Archive: October 2011

What does it mean to be an entrepreneurial family?

October 26th, 2011

Entrepreneurs are quite popular today (especially good ones). Politicians want to know how to make more of them. Government and other associations want to encourage more small business. Students of all ages are being exposed to entrepreneurial curriculum at all levels. Famous entrepreneurs, Trump, Jobs, Gates, and Branson to name a few, appear larger than life to most and are constantly featured in the media.
This is an interesting phenomenon considering that most of us grow up in family units where we are told to get good grades, pick a good school, study hard, choose a profession and work hard to get the best job in the best company in our chosen field. This is the way it has been for the last 50 years. Unless you grow up in entrepreneurial family like I did. Sure, I was tempted by the “ideal” path expected of my generation but being a part of an entrepreneurial family means so much more to me.
I am a 4th generation entrepreneur. My great grandmother owned a corner grocery store in Wilmington, DE in an era when few women worked, let alone owned a business. My grandfather was very handy and was always repairing things like radios and appliances. His handy work soon grew to become Burkhard Hardware. My father, as a young boy, used to sweep the floors and stock the store shelves. He went on to work traditional jobs in banking and finance before starting a staffing firm, Placers. If you follow my story I have brought that brand back and Placers exists again! Today, my father is truly a serial entrepreneur with success and of course failure in many industries. (Hear Alan speak on Executive Leaders Radio, fast-forward to 13:26)
Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, I was taught at a very young age that being an entrepreneur is one of the only ways to be in complete control of your own destiny. As young adults, so many of us study and work hard as students. We get good grades, are active in our community, we choose the right school and then we decide what we want to be and we do our best to pick a good company. But then we stop doing things for ourselves. We put the responsibility for our futures in the hands of the company. The company is well-intended but as an employee, you are at the whim of the business. Business plans change; businesses are bought and sold, headquarters relocate and leadership changes. All of it happens to you. You are not in control.
As an entrepreneur, however, you can manage your own career and have the ultimate control — to be your own boss. When you are in charge, through the good and bad, at least you’re working for yourself. It does not make the act of running a company easier but you control your own destiny.
For now, take control of your own destiny. Trust a fourth generation entrepreneur, my family has controlled our destiny for more than 100 years and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Leadership Lessons Learned

October 19th, 2011

    Be a visionary.
    Build a great culture.
    Put the power at the bottom by empowering others.
    Share everything with all to create trust.
    Don’t be your staff’s friend, but don’t create fear at work for them either.

These are my influences and beliefs. But knowing & believing in these statements does not mean that I am a good leader. I have worked at being a leader and aspire to be the best one I can be. To me, that means living out my leadership credo — I don’t want to lead “like” anyone else. I have grown tired of reading leadership books and articles on the subject and I have learned that understanding and appreciating others’ leadership styles doesn’t make it any easier to find your own. Learning your leadership style is a true labor of love for those that go through it. And most fail. Truly great leaders are rare. Today, yesterday or tomorrow.
Last week I wrote about today’s youth trying to define their culture of one; that they are made up of the opinions and values of others, mainly friends and family. Teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for. Their personal culture determines likes and dislikes, interests, hobbies, lifestyles, and of course careers. And at the same time, the system pushes for education and declaring your major — big decisions that require you to know yourself. But these decisions take time. They take trial and error; tolerance and introspection. I am not sure how tolerant I will be of this process when I pay a huge college tuition bill for my kids, but I will remember my words. It takes time.
Ironically, leadership decisions are similar. Most leaders are offered their first management job because they were good at producing something or were technically strong. However, this does not equip them to be good leaders. Additional schooling won’t either. All of us start some place. We are the equivalent of leadership teenagers. Our first actions and ideas are uncertain and borrowed from others. We learn what works by trying, by doing. And that is really painful. Because knowing the answers to a test do not mean they work in real life leadership situations. Leadership takes time.

    Trust is not instantaneous, even if given out freely.
    Values need to be learned and reinforced.
    Leadership delegation falters.
    Setting expectations is not easy.
    Communication takes practice.
    It is hard to take the blame yet give the credit.
    It is hard to force reporting structures.
    You are really more of an assistant than a boss.

All of these factors make leadership so much more complicated than most jobs. Leadership is everything. You have to be a coach, adviser, consultant, psychologist, futurist, parent, you name it. You have to be it. And you never stop learning and growing. I think of leadership as:

    Helping people succeed by creating the right environment and culture.
    Asking the right questions that help people get things done.
    Creating the right vision.
    Insisting that the customer matters most.
    Never sitting behind the desk for too long.
    Never taking ourselves too seriously.
    And most importantly — that getting the right things done really matters!

What is your leadership credo? Do you share it? I would love to hear your leadership lessons and responses.

Placers Returns

October 14th, 2011

Iffy economy creates opportunities for temporary workers

With unemployment numbers chronically gloomy, you might think this is a risky time to launch a
company that places temporary workers. But this month, Placers, the former Delaware powerhouse in the
temporary and contracted workforce industry, announces its return and its president thinks his timing is
just right.

After a dramatic 33 percent drop in demand for temporary workers from 2007 to 2009, this portion of the
workforce has grown by approximately 15 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“That number is encouraging,” explains Chris Burkhard, President and Founder of CBI Group, Placers’
parent company headquartered in Newark. “But a more dramatic development in the temporary or
contingent labor force is its strategic use by employers looking to manage their workforces.

“These are no longer stop-gap solutions to staffing issues,” Burkhard adds. For many employers, the
development of a temporary or contingent workforce has become a strategy to identify and recruit a high
caliber workforce.”

For many people, working through a contract agency has become a common way to earn a living. In
2010, 2.21 million people were a part of the US’ temporary workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor
Statistics. And in an iffy economy, this approach offers mutual benefits.

“Strategic use of a temporary work force allows employers to better manage or lower their labor costs,
increase their flexibility and be more responsive to change,” Burkhard says. “In today’s economy, these
are vital to a company’s success.”

And Burkhard points out that workers also can use this trend toward temps to their advantage. “People
who go in to a company on a temporary basis can see how they like the company, come to know the
nature of the job and other opportunities, learn the culture and get a feel for the atmosphere. At the end of
the contract, if the employee feels the situation isn’t right, he or she can move on.”

Burkhard’s father Alan established Placers in 1971. Over the next 30 years, it grew into one of
Delaware’s largest employers with a work force numbering into the thousands. In 2001, Chris developed
CBI Group as a professional services firm that was Delaware’s first recruitment outsourcing and
consulting firm.

“The original Placers gave me insights and relationships into the real people challenges in the Delaware
Valley,” Chris Burkhard says. “As the business climate and I personally evolved, Placers became a
natural extension to CBI Group business.

Quite simply, Burkhard adds, he’s responding to customer demand. “People kept asking us, ‘when are
you bringing back Placers?’ Now we have the answer.”

What is your personal culture?

October 12th, 2011

Last week, I heard my father speak to several hundred high school students about the realities of today’s workforce and workplace. Several days later when Steve Jobs passed, I made an interesting connection. Jobs was the world’s ultimate contrarian. In a famous speech at Stanford, he challenged the college graduating class to be careful about spending too many days doing things they don’t like. Spend every day like it is your last, he encouraged them. “Do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. And don’t settle,” said Jobs. There was such a parallel between Job’s speech and my father’s address that I had to share.

My dad’s first key point was that when you are young, you do not know yourself. You’re made up of other peoples’ ideas, thoughts, values and opinions. It is your family values and your friends that make up what you believe in and what you stand for. You begin to figure yourself out in your high school and college years – you don’t learn your personal culture or “culture of one” from the educational system.

Even once we’ve figured out our culture of one, my father believes that few of us know how to truly maximize ourselves. There is always a gap between who we are and what we are capable of. Having awareness of that gap is the first step of maximizing your potential. My father believes it is a leaders job to challenge folks to work on and close their gap.

At CBI Group, closing the gap is a big part of my goal as an employer. I have created an environment where people can both figure out and live their culture of one. I challenge them to define their gap — the gap between what they are capable of and what they are currently producing. This is what culture can be — how leaders can unleash the best in people.

This “Burkhard Theory” is something I have heard my father talk about hundreds of times, for most days of my life, in fact. I have worked on my “culture on one” and I live each day to maximize what I am capable of. I am not smarter, more gifted, blessed or special than anyone else. I just work harder at improving myself and that gives me confidence. This is our contribution. This is what we stand for. And those are my dad’s words. I simply chose to live them.

We can all take a page from Steve Jobs and his life. Hope you enjoyed the talk.

Who is responsible for your workforce strategy?

October 5th, 2011

I talk to many small business and Talent Acquisition leaders and have discovered an interesting trend emerging in terms of how firms use their contingent workforce. Many use a temporary workforce by accident or as a path of least resistance. I am reminded of an old Placers story from many years ago.
Our business provided temps of all levels and skills for an entire banking operation. The company was staging planned emergency preparedness drills and the leadership was discussing how to communicate the emergency plan with all their employees. When we suggested that all temps should know about emergency drills, the leader mentioned that it was probably overkill, after all how many contractors did they have in the building anyway? Well wasn’t the President surprised when they had 767?! This news did not diminish their use of temporary workers — it actually encouraged them to use more contractors. If this process was so effective and bug free that the President did not know about it, then why not leverage the use of a temporary workforce to get hiring done. Instead, the news prompted the question, who is responsible for this workforce strategy?
Today, with such uncertainty in the economy, doesn’t the rising temporary workforce prompt the same question? Who is responsible for the workforce strategy in your company? If it is not the President, then who is it? There is more visibility and transparency in the business world these days and we are never short of data and numbers to crunch. Gone are the days of the wild west where business does not know about purchased labor or temp usage. Businesses now survive by being flexible, by limiting the built-up, fixed costs in their company. With temp usage on the rise, it is critical to make sure someone is paying attention and managing this part of your business. So how can you apply some simple business principles?

    • Appoint someone on your organization chart to own your workforce strategy.
    • Develop a contingent workforce strategy: what percentage of your workforce should be contractual?
    • Take a look at your work peaks and valleys: how much risk is there in having your entire workforce be yours at the peak?
    • Talk to some staffing partners. Most partners today can be consultative and help you put together a strategy that fits your business needs.
    • Reporting. Do you have visibility into your spend? Into how your workforce is performing? Do you have retention information?

Being accountable is considered “in” today. Sometimes responsibility avoids us because no one has been assigned the job. Are you certain someone is responsible for your workforce strategy? Check your organizational chart please.

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