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 insured 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 choose 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.

Buy a business, or launch a startup?

Phoenix logo only

- Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI, ss@phxaffiliates.com

There are several options for owning your own business – work as an independent contract, start your own company, or buy an existing firm. There certainly are pros and cons for each of those options, but if you do a careful analysis, you’ll learn what many seasoned entrepreneurs have learned - the risk-to reward ratio is tipped in your favor when you purchase an existing business.

Experienced business owners would rather purchase an ongoing business thereby reducing the risk while creating opportunities for tremendous profit.

The benefits of buying an existing business include:

  • A proven concept - Buying an established business is less risky – as a buyer you already know the process or concept works.
  • The company’s name - The on-going benefits of any marketing or networking the prior owner has done will transfer to you.
  • Existing relationships -With the purchase of an existing business, you will also be buying an existing customer base and vendor base that took years to build.
  • An immediate focus - When you buy a business, you can start working immediately and focus on improving and growing the business without delay.
  • People/staff - One of the most valuable and important assets with the purchase of an existing company is the people. With the right team in place, just about anything is possible and you will have an easier time implementing growth strategies.
  • Cash flow - Typically, a sale is structured so you can cover the debt service, take a reasonable salary, and have some left over to take the business to the next level.

The fine print is: Finding the right business to purchase can be a daunting task. Assembling a team of experts, including a qualified business intermediary, to assist you in the process will help avoid many headaches.

Good Luck!

Steve Sink  CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

The PR of disaster recovery in Indiana

In our hyper-polarized society, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Indiana has procured itself a gigantic black eye due to the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" that was recently passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Mike Pence. A media uproar has ensued and threatens to reverse all the other work the state has done in the past 25 years. Hoosier

Indiana has become a convention and tourism magnet in recent years - totally transforming their economy. This incident has captured the nation's attention, and not in a positive way. 

How does an entire industry recover from such a debacle?

My advice: A sustained public relations campaign to boost Indiana's chances from slipping into fly-over state oblivion.

How does Indiana begin this process? I'd suggest getting every stakeholder around the table and listening. Then, get a quick plan together. The very first thing that should materialize out of this plan is an all-out media blitz from the Indiana Chamber, Tourism Bureau and any celebrities they can conjure up.

This citizen army is this only thing that can counteract the thoughtless act of the Indiana legislature. I hope they don't waste time trying to repeal the law or toss people out of office. That will only serve to further polarize the state. 

If I lived in Indiana, I would be emailing, calling, texting and Facebooking all my friends. I'd invite them to welcoming places - and offer to host them. Face-to-face and heart to heart can combat the awkward actions of elected officials.

In a couple of weeks, the world will move on. But if Mike Pence's botched TV interview - where he couldn't answer simple yes-or-no questions about the implications of the law - is the last impression people have, then that would be a shame.

The lovely people of Indiana have worked hard to make it a destination for so many events. They deserve better.

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

Balance begins with taking stock

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.

Taking stock blog post photo

The coffee shop conversation started when I asked my friend to share her biggest work-life balance challenge with me. I wanted to find out what this incredibly successful executive saw as a barrier to having a healthy, happy, fulfilling personal and professional life.

After setting down her mocha latte, my friend sighed heavily, rolled her eyes and dramatically slumped forward on the coffee shop couch.  “Oh, where do I begin????”

The question about perceived barriers to work-life balance hung in the air as I waited for her to gather her thoughts. The pregnant pause lasted for a long time. She finally straightened up, squared her shoulders and set her jaw. I knew that she was getting into “warrior princess” mode and would be sharing the good stuff with me momentarily. 

My longtime friend looked me in the eye and started, “I think that I do really well to keep things moving forward at home and at work. In both worlds I find that I am continually managing people and projects to not just meet, but to exceed, expectations. It might seem a bit funny to others to think about the task of being sure that the dog gets fed every morning as part of a project, but if you take a 30,000 foot view of it, the project becomes keeping the dog healthy for a long time. That involves the action step of feeding him each day, right? And someone has to step up or be assigned to do that task. For me, chunking things, even my personal life things, out into projects with goals and an informal action plan really helps me keep it all straight and organized. So I use the same sort of project management strategies at home and at work. I feel more balanced when I can be the same person with the same dynamic style at home and at work.”

I nodded as I listened intently and told her that I completely understood. I use the project approach myself with success. I think of all of my personal and professional projects as pieces of a puzzle. The puzzle is my life in totality, both at work and outside of work.  When all of the puzzle pieces fit together well and are aligned, life works well for me.

When a piece is not fitting in, becomes too massive or out of control with too many sub-pieces to manage, life can become seriously unbalanced. Research supports this and informs us that over time an out-of-balance life can lead to exhaustion, irritability, obesity, mental fogginess and, ultimately, the medical condition of adrenal gland fatigue, for both men and women. 

My female executive friend continued, “The thing that throws me off track and makes me crazy is when I get to the tipping point with too many projects that I am managing at home, at work, and in the community. Look, I need to be visible and involved in the community for my job. That is a given and I embrace that. I sit on several community boards and volunteer my personal time to do so. It is hard when a person who is being paid as an employee of the board does not respect that as a volunteer I only have so much time and energy to give to the cause. These community commitments can be fulfilling but they can also add an additional layer of projects to manage in my life. Sometimes I need to take stock of my commitments in a very honest way and make some decisions about if I am the best person for that position on that Board or committee. When I am feeling over committed, I find that it is a good idea to do some soul searching to determine if my time is being used to the best for all concerned, including my family. I am also occasionally assessing if I am robbing someone else of a leadership opportunity that may enhance their career or be a meaningful in their life. If so, it may be time for me to graciously move out of the way.”  

My training as a work-life balance specialist supports this “taking stock” of time commitments strategy that my friend uses. I like to suggest that people begin employing this technique annually, and then incrementally move to a monthly review of both personal and professional time commitments.

Just the very act of reviewing how you are spending your time and seeing where you can add or shave some off will help you feel as though you have some breathing space.  

My friend concluded our coffee meeting by saying, “At the end of the day, I am my biggest champion or my biggest hinderance to my own work-life balance. It comes back to me.  I am the only one who can do the diligent work of making healthy choices to support this balancing act we call life everyday.  Some days I do it better than other days.  Recognizing this and being gentle with myself is also part of finding that balance.”

If you find yourself continually feeling rushed, stressed, like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it, take my friend’s advice. Honestly take stock, assess, analyze and then take action to create more work-life balance in your personal and professional life.

What an Iowa income tax might look like with a fresh start.

We've talked about why Iowa's tax law is bad for business, and about some easy fixes to make it a little better. But let's dream bigger. What would Iowa's tax law look like if you could start over from scratch?

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If Iowa's income tax were a car, it would look like this.

I would start with the Tax Foundation's Principles of Sound Tax Policy, including

Simplicity: Administrative costs are a loss to society, and complicated taxation undermines voluntary compliance by creating incentives to shelter and disguise income.
 
Neutrality: Taxes should not encourage or discourage certain economic decisions. The purpose of taxes is to raise needed revenue, not to favor or punish specific industries, activities, and products.
 
Broad Bases and Low Rates: As a corollary to the principle of neutrality, lawmakers should avoid enacting targeted deductions, credits, and exclusions. If tax preferences are kept to a minimum, substantial revenue can be raised with low tax rates. Broad-based taxes also produce relatively stable tax revenues from year to year.
 
I would add:
 
Business income should be taxed only once, unless avoiding double taxation does violence to simplicity, neutrality, and broad bases with low rates. 
 
A system designed from scratch would apply the ultimate simplification to Iowa's corporation income tax: it wouldn't have one. Iowa's corporation income tax is rated the very worst, with extreme complexity and the highest rate of any state. 
 
Eliminating the corporation income tax would eliminate the justification for almost all of the various state incentive tax credits, all of which violate the principles of neutrality and simplicity in the first place. For its astronomical rates and complexity, it generates a paltry portion of the state's revenue, typically 4-7 percent of state receipts.
 
For S corporations, a from-the-ground-up tax reform might tax Iowa resident shareholders only on the greater of distributions of S corporation income, or interest, dividends, and other investment income earned by the S corporations. The investment income provision would prevent the use of an S corporation as a tax-deferred investment. The effect would be to put S corporations on about the same footing as C corporations.
 
The Individual Income Tax couldn't be eliminated without radically restructuring both state spending and other state taxes, but it can be made much better.
 
I would start by basing the individual tax base on adjusted gross income -- taxable income before personal exemptions and itemized deductions. That would put non-itemizers on the same footing as itemizers.  I would allow only deductions for gambling losses, non-employee business expenses deductible on federal returns, and investment interest expense, to prevent grossly unfair anomalies that would otherwise result. That's it.
 
It would eliminate all other deductions and credits and put the savings into lowering rates. The Iowa 1040 would then just take federal adjusted gross income, with a few lines for deducting Treasury interest and the some other minor adjustments.
 
There would be no alternative minimum tax. There would be a generous exemption for low-income earners. If the new system keeps an earned income tax credit, the exemption would be high enough to keep taxpayers in the "phase out range" of the credit from paying income tax on top of their credit loss. If there were an earned-income credit, there would be no other credits except for taxes paid in other states and countries.
 
There would be no deduction for federal taxes. This deduction would be built into lower rates. Iowa is almost unique in allowing a deduction for federal taxes, and it makes Iowa's income tax look worse to outsiders than it really is. It is the opposite of simplification.
 
Put all of these things together, and you should be able to get Iowa's individual rate under 5% -- perhaps close to 4% -- without reducing individual tax collections.
 
0% corporate rate, sub-5% individual rate -- now that's a lot easier sell to a business pondering an Iowa location than a 12% corporation rate, 8.98% individual rate, and the occasional tax credit to ease the pain.
 
Of course, we aren't starting with a clean slate.  We have a tax system now that is encrusted with decades of breaks that seemed like a good idea at the time. People who have good deals now will fight to keep them, even if they mean other people have to pay more. But even if we can't reach the promised land of a completely clean, simple and neutral income tax, we can get to a better place if we try heading that way. And a good start is to not head in the wrong direction, by at least not enacting any more special breaks and tax credits.

How are your customers trying to reach you?

TweetDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Like much of central Iowa last week -- I was away on Spring Break. Our trip had a rocky start, to say the least. We get off the plane in Jamaica and head to the Sandals desk, assuming they're going to help us identify the bus that will take us to our selected resort so the fun can begin.

Instead, when we get to the desk we're told that they oversold our resort (the family one) and instead, we're going to be staying at the Couples Only resort.  

Now, when you're a dad who is traveling with his daughter and her boyfriend -- this is the definition of awkward.

They grab our luggage and put us on a van. Now what?

We're in a foreign country, in a moving vehicle, heading for a resort I do not want us at, I don't have the resort's phone number and I need some help sorting this mess out. And I don't really want to wait until we get to the wrong resort.

Fortunately -- the van has wifi. So I search for the Sandals twitter account and send them a couple tweets -- saying I am very unhappy about how this customer service issue is being handled.  

Voila....I get a tweet back, asking me to DM them.  (Which was smart -- demonstrate to everyone who is watching that you're listening but then move the complaint offline or to a more private venue).

Within a few tweets, the general manager has been alerted and will be waiting for me when we get off the van.

The story has a happy ending.  We're at the resort we originally booked and the weather and ocean are gorgeous... so all is well.

But, my story raises the question -- how are your customers reaching out to you and are you listening for them?  Sandals was clearly monitoring their account/Twitter and very quickly defused a problem.  

But so many organizations look at vehicles like Twitter and Facebook as a broadcast medium. They put their information out there like they're shouting through a bullhorn. But they don't bother to listen to see if anyone is talking back.

That's a dangerous practice. You need to be monitoring any social channels you're on in real time (you don't have to sit in front of your computer -- just use one of the many monitoring tools that send updates to your phone) so that when your customers use those tools to get your attention -- you're actually paying attention.

It used to be that if a customer had a question or complaint, they either sent a letter or called. Then, we added websites and suddenly they could communicate to us through contact forms or email addresses.  And now -- there's social channels.

When someone is having trouble -- they're going to use whichever tool they think will get the swiftest response from you. Which is why social is a natural choice. 

So what do you think it says to them if you're not listening.

Uncommon leadership: lessons from Lady Gaga

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

Gaga book cropWhen you think of Lady Gaga, what comes to mind? Probably her musical talent (six Grammy awards so far), perhaps her outrageous wardrobe (meat dress, anyone?), maybe her unusual antics (the infamous awards show entrance in a giant egg). Only 28 years old and she has certainly made a name for herself.

But as Jackie Huba outlines in her book, Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers Into Fanatics, there’s much more to Lady Gaga than meets the eye. In fact, she proves an excellent case study in authenticity, service, and powerful leadership.

Unfamiliar with the book when I picked it up, I had few expectations. I merely hoped to get a bit of insight into why Gaga does what she does, but the introduction set my aim higher: “Lady Gaga’s business sense impresses me,” writes Huba, “but her passion for changing the world for the better through any means possible is what truly inspired me to study her.” Page after page, Huba shows how Lady Gaga takes extraordinary measures to make a difference to the causes and people that matter most to her.

A few lessons in uncommon leadership from Lady Gaga:

  • Focus on those who matter most. Have you ever heard hurtful criticism from someone you don’t even know – or maybe know and don’t respect – and let it bother you? Let it go. You’ll never please everyone, especially if you’re challenging the status quo. Focus on your mission, values, and those who matter most.
  • Start with why. Huba shows how Simon Sinek’s “golden circle” approach (start with why, then how, then what) applies to Lady Gaga’s work, and how we can bring it into our own work as well. Gaga’s why? “To transform the culture to create a kinder, braver world where everyone is valued.” Her why shines through everything she does, from her songs to her interviews to her Born This Way Foundation that empowers youth to build confidence and end bullying. 
  • Go big or go home. “No one talks about products or companies that are just average,” Huba shares. “The way Gaga sees it, whatever you are working on, you should blow it out.” Don’t let the fear of what others might say keep you from honoring your authenticity. Playing small or hiding your light serves no one.

Lady Gaga also reminds us of a key principle in leadership: it’s not about you. As it turns out, the meat dress, as well as her other attention-grabbing “stunts,” involve purposeful action: to support a cause, speak out against an injustice, or give a voice to those who might not otherwise be heard.

While you may not agree with nor want to attract the same kind of attention as Lady Gaga, her ability to connect deeply with and inspire her most engaged fans offers terrific leadership insight. “What I do [in my concerts],” she explained to MTV, “is, in essence, create an atmosphere for my fans where they don’t leave loving me, they leave loving themselves.”

Consider how you can more powerfully focus on those who matter most, start with why, and go big – all in service of a brighter, stronger world. Because remember: regardless of your title, fame, or the number of Grammys on your shelf, your leadership is not about you.

COACH’S CHALLENGE:

How can you step outside the norm in your leadership? Where could you make an inspiring splash or bring an unexpected delight to those who matter most? This month, step outside your comfort zone and take an uncommon action in service of those you lead. Share your uncommon leadership ideas in the comments!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotDr. Christi Hegstad coaches leaders to make a meaningful difference doing what they love. 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.

Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers Into Fanatics by Jackie Huba (Penguin, 2013)

 

You, Inc.

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 had lunch with a good friend of mine last week. He and I spend a lot of time talking about how the workplace is evolving and different strategies for how to respond to these evolutions.

The catalyst of this particular conversation was that my friend wanted to know when an appropriate time to pick up his dry cleaning would be – it had been at the cleaners for weeks and he just hadn’t found time.

This led us to a very interesting conversation about strategy, and how the way we all interface with our daily lives might be more closely aligned with running a successful business than the traditional view of what the idyllic view of day-to-day life truly is.

As our society has evolved, we have developed a tendency to move away from the 8-to-5 employment model in favor of a more flexible schedule centered around what is conducive to effectively completing work, but in different timeframes. Employers are becoming more and more flexible, realizing that productivity and job accountability actually goes up when employees feel like they have more control over when the hours they work occur.

But my friend and I were not simply talking about flex time at work. What we were really talking about is how he and I both look at our schedules and tasks for the week as if it were a business.

For me, scheduling tasks on Sunday is critical. I set and check personal and work appointments for the week, making sure that I am able to balance everything. Scheduling time for family is a critical piece of this – if you are a “workaholic” you know exactly what I am talking about. Paying bills, reading, catching up on email. Everything gets a look – it has to in order for there to be enough time to get to everything effectively and do it as well as possible. If I simply “wing it”, everything is generally a mess by late Tuesday morning.

The business of “You, Inc.” is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The strategy on how to make You, Inc. a successful business relies heavily on balance, setting goals, and being disciplined about executing what you set out to do on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. This will aggregate into systematic and sustainable success.

Let’s get back to my friends dry cleaning conundrum. I think the answer is that “it depends.”

Each person should take time to define what is appropriate for their own case and what will allow them to be effective with their jobs and their daily lives. What I have found is that many “alpha”-type people have a tendency to put off things like picking up dry cleaning, getting haircuts, and getting their cars in for service because they “can’t find time” to do these things.

But think about it this way – if these things were part of your job, would you find time to do them? Of course you would.

Running a successful business has a lot to do with using holistic strategies. For me and for my friend, this means that sometimes we have to get our dry cleaning at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, because we happened to be in that part of town and it would be hard to get it otherwise.

Sometimes it means we have to finish a proposal at 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday because that’s when we feel most productive. It’s prioritizing personal tasks along with professional ones that lead to better overall success.

The business of You, Inc. is ongoing and always in development. By thinking about things holistically, you can ultimately improve the ability to be successful in all that you do by incorporating a little bit of strategy.

Five key insights from the first internal innovators meetup

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

Recently a group of intrapreneurs/change agents from a handful of area companies got together for the first Des Moines Internal Innovators Meetup. We discussed a number of topics around how companies approach innovation, what some of the wins have been, what roadblocks have been and an open dialogue on supporting one another.

It was a great chance to connect like-minded professionals and we’re excited for what the future holds with this group. Following the group, I identified five key insights from the discussions and share them with you here: 

Everybody has problems

We all know of internal politics, mixed ambitions, communication breakdowns, etc. But we all have problems and address them in different ways. Establishing this was a huge breakthrough for us in having authentic conversation. 

Companies have different definitions of “innovation”

To some people, innovation means disruptive or big changes. For others, innovation is about making continuous improvements and incremental progress.  Different groups believe it’s a cultural shift and a “new way of thinking” for the employees. 

Not only is this an occurrence across different companies but this happens within organizations. Multiple people have multiple interpretations. This is where the group agreed it’s key to have a clear definition of what innovation means to the company. 

Companies have the power of the brand as an unfair advantage

If customers already align with your brand, selling to customers or prospects is half the battle. This makes it much easier than startups attempting to establish a brand from the ground up. 

One exception to this exists when established companies are expanding internationally. The brand doesn’t have the same weight in new markets and may be interpreted in unexpected ways. This can lead to a tougher time acquiring brand loyalty in new markets, but provides an opportunity for companies to better understand their expansion areas. 

“What worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow”

Not only do markets change rapidly, but the definition of success does too. Teams internally sometimes have a hard time realizing “what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow” and have to work to acquire buy-in for new approaches to implement instead of being heads down on figuring out what work tomorrow. Ensuring companies move quicker on this front is crucial to success.

Innovation goals have to align with business goals

Unless an innovation team is autonomous from the rest of the business, innovation goals have to meet the pre-set demands of a business. This means innovation can be used as a tool to more effectively meet or exceed existing goals. Some groups work to understand the strategic initiatives and then filter possible new initiatives based on those.  

Closing

This was a great first meeting and we’re looking forward to more discussions with local intrapreneurs. If anyone in your company is interested, please have them fill out this form to join us at the next meetup!

Let's keep the conversation going: 

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Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Create. Destroy. Repeat.

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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."

I recently watched the movie The World’s Fastest Indian. It was a true story of New Zealander Burt Munro, played by Anthony Hopkins, who took a 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle and highly modified it through ingenious methods, often using very unconventional and homemade tools. After defying the odds and a number of limitations, he found himself at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 1967 at the age of 68, breaking the world record for the world’s fastest motorcycle under 1000cc. It’s a record which still stands today.

In the movie, Burt was asked why he went through all of the trouble to do this at such an old age. His response: “The reward comes from the doing of it.” That statement immediately got me thinking about a period in my childhood that has, in many ways, become the benchmark of how I approach most everything in life today. 

When I was eight years old, my parents bought a new home in a new housing development surrounded by active construction. Being an enterprising young man, I went to each of the construction sites and received “after hours” permission to remove the scrap wood that was piled on the ground, as well as the nails that were dropped on the dirt. I believe most of the carpenters saw this as a way to rid the site of excess “trash,” since houses at that time weren't built as efficiently as they are today.

Having watched and learned from the various carpenters constructing the houses, I designed and built all styles of forts including ranches, split-levels, ones with two- and three-stories, ‘A’ frames––some in trees and others on the ground. Each time I built one, I would briefly admire it, think about how I could improve it, and then destroy it so I could begin constructing something bigger and better. My mother found this behavior unnatural and frequently proclaimed, “You build these beautiful forts, but you never play in them. I don’t understand you!”

Prior to high school I was by no means a good student, and I could be somewhat challenging at times for my parents, teachers, neighbors, and just about every other adult figure. Despite this, most thought me to be “creative,” but they never really understood what that meant or how to help me harness it in such a way so as to succeed in school. Without realizing it, they were doing just that each and every day by supporting me in my many endeavors, not the least of which was fort building.

In a results-oriented world, the final product or outcome typically gets the majority of attention and praise. What usually goes unnoticed is the “process” that goes into getting there, which is the primary aspect of creative thinking. Creative people are all about the process, and truly “the reward comes from the doing of it.”

Thomas Edison, thought to be an addle-brained youth and most noted for inventing the functional light bulb, had to experiment with thousands of possible filaments before he found one that worked––a daunting task. That success wasn't enough, however. He went on to help design and create a method to distribute the electricity needed to power the bulbs in the first place. He designed the first commercially available fluoroscope (a machine that used X-rays to take radiographs), the motion picture camera, the phonograph, and many more devices that led to him holding 1,093 patents in the U.S. alone. For Edison, it was about the process of improving.

Apple Computer had the best computer available in the late 1970s, the Apple II. However, Steve Jobs wasn’t content and pushed Apple forward with the development of the Lisa, and ultimately the Macintosh, before his release as CEO for having been too aggressive on these developments. After his return in 1998, he continued on with his process approach that led to the development of the color iMac, iPod, iPhone, MacAir, iPad, and a variety of innovations in between.

For creative people, it’s seldom about the destination. Although the outcomes along the way can frequently lead to wealth and success, the stories of these and a great many other creative people always have one thing in common––the key to their success was the drive and passion related to the process, not necessarily the end result.

Practice Challenge:  What do you enjoy doing? What about that activity brings you joy? I believe that for most of us, it’s the actual act of doing it––the process. Determine what is most important to you and then do more of it. Edison invented because he loved inventing. Jobs pushed the envelope on design and function because that was his passion. Life is short. Spending your limited time engaged in an enjoyable process can be a huge source of happiness in your life.

©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

 

 

How bright is the sunshine in your community?

This week is “Sunshine Week,” which celebrates access to public information and promotes understanding of the importance of open access in making democracy work.

After working several years in the local government arena in central Iowa, we've learned there are differences in the culture of transparency among the various local governments. As a “taxpayers” organization it is interesting to experience the differences in interpretation of what that term means, and how it influences our relationships and access. 

We’re mostly concerned with fiscal information – how money is collected and spent, and the value obtained. As a rule, local governments want the public to be aware of how well they’re managing the taxpayers’ funds. Today, the larger public entities have professional chief financial officers (CFO’s) who welcome the interest that is shown. They produce “Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports” (CAFR’s) which are prepared according to strict governmental accounting standards, then audited. Such consistency in reporting has gone a long way to splash sunshine on government finances. Any citizen can look at a CAFR and know they are getting information that is consistent, true and meaningful, at least according to generally accepted accounting standards.

Perhaps the differences are demonstrated more in the extent to which the local public entities go the extra mile to share and explain information. Here, the truly proactive entities separate themselves from the pack by embracing transparency – inviting us right into their processes.

For example, Broadlawns Hospital, the fifth largest property tax-supported entity in central Iowa, presses us to regularly attend and participate in its monthly Finance Committee meetings. We receive the same information as do board members, and we’re welcome to access any other information that may be needed or desired. Similarly, the Des Moines Independent Community School District (largest taxpayer supported entity) convenes a citizens budget advisory committee, on which we are invited to serve, each year during the budget development process.

CFO Thomas Harper provides access to subject matter experts and will help explore any topic in which the group has interest. These sessions are extra work for the district but the trust and shared understanding that is developed pays dividends for all parties. We have a better understanding of district finances; they have people who can support them when tough decisions need to be made.

Today there is more visibility than ever before to agendas and supporting documents for local board and council meetings. Most of the larger local governments (and some of the smaller ones) post this information online, making it easy for anyone to see the details of what is happening in their community or school district. But it is not universal yet even among the largest entities, for example the Polk County Board of Supervisors posts agendas and brief minutes, but none of the supporting documents.

One of the more mundane but critical aspects of transparency has to do with the ease of contacting people (who in turn, of course, have information). It’s frustrating when you need to call or e-mail someone, but can’t access a directory with individual phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

This is simple, but it might be the most fundamental piece of transparency: can you get to the real person who you believe is accountable for your issue?

Even in 2015 we still have local governments that try to control access to elected officials.

For example, the Dallas Center-Grimes Community Schools is running a bond special election on April 7, yet school board members cannot be contacted directly – they must go through a district-controlled filter. It’s hard to imagine why any elected official would wish to be so insulated from constituents, or why a superintendent would wish to keep them so insulated.

One easy way to celebrate Sunshine Week is to check your local government websites and see if you can find a directory with real people (both key staff and elected officials) and their contact information.

Or see if you can find the agenda and all materials from the next or the last council or board meeting. If you can, then call your board or council member to introduce yourself and say “thanks.”

If you can’t, ask for it.

A higher standard

Businessman_superhero

Should we, as much public opinion suggests, hold corporate executives, politicians, professional athletes, and so on, to a higher standard because of their high profile, possible role model status?

Then the rest of us could conveniently rationalize personal use of company time and supplies, lying on our taxes, not following through on promises and commitments and telling lies to cover-up our mistakes, all because of our coveted “lower standard status”. 

Sound absurd? 

According to John C. Maxwell, author of There’s No Such Thing As Business Ethics, 84 percent of college students believe the United States is experiencing a business crisis, and 77 percent believe CEOs should be held responsible for it. Interestingly, 59 percent of those same students admit to having cheated on a test.   

In the workplace, 43 percent of people admit to having engaged in at least one unethical act in the last year and 75 percent have observed such an act and done nothing about it. 

People say they want honesty and integrity from their leaders. Ironically, their behaviors tell a very different story. The same person who steals office supplies, lies to a customer to make a sale, discloses company trade secrets, or looks the other way at the ethical breaches of others, demands honesty and integrity from his or her leader. 

Hmm. 

Make the most out of your next conference

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

I’m heading to SXSW, which is held in Austin from March 13-22, for my annual interactive inspiration for work. Hopefully you are also lucky enough to be able to attend a conference or two this year to help you expand your knowledge in your industry. Conferences are not only educational but also inspiring. Since the season is upon us, here are my tips for making the most of them! 

Make a game plan: It’s always a great idea to plan ahead, especially when you (or your company) is investing in you.

Networking: Part of your game plan should include how you plan to network. Make sure you take enough business cards; you’ll be passing them out like crazy! Depending on your situation, it might also make sense to bring some company swag to really stand out from the crowd. 

Recap each day: Whether you’re attending the event with other team members or on your own, take a few minutes at the end of each day to digest things you heard and learned. Organize your notes while they are fresh in your mind.

Take notes: Take your laptop or your favorite notebook and pen to make sure you get to take note of all the great ideas you’re hearing. Also, when entering a room, check to see if the speaker has provided any print outs of the presentation so you have a base to work from.

Live in the moment: While taking notes is important, it is also equally important to make sure you’re not too busy jotting down every word you hear, to really absorb the overall concepts and say hi to the people next to you. If you don’t make it to the specific talk you wanted to, jump into the nearest room; you never know what great information you might hear!

Go home with a plan: For me this is probably the most important tip. It’s really very easy to get back from being out of the office, into the E-mail soup you have to clean out and forget to implement anything you learned! Go home with an exact list of what you want to implement right away and also a list of things you want to implement in the future. Write down your exact plan, and it is much more likely to happen.

Enjoy your travels! Follow me this week while I’m at SXSW. I’ll be tweeting and Instagramming things I learn. @klstocking

It's not the response, It's the follow-through

San-antonio-robberySometimes the quality of customer service is revealed by the little things we repeatedly do. Back in January I wrote a blog post here at IowaBiz. I bemoaned the fact that years of being a regular guest at two specific hotel locations had not resulted in being greeted as a regular guest. Instead, I was always asked the "Have you ever stayed with us before?" question which seemed insulting after about the 50th stay.

Shortly after writing that blog post I visited one of the two locations I cited, the @Courtyardhotels by @Marriott on Broadway in San Antonio, TX. To my surprise, the young man who checked me in (as he had multiple times before) welcomed me with a "welcome back!" As a customer service consultant and specialist who had just written a post about this small customer service detail, I was surprised, impressed and optimistic about this positive turn of events.

Sometimes, however, the quality of customer service is revealed by those exceptional situations when things go horribly wrong. That very night, my hotel room was robbed.

I was staying in an interior courtyard room on the first floor. While I was away at dinner a thief or thieves broke the plate glass patio door, absconded with electronics gear and training materials worth in the neighborhood of $5,000 and escaped without ever being seen on the hotel's security cameras. Both my personal and work computers were taken along with iPad, training gear, and an external hard drive with my entire personal photo library. In over 20 years of business travel and consulting, I have never experienced anything like this. It was a customer service nightmare.

So, how did the staff of the Courtyard Inn do?

Initially, this horrific violation was handled as well as I could have ever expected. When realizing that the break-in had occurred, the staff called the police and notified the assistant General Manager on duty who handled things with empathy and professionalism. I was moved to the nicest room they had available and told that they would take care of anything I needed. They even offered to get me anything I wanted to drink or something to eat. My tweet about the experience received immediate response from the corporate social media team. I was treated with deference and the staff went out of their way to take good care of me that night.

Because of the loss, I had to scuttle my customer service training with the client that week I returned home to file my claims and reschedule things with my client. At that point, I felt pretty good about Marriott's handling of the catastrophe.

When I rescheduled my training visit just two weeks later, I considered staying at a different hotel. Most of my friends and colleagues encouraged me to do so. I decided, however, to reward the folks at the Courtyard Inn with some loyalty. I was also curious to see how they would follow through. I phoned the assistant general manager days before my trip to let him know I was coming and that I would like to meet with him to be updated on the investigation of the break in. I received no response.

When checking in mid-day, I was not remembered or recognized. I asked for the assistant general manager by name and was told "he's no longer here," giving me the impression that he'd left or been let go. I explained what had happened two weeks earlier and said I'd like to talk to someone to check in on the investigation and to see if they'd learned anything about what happened. I was told that the general manager was on-site and would contact me. I heard nothing all afternoon.

I checked at the desk late that afternoon with one of the clerks who had been so kind and empathetic to me just a few weeks earlier. She obviously didn't remember me. I reminded her of the experience and she seemed to remember me...maybe. I asked why I'd not been contacted by the general manager as promised. I was told that he/she had left for the day but the clerk said she would send an e-mail right away. I was assured that the general manager would get the e-mail and I could expect to receive a prompt response. I heard nothing.

I checked out two days later without ever receiving so much as a message from the general manager. Later the day after checking out I finally received a quick voice-mail from the assistant general manager (I guess he was still employed there) who said he was returning my contact. I was already hundreds of miles away and checked into another hotel. I was not impressed.

I returned from my trip to find that my Marriott credit card had been charged for my room the night of the break in and for the coffee I'd gotten at the hotel Bistro the following morning. It seems the hotel's promise to take care of "anything I needed" was only limited to a snack or beverages the hour or two immediately after the robbery was discovered. I must assume that they felt adequately generous putting me in the empty one-room suite they had available at the price of my robbed king-suite. 

One of the things I have always taught my clients is that customers tend to remember the last impression you give them. The Courtyard Inn in San Antonio, and the folks on the corporate social media team initially impressed me with their empathy and responsiveness. In fact, it earned my loyalty and a return stay. It is the lack of follow-through and the last impression that sticks with me, however. Broken promises, lack of communication, and getting stiffed for a room that was robbed.

 What kind of last impression is your team making?

Start collecting those reviews on Google

By in large, people buy from people they trust. And when they are in need for a product or service they are unfamiliar with, they generally ask friends and family for recommendations. This is because trust can be transferred from person to person in what is known as Social Proof. This psychological phenomenon allows people to make decisions by trusting experiences others have with an otherwise foreign situation: “Hey Bob, my tooth is killing me, you know a good dentist?”

5starThat is why referrals are so darn effective. People don’t need to take the time and effort to build their own opinion of a specific business - they figure their friend has done that already. But if Bob, or anyone else for that matter, doesn’t know a good dentist? Well, in this instance over 67 percent of people are headed right to Google and finding out who other people recommend (1 percent are even using the I’m Feeling Lucky button).

People are essentially looking for Social Proof outside their direct network. Just last year Google released an update to their search engine algorithm known as “Pigeon”. This update greatly impacted local search results; effectively giving an edge to businesses targeting nearby prospects. Great news for businesses that are on top of collecting online reviews! People are hungry for unbiased feedback, and Google reviews are perhaps the next best thing to direct word of mouth.

The effectiveness of Social Proof on a prospect is impacted by:

  1. The perceived familiarity with the products or services by the reviewer

  2. How accurate and unbiased the review appears to be

Google is pretty good about maintaining their reputation for unbiased reviews. In fact, they go to great lengths to keeping their reviews free from outside influence. Because of this they are trusted by prospects as a way to evaluate a company. But there are ways you could go about collecting more for your business - and I encourage you to be active in doing so.

Although directly soliciting for reviews is not encouraged by Google, they say it’s okay to ask your clients for them. Below is a response from one of Google’s forums discussing this topic:

“It’s fine if you reach out to customers to ask them to review, but I do not recommend that you do this in waves. If you want to reach out to legit customers and ask them to review, I recommend you contact them immediately after you have done business with them.”

When going about collecting reviews from your customers it is best to follow a process, and spread it out over time. Collecting too many reviews at one time could lead Google to delete them all together. A consistent approach is important, and I have outlined some steps which is a great place to get started.

  1. Make sure you have a business Google+ page

  2. Identify who your happiest and most vocal customers are (NPS)

  3. Gather as many testimonials that you can

  4. Ask your most vocal promoters to review you on Google

  5. Do not get busted for soliciting for reviews - spread them out!

- Carl Maerz, Founder and COO - Rocket Referrals LLC

Radiant floors are on the rise

Kid on radiant floorWhen I designed the Central Iowa Shelter & Services I knew a radiant floor would be preferred. Why?  Bare concrete floors sitting on the earth never get warm, and the shelter would be full of people who wanted to get out of the cold not into it! Since the earth’s temperature is about 55 degrees it is difficult to ever get a slab as warm as the air in the space.  Sooner or later you are going to get cold.

Commercial buildings have long used radiant floors because of concrete and steel construction. I would love radiant floors in my home but homes are not built like commercial buildings. Leave it up to American ingenuity to create Warmboard! You can now buy a 4x8 plywood panel already routed out to accept the radiant tubes.

The radiant heating panels have many advantages over the typical furnace.

  1. Radiant panelEveryone will feel more comfortable. Radiant heat does not require blowing air at people which makes you feel colder.
  2. Energy is saved because you can push water through pipes much easier than push air through ducts.
  3. An expensive furnace system can have two zones but a radiant system is unlimited. This allows the bedroom wing to be at a different setting than the living room.
  4. Radiant energy means you sense the heat when you are closest to the source.  Therefore the air does not tend to stratify and be hottest at the ceiling.

Let me know if you have experienced radiant floors and what you think. Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Keep your business top of mind - in your customer's email inbox

Most of us had our very first interaction on the social web via email. Email as a technology may seem very simplistic and far flung from what most of us consider social media. Truth is - email is the mothership of all social media - always has been. Email symbol

There is still no other communication device that can transmit as much information in a way that still gets sufficient, consistent attention by consumers. We'd all drown in the sea of information that engulfs us each day if we had no ability to filter this information by importance. Since we all need email to function in the working world, email became our default "must have" social media. We cannot ignore email for any significant amount of time if we are to be taken seriously in our professional lives.

That is precisely why email is still the best marketing tool out there. Here is a recipe for cultivating your best marketing asset - the "opted in" email list.

  1. First and foremost - you must offer something worth having. Don't just send a random email. Think about what your audience needs. This is NOT about promoting yourself for the sake of promoting yourself.
  2. Convert contacts into subscribers. When you receive the name of a contact, send them an email to confirm that they want to receive information from your company. If they decline or unsubscribe, make sure that you honor that request.
  3. Use name and email address as the price for the payoff. When giving something away, require that people provide their name and email address. This is called a value exchange.
  4. Host a giveaway or contest and use email as the sign-up method. The person will have to "opt-in" to get a chance to win. They can always opt out later.
  5. Use software to help you manage your list. There are a ton of email vendors out there, each with a level of email management sophistication. Ranging anywhere from free to several thousand dollars per month, the need to pay more for help will correspond to the number of subscribers you have.
  6. Don't be boring. Very few people will open an email with a lame subject line like "March 2015 newsletter." Instead, try something that sounds much more personal - use their first name if possible in the greeting.
  7. Use your blog, website and social channels as email collection opportunities. Provide current subscribers an easy way to share your content and remind them to tweet or forward your content.

Once you have a clean email list, set some goals. Do you want to increase likes on your Facebook page? Increase sales? Recruit employees? Improve customer service? Once you've identified a goal, then tailor your email messages around reaching that goal. Without a goal, you're just wasting the marketing capital you've worked so hard to build.

Claire Celsi is a marketing communications consultant. Visit her website to learn more about her business, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

"No News" Isn't good news

It was exactly this time last year that I wrote about employee reviews. In fact, my exact words were, "No matter how small your specialty retail business may be, there's absolutely no substitute for timely, thorough performance reviews."

I'm proud to practice what I preach. So, guess what? It's time for employee reviews again at the Heart of Iowa Market Place.

The point to emphasize this year is this: Employees want feedback. They need feedback. And, they deserve feedback.

Reviews are not just a time to talk about what a person has done wrong, of course. They're also the time to praise instances of hard work, outstanding customer service, highlights from the year and good, smart habits. They're also the time to reinforce your vision for the company, talking about where the business is going in the year ahead and where each employee fits it.

They want it because it takes the suspense and mystery out of work. They need concise, constructive feedback because it lets them know in no uncertain terms what they're doing well and where they can (or must) improve. And, they deserve it because feedback shows them they are valued, respected team members.

That favorite old axiom "no news is good news" does not hold true for your employees. If they don't hear from you, they may think you don't care or -- even worse -- that you don't appreciate their efforts or understand the struggles they face on a daily basis.

If you haven't been performing timely, thorough performance reviews, now is a great time to start. Your employees will appreciate the news -- good and bad -- to help them do an even better job going forward.

- Kelly Sharp, Owner at Heart of Iowa Market Place 

Survey: how attorneys handle valuation in buy-sell agreements

When a buy-sell agreement calls for an appraisal to be performed, the vast majority (82 percent) of attorneys surveyed say a certified/credentialed business appraiser should do the valuation. The rest (18 percent) say the public accounting firm that regularly works with the company should do the valuation.

This is revealed in a survey of attorneys conducted by the DHG Forensics and Valuation Services group at Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP. Brian Burns and Chris Mitchell.

Good news: Attorneys were also asked about the preferable methods to determine the purchase price that is incorporated into a buy-sell agreement. The most prevalent method is to have a business valuation professional perform the valuation upon a triggering event (cited by 43 percent of respondents). That’s “good news,” say Burns and Mitchell. About a third (39 percent) of respondents use a formulaic method contained in the agreement. The rest (17 percent) use a predetermined fixed price that periodically reviewed and adjusted by owners without the use of an external advisor.

When the buy-sell agreement calls for a formulaically determined value, the following methods are used:

  • A fixed multiple of average EBITDA or net earnings over the prior three years (or some other period) (43 percent);
  • A fixed multiple of, or an adjustment to, the book value of the company used for accounting purposes (9 percent);
  • A fixed multiple of prior-year EBITDA or net earnings (4 percent);
  • An average of one or more of the above methods (17 percent);
  • A fixed multiple of annual sales (0 percent); and
  • Other formulaic method (26 percent).

Source:  Business Valuation Resources

Steve Sink CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffilaites.com

 

Healthcare and wellness trends of 2015

Bill Leaver, CEO, UnityPoint Health

In Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels to 2015: a world that includes hoverboards, drone dog-walkers, and flying vehicles. Now that the year 2015 has actually arrived, some of that seems laughable, but twenty-five years ago, the future was a far-off place ruled by innovation.

Today, in our technology-oriented world, this proves to be true, especially in the healthcare sphere. We may not have hoverboards, but we have Google Glass eyewear, mobile applications that organize our lives with the push of a button, watches that function as phones, and a myriad assortment of healthcare wearables to track our sleep and our steps.

What other healthcare and wellness trends can you expect to see in 2015? You will see some of the items below:

  • Focus on personalized, D.I.Y. healthcare for consumers through mobile and digital tools, including wearable technology.
  • Integration of big data through networks of cloud services.
  • Dedication to innovation and partnerships.
  • Concern about the balance of security, privacy and convenience, as more information is shared between manufacturers, regulatory agencies and medical device manufacturers.
  • Quick, intense workouts and fitness plans offered online or in the workplace, such as high-intensity interval training and yoga.
  • Expanded role of nurses, physician assistants and pharmacists within the healthcare sphere.
  • Opportunity to redefine health and well-being for millennials, as more baby boomers retire.
  • Commitment to sustainability and providing more care with less dollars.
  • Emphasis on mindful eating, real foods and a balanced lifestyle.
  • Increased number of insured individuals.

These are just a few I've noticed, and as the year continues, I think you’ll discover that health and wellness will continue to be a growing and important focus for any business. And when we think about what’s to come over the next quarter of a century, we can anticipate even more changes and opportunities related to innovation and technology, in order to improve our work, our homes and our lives.

Now - I wonder what Marty McFly envisions for 2025?

The idea prison

IdeaI was sitting in a marketing class the other night listening to the professor go on and on about innovation and creativity.  It’s a pretty popular topic in most of these classes and, while interesting, it can get a little old to hear about “the next big idea” or the “innovation cycle” for the hundredth time. Then, just as I was about to pull up my ESPN app so I could watch the Cyclone basketball game, he said something that caught my attention and kept it the rest of the night. 

He was sharing a story about the loss of innovation, about those ideas that never see the light of day, the ideas that get hidden, lost, or simply die.

“One of the biggest threats to innovation,” he explained, “is the average person’s fear to share his or her ideas.”  

The lecture continued with the professor introducing the concept of the idea prison. The average person may have a great, world changing, idea but fear keeps those ideas locked inside their head.  We don’t want to share our thoughts because we don’t want our ideas to be critiqued, to be judged, or to be torn apart. Instead of facing criticism we keep them locked up, safe and secure, inside our mind. 

This is why having a network of trusted friends, colleagues, and mentors is an important part to the innovation cycle.  We need that trusted circle so we can share ideas, get outside perspective, and help make our ideas better. Networking is a crucial part of innovation because no idea has ever been good enough to stand on its own. Every major innovation or creative moment takes a team of individuals to analyze, change, and see it through to completion.

The world is a different place than it was yesterday because of people taking the leap and sharing their ideas. Imagine what this world would look like if Henry Ford had kept the idea of the assembly line to himself or if Steve Jobs had decided that the iPhone was just another dumb idea. Don’t keep your ideas in prison. Find a trusted friend to share your thoughts, your dreams, and your world changing ideas with.  Take the criticism and help to make those ideas better.  Who knows, you may have the next ground breaking idea locked in your head right now.  Let it out!

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

The Pygmalion Effect

SculptureWhy does someone who has been transformed through training and on-the-job experiences provided by an organization, choose to leave that organization?  

What can leaders do to help ensure that the individuals they invest in will stay with the organization?  Consider this enchanting and timeless story.

The stakes: The training program expenses.

The characters: Professor Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering and Eliza Doolittle.

The wager:  A language expert, Professor Henry Higgins, bets Colonel Pickering that he can take a lowly flower girl from the streets of London and pass her off as an elegant young lady of society after an intensive six-month training program.

The tale:  George Bernard Shaw wrote the classic play, Pygmalion, which was the basis for the hit musical, My Fair Lady and the films, Pygmalion and My Fair Lady.

The Pygmalion Effect:  Pygmalion was a sculptor. According to Greek mythology, he fashioned a statue of a beautiful woman. Pygmalion prayed to the gods that the statue be transformed into a real woman. His wish was granted. From this mythical story came what is commonly known as the Pygmalion Effect which states: People can be shaped by others according to how they are treated.

The training program:  Professor Higgins teaches Eliza Doolittle etiquette and protocol, shows her how to make an entrance, dresses her as a fine lady and transforms her cockney accent into cultured English sentences.

The outcome:  Eliza Doolittle, following her extensive training, at a party held at Buckingham Palace, is assumed by all in attendance to be of royal heritage and is the talk of the event. Professor Higgins wins the bet.

The rest of the story:  Although Professor Higgins succeeded in transforming the flower girl, he went right on treating her like a street urchin. Eliza, speaking to Colonel Pickering, said “You know I will always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl. But I will always be a lady to you, because you always treat me like a lady.” 

Eliza’s remarkable insight is something for all leaders to ponder. In our varied roles as leaders, parents, coaches, teachers, mentors and friends, most of us are aware of the power of the Pygmalion Effect and realize that people do indeed respond to how they are treated. To this end, we champion and provide growth opportunities for others. What we frequently forget, however, is that it is also important for us to respond to the growth individuals make and encourage others to do the same. 

If we remind ourselves to change our treatment of others to match the changes they have made, then perhaps, employees will not feel the need to take their new skills to a new environment that is unencumbered by old expectations. Perhaps, they will keep their skills and talents in the place that they grew them. And perhaps, the investments leaders make in employee development will result in even greater returns.

Dismantling the distractions in your work day

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.

Has this ever happened to you...you get to the end of your work day and wonder if you've achieved anything? Where did the time go?  Maybe you start to think about the projects you didn’t get accomplished and ask yourself why?

Life hacker photo- labeled for reuseChances are that you are being distracted at work. 

It happens to us all in small ways: the bell on your personal cell phone signaling a text message; the little banner which flashes across your computer screen to announce the arrival of a new email; the co-worker who stops by your office to commiserate at length about his inability to work on the new project because he doesn't have enough time.

Taken separately these are all just tiny incidents. We can handle one item and then get back to the task at hand. Together, however, they become a raging river of distractions which take us careening off course and leave us feeling depleted and exhausted. An overload of continuous distractions can cause us to become low performers, which can potentially impact our job negatively.

Let’s look at the story of Sally (of course, not her real name). Sally was an exceptional supervisor managing an award-winning marketing team. She had an open door policy with her team members and would invite anyone to discuss anything with her at anytime.   Sally’s office was like a revolving door- people coming in and going out all day long. 

During the holidays Sally’s children got their own cell phones. Everyday after school the kids would send oodles of text messages to her seeking her attention as a referee in their disputes. Sally began to avoid marketing calls with clients during that “magical” after school time to be available if the children sent a text. This cut Sally’s productivity down substantially. She started to work later and later, which eroded what little work-life balance she had. 

To make matters worse, Sally’s husband also got a new iPhone 6 and began sending emails and text messages to her throughout the day about meaningless dribble such as, “Let’s remember to pick up cat food on Saturday!” The dings, the dongs, the bells and the whistles were distracting not only to Sally but to her team as well. Sally’s unfinished projects were stacking up and she was at the breaking point. Her distractions were insidious. She did not really know why she was being so unproductive, only that she was not the high-performer she once was. 

Fearing that she was going to receive a terrible performance review, Sally wisely sought some advice for this complicated problem. 

Sally’s mentor suggested that she begin to take control of the situation by completing a daily time log. Sally agreed to document which project she was working on every 30 minutes. If she was interrupted, she would log it by noting who interrupted her and what the interruption was about.

Sally kept track of her time and was shocked after reviewing just the first three days. She clearly saw some patterns that needed to be changed. She knew that she had to take action to dismantle her daily distractions and to get her work life back on track again. 

Sally focused on changing several behaviors that made all of the difference in the world: 

  1. Start the day with uninterrupted time.  Sally arrived at work, went into her office, closed the door and started her day by working on one high-priority project for 30 minutes. She did not check her email. She did not check voice messages. Instead she immediately dug into her most pressing project. After 30 minutes of uninterrupted and focused time, she opened her door and emerged, feeling as though she had already accomplished something important for the day.
  2. Build time into the schedule to check and respond to email, voice and text messages. Sally decided that she would check her devices and respond only during three windows of time each day: After her uninterrupted 30 minutes of morning work time; after lunch; and for an hour before she left the office for the day. She also instructed her family to not send text messages or call her during the work day unless it was an emergency. Sally had to remind herself over and over again that she did not have to quickly react to each message she was receiving. She felt comfortable responding within 24 hours. She gave herself permission to take her time and to be purposeful about her responses to other people’s inquiries.
  3. Scheduling team time and one-on-one time with her employees. Sally subtly changed her open door policy to the proactive model of scheduling time each week to speak with people. Of course, Sally will help with problem solving in emergency situations, but if she thinks that a problem can wait she will ask the employee to put it on their “Meeting with Sally” list.
  4. Use Friday afternoons for unfinished business and planning the week ahead.   Sally deliberately schedules time in the office and at her desk on Fridays to finish those projects which can be wrapped up before the weekend. She also finds it useful to review upcoming projects for the week ahead. When Sally leaves the office on Fridays, she knows that she can enjoy her time with her family during the weekend because she left things in a good place at work.  

We all need to be ever-vigilant in minimizing our own work distractions and interruptions to maximize the balance between our personal and our professional lives.

Baby steps towards fixing Iowa's business tax climate

Everyone talks about Iowa's bad business tax climate, but nobody ever does anything about it. What should a would-be climate-changer do?

Iabiz20140225As we discussed here last month, Iowa consistently has a poor rating for its business tax climate because of its tax complexity and high rates. High rates and complexity are twins. When rates get high, the well-connected lobby for tax breaks, each of which make things more complicated. When there are lots of tax breaks, the rates have to go higher to raise more revenue. The standard approach to tax reform is to do the opposite --  lower the rates, and pay for it by eliminating tax breaks.

Tax reform is hard, but you don't have to do it all at once. A few baby steps, and the grown-up steps can come later.

Some first steps that would make life easier for Iowans without affecting tax policy or state revenues:

Eliminate the alternative minimum tax for individuals and corporations. One of the reasons reason the Tax Foundation's annual Business Tax Climate Index gives Iowa low marks is because every taxpayer is required to compute both a "regular" tax and the AMT, paying the one that produces the higher tax. But Iowa's AMT applies to very few taxpayers. It is rare to see it in tax practice unless you have clients who are public-company executives with incentive stock options. The Iowa Department of Revenue doesn't even track AMT receipts -- which fuels my suspicion that AMT revenues in Iowa amount to a rounding error in the state budget. Eliminating the AMT would simplify a lot while costing the state little.

Make Iowa's tax system automatically adopt federal changes, unless the legislature votes a specific exception. Iowa every year passes a "code conformity" law to mirror federal changes in the computation of taxable income. Because large parts of the federal tax law are enacted only a year at a time, often in December, tax season is well under way before Iowans have an official tax law. It would be much easier if federal changes were automatically adopted. If Iowa wanted to exclude an area of the law from automatic changes -- like it does with depreciation -- that would be easy enough to do as part of a "floating conformity" approach. Much simplification, little or no revenue loss.

Tie all return due dates to federal due dates. While Iowa returns are generally due at the end of the month federal returns are due, there are exceptions. For example, non-resident alien individual federal returns are due on June 15, but Iowa wants them on April 30, and imposes penalties if they are filed on the federal deadline. That's unfair and un-neighborly.

Then there are reforms that would be harder to enact, but that have policy arguments that are so strong, they might win out. These would include:

Encourage or require "composite" returns or withholding for pass-through non-resident taxpayers. Almost all other states do a version of this. This would make it much easier for Iowa to collect taxes on Iowa-source income from non-resident owners partnerships and S corporations, and would almost surely generate revenue that could be used to lower rates.

Repeal the deductibility of federal taxes in exchange for lower rates. Just incorporating the tax benefit of the federal deductibilty into Iowa's rate structure would bring the top rate down from 8.98% to somewhere between 5.5% and 6.9%.

Repeal "refundable" or "transferable" incentive tax credits and roll the savings into lower rates. When "refundable" credits exceed your Iowa tax, the state mails you a check for the difference. "Transferable" credits can be sold -- in effect, allowing third parties to buy Iowa tax reduction at a discount. These amount to unappropriated subsidies; if the legislature wouldn't vote a corporate subsidy as an appropriation, it shouldn't be paid  through a tax return. 

Iowa's research activities credit alone gave checks to corporations of $37 million in 2014 -- $11.7 million to a single corporation. Just ending the refundability of this credit would save the state enough revenue to shave a full percentage point off of Iowa's highest-in-the-nation 12% corporation tax rate.

That's the easy stuff. Enacting just these ideas would improve Iowa's tax system, but that would leave much undone. What would an Iowa income tax look like if we wanted to start it over and make it as friendly as possible for taxpayers and growing Iowa businesses? We'll talk about that next time.

 

How many people does it take to put in a floor outlet?

Floor OutletMy wife and I are just over one week away from moving into our newly constructed house. The final week is a flurry of activity, and this morning I spent in inordinate amount of time dealing with the small detail of floor outlets that were to be installed in two different rooms. Because we both work from home, my wife and I wanted the ability to wire both electricity and the internet to our desks in the middle of the home offices. It seemed a simple enough request.

How many people does it take to install a floor outlet? Here's what I've learned:

  • General contractor #1 who oversaw the planning, design and rough work
  • The electrician responsible for wiring the electricity
  • The salesman from the A/V and security store who sold us the wiring install
  • AV installer #1 who roughed in the computer wiring to the floor outlets
  • AV installer #2 who was to do the finish work of installing the outlets
  • General contactor #2 who was to oversee the final install

This morning I was discussing the floor outlet with AV installer #2 told me that there were to be two different outlets, one for the electric and one for the Cat5 internet cables, which baffled me because my wife and I had remembered always talking in terms of one outlet for all the inputs. AV installer #2 insisted that this was not the case and even went to the truck to get the actual floor outlet to show me. He pulled, however, a single outlet box from its wrapping that had both electric and Cat5 inputs.

"Huh," he said, "I've never seen one of these before." Great.

Then I discovered that the electric box, installed by the electrician, and the CAT5 wires run by A/V Installer #1 had been run to two different locations, inches apart, in the other office. I called in general contractor #2 to show him the single outlet we wanted and to discuss that fact the wires weren't going to the same place in the finished hardwood floor, which meant he would likely have to tear into the floor to move the wires. There ensued a conversation which, I've learned, comes up a lot in the home construction process: "How did we get here?"

Let me recap the dots I connected:

  • General contractor #1 thought we the homeowners covered all these details with...
  • the A/V salesman who didn't seem to communicate all the details with...
  • A/V installer #1 who ran the wires to a different place in the floor since...
  • The electrician had already put an electric box in the floor because...
  • General contractor #1 hadn't said anything to him about anything different, and...
  • General contractor #1 thought that the A/V salesman had that covered, but...
  • The homeowner realized that something was awry, asking...
  • A/V installer #2 who thought we were installing two different boxes, only to find...
  • A/V salesman had given him a single outlet he'd never seen, not knowing that...
  • A/V installer #1 had roughed in wires for two boxes in that one office since...
  • The electrician already had a box in the floor there, meaning...
  • General contractor #2 had to figure out how to fix it, then asking...
  • the homeowner if he knew how much that single box cost, which...
  • I didn't because no one talked to me about it or gave me any options.

I have learned over the years through service quality assessments with many different companies in many different industries that virtually every customer service problem is rooted in a communication issue. It might be no communication or miscommunication, or a combination of both. It might be a communication lapse between customer and salesperson, salesperson and operations, operations and delivery, delivery and customer, customer and customer service, or a combination of all.

If you can identify and address where your communication breakdowns routinely occur, you can eliminate a lot of customer service problems and the resulting customer frustration.

By the way, despite all of the momentary frustration and within a short period of time we had two very beautiful (and very expensive) floor outlets installed and they look great.

Thank you to all parties involved.

Faster Horses: how to solve the right problems through innovation

Max Farrell is the co-founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires innovation and intrapreneurship inside companies to drive engagement and bold action. 

Henry-Ford-Quote

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” - Henry Ford

This quote by Henry Ford may be familiar to many of you and rightfully so. It is a staple quote in how we approach innovation: sometimes we have to solve problems in ways the customer doesn’t know are possible. Almost all innovations start with a problem, but a key ingredient to solving it is having an ideal outcome. 

Let’s dig into the core of how to identify what the customer really wants. 

In Henry Ford’s case, his problem was that cars were too costly for the masses to access. As a result, many people assumed horses were the best thing available. But Ford knew the desired outcome was for people to have a better way to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.

So Ford addressed the problem by pursuing a solution at the core of the desired outcome: make cars more accessible to the masses. In doing this, he popularized the assembly line, fair employee wages (so his own employees could buy the cars they created) and made the car affordable to the masses. 

We all run into issues like this daily, whether it is with customers, inside our organizations or even in our personal lives. 

Often we rush to address problems without thinking about what we want the core outcome to be. Frequently we identify a problem without truly understanding THE problem

Innovation at its core is the ability to truly understand the problem, hypothesize the desirable outcome and build the solution with continuous iterations and feedback loops. 

I’ll give a personal example of a problem/outcome scenario I was faced with recently: 

In my apartment building, many tenants were complaining to the property managers about the complexity of the thermostats (the problem). People requested the thermostat manual from the maintenance crew, but the group was reluctant to share due to the text book thickness of the manual.

As I discussed this issue with the lead maintenance guy, we talked through the desired outcome. It wasn't that people wanted the manuals, they simply wanted better instruction on how to work the the thermostat. The maintenance lead agreed to offer a workshop to educate the tenants. This way the root of the problem (lack of knowledge) is addressed with an outcome (understanding). 

It's a simple example, but I share it to emphasize how simple issues can be approached differently. 

We need to truly understand the problem, ask why it's a problem, propose an outcome and then iterate to find/verify the ideal solution. It works with customers, it works in the office and it works at home. 

Simply approaches like this could lead to the creation of the next groundbreaking product or industry. 

What "faster horses” are you faced with in your industry?

 

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

The great steffano

GreatSteffanoImage

Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Beware the Purple People Eaters: A personal look at leadership."

Before becoming an Army cavalry scout in the harsh climate of northern Alaska, as well as a husband and father, my son, Steffen, was an aspiring magician. He began developing his craft as a young child, and by high school had mastered many of the skills necessary to amaze and entertain his audiences. I was frequently his audience, as he would often "test" new tricks with me. He believed that if a magic trick somehow worked on me, it would work on others.

Frequently, and especially during the early years, I would spot the sleight of hand or figure out the basis for the trick. But by his late high school years, it became increasingly difficult. He had one trick that, to this day, still has me mystified –– and a bit angry, since I have yet to figure it out. My only explanation is that something supernatural is going on.

Steffen, or "The Great Steffano," as he would often refer to himself, would pull out a deck of cards, fan them out, and show me both sides of the cards in order to verify their authenticity. He had me pick a card, look at it, and place it somewhere back in the deck, which was then shuffled again. He then pulled a clear plastic sandwich baggie from his pocket that contained a single playing card –– the joker. I would verify that it was the joker, and that there were no other cards inside the baggie. Next, I’d put out my hand, and he would lay the baggie on it with the joker face down. He would then instruct me to place my other hand on top of it.

After a half minute or so of dramatic magic stuff (waving the deck over my hands, blowing on them, etc.), he asked me to tell him the initial card that I had drawn from the deck. After I confirmed the card, he would ask me to remove my top hand and look at the card inside the baggie––which had somehow "magically" changed from the joker to my card.

To say that I've had Steffen repeat this trick for me several times over the years would be an understatement. Each time, regardless of the card I draw, the result is the same.  Despite how hard I focused and paid attention to everything happening around me, I came no closer to figuring out the "logical" basis for it.

Obviously, there was some kind of misdirection going on––what the eyes see, the ears hear, and the hands touch...the mind delivers. In other words, what I think is occurring may not always line up with what is actually occurring, which is the basis of perception.

View the images below. In the first, a perfect square is placed over a series of concentric circles. In the second, black squares are arranged in a four-by-four grid and spaced the same distance apart.

 

Illusions

 

What do you notice? Do the sides of the first square appear to be curved inward? When you look at the second image, do you see “shadow-like” images where the four corners of each box come together?

Both of these images illustrate how what you "see" is not always reality. Our senses–in this case, our eyes–can play tricks on our minds. When trying to properly identify or define a problem before we apply sticky thinking–creativity–to find the solution, it's essential to try and look at it from as many perspectives as possible. The initial view may have been distorted and may not provide the complete picture.

Have you ever dropped something small on the floor and then had a difficult time finding it? When this happens and I start to get frustrated, I remember this "varying viewpoint" principle and immediately drop to the floor to look across it––a new perspective that usually yields better success.

As human beings it's easy for each of us to view something and come up with very different views as to its intent or meaning. We all perceive ourselves and the world around us in ways that reflect our individual values, experience, knowledge, and personalities. We each select, organize, and interpret the stimuli around us in different ways. 

There are many ways to view a problem, and thus many solutions that come with each view. Sticky thinkers know this and have become accustomed to stepping back from a problem prior to solving it in order to see it from as many different perspectives as possible.  More perspectives allow for more connections and a greater opportunity to get creative. 

By the way, despite trying a variety of tactics to get him to show me the secret to that trick, ranging from cash rewards to threats of potential punishment, "The Great Steffano" held true to the creed that a magician never reveals his secrets. 

Practice Challenge:  Each time you have to generate an idea or solve a problem, try stepping back for a moment. Shift your viewpoint and get a totally different perspective. It may or may not change the resulting solution, but over time you will train your brain to look at every problem from a variety of perspectives. 

©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

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