Horizontal Business Operations

Organizational culture word cloud concept    I have always described our business operations as ‘horizontal’ – I first quipped this phrase when asked how the hierarchy of the business functioned. Lost for words, as this was not how we functioned, a picture of us all being on the same plane or as a ‘horizontal’ staff formed in my mind.

“We are a horizontal business..there is no hierarchy” was my reply. What I meant was that we all can handle the day to day – we all answer the phones,  book jobs, sign on new customers and handle support for both customers and Interpreters.

This does not mean that everyone knows how to handle the accounting, however there is more than one person that can handle the books, payroll and pay bills. This also means that the administrative duties I handle as business owner can be handled by other staff when needed.

Agree or disagree, having a business where there is a reciprocity of roles has had great benefits over the years. Most recently I needed to be out of the office for over two weeks. I never once worried that payroll would go out, contracts would be signed or bookings would continue during my absence. Did this add a great deal to the staff’s responsibilities while I gone? ..of course – but things went on…and during that time…

..there was no jostling for roles of power or authority because this isn’t how we function on a normal day-to-day. Everyone did their job plus picked up the slack in my absence. There were no egos to get in the way or resistance to support each other. For us – it works.

I was once told that the mark of a good leader is that in your absence, business goes on as usual. I believe the mark of a good leader is having the ability to put the correct people in place that are willing/able to carry on in your absence. Where there is the character of staff to allow this to happen and where staff have the autonomy to work without the business owner.

Today I am so grateful for each of my staff, their character, work ethic and integrity. Each are able to continue on without me in our ‘horizontal environment’..which makes me look like such a smart leader – when in fact it’s just a matter of having a smart and willing staff to work together.

 

Cost and Integrity

Woman reading newspaper while sitting on the bench

Over my recent Sunday morning coffee/newspaper routine –  I read an article entitled  ‘How a Project Went Wrong’.. It  was stunning and difficult to comprehend. Contractors had worked in a local high school removing asbestos without following safety protocol, contaminating the environment and sending poisonous toxins into the air.  I thought of the children and teachers going through their day innocently breathing in and out….

But what was even worse?  – this happened repeatedly.

Shocking violations from vendors that had previously been cited for creating dangerous environments, ignoring industry protocols. Yet these same businesses were awarded additional contracts – in the same school district – Horrified as I again thought of these children breathing in killer chemicals…I dug further to find out why’.. and there it was  – because they were the lowest bidder.

Sixteen years ago, when my business was just an idea of ‘how to do it better’ – I had encountered far too many bilingual individuals acting as Interpreters or Translators with no formal training or certification. Along with too many agencies I worked for that had no vetting process or support those of us in the field.

So my grandiose idea of transforming the experience for those utilizing interpreting services, along with visions of creating a more supportive and professional environment for the Interpreters themselves was born. My ‘win/win’ scenario was now my business plan.

But I also found quickly that my plan came with a cost. With so many contracts dependent on only that bottom line ‘lowest bidder’.. it became our responsibility to prove that having higher standards actually lower customer costs in the long run.

To our customers it means different outcomes depending on the environment:

In medical environments: Where Dr/Patient communication is so critical – It assures medical professionals that their Interpreters are familiar with medical terminology and understand the various medical environments.  This allows for quicker diagnosis/treatments and less repeat visits. Resulting in a healthier patient and healthier Dr/patient relationship.

In business: There are a world of new markets available if language and cultural barriers are removed. Having accurate translations can open a flood gate of new opportunities,  beginning with websites and social media and ending in business negotiations. Only having one chance to make a first impression to the world, that first impression has to be impeccable.

In education: Thousands of deaf and hard of hearing students utilize Interpreters from elementary school to post-secondary settings. Having a highly skilled Interpreter familiar with class content offers the best chance of success for students, alleviating repeating classes due to communication breakdowns. Not to mention happier and more successful students.

and the list could go on…but the point is

..when you have highly skilled, professional Interpreters and Translators that consider cultural and linguistic nuances, coupled with an agency experienced in making the correct matches, it is a win-win…even when the ‘bottom line’ cost may (initially) seem higher. Allowing you to create a healthy environment because you have the vision to look past the lowest bidder.

 

 

 

Why Hire A Human?

Hand holding a white smartphone in close up It seems every time there’s a new app that can “automatically translate” one language to another someone is ready and waiting to show me how easy our jobs as Interpreters really can be. At a business event recently a young man pulled out his cell phone as soon as I explained what I did and said “Why hire a human? – this app can do anything your Interpreters can do”……

Oh Lord, not again…….

The misperception that every language has words or phrases that can be ‘automatically’ translated into another language’s words or phrases is just not true. Every interpretation needs to consider not only cultural differences, but environment, situation, even emotional states of everyone involved. Human sensitivities and respect is not something that can be written into code…

A machine cannot give an eye shift when interpreting to a college student that the professor is really emphasizing the importance of a topic – or express to a hospital patient the optimism or seriousness in the voice or word choice of their physician.

An app cannot sit in a therapy session and convey emotions that are never expressed in words – that actually need the proper linguistic choices that communicate reactions of trauma, grief or desperation.

Endless examples could be given, but the short of all is this – ‘Why hire a human?…I believe is simply because we are human and if we take the human to human out of communication, there is no true understanding.

Little Blue Trucks & Entrepreneurs

portrait of cute little baby girl reading book with her mother n

One of my ‘littles’ favorite books is ‘Little Blue Truck’ – which I have read numerous times. And the story goes like this…

The Little Blue Truck joyfully drives through the countryside, greeting each friendly animal that he encounters along the way with a ‘beep’ and a welcome. Each animal in turn says hello to the Little Blue truck in their own special way..actually animal noises which delight the toddlers who are read to.

Enter the ‘Big Yellow Dump truck’ who tears through town announcing “Coming through! I’ve big important things to do … I haven’t time to pass the day – with every duck along the way”…thereby insinuating that the Little Blue Truck was wasting his time paying attention to every animal along his way.

In a twist of irony, the Dump truck gets stuck in a mud soaked road and ends up needing the help of the Little Blue Truck and his animal friends to get him unstuck. So the moral implied here is not probably the same take away as mine but something that struck me as I read the book yesterday, sweet baby on my lap and Christmas tree in the background.

This is – my sanity time. This is when I’m brought back to what is really important in life. As a business owner, with so much responsibility – it’s not always easy to remember. Sitting at your desk, signing contracts and paychecks, putting on your best face and putting out multiple fires…I can forget that even though I am constantly busy and have ‘important things to do’ … I need to take time to remember all of my encounters along the way.

So this holiday season, being grounded by a 10 month old and taking stock of who is important – I’d like to take the time to let each one that I encounter daily – my staff – my Interpreters – my customers – know that they are critical to who I am. To know that I care for them and work for them and appreciate that they are there for me, no less important than what I do and certainly not who I am.

Each one I pray has a safe and happy holiday season and I hope knows, that without them, I could never get ‘unstuck’ and move forward everyday.

Peace and joy to all who touch my life……

 

 

Who are your customers?

Business People on Cog WheelI’ve always had the conversation with new employees that we have 3 sets of customers that we need to constantly be addressing  1) The customers signing the contracts and requesting interpreting services 2) The consumers who do not use English as their first language and are utilizing our Interpreters 3) The Interpreters that work with us.

And for me, I’ll add a 4th – my employees. All of these ‘customers’ need to be treated with the same respect as the customers signing our contracts and sending in checks. All work together like cogs in a wheel – when each are supported, communication is successful in a seemingness fashion – which is the goal for all of us.

I’ve recently been mentoring a new business owner and when we had this conversation, the question inevitably came up ‘How do you address each customer’ – I think more important is each business identifying who their customers are, then addressing each one’s needs. For Empire Interpreting Service:

  1. Customers signing the contracts – we need to quickly be accessible to them and responding to their needs – phone calls answered by staff, not machines. Emails  answered the same business day. Technology that allows each call to be logged with the customer name, phone # and time along with the same logging of each confirmation of their request. Having this kind of information at our fingertips is vitally important to our customers. Hipaa compliance and confidentiality  agreements along with proper credentialing and professional insurances are extremely important as well (to these customers)
  2. Our LEP (limited English proficiency) consumers. These are the people that are on site, utilizing each Interpreter for critical information at each assignment. They need to trust that the Interpreters sent will represent them well – from showing up early to being dressed professionally and then most importantly – having the skill set to be that cultural and linguistic bridge to others.
  3. The Interpreters that work through us – they need to trust that they will also be responded to in a professional manner. That they have access to information needed – that their teams are vetted in the strictest manner so that they are constantly supported and presented professionally to their consumers. Paying them in a timely and scheduled manner and giving them technology to immediately access any assignment information.
  4. My employees – they are the one ‘customer’ that only I worry about. Again, showing them the respect they deserve. Giving them the tools to do their job effectively and being aware of their professional, personal and physical needs. From having the latest computers to ergonomic furniture and most importantly to them, giving them the flexibility to put family and personal priorities first.

That is my journey – but as I said to my young entrepreneur ‘mentee’ – you will need to find and address each one of your customers as you grow your business. THEY are the cogs that push the wheel towards success.

15 Years and Thankful…

This Fall my business reached an anniversary/milestone of 15 years! The business today is an entity I never could have imaged in 2003. The journey from then to now is something I never could have foreseen – and a journey I never could have taken alone. Forgive me while I take liberty to talk about those who stood beside me, carried me through and who continue to be my inspiration.

Six months into my business I knew I needed support. My first hire. Stacey Short, then my part time receptionist/bookkeeper. Today my CFO. Stacey has a fierce loyal heart and a work ethic rarely seen. She is deliberate and forceful  – she holds my feet to the fire – and cares as much about the business’s success as I do…AND she is a true honest and caring friend. 15 years and counting – she’s still building the business with me.

Jay – my Business Manager. Who I am sure would have rather followed his own path, but supported me in mine and worked and worked and worked to bring this business into the arena of the ‘big boys’ – to become contemporary and to embrace technology.  His daring and sometimes audaciousness thrust us into the future..how incredibly honored I am to work day by day with my son. 14 years later…he’s still standing by my side.

Corissa Hedrick – first came to me as an assistant to Jay and quickly proved that she had independent aspirations. She grabbed hold of an idea I had for a Spoken Language department and grew it to become 1/2 of our revenue. And took it further and further –  Like Stacey and Jay – her work ethic was surpassed only by enthusiasm and ability to plan for the future. She is and always will be someone I admire and respect – and again…how lucky I was to find her…all eleven years ago.

Trevor – my second son to join my business. Did the ‘dirty’ work..for year after year after year. He was the person who manned the business the hours everyone else’s day was done. He answered the emergency phone, became friends with ER Nurses and woke Interpreters at God awful hours to ensure every job was filled – Any day, any time all while being a ‘stay at home Dad’ and raising his little boy. Giving up chunks of his personal time for EIS and again, fiercely supporting my dream. How amazing it is to work each day with him – for now over a decade.

And most recently there is Eva. My Office Manager – who like the others has this incredible ability to dive in, take pride and ownership in the business and function on such a high level. I find myself leaning on her as the others do, always knowing that her perfectionism and caring is exactly the combination we and our customers need. I cannot imagine my days without Eva. She brings life and light into the business while taking on incredible tasks and always having all our backs. She is truly a rising star..and I am blessed to work with her these last few years….

And then there are my Interpreters, who are far far too many to name – who make me incredibly proud each and every time they are out on a job, giving our communities the best there is to offer – their professionalism, talents, commitment – make me stand tall in awe and respect.

My driving force – the people I love to work with and truly love – who have been on this journey with me – made it a true honor & given me all I need to make Empire Interpreting the success it is today.  Thank you to all of them, for making my dreams comes true and for achieving this amazing milestone of 15 years!

 

 

 

Cloud Pioneer

Telecommunication Concept

Recently I had the privilege of being interviewed by Forbes Book/Radio for a Podcast. During the explanation of how we were working within multi-generational customers/employees/consumers, the interviewer quipped “Empire Interpreting Service was a cloud pioneer”…and the conversation turned to the implications of that in our day-to-day.

Fifteen years ago when the business was new, I yearned for the phones to ring. The sound of a phone ringing meant customers calling. The sound was reassuring – when it stopped for even a few minutes, my entrepreneurial heart stopped as well.

Fast forward a few years and it seemed like the phones never stopped ringing. We were growing so fast…sometimes 100%/year and as the phones rang and rang,  my staff needs increased. I walked through the halls of our offices and it was incessant. It was comforting. I breathed deep….

In the last past year I have noticed the phone rings less and less and we are still busier and busier. You can no longer calculate how busy your business is by the sound of a telephone ringing. Our requests come in not by a person on the phone, but by email, text, our website portal and fax. Even the fax is silent as those devices went by the wayside and faxes come in off the web.

Today as I monitor how busy we are via databases and online communication, I realize that we were ‘Cloud Pioneers’ … and with that the sound of the telephone becomes less and less. It can be unnerving for a business owner to be in the midst of change, even when it is necessary to be relevant, to be contemporary, to be competitive.

Success doesn’t need to be noisy.

The cloud is silent.