Bad customer data = Bad PR

Recently, I've received a string of unbelievable emails from my car dealership. After the last one, I seriously got up from my desk and looked around to make sure I was not on Candid Camera. Elantra

The first ones started last year and they weren't bad. "Hey, Claire!" the personalized message started out. "It's Matt from XYZ Clive Dealership. Just wondering how your Elantra is doing. We're a little low on used cars right now, so I thought I'd inquire to see if you are ready to trade in your vehicle anytime soon?" I recognized the guy as the one who'd sold me the car. Since my car was about three years old, it seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. I politely declined, but before hanging up the phone, I told Matt that when I was ready to trade this one in, I would probably get an SUV.

The next series of emails were a little sketchy. First, I got an email asking me if I'd like to sell my red Honda Accord. That would be my daughter's car. I didn't even co-sign for it. My name was not on the title. I politely told them that they had the wrong person.

Let me just stop right here and tell you that I've purchased two vehicles from this place, the first in 2002 and the most recent in 2011, long after the invention of computers. 

Fast forward to this week. I got a curious email from another person who I've never met. "I noticed that you got your car serviced here last month," (true) he said, "I just wondered where you purchased it?" 

I responded with total incredulity. "Ha ha ha! You're kidding, right?" I replied. "I bought my last TWO cars there." The reply? (I'm not kidding) "Can you tell me who your salesperson was?" 

Can you see where I'm going here? Their total lack of control over their own customer information is causing them to lose a future sale from a very loyal customer. The solution is two-fold.

First, they must capture all customer data from the first inquiry all the way through to the sale. Then the process doesn't stop, it just gets a bit more segmented. For an organization like car dealership, there are even systems that are customized just for them. There is simply no excuse to ask customers the silly questions that I was being asked.

Second, you must TRAIN your people how to use the system. Customers should not suffer the consequences of employees plundering a pile of unorganized data. 

After you have all the data in a CRM (customer relationship management) system, the real magic can happen. By sorting and segmenting data, your salesforce can mine it to reach out to customers with helpful and timely sales offerings. For example, last year when I told Matt that I wanted an SUV, he should have entered that into their database. Then, they could've sent me an email with an offer to upgrade to an SUV and trade in my current vehicle. This is called "personalization" and it's a very effective sales tool.

The lack of data integrity at this dealership looks like a fixable problem - and they have good salespeople who are obviously willing to reach out to customers, albeit a little clumsily. As their PR person, I would advise them to fix this problem immediately before some pushy blogger writes a blog post about it.

Claire Celsi is a PR practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

'Just the facts, ma'am'

Benefits and Costs of DARTing Forward 

Last month, members and guests at the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa’s “Ideas on Action” series were given an overview of the benefits of the Des Moines Area Regional Transit (DART) in central Iowa, and about the future of DART services. 

The group learned that DART has made some impressive gains in service and ridership over the three years since the DART Forward 2035 plan was adopted, and it heard about even more ambitious plans for the future.  Specifically, a $25 million project called “Bus Rapid Transit” is planned to improve frequency and shorten travel times along the University Ave./Ingersoll/downtown loop route. 

But the value of DART cannot be understood without also looking at both sides of the ledger, and by looking at the question of who pays.

All transit systems depend on revenue sources beyond what users alone can pay, both because of user needs but also because of the extra benefits that public transit generates for the community as a whole.  For example, in comparison with automobile travel, public transit confers public health benefits.  It requires more exercise, may generate less pollution, results in fewer traffic injuries, and provides improved mobility for non-drivers.  And surveys have shown that millennial workers believe a good transit system is an important community service. 

But are these extra (beyond the user) benefits worth the extra cost?

Let’s look at the financial model on which DART has been operating since 2011 (when DART Forward 2035 was adopted):

  • Annual operating costs have risen by 37 percent (to $28.5 million);
  • Annual operating revenues have remained constant (at $7.8 million); and
  • Annual property taxes have doubled (to $13.1 million). 

Slide2

Despite a nearly 20 percent increase in ridership over this period, there has been no associated increase in fare-based revenue.  If more millennials are riding the bus, why aren’t we seeing an increase in operating revenue?  The absence of growth in operating revenue suggests that all of the recent improvements in service and ridership have been funded by non-users, i.e. from increases in property taxes.  Are we okay with this model? How far should we go with it?

State legislation in 2008 gave DART the authority to raise property tax rates in every community in Polk County (and in rural Polk County) up to a maximum of 95 cents per thousand dollars of taxable value.  We’re about half way to the maximum compared with where we started, so we can expect property taxes in most communities to continue to go up for the next several years until they reach about $20 million per year (in today’s dollars).

With several years of experience to review and certainly before such a large financial commitment is made to Bus Rapid Transit, now is a good time for a gut check.  Are the additional benefits to the community at large from increased transit ridership sufficient to justify additional community investment by property taxpayers?  In this day of UBER and apps that can make it easier to use alternatives to single-occupant vehicle travel, do we know that public transit is the most efficient and effective way to promote the use of alternative transportation in a lower density city like Des Moines?  Perhaps the answer to both questions is “yes,” but we should ask and answer the questions explicitly.

These and other questions like them will be considered as the DART Board reviews its progress this fall.  It will be important for the broader community, including property tax payers, to weigh in.

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

 

 

 

Is Iowa’s business tax climate really that bad?

IMG_0605Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company

P.C.

 

The Tax Foundation says Iowa has the 10th-worst business tax climate among the states. Their detailed overview of Iowa’s tax system explains:

 

States that score well on the Index have broad bases and low rates, but Iowa has narrow bases and high rates on many taxes…

 

Competing states like South Dakota and Indiana offer more competitive corporate tax climates while Iowa can leave prospective businesses with sticker shock because of its 12 percent corporate income tax rate.

 

Further, many Iowa businesses file income taxes through the individual tax code, which has a high top rate of 8.98 percent. Even Illinois is more competitive in this regard; it files individual income at a single rate of 5 percent.

 

All true. Of course, defenders of Iowa’s tax system can make some worthwhile points:

 

  • Most states don’t allow deductions for federal taxes. Iowa does, making the effective top rate lower than the rates quoted by the Tax Foundation.

  • Iowa corporations can use “single-factor” apportionment. This allows Iowa corporations to pay taxes based only on Iowa sales, so Iowa-based corporations with a national market pay a lower effective rate than corporations based in states that use a traditional tax system that takes into account property and payroll in-state, as well as sales.

  • Iowa allows a “refundable” research credit that can result in startups, especially software companies, receiving cash subsidies even in loss years.

  • Iowa has dozens of other special tax credits that can eliminate taxes; some can even result in a negative income tax, with the state writing checks for qualifying taxpayers.

 

And what Iowa's defenders say is true. Big Iowa companies can find themselves paying surprisingly little tax here.

 

Unfortunately, by the time Iowa advocates get to the tax credit part of the story, the audience has already tuned out. It’s easier to tell South Dakota’s story: “We don’t have any income taxes!”

 

Even after all of the explaining, the Tax Foundation’s main points remain true. Iowa’s corporation tax rate is the highest in the U.S. (even taking the deduction for federal income taxes into account). In fact, it is the highest in the developed world. Our individual tax rate is high, even considering the federal tax deduction. All of the special breaks make Iowa's income tax very complex. And while Iowa has many tax credits, they are often narrowly tailored and require consulting and string-pulling to obtain. Many small businesses don’t qualify for the wonderful tax breaks, but they still have to pay their accountants to comply with the resulting complex and confusing tax system.

 

While there is recognition at the Statehouse that Iowa’s tax system is a problem, there’s a long way to go to overcome forces that like the current system. Every special tax credit and tax break benefits somebody who’d hate to see it go. Politicians like “targeted” tax breaks, as they can attend ribbon cuttings for companies that get the special deals.

 

Meanwhile, nobody cuts a ribbon for the businesses that don’t get the special breaks. There is no press release to tell the story of the Iowa business that has to pay taxes at the top Iowa rate, while competing with South Dakota competitors. There is no press conference when an business leaves Iowa to take its state tax rate from 12 percent to zero. There’s no ribbon cutting for a business that loses business to competitors with lower tax burdens.

 

I believe Iowa is a great place to do business. That’s in spite of its tax system, not because of it. Iowa could collect the same amount of tax with a much better tax system. We’ll talk about how it could be made better next time.

Why some M&A's fail

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd. 

Recent surveys from companies that have participated in a merger or acquisition indicate that in most transactions the parties failed to achieve the objectives. Analyses for a successful or unsuccessful transaction indicate that the successful merger of two cultures is a key factor. Some specifics are: Phoenix logo only

1.  Leaders failing to recognize the importance of integrating the cultures of both companies.

2.  Focusing on the bottom-line vs. focusing on the people who will make it happen.

3.  Leaders' failure to involve and provide the authority to the key personnel from both companies for managing the integrating process.

4.  In general, too much time spent on assessing the culture vs. managing the culture.

5.  Owners' failure to communicate the priorities/goals to all employees.

6.  Loss of key personnel due to: Uncertainty about their future, lack of communication,  being left out of the transition process and no longer feeling important.

Naturally, there are other reasons for a failed M&A besides the integration of the two cultures.  But in all surveys this is always listed as the Number 1 reason for M&A’s failing to achieve their objectives.

Good luck!

Steve Sink

CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Professional and Confidential Client Representation

Superbowl -- oh, is there a football game too?

SuperBowlXLIXLogoDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Sure, sure....those Seahawks played a great game and as always the Patriots will be tough to beat.  And who isn't excited to watch Idina Menzel sing the national anthem or Katy Perry shake up the halftime show?

But the real talk of the upcoming Superbowl is, as always, the commercials.

Companies spend millions, between the media buy and production, for a :30 second appearance and the national spotlight. Is it worth it?

In 2014, a 30-second spot was an staggering $4 million and if you wanted a full 60-second spot  -- make the check for $8 million. And then there's the cost of actually making the spot. Most Super Bowl spots cost between $1-3 million to make, although some thrifty advertisers came in under that.

Now add in the public's quick and critical reaction and the odds that in an effort to be funny your spot won't really be about driving sales.... and voila, a marketing mistake in the making?

As with all marketing questions, the answer is -- it depends. Many brands (Skechers, Audi, etc.) have seen double digit sales growth that was sparked by their Super Bowl spots. Other brands, like Bud, have become a game day staple, both at the parties and with their commercials.  For them, it's viewed as both a thank you for all that beer you've got in the fridge and a tradition.

For us -- they're entertainment to be enjoyed and shared. (Imagine the value of a popular Super Bowl spot today with social media versus 15 years ago).

To get your pump primed for the big game -- check out these Super Bowl classics.

Best animal Super Bowl commercials

Best animaled Super Bowl commercials

Most memorable Super Bowl commercials

Most expensive Super Bowl commercials

Best Super Bowl commercials of all time

You can watch all of the Super Bowls ads as they're released here.  Or you can wait until game day!

Oh yeah...and go Seahawks!

Double Dutch in business: Implementing new initiatives

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

DoubledutchInventing and implementing new products or kicking off a new initiative inside a company is a lot like the jump rope game Double Dutch, which you can see in this short video\

Jumping rope is hard enough, but adding a second rope can be tricky unless you’re ready for it.

Why is it tough to add something extra to an organization?

Change is tough unless you become good at change:

Try jumping into a new job, a new campaign, a new relationship—it’s usually tricky at first.

Same with business: It takes time to get good at launching new things. People have to adapt to the change in process, embrace experimentation and keep pushing forward.

The rope is already moving:

Systems, procedures, existing software and habits are already in place for the majority of teams. A new addition has to fit with the things that are already moving as smoothly as possible. Many implementations have a razor-thin margin for error.

The rope doesn’t stop moving:

You have to make sure things fit right and happen at the right time or they fall apart. Case in point: (you’ll enjoy this short clip). Jazz musicians are a great example of a group that improvises on the fly. They jam with new players and new instruments all while keeping on beat. Businesses need to operate the same way, flexible to shifts that may occur.

You have to communicate:

In Double Dutch you have to communicate with everyone: your partners jumping in, the people swinging the rope and those watching on the sidelines.

It’s the same with business: communicate the new implementation, how it needs to be done, what needs to change and let those on the sidelines (your customers) know what’s coming so they can anticipate and react to the change.

How can you get better at Double Dutch (adding new offerings) in your company?

  • Start with why. Why do you need to add or start something new? Why is there value in this update? Answering these will clarify objectives and outcomes.

  • Get a team of specialists, either internally or externally who know how to play the game. Introducing new products and initiatives is an art and a science—experience helps. Also think about creating cross-functional teams to bring something new to life.

  • Crowdsource the approach. Great ideas don’t always come from the top, but from within. What ideas do your employees have to make a new effort amazing?

  • Over-communicate. Do this with your customers, with teams internally and anyone else involved. You don’t want to have a Double Dutch fail.

In closing:

Innovation is a crucial part of business and you’ll see an increasing focus on the topic in 2015. It’s tempting to jump right in, but first you have to make sure you and your team are ready for the rush.

-----

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

What's your "one thing" in 2015?

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

Keller - One Thing bookTake a moment to consider your various life roles. What comes to mind? Perhaps parent, employee, troop leader, spouse, basketball coach, entrepreneur, friend… Given enough time, your list of roles would probably span into the dozens.

Now consider your goals, projects, and dreams for the future. Do you want to start a business? Lose weight? Earn seven figures? Complete RAGBRAI? Fund a college scholarship? Travel?

Add to these lists the routine upkeep of life – dental appointments, grocery shopping, tax prep, and so on – and it’s little wonder many of us feel overwhelmed and stretched to the max.

As cofounder of the largest real estate company in the U.S., Gary Keller knows about roles, responsibilities, and dreams. He’s also created a solution that has caused his book, The One Thing (with Jay Papasan), to hit the business bestseller lists and serve as a model for executives everywhere.

The main premise of the book is fairly simple, and likely something we all know: You can’t do it all, all at once. So, decide what’s most important, then put the majority of your time and energy there.

We know this. But how many of us practice it?

Keller believes in thinking big: big visions, big dreams, big goals. I love the example he gives of Arthur Guinness who, upon establishing his first brewery, signed a 9,000-year lease! But right from Chapter 1, he stresses the importance of going small. “’Going small’ is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do,” he explains. “It’s recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most.”

When you know what matters most, your decisions become easier and your actions more aligned. You can decrease that “spinning your wheels” feeling and move forward with clarity and focus.

Last month, about 2 dozen clients and I attended The One Thing Fundamentals seminar in Des Moines. In a few quickly-passing hours, presenter Don Hobbs brought core concepts of the book to life: decide what matters most, clear away the excess, and invest your time and resources accordingly. When you have that clarity, you act with intention and contribute more meaningfully. After all, as Keller writes, “A life lived on purpose is the most powerful of all – and the happiest.”

TAKE ACTION:

Many things are important, but they can’t all be the most important. Take some time this month to decide: What’s your One Thing in your work or leadership in 2015? Then put Keller’s question to the test: What’s the One Thing you can do – this week, today, in this moment – to move more purposefully towards that powerful goal?

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotFor added accountability, share your One Thing in the comments below. If you’ve read the book or attended the seminar, what was your biggest takeaway?

Learn more about Dr. Christi Hegstad's coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan (Bard Press, 2012)

In one ear, out the other

InOneEarOutOtherImage

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

Years ago, I heard John Falconer, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Colorado, tell the following story:

A student and his professor were backpacking in Alaska when a grizzly bear started chasing them from a distance. They both started to run, but it was clear that the bear would eventually catch up to them. The student stopped, took off his backpack, got out his running shoes, and began to put them on. His professor said, “You can’t outrun the bear, even in running shoes!” The student replied as he took off, “I don’t need to outrun the bear; I only need to outrun you!”

I believe the moral to this story is the importance of understanding the true nature of the problem at hand. John Dewey, the great educational theorist, once stated that a problem properly defined is half solved. When you apply sticky thinking (creativity) to a properly defined problem, your odds of a timely, improved solution are greatly enhanced. However, (and there’s always a “however”), properly defining a problem is typically much more difficult than it sounds. Doing so is impacted by two different, yet closely related concepts: active listening and perception. We’ll focus on active listening now and on perception in my next piece.

I was the oldest of three children, and according to my parents, I was also the most challenging to raise (I like to think I “taught” my parents how to better raise my younger sister and brother). In fact, I can remember my father frequently using the phrase, “You’re not listening! That went in one ear and out the other.” As human beings it’s easy for all of us to listen to a question and come up with very different views as to its intent, meaning, or importance, which in turn leads to different answers. That’s why it’s important to ask good questions.

Let’s say I’m sitting in the living room, probably being a bum and watching football, and my wife is preparing dinner in the kitchen. I ask her, “What time is it?” She may respond by saying, “It’s 6:00,” or “It’s time for dinner,” or “Ten minutes later than the last time you asked,” or “The same time it is in there.” Although all are technically true, they don’t get to the same answer in the same manner. Perhaps a better question would have been, “What time does it show on the clock on the microwave in front of you?”

Becoming good at sticky thinking requires not only asking good questions (see my last piece Golfing with Bananas), but also actively listening to the answers. Hearing is not listening, and research indicates that most people retain as little as 25 percent of what they hear.1 Active listening is an intensive mental effort to maintain focus while observing and concentrating on the details of what’s being said.

Our minds are so busy processing the information bombarding them from so many sources, like our ringing smartphones, text messages and email notifications. It’s easy to mentally move ahead of the speaker, and we may find we’ve let information enter one ear and exit the other. When you’re introduced to someone new, how well do you remember what they said, or even their name? Through active listening, a greater degree of awareness, understanding, empathy and clarity will emerge that will serve to enhance sticky thinking and make the connections stronger.

Let’s boost our creative, sticky thinking and improve our listening. Here are a few tips to get you started:

•  Allow for silence. If you rush to fill momentary silences, you cease being a listener.

•  Ask stimulating, open-ended questions to facilitate connections and sticky thinking. Avoid questions that require only a yes or no.

•  Use attentive eye contact and verbal and physical cues to show you are listening, such as “uh-hmm,” “yes,” or a simple smile. Reflect emotion.

•  Occasionally repeat or paraphrase the speaker’s main points in your mind, or even verbally, to help you remember them.

•  Know your biases and try to avoid premature judgments (remember that everything is perceptional–something we’ll discuss more in my next piece).

Practice Challenge:  The key to sticky thinking is to continually ask questions and actively listen to the answers. Start by selecting a few important people in your life and strive to be an active listener with them; your spouse and boss might be good starting points. Remember, practice makes permanent.

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

1Active Listening: Hear What People are Really Saying.  Retrieved December 28, 2014, from the Mind Tools website: http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm

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

Five ways to communicate your way to success in 2015

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

Along my customer service journey I have had the opportunity to work with numerous businesses, small and large, from a diverse array of market spaces. One of the most fascinating discoveries for me was finding tremendous commonality in my clients’ customer service struggles. I’ve come to understand that most customer service problems are rooted in communication problems. Lack of communication, miscommunication, and poor communication within an organization are the foundation for poor customer experiences.

As we look ahead to a new year, here are five great suggestions for communication resolutions just might revolutionize your coming year:

Listen to your customer. The forgotten part of successful communication is choosing to listen to and hear the other party. Over the years I’ve been amazed at the number of executives, small business owners, and entrepreneurs who have never actually listened to their customers. What do they like about what you’re providing or doing for them? What irritates them? What is it that they really care about? Stop trusting your gut and take steps to investigate your customers’ hearts and minds.

Talk to other departments. One of the most common sources of a customer service crisis is lack of internal communication. The Customer Service queue blows up with irate online customers and the contact center isn’t staffed to handle it because no one in Operations thought to tell their colleagues that the company’s servers would be down for a system upgrade that day. As you ramp up your projects for 2015, make sure you add an action item to consider all the other departments your project will affect and bring them into the loop sooner rather than later.

Have a conversation with your team members. Whenever our group has done employee satisfaction surveys for clients, the results almost always show that employees want more time and communication with managers. Confession: Just the other day one of my own team members made an honest, direct plea to me for more consistent communication. Ouch. This one is back on top of my own list of goals for 2015.

Listen to the truth. A few years ago our sales quality assessment revealed that my client’s sales team was not making their required sales calls. Preferring to sit and wait for their phones to ring, a number of individuals on the sales team appeared to be padding their call reports with non-existent sales calls. Business had been brisk enough that sales were up and no one really took notice until we shed light on the situation. In a classic CYA protocol, the sales manager told me to deep-six the report and not reveal the results to anyone. I tried to convince him that his best move was to accept the findings for the revelation that they truly were, take full responsibility for the situation revealed in the report, and provide the detailed action plan we’d provided for remedying the situation. He chose to bury the report, and his career.

Say “Thank you.” Our culture is speeding up, technology is speeding up, and our communication methods are becoming faster and more truncated. One of my own personal observations is that we are losing the common courtesy of saying thank you. The “thank you” note seems to have become extinct with snail mail. A common social etiquette hasn’t consistently caught up in electronic form. Yet our research shows that customers still value simple courtesies. Don’t forget to honestly thank your customers. Don’t forget to express gratitude to your employer, your employees, or your team members (Oh, and don’t forget your family). A little goes a long way.

Here’s to a great, more communicative 2015!

Avoid the "busy" trap

Bill Leaver is president and CEO of UnityPoint Health

In today’s day and age, it seems like we’re all busy – so busy, crazy busy – with packed calendars and long to-do lists. Even our kids can get easily overscheduled. Almost everyone I know is busy, including myself, and life only seems to get more frantic at the beginning of a new year, as we rush to create and achieve our resolutions.

Everyone has a different definition of “busy." Sometimes being busy is a good thing; it’s part of a larger effort and can have positive consequences: such as when we work overtime to hit a target business goal, when we help out a friend in need, when we travel to see family, when we explore something new in our community.

But our busy lifestyles can just as easily result in negative consequences, both personally and professionally. We feel stressed and anxious. We make less time for exercise, sitting all day at our desks to get “just one more thing” done and then coming home to plop on the couch, because we’re so tired. We eat less healthfully, either in front of a screen as we multitask or in our cars at a fast-food drive-in.

Stress can have all kinds of massive effects on our bodies, moods and behaviors – headaches, fatigue, sleep problems, irritability, depression, lack of motivation, substance abuse, withdrawal – and stress left unchecked can result in health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

To escape the “busy” trap, consider these practical tips:

  • Make time for physical activity
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Avoid tobacco use and excessive caffeine and alcohol intake

You can also take a look at your calendar, both at the office and at home, and ask yourself what needs to stay and what needs to go. Encourage your employees to cancel meetings that aren’t necessary and actually take their lunch breaks. Spend time with your friends and family without a set agenda. Say no to opportunities that result in a feeling of being “crazy busy.”

Being busy feels important in the short term, but doesn’t benefit us in the long run. I know that this year, I will try to avoid the “busy trap” for my own health and help my teams to do the same.

Stretch goals and New Year's resolutions

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.

Every year I fall victim to the same overexuberance that accompanies resolution-setting for the New Year. A list of goals is developed and implementation ensues. Generally speaking, most of the goals are met and a few are deferred, revised, or abandoned. Progress is made. The part I struggle with most is making sure I am setting the right goals, for a number of reasons.

But how can a goal be wrong? To contrast what would obviously be an example of a bad goal (something akin to setting a goal of increasing pollution in the ocean), let’s define what would constitute considered or well-formed goals.

There are generally two types of goals: 1) a standard goal, which is defined as a goal that is able to be reached with a standard amount of effort or resource allocation, 2) a stretch goal, which is a goal that is considered very difficult given current circumstances and will require additional effort or resources to successfully achieve.

The benefit of setting standard goals is that they are clearly achievable. It is mostly a matter of putting in the time and effort to reach the goal set forth, using some form of tactical solution (see the post I did on the Snickers bar). But standard goals are not always the best goals to populate your resolutions list with, because you may not be pushing yourself to the level of success you could.

Quick wins are gratifying, but they do not build long-term engagement. After a few cycles of goals that are easily met, high performing individuals will move their baseline performance expectations up, which may lead to boredom and an atrophy of motivation if more difficult tasks are not put in place. This is where stretch goals come in to play.

By setting goals that are more difficult or even seem impossible at first, the stakes are much higher. These goals are tough, but much more satisfying in the long term. As demands increase, the expectation for performance increases, and so does the reward for accomplishing them.

Stretch goals stimulate innovation in a way that other goals may not. To accomplish a task, new processes or effort structures develop and individuals think differently about how they allocate their personal resources to maximize their impact.

When working through a project that involves stretch goals, there are a few things to remember about the process itself that makes reaching these goals different than standard goals:

  1. Higher expectations may create fear of criticism or failure in individuals or in yourself. You must eliminate this fear. Failure is expected in some form when seeking to reach a higher level of output. Welcome failures as an opportunity to improve and learn and move forward more intelligently. They truly are learning experiences.
  2. Make sure that you provide support for yourself (or your team) and give yourself time to work through mental barriers that may arise. Stretch goals are hard – hard enough sometimes to make us want to disengage or quit – but giving yourself permission to ask for help or work through an adversarial stance or mentality will ultimately improve your ability to execute the task.

As 2015 gains traction, I would encourage you (or your organization) to set a mix of different types of goals to make 2015 the most productive and innovative year you can. Overexuberance is OK as long as you find the appropriate outlet for it; setting the right goals will allow you to channel this energy in a meaningful, purposeful, and productive way.

New legislative session begins Monday

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law   PGP_1038

With the holidays in the rear-view mirror and 2015 upon us, policymakers from around the state are making their journey to the capitol city where they will soon kickoff the 2015 legislative session.

The 2015 session will bring many familiar, as well as new, faces to the floor of both the Iowa House of Representatives and Iowa Senate. And regardless of your industry or business' size, it is very likely that legislation introduced in the coming weeks and months will affect, and perhaps significantly change, your business.  As a result, here's a quick who, what, when and where on Iowa's upcoming legislative session:

Who:  100 state representatives (Republican majority); 50 state senators (Democrat majority) (find your legislators here); 1 governor (Republican).

What:  150 legislators will convene on Capitol Hill to introduce and address hundreds, and likely thousands, of individual legislative bills that will impact Iowans and their businesses.  And while the range of issues will undoubtedly be vast and the specifics of forthcoming legislation largely unknown, you can count on issues that directly impact your business to be discussed, possibly debated, and perhaps even changed. Currently, anyone may access pre-filed legislation on the Iowa Legislature's website - a small glimpse of many issues to come.  

When:  The 86th General Assembly will commence on Monday, Jan. 12.  The session does not have a "hard stop" or "end" date, but considering the legislators' per diem ends 110 days later, on May 1, 2015, you can imagine they will keep a close eye on May Day.  Today, many political pundits anticipate extended debate over budget items given recent revenue forecasts, which may push the 2015 session well beyond May Day.  

Where:  The Iowa Capitol, 1007 East Grand Ave., Des Moines, Iowa 50309.

Follow these posts for future highlights on a few 2015 legislative matters that will impact Iowa businesses.

Courtesy - the understated virtue

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

 

Yesplease

While sorting through some old boxes in our storage room, I came across a collection of things from my school days. My mom saved things for us three kids and on this particular weekend I was grateful for that. 

Among the many items was a speech I delivered in junior high school. The ink produced by the Underwood manual typewriter on the faded small cards was still quite readable.  Even now, I vividly remember the challenging assignment.  Complete this sentence:  Together we will . . .  

I wrestled for many days trying to complete the sentence. It was my dad who provided the inspiration for a speech that would win a Manitoba Provincial Championship that year. What I had no way of knowing was that its timeless message would reflect, years later, a critical lesson for leaders and the mission of Tero. Below are excerpts of the speech.

Together We Will Promote Courtesy - The Understated Virtue

At this time I would like to discuss a much neglected topic. It relates to the concern we must have as human beings for the feelings and sensitivity of the others we come in contact with in our daily lives. It relates to the recognition by one and all of the value of courtesy in these relationships. It relates to the duty each of us has to accord this particular virtue the importance and consideration it deserves.

It is easy to take the virtue for granted. If you were to visit some quite unfamiliar place such as China, the first thing you would mention in a letter home would be the way the people there behaved. This would be the most important thing to you, and the way you behaved would be equally important to the Chinese. Indeed it is only when we are in an unfamiliar circumstance that we begin to realize that courtesy and good manners are the universal passport to friendships and respect. 

Courtesy is hardly some strange inheritance from the distant past, but rather, it is a long standing code of behavior. Moses did more than bring down the Ten Commandments from the mountain, he inferred to those who followed a standard of personal conduct; the need to respect the blind, the deaf and the infirm, the need to refrain from bearing tales about others, the need to be civil to visitors and strangers.

It is one of the misfortunes of today’s society that these fundamentals are ignored by many. This was recognized by a Canadian newspaper columnist, Clair Wallace, in 1967 when she said “There is a greater informality in life today, in conduct, in clothes and particularly among young people. Yet this does not alter the fact that good manners and living by the rules of society are important.” Are there really any rules?  Yes—there are rules that society has codified in association with ideals referred to as etiquette. There comes a time in everyone’s life when he or she wants desperately to know how to do the right thing in an unfamiliar setting. 

Nonconformity to the niceties of society is not a sin, but a public nuisance. Orderly social relations are needed so that people can live and work in reasonable harmony. While everyone is free to behave socially as she wishes, that does not give her license to act in such a way that it detracts from the well-being and ease of other people. There is something of the clown in a person who goes out of his way to act differently from the company he is in, and the hallmark of a vulgar person is his love of attracting attention to himself. Sir Winston Churchill once said of a member of parliament “The honorable gentleman is trying to win distinction by rudeness.” 

Courtesy is consideration for others. It is really nothing more complicated than this. If the automobile drivers of the world alone would recognize this, only a fraction of the accidents which now occur would actually happen. Together we must make an effort in our ever more complicated environment to be more courteous. It can be accomplished by less effort and ultimately will produce greater benefit than almost anything else we can do. To do this we must remember that courtesy consists of little things. No one is ever likely to say “thank you” too often. When any service is performed there should be no hesitation in expressing appreciation with a smile. A spirit of tolerance should be encouraged. We need to make allowances. To learn not to peer at others looking for fault in them. In short, we must learn to treat people as if they were what they could be.

Arnold Bennett once said “you will make more friends in a week by getting yourself interested in other people than you can in a year by trying to get other people interested in you.”  With this remark, he illustrated his awareness of the virtue of a courteous person – one who is gentle in manner, tolerant in temper, civil in behavior, humane in mood, broad and comprehending in outlook. The virtue of courtesy is indeed worth attaining.

 

Existing clients aren't chopped liver

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

My brother has the sweetest dog I have ever had the privilege to play fetch with. Abby, a 5-year old goldendoodle, is very well behaved and lacks the mischievousness which most animals possess. That is, until over this holiday. Apparently, on New Year's Eve she went on a tear through the house and sniffed out every piece of candy she could get her paws on. She knew it was wrong, and normally she would have resisted her longing for chocolate. But with all the hustle and bustle over the holidays she didn’t get the personal attention she was used to. So down the hatch went the Butterfingers, candy canes, ...even Laffy Taffy. Here she is acting innocent - except of course there is a wrapper on her chin.

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She was missing the personal touchpoints and recognition she needed.

As do existing clients of many companies. With the new year comes sales and revenue goals. Yet too often some businesses get so wrapped up (pun intended) with searching for new clients that they forget about their existing clients. You know, the ones they got last year. In fact, I always get aggravated when companies I have done business with for years offer outstanding deals for new clients only. What am I, chopped liver? So I end up leaving and joining a competitor. And thus begins the continuous cycle for the company of losing clients and obtaining new ones.

What about the lifetime value of a client?

That is where the real profit lies. Plug the leak in the bucket before adding more water. Which reminds us that client retention is just as, if not more important, than searching out new blood. Don’t forget the three Rs of customer loyalty: retention, repeat business, and referrals.

Customer loyalty can be increased significantly by purely increasing the personal touchpoints that you have with your clients. Every touchpoint goes a long way in influencing the overall perception of a company. The better the client feels about you, the more likely they are going to stick around, buy more, and tell their friends and family.

Send them handwritten cards.

I am a firm believer that direct mail is making a comeback. With so much email floating around now people hardly even notice it anymore. Besides, when consuming information online most people just look at pictures and watch videos. Okay, except for you. Thanks for reading my post. But when something shows up handwritten in their mailbox with a first class stamp attached. Trust me, they are going to read that. And they will remember it.

Birthdays and anniversaries are the best times to send them.

People get lots of Christmas cards still, and it is kind of strange to send one on Valentine’s Day. But most people don’t get that many handwritten birthdays cards anymore. (Well, not me anyway). But don’t just send one of those cheap bulk cards that only have your signature on it. Better than nothing, but it will be forgotten. Include a personalized message and be genuine.

Good luck this year! I hope your clients don’t misbehave like Abby did. Just don’t forget about your existing clients and you will have a great 2015!

Executive blogging is a key corporate PR strategy

Blogging is alive and well - attempts to declare it dead have failed. It is true that blogging has changed quite significantly over time, but it can still be an effective tool for your personal brand and your business. I love blogging

I think most executives feel that their time is better spent golfing than blogging. While golfing can be a very effective relationship-building tool with people you already know, blogging attracts new clients and customers to your business with the lasting power of thought leadership.

What should executives be writing about? Here are some ideas:

  1. Insights and personal discoveries: Yes, people really do care about your thought process. To be seen as a leader in your field of expertise, you must risk sharing your stories, foibles, goof-ups, and successes with the rest of the world. This makes you more human to your employees, customers and potential customers. Nobody wants to do business with a contact form on your website. They want to do business with real people who have real experiences.
  2. Trends: No one knows more about your business than you. If you can light the way through the next year for potential clients, they will come back for more advice, and perhaps hire you to get them to the next level.
  3. Time-sensitive information: If you have a piece of information that can help your customers save time and/or money - share it! Everyone appreciates a friend who keeps them in the loop. 
  4. Community news: If there's a firemen's chili supper or high school car wash going on in your city, let people know about it. Better yet, take a "selfie" while attending the event and invite people to join you in real time on your social media networks, then blog about it later.
  5. Employee praise: If you have a stellar employee, nothing means more than praise from their boss. Give them the honor of a blog post touting their accomplishments. Be sure to include photos!

Don't wait for the perfect post to inspire you. Just sit down and blog once a week and see what happens. I think you will be amazed at the results. Happy New Year!

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa. Please connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

"Have you ever stayed with us before?"

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

Every other month I trek up to the Twin Cities to work with one of our clients. Every time I make the trip I stay at the AmericInn in Chanhassen where my client has a corporate rate set up. I have been staying at this hotel four to eight times a year, two to three nights at a time, for well over a decade. To this day, each time I call to make my reservation and each time I check in I am asked the question, "Have you ever stayed with us before?"

At least once a quarter for almost 10 years I fly to San Antonio and stay at the Courtyard Inn by Marriott on Broadway. I stay two to three nights each trip like clockwork, and yet each time I check in I am asked the question, "Have you ever stayed with us before?"

For over 20 years I've been measuring, coaching, and training on the art of customer service and I'm ceaselessly amazed at how the most essential customer service truths are actually quite simple.

One of them I call the "'Cheers' Principle." This comes from the lyric of the theme song of the popular '80s sitcom which states, "You want to go where everybody knows your name."

Every time I go back to the familiar hotels it feels a bit like a "home away from home" for me. I've even told the clerks this when I check in. I know this hotel. I've stayed here countless times. How nice it would be to feel welcomed in such a way: "Welcome back, Mr. Vander Well. We haven't seen you in a few months!"

Instead, with the repeated phrase "Have you ever stayed with us before?" they say to me "We don't remember you." And with that, I am reminded that I am just another business traveler. I am Magritte's "Son of Man," the faceless businessman in my bowler checking in. My repeated business over the years means nothing to them. Their smiles and stock phrases suddenly mean very little. If you really cared then you'd remember I was just here a few weeks ago.

I'm amazed that the hospitality industry hasn't figure this out by now. Why doesn't my rewards number and customer profile tell the desk clerk the last time I was at the property and how many times I've stayed there over the years? How simple would that be to prompt a "Welcome back!" rather than a "Have you stayed here before?"

Another essential customer service principle that is actually quite simple is this: the difference between "good" and "great" is in the details. So far, I have yet to stay at a hotel that has consistently gotten this little detail right.

2015 social media resolutions

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

The other day the strangest thing happened. We were expecting Santa to stop by the Happy Medium office when, instead, the Grinch showed up! As you know, he now has a heart three times the size it used to be so he was in pretty good glee, that is until we started talking about social media.

He snarled and sneered a bit, so his notes we writ.

We promised we would not, do these things in 2015 (at least not a lot):

1. Your business set up as a personal Facebook profile (aka a page someone has to “add friend” for your business). Enough is enough. Let’s get things on track since you don’t want the Zuck all over your back!

2. Not responding to comments or questions. You wouldn’t stare at someone in your store and not answer a question, so don’t do it on your social media platforms. If you can’t get to it, do the same thing you’d do in your store, get some help!

3. Over-hashtagging and wrong hashtagging: let's make something clear—#this#is#not#the#appropriate#way#to#hashtag #neitheristhisdoyouhear?

4. Vague-booking is the worst—it makes us want to burst. Just be open with the thoughts you’re posting or get yourself prepared for roasting.

5. Auto-posting from one platform to all the rest of your platforms—just make it go away, it ruins our day!

So do the Grinch a favor and pay great attention, we do not want to cause further tension! 2015 will be the best year yet, no sweat!

Business exit strategy

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.  Logo only for phoenix

Prior to the sale and as part of a successful exit strategy from a family-owned business, the owner should have satisfactorily addressed these six critical questions.

  1. How can I provide for an equitable distribution of my estate among my children?
  2. Who should control and eventually own the family business?
  3. How can I use my business to fuel the growth of my estate outside of my business interests?
  4. How do I provide for my family’s income needs, especially those of my spouse and dependent children, after my death?
  5. How can I help preserve my assets from the claims of creditors during my lifetime and at my death?
  6. How can I minimize estate taxes?

An owner’s thoughtful answers to these questions will provide a smoother business transition for all parties involved and may well prevent/avoid a very difficult family situation.  Owners with questions about creating an estate plan prior to their business exit should contact an estate planning professional.

Happy Holidays!

Steve Sink CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

A New Year's resolution you can keep

HelpDanny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker who often speaks about networking to groups.

It's that time of year again. The time when we all look back at the prior year and decide what we need to change or improve about ourselves in the upcoming twelve months. 

We vow that "this will be the year" we lose that extra 15 pounds, run Dam to Dam, write that memoir, or take that trip. During the first few weeks of January we stick to this resolution with the fortitude of Ralphie trying to get the Red Rider BB gun in "A Christmas Story". By the end of Febraury most of us have forgetton about the goals we set just a couple of months earlier. The year goes by and the cycle repeats itself. 

I think we can break this cycle this year because I have a resolution almost anyone can keep. It's so simple but the impact it will have on you, and others around you, will make it worth your time. It will help make our community a better place while also helping you in ways you can't imagine right now.  So, what is this resolution? I want everyone reading this blog to vow to ask the following question to at least one different person a week during 2015 - "How can I help you?" And then do whatever is in your power to help the person with his or her request. 

I started asking this question to every person I had coffee with or met during 2014. It's been amazing to hear what people need when they're finally given the opportunity to tell someone who will listen.  The requests have ranged from helping with fundraisers, to finding a babysitter, to listening for potential job openings. The best part of asking "How can I help you?" is the unlimited potential that resides on the other side of the question.  It also gives you the opportunity to be someone's hero. I have tried to help with any request given to the best of my ability with varying levels of success.  

It's also surprising what happens to you when you help someone else acheive a goal. Doors begin to open to opportunities you never knew existed. I've been able to speak to college campuses, develop classes, and raise tens of thousands of dollars for charities all because I asked others how I could help them. 

So, starting January 1, ask one person a week "How can I help you?" and then share your stories with me at danny@dannybeyer.com.  I'll share the best stories through this blog throughout 2015 so readers can see what differences are being made in our great community because of one simple question. Good luck and happy 2015 everyone!  Let's change the world, one person at a time. 

The entertainment factor isn't enough

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

We all love funny advertising.  Heck -- it's why have the country watches the Super Bowl. Surprisingly -- one of the companies that has produced some very memorable TV ads over the past couple years is Kmart.  

Based on their category and their financial woes, you wouldn't really expect Kmart to be all that funny, but's definitely been their goal.  Who can forget the infamous Ship My Pants spots?

Last Christmas, they brought us the Show Your Joe spot, which had boxer clad men ringing in the holiday cheer.  These spots have earned Kmart a lot of public exposure and conversation because while some think they're funny, others find them offensive.  

This year, Kmart continued the Joe Boxer spots with Jingle Bellies (below) and Santa Baby.

 

The spots are memborable, funny/offensive depending on your take, and clearly promoting a specific product.  But do they work?

"I want to be in the conversation," says Diane Vaccaro, chief marketing officer at Kmart Apparel. "I want to be part of the conversation in a disruptive and authentic way."

Last year's controversial spot "forced folks to consider Kmart," says Vaccaro. "A number told us that they hadn't been in Kmart for years but the ad made them go back. We struck a chord."

Most importantly, it boosted the store's Joe Boxer sales last year. Now the question is -- will it work again this year?  Kmart has had a terrible year and needs a huge uptick over the holiday season to try to balance those results.

These spots are a huge risk for Kmart...but if the results begin to heal their financial woes, it was a risk worth taking.

Here's the real (and only) question. Would these spots change your buying patterns?  Would you go to Kmart because of them?  If your answer is yes -- they win. If you're answer is no, then they just paid millions of dollars to make a non-customer laugh.

We market to sell.  That's it -- the only measure that truly matters is did the cash register ring.

 

Squirrel suits, golf clubs, employees & entrepreneurs

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

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Squirrel suits, golf clubs, employees and entrepreneurs -- they don’t usually go together, but in the world of business they oddly can.

Squirrel suits (often known as wingsuits) are suits worn when one wants to “fly” as they skydive or jump off of a high cliff or building.

Golf clubs are used in the game many of us play for leisure and even for relationship building.

Both provide a good time and serve as enjoyment for a specific crowd. In addition, both cost about the same. However one comes with a much higher risk (skydiving) vs. the easy-going game of golf.

So why does this matter in business?

It helps define the experiences of entrepreneurs versus employees.

Entrepreneurs are the ones who strap on the squirrel suit for the high risk/reward of launching a new venture. Most will fail, but the rush will be a surreal one in pursuit of success.

Employees are the golfers. They want to enjoy the game, develop their skills (as we all do in our careers) and have a consistent game to go play.

Both activities are a blast and both cost roughly the same financially. But a key thing to think about, is that they both take up the same amount of time.

With time as a consistent variable as well, why don’t more people strap on the squirrel suit? Most would say it’s the risk. The uncertainty. The fear.

As of 2012, 13 percent of the U.S. workforce was launching or running a business.* The data shows that the majority of us will build on something existing.

There are a lot more golf players out there, but the rush of being around the entrepreneurial experience is certainly tempting for many of us.

It’s no secret there’s a rise in the number of startup companies, the number of entrepreneurs (or wantrepreneurs) and the number of people clamoring to work in a startup/innovative company. Millennials are demanding more from their work experience than any generation before and are wanting an active part in shaping their team and company’s future.

So how can you capture that entrepreneurial energy inside your own organization?

Engaging employees using innovation is a great start. Every employee can add value beyond their current role to better the organization. Many of these employees have the ability to be “intrapreneurs” - entrepreneurs inside the company or internal innovators, but they need the framework or “permission” to make it a reality.

Jumpstarting intrepreneurs inside a team, a business unit or an entire organization can seem daunting. Luckily, it’s not at all. Companies around the globe run simple innovation experiences where employees are asked to share ways to better the organization, flesh out new concepts and map out how to bring them to life.

These experiences can be in the form of brainstorming sessions, internal hackathons, code jams, creation jams or any other short-term experience that sparks a newfound approach internally.

The majority of us don’t put on squirrel suits, but it doesn’t mean we can’t experience the same rush when we work.

-----

Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

*Babson Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013

When the rush is over

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place.

With Christmas still a week away, it’s pretty difficult for small retailers to start thinking about what to do when the rush is over. The truth is, every owner and employee of a small retail business should be more focused than ever on delivering quality customer service right up to the minute the lights go out on Christmas Eve.   

When the lights come back on next Friday morning, though, smart retailers are going to have an eye on the year ahead even as they handle the usual number of returns and welcome post-Christmas bargain hunters. They're also going to be focused on the year that's almost over.

The weeks right after Christmas are the perfect time to evaluate the five P’s – products, people, pricing, planning and process.

Which products sold? And which ones didn’t? Which ones sold out? And did you lose revenue by not having enough of those items in stock? Take some time to pinpoint the reasons why certain products sold or didn’t. Did you overstock or under-stock? Do you make the most effective use of sampling?

Did you price products too low or too high? Did your pricing provide you with a solid profit margin? Did you actually make any money?

Did your people meet or exceed your expectations? Do they need more training? Or do they deserve a bonus?

Did you have the right plan for the holiday season? And did you execute it properly with the right ordering, marketing, display, packaging and staffing processes?

Take time as you go along the next few weeks to write down what worked, what didn’t and why. A year from now you may remember what you did, but you may not remember if it was a success or not. Get rid of any inventory that’s just taking up space by sampling it and putting it on clearance as quickly possible.

It’s also the right time to follow up with key clients and new customers so you can thank them for their business.

And, finally, when that’s all done – take a deep breath and relax. You’ve earned it.

It might sound crazy...what I'm about to say

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

Okay, I admit it!  I am addicted to "The Voice."  I even cast my vote on Tuesday morning for Matt McAndrew. When I started watching I knew nothing about the judges but now am a big fan of Pharrell Williams.

Plastic entangled turtleMost think of Pharrell as the singer of "Happy" but the animals of the oceans are happy because of his collaboration with the Vortex Project. The Vortex Project is all about recycling nearly 40 million tons of plastic that ends up in the ocean.  The plastic blows into the ocean or is dumped by ships directly into the ocean. Nothing degrades plastic except sunlight. Small pieces are digested by wildlife or sea life become entangled in a web of plastic. Another problem is that the toxins in the plastic reside inside fish that we end up eating.

The Vortex Project is named from five massive ocean vortexes that swirl and slowly collect massive amounts of plastic. Much of it also shows up on our beaches. What do you do with tons of recycled plastic? Find a rock star to incorporate the waste into high fashion.

Along comes Pharrell. He is creative director of Bionic Yarn which produces denim from recycled materials. The clothing line is called Raw for the Oceans and features jeans and other clothing made exclusively out of recycled plastic from the ocean.  I checked online and you can get jeans from $110 to $210 a pair.  I know what you are thinking but think of the baby turtles you saved.

I would be happy to know what you think of Pharrell’s venture.  Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Year-end business deductions: the two-minute drill.

Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

While April 15 gets all the glamor, tax-savvy folks know that December 31 is where the real action is. While you add up the score in April, December is when you run the two-minute drill.

You can't run a good two-minute offense if you don't know the rules of the game (to continue the sports theme at least one paragraph too far). It doesn't help that with last-minute legislative tax law changes, year-end planning this year is like running a two-minute drill in a game of Calvinball. Yet we have to plan with the tax law we have, not the one we would prefer, so here are some notes you can write on your wrist as you call your year-end tax plays.

100_0438Figure out where you are on the field. The quarterback running a two-minute drill will call different plays on one ten-yard line than he will on the other. You need to pencil out your taxable income to-date for any year-end planning moves to succeed other than by accident. When you run the numbers, you may find that your deductions will end up being more valuable next year.

If you are planning for your business, figure out whether you are a cash-basis or an accrual-basis taxpayer. The rules to get a deduction are different.

Cash-basis businesses record their income when they receive the check. The tax law says you can't defer income by letting uncashed checks accumulate; if you can deposit a check, you've earned it, as far as the IRS is concerned.

Cash basis taxpayers generally deduct an expense when it is "paid." When does that happen?

- If the item is paid for with a credit card, it is "paid" when it is charged to the card, even if the card balance isn't paid until a later year.

- If the item is paid with a check, it is "paid" when the check is mailed (postmarked), even if the check isn't cashed until a later year.

There are limits on cash-basis deductions. For example, you can't prepay items for more than a year at a time, and there are other rules that can apply to deal with taxpayers that try to do too much of a good thing.

Accrual basis taxpayers pick up income when they have earned the income, even if they haven't been paid yet. For example, a wholesaler will normally record income when it ships the goods, even on credit. Accrual taxpayers generally get their deductions when they meet the "all events" test: all events have occurred to fix the liability, and it can be determined with reasonable accuracy. 

The tax law applies some special limits to expense accruals. For example, the tax law has an "economic performance" requirement that limits accruals until "economic performance" of the activity giving rise to the deduction take place.

You can't just accrue an expense and never pay it if you want to deduct it. Accrued compansation has to be paid within 2 1/2 months of year-end to be deductible. Most other expenses need to be paid no later than 8 1/2 months after year-end.

The related party rules are the biggest practical limit on accrual-method deductions. An accrual basis taxpayer can't deduct an amount accrued to a cash-basis "related party" -- such as a bonus accrued to an owner -- until the related party has to include the payment in income. Whether you are "related" depends a lot on what entity you use to run your business. For example, a person owning 10 percent of a corporation would not be related to a corporation taxed as a C corporation, but would be related if the same corporation were an S corporation. You might even be related to an entity that you don't own at all if a relative is an owner.

Of course, being cash-basis or accrual-basis does nothing to help you deduct an expense that isn't deductible in the first place. Not everything your business can write a check for gets you an immediate deduction, or a deduction at all. Payments for salary have to be "reasonable," so writing a "salary" check to Grandma in Florida whose service to the business consists of monitoring her bingo card isn't going to work. If you buy a car for the business, you face annual deduction limits for vehicles. Owner life insurance premiums are rarely deductible. You get the idea.

With the likely re-enactment of the $500,000 Section 179 expense and 50 percent bonus depreciation for 2014, many owners are tempted to buy a new depreciable asset by year-end to get a big deduction. Be careful. It's not enough to pay for a fixed asset by year end; it has to be "placed in service" by then to be deductible this year. That means the asset has to be on-site and set up and ready to operate. A new machine in a crate on the loading dock at year-end isn't "in service" and won't give you a deduction.

And be sure to consult your tax professional. Even the best quarterback needs a good coach. Every taxpayer is different, and a move that might score for Jill might be a distance and loss-of-down penalty for Jane.

 

Golfing with bananas

GolfingWithBananasImage

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

After his college wrestling career ended, my uncle, Terry Paustian, became a high school teacher and coached wrestling for 17 years. Two-years after what he thought was the end of his coaching career, the high school athletic director asked if he would consider becoming the coach for the boys' golf team, a decision that was likely driven by desperation (the previous coach had suddenly resigned). 

My uncle wasn’t a golfer. He knew very little about the sport, and he had a wrestler’s mentality––a mindset which is 180 degrees different from those who golf. Reluctantly, he accepted the position.

After selecting the team following tryouts (which he did by simply selecting the 16 players with the best scores), Terry began to watch and observe them during practice. He could tell that many of the players had already established their games through private coaching and the help of others far more qualified. That was a good thing; he didn’t feel he had anything of “real value” to teach them that would improve their swing or putt.

But through simple observation, he came to the realization that golf is a mental game as much as it is a physical one, and his sole job as coach was to teach these kids to keep their minds out of the way of their performance. He decided to apply some of the same psychological techniques he had once used with his wrestlers.

As the team prepared to play for the conference championship––an event the school had not won in over a decade––Terry could see they were all quite nervous. When they stood up and grabbed their clubs to exit the bus, he yelled, “Hey! Who told you to get out? Sit down!” The boys immediately sat. He then reminded them that the school had not won this event in a very long time, but he knew why.

My uncle paused, and said, “In the past, this team has been in it to win right up to the last few holes, and then everyone’s game starts to slide. It’s not that anyone lacked the talent or desire to win. Your bodies just started giving out after 15 holes. What you need,” he paused again for dramatic effect, “…is potassium! It will lift you up, and I guarantee you will play great for the last three holes.” He held up a bunch of bananas, began tossing them at each player, and said, “Bananas, full of potassium and natural steroids; you won’t believe how this works. Trust me!”

Throughout the match he continued to toss bananas to his players. Before his golfers began teeing off on the 16th hole, Terry looked at them and said, “Banana.” They would look at him and nod.

The boys’ golf team won the conference championship. They finished undefeated in duals. They won three additional tournaments and the district match. But they only finished second at state. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that my uncle forgot the bananas for that particular meet. 

Sticky Thinking (or creativity) is frequently the result of a question, in this case the question of how to best coach. By sticking with an approach used to help his wrestlers with the need to distract his golfers, my uncle was able to help his team overcome a huge psychological barrier to success––themselves.

A simple question led to the sticky thinking behind the invention of the Polaroid camera, after a 3-year-old girl asked to see a photo of her that had just been taken. A simple question also led a group of watermelon farmers in Zentsuji, Japan, to come up with a more efficient way to ship and store them––the creation of the square watermelon.

Let’s get sticky and start asking questions. Here are a few to get you started:

- What would the company look like that had the ability to put me out of business?

- What words would I use to describe myself? What words would others use?

- If I wasn’t already doing this, what field would I go into today?

- What do people really care about today?

- Is there a better way of doing this?

- What if I were to challenge all of the assumptions in this field (or business) and do something that sounds truly crazy?

Practice Challenge:  A key to sticky thinking is the natural ability to continually ask questions. Like a little kid to an adult, ask again and again. Question the why or what behind everything. Practice makes permanent.

©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

Arson and organizational management

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.

Whether you’re working within the C-suite, board of directors, or a community group, there is often a common factor: an “arsonist” in your midst. This person or group is easy to identify – they are the ones who may raise objections to what seems like everything and anything. They may appear, to the balance of the group, an impediment to progress or moving forward, but I would argue that tapping into the spirit of this group may actually lead to more robust success and greater buy-in for your organization.

There are many mechanisms for dealing with conflict, some collaborative, some individual. There is also a lot of value in bringing up opposing viewpoints within the framework of productive discussion. Let’s use the context of a board of directors to better explain how to address and integrate what, on the surface, appears to be a negative:

The Problem: A board of directors is trying to make a decision about taking on a new program. No matter what perspectives are presented, there remains a single individual who needs more information, needs the information formatted differently, or feels like they were left out of this discussion.

Potential Solution 1: Address the problem with this person directly and on an individual basis. Make sure the person understands their contribution about the program is important, and that they should keep collaboration in mind when bringing up opposing viewpoints. This strategy allows you to indicate that the person’s contribution is valuable, and that the board desires them to work with the remainder of the team to develop solutions together.

Potential Solution 2: Structure a task force or a small work group, including this person, with a mission-supported project to work on related to the program. This will allow the person to take the lead on efforts central to the organization’s success and channel their energy toward being productive in a more focused environment. This also provides the opportunity for the person to develop shared experiences with other board members, which can temper the sharing of disagreements with the board as a whole. This is not meant to eliminate the alternate viewpoint; it is meant to change the culture and process of how it is shared.

Both of the above solutions above afford the chance for the "arsonist" in question to use a more positive construct. Redirecting negative or questioning energy into momentum forward demonstrates the commitment that the organization has to the individual, provides a forum for that person’s thoughts and opinions, and illustrates to the rest of the board that there are positive ways to be inclusive.

There is a Latin phrase from Virgil that goes “flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo” which translates to “if I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” If the natural tendency of the arsonist is to set small proverbial fires or even to burn the whole thing down, the organization must try and mitigate this by giving the individual opportunities to redirect their energy into making a contribution to the success of the full group. A little fire is good – it builds passion and engagement in an organization. The key is to not let the flames get out of control.

Your business’s year-end, legal checklist

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law  PGP_1038

From reassessing your business insurance policies, to reviewing your employee handbook and updating permits and licenses, the holiday season can serve as an annual reminder to prepare your organization for the new year. The list below could easily double or triple in length, but these three items capture fundamental business law issues that many organizations face.

Incorporate or change your business’s legal structure.  Whether you run a startup and hope to seek venture capital in 2015 or you are a partner in a partnership seeking greater liability protection, now is a great time to reassess your business’s legal structure to ensure it will meet your needs and expectations in 2015. A proper legal structure can not only help alleviate many liability concerns, but it can substantially impact tax consequences and help attract savvy employees and future investors. 

Secure authority to transact business in another state.  If business is booming or you are otherwise expanding in 2015 to transact business across state lines, ring in the new year on the right legal foot by securing a Certificate of Authority (if the new state’s law requires).  Some states, like Iowa, require certain out-of-state businesses to obtain a Certificate of Authority before transacting business in the state. Failing to obtain such approval may result in hefty fines and other legal ramifications. The ease and minimal cost of securing such a Certificate, if required, makes this item easy to checkoff your legal list.

Comply with corporate formalities.  Whether you overlooked holding an annual meeting for your corporation or failed to file a biennial report for your limited liability company, keep your business in good standing with the state and the law by complying with corporate formalities by year end.  Following corporate formalities may seem trivial, but doing so can help avoid significant legal headaches down the road.

Leading in matters of principle

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

What qualities do employees look for in their leaders? 

Tero graduates say they look for honesty and integrity. Doing what you say you will do.  Standing up for what is right—not for what is popular. Recognizing the achievements of others. Modeling ethical behavior. 

Ethics_wood

How do these qualities translate into actions we observe? When and how do leaders learn these behaviors? Great leaders learn them long before they are leaders. They practice them in situations, all day every day, not merely when called upon to lead. While these leaders realize that they may need to adjust their approach based on a unique situation—what some experts call situational leadership—they also realize that there is no place in leadership for situational ethics.  

Like Thomas Jefferson who cautioned “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current”, these leaders know that the only thing not subject to change is one’s principles.

Consider the following three examples:

1. The media is full of stories of business leaders who have left us all shaking our heads at their careless disregard of ethics and principles. The consequences of their actions have had a major negative impact for both their businesses and the people employed by them.  The names WorldCom, Enron, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers are just a sampling of companies whose leaders were involved in corporate collapses and major scandals. Even those organizations that survive the scandal struggle to emerge from the shadow of the leader’s missteps – consider Tyco, BP and AIG. Today, the General Motors’ story continues to unfold as we examine the GM leaders’ handling of major safety issues that are viewed by many as unethical.

2. I do not object to hunting. Like 75 percent of adults in this country, I support legal, responsible hunting. What I object to is the disregard some hunters have for personal property. When my husband or I come across a hunter trespassing on our farm (with a gun; near our horses) we marvel at how the hunter’s story changes to fit the new situation. First the hunter claims to have permission to hunt. Then, the story changes to a claim of following a blood trail (to the uninitiated, a blood trail means that the hunter is tracking a wounded deer). Then, when help is offered to track the wounded deer, the story changes once again with a confession that the (alleged) trail is now lost.

Is the misuse of property by hunters any different than the misuse of resources by corporate leaders? While the consequences are certainly different, it could be argued that the (un)ethical behavior of the parties is the same.

3. I met two friends for a glass of wine after work. Charges for only two of the three glasses of wine were reflected on the bill.  My friend, who wasn’t charged for her glass, could have easily considered the oversight her good fortune. She didn’t. She pointed out the error. A $5 glass of wine—was it a big deal?  Absolutely!

What qualities do leaders look for in their employees

Tero graduates say they look for honesty and integrity.  Doing what you say you will do.  Standing up for what is right—not for what is popular. Recognizing the achievements of others. Modeling ethical behavior. 

In other words, the qualities that employees look for in their leaders are the same qualities that leaders look for in their employees. 

Shouldn’t they also be the same qualities we look for in our mirrors every day? Every day we all make ethical choices. Can I get away with misusing company assets? Can I trespass without being caught? Should I point out an error on a bill I received? 

Perhaps Shakespeare, as is so often the case, said it best. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”.  

Content marketing is a sales machine for your business

The average company spends a fair amount of time each year trying to convey its value and benefits to potential customers. What assets are you deploying in your quest to win the hearts and minds of your ideal customer?

Consider this: Most people investigate a purchase by searching online for ideas, information, prices and even your corporate values. What do people find when they Google your company's name, or the name of what you sell? If the answer is "not much," then you are in trouble. Content is king

For example, if you are a home building expert in Central Iowa, and someone Googles "Central Iowa home builder" and you don't come up on page 1 of Google results, then you have some work to do. Nobody will be able to find you. If your Google result is on page 2 of Google results, the chances of someone finding you decreases more than 88 percent. That means less than 12 percent of your potential customers will stumble upon your site and even fewer will click on the link to your website.

How do you get attention without paying for ads? The answer is content marketing. Here are some ways to use the content you may already produce to attract the ideal buyer right to your business.

  1. Optimize your website with fresh content: When a potential customer comes to your site, does the page reflect the latest information about your company? Is the content engaging? Is there a specific call to action or next step the visitor is encouraged to take? Besides engagement - search engines love fresh content and rank it higher.
  2. Keep social media interactions current and engaging: Like it or not, people expect to be able to reach you on social channels. They'll be asking questions, seeking customer service interaction, and hoping you notice their latest complaint. Are you ready to interact in real time?
  3. Add a newsroom and keep it up to date: If you have a positive public relations success, you can put that story to work for your sales team indefinitely by posting it to the newsroom on your site. Over time, your newsroom will be filled with information that your customers can find and read when they discover your site. It's like creating your own media channel, except you don't have to ask anyone for help. The messages are yours to define and you can publish whatever you want.
  4. Seek customer testimonials: Nothing is more powerful than a third-party endorsement. Use your imagination - don't just post text to your site. Add photos and video to create a richer viewer and more impactful experience.
  5. Show your employee's faces and let them be spokespeople for your brand. Many websites don't feature the names and faces of their employees, and that is a mistake. Employees are brand ambassadors - let them tell your story in their own way and on their own social platforms, too.

Digital content marketing is a very effective way to tell get positive messages into the public sphere without breaking the bank. All it takes is a little planning, knowing what you want to promote, and the time it takes to write and post the content to your digital properties. It's an extremely authentic and enduring way to get noticed.

Claire Celsi is a public relations professional in West Des Moines, Iowa. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Extremely high-frequency referrals

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

Extremely high-frequency (EHF) radio band is perhaps the next ‘big thing’ in the sphere of technology. Admittedly, it sounds like something you wouldn’t give a second glance at while wading through your kid’s science fair. But supposedly this technology is going to change the way large amounts of data (movies, photos) are transferred between devices. It is kind of like the near-field communication (NFC) that Apple Pay relies on - with one significant difference. EHF clocks at around 6 gigabytes per second whereas NFC is capable of about 400 kilobits a second. So, rather than tapping phones to transfer contact information or credit card details, you can instantly share entire photo albums. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Screenshot 2014-12-07 21.45.40We’ve known about EHF radio band for a long time - but it is the application which is changing. The biggest challenge is overcoming atmospheric attenuation. Now, I know you didn’t come here to read a science paper, so bear with me. Simply put, particles in our atmosphere interfere with the radio waves, so the greater the distance, the weaker the signal. As a result, two devices must be held closely together to transfer data. Not nearly as convenient as Wi-Fi (top speed of 1.35 gigabits per second), but much quicker.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, I rely on it every day to connect to the internet to share information with thousands of people. I like to compare it to traditional marketing; the bread and butter of reaching new prospects for any business. Establishing your brand, creating content, paying for advertisements on Facebook, really whatever tactic one uses to reach out to new prospects. And it works, but there are often several hurdles you must overcome to convince someone new to buy your product or services.

Casting a wide net is important to set the foundation for a marketing strategy. It builds your brand and supports your ability to close. But don’t forget about looking inward, to your existing client base, for new business. Often times companies are so busy attracting new clients that they forget to leverage promoters for referrals. One of the greatest advantages of referral marketing is the speed of closing the deal. Like EHF radio band, referrals result in lightning quick transfer of trust from a happy client to a new prospect.

Studies also show that people regularly rely on people close to them to make purchase decisions. The Nielsen Company surveyed more than 29,000 respondents and found that the advice of family and friends (77 percent) is the most persuasive when looking for information about new products or services. It seems that the more personal the product or service, the more people rely on their loved one for direction. According to a 2014 report performed by the Hinge Research Institute 87 percent of prospects begin their search for insurance by turning to friends and family.

I don’t recommend that you eschew a traditional marketing strategy and rely solely on referrals. But I do believe most businesses should give a close look to referral marketing when exploring ways to increase sales. Like EHF, referrals are nothing new. It is what you do to increase them that makes the difference.

Christi's top 5 leadership books of 2014

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified executive & leadership coach, president of MAP Professional Development Inc., and leader of the ASPIRE Success Club.

If you are an avid reader, you know the pressure surrounding the question, “What’s your #1 book recommendation?” What?! Just one? It feels a little like being asked to choose your favorite child!

Books - 2014 Top PicksBut difficult as it is, this year – as I do every year – I will embrace the challenge and share my favorite leadership reads. These five books made it onto my reading list in 2014 (though not all were published this year) and have affected my and many of my clients’ work, leadership, and life in profound ways.

(One caveat: This list does not include books about which I’ve already blogged; if it did, It’s Your Ship by D. Michael Abrashoff and It Worked For Me by Colin Powell easily would have made the cut.)

My Top 5 Leadership Books In 2014:

Fearless Leadership by Carey Lohrenz 

A former F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, Lohrenz shares an extraordinary story of perseverance, passion, and not letting obstacles keep you from your dreams. The lessons she learned easily translate to the business context, reminding us that the fundamentals of leadership apply whether we work in an office, from our homes, or in the cockpit of a jet. I found the chapter on vision particularly compelling: “No matter how much time we spend developing a strategic plan,” writes Carey, “if the vision is not clear, the strategy will not matter.”

Repacking Your Bags by Richard Leider and David Shapiro 

With so many adults (more than 70 percent, according to Gallup) dissatisfied or disengaged at work, Leider and Shapiro’s book helps readers define – then begin achieving – meaning and purpose at work and in life. Their formula for the good life: “Living in the place you belong, with the people you love, doing the right work, on purpose.” If you feel the need to do something different with your days but aren’t sure exactly what, this book can help you start to uncover the answers.

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman 

A fascinating and extremely helpful resource for an area that weighs heavily on our success: confidence. The authors interview leaders from sports, politics, psychology, and more to share why so many of us struggle with confidence and what we can do to increase it. The main message? Take action. “Action separates the timid from the bold” is a line I highlighted, underlined, and starred. Terrific practical suggestions throughout this excellent book.

Before Happiness by Shawn Achor 

If you are unfamiliar with Achor, start by watching his TED Talk, “The Happy Secret To Better Work.” This Harvard scholar teaches us, in a hilarious but research-based way, how to stop waiting for happiness and instead create it for ourselves – and why this is so important to workplace success and emotional well-being. He poses a terrific question I’d encourage leaders to ask regularly: “What are you doing to help people at work fall in love with your company?”

Life By The Cup by Zhena Muzyka 

This one just snuck into my reading pile last month and quickly made this list. Zhena created her tea business out of passion and necessity (to pay medical bills for her young son). Her story is a fantastic testament to the power of designing work around clear values and a compelling mission, as well as demonstrating how significantly that clarity helps with challenges, enticing but questionable requests, and a company’s bottom line. “Each of us is born with a particular genius,” writes Muzyka. “Our job in life, our purpose, is to uncover and use it.” I adore coffee but this book has even inspired me to drink more tea!

It’s been an incredible year for books; several others nearly made this list, but these five stand out as truly exceptional. (Feel free to check out my 2012 and 2013 selections, too.) Oh, and for the record, all three of my children are my favorites!

What’s the best book you’ve read this year? Share your recommendations below!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotLearn more about Dr. Christi Hegstad's coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook  at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

Fearless Leadership (Greenleaf, 2014); Repacking Your Bags (Berrett-Koehler, 2012); The Confidence Code (HarperCollins, 2014); Before Happiness (Crown, 2013); Life By The Cup (Atria, 2014).

Techno-data-lust: A fresh perspective

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

For the past year or two I have been on a self-imposed hiatus from the business blogging world. I took the hiatus for a number of reasons, but chief among them was a desire to step back, look around, and get some perspective on a rapidly changing marketplace.

One of the largest trends I've seen in recent years is what I like to call techno-data-lust.

For over twenty years I've been involved in the contact center industry, and I have attended my share of mega-global-exposition-conferences. I've even been asked to speak at a few of them. Even in conferences and workshops that are about serving customers, I began to notice a trend. Big technology firms drive the conference. They pay for the conference with their sponsorship and effectively purchase the keynote sessions to hawk their latest suite of bolted-together software telephony package which they promise will increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, tell you anything you ever wanted to know about your customers, and provide enough big data to make Edward Snowden blush in his Russian dacha.

Then, each week I step into a client's office and watch the trickle down effect of techno-data-lust:

  • IT departments become the tail that wags the corporate dog as they have the power to procure, install, configure, and roll-out the technology.
  • Operations find that the really cool technology creates as many obstacles as it does solutions in serving customers in moments of truth when the customer reaches out for help.
  • Customers wait 14 minutes while it takes two agents to locate a tracking number in the cool, new, state-of-the-art system (I actually analyzed that call).
  • The voice-analysis software that was going to replace the QA department and provide much better results than actually listening to calls becomes a quagmire. Instead of listening to calls and coaching agents the FTEs spend their days programming searches, key words, and inquiries and then weed through a plethora of false positives. When I talked to my client a year after implementation they were still trying to make it work. "It cost so much money," the mantra went, "we have to use it."
  • Managers often get a ton of data out of the system. They just don't have time to sort through the gigabytes of it and find anything useful. I love it when I ask for a simple list of customers who called the previous day with their contact information, and receive blank looks and the scratching of heads.
  • You know that really cool feature the salesman told you about in the presentation? That's actually not part of the basic suite you purchased, but for an additional $10,000 they can turn that feature on.
  • Oh, and by the way, the state-of-the-art software you just implemented is already obsolete. You should see the new technology they introduced at last week's expo in Las Vegas!

Please don't read what I'm not typing. My hiatus has given me fresh perspective, but I'm no David Thoreau (though I find sitting, unplugged, by the lake a good thing). I'm not advocating abandoning the world and all that technology can do for us.

I am, however, advocating that we admit that technology can't do everything for us. Technology is a tool, not an answer. Sometimes we spend so much time chasing after the latest technology that we miss the bus.

At the end of the day, I find that our greatest need is a human one. We need people to communicate, work together, and utilize our human gifts, intelligence, and creativity to connect vision with implementation, problems with solutions, and customers with exceptional products/services. I'm finding that clients who learn to moderate their techno-data-lust are healthier that the ones who try to satiate it.

Selling your business? Questions to ask a lawyer

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Before you start to sell your business, consider that you might want to discuss the following points with an attorney:

1.    Are you truly ready to sell?

2.    How many business transactions has the attorney done?

3.    What is the chemistry between the two of you?

4.    What is the level of the negotiating skill?

5.    Do they understand the current market?

6.    Do they have a thorough understanding of your objectives and are in agreement?

7.    Will they work with your other advisers?

8.    Are they focused on getting a deal done?

9.    Have they provided you with an estimated cost to complete the transaction?

10.  Are you confident that they will be as competent, or more so, than the other party’s   attorney?

11.  Do they understand who they work for?

 

Good Luck,

Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com

Web summit: The world talks about tech

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

I recently attended Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland. In just five years, Web Summit has grown to be one of the largest tech conferences in the world. This year, more than 20,000 people gathered together from all around the world, turning Dublin into the international tech capital for three days.

Speakers included Dropbox founder, Drew Houston; Tinder Founder & CEO, Sean Rad; Evernote CEO, Phil Libin;  former Apple CEO, John Sculley; Cisco Chief Technology & Strategy Officer, Padmasree Warrior; Eva Longoria and many more. Women in tech, the future of media and digital advertising, and the Internet of things were hot topics amongst speakers and attendees. 

One presentation that stuck out to me the most was a quick, ten-minute talk called “Digital Marketing is Dead”. The title alone got me in the room and riled up to hear what this crank had to say about my livelihood. The “crank’ was Cillian Kieran, founder & CEO at CKSK, and he was incredibly inspiring.  What he meant by “Digital Marketing is Dead” is that digital should not be confined to just marketing, we should all be focused on becoming digital businesses.

So how do we become digital businesses? Primarily, we must stop thinking in silos. Digital permeates and transforms everything including manufacturing, logistics, distribution, IT, sales and, of course, marketing. We must develop digital technology horizontally across all business units and it starts at the very top of the organization.

Kieran provided seven observations for digital transformation, all of which are extremely important:

  1. Never fear failure. Be willing to break with your industry’s best practices.
  2. Assume nothing. Remember to question everything around you.
  3. Forget about consumers. Instead, remember real people.
  4. Solve a problem. Remember to be an engineer and make truly useful things.
  5. User experience is like fairy dust. Liberally sprinkle it on everything.
  6. Test and learn. Fast. Think of it as rinse, wash, repeat.
  7. Take (small) smart risks. Take 10 percent of your budget for agile experimentation.

Challenge yourself to go digital in your entire business, including marketing, and tweet me your thoughts @klstocking.

--Katie

 

Does your 2015 plan take the social compass into account?

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I'm hoping that you've started on your 2015 marketing plan. Brian Solis created a very interesting infographic to help marketers think through their communications strategy from a very different perspective.  

As Brian said on his own blog, "Inspired by a moral compass, The Social Compass serves as our value system when defining our program activities. It points a brand in a physical and experiential direction to genuinely and effectively connect with customers, peers, and influencers, where they interact and seek guidance online.

It was designed to guide us from the center outward. However, it can also impact how a business learns and adapts by reversing the process and listening to customers and influencers through each channel from the outside in."

Take a look at the infographic he created and use it to identify holes or missing pieces in your own plan for the upcoming year. While it's called a social marketing compass, it actually includes both on and offline elements.

This would also be a great tool to stimulate a brainstorming session for you and your team.

Socialmediacompass

 

 

My 4-year-old is a better networker than me

IMG_1196Danny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker and often speaks about networking to groups.

One of the greatest things about having kids, especially little kids, are the life lessons they inadvertently reteach us.

We unlearn so many crucial skills in dealing with people as we are taught about political correctness or the history of underwater basket weaving in school. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for higher education and learning, my wife is a teacher after all.  However, most of the time the skills that people find the most difficult to learn (soft skills, people skills) are simply forgotten as all of this new information is presented. 

Don’t believe me? Sit back and watch a group of 4-year-olds. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is for them to meet new people, build quick bonds, and get to know someone with no actual effort on their part. 

Why is it so easy for kids to do this? I think it comes down to three simple things: 

  1. They smile, a lot. Kids are typically pretty happy and all they want to do is have fun. They play, they run, they tell ridiculous jokes that make no sense, and, most of all, they smile.They are happy to meet new people and are even happier when old friends return. Their smile is genuine and heartfelt. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood when the person you are with is constantly happy and smiling. 
  2. They notice the little things and are quick to compliment. My daughters notice when I get a haircut before anyone else and they tell me how nice it looks every time. All of the little things I take for granted, they notice. New socks get as much attention as if I just brought home a puppy. Their praise may be over the top but they mean every word.  
  3. They have a real curiosity about each person they meet. Young kids haven’t discovered the urge or desire to talk about themselves. They are much more interested in what everyone else around them is doing or saying to let their egos get in the way. And if they don’t understand something they are quick to ask “why” for clarification. The more they know about you, the better.

The next time you think networking isn’t for you or it’s too hard to meet new people, think back to that group of kids interacting on the playground. We all used to be really good at getting to know strangers until the world got in the way. We are all built to build relationships. Put a smile on your face, give a genuine compliment, and listen more than you talk.  It really is that simple. 

Journeys, destinations, and other adventures

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 the most familiar tag lines out there is that success is a journey, not a destination. I usually try and steer clear of tag lines, except when I feel they truly do capture an important point efficiently. In a previous blog, we explored the differences between strategies and tactics. In this blog, I’d like to talk a little about the third part of the strategy ecosystem: goals.

Goals are the most challenging thing faced by any facilitator. In theory, they are the destination statement. This organization will do “X”. But that question can and should be more complicated than that. Keeping in mind the distinction between strategies, tactics, and goals, I would like to expand our definition of what a goal truly is within the context of success metrics.

Managing a team creatively often involves being a bit less clear about what the end result should be. A proximal goal is one that I feel is more journey-based – “do your best work” or “invent something new”. Those are goals to be sure, but the emphasis is on what happens in getting there - the innovation – rather than the end point.

This is a valuable argument in favor of the 20 percent time used by aerospace industries during the space age of the 1960s, which is still in use today at many software companies. This "free" time has produced products ranging from magnetic space boots to Gmail. Those inventions were not set as goals; they came as a result of an innovative process that was put in place.

But it’s not fair to completely discount the end result. The process must lead somewhere and it’s not always fair to put so much pressure on process. Sometimes clearly established goals can also lead to innovative thought. As someone who really enjoys movies, I’ve always found movies like “All Is Lost” and “Apollo 13” interesting in the context of how a clearly distal goal - in those cases the goal being survival – creates a de facto state of innovation to reach that goal. Necessity is the mother of invention in practice.

Distal and proximal goals are different things and depend on the situation and circumstances, but both are important parts of organizational growth. Organizations or groups can also use combinations of these types of goals to better define the other. Setting a proximal goal can help form a distal goal more clearly, and the reverse is true. Both are different tools for different outcomes.

Proximal goals, when used in helping formulate distal goals are generally more effective in establishing process-based or qualitative criteria, whereas distal goals, when used to clarify proximal goals, will tend to focus more on quantitative outcomes. In both instances, you can see that success is defined by the journey and the destination. In fact, how you define the journey and how you define the destination is at the very core of how you can define what success looks like for your organization.

Intellectual Property 101 (patents, copyrights and trademarks... Oh my!)

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law

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Intellectual property is a term that is commonly and loosely thrown around in the business world, but what does it mean?  The Meriam-Webster dictionary defines intellectual property as "something (such as an idea, invention, or process) that comes from a person's mind."

In a court of law, intellectual property often refers to patents, copyrights, and trademarks.  In addition to the "Big 3," intellectual property also encompasses trade-secrets (discussed here) and publicity rights.

Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks

Generally speaking, patent rights protect new, unique, and non-obvious product and process inventions.  Copyrights on the other hand can protect original works of authorship, such as literary, musical, and artistic work (e.g. sound recordings, photographs, motion pictures, and architectural works).  Finally, trademark rights can protect words, names, and symbols used to identify a business' goods or services and distinguish them from those of another.

Businesses frequently create and protect their intellectual property rights in many ways.  For instance, businesses often seek a registered trademark through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), triggering and/or enhancing protection for the mark.  Similarly, a business can seek patent rights in qualifying products or processes through the USPTO.

If you or your business is seeking to create and/or enhance protection in intellectual property that you own, control, or are developing, you should consider consulting a licensed attorney.

Beyond technical competence

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

The pilot just announced that we have arrived at our cruising altitude of 31,000 feet.  It occurs to me, at this moment, that I have few options but to trust that the pilot possesses an adequate level of technical skill to handle whatever situation we may encounter.  As I reflect on this, I confess that I find it interesting that I have placed complete trust in someone I have never seen, never met, probably will never meet, and have only heard speak about two sentences.

Yes, I trust that the leaders and staff working for this airline are technically capable.  Confident in this, I return to my laptop and think only briefly about the important responsibilities I may be called upon to perform from my assigned exit row seat.

Airplane 3Is it my good fortune to be flying the friendly skies on the airline that employs the most technically capable people? I doubt it. I assume the crews of all major airlines possess similar technical skill.

I do have a choice of airlines to fly as the flight attendant will remind me in the next hour when she repeats the phrase that I am certain she must say in her sleep by now. “We know you have a choice of airlines and we thank you for choosing to fly with us.  When your plans call for air travel in the future, we hope to see you again on one of our flights.”

Yes, I do have a choice.  How do I choose?

Like many of you, I look first to my immediate short-term interests – the flight schedules and cost.  This usually narrows my choices to two or three possibilities.  How do I choose from the short list?  I choose based on who I think will treat me the best.

That’s how most of us make the decision about who we will flatter with our business.  Across almost every industry—air travel, hospitality, financial services, retail, and so on—process and technical abilities are fairly easy to copy. The competitive advantage goes to those who treat the people they serve the best. Even when transactions are conducted business-to-business rather than business-to-consumer, it is important to realize that people are always at the center of decision-making.  Businesses don’t do business with businesses, people do business with people.  And people want to be treated well.

Research supports this. According to Harvard University, Stanford Institute and the Carnegie Foundation, only 15 percent of success is due to technical skills. In most industries, the people we serve assume a level of technical capability. It is the people skills that are the differentiator, to the tune of 85 percent.

My experience today has been satisfactory. It appears the employees I interacted with have been schooled by their leaders in the culture of their organization and expectations for customer service. I will include this airline in my future travel plans—unless and until another airline figures out how to leverage the 85percent of their success that relies on people skills and takes my experience to a new level.

Let's get sticky!

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

What do bank checks, package shipping, church bells, water, ballpoint pens, deodorant, computers, fashion, steering wheels, and a revolver have in common? Nothing…or perhaps everything. True discoveries seldom happen today by finding something new. Most often they are the result of “sticky thinking,” which occurs when people connect or stick things together in new ways for different or improved outcomes.

Born in 1944 with a bone socket hip disorder called Calve-Perthes disease, young Fredrick Smith had to walk with the aid of braces and crutches for most of his childhood.  But through a high level of dedication and hard work, he was able to overcome the disease. In the early-1960s, Fredrick attended Yale University majoring in economics. For one of his classes, he wrote a paper detailing an idea he had after realizing that a future “automated society” required a completely different system of logistics. His professor didn’t like the idea since, at the time, it wasn’t economically feasible, but that didn’t stop him from thinking about its future possibilities.1

After graduation, Fredrick went on to serve two tours in Vietnam as a platoon leader and narrowly survived a Viet Cong ambush. Upon returning from war, he wanted “to do something productive after blowing so many things up.” Fredrick took an inheritance from his father, raised an additional $91 million in venture capital, and used the idea from his paper at Yale to create what is today known as “FedEx.”

Fred Smith’s story is arguably one of the greatest entrepreneurial successes of the last century. He’s currently worth over $2.3 billion, and FedEx now ships more than 10.2 million packages daily in 220 countries.2 But for me, the most amazing part of his story isn’t the outcome or even the incredible company he founded. It’s how he got to the idea in the first place.

I believe that Fred Smith’s idea represents the definition of creativity: the act of “sticking” one thing with another in new ways. By sticking how the Federal Reserve processed checks in the late 1960s (a clearing process for an enormous quantity of checks drawn on a large multitude of banks) to the logistics necessary to “automate society,” he created an entirely new way of shipping packages overnight that didn’t previously exist.

This process of sticky thinking has occurred throughout history. Sam Colt stuck the design of a ship’s wheel to the invention of the revolver; Helen Barnett Diserens stuck the concept of the ballpoint pen to a new method of applying deodorant (the Ban Roll-On); and Steve Jobs stuck fashion design to the boring world of personal computing.

Creativity (or sticky thinking) is like a sport, in that it requires hard work to perform at a high level. Mastering the necessary skills requires a dedication to practice, practice, and more practice. Becoming a creative thinker requires the same level of dedication.

In future articles, I will provide a number of tips, tricks, methods, and ideas about how to improve our creative thinking skills. Like anything, a person’s success is often tied to their level of commitment and effort.

So, are you ready to get sticky?

Practice Challenge:  Over the next few weeks (whenever you have a “free” moment), select two completely random objects around you and attempt to force connections between them (like trying to jam a square peg in a round hole). Don’t judge the quality of the ideas; just have fun with it and bring out your inner “MacGyver.”

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian 

 

1(2008, October 9)  Fred Smith: An Overnight Success.  Retrieved November 9, 2014, from the Entrepreneur website: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/197542

2Brown, Abram (2014, January 23)  10 Things You Might Not Know About FedEx Billionaire Fred Smith.  Retrieved November 9, 2014, from the Forbes website: http://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2014/01/23/10-things-you-might-not-know-about-fedex-billionaire-fred-smith


PaustianLargeHeadDr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of Beware the Purple People Eaters: A personal look at leadership. For more information, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com

 

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