Spreading the Word

Mid-Year Economic Roundup

Be with the Press, Rather than Against

In the age of SARS, Stay Home Or Cough at Work?

Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring and Bart Jackson was prepared for the June 18, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Escape from the Cube Mentality

Children are sent to play and study in two different

rooms. Both rooms are identical in size and furnishings. In the red

room, the children are more agitated, aware, and alive. They’re even

hungrier. In the room painted green, they doze more frequently and

are more listless. By itself, an interesting study. But in this case,

all the children are blind. Colors work in mysterious ways.

Productivity counts. No one doubts it. When it comes to getting the

latest tool or software to help their staff make better use of their

time, most employers willingly cut the check. But ask the average

employer to invest one dime in enhancing work environment for the

sake of productivity, and the purse snaps shut. Such considerations

often are dismissed as silly and unscientific.

Workplace productivity is the focus of "Learning and Performance:

An Inside View of the Latest Trends and Topics," on Thursday,

June 19, at 5 p.m. at Summerfield Suites, 4375 Route 1 South. Cost:

$40. Register at 609-279-4818. Sponsored by the Mid-New Jersey chapter

of the American Society for Training and Development (www.ASTD.com,)

the event features two speakers. Bob Zimel, account executive

for Achieve Global, brings back the news from the ASTD International

Conference and Expo, discussing the shift in hot buzz topics from

E-learning to measurements of performance outcome. Jeanette Schwartz,

founder of Creative Concepts Unlimited, presents methods of improving

showroom and work areas.

Sometime in the mid-1980s, the office walls came tumbling down and

the cube farm was born. Everyone hated it as much then as they do

now. "But there actually was a psychological theory behind placing

workers in these waist-high cubicles," says Schwartz. "Planners

sought to give employees the feeling that they were one of the team

and that everybody was working for the good of the group. The cube

fails miserably on two counts. First, spiritually, Americans do not

enjoy envisioning themselves as one of the masses; for some odd reason

they prefer to think of themselves as individuals. Secondly, cube

farms are so noisy that you cannot hear yourself talk, let along think.

So workers don’t think.

Correcting cubes and design flaws in everything from factory floors

to display showrooms has been Schwartz’s calling for the past two

decades. Born in Manhattan, she grew up in the Adirondacks, where

she became addicted to ideal environments. After majoring in international

business at New York University and marketing at Fashion Institute

of Technology, she designed home furnishings for J.C. Penney and other

companies. Finally, after years of merchandising and witnessing the

subtle, if not surprising, effects of ergonomics, Feng Shui, color

therapy, and environmental factors, Schwartz decided to expand her

services. In l983, she founded Monmouth Junction-based Creative Concepts

Unlimited on 119 Sandhill Road, a consulting business centered on

creating more efficient workspaces.

There is nothing mystical about arranging a showroom or work area,

insists Schwartz. It is a matter of acknowledging certain scientific

facts and opting to work with them, rather than defy them.

Showroom circular. In the Western Hemisphere, gravity

circulates bodies of water — and of homo sapiens — to the

right. Museum curators know this, and typically arrange extended exhibits

to lead patrons in that direction. Thus in the ideal display room,

goods are placed in a clockwise circle, leading the customer around,

ending with the most expensive auto or dress. The wise salesperson

leads his customer in a flowing, clockwise circle, rather than jerking

him from item to item or standing between client and the product.

Cube office flaws. Office designers have three choices

for creating group work spaces: individual desks grouped in a large

open area; low-height cubicles; and offices with floor-to-ceiling

separations. The low-height cubicles, despite their overwhelming popularity,

engender low self esteem — and higher levels of noise than an

open room.

Additionally, Schwartz points out, they create more subtle, but no

less real, problems for the worker. People have more nerve endings

along their spines than anywhere else. Remember that rush of blood

when somebody last sneaked up on you from behind? Frequently, cubicles

place an employee’s back to an open door. He feels distracted and

threatened all day. And the co-worker coming to call is greeted by

the seemingly inattentive backside of the person he came to see.

So why not place the door opening to the worker’s side? This creates

another interesting problem, Schwartz notes. The movement of passersby

catches the ever-alert eye of the hunting-gathering homo sapiens and

draws it away from the inert letters on his screen or paper. "But

worst of all," says Schwartz, "the cubicles are so small and

so pre-fixed that the individual has no control over the arrangement

of his work area." He must contort himself rather than adjust

his tools.

Cube remedies. The small cube office, low or high, appears

to be here to stay, at least until designers try to blend humanity

and profit into their floor plans. But there are some simple solutions.

The woes of an exposed employee backside can be ameliorated by placing

mirrors judiciously in front of him. Small, but well aimed, these

rear view reflectors afford the individual casual and constant chances

to check the doorway.

Lighting can enhance focus and provide some personal choice in work

area. The key here is to combat all the oscillating light of the computer

screen and the oscillating light of the fluorescent lights overhead.

"Your screen puts out alternating electric current which fluctuates

6,000 times per second," says Schwartz. "Our bodies operate

on direct current. This alternating current causes incredible tension

and mineral depletion. When the United Nations installed devices to

counter this, health improved dramatically." She feels the best

lighting is pure daylight and should be brought into the work area

by whatever means.

The personal cube. "I am the last person in the world

to encourage filling an office with a whole lot of unconnected trinkets,"

says Schwartz. "But you do need some reminders of why you are

there." Remember how gravity draws us northerners from the left

to the right? Schwartz suggests we arrange our offices along this

line. Begin with yourself. Place the picture that best depicts your

essence to your left. Then moving right, go beyond yourself. Put out

photos of your family, your friends, your projects, and your avocations.

Further right, place your awards and achievements. This arrangement

leads from you from yourself to your purpose.

Oh, how many rubber trolls do you really need to represent your essence?

Schwartz suggests live (not fake) plants instead.

The above ideas are being adopted by a number of businesses. They

find workplace enhancement productive, logical, and even scientific.

However, Schwartz has to be careful not to tell many of these leaders

that they are adopting the Oriental methods of Feng Shui or that they

are using color, aroma, or plant therapy. She wouldn’t want them to

think that they are getting soft or silly. Best that they just adopt

these ideas one at a time, and see absenteeism go down and profits

go up. Never mind where the solutions came from.

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Spreading the Word

Remember Elisha Gray, William Gray, Joseph Henry, Johann

Reis, Michael Faraday, or Russian inventor Patrov? Unless you are

a collector of arcane industrial trivia, you will not recall that

these gentlemen, who, along with one other, all invented a working

telephone, and did so at about the same time. However, you may be

familiar with that one other fellow who targeted Queen Victoria and

got her to wire Buckingham Palace with his invention for all the world

to envy. Today, everybody knows good old Alexander Bell and the multi-billion

dollar company built on his invention. He advertised as precisely

as he invented.

Those seeking to avoid the dust bin of arcane industrial trivia may

want to glean some tips from David Levine’s free "Advertising

and Profit Building Workshop," on Wednesday, June 25, at 6 p.m.

at the Hyatt Hotel in New Brunswick. Call 732-828-4300. Affiliated

with Action International, business coach Levine handles sales, marketing,

advertising, and financial needs for scores of clients from his Highland

Park offices. An admitted generalist, Levine explains that his seminar

covers a wide spectrum of business aspects depending on audience,

and is aimed at benefiting both business owners and executives.

Levine says he is a consultant who comes to his clients offering neither

pre-designed umbrellas, nor flood insurance, but merely the question,

"Where is it raining?" Born in Manhattan, he earned a bachelor’s

degree in banking and finance and an M.B.A. in marketing and finance

M.B.A. from New York University. After five years as a financial analyst

for Dun & Bradstreet, Levine shifted to marketing strategies. He spent

the next 25 years working for Young & Rubicam and other advertising

and marketing firms. He is now one of 500 business coaches affiliated

with Australia-based Action International (www.Action-International.com).

As Alexander Graham Bell’s competitors proved, building a better anything

does not ensure a beaten path to your door. And for Levine, sheer

quantitative advertising holds no more likely a solution. Before owners

rush to action, he asks them to ask some very basic business questions

about their companies.

What trade are you in? The railroad companies of this

country went broke, says Levine, because they answered this first,

most important question wrong. They thought of themselves as being

in the railroad business, and fell down under competition from long-range

trucking and air freight. If they had answered that they were in the

transportation business, their companies might have enjoyed quite

another outcome.

"UPS is a great leveler," says Levine. Somewhere around the

globe someone else can probably replicate your field fairly closely.

Thus, each firm has to establish what is called a unique selling proposition.

From there an exact target audience can be set up for your advertisements.

How do you see ads? "All too many business leaders

envision advertising as a write off," says Levine. They plunk

down their money for the business sign, the fliers, the radio and

TV spots, and just glumly figure that’s what it costs to get the word

out. Levine tries to convince clients to see advertising as a specific,

limited investment, netting a definite return. This requires more

than a change in attitude. It entails a precise method of ad investing.

Business owners who invest $500 to get their coupon in the Clipper

magazine must establish an exact method of knowing how many customers

— both first-time customers and repeat customers — this $500

has brought to their door and how much they spent. Was it worth the

investment?

Phone transactions should involve pre-training and scripting to elicit

measurement of ad effectiveness. Levine offers one caveat here: customers

are notoriously inaccurate in telling you how they heard of your product.

Web tracking, coupons with marked numbers, and radio ads where the

customer mentions a set phrase all provide exact information. But

don’t place too much faith in a verbal reference.

How good is my target? Henry David Thoreau once remarked

that in the end most men hit what they aim at. After you have defined

your unique selling proposition, are the folks on your list really

worth your time and money? Defining ad list quality can be a tedious

job, but it plugs several holes in your ad budget.

How much help? There’s a long-standing myth that only

the big players can have access to a full board of experts. It’s all

right for John Paul Getty to boast of how he surrounded himself with

men smarter than himself, but how can the small business person afford

a brain trust? Levine insists that you do not have to purchase all

your expertise. There is no reason why even a small business should

not have a board including expert legal, finance, production, and

marketing veterans.

Levine labels himself a generalist, because in the final analysis,

that’s what those who run and coach businesses must be. On a successful

ship, the captain may make or delegate all the decisions, but input

comes from every crew member.

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Mid-Year Economic Roundup

The National Association of Industrial and Office Properties

(NJ-NAIOP) hosts its second annual Mid-Year Economic Roundup on Wednesday,

June 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. Cost:

$120. Call 201-998-1421 or visit www.njnaiop.org.

James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning

& Policy at Rutgers, moderates a panel discussion. Speakers for the

evening include Jeffrey Kelter, CEO of Keystone Property Trust,

who focuses on the perspective of the owner and landlord. Carmen

Bowser, managing director of mortgage and real estate investments

of Teachers Insurance & Equity Association, College Retirement Equities

Fund, discusses the state of the capital markets. Andrew Merin,

executive vice president of Cushman & Wakefield of New Jersey gives

an overview of current investment trends.

Among the issues on the table are the trend in capital flows to core

and opportunistic assets; prospects for the near and long term; and

the performance of the various real estate sectors. Panelists also

discuss the factors accounting for New Jersey’s expanding industrial

market; the challenges facing the office and industrial market; the

market’s response to the existing and future challenges; and the impact

of the war in Iraq on the market.

Top Of Page
Be with the Press, Rather than Against

Public relations is a challenge in any environment.

Throw in covert drug enforcement, war, and nation building, and the

job of projecting a positive image, while at the same time protecting

sensitive information, becomes a verbal minefield. It is Colonel

Jeffrey Douglass’s job to traverse that minefield on behalf of

his employer, the United States Marine Corps.

Douglass gives the keynote address at the NJ CAMA Annual Conference

on Thursday, June 26, at 8:30 a.m. at the Sarnoff Corporation. Other

speakers at the day-long event include Seymour Chwast, co-founder

of Pushpin Studios; Nick Wreden, author of Fusion Branding;

and Jeffery Winsor, strategic alliance manager of Hewlett Packard’s

Indigo Division. Cost: $95. Call 609-799-4900.

Douglass, a 1975 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, has been

with the Marine Corps — on and off — for 28 years. He has

also worked on Wall Street as an E.F. Hutton financial advisor, helped

to pilot the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry through the Clinton

healthcare reform years, and served as vice president of marketing

for two corporations.

His first stint with the Marines came right after he graduated from

college, shortly after the war in Vietnam ended. He went off active

duty in 1979, but remained a reservist. He explains that Marine Corps

reservists can return to active duty, sometimes for short periods

of time. With healthcare reform on the back burner, and pharmaceutical

companies breathing easier, he found himself between jobs in the mid-1990s

and called up the Marines, asking for 30 days of active duty. He planned

to use the time, in part, to ponder his next move, but the Corps asked

him to stay on in its public affairs division, and he decided to do

so.

Marine recruiting ads pitch adventure, and Douglass has had his share

during the past 10 years. He was stationed in Bosnia when that country

was rebuilding after war and in tiny Caribbean islands from which

the United States is seeking to stop the flow of illegal drugs. Everywhere

he goes, it is his job to feed information to the press without jeopardizing

his organization’s mission or people. While the situations he deals

with are not those typically faced by corporations and small businesses,

his tips for dealing with the press and for getting publicity for

projects apply to any businesses.

Reporters are people too. In 1995, Douglass was taking

a television crew from ABC in Atlanta on a tour of marijuana fields

on a Caribbean island when a surveillance crew’s helicopter crashed.

He told the news crew about the crash, and told the reporters that

he would take them to the site, but asked them not to speak to the

crew, none of whom were injured.

There is always an investigation of such crashes, and Douglass says

that unguarded statements by a crew member could end his career. He

recounts saying to the press, "I’ll make you a deal. "I’ll

take you to have a look, if you’ll give me time." He promised pictures

right away and full information soon; the reporters were satisfied.

In another instance, Douglass took reporters into remote hills to

watch U.S. Drug Enforcement Agents (DEA) at work. He asked them not

to show any faces in the photos they took, because doing so could

put the agents’ lives at risk. The reporters complied with no protest.

Douglass says he has never seen a single example of a reporter who

was unwilling to go along with a such a request.

Reporters are people you need to know. In the case of

the helicopter crash, Douglass was dealing with a reporter who was

a friend. The two had entertained one another and shared meals. Such

relationships help to ensure cooperation when sensitive situations

arise.

Spokespeople need training. The employee sent out to explain

an oil spill or an uprising at an overseas facility is often a youngster

fresh out of college, Douglass observes. This is not all bad. "They’re

the people who have all the energy," he says with a laugh. But

often the spokesman is both young and unprepared, a state of affairs

that can be deadly for him, as well as for the reputation of the company

he is representing. "There could be a hostile press, cholera,

snakes, terrorists, filthy water," says Douglass, detailing a

sample of the possible dangers.

Before dispatching an associate assistant to the junior vice president

of communications to the jungle, do research. "Seek as many information

resources as possible," advises Douglass. "The Department

of State and the embassy staff know the safe roads," he says.

"They know where to find drinkable water." Most countries

want American businesses operating on their land to do well, and will

be helpful.

The Associated Press (AP) and similar global news organizations can

be helpful, too. Question to ask include what kind of cell phones

get the best signals, what power current is available, what kind of

public transportation is available, and whether there are places to

fill prescriptions.

Spokespeople may need to take five. When a crisis is big

news, says Douglass, it is not unusual for a spokesperson to alight

from a cab, possibly covered with mud, and almost definitely exhausted,

only to have microphones and cameras shoved in his face. His advice

is to calmly announce the need for a brief period of time to prepare

to speak with press. Find a hotel room, grab a shower, and maybe a

cat nap, and then give a statement and take questions.

Information may need to be withheld. The best way to deal

with the press is to be candid. Let reporters know that they will

get all the information the organization is free to release, but that

some parts of the story may have to be kept back, at least for a while.

Douglass compares a relationship with the press to a business

partnership. "The more you communicate," he says, "the

better the relationship."

Top Of Page
In the age of SARS, Stay Home Or Cough at Work?

Worker exposure to SARS and other infectious diseases

continues to present dilemmas for employers. On that subject, John

Sarno, executive director of the Employers Association of New Jersey,

had some advice for association members in the May Newsletter (609-393-7100,

www.eanj.org). Sarno’s instruction on the legal implications

of illness could apply to any communicable disease:

"There is no definite answer on what steps employers should take

when an employee returns from one of the areas that have been identified

by the CDC. If an employee admits to being exposed to SARS or exhibits

symptoms, then the employer would have a reasonable belief based on

`objective evidence’ that the employee will pose a direct threat due

to a medical condition. Under this circumstance, the employer would

be `reasonable’ in requiring the employee to stay home for 7 to 10

days, which is considered by medical experts to be the incubation

period for SARS.

"The more difficult situation is when the employee has not `knowingly’

been exposed to SARS, nor does the employee have any identifiable

symptoms. Under these circumstances, requiring employees to stay home

may be `unreasonable’ and a violation of employees’ rights under various

laws. If an employer decides to require an employee to stay out, in

order to reduce some of the liability, it would be a good course of

action to make this a paid leave. In this way, the employee would

have less to complain about and would have no monetary damages.

"Perhaps a more modest cautionary measure would be to require

the returning employee to obtain medical clearance before starting

work, but even then, the employer must have a reasonable belief that

an employee `may cause a direct threat.’ In similar situations, a

`reasonable belief’ may be based on observations of the individual

or on some reliable knowledge that an employee has a communicable

disease. Whether an employer can draw a reasonable belief from the

CDC’s travel alert is unclear.

"Finally, if an employer is truly concerned about the possibility

of the spread of SARS, they should institute a written policy on communicable

diseases, which would include the obligation on the part of the employee

to report their exposure to such diseases, and that they should stay

home during the period of incubation and illness, and whether this

period will be paid or unpaid."


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