Managing farmland for income, appreciation and sustainability

Steve Bruere is the president of Peoples Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change: Start with small wins

Baby steps

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

 

Rowena Crosbie is President of Tero International

Change is scary.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleansing emails may muddy legals waters

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

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

One example... the Court system.

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

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

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

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

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

How live-stream social media apps can change the world

Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder at Happy Medium.

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

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

So how does it work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disagreeing Isn’t always the smarter thing to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready to dare greatly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all want you to be brave, too.

 

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH’S CHALLENGE:

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

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

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

 

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

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

Kids can be so annoying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

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

A better way to do email marketing

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Golden Oldie that's still a big hit

Some things never change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take credit where credit is due

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

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

The average residential geothermal system costs $25,000


That’s a tax credit of
$12,000. 

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

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

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

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

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

How to finance your exit

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

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

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

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

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

Good Luck!

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

Best practices vs. customer expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find balance by taking a time out

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

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

Man meditating with computer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you stand for matters

Dove

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

There’s more to the story than tax rates

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

Well, it depends. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this level of growth needed in local budgets?

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

There’s usually much more to the story.

Breaking a brand

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

He wears a regular necktie of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 9.07.57 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't talk to strangers

 Stranger
Most people go to conferences with two goals:

  • to further their education
  • to network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cybersecurity and your board of directors

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law  PGP_1038

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

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

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

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

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

The value of pausing to reflect

By Bill Leaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready for Google’s new ranking preferences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Companies should listen.

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

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

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

Three words that will slowly kill your business

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

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

“That won’t work.”

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

Why do we do this?

•Because killing ideas is free.

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

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

But we’re still standing right?!

Yes, some of us.

Remember Kodak, Blockbuster and Borders?

They all said “that won’t work.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two, two word statements you must use:

Yes and quote

“Yes, and...” and “Yes, if...”

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

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

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

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Max startupEmail: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

A lesson in crisis PR from Dowling Catholic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from MTV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One can make a difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

  

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

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

 

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

 

Play your own game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Kelly Sharp

Referral marketing and floating ice

Baby_seal- By Carl Maerz

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

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

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

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

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

The "Bergie Seltzer"

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

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

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

Bergy bits and growlers

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

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

The Sustainability Badge of Honor

- By Rob Smith

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Walmart

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

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

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

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

What's in it for me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

20121231-1
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

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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

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