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April 2009

Go Lean and Eliminate Waste… It’s Healthy!

We’ve got Earth Day, green initiatives and extensive recycling programs to help people reduce waste and save the environment. Every effort makes a difference, helping to revitalize neighborhoods, parks and entire communities.

For years, health-care executives and business leaders have followed this same mindset using Lean thinking to discover – and remove – inefficiencies. Lean is a decades-old philosophy to improve quality by eliminating waste and creating customer satisfaction.

Lean has tools and techniques to analyze efforts, identify and eliminate bottlenecks or redundancies and create smooth process flow. Examples from the medical community include everything from admitting patients to filing papers or providing lab results.

7442311-800x533_trashWhen the Toyota Production System (the forerunner of Lean) was developed, its plant manager listed what he called the “seven forms of waste.” I encourage you to review these wasteful activities and seek ways to streamline your business systems:

  1. Waiting – time spent waiting for service, information or materials. Any time employees or customers spend waiting is considered waste.

  2. Unnecessary motion – any motion that does not add value to the service or product. Examples include frequent trips to a distant supply area or people who work together but are located in different parts of the building.

  3. Moving items – excess transporting of information or material by cart, mail or foot travel. Storage areas may have to be rearranged every time a new batch of supplies arrives or excess equipment may have to be moved when a room is needed.

  4. Fixing defects – time spent reworking or repairing material or information.  This may show up as paperwork errors, billing errors or other mistakes.

  5. Making too much – producing more information or product than the customer requires.  Examples include extra materials that go unused or gathering information that is never utilized.

  6. Inventory – material or information that is waiting for processing. It’s not just excess supplies or materials, but anything started but not finished.

  7. Over-processing – effort and time spent processing information or material that is not adding value. Excess paperwork, putting the same information into two computer systems or asking customers for the same information several times falls into this category of waste.

As you learn to see waste in your processes, you’ll develop ways to improve. And just as employees are eager to help clean up the environment, they’re ready to suggest ways to make their work better for everyone involved.

Would you spend $20 to be a better marketer?


"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader."

                                  ~ W. Fusselman

I believe that leaders read.  I believe that smart marketers read.  I believe that rich people read.

Don't believe me?  Try this stat on for size:

According to the U.S. Labor Department, business people who read at least 7 business books per year earn over 230 percent more than people reading just one book per year!

Add all of that up and I'm pretty excited to tell you about a new Business Book Club that is starting up here in Des Moines.  The Meyvn Group is launching an absolutely free business book club that's going to meet once a month.  All you have to do is buy the book, read it and show up.

If reading is good, reading and discussing with other smart business professionals....remarkable.  I can't imagine you wouldn't walk away from these gatherings with some new ideas to implement, being re-energized and ready to take on the world.

These are all worthy books...I've read them all and reviewed a few of them on my blog.

Here's the schedule of books to be discussed:

May 19:         Tribes by Seth Godin
June 16:        Made to Stick by the Heath brothers
July 21:         Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie
August 18:    The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton
Sept 22:       The Art of Woo by G. Richard Shell & Mario Moussa
Oct 20:          The Go-Giver by Bob Burg & John David Mann

All the meetings will run from noon - 1 p.m.
Plymouth Congregational Church
42nd Street & Ingersoll Avenue, Des Moines
(bring your own lunch)

This is pure professional development and community building.  No sales pitch, no hidden agenda.  Just everyone getting a little smarter and a little better.

I've got the dates marked on my calendar.  How about you?

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Media Interests Now Dictating To Two Branches of Government

Big Media Extends Its Reach
Apparently, not content bullying lawmakers into killing Net Neutrality and throttling the Internet before the public gets wise, Big Media has turned its attention toward the courts. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry copyright laws goes unpunished. So where is the problem?
Old Dog New Trick
Copyright laws were written long before the Internet came into its own. This means that lawmakers never considered things like iPods or downloading music. Thankfully for Big Media, courts have been rather generous in interpreting old copyright laws to cover new activities. Even though the original drafters of the Copyright Act never could have anticipated people would be uploading music to the Internet, courts interpret this new activity to be an infringement, even under the old laws.

Losing Trust
Problems arise as the activities become more and more attenuated. What if you merely own the computer used to download the music? What if you know your roommate is downloading music, but take no steps to stop him or her? Ostensibly, laws are written to inform people what they can and cannot do. When courts start applying laws to activities far outside the scope of the law, innocent people go to prison and the public ceases to respect the rule of law.

The Pirate Bay
The Pirate Bay is a Web site which stores the location of file fragments stored on personal computers all over the world. These files may be music files, documents, video, et cetera. If someone wants a copy of a music file, instead if downloading the file from one computer, a user can use The Pirate Bay tracking system to locate fragments of the file located on various other computers and download all of the fragments simultaneously. Despite not actually downloading, uploading, transmitting or storing any infringing files itself, the Web site has been accused of being "one of the world's largest facilitators of illegal downloading."

The Trial
On Feb. 16, 2009, Swedish prosecutors haled The Pirate Bay's principals, Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde, into court. Within two days, the prosecutor dropped half of the charges. Within nine days, the trial was over. The defendants all admitted what they had done, but staunchly maintained their innocence, contenting no law prevented them from doing what they had done. Applying the evidence to the law, the public and the defendants felt comfortable they would be acquitted of all charges.

The Verdict
Not only did Judge Tomas Norström not acquit the defendants, he sided with record industry cronies, handing down Draconian sentences of one year in prison and a $3.5 million fine. The verdict shocked the online community. The IFPI however, was likely less than surprised.

The Judge
Not only was judge receptive to the claims of the IFPI, he was in league with them. Judge Tomas Norström was a member of several pro-copyright plaintiff organizations, including the Swedish Association of Copyright (SFU), the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property (SFIR), and the SE (The Internet Infrastructure Foundation). Notwithstanding, Judge Norström unilaterally determined his affiliation with these organizations did not constitute a conflict of interest. Ironically, Judge Tomas Norström actually recused one of the original lay judges on the case, when it was discovered the lay judge had been involved with a musical rights group.

The Problem
While the short term effects of this case may by minor, the long term effects are devastating. Even the appearance of impropriety in imprisoning innocents at the behest of corporate interests cannot help but irrevocably undermine the public's faith in the judicial system. Even though this case occurred in Sweden, it sets a dangerous precedent. According to Rick Falkvinge, leader and founder of Sweden’s Pirate Party, "The copyright lobby has really managed to bring corruption to Sweden" with the judge's actions reflecting “corruption on a completely unforgivable level.” How long before this case emboldens similar interests to take action in the United States? Once corporate interests are allowed to use old laws and tough cases to improperly convince judges to make bad decisions, the rule of law is lost.

Brett Trout

Brain Drain Solutions Part 2: Learn the Lessons of Social Media

Henry Ford gained success by taking a system that already existed (the assembly line) and applying it to a whole new industry (automobiles). That type of innovation changed not just an industry, but also an era. I would argue in dealing with Young Professionals (YPs), business needs to do the same. Businesses should take a cue from the success that social media has had in reaching those under the age of 40, and apply those lessons to their brain-drain dilemma. Specifically, social media can teach businesses five lessons.

1. Embrace technology. Most people would say they appreciate technology, but too often the older generation looks at new technology as "kids stuff". There is a difference between accepting technology and embracing it. Those that accept technology bring on these new tools because they have to not because they want to. Embracing technology implies enthusiastically and patiently seeking comprehensive ways to utilize these tools efficiently. Technology can be a complicated investment, but shouldn’t be dismissed callously because one group doesn’t understand it. 

2. Encourage collaboration. More people go to college now than ever before and the number that are looking at graduate-level work is also increasing. It is safe to say this is a smart generation. It is also smart enough to realize that if they don't know something, they know where to get it. YPs have grown up in the information age, where knowledge is at the tips of their fingers. In addition to social networking, blogs, wikis and P2P are other applications based on networks sharing information. If economics always Braindrain2 values interdependency, then businesses that encourage workers to collaborate will find more productivity, better relationships among staff and another reason for the YP to stick around.

3. Allow for personalization. The brand of the company is important and comes first, but what makes it authentic is when people can see how it relates to them. YPs (and over the course of history, young people in general) have always rebelled against conformity. Allowing employees to make it work for them will enhance, not detract from the overall brand. As a mentor of mine said "make theirs, yours and make yours, theirs"

4. Provide flexibility. There is no work/life balance for this new generation; there is only life, in which work is a part of it. If management continues to make issues out of casual Fridays, sick leave, or work start time, workers will continue to finds ways around it. With this generation, the ends justify the means, so to many of them, these rules are arbitrary, and will be broken. It is crucial to explain the rationale behind time honored policies and be willing to compromise on some of them, if that flexibility provides increased productivity.

5. Be visual. There shouldn't be any surprise that kids in school (now our emerging workforce) have trouble concentrating. The ability to control what you want to read on the internet, images not staying stagnant on TV for no more than 7 seconds, and instant everything from news, to tanning, to coffee, have placed a heavy burden on communication. For messages to get across they just need to be seen. The idea that a picture paints a thousand words is more alive than ever. Businesses would benefit in clarity to have as many ideas, concepts and directives be complemented with visual references.

These five lessons can be applied to work stations, duties, meetings, et cetera. They help create value for the young worker, which in turn goes a long way in helping to convince them to stay at their job in this state. Yet there is still one thing that all businesses must do if they are serious in recruiting and retain young professionals in Iowa...

Cold Calling Stinks!

Let’s face it. Cold calling stinks! And the fastest way to grow sales and eliminate cold calling is through referrals.

When I started my career in executive search I worked for an IT search firm in Chicago called Keith Lamb and Associates. There was a young guy working for the company who’s name was Chris Gorman.  He was arguably the most successful of the company’s recruiters. What was most impressive about Chris was not his young age or the amount of revenue he generated but how easy he made it look. I don’t think I ever saw him make a cold call.

Chris had this uncanny ability to build unbelievable relationships with his clients and candidates very quickly, establish a level of trust (because of his high level of character and integrity) and he honored the promises he made to those people.

Before Chris ever hung up the phone he would have a handful of golden referrals (sometimes he didn’t even have to ask).  Here are a few of the things Chris taught me about the process of asking for referrals:2130270931_7109d574c4

  • Be quiet. Ask open ended questions then shut up. You have to give people an opportunity to think about it.
  • Be specific about what you’re looking for. If you don't you'll end up wasting a lot of time trying to run people and companies down who ultimately will not be a fit. Nobody else can have an understanding of your business development needs like you can. It's up to you to not allow people to waste your time.
  • Be honest (Peter Leffkowitz calls this rule "no reusing"). You should always be transparent about your intentions.
  • Dig deeper. When someone gives you a referral you should not make a quick judgment but you should pre-qualify that person or that organization before you call on them. Don't just take a name and move on. Ask why. Ask specific questions about the person or the organization in terms of why it would be of benefit for all parties to initiate a discussion. Do as much as possible up front to per qualify the referral.
  • Follow up. Always keep the person who made the referral updated on the process of the conversation. And if your business advances based upon that referral, you should always reciprocate in an appropriate manner (a hand written thank you note at the very least).

What steps do you take to minimize or eliminate your cold calling efforts?

Balance Optimism with Reality

Here's a question for you. "How do you maintain a positive, can-do spirit in your organization without ignoring uncomfortable facts - like profits are down, lay-offs are imminent and that long-awaited sales trip to Hawaii is toast?"

How you strike that balance is critical. It separates the good from the great. Literally. Just read Jim30456313 Collins' Good to Great. Remember the term "Stockdale Paradox" that Collins and his team of researchers coined to explain a trait that separated the great companies from the rest? Admiral Jim Stockdale, survivor of the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam explained the phenomenon this way:

The optimists...were the ones who said, "We're going to be out by Christmas." And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, "We're going to be out by Easter." And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Stockdale's example teaches that it's not the presence or absence of challenging times and circumstances that define our characters and our leadership strengths. We all experience trials. What's important is how we see those inevitable difficulties and if we are able to balance them the faith that we'll endure.

Being able to paint a clear and powerful picture for ourselves, our teams, or our whole organizations of our eventual success - that we shall prevail - is one important part of that picture. The other part is being in touch with reality, in sync with the markets and the people and the culture and the emerging trends AND not being afraid to talk openly and honestly about the way all of those things are coming together. Wicking up reality and talking about it. I think of it as keeping the hopeful "future" state alive alongside the objective (and sometimes frightening) "current" state. We shall prevail, but only by grappling openly with what is, not by denying what is.

I like the way that Jim Lobaito of The Performance Group talks about this same balance in his most recent issue of Sales Quick Coach: "Detach yourself from the specific outcome, but have total faith that ultimately your goal will be achieved....Understand that there are an indefinite number of possibilities between point A (today's reality) and point B (tomorrow's goals). If one opportunity does not materialize, another will."

It's a delicate balancing act but important for all of us, in leading others and in living our own personal lives.

What Is Your Brand?

5072677_thl This may well be a topic that a marketing guy like Drew McLellan would cover.  So you may be asking why a culture/ESOP guy is talking about brands?

Because today a brand is truly only as strong as the culture it represents.  In today's world, people look at brands as an experience.  With quick access to information, consumers can quickly determine brands that are not true to form. 

People will quit buying a product if they sense hypocrisy and deceit.  A company may have a great product, but consumers quickly notice how companies treat their employees or how the owners or CEOs represent the brand. Do unplanned layoffs and super sized bonuses ring any bells!

The brands that will survive this economic downturn will be those where the culture fully supports and reflects the brand.  There are a host of brand "items" that all you have to do is replace brand with culture, and you have a great list of how to enhance your company's culture. 

A strong brand breeds loyalty by consumers and employees.  It is not just a mark or saying that people follow blindly like a bunch of sheep.  A strong brand represents something that employees and consumers internalize and it becomes part of their belief system.  When people truly believe, they will endure.

Something I learned about work-life balance from Monsters vs. Aliens!

I took our boys to Monsters vs. Aliens this weekend.

Loved it.

It was a lot of fun... but it also offered an important lesson for me.

I will get to lesson in a second... but first... let me offer some M.v.A. background (without a plot spoiler) that might help...

There's a secret government agency that has collected and held "monsters" over the past 50 or so years.

When an alien invasion threatens earth... they enlist the help of these monsters to beat the four-eyed, multiple-legged intergalactic scourge!

The problem is that the monsters haven't really spent the last 50 or so years preparing for this.

They just get thrown into the middle of the situation and have to sink or swim.

It makes for a hilarious storyline, but it also helps to paint a picture of what happens when we try to come up with a plan in the middle of a crisis! 

Even though we know we can't plan for everything, we also know that the best time to come up with an evacuation strategy isn't in the middle of a fire. Right?

This is true when you are fighting evil aliens and it's true when it comes to work-life balance... isn't it?

For example, I had a recent coaching client who knew his life situation would be changing soon. 

He knew his next season with his business was going to call for him to travel more.  He also knew that his son was getting ready to head to college.  Yup... things were shifting. 

While he was looking forward to much of the changes, he also knew they might also cause some stress... at least initially.

So, we started to plan for them. 

Yup... even though the shifts were a year away, we started to put a strategy together... now. 

We started to look at his business and talk about his weekly schedule. 

  • How could he get his staff ready for him to be out of the office more often? 
  • How could we increase his ability to work remotely, without it taking over his life outside of work? 
  • How could we start scheduling his week, in order to better prioritize the types of meetings he was going to engage in, here... and on the road?

We also looked for ways for him to make time for his family and protect time for his family.  We experimented with ways that this could help now... and for ways this could work when he was traveling more and when his son was away at college.

Yes... even though these life changes are a ways out, he's putting his plan together... now.  And he's already seeing the benefits.

Now, some of you may read this and be encouraged to put together a plan for future "shifts" in your own life... and that's great.  I encourage you to do that!

But, some of you may read this and say, "Well... GREAT!  I'm already in the middle of a crisis!  How can I plan now?  I don't have time to think, let alone... plan!"

Hey... I totally understand.  But you can take a lesson from Monsters vs. Aliens on this front too!

Because, even when the monsters found themselves in middle of the crisis, they didn't give up!  They simply started to "experiment" with solutions. 

Some worked... and some didn't (cue our 8-year old's belly laughter!)!

We can "experiment" too!

Look for shifts that you can make that are small but significant.  Don't try for 180 degree changes... look for 1 and 2 degree changes.  These will be easier to try and implement.  Plus, they will be easier to maintain!

Maybe it's as simple as looking for one way to change your planning this week. 

  • Maybe instead of putting your daily to-do list on the back of an envelope, you try writing it in a binder that you carry with you all the time.
  • Maybe instead of writing your to-do list, as you go.  You take 5 minutes later this afternoon to plan your day for tomorrow.
  • Maybe, you say "no" to one meeting this week that you don't really need to attend.
  • Maybe, you get up 15 minutes earlier one morning to take a walk.

Need some more ideas on making some small but significant steps? 

Check out flylady.com for some things you can do to simplify things at home

Then, for work, check out these 10 steps towards better work-life balance that Fortune magazine recently featured. 

Okay... so those are a few lessons I learned from Monsters vs. Aliens. 

  • Plan before the crisis. 
  • AND... when you are in the middle of a crisis... don't give up!  Instead... "experiment" with some small but significant changes!

How about you? 

What did you learn?

More importantly, what have you been learning about your own work-life balance? 

Jump in the conversation.  Click on comments below and let us know!

Lastly, I wanted to just say thank you to all the IOWABIZ readers!  Due to some fun "shifts" with my own business, this is my last post here.  You can continue to follow some of our developments at www.BIGdreamgathering.com and keep me in the loop on what's happening with you! 

Again, thanks!  It's been a honor!

Keep dreamin' BIG!


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Communication: Blanded or Branded

I just returned from Louisiana, providing back-to-back keynotes to the PMI chapters in New Orleans and Baton Rouge on project communication. It's a common understanding around project management types that 90 percent of a project manager's time should be spent communicating with project stakeholders... through meetings, status reports, issues logs, emails, et cetera.

What too few project managers think about is stamping these critical communications with their ownBlog personal brand.  They think, "As long as I get the email sent out, who cares what people really think about it?"  This can be a very dangerous attitude and approach to project management.

The more I evolve in this profession, the less I enjoy spending time with other project managers.  I don't have anything against them, mind you; I'd rather spend my time with people who are actually out there DOING projects but just not giving themselves the title of project managers.  I tend to learn a lot from those outside my industry, and their projects tend to be more interesting.

One such person is Mike Wagner from the White Rabbit Group.  He's the first one who taught me that branding should be DIRTY, and it was this principle on which I based my presentation on project communications:

DIFFERENT:  Do people see a noticeable change in your communications among the sea of emails and deliverables fighting to get through the "crap filter"?  Are you being noticed?  If you are being noticed, then you are probably either loved or hated.  Even being hated is a good thing; they'll remember you.

INVITING:  If your communications are 8-point font with no white space or bullets, you are probably not luring people into your communication.  Rather than putting up barbed wire that turns off your audience, learn the "art of seduction" to make them want to know more.

RELEVANT:  Are you giving your stakeholders the right messages with the right timing?  Even the best of news can be a disaster if it's delivered at the wrong time.  Learning how to headline and summarize makes for more relevance than dumping everything you know.  What does your audience care about?

TRUTHFUL:  I write business fiction, but there's little room for it on a status report or an issues log.  Balance tact with honesty and sensitivity to ensure the correct issues are hitting the radar screens of those who can help resolve them.  Prove you are managing your project with integrity.

YOURS:  Can people tell your style from Herb in the next cubicle?  Are you proud of your communication?  Do people see your markings all over a project archive?  If so, you are personally branding the messages and the channels to truly own what you're saying.

Yes, you can spend your 90 percent communication allotment doing everything exactly the same way as everybody else.  Or you can make your message shine through and get your project (and yourself) noticed.

Carpe Factum!

Businesses beware!

Fired With the economy struggling, we could see an increase in lawsuits. It seems that every time I pick up the newspaper or turn on the news,  I am reading or hearing about a company that is laying off. I am sure many of you can relate to this and some may even know a friend or family member that has been laid off recently.

So what do layoffs have to do with insurance? 

I know I have mentioned it in the past, but in recent light of our economic situation, I feel it is worthy to discuss again. Lawsuits are expensive to defend, so what can a business owner do?

Well, for one they can be properly insured. In order to defend you against a lawsuit from a previous employee, you must have an Employment Practices Liability Insurance policy.

EPLI is a coverage that can be added to your current policy or purchased separately.

EPLI provides protection against many kinds of employee lawsuits, including claims of:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Wrongful termination
  • Breach of employment contract
  • Negligent evaluation
  • Failure to employ or promote
  • Wrongful discipline
  • Deprivation of career opportunity
  • Wrongful infliction of emotional distress
  • Mismanagement of employee benefit plans

Having this type of coverage can be invaluable to a business owner since it is predicted to only get worse.

Lawsuits are increasing all over the country for an array of different reasons.  When the economy is weak, people become anxious about money and it increases their motivation to seek compensation from other sources. Of course, attorneys are right there - fueling the fire so to speak - and unfortunately businesses are attractive targets to these audiences.

So when you are reviewing your insurance, try to be more focused on coverage first rather than the price you pay for it. It could cost you a lot more if you don’t have the right insurance in place should you need it.

April 16 resolutions

The 2008 tax year is water under the bridge.  It's time to turn your attention to 2009.  Here are nine ways to make 2009 less taxing.
1. Start funding your IRA or SEP now, a little at a time.
  Many taxpayers can save money with an IRAAblog or Simplified Employer Plan, but they just don't have the cash when the April 15 funding deadline comes around.  Don't wait.

2. Start keeping that mileage log.
  Whether they do it with a PDA, an appointment calendar, or a specialized log book, folks who deduct business mileage are much better off at tax time - and especially audit time - when they have support for their mileage expense.

3. Save those business meal and entertainment receipts, and write down what they were for.  The tax law requires you to be able to document the time, place, parties involved and business purpose of all meal expenses.  If you don't do it right away, you'll never remember it.

4. Act like a real business.  Many entrepreneurs keep seat-of-the-pants records.  While understandable, it makes it hard to tell if you are really making money, and how much.  It also is very costly at tax time when your tax pro has to charge you for sifting through the debris of your business records.  Buy Quickbooks or a similar program and learn how to use it. It will save you enough time and effort to pay for itself. 

5. Use your 401(k).  Salary deferral through a 401(k) is the easiest way to shelter income from taxes.  Most employers match some or all of the amount employees defer; you're crazy if you turn down the bosses money by not at least maximizing the employer match.

6. If you qualify, start a health savings account and use it.  Health Savings Accounts are like IRAs, except withdrawals for health care are never taxed.  If you have a qualifying high-deductible health plan, this is an easy tax shelter.

7. If your income isn't subject to withholding, watch your estimated tax payments.  If you're making money, be sure you keep up with your payments.  If you're losing money, don't send the IRS money if you don't need to.  See your tax pro.

8. Don't mix up personal and business expenses.  If you are running personal expenses through your business, it can make for an awkward discussion when somebody is interested in buying you out.  It's even more awkward when the IRS comes calling.

9. Focus on what ends up in in the cigar box.  Some folks are so obsessed with lowering taxes that they lose sight of the real game - making money.  If you have to pay a little tax to make some money, take the money.

How Facebook's interface change effects businesses

Recently Facebook made some dramatic changes to it's user interface, and I wanted to take a moment to explore what specifically changed for companies using the application.

Essentially, branded profiles for companies called pages now look, act and function similar to individual user profiles. Here's what's new and exciting:
  1. You may now publish your company's "status" and it will show up in the individual front-page news feeds of all the users who have declared themselves fans of your page. In the past, updates were restricted to the four walls of the page itself.
  2. You'll now notice tabs across the top of your company's page. This allows you to organize and segment your page's content in a way that makes more sense to your visitors. Previous Facebook pages were highly unorganized and chaotic in terms of design and aesthetic. You may also customize these tabs.
  3. "The Wall" (an area for fans to leave comments on your page) is now enhanced with multimedia, meaning that visitors can post videos and photos along with text content. 
However, not everyone is happy with Facebook's UI changes, as Jennifer Leggio explains in this blog post on ZDNet.

If you're looking for more detail about Facebook's re-design and how it impacts businesses with a presence there, watch Hillary Brown's video below:

Nathan T. Wright

Dance with the one that brought you

36840161 Sure, we all want new clients/customers.  After all, that's why we are in business, right?  Somehow in the hustle and bustle of marketing, a very important group often gets forgotten.  The people you already serve.

Who is most likely to buy from you?  Someone who has already bought from you.  Who already knows a little about you and what you can do for them?  You know who.  So, what have you done for them lately?  How are you making sure you stay top of mind with them? 

Not only does it sound easier to get additional business from a current customer but the cost of acquisition is also significantly less.  Easier.  More profitable.  All of a sudden that old customer is looking pretty good, isn't he?

By the way, in a recession the last thing you can afford to do is lose the business you already have.  Here's a startling statistic. Nearly 70 percent of business lost in America is lost due to post-sales apathy.

Don't get all goo-goo eyed over a potential client and forget about the ones that got you where you are today.   After all, they, not the new guy, are your best source of new business.

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Different Generations, Different Health Needs

Today, we’re seeing members of four distinct generations working together. Learning how to manage them is crucial, but just as important is offering medical benefits to meet their diverse needs.

Each group has its own distinct values and attitudes, based on its generation’s life experiences.

  • Traditionalists (born 1925 and 1946) – put aside their personal needs for the common good, have faith in institutions, tend to follow the chain of command and view job changing as a negative stigma.

  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 and 1963) – often called the “me” generation, they feel defined by their work achievements, value job security and often view their peers as competitors.

  • Generation X (born 1963 and 1981) – have great faith in themselves and often count on their peers for support. To them, job changing is a necessity.

  • Generation Y (born 1981 and 2000) – value career flexibility, want to be included in decision-making activities and often enjoy collaborating with others.

IStock_000005140996XSmallSome vast differences, so don’t assume everyone loves your current health plan.

Many companies offer on-site health facilities and nutritionists as part of their benefits packages. Others give full medical benefits to older workers who decide to move to part-time status, a strategy to retain skilled employees – and avoiding the cost of training new workers. According to surveys by Watson Wyatt, an international organization known for providing personnel and financial resources, many Traditionalists look for companies that provide "bridge" medical coverage until Medicare kicks in.

Health issues and stress management will become more of a concern as Gen X and Y age. Members of Generation Y have been under-active, consumed more processed and fast foods than previous generations and experienced more pollution and stress. Without intervention and support, companies eventually will see their benefit costs and disability rates grow uncontrollably.

Consider a cafeteria-style benefits package that allows for flexibility as well as the opportunity for employees to say how individual contributions are spent. Work with a provider that offers a range of programs so you can mix and match to meet your employees' different needs.

And remember the technologically-savvy young always have been able to access information immediately. They’ll expect the same from their benefits, wanting 24-hour on-line access and friendly providers to answer their questions.

The different generations bring incredible resources and insight to the table, and it’s your company’s health resources that play a big part in their decision to stick around.

Brain Drain Solutions Part 1: What Business Needs To Do For YPs

In Iowa, we are in trouble. We know the statistics, we know the consequences, but we haven't talked enough about the solutions. If business is serious about finding & keeping quality young professionals it Braindrain must do the following:

1. Cut the Crap. The excuses are immense and it's a display of power, but often when I hear some professionals refer to young professionals they do so in a quite condescending tones that belittle their experiences and perspectives. The rationale is often that "we were all 'that age' and therefore naive once." However, one thing that is overlooked is their experiences are different then yours, not better, not more important - just different. Imagine growing up in elementary school with the Oklahoma City bombing, then going into junior high with the Columbine shooting, then high school with 9-11, then college with the Virginia Tech massacre. Each generation has their own unique experiences that shape their identity are therefore must not be dismissed.

2. Wonder Why. There is an opportunity to use the comparing and contrasting of your experiences and their experience to better understand how to appropriately position workers to maximize their potential. In the areas where there are differences, we need to know why. If you don't know, the only way to know is to ask. According to the 2008 Ranstad World at Work Survey, the areas that have the most varying perspectives between generations are also the ones that tend to be the most needed and require the most consensus: leadership, respect, work ethic, purpose. Do we spend time discussing the reasoning behind these points? Do we spend time discussing seeking to understand how these young employees came to their own conclusions? What we may find out is some may have no clue why themselves, which creates an opportunity to have them investigate their own reasoning, which may lead to a clearer focus on work task.

3. Rely on Relationship. Understanding "why" allows the working world to do the integral part of building open meaningful relationships with young professionals. As much as we don't want to admit it, the working world has changed. The American dream to many young professionals is connected with balance rather than success, collaboration is more important that management to this group. Young professionals see the working world more like a circle rather than a line. With many in this new generation being guided by helicopter parents that hover over their now-adult kids every decision, it is important that businesses see the value in providing meaningful opportunities for this generation to learn from the wisdom workers in the workforce looking to renegotiate their own working relationship over the course of a generation. Mentoring, internships, and apprenticeships, endear both the new worker and the old to an opportunity of building a true relationship that respects the other, allows for questioning and builds potentially strong bonds.

Young professionals are not off the hook, they also have a responsibility that they must take on. We'll cover that in my next post.

Survey Says...

Okay. So it's a blog post and not a game show but I ask you to use your imagination. I prefer to picture Richard Dawson asking the questions rather than that Al guy from Tool Time, but that decision is up to you.

Out of 100 people surveyed (not really), the top five answers are on the board and here is the question:

What is the most important element in your mind when it comes to sales and networking?3039597420_09a68a619c

  1. Jeff Garrison, who blogs about bringing relationships back into sales, says you have to believe in the product or service you are selling!  If you don't, no one else will and you will burn out in a hurry.
  2. Scott Jarvis, Vice President of Retail Banking and Business Development at West Bank, says it's critical to create trust as soon as soon as possible. He says in order to do that you have to keep the interest of the prospect in top of mind.
  3. Adam Carroll at Adam Speaks says it's all about creating P.O.W.E.R. (Promoting Others While Establishing Relationships). Adam says "When I meet someone I want to promote something that will help them. Your network will expand at the speed which you help others grow."
  4. Kelly Timmerman of Mona Vie says when she meets a new prospect, building a relationship always comes first.

Obviously there are many elements that go into creating strong relationships and building sales. Depending on your situation the priority of those elements can change on a dime. This is the difficult part of trying to follow a sequential sales process. I think it's safe to say that at some point in your sales process you will have to work with human beings. Human beings have brains and with brains come emotions. And when emotions are involved, sales becomes a moving target...and you have to account for that.

You can account for that moving target by believing in your product, being trustworthy, helping others get what they need and focus on building honest relationships.

What about you? What is the most important element in your mind when it comes to sales and networking?

Want knock their socks off customer service?

37192690 One of the best ways to protect and grow your business is by consistently delivering remarkable customer service.  Everyone says they do it...but we know from our our consumer experiences that most fall short.

So how can you deliver "knock their socks off" customer service?  Beverly Koehn has the answer.

Beverly is the keynote speaker at a public event here in Central Iowa on Friday, April 24.  Her topic is “Touching Your Customers: Taking Your Service to the Next Level.”

In today’s high touch environment, customers are looking for companies that offer memorable touch points. Hear how to make every customer encounter an exciting and memorable experience.

Learn how to convert regular customers into loyal, raving fans. See for yourself how powerful customer-centered communication techniques can impress your customers and provide you the unlimited opportunities your competition is missing.

Beverly is also the author of a very smart and practical book, Loyalty is Love.

The event is actually being put on by the Iowa Tourism Office and the Travel Federation of Iowa but you don't have to be involved in tourism to attend or to talk customer service.  For $40, you can enjoy coffee and juice before Beverly hits the stage, learn from her 20+ years of experience and then network through the buffet lunch.

You'll be back at the office by noon -- charged up with some new ideas and ready to absolutely delight your customers.

Learn more about the event, Beverly and register online by clicking here!

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Keep 'Em Playing on Your Street

"Who trains your people?" Robert Spector - author of The Nordstrom Way - once asked a member of the Nordstrom Board of Directors. The board member replied, "Their parents."

That's where motivation comes from? It has its beginning deep inside the employees themselves. They were born with some and their early upbringing hopefully added some more...and life experiences likely contributed along the way as well.

I know what you're thinking: "But what about incentives and reward programs? They're important too, right?" They ARE a helpful component to focus employee attention on what's most important to the organization, but they can easily backfire. Incentives tend to get employees to chase bonuses and short-term targets, skewing motivation toward "what's in it for me?" rather than doing the job well. The recent payout of bonuses at AIG is a perfect example of this.

If people are inspired and engaged and find meaning and pleasure in their work, they're motivated. Add bonuses and that's icing on the cake. But it ain't the cake. Create a workplace where employees feel like they belong, where they can contribute in a meaningful way, and they have fun...you'll touch them deeply and elicit a powerful response. It's called motivation.

The story is told of Charles Handy, a prolific and profound writer, suffering from writer's block one day. A30327096 bunch of kids came by and were playing outside his window. The sounds of their laughter and frolicking made his creative juices flow and the words tumbled onto the page. He went out and told them how delighted he was that they chose that spot to play, how it helped him write, and then he asked them to come back and play the next day.

They did. The same thing happened. He wrote fluently and asked them to return. They did. And at the end of the third day, he was so excited about how much work he'd gotten done with them playing outside his window that he ran out and cried, "Come back tomorrow and I'll give you a pound!" (the equivalent of about two bucks in U.S. dollars).

Next day: no kids. Handy goes looking for them and finds them playing one street over. "Why didn't you come back," he asked?

"For a pound it wasn't worth it," they replied with disdain.

Unwittingly, Handy had put a price on what the kids had innately enjoying doing...and they found the price lacking. They took their motivation one street over.

How do you use inspiration to light the fire of motivation that's already burning inside the people you work with? Are they playing on your street or have they moved one street over?

A Formula For Organizational Change

11665918_thlOrganizational change is not a simple process and requires a lot of thought and resources. Time and time again change initiatives fail for a variety of reasons. Just imagine if there was simple formula you could follow that would guarantee success.

Well believe it or not there is a formula that has been developed that can increase your chance of success when implementing change. The basic formula is from the work of Richard Beckhard & David Gleicher. The formula is Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps > Resistance to Change or DxVxF>R. 

Meaning that if D, V or F have a zero value you are doomed to failure (you will need to remember your math). There is a new twist to the formula that has surfaced that adds Trust or T. The new formula is DxVxFxT>R.  I agree that the addition of trust to this formula does improve the accuracy of this formula.

If you are looking at implementing change, I would encourage you to take a long and deep look at your organization and how it stacks up to the components of the formula. Spending the time to evaluate, measure and discuss these components will help your change initiative go much smoother.

How about a little "cleaning out" of the schedule?

My wife helped me clean out and organize my office this past weekend.

We went way past that "illusion of clean" that I some times shoot for, and got down to some deep-cleaning and organizing

So, that meant we spent some time cleaning out "that closet." 

You know the one...

    • That get-done-with-a-meeting-and-bring-home-a-three-ring-binder-full-of-information-that-you-paid-for-but-won't-probably-use-throw-it-in-the-closet-closet
    • That all-sorts-of-different-specialty-paper-from-different-projects-long-forgotten-keep-them-in-the-closet-closet
    • The-fun-trinket-like-items-that-you-get-that-are-fun-but-quickly-loose-their-usefulness-throw-them-in-the-closet-closet

Yeah... you know the one.

Well, my wife went through "that closet" more as an "accountability partner" than an organizer.  She kindly but directly asked questions like:

    • What do you use this for?
    • Do you still need this?  How would you use it?
    • How often do you need this?
    • Could we put this in a better place?
    • Could someone else use this more than you?Calendar_1

At first, it was a bit tough, but once I settled in, it was a huge relief.  Plus, I started the week with an organized and well thought out office... including "that closet!"  That made me feel more on top of things... and helped me to focus.

So, then I started to think about what else needed "cleaning out." 

I started to wonder what else I could "clean out."  Then I started to look towards my schedule.

It's amazing how our schedules can get filled up like "that closet."  Isn't it? 

The calender starts to get things put in it.  Some things are really needed.  But, let's face it, some things are there because they got put there once.  Then they got left there.

For example, I recently talked to a leader in an organization.  She explained that during a time when she was short staffed, she started to do a number of extra things.  Later, she added staff but didn't wind up giving up some of the added workload because she had become accustomed to doing the work.  It had gotten shoved into "that closet" within her schedule and she had forgotten to get rid of them. 

She needed some of my wife's questions to "clean out" her schedule...

    • Do you still need to do this?
    • Could someone else do it better?  Could someone else be more efficient at it?
    • How often do you really need to this?
    • Could someone else do this?  Would that free you up to do more of what you need to do?

Another example, was a friend of mine who was a sport fanatic.  He spent a lot of his time digging into the sports page.  A night didn't go by without Sports Center.  He knew the stats behind the stats.  But, he recently told me that he'd done some mental house cleaning too.

Don't get me wrong, he's still a sports fan.  But he started to ask himself questions like:

    • How much do I really need to know?
    • How much of my interest is more out of habit than true interest?
    • How could I use some of my time for new priorities?

Did he eliminate all sports?  Nope, but he did decide to cut back.  To his surprise, it wound up freeing up time for new things in his life.  AND he found he could still keep up with most trash-talking sports conversations.

So... what needs cleaned out for you?

Your closet? 

Your schedule? 

Ask some questions... clean it out... and let us know how it goes!

Photo credit: pinkcoffee photoart

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It’s not raining – so why do I need an umbrella?

Umbrella 2 Umbrella policies are one of the most misunderstood insurances in the market.

There are several myths surrounding them:

  • They’re only for rich people
  • They’re too expensive
  • They’re complicated to deal with

Truly nothing can be farther from the truth. As a matter of fact an umbrella policy can prove to be invaluable to someone regardless of how much money they have or don’t have.

Just think about the following scenarios:

  • You pull out from a parking lot to make a left turn - there is a van to your left with their turn signal to enter the driveway that you are exiting - you don’t see any other vehicles, so you pull out into the road. As you enter into the roadway, you run into a motorcycle. The driver of the motorcycle is ejected from his bike and pronounced dead at the scene.
  • A neighbor falls on your property and hits their head on your sidewalk and suffers a severe brain injury as a result.
  • A natural disaster in which another person's property is damaged by a tree on your property crashing down on their vehicle or home.  You may think this would be covered by your homeowners insurance.

Now these example are extreme – but they are also something that can happen to any one of us. With these types of situations, having an umbrella policy in place can provide that extra layer of liability protection for you.

That is what an umbrella is -  it is designed to cover you and everything you own underneath it – and will not “kick-in” until your underlying limits are exhausted.

So what other protection can it provide? It can also provide coverage for claims that may be excluded by the primary policies often including, but not limited to:

  • False arrest
  • Libel
  • Slander
  • Invasion of Privacy

So the next time you review your insurance, make sure you ask your agent about an umbrella policy. The benefit can definitely outweigh the cost – and you will be surprised at how reasonably priced an umbrella policy is.

Are You Smarter Than a Third Grader?

Dictionary I have a third grader at home who is constantly curious about the English language.  (Of course, having a dad who's a writer and a mom who's an English teacher may be a contributing factor there.)  Hardly a day goes by when she's not asking about the meaning or origin of a given word.  And I usually send her to the trusty Webster's Dictionary - not because I don't know the word myself, but because I want her to get comfortable with looking up the definition for herself.

As project managers, we're charged with completing tasks according to a schedule and a budget, but do we ever back up a step and ask about the requirements that led to the tasks?  In many environments, there's a hand-off of information between those defining the project and those executing the project.  This is unfortunate as it leads to many breakdowns in communication and in performance.

Systems_model_2 I've spent the past four years researching and studying and applying a lot of systems theory in preparation of writing my next book.  (Actually, the fascination with systems theory goes back about 25 years for me, but the last four have constituted the intense scrutiny.)  As project managers, are we looking at our deliverables (outputs) as the product of the requirements that defined those same tasks (inputs)?  And are we backing up even further and looking at the previous system where the requirements are the outputs and the business problem or opportunity represent the inputs?

If you are in the initiation or planning stage of a project, start asking some hard questions:

  1. Why are we doing this task?  What is it producing?  (HINT:  if all of your tasks start with an action verb, answering this question should not be that hard)
  2. Whom is this task benefiting?  (You have to know the stakeholders who care about the task.)
  3. How will we know this task is complete?  (From an effort and a quality perspective, what does "done" look like?)
  4. What dependencies are related to this task and its outcome?  (What are the inputs you need to produce this task?  What other "things" will be produced because of this task?)

Yes, the other questions about who is working on it, when will it get done, and how much will it cost are important.  But I would contend you are selling your projects short by not going back to the dictionary and digging into the definition of your project.  And doing so might just make you smarter than a third grader.

Carpe Factum!

A Unique, Inexpensive Way to Capture Phone Calls

Many small to mid-sized businesses would love to have the ability to record phone calls "to ensure qualityBlog service" without the huge price tag that usually comes with purchasing the appropriate phone switch and recording software. I witnessed an interesting application that may be an affordable work around for some businesses.

I was visiting a company yesterday that is asking our group to help with developing a simple call monitoring form and program. They are using Reach Local to manage their local advertising on Google. For a fee, Reach Local helps figure out what keywords people are using to find this business and then buys the appropriate ad words to drive more traffic to the clients web site. They provide the client with a Web based dashboard to monitor hits and traffic. The gentleman who showed me hid dashboard yesterday was witnessing some pretty impressive growth in his hit and contact rates.

Here's where it really gets interesting. Reach Local changes the client's phone number so that when a person calls the business from referencing Google's site or the client's Web site, the call actually passes through Reach Local. Reach Local front ends the call with a simple "your call may be monitored message" and seamlessly passes it on to the client. They digitally record the call and upload the call to the clients dashboard. The client can hear a recording of every call that came to his business through someone referencing the number on Google or his Web site. He didn't have to buy a digital phone switch. He didn't have to install a new phone system.

There are certainly limitations. He isn't getting a true sample of all customers calling him or all calls being taken by his team. In addition, he doesn't have all of the cool bells and whistles of a true QA recording and analysis package. Nevertheless, it's a way for this relatively small business to begin the process of monitoring customer conversations and developing a Quality Assessment process. And, it's all part of the marketing dollars spent. There's no additional capital expense.

Why aren't more real estate agents on social networks?

Today, my co-pilot (Hillary Brown) and I gave a presentation to a group of real estate professionals aboutBlog social networking tools that they can add to their existing marketing toolbox.

We've presented to groups of agents a few times before, and we're always surprised by how few have embraced social media as a lead-generation and networking tool.

Here's my paraphrased, outsider perspective on the business of being a real estate agent: There are two critical components - your network and reputation.

Participating in social networks in an authentic way can greatly enhance both of these things, so it seems like a no-brainer that agents should be harnessing these tools. However, some are still stuck in "broadcast marketing" mode, so I wanted to share a few examples of local agents that are doing interesting things.

Amber Salmon and Justin Volrath are active on the social network Twitter and frequently attend tweetups (meetups for Twitter users) where they build digital and real-life social and business connections. This is smart - they don't just rely on chamber of commerce luncheons and a Rolodex to build their network.

Amber is also a prolific blogger. Notice that the title of her blog is LiveinDesMoines.com, which is great for search engine optimization because these are the terms humans use when researching real estate communities online. Sure, Amber promotes her listings on the blog, but she also provides value to her potential clients with posts like What is Des Moines, Iowa like? and What do I really need to know when I buy a home?

Also, do a quick Google search for either one of them. The top results will bring back their individual presences on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Every day, more and more real estate buyers are doing their homework and checking out agents on social networks, so it's critical to have some form of presence out there. It's OK to blur the lines between personal and professional a little bit, so don't stress over that.

Your clients will want to know that you're a human being, after all!

These are just a few quick examples of what agents could do, but the possibilities on the social Web are endless. What else could they take advantage of? Please feel free to add your thoughts below.

Think twice before you put an LLC in your IRA

A reader asks:

I just received a k-1 1065 from a new LLC which is included in my IRA  this year.

Because my investment is included in my IRA portfolio do i have to report the income shown on the k-1?

That's a great question. It would be an even better question to ask before buying an LLC in your IRA. Blog That's because LLCs often generate income that is - surprise! - taxable to the IRA.

The tax law frowns on tax-exempt entities like IRAs holding business assets. While it's OK to hold investments that generate interest and dividends in an IRA, Congress thought it would be unfair for taxable businesses to have to compete against tax-exempts. That's why the tax law imposes the Unrelated Business Income Tax, or UBIT, on business income earned by tax exempt entities. The UBIT is, in general, the corporation tax system applied to business income earned by exempt entities.

When UBIT applies to an IRA, the IRA has to pay income tax itself on Form 990-T at rates up to 35 percent. State income taxes can also apply. Of course, the after-tax income of a traditional IRA may be taxed again when it is distributed to the IRA owner.

If you have income taxable to an IRA coming from an LLC taxed as a partnership, it should be on line 20 of the LLC's Form 1065 K-1, listed with code "V". In this case, "V" doesn't stand for "Victory."

The Moral: LLCs and IRAs are a poor mix unless the LLC only holds investments that generate interest and dividend income. If you own an LLC that generates business income in your IRA, you may need to file Form 990-T by April 15.

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