Monday, February 28, 2011

Milwaukee Biz Blog: The silent minority supports Walker

By Dennis Ellmaurer for BizTimes Milwaukee

I work with CEOs for a living. Truth be told, most CEOs are politically conservative. They are, for the most part, right of center. They grumble about paying taxes. They complain about regulations that make it difficult to grow their businesses and make money. They believe in free markets. They don’t like unions.
I wondered why we have heard so little from the business community regarding the budget solution offered by Gov. Scott Walker. I wondered why the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce would chastise the governor for being “adversarial.” And, I wondered, why the Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce would waffle on Walker’s collective bargaining position.
The conundrum for the CEO is that his or her stakeholders are pretty much 50/50…Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, left and right. Customers are probably about 50/50.   Vendors are probably 50/50. Employees might lean to the left. Shareholders are might lean to the right.
But no CEO wants to offend anyone, on either side…particularly those paying the bills.
So they end up saying nothing…the silent minority, if you will. You will note a fair number of CEOs give money in equal amounts to politicians running for office on both sides of the aisle. A strategic apolitical statement.
Some of those who have stepped up with some kind of support for Gov. Walker’s budget plan have found their companies on a blacklist published by someone on the other side urging a boycott of their businesses.
Some on the blacklist are receiving phone calls and e-mails from angry customers and professional agitators. One CEO’s business got on the blacklist because a relative made a contribution to Scott Walker in 2006. The relative has nothing to do with the business.
So the CEOs keep their collective mouths shut. They know it is wrong. They know they have a right to free speech just like anyone else. But they also know that to do otherwise could jeopardize their business. And they know their primary responsibility is the health and safety of the organization.
If you wonder where most of Wisconsin’s business leaders are on Gov. Walker’s budget plan, it might be difficult to pin them down. They have become the silent minority.
Dennis Ellmaurer is a principal of Globe National Corp., a Milwaukee firm working exclusively with sellers of small businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. Ellmaurer also is a chairman of The Executive Committee (TEC), facilitating three CEO groups in southeastern Wisconsin. He can be reached

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Management: When employees buy in

Position your people for growth as economy rebounds
By Harry Dennis for BizTimes Milwaukee

Writer Paul Diamond of Vistage, a TEC affiliate, recently interviewed Brian Beaulieu, president of the Institute of Trend Research, about the economic outlook for the next couple years.
Bottom line: This year will be busy and 2012 busier for most small-to-medium-size firms. That means there will be more pressure to help existing employees be more productive, and there will be new employment challenges for many companies.
This month, I want to focus on employee-centered strategies that will complement, if not fuel, projected economic upswings. Most of them are old tried and tested bread winners, often put aside or ignored when times have been as trying as they have been for the past three years.

Employee personal growth and development

This is the time to help employees evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses as they relate to company needs. The obvious objective is to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses.
Too many companies make the mistake of adopting a one-size-fits-all strategy. Sending a group of employees to a seminar on improving time management, for example, seems like a good idea on the surface. But if only two or three employees really have a time management problem, that’s a waste of time and money.
It’s better to do an audit of individual employee needs, and then group employees based upon their common needs. Today, online tools can provide solutions for almost any personal growth and development problem.
Trainers say employees learn best when they can learn from their peers because the stories they share with one another are based on comparable experiences.
Issues like how to motivate employees or effective supervisory practices are as important as they were 30 years ago. But today, the ability to incorporate rapidly changing communication and messaging technology into these age-old issues is paramount.
Social networking business skills even apply on the factory floor. Email literacy and competency is a must for almost every employee who uses email as a principle communication tool with customers and vendors.
Investing in an employee’s personal growth and development needs is a powerful retention tool and gives your company a competitive advantage.

When employees buy in

Life is so much easier when employees buy in to your company’s agenda. For starters, it puts everyone on the same page. Simon Sinek, who TEC is bringing to its annual “Inspirational Leadership” event in April 2011, has written a fascinating book, Start With Why.
He believes that too many companies focus on the “how” and “what” of their businesses, and not the “why.” For example, we offer TEC membership so we can improve the leadership effectiveness of chief executives. That’s our “why.” Professionals who work with us make this a part of their personal mantra. If they didn’t, we couldn’t succeed.
Buying in on the “why” gets everyone on the same page. That’s the short of it.  Embracing the “why” goes a long way toward solving employee motivation and retention issues.
The “why” of the United States Marines is their motto that hasn’t changed since 1883: “Semper Fidelis,” Latin for “Always Faithful.”

Employee non-financial incentives

Do we still need to be reminded that the best incentive for employees to perform at their highest level is the simple act of recognition?
Recognition comes in many forms, informal and formal. Each is powerful in its own way.  So is team or group recognition which, in fact, is more prevalent today than individual recognition.
Other synonyms for recognition are praise and positive reinforcement. The most important point to remember about recognition is that it has far more impact when it’s given as soon as an employee does something right, rather than later.
Praising an employee at an awards dinner six months later isn’t nearly as effective. If you want someone to excel again, give immediate feedback.

Employee financial incentives

Even though experts predict the economy will continue to improve for the next few years, pressure on employees to continue to do more with less won’t abate anytime soon.
It’s a good time to review discretionary and nondiscretionary employment incentives for both exempt and non-exempt personnel, not precluded by union agreements.
These incentives don’t necessarily have to be financial payouts in currency or other paper collateral.
There’s nothing wrong with additional paid sick leave that can be converted to cash if it isn’t used by the end of the year. Also consider personal days off, summer flex-time and things like work-at-home arrangements.
Health care incentives include aid for employees who enroll in programs to lose weight, stop smoking and participate in group exercises. Most health carriers accept employee discounts.
These are only small examples because, in lieu of the health care reform act, companies are coming up with creative incentive options to keep annual costs under control.
The new “now” is upon us, and it doesn’t look all that bad for the next couple of years. 
Until next month, I hope you take your most important asset – your employees – and help make them, and you, the best you can possibly be.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Most innovative companies in 2011

This month Fast Company released The World's Most Innovative Companies of 2011 list.

This prestigious list is composed of global organizations whose CEOs have fought for their company to remain ahead of the competition in today's constantly-changing world.

But how does a company get named one of the world's most innovative? What does innovation exactly mean? Many people think of technology, and many of the top 10 spots on this list involve technology, but innovation means something different to every organization.

No matter how large or well-known your company is, as leaders we need to dedicate ourselves to innovation. What are you doing on a local level to achieve the most innovative company in your neighborhood?  Do you have any programs in place that encourage employees to be innovative?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What does innovation mean to your company? [POLL]

At TEC, we value peer advice and input on issues important to our respective companies, industries and current business trends. A hot topic today to many business leaders is innovation and how to implement ways to stay ahead of the competition. However, innovation means something different in every company and situation.

We'd love to hear from you and gain insight into what innovation means to you and your company.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

TEC's Inspirational Leadership event presents unique sponsorship opportunity

We are very excited to announce that business expert and author Simon Sinek will present at TEC’s seventh annual 2011 Inspirational Leadership event on April 14th.

Sinek’s book, Start With Why, offers an unconventional perspective that explains WHY some people and organizations are more innovative, more profitable, command greater loyalties from customers and employees alike and, most importantly, are able to repeat their success over and over.

Drawing on a wide range of real-life stories pertinent to large companies, small businesses, non-profits or government, Sinek weaves a clear vision of how to lead and inspire.

Sinek’s presentation will explore the following:
Why does your organization exist?
Why do customers really buy from one company or another?
Why people are loyal to particular leaders, but others are not?

Therefore, we are pleased to extend an invitation to new event sponsors! As our only annual, open-sponsored event, we have created several new sponsorship levels to accommodate a variety of businesses. Our newest sponsorship packages include a bronze level, a breakfast sponsor and a book sponsor. The breakfast and book sponsorship packages can be shared among two or three organizations.

We look forward to welcoming new, friendly faces involved in this spectacular event.

For information on sponsorships, email Michele Bernstein,

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

[POLL] How do you make your significant other feel included?

We all try to achieve a healthy work-life balance, but that doesn't always mean we should separate the two. It is beneficial to include your significant other in company-related topics so they understand your company's culture and can support you better in times of need.

What actions are important to make your significant other feel included in your company's culture? Are some more difficult than others?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Knowing when to ask for help

As business leaders, others constantly look up to you for advice and guidance. The expectation is that you’ll know what to do and the pressure to deliver a timely and helpful answer is high. But what happens when you need to ask for help? Who do you turn to?

The first thing to do is stay in control. Take ownership and responsibility for the situation so that you maintain your employees’ confidence.

Ask the right questions. Sometimes finding the answer is dependent on what questions you ask. Create a list of well thought out questions before approaching others. 

Be open to suggestions. Invite other team members to contribute in solving the problem. However, don’t hand-off the situation to someone else. Make sure you are collaborating and working together to find a conclusion.

Reach out to your network. Sometimes help is just a call away so think of a peer removed from the situation, either internal or outside of your organization. Ask for their perspective and they might be able to see the answer more clearly from an outside view.

Participate in regular training. Asking for help doesn’t always have to happen when a problem arises. Identifying professional areas that need improvement and seeking out training or additional resources is another form of reaching out. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Who do you consult when struggling with a business decision?

TEC brings together senior-level executives in a confidential environment. In order to help each other succeed, TEC members listen and give feedback to their peers seeking business advice.

Who do you turn to when struggling with a business decision?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Do you have a crisis management plan?

No matter how small or large your business is, the importance of having a crisis management plan is tremendous.

Here are a few things to think about in order to plan for a crisis: 

Who: Select your crisis management team. This group is responsible for creating, communicating, maintaining and executing your crisis communication plan.

What: Create your crisis management documents including:
  • Statements from the CEO
  • E-mail drafts
  • Press releases
  • Contact lists (stake holders, employees, media)
  • Non-traditional lists (social media groups and lists of key influencers)

When: React as soon as possible. To ensure a speedy reaction time, schedule ongoing meetings with your crisis management team to update the plan, contact lists and communities. Outline the timeline of events and appropriate steps so all employees are well-versed in the process.

Where: Save your plan in a secure place where all employees can access it from any location. It is important that everyone knows where to direct outside questions.

Why: A poor crisis response can send your business crashing down. However, a successful crisis plan execution can potentially create a better position for your organization afterward.

How have you handled a crisis in your organization? Did you have a plan? 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

[POLL] The importance of a crisis communication plan.

When a business crisis arises, it is important to lead your organization through a quick and effective response. To accomplish this task, and overcome a potentially disastrous situation, you need to develop a crisis communication plan beforehand. The goal of developing a plan is to get the conversation started about what might happen and how you can effectively manage a situation.

What is one of your main motivations to create a crisis communication plan? Why is it important to you and your organization?