Search This Blog

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lifer Needs a New Life

Two stories. The first is extracted from a New York Times article about the impact of military cuts. This goes beyond limiting recruitment efforts. These are “reduction in force” cuts where our career military people (lifers) are losing their jobs!

Military people have a tougher time comprehending such force reductions as they see occurring with their civilian counterparts. Once you reenlist, and you perform admirably, it’s usually an automatic that you can stay in until retirement. But now, select groups of these career folk are being “terminated.”

As the Times reports it, “…for reasons the Army has not explained, the largest group of officers being pushed out — nearly one in five — began as enlisted soldiers.” This is not supposed to happen. And for some, it’s crushing to their post-service time morale!

Here’s the way the Times story opens: “For all the insecurities of war, Captain Elder Saintjuste always figured the one thing he could count on from the Army was job security.” Saintjuste is struggling. He says, “It wasn’t just losing a job. It was like having your wife leave you suddenly and not tell you why. It’s your whole life.”

But it was a later quote from Captain Nathan Allen that particularly caught my attention. Allen was awarded a Bronze Star and served more than 14 years as a linguist and intelligence officer. Now he’s been cast out, too. His reaction? “I’m a mess right now. They took away who I am. I’m a soldier.” Wow.

This coming week marks a full year since my last broadcast on the radio station I had worked at for 14-plus years. My departure was, well, “unscheduled.” At least by me.

While certainly disappointed at my circumstances, I viewed things quite differently than Captain Allen. Many years ago, I yielded my resistance to God in the area of my work assignments. That resistance was towards being in “ministry.” Almost immediately, a door opened to become a talk show host at a Christian radio station. It became…my assignment.

Seven years later, my assignment at that station ended. And I received a call about a new assignment. This one in Chicago. It lasted those 14-plus years. And then it ended.

And immediately…and I mean immediately…I chose to ask God for my next assignment. I would leave without regrets, believing that radio was not my identity. I was trusting that my God-given gifts could be used in many places. In many ways. A blog I wrote on this a year ago received a LOT of feedback.

In what my wife and I consider to be perfect timing, my five months of daily praying brought good news. A Christian radio station in Chicago needed a talk show host. They called. I responded. And that is my new assignment.

Deep within my soul, I believe God designs us with purpose. Captain Allen has much to offer this world, but he needs to see his purpose may be much greater than military service. He must not let that define him. Nor should you. Instead, ask God to fulfill His purpose for you.

The book of Psalms is a wonderful resource during transition. I latched on to this verse: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Psalm 138:8, ESV)

One of the exciting challenges in taking on new “assignments” is to look for how God uses these to benefit others and advance our growth as well. For those in transition, don’t give up. Ask for God’s help in finding the new assignment. Don’t be afraid of where it takes you. And for sure, don’t let your work life define you as a person. You were made for more.

Do I sound like Zig Ziglar?

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, November 17, 2014

Dress Code

As much as we may try to avoid judging by appearances, we do. Many days on my drive to work, there are men dressed shabbily at intersections asking for money. Maybe that's part of the gig. I mean, if you were dressed in a sharp looking suit or any kind of business apparel, who would give you money?

Because of appearance (and perhaps the appeal for funds) most people simply look away. I often do. It makes me wonder if the mayor of Chicago got scruffy, dressed down and looked like life had taken the best of him, would I even recognize him as he asked for money on a street corner? I doubt it.

This week, a friend reminded me of a classic story about the gifted violinist, Joshua Bell. The Washington Post set him up in a Metro station in DC with his violin, playing Bach. His violin case was open to collect people’s spare change. No one recognized the virtuoso. He earned $32 for his playing. People paid $100 per seat to hear him play just days before! But he wasn’t in his tuxedo.

My most influential radio mentor, Chuck Gratner, helped me understand this perception of dress code. Early in my radio career, Chuck bought several copies of John T. Malloy’s bestseller, Dress for Success. Malloy had spent years collecting research on the perceptions of people based on how they dressed. Those who knew and understand enough about what clothing ro wear received more attention and respect. I heard Malloy speak at a seminar and it was powerful. It impacted me a lot.

Styles change. Attitudes change. We’re certainly a more casual society today. But even among the business casual crowd, a “dress code” shows up. Only, instead of wanting business respect, it becomes the need to dress “cool.”

Here’s an illustration of how a clothing choice gets attention. Very recently, an article surfaced answering the all-important question, why does Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder) wear the same  gray tee shirt every day? His answer is quite surprising.

Steve Jobs had his dress code as well. A black mock turtleneck shirt was his preference, along with jeans and New Balance sneakers. Not that we noticed. Or were influenced by it. (There’s even a book that develops the significance of this choice of uniform as part of personal branding! Ditch. Dare. Do.)

All in the workforce should learn this important lesson. To establish, build, or maintain credibility in your role, your clothing needs to fit the part you are playing. A blog I read earlier this year makes the case well, titled “One Simple Dress Code Rule to Boost Your Career.”

I recommend the entire article but, for the time crunched, here’s the vital tip: slightly overdress for your position. This requires you to be alert to your workplace culture. See how the boss dresses. Pay attention.

That’s how we dress for business. But it’s NOT how we should determine a person’s value. And in the big picture, worrying about our clothing gets this instruction from Jesus of Nazareth, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33, ESV)

And now, time to go put on my green mock turtleneck. And some Walmart stretchy pants. I’m creating my own personal brand.

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, November 10, 2014

Serve Well, My Friend

Getting a business on the success track and keeping it there takes a lot of effort and insight. There are very challenging variables such as maturing markets, hiring the right people, learning to cut unnecessary costs, and improving productivity. But one very simple step to increase sales and keep people coming back can be summed up in two words: customer service.

I saw it fail AGAIN this weekend at a local Walmart. Stepping up to the pharmacy drop off window, I came face to face with a pharmacy worker. During my first 2-3 minutes at the window, another pharmacy teammate came to another dropoff window immediately to my left. Both managed to score a big fat zero on giving ANY kind of greeting.

The woman in front of me was completing paperwork for a customer down the line. I understand. I was only looking for a smile. A welcome. An indication a real human was at her window. And perhaps a comment asking for patience. That’s all. But that was too much for either of two window dressings.

I am not anti-Walmart. I like them. In fact, I also shop at a Sam’s Club where they have an excellent pharmacist who gives some of the BEST customer service I’ve seen in that kind of work. No, this isn’t about some bone to pick with Walmart. It is strictly about lousy customer service.

Let’s pretend a rumor circulated that Brad Pitt was in the store. And suppose he had a pharmacy question. I have a strong suspicion my two pharmacy workers would have dropped everything for the honor of helping Brad. In fact, the woman who was too busy to greet me might have told the other customer to get lost! IF…it was Brad Pitt. Alas, it was little ol’ me.

So this weekend, I read this marvelous article in the New York Times about, get this, GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE. Not for a single company, mind you, but for an entire town in Colorado! It happened in Steamboat Springs.

Faced with declining numbers in a survey about a willingness to recommend the town to others, the chief executive of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association encouraged the community leaders to bring in a specialist to help improve customer service. You can read the whole story in the Times.

My friend, this is not rocket science. Well, it SHOULDN’T be. It is so shockingly easy that even children can learn it. And I hope they do.

Greet people. Take an interest in them. Walk them to where they need to find an item they want. Thank them. Ask for their patience with a smile if you must ask them to wait a moment. Be courteous. Carry stuff to their car.

And why? Because it’s the right thing to do. It makes YOU feel better. You get better tips. More repeat business. You might even keep your job!

Imagine. A consultant is needed to ‘splain this stuff. Hey…SHOW ME THE MONEY! But I offer this freely.

Who’s listening? 

Jesus of Nazareth had a message regarding how we apply wisdom in our lives. In defending his associations with “sinners” and confounding his enemies, he stated, “Well, the proof of wisdom is in the actions it produces.” (CJB)

No single thing in building a healthy business costs less to implement than basic, excellent customer service.

I’m confident event Brad Pitt knows that!

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, November 3, 2014

I’m Not Buying What You’re Begging

Some who live on the planet today remember a publication titled Grit. It defined itself as “America’s Greatest Family Newspaper.” During a good part of the 20th century, children and teenagers around the country made money by selling Grit subscriptions. With newspapers struggling these days, all the marketing changed. Now, I believe Grit is only sold in magazine format on a bimonthly basis.

These same children and teens also grew up helping raise money for groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They still do. Overpriced popcorn and cookies generate a fair amount of revenue for these groups. And the young ones learn a valuable lesson in approaching people and asking for a sale. Unless, of course, parents simply put out signup forms or do the work for their kids.

I read a blog recently by Trey Tompkins from the healthcare field titled, “Thanks for not buying popcorn from my son.” The boy’s Cub Scout pack was doing their annual fundraising outside a home improvement store. Many customers politely declined the purchase. There’s always a group that simply wants to avoid all eye contact.

Trey’s son discovered that selling is a tough business. Persistence is the key. And as he told his father, “you have to let so many people tell you ‘No’ before you ever get someone to tell you ‘Yes.’”

Whether it’s a young person coming to our door, or that encounter at a retail store, I frequently buy what they’re selling. It depends on the kid and the product, but I admire the effort. Of course, I have to believe in the cause as well.

Something has changed in more recent years. Now I frequently find young folks outside of stores with their parents alongside asking for money — but not selling anything. Oh sure, they say the money is for the baseball team or cheerleading group or some choir trip. But frankly, I don’t see much difference between panhandlers in downtown Chicago trying to get me to pay for a meal.

I purposely included the word begging in the title of my blog for a bit of effect. Why should I be giving money for kids in my neighborhood to play baseball or go on a trip? When I was that age, my parents were expected to pay for my expenses. In high school, we had a soft drink machine for our speech club to earn money. Club members had to do all the ordering, stocking of drinks, etc. Other times we sold ad space in programs, ran a concession stand at games, or a bunch of other creative money making ideas.

What lesson for our children is there when they simply stand outside a store and ask for money? Teach them how to MAKE money. This is particularly true when it is an expense the parents should be covering.

A business may want to donate to organizations for goodwill or a tax deduction. So be it. That’s different. And certain truly charitable efforts deserve our consideration.

The verses from the Bible I am about to quote can be interpreted differently. I think The Message treats 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 perfectly for this lesson. “Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends.”

Put those kids to work to help pay for their extracurricular interests. You’ll wind up with better kids.

And, yes, I WILL have another peanut butter pattie. Or two.

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.