Category: Entrepreneurship


What Would Alan Burkhard Do?

July 30th, 2014

Throughout most of my formative years as a leader, I started off my thinking with the basic question, “What would Alan do or say?” Alan Burkhard is my Pop, a serial entrepreneur, a good Father, an activist for the community & any underdog that he comes in contact with, and most importantly, the most unique leader I know.

Alan's PictureFor example, I used to call him every Friday when we worked together and without fail he thought differently than most leaders. For most situations he would not give me the answer I sought. Rather, he would point me back to the information. He would say, “You don’t have enough information to come up with the solution. Go back and get more.”

Recently, the Outside-In® Companies was awarded with a very large contract. We have worked for it for years. As is typical of a comprehensive workforce program, the customer needed help well before we finished implementation! We had a choice stick with our higher retail price for services until we implement or give the volume price and trust that this is the right thing to do.  Do we have more margin now or do we establish a great “wow” moment of trust with a new customer? What would Alan do? Most grab the margin. We gave the volume price and we will trust that the rest will take care of itself!!

So my statement, “What would Alan do or say?” has nothing to do with seeking fatherly approval or anything like that. It is simply a phrase that keeps me sharp and focused on what being an Outside-In® leader is really all about.

Another example of his unique leadership occurred while at a recent baseball game. Alan commented on the recent security changes at the MLB ballparks. Essentially, ballparks are going to be like airports and large office complexes in the sense that game goers will be patted down and go through scanners. All in the name of homeland security. We might mumble and grumble about our loss of rights and civil liberties but we go along with the crowd and think that this is just another precautionary measure. Not Alan. He brings forward the classic Outside-In® leadership principle. We always seem to police and create rules for the handful of wrong doers and then punish everyone else. Security is serious business of course. However, I get his point as he as always applied this to his business.

Stereotypically speaking, leaders create too many rules and over complicate things. We create policies and handbooks galore. Don’t misinterpret me, I believe some structure and system makes sense. Just don’t over do it! Allow good people to follow simple rules and be allowed to operate freely within that loose system. That is why Outside-In® leaders lead with values. Values are there when we are not (which is often). Besides, bad leaders want to be superheroes anyway and are much too quick to dole out answers. That is NOT what staff wants. Staff wants to grow and be challenged in their job.

So for me, “What would Alan say or think?” is my mantra. It keeps me sharp. I am reminded that it is OK to cut against the grain and to be Outside-In® every moment of every day. This is very hard as most of those in the leadership world would rather make a rule than to actually lead or take action!

An Entrepreneurial View of Failure

July 23rd, 2014

When Edison searched for something to use to illuminate a light bulb he spent months and months with hundreds of different filaments until he found one that worked. Do you think he viewed each unlit bulb as a waste of time or something irrecoverable? He knew with each failed experiment, he was one step closer to something that would work!

ID-100209779As a small business owner, I have failed many times. I have hired the wrong people, put the wrong programs in place, even launched the wrong business ideas. However, I don’t view this as failure. Rather, this is a process to make something right and unique. This is how business works. Try something, fail quickly. Tweak it. Make adjustments. Learn from it. These are the basics. This is not failure. This is how we grow and gain knowledge.

Some say that being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. How do you handle the rejection? The no’s? The pats on the head when your business is just starting? Some will say, “When are you going to go get a job?” This is all part of the failing—dealing with the fact that most people really can’t handle the risk of trying.

I always feel as if I have more control of my own destiny when I am my own boss than when I work for others. That is just my my view. I would rather have tried to be a small business owner,  to have launched new services, and to have hired the wrong person because most of the times we end up getting it right. And we only need to get it right more often than not in order to be successful!

So the next time someone is taking a risk, think twice about your commentary. Risks create learning, knowledge, and opportunity. Everything changes. Why not be the one that initiates and drives change? Then failure will not be an option!

Why Customers Choose an Entrepreneurial Business Over Big Business!

June 4th, 2014

ID-100263570I have often wondered why our customers chose a private, entrepreneurial company as a partner over a larger vendor that on the surface offers the potential of more. More offices, more potential services, deeper pockets, etc. I have learned that when you get out in front and talk to customers and prospects that customers have their reasons for working with startups and small business alike. (After all that is one of the big three things I think a leader should always do.)

For one thing large companies strive to act small today. Most CEO’s talk of talent management challenges in their big businesses. We need to change to survive and thrive. We want to buy new companies or start new divisions. This all starts with employees and their mindsets—a mindset that is deeply embedded in the world of most growing entrepreneurial companies. Today business is about speed, responsiveness, and agility. It’s your choice to try and turn the Queen Mary or a small, maneuverable boat. I know who wins that race every time!

Innovation. Why do big companies buy small companies? Or help start them? Small business creates out of necessity. Big companies have too much to lose while fighting to keep what they have. In small business, there is less to protect and risk and market share is irrelevant. In order to survive and thrive the business must create real value.  Employees know this and must create value every hour. Compare that to most big companies that expect a day’s work for an hour. Innovation, thinking, creativity, and trying new things is often left to the Research and Development department or for the Senior leaders to decide. Every employee in a small business is a leader, a change maker, and a risk takerthat is where value is created!

Being a big fish in a small pond can have its advantages! Do you want to be a big customer number or a an important customer that makes a big difference to your company? This is a choice. Sometimes you have to go with the biggest and the best brand that guarantees your choice will not be questioned when the implementation goes wrong or delivery schedules are off. An entrepreneurial business gives its full attention to a large customer from top to bottom in the organization. The small business puts its best forward, is most likely flexible and interested in customizing its offering, and will pay more attention to you than one of your many new customers!

Local Leadership of a regional company is often more talented and more customer-centered then a large multi-national. I have lived this one myself.  Successful regional companies have high concentrations of leaders compared to big companies. We are more customer focused in our jobs because we do not have to spend a large part of our time managing up to corporate! Not that corporate is not important.  However, it is not Outside-in® and adding customer value directly!

You’re getting more economic value from your purchase when you buy from an entrepreneurial company. My dad used to say, “You will never pay for my fancy office and marble floors in the lobby.” With small businesses, your spend goes to the actual margin of the product instead of the operating expenses of a large corporate infrastructure!

Would you rather deal with me, President of an entrepreneurial company or a big business regional VP with territory responsibility and no authority to make decisions unless it’s in his or her zip code?  Don’t answer! It’s all about your purchasing playbook anyway.

The “No Flip” Entrepreneur

February 26th, 2014

Most entrepreneurs aren’t trying to create a technology revolution with an innovation that advances society in some unique way. That is just what the media reports because it makes for better articles. Imagine the impact of the twenty-something changing the world and selling it quickly for lots of money. Impressive for sure. And I imagine important in some way to our economy. Don’t get me wrong, I embrace technology as a tool in my business. Over 13 years, 52 quarters, and 156 months, I have operated and ran my company. I went into the details there for a reason. Most of us do not build our companies to flip them. Very few have goals to get Venture Capital or Institutional monies invested into their business. Even fewer have high hopes of an IPO.

smallgiantsMy goal was to run my company for nine years. This was in my first business plan. (Which, by the way, was 88 pages long!) Call it my Jerry Maguire version of the talent industry. The nine years were set to give me time to build it, boot strap it, grow it, sell it, and cash out. Then something happened. Call it life I guess. Time went by, we began to receive awards, and employees came and employees went. Markets changed for our services so we adapted and responded with new ones. The Economy roared and then spurted almost to a stop—Ironically in year eight! So, plans are set for a reason. Plans drive a stake in the ground. And when you get there you start all over again.

One of my mentors who runs a national consulting company once challenged me on my nine year plan, “Chris, do you like your company? Does it provide for you and your family as well as your employees? Do you serve customers that count on you?” Then he added, “Why not have it both ways? Enjoy and celebrate what you have accomplished and always work on making it better.”

I would rather focus on how my company or my customers can be profitable, create a measurable Outside-In® experience, and maintain a values based environment and culture that is unique, even quirky in its efforts to be authentic.

I want to have a “boring” company. Predictable revenues. Managed growth. I want to maintain a caring environment that not only focuses on the health and vitality of the culture, but also develops the discipline and practices to have a well-executed business strategy.

There are many entrepreneurial leaders out there that are in it for the long haul. We have worked long and hard to get our business’s out of the proverbial garage and into something relevant in our industries. We are Small Giants, forces to be reckoned with that don’t feel the need to sell out to be the biggest, but instead, choose to be the greatest.

Boiling Down the State of People in the Clinical/Scientific Industry

February 24th, 2014

Jobs and People by the Numbers

BioScience-Job-GrowthBased on the numbers in our infographic below (scroll down to take a look!), we know that number of jobs in the Clinical/Scientific Industry have been increasing, predicted to be at 97% of peak levels in 2014, and also anticipated to continue to grow through to 2022 by 10%. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) occupations will continue to remain center stage, with more than one in four employers (26%) planning to create jobs in these areas over the next 12 months.

We also know that clinical/scientific jobs are at the top of the list of skillsets for which employers need help finding qualified potentials. And that 60% of CFO’s say it is somewhat or very challenging to find skilled candidates for professional-level positions today.

Finally, when it comes to workers, we know that more professionals are seeking new jobs in 2014 than they have been in prior years since the recession. While various sources present drastically different percentages of workers that will look for a new job this year, they report that in 2014 the percentage is greater than it has been since the recession. Our sources also note that workers are more optimistic about the outlook of the coming year.

CareerBuilder states that, “A drop in job satisfaction may account for the expected rise in turnover.” The percentage of workers that are satisfied with their jobs dropped from 66% in 2013 to 59% this year; and those that are dissatisfied rose from 15% last year to 18% in 2014. The top reasons cited for dissatisfaction are salary (66%) and not feeling valued (65%).

So, how can we boil all this down?

At the Outside-In® Companies, we see these numbers in action daily while serving our customers in the pharmaceutical and bioscience industries. More companies are hiring for positions so demand is high, which makes recruiting quality candidates more difficult. With this shortage of people, companies have to be creative in their recruiting. So taking advantage of the positive outlook both c-suite executives AND workers have for the coming year, how can employers identify and win over great candidates?

Here are five tips for your company to consider:

Marketing Your Company: Workers may feel optimistic about the coming year, however they won’t take the decision to jump jobs lightly. Your company needs to market itself to potential candidates so they become aware of who you are and what makes you so great. Understand that this is a long-term investment, that changing the market’s perception of you will take time and you won’t see the pay off immediately. In many cases, the market doesn’t know about you, doesn’t know much about you, or they think negative things about you – so focus on increasing your brand’s awareness and generating a positive impression on people so they want to work for you.

Beef-up Your Employee Referral Program: Your employees already work for you for one reason or another, which makes them some of your best assets! Encourage your people to bring their friends on board – they are likely to have similar interests and similar values that will fit in with your culture. You can encourage employees by simply asking them to refer people they know for current openings, but also consider how you can “pay” people for their efforts. Many companies offer bonuses when employees’ referrals are hired, or when the person sticks around for 6 months. Good employee referral programs are often the top source of hiring!

Perk Up Your Benefits: Sure, people may be considering switching jobs this year, but with salary and “feeling valued” at the top of the list for dissatisfaction, they need to know that they will be getting better benefits in a new job. How does your compensation compare to your competition? How does your culture recognize its people? “Offering frequent recognition, merit bonuses, training programs and clearly defined career paths are important ways to show workers what they mean to the company,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder. In this market, the candidates are calling the shots – so what do you have to offer them that is shinier than what they currently have?

Consider Temps and Independent Contractors: The Bureau of Labor Statistics released on February 7th that there were 2.78 million contract and temp workers in the temporary help services industry in the U.S. 2.78 million is the largest number of temps in the workforce ever. More workers are pursuing contract work or being independent consultants, so consider bringing quality candidates in as independent contractors. The world is going temp, so this is likely a good option for bringing in the best people for the job.

Location, Location, RELOCATION:
With a shortage of quality applicants and trouble finding the right people, your company might want to consider relocation. By expanding your search outside your geographic region, you can easily increase your candidate pool. You’ll want to look back at tip #3 to help convince people to make such a move to work for you, but it’s probably worth it so you don’t have to keep scratching your head looking at the same resumes again and again.

Infographic – Presenting the Numbers

Why are You Building Your Business?

January 16th, 2014

In my entrepreneurial circles I often hear discussion and debate around why a business exists. Although a business exists to solve a customer problem or to create value for its shareholders, that is not the point I am trying to get at. Why did you start your business to begin with?

So many owners find themselves accidental entrepreneurs. Perhaps their business was a family business that they took over from a friend or other family member. Sometimes, believe it or not, people literally stumble into their companies. The entrepreneur is good at something and people are willing to pay them for that product or service. Before they know it they have a business that is failing, growing, or something in between.

site-196210_640I am often asked for advice on starting companies. The questions are practical and tangible. Where should I put the business? What do I call it? How do we test this product or service? Is there a market for it? Can we build a business to scale and profit around the concept? These are all wonderful, classic MBA book type questions. They have their place. You simply can’t start with them.

I ask all entrepreneurs to start with the question, What is the purpose of this business? In other words, why does it exist for you as its founder (and most likely first investor). At the very least, it is your credit card and sweat equity that gets it started, right?

Most people start their business because they have decided to make a change from their past.  They have chosen to be a small business owner to fulfill a dream, perhaps to avoid working in big business again, or often with dreams of becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams.

I take people through the following questions to get at a different starting point. Why do you need this business to exist?

  • Are you building this business to draw from it and then it might simply end? In other words, is this a cottage business that pays the bills but has nothing to transfer to someone else in the form of a sale?
  • Are you building something you want to be a legacy? Do you have family or others in your life that you want to pass on this potential wealth-creating vehicle too? I know you just got this idea to start a business and I am talking about its ending. Without this thinking, I see long term frustration and confusion. Too many small business owners get trapped in a company that does not serve their long-term needs.
  • billboard-63978_640Are you trying to flip this business? Is your goal to build it like an internet company and sell it and walk away? Do you want to grow this and get early-stage seed money? Do you intend to work with VC’s to grow to the point where you want to take private equity monies? Since 4% of companies get above 1 mm in sales this might seem like a tall order. You must stop and think about this sort of thing. In this path, founders lose control of their business and they give up ownership. This “takes chips off the table” as they say, however, you still lose control of the strategy of the business and its direction.
  • Are you building this to sell? Do you have a date circled on the calendar? Don’t laugh, I did. I had a 9 year plan. Well, guess what? I am in year 13, soon to be 14! Sometimes wanting to build something of value and selling it is not what you think you want.

This gets me to my main point: If you’re thinking of building your business to sell—stop and think. A favorite entrepreneurial friend challenged me a few years ago, “Chris, if you like your company and its culture, and it’s providing a valuable service for customers and meaningful work for employees, why do you think you need to sell it? It seems like you spent all of this time to get it to where you are and where you want to take it?”

I sense Rob was right. We all read the same articles and learn the same best practices in business. Sometimes staying put and enjoying the ride is the only and best option.

Use these questions to test why your idea or existing business might exist. I would love to hear from you with your thoughts!

Leadership: Vacation or Values?

January 8th, 2014

I once worked with a leader of a local business who told me the greatest stories of his early years in running his company. Most of them revolved around the tough decisions that leaders face. One time, when his business was just a few years old, he went on a family vacation.  These vacations were rare. His wife and kids did not ask for much. This was their time. Besides, he needed the break to recharge and rejuvenate on so many levels.

Then he got a dreaded call. A trusted employee shared intel that the employees were making their own rules, coming and going when they pleased, and were covering it up. Asking her to also participate, get her buy-in so to speak, by incriminating herself in action! She said no and called the boss. Thank goodness. This was a service business. Customers calls and requests were not being responded to. In fact, they even left her to run the business for extended periods of time!

rear-mirror-167581_640So what does a leader do when they get this kind of call? They sit in their car on the side of the road for several hours weighing their options. If I ignore it, I can go back to the beach with my family. I can simply deal with it later. Not perfect, but I deserve the downtime. However, this is about culture and values. Your culture is what people do when they are alone at 3 am. Culture is your company personality. Values are those key guide posts that drive behaviors when you’re not around. Well, you’re not around and the values are not being lived. What do you do?

You get in the car and drive right to the office. In the end you let a few people go and you warn a few others. All in all, you make it clear what your leadership is all about and that values matter. Especially if it means you will have to work harder and start over in your business. Even if you’re inconvenienced during your time off.

Curiously, I am not sure if this is truth or a great leadership fable. I am not sure it matters one bit in the grand scheme of things. What does matter is what you would do as a leader. Would you take the path of least resistance? Stay on your vacation? Or drive home? I like to dream that I would get in the car and prove that culture and values matter!

Outside-In® Companies Radio Interview on Jobs in the New year

January 7th, 2014

Chris Barton of the Outside-In® Companies was featured on the WDEL afternoon news on New Years Eve to discuss trends for jobs and the economy in 2014 with host Allan Loudell. Watch this video to hear a recording of his radio spot.


 
To listen to more WDEL radio podcasts, visit the WDEL website.

2014 Recruiting and Workforce Trends

December 31st, 2013

As a workforce and work place expert, we’d like to share our view of the 2014 workforce. After reviewing the numbers and statistics from 2013, here are 14 staffing trends to look out for in 2014.

  1. In November of 2013 the economy had more temporary jobs than any month but April of 2000. The number of temporaries as a percentage of the total workforce (called the penetration rate rose above Octobers’ number from 2.03 from 2.02 percent of the total workforce. This represents 2,775,900 workers in the temporary field. These numbers reflect the commitment of business to find ways to keep their workforce more flexible and adaptable to economic fluctuations and marketplace changes. You can expect this trend to continue and for 2014 to be the year that more temporaries than ever before are in the workforce.
  2. 2014 will continue to show improvements for college grads. Unemployment rates for college level unemployment fell .4% points to 3.4 from 3.8%.
  3. Unemployment rates will continue to decline. Currently at 7.0% down from 7.6% in May of this year. 2014 will bring the end to the 7’s as we slowly, gradually, almost painfully lower the rate!
  4. Monthly job creation numbers will continue to be above 200k jobs next year. The US created more then 200k jobs just a handful of times in 2013. This will become the norm rather than the highlight reel moment!
  5. You can expect 200,000 to retire per month. The statistics suggest that 10,000 a day/ 300,000 a month is plausible. Even with an improved stock market and stabilizing housing prices, the number is probably adjusting down a little.
  6. The new workers entering workforce have been thought to be balancing or replenishing retired workers. Expect the numbers of retirees to increase and the numbers of workers to be relatively flat. This could further lower unemployment in 2014.
  7. Technical fields will continue to show strong demand. These are good times to be in accounting, finance, IT, engineering or “ist” fields in the sciences (i.e. chemist or biologist).
  8. Organizations will continue to shift their business strategies, thus impacting their people. Look for more firms to focus on meeting the needs of workers that go through a reduction in force (RIF). Studies show that the focus is on getting people jobs first and doing what is right for the firm second. More and more outplacement will be done through virtual/technology driven models that lower costs of services but meet the changing needs of the worker! Office space is no longer important… and updated, contemporary coaching content will never go out of fashion!
  9. Never before in the history of the modern workforce will it be more evident that employees are fully responsible for their own careers as workforce trends confirm the end of the “parental role” big companes used to play.
  10. The Rise of the Coach. Today’s employee uses a coach to lose weight, achieve personal goals, to learn new skills in business as a high performer, and to manage their career. Look for the HR field’s (more likely and entrepreneur!) response to the needs of the workforce and to become their agent in 2014!
  11. Temporary staffing utilization is up over 8% this year. Expect that number to be exceeded in 2014 as more small and mid-market companies get comfortable utilizing a contract workforce!
  12. This is the year the underemployed make a change. The number of people that are chronically underemployed in lesser jobs or in jobs that provide less hours of work then desired see modest improvement. With unemployment being as low as April of 2008, this worker pool will be next in line!
  13. Jobs growth and creation will continue to be frustrating. Some markets and cities will see strong job creation, while others will continue to lose job sectors and industries at an alarming rate. Job growth will not be everywhere, instead you’ll see it in pockets!
  14. Overall, you can expect businesses to modestly increase hiring plans in 2014. But the use of temporaries will continue to rise as the business strategy behind using a contingent workforce continues to have a higher adoption rate.

Here’s to a great year for the workforce!

What if Santa Decided to Use a Few Temporary Elves?

December 18th, 2013

elf2We have all seen the holiday movies that suggest that perhaps it is time for Santa to modernize the factory, get some of his lead elves certified in Six Sigma, or to employ lean manufacturing in his workshop. Gone should be the days of elves singing Christmas carols, eating cookies, and making toys from scratch. The days of that sort of craftsmanship and artisan work are long gone as the nice list runs into the millions.

I am a contingent workforce expert. My Outside-In® Companies help leaders like Santa make sense of the realities of today’s workforce and workplace. And well, Santa does things the old fashioned way with his people, I mean elves. Today’s toy workshops have challenges in staffing and productivity during the busy season. Imagine Santa’s workshop in the weeks and months leading up to the big day! More importantly, what does he do with all of those elves in January?

I propose that Santa would benefit from a temporary elf workforce. Santa could bring in new skill sets and the workshop would flourish with new ideas and concepts. Those hard to fill roles might get the attention they deserve during the busiest of times.

lisaelfjNow, Santa would have to consider today’s laws and hiring standards. No longer can he claim that the measured height of his workshop is a legitimate bona fide job requirement. OSHA made him change that in the winter of ‘82. It just might be a good thing to see a few more guys and gals that look like Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel on the Big Man’s campus. A little diversity is important. Santa needs to keep up with his Affirmative Action Plan as people now live at the North Pole, too.

Most importantly? Santa can staff up and professionally work with the Outside-In® Companies to wind down post-holiday season. Rather than having elves paint the workshop and sweep the floor each and every day, Santa can feel confident that his staffing partner is redeploying his elfen talent that was there for the “busy season.” When one Holiday ends, another begins. Perhaps we can skill-market that talent to the Easter Bunny and have a temporary workforce plant hidden eggs around the globe?

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