Organizational strategy : The Un-Markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Placing customers on hold without diminishing satisfaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photo source: 60576602@N00 via Flickr)

One’s treasure can be another’s trash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

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

PR rules for companies with odd names

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

Shinola

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conversations on a plane

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

Plane

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

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

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

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

Then I took my seat next to Stacy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Starbucks is helping make the sustainable connection

CaptureRob Smith is principal at Architects Smith Metzger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using a private equity group & getting that second bite!

Steve Sink is managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

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

Phoenix logo only

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

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

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

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

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

PE firms look for companies with:

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

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

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

PE firms make money by several methods:

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

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

Good Luck,

Steve Sink

CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Prepping for your own print catalog

Kelly Sharp is owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An obscure tax deadline that could cost you big

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

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

Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Lower turnover
-More engaged employees
-An adaptive workforce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how can we address this?

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

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

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

Wrapping Up: 

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

-------

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Retargeting does not mean rinse and repeat

Accurate_nicheDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the usual mistakes:

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

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

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

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

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

Do the Math: Negative Company Culture = Unhappy Employees

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

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

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

Employee engagement photo for blog post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing farmland for income, appreciation and sustainability

Steve Bruere is the president of Peoples Company

Northey-bruere-aronowitz-osceolaThe era of socially responsible land investing has dawned and is advancing in tandem with an institutional hunger for hard assets. It’s also being driven by the necessity of feeding a worldwide population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

Farmland is often viewed as a simple, low-risk investment that can act as a hedge against inflation. It can also be categorized as an asset class that has consistently beaten the U.S. stock market since the late 1990s.

U.S. farmers acquired approximately 80 percent of the land transactions in 2013 and 2014. Institutional investors or absentee landowners make up the other 20 percent. In 2013, non-farmer owners held about 60 percent of Iowa’s farmland, compared with 45 percent in 1982. Similar trends have been reported in neighboring states.

This influx of institutional types considering farmland as an investment has traditional media outlets buzzing with the opinions of some urban critics who attribute soil loss and water quality issues primarily to commercial farming operations. It’s no secret that poor soil conditions can lead to runoff, carrying costly nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus into Iowa’s rivers, and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Bill Stowe, the Des Moines Water Works Park CEO who in January began leading the municipality’s charge to sue three Iowa counties over the issue of nitrate levels in Iowa's rivers, told The Wall Street Journal that it’s a matter of “agricultural accountability.”

On the other side of the coin, it’s widely known that issues surrounding water and soil erosion are global ones that are by no means limited to rural areas.

Developers and homeowners downstream in Iowa’s cities acknowledged their own challenges last year amid the roll out of a 4-inch topsoil rule that’s intended to deal with poor stormwater absorption rates and reduce flooding. It’s also supposed to help mitigate the flow of chemical fertilizers and herbicides from poor quality lawns and into Iowa’s waterways.

With big questions on both sides of the farm field, owners and managers should be asking which systems will be required to satisfy the advancing expectations of socially responsible land investors – investors in search an annual income along with confidence in the long-term sustainability of their investment.

Simply put, socially responsible farmland investing means using multiple criteria to analyze and decide on a particular investment in farmland. The obvious challenge for a land manager is that maximizing present income – and maximizing asset value – can be viewed as opposing goals.

But this is short sighted. After helping owners and farm producers realize the competitive advantages of increasing a farm’s relative value – securing the goals of premium rent and maximum appreciation – the strategies and tactics should be tied back to the best practices in land conservation.

Traditional and accepted conservation practices such as terraces and waterways are frequently recommended and implemented to protect from soil and nutrient loss while maintaining productivity on tillable production acres. Conservation practices for cropped acres include native prairie restoration and the protection of riparian areas. 

The voluntary Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy program is aimed specifically at reducing the quantity of nutrients being delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf. The initiative was launched in 2013 and focuses in part on the design of targeted ag practices to reduce loads of nitrogen and phosphorus from non-point sources such as farm fields.

A winter cover crop is among examples of measures that could be recommended to improve the durability of a farm's soil. The enhancement of wildlife habitats or timber stand improvements on recreational land, as examples, could also come with a long-term financial benefit. Another approach is to restore as much native landscape as economically feasible. The idea is to practice due-diligence that goes beyond basic compliance.

Today’s land manager or farm operator has access to mapping tools, soil calculators, and aerial imaging technologies to assist owners in preserving organic matter and potentially boosting the profitability of the farm. Use of such incredible precision tools are already at work with a goal of improving soil health, fertility and yield. It also goes hand in hand with optimizing inputs while monitoring and measuring the impact of land management decisions.

Erosion and runoff are striking examples of what can be measured when weighing the cost-benefit of incorporating a soil-loss reduction strategy.

Take for example that a loss of three tons of topsoil per acre, per year is considered a moderate loss on a moderately sloping farm with typical crop management practices in place. At that rate, the loss from five acres would fill a typical 15-ton dump truck. Now imagine a dump truck full of topsoil that’s spread over five acres – a very thin layer of soil. On a 160-acre farm with 150 acres of tillable ground, a three-ton loss rate would equal out to 30 dump trucks of topsoil being lost annually. Along with the soils go the nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients that were paid for.

By implementing and documenting the cost-benefit of a given soil-loss reduction strategy, landowners are presented with an opportunity to improve long-term farm profitability, along with the real estate’s “curb appeal.” For some, that could mean taking some environmentally sensitive acres out of production, and then analyzing the results.

Initiatives such as the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy are based on a science-and-technology fueled approach centered on education, collaboration and building broader awareness of the issues. Historically, farmland has been managed primarily for a landowner’s expectations for cash rents. Today, owners are looking for not only a record rents paid, but yield histories, soil tests, fertilization records, soil-loss controls and more.

Great attention has been paid to ag real estate as an investment in recent years following an explosion in commodity prices and run-up to $8-a-bushel corn. The recent cooling in commodity prices and subsequent downturns cash rents or land vales are only intensifying the expectations of contemporary landowners.

The smart money for farmer-owners and institutional investors today is to consider how socially responsible land investing and diligent operational excellence could lead to a total return.

At the same time, limiting the runoff of nutrients and chemicals is becoming more essential in Midwest states such as Iowa, which will dig deep to produce enough corn, soybeans and animal proteins to feed 9 billion within the next 35 years.

Change: Start with small wins

Baby steps

“Things don't have to change the world to be important.” Steve Jobs

 

Rowena Crosbie is President of Tero International

Change is scary.  

It is easy to make excuses that the risks of failure are too high and reconcile ourselves to the comfort of the familiar (even if we don’t particularly like the familiar and don’t find it all that comfortable.)

Wise leaders know this and know that they will need to start small with recognizable, feasible steps toward the larger goal. Tackling the whole thing at once would be too overwhelming. The small, doable steps are called “small wins” and they are imperative for fueling the positive momentum toward the final goal.

In their seminal leadership text, The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner provide a good example of a leader who knew about how to use small wins.

Charlie Mae Knight was the new superintendent of a dying school district in California. Fifty percent of the schools in the district were closed. Those that weren’t closed were run-down with broken windows, graffiti on the walls and rats running all over the yard. Worse yet, the teachers were demoralized, the drop-out rate was really high and 98% of the children that remained in school were performing in the lowest percentile for academic achievement in California.

Rather than marching in and suggesting that she was going to improve test scores and reduce drop-out rates, as the leaders she followed did, she started with small, observable wins.

She recruited volunteers to help her repaint the walls and got pellet guns to kill the rats. Soon people started noticing that the place looked nice and they began to believe that a change was taking place.

Eventually, test scores did improve and drop-out rates were reduced. Ms. Knight knew that to bring out positive change, she would have to start with small wins that would give people the hope and encouragement to keep going.

A small win is something a leader can do right away that will represent a baby step in the direction you want

Cleansing emails may muddy legals waters

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law 6a00d83452ceb069e201bb08175a84970d-320wi

Scrubbing emails has been the topic of conversation amongst political pundits over the past few weeks, but how, if at all, can cleansing emails create legal problems for your business?

One example... the Court system.

In short, Iowa law generally prohibits individuals and businesses from destroying evidence, such as emails, that would be relevant to an existing case or case that is reasonably anticipated. Importantly, this long-standing principle applies whether the matter is a criminal or civil case. 

Our Iowa Supreme Court has recognized that “[i]t is a well established legal principle that the intentional destruction of or the failure to produce documents or physical evidence relevant to the proof of an issue in a legal proceeding supports an inference [that a jury may be instructed about] that the evidence would have been unfavorable to the party responsible for its destruction or nonproduction.”  Phillips v. Covenant Clinic, 625 N.W.2d 714, 718 (Iowa 2001). 

Importantly, the inference is regarded “as an admission by conduct of the weakness of the party’s case,” and is based upon “the common sense observation that a party who destroys a document with knowledge that it is relevant to litigation is likely to have been threatened by the document.”  Id. 

Based upon the forgoing, when litigation is filed or even reasonably anticipated, parties are often advised they should institute what is commonly referred to as a “litigation hold,” and preserve relevant evidence, including emails. 

Consequently, before your business begins cleansing emails and shredding documents, you may want to think twice and consider whether such cleansing is truly beneficial or whether its the first step in muddying legal waters. 

How live-stream social media apps can change the world

Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder at Happy Medium.

You may not have an answer yet if someone asks you your Meerkat or Periscope handle but live stream social media apps have arrived. As with most new apps, now there is a combination of other similar apps with some new added twists. Since both are very similar I have done most of my experimenting with Periscope.

Periscope is Twitter’s official new live-streaming video app. Periscope is an app within an app, which means you need a Twitter login to get a Periscope account.

So how does it work?

When you log into your Periscope account you’re given the option to see if people you follow are doing any live streaming at that moment, or look into some popular feeds happening then of people you don’t follow. You also have the option of doing your own live stream.

To do so, you create a title of your stream and hit “start broadcast” – and just like that the entire world can and will see what you are up to. Once you’re finished with your broadcast, you end it and it will be left available for your followers to watch back. During a broadcast, anyone can join.

Often when I am doing a broadcast, I’ll have people chiming in with a “hello from Egypt” or “hi from Scotland.” 

It’s now the closest thing we have to teleportation. The people that have joined my broadcast can hear what I am saying, and are also able to type me questions. Anyone watching can see all the questions people type. Then you can answer them by just talking.

The first time I logged on I realized the power this type of media has to completely flip the way we get our news upside-down. The news, how they tell it and how we consume it is such an incredibly large part of each of our lives and the decisions we make daily.

Now when there is a house fire, the scanners go off in newsrooms, which send a photographer and reporter to get to the scene as soon as possible. Once they are there they will get set up, get video then go back to the newsroom, edit it and wait for the news to air it.

They might put it on their website in the meantime, but most local news still would wait for it to air then put it on their site. They might be live on the scene too but it would all still take a lot of time.

With Periscope, they could get to the scene, turn on their phone and everyone could watch immediately. The rest of the world has switched to real-time, why not our news consumption? It will be interesting to see how this becomes regulated over time, as this leaves a huge opportunity to see a lot of things that aren't necessarily allowed on TV. 

For example, the NHL recently successfully banned Meerkat and Periscope in their stadiums, claiming the footage would be in violation of the NHL’s Broadcast Guidelines. It will be interesting to see how other live entertainment venues react to the possibility of their product being posted immediately online.

http://mashable.com/2015/04/22/periscope-meerkat-banned-nhl/

I personally think the opportunities are endless. I love that I can jump on and see what someone in Costa Rica is doing live today. The world is your oyster and is now more available than ever for your viewing pleasure. Take advantage! Do you think you’ll use Periscope? I’d love to hear. Tweet me @klstocking or comment here. 

Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. 

Disagreeing Isn’t always the smarter thing to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready to dare greatly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all want you to be brave, too.

 

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH’S CHALLENGE:

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

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

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

 

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

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

Kids can be so annoying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

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

A better way to do email marketing

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Golden Oldie that's still a big hit

Some things never change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take credit where credit is due

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

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

The average residential geothermal system costs $25,000


That’s a tax credit of
$12,000. 

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

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

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

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

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

How to finance your exit

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

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

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

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

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

Good Luck!

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

Best practices vs. customer expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find balance by taking a time out

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

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

Man meditating with computer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you stand for matters

Dove

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

There’s more to the story than tax rates

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

Well, it depends. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this level of growth needed in local budgets?

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

There’s usually much more to the story.

Breaking a brand

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

He wears a regular necktie of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 9.07.57 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't talk to strangers

 Stranger
Most people go to conferences with two goals:

  • to further their education
  • to network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cybersecurity and your board of directors

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law  PGP_1038

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

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

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

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

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

The value of pausing to reflect

By Bill Leaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for Google’s new ranking preferences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Companies should listen.

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

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

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

Three words that will slowly kill your business

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

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

“That won’t work.”

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

Why do we do this?

•Because killing ideas is free.

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

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

But we’re still standing right?!

Yes, some of us.

Remember Kodak, Blockbuster and Borders?

They all said “that won’t work.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two, two word statements you must use:

Yes and quote

“Yes, and...” and “Yes, if...”

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

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

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

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

A lesson in crisis PR from Dowling Catholic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from MTV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One can make a difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

  

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

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

 

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

 

Play your own game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Kelly Sharp

Referral marketing and floating ice

Baby_seal- By Carl Maerz

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

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

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

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

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

The "Bergie Seltzer"

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

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

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

Bergy bits and growlers

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

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

The Sustainability Badge of Honor

- By Rob Smith

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Walmart

Walmart 2Last month Walmart announced customers shopping on-line can use the Sustainability Leader shop.  Walmart evaluated companies and gave them a Sustainable Index.  If they rank number one in their category (household and pets, etc.) their products are available in the Sustainability Leadership shop.

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

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

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

What's in it for me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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