After the right hire

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

Last month, I wrote about how important it is for specialty retailers to put extra effort into the hiring process upfront to take a big weight off your shoulders for a long time to come.

So what happens after you make the right hire?

That topic is still on my mind because we're getting a new puppy in our house and those words -- a long time to come -- are ringing in my ears.

New puppies are a lot of work. Yet, we're willing to invest so much of ourselves in them because they just bring us so much joy and satisfaction.

One reason is that they're spilling over with enthusiasm and energy.

Isn't that what you want to encourage in your new employees, too?

You'll miss big opportunities if you fail to recognize and reward enthusiasm in a new employee. But don't stop there. Make sure you're instilling and stirring enthusiasm in all your employees whenever you have a chance.

Puppies are also going to make a few mistakes as they get settled in, chewing up a shoes here and there, knocking over this or that -- and worse.

Mistakes are going to happen. And, that's where we need to remember to be patient. But, we also have to make sure they're not the kind of mistakes that will hurt your business.

In their book, "Worth Every Penny", entrepreneurs Sarah Petty and Erin Verbeck write that big-box stores can make hiring mistakes for a variety of reasons. They're right when they say a customer's negative experience at a big-box store isn't likely to stop them from going back.

"If, however, they experience a rude employee at a boutique business," Petty and Verbeck add, "they will most likely judge you more harshly -- they pay you more because you're supposed to give them an outstanding experience. … Your employee could change the way your customers perceive you, trust you, talk about you, and do business with you."

Any logical person knows when you get a puppy, you're making a very long-term commitment to provide the right training, care, encouragement and support. as specialty retailers, we need to make sure that after carefully choosing the right employee, we make a long-term commitment and investment in their success.

City folks can protect waterways too!

No step one scotts- Rob Smith is principal architect atCMBA | Smith Metzger

It seems several times a week I see another article in the Des Moines Register on the lawsuit over water quality in the Raccoon River. That’s a rural issue, right? We city folk can’t have an impact on water quality from our little patch of land, can we?

I am reminded of what we spread on our land every spring when I go to Ace Hardware and gag over the smell. Pallets piled high with Scotts Step One Crab Grass Preventer Plus Lawn Food. 

Or watch those guys with masks and rubber boots come through the neighborhood leaving warning flags “LAWN APPLICATION – KEEP OFF GRASS”. 

Gordon Sterk, owner of Johnston Ace Hardware, says people can’t get enough of Scott’s Step One and he can’t give away the natural fertilizer. Funny thing is Ace stores in Iowa City seem to sell more of the natural fertilizer! Hmmmm?

Read the warning label on this stuff and it does not sound good.  Here’s an edited version.

ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS: This pesticide is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates and may adversely affect non-target plants. Drift and runoff may be hazardous to aquatic organisms in water adjacent to treated areas. To protect the environment, do not allow pesticide to enter or run off into storm drains, drainage ditches, gutters or surface waters. The use of this chemical in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow, may result in groundwater contamination.

What can you do to help the water quality?

  • Don’t use pesticides on your lawn.
  • Buy natural fertilizer you can put on your lawn and gardens such as Milorganite.
  • Use weed killer sparingly and spot apply rather than broadcast.
  • Remove dandelions with a tool and add to your salad.
  • Don’t compare your lawn to your neighbors!

Let me know how you care for your lawn to be a better steward of our water supply at

Re-thinking the “gala” as your signature event



- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

At some point in time, the expectation was set that a “signature event” should take the form of a gala.

THE GALA APPROACH:  An attendee can purchase tickets and expect a combination silent/live auction accompanied by sometimes sub-par finger foods, an open bar and perhaps (if you’re lucky), some live music. As an attendee you are expected to dress to the nines and compliantly open your checkbook when that point in the night arrives.

Let me be clear,some organizations execute stellar galas with extraordinary attention to detail and quality food, beverage and entertainment choices. For them, this is a sustainable signature event model that need not be messed with. However many others are left wondering, “What are we doing wrong?”

As humans we tire of monotony and predictability. We crave variety and the thought of attending another expected formal event can be downright tedious. So if not a gala, then what?

Building a successful, sustainable signature event model takes more than just coordination; it takes creativity and strategic thinking. The planning of the event is the EASY part, it is in the many invested hours that precede the planning where the magic is made.

So, what happens during those hours?

  1. Rediscovering what makes YOU unique? Analyze your mission and draw from it. You are not generic, so why should your event be?  Outline 4-5 buzz words that encompass who you are as an organization and really dive deep into the meaning of each of those words.  Think critically about how you can personify those words at your event.  Post these words in a prominent location and don’t lose sight of them throughout the whole planning process.  If every choice you make about your event does not reinforce these words, you are making the wrong choices. 
  2. What are you trying to achieve at your event? What are your event objectives, not just for the first year but over time? Keep in mind, you may not achieve your grandest goals in the first year, but the idea is to set the wheels in motion for growth, year after year.  Write a brief but specific five-year plan for your event.  Start at the five-year mark and work your way backwards. Your signature event should be seen as an investment that will bring you quantifiable returns. You will not see the return you are hoping for without thoughtfully planned and implemented strategies that lay out how you will reach your intended event benchmarks year after year.
  3. Creating a relevant event identity: After you have successfully identified WHO you are, WHY it is important for attendees to know this and WHERE you want the event to be in five years, use this information to create a strong and relevant identity for the event. Create a very succinct and clear messaging strategy that you can communicate to your attendees. This identity should be impactful, creative and possess the ability to evolve over time.  No two events should ever be the same but they should have common objectives and underlying messaging. 
  4. Attendee engagement: Develop a relevant theme by which to make all your tangible event decisions. Thoughtfully developed, unique and impactful experiences will be the most effective way to reach your attendees on a deeper level. By injecting different elements of surprise, you will keep your attendees present and resisting distraction. Engage all five senses of their senses to make your event memorable.  Remember, no detail is too minute, so every consideration should be handled with care.  Resist the urge to skimp just to save a few bucks.
  5. Reviewing your ROI: When your event concludes and while it is fresh in your mind, review it against a set of pre-determined criteria. Make sure you are asking attendees for honest feedback. Let them in on the fact that you are trying to build the best event possible for them and welcome even their harshest reviews. Develop a system to track your ROI throughout the course of the year as it relates to your event. Take your findings and compare them to your predicted first-year projection plan; analyze what worked and where you fell short. Use this information to revise your plan for the following year. 

The take-away here is that a generic event will bring about generic results. If you creatively and strategically personalize your event to share about you and your mission, your ROI will increase exponentially. By combining clear messaging, a strong event identity and innovative engagement tactics you will be able to reach your attendees on a personal level. Now, get out there and razzle dazzle ‘em!

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website  

Five lessons learned from a startup accelerator

- Goquets, a Des Moines-based startup that makes it quick and easy to send flowers anywhere in the United States, was one of nine national teams selected to participate in the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 Cohort in Cedar Rapids. Shawn Harrington, co-founder of Goquets, shares the lessons he learned from the experience.

The journey of going through a 94-day startup accelerator brought many teachings to mind that can be applied to everyone’s business. Whether it’s the desire to be more innovative or to push your team one step further, the key takeaways outlined below can make the difference.

Know your pitch: We never knew who was going to show up at the accelerator and ask what we were working on. This ranged from group tours to news crews who would come through with an interest in what each team of founders was building. With this, having the core pitch of our business memorized was essential for making sure people knew the basic details of how we’re different. This gets replicated for each company and its employees. How often are you called upon with a client or outside the workplace to tell your own story? Each time this happens is a new opportunity to push your brand further.

Be ready to adapt: Understand that as your customer evolves, you should too. Even since developing our initial idea at a Startup Weekend event in 2013, we’ve seen a shift in the floral market, and more opportunities are opening up because of it. Many companies will stick with campaigns that brought them success just a few years ago, then get stuck on trying to figure out how the success rate of each campaign has dropped. Identify where that next trend is and ensure that your team is open to growing with it.

Always be testing: The process of adapting includes getting to the drawing board and generating the ideas of how you will tackle your next new initiative. With this, it’s easy to get too excited with big ideas. As many business owners painfully find out, the market does not always react with that same level of excitement. This leads to failed campaigns and teams that struggle to determine how they never hit their goals or get the traction they had hoped for.

Rather than look back on what didn’t work, the answer should be to look ahead by testing for what you think your customers will react to through small campaigns before executing the overall plan. Test small, prove that each initiative is valuable to your customers, then go big. It’s a process that many of today’s high-growth startups have developed into their workflows for every project.

Failure happens. Assess and move on: A big part of the testing outlined above is noticing which campaigns are up and down while making the adjustments. Was that big idea not the home run everyone thought it would be? If that’s the case, then the sooner your team can come to terms with it while taking in what you learned, the better off you will be going forward. It’s important through this to not let pride and ego get in the way of actual results.

Maintain momentum: This might be the toughest one. It pertains to overcoming many obstacles and emotional barriers, not just within your own company, but also with everyone who surrounds it. While overcoming your company’s challenges and staying transparent, make sure to celebrate the successes along the way. Your team, your customers and your business partners can all feed off this. 

Should I use an investment banker or business broker to sell my business?

- John Mickelson, managing partner Midwest Growth Partners, is IowaBiz's blogger on succession planning. Read more about him here. 

In previous articles, we have learned about potential buyers for your business, the golden egg syndrome, the importance of succession planning and delegation.  Today we will discuss whether or not to engage a professional to help sell your business once you have mentally decided to sell. So...should you?

It depends!

Hiring an intermediary – typically called a business broker or investment banker – to help sell your business is similar to the thought process of whether or not you should hire a Realtor to sell your house. There are pros and cons.

On the positive side, if you find a competent and ethical intermediary (not all of them are, so search around for references), they will do the “full-time job” of selling your business, leaving you the ability to do the full-time job of running your business. Owners who think they can do both are often sadly mistaken.

A good intermediary will also bring several interested qualified buyers into the process, thus creating a competitive environment, which theoretically will produce a higher purchase price or more competitive terms. The intermediary will serve as your trusted confidant to will represent your interests in the process.

The intermediary should also pre-qualify the buyers to ensure they have the requisite capital to facilitate the purchase (many buyers say they do, but do not).

On the negative side, the fees charged upfront (usually a one-time or monthly non-refundable “retainer”) and at transaction close (a “success fee”) are typically steep and can dramatically lower the seller’s take-home proceeds from the sale.

A success fee is especially painful if the business owner already has a handful of qualified buyers in mind who might have an interest in purchasing the business, have capital, and can close the transaction quickly.

An intermediary will also slow the process down as they gather information about the business, suggest a marketing plan, talk to potential buyers, etc. Depending on the situation, this may be OK, but if the seller is seeking speed and efficiency, a full-blown sell-side process like most intermediaries run will take too much time.

Finally, although intermediaries will require potential buyers to sign a confidentiality agreement, the fact is that reams of your private company data will go into the hands (and computers) of literally dozens – potentially hundreds – of strangers because the intermediary will reach out to that many buyers (and each buyer will likely have two to three people working on the transaction plus their bankers, accountants, attorneys, etc). Once that information is in other hands, it is very difficult to control access and dissemination. If the seller controls who gets the information from only working with a small group, this risk is mitigated.

Like many important decisions in life, it pays in this situation to gather all the facts, ask for many opinions, and then decisively make the decision that is best for you.

5 ways to coach in your job

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

Surely you've heard the ancient lesson: Give someone a fish and she'll eat for a day, but teach her to fish and she'll feed herself for life. Do you agree? How have you incorporated this philosophy into your leadership practices?   

Coaching leadership books Rock StanierMost of us, I'm guessing, believe that helping people to help themselves is the aim of a strong leader. We want our team able to make decisions, solve problems, and be innovative.

But most of us are also probably time-crunched, finding it easier and faster to tell someone what to do rather than draw out their expertise.

As a certified executive and leadership coach, I "teach people to fish" on a daily basis; the nature of coaching invites the space for this to occur. But even if you are not a professional coach, bringing a coach approach to your leadership can transform your team in profound ways. I've partnered with countless leaders over the years to develop their coaching qualities, resulting in more time, stronger engagement, and greater leadership within their teams. You can start with these five strategies:

1. Be quiet.

How comfortable are you with silence? If you're like most in conversation, you probably find silence awkward and jump in to fill it. So do most other people! And in their talking, they're more likely to generate solutions and tap into their own inner wisdom - or at least give you insight into their perspective.

2. Be other-focused.

As a leader, you have valuable experience to share. But the goal in coaching, and in true leadership, is not to showcase your knowledge but to develop the knowledge of others. Ask questions, invite exploration of thought, and draw out their expertise before interjecting your own.

3. Be present.

I can't tell you the number of clients I've coached, both male and female, who find themselves in tears during our first meetings. When I ask about it, nine times out of ten they tell me it's the first time they've felt truly heard in ages. Remove distractions, clear your mind, maintain eye contact, and listen to understand.

4. Be curious.

Remember, everyone has a story - and everyone has something going on that we know nothing about. Keep your assumptions in check. Instead of thinking you know best, ask a few questions first.

5. Believe.

When it comes down to it, coaching relies on one important expectation: You believe the person you're coaching is capable, resourceful, and has potential. Come to your leadership conversations with a true growth perspective and you'll experience far greater outcomes. As you've probably already discovered, people generally rise to our expectations of them.

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI'S CHALLENGE:

For the next week, whenever an employee (or friend or child) asks you a question, pause before responding. See if you might ask a question or two before sharing your advice or suggestion.

For example, if asked "What should I do?" (assuming a non-emergency situation), you could respond with, "What have you thought of so far?" or "I have a few ideas, but can you share yours first?"

This might take less than a minute but allows the person the opportunity to think differently and reminds him that he has wisdom within too. 

Remember: The true measure of a leader isn't how many followers you have, it's how many leaders you've developed around you. Bringing a coach approach can promote leadership in profound and sustainable ways - not to mention free you up for strategy, visioning, and the roles in which you thrive. For additional ideas on bringing coaching into your leadership, check out books like Quiet Leadership by David Rock and The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier, too.

How has a coaching approach impacted your leadership, teams, or those around you? Share your thoughts below.

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified and award-winning executive and leadership coach who helps people work, live, and lead with meaning and purpose. Learn more at, Facebook at and Twitter at

Chances low for “no tip” policy adoption at restaurants

Jessica Dunker is President/CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association

To tip or not to tip? That is the question the U.S restaurant industry is wrestling with in a serious way — perhaps for the first time. The latest conversation has been spurred, in part, by high profile New York restaurateur Danny Meyer’s experiment with a no-tipping policy in one of his 13 fine dining restaurants, and his announcement that he intends to move the rest of his establishments in the same direction. 

A “no tip” hospitality culture has long been the norm in most of Europe—but are Americans ready for this shift? Research firm Technomic recently asked U.S. fine dining customers how they would feel about a “no tipping” restaurant experience – and the results were strangely ambivalent. In fact, 47 percent of the consumers surveyed said they would feel indifferent if their favorite full service restaurant did away with tipping.

Digging a little deeper, the study revealed that those who said they liked the idea of a no tip policy were motivated by a perplexing mix of seemingly generous and self-serving reasons. While 49 percent said they liked no tipping policies because they thought servers would get a better deal, one-third said they liked the idea of not tipping because they would no longer have to do the math to determine what the tip should be, 29 percent said they’d feel less pressure when paying, and 26 percent liked the idea that they might actually end up paying less with a no tip policy.

Those who said they didn’t like the idea of a no tip policy were equally mixed. 47 percent didn’t like the idea that they couldn’t reward great service and 20 percent didn’t like that they couldn’t punish poor service. Of those who thought the current system of customer determined tips is fine — 30 percent thought they’d end up paying more for the meal under no tip policies.

You can understand why current restaurant operators hesitate to rock the boat. What essentially equates to bi-polar consumer response to potential cultural change does not bode well for hospitality industry results.

Equity in wages within hospitality establishments is a huge issue for restaurant owners. The fact that the people preparing the food nearly always earn less than the people who serve it, is frustrating for employers.  

Those outside the industry often suggest employers leverage the current system by pooling and distributing tips across their entire team. The problem is that’s not legal.

Only those who are not in management and perform functions that theoretically “touch the table” are eligible to receive a portion of their wages in the form of gratuities. Tip pools, while legal, can only be distributed among servers, hostesses, food runners, bussers, bartenders, etc.

The only sure way for restaurants to guarantee equity and reward across functions is to move away from tipping and pay everyone an hourly wage (likely over the objections of most tipped employees who often make more per hour than their managers). For this to be economically feasible, most restaurants would have to raise prices anywhere from 15 to 25 percent.

Would consumers tolerate the menu sticker shock and keep the bottom line bill in mind?


But in an industry where margins and profits average 6 cents on the dollar, most operators can’t afford to deal in maybes. So the chances that we’ll see mass adoption of no tip policies anytime soon are pretty slim.

The facts about GMOs

- Joe Hrdlicka is the executive director of the Iowa Biotechnology Association

Be89b260-2114-4417-bb7a-c2140ba2cb17When I say the term, “GMO”, what do you think? Most people generally think negative thoughts when this term is spoken. Unfortunately, this happens because a vocal group of people would have you believe GMOs are really bad.

However, you have to question whether folks who speak badly of GMOs really know what they are criticizing. Let’s examine some facts. There have been thousands of studies on the safety of GMO foods. There have been a variety of organizations that have funded these studies, but most of the studies that come from reputable science organizations indicate GMO foods are safe.

There is very little to suggest from a science perspective that GMOs are unsafe in any way. The fact of the matter is we have been consuming GMO-based foods for years. GMOs have been utilized in a variety of ways going back many years. Agriculture has injected genetic mutations in crops all sorts of ways for a long time for a variety of purposes.

If it weren’t for a “cottage industry” of social media gurus, we probably wouldn’t be having much of a debate on this issue because the evidence just doesn’t back up to the claims. One of the most compelling studies came out in September of 2014, and it had billions of subjects that eat GMOs almost exclusively: livestock. The study was conducted by Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam at the University of California at Davis. Her study focused on the health of 100 billion animals and found no ill effects — in fact, no effects at all — attributable to a switch from non-GMO feed to GMO.

GMO-based foods are really derived out of consumer demand. For example, the consumer demand for fruits and vegetables grown in drought-stricken areas. Consumer demand for food products free of disease from weeds and insects. And consumer demand for more efficient growth of crops due to our population that is quickly rising above 9 billion people in a relatively short period of time.

Consumers are often led to believe “organic” food products are safer as well. The difference between organic, conventional and biotech is mainly the types of pesticides that are allowed to be used.

A common misconception is that organic food is produced without pesticides, but organic farming – just like conventional and biotech farming – has to deal with the challenge of eradicating pests. The pesticides in organic farming are generally derived from natural sources. For example, bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) may sound familiar because it's used in some genetically modified crops, but it's an all-natural bacteria. Bt is also commonly used in organic farming.

As far as organic foods are concerned, former U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman once summarized it well when an organic certification policy was being considered: “Let me be clear about one thing,” he said. “The organic label is a marketing tool.

It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.” You may not agree with these media outlets all the time, but I find it interesting the Boston Globe and the Washington Post have each editorialized over the past year that GMO-based foods are safe and efforts to force mandatory labeling of these products is not the appropriate policy direction.

At the end of the day, we can hold our ears and shout “blah, blah, blah” until the world submits to dozens of labeling policies from various states and communities, driving up the cost of our food. Or we can adopt a rational perspective that GMOs really aren’t as bad as critics would like you to think.

Local SEO - what you don't know

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

You’ve heard the term – but have you ever wondered what Local SEO really is?

One of the most important factors Google considers with search results is your current location. And they’ve gotten pretty good at knowing where you are. For the most part they study your device’s IP address or use the GPS in your smart phone to find you. Google understands that where you’re standing plays a big role in what information you’ll find relevant when performing a search — especially when looking for local establishments, like a restaurant or laundromat. People used to type the name of their city alongside the search term (e.g. car insurance Atlanta) to get local suggestions. But anymore Google is smart enough to know where you are without asking.

More often than not Google places local businesses at the top of search results. They know, for instance, that people who search for ‘Chinese food’ are likely more interested in finding a place nearby for some beef chow mein than info on a popular New York restaurant 900 miles away. The same goes for most establishments that can be found locally (e.g. home insurance, tree stump removal, plumber).

There are several ways someone will discover your business via a search engine. They could be directed to your website, your social media profiles, or your official business listing. And although they’re all somewhat interconnected, organic SEO focuses primarily on the first two, whereas local SEO focuses on the latter.

A common misconception with SEO is that it revolves entirely around directing people to your website. The truth is, people are introduced to businesses everyday without visiting their website at all. These businesses are discovered via Google’s official listings, serving as a directory, like an online phonebook.

As a matter of fact, some businesses rank high on local search without having a website at all. And if their local search signals are strong they’ll likely end up above businesses focusing on organic SEO alone. Of course, having an established website does help your online visibility, even locally, but focusing on your website alone is not an effective approach.

Organic vs local

Local vs Organic

Local SEO aims to increase the likelihood that a nearby business listing (in contrast to website) will rank higher for people searching for products or services within a limited proximity.

Organic SEO aims to increase the likelihood that a company website will be discovered by people searching for relevant terms online, through non-paid means, and within a much broader proximity.

It’s true that organic SEO and local SEO strategies often intersect. But there are elements that local businesses should prioritize ahead of those companies operating nationally—specifically in regard to local search signals.

NAP consistency

The most effective way of improving local SEO is by applying NAP consistency - meaning that your business’s Name, Address, and Phone number are uniform across the internet — with both online directories and websites — wherever your information is listed.

Search engines regularly collect information from all the nooks and crannies of cyberspace. This data is then stored for easy access when people perform searches online — this process is called web crawling. One of the things they are looking for is consistent information regarding businesses. The more often an establishment is accurately listed across the net, the more confidence the search engine has in it. And higher confidence means more recommendations for relevant search queries.

Even slight contrasts in a business name, address, or phone number likely will create duplicate listings online and throw off search engines. For local SEO it’s important to always use your local address and phone number. If, for example, you have a toll-free number you should list your local number first.

Utilizing data aggregators or paid data facilitators is the quickest and most effective way to ensure accurate listing across the web.

NAP consistency is a starting place but your local SEO strategy shouldn’t stop there. If you’re interested in learning more ways of improving local SEO you can check out our free educational platform Launch Academy.

Why delegate?

Iowa Biz blog delegation photo puzzle pieceRita Perea is president of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders and managers to successfully establish executive presence, lead high-performing teams, engage employees, manage change and create work/life balance.

One of the most important, but unfortunately overlooked, leadership skills to develop for career success is delegation. Some people define it as “letting go.” I believe that it is really a matter of streamlining your workload to increase your available time to manage people and projects more effectively. Better delegation ultimately results in a more motivated, involved staff, less stress and enhanced work-life balance.

American businesswoman Jessica Jackley, who co-founded Kiva micro-loans, believes that, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” She credits much of her success to the art of successful delegation.

In the past, delegation was typically a top-down activity with the work load flowing from the top of the organization downward. Today with our flatter organizational structures and remote work teams, there are many more opportunities to delegate: up to managers, down to subordinates and horizontally to peers and workmates. Often overlooked is the fact that delegation requires a high level of trust to work well. You want to find those people in your organization where you have a relationship based on trustworthiness, mutual respect and mutual purpose. That is the natural place for successful delegation to occur.

As I consult with executives to sharpen their leadership skills, I share these seven essential keys for successful delegation:

1. Plan it out: Consider how you will manage a project before you delegate it. If you can’t manage it, maybe you should rethink delegating it.

2. Decide on the intended results and the level of responsibility: What are the goals that you need this project to achieve? What is the level of decision-making responsibility that you are willing to delegate along with the project? Are you giving the other person free rein to make project decisions or do they need to check in with you or someone else at every turn?

3. Select the right person for the job: Remember, delegation is built on the foundation of a relationship built on trust, mutual respect and mutual purpose. Be sure that the person you are delegating to has the skills needed to accomplish the project, has the organization’s best interest in mind and will support you in your endeavors.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Do you wish that people could read your mind? Maybe it is a good thing that they can't. Write out the pertinent details of the project for the person you are delegating to. Provide some structure or a visual model of what you are seeking as an end result. Provide clarity in the goals, controls and agreed upon check points to discuss the project's progress.

5. Write it down: This is a little trick that I learned when I was managing a large team and delegating frequently. I kept a delegation notebook to help me track key details and checkpoints in projects. I would capture notes in my notebook in front of the person I delegated to. This let my direct report know that I was not going to forget what I was delegating to them. It was a visual clue that I had a tool for tracking the details and holding them accountable. It was easy for me to point out that we had a discussion and agreed upon key details when I had it documented in my delegation notebook.

6. Hold the other person accountable: Sure, there are times when deadlines are missed, mistakes are made, and we might want to extend the benefit of the doubt to the person we delegated an important project to. Before you get sucked into some sob story about why a project is not farther along in the timeline, realize that being held accountable is a professional development opportunity for your co-worker. Think twice before you accept their excuses. It might be better to get them back on track and manage the project a bit more closely with weekly meetings or updates in a constructive, positive way.

7. Create a motivating work environment: A recent Gallup poll indicated that 61 percent of all American workers did not receive praise for their work last year and believe that they are disengaged employees. To create a more motivating culture, say the magic words  “please” and “thank you”. Show people that you value their contributions. Give praise to co-workers for a job well-done. People who feel genuinely appreciated will want to work with you on projects and will put their best efforts forward.

Delegation is a powerful tool for empowering others to shine at doing their best work. If done well, it allows you to spend focused time at work doing your best work, too, which decreases stress. Decreased stress increases positive work-life balance. And who doesn’t want to feel more balanced and in control of their time and their life?

Celebrating your new website

Alex Karei, marketing director for Webspec Design, blogs about web strategy.

As anyone who has launched a new website knows, there is a lot of work involved in the process -- both while building the new site and while promoting it.

It’s important to share your new and improved site with clients, but sometimes the one group that can get overlooked in all the hype is the team of people whom the new website represents - the company or organization itself. The members of this group differ depending on the type of website created, but nevertheless, the marketing department isn’t the only group that’s affected by a new website. Not convinced a celebration is worth the additional investment? Here are a few reasons you can take to your boss. Just don’t blame me when you get assigned as party-planner!


Four Reasons to Throw a Website Launch Party

1. You need to educate your team. Website redesigns often mean that some of the site map gets rearranged -- hopefully for the better -- but the last thing you want is your sales team scrambling during a webinar because they’re unable to answer a client question and they don’t know where the answer they were looking for went. Use a party to help create a map for those who need to know where they’re going!

Party Tip: Hold a “website scavenger hunt” at your launch party. To do this, give attendees a quiz to complete that includes finding facts or accomplishing different types of tasks on the site. Enter all those who finish into a drawing for a prize!

2. Prove to your stakeholders they made the right decision. Now that you’ve spent thousands of dollars on a website, you’re sure to have stakeholders who want to know what came of that investment. Throwing any type of celebration will help those investors to see how awesome the project turned out. But the best part? Showing them how excited others who will benefit from the new site (the rest of your staff, for instance) are about their new tool.

Party Tip: Gather testimonials from staff prior to the party to share on table tents or posters around the room. Then, let attendees guess who said what about their new website.

3. Point out new features. Have you added some new features as part of the redesign? That’s awesome; but if no one knows they’re there, it’s hard to know if they’ll ever get used. Make it a point to highlight new features, information or resources that weren’t on the site before to the entire group to ensure they know what’s been made available to them.  

Party Tip: Plan a short presentation in front of the group to show these features, but keep it high level. Although attendees will be excited, they aren’t going to have the same emotional attachment as you do and don’t want to spend 30 minutes talking about your awesome new events calendar.

4. Celebrate your hard work. Let’s be honest. Going through a website redesign is a lot of work! Team members who were directly involved deserve recognition for the time they’ve invested, whether they physically created the site themselves or if they worked with an external agency.

Party Tip: Create special awards for those who contributed to the site. Things like “Best Proofreader” or “Most Likely to find a Broken Link” can add some laughs while making associates feel appreciated.

A website launch party doesn’t have to be a thousand-dollar shindig if you don’t want it to be; even a presentation in the conference room with cake on a Friday afternoon can elevate the level of excitement and provide the proper education. But, don’t let your site launch without celebrating its “birthday”!

Have you had a launch party? Tell me about it in the comments!


Alex Karei_124Alex is the marketing director for Webspec Design, a website design and development and digital marketing agency in Urbandale. Connect with her on:


Zero latency: Leadership vs. management, Part 2

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

In my last post, we discussed the differences between leadership and management: finding the proper balance between the two and the problems that arise if they fall out of balance. In this post, I would like to explore that concept further in the context of organizational design. In his book, "Exponential Organizations" (a book I highly recommend), Salim Ismail talks about a company called Holacracy. Holacracy has taken frameworks from the start-up world (such as Agile and Lean) and applied them to its organization in a broad-based way. As he describes it:

Holacracy is defined as a social technology or system of organizational governance, in which authority and decision-making are distributed via fractal, self-organizing teams, rather than being vested at the top of a hierarchy. (Ismail, p.104)

How does this relate to our earlier conversation about the lever arms of leadership and management? Ismail has the answer to that as well:

…hierarchies tend to be competence-based hierarchies, relying more on peer accountability than on authority-based accountability…(Ismail, p.105)

To me, this describes the nature of how healthy businesses can operationally adjust to balance the needs of management with employees. The management-based structure of organizations will inherently resist this, as there will be a loss of control. But, as stated in the last post, the accountability will increase.

Companies with the courage to self-organize based on competencies with direct peer accountability align with the emerging workforce of millennials, who have grown up as the products of social networks and rapidly accelerating technologies and modes of communication. Management-modeled authority structures tend to slow down innovation, as they are mired down in policy frameworks and defined by boundaries.

Inversely, holacracy in leadership structures allow there to be reduced latency in the adaptability of employees to take on new projects, innovate, and self-regulate. The fractal nature of these teams that Ismail refers to creates an environment conducive to rapid protoyping, failure learning, and optimized product or service delivery models.

I am not advocating for the elimination of all management structures, but I do feel that things in the organizational development ecosystem are evolving. Those in the marketplace that are able to be responsive to build upon the strengths of the emerging workforce are the companies that will continue to grow, increase their curb appeal for potential employees, and produce better products for clients.


Valve Corporation is a video game development company that was founded by former Microsoft employees in 1996. Valve is almost completely run as a flat organization, run by its employees. Individuals select/create their own projects, there are no managers, and employees can also hire employees to work on their projects. During Valve’s 19-year history, they have been responsible for creating not only some of the most innovative modern video games, but an Internet-based distribution system for online gaming. The company was estimated to be worth close to $3 billion in 2012. (Image to right is from Valve's employee manual)

I included Valve as an example to illustrate that holacracy truly works. I would argue that it may not work for every corporation or organization, but combining this model with the balance argued for in the last post between leadership and management, you can produce a formula for success in the modern organization. Every organization has an equilibrium point. One with responsive, engaged, and self-starting employees, ready to interact in an environment where leadership and accountability are dynamic and innovation can flourish with almost zero latency.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011


 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny


LOCAL FEATURE: Proof, not just a restaurant



- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC. 

COOL VENUE ALERT!  First, if you haven’t been to Proof yet, you need to get there! Proof, located at 1301 Locust St. in downtown Des Moines, is a restaurant that prides itself on delivering “good cocktails. Good wine. Good food. Good atmosphere. [and] Good service.”  The menu is influenced by the flavors of the Mediterranean and Northern Africa, and strives to blend “the old world with the new by using local ingredients in all of its dishes.”  But what makes Proof even cooler is that you can rent it for your own very special events!


Cocktail hours:  Treat your high-end clients, show some appreciation for your employees or celebrate a milestone, all while sampling some delicious cuisine and sipping on some specialty cocktails. 

Mid-day gatherings: Whether it be a fancy lunch, or a bridal/baby shower, this is the perfect spot to create a memorable afternoon event.

Special dinners:  Perfect spot to wine & dine clients, have an intimate rehearsal dinner or celebrate a something special with close friends.

Other smaller gatherings: Looking for a unique experience event that pampers your attendees? This is sure to impress.


Seated dinner: up to 60 people

Cocktail party: 80-90 people

Open house style: 120 people


Location location location!  Experience the invigorating energy that surrounds downtown Des Moines from this centrally located spot. This area offers a plethora of activities to enjoy both before and after your event at Proof.  Stroll the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, visit the Science Center or enjoy some post event cocktails on Court Avenue!  There is something that is sure to please everyone. Build your event into a complete experience by taking full advantage of the fun things Des Moines has to offer.

Extraordinary hospitality & knowledgeable staff: Don’t know what you want to eat or drink? Allow the staff at Proof to assist with this task. This high-caliber group is sure to exceed your expectations and impress even your stuffiest event attendees. You can ensure a creative and stress-free experience by leaving the details up to these fine folks.

Versatile aesthetic with options for customizable décor: This blank canvas space has the versatility to transform into even the wackiest of themes.  Work with the Proof staff to bring in outside décor, or simply do it yourself. You are welcome to bring in live music as well, just coordinate A/V with the staff.

Flexibility on vendors:  Trying to appeal to a more casual crowd? Want to keep the food and drinks simple? You can pay a small room rental fee and coordinate outside food/drink options yourself on Sundays and Mondays only.


Tuesday-Thursday: $4,500 Food and beverage minimum (plus 6 percent sales tax and 18 percent gratuity). Required: 100 percent deposit required to secure booking.

Friday & Saturday: $5,500 Food and beverage minimum (plus 6 percent sales tax and 18 percent gratuity). Required: 100 percent deposit required to secure booking.

Sunday & Monday: $1,000 Food and beverage minimum (plus 6% sales tax & 18% gratuity). Required: $300 space rental fee required at booking

Just want to rent the space and coordinate the rest yourself?  You can book your event on Sunday or Monday.  Expect a minimum $500 space rental fee (note: this option does not include any food or wait service).

Cancellation Policy:

Notice over 14 days prior to event: full refund of deposit

Notice 7 to 14 days prior to event: 50 percent refund of deposit

Notice 7 days or less prior to event: no refund of deposit


Proof as a venue is sure to make the right event very special. It's definitely a destination for your higher-end events where you want to pamper your attendees and show them some love. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will make you look cool without you even trying. I highly recommend keeping this location on your radar when planning your future events.

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website  

Can taxpayers ever get a break?

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

As the public pension crisis unfolded, the entity that sets accounting standards for governments decided that more disclosure of unfunded pension liabilities was needed. These are huge numbers (almost $6 billion in in Iowa), and, for the most part, have been flying under the radar in government financial reports.

Now, every government that is a member of a state retirement system (including state government and almost all local governments) must reflect its share of the state’s total unfunded pension liability on the face of its financial statements, rather than as a footnote as was past practice. There is no change in the actual liability, nor any change in the way it is being paid off, but the disclosure is different.

For taxpayers, this should be a good thing, right? It should help the public better see the true cost of these plans, which guarantee benefits to retirees at the expense of taxpayers when the stock market tanks. Right now (and for the next 20 to 30 years) taxpayers are making payments of $400 million per year to retire the shortfall arising from the last collapse. The new reporting doesn’t change that; it just makes it more transparent.

Alas, even the best-intentioned measures can be twisted into an argument to compound the taxpayer burden.

The Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa has been working with Broadlawns Medical Center to reduce its property tax asking in view of the impact of the Affordable Care Act in reducing its charity care burden.

Broadlawns, to its great credit, is reducing its rate; but we had urged more. Here’s the great irony. In defending the need to hang on to so much property tax revenue when it appears to no longer be needed, the board chair cited Broadlawns’ new pension reporting requirements

So think about it. Taxpayers are already making the necessary $400 million annual payments to erase the shortfall in pension funding, but now are being asked to pay again because of a change in how it's reported.  Somehow I don't think this is what the Government Accounting Standards Board had in mind. In fact it's almost scary to think what would happen if every public entity were to demonstrate similar confusion.

It’s especially ironic for Polk County taxpayers who, in this instance, are being quadruple-charged:

  • Once to pay for the actual pension shortfall;
  • Again because of new reporting of the pension shortfall;
  • Once via property tax to cover the cost of care for patients at Broadlawns who were formerly “charity care” (non-paying) patients; and
  • Again via state and federal taxes for the same patients who are now covered through expansions of the (taxpayer-funded) Medicaid safety net program.

Can taxpayers ever get a break? This is the kind of thing that can cause voters to become desperate.  

ciWeek: 13 speakers, 5 days, 3 takeaways


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

Our annual Celebrate! Innovation Week (ciWeek 7) recently concluded at the Des Moines Area Community College West Des Moines Campus. Over the course of four days, 13 unique individuals descended upon the campus to share their personal stories and put their unique talents on full display. The theme for this year’s event was “Free to Dream.”

Whether it’s debunking myths, advancing digital music, chasing tornados, turning actors into our favorite monsters, writing best-selling novels, creating high-tech art, building confidence, advancing travel in space or in our own world, helping people fulfill their dreams, or just being “Iowa Nice,” the abilities of these people ran the gamut.

However, as I sat through all of the presentations, I couldn’t help but notice a few common threads that ran through all of them despite the wide variety of people and topics: identifying your passion, asking for help, and laser-like focus.

At the age of 13, Howard Berger knew he wanted to do make-up and visual effects for movies. So, he knocked on the door of the great Stan Winston and told him he would work for free just for the opportunity to learn. When Howard began in the field, there were 55 shops in Hollywood doing what he was learning to do. After years of intense focus, mastering his craft, and winning some hardware (two Emmys and an Oscar), there are now only four shops and his is considered one of, if not “the,” best.

Fresh out of college, Kari Byron knew what she wanted and she knocked at the door of Jamie Hyneman at his M5 Industries, begging for the opportunity to work as a free intern. After some persistence (and maybe even a little stalking), she prevailed. Her first day turned out to be the beginning of Mythbusters and ultimately a career in television. Kari spent a decade on the show and has turned that success into starring roles in other shows, such as Head Rush on the Science Channel and Thrill Factor on the Travel Channel.

Homer Hickam grew up in a coal-mining town in West Virginia where every male ultimately became a coal miner after high school (unless they happen to be a star athlete and received a college scholarship). As a high school kid, Homer knew what he wanted the minute he saw Sputnik fly over his house in 1957. After Homer nagged a few men who worked in the mine’s machine shop to teach him to weld and work with metals, he and some of his friends began building rockets that continued to improve after repeated attempts. Homer’s efforts ultimately won the National Science Fair, winning he, and all three of his friends, college scholarships. Homer went on to work as an engineer for NASA and write numerous NY Times #1 bestsellers. His memoir, Rocket Boys, became the basis for the movie October Sky, starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer.

Dr. Reed Timmer always knew he loved weather. He was actually quite obsessed with it, and as a young child he chased storms on his bicycle. He loved science and math while in high school and became fascinated with the science of storms. Once he received his driver’s license, and with the support of his parents, he purchased cheap, beat-up vehicles so he could more effectively chase storms. Over time and with the help and support of others who shared his passion, those beater vehicles turned into what are now known as the Dominators, a line of armor-plated, tornado-resistant research vehicles. His passion ultimately placed him in the path of over 250 tornados and in the starring role of Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers.

Although I could continue to show this pattern with most every one of our presenters, I believe that the takeaways for all who listened to them are clear (regardless of age or one’s position in life):

  1. Dream and figure out what you want to do in life (determine where your passion lies).
  2. Seek out people who are doing what you want to do and ask them for help. Most people are usually more than willing to help others achieve their dreams.
  3. With laser-like focus, learn, practice, improve, and master your craft.

Through these three basic steps, you can achieve your dreams. However, basic doesn’t mean simple. It won’t be easy, but nothing great in life ever is. And who knows, perhaps in some future ciWeek you could be telling your story and helping others achieve their dreams.

©2016  Anthony D. Paustian

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

Job creation fuel: R&D policy move is important for Iowa

Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor

Congressional leaders reached an agreement on federal spending and avoided a government shutdown at the end of last year when omnibus appropriations and taxIowa_petri_dish bills were signed by President Obama on Dec. 18. Buried in the discussion around the trillion-dollar agreement are important boosts to funding for many science and economic development initiatives important to Iowa, as well as an increase in credits for small and high-tech businesses.

The 12 bills approved under the omnibus package will fund the government at $1.15 trillion in discretionary funds through the end of the 2016 fiscal year. Separate legislation, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH) makes over 20 key tax provisions permanent while extending and enhancing others.

You’re telling me this why?

The important news for job creation in Iowa [and the country] is that the PATH Act finally makes the federal R&D tax credit permanent. This is a big deal for American research and development -- activities that have contributed to our country’s emergence as the global center of commerce and innovation in the past hundred years. 

Iowa’s Research Activities Tax Credit is more or less is indexed to the federal credit -- meaning if your business’ R&D expenditure activities qualify for the federal credit, those activities more than likely qualify your company for the state credit. Creating certainty around the federal program offers a boost to the competitiveness of states like Iowa with well-designed state R&D credit programs which work in concert with the federal programs. 

The federal R&D program also was expanded to pre-tax startup companies. It will allow them to use the R&D credit against their payroll tax liability. This is important to the sorts of innovative, small startups we seek to cultivate in Iowa who are pre-revenue [which creates no tax liability with which to access a tax credit], yet spend large sums on R&D. To qualify for this treatment, the company must be no more than 5 years old and it must have revenues below $5 million. The credit is capped at $250,000 per year.   

Businesses with $50 million or less in gross receipts may use the federal credit against alternative minimum tax liability, and certain businesses with $5 million or less in gross receipts will now be able to apply the credit against payroll taxes. These changes are also intended to benefit smaller businesses and startups, which were unable to take advantage of the credit in the past. In 2010, Iowa’s 260,000 businesses averaged about $685,000 in gross receipts.

Federal support for R&D: past and present

The R&D tax credit was first enacted in 1981 at a rate of 25 percent in an effort to encourage private sector investment in R&D to act as a salve to the decline in private R&D investment that began in the 1960s. Bill writers and leading economists of the day believed that this decline was to blame for the slowdown in U.S. productivity R&D_graphic1 growth and the unexpected loss of U.S. industrial competiveness in the 1970s. The program has been reworked and tweaked every couple of years since.

There are four separate components of today’s federal R&D tax credit, but the two most commonly used are the “Regular” research credit and the “Alternative Simplified” credit, both of which offer a tax break equal to a percentage of spending on “qualified research expenses.” The regular method offers a credit of up to 20 percent and the alternative simplified method offers a credit of up to 14 percent.

Qualified research expenses include wages and salaries, cost of equipment and supplies. To qualify, expenses must be experimental for the purpose of discovering information that is technological in nature and used to develop a new product, process, computer software technique, formula or invention that is to be leased, licensed or used by the company.

What took so long?  J/K; it’s Congress.

Why is the R&D tax credit only now being made permanent? At least 15 times in the past, the R&D credit was allowed to expire by Congress and was retroactively extended. The main issue is/was [drumroll…] cost; the program carries a price tag of almost $180 billion. Despite the perception of steep cost, both political parties and economists generally agree that there is economic justification for subsidizing R&D spending; studies have shown that R&D spending not only benefits the private firm, but society as a whole in terms of return from innovation.  

Although until now the federal R&D program has existed in a state of uncertainty, Iowa’s R&D program has remained steadfast since its creation over a decade ago.

What to know: Iowa program meets fed program

Iowa’s Research Activities Credit has several important ties to the federal credit. A company must meet the qualifications of the federal R&D tax credit in order to be eligible for the credit in Iowa. The credits are also similar in the fact that the Iowa credit can be calculated using either the regular or alternative simplified credit R&D_graphic2 method. Also, the definition of qualified research expenditures are the same in both cases, including wages, supplies and other expenses used to discover information that is technical in nature and aimed at the development of a new product. Iowa is one of only a few states to offer a refundable research activities credit.

Iowa’s program offers an incremental credit, meaning that only research expenditures which exceed a base amount are eligible for the credit. The Iowa regular credit is 6.5 percent of the qualifying research expenditures that exceed a base amount or 50 percent of qualifying research expenditures.

A total of $57,147,847 in Research Activities Tax Credits was claimed by Iowa companies and individuals between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015, according to a recently-released report from the Iowa Department of Revenue. A total of $44,428,444 in tax credit refunds was paid last year – representing about 77.7 percent of the total research activities tax credit claims made. In total, 186 companies received approximately $42 million in tax credit refunds last year. 

The media throws shade on R&D all the time.  It’s not helpful.

Despite the decisive importance of attracting innovation investment to any state attempting to compete in the 21st century knowledge economy,  sustained, bewildering media fire trained on the R&D program in Iowa has become the norm. The coverage [it’s been going on for years], fortunately, has not bent the will of the people of this state and our representatives. And good thing, too; the message sent by a state which pulls back its R&D programming in the face of rare Congressional action to strengthen the federal program would be devastating to the efforts of communities across Iowa working to encourage innovation and the jobs that come with it.

Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor.  Contact him:

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: / @brent_willett /

Making the right hire

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

The holiday hiring season is behind retailers, but that process still goes on all year-round for many specialty retailers and it's important to know exactly what kind of employee you need and how the personality and work ethic of the person you choose fits into your business.

Get it right, and the person you choose will pay big dividends. Get it wrong, and I guarantee it will cost you more time, money and headaches than you can imagine.

I prepare myself during the hiring process with few steps.

First, I define the role of the position being offered. What tasks will the employee be completing, and what skills will be needed to complete these tasks? How will that role and the person who fills it fit into the overall company goals?

When conducting interviews, it's important to explain to candidates the objectives of the job and company and the business culture. Whatever the job title, every employee in a small retail business is a first-line employee and the face of the company; making sure the employee is the right fit for the company’s image is crucial.

So how do you find the right fit? In the words of my favorite sayings, you have to hunt where the ducks are. Local newspapers, online and local job agencies and specialty blogs or bulletin boards are a great start, but some of the best places to hunt are through networking.

Spread the word through your contacts that you are looking for someone to hire, and they will keep you in mind. Your contacts will know your business better than a job agency, and will know what candidate will be a better fit.

We all know that the interview process can be a real pain, but it's important not to settle just to get it over with. In specialty retail, two of the most important qualities I look for in a potential employee are resourcefulness and the ability to listen to the customer.

The Heart of Iowa Market Place is known for its specialty gifts. Customers will come to our store specifically looking for a gift and might need advice on what will make the perfect gift -- and that's where resourcefulness and listening come in.

Resourcefulness -- or adaptability -- helps employees recognize when they need to do something different to best meet our customers' needs. When we need to change things within our store, I need to be able to count on my employees to adapt to the changing environment.

It's good to know a job candidate's full range of skills, but I don't limit my focus there. I also rate my candidates on their potential. Skills can always be learned through training, but some characteristics such as social skills, confidence, and detailed oriented can’t be trained.

Put extra effort into your hiring process upfront and you'll be taking a big weight off your shoulders for a long time to come.

Trump the brand

Trump - Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

You may not like him, and in fact, you may be afraid of him but you certainly know who he is and what he stands for. He has absolutely dominated the media’s attention and coverage. His voice is always the one you hear and the one everyone is talking about.  

He has behaved incredibly consistently from the get-go and his message has never wavered.  

Again — like him or not, but Donald Trump is teaching a master’s class on brand.  Remember that branding doesn’t have to equal likability.  It’s about memorability.  It’s about differentiating yourself from your competitors so there’s a clear choice and it’s about consistency.  

And Trump has delivered on those in spades.  So regardless of how the election plays out — what can we learn from this spectacle we’ve been watching for the past year?

Branding is for the bold: If you want everyone to like you, you won’t have a brand.  Defining who you are also means declining who you are not. One of the reasons Trump is still here and some others are not is because he was willing to take a very bold stand on issues, knowing that it would cost him some voters but it would also ignite others to support him even more.

Simple, consistent messaging: If you look at Trump's website and rhetoric, he hasn’t put a lot of meat on the bone in terms of how he is going to do the things he is calling for. But he keeps saying the same things over and over. He knows that his audience has a limited attention span and that the media needs to be able to grab snippets of thoughts and sentences. He’s catering to his audiences so that they can parrot back his messaging.

Stepping away from the herd: One of the smartest elements of Trump’s campaign is that he’s effectively trained us to lump all of the other Republican candidates in a group called “not Trump.”  He’s made them all sound very similar and has gone out of his way to remind us, time and time again, how and why he’s different from all of them.

Aligned with his core: If Trump had led a quiet, respectful campaign, we would have been confused. That sort of behavior is not in alignment with his persona, his TV personality from his reality show or his business dealings. He’s always been an opinionated, outspoken, aggressive, confident personality. His political brand matches right up with that and that reassures us that it’s authentically who he is and what he believes.

Certainty: When we buy something — whether it’s our next President or a washing machine, we want to know that the manufacturer has certainty about their product. We want them to be so confident and so sure of what they’re selling that we can be sure of it too. There’s no candidate that is more confident in their own ideas and abilities than Trump. You may hate him but you know he’s not afraid or lacking in confidence in being able to deliver what he talks about. (Whether he really can or not isn’t the issue…)

I’m not advocating Trump for president. But I am suggesting that one of the reasons he’s the frontrunner is because, unlike the other candidates who are trying to appeal to everyone, Trump understands that a good brand is about staking a claim and then letting people be drawn nearer or be repelled…but that there’s nothing good to be gained by not getting noticed.


Want more success? Check your mindset

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

Imagine your day didn’t turn out quite like you planned: You got a C+ on your midterm, followed by a parking ticket on your car, then a brush-off from the friend you called for consolation. How would you likely respond?

Dweck - Mindset bookA. Assume you’re a failure and that the world is out to get you. Take the day as further proof that you can’t seem to get things right. Do nothing about it other than perhaps eat, punch your pillow, or climb into bed.

B. Decide to study harder for the next exam, look at what you did wrong and resolve to do better, pay the ticket, and chalk the day up to “lessons learned.” You’re disappointed but ready to try again.

Your response may clue you into your mindset. And your mindset contributes to your entire outlook, well-being, relationships, level of success, and how you approach the world.

It also affects those around you – likely more than you realize.

I read Mindset by Carol Dweck with a parenting group a few years ago. The book prompted fascinating conversation not only about our children but also ourselves, spouses, teachers, and more.

Shortly thereafter, the book came up in a professional setting and resulted in similar conversation. Each time this book appears (and it is cited seemingly everywhere in business and self-help literature), a proverbial lightbulb seems to turn on.

The crux of Dweck’s research is actually quite simple. She describes two types of mindsets: fixed and growth. But in its simplicity lies one of the most profound learnings you’ll find in personal and professional growth.

If you have a fixed mindset, you likely base your success on winning, looking good, doing well. You tend to believe that qualities like intelligence and talent are innate and “tap out” at certain levels. If you can’t do something well, you might assume you just don’t have the “gift” for that particular activity and, as a result, may not even try it. Those with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenge, not pay attention to feedback if it's anything less-than-stellar, and feel threatened by others’ success.

With a growth mindset, on the other hand, you believe you can improve, change, and grow. You’re willing to try new things, and doing them poorly doesn’t stop you from trying again; you assume that with experience and practice you will get better. In the vignette that opens this article, which Dweck uses in her mindset research, you are more likely to respond in the way described in example B than example A. Those with a growth mindset tend to welcome challenge, see effort as a way to gain mastery, learn from criticism, and become inspired by and/or learn from the success of others.

Quite a difference, eh?

Dweck offers many examples of both mindsets and how they impact our success as leaders, parents, teachers, and friends. In addition, she provides ways to enhance the growth mindset by simply changing the way we talk.

For example, think about how you praise others. If your son aces an exam, telling him “You’re so smart! You have such a knack for science!” sounds nice, but can actually undercut his growth. What happens when he takes his history exam and doesn’t do so well? He may interpret that to mean that he’s not smart, or that he doesn’t have a knack for history so he might as well not even try.

Far better to praise the process:  “Great job! You must have prepared well for this exam!” Highlighting a strategy, choice, or effort reminds them that they influence their destiny and can learn from all experiences. Such a small shift in how we communicate but, as Dweck shares with numerous examples in the book, those small changes can result in transformational results.

Every person I know who has read this book has expressed incredible insights gained. In fact, when I posted about it on Facebook while writing this article, the feedback was unanimously positive with many indicating they planned to pull out their copy and re-read it. If you lead, teach, coach, parent, or influence others, add Mindset to your reading list. You will grow in self-awareness and be able to more readily help others do the same.

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI’S CHALLENGE:

Fortunately, a growth mindset can be cultivated, encouraged, and modeled.

Start making growth-oriented conversation part of your routine at the dinner table or in your meetings: “What did you learn today?” “Where have you put forth a strong effort this week?” “What mistake did you make, and what did you learn from it?”

These types of questions emphasize learning, effort, and growth over “winning” and remind us of the role we play in our own success. This mindset empowers, energizes, and trickles into all facets of our lives!

How has your mindset helped – or hindered – your success? Share your thoughts below.

Dr. Christi Hegstad helps people make a positive difference in the world by coaching them to work, live, and lead with meaning and purpose. Learn more at, Facebook at, Twitter at, and (new!) Instagram at

Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. (Ballantine, 2006).

Time for an attitude adjustment?

Attitude_is_everything1Rita Perea is president of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders and managers to successfully establish executive presence, lead high-performing teams, engage employees, manage change and create work/life balance.

Do you know someone who continually shoots him or herself in the foot? Maybe you roll your eyes as they share stories over and over again about everything that goes wrong in their lives.

Researchers tell us that these negative stories create new neuropathways in the brain reinforcing continual negativity and defeat. The negativity creates a downward spiral of thinking, which, in turn, creates more negativity. Eventually, like Linus clinging to his blanket, your friend or co-worker is tightly gripping his or her negative attitude and expecting the worst.

Is this person you? Is it time to become clearer, more confident and feel a sense of well-being in work and life? Is it time for an attitude adjustment? If you are ready to be more successful, these five keys will help you change your thinking and change your life:

  1.  Identify the clever stories We can tell ourselves these doom and gloom stories over and over again and reinforce our feeling of “being done to.” Are we always the victim in a situation? Do we feel helpless as if there was nothing we could have done differently? These clever stories are often fiction and keep us stuck in the cycle of negativity. Take a look at the facts, without the emotion, and determine the clever story that is keeping you from moving forward.
  2.  Stop being reactive When we have a bad attitude, we tend to be externally focused and feel as if the world, people, our boss, the economy - everyone and everything - is conspiring against us. While none of us can anticipate everything that is going to happen, letting the possibility of uncertain events dictate our daily activity is self-defeating behavior. Instead, cultivate a proactive approach by thinking ahead about possible challenges you may face in different situations and create an action plan. A proactive approach helps us focus internally, clear our head, adjust our attitude, gain our confidence and control those things that we really can control. Our proactive success leads to more success.
  3. Dump the drama We live in a reality television show world. Many of us can’t wait for the next episode of our favorite show to get our drama fix. Unfortunately we can enjoy that sitting-on-the-edge-of-our-seat feeling so much that we want more and more of it. We might find ways to create it in our work life or our personal life. Our negative attitude can actually invite drama while pushing the supportive and positive people in our lives away from us. A Chinese proverb reminds us, “The wisdom of life lies in eliminating the nonessentials.” Whether we find it in our personal life or our work life, drama is one nonessential that, when eliminated, will help us experience a higher-level of productivity and positivity.
  4. Sow the seeds of self-discipline Most people know the difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Having a positive attitude can lead to more self-discipline. Self-discipline can be the difference between achieving our goals and only dreaming about reaching our potential. Self-discipline helps us define that part of the world where we can make a difference. Zig Ziglar once said, “When you choose a habit, you also choose the results of that habit.” Sowing the seeds of self-discipline every day will create a sense of accomplishment and the feeling of freedom.
  5. Cheer someone on When we are in the position of managing others and have the responsibility to evaluate their performance, it is easy to get stuck in negativity and criticism. Have you ever uttered these words: “Really? If only everyone else did things like I did, the world would be a better place!” Really? When you find yourself being stuck on the merry-go-round of being critical, its exactly the time to find something good about the situation. Get out your pompoms and cheer someone on. Put on your rose-colored glasses, paste a smile on your face, take a walk around the office and spread a bit of good cheer. Find something genuinely positive to say to other people. Pat people on the back for a job well done. It will give you, and them, an attitude lift. And, here’s a little secret... cheering someone on works magically with our family members, too.

Adjusting your attitude to radiate positivity and possibility will help others take notice, support you and ultimately succeed. No one reminds us of the power of our thinking more than Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Who are the potential buyers for my business? Part 4

- John Mickelson, managing partner Midwest Growth Partners, is IowaBiz's blogger on succession planning. Read more about him here. 

Over the last few columns, we have learned about the pros and cons of family buyers, financial buyers, and strategic buyers.

The next type of buyer may be the closest to you day-to-day – your employees. Structurally this can be accomplished with or without an ESOP, which is a vehicle that is intricate enough to warrant an entire future post. So for today we will focus on a traditional employee purchase, sometimes known as a “management buyout” (MBO).

In an MBO, a group of employees that you get to select, pool their financial resources and purchase the business from you. Because you can select the buyers, you have more control on your business legacy post-close than with other buyers.

Oftentimes the employee-purchasers take partial or full operational control shortly after the transaction because they have already worked in the business, so a lengthy transition period is not needed as with other types of “outsider” buyers.

Because the typical employee does not have the financial wherewithal to purchase a business, an MBO purchase price is usually some combination of buyer cash, debt, and seller financing. Also because the transaction is taking place between two known and friendly parties, many times the purchase may happen over a period of time rather than immediately at once.

As a result, a negative for the seller in an MBO is that they may not truly “exit” at close – they still have significant financial risk in the business – one in which they are likely no longer operating full time.

A solution may be to access an additional source of funding for the transaction to fill the value gap. For instance, if there is a business worth $10 million, the employee-purchasers may be able to come up with $1 million between them, borrow another $3 million, and get the seller to agree to finance $2 million. This leaves $4 million unaccounted for.

The $4 million value gap is a perfect spot for a financial buyer (private equity firm). Financial buyers love backing a hungry management buyout team that is seeking to purchase and grow a business they know well.

This solves the problem for both sides – the seller immediately de-risks by getting most or all of their money out of the business at close, and the employee-purchasers have the capital necessary to effectuate the transaction.

A tragic and inspirational story: the ripple effect

"He said, 'Just do it for somebody else.'

 That's when it dawned on me that it was one of those pay it forward scenarios

and that it would mean a lot to him if I accepted."

It was one of those days.  It was Nov. 10, 2015.  Jamie-Lynne Knighten had just returned home from a visit with family in her native Ontario, Canada. Jamie, her husband and young children were moving into their new San Diego, Calif. home. She was picking up groceries at a supermarket. 

She had taken her youngest child with her to the store. The five-month-old was being fussy. The shopping excursion took an hour and a half. When she reached the checkout, she realized she had forgotten her debit card at home. 

The grocery total was more than $200. She remembered she had her Canadian credit card with her. Jamie gave the cash she had on hand to the cashier and swiped her Canadian credit card. Declined. She swiped it again. Declined.  She surmised that they had put an anti-fraud lock on the card because of her travels and she called the credit card company to have it lifted. Her phone died. A line was forming behind her at the checkout. She was trying to hold it together.

It was one of those days.

“Take us back to the day in the grocery store. How did you come to meet?” was the question posed to Jamie-Lynne Knighten by CBC Radio As it Happens host Carol Off.

Jamie recalled that she was about to ask the cashier if they could hold her purchases so she could return home to fetch her debit card when a stranger’s voice said “May I?”

“May you what?” she replied.

“May I take care of your groceries?”

She protested with her thanks.  After all, it was a large purchase and this was a stranger. 

The stranger replied “I would like to. Do me one thing. Just do it for somebody else.”

Jamie realized he was serious and this was a pay-it-forward gesture. She accepted.

KNXV final act of kindness_1448498758194_27464102_ver1.0_640_480As they left the store, she introduced herself and learned the young man who had performed this random act of kindness was named Matthew. She shared with Matthew that her family had just moved to the area and that she was feeling a little overwhelmed. She inquired where he worked and he responded “LA Fitness”. Jamie promised herself that she would follow up with Matthew in the days ahead to thank him more formally.

It would be another week before she would learn that Matthew’s last name was Jackson. That he was 28 years old. That he died in a car accident on Nov. 11, 2015.

Jamie had called the local gym about a week after the encounter and spoke with Matthew’s manager in hopes of reaching him and reconnecting. It was through tears that his manager told her about the tragedy. 

When Jamie called her husband to tell him the sad news, it hit him hard. The stereotypical Marine, who doesn’t get upset about too many things, was shaken by the news. It was a cold reminder of how fragile life is.

Jamie came to know about Matthew and his character from his boss who had worked with him for four years. She told Jamie “That’s who he was. Always doing for other people. Never asking for anything in return.” Through his co-workers, Jamie was able to connect with Matthew’s mother and spent two hours discovering more about who Matthew Jackson was.

"She told me that he was a big sweetheart that was always doing things for other people. One thing she's really proud of is that he's a bear hugger. In every photo that you see of him with somebody, he doesn't just have one arm around them. He's giving them a huge bear hug. And that's what it felt like when he paid for my groceries and took care of me."

Jamie created a Facebook page called Matthew’s Legacy asking people to do something extraordinary for a stranger to honor Matthew and help restore faith in humanity. The response has been worldwide and the stories are heartwarming. Jamie says she wants for her children “to recognize that they can actively participate in making a positive change in the world like he did.” She goes on to say “It doesn’t have to be monetary.  It doesn’t have to be huge and grandiose. Create a lifestyle of kindness. Help people in small ways or big ways. Whatever you can do.  Every little bit helps.”

Matthew’s legacy endures and Jamie is paying it forward. 

A powerful leadership lesson for us all to contemplate.

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside



Twitter: @TeroTrainers

Support efforts to upcycle wood from ash trees

- Rob Smith is principal architect atCMBA | Smith Metzger.

A beautiful tree lined street. The one on the left before the little critter called the emerald ash borer showed up.  The one on the right is after.  Note the green grass in both pictures in case you thought the one on the right is winter. An estimated seven billion trees will die which is ten times that of the Dutch elm disease.

What happens to all those trees that get cut down?  According to Des Moines arborist David Jahn, “Most trees are used for firewood or chipped into mulch. Ash is not a desirable hardwood even though furniture and flooring have been around for centuries.”

Now there is a groundswell in upcycling ash. Aronson Woodworks in St. Mary’s has started getting ash logs from Des Moines to make ash furniture next year. Clay Aronson says “I love the distinctive grain of ash. Much like oak but not so reddish”. 

ISU ASH CLOCKIowa State University is working with Iowa Prison Industries to make commemorative mantle clocks from ash trees removed from campus. What an awesome idea. You can also buy a Shaker table.

David Jahn would like to see 100 more artisans doing the same. Even that might not make a dent in the supply, but it’s a start!

What can you do to help the ash upcycling movement?

  • Buy furniture made of ash to increase the demand.
  • Install ash flooring to increase the demand.
  • Buy ash kitchen cabinets to increase the demand.
  • Have some furniture made from a tree in your yard.

Let me know if you have an idea to reuse the ash trees in your yard at


Why the iPhone encryption battle matters to you

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity. 


There is no doubt, the stakes in the battle over the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone encryption are huge. You need to be involved in this fight, pick a side and then be vocal. Call your legislators, write opinion letters to your paper’s editor, or any other means necessary to inform and engage others.

Certainly the terrorist actions were horrific. Families have been forever damaged. Our way of life has been attacked. These is no denying the pain and suffering caused by this senseless act of terror. On the surface it makes perfect sense to want to force Apple to break the iPhone encryption so that authorities are able to discover other terror links and those involved with this brutal attack.

We must, however, take a step back and look at two critical components of this argument. Setting aside our emotion, lets think rationally for a moment about the long-term consequences of the government’s request of Apple. We must also acknowledge the fact that while breaking the iPhone encryption may be the easiest or fastest way to the information, it is absolutely not the only way to get that information. That distinction must be made perfectly clear.

Let’s first consider the demand for a company to build something that it does not currently possess. The basic premise of our capitalist free market system is that the government is not involved in setting product strategy, pricing, or other day-to-day activities of private enterprise. Once we open this door, where does it end?  I understand this is a matter of national security, but we cannot continue to erode the basic principles on which our republic was founded in the name of national security.  This has happened for far too long, and there must be a limit to how far America changes before we are not America any longer.

The second issue of concern is actually the one of greater importance. It is the government’s insistence on breaking into encryption. In general this is a very bad idea. Think of all the things that are protected by encryption: every “secure” internet transaction from online banking to shopping and secure email. Protection of protected health information (PHI) in your medical records is accomplished with encryption. All of your tax records with the IRS including your Social Security number, earning history and charitable contributions are encrypted for your safety and security. Bigger picture - our nuclear arsenal, military communication, stealth technology, troop movements, battle plans…yep, all encrypted.

The fact of the matter is that encryption is a core component to just about every facet of our lives today. Both our personal and work lives are dependent on the bedrock of security that is found through the use of encryption.  Creating a backdoor or methodology to undermine the security of encryption could be devastating.  If you couldn’t trust the “SSL” used to do online purchasing, would you?  If people stopped buying online, how would that affect our economy?

The notion that the government is willing to let Apple keep this technology after they create it is absurd. Something this valuable wouldn’t be kept a secret for long. All the money the U.S. government has spent to protect military secrets has failed. China has built a stealth fighter jet based on stolen US technology. Who can honestly say this technology wouldn’t be even more valuable?

For those of you thinking I haven’t considered the other side of this argument, you are wrong. I was on Capitol Hill last year speaking with a Senate staffer working on national security issues for the Senate Judiciary Committee.  He asked, “If your child was kidnapped and the only way to find him was through a backdoor to the encryption on the kidnapper’s iPhone, would you then be in favor of a backdoor?” I looked him square in the eye and said, “No.”  I come from a long line of veterans who served during WWII, Vietnam and Iraq. One thing I know is that sometimes the sacrifices of a few must be made to protect the many.

While not having immediate access to encrypted criminal or terrorist information may have direct consequences, think of the bigger picture and the long-term consequences of a world where encryption cannot be trusted.  That’s not a world I think any of us want to experience.

Dave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. Dave Nelson 2015 IowaBiz Blog


Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO


Tax season impasse: why your 2015 Iowa tax return may be on hold

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

Taxpayers barely averted a national tax filing season disaster this season when Congress and the president agreed in December to permanently extend important tax provisions that had expired at the end of 2014. Now our governor and legislators are doing their best to subject Iowa to the filing season nightmare that the rest of the country dodged.

Coupling20160213Iowa's tax law doesn't automatically tie to federal changes.
The Legislature passes a "code conformity" bill, or "coupling" bill, every year to incorporate desired federal tax changes into Iowa's income tax. This has been important because Congress habitually enacts many important tax provisions for only one or two years at a time. Since 2010 the governor has proposed to adopt all of the federal "expiring provisions" retroactively every time they were renewed by Congress, with the exception of "Bonus Depreciation."

The biggest of these for most Iowa businesses is the "Section 179 deduction," which allows taxpayers to deduct the cost of up to $500,000 of fixed assets that would otherwise be depreciated over a period of years. A number of other business and personal tax provisions are affected, including research credits, the provision for IRA charitable contributions, and the above-the-line student loan interest deduction.  

The Section 179 deduction is popular with Main Street businesses. With the prices for much farm equipment running well into six figures, the deduction is a big deal for farmers, but it is also important to other businesses. Failing to couple with the federal deduction would leave Iowans with a maximum $25,000 Section 179 deduction on their Iowa returns -- a significant tax increase to businesses in every county. 

Most tax people assumed the pattern of conforming to everything but bonus depreciation would continue. The Governor surprised us last month by proposing (SSB 3107) to conform to only one 2015 tax change -- the research credit. He proposed to conform with none of the remaining changes for 2015. He then would conform with all the changes -- except for Section 179 and bonus depreciation -- for 2016 and beyond.

The Governor's position was unpopular in the General Assembly. The Iowa House swiftly voted 82-14 to couple with all federal 2015 changes except bonus depreciation (HF 2092). It apparently was so unpopular that the Governor this week changed his mind and came out in favor of the House bill.

Senate Majority Leader Gronstal now holds the cards, as he can keep the House-passed bill from ever coming up for a Senate vote. The Legislature is now at an impasse. Prior to the Governor's change of heart, it appeared that no Section 179 coupling would occur. Now we can expect Senator Gronstal to use coupling as a bargaining chip for his priorities.

It's unclear when we will know what Iowa's 2015 tax law is. Iowa returns aren't due until April 30, and it’s still possible that they won't pass a coupling bill by then. The default result if nothing happens is no coupling. While I expect coupling to occur, it may take some time for the poker game to play out.

This poses a dilemma for taxpayers. If they assume that that the expiring provisions won't be re-enacted for Iowa, they'll incur the expense of filing amended returns to claim refunds if the governor and the majority leader eventually go along with the legislature. If optimistic taxpayers assume the extenders are eventually adopted, they face penalties if they guess wrong.  Iowans wanting to file their taxes the right way, for sure, are just out of luck. 

Focus lessons from a dog (Part 2)


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

In my last post, I introduced you to my springer spaniel, Sydney, who does four basic things in life and never at the same time: eat, play, poop, and sleep. You can’t ask for a more simplified life, one free from the temptations created by technology. But most of all she’s happy, as evidenced by the continuous side-to-side gyrations of her little tail.

As humans, we also want to be happy. Most of us believe it’s a basic human right. Unlike the simplified road to happiness taken by Sydney, we have a tendency to try and use whatever we have at our disposal to acquire it. Whether it’s through status, stuff, or other people, we have a desire to feel valuable in our own eyes and in the eyes of others.

The challenge is to know what it means to be happy. Although I know a number of people who think happiness is complicated and dependent upon a large number of factors, I tend to believe happiness is nothing more than a function of both expectation and reality––the relationship of two independent variables that ultimately affect our feelings of happiness. A mathematician, or any one of the dozen or so people in the world who aren’t afraid of math, might view it like this:

Happiness = f (Expectation, Reality)

As long as someone’s reality—perceived or otherwise—is above their level of expectation, they generally tend to be happy. However, when those pesky expectations start rising too high or even stay the same while our current state of reality declines, unhappiness typically sets in.

I believe that as average people we have the most control over, or can more directly impact, our levels of expectation. Life’s outcomes and subsequent realities are typically not in our direct control, since rewards and other positive changes are frequently at the behest of others.

So let’s focus on a few aspects in life today that can directly impact our expectations:

Hedonic Adaptation: “Hedonic adaptation” is a psychologist’s way of saying the novelty wears off. Eventually, that new house, car, or smart TV you had to have becomes just another thing you own, or the job you worked so hard to get becomes just part of your daily grind. Your lifestyle adapts, and you’re back to wanting more.1 I’ve now come to embrace that happiness related to “stuff” is a choice, and there’s nothing tangible that can “make” me happy in the long-term. No matter what we work toward or feel like we must have, typically the happiness attached to it is only short-term. Each time you receive that “must-have” thing, it only serves to raise the bar of expectation for the next must-have thing.

Social Media Image Crafting: We are always trying to put our best foot forward and want to look good to others. It’s human nature. With the advent of social media, you can take it to an entirely new level and present yourself any way you wish, and it’s usually positive. According to a piece on (a health and quality of life website), “Our social media feeds read like a modern-day fairy tale, where every moment is wondrous, every interaction with our family is more precious than the last, and even the mundane (Coffee with the girls! Look at my lunch! Stuck in traffic!) is a magical experience.” 2 Social media image crafting tells everyone that a perfect life is not only attainable, it’s normal. So when everything about your social media “friends” seems perfect, it naturally raises the bar of expectation related to your own “imperfect” real life; thus, the gap between expectation and reality is potentially widened causing increased levels of unhappiness.

Technological Overdependence: Frequently, happiness is thought to be the natural result of success. Although an extremely subjective term, “success” for many of us often revolves around the feeling of being busy, as “busy-ness” implies productivity. Technology helps to provide this feeling of busy. And naturally, we expect our technology to always work the way in which it was designed. When it doesn’t, it causes stress and anxiety. I was once at a busy grocery store when their computer system suddenly went down. Check-out registers could no longer take credit cards. People had to use cash. Since most people today typically don’t carry much cash, there was a mad scramble to the ATM machine, which was quickly emptied (it was on its own, separate system). Chaos, anger, arguing, yelling, and frustration all ensued. Much unhappiness was present. By the way, I did happen to have cash, so I got to watch and be entertained—and a little scared—by it all.

Future-Focused: Too often, we overly set our sights on the future, and we can only see the present after it has become the past. Being goal-driven isn’t a bad thing, unless we are too future-focused, and then our expectations of future joy can blind us to the joys and value found in the now. We may frequently find ourselves absent from the moment as any one of a great number of distractions pulls our attention in a variety of directions, all with the intent of getting or achieving something else “down the road.” If getting older has taught me anything, it’s that time is finite. There’s never enough. I’m amazed at the growing frequency of what I call “time-lapse realizations” that occur the moment I accomplish some goal or objective. While I’m happy I achieved what I set out to do, a sudden realization often follows: getting there came at a great price. A feeling of emptiness often overtakes me, as if I had been transported into the future with little memory of the daily joys from the actual act of doing. I realize how fast time raced by, and because I was so goal-oriented, I was unable to fully enjoy the experiences related to the process.

Childhood Letdown: My good friend and author Adam Carroll frequently talks about how we as parents can sometimes actually love our children too much. It happens in a variety of ways: giving them things they should have had to work for, not helping them to understand the true value of something, or by setting high expectations for them that are impractical once they become self-sustaining adults. Sometimes, in our efforts to “encourage” or “inspire” them to become successful or achieve greatness, we provide motivational but unrealistic guidance. How many parents have told their children that they can be or do “anything” they want when they grow up? According to the Book of Odds, the probability of becoming the President of the United States is 10 million to one. The probability of becoming an astronaut is even greater (believe it or not) – 12.5 million to one.3 The unfortunate, negative side effect to all of this is the potential of setting children up for failure and disappointment because expectations were set too high. When I was a child, I was doing some pretty amazing things as compared to other kids my age. I was able to represent the United States in the International Science and Engineering fair and worked in the research and design department of a computer manufacturer, all while still in high school. Needless to say, many in my family were convinced I would become the family’s first multi-millionaire; a view they often shared with me. I’m now in my fifties and am still working on that millionaire thing. Not to say that I haven’t been successful in life, but those words still haunt me a bit today, making me question, “What could or should have been?” and “How have I possibly fallen short of my potential?”

Happiness is a state of mind impacted by where we set our expectations. While these and many other factors directly affect those expectations, we are ultimately in control of where they’re set in relationship to our current state of reality.

While “strategic” and long-term goals are definitely not bad in and of themselves, they will seldom ever be achieved if set at levels requiring too much time to realize. The gap between reality and expectation will be too great, and ultimately, results in unhappiness.

Think tiny. Ideally, our expectation bars should be set at short, attainable levels so both growth and happiness are incremental. Small, short-term accomplishments will not only serve as a motivator towards the future, they will help you maintain an achievable level of ongoing happiness. After all, isn’t that what everyone wants?

Practice Challenge: Think about what you want long-term…what you really want. Then, break that down into very tiny, incremental steps. Once done, while keeping in mind all of the aspects mentioned above, focus exclusively on achieving that first step, and only that first step. After you accomplish it, move on to the next. Not only does this keep your expectations at manageable levels, it keeps happiness within reach.

©2016  Anthony D. Paustian

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




1Is $50,000 Enough to Buy Happiness? What about $161,810? (April 2013) Retrieved January 11, 2016, from the Fast Company website:

2The Dangers of Image Crafting. Retrieved January 11, 2016, from the Whole9 website:

3 Shapiro, A. & Campbell, L. (2014). The Book of Odds: from Lightning Strikes to Love at First Sight, the Odds of Everyday Life. New York, NY: William Morrow, Inc.

Focus lessons from a dog (Part 1)


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

If you’re like most people, odds are you’re swamped - so much to do, so little time to do it. We wade through our days trying to balance ever-growing responsibilities, and when we do them simultaneously, we feel more productive. We call this “multitasking,” and we believe the better we are at it, the more effective and efficient we will be. We tend to view multitasking as a positive, frequently sought-after attribute. In fact, as many of you read this, you’re likely responding to text messages, checking emails, eating lunch, reacting to app notifications, and thinking about the rest of your day at the same time.

But multitasking is a myth. Sure, you can chew gum while walking, listen to music while vacuuming, eat lunch while reading, or fold laundry while talking on the phone. But these activities don’t require higher-order, problem-solving skills or much brainpower of any kind. Psychologists who have long-studied the concept of multitasking have found that the brain is unable to focus on more than one higher-order function at a time. When people multitask, they actually shift their attention from one thing to another at fast speeds, and each time they switch focus between tasks, their minds must cope with the new information.

What is actually occurring is “switchtasking.” According to Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves . . . Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not.”

There are several reasons for this, but one is that similar tasks compete to use the same parts of the brain. For example, talking on the phone and writing an email are nearly impossible to do concurrently because of what neuroscientists call “interference.” Both tasks involve communication skills and contend for similar space in the brain. Multitasking doesn’t actually make us more productive; in fact, the quality of our effort suffers. Another major downside to multitasking is the negative effect it has on our stress levels as we try to balance a multitude of simultaneous activity. As a result, we feel overwhelmed, drained, and anxious.1

So why has multitasking become so important? It hasn’t always been this way. I can remember a time not too long ago when people were pretty content doing just one thing at a time and living much slower lives. What’s different? I believe the answers can be found by looking at two distinct yet interrelated aspects of everyday life: technology and our level of happiness, the latter of which will be addressed in my next post.

When I was in high school, personal computers were barely in their infancy. Way too expensive for the vast majority, PCs with any real productive power were only found at the corporate level. Some high schools and colleges were beginning to use them, but for the most part, the average person still had little to no personal contact with a computer. Cell phones didn’t exist, let alone anything remotely resembling today’s power-packed smartphones.

In other words, by today’s standards, people were pretty disconnected. To communicate, you either made a call from a bulky telephone connected to a wall, talked face-to-face, sent letters, or fired up your CB radio (if you were born after 1980 you may need to ask someone older about this).

The lack of accessible personal technology resulted in a slower life; one that required more planning and coordination to maximize productivity, stronger interpersonal skills, and greater levels of patience.

Current technology demands an entirely new context: one where people spend less time planning their days since most things can now be done on the fly; one where the need for interpersonal skills between people continues to diminish as a larger percentage of our communication is now virtual; and one where expectations of “instant” are now the norm. Be honest, after you send a text message or leave a voicemail, how long are you willing to wait for a response before feeling frustrated . . . even a little?

This change in thinking - especially for younger generations who only know this type of thinking - combined with the ubiquity of personal electronics has resulted in daily expectations of immediacy and convenience. Ultimately, we feel like we’re doing more in less time, and thus create and perpetuate the concept of multitasking.

Unfortunately, while technology has definitely become more capable, our minds still basically work the same. And the result of this ongoing pursuit to do more in less time is ultimately the diminished quality of our efforts with increased levels of stress and anxiety.

I own a beautiful liver and white springer spaniel named Sydney. Sydney does four basic things in life and never at the same time: eat, play, poop and sleep. You can’t ask for a more simple life, and despite that, she’s happy. And she’s always present in the moment.

We need to be more like Sydney and simplify our lives and stop trying to do everything simultaneously. Research has shown that our mental energy related to decision-making is finite, and once depleted, the quality of our thinking begins to dramatically suffer. As average people, we tend to spend a large percentage of our mental energy on relatively meaningless stuff that really doesn’t have any real impact on our lives, good or bad, like streaming through countless posts on Facebook and watching television. Once our brain has used its energy, we tend to miss the relevant stuff and other important details necessary to be more successful, creative thinkers within the limited time we are given.2

Studies of very efficient people show they rid themselves of distractions and the unnecessary, miscellaneous choices that deplete mental energy. They frequently eat and meet at the same places; they turn off their smartphone app notifications until they’re ready to see them; they stop dwelling on things that occurred in the past and don’t obsess on things that might happen since it’s impossible to actually do things in the past or future; they frequently wear the same clothes (think Steve Jobs); and they remove the clutter that surrounds them.3

To illustrate the power of simplification, consider the high school equivalency GED exam, which has been around for over 70 years. Recently, the exam shifted from paper to a computerized format. Unlike the paper version, where multiple questions along with multiple answer slots were all visible at once, the computerized version removed the clutter and only showed one question at a time. The passing rate on the computer exam rose to 88 percent, compared with 71 percent for the paper version (a 17 percent increase).4

Being at our creative best requires gas in the mental tank, gas that will only be available if we aren’t going full throttle every day. Be like Sydney. Simplify your life.

Practice Challenge: Keep a journal consisting of one full week’s worth of decisions. Document any and all decisions you make from the most mundane (e.g., what clothes to wear, what food to eat, etc.) to the most critical and important (e.g., financially-related, strategic, etc.). Following the week, look back through the list and determine which decisions could become routine with little or no thought given to them. Predetermine how those decisions will be made ahead of time and shift your focus towards those most important. You should feel a greater sense of energy when addressing them.

©2016  Anthony D. Paustian

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




1Hamilton, Jon. Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again. (October 2, 2008) Retrieved October 28, 2015, from the NPR website:

2Vaughan, Michael. Know Your Limits, Your Brain Can Only Take So Much. (January 24, 2014) Retrieved October 28, 2015, from the Entrepreneur website:

3Bradberry, Travis. How Successful People Make Smart Decisions. (October 7, 2015) Retrieved October 28, 2015, from the Forbes website:

4Building the Educated and Employed Communities of Tomorrow. Retrieved December 28, 2015, from the GED Testing Service website:

5 steps to protect your trade secret

Intellectual property, including trade secrets, can serve as one of the most valuable assets in an organization.  Like most assets, however, if trade secrets are not protected, their value can quite literally vanish overnight. As such, it is important for businesses to protect their trade secrets. Here are five common practices that businesses frequently use to protect trade secrets: 
1.  Classify and conspicuously designate trade secrets.  After identifying your business' trade secret(s), clearly designating such materials as trade secret by stamping them "TRADE SECRET," is an easy first step to establishing protection. Caution should be exercised, however, when designating materials so as to avoid mistakenly identifying materials that are clearly not confidential - a mistake that can dilute the effectiveness of the entire protection process.
2. Use nondisclosure agreements.
Incorporating the use of nondisclosure agreements, especially for individuals that come into contact with trade secrets and confidential information, can add further protection. Well-crafted nondisclosure agreements often: (1) identify materials that are deemed trade secret/confidential; (2) include disclosure restrictions (e.g. restrictions on disclosure to vendors and other third-parties); (3) address the term of protection (e.g. perpetual v. term of years); and (4) provide for enforcement.
3.  Incorporate destruction strategies.
Using shredding equipment when disposing of physical materials that may reveal trade secret information is yet another logical, yet often overlooked step in protecting trade secrets. Caution must also be exercised when disposing electronic equipment that has stored trade secret information.  
4.  Adopt computer security practices.
Trade secrets and confidential information contained in computer systems may be protected through encryption as well as strong passwords and restricted access. Such practices help reduce misappropriation by not only outsiders, but also by inside employees with ulterior motives.
5.  Proactively consider departing employees.
Whether during an exit interview or otherwise, when employees depart it serves as a logical opportunity to remind employees of their confidentiality obligations and be provided with copies of any nondisclosure agreements.
If you are working to protect a trade secret, you should consider contacting a licensed attorney who practices in this area of law.


Introducing new blogger: Jason Kiesau

- Jason Kiesau, Leadership and Talent Development manager for Aureon HR, writes about success skills on

Greetings Central Iowa!

My name is Jason Kiesau and I am the Leadership and Talent Development Manager at Aureon HR, Inc. and author of FOCUSED – Your Future Starts Now! and Leading with Style for Senior Living Professionals. The role of our team at Merit is to provide to our clients’ leaders, managers, and workforce, the training, coaching and learning opportunities that support them in achieving their goals in alignment with their organizational goals. We believe this starts with what we like to call Success Skills Mastery.

I’m on a mission to forever change the term “soft skills” to Success Skills, because without them you won’t succeed. It doesn’t matter if you are leader, manager, or an employee; you can be the smartest, most talented, and the hardest working person in the room, but if you lack Success Skills you will have limited success and will never fulfill your potential.

Success Skills Mastery will be the subject I write about for

The three most critical Success Skills I will focus on are:

  1. Self-Management
  2. Relationship Building
  3. Strategic Planning and Goal Setting

Regardless of what you do for your employer or what board you serve on, pursuing Success Skills Mastery will quickly raise your value and make you more effective; leading to greater success.

To be successful we must:

  • Manage our attitudes, emotions, actions, and reactions and adapt them to people and situations as needed.
  • Create win/win situations and build mutually beneficial relationships by understanding others’ needs and meeting them where they are.
  • Understand strategic thinking and set and measure long- and short-term goals that align with our vision and strategic plan.

I’ve been fascinated with personal, professional and leadership development since my early 20s. I am passionate about helping people live a high-quality of life by confidently pursuing and achieving meaningful results. Prior to joining Merit six years ago, I was a strategic partner with Profiles International helping clients hire the right people and a business coach with E-Myth Benchmark (now Benchmark Business Group) working with small business owners all over the United States, supporting them in achieving their strategic objective by working ON their business, not IN their business.

Thank you for your time and attention in reading this. I look forward to contributing to and supporting your pursuit towards Success Skills Mastery! Please let me know if our Leadership and Talent Development Team at Aureon HR, Inc. can support you in achieving your goals.

Connect with Jason:

Leadership vs. 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.

Within the host of elements that make up an internal business culture, there is a delicate balance between how a business is led and how it is executed. There are four elements that are our focus here: we will discuss the differences between leadership and management, and how adjustments in the levels of control and accountability can feed into performance outcomes.

Our first lever arm is balanced between leadership and management. In a general sense, businesses tend to focus on management. There are a number of reasons for this: 1) Metrics are easier to establish, as they tend to be analytical and based on established benchmarks. 2) There is less risk associated with management – generally, it is the improvement or monitoring of established processes. 3) There is often no pressure to push individuals out of their comfort zones – in many ways, management is about creating conformity or adherence to the pre-established norms.

Leadership is rooted in something different. It isn’t always about change, but the purpose of leadership is to create, rather than maintain. There is a higher level of risk involved, but the outcomes are rooted in: 1) Greater organizational sustainability. 2) Higher employee engagement and investment in organizational mission. 3) Ability to positively adapt to changes in market segments.

As the balance between leadership and management is established, there are two internal elements that act as subsets of each. Control and accountability. These factors are complex and many organizations struggle to find the right levels of each. As a function of human nature, there tends to be a decrease in accountability as control is increased beyond a certain threshold. Similarly, if control is relaxed (up to a certain point), the level of accountability and employee productivity increases substantially. There are obviously extremes on both ends, but there is a range in the middle where these two factors can reach an optimized level.

In an aspirational sense, many organizations seek to self-actualize as leadership / accountable type organizations. But as risk increases, there is a tendency to gravitate back toward the safer, more cautious framework of management and control. But that’s why finding the right balance is important and to acknowledge that these two things are not the same and should not be used interchangeably.

IBM and companies like Tesla are two examples of one extreme and the other. IBM stood as an example of exceptional management for the better part of a century. However, by 1991, the strict adherence to the status quo – managing existing systems without modernizing or adapting to current market conditions – almost caused the company's complete collapse. Company officials chose to be almost exclusively devoted to management and control; low risk, which led to a contraction that was completely avoidable. Apple_welcome-ibm-seriously1

Tesla is just the opposite. As a company, Tesla is built around a singular idea – that they will lead the market by providing a product that will eventually replace the status quo. They chose to lead and that leadership instills a sense of accountability in their employees – there is a social obligation as well as the business one. There is high risk here, as it still remains to be seen if Tesla will be sustainable in the long run.

I've included an image in this blog from an ad that Apple ran to welcome IBM to the PC market, one that they should have, by all measures, been able to dominate. It serves to underscore how damaging an adherence to the status quo can be.

Leadership and management are two different things, but they are both essential to creating a successful organization. In the right doses, control and accountability are also critical elements of success. The key is to find the right recipe of each to produce the desired results and build upon your successes as an organization.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011


 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny


The restaurant industry offers careers, not place holders

If you ever find yourself frustrated in your career or worried about your job prospects, please try to resist uttering the words, “I could always go flip burgers.”

It implies that “burger flipping” aka “the restaurant industry” is a workplace of last resort. We’re not.  In fact, we are an industry loaded with opportunity for advancement, compensation based on performance, and entrepreneurship.

Today, one in ten Iowans work in Iowa’s restaurant industry. That’s 9 percent of the state’s work force (145,400 people).  There are more than 6,000 eating and drinking establishments generating $3.6 billion in annual revenue in Iowa. That doesn’t even take into account the industries built around providing goods and services to restaurants. Think of the financial impact food purveyors, soft drink and alcohol distributors, equipment manufacturers and other restaurant service providers have on the state’s economy.  It’s far reaching and financially significant.  

We’re proud of the fact that people can start out in entry-level positions and end up owners. One in three Iowans found their first job in a restaurant, but more significantly, 80 percent of restaurant owners started in entry-level positions within our industry. We’re one of the few industries where this trajectory of career growth is still possible. And while it’s true you can become an owner without an advanced degree, that’s not the only, or even the preferred path.

Iowa has eight college culinary/restaurant management programs and countless restaurant-focused career tech ed programs in high schools across the state. Just this month, the Iowa Restaurant Association along with DMACC Continuing Education, launched a Hospitality Professional Development Institute for those seeking industry-specific management, human resources and cost control training. Every restaurant in the state is required by law to have a certified food protection manager—a designation that requires a $150 full day course and a standardized exam.

Want sexy? There is an entire cable television network dedicated to our industry and a growing stable of celebrity chefs whom even elementary school children recognize.

We are also champions for diversity. The restaurant industry boasts more minority managers than any other industry and minority ownership figures are also high—particularly at a national level. Over the past several decades, there’s been an 80 percent increase in Hispanic-owned restaurant businesses, a 188 percent increase in African American-owned restaurant businesses, and a 50 percent increase in women-owned restaurants.  Nationally, 50 percent of all restaurant owners are women.  In fact, Iowa’s restaurant industry may well be the key to moving our state out of the basement of female-owned businesses (we currently rank 50th in the nation.)

I was recently discussing the perception that those of us in the restaurant industry “ended up here” versus “chose to be here” with a young man with an economics degree who left his traditional office job to return to a downtown Des Moines restaurant in a management role.

He explained to me, “I look out the window and think ‘I’m still doing all of the same business-focused work I did when I was stuck at a desk in one of those office buildings, but now I get to feed and entertain 300 people every day too.’ I like that.”

Most of us like it and we’re proud to be here.

So perhaps if you actually are frustrated with your career or worried about your job prospects, you should choose to join us—we’re not a place holder industry—we’re a world of opportunity.

--Jessica Dunker Career Fair Logo with Date and Location

Should you offer incentives for referrals?

- Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals

Referrals are nothing new. People have been making recommendations to their friends and family since the Ice Age. In fact, in the olden days, word-of-mouth was the primary way of discovering new products and services. Back then the village carpenter, of sorts, would likely ask Captain Caveman if he had any Neanderthal buddies in need of a new club. He had to make a living, after all.

Fast forward to the 21st century (thank God) and, until recently, referral strategies hadn’t evolved a whole lot. In most cases, a proactive approach to obtaining referrals consisted of asking a client for the names of a couple of friends or family members. Over time, new strategies were developed aimed at leveraging existing clients to acquire new business. These methods were mostly a consequence of changing technology which influenced the way we communicate. As these strategies became more popular they were encapsulated by a single term: referral marketing.

Gas referralReferral marketing became popular with the success of incentive-based programs whose proliferation was greatly influenced by the internet. A prime example is the file-hosting company Dropbox that realized massive growth after introducing a program that rewarded its members for referring their friends. Due to their success, Dropbox became the poster child for referral marketing and, on that account, incentive-based programs were the new gold standard.

It wasn’t long before companies followed suit and started incentive-based referral programs of their own. This strategy worked well for some businesses, and flopped for others. This left many befuddled and raised the question: why were incentive-based programs proving to be hit or miss?

It turns out that incentive-based programs are more successful for companies offering products and services where personal relationships with clients aren’t paramount. On the other hand, for those companies that value business-client relationships, monetary incentives actually backfired.

This is because offering rewards for referrals is the quickest way to convert relationships once founded on trust into those that orbit money. Offering $10 gas card, for example, places a monetary value on the referral. This confirms that the business craves referrals simply because they convert to revenue.

Sociologists call this a shift from social to market norms. From ‘What can I do for you’ to ‘What can I give you’.

Remember, in relationship-focused industries, one of the most powerful reasons people refer is to help their friends and family – not for ten bucks. As soon as a monetary reward for new business is introduced into the equation (being your relationship) your client will feel like you are after their friends and family for a fatter bottom line, not necessarily because you want to help them.

So, should you offer incentives for referrals? The answer depends on your business model. If you’re a service-based company where client relationships are valuable, then it’s better to hold off. On the other hand, for companies that offer products and services where personal relationships aren’t particularly important, incentives can be an effective way of encouraging clients to spread the word.

How to get people to attend your events


-Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC

Last post we talked about building effective strategy for your events to ensure you see a positive return on investment. This week we address a common fear: what if nobody shows up?

Getting people to attend your event is a part of your overall event strategy and contributes to how effective you are at seeing a positive ROI.  Here are 5 sure-fire ways you can ensure the people you want at your event are there.

  1. Create event attendee profiles:  Start back at the drawing board by truly shedding light on what types of people you want to attend your event. Compile a list of adjectives that describe your perfect attendee. Then allow these adjectives to manifest themselves into specific people. Don’t just throw paint at the wall by inviting everyone. Rather, be laser focused on creating a specific and concise list.  Brainstorm with your team to create a list of your top 100 people you would like to attend and then allow your list to spider web out from there. You should begin profiling your target list of attendees about the same time you begin brainstorming your event objectives to ensure your messaging aligns with the intended audience that will be receiving it.
  2. Send your target group compelling messaging: Now that you have compiled your top 100 list, determine what avenues make the most sense for you to reach them.  Develop captivating and unique marketing materials that you can send their way.  Find ways where you can connect with them personally to share about your event.  The key is to convince folks they MUST be at your event.
  3. Tap into existing networks: Form partnerships with like-minded, non-competing organizations that have an existing network of engaged individuals that you would love to have at your event. Together work out a strategic, mutually beneficial plan to reach those individuals and entice them to attend your event. Provide partners with email templates or copy that they can easily distribute to their networks, saving them oodles of time. 
  4. Send unique invitations: Whatever happened to snail mail? Send out an eye-catching and clever invite that sets your event apart from all other events. Always include a call to action and a teaser of what can be expected on event day.
  5. Create incentive: Promise your attendees that they will be getting something out of your event. Time is money and your attendees will want to know what value is to be gained by attending your event. Provide (3) concise bullet points on why your event is worth attending in your outreach marketing material. 
  6. Build event momentum: Talk about your event a lot and share all the exciting things that will be happening at it. Highlight your speakers, share content teasers, and advertise giveaways. Use your social media outlets to reach your audience. Take advantage of targeted ads to boost your post engagements and make updates frequently to ensure you are at the forefront of your audience's mind. Encourage your in-house staff and early bird attendees to share the event information on their social media, thus increasing your reach. Ask your speakers if they wouldn't mind writing a short blog post to provide a sneak-peak into what they will be sharing. Make it clear that this is the event that is NOT to be missed!

Now it goes without saying that if you go through all this trouble to make sure your attendees show up, you better deliver.  Be innovative, be creative and be original. 

As always, if you’re feeling lost, I am here to help!

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website

Giving positive feedback gets powerful results

- Ying Sa is the founder and principal certified public accountant at Community CPA & Associates, Inc. and a co-founder of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit. 

Any mother would be heartbroken if her 15-year-old son was called sexist at school by his teacher. It might happen without ever being reported to the parent by the child. This is particularly true if the kid's parents are uneducated or do not speak English. 

Labeling young kids with certain unwanted or derogatory terms is unethical and unprofessional. When an educator tells a young kid: you are sexist, or you are a bad influence on the team, or you are weird, it can be like a life sentence. The effect can be permanent. The power of labeling is like black magic; if care is not taken, the child will become the very thing you labeled them to be. 

I was not educated in the United States, so I don't know if derogatory terms are used regularly on students. I would be shocked to learn that it was.    

I was in China when I was 15, and in my high school, I had a math teacher called Ms. Huang. She had this quiet smile on her face and would never raise her voice at us no matter how naughty we were. At that time, I secretly struggled with math. I was kind of a tomboy and I felt that I had to be as good as these boys in math. I would cause drama in the math class that would lead to the boys getting in trouble.

I never made eye contact with Ms. Huang. I always wanted to stay away from her. One day, shortly after a math quiz, Ms. Huang called my name. Immediately, I started sweating profusely. I knew I was in trouble. She said softly: Ying, do you have the answer for me?" I quickly stood and darted my eyes around the room looking for help. The classroom was quiet and everyone was waiting for me to say something. I looked down to my feet and murmured: "Ms. Huang, I did not hear what you asked." In her usual calm voice, she said: "That is all right, Ying, let’s discuss that after the class".

I walked to her office and my legs were shaking. I could not even stand straight. I was very scared, thinking that she might have seen me peeping at Hua’s answers during the test.

In Ms. Huang’s office, students normally sat across the table from her so she could lecture them face-to-face. But she asked me to sit next to her on an empty bench, and without a word, she gently put her hand on my shoulder and said: "Ying, do you know you are very smart?" 

I looked up and shook my head without hesitation. I was not smart and I knew it. Someone told me that girls are never smart with math in high school. She continued "You actually can be very good at math but somehow you told yourself that you are not good at it." The only thing that came to my mind then was "When did I tell myself that?"

But she is right. I did tell myself that. I looked up and stared at the yellow-framed reading glasses on her face… that pair of glasses is imprinted in my memory even today. I love those kinds of frames and my reading glasses have always looked like those.

Ms. Huang held me tighter and said: "Can you stop telling yourself you are not good at math? I will be here for you whenever you need me. You can be a mathematician if you want to. Do you think you can prove to me that I am right?"

For a while, I visited her office often, I revisited all the areas of math that I did not like and later that year I won the Probability Math Contest in our school. As a kid I was just doing things to prove to Ms. Huang that she was right.

Ms. Huang changed my course of life by recognizing the good part of me. She could have labeled me in different terms – a cheater for copying from others, a sexist for creating issues with boys in class because they are better at math. She knew I was not perfect and she cared about me anyway. I loved her back by proving to her that I was worth her time and attention. Before I left China, I visited her at her home for the last time. She hugged me and said: "I always knew you would be wonderful."

Ms. Huang is the educator who lifted up a 15-year-old and put her on the right path to grow. Thirty years later, I finally can adequately articulate her impact on my life. It became apparent to me especially when I came to know kids being labeled this way in our system.

I am fortunate that someone labeled me in such positive way when I was in the stage of learning myself. Give children time to learn about themselves and do not label them so quickly and so irresponsibly.

Be like Ms. Huang.


What are the must-have features for my website?

- Alex Karei, marketing director for Webspec Design, blogs about web strategy.

For such an easy question, there must be an easy answer, right?

  1. About Page
  2. Staff Gallery
  3. Shopping Cart

Wait … you don’t sell your product online? Okay, then:

  1. About Page
  2. Staff Gallery
  3. Contact Form

Oh, shoot - you have a team of two people. Maybe a Staff Gallery doesn’t make sense anymore?

Round, and round, and round we go. The truth is, “what are the must-have features” really isn’t the right question to ask. The content on your website is heavily reliant on two things: one, the audience, and two, the goals you have for your website. So in essence, the “must have features” are going to be influenced by the answers to two questions.

Who’s your target audience?

You must take your audience into consideration when you develop your website; if not, you might be providing content written for the wrong people. Even worse, you might be providing the wrong content entirely. In an ideal world, you will know basic demographic information and the goals of your target audience. Then, you can deliver the content they want to see, how they want to see it.

Think of it this way. If you have a website about a summer camp for elementary school children - and you write it to that audience, you're missing out. Why? Because the parent is the one that is making that purchasing decision. They want to know different things than the child would want to know, and the reading level will be quite different. 

What are your website goals?

I’m not talking about the overall traffic you want to see. Everyone wants people to get to their website. What I want to know is, when people arrive, what would you like them to do?

If you can’t think of anything, think of it this way: why do you have a website in the first place? Examples of potential goals would be lead generation (this could be forms completed), purchases made, or event registrations. It might even be the knowledge that your users are getting three or four pages deep into your site, if you're providing purely educational content. Are they working their way through your content, or dropping off of the home page?

Once you have the answers to these two questions, you’ll be well on your way to identifying the “must have” features for your website. Those features will serve a greater purpose because they are there for a reason. And, hopefully, they will help your business or organization grow as a result.

Alex Karei_124Alex is the marketing director for Webspec Design, a website design and development and digital marketing agency in Urbandale. Connect with her on:


A tale of two clients

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

Our group recently did a small, focused survey of customers for one business unit of a larger local company. The results revealed impressive levels of satisfaction with our client's service.

There were, nevertheless, a few key areas of opportunity unearthed by the data. I was sure that the client would be eager to tout the good results within their organization, but I was impressed to see that the client's first action was to organize a brainstorming session to figure out how they could improve. In the session they included team members, key players from the larger corporation, and a few customers themselves. It was truly the spirit of continuous improvement. They were happy to tout the good results, but they were more concerned with leveraging the data to push customer satisfaction even higher.

Contrast this story with another client company we worked with some time ago. A survey of their customers revealed good (but not great) levels of satisfaction with some glaring areas of dissatisfaction. Our subsequent assessment of calls between sales agents and customers revealed clear examples of exactly why customers were dissatisfied. The data provided our client with a very clear and detailed blueprint for turning things around. Some targeted training and coaching in specific sales and service skills would address areas of customer dissatisfaction and lead to improved performance, sales, and CSAT. The client, however, received the data with immediate denial ("this can't be right"), then embarrassment ("this is going to make me look bad"), and finally rejection as they buried the report which was never presented to anyone else in the organization.

One of the things I love most about my job is the opportunity to work with many different companies in different markets and industries. I have learned so many great lessons about life and business simply from observing clients on a daily basis. I have come to learn that the most successful companies not only pay lip service to continuous improvement but also exemplify it in the way they operate each and every day. By contrast, I've learned that many companies operate far below their ultimate potential because of an internal culture of fear. I've also observed that both of these contrasting corporate cultures seem representative of the attitudes that flow directly from the executive suite (but, that's another blog post for another day).

Why not make 2016 the year you do something with that data, customer feedback, survey results, and/or QA report? Numbers in a binder on the shelf, on your hard drive archive, or in the trash will profit you little. Leverage them, use them, and do something positive to move the needle on sales, service, and satisfaction!

Social customer service matters

- Katie Patterson is the CEO | Founder at Happy Medium.

Social media is often blamed for the end of interpersonal relationships. It’s too easy for us to stay online and away from each other. I was not particularly shocked to read about a study that found that regardless of how many Facebook “friends” you have, you can only really rely on 4 actual friends during tough times. When friendship is boiled down to clicking on a request, and some people can’t even be bothered to do that, what does that mean for the state of friendship?

At Happy Medium, we tend to be optimists. Yes, social media has the capacity to separate us from each other but it also has the ability to create more meaningful connections and the smart brands using social understand this.

An interesting post came across my Facebook feed a few days ago. A friend (both online and IRL) posted that she received a call from the surgeon who was going to operate on her knee, asking if she had any questions or concerns. She was impressed that the surgeon himself, not a staff member, took the time to call and make sure she was feeling confident about her upcoming operation.

That’s good customer service. And, because we live in a world where we don’t expect that, not only did the surgeon impress his patient, he probably impressed a number of people who saw my friend’s genuine post. So now, because of social media, that good deed committed by the doctor becomes a walking billboard for his brand of compassion and care. That’s a prescription any business could use.

As individuals, we may only have four friends we can count on, but businesses have to count on a lot more to feed their bottom line so they can ill-afford to mistreat their online acquaintances. And yet, time and again, brands forget basic customer service when it comes to social. 80% of the top 500 retailers ignore questions sent to them via Twitter and only a little more than half respond on Facebook. And the average response is longer than a day. Try sending my company a request that might turn into money and see if you don’t hear from us for a full day. If that happens, it’s the zombie apocalypse and you should find a place to hole up for awhile.

The story about my friend’s surgery proves that social media can be a tool in an overall customer service strategy. I’ll bet that surgeon didn’t call my friend expecting a laudatory Facebook post but he understands that good customer services results in happy customers and happy customers are apt to share their happiness. And just as you wouldn’t ignore a customer who called you on the phone or walked into your shop, you can’t simply avoid conversations online.

Luckily, just as platforms are making it easier to buy products through social, they are making it easier for brands to interact with their customers.

Facebook has launched a beta version of Messenger Business, a modification of their popular Messenger app (800 million users and counting) that allows real-time conversations between customers and businesses.

Twitter has dropped its “mutual follow” rule for direct messages, meaning that brands can reach out to customers directly, even if they don’t follow each other. And those direct messages don’t come with a character limit. We’ll see if brands use these new tools to improve their miserable online customer service numbers but for now, there’s a tremendous opportunity to be ahead of your competitors.

And who knows, when you do something good in real life, you might just find an extra bump for yourself online. People don’t always value their online friends, but brands can’t afford not to.

Katie Patterson is the CEO | Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter - @_klpatterson

Hungry for a little innovation?

- Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Innovation is critical to growing our businesses and our economy.  You can't market something if it doesn't solve a problem or meet a need.  And if what you sell is a commodity and lacks innovation -- all you can do is sell on price.

Innovation is so vital to our future that the White House created/updated the Strategy for American Innovation calling for and working towards making our entire country more innovative.

All of that is dandy -- but how do local business owners and leaders infuse innovation into their organizations?  

As we've seen over the past few weeks with the Iowa Caucuses, living in Central Iowa comes with some unique opportunities. Fortunately -- there's one coming up that I think should be on everyone's radar screen.

ciWeek/Celebrate! Innovation™ Week is Feb. 29 – March 4 and provides students and Central Iowans an opportunity to engage with people (some famous, all inspired) who have dreamed, created and accomplished.  It's absolutely free, thanks to the sponsors and is an amazing collection of speakers, experts and innovators. (Check out the presenters here)


It’s a thought-provoking and interactive week hosted each year at DMACC’s West Des Moines Campus, where students of all ages listen, absorb and engage. It’s a local cross between TED Talks and the famous SXSW event held each year in Austin, Texas.

Previous ciWeek presenters have included:
• Two of the 12 men who walked on the moon
• The man considered the father of the personal computer
• Television personalities who focus on science, invention and ideas
• Explorers who have been to the depths of the ocean and the highest mountain peaks
• Engineers developing the growing commercial space industry
• Inventors of incredible animatronics and robotics
• Academy Award-winning visual effects creators and animators

The week-long event focuses on inspiration, which is the drive behind creativity. We see how inspiration impacted the lives of these speakers and how it compelled them to greatness. Their stories are fascinating and have application to all.

Check out the website and see how you and your organization can take advantage of this Central Iowa gem and infuse a little innovation into your organization.

Travel, business, leadership, life: What's your quest?

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

I can't imagine a better time to write about The Happiness of Pursuit than early in a new year. If you want to think bigger and challenge yourself in a meaningful way, the examples, ideas, and inspiration found in Chris Guillebeau's latest book will prompt you into action. 

Happiness of Pursuit book - GuillebeauThis book focuses on one thing: quests. Not just traditional goals or good ideas, but epic projects that require focus and purposeful intensity in order to fulfill them. Rather extraordinary in scope and often several years in duration, I relate them to what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras refer to in their book Built To Last as BHAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Goals - that can be established in any area of work, leadership, or life.

The quest begins with a dream because, as Guillebeau writes in the prologue, "If you want to achieve the unimaginable, you start by imagining it." The quest presents a challenge, requires sacrifice, and leaves you a better person than when you started. The adventure changes you and brings meaning and fulfillment along the way.

Guillebeau begins by explaining his own quest: to visit all 193 countries before turning 35. He shares his experience throughout much of the book as well as highlighting others' inspiring quests, such as:

  • Circumnavigate the globe, solo, in a small sailboat.
  • Take, process, and edit one million photos.
  • Produce the world's largest symphony.
  • Refrain from talking for a period of time (which turned out to be 17 years).
  • Read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica in one year.
  • Give $10/day, every day for a year, to a different charity.

That's just for starters.

Big. Bold. Time- and energy-consuming. Perhaps a little nuts, right? Guillebeau does a nice job addressing all of these components in the book. He emphasizes how your quest must come from the heart; it isn't about impressing others, and in fact others may question, or even poke fun at, your quest. "Not everyone needs to believe in your dream," Guillebeau wisely states, "but you do."

I read with particular appreciation his ideas around fear. I have found in my coaching practice that many people hesitate to dream big or set bold goals because of fear - often the fear of not achieving them. I continually emphasize it's not as much about achieving the goal, quest, or dream as it is about who you become in the process: What you learn, how you grow, the transformation you experience. Guillebeau adds, "You deal with fear not by pretending it doesn't exist, but by refusing to give it decision-making authority."

Your quest may come from a variety of sources: the idea floating around since childhood, the more recent thought that just will not let go, the thing that breaks your heart. Oftentimes, your quest will essentially find you rather than the other way around; you'll know it when it strikes. And it will certainly evolve as you go.

This book is a particularly good read if you are:

  • in a rut and need a burst of inspiration;
  • ready to think bigger and bolder;
  • feeling an inkling for "something more;" or 
  • need a kick in the pants of any sort!

To be fair, I live in this space of big dreams and bold goals that Guillebeau writes about, so I am a bit biased. I believe everyone can benefit from creating some of these big, exciting projects in their work and life. They provide a sense of ongoing excitement and unusual focus. They allow you to get jazzed about something in the future while savoring and acting in the present moment. They help you prove to yourself that you are capable of what you set out to do.

On top of that, little compares to the feeling that comes with embarking on a significant, thrilling, not-fully-certain challenge - and achieving it.

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI'S CHALLENGE:

Whether or not you feel ready to take on a quest just yet, there's one activity sure to get your creative-dreamer juices flowing: Start your Life List (a.k.a., bucket list). What would you LOVE to do, try, experience, see, or create if time and money were in unlimited supply? Personally and professionally, solo and with others, self-focused and other-focused...what comes to mind (and more importantly, to heart)? 

Start writing those ideas down. Not in to-do list fashion, just as a fun Life List that you can add to whenever an idea arises. I have currently challenged the ASPIRE Success Club members to come up with 101 items for their lists, and I encourage you to do the same. Not only will this spark your creativity and open your sense of possibility, it will provide clues to your passions and purpose as well.

And who knows? You might just decide to turn one of those ideas into your next quest!

Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches leaders, executives, and meaningful achievers to succeed and make a difference in work they love! Learn more at, on Facebook at, and via Twitter at

Guillebeau, Chris. The Happiness Of Pursuit. Harmony, 2014. 

Iowa's next economic frontier

 - Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor.

Fifty thousand jobs.

That’s what is projected to be created nationally in the biorenewable chemicals industry within the next five years, BiochemFullReport_title_pageaccording to “Bio-Based Chemicals: The Iowa Opportunity”, a new report commissioned by the Cultivation Corridor with support from the Iowa Biotechnology Association released earlier this month.  What’s more, the paper argues a significant segment of those jobs could be created right here in Iowa. But they don’t have to be.   Back to that in a minute.

The paper was researched and written by Dr. Dermot Hayes, the Pioneer Hi-Bred International Chair in Agribusiness, professor of economics and professor of finance at Iowa State University; Dr. Brent Shanks, an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering and the Steffenson Chair in Chemical and Biological Engineering at ISU; and Dr. Jill Euken, deputy director of the Bioeconomy Institute at ISU.

The report’s findings are striking.  Thanks to the rich supply of Iowa biomass suitable as feedstock for biorenewable chemical production, access to a foundational network of over 50 ethanol and biodiesel production facilities across the state, and nascent biorenewable chemical investment opportunities before us today, Iowa is better-positioned than most domestic competitors to capitalize on the next frontier of bioprocessing in the United States.

Despite Iowa’s obviously discernable advantages in the budding biochem space, however, the Hayes report suggests that the absence of a statewide economic development incentive tailored to address the unique needs of this budding industry stands as a serious impediment to the state’s potential to emerge as a center of gravity for biorenewable chemical investment and job creation in the coming years. The report reminds that the last bioeconomic boom Iowa saw- that of the ethanol industry - did not have to happen here and suggests that it was targeted state incentives which are directly attributable to the decision to choose Iowa over other Midwest states by more than one-third of the ethanol industry. The same dynamic, the report suggests, exists today relative to the biorenewable chemical industry. 

About nine months ago, I blogged about the tremendous opportunity seen in a coming transition from petroleum-based feedstocks to bio-based feedstocks for some of the world’s highest-value chemicals [Why Iowa needs to think like an oil company; May 27, 2015] and how important it was that Iowa leverage its virtually unmatched domestic competitive position to become the destination of choice for biochemical investment in the same way we became the preferred choice for biofuels investment.  I wrote the piece as the Iowa Legislature was debating a proposal to create an economic development tax credit to help entice the industry to choose Iowa, just as we did as a state more than a decade ago to entice biofuels investment. The measure failed [for a quick analysis of what happened, click here and scroll halfway down].

Part of the urgency I suggested we had as a state in 2015 to be a first mover was the fact that other states had begun talking about creating their own biorenewable chemical economic development legislation, and it behooved Iowa to be the first. With the legislature’s failure to act in 2015, the first mover window closed; Minnesota passed the nation’s first biochem legislation last year. Despite that, the 86th Iowa General Assembly has an opportunity before it in 2016 to enact what would be the country’s strongest economic development incentive to help grow the biorenewable chemical industry here, where it belongs.

What’s different this year than last? Thanks to the Hayes report, we’ve got the data to support the assertion that the biochemical industry holds exceptional promise for job creation in our state, much as the biofuels industry did and continues to do.  Among the report’s findings:

  • First-generation biofuels have been important economic drivers for the state of Iowa. Ethanol production alone in Iowa accounts for $2.23 billion per year in state GDP and supports more than 8,693 jobs. However, due to a new Renewable Fuel Standard which rolls back ethanol blend requirements to pre-2007 levels and ongoing feedstock limitations for biodiesel, alternative value-added bioproducts are critical to the future growth of the biomanufacturing industry in Iowa. 
  • Project opportunity exists today. At least five potential bio-based chemical production projects were identified through an industry interview process to as part of the report.  Representatives of each project indicated a biorenewable chemical production tax credit would be fundamental to the ultimate location decision in or outside Iowa.
  • Iowa has competitive advantages in several subfields of the emerging biorenewable chemicals industry. This advantage arises from
    • The availability of byproducts such as glycerin and distillers oils from first-generation biofuels facilities
    • The existence of several underutilized wet mills in Iowa, or close to Iowa
    • The fact that first-generation biofuels can themselves be upgraded into higher valued chemicals.
  • Iowa’s research and technological infrastructure in biorenewable chemicals and materials is second to none. The National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) led by ISU is the only competitively awarded federal research center solely dedicated to the development of biobased chemicals. Key capital infrastructure needed for biobased chemical development exists at ISU through the BioCentury Research Farm and the Bioeconomy Institute and the University of Iowa through the Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing (CBB). The collective capabilities of these entities for enabling biobased chemicals exceeds those available in any other states.
  • The global petrochemical industry developed in clusters of close proximity to feedstock sources: oil refineries. The bio-based chemicals industry will develop in a similar manner - the economics of agglomeration suggests that industrial biomanufacturing clusters will develop from established biomanufacturing sites rather than from new green field sites. Iowa has more deployed biomanufacturing capital assets than any other state. 

What now, you say?  Read the report [or at least the executive summary]. Contact your legislator. Let him or her know how important it is that we not let another year go by without enacting the biorenewable chemical tax credit.

Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor.  Contact him:

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: / @brent_willett /

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