Wednesday, September 26, 2012

IS ENTERTAINING CLIENTS JUST GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP? This week, Bob evaluates the entertainment bottom-line, as we kickoff the client entertainment season.

In the Northeast, the season for playing golf with clients is winding down, but Fall is the kickoff for sports -- and an upswing in client entertainment. Sports and client entertainment seem made for each other. But, with the economy still in flux and with many businesses carefully watching their bottom-line, should we also be looking at the intended purpose for client entertainment?

Essentially, the ROI on client entertainment is not easy to measure. And in the new economy, lavish business entertaining may be considered out of line. But, showing clients you do appreciate their business builds good rapport and allows you to get to know them better. I like to bring my wife when I entertain, and encourage clients to bring a guest, too. I've had clients who asked if they could bring their kids. Why not? Once, a client from Dayton asked if he could bring his son along to a sports event. Talking with his son was not only a pleasure, it added a whole new dimension to our relationship that went beyond the day-to-day way we interacted as business associates.

Bringing along employees who support the sales team also has benefits that you can't put a dollar sign on. The support team can personalize, and often cement a business relationship in ways that are invaluable. I overheard an employee from the HR department casually talking with a client at a CAVS game. She uncovered a work-related problem that was nagging the client, and she suggested an easy fix. The client thought the idea was great. The employee felt her input was valuable, so she was happy. Obviously, the client was happy. Stuff like this doesn't make the bottom-line shine, but it goes a long way to building better business relationships with clients and employees!

Of course, business entertaining can go beyond sports events. Dinner and the theater is a time-honored tradition. Some of my business associates prefer to be low-key and privately entertain at home. While preparing this post, I read a story in The New York Times about sweat equity entertaining, where young execs take clients to the gym. I'm not sure if that's going to become part of my entertaining repertoire, but if it works for you, then it works.

The advantages of client entertaining will always be immeasurable. Good work will always surpass a good game. That said, I do believe that client entertainment is part of building relationships, whether it's a sports event or a backyard picnic. Keep in mind, it's not the event; it's the intent.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

THIS WORKS FOR ME. This week, Bob chooses his work-related dream team.

Earlier this month, I put together my all-time baseball dream team, with lots of heavy-hitters from various decades. That post got me thinking about who I'd want on my team in the workplace. Since it's a fantasy team, here, too, I chose some heavy-hitters from various decades to be an integral part of my team.

A. Malachi Mixon, III, Chairman of the Board, Invacare. Mal is the essence of what an entrepreneur should be. During the course of an hour he can be tough, challenging, forthright and exhibit the best business savvy of anyone I've met. He's headed Invacare since 1979 when he and a group of Cleveland-based investors bought the company from then-parent Johnson & Johnson. He serves on the boards of several Cleveland-area corporations and civic organizations, including chairmanship of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, along with being recognized nationally for his entrepreneurial skills and leadership. I'd choose Mal as an integral member of my team because of his intense foresight. He'd instinctively know who to choose to make a winning team.

Michael Feuer, founder of OfficeMax. From the moment he started working, Michael knew he wanted to be CEO of a successful company. In 1988, after leaving a senior position with JoAnn Fabric stores, Michael founded a new concept in office supply. Today, everyone knows OfficeMax. In 2010, Michael took the same concept used to develop OfficeMax... (“we took the stuff out of the boxes, brought it to life, let people touch it, feel it and added a sense of drama and theater")... to create Max-Wellness, a vital health and wellness brick and mortar shopping experience. I'd choose Michael to manage a team of fresh, young faces, because he would know how to develop a young business team and get the best work out of each person.

Donald Misheff, former Northeast Ohio managing partner, Ernst & Young Cleveland. I met Don four years ago and he has been a great friend and advisor to me regarding the significance of being an active board member in the communities we serve. Don has also been a great friend to the Shamrock Companies. He is highly respected in the community and sits on several major boards, including Tri-C Foundation; board chairman, Firestone Country Club; chair, finance and audit committee, Playhouse Square Foundation; chair, finance committee, Team NEO; finance chair, as well as the board of Ashland University, to name just a few. Don gets good things done - quickly! I'd want Don on my business team because he's integral to developing sound business practices. Plus, he's the best finance guy around, and he knows how to network with people to gain the ground needed to develop a business successfully.

I learned valuable lessons from each of these great business leaders. I learned how to encourage young entrepreneurs hired at Shamrock; I learned the importance of partnering with clients and asking them for genuine feedback on the work we do; I learned the value of board participation to help brand one's business; and I learned that, no matter how important just one person may be, ultimately, he puts his pants on the same as I do.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

HEADS OR TAILS? This week, Bob discusses both sides of fantasy football's effect on the workplace.

Some employers dread the start of fantasy football season as a drain on productivity; others think it's a minor waste of employee time. Obviously, there are two sides to this issue. Should employers come down hard on fantasy football, or just let it ride? Even critics seem to be at odds with this trend.

For example, in 2008 the outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas measured the effects of fantasy football in terms of lost workplace productivity. The firm said that the game would cost employers $9.2 billion, based on the more than 20 million playing. Actually, in 2011 the cost of playing fantasy football at work is probably double that figure (See the graph here).

However, in September 2011, the outplacement firm softened its stance on fantasy football in the workplace.

"It is difficult for companies to take a hard-line stance against fantasy football," James Challenger said in a blog post. "The Internet technology that helped fuel the rapid growth of fantasy football participation and makes it possible to manage teams from one's desk also makes it possible for employees to attend to work duties during their personal time." In other words, Challenger believes that employee time lost in the workplace is often made up for at home, while watching the kids' soccer game, or at other off-time locations.

Challenger actually analyzed the financial impact of fantasy football on employers during the 2010 season and found little or no effect on productivity. His conclusion was, if employers put a ban on all fantasy football or sports websites, it might backfire and cause reduced morale and loyalty. Challenger stated that the reduced morale and loyalty that results from such a ban could be far worse than the loss of productivity caused by 10 to 20 minutes of team management each day.

In fact, research suggests businesses that encourage playing fantasy football by organizing a company league are likely to see significant benefits in morale as well as productivity. Some note that fantasy football may be good for business. In addition to the positive effect on employee relationships, 20% of players in a 2006 survey said playing fantasy sports helped them make a valuable business contact. (BOB NOTE: This may be more rationalization than reality, though.)

My takeaway on this issue is, if employers do have productivity concerns, senior management should remind employees that their participation in a fantasy football league is a non-work related activity; therefore, it should not interfere with their job performance.

I've been around long enough to know that employees don't spend 100% of their time doing their work at work, so if they only spend 20 minutes a day on fantasy football, I'm just happy that's all it is.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

THIS IS MY FANTASY. This week, Bob talks about his dream team (hint: it's not about football).

First, those who know me know that I'm an avid baseball fan. And despite the fact that we're going headfirst into football season, and my Indians didn't make the playoffs, I can dream, can't I? (By the way, I've heard that fantasy football is a billion dollar business!)
Second, you may be asking, "What does fantasy baseball have to do with business?" Well, I'll get to that, too.

Meantime, you folks can go ahead and devise your own football dream team. Here's my baseball dream team, which I'll take any time!

I've selected my fantasy baseball team pretty much the way I usually select employees: ability to play the game (willingness to roll up sleeves and dig into the work at hand), character (always important; in sports and in work), and commitment to the game (show me you're in it for the long haul). Also, each of the players on my fantasy team played for the joy of the game. Not for the fame or the money.

Catcher: Jim Hegan played for the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s. I was a catcher on my hometown baseball team and I held Hegan in high regard. He had little exposure to other teams, but he was an exceptional player and a highly respected family man. He reached out to youth.

Pitcher: Orel Hershiser came from a larger market, but finished his career with the Cleveland Indians. On a high note, I might add. He provided the team with leadership. A former Bowling Green State University student, Hershiser played with humility and strength, despite his career with the biggest teams in baseball.

3rd Base: Max Alvis was a star in the 1960s. He lead the League in hitting until the All-Star break, and in my eyes he was always a rock solid player and gave his all for the team. Alvis had a quote that was clearly the attitude of his generation. He said, “ Baseball is a service- oriented business, if you don’t serve your customer, someone else will.” He went on in life as a successful banker, maintaining his customer service philosophy!

2nd Base: Duane Kuiper joined the Cleveland Indians, who drafted him in the first round of the 1972 January Secondary Amateur Draft. Kuiper is currently a five-time Emmy award-winning radio and television sportscaster for the San Francisco Giants. Along with former major league pitcher Mike Krukow, he forms the broadcast duo known as "Kruk and Kuip." 
1st Base: Vic Power Teammate Mudcat Grant called Power " of the best-fielding first basemen of all-time," and I'd have to agree. Playing in the 1950s, Power was, and remains, one of the most exceptional hitters and fielders of all time. My mom and all fans loved him and cheered Power every time he stepped onto the field. I still remember my mother’s cheer for Power, a resounding “Come on VICTOOOOOR!”

Left Field: Minnie Minoso was signed by the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent in 1948. He was the most charismatic player I ever witnessed. Also, Minoso engaged the fans and was one of the most excellent and exciting players of his time.

Center Field: Vic Davalillo was a super leadoff hitter. He was very involved with the Greater Cleveland community and was a great leader; sure to get the game started on the right track.

Short Stop: Woodie Held was another of my heroes in the 1950s. He was solid; never flashy. He was a great leader – for the team – and for the community.

Outfield: Joe Charboneau was named Rookie of the Year in the late 1970s, yet he had to win his job back on the team. With that, he lost confidence. But he stood by the Greater Cleveland community and will always remain a major player and hero in my book.

Manager: Mike Hargrove led his team to five consecutive AL Central Division titles in 1995–99, and World Series appearances in 1995 and 1997. His dismissal as Indians manager by GM John Hart was controversial with many fans, and to this day, Cleveland adores him. He maintains a home here, even though he was born in Texas.

Baseball (all sports, actually) is a business, perhaps today, more than ever. It's not enough to be a good player. The best of the best contribute to the team and for the team. Those who succeed beyond expectations work hard, accept defeat with grace and then get up, dust themselves off, and start again. People who excel in business are cut from the same cloth as sports stars. I'm sure that's why there are so many analogies to sports in business.