• WisBusiness

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tina Hallis: The culture of the nod

By Tina Hallis
When General Motors recently released its own internal investigation of how a car defect could kill thirteen people and be ignored for more than a decade it was a breathtaking moment.

Breathtaking because it was a peek behind the curtain at one of the world's largest corporations and the view wasn't pretty. GM faulted a culture where no one took responsibility for problems and even claimed its own engineers failed to understand how their cars were built.

How can this happen?

GM's broken and deadly culture made headlines but they are far from alone. Many companies, including the ice cream shop down the street, have work environments suffering from distrust, blame and defensiveness. Large or small, these companies are throwing away billions of dollars every year in lost productivity by suffocating the potential of their people – the single most valuable asset in any corporate structure.

Think about your own business. Your people are a tremendous source of ideas on ways to improve the organization's bottom line, but how often do you listen to them? Would they share their thoughts with you? Or do you make them feel like just a cog in the wheel instead of a valued human being?

Most workers want to give their all. Most want to make a difference. Wisconsin is coming out of an economic malaise where people were grateful to have any job, but that's changing. Instead of just trying to hang on to any job people are looking for opportunities to have an impact. To keep and attract the best talent, companies need to give their people the right tools to succeed. The smartest leaders are already retooling.

The first step is having managers and leaders who care. When bosses care, it's easier for them to understand what their people need to be successful; A sense that what they do matters, opportunities to use their strengths, a culture of belonging, and a boss who will listen to their ideas.

Many leaders may say work is not a place for emotions, it's about getting stuff done. I guess they prefer to hire zombies. I've heard some employees refer to their company as the place of the living dead. What they end up with are people who show up to get their paycheck and do the best they can considering how little they care. But more than ever, we need people who care about what they do, who are fully engaged and eager to bring their best effort.

If you are doubtful, just look at GM and their "culture of the nod." Managers around the table would hear about a problem, nod and then do nothing – no accountability and no sense of pride or ownership. It didn't work for GM and it won't work in your shop.

I see the "nod" happen every day at all kinds of companies. Leaders think if no one is complaining everything must be okay. Your people may not be talking to you, but they are talking to co-workers, family, and their online world of Facebook friends.

Workers won't talk because they think you won't believe them or do anything or worse because they'll get into trouble. No one wants to rock the boat and hurt what little job security they may have.

Sadly, more than two-thirds of American workers, according to a 2013 Gallup Report, feel no connection or sense of purpose in their work. This means that before I even walk through your front door, I know there is a good chance your company's work culture has room for significant improvement.

Leaders love metrics and I've got a good one for you; your bottom line. The profitability of your company is directly connected to the performance and success of your people. Yes, it's difficult dealing with "feelings" in a business setting but get over it. Accept that your workers matter, engage them in your process, and give them the tools to succeed. If they succeed, you succeed.

If you disagree, you can always try the GM way.

-- Hallis, is the founder of The Positive Edge, a Wisconsin company dedicated to helping people and organizations fulfill their true potential.


Friday, June 27, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: SBA makes it easier to get smaller loans

By MaryBeth Matzek
If you run a business and are looking for a loan of less than $350,000, things will soon get a little easier.

Starting in July, the Small Business Administration will begin streamlining its loan approval process, making it easier for businesses to get loans under $350,000. And if you're in the market for a loan of less than $150,000, the agency will cover the fees.

"This is just a continuation of recent practices by the SBA," says Eric Ness, district director for the SBA in Wisconsin.

The agency is also doing more to promote its smaller loans. The creation of the total score model, which combines an entrepreneur's personal credit score with the score of his or her business, is available only for loans under $350,000.

"All you need to do is plug in the person's name, address and Social Security number and it will tell the banker right away if you're approved," Ness says. "We've been able to do this type of loan for a while, but now more paperwork is being reduced. And we are also paying the fees on any loan less than $150,000. That's a great opportunity."

While the SBA doesn't loan the money itself -- it works with local lenders -- it will guarantee up to 85 percent of loans worth $150,000 and up to 75 percent of loans worth than $150,000. In 2013, the SBA did 229 loans for less than $350,000 in Wisconsin. Through the end of May, it had already approved 258.

"The demand is definitely there and we're getting out the word," Ness says. "We call it 'score and go.' The banker can run the credit score and know right away if the business qualifies. It's a great tool for businesses just getting started."

Ness says the SBA realized that most of its loans were for huge amounts of money and that there was an underserved smaller market.

"Don't get me wrong, we love the big loans, but smaller ones, for example, to buy a piece of equipment are just as important," he says. "Yes, the SBA is here for those $2 million loans, but we also want to get businesses started."

The SBA talked with lenders about ways to improve the process for small loans and incorporated some of their suggestions, Ness says.

Lenders have been good about getting out the word about the quicker approval process, but he's also met with local SCORE chapters and business groups to help spread the word.

"We are definitely seeing a lot of growth in the loan requests for under $150,000 and picking up the fees has made it more popular," Ness says. "Getting access to capital is a big deal for businesses and these new changes will hopefully make it a bit easier."

Community hospitals honored

Becker's Hospital Review included 13 Wisconsin hospitals in its 2014 list of "100 Great Community Hospitals."

State hospitals on the list include: Aspirus Medford Hospital & Clinics, Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center, Black River Memorial Hospital, Calumet Medical Center in Chilton, Mayo Clinic Health System - Eau Claire, Grant Regional Health Center in Lancaster, Hudson Hospital and Clinics, Ministry Saint Clare's Hospital, River Falls Area Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital - Hospital Sisters Health System in Clear Lake, Tomah Memorial Hospital, Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville and Waukesha Memorial Hospital.

A community hospital is defined as having less than 550 beds. Rankings and awards from medical associations were used to pull the list together.

Downtown boost

Fond du Lac's Retlaw Theatre property is finding new life after nearly two decades of sitting unused.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. recently awarded the city a $400,000 grant to help redevelop the site. Plans for the $2.3 million project include transforming the nearly 90- year-old theater and three adjacent buildings into a mixed-use development featuring retail and office space along with 10 market-rate apartments.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.


Friday, June 20, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: More hospitals seek out partners

By MaryBeth Matzek
Economic pressures, rising costs and lower reimbursement rates may soon make small, independent hospitals a thing of the past.

In recent years, several small health systems and hospitals across Wisconsin have teamed up with their larger neighbors as they seek to stay competitive.

It's definitely a trend Dr. Dean Gruner, president and CEO of Appleton-based ThedaCare, has noticed. ThedaCare signed affiliation agreements with Shawano Medical Center in 2011 and Wild Rose Community Medical Center and Community Health Network, the owner of Berlin Medical Center, earlier this year.

"There are four or five reasons that smaller hospitals are looking for larger partners, but overall we're all dealing with a changing marketplace," he says.

That changing marketplace is one where there are more outpatient procedures and increased use of more expensive technology, including electronic medical records. Medicare and insurers have also lowered their reimbursement rates, which has increased financial pressures on hospitals.

For example, a small health system such as CHN doesn't have access to electronic medical record systems, such as the popular one offered by Verona-based Epic. "It's a volume question. You need to be a certain size before they'll work with you and then there's the question of cost. Adding electronic records is very expensive," Gruner continues. "Smaller systems don't have access to the capital they need for some investments."

As part of their affiliation agreements, ThedaCare is adding Epic in both the Wild Rose and CNH systems.

ThedaCare isn't the only larger health care system taking on smaller partners. Ripon Medical Center joined with Fond du Lac-based Agnesian Healthcare in 2011 while SwedishAmerican Health System of Rockford, Ill., announced plans to merge with UW Health of Madison this past April. Bay Area Medical Center in Marinette and Aurora Health Care signed a letter of intent late last year giving the Milwaukee health care system a chance to explore the opportunity of becoming a minority owner of the hospital. And just this week, Aspirus announced it was taking over Northstar Health System, which is based in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and operates a hospital in Iron River, making it the fourth UP hospital to join with the Wausau based system.

In some instances such as with Shawano and Ripon, there's a new building involved as the larger healthcare system pledges to build a new hospital or other facility as part of the affiliation agreement. The new Ripon Medical Center will open later this year while a new Shawano hospital, ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano, will open next year.

When CHN and ThedaCare announced its affiliation earlier this year, John Feeney, CHN CEO and president, said the deal made sense.

"The changing healthcare environment is requiring organizations like us and ThedaCare to look for ways to enhance healthcare quality, deliver healthcare more cost-effectively, reduce duplication, and improve the patient experience," he says, adding the two organizations worked together previously in several areas such as the ThedaStar air medical program. "The best way to achieve this is by working together rather than being competitors.

Working together is essential to making these partnerships work, Gruner says. "Collaboration is give and take. You need to work together at a higher level for the common good," he says.

In ThedaCare's case, they have a local board for each of its five rural hospitals – New London, Waupaca, Shawano, Wild Rose and Berlin. "There's community pride and heritage for each of our facilities and we want to keep that and build on that," Gruner says.

Skipping the soda

Baldwin Area Medical Center in western Wisconsin is just saying no to soda.

The 25-bed hospital is removing soda – or pop as some in this part of the state call it – from its facility, taking it off the patient menu and removing soda machines from waiting rooms and employee areas. Employees, however, are still allowed to bring in their own soda to drink while working.

Hospital officials made the move as part of an overall healthy community initiative.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Tom Still: In a post-coal era, energy options include wind from the west

By Tom Still
In the western Wisconsin community of Holmen, just north of La Crosse, fifth-graders from Evergreen Elementary recently chimed in on the debate over where – and if – the Badger-Coulee transmission line should be built.

The students' concerns, voiced in letters written for a class research project, ranged from playground safety (one child worried that kickballs couldn't be retrieved from a "no-man's land" near the 345-kilovolt line) to the loss of nearby pine trees that help define the school.

The class letters, an admirable exercise in getting kids to think about something other than the next download of "Clash of Clans," illustrate how hard it can be to build high-voltage power lines in Wisconsin. These location battles are typically a clash of two different clans – the NIMBYs and the Straight-Line Engineers.

The Not-In-My-Back-Yard contingent usually worries most about the aesthetics, safety and property value threat of power lines passing through their neighborhoods. The Straight-Line Engineers are often concerned with finding the most cost-effective, direct route for lines that naturally lose energy the longer they traverse the countryside.

As the state Public Service Commission weighs the pros and cons of the Badger-Coulee line, another factor may rule over both clans: The need to wean Wisconsin from its coal habit.

Wisconsin is still among the most coal-dependent states in the United States, even though state utility companies are trying to meet deadlines for alternative energy production from wind and solar power and relying more on natural gas to generate electricity.

A recent report by the PSC shows coal now makes up 51 percent of Wisconsin's energy mix, down from 63 percent two years ago. Meanwhile, use of natural gas has doubled from 9 percent two years ago to 18 percent in the latest analysis. The assessment also found Wisconsin is "well on its way" to meeting its goal of having 10 percent of its energy generated by renewable sources by next year.

The need to retire or clean up coal plants will become even more intense if the Obama administration succeeds in requiring a 30 percent cut in carbon emissions by coal-fired plants over time. It's an attempt to counter global climate change, as well as other health and environmental risks tied to burning coal.

Industry in Wisconsin and elsewhere has reacted strongly to the mandate, claiming it will raise energy prices and kill jobs in a fragile economy.

However, most utility companies already view more stringent carbon dioxide limits as inevitable. In fact, it's unlikely another coal-fired plant will ever be built in the United States. That means finding alternatives in an era when Wisconsin's nuclear power plants face an uncertain future (one has already shut down) and using natural gas remains a price-sensitive option.

That brings us back to that kickball-eating Badger-Coulee line.

For years, Wisconsin was pretty much an energy island when it came to electrical power: Very few high-voltage lines carried power into the state from outside its borders. Badger-Coulee is an attempt by American Transmission Co. and a larger Midwest transmission network to enhance reliability and gain access to electricity produced elsewhere, which reduces the need for new plants in Wisconsin.

Badger-Coulee would largely transmit electrons produced by wind power farms in Minnesota and the Dakotas. It would also reduce congestion in the existing network and provide utilities with greater access to the wholesale electricity market, which would help control the rates consumers pay.

While some environmentalists oppose Badger-Coulee or some of its proposed routes, others support the plan, saying Wisconsin could do a lot worse than import a renewable resource such as wind power to ease out coal. One such group is the Coalition Organized for Reliable Energy, which includes businesses, labor and trade associations.

The costs of burning coal are hard to ignore. They include the routine deaths of miners around the world to costly transportation accidents to human health risks, ranging from premature births to particulates that cause respiratory troubles. A typical coal-fired plant releases 100 times more radioactive material than an equivalent nuclear reactor – straight into the air, not into a guarded and enclosed storage site.

Importing electricity generated by wind farms to the west should be part of a Wisconsin energy portfolio that reduces coal use over time. Few people want a power line to be built near their homes and schools, but providing safe, reliable power for all of Wisconsin shouldn't be a political kickball.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.


Scott Manley: New EPA rule will kill jobs, raise energy prices

By Scott Manley
Today the U.S. EPA proposed a global warming regulation that will significantly increase the cost of electricity for Wisconsin consumers, and kill thousands of jobs.

The rule targets our fleet of coal-fired power plants, and is likely to inflict dramatic and irreversible harm to our economy if it is allowed to move forward.

Numerous studies have been done attempting to predict the cost of EPA's rule and the impact it will have on higher electric rates for homeowners and businesses. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently released a study showing that the rule will cost consumers in our region $3.3 billion per year in higher electricity prices.

Another study done by NERA Economic Consultants predicted the rule will cost consumers between $13 billion and $17 billion per year. Yet another study released by the Heritage Foundation predicts the rule will cost a family of four $1,200 per year by 2023.

No matter which study turns out to be most accurate, it's clear the EPA rule will be tremendously expensive, and that added expense will ultimately mean that you and I pay more for electricity. A lot more.

The EPA's global warming rule will be especially destructive to manufacturing jobs in our state. Wisconsin has the second most manufacturing jobs per capita in the United States, and those jobs rely upon affordable and reliable energy to remain viable.

The electric rate spikes inevitably resulting from this new rule will make it much more costly to manufacture goods in Wisconsin, providing an incentive to shift that production to another state or another country. In the end, many middle-class working families will pay the cost of this rule with their job.

Just how many jobs will be lost because of President Obama and his EPA's ideological war on coal? The studies predict staggering numbers.

The U.S. Chamber study predicts 224,000 Americans will lose their jobs every year between now and 2030 because of the EPA rule. Closer to home, the analysis suggests 31,700 jobs will be lost in the five-state census region that includes Wisconsin.

The NERA Economic Consultant analysis was equally dire. It predicts 2.85 million lost jobs in the United States by the year 2033.

By any measure, the EPA's proposed rule will dramatically increase energy prices and result in thousands of lost jobs in Wisconsin and throughout the country. It raises a fair question about what benefit, if any, we get for this considerable economic pain.

The answer to this question is precious little.

The rule is expected to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the United States by 970 million tons by the year 2030. Although that sounds like a lot, it is essentially meaningless in the global scale of things.

While the EPA has us busy destroying jobs and our economy in the name of global warming orthodoxy, the rest of the world will increase carbon emissions by 4.7 billion tons over the same time period.

For those keeping score at home, that means other countries will collectively increase carbon emissions by six tons for every ton reduced by Americans under the EPA rule. So much for saving the planet.

The EPA's new global warming rule is a lose-lose proposition for energy consumers and workers. It represents the worst kind of regulation in that it has enormous and painful costs, and essentially no benefit.

President Obama should explain why middle class manufacturing workers in Wisconsin should lose thousands of family-supporting jobs each year in the name of global warming alarmism, while other countries continue to increase emissions.

Wisconsinites deserve to know why we should be forced to commit an act of unilateral economic disarmament.

-- Manley is vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

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