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April 2015

Disagreeing Isn’t always the smarter thing to do

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

I was reading an article in an online publication recently centered on the “death of strategy”. I tried to stay as objective as possible, as my natural tendency is to reject the premise and move onto something else. What kept me engaged this time was a trend I see more and more in articles, in meetings, and online – disagreement as a mechanism to convey “smarts” about a specific subject.

My reaction is probably rooted in the flash-fad, click-bait ecosystem that we are trending toward at the moment. Click-bait, for those who don’t know, are those links with strange photos that demand attention at the bottom of many of the news sites we all visit…”Bad news for so and so…” or “Grocery stores fear him…” or the ever-present “iPhone Killer!” Our growing desensitization has caused an escalation in what it takes to maintain someone’s attention about a new product, subject, or bit of information, and so, from this, click-baiting was born.

Let’s go back to the “iPhone Killer!” click-bait for a moment. We are so intent on destroying the previous thing, or negating an old concept or offering as the only way to stress the benefit of the new concept or offering, that we have forgotten how to evolve an old concept or idea into a new one, or at least keep the parts that work well so we can build on them for the next generation. You don’t need to kill the iPhone to make the next phone or establish the next phone is better - even if it is better. There is room in the marketplace for multiple devices, all tailored to specific consumer preferences.

When I read that strategy was dead, I really wanted to know why that person felt that way. As I was reading, I found the author spent more time trying to disentangle them from what I would consider best practices in the strategy world than they did explaining what the next generation of strategic planning is. Making an argument should be for something, not simply pointing to something else and saying that it is wrong.

When you are working with a group, and that group has an established mission, vision, and series of objectives, being critical is essential to success. Being critical is structurally different than disagreeing in a few key ways:

  1. Being critical is constructive; feedback is meant to generate a positive outcome based on prior work.
  2. Being critical is assembling; that is it a rigorous and structured analysis of what is currently in place.
  3. Being critical is not emotional; it is rooted in objective, evidence-based reactions to data.
  4. Being critical should appeal to the analytical nature of re-design or implementation; not a knee-jerk headline or something designed to create a false sense of urgency.
  5. Being critical is based on a reason or reasons, with development beyond a visceral reaction to a concept.

Strategic planning is not dead and I saw no reason in the article to make me think that it was. I do believe that it is evolving based on the changing needs of those who choose to engage it as their process in finding greater organizational success. There is no “strategic planning killer!” on the horizon. Planning for an organization is not ever meant to be sensational – it is meant as an iterative process that aggregates and creates a solid framework for evolution, innovation, growth, and is able to adapt and react to the stresses of change. Disagreeing with something just for the sake of disagreeing doesn’t make your argument more valid; sometimes it only uncovers how little you understand about what it truly is.

Are you ready to dare greatly?

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, Dream Igniter, and the President of MAP Professional Development Inc.

Brown, Brene - both books“Alright class, let’s get into our topics for today: Shame! Vulnerability! The fact that we will never, ever be perfect!”

So began our leadership sessions last week. You might think with an opening like that, my group would have turned and run for the hills. Quite the contrary: After an initial moment of “For real?” these professionals delved into our topics with honesty and great candor.

Afterwards, I think we all left the room feeling like a weight had lifted.

Professor and author Brene Brown has paved this path of conversation for us with The Gifts of Imperfection and, more recently, Daring Greatly. Her practical, down-to-earth warmth coupled with decades of research has opened floodgates of discussion. Once-taboo topics that deeply impact us all can now hold center stage.

So what place does vulnerability hold in leadership? How can the awareness of shame actually enhance our effectiveness at work? What does “wholehearted living” have to do with career success?

As it turns out, the leadership implications of Brene’s work are significant. Consider your own role, for example. Do you:

  • Engage openly in difficult conversations rather than tiptoeing around them?
  • Provide honest feedback, coming from a place of connection and growth?
  • Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and are o.k. with that?
  • Allow people to dare greatly - even though mistakes and failures may ensue?

And here’s a big one: Do you admit your own mistakes and failures? Even to those you lead?

In a group coaching session recently, a few of my clients were discussing failure, fear, and vulnerability. “I always thought admitting my failures would decrease others’ respect for me,” one courageous professional admitted. “When I shared my big flub-up last year though, I experienced an outpouring of support and a newfound level of respect because I was real. Now my team knows they can take risks – even if they mess up sometimes – because how else do you grow?”

Vulnerability isn’t letting it all hang out; rather, as Brene writes, it’s “sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.” A few other nuggets to bring into your leadership:

  • Be You. Whether your leadership style is charismatic joviality or quiet compassion, flow with your strengths. “Authenticity,” Brene shares, “is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
  • Quit Comparing. Seek mentors and role models, look for opportunities to grow, but don’t bother with comparison. We can all probably relate to Brene’s words here: “I can’t tell you how many times I’m feeling so good about myself and my life and my family, and then in a split second it’s gone because I consciously or unconsciously start comparing myself to other people.”
  • Make It Meaningful, whatever your profession or role. “When we cultivate our gifts and share them with the world,” she confirms, “we create a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.”

As a leader, be willing to dare greatly. Dare to take a stand. Dare to stand up for yourself. As Brene so eloquently writes, we all want to be brave.

We all want you to be brave, too.

 

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH’S CHALLENGE:

Commit to daring greatly this week. With the support of your coach or trusted adviser, explore where you’ve been holding back and decide how you can now take a step forward.

Can you share a story with your team about a time when you were less than perfect? Apply for the promotion that self-doubt has kept you from? Admit that past mistakes do not define your future?

Don’t just think about daring greatly – take an action that puts you into the arena, knowing that you’ll make a difference and come out stronger.

 

Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches professionals who want to become strong, confident leaders that make a meaningful difference. Learn more about her coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden, 2010) and Daring Greatly (Gotham, 2012) written by Dr. Brene Brown. 

Kids can be so annoying

WhyImage
Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters."

Recently, I got to hold my grandson, Emmett, shortly after his birth. As I was looking into his little face while he slept, I thought about how absolutely beautiful he is with his tiny features and more hair than I’ve seen on my head in 15 years. It occurred to me that life really couldn’t be any more straightforward or simple.

As I looked into Emmett’s face, I suddenly realized he literally knew NOTHING, and it was only a matter of time until he started asking the most annoying question that a child could ask––“why?”

I imagined our conversation would go something like this. “Grandpa, why is grass green?” “Well Emmett, the green color allows plants like grass to help us breathe.” “Why?” “The green color is created by something called chlorophyll.” “Why?” “Well, chlorophyll is used during photosynthesis.” “Why?” “Photosynthesis allows plants to use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar, which the plant needs to live.” “Why?” “Well, when you breathe, you breathe out carbon dioxide which is poison to us, but the grass likes it and uses it to survive.” “Why?” “So we don’t die.” Long pause. “Grandpa, why is the sky blue?” Sigh. “Ask your mother.”

Although it can be frustrating to get the third degree about things we as adults might think are random (and if you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about), this is exactly how children learn, answer questions, and solve problems. This is how they begin to understand the world by making connections and sticking things together in ways that make sense to them. This is why children are so creative.

In the 1988 movie Big, Tom Hanks played a 12-year old boy named Josh who made a wish he was an adult. When he awoke the next morning, he had an adult body (played by Hanks) but his mind was still that of a 12-year old. He ultimately found himself working for the development department of a toy manufacturer. Unlike the adults who worked with him, he couldn't help but constantly ask “why?” That question not only caused the company to see great success, it caused the president of the company to show his pleasure with Josh while the other adults at the company took notice (and some became very annoyed).

Unfortunately, asking “why” is also how children learn the rules in life that ultimately kill the questioning that helped them be so creative in the first place. It’s rules like:

“Sit still and behave.”
“Don’t color outside of the lines.”
“That’s not how it’s supposed to be done.”
“There is no such thing.”
“Do it this way.”

It was one of those rules 45 years ago that put me on the path to writing Beware the Purple People Eaters. My first grade teacher told me to stop using a purple crayon to color people and instead use a “proper” one.         

As we age, asking “why” is discouraged, and over time people stop asking it, conform, and deal with the daily grind of their lives. Ironically, though, whenever we learn about a cool new product or great idea, this is exactly what the people behind them are doing––asking “why” just like a child. By repeatedly asking “why” we can get to the core of a problem or situation and true creativity can occur.

I once knew a chiropractor who was not only a professor at the Palmer College of Chiropractic, he was a master at asking “why?” He told me a story about a patient who came into his office complaining of having constant headaches. When he asked “why,” he found the headaches were a symptom of a shifted spinal column which was pinching some nerves.

When he asked “why” again, he found the shift in the spinal column was caused by an unconscious, natural adjustment in how the patient walked in order to compensate for having one leg slightly longer than the other. After being fitted for shoes with a built-in lift on the short side, he began to walk normally and the headaches disappeared. Most people today would have just handed him a bottle of ibuprofen, but it wouldn’t have solved the problem. Instead, he kept asking “why” until he got to the root cause of the problem.        

Perhaps it’s time we stop acting like “adults” and start acting like 12-year old kids. Maybe it’s time to start asking “why?” more frequently. People might think you’re a little annoying, but remember that the intent is to be more creative and strive for better results.

Practice Challenge: For the next week, ask “why?” about everything in your life. The answers may surprise you. Some inquiries (perhaps most of them) may end after the first answer. However, you may find yourself asking “why?” again and again until some long-term issue or problem gets resolved.

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

PaustianLargeHeadFor more information about Dr. Anthony Paustian, provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com

A better way to do email marketing

Twenty years ago Bill Gates was interviewed by David Letterman on the Late Show and spoke about the beginnings of the internet. It was 1995 and the majority of the country wasn’t yet online, nor did we really understand how big this “internet thing” would become.

 

This clip reinforces how differently we consume information today than we did in the mid 90s. With the advent of social media, mobile phones, tablets, and all sorts of gadgets and automation it would seem that we are almost a different breed today than two decades ago. Almost.

Movies and television often have a somewhat exaggerated view of what we will become in the future. You know; the flying cars, tinfoil getups, and cyborg-like personalities. I can see the tinfoil, but I’m reluctant to believe that our personalities will be so numbed by technology that we forget genuine relationships all together.

In similar fashion the internet and all its peripherals have not substituted for our need for meaningful communication. I don’t necessarily believe that most people believe so either. However, on a daily basis businesses communicate with us as if we were, in fact, cyborgs.

The problem is the lack of personalization. Most companies simply drop prospects and existing clients into simple drip email marketing campaigns. The goal is to “touch” the consumer with emails over time to “stay in front of them”.  This method of communicating is like pulling the string on the back of a talking doll. “Hi, I’m Chucky, and I’m your friend ‘till the end!” Does that resonate with you?

The alternative is to gain a unique profile for each contact, and communicate with them individually. Automation can still be leveraged, but it should be driven by the Net Promoter Score (NPS), demographics, previous interactions, products they’ve purchased, among other things. This portrait will ensure that automated communication can be specifically tailored to each of your clients.

Unlike drip communication, profile-driven strategies operate outside of linear planes. They use bits of information to form the most personalized content aimed at influencing action and shaping client behavior. Whether that be increasing referrals or just strengthening relationships and retention.

The profile can be shaped by the Net Promoter Score (NPS), demographics, previous interactions, products they’ve purchased, among other things. This portrait will ensure that automated communication can be specifically tailored to each of your clients.

There are also a couple ways of quickly boosting your reputation with contacts. One way is by substituting heavily branded emails for plain text ones. Emails that look like you actually opened your inbox and typed a message go a long way with contacts anymore. Secondly, consider sending handwritten cards for thank you’s or birthdays. There are tools available to help you automate much of this communication. Remember that it should have one key component: advanced personalization.

- Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

A Golden Oldie that's still a big hit

Some things never change.

I remember the radio dial being tuned to KIOA in a lot of places when I was growing up in Des Moines, and, even with all the choices we have for radio these days, 93.3 FM is still going strong.

When I'm putting together a marketing strategy for my specialty retail business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, a print catalog is the marketing equivalent of KIOA -- still there, still going strong and still making people happy.

That certainly may come as a surprise to some retailers, especially those who have grown up in the age of websites, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and a million different mobile phone apps. But the truth is still the truth: Print catalogs live on because print catalogs are effective.

I'm a big believer in the value of print catalogs. Our current customers enjoy them and value them. Prospective customers respond very positively to them. And, we're certainly not alone.

A U.S. Postal Service study from a few years back shows that direct mail and catalogs actually build stronger online sales.

"Catalog recipients purchased 28 percent more items and spent 28 percent more money than their non-catalog counterparts, with direct mail percentages trailing only slightly behind," a summary of the study reads.

The study also noted a revenue lift of 163 percent for web sites supported by catalogs as opposed to those that were not. Sending catalogs more than doubled online sales. And catalog-based revenue was also over two times than revenue realized from recipients of only online communications.

That same study found that 84 percent of catalog recipients "feel it's easier to shop online with a catalog in hand."

Catalogs reinforce your brand. They're proactive. They take your products directly to customers rather than waiting for customers to come to you. In short, bulk mail can bulk up your website's muscle and, more importantly, your bottom line.

The next time you're listening to the radio -- better yet, the next time you're thinking about how to effectively market your products -- keep in mind the print catalog. It may be the marketing world's version of an oldie, but it's definitely still a goodie.

In fact, on my charts, it's nothing less than a No. 1 hit.

Take credit where credit is due


Another tax day has come and gone! Hopefully you took advantage of the HUGE federal tax credit for renewable energy.

A whopping 30 percent federal with no limit and 18 percent state with a $5,000 limit. The credit is set to expire at the end of 2016.

The average residential geothermal system costs $25,000

That’s a tax credit of $12,000. 

Another federal credit is the Non-business Energy Property Tax Credit. It's not as good as the renewable. You only get up to a maximum of $500 for all years combined. This credit covers things like adding insulation, better windows, or a high efficiency furnace.

Rod Olson, Financial Care Professionals, says three returns over the past several years out of 600 returns annually have filed for the renewable credit. However the credit on one was large enough to wipe out the entire federal tax and some left for the next year. On the other hand, one in twenty file for the nonbusiness tax credit.

Dan Schwarz of McGowen Hurst Clark & Smith in West Des Moines says “We don’t see people filing for the credit. Probably an opportunity more could take advantage.”

The Congressional Research Service reported in March of 2014 that nearly 12 percent of all tax returns filed in 2011 claimed the residential tax credit. Not surprising, those with adjusted gross incomes of more than $100k (less than 3% of all returns) filed for more than half of the credits. The total tax credit claimed was $1.6 billion.

You can reach me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com and let me know if you will go for a credit next year. Or do you think it should be pay as you go?

How to finance your exit

There are numerous financing options for the business owner seeking to sell their business. For most business owners the key consideration is how to maximize the sale price. Some of the most common alternatives and issues are as follows:

Buyer Pays All Cash: This is the Seller’s dream. Buyer writes a check for the entire amount and the Seller goes to the beach. However, few Buyers have the cash and a sophisticated Buyer will not enter into this type of transaction. In addition, the Seller could be liable for significant tax obligations

Seller Financing:  Most transactions will have some form of Seller financing. And, in many cases banks will incorporate that requirement before they will do a loan. The banks logic is: “If you will not bet on the future of this business-why should we”? The issue for the Seller is making sure that they will get their money.  The Seller should demand at a minimum a financial statement from the Buyer(s) and require multiple signatures on the promissory note.

Traditional Bank Financing: Bank financing for a business loan typically comes with SBA participation for the loan. The bank will require 3 to 5 years of complete financial statements, collateral, appraisals, a business plan, often previous experience and possible performance requirements for the business and Buyer guarantees.

Private Lenders:  This is relatively new area for lending. It has many of the paper work requirements of a traditional lender but this type of lender is able to do loans which banks cannot do and does not require SBA participation. Interest rates are 1 to 2 percent higher than traditional lenders and the closing is usually quick.

Good Luck!

- Steve Sink | CBI and M&AMI | ss@phxaffilaites.com

Best practices vs. customer expectations

Wherever I go in the corporate world these days, everyone loves talking about "best practices." I will admit that they are great buzzwords, and there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to learn lessons from what others in your industry are doing.

Experience has taught me, however, that smart companies learn to discern the key differences between industry standards and their own customers' satisfaction.

Take one of our clients for example, a financial institution, who sent their customer service management team to a industry conference for customer service contact centers. The goal was to learn "best practices" and assess how they were doing against industry standards.

At the conference they learned that the industry "best practice" was to keep abandon rates (the percentage of customers who abandon the phone call while waiting in queue to speak with a live agent) in the 5-8% range.

The management team was mortified because their abandon rates were significantly higher. They returned from the conference embarrassed and determined to lower their abandon rates to acceptable levels of the industry best practice peer pressure.

Returning from the conference, the management team worked with the executive team to outline a major corporate strategy to lower their abandon rates. The strategy included systems upgrades, new software, increased staffing levels, and longer hours of operation. The price tag for all of it was easily into six-figures and would quickly add up into seven-figures over time.

Before the strategy was implemented, however, the company wisely surveyed their customers to find out if long queue times were as big a concern to them as they were to the industry.

Data revealed that this particular company's customers were an anomaly (or perhaps no one else in the industry bothered to ask their customers).

This company's customers tended to call on their cell phones periodically during the day and if they were put on hold for more than a minute they would hang up, shrug it off, and call back.

The abandon rate had an insignificant effect on overall customer satisfaction. The customers were far more concerned with what happened on the call when they actually got through to a live person.

In the end, this company abandoned their big ticket plans to meet industry best practices and funneled the earmarked resources into quality assessments, coaching, and training that would improve the customer experience within the actual phone calls.

The result? Their abandon rate metrics continue to make them look like industry lackeys, but their customers were increasingly satisfied and loyal.

Wise business leaders beware! Make sure that chasing after industry best practices doesn't leave you abandoning the things your customers truly care about.

Find balance by taking a time out

Rita Perea is President and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

Let’s face it. Executives, business owners, managers and directors are busy, busy people. Some days life can be a blur of meetings, commitments and fires to put out. With email, voice mail and snail mail all vying for our attention, things can pile up quickly until we feel like our personal and work lives are out of control.

Man meditating with computer

What can we do to get our lives under control again? To feel productive again? To feel less stressed and harried? Try taking a time out, also called meditation, during your day - every day.

More people than ever are doing some form of this stress-busting meditation, and researchers are discovering it has some quite extraordinary effects on the brains of those who do it regularly.

Time outs can last as little as five minutes or as long as an hour. The focus of a time out is to quiet your breathing, relax and rejuvenate your overworked mind and body.

I have been meditating regularly for over ten years with great results. I like to begin my day gently with an hour of meditation. The result that I’ve had with regular time to quiet my mind is that my days flow smoother, I am more creative and productive. I have found that if I do not make the time to meditate each day I feel frazzled, scattered and unorganized. I feel forgetful and distracted. Life presents speed bumps, not the open super highway. 

Neuroscience has now proven that just a few hours of quiet reflection each week can lead to an intriguing range of mental and physical effects. Consider that meditation is now accepted as a useful therapy for anxiety and depression.  

It’s being explored by schools, pro sports teams and military units to enhance performance, and is showing promise as a way of helping sufferers of chronic pain, too. 

So, now that we know why we should consider taking time for ourselves, and what the benefits could be, let’s talk about how to weave this into our already busy days to make this happen.

There are many different types of meditation postures a busy person can use. Depending on how you posture your body during your time out, you’ll be able to access different qualities of your inner guidance system- your subconscious mind.   recommend three different meditations and body postures that you can do in the office or at home.

 Sitting: The purpose of a sitting meditation is to call upon one’s inner wisdom. This posture is best used when you are grappling with a tough problem that you need guidance for. During this time out, sit comfortably either on the floor with your legs crossed, or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. If your office is not very private, you could even sit in your car. Allow you arms to rest with your hands palms up on your thighs. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Notice your breath coming in and going out at that spot near the tip of your nose. Ask for inner guidance and wisdom to solve the problem or to find a creative solution. If you have a thought, simply notice it and return to focusing on your breathing. Stay in this position for five minutes. Over time work your way up to 15 minutes.  

Standing: If you’re getting ready for a tough meeting and need to access your inner authority, then a standing meditation could be very helpful. This posture can assist you in dealing with things from a place of self-respect and self-confidence, setting limits without guilt. During this time out, simply stand with your arms and legs uncrossed, your feet flat on the floor and your eyes wide open. Focus on your breathing. Notice your breath coming in and going out. Ask for your inner strength and personal power to show itself in your tasks today. If you have a thought, simply notice it. Continue to focus on your breath. Stay in this position for five minutes. Work your way up to 15 minutes.

Moving: Sometimes we need some help getting our "creative juices" flowing. A moving meditation can do just that. During a moving time out you could be walking, jogging, biking, dancing, or taking part in any other activity that you choose to help you listen to your inner voice. My personal favorite is gardening.  During this time out, keep your body open and uncrossed. Focus on your breathing. Notice your breath coming in and going out. Ask for the ability to be more creative. Continue to focus on your breath. You’ll notice some intuitive insights and creative solutions that begin to appear spontaneously. Stay in this moving meditation for five minutes. Work your way up to 15 minutes.

So, what are you waiting for? Make the choice to begin to get up five minutes earlier tomorrow morning and just breathe. A happier, healthier, more productive life is waiting for you. All you have to do is take a time out.

What you stand for matters

Dove

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I'm a pretty low maintenance guy. My idea of a good shampoo was whichever one was on sale for a dollar. So why did I drop $6 on a bottle of Dove Men+ Care and spent twice as much as I normally would for some shaving gel?

Because I believe in what Dove's trying to do and I wanted to support their efforts.

Cause marketing has been around for decades but social media has breathed new life into the strategy.

Today, a brand stand truly stand for something and if they've built a community of consumers, they can quickly ignite that community to join them in their fight/cause.

Dove is doing it better than most -- and as their "Real Beauty" campaign turns 10, it's had a huge impact on every aspect of their business.

Ten years after the campaign started, the Campaign For Real Beauty is one of marketing's most talked-about success stories. The campaign has grown from just billboards to television ads and online videos. Their 2006 video, "Evolution," went viral and Dove's 2013 spot "Real Beauty Sketches," which shows women describing their appearances to a forensic sketch artist, became the most-watched video ad of all time.

What's interesting about the Dove campaign is that its had impact far beyond their target audience of women 25+.  I'm a perfect example. As a father of a young adult daughter, I find their work important and I hate the idea that my daughter or any woman can't see their real beauty because of our society's beliefs and air brushed realities.

I think the reason why Dove' campaign has been so successful is that it was borne out of market research Dove's agency did. It wasn't something they assumed they knew or a short term gimmick.  It was a tough truth worth telling and so it resonated with their core audience.

So the question is -- what tough truth or challenging reality could link what you do with your core audience? And are you brave enough to take it on?

If you follow in Dove's footprints, your willingness to take a stand might also ring the register.

 

There’s more to the story than tax rates

This is the time of year when local governments finalize their budgets for the coming year (starting July 1). One of the first things people look at is what’s happening with the property tax rate. Often a city will proudly announce its property tax rate is staying the same for the upcoming year. Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Holding the line on property taxes, right?

Well, it depends. 

Property taxes are a combination of the property tax rate, applied to the portion of a property’s assessed value that is taxable. Even if a city keeps a constant rate, it may be collecting a lot more property tax revenue (with property owners paying a lot more, too), if there’s more valuation to tax.

Increases in taxable value can come from new construction and revaluation of property, and/or from the operation of state formulas that control property taxes. While for the past several years there wasn’t much movement in taxable values (with actual declines in some cases), this year’s budgets are once again reflecting growth, in some cases significant growth. 

When this happens, cities face the question of whether to hold on to the additional dollars generated from a constant rate, to reduce rates and return some of it to taxpayers, or use some combination of the two approaches.

The approach an individual city chooses to take will be based on the unique circumstances in that city. Often there are good reasons for keeping the revenue in the city budget.  Perhaps the city wants to replenish reserves. Perhaps it has new debt for a recently completed building. Or maybe it held off on hiring during the downturn, and now wants to move forward.

Whatever the case, a city should not hesitate to explain what it plans to do with an extraordinarily large increase in property-based revenue.

The chart below shows the revenue increase that each city will see from property taxes, and the increases they will see when combined with “backfill” revenue from the State. As a part of the property tax reform that cut property taxes on commercial and industrial property, the State pledged to replace the property tax revenue that local governments would have otherwise collected. Even without backfill, most cities (Des Moines a notable exception) would have seen an increase in property tax revenue. When backfill is considered, the increases are even more pronounced. In fact, even the four cities that are reducing rates will see an increase in property tax-based revenue when backfill is considered.

There's More to the Story TableWith the Federal Reserve projecting inflation to be between 1 percent and 1.6 percent in 2015, every city but Windsor Heights will be working with property tax-based revenue growth that is above inflation. Some will be working with double-digit increases.

Why is this level of growth needed in local budgets?

Next time your local elected official talks about holding the line on property taxes, make sure you get all the facts. You may need to ask why the rate wasn't reduced, or why the rate wasn't reduced even more.

There’s usually much more to the story.

Breaking a brand

April 1 fell on a Wednesday this year. What does a guy who has built his brand on wearing a bow tie 6 days a week, especially on “Bow Tie Wednesday”, do when April Fool’s day falls on Wednesday?

He wears a regular necktie of course.

I woke up that morning and realized that it had been well over two years since the last time I wore a regular tie for an entire day.

I dug deep in the back of my closet, found a tie, pulled up a YouTube video to relearn how to tie it (yes, I had completely forgotten how to tie a necktie), and after some fumbling, got the thing around my neck with a decent looking knot.  In my mind it was just another fun and silly April Fool’s joke.

I quickly realized how much I was underestimating the impact my decision would make. 

My oldest daughter came out of her room, a sleepy haze still in her eyes, and gave me her usual morning smile. Then her expression changed.  She rubbed her eyes and blinked a couple times.

Tears started to well up as she choked out the words, “Daddy, what’s wrong? Where’s your bow tie?”  And the water works took over. I had to take off the tie just to get out of the house that morning. I brushed it off as an over the top reaction from a sensitive four-year-old who has no recollection of her dad in anything but a bow tie. Then I walked into Panera for a cup of coffee.

Barb Breeser, a good friend and mentor, was sitting in a side booth waiting for her first meeting of the day. I rounded the corner and greeted her. Her usual smile quickly disappeared as she noticed the tie.

“What are you doing?” she asked, the tone indicating the shock that had overcome her.  I explained my April Fool’s day ruse.

She grabbed her phone and asked if she could take a picture for Facebook.  I can still hear her words, “This is genius Danny.  It’s going to blow up, just wait and see.”  She posted the picture and my feed immediately began to react. 

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 9.07.57 AM

Reactions varied from anger, to surprise, to shock, to everything in between. A couple people asked if this was a sign of the approaching Armageddon.  Others, who realized what day it was, congratulated me on a job well done.  But it didn’t stop with social media.

People reacted everywhere I went that day, during meetings, on the street, and in my office. The necktie was so far from what people usually expected to see that they had to call me on it. 

This is the power of your personal brand and the expectations you set. We all have a personal brand thanks to the power of technology and communication. Once that brand has been established, through consistent behavior and creating perceptions, it’s very hard to go against it.

People get upset when they see a change or something that counters the established brand. They question it and try to justify the change. They are not afraid to voice their concerns and demand action be taken to rectify the conflict the change creates. 

This is why it is so essential to really think about the message you are conveying, and how it relates to your brand, whenever you’re engaging with people. 

The other insight I took from wearing a regular tie for a day is that changing a brand is hard.

Really hard. It’s uncomfortable and, at times, annoying. The tie kept getting in my way. 

It fell in my lunch plate, sat awkwardly on my desk while I was working, and got caught in my coat zipper. By the end of the day I just wanted to take the thing off because I was tired of dealing with the hassle. I walked in my house that night, tie undone, and vowed that it would be a long time before I ever wore a neck tie again. 

The next morning I put on my normal bow tie. My daughter smiled and hugged me.  “Welcome back daddy, I like your bow tie.”  Next time, I’ll give her reaction a little more consideration. 

B&W Headshot- Danny Beyer is the Director of Salss and Marketing for Kabel Business Services and author of The Ties that Bind:  Networking with StyleHe is also a professional speaker on networking.

Don't talk to strangers

 Stranger
Most people go to conferences with two goals:

  • to further their education
  • to network

At a conference I attended, one concurrent session was facilitated by a blind presenter.

I laughed out loud when he described the pattern the seating had likely taken in the room. When we enter a room, we first look for someone we know to sit with. Locating no familiar faces, most of us choose to sit alone (usually along the aisle to allow for a quick exit or at least one seat away from the next person). If that is not an option in a crowded room, we look for someone like us (same gender, age, skin color) to sit next to.

He was right. A quick glance around the room by the sighted people revealed that exact pattern. People sitting with colleagues or friends, the seats along the aisles completely filled and the center sections dotted with individuals seated one, two or three seats apart.

Don’t talk to strangers! This phrase is a common refrain parents and teachers preach to children. Deeply engrained, it becomes our behavior. The result – it helps keep children safe from predators seeking to harm them by offering candy, pretending to locate a lost pet, or showing false kindness.

As we mature into adulthood the part of our brain responsible for judgment also matures.  We gain the capability to discern which strangers to avoid and which ones we should get to know. Or do we?

The imprinting in early childhood is so deep that we tend to carry it throughout our lifetimes. As a result, 76 percent of adults suffer from some level of social anxiety – the stress that prevents us from forging new relationships with strangers who might be valuable additions to our professional networks and social circles.

The age of social media has dawned along with the illusion that we are creating large networks. While technology allows quick access to information and facilitates speedy communication with people we know, it is a poor substitute for the face-to-face interactions that lead to building new relationships.

Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone. Go to a networking function alone and introduce yourself to a stranger. Sit next to someone you don’t know at a conference and strike up a conversation. Attend a training workshop and learn the skills of rapport building that will help to reprogram the voice in your head telling you “don’t talk to strangers.”

Cybersecurity and your board of directors

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law  PGP_1038

A recent court opinion underscores the importance for a company's board of directors to assess cybersecurity. As we've explored in several prior posts, directors are charged with exercising fiduciary duties, including the duties of care, loyalty, and oversight.

It is this latter duty - the duty of oversight - that resulted in a plaintiff filing a lawsuit against against his corporation and the corporation's board of directors for failing to exercise proper oversight that purportedly harmed the company.

The opinion provides valuable insight into steps that directors may undertake to minimize potential liability (both to the company and personally) for such claims.  For instance, the court noted the asserted claims were potentially weak because the company implemented cybersecurity measures before the first data breach.  

Further, the board addressed security matters "numerous" times before the breach.  Moreover, the corporation took time to enact security policies, reviewed those policies, and even hired outside technology firms to issue recommendations on enhancing security.  Had the company not taken such proactive steps, including before the breach occurred, the outcome certainly could have been different.  

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to data and cybersecurity, given the increasing threat such issues pose to companies, a board should at the very least consider data and cybersecurity in fulfilling it's fiduciary duties.  Such consideration may result in no action being taken, or it may result in consulting with privacy counsel, technical experts, or insurance professionals to insure against cyber-related liabilities (including costs related to forensic analysis, breach notification, business downtime, credit monitoring services, and third-party claims).

The value of pausing to reflect

By Bill Leaver

For the past seven years, I have served as president and chief executive officer of UnityPoint Health. In January 2016, I will retire.

It was a big decision, but the timing felt right. I’m so incredibly proud of what was accomplished during my time with UnityPoint Health. I am thankful for the support and hard work of the leaders in our organization and all of our 30,000+ associates. I have no doubt that the organization remains in very capable hands, and I know firsthand that great work will continue to be accomplished.

If we’re lucky, we spend a lot of our years, in the course of a life, working hard toward crucial goals in order to create positive change in our communities. These efforts are noble.

However, many of us become frantically busy, focused on packed calendars and back-to-back meetings and endless conference calls. We suffer from stress, anxiety and exhaustion, and we rarely pause to reflect, to celebrate the wins and learn from the losses.

In Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte writes,

“You can’t manage time. Time never changes. There will always and ever be 168 hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need, want or should do. You will never clear your plate so you can get to the good stuff. So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? What’s important to you right now? And realize that what’s important may not be two years from now. It’s always changing.”

I’ve been guilty of this, too – we all are, at one point or another. But as I reflect on my meaningful time at UnityPoint Health, and look with anticipation toward retirement, I ask you to reflect as well. Consider the following:

  • Do you still have passion for your work, or are you feeling disconnected?
  • Are you always racing ahead to look at what’s next?
  • Could you take one thing off your calendar to make time for something that matters to you?
  • Do you offer flexible time or scheduling for your employees?
  • How do you connect with your team? Do you know their hobbies and interests outside the office?
  • Are you present for those who need you most?
  • Do you need to make a change in order to find more balance?

And so on. Right now, it’s important for me to slow down a little bit.

I’m ready to play more golf, spend extra time with my eight grandchildren and reconnect with loved ones.

You might be feeling the same way, or for you, the story might be different. You may wish to devote more time toward a cause, add team members or pursue a wild dream.

Both paths are perfectly legitimate, but I encourage you to pause for reflection along the way, and decide what's right for you.

Are you ready for Google’s new ranking preferences?

Katie Stocking is the founder and President at Happy Medium LLC.

Beginning April 21st, mobile search engine results pages (SERPs) will be impacted by the mobile-friendliness of a website.

It’s sometimes hard to remember who Google’s true customer is, but it’s actually us, the searchers. People think of Google as a huge unbelievably powerful organization, and it is, but let’s not forget that the number one person they want to make happy is you when you’re looking up business leads or dinner recipes.

Google’s first priority has always been to ensure when someone comes to google.com and searches for something they are finding exactly what they need, now they are investing in your experience while finding it.

Beginning in April, if you have a mobile friendly site, it will help your SEO. Having a mobile friendly site does not mean your website only works on a phone. It means it is a website that was built for mobile.

If it’s not, you can expect your rankings to be significantly impacted for the worse. One way to tell how serious Google is about this is the fact the notoriously elusive business, which holds its algorithm process as close to its chest as can be, has released this information to prepare vendors.

Companies should listen.

According to Restive LLC, only 15 percent of websites are fast and fully responsive to mobile devices - and if you are working or plan to work with a website developer, my recommendation would be to ensure the company plans to incorporate mobile.

Mobile friendly websites present a better experience for all users, especially now that most web traffic is on mobile devices, they bounce less frequently, they are generally faster, and soon, they will rank higher on the biggest search engine in the world.

Having a great website is just part of the process, having one that people can find while working great on the devices they use is just as important. 

Three words that will slowly kill your business

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.

There are three words that will slowly kill your company.Companies that didn't make it

“That won’t work.”

It’s a phrase we use daily in our offices and interactions with one another to quickly kill ideas.

Why do we do this?

•Because killing ideas is free.

•Because we have a fear of failure, as familiarity almost always wins out over exploring change.

•Because there is a fear of the new. We have a natural tendency to create safe routes before we ever explore the road less traveled.

But we’re still standing right?!

Yes, some of us.

Remember Kodak, Blockbuster and Borders?

They all said “that won’t work.”

Kodak didn’t embrace the digital revolution, believing printing photos was still what the customer would always prefer. The digital camera and infrastructure came in and crushed Kodak.

Blockbuster laughed off the notion that people would “stream DVDS”. Netflix started a streaming revolution with every other entertainment company forever playing catch up. Last I heard of Blockbuster, they had a few stores left in Mexico.

Borders routed their online sales directly through Amazon and then completely ignored the e-reader revolution. So when their arsenal of stores, CDs, books and DVDs didn’t sell, they had no choice but to shut down shop.

In each of these, billions of dollars were lost and tens of thousands of jobs disappeared.

Companies bet their fortune that customers would keep doing the same things. Customers evolve and never “always” do anything.

So how can you avoid a painful crumbling of the company?

There are two, two word statements you must use:

Yes and quote

“Yes, and...” and “Yes, if...”

“Yes, and…” comes from the improv comedy world. To keep the momentum going, actors on stage will say “yes, and…” when someone says something. The moment another actor says no, it throws the entire rhythm off. This is a great tool to build on ideas.

“Yes, if…” is a term I’ve heard used with Disney. This doesn’t kill an idea right away. Rather, it encourages putting conditions on ideas to bring them to life.

The next time you get presented with an idea, don’t kill it. Ideas need oxygen, they need to be picked, pulled, poked and worked through. Execution ultimately wins the day, but that never happens if we say “that won’t work” before we even get started.

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

A lesson in crisis PR from Dowling Catholic

Tyler McCubbin, a substitute teacher and coach at Dowling Catholic High School went public this week, telling the media that the private high school rescinded an offer of full-time employment because he is openly gay.

In the ensuing firestorm of public criticism, the Diocese of Des Moines called on Bishop Richard Pates to address the controversy in a TV interview. To say he botched it is the understatement of the year. 

His first statement was straight out of the Catholic playbook. "We accept everybody, we love everybody, everybody is always welcome, within the context of the Catholic Church." Then, he seemed to go off the rails a bit. When asked why McCubbin was allowed to be a gay substitute teacher and volunteer coach, Pates scrambled for words.

"A substitute teacher comes on in an immediate need, and then as they were going through that whole process of the application, that's when this surfaced," Pates said.

The reporter also said that Pates was not rejected because he was gay, but because he was so "open" about it. 

The reporter then asked, "Based on church doctrine, he should not have been allowed to teach and coach?" "That is correct," said Pates.

I'm not sure who was advising Bishop Pates. His office had already written and released a statement that outlined the school's position. He should have never gone on camera to defend his position. What Dowling did was legal - so his appearance just served to further point out the hypocrisy of the position and his obvious discomfort with stating their mistake.

One of the first decisions to be made in a crisis situation is "who will be our spokesperson?" In my opinion, they chose the wrong person.

The second decision is whether to put the spokesperson on camera, or to simply release a statement. In this case, the statement would have sufficed.

It's not pretty to hear the words, but at least they are backed up by state law, which allows them to discriminate against gay people...because...church doctrine.

Full disclosure: I am a Dowling alum and while my sense of fairness is assaulted by this position, I am (sadly) not surprised. The best person for the teaching position was overlooked because he is gay. That sends a terrible message to all the gay kids at Dowling and to the community in general. Unfortunately, no amount of media training can erase bigotry.

Claire Celsi is a communications consultant in West Des Moines Iowa. Visit her company's website or follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter

Lessons from MTV

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

One of my favorite music videos as a kid was Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing”. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the lyrics of the song at the time were controversial, and Mark Knopfler actually modeled them on something he overheard at a hardware store.

The song is written from the perspective of someone who feels that they are at a position of disadvantage in some way and feels the person in the video he is watching hasn’t really worked for what they have. At the time, I really didn’t pay much attention to the socioeconomic ramifications of the lyrics, but when I saw the video pop up on YouTube recently when I was hunting for something else, something struck me.

The idea of adverse selection is nothing new. When working in the business ecosystem there will always be information asymmetry.

This is when one party has more information than the other and that party takes advantage of those who do not have the same information in some way to their detriment.

Even if this action is unintentional, the perceived after-effect is the same. The person who does not have the information ultimately finds out (too late to do anything about it) and trust is diminished.

In the case of the video, the protagonist feels that the members of the band have not necessarily worked for what they have and that his job installing “microwave ovens” is much harder. I would argue that is not necessarily the case.

Yes, there are instances where someone has ascended to a position without working as hard as someone else, but, most of the time, individuals all generally work pretty hard to get where they are. So, what does this have to do with organizational strategy? Perspective.

The gentleman in the song says he “should have learned to play the guitar.” That’s a difficult thing to do. It’s hard work. So is delivering custom kitchens and color TVs.

In an organization, it is critical to respect the roles and responsibilities of every person in the workforce and how much effort can go into seemingly simple tasks. Acknowledgment of the holistic team structure allows for better collaborative efforts, increased transparency and communication, and respect for team members at all levels.

Asymmetry of information leads to another critical problem – moral hazard. If someone on a team is willing to take a risk because they feel another team member will have to shoulder the burden of the after-effects, moral hazard has occurred. When your organization talks about how they communicate within (and with clients) this is of critical importance.

Establishing credibility by being honest and transparent about internal processes focuses energy on making the team better as a whole, which allows employees to believe in the organization they work for. In turn this creates a culture of trust and empowerment, rather than one that separates the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

If someone in your organization thinks that someone else is getting their “money for nothing,” it might be time to consider how your organization can be more transparent.

These can be simple changes – something such as inviting different sectors of the company to learn more about each other through training or working collaboratively on internal projects that combine the strengths of their skills in some way.

It might go a long way to not only improve morale, but it may start to eliminate some of the barriers between two groups within your organization that each work very hard doing very different things.

One can make a difference

OneImage
Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters."

In 2008, singer and songwriter Dave Carroll was flying from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Omaha, Nebraska, with a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. While there, he noticed how the baggage handlers were abusing and throwing guitars around on the tarmac, specifically his $3500 Taylor Guitar that he wasn’t allowed to carry on to the plane. After arriving in Omaha, he discovered it was broken.

For nine months, Dave tried unsuccessfully to have a claim paid on the broken guitar. After exhausting all of the normal and “required” procedures, Dave resorted to something he knew––music––and created a song and video entitled, United Breaks Guitars.1

The video went viral and received 150,000 views on YouTube in the first 24 hours, 500,000 views in the first three days, and over 12 million views in about 60 days. It became a public relations nightmare for United. After the first 150,000 views, United offered payment to Dave to make the video go away. It was too late for United, as Dave was now trying to make a point. Ultimately, Taylor offered two free guitars to Dave, and whether directly connected or not, United’s stock value declined by 10% ($180 million) shortly thereafter.2

This story illustrates how one inspired person can make a huge difference. Dave Carroll’s creativity and imagination allowed him to singlehandedly take on a huge corporate giant and win. In my various roles in life, I frequently see many people today who truly suffer from a lack of inspiration, the kind of creative inspiration that drove Dave Carroll to create a new song. Therefore, I became inspired myself.

In 2010, we created what would ultimately become Celebrate! Innovation Week (or ciWeek) at the West Des Moines campus of Des Moines Area Community College. Short of personally taking on a corporate giant, I feel the best approach to inspire others is meaningful storytelling through direct interaction with the people who are the stories–current, living creators of new ideas and the latest innovations. Through direct engagement with the “who behind the what,” the stories come alive and can have a direct, emotional impact on those fortunate enough to hear them. 

Through our annual ciWeek, one week each year is set aside to provide students and the community as a whole opportunities to directly engage with people (some famous, all inspired), who have dreamed, created, and accomplished. It’s a thought-provoking and highly interactive week that lets attendees listen, absorb, and engage directly with people who, under normal circumstances, they wouldn’t have the privilege to meet. The event is entirely paid for by a number of generous sponsors, making it free to all who attend. ciWeek 6 recently concluded a few weeks ago. 

Previous ciWeek presenters have included two of the 12 men who walked on the moon; the father of the personal computer; television personalities who focus on science, invention and ideas; explorers who have been to the Titanic and the furthest depths of the ocean, to the highest mountain peaks and most dense jungles; engineers who are developing the growing commercial space industry; inventors of incredible bionics, robotics and animatronics; Academy Award-winning visual effects creators and animators; nationally known artists and even connoisseurs and creators of wines and cheeses.  

People frequently ask me why invest the large sum of both time and money to make this happen every year. It’s because following every event, a wide variety of people personally share how the experience has had a direct, positive influence on them and changed their lives.

It only required Steve Jobs to be inspired to begin Apple Computer, Henry Ford to develop a new method of production to bring automobiles to the masses, Jonas Salk to create a vaccination for polio, Hedy Lamarr to invent spread spectrum technology (which is now the basis of today’s cell phones), Fred Smith (founder of FedEx) to envision a world with overnight shipping, and Gene Roddenberry to imagine a technological future in Star Trek that inspired others to bring much of it into today’s reality. 

Thousands of people are touched each year by ciWeek. Any one of them could be inspired to create or invent something new to change our lives for the better. Isn’t one enough?

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

  

1Dunne, David. (2010, November 10). United Breaks Guitars: Case Study for the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from the Right Side of Right website: http://www.rightsideofright.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/United-Breaks-Guitars-Case-Jan-11-10-21.pdf 

2United Breaks Guitars. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from the Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Breaks_Guitars

 

PaustianLargeHeadFor more information about Dr. Anthony Paustian, provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com

 

Play your own game

I recently attended the Big 12 Conference Tournament in Kansas City and, wow, was it fun rooting the Iowa State Cyclones to victory! Aside from the Cyclones nearly giving me and every other fan a heart attack, something else struck me about their habit of falling far behind and then clawing their way back to win.

The Cyclones play their own game. How else can you explain a team that falls behind by double digits in five straight games against quality opponents and wins every single one of those games?

Their approach – or perhaps it's best to call it a bad habit -- may be more than a bit never-wracking, but the bottom line is results. And, the result of the Cyclones playing their own game was that they won.

Small and specialty retail business owners can take a lesson from the Cyclones - despite their crushing first-round NCAA tournament loss. When we play our own game, we win. That’s certainly how we approach things at the Heart of Iowa Market Place.

Playing our own game doesn’t mean we ignore our competitors or neglect to analyze what they’re doing that makes them successful or holds them back. It doesn’t mean we don’t accept reality when things are going against us. And it doesn’t mean we refuse to change our game plan when needed. All of which could have had an influence at the NCAA tournament.

In fact, one of the reasons the Cyclones seemed to win those come from behind games is because they seemed to know when to stay the course and when to make adjustments to their game plan. Another reason they win is because they don’t panic. They believed in themselves. And, when next season starts, they'll continue to believe in themselves.

Take time to review your current game plan. Believe in yourself and your business. Have the courage to stick with what works and to change what doesn’t. Bring in different products or personnel, if necessary. Adjust your marketing plan. Identify and connect with new partners that can make your business more successful. Just don’t try to be a big-box store or something else that you’re not.

Focus on what you do best. In particular, focus on the clients and customers who generate the most revenue for you and show them how much you appreciate them.

Develop and follow the right game plan, play your own game well and you’re sure to win big.

- Kelly Sharp

Referral marketing and floating ice

Baby_seal- By Carl Maerz

The MS Explorer was a Liberian cruise ship that, since 1969, provided tours of the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean. In 2007 it struck an iceberg off the coast of Antarctica and sank 20 hours later. That’s right, they are still at it. More than 95 years after the Titanic and icebergs are as mischievous as ever.

It’s not that they are inherently evil, it’s just their prerogative to sink ships—their God given right. I can’t imagine another purpose for them. Well, except for serving as a floating La-Z-Boy for a vagrant seal I guess.

By definition, an iceberg is freshwater ice that has broken off a glacier or an ice shelf and is floating freely in open water. They are essentially the progeny of a very large piece of ice. One that has been booted from the nest to find its own way in the vast frigid waters. True, only a handful are destined to the hulls of unsuspecting ships. But they can dream, can’t they?

Although not made of frozen water, referrals are kind of like icebergs. They are also offspring of something larger—existing clients. All the work you have done to establish the trust of your clients is shifted directly from client to prospect.

A referral is the mechanism that joins a company to a prospect via an existing customer. Trust transfers from the connection between the company, client, and prospect. Therefore the barriers that exist with a typical prospect and the company are broken down by way of the active promoter. As the trust transfers, the resistance is diminished, and sales are much easier to obtain.

The "Bergie Seltzer"

When icebergs melt in warm waters they make a unique fizzling sound. The noise is called Bergie Seltzer which is caused by compressed (ancient) air bubbles trapped in the ice escaping. From several YouTube videos I found it sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies after you add the milk.

Some may blame global warming, but I just think they got lost and were caught floating in the wrong water. A warm environment is no place for an aspiring iceberg. This reminds me of how referrals can die on the vine if they are not nurtured properly. The proper habitat for referrals is one that promotes regular and meaningful communication with clients. Lose touch with your existing client base and you can kiss word-of-mouth goodbye.

I recommend sending handwritten notes to existing clients at least several times a year. It may sound labor intensive, but from our experience, the ROI is there. Personal touchpoints go a long way with increasing referrals. Consider birthday cards, anniversary cards, or loyalty cards.

Bergy bits and growlers

The baby brothers of icebergs are called bergy bits and growlers. They are like mini icebergs. Referrals also have their lesser halfs—reviews and testimonials. That is why we encourage our clients to never stop collecting them. Actively collecting written accounts of your success won’t only serve as social proof, but will reinforce your existing relationships, and lead directly to more inbound referrals.

Frankly, this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding an all-embracing referral strategy. For more in-depth discussion we recommend you check out our blog.

The Sustainability Badge of Honor

- By Rob Smith

When I talk with clients about sustainable design many times the discussion goes like this.

Does it cost me more? I answer, it very well could. Doesn't organic food cost more?  Well, I don’t want to pay much more for sustainable products.

In June of 2014, Nielsen conducted a global survey and asked the same question.  The global results are over half (55 percent) said they would pay extra for products and services from sustainable companies. Meaning they make sustainable products.

Note the United States and Europe have nearly 50 percent less people willing to pay more for sustainable products. Maybe the rest of the world has a more direct connection to the planet than us.

The real question is just because people say they will pay more, do they follow through or is it lip service?

Enter Walmart

Last month Walmart announced customers shopping on-line can use the Sustainability Leader shop.  Walmart evaluated companies and gave them a Sustainable Index.  If they rank number one in their category (household and pets, etc.) their products are available in the Sustainability Leadership shop.

One can argue about the details of the ranking system, but you can bet your favorite Walmart greeter the industry giant will use the data. When a lower priced similar product is available will online shoppers pay more to be green?

The Walmart data will provide interesting info into our habits. Once we understand if, why, and how people make sustainable buying decisions we can deal with the next question.

Don’t you expect to pay more for a product where the manufacturer did not pollute the air and water of the planet?

What's in it for me?

BlogIn January I wrote a blog encouraging people to ask one new person a week how they could help them as part of a New Year’s resolution anyone could keep.  I quickly started getting feedback from individuals who were excited about the idea and couldn’t wait to put it to use.  I had multiple meetings with others over lunch or coffee to expand on the idea and what had inspired me to write the blog in the first place.  And then a third set of people emerged who questioned the idea, and my motivations, because they didn’t see a point. Why would anyone have coffee or get together with another person with no agenda or purpose? Did real people even do that?  Surely there had to be more to these meetings. There had to be some reason. Why would I meet with people if there wasn’t anything in it for me?

I did what I’ve always done when someone has emailed or called me with this question. I invited these individuals out for coffee to hear their story. Surprisingly, they all agreed.  The common threads of these conversations fell along three lines:

  1. What is really in it for me? There has to be a reason to meet otherwise the meeting is a waste of time and energy.
  2. Doesn't asking people how you can help them make it incredibly hard to do your day job or get anything done?
  3. Why would I meet with someone that I couldn’t do business with directly?

The first question is pretty easy for me to answer. No, there really isn’t anything in it for me on an initial meeting.  I really do just want to get to know the person sitting across from me. I want to know what they do for fun, what they are passionate about, and what makes them get out of bed each morning. Typically these discussions are much more meaningful, and more fun, than work conversations. They also allow me to have conversations that don’t happen when we stick to only discussing work. The first meeting, for me, is a better use of my time if I’m building trust vs. trying to sell something.

The second question typically takes some convincing because most people see helping others as a very time consuming, and labor intensive, process. Let me try to clarify.  Helping someone does not have to take a lot of time, money, or even energy.  It can be as easy as doing an email introduction, making a phone call, or passing along a great contact.

Most of the help that others require are not things that I can directly deliver, but I do know someone who can.  By making that introduction I am helping both the person in need and the person on the other end. Change your perception of helping others and it becomes much easier to do. 

The final point comes back to the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  I meet with people not to sell them my services, but to get to know them so they remember me when someone else may need what I sell.  The more people who know who I am the more opportunities present themselves for future business, both professional and personal.  And yes, it does work. 

Get out of your comfort zone and meet someone new this week. Have a meeting and don't worry about "what's in it for you." Talk about interesting things, what you do for fun, who your favorite comedian is, what your favorite restaurant is, what movie last made you cry, instead of talking about work.  Ask the other person how you can help them.  Enjoy the conversation.  You may be surprised how much fun it really is.   

B&W Headshot- Danny Beyer is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel Business Services and author of The Ties that Bind:  Networking with StyleHe is also a professional speaker on networking.

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