Pedal to the metal

Pedal to the metal- Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

It is a beautiful June day in downtown Des Moines. You have the idea to grab lunch at one of the food trucks parked at the Western Gateway Park, but want to avoid the energy consumption of driving and the hassle of parking downtown.

Des Moines B-Cycle has your solution.  Purchase a membership to Des Moines B-Cycle, choose a bike from one of the many B-Cycle stations located throughout downtown Des Moines and cycle to your lunch destination.

It works like this:

  1. Purchase a membership online.  Memberships are good for 24 hours, 30 days or one year. You can also purchase a membership at a kiosk for 24 hours.
  2. Check out one of the bikes at any of the Des Moines B-Stations.
  3. Enjoy your ride.
  4. Return your bike to any B-Station. 

To encourage usage and bike availability, the first 60 minutes of every ride is free, but if a ride lasts over 60 minutes, a $2.50 usage fee will be added for each additional 30 minutes of use.

Des Moines B-Cycle memberships are inexpensive. From a 24-hour pass for $6 to an annual membership of $40 (offered through June 30), a person has access to bike checkouts from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 1 to Nov. 30. 

B-Cycles provide an easy transportation alternative to driving, and the B-cycles' internal GPS tracks the miles each member rode on each bike, estimates the number of calories burned, and estimates the carbon emissions avoided.

So follow this link to the Des Moines B-Cycle website then get out there and pedal!

https://desmoines.bcycle.com/top-nav-pages/home

Pedal to the metal 2

Change begins with an ending

- Rowena Crosbie is president of Tero International  

 Typewriter_the end

 

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy;

for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves;

we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Anatole France

 

Reflect on the major changes in your life. It could be a career change, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, marriage, divorce… 

Did the changes involve an element of loss? 

All changes, both positive and negative, begin with a loss. They first begin with letting go of the old.

William Bridges wrote about this intuitively logical notion in his book Managing Transitions. As Bridges describes it, transition is the emotional process we go through to get from something old to something new. Before you arrive at the new location, you must leave home, travel through what Bridges calls the “Neutral Zone” which is neither home nor the intended destination.

Leaders, not surprisingly, are notoriously focused on the new. They are victims of the erroneous thinking that change begins with something new. While, it’s tempting to think of change as the beginning of something new, this mistake in thinking is a leading cause of change failures.

In reality, or at least in our emotional reality (which tends to take precedence over “objective reality”); change begins with an ending. Before we can move into the new, we must first leave the old. Leaders who fail to recognize reality this lead change at their peril.

Leaving the old behind

Consider moving houses. To be sure, there is a day when the moving van (or your friends and a truck) transfer your possessions from the old to the new. However, the change, as anyone who has made it knows, involves more than the physical move. 

You begin with letting go of the old. Mourning the loss of the familiar. Thinking about the memories (even if they aren’t fond ones). Once you actually move, things don’t quickly fall into place. You wake up in the middle of the night in a slightly unconscious state in search of a glass of water and walk into a wall because the old house didn’t have a wall in that location. 

You miss the old, familiar place. 

You have to find a new route to work. You realize how challenging this is when one evening you are on your way home and unconsciously find yourself driving to the old house. You have to find a new grocery store and the new one doesn’t arrange their shelves like the old one. It takes more time.   

You miss the old, familiar place. 

If you made your move with a family, not only are you dealing with the process of change, you are also leading others on the journey. They miss friends and neighbors at the old location, the old school, the favorite hairdresser, dry cleaner, banker, physician. 

You miss the old, familiar place. 

Some people find the process of leaving the end behind so challenging that they will go to great lengths to hang on to the old. Consider people who drive a couple of hours to keep their relationship with their hairdresser, banker or doctor.

Even a positive change like the birth of a child requires us to give up the way things were.  Countless new mothers and fathers experience tremendous guilt as they know societal norms demand that they be euphoric at this wonderful new change. While they love the new life entrusted to their care, they also suffer in silence wondering if there is something wrong with them as they grieve the simplicity of the life left behind. Why didn’t anyone tell me how hard this was going to be?  Am I the only one feeling like this? 

Even in the case of a planned, positive change, you miss the old, familiar place. 

In the workplace

New processes and systems, technological advances, new teams, new leaders, new products, growth, down-sizings, acquisitions, restructurings… the change itself doesn’t seem to matter much. The one thing they all have in common is that, like the personal changes we make, individuals in the workplace first must leave the old comfort zone behind before moving to the new.

Leadership strategy

What can leaders do to address this reality?  Stop, pause and dignify the ending.  Celebrate where we came from and what we’ve achieved before we run too fast into the change ahead.  Mourn the past – even the parts we are happy to leave behind.

Some ideas include:

  • Celebration
  • Themed luncheons
  • Tell stories (do you remember when…)
  • Validate the old
  • Thank people for their contributions
  • Allow time for grieving

Dignifying the ending is an important tradition when someone has died. It is the purpose of funerals and celebrations of life. It is critical to dignify the ending before we can move into the new. Retirement parties are designed for the same purpose.

Leaders can learn lessons on leading change from contemplating these important traditions. 

Don't use the "L" word in your marketing

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Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group 

    Luxury Market Faces a Drought in the USA as Affluents Choose Conscious Consumption, rather than Conspicuous Brands, according to Marketing in New Luxury Style in 2015: What Affluents Buy, How They Spend, Where They Shop & How They Feel about their Wealth & Finances. 

    In plain English — there’s a whole new trend in how people buy what might be perceived as luxury items. Today, people still want high-quality brands, but they aren’t willing to pay a premium any more.

    The recession has passed but for people with affluence, the values/behaviors that were triggered during the recession seem to have taken hold. Which is spelling trouble for luxury brands that have been hoping the market would rebound. That's not likely.

    In Unity Marketing’s latest survey among high-income consumers (who had an average income of more than $250K), affluent consumers demonstrated a definite increase in their consumer confidence but that was paired with a spending decline of 26.5 percent from the previous quarter.

    In the good old days as people felt wealthier, they tended to spend more money on consumer goods and services. But today a very different trend is taking hold. With people still stinging from the effects of the recession and the damage it did to their investments and home values, the affluent are sticking with their recession spending hold even though their wealth is holding steady or back on the increase.

    So what is a marketer to do? 

    You have to find the balance between demonstrating your product/service’s high quality but without giving it “the luxury stink.”  Talk about the value of what you offer, how long it will last, the importance of buying smart, etc. But do not use the “L” word. 

    Here’s another aspect of this new trend. The affluent are a little embarrassed that they’re affluent. They don’t want to flaunt it the way they might have enjoyed in the past.  Suddenly, it’s embarrassing if you’re well off.  

    So again, in your marketing — you have to emphasize the intelligence and practicality of the buy rather than spotlighting the exclusivity of the purchase.

    As the report states: “conspicuous consumption has turned to conscientious consumption in a new style of luxury.”

 

 

Are you genuine?

Genuine-quotes-5 Danny Beyer is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel Business Services

    A few years ago I was attending a networking dinner. It was a typical event where everyone mingles for a happy hour and gradually takes a seat so the staff can take orders. I found myself sitting next to someone I didn’t know. We started the usual small talk, “Where are you from?”  “What do you do?” and so on.  It turned out he owned his own business in telephone lines. I tried asking some questions to get him to talk about what he did but the responses all seemed to be one-word answers.

    After 15 minutes I was bored and convinced that this person just couldn’t hold a conversation.  I turned to the person on my other side and promptly forgot everything I had been discussing prior.

    About six month later I found myself at another event with the same telephone line guy. We exchanged greetings and I made sure to sit at different table from him. One of my friends ended up sitting next to him. The evening went on and I occasionally glanced at their table. It struck me by how engaged she was in conversation with him. They were exchanging stories. She laughed. He laughed. It was completely opposite from the experience I had six months earlier. 

    The event ended and I rushed over to ask her how she did it. What did they talk about?  How did she get him to open up? Was he really that interesting? What did I do wrong? She looked at me and said, “Danny, everyone has a story. Everyone has something that makes them interesting. Everyone has something to teach or something I can learn. It’s my job to find that information.” That response changed my life.

    The biggest difference in her approach and mine was genuineness. She was genuinely interested in what the telephone guy was saying. I was trying to cover the basics, expecting him to just open up like a book. I wasn’t actually interested in what he was saying and he could tell. That’s why every question received the shortest answer possible.  She cared, I didn’t. She had a conversation and learned something. I got frustrated and gave up. 

    I followed up with telephone guy and asked for a one-on-one meeting the following week. We had a great conversation and I learned so much more about who he is and what he does. We've built a relationship and have done business together since that meeting.  Everyone has a story. Everyone has something they want to share. Something you can learn. It’s up to you to find that story and to have those great conversations. Be in the moment and be genuine.  

- Danny Beyer is the director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel

B&W HeadshotBusiness Services and author of The Ties that Bind:  Networking with StyleHe is also a professional speaker on networking.

UX - 2 letters that are vital to your website

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

As the digital world continues to constantly evolve, I have to adapt to trends that are integral for myself and our clients. One area rising in interest and importance is User Experience (UX), a concept that involves the development, measurement and implementation of a product to best fit the end user. In the digital world, this can apply specifically to websites.

I asked Happy Medium web developer Jonna Buse, to write about what UX is and why it is vital to a website's success. Please enjoy her blog post - A lesson from "UX task #3":

A few years ago, I attended my first formal UX conference. If you have never heard of UX before, you are not alone. UX stands for User eXperience, and at that time, my department had only been using the term (and the processes that accompany it) for a couple of years.

I expected to meet a variety of people at the conference but went in with an assumption that most of them would come from comparable educational backgrounds as me (computer engineering and design studies). Only an hour into a networking happy hour, however, and I had met a former artist, patent lawyer, entrepreneur, behavioral psychologist, industrial designer, writer and astronaut. (Ok, I made that last one up, but that would have been cool.) I hadn’t even made it to a workshop yet and I had learned two valuable lessons: UX is a big field, and do not assume you know about people.

You may be wondering how all of those differing backgrounds at a single conference could fit under one UX industry umbrella. At the time, it seemed like an overwhelming amount of information to learn, but as I became more experienced in the field, I realized that most of the techniques and tools used by UX folks can be categorized into three basic areas: user research, design, and usability. Essentially, finding out who your users are and what they need, creating it and making sure it works.

On a recent Happy Medium website redesign project, we iterated through this whole research/design/usability cycle. We used a card-sort activity and survey to learn how users mentally organized the content on the site and what was important to them. We used that data to influence the visual design and direction of our early prototype. We then planned for the first round of usability testing. The design of the site seemed solid, and I confidently took our prototype down to our local business client and watched users as they performed some basic tasks.

Then “Task #3“ happened. The first user I tested with clicked an area of the site and just stared at the screen, eventually saying, “I think your prototype is broken.” Nope, it wasn’t. This particular interaction was not intuitive for this user, nor as it turned out, any of the subsequent users. Back to the lesson I learned a few years back – you are not the user. Often times usability testing can feel like watching a child put his shoes on backwards, but for a designer or developer, something may seem easy to use, but that is no guarantee that it will be easy for the target audience.

That’s why research and usability testing is so important – to discover and solve problems before they make it out the door. For customers to want to use your service/site/product again, it needs to let them get something done easily and efficiently. Ideally they will have a little fun while they’re at it. Because at the end of the day, that’s what focusing on UX is all about.

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

Starting a business: Where is the money?

- Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Many of us have a dream of owning our own business. However, that dream often will vanish because you cannot get the cash or don’t know how to get it. However, there is an alternative for those who are willing to take the risk by betting on themselves and their ability to sell.

Phoenix logo only

Pay In Advance: The cash comes from their customers. Owners can sell a service or product, using various enticements to secure a partial or full payment upfront. This model typically applies to service-based businesses.

Advance Deposits: Customers are requested to provide deposits in advance for services or products.

Subscriptions: Customers pay in advance or a product or service which will be delivered at a later date. This is usually used when selling a consumable.

Broker: Act as an intermediary between two parties.

 

The Good and Bad:

1. These approaches do not typically apply to brick-and-mortar situations,  which are much, more capital intensive.

2. These approaches have limited growth potential and will require a model change and capital for sustainability.

3. They rely on the owner’s reputation and integrity.

 

Good Luck,

Steve Sink

CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com 

One is the loneliest number

Brent Willett, CEcD is Executive Director of the Cultivation Corridor.

Last month Iowa’s economic development community gathered for the SMART Economic Development Conference in Des Moines, an annual event organized by Iowa’s investor-owned utilities which attracts economic development, government, business and political leaders to discuss job creation and retention efforts in our state.

So what? Every industry has a must-attend annual conference or two. What makes SMART unique are the collegial dynamics which comprise the industry it represents. 

It’s a small industry, economic development. That claim may seem far-fetched at face value, considering that estimates suggest there are between 7,500 and 10,000 economic development organizations operating in the US today- but broken down, that’s 150 to 200 groups per state before adjusting for population – and Iowa is 30th at 3,090,016 [2013 US Census]. 

The 99-county math is easy: there are, on average, just a handful of economic development professionals for miles around in most parts of Iowa. Join this weak density of practitioners with the transient nature of many rural economic development jobs - figures are hard to come by, but in many small communities the local economic development job is turned over regularly as qualified practitioners find better hours and better money in the private sector - and you’ve got a perfect storm of conditions conducive to a challenging sense of isolation felt by many in the industry. 

Economic development in Iowa is a field in which many practitioners are one of only a small handful [or, in very small communities, the only] person administering professional job attraction and retention services in a city, county, or even cluster of counties. 

What if you were the only person doing your job for 50 miles? Who would you lean on, learn from and engage with to assuage the challenges of a project or stresses of time management? Who would you contact in times of crisis and celebrate with in times of achievement? How would you find your industry mentor? For economic developers throughout the state and across the country, the answer is often counterintuitive: with a competitor.

The field’s diminutive size requires that not only must small community economic developers often function without benefit of an industry colleague nearby, but all practitioners must rely on complex mutual relationships which involve at-times intense competition as well as collegial dynamics. In order to engage in true peer-to-peer exchanges of ideas and challenges, economic developers must often look to an industry colleague elsewhere who, at the end of the day, is fundamentally a professional competitor. It all adds up to a profoundly complicated yet exceedingly tight-knit professional network for Iowa’s economic developers.   

Many of us report to or serve on boards and commissions comprised of competitors, and we know it works. Board ethics [not to mention common courtesy] suggests that you check your competitive fire for your board colleague at the door and find common ground to work together on, relative to the organization or project at hand.

Economic developers are forced to simply accelerate this dynamic. Take, for example, the Professional Developers of Iowa board of directors, a group I was privileged to lead as president in 2012. PDI is a consortium of more than 300 economic developers throughout Iowa and its board is comprised of practitioners from throughout the state- all of whom, on one level or another, are fierce competitors for the same prize: investment and jobs in Iowa. Despite such a unique board room dynamic, PDI has been the premier issues, education and networking organization for economic developers in Iowa thanks to effective volunteer leadership for decades. 

Central Iowa practitioners are a bit more fortunate in terms of colleague access. Concentrated population dynamics make collegial density much higher in the Cultivation Corridor region.  For example, the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Metro Practioners Group meets six times a year and routinely has 40-50 economic developers in attendance from throughout the region discussing issues and generally commiserating with each other about resources, opportunities and projects. While many in the room are technically competitors, the convergence of government, higher education, workforce and other practitioners who are a part of a larger economic development ecosystem in the Corridor helps produce a well-rounded discussion and group resource.

As within many industries, commonalities abound in the economic development peer-to-peer relationship - common public policy priorities, infrastructure needs, community college workforce development programming and much more binds the industry together.  But it is where natural ties that bind begin to break down that the industry finds a way to support its own- even from a county or two over.

The magic 30

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

    Readers of my recent blog posts have sent some great questions and I have been asked to share more about a specific work-life balance technique in a previous post. Today's post responds to those questions. 

    Has this ever happened to you? You are driving home after work wondering what the heck you accomplished that day and feeling overwhelmed that your projects are now a full day further behind than they were yesterday. You panic. Then you let out a heavy sigh, knowing that you will not enjoy your evening because your mind will be focused on the work waiting for you in the morning. This makes you even more anxious and focused on the projects waiting on your desk. Pretty soon you realize that your thoughts are in a downward spiral and you begin to wonder what you can do differently to be sure that the work drama and interruptions do not gobble up your day. 

    Enter the “magic 30”...  Creating 30 minutes of uninterrupted and distraction-free time  in your schedule each morning. This six-step strategy can work incredibly well to help you regain the feeling of accomplishment each day, which leads to less work anxiety and better work-life balance.  

    Step One: When you arrive at work, do not automatically turn on your computer to scan your email or pick up your phone to check for voice messages.  (I can hear the gasps and objections right now. Stay with me, here. It will be well worth it, I promise!)  Instead, and this is important, close your office door.  If you are in an open space sharing situation, politely let those  seated next to you know that you are working on a critical project and need 30 minutes of uninterrupted time.  

    Step Two: Take out your highest priority project and place it on your desk.  Or open your computer to print out your highest priority project. (Caution- Do not sneak a peek at your email while printing out your project!) 

    Step Three: Set the alarm on your mobile phone to ring in 30 minutes. (Caution- Do not sneak a look at your email while setting your phone alarm!)

    Step Four: Work on your project for 30 blissful, uninterrupted minutes until your phone alarm signals that you can stop. 

    Step Five: Decide if you want to continue to work on your priority project for a few more minutes or not. Once you get started it is easy to keep going. If you want to keep working, set your alarm for an additional 15 minutes or more. 

    Step Six: When your alarm signals the end of your uninterrupted time, move away from your desk. Open your office door. Signal to your space sharing friends that you are at a stopping point on your critical project. Bask (really bask) in the feeling of accomplishment you now have from making progress on that priority project.  

    When you emerge from your 30-minute cocoon of uninterrupted time, give yourself permission to turn on your computer, check your email, check your voice mail.  Finally, the addictive itch to see what’ s up with others can be scratched. 

    Revel in the fact that no matter which fires you are tasked with putting out, you will leave work with the feeling that you have accomplished something today. You can enjoy your evening participating in activities that you enjoy instead of being anxious about unfinished work projects.  

    Make a promise to yourself to repeat the “magic 30” again tomorrow, and then for the rest of the week. You are developing a new habit. Keep it going. 

    There now, doesn’t that deep sense of accomplishment feel amazing? You bet it does!

 

"Immunize" your organization

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that vaccinations are to protect “our future.” As kids go back to school and organizations gear up for a busy fall, take the time to make sure you and your family’s shots are up-to-date and then initiate steps to protect the future health of your organization.

Much like vaccinations are an important shield against health threats for humans, business leaders can defend their organizations against internal and external threats by "immunizations" that take the form of careful planning. Some great tips include:

  1. Focus on what you can control – and let go of what you can’t.
  2. Hold regular team meetings so that you and your team can stay connected on any issues or potential problems.
  3. Establish a “Plan B.”
  4. Teach leaders to remain calm during a crisis, to set a solution-oriented tone in place.
  5. Create teamwork whenever possible.
  6. Be open and ready to reinvent.

A crisis management plan also is essential for organizations. But if you aren’t reviewing and updating it on a regular basis, the plan will be far less effective. In order for your plan to work, all key players need to know their part. Take time to review your plan regularly and make any necessary updates.

Although situations may arise you did not expect during an actual crisis, having a plan in place and practicing your response provides a great foundation to begin to repair the situation.

Along with “immunizing” against external threats, pay attention to internal threats as well, including your employees. Unhappy staff members can bring down the morale of your organization and significantly decrease productivity. Success Performance Solutions found that 17 percent of employers experienced decreased productivity because of unhappy employees. Take time to evaluate your employees’ satisfaction with surveys and use their feedback to create a better work environment.

It’s always important to stay proactive against threats. The important thing is to be aware of what real ones exist in both your personal and professional lives and develop an action plan to put yourself in position for the best outcomes.

Hillary's smart media relations strategy

- Claire Celsi is The Public Relations Princess

Hillary Clinton and her team have a different media relations strategy this time around - and if driving the national mainstream media crazy is a measure of success, then she's achieved that goal. This time around, her focus is on meeting people one-on-one, limiting the number of huge rallies, and hand-picking interviews with local media outlets. It has relegated national outlets like CNN to reporting on local interviews.

Hillary Clinton in Iowa
Hillary Clinton meeting with activists before her June 14, 2015 rally - photo shot by Claire Celsi

From a PR standpoint, it's good to be driving the strategy and keeping national reporters at bay by being less available and less predictable. Especially when you're Hillary Clinton and have been around so long - and are asked the same questions over and over again - it's best just to limit media interviews to local outlets - for now.

When I worked on the Gore caucus campaign in 1999-2000, their campaign adopted a similar strategy and it was effective. Al Gore was being asked repetitive questions about Bill Clinton at the time - so he tuned out the national media and allowed local outlets more access. Predictably, they stuck to issue-related questions and not the hot-button issue of President Clinton's status.

As much as possible - Hillary has taken herself out of the fray, which for her is a good thing. Local media outlets tend to ask questions that are important to their readers, like her stance on being the first female with a real shot of winning the presidency, tweaking Obamacare so it works better for families, early childhood education and Iowa's caucus process. There were no questions about Benghazi or her email server - questions that have already been asked and answered many times.

The fewer gaffes and fumbles a candidate makes (and they ALL eventually make those) the less fodder for campaign ads in the future. For example, Jeb Bush was being interviewed by a reporter recently and ending up conveying that it was not a mistake to invade Iraq. He quickly retreated on the position and said just the opposite in subsequent interviews.

Then-candidate, now Senator Joni Ernst took this strategy one step further in her 2014 campaign by simply refusing all but the most favorable interviews toward the end of her campaign. It worked!

We should also remember that it is still VERY early in the caucus campaign. For reference, Al Gore didn't even have an office open in Iowa until July 1999. Clinton already has at least five Iowa offices and is still planning to open a lot more. Even though she is in her "listening" phase, she is a lot more present than some candidates in years past.

Now that she has some Democratic challengers, she has definitely stepped up the "position" announcements. Minimum wage, immigration and women's pay equality have all been covered in recent statements. And she's finally embracing the "first female president" dream that so many of her supporters are hungry to hear.

It's great to be in Iowa during caucus season! Full disclosure: I am a Hillary Clinton supporter. 

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

 

 

 

The 2015 Iowa Legislative session - By the numbers

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law  6a00d83452ceb069e201b7c77f9c7f970b-320wi

The 2015 Iowa legislative session ended June 5, a little over one month longer than originally scheduled (May 1), but  earlier than June 30 date that some had projected.

Here is a look at some stats for the 2015 session:

  • 145 calendar days in which legislature was convened (January 12 - June 5).
  • 1832 bills introduced.
  • 98 of those bills, to date, have passed the Iowa House of Representatives and the Iowa Senate and have been signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad.  An up-to-date list of all bills signed into law by Gov. Branstad can be found here.  
  • 30 days. The governor has 30 days to sign a bill passed by the legislature or it is effectively vetoed.  Considering that a number of bills were sent to Branstad in the past 30 days, many will wait until July, 5 to learn the fate of all bills.  
  • Jan. 11, 2016: The date the legislature will reconvene unless a special session is convened.
  • Of the 1832 bills introduced, the Iowa House and Iowa Senate Judiciary Committees saw the most. The tables below identify the respective committees and number of bills in each chamber:
House Committees# Bills 
Judiciary 86  
Education 66  
State Government 49  
Human Resources 44  
Ways and Means 40  

 

Senate Committees# Bills 
Judiciary 77  
Education 59  
Ways and Means 57  
State Government 53  
Human Resources 34

 

 

I'll take door No. 2

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 “Monty Hall” problem has always fascinated me. It’s a probability puzzle based on "Let’s Make a Deal", a game show from the golden age of game shows. Basically it involves the following:

Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice? (Parade Magazine, vos Savant, 1990)

The answer is yes. I’ll leave it to you to research why this is the case, but for the purposes of talking about strategy, I want to focus on one aspect of the solution to this problem – the assumption that most people make seems reasonable (not to switch), but it proves out as incorrect. The expectation of a certain result generated by the assumption you have made (not to switch) is flawed, therefore you arrive at the wrong answer.

When working within strategy frameworks, this is a common problem. Assumptions are always made, leading to expectations based on those assumptions. What “feels right”. The flaw in this is that these assumptions are often not based on preset user group expectations, namely, alignment with mission or set strategic objectives in a leveraged way. Assumptions in this setting also tend not to rely on substantiating data. That leads to additional problems – assumptions always need to be tested.

The expectation of getting a car in the example above is rooted in the assumption that staying with the same door is the success tactic. In this case the expectation is correct, but the lack of data or rigor in analyzing the assumption leads to failure.

Clearly define your expectations. Then work with the stakeholders to develop the assumptions based on a set rigor and minimum defined definition of what a legitimate contributing presumption would be to lead to overall success. Again, it is never wise to “go with your gut” unless there is data that can be used to substantiate that feeling.

John Henry is the legend of a steel driver who challenged a mechanical steel drill to a race to the finish. It’s generally accepted as the origin of the modern "man vs. machine" debate. The expectation in this case was that the machine would readily beat John in the race. This was based on the assumption that the drill was clearly superior; there was no way a man could beat a machine in this contest. But, again, this did not prove out. That John Henry had some quality that the machine did not was not taken into consideration when the expectation was set. The expectation was set incorrectly, because the assumptions leading up to the expected outcome proved to be incorrect.

In defining the expectations or intended outcomes for your organization, work with the key stakeholders in advance to filter and refine assumptions before you start the planning process. It helps to eliminate biases and creates an ecosystem conducive to the production of successful structural assumptions as a baseline to build a framework from. This is another pillar of defining strategy, goals, and engagement around meaningful tactical steps to fulfill the mission and vision of your organization.

It is important to bear in mind and to take into consideration – sometimes there are internal factors, like in the case of John Henry, that will overcome seemingly overwhelming opposition – and – sometimes something as simple as switching the choice of a door can increase your chances of success significantly.

Todayland

Todayland2

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 recently saw Tomorrowland, a movie loosely based on the Disney attraction that dates back to 1955. There was a scene in the movie that took place at the 1964 New York World’s Fair (a place where Walt Disney featured a number of his new rides and concepts) that got me thinking about the nature of today and what inspires people to expand their minds.

Truly imaginative and creative people were once heralded as the rock stars of their eras. People travelled from great distances to get a glimpse of Edison’s latest invention, the Wright Flyer, one of Tesla’s experiments in electro-magnetism, or one of America’s first astronauts. They visited World’s Fairs (prevalent from 1851-1960s) that were long, two-year events designed to inspire, enlighten, and entertain people from all walks of life. In a single location, a World’s Fair showcased and celebrated the world’s new ideas and innovations. Compare that with our own state fair, where the primary focus seems to be the various types of food one can get “on a stick.”

Today, people seldom travel just to see an idea or new invention, and the luster of the World’s Fair has diminished along with its frequency and attendance. The last fair held in the U.S. was the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1984, more than 30 years ago. Attendance at this fair was less than spectacular––7.3 million compared to the 51.6 million that attended the World’s Fair in New York twenty years earlier.1  While World’s Fairs have declined, a growing emphasis is now placed on the tabloid exploits of celebrities, athletes, and the current winner of the “How Can I Be the Most Bizarre and Obnoxious Award” in both music and reality television.

A short time ago I had the opportunity to converse with Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon during Apollo 17. During the discussion, he talked about the one thing he was most proud of…and it wasn’t having walked on the moon. He was most proud of how he helped to inspire countless young people. Because of his time in the space program, those he inspired went on to accomplish a great many things. However, shortly after expressing his pride in how his efforts had a direct, positive impact on people’s lives, he went on to express his sadness that having gone to the moon no longer inspires young people today. In fact, he sees little else that does, especially in the long-term.

I believe that for a large and growing number of people the words “imagination” and “creativity” are at risk of becoming nothing more than just words. They frequently appear in media, schools, television commercials and presidential campaign speeches, but do they truly inspire someone to action? The Internet is incredible in its ability to make information readily available and often accelerates the rate of new advances. But it has also resulted in people becoming just a little more lazy in their thinking. Why memorize something when you can just look it up?

Imagination and creativity have always been game-changers. They change how people communicate. They change how people travel. They change how homes and businesses operate. They allow people to visit other worlds. They ushered in the atomic age and provide the potential for unlimited energy. They provide food for the growing masses. They add convenience and improve the standard of living for many.

Our society requires more than just words to grow, flourish and lead. It requires direct calls to action that both motivate and drive people to think differently. We are all responsible for creativity and the subsequent innovation that serve as driving forces for our future, both collectively and as individuals. And for those who have come before us, the spirit of their imaginations and creative efforts should be celebrated, and their stories shared again and again to inspire future generations to new creative thought and action.

What inspires you to think creatively and then actually do something with it? How do you help others? In 1955, Walt Disney dedicated Tomorrowland by saying, “A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying Man’s achievements…A step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals. The Atomic Age, the challenge of Outer Space and the hope for a peaceful, unified world.”

Tomorrowland needs to become Todayland.

Practice Challenge:  When do you feel the most inspired to use your imagination and be creative? Where do you feel it? For me, it’s when I visit the Smithsonian, Kennedy Space Center or the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry. Sometimes, it’s just watching a great documentary about how something was made or done at the IMAX or on History Channel. Wherever it is, try to do that more often. Sometimes, helping and supporting others’ activities may have an even greater impact on developing new ideas. Is there someone you can mentor or support?

1World’s Fair History.  Retrieved January 27, 2011, from the EXPO Museum website: http://www.expomuseum.com

©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

Public sector health plans are costly for taxpayers

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

In Iowa, state law (Chapter 20) provides that public salaries, health insurance benefits and various work rules be set through collective bargaining agreements negotiated between employers and employee representatives (unions), where they exist. 

Most of the cities in central Iowa have at least one employee organization, and larger cities such as Des Moines have up to nine different organizations. Each one negotiates a different set of salary, health and work-rule provisions for contracts that extend from one to five years.

Through this process, in place since the 1970s, benefits have gradually expanded.  Once benefit provisions are in place, they cannot be changed or removed except explicitly through a trade for salary or other benefits deemed to be of equal or greater value.  Health care inflation has fallen almost entirely on the employer (taxpayer) because employees typically pay such a low share of the premium charge.

What do these plans look like today? How do they compare with yours?  How do they compare with the plans available to the general public via the new health insurance exchange?

The Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa surveyed local governments to acquire some basic information about the most popular health plan in each jurisdiction and here’s what it shows:

There have been some inroads in terms of employees paying a share of the premium cost. These shares are still very small (from 2.5 percent in Des Moines for a single plan to 11 percent in West Des Moines for a family plan), but at least they are not zero. Employees subscribing to the most popular plan in state government still contribute nothing for their premium (nor for services, for that matter).

For plans purchased on the insurance exchange, the federal government subsidizes premium payments based on income. All purchasers pay something, and some pay 100 percent.

As the table shows, the biggest difference between a public employer plan and a health exchange plan has to do with what employees pay when they actually use services.  Health exchange plans try to encourage members to be conscious of the cost of services.  They require subscribers to pay 100 percent of the cost of nearly everything, up to the deductible. The deductibles are set deliberately high -- $3,750 for a single plan and $7,500 for a family plan in our example. Public employee plans, on the other hand, which already cost employees very little in premiums, tend to have extremely low co-pays and deductibles. So employees have minimal exposure to the actual cost of services, and minimal incentive to stay healthy.

Of course, this aspect of the Affordable Care Act intentionally aims to make people more attentive to their health and health care, which is by and large a good thing. On the other hand, Iowa’s collective bargaining laws are set up to protect the status quo. Employee organizations may think they have done a great service for their members by keeping health care essentially free. But when the world changes, and public employees are locked in an alternate universe, does anyone really win?  FiscalYear201415HealthPlans

Social media is the new customer service

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

As a marketing agency that offers social media implementation services, Happy Medium hears from clients and potential clients about what scares them about social. “We don’t want our customers to have access to us 24 hours a day,” “If we get a complaint, we want to deal with it privately, not give the complainer a megaphone,” or “We can’t give our customers a public forum for voicing their frustrations.”

We understand the sentiment, but we think their perspective is backwards. If a client could affordably run an ad to their customers for 24 hours a day, they’d want to do it, right? If the good things you do as a company had the potential to be shouted out on a megaphone, you’d go for that, wouldn’t you? That’s what social media is; it’s a place to make negatives a positive. It’s all about customer service.

The fact is, customers will sometimes get disappointed in the goods or services they purchase. This hasn’t changed since the dawn of social media, but too many brands think of social only as a place to give company information and share aspects of their culture. It’s a wonderful tool for that, but it’s even more effective as a customer service aid. It’s no different from an over-the-phone or in-person customer service experience.

If a customer came into your storefront or business and openly complained, you wouldn’t ignore that person. It works the same way on Facebook and other social media platforms. More than half of consumers expect a response within 30 minutes of reaching out to a company on social media (and they expect the same regardless of whether it’s after business hours or a weekend) but the average response time on Facebook for the Top 100 retailers in the United States is 24 hours. Thirty minutes goes by really fast and, depending on the complaint and a company’s compliance, standards and practices, etc., it can be difficult to respond that quickly. Nearly every company can respond quicker than an entire day, though. Would you let the phone ring that long?

It may be scary to think that a customer can air his or her dirty laundry about your company at any time for all of the world to see, but you have to remember that the entire world can see your response too. If you are timely and polite, even if your response directs the customer to a phone number or email address, the rest of the world can see you cared and did the right thing.

Only 36 percent of consumers think that their service requests on social media are being resolved quickly and effectively, but 71 percent of people who have received that effective response will recommend your brand to others. So here’s something that the majority of your competitors aren’t doing well but that turns consumers into advocates who will spend, on average, 20 percent to 40 percent more with companies that engage and respond to them on social media. A 5 percent increase in customer retention can increase profits by 125 percent, and all you have to do is treat your customers online like they were on the phone or in your store or business. Are you losing customers on social media? It’s time to respond.

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

Want innovation? 5 steps to invest in and empower employees

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

There’s a great office argument that I’m sure many of you have come across: Investing-in-employees

CEO - “Why are we spending all this money on training if people will likely leave?”

VP - “Because what if we don’t train them and they stay?”

It’s a new era in our working world. The average employee only stays 4.5 years now. For millennials it’s 18 month to 36 months on average. Permanent employment is dead.

This same dilemma applies when tackling new, unexplored initiatives and products for organizations. 

What if we don’t give ourselves time to think or a chance to venture into unexplored areas?

The hard truth is that in 2015, markets and customer demands evolve faster than we can high five over our recently polished products.

And this isn’t just true for businesses, this is true for nonprofits too.

Many of us are volunteers or board members for some fantastic nonprofits, but even they have to keep on their toes as donor dollars can rapidly shift to new organizations.

So here’s the big question:

What are you doing today so your company will thrive in five years, let alone one year?

Many companies will quickly retort — “we’ve got a brilliant strategy”.

But the world changes faster than we’re comfortable with.

How can you set a strategy for the next five years if your team doesn’t have the tools to innovate today?

The biggest decisions and the brilliant concepts will not always come from the top, which is why I think now is one of the most exciting times to be an employee within an established company.

Talented individuals have the opportunity to be the intrapreneurs (internal entrepreneurs) and the change agents that steer great companies to stay great. 

How can you make it happen?

1. Get senior leaders to “give permission” for staff to bring ideas to life. You can never underestimate the power of simply sharing the notion that you need support to help the company thrive.

2. Showcase that senior leaders believe the initiative is important. It’s one thing to say innovation is important, but we have to show that it’s a key company initiative. This can be in the form of internal idea pitch competitions, continued mention in company communication or innovation events. Ripples turn to waves.

3. Have a process to facilitate bringing new ideas to life. Brainstorming sessions aren’t the solution, but they’re a start. There need to be steps for what to do with good ideas and a process to kill bad ideas.

4. Make sure to bring at least one new initiative to life with this focus. The excitement for innovation can die quickly if no results come to life.

5. Celebrate like crazy! Instilling a culture of innovation requires continuous reinforcement of the initiatives. Boasting wins is a great way to do this.

To close:

I really like an article from Patrick Kalaher of Frog Design for his take on the future of work:

“Forward-thinking businesses must hire for flexibility and then provide tools that enable their employees to act in a variety of contexts.”

We’ve got awesome opportunities in front of us to rethink work. It’s gonna be a fun ride.

-------

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

3 authors who helped shape my business

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

Books That Shaped MAP IncAbout 13 years ago when I made the decision to start a business, I knew I needed to reach out to experts, small business resources, and other entrepreneurs. Before making those important connections, however, I turned to books. Not so much for business expertise, but to help me refine what exactly I intended to do and for whom.

Several of my executive coaching clients have asked what books helped shape my business in those early years and beyond. Three authors quickly come to mind and, along with them, a one-word summary of what I took away from their work:

Stephen Covey

While most known for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it was his later book, First Things First, that proved an even bigger game-changer for me. With this book’s guidance, I wrote my personal mission statement, clearly defined my values and priorities, and made the conscious decision to design my business – and my life – around what matters most. Covey’s approach to personal leadership and time management have truly stood the test of time.

One-Word Summary: Values

Favorite Line: “Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic.”

Also Recommended: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, Principle-Centered Leadership.

Marcus Buckingham

When marketing experts talk about raving fans, I would qualify as one of Marcus Buckingham’s. I’ve led book club discussions around his work, purchased his Strengths Essentials Kits and other products, and invested in coaching from his company. Now, Discover Your Strengths reiterates that when we focus on strengths, we become more productive, heighten our engagement, and are able to flourish with meaning and purpose.

One-Word Summary: Strengths

Favorite Line: “Look inside yourself, try to identify your strongest threads, reinforce them with practice and learning, and then either find or carve out a role that draws on those strengths every day. When you do, you will be more productive, more fulfilled, and more successful.”

Also Recommended: First, Break All The Rules; Go Put Your Strengths To Work; Find Your Strongest Life.

Mary Kay Ash

My first introduction to Mary Kay came at a young age when my mom sold the products; I can still picture Mom’s pink notepad with “The 6 Most Important Things I Must Do” at the top of each page. What I appreciate most about Mary Kay – and what she lays out beautifully in The Mary Kay Way – is her clarity and focus on priorities, not only for herself but for her entire company. Personally and in her business, she defined her top three priorities as 1) God, 2) Family, and 3) Career – in that order, without question.

One-Word Summary: Priorities.

Favorite Line: “Whenever I meet someone, I try to imagine him or her wearing an invisible sign that says, ‘Make me feel important.’”

Also Recommended: More Than A Pink Cadillac by Jim Underwood; any of Mary Kay’s early material.

 

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH’S CHALLENGE:

Choose your leadership legacy. If you wrote a book, what would the “one-word summary” be? What word or phrase do you want to come to mind when people think of you?

Decide how you want to be remembered as a leader – what I call your leadership legacy. Then, intentionally start living, working, and leading in alignment with your legacy.

Remember: You choose your leadership legacy by how you choose to lead each and every day.

What’s your leadership legacy word or one-word summary? Share in the comments below!

 

Dr. Christi Hegstad develops strong, confident 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.

First Things First by Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merrill, & Rebecca R. Merrill (Free Press, 1994); Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton (Free Press, 2001); The Mary Kay Way by Mary Kay Ash (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Meet new blogger Meridith Freese

171A6085I graduated from Iowa State University in December of last year and I was primed and ready.  I knew it all. I had my college degree in hand and I was ready to take on this so-called “real” world. 

I was, after all, an event management major and who wouldn’t want to bring me on as an employee to change the course of business going forward. Well, perhaps a slight miscalculation on my part. Maybe I was not as ready to change the face of American business as I thought. Oh, if only I knew then what I know now and that’s why I’m writing this blog.

My goal is to soothe the transition for the recent grad and provide some wisdom for those in the first stage of their career who are getting ready to move on to phase II. Everything from gaining that all important first job to dealing with college loans, to generational issues, to taking appropriate credit for your work, to career guidance – mentorship, and on and on. Are you kidding me, you didn’t get all of this in college?? And what do you mean there are no more summer vacations??

With each blog I want to provide you with great insight into this strange world we now find ourselves in. We don’t want to just survive, we want to thrive. We want to make a difference with our employer and we want to make a difference in the community where we live.  We want it all and we’re not going apologize for that.

This transition may have been a little scary at the start, but now I look at it a lot differently. This new world needs the talent, energy and passion we bring every day.  And, each day we can learn a little from our surroundings that will only help us prepare to be effective leaders for many years to come. Get on board, it’s going to be a great ride!

I want to write about things that matter to you! Reach out to me, I would love to get to know you and make a difference for any young professional.

Facebook : meridith.freese

Twitter : @MertFreese

Email : Meridith@wdmchamber.org

Blog : The-Write-Of-Passage.com 

-Meridith Freese

Selling your business yourself?

Phoenix logo only

- Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Many business owners plan to sell their business and are prepared to wait until they receive their price.  However, some risk issues to consider when playing the waiting game are:

  • The economy changes.
  • Another 9/11 happens.
  • There is a change in the technology.
  • A key employee(s) departs.
  • A key customer or vendor is lost.
  • The competition changes.
  • A targeted buyer is not willing or available to purchase the business.
  • The financials will not support a qualified buyer or the business may be too small to attract a qualified buyer.
  • The bank changes the requirements for loans.
  • There is a sudden requirement for a major capital expenditure.
  • The management team or the families lose all interest in a purchase. 

Good luck with your sale!

Steve Sink

CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

 

Social media for specialty retailers: Step 1

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

I have a confession to make. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon of social media, and I personally think that every specialty retailer should be doing this as well. Social media has been a great outlet to show off the uniqueness and camaraderie of the Heart of Iowa Market Place.

Blue Frog Marketing is helping me map out a strategic plan on how to gain a social media presence.  Not only is social media a great way to connect with your customers, it’s also a smart and inexpensive way to show off your products. For specialty retailers like me, it’s very practical because you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to advertise new products every time your inventory is changed. 

“The advantage of using social media is that it sets up your own audience, so you can reach your current customers and also people that they know. It’s more of a way that small business owners can have online referrals,” said Raylee Melton, Blue Frog Marketing.

However, it does take a long time to build your audience, and that is why I’ve been working with Blue Frog Marketing to help.

A lot of specialty retailers might wonder why they should get started now. Is social media a fad like bell-bottom jeans, leisure suits and disco fever? Will its 15 minutes of fame be over just as you're diving in?

The answers are no and no. Social media has proved its influence. Believe me, it's here to stay. And, that's a good thing for specialty retailers  -- a very good thing, indeed. According to Blue Frog Marketing statistics, 27 percent of U.S. internet time is spent on social media.

Melton notes that people today are adapting to social media faster than people a generation ago adapted to watching television. “The rapid rates of which people are using social media has blown through any other trend,” she told me.

One thing to be aware of: social media does not automatically generate revenue. There is a big misunderstanding that a “like” on Facebook or a “follower” on Twitter means an instant increase in sales. Instead, social media is a means of awareness and a call to action. The more your “likes” and “followers” grow, the more awareness and potential customers. The next step is coming up with a plan to address your potential customers and draw them into your store.

Now that you know the pros and cons of climbing the social media ladder, stay tuned for Step Two: How does a specialty retailer begin the process of adapting to social media, and how to turn those likes into customers.

How green are food trucks?

FOOD TRUCKS AT SOCIAL CLUBThis past weekend the Des Moines Social Club hosted the Iowa Beverage Food Truck Throw Down. A successful event with more than 9,000 people attending according to its Facebook page.

That got me thinking. Des Moines has finally caught up with the rest of America on the food truck craze. But, how green is the idea?

Here are a couple of ideas on how food trucks can lower the energy footprint of your next meal.

  1. The energy usage is small compared to a restaurant with lights, air conditioning, and dish washing. Restaurants also take much energy to build. The food truck takes advantage of the open air.
  2. The locations are in the downtown core serving workers and fostering a walkable city. Sure the truck drove to the spot but everyone else didn’t. I can’t imagine driving to a food truck for a meal. If you think of it DON’T DO IT! 
  3. They provide a quick choice to get out of the office for some fresh air, which is great for your well-being. And think of the social benefits!
  4. No food truck wants to deal with waste. Food wrapped in paper means no water to wash all the dishes. If your favorite truck uses Styrofoam, tell them to use paper instead.

Food truckBut the best part for me as an architect are the designs of the food trucks.  I fell in love with CHEF because of the industrial food truck and great graphics.

Got a favorite food truck picture?  Send it to me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

How states try to tax the visiting employee

When you get a good order from an out-of-state customer, you do what you need to do to make that customer happy. If that means you send employees to the customer location to make sure the customer is happy, off they go.

And that state wants your employees to pay taxes there.

IMG_1390It may seem ridiculous, but states can tax visiting employees who spend as little as a day there. Not all states do, but some states are very aggressive about taxing their business visitors. They don't vote, after all. And the states can also collect penalties from employers who fail to file payroll tax returns.

Many large employers are on top of this, issuing W-2s in the states their employees visit.

Smaller employers, lacking large HR departments, are sometimes less careful, taking their chances that their cross-border employee visits will go unnoticed.

This is becoming a riskier bet. As they get better at data-mining, states are getting better at identifying visitors.

It's not just temporary visits that can cause state tax hassles. Telecommuting brings its own set of complications for employers. Cara Griffith of Tax Analysts explains:

Employers may also forget that telecommuting can present significant issues for withholding. That is because the default is for employers to withhold income tax for the state in which an employee performs services. However, an employee may telecommute from State A but report to State B. In most instances, the employer will have to withhold from State A because that is where the services are performed. Various state rules, such as those in New York, have complicated the issues surrounding telecommuting.

If an employer fails to withhold and remit state payroll taxes, the penalties can add up. The "Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Fairness and Simplification Act" (S.386) would only allow states to tax traveling employees who spend more than 30 days in-state. It has been blocked by some states -- New York in particular -- that love to pick visitors' pockets.

Until something like this passes, employers need to monitor their employee travels and their telecommuters. They just may need to file state payroll returns in other states.

Contact your tax professional to learn more.

Leaders and change

Wooden arrows

"If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

-Woodrow Wilson

 

- Rowena Crosbie is president of Tero International

In modern times, most organizations are undergoing some type of significant change at any point in time. New product introductions, downsizings, acquisitions, divestments, restructuring, expansion, and so on… are just a few of the major change challenges organizations are tackling. 

How are they doing?

Change efforts in organizations fail at an astonishingly high rate. Failure estimates range from 66% to 75%.

Why?

There are a lot of reasons changes fail.

Each failed change has its own special blend of things gone wrong. The one common element to most failed change efforts is that leaders enter it without adequately understanding the process of change.

This is the first in a series of blogs designed to explore the subject of change from a variety of perspectives and provide leaders with useful tips and insights into how they can increase the likelihood of success when leading change.

Spoiler alert:

Commonly held beliefs on the subject of change are going to be challenged and debunked.  Stay tuned…

Mindfulness instead of multi-tasking

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

Balance wheel imageA five-week trip to Australia a few years ago left a lasting impact on my life in so many unpredictable ways. 

During the adventure, which was funded as a cultural exchange by Rotary International, I was fortunate to stay in 11 different homes to experience life as an Aussie.  One of my most important takeaways from the sojourn was to learn how different the Australian relationship with time and with work are compared to ours in the U.S.

Research has shown us that when we multi-task it takes us 25 percent longer to accomplish a task. That’s right... instead of getting more done in a short period of time, multi-takings, doing two or more things at once, actually lengthens the time that it takes to complete something.  

Think about it. You are working away on an email when you remember that you forgot to pull the file for your next meeting. So, you stop working on the email, go over to the filing cabinet, find the file, return with the file to your desk, only to sit down and say to yourself, “What was I doing?  Oh, yeah, I remember now.”  You now have to re-read your half-composed email before finishing and sending it. You know in your gut that you aren’t accomplishing as much as you could.  You secretly wonder what is wrong with you and why you can’t get all of this work finished. 

The Aussies would say, “No worries, Mate!” and invite you slow down and do one thing at a time. Also called mindfulness, it is focusing on being present, really, really present, with the one task that you are trying to complete or the one thing that you are doing.

Have you ever had the experience of being so fully engaged and present in a project that you lost all track of time? This is the opposite of multi-tasking- that crazy randomness of doing several things at once. 

I learned from my Australian friends that they do what they can do at this moment and they do not worry about the rest. And they do this moment-by-moment.  This results in a more relaxed and easy going demeanor. They experience less stress. 

The Australians also know and understand the value of “taking a break, Mate.” 

I witnessed their practice of arriving at work around 9 AM and taking a coffee break around 10 AM.  Working a bit more until lunch time and then repeating the ritualistic break time in the afternoon.

The workday ended around 4 PM with a retreat home that would include a glass of white wine while preparing the evening meal.

This was followed by a glass of red wine while eating the evening meal. With few people eating at restaurants during the week, cooking dinner and eating it was viewed as a break from the work day.  It may feel counter-intuitive but the result is more mindful, focused and productive work time in between breaks.  

Work-life balance research supports taking breaks. It shows us that when we are most overwhelmed and feeling like we are buried in work, that is the time to loosen our death grip and take a break. We can go for a walk, or schedule a few days off. Whatever we need to do to let go, rejuvenate and return with a fresh pair of eyes and a new outlook.  That short break helps us be so much more productive but in an effortless, not effort-filled, way.

Let’s stop taking ourselves so darned seriously and, like our friends down under, begin to enjoy our workdays. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain- including a more efficient and fun way to live.

Cheers to better work-life balance!

 

Why Iowa needs to think like an oil company

- Brent Willett, CEcD is Executive Director of the Cultivation Corridor.

In its first quarter earnings rollout on April 30, oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. revealed that its refining and chemicals units- think lubricants and chemical compounds used to produce things like plastic- together represented 48% of its profits in the first three months of 2015.

In 2014 those units represented just 19 percent of profits [oil and gas production made up the rest]. Across the pond, France’s Total SA, Europe’s largest refiner, said its first quarter refining and chemicals income improved three-fold while production earnings plummeted 56%. Similar trends jumped off earnings pages of oil companies across the globe. 

What’s going on here?  And what does it have to do with economic development in Iowa?

As oil production earnings continue a not-so-slow-motion collapse- oil prices have lost half their value since August- an emerging bright spot for the industry has been the durability of its higher-margin refining and chemicals units. 

How big of a shift is this?  In 2012 ConocoPhillips, amid an industry rush to decommission a refinery inventory thought to be over capacity, decoupled its chemicals and refining businesses from its drilling businesses in a loud-and-clear bet on long-term profitability in the business of oil and gas production. 

It was a bad bet; the derivative business, Phillips 66, is now throwing off higher profits.  For decades, the petroleum industry has honed a refining/chemicals product diversification strategy which not only offers a hedge against intense commodity market pressures like it’s experiencing today, but one which has produced a expansion and diversification model that biofuel-producing states like Iowa have begun to take notice of.

Currently, less than 10% of the world’s chemical industry is bio-based, but estimates suggest that could adjust upwards to close to 25% by the end of the next decade [creating as many as 20,000 new jobs in the US in the process] as rapid biochemical innovation and commercialization begins to create cost parity with petroleum-based solutions. 

Iowa’s vast biofuels industry- and the biomass supply chain, physical infrastructure and research and human capital which has cropped up as a result- positions the state to capitalize on this growth industry more competitively than virtually any domestic peer. 

Iowa’s more than 40 ethanol and biodiesel facilities- many in rural communities- in many cases represent potential buyer/supplier opportunities for a biochemical industry which has been rapidly developing in Europe for years and is poised to grow its relatively small position in the North American market.  

In short, we’ve got a window to leverage Iowa’s dominant biofuels position to diversify into chemicals and materials derived from Iowa biomass.

That’s why economic development and industry groups like the Iowa Biotechnology Association, Iowa Chamber Alliance and the Cultivation Corridor are supporting a bill currently before the Iowa General Assembly to create a first-in-the-world economic development incentive specifically targeted at this nascent industry. 

House File 656 would create a tax credit program administered by the Iowa Economic Development Authority to help support the growth of biochemical investment in Iowa over the coming years. 

The bill would create a tax incentive for the production of a prescribed set ‘building block’ biochemicals which are derived from biomass feedstock abundant in Iowa as either raw materials or co-products of a bioproduction fuel or other process like starch, sugar and lignin.

As the legislature debates the merits of a bill, research and economic development efforts to firmly establish Central Iowa as a global center of excellence in biochemical and biomaterial research and, ultimately, production are well underway. 

Take, for example, the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals [CBiRC] at Iowa State University in Ames, one of the nation’s largest multi-disciplinary and industry-led biochemical research installations, and the new Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites [CB2] at Iowa State, a pioneering research partnership with Washington State University and private industry.  Indexing these two superb research assets with the physical and supply chain assets already in place in Iowa and, potentially, a global first economic development incentive produces a compelling argument for Iowa to a new and important industry poised to expand.  

  

Everyone is and needs to be creative

CreativeversusStrategyDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I don't care what you do for a living, it requires a level of creativity. Lawyer, stay at home dad, mechanic, ad guy, marketing director, teller or veterinarian.  

Every professional needs fresh thinking, new ideas and the ability to see things a little differently.

Want to boost your ability to connect the dots for a whole new picture?  Check out the Iowa Creativity Summit on May 28th.

Registration includes:

  • Workshop
  • Collaboration Exercise 
  • Notebook
  • Name badge
  • Hors Devours + cash bar
  • New friends

Session 1: keynote / workshop with Nancy Lyons 
Nancy Lyons founded Clockwork in Minneapolis. Under her leadership, Clockwork has received more than 16 “Best Workplace” awards. Clockwork has also won the Psychologically Healthy Workplace and Best Women Owned Business awards. Nancy speaks all over the place including the inaugural White House Summit for Working Families in Washington, DC. Watch the NBC Nightly News Feature on Clockwork or read Nancy’s full bio.

Session 2: Creativity Collaboration Exercise
Tap the diverse, creative brain power of every attendee in a way you’ve never experienced. Have others solve your biggest challenges or solve someone else challenges. Questions are gathered anonymously and are then fielded to our “flash panel” assembled on the spot per question. Ask questions, be on the answering panel or do both.

It's being held at Sussman Auditorium, Olmsted Center, Drake University, 2875 University Ave., Des Moines.

If you'd like to goose your creativity -- register and soak it up!

Like 'em or not, the Duggars know how to give a mea culpa

- Claire Celsi is The Public Relations Princess

The Duggar Family (of TLC's 19 Kids and Counting Fame) had a carefully-buried bombshell explode Thursday. It seems though the eldest Duggar son, Josh, molested several minors when he was 14 years old.  Josh Duggar

The news is shocking on every level. The clean-scrubbed godly family has a squeaky image and receives a lot of attention for their quiver-full lifestyle. But the media statement they released when the new broke is really what caught my attention.

It was the most direct, to the point statement I've ever read. There was no equivocation. There was no blame. It was pure apology done right - no matter what you think of Josh Duggar or the allegations against him. Here is an excerpt: 

"Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends," Josh, 27, tells PEOPLE in a statement. "I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life." -Josh Duggar statement released May 21, 2015.

According to the police report and other documents coming to light, the oldest of 19 now-famous children apparently fondled his own sisters.

He also resigned from his position at the right-leaning Family Research Council - a job he left Arkansas to take, after moving his young family to Washington D.C.

Like him or not, he was very forthright in his statement, squarely took full responsibility for his actions, and apologized. That is the only way to truly begin to regain trust. There have been many celebrities that have botched their apologies by waiting too long, not seeming sorry enough, or equivocating their actions.

This apology was swift and did not seek to implicate others. No one can see into another person's heart to know if they are really "cured" or really "sorry," but taking on the firestorm head-on requires good counsel and conviction. This statement goes a long way - in my mind - to begin his long journey back from the brink.

Josh Duggar's behavior was inexcusable - there is no other way to say it. But he didn't duck his responsibility to take ownership and apologize. Whoever is advising him should be praised for recommending this strategy. It was the only way to go.

His parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar also released a statement which was equally apologetic. Read both full statements here.

It remains to be seen what the fallout for the Duggar clan will be. Josh Duggar's work at the Family Research Council included making very judgmental remarks about gay people. The backlash will surely be severe and sustained. But Josh Duggar did what many people take weeks or months to do - admit fault and apologize. Compared to the behavior of many other celebrities in the same situation, his apology was lightning fast and thorough.

Claire Celsi is The Public Relations Princess and communications consultant. Find out more about her company at clairecelsi.com

Using Net Promoter Score to influence client behavior

Screenshot 2015-05-06 13.41.16Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals

It was a 2003 article in the Harvard Business Review entitled "The One Number you Need to Grow" that changed forever how we define client loyalty.

Business strategist and author, Fred Reichheld, set the framework for the Net Promoter Score (NPS) which is used by many of the world's most successful companies.

The NPS is a no-­frills survey used to identify client behavior that is predictive of future growth. Unlike the typical drawn-­out customer satisfaction surveys, the NPS is laser focused on what really matters: client loyalty. So focused, in fact, that it asks only one question: How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?

At Rocket Referrals we put a lot of emphasis on the NPS—not only because it provides insightful information about our clients—it can also be used to directly influence client behavior.

Reichheld indicates that "the path to profitable growth may lie in a company's ability to get its loyal customer to become, in effect, its marketing department." But our research has shown that simply identifying "promoters" and "detractors" is not enough. After all, it doesn't make a difference if you don't actually do something with the data.

The answer lies in using the NPS as a vehicle to drive additional data and action from your clients.

Perhaps the best quality of the NPS is that, because of its simplicity, a high percentage of people actually respond to it. We have seen an average response rate of 50% across all companies using Rocket Referrals.

Here’s the trick: Directly following the NPS a fair number of the respondents are primed to keep feeding you. All you need to do is ask!

The key is in the process. Have you ever been faced with a big stack of papers on your desk? Sure you have. The hesitation to begin is because you can see the long dreadful task ahead of you.

Traditional satisfaction surveys with all their boring questions is kind of like this. But, if you step them along one question (one sheet) at a time, they are much more likely to continue.

Ask your clients for one minute of their time with the NPS.

Next, ask them to tell you why they answered how they did. Frame the question dynamically based on how they scored. For example, ask a detractor for specific ways you could improve.

A promoter on the other hand, ask what you did right ­and then see if you can share their response with others.

The NPS will provide you will useful information itself, but it is when it is used as a stepping stone to immediate action from your clients that it becomes very powerful. We have been able to gather hundreds of testimonials for our clients using this method.

But it doesn't stop here. Assuming your clients rate you highly on the NPS and provide you with a positive testimonial, the door is wide open to ask for just a little bit more. Immediately following the testimonial is your chance to ask for recommendations on social media. I call this the "put your money where your mouth is" stage.

Finally, for those of your clients that have given you raving testimonials, you know who to ask down the road for reviews on third­-party websites. As you can see, the NPS is like the first date in a long relationship with your clients. Ask the right question and take the right followup steps, and start to realize that growth Reichheld keeps raving about.


The NPS Process: NPS > Followup Question > Social Media Recommendation > Reviews

Organizational strategy : The Un-Markets

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.

Though I am generally fine with abstractions, there is one that consistently gets called into question when I hear it. The “markets”. I understand that there is no other way to quantify the meaning of this word (as it is used) in a better way. The barrier for me is that it is spoken about the same way you might talk about “the force” from Star Wars, which has likely led to some of the problems we have had throughout the financial crisis and still exists in many forms of modern economics today.

Economics and strategy are almost interchangeable in certain contexts and segmentations of their definitions. They both attempt to quantify organizational data, identify trends, and synthesize potential outcomes in meaningful ways. But there is a key difference and the extent of that difference is where I find things difficult to reconcile.

The markets are not a nebulous force; they are the product of direct and immediate human interaction. Decisions. Markets are actually a loose form of what strategists call groupthink, where the search for a common equilibrium point nullifies rational discourse by minimizing critical thinking to avoid conflict and insulates criteria around a set of discrete factors, free from external circumstances or stimuli. This represents a dangerous decoupling of accountability from decision making and critical analysis.

Groupthink is something I desperately try to keep groups from falling into when I facilitate planning sessions. Critical disagreement generally leads to more dynamic, robust outcomes. It also builds a high degree of ownership and engagement from the full group, as no opinions or viewpoints have been unnecessarily suppressed and a true equilibrium point has been identified.

Some economists have a habit of (and will freely admit to) creating a thought ecosystem that divorces itself from many factors that could improve the way we look at “markets” in the same way we look at organizations. They have to – the complexity of the market ecosystem demands it. But maybe we can build an analogy based on looking at an organization the way an economist might.

Let’s redefine the idea of an organization for a moment as a “market”. Successful “markets” would be ones that had a clear operational structure, mechanisms for addressing adverse circumstances or conflict, and ways of including the “right” information in a proactive rather than reactive way. In theory, it should take more than one person making a statement on TV to sway the success or failure of that “market”, meaning no one person should be able to bias the equilibrium point of a decision to that degree that it is altered substantially. No market crashes based on adverse selection, bad information, or panic sell-offs.

For me, a successful organization is represented by characteristics such as a willingness to take into consideration the maximum amount of relevant external factors, the use of true critical and non-biased analytics, inclusion of empathy toward the non-tangible, and providing a forum for all stakeholders to include their contribution in a collaborative way.

Please don’t think I have anything against economists. I really don’t. I happen to really like reading about the work of economists and enjoy their take on the way our world operates. But when it comes to strategy, it is important to remember that there are different ways agreement (equilibrium) is reached in an organization.

Based on the above, you could almost make the argument that the antecedent of strategy is how our economy works. That isn’t really true; but it is important to take into account the volatility of our financial system and how decisions play a part in market conditions; there are lessons to be learned there on how we operate our own businesses successfully and how functional systems interact based on the decisions we make. So, tracking back to abstractions again – the force may be strong with your organization, but remember – even in Star Wars it took a strategic plan to defeat the dark side.

Placing customers on hold without diminishing satisfaction

115111335_81f2613f6b_zCustomers don't like to be placed on hold. This is true.

With twenty years experience measuring customer satisfaction and expectations, I have the data to prove it to you. In general, a customers' ideal would be for a human being to answer the phone on the first ring and resolve all their questions or issues in one quick phone call without having to be placed on hold or transferred.

But, the ideal rarely happens in customer service operations. That's why it is an ideal.

I have had some clients who have reacted to the fact "customers don't like to be placed on hold" by forbidding use of the hold button. For some reason, I find agents who seem to equate use of the hold button with contracting the ebola virus. So let's be clear: Not using the hold button can be just as detrimental, if not more so, than actually placing a customer on hold.

Customers may not like to be placed on hold, but they also don't want to listen to dead air, background noise of your office (including office chit-chat that may not be appropriate), or your employees fumbling around looking for answers.

When done well, using good Hold Etiquette, placing customers on hold will have negligible detriment to customer satisfaction:

  1. Ask permission to place the customer on hold and wait for a response. Some customers may not want to be placed on hold. Giving them the option is always a win. If they choose not to be placed on hold, offer a call back or prepare them that there may be a few minutes of silence. Beware of the "ask/tell" method in which you ask if the caller can hold, but then hit the hold button before they have a chance to answer.
  2. Be aware of the time. One of the reasons customers don't like holds is when they feel as if they've been abandoned to customer service purgatory. There is a magic rule of three minutes. Any longer and you should be checking back to see if they want to keep holding or receive a call back (see below). Let customers decide what works best for them.
  3. Return with gratitude and empathy. Courteously expressing your gratitude for the time the customer was waiting and apologizing for the wait acknowledges customers' inconvenience and communicates a sense of care and concern for their time.
  4. Avoid multiple holds. The other pet peeve of customers is when they are placed on hold over and over and over again. Offering to call the customer back, providing a time frame when they can expect to hear from you, and then making good on your promise (even if it's to provide a status update) is preferable to continuously placing the caller on hold.

If you consistently follow these general guidelines your team can use the hold button without raising customer dissatisfaction.

(photo source: 60576602@N00 via Flickr)

One’s treasure can be another’s trash

PearsonImage

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."

Some time ago, I was watching an episode of History Channel’s American Pickers, where the pickers, Mike and Frank, were at a home in California. There was an incredible amount of junk strewn over the property. As I watched them climb through it, I noticed a tiny little sign nailed to a tree that said, “Trash is a lack of imagination.” 

That statement stuck with me. I’m sure it was meant to reference the growing repurposing industry where creative people take one’s junk and turn it into something new and unique. However, it got me thinking about origins, and how we have a tendency to give little thought to something once it has been “destined” for its future purpose. This applies to everything, whether it’s a tangible object or something as simple as an idea. 

For example, I wrote a book about creative thinking published by Prentice-Hall that went out of print in early 2002. Pearson, the parent company of Prentice-Hall, has a policy that states: “Pearson does not issue royalty checks if the amount due is under $25.00. Earnings under $25.00 will be carried forward to the next royalty statement.” I’m sure the intent was to minimize costs associated with issuing checks for small amounts, and it probably made perfect sense at the time the policy was put in place.

Since the book no longer generates royalties, I’ve been receiving the same monthly statement for over 13 years detailing how Pearson owes me 52¢. The statement consists of four sheets of multi-colored paper in a 9 x 12 inch envelope, which costs $1.19 in postage. Based on all of the costs involved, including the labor to stuff the envelope and mail it, I estimate they’ve spent approximately $600 to date telling me this. Unless someone within Pearson chooses to reimagine the current policy and create a new idea going forward, I estimate they will spend another $2500 (accounting for inflation) over the next 30 years telling me the same thing. Odds are I’m not the only author receiving statements like this.

In Imagine! (ironically, the book I just discussed), I wrote that imagination consists of two-part thinking: the ability to see an idea in the abstract and then be able to elaborate on the idea going forward. It’s the ability to visualize an idea in the mind before it becomes “real,” followed by the ability to visualize the effects and outcomes of the idea after it’s implemented. 

Imagination should never be a one-time process. Like with many tangible objects that end up in junkyards because they’ve “played out” their purpose, a great many intangible ideas solidified into plans, policies, procedures, instructions, guidelines, rules, and a litany of other “ways of doing” continue on into the future, with little imagination or consideration as to how they fit into changing contexts and environments.

At least on its surface, one would think it is fairly painless to consistently reimagine the “why?” behind the “what” each and every day. I believe that most people like the concept of change primarily because it makes us feel as if we have power or control over our life situations. But despite this “power to change,” we tend to continue behaving just as we always have because it’s hard to say goodbye to well-established patterns and habits. Combined with the overwhelming amount of daily minutia we all deal with thanks to technology, it’s easy to see how we might simply revert to our comfort zones and fail to take the time to reimagine anything that’s already in place.

The danger of failing to periodically reimagine an idea can range from a simple future inconvenience, to spending thousands of dollars to inform someone that you owe them 52¢, to something much worse. Imagination is a process that should be done daily––not in one day.

Practice Challenge: When was the last time you thought about the “why?” behind the “what,” either in your own personal life or in the organization where you work? Taking a look at how you spend your time is a good place to start; our biggest time-eaters tend to be ideas that were once good and have now grown stale. Try to reimagine those ideas and allow yourself the time to mentally elaborate on their ultimate outcomes.

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

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

PR rules for companies with odd names

We all know the companies. When we hear the name for the first time, we tip our heads to one side and say, "Could you say that again?" or "Could you please spell that?" or even "What the hell were they thinking when they named that company?" 

Shinola

Companies with funny names have very specific PR problems that "normal-sounding" companies do not. They have a tremendous hurdle to get over before they can even tell you about their products, services or wonderful employees. A funny name can be very off-putting for a potential customer.

I remember the summer of 1983 very well. I was going to be a senior in high school. My friend Pam's mom ran a phone bank for AID Insurance Company. It rebranded as Allied Insurance, and is now part of Nationwide. It was a solid P & C insurance provider, with thousands of customers all over the Midwest. The only problem is that some scientist named a new virus AIDS. That was the beginning of the end for AID Insurance's brand. It was too high a hurdle to cross with the customers.

I've tried to serve companies who have funny names. It's not easy. But I do have a few observations that may be helpful for those companies to break through the clutter...and the WHUT??? barrier.

  1. Use self-deprecating humor. A case in point? Kum and Go used to sell boxer shorts with it's somewhat eye-opening name emblazoned on it. Yes, they probably get the joke. And they have a good reason for being named Kum and Go. The K & G are in initials of the last names of the founders Krause and Gentle. So get over it, they are never changing their name. 
  2. Include a pronunciation guide within all media materials. There is a large insurance company that has a rather short name, but the phonetic pronunciation causes it to be pronounced incorrectly at least 90% of the time. It doesn't help that the name has no meaningful translation into any English word. Help people pronounce the name correctly right off the bat. 
  3. Use an abbreviation or acronym after the first mention in all print and digital materials. If your law firm is named Smith, Udall, Davis and Sanders, it's ok to refer to it as Smith Davis in the next reference. Or, if you have a sense of humor, SUDS.
  4. Get over yourself. Insisting that your ridiculously long name be pronounced and spelled correctly in every media mention will get you nowhere fast. The best you can do it make sure it's spelled correctly in all media materials, mention it once to the reporter or blogger, and then cross your fingers. 
  5. Change your name, already. If the name of your founder is long, cumbersome or hard to pronounce change the company name to something a bit more easy to pronounce. My friends at Strategic America did this more than ten years ago, with great success. The Schreurs (Shhreers) Brothers (Mike and John) are great guys - but they wanted the company to reflect their national footprint and be more approachable. Smart move.

One company that's doing great business despite a quirky name is the Shinola Company in Detroit. Despite the common (and somewhat derogatory) expression that is associated with its name, the company has managed to create a desirable luxury brand. 

Claire Celsi is The Public Relations Princess and communications consultant. Find out more about her company at clairecelsi.com.

Conversations on a plane

Danny Beyer is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Kabel Business Services

Plane

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a payroll convention in Phoenix, AZ on the power of selling through networking. 

It was my first speaking engagement outside of the state of Iowa and the first time I’ve felt nervous giving a presentation like this in a long time. 

Different thoughts ran through my mind as I boarded the plane Wednesday morning.  They were the same self-deprecating thoughts that made me question myself during my first networking event. 

“Would people enjoy the presentation?”
“Was I really qualified to do this?” 
“What should my opening story be?”

Then I took my seat next to Stacy.

Stacy and I started to chat about midway through the flight. 

We had each finished our book, taken a nap, and had nothing else to distract our minds as we drifted above the clouds. 

She asked me where I was headed. We talked about growing up in small towns east of Des Moines. We shared stories about our families, our hobbies, and compared experiences that only people who grew up in semi-rural Iowa can relate to.

Towards the end of the flight she asked me what I did for a living. 

I smiled and shared that I sold payroll. She gave me the same look the vast majority of the population does when I explain what I do. 

It’s a look of understanding that’s trying to hide the underlying confusion. I quickly offered some clarification, which helped make the situation more comfortable.  Then I explained that I was actually headed to Phoenix to speak about networking and building relationships.

This was much more interesting to her, and to me. 

Over the remaining thirty or so minutes we spoke about her role with a marketing and specialties business. She went into great detail about how her sales force works, what the great sales people do compared to the average ones.

We talked about the value of long-term client relationships and the power of building a brand. As the plane descended and the landing gears engaged she asked for my card.  It turned out she had a sales convention coming up and was beginning the process of finding a guest speaker to talk about networking.

As of this post I’m not sure if I’ll be hired to speak at Stacy’s convention but I can share that my nerves for the Phoenix speech evaporated as I left the plane.

That’s the power of networking.  Stacy and I made a real connection talking about things that mattered to each of us. 

We shared useful information instead of making small talk.  The next time you find yourself alone on a plane, waiting for friends at a coffee shop, or at a networking event try talking to someone new.

Talk about things that matter not just the weather.  You never know what connection, or opportunity, might happen next.

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

How Starbucks is helping make the sustainable connection

CaptureRob Smith is principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I love it when over lunch I learn someone has connected the “SUSTAINABLE DOTS.” This is the magical connection between one’s sustainable efforts and the results.

Tom Bernau, a Des Moines business man, bought the $1.00 reusable cup from Starbucks and uses it once a day at his favorite Starbucks. One time he saw a barista loading the cup dispenser with a three-foot tall stack cradled between his outstretched hands. 

That’s when the “SUSTAINABLE CONNECTION’ hit him.

“If I use my reusable cup every day for a year, how many three foot stacks of cups is that?”

Tom plans on getting a peak into the back room to see what a stack of 300 cups looks like. 

That’s the connection we all need to make.  \And in this case Starbucks is helping.

STARBUCKS CUPStarbucks worldwide sold an estimated 4 billion cups of coffee last year. Unfortunately Tom’s story is not the norm! Since 1985 Starbucks has discounted their price if you bring in your own tumbler. THAT MADE NO DIFFERENCE!

So in 2013 the company made the goal to serve 5% of all coffee in personal tumblers by 2015 AFTER EXPERIENCING ONLY 1.8% IN 2013.

The $1.00 reusable cup was introduced to move the meter and serve more coffee in personal cups.

So let’s help Starbucks get to their goal.  Next time you are at Starbucks, buy the reusable cup or just bring your own personal tumbler. I would love to know if you do this. 

You can reach me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com.  Let me know of another SUSTAINABLE CONNECTION you have experienced.  Was it habit changing?

Using a private equity group & getting that second bite!

Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

If you are looking to sell your company, you may want to consider a private equity (PE) firm as a potential buyer. Most company owners are not familiar with PE firms and how they can help business owners realize their exit goals. This piece provides a general overview of PE firms, their investment philosophy, and how PE firms are compensated to determine if they are a good fit for you.

Phoenix logo only

A PE firm is a financial buyer that invests in private companies of all sizes, but usually with an EBITDA in excess of $2 million. Some firms invest across many industries, while others are focused on specific industries such as technology or energy services.

They are a good alternative if you want to sell your company without inflicting severe and immediate change.

Their funds come from general partnerships, institutional-type capital sources, endowment funds, family offices and high net-worth individuals.

The typical structure involves a limited partnership where the PE firm acts as the general partner and the investors are the limited partners. The partnership has a finite term, usually 10 years, at which time the PE firm will sell all of the investments in order to return the original capital plus gains to the limited partners.

In addition to capital, PE firms provide other resources to their investees such as access to customers, industry expertise, and strategic direction, which can be invaluable for company owners looking for support in a capital partner.

PE firms look for companies with:

1. Solid management teams. PE do not have the management team to run the business on a daily basis and one of their worst nightmares would be having to run the business!)
2. Recurring revenue streams.
3. Pricing power.
4. Strong balance sheets.
5. Free cash flow.
6. Growth 
7. High entry barriers.

PE firms may bolster the business by providing capital and expertise in specific areas.

PE firms will normally take a controlling position to ensure that the PE firm has control. PE firms may also use different equity instruments to invest, including non-voting preferred shares or subordinated debt with an equity kicker.

PE firms make money by several methods:

1. Charging their portfolio companies financing fees or an annual management fee. 
2. A success fee if returns exceed a certain number.
3. An exit fee when the fund is closed and the funds are distributed.

The main advantage for a Seller to use a PE is that “Second Bite of the Apple.” Owners who retain an equity position will often receive a higher payout than their compensation in the initial transaction. So, if you decide to use a PE, choose wisely.

Good Luck,

Steve Sink

CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Prepping for your own print catalog

Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

Last month, I wrote that a print catalog was marketing's equivalent of a golden oldie. The print catalog has been around forever, but the way it brings people into the store and onto a website is music to the ears of retailers.

As I wrote before, catalogs reinforce your brand. They're proactive. They take your products directly to customers rather than waiting for customers to come to you. In short, bulk mail can bulk up your website's muscle and, more importantly, your bottom line. That's especially true for niche retailers.

If you've never put together a catalog before, don't let fear, uncertainty or even the excuse of being too busy to do it stand in your way. The key is to invest in -- and rely on -- professionals who know what they're doing.

You may know your product line better than anyone else -- in fact, you should know it better than anyone else -- but a talented copywriter, skilled graphic artist and an experienced photographer can make it come to life on the printed page. All three are well worth the money.

At the Heart of Iowa Market Place, this is the time of the year that we start working on our fall/winter catalog. The process starts with planning. What overall theme will connect with current and prospective customers? What are our best sellers? What new products do we want to introduce? What special offers will drive traffic to the store and the website?

This is also the point in the process when we set a budget and a schedule from first draft straight through mailing day. Then we stick to them.

Along the way, it's important to do justice to your products with high-quality, high-resolution photos but there's more than one way to get the job done, as Al Stewart of Demand Media suggests.

"If apparel items are to be included, use models who are consistent with your targeted consumer demographic. Include a photo of the brick and mortar store and pay special attention to images slated for the front and back covers. For a more budget-conscious approach, use file photos of the products or art furnished by the manufacturer," Stewart explains in "How to Make a Retail Catalog."

This is where a capable copywriter comes in, using a consistent style and exactly the right tone to accurately describe your product line in a voice that stirs your target audience to take action. As Stewart recommends, "Assign an item number to each product. Include an order form to facilitate easy ordering by mail or phone." And, of course, include your website.

Perhaps the most crucial step is the proofing process. Take your time to get every single detail correct. Check it, check it and check it again. Have your employees check every product description, every photo and every price. Then have them check everything again.

The result will not only be a publication you'll be proud of, but one that will make your business sing.

An obscure tax deadline that could cost you big

Joe Kristan is a founding member of Roth & Company P.C.

You're finished with your returns and extensions. No more deadlines until next year…

Maybe.

If you or your business has anything going on across the border, a big deadline looms.

Taxpayers with "foreign financial accounts” have a June 30 deadline to report the accounts on a so-called “FBAR” filing, on pain of severe fines.

And it’s not just owners – you have this filing requirement even if you only have signing authority – for example, on a business account where you work. 

This requirement applies both to U.S. residents and U.S. citizens and legal residents abroad. For example, an Iowan who opens a local bank account while on a posting overseas for paycheck direct deposit may find themselves with a filing requirement.

FBAR filings are required when a taxpayer has an interest in a foreign financial account with a value of $10,000 US or more at any time during the year. Financial accounts include bank accounts and brokerage accounts. They also include some things you might not expect – for example, retirement accounts in foreign countries and accounts at gaming web sites located offshore.

Not everything foreign is a foreign financial account requiring FBAR filing.

A U.S. brokerage account that owns foreign stocks doesn’t trigger the FBAR requirement. Nor does ownership of a U.S. mutual fund that invests in foreign stocks or bonds. And direct ownership of a foreign corporation, partnership or loan is not a financial account -- though such assets could trigger other IRS reporting requirements.

The FBAR report is filed on Form 114; this form can only be filed electronically.

The FBAR requirement has surprised many taxpayers over the years, and the IRS can assess penalties of up to 50% of the account balance for each year of willful failure to file. The severity of the penalties and the obscurity of these rules has led the Treasury to implement programs to allow non-filers to come in from the cold.

The success of these has been mixed, as the IRS agents sometimes fail to distinguish between an honest ignorance of the rules and tax evasion.

Still, for most taxpayers who have relatively small account balances and who have no tax liabilities, the process of catching up on filing has become relatively painless.

To learn more about the FBAR requirements, visit this IRS foreign asset disclosure page.  To learn more about the IRS relief programs, the “FAQ” on the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative is a good place to start.

If you think you may have back filings that need to be caught up, or if you have more questions, consult your tax advisor.

Moneyball at the Office: 4 Skills to Look for Within Your Staff

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

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A close friend of mine was let go from his job not too long ago due to the team choosing to “go in a different direction with the role." It was a huge blow to a number of people in the organization.

When he left, there was a gap on the team and a significant drop in morale. He was a high performer and a great motivator, yet the company chose to push forward without him.

This kind of story happens within companies every day, but what is omitted in this is the simple question asking: “What else could he do?"

It turns out this employee was versatile in a number of fields, but hired for marketing. The company made a crucial mistake when they let him go versus thinking through, “what else could we do with this great asset?”

A lot of us are sports fans, so it’s fitting to apply an analogy here. 

In our companies, we have the opportunity to play moneyball with the staff we have. It is the chance to rethink roles of those we have in house, regardless of what bucket they are currently placed in. 

Companies that allow for internal talent shifts and realignments are able to capitalize on a few things: 

-Lower turnover
-More engaged employees
-An adaptive workforce

Yet many firms choose to let good people go if a specific position is no longer needed. 

Instead of giving great talent the boot, companies should ask “what else can you do and what else do you want to do?” By opening the door to shifting talent around, especially in today’s consistently evolving work climate, we can learn about what else a person can bring to the table to help a company thrive. Oftentimes, what’s missing is the framework or the “stats” to identify if the player is worthy of having a key role on the team. 

Here are four skills that help us understand our strengths and weaknesses in the workplace: 

1. Shared skills: These are the skills we share on our resume, on LinkedIn and publicly present that we are experts in these fields. An example would be a marketing professional highlighting they are skilled in marketing.

2. Discovered skills: These are skills we learn on the job that we realize we have a knack for excelling with an unexpected talent. An example would be a marketing professional that finds out they actually thrive in a role creating new company products. 

3. Aspirational skills: These are skills that we aspire to be good at. Since we are always learning in all of our roles, we may highlight new skills we are actively developing for down the road. An example would be the marketing professional learning how to code to better create software. 

4. Delusional skills: These are the dangerous skills that people propose. This happens when someone shares they are “skilled” in one area, but history and results have continued to demonstrate otherwise. The reality check probably hasn’t hit yet. An example is a marketing professional that may think they are a great manager, but have an extremely disengaged team working with them. 

So how can we address this?

•Continue to challenge your team to address questions such as “what else do you want to do?”, “how do you want to grow?” and “how else could you add value to this team / organization”. Time and time again I see specialized skill sets pop up in companies. A recent find was an executive assistant that was truly a master event organizer. 

•Don’t shut the door on employees right away. It’s expensive to rehire and retrain employees. If the fix is simply shifting them to a different department or division, that could create waves of efficiency in an organization. 

•Give little experiments to evaluate these other possible skills. We don’t know until we try! So give interested staff a few small challenges to evaluate their ability to learn and execute in a new space.

Wrapping Up: 

At the end of the day, people are our most crucial asset, continuing to find ways to optimize that secret sauce in each organization will continue to be the difference maker. 

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Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Retargeting does not mean rinse and repeat

Accurate_nicheDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

If you own a computer and have ever been on the internet, you've seen retargeting at work.  When you visit a website a cookie can be placed on your browser that allows ad 'bots to follow you around the internet and serve up ads related to that site you visited.

Here's an example of how it works. I visit www.mydisneyexperience.com to make arrangements for my next Disney World trip.

Then, later that day or week, I go to CNN.com and voila there in the sidebar is an ad for Disney Parks. How weird is it that CNN just "knew" I loved Disney and was planning a trip?

Back when retargeting was new -- we were all sort of astonished at how this worked but today, we don't even bat an eye because it is so commonplace.  Sadly -- doing it well is not so common.

Here are some of the usual mistakes:

  • We repeat the same content that was on the website itself
  • We don't change the ads often enough so we are bombarding people with the same message over and over again
  • We don't offer anything new to drive the audience to click/take some action
  • We think marketing, not sales so we don't package any offers, discounts or bundled opportunities

Want your retargeting to deliver prospects and move them a step further in your sales funnel? Why not offer:

  • Free content that will make them smarter (ebook, podcast, etc.)
  • Coupons, discount codes etc.
  • Special add ons or upgrades if they buy via a click on the ad
  • Emphasize scarcity or a time sensitive offer

Retargeting is a really cost effective, efficient marketing tool. But only if used well.

Otherwise...it's a little like that pesky mosquito that buzzes around your ear. And we all know what we do to those pests!

Do the Math: Negative Company Culture = Unhappy Employees

Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates

When speaking to business leaders, the question I ask is “Was your company’s culture created by design or by default?”

I pose this question to evoke the realization that if a company is not being deliberate about designing and building the desired culture of the organization, then it is being created by default.

Employee engagement photo for blog post

Company culture is all around. It consists of the accomplishments and activities that are celebrated, reinforced and rewarded deliberately as well as unconsciously. The culture of an organization matters. How can you expect to retain your high performers and attract more like them if your company culture is less than sparkling?  

Along with managing the attraction and retention of great employees, companies also have to manage their brand as an employer.

Ms. or Mr. Business Leader, have you ever stopped to ask yourself how people outside of your company describe your organization?

What is your company’s reputation?
Is it a good company or a bad company to work for?
What makes it good or bad?
Are your employees happy or unhappy at their jobs? 
Do you, as a leader, value what every single employee contributes to the effort or do you exude an attitude of “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out?” 

We all know about the reputation of the company that people refer to as “The Cult.” This organization is run by a heavy-handed self-promoting owner.

This is a culture of rewards and punishments. In this organization people are expected and encouraged to work very long hours. Having a personal life outside of work is discouraged. The culture demands that, like the life of an alcoholic revolving around a drink, the lives of employees should revolve around their job.

Work-life balance is not valued. People are viewed as only widgets, a means to an end, as evidenced by the obscene pay disparity. You can imagine that the turnover rate at “The Cult” is high. Once the get in the door, the mission of top talent is to get out before they burn out.  

Another company that has a less-than-stellar reputation for a nasty culture is known as “The Cauldron.” In this organization, whispered gossip and character assassinations are fostered. “Stirring the pot” is unconsciously encouraged among employees through inappropriate humor with certain “problem” individuals becoming targets. 

Significant changes in the organization occur without employee warning or knowledge.  This keeps employees “off balance” and in fear. In addition to high staff turnover, there is also a high level of absence due to illness, both continually decreasing productivity.  Employees feel defeated and afraid. This culture is clearly unable to attract and retain high-performers.  When prospective top talent gets a whiff of the stinky cauldron, they run in the opposite direction. 

What can be done internally to change a company’s culture and enhance it’s brand to attract top talent?

The 30,000 foot answer sounds simplistic but it takes making the Golden Rule, “treat others as you wish to be treated”, well, golden.  Every minute of every day with every interaction, this becomes the mantra, the heartbeat of the organization.  Treat others as you wish to be treated. Learn that, model that, be that, live that... let it ooze from your pores. 

At the very core of a company whose cornerstone is the golden rule, is an organization built upon respect. Respect is the bedrock of productivity and stability. 

Everything else - the mission statements, employee handbooks, policies, procedures and decisions- are then deliberately crafted to design the desired workplace culture while looking through the lens of the golden rule.

Things shift and behaviors become aligned.  People begin to feel valued, not as machines just being used for capitalistic pursuits and then tossed aside, but as human beings respected for their contributions. Engaged and balanced employees attract other happy and engaged employees.

Isn’t that the kind of culture in a workplace that we want and deserve?

Let’s give it a try... If we all started to treat others as we wish to be treated, what a difference it would make - not only our workplaces, but also in our world.

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