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March 2009

Four Ways to Improve Employee Health

Times are tough. The economy has everyone worried, and your employees are no exception. Stress and anxiety can manifest into physical symptoms that lead to illness, inefficiency and absenteeism.
 
While you can’t solve the world’s financial problems, you can take steps to improve the health and well-being of your team. 

  1. Offer resources to encourage better health – People are spending the majority of their waking hours at the office, so be sure the atmosphere promotes a healthy lifestyle. Organize athletic leagues and form walking groups to get people moving. Bring in a registered dietician to discuss healthy choices and provide nutritional facts on food available in the cafeteria. Give free flu shots and promote annual wellness screenings.

  2. Provide an online health-risk assessment – Empower employees to identify personal health issues through a confidential online assessment. These resources promote overall wellness and can reduce health-care costs by identifying early warning signs of health concerns. Participants receive personalized reports to share with their physicians and families.

  3. IStock_000002778918XSmallPay for participation - Since gym memberships are one of the first things people cut when money gets tight, offer full or partial reimbursement for exercise activities. A growing number of companies also provide wellness incentives to workers who exercise regularly, eat healthy or participate in smoking-cessation and other programs.

  4. Review and upgrade your sick-leave policy – Encourage employees to seek medical attention when they need it. Eliminate the culture that rewards individuals for making it to the office when they belong in bed – not only is their personal productivity diminished, but they’re probably infecting everyone around them. Cross-train on critical systems so the team can stay on target while a sick colleague misses a few days of work to get better. You’ll all profit in the long run.

These benefits can increase employee productivity and morale while helping reduce overall medical costs for the organization. And they’ll probably earn you the reputation as an employer of choice, making it easier to recruit and retain highly skilled professionals who bring innovative ideas that advance your business.

Some line items should never be cut

19155677 Whether your business is down or not, it seems like everyone is being cautious these days.  Companies are watching the bottom line closely for signs of trouble and postponing major purchases.

But we're all still paying our utility bills, rent and repairing equipment when it goes down.  Some expenses are not optional.  If you don't keep investing in the infrastructure of your business, pretty soon your entire organization suffers.

I believe the same is true for our employees and ourselves.  No matter how tight the budget....we have to invest in continuing education and inspiration.  Human beings need stimulus to stay creative and productive. 

That doesn't mean you have to charter a jet to tour the Louvre or send your key execs to Harvard for a weekend symposium.  It simply means there are lots of benefits to keeping your team's saw sharp. 

  • You will be telling them loud and clear that you value them
  • You will be reassuring them that your business is sound, even if the numbers are off
  • You're building their skills which leads to deeper client retention and happiness
  • You need it too

Want some budget-friendly ideas?

Pick a book and read it/discuss it together.  Buy everyone on staff a copy and once every two weeks, do a brown bag lunch to discuss.  My suggestion:  Greater Thank Yourself by Steve Farber.  Check out my review.  It is an inspiring and perfectly timed read for our world at this very moment.

Go on a group field trip.  The zoo, the Art Center, the Science Center, a picnic at Gray's Lake.  The point is...get out of the office.  Brainstorm on a client's problem while strolling past the giraffes or plan your marketing campaign as you inhale the fragrance of the Botanical Garden. 

Learn more about leadership and character.  Sure, we all can know more about our field of expertise.  But why not work together to become the leaders you are all capable of being? 

Imagine taking your staff to hear Tony Blair and John C. Maxwell speak.  Crazy?  Not really.  For no more than $99 per person, you can do just that right here in Des Moines.  Have you heard about Maximum Impact on May 8?  Tony Blair, John C. Maxwell and others are primed to inspire you and your employees.

Volunteer together.    Want a team-building exercise that will stick?  Help build a Habitat house.  Paint a youth home.  Rake leaves for the elderly.   Invest in some sweat equity to serve others. 

Bottom line -- As you are looking for places to tighten the budget -- your employees are not the place to start.  Investing in your team doesn't have to be expensive.  But not investing in them could be the most expensive mistake of all.

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All Media Is Social Media

Social Media
"Social Media," a buzz word for several years, has resurged with platforms like Twitter. What is Social Blog Media? Broadly defined, Social Media is any form of interactive communication. Under a more narrow interpretation, Social Media is an Internet arena where people share, rather than sell. Purists do not consider radio, television, conversations and daily activities to be social media. Regardless of the definition, all media has the potential to become Social Media.

Becoming Social Media Star
One way to become a Social Media star is to work hard, for a long time, investing a lot of money and be lucky enough to originate an idea the rest of the Internet finds clever. A faster way to Social Media stardom is to make a mistake. Social Media is often served with a side of Schadenfreude, so the bigger the mistake the better. A recent example involves the firing of three local radio personalities from KNXO radio. The situation involved on-air radio personalities who believed, incorrectly, that during a commercial break their profanity-laden tirade was not being broadcast. The novelty of the situation transformed it from "regular" media to Social Media overnight. The incident instantly became fodder for comments on Twitter and Facebook, as well as the subject of a YouTube video with over thirty thousand views. Obviously, it is preferable to define your corporate brand via Social Media before Social Media defines your brand.

Not "If," but "When"
If your company has not yet inadvertently become the subject of Social Media, you are either small, have nothing to do with the Internet, or you are simply not listening in the right places. Becoming the subject of Social Media is not bad. In fact, it is usually good. Good or bad it is important to know what is being said. If what is being said about your company on Social Media is good, leverage it. If it is bad, turn it around before it spins out of control.

Action Plan

The first item on your Social Media action plan should be do something. Social Media moves quickly. If you wait, it is unlikely your solution will overtake the problem. All media is social. Act like everything your company does is potential fodder for Social Media. It is. At its most basic, your Social Media plan should include monitoring your company's name on social media sites like Twitter for potential problems. You should implement a Google Alert to email you whenever something on the web mentions your company.  You may also wish to select some blogs which discuss your industry and set up an RSS feed to deliver recent posts directly to your computer. Addressed early, many potential problems can be converted into opportunities to impress the online community with your attentive customer service.

Being Proactive
A passive approach to monitoring Social Media should be a part of every business. The next step, proactively producing social media, is not right for each company. The last thing you want to do is create problems. If you decide to enter the Social Media field, your company should have a written policy outlining your company's expectations of employees engaging in Social Media and other online activities. Simply opening this line of communication can avoid future headaches.

Friend or Foe
Many companies use Social Media to develop strong ties with customers. Others leverage Social Media to monitor the competition or protect intellectual property. The key is to be sure that what you do in Social Media will have the intended effect. Social Media leverages your voice. You can use it to increase the reach of your brand or destroy years of goodwill overnight.

Make a Plan
Develop a game plan before embarking upon any course of action. A wildly successful Social Media business model for your competitor may not fit you. More importantly, Social Media customers are savvy. They do not want a Social Media clone of your competitor. Start slowly. Use Social Media to develop your company's unique voice. Use Social Media to listen to your customers and exceed their expectations. Soon you will these ideas seeping offline and into your business. Done right, Social Media will make your business bigger AND better.

Brett Trout

HT: Christine Branstad, Esq.

A New Baby Boom?

According to the National Center of Health Statistics, more than 4.3 million babies were born in the United States in 2007, beating the record set in 1957 at theBlog height of what is (was) known as the baby boom. The baby boom period began in 1946, as soldiers returned home from World War II, began to have kids, make more money, move to the suburbs and have more kids. This boom has not escaped Iowa either as births in Iowa have set new records the last couple of years.

The cause could be attributed to pastoral guidance to be fruitful and multiply,probably not, however, this second wave of a baby boom is causing a few raised eyebrows as 40 percent of these new babies are born to unwed mothers. In addition, after falling for a number of years, teenage pregnancy is up for the second straight year.

Considering that generational behavior is simply a reaction to the circumstances and situations presented to that particular generation, the question that immediately comes up is how will the family dynamic play on this generation and on the generation having these babies?

The nuclear family structure had an impact on the original baby boom generation as well as on its offspring, Generation X. Many speculate that the rebellion of the '60s and '70s was geared at the structure set up from their parents' circumstances. The Millennial generation tends to be a more optimistic, social and activist generation. Will their kids rebel against that? Will this generation relate more to the silent & X generations?

To be fair, while a record has been broken, its still too earlier to tell if this will last for a sustainable period that will indeed constitute a true baby boom. However, it is widely speculated that the Millennial generation will surpass in number the 70 million Baby Boomers that exist today and the yet to be named Generation Z will probably meet that goal as well. Not knowing what future events will assist in shaping the generation being born today, it's hard to predict their impact on the workplace, but one thing that appears to be certain is that this issue of multigenerational conflict will continue for some time.

Did I Just Say That Out Loud?

Have you ever been in a situation where you said something with the intention of being funny or sounding intelligent and it didn’t work? And not only did it not work but when you said it, prior to the dead silence, you heard the sound of the record player needle scratching its way across the vinyl?

I know I have and it was if the words were floating out in front of me and when I tried to grab them with my hands and put them back in my mouth they eluded me like the cotton leaves off  a summer dandelion.

Salespeople have to be careful not to get too comfortable during the sale (by the way, this also applies to conducting yourself properly in an interview). It’s very easy once a relationship established and a certain comfort level is reached to let down your guard. I’ve been in situations where the person on the other side of the table got so comfortable they actually dropped a couple of four letter words. This kind of lapse in focus can cost you a sale and perhaps even your job. Elinor Stutz at the Smooth Sale Blog has a lot of great ideas to help you navigate and conduct your sales etiquette and activity.

I know it sounds like a “no-duh”, but even the smoothest of orators will open up their mouth and unintentionally insert their foot from time to time. Here is a great lesson on staying focused in the moment.

Whether it’s in a sales meeting, a job interview or a networking event it’s important to have fun and be yourself. Just don’t get too comfortable.

Think like an “Instapreneur”

You can sense it. The signs are everywhere. There’s a major shift occurring in the world’s economy. LookBlog around you on any given weekday morning at any Panera in town. Read back issues of Fast Company for the past couple of years. Listen to global economists talk about trends they’re seeing.

It wasn’t until I read the Avadon Group’s white paper entitled, “Convergence…an Emerging Revolution,” that it all sort of fell into place, the pieces began to make sense and I was both exhilarated and scared spit less at the same time.

Here’s Avadon Group’s thesis:  Baby boomers are retiring in droves. The resulting brain drain is fueling even more outsourcing and overseas growth in innovation and talent, especially in places like China and India. This shift of middle-class jobs overseas will reach a tipping point in 2012 and cause a new economic structure to occur. We need to embrace this new economic structure or, as a player on the world’s stage, we’re toast. The wheels are in motion. It can’t be stopped. We resist this emerging phenomenon at our peril.

What’s this mean for us…you and me and the rest of America’s workforce?

  • Slow is over! Our old, slow bureaucracies are going to be stressed to the max. Most won’t make it. The age of the employer and employee is almost over. Now understand, I’m not talking 2050. I’m talking a few years from now! Look at GM, Morgan Stanley, and K-Mart.
  • Brand yourself instantly…over and over! The pre-1912 model of individuals being their own businesses…independent contractors…providing the goods and services they have created themselves…will become the norm. These "instapreneurs" will form interlocking networks where they support each other and provide complementary services so each person can act as a complete company drawing on the network. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We already know people working this way. Get ready for millions more. Become one yourself.)
  • Borders? What borders? The power of connection through the Internet means business and communication without borders has arrived. By 2012, the Millennial generation – who already live without borders – will be in the workforce. With the baby boomers out of the picture, a new economy and a shift to a more fluid, borderless state will emerge big time.
  • It’s all about fluidity and agility. That’s the mind set it’s going to take to thrive in the decades ahead. The view that: “I’m not my job. I’m not a skill set. I’m a dynamic element that grows and reacts to change instantly and fits into the economy’s needs in the moment.” (Makes sense doesn’t it, when you think of all the blogging and twittering going on today and growing exponentially?)

Intrigued? If you answered no, and you’re not a baby boomer ready to check out in the next couple of years, you’re at risk.

Check out Norma Owen’s white paper (Avadon Group). Read Release Your Brilliance by Simon T. Bailey, who used his experiences at Disney to help millions become instapreneurs. And hold on! Because as business leaders – and citizens of planet earth -- we’re in for the ride of our lives!

Do Not Forget The Fun

3181829_thl Yes, times are tough and everyone is focused on the bottom line.  I would suggest that maybe it is time to have a little fun - cut loose and let the hair down.

I am sure you have seen several movies where the battle is coming, but the night before the battle the heroes sing aloud or indulge in some type of party.  They know that it is going to be a tough road, but they still celebrate the human spirit with hope and laughter.

I believe that many companies forget that balance is an extremely important part of managing a company's culture.  Any time we spend too much time at the extremes (good times or bad times) balance is lost.  We get greedy with the good times and cynical with the bad times.  Either way, our focus is polluted and it can lead us down a dangerous path.

Maybe the ultra cynical think the world is ending, but I believe we are in natural adjustment.  Times are tough, but we will cycle out of them and see prosperity once again.  So plan some fun within your company - a party, some humor, perform a good deed for someone else, something that gets your employees focused on the good side of life.  I think we have spent enough time on the dark side!

Virtualization: Building Block To An Agile Enterprise

In previous articles I've spoken about the two main components of what it takes to have an adaptable and agile company; IT Governance and Enterprise Architecture. I've also shared some insights on how to put your organization on the track to Business Technology. The real key here is to join the two components, IT Governance and Enterprise Architecture, together with a solid base of virtualization technologies in order to transform legacy "old school" IT into Business Technology.

Virtualization has been around now for several years and has evolved from the test/dev area to server consolidation to the full-scale production environments whereby mission-critical workloads are hosted.  Now it's time to look at virtualization beyond test/dev and server consolidation and take it to the next level. The goal is to create that agile, flexible IT infrastructure that will provide the higher service levels and greater reliability along with further reductions in TCO.  We will consider this Virtualization 2.0. 

Virtualization supports the dynamic goals of both responding more quickly and effectively to business changes and improving IT asset utilization and other IT productivity metrics.  Virtualization supports and enables the service-level management building block (which I'll get to in another article) as it provides an essential meta-repository and management platform for the diverse physical resources populating the enterprise. Effective virtualization bridges and integrates local and remote resources and ultimately ties together a diverse implementation behind a common interface and resource repository. It's a well known fact that effective virtualization can improve asset utilization, making servers, storage and other capabilities more modular and reusable. It also improves system throughput and reliability by deploying computational power when necessary.  This is now being referred to as the "dynamic data center".

So what does this base look like?  The base starts with Resources which includes components like servers, clients, network, storage, etc.  This is our average enterprise computing environment today, so nothing extraordinary.

But now we add the next, very powerful layer of virtualization.  These two layers actually make up the Virtualization Resources foundation of our framework.

I reread an interesting whitepaper recently from Forrester Research that said by this year (2009) over 50 percent of all enterprises will have at least two years of experience invested with server virtualization.  I find it interesting as we sit in the year 2009 and Forrester sees this as the "tipping point" at which companies will have used virtualization enough to have gained the necessary knowledge and should be ready to move to this more strategic application of this technology.  So are we at that point now where the majority of companies are moving into Virtualization 2.0 phase?  I think so, but we have to be mindful of some gotchas.  There are a ton of products out there that claim to make virtualization "easy", but with those products it only seems to shift costs and complexity from physical to virtual.  You will not realize any more agility this way, nor will you realize the business resilience that you thought was obtainable, so be careful.

If we are at this "tipping point" how do we get to the next level and beyond? The simple answer, "a lot of work".   As I mentioned above, this is the year that most companies will start moving away from the server consolidation phase and into a more strategic use of virtualization technology.  With this move comes more visibility from the C-level.  Some of these moves that we will see are virtual desktops, on-demand provisioning of servers and workloads into the cloud, and disaster recovery at a much more thought-out level.  To get the ball rolling to the next stage you have to clearly articulate the:

  • business objectives
  • critical success factors
  • expected return on investment, that provides a comprehensive understanding of the costs as well as the real constraints and risks, and that achieves consensus from your key stakeholders. 

This is critical for the success of a virtualization strategy—a strategy that will form the base of your agile and flexible IT infrastructure.  Virtualization is but one of the components to creating this agile and flexible enterprise.  Within the context of this new enterprise, I have spoken about design rules (design decisions that are consistent with the principles) that are vitally important when evolving IT capabilities to enable a flexible, automated response to change.  The other design rules that go along with virtualization are (we'll address these in another article):

  • Service-oriented architecture.  This is where we enable the rapid assembly and integration of IT services (business services, application services, and infrastructure services) based on reusable components.
  • Model-based automation.  This is where we will define and manage IT services quickly and easily and create a comprehensive model of a business service.  This includes its functional and management aspects, service management policies and objectives, and constituent component and their configuration.

There are many challenges still remaining to get to the agile and flexible enterprise we all want, but we first need to make sure that the virtualization layer of our framework is solidly in place with the necessary strategic focus besides just server consolidation.  We can then move on to the next stage of strategic virtualization practice and that is Virtualization 3.0.

"E" is for Pruning!

Wine grapes on a vineImage via Wikipedia

So, we're wrapping up our series on the D.D.A.E. Equation

That's asking what you need to Do, Delegate, Automate or Eliminate... so your schedule has a better balance between work and life.

So... yes... "E" is for the "Eliminate" step! 

This is a HUGE step... and for some... it's the most difficult of the 4 steps.

This is the step in which we look at our schedules and to-do lists and decide on a few things that could/should be eliminated, in order to have more time and energy to do more of what we want/need to do.

And, the hardest part, is sometimes this actually involves cutting out some "good" and even "really good" things in order to move into the "Great" things we are called to walk out.

YIKES! 

I know... that can feel scary!  Can't it?

Plus, eliminating "good" and "really good" things can almost seem irresponsible! 

But... I offer the grape vine as the ultimate illustration of the need to "eliminate" some things.

That's right, the grape vine.

Many of you know that pruning a grape vine is one of the most important elements of producing a robust crop of luscious grapes.

Yup. 

That means pruning old wood from the plant.  But it also means pruning some perfectly good buds too.

Why? 

Well, grape experts tell us that removing a percentage of good buds from each vine allows the remaining buds to thrive. 

It allows the plant to shift more nutrients to the those buds enabling them to grow into rich bunches of juicy grapes. 

In fact, one expert from www.grapefacts.com stated, "If you don’t prune your plant, you can be assured it will produce less fruit and in a couple years, stop bearing fruit all together."

Can you identify?

Have you ever felt some dead wood in your schedule?

Or maybe you've been overwhelmed by the number of "budding" activities in your planner?

Well, it's time to prune. 

It's time to eliminate some things. 

And yes, this might even involve cutting away some "good" or "really good" things.

Here are a couple of questions to guide you in this pruning process:

  • If I quit ______________, what would I do with that time?  (Does your answer outweigh the value of the item you would quit?)
  • Am I wanting to quit ______________ because I am not moving forward or because I'm not moving forward as fast as I'd like to?  (If it's the later, you may want to stick it out a little longer.  Sorry to mix metaphors, but if it's the former, you may want to cut bait and fish in another hole!)

Give it some thought.  Your answers may surprise you.

Then, take a good grape grower's advice and snip a few buds and some old wood.

Oh, and let us know how it goes by clicking on comments and telling us your story!

Lastly, I wanted to give you an example of this from my life...

After blogging for IowaBiz.com for over year, I've decided to step down as an author.  (This will be official at the end of April.) 

This has been an incredible experience and I have been honored to blog alongside such great authors and biz leaders!  Plus, it's been fantastic to get to work with the great people at the Des Moines Business Record!

But, after pondering these questions (and some others) I realized that I needed to "prune" this opportunity, so that I could devote more of my resources to some of the other "buds" on my vine. 

So, I'll be with you here one more month, but after that I'll be simplifying and dreaming BIG!

Thanks for being in this adventure with me and thanks for all the support along the way!

Need some additional motivation on your pruning? 

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Business auto insurance and you - part 2

Man in car (This is a follow up to my last post about business auto insurance.)

Do you think there are any differences in coverage between a business auto policy and your personal auto policy?

Have you ever wondered what other coverage is available on your business auto policy?

Here are some important things you should know about that make a business auto policy different from a personal auto policy:

  • Higher Liability Limits – business owners are able to purchase higher limits of liability to better protect their assets.
  • Rental Reimbursement – this coverage is typically higher than in a personal policy and covers a business owner should they need to rent a vehicle due to a covered loss.
  • Drive Other Car  – this is an endorsement that can extend coverage to executive officers and their spouses while using a non-owned auto for their personal use.
  • Hired and Non-Owned Coverage - this is one that seems to cause the most confusion. It is simply an extension of coverage to a rented or hired vehicle. Make sure that you check the policy language to ensure that Hired Physical damage is also included. Non-owned coverage can provide excess coverage over a borrowed vehicle, or if an employee uses their own personal vehicle, it can provide excess coverage over their policy if you have the proper endorsement – employees as insureds.
  • Towing – higher towing limits are available. It costs more to tow a large truck than it does a small vehicle.

If you are thinking now that you don’t need a business auto policy because you don’t need this type of coverage, think again.

Most personal auto policies will exclude coverage if you are using your vehicle regularly for business use.
Now, keep in mind it does depend on which type of business you are using your vehicle for.

Another issue that is most troubling to business owners is how their vehicles are titled. If the vehicle is titled to the business and you are using it regularly for the business then it should be insured by a business auto policy.

Don’t wait until a loss occurs and find out that you don’t have any coverage because you did not have your vehicle insured under the correct policy. The benefits of proper coverage can far exceed the costs.

What If...?

Psycho-shower-scream Kids' brains are great for asking the "what if" question. And the more ridiculous the question is in our mind, the more serious the question is in theirs.  "What if we all had magic wands?" or "What if my dog were a pony?" or "What if I could have all the chocolate I wanted?" ... these are the critical questions of their age.

Sometimes we adults should ponder "what if" questions more frequently.  Sometimes we should even venture into the truly scary "what if" questions; they might make us appreciate what we have.  For example, my friend Rosa Say (whose blog is a beautiful find of wisdom) recently sent me a link to a post asking "What if... there was no project management?"  It listed the critical tasks of a project manager and then pondered an organization without their existence:

  • Project status reporting
  • Project schedule management
  • Conducting regular project status meetings
  • Project budget and resource management
  • Coordinating all project communications

A world with no project management?  Be afraid... be very afraid.  While Brad Egeland's post did an admirable job making the case for project management, it really stopped shy of what a truly exemplary project manager can do for an organization:  change the culture.  I know, I know... it sounds all soft and squishy and fluffy.  But I've seen this over and over again in many organizations.  When project managers are allowed to do their jobs well, other people stand up, take notice, and proclaim, "I gotta get me some of that!"  Okay, maybe they are not that enthusiastic; but accomplishment, results and success are their own best judge.  Having recovered an HR/Payroll software project, it didn't take long for the successful outcome of that project to reach the radar of the CEO, who then replicated its success across the other projects in the organization.  Successful project management perpetuates itself throughout a culture.

A world with no project management?  What if... just what if... that's describing YOUR organization?

Carpe Factum!

Who Do You Serve?

It was a classic customer service dilemma. I walked into the Courtyard Inn last week to register. I had aBlog long day, a late flight and was ready to get to my room and crash. I had stayed at this location numerous times and typically the check in process took less than a minute.

The desk clerk greeted me and I gave her my name. As she began reaching for the box with the reservations in it, the phone rang and she answered it. It was obviously a guest calling for a wake-up call and she took the information, wrote it down on her log, restated the information to make sure she got it correct and wished the guest a good night. By the time she was finished, she'd forgotten my name and I gave it to her again. She pulled my reservation slip from the box and the phone rang once more. This time it was a customer calling to get some information. I stood there while she spent minutes answering the caller's questions while completely ignoring me.

Most companies want to answer the phone quickly when customers call. The number of abandoned calls and Average Speed of Answer (ASA) are metrics routinely tracked in call centers. Yet, when a call comes into the call center, the Customer Service Representative (CSR) doesn't also have a customer standing in front of her cubicle wanting to be served. I've found it interesting to watch CSRs give priority to callers on the phone at the expense of the customers standing right in front them.

I empathize with the desk clerk that night. She was alone and trying to resolve concerns of customers approaching her from multiple channels. As I eventually received my key card and headed to my room, I contemplated what I would have wished to happen.

  1. As a paying customer who was there first and standing there in person, I expected her to give me the priority of her attention.
  2. When the phone rang, it would have been nice for the hotel to use technology to route the call to another available associate, or auto answer to an IVR that politely asked the caller to hold. That way, she could have simply ignored the phone and given me all of her attention.
  3. If the technology did not exist to manage the incoming calls, I would have wished that she had answered the phone and politely asked the caller to hold while she finished assisting me. Just because customers are approaching her through different channels doesn't mean she can't queue them up in the order of contact.

Sometimes providing good customer service means applying the best possible solution, even when there is no way to please all the customers all the time.

Have you experienced a similar customer service dilemma? How do you think she should have handled it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Why college students need LinkedIn profiles

This post is an open letter to college students of all ages: If you aren't on LinkedIn yet, get out there and set Blog up an account today. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Previous employers, co-workers and professors can recommend you, and these recommendations are attached to your public profile/resume. How powerful is that? Potential employers can then check your references and follow up efficiently. 
  2. By posting your resume online, you're expanding your own "reach." Why limit yourself to a few pieces of paper buried under dozens of resumes in an HR office?  
  3. Employers will look you up online. It's better to have content waiting for them, instead of nothing at all.  
  4. Having a LinkedIn presence shows you're serious about getting hired. I'm always impressed by the college students who have taken the initiative to build out a LinkedIn profile, over their peers who haven't.  
  5. This also establishes that you know a little bit about social networks - knowledge that many employers are looking for right now. 
Also, don't be afraid to include the URL (web address) of your LinkedIn profile on your resume's contact information. Recent grads are entering a competitive market right now, so don't be afraid to set yourself apart, be exceptional and be awesome. 

Welcome to our state, stranger!

Al Franken has been waiting out the last remaining 2008 U.S. Senate vote count for four months now.  IfBlog he hadn't run into multi-state income tax troubles, he might be comfortably settled into Walter Mondale's old seat.  Mr. Franken's tax troubles show how tricky state taxes can be for a small business.

His problems arose as he traveled around the country for appearances and speeches.  All it took was a single money-earning visit to, say, Boise to drag him into the Idaho income tax system.  A comedy club here, a college there and soon you have to file in a bunch of states.  When it came up during his campaign, Mr. Franken had to pay $70,000 in back taxes in 17 states.

How this happens

State tax compliance is a bane of small business life. It can take surprisingly little activity in a state to trigger "nexus," making you subject to that state's income taxes.

Mr. Franken's problem is common. Undoubtedly, many little businesses hop in and out of states without bothering to file.  That can be a dangerous habit. If you never file in a state, the statute of limitations never stops running, and you can theoretically be assessed taxes there forever.

States can tax the income of visiting businesses if they do anything more in the state then promote sales to be filled from out of state.  Maintaining inventory, doing consulting or construction projects, or almost anything else can subject you to income taxes in a state, even if you only do it for a day or two

Some states, like Texas, Michigan and Ohio, have enacted "gross receipts" or "franchise" taxes that have even a lower "nexus" threshold.  If you even sneeze in the general direction of Texas, you probably have to file there.

States are getting more sophisticated at identifying taxpayers who do business in a state, and this is becoming an issue to more taxpayers as interstate business becomes more common even for small businesses in the information age. Of course, states love to tax out-of-state taxpayers because they can't vote. Perhaps personal experience will make Mr. Franken sympathetic to legislation that would prevent states from taxing businesses that only are in a state a few days in a tax year.

If you have customers in multiple states, it might be time to sit down with your tax adviser. If you have potential problems for old years, your tax adviser might contact the state and work out a deal to limit exposure to, say, three years back taxes without penalties to encourage you to come forward voluntarily. But, as the mutual funds say, your results may differ

Why might someone buy for the first time?

19118219 What makes people get off the dime and actually buy something? The Promotion Marketing Association conducted a national poll of consumers that shows some surprising results that we marketers should pay close attention to, as we plan our next campaign. (People could pick more than one influencer so the total is more than 100%.)

Free sample  87.2%
Coupons      71.3%
Referral from a friend   48.5%
Free premium     29.4%
Advertising      27.2%
Chance to win instant major prize    16.7%
Packaging        10.2%
Direct Mail      5.0%
Presence around town     4.6%
Collateral      2.4%

All of this feels pretty retail doesn't it?  So how do we translate it if we sell professional services (lawyer, accountant, marketing firm) or in the B-to-B arena?  

How do you sample?  Free consultations -- sure...but everyone does that.  How about offering a free lunch and learn or putting very relevant, helpful content on your site?  Teach an adult ed class in your area of expertise? 

A word of warning...be clear in defining what the prospect gets for free so you don't end up creating a "bait and switch" reaction from the person you're trying to woo.




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Lead by Example

IStock_000004868270XSmall Admit it, you’ve got one. We all do.

Your company mission or vision, maybe you call it the value statement or your guiding principles. But basically it’s your statement of purpose.

We hammer out these phrases to define our business and sum up what we want our employees to accomplish. Take Starbucks for example:

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit— one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

Whether you like it or not, Starbucks has earned a reputation for making a special cup for each customer.

Your company’s reputation rests in the hands of your employees. The mission statements give them something to embrace, but in the end, actions still speaker louder. Since happy, healthy employees equal satisfied, repeat customers, it’s up to you to demonstrate ways to maintain a healthy work style and avoid burnout.

This doesn’t mean you need to start running marathons or switch to all organic meals, but a few simple steps will inspire your employees to take care of themselves and help your company grow:

1) Take vacations  – Go away for a few days, or a week and spend some time relaxing. Don’t answer e-mails, participate in conference calls or assign projects when you’re at the beach. If vacation days merely mean you’re not physically present, your team may burn out trying to match that level of commitment.

2) Have fun – Find ways to bring fun and laughter into your organization. This helps build relationships and reduce stress. Schedule the occasional office gathering and use humor with employees to help boost productivity.

3) Get moving – Get up and stretch your legs a few times a day. It gets your blood moving and the creative juices flowing. Participate in the ongoing wellness activities at the office. Form a team and take the Live Healthy Iowa 100 Day Fitness Challenge to get some exercise.

Remember, you as a leader set the tone of the organization. Your employees know you expect the best – maybe you’ve even spelled that out for them in the mission statement (To be the best BLANK in the country) – and good health is the first step to reaching new heights.

Photo: istockphoto.com

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Teenagers 'Sexting' Their Way Into Trouble

Sexting

Sexting is the latest phenomenon getting teenagers into trouble. It can lead to shame, humiliation, Blog cyberstalking, bullying, felony criminal charges, sex-offender registration and even suicide.  Sexting involves sending lewd text or pictures electronically to someone over a mobile phone or computer. Sexting often starts with a teenage girl sending a nude or semi-nude picture of herself to a boyfriend. Once the relationship sours, the boyfriend sends the picture on to friends, causing the girl to experience humiliation and unwanted advances. As with anything transmitted online, once a lewd photograph is released into the wild, there is very little chance of stemming its viral dissemination.

Legal Ramifications

The punishment for sexting depends on the age of the victim. If the pictures are of someone over 18, the person resending the pictures typically is not violating any laws, leaving the victim essentially helpless. If the pictures are of someone under eighteen, however, anyone possessing and/or resending the pictures may be subject to felony criminal charges and/or registration as a sex offender for child ponography.

Bigger Than You Might Think

Recent studies have shown up to 20 percent of teens have engaged in sexting and up to 40 percent have been asked to send nude photos of themselves. As with many things, teenagers often to appreciate the full ramifications of sexting until it is too late. Ramifications include imprisonment and even suicide. The key is educating teenagers before a problem arises.

Who Is At Risk

Any child with access to a digital camera or cell phone should be warned about the ramifications of not just sexting, but of sending anything online they would not be comfortable sharing with their parents. Things they post today can come back to haunt them years, or even decades down the line. It may get them bullied, fired, imprisoned or worse. Even if your child does nothing but receive an inappropriate message sent by someone else, they may be charged with child pornography.

Talk To Your Children

Advise your child early of the problems and the lifetime consequences of such behavior. When it comes to sexting, an ounce of prevention is worth several tons of cure.

Brett Trout

War on Social Media

A friend of mine at one of Iowa's largest employers commented that he spent a half hour with hisBlog information technology people trying to explain how Twitter can be a business tool, so that they would unblock it.

Beyond blocking most social networking sites (including YouTube) some schools are lobbying for legislation to ban cell phones.The city of Waukee recently passed a resolution to "take any action necessary to prohibit the use of its name in social networking platforms" even against a Facebook fan page that asks "why is Waukee a great place to live?" Record & film companies are reluctantly accepting YouTube and filesharing programs only after years of injuctions and litigation.

The stories above are the battlefields in a war against social media, an invasion of digital foreigners against digital natives. Just like in many wars, the natives are seen as unsophisticated and must be taught how to conform to the more powerful invader or risk the consequences. However, just like the Romans and Christians, the Islamists and Arabs, or the Europeans and New World tribes, the natives' culture eventually penetrates and influences the invader's culture.

This war in social media is as much ineffective as the War on drugs, poverty or terrorism, except this war lacks the nobility of cause the others have. Rather than embrace the technology, resources are wasted on this attack, only for it to be eventually embraced. It is attacked because it's not part of the norm or it challenges the known and comfortable, it accelerates the natural order of evolution. So at the expense of  someone else's comfort, the medium and tools that a younger generation uses are stifled. Lame attempts to create alternatives are instead established and time passes by.

There was a time when television was the target, VCRs were taboo, and calculators were another item in the cross hairs. Look at the schools that today still use overhead projectors and PA systems; businesses that still use faxes and blast memos through couriers; cities that cycling through PowerPoint slides on their cable access stations and believe people still read their community tabloid. How much better would things be if these schools used cell phones to teach their students, businesses used Twitter to be more efficient and cities used Facebook to build and enhance community with their citizenry.

Many of these same institutions will say they do indeed embrace these things, but...insert excuse here. These institutions error toward the side of caution rather than intrigue and are quick to stop them before they seek to learn their full positive effects.

This war will continue until digital natives are given an opportunity to have equal level dialogue with the foreigners in places where decisions are made. While many of the natives are young professionals and many of the digital foreigners are of older generations there are peers in each demographic that can help negotiate the peace process.

Networking Etiquette (The Basics)

One of my favorite things in life is connecting people. That's what I do. Whether it be in my executive recruiting business or simply serving as a resource for my friends, I get a real kick out of connecting two different parties in hopes they can find common ground and build a relationship. Sometimes I even get paid to do this. But it's not always easy. Not everyone knows and understands there is a certain etiquette to networking.

Just this week I connected two people that both had a need that could have possibly been fulfilled by meeting one another. I introduced the idea of meeting to both people. They both thought it was a great idea. A meeting was set at a specific time and place. When it came time for the meeting, one party didn't show.

No phone call. No text message. No homing pigeon. She just (I guess) decided not to go. I have heard nothing from her since. WOW!

I am stunned, surprised and embarrassed. I felt as if this reflected on me, my character and my judgment. The person on the other end of the "stand-up" was very forgiving and gracious towards me, but also very surprised. So it got me thinking...and here, quickly, are a few basic things I think everyone should know about the simple laws of networking:3044149121_cb49d2b951

  1. Show Up. If you have a meeting set up to to meet someone and strategize how we can help each others business grow, show up! I understand things happen which may cause the need to reschedule. No big deal. Just call ahead of time and be prepared to reschedule.
  2. Networking requires reciprocity. If someone sends you business, keep them top of mind. Reciprocating a new client is the best thank they can receive, and they will continue working to find you referrals.
  3. Communicate. It's critical that you know your story and understand who your target market is so you can communicate it to your referral sources. If you don't know what type of business you're looking for, you'll never get a solid referral. By the way, Mark True will tell you that "everyone" or "anyone" are wrong answers.
  4. Follow Up. If someone in your network has been kind enough to pass on a referral your way, do that person the professional courtesy of letting them know what happened. If it turns into business (directly or indirectly) make sure you follow up with a sincere thank you!

It's all very simple, really. Just treat other people the way they deserve to be treated. Isn't that the golden rule? What other suggestions (laws) might you suggest for great networking?

Cutting through the noise

Staying focused can be challenging sometimes. Especially working in a busy newsroom, where torrentsFilter of information are strewn like beads at a Mardi Gras parade.

Considering the smorgasbord of media choices available and the lightening-fast evolution of how information is collected, retooled and distributed, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into cutting through the noise.

Press releases, e-mails, phone calls and text messages continually bombard the senses, not to mention the dozens of pieces of spam and junk mail that find their way onto my desktop each day. I even received a 25-page old-school fax last week. Then there are the standard weekly meetings, the buzz of other reporters and coworkers, and my good old-fashioned inbox.

I thrive on it.

But I have to admit that the sheer volume of information itself can be overwhelming. Even for a self-professed mediaphile. Then there’s the task of sorting through it all in order to pick out the most pertinent items. You pluck out the really important items – the one’s that grab your attention – organizing the rest into tidy, or not so tidy, little compartments until the need for them arises or they become totally irrelevant.

Social-media applications are multiplying as well. Since the 2003 launch of MySpace, dozens of others have bellied up to the bar, garnering thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of new users each week.

It’s synergistic and it's exponential.

A few weeks ago, fellow blogger Isaiah McGee and I broached the subject of filtering “friends,” “followers” and “connections” on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, respectively.

That conversation got me thinking about the topic of this post and led me to form the following questions:

  • Do you try to screen your Facebook friends, picking and choosing whom to add based on how they fit in to your life? Or perhaps you'd like to connect with a particular person, but on a different level or in another forum?
  • When someone follows you on Twitter, do you follow them right back or do you try to be more selective? Are you hesitant to follow too many people, fearful that the stream of updates will get clogged, hindering you from tracking the folks you really want to keep tabs on? (I’m considering downloading TweetDeck, a desktop application “that enables users to split their main feed into topic or group specific columns allowing a broader overview of tweets.”)
  • When using LinkedIn, do you try to look only for professional connections and professional development opportunities?

I emphasize “try” because it seems the more involved I become with building my online social networks, the more I consider the questions of how, why and even IF I should be filtering my contacts or attempting to compartmentalize them. Do you think vetting potential contacts somehow defeats the objective of social media?

I want to hear what methods you are implementing to regulate how your social networks are built and if there is/should be some type of social-media ethical standard to help us answer how to respond to these types of questions.

Am I way over-analyzing this?

Chime in.

See you in the news!

- Todd Razor

Kill Chicken Little

Remember when your parents read to you the story of Chicken Little. He was hit on the head by an acorn 71989731 that fell from a tree and immediately jumped to the conclusion that the sky was falling. Then he rushed out to sound the alarm and spread the fear.

This type of behavior is known in psychological circles as catastrophizing or "awfulizing." Our minds leap to believe the worst. Disaster lies just ahead -- and there's nothing we can do.

We're often guilty of this as individuals; it shows up in our roles as leaders as well. Think about it. You open your mail box and there's a letter from the IRS. Is your first thought, "Oh, great! I must be entitled to a refund." Or is it, "Oh, no! I'm being audited."

Or your boss sends you an email saying she'd like to see you in her office in thirty minutes. Do you get that sinking feeling? You know, the one where your heart falls into your stomach, and your stomach falls into your knees? The next thirty minutes feel like thirty years as you try to think of why you should not be on the list of those being laid off. It turns out your boss wants you on the new project team to improve customer service. Your suffering was needless.

Getting a handle on this tendency to think the worst is critical, especially when there's so much fear in the marketplace already like there is today. Let fear immobilize you and you'll miss out on all kinds of opportunities -- to grow, achieve, win. And, if you're in a leadership role, it's even more imperative to recognize the internal conversation going on in your head and to combat these self-defeating thoughts.

1.) They can keep you from thinking clearly. 2.) They affect your mood -- and your mood impacts the morale of your team. 3.) They take a lot of the energy that should be directed toward your creative efforts.

To de-catastrophize:

First of all, become aware that you have made the leap to, "The sky is falling." Then put your brain to work. Analyze those Chicken Little thoughts. Ask, "What exactly do I mean by 'I'll die if that's an IRS audit!' " Putting your brain to work keeps the blood in your brain so you can think more clearly. It overrides the effect of the adrenaline that shot into your system when your stomach fell to your knees. And it calms you down. These are all good things. You might also try jotting down what you're saying to yourself, starting with the worst conclusion you've come to and working your way back. Just seeing the words in black and white can defuse them and put them into perspective. And finally, think about what you'd say to someone else if they were awfulizing about this same scenario. Then take your own advice.

Do these things and chances are, you won't have to kill Chicken Little. Chicken Little will expire on his own. Fear will subside, reason will return, and you're once again leading with confidence and skill.

A Great Way To Get Educated

5103265_thl I have discussed open book management and employee ownership as a means to improve bottom line performance and enhance company cultures.  At this time of the year, there are several national conferences that provide a huge learning opportunity for those of you considering open book management or employee ownership.

These conferences are some of the best deals you can find on educating yourself before you spend additional dollars on professional fees or consulting.  All three conferences utilize experts in the field, but one of the best values is that you will hear the real life stories of companies from the people themselves. 

These conferences also allow ample opportunity for you to network with your peers and pick their brains on what they did well and mistakes they have made.  This kind of value is not always easy to come by.  I have personally attended all three of these annual conferences and it is well worth the value.

The information for the conferences is as follows:

Make the investment of time and resources today - you will not be disappointed.

What can an assembly line teach us about work/life balance?

Okay... so we are getting close to wrapping up our series on creating your "D.D.A.E. Equation."

That's figuring out what to Do, Delegate, Automate and/or Eliminate to improve your work/life balance.  

Today... we're talking about "Automation."

It's funny, because whenever I hear that word, I am immediately taken back to my childhood.  

That's right.  I grew up In Newton.  And if you grew up in Newton in the 70s and 80s, then you wound up going on numerous tours of Maytag's manufacturing plants.  

I remember my first tour.  I was blown away by the systems.  
Assembly-Line
There was a quite hum of activity.  Everyone seemed to know their place.  Everything was in order.  If there was a bolt, then there was someone to put a nut on it and send it on it's way. There was no chaos.  There were no distractions.  Everything was automated... controlled... predictable.

I have to admit that when it comes to work/life balance, it's tempting to want this kind of order.  Everything in its place. Every need met.  No surprises.   

But we know that life happens... right?  And life can be messy and unpredictable.

So, when it comes to applying the concept of "Automation" to work/life balance, we can't always shoot for assembly-line precision...  BUT we can use automation to help us create time and to simplify our lives.

Here are some sample areas...

Finances:

An example of "Automation" that a number of you have already taken advantage of is automating your bill paying.  If you haven't, check out zen habit's post on making your finances automagical!  

Blogging:

Since many of you blog, this is another potential "target zone" for automation.  You know... ways to streamline the process of finding content and potential links.  For example, Drew McLellan pointed me to zemanta.  It's been a huge help because it works with most blog platforms and automatically finds pictures and links to support your content.  Plus, it does it while you type!  It's cut the time it takes for me to post dramatically.  

Mike Sansone has also helped me on the front with his teaching about RSS feeds, but he also pointed me to an online tool to help me find videos for my posts.  It's called wibe7.com.  It's a simple but powerful tool!

Life:

With technology surpassing the speed of life, we obviously have some options our parents didn't have.

Here are some fun examples to check out.

I have a entrepreneur friend who's entire family uses google calendars to help to organize and automate their family's life.  They have their own individual calendars, but then they also have a shared calendar.  All family events go on that shared calendar (i.e. school programs, soccer games, family reunions, church activities), and everyone must check that calendar before making commitments.  They admit that they aren't at 100 percent, but they have eliminated a majority of the scheduling surprises that used to bury them.

Need a personal concierge?  Check out Tech Scoop's post on HeyCosmo, which is a new on-line and mobile tool that can help you with everything from finding dinner reservations to calling friends to organize where everyone wants to meet for dinner after work.

How about shopping for groceries from your home?  If you have an iPhone,  there's an app for that.  But if you don't, that's okay too.  You can just use services like the one being offered by Hy-Vee.  Tell them what you want on-line, and they'll do the shopping for you.  You can either pick it up or have it delivered. Of course, there's a fee for the extra service, but what would it be worth to you to not have to hit the grocery store after a long day? 

Okay, and I did it subtly, but the perceptive mac lovers already picked up on the mention of the beloved iPhone.  You knew it had to be coming.  Yes, that's right.  Mac has made great leaps forward in automating many of life's basic (and not so basic tasks) with the iPhone.  Just check out iPhone your life to see the unlimited options on this front.


Okay, these are just a few areas where you can automate your life.

What have you tried?

What's worked?

What's simplified your life?  What's seemed to complicate it?

Click on comments and join in the conversation!

Virtual Desktops: Why Now? Cost Savings, That's Why

Now is the time for virtual desktops.  There are a lot of people in the industry saying that you should wait.Blog Nonsense.  There are serious savings in support and energy costs to be garnered, along with other significant, factors that will increase agility and lower TCO.  Don't wait.  If you're careful, plan accordingly and not try to fit a round peg into a square hole, you will be successful.

Virtual desktops are the next hottest virtualization project for 2009.  There are a handful of companies doing virtual desktops in one way or another, but it seems that these "early adopters" aren't sharing what has worked and what didn't.  I know that the projects couldn't have been that easy, nothing is anymore.  So what did they do that made them successful and how can others learn for them? 

I conducted a very non-scientific survey of the people that I have on my Twitter account.  I asked them why they thought VDI projects fail.  The main reasons I got back were, "lack of understanding what the user needs to do their job effectively." I can certainly understand that. 

The other reason, believe it or not was, "trying to push a square solution into a round hole."  I'm paraphrasing here, but you get my point.  Basically, trying to make the virtual desktop solution fit every user case.  And the last one, "lack of business case development and marketing."  That one I can certainly see.

So let's ask the question "Why implement virtual desktops?" I'll give you two very good reasons here:

  • Client System Manageability:  We all know that managing a wide variety of client form factors, multiple generations of operating systems and hundreds of applications is a costly and resource-intensive undertaking.  I've even seen some very well-managed PC environments require constant maintenance and support to repair problems and keep systems compliant with corporate policy.  Virtualization of the desktop will allow large, globally distributed companies with thousands of PCs to maintain software on the desktop systems more cost-effectively by reducing their dependence on specific hardware and operating system configurations.
  • Security:  we are painfully aware of the traditional PC environment and it's constant need for security updates and patches, mitigating viruses and worms, and the exposure of critical data and applications to malicious behavior from internal and external sources. The movement to a more mobile workforce with laptops, etc, the security risks increase.  Your users access the Internet through public and unsecured home Wi-Fi networks and - we have seen this play out over and over in the press - thousands of laptops are stolen every year, putting your confidential data at risk.  Managing access to sensitive applications and data is made easier with virtualization.  With virtualization technologies you can decouple applications from data, thereby making it easier to deprovision access to applications.

Virtualization has its limits, but the additional benefits are a driving factor and the technology is rapidly catching up with the user scenarios playing out today.  My top four reasons to do virtual desktops now are:

  1. Reduction of desktop support costs.  The provisioning of PCs is much simpler in a virtualized environment.  In our traditional desktop environments, administrators must test applications against multiple desktop configurations.  With virtual desktops, IT can test applications against only one environment prior to deployment and still eliminate most follow-up support issues.
  2. Application and data security improvements.  I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating.  Because virtualized environments give us in IT greater control over system and application provisioning and access, it is easier to secure access rights, and in many cases, data.
  3. Software licensing management.  How many applications are running in your environment now that you have no way of tracking?  Exactly.  If you deliver all corporate applications through a virtualized environment, it is easier to track software usage and licenses. 
  4. System stability and reliability.  Virtual environments can help prevent app conflicts.  In addition to that, they are easier to repair when there are problems.  There are ways to "sandbox" applications and prevent these conflicts like application streaming from Citrix, App-V from Microsoft and ThinApp from VMware.  Plus, we can quickly and easily restore a PC to a working state with a simple reboot, thereby redcucing the costs associated with reimaging and redeploying that hardware asset.

In today's perilous economic times IT budgets are being slashed.  CIOs are having a tough time with changes happening continuously, more of the shrinking budget is going to maintenance and integration tasks, with little left over for innovation. But it's not time to retrench.  Retrenchment will surely buy you time, but it will not buy you opportunity, growth or a future. Now is the time for virtual desktops.  With some solid planning around the business case and understanding the business and use cases you can make sure that your virtual desktop initiative is successful.

An office errand and your business auto insurance

Woman driving Do any of your employees run errands for you? Sometimes a business owner can be faced with a liability exposure and not even know it.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Your office manager stops by Office Depot to pick up some supplies for work on her way back from lunch.
  • On the way home, your salesperson stops by a client’s office to get some paperwork signed.
  • Your receptionist stops at the bank during lunch to make a business deposit.

What if they were involved in an automobile accident along the way?

Whose policy do you think would cover the loss?

Whose policy would cover the defense costs?

Who would pay for the damages to the employee’s vehicle?

Well, in Iowa, insurance follows the vehicle. Therefore, typically the employee’s vehicle would cover the loss first and then they may turn to the business.

Now I did say typically. What I mean by this is that it does depend upon what type of policy the business owner has and what their policy language states. Business auto policies are determined by how you have designated your insurance.

In general, you have three options for which vehicles you choose to cover.

  • Autos your business owns
  • All autos your business owns, hires or leases
  • All autos used for the business, including those that your business does not own, hire or lease

It also depends on if you have employees listed as insureds and if you have Non-Owned Liability. Non-owned liability can act as excess over your employees personal policy.

For example, if your employee’s personal policy is not enough to cover the damages in the loss, then your business policy can pick of the difference up to your policy limits.

These are key factors that should be addressed prior to taking out a business auto policy or when you are completing your annual review. There are many other aspects to a business auto policy as well so stay tuned…

Gimme a 'P'!!!

When teaching graduate classes at Drake University, I feel it's my responsibility as a professor toBlog demonstrate to my students that passion is a key ingredient to approaching their work.  As I constantly tell them (and remind myself), "If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right."

Yes, this even applies in project management.  About ten years ago, Tom Peters released an article in Fast Company, which has become a cornerstone of the project management class I teach.  It was called "The WOW Project" and talked about how even the most seemingly mundane projects have a WOW factor to them; we just have to find it.  Recently, Fast Company republished the article on their site.

Even more recently, The Duct Tape Marketing Blog had a great post about building excitement.  The author, Don The Idea Guy, states:

First, you have to feel excited about an idea if you're going to work passionately toward making it a reality. 

But he goes on to say,

It is only through an exchange of excitement (causing others to feel the same excitement that you feel) will get others to provide the buy-in necessary to move your idea forward.

He goes on to give specific tips on maintaining excitement.  This is great stuff!  I've seen far too many "I see dead people" cubicle dwellers on projects.  Yet many project managers accept these zombies as a fact of life (no ironic pun intended) and allow them to suck any potential morale out of those who could be potentially excited.

In this tough economy, more people are worried about keeping their jobs than they are about building excitement for those same jobs.  But there is a direct correlation.  People who are excited about their work probably will have a better chance of keeping it.

Ask yourself this:

  1. As you are recruiting project resources, are you looking at passion and personality fit as much as you're looking at skill sets?  Skills can be taught; it's harder to teach passion.

  2. Do you have people who are "sucking the life" out of your project?  Can you get rid of them or try to coach them?

  3. Does your team understand why the project warrants passion?  Do you?

  4. Are there hidden gems within your project where passionate elements can be uncovered?  Are there diamonds in the rough of the seemingly mundane?

It's been fun hearing from my students about their passion for working with these small businesses around town.  One of the key elements for building passion is the feeling that they're truly making a difference.  That alone will build more passion and excitement than you as a project manager can generate.

Carpe Factum!

Is Customer Service an Act of the Will or the Heart?

I believe that anyone can be taught good customer service principles. I also believe that anyone employedBlog in a customer service position can perform the task with excellence, even if their performance is simply a conscious act. There are those for whom service is an act of the will, motivated by a paycheck, a bonus, or reluctant obedience to an employers standards. I find this sad, but true.

There are those, however, for whom service is motivated by an act of the heart more than an act of will. There are some who are inwardly motivated to help others, and watching them in action is a joy for me.

This past week I was flying from Miami to Des Moines. I had an aisle seat. A woman, who was also a veteran business flier, sat in the window seat. As the plane began to fill with passengers, we both commented that we hoped to get lucky and have the middle seat remain unoccupied. No such luck. Just before the cabin door closed, a man from another country climbed into the seat between us. He spoke broken English and had a hard time understanding the flight attendant. I watched as the woman in the window seat took it upon herself to assist our middle-seat companion. As we approached O'Hare she pulled out the Hemisphere's magazine, which contained a map of the airport, and went out of her way to help the man figure out where he needed to go. The woman could have easily kept to herself. Something motivated her to help, even though there was nothing in it for her.

Walking down the F Concourse a few minutes later, I witnessed a tall business executive walking next to a diminutive woman from India. Just the sight caught my attention. He was walking slowly, hunched over and listening to her. As I approached, I overheard him asking her what gate she was trying to reach.

"I'll run ahead and see if I can get them to hold it for you," he said. The executive, in his best business attire, then broke into a dead sprint down the crowded concourse. A minute later I spied him. He was out of breath and frantically negotiating with a airline agent as the elderly woman shuffled slowly towards the gate. What motivated this executive, with plenty of other "important" matters to occupy his mind, to go out of his way to help an elderly woman from another country?

Is your customer service a matter of the will, or a matter of the heart?

Who should manage your social media efforts?

Let's say you're a business. Any size - from a small retail shop to a large corporation. You're intrigued byBlog social media and its possibilities, and you're ready to dedicate a staff member to these efforts. Now the question is: What staff member should have these responsibilities? What qualities should you look for when hiring for the position?


Conventional wisdom would say that this person might need some sort of Web design, information technology or marketing background. While those skill sets certainly don't hurt, they don't need to be requirements.

An effective social media manager should have the following traits:
  • Curiosity - He/she will be curious about new mediums and new technology. You won't need to tell them to check out the newest social network - they'll already be signed up, playing around with it and determining whether or not it has any relevance to your business.
  • Immersed - This person will not only have Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts, they'll be activate participants. If they aren't familiar with these tools, they're probably not a good fit for you.
  • Personable - By engaging with customers in social mediums, he/she will immediately be thrown into a customer support role. This person must be able to pleasantly and patiently interface with your business audience on a daily basis.
  • Willing to teach others - A social media manager will constantly be educating their co-workers and superiors on the latest technology. 
  • Ability to write - So much of digital communication takes the form of the written word. Despite it's inherent immediacy, any social media effort is an extension of your company's brand and should reflect professionalism. A firm grasp of spelling and proper sentence structure is a must!
Another great resource that I frequently refer back to is Jason Falls' April 2008 blog post about what he was looking for in a social media co-pilot at his employer, Doe-Anderson.

If you've recently hired - or identified - someone to champion social media within your organization, I'd love to hear your thoughts below on what traits you looked for.

Do you really have 180 days to close on that Section 1031 swap?

One of the nastier land mines in the tax law is the deadline for closing on a purchase in a deferred "like-kindBlog exchange." When you have a deferred exchange, Section 1031 gives you 45 days to identify the property you want to receive in the swap. The deadline for actually closing on the replacement property is the sooner of:

- 180 days after giving up the property, or
- The due date of the tax return for the year in which the exchange was entered into.

This means if you entered into an exchange after Oct. 18, 2008, you need to either close on your replacement property by April 15 (or March 15, if your corporation did the exchange).

Fortunately, the tax law gives you a simple way to get your full 180 days to close your exchange,  extending your return.  If your return is due before the 180 days runs out, an extension gives you the full 180 days.

But be careful. If you file your 1040 before April 15 an extension doesn't count. Don't be in such a hurry for your refund that you make your like-kind exchange taxable.

You can learn more about exchanges at this IRS site.

Related: No do-overs when the swap takes too long.

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