Plan, Train, Repeat; Belle’s AmeriCU aims to be the Employer of Choice

By Martha Conway

As AmeriCU’s Ron Belle approaches his fifth anniversary with the financial institution, there’s even more to celebrate than the milestone. In his second year as president and chief executive officer, Belle has had the honor of overseeing robust industry-leading growth in membership, assets, loans and more since he began.

He says it’s a continued trajectory that started before him, thanks to the foresight of past leaders who implemented a mission and vision that embraced a set of core values that would culminate unprecedented growth for more than 10 years…a foundation and trend AmeriCU continues to build upon as it rapidly approaches its 75th birthday.

When we spoke to Belle in April last year, AmeriCU was fine-tuning its strategic plan to better support that mission and vision.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the opportunity to take a look at the credit union from the inside out,” Belle said. “We started to reevaluate and reassess our organization and really, our culture itself, to determine what is best for teammates and members. We took a look at everything from our hiring practices and training to our promotions and products and services, all with the aim to create a better member experience.”

Belle said it was important to lay the groundwork for that change as AmeriCU looked to continue growing responsibly and sustainably, and since becoming CEO, Belle said AmeriCU has expanded on the financial institution’s plan for continued success.

Belle said organizations need to realize that a strategic plan is never complete – it’s a fluid concept that AmeriCU continually reviews and revises to provide the best possible member experience and team environment, and he said the buy-in has been tremendous.

“People like to have a plan,” Belle said. “The strategic plan is the basis of where we want to go. It lays out our focus and direction for teammates and members, and it’s something we expand on every year. When you can articulate that plan and your vision to your teammates, and tie that back to how it benefits our members and our communities, it’s easy to get everyone on board.”

Taking care of its teammates is key to the success of AmeriCU’s overall vision. At AmeriCU, a happy team makes for happy members, so they have placed intense focus on the team environment.

“Our vision is to be the most admired organization in every community we serve,” Belle said. “To be a good citizen in those communities, to give back, to be an organization whose people are sitting on boards, committees and providing community service through a host of volunteer efforts, that directly supports that vision.”

“Our mission to provide our members the right financial services to live life, dream big and achieve financial success means that every day, for every member walking into one of our financial centers or calling or visiting us online, we are making sure they have all they need in every interaction.”

The strategic plan, vision, mission, and organizational culture are four areas AmeriCU teammates talk about, practice, and train in every day.

Digital-first business model

Belle said member demand in recent years for more online services encouraged AmeriCU to adopt a digital-first business model.

“Digital-first is not digital-exclusive,” he said, explaining that technology is very important as AmeriCU looks to the future and what may be coming down the pike in three to five years that may ultimately benefit the member banking experience. “Tech is very important, but it has to be the right tech, and we have to have an idea of how it might evolve with the next generation of that technology.

“Not only must it make sense logistically and for the future, but it also has to make life easier for members and teammates. We’re always going to balance personal interactions with member conveniences, so the value of any technology must be evaluated by the impact it will have. It has to be fast, easy and convenient – it has to be beneficial to all involved.”

A growing footprint

AmeriCU is enjoying its position above the industry standard for credit unions, and Belle said he credits executing the strategic plan to recruit, hire and train the right teammates and provide them with the right tools for success.

“The increased growth across all measures is building upon all past years’ successes,” he said. “Making sure that you’re executing on your strategic plan and the necessary training involved for all teammates to support that. I have to credit our team for embracing the strategic plan, mission, vision, and reflecting the culture we’ve built.”

AmeriCU boasts 19 financial centers in nine counties in Upstate New York. Based in Rome, Oneida County, AmeriCU is also accessible across the globe through a number of other membership avenues, including military affiliations. They recently surpassed an impressive 155,000 members.

The employer of choice

Belle graduated from Utica College of Syracuse University and earned executive management certifications from University of Wisconsin at Madison and Case Western Reserve University. After graduation, he entered the world of financial services before accepting a job at a Syracuse-area bank as a branch manager. From there, he worked his way up, securing increasingly responsible positions and managing greater numbers of people and teams.

That experience has taught him what works and what doesn’t.

Added to the strategic plan for 2022 is the goal of being the employer of choice. Execution of the mission and vision are pivotal to recruiting and training excellent teammates. Interviewing is the place to begin with strong articulation of those concepts and the importance of contributing to the organizational culture for all teammates.

From the first job interview, AmeriCU starts underscoring its passion for its mission, vision, and team culture.

“We don’t want to just be a great place to work,” Belle said. “We want to be the employer of choice. When people come in for interviews, they don’t know about our culture, and when we first talk about it, they might not fully understand it, but they always become interested and start asking a lot of questions about it.”

He said it sets the tone even before they are hired.

“It’s not just something AmeriCU covers at a new hire orientation,” he said. “Teammates are constantly trained in our strategic plan, mission, vision, and culture.”

The employer of choice goal has AmeriCU now asking themselves how they can improve other areas of teammates’ lives, too.

“Some of the questions we’re asking are, ‘How can we improve the lives of our teammates?’ ‘What external trainings and wellness can we provide outside the building and during non-work hours?’” Belle said.

AmeriCU is committed to taking a holistic approach to culture and seeing teammates not just as part of the organization but seeing each of them as a whole person with individual goals and needs.

“It’s been one of AmeriCU’s best retention measures,” Belle said. “The culture of the organization is its heartbeat. If the culture is strong you’re going to see strong retention, and a commitment to the organization and the AmeriCU brand. This really helps us recruit and retain teammates.”

And the efforts have built a team that provides excellent member service.

Aligning team members to improve efficiency

Belle has also been working to restructure the leadership team to better support the evolving needs of the organization, creating new promotional opportunities for teammates that expand their roles, and improving efficiency and decision-making that supports the strategic plan and the entire credit union.

“These expanded assistant vice president and vice president positions provide promotional opportunities for teammates and better align with the strategic plan,” Belle said. “All of these things – the strategic plan, vision and mission statements – support AmeriCU’s core values. The strategic plan asks who we are and who we want to be – all of these pieces align nicely.”

Responsible neighbors

Each year, AmeriCU increases its community giveback efforts. Not only fiscally, but also through volunteer hours and participating on volunteer boards and committees. Among those causes are the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Miracle Network, the Baldwin Fund for Breast Cancer Research, and the American Heart Association, where Belle has been selected as the Chairman for the Syracuse Heart Run and Walk in 2023.

AmeriCU has also bolstered its support of veteran and military organizations through efforts like Military Saves Month and Wreaths Across America, finding new ways to give back to U.S. army members and their families.

“We are always looking to expand our community outreach efforts, our community support, and we want to make sure we are giving back to our communities what they have given to us,” Belle said.

What’s next?

AmeriCU will continue to shape its strategic plan to continue its unprecedented growth and plans to expand financial wellness and training opportunities for its teammates and members.

“We’re really planning for continued growth in all areas,” Belle said.

“We are a fantastic financial institution, yes, but we want people to know we are so much more than that. Of course, we want you to become a member of AmeriCU, but we also are passionate about being a positive presence in your community beyond being just another financial institution. We want to help our communities, and you, to flourish and grow, and that’s part of our strategic direction.

“I hope people see us as more than a credit union; I hope they see us as a neighbor.”

For more information on AmeriCU, visit AmeriCU.org or call 800.388.2000.

SOS Orthopedic & Sports Therapy: An Unparalleled Approach to Patient Care

By Becca Taurisano

Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists (SOS) opened their Orthopedic & Sports Therapy (O&ST) service line eight years ago with a vision to deliver the highest quality patient care. With four convenient locations in Camillus, North Syracuse, East Syracuse, or Liverpool, patients can choose whether to attend sessions close to home or work. SOS’s main goal is achieving superior patient outcomes and by providing clinicians the resources they need to be successful, the SOS team is maximizing care and minimizing cost.

Tools for Success

As a service line within SOS, O&ST has benefited from a significant investment in facilities and technologies that provide clinicians with what they need to treat patients. “You notice the difference in our facilities as soon as you walk in the door,” says Director, Todd Cardi, PT. “Our facilities are top notch,” says Operations Manager, Michael Linkiewicz, PT, “we have enough space to offer a full range of treatment options to our patients to expedite their recovery.”

SOS employs therapeutic technologies including an MLS class IV robotic laser l to treat pain and inflammation and an RPW shock wave machine to stimulate healing and regeneration of injured soft tissue. Therapists have the ability to provide other alternative and specialty treatments including Sound Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (SASTM), Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE), and Canalith Repositioning.

The O&ST department relies on technology to enhance the patient overall education and experience. For patient education, clinicians use a 3D program called Anatomy TV to explain the procedure that was performed or where their injury occurred. “We put a significant emphasis on patient education,” Cardi says, “in the doctor’s office, you may not have time to get an in-depth explanation. We pick up where the doctor left off.”

Clinicians use a home exercise program module to provide patients with better illustrations of exercises they need to perform outside of their sessions. The program allows for real time feedback from the patient as well as monitoring of their compliance. “These technologies will not only ensure better treatment but will also shorten the length of treatment which can help maintain costs at a reasonable level for our patients,” Linkiewicz says.

Philosophy of Specialization
SOS follows a philosophy of specialization for their therapists as well as their orthopedic surgeons. Over half of the O&ST therapists specialize in one area only including Sports Medicine, Total Joint Replacement, Hand/Wrist/Elbow, Foot/Ankle, Spine, and Shoulder/Upper Extremity. “Just like with SOS physicians, when our therapists are only treating one area of the body, they have a higher level of expertise and can provide better care to the patient,” says Cardi.

There is regular interaction between therapists and physicians in each specialty area to discuss protocols, review case studies, and develop communication patterns. “The coordination among the specialties have driven our outcomes to be consistently better than the national average,” Cardi says.

SOS therapists are encouraged to pursue certifications for various specialties such as Certified Hand Therapist, Pain Management, Fall Prevention, Functional Capacity Evaluation Testing, Vestibular Balance Therapy, McKenzie Spine Evaluation and Treatment, Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, and Sports Metrics/Injury Prevention certification. “We support our therapists in becoming certified in specialties, beyond their required continuing education credits to maintain licensure,” says Linkiewicz.

Team Approach to Care

SOS therapists and therapist assistants work together as a team, providing a continuity of care for the patient, creating confidence in the clinicians, and ensuring patient buy-in and compliance. From the initial evaluation, the patient becomes familiar with both the therapist and assistant they will be working with for the duration of their therapy. SOS strives to have a therapy team skilled in at least one specialty area at every one of their four locations for patient convenience. “Having specialists on site who are skilled in making quick decisions on progression is key,” says Linkiewicz.

Both members of the therapy team become familiar with the patient, their case, and the treatment plan, so if one team member is unavailable, the other can easily take over. “Our team approach is invaluable in maintaining continuity of care. It’s seamless to the patient,” says Linkiewicz. Cardi emphasizes that a patient will get face-to-face contact with their therapy team at every appointment. “That interaction with our therapists is really important. Our therapists will ask patients if they have any questions and reiterate the goal we are working toward to make sure they understand,” he says.

Measuring and Monitoring Success

In order to achieve superior patient outcomes and patient satisfaction, SOS uses the largest and most extensive database available in outpatient orthopedic rehabilitation, provided by Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes Inc. (FOTO). This database allows them to measure patient satisfaction and monitor patient outcomes using data from 36,160,000 patient assessments, 9,545,000+ completed episodes of care, 23,700+ clinicians participating across the United States and Canada from 12,600+ clinics. During patient intake, the therapist collects data from the patient, including demographics, comorbidities, and any information that may affect treatment or recovery. The database creates a Risk Adjusted Profile based on this information and compares patients with similar profiles.

By the time the therapist gets into the treatment room on the first visit, they have a prediction of how long the patient should be in therapy and what functional improvement can be expected. If the patient has a better functional improvement than predicted in the same or fewer visits, then the therapist has achieved a superior outcome. The database information also helps therapists set expectations with the patient to see how they compare to other patients with their same risk adjusted profile.

Subsequent surveys collect patient satisfaction information at critical points in the patient’s recovery. If the patient does not understand their condition well or is not satisfied with their progress, the therapist can address that immediately and correct the issue. Thanks to the continuous quality improvement opportunities provided by the real-time survey responses, 98.6% of SOS O&ST patients are satisfied with their results and experience at discharge. This includes feedback from approximately 9,000 SOS O&ST patients discharged in 2021 compared to 1,053,611 patients in total in the FOTO database for that time period. “When they leave, we want them to be fully satisfied,” says Linkiewicz, “the FOTO database enables us to measure both our effectiveness and patient satisfaction.”

SOS sees patients for 3.5 fewer visits today than they did when they first began utilizing FOTO, and 2.5 fewer visits than the FOTO predicted average per episode of care. This creates a significant cost savings for patients and payers. “Our main priority is superior outcomes over financial reward,” says Linkiewicz, “this demonstrates exactly what we are trying to achieve and that we are well on our way to achieving it.” This approach is working. SOS O&ST sees approximately 13,000 new patients per year, and many are referrals from other satisfied patients.

Cardi says their main goal is to help people recover and get back to functioning as fast as possible. “We are seeing patients less and achieving better outcomes. That puts our doctors at ease. That’s a direct reflection on them. We are extremely proud of how we are performing.”

Comprehensive Care Now and in the Future – CALLOUT

Utilizing best practices, SOS Orthopedic & Sports Therapy provides comprehensive multidisciplinary care for patients, with an eye to the future for growth and improvement.

  • SOS’s Specialists’ One-Day Surgery Center in North Syracuse is a 23-hour care facility for healthy patients to have total joint replacement, spine surgeries, and other procedures in an outpatient environment. SOS therapists are on staff and on call for post-operative patients when they are in recovery. Therapists run through a checklist of functional safety requirements determining if the patient can get on and off a bed, toilet, and chair, navigate stairs, understand how to use an assistive device, brace, or sling. The SOS therapists do not bill patients for this service at the surgery center. “This is what we have committed to as a group as a best practice,” says Cardi, “it is about delivering the best care and it sets us apart.”

 

  • For patients that have chronic pain, SOS O&ST is working with SOS spine physicians and New York Spine and Wellness physicians to develop protocols for pain management and post injection therapy. Spine therapists certified in pain management can help patients with exercise and activity modification to help keep their pain symptoms at bay and improve their function, in addition to their injections or medications that their pain management doctor can provide.

 

  • This fall, SOS will offer an expanded hand and wrist center including certified hand therapists at their 5719 Widewaters location in East Syracuse, allowing them to further improve the communication and collaboration between doctors and therapists for patients who have had tendon repair, fractures, or other hand surgeries. Patients will be able to see their doctor and walk across the hall to get a custom splint from their therapist the same day.

 

  • SOS has the largest athletic training department in Syracuse, working with over 15 area high schools and secondary colleges. Having an athletic trainer on site expedites care when an athlete sustains an injury. If the athlete requires rehabilitation, they are referred to SOS therapists to get them back to their sport as quickly as possible. When the athlete returns to their school, the athletic trainer is there to work with them to further to facilitate a safe return to sport. “Having all the pieces at our disposal allows us to communicate effectively and smoothly, and improve the overall experience for the athlete,” says Linkiewicz.

2 Top Risks for 2022 and Beyond

By: Pierre Morrisseau, CEO, OneGroup

In this issue of CNY C-Suite I would like to cover two critical risks for 2022.  The first is Cyber Risk.  We have seen cyber transform from a misunderstood threat that most businesses brushed off as rare and happening to big firms, to a significant and sophisticated threat capable of costing into the millions of dollars—even capable of shuttering companies.

A recent large-scale survey by Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty surveyed more than 2,500 risk management experts from more than 88 countries who ranked cyber risk as the number one threat to business. The war between Russia and Ukraine has made this even more significant in 2022 with Russia targeting computer assets around the world.

It is now more important than ever to have good basic controls in place.  This is also becoming critical to get access to good Cyber coverage as the marketplace is becoming more expensive and particular about what they require. The good thing about a number of the Cyber insurance policies is they come with services that will help you prevent a breach or more effectively respond to a breach if you have one. It is critical that you have a plan.

More surprising is a new threat that evolved out of the pandemic: attracting and retaining top talent. Moreover, it appears that finding not just top talent, but enough talent to sustain growth will continue to be a challenge for years to come.

Protiviti® and North Carolina State University surveyed nearly 1,500 C-suite and board positions around the globe identified attracting and retaining top talent as the second most critical risk of the top ten for 2022 and the foreseeable future. There appear to be no easy solutions finding workers due to the complexity of the forces at work to create the shortage. The Survey sites myriad pressures including lingering impact of Covid and its variants, supply chain disruptions, geopolitical tensions, increasing use of artificial intelligence and automation, remote work option requirements by employees and more.

For service companies like OneGroup, finding and growing top talent is an imperative. We feel we must be creative in every area from recruiting, onboarding, training, personal development, and work-life harmony.

I thought I would share one of our recent efforts to strengthen our workforce while giving us a unique recruiting tool. Perhaps it will provide you with ideas that you, too, can deploy to attract talent.

We recently hosted what we branded “Day of Learning.” In fact, we took over the lower level of Syracuse’s Oncenter for two full days dedicated to letting our employees explore different topics of interest – very little was focused on insurance but instead focused on camaraderie, motivational speakers, and mostly, just enjoying each other’s company.

It was the first time the majority of our people had gathered face-to-face in two years. Participation was over 80 percent with people coming from all of our 18 locations including Florida. Since one of our corporate goals is to have our experts and specialists return to the office to facilitate collaboration, we felt this event would help people feel comfortable being out and together again. It exceeded every expectation and opened the door for a majority to return to the office at least some portion of each week.

The event was also intended to demonstrate our commitment to our employees’ individual growth and well-being. Again, it far exceeded our expectations as our people eagerly mingled and self-organized impromptu gatherings to learn more about each other. The results of several surveys throughout reinforced their positive attitudes about their work, their co-workers, and the company of which they are an important part.

We are confident that out of the box efforts like Day of Learning are contributing to employee satisfaction and retention. We are also confident that having a stable of happy ambassadors is not only excellent for our business and our clients but will also attract new top talent.

I will be happy to share the details of Day of Learning and other efforts to attract talent, and I would love to hear what you are doing to grow your workforce.

Is Construction the Obvious Solution to Young Workers’ Career Crises?

By: Hannah Sabitoni

Lazy, entitled and technology-addicted are some of the adjectives you may see used to describe Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (1997 – 2012). Despite the stereotype that this group doesn’t want to work hard, they make up nearly half of the current workforce. As the “Great Resignation,” an unexpected surge in retirements and an aging workforce drive up demand for labor, employers need to find ways to appeal to and recruit these younger workers to stay afloat.

“From new infrastructure funding to plans to replace outdated lead pipe service lines, the construction industry is booming and won’t be slowing down anytime soon,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “Young people are growing tired of spending thousands on a degree to graduate without any guarantee of a job and a career in construction offers an alternative to this path. LIUNA members get fulfilling careers, they get to work on meaningful projects and can build a better future for themselves and the country.”

The construction industry has been facing a worker shortage, and one projection estimates the industry will need 2.2 million more construction workers in the next three years to keep up with demand. At the same time, the overall economy is seeing masses of people quit their jobs in favor of gigs that pay more, offer better benefits packages, and provide a better quality of life. In other words, younger workers are tired of being underpaid and undervalued and are rethinking what they want – and how much they’ll tolerate – in a career.

In many ways, a career in construction seems like an obvious answer to the pleas of fleeing Millennials and Gen Zers: it provides a stable income without college debt and has a relatively low barrier to entry. LIUNA members and other union construction workers receive comprehensive training, phenomenal health and retirement benefits and career advancement opportunities. In addition, union construction workers enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining and advocacy on the job as well as safer work sites. For generations that value security, high wages and fulfilling work, this sounds like a match made in heaven. Yet a recent survey showed that only three percent of young people currently consider a construction career as an option.

Why the Disconnect?

Cultural factors and stigma surrounding the skilled trades are at least partially to blame for younger generations not yet thinking about construction as a career choice. Growing up, Millennials and Gen Zers were told the only way to make a living was to go to college and get a white-collar job. In this narrative, the skilled trades were meant for people looking for a backup plan. In contrast, older generations like Gen Xers and the Baby Boomers grew up seeing the successes of unions and blue-collar workers.

Gen Zers and Millennials are said to value openness, flexibility and independence at the workplace. They want to feel heard and valued by their employer for their unique perspectives. To those born before 1980, this can come off as entitled, opinionated or lazy. Conversely, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are said to work long hours and value self-reliance and practicality. On the flip side, younger workers may complain their older colleagues are rigid, close-minded and too traditional.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it’s rooted in stereotypes that aren’t necessarily true or helpful. Differing attitudes across generations are most often a product of circumstances, not age. For example, older Millennials entered the workforce during the Great Recession and therefore place a higher value on job security than Gen Zers. Similarly, older Gen Zers entered the workforce in the midst of a pandemic and therefore prefer flexible work arrangements and digital communication.

Another potential reason for the disconnect is that construction is hard, physical work. A career in the skilled trades is demanding and, as with any other industry, comes with its own physical and mental health risks. But despite these risks, one report found that construction workers are among the happiest employees.

While younger generations want to feel satisfied and fulfilled in their everyday work, they also put a high premium on their health and safety. A lot of young workers aren’t willing to risk their health for the sake of a career. This is an opportunity for construction contractors to call attention to health & safety programs that address young people’s concerns and show they care about workers’ well-being.

How Can the Construction Industry Answer the Call?

The more that young people rack up thousands of dollars in student debt and barely make enough to cover their bills post-graduation, the more they question whether the college path is right for everyone. Younger workers are realizing they don’t have to follow the traditional 9-5 corporate lifestyle to achieve success, and researchers predict interest in the skilled trades will increase in the coming years. It’s now up to the employers to address young people’s concerns, show how trade work aligns with their values and adjust their recruiting strategy accordingly.

Millennials and Gen Z can be part of the change they want to see in the construction industry, including more open discussions about formerly taboo topics like mental healthy or social issues, prioritizing safety and health above a finish-at-any-cost mentality and breaking down the stigma surrounding these jobs. Meanwhile, employers and unions can work to better market apprenticeship programs, robust benefits packages and comprehensive health and safety plans. If there’s one lesson to draw from recent trends, it’s that workers are an employer’s biggest asset and should be treated as such.

Our economy is in a unique moment where five generations currently make up the workforce, so finding common ground and learning to adapt is the best way to attract and retain talent going forward.

Structured Routines for Operational Excellence and Daily Continuous Improvement

By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

In recent articles, I have written extensively about the need for manufacturers to invest more heavily in technology, innovation, automation, and workforce development to counter the issues they continue to face due to the pandemic. Even when manufacturers find the raw materials they need for their operations, and they invest in their equipment and people, and successfully perform all the other daily “blocking and tackling” of manufacturing operations management.  Many companies still find themselves stuck in neutral and searching for answers to move the proverbial needle. How do these types of manufacturers find growth in productivity and sales? How do they sustain their continuous improvement efforts? Today I will share an incredibly impactful approach to operational excellence and daily continuous improvement that progressive manufacturers are using to reach that next level of performance.

When problems are visible, manufacturers can utilize well-established lean tools and techniques to solve them. However, when the issues are less visible and their root causes are not as obvious, a systematic, scientific way of thinking and acting is required to solve them and sustain the improvements. For this, we need managers as the teachers of that system. Scientific thinking is a basis for successfully pursuing seemingly unattainable goals in complex systems. This type of thinking also enables teams to make decisions close to the action and maneuver effectively and efficiently. Scientific thinking is a routine of intentional coordination between what we think will happen (theory), what actually happens (evidence), and adjusting based on what we learn from the difference.

Katas are structured routines that are practiced deliberately so that their patterns become second nature and leave the practitioners with new abilities that are meant to be built upon. The word “Kata” has roots in martial arts, where they are used to train participants in fundamental moves, but the idea of a Kata can be applied in manufacturing operations. Katas are for learning fundamental skills that you can build on.  They are a way of transferring skills and developing shared abilities and mindset in a team or organization. Combining a scientific pattern with structured practice routines contributes to the development of effective problem solvers.  Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata make scientific thinking a skill that anyone can learn by combining a four-step scientific pattern along with simple, structured routines for practicing the pattern.

How does it work in actuality? The four-step scientific pattern is as follows: 1- Set the direction or challenge for the organization. 2- Grasp the current conditions. 3- Establish your next target condition that represents a step toward the direction or challenge. 4- Conduct experiments to achieve that next target condition. And what do you do once you successfully reach that next target condition?  Establish another incremental target condition that represents yet another step toward the direction or challenge. Once this routine is practiced enough, it becomes second nature. When employees at all levels of an organization are performing in this systemic manner, it quickly transforms into a high-performance culture able to tackle any obstacle it encounters.  Some of you reading this might be thinking that this type of an approach is probably best suited for larger manufacturers, but Kata can be practiced in organizations of any size. In reality, some of the most impactful results actually come from small to mid-sized manufacturers.

As mentioned previously, when the issues are less visible, we need a systematic, scientific way of thinking and acting to solve problems and sustain the improvements. Kata is an incredibly powerful approach to daily continuous improvement. TDO’s team is fully certified to help manufacturers learn and implement these skills and develop the necessary coaches to sustain the habits. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.

In Protection of Growth

By: Jason D. Nickerson, CFP®, EA, Executive Vice President &Chief Operating Officer, John G. Ullman & Associates

There is a reason cybersecurity is recognized as one of the critical issues facing businesses today. The security of your personal finances is just as important and this area of financial planning needs much more attention than it is getting in large part because most advisors do not take the time to get a full understanding of their client’s full wealth.  Outside of adjusting your investments when the market seems shaky, when was the last time you really thought about mitigating risk for you and your family?  If you have thought about this recently, did you take any steps to address it?

Below are a number of items that we often overlook, yet in many cases are easy to address.

Umbrella Liability Policy:  You would be surprised at the number of families we come across that either still do not have one or they have one that does not come close to adequately covering their level of risk.  Does your insurance agent know your net worth? Have you discussed ALL the risks of liability in your life with them?  It’s not uncommon for insurance agents to be given enough information to get their policies in place, then move towards a “set it and forget” position and it’s too late when they find out their coverage isn’t adequate.

Credit Freeze:  Recall the 2017 Equifax breach? This is an institution that serves as the gateway to our credit score and therefore has all our precious information.  It is becoming our standard practice to take a hands-on approach with our clients and put credit freezes in place. If left to their own volition to handle, it typically doesn’t get done.  We do this because it has gotten much easier to temporarily “thaw” your credit and re-freeze when you decide to look at new lines of credit.

Credit Card Alerts: Generally, credit card companies will cover you in the case of fraudulent expenditures.  However, if you are not paying close enough attention the process may become onerous when you catch charges months down the road.  As a way to be more proactive, set alerts on your card(s) to receive text messages when they are used.  Consider setting low limits for the alerts as fraudsters tend to test their scalping of card information with some small purchases before they go for the big one.

Footprint: We are often conditioned to think “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  Have you applied that concept to the number of financial institutions with which you have relationships?  You might have, even inadvertently.  You think that if there is a breach with one of those companies, you still have others available to you.  What if you turned your thinking and made yourself harder to find in the first place?  Reducing the spread of your information and financial transactions may be a more secure way to operate.

What else? Our advice and work with clients in this area goes further and is an active part of our relationship. Here are a few other ideas for you to consider:

  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) on personal devices: Yes, this can be very beneficial. There are companies both very well-known and lesser known with great subscription options to protect your online dealings through personal devices, including your cell phone and tablet.
  • Credit Monitoring Service: Maybe.  You would be providing a substantial amount of personal information to yet another company.  We have worked with clients to set up simple systems to monitor this on their own, without the use of one of these companies, with a combination of tactics mentioned above in addition to some others not mentioned.
  • Two Factor Authentication whenever available: Yes, and the old advice of changing passwords regularly still applies as well.

I believe this area of financial planning does not get enough attention and it needs to get much more.  You see, we believe in protection planning first, then growth. Why? You cannot grow what is not there.

To learn more about what John G. Ullman & Associates, Inc. can do for you, visit www.jgua.com or email info@jgua.com

Meeting Patients Where They Are

Robert J. Corona DO, MBA, is CEO of Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, NY

In our health system, we are making an ongoing commitment to meet people “where they are.” This is not just a physical location. It is also where they are in their age, health trajectory and personal lives — as well as what they expect from the care they are receiving.

It is also the basis for our strategic direction. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky made this statement famous: he skated “to where the puck was going.”

For us in healthcare, that will mean anticipating the direction and getting in place to meet our patients where they are now and where they will be.

In particular, we want to treat people sooner — to meet them before they have the acute needs that require a hospital stay. We want to keep people out of the hospital and treated in a less acute care setting so only the most seriously ill are in a hospital bed. Toward that end, we are working on new programs that allow patients to schedule their own follow ups and to have an easier path to a telehealth appointment within our electronic medical record system. The more we can help busy people schedule the type of medical appointment that suits them best, the more likely they are to keep the visit and learn if there is any health issue that needs to be addressed at its earliest point.

This year, we also launched a “hospital at home” initiative that allows a discharge to home while still being cared for as a hospital patient. This is different from a telehealth visit, as the patient has more equipment and monitoring, but the ideas are similar. Changes like these allow care to be delivered — when medically possible — in the manner closest to what a patient wants for his or her care.

At Upstate University Hospital, we have also decided not to talk about the “hospital of the future.” This wording makes the next entity sound remote — as if it is in some far off state, detached from what we are doing today — when, in fact, it is emerging all around us.

These are the components of hospital-based healthcare we are delivering today:

  • Inpatient: patients in the traditional hospital setting
  • Ambulatory: patients seen in a doctor’s office or outpatient center
  • Virtual: telehealth visit using a phone, tablet or computer
  • Hospital-at-home care: where the patient is ill enough to need hospital treatment but stable enough to have it delivered in the home setting.

New directions for where this care takes place are tied to our overall strategic pillars of quality, experience, innovation and sustainability. These pillars have survived the stressors of an intense time in healthcare and will support us in a post-pandemic world as well.

In March, I attended a conference with other academic hospital CEOs. We all face the same issues with staffing and capacity, so solutions are necessary to create a new workforce model that delivers safety and quality. We will support this with more automation for routine jobs (such as using robots instead of staff for deliveries and improving computer-based AI) and enabling staff to use that time gained back to allow them to work to the top of their license. We also realize that these professionals answered the call at a time like no other. I hope every person at our hospital — within its walls or beyond them — realize how extraordinary they are.

I recently read “The Hero Code” by Admiral William H. McRaven.  Our extraordinary people have followed that code with a duty to each other, courage in the face of danger, significant sacrifice, perseverance and compassion in a defining moment in history.

Robert J. Corona DO, MBA, is CEO of Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, NY and is the John B. Henry Professor and Senior Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs in the College of Medicine.  Previous roles at Upstate include Chief Innovation Officer and Associate Dean for Industry and Academic Relations, and the endowed chair for the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. He also served for many years as chief medical officer and vice president of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Welch Allyn Inc.

Chianis + Anderson Architects: Twenty Years of Building Relationships

By Becca Taurisano

Greg A. Chianis and Todd J. Anderson founded the Binghamton-based architectural firm of Chianis + Anderson, on a simple premise: do what you say you will do. The two colleagues had worked together previously and after a brief hiatus, they reconnected at a local fundraising event. In 2001, they opened Chianis + Anderson Architects and in 2006, Jeffery T. Smith became their partner. Now twenty years later, the firm has 19 employees and is housed in the historic Davidge Mansion located at 31 Front Street on Binghamton’s West Side.

A HANDS-ON APPROACH

Chianis, Anderson, and Smith are actively involved in every project the firm takes on, giving clients confidence that there is continuity in direction from the top down. That hands-on model was important to the partners in determining what the firm culture should look like, as well as wanting to maintain a good reputation with both clients and contractors alike. “It’s important to have a partner involved in every project so the client sees that the project means something to us and it’s being looked after by a comprehensive team,” says Smith.

Having an implicit understanding of construction is important to the partners as well. “You don’t really know how to design something unless you first know how to build it. We are very practical with what and how we design. This has gotten us a long way in our relationships with contractors. Each project should be practically designed and then constructed,” says Chianis.

“Our team understands construction,” says Anderson. “It is always a challenge to communicate from a desk to the guy on site standing knee-deep in mud, but our people are very good at that. If there are questions from the contractors, we are very responsive. We will go onsite and stand in the mud with them. Not every firm subscribes to that idea.”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Chianis + Anderson has an assortment of residential, hospitality, commercial, and senior housing/nursing home clients, but about 80% of their projects are in the healthcare industry. “It means a lot to design a healthcare space that is welcoming and healing, that makes people less afraid and more comfortable. Any time we work on a healthcare facility, we try to make a difference in someone’s experience,” says Chianis.

In 2007, Chianis was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and at the same time was finishing the expansion of the cancer care center for United Health Services in Johnson City. “One day I was the project architect in charge of this renovation and expansion, and the next day I’m sitting in a treatment chair getting chemo in a space that I designed. I saw things from a very different point of view, as a patient. That experience has made me into a stronger person and a better designer,” he says.

From considering how a patient would feel walking in to get a mammogram for the first time, to what sort of items are stored in the cabinets of the nurses’ station, the team at Chianis + Anderson strives to consider every aspect of the experience, down to the artwork on the walls. “Artwork is known to be a healing element in a healthcare setting,” says Chianis. He worked with local artists to commission works for the United Health Services Vestal Primary Care project and even has a few of his own photographs on the walls.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Regardless of if it is a multi-million dollar project or a $200,000 addition on a private residence, delivering quality and providing excellent customer service is the goal. Many of the firm’s clients have been with them since the beginning. “We try to provide the best service possible to every customer no matter the size or scope of the project. Everybody deserves our best,” says Chianis.

Anderson likes to work on the more challenging projects and is well-versed in building codes. “Many of our clients are very code and regulation driven. I can provide better service to them if I am the person they call with a regulatory question or problem. It is not about billing every hour, it’s about building that relationship,” he says.

Balancing the client’s needs and the contractor’s needs is key. “Everyone these days is tight on budget and tight on schedule. We need to be able to respond quickly so we can keep the project moving. The contractors appreciate our responsiveness. We find the solution that will work for everyone,” says Anderson.

LOCAL IMPACT

Chianis + Anderson is locally owned and locally operated. As a mid-size architectural and interior design firm, they take on projects of all sizes within a three-hour radius, as far away as Philadelphia. With an average of 120 projects per year over the last 20 years, Chianis + Anderson has left its mark on the skyline of Binghamton and surrounding areas. “The impact we’ve left in our immediate community with the number of buildings we’ve designed – healthcare, residential, businesses, restaurants – it’s pretty vast,” says Chianis.

Smith’s passion is historical preservation, and he is currently working with Temple Concord on the Kilmer Mansion including re-building three stone chimneys, four stories in the air. Smith says he enjoys being able to walk to the project site, climb up the scaffolding, meet with the masons, and take pictures of the project. “The local projects are fun. It’s our backyard and we need to take care of our own area,” says Smith.

Chianis + Anderson also gives back to the community through helping non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity, whom they have worked with at no cost for over a decade. “For us,” says Smith, “it’s not just the work you do in the office, it’s how you conduct yourself in the community. We work with local non-profit organizations, and sit on a number of local boards, commissions, and steering committees. You want to put your absolute best foot forward where you live.”

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

Not every project is a piece of cake, but the firm prides itself on solving their clients’ problems. Anderson says the most challenging projects are some of their rural healthcare clients, because of their budget limitations. “It is a challenge to meet the needs of the community and the regulatory requirements, all while staying within budget.”

Every person at the firm is expected to do what it takes to get the project completed, including the partners themselves. “One of the things we do as partners, is we step up and do what we have to do. We are all in it together and we have to deliver for the client. That’s key to any successful firm,” says Smith.

For Smith, he says it can be uncomfortable talking to clients about issues with a project, but that honesty is essential. “They might not like to hear our advice, but that’s what we are hired for. There can be some bumps along the way and it’s our job to communicate that.”

In the Northeast, architects face challenges with the age of the buildings, environmental issues such as asbestos, and buildings being completely occupied while work is being done, Chianis explains. “It doesn’t get more complex than an invasive hospital renovation project. Part of it is the enjoyment of the challenge.”

A CAREER, NOT A JOB

Jeffery Smith was looking for a career and not a job when he joined Chianis + Anderson in 2004. The partners want their staff to look at the firm the same way. “Our office has not expanded and contracted based on the economy. If you’re with us, you’re with us. In today’s world, stability is very hard to come by. I want it for myself, and I want it for our staff,” says Smith.

Chianis + Anderson boasts a 65% female workforce and a welcoming, family-like culture. Chianis says he is extremely proud of his employees and the work ethic they bring to every project.  “We are very selective about who we hire because this is a family. We want them to have the right attitude and skillset, but we want them to fit in with the existing employees. We want this to be a career, not just a job,” says Chianis.

The partners create that family atmosphere by hosting team outings like miniature golf, kayaking, and cooking classes. “At our company events we try to change the focus from work to who we are as people. It is important to talk to our employees about things other than business,” says Smith. From picking up bagels in the morning to putting a ping pong table in the back room, the partners try to make the environment fun for employees. Educational development is emphasized as well by providing lunch and learn sessions, encouraging employees to attend professional conferences, and promoting continuing education opportunities.

DESIGNING THE FUTURE

The future looks bright for Chianis + Anderson, with an eye on creating a legacy the partners can be proud of. While they strive for growth, they hope the small office feel and partner involvement in projects continues. Part of building that legacy will be to nurture some of their younger leadership and mentor them into future owners and partners. “We have a lot of people who have the ability to lead,” Chianis says, “the idea is to take [the firm], build on it, and continue doing what we’re doing.”

Anderson says he is excited to see what the future holds for the architectural industry as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s a new world out there and it will be interesting to see where we go from here. What will the result be from these supply chain issues? In the past we have relied on basic building materials from other countries, so hopefully we will look within our own borders moving forward so we can avoid these interruptions in the future. As we have seen, the world can change in an instant.”

Smith hopes that the work they are doing makes a lasting impression. “There are a lot of historic buildings in the area,” Smith says, “I just hope that in the future people understand that just like every picture has a photographer, every building has an architect. There were design professionals who made that building a possibility and hopefully for that building to be around for a long time to come.”

PRESERVING HISTORY: THE DAVIDGE MANSION

Chianis + Anderson had planned to move offices when the historic Davidge Mansion at 31 Front Street suddenly became available. A developer was planning to turn the 1903 landmark into student housing, but the City of Binghamton put a stop to those plans. Chianis + Anderson made an offer and was able to purchase the building. “It’s a total gem,” says Chianis, “we could not have designed anything better for ourselves.”

The firm had not moved out of their old office building when COVID 19 happened, so they were unsure about whether to push forward with renovating the Davidge Mansion or pause the work. Ultimately, they decided to continue the renovation and preservation of the building and as soon as it was safe to do so, they brought staff to the new offices. The entire team moved themselves in over a two-day period, including over 300 file boxes, furniture, books, computers, equipment and belongings. Now staff from similar departments are grouped together, changing the flow of the office and allowing employees to interact more easily. “It’s changed the culture for the better and allowed us to share knowledge and information faster,” says Smith.

While they have done considerable work to the mansion, there is more to be done. “It’s not just a storefront,” Anderson says, “we are saving a historic building. The community is thankful for that.” Chianis hopes that the Davidge Mansion is part of the legacy of the firm down the road. Smith says that if Chianis + Anderson had not purchased the building, the Davidge Mansion would have been destroyed. “We are really part of the community now,” Smith says, “the building is not going anywhere, and neither are we.”

For more information, visit https://www.chianisanderson.com/.

Time to Leverage this Moment and Invest in the Future

By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

I was hopeful that by this time in 2021 that we would have put a majority of the supply chain disruptions and COVID issues behind us, but here we are once again. Groundhog Day anyone? Manufacturers are still combatting supply chain issues and raw material sourcing obstacles. Even when they are able to find what they need for their operations, price increases are eroding margins and making life much more difficult. On top of that, significantly increased demand from all of the delayed plans and purchases from last year are now happening as manufacturers are trying to adopt new technologies into their production processes. Lastly, employee recruiting and retention continues to be a major challenge for manufacturers. Companies are trying to figure out how to manage all of these challenges at the same time while warding off a global pandemic.

As we talked about earlier this year, these major challenges also represent massive opportunities. What the leadership of every manufacturer needs to understand immediately is how their organizations can take advantage of these trends in order to grow their business as much as possible while also planning for the future. With the increased interest in reshoring and nearshoring, manufacturers should be looking at ways to invest in future competitiveness and scale to take advantage of the enormous trade shift that is occurring. They should also be looking to create a stronger supplier ecosystem closer to home. This will enable stronger ties and allow them to work more closely with customers and suppliers. The end result of all of this will be a stronger, more agile, and more controllable supply chain. Overall, the supply chain will be much less susceptible to the types of disruptions that we continue to see from the global pandemic.

Manufacturing skills have also been altered dramatically during the ongoing pandemic. There is a much greater need for manufacturers to take a more proactive approach that focuses more heavily on workforce development and future skill needs. This means that manufacturers should be looking to provide increased training opportunities for new workers along with helping existing workers upskill their knowledge and capabilities. Increased automation requires a rethinking of manufacturing roles, especially for employees whose jobs are most affected. Manufacturers should also come to grips with the fact that this will likely not be a temporary condition, but a fundamental shift in overall workforce development needs.

Our country has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reposition itself on the world’s manufacturing stage. Manufacturers should be leveraging this moment to invest in the future and really look at their technology and workforce needs to take that next incremental step forward. In a world that is divided in several ways, there is one thing that most everyone can agree upon: manufacturing will never be the same, and it is clear that the old way of operating is no longer an acceptable strategy. TDO’s skilled team has the perfect blend of industry and technical experience, along with a vast partner network and access to lucrative funding, to assist those manufacturers that are interested in taking that next transformational step. Reach out today for a free consultation.

Return to Work Takes on a New Meaning?

By: Pierre Morrisseau

I thought I would share our recent attempts to bring our employees back together face to face, a topic I think is a priority with most business leaders. I also want to share why we think returning to the office and to some level of “normal” is so important.

First, a look backward: Mere days after the pandemic was announced, we celebrated our success at moving all of our more than 200 employees in 18 locations to work-from-home status. Because of our work over the past decade perfecting remote work and video meetings to better serve our clients anywhere at any time, we were able to have everyone up and running in just days.

Now, as the pandemic drags on—heading towards two years—bringing our employees back into the office continues to present enormous frustration and challenges including:

  • Childcare challenges for parents
  • Caregivers in proximity to vulnerable loved ones
  • Schooling and scheduling through continual change in status
  • Fear of contracting the virus from others in the office
  • Increasing infection rates even amongst the vaccinated
  • Changing employee attitudes towards the flexibility of working at home
  • And not least of which, COVID fatigue

Add to this multiple-variant-related surges in infections, and companies everywhere are facing the very real possibility of a permanently altered workplace.

In a recent Korn Ferry survey, 20% of employers said they did not expect to return employees to work until well into 2022 and 32% said that they would never return to an office. This is highly disturbing for companies like ours that believe strongly that collaborating faced to face is essential to solving clients’ most pressing challenges. It is this belief that is guiding us to try new ways to bring our teams back together safely and in a way that employees will feel good about.

Like many firms, we have experimented with rotating small groups into our offices for one to three days each week. In our largest office in Syracuse, this means about thirty people on any given day. All of the usual sanitary precautions and procedures are in place including mask wearing when not at your desk or when you cannot maintain at least six feet of distance from another. Over time, we have had nearly 100% of our employees back into their offices at least one day per week.

As employees became more comfortable with the idea of coming to work, we began instituting a few events including a carnival-like outdoor event with food trucks, dunk tank, games and more. These events were designed to help ease employees’ fear while helping them to relearn connectedness.

Most recently, we held our first large-scale meeting, inviting employees from all our offices to meet at a large offsite venue for a full day we called
Better Together. Our greater objective was to pull people out of their remote work areas with plenty of good food, fun and safe camaraderie. We also wanted to take the time to reinforce how important working face to face is to achieving our mission of solving problems for our clients, helping people, and supporting our communities.

We invited in organizational excellence and leadership development experts, Daneli Partners, to administer a Gallup®  assessment with all attendees. The assessments outlined each person’s strengths and weaknesses and became the basis of the day’s meeting. With data, we were able to graphically see how diverse our workforce is and begin to imagine teams where those strengths may be paired perfectly to create super teams. We then paired teams to work together to solve puzzles.

At the end of the day, everyone had a great time seeing and being with each other again. They learned new things about themselves and their peers and renewed bonds. More importantly, it was just one more step in what will likely be a long process of returning our employees to the workplace.

I would love to hear what others are doing to bring their employees back, and always willing to share what we are doing at OneGroup.