Pre-Season Training: Getting Your Team Ready For Game Time

 photo football_54546448_zps32098bf1.jpgIs your business ready to compete at the highest level? Do your employees work well together and execute your game plan? These ideas are front and center as we enter the time of the year when NFL teams are in their summer training camps, preparing for the upcoming season. A great deal of time is spent preparing the team, including physical training, reviewing the playbook and learning to work together as a cohesive unit. What can you do to ensure that your team is ready? Here are a few smart ideas:

1)   Annual Strategy Review: Do your employees know how you plan to succeed? We would conduct meetings every year with smaller groups of employees (10-15) to review our strategy for the upcoming year. We took the time to thoughtfully explain our goals and objectives – and answered any questions that they had. A key item was WII-FM  (“What’s In It For Me”). Just like a football team, every one needs to understand that they play an important and integral role in your success.

2)   Monthly Team Meetings: Do your folks know the score? We would have monthly meetings with all employees (including 2nd and 3rd shifts) to review our progress vs. goals, any new updates and emerging customer or competitive information. We would also review key performance metrics (quality, on-time shipping, order entry, production yields, units shipped) so that everyone knew our team’s performance.

3)   Employee Status Updates: Does every team member know how they are doing? Every manager would review with their direct reports the status vs. individual goals on a regular basis (quarterly at a minimum). Our objective was that there would not be any surprises at an annual review. Every employee should know how they are doing – and if they need to step up their performance.

4)   Training Sessions: Do your folks know the playbook? An extremely important component, which can be broken out into several areas, depending on your business. This includes sessions on: a) new products/services; b) on-boarding new employees; c) emergency response – fire drills, related safety training; d) new processes/ skills (Six Sigma, Lean, and technical skills).

5)   Electronic Communications: Targeted emails/newsletters can be useful tools to keep employees’ families, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders up-to-date on important information. You want everyone to celebrate and share in the success of your team.

Preparing your team to succeed is an important aspect of leadership. These are a few ideas to start the conversation. How do you get your team ready?


Relationships Enhance Technology Solutions

Have you ever purchased an item and wanted to speak with someone, but were unable to navigate the automated telephone system? Did you ever lose a customer because you did not know that your company wasn’t performing well? Do you get frustrated with organizations that rely solely on electronic communications?

In an era of rapidly changing technologies and accelerated business cycles, it is important to think about your own personal interactions.  Who do you want to do business with? When is it important to have a personal relationship with a customer? If you rely solely on digital interactions, you may miss significant opportunities to grow and strengthen your business. Here are a few examples that illustrate this point:

-       Lost Business: When you visit a customer’s showroom or factory, you learn a great deal about their business. You see what products they carry (including, perhaps, your competitors), how they are stored or displayed and if any of the signage or point-of-purchase materials that you provide are being used. You may be missing or losing sales if you aren’t aware of what is happening in your supply chain.

-       Missed Opportunities: When you meet face-to-face in a customer’s office, you can learn a lot about them. Are there family pictures, team banners, diplomas, photos or other personal items? These provide you with an inside view of the person and create an opportunity to build a deeper relationship. A stronger relationship with a purchasing agent, an owner, a specifying engineer or a sales manager can lead to new opportunities as they look to a trusted partner to help them achieve their goals.

-       Limited Growth: When a customer is thinking about expanding their business or adding a new product line, will they call you? Do you even know the name of the key decision makers? An electronic relationship is no substitute for a being a trusted, valuable supply chain partner. You may get some business, but more than likely, you will miss out on the larger opportunities.

Depending on what type of business you are in, technology can be a critical factor in your success. You must de able to execute the fundamentals flawlessly. But don’t forget that we are all humans – and we want to be treated well. If a customer feels that they are being ignored or taken advantage of, they can easily switch their business with one click.

Strong, growing and innovative businesses combine personal relationships and technology to provide value-added solutions for their customers. Forgetting the human interaction may turn off customers and harm your business.

What do you leave up to technology, and what do you rely on face-to-face relationships for in your business?


60th Anniversary of Korean Armistice

 photo Dad_Army3003.jpgOn the 60th anniversary of the Korean Armistice, I’d like to tell you about my father (Jerry Segal) and the challenges he faced in Korea. He was drafted in 1951, sent to boot camp (Camp Roberts) and then to Adjutant General School. Upon graduation, he was promoted to Corporal and returned to Camp Roberts in the Headquarters Company.

After six months, Jerry received orders that he was being sent overseas to Korea.

Jerry was assigned to the 92nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion – Headquarters Company, which was also known as “The Red Devil Battalion”. At that time, they were located in the mountains north of the 92nd parallel. Jerry managed personnel records and kept track of the troop rotation for the battalion.  He also had observation post duties and provided direction guidance for tanks that were headed out to battle. Jerry was soon promoted from corporal to staff sergeant.

The battalion was on the front line of the conflict – and the Communist Chinese Army was on the next mountain. It was a dangerous location and there were several incidents that highlighted the perils that the battalion faced:

- There was the constant threat of attack by the Chinese Army, either a full-out frontal assault, artillery fire or guerrilla attacks. Everyone in the battalion had to be on constant alert due to the ongoing nature and immediacy of the threat.

- The United Nations had stationed troops in Korea that were working with the United States forces. There was a small platoon of Colombian soldiers that were stationed nearby. They were supposed to have a 24-hour patrol to provide protection from the Communists, but apparently their patrols fell asleep. The next day the Battalion troops found that the entire Colombian UN platoon had been murdered.

- In addition to battle deaths, a number of the troops died as a result of diseases in the battlefield. One particularly dangerous (and horrific) disease was hemorrhagic fever. The US troops were not allowed to eat any Korean food, as the rice grown in the local fields was fertilized with human manure. It was thought that this could be the source of this disease.

My father has always been very modest about his service, but we all owe a debt of gratitude to all military veterans who have served our country.

“Veterans of the Korean War — in the spring of your youth you learned how short and precious life can be.  And because of you, millions of people can keep on living it, in freedom and in peace.  Your lives are an inspiration.  Your service will never be forgotten.  You have the thanks of a grateful nation.  And your shining deeds will live — now and forever. “ – President Obama at the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice



If You Measure It, You Can Manage It

 photo measure_131320937.jpgOne of the keys to running a successful business is to measure and manage your key metrics. I was recently reminded of this important idea when I purchased a new product named UP™ by Jawbone.

This innovative product is a wristband that helps support a healthy lifestyle. Among many different functions, it tracks the number of steps you take during the day based on your height and weight. It then lets you know if you have achieved your daily goal. In this case, your distance traveled is an important metric of your daily exercise. The process of tracking my daily step count has encouraged me to take longer and more frequent walks, which my dogs love!

So it is important to ask: What are the key metrics for your business? There are strategic metrics:

  • Sales/Profits vs. Plan/Prior Year
  • Profit Margins for products/categories
  • Customers – number of new customers; existing customer sales growth
  • Sales/Profits by state, region, sales rep, channel of distribution

And Operational metrics:

  • Number of orders – daily/weekly/monthly summary
  • On-time shipments, back-orders
  • Returns – monthly summary sorted by reason code
  • Order fulfillment – how quickly can you ship an order
  • Account receivable – total amount; days outstanding

I strongly recommend that you take the time to determine the key metrics for your business. If you are actively measuring your business performance, you will have the information and tools to improve your results. This is an essential part of continuous improvement, which is an important characteristic of most successful businesses. Just like my UP™ wristband, seeing the data on a daily basis will motivate you to improve your performance.

Please share with me your favorite metric – and how it improved the success of your business.


Protecting Yourself: 5 Proactive Legal Strategies

 photo Legal_USA_Flag_132469487.jpgHave you ever been involved in a legal dispute that could have been avoided or minimized if a signed agreement had been in place? Would the discovery process been easier if you had kept good records? Taking a page from TQM (Total Quality Management), implementing a Proactive Legal Strategy is an important part of Smart Management.

My journey along this path began when we had to defend our company in 1-2 product liability lawsuits each year. Plaintiff attorneys would sue everyone in the commercial transaction chain. They knew it was less expensive to settle than to fight in court and win. Even if you clearly have no liability, a company will spend precious time and money to seek a dismissal. Extending from our business process improvement focus, I began to ask myself: “Is there a way to minimize our costs by improving our internal processes?”

Initially I found it difficult to find a law firm that specialized in this area. They were focused on after-the-fact litigation. Fortunately I found Randall Gooden, who had written Product Liability Prevention – A Strategic Guide (and more recently Lawsuit!: Reducing the Risk of Product Liability for Manufacturers). These books address product liability concerns and laws. They can help develop and implement proactive processes that can reduce liability concerns and potential lawsuits. Here are a few examples of where we began to apply these processes:

1)   Employee Agreements: We updated our agreements, including important language on non-disclosure (especially our proprietary trade secrets and customer information), non-compete and intellectual property assignment.

2)   Supplier Agreements: We reviewed our contract language to ensure we had protection related to performance, liability, confidentiality and intellectual property.

3)   Employee Handbook: We updated all of our employees rules to (a) ensure compliance with all appropriate federal and state laws and (b) put in writing rules including, but not limited to, safety, conduct, disciplinary procedures, benefits and vacations.

4)   Distributors, Rep & other Contract Agreements: It is important that you clearly address termination procedures. We would often include a binding arbitration clause, which would keep disputes out of the courts and encourage resolution.

5)   Record Keeping Guidelines: It is important to have clearly defined rules relating to document retention for all written and electronic communications. Having easily accessible documents can often help to quickly resolve an issue.

As a business owner and/or manager, trying to manage the wide array of legal issues can be challenging. While it is extremely important, it can take away precious time from building your business. Taking a proactive approach to your legal matters may save you from larger headaches down the road.

Have you ever been involved in a legal dispute that could have been avoided?



VLog: Process Improvements


KivaZip – Emerging Trends Help American Entrepreneurs

 photo Kiva.jpgOne of the keys to success is to always be on the look out for interesting business models. Innovative organizations can provide you with ideas that can help your company or may inspire you on a personal level.

A great example is Kiva Zip, a new program launched by Kiva, the world’s first micro-lending website. The Kiva model blends two emerging trends – micro-finance and crowd sourcing (think Kickstarter) to help underserved entrepreneurs. It allows anyone with an Internet connection to lend as little as $25 to create opportunity and change the lives of people all around the world.

You probably know someone who has great idea and would love to start a business (or expand an existing one). However, they may be limited because they don’t have the collateral, business history or credit score to support a loan from a bank. They are willing to work hard, pour their heart into the business and possibly create new jobs. But they are unable to get a loan to help make their dream a reality.

Kiva Zip may be the answer to their dreams.  It is being introduced to selected cities in the United States. As one executive summarized it: “It is a private enterprise solution that creates economic opportunity for entrepreneurs”.  It makes it possible for lenders (people like you and I) to provide a loan directly to the entrepreneurs. You can go on the website and look at businesses around the country. You can then decide to lend $25 or more and support those entrepreneurs that catch your eye. Keep in mind that this is a loan, not a handout, and it will be paid back. There is currently about a 90% repayment rate. Here are four key features of the program:

1. Help American entrepreneurs access the financial services they need. While microfinance has helped millions around the world, it is almost unheard of in the United States. By making lending easy on the internet, and tying loans to borrowers’ characters rather than their credit scores, Kiva Zip is able to reach the most marginalized entrepreneurs (like veterans, immigrants, women, artists, organic farmers, etc.) with the capital they need to succeed.

2. Trustees are critical in order to build and sustain Kiva Zip: Every Kiva Zip borrower must be endorsed by a trustee. A trustee can be a small business development center, a business incubator, a veterans group, a nonprofit, a community center, a church, or an individual community leader. Trustees act by endorsing the borrower and vouching for their reputation. They identify potential borrowers, assess their character and provide support over the term of the loan.

3. Lower fees and 0% interest make borrowing affordable. Because Kiva Zip operates online and uses mobile payment technologies to move money, it’s able to slash the cost of making microfinance loans. These savings are passed along to borrowers in the form of lower interest rates. In fact, Kiva Zip loans are offered at 0% interest with no fees.

4. Cultivate community between borrowers and lenders. Kiva Zip is all about forging connections between lenders and borrowers. The model builds relationships by letting people send messages back and forth, including words of encouragement, updates from borrowers as they succeed, notes about how loans have helped businesses thrive, business suggestions and offers to make introductions.

I became active with Kiva Zip in order to help create jobs and support entrepreneurs here in America. On an intellectual side, I am fascinated by the power of blending technology (crowd sourcing) with finance (micro lending) to drive economic development. This has interesting implications for all businesses. On a personal side, it is rewarding to meet borrowers and see how a small $25 loan can help change lives. I hope that you will take a look at the website ( and join me on this journey.


10 Ways to Maximize Your Trade Show Potential

Have you ever stood in a booth at a trade show and been frustrated by the lack of traffic? Is there a way for you to make this time more valuable and impactful for your business? Here are a few Smart Management Lessons that will help create a better return on your trade show investment.

1. Develop a Plan

Do you have a written plan with goals and objectives for the trade show? Just showing up isn’t a plan. You and your team should identify specific metrics for the event and plan to succeed. Depending on your business, key metrics might include: total sales generated, number of new prospects or number of customer meetings.

2. Create an Eye-Catching Booth

Ensure that your booth is interesting and will attract the attention of attendees. Think about what would cause you to stop at a booth at a trade show. You want to be memorable – in a good way. For example, one year when we were doing a new product rollout, I dressed as a chef on rollerblades. Don’t be afraid to lighten up the mood; a costume can make your booth fun and approachable.

3. Schedule Meetings in Advance

Identify key customers, prospects and industry partners that you want to meet with to discuss new business opportunities and strengthen those relationships.

4. Create a Buzz

Do you have a new product, service or program that you are launching at the show? Use a combination of social media, email and selected mailings in advance to draw people to your booth. Consider a drawing for a new iPad or similar hot electronic items. At one show, we mailed out keys in advance that recipients could bring to the booth and try to unlock a treasure chest.

5. Walk the Floor

I would always arrive early (when exhibitors are allowed in the hall) and walk the floor prior to the show. I was looking out for new products, ideas for collaborative relationships, competitor’s booths and anything else that might catch my eye.

6. Training

A trade show is an important way to demonstrate the skill, talent and capability of your team. You want to meet with and prep your team in advance, ensuring that you are all on the same page with key talking points (about a new product/program).

7. Staff Development

A trade show is a great opportunity for high-performing employees that do not have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with customers. Whether they are in customer service, engineering or any other area, meeting with customers, seeing industry participants and feeling part of a team effort can be an important growth opportunity for high-performing employees.

8. Meetings

A trade show is an excellent time to meet with your sales team, manufacturers reps and/or key distributors. These are often breakfast meetings held before the show opens. They enable you to meet directly with those folks that are closest to your customers, a chance to convey your excitement, passion and vision for the business.

9. Follow-Up

It is absolutely essential that you have a defined follow-up plan after the show. Leads must be qualified quickly while the iron is still hot.

10. Serendipity

At almost every trade show that I attended, a new customer or opportunity emerged seemingly out of nowhere. It is important to be visible and present at key industry events, to reinforce existing relationships and be there for those unexpected opportunities.

You may be spending significant amounts of money in trade shows, including the cost of the booth, staff time and travel expenses. It is important that you work smart and maximize the return on your investment. Please let me know if you have any interesting lessons learned from your trade show experiences. You can find me of Facebook, Twitter and/or email (


VLog – Smart Management Lessons

I decided to try something new with the blog post this week: a video blog. Let me know what you think! Also, I’d love to hear some suggestions for topics you’d like me to cover on these video posts.


4 Ways to Create a Buzz at a Charity Event

 photo nneighborhood_500.jpgLet’s admit it: charity events can be boring.  What if you were asked to lead or serve on the host committee for a charity event? What would you do to make it interesting and exciting?

Building on my business background and love of sports, my wife Tracy and I were asked to Chair a new event concept for Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh: Sports Night Out. Sports-themed fundraisers are a great way to raise funds and increase community awareness. The funds were used to support organizations that provided services for people in need, including the elderly and children. It allowed me to utilize management skills for a nonprofit, creating an event that was dramatically larger than they had ever done in the past. The results were remarkable.

We were able to bring in world-class speakers including Bob Costas, Mike Greenberg and Dick Vitale. Each was truly special, connecting with the audience and sharing memorable anecdotes and stories. It was both a privilege and an honor to work with these fine gentlemen. Along the way, I learned some invaluable smart management lessons:

1. Build a strong Host Committee – an important step for a successful event.

Build a list of leaders in your community who will be able to attract and invite other guests. Their participation is a de facto approval of your event. Create a group of Table Captains, which can build up the attendance for the event. You might consider an incentive – such as the opportunity meet the guest speaker at a VIP reception. If each Host Committee member and Table Captain commits to buy 10 tickets, you already have a nice sized audience.

2. A great speaker can provide a platform for a successful event.

People are attracted to events with well-known speakers. It is significantly easier to attract corporate sponsors and build a host committee when the speaker is someone that they would like to meet in person. Creating a photo-line (a.k.a. a “clutch line”) before the main event will provide your key partners with a lifetime treasure. The additional revenue generated by a larger number of sponsors and attendees will pay for a high profile speaker.

3. Build an auction with items that people really want.

Think about each item as if you or someone you know would really want to bid for that item. Many people love local sports memorabilia – autographed jerseys, balls, pictures, etc. Work with people who have connections with your local professional teams for items. Members of your Host Committee and Table Captain may donate tickets to local sporting or cultural events, golf opportunities or travel adventures. Think about creating a “buy it now” table of low-priced items (less than $20) that will allow people on limited budget to win something at the auction.

4. Create a “buzz” to make your event “the place to be”.

It starts with a great speaker who will serve as a magnet. Consider having special “Invited Guests” – local celebrities, athletes and politicians. This will help raise the “cool factor”. Develop a media plan (including media sponsors) that will generate publicity before and after the event. Invite local TV anchors, radio broadcasters and newspaper writers.

I hope that these SMLs help you with your next charity. Please email or send a Facebook message me with suggestions that have worked for you.