Friday
Feb032012

Rewriting The Diversity Equation!

~ It’s all about people.~

By John T. Hewitt

Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service

 

John T. HewittLet’s take gender, color, race, disability and creed out of the Diversity equation and what do you have? Very simply, you have people. And, your success is always going to be about “people”. Whether it’s internal intelligence, clients, or in the case of Liberty Tax Service, our franchisees, the bottom line is people working with people successfully, and not on how many people of each ethnicity is onboard. Diversity should play a major role in the progression of your business. It should be a natural process, not something you are doing because you feel compelled to do so. The color of one professional’s skin does not make them any less valuable or contributory than a professional of another ethnicity. We are all just people and we all deserve the opportunity to excel and, yes, go for the brass ring, if you’ll excuse the cliché.

 America’s workplace must reflect today’s diverse world, and it must reflect it at all levels within the company. The impact of diversity on a company’s market penetration and overall success can be significant and profound. Think about it…internal diversity draws external diverse groups to your product or service. Why? Because all people enjoy working with someone who understands their culture, as well as the unique communication that results from this knowledge. Without diversity, how are you going to understand and cogently enter the folkways of the many diverse groups that will impact the financial solvency of your company? The more diverse your market becomes, the more your company will prosper. This is simply Business 101!

 No More Buzz Words

Diversity directives have been around for some time, and with many business leaders, it is treated more as a buzz word of the times than the outstanding opportunity it presents. Your commitment to diversity cannot be superficial or it will not be embraced by your stakeholders, and certainly not by your marketplace. An inclusive corporate culture is key to recruitment and retention of both your internal intelligence and your clients. Diversity must be woven into the fabric of your company to keep it healthy for your employees, exciting for your culture and satisfying for your clients. This corporate attitude very simply equates to devoted employees and loyal clients. It’s time for corporations to eliminate the buzz words from their vocabulary and start “walking the talk” of diversity.  In actuality, the labor pool itself is becoming so blended, so ‘colorful,’ that employers will be hiring a more diverse workforce because there will be no way to avoid it – and they certainly would be foolish to ignore the value a multicultural workforce can bring to their company. 

 At Liberty, our franchisee and stakeholder family is a rainbow of diversity. We have been embracing the positives of diversity since the company’s inception. We even wrote the sentiment into our Mission Statement which is quite simple: Set the Standard. Improve Each Day. Have Some Fun. By interconnecting our corporate culture with diversity, we have been able to serve diverse communities across the nation, while working to set the standard for other companies that might be a little slower to the concept.  Through our FREE financial and fiscal education to underserved communities in English and Spanish, (and in some cities we even provide these courses in Haitian Creole, as well as various Oaxacan dialects), we have provided the means by which many of our disenfranchised neighbors can learn vital information that will make a difference in their lives. The goal is to understand the needs of our diverse communities and to provide them with services that will enhance their lives, promote their success, and ultimately, help move them from just “surviving” into “thriving” mode. And, we do this with the help and input from our diverse stakeholders and franchisees. At Liberty, our philosophy is that if you take care of the community, the community will take care of you. So rather than selling to these underserved communities, we work to provide them with information that will allow them to make more informed economic decisions that will positively impact their lives and their future. We believe that they, in turn, will trust in our commitment and will choose Liberty as their service provider when the time comes for them to make this decision. But first, we invest in the community to help it prosper. Entering diverse markets should be viewed as a long term investment. Building trust within immigrant communities is extremely important to the success of your business. And, it takes time and sincere effort to achieve.

 That said, diversity is, in effect, an investment in people. There is nothing more critical or worthwhile than to realize the importance and value of the diverse communities in America. Diversity allows companies to utilize our country’s assets to the fullest. The dimensions of employable individuals have grown in the U.S. That is to say, the broader the workforce, the broader your options. Companies that embrace diversity ultimately reap the benefits of their commitment. Studies show that companies that embrace diversity reported an increase in employee work quality, which, in turn, equated to higher productivity and a greater return on investment. Various researchers studying diversity in the workplace have consistently found that organizations that emphasize collectivism in the workplace typically see greater benefits as a result of diversity. Companies that creating a corporate culture that focuses on “involvement” will more easily facilitate successful diversity fulfillment in their organization.

 The reality is that diversity will continue to be evolutionary. As business leaders, we must embrace the opportunities and value the cultural impact this evolution will provide. 

Thursday
Jan262012

America built to last

Annamaria LusardiIn his State of the Union address President Obama spoke of an America “built to last.” I am glad that the focus of policy is turning to the long run. One essential component of such a built-to-last idea must deal with education. In an increasingly global and complex economy, citizens need to have the skills to successfully participate in labor markets, not to earn low and stagnating wages but wages that allow them to be part of a solid middle class, to send their children to college, and to save for retirement.

The President did talk of education and the important role of education. But it is going to take more than education reform that allows schools to be creative in their curriculum and to reward good teachers. America needs to invest in education if it wants an economy built to last. While it is good to invite state and local governments to devote more of their budgets to higher education rather than slushing education expenses, it is important to recognize that the federal government has an important role to play to foster education. More funds to research and technology can contribute not only to support higher education but also to fuel innovation and ideas that form the basis of growth (and the growth of well-paying jobs). Good education and solid training are also at the base of innovative entrepreneurship. Access to finance has been mentioned, by the President, too, as one of the major impediments to entrepreneurship, but in my view (and according to my research), education is far more important, in particular if the entrepreneurs we aim to cultivate are innovators rather than self-employed individuals who are trying to make a living. It is also important to recognize that a good education is not built on good colleges or community colleges alone but on a strong educational system, from kindergarten to college and beyond.

President Obama mentioned that college education cannot be a luxury. But with the cost of college rising faster than inflation and faster than the growth in wages, in particular in the lower part of the wage distribution, we are headed in that direction as the purchasing power of workers is not keeping up with the cost of a college education. If we are planning for the future, it is important to find ways to make college affordable and within reach of the many families that aspire to send their children to college. As I have mentioned in many of my previous posts, a college education is often the most important investment that a person can make.

I want to end this post with a statement that President Obama made during his address and that can be summarized as follows: teachers matter. This does not require much comment as it speaks for itself. All of us can name a teacher who has been influential in our life and who has made a difference. For me, it was my high school literature teacher. Her name is Ada Puccini. Even after more than 30 years, I think often of her and of the encouragement she gave me; we have talked on the phone over the years and when I am in Italy, and I go and visit her. Teachers matter, and they matter to what students can do in the long run. They too should be part of the policy for an America built to last.

Sunday
Jan222012

New Year – New Opportunities!

~Taking the “maudlin” out of New Year’s Resolutions~

By John T. Hewitt

Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service

John T. HewittDoesn’t every New Year seem to bring the inevitable article that takes you into that “fuzzy world” of rhetoric and reads more like a ballad of flashbacks that didn’t quite hit the top 100 list? Sure, looking back on previous years’ efforts is always a sane approach to substantiate your movement forward. But let’s not get so mired in the past that we become immobile because we are focusing too much on what didn’t happen and not enough on what did. We can’t change yesterday, but we can surely impact tomorrow’s success. Reflection may be good for the soul, but let’s talk business, not just recycled resolutions!

 Following are five important resolutions that are fairly commonsensical, pretty fundamental, and definitely achievable:

 1. Think out of the box: This should be on every business leader’s resolution list. Quoting early 20th-century self-help author James Allen, “All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.” Learning the lessons of forward-thinking is paramount to your continued success. Remember, we do not live in a one-size-fits-all world. Creative thinking will always win over safe and boring. Success is not built on status quo thinking but on innovation. One must always embrace the new and take intelligent risks. Conventional wisdom may say to get back to the basics and cut costs, especially during these economic times. But I can guarantee you that the winners are the innovators who are making bold thinking an everyday part of doing business. Breaking from convention should be part of the culture of a successful company since innovation must be understood and lived by all stakeholders, across the board. But it is a top-down process; so as the business leader, it is incumbent on you to set the tone within your company.

 2. Embrace what works and discard what doesn’t: From time to time, we all have experienced the need to hold on to something even though it is no longer a good fit and/or is just not producing. Whether it’s a process or a staff member, or even old equipment, we sometimes want to just “wish it into success”, hoping it will take care of itself. The reality is that the longer you procrastinate, the deeper the damage. This year, let’s resolve to be on top of these problem areas and attack them head-on. Stop wasting energy and time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Accept that change is inevitable and the quicker you steer the helm back on course, the more successful your company and team members will be. To clarify, I’m not advocating that you go through your company with a goal to kick out people and processes on an ad hoc basis. I am avowing, however, that you realize the importance of keeping only that which is best suited to your success, and therefore eliminate the difficulty of retrenchment. Protect your corporate culture by vowing to keep the momentum going and to take action swiftly when it is called for. Likewise, keep the parts of the machine that are working well-oiled and primed such that they can continue to support your success.

3) Delegate for success: Learning how to “let go” seems to be a common challenge for many business leaders. I can admit I’ve struggled with this problem myself from time to time. After all, no one can do it quite as well as “we” can, right? Well, wrong -- yes they can! Successful leaders are those who can turn over control and delegate effectively so they can focus on the bigger picture of growing the company’s success. If you are beyond start-up phase and have a business staffed with professionals capable of handling their responsibilities, why get in their way? Delegation doesn’t mean not being aware of project status and deliverable dates. You can set up a reporting process to ensure you are in the loop. While delegation may be considered a challenging business approach by some, it is realistically a way for business leaders to get more done since it increases your productivity time and allows you to focus on growing the business, increasing revenue and innovation. Of course the caveat is that you must ensure that the people in place are capable of handling the responsibility. And if they are not, then you need to replace them with someone who is. Clearly, the solution is not to refrain from delegation but, instead, to build a capable team of professionals that will allow for this extremely important time-management process. Remember, your company is only as strong as your internal intelligence. So choose your stakeholders wisely, and then allow yourself to count on them to do their jobs.

 4) You are your best advertisement: I like to think that the Liberty Tax Service team is pretty much a walking billboard, since they represent the company and its culture to the outside world. If you have a positive team, they will project this positivity and it will be obvious to the marketplace by the way they speak about the company and the enthusiasm with which they engage in their responsibilities. Can your stakeholders speak with confidence about your company? Do they understand the corporate goal and how to get there? Do they understand the customer and their needs? Do they project a sense of assurance in the leadership, the future and in your company’s success? Does your management team encourage innovation and solutions-driven engagement? If the answer is no to any of these questions, you just might be stomping on your own brand. People are always your best advertisement. Remember, good people attract other rich talent to your firm, who in turn attract more clients, since the quality of your product or service increases in synch with the level of committed professionalism your company exudes. Stakeholder enthusiasm is key to differentiating the ordinary company from the extraordinary. Our mantra at Liberty is to be extraordinary, and we realize that we need everyone on board with this goal or it will never be a reality. Commitment to positivity and innovation should be an “all the time, everywhere” imperative for your company. It is not something to take lightly, only discussing it at your annual management meeting. To be extraordinary, you must be so at all levels of the company. And the marketplace needs to see it to believe it.  Remember, you have the power to change customer perception, so make sure your team is changing it in the right direction. 

 5) Do something good for your community: It goes without saying that if you take care of the community, it will take of you. Corporations have a responsibility to give back to their constituents and to do so in a meaningful and lasting way. In a somewhat discontinuous world, it is socially responsible and it does nothing but perpetuate the right impression about your commitment to the whole. At Liberty, we support numerous organizations, from M.A.D.D. to the American Red Cross and Relay for Life, from March of Dimes to Cell Phones for Soldiers, to name just a few. And it’s not just at the corporate level. Our family of Franchisees engages in cause-related programs throughout the tax season and into the summer months. As a matter of fact, our Hispanic initiative, Una Familia Sin Fronteras, which is based on providing FREE bilingual, fiscal and financial education to Latinos across the nation, holds seminars and workshops throughout the year, working with nonprofits and school districts through their Adult Outreach Programs. Making a difference in your community is immeasurable, and volunteerism should be a reflection of your corporate culture.

 As we look to the future and ponder our options, it’s important to realize that there must be a balance between all innovation and systemic business models. There is nothing wrong with buoying your direction with standard business practices. Just be sure that you do not lose the enthusiasm to be extraordinary, to be unique, to be innovative, and to take intelligent risks. Breakthrough ideas are a requirement if you are to compete in today’s fast-paced business environment. If the power to set strategy and direction is narrowly held, your business options will be limited and corporate renewal will inevitably falter. After all, new voices are essential for new thinking!

 

Wednesday
Jan112012

United Athletes Foundation