Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hire for Personality, Train for Skill

Last month, I attended my oldest son’s graduate school commencement. The keynote speaker gave a fabulous speech about teamwork in the global economy and the need to have personality traits which naturally lend themselves to building relationships. 

Personality is something that cannot be taught - it’s inherent to each unique person. Job skills, however, can be taught, molded and polished to facilitate the job in which the person is placed. This is why it is so important to hire for personality and train for skill.

Besides the need to build relationships and network with an ever-shrinking global community, it’s important to respect the people with whom you work. A new hire could have the best-honed skills in your business but if mutual respect is lacking, your workplace will suffer.

So how do we find those with the great personalities and potential to excel in the skill department? First, pay attention to the flow of conversation in the interview. If your candidate is pleasant, smiling, maintaining eye contact and picking up jokes, she might be a great addition to your team. Furthermore, know the limits to the position for which you are hiring; some positions do require skill above personality.

Look at the skills upon which your candidate can build. Obviously, you don’t want to hire someone with no skills relating to your field, but there are some basics which translate to any business. For example, in customer service, a great and friendly personality is a must. In sales, a great personality can get you in the door but knowledge of the industry and selling skills are what makes for success.

According to, the five most hirable skills (and for the most part, inherent to personality and temperament) are: confidence; strong communication; concentrated purpose (goals); definitive passion; eagerness to learn. Being teachable is one of the greatest aspects of personality a candidate can have and it relates directly to the eagerness to learn.

Of course, there are certain jobs for which training for skill are not applicable (think doctor, dentist, marine…).

But for the most part, look for an innate sense of leadership and discipline. Provide resources which encourage new hires (and old) to improve themselves like lectures, books, assignments.

There are those whose personality may not affect their jobs. We have an amazing auditor who, in his interview, admitted that he was a complete nerd. First of all, the honesty was refreshing. Second, his attention to detail, focus and work ethic make him one of our best auditors.

So, next time you are reviewing candidates, pay attention to those with amiable and courteous personalities. Match them with a great leader already within your company and train for the skills to be successful. The other advantage to this is that you can mold this new employee to your way of working and thinking, making your business cohesive and more successful. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Statistics: what unemployment numbers mean to me

Every week in the news, we are bombarded with more economic statistics. One week, the unemployment percentage looks favorable. The following week, more people are filing for unemployment claims than was anticipated. One month the manufacturing index signaling growth ticks upwards; the next month it dips downwards.

Productivity goes up; productivity goes down. The reported inflation numbers show that inflation is negligible, yet my food bill is significantly higher than it was a year ago.
What are we to make of all these confusing statistics? What do they mean? How are you impacted by them?
For the next several weeks, I’d like to identify an individual economic statistic, define it for you, and let you know how I (as a business owner) use it in terms of making business decisions.

This week, let’s focus on unemployment numbers.

The unemployment rate is a measure of the prevalence of unemployment and is calculated as a percentage by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by all individuals currently in the labor force. I went to the US Deptartment of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics site and their May 1, 2013 posting said this: “Gross job gains decreased and gross job losses increased from June 2012 to September 2012”.

I think this is a roundabout way of saying that the amount of people that have jobs decreased from June 2012 to September 2012.

What the unemployment statistic doesn’t take into account is that people are moving out of the work force. Some are losing hope and quitting the job search; people are retiring (some feel they have no option but to take early retirement); others are moving from full-time to part-time; some are taking jobs at lesser pay (the so-called underemployed); some are on disability.

This is called hidden unemployment and many believe this is a huge problem in the US and our unofficial published unemployment statistics are much higher. Some published sites (Shadow Stats) believe that unemployment is well north of 10%.

The Human Element:
We all know someone who has been unemployed – either for a short period or for an extended period. The human pain cannot be quantified. Underlying these statistics are real people who are experiencing real hardship and economic restraints.

Here at TranzAct, a talented man left in January for his dream job. He worked with us in customer service and he wanted a job in internet marketing (we didn’t have any open positions in that area). He was at his new job for 4 weeks and was terminated in a mass lay-off. As of this date, he is interviewing but does not yet have a job.

I have a close friend who has been out of full-time work for two years - taking odd jobs here and there but nothing sustainable. She is very discouraged and does not have much hope for her economic future.

Haven’t we all seen the pictures from the 1930’s of the lines of unemployed people outside soup kitchens waiting just for something to eat? Could this again be a reality in our country? It’s a frightening concept and hard pill-to-swallow after we got used to the economic booms in previous decades.   Some would argue that we’re currently in an economic correction - but what about before we’re finally corrected?

What unemployment means to me:
When unemployment is high, we have more applicants vying for the same job. We can find employees with skill sets we are looking for. We can be more patient in taking the time to find a qualified associate.
When unemployment is low, we may not be able to find an individual with the exact skill set we are looking for. We may have to hire individuals and train them in the skill sets we are looking for. The hiring cycle is much shorter, as a potential candidate may be talking to several interested companies. Simultaneously; if you wait to 
make an offer, they may take another job.

What this means for job-seekers:
Just as the mantra in purchasing real estate is “Location, Location, Location”, my advice in finding a job is to select the right company. What does this mean? Look for a company which values its associates. Look for a company which values associates just like it values its customers. Look for a company which invests in its associates.

The bottom line is that there is hope! Get creative. A close friend of ours just landed his dream job by taking a few days off of work to attend a conference here in Chicago where his dream company had a booth. He invested in the travel and time to meet these people face-to-face. Just a few weeks later, he nailed the job and moved to Austin.

More Advice:  Go above and beyond what most job-hunters are doing (sitting on their computers sending out virtual resumes).  Use your network, call friends and relatives. 

This is all a cycle our country and many others have gone through before. Hold tight and know that it will, in deed, get better.

Friday, May 3, 2013

De-cluttering for Dummies

The sun has really started to shine in Chicagoland and with is, energy levels are starting to rise. I think this is why Spring Cleaning is such a natural concept; we’re ready to get out from under the clutter and dust of the winter hibernation. 

Personally, I’ve taken up a de-cluttering project at my house. It’s amazing the things we hold onto: old magazines; too small clothes; too big clothes; wires; gadgets; cards…it’s time to stop kidding ourselves and know that we don’t actually need these things. Though it may seem hard to throw them out, the second they thump to the bottom of that trash can, you’ll feel just a little bit lighter.

If de-cluttering seems overwhelming, here are a couple of strategies to get started:

1. Get 4 large boxes and label them: Keep, Give Away, Repair, Trash. (If you have a vacation home, you could add a fifth box of things to move there).
2. Pour out boxes, empty cupboards and closets. Things need to get worse before they get better!
3. Put on some music or your favorite TV show and start sorting! 

When it comes to clothes, the basic rule is: if you haven’t worn it in 6 months, it can go. And if you need a little guidance, go through your closet and turn EVERY hanger backwards on the rod. When you wear the garment, put the hanger back the way you usually hang it. Six months from now, you’ll be able to tell right away what you’ve worn and what you haven’t. 

Need another trick? Some experts say to go “shopping” in your own closet; if you wouldn’t buy it now, it can go.

De-cluttering and organizing can be fun. More practically, it can make a huge difference in your productivity. Though some people say that a messy office or house means that you’re actually working, I would argue that all that clutter bogs you down! When the space around you is clear and tidy, so is your mind and your motivation. A change of scenery can do wonders to kick-start productivity or turn a bad mood around. But there’s no need to pick up and move to a new office, kitchen, bedroom or closet, just make it look better and it will feel brand new. 

Psychologically, when our surroundings are a mess, we tend to feel overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done. In the back of our minds, we know that the unorganized state of our space means that our lives, our to-do lists and our schedules are also hectic. There are many things over which we don’t have much control (the time of that meeting, the kid’s school party…) but the state of our homes is completely and wholly our own.

So, why not start a de-cluttering project of your own? Get rid of everything that you don’t need; there’s no need to hold onto things that we may someday have to use. Use the kick-start of energy the sun brings to make a difference in your home or office and you’ll feel much better about rising with it to start a new day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tracking Your Time for Better Balance

How often do you run around all day, busier than you’ve ever been, without a moment’s rest only to look back in the evening and think, “what did I actually get done today?”. Surprisingly, this is incredibly common. Because women in general are apt to multitasking and mixing all the aspects of our lives into one task list, we feel as if we’re constantly busy but can’t quite quantify that work we do.

One of the best ways to stay on track and feel accomplished is to keep record of what we do during the day. It’s satisfying to see what we’ve accomplished or spent time on but it’s invaluable to be able to target where we’re wasting time.

There are several smartphone apps created specifically for tracking, down to the second, the activities which we perform through out the day. One of the best for iPhones is called aTimeLogger (or Awesome Time Logger). You can also search “time tracking” or “activity logger” to find what works for you. Many of these apps are meant for self employed professionals who need to keep track of billing hours but there are several (like aTimeLogger) which are designed to input and personalize our own activities. All you have to do is press the start button and you’re off. At the end of the week, the app generates a graph to visualize exactly where you’re spending your time.

No smartphone? No problem! Good ol’ fashioned paper and pen works just as well.

You’ll be surprised to see which activities creep in and gobble up the time you think you’re spending on important tasks. You will also be surprised to see how much time you’re spending on tasks you think are important but actually, in no way, contribute your goals. In fact, most of the things we do during the day can qualify as “busy work”. Think about delegating those tasks or streamlining them so that you can spend your time focusing on what moves you forward. Those who speak on success and high achievement agree that time is valuable and delegating tasks such as laundry, cleaning or simple paperwork will pay dividends in the future. For the most part, the amount that one would pay to have these services outsourced will come back tenfold in the amount of revenue producing work which can be accomplished in the free time.

So where are you really spending your time? Perhaps keeping track and getting a visual of your daily routine with prompt some change and make it easier to feel accomplished at the end of the day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Logistics News and Trends: Due Diligence Really Does Matter

Last week some industry publications published a letter from the CEO of Trendset, a freight payment company located in South Carolina. In this letter the CEO alerted customers to an internal embezzlement by a senior executive. While the amount which has been embezzled is yet to be determined, there is speculation that it could involve many millions of dollars.

This is not the first time this has occurred in the freight payment industry. In fact, it has happened on a fewoccasions and each time, shippers have lost significant sums of money ranging from thousands to millions of dollars. What is really unfortunate, though, is that none of the shippers had to lose a dime. If they had exercised commonsense and done the requisite level of due diligence, they could have avoided these costly incidents.

The articles which highlighted the Trendset event also included some advice for shippers on how to select a freight payment company. Frankly, we think the journalists missed the boat and made the issue more complicated and complex than necessary. In fact, here is some common sense, straightforward advice for companies that are evaluating freight payment companies.
First, if a proposal appears to good to be true, it is too good to be true. Recently, we talked to a C-Level executive at a company that had been burned by a freight payment company. He acknowledged that when he saw the disparity in fees between the vendor they selected versus the other vendors, he thought, "this is too good to be true." But he went with the team's recommendation to select the lowest cost provider and the company got burned.

We have talked with far too many shippers who regard the freight payment process as a commodity. They view freight payment as a commodity; auditing and paying a freight bill, or capturing accurate data is an easy and straightforward process that any company should be able to do. Since these companies view freight payment as a commodity, all too often, they allow the transaction fees to be the most (or one of the most) important criteria in their ultimate decision.

It never ceases to amaze us that companies who spend millions of dollars on freight, ignore or pay little attention to how valuable and effective thefreight payment process can be in managing and controlling these multimillion dollar transportation budgets. So instead of looking at or emphasizing the value of an effective freight payment process and the need to control millions of dollars in transportation spending, these companies choose to save a couple of thousand dollars by selecting freight payment companies who promise the moon, but deliver bargain-basement quality.

Let's be more specific. If you are soliciting bids for freight payment and you have a company that is offering to process your freight bills for 10 to 30% less than other suppliers, the first question you should be asking is: “What am I missing?”. To the best of our knowledge, there isn’t anyone who has discovered the “secret sauce” in this industry.

Whether you are manually keying a freight bill or receiving electronic transmissions of freight transactions, there is not a 10 to 30% difference in cost (regardless of where those bills are processed). And if there is a big difference, you may also want to ask: Is the freight payment company using a “pre-fund” process that forces the carriers to accept a discount for prompt payment; or is the freight payment company struggling financially and using their customer balances to fund their operations? Or is the freight payment company skimping on services such as not auditing all the freight bills? If so, these companies may severely discount their fees since they may need their customer balances to keep their doors open or will not deliver the promised services.

The second thing you should do is not rely solely on the references which the company provide. Do you honestly think that the company you are considering is going to provide you with bad, or weak references? Of course not! And that is why you should talk to your carriers and ask them about the freight payment companies you are considering in your RFP process. Ask your sales rep for the name and number of the Director/Manager of Accounts Receivable (some carriers call this the Revenue Collections) Department. Ask for their input or recommendations. Ask them if vendors communicate paid information on freight bills yet the actual disbursement is not received until weeks after the published date. This is a red flag!

Since getting the carriers paid is one of the most important things you expect from your freight payment company, you should verify that the freight payment company will allow you to control 100% of the freight balances through the end of the settlement process (a.k.a. when the carriers actually get their money). Under the traditional freight payment model, the freight payment company tells you how much they are going to pay on the shipper’s behalf, the shipper gives them the money and the freight payment company effects settlement. 

However, several shippers want to control 100% of their funds. This can easily be done and shippers should closely evaluate this option. If your freight payment provider is receiving funds from you and then disbursing them, do they have a fidelity bond? Or better yet, do they have an annual review of the suitability of the design and operating effectiveness of controls within their freight payment processing system, culminating in a SOC-1 report. Remember, all these "extras" cost money, and if you select the lowest bidder, many of these protections are not available because the low cost providers do not invest in them.

Third, shippers need to validate the proposed deliverables. Over the years we have been retained by law firms and shippers to serve as an expert witness in litigation against freight payment companies. Based on this experience, we have gained first-hand an in-depth knowledge about what is included in a typical freight payment proposal. Periodically, we like to remind folks that not all freight payment companies are created equally! We know that for some shippers, every freight payment company should be able to provide an accurate freight accrual and to magically decipher whatever data is sent to them electronically. Practically speaking, this is not how things work.

So, if you are considering retaining the services of a freight payment company take our advice: look carefully; focus on the big picture; do not choose on price alone; talk to your carriers and others - vet your vendor; validate your deliverables! In the final analysis, heeding this advice will keep you from potentially losing lots of money and costly litigation.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Time for Spring Cleaning

Though the weather hasn’t quite caught up, we’ve sprung our clocks forward and dusted off our pastel clothes. Spring is officially here. As the days become a bit longer, our energy starts to wake from it’s dreary hibernation and it’s time to implement some spring cleaning.

If you get to the clutter at home, that’s fantastic, but I’d like to concentrate on spring cleaning as it applies to our business and work lives. This is a great time to take a look at some of things that are bogging you down: perhaps you’re spreading yourself thin with too many commitments; maybe you haven’t been able to spend time on the hobbies or activities which help to relax you; perhaps you’re feeling guilty about the attention you’ve been paying your family. It’s time to take a look at what you can get rid of in order to make your life a little simpler and a lot more enjoyable.
As women, we tend to have an inherent need to do it all and do it all better than anyone else. But what does that really accomplish? If it’s taking precious time away from kids, partners, or ourselves, it’s time to let it go. And while family is incredibly important, let’s take a few more minutes to focus on ourselves.

First, review your major career and personal goals. Then take a look at your schedule for the week. Which appointments actually contribute to your goals and which have you taken on from feeling a sense of obligation? Now practice using the word no and the eraser end of your pencil. Clean that calendar up and use the free space for things which bring you joy.

Spring is a great time to get out and get moving. Exercise and a little sun-inspired vitamin D can do wonders for our temperaments, energy levels and overall mood. In fact, studies show that those with regular exercise routines are generally happier and get more done. Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean you need to bust your hump at the gym, it just means you need some regular activity. Doctors recommend at least 30 minutes a day. Try going for a stroll on your lunch break (what activity can you let go in order to actually take a lunch break?), or get out in the yard after work and get that garden ready to flourish over the summer.

This time of year is ideal for readjusting and refocusing. By adding more balance to our lives, we can step back and breath in the fresh spring air. So get some clarity and start your spring cleaning today.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Go the Extra Mile

Simply put, going the extra mile is doing what others are not willing to do.

People that go the extra mile are the ones that that raise their hand when asked, “who wants to volunteer for this?” Going the extra mile is reviewing that contract, yet one more time when it’s past 7pm and you just want to get home.

Do you go the extra mile? What does going the extra mile mean to you?

Be authentic. Do it for you! As Mothers, Wives, Executives, Assistants, one thing is for sure, we are always going the extra mile for others. You will be surprised how amazing going the extra mile just once makes you feel. It’s contagious. It creates a sense of accomplishment that will encourage you to go the extra mile again and again and will start a force in motion.

Start small. Do the little things right to build confidence and start building on top of the small successes. Something as simple as cleaning off your desk every day can motivate and energize you to take bigger risks and set off a series of events leading to major accomplishments!

So what’s holding you back from going the extra mile?