Thursday, December 19, 2013

‘Tis the Season- This week Bob reflects on the giving spirit that is alive and well at The Shamrock Companies this holiday season—and all throughout the year.

There are certain things that you just can’t teach people. Of course, drive and determination are great examples of attributes that either you have—or you don’t. During this holiday season of giving, there is one characteristic that is quite relevant to me, and that’s generosity. In my mind, giving freely of yourself—sharing your time and talents with people who are in need or with those who are less fortunate—is what generosity is all about. And I’m humbled to witness the incredibly generous spirit that has developed here at Shamrock over the years.

While I have always been active in the community and have made philanthropy a priority in both my personal and professional life, it was when we moved Shamrock to our new building in 2000 that Shamrock defined that element as a prominent part of our corporate culture. Don Schenkenberger was our president at that time; he spearheaded the development of Shamrock’s Community Involvement Committee which provided structure for our charitable involvement as a company.

Fast forward 13 years and the sentiment and purpose of that program remain the same, while the impact of the effort continues to amaze and inspire me. Our people here at Shamrock aren’t just going through the motions—I see families and friends joining in these efforts, getting engaged, making connections and truly changing lives. At every level, they are passionate about their involvement.

One of the many efforts that Shamrock is actively involved with each year is the Giving Tree project, which is a national program that gives us the chance to make a difference in the lives of local families in need. Our employees at Shamrock provide essential items and gifts for these families, which we hand-deliver on Christmas Eve.  

That giving-spirit transcends beyond the holiday season: Shamrock committed to, and raised, $15,000 for Cystic Fibrosis last year; we rally a team every year for the Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure; we raise funds annually for Our Lady of the Wayside; and earlier this year, one of our employees had a family member who had a major surgery—the committee quickly came together and assembled a fabulous gift basket to show our collective support. Big and small, Shamrock is committed to making those connections and making a difference.

At this time of the year, many of us pause to reflect about how very fortunate we are to have all that we do. But above and beyond, I feel blessed to know—and to witness—that our people here at Shamrock have the compassion and generosity in their hearts to give back to our community. Again, that generous spirit is something that either you have—or you don’t. I’m proud to be a part of this organization that truly has it, and that shares it, to make our community a better place.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

COMMON GOALS. A candid conversation with Tim Connor, President of The Shamrock Companies.

What has shaped your business philosophy?

Before I came to Shamrock, right after college, I worked a little over two years for a large corporation. I was green; didn't know much about business. Luckily, it was an organization that believed in staying focused on quality and service, and expected me to follow that path, too. That has been my mantra from the start: "Provide customers with quality, service and deliver plus one."

Would you say that your prior experience helped you get a job at Shamrock?

No doubt. I've been at Shamrock for 20 years, and it's the entrepreneurial spirit of this company that's kept me here.

What motivates you to come to work every morning?

What first attracted me to Shamrock, and what keeps me here is the goal to always put the customer first. And it's not just something written on a mission statement; we truly live through customer service. I saw from my first day on the job that the people at Shamrock live, die and breathe for our clients. It's much more evident here than in larger, less family-oriented businesses.

Did you come to Shamrock with a Customer First philosophy?

I guess that philosophy came through in my first interview, and it's probably what got me in the door. But I honed this skill from the master. Bob Troop, our CEO, has always conducted business with a trained eye to keep customer needs as our top priority. If that means staying at the office late to complete a job or staying abreast of technology that will serve our customers' best interest, we have all been trained to, as the saying goes, "Just do it!" Or, as Bob always says, "Just figure it out," which, to me, means you've got to be able to roll up your sleeves to take care of the client. That's the goal for each person who works at Shamrock.

How is Shamrock using technology to help customers?

We are focused on data and data analytics. This means different things to different people, but at Shamrock we view it as a way to examine all the details of a customer's campaign. We help customers analyze their data in order to become smarter and more profitable marketers; ensure that they not only make money, but save money, while squeezing the best and most positive results out of every campaign. We help build brands by delivering their marketing message through different channels, including print, email, social media and other resources, and then determine which is working best. Each customer is different, so there's no cookie-cutter approach to what we do.  

Why does Shamrock place such great emphasis on technology?

The utilization of technology helps us with the ability to understand our customers' business better. It will always be true that new, emerging technologies will drive business for us -- and for our customers. Shamrock has always been able to adapt and incorporate new technology into the marketing mix. Helping customers grow their business is our mission and we instill this in every employee. We continue to evolve and remain innovative to serve our customers' needs. We don't stop until we see that we can take part in helping their business grow.

How has the economic downturn affected your ability to deliver for customers?

Our customers have become smarter about utilizing marketing dollars. For example, before the downturn a customer might spend $100,000 on a program. The downturn made that nearly impossible. Now, I see customers willing to spend $50,000 or $100,000, but they want to do it wisely. The difference today is that, while customers are coming back to spending $100,000, they're being smarter about allocating their dollars. They tell us, "If I'm going to spend $50,000 or $100,000, I want to be able to measure the data and look at my ROI." There's a demand for culpability. That's where data analytics plays a big part. Since the downturn, we're much more methodical with our strategic marketing and planning. Our goal is to help customers be smarter, and new technology plays a big part in that.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

MY MOMENT WITH CAPTAIN KIRK (AND OTHER MOMENTS). A first-hand account of the Content Marketing Conference from Shamrock's Account Manager and Social Media Specialist, Kasey Crabtree

Yes! I did speak with the Captain Kirk (William Shatner), at the Content Marketing World Conference. But bear with me, and I'll share that moment at the end of this post, since there were many special moments that occurred during this conference that I would also like to share.

The conference was held in Cleveland on September 9 through the 13th, and I was lucky enough to be among the 1,750 people from 40 nations to hear hometown hero Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute at this third annual conference. 

First I'd like to tell you about content marketing and why it rates a major conference. Simply put,
content marketing is not focused on selling,
but on simply communicating with customers and prospects. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are providing information that makes the buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that, if a business delivers consistent, ongoing and valuable information to buyers, these buyers will ultimately reward you with their business and their loyalty.

Content marketing isn't new. The first practitioner was the John Deere Company. Back in 1895 John Deere launched a magazine that provided information to farmers on how to become more profitable. The magazine, considered the first custom publication, is still in circulation, reaching 1.5 million readers in 40 countries in 12 different languages! That's the power of content marketing. And, why is content marketing having such a Big Moment today? With the rise of online choices to purchase, content marketing removes the clutter from the buying decision and gives the buyer a chance to get to know more about a potential purchase to buy. Through a business' website, social media, print collateral, email and video marketing, content marketing delivers honest, helpful, and factual information to help the consumer make a wise choice.

My Big "Aha" Moment at the conference was learning that 60 to 70 percent of the purchase decision is made before a sales person is contacted! And this hold true for business-to-business and business-to-consumer purchases. So, the content you put out there is really, really important (monitoring what is said about your products and your company is also important). Consistency is also important. Your messages should be connected, engaging and compelling. They should be honest and offer real, valuable information at all touch points, to help the buyer make a decision. Finally, I learned that pages with video draw two to three times more people than those without.

That said, here's a video that explains the Coca-Cola Content 2020 Initiative on Coca-Cola's emerging content marketing strategy as they transition from one-way messaging via advertising excellence to content marketing excellence that makes their marketing content optimized for audience interaction (customers, partners, employees, enthusiasts, stakeholders, etc.) It's amazing to watch, and is an excellent example of content marketing in theory and in practice.

Content marketing may not be new, but it is more relevant today than ever before. After attending this conference, I can see why it should be a critical part in any marketer's toolbox.

So about “Captain Kirk”…. The highlight of the conference for me may have been when I had a “moment” with Keynote Speaker, William Shatner. During the Q&A portion I asked him a question and relayed to him a true story about how he used to be in a reoccurring dream of mine – after taking me out for pizza he would walk with me through the halls of my high school and everyone thought I was so cool because I was with William Shatner! (It was your classic high school revenge dream).  

Just another example of the fact that everyone has a story (AKA “content”) to share!

If you want details on that or more info about content marketing, feel free to call me at 440.250.2243, email me at or tweet me @KaseyCrabtree.

Always happy to share!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

WHAT IT TAKES TO BE WORLD CLASS. This week Bob explores what it takes to be a world class business.

People throw the term world class around a lot. But, what is its true definition? Curious, I went to the web site to see what was considered business world class, and here's what they state: "Goods, services, and processes that are ranked by customers and industry-experts to be among the best of the best. This designation denotes standard-setting excellence in terms of design, performance, quality, and customer satisfaction and value when compared with all similar items from anywhere in the world."

Pretty good. Even better, for the fifth year in a row (since we've been submitting entries), The Shamrock Companies has been a winner of the World Class Customer Service Award, sponsored by Smart Business, a multi-media company that includes Smart Business Magazines, a network of national journals focused on C-level executives of fast-growth, middle-market and large companies.

Why do we win this award each time we submit an application? I'd like to think it's because we live as we preach. Our Value Statement indicates the following: Customers are Paramount. Customers come first. Meet and exceed customer expectations. Deliver superior products and service. Deliver Value by building brands with integrated marketing solutions. Strive to make every customer a "Raving Fan". At Shamrock, we live the philosophy of the Raving Fan each day.

An integral part of the World Class Customer Service Award is customer testimonials. Of course, if your customers are unable to support all the great things you say about yourself, you obviously won't win this prestigious award. We are fortunate to have customers that appreciate how we provide our services and more than a handful came forward to provide testimonials. I won't list them all, but one stands out among the rest. This customer said, "Never before (and likely never again) have I found an organization so deeply committed to make me a Raving Fan. The Shamrock Companies is single-mindedly focused on this... Shamrock Delivers Plus One... I truly wish Shamrock could teach my other business partners how to better service our business. They are all Rock Stars!"

I believe that the reason each and every employee at Shamrock is a "Rock Star" is because our culture dictates that every employee realizes that they have a vital role in our success. Employees are proud to be a part of the Shamrock team, working together for common goals, sharing successes, and lending a hand when needed are all in a day's work. We couldn't win this award without the backing of each and every one of our employees. Thank you, all!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A FATHER'S DAY TRIBUTE TO VERY IMPORTANT MENTORS. During this month of Father's Day, guest blogger, Tim Connor reminisces about the good men in his life.

The month of June means more to me than just Father's Day. Of course, my dad is, and always will be, the special man in my life. But, in addition to dad, there were two other significant men who helped me become a man, a husband, a father, and a mentor to other young people. Just as dad was the one who taught me right from wrong and what it was to be a man, my college wrestling coach, Kerry Volkman, and Bob Troop, the CEO of Shamrock, also helped shape me and the way I conduct business on a daily basis.

In fact, each June, I get together with dad, Kerry and Bob for our annual golf outing and dinner. It brings all these important mentors in my life together for one helluva' day. It's not really a Father's Day celebration (that is reserved for dad)  but more a celebration of the respect each of us has for one another --  a recognition of our passages through life together.

Without a doubt, I learned my core values from dad. And these values still carry me through the roughest and the finest spots in life.

But it was coach Volkman who taught a tough group of college wrestlers about teamwork, camaraderie and resilience despite the odds against winning. When you're young, you think you know everything. And coach knew this. He let us experiment, fail, and learn from our failure. It was through coach Volkman that I learned I didn't know it all, and I had to rely on others to accomplish my life goals.

My  finest business mentor of all has, and will always be Bob Troop. Bob has been with me throughout my career. Like coach Volkman, he allowed me to experiment -- and sometimes fail --  but he also taught me how to succeed. Bob would often say, "it's OK to fail, but you're measured by how you overcome that failure in order to succeed the next time." (Another one of Bob's sayings is, "Figure it out!" I'd guess at least half the people at Shamrock have heard that remark from him at least a thousand times.) Often I learned about success just by watching Bob, who always makes it look so easy.

From each of these men I've taken away one important lesson: Realize your strengths and weaknesses and always try to surround yourself with people who can minimize your weaknesses. But the most important thing they've taught me is that if you work hard and work smart you will always be head and shoulders above the competition!

I hope Father's Day 2013 has been good to each of you.

Good cheer,
Tim Connor

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

KASEY CRABTREE ON SXSW. This week Kasey is a guest blogger. She tells us about SXSW and its importance for business.

First let me tell you a bit about South by Southwest (SXSW). It's a set of film, interactive/technology, and music festivals and conferences that take place every spring in Austin, Texas. It began in 1987, and continues to grow in size every year. If I could sum up SXSW in two words I would say it's a trendsetting conference (for example, Foursquare was introduced a few years ago at SXSW).

Shamrock's interest in SXSW is quite simple: We want to know what the next big trends in interactive/technology will be so that we can prepare to have it, as needed, available to our clients. We always want to keep ahead of the interactive/technology curve to see how new trends can apply to our clients' needs. Actually, I think it's important for any business to know what's ahead in technology and interactive since it affects all our lives.

While I didn't attend SXSW in Texas, I was fortunate to attend a recent luncheon of the American Advertising Federation's Cleveland Chapter, where guests heard from three Northeast Ohio-based speakers who spoke about their experience at this year's SXSW and the future trends we may expect in interactive and technology.

Among the speakers at the Cleveland Ad luncheon was Chad Milburn, who attended SXSW, and introduced his startup. It's called Plotter (, and it won top prize at this year's SXSW Accelerator for interactive, which is a pretty big deal, since you have to be approved to even join the competition. Hooray for Cleveland!

Essentially, Plotter organizes multiple locations onto your phone to plot the locations on your own custom created maps. For example, if you're going on a trip and want to see all of your stops, you can plot out the trip in advance right on to your phone so you won’t be constantly searching for locations. The Plotter app is downloadable at the app store.

Another speaker at the Cleveland luncheon was Markus Vogl, Assistant Professor of Art, Graphic Design Area at the University of Akron. Vogl discussed a project he is working on, called Coded :: Fashion, which he describes as being at the intersection of new media and fashion design. Coded :: Fashion was premiered at the international BIFT/ITAA (Beijing Fashion Institute/International Textile Association) conference in Beijing, China, and you can find out more information about it at

The third speaker was Margarita Benitez, an Assistant Professor and fashion technologist with the Fashion School at Kent State University. Benitez talked about computer integrated textile. Her passion lies in interactivity and interaction design with an emphasis on interactivity in textiles and fashion. Her recent research involves working on OSLOOM (, designed to create an open source electromechanical thread-controlled floor loom that will be computer controlled. The software will allow anyone to simply weave a photo, import weave ready files from other software (such as Bhakti/Alice photoshop method), and then post the software on a repository for others to further develop or customize into their weaving. Benitez successfully used the "KickStarter" fundraising website to raise $10,000 to fund the OSLOOM project, which is presently in pre-production.

I think Benitez summed up the 2013 SXSW conference nicely when she said, "It was an honor to present at this year's SXSW. It truly is an overwhelming event where all the latest innovation is showcased. We were representing Ohio's academia with a progressive agenda as artists and by doing so we are strengthening Northeast Ohio's position on the forefront of innovation."

I couldn't agree more. Not only are Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs gaining great benefits from the exposure they received from SXSW, but, thankfully, with the help of the American Advertising Federation Cleveland chapter, we're gaining more exposure for the tremendous talent right in our own backyard!

Best Regards,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

NEITHER RAIN, NOR SLEET... This week Bob talks about keeping positive, whether it's the Cleveland Indians or the workplace.

This year's home opener sold out in 6 minutes on Feb. 25, marking the 21st consecutive home opener sellout and the 20th at Progressive Field, which opened in 1994. It was one of the fastest sellouts in Indians history.

Was it playing our nemesis, the New York Yankees that created this sellout frenzy? Maybe part of it was, but Cleveland fans are always there, giving one for the team. We've sat through home openers that were held in biting cold weather, snow, rain, sleet. You name it, Indians home openers are always flooded with fans.

And even if you're not a baseball fan, you likely heard the Tribe lost to the Yankees. But knowing Indians fans, and being a fan myself, I'm quite sure we'll be back there cheering the team -- and some really good players such as Michael Bourn (OF), Nick Swisher, (1B/OF), Brett Myers (P), Drew Stubbs (OF), Mark Reynolds (1B), Trevor Bauer (P) -- on, up until the last pitch is thrown at the end of the season.

That energy, that enthusiasm, is contagious. I'll bet everyone who was in town for the Tribe's home opener felt it, and was pumped up by the activity around them. That's Cleveland fans. That's who we are.

Now, I challenge you to take that same energy and enthusiasm into work every day. Can you imagine what that might create?

Believe me, I know that every day can't be a home opener, or a solid winning streak, and sometimes it's going to "rain" on your well-planned campaign. But I truly believe that attitude plays a big role in creating a positive outcome -- even if it's something as simple as being in an encouraging environment with your co-workers.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

WHY TED IS GOOD FOR CLEVELAND. This week our guest columnist is Kasey Crabtree, social media specialist at Shamrock -- a true fan of TEDxCLE and what it stands for.

Last Thursday I attended TEDxCLE at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I attended TEDxCLE when it first came here in 2010. This one was their fourth and it was worth attending. I'd like to tell you why.
First, let me tell you what TED is. TED was founded in 1984 and had its first annual conference in 1990, in Monterey, California. TED brings together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment and Design, and there are two annual conferences, one on the West Coast, and the TEDGlobal in Edinburgh UK.
TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience, which is what I attended at TEDxCLE.
We had 8 outstanding speakers. Among them were Cleveland innovators who highlighted areas where Cleveland excels. The whole theme was about repurposing, reinventing, and collaborating to be stronger than before. In fact, Joy Roller, President of Global Cleveland summed it up nicely when she said (and I'm paraphrasing here): "...We're called a rust belt city, but let's remember that rust only forms on things that are strong and durable..."
All the speakers were great, but four really touched me, and lent great credibility to Shamrock's Gung Ho! Management Philosophy of collaborating, promoting a positive spirit, and making the world a better place.
I really enjoyed Global Cleveland. Their initiative is to increase the population of Northeast Ohio and promotes the region as a welcoming place for all. Since I'm a boomeranger, someone who lived here, left, and returned to Cleveland, I could appreciate Joy's remarks about Cleveland, which she calls the authentic American City.
Greg Harris, President and CEO, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, spoke about icons, and how we associate different artists with specific icons. He told us about speaking to Yoko Ono and asking if she would loan to TEDxCLE John Lennon's guitar from the famous Bed-In in 1969. He persuaded her to do so, since she's a fan of TED and Cleveland. It was amazing to see that icon on the stage.
Mansfield Frazier, Executive Director, Neighborhood Solutions and Founder of Chateau Hough, told us about his organization's competitive grant, won in 2010, which established the country’s first inner-city vineyard. It's a three-quarter acre called Vineyards of Ch√Ęteau Hough, located in the inner-city Hough community.
I was fascinated by Jen Margolis & Scott Simon, founders of Thrive Cleveland. It's considered a radical new “happiness incubator” that designs experiences, rooted in science, leading to greater individual and communal happiness.
Jen spoke of the 40% theory of happiness. She said that 50% of our individual level of happiness is determined by our DNA, 10% of our happiness is determined by external circumstances, such as food, water, shelter, etc. According to Jen, 40% of our potential individual level of happiness, which is determined by our intentional thoughts and actions.
Overall, TEDxCLE was an exhilarating experience and displayed the diverse talent and enthusiasm that's making Cleveland one of the most talked-about emerging cities in the country.
Here's to a thriving Cleveland,

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SPRING TRAINING, BASEBALL AND BUSINESS. This week Bob examines the similarities and differences between baseball and business.

Just as Spring training gives rookies an opportunity to show their stuff and ultimately shine their light, so too does being on their first big project give newer employees a chance at sharing the limelight. And that's just one of many comparisons between baseball and business.

Recently, Fast Company interviewed baseball columnist
Jeff Angus The interview primarily discussed baseball metaphors that run through business speak. It's a short interview, but quite interesting, and you can read it here.

I agree with Angus about mentoring raw talent. Like a good sports manager or owner, smart business decision-makers have a knack for hiring young talent and training them to focus on their capabilities. I also agree with his comment that, "...there are plenty of opportunities to get people up to speed before you have to count on them for game-day results." At Shamrock we may start our rookies out on smaller projects, and then provide them with the opportunity to pitch a big one when they've proven they can handle it.

However, I disagree with Angus when he makes the argument that business is much slower to react to the need for change than baseball. Angus says, "Baseball is a perfect example of making yourself over on a regular basis. Every off-season, they debrief, reassess, start a new cycle, bring up young players, try people in new positions." From my perspective, businesses that survive do the same thing, or they lose. Real contenders, whether on the field or in the office, want to win. In business, long-term planning used to be 3-5 years; now it's 1-3 because of change and technology. As with baseball, our lifeblood is young talent, but our backbone is the seasoned professionals who know how to nurture that talent.

One major difference between baseball and business is that baseball team owner can't be fired, since they own the team. This is a fatal sports team flaw that well-run businesses don't have to live with. A company "owner" (in this case, the CEO) can get fired -- by the company's board, its owners or a takeover by senior management -- if he's not doing his job. Often, a bad team owner can do long-term damage to a team. The owner may fire the manager, but the problem still exists if the owner is the core problem. (Thankfully, the Cleveland Indians finally have a world-series caliber manager and an owner who will provide money to bring in good people with world-series experience.)

Unlike years ago, baseball -- and its players -- are a business today. Like a business, if they're not managed well, they will fail. Our dilemma, as business people, is that we can't say, "Oh, well, there's always next year."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Handicaps and Hurdles to Reach A Goal. This month Bob focuses on the various events that take place in March as a prelude to "training" for Spring.

In Spring we train for many different things. Sports, of course, comes to mind immediately. Maybe we exercise our bodies more to get in shape for swim season. We may even beef up our workload in anticipation of free time to enjoy summer vacations.

Not everyone is lucky enough to breeze through Spring "training". Some people have to overcome tremendous hurdles to enjoy each season. For example, people with Cystic Fibrosis have to fight every day to enjoy what we take for granted -- breathing in and out without difficulty.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) has been a big hurdle to overcome in my family. I have lost two cousins to this disease and currently have a 47 year old cousin fighting for her life! This year I asked our Community Involvement Committee to take on a huge challenge and they said "yes," without hesitation. They have agreed to raise $15,000 to help cure Cystic Fibrosis.

I have been involved with raising money for The Northeast Chapter of The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for several years. In March of 2012 I was asked to join the National Board of CF and help them raise $175,000,000 for their Milestones II campaign in hopes of curing  this disease once and for all. Yes, CURE this disease!

Right now, there is no cure for CF, an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide). A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections  and obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food. The predicted median age of survival for a person with CF is in the late 30s. I guess you might say my 47 year old cousin is among the lucky ones.

But through funding and research there are bright spots in the future for people with the disease. In March 2012, the FDA approved a drug named Kalydeco which is the first drug to show signs of curing one of the mutations of CF. This will cure 5 percent of the CF population. Some authorities believe that we are within 5 to 7 years away from curing all of the mutations of CF. This will be the first cure of a deadly disease since Polio! As one renowned doctor said to me, "We are on the 5 yard line heading to the goal line!"

At Shamrock, we've undertaken our goal of raising $15,000 through a series of fun fundraiser. Our first fundraiser, which ended March 1st was a gift basket raffle that includes 2 VIP tickets to the 15th Annual CFF’s Chef's Fantasy Event (a $600 value), which will be held at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Cleveland on March 9th. I'm happy to announce that we're on our way to the final goal, having raised $6,800 with this first Shamrock fundraising event!

ONE FINAL THOUGHT... This amazing event truly rocks! And there's still time to buy a ticket. Call Stacey Langal at 216-475-CURE if you'd like to attend the 15th Annual CFF's Chef's Fantasy on March 9th. See you there!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

WHAT MAKES A GREAT LEADER? This week Bob acknowledges two great presidents with February birthdays and discusses the role of a leader.

Each February we celebrate Presidents' Day as a national holiday that honors two of our country's greatest presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Both men were great presidents because, despite their vast difference, they shared similar leadership traits that are just as important today -- in the private and the public sector -- as they were centuries ago.

The style of great leaders may vary but they share the most admirable leadership traits. Whether leader of a country or leader of a company, the following traits are consistent among all successful leaders.

1. Honesty. Leaders who share the good and the bad news with integrity are respected and worth listening to. Trust and honesty go hand-in-hand, and once employees trust their leaders, they will admire them for their honesty and remain loyal to their cause.

2. Compassion. Too many leaders these days manage by the balance sheet, often at the expense of their employees and long-term customer relationships. Talented people want to work for leaders that truly care about their employees and the communities in which they operate.

3. Shared vision and actions. Good leaders provide employees with a consistent message and always live by the corporate values of the vision statement which is shared with everyone. In the end, this produces real business gains because employees understand how their individual performance in the company impacts the corporate outcome.

4. Engagement. Great business leaders have the ability to get all members of their teams engaged. They do this by offering them challenges, seeking their ideas and contributions and providing them with recognition for their contributions.

5. Celebration. In today's work environment, we are working very long hours and we need to take some time to celebrate our successes in order to recharge our batteries.

There are two additional traits that make great leaders. (I also seek these traits in the people hired at Shamrock.) One, a great leader is positive and displays a can-do attitude. A positive attitude is contagious. Two, a great leader needs to know when to back away and when to offer help. Great leaders guide, yet they allow their people to make decisions so that they can learn and grow from the results of their decisions. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

CHOCOLATES ON THE DESK. Did you know that last week was Random Acts of Kindness Week? Bob asks, "What about the other 51 weeks?"

It's nice to know there's a week set aside to practice random acts of kindness. It falls on the week of Valentine's Day, which is a nice extension of the meaning of Valentine's Day, and was first introduced in 2000. This year even the Super Bowl got into the act.

But way before there was an "official" Random Acts of Kindness Week, at Shamrock we were practicing our own random acts of kindness, including employee-managed recognition programs with rewards and incentives. Like random acts of kindness, the payoff of a consistent recognition program is far greater for the giver than the gift itself. Above all, recognition in the workplace encourages employee engagement. Essentially, employee engagement makes for happier employees in a happier workplace.

Employee engagement is a measure of how connected an employee feels with co-workers, and how connected they feel with their company's mission and values. Engaged employees are motivated to succeed, challenged to do better by their peers and take that next step to go beyond average to exceptional performance.

A good recognition program will provide employees with short-term rewards; a great recognition program will engage employees by building a positive culture of fellowship within the organization using awards that are tied to your company values.

Shamrock's company values are based on an entrepreneurial spirit, family values, and teamwork. These values are tied to our Rockin' Rewards program, which was introduced in 2012. Employees receive nominations from other employees for exceeding expectations in a variety of business capacities. Points are awarded in various categories and earned points may be used immediately to purchase items from a catalog, or saved for something as significant as a fully-paid cruise. From its beginning Rockin' Rewards has been popular. It keeps people incentivized to perform, it's fun, easy to manage, and it continually reinforces our corporate values.

Another popular employee recognition program honors employees who have been with Shamrock for one year, and we continue to recognize their value in additional five-year increments.

It would be nice if we all could keep the spirit of Random Acts of Kindness Week alive every day of the year. Actually, it would be very easy to do so, by acknowledging a job well done by placing a small, anonymous gift, like a chocolate, on someone's desk, or just uttering two words -- "thank you."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

IS LOVE ALL YOU NEED? In honor of Valentine's Day, Bob offers some thoughts on how to maintain good relationships with customers and employees.

In any relationship actions often speak louder than words. Sometimes it's easier to say "I care" than to show you care.

For example, losing a customer is always difficult. Sometimes the loss happens through change: a business acquisition, a change in direction, or a change in personnel. That's why, at Shamrock we follow the rule that when we work for valued customers we can never know too many people in their company, from the office assistant to the CEO, because these uniting relationships often reinforce an association with the company, and help the relationship last through the inevitable changes. This relationship-building shows we care enough about our customer to forge bonds with the entire company, not just our direct contact. We have to be invested in our client's bottom line.

Of course, there's one big difference between a personal relationship and a business relationship. In business, we're always looking for new partners, new people to do business with, because business partnerships are generally more tenuous than personal relationships, due to the nature of business today. Growth is not an option; therefore we must always be cultivating new relationships.

Seeking new business partners proved to work well for us in 2012, when Shamrock showed a growth rate of more than 5 percent over the previous year. We continued to grow in 2012 because we reached out to develop new business alliances, so that if we have attrition we will remain a strong and viable company that continues to provide a sound workplace for our employees.

Losing an employee is also a part of doing business and it often comes with mixed feelings. My employees are family to me and although it hurts to lose good employees, the reality is that they often have to reach for their goals in life. My hope is that, as part of our family, they learned something valuable that will help them achieve their goals. Great employees and great clients are hard to come by. Our Raving Fans philosophy is the foundation of these relationships.

Whether you are a great customer or a great employee, if you aspire to do something bigger and better, I believe you should go out and do it. After all, that's what I did 30 years ago when I left my former employer for a new venture at what is today the Shamrock Companies. Leaving a safe work environment for new beginnings can be scary, but the rewards may be worth the risk.

Friday, February 8, 2013

TRUST ME... ONCE AGAIN This week Bob looks at how to warm up a customer relationship.

Groundhog Day has passed and groundhogs across the northeast did not see their shadows which, at least in groundhog circles, means an early spring. We may have an early thaw.

Speaking of thaws, what can be done to rekindle a customer relationship that, for whatever reason, begins to chill?

Like any entrepreneur, I don't like losing a customer. I always tell my sales people we can afford to lose an order, but let's work hard to never lose a customer. In the long run, our customers trust that we will meet their needs with the products and services we provide and, more importantly, they trust the people who work on their behalf. Of course, we all make mistakes. What happens when we make a mistake that puts a customer relationship in jeopardy? Many companies, some with previously stellar reputations, have lost the trust of customers in the blink of an eye.

The good news is that recovering isn't impossible. Here are five steps to help you regain trust after a mistake.

Apologize. Immediately. When you find an error, let your customer know right away. Experience tells us that an error will be discovered, so it's better to be the one to explain and apologize rather than wait until the error is discovered by others. If, until now, you've been mindful of your customer's needs, one mistake is fixable. But do it fast and do it responsibly.

Explain. Apologies are wonderful, but alone they can hardly make up for a breach of trust. Every good apology includes an explanation. Detail what happened as you see it and why it happened. Do this honestly and it can go a long way towards rebuilding trust that has been lost.

Fix It. Fast. Do what needs to be done to make the situation right. Here's a true example: We hired a dynamic salesman from my former employer in Chicago who did business with a very large telecommunications services company. He got his first big job from them, which was for us to develop an app for their annual W-2 forms. We proofed the job, re-proofed it, printed all 65,000 W-2s, and sent one to every employee. Soon after, we saw an error in the forms we just sent out. We called the customer, told them the problem and promised to fix it within 24 hours. We got on the phone with our supplier, re-printed 65,000 W-2s and sent the correct forms along with a cover letter to every employee at the company. We headed off a catastrophe by calling the customer as soon as we noticed the problem. Because we were honest, admitted our error and fixed it as fast as promised, we not only held on to a very desirable customer but we gained there respect and admiration for doing business the right way.

Hold the Drama. We're human and we make mistakes. After apologizing, explaining and fixing the situation, you've done all that you can do, so move on and keep your eye on the prize (winning back your customer's respect). Prolonging the negative attention won't win you any points, and it may just prolong the agony.

Be Fully Attentive. Trust is something that takes time to earn. If the trust is solid, one mistake won't break the relationship. But I can say from experience that your customer will be somewhat cautious at first, so it's up to you to show how well you are invested in your customer's best interest. Focus on providing quality service, treat your customer well and, whatever you do, don't make the same mistake twice.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT...It is possible to thaw a chilled customer relationship. The challenge, of course, is having the determination to keep the faith that while painful, even the big mistakes don't have to be fatal.