There are two ways to boost profits: Increase revenues or cut costs. Gerald Wright, president of All American Moving Group LLC in Memphis, Tennessee, takes the latter route seriously.
The 37-year-old slashed his general and administrative costs for payroll by 60 percent when he moved to direct deposit-though many employees didn't have bank accounts. He gave those workers payroll cards that can be used at First Tennessee Bank ATMs.
Hesitant at first, employees quickly realized the bank's monthly $5 fee saved them the 2 to 3 percent charges at gas stations and other check-cashing outlets.
Bank of America and other banks have similar pilot projects. And now Visa and MasterCard are getting in on the act. Who would've thought a cost-savings measure could also be an employee benefit?
"That'll Never Work!"
In his book Weird Ideas That Work: 111/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing and Sustaining Innovation (Free Press), Robert Sutton explores such counter-intuitive management techniques as getting happy people to fight and hiring people you don't need. We asked him about these and other cornerstones of success for creative firms.
Should creative work environments be happy ones?
Robert Sutton: No. In fact, you should seek and incite discomfort. When we're in the mode of doing something new and difficult, we're unhappy. This is the domain of creativity.
What types of people should you hire to build a creative
Sutton: Hire at least a small percentage of oddballs, or smart people who "don't get" how they're supposed to act or think. They are difficult. You and others probably won't like them, but their ability to think differently is the key to success in [companies] from Sun to Atari to IDEO.
What's the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when they
try to be creative?
Sutton: They search out people who tell them how wonderful they are. You want to be optimistic but be exposed to people who disagree with you and have other perspectives. [Former Intel CEO] Andy Grove thinks you're useless if you agree with him. He may not be the nicest person in the world, but he knows how to get the ideas on the table.
The economic slump has high-level execs hitting the pavement. These veterans could offer just what your company needs-but will they take a lower position than they'd previously held, probably for less cash?
The answer may surprise you. Ninety-three percent of executive search firm Drake Beam Morrin Inc.'s offices report that executives "sometimes" or "often" take positions that offer lower salaries or titles than they'd held previously. The key is finding an executive who won't flee to greener pastures when the economy improves. You'll need to sort through the downsized talent and try to understand their motivation-and how to motivate them, says Charley Donohoe, managing consultant in Drake Beam Morrin's Winston-Salem, North Carolina, office. To executives stifled by corporate bureaucracy, you represent an opportunity. "[The prospect] sees the excitement of going in and making an immediate impact," says Donohoe.
Keeping that energy intact requires selling the candidate on your potential. If you plan to offer equity or bonuses, spell out the details early. Just realize that money isn't the only motivator. Downwardly mobile individuals might want your opening because they don't want to leave the geographic area. Others might be looking to scale back their responsibilities as they approach retirement. Either could make a great addition, as long as you allow them to contribute.
Business writer Chris Sandlund works out of Cold Spring, New York.