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October 2010

What about the pants?

TrousersImage via Wikipedia

Let’s begin with the moral of the story. Who puts your pants on each morning?

Here’s the question: How have you let the recession affect your attitude in the workplace?

As I dwell on it more and more, I suppose I don’t actually disagree with Cindy Goodman’s remarks in her nwjobs.com blog: New Gen Y reality: Recession forces younger workers to update their work attitudes.

It is more of a concern that maybe she is correct.

In the current landscape of the economy and job market, any job is a good job. And Generation Y professionals entering the work place need to put more focus on development. But that is true recession or no recession.

Getting back to the question at hand, Goodman’s post gives me the impression that young professionals are currently accepting what they have at hand instead of demanding that next big step. While the recession may mean we all need to work a little bit harder, it is critical to not let today’s struggles prohibit you a prosperous future.

Get a grip my friend! Grab those reins and make sure you are always in the best shape to prosper no matter the environment.

You only live once! Make the most of it! Don’t let life pass you by! Any other overused phrases we should add here?

Wake up each day with the attitude that you may have a new job the next day. Still give today’s job 100 percent. I don’t know many young professionals that land their dream job right out of college. But you need to be working toward it:

1) Get out and network. Build those connections that will put you in the best shape to succeed when more opportunities become available.

2) Find your expertise. What is it that you know you can do better than your peers? Practice and strengthen that skill to the point employers can’t afford not to hire you.

3) We’re all entrepreneurs. Can you think of multiple entities that need that skill you’re best at? You might be on the path of creating something of your own.

Keep your eyes forward. You don’t have to be a product of the economic climate. Wake up tomorrow and put on the pair of pants that fit you best!

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Can Changing Your Soap Reduce Your Company’s Sick Days?

You know how a small pebble tossed into a still lake can cause a giant ripple? Iowa Health – Des Moines recently made a tiny shift in the workplace culture that resulted in a measurable increase in workplace health.  You could make that shift, too.

Hand Hygiene 10-30-10 Increase your attention to hand washing. 

Obviously, the health care industry has long held to a culture and standard of hand washing that is high. But you might be surprised at the results of the recent one-touch hand hygiene campaign at our Iowa Health hospitals here in Des Moines.  By taking some simple educational steps and making hand hygiene easier for employees, Iowa Health was able to achieve a 25 percent reduction in infections.

A good workplace hand hygiene campaign isn’t expensive.

Obviously, the Iowa Health campaign wasn’t built from scratch: Health care providers are naturally held to a higher hand washing standard than most employees at non-health or non-food service-related companies. Nevertheless, what our hospitals learned during the increased awareness campaign directly applies to any organization looking to reduce workplace-transmitted illness.

Three low-cost steps can reduce lost productivity due to illness:

1. Place permanent alcohol-based hand sanitizers at convenient locations throughout your workplace.

2. Use foam soap in your organization's restrooms. According to custodial services experts, people strongly prefer the sensation of foam soap, and are more likely to properly wash if foam is available.

3. Get leadership buy-in. This is true with most workplace change. Change, even something as straightforward as an improvement in workplace hand hygiene, won’t happen without your managers, directors and executives placing priority on the change.

A good way to bring about effective, positive change is to make change easy. Changing your soap and enacting a hand washing campaign should reduce disease transmission in the workplace, a big health dividend for such a small investment of time and leadership.

Walk a mile in their shoes

87582281When was the last time you really walked a mile in your customer's shoes.  I am not talking metaphorically here.  I don't mean that you know who they are as people and what matters to them.

I'm talking -- when did you last trace their steps?  When did you last make the effort to truly understand what it's like to do business with you?

  • When did you visit your own website and try to order something?  
  • When did you navigate your own voicemail system?
  • When did you call customer service with a problem?
  • When did you go through the drive-thru?
  • When did you try to explain your billing procedure to someone as though they'd never seen it before?

We all require that our clients go through a series of steps to actually buy something from us.  Have you tried it lately?  Are their irritants or inconveniences you could eliminate?

Let me give you a concrete example.  I recently needed a service for my home.  Because it's the 21st century, I found a possible vendor on Angie's List and visited their website.  I filled out an extensive form, giving them all the information they could possibly need to answer my initial questions and then some.

I hit submit and within 10 minutes, I was getting a call back, to schedule a time to get an estimate.  So far, so good.  Then, the person asked me for my address.  I gave it to him, even though I had just typed it.  He asked me a couple more questions.  Again, I gave him answers, even though I had just entered them.

Finally I said -- "I'm confused. Why are you asking me these questions?  Clearly you got the form I filled out or you wouldn't have called me.  I've already answered all of these."

Turns out it is a franchise and he's in Texas. He explained to me that within their system, just just receives my name and phone number and to schedule to appointment, he needs to get the rest of the information. 


How is that best for me?  How is that respectful of my time?  And if you treat me that way when you're wooing me to become a client, are you even less helpful once I'm on the hook?

Was it a big deal?  Not really.  But, it was discouraging.  Here's another company that does things in a way that suits them, not me.  

Do you leave your customers feeling that way?  How do you know if you don't walk in their shoes?


~ Drew


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Don't Sell the Drill!

Boy with Down Syndrome assembling a book case.Image via Wikipedia

Do you have any idea how many drills were sold in the United States in the last year?  For that matter, do you have any idea how many different types of drills are available?  Me either, but ponder this.

Out of the tens of thousands of drills sold last year, not one person bought a drill because they wanted a drill.

People bought the drills because they wanted holes!

So, if you were a tool sales person whose focus was on the needs of your customers, upon finding out that they need a drill, would you serve them best by ...

  1. Explaining the features and benefits of each drill you sell,
  2. Asking them what kind of drill they were looking for, or
  3. Asking them what kind of hole they wanted?

If you answered number 3, congratulations!

Of course, the truth is that too many sales people employ sales techniques that look more like answer 1 and 2.  For a variety of reasons, they are focused on helping customers by making a sale rather than solving a problem.

Learn to ask provocative and penetrating questions of your customers.  Focus on learning about the holes they wish to drill.  You can then easily share your ideas regarding which is the right drill for the job and they will be anxious to hear it.

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Know What You Don't Know

Plaid Kilt NontraditionalImage via Wikipedia

"Fifty-one percent of being smart is knowing what you are dumb about."

Ann Landers said that last century. Socrates said something similar many centuries ago: "First, know thyself."

Studies show a strong correlation between knowing yourself -- self-knowledge -- and success in life and work.

  • The best indicator of a high performance appraisal is being able to see yourself as others see you.
  • The best indicator of a low one is overrating your skills.

Know yourself. Know what:

  • You're good at.
  • You're average and bad at.
  • You're untested in.
  • You overdo or overuse.

If you know these things, you can compensate for them. Hire someone. Outsource the work. Delegate it. Ask for help. Don't know these things about yourself? That's a blind spot. And a blind spot is about the worst thing you can have. You'll venture into areas that should make you cautious and humble, and instead you could go in overly confident.

Disaster could loom.

Learning what you don't know about how others see you is one of the most important steps you can take in your career, regardless of your age or position. What can you do?

  1. Ask for feedback on an ongoing basis from a number of sources. Rely on feedback obtained from a confidential source, like an electronic 360-degree survey of peers, direct reports and bosses.
  2. Focus on competency results by comparing you relative to you, not you to everyone else. Your goal is to know yourself better. Ask: What surprises me in this feedback? Why might people say this about me? What experiences shaped my pattern of scores? What do I need to do differently?
  3. Work with a development partner who can objectively help you interpret your feedback and uncover your blind spots. Debrief efforts you make to behave differently in those areas where you discovered blind spots.

Knowing ourselves better is a lifelong process. I recently heard the story of two executives talking about a personality test they had just completed. It was one of those 30-item surveys that puts you in a box. "I'm red," explained the first executive. "What color are you?" Without missing a beat, the second executive replied, "I'm plaid."

Well, if you're plaid, what's important is knowing you're plaid!

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Due Diligence Checklist

Yes checkImage via Wikipedia

You negotiated the deal and your financing is lined-up. Now, all that is left is the due diligence.

Let’s get started. 

Due diligence can be divided into two areas: financial and management. As the buyer, you will ultimately make the final decision, and to do so, you will need to set some firm guidelines. Identifying the reasons a deal will not work before starting due diligence is critical as is eliminating the hangover of emotional or irrational logic.

First, make sure you have a professional to perform the financial due diligence. Your CPA can usually handle this for you. You will need to head up the management area of due diligence and don’t be afraid to get some professional help to assist you.

Second, clearly identify the critical issues for this deal to work along with the deal breakers. Some of the key management areas you will want to examine are:

 1. What additional value will be created by this acquisition?

    Look for acquisitions where 2 plus 2 will equal 5.

 2. Identify cost reductions.

    Look beyond the personnel and at the areas of operation and economies of scale.

 3.  What are the growth opportunities?

     Typically, you will need to make it grow to pay for the acquisition.

4.  What is not on the financial statements?

     Some areas may be under-reported or missing.

 5.  Will the people accept change?

     How well will the employees adapt to the merger of the companies?

 6.  What are the revenue drivers?

     Is the revenue coming from products at the end of their life cycle?

 7.  What is the management style?

     Command and control managers are a red flag.

 8.  What issues are inhibiting sales?

     Are they personnel, money, always done it that way, et cetera.

 9.  What are the financial requirements?

     Identify the numbers you will require to make this work for you.

Your CPA will have an extensive list of areas to check on the financial side.  But you will need to get directly involved in the management issues.

- Steve Sink


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The truly epic fails

Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, at Place ...Image via Wikipedia

Most partnerships in business fail. Sometimes they fail amicably, sometimes explosively! The question is why, and what can you do about it.

Failure: The partners have never worked together before. 

Do: If you are going to work 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week or more, with the same person, you need to find out if you are work compatible. Try working together full time for a week before committing to the partnership.

Failure: Two partners with the same background = no value add to the partnership.

Do: Decide in advance who is best at doing what. If you are both super salespeople, you will have problems with delivery. If you both rock at delivering the product, you may not have the sales needed to deliver on. Make sure your partner is strong where you are weak.  Seriously consider each taking the strength-finders test to see where your strengths lie.

Failure:  "I trust my partner unless I disagree with her."

Do: Partnership trust is true only when you trust your partner to act on your behalf even when you disagree. Very few can get to this level of trust. Remember that your partner needs to trust you as well. How much do you really trust this person?

Failure: The unplanned divorce.

Do: Complete a business prenuptual (buy sell agreement). Look at it this way, if you cannot agree at the front end how to part company, you will never agree when things are rough.  Agree on the valuation formula for the company before there are large revenues.

Failure: My partner was my friend. 

Do: Make sure that your partner is there for the right reasons. Just because they are your friend, does not mean they will make a good partner. Further, you probably have an overly positive view of your friend to start. Any disappointments are bound to cause issues.

Make sure you go into your partnership knowing the strengths and values of your partner.  Make sure you have spent significant time together before starting the partnership.  Complete a buy sell agreement before you start. Finally, divide the duties and trust your partner to hold up their end. 

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Ready! Fire! Aim!

Gun Aim copy While researching my last book, I received a lot of handgun safety training from one of the officers with whom I worked.  Surprisingly, for somebody with little history of eye-hand coordination, I was frighteningly adept with a firearm.  (Yeah, I know... project managers and live ammo... kind of makes you want to shudder, doesn't it?)

It's an interesting and exhilarating experience to shoot a gun, and there's a lot that goes into an accurate shot.  The obvious ones are stance and aim.  There are numerous stances one can employ while shooting a gun, and it's important to choose one appropriate for you.  Aim is another critical piece.  The "sights" on your gun allow you to line up your shot quickly and accurately, but you must know how to use them, and where to focus your vision.  Still, there was a third element I wasn't aware of until I went through training:  breathing.  My instructor taught me to shoot while half-way through my exhale.  At this point, I would be most relaxed AND focused due to oxygen flow.

Now here's the tricky part:  all three of these things (stance, aim, breathing) should be in perfect alignment before you pull the trigger to get off the best shot.  In a controlled environment, you have all the time in the world to prepare yourself.  If you're in a volatile situation, you may only have a split second to get off the shot to protect yourself or a loved one.

Project management works like shooting a gun in many ways.  Sometimes, tasks can only be completed when other things are in perfect alignment.  I was recently on a project where we realized that not everything was in alignment when we proverbially pulled the trigger.  (It figures that a Microsoft product would be the bane of our existence.)  If you have a project plan in place, you at least have somewhat of a controlled environment in which to pull the trigger (we did on our project, so we had some contingency to make course corrections before we pulled the trigger a second time to hit our bullseye).

The Expert Program Management blog had a useful post on dependency mapping, which is a great Gantt-Chart based visual tool to see where things have to come together.  Denis, the author, states that there are some key benefits to using this tool:

  1. It allows you to ensure the complex network of project interdependencies is coordinated and synchronised.
  2. It allows you to track that work packages produced by the different project teams are integrated.

Often, knowing what tasks come before or after other tasks is intuitively obvious and easy; other times, not so much.  Spending time having these discussions during the planning phase, thereby mentally stepping through your project before executing it, is a benefit beyond words.  Not doing so sets you up to "Ready! Fire! Aim!"  (Not a good sequence.)

So the next time you need to pull the trigger on starting your project tasks, ask yourself if you've thought through all of the components needed to make it a successful shot.

Carpe Factum!

Starbucks' Customer Service vs. Product Quality Gamble


Starbucks on BriggateImage via Wikipedia

You may have read this past week about Starbucks corporate initiative to slow down their baristas and increase the time and attention given to making quality coffee concoctions.

Over time, Starbucks baristas have found ways to be more productive and efficient at making the world's frothy, morning wake-up call and moving customers quickly through the long queue.

One would think that efficiency and productivity would be rewarded by the folks at corporate, but the suits at Starbucks have decided that product quality trumps quick service.

Slow down. Focus on product quality. Let the customer wait.

The reaction of some Starbucks baristas was understandable incredulity. Making snobby coffee is all well and good. Everyone wants a great eye opener before they hit their desk in the morning. But, just how long are we willing to wait? Baristas seem to think that it's easy for the moguls in Seattle to dictate the new regs from their ivory tower because they aren't the ones standing across the counter from a long line of bleary eyed, surly customers in desperate need of their caffeine fix.

The real question mark in this equation is, of course, the customer. What does the customer want? Are we willing to stand in a longer line at Starbucks for a better latte? Will the improved quality really be worth the wait, or will it be noticeable at all? It's a gamble. Frustrated baristas, longer lines and impatient customers could send customers scrambling for the speedy competitor you can surely find just a half block away from most Starbucks.

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Image representing Ning as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

If you are one of those companies still wading into the social media water, Facebook just made the water even more inviting to lure you in with Facebook Groups.

In a recent post for the IowaBiz blog, I talked about some of the features I wish we would see from Facebook and other social sites that would further enhace the usability for my various clients, including companies, B2B businesses, universities and associations. When the new changes to Facebook were released I felt like one of those people in the Microsoft Windows 7 ads. Picturing an improved version of myself - which, like it was for Liz Lemon on 30Rock, was Julia Louis Dreyfus - I sat typing my Business Record blog post and the executives at Facebook listened and made my recommended changes!

Okay, perhaps a bit of romanticizing on my part. Nevertheless, the improvements get a 'Like' from this social media chick.

Facebook Groups allow me from my personal profile to limit who sees what to a greater degree, but without the potential offense that comes with some of the other privacy settings. Members of my family group for example can enjoy pictures from our vacation to Vermont to see the fall foliage or discuss Holiday planning without boring everyone else in my network and with more ease of sending communication to the entire group at one time.

If this feature becomes widely used, which I believe it will with time, it should also generally reduce the noise on Facebook. My hope is that the noise level can come down to a place where we see an increase in effective message delivery. Currently, it's surely bumping up against a noise ordinance.

For businesses, colleges and organizations this provides a much needed way to develop groups for team collaboration on projects. Even beyond the development of employee leadership and team groups, imagine the possibility of developing groups of consumer leaders, alumni leaders, shareholders, or social media rapid response teams. Companies can and arguably should look to build, organize and activate their most loyal supporters internally and externally through social media. The same goes for universities with their students and alumni or associations with sponsors and volunteers. 

Facebook Groups takes many of the benefits of a proprietary social network like Ning or elgg and delivers it on Facebook. Some have even made the investment to build proprietary networks from scratch rather than using templates like Ning. Buyer beware of the ROI if you are considering this. It is expensive and you do not have the benefit of a network tested and improved by several others before you and for those that I've worked on has meant continued investment even beyond the sizable initial outlay.

These proprietary social networks have proven to have more useful tools for activation. They allow entities to build a large network focused specifically on one issue or brand, but also let the members and administrators create public and private groups to interact on a deeper level. For example, sharing up-to-date information on a piece of legislation or an upcoming product launch. There are hurdles involved with these social networks though including driving traffic; getting individuals to create a profile; bringing them back to the site with regularity. Facebook already has the audience and the platform for videos, photos, presentations and documents, but until now lacked many of the other tools needed to organize and collaborate on a more sophisticated level. Enter Groups.

We have not seen the last of the evolution of Facebook. Integration into the comfort of our homes, automobiles and everyday lives will continue to improve in a way that will benefit us greatly. Social media as a medium took the Internet to the next level, it is the new television. Those who have the tenacity to grab social networking by the horns, invest in it and find ways to use it that no one else has thought of yet are the companies who will see the most success from it.

I could talk all day about the many benefits and great potential of Facebook Groups, just ask my husband. There is still one significant barrier: taking advantage of it. In order to use it most effectively, you are going to have to think outside the group.

So your feet are wet and you are used to the temperature, are you ready to get your hair wet?

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Tax moves when times are bad

20101016IBAs "recovery summer" slips into "full-employment fall," not everybody is feeling it. Two years of tough times has brought many businesses to grief. If the wolf is at your office door, here are a few things to keep in mind:

- Pay your payroll and withholding taxes above all else.  If you withhold taxes from employee paychecks and fail to pay it to IRS or the state, they can collect personally from "responsible persons." Responsible people can be owners, but they can also be financial personnel who choose to pay vendors instead of the government. Failure to pay withholding can even result in criminal charges.

- Don't "borrow" employee 401(k) deferrals. The feds can get very, very angry with you for that.

- If things look dire, be honest with your bankers. They are more likely to work with you if they trust you.

- Talk to your tax advisors before you restructure your debt. Debt workouts can have strange consequences. They can generate taxable income at a time when your cash is very tight. 

- Talk to your attorney about bankruptcy options. Sometimes you can keep the business open to fight another day through a bankruptcy reorganization. It's more likely to work the sooner you get started. If you wait until you can't make payroll, it may be too late. If done right, keeping the business going can be the best deal for creditors while giving the old owners a chance to recover some of their losses.

Flickr image courtesy TheTruthAbout under Creative Commons license  .

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should!


I get it -- it's tougher and tougher to break through the clutter and get someone's attention these days!  But check out the latest campaign from security system company ADT and see if you think they've gone over the top.

Chilean ad agency DDB prepared and utilized this ingenious box to get the attention of apartment dwellers in Santiago with the plan of taking the program nationally and around the world.

Here's how it works:  The box is specially built to automatically pop open if it's not being forced closed.  So....an intern or someone the agency has hired slips the box under an apartment door and inside the apartment, once it is not help down by the weight of the door, the box pops open and looks like someone brought it INTO the apartment.

Imagine walking into your home or apartment and finding a box that has “Breaking into your apartment is easier than you think” written on it.

To quote their video (which has now been taken down by ADT.  I'm guessing they're getting some flack.): "To prove residents that anyone could break into their homes unexpectedly."

Apparently, the idea of scaring the heck out of someone to get them to buy a security system isn't a new one.  Check out this video.



What do you think?  Effective?  Intrusive?  Offensive?  How would you react if you found a balloon or a box in your home?  Would you call them?  To order a system or chew them out?


~ Drew

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A hat tip to Mike Colwell for sharing this with me!

Health and Wellness Go Hand In Hand for Employers and Employees

It’s mid-October and the hallmarks of fall - trees splashed in color, football conversations at the water cooler and pumpkins on front-door steps - are everywhere. Another staple of the season for many businesses and their employees is open enrollment for employer-provided health and dental plans.

Insurance Employers, more specifically their human resource and finance departments, typically put a considerable amount of thought into offering their employees the optimal health and dental packages. Employees should, in turn, give deliberation to their options to make selections that best fit their care needs and financial situations.

A recent article in the Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus outlines the following approach to ensure a good fit:

  • Determine your Needs
    • Think carefully about the health needs of your family for the coming year.
  • Research and Learn
    • With the passage of federal health reform legislation, it is important to look closely at your employer's health plan options.
  • Evaluate Costs
    • Rising health care costs continue to impact the cost of health coverage and could increase what comes out of your paycheck, or the co-pays or other out-of-pocket health care expenses you pay.
  • Consider Cost-Saving Options
    • Are there tools you could be using to help you save on your health care costs? Many insurers offer these on their Web sites.
  • Jump on the Wellness Bandwagon to Help Preserve your Long-Term Health
    • If your employer offers wellness programs, take advantage of them to help lessen your future health care needs.

Speaking of wellness, this is a topic that is top of mind for many employers right now. Prior to the recession, a lot of companies were ramping up preventive care measures in effort to create healthier workforces, build productivity and save money. More recently, however, there has been a dip in wellness program offerings as companies seek to reduce costs

Taking such steps may be short sighted. Companies have been shown to reap an array of long-term benefits after implementing wellness programs, such as these listed by the American Institute for Preventive Medicine:

  • Increases in employee morale
  • Improved employee health
  • Reduction in workers' compensation claims
  • Reductions in absenteeism
  • Increases in productivity

The federal government is seeking to renew employer interest in offering worksite wellness programs.  Included in the health care reform law sinned in March are $200 million in wellness program grants available to small businesses that do not currently have a workplace wellness program. The assistance is designed to make these types less of a luxury and something that is far more feasible.

The reason the government is getting involved is because preventive health measures promoted by wellness programs affect much more than the companies offering them and the employees participating. The resulting reductions in health care costs and increases in worker productivity benefit everyone.

So, whether you lead a small business considering the addition of a wellness program, are part of a large company thinking about what to do with its current wellness efforts, or are an individual studying your insurance selections for 2011, now is a great time to make choices that will pay dividends well into the future.

Business Bloggers & Copyright: Attribution Doesn’t Equate to Permission

copy copy copy copy copy copy copy copy copy c...Image by bettyx1138 via Flickr

In my first series of posts for IowaBiz, I’ve been addressing some copyright issues facing business bloggers.  The first primarily focused on the fair use doctrine. Next, we discussed a few more copyright factoids. Today, let’s talk about the commonly misunderstood distinction between plagiarism and copyright infringement.

Particularly for those of us engaged online for business and marketing, it’s customary - often complimentary - to comment about and link to someone else’s blog or site. Just as a scholarly paper includes a bibliography, bloggers are expected to properly credit and link to their sources.

As Professor Lastowka succinctly explains in his 2007 Boston University Law Review Article (published in 87 Boston U. L. Rev. 41 (2007) - draft available on SSRN here), “Where a provider of information can obtain essentially no market benefit other than popular attention, proper attribution of the information to the source of production is essential.”

Unfortunately, however, many bloggers mistakenly assume a reference to the original source, or even a link back to the original, means they’re free to copy at will without worrying about copyright infringement.

In a nutshell, giving credit doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not infringing.  To illustrate:  Let’s say I stole Todd’s wallet to buy myself a caramel macchiato. Would he consider me less of a thief if I clearly explained to the barista, “This is Todd’s money,” as I handed over his credit card?  Probably not.  Stealing is stealing.

Attributing a work means you’re not plagiarizing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not infringing a copyright. You have an ethical obligation to properly attribute a work to avoid plagiarizing someone else’s work. You have a legal obligation to respect the exclusive rights held by a copyright owner. 

Want to borrow a picture you found via Google image search? Want to use a hiphop song as background music in a YouTube marketing video? If you’d like to quote someone else’s copyrighted work on your own blog, you could simply seek written permission.

If you don’t have express permission, consider the fair use factors

As you probably remember, attribution isn’t one of the express statutory factors. However, the fair use inquiry focuses on a balance of equities. Consequently, attribution often indirectly plays into the analysis. For example, properly crediting and linking back to the original source may weigh in favor of fair use under the factor addressing the effect of the use upon the value/potential market of the copyrighted work. As Professor Lastowka aptly explained in his Digital Attribution article mentioned above, attribution is not “regularly considered by courts as a factor in the fair use analysis." Rather, “in certain cases, plaintiffs and defendants have been successful in persuading courts to incorporate evidence about attribution into a fair use analysis.” Professor Lastowka goes on to set forth a well-reasoned argument to propose adding attribution as a fifth fair use factor under the federal Copyright Act.

In sum, obtain permission or ensure you're comfortable with a fair use exception for your particular use. And give proper credit and link to the original source. For further reading on copyright and plagiarism, you may want to check out the resources listed under the Simpson College Copyright & Plagiarism Research Guide online.

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Twice your age

Freaky Age a Belgian four-piece Indie-rockband...Image via Wikipedia

I’m smarter than I look. No, seriously.

Or at least we are all trying to tell many of our co-workers that.

Scott Ginsberg, also known at the “Name Tag Guy,” recently posted “How to be Taken Seriously by People Twice Your Age.” He points out that it is not rare these days for a young professional to be working alongside someone twice their age.

I often hear varying opinions of the latest workforce generation by the Baby Boomers we are now in business with. But as young professionals, that is not something we can control. However, we can control the image we project as we try to establish ourselves as idea generators and reliable professionals in the work place.

A brief excerpt from Ginsberg’s blog post:

THE QUESTION IS: How are you supposed to be taken seriously when you’re the youngest person in the room?

SHORT ANSWER: Being proactive and powerful without coming off as arrogant and annoying.

Most of us can admit to exuding a little arrogance when we landed that first job out of college. Did you walk in like you owned the place; like you were ready to take over as the president on day two? More of us did that than we’d like to admit.

On any given day, many YPs are ready to conquer the world. Or are we? While that enthusiasm is something to be embraced, maybe it could be put to better use.

Time and learning can be humbling. If there is one thing that is clear to me now, it is that there is no replacement for decades of experience. We need to embrace those we work closely with that have it.

Once we can admit we have a lot to learn, we will open ourselves to a boundless book of knowledge. And we’ll gain respect along the way from our more seasoned peers.

But we also need to stick to our guns! We may be right a lot of the time. Some of the most innovative new ideas are coming from the younger generation. And with solid data to back up our ideas, people will listen.
Yes, we will create our own paths. But we also have take off the blinders and observe the established culture around us.

It is one of the building blocks of success.

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Get Them All to Fill the Pool of Meaning

Every sales person dealing with complex sales has had the following happen. Your contact at a prospective client company agrees to sit down with you and discuss doing business.  You have a great conversation during which you uncover the company issues for which you can provide solutions.  Because you are a good sales person, you also uncover why solving these issues is important and the immediate and long-term financial impact that your solutions will have on your perspective client's business.

When your final proposal has been put together, you are thinking, "This is a no brainer decision for these guys."  Following the delivery of your written proposal or sales presentation, the much anticipated new business turns out to be a rejection.

After speaking with your contact, you find out that not all of the decision makers had the same opinions regarding what the most important issues are and/or the financial impact of solving them.

What likely occurred is that your proposal was not based upon information that resulted from lots of OPEN diologue amongst ALL the stakeholders. Rather, it became the catalyst for some diologue which may or may not have been open.

The poolImage via Wikipedia

The authors of Crucial Conversations would say that the stakeholders were not swimming in the same "pool of meaning."  There might be several casues for this inside your prospective client's organization. 

As a professional sales person or consultant, you must take responsibility for helping your prospects and clients "fill the pool of meaning" in order to make the best decisions possible.  You must also not allow people to waste your time.

First, develop the skill necessary to uncover the prospective client's decision making process.  What steps will they take?  What decisions will be make?  How?  By whom?  And when?

Second, boldly insist on access to ALL of the stakeholders before making a proposal in order to confirm their individual agreement regarding the important issues and the financial impacts of the solutions.  Ideally, this would be a conversation in person or perhaps on the phone.  Skype it.  Or even summarize your understanding in a memo and request specific feedback based upon the memo from each of the stakeholders.

When having the "access to ALL stakeholders" discussion, be prepared to coach your contact (who may have less authority than the other stakeholders) as to how to share the benefits of your request. 

Third, should their be any incongruencies among the stakeholder opinions or ideas that will impact how your solution is viewed, tactfully share your concerns so that they can be resolved.  If you ignore this step, you may as well not start down this path in the first place.

Finally, prepare your final proposal or sales presentation based upon the information you now have.

Now it should be a "no brainer" for your prospective client.

In a nutshell, getting everybody swimming in the same pool of meaning in the beginning will save time and result in better decisions for your prospective cleints.  To you, "better decisions" means closing more sales!

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It's About the Passion

Heart CandleImage by Bob.Fornal via Flickr

Reggie Leach said, "Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire." We can relate to finding the passion for ourselves to be successful. But what about finding that passion within others, especially those we hire to help us make our team or organization success?

When interviewing, I'd rather find someone who's passionate -- on fire -- than someone with a lot of experience in numerous industries with all of the right initials behind their name. Give me individuals who are on fire, not because I lit their fires via incentives or praise but because they came that way.

How do you know you're talking to a candidate who's on fire -- or will set themselves on fire -- once they're on board? Watch for:

  • Lots of energy. Wide-open enthusiasm when talking about the potential they see in the position. You can almost see sparks of excitement around them. It's a beautiful thing.
  • Non-verbals and body language that says, "I'm intrigued and excited about this position. Tell me more." Leaning forward in their seat, looking you in the eye, taking notes.
  • Showing up ready. They've done their research about you, your organization and the open position. They've come with lots of questions -- but not just any questions. Questions that get to the heart of what it'd be like to join you in your passion. And you can tell they can hardly wait to hear your answers.

 It's like they want to know:

  • Is this something that I'll look forward to doing, come Monday mornings, and not tire of the rest of the week?
  • Is this a role that will sometimes make me lose all sense of time?
  • Is this a position that's so intriguing that i just have to take the chance and do it?
  • Will this job make my heart sing?

Remember the passion of Christopher Reeve? He said, "So many of our dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable." I want to hire big dreamers. But not just any big dreamers. Big dreamers who set big fires!

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Eminent Domain and Condemnation: Taking a Bone from a Dog

Private PropertyImage by mollybob via Flickr

My property professor described ownership as “how a dog feels about his bone.”* Your ownership can be taken away by the government to discharge its functions, including: appropriating resources for military service, turning swaths of private property into streets, or even giving to another business (if it qualifies as a public use). This is the power of ‘eminent domain’ and it occurs at municipal, county, state, and federal levels.

There are many debates about that power and how it is used.

The relativity of ownership is a result of governmental limitation on its own sovereignty. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, "...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." The Fifth Amendment, therefore, limits the power to taking private property for public use. The exercise of this power is called condemnation. This blog only addresses condemnation for public use. Condemnation for public safety includes the act of declaring a building uninhabitable, a corollary use of eminent domain. 

What does this mean to the average Iowa citizen or business owner? There you are, minding your business [of making widgets/developing software/cooking pork tenderloins]. You receive notice that the city is going to acquire your property to build [a park/a road/an electric substation/an area for a large business]. You are outraged. What can you do? 

The taking of private property must be for “public purposes which are reasonable and necessary as an incident to the powers and duties conferred upon” the city or county in most cases. If the government's justification is shaky, you may challenge the condemnation. An experienced property attorney will make sure that the condemning entity has legislative authority, that the proposed conversion of your property to public use is for a valid purpose, that no more property is taken than necessary, and that the effect of the taking does not diminish the value of your remaining property. 

Then, you may seek just compensation, including a fair relocation benefit. In Iowa, the condemning authority must offer to buy the property for fair market value and must make a good faith effort to negotiate. While the purchase and closure or relocation of your business is a tremendous hassle, it can also be a financial boon to your business. In many cases, established businesses find they are given an unexpected opportunity to receive a publicly-financed relocation, a better location, a newer facility, and/or a cashout of a good lease rate. In the best cases, businesses expand, sometimes in conjunction with economic development incentives if they qualify. Some find that this alleviates questions about how to cash out and retire.

If you cannot agree with the government on a buyout amount, you may hire an attorney and an appraiser and duke it out in front of the county compensation commission. If you have been low-balled by the government, a good result from the commission can even get your fees and costs paid (if the award given is at least 110% of the final offer made by the condemning authority).     

Even if you find that you are just a dog and your property is just another bone . . . get your bite in. 

-          Christine Branstad           

* He credited former law student Roxanne Conlin with that colloquial definition. 

Cynics & Negativity

4217465497_c8e53b7510 A hot topic in the ESOP world is "Dealing with Cynics & Negativity in Your ESOP." It has been a hot topic for years and is always a well attended session.

In many of these presentations it is about how to fix or deal with the cynic or negative person. The focus is on them.  It may be useful that we turn the focus on ourselves and how we approach our conversations with the cynic or negative person. Here are four key points to think about:

  • Keep yourself under control
  • Maintain an attitude of mutual respect
  • Clarity on your needs, feelings, and personal rights
  • Fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, affirmation and empathetic listening
If you peel back the onion, there may well be a logical and legitimate reason for why a fellow employee owner lives in the world of negativity. We have not walked a mile in their shoes and if we had, we may understand that they do have a right to be this way. There is no need to add more fuel to the negativity in our organizations, it is contagious enough.

Flickr photo by yewwei.tan

How to Successfully Lose Value in Your Company

Two American Alligators (Alligator mississippi...Image via Wikipedia

"Why should I plan to sell my business when I can’t sell my business now or anytime soon?"

If this thought has occurred to you, don’t feel alone. You have joined the majority of business owners thinking the same thing. Sales and profits have been, at best, flat for the last two to three years, you have reduced your overhead, you are working more hours and the future is mixed.

But...one day you get a call and someone wants to buy your business! You have a meeting and you discover that you have been so busy draining the swamp that you forgot about the alligators. So here are some of the alligators:

1. You are the business and you have no management team.

2. The profits and sales have been steadily declining.

3. You have no discipline to your systems (if you have them) or a decision making process.      Everything must go through you.

4.  There is no plan to grow the business.

5.  You want all cash. 

What happens? The buyer runs away….

In today’s financial and economic climate, if a buyer is willing to acquire a company that isn’t a turnkey operation, it will not do so without the owner’s continued involvement.  Buyers do not have the time or the in-house talent to correct deficiencies. Most owners of outwardly successful companies will share this fate: failure / inability to do anything about it.

How long will it take you to avoid this situation and prepare for the sale of your company for top dollar? No one knows. But what is known is that it’s a lot easier to bury your head and go about working in the business than it is to devote the time, energy and resources to prepare for your exit. (The path of least resistance.)

You may get lucky and a buyer will come along. But if you do not want to depend upon luck you will need to take control and use your time to make your company attractive. Increasing the value of your company takes time - time is something that buyers are not willing to take. So guess who has to make it happen?

If you started today it could take five or more years to make a business saleable. And the process could be exacerbated by additional downturns in the economy, your health or employee turnover (they know when the ship is sinking), how the company and its employees can adapt and embrace change, the fact that you are more motivated than your employees and the always present alligators.

Take charge of your future…don’t feed yourself to the alligators.

- Steve Sink

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Civility in Business - Don't narrow your market

Ears in dangerImage by darkpatator via Flickr

Barry Griswell recently wrote a great editorial for the Business Record on civility.  I completely agree that we need a return to civility in our society.  We also need businesses that are successful.  So what is the connection?  Respect for all views. 

Recently, I was seated at a bar with my wife at a local restaurant waiting for dinner.  There were well over 100 people in the room and it was fairly loud.  One voice started to rise above the rest of the din.  It was the bartender being very vocal in his (negative) opinion of the President of the United States.  Many people in the bar began to notice and some started to shake their heads in disgust.  Looking back, I think the disgust was more with the situation, not the opinion. The people in the bar that Friday night were not looking for a heated debate on politics.  I think most were looking to unwind and have dinner with family or friends. 

It is sad to say but business owners need  to coach their employees to be respectful of all opinions in dealing with the public.  No longer can we assume that employees already know not to discuss contentious issues with clients or other employees. Allowing your establishment to become known as having a very narrow point of view in any one direction is narrowing your market.  If you are okay with narrowing your market, you need to be comfortable with the side effect of narrowing your revenue.

A similar issue has become very noticeable in sports.  Venue owners and promoters are having to deal with difficult fans who are too vocal or worse yet violent.  We recently stopped buying season tickets to a local sporting series due to the language from the fans in the stands.  Personally, I felt like I was being carpet bombed by profanity.  My 11 year old son asked why the particular person was allowed to speak like that.  By allowing this type of behavior, a business endeavor communicates that it is acceptable.  Once that happens, customers decide if they are comfortable in the environment.  Again, this narrows the market and narrows the revenue. 

You decide what message your business sends.  You are responsible for your business brand and environment.  Make sure it is civil. 

Mike Colwell


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A Little Landscaping Project

Retaining-wallMy project management skills around home are likened to the story of the cobbler's children having no shoes.  I can manage highly complex, multi-billion dollar initiatives for my clients; it's just that when I'm at home, I don't want to think about things like dependencies or resources or estimates. (I'm still forced to do so, but it's under duress.)

Such is the case with our recent landscaping project.  I started building a retaining wall soon after we moved into our house almost 15 years ago.  Note the use of the word "started."  Also, note the lack of the word "finished."  Being so busy managing others' projects, I ended up ignoring my own far too long.  I decided it was time to outsource the project to a true landscaper, in order for us to put this one in the "done" column.

I collected bids and selected a landscaper with a proven track record and a good understanding of what I wanted and needed, who could complete the project within budget and within a reasonable time frame.  Before any of that could happen, I had to define what I wanted, and I had to let all of the bidding contractors look at what was there now.

As many of your know, I'm a HUGE big ol' geeky fan of systems thinking.  What I had to do before any of the work could begin, or before any of the estimates could be written, was define the OUTPUTS of the system.  If you are a business analyst, you call this requirements.  All of the contractors found out I wanted a two-tier retaining wall on the south side of my walk-out patio, and a three-tier retaining wall on the north side.  I had to specify the height of the wall.  I had to let them know what kind of bricks I wanted.  In other words, my ideas (OUTPUTS) became their INPUTS to their estimates.  It also became the criteria for the FEEDBACK LOOP to determine whether the project was correctly completed.

Project management is filled with systems thinking.  J. Alex Sherrer wrote an amazingly informative and comprehensive piece a few months ago on the use of systems thinking in projects.  He drives home the point of relationships between systems quite well:

And systems don't just interact with themselves; they're part of ever larger and more complex systems. Because of these internal and external relationships and influences, a system is complicated; take away any part of a system, its behaviour is altered; rearrange the relationships within a system and it'll function differently; make a change to a component within a system and that change could reverberate with unintended consequences to other systems.

When you become a project manager, post this paragraph on your wall.  EVERYTHING you do is related to somebody else.  You will receive information from others, which will prompt you to make decisions.  You will create things which others' use as inputs to their systems.

I just led a workshop on this very thing at the LavaCon conference in San Diego.  At the end of my workshop, I gave the participants the paragraphs from the website's main page, articulating the business reason for attending the conference, and asked them to map it into the systems model.  They soon found it wasn't as easy as it looked, until we stepped back and agreed on our system's output.  Then all of the pieces fell into place.

My landscaping project turned out amazingly well thanks to BW Construction in Urbandale. Bob Wolfe, the contractor, took my thoughts, and from it he was able to create his own outputs in the form of successful project completion.

What input-output relationships exist on your project?  How can you manage them?  What can you do to ensure you are successful at communicating those relationships?

Walking the Leadership Talk

listen to ME!Image by Orange_Beard via Flickr

I've known Terry Starbucker since the beginning days of our blogging journies. Terry blogs his "Ramblings from a Glass Half-Full" about leadership, and he is one of those rare bloggers who is a continuous stream of great content that is forged in experience. From Bringing Joy to the Workplace to the Seven Deadly Sins of Leadership, Terry has great advice for anyone in a position of leadership.

I want to tell you about a lesson in leadership Terry taught me that you won't find on his blog.

Terry and I connected in the blogosphere, then we had the opportunity to meet in person. It was a great example of the fortuitous connections you make through social media. Terry happened to oversee two contact centers who handled sales and customer service functions for his employer. My group helps companies measure and improve customer satisfaction and customer service, especially service delivered in contact centers. The result was that I had the priviledge of working with Terry and his team.

It's one thing to read and listen to a leadership guru, but it's another thing to have the experience of working with the team that guru leads. It was an opportunity to see if Terry walked the talk, and I was not disappointed. The team under his leadership were among the best contact center professionals I've ever had the pleasure to work with. I observed in them:

  • a constant challenge to grow and develop professionally, both as individuals and as a team
  • a exceptional standard of conduct and professionalism rooted in high expectations
  • an attitude of service in which the leaders served their team well, all the way down the chain of command.

I'm constantly reminded that front-line service delivery is a reflection of the leadership and culture created in the executive suite. As I stand on my soap-box about service quality, I know that it's critical for me to walk the talk with my clients and colleagues. I'm constantly reminding myself to lead by example.

I'm grateful to have good examples, like Terry Starbucker, to follow.

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Show me your ID

Owen is forced to compete as a gladiator in an...Image via Wikipedia

One key component frequently overlooked in social media strategies is a a grasp of personal identity. This applies to any type of company, individual, business or nonprofit organization.

Businesses and companies have unique qualities to competitors that allow them to succeed in the market. It isn't haivng a robust online presence that makes you special. Your company, your service, your people and your products are the qualities that make you stand out.

Many entities in any given industry are using social media. The way to shine above others is to infuse your online conversation with the qualities, services and experiences that your customers and clients have come to rely upon and that potential customers want to know. Businesses go to great lengths to establish and maintain the organization's identity through mission statements, marketing, PR, advertising and relentless employee training. The same commitment should translate online.

If you pride yourself on customer service, make that message come through on social platforms. If your services are specific to a niche market, share your expertise in that market in all you do and communicate about on social platforms. It can be as simple as offering informed insight with the post of an interesting article.

What social media can do for you is so much more than simply expose you to a broader audience or even help you develop deeper loyalty. It is an opportunity to share what about you is different, what makes you better.

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New tax breaks for the 2010 tax planning home stretch

20101001BIZ The 2010 tax year is three-fourths over for most of us. By now, we should have a decent idea of what sort of year we're having, so it's time to get serious about our year-end tax planning.

The president this week signed a new law that could make a big difference in your 2010 tax planning. Some key provisions:

$500,000 Section 179 deduction limit.  The tax law normally requires taxpayers to capitalize equipment costs and recover them only over time through depreciation. Section 179 allows taxpayers to elect to deduct the entire cost of most assets in the year they are placed in service. The tax law prior to now limited the deduction in a year to $250,000 worth of qualifying assets. For 2010 and 2011, that limit is raised to $500,000, if no more than $2 million of assets are placed in service during the year. Section 179 is available for most assets other than real property, though it is temporarily available for certain leasehold improvements and restaurant buildings.

50 percent Bonus Depreciation. This has been extended through the end of 2010. This rule, which enables taxpayers to deduct half the cost of new equipment in the year it is placed in service, had been set to expire at the end of 2009. It now applies retroactively for all of 2010.

Planning for the use of these new breaks won't be easy. Normally it's a good idea to accelerate deductions, but that's not a sure thing this year. With the top rates scheduled to increase from 35 percent to 39.6 percent next year, and as high as 43.4 percent by 2014, top-bracket businesses may find that the deductions will be worth more to them after 2010.

Another complication: Iowa may not recognize these deductions. Iowa has ignored bonus depreciation in recent years and it failed to go along with the increased Section 179 deduction of $250,000 last year. 

With 2011 tax rates up in the air, this is the toughest tax planning environment in many years. Stay flexible, and talk to your tax pro before you do anything big in your 2010 planning. 

Further reading:

500K Section 179, extended bonus depreciation enacted

Tax breaks in the new small business bill

 Image credit: Flickr image courtesy thekirbster under Creative Commons license.

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