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May 2011

Governor Signs Bill Authorizing Study on Online Gaming

An image of a person playing the poker varient...Image via Wikipedia

On May 26, Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law a gambling bill that, among other things, calls for a study on online gambling in Iowa. 

Senate File 526 requires the state racing and gaming commission to prepare a report “regarding the creation of a framework for the state regulation of intrastate Internet poker.” The report will look at the current state of unregulated internet poker play in Iowa, take into account consumer protection issues and explore responsible gaming measures. 

In other words, the report could explore questions such as: how might the state regulate online gaming? Through licensing? New or additional regulations? What might be the tax issues and implications? Should online gambling sites only be allowed to operate through an land-based casino in state - thereby ensuring it is Iowa casino businesses that benefit?

As reported by the www.DesMoinesRegister.com, the bill “set[s] the stage for a full debate next year on legalizing Internet poker within the state’s borders.” Iowa businesses may want to keep an eye on this report, as the actions taken in response to it will impact local economy. 

In fact, local businesses may get involved earlier than that, by providing feedback for the study this year. The bill provides that in preparing the report, the administrator of the gaming commission may consult with licensed Iowa casinos and race tracks, potential poker-hub operators and anyone else potentially interested in the preparation of the report. 

Thus, the commission could potentially reach out to anyone from Web developers and designers, to information technology specialists, to e-commerce experts and so on.

Some argue online gambling has the potential to boost the economy. For example, allowing local casinos to launch online gambling websites would likely introduce new revenue streams and create jobs. Of course, others worry about the negative effects of gambling, such as addiction, money laundering, minors gambling and so on. 

In apparent recognition of the harms, Senate File 526 also requires the state department of public health to prepare its own report regarding the societal impacts of internet poker in Iowa.

This report will be incorporated into the racing and gaming commission’s report, which is due Dec. 1.

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Iowa newspapers are evolving and growing

56384428For the last five years or more, we've been hearing how the newspaper industry is dying.  And then, as proof, they give us examples of papers in Detroit or DC who are reducing the number of days they publish their paper.  Yes, some newspapers are making reductions but that doesn't mean it is happening here in Iowa.

It's sort of like all of the "the sky is falling" news we hear about the housing industry.  The examples are from Arizona or California and have very little bearing on the Iowa housing market -- which is holding its own. 

The truth is, Iowa newspapers are stronger than ever.  Here are some facts taken from recent research*

  • 84% of Iowans read their local newspaper every week
  • Almost 50% of Iowans utilize one of their newspaper's digital connections
  • More than 50% of Iowans buy based on newspaper ads

Today's newspapers (and not just the Iowa papers) have evolved with the times.  They're not a once a day/week one-way conversation.  They're offering us tools to connect and communicate with them 24/7.

I'm Facebook friends with Register and Business Record reporters (and follow their fan pages).  Between Facebook and Twitter -- I get breaking news, traffic reports, tips about what's happening around town and the latest business news. It's how I stay plugged into DSM all day long.

And in a state where we have 3 or 4 good sized cities and the rest of the population lives in small towns and rural communities -- it's noteworthy that small town papers are thriving, even during the recession.

Whether you're looking for a potential news source, a place to advertise or seek editorial coverage for your business -- don't let the national hype about newspapers blind you to the power of print.  (Even when it's not in print!)  At least not in Iowa.




* Newton Marketing & Research 2010

Disclosure:  As you might imagine, being a columnist in the DSM Business Record makes me pretty bullish on newspapers.  My agency, McLellan Marketing Group, also does work for the Iowa Newspaper Association.  That's where I first saw the research numbers I shared.  It's also why I didn't offer opinion in this piece…just the facts so you could form your own opinion.




Sustainable Design Starts With Keeping "New Old" Buildings

Okay, I admit it. My architect juices used to get flowing when someone said “let’s start a project from scratch” as opposed to “let’s start a project starting with this old building." Now, my rose-colored glasses have become green-colored, and I look at things differently.

The green truth is: Saving an old building is the most sustainable thing you can do. Tearing it down is the worst.

When I think of old buildings in Des Moines, I conjure up images of pre-WWII buildings such as the Equitable, Hubbell, Kirkwood Hotel, or many structures on Court Avenue.

Unfortunately, many other buildings of equal or greater grandeur have been removed from the Des Moines skyline. Green practices - not the historic movement - helped save what was left.

The number of square feet typically constructed in a city - such as Greater Des Moines - after WWII typically exceeds what was built before. Those are the buildings that need to stay and be retrofitted for new uses. The mechanical systems have outlasted their useful life, and the buildings are most likely poorly insulated and have not-very-efficient windows.

Nearly every commercial building west of 63rd Street was built after WWII. Those are the “new old” buildings that could meet the same fate as their predecessors. Let’s take a look at a 20,000-square-foot building constructed in 1965, and look at some of the sustainable ideas that can save a building from the landfill.


New buildings use steel made with recycled product, but keeping an existing steel structure in place is even better. Beams, columns and decking may cost $10 per square foot or a value of $200,000 if left in place.

Footings and foundations

Concrete construction has not changed substantially in the past 50 years. Properly designed concrete foundation walls should last a long, long time. The slab and foundations may have a value of $150,000 to replace.

Exterior envelope

The exterior wall construction of our hypothetical building could represent nearly 9,000 square feet of surface area. If it's still weather-tight, the envelope could have a value of another $150,000.

Interior doors and cabinets

There may come a day when we just don’t rip out doors because building does not have the “in” wood. I look forward to the day when we consider the value of recycling and retrofitting as opposed to the "in" design when building.

Material not going to landfills

If the structure, slab, exterior envelope and interiors are saved, that material won’t fill up the landfill. Just the material mentioned above would represent a pile 100 feet by 200 feet by four feet high. That may not seem like much but it is 80,000 cubic feet of stuff. To put it another way, that’s more than 16 pretty good-sized backyard in-ground swimming pools.

So remember, sustainable design practices may be most important on the “new old” buildings because we do not think of them as historic. There is also an ample supply for businesses to consider instead of building from scratch. A recent example is the old location of the Des Moines Social Club. That building is being saved from the wrecking ball and a landfill by forward-thinking developers and future tenants.

- Rob Smith

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Doctor’s Orders: Invest Your Time, Gain Their Trust

Let’s face it. It can be difficult to build and grow relationships while managing a busy schedule. I want to have a meaningful connection with everyone I meet. But with limited time, how do I accomplish it?

To tackle the “time versus relationship building” challenge, I interviewed the doctors at Ballenger Chiropractic in West Des Moines.

As I listened and later thought more about what they shared, I created the following visual model to reflect our conversation:

  CLIENT Relationship MODEL_590px

  • Initially, the client may be hesitant or reserved (blue). The business spends a greater amount of time connecting (green), to help build trust.
  • Further around the cycle, time invested emphasizes teaching and sharing (brown), with the aim to add long-term value. Trust increases and the relationship grows.
  • The time invested results in a strong, trust relationship (blue is thicker now!). This leads to satisfaction, loyalty, and referrals.

I love it!

From my chat with Dr. Luke and Dr. Alex, I also gleaned five simple tips to help balance the importance of client relationships and limited time.

  1. Learn to read people. Some clients want to talk. Some want a little quiet in their day. Both are fine.
  2. Eliminate the “dead space” in your workflow. It’s not about being a mill or manufacturing plant, but there is something to be said for efficiency and productivity. Every business can find ways to improve, with a little creative thinking and willingness to try new things.
  3. Serve as many people as you can, without letting the quality of their experience falter. Find creative ways to serve more people, and do it really well.
  4. Have a clear purpose when you connect. Avoid asking a question that isn’t meaningful, such as, “How is the weather?" Instead, take an interest in your clients' activities, families or professions.
  5. Maximize the time you have. Sometimes this means learning how to connect with people while you work. Yes, multitask, but do so without impeding quality.

What might you add to the list? Did the visual model resonate with you? If so, why? I look forward to your comments!

-- Jocelyn Wallace
Ballenger Chiropractic & Acupuncture is owned and operated by Dr. Lucas Ballenger and Dr. Alexandria Ballenger. It is located near Jordan Creek Mall at 165 S. Jordan Creek Pkwy, Suite 110 in West Des Moines.

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The Selfish Neither Thrive or Survive

A king piece in chess, with three pawns.Image via Wikipedia

After the game, the king and pawn go into the same box.

There's an important lesson there. Though that Italian Proverb has been around for a long time, it speaks to team life in today's workplace. If you want to be a contributing member of a successful team, you have to put others on the team ahead of yourself. You have to see the good of the team as more important than your own short-term success. How are you when it comes to taking a backseat to others? If someone else gets credit for work well done, does it bother you? If you get bumped from the "starting lineup" of the team, do you pout?

Try this:

  • Are there successful teams in your company? If so, ask to sit in on one of their meetings. What do you see them doing that you can immediately apply to your own team? Talk with some of their team members. Ask them what practices have led to the team's success.
  • Make a list of the three most important elements you took away from those conversations. Bring your team together and begin a conversation about how you might change the way you all work together.

Highly functioning teamwork is important. It can also be a matter of survival. Remember the movie, "March of the Penguins." If emperor penguins in Antarctica don't work together as a team, they die. Period. Thousands of male penguins huddle together, providing each other enough warmth to last through the most brutal subfreezing weather. They take turns walking around the outside of the huddle while those in the middle sleep.

Teamwork means survival, and the selfish don't survive.

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Work Sacrifice

61850581_b9c091bf7c_tAre the sacrifices that your employees make forced upon them or given freely? If these sacrifices are driven by fear of job loss, intimidation, avoidance of home life, looking like a martyr, or an absolute requirement, then the value of these sacrifices are drastically diminished.

The best-in-class businesses know that leaders, employees and families all sacrifice something to be the best. The reasoning behind the sacrifice is what truly defines the intent and value of the sacrifice. Here are some examples:

  • Working long hours = avoiding a destructive relationship elsewhere
  • Working long hours = facade of being a good employee
  • Tolerating verbal abuse = fear of job loss
  • Knowing it is wrong and saying nothing = apathy or fear of job loss
  • Volunteering for every project = avoidance of real job responsibilities
  • Volunteering for every project = justification for poor performance

Sacrifices that are given freely with no strings attached is where true value is created within organizations. Sacrifices that are cherished are tied to deep beliefs, strong values and a better life. 

What is the true reason your employees make the sacrifices they do?  To understand this question you need to know the answer for yourself - do you know? 

- Victor Aspengren

Flickr photo by romanlily

Bumper tag and business: how to not get customers

monster trucks (12)Image by lairdscott via Flickr

I was getting on the interstate the other day.  The intersection I was at had a dual left turn lane and a two-lane on-ramp. I am in the left lane with some cars behind me. Suddenly, a very large four wheel drive truck (when did Ford start making the F13500?) pulls up in the right lane. The truck is about 8 feet off the ground so all I can see is the sign on the door.  "X----------X Home Remodeling" the sign says and below that is a tagline about care and trust.  

So the light turns green and I begin to turn left.  The large four wheel drive truck accelerates and starts to turn as well. The next thing I know, he has "merged" into the left lane, cutting me off and making me hit the brakes hard. The car behind me barely got stopped before hitting me.  Needless to say I was not thinking kind thoughts about the driver of the truck. 

So let me ask you, do you think I will be calling "X-----------X Home Remodeling" any time soon? Do you think I am buying his tag line about care and trust?  

We hear people talking about being careful about what you say on Facebook and Twitter.  When you are in business, you need to be careful about all impressions you leave - your own front yard appearance, your personal hygiene, your appropriateness of dress and how you drive.

Who you are is judged by others based on your actions and appearances. Especially when you name is on a sign on your truck!

Mike Colwell


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Just a Little Late

Impatient-man Hey! Lay off! My post is here, isn't it? Oh sure, I didn't make the 6 a.m. deadline. Big deal! Why are you being so rough on me? I'm not "technically" late.

Hmmm... sound familiar?

In project management, late tasks happen. A lot. More than most project managers care to have them happen, anyway. We work with our teams. We communicate. We build grandiose project plans. And the task is still late. And we wind up with egg on our face with our executives and our customers.

But how does a project manager prevent it from happening?

Well, the first step is figuring out WHY it happens in the first place. A few years ago, Samuel Okoro published a great blog post on project task tardiness. Some of his top reasons:

  • Estimates - because our "best guesses" are padded with contingency due to the task uncertainty, we're already shooting blindfolded.
  • Students' Syndrome - procrastination... enough said.
  • Parkinson's Law - work expands to fill the space allotted to it.
  • Integration - making sure all of the predecessor tasks are done on time so your task can start.

Sure, there are others. But these give you a pretty good idea why our projects don't get done on time. That last one is especially difficult, when you consider the compounding effect of one late task.

But how do we get the tasks to start coming in on time? The xProject blog had a few good tips:

  • Schedule tasks into your calendar
  • Be a time pessimist
  • Prioritize
  • Be honest with yourself

Those are great ideas for the project team member working on the task. What about the project manager who has oversight? A couple of my approaches are as follows:

  • Schedule ahead - I avoid surprises by giving my staff a look-ahead report of tasks coming up in the next 2-4 weeks as well as the current week, so they are always looking at the present and the near-term future.
  • Work weekly - Don't be a micromanager. Let your team know what's due that week and on what day. If it's on the critical path, then you can show a little more due diligence in following up; otherwise, leave them alone and trust them to do the work. If the task is completed within the week it was assigned to be done, I'm not going to ask if it completed exactly on the day it was supposed to be done.
  • Public accountability - if at the end of the week, the task is incomplete and there is no good reason (or change request) to push the date back, publish the late task list (along with accountability) and share with everyone shy of CNN. I've found this to be a great motivator, as nobody wants to see his or her name associated with a late task.

Your job as a project manager is to maintain your credibility through building a culture where "late" is not acceptable... even a little late.

Service Starts at the Top

Bottom BracketImage by joeldinda via Flickr

I've been reading the book "A Leader's Legacy" by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. While leadership is a separate topic here at the IowaBiz blog, the subject of customer service can't be adequately addressed without touching on the importance of leadership and its impact on the service delivery system of any company or organization.

In the book, Kouzes and Posner quote Nordstrom General Manager Betsy Sanders:

"I serve my associates so they can serve our customers well. Actually, I'm at the bottom ofthe organizational pyramid supporting them and not at the top with them supporting me."

In my years of working with companies at all levels from front line customer service representatives (CSRs) to the CEO's office, I've learned a lot about service. My experience and observation is that a company's service culture is rooted in the executive suite and not by the front-line reps.

Supervisors, managers, and executives who are struggling with the customer service equation in their own organizations should begin with a look in the mirror. Are you at the top of your service organizations pyramid as Sanders describes it or at the bottom?

Three good questions to ask key people "above" you in the organizational pyramid:

  1. How am I doing as a leader?
  2. What do you need from me so you can better serve our customers?
  3. How can I help you succeed?
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The tax law wants you to buy a behemoth

A tax provision designed to encourage businesses to buy new machinery to fight the recession spur the recovery has a peculiar, and perhaps unintended, side effect: it makes 2011 a great time to buy a new giant SUV for your business. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The bottom line: This year Congress is running a large "bonus depreciation" special on cars weighing more than 6,000 pounds, such as the Cadillac Escalade and Nissan Armada. Taxpayers may deduct 100% of the car's cost in the first year—subject to the personal use disallowance, of course.

20110516-1IABIZThe new "100% Bonus" depreciation allows taxpayers to deduct the full cost of qualifying new machinery and equipment in the year it is placed in service. These costs are normally capitalized and deducted over a period of several years, rather than all at once. The 100 percent bonus depreciation differs from the similar "Section 179" deduction in that it only applies to new equipment, but it can generate a loss carryback.

The Wall Street Journal reports that BMW, General Motors, Ford, Jeep, Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen all produce the big vehicles qualifying for the break. A list of such vehicles is posted here.

If you want to take deductions for business use of a vehicle, there are some things to keep in mind:

- The tax law requires you to document your business use. You need to keep a log or calendar documenting your business mileage, including the business purpose and distance for your trips. Commuting doesn't count.

- You can only deduct your depreciation to the extent you use your vehicle for business purposes. If your business use declines below 50 percent any year, you may have to "recapture" prior depreciation as non-cash taxable income.

- Don't buy something just for the deduction. Even after the tax savings, you are still out of pocket for most of the cost of the vehicle.

The TaxProf has more. You can read more about vehicle bonus depreciation here.

Flickr image courtesy Highway Patrol Images under Creative Commons License

Takeaways from a talking dog

If you haven't seen the video below...before you even read another word, just watch it. Assuming you are one of the over 19 million (yes...19 million) people who have already viewed the footage, let's also notice that the video was first uploaded on May 1 of this year.  So in less than a month, it has earned over 19 million views.


Why?  How did the video go THAT viral THAT quickly?

Viral is the new holy grail for marketing.  Everyone wants a video to go viral.  So they make a video and tweet about it and put it on Facebook and a few people watch it, but there's nothing viral about it.

So can we glean some takeaways from the talking dog?  (And the Diet Coke and Mentos, and the smoking toddler and the wedding party dance)

KISS:  Keep it simple, stupid.  None of these videos were over-produced.  They were a little raw, very real and no one edited them to perfection.  Part of their appeal is the every man quality about them.

Two ends of the emotional spectrum:  Most viral videos are either very funny to the point of being absurd or very sad to the point of being emotionally wrenching.  I immediately think of the "don't text and drive" videos that have been cropping up.  If they're going to be shared -- the videos have to take us to the edge.

Fresh:  There are very few sequels in the viral video world. (With the exception of the "Will it Blend" series) If we're going to share it with others, we want to be pretty sure they haven't seen anything like it before. That's why the Embrace Life video was so wildly popular.  

No overt selling:  Think of the viral videos I've listed here.  Very few were selling anything.  And even those that were created by a commercial entity -- the sales "pitch" was subtle if detectable at all. The sponsors/advertisers recognized that they'd have to sacrifice big logos, features & benefits copy points, and a call to action if they wanted the videos to spread.

That's a pretty tall order when you add it all up.  It takes a pretty confident organization to be willing to be in the background while something funny or horrific takes center stage -- all while resisting the urge to over produce.

But when it happens -- it's magic.  Unfortunately, it's not a magic trick that you can just practice until you get it right!  When it happens, it happens...

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Facebook Wants Your Employees To Tell Their Friends Where They Work

We’ve talked before about the importance of a company’s social media or technology personnel policies. In any blog post about employer policies, I’m quick to point out that there’s no one-size-fits-all policy. But here’s one simple issue for employers to consider. 

Facebook, as well as other social networking websites, offers its users pretty straightforward “fill in the blank” queries to share basic information about themselves. One of those queries is “Employer,” and asks, “Where have you worked?” Users often fill out a blank because it’s there; they don’t necessarily consider the implications of every piece of information they share. Employers should consider whether this very simple feature of social networking sites is something they want to address in their technology policies or social media guidelines.  FB screen shot 
Some employers worry that such a declaration may give the mistaken impression that an employee is speaking on behalf of her employer - usually based on the nature of the communications rather than the employer mention alone. There are a number of ways to think about the potential implications, but one suggestion may be to require employees to include a disclaimer in their profile that the communications are the individual’s personal viewpoints and do not reflect the views of his or her employer. If a company chooses this route, it may also be wise to point out to employees a disclaimer doesn’t insulate them from consequences for poor decision-making, and violating company policy may still result in discipline or termination. 

Some employers feel compelled to remind their workforce that once an employee mentions his workplace online, it becomes even more important for the employee to be mindful of the content he or she is publishing. Employers that want to prohibit employees from identifying their place of work altogether should think about whether such a policy might run afoul of FTC regulations requiring disclosure of material relationships in connection with certain communications that could be considered endorsements. 

Employers should consult their attorneys for guidance when drafting or updating personnel policies.

The Changing Job Market - Part II

Finding a job in large corporate environments isn’t what it used to be. Yp

And this isn’t saying large corporations can’t be a great place to work. Major companies provide jobs for a large number of people in the Des Moines area, just like in most other cities. What is changing is twofold: the desires and expectations once you are in a position.

Before we dive into the specifics of that, let’s also consider the other side. Generation Y. Yes, the YPs out in the work force today are definitely searching for a new path to success. Many of them have watched their parents work for the same company for 20 or more years. A larger percentage of those entering the workforce today are more eager to try new things, jump around and not commit to one opportunity.

I particularly like this post on "6 Ways the Recession Has Changed Hiring Practices."

Sure these “movements” or changes are generalizations and not hard set rules. There are still many young professionals working hard up the old corporate ladder. And it isn’t a bad time to be doing so. After all, the baby boomer generation continues to get closer and closer to retirement. Consider this piece of information shared by Ben Stone at the 140 Character Conference in Des Moines this week: By 2014, half of the workforce will be Generation Y.

Yet many young professionals are determined to find their own path. I’ve heard several hiring managers say how today’s workforce is more willing to turn down guaranteed, solid corporate salaries in order to go their own way.

However, maybe the lasting recession we are still fighting through has much to do with that. Some Generation Y workers have been forced to take a new outlook and have a jaded attitude towards corporate America after getting laid off so early in their career. One could argue that corporations have still yet to prove post recession that a job there is much more stable than beginning your own start up company.

Many of the retiring baby boomers may have built their career with just a few different endeavors and spent their last two decades with the same company. I don’t see that in store for today’s young professionals. Some corporations don’t give out incentives for employees to stay like they used to and Generation Y workers seem to always be looking for a change.

It isn’t a debate of a right or a wrong way, but more a sign that with time, things change. What I take out of this is “value”. How are companies going to show they still truly value each seat at the table? How are young professionals going to show they value their position and have the necessary dedication?

- Jason Wells

Changing the nametag: Independent Contractors v. Employees

Blog entryImage via Wikipedia

If you are considering changing an employee into an independent contractor, wait.

First, weigh the actual benefits. Ask your lawyer, your liability insurance carrier and your CPA.

Second, determine what role the person really fills. Pretending an employee is an independent contractor may cause legal hassles.

Most businesses explore how to cut overhead and maintain productivity. I am no business process expert, but I know that numerous companies explore achieving “cost efficiency” by changing a worker’s status from employee to independent contractor.

The change should not be taken lightly. Employees and independent contractors may occupy the same amount of desk space at your business, but they differ in control of work, risk of loss and tax liability.

Who controls the work may determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Employees tend to have work directed through a hierarchy. For example, employees may have set arrival and departure times, breaks and vacations. Employers may discipline or terminate an employee for unsatisfactory performance. To the contrary, independent contractors typically enter contracts regarding the expected work product, control their own work and simply provide the deliverable work product. Independent contractors often set their work hours, breaks and vacations, subject only to the deadline of the work product.

The employer carries the risk of loss regard an employee’s work product. If the employee performs poorly, the employer suffers. Conversely, independent contractors carry the risk of loss regarding their work product. Depending on the terms of the independent contractor agreement, the employer may terminate a contract with an independent contractor for poor performance, and may even bring legal action based on breach of contract.

The Iowa Department of Revenue and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also have an interest in how a business classifies its workers because of tax liability. Employers withhold and pay taxes to the federal and state government regarding earnings, social security and certain other benefits. Federal and state governments also offer certain rights and protections to employees versus independent contractors (See, for example, Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964).

Thus, governments have an interest in both protecting workers and collecting tax revenues. Given the budgetary issues of late in the federal and state governments, there have been increased audits focused on misclassification of workers as independent contractors. When found, the IRS may reclassify workers as employees and assess back-taxes as well as interest and penalties. Iowa also charges fines, back-taxes and penalties for misclassification of workers. These accumulate quickly and can be taxing (pun intended) for businesses when hit.

Resources are available to assist businesses in determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The IRS provides tips for small businesses and allows questions to be submitted on Form SS-8 for worker status determination. The Iowa Department of Revenue also provides a website to guide in this determination. Finally, the IRS has a guide and Iowa Workforce Development has a guide for determining correct worker status determinations.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.-Shakespeare

An Employee by any other name may stink.-IRS

- Christine Branstad

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Orville Wright Did Not Have a Pilot's License

My model plane!Image by orangeacid via Flickr

Think about it. Orville had nothing tangilbe or framed on his wall to tell him that he could successfully do what he knew he had to try. And yet how often have you said to yourself, "I'm going to build a Web page after I've taken classes." Or, "I'd go for the sales manager job but without an MBA, what's the use?"

Some of the greatest advances in history were made by individuals who didn't know any better. They didn't know they "couldn't" do what they ended up doing.

Ask yourself:

  • "Is there something I'm putting off doing because I think I'm not quite ready?
  • Am I waiting for permission or validation from someone else?
  • Are the credentials I'm waiting for necessary?" 

What if you just stepped out and did it?

Would you fly?

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Smartphones Cause People to Abandon All Common Sense!

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

What happened to the days when people silenced phones during meetings, or better yet, left them in the drawer for the better part of the workday? Smartphones have allowed us to show everyone in the room how important and busy we are.

An employee that I supervised would bring her BlackBerry into client meetings. And when she didn't have a fresh personal email to read, she would allow herself to absently scroll through previous messages. Since I was her boss, I knew there was nothing so important that she could not wait to read it until after the meeting.

One time, a client asked her a direct question and, being engrossed in her most recent personal drama, completely missed the inquiry. I answered the question for her and wanted to kick her shin under the table. After the meeting, I told her to never bring that device to a meeting with her again.

Unfortunately, some people are answering social media queries, posting social media content and attending to all sorts of other unnecessary garbage during business meetings and other face-to-face gatherings. Last fall, I watched a government official spend an entire three-hour city council meeting on his BlackBerry. He did not ask a single question of any of the speakers. He was the last one to vote on every vote. He was too busy lap reading and lap texting to notice.

There is a time and a place for using personal devices. Meetings are NOT one of those times. Some people use the excuse of "multi-tasking" to explain away their behavior. This causes the person right in front of you to feel less important than the person you're tweeting, texting or emailing.

When my kids call me over and over, I simply send them a quick text: "In a meeting, call u later." All other messages go unanswered. Best yet, I send a quick pre-emptive text to anyone likely to call me. "In a meeting all afternoon, I'll call you when I'm done." PERIOD.

Smartphones and social media are a powerful aphrodisiac for technology addicts. There are only a few good reasons to take a phone call during a meeting. There aren't ANY good reasons to do social networking of any kind during meetings.

So, if you're one of those important people who just must play with your iPad while you're supposed to be listening, get over yourself and get back to work. If you just don't have the nerve to tell someone they're an obnoxious technology jerk, leave me a comment and I will gladly forward it on to the right person. Thanks for reading, and please share your own technology pet peeves!

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Hiring about to get hard again

The Starting LineupImage by thatmushroom via Flickr

For many, the economy has started to turn around. Sales are growing and businesses are starting to hire again. What many may not have considered is how difficult it will be to hire the people you need now and in the future. While there are many people looking for a job today, that is changing.

  • The demographic change, the aging workforce, is going to reduce the number of available employees.
  • Our world is becoming much more diverse. Is your employment base?
  • Many people are looking for much more than just a paycheck. What are you offering to entice the people you need?
  • Can you leverage the talents of those with a disability? They can be great employees.

Here are some questions you should be considering in starting or growing your business:

  1. Are you sure you can hire the talent you need at the time you need them?  
  2. Are you open to building a diverse workforce? 
  3. Are you building a culture that others want to be part of?
  4. How will you recognize great work when you see it?

Finding and keeping great talent has always been hard and is going to get harder. Make sure your plans include the time and cost of finding the right people. Also, make sure that you cast your net wide to include those you might not have considered in the past. There is a big, diverse world out there, both in customers and in employees. 

Mike Colwell

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I'm Back

Jumper-Cables It's been a while.

I have to take a moment to thank Todd Razor and the folks at the Business Record for allowing me a few months off to address a pressing family medical situation. Now I'm able to reengage in "real life" again. I suspended much of my professional life for five months. It's time to get back into projects, writing and speaking.

Reengaging. Restarting.

We have that same challenge sometimes with our projects. Due to the economy, many projects were suspended indefinitely. Now that things are slowly improving, many project managers are being asked to restart projects. But it's not that easy as this post by Chris Vandersluis demonstrates. Issues like finding experts and contractors (both of whom have gone onto other things, redefining investment and funding issues, as well as additional oversight - both internally and externally - all combine to make the second (or third or fourth) time around harder than the first.

There are also mistakes that can be made when restarting a project. This post by PM Alliance shows six bad assumptions people make when restarting a project:

  • It's a fresh start (not really - you just need to find a starting point amid all the old assumptions where everybody is on the same page)
  • No research is needed (um... yeah... like the world just stopped while your project was on ice)
  • We'll just fit it in with our current workload (this is an add-on to the existing workload, requiring appropriate planning and scheduling)
  • Late, later, latest (a restarted project is not a late project; so don't fall into the triple constraint compression. Urgency should not take precedence over common sense)
  • Bargain basement blue light special (just because it's a bad economy, don't assume contractors will bow to your desire to save a buck)
  • DIY (just because budgets are tight, assuming you can do it yourself in house is dangerous).

These are just a few things that can go wrong when restarting a project. Your project may have been in neutral for a few weeks or a couple of years. Either way, it is imperative that you approach the project with fresh eyes. The goal is still successful accomplishment. Figure out what that looks like, and you'll be good to go.

It's good to be back.

'Your Call May Be Monitored'

Your conversation is being monitored by the U....Image via Wikipedia

We hear it almost any time we pick up the phone to call for customer service. "Your call may be monitored for training purposes." When I explain to people that call monitoring and assessment make up a large portion of what our group does for clients, I get one of two questions:

Q: "So, do companies actually listen to all the calls?"

A: No, companies do not listen to every recorded call. Some companies are required by law to record every call and keep them for a period of time, but listening to all of the calls would be inefficient and unproductive.

Like a research company who can determine the opinions of 200 million Americans by asking a random sample of 1,000, a sound analytical Quality Assessment (QA) method can objectively determine how a company, or an individual, is performing by analyzing a relatively small, random sample of calls. Companies generally listen to a few calls to learn a lot about what's happening in conversations with customers. Select calls can be pulled and used for training and coaching. Some companies with very strict legal compliance issues use the calls to manage compliance. In some other cases, an angry customer may call to complain "you never told me..." and the company can pull the call in question to prove that they did.

Q: Doesn't that make Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) feel weird that their calls are being recorded?

A: It's so common place today that most CSRs expect it as part of the job. Think about it: the idea of recording and replaying performance for training and coaching goes far beyond the work place. Professional athletes regularly spend a large amount of time watching "tape" of their performance - or of their competition - to figure out where they made mistakes and how they can improve their performance.

Musicians pour over recordings to get the sound just right. Call recording is a variation on the same theme. When it's done well, call recordings coupled with effective coaching can help hone CSRs into customer service champions. And remember, call monitoring doesn't have to be about catching people doing things wrong, but motivating agents by rewarding them for doing things right.

With today's telephone technology, the opportunity to record calls is readily available to small businesses, as well as major corporations. I've worked with some companies who had only one person on the phone talking to customers. The bottom line is that companies who effectively leverage call recording technology may be those who beat the competition in the race to provide customers with service that wins satisfaction and loyalty.

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Is it time to amend?

Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, after ...Image via Wikipedia

Iowa's legislature saw fit to change the rules of the 2010 tax game last month, after most Iowans had probably already tallied their scorecards.

So should we amend our Iowa 2010 returns right away?

Let's review what the legislature has done:

 - It has "coupled" with all federal tax legislation for 2010 except for "bonus" depreciation. That means, among other things:

- Taxpayers can take $500,000 of "Section 179" deduction on Iowa returns, just like on the federal returns. Until the change was made, the Iowa limit was $134,000.

- Iowa follows federal rules now for charitable contributions from IRAs in 2010. For 2009, IRA qualified distributions to charities for those more than 70 1/2 were excluded from federal income; they were included in Iowa income and a charitable deduction was taken on Iowa schedule A.

 - A bunch of smaller deduction that were not available on 2009 Iowa returns are now available on 2010 returns. These include the $250 educator expense deduction, the deduction for college tuition and fees, and the optional sales tax deduction for those not deducting income taxes. 

 - Taxpayers who took the new employee health care tax credit had to add the credit back to federal taxable income. That add-back now also is required for Iowa returns.

Go here for a complete list of changes.

No doubt many Iowa returns were filed before the legislature and the governor did that.  Should you amend your returns right away if you qualify for these benefits or have to pay more?

I understand that the Iowa Department of Revenue is working on a legislative proposal that would enable taxpayers to take some of the new deductions on 2011 returns, rather than amending their 2010 returns. The department isn't really staffed to handle a flood of amended returns and many taxpayers would rather not pay to have an amended 2010 return prepared if they can use their new 2010 deductions in 2011.

If you can take your Iowa 2010 $250 educator expense in 2011, it's hardly worth filing an amended return to claim a $17 refund. Even a big additional Section 179 deduction might be worth waiting for if it is coming out of an S corporation or partnership on a batch of K-1s, where each individual owner would also have to file an amended return.

Iowa may also come out with a streamlined amended return process for 2010 refunds. So it may well be worth waiting a few weeks to see what the legislature and the Department of Revenue come up with before filing your refund claims. But if you now have an additional $366,000 Section 179 deduction for 2010, you probably don't want to wait very long to claim it.

Sadly, if you owe, they will likely catch up to you eventually by electronically comparing your Iowa filings to your federal returns. In that case, you might as well amend and stop the interest. 

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