January 29, 2015

Business Tip – January 2015

mapei_sponsorConstruction employment swells in 228 metro areas

In reports from the Associated General Contractors of America, good news continues for construction employment, with construction employment growing in 228 metro areas. The report also emphasizes the need for qualified workers to answer the demand as construction grows. In addition, a new bill passed by the House will allow employers and employees to protect retirement benefits. Details follow.

Construction employment expanded in 228 metro areas, declined in 64 and was stagnant in 47 between October 2013 and October 2014, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released in December 2014 by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the construction job gains come as new federal figures show year-over-year growth in construction spending and many firms report impacts from growing shortages of qualified workers.

“Even as a number of markets continue to struggle with declining construction demand and employment, most metro areas are adding construction jobs as the industry slowly recovers,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the association. “As spending on construction continues to climb, more and more firms will struggle with the impacts of a labor market that is not keeping pace with demand.”

Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas, added the largest number of construction jobs in the past year (12,900 jobs, 7%), followed by Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas (11,000 jobs, 9%), Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill. (9,200 jobs, 7 %) and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. (8,300 jobs, 11%). The largest percentage gains occurred in Pascagoula, Miss. (28%, 1,800 jobs), Terre Haute, Ind. (24%, 1,000 jobs), Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio (21%, 7,800 jobs), Cleveland, Tenn. (19%, 300 jobs) and Fargo, N.D.-Minn. (19%, 1,700 jobs).

The largest job losses from October 2013 to October 2014 were in Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md. (-4,500 jobs, -14%), followed by Edison-New Brunswick, N.J. (-3,000 jobs, -7%), Gary, Ind. (-2,800 jobs, -15%) and Putnam-Rockland-Westchester, N.Y. (-2,200 jobs, -7%). The largest percentage decline for the past year was in Steubenville-Weirton, Ohio-W.V. (-36%, -800 jobs), followed by Fond du Lac, Wis. (-15%, -400 jobs), Gary, Ind. and Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md.

Association officials noted that newly-released federal figures show construction spending increased by 3.3 % between October 2013 and October 2014 as demand for residential construction and other private-sector segments slowly expands. Even public-sector construction spending experienced an all-too-rare increase between September and October. At the same time, 83 % of firms report trouble finding qualified workers, which is limiting competition and forcing many firms to change the way they operate.

“Instead of capitalizing on the emerging recovery, many firms instead are struggling to find qualified workers to fill their construction crews,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “It is time to rethink our educational priorities when we have too many unemployed men and women who lack the skills to earn the kind of above-average wages construction work affords.”

 

House-passed spending bill

protects retirement benefits

In addition, Sandherr recently released the following statement regarding passage in the House of Representative of a Omnibus Spending bill that included a series of association-backed reforms designed to allow employers and employees to protect and improve multi-employer retirement programs:

“The House’s wise decision to include a series of multi-employer pension reforms in the broader spending bill will protect retiree benefits, help keep thousands of employers competitive and ensure that the broader economy continues to benefit from the billions of dollars that pension funds invest each year. The most important aspect of these new reform measures is that they finally provide employers and employees with the flexibility to voluntarily act to shore up multi-employer retirement plans. Without these new measures, thousands of retirees would likely have been forced to accept the savage cuts to their retirement benefits that come when the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation is forced to step in. This is the culmination of three years of joint labor and management cooperation to shore up troubled plans.

“The Senate and President Obama must move quickly to enact these needed reform measures so that thousands of employees and their employers can have the tools needed to protect their hard-earned investments and benefits,” Sandherr concluded.

Business Tip – December 2014

mapei_sponsorLook ‘em in the eye

wally_adamchikBy Wally Adamchik, president,
FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

I learned a lot in the Marines. One of the things I learned was the importance of people. I also learned how important it is to pause from time to time and thank people for their contribution. And then there are the times when we need to do more than pause; we need to stop.

Gene Duncan (“Dunc”) is a former Marine who wrote several books about his time in the Corps. His books are a collection of funny, sad, and poignant “letters” relating the experiences of two professional Marines, truthfully telling it like it was in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. As a young officer of Marines, I learned from reading Dunc. Like you, I continue to learn from reading. Consider that you are reading this issue of TileLetter.

Dunc wrote about the importance of letting people know you cared. In fact, taking care of people is a chapter in my first book, No Yelling: The Nine Secrets of Marine Corps Leadership You Must Know To Win In Business. He cited Thanksgiving and Christmas as two times that deserved special attention. His advice was to form up your platoon and put the Marines “at ease.” Then walk through the ranks, talking to each Marine, asking about their holiday plans, making sure they were taken care of. Finally, he advised, look them square in the eye while shaking their hand, and say, “Thank you for your valuable contribution.” The first time I did this, it felt a little awkward – but it felt good also. It felt good because I could feel the connection with my Marines and I knew they appreciated my action. This appreciation leads to higher performance and deeper loyalty. The kinds of things that differentiate your business and make it succeed.

I realize you’re not going to put your people into platoon formation, but I do know that you can visit them in their workspaces or on the jobsite and extend the same courtesy and respect that I did when I talked to my Marines. You’ll be amazed at the impact this will have. You may decide, Christmas being so close to Thanksgiving, that you’d prefer to “spread out” your thanks. That’s fine; choose another important holiday when people traditionally take time away from work, celebrating with family and friends. The day you select should be special to the members of your team. In our multi-cultural society there are other options. Your recognition on this occasion will make a positive impact on them.

A word of caution: don’t do this if you don’t believe it. If you are the type of leader who really does value your people and views them as important peers in the process of creating your product or service, then this will be well received. If you view people as expendable production assets, and use this advice as a technique to motivate them, forget it – they will see right through you. Last year a client of mine did this for Christmas and he could not stop talking to me later about what a positive experience it was.

In closing, I want to look you in the eye and thank you for reading. I can’t set you up in platoon formation, but please accept my gratitude for your trust and confidence in me. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015.

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at www.firestartervt.com to NTCA members. Contact him at wally@beafirestarter.com to learn more about how the NTCA/FireStarterVT partnership can save you training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.

Business Tip – November 2014

mapei_sponsorPay or Play? The moment of decision is drawing near

By Patrick C. O’Connor, Kent & O’Connor, Washington, D.C.

Much has been said about the Affordable Health Act (ACA) mandate – otherwise known as Obamacare – and many strategies discussed to cope with its complexities. Soon, however, the talk will yield to reality and “play-or-pay” will be more than just a slogan. Bottom line, here is what you need to know now: on January 1, 2015, the health insurance mandate for companies with 100+ employees will begin. One year later it will kick in for companies with 50-99 employees.

The no-coverage penalty

A company subject to the mandate that does NOT offer health insurance to 95% (70% in 2015) of its full-time employees (and child dependents) will pay a “no coverage” penalty of $2,000 annually for every employee, minus the first 30 employees (the first 80 employees in 2015). This penalty is triggered if any employee receives a subsidy/tax credit to purchase health insurance on the exchange.

1-BT-1114The inadequate coverage penalty

For those companies who decide to offer health insurance to 95% of their employees, that is not the end of the matter. You must also be certain that the coverage meets the ACA requirements: it’s affordable and has minimum value. If not, a company will face an “inadequate coverage” penalty of $3,000 annually for each employee who receives a subsidy on the exchange.

2-BT-1114What is “affordable?”

Fortunately, the IRS has made this easy by providing “safe harbors” for companies to use to determine affordability. The “W-2” safe harbor deems a policy affordable if the employee’s share of the single policy premium is 9.5% or less of the employee’s W-2 wages. Alternatively, the Federal Poverty Level safe harbor says a plan is affordable if the employee’s share for a single policy is no more than $1,110 in 2015 (which is 9.5% of the Federal Poverty Level).

3-BT-1114What is “minimum value”?

Your health insurance plan has “minimum value” if the plan’s share of allowed costs of benefits provided under the plan is at least 60%. Your benefits administrator can work with you to determine if your plan meets this threshold. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has developed an online calculator tool to assist companies in measuring the value of their plan. However, beware; recent reports say the HHS calculator has serious flaws that actually give approval to clearly substandard plans.

At this point, you might ask: “If we do all of the above, there will be no penalties. Right?” Well…maybe. This is, by all measures, an incredibly complicated law. You can set out to do everything right and still unwittingly encounter any number of hidden traps. For instance:

Delayed effective date for mid-size companies

This applies to companies of 50 to 99 employees. The one-year grace period until 2016 is conditional – a fact many do not realize. A company of the requisite size eventually will have to certify that it did not reduce its workforce or any previously-offered health insurance in 2014 to qualify for the reprieve. The certification will occur as part of the employer health care reporting that begins in January 2016.

4-BT-1114Misclassification of employees

Everyone is familiar with the existing negative consequences for a company who misclassifies an employee as an independent contractor – back payroll taxes and penalties for each misclassified person. That is bad enough. But, when you add the ACA, it’s possible to incur a significant new liability entirely disproportionate to the number of misclassified workers. When forced to count the misclassified workers as employees, this could cause a company to be out of compliance with the 95% coverage rule, triggering the $2000 per employee no-coverage penalty – applicable to all employees (minus the first 30), not just the misclassified employees! This could occur even though the company is already paying premiums for coverage on, say, 92% of employees.

Misclassification of workers could also turn a “small” employer (less than 50) into a large employer (50 or more) when the misclassified workers are counted in, bringing a company under the employer mandate retroactively. The lesson here: be very careful about classifying your workers. The stakes have just gotten a lot higher.

Reimbursing employees to purchase on the exchange

When faced with the cost and complexity of this new law, more than a few businesses have considered sending their employees to the individual health exchange and reimbursing them for the cost of their premium. That could be a huge mistake. The IRS just recently published guidance (Notice 2013-54) clarifying that such arrangements are not permitted on a pre-tax basis. In fact, not only would employers risk penalties for not providing health coverage, they could also be subject to an excise tax of $100 per day per employee because such non-tax arrangements run afoul of existing IRS rules for employers’ group plans.

However, small employers (less than 50) can provide workers extra money to purchase health insurance, but it will be taxable income to the employee and subject to payroll tax withholding. Also, the emerging Small Business Health Exchange (SHOP) may eventually be an option for companies with fewer than 100 employees.

Catch-22 for families

As discussed, a company health plan is deemed “affordable” if the cost of an individual premium is 9.5% or less of the employee’s wages. If so, both the employee and his/her family are ineligible for a subsidy/tax credit to purchase insurance on the Exchange. This is true even if the family coverage is in fact unaffordable to the employee. For companies whose primary motivation in offering health insurance is to provide a valuable benefit to their workers and their families, it could actually have the opposite effect, depending on the demographics of your work force – a factor to bear in mind.

In the end, there is no one right or wrong approach to meet the challenges of this new law. Some companies are confident, boldly saying, “Bring it on!” Others are scratching their heads, mulling whether to pay premiums or penalties. Still others are tightening their belts as they brace for increased insurance costs. Whatever your approach, weigh your options methodically, keep asking questions and stay alert and agile as this process unfolds.

Pat O’Connor is a principal in Kent & O’Connor, Incorporated, a Washington, D.C.-based government affairs firm. A veteran of Capitol Hill with particular expertise in health, transportation and the environment, O’Connor works with trade associations and companies to find workable solutions to the most pressing regulatory and legislative issues. For more information, visit www.kentoconnor.com or call 202-223-6222.

Business Tip – October 2014

mapei_sponsor

Speak up

wally_adamchikBy Wally Adamchik, president
FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

You need to communicate more. The people you work with – and the ones who work for you – want information, they want feedback. They don’t want to be left in the dark. No news is not good news, it is an opportunity for rumor and second-guessing. Over time a lack of communication and feedback can lead to indifference, apathy, and animosity – none of which are very sound motivational strategies! The solution to this lack of communication is to, well, communicate. Too bad that is a lot harder than it sounds. A lot harder!

First of all, the construction world is not one of relationships. It is one of tasks. Getting things done is what creates value, not having conversations. But how else will you build capacity in your organization for the future if you are not having developmental conversations with people?

I am working with a client and nine months ago, we have identified developmental conversations and giving feedback as being important issues. We trained the senior leaders on how to do it. Nothing happened. I then did one-on-one coaching conversations with each of them to help them learn how to do it. They still delayed. We all agreed that it was still important. No action. More one-on-ones, and finally these leaders are starting to have the conversations. Why so long to do such a simple thing?

We already identified the task nature of the industry as one reason. Another reason is that lack of practice leads to lack of proficiency and that leads to inaction. Who wants to do something they are not good at?

The remedy to this is to follow the mandate of Nike and “Just Do It.” No, you may not be perfect but the only way you can begin to get better at communication is to do it. One of the best books on the subject is Crucial Conversations by authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. We teach a multi-day workshop based on the book but you don’t need to attend the workshop to read a book. Another fine book is the The Lost Art of Listening by Michael Nichols. If you want to be a better communicator you can start by reading those books. Short of reading a book, you can tell yourself to listen. Put away the technology and focus on the person. Listen for content and for meaning. Pause, paraphrase and repeat back what you heard. These are all simple and highly-effective techniques to enhance communication.

Today in a planning session with a leadership team the subject came up again. The leadership team told the president of the firm they wanted feedback. I then asked how much feedback they gave to their people. Silence. How ironic that these people were saying they wanted feedback but weren’t giving it. So, we start from scratch and outline the expectation that communication is an important part of employee development, then we train and follow-up that the developmental conversations are happening.

Our human ability to communicate is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing when employed well. A curse when we get it wrong. Any effort you make to be a better communicator is one of the best investments you can make in yourself.

 

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at
www.firestartervt.com to NTCA members. Contact him at wally@beafirstarter.com to learn more about how the NTCA/FireStarterVT partnership can save you training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.

Business Tip – September 2014

mapei_sponsorA happy worker is a productive worker

By Marilyn Tam, Ph.D. and Ed Rigsbee, CAE

tam_rigbeeUnhappiness among workers in America is costing a shocking $300 billion per year in lost productivity, the Gallup-Healthways estimates. Their recent Well-Being Index shows that Americans are increasingly unhappy with their jobs and work environments. When people aren’t happy about their jobs or their employers, they don’t show up consistently, they produce less, and their work quality suffers. A recent Harvard Business Review article stated that the level of happiness has a profound impact on workers’ creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality.

Current American Psychological Association research findings show that people want contentment, love and happiness derived from meaningful work. They want nourishing personal relationships, a healthy mind and body, a spiritual core, and a reason for living. But with only 24 hours in a day and all of the competing demands of modern life, the question is–how? Is it even possible? How can you as a manager facilitate your employees’ happiness and consequently increase your company’s success as well as your own?

First, you as well as your company need a defined mission/reason for being. With an established purpose, you can manage and prioritize the energies and resources to best fulfill the mission. Work and life have meaning when we feel what we are doing creates worth and is in alignment with what we value. There are five life factors that need to be kept in dynamic balance to achieve and maintain happiness and productivity. Understanding people’s motivators will help you structure the work environment and to develop products and services that truly serve your customers.

Money and other means of value exchange

In today’s world, money is the primary – and sometimes the only – form of work compensation. Yet surveys have now shown that the most effective motivator for increased performance and creativity is when one feels that their work has meaning and value. Understanding what drives people is helpful in the design of incentive programs to increase satisfaction and consequently performance. Show people how their jobs impact the overall success of the company’s mission, and tie their remuneration to their contribution to the objectives of the organization. That way they can comprehend how their efforts are intrinsic to the wellbeing of the company and be motivated to fully contribute to its success.

 

Relationships

Since human beings are inherently social, we need honest and positive connection with others to survive and thrive in the workplace as well as in our personal lives. Healthy relationships will build trust and enhance openness and collaboration instead of fear and reluctant compliance. Structure a participatory workplace environment and allow for some flexibility in work hours so that your associates have the ability to adjust their schedules when it is needed. When people feel that they are respected and trusted to perform at a high level, it encourages them to strive to do even better. By understanding human relationships, we can plan and act accordingly in business and life for greater productivity and satisfaction.

 

Body

The American Psychology Association tells us that stress is the biggest cause of illness today, and oftentimes workplace stress is the primary culprit. Sick or unhealthy workers are unable to function optimally and their performance suffers. Unhealthy workers also cost the company more in healthcare costs and absenteeism. Encourage everyone to take their allotted vacation days; time away rejuvenates the mind and body, and they will return refreshed and energized. Ensure that the mission of the company is clearly shared with everyone so that they understand that their work has meaning. People are happier and can do more when they feel that they are contributing to a worthwhile purpose.

 

Community

Human beings need community in order to survive and thrive. When your company is actively involved in the surrounding community, you have a source of local support. Your community is also an excellent place to get input and feedback on your products and services. In today’s global economy, your community encompasses the whole world, and that perspective will help you develop your company’s offerings to best suit the market. Encourage and support volunteerism in the communities your company works in. Connect with nonprofits and other organizations that serve your market. For example, if your company sells products or services to small businesses, volunteer and affiliate with SCORE, the SBA’s nonprofit consulting arm to small businesses. This will contribute to the wellbeing of your community, and also give you valuable input about your customers’ needs and concerns while strengthening your business network.

 

Spirit

A belief in something greater than ourselves sustains us when we are in pain, scared or in dire need. That same power enhances positive experiences and gives us more joy, compassion and energy. Recognizing the power of beliefs can guide your work policies to honor others’ beliefs and facilitate their practice of them. When people feel respected for who they are and what they believe, they are happier and more productive individuals.

Increased productivity through happier employees can be realized with a modicum of energy exerted, by you and your organization’s leadership, in the above five areas. To help you better achieve success and balance for yourself and for your organization, several resources have been made available to you at no charge; please visit http://www.marilyntam.com/gift.aspx

Copyright ©2013 Marilyn Tam & Ed Rigsbee

Adapted from The Happiness Choice (Wiley 2013) by Marilyn Tam, Ph.D. She is a speaker, author, consultant and board-certified executive/corporate/leadership coach. Formerly the CEO of Aveda Corp., president of Reebok Apparel and Retail Group and vice president of Nike Inc., she is also a successful entrepreneur who has developed and built four companies. More at www.marilyntam.com.

Ed Rigsbee, CAE, CSP, is the author of several books and over 2,000 articles on how to grow your business through strategic alliance development and implementation. He lectures internationally on the topic. Contact him through www.rigsbee.com.

Business Tip – August 2014

What you can learn from my summer vacation

mapei_sponsor
By Wally Adamchik, president, 
FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

Remember the standard, return-to-school “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” essay from our youth?

wally_adamchikThis summer has given me several lessons that have value for you today.

The story begins with a local police officer knocking on my door at 9:00 one night, asking me about my brother, Billy. Of course, you know what happens next – I find out that Billy died in a motorcycle accident a few hours earlier. He was 57, divorced, with no children. He was a floor layer. Just like you and your team.

First lesson: We are in a business of relationships. Don’t let corporate purchasing and hard-bid tactics make you forget this. While price is part of the purchase consideration, the quality of your work and the relationships you foster with your clients, customers, and co-workers are paramount.

I first realized this as word about Billy spread through the grapevine and I received numerous calls, emails, and cards of condolences from across the country. These were unexpected and much appreciated.

I saw it again at his wake. Having worked his trade in the New York area for over 30 years, my brother was well known. On that Memorial Day weekend, we were visited by many of his associates. Not just tile guys, but the foreman from the laborers, and a superintendent from a general contractor, to name a few. There were guys who had worked with our father in the business – and some even remembered when I had helped out on a few jobs, way back when! Connections between people – that’s what it’s about.

Next lesson: How is your health? Construction is hard work, yeah. But it isn’t a substitute for quality exercise and eating. Billy wasn’t in bad shape, but he wasn’t in good shape, either. He loved to eat; cooking was his hobby. He didn’t exercise. And he had coronary artery disease. In fact, he may have had a health crisis that triggered the crash. We don’t know for sure. But we do know that he was not taking care of himself, and now, he’s gone. Are you taking care of yourself? (If not for yourself, then for those who love you.)

Last lesson: Get your affairs in order. “Divorced with no kids” sounds like an easy estate to deal with, right? Well, it would be if:

  1. There had been a will (there wasn’t);
  2. There had been up-to-date beneficiaries on his life insurance policy (his ex-wife is still listed, although that wasn’t his wish; he just “never got around to” changing beneficiaries even though they’d been divorced for several years), and
  3. All his records had been kept in one place (not even close).

Looking through files and folders is never easy, but having to weed through pay stubs from 1986 makes the process even harder.

I realized that my finances and directives are in a similar state of disorganization. I am currently creating what I call the Red Envelope, where all of that information is being placed to make the process easier for whoever needs to deal with it. We need to do this for the benefit of those around us. If you are a business owner or the head of a household, this becomes even more important.

By now, you may be fed up with my personal ramblings. But remember what my brother did for a living. He was a floor layer. He was just like you and those who work for you. I am hoping you can learn from him so your team is better off.

Business Tip – July 2014

mapei_sponsorThree common business screw ups

GoldmanBy Jon Goldman, CEO Brand Launcher

From TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes to America’s Funniest Videos, everybody seems to enjoy laughing at people’s screw ups. And at baseball games, all eyes are glued to the giant screens to watch the funny mistakes the players make. But it isn’t so funny when it happens in our businesses, where the mistakes are both embarrassing and costly. But many of tomorrow’s mistakes have been made before. You can learn from the past and avoid making these Big Three business mistakes.

1. No sense of urgency

I grew up sending letters in the mail and waiting a week for a response. But Gen Y grew up with instant chat and texting. They get annoyed sitting in an airplane going 500 mph, and their broadband connection is too slow. This means the bar has been raised for all of us, and you and your team had better respond to prospects fast.

I know of one business that lost $120,000 worth of revenue because it made a potential customer wait a few weeks to get a price quote. In today’s environment, if you don’t respond quickly, other companies will eat you for lunch.

2. Lack of transparency

Do you hold your cards too close to the vest? One business owner I know was so reticent about sharing information that he lost the trust of his key personnel. We’re living in a transparent world, and by holding back, you create a veil of secrecy. This works well at magic shows, but not in the business world.

I want to share a radical idea with you. It’s called “Open-Book Management.”

“What? Open up our financials so our employees can see how much we’re making? If they see how much profit we make, they’ll demand more money.”

I have yet to find a company that was harmed by taking the bold move to open up their books. No, you don’t have to divulge everything, but you should let your key players in on your overall financial situation and your vision for the company. You want them to feel a sense of ownership within your business.

3. Hiring too quickly

Growing companies need to hire new personnel. But often they choose the easiest people to find, rather than the best people for the job. Ultimately, they have to fire them or they remain stuck with staff who doesn’t get the job done.

Sure, you want to build quickly. Perhaps you feel you can’t afford to hire the best people. But you can’t afford not to. If you hire wrong, you’ll end up spending time and money training, only to have to hire and train again.

Screw-ups: we all make them

In some of the businesses that I have owned, we made these mistakes. I wish I had learned from someone else’s mistakes then, so I didn’t have to spend much time straightening them out. Now when someone tells me about having a sense of urgency, being transparent, or hiring the right people, I pay attention. I hope you will, too.

Jon is the author of two works on business and marketing topics, including one that has been translated into Japanese. He is a powerful speaker who was a popular presenter at the 2014 Coverings show in April. Get a FREE copy of his latest e-book, Vendor-to-Expert, at www.VendortoExpert.com.

Business Tip – June 2014

mapei_sponsorThe daily huddle

One of the most effective leadership and management tools at your disposal

wally_adamchik By Wally Adamchik, president FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

It works for (insert your favorite quarterback here) and it can work for you, too. It is, perhaps, one of the most effective leadership and management tools at your disposal, and takes just a few minutes to execute. But it is rarely used effectively. What is it? A daily huddle.

You need to tell your people things they need to know to do their job. They want to hear those things. Contrary to popular belief, there are employees at all levels and all ages who want to do a good job. Many of those who are disengaged feel that way because the boss is not communicating with them. The daily huddle is a fine solution. And it can work in any industry. It works especially well in construction.

The concept is simple. Before the workday starts, you gather your team to deliver key information to align them for the day. Are there any special events/visitors/promotions? How about a key training or safety tip? On the jobsite you should talk about production targets for the day. All this information gives your team direction and helps them to be more productive. You also might toss in some feedback about how things went yesterday. (While this is not a time to single out poor performers, you may highlight some wins from the day before.)

Make sure to ask for input and questions. If the huddle is a new concept for your team, people will be reluctant to share anything initially. But, over time they will see you are serious about the huddle and will work with you to make it better. I have seen – and participated in – huddles that were also a stretch-and-flex period to increase safety awareness and to warm up cool muscles before starting physical labor. It sends a strong message that the company is serious about safety when the boss joins in the huddle and the flex when he is visiting. I have also seen CEOs blow off that part – and that sends a message, too!

Communication is one of the keys to success in just about any endeavor. I have never conducted an employee satisfaction survey for a client in which the results indicated there was too much communication. In fact, over 85% of my surveys have indicated that communication from management is in need of drastic improvement. The huddle is a quick, easy and inexpensive way to fix a major problem.

Let’s look at why it works. First, it is personal. No texting or email is involved. This is direct, eye-to-eye contact – still the most compelling form of communication we have. When we look someone in the eye we know we have their attention and we can see them understand our message.

Also, engaging in eye contact shows people they are important, that you want to communicate with them. It conveys the message that you trust them enough to share this information with them. When you ask for their input, you are literally saying, “I want to hear what you have to say. I am interested in you and the value you contribute to our team.”

It comes down to trust and respect. And it educates and aligns people on key business issues. They feel like they are part of the team and they operate from a “we,” not a “they,” perspective. When I interview an employee who speaks of his or her firm in terms of “they do… they say,” it makes me cringe. It is as if the employee does not actually consider himself part of the company, but rather some visitor who has little stake and even less affiliation and sense of camaraderie.

Keeping people informed is your job. Setting direction is one of the primary roles of a leader. In the case of the huddle, the direction is short term. We are not communicating the strategic plan of the company; we’re merely stating the goals of the day.

What’s the payoff? You get employees who are more motivated and educated to do the job. Does it always work? No, not every single employee may respond to the huddle – but most will. I can guarantee though that starting the day without a huddle ensures a workforce that is uninformed and de-motivated. And not even the worst quarterback in the league would attempt that.

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at www.firestartervt.com to NTCA members. Contact him at wally@beafirestarter.com to learn more about how the NTCA/FireStarterVT partnership can shave your training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.

Business Tip – May 2014

SponsoredbyMAPEINever drop your prices again!

How to stop selling on price

wayshakBy Marc Wayshak

I was recently at Lord & Taylor with a close friend of mine when she held up two pairs of high-heeled shoes. Both pairs were black, appeared similar and looked pretty to me. “What do you think each pair of shoes costs?” she asked.

“Well, this is a nice place, so I’m guessing that they both cost about $150,” I replied.

She smiled at me as if she were watching a puppy hopelessly barking at the moon. “Actually, this pair,” she said, holding up the shoes in her left hand, “costs $110.”

“I was close!” I said defensively.

But then she continued. “Now this pair,” she said, holding up the shoes in her right hand, “costs $650.”

“What?!?!? But they look so similar!” I exclaimed in surprise.

Upon further reflection, I began to see the parallels that women’s shoes have with selling on price versus value: Products or services that are fundamentally the same can sell for drastically different prices. It all depends on the way they’re sold.

Let me introduce you to two salespeople: Don and Liz. Both have been selling bathroom accessories for 20 years. However, they each sell in a completely different way.

Don is all about price. He’ll walk into a prospect’s office and say, “I see that you’re working with Grohe, and I can show you how you can save 50% by working with me instead…”

Liz, on the other hand, is all about selling on value. She’ll walk into a prospect’s office and begin a conversation by saying, “I really appreciate your inviting me in today. I want to tell you up front that if you are looking for the lowest prices, I’m not your gal. My goal is to help my clients create a bathroom that ‘wows’ visitors. Does it make sense for us to continue talking?”

Both approaches lead to sales, but the difference in the average transaction size and profitability is night and day. Liz wins, and she wins big.

If you’re determined to sell on price like Don, then you should stop reading this now. However, if you’re open to selling on value like Liz, then stay with me…

Here are four ways to stop selling on price:

1. Stop being a vendor: Don is a vendor to his customers, while Liz is a strategic partner to her clients. Get away from just being another vendor offering the best price. Instead, focus on how you can help provide massive value to your clients. The prospects that just want the best price are not who you want to work with. At least 60% of prospects want something more than just the best price. Target those folks.

2. Be distinct: Both of the shoes my friend showed me appeared to be similar, but one had a very distinct brand, while the other was essentially no-named. You don’t need advertising to be distinct – your approach to selling can be what makes you stand out. While Don’s approach was pretty cheesy and predictable, Liz was bold and totally distinct from what the prospect typically experiences. Immediately, the prospect is intrigued to understand more about why Liz isn’t the cheapest. Everyone knows that they get what they pay for, so let them experience the best.

3. Create value in your conversation: Every qualified prospect has challenges that you can solve. For example, in the case of Liz, her qualified prospect might be a developer that has used cheap bathroom accessories in the past only to find that they frequently break and need to be replaced after only a year. By learning about the prospect’s experience and how much that cost him in lost revenues, Liz is creating tremendous value for her products – before she ever shows him her product line.

4. Pile it on: Good prospects are willing to pay more when they believe they are getting tremendous value. This means that, in order to create that value, you must think in terms of selling solutions and packages. For example, Liz not only sells bathroom accessories, but she also offers custom design and assistance with actually installing the accessories in order to ensure that they last for many years. This perceived added value allows her to charge a higher price than Don could ever imagine charging. How can you add additional products or services to your offering to increase the perceived value of your product or service?

Selling on price is never the only option for a company. By following these four steps and thinking creatively about how to increase your value in the eyes of the client, your sale size will increase dramatically.

Marc Wayshak (www.marcwayshak.com/) is a sales strategist who created the Game Plan Selling System. He is the author of two books on sales and leadership including his latest book, Game Plan Selling (http://amzn.to/15MdhA9) and a regular online contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post Business section. Get his free eBook on 25 Tips to Crush Your Sales Goal at http://gameplanselling.com/. (Twitter: @MarcWayshak)

Business Tip – April 2014

SponsoredbyMAPEIPerfection desired, not required

How you handle mistakes affects your customer’s perception of your service quality

wally_adamchikBy Wally Adamchick, Firestarter, president, FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

The other day, I facilitated a panel discussion on customer service. The audience was a group of operations managers and field supervisors, and the panel included three of their actual customers. So, these audience members served these customers.

Over the years I have been involved in a number of sessions like this, and the results are always very positive. Not necessarily positive in that the customer says everything is great, but positive in that both sides come out of it with a higher level of mutual understanding and an increased respect for each other. There is something about these panels that creates candor. And that’s important, because at no other time do we ever really ask customers what they think, and if we do, they never fully tell us what is on their mind.

When a customer makes a purchase of just about anything, they are entitled to a reasonable expectation that the product or service will be delivered correctly and in accordance with a given set of specifications. In fact, that is why they have selected you. The buyer believes you will complete the job – as purchased, on time and on budget. If you fail to deliver, you lose their business. But over time, you probably do a consistently good job, so you now have a repeat client. This is something any business should strive for. If the customer is not in a position to buy again, then certainly they are in a position to refer you to someone who is in the market for your service.

At some point, something is going to go wrong. An order could be late, an installation might be of poor quality, or one of your employees might be rude to the customer. There are plenty of ways we can disappoint clients, especially if we have done the right thing for an extended period of time. But here it is – that moment of truth when you have to fix the mistake. This was one of the key conversations in the above-mentioned panel discussion: your customers expect nothing to go wrong. They really are looking for perfection; they want it right the first time. However, they also know that mistakes happen, and so it is how you recover from a mistake that defines their perception of you.

In the restaurant business, this is called service recovery; in the airlines, it is called irregular ops. In both cases, we are talking about a situation where something has gone wrong. In restaurants, the customer’s perception of the quality of service is actually higher in a situation where something went wrong and was then fixed quickly and correctly, rather than the situation where everything went flawlessly!

At the airport, when my flight gets cancelled, it is very reassuring to get a call from my airline telling me I have already been rebooked. They have just saved me the trouble of having to wait in line to negotiate for another flight, and the stress that goes with that.

Your people are trained to deliver the specified level of perfection. If they weren’t, they would not be working for you. Ideally, they would be trained in how to handle a situation where the customer is not happy. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Usually, a manager needs to get involved to resolve a sticky situation made worse by an employee who handled it poorly. Now you have a doubly ticked-off customer. It all comes back to training:

Are your employees taught how to do the job correctly in a variety of settings – not just in the isolated environment of a training room?

Do your employees understand your philosophy as it relates to quality and service?

Do you regularly communicate this philosophy?

If you answered “No” to any of those questions, you are placing your company at risk of a bad client experience that was then resolved poorly. Remember that old statistic about how an unhappy customer would tell nine other people about the poor service they received? Well, with the internet being ever-present today, “nine” can easily become 9,000 – or more. In fact, if the message goes viral on social media, millions of people will read it within days. And that’s not the kind of publicity you want for your business.

Whenever a business faces risk, it usually refers to the potential for lost profit. The customer-employee interaction is a point of risk. Rather than saving money by cutting corners on training and education, you might be better served by investing money to create the skills and mindsets in employees to prevent and correct negative customer situations in the first place. Technical skills are a start, but they are not enough. What you do is important. How well you do it – and fix any mistakes – is equally as important.

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at www.firestartervt.com to NTCA members. Contact him at wally@beafirestarter.com to learn more about how the NTCA/FirestarterVT partnership can save you training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.