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February 2015

How many people does it take to put in a floor outlet?

Floor OutletMy wife and I are just over one week away from moving into our newly constructed house. The final week is a flurry of activity, and this morning I spent in inordinate amount of time dealing with the small detail of floor outlets that were to be installed in two different rooms. Because we both work from home, my wife and I wanted the ability to wire both electricity and the internet to our desks in the middle of the home offices. It seemed a simple enough request.

How many people does it take to install a floor outlet? Here's what I've learned:

  • General contractor #1 who oversaw the planning, design and rough work
  • The electrician responsible for wiring the electricity
  • The salesman from the A/V and security store who sold us the wiring install
  • AV installer #1 who roughed in the computer wiring to the floor outlets
  • AV installer #2 who was to do the finish work of installing the outlets
  • General contactor #2 who was to oversee the final install

This morning I was discussing the floor outlet with AV installer #2 told me that there were to be two different outlets, one for the electric and one for the Cat5 internet cables, which baffled me because my wife and I had remembered always talking in terms of one outlet for all the inputs. AV installer #2 insisted that this was not the case and even went to the truck to get the actual floor outlet to show me. He pulled, however, a single outlet box from its wrapping that had both electric and Cat5 inputs.

"Huh," he said, "I've never seen one of these before." Great.

Then I discovered that the electric box, installed by the electrician, and the CAT5 wires run by A/V Installer #1 had been run to two different locations, inches apart, in the other office. I called in general contractor #2 to show him the single outlet we wanted and to discuss that fact the wires weren't going to the same place in the finished hardwood floor, which meant he would likely have to tear into the floor to move the wires. There ensued a conversation which, I've learned, comes up a lot in the home construction process: "How did we get here?"

Let me recap the dots I connected:

  • General contractor #1 thought we the homeowners covered all these details with...
  • the A/V salesman who didn't seem to communicate all the details with...
  • A/V installer #1 who ran the wires to a different place in the floor since...
  • The electrician had already put an electric box in the floor because...
  • General contractor #1 hadn't said anything to him about anything different, and...
  • General contractor #1 thought that the A/V salesman had that covered, but...
  • The homeowner realized that something was awry, asking...
  • A/V installer #2 who thought we were installing two different boxes, only to find...
  • A/V salesman had given him a single outlet he'd never seen, not knowing that...
  • A/V installer #1 had roughed in wires for two boxes in that one office since...
  • The electrician already had a box in the floor there, meaning...
  • General contractor #2 had to figure out how to fix it, then asking...
  • the homeowner if he knew how much that single box cost, which...
  • I didn't because no one talked to me about it or gave me any options.

I have learned over the years through service quality assessments with many different companies in many different industries that virtually every customer service problem is rooted in a communication issue. It might be no communication or miscommunication, or a combination of both. It might be a communication lapse between customer and salesperson, salesperson and operations, operations and delivery, delivery and customer, customer and customer service, or a combination of all.

If you can identify and address where your communication breakdowns routinely occur, you can eliminate a lot of customer service problems and the resulting customer frustration.

By the way, despite all of the momentary frustration and within a short period of time we had two very beautiful (and very expensive) floor outlets installed and they look great.

Thank you to all parties involved.

Faster Horses: how to solve the right problems through innovation

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


“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” - Henry Ford

This quote by Henry Ford may be familiar to many of you and rightfully so. It is a staple quote in how we approach innovation: sometimes we have to solve problems in ways the customer doesn’t know are possible. Almost all innovations start with a problem, but a key ingredient to solving it is having an ideal outcome. 

Let’s dig into the core of how to identify what the customer really wants. 

In Henry Ford’s case, his problem was that cars were too costly for the masses to access. As a result, many people assumed horses were the best thing available. But Ford knew the desired outcome was for people to have a better way to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.

So Ford addressed the problem by pursuing a solution at the core of the desired outcome: make cars more accessible to the masses. In doing this, he popularized the assembly line, fair employee wages (so his own employees could buy the cars they created) and made the car affordable to the masses. 

We all run into issues like this daily, whether it is with customers, inside our organizations or even in our personal lives. 

Often we rush to address problems without thinking about what we want the core outcome to be. Frequently we identify a problem without truly understanding THE problem

Innovation at its core is the ability to truly understand the problem, hypothesize the desirable outcome and build the solution with continuous iterations and feedback loops. 

I’ll give a personal example of a problem/outcome scenario I was faced with recently: 

In my apartment building, many tenants were complaining to the property managers about the complexity of the thermostats (the problem). People requested the thermostat manual from the maintenance crew, but the group was reluctant to share due to the text book thickness of the manual.

As I discussed this issue with the lead maintenance guy, we talked through the desired outcome. It wasn't that people wanted the manuals, they simply wanted better instruction on how to work the the thermostat. The maintenance lead agreed to offer a workshop to educate the tenants. This way the root of the problem (lack of knowledge) is addressed with an outcome (understanding). 

It's a simple example, but I share it to emphasize how simple issues can be approached differently. 

We need to truly understand the problem, ask why it's a problem, propose an outcome and then iterate to find/verify the ideal solution. It works with customers, it works in the office and it works at home. 

Simply approaches like this could lead to the creation of the next groundbreaking product or industry. 

What "faster horses” are you faced with in your industry?


Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

The great steffano


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."

Before becoming an Army cavalry scout in the harsh climate of northern Alaska, as well as a husband and father, my son, Steffen, was an aspiring magician. He began developing his craft as a young child, and by high school had mastered many of the skills necessary to amaze and entertain his audiences. I was frequently his audience, as he would often "test" new tricks with me. He believed that if a magic trick somehow worked on me, it would work on others.

Frequently, and especially during the early years, I would spot the sleight of hand or figure out the basis for the trick. But by his late high school years, it became increasingly difficult. He had one trick that, to this day, still has me mystified –– and a bit angry, since I have yet to figure it out. My only explanation is that something supernatural is going on.

Steffen, or "The Great Steffano," as he would often refer to himself, would pull out a deck of cards, fan them out, and show me both sides of the cards in order to verify their authenticity. He had me pick a card, look at it, and place it somewhere back in the deck, which was then shuffled again. He then pulled a clear plastic sandwich baggie from his pocket that contained a single playing card –– the joker. I would verify that it was the joker, and that there were no other cards inside the baggie. Next, I’d put out my hand, and he would lay the baggie on it with the joker face down. He would then instruct me to place my other hand on top of it.

After a half minute or so of dramatic magic stuff (waving the deck over my hands, blowing on them, etc.), he asked me to tell him the initial card that I had drawn from the deck. After I confirmed the card, he would ask me to remove my top hand and look at the card inside the baggie––which had somehow "magically" changed from the joker to my card.

To say that I've had Steffen repeat this trick for me several times over the years would be an understatement. Each time, regardless of the card I draw, the result is the same.  Despite how hard I focused and paid attention to everything happening around me, I came no closer to figuring out the "logical" basis for it.

Obviously, there was some kind of misdirection going on––what the eyes see, the ears hear, and the hands touch...the mind delivers. In other words, what I think is occurring may not always line up with what is actually occurring, which is the basis of perception.

View the images below. In the first, a perfect square is placed over a series of concentric circles. In the second, black squares are arranged in a four-by-four grid and spaced the same distance apart.




What do you notice? Do the sides of the first square appear to be curved inward? When you look at the second image, do you see “shadow-like” images where the four corners of each box come together?

Both of these images illustrate how what you "see" is not always reality. Our senses–in this case, our eyes–can play tricks on our minds. When trying to properly identify or define a problem before we apply sticky thinking–creativity–to find the solution, it's essential to try and look at it from as many perspectives as possible. The initial view may have been distorted and may not provide the complete picture.

Have you ever dropped something small on the floor and then had a difficult time finding it? When this happens and I start to get frustrated, I remember this "varying viewpoint" principle and immediately drop to the floor to look across it––a new perspective that usually yields better success.

As human beings it's easy for each of us to view something and come up with very different views as to its intent or meaning. We all perceive ourselves and the world around us in ways that reflect our individual values, experience, knowledge, and personalities. We each select, organize, and interpret the stimuli around us in different ways. 

There are many ways to view a problem, and thus many solutions that come with each view. Sticky thinkers know this and have become accustomed to stepping back from a problem prior to solving it in order to see it from as many different perspectives as possible.  More perspectives allow for more connections and a greater opportunity to get creative. 

By the way, despite trying a variety of tactics to get him to show me the secret to that trick, ranging from cash rewards to threats of potential punishment, "The Great Steffano" held true to the creed that a magician never reveals his secrets. 

Practice Challenge:  Each time you have to generate an idea or solve a problem, try stepping back for a moment. Shift your viewpoint and get a totally different perspective. It may or may not change the resulting solution, but over time you will train your brain to look at every problem from a variety of perspectives. 

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian

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

How do your values impact your leadership?

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach and the President of MAP Professional Development Inc.


Muzyka - Life By CupGeneral Norman Schwarzkopf once famously described leadership as a “potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”

Strategy is often clear-cut: you inspire a vision, create goals, and execute the necessary tasks. You have a clear measuring stick and, while life and leadership are rarely black-and-white, you have a map with guideposts along the way.

Character, however, isn’t always so well-defined. Our values play a huge role and, if unidentified, you may often find yourself waffling, spinning your wheels, and making inconsistent decisions. On the flip side, clear values lead to clear actions – and powerful leadership.

Zhena Muzyka, founder of Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, seemed to know this early. As she vividly shares in her 2014 book Life By The Cup, she began her business out of necessity: a single mother to an infant son with medical issues, she needed a way to pay for his healthcare. She blended her passion for tea, her desire to care for her family, and her core values to form an enterprise.

Zhena experienced lean days familiar to many entrepreneurs. During those times, opportunities arose that perhaps would have significantly increased her revenue and business stature, but would also prove a slippery slope with regard to her values. Time and time again Zhena chose in favor of her values, and now her business – as well as her integrity – thrive.

This book holds many insightful tips for the purposeful professional, including:

Reach out. So many of us “go it alone” or feel that as smart, capable people we should be able to figure everything out. I love that Zhena never pretended to have all the answers, or even most of the answers, but she held her vision high and reached out to others who did. “When we learn to ask for help,” she reminds us, “we allow others to participate in our life and invest in the relationship.” Rather than thinking of asking for help as a burden, we can actually view it as a gift.

Work with purpose. Zhena’s work is an obvious extension of her values and an expression of her purpose. She never waffled on those values, even when it would have been lucrative to do so. She also didn’t get “lost in the weeds” of the day-to-day tasks: “There is no higher purpose or honor in anyone’s life,” Muzyka writes, “than to serve and nourish others. May your days be filled with this knowing.”

Show up. As somewhat of an accidental entrepreneur myself, I can second Zhena’s suggestion that a big percentage of success is just showing up. Planning plays an important role, but at some point we need to dive in. Attend the meeting. Write the draft. Do the work rather than ruminate and overthink. One of my favorite lines in the entire book: “I was moving so fast that fear couldn’t catch me.”

This book unexpectedly snuck into my pile late last year and turned out to be one of my favorites of 2014. I am a full-fledged coffee lover but was even inspired in the beverage arena: I consumed more tea while reading Life By The Cup than the entire year prior! For a heartfelt glimpse into purposeful entrepreneurship, values-based leadership, and succeeding in meaningful work, grab a cup of tea and this book. You won’t be disappointed.


What are your 3 core values? If you cannot easily answer this question, conduct a values clarification. One route: Review a large list of values, highlighting those that matter most to you. Continue paring down until you’ve identified the three that resonate deeply with your core and that imbue your decisions, actions, and choices. Values clarification isn’t necessarily easy, but knowing those values makes decision-making (and nearly everything else) much easier.


Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotWhat is one of your core values? How does it impact your leadership or business? Share your comments below!

Dr. Christi Hegstad develops strong, confident leaders who make a meaningful difference at work and in life. Learn more about her coaching work at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook  at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

Life By The Cup: Ingredients for a Purpose-Filled Life of Bottomless Happiness and Limitless Success by Zhena Muzyka (Atria Books, 2014) 

Finding value in the value proposition

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.

One of the most challenging aspects of becoming successful as an organization is effectively transmitting your value proposition to your target audience. Many organizations expect that consumers will just “get” that what they are selling is valuable. I mean, you think it’s valuable, so how could anyone feel differently?

There are just too many factors in the modern world that makes this simple and pure view of the expected realization of value unrealistic. First, the way products and services are recommended is not the same as it was 30 years ago. The glory days of “Where’s the Beef?” and “Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” are long gone. Modern consumers base their decisions on peer recommendation, due in no small part to the advent of blogs and social media. We are all citizens of the world now, and our decision making process has evolved to reflect that.

I’m going to take apart the basic structure of the value proposition to help define the way each part works together to build a statement or series of statements that provides for a sustainable competitive advantage.

The first question to be answered is “For?” Who is your audience? Do you fully understand the marketplace? What are the barriers to entry? Rigor should be invoked here – you need to make sure you have provided as much alignment as possible between what the market is open to consuming and what you are providing.

Once you have that defined, it’s time to ask the next question – “Who Seek…” What problem are you trying to solve? You have to be able to define what issue you are trying to address. If you’ve defined your audience well, this step should narrow your focus even further. Products or services that are too broad or seek to please everyone, except in rare instances, lack the traction to build marketshare.

This is where the pivot in the process occurs. What are you providing? You’ve defined whom. You’ve defined what. Now it’s your turn to offer the solution. A strong, clear statement indicating what you are trying to address makes the peer-to-peer viral spread of information more viable. Being vague only sends the message that you do not clearly understand what you are trying to accomplish or what the solution you are trying to provide.

But what if someone else has something similar? Using a statement that starts “Unlike Competitors…” signals that you have something new or different. A new solution. A different solution. This is where you really start to illustrate the value of your offering. It also acknowledges that you are aware of the characteristics of existing offerings, which only adds credibility to your statement of value.

The last part of the value proposition is where you affirm that what you are claiming is true by offering substantiating information. Our society is skeptical, and offering an answer to the question “You can believe us because…” is critical to establishing the final part of your argument. In peer-to-peer interactions, this is sometimes the most critical part of the value proposition to be conveyed. Establishing trust with your intended audience gives them the added confidence that you stand behind your value proposition.

If consumers were able to see the immediate value in our offerings, we would have no need to advertise them. Establishing a clear value proposition builds a robust conduit to not only purposefully transmit the value of what we are providing to the consumer, but creates a better understanding of the value of what we are selling as a producer.

Be authentic, be, be authentic!

A couple weeks ago we were fortunate enough to have someone join our team at Rocket Referrals. I would best describe Matthew as pensive, experienced, good at what he does - and moderately quirky. As you might expect from any newcomer to a group, Matthew was recently feeling out our company culture & the image we exhibit to others. Today in particular he asked me how the best way to address a prospect via email would be. In other words, should he be formal - or perhaps use the word “hey”. The answer was simple. Be yourself. Be authentic.

Depositphotos_11105665_xsTrue to form, the next step was for Matthew to start chanting “be authentic, be, be, authentic!” as if he was a high school cheerleader. A cheer which I indubitably joined in on. In fact it was the inspiration this blog post - because as quirky as the situation might be - it highlighted a very important aspect for any business: to be genuine, be yourself, be authentic.

Truth be told, we always know when a business is trying to sneak one by us. Sometimes it is more obvious than others. We can always smell a snake-oil salesman from a mile away and spot deals that are just too good to be true. But the problem runs much deeper than the blatant. What about those newsletters we get that are masked as informational but laced with promotions? How about the email from your car dealership that says he’s just checking in but is really soliciting you for a referral?

Or my personal favorite: when companies change their entire branding, message, or product away from their roots. Remember when Coca cola changed their formula for the first time in 99 years in 1985 to the “new Coke?” A marketing disaster calling for thousands to demand the original product. The same goes for companies trying to fit into trends they don’t belong, or use language that just doesn’t fit who they are. It’s kind of like that father that attends career day for his 4th grade child and turns his hat backwards and spits out terms like “rad” and “the bomb.” Trying too hard to fit in just doesn’t sit right.

On the other hand, being authentic will give substance to your company. It will define who you are and enable others to relate to you. In turn, more people are much more likely to trust you and have a positive outlook on your brand. Likability breeds sales and trust leads to referrals. You may not be the perfect fit for everyone, but being authentic is the only way to truly reach an audience. And when you have a loyal following that trusts you, you begin to create a community around your products and services.

What's your new business plan for today?

FoxHuntDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Most businesses really gear up their sales/new client hunt about the time their biggest client walks out the door. 

There’s a dangerous place for any business.  It’s called – just fine. That sense of complacency when things are good can lull a business leader into thinking that the “just fine” that exists today is a permanent condition. 

Which of course, it is not.

One of the fallouts from the recession is that decision makers (whether it’s a mom or a procurement officer) are saying yes much more slowly. We exist in a tentative world right now. Whatever your normal sales cycle – you’re probably experiencing at least a 25-40% delay in closing the deal.  All the more reason for every business out there to be trying to front load the sales funnel long before their sales start to slip. 

I can hear you now – but we network like crazy and we get lots of referrals.  All of that is great. And you should keep doing it. But it won’t be enough.  Most businesses grossly underestimate what it actually takes to get a client.

Sales and marketing are numbers games. But most businesses never bother to run the numbers. You need to understand your own sales cycle. How many presentations or inquiries do you need to move people to being a hot prospect?  What is your close rate?  How many months does it take to move someone from interesting to the point of purchase?

It will matter if your product or service is $10 or $10,000. Another factor would be the longevity of your product. Do I need one every week or every decade? Do you sell a niche product? Are you the market leader?

Regardless of the variables – I’m hoping the point hasn’t been lost. Even if the above equation isn’t precise, it does illustrate that you need to be chasing new business every day.

Even on the days you don’t need it.  That’s the only way it will be there on the days that you do.

When service goes wrong

The scene is familiar. A group of passengers is milling around the airport boarding gate awaiting word on the status of their delayed flight. 

It is said that your customers measure you, not by how they are treated when things go smoothly, but by how they are treated when problems with your product or service arise.  It is in these moments that the customer decides who they will flatter with their future business. 

We were looking forward to our holiday as we boarded the airplane. We were delighted to find that the 767 had been equipped with new, more comfortable seats. The usual boarding and safety drills ensued.

Then came the announcement from the cockpit. The co-pilot had not arrived. 

Federal Aviation guidelines prohibit a pilot from flying alone. Calls had been made to the co-pilot’s home. He could not be located. This was uncharacteristic. The staff was concerned for his safety. 

We waited. 

It was later we learned that the co-pilot had called in three days earlier to book the day off. Someone had failed to replace him on the schedule.  It was Los Angeles on New Year’s Day. We surmised the co-pilot was at the Rose Bowl.

We disembarked.

Three hours later we re-boarded the flight. We were finally on our way. We asked several crew members “what happened?” 

Following are the responses. Imagine you are a senior leader in this organization.  Two of your company’s values are honesty and customer service.  How does the customer experience measure up?


Flight attendant with cabin crew

1. “A new crew had to be called in. We’re doing the best we can.”

2. “I know exactly what happened. We had to take a 35% pay cut and everybody is calling in sick in protest. I was called at 11:00 a.m. to be here for a 2:00 p.m. flight. I’ve worked every holiday this year”.

3. “On behalf of all of us at the airline, I apologize for this unbelievable situation. We know this is an inconvenience for you. I’ve worked for this airline for 24 years and have never seen a scheduling oversight like this. We are embarrassed and appreciate your patience.  We will get you to your destination as soon as possible”. 

All three responses passed the honesty test. However, handling customer communications during a difficult time requires more than just an honest answer. It also requires:

  • Discretion. While you must be 100 percent truthful (customers do not tolerate dishonesty) you do not have to be 100 percent open. Your principal tactical challenge as a leader is to determine how open you should be and train your staff in discretion. The reputation of the organization is entrusted to the individuals who communicate with your customers.
  • Expressing compassion. While challenging, it is important to address the issue from the viewpoint of the customer - not your company and not yourself. That is the viewpoint they will be listening from.

Three honest answers. The differences related to discretion and compassion. Response (1) was impersonal and defensive. (2) revealed troubling morale issues. Only (3) began to address the issue from the customer’s viewpoint. 

Customer service is high on the list of key differentiators and competitive advantage for organizations—including this airline.

Sadly, this uncommon skill is too often left to chance. The good news is the skills of good customer communication are learned and can be taught.

Don’t get ready, get started: how innovation initiatives can get a jolt in 2015

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

Startup stock photo 3 color

Many companies are wrapping up strategic conversations for 2015 and many are discussing how innovation will be a key initiative for their growth. But what’s that first step for the organization?

Adapting the culture for innovation. Change is really, really hard. Making it a cultural staple is tough too. 

To kickoff corporate innovation is either a beginning or a continuation of previous efforts. All companies were once startups and have that innovative spirit somewhere in their DNA. 

The most important thing in this world is creating value. It doesn't matter if someone leaves a company to create a startup or teams build something internally. The most important thing is to make sure you're solving a problem and that value is created from it for others to benefit from. 

In order to allow for innovation to infiltrate and actually work inside an organization, the culture has to adapt and has to be willing to embrace experimentation and shift some focus on priorities both from the company standpoint and the employee standpoint. Again, this is hard.

Corporate entrepreneurs (intrapreneurs) have an extremely unique opportunity to steer the massive ship from monotony to tackling new,really big opportunities with the tremendous resources that a large organization already has. 

But sometimes the biggest roadblock is the company getting out of its own way so that corporate entrepreneurs can shake the world up in ways that startups don't have the resources for and that existing executives don't have the to recognize. 

The day-to-day will always cannibalize innovation efforts. Fires rise in all of our organizations, but having at least a few team members staying laser focused on new initiatives is key. 

To make sure the initiatives are fruitful, action has to happen. This can be the tiniest of things.

Here are a few ideas:  

-Create a landing page to test new initiatives.

-Talk to existing customers about some opportunities that are being explored. I promise that the touch point of pro-actively looking to meet their needs will be well received. 

-Run a pitch competition internally to showcase the innovative ideas employees across the organization have. Commit to implementing at least one. 

Whatever path your teams choose, take the bold steps in conquering new initiatives. Remember: don't get ready, get started. 


Let's keep the conversation going: 

Email: max@createreason.com

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

The litigation, arbitration, mediation consideration

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law PGP_1038

Determining how to resolve a business dispute is an important consideration for any business. For instance, will the business litigate the dispute in open court, before a judge at the local courthouse? Or, will the business prefer to resolve its dispute through alternative dispute resolution (ADR), behind closed doors, before a carefully selected arbitrator or mediator?

The answers to these and other questions can substantially impact the outcome of the dispute, including the cost, confidentiality, and time required to resolve the dispute. ADR provides businesses with various options for resolving disputes.

What is mediation? In general, mediation is a private, non-binding form of dispute resolution. A mediator presides over a mediation proceeding and works to resolve the parties’ dispute by building towards a mutually agreeable outcome. Generally, a mediator will build towards a mutually agreeable outcome by engaging in what is commonly referred to as shuttle diplomacy.

What is arbitration? Arbitration is a second form of dispute resolution that, depending upon the existence of a possible agreement, can either be binding or non-binding. In arbitration, and similar to litigation, parties present their case to an independent third-party. The third-party is referred to as the arbitrator, or in some circumstances, a panel of arbitrators. An arbitrator or panel of arbitrators will hear the case, consider the law, and ultimately render a judgment, much like a judge.

While ADR has several advantages, it is not without disadvantages as well.  In short, businesses and individuals should carefully evaluate all options before setting down the dispute resolution path.

Optimism and Organizations: More than hugs and high fives

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.

A phrase that is relatively new to me is “hugs and high fives.” It was used in the context of someone speaking about how they perceive strategic goal setting within their company. While it’s easy to discount the importance of the softer elements of strategy and the human side of an organization, empathy and providing a support system for employees is a critical element to building a successful, holistic organization.

There are a number of things directly impacted by employee morale, and they have been well documented. What I would like to talk a little about is optimism and how the cycle of accomplishing the tactical actions of your organization are intrinsic to one another.

When I work with different groups, there is a natural tendency to jump to the tactical. Strategy is esoteric and ethereal from a certain perspective – results are what business demands! But to think about how your organization moves to a tactical level to the extent that it is an antiseptic process misses a key part of what strategy is all about. This moves beyond stretch goals – now we are truly talking about how the planning ecosystem functions.

When you set goals, they should be optimistic. They should be realistic, but they should be aspirational. These goals are used to identify objectives and the tactics or means to satisfy these objectives. This process acts as a mechanism for filtering and rigorously “stress testing” your goals. By taking goals and defining objectives from these goals, you are defining a pathway toward successful tactical implementation.

The tactical action plan you define for your objectives will be defined by how dynamic your goals are. This is fundamentally why optimism at this level is important. Let’s track through an example to help illustrate my point:

Goal 1: Increase productivity to 105%.

The above does not reflect optimism - it simply states what you want to do. It may not provide a motivation for employees to work toward the goal. In fact, it may actually make employees feel that the only important factor is the bottom line. This is what I mean by antiseptic. There is no animus embedded. It’s simply what the company wants to do. Good enough? I think we can do better.

Restated Goal 1: Provide an employee incentive program tied to reaching a productivity level 5-10% beyond prior year’s performance.

The above reemphasizes the employee as the beneficiary of the increase in productivity. It also allows a larger range for growth (10% rather than 5%), as the growth is tied to the incentive in a graduated way. Both goals lead to the same objective, an increase in productivity, but have very different starting points. And, from this objective, the different goals will lead to different tactical action plans. These plans can then be referenced back against the original goal and tested for sustainability and effectiveness. It is meant to be an iterative cycle that continually improves itself.

Being empathetic to employees and setting goals with them in mind moves strategy and goals from “hugs and high fives” to true holistic ownership of the organization’s mission. This in turn leads to goals and tactics that cycle into continual institutional investment in greater employee retention, higher engagement in projects and outcomes, and increased productivity.

Holiday lessons for the whole year 'round

Dixie Gallaspie, a St. Louis-based author and business coach, recently wrote for Entrepreneur.com that doing seven things all year round that are normally reserved for the holidays -- think resolutions, for one -- can make businesses and profits grow.

Four of those things really stand out for me: celebrations, gratitude, giving gifts and parties. And, they're well worth adding to your strategies for success on a regular basis as the year goes on.

First, Gallaspie notes that she and her clients use the phrase "Pop the cork" as their cue to pause and celebrate their successes. Celebrating success acknowledges not only the progress that has been made but also the potential ahead, she believes. I couldn't agree more. When you take time to celebrate with your clients and employees on a regular basis, you let them know that you care about them and you forge stronger relationships that can inspire everyone to tackle bigger projects.

Next comes gratitude. Why wait until the holidays to let your clients know how grateful you are to work with them? Enough said.

Third: giving gifts. Dixie Gallaspie hits the nail on the head when she says, "Gifts are sweet any time of the year. In fact, they're even sweeter when they aren't anticipated or expected. You don't have to give big gifts. … It's more than the thought that counts, but it's the thought that counts the most in building meaningful relationships with your referral partners, prospects, employees and friends of the business." It's the little touches that often make the most lasting impressions.

And, finally, parties. It's far too easy for all of us to follow the routine of coming to work, doing our job and going home. Get out of that rut! Have a party every now and then. Invite your clients. Invite prospective clients. Invite your neighboring businesses. Come up with your own list. Just take break out of the old routine this year and make sure your company hosts a party -- or two -- in 2015.

Follow these four tips this year and your business will build closer relationships, be more fun and add to the bottom line.

AIB's lack of transparency harms students and the community

Truth should have been the number one goal of communication to students, employees and the community about the AIB and University of Iowa merger. Unfortunately, it looks like that imperative was violated when the president of AIB announced the deal last week. Saying that the school merger was brought up during a casual conversation last summer was disingenuous at best.

Rumors have been floating around about the financial situation and declining enrollment at AIB for years. The merger with the University of Iowa was a graceful way for the 90-year old AIB to exit "stage left" and not leave a big empty campus behind. Unfortunately, AIB leaders chose not to share the full picture with their constituencies at the school and in the larger community.

Of course, they had students to think about, and the announcement was carefully timed so as not to have a bunch of students bail at the semester break. There were many loose ends - such as the future AIB athletic scholarships - that were poorly communicated. There are other deals in mid-stream as well, such as the AIB-Lincoln high school athletic fields partnership - that is now left hanging without any real resolution. I am disappointed that this renovation may be stopped in its tracks before being completed, leaving Des Moines schools officials holding the bag and students without the fields they were planning on. I hope there was a tightly-worded contract in place so that AIB will be forced to fulfill its end of the deal.

It also seemed as though students found out about many of the details of the takeover in the media. That is unfortunate. As difficult as it might have been to break the news, students are the customers of AIB that really deserved special treatment and over-communication about what was going on. The last thing they deserved was to have the sketchy details of the merger announced in the media. Adding insult to injury, it seems they were also misled on several aspects of their scholarships and athletic careers.

I'm sure that when things shake out the University of Iowa campus will be a wonderful addition to the Des Moines educational community, but that does not help the 300 student athletes with more questions than answers. Just because AIB is a privately-run institution doesn't mean it can conduct its affairs in secret. There are many people and community partners (some of them publicly-funded) to whom AIB owes transparency. And saying that they "want to be as transparent as possible" is not the same as being transparent.

Here are the values listed on AIB's website:

  • Quality education and experiences that encourage and stimulate intellectual and personal growth. 
  • Leadership, teamwork, open communication and lifelong professional development. 
  • A diverse campus community based on respect and integrity. 
  • Ethical and transparent decision-making. 
  • Stewardship of all College resources. 
  • Service to others – locally, nationally and globally. 
  • The health, wellness and safety of our students, faculty and staff.

Kind of rings a little hollow now. As my mother always told me, there is no better time to tell the truth than the present.

Claire Celsi is a communications consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Mind your manners for employee motivation

IowaBiz.com delivers cutting-edge content written by 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 Business Record readers in the area of Employee Engagement.

The 2014 “State of the American Workplace” report by Gallup Research exposes some dismal statistics about employee engagement:

  • 61 percent of Americans received no praise in the workplace last year
  • 70 percent of workers are “emotionally disconnected” from their jobs and not productive
  • The cost of employee disengagement is more than $450 to $550 BILLION per year

This is bad news. American employers are spending billions (that’s with a “B”) on employees who are becoming sick, taking time off, not performing their primary functions when they are on the job or spending time with their friends on social media instead of working. Or worse yet, they are embroiled in lawsuits due to toxic, disengaged employees who created hostile work environments. 

 Gallup defined three key types of employees: 

  • Engaged - Works with passion; Feels a profound connection to the organization. 
  • Not Engaged - Putting in hours instead of energy; Emotionally disconnected;  Unproductive; Checked out. 
  • Actively Disengaged: Miserable at their jobs; Actively undermining coworkers and sabotaging projects.

As business leaders, it is important to ask ourselves which category would the majority of our employees fall into? Engaged? Not Engaged? Actively Disengaged? With so much time, energy and profit at stake, it is important to take an honest look at the people you manage and lead.   

Now for the good news... Employers want engaged employees. And most employees want to be engaged. Business leaders can use common sense and be strategic to move the needle and foster employee engagement in their organizations.  

How do we create a culture of engagement? Create a culture of gratitude. 

One of the simplest ways to motivate and engage employees in any organization is to show appreciation for a job well done. Yes, a good, old-fashioned look-them-in-the-eyes-and-say “Thank you” goes a long way in motivating people to “keep up the good work”.  

In addition to the face-to-face thank you, there are variations to convey gratitude to someone. Which of these strategies might work for you and your employees or co-workers?

A hand-written thank you note or note of recognition - One of my executive coaching clients was proud to share a note that a prominent business leader took the time to write to him. To the client, this was a tangible expression of appreciation that he could look at over and over again. He marveled that the business leader would take the time out of his busy day to write a note. This gesture was very meaningful and motivational. Think about the culture of gratitude you could be creating if you set aside five or ten minutes each day to write thank you notes to those who deserve your appreciation.

Use positive, non-verbal recognition gestures like “thumbs up”- Simple actions such as giving “high fives” recognize others and help spread contagious enthusiasm throughout the workplace. We want all of our employees to want to be at work and to enjoy it.  Contagious enthusiasm makes a workplace a fun and engaging place to spend time in.

The verbal gold star - Many of us grew up receiving gold stars for a job well done.  Psychological researchers state that those behaviors which get rewarded get repeated.  Give out a verbal gold star by telling someone in a sincere way how PROUD you are to work with them, to be their supervisor, for their creative idea, etc. The verbal gold star is an easy way to reinforce those wanted behaviors on your team. 

Let’s take the first step to show our appreciation to others and turn these dismal statistics around. Who will you say “thank you” to today?

Cause marketing converges on the Super Bowl

Katie Stocking is the founder and President at Happy Medium LLC.

Like every year, there was a lot of hype leading up to the Super Bowl, specifically around which brand would have the best ad. This year advertisers paid the starting rate of $4 million dollars. You read that right—$4 million for 30 seconds for 100 million eyeballs to see a commercial! And it goes up from there. A 60-second spot went for $8 million, which doesn’t even include production costs!

Studies have shown that 50 percent of the audience tunes in to the game solely for the ads. Talk about a captive audience! This year we saw an interesting shift in the ads as many brands focused on cause related marketing. One of my favorites this year was Always’ #LikeAGirl ad working to break the stereotypes of women. According to Adobe, the #LikeAGirl ad had the highest volume of mentions on social media, as well as the largest positive sentiment, with 84% of mentions focused on feelings like admiration and joy.

Because so many people watch the game for the commercials, it can be one of the best places for brands to invest marketing dollars because they know people are actually going to watch the ad, and if done well, they are going to talk about it. On the other hand, they may also talk about it even if not done so well, like the Nationwide commercial.

Social media was abuzz after the soberness of the Nationwide commercial. From a marketing standpoint, it carried a strong message and was well executed—it just didn’t seem like the right placement for the audience during the Big Game when people were looking for something happy and peppy to fit the celebration. Regardless of your thoughts on the ad, Nationwide received a tremendous amount of social media buzz from their ad that has generated awareness, which definitely counts for something!

Coca-Cola also pulled at the heartstrings by starring Robby Novak, known as the Internet’s beloved Kid President, who has Brittle Bone Disease. Their message was to make the Internet a ‘nicer’ place by targeting millennials who like to spend money on brands that are socially responsible. Unlike any other generation, affiliation with a cause is most important to millennials and their habits and buying patterns support this.

All of these brands did a great job sharing their message while integrating what they are passionate about supporting as a brand. In today’s digital world, consumers eagerly share about the causes that matter to them and want to support and purchase from brands that are socially responsible. It’s no longer an expectation—it’s a requirement.

Does a brand’s social responsibility play in to your purchase decisions? What was your favorite Super Bowl ad this year?

Leadership lessons from little red schoolhouses

Little red schoolhouseWhen the first settlers arrived in their communities they built three things, in this order; a home, a schoolhouse and a church.  Apparently education was as important to our ancestors as worship.

Today, education continues to be a top priority.

In Little Red Schoolhouses (interestingly, they were often painted white), pupils ranging in age from 5 to 21 years would study the three R’s plus subjects like art, music, history and geography with the same teacher for their entire academic career. The state-of-the-art technology that equipped the one-room schoolhouses included a bell tower, blackboards, pot-bellied stove, desks and books.

In classrooms today, students of a certain age study under a teacher (or several teachers) for one year at which time they move to the next grade where the process is repeated. The state-of-the-art technology that equips today’s schoolrooms includes individual computing devices, extensive internet access and modern HVAC systems.

Is the quality of education improved thanks to the modern classroom?

Due to the systemization and mechanization of the industrial era, classrooms have been designed around efficiency rather than service.  Students are divvyed up, not based on their subject knowledge, aptitude, progress, or interest but by something not even remotely correlated to success—chronological age.  Students study the same subjects, from the same books, in the same way, at the same pace.  This method sounds a little like a recipe for making a McDonalds’ hamburger.  Unlike hamburgers, people possess potential, creativity and free will—all of which are inhibited in this one-size-fits-all environment.  Any parent of more than one child knows that people learn and develop differently so they must be treated differently.

Are there lessons for business leaders to be gleaned from both models?  We think so. Tero strives for a learner-focused service model of education that combines the best of both worlds. Without doubt, it’s hard work— we believe it’s worth the trouble and we encourage leaders to embrace these lessons in their own workplaces.

Lessons from the Little Red Schoolhouses of the past led us to:

  • Customize learning and ensure small facilitator to participant ratios.
  • Encourage relationship-building and diversity in its workshops.
  • Ensure learning has practical application in the real-world—now!

Lessons from leading-edge fields such as the neuro-sciences led us to:

  • Design programs that are research-based, multi-sensory and kinesthetic.
  • Build a state-of-the-art learning center.
  • Implement evaluation and measurement tools.

The average half-life of knowledge is estimated to be four years. That is the length of time that half of what we learn in a given year will need to be replaced by new knowledge.  In fast-changing industries, the half-life is arguably much shorter.  Said another way, half of the knowledge acquired in year one of a university student’s higher education experience will be irrelevant or need to be replaced by new knowledge before the time they graduate with a four-year degree and enter the workforce.

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, education does not conclude at the end of formal schooling.  Ongoing and continuous learning for leaders and employees alike is an imperative for businesses that intend to remain competitive.  Leaders are wise to consider the championing of learning as an integral part of their job description and couple the lessons of the past with the innovations of the present when considering growth and development opportunities for people.

Why your clients are leaving and how to stop them

When most people hear the term “churn rate” they probably think it is a measure of how quickly an elderly Amish lady whips up old-fashioned butter.

However, in regard to subscription and many service industries, churn rate is the percentage of clients that leave the business within a given time period. Something much less sweet or buttery indeed.

The truth of the matter is that most businesses simply don’t focus on client retention nearly as much as they should. Here’s why:

  • They are laser focused on acquiring new clients
  • They are laser focused on acquiring new clients
  • They believe retention is a natural byproduct of good customer service

I agree: zeroing in on new clients is important for new and mature businesses alike. After all, if you do not bring in new blood the only way to increase commissions is through cross sales. It’s a no brainer. But, if your existing clients are dropping like flies it makes it even more difficult to grow an company and increase profits.

Research shows that, on average, it costs 6 to 7 times more to acquire a new client than retain an existing one.

This is not groundbreaking news for some companies. They have done the math and understand the importance of keeping their clients for the long haul.

In fact, many companies pride themselves on customer service and go above and beyond to convert clients into ambassadors. They have excellent producers and service personnel that genuinely care about their clients.

Why clients are leaving

Preview-microThe truth is, you can care about your clients and give them the best service and price available and still have a high churn rate. This is because, regardless of how much you do care, over time clients start to feel like you don’t genuinely care about them.

In fact, this is by far the number one reason why clients leave. The American Society for Quality references a study which indicates that 68 percent of customers defect through perceived indifference. The next closest reason at 14 percent left because they were dissatisfied with some aspect of the service.

For many businesses this will turn the notion of client retention upside down. Great service only prevents 14 percent of those clients that would defect from doing so.

The perceived indifference that accounts for an astounding 68% of client loyalty is due to the lack of regular meaningful communication from the company.

How to stop the bleeding

1. Send periodic Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys
2. Ask for testimonials
3. Send personalized loyalty cards

NPS Surveys are the quickest and most effective metric to gauge client loyalty. They are excellent at identifying promoters and uncovering detractors. They show clients that the company cares about what they think of them. This survey should be sent to each client every 4-6 months.

Asking for testimonials strengthens the bond between loyal clients and the company. After they make the commitment to promote a business to others it becomes part of their self-image. When asked to further show their commitment (sticking around) they will be far more likely to do so – rather than conflicting with this shared belief and developing a dissonant state.

Loyalty cards are a simple way for businesses to let existing clients know they still care about them. Handwritten and unexpected cards fill the communication void that happens between significant events in the relationship. What better way to eliminate perceived indifference by telling your clients personally that you care about them and thank them for their loyalty?

These three touchpoints go a long way to increasing client retention and are rather easy to implement. Remember that in this game stellar service along is not enough. Your clients need to feel loved or they walk.

Best business book recommendation

I spend a lot of time reading, and often find valuable insight and information that I like to share with leaders within our organization. Jim Collins is one author whom I feel provides thoughtful review and insight on business best practices that are applicable to many audiences. 

Last year, I took the time to read How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. In it, Collins suggests that all organizations are vulnerable to decline, but “great companies can stumble, badly, and recover.” Below are key takeaways that any business leader should keep in mind -- even though it may seem like business and health are two different categories, it's not the case. All leaders should constantly look out for the "wellness" or their organization. 

First, Collins says to consider if the right people are in the right roles, and then work to develop a culture of discipline. This type of culture begins when people understand what, exactly, they are responsible for – which is different than what their job title might say – and ends with a shared vision, set of values or overarching purpose. All of these elements work together, and are critical to longevity and success; however, Collins discovered that successful organizations continue to be susceptible to decline, and will fall and fail without proper attention or preparation.

Next, ask the following questions of your organization:

What do we do ten times better than anyone else?
Successful organizations focus on this relentlessly, without distraction.

What is on our “list”?
Your “list” includes the durable, specific services that you provide which produce replicable results over time. For example, how Southwest Airlines focuses on “low cost.”

What’s our 20-mile march?
Focus on a concrete outcome based on steady performance throughout the years. These goals need to be measurable and acknowledge constraints.

How do you know when to change your “list”?
Successful companies do not change strategy, focus, purpose and value very much over time. Collins notes two big myths related to change: that we must change as much on the inside as we do on the outside, and that winners change all the time – but he claims neither are true. Instead, he offers three levels of change to keep in mind: buzz about change with no substance, questionable change that may subvert something on your list) and actual change that does affect your list.

Do you understand why you were successful in the first place?
Failure results when you don’t.

Are you innovative?
Small tests of change lead to success that can be replicated for scale. Collins warns that failure happens when you don’t test enough and when you don’t learn from previous efforts.

I encourage all business leaders to add How the Mighty Fall to their reading list this year, and keep it on their bookshelf as a point of reference. I know I will.

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