Are Your Employees Bad For Business?

Most employees either contribute to value-added operations around the offering, or they interface with prospects and customers facilitating transactions. Although we’d love to have the people in the shop demonstrating customer-led behaviors, the ones with direct interface, at any level, are the ones with the greatest individual responsibility for customer retention.

Engineer the customer experience
Large companies have legions of mostly well-trained customer service representatives that exist simply for the purpose of providing customer/company interface. Examples include your online car insurer, or your last call with a product complaint to a company like Apple. These folks are supposed to epitomize their brand. And, for the most part, it works.

Where companies start getting into trouble is when their front line people are also responsible, in part or in whole, for the delivery of the product or service. When the job involves sincere smiles and production efficiency the likelihood of missed objectives increases. Consider the unconcerned appliance repairman that fixes the dishwasher but leaves a mess behind.

Empower employees as “Ambassadors of the Brand”
Customer/company disconnect is most prevalent in smaller companies where – without much training – employees engage the customer and perform the service. Generally, little consideration is given to enriching the customer’s experience, whereas this is often a core component of the training protocol in a more customer-led company.

Operations-led companies are good at the business they are in. Customer-led companies take their operational advantage then add a genuine customer perspective to satisfying expectations. Business leaders looking for ways to improve profits should consider the short and longer term value, and relative low cost, of instilling a more customer-led focus in everyone from the boss on down.

Although customers have service performance expectations for the businesses they encounter, a sizeable number of the employees at these businesses are left to create their own path. Most workers are in need of interpersonal training, require regular stimulation and should be coached as to the objective of every customer interaction. Big dividends in productivity, customer satisfaction and a jump in referrals can be expected when workers that are visible to others have customer-centric guidelines.

Communication is the backbone of a healthy company
The clearer employees are on the ambitions of their organization and what their role is in reaching business objectives, the more engaged they are in the process. The key to unlocking this untapped potential? An inspired leader, a clear process and definite goals.

Financial Literacy For Business

Financial literacy is a term that has been used quite a bit since the financial crisis, which has left an indelible mark on the millennial generation that is rapidly becoming the largest group in the workforce.

Understanding the ramifications of financial literacy and personal finance are clearly important themes, but another aspect of financial literacy is often left unexamined. Small and medium size businesses form the backbone of the national economy and the economy in New Jersey. Either as stand-alone entities operating across the state, or as businesses that are embedded into supply and support chains for the numerous multinationals located in the state, small and medium size businesses are an important economic force. The harsh reality is, however, that most new businesses fail within a few years of opening, and a primary reason for their failure is a lack working capital and funding. Financial literacy is undeniably linked to business strategy and business objectives – if entrepreneurs and business owners do not truly understand the financial ins and outs of business, they are much less likely to successfully achieve stated objectives.

pexels-photo-237675To do what any business owner wants to do, to focus on growing the business and providing top notch quality to customers, the money has to be right. Getting the money right, however, is not something that will just take care of itself; it requires work and an understanding of what needs to be done. The impact of financial literacy on your business is not an abstract concept from a book. Obviously, every business and every market is different, but there are several concepts and tactics that can be used to make sure that the business has its money in the right place. Working with a financial professional familiar with the business is a great start, but the driving force must be the entrepreneur or business owner.

The first thing to understand, as it connects financial literacy and business strategy, is that income is not the same as cash flow. Income is an accounting concept, and as a CPA, I know that there are specific ways to differentiate income from the cash flows entering and exiting the business. For a business, cash flows are the most important financial metric that should be tracked – without being literate in cash flow, the business will not be able to grow and succeed. Since virtually everyone has a smartphone, and since with every smartphone, there are any number of apps, this is an opportunity to leverage technology for productivity. Snap-chatting is certainly important, but there are apps and tools that you can and should put on your phone and tablet to manage business. Many are available free of charge, and there are apps to help small business owners track everything from rental payments to inventory levels – and there is no reason to not leverage these tools.

The second thing to understand, and not reliant on technology, is that any business must have a financing plan in place, and this links directly back to the connection between strategy and financial literacy. Every new idea, product, website, app build-out, or services in new markets requires funding to support these initiatives. This is where financial literacy, business planning and strategy really are meshed together; without understanding the financing resources and tools available to the organization, the leaders of the organization will not be able to execute their goals and plans. There are obviously financing options that include selling ownership stakes in the business, and borrowing money, but there are new options starting to influence the business landscape. Crowdfunding, and raising capital on Kickstarter are just two of the high-profile options that have recently emerged as viable options. Understanding the opportunities and implications they have for the organization, both strategically and financially, are critical for entrepreneurs and business owners to understand.

business-cash-coin-concept-41301Third, and lastly, is the importance for business owners to have the confidence and ability to articulate the financing requirements and objectives for the business. The ability to articulate and explain the driving needs for financing, and financial implications of proposed business objectives will make doing business with external partners simpler. In addition to explaining the goals and financial framework of the business, the objective presentation of business goals, capital needs, and the uses of that capital will make obtaining that capital easier. Instead of feeling like the contestants on Shark Tank, often caught unaware of just how much capital they truly need to fund their business goals, entrepreneurs with a firm grasp of both their business strategy and financial literacy will be in a strong position to negotiate and obtain financing.

Financial literacy is important, good for your personal finances, good for business, and the tools are available to help any entrepreneur achieve improved business success. Resources include CPAs, certified financial professionals, and freely created and vetted resources such as //

The time to start is today, and your business will do better for it.

Business Tune-up: The Three Essentials

Working exclusively with closely-held companies provides a perspective that can benefit other business leaders in similar circumstances. If your company is underperforming, look inside and outside for clues to addressing these challenges. Most external issues concern the obsolescence of the offering, changes in the way customers buy the offering, or the strong economic forces of a consolidating industry. A good example of consolidation, combined with changing buy patterns, might be car insurers like GEICO grabbing lots of online customers that were once the domain of a neighborhood agent.

External challenges are generally beyond the control of the business. But, internal matters, when addressed early can improve the outlook rather quickly.  A growth or turnaround plan differs only in urgency.

Underperforming companies are confronted by operational deficiencies, have culture issues, or they lack a sufficient system for customer finding. At the core of most complaints from owners or business leaders about their operations, is that one or more of the three fundamental systems is operating ineffectively.

What’s your problem?

  1. Operational deficiencies – Consider the fact that customer satisfaction is the most important key to longevity. Your marketing sets expectations that the other parts of your enterprise must be able to bring to life. Consistently satisfying customer expectations depends on strong systems and dedicated people.

As competing these days is like an extreme sport, we are all typically up against really good competitors. Tackling operational weaknesses bends the satisfaction meter in your favor. Assess your internal structure like a franchisor might; qualifying every step and procedure in pursuit of the most efficient protocols.

  1. People problems – Your people dictate whether you fly high, or crash and burn. The “rank and file” wants to be led. Owners may believe that employees embrace the goals and feel invested in the organization, but most really don’t. Lead with a regular drumbeat of encouragement and personal interest.

Think like the coach of a professional sports team. Make sure each individual knows what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the goals of the organization. Hire the right people using clear criteria for job descriptions. Let go of underperformers while always on the lookout for talented people.

  1. Obsolete customer finding methods – No business lasts very long without a robust system for attracting and retaining customers. Continuing to employ grandpa’s old methods, or waiting for customers to call, “like they used to,” are not the cornerstones of a sustainable process.

Nail your value proposition, build on what satisfied customers might say about you and “stimulate” those with sales responsibilities. Develop a killer database/CRM of prospects, customers and friends of your company. Stay in touch with your “constituents” regularly and be the resource they come to rely upon.

Note to business owners – The leader is usually the one that has to change the most. As you address the 3 essentials consider what will be required of you. Leading will be your most important role. Ask yourself, how much personal change is needed and if you are prepared to see it through.

Steve Lauterback and his associates have worked with owners of privately-held companies to build robust business development platforms, optimize operational systems and improve the business culture. Our takeover partner option may be the right solution for your underperforming company.


New Jersey’s Business Challenges and Opportunities for a New Year

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE IS ESSENTIAL for companies that want to plan for long-term success, and COMMERCE asked many of New Jersey top CEOs to offer their predictions for 2017. Here are their insights, observations and analyses. Are you ready for 2017?


Baker Tilly

By Christine Anderson, CPA, CITP, Managing Partner of Assurance and Firm
Financial Services Industry Leade

The financial services industry will continue experienceanderson_christine-8821 significant change, with new opportunities and threats. Technology and infrastructure investments will evolve how business is transacted and streamline how we work. While some of this change is fueled by compliance requirements, competitive advantage will be won by organizations leveraging data to provide additional services and enhance the customer experience.


Giamo, Mark.assr ptr.NJ

By Mark Giamo, CPA, NJ Office Managing Partner–Assurance, Co-Leader—NY Metro Technology Industry Practice

Our firm’s most recent Techno logy Update indicate s that as demand for hardware continues to contract, organizations are looking to capture recurring revenue through SaaS and cloud-based services. Tech companies are also focusing on making smart cloud investments to fill the software and service gaps introduced by the Internet of Things, virtual reality, etc.,and we expect continued M&A activity.

Bederson LLP

By Matthew Schwartz, CPA, CFF, CFE, CIRA, Partnerbedersonmatt-3

On Oct. 4, 2016, CNBC reported that Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker said there was a strong case for raising interest rates, arguing that borrowing costs might need to rise significantly to keep inflation under control. My conclusion is that if the Fed does indeed raise interest rates, defaults will rise and the insolvency practice will be busy in 2017.

Deloitte & Touche LLP


By Chris Cooper, Partner, U.S. Audit Leader, Life Sciences and Health Care

2017 will be a busy year for accounting and finance professionals with the focus on complying with the latest FASB accounting standards. The revenue recognition standard takes effect for public companies in 2018 and the leasing standard in 2019. The SEC’s interest in non-GAAP measures will also continue to be a major focus for businesses
across all industries.

EisnerAmper LLP

minneforjranthonyBy Anthony Minnefor, Partner, Financial Services Assurance Practice Leader—NJ, PA

We believe private equity and venture capital firms will continue raising new funds that invest in companies that create new industries or disrupt old ones. We expect innovative and growing financial technology, space and robotics companies to receive capital. The wildcard in this is if the Fed starts raising rates.


By Donald Karlewicz, CPA, CGMA, Managing Partnergkgdon-photo

With a new administration taking office in Washington, there is renewed hope for positive change. This will drive the economy, which I predict will continue its recent pattern of steady growth. A strong economic climate is good for accounting firms, so I predict that 2017 will be another growth year for our firm and for our industry.
Goldstein Lieberman & Company LLC

By Phillip E. Goldstein, CPA, Co-Founder, Managing Partnerphillip-goldstein

2017 will be a good year for our firm and the accounting industry. CPA mergers and acquisitions are no longer a passing trend; they are the new normal. Fortunately, we have become very adept at facilitating the melding together of different entities for our clients and ourselves. The future is bright for businesses that develop this skill as well.

Grant Thornton LLP

By Mike Bernstein, NJ Audit Partner-in-Charge (Iselin)


The accounting industry must continue to stay relevant in a rapidly-changing business environment by making use of new technologies and recruiting excellent talent. Grant Thornton LLP is poised for continued growth with the firm’s “peoplefirst” culture and an unparalleled emphasis on quality. We help clients move confidently into the future through a broad range of advisory, audit and tax services.

By Mark Drozdowski, National Audit Leader–Life Sciences

Pharmaceutical and biotech companies will see a greater proportion of their revenues coming from a strong pipeline of specialty drugs. Congress will continue to scrutinize drug prices, but any legal or regulatory action will depend upon the future legislative elections.

PKF O’Connor Davies, LLP

By Kevin J. Keane, Managing Partner

With many changes in New Jersey’s tax environment, accounting firms will be counted on for advice and advisory services to help clients navigate this new paradigm. We expect more consolidation as niche players join larger firms to gain access to the resources and international reach needed to compete today. We see New Jersey as a continued growth market for our business.

Sobel & Co., LLC

By Mike LaForge, CPA, CGMA, 

Member of the Firm, Practice Leader, Manufacturing/Distribution Practice Group


The recently proposed changes to IRS regulations (if adopted) would eliminate discounts on the valuation of family businesses. As a result and in anticipation of this rule passing, the timeline for a family business to engage in succession planning and asset transfer to the next generation may be accelerated. We recommend early, thoughtful strategic planning under any scenario.

WeiserMazars LLP
By Michael Rofman, CPA, Partnermichael-rofman

A low-growth economy seems likely to continue for 2017, giving rise to continued industry consolidation and PE investments. Logistics companies should focus on reducing overhead to maintain operating margins and look to automate billing processes with electronic data interchanges. The most successful logistics companies use IT systems to differentiate themselves from their competition, which will improve profitability and efficiency.

Wilkin & Guttenplan, PC

sefi-silverstein-a4497069Member of the Firm, Practice Leader, Manufacturing/Distribution Practice Group

The recently proposed changes to IRS regulations (if adopted) would eliminate discounts on the valuation of family businesses. As a result and in anticipation of this rule passing, the timeline for a family business to engage in succession planning and asset transfer to the next generation may be accelerated. We recommend early, thoughtful strategic planning under any scenario.



Workflow Automation Systems Key Features & Benefits

Workflow Automation Systems

Key Features & Benefits 

In my last article I introduced the concept of Workflow Automation systems, what do they do, why they are so important, and how they allow you to define your organization’s hundreds of unique workflows, attach documents, provide visibility into both open and closed workflows (tasks), and ensure that these tasks are performed the same way, every time.


Implementing a workflow automation system provides huge benefits to every organization, large and small:


  • Reduce errors and make sure tasks don’t “fall through the cracks”

    Workflow automation dramatically reduces errors and prevents tasks from being missed. With automated workflow processes, it’s impossible for tasks to be forgotten.  It virtually eliminates excuses… like “no one told me” or “I must have missed that step.”
  • Improve visibility and control of enterprise processes

    With e-mail, only the senders and recipients have visibility. With workflow automation systems, every workflow (process) is visible by those that have rights, and provides the means by which management can measure “who’s doing what.”
  • Spot bottlenecks and increase efficiencyBecause workflow automation processes are visible and measurable, you can easily see the bottlenecks in your organization, allowing you to add or remove resources based on quantifiable information. It also allows you to capture and analyze why things are happening.
  • Empower employees to successfully manage their own work

    With the right automated processes in place, every employee knows what is expected of them and they are fairly and evenly held accountable for their actions. If tasks are not completed on time, someone will be notified.  Managers won’t have to micromanage their employees and ask questions, and employees won’t have to spend their time responding to status requests.
  • Employees are more efficient and effective in completing their tasks

    Workflow automation improves employee accountability. And employees prefer this, because they know the system has recorded their activities and they can withstand an “audit.”  With built-in dashboards and reporting, management can see what is really taking place – without having to interrupt employees and pull them away from their work.  Your team quickly becomes more efficient and effective.
  • Internal communication dramatically improves

    One of the huge benefits of workflow automation is the improvement of internal communication, which increases job satisfaction and reduces employee turnover. With workflow, nobody has to remember to tell the next person in line that “it’s their turn.”


Which brings us to the most important benefit for most organizations…




When employees are able to do more within the same time period, productivity skyrockets.  And more productivity means saving money for the organization.  It’s that simple.  Let’s say that your company has 25 employees, and that the median salary, with benefits, is $60,000.  Your monthly payroll is $125,000.  If productivity is boosted by just 5%, that’s $6,250 per month.


$75,000 per year, EVERY YEAR


And that’s before factoring in any of the other benefits a workflow automation system provides.


What should you be looking for in a workflow automation system?  Here are my top 10 requirements:


  • Easy-To-Define Process Flows An effective workflow automation system must allow definition of process flows in business steps, not technical activities. The system should allow “process owners” (business people, not programmers) to easily define and adjust workflow.  And it means that the process owners should be able to “think in a straight line,” defining key steps in the process, each requiring input, approval, or denial.  Sure, the finished product is a flowchart, but that’s not how most people think, and that’s not how workflow should be defined.  Bottom line: You shouldn’t have to be a “coder” to define a workflow.
  • User-Definable FormsYour workflow processes will need to have forms to support them. Just as each process (e.g. New Hire, Travel Request, Contract Review, etc.) is different, so will be the form that is designed to support it.  The fields on these forms need to be easily added and customized, and must support documents that need to be attached.  Finished forms should be intuitively easy to understand and easy to use… the moment a user sees it.
  • Cloud-Based The system should be cloud-based, allowing secure access anytime, and anywhere that it’s needed, without a significant investment upfront in hardware and software that must be continuously updated, upgraded and maintained.
  • Integrated Document ManagementThe system should support fully integrated document management. Document types should be user definable and easily searched.  External e-mail (from customers, vendors, etc.) should easily and automatically be “pulled” into the workflow system, forming the starting point for subsequent workflow processes.  And software (like Microsoft Office) should be easily integrated to make opening, editing and savings documents – within the workflow system – easy.
  • Automatic Workflow GenerationAutomatic workflow generation allows one workflow to generate another. This simplifies the definition of small, individual workflows, in bite sized pieces, without having to develop the “mother of all workflows.”
  • Role-Based ControlRole-based control is important, as it provides two key functions… It automatically allows the system to “know” who reports to whom (simplifying design and workflow routing) and allows for easy definition of security so that workflows that contain sensitive information are not visible to those that shouldn’t see it.
  • Mobile ApplicationsMobile applications are important to allow your users to access the workflow automation system from their smart phones and tablets.
  • Reporting and Dashboard ToolsReporting and dashboard tools allow you to easily define what you want to see and how you want to see it. For example, if you want to see all tasks you owe to others, sorted by project and by due date, (or perhaps the other way around), it should be available at the press of a button.
  • A Proper DatabaseThe back-end database should be able to scale with you and should be able to be queried by any number of standard industry reporting tools. Don’t fall into the trap of working with a “legacy” database system that cannot scale.
  • Integration ToolsIntegration tools are critical to allow you to connect the workflow system to your line-of-business applications. Workflow does not operate independently of other business processes, and your existing ERP and CRM systems are no exception.  You will quickly reach the point where you will want to build integration bridges between these systems, and you will need the tools to allow this.


If the time is right to consider a workflow automation system in your organization, be sure to evaluate more than one system, and avoid those systems that require hefty up-front licenses fees and long term commitment.  Vendors should be willing to provide a “proof-of-concept” system for you to evaluate, along with a satisfaction guarantee.  This makes your workflow automation provider a true partner… and makes sure they “earn their keep” every month.

To learn even more about Workflow Automation Systems join CIANJ at its Technology for Business Roundtable: Workflow Automation, Work Smarter, Not Harder on November 17, 2016. Click here to register for the event!