How change creates opportunity

In a business climate that is increasingly beset by turbulence, we wish for certainty where there is none. It would seem fitting, therefore, to add a third partner to the other two certainties: Nothing is certain except death, taxes and uncertainty.

The dynamism of business is largely characterized by uncertainty and the opportunities that it unleashes. Technological innovation has always disrupted old ways of doing things at the same time that it created new opportunities to expand the economy and jobs. In most, if not all cases, a great deal of uncertainty surrounded the further development and evolution of those innovations. Who, for example, could have foreseen how many previously separate functions smartphones have subsumed?

Of course, we have done our best to devise means of managing uncertainty. Think, for example, of the statistical methods developed by the insurance industry. Think also of how we often say that, “Opportunity favors the prepared mind,” to suggest that the more we are educated or steeped in knowledge, the more likely we can seize uncertainty’s opportunities. Of course, being too close to one way of doing things can blind us from seeing how things might change.

And now, into this array come two important guideposts: The first, “The Cunning of Uncertainty,” by Helga Nowotny, the former president of the European Research Council, argues for our embracing uncertainty as a simple matter of fact — that everything is provisional and subject to revision based on the next set of facts, which will themselves be provisional. This is hard to accept, as we are wired to seek the assurance of certainty.

Although derived from the arenas of scientific research and technological innovation, Nowotny’s book is a solid addition to a tradition in the business and economics literature that began with Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction and Clayton Christensen’s idea of disruptive innovation. Nowotny’s introjection of cunning as part of uncertainty is intended to bring to the forefront the role of human choices along the path of time. In other words, no single outcome is guaranteed to have been the outcome at another time or by another set of actors and their choices. Uncertainty is cunning in its interaction with us.

And what better way to see that play out than through the second guidepost provided by Michael Milken and Igor Tulchinsky in their recent Wall Street Journal editorial, “How Technology Liberates Human Capital.” The new digital infrastructure, they suggest, is enabling three revolutions: Human capital is leveraged across time and space in ways that are rapidly creating more jobs and further innovation; technology is itself creating new business opportunities in ways that are far larger than physical transportation and in-person communication could ever create; and new forms of financial technology are reducing barriers to entry in ways that serve as a multiplier to the first two revolutions noted above.

Perhaps you, too, will now face the cunning of uncertainty and unleash its many and unforeseen opportunities.

Luis Proenza serves as a Distinguished Fellow at the U.S. Council on Competitiveness and co-chairs the Innovation Policy Forum as a member of the Science, Technology and Economic Policy Board (STEP) of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

Five reasons why today’s businesses are woefully unprepared to face real change

As we look to the future, we see the prospect of massive technologic change in several areas. These would be transportation (safer automated vehicles with a 96 percent usage rate rather than a 96 percent parking rate), energy use (distributed solar and wind energy, supplemented by accessible, reliable and long storage), health care (self-healing and life extension through bio-technology and genome research), material strength and resilience (nano-technology), machine learning (computers that “think” and learn) and at-home manufacturing (3D printers).

As a business school dean, what keeps me up at night isn’t change itself, but knowing how to prepare tomorrow’s leaders to steer their organizations through a minefield of real change.

We need to face the truth — we keep cruising on the tired maturity of a second Industrial Revolution that dates back to the late 1870s with the invention of the light bulb, telephone and internal combustion engine. To what degree does the industry landscape of today represent the kerosene lamp manufacturers, pony express operators, and buggy whip manufacturers of the late 19th century? Here are five reasons why today’s businesses are woefully unprepared to face real change.

  1. We don’t get it! We think we live in real change because of social media and Angry Bird games. But compare a person born in 1875 who lives 70 years to see real change (from horses to cars, wood stoves and kerosene lamps to central heating and home electricity, Pony Express to telephone, people actually flying) to one born in 1945 and living 70 years to today (central heating, driving personal cars on freeways, commercial air travel, central heating, plumbing, electricity, phone, etc. all virtually the same). The person born in 1875 lived through paradigm level change. Virtually everyone living today doesn’t know what real change is, so how can we be ready for it?
  2. The limitations of scientific paradigms. Thomas Kuhn’s work on scientific revolutions illustrated to scientists and academics of all stripes that a severe consequence of dominant paradigms is that vision is clouded and restricted to shoehorn any new discovery to fit the existing paradigm. For example, deep in the thick of the second industrial revolution, along comes the computer and Internet networking. Amazing new technology, and what do we do? We spent 50 plus years trying to make it a telephone. We are only now starting to realize what we really have.
  3. Stale theories. Sure, we have theories to guide us, but they are based on a world without real change. It is no surprise that today’s dominant management theory continues to be Michael Porter’s mid-1970s generic strategies, where firms choose to either differentiate or be cost-leaders. After all, we have had 70 to 90 years of “dress it up” or “dress it down” based on nuanced customer needs. What is worse is that academics and business leaders have stretched this relatively static concept further in pursuit of reaching the holy grail — sustainable competitive advantage. Theory is pushing rigid positioning at a time when we need to be more flexible and adaptable. Because we have not lived through change, we don’t have theories or guides to shepherd us through a major disruption.
  4. Reinforced behavior through education. The pattern is self-fulfilling and dangerous. Scholars observe organizational success (generally viewed as exceptional profitability), use the lessons from those studies to build theory, and use that theory to teach the next generation. Suddenly the limitations extend beyond the old guard to acculturation of young future leaders.
  5. We believe in fairy tales. We view the growth of firms as a two-stage process. Stage 1 is the entrepreneurial start-up; an unstable small team with few resources, facing great uncertainty, willing to take chances and fail, with hero-like worship if the firm is acquired. Stage 2 is rich, steady, reliable, dependable, risk-adverse, bullet-proof, with executives shunned if the firm is acquired. This is a fallacy. Every firm is at most a few years from bankruptcy. Research unveils that 87 percent of growth stalls for the largest firms in the world are caused by management actions (not external factors) with the most common threat being premium position capture (invincibility through a sustained competitive advantage)[1]. Don’t believe the fairy tale.

There is much to do. Let’s start with the simple act of teaching, reinforcing, and celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit in all organizations.

Jim Dewald is the dean of the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business and an associate professor in strategy and entrepreneurship. Prior to entering academe, he was active in the Calgary business community as the CEO of two major real estate development companies and a leading local engineering consulting practice, and president of a tech-based international real estate brokerage company. He is the author of Achieving Longevity:  How Great Firms Prosper Through Entrepreneurial Thinking. 

[1] Olson, van Bever, Verry (2008), “When Growth Stalls”, Harvard Business Review

Do women and men respond differently to change?

TAs a leader in today’s business environment, you may wonder, “Do men and women respond differently to change?” Before answering, consider the following statement by Greek philosopher Heraclitus:

“You never step in the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.”

As the Greeks had to handle change, so do leaders today. Change is a constant. It’s here to stay. Understanding that concept allows us to view change from a more neutral position.

Smart leaders know that all change doesn’t have to be embraced. Before deciding, take time to understand it. How will it affect the core values of your organization? While core values should remain constant, the tactics of how they are applied can and should change. Here is an example.

When I worked for Southwest Airlines a group proposed to bring a bullet train into the Dallas-Houston market. This would have directly impacted one of the most profitable routes that Southwest was flying. As employees began to react negatively, I remember then-CEO Herb Kelleher saying, “Let’s do a study to see if taking passengers by train is more profitable than by airplane.”

“Why would we do that?” we responded. “Aren’t we in the airline business?”

“Actually, we’re in the transportation business,” he said. “If it makes more sense for us to take people from point A to point B by train, wouldn’t we want to do that? It wouldn’t change the core of who we are as a company. We are a customer service company run by great employees. That wouldn’t change if we drove trains versus airplanes.”

And we got it. After the study was commissioned we realized that it was not a profitable venture so we abandoned the idea. But his viewpoint stuck with me. You need to consider all aspects of the change before making up your mind.

Since change is here to stay, as a leader, ask the following questions:

  • How prepared are you to handle change?
  • What can you do to ensure your workforce understands and embraces change?
  • With women comprising 47 percent of the workforce, should you consider gender when thinking about communicating and implementing change?

Here’s six proven tactics I share with leaders to help them with change.

Know how you as a leader personally handle change. Do you love or resist change? Your employees will follow your lead. If you’re not sure, ask your family and friends. They know you better than anyone and they will be honest.

As a team, take professional assessments like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and/or Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. I like these two assessments because both address change.

Before making any change, gather employees into a focus group to explain the change and get their opinions. You’ll get a chance to not only get their input, but to find “change agents” within that group that can help you explain the change to other employees.

Don’t rush change. Pre-planning the communication is critical. The words you use, the reasoning behind it and the benefits of it must be explained. Pay special attention to your wording. Every culture has a unique language. For employees to fully understand the change, use that language.

Don’t run afoul of the law. Understand what laws are in place to protect specific genders and cultures before implementing any change.

Handling change is a teachable skill. There are a lot of good classes for leaders. Find one and learn from the experts.

So, to the question of “Do men and women respond differently to change?” I would posit that communicating change is not about tailoring to gender. Instead, I advise leaders to consider approaching change as gender-neutral. I’ve worked in male-dominated industries for years and as a female, don’t feel that reaction to change is gender specific. Change is change.

As a leader you must learn to accept that change is a constant. Do your homework and, once you decide to implement change in your organization, use the tips mentioned above. Whether managing men or women, they will help you maneuver successfully through the gauntlet of change.

Lorraine Grubbs recently co-authored “Beyond the Executive Comfort Zone: Outrageous Tactics to Ignite Individual Performance” ( She is president of the consulting firm Lessons in Loyalty. As a former 15-year executive with Southwest Airlines, she takes principles and practices she helped develop to companies that strive for better employee engagement and loyalty.

Pain enables change

Sales Tip 289

Pain enables change

I conduct Sales Training and One-On –One Coaching for Salespeople who are trying to sell a product or service to someone who already has what they are attempting to provide. It is extremely important in these situations to quickly identify the pain that they may or may not be aware of.

Always start by singling out the problems or challenges they are experiencing and then drill down to the pain by asking, “How is that affecting you?” That’s how you will identify the pain.

People can live with problems but it’s tough to live with pain which means they are looking for relief that you will provide with your product or service. The more pain you uncover the more urgency to make a change.

Pain will enable a change to take place.

MARVIN MONTGOMERY is an author, speaker and sales training consultant with more than 30 years of experience. Are you practicing on your customers? Master the essential keys to sales success! Learn more about Marvin Montgomery’s Sales Certification Program. You can ask the Sales Doctor a question at [email protected]


Are you settling for ‘good’ when you could be better — or the best?

Ask yourself this simple question: Is my business growing right now?

If you answered no, it doesn’t mean your business is in trouble, but it might mean you are settling for being good when you could be better, or even the best, at what you do.

No growth can be a sign that you are holding on to a product that needs to be rethought or a service that may not be as relevant as it once was, or perhaps needs to be applied to a different market. If that’s the case, it’s time to step back and see if you can turn something good into something better.

Take Cardinal Health as an example. The company started as Cardinal Foods, distributing foods throughout Central Ohio. While successful, food distribution wasn’t a high-growth business, so the small company added pharmaceutical distribution.

Cardinal’s true expertise was in distribution, not food. Pharmaceutical distribution was a more lucrative business with higher growth potential, so the company applied its expertise to that market and thrived, eventually selling off the food business altogether. Today, Cardinal is a $91 billion company.

Too often, business leaders are afraid to change. It’s easy to fall in love with your own products and keep hoping that things will get better next quarter, but you have to listen to the market and understand where your true expertise lies. Search for the spot where you can take what you know and apply it to a new market or in a new way. It will take patience, solid counsel and risk, but it’s the only way to forward.

Don’t focus on what you make; focus on what you know. Then take that knowledge to a new market by solving customer problems. What do you know how to do that can help people solve problems?

In today’s economy, nothing remains the same. The competition is too quick and too nimble for you to settle for the status quo. Today’s hot product or service can quickly become supplanted by the next big thing, so you have to always be looking for the next opportunity to stay ahead of the pack and avoid obsolescence.

Take a step back and think about your expertise. You might be surprised how you can quickly transform something that’s good into something that’s even better, opening up a world of growth potential.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc., the publisher of Smart Business Magazine and operates SBN Interactive, a content marketing firm.

Five tools to help determine what actions will lead to positive, long-lasting change for your business

Anyone who has been in the work world for more than 10 years has experienced significant changes. It doesn’t matter if you are in the medical field, the legal profession, publishing, music, construction or the insurance industry. Everything is, well, different. You can dig in your heels, dream of “the good old days,” and perish, OR you can adapt.

Your business’ success depends on your willingness to join the workplace evolution. Focus on these five simple but critical tools to design your action steps and watch your business grow:

1. A business plan

To run a successful business, you need a comprehensive plan, updated annually, outlining goals, objectives, procedures and action steps. Such plans should be designed to be flexible in order to accommodate unexpected market changes and opportunities. Small business owners often neglect this step and opt to ‘wing’ it. Imagine the positive impact on your bottom line if you invested the time to sketch out SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound) goals. Such a focused, but flexible plan will prove to be invaluable as you navigate the changing landscape.

2. Human resources

Because of the glut of unemployed workers, businesses have set the bar unrealistically high in terms of what skills and attributes are actually needed to fulfill their business plans. As a result, jobs are going unfilled. A reasonable assessment of the skills, knowledge and talent needed along with an open mind to look at the accomplishments of candidates rather than job titles will ensure your business is filled with the best athletes to create your winning team.

Clients also fall under the heading of human resources; they are the lifeblood of your business. SMART goals should be designed around a client-centric delivery of your product or service.

3. Leadership

So many business owners ignore the importance of leading by example. They confuse position power with personal power. With position power, authority comes with the title. People follow because they must; but they will do just what they need to do to meet expectations and no more. With personal power, employees follow you because they want to. When you treat people fairly and consistently, demonstrate that you care about them and are committed to their success, and live by the same set of rules you expect of them, they will follow.

4. Technology

Small business owners often opt out of using the latest technology, believing it is too expensive and they haven’t got the time to learn it. The reality is, technology can save you hours in administrative tasks, freeing you up to do revenue-generating tasks instead. The trick is to determine which bells and whistles you need. Apple’s Genius Bar or the staff at your local Staples can help you assess which products will serve you best.

5. Social media

Every business must have a virtual presence. The Internet is the first place people look for goods and services. A website is a must! Facebook and LinkedIn are also an important part of today’s business world. They allow you to share information with current clients, market to potential clients and even foster employee engagement. Depending on your business, also consider Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Again, consider what tools your target audience uses and focus your attention there.

Kathleen Brady is a certified career coach and corporate trainer. In “GET A JOB! 10 Steps to Career Success,” Brady offers practical advice for navigating each step of the job search process.

For franchisor Interim HealthCare, cutting the vision creep clutter was a job for Kathleen Gilmartin

Kathy Gilman, president and CEO, Interim HealthCare Inc.

Kathleen Gilmartin, president and CEO, Interim HealthCare Inc.

“We’re in that generation that is now caring for our parents,” says Gilmartin, president and CEO of Sunrise, Fla.-based Interim HealthCare Inc., the nation’s oldest health care franchisor. “And I see the technology driving a lot of care that will be. You’ve got this whole surge of baby boomers that are going to demand more [health] care at home…They’re going to be driving a lot of policy and insurers by being incented and motivated to do more care at home.”

Health care can now be delivered in the home easier than ever before, thanks to advancing technology and a growing demand for health care services. But the rise in the demand for home health care also places significant pressure on home care providers such as Interim HealthCare, which must continually adapt on both fronts in order to stay competitive and effectively serve a new generation of clients with diverse needs.

“The challenge over the last four years is the speed of change,” Gilmartin says. “We’re in an industry that is changing very quickly — home care, personal care, hospice and health care staffing. Pick one. There have certainly been changes in any one of those areas of our business.

“It puts a lot more on providers to accelerate what they’re doing. It isn’t a time to say, ‘We’re just fine the way we are.’ It’s going to be a case of, ‘We’ve got to do more and probably do it at a faster clip.’”

Since rejoining Interim HealthCare in 2008 — she first left the company when split off from a larger health care entity in 1997 — Gilmartin has worked on positioning the company and its network of 300 franchised locations in 43 states at the forefront of the home care evolution. Here’s how she is doing it.

Avoid ‘vision creep’

When Gilmartin came on as CEO in 2008, Interim HealthCare was in the process of transitioning to a 100 percent franchised company. The change came as company leaders looked for a way to streamline the focus on supporting franchises. Eventually, that meant doing away with all of the company-owned locations.

Founded in 1966, Interim HealthCare is the only home care franchisor with a model that delivers health care services from personal care and support to hospice services. This involves a broad spectrum of business areas. So as the company shifted to a 100 percent franchised model, Gilmartin also discovered a number of business lines that no longer made sense under the new model.

“It’s not unusual when you have companies that have close to 50 years of history that they start out and they grow, and as they grow, things get a little bit more complex and spread out,” Gilmartin says.

“You think that you’re focused on something, but you don’t realize that other things have sort of grown up inside of that. Sometimes they’re on the periphery. Sometimes they’ve been there so long that you get a scotoma, where you just don’t see what’s right in front of you. You have a blind spot to it.”

Gilmartin calls this “the vision creep.” What begins as a small investment gradually takes up more and more support, resources or time. Over years or decades, it may even start to take away resources from critical areas of business.

Innovation, while beneficial, can be one of the biggest culprits of vision creep. The same muscles that lead you to innovate can send you in directions that cause your company to stray from its core strengths. For example, investing in innovation led Interim HealthCare to develop its own IT system and a technology platform geared specifically for delivering home health care services. But Gilmartin and the company’s leaders soon found that an IT operation was an unjustified cost.

“We don’t have the DNA of being an IT company,” Gilmartin says. “We have the DNA of providing health care services in the home and providing health care personnel to facilities that need them.”

Instead of funding a whole division to support its IT platform, Gilmartin and her team decided it was a better investment to find a partner to handle its IT. In 2011, the company handed off the division to health care IT firm Procura for continued development.

“That care and feeding is probably being sacrificed from something else,” Gilmartin says. “So you always have to be sure that you look yourself in the eye and say, ‘This is our primary focus. This is what we do best. This is what we want to be doing for our constituents and stakeholders.’ Anything that doesn’t fit in that picture you have to be willing to say the time has come.”

The same went for the other “clutter” accumulated under the old model. Before long, Gilmartin was able to find homes for all of the business lines that weren’t synergistic with the 100 percent franchised structure.

One way to spot vision creep is by constantly asking, “Am I getting the best output in all areas?” or, “Are we getting the results we want?” If you’re not hitting on all cylinders, you need to step back and do some mining with your management team, board and equity partners, Gilmartin says.

When you are able to have those difficult conversations and to look objectively at each area of your business, you free yourself to bring even more leverage to your core competencies.

“You suddenly have this renewed energy, and you feel like, ‘Oh my goodness, we have more resources than we thought because some were being diverted or distracted getting these projects done,” Gilmartin says.

“It was being able to take the clutter out of the picture so that you see very clearly who you are, what your mission and purpose is and what is ultimately our ‘hedgehog,’ which [for us] is knowing that we want to be the most successful ‘continuum of care’ franchisor.”

Lay down a path

In most industries, it’s not enough anymore to respond to the market. Leaders of great companies don’t just evaluate change; they are in a regular cycle of changing all the time, always asking “What’s coming next?”

However, the key to driving proactive change across a large organization — Interim HealthCare employs more than 40,000 health care workers — is to balance the urgency of wanting to see change happen with the patience of recognizing that some changes take time to spread and be adopted by employees.

“Like a Rubik’s Cube — it would be one of those mental challenges of how do you keep the moving pieces and how do you get them to be at the right place at the right time?” Gilmartin says.

“Do franchisees have the information? Are we training them? Do they have the support? When I think of what makes this business tick and be successful, it’s people, but it’s people across a number of moving pieces.”

Essentially, the nature of care at home is that it’s a very personal service. Yet much has changed in the way that service is delivered. Ten years ago, there was no automation. But today, health care providers use point-of-care devices such as tablets, laptops and smartphones to capture patient interactions and electronic data in real time. This emerging technology is also a valuable tool for leaders such as Gilmartin to help drive change at all levels of their organizations.

In addition to traveling year-round to visit different franchise locations, which includes home care visits with nurses and meetings at the franchise and regional level, Gilmartin utilizes technology to stay connected and to find out what staff and management need to be successful, whether it’s training, support or technology resources.

“Every stakeholder has a nugget of wisdom or inspiration that leaders need to constantly be gathering,” Gilmartin says. “I sometimes look at our key leader group or key franchise group and think that the loudest and the biggest have it all right. But what I’ve done a better job of, and every leader can do better, is to communicate more and use lots of media in how you communicate … using the technologies of email and Skype and FaceTime but also including more voices that help shape the future rather than fewer voices.”

Once you have a clear destination in mind, making progress comes down to working closely with members of your team to get there.

“Some groups may have been doing certain pieces of health care for 20 years, but they recognize now that they have patients who require services that they haven’t done and would like to,” Gilmartin says. “We will train them in that and bring them through all the additional certification, training, hiring and actual management of how to do that business … so they can do it just as well as they’ve done all the other parts of the franchise.

“If you’re true to what the core of your company is, you’ll always be innovating better processes, better programs and, in our case, go to the next level of care delivery,” Gilmartin says. “That’s what has to be continually inspired and perspired, because there is a lot of sweat that goes with change.”

Helping its franchises continually adapt and grow has continued to pay off for Interim HealthCare. In 2011, the company generated $740 million of network revenue while maintaining one of the highest employee retention records in the industry — its average employee tenure is 18 years.

“People often think of return on investment first as financial, but there are also stakeholders of our patients and our caregivers and our management team — all of the people who work in our individual franchises,” Gilmartin says. “It’s taking those three circles, and if you bring those together, you can crystallize where those overlap and that keeps you focused. It keeps you rooted in, ‘Is every initiative we’re doing helping reinforce that?’ And success is the result.” ●

How to reach: Interim Healthcare Inc., (800) 338-7786 or


The Gilmartin File

Kathleen Gilmartin
President and CEO
Interim Healthcare Inc.

Born: Buffalo, N.Y.
Education: D’Youville College

What do traits you look for in an employee?

There are many things you can overcome with training and knowledge, but if people don’t have the right caring and have a leaning to ‘I want to be in this business because I like health care and I choose health care to apply my business skills to’ — it’s not a right fit for everybody. I can tell you from new franchise development we’ve had franchise prospects come in and they are genuinely nice people. By the time we’re meeting them we’ve had a phone relationship, they’ve gone through initial screening, they’ve done homework; but there are times where we have the discovery day to meet us … they don’t necessarily recognize that caring for people is a 24/7 commitment. It includes holidays. It includes vacations.

What’s next for Interim HealthCare?

I see us being in a real growth mode because we’ve clarified we’re 100 percent franchised. We’ve got new franchises that we’re back selling and starting and feeding the forest in places where we haven’t had franchises. We have some very, very large franchises that have been building their infrastructure and working on management and succession planning because the business is getting bigger and more complex. I think home care has come of age.

If you could have dinner with one person you’ve never met, who would it be and why?

That’s easy, Bill Gates. He spent three decades creating products and services at Microsoft that changed how we operate businesses and manage our lives. Then he put his creativity and capital to work to eradicate disease in Africa and other parts of the globe. It would be a fascinating dinner to pick his brain and learn what makes him tick.

What do you to regroup on a tough day?

In any leadership role you have incredibly high days and rock bottom low days. The key is to keep the mental snapshots of the great days front and center so you don’t lose focus or faith on the bad days. The bookcase in my office also has photos I love of my family and friends to remind me not to take myself too seriously.

NBBJ’s Doug Parris and A.J. Montero teach companies not to fear change as an agent of improvement through design

Doug Parris, partner, NBBJ

Doug Parris and A.J. Montero never get tired of change. They have to deal with it every day with their clients and employees.

It’s not the kind of change that involves turnover in either of those areas or new ownership or new policies. Rather, it’s eating, sleeping and breathing the company culture built around change.

As leaders and partners of the Columbus office of global architecture and design firm NBBJ, Parris and Montero, both partners in the firm, focus on transforming their clients’ enterprises through design. Spearheading that effort requires one of the standards of management: leading by example.

A.J. Montero, partner, NBBJ

“If we, A.J. and myself, and our other 15 partners don’t live our culture every day, then we are not setting the example for the staff,” Parris says. “Part of living it is communicating it and always making sure it’s at the top of everyone’s thoughts as they work with our clients.”

“Everyone” includes the 135 employees of the $52 million Columbus branch of the worldwide company.

It’s a given that change comes with the territory of the architecture and design field. Not long ago, blueprints were drawn by hand. Today, 3-D drawings sketched by computer programs are the norm. With such advances that have been made in that step, it’s only natural that the best chance to boost a company’s success is to stress to clients that if they are interested in a new building or remodeling project, they should couple it with a new and different culture.

“Design often requires cultural change within an organization — how do we make it easy for the client’s staff and employees to transition from one environment to another and basically embrace the cultural changes that are required?” Parris says.

Here are some ways eating, sleeping and breathing change all fall into place at the Columbus office of the nation’s third-largest architecture firm so that it is not feared but desired and enables the company to reach new levels of success.

Find a shoe that fits

As simplistic as it sounds, the road to the highest potential often starts with a good fit between parties — be it designer and client, supplier and client, or consultant and client.

Obviously, you should avoid ones that don’t look like a good fit. You may save yourself from a possible problem client who will wear you out, avoid a reputation hit if you can’t deliver on your promises and be able to exploit your niche better by declining someone from outside your specialty.

A system to evaluate clients is often beneficial. You should check references and compare what types of work or what other companies with which your target has dealt.

“We have a system internal to NBBJ that we use to look at potential clients and see whether or not they align with our values,” Montero says. “Having that filter very early lets us see clients that are trying to transform themselves. We see clients that understand that they want to go somewhere. That is a big first step.”

Again, don’t hesitate to be a little choosy.

“It’s not just looking at everybody who needs something to be done no matter what they’re after or what their model is, you are not judging. You are just saying that, in many cases, those are not clients for you,” he says.

This is the time to analyze the leadership and employees.

“One of the most important things that you see in terms of getting started is that they have the right leadership in place,” Parris says. “Leading a project is not a skill set that everyone comes to the table with.”

If you can categorize the participants in three types, it will give some insights to your potential partner.

“What we typically see is you have three levels of participants,” he says. “You’ll have the very top leadership in an organization. They need to be on the same page so that they have a clear kind of vision of what they need.

“Second, you have kind of a working group, the people that are responsible for getting things done every day to keep things moving forward and pushing information up the ladder to the leadership of whatever organization it is, whether it’s a corporation, a university or a hospital.

“Then you have the people that do the work, and they end up being the most critical to getting things done because you have to meet with them and understand how they do what they do,” Parris says. “A lot of times, one of the key elements of working with any organization is that they only know what they have been exposed to.”

Opening all their eyes to the bigger world out there, be it new office design, a new product to consider or a new practice to undertake, is very important. Many people only know the places where they have worked and the procedures they have been following.

Do some role-playing

One of the more effective ways to get a grip on what may need to change in your company culture involves some mental exercises. When undertaken, they often lead to some startling conclusions.

“We call it suspension of disbelief,” Montero says. “You try to open people’s minds to say, ‘OK, for a minute, let’s just pretend that we were in a different circumstance.’ We have role-playing exercises that allow us to really understand that world.

“If you take them out of it for a second and see what the possibilities are, no pressure, just being able to look at those things in a fresh way, whether or not they choose to go down that road, ultimately, is going to be up to them. But what we found more often than not is that when they go through an exercise of discovery, they find out that it isn’t as scary as they thought, that the change is really not going to be that dramatic.

“There are people who work in the trenches every day, who are really seeking change, and it opens the door for that communication between top-level leadership and the users that maybe didn’t exist before in their eyes, so that kind of engagement is really something to achieve,” Montero says.

“A good example is that you might make the CEO of a hospital role-play as one of his own patients and walk through the system or have the president of a university be a student for a day and walk in the student’s shoes,” Parris says. “I use something called ‘walk a mile in their shoes.’”

“When you design hospitals, you work with a lot of high-powered administrators and surgeons, especially, who have very strong opinions about the way things should or shouldn’t be done,” Montero says. “So they’re very well-educated; they have to run very important enterprises. So when we get into these types of role-playing exercises, they are meant to show how the way that you do something isn’t necessarily the way that it has to be forever.”

While the role-playing may sound like children’s fare, it is indeed often extremely helpful to open the mind to different ways of thinking.

“Most of the time, when you introduce something like that, you can just imagine going to the Cleveland Clinic and sitting down with the top people in the world when it comes to heart surgery, and you’re trying to propose doing something that almost seems frivolous,” he says.

“There may be a lot of pushback, but once you go through the exercise, you will be surprised how much they get into it.”

The effort to gain new insights really takes on a life of its own, Montero says, and brings engagement that is a distinctive plus.

“You have doctors and surgeons saying, ‘Well, based on that scenario, maybe we can create this device that is actually implemented in the ambulance as opposed to waiting for the patient to get to the hospital,” he says. “It’s that type of thinking outside the box that these role-playing exercises allow you to engage in. It’s a disarming environment that allows people to think creatively as opposed to the day-to-day grind that they usually are in.”

“Role-playing actually gets us and our clients into kind of a different persona so that they can see the world around them from a different perspective. And it’s actually a lot of fun,” Parris says.

In this pseudo-environment, people feel they can say what they think and don’t have to worry about making errors.

“You create an environment where you allow for mistakes to happen,” Montero says. “You allow for people to think up stupid ideas that you can discuss that sometimes actually become really interesting ideas.”

“Let people take risks,” Parris says. “Let people take chances to innovate and create new things. You can give people all the authority and responsibility in the world, but if there’s no room for them to grow, no open space there, they’re never going to achieve what they can achieve if that space doesn’t exist.”

Show empathy

Instituting change doesn’t come without problems. There is a point where leaders need to show empathy for talented performers who contribute to the organization but only can be pushed so far.

“In all honesty, there are people within our firm that say, ‘This is what I enjoy doing, and this is all I want to do. I love my work, so I don’t have an aspiration to do other things,’” Parris says. “We have to respect that also. We really have to make sure that we don’t push people beyond where they’re comfortable being pushed.

“Everyone has a tolerance for that kind of thing. So that’s the kind of empathetic leadership that you have to develop all around, the kind of diversity that we build because everybody is not the same.”

There is a very fine line between the creative culture and one that expounds dogma.

“You don’t want to be dogmatic about the things that you do,” Montero says. “You have to be empathetic that everyone brings something. And there’s a gradient in there — some people are much more conservative than others.”

A culture can be considered well-assimilated when the people with the right mix of skill sets, temperaments and expertise blend to make the machine work very well.

“But you can’t have everybody think the same way, even if it’s thinking creatively, because then you become very one-sided,” Montero says.

“The thing you have to guard against is being homogeneous,” Parris says. “It’s not just the diversity of people and skill sets, but it’s also diversity of thought that lends itself to greatness.

“That should apply to all businesses. In the design profession, no matter what you do whether you are an architect, a graphic designer, an interior designer or product designer, innovation comes from the ability to think in different lights. Otherwise everything will look the same and like a formula.”

Lest you tear up your book of formulas, think about uniqueness instead.

“In a lot of businesses, there are formulas,” Parris says. “If you’re making toothpaste that people buy, you’re not going to want to change that formula. In design, it’s not that way. They don’t want what you gave to the last guy. They want something that is uniquely theirs. That is an important part of that diverse thinking and not being too homogeneous within the office and the firm worldwide.”

“I think many professions are moving toward that idea that creativity and idea sharing, innovation — is a big impetus for what they do. We are finding more of that in all the different project types and professions that we touch.” <<

How to reach: NBBJ, (614) 224-7145 or

 The file

Doug Parris

A.J. Montero


Parris: Bremerton, Wash. I’m a Navy brat — born on a Navy base and moved around my whole life.

Montero: Havana, Cuba


Parris: I graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and have a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in architecture.

Montero: I have a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cornell University.

What was your first job?

Parris: Digging and planting trees for a landscape company inFairfax,Va.I learned it was really hard work. Now they do it with machines. I had to do it with a shovel.

Montero: I think you’re going to find a pattern here. I worked in construction all throughout high school in south Florida. It was very hot, and it was very hard work. What I learned from it was that I never, ever wanted to do it again, which was one of the big reasons that I made sure that I went to college to get an education.

What was the best business advice you received?

Parris: Your career will be defined by the success of those around you. That came from one of our former partners.

Montero: I got some really great advice from a close family member: If you’re a cheese maker, then make cheese. What that means is if you’re good at something and you are passionate about it, really dedicate yourself to doing that and supporting others in that enterprise.

Whom do you admire in business?

Parris: I’m conflicted about it. I guess if I had to say historically whom I admire, it’s Frank Lloyd Wright because his passion and rigor around architecture are something that I’ve always respected. In a more contemporary sense, probably Steve Jobs because he had a kind of a boundless creativity — the ability to imagine or at least create an organization that could imagine what’s next.

Montero: I have a lot of respect for Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. The reason is not because of Facebook but because whatever he has created has influenced society in a positive and negative way. I think that Zuckerberg has been able to touch on something that is very, very relevant, that we can even put our fingers on, and I think that is the kind of definition of somebody who is a visionary.

What is your definition of success?

Parris: Transforming our clients’ enterprise through design. If we work with the client and the outcome has taken them from where they were to where they can be, it is really the definition of business success for us.

Montero: I look at that but more internally. I think that success for us is really creating a great culture where people can fulfill their professional and sometimes personal aspirations and goals. We want people to come into this building every day and feeling that they can change the world, that they can accomplish everything they want to accomplish and really make a difference. If we can provide them with that kind of environment, I think we will be a successful business.



Leading the future of health care

Diana Hendel, PharmD, CEO, Long Beach Memorial, Community Hospital Long Beach, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach

There’s a revolution going on in health care, moving from a system of caring for the sick to improving each individual’s health and wellness. Today’s consumers are increasingly taking control of their health and collaborating as true members of health care teams — for the betterment of themselves and for their communities.

To learn more about these changes, Smart Business spoke with Diana Hendel, PharmD, the CEO of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Community Hospital Long Beach and Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach.

How is the transformation progressing?

A major goal of health reform is the ‘Triple Aim’ of improving the quality of care, reducing costs and enhancing the patient experience. Ensuring exceptional care means continually improving patient quality, safety and satisfaction, and engaging consumers in improving their health, wellness and lifestyle.

We realized decades ago the importance of creating a more scientific approach to improving medical outcomes and of becoming a national pioneer in best-practice, evidence-based medicine. In this area, physician-led interdisciplinary teams are able to identify, create, refine and expand upon the best diagnostic, treatment and prevention for virtually every disease, illness and medical category that a patient may face. Implementing optimal clinical standards across the health system helps us achieve patient outcomes that surpass both regional and national standards.

What is the role of technology and staff?

Our early adoption of electronic medical records supports and spreads evidence-based medicine throughout our health system to our more than 2,500 affiliated physicians and 11,000 employees. The results are higher quality and safer care with clinicians able to immediately access patient records. Electronic records in physician offices and other locations ensure coordinated, seamless care for all of MemorialCare. Plus increasing numbers of consumers adopting their own personal health records through patient portals translates into more people actively participating in their health care.

We are so proud to attract extraordinary physicians, nurses and other clinicians and support staff to MemorialCare. Our significant investment in state-of-the-art facilities and in the most sophisticated medical technologies — often the only such advanced facilities and equipment in the region — allows us to detect and treat the most complex and complicated diseases and conditions.

Is the community involved in the changes?

Members of the community are engaged with us in many ways. Screenings, health prevention and educational programs are offered at our hospitals, physician practices and outpatient centers, in the community, at worksites and schools and at to help consumers to improve their health and wellness. The Patient and Family Advisory Councils at each hospital offer important advice and ideas on creating new programs and enhancing current services, helping to redesign key interactions by offering the ‘voice of the customer.’ And staff-led Partnership Councils collaborate on performance improvement and on patient experience projects.

Our Hourly Patient-Family Hospital Rounds supplement the patient care provided 24/7. Each hour, someone checks in on patients, ensuring that they are comfortable and their needs are being met, thus building trusting relationships. This enhances responses and communications among patients and their caregivers, resulting in less anxious patients and improved patient and family satisfaction.

Each week, the members of the leadership team ask patients about their care, learning first-hand how we are doing and ways staff can improve the hospital and the outpatient experience. Immediately following these interactions, team members huddle with staff — celebrating the positives, sharing feedback and opportunities to improve, discussing ideas and determining next steps.

What is the current status of population health management?

For years, we have provided programs that coordinate and improve care of children and of adults in the community. As the only campus in Los Angeles and Orange counties with adult and children’s hospitals in one location, we are able to offer lifetime care for those facing chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, orthopedic issues, asthma, and scores of other diseases and conditions, thus helping consumers to take control of their health and their lives.

Our Good Life program focuses on significantly improving the health and wellness of our own employees and of their families through fitness challenges, plus nutritious offerings and support for chronic conditions. The results-driven program is extended to local employers that tap our expertise to improve the health of their own work forces with onsite screenings and seminars, executive and employee physicals and more. MemorialCare also hosts programs to help employers adapt to health care reform, assist in trimming health benefits and health care costs, and in improving productivity.

All of these activities in the areas of best-practice, evidence-based medicine, advanced technologies, improving the patient experience, management of the health of the population and providing true value in health care have proven critical to the communities that MemorialCare serves. All of these efforts will continue to result in extraordinary quality, proven treatments and comprehensive care that are continually raising medical standards and ensure that MemorialCare remains a national leader in transforming health care.

Diana Hendel, PharmD, is CEO of Long Beach Memorial, Community Hospital Long Beach and Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. The hospitals are part of MemorialCare Health System, a not-for-profit integrated health care delivery system that also includes Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente; MemorialCare Medical Group; Greater Newport Physicians, an Independent Practice Association (IPA); MemorialCare HealthExpress retail clinics; and numerous outpatient health centers throughout the Southland. For information, go to

Insights Health Care is brought to you by MemorialCare Health System

Reading the signals: How to decipher what your team isn’t telling you

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

A client called me in a heightened state of frustration. Her business group recently made major decisions regarding strategy and future direction. While she was enthusiastic about what lay ahead, her team members weren’t. They were exhibiting signs of dissatisfaction and sowing the seeds of subversion. She needed to act quickly, but she didn’t know how.

Without knowing anything more, I could already guess the root of the problem: the team hadn’t felt included in the strategy-level decision-making. As I dug deeper, my suspicions were confirmed. Leadership had a history of asking for input and then stifling open and honest dialogue.

Another client recently went through a major restructuring. In the process, the company left employees in the dark by failing to communicate what was happening and why. By the time the client called Bright Side, it was facing a debilitating backlash.

Whether it’s leadership consistently disregarding (or failing to solicit) employee feedback or neglecting to communicate significant changes — the result is always the same: Employees end up feeling disrespected and devalued. Resentment simmers and eventually boils over.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know that not every decision can be subject to employee feedback. But, all too often, leadership loses sight of the organization’s most valued asset: its people. With a single-minded focus on the bottom line, leaders make the mistake of treating employees like automatons rather than people.

In the rush of getting the job done, leaders must remember these core truths: All people want to feel valued and respected for the work they do, to know that their contributions matter and to feel heard. When we overlook these principles, employees become disheartened, discouraged and disengaged. One way or another, the discontent manifests itself and everyone suffers.

The solution is to stay connected. Stay connected to your employees daily by cultivating honest person-to-person (rather than person-to-object) relationships, where respect and communication are the cornerstones. Demonstrate through your words and your actions that you value their work, that their input matters and that you believe in transparency. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you won’t at times make decisions that they don’t agree with. It means that the conversation will have happened — they’ll have spoken, you’ll have listened, and no one will be in the dark.

Create opportunities daily to demonstrate that employee feedback is valued. How? For starters, listen more and talk less. A good way to do that is to ask more questions. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t get defensive. A defensive reaction will only shut the conversation down and signal that you aren’t really interested in what others have to say. Instead, ask more questions to clarify and don’t take disagreement personally.

Intentionally seek out viewpoints that are different than your own. If you only talk to people who agree with you or tell you what you want to hear, then you’ll create a false sense of reality.

Lastly, be transparent. I can’t emphasize this enough. So many problems arise when leaders fail to be transparent in their decision-making. Don’t leave people guessing about important matters that impact them.

Resolve to actively practice these behaviors in meetings and routine interactions. Ask team members to follow suit. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate your willingness to learn and to be engaged. Morale will improve and you’ll head off unnecessary revolts and insurrections.

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger 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, please visit or contact Donna Rae Smith at [email protected]