”

It’s a lot easier to keep a driver than to hire a new one, Carter says, which is why the company focuses on reducing its turnover.

“We spend a lot of time on (recruiting) and a lot of money advertising,” Paugh says. “It’s a problem for the industry, there’s no question. And honestly, I think it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. The average age of an over-the-road truck driver is in the late 40s.

It just doesn’t seem like we’ve got younger people coming into the industry, so as they retire, the problem just gets bigger.”


Focus on training

Carter has invested in a strong training program. Because logistics companies are fighting over the same pool of drivers, training new drivers is key to replacing those who leave.

“We train more than 100 people a year,” Paugh says.

Carter has a program worked out with Workforce One, the state’s workforce development entity, to fund training the company then matches for tuition to send drivers to school. Trainees are paired with an over-the-road trainer for anywhere from six to 12 weeks after they get out of school to ensure they follow proper safety requirements and can execute competently on the job.

Many of its driver trainees and newly licensed drivers come from SAGE Truck Driving School, which is part of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.

“Ivy Tech has done a great job working with the state of Indiana and Workforce One and ourselves to try to help us get funds to train those individuals. And they seem to do a really good job,” Paugh says.

The company also has weekly orientations, which run three days.

“When you’re bringing that many new people in, you just have to do it a lot more often than monthly,” Paugh says.

“If you’ve got empty trucks, you don’t want to wait a month to fill them.”

He says he tries to make a point to go to new driver orientation every week and meet the new individuals because “the driver is absolutely key. I mean, we cannot do any of the rest of our job without a driver.”

While it’s easier to meet with new employees at the company’s home office in Anderson, Indiana, where 700 of its total employees work, it’s not as easy to meet the rest of his staff.

Carter has a facility in Laredo, Texas; Andersonville, Tennessee; Paragould, Arkansas; and Romulus, Michigan, as well as a large facility in Vandalia, Ohio, where it has just fewer than 200 employees.

Despite the constant challenge of replacing truck drivers, the company is experiencing a 15 percent annual growth rate.

“We’re 90 percent automotive and the auto industry seems to have recovered,” Paugh says. “The numbers of cars being built in North America is equal to what it was back before ’07 before we had the adjustment.

“In fact, North America has actually become an exporter of cars for the first time. Mexico is building about 3 million cars a year and only going to consume around 1 million of those, so we’re actually shipping automobiles offshore for the first time.”

But because Carter’s business is mostly automotive, and automotive operates under very lean processes, there are additional challenges that can only be met with training.


Reducing errors

Carter has also found that errors in labeling meant materials were being shipped to the wrong location.

“We pick up at multiple destinations for multiple plants, and we put that material on the same truck,” Paugh says. “So when it gets to our dock, we may have six different plants getting material from that same supplier. It’s very important that it’s labeled correctly and that we get it split apart. We may end up sending one plant’s material to the wrong plant if it’s not labeled correctly.”

So the company adopted a scanning process. Outbound material is scanned when it’s received and when it is put on the trailer. If it doesn’t match that manifest, the load can’t be closed out to ship it, which has eliminated a lot of errors.

“We build a manifest for the outbound trailer and it lists exactly how many pallets are supposed to be on there and who they’re supposed to be from,” Paugh says.

“So if you have a shortage or an overage it basically red lights and won’t let you complete that load.”


Admitting to mistakes

“We’re a logistics company, so it’s pretty common to have miss-ships and errors. Our biggest challenge is getting the people to accept that we have made a mistake and get the attention of the shipper or the ultimate person who’s going to receive that material and letting them know as early as possible. Some people just don’t want to admit when they’re wrong,” Paugh says.

Mistakes are inevitable, he says. But it’s how the employee handles them that matters.

“It’s a training issue. You just have to spend a lot of time with your people and make sure that they know how important it is,” Paugh says. “The earlier the receiver of that material knows that there’s going to be a delay, the easier it is for him to make adjustments.

“If he finds out that it’s not coming when it’s supposed to be there, then it’s too late. As soon as we know there’s been an interruption in the process, we have to alert the person that’s waiting on that material that there’s going to be a delay and then make every effort to get it there as soon as possible.”

Paugh says it doesn’t matter how good a company was yesterday. It’s what it does for its customers today.

“The biggest thing is just to admit where you’re wrong and correct the problem so you don’t make that mistake again,” Paugh says. “Don’t try to hide it or don’t try to get around the fact that you made a mistake. Step up to it, fix it, and make sure it doesn’t occur again.”

Carter’s automotive clients’ goal is to have a part appear right before their customers need it.

“Typically, they’ve only got about four hours of inventory. So the earlier they know, the farther upstream you catch that delay and let them know, you make it better for them,” he says. “You can avoid a plant or a line shut-down; it’s just very important for them to have that sort of information as soon as possible — and correct information.”

Carter services several plants four or five times a day. If the first shipment opportunity is missed, Carter can typically get it there in another two hours. Knowing that most often allows customers to make adjustments.

A lot of Carter’s customers have a lot of line changes where they build multiple parts.

“So if they know there’s going to be a delay they can delay that switchover or switch over to a different part. They can make adjustments, but they really need that information. It’s critical,” he says.

If Carter employees don’t know the ultimate destination or what’s going to be done with the inventory, they don’t realize the importance. So, employees need to understand the whole scope of the process. Making sure information is communicated and processes are understood is a training issue, he says.

“I don’t know that it’s a situation where you can find the right people as much as just training them,” Paugh says.

That training involves role-playing. Employees are shown the proper way to do something and then asked to use that training experience to execute a solution. Trainers then show them what they did right and what they did wrong.

Leads on every shift also work to correct mistakes. When mistakes are caught they use the mistake as a training tool so the employee doesn’t have the same problem again.

Carter’s ability to reduce errors and keep turnover low are not only an operational focus, but a measure of the company’s success.

“A lot of people get enamored with gross, and I don’t think that’s really the measure of a successful business. I think it’s if it’s sustainable, profitable, low employee turnover and good morale, (those) are all measures of a successful business.” •


  • Invest in a strong training program to give employees a good start.
  • Analyze bottlenecks where errors could occur.
  • Admit to your mistakes and learn be proactive.

The Paugh File:

Name: John Paugh
Title: President and CEO
Company: Carter Logistics LLC

Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana

Education: He earned a bachelor of science in Agriculture from Purdue University. He says he earned Purdue’s first Environmental Science degree. I was in the first graduating class, and their School of Environmental Science was in the College of Agriculture for Purdue, so my degree reads ‘B.S. in Agriculture.’

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? My first real job was working for Midland Guardian, which was a small loan company down on Washington Avenue in Indianapolis, and they made loans from $32 to $1,000. It taught me a lot about credit. It was collecting loans for people that were borrowing money for disposable goods and paying for them long after they’d used the good up. So, it taught me a lot about credit and the value of good credit, and what it’s supposed to be used for.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? There are things that are worth less than nothing. I’ve looked at some businesses that look good on the surface, but when you really look deep, they’re not profitable and probably aren’t going to become profitable, and you couldn’t buy them cheap enough to make it work.

What’s your definition of business success? Well, lots of things, but obviously the perception of your peers. How your competitors look at you, I think, is a real good measure of whether you’re successful or not.

Who do you admire in business? Roger Penske. I’m fortunate enough to know Roger. Locally, one of my people I really admire is Jeff Stoops. He’s got five Freightliner stores, and he was on the Super Bowl committee. (He’s) just a real good community citizen and a great businessman.

Proposed patent reform bill will put a chill on innovation

The words “patent troll” conjures an image of a nasty, devious being, bent on greedily demanding tribute from anyone seeking to cross the bridge. But by the definition in some of Congress’ recent proposals to address patent reform, that troll is me.

Under the cover of hard-to-oppose legislation aimed at curbing these horrible trolls, a group of powerful technology companies is aiming to weaken the entire patent system for their own benefit, and to the detriment of the very innovation ecosystem that helped give birth to these power players.

The scary thing is the speed and lack of deliberation that has so far gone into these bills. This legislation moved through the House in a matter of weeks and is moving through the Senate at a similar pace. We need to slow down.

This is in contrast to the last patent legislation — which I was fortunate to be at the signing ceremony for — that spent six years in Congress.


Encouraging innovation

I run a company called Trident Design LLC, a product development and commercialization agency that specializes in helping independent inventors and startup hardware-based companies.

We don’t make any of the products we design. We license the designs and technologies to manufacturers that look to us, and companies like ours, for help thinking up and developing the next big thing.

The mechanism that makes this possible is the incredibly effective U.S. Intellectual Property (IP) system, embodied in our patent laws. The reason America is the most innovative country is because we have the strongest IP laws.


Defining the bad actors

So, who are these patent trolls, really? There are groups who use the patent system to shakedown small and large businesses alike.

They may send out thousands of demand letters to small businesspeople, threatening them with specious and vague claims, and demanding payment. Often, the demand is less than the cost of defending, so people just pay rather than spend time and money fighting it.

In this way, the trolls can collect millions.

Who else? There are companies that sue big targets like Google, hoping they can extract substantial sums to “go away,” even if their claims are very weak. There are other types of ploys as well.

In the mind of some large technology corporations, however, a troll is anyone asserting patent rights against them, even if it is totally legitimate. In fact, Intel executives who were waging a PR battle against people suing them, sometimes justly, created the word “troll” as a pejorative for patent holders.


Legislating too broadly

The problem with the proposed legislation is in an effort to combat a few bad actors it undermines the entire system by making it much riskier to try and enforce patent rights, an already incredibly expensive effort.

For example, one of the most dangerous provisions institutes fee shifting, where by default the loser pays the victor’s legal expenses. This dramatically increases the risk of filing a suit, and strongly favors the deeper-pocketed party.

This supposedly targets frivolous lawsuits, but the judge already has the power to shift the fees if it appears to be a frivolous suit. Making it the default assumes the patent holder is in the wrong.

There are numerous other provisions proposed with a similar pattern: An on-the-surface reasonable idea targeting a specific bad behavior that is written so broadly it captures all inventors, including me, as well as any university trying to license its IP, or any other “patent assertion entity.”

So, why would these large tech companies want to tip the scales? Because patents are field-levelers, allowing smaller players to compete with bigger players, who could otherwise use their superior resources to copy and crush emerging competitors.

If you are a company spending a billion dollars per year in royalty payments, why not spend $60 million to try and change the law? In this scale of war, companies like mine are just considered collateral damage.


Lobbying in Washington

I recently spent two days in Washington, D.C., with a group of other active inventors lobbying the Senate about this proposed patent legislation aimed at so-called patent trolls.

We met with over 25 Senate offices and had dinner with several Congress people, including Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, making sure the voice of the independent inventor is heard before steps are taken that would destroy our businesses.

By coincidence a large group of major manufacturers, including 3M, GE and Microsoft, came out on our side the second day we were there. As a result, the vote on the bill was delayed.

Hopefully, it will be delayed even more, giving us time to assess the potential harm, as well as benefits, of each of the provisions. To be clear, I am in favor of addressing the problem of the real “trolls,” just so long as we don’t unintentionally put a chill on innovation in America.


Christopher Hawker is a serial entrepreneur and inventor. He runs Trident Design LLC, in Columbus, Ohio, a product development and commercialization agency that specializes in helping independent inventors and startup hardware-based companies.

The company has brought over 70 products to market — including consumer products like the PowerSquid, the Onion Goggles and the Hot Dog Slic’r, as well as technical medical devices and industrial products.


Learn more about Trident Design at:

Twitter: @inventorchris


How to reach: Trident Design LLC, (614) 291-2435 or

David Harding: How expressing positive thinking efficiently may help shift outcom

David Harding, CEO, HardingPoorman Group

David Harding, CEO, HardingPoorman Group

“Save your breath.”

My mother used to say this to me when I was desperately trying to explain my way out of a situation. In her view, the more I tried to explain, the more worked up I got, the less she was interested in my argument because she knew it was flimsy.

I believe the same philosophy holds true in business — and in relationships too, for that matter.

Maurice Saatchi, cofounder of the famed New York ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi used to say, “If you can’t reduce your argument to a few crisp words and phrases, there’s something wrong with your argument.”

My mother would have agreed with him.

Save time by honing your thoughts and streamlining your written words in all situations. Not only is this a worthy trait — but you will be heard. You’ll save time too.


The power of “no”

Should you learn to say “No?”

“No” is so very easy to say. With that simple syllable, you can safely obstruct change, thwart action, seize power, and slow things down.

No isn’t rebellion. It’s a status quo power grab, and it comes from fear.

“Yes” is the real rebellion. It’s harder to say because it involves innovation, responsibility, creativity, achievement and thought. Yes is ingenuous, strident, candid, open.

Say yes as much as you can.

But the word “why” is always valid.

Asking why is always appropriate. And it isn’t asked enough.

Why gets to the heart of any decision you or your organization makes. It’s too easy to assume the answer. And too simple to believe that “because we’ve always done it that way” is the right reason this time around. It isn’t, because the game changes every day.

Ask why this is the way we operate. Ask why we need to meet. Why did you decide no? Why is this our goal, our forecast, our policy, our plan?

Always ask why and wait for the real, not the flip or the most convenient answer. Do it because the real answer matters.

Have the goal of fewer meetings

That means dealing with the fact that the modern office is an interruption factory.

In the age of centralized files and costly office equipment, it made sense for people to work and collaborate in centralized workplaces. Today, that logic no longer applies. We actually need fewer meetings and interruptions to get more work done. That means, more work done remotely.

According to The New York Times, for example, an average office demands 5.6 hours per week in meetings — of which 71 percent of us report as being unproductive. Why do this to ourselves?

The truth is, the most fundamental reason we have not shifted away from the office is because we are stuck on the appearance of an office culture.

Who do you spend your time with? Take a closer look at those who surround you, personally and professionally. Choose your peers, mentors, friends, and advocates carefully — especially in the workplace.

It really is all about your energy. Once energy is added to any situation, it has to continue. You learned this natural law in high school physics class. But this law is just as true in our dealings with others.

When you get cut off in traffic and get angry, negative energy increases. When you provide encouraging words to someone, positive energy expands.

Communicate negative energy and very likely, you will receive even more negativity back. Only rarely will negative energy be calmly acknowledged and the situation neutralized. (When this happens, aren’t you impressed — and feel calmer yourself?)

Being aware of the energy you express. Add to the positive. Work to diffuse the negative without escalating.

Your energy can dramatically shift the outcome of your communications.


David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at [email protected] For more information, go to

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]

Tony Little: How your gut feeling, staying grounded and remembering how you initially achieved success will move you forward

Tony Little, founder, president and CEO, Health International Corp.

Tony Little, founder, president and CEO, Health International Corp.

In his autobiography, famed filmmaker Frank Capra wrote, “If you have to think about it, forget it.” The idea that one’s gut instincts were the best guide to success certainly served the man who made such timeless classics as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

I’m a firm believer in that notion. Because I’m in the business of consumer products, I try to look at things from the customer’s perspective, from concept to delivery. What do they want or need? How will they use the product? What can make it more appealing or useful? What will differentiate my product from other similar products out there?

Trust your gut

I’ve learned to always trust my gut. The bottom line is that if the customer doesn’t like my products, he or she isn’t buying them. It’s that plain and simple. And if they’re not buying from me, I’m not going to stay in business for very long!

A huge mistake people often make in business is to overthink things or make things too complicated. For example, you should make purchasing easy for your customer — buying from you shouldn’t be a chore. So if you have a product that your customer doesn’t understand right away or if you make them think too much about it, the intrinsic benefits of the product will evaporate. Either way, you’ll be doomed.

I thought about getting into the high tech watch business a few years ago. Everywhere I looked, I saw watches that would monitor your heart rate, check your workouts, interface with your computer, create a workout program and cook dinner, too!

Yeah, it was revolutionary stuff, but for me, that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Because I’m a consumer, too, I asked myself what I personally wanted in a watch.

First, I wanted to be able to actually read the dial without squinting at a tiny display.

Second, if there were too many buttons, or I needed three hands to get to the function I needed, that would be a big problem for me. Truthfully, most of the watches out there were not what I wanted to buy.

I figured there were other people out there just like me, so when I had the opportunity, I came up with a vastly simplified watch that was easy for the average person to use. It had a nice, big read-out and didn’t need a phonebook-sized manual to figure out how to use it. The odds makers would have said to go high tech, but my gut said low tech. I followed my instincts, went with low tech and wound up with a huge hit.

Still, do your homework

Bear in mind, I’m not saying you should ignore the world around you. Doing your homework and keeping aware of business trends is always important. In fact, we have more resources at our disposal than ever before, and research studies, product test launches and focus group data can be invaluable.

Still, it’s easy to get caught up in all the information and have it cloud the big picture. All the data in the world doesn’t guarantee success (no matter what your marketing department tells you!) but it can help reinforce one’s decision-making.

Like everything else in our world, the science behind business has become increasingly complex over the years. But sometimes it’s wise to take a step back and evaluate your business or a new opportunity from a wider view. If you do so, you’ll often find that a broader perspective offers you a much clearer look at what you’re dealing with and the solutions will also be easier to spot.

As you move forward with your business, always remember what got you there. What did your customer or client like about you? New ideas and opportunities will continually come your way as you expand and you should always be open to them. At the same time, it’s important to follow your instincts. Stay grounded and never forget how you initially achieved success. The path to a bright future begins by believing in yourself to make wise decisions.

Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at [email protected]

Ravi Kathuria: Why innovate? How keeping the status quo may feel comfortable, but it’s really a state of decay

Ravi Kathuria, president, Cohegic Corp.

Ravi Kathuria, president, Cohegic Corp.

Innovation is the battle-cry among many companies across different industries. However, only a few are truly able to drive innovation at a rhythmic, sustainable and consistent pace. As the leader of your business, your job is to build the culture, the processes and the organization so that your company can out-innovate the competition, and reaches the stage where it out-innovates itself regularly.

Why innovate

Before we talk about driving innovation, we need to ask why. Why is innovation important? Why is it necessary? So many companies do perfectly fine by staying within the status quo. They do not push innovation and still manage to thrive, or at least survive, quite well.

However, a company that does not innovate is in decay. Over time, its employees will fall in a rut, doing the same thing in the same way over and over again, never stopping to ask whether there is a better way to get it done.

Whether we like it or not, the world around us is always changing. Innovation is about rejuvenation. No species on Earth would sustain itself if it stopped evolving. Business is no different. If you do not innovate and evolve, your best employees will be frustrated and will leave to work elsewhere.

Innovation is like physical exercise for the human body. It keeps you healthy and fit. How do you picture your company — a sedentary couch potato or an agile athlete?

Innovate across the board

Innovation spans the gamut. It’s obvious your products and services must innovate. However, so should your internal processes.

When is the last time you have asked your legal team or your customer service team how they are innovating? When was the last time HR drove innovation to improve employee engagement?
When did the sales team innovate to make their sales process more effective? Do your teams take the time to think about innovation, or are they so caught up in their day-to-day firefighting that innovation is the last thing on their minds?

Culture of innovation

Innovation won’t happen by itself. Granted, a few of your highly enterprising employees may push innovation on their own accord. However, that is not sufficient.

Develop a culture, a mind-set of innovation that runs across the organization. Innovation should not be an afterthought but a proactive pursuit. You must make it one of the top priorities for your employees. Instill a culture where executives and employees understand that innovation and routine tasks are equally important responsibilities of their jobs.

Provide employees the support they may need to innovate. They may require training to look for opportunities for innovation and help to implement process change. Provide experienced resources that can guide employees and help them develop and institute new ideas. Certain innovations may involve a significant allocation of human and/or financial capital.

Develop a review process that in a timely manner evaluates ideas and provides feedback to the organization on which ideas have been selected for implementation and why.

Pace of innovation

Set a healthy pace of innovation. Set the right expectations and measure progress. Celebrate innovation even if it is mundane and involves the back office.

In other words, celebrate and reward innovation at all levels and in all aspects of the organization. Your employees will feel a greater sense of purpose when they know they have successfully implemented a new idea and were acknowledged for implementing it. It will energize the culture of your company and drive employee engagement.

Your organization will not change itself unless you articulate the need, explain the process, follow through and measure the results. If you want innovation, you will have to drive it. Innovation is the energy that keeps the organization alive and the environment exciting.

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the BusinessMakers show, CBS Radio, and Nightly Business Report, he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or [email protected]











Donna Rae Smith: How to change your thoughts and actions to fight workplace stress

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

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

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”  William James, American philosopher and psychologist.

In an increasingly stressful world, William James’ remarks are just as accurate and relevant today as they were when he said them more than a century ago. We face countless stressful forces, most of them beyond our control: changing market conditions, economic uncertainty, new laws and regulations, and competition, to name just a few.

Confronted with circumstances and situations that we can’t change, our only hope is to affect what we can: our own thoughts and actions. Only by managing ourselves can we exert some control over our physical and mental health.

The first step is to change the way we think about stress. Rather than trying to take control by accomplishing more, we need a different tack: getting back to basics, with time-proven strategies like slowing down, truly connecting and living in the moment.

Why do these work? Because they tap into our fundamental need for purpose and meaning and help us remember what really matters. They allow us to put stress into perspective and truly gain control — not of what’s happening around us, but of ourselves.

Stay connected.

For most of us, staying connected means having round-the-clock access to our phones and email. However, nothing replaces face-to-face conversation, where you’re intently focusing on the person next to you and they’re doing the same. That kind of connectedness is a need we all share and it can’t be replaced by a screen or monitor.

Rather than constantly email the colleague next door, think about having more in-person, direct communication. Likewise, make a personal commitment to carve out meaningful time for the important people in your life.

Slow down.

The last thing you want to do when you’re stressed out is slow down. But the reality is that even a short break for quiet and relaxation will reap you benefits tenfold.

Even 20 minutes to go for a walk on a tree-lined street or to sit on a park bench makes a difference.

Whatever you choose, making time to slow down won’t set you back — it will actually refresh you and give you more energy for what lies ahead.

Have faith.

Having faith means different things for different people. If you have faith in a higher being, then you know it’s a source of strength.

Making time to read short meditations or prayers can center and rejuvenate you. Others find faith in themselves or in modern philosophers.

In either case, it’s important to find a source that fuels you when the going gets tough.

Find your fire.

A sure-fire way to relieve stress is to focus on something you truly love and feel passionate about. When you’re engaged in an activity you deeply enjoy, everything else recedes into the background.

Make time for activities you love and recapture that childhood enthusiasm.

Laugh it off.

Research suggests that laughing has healthful effects. But we don’t need scientists to verify that laughing feels good. Let your guard down and laugh when the situation calls for it.

If you can’t laugh at your natural surroundings, then create a laugh break by watching or reading something you find funny. Or do an activity that’s sure to make you laugh — like miniature golf, bowling, an amusement park or karaoke. However you do it, make laughter and humor a routine part of your life, not a special occasion.


Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit or contact Donna Rae Smith at [email protected] 

Kelly Borth: How clearing your head with some mental health days makes you a better leader

Kelly Borth, CEO and chief strategy officer, Greencrest

Kelly Borth, CEO and chief strategy officer, Greencrest

This month I decided to remove my marketing hat and put on my CEO hat. In numerous peer-to-peer driven groups over the years, I have heard the resounding message more times than I care to admit: to be the best CEO, we need find time to work on the business and not in the business, we need to make time for our family because we cannot get that time back and we need to take care of ourselves so that we will still be here to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Yet, as a CEO who has friends and clients who are CEOs, living this is much more easily said than done.

With 2014 in the headlights, I thought that now was a good time to emphasize that even CEOs need a timeout. As CEOs,we need to stay focused, be happy and in good health mentally and physically. Living this will improve our performance. The recession was a tough couple of years for many of us, but it does look like things are getting better. It is a great time to take a timeout and make sure our game is spot-on.

The business timeout

To keep a sharp focus, CEOs need to get out of the day-to-day minutia to analyze past performance and plan for what changes need to take place to strategically grow the company.

I am not talking about scheduling a planning retreat with your leadership team, although that is important, too. I am talking about time for you, the CEO, to get away and get focused on the next big challenges that lay ahead.

Since founding Greencrest in 1990, I have religiously scheduled time away from the office for annual business planning, and I have credited that planning for the company’s success. Last February, after three years of being consumed by the business, I got back to scheduling time away for business planning. This sacred ritual makes me a better CEO. When I do this planning, I emerge with what I need to lead my company into its next phase of growth.

The family timeout

At times, family demands can be as grueling as business demands. And sometimes we just can’t find enough of ourselves to share with all those who need our time and attention.

Yet, if we don’t find a livable balance, we will miss out on important moments in our life that cannot be bought or replaced. Time with our family is when we can relax, be ourselves, be with those we chose to have as a part of our lives, share our dreams, embrace our spirituality, raise our offspring and plant the seeds that will long outlive our own mortality.

How many times do you hear people talk about the parent, grandparent, sister or brother who inspired them?  Taking a timeout for family is essential to our happiness as CEOs. Business is a moment in time; family is a lifetime.

The personal timeout

Sometimes between meeting the demands of both our business and family, there is just nothing left at the end of the day or week for ourselves. Sound familiar?

Nonetheless, a CEO needs to take a timeout for mental and physical health… working out, reading a good book or watching a movie, getting a massage, meditating, pursuing a hobby, socializing with friends, eating right, getting regular check-ups, oh and adequate sleep — whatever is needed to maintain good health and invigorate your inner spirit.

A CEO needs to be able to maneuver in the fast lane at all times, and that is just not possible unless all cylinders in our life are operating at peak performance. Taking a timeout is an essential ingredient. It is the fuel CEOs need to forge ahead at full speed.




Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. She has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at 614-885-7921, [email protected], @brandpro or for more information





Tom Harris: How mentoring programs are a smart investment for organizations

Tom Harris, CEO, HMB

Tom Harris, CEO, HMB

Mentoring programs that help develop an individual’s hard and soft business skills are essential to maintaining a competitive advantage in today’s crowded marketplace. Your employees represent your brand every day. Mentoring programs should be designed to support retention as well as help individuals with career development and satisfaction throughout their employment with your organization.

It’s critical to plan, implement and evaluate a mentoring program that sets your offerings apart from the competition by positioning team members as trusted advisers. A culture of mentoring must be created and nurtured at all levels within an organization.

Here’s how to start a mentoring program within your company:

Assess company needs. Obtain feedback from clients, employees, managers and partners on personal and professional development gaps that exist within the organization.  Use questionnaires or conduct personal interviews.

Set measurable company goals. Determine the goals based upon your assessment, and consider cross-training, leadership and skill development, and employee retention initiatives.

Design a mentoring program to fit the culture. Enlist input from all areas of the organization, especially new hires, to ensure buy-in at all levels. Your mentorship program should reflect the values and principles of the organization, whatever the size.

Create a budget. Develop a budget to include incentives for mentors, training programs and infrastructure to support the program.

Launch the program. Organize an event to roll out the new mentorship program. Prepare to answer questions and gather additional feedback. Also consider developing an overview sheet and Q&A that provides how it works, duration, who can apply, expectations, etc.

Identify mentors. Mentors should be excellent communicators with well-developed listening skills. Here are a couple of matters to keep in mind when determining which mentors are most appropriate for a particular employee:

  • Match mentors to mentees. The best mentorship relationships are based upon shared values and include elements of reciprocity, mutual respect and clear expectations.
  • Reciprocity: Both parties need to benefit from the relationship. Mentees should be prepared to give constructive feedback to the mentor and consider what they might be able to teach their mentor so that the mentor is able to grow professionally.
  • Mutual respect: Both parties need to respect their partner’s time, effort, experience and qualifications.
  • Clear expectations: Mentees need to take an active role in managing the relationship by arranging and preparing for meetings to ensure the best use of their mentor’s time.
  • Mentor the mentor. Provide guidelines such as meeting frequency, but allow personal and professional development initiatives to develop through a collaborative exchange between participants. Some guidelines:
  • Set goals: Establish goals that are specific and quantifiable. If a goal is stated as, “Improve your technical skills,” it is not as easily measured as one that states, “Achieve XYZ certification by the third quarter of this year.”
  • Tap into mentee’s passions: Mentors should help identify ways to tap into the mentee’s passion(s) to guide them in their career development while helping the company reach its goals.
  • Measure it: Mentoring programs should be routinely measured by soliciting participant feedback, comparing employee retention rates with those who participated in the mentoring program against those who did not, determining if client satisfaction has improved, and evaluating participant productivity and engagement.

Professional service firms reaping the benefits of mentoring programs are experiencing accelerated on-boarding, training and increased retention rates. They also achieve higher levels of client satisfaction and retention — as clients are able to tap into expertise and see that their own feedback is heard.

If you take some time to plan, implement and enhance your mentoring program, you will realize many benefits. These include offering employees a meaningful opportunity for exchange of information and feedback to achieve fulfilling careers while helping the company reach its goals.

Tom Harris is CEO of the Westerville-based businesses technology and IT consulting firm HMB. Learn more at



Joe Kuklis: Lobbying for your business

Many CEOs, CFOs, investors and executives do not realize the impact federal, state and local government have on their organization, or the importance of maintaining a comprehensive government affairs strategy as part of their annual business planning process.

As a lobbyist, I act as a professional guide for my clients to a variety of federal, state and local elected officials. When businesses choose to interface with the government, many consider hiring a lobbying professional who can help develop a government affairs plan — just as you would hire an accountant for an Internal Revenue Service audit or a lawyer for a court case.

If you choose to start the process on your own, it is imperative that you determine what you want to accomplish as a business. Do you want to become an eligible vendor with a specific government agency? Are you looking to expand your business or are you seeking public incentives to help you with hiring new employees or training your workforce?

Maybe you just want government “not” to do something that may negatively impact your day-to-day operations. You must identify what it is that you want and be clear about it when meeting with agents of government.

Here are some tips for lobbying the government:

Identify your targets

First, make a list of legislators who could aid in your effort. Start by looking at the local officials who represent you, your business and your business’ employees geographically. They have the greatest reason for supporting your requests. They want to see your business succeed and hire more of their constituents as you grow, so they should be your Tier 1 targets.

Your Tier 2 targets should include legislators who are on the committees that have oversight of your issues, legislators who are in leadership positions and who may have a little more political gravity than most, and legislators who have expressed a public interest in your activities.

These champions will help augment your efforts with letters of support, calls into agencies to help arrange meetings, and inquiries to secretaries and agency directors when you are not getting the answers you want from government.

Arrange a meeting

Once you have a meeting with a legislator, arrive prepared and practiced. Usually, meetings only last between 10 and 20 minutes, so make sure you and your group are aware of the issues you need to cover and stick to them. Know your facts.

However, if a legislator or their staff asks a question for which you do not have the answer, don’t make something up on the fly. Take note of it and get back to them. And, if a legislator challenges you on something, answer the question honestly, but not argumentatively.

Know who you are meeting with, their goals and where they stand on the issues before your meeting.

For example, not all legislators support drilling for Marcellus Shale gas and if you are a driller walking into their office, you may be in for a hard time. Make sure your requests are realistic for each of your visits and always remain professional.

Lobbying is a contact sport. The more you contact a legislator and develop a rapport with them, the more inclined they will be to help. Realize that in doing this you are not working alone.

At the end of the day, the lobbying industry acts as a forum for conflict resolution among divergent interests. Whether you decided to go it alone, or hire a firm, know that an honest, succinct, positive and respectful approach will be effective. And remember that a successful lobbying effort takes time, resources and preparation.


Joe Kuklis is a political lobbyist and head of Duane Morris Government Strategies. He has built a successful career lobbying for organizations and businesses of all sizes and has helped raise $500 million for clients ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to one-person startups. His book, “The Robin Hood of D.C.,” is an insider’s guide to the government marketplace for small, mid-sized and large businesses. Visit for more information.