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Monday, June 30, 2014

Big Business for Dummies

Many will remember the beloved Wendy’s commercial from the 1980s when a customer questioned what kind of chicken parts were in another restaurant’s chicken sandwich. The classic response was, “Parts is parts!”

For my 52nd blog — completing one year — I’ve chosen a story about dummies. And their parts. Well, they’re actually mannequins. And their parts.

The very entrepreneurial Judi Henderson-Townsend of Oakland, California, has had a series of good jobs. This woman in her fifties has worked in corporate sales for the likes of Johnson & Johnson, United Airlines, and later for a dot-com company. But one day she noted someone selling mannequins on Craigslist. You can read her very interesting story.

In short, Judi put on her thinking cap and discovered a way to make money from dummies — so to speak. Her company became a broker for those who wanted to dispose of mannequins and their parts, and other firms who wanted to buy them. Unbeknownst to many of us not acquainted with the world of fake humanoids, there is actually a problem of disposing of mannequins. Judi has solved a problem! And is making good money at it!

To build her business to the million dollar club, she has identified three critical goals to build her business: drill down on the numbers. Find another revenue stream. And change the mind-set. Again, I refer you the link of the New York Times pieces for details.

Many centuries ago, the Christ follower known as Paul put on his thinking cap, too. When he wrote a letter to the growing church in Corinth, this is the language he used: “The human body has many parts. The foot might say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not part of the body.’ But saying this would not stop the foot from being a part of the body. The ear might say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not part of the body.’ But saying this would not stop the ear from being a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, it would not be able to hear. If the whole body were an ear, it would not be able to smell. If each part of the body were the same part, there would be no body. But truly God put all the parts, each one of them, in the body as he wanted them. So then there are many parts, but only one body.” (I Corinthians 12:14-20 NCV)

It’s a big stretch to say this was “Building Churches for Dummies,” but the Corinthians needed some help. Call it assembly instructions. They’re not alone.

Still today, we get challenged by prophet-like words from groups like Casting Crowns who challenge us with these lyrics:

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?

No need for me to add to that sermon. In the Body of Christ, EVERYONE has a purpose. Parts is parts. Beautiful, huh?

That’s The Way WE Work. To connect via Facebook, click the link to the right.

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Subpar Excellence

I really don’t like performance reviews. Some are worse than others. Most accomplish nothing. Think I have an opinion on this?

Back in my Air Force days, as an enlisted man I was given semi annual Airman Performance Reviews, known simply as APRs. The ratings started at “0” and went to “9” as I recall. Obviously, if you were at “9” in the six areas evaluated (plus the overall mark), you were a real winner.

Who could earn such a rating? Well…most everyone it seemed. You see, your next “stripe” was earned by competing with all the other enlisted people of your rank. Faster promotions meant an increase in pay, rank, and opportunity.

For a while, I worked in Military Personnel and one of my duties was serving in the department that sent out notices that these performance reviews were due. And then ensuring they were completed. So I saw the results.

It was silly. All these reports came back with MOST ratings at the very top. And the language used to praise what was likely just ordinary performance was just as silly.

In one of my more recent jobs, I had top ratings for showing up. Oh boy. But on a 1-5 scale, I never could seem to master most of my craft, according to my evaluators. And the reasoning on this was to keep us trying harder to excel. Really? What if you really ARE at the top of your game? I know I sure was good at showing up!

So imagine my non-surprise to see this item appear in the news: “Every Senior V.A. Executive Was Rated ‘Fully Successful’ or Better Over 4 Years”! ( Every one was great!! Except…they weren’t! As the Times article reveals, “None of the department’s senior executives received either of the two lowest of five possible job ratings, ‘minimally satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory,’ in any of the past four fiscal years.”

Wowee, Mr Science! So all this stuff we’ve been hearing about our veterans waiting, like, FOREVER to get their medical care is because everyone was doing exactly the right thing? Scary. God help us in our inefficiency.

Reality tells us the truth. Many of these people WEREN’T doing their jobs very well. But like my Air Force days and my previous job, the ratings mechanism was a flop.

So should we not be evaluated for our work? Certainly we should. Every day. Not every six months or annually. If I’m not doing my job, tell me. If I am up to par, no need to speak, except for occasional praise. If I am doing a really good job, there are MANY ways to thank me and offer encouragement to keep it up. That is, if you want me to stay with your team.

Now the difficult question. How is your spiritual performance review? Are you good enough to make the next pay grade — as in, eternal reward? Would you be picked out of the group and given special honors?

God has set the standard very high. VERY high. You need to be…perfect. Even Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Got that? Be…perfect. Get all “9s.” Go ahead. Try. You won’t make it.

Fact is, I’ve already checked your records. You missed the mark. You failed. But you’re going to get promoted anyway. IF…you do one thing: trust in the One who IS perfect to help you advance. Jesus…paid it all.  All to Him I owe. (John 3:16)

In closing, I WOULD like to commend you for showing up every day. Very nice.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Easy Does It

The final round of the U.S. Open played out at Pinehurst in North Carolina on Father’s Day. Won by Martin Kaymer of Germany. A truly cool customer. It struck me that as I enjoyed a relaxing day watching golf, many fathers in sports and other professions were not allowed this luxury. Certain chosen careers simply require dads to be on the job on Sundays, even on Father’s Day.

And while many pro golfers may look relaxed on the course, most admit to having to play a mental game to keep it together. This is especially true if they are in the running on Sunday and have a shot at winning. Earlier this year, the New York Times did a piece on how pro golfers deal with that pressure.

Brandt Snedeker admitted that about five to six pounds comes off during major tournament weeks. To prepare himself, he’s tried caffeine doses and Red Bull to get his jitters going like he was in the last day hunt on the course. Dustin Johnson plays practice rounds with money on the line to get pumped up.

Some golfers do calisthenics to raise the heart rate. There’s nothing like playing golf with a friend who is doing jumping jacks between shots. Hey…if it works!

Performance consultant Oliver Morton makes the comment, “Swings don’t win tournaments. People do.” That is the way he emphasizes to clients to get temperament under control. Sounds easy.

One pro golfer counts to four before each shot. Others clam up under the pressure. Each person has to find what works for them.

The anxiety and tension of a major golf tournament is one thing. Living under those conditions every day is another. For several years I had an anxiety disorder that gave me panic attacks. They seemed to come out of nowhere, but when they did, in came a true sense of terror. They ended about a decade or so ago.

On the day this blog first appears I will be speaking with an expert on the topic of fear and anxiety. He will be a guest on my radio talk show. Oddly, I LIKE the feel of doing live radio as it generates its own thrill of pressure. Like standing on the edge of a diving board that first time. But that is not the same as feelings of helplessness in anxiety or panic. That is debilitating.

Sometimes we simply need to learn to relax. Or we must find a method to deal with unwanted anxiety. Humans were not meant to function with heart rates out of control. Or with depression that can often accompany these experiences.

I’ve wondered how Jesus handled all the pressure that came upon His life. People put their demands on Him all the time. Frequently He had to sneak away just to get time alone, or with His disciples.

Jesus often reminded us how fruitless worry and anxiety are. Read Matthew 6:25-34. It ends with this statement: You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it.

That is so true. And from what I’ve read, it doesn’t help your short game in golf either. So “putt” on a happy face.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, June 9, 2014

I Don’t Care

In the 1993 movie The Fugitive, (I still remember the old TV show!) one of my favorite scenes is in a tunnel. It happens when the FBI’s “Big Dog,” played by Tommy Lee Jones, encounters fugitive Dr. Kimball (Harrison Ford) before the tunnel’s end leads to a “sure death” of a waterfall. This first face to face encounter has Kimball with a gun pointed at Big Dog Agent Gerard and saying, “I didn’t kill my wife.” And in a classic, unscripted, and matter of fact moment, Big Dog replies… “I don’t care!”

There is something haunting and unsettling about this exchange. We who know the story WANT Gerard to care. Because Kimball is innocent. Yet we also know his job is to bring Kimball in and let justice take its course.

Justice. Caring. Lives shattered. Those three elements also come together in a very troubling story being played out in recent news. Here’s the headline that the New York Times pinned to a report from last week, “GM Response to a Fatal Flaw Was to Shrug.” Whoa.

Last week, General Motors turned over to federal regulators and lawmakers an internal report on what made some of their cars shutdown and disable air bags. In turn, it’s believed this has led to a number of deaths—at minimum 13. As the Times would note, this story “is a tale of nonchalance, ignorance, and incompetence with tragic consequences.”

The document is 325 pages. Mainly comprised of a chronology of inaction. The report compiled by a former U.S. attorney notes dozens of pivotal moments that resulted in no action.

What you get in the full report is simply that there were GM employees who were aware of the problem. And it appears also aware of the consequences. But took no official action to call their company to account. It comes across as a testimony of people who might have heard the phrase, “This could kill people!” And by their willful inaction, might as well have responded, “I don’t care.” At least…enough to DO SOMETHING.

Now General Motors is in the process of making settlements. Victims or their families would receive between $100,000 and up into the millions. Many would argue money is never a real consolation. And it certainly never replaces someone actually caring.

But here’s the dirty little secret. Millions of us are just like GM. I did say “us.” Jesus was bringing this to our attention in very uncomfortable ways during his time on earth. Read the story of the Good Samaritan. Or the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Or his comments to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23! Blistering. It’s all about hardness of hearts. Ours.

There are many verses in the Bible about hardened hearts. But this one stands out today: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Proverbs 28:13-14 (ESV)

Confess. Forsake. Obtain mercy. No need to be a fugitive from God’s grace.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Prolonged Engagement

According to best kept statistics, 17 percent of all weddings take place in June! During the engagement period, there is much anticipation and excitement of the wedding day. While the women are particularly involved in planning the details of the big day, most men will talk about their upcoming union with their bride, a major source of pride and pleasure. And then comes the marriage reality.

Something happens in the routine of marriage and it usually isn’t good. The happy couple seems to take each other for granted over time. Daily pressures build. Romance fades. The power of love weakens. Boredom sets in. Careful now. Best pay attention and learn the best methods of staying… well...engaged. Do that, and marriage can have new life!

As it turns out, our work life can have similar patterns. And similar results. Only with a job, it’s often burnout and a loss of engagement that causes the beauty of work to fade; and productivity to suffer.

For some excellent perspective on this, try this article on “Why You Hate Work” for size.

The essence of the message is that the number of people who feel “engaged” at work is pathetic. One study determined that across 142 countries, just 13 percent of employees experienced “job engagement.” And as the article notes, “for most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.”

Why so? One major factor is the sheer volume of information to which we’re exposed. Add to that the number of emails, texts, and other forms of digital technology to which we feel some obligation.

But what exactly IS job engagement? In their research, a company known as The Energy Project claims it is variously defined as “involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort, and energy.” And this group appears to have found four core needs that, when met, significantly improve the individual’s performance: physical (i.e. recharging), emotional (i.e. feeling valued), mental (i.e. keeping focused), and spiritual (i.e. feeling connected to a higher purpose).

Moreover, companies with more engaged employees achieve significant benefits. Gallup reports companies with the most engaged employees had 22 percent higher profitability, 10 percent higher customer ratings, 28 percent less theft, and 28 percent fewer safety incidents! Remarkable.

Despite these proven results of corporate benefits, most companies do not invest the time, effort, or capital to help employees stay engaged. So job stress continues. Burnout at all levels persists. Work life just keeps keepin’ on. Barely, for many.

Apparently burnout is not such a new problem. Jesus of Nazareth told followers centuries ago, “Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NCV)

Weigh these words. They can energize the soul. And help you re-engage.

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

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm, on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live or by podcast.