Workplace Culture

Finding value in bad reviews

Sometimes the smartest thing a business leader can do is embrace the bearer of bad news.

At Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI), CEO Paul Graziani had endeavored to make his company a great place to work. Company executives had freed employees to take time off to attend children’s concerts or other events. They encouraged employees to contribute to a “super set of ideas” for building the work culture, and reacted to employees’ preferences and needs.

Located in an area with few restaurants, AGI contracted a caterer to prepare free breakfast, lunch and dinner for all employees every work day, and even encouraged employees to fill take-out boxes with supper for their families.

Gradually, the roster of onsite conveniences grew to include car detailing, oil changes, haircuts, a fitness center, a kids’ play room, annual flu shots, massages and even holiday gift wrapping services. Those initiatives, however, didn’t instantly turn AGI into the coolest employer on the block.

Looking back, Graziani says one of the smartest things the company did was start taking ‘best company to work for’ surveys. Results from the early surveys were not complimentary.

Graziani admits that he was surprised “and frankly a bit mad” when one survey showed employees felt they were not sufficiently informed about company activities. Since its early days, AGI had held Storytime – a weekly, all-hands lunch that included 20-30 minutes of employees relating the coolest or most important developments from the previous week. The survey, however, revealed that employees needed more structured communication, especially as the company grew.

AGI executives listened to what employees were saying about the company’s shortcomings and used those responses as a roadmap to make improvements. They instituted quarterly Town Hall meetings to provide thorough overviews of company operations. They also retained perks and practices – even costly ones – that generated clear benefits for the company, such as the catering.

“Getting everybody together in our cafeteria for breakfast, lunch and dinner, exchanging ideas and discussing what is going on in various departments is very valuable to our company,” Graziani said.

Ultimately, those decisions earned AGI a host of ‘best place to work’ awards and helped AGI maintain an employee turnover rate of 3-7 percent in an industry that averages 21 percent turnover.

Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, 2015

The Servant’s Advantage

Servant Leadership

It may not be the hottest topic in business, but Servant Leadership is generating benefits for many companies.

Robert Greenleaf, an HR professional with AT&T, brought the concept into the business mainstream when he published “The Servant as Leader.” Greenleaf observed that the most effective leaders within AT&T and elsewhere were those who focused on serving, developing and empowering other people.

J.W. Marriott, Sr., founder of Maryland-based Marriott International, insisted that servant leadership gave Marriott a vital competitive advantage: “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your customers.” Marriott Sr. created a culture based on teamwork, employee training, internal promotions and “a caring workplace.” He even held regular sessions in hotel lobbies where he met with employees one-on-one and talked them through personal problems.

George Bernstein, President and CEO of Nobel Learning Communities in West Chester, PA, exercises a similar approach to business: “We have always had the philosophy that if you take care of the students, the parents and the teachers, you don’t have to worry about the stockholders … because they will get great returns.”

Bernstein structured the company to provide robust support, professional development and autonomy to teachers and principals. Nobel’s headquarters focuses on lightening teachers’ and principals’ workload by centralizing administrative operations, marketing, recruiting, internal communications, and other tasks.

Nobel conducts regular training and communications with teaching staff to update them on company goals and conditions, learn more about their challenges and aspirations, and lay plans to improve resources and services at Nobel schools. The company also grants principals and teachers autonomy to conduct their jobs in the best ways they can.

Servant leaders say their approach yields concrete business benefits. For example, while employee turnover in American preschools averages 55-60 percent a year, turnover at Nobel Learning Communities’ preschools is just 30 percent.

At MolsonCoors, servant leadership efforts generated improvements in workplace safety. Since 2008, time lost to workplace injuries has dropped 17 percent and the cost of workers compensation claims has fallen 23 percent.

Chances are you already are practicing some servant leadership techniques in your company. Expanding on those practices – including active listening, employee empowerment and strengthening support structures – could improve employee morale, productivity, customer satisfaction and your bottom line.

Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, September 2015

Balancing Act

Work Life Balance

American employers increasingly need to support healthy work-life balance among their employees. Beyond the mountain of evidence that an overworked, overstressed employee is less productive and more likely to quit, there is also a growing trend among job candidates to assess a company based on the work-life balance it supports. But how can you achieve this elusive balance inside your company?

Flex the clock 

Flexible work schedules have become a core component of work-life balance initiatives, and a highly valued practice among today’s workers. More companies are offering compressed work weeks, job-sharing, shift-swapping, telecommuting, and time off for family needs or volunteer work. Many companies have replaced vacation and sick time with a bank of paid time off (PTO). The practice gives employees greater freedom to manage their time. By limiting the amount of PTO that can be carried over from one year to the next, employers also ensure that individuals take sufficient time off to be rested and remain productive.

Some companies have taken flex time to new levels. For example, one accounting firm realized that many employees’ work was heavily concentrated around tax season. So, the firm offered those employees the option to work a compressed, 11-month year.

Improve time management

Mike Steinerd, Director of Recruiting at Indeed, stressed that good time management is vital to achieving balance. “Work-life balance is often dependent on efficiency and professionalism,” he said. “When management and employees are dedicated to their jobs and work hard during business hours, it gives them the flexibility to maintain a healthy personal life.”

Many companies fuel that efficiency by offering time-management training, streamlining business processes, avoiding extended or unproductive meetings, and even declaring periodic ‘no meeting’ days. When S.C. Johnson tested the concept of no-meeting days, two-thirds of participants said their productivity rose on those days and 16% said their work hours also decreased.

Despite all the pressures facing companies today, it is possible to foster healthy work-life balance—and the benefits to the company can be impressive. After all, a contented, motivated, productive worker is key to all of our success.

Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, August 2015

Internal Leadership Development

Grow your own leaders


When it comes to filling your company’s ranks with talented managers and executives, there are clear benefits to growing your own.

A study by Indiana University and A.T. Kearney consultants concluded that companies which exclusively promoted CEOs from within consistently outperformed others across seven key financial metrics, including revenue and earnings growth, return on assets and stock-price appreciation.

Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals, Chairman of WSFS Financial Corporation in Delaware, has frequently witnessed the benefits of homegrown leaders. He attributes those benefits to leaders’ profound ability to harness the power of a company’s culture.

“Most successful organizations which have a continual legacy of strong performance, have a very strong culture. Perpetuating the right culture is the most important thing you have to do to succeed,” Schoenhals said. “The best way to do that is to develop your leaders from within – leaders who know your culture, are part of it and are going to fight like crazy to preserve it.”

To foster great leaders internally, a company must make leadership development efforts integral to company operations. Start by evaluating the management qualities and potential of all applicants, even for junior positions. Create a personal development plan for each new hire and deliver ample feedback. Then try these measures to boost your internal leadership development.

Create “Stretch Assignments”

Periodically enable employees to step outside their normal roles and tackle unfamiliar challenges. Stretch assignments can include temporary assignments to different departments, participation in a ‘manager for a day’ exercise or participation in special projects. Such assignments will challenge employees to develop new professional and leadership skills, and enhance their performance overall.

Teach executive skills

Help your increasingly specialized employees learn the broader generalist skills that effective leaders need. In a report titled “The five things I wish I had known when I was promoted to the C-Suite,” executive search firm Egon Zehnder shows how even robust development programs fail to equip many new executives with the essential, soft skills of leadership. Those include the ability to empower employees, create strong teams, collaborate effectively, motivate individuals, relate to customers, and both give and solicit productive feedback.

Implementing in-house leadership development measures could help your company tap stronger leaders, experience smoother successions and generate improved performance. It will also produce short-term benefits, including improved morale, better employee performance, greater knowledge transfer and possibly some creative solutions to your business challenges.

Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, May 2015

Diversity is key for future of local banking

Biz Journal 3-6-2015

Written by Jeff Blumenthal
Reporter- Philadelphia Business Journal




Biz Journal 3-5-2015








 Alan Kaplan asked an intriguing question to panelists at the Future of Local Banking event. Photo by Francis Hilario


Last week, I moderated a panel of six local bank CEOs or regional presidents at the Philadelphia Business Journal’s “Future of Local Banking” event, which included about 130 audience members — almost all of whom are connected to the industry in some fashion.

Our panel, diverse in terms of the size and geography of the institutions they represent, answered questions regarding finding innovative ways to offset earnings pressure related to net interest margin compression, the heightened and broader competition for lending, cyber security, the direction of branching and the burdens of increased regulatory compliance requirements.

But perhaps the most intriguing question came from an audience member, Alan Kaplan, CEO of Kaplan Partners, a Wynnewood-based executive search firm focused on the financial services sector. Kaplan asked what banks were doing to develop talent because the pool of applicants for banking jobs is getting smaller.

As Kaplan was speaking, I peered around the room and saw just one person of color (who I later discovered was an IT vendor looking to make banking connections). So I added a diversity focus to Kaplan’s question. Out of 110 local banks, there are just four women and one person of color (United Bank of Philadelphia CEO Evelyn Smalls counts as both) who are a CEO or regional president of a local bank.

Back when Philadelphia’s biggest banks were all based in Center City and not Charlotte, N.C.; Pittsburgh, Rhode Island, San Francisco or Toronto, they had large training programs that produced the next generation of lenders and executives. But those programs died out a generation ago, leaving a less formal entry into the profession.

The responses from our panelists did not break much new ground. They said they were committed to growing their own talent and have placed an emphasis on diversity. Kaplan told me later that he thinks local bankers are sensitive to the need for improving diversity numbers and having a deeper overall talent pool entering the profession.

One senior lender told me afterwards that the fact that most of the panelists said their banks did not have formal training programs was “interesting and maybe somewhat concerning” because “since the beginning of time, banking has been and will always be a people business.”

A bank CEO told me that the diversity issue was “frustrating.” Even though his bank is more diverse than it ever has been, the further you go up the organization’s hierarchy, the less diverse it seems to be.

“I attribute that to higher-level executives being 20-plus year industry veterans and banking 20-plus years ago was even less diverse than today,” the banker said on condition of anonymity. “We have about 10 individuals today with 10 years’ experience and, hopefully — if they stay in banking — they will be future executive leaders. I cannot tell you how hard it was to find a senior executive female — though after six months, I finally did.”

This is an issue that bankers will have to figure out sooner rather than later. As society becomes more diverse every year, banks will want employees at all levels who reflect that change.

Career Coach: Returning to a Former Employer

Career Coach: Returning to a Former Employer
By Clare Trapasso

Is it a wise career move to return to a former employer?

Bill Borkovitz Bill_cropped

Bill Borkovitz is a managing director at Kaplan Partners, a Philadelphia-based recruiting firm focused on financial services. One of his specialties is asset management.

Much of it depends on how you exited.
If you had good relationships while you were there and you were honest about the reasons you left and treated them well upon leaving [by] giving proper notice and ensuring that they had coverage for your role, or at least a plan, then you’re more likely to be welcomed back.
The disadvantages would be if you’re truly going backward for safety and security at the expense of growth and challenges. You’re likely to be dissatisfied long-term.
Make no assumptions when you’re returning, because organizations change. One should really do [his or her] homework as though it was a new company before returning. You may think you’re coming back to a familiar place, but it may in fact be foreign.
When it comes to [former colleagues,] you should always keep an open mind. People do grow and change.

Frank Carr
Frank Carr is the managing director of MJE Advisors, an asset management recruiting firm based in Florham Park, N.J.

I usually don’t recommend it. In some cases, people are perceived as having left the firm, so there can be some negative feelings from colleagues or bosses. There can be the perception that they were disloyal. [Or] management may not trust them to stay for a long time.
If somebody left a firm at a more junior level, management would still perceive that person at that level. They may not be considered for other more senior positions. Sometimes [it’s] perceived by other potential employers as a question mark.
Oftentimes, management would understand that someone would want to pursue an entrepreneurial role [at a smaller firm], but then realized that a bigger firm was more stable and returned. If it’s within a year, the attitude of the previous employer would be more positive.

Steve Fleming

Steve Fleming is the CEO of Wall Street Options, a recruiting firm specializing in asset management, alternatives investments and investment banking, based in New York.

The key things about going back [are]: Do you have a tangible skill set? Do you have contacts within the company and outside the company that would be open to dealing with you as an employee or a client again?
Anywhere you performed well or had close relationships should be at the top of your list for potential career opportunities. The key thing is a positive attitude and being open to taking on the work.
You should be prepared for change. The people … that are now in more senior positions of power, who you may have liked or disliked, stayed loyal to that company and moved up. There’s nothing you can do about it, so accept it. Be open to change. Don’t hold grudges.
There is a risk in bringing in new employees because [employers] don’t know their work product or their track record. Going back to someone who has a proven track record, with reviews on the record of their performance and people that know them, shows a comfort level to management.
And rehires may come back with new skill sets.

Mentoring: If it works for Warren Buffett…

The realization that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates connect periodically to discuss the economy, technology, philanthropy, entrepreneurship and other matters has impacted today’s thinking about mentorship. If the mentor-protege dynamic has contributed to the phenomenal success of the founders of Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft, then surely mentorship is something we all should consider.

So how do you go about finding and fostering a partnership with your own personal Warren Buffett?

Look at yourself
Before you approach a potential mentor, conduct some self-analysis. Ellen Ensher, author of Power Mentoring, recommends examining your strengths, weaknesses and career ambitions. Identify your “growing edges” – specific skills that you need to improve – and seek mentors who can help you develop those skills.

Search widely
Conduct a broad-ranging search for people who might be ideal mentors. Scour your workplace, professional network, industry associations, nonprofits, former professors or company retirees for individuals you admire who possess the skills you are seeking. Look through your online connections to see if a former colleague might be able to introduce you to the subject matter expert you need.

Drive the relationship
Once you have identified a would-be mentor, make a professional pitch. Outline your situation, the skills you wish to develop, what you hope to achieve through mentorship, and why you think that individual would be an ideal mentor.

Lindsey Musselman, Manager of Executive Development and Succession for Vanguard in Malvern, PA, says protégés must take the lead in relationships with mentors. That includes identifying expectations and goals, scheduling communications, ensuring conversations are productive and succinct, and providing reverse-mentoring benefits to the mentor by sharing skills and jointly tackling business challenges.

Shun monogamy 
Once you have secured that first, great advisor, don’t end your quest for mentors. Experts in talent development say there is no such thing as “two-timing” when it comes to mentoring. Individuals need multiple mentors to address specific skill gaps, provide overall career advice and tackle emerging opportunities. Tailor each relationship to its specific goals, recognizing that some mentorships will be short-lived, some will involve frequent contact and some will provide many years of rare, but satisfying talks.

Alan J. Kaplan is Founder & CEO of Kaplan Partners, a retained executive search and talent advisory firm focused on serving community banks. Based in Philadelphia, Kaplan Partners is the country’s only retained executive search firm member of both the PBA and the ABA.

Innovate on a Dime

Today’s high-tech, global, rapidly evolving economy requires HR professionals to innovate in order tap essential talent. But before you start feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of mastering another cloud-based, agile, business intelligence system—or mustering the funds to pay for it—remember one fundamental truth: Innovation doesn’t have to be high-tech or big-budget to be effective.

Kristen Hess Chang, Vice President of Talent Management at LLR Partners in Philadelphia, has devised several economical innovations that demonstrate how low-budget innovation can be a powerful human resources tool.  Here are two of Chang’s low-budget, big-impact innovations that you might want to consider in your own company.

Free social media
“I don’t know why more companies don’t use LinkedIn. It’s free,” Chang said.

Social networking still ranks as one of the biggest innovations in talent acquisition in recent years and LinkedIn leads social networks as a tool for identifying and attracting talented job candidates. Chang developed a cheat sheet of best practices for LLR Partners and its portfolio companies to optimize their presence and branding on LinkedIn, effectively use LinkedIn searches, and clearly indicate which individuals are the conduits to careers inside their companies.

Dashboard on a budget
The evolution of elite business intelligence and performance management systems has enabled many large companies to develop detailed dashboards for each position.  These scorecards outline the role’s mission, essential skills, key deliverables, accountabilities, evaluation metrics and target delivery dates.

Chang spearheaded an initiative to create similar, but low-cost, scorecards within LLR and its portfolio companies. The process of developing a mission and associated scorecard for each position has forced company leaders to think beyond conventional definitions of each position, and evaluate what is truly needed in the company. In some cases, that reconceptualization has enabled CEOs to identify and tap vital resources and skills that he or she needs to propel the company through its next stage of growth.

Have you become too rooted in your existing HR processes? Are you daunted by the cost of adopting the latest, high-tech HR product? Step back from your conventional thinking and concentrate on frugal innovation. You may find that some powerful – and inexpensive – HR tools are within your grasp.

Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, January 2014

Lean and Powerful HR Practices for Young Companies

When you’re growing a startup company, creating employee handbooks, developing on-boarding procedures and other HR processes typically isn’t your top priority.  Great talent, however, is essential to the success of any young business, so great HR systems are essential too.  This can be achieved with a modest budget if you follow best practices.

Stay lean
Hire or contract one talented HR professional who is capable of tackling the big talent issues, such as the development of hiring plans and compensation strategies.  Fulfill the rest of your company’s tactical HR needs – such as the day-to-day functions of payroll, and benefits – by outsourcing to high-quality companies. This model serves many companies well until they reach as many as 100 employees.

Build culture
One primary mission of that first HR professional is to help clarify a new company’s corporate culture, as well as its core approaches to HR and talent acquisition.

Philadelphia-based entrepreneur and HR professional Ellen Weber advises startup executives to read the core-values statements of Apple, Zappos and other successful companies, then craft their own statement that uniquely defines the company’s intended culture and core values. Use that definition to establish “a minimal set of guidelines” for core operations, including how you conduct business, make key decisions, assess staff performance, compensate employees, and recruit and develop talent.

Hire tactically
Know when to hire a superstar and when to hire a yeoman. A good rule of thumb is to restrict those superstar hires to positions that are pivotal to achieving the next critical step in the company’s development.

And consider contracting recruiters who have specific expertise with the kind of talent you are seeking. Choose your recruiter carefully and acknowledge that you may need more than one, since the recruiter who brings you outstanding marketing professionals may not tap the best engineers.

Finally, remember that as leader of a startup, you can tap many sources of HR expertise, from contract recruiters and HR service providers to professional colleagues, investor groups, and industry associations. Amassing the talent to realize an entrepreneurial dream is an exciting venture, and there are many experts who will be happy to help you achieve that goal.

Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, 2014

Boost Your Employees’ Performance

In the midst of our continuing slow economic recovery, many companies have searched for ways to reinvigorate employees, boost performance and achieve heightened business results. Some have succeeded by implementing performance management systems, i.e. improved methods of planning, developing, rating and rewarding employee performance.  These systems go far beyond the standard, annual, employee performance evaluation.

Communicate Openly: Creating an effective performance management system starts with clearly identifying company goals, and showing how each employee’s efforts contribute to achieving those goals. Then, companies work to facilitate employee efforts through a wide array of activities.  Effective performance management requires ongoing communication that supports education about business opportunities and challenges, identifies and addresses skills shortages or other roadblocks, provides employees with feedback about their efforts, and generates an open flow of fresh ideas within the company.

Understand Your Employees: Whether you engage in structured performance reviews or something less formal, it’s important to understand your employees’ strengths and weaknesses in order to tap into or foster the skills needed to reach company goals. It’s also vital to understand what motivates each employee. Those motivations might involve achieving financial success, hitting sales targets, learning new skills or helping other people. Tailor an employee’s work to match their motivations, and you will have an enthusiastic, highly productive team member.

Reward Success: The annual bonus or employee-appreciation dinner will generate good spirit and motivation within your company once a year. However, creating a culture of recognition may motivate employees and boost productivity year-round. Remember, recognition should be thoughtful and appropriate to the individual. It can range from a note from the CEO to a new professional opportunity, a trip to a conference, a chance to work on a pet project, or a team outing at the end of a tough project.

An effective performance management system has the potential to propel your company towards its goals, improve your bottom line, motivate your staff, make everyone’s work more satisfying, and make your firm more attractive to top talent.

Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, March 2014