Top 8 Insights from The 2017 Middle Market Forum

The 2017 Middle Market Forum hosted by Twin Cities Business brought together leaders from across industries to participate in a Q & A panel discussion. Topics ranged from employee engagement to navigating the waters under a new administration. The conversation was insightful, passionate, and had us leaving with a notebook full of nuggets of wisdom. Here are the top 8 that came out of it.

1. The number one biggest hindrance to your growth is “undertime”.

Chuck Runyon, co-founder and CEO of Anytime Fitness, explained the importance of not only employee retention but engagement. He describes “undertime” as the time when an employee is physically present but not mentally. If you could track it, that would be the biggest cost to your bottom line. Runyon notes, if you can’t get engagement and loyalty from your employees, how do you expect to get that from your customers?

2. Your business must be purpose driven (AKA you should have a tattoo parlor at your office).

Regardless of if you’re selling tintable glass that’s controlled from your phone to office products and solutions, you must let your company purpose drive you and your company culture. All panelists, expounded upon their company cultures and cited it as an attractor and retainer of top talent. Alan Mclenaghan, CEO of SageGlass, noted that having a purpose-driven company is how you attract top talent to regions that aren’t as sexy as Silicon Valley. Runyon notes that they have a tattoo parlor at their headquarters where people get tattoos of the Anytime Fitness logo. Over 3,000 franchise owners and employees have gotten the tattoo. If that’s not an indicator of embracing a company and its purpose, I don’t know what is.

3. People, Purpose, Profits, Play.

Inevitably, as employee retention and engagement came up, it left some wondering how to do that at their own companies. What if your business has multiple locations? How do you carry the culture from one location to another? Runyon explained a mantra that the company–at all locations– lives by: People, Purpose, Profits, Play. Invest in people personally and professionally. Communicate your purpose frequently and be dogged about creating the culture around it. Profits are a necessary component to any employee and business success, so they are very focused on profits, especially for their franchise partners. What is important to them is helping their franchisees succeed. Finally, play. Runyon says, “We take work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously”. He notes that research has proven that a play creates an atmosphere of collaboration and approachability.

4. Give millennials a pathway to leadership.

A question was posed by an audience member about how to engage millennials in leadership roles. To which all of the panelists said that they see highly engaged millennials in their offices and the best way to help them move forward is to give them a pathway to do so. Jennifer Smith, President and CEO of Innovative Office Solutions, noted that they created a program for employees to teach other employees. This gives them a space to take on a new leadership role and help them gain visibility. McLenaghan notes that SageGlass has a program that allows employees to shadow senior leadership which gives both groups a great way to connect and allows employees to see what a senior role might look like for them. Gerald Mattys, CEO of Tactile Medical, shared that they have programs that allow employees to take on cross-functional operations within the company, but more interesting is that they also offer them the ability to do this through service opportunities with local charities. Mattys noted that many of his millennial employees have chosen to take on new roles through the latter option.

5. C.A.T. will take the guesswork out of leadership.

Runyon, noted that his leadership team uses something called C.A.T.– communication, alignment, trust– to make sure they are successful and to identify the source of what went wrong when things don’t go as planned. It takes all three of these things to be successful, and more importantly, it helps pinpoint when there is an issue. Every time something goes wrong, he says, it can be traced back to one of these, and that gives our leaders the path to fix it.

6. You should have an innovation parking lot.

To stay relevant and successful in any business you need to be forward-thinking, but Smith notes that for Innovative Office Solutions they are constantly looking ahead to the future. She says that they choose one idea at a time to focus on, but they don’t throw out their other ideas– they put them in a “parking lot”. Your idea might not work right now, but three years from now, it could be just what you’re looking for.

7. You can drive marketplace disruption outside of your industry.

SageGlass is changing the way people interact with architecture and the outdoors, and McLenaghan notes, this means the disruption they drive can take place outside of their industry. When you think about how your product or business can disrupt a marketplace, think bigger. What impact is this going to have on people’s lives? How will it make it better?

8. Capital, advice, and alignment can prepare your business for uncertainty.

On navigating uncertainties posed by a new administration, Mattys noted that as a healthcare company (and arguably the most regulated industry on the panel) they have to have capital, advice, and alignment to be prepared for the future. Access to capital is important of course, in case the sea gets rough. But more importantly, you need to have advice and alignment. Focus on having more expertise around you to help make smart decisions and make sure alignment is a focus. Everyone from board members to managers to employees needs to be on the same page and understand how to work toward the future.

There was no shortage of great advice and insight from the panel this year. Were you at the panel? What did you think of the discussion?

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