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Monday, December 28, 2015

The Moskovitz Method

Dustin Moskovitz is listed as one of “America’s Richest Entrepreneurs under 40” by Forbes. In fact, he’s number 2 at $9.4 billion as of 12/26/15. He’s 31 years old.

Like Mark Zuckerberg, he dropped out of Harvard after two years. Then he joined Zuckerberg in Palo Alto to develop Facebook. In 2008, Moskovitz left Facebook to start Asana, a software firm where he now serves as co-founder and CEO. A wise young man, he held on to most of his Facebook stock.

Dustin and wife Cari have created a philanthropic foundation called Good Ventures, which has given away millions. Dustin is also a member of Bill Gates’s and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge. Sharing and caring are apparently two of his core values.

As for personal notes, Moskovitz bikes to work. He flies commercial. You’ll find him regularly attending the rewnowned Burning Man desert festival events.

He also blogs. One blog posted in 2015 should be required reading for any serious employer or captain of industry. It’s titled, “Work Hard, Live Well.” I’m including a good portion of his comments below. https://medium.com/building-asana/work-hard-live-well-ead679cb506d#.7ycv3adci

Those who follow business stories know that in the last twelve months, several stories surfaced about the work culture at Amazon. At fortune.com, the headline back in August read, “Dear Amazon: Your work culture really is terrible.” http://fortune.com/2015/08/19/amazon-work-culture/

That article followed the New York Times piece “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.” From that we learned, “At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are ‘unreasonably high.’ The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others.” Lovely. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html?_r=2

Dustin Moskovitz offers a refreshingly different perspective. It begins with a startling admission of his early missteps. Dustin writes…

“Last week, I spoke to an ambitious group of high school students…Several of them asked me about things I wish I had done or learned earlier in life, or regrets I had from earlier in my career. Again and again, I came back to the idea that I wish I had lived my life differently.

2006 was one of the best years for Facebook, and one of the worst years for me as a human.

I wish I had slept more hours, and exercised regularly. I wish I had made better decisions about what to eat or drink — at times I consumed more soda and energy drinks than water. I wish I had made more time for other experiences that helped me grow incredibly quickly once I gave them a chance.”

Early regrets. Hmmm. And he’s 31! After a few students questioned whether those changes would have reduced his success, he added…

“Actually, I believe I would have been more effective: a better leader and a more focused employee. I would have had fewer panic attacks, and acute health problems — like throwing out my back regularly in my early 20s. I would have picked fewer petty fights with my peers in the organization, because I would have been generally more centered and self-reflective. I would have been less frustrated and resentful when things went wrong, and required me to put in even more hours to deal with a local crisis. In short, I would have had more energy and spent it in smarter ways… AND I would have been happier. That’s why this is a true regret for me: I don’t feel like I chose between two worthy outcomes. No, I made a foolish sacrifice on both sides.” Wow.

It is then that Moskovitz addresses the concerns that are raised by the Amazon working conditions — freely noting that the tech industry has plenty of like minded drivers. He was told by one job candidate that the team at the other company started their dinners at 8:30 p.m. to encourage people to stay late!

Dustin also briefly outlines the proven productivity that comes with fewer hours and less demanding lifestyles. And then he asks…

“Why are companies doing this? It must be some combination of 1) not knowing the research 2) believing the research is somehow flawed or doesn’t apply to them (they’re wrong) or 3) understanding that many people see these cultural artifacts as a signal about the intensity and passion of the team.”

Part of his solution is based on simply two words: rest matters. We should all be so wisely reminded. Rest…matters. (Read Psalm 127:2)

Of course, this is not new. In His earliest commands, God instructed His people to work six days. Then…rest. He offered up several other instructions for rest periods as well. Obviously, our Creator knows our limitations.

While the world goes full bore into 2016 with new resolutions on how to strive for new accomplishments, tell a few friends you’re committed to the Moskovitz Model: rest more! Stress less.

And for more work success tips, try reading the Bible in 2016. It will make for a happier New Year.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Better Check Your List Twice

What is the true meaning of Christmas? It must have a lot to do with Santa Claus. Let’s check the lyrics of some of our Christmas favorites! That will help us tell the story.

We begin with, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.” This one gets us back to the basics. No need for all those toys and goodies from Santa. Just…two teeth. And why? So this sweet child can wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Oh…and he’ll be able to say, “Sister Susie sitting on a thistle!” Let’s all try that. Thank goodness for modest requests.

“Santa Baby,” the Santa song for adults, has been around since 1953! Eartha Kitt made it a hit. This girl really has her list working. A sable under the tree, a ’54 convertible, a yacht, and the deed to a platinum mine! Touching. And one can easily tell she’s been missing out on a lot of fun dates just trying to be good enough to get stuff. Wonder if St. Nicholas likes the term, Santa Baby? Well, maybe from Mrs. Claus.

In the classic, “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” again we’re back to basics. “Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susie wants a sled. Nellie wants a picture book, yellow, blue and red.” The song’s conclusion leaves a mature thought: “Choose for me, dear Santa Claus, what you think is best.” This chap might be surprised by what St. Nick considered important.

My final Santa selection is the famous, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” This one deserves a close theological review. As we would learn here, Santa is BIG on performance.

We are told not to pout or cry with Santa coming to town. He’s got some kind of list that he apparently checks twice to determine if we’ve been naughty or nice. And since he’s aware of our sleeping habits and our secret lives, we’d better watch out! Kids who do behave will have a jubilee building some kind of toyland “all around the Christmas tree.” Pretty exciting stuff.

Apart from Santa songs, there is a plethora of other meaningless rhymes set to music that distracts us from the idea that a Savior for the world was once born. Of course, the Jesus of whom we are told never asked us to celebrate His birthday. We decided to do that.

And then along comes old St. Nick. Or more properly said, Saint Nicholas. William Bennett gave us a beautiful history of this legendary figure in his 2009 book, The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas. The real figure was a Greek bishop. History says he lived from 270 to 346 AD. This is recommended reading for all.

A shorter course on the jolly soul can be found at a St. Nicholas center website. Here we learn what many hold to be true about why we consider him so “saintly.” Check this: “His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’s words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.” http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/

Checking closely on these details of St.Nick’s life, we find no evidence of keeping lists. Or checking them twice. And I hope I don’t disappoint anyone by saying there also appears to be a lack of evidence that he owned reindeer. Or moved north from Greece or Turkey. I mean, why would you?

We are a performance driven people. We prefer to check off lists of things we believe we’ve done right. In Jesus’s time, a very rich young man approached Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” (And that’s only a partial list of do-goods.)

So the rich guy says, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mark 10:17-22)

Here’s the thing. St. Nicholas got it. The reason Santa can belly laugh in joy with “Ho, Ho, Ho!” is because the weight of materialism and sinless performance is gone. And that’s because of Jesus.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is teaching Godly contentment. (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Another is the gift of sharing. And most importantly, is to pass along the gift of good news that leads to eternal life.

What’s on your list to become right with God? There should only be one thing. It begins with “J.”

Merry Christmas.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.
 
Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Don’t Volunteer Me

One of those early maxims you learn in the military is “Don’t volunteer for ANYTHING!” If you have to ask why, you haven’t been there. Those who miss this lesson early on will learn.

One chap shared that he was at Army basic at Ft. Oklahoma back in the 1980s. A drill sergeant asked if anyone could drive a truck. A few raised their hands. Those who responded “spent the next two days building a gravel parking lot using a pile of gravel, a garbage can, and two entrenching tools.” Enough said. Lesson complete.

A few weeks ago, I read an item from Jeff Haden, a writer and contributor to Inc.com. He is also the author of Transformed: Dramatically Improve Your Career, Business, Relationships, and Life...One Simple Step at a Time. Jeff blogs as well.

Jeff’s article was titled, “Why You Should Sometimes Work for Free.” It’s more than just the idea of volunteering. He’s advocating pro bono work as well. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-you-should-sometimes-work-free-jeff-haden?forceNoSplash=true

One friend of Jeff’s has a policy against anyone working for free. His reasoning? “I don’t think anyone should give away their profession.”

Okay…that’s one person’s perspective, albeit a wrong one in my view. The reason it’s wrong is that this poor soul must believe that the ability to do his professional work comes of his own will. In other words, no creator or support team (teachers, mentors, etc) were involved in providing or in first giving him the abilities he has and then helping him develop those talents.

I see it differently. My work is in broadcasting. Frequently I have been told I have a “wonderful radio voice.” While grateful for the compliment, I quickly admit that I had very little to do with it. Close to nothing. I was born with the voice I have. There is training and technique involved to develop the use of a voice, but the product itself is not mine for which to take credit.

Whatever your skills and abilities, you would be well advised to realize much of what enables your success is a gift from God. Stroke victims come to realize how vulnerable we are in the human body. I have some blockage in my carotid artery. A very small amount of junk accumulating there could put an end to any number of functions I depend on daily. My very existence—apart from any abilities—is a gift from God.

With that in mind, how can one not offer themselves in some form of service because of a grateful heart? Christmas time is a season when we see volunteers of many stripes take action. Even the Grinch must take off his hat and salute the sweetness of human compassion expressed by volunteering.

And kudos to those who offer pro bono services of any kind throughout the year. Some do legal work. Others provide financial services. Some do creative work of writing. Even speaking activities of various kinds.

Jeff Haden’s article offered several reasons why “working for free” offered the giver personal benefits. His ideas included:

  • You get to stretch a little
  • You get to be more creative
  • You get to flex a few atrophied muscles... and lastly…
  • You get to do the right thing

Staying on that last point, it brings up the issue of heart motivation. Doing any kind of charitable activity out of corporate or personal self interest has a measure of defeat involved. Sure, the work may be beneficial. But the heart of the giver is not in it; it’s giving out of selfish ambition. Usually for recognition or some tax write-off.

This brings me to an important personal policy of mine. I try to contribute my time and abilities to the causes to which I’m most drawn. Aggressive fund raisers or charity organizers tend to ask and almost obligate one to service. It’s a gentle form (usually) of guilt motivation. Also, a lousy reason to serve others. So please, don’t volunteer me.

This Christmas season, I hope you can see added beauty in the One who lived a human life totally out of love and sacrifice. His entire life was pro bono. From the earliest recorded days of the “ministry” life of Jesus of Nazareth, He was a giver.

He gave His wisdom through His teaching. He gave His power to heal every kind of disease. Jesus made an offer only He could make: to forgive sins. Not cover them up…forgive them. Blot them out. A free gift. Just believe.

Let’s add one more. He brings us peace, not as the world gives. Jesus said it this way, “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid.” (John 14:27, CEV)

Oh…and as far as volunteering for show, Jesus also said this: “When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off. If you do, you won’t get a reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1, CEV)

Friend, Jesus's call to His disciples 2000 years ago is the same call He makes to you today: “Follow me.”

Any volunteers?

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Who IS This Guy?

Occasionally you meet people, read an article, or hear a speaker, and you think, “I’d like to spend some time with this person.” One on one. You know, to get inside their head a little deeper.

Recently, I came across the name of M.S. Rao from India. Rao identifies himself in his blogs, his Wikipedia contribution, and his publicity material as Professor M.S. Rao. He is the founder of MSR Leadership Consultants. From India, he’s highly respected within a number of business circles.

Rao has written a number of interesting blogs, has spoken at many leadership events, and apparently has written some 30 books in this field. Along with that, certain web pages feature solid testimonials as to his abilities. He has video presentations, too.

Professor Rao loves leadership ideas, techniques, and visionary ideas. He identifies his own vision as “to build one million students as global leaders by the year 2030.” I like big picture guys.

One of his blogs relates to one of my personal favorite topics: mindset. This is the embedded way we process any number of things, holding dear to a set of beliefs that shape the way we respond. To influence or change a person’s mindset is quite difficult, yet that is the business in which I am engaged (talk radio).

Professor Rao’s areas of interest and expertise include Leadership, Executive Coaching, and Executive Education. He reportedly has conducted training programs for various corporations and educational institutions. Rao is equipped with 34 years of experience in leadership development.

A few things intrigued me about Professor Rao. One raises a bit of yellow flag. Before I get to that, here are two items that caught my attention.

The first is his writing on the subject of his term “soft leadership” — of which he is described as the “father” of this topic. From an interview, Professor Rao states, “Soft leadership emphasizes the significance of precious human resources. It helps in managing the emotions, egos, and feelings of the people successfully. It focuses on the personality, attitude, and behavior of the people, and calls for making others feel more important.” I like that.

In contrast to servant leadership, Rao notes: “Soft leadership takes support of soft skills, persuasive, and negotiation skills to get the tasks executed effectively. In contrast, servant leadership is about serving others.” His teaching on this contains 11 characteristics I’ve yet to review.

A second Rao item of interest to me was his very good review of the book, The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make by Hans Finzel. I have interviewed Finzel on a couple of occasions. It’s good material from an openly Christian perspective. (Rao’s summary can be found at at http://profmsr.blogspot.com/2010/05/book-review-by-profmsrao-top-10.html)

So what’s my “yellow flag of caution” on Rao? I ask…who IS this guy? I can’t find any educational background. Or where he teaches…outside of perhaps his own organization. He earned his “PhD in Soft Leadership,” which seems to be something HE’S developed.

If I didn’t think it so unlikely, I’d believe he’s raised himself up as a leadership guru (his term) and built a fine reputation by creating his own educational world. There’s no law against doing this. Nor does a lack of a PhD from a highly respected school (or a bachelor’s degree or a masters) deny you the right to call yourself “guru.” Or doctor…I suppose.

Let me clearly state that Professor Rao may have some educational credentials that for some reason don’t appear on his Facebook page, Linked In, or his own Wikipedia write up. But one has to admit…that is strange. Maybe guru schools are hard to come by.

But to my point, I would really enjoy some personal time with this fellow. He seems to have a tender heart, very good motives in what he is doing, and is a clear thinker. All things I like.

Another small mystery is where Rao’s spiritual beliefs are centered. Various faith traditions teach respect and honor for our fellow man — good to apply in all of business. The fact the Rao covered a Christian leadership book by Finzel also favorably impressed me. Spiritual foundations tell a lot.

Jesus of Nazareth had no earthly teaching credentials as well. He was the son of a carpenter. His family offered no pedigree.

But He amazed people with His teaching. The Gospel of John records it this way: 

“…Jesus went up to the Temple and began teaching. The Jews were amazed and remarked, “How does this man know all this—he has never been taught?” Jesus replied to them, “My teaching is not really mine but comes from the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I merely speak on my own authority. A man who speaks on his own authority has an eye for his own reputation. But the man who is considering the glory of God who sent him is a true man. There can be no dishonesty about him.” (John 7:17-18, Phillips)

Elsewhere, it says Jesus spoke as one who had authority.

My friend, read His words. Listen to His message. Observe His wisdom.

You might find yourself asking, “Who IS this guy??”

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

In the Throes of Airline Woes

Today completes the main travel days of the Thanksgiving cycle. Thus, another busy day at airports. Last week, I noted that airlines are continually finding ways to scrunch customers on their planes. We need to do better.

My blog today is a follow up to my thoughts on the unfortunate “adventure” that air travel often becomes. Let’s begin with some real adventure!

Landing at Midway Airport in Chicago has always been exciting. Five relatively short runways, the longest of which is 6,522 feet in length. The adventure of flying into Midway is always to see how close you are to someone’s rooftop. A simple Google search of “plane skids off runway at Midway” yields stories of several incidents. It’s a little awkward when you slide into Midway and the Captain comes on and says, “Safe!”

Nonetheless, it’s my preferred airport in Chicago. Generally easy access. Rarely do you wait for other airplanes to take off. Tasty eats. All good. Except for one thing. Well, maybe two. Baggage claim and security screening.

Recent visitors we picked up at Midway arrived on a Saturday evening. It took almost a full hour from the time they exited the plane to when their luggage arrived. Sure there had been a snowstorm. Sure there were lots of people at the airport. Both of these factors were known in advance!

Simple solution: get more people! I have had the benefit of having a friend who managed an airport at one of America’s larger cities. I toured the airport on a couple of occasions with him and was amazed at the sophistication of the baggage claim process. I’m not so amazed in Chicago.

My son travels a lot on business. He purchased the privilege of TSA PreCheck that allows you to avoid the normally long lines of security checks. This works well except when it doesn’t work at all! My son noted that on a few more recent occasions, the airport decided not to open those lanes.

Another travel adventure.

His second airline adventure came when flying a “no frills airline.” He needed more space so he arranged for a second seat. He’s a big man and wanted room to work comfortably. A gate attendant knew of his second seat and embarrassed him into yielding it (with no refund) to a passenger on their overbooked airline. Smiling cooly she asked, “Do you really need that seat?” I don’t know, do you really need to overbook your airline?

And here’s one for you. Why in the world of amazing Bose speakers do we have airline on-board instructions that can’t be heard or understood? It happened to us on recent flights to Israel. The safety instructions could not be heard because the system kept breaking up! During the flight, the captain came on the overhead speakers and was indiscernible.

Am I the only one thinking we need some air travel “miracle makeovers”? I don’t think so. Wired magazine recently popped out a story titled, “Here’s What Makes Flying Suck and How Designers Would Fix It.” That gets to the point! http://www.wired.com/2015/11/heres-what-makes-flying-suck-and-how-designers-would-fix-it/?mbid=nl_112515

Some of them were borderline humorous. One designer would like moon roofs built in to have a cabin flooded with daylight or to watch the evening constellations. Another offered he would trade watching movies to have a “quiet place” in the airplane for like, well, meditation.

More to my preferences was a designer from Ustwo (a digital product studio), Avalon Hu. He observed that tray tables rarely get adequately cleaned between stopovers. He suggests detachable tray tables that can be interchanged quickly. You could then dispose of the dirty ones or send them to be cleaned. (Or how about a warm disinfectant towel before we depart?)

Others would design an armrest that offered a pop up vertical divider for more privacy…and to keep the sleeping passenger next to you from putting their head on your shoulder. Another suggests personalizing when flyers can eat or sleep on longer flights.

But Jeff Salazar’s overall observation rang truest with me. Jeff is the VP of design at Lunar, now a part of McKinsey. He writes, “Iconic companies like Disney and Apple have dedicated their organizations to expertly crafting and weaving together the many micro-experiences of the physicality of space into truly magical moments. They anticipate our needs, from the trivial to the nuanced and complex. These brands simultaneously streamline and enhance our relationship to space and experience. It’s the most mundane of experiences that deserve the delight of design.”

You got it, Jeff.

To the passenger side, Jesus of Nazareth was not a burdened down traveler. We often are. Maybe we should heed the advice He gave in sending out His disciples. To them “He said, ‘Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. And no luxury inns—get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, leave town. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and move on.’” (Luke 9:2-5, MSG)

Travel light. Show hospitality. Be a witness.

Even passengers could use a miracle makeover.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

When Travel Unravels

In case you are wondering, Thanksgiving may or may not be the busiest travel time of the year. There seems to be disagreement here. The Department of Transportation claims Thanksgiving is the busiest long-distance travel day overall. BUT…91 percent of that travel turns out to be by automobile. For air travelers and other commercial modes, Orbitz still crowned Thanksgiving Eve numero uno.

This provides a good opportunity to share the ongoing woes of today’s air travelers. This is kindled freshly in my mind as I recently had long distance flights to Israel and back. Also, my son and daughter-in-law just arrived from California with stories.

But let’s start with this recent headline from the Chicago Tribune: “5 Reasons United Might Finally Be Improving Its On-Time Rate.” After all, United is the world’s second-largest airline. And let’s admit ... the friendly skies get less friendly if you keep showing up late! http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-united-airlines-on-time-1113-biz-20151112-story.html

To the good credit side, United is making some progress under their new CEO. October was one of their best months in their history. On the poor performance side, this rough assessment: “In 2012, United botched its combination of the merged airlines' reservation systems, the technological backbone of an airline. For months, glitches and poor airport employee training led to rampant flight delays and cancellations. That damaged United’s profits as corporate customers fled to competitors.”

So the price of customer dissatisfaction supposedly means you lose business. But not so fast. There’s still a ways to go.

First, has anyone noticed the airline rows are narrower? Seats getting smaller? Legroom shorter? If you haven’t, you may not fly a lot.

These three scrunching techniques that bug paying customers drive improved profits for the airline. Forget the long lost meals on long domestic flights. Ignore those commercials showing comfy passengers on a plane. Get real…and get scrunched.

I’m an oversized customer to the airline. I’m around 6’2” tall and over 200 pounds. Fairly broad shoulders. On our recent Israel trip, I had an aisle seat, which helped me avoid crushing other passengers by climbing over them to get something overhead or use the washroom.

However, during the twelve hour flight, I mistakenly put my elbows on the arm rest. This resulted in cart bruising. Then there were the people bringing their luggage on board smashing my sides as they navigated to their seats. And the up-and-down-the-aisle bumps from passengers during the flight. Admittedly, I was in economy. But I was flying on the airline that used to brag they were something “special in the air”!

But among the worst passenger offenses these days is the boarding procedure. On these same flights, you are put into groups. Pity those in “Group 5.” You might have considered traveling with the bags.

Priority boarding now offers early access to about ten groups BEFORE they get to the Group 1 ticket holders. This includes any of the airlines’ favored status people. I was in the “Oh, are you actually flying with us?” group. It was my fellow passengers, however, who got the brunt of the problem.

These days, the airlines let you bring rollerboard suitcases on to cram in the overhead compartments. If you are in the highly favored groups, your super size bags usually get on — even if you take up all the space to the end of the plane. This leaves NO room for the bags of the later boarders. So the airline requires these poor folks to now check their bag before getting on the plane. Sayonara, needed travel items! Many tail end customers had to check bags.

One in our group had her medications in said bag. She was told there was “no room in the bin.” (Sounds like a modern day Christmas story.) This was on the short flight. BUT…since her bag was being automatically sent now to its “final destination,” she was without her travel bag until we arrived in Israel! Her pleas earned no sympathy.

This is, of course, a fixable problem in two ways. Keep your on board luggage privileges the same, and order planes with bigger capacity. OR…change those baggage size rules so that customers don’t take their wardrobe on the plane. I have been flying for years. This has become a more recent problem because business travelers don’t want to wait for luggage. And who can blame them? (That is an issue to be addressed next week.)

Regrettably, these issues of crammed in customers and oversized luggage in the bins is unlikely to get resolved without customer revolt. As long as people are willing to pay for being mistreated, the treatment won’t change.

The Bible, of course, says nothing about elbow and legroom. Or overhead bins. Or on-time flights. It does, however, encourage good treatment. Try this: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.” (Leviticus 19:33, ESV)

And for goodness sake, don’t lose his luggage!

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cheering for the Down and Outer

One of the disappointments over which I mildly grieve is to see a business go under. The majority of employees are unaware of the great challenges of keeping an enterprise profitable. Seeing enterprises fail means jobs are lost. Revenues for the community are diminished. And in many cases, the goodwill spread by these companies through donations or volunteer manpower vanishes.

In our own neighborhood, we said farewell to several retail operations in the last few years. We lost our local Applebee’s restaurant. A Bob Evans not so long ago. And a big disappointment came when the Barnes and Noble closed its doors. Farther away, a unique restaurant, operated by a successful business group, locked up and tore down a place called Key Wester. It had a big aquarium, a waterfall, and doors that opened in summer to overlook black swans on a small body of water. Very refreshing. But…gone.

What we don’t usually see are the tears shed by people who’ve invested a part or all of their adult life trying to make a go of their dream. We don’t see the hours agonizing over ways to save the business and keep people they care about employed. We don’t see the creditors who may not get their money back from what they loaned in trust. Pain goes along with the closing of those doors.

So I read with interest a story that gave me a light chuckle — at first — about a man desperate to save his business in Candia, New Hampshire. Kevin Dumont is a principle owner of the Liquid Planet Water Park. If you’ll excuse the expression, his water park business is going under. And he’s making a life-saving effort by chaining himself to a 30-foot waterslide to keep it afloat. *groan*
http://www.unionleader.com/article/20151110/NEWS02/151119925

Dumont has camped out. He needs a bailout. In his words, “We’re losing everything if we can't find a partner. We just need to save it from going to the auction block. We need an infusion of cash to pay off the debt….We’re hoping this effort will give us some offers.”

It’s not like no one is showing up. The park had 35,000-plus visitors this past season. Since 2008 when Liquid Planet opened, Dumont admits it’s been an uphill challenge. But it’s only in the past year that he’s fallen behind in his payments.

He properly does not blame the bank for his woes. But Dumont was notified in September of the bank’s plans to auction off the 44-acre property (that includes his home) on December 2nd. A bank does what they must do for their own clients’ sake.

But Dumont’s story is more painful when you learn that both his father and mother died within the last four months. Losing your parents and your business within 140 days of each other plays havoc on the human spirit. Thus…the desperate act of a desperate man to chain himself to a water slide.

Kevin Dumont claims he started the business for families. A noble purpose offers no guarantees for success. Too many forces come to bear to make a business survive.

Size does not matter. Giant airlines get bought out or cease to exist. K-Mart has Sears behind them but keeps faltering. Sears itself is making what some think are desperate moves to stay alive. And, of course, Blockbuster became a failure equal to its name.

Times change. People’s tastes do as well. Innovation opens new markets. Staying competitive is a true art in business.

Some go the route of reinvention. I’ve been reading rumors of McDonald’s demise for a couple of years now. Recently, they have started serving breakfast all day. There has been an uptick in their customer count. Who said playing this investor driven game of “staying alive” was going to be fun?

People of faith are not immune in any way to business failings. More recently, Family Christian Stores fought tooth and nail to survive. Only after large concessions have they managed to do so after $127 million in debt was erased.

Years ago, the startup company I put together came to a point where it appeared things would collapse. I decided to “give my business to God” — which sounded very dramatic. My friend Chuck Gratner looked at me over breakfast after I shared this and replied, “Maybe God doesn’t want your business.” Yeah…hadn’t quite considered that. It tanked four months later.

Spiritual lesson: Not all things are meant to be. Not all things are meant to last. Not all dreams come true. As “The Preacher” wrote in Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest….A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.” (Ecc 3:1-4, NLT)

Some sound advice. As a few wise Byrds once told me.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, November 9, 2015

TMI Can Kill You

The topic of this week’s blog is the essence of confidentiality. No. It’s not a new cologne. But there is a fresh fragrance when trust is kept and honored.

We in the media find getting a scoop to be a delicious morsel. News stations like to brag about being the first to bring a story to your attention. Writers treasure the opportunity to share insider information that only they have been privy to uncover. It’s all part of the larger game in business that we call competition.

Exclusivity is worth bucks as well. Over the weekend, my wife and I indulged in watching the movie Steve Jobs. In one sequence, a technology reporter is pursuing Steve for comments. He wants what we might call the prime sound bytes. Jobs and his marketing whiz refuse comment, but then go “off the record.” We know this to be the comments made that are not recorded, and intended to be kept private. Often they are not.

A different variation on this theme comes from sources who give out information that they are unauthorized to share. The tragic crash of the Russian jetliner had reporters scrambling to get answers on why it went down. Any source with some credibility will do.

In reading the Chicago Tribune story about the incident, I read this: “A U.S. satellite registered a ‘heat flash’ about the time that the plane crashed, a U.S. official said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the information publicly.”
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-russia-plane-crash-20151103-story.html

This line about sources who wish to remain anonymous because they aren’t supposed to talk is quite common. But I don’t like it. I’ve been asked by a reporter to be quoted for a story he was writing. It was understood my name would carry attribution for what was said.

The disturbing element of the anonymous secret sharer is one of mislaid trust. People who are unauthorized to give out information can’t be trusted. They have violated an ethical code of silence. And when you do that, what other ethical transgressions might you be open to?

Mind you, I don’t consider it inappropriate to speak “off the record” if what you are sharing is to add context and is not damaging information. But one must be careful. If you are at all worried that this information can be traced to you, it’s best to avoid oversharing.

Whistleblowers are in a different category. Genuine concern over some form of illegal activity that results in harm to others may lead someone within an organization to report it. But consider, if the principle motivation is financial gain or delivered out of spite or payback, how noble is the whistleblower?

This issue comes home to roost in personal relationships as well. Many people delight in being privy to others’ situations that they, in turn, can share with friends or coworkers. This often leads to gossip — that “casual or unconstrained conversation about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” Oh the joy of spreading others’ secrets!

Knowing this about the human condition leaves us untrusting. And it hurts our cause in building authentic relationships. Gaining someone’s trust is to be prized. Violating that trust can leave one crushed.

I’ve been involved in several small groups with men to build friendships. In those conversations, we share events from our personal lives. Being more private in nature, the spoken word came with a caveat: intended for this audience ONLY. We would jokingly refer to these sessions as being the “Pope’s Chambers.” Or applying the “cone of silence.”

People in leadership have a difficult time in being transparent with others. They know the damage that can be done from unguarded sharing. Without a very few friends who can be trusted, these same leaders risk isolation. That too is troublesome.

The Bible speaks to this in several ways. The book of Proverbs is a good place to start. Proverbs 11:13 reads, “A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.” (NLT) Proverbs 16:28 adds, “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” (NLT) And then this warning from Proverbs 20:19: “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” (ESV)

One final word on this topic from Jesus. There are times when we must share what others would wish we keep to ourselves. It is a report of the Good News. In sending His disciples out, the Gospel of Matthew records these instructions: “So do not be afraid of people. Whatever is now covered up will be uncovered, and every secret will be made known. What I am telling you in the dark you must repeat in broad daylight, and what you have heard in private you must announce from the housetops.” (Matthew 10:26-27, GNT)

When it comes to sharing with others on any topic, know your boundaries.

TMI can kill you.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, November 2, 2015

True Believer

During the last several days, my wife and I have been traveling in Israel. In fact, I'm writing this blog in Tel Aviv. It's a work assignment for me. Tough duty. Actually, it's been work and pleasure for both of us.

This is my fifth trip. Our tour buses come equipped with Israeli tour guides, all Jewish. They have a unique and, from my perspective, a challenging assignment.

Each day these guides share insights on biblical sites. They know their Israel history to be sure. But they also know a remarkable amount of the New Testament and they treat it as if it is true. Please understand that I have no doubt these accounts of the Scriptures ARE true.

A few of the guides are what we refer to as Messianic Jews...followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Most are not. Yet many of the travelers conclude that these guides embrace the same beliefs the group members do. Ask them directly and they'll tell you. But they speak as if they are convinced these events are real so as not to offend.

Is there a problem here? An interesting question. I say this because of a conviction that the best employees are ones who believe in their company, the mission, and the product or service. I realize that is a sliding scale.

Is it somewhat disingenuous to go out and pretend you believe while representing your company? Do you lack integrity or authenticity by becoming an actor for personal gain? And if you really don't believe, so to speak, why not find a place to work where you love the business or non profit you represent?

An interesting variation of this issue happened with a senior member of our company. Years ago, he was selling advertising at a radio station whose effectiveness he did not question. But he was listening each day to our faith-based station in the market. One day, he decided he should consider a similar position at the radio station that fed his soul. The rest is history.

Now, it could be fairly argued that actors make a living by portraying characters whose personalities are not the same as theirs. Even Joe Namath can be seen in an infomercial pitching some lakeside real estate. Is he being authentic or making a desperate buck? Who knows.

All this is said to encourage you to consider this question about your own work. And if you find sufficient dissatisfaction in the role you are playing, perhaps you would find more happiness in a place you love. And one in which you truly believe.

Jesus confronted those who were not true believers. In Matthew 7, it's recorded that Jesus said, "Not every one who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (NIV) Thus, actions speak more powerfully than words.

Living true to our calling is a wonderful thing. Living in Truth in all of life is even better.

I must go now. My camel is waiting.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Security Checkup

(*I’m traveling this week, so this blog’s topic may look slightly familiar.)

In recent days, we’ve learned of another invasion of privacy with the hacking of two well known persons’ email accounts. Regrettably, these two people have a lot to do with our nation’s security! I’m speaking of the personal accounts of CIA Director John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The New York Post revealed it was a teenager who was the cultprit. And what did he get? How about access to documents such as Social Security numbers for more than 12 US intelligence officials. This came from Brennan’s account. The hacker claims his tapping into Brennan’s AOL information contained the CIA director’s own application for top security clearance — a trove of nearly 50 pages of who knows what. Well, now the hacker does.

There appears to be a pro-Palestinian motivation behind the hacker. He claims to be non-Muslim but disapproved of US policy. He threatened more action if his views of needed change aren’t met. Even government is becoming a hacker’s paradise.

But it’s everywhere. It’s been reported that the “real problem is that so many breaches occur in the first place. Credit and debit card fraud has nearly quadrupled in past decade.” Staying a step ahead of thieves is hard work.

Security breaches in our modern age put our finances, medical history, and loads of personal information up for grabs. A news story several months back in the New York Times offered an eerie glimpse into new ways of enhancing personal security. A bank in Britain now provides voice analyzation for added security to high net worth individuals. In Japan, some ATMs scan vein patterns in a person’s palm before money is released. Fingerprint sensors on computers and smartphones are becoming more common.http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/29/business/reading-your-palm-for-securitys-sake.html?nl=todaysheadlines&adxnnl=1&emc=edit_th_20131229&adxnnlx=1388315522-YdqRNabLGR4YUhWDLrcqYg

As we know, pets are now commonly sold and adopted with microchips to reveal their identity in the event they are lost or stolen. Radio Frequency identification tags (RFID) are being encouraged in various parts of the globe for humans. Proponents say these devices embedded under people’s skin could help curb identity theft, improve medical care, and even help identify disaster victims.

It would seem obvious to most of us that more people are willing to sacrifice personal privacy for this sense of personal security. Cameras, for example, are everywhere. We are monitored at every turn.

So what is a person to do? Tough decisions may be ahead. How far will people go to give themselves these earthly personal protections?

Many also believe that all of this activity is connected to events leading to what are called “the end times.” One of the most difficult instructions Jesus gave his followers had to do with reading the signs of the times. Note these words of his … “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:24-26) So … are you ready?

Oddly, it seems the vast majority of people on our planet are more concerned with personal security than eternal security. We’re more worried about a credit or email account breach than a spiritual breach in our own lives. The kind that could rob us of eternal reward.

I suggest you take the best precaution possible regarding your greatest asset: YOU! Protect yourself with a “living trust.” Make a day by day decision to abide in Him. Put your faith in Jesus.

There is no more sound investment strategy. And it never needs an upgrade.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Do You Play Well with Others?

It’s been more than 25 years since Robert Fulghum shared his basics of life wisdom in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. This volume of fifty essays reminded us of the importance of cleaning up after ourselves, to share, and to wash our hands before we eat.

My personal favorites included taking a nap every afternoon, watching out for traffic, and that warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. And among the most important of items: don’t hit people. That’s been very valuable advice.

Apparently, more research on preparing students for modern day employment needs a similar revisit. This comes in a new study by David Deming, associate professor of education and economics at Harvard. His message is clear: workers with the best opportunities ahead need social interaction skills. Like learning not to hit people.

Deming is not the only voice on this issue. A summary of others’ input on this can be found in the article, “Why What You Learned in Preschool is Crucial at Work.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/upshot/how-the-modern-workplace-has-become-more-like-preschool.html?emc=edit_tu_20151016&nl=bits&nlid=68618012&_r=0

Well developed skills of cooperation, empathy, and flexbility prove more rewarding these days. As I noted in a blog a few weeks ago, robotics are consuming more and more jobs. But the automated types aren’t particularly good at learning how to play well with others.

It seems economists have been scratching their heads trying to figure out why jobs of high skill are losing ground. Those requiring effective social skills are in more demand. Understanding the human touch and connecting well are the expanding job fields.

According to Deming, preschool classrooms reflect more of the real work world. As noted, “Children move from art projects to science experiments to the playground in small groups, and their most important skills are sharing and negotiating with others. But that soon ends, replaced by lecture-style teaching of hard skills, with less peer interaction.” Jobs requiring both thinking and socializing have a real future.

As a result of various research in this area, the conclusion is that our education system needs to adjust. Thus, teaching styles are moving away from primarily classroom lectures to drawing up situations where students interact more in groups. Some college instructors are choosing to do lectures online leaving classroom time for the social side.

My interest piqued a bit when I read where a Nobel prize winning economist discussed teaching values. It is James Heckman who believes that skills like character, dependability, and perseverance are as important as cognitive achievements. But are schools today teaching these values? Heckman doubts it.

Where are you likely to encounter those three aspects of human development in school? Competitive athletic programs certainly preach persevering and being dependable. But is character a skill?

The word character has multiple definitions. Merriam Webster brings us closest to what I believe Heckman was referencing. It reads, “moral excellence and firmness (i.e., a man of sound character). This readily requires an understanding and commitment to moral principles.

And where do these principles get taught? I question that schools today are moral training grounds. Instead, this should be encouraged and nurtured by parents, grandparents, and high influence people in the lives of students. Moral truth needs a source.

In this discussion, practical suggestions on the job included taking an interest in employees’ lives and helping them individually. Once again…where do you learn to care about other people? And why?

Jesus of Nazareth was a proponent of moral truth and human concern. To commit to the highest level of morality, the greatest commandments were stated this way: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and most important command. 39 And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’” (Matthew 22:38-39, NCV)

Need to develop the social skills and character to secure a future job? Learn to love God and other people. Rather basic.

And try not to hit people.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Captains Courageous

They call a certain stretch of water in the Caribbean “Hurricane Alley.” Severe storms in that region are common. Captains of sailing vessels know enough to consider the warnings and plan accordingly.

But even skilled sailors and captains of ships are no match for forces well beyond their control. Thus was the fate recently of the cargo ship El Faro. It left port in Jacksonville, Florida, almost two weeks ago...never to return. Along with its sinking went the souls of thirty-three crew.

Experts continue to debate the wisdom of the decision to sail, let alone to take that specific route. There is no clear cut answer. The storm turned treacherous quicker than estimated — jumping past hurricane categories 1, 2, and 3, until it settled at 4.

What that meant for these sailors was a horrifying congestion of wind, waves, and rain. The seas were raging at 50 feet. Winds howling at 125 miles per hour. As the ship listed some 15 degrees with its full load of containers and cars, it began taking on water. It wasn’t long after that the engine failed. Steering was now impossible.

No survivors were found. There was one body that surfaced in a survival suit meant to keep people afloat. Other than that, a cargo door, an empty lifeboat, and a range of flotsam and jetsam is all that could be immediately found.

It’s important to note that, despite all of our advancements, we still have these sailing tragedies today. And this one happened in a relatively short course sailing run of 1200 miles! Today’s maritime world has sophisticated weather equipment, advanced navigation, and sailing technology. Lifeboats for everyone. Survival suits.

Makes you wonder, on this Columbus Day, how they made it from Spain to cross the Atlantic in the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The Santa Maria ran aground near Haiti and came apart. Oops.

The other two ships were smaller and each carried about 25 men. Close quarters, my friend. Probably no antiperspirant.

As one history site notes, “All told, there were about 120 crewmen for the combined fleet. They lived on hard biscuit, salted meat, and fish. They drank beer and water. Of course, they could not drink sea-water because of the high salt content. In that day they had not yet developed methods for distilling the sea-water to remove the salt. Living conditions were difficult.” Ya think? (http://www.indepthinfo.com/columbus-christopher/nina-pinta-santa-maria.htm)

The article goes on to explain that the sailors slept on a hard deck, often exposed to the weather. And because of fire danger aboard a wooden ship, any fire needed had to be strictly controlled. And cooking was done in the forward part of the ship.

And lest we forget the importance of this historic day, a few more notes from an article titled “THE FOUR EXPLORATIONS OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS”:

“Early on the morning of October 12th land was indeed sighted, and a landing party arrived on an island in the Bahamas and named it San Salvador. It had been thirty-three days since the three ships had left the Canary Islands, off the Atlantic coast of Africa. The natives must have been surprised to hear that their island now belonged to Spain. Over the next few weeks landings were also made on Cuba, named Juana by Columbus, and EspaƱola, now known as Hispaniola, and shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

“Columbus' ships covered approximately 150 miles a day. His seafaring instincts were extraordinary. Columbus relied on “dead reckoning,” which used not only navigational instruments but also experience, intuition, observations, and guesswork to determine his ships’ positions.” (http://www.carnaval.com/columbus/4voyages.htm)

Now I realize that in this current age there are mixed reviews on the motives and behavior of the Columbus expeditions. For my purposes today, I’ll leave you to your own conclusions. (You should read the original documents and diaries.)

My point in sharing both of these stories is twofold: 1) to show that people have taken great risks and made tremendous sacrifices for our betterment, and 2) some jobs, more than others, require bravery in the face of known risks. Or call it courage.

Your job, whatever it is, may require another kind of courage. Making tough decisions. Knowing when to step out on your own. Handling employee challenges. In looking at a candidate for a job, we underestimate the importance of courage.

In the face of our challenges, when courage is needed most, it is comforting to know we can seek help from One whose power knows no limits.

As the Psalmist writes, “You answer us in amazing ways, God our Savior. People everywhere on the earth and beyond the sea trust you. You made the mountains by your strength; you are dressed in power. You stopped the roaring seas, the roaring waves, and the uproar of the nations. Even those people at the ends of the earth fear your miracles. You are praised from where the sun rises to where it sets.”  (Psalm 63:5-8, NCV)

Happy Columbus Day. May you have smooth sailing.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Looking Closely at Transparency

Some management innovation ideas are almost too big to get your head around. That’s the way I felt when I read Jeff Haden’s interview with Buffer co-founder, Leo Widrich. Buffer makes a social media management tool that allows you to schedule, automate, and analyze social media updates.

Transparency is a buzzword in many business circles. But how about a company that is SO transparent they’ve published salaries of everyone at the company. And a number of other key performance indictors. Call it a “see through” enterprise!

But the hardest part for me to massage through my brain was the idea of “no managers.” Buffer opted for a road of self management. Widrich explains this approach in his interview with Haden: “The $7 Million Startup with Zero Managers.” http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/the-7-million-startup-with-zero-managers.html

Widrich admits some early thinking on this rather radical approach needed adjustment. He commented, “When we first started on our self-management journey about nine months ago we thought that people should be able to make all and every decision that affects them. We realized that in reality that is actually a really big mental burden. So instead of everyone deciding everything, we've now moved to a model where we explicitly set the boundaries for what everyone is responsible for… and then trust them to do a good job.”

It turns out self managed salaries proved quite the challenge for several employees. They are looking at a revision on this. One where the employee will still have a say.

Another mistake was giving up the 1:1 meetings with team members. With no “supervisor,” no need for them. But employees felt their growth was stunted in the absence of feedback. It seems like the independent, self managed employee enjoys the freedom but misses the wisdom and camaraderie of community.

I was particularly interested in two more of Widrich’s conclusions from their experience in self management. The need for vision. And structure. 

First, his comments on vision: “Another point that we were surprised by was how much higher level thinking and setting of vision is appreciated by the team.”

And as for structure, “The more self-managed you are as a company the more structure you need. You really need to make things explicit and create clear commitments for what you’re working on.”

I was intrigued by the concept because of the several work personality tests I’ve taken over the years. You know, the ones given before you get hired — or after you’re hired — that reflect your personal work style. They are often detailed enough to be difficult to recall and seldom get fully utilized. One of my key components was decisions that affect me. Apparently, there are people who simply go with the flow of whatever the situation dictates. They tell me I’m the kind who likes to be involved when decisions affect me. Thus, self management has some appeal!

The takeaway message this week is really built around the idea of the need for community. Several people have written on the topic of American individualism, but it was one of the lessons I gained from reading Pat Apel’s book, Nine Great American Myths, that spoke to the issue of community.

The early fellowship of followers of Jesus was not developed around hierarchy. There was a need for structure, true, but you don’t find much beyond deacons and elders. What you do find is a strong admonition to build community centered on love for one another.

Jesus’s great friend Peter shared it this way, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:8-11, NLT)

Along with that, the church is a wonderful place to learn transparency. But for the newcomer, don’t worry. We don’t share our salary information.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Will C-3PO Take Your Job?

The film has yet to be released. In fact, it won’t arrive in theaters until December. But the merchandising is everywhere for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

It seems like Disney has managed to rekindle the same intergalactic interest that the original Star Wars generated. Luke Skywalker lives on. As does Princess Leia. And Han Solo, after his production injury aboard the Millennium Falcon.

Not that I follow these matters closely, but I’ve been told that the plot for this film will be set 30 years after the Battle of Endor and the events portrayed in Return of the Jedi. I got lost in the original Star War trilogy after finding Jabba the Hutt too disgusting for my tastes. I preferred the likes of C-3PO and R2-D2, which brings me to the point of my blog today.

I often enjoy reading columnist and cultural commentator Dr. Jim Denison. One of his recent contributions worth reading is titled, “Why Robots are Bad for Men.” I hope C-3PO gets a copy of this. http://www.denisonforum.org/cultural-commentary/1819-robots-are-bad-for-men

Denison cites a study from two Oxford researchers. Their estimates are that 47 percent of US jobs could be taken over by robots or computers by 2033. Jobs performed primarily by men are at much greater risk than those performed by women.

Here were some of the statistics cited:
  • More than 95 percent of the 3 million truck drivers in the U.S. are men; the newly developed autonomous vehicles could replace many of them.
  • Men hold 97 percent of the 2.5 million US carpentry and construction jobs; a good percentage of these job tasks could be replaced by robots. 
  • Women, on the other hand, hold 93 percent of the registered nurse positions. The study rates their risk of obsolescence at only .009 percent. 
  • And those tasks that involve a wide range of decisions and skills in a relational environment are least likely to be automated. Again, statistically, such jobs are generally found in the domain of women.
Denison cites this rather mind-bending premise. “Not only are jobs likely to be lost; our entire culture is being changed in ways we may not notice. In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari notes: ‘Our computers have trouble understanding how a Homo sapiens talks, feels, and dreams. So we are teaching Homo sapiens to talk, feel, and dream in the language of numbers, which can be understood by computers.’”

Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, earlier this year warned that artificial intelligence (AI) will take over for humans. His assessment for the future had a definite bleakness to it. Fortunately he put it in non techno-geek terms.

Being quoted on this issue, Steve said, “…I agree that the future is scary and very bad for people. If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they'll think faster than us and they'll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently.”

Wozniak added, "Will we be the gods? Will we be the family pets? Or will we be ants that get stepped on? I don't know about that. But when I got that thinking in my head about if I'm going to be treated in the future as a pet to these smart machines…well I'm going to treat my own pet dog really nice.”

Earlier this year, dozens of the world’s top AI experts signed an open letter calling for researchers to take care to avoid potential “pitfalls” of the disruptive technology. Professor Stephen Hawking has previously said that the rise of AI could see the human race become extinct. Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk has also described the rise of AI in the past as “our biggest existential threat.”

Many Christians were already concerned about technology and the future. Several years ago, rumors circulated about a three-story computer in Belgium called, “The Beast.” Supposedly operated by the European Common Market, it would monitor the financial transactions of every person on earth. Author Joe Musser claims he wrote this into a fiction piece and it gained life from there. Joe said for several years he had seen the story being passed along as fact.

Followers of Jesus bring more to this world with messages of hope, peace, and love than we do of fear. But wise people do not ignore the signs of the times. As Jesus said…“But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21: 34-36, MSG)

In the meantime, like Steve Wozniak, I’ve started treating my dog a lot nicer. And my boss. I think I saw a C-3PO type arrive for a job interview.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

It Can’t Be This Hard

Today is September 21st. Peace Day. More on that in a moment. But to answer the famous question, “Can’t we all just get along?” The answer is no.

Take this recent story headline from Associated Press: “Burger King to McDonalds: Let’s make a McWhopper.” Full page ads in various newspapers carried the message. A one day truce it was called. For the betterment of mankind, of course. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/bb20c12b7c4845ca8681a5e5d39ed689/burger-king-mcdonalds-lets-make-mcwhopper

Burger King was attempting to get a cooperative effort with the “Golden Arches” folk to build a unique combination of a Whopper and a Big Mac. But only for a day. Peace Day.

As the AP story goes, “Burger King is tying the publicity stunt to a nonprofit called Peace One Day, which says it promotes Peace Day. The United Nations created the International Day of Peace in 1981 to coincide with its annual opening session in September. It then designated September 21 as the annual ‘day of non-violence and cease-fire’ in 2001.”

Call it a noble act. Call it promotional gimmickry. Ronald McDonald is not interested in such peace efforts. Ronald may smile at the kids, but not at the competition. Their CEO Steve Easterbrook in responding with a “no way” message, belittled the effort of burger war peace compared to “the real pain and suffering of war.” He then added, “P.S., simple phone call will do next time.” Put that in your Whopper and chew on it for a while. C’mon, man!

Well, I’m in a different kind of battle with the fast food giants. One that pleads for simple, friendly customer service and the basics in operating a restaurant. Allow me to share several examples.

At the McDonald’s I frequently stop at on my way home when my wife is out, most employees give me no welcome greeting. When I pick up my food, no “thank you.” At the Wendy’s near my office, the ketchup containers have been empty twice during the lunch hours I visited. And they were out of napkins. Hello…it’s lunch time. At Culver’s drive through, my last three meals came with no napkins. And the latest: on Friday night, my wife had a hankering for KFC grilled chicken. It was during the dinner hours but none was available. They were cooking it. Instead of serving it.

One of my favorites on this list happened a week or so ago taking our granddaughter to IKEA. They served up chicken fingers which yearned for barbecue sauce. Except…there wasn’t any. Inquiring at the counter I was told they’ve been out for a few days. My problem solving went into gear and I suggested that since a Meijer grocery story was two blocks away, maybe they could simply go and buy some until their shipment arrived so as not to disappoint customers. The young woman thought that was a good idea.

Aside from the expected reaction that “Mark, fast food isn’t very good for you anyway” I wish to affirm two companies who seem to get it right the majority of the time. One is Chick Fil A. Their folks go out of their way to make sure I have what I need. And the tireless service motto that they own is, “My pleasure.”

The second high energy, high service minded company is In-N-Out Burger. Mainly located in California, they are a fan favorite and outperform their competitors in serving up burgers and fries. They also are the ones who imprint Bible verse references on their cups and fry containers.

And so it begs the question…how can these two companies do it right so consistently? I believe it is based on a passion for the customer. Yes, you have to have food that people enjoy. All of the fast food companies lay claim to that. But not all can lay claim to placing such emphasis on customer care.

For the record, my father managed several different Perkins restaurants during my growing up years. I worked in all but one. At peak times, customer care can be a real challenge. If it’s your mission, however, you finesse it as needed.

I believe most people want to be treated well. They enjoy being respected when spending their hard earned money for a meal. They respond to people who care.

Jesus of Nazareth advised us this way, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Luke 7:12 NASB)

Do this, Ronald McDonald, and everyone will enjoy a happy meal.

P.S.: My apologies to any franchise owners or managers who want their employees to serve better.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Working at Misery

While I am not a big fan of catch phrases, I will now use one. I had an “aha moment” of my true career interest in 1991. After three years in Dallas, Texas, working at two radio stations, my life had come to a point of satisfaction in a “ministry driven” job. And then it became “life interrupted.” 

A few years earlier, I had been doing marketing work in Sacramento, California. One of my projects was writing brochure copy for a new trade show concept. The event became successful, and the company was developing similar ones in New York and Texas.

The owner of the trade show company called to tell me of this success. Then he invited my wife and I to join him for a nice weekend in Austin, Texas, at the Four Seasons Hotel. We gladly accepted.

My friend Gary knew of my background and interest in business and marketing. Over dinner, he asked what it would take for me to move from Dallas back to Sacramento to “head up operations” for his trade show business. Boom. Quite the unexpected.

In short, I gave him my parameters. He later called and offered me the job. We accepted. I left my ministry related work to go back to making money. And hopefully, lots of it for all parties concerned.

About a year later, I was at work and glanced at my watch. I gave a personal sigh and thought, “Good. About an hour and I can head home.” And that’s when it hit me. Working in radio, I rarely felt like I was looking forward to ending my day! Sure you get tired. But it was work I enjoyed and with which I connected. Especially…being on air.

Two months later, I was contacted about an on air job in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In an awkward but important decision, I shared with my employer how I felt “called” back into radio. While painful to him, he released me from my obligation and sent me on my way.

The bottom line to my story is that since then, I have avoided any significant management role. My satisfaction has been met not by moving up any corporate ladder, but by seeking excellence in the work I enjoy most: being on air. Fortunately, that opportunity is still available to me.

This came to mind recently in reading an article by Arthur Brooks. And it serves as a good follow up to my blog of last week on Labor Day. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute and an opinion writer for our company, Salem Media Group.

Brooks’ piece, “Rising to Your Level of Misery at Work,” was recently published in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/opinion/arthur-brooks-rising-to-your-level-of-misery-at-work.html?_r=0

He reasons that in this age, people are not necessarily rising to their level of incompetence (The Peter Principle) but more commonly to a level of misery. They have accepted promotions that drive them from what they love doing to what they come to disdain. It’s about increasing pay, prestige, and responsibility.

Asks Brooks, “Why don’t people stop rising when they are happy? Because we are built to think that more is better — more power, authority, money, and responsibility. So we incorrectly infer that promotions will equal greater satisfaction. In an economy that has left so many people behind in recent years, this might seem like a nice problem to have. But it is a problem nonetheless, as recent research clearly demonstrates.”

Some of that research shows that while poverty creates one kind of stress, wealth creates another. A performance stress, if you will. These workers live under undesirable pressure.

Apparently, alcohol use increases with pay! Of those making over $75,000 per year, 81 per cent consume alcohol — much higher than those making less. It’s probably also why yoga or meditation has become more popular. You know, for stress — medicate or meditate … or both.

The reason I found Brooks’ piece to be a good follow up to my blog of last week is based on a single word: service. A 2014 article in the Journal of Positive Psychology revealed lawyers in public service roles were happier and more satisfied in their work than those driven by high incomes.

And the clincher? As Brooks notes, “Through this added layer of intentionality, almost any work can be understood as a genuine service job. The type of work is actually less important than the attitude of the worker.”

Jesus taught it this way: “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.” (Mark 10:43 MSG)

What a concept!

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labors of Love

Labor Day returns! I’d be interested to know, of all American holidays, which is the least recognized and celebrated? Many people don’t have a good working knowledge of Labor Day history.

Our actual holiday of Labor Day has an interesting history. The Christian Post shared some details of this a year ago. The article provides a good refresher. http://www.christianpost.com/news/labor-day-how-the-movement-became-a-national-holiday-125568/

Christians are divided on whether labor unions should be viewed as favorable. History has shown that many improvements in the workplace have come about through both the awareness and pressure applied by labor unions. That’s the good side.

But unions have also been known to be corrupt. Greedy. And, at times, violent in their treatment of those who don’t share their agenda. It’s hard to endorse that kind of organized labor.

But my blog today has a different focus. I’m recommending reading a fairly lengthy opinion piece in the New York Times. It’s titled, “Rethinking Work.” 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/opinion/sunday/rethinking-work.html?_r=0

The story opens with the troubling reminder that “nine out of 10 workers spend half their waking lives doing things they don’t really want to do in places they don’t particularly want to be.”

The article states that it was “Adam Smith, the father of industrial capitalism, who felt that people were naturally lazy and would work only for pay. ‘It is the interest of every man,’ he wrote in 1776 in The Wealth of Nations, ‘to live as much at his ease as he can.”’

That is a fairly brutal assessment that leaves me feeling parched for more meaningful work.

But it is why the Times opinion writer, Barry Schwartz, adds “Work is (still) structured on the assumption that we do it only because we have to. The call center employee is monitored to ensure that he ends each call quickly. The office worker’s keystrokes are overseen to guarantee productivity.”

There is, however, a different way to approach work. And it’s one of my favorite stories from this article:

About 15 years ago, the Yale organizational behavior professor Amy Wrzesniewski and colleagues studied custodians in a major academic hospital. Though the custodians’ official job duties never even mentioned other human beings, many of them viewed their work as including doing whatever they could to comfort patients and their families and to assist the professional staff members with patient care.

They would joke with patients, calm them down so that nurses could insert IVs, even dance for them. They would help family members of patients find their way around the hospital.

The custodians received no financial compensation for this “extra” work. But this aspect of the job, they said, was what got them out of bed every morning. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” said one. “That’s what I enjoy the most.”

Now, while I can’t tell you these custodians are Christ followers, I can tell you that their attitude reflects the Godly command to all believers to work as if we are working for the Lord. Here’s the way the apostle Paul said it to the Ephesians:

“Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free.” Ephesians 6: 5-8, The Message

Do that…and your soul should be able to transform any work into a form of service in the most positive of ways. You might even call your work... a labor of love.

And with that…a Happy Labor Day.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Fantasy about Productivity

It’s back! Fall football season. Lights were on at high school stadiums in our neighborhoods last Friday night. College teams kickoff this weekend. Pro players are getting ready for their final pre-season action, and those dreaded visits from a coach who asks members of that last group of cuts to “turn in your playbook.”

I love football season. But not as much as some. I don’t go to games, so obviously no tailgating. No big parties. Just a nice big screen will do with the ability to DVR the games I most want to watch.

To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I paid to see a sporting event. One, I can’t afford it! And two…being in media has offered me the blessing of free tickets courtesy of sports franchises, friends, or the radio station. And when sitting in the press box for games, they even feed you!

But get this: I even began passing up the great press box opportunity several years ago. That’s because there’s another cost to sporting events. Time. And more specifically for overly passionate sports-minded dads, time away from family.

I was sitting in the press box at a Pittsburgh Steelers game while my boys were in high school. They weren’t sports fans and there was only one press pass. So on several Sundays, I went. And left the family at home. Sometimes missing church in the process.

On that Sunday in Pittsburgh, my soul was jolted with the reality that I only had a few years left with my sons at home. And weekends were precious. And that ended my giving up Sundays and leaving family behind. Back then, I was videotaping games and watching them when we completed our family time.

My workplace blog today chooses to address another unfortunate cost from our love of sports: ripping off the company in our fantasy time. Okay, that is a bit aggressive — but look at the numbers.

This past week, Fox Business reported the estimates in company time taken up by those who play “fantasy football.” If correct, the nearly 60 million Americans and Canadians in this pretend world of sports could cost employers nearly $16 billion in lost wages. This number was generated from one of our Chicago consulting firms, Challenger, Gray, & Christmas. (Love that name.)
http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2015/08/25/fantasy-football-will-cost-your-boss-16b/?intcmp=hplnws

For those who don’t fantasize about football in this way, it’s defined as “a statistical game in which players compete against each other by managing groups of real players or position units selected from American football teams.” And according to the Fox article, “Fantasy players are expected to use one hour per week updating their rosters, making trades and checking injury reports at work.”

Now to be fair, plenty of sporting pools still exist. And there’s the annual March Madness bracketology competition consuming massive hours of employee time as well. Then we have the time in the break room — or wherever — where daily discussions focus on the great plays, the bad decisions of umpires, referees, and coaches, and where teams stand.

The twist that caught my attention in the story came from the CEO John Challenger of the aforementioned firm. Apparently, John is himself a fantasy football fan who belongs to multiple leagues! And his take is that this activity is a morale booster in the workplace and may increase productivity in the long run! Thus, employers should look the other way, adding, “It is impossible to reach full productivity.” Mull that over, dear business owner.

This is one of those business dilemmas that does not have a clear cut solution. Strict workplace legalists can argue (with some validity) that you are paid for work, not personal fun or chatter. Workplace realists know that if you remove all fun or non-work related personal discussions, on-the-job satisfaction drops.

Interesting, the Bible has a story about this kind of conflict. Two women who loved Jesus had him over a for a visit. One chose to sit at His feet and be blessed by His wisdom and his company. Her name was Mary. The other chose to be very busy with all the preparations. Her name was Martha. And she complained to Jesus about her sister’s insensitivity on the work that needed to be done.

Here is what she said: “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

And here is how Jesus replied, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 / NLT) Best to think this one over.

Each employer must set their own guidelines for these kinds of workplace issues. And each employee owes it to their employer to respect those guidelines.

All work and no play, and Fantasy Football goes away. Here come the “boo birds.”

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.