By Jeff Nathanson

Planning for the future is a vital component for any business that is looking to succeed and grow.

Strategic planning can vary for businesses based on many factors, including their industry, local community and resources, technology, work environment and their entity status. A non-profit organization and for-profit entity can differ greatly when it comes to strategic planning and running a business efficiently and effectively.

At its November meeting, the Princeton Merchants Association will look at how non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses plan effectively and the different tasks they handle within their roles.

John Villamil will present programs to assist with employee relations, management styles and achieving a team concept. As a Certified Strategies Coach and the co-owner of La Jolie Salon & Spa, he has seen first-hand the success that applying deliberate effort in your business can provide.

One element of planning that should be at the top of the list of for everyone running a business, is the way they handle their employees. Villamil says he’ll be starting the conversation talking about ways to get employees more engaged.

“We hire folks for a specific task and we give them a job description,” Villamil says. “The question is, ‘How do we get that person to go from just being a producer to being an integral part of our company, and allow and encourage them to be part of the creative process?’”

“In our industry,” he says, “we hire a lot of folks who have either careers or degrees in areas that have nothing to do with what we do, but because of circumstances in the job market, or for other reasons, we end up with these incredibly talented folks doing jobs that they initially hadn’t set out to do.”

The key, he says, is recognizing that they probably have a lot to more to offer than just their job description.

“Many times we train them to do the task they were hired for and forget that those hands we hired also came along with a brain that is filled with tremendous ideas, knowledge or out of the box thinking that we don’t see within our industry because we’re not privy to that type of thought process.”

That leads to the question: How do business owners encourage employees to come be part of that process? How do we get them to suggest ideas that business owners and managers hadn’t thought of because they’re re caught up in the rigors of day-to-day business?

“We need to have a culture in our company that promotes a dialogue where people won’t be looked upon as stepping outside of their bounds or that they need to know their place,” Villamil says.

One way to do that, he suggests, is instead of having a yearly review, meet with employees regularly either one-on-one or in teams, share information and look for suggestions in areas that might need improvement.

Another aspect of employee relations is to drive home the fact that good customer service equals good business.

“I tell my employees all the time that what we’re trying to sell is customer service,” says Steve Carney, general manager of McCaffrey’s Market Princeton. “We’ve got about 180 employees here, and the most important thing to (owner) Jim McCaffrey is the experience that the customers have.”

“It takes a lot of time to put that together and maintain that year after year,” Carney adds, “but I have decided that if we want great people, we have to care about them, and they have to know that we care. We have to be open to their ideas. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to use their ideas, but they at least have to have a voice in how we’re coming across.”

The concepts suggested by Villamil and Carney also resonate in the world of non-profit organizations like the Arts Council of Princeton.

Although the arts are different than a retail business, the same concepts are very much a part of what we’ve tried to build as a culture at the Arts Council. It’s about customer service and community engagement. It’s about our staff and our faculty caring about the people who are utilizing and accessing our programs.

If the people who work here don’t believe in what we’re doing, they shouldn’t be here on our payroll. We’ve got more than 300 volunteers who sign up because they love what we do, and it would pain me to have somebody who’s getting paid by us who doesn’t.

The first thing we try to do is hire people whose values, backgrounds and personalities are aligned personally and professionally with what we’re selling here, which is an experience.

I believe that’s the goal of most businesses. Whether their patrons are shopping at McCaffrey’s, visiting a salon, or taking a painting class with the Arts Council of Princeton, they’re having an experience. You want your staff to positively support that experience for the customer.

To hear more about strategic planning and how it relates to various aspects of business, attend the Princeton Merchants Association’s next general meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 25, at 8 a.m., in the Community Room of the Princeton Public Library.

Jeff Nathanson, the executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton, is a member of the PMA board and its programs committee. The Hometown Princeton column is provided monthly by the PMA. On the web: princetonmerchants.org.