White Space versus Empty Space

By CEO Jim Annis


There’s a new battle being waged for your time that will suck the life out of your innovation culture…if you let it. In past articles we have talked about the importance of white space to the six roles of the CEO (Strategist, Ambassador, Inventor, Coach, Investor and Student). Social media and online distractions have taken a chunk out of our white space to a point where we now have what I am calling “empty space.”

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One in Four CEOs Has a “Listening Deficit”


Listening in Business

Harvard Business Review reports results of a 360-degree feedback study: one out of four CEOs has a listening deficit. Did you hear that? Let me repeat it for the 1/4 of you that did not hear me. One out of four CEOs possesses a listening deficit. Just imagine the effects. What a collaboration killer. It can derail a company, yes your company.

What happens when you really listen?

You reach an understanding of your employees, customers, vendors, and other community partners. People listen less as they go up the career ladder because:  1) they get “I am in charge” syndrome; and 2) they develop an “I am expected to already know this” fear. When you put a frog in boiling water, it immediately jumps out. Put a frog in a pot of cold water, slowly turn up the heat, and the frog will cook in place. The same thing incrementally happens to a CEO. Everyone comes to a CEO for answers. The CEO may feel they cannot say, “I do not know” as they may lose the respect, but by listening to colleagues, they may develop solutions in a shorter time versus independently.  

Do you have two ears?

God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. HR representatives, customer service folks, and especially sales people, shut your mouth and listen. As a peddler first, I coach, “Don’t spill your candy in the lobby.” Listening takes time. The rewards are great for those who invest in listening versus taking a short cut or making assumptions.

What are listening limits?

As HR professionals, we invite dialogue to maintain a workplace with open and honest communication, which can be contentious. We let people rant, yet refuse to be sucked-in. We sit quietly and listen. The popular TV series, Downton Abbey, plays with this powerful silence technique. The old, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen,” TV commercial also comes to mind.

More listening opportunities?

Social media has given us a lot more “ears” listening to stories about our business, as well as a lot more mouths talking about us – both positively and negatively. Another channel to “tune into” on a regular basis, if we ignore it peril waits. Recently, an insurance plan used by our Professional Employer Organization (our company and client employees accessed it) was less than desirable. People let us know. Did we go with status quo? Nope. We listened to the recommendation that we go back to the prior carrier. The positive response has been overwhelming.

Listening means more business, better business. When evaluating new clients, you will “hear” what is coming, know what you are getting into a head of time, and begin to pick opportunities that are more profitable. Imagine that classic magician’s trick. You’ll pluck a gold coin from behind your ear and the applause will be deafening.


Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Read this article in the Reno Gazette-Journal here

How To Be An Effective Follower

The word “follower” these days is closely associated with social media like Twitter, who you are following and why. Forget the blue bird and celebrities for just a minute. As an employee, you can influence your career by knowing what’s “trending” in the workplace regarding followership. Oh, and just to be fair, check out #followership when you’re through reading this.

What is “followership”?

It is not subservience or passive obedience. Followers engage in constructive critical thinking as well as interact with and support the leader to help achieve a task. Sadly, follower has a negative, “Oh…you are just a follower, next!” connotation as in a situation of the “haves” and the “have nots.” Nothing is further than the truth. Followers often have more power – although typically more informal – than leaders. Leaders say, “Hey I have a great idea let’s do it!” The role of the follower is to ask questions: How is it going to work? Why are we doing this? Is there an alternative? By empowering followers to handle key initiatives, we can create more refined and targeted ones.

Leadership only works if there are followers

If there were only managers, there would be a lot of talk and planning but no boots on the ground. One does not reach responsible leadership without demonstrating effectiveness in a functioning group. All leaders are followers depending on circumstances. A CEO leads, yet also has accountability to board of directors and or shareholders. Congressional leaders are beholden to their constituents back home.

Who has the power?

Great followership has a process: review, challenge, change, innovate, then go back and review again. This type of critical thinking influences and creates action. It starts with good judgment. Good followers must be able to take direction, but they have an underlying obligation to do so only if the direction is ethical. No one disputes good judgment as a core competency in a good leader, but it is just as important skill in a good follower.

Steps to effective followership

Good followers first need to be good workers: diligent, motivated and achieve and exceed their performance objectives. They do not believe leaders will make decisions for them so all they have to do is A) show up to work, then B) go home. Competent followers cannot follow properly unless competent at the task directed by leaders. Followership takes courage and honesty, which requires discretion and the avoidance of gossip.

Be proud if you are a good follower. Realize that as long as you are engaged, you can live up to your full potential. The more positive messages about good followership that leaders and followers can communicate, the better off we will be as a business community.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

How Small Businesses Can Keep Their Employees

During the recession, employees hunkered down and didn’t look. Now, 51 percent of employed workers are either actively seeking or open to a new job (Jobvite). With new companies like Tesla coming to town, your “A” players will go away unless you can provide a good wage, attractive benefits and a great place to work.

One of the results of the Affordable Care Act has been an emphasis on robust benefit packages that can compete with Fortune 500 companies. The percentage of companies offering 401(k) plans increased 67 percent versus 10 years ago. Now they are expected. You don’t have to break the budget to compete. It does take effort, creativity and a commitment to have fun.

How your small company can offer ‘big company’ benefits 

  • Work with your broker and financial adviser to assess your current benefit package.
  • Be generous with PTO and include contemporary holidays.
  • Use a professional employer organization for better group health benefits at less cost.
  • Do fun big company things on a smaller scale: intramural sports teams, potlucks, half-day casual Fridays, bring a pet to work day, and an upgraded break room with a large flat screen TV and some type of gaming system like XBox360.
  • Inspire creativity by providing passes to art shows, craft fairs, movie screenings, and lectures.
  • Create a wellness program including a massage therapist team to give 15 minute massages for each employee once a month.
  • Offer 100 percent tuition reimbursement.
  • Send a gift basket to the home of your new hires.


Engage employees with simple powerful actions 

You have an advantage. At the big guys’ you are a number. You are a person at a smaller employer. Leverage it.

The old “management by walking around” is one of my daily favorites. My employees truly appreciate it. Research shows the No. 1 reason people leave their job is that they get “beat up” by their manager. Show some kindness and cheerfulness when you arrive at the office.

Involvement in the 21st century 

I know CEOs who monitor employee website use and prohibit social media. That sends a message that employees aren’t trusted. We encourage people to share information about our company’s news on their social media pages. It gives them just another way to engage with the culture and gives us some free promotion.

We’re small and nimble. We may consider adding a benefit that is attracting an A player away, including an increased fitness benefit and HSA contribution this year.

Remember even old dogs can learn new tricks and it’s good business. Engaged companies grow profits as much as three times faster than their competitors do.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

The Positive Power of Workplace Politics

The words “office politics” can make you cringe. We’ve all been there. That certain someone (often early in our career) who stabbed us in the back as they were over eager to climb the ladder, happily leaving everyone in their wake. Or, the nepotism enjoyed by the upstart owner’s child with zero experience but ultimate influence.

Is it really all THAT bad?

Not in our book. It is about power – either real or perceived. Think about the people in your life who have been successful office politicians. Who could rally the troops? Who got things done? Who made solid recommendations versus complaining? Most likely those people all had a high emotional intelligence quotient (EQ), were highly engaged, had great networking and negotiating skills, knew the nuts and bolts of the business, and recognized the value of corporate culture. All these traits can be key skills that benefit an employer, fellow employees, and customers.

How can employees positively participate in office politics?

Believe you can make a difference and having confidence that your ideas will be heard is necessary. Be open and communicative, listening to build rapport and shutting down negativity. Give good, quality recommendations to leadership. Show leadership and allow and invite others to work alongside you to get something done. Offer a simple phrase, “Let me help you,” and watch the productivity magic take place. Is it a political move? Yes and that’s ok. Alliances are key, because a lot gets done when hierarchy is not involved.

How do you manage employee politics?

As a leader, you establish expectations of what is/is not acceptable. There are often difficult behavioral situations that may cause you to stick your head in the sand. The degree of the political sensitivity can dictate the action or lack thereof. We have made decisions to minimize damage in our organization because of the games employees were playing. It is hard to address. It is not always clear or black and white. Leadership influences performance but not behavior.

The aspect of office politics that speaks the loudest to me is the positive. There will always be the game players who manipulate the organization intentionally, or consistently contribute to negativity. You deal with it and move on. The great news is that your next generation of leaders may be the ones who wield positive political power. Perhaps your best “informal” leaders do not want to be a leaders at all. Maybe they simply want to be the best glue inside the team, the true servant leaders. We need everyone to make it work…at work.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Profit Is Not a Dirty Word

Business owners, if you were away from your company for a month, would the company go under? Let’s say you installed a hidden camera while you were away. What would you see? Would they continue with your philosophy and vision for growth in your absence?

It all depends on your company’s attitude towards making money. That starts with you. Profit is not a dirty word. It allows us to take care of the customer the best we can. At The Applied Companies, we are students and practitioners of the Service-Profit Chain (Harvard Business Review March 1994). It establishes relationships between profitability, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity. The gist of the SPC goes something like this:

  • Money comes from growing
  • Growing comes from really good service
  • Really good service means loyal customers
  • Loyalty comes from employee customer service
  • Employees are valued and trusted and want/are provided with a great place to work


The model demonstrates that making money is a good thing. Do your employees want to make money? If not, sell it and drive it. If money does not hit the top line, it will NEVER hit the bottom line. Make sales and gross revenue a part of the daily appetite. It is up to leadership to keep demonstrating the value of profit. Do you let them see quarterly earnings?

Now, we’re not saying only focus on the bottom line and forget the employees. You already know the bad reputation of companies who focus on that aspect and grind through their people. Here’s how it should flow: 1) The priority is growth through excellence; 2) concentrate on what you do best and your employees versus worrying constantly over the P&L; 3) take daily action on employee and customer feedback, retention and referrals; 4) develop loyal customers versus high new acquisition costs; 5) allow employees – not managers or directors – to  impress customers; 6) empower managers to experiment with the systems they control (hiring, training, rewards, job design) for the purpose of improving employees; and finally 7) get out of the way of good employees and let them do their jobs!

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what happens when you’re here. It matters what your employees do when you’re not. Good employees will allow you to make more money. Operate at a high level of excellence and employees will emulate that behavior. And you won’t need a camera to check up on them. They will do it naturally.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Observations on Sales in an Organization – Part Two

This is the second article in a two-part series on sales. The first was from the company perspective. Both approach the subject with a sense of humor. You just HAVE to as sales is truly a necessary evil. These articles are more of an experience share of my 30 years of sales experience from both sides of the fence. 

Sales from the Salesperson Perspective

Know you have value
New business is the lifeblood of any company. Looking for a job? Just bought a house? Child on the way? You’re hungry. You’re hired. Bring on the orders!

Stay motivated
Do you believe in yourself? If not, you won’t have confidence to do the job right. What’s your dream? Where men have no dreams, they die. Unless you have a terrific marketing plan where all leads are coming to you anyway, then you will fail without a love for proactive work. It’s 4:30 p.m. Do you make that cold call? Yes! That sale just might push you over your quota.

Time management
The time eating alligator of email is a challenge, especially for salespeople. Do not email just to say “thanks” unless you’re communicating with a prospect or client who can give you business. Never eat alone because networking’s your secret weapon. Your ear is on the ground. You have competitive knowledge. It’s only meaningful if you share it, so document in the CRM system immediately.

Be a specialist
Know and understand the product and your company’s ability to perform. A potato chip is a chip, an oatmeal raisin cookie is a cookie. What sets the sale apart? You, the person with whom they have developed a relationship and trust. Be knowledgeable and dazzle with numbers that are meaningful, the ones your competition doesn’t have a clue about.

Spend energies wisely
In 2001, we knew a sales person who handled three times the average sales load because he was using “technology.” He was using fax. It was his edge. Find yours. You have a choice; 1) one product sale over three months, or 50 product sales over six months. Give the C prospects to other staff members. Go for the As and Bs because C clients are a drain and have low return. Automation makes your sales and consultative role increasingly important and vetting a whole lot easier. Every business succumbs to Pareto’s law (80/20 rule). Let it happen. Balance your book of business. Get a larger cross section of clients.

Invest or pull the plug
Are you a salesperson going south? It’s a hard train to stop. When you don’t believe your dream, it’s no longer real. When there is no dream, there is a floor and you’re going to hit it. Remember, dreams change every day. Did you lose a big client? Scale the dream down from a four-bedroom house to three. Did you land one? Move up from Ford to Mercedes. When the dream changes, be vocal with management…without whining. Invest in the culture, trust the systems, then go get the new dream.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Observations on Sales in an Organization – Part One

This is the first article in a two-part series on sales – one from the company perspective and one from the salesperson perspective. We are approaching the subject with sense of humor. You just HAVE to as sales is truly a necessary evil. New business is the lifeblood of any company, because if you are not selling, you’re dying. As a peddler myself as well as a CEO, I have both perspectives. These two articles are more of an experience-share of my 30 years of sales from both sides of the fence.

Sales from the Company Perspective

Managing salespeople
A detail-oriented salesperson is rare. Scribbled notes, piles of paperwork and expense documentation are often left for other departments like accounting and fulfillment to clean up. Assistants can help with the routine so energy can be spent closing the deal. In depth product and service training works as long as you have defined outcomes and accountability for the training. Coordination with legal, production, and marketing are important. Getting everyone on the same page is vital in the following areas: what has been released to market/not; key themes, messages and selling points; availability of resources to support the sale; and ensuring the company can deliver what sales has promised.

Keeping motivated
When I managed 17 sales people at once, I didn’t care what they did as long as they got their numbers. We measured performance versus activity and discovered that didn’t work because when there is an issue, without tracked activity you are clueless as to how to improve performance. Set expectations by communicating the length of the sales cycle: is it two days, six months, or five years? True salespeople do not need to be motivated as they are already on to the next deal. Either they are externally challenged or they challenge themselves. Management perceives salespeople as being a pain in the backside, but reality is they often expose soft underbellies in the company that need to be addressed by leadership.

Managing and protecting the data
Technology that is both automated and simple will help reduce the follow up once back at the office. Anything that can close sales faster or allows immediate access to the sales person is preferable; voicemail that is automatically forwarded to their cell phone; customer relationship management systems; online sales inquiries that vet prospects then are forwarded to the salesperson’s email. A good salesperson wants to know what their numbers are. Aggregated/reporting info and social media are support tools. Laptops, iPads, and smart phones give salespeople more flexibility, higher responsiveness, less down time, and access to networked files. Confidentiality agreements and anti-piracy agreements will help protect your data, regardless of location.

When to invest and when to pull the plug
Increased market share, succession planning, pending retirement or change in employment status are all good reasons to invest. Almost 100 percent of the time your best sales person is not a good sales manager. Do not make that mistake. Invest in achievers and people who can do the job. Most companies do not set up criteria and do not pull the plug soon enough. Goals, accountability, minimum performance expectations, cultural fit are musts.

Stay tuned for your next article from the salesperson’s perspective.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Affordable Care Act Update

What we know now


The Always Confusing Act (ACA) may have adjusted this content. Feb. 14 brought a delay to the pay or play. For employers with 2-99 employees, they got a delay until 2016. Employers with 100 or more employees need to pay or play in 2015. No matter how the law morphs over time, we anticipate health insurance rates will go through the roof; however, we know for a fact having health insurance is a valued benefit.

Individuals – The deadline of March 31 to enroll in exchanges passed. To date, there are 7 million enrollees, 24,000 are in Nevada.

Companies – Independent experts told the CMS actuaries that they thought the community rating rules would increase rates for about 60 – 67 percent of the fully insured small groups. Carriers are telling us that renewal rates will increase between 20-70 percent for small group. Most small businesses early renewed for a “best rate” with their broker, who helped kick the can down the road.

Budgeting – Budget increases now. Get educated and stop staying, “I am just going to wait until ACA goes away.”  Many pieces of the law are already in place.  Some of the benefits in the ACA, like the non-exclusion and 26-year limitation, have been incorporated by carriers since 2010. We have been in ACA land since then and the insurance carriers had to comply, so the chance of unwinding the law seems remote.

There are Options

1) Employers with less than 50 – not offer coverage. Send people to the exchange. There will be no penalty but you may lose market share as well as employees, seniority, productivity, efficiency, and knowledge.

2) Keep your existing policy – A conventional small group policy should expect 20-70 percent increase by Jan. 1, 2015. Decrease employer contributions, increase employee share, pay more money yourself, or keep it the same. Caps in the qualified plans limit “traditional” co pay and deductibles manipulation. Analyze cost of turnover versus cost of benefits. Look at HSAs and qualified HRAs (associated with a qualified plan).

3) Law of large numbers – Find a better way to aggregate the risk. Association and membership groups disappeared, but you can join a large group like a Professional Employer Organization.

What is the final word?

Do not play ostrich. Perform your due diligence and decide now, despite 2016 participation delays. Budget accordingly so that you will be prepared for when – not if – you experience a 20-70 percent rate increase. The market is spending money on head hunting to hire top talent away from competitors, so competition is tough. A rich benefit plan will help attract and retain that top talent.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

What are the Opportunities of Doing More with the Right Less?

I never advise my clients to do more with less, because you start to make choices that are not the right thing to do. Doing more with the “right” less – now that’s a philosophy to live by.

Are objectives clearly defined?

What needs to get done? Establishing overarching strategies and corresponding objectives will help. In the nooks and crannies of all companies are things “we’ve always done,” things we like to do (that have no meaning) and processes that have not been reviewed and streamlined for years. At The Applied Companies, we used to “vomit” a three-inch binder every month. Three pages actually had impact. Now we focus on the information needed for decision-making, set benchmarks to dictate change and trigger attention to fluctuations that are off goal. We’re using technology to streamline, including new staffing software, which will allow us to complete 15-20 percent more work with the same people.

How are results measured / communicated?

If you ever tried to potty train a puppy, you know you get better results by praising and disciplining closer to the scratch on the door or the accident on the rug. Try giving incremental results on a periodic basis, even if it is a raw valued result sooner with the final number coming at a close later date. Close the circle of excellence by giving feedback on how people are doing.

Is everyone set to succeed?

What are your employees’ strengths? We pride ourselves in hiring a diverse workforce, people who think differently and complement one another. We all take a Strengths Finder assessment/evaluation, to determine what our people are best at doing. Tom Rath, Strength Finders 2.0 author, points out that “…people have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.” Once an employee’s strength is found, it can be matched with a need, duty or responsibility and let the power go!

What happens if goals are met or not met?

How many times did Thomas Edison try before getting the light bulb right? More than 10,000. Value flexibility and trial and error before you announce “we got it right.” Ask, “what happened or how can this be improved?” Tom Rath continues with this study result: people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.

Focus on the strengths of your employees to do more with the right less.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.