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January 2015

Fake it 'til you become it

Steering wheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

The proof is in the glasses

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pushing past procrastination

Rita Perea is President and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bad customer data = Bad PR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Just the facts, ma'am'

Benefits and Costs of DARTing Forward 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




Is Iowa’s business tax climate really that bad?

IMG_0605Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company



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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Why some M&A's fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Steve Sink



Professional and Confidential Client Representation

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

SuperBowlXLIXLogoDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best animal Super Bowl commercials

Best animaled Super Bowl commercials

Most memorable Super Bowl commercials

Most expensive Super Bowl commercials

Best Super Bowl commercials of all time

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

Oh yeah...and go Seahawks!

Double Dutch in business: Implementing new initiatives

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

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

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

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

Change is tough unless you become good at change:

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

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

The rope is already moving:

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

The rope doesn’t stop moving:

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

You have to communicate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing:

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


Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

What's your "one thing" in 2015?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Learn more about Dr. Christi Hegstad's coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

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

In one ear, out the other


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

1Active Listening: Hear What People are Really Saying.  Retrieved December 28, 2014, from the Mind Tools website: http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm

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

Five ways to communicate your way to success in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to a great, more communicative 2015!

Avoid the "busy" trap

Bill Leaver is president and CEO of UnityPoint Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stretch goals and New Year's resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New legislative session begins Monday

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law   PGP_1038

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy - the understated virtue

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



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

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

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

Together We Will Promote Courtesy - The Understated Virtue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Existing clients aren't chopped liver

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

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

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She was missing the personal touchpoints and recognition she needed.

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

What about the lifetime value of a client?

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

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

Send them handwritten cards.

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

Birthdays and anniversaries are the best times to send them.

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

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

Executive blogging is a key corporate PR strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Have you ever stayed with us before?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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