Discrimination and Harrasment Claims on the Rise

We are happy to have another guest blogger, Lauren Brenner, President of the HCR Group telling us what CEO’s need to know about Discrimination and Harassment claims.


When was the last time you distributed your Anti-Harassment Policy, trained your Managers/Supervisors on their compliance obligations and conducted Anti-Harassment Training with your employees?

Reality Check:

The most recent statistics are from 2007 and states that 75,768 EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) claims were filed, resulting in $229,900,000 in monetary awards (Note: this does not include lost company time or legal fee expenses).

In Massachusetts during this same period, 3,413 MCAD (Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination) cases were filed, of which 83% of claims were employment related, the other 17 % were filed for housing, public accommodations-related situations.

Of the MCAD filings the top 6 complaint categories were:

Disability – 20.5%
Sex – 17.4%
Race – 19.3%
Retaliation – 13%
Age – 9.4%
National Origin – 8.8%

What Can You Do?

Whether you have 1 employee to several hundred, you need to protect your organization.  This includes:

  • Training managers and supervisors as to their legal obligations so that they can help to enforce a zero tolerance policy;
  • Adding the term “zero tolerance” in all written anti-discrimination and harassment policies and procedures;
  • Conducting annual anti-discrimination and harassment training for all employees and maintain the proper postings in common areas in the workplace; and
  • Instructing supervisors and managers to report, and your designated Human Resources Representative to investigate any and all complaints made by employees, no matter how trivial or inconsequential.

Please contact Lauren Brenner, President/HR Division, HCR Group if you would like more information.

Announcement of the New BuyMass.org Website

Yesterday I attended a ceremonial announcement on the unveiling of the BuyMass.org website, a collaboration between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), an organization that supports businesses in Massachusetts and provides many programs and resources.

The event took place at the headquarters of the Roxbury Technology Company where President and CEO Beth Williams welcomed all of us.  Ms. Williams talked about the importance of using local vendors and encouraged us to do the same, now even easier to accomplish with this new web portal.

BuyMass.org makes it easy to connect with companies of all sizes that call Massachusetts home.  It is a Business-to-Business Network for services and products.  Richard Lord, President and CEO of AIM, also spoke with enthusiasm of the new portal by exclaiming “We want to lead the recovery, not follow it!”

Secretary Greg Bialecki from the Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development for Massachusetts participated in the official launch of the website stating the importance of collaboration between government and business.  They want to work hand in hand.

Take a look at the website yourself and consider joining. After all, together we can move ahead of the recovery!

Rudi Scheiber-Kurtz, CEO of Next Stage Solutions, Inc

Reframing the Marketing Plan in a Tough Economy

All too often in difficult economic times, as companies evaluate budgets, marketing programs and personnel are eliminated as a cost saving measure. In most cases this short-sighted decision quickly and negatively impacts lead generation, customer relationship management and perceived competitive differentiation. In fact, a period of market silence can make it difficult – if not impossible – to realize the company’s ability to ultimately achieve the market position necessary to achieve long-term goals.

Rather than starting by eliminating the most expensive programs and personnel, I encourage my clients to take a step back and rethink the overall marketing strategy with the goal of creating a marketing plan that is both affordable and effective. Such an approach starts with reviewing your marketing objectives to make sure they’re aligned with near-term business objectives and long-term business strategy. This exercise is especially critical for young companies, where functional groups frequently work quickly and independently from one another. In a fast-paced, siloed environment, it’s easy to develop a disconnect between marketing and business objectives.

So the first step is to eliminate any marketing objectives that do not directly relate to achieving the company’s business objectives. Sometimes this may require a total reframing of the marketing objectives. Once this is complete it becomes a straightforward exercise to eliminate those programs that don’t serve the new marketing objectives, and to replace them with a marketing plan and programs that do.

Consider the following as you construct or revise your marketing plan:

1. Don’t waste resources on unimportant items. If you are a B2B company, don’t spend countless hours and inordinate money on your company name and logo. Keep it simple. If someone can spell it, pronounce it, and it is unique in its industry and doesn’t offend when translated into another language, then it’s good enough.

The best logo for a B2B company will incorporate the company name. I don’t believe in spending extra marketing dollars trying to make prospects remember an independent symbol that is only meaningful to you. Beyond that, the logo also needs to be shrinkable – in other words, it needs to be recognizable even at a small size. If your logo is grandiose and overly complex, there is a chance that your company name will disappear when it is shown in a small format, such as when publishers or event managers squeeze lots of logos onto a page.

The same lessons apply to product nomenclature. Don’t make your customers choose whether they remember your company name or your product name – trust me, they will never remember both. Keep it simple by focusing on the corporate brand and sticking to basic product names when first launching. Once you’ve built the corporate brand, you can leverage its positive attributes across many product lines.

2. Invest in seasoned experts. Make sure someone is in charge of strategy, positioning and messaging.Hire the most senior person you can afford.Don’t try to save money by hiring a junior marcom manager unless someone on the executive team has a background in positioning and developing a marketing strategy – it will cost you more money in the long run.I’ve seen companies make this mistake over and over again. They hire a junior person who doesn’t understand strategy and who focuses instead on what they know best – execution and “look and feel.”The end result is a lot of expensive programs with beautiful graphics that are disconnected from a positioning perspective and don’t produce measurable results.

If you can’t afford an internal marketing person, then leverage outside consultants. In today’s world, there are plenty of independent marketing specialists (design, web development, events, public relations, writing, etc.) who are more than happy to work on both short-term and long-term projects. In fact, many are open to flexible compensation options (i.e., cash vs. equity) and are willing to work with you to build a solid program within the constricts of your budget.

3. Construct a Positioning/Messaging playbook. The most powerful marketing programs are those in which all program elements are aligned from a positioning and messaging perspective and “everyone is singing the same song.” The easiest way to make this happen is to create a Positioning/Messaging playbook that serves as a reference for all organizations, both internal and external, that are engaged in customer and market communications. The playbook should provide an overview of the company, product positioning goals, and key messages related to the company, its products, competition, strategy, market and customers. Once the playbook is created, distribute it as a confidential document to those persons within the organization who communicate externally with customers, investors and influencers. Provide subsets of the document to external marketing support personnel to ensure consistency in messaging across marketing programs. Treat the playbook as a living document and update it regularly.

4. Pay attention to your website. Most companies make a significant investment in the initial development of their website. The good news is that in today’s economic climate the costs of site development have dropped and talented web development organizations are easy to find. The bad news is that many companies view website development as a milestone event when in fact it should be viewed as an ongoing marketing program.

A website is only valuable if the content is fresh, current and visible. If your last site update is dated six or more months in the past, it sends a message that your company is inactive – not the perception any company wants to create.

Investing in site development but not search engine optimization (SEO) is akin to throwing money away. If you aren’t visible in the search engine results pages, prospects won’t find you. As noted on Intraspin.com, 62% of searchers click on links on the first page of results and only 23% of all searchers progress beyond the first page of results[1]. SEO should be an integral part of all site and content development. Investing in SEO after the site has been designed is like building a house without a foundation – a costly exercise that can undermine all the work you’ve put into the site.

If you don’t know anything about SEO, I strongly recommend that you attend a Bruce Clay Seminar or read Search Engine Optimization for Dummies authored by Bruce Clay and Susan Esparza. Note: one way to keep long-term site costs down is to invest in a content management system (CMS) when you develop the site. This will enable any non-technical company personnel to quickly and easily update the site without the need for external development support.

5. Communicate on a regular basis with prospects and customers. Maintaining mindshare with prospects and customers doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. Email newsletters, a company blog and phone calls are simple and cost-effective ways to reach out. Keep it short and sweet and communicate regularly. Invest the time in making sure that the information you communicate is relevant and valuable to the recipients. If your missives are not relevant, they will be quickly labeled junk. On the other hand, by delivering something of value, you’ll enhance your position in the mind of your audience.

6. Keep talking to the analysts. I used to be quite negative about working with the industry analysts. With a few notable exceptions (shout out to Tom Nolle who was fantastic!), meetings weren’t productive and frequently deteriorated into the vendor pushing for an endorsement and the analyst trying to coerce the vendor into becoming a client. A lively conversation about the market landscape and technology trends rarely materialized.

It’s a different world now. Recently while working with a client, I had the opportunity to meet with IDC, Forrester and Aberdeen and was more than pleasantly surprised. In all cases the analysts were knowledgeable about our market space, offered great insight, and engaged in a spirited dialogue. We didn’t have to beg for an endorsement. In this new world of social media, if analysts like what you are doing, they blog about it. Likewise, if they don’t agree with your strategy, they also blog about it or say nothing at all. It’s somehow so much more honest.

Of course, analysts would like you to become a client of their firm, but not at the expense of everything else. They understand the current economic climate and its impact on marketing budgets. They’re banking on the fact that if they provide real value you’ll become a client when the budget is there.

So the big message here is: even if you don’t have the budget now, engage with this community. They can offer a big-picture perspective of your industry that is hard to come by when you’re focused on your own day-to-day strategy. Plus they know your competitors and can frequently provide insight into who would make a good partner.

7. Leverage social media. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other social media outlets have given us efficient, cost-effective and useful tools for communicating directly with our key constituent audiences. Having said that, engaging in social media is an extremely time-intensive task. Just because all these new outlets exist doesn’t mean that you need to use them all. Social media options should be evaluated like any other program to determine which, if any, best serve the business objectives.

Once you commit to a social media program, it’s important to stay engaged to gain long-term positive mindshare. While the thought of producing a steady stream of content may seem daunting, don’t forget you have numerous resources within your company. In fact, one of the nice things about social media is that it gives you an opportunity to leverage the talent across your organization. Engineering, operations, customer service and even sales can all become credible public voices for the company. If you are new to social media and unsure of how it fits into the bigger marketing picture, I recommend reading The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott.

8. Swap out expensive programs for cheaper alternatives. Just because your budget is constrained doesn’t mean you have to eliminate programs in their entirety. Tough times require creative alternatives. Consider replacing a Public Relations agency with a freelance contractor. If you can’t afford a freelance contractor, then restrict your PR activities to social media oriented news releases that you can disseminate easily and cost effectively through outlets like PRweb.com. Instead of large expensive tradeshows consider regional seminars (you can charge for those to help cover costs) or webinars. Instead of printing collateral, invest your money in collateral content development and disseminate electronically.

In today’s economy, you need to squeeze the most out of every marketing dollar. That starts with a solid foundation (i.e., plan) comprising the most effective components for the lowest cost. Regardless of what programs you put in place, you can’t treat marketing as a one-dimensional activity or endeavor. Choose a range of activities and channels that will best help you meet your objectives.

I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure that every program on the marketing plan serves either a short- or long-term business objective. If you can’t articulate how a program does that, it doesn’t belong there. In tough economic times, the old rationalizations of “creates good will,” “is good for the brand” or ”helps build awareness” aren’t good enough. Every program that you implement should be measurable against a series of objectives. If the program isn’t successful, it should be quickly eliminated.

By taking the time upfront to map out your plan – and making a commitment to investing needed funds and the best resources – you’ll set the stage for short- and long-term success.

Anita J. Brearton | Managing Director | Golden Seeds, Boston | ajb@goldenseeds.com


Three New Services for Emerging Businesses

Our three new core service offerings help emerging businesses articulate their financial vision:
1. CFO on Demand. In emerging businesses, CFOs are often hired too early or too late; and all too frequently, emerging businesses hire a CFO who is not the right fit. The cost of these mistakes is staggering, both in dollars and efficiency: the average rate of CFO turnover at small and midsized companies is merely 20 months; the cost of screening and hiring two CFOs in a 20 month span can reach as high as $800,000, not including the disruption to the company as it transitions between the two CFOs. NSS confronts this problem by acting as an outsourced CFO on an as-needed basis. This straightforward method creates greater capital efficiency without compromising expertise and eliminates the cost of a CFO search or transition, thereby strengthening the company’s cash flow position.
2. Strategic Finance. Most financial services companies provide their clients with one game plan, strictly focused on the financial picture of the here and now. By contrast, the NSS team equips its clients with multiple game plans; a blueprint for every contingency. Moreover, the NSS plans are focused not only on the immediate fiscal present but also the future, not merely in finance but in operations and management. NSS recognizes that today’s CFO needs to wear many hats and provide the full spectrum of financial guidance to sustainable and growing businesses; governance, compliancy and financial reporting are still important, but they are just one piece of the job.
3. Collective Knowledge. When you hire NSS, you get much more than a pro tempore CFO. NSS offers years of experience – our team possesses complementary skill sets with varied backgrounds, implementing new financial strategies at emerging businesses. Our client-management system is geared toward extensive communication and unparalleled attention to detail. Our team meets regularly to exchange ideas about your company’s challenges. Together, they pass on their collective knowledge to your assigned CFO, who will communicate with you through weekly status reports. As an emerging business ourselves, we understand how difficult it can be to simply keep track of today’s financial headaches, let alone tomorrow’s.

The Missing Piece: Strategic Finance

Pendulum swings are a natural occurrence and with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) small businesses to Fortune 500 companies have been focusing on the compliance side of finance neglecting the other facets of finance, so important for sustainability and growth. I believe today’s financial expert or CFO needs to bring an organizational mind-set to a business, actively participate in value creation and connect the dots between finance, strategy and operation.
Working in the emerging businesses sector, I find this strategic piece missing; in fact, often the CEO is not sure what type of CFO is needed, since for the past ten years compliance based number crunching as been the focus. CFO.com ran an interesting story on how long the list of controller-turned CFOs is getting, yet they tell the story of Archie Black, CEO of SPS Commerce. His number one criteria in hiring a new CFO was to bring someone on board who could help him drive change, number two criteria to understand the vision and articulate it to the investment community and the board, and third for traditional accounting skills.
Reading the CFO.com article piqued my curiosity to find out just how wide-spread the compliance focus really is. I found an excellent in-depth study called the IBM Global CFO Study 2008 that indicates the lack of organizational mindset among CFOs of large corporation and in how SOX has kept everyone focused on the number crunching. This was somewhat surprising to me, assuming that large corporations would have such experts in place.
Small and medium sized businesses struggle even more with getting the full spectrum financial expertise. Often CEOs hire a fulltime CFO too early and if that CFO is not the organizational forward looking kind, tensions will arise as the company grows. Interestingly, the controller or CPA is and should be very detailed oriented; it is unreasonable to expect them to be part of the visionary thinking. Very few people can do both. This also brings up the point of communications to investors and boards, which was the number two criteria of Archie Black mentioned above.
An excellent white paper by the Economist Intelligence Unit seconds the above findings. It talks about the empowered CFO and the evolving focus need on business creation. It points out that today’s CFO needs to lead with an array of skills including general business expertise as well as financial skills. Again, the paper refers to SOX as having been the driver of perfect accounting, leaving the strategic finance piece in the dust.
One of my favorite articles talks about the strategic momentum under threat. This KPMG Study reiterates the importance for the CFO to remain future-focused. They agree that governance cannot be ignored, but always looking in the rear-view mirror is a thing of the past. Today’s CFO must look forward 99% of the time.
This is where I came up with the idea of driving sustainability and growth with financial headlights. I think it gives a nice visual in how we should think about business finance, make sure your taillights work properly and then focus on the headlights. Do you know where you want your company to be in two years? How will you get there?

The launch of the NSS Blog!

Welcome to our Blog. We are delighted to share with you that our company is growing and we are expanding our CFO consulting team. NSS recognizes the global economic state and the changes that are upon us. More than ever, companies need a CFO who is aligned with corporate strategy.
Research indicates that CFO turnover is up 36 percent from two (2) years ago, according to a KPMG Study from April, 2009. The average tenure is only 20 months. This is a costly affair for emerging businesses at the tune off $500-$800K a year, including all the benefits, bonuses, finder’s fees and perks.
NSS has a capital efficient way to solve that problem. We provide outsourced, strategic CFO and financial advisory services and take on all your risk. NSS focuses not only on the governance piece, but also all aspects of finance including operations and strategy. Our consultants bring the full spectrum of financial expertise to our clients to help you drive the change. We are the business partner you can trust and bounce off ideas. We take your strategy and translate it into a financial road map.
In our experience with small companies, we have witnessed a void of strategic finance and financial modeling. The organizational mindset of a CFO is vital in supporting the CEO as a business partner in creating value for any business. The collective knowledge of our NSS team is passed on to our clients who benefit from our depth of finance and exposure of multiple industries.
In this bi-monthly blog, we will provide small and medium size businesses with relevant, thematic articles written by Subject Matter Expertise (SMEs) and the NSS team. We begin our thematic blog in June with the topic of “Funding Options” written by three SMEs from different funding agencies. NSS then will post a blog on that same subject but from a finance perspective.
Stay tuned and sign up today! Need a CFO, call us today.

Power Investing for Women

Our2nd Power Investing Roundtable for Women – 2008 was postponed – date TBDnsspiw

Did you know that only 8% of angel investors are women (Kauffman Foundation) and that women-led firms receive less than 6% of equity investment (Clearing the Hurdles)? Next Stage Solutions is again a sponsor in this year’s event! Go to www.powerinvestingwomen.com and check it out! Stay tuned for the new date and check the website periodically!

Next Stage Solutions, Inc. sponsored the 3rd Silverman Business Plan Competition at the Simmons School of Management on October 3rd, 2008.

2008 Winner Heatherjean MacNeil won the 2008 Silverman Business Plan Competition. Heatherjean is building Proxy, a fashion-forward fair trade women’s apparel company that speaks to the rising unmet demand for fashionable fair trade clothing. Proxy is a unique mission-driven company that aims to be the leading provider of fair-trade professional apparel, as it empowers and employs workers through the creation of a sweatshop free, sustainable world.