usfsb


SHE SAYS:

As a small business owner, I understand the value of teamwork.

Almost everything you do in life requires a certain level of teamwork.  As the oldest of five children, I grew up in a household that thrived on teamwork.  When my youngest brother started school, my mother returned to teaching and even though I was only 13 years old and my sister was 12, we became her ‘second pair of hands’ when it came to housework and helping care for our three younger siblings.  This was probably good practice for me when it came to keeping my own family organized.

Over the years, as our children grew up, each of them had certain chores to help our household run more smoothly.  Even though I was working full time, with the help and cooperation of Joe and our children, I was able to participate in a number of activities involving each child.

Even when Joe was the coach, I always worked together with the other parents on every baseball, soccer and swim team any of our children were on to help keep things organized.  Whether it was scouting, school activities or my stint as PTA president, various groups of parents cooperated for the benefit of the children which always created an element of teamwork among the parents.

The point is that no matter what the activity, cooperation and teamwork is an integral part of life.  As USFSB has downsized to a core group of people, it is more apparent just how valuable teamwork is to successfully operate a business.  With the exception of our IT department, there aren’t any employees who are knowledgeable in only one particular job.  Our employees are cross-trained in multiple tasks.  This creates an environment of cooperation and teamwork enabling us to work together for a single goal, to be successful.

On Monday, Joe gives his opinion on same sex marriages in “Marriage Is More Than An Institution”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

In any endeavor, there is always a core group of people that you come to rely on to get things done and who seem to make a difference.

At one time, USFSB had a large number of employees and, yet, we were not getting much more work done then we are now with fewer employees.   USFSB was overloaded with employees and there was a significant amount of wasted time and duplication of effort.  We realized that we could and should pare down our work force to make USFSB more efficient and cost effective.

The reduction in our work force was accomplished in many different ways.  In some cases, it was purely a matter of not needing or wanting what the employee had to offer.  The best example of this was when we let our marketing person go and his design assistant became an independent contractor.  In other cases, it was a product of the new custom computer system being much more efficient which allowed USFSB to be able to do the same work with less people.  In some cases, employees resigned for one reason or another or were let go for cause.  Of course, we also had to make some decisions based on the changing economy and the reality that we needed to streamline our work force to be more cost conscious.

In each case, Annemarie and I would weigh the relative strengths and weaknesses of each employee when deciding who should stay and who we should let go.   This is not an easy task and in some ways it becomes a very subjective process.   In many cases, we enjoyed working with each of our employees and valued the contribution they made to USFSB.  However, difficult choices had to be made and we tried to make those choices in a fair and thoughtful manner with the best interests of USFSB’s future in mind.

USFSB now has the ability to do everything that needs to get done with the help of a core group of employees that have survived that process.  We are happy with the choices we made and believe that in each case we kept the right person for the job.  Just as important, we believe that our employees are happy to be here and share our desire to get things done and make a difference.

On Wednesday, Annemarie notes the value of teamwork in the office and at home in “Teamwork”.   

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

Keep it simple stupid.    It may not be polite advice but it still may be good advice.  I have been as guilty as anyone of over thinking just about everything in my life.   I have already admitted in my blog postings “The Burden Of Being A Perfectionist” and “Patience Is A Virtue”, that even though I was impatient and would not rest until I was able to find a solution to the problems in my life, career, or business it still was never a quick or easy process.

One reason for this may be that as an attorney you are trained to look at complex issues in a very deliberate and thoughtful manner since the law rarely has direct black and white answers.   In the law, the rule is usually stated in one or two paragraphs and then the exceptions to that rule go on for several pages.   The phrase that the devil is in the details has never been truer than when dealing with legal issues.

This is a pattern that existed from very early in my life and practicing law just refined my natural inclination to solve problems by analyzing all of the issues and carefully weighing all of my options.   This may seem inconsistent with my belief that it is important to be decisive and not second guess your decisions; however, being deliberate in reaching a decision and then being decisive and steadfast in implementing that decision are not incompatible.

Over the years, I have found that in the operation of a small business you have more flexibility in the way you solve problems than you have in the practice of law.   When practicing law your solution to any problem needs to conform to the constraints imposed by statutes and case law specific to that problem.  In business the issues are not that narrowly defined and, as long as you are not breaking the law, you have wide latitude in how you run your business.  

As I made the transition from practicing law to operating USFSB, I eventually changed my outlook and reached a point where I felt comfortable simplifying the problems and making quick and easy decisions.  USFSB has, in many ways, made my life less complicated and helped me realize that keeping things simple is good for me and my business.

On Wednesday, Joe makes some random observations about religion in “Some Musings About Religion”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

I previously shared some of the problems we had in building USFSB’s computer system in my posting entitled “The Folly Of Technology” and even though we eventually completed building our current, custom computer system the story of building our web site is never ending.

I don’t know about you, but I have a list of improvements and repairs that I want to make to my home and every time I manage to take something off my list several new items are added to the list.   I have owned my current home for 24 years and I have never had an empty list.

USFSB’s web site is much like my home, the list of improvements and repairs never seem to end.   USFSB’s web site is very sophisticated and comprehensive with many interactive features and provides a vast amount of information for our visitors and Members.   This, of course, is a good thing, but, it also means that there is required a constant effort to maintain the web site and keep it operating properly.   There is also the need to keep the web site current which can be a very daunting and time consuming process since much of the information on our web site, such as is contained in the Insurance Clearinghouse and Vendor Sections, is in need of frequent updating.

Then there are the words that our technology director never likes to hear.  “Pat, would it be possible to add this feature to the web site?”  To his credit, he never says never to my requests.  Sometimes, I will get a maybe, let me look into it and most times he will find a way to get it done and we are off and running with another web site project.   The things that I come up with by way of improvements to our web site certainly provides job security for Pat since I have an active imagination and I am constantly seeking ways to make our web site better.

As we all know, just because you build a great web site it does not mean that people will use your web site.   There is always the challenge of promoting your web site through search engines and other methods that increase the profile of your web site over the vast array of web sites found on the Internet.  Randomly finding any one web site would be harder than finding the proverbial needle in a hay stack.  Again, I have asked Pat to do some research and try to find a solution to this problem.  I believe he is on the verge of finding a way of making ours the most famous web site on the Internet.  Well, probably not, otherwise, I would have to give him an extremely big raise.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

Our blog schedule was disrupted this week by the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.  However, Annemarie was able to send us this posting while on a planned trip to the West Coast.

SHE SAYS:

Some people are doers.  Others stand by in the sidelines waiting for someone else to make decisions and take action.  As business owners, if we have our choice of which type of personality to choose as an employee, it is the decision maker who takes action.

As we readied for a long planned three week trip to the west coast, Hurricane Irene was heading toward the Capital District in New York.  Our flight was scheduled to leave at 2:30 on Saturday afternoon and Irene was expected that night.  Our flight left on time and Irene arrived as expected between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Our son who lives in New York City arrived home on Friday to escape the possible flooding and power outages there.  We were lucky to have him home to keep an eye on things after we left.  We are fortunate that Irene only caused a short power outage at our home.  On the other hand, our office building is located in the Stockade area of the City of Schenectady and is only blocks from the Mohawk River.

This brings me to the type of employee we are so fortunate to have in charge of operations in our absence.  On Sunday, when Kristie heard that the City ordered an evacuation of the Stockade, she took it upon herself to go to the office to determine if we were in danger of flooding and prepared to move our servers and computer equipment if necessary.

On Monday morning, she and our IT Director arrived at the office early and spoke with the Fire Chief in charge to determine if we were in danger of flooding.  Luckily, we were not, however, by that time we lost power and internet service which means we were cut off from our members by phone, email, blog postings and our website.  Our staff was called off and the office remained closed. A couple of hours later Kristie returned back to the office and at that time located our mailman and obtained our mail.

Timing is everything.  Monday was the 29th of the month and we only have until the 31st to finalize payments and cancellations before running billing on the 1st of the month.  This caused Kristie to spring into action, again.  She located someone who was able to deliver a generator so that on Tuesday, at least, some operations could be completed and our staff could work some of the day.

As of this writing, Tuesday was a productive day for our staff.  Kristie was able to get our member database and the phone system running by generator.  Our cable company who provides our internet (email, ability to send blog postings and website) could only tell us that we would hear back from them in 2-72 hours.  The power company told us that we may have power by Thursday at 11PM.  Normally, Kristie does not take time off when we are out of the office, but she was supposed to participate in a social event this week that had been postponed from an earlier date.  Under the circumstances and needless to say, Kristie cancelled her obligation to that event to be in the office.

We learned that on Wednesday morning, our power was restored.  Internet capabilities didn’t get restored until Thursday afternoon.

If you are reading this blog, it is because we are ‘back in business.’  We had to wait our turn like the thousands of others without power and internet, but our thanks go to Kristie who found a way to continue our operations with quick thinking and decisive action.

Kristie to the rescue!

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

There will be no blog post on Monday due to the Labor Day holiday.  We will return to our normal format on Wednesday, September 7th. Enjoy the holiday weekend!

HE SAYS:

In today’s world many people think only of the cosmetic benefits of having nice white, straight teeth when they think of good dental health.   Even though our appearance is important and should not be overlooked, good dental health is much more than just having a winning smile.

In fact, poor dental health and untreated diseases of the mouth can have a significant impact on the quality of your life and the state of your health.   According to the Surgeon General, more than 75 percent of Americans are affected by some type of periodontal disease or gingivitis.   These infections of the gums cause oral and facial pain and can lead to tooth loss.

Even more distressing is that medical research has shown that the bacteria that causes infections and inflammation of the gums can dislodge and find its way into the bloodstream.   When this happens your arteries can become inflamed and greatly increase your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.   Many medical experts believe that gum disease is a more serious risk factor for heart disease than hypertension, smoking, cholesterol, gender and age.

Poor dental and oral health can lead to many other serious illnesses, including the obvious, oral cancer, and the less obvious, such as intestinal failure, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other problems of the digestive process.

There is a proven link between your dental and oral health and the general state of your overall health.   Many diseases can be diagnosed in their early stages through an oral exam.   These diseases include diabetes, leukemia, cancer, heart disease and kidney disease.

Dental illnesses also cost your business money.  Each year, poor dental and oral health results in 100 million lost work hours, 6.1 million days of bed disability and 12.7 million days of restricted activity.

Everyone should keep their mouth healthy by seeing a dentist at least twice a year; however, more than half of all Americans do not visit a dentist on a regular basis.  Regardless of the cost, it may be wise to put your money where your mouth is and make sure you and your family enjoy good dental and oral health.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

A kindly old woman came upon a very dangerous, poisonous snake lying on the road near death.  Feeling compassion for the snake, the old woman brought the snake to her home and over the next several months nursed the snake back to good health.  When it came time for the snake to leave, it viciously bit the old woman filling her with poisonous venom.  As the old woman lay dying, she said to the snake, why did you bite me after I was so kind to you?   The snake simply replied, you knew that I was a dangerous snake when you took me in, what did you expect?  The moral of this story is that you will not be able to change a person’s basic nature no matter how much you try to help him.

For example, a dangerous, anti-social person will continue to be dangerous no matter how well he is treated.  This is a fundamental truth that many well meaning but misguided social reformers fail to understand.

Another application of this rule can be found in the workplace.  A person who is not ambitious and industrious by nature cannot be motivated to be otherwise no matter how much you praise or reward that person.  No amount of opportunities that could be bestowed upon that person will make a difference in his lack of desire to succeed.

I experienced this first hand because I failed to understand this simple principle when I came to USFSB.   In my world of practicing law, ambition was a way of life and everyone I encountered seemed motivated by the opportunity to succeed and prosper.  I did not know the USFSB employees very well, but believed that everyone could be motivated to work hard and be ambitious if properly rewarded.

With that in mind, as USFSB became more profitable, I gave the employees very significant year-end bonuses not based, necessarily, on their efforts but on my belief that the reward would motivate them to be better employees.   Of course, this did not work with everyone since, as I eventually learned, you can’t change someone’s fundamental nature with rewards.

People who are ambitious and take pride in their work are that way by nature and not simply because they were encouraged by rewards.   After a few years at USFSB, I finally realized that you can reward ambitious people but that you can’t instill ambition with rewards.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

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