Recently I was asked to comment on “What is it like to live in Vermont?” My answer could take on several tacks, so I touched on those that seemed most relevant.
Vermont has a very human scale – it was something that I noticed when I moved here from New Jersey nearly 25 years ago. It was that scale that held the greatest appeal to me.
Towns and our (small) cities have very distinct identities. People tend to be connected to their neighbors and communities and actively seek out ways in which to sustain and improve their place of habitation.
There seems to be a little of something for everyone, though very little in excess. The mountains are large but approachable, the cities are diverse but not complex, the people are friendly yet still reserved like most Yankees.
Culturally Vermont still seems to be evolving to me. Burlington has a growing immigrant population of Somali and Bosnians, migrant farm workers are on the rise throughout the state, and people from other states in the Union continue to find the Vermont way of life very appealing to their lifestyle. It’s an interesting mix of Yankee, New York & New Jersey personalities.
The seasons are distinct here, though winter is the most dominant. We even include a 5th season – mud season! For an idea of what I mean by mud-season look here:
The spring is marked by Sugar-on-Snow parties (http://www.vtliving.com/maple/su…). It’s not easy explaining to a flat-lander the significance of Sugar-On-Snow, nor the ritual involved with it. It’s the end of a typically long and bleak winterand the celebration of spring and the renewal of life, not to mention indulging in one of our State’s most notable exports. I’m not really sure about the Dill pickle part, but damn it tastes good.
Vermont has it’s quirks too. We are welcoming to new people, yet not to new development. We claim to be green, but few people wish to crowd our views with solar panels or wind mills. We romanticize our agrarian past (and future?) provided we do not have to live downwind of a farm or know where/how animals get slaughtered. We want economic development provided the businesses do not bring too many people or infrastructure needs.
Politically we are liberal, perhaps too much at times for a healthy balance and genuine debate, although we had a Republican Governor for 8 years. And regardless of your political affiliation, you can meet the Governor and it’s not really a big deal. Vermont in population would not even register as a small town in most states. Often people from out of state will ask me, “Do you know so and so..” and quite often I do. We are all neighbors.
We are Ben & Jerry’s, we are Phish, we are same-sex marriage, we are “Quiet” Calvin Coolidge, we are “Freedom and Unity” (think about the contradiction of that for a moment). We are Vermonters.
I love Vermont.
Our April Vermont Family Business forum speaker is Jane Applegate. Jane is the author of four books on small business success, including 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business, published by Bloomberg/Wiley in all formats. She’s also the producer and host of Tech Essentials with Jane Applegate, an online talk show sponsored by Microsoft. Check it out at: www.myfirstserver.com, Applegate’s new website - www.theapplegatenetwork.com, – features video profiles, interviews and advice from national experts. Below is a recent post she shared with Cox Small Business Network.
During one of my first interviews as a young business reporter, a veteran executive remarked, “Being in business is great, except for the people.” I remember being a bit puzzled, but more than 20 years later, I realize how right he was.
Managing any sort of business – big or small – is tough, but most people admit their biggest challenge is dealing with customers, clients, vendors and employees. Since we can’t avoid dealing with people, whether it be in person, online or on the phone, here are some strategies that work well for me.
They are based on the thousands of interviews I’ve conducted with successful business owners, as well as my own experience as the founder of several small companies.
1. Never work with anyone who gives you a headache or a stomach ache. This is rule one in my book. Life is too short to work with toxic people. Busy entrepreneurs should not spend their time wrangling with negative customers or employees. You can replace all the problem people in your life with great people.
2. There are no bad people, just bad fits. If you have a problem employee, they are most likely not assigned to the right job. Sit down and discuss why they have a negative attitude. Are they overwhelmed by too many tasks? Do they need more training to do a better job? Consider job swapping or creating a new position if you want them to stick around. If not, give them the option to resign. Consider offering them severance or offer to pay for a semester’s tuition at a community college.
3. Honest communication solves most people problems. Asking people directly what is bothering them and then offering to do whatever you can to improve the situation, often defuses the anger. Just listen and let them vent. If you can figure out a way to solve the problem, do it quickly. If you can’t, tell them it’s not possible and suggest they move on.
4. Provide your employees with the best tools and technology is actually more appreciated than a modest raise, according to HR experts. Employees hate working on a clunky computer or a sluggish internet connection. Invest in new tools and technology and watch both morale and productivity soar.
5. If communication and counseling are not working, consult a local labor attorney about how to fire someone without being sued. Laws vary from state to state. In most cases, you have to document behavior and performance problems in writing and counsel employees about how to improve. Put problem employees on probation and set deadlines for improvement. Don’t be afraid to let someone go. There are millions of great people looking for work.
6. Cast a wide net when looking for new employees. First, ask your current team to recommend good candidates. They have a vested interest in bringing in good people because they have to work with them every day. Tell you vendors, suppliers and even competitors that you are looking for help. I’ve hired some great people that my competitors couldn’t hire. Be open-minded about hiring younger and older people. Although it’s against the law to discriminate based on age or ethnicity, many business owners subconsciously limit their hiring to people just like them. Back in the days when people wrote me letters to submit story ideas, my grandparents helped me sort and answer the mail.
7. Rely on gut instinct when hiring. In addition to checking references and verifying credentials, ask yourself how you feel when you are interacting with a job candidate. We spend more time at work than at home, so don’t hire anyone you don’t like.
8. Fire your worst customers. Busy entrepreneurs don’t have the time or energy to deal with crabby people. Let them go and I promise that you will soon replace them with people who you truly enjoy doing business with.
“Being involved in the peer groups offered by the FBI@UVM has made me a better business person. Our regular monthly meetings allow me the opportunity to discuss issues I face as they come up rather than waiting for semi-annual board meetings. The advice and direction given by my peers and by our moderator is always good advice and helps guide me in important decisions. I regularly encourage others to consider coming to FBI@UVM forums and to consider joining a peer group.”
This was shared with me from James Mount of Westaff, Vermont in regards to the Next Gen / CEO group he has been a member of since 2005. James is the COO and a 2nd generation member of the Mount Family Group which owns and operates 13 branches in Vermont New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Non-family employees play a critical role in any family business. Non-family managers tend to hold a very positive view of their respective firms, while at the same time possess a very different set of perspectives regarding the efficacy of management and the capacity of the firm for innovation and change. A recent survey of 200+ year old businesses found the following 3 reasons owners cited success across so many generations:
- Quality of product/service.
- Strong sense of family history.
- Willingness to employ non-family executives with unique skill sets.
The Key Person Group is for member non-family managers and executives form member companies in the FBI@UVM to come together in a confidential forum to learn more about the unique dynamics of a family business, improve dialog with the family and more clearly define their role in the growth and succession of the business.
To this extent, we are gathering together interested “Key Persons” and non-family employees to offer them their own forum for hearing from their peers and working to understand the issues critical for success in a family owned business.
This first meeting will simply be a time to meet others and garner support moving forward.
Date: February 15, 2013
Time: 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Facilitator: Dann Van Der Vliet
Location: Burlington Hilton
I write with great news and an update of the 1st ever Family Enterprise Case Competition. While there are hundreds of competitions focused on business plans and case competitions on topics as diverse as sustainability, finance, international business, marketing, strategy, NOT a single case competition was focused on issues and dilemmas unique to family enterprises.
We are proud to announce that we have an incredible field of 16 teams competing from across the globe:
- Universidad San Andrés Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA
- Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, CANADA
- John Molson School of Business at Concordia University, Montreal, CANADA
- Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, CANADA
- School of Economics and Business, University of Chile, Santiago, CHILE
- Universidad de los Andes School of Management, Bogotá, COLOMBIA
- Universidad Panamericana, Campus Guadalajara, MEXICO
- Universiti Tun Abdul Razak: Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA
- Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, Zwolle, NETHERLANDS
- ESADE Business School, Barcelona, SPAIN
- Jönköping International Business School, Jönköping, SWEDEN
- Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, USA
- Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia, USA
- Stetson University, Deland, Florida, USA
- Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA
- University of Vermont School of Business, Burlington, Vermont, USA
This event has come to fruition with the support of the global family business community. Numerous sponsors have seen the value in supporting this endeavor financially. Additionally, the call for judges has brought in various family business luminaries to share their talents and help support and craft this next generation of critical thinkers in our field. The judging panels for the FECC will be a mix of (i) family business owners/managers; (ii) educators/scholars with familiarity of leading edge knowledge on family firms; and (iii) advisors and service providers who serve these enterprises.
Competing teams will be provided with a case (that ranges from 2-3 pages to as long as 30 pages). The case describes a dilemma that a company in facing, provides some historical and contextual information. Our competing teams will get 3 hours to read the case critically, analyze the situation, prepare their recommendations and presentation. They will have 20 minutes to present to a judging panel. The judges have 10 minutes to ask questions. Thus, the case competition will test the mettle of students on many dimensions – ability to read the case and absorb its context, understand the issues, differentiate between symptoms and core problems, creatively think of alternate solutions, and present an actionable solution with an implementation plan that includes a time line of who should do what by when. Analytical, creative, and presentation skills are put to a test. To answer questions asked by judges, requires quick thinking. Team skills are required throughout the preparation and presentation. There will be winners and losers – handling either with grace is another skills that will be developed. Opportunities to develop networking skills through interactions with competing teams, judges, and sponsors.
I will be sure to offer updates after the competition and announce the winner of the Inaugural 2013 Family Enterprise Cup. Who will hold that prestigious distinction? We fully expect this to be an annual marker on the family business calendar each year. As such, we have already started planning for 2014 – with TWO teams registered, Università Commerciale L. Bocconi (Italy) and Babson College (USA). There are only SEVEN spots remaining for 2014. If you wish your university to take part, please register today: http://2014fecc.eventbrite.com/.
This is history in the making!