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Employers Must Understand and Respond to Workforce Issues

Quickly rising and about to strike, the tidal wave of demographic pressure in the U.S. is a formidable threat to the health of American business. Employers are already passing up opportunities to expand their businesses because they do not have and cannot find workers who can handle what is required.

The challenges are well-documented, but remain daunting:

  • In the U.S., someone turns 60 every 10 seconds. Yet, few have sufficient savings for retirement, and many must stay in the workforce longer, although they may have difficulty keeping pace with the job demands.
  • Up to 75% of those 18 to 24 years old are not eligible for the military due to obesity, illiteracy, or substance abuse. Yet, jobs that once were available to workers with limited skills now require competency in reading, math, communication, and the use of computers.
  • Trends show that this is the first generation to be less healthy than their parents, with epidemic incidents of obesity and rising rates of adult-onset diabetes in children. Yet, employers are hard-pressed to meet today’s costs of health insurance, and, while wellness programs are as accepted as mom and apple pie, employers continually struggle with incentivizing participation.
  • Although this demographic tidal wave has been stirring for some time, few employers have strategies to deal with it. That’s not surprising, when Peter Cappelli, Wharton’s director of Human Resources, points out that about two-thirds of companies do no planning for workforce issues at all.

    The confluence of these challenges means there is a decreasing number of available fit, educated, trained employees with a strong work ethic. While knowing how best to attract, manage, and retain employees has always been a key component of sustaining growth and high productivity, this is the only way to grow profitably in times of scarcity.

    A good example is automobile technicians, jobs that will never be outsourced. The rapidly changing nature of the job, coupled with the need for highly technical skills and a negative stigma associated with this career choice, have resulted in a shortage of 35,000 to 60,000 technicians per year, according to Richard White, senior vice president of marketing and member relations for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). The situation will only be exacerbated in the next decade when Boomer-generation technicians enter retirement, with more than one-half of the top technicians expected to retire in the next 10 years.

    White strongly believes the solution is local and not national, according to “The Growing Scarcity of Qualified Auto Technicians” on search-autoparts.com. “The quality repair shops are involved with schools in their community and are willing to mentor young people,” he notes. “They pay their employees fairly and run a clean, professional business. They treat their employees with respect, and in turn, their employees have a positive self-image that is portrayed to colleagues and customers.”

    Employers need to ask some serious questions: Are they the employer of choice in their area — the one that everyone wants to work for? Do their top employees regularly refer qualified candidates for hire? With rigorous hiring standards and high performance expectations, can they select and retain the best employees for the job? Which employees do they want to attract and retain, and how are they going to develop them?

    While the parameters defining ‘employer of choice’ will vary by industry and location, there are commonalities. Clearly, attractive salaries and wages, job security, advancement opportunities, rich benefits, flexibility, desirable perks, managers who treat their employees well, and ethical practices are all on the list.

    Each year, Fortune partners with the Great Place to Work Institute to pick the ‘100 Best Large Companies to Work for in America,’ and with the Society for Human Resource Management to pick the ‘50 Best Small and Medium Companies.’ Selections are made based on management’s credibility, job satisfaction, respect, fairness, and camaraderie — and, to a lesser degree, demographic makeup, pay and benefit programs, the company’s management philosophy, methods of internal communications, opportunities, compensation practices, and diversity efforts.

    Taking steps — such as employee surveys, retention, and exit interviews — to understand what motivates and drives employees and potential employees is key to becoming an employer of choice. For two consecutive years, Google has topped the list of large employers, and while financial security and flexibility are key attractions, the ‘opportunity to get things done’ is at the top of the list as well.

    Many companies might claim that they cannot afford to be among this group, but, in truth, they need to recognize that they must structure their budgets, priorities, and cultures so that they become an employer of choice. They cannot afford the alternative; only those employers that can be very selective and attract, retain, and motivate the best employees will grow profitably.

    An engaged employee has a vested interest in an employer’s success, and creating career paths is often identified as a way to keep people interested in their jobs. While younger employees with high potential are the focus of career-development opportunities, extending and redefining career paths to all employees enhances retention strategies and strengthens productivity. For example, the older automobile technician may move on to service writing or be paired with new employees as a mentor.

    Creating an environment people want to be a part of motivates employees and drives performance. The dramatic turnaround of the Boston Celtics from the worst team in 2007 to NBA champions a year later offers a valuable lesson. Three of the league’s top players (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen) sacrificed their personal glory and focused on a singular goal — winning the NBA championship — and did everything they could to speed up the team’s learning curve and solidify chemistry.

    Complementing this was the addition of savvy veterans who not only contributed meaningful minutes but also mentored young players to help them maximize their capabilities. The leadership of the Celtics was agile, attracting the talent they needed, fostering chemistry among young and veteran players, and focusing on a common goal.

    Stay in the Game

    Employers also need to be agile and responsive as they face the challenge of maintaining a healthy, trained, productive workforce. As workers’ comp professionals, we often see workers’ compensation used as an exit strategy. Pushing their physical capabilities, some older workers are injured, take longer to recover, and in many cases never return to the workforce. Not only does this drive up an employer’s workers’-compensation costs, but it also leads to a loss of capable employees with critical legacy knowledge.

    Constantly threatened with a double-edged sword — younger employees entering the workforce are less healthy than previous generations, and older employees are often working beyond their physical abilities to perform their jobs — employers need a strategy. While EAP and wellness programs are valuable and necessary tools, the best solution is to be the employer of choice. With ample job applicants and rigorous hiring practices, employers can hire the best and secure a lasting competitive advantage.v

    Frank Pennachio, CWCA is co-founder and director of learning at the Institute of WorkComp Professionals, Asheville, N.C., the largest network of workers’ compensation professionals in the nation. He is also president of a workers’ compensation insurance agency, and a licensee and trainer for Injury Management Partners;[email protected]

    Sections Supplements
    The Pros and Cons of Identity Scoring and Credit Monitoring

    The Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the understanding and prevention of identity theft, defines it as “a crime in which an impostor obtains key pieces of personal identifying information, such as Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers, and uses them for their own personal gain.

    “It can start with a lost or stolen wallet, pilfered mail, a data breach, a computer virus, phishing, a scam, or paper documents thrown out by you or a business that result in ‘dumpster diving.’ The crime varies widely and can include check fraud, credit-card fraud, financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, governmental identity theft, and identity fraud.”

    According to Javelin Strategy and Research, a firm dedicated to researching financial-service areas, nearly 8.4 million people were victims of identity theft in 2007, totaling $49.3 billion in fraudulent charges, with the average victim spending at least 25 hours trying to resolve the issue. Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the nation — accounting for as much as 25% of all credit-card fraud loss each year. Though victims may not be liable for charges made on fraudulent accounts, it can be extraordinarily difficult to improve credit reports. The theft of your identity can leave you with a poor credit rating and a ruined reputation, which may take months or even years to correct.

    To make the situation worse, thieves want more than just your money.

    In 2007, the Federal Trade Commission reported that credit-card fraud accounted for 23% of the reported identity-theft cases. However, the non-financial types of fraud, including employment fraud, accounted for 14%, and government documents/benefits fraud accounted for 11%. Non-financial types of identity theft include utilities and phone fraud; medical, criminal, employment, and government benefits fraud; and synthetic identity theft, where the identity is fictional rather than stolen.

    Criminals can readily obtain our personal data without having to break into our homes. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that, “in public places, for example, criminals may engage in ‘shoulder surfing’ — watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling-card number or credit-card number — or listen in on your conversation if you give your credit-card number over the telephone to a hotel or rental-car company.” Applications for pre-approved credit cards in the mail, which are often discarded without shredding the enclosed materials, roll out the welcome mat to predators who may retrieve them and activate the cards for their use without your knowledge. The Internet has opened up a global village for criminals seeking to obtain identifying data, such as passwords or banking information, because many people respond to unsolicited, official-looking spam.

    Once the predator has enough identifying information, they can take over that person’s identity by falsely completing applications for loans and credit cards, making bank-account withdrawals using the victim’s information, and engaging in other unscrupulous activities, inflicting substantial damage on the victim’s assets, credit, and reputation.

    Is Free Credit-card Monitoring the Answer?

    People are bombarded by offers of free credit-card monitoring that will reduce identity theft. Enterprises that are compromised by data break-ins generally offer free credit-report monitoring to potential victims. Are there limitations to the protection you receive from these free offers? Unfortunately, there truly is no ‘free lunch.’

    A study conducted by Gartner, the world’s leading research company, revealed that “identity scoring and monitoring is more effective than credit-report monitoring to watch for potentially fraudulent activity.” According to the U.S. PIRG, the federation of state public-interest research groups, 79% of credit reports contain some type of error. With so many errors, credit monitoring is not a reliable solution for identity-theft prevention.

    Notebook computers filled with confidential employee information are stolen on a daily basis, and data breaches and criminal access also occur at retailers, payment processors, and other types of companies all the time. Following a compromise, affected enterprises generally offer potential victims free credit-report monitoring from one of three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion, This implies that credit-report monitoring will protect customers from criminal use of their identity records for subsequent crimes.

    However, there are major deficiencies in relying on credit-card monitoring for battling identity theft. If you are an ID theft victim with a stolen Social Security number that was used in concert with other data that does not belong to you, such as a different address or date of birth, you will not be alerted. Potential victims are contacted only if their exact identity, including full name, date of birth, etc., was used to apply for a new mortgage, credit, or other loan.

    Most important, any credit-monitoring report will arrive days after the criminal activity has transpired. One has to hope that the criminal hasn’t done too much damage in those few days. Credit-card monitoring also does not catch the non-financial use of your stolen identity, and can, in fact, damage your credit rating even further.

    Identity Scoring Makes a Hit

    If you are given one tiny piece of a giant puzzle, your odds of being able to determine the whole picture are slim. With identity scoring, however, you get an accurate and comprehensive picture of the person’s credit-related activity. Identity-score systems tap into a broad set of consumer data that judge a person’s authenticity. Identity-score components used by identity-scoring companies include government and public records, corporate data, credit records, and predicted behavior patterns based on empirical data.

    Gartner Research defines identity scoring as “scoring the behavior of an identity’s or a criminal ring’s activities over time and across enterprises. Suspect patterns of behavior that show up across different organizations would not necessarily appear if the activity within only one organization was being monitored.”

    Credit-report monitoring is not able to identify criminal activity or individual records linked by stolen data. Identity scoring takes into affect far more attributes that clearly define the individual and their behavior over a significant period of time.

    The basic identity-score components a company uses in its ID scoring include name and address components; Internet monitoring of personal information found online on Web sites, newsgroups, and blogs; fraud information such as that found with stolen credit cards; behavioral-pattern analysis; synthetic-identity information, which is the information used to create a fake identity; and predictive analytics, which weighs behavioral data against earlier set patterns of behavior.

    Gartner Research’s July 2006 report titled “Limit ID Fraud: Use Identity Scoring, Not Credit Monitoring” indicates that “identity scoring and monitoring was explicitly designed to look for identity-theft-related fraud.

    Credit scores were designed to help lenders make good credit decisions. Direct-to-consumer credit reports and monitoring evolved several years ago when consumers wanted to know the content of their credit score. Consumer credit-report monitoring further developed as a way for consumers to directly monitor inquiries about their credit reports to determine if such inquiries were made for either legitimate or potentially criminal purposes.”

    Recovery after an identity is stolen is very important and very complex. There are many calls to make and steps to take, and, unfortunately for the victims, identity theft is often much simpler, and quicker, than the recovery.

    Low-cost Employee Benefit

    In our recessionary times and with medical insurance being very expensive, not every business can afford to offer health care and disability insurance to their employees. More and more businesses are looking for lower-cost, yet high-value employee benefits that will give their workforce peace of mind. Identity protection is a value-added benefit that companies are offering to their employees as a low-cost addition to their benefit package.

    If your company does not offer an identity-scoring and monitoring service for employees, daily vigilance is vital. If you are denied credit for no valid reason or receive new credit cards in the mail that you did not request, you may be an identity-theft victim. Call each of the credit-card-reporting agencies and have them place a fraud alert on your file. Call to dispute each fraudulent charge. The Federal Trade Commission offers an ID Theft Affidavit that should be filled out if companies don’t have their own dispute forms.

    It is important to treat one’s financial and personal information with care and discretion and to be vigilant about checking statements and accounts. When you are proactive about protecting yourself, your chances of being the next identity-theft victim are reduced dramatically.

    Jim Collins is president of HR Plus, a provider of background screening and pre-employment services, www.hrplus.com; and a division of Allied Barton Security Services, a provider of highly trained security personnel.

    Sections Supplements
    Enter the ‘Valley of Death’ with Courage and Confidence

    So you’ve decided to build a new business tied to a large growth opportunity that you want to exploit. You’ve spent some of your own money and time (sweat equity), you’ve convinced family and friends to support you, and now you’re getting ready to raise money from people who aren’t related to or friends with you.

    Presumably you’ve gotten comfortable with the risky, uncertain nature of your new venture. One assumes that the excitement of doing your own thing — coupled with the ever-present awareness that it all rests on you to keep it alive — is something with which you have become comfortable. Now you’re getting ready to get on the train that will lead you to growth and a profitable value realization event (exit) or to something shy of that.

    In either case, you’re planning to grow quickly and need to convince others to pry loose some investment capital to support your plans.

    Contrary to the intuition that suggests that serving a fast growth market will deliver positive cash flow (from all those sales), the reality is that young businesses — even those with strong early sales — need to invest ahead of revenue, early and often. These businesses use funding to hire staff needed to develop, market, and sell the product at hand.

    Capital will also be needed to invest in office space, business services, equipment and — subject to the product being developed — prototypes and manufacturing capacity.

    Unfortunately, most banks aren’t all that interested in this stage of your development. So, even with early revenue, you may need to pursue risk-oriented capital to support your capital requirements.

    Venture-capital investors are comfortable with this notion of losses, at least for a defined period, meaning one to three years at a company’s startup, generally speaking. Investors recognize that this is the nature of early-stage, fast-growth startups — investing ahead of the sales curve is part of the process. While investors would naturally prefer to fund companies that throw off lots of cash, it’s a rare startup that fits that profile.

    In contrast to the risk investor, you might not be quite so comfortable with planned, sustained losses. Likely, your optimism tells you that you’ll be profitable after a single year of revenue, but frankly, it doesn’t happen much — at least not with fast-growth startups. On one hand, it likely feels wrong for you to lose money — burn cash — at all. Most of us were raised to be conservative in that way. On the other hand, you need to invest money to make money.

    In presentations we give throughout the New England region, we describe the “valley of death” (see graphic at left), reflecting the cash-negative period that a product-development-oriented company goes through to get to a position of positive cash. The term reflects the statistical reality that many companies never live to see the day that they get to a cash-positive reality — i.e. they ‘die’ — close their doors, sell prematurely, etc. — before they realize that exalted state of self-sufficiency.

    Against that rather grave outlook, you could take the position that you’ll only invest as much money as you have available after paying your expenses. This may work in slow-growth markets but is problematic in fast-growth markets. Why? Well, you can bet that if you see a fast-growth market opportunity, others will see it as well. Those others might have more resources than you or may be more comfortable taking outside capital to support that cash burn than you do.

    So, while the conservative approach may keep you solvent — for now — wait too long, and you’ll see your market opportunity disappear as others who have a greater appetite for risk, losses, and taking on investment partners more aggressively capture market share at your expense.

    So, live bold, be brave, and enter the valley of death (or don’t) with courage and confidence. If you don’t make it out of the valley, you’ll have had an unforgettable experience and will be more experienced — if slightly poorer — for it. If you do make it out, you’ll have done something that will set you apart from couch potatoes and the more conservative among us.v

    Michael Gurau is managing general partner with Clear Venture Partners, a Portland, Maine-based venture-capital fund-in-formation; [email protected]

    Cover Story
    Those Driving Diversity Say This Is a Matter Involving Everyone

    Visael (Bobby) Rodriguez was exaggerating, but clearly making a point when he said that there are “probably a million” definitions of the word ‘diversity’ being put to use in businesses and organizations across the country.

    He has his own.

    “Diversity includes everyone; specifically, it is the unique combination of human characteristics of self and others,” he said, quoting from a page of a PowerPoint presentation he uses in his role as the chief diversity officer for Baystate Health, a post he assumed in March. “Diversity is the foundation” — a word he underlines — “of cultural competence.”
    And he defines that phrase, as it applies to Baystate, as “the ability of individuals and organizations to effectively understand and address the unique perspectives and health needs of all populations.”

    How all this manifests itself varies, he explained, but includes everything from the fact that the information printed on his business card is also in braille to Baystate’s participation this past spring in Northampton’s Gay Pride Parade, a first for the system.

    “Diversity looks at embracing differences, and means taking into account the needs of everyone,” said Rodriguez, who must have used that word, and with accompanying emphasis, a dozen times as he spoke with BusinessWest. “This includes males, females, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Moslems, Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, single mothers, people caring for elderly parents … everyone! And it means acknowledging differences.”

    Rodriguez is one of a fairly new breed of administrator, at least in this market, the individual charged with not merely defining diversity, but also institutionalizing it and formalizing it within a given organization.

    The titles for such employees vary — ‘chief diversity officer,’ ‘global diversity and inclusion executive,’ ‘vice president of Workplace Culture, Diversity, and Compliance,’ and ‘senior vice president and chief people officer’ are among the myriad contrivances now in use across the country — as do the written job descriptions. But their basic mission is the same: to drive diversity, however it may be defined.

    And this is not an assignment that amounts to political correctness or just doing the proverbial right thing, said Lorie Valle-Yanez, who was recently named vice president of Diversity and Inclusion at MassMutual. Rather it’s an extremely important strategy for long-term growth, one that touches everything from sales to the supply chain; from employee recruitment and retention to strategic thought processes.

    “It’s as much about diversity of thought and perspective as it is about some of the more visible aspects of diversity,” said Valle-Yanez, who came to MassMutual from a similar position at ESPN. “If you’re in a room full of people and there’s visible diversity, you’ll tend to have more diversity of thought, ideas, and perspective — there’s a connection.”

    Valle-Yanez told BusinessWest that, as the huge Baby Boom generation enters retirement, corporate America will be faced with replacing tens of millions of workers, and will be fishing in a smaller, historically diverse pool of workers as it goes about that task.

    Companies that embrace and effectively exude diversity will thrive in this environment, she said, and those that don’t will likely fare less well.

    Greg Michael agreed. He’s the executive director of Human Resources and the Career Center at Western New England College. He told BusinessWest that employers will face two huge challenges in the foreseeable future — attracting qualified talent and then keeping it, at a time when loyalty doesn’t mean what it once did, at least on the employee’s side of the equation.

    “The challenge for people in HR over the next five to 10 years is going to be hiring, because the numbers tell us we’re going to lose more people than there will be available to fill the slots,” he explained. “But getting them in the door is only the beginning of the issue. Retention is going to be more and more of an issue; companies have to look at how they’re going to keep people, and one of the ways to do that is to create an environment that is friendly and tolerant.”

    In this issue and this focus on business management, BusinessWest looks at how diversity managers will go about creating such environments, and why doing so is simply part of their work to create a ‘diversity strategy.’

    Not a Black-and-white Issue

    As he talked with BusinessWest, Rodriguez stopped to retrieve the June edition of DiversityInc magazine from his credenza.

    This was the annual compilation of the national publication’s “Top 50 Companies for Diversity.” Rodriguez referenced it to help refresh his memory regarding which corporations were at the top of the list — Verizon, Coca-Cola, Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, Procter & Gamble, and Cox Communications were the five highest scorers — but also to point out that the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit was ranked No. 40.

    This was the first time that a health care provider had cracked the top 50, said Rodriguez, who told BusinessWest that one of his hard goals is to put Baystate in that position, and within five years.

    “That won’t be easy,” he said, noting that many of those on the top-50 list are seemingly permanent fixtures that continue to hone elaborate diversity strategies. “Displacing any of those companies will be difficult.”

    But Rodriguez is committed to achieving that goal, and he says the reason isn’t the plaque that comes with the honor or the publicity it will generate. Rather, it’s what achieving that status will mean.

    In short, it means the company will have taken some huge steps toward becoming one of those employers of choice that Michael referenced.

    And that will be an important designation because, by his count, the Baystate system will have to fill roughly 18,000 positions over roughly the next decade, a figure he arrived at by calculating needs from continued expansion, especially construction of a $250 million addition, the so-called ‘Hospital of the Future,’ and also turnover and replacing retirees.

    But cracking the top 50 will also mean the system will be better able to serve the region than it is today, he said, because it will better understand the needs and challenges of the many constituencies that comprise the local population.

    As he talked about the work to be done at Baystate, and why he left a similar position at Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Florida to join the system after being recruited by a ‘diversity headhunter’ to interview for the position, Rodriguez used the phrase “starting from scratch.”

    He quickly elaborated, noting that, while diversity has long been a matter of discussion and, in many ways, part of the culture at Baystate, the process of formalizing it, or institutionalizing it, is essentially just beginning.

    When asked how he will go about that assignment, he said the work will take many forms, but the broad mission is to create a workforce within the system that is what he considers “culturally competent, and that reflects changes in the population.”

    And by that, he means a workforce that really understands how various demographic groups are different and is able, in effect, to get inside those worlds.

    “Because I have, say, 100 employees who speak Spanish doesn’t mean they’re culturally competent,” he noted. “Cultural competence means acknowledging differences and understanding them; it’s a male acknowledging that a woman is different and that he understand her needs; it’s understanding that Vietnamese women are five times more prone to cervical cancer than American women; it’s understanding that Hispanics comprise 20% of new tuberculosis cases.

    “That’s what I mean by cultural competence,” he continued, “and having it will make us a better health care system.”

    These are some specific examples of the many ways diversity efforts manifest themselves, he said, adding that his general job description is to make diversity a strategic initiative and not a buzzword.

    Policy Shift

    In many ways, Valle-Yanez assumed a similar challenge at ESPN, which had no formal diversity programs prior to her arrival, and she’s now doing essentially the same at MassMutual.

    She told BusinessWest that the company, which has more than 10,000 employees and financial professionals across the country, has undertaken a number of initiatives in the name of diversity. It will be her job to coordinate all of them and provide more structure.

    “MassMutual certainly has many efforts going on with regard to diversity,” she explained. “My job is to hopefully align them all so they’re all pointing in the right direction and we can leverage those efforts; I’m here to put together an integrated strategy.

    “It starts with understanding the business and its culture, finding out where the company is, and then putting together a strategy that makes sense culturally to create some forward momentum,” she continued. “A company needs to focus on how diversity and inclusion really help from a business perspective.”

    Listing some of the ways it helps, she mentioned recruiting and retaining employees, but said it goes much deeper. It can also help cultivate new customer bases at a time when demographics are changing, in this region and across the country — the term ‘minority majority’ sums up the census numbers in most urban areas.

    “Recruiting and retaining talent is a big piece of the diversity pie,” she said, “but it’s also about really serving the diversity of our customer base and reaching new markets that are untapped or currently underserved.”

    Summing up her assignment at MassMutual, she said it is to create what she calls a “diverse mindset.” Elaborating, she described this as “an overarching strategy that people can align themselves to.

    “This occurs when it starts to really take hold in an organization and becomes part of the culture,” she explained. “Diversity becomes top-of-mind, and people start to think differently … they even think about how to approach their work differently.”

    Valle-Yanez could truly be described as a veteran of the diversity movement, if one could call it that. Before joining ESPN, she worked for more than 20 years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and eventually took the lead diversity role as group leader of the Diversity Programs Office. She is a member of something called the Diversity Collegium, 25-member think tank dedicated to advancing the field of diversity and inclusion.

    She said there have been diversity directors on the West Coast for 20 years or more — largely because that area has historically been more culturally diverse — and that she has seen this trend, like many others, move west to east.

    Many large companies now have diversity directors and/or departments in place, she explained, and most colleges now have an administrator charged with promoting diversity.

    Myra Smith is one of them.

    A 30-year employee of Springfield Technical Community College, Smith, who has held several titles at the school, including assistant vice president of Human Resources, was promoted in 2005 to vice president of Human Resources and Multi-cultural Affairs.

    One of her first assignments was to create a diversity council. It currently has 27 members from several constituencies, including students, faculty, and staff, and exists not merely to promote diversity but also to celebrate it.

    “The council takes a look at all aspects of the campus, to make sure that they properly reflect the diversity that exists here, especially with our students,” she said, mentioning marketing as one area in which the council has generated change to what existed prior to its existence. “We began to make sure that we had more inclusion in the marketing materials that were sent out, in everything from race to age, so they better reflect the people we serve here.”

    Not by the Numbers

    Smith, like all those who spoke with BusinessWest, said that diversity is often confused with affirmative action when, in reality, it is, or should be, something different and much broader. Corporations and institutions such as colleges must approach their diversity efforts with such a mindset, she added, or they won’t reach their full potential.

    Affirmative action is a term that has come to describe a host of often-controversial efforts to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded. Diversity, meanwhile, according those now placed in charge of it, is not about numbers — although numbers are usually a good barometer of whether diversity programs are working, and they are a big part of explaining why companies are Diversity-Inc’s top 50.

    “I don’t look at the numbers,” said Smith, adding that diversity, as it has come to be defined, doesn’t mean setting out to create quotas for hiring. Instead, it means creating a broad, inclusive pool of candidates that will, or should, help create a workforce that is diverse and, in the case of STCC, more reflective of the student body it serves.

    To achieve this, campuses and companies must be, in a word, “friendly,” or accepting of people who are in some way, or ways, different, said WNEC’s Michael.

    “Everybody works for money,” he explained, “but most people choose to work in a place that provides them with qualitative returns on their investment in labor, rather than just monetary returns. Companies have to create feelings of comfort, feelings of belonging — that’s how they’re going to attract talented individuals and generate loyalty.”

    Like others we spoke with, Smith said diversity must be a top-down process, with a huge commitment from the CEO that moves throughout an institution. This was what happened at STCC, she explained, noting that President Ira Rubenzahl, who arrived on the campus four years ago, brought with him a firm belief in the importance of diversity and making the campus better reflect its student body.

    This commitment was soon adopted by the board of trustees, which moved to create and fund her position.

    This role has evolved since then, she said, but it generally involves helping a host of constituencies (especially students and future students) understand what diversity is, incorporate programs to help achieve it, and, in general, help prepare students for a diverse world.

    “You’re working to ensure that everyone in your business or your school has a seat at the table, everyone has a voice, and everyone is heard,” she said, explaining the basic role for all diversity directors. “Here, we want to help prepare people to succeed in a global world where you do have all these people at the table. To do that, they need to be knowledgeable and sensitive to various cultures.”

    Rodriguez concurred, and referred back to his experiences with Xerox (where he worked before Blue Cross Blue Shield), a company that worked hard to ensure that its teams and divisions were diverse.

    “It’s been proven that, when you have a group that reflects differences in people, the thinking process is different, and you bring ideas to the table that can be very innovative,” he explained. “If I have a team that is only white males or white females, you’re going to get the same input — and output. But if you bring a diverse group together, you’re going to get better input and better ideas.”

    Diversity efforts come with a price tag, say those we spoke with, and one that is not insignificant.

    But rather than a cost, most consider such an expenditure an investment that should, or must, be made.

    “It is an investment, and one we see as critical to our mission,” said Paula Dennison, senior vice president of Human Resources at Baystate Health, who worked with other administrators to create a budget for diversity efforts and then hire an experienced veteran in that field such as Rodriguez.

    “We need someone with the expertise needed to get us where we want to be,” she explained. “This is an important strategic initiative for us.”

    Debra Palermino used similar words to describe the mindset at massMutual, which she serves as vice president of Corporate Human Resources.

    “We have a clear mandate from our CEO [Stuart Reese] that this is not just a workforce imperative, it’s a business imperative,” she explained. “This is a long-term business, and we need to understand our demographics; we’re looking to diversify our sales force, diversify our products and the way we bring them to the market, diversify the customer base, and, because we’re doing all this, we have to diversify our workforce.”

    The Last Word

    Summing up his ultra-broad job description, Rodriguez said his task is to “embed” diversity into everything at Baystate, from hiring to the menu in the cafeteria; from marketing to the supply chain; from community involvement to his business cards.

    Only when such a state is reached can a company or institution truly be “culturally competent,” he explained, adding that, while this phrase doesn’t dominate all of those of millions of definitions of diversity, it does his.

    And so it might be fair to say that his real job description is to make definitive changes.


    Baystate Mary Lane Hospital Honored

    WARE — Baystate Mary Lane Hospital, a 31-bed community hospital in Ware, and a member of Baystate Health, was named as a 2008 PRC Five-Star Hospital in a number of clinical areas for scoring in the top 10% nationally. BMLH is one of only 27 hospitals in the nation to receive four five-star awards. Professional Research Consultants Inc. (PRC) is a health care marketing research company headquartered in Omaha, Neb. PRC is the organization that Baystate Mary Lane Hospital uses to gauge patient-satisfaction levels. PRC’s Five-Star Excellence Award is a designation given annually to health care facilities that score in the top 10% of PRC’s national hospital perception database for the prior year. It is based on the percentage of patients who rate the hospital’s service in a particular area as “Excellent.” The Five Star Awards received by BMLH were:

    • Five Star Excellence Award Med/Surg — for scoring in the top 10% nationally for ‘excellent’ responses for inpatient medical/surgical overall quality of care;
    • Five Star Excellence Award Ob/Gyn — for scoring in the top 10% nationally for ‘excellent’ responses for inpatient ob/gyn services overall quality of care;
    • Five Star Excellence Award BMLH — for scoring in the top 10% nationally for ‘excellent’ responses for outpatient surgery services overall quality of care; and
    • Five Star Excellence Award BMLH — for scoring in the top 10% nationally for ‘excellent’ responses for inpatient services overall quality of care.

    Whalley Wins $18 Million State Contract

    SOUTHWICK— Whalley Computer Associates (WCA), one of the leading independent computer hardware and software resellers and system integrators in Massachusetts, was recently selected by the state to supply products under the ITC36 state contract. The state anticipates that $18 million of technology peripherals will be conducted through this contract. One of only two vendors selected, the contract allows WCA to provide IT supply and accessory products such as hard drives, memory, system boards, and more that will support the statewide contract for IT computer hardware and services for state organizations.

    ESB Supports Food Bank, Recycles for a Cause

    EASTHAMPTON — Easthampton Savings Bank recently contributed $5,000 to the Food Bank of Western Mass. The gift is part of ESB’s continuing $25,000 commitment to help the Food Bank feed people in need. “With the rising costs of food, we’re aware that more people are relying on the food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, elder programs, and child care centers that the Food Bank supplies,” said William Hogan, president and CEO of ESB. “We are gratified that our pledge can help the food bank reduce hunger here in Western Mass.” In other news, the ESB systems department donated several hundred dollars from its recent employee computer-recycling day to the Easthampton Council on Aging Enrichment Center for its technology needs. Bank employees donated a small fee to bring in their old computers, monitors, and printers to the bank for recycling.

    Spalding Introduces Rookie Gear

    SPRINGFIELD — Spalding is introducing Spalding Rookie Gear, a sporting-goods line of youth-sized basketballs, footballs, and soccer balls that weigh 25% less than standard youth products. Specifically engineered for the more than 40 million children ages 8 and under, Spalding Rookie Gear’s authentic, innovative product line is designed so kids can shoot, rebound, kick, and throw more easily and successfully, and with better form. “We want kids to enjoy, embrace, and achieve early success in sports,” said Bob Llewellyn, director of Consumer Marketing for Spalding. “Spalding Rookie Gear is all about keeping young athletes in the game because playing with a lighter ball builds confidence, enables sound fundamental skills, and keeps a child active. The end result is making sports more fun to play.” According to Llewellyn, youth products are traditionally made smaller in size but not appropriately weighted, which can lead to improper form, lack of success, and eventual frustration, which ultimately takes the fun out of play.

    Berkshire Bank Featured in American Banker Article

    PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank has been featured in the July 8 issue of American Banker, the financial-services newspaper focused exclusively on the banking and financial-services industry since 1835. The article discusses the bank’s 2007 introduction of its brand identity as “America’s Most Exciting Bank.”

    The article reports on the bank’s success in winning over and engaging new customers and energizing its staff. Sean A. Gray, senior vice president of Retail Banking, stated that the theme of excitement “allows us an emotional connection to our customers.” He added, “I really do believe we have the ability to be exciting because of the autonomy we have in the workplace.” Michael P. Daly, president and CEO, added, “we always believed that if employees feel good about what they’re doing, it will be contagious.” The article reports on the bank’s strong deposit growth and higher earnings in the first quarter of 2008. It also reports on the bank’s largest market share in its traditional Berkshire County market, and on its expansion into contiguous markets in Springfield, Albany, N.Y., and Southern Vermont. It also noted the importance of safety and solidity in bank marketing.

    Baystate Medical Center Is Again Named One of America’s Top Hospitals

    SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Medical Center garnered national recognition as one of the country’s best hospitals for the second year in a row, as the annual hospital rankings compiled by U.S. News and World Report placed Baystate in the top 173 of more than 5,400 medical centers nationwide. Baystate’s medical and surgical endocrinology programs led the hospital to the distinction, placing alongside some of the top endocrinology programs in the U.S. “This honor serves as a tribute to the hard work, dedication, and teamwork of the doctors, nurses, and staff in our endocrinology and bariatric surgery departments — as well as our pathology and clinical laboratory colleagues — and to those who laid the foundation for this success in years past,” said Dr. J. Enrique Silva, chief of the Baystate Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. “It’s very gratifying to receive this national recognition, especially in a specialty as important as endocrinology to the community we serve. In addition, it’s an added stimulus to continue our mission, to reach out to the community for preventive interventions, and to continue to develop groundbreaking research in this field of medicine.” Dr. Loring S. Flint, senior vice president, Medical Affairs, Baystate Health, said the rankings demonstrate Baystate is a clinically excellent hospital. “We’re proud to be part of such a select group of care providers,” he said. “It means even more that our programs in endocrinology and obesity surgery are being particularly honored, since their work is so integral to our mission of improving the health of the people in our communities.” The U.S. News & World Report rankings, which honor Baystate for the second consecutive year, weigh three elements equally: reputation, death rate, and a set of care-related factors such as nursing and patient services. In 12 specialties, including endocrinology, hospitals have to pass through several gates to be ranked and considered a ‘best’ hospital. Baystate Medical Center is the only medical center in Western Mass. to be recognized by U.S. News this year.

    GCC Receives ‘Promise of Nursing’ Grant

    GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College announced that it has received $25,000 from the Foundation of National Student Nurses Association’s ‘Promise of Nursing’ program. The funds will be used to develop and implement a recruitment effort directed at licensed practical nurses who are eligible to enroll directly into the second-year nursing program and graduate with their associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN) at the end of that year. “The LPN-to-RN bridge is the shortest route to becoming a registered nurse and, with enhanced advising and counseling support during the program, the most efficient and successful route to full employment in the nursing profession,” said Terri Mariani, GCC’s Nursing program director. GCC will collaborate with area long-term-care facilities, including Amherst Extended Care in Amherst; Buckley Nursing Home and Charlene Manor in Greenfield; Farren Care Center in Turners Falls; Heritage Hall Extended Care Facility in Agawam; Linda Manor, Northampton Nursing Home, and the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Northampton; and SunBridge Care & Rehabilitation in Hadley, to identify LPNs in their employment and assist with the transition to nursing school. GCC will use a two-pronged approach to recruit and support the targeted LPNs: first, develop and disseminate a variety of recruitment materials, such as brochures, flyers, mailers, and recruitment fair props, for the GCC ADN program that will market the program and make the case for moving from LPN to RN credentials. Secondly, GCC will extend the enhanced first-year student-retention activities, such as counseling and tutoring support, to the newly recruited second-year students. The LPNs may have completed their schooling many years in the past and may require additional support for math and science coursework, or their level of comfort with being back in school may be low — or both circumstances may be true, requiring the full range of academic and counseling support services. All GCC nursing faculty and staff will work to identify and assist each entrant to the second-year program with both their transition to college and their ongoing scholastic work.

    Sections Supplements
    Studio One Inc. Puts Architecture to Work for Springfield
    Studio One Inc. President Greg Zorzi (left) and Vice President Dan Zorzi.

    Studio One Inc. President Greg Zorzi (left) and Vice President Dan Zorzi.

    When Greg and Dean Zorzi were teenagers, their father, Peter Zorzi, founder of Studio One Architects and Planners in Springfield, brought them to see an historical home he’d just purchased to renovate.

    He explained the importance of the building, its interesting features, and what it would take to make it livable again. Then, he handed his sons sledgehammers and told them to get to work.

    Greg Zorzi said this was his and his brother’s informal indoctrination into the field of architecture, and similar scenes played out repeatedly as they matured along with their father’s business.

    “The process went on for quite a while,” he said, exchanging a hearty laugh with his brother. “If he was going to work on a project, then we were going to work on it, too.”

    Today, that trend of sharing the load continues for the Zorzi brothers, though with different trappings. The siblings serve as president and vice president, respectively, of Studio One Inc., the company their parents started in 1974 and for which their father still works on a part-time basis. It’s a unique situation, because architecture firms aren’t known typically for being family businesses. But its principals, who assumed their new positions two years ago as part of a succession plan that passed the management of the business from one generation to the next, say this has become a core tenet of their “culture” — a word they return to often.

    “As kids, we would listen to our father talk about the business at the dinner table every night,” said Greg. “I think it’s those times that made us realize how much of daily life depended on this business, and we never lost that.”

    Coming Home

    Dean Zorzi joined the firm officially in 1987, and today oversees the creation of construction drawings that are presented for bid and to contractors; he’s also a constant presence at job sites across the region.

    Greg joined the firm in 1994 after studying at the Boston Architectural Center (BAC) and interning with one of the city’s largest firms.

    “It was interesting to see and experience the culture of other companies,” he said, “but as enamored as I was with the work, the experience also taught me that I didn’t want to run a big office. I’m so glad I had that realization, because it contributed a lot to how our company has evolved.”

    Tucked into an historical brick building on Main Street in Springfield’s South End, Studio One has a number of other family-owned businesses as neighbors — Mom and Rico’s, La Fiorentina pastry shop, and the Red Rose Pizzeria, to name a few.

    “We’re definitely in keeping with the neighborhood,” said Greg, adding that, like many of those other mom-and-pop shops, Studio One has been a fixture in the South End for several years, taking up residence in the early 1980s when Peter Zorzi purchased and redeveloped several blocks.

    From these offices, Studio One has developed a diverse portfolio of work, including historical design and preservation projects and work for municipalities, educational institutions, churches, residential complexes, and senior-living centers, among others. The firm’s work can be seen across Western Mass. as well as in eastern parts of the Commonwealth, including the Cape and Islands, and in Connecticut.

    Many projects are recognizable landmarks; Studio One spearheaded renovation efforts at the Austin Dickinson homestead in Amherst, for instance, and the Wilbraham Meetinghouse.

    On the more-modern side of things, Studio One has also helped erect some “landmarks in training,” as the brothers call them, such as the Scantic Valley YMCA in Wilbraham, the Sullivan Public Safety Complex on Carew Street in Springfield, and the Edgewood Gardens suite-style dorms at American Inter-national College, also in Springfield.

    In addition, Studio One has a particular niche in senior housing; the firm recently designed the conversion of the former Mont Marie convent in Holyoke into a 60,000-square-foot, 50-unit senior-housing complex that is slated to open in the fall, for instance, and a second new development on the campus is also being devised, with Studio One at the helm.

    “The style is reflective of the original convent, so it’s a nice mix of three kinds of work we like to do — historical, senior housing, and religious buildings,” said Greg, adding that the project has led to new work in New Britain, Conn., where the Daughters of Mary are planning a similar addition. “It’s interesting how work evolves. Who would think working with the nuns would lead to a new business niche?”

    Dean Zorzi added that it’s not merely the interesting sectors Studio One works within that he enjoys, but the fact that its services have become so wide-reaching.

    “One thing I really like about what we do is the diversity of the practice,” he said. “We have nicely distributed levels of expertise in different things, and we’ve realized that we can do that without being the biggest firm and going after every job.”

    Moving forward, Dean added that Studio One is focused on securing new projects in similar sectors, but also on continued work as ambassadors of the South End, of Springfield in general, and of the profession of architecture.

    “We’ve been able to secure a number of smaller jobs in the South End that we feel are really important,” he said, “and that we might not be able to work on if our business model was different.”

    Going South

    Such local projects are ones that Peter Zorzi will often take on, because they fit his interests in historical preservation and community development. A recent example of this work is the centennial renovation of the Mount Carmel Society building.

    “This was something he took on as his project, and the firm was very supportive of it,” said Dean. “It was one more tie-in with the South End for us, and led to other things.”

    Indeed, the brothers followed suit in contributing to the health of the South End shortly after the Mount Carmel project, drafting their own master plan for the area.

    “No one asked us to do it; we just did it, and now people are referring to it as ‘the Zorzi Plan,’” said Greg, noting that the document discusses several opportunities within the South End for redevelopment. “We’re studying various cross streets and intersections, as well as the Emerson Wright Park and what we can do to make that a more central, usable location.”

    The park, the Zorzis explained, is secluded, and therefore poses certain security issues that detract residents from using it. Now working with the Springfield Planning and Economic Development department to draft proposals for the parcel of land, Studio One is finalizing plans to reconfigure the area and make it more visible. “The idea is to get more eyes on the park,” said Greg.

    But the firm is also working to get more eyes on the city, as well as its rising workforce. A graduate of Springfield Technical Community College and its associate’s degree program in Architecture, Greg hopes to help create a pipeline from high school to higher education in the field.

    “Our profession is still one that requires a lot of training and practice — a lot of hands-on work,” he said. “We talk about the pluses of our work all the time, but we also want to walk the talk and help introduce more young people to the job.”

    While the Zorzi brothers may not have plans to hand sledgehammers to their interns any time soon, their interest in exposing a greater number of students to architecture as a profession is a trait they say they both inherited from their parents when the family business was in its early years.

    “We’re very fortunate to have the work that we have,” said Greg. “We enjoy it, we appreciate it, and we work to hold onto it.”

    The same goes, he said, for their neighborhood and their city.

    Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

    Sections Supplements
    Development Associates Is Adding to Its Westover Portfolio

    It never gets old, but Ken Vincunas certainly has this routine down pat.

    On July 29, a groundbreaking ceremony at Westover Airpark West in Chicopee will signal the start of construction on a 72,000-square-foot multi-tenant industrial complex that Vincunas and his company, Agawam-based Development Associates, are undertaking as a joint venture with an investor from Long Island.

    This will be the company’s 10th development in the Westover cluster of parks in Chicopee and Ludlow — Airpark’s West, East, and North — that are controlled by the Westover Metropolitan Development Corp., and the 15th in Chicopee over the past 25 years or so. And there have several other developments in area parks controlled by Westover’s sister organization, WestMass Area Development Corp.

    So Vincunas knows the drill — or the dig, as the case may be.

    There will be a gathering of Chicopee city officials, maybe the city’s state senator and representative, a contingent from Westover Metropolitan and the Economic Development Corp. (including director Allan Blair), Vincunas, and whomever he might be partnering with. There will be a few pictures, and then the ceremonial tossing of some dirt.

    It gets repetitive, said Vincunas, but never dull, because his various developments in Chicopee — there are more dots there than anywhere else on the map detailing the company’s many projects — have done well, and there are similar expectations for this latest initiative.

    To be built on a 7.6-acre site — one of the last remaining in Airpark West — the so-called ‘flex building’ will feature a yet-to-be-named anchor tenant, which will locate a flooring-products distribution center on 25,000 square feet. Another 47,000 square feet will be built out to suit several smaller industrial tenants, and Vincunas believes there will be considerable interest — enough to provide the confidence needed to build what amounts to spec space when the economy is soft.

    “There are always companies that are doing well, growing, and looking to get to that next level,” he explained. “Even at times like this, there are companies looking for more space, or better-functioning space, or simply an upgrade.”

    And this consistent state of need has provided Vincunas with nearly 30 years of groundbreaking ceremonies in Chicopee. The first was in 1979, when the company constructed a building for ChemLawn (now TruGreen). Subsequent developments included three buildings for Porter & Chester Institute, a large structure for Allan Ritchie Corp., and the first — and still only — building in the Chicopee River Business Park (a WestMass facility), now housing laser manufacturer Convergent Prima.

    And, while keeping Chicopee officials busy donning hard hats, Development Associates has also conducted similar dirt-throwing ceremonies across Western Mass. on its way to amassing a portfolio of more than 1.2 million square feet. Other developments have taken place in Agawam (including a recently completed 28,000-square-foot office complex), Greenfield, Westfield, Palmer, Deerfield, and several communities in Connecticut.

    Vincunas told BusinessWest that he expects to add perhaps six to eight smaller industrial tenants at his latest location in Chicopee, and that full occupancy can probably be accomplished over the next 18 months.

    If he keeps to that schedule, then there will likely be another groundbreaking in Chicopee sometime soon.

    —George O’Brien


    GSCVB Receives ‘Top Destination’ Award

    SPRINGFIELD — The Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) has received a Top Destination Award from Facilities & Destinations (F&D) magazine in its 2008 annual publication. The designation was given to 63 convention and visitors bureaus in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The GSCVB was the only non-capital-city CVB in New England to receive the honor. F&D polls its readers and association meeting planners annually to select the top CVBs. Criteria include: quality of the convention center, professionalism of the staff, hotel accommodations, on-site management, special promotions and services, accessibility, attractiveness of the destination, and other factors. The is the 14th year the publication has conducted the poll. “This designation is very gratifying for us, and it speaks to the quality of convention amenities in the Pioneer Valley,” said GSCVB President Mary Kay Wydra. “We have a number of advantages to offer to meeting planners and other decision makers, including top facilities, easy access, a range of economic options, and a dedicated group of front-line hospitality-industry professionals who will create a pleasant visitor experience for our guests.”

    Many Area Cities and Towns Have Lost Population Since 2000

    SPRINGFIELD — While there are some notable exceptions — East Longmeadow and Belchertown chief among them — most area cities and towns have held steady in population or seen declines since 2000, according to estimates recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Among the losers are Springfield, down 2,100 people, or 1.41%; Chicopee, down 777, or 1.42%; Amherst, down 599, or 1.72%; Greenfield, down 462, or 2.54%, and Northampton, down 567, or 1.96%. Among the big gainers were East Longmeadow, up 1,122, or 7.96%; Southampton, up 575, or 10.67%; Montgomery, up 100, or 15.29%, and Belchertown, up 1,003, or 7.73%.

    Springfield Offered Extended Repayment Period on Loans

    SPRINGFIELD — State legislators and the Patrick administration have agreed on a bill that would give the city 15 years to pay back a $52 million state loan — three more than the governor originally proposed in June. The plan, described as a compromise measure, would save the city roughly $1 million per year in payments on the loan. It is subject to the approval of the state House and Senate, and would require the signature of the governor as well.

    Three Businesses to Receive Workforce- training Grants

    SPRINGIELD — While on a tour of Springfield and its South End recently, Gov. Deval Patrick announced the awarding of workforce-training funds totaling $164,350 to train 116 workers at three area companies. The grants will go to:
    • Hampden Bank ($91,250) to train 79 workers in customer service and sales management;
    • Thorn Industries ($36,500) to train 15 workers in lean manufacturing and inventory-control systems; and
    • Hayden Corp. ($36,600) to train 22 workers in RAPID robotics software.

    Springfield Gets $2.1 Million Grant for Armory Street Work

    SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Deval Patrick has awarded Springfield a $2 million grant to boost business development through a series of road improvements in the Armory Street area. The grant will fund a complete repaving of two miles of Armory Street from the rotary off Interstate 291 south to Federal Street near the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park. The funds will also pay for new sidewalks and crosswalks; improved signaling to the intersection of Genesee, Taylor, and Worthington streets; and new catch basins. Trees will also be planted. City officials and administrators at the technology park said the planned improvements will make it easier to attract new businesses to that section of Springfield.

    Brownfields Assistance Agreement Inked

    SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has signed a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for $1.62 million to clean up brownfield sites in Springfield. Chicopee, Holyoke, and Westfield. The agreement, dated April 17, is the result of the PVPC’s conversion of its original revolving loan fund to the Small Business Relief Rules for Brownfields. The new assistance agreement will provide funding to the PVPC to capitalize the Pioneer Valley Regional Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund. Brownfields are real property, the expansion, development, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

    How to Make Your Business Stand Out In the Marketplace

    Everything has become a commodity; we constantly find more inexpensive versions of the same things. Companies quickly catch up with what others have done — and even a good idea quickly becomes ‘commodicized.’

    How do you keep your edge? How do you get remembered? How do you develop your SO — the Stand Out factor?

    Even though we know that new, different, and distinct is what gets people’s attention, most of our services and products look like what people expect or what has already been done. We are stuck in a pattern doing what we’ve always done. Bland. Boring. Blah!

    The issue is actually deeper and more personal. Most of us don’t like to stand out or to be different. We started off as unique and independent — seeing things in our unique patterns of synaptic responses. And then we were corralled into school. We were taught that the grass is green, the sky is blue, and the sun is yellow. What if, in your mind, the sun is not yellow but some other color? Our first thought is, ‘that’s not right.’ The universe has an order, and the sun has always been yellow. We perpetuate the conventional approach by requiring what should be instead of encouraging what could be.

    In today’s thinking or service economy, our value is in our thinking. Passionate performance happens when we have freedom to imagine, create, and innovate. Business and life successes are in the ‘could be,’ not in the ‘what is.’ The result is that much of the workplace, and the workforce as well, is now bland, taking yesterday’s approach even though today is different. Customers and employees become bored, and the effect is employees changing jobs hoping to find more excitement and the ability to significantly contribute.

    Customers and employees look for organizations that commit to the largest experiences and impact in what they do because it’s a lot more fun. And if an organization can be either ordinary or extraordinary, why not work and shop in a place that is extraordinary?

    In stand-out thinking, being different is key. The goal is to know what others do and insist on doing something better. We don’t try to fit in; we separate ourselves because, in a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. As Tom Peters states, “in a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”

    If the point of being in business is to develop a loyal customer base — those customers who return and bring their friends — it is not going to happen by doing what others do. Regardless of the case, it is about getting noticed and being remembered. Standing out is about creating something original, exciting, and dynamic.

    Stand-out thinking starts with the permission to let yourself invent. This happens in an open and accepting environment. It happens when your workplace is diverse in both background and experience and when all employees are required to openly invent, think, and participate in decision-making, and allowed to say what is on their minds. This is way to invite the new, the different, and the great.

    As we were herded into similar thinking, much of our ability to stand out was challenged, diminished, or eliminated. Over time we became great at doing what others did. We learned to be OK with blending and fitting in. The good news is that we can relearn how to stand out.

    Focus on the following two areas to get back in touch with your stand-out abilities.

    1. Learn to reconnect with your creative side.

    More than 90% of 5-year-olds are creative, but only 5% of 13-year-olds (and older) are creative. We have trained ourselves out of being creative. Train yourself back into creative thinking by learning how to revisit a problem, issue, or opportunity in the following ways:

    • Frame it differently. Make it a product, a hobby, an inanimate object, a cartoon, a food, a superhero, etc.
    • See it from another perspective: man, woman, child, minority, friend, enemy, teacher, employee, customer, affluent, poor, honest, greedy, etc.
    • Morph the problem by changing it to the best, the worst, an object, a person, a policy, a fruit, a car, a game, etc.
    • Link it to an unrelated item to see the correlations; identify how it is similar and how it is different. This forces the brain to see connections it would normally ignore.
    • Use pictures to visualize the problem, issue, or opportunity. How does the visual encourage different thinking?
    • View the problem as a color — what does it make you think of, and how does the color offer a new perspective?
    • Brainstorm using the phrases, “what if?” “how about?” or “just consider.”
    • Use word association to generate ideas.
    • Write a headline, poem, obituary, news report, or book title that relates to a business issue, event, or other need. This forces a new perspective on the situation.
    • 2. Build a culture of creative thinkers in your organization by taking the following steps.

      • Allow employees to invent and take calculated risks. Reward excellent failures, and punish mediocre successes. Encourage greater thinking. If you are not failing every now and then, chances are you are not doing anything innovative. Visibly applaud creative efforts that focus on value, profits, and customer service. Applaud your employees’ reach and innovation.
      • Break a few rules. Identify the rules that do not add value for a customer, business, or process. Challenge pattern thinking by constantly questioning everything. Be sure it is the best way to do something, respond, or make a difference. If not, suggest a change. Stand out as an employee who focuses more on value than rules.
      • Invent a creativity zone, an area of the workplace that is committed to standing out and extraordinary thinking.
      • Invent a ‘Creativiteam’ — a team assembled to generate ideas to solve an issue, invent something new, create an event, etc.
      • Require an idea each day from each employee. Create a new theme each week to direct employee thinking. Ensure that the only requirement is that the idea must not look like what is already done.
      • Create an idea journal and add to it each day.
      • Organizations that openly encourage all employees to think, dream, and invent create the possibility of standing out. And standing out is the only way to compete in this information-blurred and over-commodicized economy. Service that stands out encourages customer loyalty.

        Likewise, workplaces that stand out encourage employee loyalty. At a time where there seems to be so little loyalty by either party, a bold commitment to being remembered is a critical advantage.

        So, remember the bad Bs: bland, boring, and blending as a way of going bust.

        To succeed, stand out. Think unique, valuable, exceptional, and exclusive. Think success by focusing on what makes you different and distinct. Then help your employees show up to get it done, step up to do it right, and stand out to be remembered.v

        Jay Forte is a performance speaker, consultant, and founder of Humanetrics, LLC. He applies years of research, along with his training as a CPA, to help organizations maximize performance and profits through improved employee productivity, creative thinking, and customer service;www.humanetricsllc.com