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June 2011

Stay on the tracks...

I’m perfect.

Ok, well how about close to it? Of course not!

That’s mistake number one I’ve seen from young professionals in my short career. And I’m as guilty as the rest of them. You’re not perfect and you don’t know everything despite what your mother may have told you growing up. :)

3 Common Mistakes That Derail Young Professionals” is a great read. In fact, I think it was nice Susan Davis-Ali only pointed out three mistakes because there are definitely many more. However, she does point out that these common mistakes should be avoided. To this I argue that making mistakes is all part of the learning process. So while young professionals may be able to dance around these after reading, there are still many more hurdles to trip over.

Belaboring a point, showing off and offering advice are all valid concerns brought up by Davis-Ali. They all fit into that umbrella of trying to be perfect and know it all. If I’ve learned one thing so far it is that you really start to learn once you realize how little you do know.

It’s only natural for young professionals almost done with or recently graduated from school to feel on top of the world. It’s an exciting and nerve-racking time when you are trying to start your career off right. But it doesn’t have to show. Hopefully these tips will help us start our train off on the right tracks as we look to begin our careers…

1)  Show you want to learn – I’ve long suggested to young professionals starting a new position or internships to schedule a meeting with managers outside of your day-to-day interactions. Show you want to learn what they do, how they do it and why it is important.
2)  Ask questions – Well, not too many. But let your co-workers know you are there in a positive way. Show you are taking an interest in meetings and want to help out.
3)  Be yourself – There is such a thing as being too professional that comes off arrogant. Be friendly. People work well with people they like.

What are some of the mistakes that have tripped you up? How can others avoid those pitfalls?

The Secret Cure: Empathy

Empathy is not automatic. A 30-year study on empathy in college students, for example, indicates that today’s students are less likely to express empathy for his or her fellow human than the student of yesteryear.

86796574 hand on shoulder

Even for those who recognize the importance of empathy, it is easy to forget that empathy requires choice and action. Unlike an expression of sympathy, which often is a subconscious response that acknowledges someone else’s pain, joy or sorrow, empathy is the process of actively putting oneself in the shoes of another person.

In an interview with the Yale School of Management, Jenny Machida of Katzenberg Partners illustrates how organizational empathy with individuals (in this case, patients) leads to excellence and satisfaction: “Sometimes patients are less able to judge the excellent quality of medical care that might have been delivered, but they remember that children’s toothpaste was available in the lobby for the siblings of the patient; they remember having meals or parking taken care of or the efforts of desk attendants, patient care representatives, technicians, transporters — the people who really defined the holistic experience of being at the hospital.”

Empathy is a critical component of providing value to the patient in a health care setting. But empathy isn’t limited to the caregiver-patient relationship.

In fact, wellness in the workplace also depends on an employer’s empathy for employees. Feeling and expressing empathy for employees in a professional setting can be challenging for some. This is because business leaders tend to enact strict controls in dealing with employees or others in sensitive situations. Physicians are very aware of the unfortunate professional barriers to empathy.

Self-control and order are important to leading others, but it doesn’t have to get in the way of empathy. Too often in our work environments, leaders can get caught up in processes of improvement, but lose sight of the people who make the improvement happen.

Can empathy from leaders actually lead to employee wellness?

A recent study seems to indicate that it might. Bernie Wong, a writer at Greater Good explains the study this way:

“Feeling sick at work? Maybe you need a more empathic manager. This study followed 60 employees at an IT company over two weeks, finding that employees were less likely to report feeling sick if they had a manager with a strong inclination to take an employee’s perspective and feel what he or she was feeling… The authors suggest that managers who demonstrate empathy foster a climate of support and understanding at work, which boosts employee well-being—and, in turn, might make these workplaces more productive and cost-effective.“

While it hasn’t been scientifically proven that it is a cure for the common cold, leaders who put the action of empathy into practice are likely to foster wellness in the workplace.

I Spy [an Employee on Facebook]

Spy vs. SpyImage via Wikipedia

As discussed in my previous blog, the electronic age provides ample opportunities for publishing mistakes. Increased technology also provides additional opportunities to monitor employees to record their missteps. When contemplating employee monitoring, employers must address three questions:

1)    What do you have the technical ability to monitor?

2)    What may be legally monitored?

3)    What should you monitor?


Ability is Limitless:

With technology, employers have the ability to monitor everything but employees’ thoughts. With the full spectrum of gadgets, an employer can tell how fast an employee drove to work, with whom they communicated, what information they relayed, and where they went. Video and audio technologies provide the ability to track every word and facial expression made in the office. Perhaps employees' thoughts can be monitored.

Technology has a role in the workplace. Monitoring employees is on the rise. One study indicates that:

Two out of three employers review internet usage of employees;

More than fifty percent of employers use website blocking;

Emails and/or phone reviews occur at more than 25% of workplaces.



Rules are not easily defined. Before you take action: talk with your HR or internet lawyer; have a specific plan; and follow that plan.

Examples of restrictions to employee monitoring include the Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986, which bars intentional interception of wire, oral, or electronic communication, or unauthorized access of stored information (anyone who receives email from me sees a disclaimer citing the statute).

In Iowa, it is a misdemeanor to listen to, record, or intercept a conversation or communication without proper authorization.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” has been applied to monitoring by government employers.

Exceptions to privacy laws may allow employers to monitor business-related communications under cerrtain circumstances. One case held that an employee did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding information stored on a work computer in a folder labeled “personal” and password protected. Another case found no reasonable expectation of privacy in business email, even when the company stated that emails were not monitored.  Once the limits are ascertained, the questions is “should you monitor?”


Monitoring Employees has Pitfalls: 

The benefits of monitoring employees are easy to ascertain. Employers get better data to determine if employees are using time appropriately and if they are following the rules. Employers may also determine if employees are sending illicit photographs or messages by tweet or email.

The downside of monitoring is also easy to ascertain. Monitoring can be expensive. Employee morale may be damaged by feeling that trust is breached, and improper monitoring may lead to liability or PR gaffes.

If you decide to use technology to monitor or limit employees, the following steps may be helpful:

-          Develop a computer policy for:

  • Permissible usage (no personal, no personal use during working hours, no restrictions, etc.).
  • Email usage (no personal emails, no profanity, no personal emails during company hours, etc.).
  • Search usage (personal sites are unlimited, discouraged, restricted, banned, blocked, etc.).

-          Develop a phone usage and monitoring policy.

-          Delineate WHO does the monitoring, as well as when and how.

-          Determine how the monitor responds to different types of violations. Some violations may merit a warning. Some may merit a report to law enforcement.

-          Share the policy with employees (and determine if you need consent to the policy).


-          Train employees and plan to refresh training.

For many businesses, the simplest answer is to take the steps one at a time. First, just set the policy. See if it works. Ask employees if it is difficult to abide the policy. Once you are sure you have the right policy, determine if you need to take steps to enforce the policy. Finally, always ask whether a monitoring policy is really needed. Sometimes it is best not to know how the sausage is made.

- Christine Branstad


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3 Ways to Find Focus

I like to meet busy people and ask them how they do it all. So I spoke with Alexander Grgurich, director of Foundry Coworking.

Interesting fellow and wise beyond his years.

I asked Alexander: When you know you’ve taken on too much, how do you decide what to de-commit?

This challenge comes up often when I’m coaching business owners who want more balance in their work and life. So I was excited to hear Alexander’s perspective.

And you know I love all things visual, so I created this visual infographic that summarizes the conversation along with my thoughts and these three tips.


3 Ways to Find Focus When You Are Overcommitted:

  1. Know your strengths. This one can be tricky, because most strengths are developed over time. They don’t start out as strengths, do they? We are not born with bulging biceps -- they are the product of hard work and taking on new challenges.
  2. Know your passion. There is a fire inside you, a burning desire to persevere and keep going. As we move down the infographic, notice we have fewer blue arrows. This means that if an activity is not both a strength and your passion, it might be something to de-commit.
  3. Focus on what brings the most impact. Perhaps it’s the most impact for your business, clients, family, friends, community... or an impact you could make on the world. If you are doing something that is your strength and your passion, but it has little impact -- the activity probably has a short lifespan.

When your strengths and passion intersect with impact, the decision on where to focus your time becomes clearer. Have you found this to be true? Did the infographic help you think in a way you hadn’t before? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear about it!

~ Jocelyn Wallace

Related Books:

  • On Finding Your Strengths, the Book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton (strengthsfinder.com)
  • On Finding Your Passion, the Book “The Element” by Ken Robinson (sirkenrobinson.com)
  • On Who You Could Impact, the Book “Ignite” by Mitch Matthews with Visual Author Jocelyn Wallace (IgniteTheBook.com)


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Frame It Up

Nike shoes.Image via Wikipedia

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region in Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram - or text message - saying, "SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES." The other writes back triumphantly, "GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES."

The frames our minds create define -- and confine -- what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish as new opportunities appear.

Konrad Adenauer said, "We all live under the same sky, but we don't all have the same horizon."

Our minds are designed to string events into story lines, whether there is actually any connection between the parts. These story lines are founded on a network of hidden assumptions, accumulated over time. If we can learn to notice and distinguish these stories and their underlying assumptions, then we can shift the framework to stories whose underlying assumptions allow for new perspectives. Henri Bergson says, "The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend." Even with something as simple as bare feet.

The next time you need -- or just want -- to look at a situation in new and different ways, ask yourself:

  • What assumptions am I making that I'm not even aware of that give me what I see?
  • What might I now invent that I haven't yet invented that would give me other choices?

We can learn to turn HOPELESS SITUATIONS into GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES just by changing the frame around our stories and their underlying assumptions...and never see things quite the same way again.

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Capitalism Through ESOPs

3422554_f9c8b10398_tThere is a growing debate on capitalism and what it will look like in the future. Most people would welcome the chance to build a significant amount of wealth for themselves and their families. The challenge is that the entry into capitalism requires an ever increasing amount of investment. The vast majority of Americans don't have it or can't get access to it.

The world is not fair and that will not change. ESOPs are a vehicle that can allow the average american worker a shot at building wealth and pride, and create a bit of leveling in our wealth distribution. Chris Mackin gives a wonderful narrative about this in The Nation.

ESOPs are not perfect, but they are a viable alternative to the future structure of capitalism.

Flickr photo by boetter

Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head...And in the Toilets

BJ Thomas sang in 1969 about raindrops falling on his head. Those raindrops can now be gathered to serve a better purpose than wet hair; they can flush your toilets.

As part of the water cycle, rain falls from the sky and sooner or later gets to a river and then on to the ocean. Many times in urban areas, it flows down the street, into the storm sewer and soon after into the river. Harvesting the water for use later could minimize flash flooding and reduce the need for treating water used to flush toilets. 

Some buildings such as the recently constructed Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield headquarters gather rain water for flushing toilets and watering lawns. For demonstration purposes - and to understand the impact of harvesting rain water - I did some calculations based on the world headquarters of Architects Smith Metzger at 2111 Grand Ave.

The first thing to calculate is the potential number of gallons which can be harvested. The annual rainfall in Des Moines is nearly 35 inches - let’s call it 3 feet - and is relatively evenly distributed throughout the year compared with other parts of the country. The area of our roof is 4,200 square feet, so the total cubic feet of water is 4,200 X 3 or 12,600 cubic feet. Converting cubic feet to gallons is easy; just multiply by 7.5 and you end up with a staggering 94,500 gallons.

The next calculation is how many gallons of water are required to flush toilets and urinals in your building for one year. In the old days, toilets could use a jaw-dropping 7 to 15 gallons per flush. Urinals were not much better, with anywhere from 1.5 to 4.5 gallons per flush. Government regulations since the 1992 Clean Water Act require low-flow fixtures. Toilets can use no more than 1.6 gallons and urinals 0.5 gallons per flush. 

The U.S. Green Building Council recommends the average office-dwelling female office worker uses a toilet three times per day and males use a toilet one time and a urinal two times per day. 

Our two-story building is occupied by 10 women and 17 men. Based on USGBC recommendations, the women would use 12,500 gallons and the men 11,500 gallons for a total of 24,000 gallons per year. The outstanding news is I might never again have to buy water to flush toilets or urinals if a rain water harvesting system was installed.

The total system requires a way for the water to get to a reservoir, filter out the junk like leaves so it does not clog the pipes, and pipes to the plumbing fixtures. Of course the reservoir has to be filled by tap water if the reservoir ever goes dry.

In my next post, I'll take a look at how it works in real life at the Wellmark building downtown.

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A Digital Defining Moment

Wordmark of Headlines Today. Trademarked by He...Image via Wikipedia

There are a few basic elements required for successful digital crisis communication, the least of which is that the communication piece begins long before getting even a whiff of trouble.

This has long been the case offline. But as companies move beyond dipping in a toe and dive into developing a robust social media and digital presence, the need for attention to online crisis communication and rapid response is elevated.

Responses to advice to take a proactive approach to crisis communication is typically met with a look of confusion. Stick with me. It's approaching digital communication with the expectation that at some point there is likely to be a problem that needs addressing. I can't go to a bank and simply get money by asking for it when I need it. First, I open an account, deposit money, and secure a debit card and checks. Then, when I need it, it's there.

The same principle can be applied to developing a relationship of trust and dependability around your brand online among target audiences, including customers, the local community, regulatory decision-makers and the media. Define who you are as a brand, as a company, as a service provider and product before a sticky situation arises.

Something may pop up before this is possible, in which case you will be in a position of reacting without having first established yourself. It is still a manageable situation, just not ideal. Facing a crisis situation prior taking a proactive approach to preparing for a potential crisis in the future gives the crisis the opportunity to define you before you can define yourself.

What if the definition of the word "nose" changed tomorrow and was no longer the thing in the middle of your face, but instead the knob used to open doors. It would be much more challenging to convince people of the new definition of the word than if it had been that way from the start.

- Christine Stineman

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How to Become a Great Business Leader

The book "Good to Great" came out about 10 years ago. In the book, "Level 5 Leadership" is identified as one of those characteristics that separate GREAT companies from good companies. Although Jim Collins' research team uncovered that Level 5 Leadership exists, and they are able to describe what it looks like, it is stated in the book that they can't tell someone how to become that kind of leader.

In contrast, if you do a Google search for leadership training, you will see things like "Leadership Bootcamp: Insight, tools, skills, and growth in just three intensive days!"

Don't Step In The LeadershipImage via Wikipedia

"Leadership training" or "leadership development" is largely focused on skill development such as:

  • Communication
  • Delegation
  • Project Management
  • Problem Solving
  • Conflict Management
  • Meeting Management
  • Team Building
  • Coaching
  • Listening

These are all really important management skills and one would not likely be effective over the long-term without conscious development and improvement in these areas. However, does it make sense to say that we don't have very many great business leaders because those in leadership are unable to acquire these skills that are so easily attainable through hundreds of internal and external training programs?

On the contrary, I have observed over the years that these skills can be used to "manage" and manipulate people rather actually lead them. This is done even by the nicest of managers who are just trying to get people to do what they think is best.

So here we are back at the beginning. How does one become a great leader? The bottom line is that the ambition of great leaders is for their organizations, their teams and their customers. They are not suppressing personal ambition to serve the greater good of the company.

Their personal ambition and the greater good of the company are one and the same.

Can one change from the inside out in a workshop or a professional develop program? Of course not. However, one can identify, study and put into practice those universal principles that make one a great human being - for lack of a more humble term. Those, combined with great management skills practiced over time, will make one a great leader.

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Earning the Right to Turn Service into Sales

A torpedo in the courtyard of the Museu do Exp...Image via Wikipedia

I've had an unusually high volume of hapless sales pitches recently. Somehow, my cell number has found its way onto a list and I'm getting the same annoying recorded sales pitches coming at me from different phone numbers around the country.

Yesterday, I received in the mail one of those deceiving magazine pitches made to look like an actual bill.

I realize that sales is a numbers game, and there are all sorts of businesses making money with sleazy, hard-core sales tactics. Increasingly, businesses are looking to their customer service operations to increase sales in an effort to turn customer service from a "cost center" into a "profit center."

Translating good service into sales is a no-brainer. Research usually shows that customers are willing to hear about additional products or services at least some of the time (a focused survey of your customers is always a good idea before starting). However, companies who differentiate their brand with quality products and services should pay strict attention to how they go about pitching their customers in service situations. A good rule of thumb is the old Smith-Barney advertising tag: "Make money the old-fashioned way. Earn it."

Earning the right to sell a customer in a service situation means never trying to sell the customer something until their issue has been completely resolved. Not only will the sales pitch fail - why would I buy this product when you haven't fixed my problem with the other one? - it will often raise the ire of customers who feel you are leveraging their problem to hold them captive and make them listen to a sales pitch.

Earning the trust and willingness of your customer service staff means understanding that people who make stellar customer service representatives do not usually make great sales reps; they tend to be motivated by solving problems and helping people. Adding a sales component to the service process should be carefully developed. Products and services offered should relate to the product the customer called about or something you know about that customer. Reps should be trained to understand how the product or service they are selling is actually an additional benefit to the customer (e.g. you are serving the customer by selling them something they want or need).

Providing great service earns you the trust of your customers. That well-earned trust should be leveraged to build an even greater relationship with the customer through increased interactions and sales. The key is to make sure that your sales approach does not torpedo the good will your service relationship has built.

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It's your return, no matter how much you pay your preparer

Why you shouldn't leave $3.4 million of income off your 1040

It's easy to accidentally leave a bit of income off your 1040. It even happens to preparers, especially under deadline pressure. If you have a big pile of 1099s, it's frightening how easy it is to lose track of one. When the 1099 is for $3.4 million, it can be a problem.

20110616iabiz For too many taxpayers, tax return preparation is a mystery box. The W-2s, 1099s and receipts go in to your preparer, a tax return comes out. Many people have no idea what the income should be; all that matters is the refund. That apparently even goes for fancy-pants fund managers.

Unfortunately, the taxpayer still is responsible for the numbers on the return, preparer or no preparer, as Mr. Fund Manager learned this week in Tax Court. His 2006 Form 1040 had some big numbers on it, and when he picked it up from his preparer on Oct. 15, 2007 -- the last day of his six-month filing extension -- it showed adjusted gross income of $29.2 million. That would seem to be enough, but the IRS computers caught the $3.4 million on the 1099 that the preparer had, but missed somehow. The IRS assessed about $500,000 in additional tax and a penalty of about $100,000.

Mr. Fund Manager went to Tax Court to get out of the penalty, arguing that because he gave the preparer the 1099, he made a reasonable attempt to report the correct income. The Tax Court took a hard line:

...when his own receiving of income was in question, Mr. [Fund Manager] was evidently alert and careful. But when he was signing his tax return and reporting his tax liability, his routine was so casual that a half million-dollar understatement of that liability could slip between the cracks. We cannot hold that this understatement was attributable to reasonable cause and good faith.

Mr. Fund Manager's problems provide lessons for the rest of us:

  • It's your return. When you sign it, you own it, even if you paid someone good money to prepare it.
  • Try to understand what's on the return.  If you don't, ask the preparer what's going on. If you prepare your own return and don't understand it, that's a big red flag.
  • Don't wait until the last second to pick up or review your return. If you don't have time to look things over before the April 15 deadline, get an extension. If you are up against the Oct. 15 extended deadline, look over the return carefully as soon as you can and amend right away if something is wrong.

Oh, and if you get a 1099 for $3.4 million, make sure it shows up on that return somewhere.

- Joe Kristan

Make my life easier

AppleSteps to get a $20 rebate from Bed, Bath and Beyond:

  1. Remember to ask for rebate form
  2. Remember to ask for duplicate receipt
  3. Fill out name, address, phone, etc. etc. on form
  4. Get serial number of coffeemaker off the box
  5. Write down serial number in the little boxes
  6. Cut UPC code out of the box (which negates returning it)
  7. Figure out which Mr. Coffee is the right box to check
  8. Find envelope
  9. Put form, receipt and UPC code in envelope and seal
  10. Find stamp
  11. Mail envelope

Steps to get a $50 rebate from Apple:

  1. Take the card when the Apple guy offers it to you
  2. Log onto www.apple.com/promo
  3. Click on Submit a Rebate
  4. Let your autofill complete the name, address section
  5. Type in your receipt number
  6. Click done

But of course...this isn't really a post about Apple products.  It's about making things easier and less complicated.  Think about the hoops you make customers jump through.    

  • Who do those hoops serve?
  • Is there a better, faster, easier, more efficient, way?
  • Could you do it for them?
  • How could technology help?

 What tasks, chores, or necessary evils could you turn into moments your fans can rave about?  Every business has at least one.  What's yours?


~ Drew

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Social Media for Small Business: 5 Things to Do Right Now

ROI of social media Social networking is not a fad that is going to "go away." I remember this same feeling when the Internet became popular and businesses questioned the need to have a website. It's a simple truth: Businesses without websites are not seen as legitimate by some consumers. It will take a few years, but increasingly, business without a social media presence will be viewed the same way. Negatively.

Where does a small business start? It can be overwhelming, I know. I've worked with small businesses who are struggling to find the reasons, the time and the right employee to help them with social media. Here are five things you should start with:

1. Get on board yourself. You can't even HOPE to understand the connectivity of social networking unless you practice yourself. Setting up profiles is NOT good enough. You must sit down for at least 10 minutes a day and practice using it. Frankly, I am so sick of hearing how social media is a waste of time from people who have never used it.

2. Start listening to conversations, aka "Lurking." Or hire someone to do it for you. Listening consists of:

  • Searching for keywords on social sites and Google
  • Paying attention to what people are saying in your social stream (for example, your friends' posts on Facebook and Twitter)
  • Observing complaints, trends and positive recommendations

After gathering some intelligence, don't be afraid to act on it. Follow up with a dissatisfied customer, fix that leaky restroom people have been complaining about, offer a Tuesday night kids-eat-free special. People will tell you what's on their mind.

3. Post articles, videos and photos on your personal and business networks. As a general rule of thumb, make sure it's something that your spouse, mother and boss would be comfortable with. If it's questionable, don't share it.

4. Formulate a strategy and objectives: Just like any other form of marketing or PR, doing social media without thinking about why you're doing it guarantees disappointment in the results. Make your initial objectives modest. Here are a few examples:

  • Increase awareness of my business with (xyz) audience, by having at least 3 conversations per week with someone who didn't know about it before.
  • Inform my audience what my business offers, as measured by people stopping in the store or visiting the company website. Segmentation is possible if you talk about certain products and then measure the interest in purchases or web hits. For example: If you talk about Widget A for three days this week and Widget B for three days next week, check to see if visits to your website have increased accordingly. Obviously, you'll want to include links to Widget A and Widget B so people have the opportunity to learn more.

5. Try new things, but give it time to succeed before you give up. For example, offer a 20% discount on merchandise and services to Facebook customers, but you've got to offer it every week, repeatedly, week after week, to allow people to notice and take advantage of the deal. Just because no one uses your discount the first week doesn't mean it's a failure. It probably just means people haven't seen it yet.

The "ROI" (return on investment) of using social media is keeping your business relevant in the future. Here is a great video that illustrates some of the statistics regarding social media use that clearly show it's here to stay and worth knowing how to use properly.

What are your major social networking sticking points? I'd love to write future posts to address your questions. Here is the latest Eric Qualmann Social Media Revolution video. I listen to them as much for the music as the content! Enjoy.


Avoid Risk. Behave as if You are on TV (or YouTube or Twitter . . .)

Anthony Weiner, NYC, May 2011 (Pre-"Weine...Image by Tony the Misfit via Flicker

A recent New York Times article addressed the Economics of Men Behaving Badly. Bad behavior has potential personal and business costs. In this technological age, the risks are heightened.

Historically, liability for bad behavior could be hidden or limited by plausible deniability, as many accusations of bad behavior turned into a “he said she said” debate. Now, a moderately priced cell phone offers a plethora of methods to capture bad behavior for mass distribution. Any of the following can become 'exhibit 1':

  • Social media content (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube…)
  • Emails
  • Voicemails
  • Photos
  • Videos (surveillance or just some kid with a cell phone)
  • Audio recordings
  • Texts

Bad behavior resulting in liability (and embarrassment) can occur at all levels of a business. Transmission of an illicit photo may be harassment. Intimate emails on the corporate PDA could be misuse of company property. Either could be a breach of contract.

Customer service gaffes are abundant on the web (Warning: Explicit language).  A captured gaffe may be a PR snag, but a video may be prima facie evidence of a breach of contract or even a criminal actViolations of sanitary requirements are the subject of stings. Work conditions are broadcast. Fired by Facebook is now a reality (and has at least one Facebook page).  Anti-business Facebook pages can have thousands of “friends.”   

Bad behavior is fodder for amateur journalists and competitors. Diligence and planning may stave off future issues resulting from bad behavior. To avoid a personal injury action, assume your entire business is on a surveillance camera. To avoid a sexual harassment suit, assume each conversation is recorded. To avoid a charge of misappropriation of funds or breach of fiduciary duty action, assume that each transaction is recorded and shared. To avoid administrative penalties, assume that your business activities will be audited. To avoid penalties for unsafe work conditions, assume that the next visitor or employee is using a camera to record the conditions.   

An unfortunate technological reality is that computers and cell phones transform rumors into allegations into facts. What can you do?

  • Assume you are always being watched.
  • Live accordingly.
  • Encourage your employees to do the same.
  • Every time you consider questionable behavior, weigh the benefits.
  • Coach your employees. Sit down. Show them videos of ‘caught’ behavior.
  • Make a plan for how technology will  help you benchmark your business aspirations for safety, compliance, customer service, and integrity.

In 1933, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis stated, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” The Digital Age has brought new methods for “sunlight” to peer into a business. The best path to avoiding an embarrassing discovery is to have nothing to hide.

In my next blog . . . tips if you decide to monitor your employees.

- Christine Branstad



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Driving Ambition

A cropped photograph depicts singer Elvis Pres...Image via Wikipedia

Elvis Presley said that "Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine." What a sweet ride! Often it's the only difference between champions and losers. As star golfer Nancy Lopez once said, "Competitors take bad breaks and use them to drive themselves just that much harder. Quitters take bad breaks and use them as reasons to give up."

Donna Karan, the celebrated fashion designer and founder of DKNY, started out in the business as Anne Klein's assistant. But she had a dream with a V8 engine. While pregnant with her first child, she clearly communicated her priorities and goals to Klein. She was committed to the company and wanted to have as active a role as she could during and after her pregnancy, as long as her unborn baby's health would allow it. Anne Klein died when Karan's baby was two days old. The company's corporate head asked Karan to take over as chief designer.

Ambition doesn't mean being a workaholic. Nor does it mean being unethical. It's a combination of goal-setting, focus, engagement and competitiveness. On the golf course, Jack Nicklaus was as driven as they come. But off the course, he managed to build a multi-million-dollar business at the same time, raise a great family, and give back to his profession.

  • Who's your role model when it comes to ambition?
  • Is there someone in your company or your family who combines intensity, passion and focus with the ability to hang on for the long haul?
  • How do they do it? Ask them.

On a scale of one to ten, rank yourself on focus, goal-setting, and competitiveness. Your scores will tell you if you're running at V8 capacity or puttering along on only four cylinders.

- Shirley Poertner

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The Power of Goals

4118678082_9888e11e22_tIt has been proved over and over again that putting goals in writing increases the chances of success. It is a HUGE first step, but it is not the magic bullet to success. There are several key drivers that many organizations fail to implement that increase the chances of reaching the goals that have been written.  Organizations that utilize and practice these drivers increase their goal realization significantly. 

They are as follows:

1.  Involvement in setting the goals

2.  Commitment to peers to achieve the goals

3.  Regular progress reports

4.  Emotional attachment to the goals

When people are involved in the creation of the goals, they have a deeper understanding of the why and how of the goals. It reduces the noise that is typical of top-down goal-setting and moves the organization to action much quicker. 

Commitment to goals done in front of peers can be uncomfortable, but it raises the stakes of meeting the goals. No one likes to let down their team.

Out of sight, out of mind. Without regular reporting and updates, organizations will never achieve a rhythmic cadence for people to follow. Repetition leads to a change in habits.

If goal setting is done in a sterile, here-we-go-again manner, do not be surprised that the organization looks like a zombie movie. The human nature is driven by emotion and far too many organizations forget this fundamental fact.   

Finally, if the organization's leaders do not buy into these drivers, then do not expect improved organizational performance.  Simply put - walk the talk.

Flickr photo by Cheryl Gebhart

No introduction necessary?

Hello my name isImage by maybeemily via Flickr

Marketers, meet social platforms. They have only begun to scratch the surface of their marketing and communication capabilities and are looking forward to working with you. They are open to your creative mind and ideas.

Social platforms, meet the creative and outside of the screen-thinking marketers. They are excited to tap into the potential usage of your digital tools.

The introductions have been made, so what is missing? There is a broken link. Both are looking to the other for the answer. Social platforms are becoming more marketing savvy and intuitive by the day - Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Get Glue. There is still a role, though, for successful execution and taking the potential of the entire digital menu of capabilities to the next level.

If there was still a question as to who will fix the link, it is up to marketing.

A few marketers for major brands have already paved the way as pioneers. Now is not the time for wait-and-see or the time to simply duplicate what others have done. Technology changes too quickly to duplicate what others have done. Consumers lose interest in repeating the same tasks just as quickly as the technology changes.

This is a call to all of the brilliant and creative thinkers I have encountered in the world of marketing and public relations over the years - the stage is yours.

By the way Web developer and graphic designer, my apologies your e-invitations may have gotten stuck in your spam filters...

Strategically Managing the Wave of Turnover

2010-04-22Image by bgottsab via Flickr

About 10 years ago, I gave a speech at a national insurance management conference in Seattle. At the time, the country was experiencing a serious economic downturn similar, but not as bad as we have gone though the last few years.

Ultimately, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 40 percent before rebounding.

The topic was on the recruitment and retention of insurance professionals.

The main message was that the extraordinarily high employee retention numbers were not an accurate reflection of job satisfaction and that before the economy rebounds is the time to be proactive about handing the risk of high turnover.

During those economic times when companies focused on operating "lean," they naturally do not automatically replace employees when they leave. Instead, the burden of their work is spread among those remaining. Furthermore, despite the increased workloads, longer hours and greater stress, companies do not reward their employees with congruent raises and bonuses. In fact, management can project a "be thankful you even have a job in this economy" attitude.

From an employer/employee relationship point of view, the company is making some big withdrawals.

Well, history is repeating itself. A recent survey conducted by Right Management asked employees...

Have you been approached by another company with a job offer in the past year?

Yes      45%
No       55%

Given the high cost of turnover, perhaps this is a risk that needs to be strategically managed. Rather than salary increases across the board or any other broad stroke measures, consider these steps.

  1. Review and sharpen the focus of your corporate vision.
  2. Analyze your organization chart to determine if the company is structured appropriately to make the journey towards the vision.
  3. With a clear vision and the right structure in mind, begin and maintain an ongoing dialogue about the future with those whose retention is strategically important.
  4. Create retention strategies around their needs that are also congruent with the corporate vision and culture.

For some companies, the percentage of people whose "retention is strategically important" may be small. However, for those that are already structured well, every job is important. If successful hiring strategies have been in place, those people whose "retention is strategically important" may include nearly everyone.

What suggestions do you have for companies that are at risk of experiencing high turnover as the economy continues to recover?

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With All of These Communication Tools, Make Sure You Communicate

An Audio-Technica AT815a shotgun microphoneImage via Wikipedia

Technology is a wonderful thing, and we are blessed to live in a time when communicating electronically across the globe is quick, simple and seamless. Not only has social media revolutionized how we interpersonally communicate, but it has also never been so easy to reach out to a company when you have a customer service issue.

For customer service teams, the key is to make sure that you are not forgetting to actually communicate when you interact electronically with customers. Let me give you two recent examples.

During the past month, I have had product issues with two different products I purchased. The first was a snowball microphone I purchased from Blue Microphones through the Guitar Center. The other was a Zebco rod and reel I purchased at Cabela's. In each case, the product was defective and I contacted the company through the email address I found on their respective websites.

To their credit, both Blue and Zebco were quick to respond to my email. Well done. I appreciate the quick turnaround. There's nothing worse then sending an email into the proverbial black hole.

After exchanging a few quick emails regarding what I was experiencing with my microphone and asking for my contact information, Blue sent me a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) and asked me to send the microphone back. I packed it up and shipped it as requested.

As for my broken fishing reel, I utilized technology to take a picture of the broken part with my smartphone and emailed it to the customer service department. Zebco responded quickly and asked for the model number of the reel, then my contact information.

What I find interesting in both of these situations is that I'm still waiting for any communication regarding what Blue or Zebco are actually going to do for me. Blue received my returned Microphone more than 10 days ago, but I have yet to receive any indication that they received it or whether they plan to replace it, fix it or refund my money.

My last interaction with Zebco was just a day ago, but once again they have not explained what they plan to do to address my problem. Will they send me a new part? Will they send me a new reel? Am I going to have to return it?

Technology is a great tool for quickly communicating with customers, but companies must remember to actually communicate with the customer in their electronic interaction. This includes acknowledgement of the customer, empathy for the problem or issue, appreciation for his or her business, and a clear communication of what you are going to do in response to the problem.

When a customer communicates with you about a problem they've experienced, you've got to respond with more than a simple, "What's your address?"

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Tax traumas of the traveling employee

Even little businesses send employees on the road to other states. They may be unwittingly causing those employees to be subject to income tax in the neighboring states.

20110601iabiz States started to take more of an interest in taxing short-term visitors when athletic salaries got very high. As a result, many states say as little as one day of in-state work subjects you to income tax. These rules may be ignored by many businesses, but they pose increasing risk as states improve their data-mining techniques while they scrounge for scarce cash.

Congress is considering a bill to limit the ability of states to tax brief employee stays. Tax Analysts reports ($link):

H.R. 1864, the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act, would allow a state to impose income taxes on an out-of-state employee's wages only if the individual spends more than 30 days working in that state during a calendar year. The threshold would not apply to professional athletes, entertainers and other high-profile individuals.

The 30-day rule would be a big improvement over current law, but the exception for "professional athletes, entertainers and other high-profile individuals" is misplaced. They want to pick LeBron James' pockets every time he shows up to play the Knicks, but there are plenty of athletes and entertainers who aren't LeBron James. Every traveling musician or minor-league hockey player would have the same reporting liability as LeBron, without the zillion-dollar income to pay compliance costs. 

In the meantime, every road warrior in sales and internal audit has potentially the same tax return filing requirements as the big athletes. That also means the employers have potential withholding liability in those states. It's important for employers to talk these situations over with their tax advisors to avoid unpleasant out-of-state surprises.

Link: HR 1864

Flickr image courtesy eric__I_E under Creative Commons license

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