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July 2011

Does an online presence need to fade into that good night?

 

105865370With apologies to Dylan Thomas (the man who wrote the poem called Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night)  -- I think one of the realities that our online activities brings about is this qustion -- what happens to all the content and accounts you've created after you die? 

We no longer just go quietly into that good night.

Now before you shake your head at me and wonder what this has to do with marketing and branding…hang in there with me for a minute. 

I'm guessing you've had this same experience.  A small handful of my Facebook friends have passed away.  A few blog authors that I really enjoyed are no longer with us.  Some of my LinkedIn connections have died.  They all were very active online and created a large following on various social media sites.  And we're in the infancy of social media.  Imagine what it will be like in 20 years.

So what happens? (Time Magazine wonders too)

In some cases, their family have taken down their blogs or accounts.  In other cases, their work/pages are still live.  I have one Facebook friend who keeps popping up on my "you haven't talked to X in awhile" in the sidebar.  And you know, the other day I actually clicked on the link and was surprised to see that many of his friends were still posting to his wall.  In some cases, something reminded them of him or it was the anniversary of his death.  But the posts were happy and filled with memories for them. 

Another Facebook friend, a very well known local businessman, was killed in an accident.  For a long time his kids wrote to him almost every day.  Those posts just about broke my heart but I'm guessing were very healing for them.

I know Facebook and Twitter both have options for families that include converting the account to a memorial  page etc.

I had the good fortune to meet a wonderful man who had an amazing advertising career (he actually worked with David Ogilvy) and his blog posts were not only smart but filled with advertising lore.  I loved reading them and would often go back and find an old one that pertained to something I was thinking or writing about.  

When he passed away, his family took down his blog.  I couldn't help but think what a shame that was.  Thanks to Google -- generations of people could have benefited from his experiences and storytelling.

I don't know that there is a right answer in terms of how to handle it.  I'm sure some people think it's morbid to even raise the issue.  And maybe they're right.   Except it is something we're all going to have to deal with, sooner or later.

But what I do know is that most people have probably not discussed this with their family and friends.  Much like the "I want to be cremated or buried" conversation -- part of the 21st century needs to be a conversation about what we want done with our online accounts and content.  And preparation (like sharing passwords) would need to be considered.

At first blush, I'd like to think that my brand and work could live on after I leave this earth.  That my efforts could continue to serve business owners and marketing directors.  Sure, some of it would be dated but much of it is evergreen.  But I've never said that out loud to anyone.  Perhaps the About Drew section could be amended to explain that I'm not around anymore….but my work is part of my legacy.

But I haven't given it enough thought to know for sure.  Would my face popping up on Facebook be a comfort -- a continued shared space -- for my family and friends.  Or would it keep them from saying goodbye?

What do you think?  Should our brands and work live on? 

We go to museums and stand in line to read Ben Franklin's letters or Emily Dickinson's handwritten poems.  Is a blog less of a legacy because it's not handwritten?

We keep pictures of family members and friends who have died.  We tell stories about them and some of us probably talk to them in our private moments.  Is putting a post on a Facebook wall or clicking through the photos section any different?

And how does one choice influence the way their brand is remembered?

I 'd love to hear your perspective on this.  

 

What Your Company Can Learn From Dell's Social Listening

In early 2010, I complained loudly about my Dell computers to anyone who would listen. Dell tour To my surprise, Dell heard my complaints and invited me to take part in DellCAP, their new Customer Advisory Panel. They flew me to Austin, and allowed me to tell my story to an audience of top Dell executives.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pretty straight shooter, and I did not hold back. We also heard from Dell employees, who told us that they were listening, even as they initially made some pretty lame excuses for their service and defective products.

This year, I was absolutely shocked that they invited me back to Austin to update us on their progress. I must say, it seems like Dell is finally taking social customer service seriously. There are people like me who would rather "tweet" for help than call Bangalore, India. This time, there were no excuses. Only real answers, metrics and process improvement updates.

And, I got to network with some of the smartest, nicest people on the planet, including Dave Gardner, who writes for Fast Company. Full disclosure: Dell paid for my trip, my expenses and my meals. But they did not try to control the discussions, and live-streamed the whole meeting. We even got to meet Michael Dell, and that was recorded too.

Dell has a new social customer service area that employs 70 people. So now, if you have an issue with a Dell machine, you can tweet your question, concern or complaint to @DellCares on Twitter or DellCares on Facebook. Your query will then be assigned to a social media customer service rep in Dell's social media listening center and handled by this special support team.

Dell has also implemented a very sophisticated Radian6 monitoring system due to the global, complicated nature of their business. By the way, I can vouch for Radian6. In my opinion, they are the best social monitoring system out there. And their people are very connected and smart. That's important to me.

This team's evolution is a direct result of the complaints lodged by customers. Dell has always had great employees who cared deeply about the customers who were experiencing pain in the customer service process. Now, the company has formally backed up these employees with official resources, office space and listening tools.

Here are the take-aways for your business. Listen up!

  1. People are taking to the social web to complain about poor service and defective products. Be prepared to deal with that. Knowing about it is the first step.
  2. Design a process to deal with a social media complaint. Whether it is a very simple refund process or an online apology, make it real and make it consistent.
  3. Monitor your brand. Set up Google Alerts, check your Facebook wall and your Twitter "@" replies daily. Respond as soon as possible after hearing the complaint. People will keep complaining until they feel like they are heard.
  4. Respond publicly in as much detail as possible without violating the privacy of your customer. Then follow up privately (offline) with more details of how you plan to fix the problem.
  5. Do not display anger and frustration online or verbally confront and embarrass your customer. Be as civil as you can, and model friendliness. Others are watching how you handle the problem.

Even for small business owners, monitoring and responding to social media questions, complaints and yes, even compliments(!), will be a part of your daily routine. The quicker you get with the program, the quicker your customers can get on with their lives and quit bugging you. Capice? 

- Claire Celsi

Master the 15-minute meeting

The minute hand at 3, 15 minutesImage via Wikipedia

Want to know something that can make all the difference in a successful day at the office? A must-attend, 15-minute maximum, 8 a.m. meeting in which you surface the day's milestones, needs for assistance, and snafus.

What about when a crisis arises during the day? Call a 15-minute meeting and sort it out.

If you're religious about sticking to the 15-minute-maximum rule, you'll discover you've stumbled across a powerful device that can pretty consistently move the productivity needle in the right direction.

Tom Peters said, "Master the 15-minute meeting! You can change (or at least organize) the world in 15 minutes!"

I don't know about that, but I do know that when people have 15 minutes to get things covered, they get things covered in 15 minutes. There's no room for fat, for pontificating, for unnecessary deference. People learn to state their cases simply and succinctly, which is a valuable, but uncommon, life-skill. Gone are all the small, time-wasting rituals that turn many meetings into endless drones.

The 15-minute-maximum-meeting routine sends powerful messages about action, clarity, brevity and focus. And, oh yes, simplicity, too. Which is another admired but uncommon trait.

Try this:

  • Schedule your first "lightning speed stand-up meeting" in the next 24 hours. And then every 24 hours thereafter.
  • The agenda? (1.) What's happened in the last 24 hours? (2.) What's going on today? (3.) And nothing else. Never go to 16 minutes. Fourteen is just great though. Set the alarm on your Blackberry if it helps. 
  • When you're absent, delegate. Have the meeting whether three people or 14 are in the office. But have the meeting religiously. Make it clear -- as in "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" -- that nobody misses this meeting. Period.
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10,000 Hours

5103410042_bab011c830_z It is a common discussion by leaders in employee-owned companies that employee owners do not appreciate what ownership gives them, they do not act like owners, and they will never understand employee ownership. 

In the book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell suggests that to gain perfection in an activity, an individual must spend 10,000 hours practicing it. He gives examples of Bill Gates, Tiger Woods and others, where the data supports this thinking. Mr. Gladwell clearly articulates this is not the only factor that leads to perfection of an activity, but it is an important one.

Taking this thought, and applying it to the scenario stated earlier about employee ownership, it makes sense why leaders get frustrated. How many employees or leaders have spent 10,000 hours practicing being an owner in a company? Here in lies a fundamental issue that many leaders and employee owners overlook. 

Every company has its own set of expected behaviors and attitudes that surround employee ownership. The issue is that when, where and how can 10,000 hours of practice occur in an organization? 

The key is to start today. Practice through training, company meetings, sharing financial information and defining the behaviors that are expected from all employee owners. Do not let excuses get in the way. Start small - 10 hours, then 100, a 1,000.

If 10,000 hours of practice occurs, incredible success will follow!

- Victor Aspengren

Flickr photo by einmaleins.olympia

Will the real 'customer focused' company please step forward?

SCRTD - Del Amo Customer Service Center RTD_11...Image by Metro Transportation Library and Archive via Flickr

I ask business owners, managers, and sales people this question all the time. "Why do your customers do business with your company as opposed to one of your competitors?"

"It is our customer service!"

This is how far too many business owners, managers and sales people respond. But consider the logic. If five competing business all provide "great" customer service, the fact is that "great" is the new "average." Thus, if no one stands out on the basis of their "above average" customer service, no one can actually claim that their customers select their company (and de-select the rest) based upon customer service. The truth is that for most businesses, delivering good customer service is really means that they do their best to not deliver bad customer service.

So what does the REAL customer service company look like?

  • The company vision explicitly customer oriented.
  • The core values of the company are defined and congruent with a customer service focus.
  • Both the greater vision and core values are known and understood by everyone in the company.
  • In addition to past performance, these customer service oriented core values are key to all decisions having to do with hiring, firing, rewarding and recognizing.
  • The company is organized and structured around customer service.
  • Customer service goals are in place and are constantly measured and reported.
  • All the processes are designed around the customer, they are documented, and they are consistently followed.
  • Customer service guarantees are in place and honored.

Are these things true of your company? If not, it isn't a bad thing. It does not mean that you have abandoned the ideal of providing good service to your customers. It merely means that as a company, you have chosen on purpose or by default to differentiate yourself another way. Perhaps it is cheapest price, the best technology, the biggest brains, or the most choices.

If not customer service, to what does your organization have this level of commitment such that it is, or can be, the real reason customers choose to do business with you?

We would love your comments about what companies you think have clearly been able to distinguish themselves around customer service in Iowa.

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What Would You Tell Your Best Friend?

A male Mandarin Duck at Slimbridge Wildfowl an...Image via Wikipedia

From time to time, many of my clients come to me with a difficult decision they need to make.  They have thought through all sides of the decision and are struggling with what to do.

They ask my advice.

  • Do I shut down my start-up and disappoint my employees and customers?  I don't think I can make it.
  • Do I let my co-founder know she or he needs to leave? That the company has out grown them and they are limiting the company? She or he is part of what got us here.
  • Do I fire the motivated salesperson who is not performing? Everyone likes them.
  • Do I tell the customer no? We can't meet his needs, but I desperately need the revenue.

Recognize any of these? Here is a good test. If your best friend came to you with the problem you are facing, what would you recommend? Would you take your own advice and:

  • Shut down your start-up and disappoint your customers and friends?
  • Tell my co-founder it is time they leave?
  • Fire the salesperson?
  • Tell the customer no and fine another?

Well, would you? Or do you continue to hide from the issue and pretend you can't make the call. You own the business. You have to make the call. 

Mike Colwell
www.bizci.org

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Turning Up the Heat

Heat_extreme Wow, it's hot outside.

Not just "Iowa summer humid and toasty" ... it's just plain ol' HOT and STICKY.

For the record, I'm not a fan.

Sometimes our projects feel the heat as well, especially when a critical deadline or due date is approaching. People get testy, collars get loosened, sleeves get rolled up... and everyone knows the project manager means business.

But WHY do we feel the heat when a major deadline approaches?

The short answer: We're not confident we'll meet that deadline.

The longer answer is multi-faceted. At worst, somebody - either intentionally or unintentionally - has procrastinated.

Almost a quarter century into my career, I'm still not quite sure what causes procrastination on projects, especially if a (credible) timeline has been estimated AND communicated. One project recovery I was leading was constantly waiting on requirements from a horribly inept branch of the Federal Government. They procrastinated because their "leadership" was allergic to decision-making. And the excuses continued on down the line.

But what about those instances where there's nobody else to blame? Besides blatant laziness, there are a couple of reasons why your project stakeholders may be waiting until the last possible second:

According to a post by Tom Foster, he shared a conversation he had with a manager, who was concerned with the procrastination behaviors of her subordinate. According to her, he  "seems to stay away from, or procrastinate on all the projects that take time to plan out and work on. And then, it’s like he jams on the accelerator. He even told me that he works better under pressure, that last minute deadlines focus him better. I am beginning to think that he waits until the last minutes because that is the only time frame he thinks about.”

Some people are just wired to the last minute mentality (ask any high school teacher or college professor, if you do not believe me). Another possiblity is paralysis by analysis, or Ayd Instone calls it being a creative perfectionist. His post lists three "damning conditions":

  • Not wanting to begin a task right now because you know it will take more time to complete, or at least to get stuck in to, than the time you think you have available now. What’s frightening about this is that sometimes we can write of whole days due to this feeling and yet each day has the same number of maximum hours.
  • Not wanting to begin the task because you don’t feel like it at the moment. The conditions don’t feel right, you’re too tired or not motivated. We try to convince ourselves that we might feel like it later on in the day, or that evening, or after a cup of coffee or after some other postponing condition.
  • Not wanting to begin the task now because you don’t have all the information, skill or equipment to get going with. This often leads into some irrelevant research which, although useful, isn’t good for motivation because at the end of the day nothing appears to have been achieved. This feeling is also a great trigger for spending both money and time looking for and buying extra resources and equipment in a vain hope that the new inventory will feel like progress has been made. It never does.

The tricks to overcoming procrastination on projects come down to some simple steps:

  1. Have a plan - you don't know who's late with what if you have not sat down, identified tasks, sequenced them, estimated them, and resourced them. A solid project plan can prevent (or at least, mitigate) procrastination simply by documenting what needs to be there).
  2. Plan for success - provide team members with the things they need (software, furniture, subject matter experts) to be successful. Brainstorm WITH THEM what the list contains. Then follow through on providing them with the REASONABLE items.
  3. Resource intelligently - if it's a high risk task that cannot be done wrong or late), you'll be much better off making enemies by insisting the right people work on those tasks than you will by allowing the wrong people to work on the tasks and then miss the deadlines.
  4. Communicate natural consequence (and follow through) - when tasks are late on my plans, I generally broadcast it to the masses. Team members generally don't like having their name cmmunicated with a late task, but it's a great motivator. In general, make sure others know what will happen if they miss a deadline.

 

 

Dealing with procrastination proactively can save your projects countless headaches and deadlines near. And it can keep the heat down on your projects. And right now, avoiding any kind of heat is a good thing.

More Service for Your Money

For use in the Culver's article.Image via Wikipedia

I recently saw a Harris Poll that continued to reiterate what our group's research has confirmed for many years: customers are generally willing to pay a little more for a better service experience. The Harris Poll showed that 85 percent of consumers were at least somewhat willing to pay extra for products and services if they knew that they would receive a better customer experience.

The poll came to mind last night when my wife and I stopped for a quick bite. We make several trips each year to Lake of the Ozarks and we generally stop somewhere along the five hour journey. While our quick stop for food is generally at one of the large national fast-food chains, last night we pulled into Culver's in Columbia, Mo. One of the first things I noticed was how clean and bright the ordering area was. I was also struck by how bright and friendly the staff at the registers was. Not bad.

My wife has some food sensitivities, and wondered what the ingredients were in the sweet potato fries. She asked the young lady at the register expecting the "I'm not sure" answer that went no where. Instead, she said "Let me check" and asked one of the managers behind her. He immediately said, "I'll be happy to check" and scampered into the back. A moment later he came back with the complete ingredient list. Not only was my wife impressed that they were quickly able to find it, but the list revealed that the fries were something she could eat.

While we were waiting for our order, the manager wandered by and struck up a random conversation. It was just small talk, but we had a friendly chat and enjoyed a laugh together. The food came and we hit the road. As we dug into the fast food meal, I was struck by the larger portion and better taste than I'd expected from fast food.

The bill for our carry out order was a few bucks more than we would have paid at one of the better known fast food places, but my wife and I both agreed that both the quality of the food and the pleasant service experience was worth the few extra bucks we paid.

It is common for businesses to think that lower prices will attract more customers, but competing on price is a difficult and risky venture. Businesses who find a way to differentiate themselves from the competition by providing a superior customer experience find that they can charge more without losing customers.

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If your corporation has sold out, the IRS may be after your "incorporated pocketbook"

Every entrepreneur daydreams of cashing out someday. Sure, there will be taxes on the sale, but then we can just invest in safe stocks and bonds and pay tax on the interest at the nice low 15 percent corporation tax rate, right?

20110716iabiz Be careful. A depression-era relic in the tax law could bite you.

The Personal Holding Company Tax arose during the Depression to get corporations to disgorge their accumulated cash to goose a staggering economy (sound familiar?). Over time, the justification shifted from stimulating the economy to preventing the shifting of income to an "incorporated pocketbook." The PHC tax hits "personal holding company taxable income" with a 15 percent tax, on top of the regular corporate tax.

The corporation sitting on cash after a successful asset sale is the classic candidate for a personal holding company tax. It can apply if "bad" income -- primarily investment income -- is at least 60 percent of business income, and more than half of the corporation's stock is held by five or fewer shareholders. Related shareholders count as one shareholder. Special rules allow banks and some other financial businesses to avoid the tax.

The PHC tax can crop up in more-surprising ways. For example, a subsidiary that is sitting on investment assets can end up paying PHC tax, even if the rest of the companies in the consolidated tax return have plenty of "good" active business income. A cash-rich corporation might run into this tax. So may a C corporation that loans money to related businesses.

S corporations don't pay Personal Holding Company tax, but those that are former C corporations face a similar tax. The S corporation version, the "Section 1375 tax," can result in the loss of S corporation status after three years. 

The surest way to avoid the PHC tax is to liquidate the personal holding company.  That can be painful, triggering both corporation and personal tax, but with capital gain rates at a historically low 15 percent rate, it may be time to bite that bullet.  If you think that PHC tax might apply to you, it's certainly time to talk to your tax advisor.

Flickr image courtesy SheriW under Creative Commons license.

Price increase do's and don'ts (thanks to Netflix)

Netflix-logo-2On Tuesday of this week, Netflix announced a change in their pricing policies.  

Instead of paying $9.99 for unlimited streaming video AND unlimited DVD via mail, now you can opt for the new unlimited streaming only for $7.99 or the unlimited DVD via mail for $7.99 but if you want to duplicate your current $9.99 plan -- it will cost you $15.98.

However, this post isn't to debate the price increase. 

I want us to look at how Netflix handled both the announcement and the reaction online.  

Let me give you an overview.

This morning around 10 am Netflix emailed their customers, put up a blog post about the pricing change and mentioned the blog post - with a link - on their Facebook fan page.  As of midnight on Tuesday, the Facebook post had almost 20,000 comments and the blog post had well over 5,000. I have no idea how many e-mails they got in response to theirs.  But bottom line -- they created quite a stir

As you can imagine...99 percent of the comments were not in favor of the change. And they expressed themselves with vigor and sailor-like language. Over and over again.  And from what I could tell (I have to confess, I did not read all 25,000 comments). Netflix is not responding to anyone on either Facebook or their own blog.

What lessons can we learn from the firestorm that Netflix is experiencing?

Don't spread bad news any wider than you have to: This was a pricing increase that only impacts their current customers. New customers will immediately see the new prices and either buy or not. There was no reason to broadcast it all over Facebook and their blog. 

People react very differently to situations like this when they're by themselves. They don't have anyone to work them up or egg them on. It should have been dealt with in a way that did not incite a riot.

Respect the relationship hierarchy: If they felt they needed to make a public announcement, it shouldn't have been done on the same day as they informed their customers. The customers deserved to hear it first.  

Even if there would have been a 12 hour delay before going public, it probably would have taken a lot of the wind from everyone's sails.

Don't drop the bomb and run: Obviously, they cannot reply to 25,000 comments.  But injecting themselves back into the conversation now and again would remind the people who are spewing their anger that there are real people on the other side.  It's much tougher to rant and rave when you're talking to a real person.

Handling a price increase always requires some sensitivity and common sense. And you need to be very mindful of respecting the relationships you have in place. Assuming you are providing a value and can demonstrate why the hike is needed, you'll probably be just fine.

But when in doubt just ask yourself "what would Netflix do" and seriously consider the alternative!

~ Drew

 

 

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Leadership Unplugged

New technologies develop at a dizzying pace. What is often forgotten is the parallel: the pace of technology-related stress. With all these gadgets, there is a growing obsession with constantly being "wired-in" and connected to the world.

There are 40% of people who admit to checking their work email or work phone while on vacation or at home. When the work day ends, we don’t log off, clock out and go home. Instead, the seductive glow of the smartphone tempts us; we remain completely connected to work, wherever we are.

Leadership Unplugged

Technology can be an ever-present symbol of work-related problems. Anxiety from competition in the workplace suddenly has no off-switch. Connection can, in this way, cause disconnection from what is important.

Constant communication can have a detrimental effect to the original goals of communication. It becomes sort of the technological equivalent to "paralysis through analysis."

Permanent plug-in has some measurable drawbacks. One in seven married couples that use mobile devices admits that the devices are causing them to see less of their spouse. Also, 1 in 10 people claim they spend less time with their children under the age of 18 due to technology.

Technology has created a double edged sword in our society. It has increased productivity but at the cost of increased stress on the worker. Innovation in technology has led to America being more productive in terms of speed and output, but that does not mean being permanently plugged in is a cause of this.

Learning where to break from the constant flow of information, and when to direct it, is an important skill. Good leadership recognizes the importance of focus, and can recognize when technology is assisting productivity, and when it is inspiring employees to merely go through the motions.

If you are constantly "wired-in" to the new age of technology you will not be able to hear yourself think. Good leaders establish the expectations for communication with the latest technologies but great leaders are the example of these expectations and have learned to balance demands of work communications with being present in person.

No matter what is going on at your job, always allow time to unplug and recharge.

Wellmark Stops "Going to the Well" To Flush

The new headquarters building for Wellmark does all it can to not go to the well for flushing toilets. Actually, they don't have a well, but get their water from the Des Moines Waterworks like everyone else. The LEED platinum building reduces water consumption by nearly 7,200 gallons of water per day or 2,600,000 gallons water per year!  That’s enough to fill four Olympic sized swimming pools. Rob flush drawing

Wellmark beats the water consumption of the typical office building by using more efficient toilets and urinals than you normally see. The toilets, for instance, have dual flushing buttons with two choices: Number one and number two for you know what. Even with all that, it still takes nearly 8,000 gallons per day for the 2,400 full time equivalent employees to flush.

The other means to reduce water consumption is the unique water reclamation system. The system has two basic components; one for flushing and one for lawn irrigation. Water comes from roof drains, condensation from air conditioning equipment, and water beneath the surface collected in foundation drainage tiles. The water is piped to pre-filters on the way to a 52,000-gallon flushing cistern. Overflow from the pre-filters and flushing cistern is routed to the 60,000-gallon irrigation cistern.

Water in the flushing cistern then travels into the building where it is pumped through several stages of treatment before discharging to a 3,000-gallon day tank. Treatment steps include additional filtering to remove sediment and clarify water, UV lights to kill bacteria and an ozone system to kill additional bacteria and remove odors from the water. The day tank holds all the water that will be sent to the toilets and urinals. Additional domestic water can supplement the reclaim water should there be a need.  

Water in the irrigation cistern goes through a similar treatment process on its way to the irrigation day tank with the exception of the ozone treatment.

Dave Southwell, executive vice president of Wellmark, says the system is working as intended and Wellmark is committed to saving natural resources.                       

When you look at the payback for water reclamation systems, it doesn’t make sense unless you make a commitment to be good stewards of the environment like Wellmark. The reason the payback takes a really long time is the cost of water in the Midwest is so low compared to other parts of the country. Other parts of the country pay nearly six times more for water than in Iowa, and rationing is sometimes necessary.

Just imagine if everyone cared as deeply as Wellmark! The Des Moines Waterworks would treat less water and there would be much less flooding because buildings would hold on to their water for use later rather than send it all down the storm sewer.  

Immigration for Businesses

Green BlueImage by doug88888 via Flickr

You have a non-U.S. citizen working at your business, so get a green card for him or her.

End of blog post.

Wait.

It isn't that easy. But you knew that. Numerous factors influence immigration status:

-          Is the immigrant in the United States for the first time?

-          Is the immigrant from India, Canada or Nigeria?

-          Is the person an unskilled owner, part owner of the company or an artist?

The U.S. government provides information for businesses regarding non-U.S. citizen workers, but immigration is complex. Many businesses find the only way to navigate the field is to get a lawyer who specializes in immigration.

There are also resources available online to gain an understanding of the process of working with an immigrant.

Whether your business has an immigration attorney on speed-dial or is wading into the immigration pool without counsel, there are “dos” and “don’ts."

Don't:

-   Don't believe there is such a thing as an “easy guide”. The first reliable Immigration guide that I found was over 400 pages long. Do not believe a pamphlet, or website, that explains immigration any more than you would believe a pamphlet that explains world history.

- Don't think a current legal immigrant is an expert. Immigration cases have many moving parts. Listening to a person who has immigrated successfully can be like getting advice on starting a pet shop from someone who runs a successful restaurant.

-   Don't ignore warning signs. Hiring an immigrant as an independent contractor to “keep your distance” may garner trouble. Businesses that have a reason to believe a new hire is using a fictitious name or social security number probably have a duty to investigate.

-  Don’t use ignorance as an excuse. Just as the state trooper will not allow ignorance of a speed limit as an excuse for speeding, government agencies may be less than willing to accept ignorance of a worker’s immigration status as an excuse from a business. And remember, it may not only be the illegal worker in legal trouble.

Do:

-  Do fix problems that you already have. Often, government agencies look more favorably on - and work better with businesses that engage in - self-reporting than on those “caught in the act.”

- Do document they way you insure you only employ legal hires. Train your human resources personnel and provide for an audit of HR files. The easiest way to execute the plan is to have a checklist in each file.

- Do make a plan before it is too late. Know the right steps to take before your worker leaves his or her country of origin can save, money, time, and hassle - also known as dealing with “red tape."

Christine Branstad

 

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Hoarding Hinders Success

Silver coins hoard from around 1700, England -...Image via Wikipedia

Face it. Unless your goals are very small, you're going to need help. Or at least some support. Unless you can do the work of the whole team by yourself, both performance and morale are going to suffer. You must quit hoarding and learn to delegate.

Be honest.

  • Do you hoard tasks, keeping your favorite ones for yourself?
  • Do you "throw" tasks at people without an overall plan or sufficient follow-up? And then complain because they never really got it?
  • Do you micromanage because you don't trust others to do it "right?"
  • Do you think it's easier or faster to just do it yourself?

If you answered yes to some of the questions above, you may have a delegation problem. The majority of managers do.

Andrew Carnegie said years ago, "No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it." Wanting all the credit is one thing; wanting to do it all yourself, for whatever reason, is another.

Time is our most precious commodity. There's never enough. One of the main reasons is that managers do too much themselves. They often do too much themselves because of their discomfort with delegation.

We all know cognitively that delegation frees up valuable time. Delegation motivates. Delegation develops people. It gets more done. It's a skill that first-line supervisors are supposed to learn.

Yet, many high level executives still haven't grasped it.

Even senior leaders can be guilty of doing the tactical stuff first and letting everything strategic go until last. And when they do that, they don't have time to develop others. That makes them even more reluctant to delegate work because their team members aren't ready to accept it. Duh!

If you know you hoard tasks and don't delegate effectively, try this:

  • Identify an important goal that's looming for you and your team.
  • Who's most critical to you and the team achieving that success?
  • What are the specifics of what that person needs to know to help achieve that goal?
  • Spend time now with that person and make sure they understand the why as well as the how of the task or project.
  • Then be available to that individual to answer questions, re-direct and reinforce.

You'll find yourself agreeing with William Feather, American author and publisher, who said, "Next to doing a good job yourself, the greatest joy is in having someone else do a first-class job under your direction."

 

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The Blind Organization

2659454214_2ca2671b20_tThe failure of companies to provide a vision for the organization leads to employees that feel blind. They go through the motions with half-hearted efforts that lead to apathy and poor results. If the company does not know where it is headed, then how can any organization expect the employees to know where they are going.

In many cases, this vision comes from the top leader or leadership group. The vision statement is announced and everyone is expected to buy into the vision that has been handed to them. It may sound good, but it typically means very little to the employees.

A better method for creating vision is getting input from all employees and providing a process that is not controlled or manipulated by the leaders of the company. Leaders need to be involved, but giving up control of the process is key. If the employees of the company are the true creators of the vision, then the chances of the vision actually meaning something increase dramatically. 

As humans, we want to be a part of something bigger - something that has meaning and adds value to our lives and those around us. Understanding how we fit into the bigger picture of life and organizations gives meaning to what we do.

Creating a vision that has meaning is a great way to open the eyes of all employees to the true potential of the organization and how they can help make it happen.

Flickr photo by lupinehorror

 

Early acquisition planning

So you finally made an acquisition.  Now what do you do?

In my experience, buyers and sellers have a “plan of sorts” to integrate the two businesses before closing. Yet they often fail to provide for any explicit connection between the deal-making process and the eventual integration of the two businesses. This disconnect may ultimately undermine an acquisition’s value and its perceived operational advantages. Both Buyer and Seller should require that there is a clear integration plan and designated manager who is responsible for managing the integration effort.

I know of no small business with a standing integration plan or team.  Owners seldom require that discussions on integration start early enough in the process. Those discussions are critical to avoid surprises later. The integration process has important implications for the due diligence, structuring of a deal and employee retention, all of which can look very different depending on whether the acquirer aims for full integration or plans to leave the target more or less untouched.

In conclusion, companies need to have a post deal learning process where employees can communicate key insights from the merger of the two companies, thereby enabling a future acquisition to be more successful. For example, they might hold workshops, analyzing each step in the acquisition process, documenting what has been learned and observed along the way, key lessons, the quality of the process and the business goals reached, employee reactions and document the observations for the future.

Good Luck

Steve Sink

Certified Business Intermediary

Merger and Acquisition Master Intermediary

ss@phxaffilaites.com

'Cause, Baby, You're a Firework...

Fireworks-liberty Happy Independence Day!

One of my favorite parts of this day is coming up in a matter of hours: FIREWORKS! I love the sounds, colors, and (if I'm close enough) smells of the pyrotechnics. What always fascinates me is the coordinatoin of the shows, knowing when to light which firework, the delay, the direction, the angle, the details.

Project management is a lot like that. Fireworks would be easy if the coordinator only had to light one at a time, in no particular order, whenever s/he felt like it. But to the outside spectator, it would come off as boring and mundane. The fireworks coordinator has to know how each explosive would perform in relation to those around it.

In the same way, project managers have to know how each component of their project - tasks, people, organizational constraints - will perform in various circumstances. According to Ari Tikka of PM Hut, Project managers have to ask the right questions of the right people at the right time to figure out what's going to happen next. While they have to work within a project plan, Jennifer Russell reminds project managers how important the people engagement side is to success. But one of the biggest things to remember before lighting the fuse of your project management, is that no project is an island; interdependencies about to other projects and organizational activity.

So enjoy your Independence Day fireworks, but when you do, think about how you can engage your project organizationally and interpersonally to avoid the "dud" of project fireworks. (And apologies to Katy Perry for the post title.)

Too much on your plate?

IndecisionImage by Bichuas (E. Carton) via Flickr

We all have a lot on our plates these days.  Everyone I talk to responds "Busy!" to the question, "How are you?" It is a good sign that people are busy. The economy is improving.  Business is picking up for almost everyone I know.  So what do you do when you are too busy? Start by looking in the mirror. 

I am willing to bet that many of the things on your list of to-dos are there because of you. There are two general causes. The first is not taking the next step. One of the most popular books on self organization is "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. In his book, he discusses at length the idea of identifying and doing the next step. Get out your list. Focus on the items you seem to be struggling with. Identify the next step for each of these items and get on them!

Secondly, and probably the most problematic, is indecision. A while back, Mark Suster wrote a great post titled "Avoid Decision by Indecision." It is a very accurate view of indecision as it relates to start-up companies and those who finance them. From one-person companies to major corporations, the challenge of indecision is immense.  You must identify the items on which you are procrastinating. I can guess the categories these items will fit into: employees, spending a lot of money, bad news and upset customers. These items are the cause of your full plate. 

Each time you take something off the plate, one of these issues returns to your plate to fill the space. If you have a problem employee, deal with them. You know in your heart the issue will not go away on its own. Deliver bad news immediately. If you wait, others will spend too much time wondering why you withheld the news in the first place and not focus on going after the problem. Upset customers are a today problem. There is no tomorrow with an upset customer, unless you want them out there telling everyone else how bad you are. 

Finally, if you are working on a spending money decision, try this process: Decide the time horizon for this decision. Does it need to be made this month, this quarter, when? Gather all the facts you have. List out the (reasonable) facts you do not have and when you will have them.

When is the key. Many times we put off large money decisions because we are waiting to know more. If the data is coming soon, great. If you have no idea when the facts will be available, you're just delaying. You have to take on the decision with the facts you have.  Do not fall into the trap of waiting for facts that are not going to arrive!

Mike Colwell
www.bizci.org

Social Bullpen

An example of a Hipster in an office environment.Image via Wikipedia

The pendulum swings in politics, cyclical trends come in fashion (see hipster), history repeats itself in business and industry á la Ayn Rand.

What can we expect from social media? Continued metamorphosis with tentacles into every form of "media."

This is an observation, not a prediction.

The corporate budget bucket that social media, mobile and tech communication tools are falling into is marketing. The American economy is based on a free market. This puts the power in the hands of the people. BTW - Happy Independence Day! What a great day to celebrate the power of the American consumer!

And it is the people that makes social platforms so valuable - the users and every bit of information about the user that is gathered. Take Facebook users, we know their motivators, friends, family, networks, hobbies, attitudes, interests, musical tastes, careers, hometowns, ages, sex, religious beliefs, spending habits, spheres of influence, focus, entertainment, political opinions, philosophies, fashion sense, communication style, daily routines, important issues and topics, charities and habits. We know where we are at any given time, who we are with, and the locations we frequent.

If an American consumer received the line of personally intrusive questions from any other source - call, mail, email, online survey - it would go unanswered. The value of this information to a marketer is pure gold, hard to capture, arduous to compile, and expensive. Here it is. Social media put users in the habit of sharing this information in a public way and accessible way.

The most interesting part of the game to watch is how well the teams - in this case companies and brands - and the coaches - leaders - are seeing this bigger picture. Mobile marketing, social media marketing, digital marketing, public relations, media, communication, advertising, public affairs, government affairs, blogs, the lines across these are becoming as blurred as the lines between personal, professional and social.

Those who take time to look around and: recognize and absorb the current environment; reflect on what it means specific to their own brand, product, business, consumer, et cetera; consider what is on the horizon; and develop a marketing strategy that fits will reap great benefits.

Next up... Google+ ???

:: Christine Stineman

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Legislature allows new 2010 deductions

The Iowa legislature passed a big business tax break just before April 15, after many Iowa businesses had already filed their 2010 returns. Just before ending their session yesterday, the legislature passed a bill that allows taxpayers to take that late-passed break on 2011 returns, instead of filing amended 2010 returns. 

20110701biz The "Section 179 deduction" allows taxpayers to deduct the cost of qualifying fixed assets in the year of purchase, rather than through depreciation deductions over a period of years.  Until the Governor signed off on SF 512 on April 11, the Iowa "Section 179 deduction" limit for 2010 was $134,000. SF 512 increased it to $500,000, the amount allowed on federal returns, for 2010

So what about an Iowa business that had already filed returns, taking a Section 179 deduction of, say, $150,000 on its federal return, but only the $134,000 maximum deduction for Iowa? The usual answer is to file an amended Iowa return. But what if the business is a partnership or S corporation with, say, 10 or 15 owners? That amended return would trigger 10 or 15 amended 1040s for the owners to use the deduction. That's a lot of work, and maybe a lot of tax prep expense.

SF 533, passed late Wednesday this week, allows taxpayers to choose to take any additional 2010 Iowa Section 179 deduction on 2011 returns -- avoiding the time and expense of filing amended returns. This is only an option; they may still file amended returns if they prefer.

SF 533 allows taxpayers to claim two other deductions passed in SF 512 on their 2011 returns, rather than amending 2010: The $250 maximum "Educator Expense" deduction and the above-the-line college tuition deduction.

The legislature dropped the ball by passing major 2010 tax legislation so late, but at least now they've cleaned up some of their mess.

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