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Corporate culture is money.

PaulI have always maintained that my associates and colleagues at  my firm Corporate Rain are more important to me than my clients.  Yup.  I even say it to clients.  After 18 years, my employee colleagues are my PR department, my marketing department, my branding, my essence.  I feel very confident that any of the 25 persons in my boutique executive sales firm would describe our tone, service and ethics quite as I would.  It’s a very secure and happy feeling as a business owner.

Last week I attended the Inc. 500/5000 Convention in Washington D.C.  I dropped in on a speech by Paul Spiegelman, Chief Culture Officer of Stericycle and former CEO of The Beryl Corporations, recently acquired by Stericycle.  He is also the Founder of the Inc. Small Giants Community, an organization focused on values-based business principals and inspired by Bo Burlingham’s wonderful best-seller Small Giants.  (2007, Portfolio Trade)

Paul feels that treating your employees with respect and care isn’t just the right thing to do, but the practical, profitable thing to do.  At The Beryl Companies he states, “Our company and our philosophy was built around the idea of employee engagement.  We created an environment where people enjoy and share commitment to what they do every day”.

untitledSpiegelman expresses confidence that a large part of his success in dominating his corner of the outsourced hospital call center market place was because of his commitment to his employee’s happiness  in an employee-focused culture.  He states his was not the cheapest outsourced service by a long shot, sometimes charging up to 60% more than his competitors.  But when clients visited his call-center or spoke with his people, the happiness and unanimity of esprit de corps was palpable.  Clients noticed and bought into it.  Speigelman’s 400 person, single-site company and his creation of ambient concierge service molded a core for long-term ROI, as well as healthy and sustained growth, through carefully nurturing the everyday happiness of his employees over a long period of time.

Furthermore, Spiegelman has recently helped found the Return on Value (ROV) research project at Benedictine University in Chicago.  This is a $1 million dollar, three year initiative which asks the question, “In small and mid-size businesses, what is the relationship between culture and profit?”  ROV seeks to show the monetizing proof of a generous, employee-focused corporate culture.  (If you want to read more about Paul’s point of view, try

Howard SchultzAs I see it, Paul Spiegelman’s approach is basically an attempt to institutionalize goodness, decency, and happiness.  His intuitions and practical business beliefs about corporate culture, which I certainly share, are buttressed by implication in some of the recent research of Dr. Adam Grant at Wharton on creating a “giving” culture.  His research will be published soon in a new book called Give and Take.  (Note my previous post of April 30, 2013, “Adam Grant, Goodness, and Entrepreneurship”)

Certainly healthy corporate longevity means through-branding  a long-term commitment to corporate mission and culture.  Howard Schultz says in Pour Your Heart Into It:  How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, “To be an enduring, great company, you have to build a mechanism for preventing or solving problems that will outlast any one individual.”  Thank you, Howard.

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Barack ObamaI think President Obama may be making a very simple sales mistake in his self presentation of late.

This came to me as I was listening to him give a speech last week. He was talking about Afghanistan. I found myself getting annoyed and couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t the content, which, on this occasion, I generally agreed with. It was something else.

As always it was a pleasure to hear the sonorous, rhythmic, euphonious incantations of this charismatic man. The phrasing was, as always, elegant and graceful.  But as I listened I realized what was bothering me. It seemed like every word was “I”, “me”, “mine”, “my administration”, or some other self-referential pronoun. This is not good salesmanship.

For me, good salesmanship cannot reflect such self-absorption. Eloquence and presentation can certainly dazzle initially. But a self focus eventually can result in a long term impression of solipsism or even jejune narcissism.

When selling a product or service what works is focusing on “the other”. What works is focusing on the “you”, “your need”, “your anxiety”, “your ROI“, a focus on how you can help your client (or your nation) to achieve.

This process requires a practical humility, a concentration on service, not celebrity. Most of the successful business entrepreneurs I know have this practical quality. This does not mean they are without enormous self-esteem. As CEO of my own company, Corporate Rain, I have always found the most selfish way to be is to be “unselfish”, to focus on the other.

For all his many gifts and attractive qualities, I think President Obama may ultimately prove a poor salesman for his agenda, if he doesn’t get the center of attention off himself.

Merry Christmas to all.

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