Attention employers everywhere (that means any organization that has people in any department, any profession, and at any level providing a service to others): What comes to mind when you think about customer service? Patience. Attentiveness. Knowledge. Positive attitude. Cheerfulness. Speed. Accuracy. Intuition. Composure. Flexibility. Yes, these soft skills are important in delivering good customer service. But they don’t top the list of the most critical customer service skills. Whether it is in working with patients, clients or customers, the most successful people are those who consistently provide clear and complete communication, are genuinely compassionate, and demonstrate real kindness. Being ‘likeable’ is also important. That’s right: Communication. Compassion. Kindness. Likeability.
Yet, these skills or qualities aren’t taught in vocational programs, colleges or universities. Why? While customer service is considered somewhat important, it really isn’t valued as highly as hard skills at most organizations. Certainly, a world-renowned cardio-vascular surgeon is valued more for his deep knowledge and ability to perform cutting-edge surgeries with precision rather than his charm, gift of gab or bedside manner. His hard skills are why he is paid ‘the big bucks’. However, studies are finding a critical connection between great customer service and profitability in many occupations; even more important than hard skills. In fact, in some occupations, good communication, compassion, likeability and kindness is the difference between a thriving business and one that is drowning in expenses, lawsuits and complaints. If the name of the game in business is to make money, then employers need to hire nice, friendly, caring and communicative employees in order to enhance the business’ bottom line. The good news is that these skills can be taught!
When a company owner or someone in a position of power hires and promotes family members for choice jobs, it is called nepotism. This type of favoritism is widespread and reluctantly accepted as the perks of those in positions of power. But there is another form of favoritism that is also widespread: cronyism. However, cronyism is highly resented by employees and is often forbidden by employers. Cronyism is providing friends and associates with jobs, positions of authority and special opportunities without regard to their qualifications and merit. It really is a lot like nepotism, but for those who aren’t family members, just friends of those in power. Unlike nepotism which is typically handled out in the open (ie father passes the helm to the son), cronyism is often handled covertly, probably because it is such a huge bone of contention.
Indeed, a lot of subterfuge is expended disguising acts of cronyism. But the subterfuge is pointless. A 2011 survey by the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University found that 92% of senior business executives had seen blatant favoritism influence the filling of a job position. Of those, 84% said they had seen it at their own company. So no one is being fooled by the attempt to hide the practice. The question is whether cronyism is really bad for business. If so, why do business people – who are supposedly focused on the company’s success — persist in the practice?
Nepotism can be found in practically every industry in the world, even in the highly competitive fields of construction, real estate and finance. Billionaire real estate tycoon Donald Trump has always given his adult children special employment opportunities. His son, Donald, Jr., age 35, is Executive Vice President of the privately-held Trump Organization. His daughter, Ivanka, age 31, also works in her father’s organization. His son Eric, age 29, is Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions. It is doubtful that even the most exceptionally brilliant, well-educated and hard-working 29-year-old could land an EVP position at a billion dollar organization unless he was related to the owner. In fact, Trump’s children openly admit that nepotism got them in the door, but also assert they’ve had to pull their weight after landing the job.
If nepotism is that widespread and prevalent in businesses big and small, it stands to reason that there must be some benefits to nepotism. Certainly, it could be argued that the children of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs are likely to have attended the finest schools and have a keener understanding of the family business than any outsider. Yet, many human resource experts have come to regard nepotism as ultimately damaging to business. That is because it often interferes with a company’s operations and possibly creates an environment that is demoralizing to employees. Even though widespread, nepotism as a strategy to fill the best jobs has some serious drawbacks.
It was recently announced that 84-year-old media mogul Rupert Murdoch will be handing the leadership reigns of the 21st Century Fox / News Corp. media conglomerate to his son, James Murdoch. As part of the reorganization, Fox COO Chase Carey will step down from his role. James Murdoch got the appointment despite the 2011 revelation that News Corp’s News of the World reporters were hacking phones to get the scoop on stories. At that time, News of the World, a U.K.-based newspaper, was managed by James Murdoch, who was called before British Parliament to answer questions about the matter. News of the World closed shortly after the scandal. The debacle did not affect James Murdoch’s selection to take over leadership of the media conglomerate from his father.
For as long as businesses have existed, so has nepotism. Nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence to favor relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. It stems from the Latin word for nephew, which kind of goes to the heart of the practice. The most familiar forms of nepotism have been passing down the leadership of a family business from father to son and giving key positions in a family business to children, grandchildren, nieces, and of course, nephews. It’s a practice that has been around — and accepted — since ancient times. With small family businesses in olden times, it was only natural that a son apprenticed with his father, learned the family business, and eventually took over when the father passed or was too old to work. Back before there were colleges, technical programs and other paths to learn a trade, an apprenticeship in the family-business was the primary way to pass skills from generation to generation. It was not only a good thing, but also a necessary one. It was also natural for a parent to want his family to continue to benefit from a business he built from scratch. But nepotism hasn’t been restricted to just mom-n-pop shops. Like Century 21 Fox / News Corp., conglomerates have been handed down from parent to child. Indeed, sons have even inherited kingdoms from their fathers since time immemorial.
The world has changed a lot since ancient times. Almost everything about how businesses operate has changed, evolving to accommodate new technology, systems for teaching trades and occupations, and methods for recruiting and managing staff. There is no longer a need for nepotism. Yet, nepotism still exists; alive and well in the 21st century in organizations large and small. What has changed is how nepotism is viewed by many. Not only do some complain about the unfairness of nepotism, but business pundits question if nepotism is bad for business. That begs the question: is nepotism a good thing or a bad thing? Is it an invaluable pipeline of highly-qualified talent that business owners and leaders can tap inexpensively to fill key vacancies? Or is it a human resources scourge that, when allowed to spread unchecked, contaminates and kills businesses?
Adding 280,000 jobs in May, 2015, the U.S. unemployment rate now stands at 5.5% and we are seeing more people return to the workforce. That’s below the average U.S. unemployment rate between 1948 until 2015 of 5.83%, and it’s about half of the all time highest national unemployment rate of 10.8% recorded in November 1982. In fact, U.S. companies have hired over 200,000 employees every month in all but one of the last 15 consecutive months, and over four million new positions were filled since the start of 2014. That’s a lot of hiring!
For most businesses, hiring is serious business. Perhaps more than ever before, it is imperative for a company to find the “right” person for the job. Hiring the wrong person can cost a company anywhere from 35% to 65% of the position’s salary plus a lot of time and aggravation to recruit, hire and train another person if the first hire doesn’t work. That is why managers carefully search for the candidate who is going to best “fit” with the work and staff. But what exactly does “fit” mean? Should the leadership look for the individual who has the best skills, training and experience: someone who is the right fit for the job? Or should they search for the candidate who best matches the organization’s style: someone who is the right fit for the company’s culture? Or should the hiring manager seek the candidate who will get along best with the person in charge: someone who is the right fit for the boss? When looking to hire, what or who should the candidate “fit” in order to generate the greatest productivity and results for the company?
The world is not always a fair place. Some people are born into money while others are born into poverty. Some people are born healthy and others are born sickly. Some people are just prettier or more charismatic or intelligent than others. None of that seems fair. But it is human nature to want to impose a sense of justice in the world.
Indeed, fairness is a fundamental concept that everyone understands. We all carry a sense of justice and know what it feels like to be wronged. Issues having to do with equal treatment and fairness are often emotional and controversial. It is especially sensitive when comes to the topic of equal pay for equal work. In such situations, business leaders and managers need to consider all the evidence to determine what is equal, fair and equitable in order to do what’s right for both the company and its employees.
Currently, women outnumber men in U.S. college classrooms. Women also outpace men in college completion in the U.S. In fact, women now account for 60% of all Bachelor degree holders in the U.S. Women also continue to increase their participation in the labor force. This is great for businesses and even better for the nation’s economy. However, while the Equal Pay Act of 1963 requires that men and women in the U.S. be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment, it seems that neither the educational level nor quantity of women in the workforce has resulted in ‘equal’ pay and opportunities for women. The most common statistic cited is that women earn .78 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is certainly not equal. This disparity is pervasive from entry level positions all the way to the top. According to CNN Money, 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at S&P Fortune 500 companies are held by women. Of those 500 companies, just 24 have female CEOs (less than 5%). And of the top 200 best paid CEOs in America in 2014, 13 were women (6.5%). There weren’t any females among the top 10 best-paid CEOs, and only two women (Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Martine Rothblatt at United Therapeutics) were among the top 50 best-paid CEOs. Of those that did make it to the top spot, the average pay for the top female CEOs in the U.S. in 2014 was $20 million, 11.5% less than the $22.6 million for the overall average.
Based on those numbers, it appears that opportunities and compensation for women at every level is still not “equal” to men. But is it fair or equitable? Equal, fair and equitable do not mean the same thing. Sometimes, something that is not equal might be fair and equitable. Other times, something that is fair and equitable is not necessarily equal. What is the difference between equal, fair and equitable? The question of equal versus fair or equitable comes up often as businesses deal with issues of race, gender, age and other factors related to hiring, compensating and managing staff. What should forward-thinking companies shoot for when weighing who to hire, how much to pay, and what rules should govern the culture of a company in its treatment of employees of both genders at every level? Is equal the goal or is fairness the goal? If equitable is the bulls-eye, then who is the arbiter of what is or isn’t fair and impartial?
A hiccup treatment device. A snake walking system. Carry-out food containers. Tiny umbrella for your drink. A fireplace waterfall. A wind-harnessing bicycle. What do these things have in common? These are all odd but real solutions to specific problems. More importantly, besides being a little strange, they are also among the millions of inventions that have been patented since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) first started issuing patents in 1790. A patent protects an invention the way a trademark protects a brand and a copyright protects intellectual property. However, unlike trademarks and copyrights, which don’t need to be registered to be in effect, patents do require an application and approval to get patent protection.
That makes patents less attractive to the average small or mid-sized business. That’s because taking an idea from conception to patent is a long, rigorous, and expensive process. An idea that isn’t fully developed might result in patent protection that is too narrow in scope. And patenting an idea that never gets to market is a waste of good money. It can cost from $25,000 to $50,000 to get an idea patented. Yet the vast majority of patents are never commercialized. So when does it make sense to patent a product or process? And what protection does a patent provide?
Anyone with a new invention or process must file for a patent in order to protect his or her ownership and use rights. However, that is not so for new works of art, photos, pictures, songs, books, manuscripts, publications, plays, movies, and shows, among other things. For items of creative expression, copyright is automatic, meaning that nothing needs to be done to claim copyright protection. Although additional rights are provided if the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, legal protection is guaranteed once a work is created – which is the day it is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.”
That’s not all that is different between copyrights and other intellectual property protections such as patents and trademarks. That is why this is an area of business about which there are many questions. Why is a creative work automatically copyrighted but not other kinds of inventions? Do copyright protections expire or do they last forever, like a trademark? And what kind of legal protection does copyright offer the average person or business? The answers to these questions help shed light on how people and businesses can protect creative property.
The average person knows very little about patents, copyrights, trademarks and service marks. They all fall within the complex legal realm of protecting the rights to something unique created by or belonging to a person or company, generally referred to as ‘intellectual property’. If you ask the typical entrepreneur if his brand needs a trademark or service mark, he probably wouldn’t know. And if you asked an average CEO to explain if or when a product needs a patent, he is unlikely to know the answer. In fact, even the average attorney knows little about this niche area of the law. It focuses on that special axis point where creativity and invention intersects with business and marketing.
While multinational companies have huge legal departments that handle trademarks and service marks for their intellectual property, the average mid-sized and small businesses generally do not. In fact, the leadership at small and mid-sized companies may not even give any thought at all to protecting the company’s intellectual property. Although they should protect their brand, products or services from possible infringement, most don’t. And that is risky business. The first step in protecting intellectual property is to understand the basics about the protections available and how they work.