Helpful Hints about Habits

The weather is finally warmer. The days are longer. January is about a half year behind us (or in front of us, depending on how you look at it.)

Now is a great time to reflect on whether your New Year’s resolutions for 2010 actually have taken hold. 

 Reaching the Mountian Top

Are you exercising more, eating right, taking on more challenging projects at work, learning new skills or doing whatever you thought would be a good idea when the New Year hit?

Whatever your goals are or were, you likely gave some forethought as to how you were going to be successful in your quest. Maybe you picked up a book or talked to someone who had a strategy for achieving that goal. But when it comes down to it, improving ourselves – be it in our personal or professional lives – typically requires establishing new habits.

So what does it take to establish a new habit? Peter Bregman, Harvard Business Review blogger and author of the book “A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change,” contends you need two ingredients if you are to change behavior:

  • Fear – the catalyst that gets you started but it doesn't last
  • Reward – the incentive to sustain long-term change

Dr. Wendy Wood, James B. Duke professor of psychology and neuroscience, states, “Habits are formed when the memory associates specific actions with specific places or moods.”  In this regard, some considerations should be made when trying to form a positive habit:

  • A set time and place the habit is going to be built at/in
  • Avoidance of activities, people and things that make building your habit more challenging (if you regularly eat chips while sitting on the couch, heading for the couch may actually prompt you to reach for the bag)

Finally, many of us – especially those still struggling to make our resolutions for 2010 part of our routines – want to know how long it usually takes for something to become second nature. In 2009, several researchers in the UK completed a study to get insight into this question. Their results revealed the average time to form a new habit is 66 days.  As you would expect, there was a lot of variation in how long habits took to form – anywhere from 18 to 254 days. For example, drinking a daily glass of water becomes automatic very quickly but doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast requires more dedication. Interestingly, the researchers also noted that:

  • Missing a day does not reduce the chance of forming a habit – so don’t sweat it if you do
  • A small sub-group of people appear to be 'habit-resistant' – they may need to work harder
  • Other types of habits not tested may take much longer – depending on complexity and difficulty

So whether you are working to adopt Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, trying to take steps to improve your health or making an effort to enhance yourself in almost any other way, here’s a formula to consider: 

  1. Create a bit of useful fear by thinking about what will happen if you don’t succeed
  2. Set yourself up for success by identifying times and places for working on your goal while also removing items that could detract from it
  3. Take time to notice the positive impact of the changes happening and reward yourself at regular intervals
  4. Be patient and persistent – forming a positive habit takes time

Good luck!

Industry Leaders

Every industry has its leaders, the handful of top organizations known for their innovative advancements, comprehensive community involvement and extensive legislative activity. Their pragmatic CEOs are known for eloquently delivering “the next great idea” to rooms full of people eager to advance their careers.


86532209 It’s the countless professionals focused on advancing medicine who landed Iowa a ranking among the nation’s best states for delivering quality health care. The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based private foundation that studies health issues, gave Iowa health-care providers straight A’s in their report. States were ranked on 32 measures of cost, insurance coverage and medical quality.


Health care has been in the spotlight. The new health care reform law calls for massive efforts to modernize health care, including everything from electronic health records to improved models of patients care. Iowa is uniquely positioned to take the first steps in these areas by piloting various health-care reform initiatives.


It wasn’t easy to get us here. But fortunately, it’s been a great learning experience, and some of the same steps used to improve medical services can be implemented in organizations aiming to lead their industry.

-   Collaborate – hospitals and health systems, employers, insurance providers and patients worked together to explore new ways to improve care. For example, at Iowa Health System, our health literacy team received national recognition from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality AEQ for their efforts to make it easier for people to communicate with their health-care teams.

-   Implement Lean initiativesIt’s been said that a hospital is one of the most complex systems ever created. Iowa’s medical providers, like many Iowa businesses and government agencies, are implementing Lean [link to:] activities to remove waste and streamline processes. In health care, that means reduced wait times, decreased hospital-acquired infections and fewer frustrations for patients and families.

-   Research best practices – Medical teams learn from one another, analyze data and then implement their findings to standardize patient care. Consider what others are doing in your industry and how their methods can be transferred to your business.

-   Set measurable goals – health-care experts didn’t just say “we want to help more people stay healthy” but instead focused their efforts. The 5 Million Lives Campaign’s bold objective: Protect patients from 5 million incidents of medical harm during two years (2006 – 2008). They challenged American hospitals to adopt 12 changes in care that save lives and reduce patient injuries, and Iowa’s hospitals heeded the call.


We’re poised to help the nation improve medical services, to lead the dramatic reform required to provide quality care to patients throughout our nation. It’s not always easy at the top, but it’s important to be here.

The Mistaken Perception of Mistakes

We all make mistakes. Companies make mistakes, too. We can try our best to prevent them, but it’s often how we rebound from our mistakes often that ultimately defines how others view us and shapes our success.



I thought about this as Facebook responded last week to its apparent misstep of exposing too many personal details of their users while not offering them easy-to-understand privacy controls. After a few weeks of negative feedback, the company unveiled a new, simpler privacy policy, but it has yet to say it made a mistake.  The months ahead will tell if Facebook can regain its reputation as a safe place to network.


There are several classic examples where companies have done a great job being upfront about mistakes or were even able to turn them into success stories.  For example, in 1982, Johnson & Jonson recalled and destroyed 31 million Tylenol capsules at a cost of $100 million when the product had been tampered with. The CEO appeared in television ads and at news conferences informing consumers of the company's actions. Tamper-resistant packaging was rapidly introduced, and Tylenol sales swiftly bounced back to near pre-crisis levels. 


Then there’s the well-known failure of New Coke. People remember that it infuriated long-time consumers, cost a ton of money and lasted only 77 days before Coca-Cola Classic was reintroduced. Still, New Coke could be viewed as a success because it reattached the public to the Coke brand and revitalized sales (back to the No. 1 one spot ahead of Pepsi).


In many ways, companies and individuals should adhere to the same set of principles when a mistake occurs. Amy Gallo, Harvard Business Review Best Practices writer, offers these solid guidelines in her recent article on mistakes:



  • Accept responsibility for your role in the mistake
  • Show you've learned and will behave differently going forward
  • Demonstrate you can be trusted with equally important decisions in the future


  • Be defensive or blame others
  • Make mistakes that violate people's trust — these are the toughest to recover from
  • Stop experimenting or hold back because of a misstep

The last point is particularly important to remember in any discussion about mistakes. A key skill for businesses managers to acquire is identifying when it is acceptable to make mistakes. In the health care industry, mistakes in patient care are unacceptable. But it is still an industry that needs rapid innovation – particularly in the area of processes – and one that can benefit from some calculated risk-taking.


Paul J.H. Schoemaker, chairman and CEO of Decision Strategies International and research director for the Mack Center for Technological Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says organizations need to make mistakes in order to improve and should be the least afraid of mistakes when:

  • Fresh approaches to a complex problem are needed
  • The potential learning from a failure far outweighs the potential cost

In a time when Six Sigma, Lean and other forms of process improvement are becoming more pervasive, the way we address our mistakes is an important aspect of business now more than ever.


When we view mistakes as learning opportunities and not something to hide, it’s possible to have an environment where accountability is balanced with transparency, and that creates an environment geared for success.

When Your Personal Attention Is Needed

We are fortunate to live in age where there are so many ways to stay connected in our business and personal lives. It’s amazing to think that Facebook, a tool that has been around fewer than five years, last month reached 400 million active users and became the most visited Web site in the U.S.



But recently, I was reminded of just how instrumental face-to-face meetings can be in achieving business goals. Last week, more than 800 individuals from my organization gathered in Des Moines for our annual leadership meeting. The volume of advice shared, ideas generated and relationships solidified made me realize that the value created by this event would be extremely tough to duplicate by any virtual means.


Even though many of us are faced with tighter budgets and new economic realities, it’s a good idea to think about the times in your business cycles when meeting in person will pay great dividends. In a global survey of Harvard Business Review subscribers, 95 percent of respondents cited face-to-face meetings as a key factor in successfully building and maintaining long-term relationships. More than half of the respondents mentioned the following reasons to have in-person meetings:

·  Meeting new clients to sell business

·  Contract negotiations

·  Understanding/listening to important customers

·  Identifying new growth opportunities

·  Building relationships/managing geographically dispersed teams


According to a 2009 Forbes Insights Survey, business executives, while relying more heavily on remote meetings than compared to a year prior (mainly for budgetary reasons), believe long-distance meetings frequently suffer from:

·     Reduced attention spans

·     Inability to inspire or build morale

·     Challenges for some participants to gain recognition

·     Difficulty to build trust


Of course, in our personal lives it’s just as important to make the effort to “be there” to grow our bonds with friends and loved ones. Relatively new communication tools such as Skype, which now has more than 20 million people using its service at peak times, have certainly filled a need for affordable and more engaging communication. However, even video conferencing can fall short when it comes to conveying emotion or allowing participants to act naturally.


I can’t help but think about one of my senior staff members who recently located from the Quad-Cities to Des Moines six months before her family could join her. Phone calls, e-mail, Skype and other technologies helped her stay connected with her family during the workweek, but now that they are all together again she let me know that tech-enabled communication pales in comparison to the real thing. Sharing dinner together, tucking kids into bed and generally being together are tough to re-create digitally.


The types of moments where we should make the effort to be together come in many forms and vary for us all. 

Think about where in your business and personal lives there might be a need to boost the amount of personal presence. Our time is precious these days, so consider spending it by cultivating those relationships that mean the most.

40th Anniversary of Earth Day

98209673_earthday Next Thursday will mark the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day. On that day in 1970, an estimated 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. In a lot of respects, this was the day when the environmental movement in this country was born. 


While always on the radar, it wasn’t until the early part of the last decade when the idea of “going green” experienced a renaissance and became relatively mainstream. Suddenly, hybrid vehicles, reusable shopping bags, compact florescent light bulbs and the like became fashionable. Then the recent economic downturn hit. Thankfully, the green movement hasn’t lost steam as the Three R’s of conservation became great ways for many of us also to save money:

  • Reduce the amount consumed and thrown away
  • Reuse products for the intended and new purposes
  • Recycle as much as possible and buy products with recycled content

Of course, doing your part to preserve the world’s natural resources is the ultimate reason to be environmentally responsible. And businesses, just like individuals, can have this altruistic motive while also realizing some other tangible benefits. The Green Business Alliance lists reasons for businesses to go green:

  • Setting a positive example for employees, boosting morale and company loyalty
  • Gaining a competitive advantage by differentiating yourself as a green organization
  • Improving efficiency and potentially lowering operating costs
  • Providing a cleaner and healthier work environment

Acting environmentally responsibly will look different from one business to the next. As with every new venture, it’s a good idea to set realistic goals that you can achieve. For example, our organization initially focused on reducing energy and water consumption in our laundry operations. When a solid program was in place there, we then expanded our focus to step up our recycling efforts across the organization.


If your situation allows, getting input from experts is recommended as well. Few companies have sustainability as a core competency, so getting sound advice can provide much needed direction and feedback. For example, Iowa Health System just partnered with Practice GreenHealth, the leading sustainability authority in our industry, to get help with:

  • Identifying the optimal areas on which to focus
  • Implementation of programs
  • Learning best practices from other institutions
  • Correctly tracking, benchmarking and reporting results

This week, consider what you or your organization can do to get started to reduce impact on the world’s resources. Or if you already are working on it, think about what can be done to enhance your organization’s current efforts. Encourage your employees to attend an Earth Day event and to enjoy the outdoors. And keep the movement strong in Iowa.

Leadership: Pass It On

Two recent events have reminded me of the importance of engaging future generations of leaders and imparting what wisdom and skills we can to help equip them for success. And we all know this is particularly important in Iowa, where we have seen some challenges in retaining young professionals.

96964092  Last month, I met with some of the most dedicated people in the Des Moines metro area at the Business Record’s annual Forty Under 40 event. I was awed by the passion and success of these individuals as well as by the positive influence they are exerting on the organizations fortunate enough to be associated with them.

And just a couple weeks ago, I hosted a luncheon for all of the interns working within Iowa Health System. I try to do this with each new class of interns for two reasons:

  • First, it’s great to get them more connected to the organization by giving them an opportunity to meet with each other and senior management.
  • The other reason is more selfish. I truly enjoy the energy, fresh perspectives and ideas they bring. There’s nothing quite like meeting with a group that’s ready to take on the world.

With that in mind, spring is here, and it’s not too late to begin planning a summer intern program for your organization. CareerBuilder offers several tips for planning ahead to make working relationships with interns the best they can be:

  • Determine how you will make them feel like part of their teams
  • Emphasize the importance of their work
  • Prepare to give tasks that differ from time to time and at least one they can own and complete from beginning to end 
  • Show how they are positively affecting the company 

If you think you can meet these needs, then it’s time to start recruiting. While it’s worth considering candidates who have the initiative to contact you directly about internship opportunities, most likely you are going to want to select from a pool of applicants. A great way to do this is to work with the career development offices at area colleges and universities.

Whether you are ready for an intern program, another rewarding, more personal job you can take on is to become a mentor. Mentoring gives you the extraordinary opportunity to facilitate a protégé’s personal and professional growth by sharing knowledge you learned through years of experience. 

The American College of Health Care Executives outlines the various ways you can benefit from mentoring:

  • Strengthen your own coaching and leadership skills by working with individuals from different backgrounds and personality types
  • Develop and retain talent in your organization or community
  • Demonstrate in a real way how cultural expectations affect decisions
  • Create a legacy that has a lasting impact, providing you with the satisfaction of helping to develop future talent

Becoming a mentor is a big decision and one that should not to be taken lightly. Much like an internship, it requires a considerable amount of planning, listening and consultation.

Certainly there are other ways to nurture the professional pipeline for your organization and our region. Offer to speak to young professional organizations. Teach a course at a local institution. Work with your own HR department or association membership chair to find out how you can engage and retain the best young talent. But whatever you do, do it for yourself as well. Absorb the energy, fresh perspectives, skill and effort that young professionals have to share in return.

Changing Perspectives on Our Changing Surroundings

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with the adage, “The only constant is change.”

With 2009 moving farther into the rear view mirror, many of us are reflecting less on the changes brought on by last year’s economic headlines and instead are focusing on the questions ahead. 

"How will health care reform affect me or my organization?" "Will Toyota be able to repair its reputation?" and “Should I get an i-Pad?” are just a few of the new questions linked to changes already seen in 2010. Many more unforeseen changes certainly will follow as the rest of the year unfolds.

Reactions to change – as individuals and organizations – have a major impact on our ability to be healthy, productive and successful.

For individuals, handling change requires the ability to learn, adapt and apply wisdom to new circumstances. Author and leadership coach for several Fortune 500 companies, Kevin Cashman, says, "It's about developing an unshakable inner confidence that we can handle and learn from anything that comes our way.”

A five-year study of 97 active, productive people older than 100 years of age conducted by Dr. Leonard Poon of the University of Georgia found that, beyond genes and diet, there are six common characteristics that form a foundation of resilience needed to best handle change:

  • Support: From friends and family
  • Engagement: Active involvement in life
  • Relaxation: A tendency to be calm and relaxed
  • Optimism: A positive view of the past and future
  • Problem-solving: A sharp mind and a determined spirit
  • Adaptability to Loss: Ability to stay balanced by adapting to and accepting change and loss

For organizations, the challenge of anticipating and meeting change head on is greater than ever before. New technologies and business models in particular are leveling the playing field in many ways. The best-equipped organizations, according to best-selling author and Harvard professor Gary Hamel, will be those that have equipped their employees in two ways:

  • With the power to innovate
  • With the ability to do more than simply follow orders from senior leadership

Companies that have been practicing this philosophy in the past are now reaping the benefits. IBM, for example, had an on line "Innovation Jam" in 2006 in which 100,000 employees, customers, consultants and others shared their views with the CEO. Top management then gave funding to the best ideas, which are an important part of the company’s business offering today.

The bottom line is, without change, companies and individuals become stagnant. As we move ahead, remember that integrating the reality of change can be liberating and growth stimulating. Keep your eyes and ears open, work to cut through the layers of old patterns and discover the opportunities that will keep you ahead of the curve.

Prepping for the Big Dance: We Supersedes Me

March Madness: bracket picks, buzzer beaters, Cinderella stories and 60-plus men’s and women’s collegiate basketball teams battling it out for national championship titles. 96259936_March Madness

 “The Big Dance” is here and it’s a good time to highlight that invitations to the tournament aren’t addressed to star athletes – the selection committee recognizes team accomplishments with the honor of competing in this annual event. And every year, while following the three weeks of action, I’m reminded that team players make the difference on, and off, the courts.

Even if you’re the titled leader of an organization, Tammy Erickson, Harvard Business Review contributor and McKinsey Award-winning author, says it’s important for all team members to feel like they are an integral part of the process. She cites research that says groups make better decisions than individuals, and she lays out these steps for leaders:
1.) Ask great questions.
Challenge the organization to meet goals that are intriguing, complex and important.  Don’t narrow the focus to the mundane or over-specify the way teams should approach their challenge.

2.) Build relationships and trust deep in the organization.
Be careful not to exclude input, increase competition among internal teams, or reduce investments in learning. Increase potential for success by all through relationship building and encouraging knowledge exchange.

3.) Challenge the status quo.
Ensure your team has regular ongoing exposure to opportunities that spark creativity. Bring in new people and new ideas – and take them seriously.

Still, there are those who live by the motto: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” However, if want your professional and personal success to be enduring, I would suggest taking a team approach. Consider this African Proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It is a great way of saying that lasting value is borne from collaborative efforts that draw on the strengths of each member of your department, committee, family, team, etc.

Enjoy the NCAA tournament. While you watch, decide for yourself whether it’s individual prowess or five players on the floor functioning as a unit that takes teams into the late rounds. Sure there will be standout players. But it was John Wooden, arguably one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, who said, “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team."

Similarly, strong leaders in business and life succeed when they’re part of a great team.  Take time to go over the game plan with your team, identify their strengths, help them improve and determine how they can contribute to overall success. 

Celebrate Your Way to the Top

Whether you’re trying to lose weight on your own or as part of a team, slimming down can be a challenge of endurance. Health experts understand that keeping the momentum going requires setting and achieving incremental, short-term goals while working toward a larger target. 91430142

But the benefits of reaching short-term goals, personally and professionally, often only is realized when you take time to celebrate each accomplishment.  

Sports teams make it to the championship only if they have the most wins in their division. But often their success is based on celebrating accomplishments not captured on the scoreboard – such as mastering a new play. Successful coaches make time to honor each victory while keeping their eye on maintaining a winning streak. They’re always working toward the big prize – like a bowl win as University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz did this year.

Celebrating success also is fundamental to keeping your business team motivated. Long-term projects can fail if the organization isn’t focused on each accomplishment throughout the process. The Times Online developed a list of simple suggestions to recognize success at any level:

  • Keep it simple
  • Get the CEO involved
  • Make it memorable
  • Spread the word
  • Give prizes
  • Hold a party

Remember to take breaks and celebrate after milestone achievements. You’ll cultivate a culture of collaboration, strengthen team relationships and keep employees motivated.

Love your job – it’s the heart of the matter

Today, countless cupids will honor their Valentine with candy hearts, flowers and heart-shaped jewelry. But I encourage you to mark this day by considering your own heart, and how work is affecting your health.


Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This is wise advice, and during American Heart Month, it’s especially important to recognize that work stress affects much more than your next performance review.

Recent research provides strong evidence that work stress is linked to the onset of heart disease. Chronic stress also can lead to other health problems, including type 2 diabetes.

Take action to reduce stress at the office for you and your team, including:

  • Create a balanced schedule. Too much of anything isn’t healthy, so find balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary pursuits, to avoid exhaustion.

  • Plan regular breaks. Make sure to take short breaks throughout the day to sit back and clear your mind. Stepping away to briefly relax will help you be more productive.

  • Prioritize tasks. Make a list of tasks you have to do, and tackle them in order of importance. If you have something particularly unpleasant to do, get it over with early. The rest of your day will be more pleasant as a result.

  • Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, make a step-by-step plan. Focus on one manageable item at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.

With cardiovascular disease holding fast as American’s No. 1 cause of death, heart health should be one of your top priorities. Implementing simple steps to better enjoy your job can have life-long benefits, and the Valentines in your life will thank you for it.

Disconnect to de-stress

Stress seems to be a common consequence of today’s wired world. Even the thought of establishing the cliché work-life balance can cause migraines. When you add a BlackBerry and an inbox overflowing with e-mails, the distinction between professional and personal time often disappears.  

11880993-849x566_angry man and cpu

However, it isn’t technology that is causing the problem; it’s human behavior. Staying connected to the office is convenient, but being constantly connected is not healthy or productive. Just because you received an email at 10 p.m. doesn’t mean you should respond to it immediately.  
I recommend these steps to disconnect and take a much-needed break from the office: 

Be firm about acceptable times to send and respond to email. 
Silence the e-mail notification feature on your phone. 
Manage e-mails by reading a message once, then file, flag, delete or replying. 

Do your best to use your weekends and vacations to completely unplug and recharge. Disconnecting is your opportunity to reduce stress and rebalance in preparation for your next great accomplishment. 

Sell the Dream and You'll Find Success

The television show “The Biggest Loser” finale aired recently and millions watched as contestant after contestant weighed in with losses of 100, 200 pounds and more. Seeing where the participants began, you might wonder how some of them transformed from a person who could barely walk into someone who ran a marathon?
13757463-600x800 door to dreams
The same theme kept popping up with each story – with the life-changing transformation of their weight loss, they could dream again. The contestants said repeatedly that gaining control of their lives and their health had enabled them to plan for their future again. “The Biggest Loser” wasn’t about losing weight to the 13 people on the stage; it was about a dream they had lost and wanted back. 

Though the show’s trainers had varying methods for motivating the contestants, they practiced the fundamental principle that every CEO who wants to lead their employees toward an insurmountable goal should: Sell the dream.  

According to Carmine Gallo’s guest blog on Drew’s Marketing Minute, “great leaders cultivate a sense of mission among their employees and customers.” Your company may have a product or service, but it’s the dream of what that product or service can do that will excite your employees and draw in customers. And when you have excited employees, you have the first step toward success.

Whether you are trying to lose weight for your health or inspire your employees to accomplish the unthinkable, start first by selling the dream.

S.M.A.R.T. Moves for Success

Rarely does the scoreboard tell the whole story. In fact, the outcome of many evenly matched athletic events often is decided by one opponent competing just a little bit better than the other - a phenomenon commonly referred to as a competitive advantage. 
The competitive advantage also is what separates a good company from a great one.     
Attaining the competitive advantage in sports and business relies on the ability to continually move performance to higher levels. Successful coaches and business leaders understand that winning requires a strategy of carefully planning, setting and reaching hundreds of small goals.
I recommend revisiting your short- and long-term goals and evaluating them based on the S.M.A.R.T. criteria:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Reasonable
  • Timely

S.M.A.R.T. goals will keep you and your team focused and on the right path to success. Stay competitive by analyzing each opportunity and identifying what it takes to move your business ahead.

Weathering Change: Four Steps for Success

It can be tough to stick with your outdoor exercise program when the seasons change and temperatures drop. Cold weather and less daylight may work against your fitness schedule, but it’s important to stay active throughout the year. 9087826-866x554_jogging in snow with dog
Before you put away the running shoes, remember that successful winter-time workouts simply require a little planning and safety precautions, including:

  • Layering your clothes
  • Protecting your extremities
  • Remembering sunscreen
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Paying attention to the wind chill

Changes in your professional environment also require planning to avoid setbacks. Change can instill fear among employees – which can lead to an unpleasant workplace, worrying and decreased productivity. Steven Warrilow , a change management expert, offers four comprehensive steps to successfully implement change. 

  1. Clarity in all areas – fully understanding the business need, specifics, benefits and impact of the change.
  2. Consistent leadership – convince employees that the change is necessary and lead them through it. Address the emotional impacts of the change but do not gloss over the truths.
  3. Constant communication – make sure your message is clear, accurate, timely and open to feedback.
  4. Capability and resources – translate your vision into actionable steps.

Change in the workplace is inevitable. As a leader, you must continually strive to understand and convey the need for change while proactively preparing for it.

Can You Hear Me Now?

It used to be that people ages 65 and older were the most likely to need hearing aids, but now hearing loss has become a Boomer phenomenon.

8621559-590x813_hearing For the first generation raised on rock-n-roll, years of exposure to loud concerts, cranked-up stereos and gas-powered lawn mowers are a big part of the reason doctors diagnose more middle-aged people with hearing loss. According to study by The Ear Foundation and Clarity, half of the nearly 76 million Baby Boomers in America experience some degree of hearing loss. In the study, people with hearing loss express greater dissatisfaction with their friendships, family life, health and financial situation than people without hearing loss. 

In professional situations, poor listening can be just as detrimental.

Skillful listening and communication is important in today’s competitive work environment. People who are able to communicate effectively make successful leaders and typically develop more satisfying personal and professional relationships.
I recommend strengthening your communication skills with a quick review of the C.A.R.E. model for active listening.

  • Concentrate – make sure you are focusing on the speaker.
  • Acknowledge – use body language (a nod or occasional affirmation) to convey your attentiveness.
  • Respond – make sure to ask questions for clarification and interest.
  • Emphasize – share in the speaker’s emotions and feelings.

Remember to practice effective communication in the workplace to foster an environment of respect and cooperation, while increasing your team’s morale and productivity.

Professional Trainers Can Improve Physical and Professional Performance

Exercise enthusiasts and the self-proclaimed “coach-potatoes” have something in common: each can benefit from sessions with a personal trainer.

Trainers help sedentary beginners create balanced fitness programs that minimize the risk of injury and support healthy lifestyles. They also assist active individuals wishing to overcome obstacles or achieve new results after maintaining an ongoing exercise routine.

9244965-566x849_exec_coach In the business world, we often seek similar assistance from executive coaches. These seasoned professionals can provide the same type of one-on-one interaction and guidance to help leaders sharpen their skills and improve team performance.

However, executive coaching, similar to personal training, is not an end in and of itself. According to the Harvard Management Update, coaching works best when you’ve identified what you want to accomplish and are open to feedback.

And the benefits can extend throughout the entire organization. Business leaders report enhanced individual performance, increased customer satisfaction and improved return on investment after utilizing corporate coaching services. A MetrixGlobal survey of Fortune 1000 executives also found coaching improved teamwork, job satisfaction and working relationships with peers, supervisors, clients and direct reports.

So whether you’re trying to shed a few pounds or streamline your team’s performance, consider a professional coach or trainer in your quest for improvement.

Stop Procrastinating

Benjamin Franklin captured the essence of his era when he said, “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Now, more than 200 years later, we can modernize his famous quote by simply adding procrastination to that list of certainties.

5051753-540x360_procrastinateWhile we’re striving to maintain a healthy work/life balance, it seems there just isn’t enough time to get everything on the “to do” list done. Yours may look something like this:

  • Finish backyard landscaping project.
  • Conduct crisis training for frontline personnel.
  • Lose 10 pounds.
  • Address concerns about aging office equipment.
  • Talk with employees about time management issues.
  • Schedule a physical and recommended health screening tests.

Each task left undone may not evolve into a crisis, but eventually you’ll be faced with a professional, personal or medical situation that could have been avoided.

  • Delaying a crucial conversation with one person often negatively affects the entire team’s morale.
  • Postponing extensive initial training to meet a tight deadline can hinder long-term productivity.
  • Skipping medical exams might delay detection of a chronic condition.

I believe the key to success is maintaining focus to accomplish the most important tasks first. The business books are ripe with ideas, including:

  • Put First Things First: Stephen Covey’s Habit 3 (from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) gives a great visual reminder that our personal “buckets” only can hold all the little rocks if they’re added after the big ones.

  • Eat That Frog: The title comes from on the old saying “If the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing it’s probably the worst thing you’ll do all day.” Readers enjoy 21 practical steps for personal time management.

Take the first step. Review your “to do” list, open your calendar and schedule time to get things done. You’ll enjoy increased productivity and have more time to focus on your personal and professional goals.

Sleep on It

11777703-1024x683_sleep 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.

The medical community addressed this issue in 2003 when the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (the organization responsible for medical training programs across the county) implemented 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.

Now consider your team and their schedules, as well as your own personal sleep habits. 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.

In Full Swing

Sometimes child’s play shows the path to business success. For example, during a recent stroll in a Des Moines park, I saw parents pushing their children on the swings. The scene was encouraging: It’s great to see families playing at the park and staying healthy, and the image reminded me of each organization’s process to guide new employees toward success in the workplace.

4884808-360x541_swing When a child gets comfortable on a swing, parents explain how to build momentum and keep moving without a gentle push. In the business world, orientation initiatives have similar goals: To ensure the retention of top talent and decrease a new-hire’s time to productivity while helping the employees feel welcome, valued and prepared for a solid future with the organization.
Guidestar’s orientation best practices suggest a “three month and beyond” plan to prepare employees for their new position. The process includes a number of vital steps, including:

  1. Completing an agenda for the new employee’s first week on the job.
  2. Scheduling times for the new hire to meet with key staff members.
  3. Assigning a mentor to act as an immediate resource.
  4. Providing an office tour on the employee’s first day.
  5. Aligning expectations and discussing management style during the first week.
  6. Providing formal feedback on the new employee’s job performance after 90 days.
  7. Seeking suggestions for improvement regarding the orientation process.

Just as parents slowly retreat at the first sign of success, a supervisor or mentor should gradually let the new employee take the lead on projects. It’s important to know when to step aside and support the employee while guiding him or her toward greater effectiveness, efficiency and success.

Reach Your Fans (Customers) Any Time, Any Place

5314022-1024x683_espn You’ve got to hand it to ESPN. The sports network offers it all. From college match ups to American Gladiator competitions and BMX racing, they deliver the highlights, interviews and amazing athletic feats via TV, radio, magazine, interactive Web sites and personalized mobile alerts.

ESPN reminds us of the countless ways to get, and stay, in shape. Bored with your running routine? Try rowing for something new. Never liked the mainstream sports (basketball, football, soccer)? ESPN spotlights millions of people participating in cross-county road races, bowling tournaments, poker games and bull riding competitions.

From a business standpoint, it’s ingenious. I’m confident the “WorldWide Leader in Sports” has a strategic plan, with ample research and statistics to back their next steps. But the business model is flexible enough to welcome the unexpected. When football legends and an internationally-known race car driver joined Dancing with the Stars, ESPN brought us the highlights.

They also offer countless interactive options to engage their audience, inviting people to connect with other sports fans, share their passion for a favorite team, blog about sports and join online conversations.
The sports leader’s Web-based PollCenter invites visitors to express their opinions, making it easy to find out how the rest of the “SportsNation” feels about a variety of topics – such as how the Minnesota Vikings will do with Brett Favre at quarterback.

Innovation isn’t easy, and sometimes ideas fail, but it’s vital for every organization to stay nimble enough to meet the ever-changing needs of their clients.

And as we enter this year’s football season, consider ESPN’s timeless question: Are you ready?

Be the Best

Whether you’re competitive in nature or simply prefer to play for the love of the game, I think it’s safe to say it’s always nice to be counted among the best. That feeling also runs deep for the companies where we work.

Trophy By now you’re familiar with the well-known “top” employer lists, including Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For and Working Mother Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Companies. These annual contests draw attention to some amazing employee perks: Onsite child care, telecommuting, flextime and great health-care benefits.

I know what you’re thinking. We’re trying to promote healthy living around the office, but we don’t have Google’s gynormous budget to offer free daily “healthy and delicious meals prepared by gourmet chefs.” (Yes, this is a direct quote from their Web site’s Way Beyond the Benefits employment section.)

Let’s face the facts: Talented people are drawn to places like Google, but fortunately for the rest of us they can’t employ every great applicant. It’s time to evaluate your surroundings and implement programs to elevate your company to the top.

Try these simple initiatives to get the ball rolling.

  • Put free fruit in the breakroom a few days a week to encourage healthy eating.

  • Decorate the stairwells so it’s more enticing to skip the elevator the next time your team heads to the top for a meeting.

  • Get involved with the American Heart Association’s Start! walking program, which helps your company encourage its employees to live healthier lives.

  • Include healthy recipes and exercise tips in employee communications. The Live Healthy Iowa site is a great place to start.

Our own Principal Financial Group is continually ranked among the nation’s best employers. A quick glance at their list of employee benefits shows that employee health is a priority. They provide everything from medical, dental and vision insurance to wellness programs, on-site fitness facilities and no meeting Fridays.

Ultimately, looking out for employees and making sure they're taking care of themselves makes good business sense. And if Des Moines can snare the title “Hippest City in the USA” by Fast Company, your organization can land a top spot on the employer scene.

Ask Me 3 for Healthy Communication

Before tackling a big project, consider taking the “Ask Me 3” approach and have a candid conversation to answer these questions:

  • What is the main problem?
  • What do we need to do?
  • Why is it important for us to do this?

It’s a great exercise to focus business activities, save time and minimize frustrations, but the questions12147581-1208x1590_askme3 actually were developed for an entirely different purpose: to help patients better communicate with their medical team.

We all know it can be difficult to grasp medical terminology, especially when you’re feeling sick, receiving difficult news or not trained in the special language used by a health care system. So to help foster clear communication, the National Patient Safety Foundation and Partnership for Clear Health Communication developed Ask Me 3 as an easy-to-remember framework for patients and families.

For tough talks, the business world has a similar, more in-depth resource I highly recommend. In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, the authors coin a crucial conversation as “a discussion where stakes are high, emotions run strong and opinions vary.”

Crucial conversations take place throughout the day – during employee performance reviews, at the end of a long project or over the family dinner table – and your comments and reactions play a key role in successfully sending the right messages to those around you.

Just as Ask Me 3 helps facilitate open communication between patients and medical providers, learning Crucial Conversation skills can help you:

  • Prepare for high-stakes situations. 
  • Transform anger into powerful dialogue.
  • Improve professional and personal relationships.
  • Achieve improvements in productivity, quality, safety and change management.

Make time to ask the right questions and discuss important topics, and encourage effective communication across your organization. Your business, and business relationships, will benefit, and you’ll understand why most career openings seek candidates with “good communication skills.”

- Bill Leaver

Embrace Six Aims for Improvement

Good advice is never outdated, especially when caring for patients or customers.

As our nation’s leaders focus their efforts on transforming America’s health care system, we can learn from a brief review of the Institute of Medicine’s 2001 “Crossing the Quality Chasm” report that helped lay the foundation to redesign medical care. Health systems across the nation responded to the report with an increased emphasis on quality, relying on business tools – such as Lean initiatives and performance improvement teams – to improve the patient care experience.

12965830-600x800_target According to the report, the goal of a reform effort should be to ensure that health care is marked by six essential attributes. But I believe any organization, from its clients to employees, also can benefit from these aims for improvement:

  1. Safety – Customers and your employees should be as safe in your organization as they are in their own homes. Maintain up-to-date employee training programs and encourage open communication to decrease workplace injuries.

  2. Effectiveness – In health care, this means matching patient care to science, often called evidence-based medicine. Other industries use “best in class” models or retain third-party research firms to establish the most effective business models.

  3. Patient Centeredness (or Customer Centeredness) – Honor the individual, respecting the customer’s choice, culture and specific needs. Implement opportunities to customize your product, such as Capital One’s® Image Card that lets users upload their favorite photo to create a personalized credit card for shopping expeditions.

  4. Timeliness – Eliminate wait times by analyzing workplace systems and processes to identify roadblocks (points where people, parts or information are delayed waiting for technology, materials or additional information), and then remove them. This unlocks valuable resources that could be used to deliver revenue building services and products.

  5. Efficiency – Determine the most efficient and cost effective methods to run your organization. Evaluate and eliminate inefficiencies in your process and reduce waste of supplies, equipment, space and resources. Deliver world-class customer service.

  6. Equity – Most organizations have anti-discrimination policies on the books. However, walking the talk is the next step to ensure a fair and dynamic work environment. Live your mission, vision and values to create a culture where all ideas are accepted.

An emphasis on these aims for improvement resulted in motivated employees, reduced wait times, decreased hospital-acquired infections and fewer frustrations for patients and families. Imagine what your team can accomplish.

Stretch to Success

It’s not easy finding time to exercise.

Committed fitness enthusiasts usually squeeze in their daily dose of cardio, but who among us always takes time to stretch after a workout? With increasing responsibilities and the need to “do more with less” business leaders are finding ways to streamline their health and fitness activities and focus on the next project, deadline or crisis of the day.

11745987-1024x683_stretch When it comes to prioritizing, it’s easy to select the exercise options that yield noticeable results instead of stretching. However, stretching at least 20 to 30 minutes a week can provide lasting benefits, especially as you get older. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, we should spend at least 10 minutes after exercising to stretch major muscle and tendon groups.

Stretching offers many perks, including improved flexibility, circulation, balance and coordination. If you need structure and encouragement, participating in a class is an excellent way to get started. Our own City of Des Moines can help with its free “Yoga in the Park” Saturday morning sessions at Gray’s Lake this summer.

Stretching also holds importance in today’s business world, and I think it’s time to revisit the “stretch goals” philosophy of Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Stretch goals, by definition, seem beyond reach at the present time, and can be used to inspire employees and encourage innovative ideas. 

Using Welch’s goal-setting theory, consider these questions when evaluating professional stretching:

  1. How has the stretch goal helped improve performance relative to past performance?
  2. What impact has the stretch goal had on your level of performance in comparison to your competitors’ performance?
  3. If not yet achieved, how close have you come to the stretch goal? Was the progress meaningful?

Make time to stretch. As in exercise routines, striving for stretch goals may not be an immediate priority, but working toward them can have a tremendous positive benefit on your future.

Remember Lou’s 10/90 Rule to Manage Stress

Legendary college football coach Lou Holtz gave some great advice I draw to mind when feeling stressed: “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it.”

5808072thl_stress You don’t need to be a sports fan to benefit from Holtz’s mantra. We all experience difficult situations, and if we’re not careful, stress can cause physical, emotional and psychological strain that affects us at our home and work.

Stress is defined as the body’s response to change. Along the way, you may have already experienced some of the common symptoms: depression, heart disease, sleep loss, headaches and pain in the back, neck and jaw.

According to the American Heart Association, it’s important to identify ways you best handle stress, such as exercising, talking about your troubles or learning to accept the things you cannot change (the old Serenity Prayer).

You also should pay attention to potential stressful conditions at the office. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health outlines several stressful situations, including:

  • Task Design: Heavy workload, infrequent breaks and long work hours can take their toll on even the most serene individual.
  • Management Style: Departments lacking team decision-making opportunities, open communication and family-friendly policies may experience high turnover and employee burnout. 
  • Work Roles: Employees struggling with conflicting or uncertain job expectations, extensive travel or an endless number of immediate reports may feel overwhelmed and frustrated. 

Be mindful of your own reaction to stressful situations and focus on identifying the disruptive factors affecting you and your team. Make time to discuss difficult projects or clients while helping others develop positive methods to manage their stress.

This is important. Studies show that stressful working conditions are associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness and employee turnover – all of which can have a negative effect on the bottom line. So remember Holtz’s advice, and focus on your personal and professional health.

Prevention Programs Reduce Costs and Work Place Injuries

Seems like we’re all looking for innovative ways to reduce costs and do more with less. While you’re factoring different scenarios to increase the bottom line, remember that healthy, productive employees are a big part of the equation.

11928156-565x850_workplace_injury According to OSHA, U.S. employers pay almost $1 billion per week for workers' compensation costs. Tack on the additional expenses related to lost productivity, decreased morale, accident investigation and corrective measures, and you can see where employee safety is an investment area that cannot be ignored.

A proactive approach can significantly reduce, or eliminate, work-related injury claims. This stuff isn’t rocket science, but it needs to start at new employee orientation and become part of the office culture.

For example, provide an ergonomics evaluation of each person’s area during their first 30 days on the job. The cost of supplying a wrist-rest or lumbar support seems insignificant compared with the ongoing expense of treating carpel tunnel syndrome or other repetitive motion injuries.

It’s also important to promote activities to keep employees active. Our bodies were designed to move. When we don’t, our muscles grow weak and we’re more susceptible to injury. So offer a free weekly exercise class and provide a pleasant break room so employees will get up and move away from their desks for lunch.

Since overexertion caused by excessive lifting, pushing, pulling or carrying objects is the most common cause of injury, bring in an expert to teach proper techniques. (Remember, lift with your knees.)

And just like the analogy that “we’re only as strong as our weakest link,” prevention programs strengthen your organization by protecting employees, decreasing absenteeism, increasing customer satisfaction and reducing costs related to workplace injuries.

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Stick to the basics – in health and business

When news first broke of the H1N1 virus, stories included images of people wearing respiratory masks in crowded public places. Residents of big cities rushed to get supplies, only to discover empty shelves.

Before people began to panic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) delivered a simple message – stick to the basics to stay healthy:

  • 13098873-848x566_handwashingSneeze and cough into your sleeve, or use a tissue.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

  • Stay home if you’re sick and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

This isn’t complicated, just easy health precautions to follow every day. Sometimes it takes a worldwide health alert to remind us that the teachers were right when they drilled home the common sense personal hygiene techniques we learned in kindergarten.

This same thing can happen at the office. We get busy – or admit it, we’re swamped – and then suddenly there’s an issue… or a crisis… because someone forgot to follow the basic principles that keep the company going.

My advice: Remember to always follow the standard operating procedures. Whether you’re hiring a new employee or launching an amazing product, stick to the process in place. We’ve all read stories about companies that didn’t run their “standard” background check and then had to deal with inappropriate or criminal behavior on the clock. 

Ensure employees are aware of your company’s policies and procedures by including the information in their initial orientation and making it part of an annual review process. Discuss your guidelines with vendors and partners so everyone knows what’s acceptable and the extent of your boundaries.

And just like washing your hands or covering when you cough, these basic steps can protect your company’s health and future.

Prepare Like a Winner

The motivational experts remind us that to perform like a winner, you have to prepare like a winner. This is important for personal fitness, extending from the weekend-warrior out to win the annual neighborhood softball competition to an experienced athlete participating in the Hy-Vee Triathlon.

12172697-849x566_prepare Medical professionals also embrace this mantra when caring for their patients. Prior to beginning an operation, the surgical team takes all necessary steps to be prepared: researching new medical findings about the procedure, confirming the patient's medical history, running diagnostic tests and securing the proper instruments and medications to match the patient’s physical needs.

Business success depends on similar tactics. Before embarking on a new initiative or service line, make sure you’re ready:

  • Research – Look at what’s already available, what the competition is doing and why the latest similar product failed (or succeeded). Take these factors into account before you begin.

  • Confirm the facts – A general report shows you’re losing market share and wants to know how you’ll react. Before making sweeping changes, validate the numbers. It’s easier to spend a fraction of your budget on market research than to overhaul your entire division, only to learn the transformation wasn’t necessary.

  • Test the watersHenry Ford said, “If I’d asked people what they want they would have said a faster horse,” but I argue that it’s important to poll your customers to completely understand their needs and preferences. Consider focus groups or other methods to evaluate your ideas.

  • Gather your resources – You’ll need ample time and talent to succeed. Build a diverse team that works well together and isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, or the company’s business plan, if it will better the project.

So, when preparing for a race, a personal wellness plan or your next business adventure, build in time for preparation. The up-front investment increases your chance of winning and can make the whole experience more enjoyable.

Welcome Scrutiny – It Can Help You Improve

12127356-566x849_scrutiny Health care is a hot topic. It doesn’t matter if it’s Democrats or Republicans; local, state or national politicians – seems like everyone has an idea to improve the national health-care system.

While it’s not always easy to receive such scrutiny, the ongoing focus has its advantages. Today hospitals, health systems, insurers and medical professionals are working together to achieve innovative advancements and develop new ways to serve patients and their families.

One example is the Accountable Care Organization model, often called an ACO. It’s an idea that combines the efforts of doctors and hospitals to provide higher value and control costs.

I won’t bore you with the details, but think of an ACO as a virtual team approach to health-care improvement. When someone is seriously ill, they often receive help in numerous settings – from the doctor, at the hospital or in a skilled nursing facility – and it isn’t always easy to coordinate all the efforts. Right now, each medical entity is reimbursed for its isolated contribution to a patient’s care, which doesn’t take into account the person’s entire medical experience, or even the patient’s outcome.

But with an ACO, instead of holding a doctor or hospital solely responsible for a patient’s care, their efforts are combined. This shared accountability leads to greater care coordination and lower costs for medical care – a true win for everyone involved.

Now, consider your organization and the different departments or locations involved in shared projects. Are they rewarded (or penalized) individually for their small piece of the pie, or does the entire group work together, sharing ideas and resources, to meet the final goals and deadlines? Even teams driving toward a shared goal can suffer if they aren’t meeting regularly to discuss their progress and assess action items.

I encourage you to welcome outside feedback (when appropriate), seek experts to analyze your work and be open to new concepts. The process might be painful, but you can end up with a host of great ideas that’ll guide your organization to new heights.

Go Lean and Eliminate Waste… It’s Healthy!

We’ve got Earth Day, green initiatives and extensive recycling programs to help people reduce waste and save the environment. Every effort makes a difference, helping to revitalize neighborhoods, parks and entire communities.

For years, health-care executives and business leaders have followed this same mindset using Lean thinking to discover – and remove – inefficiencies. Lean is a decades-old philosophy to improve quality by eliminating waste and creating customer satisfaction.

Lean has tools and techniques to analyze efforts, identify and eliminate bottlenecks or redundancies and create smooth process flow. Examples from the medical community include everything from admitting patients to filing papers or providing lab results.

7442311-800x533_trashWhen the Toyota Production System (the forerunner of Lean) was developed, its plant manager listed what he called the “seven forms of waste.” I encourage you to review these wasteful activities and seek ways to streamline your business systems:

  1. Waiting – time spent waiting for service, information or materials. Any time employees or customers spend waiting is considered waste.

  2. Unnecessary motion – any motion that does not add value to the service or product. Examples include frequent trips to a distant supply area or people who work together but are located in different parts of the building.

  3. Moving items – excess transporting of information or material by cart, mail or foot travel. Storage areas may have to be rearranged every time a new batch of supplies arrives or excess equipment may have to be moved when a room is needed.

  4. Fixing defects – time spent reworking or repairing material or information.  This may show up as paperwork errors, billing errors or other mistakes.

  5. Making too much – producing more information or product than the customer requires.  Examples include extra materials that go unused or gathering information that is never utilized.

  6. Inventory – material or information that is waiting for processing. It’s not just excess supplies or materials, but anything started but not finished.

  7. Over-processing – effort and time spent processing information or material that is not adding value. Excess paperwork, putting the same information into two computer systems or asking customers for the same information several times falls into this category of waste.

As you learn to see waste in your processes, you’ll develop ways to improve. And just as employees are eager to help clean up the environment, they’re ready to suggest ways to make their work better for everyone involved.

Different Generations, Different Health Needs

Today, we’re seeing members of four distinct generations working together. Learning how to manage them is crucial, but just as important is offering medical benefits to meet their diverse needs.

Each group has its own distinct values and attitudes, based on its generation’s life experiences.

  • Traditionalists (born 1925 and 1946) – put aside their personal needs for the common good, have faith in institutions, tend to follow the chain of command and view job changing as a negative stigma.

  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 and 1963) – often called the “me” generation, they feel defined by their work achievements, value job security and often view their peers as competitors.

  • Generation X (born 1963 and 1981) – have great faith in themselves and often count on their peers for support. To them, job changing is a necessity.

  • Generation Y (born 1981 and 2000) – value career flexibility, want to be included in decision-making activities and often enjoy collaborating with others.

IStock_000005140996XSmallSome vast differences, so don’t assume everyone loves your current health plan.

Many companies offer on-site health facilities and nutritionists as part of their benefits packages. Others give full medical benefits to older workers who decide to move to part-time status, a strategy to retain skilled employees – and avoiding the cost of training new workers. According to surveys by Watson Wyatt, an international organization known for providing personnel and financial resources, many Traditionalists look for companies that provide "bridge" medical coverage until Medicare kicks in.

Health issues and stress management will become more of a concern as Gen X and Y age. Members of Generation Y have been under-active, consumed more processed and fast foods than previous generations and experienced more pollution and stress. Without intervention and support, companies eventually will see their benefit costs and disability rates grow uncontrollably.

Consider a cafeteria-style benefits package that allows for flexibility as well as the opportunity for employees to say how individual contributions are spent. Work with a provider that offers a range of programs so you can mix and match to meet your employees' different needs.

And remember the technologically-savvy young always have been able to access information immediately. They’ll expect the same from their benefits, wanting 24-hour on-line access and friendly providers to answer their questions.

The different generations bring incredible resources and insight to the table, and it’s your company’s health resources that play a big part in their decision to stick around.

Four Ways to Improve Employee Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead by Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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