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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me recap the dots I connected:

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

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

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

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

Thank you to all parties involved.

Faster Horses: how to solve the right problems through innovation

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let's keep the conversation going: 


Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason



The great steffano


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

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

How do your values impact your leadership?

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


Muzyka - Life By CupGeneral Norman Schwarzkopf once famously described leadership as a “potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”

Strategy is often clear-cut: you inspire a vision, create goals, and execute the necessary tasks. You have a clear measuring stick and, while life and leadership are rarely black-and-white, you have a map with guideposts along the way.

Character, however, isn’t always so well-defined. Our values play a huge role and, if unidentified, you may often find yourself waffling, spinning your wheels, and making inconsistent decisions. On the flip side, clear values lead to clear actions – and powerful leadership.

Zhena Muzyka, founder of Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, seemed to know this early. As she vividly shares in her 2014 book Life By The Cup, she began her business out of necessity: a single mother to an infant son with medical issues, she needed a way to pay for his healthcare. She blended her passion for tea, her desire to care for her family, and her core values to form an enterprise.

Zhena experienced lean days familiar to many entrepreneurs. During those times, opportunities arose that perhaps would have significantly increased her revenue and business stature, but would also prove a slippery slope with regard to her values. Time and time again Zhena chose in favor of her values, and now her business – as well as her integrity – thrive.

This book holds many insightful tips for the purposeful professional, including:

Reach out. So many of us “go it alone” or feel that as smart, capable people we should be able to figure everything out. I love that Zhena never pretended to have all the answers, or even most of the answers, but she held her vision high and reached out to others who did. “When we learn to ask for help,” she reminds us, “we allow others to participate in our life and invest in the relationship.” Rather than thinking of asking for help as a burden, we can actually view it as a gift.

Work with purpose. Zhena’s work is an obvious extension of her values and an expression of her purpose. She never waffled on those values, even when it would have been lucrative to do so. She also didn’t get “lost in the weeds” of the day-to-day tasks: “There is no higher purpose or honor in anyone’s life,” Muzyka writes, “than to serve and nourish others. May your days be filled with this knowing.”

Show up. As somewhat of an accidental entrepreneur myself, I can second Zhena’s suggestion that a big percentage of success is just showing up. Planning plays an important role, but at some point we need to dive in. Attend the meeting. Write the draft. Do the work rather than ruminate and overthink. One of my favorite lines in the entire book: “I was moving so fast that fear couldn’t catch me.”

This book unexpectedly snuck into my pile late last year and turned out to be one of my favorites of 2014. I am a full-fledged coffee lover but was even inspired in the beverage arena: I consumed more tea while reading Life By The Cup than the entire year prior! For a heartfelt glimpse into purposeful entrepreneurship, values-based leadership, and succeeding in meaningful work, grab a cup of tea and this book. You won’t be disappointed.


What are your 3 core values? If you cannot easily answer this question, conduct a values clarification. One route: Review a large list of values, highlighting those that matter most to you. Continue paring down until you’ve identified the three that resonate deeply with your core and that imbue your decisions, actions, and choices. Values clarification isn’t necessarily easy, but knowing those values makes decision-making (and nearly everything else) much easier.


Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotWhat is one of your core values? How does it impact your leadership or business? Share your comments below!

Dr. Christi Hegstad develops strong, confident leaders who make a meaningful difference at work and in life. Learn more about her coaching work at, on Facebook  at, and via Twitter at

Life By The Cup: Ingredients for a Purpose-Filled Life of Bottomless Happiness and Limitless Success by Zhena Muzyka (Atria Books, 2014) 

Finding value in the value proposition

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

One of the most challenging aspects of becoming successful as an organization is effectively transmitting your value proposition to your target audience. Many organizations expect that consumers will just “get” that what they are selling is valuable. I mean, you think it’s valuable, so how could anyone feel differently?

There are just too many factors in the modern world that makes this simple and pure view of the expected realization of value unrealistic. First, the way products and services are recommended is not the same as it was 30 years ago. The glory days of “Where’s the Beef?” and “Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” are long gone. Modern consumers base their decisions on peer recommendation, due in no small part to the advent of blogs and social media. We are all citizens of the world now, and our decision making process has evolved to reflect that.

I’m going to take apart the basic structure of the value proposition to help define the way each part works together to build a statement or series of statements that provides for a sustainable competitive advantage.

The first question to be answered is “For?” Who is your audience? Do you fully understand the marketplace? What are the barriers to entry? Rigor should be invoked here – you need to make sure you have provided as much alignment as possible between what the market is open to consuming and what you are providing.

Once you have that defined, it’s time to ask the next question – “Who Seek…” What problem are you trying to solve? You have to be able to define what issue you are trying to address. If you’ve defined your audience well, this step should narrow your focus even further. Products or services that are too broad or seek to please everyone, except in rare instances, lack the traction to build marketshare.

This is where the pivot in the process occurs. What are you providing? You’ve defined whom. You’ve defined what. Now it’s your turn to offer the solution. A strong, clear statement indicating what you are trying to address makes the peer-to-peer viral spread of information more viable. Being vague only sends the message that you do not clearly understand what you are trying to accomplish or what the solution you are trying to provide.

But what if someone else has something similar? Using a statement that starts “Unlike Competitors…” signals that you have something new or different. A new solution. A different solution. This is where you really start to illustrate the value of your offering. It also acknowledges that you are aware of the characteristics of existing offerings, which only adds credibility to your statement of value.

The last part of the value proposition is where you affirm that what you are claiming is true by offering substantiating information. Our society is skeptical, and offering an answer to the question “You can believe us because…” is critical to establishing the final part of your argument. In peer-to-peer interactions, this is sometimes the most critical part of the value proposition to be conveyed. Establishing trust with your intended audience gives them the added confidence that you stand behind your value proposition.

If consumers were able to see the immediate value in our offerings, we would have no need to advertise them. Establishing a clear value proposition builds a robust conduit to not only purposefully transmit the value of what we are providing to the consumer, but creates a better understanding of the value of what we are selling as a producer.

Be authentic, be, be authentic!

A couple weeks ago we were fortunate enough to have someone join our team at Rocket Referrals. I would best describe Matthew as pensive, experienced, good at what he does - and moderately quirky. As you might expect from any newcomer to a group, Matthew was recently feeling out our company culture & the image we exhibit to others. Today in particular he asked me how the best way to address a prospect via email would be. In other words, should he be formal - or perhaps use the word “hey”. The answer was simple. Be yourself. Be authentic.

Depositphotos_11105665_xsTrue to form, the next step was for Matthew to start chanting “be authentic, be, be, authentic!” as if he was a high school cheerleader. A cheer which I indubitably joined in on. In fact it was the inspiration this blog post - because as quirky as the situation might be - it highlighted a very important aspect for any business: to be genuine, be yourself, be authentic.

Truth be told, we always know when a business is trying to sneak one by us. Sometimes it is more obvious than others. We can always smell a snake-oil salesman from a mile away and spot deals that are just too good to be true. But the problem runs much deeper than the blatant. What about those newsletters we get that are masked as informational but laced with promotions? How about the email from your car dealership that says he’s just checking in but is really soliciting you for a referral?

Or my personal favorite: when companies change their entire branding, message, or product away from their roots. Remember when Coca cola changed their formula for the first time in 99 years in 1985 to the “new Coke?” A marketing disaster calling for thousands to demand the original product. The same goes for companies trying to fit into trends they don’t belong, or use language that just doesn’t fit who they are. It’s kind of like that father that attends career day for his 4th grade child and turns his hat backwards and spits out terms like “rad” and “the bomb.” Trying too hard to fit in just doesn’t sit right.

On the other hand, being authentic will give substance to your company. It will define who you are and enable others to relate to you. In turn, more people are much more likely to trust you and have a positive outlook on your brand. Likability breeds sales and trust leads to referrals. You may not be the perfect fit for everyone, but being authentic is the only way to truly reach an audience. And when you have a loyal following that trusts you, you begin to create a community around your products and services.

What's your new business plan for today?

FoxHuntDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Most businesses really gear up their sales/new client hunt about the time their biggest client walks out the door. 

There’s a dangerous place for any business.  It’s called – just fine. That sense of complacency when things are good can lull a business leader into thinking that the “just fine” that exists today is a permanent condition. 

Which of course, it is not.

One of the fallouts from the recession is that decision makers (whether it’s a mom or a procurement officer) are saying yes much more slowly. We exist in a tentative world right now. Whatever your normal sales cycle – you’re probably experiencing at least a 25-40% delay in closing the deal.  All the more reason for every business out there to be trying to front load the sales funnel long before their sales start to slip. 

I can hear you now – but we network like crazy and we get lots of referrals.  All of that is great. And you should keep doing it. But it won’t be enough.  Most businesses grossly underestimate what it actually takes to get a client.

Sales and marketing are numbers games. But most businesses never bother to run the numbers. You need to understand your own sales cycle. How many presentations or inquiries do you need to move people to being a hot prospect?  What is your close rate?  How many months does it take to move someone from interesting to the point of purchase?

It will matter if your product or service is $10 or $10,000. Another factor would be the longevity of your product. Do I need one every week or every decade? Do you sell a niche product? Are you the market leader?

Regardless of the variables – I’m hoping the point hasn’t been lost. Even if the above equation isn’t precise, it does illustrate that you need to be chasing new business every day.

Even on the days you don’t need it.  That’s the only way it will be there on the days that you do.

When service goes wrong

The scene is familiar. A group of passengers is milling around the airport boarding gate awaiting word on the status of their delayed flight. 

It is said that your customers measure you, not by how they are treated when things go smoothly, but by how they are treated when problems with your product or service arise.  It is in these moments that the customer decides who they will flatter with their future business. 

We were looking forward to our holiday as we boarded the airplane. We were delighted to find that the 767 had been equipped with new, more comfortable seats. The usual boarding and safety drills ensued.

Then came the announcement from the cockpit. The co-pilot had not arrived. 

Federal Aviation guidelines prohibit a pilot from flying alone. Calls had been made to the co-pilot’s home. He could not be located. This was uncharacteristic. The staff was concerned for his safety. 

We waited. 

It was later we learned that the co-pilot had called in three days earlier to book the day off. Someone had failed to replace him on the schedule.  It was Los Angeles on New Year’s Day. We surmised the co-pilot was at the Rose Bowl.

We disembarked.

Three hours later we re-boarded the flight. We were finally on our way. We asked several crew members “what happened?” 

Following are the responses. Imagine you are a senior leader in this organization.  Two of your company’s values are honesty and customer service.  How does the customer experience measure up?


Flight attendant with cabin crew

1. “A new crew had to be called in. We’re doing the best we can.”

2. “I know exactly what happened. We had to take a 35% pay cut and everybody is calling in sick in protest. I was called at 11:00 a.m. to be here for a 2:00 p.m. flight. I’ve worked every holiday this year”.

3. “On behalf of all of us at the airline, I apologize for this unbelievable situation. We know this is an inconvenience for you. I’ve worked for this airline for 24 years and have never seen a scheduling oversight like this. We are embarrassed and appreciate your patience.  We will get you to your destination as soon as possible”. 

All three responses passed the honesty test. However, handling customer communications during a difficult time requires more than just an honest answer. It also requires:

  • Discretion. While you must be 100 percent truthful (customers do not tolerate dishonesty) you do not have to be 100 percent open. Your principal tactical challenge as a leader is to determine how open you should be and train your staff in discretion. The reputation of the organization is entrusted to the individuals who communicate with your customers.
  • Expressing compassion. While challenging, it is important to address the issue from the viewpoint of the customer - not your company and not yourself. That is the viewpoint they will be listening from.

Three honest answers. The differences related to discretion and compassion. Response (1) was impersonal and defensive. (2) revealed troubling morale issues. Only (3) began to address the issue from the customer’s viewpoint. 

Customer service is high on the list of key differentiators and competitive advantage for organizations—including this airline.

Sadly, this uncommon skill is too often left to chance. The good news is the skills of good customer communication are learned and can be taught.

Don’t get ready, get started: how innovation initiatives can get a jolt in 2015

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

Startup stock photo 3 color

Many companies are wrapping up strategic conversations for 2015 and many are discussing how innovation will be a key initiative for their growth. But what’s that first step for the organization?

Adapting the culture for innovation. Change is really, really hard. Making it a cultural staple is tough too. 

To kickoff corporate innovation is either a beginning or a continuation of previous efforts. All companies were once startups and have that innovative spirit somewhere in their DNA. 

The most important thing in this world is creating value. It doesn't matter if someone leaves a company to create a startup or teams build something internally. The most important thing is to make sure you're solving a problem and that value is created from it for others to benefit from. 

In order to allow for innovation to infiltrate and actually work inside an organization, the culture has to adapt and has to be willing to embrace experimentation and shift some focus on priorities both from the company standpoint and the employee standpoint. Again, this is hard.

Corporate entrepreneurs (intrapreneurs) have an extremely unique opportunity to steer the massive ship from monotony to tackling new,really big opportunities with the tremendous resources that a large organization already has. 

But sometimes the biggest roadblock is the company getting out of its own way so that corporate entrepreneurs can shake the world up in ways that startups don't have the resources for and that existing executives don't have the to recognize. 

The day-to-day will always cannibalize innovation efforts. Fires rise in all of our organizations, but having at least a few team members staying laser focused on new initiatives is key. 

To make sure the initiatives are fruitful, action has to happen. This can be the tiniest of things.

Here are a few ideas:  

-Create a landing page to test new initiatives.

-Talk to existing customers about some opportunities that are being explored. I promise that the touch point of pro-actively looking to meet their needs will be well received. 

-Run a pitch competition internally to showcase the innovative ideas employees across the organization have. Commit to implementing at least one. 

Whatever path your teams choose, take the bold steps in conquering new initiatives. Remember: don't get ready, get started. 


Let's keep the conversation going: 


Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason



The litigation, arbitration, mediation consideration

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law PGP_1038

Determining how to resolve a business dispute is an important consideration for any business. For instance, will the business litigate the dispute in open court, before a judge at the local courthouse? Or, will the business prefer to resolve its dispute through alternative dispute resolution (ADR), behind closed doors, before a carefully selected arbitrator or mediator?

The answers to these and other questions can substantially impact the outcome of the dispute, including the cost, confidentiality, and time required to resolve the dispute. ADR provides businesses with various options for resolving disputes.

What is mediation? In general, mediation is a private, non-binding form of dispute resolution. A mediator presides over a mediation proceeding and works to resolve the parties’ dispute by building towards a mutually agreeable outcome. Generally, a mediator will build towards a mutually agreeable outcome by engaging in what is commonly referred to as shuttle diplomacy.

What is arbitration? Arbitration is a second form of dispute resolution that, depending upon the existence of a possible agreement, can either be binding or non-binding. In arbitration, and similar to litigation, parties present their case to an independent third-party. The third-party is referred to as the arbitrator, or in some circumstances, a panel of arbitrators. An arbitrator or panel of arbitrators will hear the case, consider the law, and ultimately render a judgment, much like a judge.

While ADR has several advantages, it is not without disadvantages as well.  In short, businesses and individuals should carefully evaluate all options before setting down the dispute resolution path.

Optimism and Organizations: More than hugs and high fives

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.

A phrase that is relatively new to me is “hugs and high fives.” It was used in the context of someone speaking about how they perceive strategic goal setting within their company. While it’s easy to discount the importance of the softer elements of strategy and the human side of an organization, empathy and providing a support system for employees is a critical element to building a successful, holistic organization.

There are a number of things directly impacted by employee morale, and they have been well documented. What I would like to talk a little about is optimism and how the cycle of accomplishing the tactical actions of your organization are intrinsic to one another.

When I work with different groups, there is a natural tendency to jump to the tactical. Strategy is esoteric and ethereal from a certain perspective – results are what business demands! But to think about how your organization moves to a tactical level to the extent that it is an antiseptic process misses a key part of what strategy is all about. This moves beyond stretch goals – now we are truly talking about how the planning ecosystem functions.

When you set goals, they should be optimistic. They should be realistic, but they should be aspirational. These goals are used to identify objectives and the tactics or means to satisfy these objectives. This process acts as a mechanism for filtering and rigorously “stress testing” your goals. By taking goals and defining objectives from these goals, you are defining a pathway toward successful tactical implementation.

The tactical action plan you define for your objectives will be defined by how dynamic your goals are. This is fundamentally why optimism at this level is important. Let’s track through an example to help illustrate my point:

Goal 1: Increase productivity to 105%.

The above does not reflect optimism - it simply states what you want to do. It may not provide a motivation for employees to work toward the goal. In fact, it may actually make employees feel that the only important factor is the bottom line. This is what I mean by antiseptic. There is no animus embedded. It’s simply what the company wants to do. Good enough? I think we can do better.

Restated Goal 1: Provide an employee incentive program tied to reaching a productivity level 5-10% beyond prior year’s performance.

The above reemphasizes the employee as the beneficiary of the increase in productivity. It also allows a larger range for growth (10% rather than 5%), as the growth is tied to the incentive in a graduated way. Both goals lead to the same objective, an increase in productivity, but have very different starting points. And, from this objective, the different goals will lead to different tactical action plans. These plans can then be referenced back against the original goal and tested for sustainability and effectiveness. It is meant to be an iterative cycle that continually improves itself.

Being empathetic to employees and setting goals with them in mind moves strategy and goals from “hugs and high fives” to true holistic ownership of the organization’s mission. This in turn leads to goals and tactics that cycle into continual institutional investment in greater employee retention, higher engagement in projects and outcomes, and increased productivity.

Holiday lessons for the whole year 'round

Dixie Gallaspie, a St. Louis-based author and business coach, recently wrote for that doing seven things all year round that are normally reserved for the holidays -- think resolutions, for one -- can make businesses and profits grow.

Four of those things really stand out for me: celebrations, gratitude, giving gifts and parties. And, they're well worth adding to your strategies for success on a regular basis as the year goes on.

First, Gallaspie notes that she and her clients use the phrase "Pop the cork" as their cue to pause and celebrate their successes. Celebrating success acknowledges not only the progress that has been made but also the potential ahead, she believes. I couldn't agree more. When you take time to celebrate with your clients and employees on a regular basis, you let them know that you care about them and you forge stronger relationships that can inspire everyone to tackle bigger projects.

Next comes gratitude. Why wait until the holidays to let your clients know how grateful you are to work with them? Enough said.

Third: giving gifts. Dixie Gallaspie hits the nail on the head when she says, "Gifts are sweet any time of the year. In fact, they're even sweeter when they aren't anticipated or expected. You don't have to give big gifts. … It's more than the thought that counts, but it's the thought that counts the most in building meaningful relationships with your referral partners, prospects, employees and friends of the business." It's the little touches that often make the most lasting impressions.

And, finally, parties. It's far too easy for all of us to follow the routine of coming to work, doing our job and going home. Get out of that rut! Have a party every now and then. Invite your clients. Invite prospective clients. Invite your neighboring businesses. Come up with your own list. Just take break out of the old routine this year and make sure your company hosts a party -- or two -- in 2015.

Follow these four tips this year and your business will build closer relationships, be more fun and add to the bottom line.

AIB's lack of transparency harms students and the community

Truth should have been the number one goal of communication to students, employees and the community about the AIB and University of Iowa merger. Unfortunately, it looks like that imperative was violated when the president of AIB announced the deal last week. Saying that the school merger was brought up during a casual conversation last summer was disingenuous at best.

Rumors have been floating around about the financial situation and declining enrollment at AIB for years. The merger with the University of Iowa was a graceful way for the 90-year old AIB to exit "stage left" and not leave a big empty campus behind. Unfortunately, AIB leaders chose not to share the full picture with their constituencies at the school and in the larger community.

Of course, they had students to think about, and the announcement was carefully timed so as not to have a bunch of students bail at the semester break. There were many loose ends - such as the future AIB athletic scholarships - that were poorly communicated. There are other deals in mid-stream as well, such as the AIB-Lincoln high school athletic fields partnership - that is now left hanging without any real resolution. I am disappointed that this renovation may be stopped in its tracks before being completed, leaving Des Moines schools officials holding the bag and students without the fields they were planning on. I hope there was a tightly-worded contract in place so that AIB will be forced to fulfill its end of the deal.

It also seemed as though students found out about many of the details of the takeover in the media. That is unfortunate. As difficult as it might have been to break the news, students are the customers of AIB that really deserved special treatment and over-communication about what was going on. The last thing they deserved was to have the sketchy details of the merger announced in the media. Adding insult to injury, it seems they were also misled on several aspects of their scholarships and athletic careers.

I'm sure that when things shake out the University of Iowa campus will be a wonderful addition to the Des Moines educational community, but that does not help the 300 student athletes with more questions than answers. Just because AIB is a privately-run institution doesn't mean it can conduct its affairs in secret. There are many people and community partners (some of them publicly-funded) to whom AIB owes transparency. And saying that they "want to be as transparent as possible" is not the same as being transparent.

Here are the values listed on AIB's website:

  • Quality education and experiences that encourage and stimulate intellectual and personal growth. 
  • Leadership, teamwork, open communication and lifelong professional development. 
  • A diverse campus community based on respect and integrity. 
  • Ethical and transparent decision-making. 
  • Stewardship of all College resources. 
  • Service to others – locally, nationally and globally. 
  • The health, wellness and safety of our students, faculty and staff.

Kind of rings a little hollow now. As my mother always told me, there is no better time to tell the truth than the present.

Claire Celsi is a communications consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Mind your manners for employee motivation delivers cutting-edge content written by business and thought-leaders.  I am honored to begin sharing my 25-plus years of leadership experience and future-forward thinking to inform and inspire Business Record readers in the area of Employee Engagement.

The 2014 “State of the American Workplace” report by Gallup Research exposes some dismal statistics about employee engagement:

  • 61 percent of Americans received no praise in the workplace last year
  • 70 percent of workers are “emotionally disconnected” from their jobs and not productive
  • The cost of employee disengagement is more than $450 to $550 BILLION per year

This is bad news. American employers are spending billions (that’s with a “B”) on employees who are becoming sick, taking time off, not performing their primary functions when they are on the job or spending time with their friends on social media instead of working. Or worse yet, they are embroiled in lawsuits due to toxic, disengaged employees who created hostile work environments. 

 Gallup defined three key types of employees: 

  • Engaged - Works with passion; Feels a profound connection to the organization. 
  • Not Engaged - Putting in hours instead of energy; Emotionally disconnected;  Unproductive; Checked out. 
  • Actively Disengaged: Miserable at their jobs; Actively undermining coworkers and sabotaging projects.

As business leaders, it is important to ask ourselves which category would the majority of our employees fall into? Engaged? Not Engaged? Actively Disengaged? With so much time, energy and profit at stake, it is important to take an honest look at the people you manage and lead.   

Now for the good news... Employers want engaged employees. And most employees want to be engaged. Business leaders can use common sense and be strategic to move the needle and foster employee engagement in their organizations.  

How do we create a culture of engagement? Create a culture of gratitude. 

One of the simplest ways to motivate and engage employees in any organization is to show appreciation for a job well done. Yes, a good, old-fashioned look-them-in-the-eyes-and-say “Thank you” goes a long way in motivating people to “keep up the good work”.  

In addition to the face-to-face thank you, there are variations to convey gratitude to someone. Which of these strategies might work for you and your employees or co-workers?

A hand-written thank you note or note of recognition - One of my executive coaching clients was proud to share a note that a prominent business leader took the time to write to him. To the client, this was a tangible expression of appreciation that he could look at over and over again. He marveled that the business leader would take the time out of his busy day to write a note. This gesture was very meaningful and motivational. Think about the culture of gratitude you could be creating if you set aside five or ten minutes each day to write thank you notes to those who deserve your appreciation.

Use positive, non-verbal recognition gestures like “thumbs up”- Simple actions such as giving “high fives” recognize others and help spread contagious enthusiasm throughout the workplace. We want all of our employees to want to be at work and to enjoy it.  Contagious enthusiasm makes a workplace a fun and engaging place to spend time in.

The verbal gold star - Many of us grew up receiving gold stars for a job well done.  Psychological researchers state that those behaviors which get rewarded get repeated.  Give out a verbal gold star by telling someone in a sincere way how PROUD you are to work with them, to be their supervisor, for their creative idea, etc. The verbal gold star is an easy way to reinforce those wanted behaviors on your team. 

Let’s take the first step to show our appreciation to others and turn these dismal statistics around. Who will you say “thank you” to today?

Cause marketing converges on the Super Bowl

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

Like every year, there was a lot of hype leading up to the Super Bowl, specifically around which brand would have the best ad. This year advertisers paid the starting rate of $4 million dollars. You read that right—$4 million for 30 seconds for 100 million eyeballs to see a commercial! And it goes up from there. A 60-second spot went for $8 million, which doesn’t even include production costs!

Studies have shown that 50 percent of the audience tunes in to the game solely for the ads. Talk about a captive audience! This year we saw an interesting shift in the ads as many brands focused on cause related marketing. One of my favorites this year was Always’ #LikeAGirl ad working to break the stereotypes of women. According to Adobe, the #LikeAGirl ad had the highest volume of mentions on social media, as well as the largest positive sentiment, with 84% of mentions focused on feelings like admiration and joy.

Because so many people watch the game for the commercials, it can be one of the best places for brands to invest marketing dollars because they know people are actually going to watch the ad, and if done well, they are going to talk about it. On the other hand, they may also talk about it even if not done so well, like the Nationwide commercial.

Social media was abuzz after the soberness of the Nationwide commercial. From a marketing standpoint, it carried a strong message and was well executed—it just didn’t seem like the right placement for the audience during the Big Game when people were looking for something happy and peppy to fit the celebration. Regardless of your thoughts on the ad, Nationwide received a tremendous amount of social media buzz from their ad that has generated awareness, which definitely counts for something!

Coca-Cola also pulled at the heartstrings by starring Robby Novak, known as the Internet’s beloved Kid President, who has Brittle Bone Disease. Their message was to make the Internet a ‘nicer’ place by targeting millennials who like to spend money on brands that are socially responsible. Unlike any other generation, affiliation with a cause is most important to millennials and their habits and buying patterns support this.

All of these brands did a great job sharing their message while integrating what they are passionate about supporting as a brand. In today’s digital world, consumers eagerly share about the causes that matter to them and want to support and purchase from brands that are socially responsible. It’s no longer an expectation—it’s a requirement.

Does a brand’s social responsibility play in to your purchase decisions? What was your favorite Super Bowl ad this year?

Leadership lessons from little red schoolhouses

Little red schoolhouseWhen the first settlers arrived in their communities they built three things, in this order; a home, a schoolhouse and a church.  Apparently education was as important to our ancestors as worship.

Today, education continues to be a top priority.

In Little Red Schoolhouses (interestingly, they were often painted white), pupils ranging in age from 5 to 21 years would study the three R’s plus subjects like art, music, history and geography with the same teacher for their entire academic career. The state-of-the-art technology that equipped the one-room schoolhouses included a bell tower, blackboards, pot-bellied stove, desks and books.

In classrooms today, students of a certain age study under a teacher (or several teachers) for one year at which time they move to the next grade where the process is repeated. The state-of-the-art technology that equips today’s schoolrooms includes individual computing devices, extensive internet access and modern HVAC systems.

Is the quality of education improved thanks to the modern classroom?

Due to the systemization and mechanization of the industrial era, classrooms have been designed around efficiency rather than service.  Students are divvyed up, not based on their subject knowledge, aptitude, progress, or interest but by something not even remotely correlated to success—chronological age.  Students study the same subjects, from the same books, in the same way, at the same pace.  This method sounds a little like a recipe for making a McDonalds’ hamburger.  Unlike hamburgers, people possess potential, creativity and free will—all of which are inhibited in this one-size-fits-all environment.  Any parent of more than one child knows that people learn and develop differently so they must be treated differently.

Are there lessons for business leaders to be gleaned from both models?  We think so. Tero strives for a learner-focused service model of education that combines the best of both worlds. Without doubt, it’s hard work— we believe it’s worth the trouble and we encourage leaders to embrace these lessons in their own workplaces.

Lessons from the Little Red Schoolhouses of the past led us to:

  • Customize learning and ensure small facilitator to participant ratios.
  • Encourage relationship-building and diversity in its workshops.
  • Ensure learning has practical application in the real-world—now!

Lessons from leading-edge fields such as the neuro-sciences led us to:

  • Design programs that are research-based, multi-sensory and kinesthetic.
  • Build a state-of-the-art learning center.
  • Implement evaluation and measurement tools.

The average half-life of knowledge is estimated to be four years. That is the length of time that half of what we learn in a given year will need to be replaced by new knowledge.  In fast-changing industries, the half-life is arguably much shorter.  Said another way, half of the knowledge acquired in year one of a university student’s higher education experience will be irrelevant or need to be replaced by new knowledge before the time they graduate with a four-year degree and enter the workforce.

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, education does not conclude at the end of formal schooling.  Ongoing and continuous learning for leaders and employees alike is an imperative for businesses that intend to remain competitive.  Leaders are wise to consider the championing of learning as an integral part of their job description and couple the lessons of the past with the innovations of the present when considering growth and development opportunities for people.

Why your clients are leaving and how to stop them

When most people hear the term “churn rate” they probably think it is a measure of how quickly an elderly Amish lady whips up old-fashioned butter.

However, in regard to subscription and many service industries, churn rate is the percentage of clients that leave the business within a given time period. Something much less sweet or buttery indeed.

The truth of the matter is that most businesses simply don’t focus on client retention nearly as much as they should. Here’s why:

  • They are laser focused on acquiring new clients
  • They are laser focused on acquiring new clients
  • They believe retention is a natural byproduct of good customer service

I agree: zeroing in on new clients is important for new and mature businesses alike. After all, if you do not bring in new blood the only way to increase commissions is through cross sales. It’s a no brainer. But, if your existing clients are dropping like flies it makes it even more difficult to grow an company and increase profits.

Research shows that, on average, it costs 6 to 7 times more to acquire a new client than retain an existing one.

This is not groundbreaking news for some companies. They have done the math and understand the importance of keeping their clients for the long haul.

In fact, many companies pride themselves on customer service and go above and beyond to convert clients into ambassadors. They have excellent producers and service personnel that genuinely care about their clients.

Why clients are leaving

Preview-microThe truth is, you can care about your clients and give them the best service and price available and still have a high churn rate. This is because, regardless of how much you do care, over time clients start to feel like you don’t genuinely care about them.

In fact, this is by far the number one reason why clients leave. The American Society for Quality references a study which indicates that 68 percent of customers defect through perceived indifference. The next closest reason at 14 percent left because they were dissatisfied with some aspect of the service.

For many businesses this will turn the notion of client retention upside down. Great service only prevents 14 percent of those clients that would defect from doing so.

The perceived indifference that accounts for an astounding 68% of client loyalty is due to the lack of regular meaningful communication from the company.

How to stop the bleeding

1. Send periodic Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys
2. Ask for testimonials
3. Send personalized loyalty cards

NPS Surveys are the quickest and most effective metric to gauge client loyalty. They are excellent at identifying promoters and uncovering detractors. They show clients that the company cares about what they think of them. This survey should be sent to each client every 4-6 months.

Asking for testimonials strengthens the bond between loyal clients and the company. After they make the commitment to promote a business to others it becomes part of their self-image. When asked to further show their commitment (sticking around) they will be far more likely to do so – rather than conflicting with this shared belief and developing a dissonant state.

Loyalty cards are a simple way for businesses to let existing clients know they still care about them. Handwritten and unexpected cards fill the communication void that happens between significant events in the relationship. What better way to eliminate perceived indifference by telling your clients personally that you care about them and thank them for their loyalty?

These three touchpoints go a long way to increasing client retention and are rather easy to implement. Remember that in this game stellar service along is not enough. Your clients need to feel loved or they walk.

Best business book recommendation

I spend a lot of time reading, and often find valuable insight and information that I like to share with leaders within our organization. Jim Collins is one author whom I feel provides thoughtful review and insight on business best practices that are applicable to many audiences. 

Last year, I took the time to read How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. In it, Collins suggests that all organizations are vulnerable to decline, but “great companies can stumble, badly, and recover.” Below are key takeaways that any business leader should keep in mind -- even though it may seem like business and health are two different categories, it's not the case. All leaders should constantly look out for the "wellness" or their organization. 

First, Collins says to consider if the right people are in the right roles, and then work to develop a culture of discipline. This type of culture begins when people understand what, exactly, they are responsible for – which is different than what their job title might say – and ends with a shared vision, set of values or overarching purpose. All of these elements work together, and are critical to longevity and success; however, Collins discovered that successful organizations continue to be susceptible to decline, and will fall and fail without proper attention or preparation.

Next, ask the following questions of your organization:

What do we do ten times better than anyone else?
Successful organizations focus on this relentlessly, without distraction.

What is on our “list”?
Your “list” includes the durable, specific services that you provide which produce replicable results over time. For example, how Southwest Airlines focuses on “low cost.”

What’s our 20-mile march?
Focus on a concrete outcome based on steady performance throughout the years. These goals need to be measurable and acknowledge constraints.

How do you know when to change your “list”?
Successful companies do not change strategy, focus, purpose and value very much over time. Collins notes two big myths related to change: that we must change as much on the inside as we do on the outside, and that winners change all the time – but he claims neither are true. Instead, he offers three levels of change to keep in mind: buzz about change with no substance, questionable change that may subvert something on your list) and actual change that does affect your list.

Do you understand why you were successful in the first place?
Failure results when you don’t.

Are you innovative?
Small tests of change lead to success that can be replicated for scale. Collins warns that failure happens when you don’t test enough and when you don’t learn from previous efforts.

I encourage all business leaders to add How the Mighty Fall to their reading list this year, and keep it on their bookshelf as a point of reference. I know I will.

Fake it 'til you become it

Steering wheel

I recently published a book on networking called The Ties that Bind: Networking with Style. In the first chapter I tell the story of the first networking event I ever attended after taking my job as a payroll sales rep.  The experience was terrifying for me.  No matter how hard I tried, I simply could not bring myself to get out of the car and enter the hosting business. 

Thankfully, a stranger knocked on my car window and coaxed me out of my Taurus. I am confident that without that person inviting me in, I may have never attended that event or started down the journey that has led me to become the person I am today.

I learned two valuable lessons from that encounter. The first, always be kind to others and be willing to offer help. The second, which dawned on me after watching a profound Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy entitled, “Your body language shapes who you are,” is to fake it ‘til you make it or as she states, “fake it ‘til you become it.” [1]  This talk hit me because, as I sat behind my steering whee, I was questioning whether or not I was in the right career. Had I made the right choice? Was I really meant to be in sales? When that stranger knocked on my window I had a choice to make. I was either going to leave and look for another career or I was going to go to that event and fake my way through it. 

Thankfully I decided to go with option B  I faked my way through that first event and for many more events to follow.  Each new event brought about the same fears, the same questioning, and the same anxiety. I kept waiting for someone to call me out, to tell me I didn’t really belong and to see through my ruse. The amazing thing? It never happened, and as time went on I became more comfortable. The networking became easier. I no longer had those feelings and the anxiety almost completely disappeared. I had faked it long enough to become it. 

There are very few “natural networkers” or people who can network without feeling some sort of fear. With time, and some faking in the beginning, it does get easier. Get out of your comfort zone. Fake it ‘til you make it and eventually you will become it. 

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

The proof is in the glasses

Proof glasses 1Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

I have decided my next pair of glasses will be made of maple by a bunch of lumberjacks from Boise! Why? They are sustainable and cool.

Raised in a family lumber business in Utah, three brothers founded Proof in 2011. They loved anything made of wood and why not eye glasses?  Wood, of course, can be replenished rather than the plastic frames of the past. I suppose you could burn them when you were done with them.

The company has taken off because of one simple fact.  Depending on who you want to believe, between 60 and 70 percent of Americans wear glasses. That’s pushing 150 million people.  That’s a big need for glasses.

And the amazing news is the frames cost $100 to $150. I have spent much more for plastic frames in my years of wearing glasses!

Joni Schrup, owner of Discerning Eye Optical in Iowa City is the dealer for Iowa.  She was at a show in New York and visited the Proof booth and was attracted to the idea of wooden glasses. She says “The glasses are selling okay in Iowa. People like the way the glasses look and they are sustainable. And that’s good because eyewear for younger people is on the rise due to viewing phones and tablets all the time.” Proof glasses 2 Proof glasses 3

The idea has blossomed into wood wallets and cigarette lighters.  Maybe purses are next.

I would be happy to know what you think of Proof glasses.  Contact me at

Pushing past procrastination

Rita Perea is President and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates. delivers cutting-edge content written by local business and thought-leaders.  I am honored to begin sharing my 25-plus years of leadership experience and future-forward thinking to inform and inspire IowaBiz readers in the area of Life-Work Balance. 

Being at the top of your game day after day, and living your life to its fullest, requires the development of successful time mastery habits. “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” carries the classic wisdom from a very accomplished Benjamin Franklin. 

As an executive coach and a certified work-life balance specialist, I have had many clients who express a feeling of being overwhelmed with “too much to do and not enough time to do it.”  This feeling of not knowing where to begin can lead to inertia, being weighed down and unable to move. They find themselves in a full-blown habit of procrastination - putting things off until tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day. 

At one time or another we have all fallen prey to the self-sabotaging behavior of putting important tasks aside until “some other time”.   Unfortunately for some who are stuck in the avoidance cycle, another time never magically appears.  This is the opposite of the Nike tag line “Just Do It”.  In our culture winners achieve results and losers just do nothing.  To be self-actualized at work and in our personal lives, we need to overcome the behaviors that shoot us in the foot, often making us feel badly about ourselves. 

The first step in breaking the procrastination habit is to take some spacious, mindful time and list all of your projects, committees and activities in both your professional and personal life.  Put everything that you spend your time doing on the professional or personal list. 

 Once you have looked over your list, the second step is to be honest with yourself.  This can be difficult but it is important. Have you said “yes” to projects or activities that you could have said “No” to and find that you have overcommitted your time?  If so, are there any areas on your list that aren’t aligned with your goals which you could gracefully exit from? Maybe its time to give another person the opportunity to lead a committee or be the PTA president.  This honest appraisal will help you release those things that are stressing you out.  It will also help you reclaim more of your 24-hour day to execute the tasks that you have been putting off.   That will feel so good!

After you have done some self-examination, maybe you have discovered the problem you have is that, honestly, you are just making excuses.  A great technique to break this procrastination habit is to ask your personal coach, or a friend whom you trust, to be your very own “accountability buddy.”  It works like this: you identify the one, two or three tasks, activities or projects that you want to accomplish and when you want to get them completed by. Then, on a set day and time, you report out to the other person about your progress towards your goal.

Not wanting to let the other person down, this technique is a motivator to help you begin to create the “Just Do It” habit.  Research from Brown University has shown that the use of a “weight loss buddy” can help a person lose twice as much weight. Having an accountability buddy is fun and it really works. 

I was having lunch with a friend a few weeks ago and she mentioned that she has been putting off making a doctor’s appointment for the past six months. She was not afraid or concerned about anything, she was just procrastinating.  Unfortunately, she was beating herself up each week for not making the time to make the call. My response was that all too often we procrastinate about our self care, but that really it is one of the most important things to accomplish in our quest for life-work balance. If we don’t make the time to take care of ourselves, who will?  I told my friend that I was going to help her out by being her “accountability buddy.”  I told her that I would  call her the following Friday to have her share with me that she made the call to schedule the appointment.  Her face lit up as she affirmed that this was a great idea and was just the kick in the pants that she needed to take a small action.  

I am happy to report that my friend received a gold star from me that week.  She went above and beyond expectations and scheduled three appointments that she had been procrastinating about.  A bonus is that taking just one small baby step, one micro-action, toward completing an important task feels insanely good. It releases well-being chemicals in our brain. This helps to break the self-defeating cycle and inspires us to want to accomplish more.  

So come on... what are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present to take one small step in the right direction and away from the self-sabotage of procrastination. 


Bad customer data = Bad PR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Just the facts, ma'am'

Benefits and Costs of DARTing Forward 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




Is Iowa’s business tax climate really that bad?

IMG_0605Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company



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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Why some M&A's fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Steve Sink


Professional and Confidential Client Representation

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

SuperBowlXLIXLogoDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best animal Super Bowl commercials

Best animaled Super Bowl commercials

Most memorable Super Bowl commercials

Most expensive Super Bowl commercials

Best Super Bowl commercials of all time

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

Oh yeah...and go Seahawks!

Double Dutch in business: Implementing new initiatives

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

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

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

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

Change is tough unless you become good at change:

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

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

The rope is already moving:

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

The rope doesn’t stop moving:

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

You have to communicate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing:

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


Let's keep the conversation going: 


Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason



What's your "one thing" in 2015?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Learn more about Dr. Christi Hegstad's coaching work at, on Facebook at, and via Twitter at

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

In one ear, out the other


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

1Active Listening: Hear What People are Really Saying.  Retrieved December 28, 2014, from the Mind Tools website:

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

Five ways to communicate your way to success in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to a great, more communicative 2015!

Avoid the "busy" trap

Bill Leaver is president and CEO of UnityPoint Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stretch goals and New Year's resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New legislative session begins Monday

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law   PGP_1038

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy - the understated virtue

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



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

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

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

Together We Will Promote Courtesy - The Understated Virtue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Existing clients aren't chopped liver

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

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

Photo (38)

She was missing the personal touchpoints and recognition she needed.

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

What about the lifetime value of a client?

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

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

Send them handwritten cards.

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

Birthdays and anniversaries are the best times to send them.

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

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

Executive blogging is a key corporate PR strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Have you ever stayed with us before?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 social media resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business exit strategy

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays!

Steve Sink CBI, M&AMI

A New Year's resolution you can keep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This site is intended for informational and conversational purposes, not to provide specific legal, investment, or tax advice.  Articles and opinions posted here are those of the author(s). Links to and from other sites are for informational purposes and are not an endorsement by this site’s sponsor.