Riding RAGBRAI and running a specialty retail business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confessions of a Comic Con rookie

TheSecurityGuard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

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

Security breaches happen all over the place

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

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

Of course Iowa companies get attacked

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

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

Training and security awareness

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

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

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

 

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

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

Making the right cultural fit

- Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.  Are the objectives clear and understood?

Good Luck!

Steve Sink

Certified Business Intermediary

Merger and Acquisition Master Intermediary

ss@phxaffilaites.com

Local group for customer service professionals

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

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

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

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

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

The importance of collecting online reviews

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

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

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

It’s easier for prospects to find you online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Screenshot 2015-06-29 15.17.22

 

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

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

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

Reviews help you stand out

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

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

 

Screenshot 2015-06-29 15.20.14

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

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

So how do you do it?

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

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

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

  4. Collect testimonials from your best clients.

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

How do you sound in emails?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Meridith Freese 171A6085

Connect with me!

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

It's not that easy….bein' green

Kermit being green

- Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harnessing the #FF network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ethics and the deal: When disaster creates an opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where is the line? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powering down: Take the technology detox challenge

Technology and coffee photo for Iowa Biz July 2015Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you sleeping enough?

- Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resistance to change

Business person_resisting

 

“Progress is impossible without change,

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

George Bernard Shaw

 

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

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

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

Common complaints about leaders during change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting your trade secret in a court of law

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

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

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

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

Why being disruptive is a good thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to recognize and adapt to tipping points

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's some advice:

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

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

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

Check your email netiquette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovating internally: Do we own or rent markets?

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

-------

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

White canvas

WhiteCanvasBlog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

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

Cyberattacks: How much worse can it get?

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

The 'It's not my job' syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can I help my employees feel more engaged?

How can I support them in purposeful work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotDr. Christi Hegstad develops confident, strengths-based leaders who make a meaningful difference. Learn more about her coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

The Leadership Challenge, 3rd Edition, by James Kouzes & Barry Posner (Jossey-Bass, 2002). Career Distinction by William Arruda & Kirsten Dixson (John Wiley & Sons, 2007).

Why priorities don’t get funded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demand to be introduced

 

Download- Meridith Freese writes for young professionals

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Social media for retailers 2: selection and content

- Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

Last month, I wrote about the indisputable value of a social media presence for a specialty retailer to generate online interest and strengthen connections with existing customers.

Hopefully, you're convinced that a social media presence is the right thing for your business. Once you're there, the next step is to decide how to begin the process of adapting to social media, and how to turn those likes into customers.

The array of social media platforms can make your head spin, especially if you're old enough to remember anything before 1990! There's Facebook, of course. And Twitter. Pinterest. Instagram. LinkedIn. Google+ Vine. Snapchat. Flickr. Vimeo. YouTube. And the list doesn't stop there. So, where does a specialty retailer begin?

According to the folks at Blue Frog Marketing, local firm that handles the Heart of Iowa Market Place's social media, Facebook is the preferred platform for Des Moines' adult internet users. I prefer using Facebook over any other platform because you can have more content and describe the product.

Other platforms are limited. Instagram and Flickr only allow you to post pictures, and Twitter limits you to only 142 characters. These are great platforms to use for certain retailers, but I like to describe my products with a little more detail.

Once you choose the platform or platforms that are right for your business, how do you manage things? The best part about social media is that anyone can operate it. No, you don’t need your knuckle-headed teenage nephew to help you get started. Most sites guide you through the first couple of steps.

After you get started, you’ll want to set up a strategic plan on the content you want to post and how often you want to post it. The plan created for my business involves posting content to my Facebook page about two or three times a week, and then “boosting” my post. Boosting a post is a way to advertise on Facebook, and allows more people to view your post which will drive traffic to your page.

It will cost you to boost your posts, but Blue Frog's Raylee Melton says that recent changes by Facebook make it a worthwhile strategy.  “In January 2015, Facebook changed its algorithm which is called edgeranker. Before, any of your fans or friends would organically see your post. Since Facebook has taken off, they have been changing the algorithm, and this year they lowered it so that only 2 to 3 percent of your fans will see your post without boosting it."

Although it does cost to place a Facebook ad, it is still the most inexpensive way, I think, that a specialty retailer can advertise.

Next month: Making social meeting work

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

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