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July 2015

Marketing doesn't have to be rocket science

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Marketing gets more and more complicated every day. There's tools and science around tactics like marketing automation, drip sequences, digital personas, audience segmentation and the like.

All of that is very important and you need to understand it/leverage it for your business.  But sometimes -- marketing is just wearing your heart on your sleeve and communicating to the world that you're excited to help them with your expertise.

I flew back home this week and was struck by the messages sent by Southwest Airlines (their lost baggage counter) versus the big three (United, American and Delta).

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Lost luggage counter at Southwest Airlines

 

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Lost luggage counter for Delta, United & American

If you lost your luggage and had to approach one of these counters, which one would you feel a little better/more hopeful about approaching?  Which employee would you expect would greet you warmly and do everything they could to help you?

Amazing, isn't it? All of that emotion/commitment to customer and customer love was communicated to us through some inflatable pool toys and $1 flip flops.

How could you (for less than $100 by Southwest's example) visually shout out to the world that you're excited to be of service?

How do you wear your heart on your sleeve so customers and prospects KNOW that you're passionate about serving them?

I believe every business can do this through their bricks and mortar presence, the way their phone is answered, the front page message on their website etc. But I also believe that 95 percent of businesses never give it a thought.

You can see the difference when one company does and the other in the market do not. Challenge yourself to be one of the few.

Social media for retailers 3: Strategies and the bottom line

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

For the past two months, I've written about the importance of a specialty retailer having an online presence and how to start that process. In this final installment before we move on to other topics, let's talk about how to turn these “likes” on Facebook, or “followers” on Instagram and Twitter into real customers.

Hiring an expert in this area has been a huge help for me. My social media coach has explained social media strategies vary by the company and the audience. If you are a local retailer your strategy may be different than those for national retailers. 

At the Heart of Iowa Market Place, we're focused on strategies to reach not only retail customers but also local business. We've followed a comprehensive, consistent approach to expand our online presence, get new customers and stay consistent. To show off many of our unique products, we will be highlighting our special gift baskets.

If you’re having trouble deciding on how much time to invest in your social media, try investing between 30 and 60 minutes a day managing your online presence.

Don’t be afraid to test out certain things. For example, Facebook allows you to check your progress in its insights section to see whether or not certain posts are gaining traffic.

One thing businesses often are afraid of is to add humor or personality to their pages. This can be very tricky. Too much can be harmful, but too little can make you impersonal and hard to relate to. You don’t want to seem too vanilla, but you also want to be cautious about what you put out there.

So what’s the bottom line? If you’re not using social media, you need to start. Now.

It’s quick, easy and free to start. It’s a great way to connect with your customers, show off your brand, and it’s a relatively inexpensive way to advertise. There is no other time that gives specialty retailers an upper hand in marketing.

Give and take

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 have always taken special notice of how different managers communicate with their reports. Managers run the gamut of styles, from command and control to leaving their team with complete freedom. How you choose to engage your reports will always have an enormous impact on how they respond and function in their roles.

When my team and I identify tasks for us to complete as part of a work plan, there are several strategic considerations to bear in mind – these early decisions can make or break the dynamics of the workflow and have a direct impact and bearing on the success rate of collaboration-based work.

The following is a brief compilation of considerations that may lead to greater team optimization and more open and transparent teamwork:

  1. Have a preliminary team meeting introducing the project and intended outcomes. Ask team members what they would like to work on to contribute to the success of the project, soliciting input from them, but not deciding at that time what tasks they will undertake. Also ask them what part they feel they would least like to work on.
  2. Following the meeting, develop a matrix of tasks to be performed by team members on one axis and team members of the other, and assign two tasks to each team members; one that they felt they would most enjoy and another they felt was less desirable. This is the first step in establishing a strong team communication dynamic – I will explain. Let’s call task “a” the desirable task and task “b” is the less desirable task.
  3. Schedule a follow-up meeting where you establish the hard metrics for the project, present the project schedule, and talk about roles. When you present roles to team members, a suggested approach is as follows:

             “David, I would like you to complete task ‘a’ and task ‘b’.”

Repeat for each team member, while presenting an overall picture of your work plan, using the matrix as your guide on how to move forward successfully, how tasks are distributed and how they are interdependent, and what each team member will be working on.

The strategy in this approach is multi-faceted. First, you have asked each team member what they would like to work on and what area they may need to improve. This allows the team member to focus on something they enjoy, while also focusing on development in an area that may need work.

When people are asked to work on things they wouldn’t necessarily choose or may need improvement in, they tend to communicate more – by asking questions, by seeking out teammates, or by calling consultants to help them work to solve the task at hand. Pairing tasks like this also allows team members to switch to something they really enjoy when/if their frustration level rises.

There is another layer of this strategy though – the way it is presented. When you ask someone “would you like to”, it is a “taking” question – meaning that you are leaving it to the report to determine if they are qualified to complete the task or in a position to self select; it abdicates responsibility on the management side, which actually can “take” the feeling of empowerment or confidence from the employee or report. It may feel like “giving” to the manager, but what it may transmit is that the manager is not truly invested in the project or the employee’s growth.

In step 1 above, the manager is asking what they would like to work on, but, in step 3, he or she is changing the dynamic to “giving” – meaning that by indicating that the manager is confident in the employee’s ability to complete the task. They are "giving" empowerment and building confidence by reframing to send the message: “I know you are capable of completing these tasks”. Often, the direct report is looking for direction so they can be effective - it is the manager's job to provide that direction.

Subtle changes can alter the course of a project. Sometimes these small changes can alter the dynamics of ownership, individual and team development, communication, and empowerment within teams and build the confidence, qualifications, and collaborative abilities of team members. 

Riding RAGBRAI and running a specialty retail business

A funny thing happens when a person rides the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which was just a few ticks over 462 miles this year as it wound its way from Sioux City to Davenport.

Actually, quite a few funny things happen but the funny thing I had in mind was just how much time you have to think while pedaling across the state. And, when I was doing all that thinking, I thought about how the skills needed to survive during RAGBRAI are quite a bit like those needed to thrive in the specialty retail market. Here are just a few of them:

A great team. On RAGBRAI and in business, you need a great team to succeed. Face it, no one does it alone. You need a great team. While it's important for the boss to be a strong leader, it's also good to remember that even the boss needs to be a good teammate. Others need to know they can count on you just as much as you need to count on them.

Communicate clearly. With more than 15,000 bicyclists in a pack, you have to make sure people around you know exactly where you're going and what you're doing to make sure everything turns out right. It's the same in business. Employees need to know where you're going and how you're going to get there in order for the journey to go right.

Talk to everyone. On RAGBRAI, you hear some incredible stories and meet amazing people by simply introducing yourself. Networking is invaluable to small retailer businesses. Talk to everyone. Always be marketing.

Share. I had a lot of fun sharing the story of my business, Heart of Iowa Market Place, in historic Valley Junction. But it would've been a better experience for everyone if I'd had some samples of our extraordinary homemade fudge with me.

Be prepared. The best way to be prepared is to think ahead. You can bet I'll remember to bring those samples next year.

Believe in yourself. While riding up one particularly challenging hill, a guy shouted encouragement to me, "Don't stop! You haven't walked yet! Keep going." Those well-timed words reminded me to believe in myself -- and to keep pedaling up that hill.

Give thanks. That guy also reminded me to thank those who encourage and support you. Enough said.

I know next year's RAGBRAI is going to be even better thanks to the lessons picked up along the route -- and so will my business.

Confessions of a Comic Con rookie

TheSecurityGuard

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."

I first publicly admitted to being a “geek” during a keynote address on the concept of change. My speech served as an introduction to a presentation by LeVar Burton, who played the character of Geordi La Forge, Chief Engineer on the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He also directed about 30 television episodes for the various Star Trek series.

A geek and Trekkie like myself has watched all 703 episodes of all six television series dating back to the '60s (multiple times), watched all 12 motion pictures (multiple times), read books like The Making of Star Trek and the Star Fleet Technical Manual, and even visited the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton back when it was a permanent exhibit.

Like a good Trekkie, I bought my ticket to Comic Con with only one purpose in mind: to meet William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk. I really wanted a nice picture with him. I wore a sport coat and a nice white button-down shirt––and I really stood out. In fact, I was asked eight different times if I was a security officer. I also realized I was surrounded by nerds.

Now, the difference between a “geek” and a “nerd” is that as a geek, I’m willing to dip my big toe or perhaps even sit poolside with my legs dangling in the water, but a nerd jumps in doing a full-on cannon ball. So while nerds have also done all things Star Trek, they do it while speaking Klingon and wearing a Star Fleet uniform.

A large percentage of Comic Con participants were deeply involved in cosplay (costume play). I saw one entire family dressed as crew from Star Trek: The Next Generation­­––the grandparents were admirals, dad was a captain, mom was a commander and the kids were lieutenants (the fact that I even know these rank insignias adds to my geekness). Bright colors abounded, merchandise changed hands at a furious pace, comic book illustrators had their works on full, brightly-lit display while they spontaneously created some of the most incredible “doodles” I’ve ever seen, active gaming was in play everywhere, and most of all…people were genuinely happy.

Like many people, I spend the bulk of my life in some very unproductive locations. Whether it’s my office at work, my office at home, or home in general, these locations tend to be ground zero for dealing with a constant stream of distractions. When I speak and write about the concept of focus, I discuss the need to work at a “sweet spot,” a secondary place where you can feel completely at ease, creative and energized in order to effectively focus on the task at hand. Attending Comic Con helped me see the same is also true when it comes to being inspired and allowing our imaginations to run wild.

While I typically prefer spending hours at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum studying and observing the artifacts from actual spaceflight and talking to real astronauts, I’ve come to realize that regardless of personal taste, the key to imagination is the ability to allow yourself to be absorbed into the essence of the moment, to be engaged with the context of your surroundings.

I began the weekend as an outsider to this world who had only ever engaged on its outer fringe. But I got a taste of what it’s like to completely immerse myself in a unique experience and subculture; one where the primary focus is imagination and the willingness to completely saturate yourself in worlds that don’t really exist anywhere except in the minds of the people who created them for comic books, television and movies. The event was so full of energy, motivation and excitement that by the end, I was sold. Imaginations did, in fact, run wild, and I, too, wanted to be a nerd.

I truly believe that people need to “get out of normal” in order to see things differently, and Comic Con was anything but normal. It was a giant playground of fantasy where you could become anyone you wanted to be, whether it was a superhero, Star Fleet officer, or even a security guard.

We all need a special place to “escape” to in order to open our minds to new things and inspire us to greater levels of imagination and creativity––whether it’s heading to Comic Con as a Klingon, jumping on a Harley and heading to Sturgis, or just allowing yourself to get lost in a good book. 

Practice Challenge:  Where and when do you feel most at ease and relaxed? Where and when do you feel most energized and motivated? Wherever those places are, whether real or not, go there and often. Whether you need to focus on a project, come up with new ideas, or solve a problem, the best place to do it is away from “normal.”

©2015  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

Security breaches happen all over the place

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Iowa-cyberattackSeveral Iowa based companies have suffered information security breaches in the past 12 months. They have been from the banking, financial services and non-profit sectors. One breach resulted in fraudulent ACH transactions of close to $250,000. Another resulted in cleanup costs approaching $100,000. These are just the data breaches that my incident response team has been tasked to investigate. There have been others.

Of course Iowa companies get attacked

“Really? Companies in Iowa are targets of cyberattacks?” This response never ceases to amaze me. People in Iowa whine and complain when the rest of the country portrays Iowa as a backward state full of farmers who don’t know anything about technology. (For the record, I’d be willing to bet that many farmers in Iowa use more advanced technology than an average office worker). Why then are these same people shocked that Iowa’s thriving manufacturing, technology, financial services and biotech companies are targeted by cybercriminals? Iowa companies big and small are competing on an international scale. Why wouldn’t they be targets?

One of the biggest myths about cybercrime is that it’s all about stealing cash or personal information such as credit card numbers. The reality is that health care records and intellectual property, such as research and development, product designs or sales and marketing strategies, are far more valuable to cybercriminals than a low-limit credit card. These criminals are looking for the long-term, major payoff, not a quick buck. Targeted cyberattacks, as a result of corporate or foreign espionage, is on the rise. Don’t believe me? Even Major League Baseball teams are hacking each other to get a competitive advantage.

Training and security awareness

There is good news though. Many of the data breaches that are discovered could have been prevented. Data breaches are often the result of a lack of employee training and security awareness or a breakdown in process and procedures. Take the employee angle for instance. We often find that employees fail email phishing tests at the rate of about 35 percent. The reason is simple. The vast majority haven’t been consistently trained on how to identify fraudulent emails. If they had been well trained, they would know what to look for and spot the fraudulent emails before clicking the links.

The other common breakdown is complacency: We have people, process and technology in place and simply assume that everything is working correctly. Several of the breaches we’ve investigated were related to failures of the anti-malware system. It may have worked correctly when first installed, but as time went on the systems were no longer receiving anti-malware updates or scans were not running or performing properly. This resulted in infections and led to the breach. If better anti-malware management had been in place, these failures could have been detected and the breach avoided.

The truth is that every company -- big or small, urban or rural -- is a target for cybercrime. There are simple ways to protect your organization. You can start by assessing your current information security activities and monitoring their effectiveness. 

 

Dave-Nelson-2015-biz-blogDave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. 

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

Making the right cultural fit

- Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

One of the main reasons for failure in a merger or acquisition is the failure of the parties to take into consideration the cultures of the two companies. Management can alPhoenix logo onlyways make the numbers work on the spreadsheet but people are not spreadsheets. Management might want to consider the impact that the two cultures will have when mixing them together.  

In a merger or acquisition consideration for the following areas should be given:

1.  What is the culture of each company from the employee’s view?

2.  Are there subcultures in the company and if so, are they a positive or negative force?

3.  Who are the unofficial leaders and what will be their level of support?

4.  Are there opportunities to adopt new positive practices and remove the negatives?

5.  Will the key employees be involved in the transition?  If so, how will they be empowered?

6.  Would an outside third party be better suited to assist?

7.  Have the strengths and weakness of each organization been clearly identified and agreed to before moving forward?

8.  Are the objectives clear and understood?

Good Luck!

Steve Sink

Certified Business Intermediary

Merger and Acquisition Master Intermediary

ss@phxaffilaites.com

Local group for customer service professionals

Ncsa logo- Tom Vander Well, executive vice president of c wenger group, is a recognized customer service authority in the contact center industry.

As a customer service professional in the Des Moines area, I have found few ongoing opportunities for networking and professional development over the years. The past few years a local group has been developing and I've enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of it. Originally part of the International Customer Service Association, the quarterly group met mostly at Homesteaders Life in West Des Moines for lunch, networking and professional presentations on various relevant topics.

Last year the group voted to switch their affiliation to become the Central Iowa chapter of the National Customer Service Association (NCSA) and have been mixing it up location-wise. Farmer's Mutual Rain and Hail have hosted the past few quarters. Topics have ranged from local interest to professional development. I had the privilege of addressing the group this past week at the quarterly meeting hosted by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. We discussed emerging trends in Customer Experience research and Quality Assessment.

The mix of members has been growing. While many of the golden circle's larger employers are represented, I've been pleased to meet customer service professionals from some very interesting small to mid-sized companies around central Iowa. The NCSA Board has made a real effort to allow for members to mix, network, share best practices, as well as to learn about local resources.

The Central Iowa Chapter of the NCSA has a website and a Facebook page with information about upcoming meetings. There is an annual membership fee which covers lunch at the quarterly meetings. Both individual and corporate memberships are available. If you're involved in customer service, this quarterly gathering could be a beneficial opportunity to be sharpened by fellow professionals and meet others in the field who can help you improve your serve.

The importance of collecting online reviews

- Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals.

Online reviews are hot right now. Every business knows they should be getting more of them, right?

Well, I’m asked daily “why” a business should collect online reviews, “how” they help, and “what” the process of collecting them entails. So, I figured I would just write a blog post about it for all the curious minds out there.

It’s easier for prospects to find you online

Most of you have heard of the term SEO (search engine optimization), as it tends to be a buzzword not only in the insurance industry, but just about everywhere you look. Simply put, SEO is the process of ensuring your website ranks high when people search for a related topic online.

Over the years SEO has become rather complex. The search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) offer different breeds of search and are constantly changing their algorithms in hopes of improving the user experience. Keep in mind that search engines are most interested in catering to the end-user (the guy or gal searching online) and not the businesses.

Just over 67 percent of all U.S. search results are from Google. Therefore most of what I discuss below, including examples, will relate to Google search.

At the end of the day, the businesses will pay to be where their prospects are – which provides Google with one of their highest revenue streams through Adwords (paid placement on search). In fact, advertisements account for nearly 90 percent of Google’s annual revenue at over $59 billion. So that’s how Google is making all that money!

Improving SEO traditionally meant finding ways to improve a business’ ranking on organic search results. Being “organic” means that the search results don’t include any pesticides or are genetically enhanced in any way. Nah, I’m joking. It means that websites appear higher in search rankings because of their relevance to the search terms, rather than being paid for.

For a business, showing up on organic search is much more productive than paid advertisements. One study showed that 94 percent of people click on organic search results over paid advertisements.

Ranking higher with organic search isn’t easy. So many factors go into how businesses are ranked including things like website keywords, number of external links to website, etc. There are thousands of companies out there that specialize on helping businesses rank higher in organic search. It is no easy task.

There is a new breed of search that is becoming increasingly relevant: local search results (essentially a subcategory of organic search). Google recently updated its algorithm (Pigeon) to rank local businesses higher in search – essentially giving them a free pass over most organic search results.

This is not to say that organic and local search aren’t related. They certainly are. Location of the business is a significant factor for organic search results. But local listings, which are tied directly to Google Maps, regularly appear at the top of the search – for example here when insurance related terms are searched for e.g. “home insurance”, or “car insurance des moines”.

Take a look at the example below of the different types of search results.

 

Screenshot 2015-06-29 15.17.22

 

Ultimately, as a business operating within a region, the goal is to rank higher in local search results. This way you will be placed in a prominent location with relevant searches.

According to Google, three factors influence Google local search rankings: Relevance (matches search), Distance, and Prominence (how well known the business is).

A significant component of “prominence” is online reputation from online reviews. Google will take reviews from many different online sites into consideration (including Yelp, Facebook, Google, etc.) which all influence the rankings on Google local search.

Reviews help you stand out

We’ve established that collecting online reviews help your business rank higher on organic (including local) search results. The next—perhaps obvious—benefit is that online reviews will help your business stand out from the crowd.

A 2014 study by BrightLocal suggests that the American consumer is increasingly using local reviews to make purchase decisions. Their latest survey shows that 88 percent of consumers use, at least occasionally, local online reviews during the buying decision process.

 

Screenshot 2015-06-29 15.20.14

The bottom line is that online reviews are an important tool for consumers to judge the quality of a business. There is currently a large opportunity for agents to stand out online. The vast majority of businesses have at most 1 or 2 reviews online. Many have none at all.

Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer searching online for whatever service you offer. Would you rather chose a rather unknown establishment, or one that has a handful of positive reviews? Research, not to mention common sense, shows that online reviews provide social proof which impact purchase decisions.

So how do you do it?

  1. First things first, you want to ensure that your website is “with the times.” The better your website the higher you will rank on organic (including local) search.

  2. Claim your Google+ and Google Business Page and your Yelp Business Page.

  3. Identify who your best clients are using the Net Promoter Score (NPS).

  4. Collect testimonials from your best clients.

  5. Ask those clients that gave you a testimonial to review you online.

How do you sound in emails?

Meridith is the manager of marketing and communications at the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the West Des Moines New View Young Professionals coordinator. 

IStock_000041999824_LargeOne of my responsibilities for the West Des Moines Chamber is to send out weekly mailings to our membership. I enjoy being able to interact with our membership and this task has given me that opportunity. One email that I received last week, however, forced me to contemplate how I come across in email correspondence. Here is a portion of the email that I received:

“First it would be nice that the emails come from The Chamber.  Right now they say they are coming from Meridith Freese.  For the longest time I would not open them because I did not know who this was and thought it was spam or something. Also, I tried to reply to your email, but you made the background brown so when I typed my message you could not read it with that background.”

Right away I noticed that there was no cordial greeting in this letter, and no professional closing or signature at the end. Just a paragraph of criticism for me to read. While I do not mind getting constructive criticism, I do believe there is a way to give a critique in a respectful manner as opposed to an oppositional one. (And I wondered if I would I have received this email if the title of President was in my signature line? I will never know.) But what I do know is that even though this person could have been extremely sincere in their suggestions, trying to be helpful, I did not take it as such. The lack of conversational politeness felt disrespectful to me and it was difficult for me to get past that to “hear” the point.

Being able to understand how you sound in an email in this tech savvy world is critical to your success in your career.  Here are some suggestions that I urge you to consider before you push the send button:

  1. The subject line is crucial to summarizing your intent.
  2. Do not overuse capitalization or the exclamation point.
  3. Always, always, always use a personal greeting, and please take the extra few moments to make sure you are spelling the person’s name correctly.
  4. Keep your messages short and about the subject at hand.  Respect people’s time.
  5. If it will turn into a conversation, pick up the phone instead.
  6. Ask yourself, how I would feel about this email if it were sent to me?

Even though this may seem like common sense to some, it still is occurring frequently in the workplace. Take the time to make sure that what they "hear" is what you mean. 

-Meridith Freese 171A6085

Connect with me!

Facebook: meridith.freese
Twitter: @MertFreese
Email: Meridith@wdmchamber.org
Blog: The-Write-Of-Passage.com

It's not that easy….bein' green

 

- Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

 Or is it?  An associate in my office was flipping through a 645 page reference guide on green building design searching for a way to get a project from LEED SILVER to LEED GOLD, and he commented on the tremendous effort in the certification process to get the LEED badge.

He already took the “low hanging fruit” such as bike racks and low-flow faucets.  Other choices were either a mountain of paperwork to track a single credit or the option to buy energy credits. 

We couldn’t help but wonder how it came to this. All the added documentation and fees to be green.  Mr. Contractor, chase down the recycled content on every material in this project…yes, all of them!  And at the end of the day, there’s hundreds of hours spent analyzing energy usage. But that’s ok – that’s our job. Some clients feel the additional costs for these services are a small price to pay for a sustainable building, but some do not.

That’s when the light bulb went off. IT IS EASY BEING GREEN!!  What the green movement has done is make many things in designing a building “standard practice”.  Think of the things that most take for granted now.

You want low-emitting paints? No problem. The industry has those options now. How about a way to divert all that construction waste from landfills? Sure, there’s a company that will do all that now. Low-flow toilets are now a standard.  

So even if you don’t go for the badge, rest assured your building will still embrace many green principals and utilize all the fantastic new toys of the trade.

What do you think about green certification?  Let me know at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Harnessing the #FF network

PartyDanny Beyer is the director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel Business Services

A little over a year ago I started to notice a trend on my Facebook feed.  Every Friday morning a dear friend of mine, Christopher Maharry, would post a picture of what looked like some deep fried blob of goodness.  Along with this picture was the hashtag #FF. Over the next weeks I tried to decipher what this image and #FF meant together. 

My curiosity eventually got the best of me and I texted Christopher for an explanation. “What does #FF mean?!  Fatty Friday? Fried Food? Tell me!”  He responded that is simply stood for “Fritter Friday” and the fried blob that was pictured was his weekly treat – an apple fritter. I asked if I could join him the following week. “Of course” was his reply. 

The next Friday we met at Donut Hut on Douglas and enjoyed one of the best apple fritters I have ever tasted. It was fried to perfection with a light center.  Just enough apple pieces that it held together without being too doughy. Dunked in some coffee, it was breakfast perfection.  Over the next months we met on and off almost every Friday to catch up and share in the fried delicacy that is an apple fritter.  

We started posting pictures on Facebook every Friday, declaring it Fritter Friday to the world. That’s when the unexpected happened: we started to garner a following. Different individuals from our social circles began attending and enjoying fritters with us. People asked for updates, times, and where they could get a fritter. Others posted pictures of themselves from other states, even other countries, enjoying a fritter on Friday mornings. 

Late in 2014, after a rousing conversation about halfway through our fritter, Christopher looked at me and said, “Hey, what are we doing with this?  We both have huge networks here in Des Moines and with Facebook. Let’s have an open house at my place and raise some money for a good cause.” It sounded just crazy enough to work. After all, who doesn’t enjoy fried food and raising money for charity?

In May, Christopher held the first ever “Fritter Friday Open House” at his home in Des Moines. People came from all over the city, some in cars, others on bikes, still others walked. There were decorations and fritter selfies. We had coffee and other drinks. In the end, he went through 250 apple fritters and was able to raise $2,000 for the Chrysalis Foundation in two short hours. 

I love this simple story because it shows the impact one person with an idea can have. All it took was a couple posts to Facebook and a willingness to do something out of the ordinary. All of us have the ability to tap our networks and do something for the greater good. Share something you enjoy with those around you. You never know when a simple conversation over drinks, or fritters, may turn in to something great. 

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.

 

Ethics and the deal: When disaster creates an opportunity

  1. Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of the Cultivation Corridor

In 2008, the International Economic Development Council [IEDC] established a practitioner Code of Ethics "to ensure a high ethical standard for those involved in economic development."  Several years later, IEDC moved to require ethics training as a condition for all candidates for its industry certification and re-certification program, where it still stands as a certification condition.

It was an industry first. Modern professional economic development is a fairly young industry -- most point to the founding of local industrial recruitment organizations in response to a contraction of manufacturing expansion in the 1970s and the rolling bank savings and loan crises of the mid-1980s as the industry’s jumping off points. For a couple of decades, economic development was defined almost exclusively as a cutthroat industrial recruitment endeavor -- the aggressive courting of external capital and jobs into a defined local or regional jurisdiction. From where that capital and those jobs came -- whether from across the globe or in a neighboring community, and the corresponding ethical underpinnings of how the deal was done -- was less a topic of concern than today.

Today, most states, Iowa included, maintain policies for access to state economic development financial assistance which typically require that a project originate from outside the state or be an expansion of an existing facility in the company's current community. In other words, the state is fundamentally not interested in providing financial incentives for relocations from one Iowa community to another. This is extremely sound and extremely necessary policy. 

The state’s policy position has begun to trickle down to local incentives policy. A handful of regions, including the Des Moines region, maintain some level of anti-piracy protocol which typically requires the sign-off of the home community prior to any other community in the region's economic development organization approving of local assistance to a company considering a relocation from one regional community to another. The One Corridor Agreement by and between Cerro Gordo County, City of Clear Lake and City of Mason City -- the latter two communities which once considered themselves deep rivals for economic development projects despite their immediate geographic proximity, now provides for a clear and cooperative project management process for any project considering both communities or one involving a potential relocation from one community to the other. In another instance, leaders in Iowa’s Creative Corridor are working to craft an agreement by and between the communities in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City region.

But while intra-state competition is often governed by cooperative piracy policy in Iowa, at any level outside that, you had better believe competition is as fierce and ruthless as ever; and it should be. 

But where does an economic development organization or practitioner draw the competitive line, particularly as it relates to preying on weakened game?  The IEDC ethics code conspicuously avoids any mention of competitive behavior between local organizations or states, and probably for good reason. The dynamics and decision-making triggers for any multi-site project are so varied so as to be virtually infinite. Accounting for them all and providing behavior guidance would be virtually impossible. The closest IEDC gets to wading into competition ethics is a disclaimer attached to its ethics code: “There may be circumstances where the board may choose to interpret and apply this code to a particular event such as a man-made or natural disaster.” 

So where is the line? 

Am I within the boundaries of professional decorum if I make an inquiry to pitch my region to a company in a state currently under natural duress, like a hurricane, based on the impact such trauma has created on that state or region’s near- and mid-term competitiveness? No, probably not; acts of God affecting a competitive community are generally treated with a great deal of forbearance by economic developers.

Am I within those same boundaries of decorum if I embark on such an inquiry with a company in a state under man-made duress, like a debt or political crisis?  Yes, usually. 

Our friends in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Arkansas and South Carolina, to name a few, have created for themselves a handful of major man-made disasters of late. They have managed them in both effective and ineffective ways as it relates to the eventual impact on a state’s reputation for business-friendliness for the job creation projects and investments every state in the union is chasing. 

Illinois? A fiscal basket case with a dash of corruption. States like Iowa and regions like Central Iowa love to compete with Illinois. It is perfectly within the boundaries of professional competition to demonstrate to our clients considering the Land of Lincoln that the crushing debt load the state currently acknowledges, and the unfunded liability load it doesn't acknowledge, as a pronounced competitive disadvantage. More debt means more taxes, particularly corporate taxes, in the future. That ought to be considered a tremendous competitive disadvantage when compared to Iowa’s historically sound fiscal [and low, low debt per capita ranking] position.  And that’s before we even start talking about political corruption [four of the last seven [!] Illinois governors have gone to prison]. Oh, and a couple of weeks ago Illinois eliminated all economic development incentives for businesses as part of a plan to address a $3 billion budget deficit.

But what to do when the man-made disaster isn’t as cut and dried, from an ethical perspective, as a preventable state budget calamity?

Indiana, Michigan and Arkansas all have come under intense criticism from their own state’s businesses for social policies and policy proposals related how same-sex couples may or may not be treated both by the state tax code and by their fellow citizens [IEDC Ethics Code item #9: Professional economic developers shall assure that all economic development activities are conducted with equality of opportunity for all segments of the community without regard to race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, political affiliation, disability, age, marital status, or socioeconomic status].

In perhaps the most high-profile move, e-commerce giant Angie’s List announced in March it would shelve plans for a major expansion in Indianapolis over its opposition to an Indiana ‘religious freedom’ law which many interpreted to permit discrimination against LGBT individuals and couples. [After a national uproar, the law has been largely repealed, but Angie’s List has maintained that it will not expand in Indianapolis.]

Governors and legislative leaders in Michigan and Arkansas have also in recent months taken up controversial legislation relating to the treatment of same-sex individuals and couples, have been lambasted by their business lobbies for it, and largely have retreated with plenty of damage done to their states' relationships with some of their largest employers.  

What’s an economic developer in another state to do in a case like this?  [Hypothetically] Pick up the phone to Angie’s List and those businesses like it?  Probably so. Political disasters are by definition man-made, and almost always by definition avoidable. While in most cases it is largely unproductive to craft a pitch to a company focused on a narrow piece of state social policy, controversy over such a policy could create an opening for a broader conversation calling into question one state’s responsiveness to the needs of its business community and its ability to manage its national and global reputation as a place to live and work when compared to my state. 

Occasionally, man-made political disasters which hold the potential to affect investment and job creation decision-making in another state demand a measured approach. Take, for example, the controversy leaders in South Carolina are currently embroiled in over the display of the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of that state’s Capitol.  Certainly, were this a confined issue founded on a purely political grounds, it would be ripe for inclusion in a state-to-state social/cultural comparison.  But it isn’t; while controversy has swirled around South Carolina’s Confederate flag for years [in 2000, the was moved from flying atop the Capitol to a war memorial on its grounds- something only a superlegislative majority can compel], the current controversy has at its basis the unthinkable mass shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston.  Any decent economic developer- or human being- wouldn’t fathom exploiting a controversy with such a tragedy at its nexus. 

And so, as in most industries, gray area abounds for economic developers all over the country and the world as it relates to capitalizing on the competition’s weakness.  With so much at stake -- jobs, capital, tax base, community pride -- the actions of a local, regional or state-level economic developer in navigating complex ethical challenges are pronounced and are broadly relevant to the community he or she represents.

Powering down: Take the technology detox challenge

Technology and coffee photo for Iowa Biz July 2015Rita 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.

It has become fashionable in our American culture of sanctioned and celebrated workaholism to tell people how busy we are.  How many times a week does this conversation happen... Person #1 asks, “Hi! How are you?”  Person #2 responds with, “OMG!  I am SOOOO busy, you just cannot believe it!”  Unfortunately Person #2 is displaying their busyness like a badge of honor. Sadly, most of us are in this same camp of feeling overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time to do it either at work or at home. 

Busyness is often confused with our 24/7 connectedness -- the control that electronic devices have over our lives -- which can wreak havoc on any semblance of work-life balance we may be trying to find. Research shows us that at the very moment we feel we are at the height of overwhelming busyness and that we simply cannot add one more project or detail, this is the very time that it’s beneficial to power down and take a technology diet.

The reason is simple: all of the information we are receiving can overload our brain circuitry making us feel distracted, scattered and ineffective. If we take a break for 24 or 48 or 72 hours we allow our brains to rest and hit the “reset” button. When we return to our busyness we feel much more focused and efficient and not so overwhelmed. 

You may be thinking, “Give up my phone and email for 24 hours?  Are you CRAZY?”  

No, I’m not crazy. I am concerned about people’s mental, emotional and physical health, though. I am concerned about the health of our society. I actually know people who regularly implement a technology detox as part of their work-life balance routines.  Many people in senior leadership positions are simply and routinely unavailable. Research aside, they swear by the benefit of feeling more peaceful and less stressed during and after their technology-free time. 

Personally, I power down my computer every Friday at 4 p.m. and do not power up again until 8 a.m. on Monday morning. I put my email auto-responder on to alert important senders that I am unavailable. My executive coaching clients know how to contact me on the weekends if an issue cannot wait until Monday morning but in 15 years of business this has only happened once.

I do leave my mobile phone on during weekend daytime hours but do not use it for social media updates, to search the web or sneak a peek at email. I love creating the time on the weekend to read a book, putter in my garden or socialize in person with family and friends without the interference of being distracted by technology. When I return to business on Monday morning, I do so with enthusiasm, clarity, focus and renewed energy. Weekend detoxing from the technological drain has made such a difference in my life.  I am confident that it can bring some balance back to yours too.

Give it a try! Take the technology diet challenge this weekend. Make a commitment to power down for only 24 hours. Only 24 hours!  You can do it! When you emerge from the device detox you will feel vibrant, focused and balanced like a brand-new person. And you will have reclaimed some much needed time for yourself and your family.  What could be better than that? 

 

If you create content or talk about brands online, you disclose -- no, ifs ands or buts

FTC-Disclosure-Flow-Chart-400Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

A few years ago the FTC came out with some very specific language aimed primarily at bloggers who were endorsing, reviewing or talking about other companies and their products and/or services.

But today -- with so many companies creating content, sharing reviews, reaching out to influencers to get them to endorse products and the like -- the rule pertains to just about everyone who posts anything online from a Facebook status update to a travel blogger who reviews high-end spas.

Last month the FTC updated its “What People are Asking” PDF document to answer some of the more common questions and be very clear that they're not happy with some of the ways that  brands, bloggers and influencers have been dealing with endorsements, sponsored content and the like.

Bottom line -- the FTC is getting serious and basically is saying, "enough of the wrist slaps.  It's time to issue penalties, fines and fees."

Here's a quick look at some of the rules that probably impact you.

Clarity: You need to be crystal clear about your relationship with the company/product. You can't hint around -- if you received some compensation, from a free sample to a trip to tour the plant -- you must share that clearly in your content. No matter how small the consideration (a coupon, a mention on their blog of you/your product etc.) -- be safe and disclose.

No connection = no disclosure: If you bought the product or tried the service on your own just because you wanted to -- you don't need to say a word.  

Videos require more: Here's a special reminder if you are talking about a company, product or service in a video. Your disclosure must come at the front end of the video. And that disclosure needs to be included in both the video and the written description.

Break ups don't absolve you: Former relationships count too. Even if they are no longer a client or the sponsorship has ended -- you have to declare it. Or if you're doing a series -- you can't just include the disclosure on the first piece. It has to be included in every one.

No secret clients: When you or your employees post on social sites about a client or vendor -- you must disclose the relationship, even if you didn't get asked or compensated for talking about them.

To keep yourself safe -- just go out of your way to always tell the whole story. Ask yourself before you (or your teammate) posts anything -- do we have any sort of relationship with this company that isn't very evident in what we've written. If there's any doubt -- disclose.

You don't want to be the one writing the "what I learned from FTC prison" post!

Graphic from Kerry O'Shea Gorgone (and you can read her thoughts on the topic at the link as well)

Are you sleeping enough?

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

Sleep is essential for an individual’s health and well-being. Yet according to the National Sleep Foundation, millions of people don’t get enough, and many suffer from a lack of sleep.

Several research studies examined the impacts of sleep deprivation, and the results are cause for concern. Insufficient sleep is associated with several chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. It can have the same effect as alcohol on our minds.

In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (the organization responsible for medical training programs across the county) took a step in standardizing the importance of sleep in the workplace by implementing standards for resident-training programs. They limited the residents’ hours to no more than 80 per week, averaged over four weeks, and included one day in seven away from work. The requirements produced positive results, including benefits for medical residents and reduced errors.

Consider your team and their schedules, as well as your own personal sleep habit: is everyone getting enough rest? While personal needs vary, the experts recommend an average of eight hours of sleep each night to stay alert and productive.

Sufficient sleep is increasingly being recognized as an essential aspect of chronic disease prevention and health promotion. I suggest adding sleeping tips to your organization’s employee wellness program, including:

  • Establish a regular bed and wake time.
  • Avoid caffeine close to bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Exercise regularly (but complete the workout at least three hours before bedtime).
  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet and comfortable.
  • Discuss the appropriate way to take any sleep aid with a health care professional.

These steps can help your team members reduce mistakes and on-the-job injuries while enjoying peaceful nights and healthier lives.

Resistance to change

Business person_resisting

 

“Progress is impossible without change,

and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

George Bernard Shaw

 

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding change and none so pervasive or dangerous to the ultimate success of change efforts than the mistaken assumption that people resist change.

To state that “people resist change” is not only to assume that all people are alike, it's close to suggesting that they are still infants. Simply growing up requires many changes that most of us have gotten through with reasonable success.

Click here to watch a video clip that debunks the commonly held notion that people resist change by using an example that almost all of us can relate to. It challenges leaders to address the real stopper to successful change efforts – people resist the unknown.

Common complaints about leaders during change

Why aren’t our leaders communicating?  What aren’t they telling us what is going to happen?

Leaders are often accused of not caring about people when changes are introduced in an organization. Interestingly, the evidence is overwhelmingly against that theory. 

Leaders typically spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking about employee morale and how change (especially major change) will impact people.  Sadly, they do this among their own peers, usually behind closed doors.

What they fail to do is to communicate the change early and frequently enough that people can more successfully navigate the inevitable emotions that accompany change and the fear of the unknown that is illustrated in the video clip.

There are countless examples of employees finding out about major changes in their organizations by reading about them on the internet or hearing about them on the news.

When leaders do try to prepare employees for change, they often do it in the form of a one-time formal communication (speech during a staff meeting or a carefully crafted email) that does little to help people process the emotions of the change they will experience or get their questions answered.

They comfort themselves by calling what they did “communication.” We know from our research at Tero that one-way communication is a very narrow definition of communication. To be effective, it must be kinesthetic, visual and auditory.  It must involve opportunities for questions and answers. And when the change is a large one, it must be frequent. 

Simply telling people one time does not satisfactorily prepare people to experience the change any more than announcing kindergarten in the car on the way to school is going to be the best approach to prepare a young person for such a major transition in their life.

How much communication is appropriate? It depends. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Receptivity depends upon several factors.

  • Some personality types embrace change more easily than others.
  • Our receptivity increases when it was our idea or we clearly see our role and responsibilities.
  • Change is easier to accept if it doesn’t impact me personally.
  • Timing – what else is going on at the same time?
  • Have I seen this change before? For example, people who have been through acquisitions in their past experience have an easier time in future acquisitions (if their experience was positive).
  • Trust.

Sometimes, as a leader, trust is the only thing we can impact. Frequently we can’t disclose information about a change well in advance of the change unfolding. If people trust us, they will follow. Take a moment to think of people you will willingly follow.  Do you trust them?

Protecting your trade secret in a court of law

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law   Matthew McKinney Iowa Attorney

Savvy business owners understand the value of protecting proprietary information, especially when the information provides a competitive advantage in the marketplace (commonly referred to as a trade secret).  What happens, however, when your business is unexpectedly defending claims in our public court system or protecting itself by filing a lawsuit in open court?  Will your business trade secrets be publicly exposed?  Will a competitor have access to the court's public records (now online statewide) and the ability to review proprietary practices, pricing, or customer lists revealed through litigation?  Fortunately, Iowa's courts are empowered to protect your business' trade secrets.  

A recent Iowa Supreme Court opinion, filed June 26, 2015, identifies several protections that Iowa's courts may employ to preserve trade secrets, including:

  1. Closing court proceedings to the public;
  2. Sequestering witnesses during testimony of other witnesses;
  3. Excluding parties from the courtroom when trade secrets are presented;
  4. Restricting attendance at trial; 
  5. Sealing transcripts of court proceedings.
Our high court also recognized “[i]t would be of little practical value to file a lawsuit to protect the confidentiality of a trade secret if the secret became part of the publicly available court record and was thereby lost.” In short, while our court system is open and public by design, sophisticated parties can and do protect their trade secrets in the court of law.  
 
Click here to learn more about whether your information may qualify as a trade secret in Iowa.

Why being disruptive is a good thing

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.

The theory of disruptive innovation has been around since around 1995; coined by a Harvard Business Review article by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor. The theory states that “firms that introduce rudimentary products can eventually overrun the established players by systematically improving the products until they meet the needs of mainstream customers.” (HBR, May 2015)

When I work with organizations, I notice there is dichotomy that seems to emerge more often than not. There is a general acknowledgement that a change in strategy is needed. But the next step is where is gets complicated; once the types of changes indicated are moved from strategies toward implementation, there is a pull to move back toward old systems, usually those already in place.

That makes sense from a human perspective; change is hard, and perhaps the existing way isn’t so bad. But look at the metrics – if growth or innovation has stopped, the time has come to do something new.

The word “disruptive” itself has a visceral impact. And please understand - only in very specific and rare instances would I advocate for an extreme shift in organizational strategy. If you look at Christensen’s definition, it is clear that the disruption he is referring to is incremental and iterative.

In most cases, new systems should build on old ones - most organizations don’t generally change what they are doing or how they do it wholesale. Working within existing frameworks and making the right changes will lead to a positive disruption, culminating in a shift in the product or service that the organization offers. This, in turn, provides a competitive advantage or market offering that has done the following:

  • Illustrated the obsolesence of the existing internal system or external offering
  • Reshaped or “disrupted” the marketplace (this can be internal or external) to respond the new product, process or service as the accepted standard bearer
  • Demonstrated to the customer base (or to internal employees) that the company is committed to innovation and/or providing relevant services or products

Understanding that the above outcomes lead to a greater chance of long-term success and growth, leadership can start to build confidence around small shifts from existing processes or strategies.

I have witnessed, on many occasions, the resistance to disruptive strategy first-hand. It , often manifests itself as skepticism, with questions like “How do you know this will work?” The short answer is that you don’t. That’s why phrases like “We will wait and see what happens” start to be introduced into the lexicon of the conversation about strategy. This is the pull-back talking; the aversion to risk rearing up and urging everyone to make the safe play.

There may be no way of knowing for sure that something will work, but success can be inherently embedded into the idea of adapting disruptive innovation into a strategy framework. Successfully addressing risk aversion starts by identifying small things to change, in small, manageable groups or segments. Then test these changes. If they seem to work, try the next set. Test those. Start to introduce and recognize interdependencies in the changes and build on those successes.

Successful strategic planning is evidenced by the positive change it creates, including overcoming adversity that you may find in trying to implement it. But being disruptive, a little at a time, constructs a sound and reasonable strategy, with clear objectives, built on data, that will allow your organization to outpace your competition.

How to recognize and adapt to tipping points

Two recent national events - the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds and the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling - got me thinking about the factors that cause a "Tipping Point." Both seemed to happen very quickly. But if you examine the underlying factors and circumstances surrounding these moments in time, you'll quickly find that the events don't happen in a vacuum. Beans spilling

In the United States, tipping points tend to have a few things in common:

  1. National support
  2. Powerful and influential supporters
  3. Groups working on behalf of the cause - even when it's not in the news
  4. People who have been on the "other side" and convert to the "Tipping side"
  5. Some sort of legal action or political consequences

Both the Confederate flag and the marriage equality issues certainly have all of these characteristics. Marriage equality advocates have been diligently working their legal strategy, state by state. This tipping point definitely was years in the making. Many, many small legal victories and setbacks happened along the way. The Supreme Court ruling was the "last bean on the pile."

The Confederate flag's removal was also years in the making, but had a different kind of tipping point. The massive "change of heart" caused by the murder of nine people in a Charleston church tipped the political climate in the state. State leaders who could not politically utter the words "take the flag down" before the tragedy now found themselves on the wrong side of the issue. Taking advantage of the new public awareness and sentiment, they ran to the other side of the seesaw.

It always feels great to be vindicated and be on the "winning" side of a tipping point. But what if you're on the "losing" side?

Here's some advice:

  1. Prepare: If at all possible, have a discussion about what is happening and discuss ways to respond. Don't shut down people who disagree with your viewpoint. Let everyone have a chance to contribute.
  2. Pivot: This requires specific words that you will use to communicate to your constituencies. In Alabama and Louisiana, it's apparent to me that many county marriage licensing clerks have not had any leadership on this matter. Their willingness to break the law and embarrass themselves and their state is not a sign of good communication.
  3. Be gracious: It's not a good idea to pout. A tipping point is just like a game of Spill the Beans. Once the beans are spilled - they don't have a chance of going back. Our society changes slowly over time, but occasionally it's punctuated by memorable events that forever change the landscape.

Always remember - the one thing that remains constant is change. Be prepared. Use your words.

Claire Celsi is a communications consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Check your email netiquette

- Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder at Happy Medium.

We’ve all done it — you click send on an email, you watch it go from draft to sent and you noticed there’s a typo, or a date is wrong, or a sentence that makes no sense or, worse, that you’ve replied all and now Karen is going to know you hated her Bundt cake. It’s a terrible feeling.

All you want to do is snatch that email back and now, the people at Google have made that possible. After working on it for six years, Gmail now allows you to unsend an email. You only have 30 seconds to turn back the hands of time but this little feature could save a lot of embarrassment (now if Apple could only allow me to retrieve sent text messages #AutoCorrectFail).

As exciting as this new option is, 30 seconds isn’t a lot of time and doesn’t provide too much of a get out of jail free card if you’ve sent an email with a mistake. It’s still a good idea to practice sound email etiquette (or netiquette) before pressing send. As someone who does a lot of emailing (I send about 120 a day—sigh), I’ve come to a few conclusions on best practices.

1. Never Email Angry:
There are times when you get an email that makes you so furious that all you want to do is send the electronic version of an atomic bomb. A couple of truths about sending a scathing email; it never feels as satisfying as you want it to and, more importantly, burning bridges is a bad idea both online and in conversation (and, now that I think of it, it’s not a great idea at all because it’s arson).

Frustration through email is natural but let me introduce you to the drafts folder, which can be your little private bank of all the nasty things you so desperately want to say but, because you’re a good person, know that you shouldn’t.

2. Know your Audience:
I try to introduce myself in almost every email. There are times, of course, when the receiver will obviously know who you are, but an email should be helpful and you don’t want the reader trying to place how they know you instead of reading what you’ve written.

I love emojis and acronyms and excessive exclamation points but there’s a place for that, it’s the green icon at the bottom of your phone screen. They don’t often belong in an inbox. If I receive an email reading “OMG, Katie, we should totes meet up 2 talk biz opportunities!!!” I know I’m not dealing with a professional. Also, sarcasm and in-jokes are great for in-person conversation but are really difficult to pull off in an email. Do it wrong and your gentle ribbing ends up hurting someone’s feelings because they didn’t receive it in the nature in which it was intended and guess what, that’s your fault, not theirs.

3. Should the conversation be offline?
If you have a difficult email to send or a complicated problem you need to work out, it may be better to set up a meeting or a call. Sometimes a long email is great so the reader can use it as a reference, but other times they are confusing and inefficient. Email is supposed to save time but using one at the wrong time and creating rounds of back-and-forth emails when a quick call would clear up everything is a fail. Knowing when an email makes sense and when an in-person conversation is better is the hallmark of a great communicator.

As a marketer, sending emails is no different than creating a great ad; it’s all about tying the right message to the right audience. A great emailer needs to keep that in mind. There are literally hundreds of wonderful emailing tips; these were just a few of mine. What are some of yours? How about email pet-peeves or frustrations? Let me hear them! E-mail me!

Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter - @klstocking

Innovating internally: Do we own or rent markets?

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, an innovation experience firm that instills a culture of intrapreneurship inside established companies.
 
We don’t own markets, we merely rent
I wrapped up a presentation recently and was asked by an attendee about the rise of competitors from unexpected industries. Specifically, this attendee worked for a payments company, but was surprised to now see competition from tech companies like Apple and Google with such products as Apple Pay and Google Wallet. 
 
Surprised by this concern, I was reminded of a quote by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen:
 
 
Andreessen’s argument is that technology-infused companies will be the winners of markets in the future. Now this doesn’t mean new startups will necessarily take over, but the emphasis is that the groups that evolve in markets to meet customer demands will win. 
 
Let’s be honest: It’s terrifying to have billion dollar players with a reputation like Google, Amazon or Apple step on your turf. Especially if you and your firm have been the “industry leader” for decades and know “the ins and outs.” 
 
The hard truth: Being the industry leader doesn’t matter any more. 
 
One of the most profound statements I heard recently summed up this evolution: 
 
“We don’t own markets. We merely rent space in them."
 
Think about that for a second.
 
The industries that we think we “own" and bet our careers on are no longer a guarantee. We have to fight every day to remain relevant and win whatever marketshare we have.  
 
It’s a terrifying evolution, but one that makes sense.
 
Take checks for example. For many, they are still the backbone of some businesses, but there are five companies, like Dwolla, out to make payments purely digital.
Financial planners are usually face-to-face, right? Well now there are five-plus financial planning tools like Learnvest that can be used solely online.
The idea of insurance agents? Every aspect of the insurance experience can be completed without interacting with another person. 
 
A number of eye-opening shifts are coming to life. 
 
The beauty of realizing this evolution is that we can do something about it. 
 
My challenge to you: Take a look around and find three other competitors that may not be on your radar. 
 
If anyone believes there are no up-and-comers in their market, send me a note and I’ll help point them out, because I assure you, the competition is there. 
 
If we only rent markets, we have to make sure we’re able to pay up before we get our prime position snatched away. 
 
It’s a tough game. Welcome to the renter’s market of 2015 and beyond.  

-------

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

White canvas

WhiteCanvasBlog

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."

The knowledge we gain from learning and life experience continuously shapes and molds our perspectives, which creates a variety of predispositions. Some might call this gaining wisdom. However, these predispositions may alter our thinking in ways that could overly narrow our scope or even distort how we view things.

Take a moment to solve the following problem, which is typically solved by children in less than a few minutes: 

6020 = 3        3305 = 1        8809 = 6        7777 = 0        1970 = 2
2321 = 0        7783 = 2        2022 = 1        3928 = 3        5588 = 4
9999 = 4        1111 = 0        1619 = 2        7175 = 0        7756 = 1
3333 = 0        5395 = 1        6666 = 4        5531 = 0        2253 = ???

Did you struggle with it? Did it create anxiety or stress? I’m sure many of you viewed it as a math problem, and when you saw that children can easily do it, you may have assumed it would be fairly simple to solve. But why? 

Our education has taught us that numbers and equal signs reference mathematics, and since we as adults are so much smarter than children, it must be easy to solve. Yet, the problem has nothing to do with mathematical equations, only shapes and counting. If you count the closed loops in each number, you arrive at the solution. In this case 0 = 1, 6 = 1, 8 = 2, 9 = 1, and all other numbers equal 0. Therefore, the answer for 2253 is zero. 

Our predispositions affect how we look at everything from numbers and shapes to art. Many years ago, I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. While observing the creativity on display, I came upon a “painting” that was nothing more than a plain white canvas. Fittingly, it was entitled, “White.”

I laughed as I thought about the absurdity of this piece. Thoughts like “Seriously?” and “They actually hung this here?” and  “Anyone can do that!” filled my head as I stood and stared at it…and continued to stare at it. My emotions shifted from laughter to surprise to irritation and back to laughter.

Over the years, I have conversed about this piece with many people––often jokingly, but also inquiring as to why and how someone could get away with calling it art. The conversation would frequently shift to the definition of art and its ultimate purpose. 

I’ve come to realize that despite all of the great works on display that day in the museum, I can’t remember a single one of them other than this painting. Despite its simplicity, it has caused me to think at length about what the artist was trying to do or say. Perhaps that simple white canvas was created so anyone could fill it with their imagination, without predetermined limitations. Perhaps it was a metaphor to represent the emptiness which exists in all of us. Perhaps it was nothing more than an ode to simplicity and minimizing the clutter that surrounds us. Or, perhaps the artist just ran out of time before the deadline and threw up a white canvas, which was better than nothing at all.

I will never know the artist’s intent, but I do know how it affected me. When I start feeling overwhelmed when trying to solve a problem, it serves as a mental image to help me regroup and begin the creative process with a clean white canvas, so to speak. It’s become a personal metaphor about having an open mind without limitations, and realizing that creativity is nothing more than how we choose to think about something. 

Ironically, what began as the subject of a personal joke I now see was actually the most creative piece of all––a piece without limitations or constraints, opening the endless imaginations of those privileged to see it, a piece without detail and the predispositions attached to it. 

Practice Challenge: The next time you struggle with chaos or feel overwhelmed at a time when you need to be creative, close your eyes and picture a clean, white canvas. Challenge your predispositions by focusing on the simplicity of the canvas and open your imagination to filling it with something new.

©2015  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

Cyberattacks: How much worse can it get?

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

Every single day we hear of another organization that has suffered a cyberattack. The victims span industries such as retail, healthcare, government, manufacturing, technology, education, utilities and banking. They range in size from multinational Fortune 100 companies to local mom-and-pop shops. The question I frequently get from organizational leadership is this…”How much worse can it get?”

Unfortunately the answer is we are still in the dawn of the cybercrime age and it will get much worse.

Consider this: widespread use of computer technology in our society has really only occurred for about the past 30 years. Even then, the interconnected way we do business today only began about 15-20 years ago. We’re still in the shift to the information age where information is more valuable than many of the physical things we produce. The cyber-attacks will become more sophisticated, cheaper to carry out and accessible to more criminals in the next 20 years. Think about how far we’ve come since the industrial age of the 1800s. In another 50 years, our computer systems of today will be laughable. Smartphones today have as much computing power as what we used to put a man on the moon.

In the past, cybercrime was largely deterred by making the risk of being caught or physically injured too high for many people to stomach. The little guy rarely picks a fight with the big guy because he knows he’s beat before the first punch is thrown. A country with no physical warfare capability wouldn’t invade a neighbor with an overwhelming force for obvious reasons. With technology, this power gap has been narrowed, if not eliminated in many cases.

Risk is identified as an asset which has a vulnerability that can be exploited by a threat actor. Today, there are many more threat actors willing to exploit cyber vulnerabilities than physical vulnerabilities. This is because the consequences of losing a cyberattack are much less significant than losing a physical attack. There are also new players in the cyberattack arena. Foreign countries are ramping up their cyberwarfare capabilities, and large organized crime syndicates are developing sophisticated cyber teams.

With this change in threat actors, the risk is changing as well. We’ve seen a steady rise in targeted attacks over the past several years. This shift is making it harder to defend against an attack. Over the past decade, information security has largely been about preventing “drive-by” attacks. You simply needed to be more secure than your neighbor. This approach is no longer feasible. Organizations must take a more proactive approach to information security, which takes into account large threat actors that are well-funded and willing to take a long-term approach to compromising your security perimeter.

Attacks are becoming more common. They are targeting your organization and are carried out by well-funded groups. Is your organization prepared to defend itself against this new generation of cybercriminals? 

 

Dave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity.  Dave-Nelson-2015-biz-blog

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

The 'It's not my job' syndrome

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach and President of MAP Professional Development Inc, coaching leaders to succeed with meaning and purpose.

A few weeks ago, I rented a board room for a leadership meeting in a quaint, classy hotel. Just before the meeting I made a quick visit to the nearest restroom, where someone emerged just as I approached.

Upon entering, I noticed paper towels tossed on the floor, and a few of them even shoved between the wall and the handrail. Although not disastrous, I was surprised to find any mess at all in this nice hotel.

Books - Leadership Challenge & Career DistinctionI was especially surprised since the person exiting as I walked in was a hotel employee.

While I doubt she made the mess (at least I hope not!), I couldn’t help but think about why she wouldn’t take the 30 seconds to clean it up. How do you think she might respond if asked?

Perhaps with a phrase we’ve all likely heard at one time or another: “It’s not my job.”

When employees feel disengaged at work – which Gallup tells us upwards of 70 percent do – they don’t see a point in going the extra mile. They may believe any extra efforts will usurp their already-limited time and energy, go unnoticed, and result in the same 2 percent raise everyone else in the company - including the "bare minimums" - receives. Why bother?

Whether overt or suspected, this “it’s not my job” mentality provides a real challenge for leaders. Many of my executive clients have sought coaching with good hearts and fantastic questions:

How can I help my employees feel more engaged?

How can I support them in purposeful work?

How can I create a culture where people feel happy to go above and beyond – even amid a frozen budget?

Approaching the situation with these kinds of questions is the place to start. Hundreds of sound strategies exist and, although there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, the best solutions remove the outdated “carrot and stick” methodology from the equation and instead explore vision, purpose, and making work meaningful.

They also require a dual focus: on leaders and on individual employees. Leaders set the tone, and everyone contributes to (or pulls away from) the culture being cultivated.

I recommend two excellent books to prompt ideas for both perspectives in navigating the “it’s not my job” syndrome. The Leadership Challenge, now a classic in the field, supports leaders in fostering a positive, from-the-heart culture. My favorite chapter, Inspire A Shared Vision, stresses the importance of gaining the support and enthusiasm of all employees toward a compelling vision – which can help bring a sense of purpose to even the most mundane tasks (i.e., picking up garbage, even if you aren't the one who dropped it).

Career Distinction helps individual employees decide who they are and how they want to be, developing their own personal brand. Perhaps ironically, one way to establish that standout brand involves doing those above-and-beyond tasks! Arruda & Dixson offer numerous other strategies, however, along with a free downloadable workbook to allow readers to reinforce their learning with applied action.

Reading a couple of books won’t magically prompt everyone to pick up the stray paper towels on the bathroom floor, of course. But implementing the principles you learn, and modeling the behavior you wish to see, will go a long way toward establishing an above-and-beyond culture from which everyone – leaders, employees, customers, and the bottom line – benefits.

How would you address the “it’s not my job” syndrome? Join the conversation of solutions by commenting below.

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotDr. Christi Hegstad develops confident, strengths-based leaders who 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 Leadership Challenge, 3rd Edition, by James Kouzes & Barry Posner (Jossey-Bass, 2002). Career Distinction by William Arruda & Kirsten Dixson (John Wiley & Sons, 2007).

Why priorities don’t get funded

- Gretchen Tegeler is president of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa.

With the closing of the 2015 legislative session this year has come a chorus of lamentations about money that didn’t get spent, and how important interests from school children to outdoor recreation and environmental protection will suffer as a result. 

We should get used to it. The truth is, discretionary decision-making – consciously choosing priorities and then funding them -- is becoming a rarity as more and more “built-in” or “automatic pilot” spending items increasingly crowd out state and local government budgets.    

At the state level, many would first think of the Medicaid program, where the crowd-out phenomenon has been in place for many years but was recently compounded by the Affordable Care Act. (At the risk of dating myself, we used to refer to Medicaid as the “Pac Man” of the state budget.) Once the federal funds are accepted, the State is committed to certain actions no matter the cost.

One of the most significant “built-in” spending components affecting all state and local governments in Iowa is public pension debt. Our public pension systems guarantee retirees a monthly benefit for life, the size of which depends on how long they worked and at what salary. The system is built upon a financial model that involves a whole series of assumptions. If the assumptions don’t pan out, taxpayers are still on the hook to pay the benefits.

And the assumptions have not panned out. Changes in life expectancies, the recession of 2001/2002, the market collapse in 2008/2009 and chronic underfunding have caused shortfalls in the state’s four public pension systems. The combined shortfall (in assets set aside to cover liabilities already incurred) for Iowa’s public pension plans is now nearly $6 billion. In addition to sharing in the annual cost that accrues with each year of service, taxpayers must now also make an extra payment to the pension systems each year to gradually erase (or amortize) the shortfall. This is what it will take to be able to pay benefits when due.

The good news is we are now making the minimum payments. Some states aren’t, and they are continuing to lose ground. The bad news? The payments are very, very expensive. Following a long history of stable funding since the 1970’s, required contributions to the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) have now risen 50 percent, and they’ve doubled in the municipal police and fire plan. For the next 25-30 years, the total debt payment alone comes to $400 million each year.  This is 100 percent taxpayer-financed. Even worse, if what many would consider to be more reasonable assumptions and methods were used to calculate the required debt payments, they would be at least 50 percent higher.

To put this payment back in the context of our school funding and outdoor/environmental initiatives, consider these examples.  The debate all session centered on whether the K-12 system should receive 1.25 percent or 4 percent state growth. Meanwhile, the $400 million that will be sent to the pension systems by all public employers -- merely to cover the debt payment -- is the equivalent of 8 percent growth. It does not show up in an appropriations bill. It is not consciously weighed against school funding. But it definitely impacts school funding.

Or consider the 3/8 of a penny increase for conservation, environmental and outdoor recreation that was pushed by a broad coalition of interests. Why does this coalition feel the need for a tax increase to pay for these priorities? Because they have been crowded out of state and local budgets. This major environmental initiative would generate $150 million, less than half of what is being spent every year to pay down pension debt.  

Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done with the pension shortfall that has already been incurred.  We owe this and must pay it no matter what. But we should be asking if we want to compound our losses by adding new public employees to a system that is already so far out of control. Without change, we will continue to see our true priorities – be they education, environment, or public safety – shortchanged even more in the future.  

Demand to be introduced

 

Download- Meridith Freese writes for young professionals

One of my first meetings as a full-time employee was a lunch meeting at Bravo with my boss Dave Schwartz and the Pleasant Hill Mayor and Kum & Go Sustainability Manager Sara Kurovski. 

We were discussing different topics and getting to know one another, but it was after this conversation that I got one of my first lessons in being a young professional in the real world. As we were leaving Bravo, Dave had stopped to talk to two other people who were in the booth behind us that he knew. I stood there with Sara as we watched him catch up and she leaned over and whispered to me, “Demand to be introduced.” I watched Sara leave my side and introduce herself to the table.

I contemplated the idea that I had stood in the background and watched others' conversations many times before. Why hadn’t I reached out my hand and introduced myself? Was it because I thought I was too young to be in the conversation? Or was it because I was trying to be respectful in letting them have their discussion? Whatever the reasoning, I decided that day that I would no longer be overlooked.

As young professionals, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, we need to be assertive in meeting people. We want people to know who we are and we want them to know that we are here to make as much of a difference as they do. Even now I will still catch myself standing in the background but the difference is, I notice it and I am able to correct it. I have realized that by extending my hand for an introduction, I am allowing myself to grow my network and quite possibly open a door for opportunities later.

Not only will you empower yourself by overcoming your fear, but the ones you are reaching out to will respect you more. You deserve to be in the conversation as much as anyone. Demand to be introduced.  

171A6085-Meridith Freese is the marketing manager for the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce and the coordinator of New View Young Professionals in West Des Moines.

 

 

 

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