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September 2008

Networking Sept. 29 - Oct. 10

Networking is a key element in building relationships. What are you doing this week to further your career and business? Check out these upcoming networking events in Greater Des Moines.

Urbandale AM ExchangeBlog
Tuesday, Sept. 30
The Urbandale Chamber of Commerce will host an AM Exchange event from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. at First Bank, 8460 Birchwood Court, Suite #1100, Johnston. Attendees will have a chance to give a 30-second presentation on their business or service. Register at www.uniquelyurbandale.com.

Clive AM Connections
Tuesday, Sept. 30
The Clive Chamber of Commerce will host an AM Connections event from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. at Nobbies, 9999 University Ave. Register at 222-5295.

Urbandale new member reception
Wednesday, Oct. 1
The Urbandale Chamber of Commerce will host a new member reception from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, 150 S. Jordan Creek Parkway,West Des Moines. Learn more at www.uniquelyurbandale.com.

Champs Networking Group
Thursday, Oct. 2
Champs Networking Group will meet from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Maverick Grill, 3825 121st St., Urbandale. Learn more at www.champsgroup.org.

Urbandale networking
Tuesday, Oct. 7
The Urbandale Chamber of Commerce will host a Connections event from 4 to 6 p.m. at Avtex,2041 Grand Ave., Suite D, West Des Moines. Attendees will have a chance to give a 60-second presentation on their product or service. Register for the free event at www.uniquelyurbandale.com.

Consistency for all the senses

19185139 When you think about consistency in your marketing efforts, in most cases you're paying attention to repetition or visual consistency. But, I want to remind you about a more subtle but equally important aspect.

Often times, how you say something is more important than what you say. 

You should have a clear idea of what your company's "voice" is. And regardless of how many different writers are involved, your materials should always be in the same voice.

How do you "sound" in your communications pieces?

  • Are you formal?
  • Conversational?
  • Do you use short, choppy sentences or long, descriptive paragraphs?
  • Do you strictly adhere to grammar and style rules or do you take some liberties?
  • What about slang or industry jargon?

What do each of those choices say about you?

Don't assume the right answer is based on industry stereotypes. Imagine the tone and style differences between a corporate law firm and a law firm that specializes in family law.

Your voice goes beyond the written words. What is the attitude of your radio spot? How about your signage? Is your voice consistent in how you answer your phone? The signature line on your e-mail? What about your press releases and sales promotions materials? Your on hold message?

Think of all the ways you communicate to your customers, potential customers, employees, and vendors. How consistent are you?

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The Lawyer Bait-And-Switch

You’ve finally done it. After searching online, asking friends, family and other lawyers and conducting countless interviews, you have finally located the best lawyer in the world. He or she is smart, charismatic, personable and seemTrapdoors to know the law backward and forward. How can you lose with this lawyer on your side?

Fast forward six months later. An associate attorney in the same firm is sitting across from you explaining why your case is unraveling. All the while you are wondering whether this person even graduated from law school.  How did you go from hero to zero without so much as a simple explanation?

There are several legitimate reasons your lawyer might refer you to another lawyer: the other lawyer has a lower billing rate making cookie cutter work more affordable, the other lawyer has a special expertise outside the capability of your original lawyer, et cetera. However, one reason your lawyer might have brought in another lawyer to represent you is economics.

Some lawyers are lawyers while other lawyers are marketers. Unfortunately, there are a lot more lawyer/lawyers than marketer/lawyers. This places a huge premium on marketer/lawyers. While a great marketer/lawyer has no problem developing enough business to keep himself or herself busy, there is a limit to how much work one lawyer can do. Realizing this, and the fact they do not want their $200/hr lawyer/lawyers aimlessly pacing the halls with nothing to do, typically compensate marketer/lawyers for assisting lawyer/lawyers in finding work.

While a marketer/lawyer can only generate so much income billing legal work, there is almost no limit to the amount of income a lawyer can generate developing business for the other lawyer/lawyers in the firm.

So how do you know whether you are getting a new lawyer because it is best for you or best for your original lawyer? The easiest way is to discuss this issue with your lawyer before you hire him or her. Ask them if they will be your attorney for the duration of your engagement. Ask them what percentage of the services do they anticipate billing themselves. Ask them if they anticipate the need to bring other attorneys in on your case. If the attorney indicates other attorneys might be needed, ask to meet with those attorneys as well. Finally, ask if the lawyer has a direct number you can use in the event you have any questions.

Your lawyer’s responses to these questions should give you a fairly clear idea as to whether you are hiring a marketer/lawyer or a lawyer/lawyer. The key is to meet with the lawyer who will actually be handling your work before you hire them. Getting dumped on a lawyer you have never met is no way to start a productive attorney/client relationship. If the lawyer you hired has no interest in actually being your lawyer, you should probably be very interested in finding a new lawyer.

Brett Trout

Do Young Professionals Understand the Economy, Do They Even Care?

Wall_street By many accounts we are currently dealing with an unprecedented economic situation. Do Young Professionals even care or have a clue about the economy? Do they even care?

The current young professionals demographic consist of two generations; the last half of the Generation X and the first of the Millennials, typically Xers tend to be more critical while Millennials are more optimistic, this manifest as YP's appearing either pessimistic or clueless. 

Unlike other disastrous situations affecting our country Young professionals understand how terrorism affects personal freedom at places like airports and shopping malls, etc. They understand how natural disasters like floods and hurricane affect us. They even understand the governments responsibility in protecting us in those situations. However, YPs struggle to understand the governments role in a free market economy.

When the government feels it needs to step in
, whether or not that is the best course of action or not, it sends a clear message to our young professionals that they need not care, because it is the governments responsibility, or that they should be pessimistic because the government wasn't doing what YP's believe was the governments job in the first place.

But YPs should care, Why because they are paying for it. The generation that is growing into the largest economic force in history with 80 million people, might be restricted in their economic freedoms by the economic actions they were not responsible for creating, that would make anyone pessimistic.

Janice Dickinson, Business Coach?

I’m really not much of a TV watcher. So I surprised even myself recently when I found myself unable to change the channel away from the Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency reality show. It was like a car accident. I new I shouldn’t be watching but I couldn’t turn away. 

Apparently this Janice Dickinson person was at some point in her life (and maybe she still is) a famous super model. Now she is living in a house with several “wanna be” supermodels and (insert typical reality show formula here).  In this particular episode, one of the super models had made a serious runway mistake and was in tears over her failure. But Janice, being the strong woman that she is, carefully explained to the young woman that failure is good. By failing, we now know what we need to do to get better, to improve and to succeed. Trite and cliché, yes, but dead on!
Publicspeaking_2
Oscar Wilde says experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.

Last week I had the opportunity to make my first ever public speaking presentation. Let’s just say it was an “experience”. My presentation lacked structure, was too long and was not even remotely entertaining. I just filled my time with a lot of volume and noise.

Rhett Laubach at the Authenticity Rules blog talks about the five misconceptions of speaking. One of those misconceptions is that we have to give a ton of information to look credible. He goes on to say that particularly in today's busy and noisy world, audiences appreciate a presenter who makes things simple and who takes less time than they are given. Credibility is not accomplished by data volume, but by presenter authenticity.

LaShunda Rundles was selected as the 2008 World Champion of Public Speaking a few weeks ago at the Toastmasters International convention in Calgary, Alberta. In an interview at the Six Minutes blog Ms. Rundles advised, “To become a better speaker I encourage people to just practice, practice, practice.”

With all of that being said, I had a blast. I have caught the bug. I can hardly wait to restructure my presentation, practice it and then deliver it again. Whether it’s in sales, sports, super modeling, or public speaking, mistakes will be made. It’s what you do with that experience that makes the difference.

What’s the biggest business mistake you ever made and what did you learn from it?

The ADA Amendments: Significant Changes for Employers on the Way

It's an election year and everybody is talking about "change".  Obama's theme is "Change we can believe in" while McCain says that "Change is coming".  I don't know who will win or who offers the most change, but no matter what, our nation's employers must now plan for wide-sweeping changes regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).Blogpic

Congress recently passed the ADA Amendments Act, which President Bush is anticipated to sign and will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2009.  Not only will it have a tremendous impact on the defense of employment litigation claims, but they will require almost all business owners, human resource professionals and supervisors to adopt new policies and procedures in dealing with accommodation requests.  While courts have previously rejected the majority of ADA cases, employers will now need to act much more cautiously.

The Changes

The following lists the major areas of change in the new Act. Although the ADA only applies to those workplaces with 15 or more employees, this requirement is not as limiting as it first appears. The number includes part-time and temporary employees, and applies if an employer had 15 or more employees for at least 20 weeks during the current or preceding calendar year.

  1. Broad Standard for "Disability" Definition - the new law states that it provides "a broad scope of protection" for employees, and provides that courts examining ADA cases need to provide coverage for plaintiffs "to the maximum extent permitted" by the statute.
  2. "Majority Life Activity" is now just about everything - the ADA was silent on what constituted a major life activity, or in other words, the areas of life that needed to be adversely affected in order for someone to claim a disability. But the new ADA includes a thorough and exhaustive list of activities, including caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, eating, sleeping, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working. It also expressly states that the operation of any major bodily function is considered a major life activity – including functions of the immune system, cell growth, digestive functions, reproductive functions and neurological and brain functions.
  3. Mitigating Factors Must Now Be Ignored - When making a decision about whether an employee is considered sufficiently disabled to receive protection under the ADA, employers and courts must now ignore any and all mitigating measures being used by the individual in question. This includes medications, prosthetics, hearing aids, mobility devices and learned adaptations.
  4. Ordinary Eyeglasses and Contact Lenses - Despite the provision regarding mitigating factors there is an exception for ordinary eyeglasses and contact lenses.  An employer can consider eyeglasses and contact lenses when determining if someone is disabled.
  5. The "Regarded As" provision is also read more broadly - the ADA has always offered protection for those employees whom an employer wrongly "regarded" as being disabled. Previously, ADA plaintiffs needed to prove that the employer regarded them as being substantially limited in a major life activity, which was often a difficult standard to meet. Under the new ADA, a "regarded as" plaintiff need only demonstrate that the employer perceived the individual as having a mental or physical impairment.
  6. EEOC is now permitted to regulate the ADA - the new ADA also provides an express mandate to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EEOC) to issue binding regulations and other interpretative guidance regarding the statute.

Overall, the changes to the ADA are extensive and include several other issues not discussed in this blog post. You are encouraged to consult your employment attorney regarding the ADA amendments and their impact on your business. For further reading I also suggest you review the following employment law blog sites for handy information on the new amendments:

George's Employment Blawg

Connecticut Employment Law Blog

Pennsylvania Labor and Employment Blog

Manpower Employment Blawg

The Power of Conscious Competence

Have you ever tried to squeeze your size 14 body into a size 12 suit? Doesn't work, does it? Oh, maybe you can get the pants on without ripping them out. The moment you go to sit down though, or eat more than one cup of soup, you're going to be outside your comfort zone. And maybe at risk for exposing the gap between "reality" and "desire."

There's nothing wrong with being a size 14. Celebrate it. Leverage all that being a size 14 means. But let go of being a size 12. Life is too short to not be able to comfortably sit down.

Those of us in business often do something similar when we try to fit into a job or a career that is not "the right size" for us. We try to squeeze ourselves into an account executive position at an ad agency when our strengths are better suited to teaching the arts in an elementary school. Peter Drucker said, "Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer."

In our work lives, if we can discern what our greatest strengths are -- when we are at ourBlog best, in the zone, performing in a way that is both excellent and exhilarating -- we can be consciously competent. We can sense what's working and how it's working and why it's working. And thus, we can replicate that performance and satisfaction over and over again, every day we engage in work that is right-sized for us and for our unique set of talents.

Tom Rath's best-selling book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, is a wonderful tool for getting started on that road to conscious competence. Inside each copy is a unique identification number that allows access to a StrengthsFinder Profile on the Internet, a revolutionary program to help readers identify their talents, build them into strengths and enjoy consistent, near-perfect performance.

It's well worth the time and study to identify what you're really good at, what makes your heart sing, what hardly seems like work at all. Listening to that inner voice guides you to take the next step that is in keeping with who we really are -- where your strengths reside -- rather than into a role or a position where the world...and employment managers...might be trying to squeeze you.

Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, used to tell this story. A very poor Greek once applied for a job as a janitor in a bank in Athens. "Can you write?" demanded the discriminating head of employment. "Only my name," said the fellow. He didn't get the job -- so he borrowed the required money to travel steerage to the United States, the "land of opportunity."

Many years later an important Greek businessman held a press conference in his beautiful Wall Street office. At the conclusion, an enterprising reporter said, "You should write your memoirs." The gentleman smiled. "Impossible," he said, "I cannot write." The reporter was astounded. "Just think," he remarked, "how much farther you would have gone if you could write." The Greek should his head and said, "If I could write, I'd be a janitor."

The Purposeful Company

Breweryshot_3The business world gets crazier every day - stock markets going nuts, banks on the brink of closing, wondering if our 401k accounts will be around for retirement and politicians worrying about lipstick on a pig!  It causes one to reflect on life and examine why do we do the things we do.

Since we spend most of lives at work, does it not make sense that we find purpose and meaning at work.  Even better, that the company we are employed at is purposeful in its business.  Yes, that purpose has more meaning than the all mighty dollar (with the understanding that business success comes from a profit - I think we all know this).

I just recently heard my good friend Kim Jordan, the founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing (Fat Tire Beer), once again speak to the fact that purposeful organizations do exist.  New Belgium is based on three fundamental issues that center on purpose:

  • Stewardship of the environment
  • Promoting beer culture
  • Having fun

There is much more to the purpose based beliefs of New Belgium, but Kim boiled them down to these three.  In just 19 years it has become the third largest craft brewer in the U.S.

This is a company of 300 employee owners that twice a year participates in the strategic planning process (a fact - I attended one several years ago), ownership is shared with the employees and ideas are encouraged and acted upon.  They have instilled a higher purpose for business and in doing so, have created a place where individuals can pursue a higher purpose through the work environment.

There are other companies that have done the same or more.  The key is that they are engaging their employees in running a business for a purpose bigger than the founder, the CEO or the managers.  By focusing on a higher purpose it takes away the stigma of working for "the man" and gives meaning to work.

I know it works; I was a part of a company that did the same.  I encourage you to ponder the thought of running a purposeful company instead of business.  Good luck!

Using "vuja de" to be innovative and creating a dynamic IT environment: Part One

In a recent conversation with a group of executives, I stated "these are very tough times, but the technology is there to be revolutionary and make great things happen for the business.  I told them that they just need to be that revolutionary person to drive change.” Over the past week I’ve had a couple of comments online and more offline directly to me around innovation. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on being innovative and some things that you can do to help push the “innovation envelope” and create a dynamic IT environment.Blog

I’ve been a noticing a lot recently that companies are only looking at what is going on today in their environments, instead of stepping back and getting a fresh perspective. Let’s face it. Some, if not most, companies have a kind of tunnel vision. They chase the same opportunities that everyone else is chasing; they miss the same opportunities that everyone else is missing. It’s the companies that see a different game that win big.

The most important question for innovators today is: What do you see that the competition doesn't see? In the book “The Art of Innovation”, Tom Kelley gets a term from George Carlin; vuja dé; what does this mean? It means taking a look at something familiar with a new perspective as if you had never seen it before, and with that new perspective developing a new line of sight into the future.

Now I have to make this statement as it relates to IT. This doesn’t mean that you need to be on the bleeding edge, and maybe you don't have the resources to invest in multiple areas of technology. Still, you need to ask yourself the question: What do we need to focus on to ensure the future readiness of your own IT organization and to enable the businesses we support to go forward?

When it comes to innovation in IT, I’ve seen clients actually form small teams within their IT departments that only focus on the future of technology. They work closely with their counterparts on the business solutions side to ensure that the technology will meet the business requirements and spur further productivity gains and competitive advantage. I call this planning today for tomorrow’s new technology.

This begs the question, “how far do you look into the future?”

Well the quick answer is it depends. It depends on the role of your IT department in your company. I know that in some industries I’ve been engaged with can be at a serious competitive disadvantage if IT doesn’t stay on the leading edge. These are the companies that are using radical innovation to alter industry economics and redefining for competitive advantage. The most creative executives I’ve met don’t aspire to learn from the “best in class” in their industry—especially when the best in class aren’t all that great. They aspire to learn from companies far outside their field as a way to shake things up and make real change.

One of the ways that I think IT departments and businesses in general can be innovative is to look again with a fresh perspective to a concept that has been around for a while; dynamic IT, and what this strategy can do for them around competitive advantage, et cetera.

There has been a lot of debate over the last few years whether IT “matters”. I’ve seen cases where there is not much debate in the minds of some business executives, who recognize that IT is critical to the execution of business strategy. This isn’t to say that Mr. Carr is wrong; he is most definitely on target with his theories and statements, but many business strategies – including collaborative product development, consumer-driven supply chain, and multi-tiered channel management and customer service – are actually impossible to execute without the support of underlying apps, data repositories and workflow systems, that may not be a fit for “the cloud”.

What needs to be on the mind of every executive is a new, more innovative way to make IT dynamic and create that competitive advantage. Some companies are creating that “dynamic IT” with application, server and storage virtualization technologies, but that is probably very innovative for the majority of some companies out there. Incremental innovation is better than no innovation at all I say, but I’ve said it before in an increasingly nonlinear world, only nonlinear ideas are likely to create competitive advantage.

Rest 101

The last time I had to post on a Sunday, I asked you the question: When's your "Sabbath?"

Rest_and_be_thankful If you remember, I challenged you... not on whether you agreed with the guidance of the Biblical command to rest on the seventh day or not... but on the concept of rest, itself.

We as a society... aren't resting much. Are we?

Our world has moved from a 9-to-5 economy, to a world-is-flat... 24/7... 365... global economy.  Haven't we?

Plus, when the markets have a roller coaster week like this past week... it's a little more difficult for some to rest.

And that's just work... right? 

Now, our kids schedules seem to be as packed as our own.  There's homework in 1st grade, piano lessons, travel teams and Tae Kwon Do.  When... in the heck... did that all happen?

Okay... so I posed this question... this challenge... back in January: "What's something you could do today... to intentionally rest?"

In all my boldness... I even took it a step further and asked... how could you do it... rest... without feeling guilty?

Well... I heard from many of you... that you started to take that challenge.  And it sounds like you... like me... have had weeks where you've gotten better at it.  And then some weeks... where you've gotten hit by the FREAKISHLY-BUSY freight train!

So, I thought that it might be good to offer a bit of a "Rest 101" course for you...

Maybe, we can take a tip from the Director of Work Leisure International, Peter Nicholls, and change our terminology of "work-life balance" to "work life harmony."  Ol' Pete says this mindset could help us achieve better balance and possibly lead to more rest.

I like the simplification concepts offered by CC Holland.  One was her suggestions to achieve better work-life balance... and be able to rest more is:

"Focus on frugality.  Hermes Aleman shares the advice to keep your needs and wants manageable, so you have some financial freedom and aren't a slave to work.  As you earn more, fight the temptation to spend more."

The glass hammer offered some great suggestions to those who are single and "Walking the Wire" of work-life balance.  One of their suggestions was to build strong relationships outside of work... and when they interviewed business women who were single... they overwhelming responded with the suggestion:

"That no matter how little time they were left with outside of the office, they had to have something else outside of work, to be passionate about.  Many of the women who responded to the survey said that a key thing for them was to make friends or get involved in an activity that had nothing to do with their job.  By doing so, they end up with a clear line separating the two, making it easier to stick with outside commitments."

Or maybe, we take a tip from a story out of Hollywood this week.  It's how the "$50-million-dollar man," Toby Maguire, took a stand for making time for family.  It was an unprecedented move in the movie industry.  He said he wouldn't step back into the Spidey costume if he didn't have time for his two leading ladies... his wife and his new baby daughter.  (Although some might balk at the fact that Ol' Toby made this move to score a bigger paycheck... I like the fact that he was ready to walk away from Spider-man 4 and 5 (and that BIG paycheck), if he didn't have time for his family.)  What could we learn from this one?

Okay... so... these writers and examples offer a few ideas on how to rest... and balance things a little better in today's busy world.

What do you have to say? 

What do you do to rest? 

More importantly, what do you do to rest without guilt?

Join in the conversation and let us know.

Photo credit and kudos to: Krasny Fotoapparat

Recalls and more that can close your door

Hamburger_2According to a recent article I read,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 76 million cases of food-borne illness that occur each year. There has been an alarming number of food contamination outbreaks in the past two years putting America’s food supply under intense scrutiny.

Just earlier this year, we had the largest beef recall in history. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered 143 million pounds of beef to be recalled from Chino-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co.

Westland/Hallmark provided meat to the National School Lunch programs and about 150 school districts. It also provided meat to two fast food chains: Jack-in-the-Box and In-N-Out Burger.

So what does this mean to the retailer or restaurant owner?

  • Who is liable?
  • Do you have coverage for this under your insurance policy?
  • Wouldn’t your General Liability coverage cover it?
  • What other ramifications are there?

Well, the law is clear. Everyone in the chain of distribution is liable.

If someone becomes ill while eating at your establishment or from food they purchase at your store, you can be sure the first person they will name in a suit will be the store/restaurant owner. Things will just progress from there.

In regards to insurance, the area that a business owner with this type of risk should be concerned with is the Products and Completed Operations Coverage. This is an area of coverage that I have noticed that does not get much focus.

This type of incident is a huge exposure for distributors, manufacturers, processors, retailers and restaurant owners – these industries can’t afford to have mediocre limits for this coverage. The Products and Completed Operations limits is the part of the policy that will come into play should a loss like this occur.

Other ramifications can be business interruption. Often times the establishment(s) can be shut down while the appropriate agencies complete their investigation. Loss of revenue is immediate should this occur. Having business interruption coverage on your policy can help to keep your monthly income coming in while your investigation is underway.

Brand image can also be damaged. With having the proper business interruption coverage in place it can also help the establishment stay afloat while it rebuilds its reputation in the community until it reaches its pre-loss operating condition. The rebuilding phase can be the most fragile one. If proper business interruption coverage is not in place, many companies may have to close their doors.

Even if you're not in the restaurant/food industry - you may face situations that put your business at risk.

I encourage all business owners to be aware of their risks, consult with their agents to ensure that they have the proper coverage for their industry.

How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?

Nyse_wall_street_2I was planning on writing about risk analysis and quantification for this post, and I was wracking my brain to figure out a good segue into the topic. So I must remember to send a nice hand-written note to the executives at AIG, Morgan Stanley, Freddie and Fanny and Lehman Brothers.

In my last post, we covered ways to identify risks in your projects.  Now we need to quantify those risks... in other words, figure out how potentially bad they can be.  Our goal here is not to have exact numbers, but to be able to make intelligent decisions about whether to spend money and energy to avoid or mitigate the risk.

The calculation to figure out the "cost" of the risk (otherwise known as Expected Monetary Value, or EMV), is pretty simple.  First, you should determine the probability that the risk event will occur (e.g., there's a 20 percent chance Sally will quit unexpectedly). Then calculate the impact of the risk event should it occur (e.g., if Sally quits, it will cost us $40,000 to backfill her position).  EMV is simply the product of the two numbers.  So the "Sally Risk" is worth 20 percent x $40,000 = $8,000.

What? You say you don't have time to put an exact probability or dollar figure to each risk?  I don't either. In one of my most successful risk management projects (a highly complex program involving hundreds of resources and a detailed process/system overhaul), we created a very simple 5x5 grid to calculate risk:

Risk_quantification

The program executive, the technical lead, and I sat down over a long meeting and threw out the first number that came into our head for each risk.  (Surprisingly, we agreed the first time about 90 percent of the time; for those where we disagreed, we had some great dialogue.) We then multiplied the two numbers together to come up with a composite risk score. If the risk score was higher than eight (8), we paid attention to it. For those which scored less than 8, we revisited them about once a month.  So it's not necessary to do complicated Monte Carlo calculations, difficult computer-generated models, or expensive and time-consuming in-depth research.  Risk analysis and quantification can occur very quickly, yet still provide you with the ability to make quick decisions about the important project risks on which you should focus.

Like the $85 billion ones.

Carpe Factum.

A Tale of Two Trip-Ups

My wife, daughter and I were in Colorado Springs last week. I hooked up with an old college roommate and our families went to lunch together at a local Mexican place called El Padrino. My former roommate said the place had a pretty good reputation.

As the waiter brought the tray with all of our drinks, he slipped and the drinks crashed toBlog the table. Water, soda and salsa flew everywhere. We were completely soaked and stained. It was very uncomfortable since our pants were soaked clear through every layer. We're talking nasty soaked. Nevertheless, we moved to another table and placed our order. After mumbling a "Whoa, my bad," the server and a few other co-workers busied themselves cleaning up the mess. No one offered us an apology.

About half-way through the lunch, the manager stopped by our table. He said he'd heard that there was a little mishap, and that we should save room for dessert because he was buying.

As he walked away, we sat and stared at each other. We were dumbfounded. "Dude," I wanted to say, "your server soaked all of us so badly that we have to immediately go somewhere and change as soon as we leave. This wasn't a little spill. This was a major accident. You need to comp the lunch, not just offer to buy dessert that none of us want. Your dessert will only keep us here in our wet clothing."

Compare this experience with another "trip-up" at a different Mexican restaurant. This recently came to me in an e-mail:

My boys love going to Panchero's. They love their burritos! For a high school graduation gift this year, one of my sisters gave Zach a Pancehro's gift card. He was very excited. It was for $150.00! He saved it all summer. When he went to use it his first week of college, they told him that there was a zero balance on the card.


He came home to Ankeny this weekend and stopped into the local Panchero's
where the card was purchased. There was no manager on duty, but the young man working the counter called his manager at home. The manager asked Zach to come back in on Monday and he would take care of it. Zach walked away thinking that nothing would come of it.


Monday came and Zach returned to Pancerho's . He told the manager that he had stopped in on Saturday. The manager knew exactly what Zach was talking about and checked the balance on the card which did, indeed, read zero. Without a question, the manager rang up a new $150.00 gift card and thanked Zach.

We both looked at each other in shock. Granted, someone in our family eats in this restaurant at least twice a week, but at no time were we questioned or did he try and tell us  “this couldn't happen”.  This manager treated Zach with respect and dignity and has won our  business for life.

When mistakes happen, how you respond is critical. Avoidance, excuses and denial will drive customers away. Taking responsibility, sincerely apologizing and making things right may end up earning you a customer for life. Don't count what it's costing you to make it right. Count the cost of losing a customer for life and the negative word-of-mouth it will create.

How will you respond?

Non-profits should focus on social media

Nonprofit organizations, with limited advertising and marketing dollars, should designate social media as the highest priority in their communications strategy. It always makes me sad to see nonprofits blowing thousands of dollars on outdoor boards when they could be focusing their energy on real, two-way conversations with constituents, prospects and donors online.Blog_2

Think of the possibilities within these two channels alone:

1.) Facebook
Facebook is probably the most effective digital grassroots and organizing tool there is. If you're trying to rally people around a cause, there's no better channel than Facebook, where your volunteers can spread your message, and even organize events on your behalf. Barack Obama's grassroots fundraising efforts have proven how powerful a tight Facebook strategy can be.

2.) Twitter
Twitter's power exists in small geographic pockets, which could really benefit a small nonprofit that only wants to reach a local audience. Imagine the impact the Animal Rescue League of Iowa could do on Twitter, reaching out to a Des Moines area audience with 140-characters "tweets" featuring a new animal that needs to be rescued, every day. All it takes is a little wordsmithing and a twitpic account to show off the animals' mugs.

A huge benefit here is what it costs - next to nothing. It's free to interact within these channels, but there is going to be a required time commitment to immerse yourself, learn the mediums and participate properly within them. Like any successful communications strategy, you get out of it what you put into it.

Home is where the job is

It has become the custom of candidates in the presidential elections to release their income tax returns.  Occasionally, the candidate suffers the annoyance of having to promptly amend returns because of an obvious error, but mostly this is just a chance to see how much more our would-be leaders make than we do, and how selective they are about charitable donations.Blog

Sometimes, though, we can learn from the candidates' tax issues. This past week it came out that Vice-Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin received "per diem" meal allowances when she stayed at her Wasilla, Alaska residence. The IRS explains "per diem" expenses:

Generally, amounts employers pay employees to reimburse them for substantiated business expenses are not subject to income tax or employment tax. For reimbursements for expenses for meals and other incidentals associated with business travel, employees get this exclusion for reimbursements for each day of travel up to the federal per diem rates without having to actually substantiate the amounts of the expenses.

The tax law normally applies strict documentation requirements for business meals. But if you reimburse employees for business travel away from home at the IRS per-diem rates, you don't have to collect receipts from the employees for their meals. If you don't follow the IRS rules, the employer has to put the reimbursements on the employee W-2 as income. If reimbursements exceed the per-diem amount, the excess is W-2 income.

We'll assume that an Alaska governor has plenty of business travel from the isolated capital of Juneau to Anchorage, Alaska's largest city; in Alaska terms, Wasilla is near Anchorage, so it's reasonable to stay there on Anchorage business.  But how can staying in your own house be travel "away from home?"

Under the tax law, your "tax home" is the focal point of your business activities. If an Iowa executive only keeps an apartment in Des Moines, where his job is, but jets to Scottsdale for weekends with his family at the mansion, his "tax home" is in Des Moines.  That means his expenses of traveling to and from Scottsdale are non-deductible "commuting," and if the business pays his Des Moines meal and apartment costs, they have to go on his W-2.

Likewise, we can expect the tax home of the Governor of Alaska to be Juneau, the state capital. If the trip to Wasilla is a business trip, it is "away from home" as far as the tax law is concerned, and the state can pay the governor per-diems up to the IRS limits without having to put them on her W-2. Any per-diems in excess of IRS amounts, or for amounts on non-business trips, would be taxable compensation.

In the interest of non-partisanship, our next installment will use the Obama family returns to illustrate a tax-saving opportunity for the self-employed.

Brand your company by the questions you ask

16011025 Your brand begins with your employees.  No doubts about that.  They either deliver on your brand promise or they violate that promise.

So the sooner you can get them to understand what your brand is all about, the better.  So why not start at the interview?

Let's admit it.  Most people are mediocre interviewers.  Everyone asks the same questions and most competent job applicants know the right answers to give.

But what if you asked questions they didn't expect?  And better yet, what if you asked questions that accomplished two additional goals:

  • Checked to see if they were well suited for your company culture
  • Communicated a bit about your brand to the applicant

Think about your brand and your company's core values.  Now, create some questions that explore those topics. 

Let me give you an example from our own experience.  At McLellan Marketing Group, we value creativity, passion, strong strategic thinking skills, teamwork and a servant's heart towards customers.

Here are some questions we've created to get at those values. Feel free to use ours, or develop your own "out of the box" questions so you can find that one in a million employee.

~ When did you have a tough time understanding the concerns of your co-workers or client?  How did you handle that?

~ In a team environment, are you a motivator, player, leader, or enthusiast?

~ If you had a theme song, what would it be?

~ You have 60 seconds to sell me a pair of shoelaces.  Go.

~ How do you manage stress?

~ Tell me about a time that you broke the rules at work

~ What's the most outlandish thing you have done on behalf of a customer?

It's questions like these that have helped us build the best agency team anyone could hope for. Hope it works as well for you!

Networking Sept. 15 - Sept. 19

Networking is a key element in building relationships. What are you doing this week to further your career and business? Check out these upcoming networking events in Greater Des Moines.Blog

Urbandale reception
Monday, Sept. 15
The Urbandale Chamber of Commerce will host a reception for new members from 4 to 5 p.m. at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, 150 S. Jordan Creek Parkway, West Des Moines. Learn more at www.uniquelyurbandale.com.

South Des Moines luncheon
Tuesday, Sept. 16
The South Des Moines Chamber of Commerce will host a membership luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Wakonda Club, 3915 Fleur Drive. The cost is $20 with a reservation and $25 without a reservation. Register to Megan Shields at mshields@desmoinesmetro.com.
Altoona luncheon
Tuesday, Sept. 16
The Altoona Area Chamber of Commerce will host a networking luncheon from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Fireside Grille, 523 Eighth St. S.E. Attendees will have a chance to give a short presentation of their business. Register by calling 967-3366.

BIZ luncheon

Wednesday, Sept. 17
The next Business Innovation Zone meeting will feature Cory Garrison of Merge Today Inc., who will discuss how to create a company sales plan and build relationships. The luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Greater Des Moines Partnership Building, 700 Locust St., Suite #100, Des Moines. The cost is $10 for members and $12 for nonmembers. Register by e-mailing Cathy Spenceri at caspenceri@dmacc.edu.

Comcast's Ongoing Assault on Net Neutrality

What exactly is Net Neutrality? Netneutrality 

If you are like most people, it is probably the biggest thing you have never heard of.

Have you ever received a satellite television brochure detailing what packages you can get for what price? Well if Internet heavyweights such as AT&T, Comcast and Cox cable have their way, and destroy Net Neutrality, the Internet will be parsed up and packaged the same way. You want to visit cnn.com? That’s another $40 every year. eBay? Another $50 annually.

Who is Behind the Attack on Net Neutrality?

Just last month, the Federal Communication Commission sanctioned Comcast for intentionally blocking its customers from receiving certain Internet traffic. While most of you probably do not use the BitTorrent service that Comcast was blocking, without strong laws enforcing Net Neutrality there is nothing to stop these 800-pound gorillas from blocking your access to any service or Web site. Worse yet, there is nothing to stop them from blocking their customer's access YOUR company's website. Of course, if you were to pay a little extra, and their customers were to pay a little extra, I am sure these Internet service providers (ISPs) might find it in their hearts to reign in their officious hijinks. It is not difficult to see that this cannot help but result in you eventually being denied access to majority of the Internet.

What Can You Do?

Obviously, do not to sign up with an ISP that unilaterally makes decisions about what aspects of the Internet you can and cannot access. More importantly, you can demand your congressional representatives take immediate measures to ensure your continued access to the ENTIRE Internet, not just the part of the Internet willing to pay ISPs kickbacks in exchange for access. Check out your candidates' positions on Net Neutrality before you vote. For more information on what you can do, visit SaveTheInternet.com and The Open Internet Coalition. Do it now. Once Net Neutrality is gone it will never come back. Instead of billions of diverse and independent Web pages, you may one day find yourself surfing a much smaller Internet, one echoing only the sentiments of those commercial interests willing to pay to have their message heard.

Brett Trout

Mentoring: the "Boomer Solution" Bridge to the Workplace "Wisdom Gorge"

It's no secret that Millennials are coming of age and, in less than a decade, will be the dominant demographic in the workplace. At approximately the same time, Boomers are beginning to retire and most will begin to collect Social Security and other sources of retirement income. The resulting "wisdom gorge" (rather than "brain drain") has given employers some cause for concern, particularly with what appears to be a penchant for workplace disloyalty among Millennials.

While I am one of the first to defend Millennials in their ability to multi task, set goals, and  grasp technology, those skill sets do not begin to make up for the years of relationships, trials and errors, and practices, that have been gained from over thirty years in the workforce and it would appear both generations agree with me.

Many best practice guides, including the one I mentioned last month by the Generation Iowa Commission, suggest a bridge over this wisdom gorge is hiring Boomers, on a part-time basis, as mentors to Millennials while also assigning them work that is meaningful yet flexible. 

This mentoring relationship should be natural as both Boomers and Millennials like to emphasize meaning in the workplace. There is no question that the generation that rebelled against authority in the 60's and 70's and pioneered financial success in the 80's and 90's feels they have answers to a cavalcade of problems.There is also no question that a generation that is too busy to use complete words and sentences, or
research news, or wear a tie, find pertinent value in relationships and collaboration, after all, aren't many boomers the parents of the Millennials anyway?

Keeping, hiring, or rehiring these Boomers can also provide a solution to keep human capital in places where many Young Professionals are fluid.  And the "boomer solution" provides an opportunity to keep experts in soft skills utility that cannot only be shared, but also implemented in real time.

It's a win/win for all involved. Boomers can continue to contribute and influence, while enjoying the flexibility earned by their time. Millennials can still specialize and collaborate, while acquiring new skills and relationships, and employers can feel confident that their workforce needs are not only being met, but are also set for the future.

A Toast…To Preparedness

In my last post I wrote about how there is no better way to start your day than by being prepared. A common misconception about processes and planning is that it takes the spontaneity and creativity out of your work. Adam Carroll of Four Legacies Mortgage taught me otherwise. Creating processes and planning ahead actually allow for greater creativity.

Whether you’re throwing a birthday party for your two-year-old (which I did this past weekend), or you’re Sweet Lou Piniella preparing the Cubs for the playoffs, or you’re giving the toast at your best friends wedding…trust me…it’s always better to not wait until the last minute.

Here’s one of the greatest examples I’ve seen in years on planning ahead. This is especially timely for my "younger" professional friends (like Adam Steen, Andy Drish, or Tyler Osby) here in Des Moines who are about to embark on what will surely seem like a marathon of weddings over the next few years. If you are asked to be the best man in one of those weddings, one of the most important responsibilities you will have (other than getting the groom to the wedding) is toasting the bride and groom. Likely people will talk about that moment for hours, days, and perhaps even years after the wedding. It’s up to you whether those discussions are positive or negative.

For an example of what not to do, watch the wedding toast scene in the movie Wedding Crashers. But for an example of someone that planned ahead, check this out! WOW!

Next time you’re giving a toast, presenting an idea to your boss, or planning a cupcake themed birthday party for your two-year-old daughter, think about this guy’s toast. Just keep it in context, presenting an idea to your boss by parodying a Broadway musical could be a little over the top!

Can you think of a time when process or preperation has left the crowd wanting more? I know Drew McLellan and Mike Wagner have. How about you?

The Most Important Legal Axiom in the Business World

My kids love to play two-square.  But every time we play, the rules of the game change. Our games may have spinnies, hardies, bus stops, back stops, or maybe rainbows.  In our last outing we were even stuck-in-the-mud, throwing a whole new wrinkle into the game.  The bottom line is that I never know the rules of the game until AFTER we begin playing.  Often I am forced to rely on a "caller" to enforce the rules of the game.

But in business we are not too far removed from our playground games.  It is always better to know the rules of the game before we enter into business relationships.  Consequently, we better remember the most important legal axiom in the business world:

IF YOU HAVE AN AGREEMENT, GET IT IN WRITINGBlog

You are probably thinking, "Duh!"  Tell me something I don't know.  But why then do so many people forget this simple principle so often?

Except for certain situations a valid contract may be either written or oral.  That's not the issue.  The problem is that ordinarily no one remembers an oral contract quite the same way.  Memories fade and sometimes people actually have been known to lie.

  • Buy-outs that were to happen after three years don't occur;
  • Subcontractors don't receive payments as promised;
  • A franchisee doesn't receive a protected territory as indicated on discovery day;
  • An employee is told a non-compete won't be enforced.

The examples could go on and on.  It doesn't matter how well you know business associates or how much you trust someone, you should always get it in writing.  Doing so is just smart business and no one involved should be offended.  In reality both parties are protected with written contracts.  And you want to make it easy as possible for the "caller" if the case goes to court.

- Rush on Business

Obama, McCain and Behavioral Interviewing

Ask any HR professional who's been in the job longer than six months to finish the sentence, "Past behavior..." and they'll pipe up with, ..."predicts future behavior." If you're not in HR, it doesn't matter. As a leader, you still get this concept. You've built teams and thought about succession. Behavior in one situation usually predicts behavior in a similar situation at a later time. Business people know this to hold true.Blog

Historically, we've used past behavior to predict future behavior in all walks of life.

  • Banks lend money more readily to people who've proven over time that they pay back their loans.
  • Baseball pitchers feel much less confident facing a batter with a .333 batting average than one with a .220 average.
  • The fastest and most productive factory workers are the ones chosen for special projects requiring speed and accuracy.

As interviewers in the workplace, we can expect past behavior to be repeated, especially if there's a high overlap between a candidate's past performance situation and our open position. For instance, if an open position requires handing customer complaints, we'd ask the candidate for examples of their past experience in handling customer complaints or similar conflict situations with friends or co-workers. We'd say something like,

  • "Tell me about a time when you had to handle an angry customer's complaint. Describe the situation for me in detail."
  • "What specific actions did you take -or not take- in that situation? What exactly was your role?"
  • "What were the results or changes which occurred as a result of your actions?"

What if we're hiring for a sales position but, let's say, the applicant has never held a sales job. Any hope of assessing that person's sales ability? Sure. We'd just have to ask the applicant to tell us about situations in which they had to persuade others, sell their ideas to co-workers, or influence a group to do something. What was the scenario? What exactly did you do? What was the outcome?

It's ironic, isn't it, that we're about to "hire" a candidate for a soon-to-be-vacant position -- the most powerful position in the executive branch of our federal government, the leader of the free world -- and we don't use the same rigor in that interview process, when we know it's proven to produce better results over time.

Instead of asking presidential candidates to spontaneously answer the same type of behavioral questions we use for hiring commercial loan officers and graphic designers, we settle for the sound bites that their campaign committees carefully craft late at night in hotel rooms when the latest poll results roll in. 

What if we could ask presidential candidates these behavioral questions and they had to reply on the spot, the way our job applicants have to, every day:

  • "Tell me about a time when you demonstrated creativity in solving a problem. What was the situation? Your role? The result?"
  • "How do you relate with people who aren't like you and don't see the world the way you do? Give me a specific instance when that was true. What did you do? And the result?"
  • "The role of Commander-in-Chief requires sound judgment in times of crisis. Tell me about the biggest crisis you ever faced, when your back was against the wall and you had to act. What did you do? What was the outcome?"

Whether we're adding one more telemarketer to our call center team or replacing the President of the United States, having a dual focus in the interview process is what seems to consistently reap the greatest success...looking to the past to predict the future.

Plan for Business Succession

Business succession is a part of the natural business cycle.  If it is done right, a huge influx of new energy and ideas can be created.  The unfortunate facts are that far too many owners/businesses are not ready for the succession process and this leaves many employees holding their heads pondering an uncertain future.Blog_2

Many owners and CEOs of businesses are wrapped up in the identity of the business to the point that if they leave, there becomes a serious personal identity crisis.  They have given their all to the business and there are strong emotions that play into their leaving the business.  This is one of the key barriers to any conversation that pertains to a business transition. It is more powerful than getting their money, who will replace them, or even the future of the business.

It is never to early to start the discussion of business succession.  The planning and preparation can take years and the more it is discussed openly the easier it is on everyone.  Do not wait for the bus to run you over - start the discussions today, put it on paper and make it legally binding so the process does not get put off.  If you can not do it yourself or internally, then find resources that can help you through the process.  Remember that you have a lot of employees counting on you to do it right so they can continue to have a bright future in the business.

Convergence of IT and Business: Are you there yet?

There has been a lot of talk in the last decade or so about IT and Business "alignment". But no one seems to actually achieve this elusive goal.  Why?  Because "alignment" is actually only the first step in achieving a higher level of coordination in what I call IT/Business convergence.   

In the alignment stage, IT is still in a support role.  Always playing catch up to what the business wants to do.  This is actually where most IT departments are today.  So what does this stage look like?  It is where IT is still stuck in the old siloed structure with every department within IT having their own little fiefdom.  What I mean is most companies still have their "Desktop", "Security", "Network", and "Server" groups and they rarely talk to one another.  And when one group needs something from the other it takes forever to get it done.  The consequence of having these functional silos is that the infrastructure becomes hard to change - the more hard-coding you add to the infrastructure, the more rigid it becomes.  Some of the challenges look like this:Blog

    1.  Lack of scalability, inflexible (hard and slow to change)
    2.  Costly to implement and maintain, hard to work across groups
    3.  Changes to the infrastructure can cause unintended consequences in what becomes
         a "brittle" environment

I have seen some companies actually try to optimize each and every silo in this current model.  This NEVER increases business agility nor does it change IT's operating cost dynamics.

The next stage is "synchronization".  Here is where IT plays a more active role in "how" the business should operate.  For instance, how the company manages its supply chain, improves efficiency, goes to market, or introduces a new product.  At this stage I've seen companies that start to get how to be enablers of the business.  They are in the process of re-architecting their IT to adapt to the rapid pace of business change and become more of the operational component of business strategy and success.  Here is where I see companies focusing on responding faster to changing business needs by improving the ability to quickly integrate and deliver applications, data and work flow that support new business requirements.  Companies use IT to monitor business performance and speed the business's operational adjustments to market changes and supporting policy-driven actions.

The final stage and Valhalla to some, would be the convergence of IT and business.  At this stage the business model is so intertwined with IT that there is no separate orientation.  IT has become part and parcel of management's vocabulary.  I've worked with companies in the past like this and the one thing that they have in common is that they are very much in tune with the global economy, and are playing a significant, leading role in terms of new business models and innovation, and are very much converged when it comes to business and technology.  One common theme among these companies is that they take a very holistic viewpoint towards technology.  They have a very dynamic IT environment.

So how does a company reach this convergence level?  It's a matter of management maturity.  There has to be a vehicle for measuring that maturity. Not technology or business maturity, but a holistic maturity that looks at organizational and governance structure, at the way companies make IT investments, at enterprise architecture, overall strategy and planning.

One thing that I have seen in the companies that have matured in the way I described above is that the traditional CIO (or insert the name of your head of IT here) role has changed.  That role is not about technology, but a business role that is focused on improving processes by using technology.  Your company's head of IT can't be a supporting role.  It has to be very holistic because at the end of the day the CIO is responsible for the information and processes. So how can they be just a supporting role?

I'm known for saying this many times in the past - that any company for whom technology is a strategic enabler will become obsolete if they don't reach this convergence stage.  So don't think that just being at the alignment stage is satisfactory.  I'm not saying that companies have to be on the bleeding edge of technology to be "converged".  I've seen companies that are very early adopters of new technology and they are floundering.  Why?  They are misusing the technologies.  Two questions to everyone: What are you doing to get to that convergence level? and do you have a plan for developing a dynamic IT environment?  One method that I use is 'vuja de'.  I wrote about this a while back and how to use vuja de to be innovative and create a dynamic IT environment.

Who are YOU running with?

Are you glad the Democratic and Republican National Conventions are behind us?Obama

Did you get your fill of banner waving... speeches... and confetti cannons?

I'll admit that although I enjoy certain aspects of these fanfare-fests, I'm glad they are done.  However, this year, something struck me. 

Although most of us are not running for the oval office, we are running!

We're running at work.  We're running at home.  We're running to sports.  We're running to volunteer. 

Yup.  We are running.  Right?Mccain_2

So, I started to think about how we might take some tips from the presidential candidates... on "running."

Tip 1: Think about WHO you are running with.

A presidential candidate needs to think long and hard about who they want to run with. 

They know that they will be scrutinized for this decision.  They know that they need to pick someone (or a group of 'someones' for their cabinet positions) who will make up for their weaknesses and capitalize on their strengths.

What if we were more intentional about picking our "running" partners?

Take a challenge and ask yourself some questions that could help you to "shape" your team over time. Maybe... help you to find the best people to "run" with.  

Ask questions like:

  • What type of people would I love to work with?
  • What types of people would help me to stay in my 'sweet spot' more?
  • What types of people could help me by doing the things I don't do well?
  • What kinds of people inspire, encourage and push me?

It may seem silly, because you may not feel like you have a lot of control over the people you work with.  But getting a vision of your "ideal" team members can help you to navigate towards the right types of people and opportunities... over time.

Tip 2: Praise the people you are "running" with!

Now, I can't always say that the praise offered by political candidates is genuine, but they do tend to say wonderful things about each other. 

They point out the things their running mates do well.  They highlight their achievements.  They brag about 'em.  And they do it in front of big crowds.

What could happen if we did that for the people we work with?  What if we sang their praises?  What if we shouted it from the roof tops?  And...what if we really meant it?

What would it do for one of your team members if you just figured out a way to brag about them to the rest of the group? 

How would it make them feel to receive a BIG compliment in front of the group?  Do you think it would make their day?  Would it make their year?

Or what about at home? 

What if you just called your spouse or a friend and praised them for something they've done... or for being the person they are? 

How would that make them feel?  (Why not do it right now?)

Okay, as I wrap this up, I'll be the first to admit that we shouldn't take all of our understanding on how to live our lives from our political candidates. 

BUT... these are two tips that I'm going to try to be more intentional about. 

And that's a promise... at least for the next 4 years!

Photo credit and kudos: cq.swat and Yan Zhang

Are you prepared after a loss?

Damaged_building In light of our recent, major catastrophic events that have occurred with tornadoes, flooding and hurricane Gustav, you not only have to be prepared before the loss happens, you need to be prepared after the loss happens.

For small businesses, many claims will be due to loss of business income. Good record keeping will help you recreate your records and have the information available to submit to your claims representative. So what else can you do?

Well, the Insurance Information Institute offers the following suggestions:

  • Contact your insurance company or agent. Your insurance company will have representatives available to take your information and get your claim assigned to a qualified adjuster who will contact you as soon as possible to inspect the damage.  Your agent can also report the loss to your insurance company or provide you with the appropriate claim contact information.  If you have had to evacuate, make sure to give your  insurance representative or agent a telephone number where you can be reached. 
  • Take photos of the damaged areas. These will help you with the claims process and will assist the adjuster in the investigation.
  • Prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged or destroyed personal property. Be sure to make two copies—one for yourself and one for the adjuster. Your list should include a description of the items, dates of purchase or approximate age, cost at time of purchase and estimated replacement cost.
  • Collect canceled checks, invoices, receipts or other papers that will assist the adjuster in obtaining the value of the destroyed property.
  • Make temporary repairs if you are able to access your property. Cover broken windows, damaged roofs and walls to prevent further destruction. Save receipts for supplies and materials you purchase. Your insurance company will reimburse you for reasonable expenses in making temporary repairs. (This is called mitigating your damages and it is something you must do to protect it from further harm.)
  • Get a detailed estimate for permanent repairs from a reliable contractor and give it to the adjuster. The estimate should contain the proposed repairs, repair costs and replacement prices.

Now, you might be thinking that you are doing all of the work with a list like this. However, many insurance companies put together special phone lines for victims to call in order to help expedite their claim process and they often dispatch CAT Teams to assess the damage  and provide extra support for their local offices.

Depending on the damages, they may even set up additional drive-in locations that can expedite many claims for customers.

Analysts predict that the damage from Gustav appears to be lower than previously expected. So, not to worry right? Well, there is still some concern. Even though this particular loss maybe less than expected, catastrophe losses add up. With four more storms on the horizon – we need to be prepared.

And if you think you've survived the summer storms - remember that winter is right around the corner!

What? Me? Worry?

WhatmeworryHaving a pre-schooler in the house is a continual lesson in risk management.  Try as I might to keep her from harm, the prevailing question in our house is not WHETHER we will go to the emergency room, but WHEN we will be heading there.  I'm not sure what her guardian angel did to honk off the Almighty and wind up with my daughter as his responsibility, but I'll be sure to thank him some day.  A typical soundtrack for any given day in our house sounds something like:

Me: "Abby, stop that/slow down/be careful.  You're going to get hurt."
Abby: "No I won't!" (Insert sound of running or continued activity, followed by a THUD and the sound of crying.)
Me: "Honey, what happened?"
Abby: "I fell down and got hurt."
Me:  "Hmmmm"

As a project manager, you may not like to think anything bad could possibly happen.  The internal voice which just keeps prompting you to "think happy thoughts" also prevents you from seeing what might possibly go wrong.  Franke James, a good friend and a stunning visual essayist, recently created a very telling blog post on a series of explosions which recently rocked her world.  A propane depot less than five miles away blew up, causing 12,000 people to evacuate in the middle of the night.  Her husband dismissed it as an unpredictable event, but Franke had other thoughts:

Yes, it had a massive impact.  But it was NOT unpredictable.  It was entirely foreseeable.  The residents complained to the city about safety violations.  Twenty-one years ago the city planning commissioner warned of this, except he predicted even greater loss of life.  It was just luck that the explosion occurred at 4 a.m. on a Sunday night.  If it had been a weekday, the loss of life could have been catastrophic.  As it was, two people died.

Franke goes on to do a brilliant risk analysis.  She provides a model for every project manager.  Too often, egos, ignorance and schedules get in the way of really diving down into the details of what can go wrong.

Before running headlong into a project, spend time brainstorming with as many people as you can get to participate to identify all of the possible things that can go wrong.  Make sure you write them down (if they're not documented, they don't exist).  To help get you started, here are some of my favorite categories of risk management brainstorming, just to prime the mental pump:

  • Hardware issues (including sourcing and supplying)
  • Software issues (version control and compatibility)
  • Vendor issues (delivery and solvency)
  • People issues (performance capabilities, availability, office politics)
  • Budget issues (economy, competing projects)
  • Managerial issues (weak sponsorship, lack of consistent project processes)
  • Manufacturing issues (supply chain, machinery, or infrastructure)

In my next blog post, I'll share with you how to analyze those risks.  But for now... start looking at what can go wrong.

Carpe Factum!

What's in a Job Title?

I have a client who has given their receptionist a name plaque for her desk. It reads "Director of First Impressions." I never cease to get a kick out of seeing it when I walk in. I have to believe that it provides the receptionist with a gentle reminder each day as she walks in to sit at her desk. Creating first impressions has got to be more motivating than "answering calls."

For some time, I've noticed that there has been a movement in many business circles to provide creative and motivating titles for their employees. While some are silly and somewhat meaningless, others are quite inventive. They motivate, inspire and remind associates of the underlying importance of their position.

ICMI recently created a post about titles given to Customer Service Representatives (CSRs). Some of the titles provided have been:

  • Customer AdvocatesBlog
  • Customer Solution provider
  • Specialist (subject matter experts)
  • Asset managers (One financial service company used this -- their call representatives came up with it -- they said they protected the company's greatest assets, the customers!)
  • RSR (response services representatives)
  • Customer Care Executive
  • Customer Care Co-ordinator
  • Customer Consultant
  • Customer Liaison Officer
  • Customer Service Executive
  • Customer Service Professional
  • Telebusiness Executive
  • Telebusiness Professional
  • Telecare Executive
  • Telecare Professional
  • One company used titles to provide a sense of increasing expertise:

  • Service Trainee
  • Service Apprentice
  • Service Representative
  • Service Specialist
  • Senior Service Specialist
  • Elite Service Specialist
  • What about your company? Can you come up with a more creative title that will make front-line service providers smile and give them a sense of motivation, inspiration and worth? Post a comment and share your own ideas or examples you've encountered.

    Consider blog software for your site's content management

    WordpresslogoBehind the scenes, many Web sites are powered by Web-based content management software applications (A.K.A. "CMS" to those who like acronyms). CMS solutions come in many forms - they can be purchased off-the-shelf or built, licensed and customized to your needs by a Web development firm.

    The benefit of having CMS is that you control your Web site's content - and you don't need to dial up a Web designer with expensive hourly rates every time you need minor information changed.

    The challenge is that CMS solutions can be expensive for a small business to take on, and difficult to justify during the start-up phase. A solid, bare-bones CMS built-out can start at $2,500 and go on up from there, and that's just for the cost of development. This is why I've started recommending inexpensive (or free) blog software build-outs like WordPress to smaller clients (or even larger clients with tight budgets).

    WordPress is blogging software, but can also be utilized as an extremely powerful - and customizable - content management tool. I'm seeing more and more websites being 100% built on WordPress platforms. As companies roll out blogging efforts in addition to their main, informational websites, my prediction is that eventually we'll see them consolidated into one digital presence.

    If you're a large organization in need of a highly customized Web application and e-commerce solution, you'll definitely require some high-end development and/or CMS build-out. But if you're a start-up or a small business, consider using blog software to power your site, and save yourself a few thousand bucks.

    Nathan T. Wright

    S corporation salaries: how much is enough?

    60509889 The idea of keeping your salary low seems counterintuitive to an entrepreneur.  The whole point of the game is to make money, right?  Well, yes, but sometimes there are better ways to make it than through salary, tax-wise. 

    Many small businesses are conducted through S corporations.  These corporations - sometimes called "Subchapter S" or "Sub S" corporations after their home in the tax code - don't pay tax on their earnings.  Instead the earnings are taxed on the personal returns of the owners.   The S corporation reports its taxable income to the owners on Schedule K-1. 

    Now these K-1 earnings are not subject to Social Security or Medicare tax.  That's why you might want to keep your salary down and your K-1 earnings up: the salary, reported to you on form W-2, is subject to a combined 15.3% Social Security ("FICA") and Medicare tax, up to the amount of the "FICA Base" ($102,000 for 2008).  The 2.9% Medicare tax applies to all salary, regardless of the FICA Base.  So if a business makes $100,000 and the owner takes zero salary but $100,000 on the K-1, he avoids $15,300 in employment taxes.  At least that's the idea.

    The IRS doesn't care for this.  All new S corporations get a warning from the IRS that they have to pay "reasonable" salaries to working owners so they don't unfairly avoid employment taxes.  And there's the rub: they never really tell you what that means, and nobody really knows.

    We can address the extremes easily enough.  If you have a profitable law or medical S corporation and you take no salary, the IRS will come after you.  And if you take all of your earnings as salary and none on the K-1, the IRS has to leave you alone. 

    But what of the many situations in between?  If your corporation is losing money, does an owner-employee have to take a salary?  In IRS exams I've seen, no, but past performance is no guarantee of future results.  And what of a highly-profitable S corporation whose aging founder is stepping away from the business - does he still have to take a "reasonable" salary? 

    One example that gained some notoriety involved former presidential candidate John Edwards.  His S corporation law firm made over $20 million one year, and he took "only" $360,000 or so in salary.  Can a $60,000 IRS agent assert that a $360,000 salary is unreasonably low?  At least without giggling?

    There are no hard and fast rules in this area.  A good rule of thumb is the old tax maxim "pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered."  If you own a profitable business and work full-time there, and you take zero salary, you are asking for trouble.  But if you take a salary that reflects your role in the business, you should be fine, even if it's skinny.  After all, Warren Buffet only pays himself $100,000.  And remember, if you pay yourself too little, you may be cutting yourself out of tax savings in your company retirement plan.  In any case, business owners should run their compensation arrangements by their own tax advisors.


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