Search This Blog

Monday, December 26, 2016

Write it Down!

Increasing in age brings most of us a strange side effect. The passage of time seems faster. We know it doesn’t, of course, but it feels that way. And so it seems this my final blog of 2016 has come too quickly.

For many, these last days of the year will give rise to memories. Some are sad like the passing of friends or family. Others brings joy with new arrivals, new jobs, and opportunities. There is also the disquieting kind of memory of what might have been. And this sets the stage for those New Year resolutions and commitments to “a better life.”

I know this to be true. Many of my best life lessons have been lost by not keeping a written record. My own mind deceives itself that my memory will hold onto and treasure that which I find valuable. It turns out not to be the case. There is no determining how many valuable gems of knowledge or wisdom I have left behind.

There is a solution, of course. One which many have found to be invaluable. Especially among the most successful. It’s called journaling. I was reminded of it again when reading a list of “last minute gifts for entrepreneurs” in USA Today.

Here’s the case for giving a journal: “Most entrepreneurs have more ideas than they can possibly keep track of. A nice journal and a good pen motivates them to jot down all those great plans and keep them in one place.”

Beyond simply ideas, other reasons abound for this disciplined practice. Psychologist, poet, and blogger Diana M. Raab explained what a mentor taught her about journaling. “Writing provides an emotional release to vent about issues related to your work or personal life. Sometimes the loss of a loved one reveals inner turmoil or uncovers secrets that are brought to the surface during the writing process. Writing helps clear your mind while increasing your awareness.”

Writing authentically seems to be the mandate for the journals that shape your life most. As it is often said, “write as if nobody is going to read it.” Inspirations and irritations should both get their due place.

Other reasons suggested for journaling include pushing you toward your goals and increasing memory and comprehension. Your communication abilities will likely be enhanced with more practice as well. Perhaps one idea I like most is that this kind of writing helps you process situations when you find them challenging.

The best of learning sometimes comes in short bits. I have collected several quotes of just a sentence or two that hold profound meaning to me. They are worth reflecting on often.

Such was the case for King Solomon. He learned from the “school of many-different-kind-of-knocks”  how to think wisely. Fortunately, he left his writings for us to see and benefit from today. You’d be well advised to read the book of Proverbs often.

Here’s one of my favorites from Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT)

In 2017, may you have increased awareness of great lessons that the Sovereign God and others can reveal to you. You’ll be richer for it.

And for goodness sake, write those lessons down!

See you next year, Lord willing.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

To Give or Not to Give

I’m sure it generates for most workers a sense of “bonus envy.” You know, when you find out that some friends or family members received a healthy chunk of change at the end of the year. It’s often referred to as a Christmas or Holiday “bonus.”

Last year, bonus envy grew to new heights when a Houston company doled out $100,000 celebratory paychecks to all of its 1,381 employees! The very generous Hilcorp is one of the largest privately-held oil and natural gas exploration and production companies in the US. It was named to the 2015 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For list…for the third consecutive year. Ya think?

It must be shared that this was not just a “gift” of love. It was performance-based reward. It was handed out after employees helped double the size of Hilcorp over a five year period.

This was the second really significant bonus employees received. In 2010, when the company had doubled in size, employees could choose a $50,000 car or a $35,000 cash check. Sweet!

This sets the stage to consider whether and when to give out rewards to employees. Is Christmas or year end the time do it? There is, of course, no perfect answers on these questions. But a few things should be considered.

First, the use of the word “bonus.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language states “A bonus is something given or paid in addition to what is usual or expected.” The Columbia Encyclopedia explains “wage incentive was designed during the late 19th century not only to increase production but to reward the more skillful and more energetic workers.” The website concludes from this that “a bonus is a premium paid above and beyond standard compensation to reward high-achieving employees and to encourage them to continue such achievement with the company in the future.”

That is the way Hilcorp views it. Others view a “holiday bonus” as, in theory, given from the heart by compassionate and grateful management. In this case, performance measurements do not necessarily determine the size of the gift. Some firms will vary these holiday rewards based on roles in management and labor.

Many companies choose another option. Do nothing. Or maybe hold a “holiday” or Christmas party. Maybe not. Maybe a turkey or ham. A small gift certificate, perhaps.

One business owner wrote his “best solution” was an unexpected day off. He gives it to employees in December to catch up on the myriad of personal tasks that arrive this time of year for employees. Or just to spend time with relatives. In his mind, there is no “hard cost” to this and it avoids IRS issues.

And speaking of that, there are legal and financial considerations to be weighed for both the company and the employees for any real financial “bonus.”

The right mindset for any employee reading this is simple: be grateful for your job and the benefits in return. Do not begrudge others who may get exciting bonuses. Envy offers no payoff. Contentment is good for the soul.

To the employer or manager, your legacy is determined (in part) by how others feel valued by you. This can be demonstrated in various ways. But it is a choice you make. We can take nothing with us from this life.

Christmas is a time to remember one of the choicest admonitions attributed to the One whose birth we celebrate: “You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35, NLT)

Unwrap that teaching this season. It will change your world.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

God Bless Us, Every One!

Exactly what age is it wise for a child to first view Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol? The haunting images of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future in Ebenezer’s dreams may still be enough to create nightmares for children today. However, it was children Dickens had in mind when he penned his memorable work.

A 2009 Christianity Today article reminded us of the setting in history:

“Published in 1843 as a statement against harsh child labor practices, A Christmas Carol carried poignancy in its original context that is difficult to fully grasp today. The severity of living conditions in 19th-century London, combined with the ambivalence of its “paternalistic” legal courts, illustrated so well in Dickens’ Bleak House (1853), is hard to exaggerate. The disparity in standard of living between the top quarter of London's population and the bulk of its citizens was stark.”

For the “Tiny Tims” of those times, conditions could be quite miserable.

“Children growing up in London during the Hungry Forties—a depression coupled with poor harvests—were steeped in these disparities. The skyline was a sea of profitable smokestacks puffing clouds of sooty grit that covered rooftops and the cheeks of young chimney sweeps. Coal was the energy source du jour, and the resulting London fog often hid the real picture. The streets were covered in rainwater, the contents of chamber pots, and animal waste. Rats abounded. Small, often emaciated, children sold flowers and matches, while the wealthy class’s horse-drawn carriages swept past, throwing grime and muck on those too poor to afford transportation. Despite the horrid conditions, the birth rate rose as mortality rates fell: more children now lived than died. And as the population grew, so did the price of food.”

Charles Dickens had a heart for action. His life portrays a reformer with a conscience. It’s recorded he set up a house for rescuing, reforming, and educating prostitutes in 1845.

For many social issues of the day government provided little relief. The church in England at that time also seemed weak in efforts to meet the cries of human need.

One can see why a clarion call to many uncaring elites would capture Dickens’ writing imagination. And what better name to attach to a penny pinching, self interested miser than Ebenezer Scrooge! Who could not feel the tension in the absence of helping a family with a poor crippled boy like Tim Cratchit?

It should be noted that Tiny Tim was just one of many seemingly innocent, angelic, and victimized small children who had grim futures in several of Dickens’ works. There were many more characters he included that faced deep suffering.

The stirring messages conveyed in A Christmas Carol reach us at many levels. We feel sensitive to the burdens of workers who perhaps feel overworked. We have some anger at a seemingly cruel boss who could not care less about his employees. We feel the pain of parents who struggle with raising a child with special needs. And our own souls are troubled by the stark challenges the ghosts of past, present, and future might lay upon us.

Yet in the end, we also see a redemptive message. We find a changed heart and renewed sense of purpose in the life of Ebenezer Scrooge. It isn’t just in his clearly refined attitude; it is in his actions as well. This is the telltale sign of what spiritual renewal is all about.

Charles Dickens’ personal spiritual life is somewhat hard to fully pin down. He attended an Anglican church. Yet his beliefs were Unitarian.

A Christian History story titled “No Humbug” observes:

“His God blessed all, his Christ was a very good man, his religious countenanced no creeds, and his Bible yielded only noble precepts for living.”

In his own words: “It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.”
The article concludes with a reminder that no Christ appears in A Christmas Carol, adding that this perhaps explains why network television and school productions find it acceptable. Perhaps if we asked Dickens, he might offer some variation on the idea that the Gospel can be preached without laying out a specific theology.

Our favorite version of this classic seasonal story seems to be The Muppets Christmas Carol with The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit. Who else but Miss Piggy could play Emily Cratchit? I personally like Rizzo the Rat in his role. And we’re also fond of all the little mice—or “meeces” as they are called.

Despite the somewhat less serious approach to the Muppets production, the message is clear. Hope abounds at the conclusion of the film. Which is the way it should be.

Christmas time is about hope. And it’s to be found regardless of how bleak circumstances can appear.

The apostle Peter reminds us of this:

“Let us thank the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was through His loving-kindness that we were born again to a new life and have a hope that never dies. This hope is ours because Jesus was raised from the dead. We will receive the great things that we have been promised. They are being kept safe in heaven for us. They are pure and will not pass away. They will never be lost…With this hope you can be happy even if you need to have sorrow and all kinds of tests for awhile.” (1 Peter 1:3-6, NLV)

With that in mind, may you experience the hope found in Christmas.

And God bless us every one.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

I Can’t Get No … [thanks, Mick Jagger]

One of my core challenges in life is details. Or as I would often describe them, minutiae—the small, precise, or trivial makeup of something. I never cared for building model airplanes. Puzzles with any more than 100 pieces turn my attention elsewhere.

Bless her heart, my wife Rhonda is wired differently. She will read the fine print on instructions. She follows through on the details. Why she even provides the invaluable service of filling out my medical questionnaires for me.

And one more thing. She is the resident expert in completing customer satisfaction surveys. I benefit with many free items because of her patience in this regard.

The real question on these surveys is whether they lead to more customer satisfaction! I have my doubts. One blog article from offers this definition:

Cus-tom-er Sat-is-fac-tion Sur-vey (n): A long, complicated and arduous task for both a company and their customers that can often yield little to no useful results.

Ha! I think that pegs the way I feel a lot of the time.

Two classic examples of this are from a car dealer and a large retail chain. In purchasing (or leasing) more than one Hyundai automobile, there has been a consistent refrain from the management: “When you receive the Hyundai questionnaire asking ‘how we did,’ make sure you rate us the best on every question.” Aw, c’mon. You mean I can’t be transparent? And how am I supposed to complete a deal with you faithfully, Mr. Dealer, if you’re already pressuring me on what should be a private matter?

Similarly, my wife and I shop with some frequency at Kohl’s department stores. Every single time they attach a separate printed receipt request to go online and rate the shopping experience. The cashier usually writes their name down and asks me to give them high marks. I toss those little slips away as soon as I get home. UNLESS…

Let me focus a bit on when those customer service surveys DO get completed. First, when there is truly instant reward. Places like Chick Fil A, McDonald’s and Panda Express always give you something of value for the few minutes of survey work. Target—and other stores—offer you a highly remote chance of winning a large prize. Fahgetaboutit.

Another grouping that will earn feedback are service driven website companies like Amazon or Hotwire. I frequently rate the good service (or not so good service) from their vendors. An incentive would increase my participation.

And then there are the times when the shopping experience is negative enough to warrant some feedback. Incentive or no incentive, I’ll send along my two thumbs down if treated poorly or the merchandise doesn’t live up to the billing.

Here’s a special category I avoid. Mall researchers or telephone survey people who will try and stop you from whatever you are doing to help them make money. The way I see it, the company paying for the survey gets a “win.” The survey company does, too, by getting paid. I’m the only guy who doesn’t make out on the deal.

Having laid out my case, I now share a bit more from the blog, “Why Customer Satisfaction Surveys Aren’t Useful and What to Do About It.”

They accurately portray the situation with this question, “How many times have you blasted through a survey just to get the freebie that comes with it?” And they follow it up with an even better question: “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was just one question you could ask your customers that revealed how healthy your business was doing? More importantly, one question that resulted in data that correlated to profitability?”

The answer comes from something called Nete Promoter Score, used by such big players at G.E., Verizon, and eBay. NPS was originally introduced by Fred Reichheld following a talk he heard by the CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car. After studying their method of surveying customers for two years, Reichheld determined the best results came from one specific question:

“How likely is it that you would recommend [enter the name of your company] to a friend or colleague?”

Picking up on that, I believe any organization that really wants to move forward through customer surveys could focus on another simple question: “What can we do to improve our product/service?” And you could request they answer in seven words or less. I am quite confident huge strides could be made in customer satisfaction with such a simple approach.

To increase active participation, remember that greatest of management motivational secrets: things that get rewarded get done. Some people are not really good off the cuff at giving feedback. But incentives activate the mind.

Focus groups are nice, but expensive. Detailed questionnaires are usually too complex and undesirable. Online or telephone surveys with more than a few questions tire people out. Simply ask customers how to improve what you are doing.

If you are an employer who really seeks ways to keep your valuable employees and gain their wisdom, ask for their help! Questions like, “What would you recommend we do to make this company better?” or “How can we help you do your job better and enjoy it more?” may provide some valuable payoffs. I think it’s worth the risks. That is, if we are truly interested in customer satisfaction.

We are truly blessed when service is our priority. The writer of the book of Hebrews stated, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10, NIV)

Mick Jagger complained “I can’t get no satisfaction!” Maybe because nobody cared enough to ask him the right questions.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

To Identity … and Beyond!

It’s been three years since I completed my previous “assignment” at Moody Radio. I’ve now completed two and half years in my new talk role at AM1160. I’ve come to view my work life through the “assignment” paradigm after seeing a providential Hand guiding my days.

It happened when I was 40. My radio career took a departure when I became the Director of Operations at a trade show company in Sacramento. It was very stimulating work, often meeting with leaders in business and government.

One afternoon, as I was in the latter part of my work day, I glanced at my watch and thought to myself…“Okay. Just one more hour and it will be time to go home.” And then it struck me. My work had taken on a certain drudgery factor that I had never felt while in radio. It was a wake up call.

Several weeks later, I was in my car listening to a Christian song on my CD player. Certain lyrics generated a wave of emotion through my soul. It was as if a Higher Power was sending me a message. I was ready to listen.

It came out this way: “If I wanted you in full time ministry, you wouldn’t go.” This jolted my spirit. It was true. Even though I had lived my faith and served in various capacities, the idea of being given to a life of “ministry” was a point of resistance.

I determined then to resolve this with The One who seemed to have inscribed that message in my inner being. I yielded my work life with these words: “I will go anywhere…and do anything for the Kingdom of God. But if You want me somewhere else, You will have to get me there.”

At the time I had just completed year one of a three-year business agreement. It seemed like fulfilling that obligation was my only choice. But something changed.

About two weeks later, a long time friend who had become a station manager for Salem Media Group in Pittsburgh called. He needed a Christian talk show host. He wanted me to apply for the job—knowing my situation was quite good. He did not know of what happened in my car just weeks before.

I began discussions with Salem. Two months later, they offered me the job and I was faced with a dilemma. My agreement held me in place. Unless I was released from that agreement, I would stay in Sacramento.

Graciously, my employer understood my heart’s desire and he gave me that release. We moved to Pittsburgh. I served there for seven years, and my “assignment” ended. My wife and I then pursued some of our own business interests. About two months later I was contacted about a morning host job in Chicago on Moody Radio. There were three candidates. I was selected. I had my new “assignment.”

After 14 and a half years, that assignment ended. I had just turned 62 about a month before. Not a good time of life to be job searching. But opportunities were standing by. And I committed myself to walk the path believing there was another assignment waiting.

It came a few months later. I returned to work with Salem Media Group as an afternoon talk host in Chicago. It’s been 2 and half years of doing what I love most—being on air!

When my job at Moody Radio ended, my blog that week was titled, “Radio is not my identity.” And it’s not. A person’s work should not be allowed to define their value or worth. It’s not good for the soul to allow this to happen. I have other skills and I’ve done other jobs successfully. But they do not define my identity either. My worth is determined by the One who created me. He determines who I really am.

I found two other examples of people who share this view.

J.J. Jansen is a former Notre Dame player now with the Carolina Panthers. He keeps it all in perspective. Before the 2016 Super Bowl, he shared this: “One of the interesting things is this has really been a year where God has been teaching me a lot about my identity as a son of God and a child of God. And all of a sudden you’re thrust into this moment where everyone wants to put you on a pedestal. So it’s really cool that in a year where I felt like God was really taking me through what identity means that suddenly you’re now in a moment where you can easily lose a sense of where you are.”

Likewise a book by professional athlete Tim Tebow titled Shaken was recently released. Tim said, “The reason I titled it Shaken was because in life you’re going to have highs and lows. There are going to be great times, and there are going be tough times.” He noted his life has certainly had both.

Then he added, “I’m so thankful because of my relationship with Jesus Christ and being adopted in the family of God that I don’t have to live the highs and the lows and the roller coaster that the rest of the world lives, because I know where my identity lies. My identity lies as a child of God, and that’s something that will never be shaken.”

Way to go, Tim! He’s out there sharing that message.

Our identity is what we are really about. As spiritual beings, we should embrace personhood as defined by God. In 1 John 4, verses 9-11 we read, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.” (NLT)

Now THAT is a great life calling! Now, back to my “assignment.”

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hopeful Transition

The transition of a government with a new president is a remarkable process to watch. This past weekend, President-elect Trump slipped away to one of his several retreat locations to interview more candidates for jobs. The previous week those interviews were done in Trump Tower in New York.

Obviously, the ability to find the right people for the right job is the challenge. As president, you get to choose them. But they also have to want to work for you. The success of his presidency will be measured by the effectiveness of his team to fulfill the Trump agenda.

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump met with Mitt Romney. As a former governor and presidential candidate himself, I’m sure he had much to offer. In preparing for his possible presidency four years ago, Mr. Romney created the Romney Readiness Project. Many people think that plan was one of the best-run transition efforts even though it went unused.

So how big is the task at hand to transition a government? The New York Times described it this way: “Mr. Trump…is under immense pressure to find 4,100 qualified people to lead it. In an ideal scenario, his White House staff should be in place, and the 100 highest-ranking government agency officials—the cabinet, plus a range of defense, homeland security, disaster and pandemic response officials—should be ready to start work the moment Mr. Trump puts his hand on the Bible, to guard the nation from vulnerability during the transfer of power. That means their vetting and security clearances should be done and the nominees lined up for Senate confirmation.” Talk about a start up challenge!

Stanford University’s Public Policy Program has developed a thesis on what makes a successful president. The overview claims that the paper offers “three systematic and rigorous dimensions” for measurement. External factors are considered. What challenges does a president face when he comes into office and how did he handle these situations? How did the public perceive his abilities as rated in opinion polls during his or her time in office? And this would be critical: what kind of legislative success did the president achieve in implementing campaign promises?

Let’s face it. The Donald is starting with a real challenge in public perception. It is a problem aided by relentless pounding of various media that didn’t like him from the start. So as for poll results, it will take some truly measurable success to move the needle upward.

Steve Tobak is a management consultant and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur. Just over a year ago on the website he shared “11 Qualities Our Next President Must Have.” In quick form, his list included:

  • Serious leadership chops. The ability to bring other leaders together.
  • Serious management chops. Basically, financial and organizational knowledge.
  • Goal- and achievement-oriented. Leaders set aggressive goals and achieve them.
  • Real life experience...outside of politics. Not Beltway life experience.
  • Advocate for meritocracy, not bureaucracy. Avoid unholy alliances that lead to unethical behavior. 
  • Master negotiator. Don’t be giving away what we don’t have or should not yield.
  • Plain spoken and direct. Call things as they are.
  • Competitive spirit and driven to win. A competitive world requires a competitive mindset.
  • In it for the long term. Govern for the future of our country, not simply your constituencies.
  • Makes the right calls. Take risks. Be decisive...but get it right. (Sounds easy.)
  • Holds himself and others accountable. Integrity up and down is part of the package for leaders.

While all of those personal skills and character traits are valuable, I would add to this list. And what I would add feeds off a premise that departs from hardcore business. It’s the human side of the equation.

Government leadership requires people skills to build consensus. The ability to lead with both a firm hand and an understanding heart will go a long way to both healing our country and building key international alliances. No doubt President-elect Trump has been told this. It isn’t like running your own show as many CEOs are prone to do. Learning to yield on non-essentials is vital.

Those people skills require discernment. The mere size of government activity requires good counselors. Some of those should be held in a much tighter inner circle than others.

We often describe our president as the “leader of the free world.” To that end, he or she should clearly understand and appreciate American exceptionalism. In 2012, the Republican platform included seven sections around this idea. The party proclaimed its embrace for “American exceptionalism—the conviction that our country holds a unique place in human history.”

Donald Trump was questioned about being an advocate for this in 2015. He said “it is not a nice term.” It also appeared he didn’t understand it. Perhaps he will come to understand it.

Finally, the president should learn to be a champion of hope. The biblical prophet Jeremiah was used by God for that purpose. His hope message was to carry God’s people through the time of the Babylonian captivity and beyond. Jeremiah explained how God would bring a remnant back to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. He used these words, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

God has not assured us as a nation of the same promise. But leaders who turn to Him for guidance and wisdom can expect to be heard by the Sovereign. And a country that seeks His ways can expect God’s blessings. And hope will arise!

Too bad they don’t teach that in our top management schools.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Imitation Franchise

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” So says the famed expression best traced back to the early 19th century. Some paraphrased versions of that thought go back years before that.

A biography of Marcus Aurelius titled Emperor Marcus Antoninus: His Conversation with Himself from 1708 reads, “You should consider that Imitation is the most acceptable part of Worship, and that the Gods had much rather Mankind should Resemble, than Flatter them.” English writer Eustace Budgell in the newspaper was quoted in 1714 as saying, “Imitation is a kind of artless Flattery.”

No matter. You get the point. Is it really that way in business—repackaging someone else’s profitable product or service as your own—or it it ripping off someone else’s success? It poses an interesting question.

One of the latest examples of how this is being played out in the fast food marketplace is with a new company called Tasty Made. Business Insider reporter Kate Taylor writes about the first of these new burger joints that opened recently in Lancaster, Ohio.

Chipotle is behind the newly developed chain concept, which looks suspiciously (or otherwise) like two other well known burger places. Thus, the article title: “People are Saying Chipotle's New Burger Joint is a Rip-Off of In-N-Out and Five Guys.” One Yelp review said “Everything from the menu to the color palette and decor screams imitation” of these two successful businesses.

But what do customers say about the actual food? Early reviews are very mixed. Wrote the one 5-star satisfied customer on Yelp “My burger was as close to In-N-Out as you can get without becoming embroiled in some kind of litigation over taste and presentation. It is comforting to know that I don't have to hop a nonstop to LA to get an In-N-Out fix whenever I feel the urge.”

But check out this very biting Yelp critic, who said: “Dear Chipotle, you poisoned me twice with your burritos. I forgave you. But for you to take clothes from In-And-Out and resell Wendy’s cheeseburgers for 3x the price...well, I have to wonder: Don't you guys care about your fellow man anymore?”

Oooh, doggies. It must have been the election season that flavors such rhetoric. So let’s just say that the jury is still out.

I remember the first time we walked into a Sam’s Club. It appeared remarkably like a place we previously shopped known first as Price Club, now Costco. A chap by the name of Sol Price and his son, Robert, founded Price Club in 1976. Costco opened in 1983;  Sam’s Club also arrived in 1983, looking strikingly similar in many ways. Ripoff? Some might think so. But let’s face it…dozens of franchised businesses are built on the very successful organizational strategies of predecessors.

The smartphone and tablet market is another classic example of “technology ripoffs.” Apple employees went nearly into shock upon seeing early announcements of Samsung’s first smartphone. Steve Jobs took the seething a bit higher, saying ”I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” The late CEO, of course, has not destroyed Android.

When does “imitation” become useful and legitimate? Well, since “there are no new ideas under the sun” (supposedly), then obviously we are always building off the success of others. And the line between what’s legal and what isn’t is well beyond what we can cover here.

There are, of course, significant legal cases for thievery in the marketplace. That is why we have copyright and trademark laws. It is also why we have music licensing protection. Stealing intellectual property winds up in litigation as well.

Writing on the “imitation theme,” business blogger Sarah Pavey considers how this plays out positively in the business world. “Imagine a person joining a new team or organization. She’ll copy what her mentor says and does, at least at first…and her mentor will be happy for her to do this,” she writes. And adds, “Encourage it, even. On the flipside, though, she’ll also be expected to come up with innovative new ideas, develop effective processes, and show that she can think for herself. So, innovation is important…but so is imitation, when it’s encouraged.”

The lawful and not-so-lawful taking of ideas and material happens in the church as well. Successful churches begat others modeling their style and techniques. Pastors may try to model their ministry after their faith heroes. And then there are the very legal services like Sermon Search and worship resources where you pay to use others creativity.

For a season in time, evangelism was shaped by look-a-likes. There were tracts titled The Four Spiritual Laws, Do You Know the Steps to Peace with God and The ABC’s of Salvation, among others. All essentially had the same message.

We may be able to effectively crank out doubles in mass producing products. And formula training for customer service and sales can be useful. Deeply embedded lifestyle influence, however, needs more.

This is why authentic friendships take time. Learning to truly love another person cannot be reduced to a few steps. Helping humans change their behavior takes real insight and counsel.

The Master teacher from Nazareth—Jesus—keenly knew this. He chose a small group of people to influence. Those disciples, in turn, took the message and spread it to the world. It thrives still today. The instructions to those disciples remain intact today: “So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19, NCV)

There is no franchise of the faith. Just one beggar helping another beggar find bread.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

My Kind of President

Tomorrow is election day. We have a unique privilege. Within most organizations—business and otherwise—you don’t get to vote on your leadership. At least the employees are not choosing the top brass.

In elections, however, voters actually choose who will be the next “leader of the free world.” It may seem like a dream job for those who aspire to take it. Once the weight of the position takes hold, the heavy burdens of leading a divided land and worldly unrest begin to take their toll.

I don’t recall this, but apparently Al Gore commented while campaigning in 2000 that running for the presidency was like interviewing for a job. Dr. Jim Thrasher, coordinator of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, ponders that in saying, “Suppose our current candidates were put through their paces in an extensive job interview conducted by corporate America. How would they do?”

That caused me to think about how this election would have been different if we had an executive search firm involved. Executive search firms specialize in recruitment services to find top-level candidates for senior, executive, or other highly specialized positions for clients. They conduct detailed interviews and then selectively present candidates to their clients.

In our local church’s current search for a new pastor, we have now employed a retired pastor in this role. He’s doing the interviews and the screening of candidates. You don’t get past him if you want the job.

And make no mistake on this, a pastor has to understand and be effective at leadership. Think about it. As one fellow noted, church leaders do not have the authority of military leaders. There are no “financial incentives” of the corporate world. Most of the workforce they lead are volunteers! And one thing is for sure, that pastor or paid church leader better show up as a person of character.

Dr. Thrasher, in his recent posting titled, “Donald or Hillary: You're Hired?” explains how it works with job recruiters that come to his campus. He notes, “These recruiters try to discern the vocational calling of the interviewees by comparing the aptitude and characteristics of each candidate with the core competencies and qualities which that company needs in a successful employee. The qualities that companies look for in potential employees are the same foundational ones that voters should look for in presidential candidates.” Interesting.

And what exactly are the most significant qualities? Dr Thrasher lists the 12 “must-have” character traits of deserving job candidates.

  1.  Strong moral character and integrity
  2.  Leadership by example
  3.  Trustworthiness
  4.  Committed work ethic
  5.  Articulate communication skills
  6.  Humility and accountability
  7.  Truthfulness
  8.  Teachable spirit
  9.  Willingness to learn
  10.  Relational
  11.  Courage to do the right thing
  12.  Self-control and self-discipline 

He challenges us by asking, “Isn’t it reasonable that our presidential candidates likewise should be expected to possess (these qualifications)?” Good readers will have been processing this list with our two currently leading presidential candidates in mind. How did they fare in your mind?

One of the most significant challenges of an American leader is maintaining our position of strength in the world. This is often captured in the phrase “peace through strength.” It is said that the Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 76-138) was quoted saying it this way, “peace through strength or, failing that, peace through threat.” He does have a point.

The Bible says it somewhat differently. Proverbs 14:28 reads, “Rulers of powerful nations are held in honor; rulers of weak nations are nothing at all.”(CEV) Keeping our people safe is one of the most legitimate assignments of our government. My kind of president understands that.

A healthy minded leader of the free world also quickly realizes he is overmatched to solve all problems. He needs excellent team members, wise and discerning for good counsel. Proverbs 15:22 claims, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (NIV) My kind of president only brings in counselors who have a passion for integrity.

The Message, a Bible paraphrase, points out two more very significant mindset models for leaders. First, from Proverbs 16:10: “A good leader motivates, doesn’t mislead, doesn’t exploit.” Two verses later, we find “Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds; sound leadership has a moral foundation.” (Proverbs 16:12, MSG) My kind of president isn’t a manipulator. There is a sense of straight forward communication at all times. And that moral foundation is a must.

Evil will always be seeking a way to rob our nation of health. Being firm with lawbreakers is a biblical premise. “A wise king sorts out the evil people, and he punishes them as they deserve.” (Proverbs 20:26, NCV) My kind of president wants righteousness to prevail.

Finally, any good leader needs encouragement. He or she must find the words that most nurture the spirit. It is in these quiet times that hope is regenerated. My kind of president knows where to find those words. A good place to turn would be the Psalms, many of which were written by Israel’s King David who saw many a difficult day.

It is King David who reminds us still today,
“The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them. 
 (Psalm 19:7-11, NLT)

King David put aside the love of power for the love of the All Powerful.
That’s my kind of president. Where is that person?

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Marketing Fear

Today, of course, is Halloween. It is also Reformation Day—a day many Protestants would consider is commemoration “of perhaps the greatest move of God’s Spirit since the days of the Apostles”—according to Ligonier Ministries. The date of October 31, 1517,  is when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg Church, Germany. And a revolution was born.

Generally, Americans spend very little money on celebrating Reformation Day. On the other hand, another celebration of many churches on November 1st, known as All Saints Day or All Hallows Day, has helped create a marketing bonanza. All Hallows Eve, or Halloween as most people know it, has developed into an event that is anything but sacred. And the cauldrons are bubbling over with cash.

The fear business is thriving in many ways. Halloween leads the devil’s pack. To be fair, many participate in this annual tradition with safe, sane, and even fun ways. Many costumes are meant to delight—not to create nightmares. But here’s the story.

Halloween appears to be the second largest commercial holiday in the United States. And about 100 countries have Halloween celebrations. The age group most involved in some activity is surprising—teens 18-34.

Retail spending estimates on Halloween for 2016 are projected to be around $8.4 billion. That would be a new record. Last year it was $6.9 billion. It’s guesswork, but roughly 171 million people get Halloween kicks, with average spending at $82.93 per person.

And how is that money distributed? Obviously “treats” are a big part of it. About 71% of Americans spend roughly $25 per household to satisfy their fright night visitors. More is spent on decorations—approximately $30 per household. The biggest expense is costumes, with an average cost of $32.

And for the curious, here are the top five costumes for adults: a Batman character, a witch, an animal, a superhero, and a vampire.The top five for the kiddos: an action/superhero, princess, animal, Batman character and a Star Wars character. No Halloween would be complete unless you dressed up your pet! The most popular pet costume characters are pumpkin, hot dog, bumble bee, Lion/Star Wars character, and the devil. (This information is supplied by the National Retail Federation, which hired Prosper Insight & Analytics for the survey.)

But aren’t we missing something? Yes! Haunted houses! More fear marketing. A group that puts these kinds of themed places together is They estimate over 300 amusement facilities produce some sort of Halloween or Haunted House at an amusement park or family fun center.

Then there are those “charity” run spooky places. More than 3,000 of these attractions open for one day on Halloween or one or two weekends in October. There are likely other smaller venues in communities that do some form of haunted experience as well.

Theme parks also create fear through thrill rides. A good article on this is titled, “10 Scariest Thrill Rides on the Planet.” Two they mention include Hersheypark’s Fahrenheit, featuring one of the steepest drops in the US, and the X2 at southern California’s Magic Mountain. I’ll pass.

Fear marketing is also profitable in movies. The category of horror films is the seventh highest grossing genre in the movie business. Some horror films turn out to be the most profitable. In 2012, terror films made over $413 million in the U.S.

The biggest box office gross of all time for a fear based film was The Sixth Sense, which came out in 1999. The gross from that film was almost $700 million. The film Jaws holds second place at nearly $471 million. The Exorcist comes in third at over $441 million.

With no pun intended, by now you get the picture. There is money to be made in scaring people. And why do people do this? David Rudd, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah, says “People enjoy feeling scared and seek the feeling out because, deep down, they know they are in no real danger.”

I have a limited fear enjoyment range. I will do some roller coasters and the milder haunted house experiences like at Disneyland. Horror films are off my list. I try to avoid things that will give me nightmares. Why pay for night time sweats? Real life is scary enough!

One of the worst real life fears is found in panic attacks. The person who battles these learns that the very thought of an attack possibly coming on creates a fear of its own. I know about these first hand. While it’s been several years since I had a panic episode, I’ve known the internal terror it can create.

The fear that most people have—admitted or not—is fear of death. There is a very potent passage in the Bible centered around love and our fear of death. A paraphrase reads, “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” (1 John 4:17-18, MSG)

In a season of skeletons and deathly scenes, Christ followers can be fearless—if we are grounded in God’s love.

What a treat!

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

I’m Failing, and I [CAN] Get Up!

Friday of last week, I returned as the emcee of a dinner banquet for the Wayside Elgin ministry. The center has been a daytime intervention center for the homeless since 1993. The Elgin location is part of a much larger ministry based in Aurora that dates back almost 90 years.

The larger Wayside Cross ministry thrives with a few meagerly paid staff and tons of volunteers. Together they serve many “down and outers” through residential programs for men, women, and children. Wayside has a prison outreach and a youth ministry that includes after school and athletic programs.

I’ve been a part of many of their fundraising banquets over the past 14 years. At each event, there are stories to be heard. For those who are willing, you hear about what brought them to their lowest time on earth. And then you hear how their lives turned around.

Mind you, these stories often come from people who lost at the game of life. They played well for a while, accumulating a house and the normal possessions. Perhaps a marriage and children were involved. But then the job went away. Or a habit kicked in too hard. And the game of life kicked them out. Often with nowwhere to turn.

The recovery piece they share publicly does not take a turn to greatness. Most are still in survival mode, but finding new hope and a future through faith and new disciplines. Oh…and a hand that reaches down to help them back up. These people are not about to tell you how failure has now helped make them a big success.

Oddly, the world today has those kinds of stories as well. I learned about this kind of “failure as a winning formula” in a story from the New York Times titled, “The Art of Failing Upward.”

In this scenario, entrepreneurs who launched start-ups that went sour found new life in losing. Apparently, there are blogging sites that cater to the riches-to-rags-to-riches storytellers. Conferences, too, such as FailCon. Don’t ya love it when failure can be repackaged and marketed for big bucks? Is America great, or what?!

I looked up FailCon’s website to get the big picture. Here’s a bit of info from their “About” drop down:

“FailCon is a one-day conference for technology entrepreneurs, investors, developers, and designers to study their own and others’ failures and prepare for success…Entrepreneurs need to hear that from each other: it’s okay to fail; it doesn’t mean you're worthless. You’re just like the rest of us, learning from making mistakes and building something bigger next time.”

I love that pitch! Okay, so can losers really turn into winners because of failure? As Jerry McGuire heard from his client in the movie starring Tom Cruise, “Show me the money!”

So how about Bradford Shellhammer, the 38-year-old e-commerce entrepreneur. In 2011, he received $325 million in funding to help start up a company called Fab. As the Times reports, it “eventually zoomed to a billion-dollar valuation—only to be sold last year for what Bloomberg called a ‘paltry sum.’”

Within months, Shellhammer was back, raising $2.25 million in first round funding for a new firm, Bear. And as Shellhammer wryly told the tech news site Pando about the failed Fab, “You walk away and you are a poster child for not good things. But the cool thing was that it put me on a different stage, and I could go meet the people I wanted to meet.” So Bradford is back living the high life.

The tech world is a different beast. Venture capital flows a lot more readily for “the next big thing” if investors like it. But two things should be stated here. First, angel investors are not so quick to jump on first time entrepreneur ideas. Second, the process is not color blind. Minorities have a much harder time raising capital it seems, as the Times article documents.

Failing upward does seem to have become big business. TED talks thrive on the topic. And the interest in recovering from failure permeate a wide variety of fields. There’s Stuart Firestein’s book, Failure: Why Science Is So Successful. And apparently in Silicon Valley there is an AltSchool, where “model failure is a part of the curriculum.” The pre-K tuition is $27,000 a year!!

It all sounds rosy if you are one of those fortunate ones who find your way back. The homeless of this world do not see their failings quite the same. In fact, most of us don’t. We need encouragement for recovery. Something deep, meaningful…lasting. Something exactly like these words from the Bible,

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5, TLB)

Struggling in something right now? As Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “Our best successes often come after our greatest disappointments.”

Keep looking up!

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Big “I” Workplace Lesson

For several years now, the Best Christian Workplaces Institute has published lists rating their top places to work based on the feedback of the employees. They’ve broken it down into categories including churches, parachurch and missions organizations, and schools and places of higher education. There are a few other categories as well. I believe the most recent list came out in August.

Willow Creek Association frequently gets very high marks. They made the 2016 list, as did Wheaton Academy, Kids Around the World (based in Rockford), Community Christian Church in Naperville, Christ Community Church in St. Charles, and Glen Ellyn Bible Church. Other Chicago area churches were listed as well. Olivet Nazarene was listed among the top schools of higher education.

The Best Christian Workplaces Institute started with one question being pursued by two people: “What makes an exceptional place to work?” Some of the descriptives listed for evaluation are “organizations where employees experience healthy, even flourishing workplace cultures.” Employees who give favorable ratings believe “the work they do to be so meaningful and transformational they are willing to go the extra mile.” And apparently they like each other, noting this criteria: “The rich day-to-day relationships and fellowship experienced are particularly meaningful.”

It is wonderful to hear of organizations where Christian values are demonstrated in such a way that the corporate culture creates an environment of fulfilling work. It is also worthy to note that there are likely several organizations that get frustrated by entering this “competition” only to discover their employees do not rate them so highly. And, of course, the BCWI is not about to publish the “Disgruntled Christian Workplace” list.

So much for faith centered employers. What makes for a meaningful and happy existence in a workplace NOT known for any Christian connection? This past week, I read an article from titled, “The Biggest Way Small Businesses Can Make Employees Happy.” There were a few surprises worth sharing.

The conclusions were derived from the 2016 ranking of The Best Small and Medium Workplaces. This list originates from the firm Great Place to Work in partnership with Fortune Magazine. Here’s the major finding: Employees at both small and mid-size firms “are 10 times more likely to call their workplace great when they say their leaders are honest and ethical.”

Logical conclusions follow. Integrity at the top leads to a more engaged workforce. And with confident employees, organizations are more competitive. Companies who “fit the bill” in moral leadership showed above average revenue growth!

To be fair, the happiness quotient isn’t solely based on this issue of integrity. Benefits also come into play. Some of the top companies turn out to be quite generous in profit sharing and paid time off. Smaller firms also seem to groom a “family feel of pride and ownership.” Well satisfied employees turn out to be great ambassadors for their employer, too. As you might expect, turnover is reduced in these “best workplaces.”

Here’s another important criteria. Competence. The survey summary states, “Employees we surveyed who describe their managers as consistently competent were seven times more likely to describe their workplaces as great.”

Add to this another important component: trust. Employees in high trust environments were 11 times more likely to pass along their pride in their company.

The final asset of a great workplace focused on what is termed “innovation-related behaviors.” This is where employees feel they have participation in decision making, cooperation with team members, and room to make mistakes. All marks of good workplace health.

I found this article to be striking for another reason—its timing as it relates to our current political season. The top two presidential candidates have enough testimony about their past behavior to call into question their standards for leadership. Based on the polling data on the lack of trustworthiness of these people, the issue of integrity is in serious doubt.

Beyond integrity, we also question how these candidates actually treat people. One of them appears to see people as play toys. The other has former Secret Service people complaining of boorish, rude, and belittling behavior. I’m afraid we lose in either case. No wonder millennials are distancing themselves from the traditional voting models!

It seems like the clarion call to a better America—and better workplaces—is the call for integrity. As noted earlier, a great workplace is one where “leaders are honest and ethical.” It takes effort and focus to retain that!

The Message is a paraphrase of the Bible. It yields appropriate modern day interpretation to the wisdom of Proverbs 4:25-27:

“Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.
Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip.
Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions.
Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you.
Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust.”

Great workplaces and great countries require that kind vigilant effort. Whether you are at the top or working your way up, keep in mind the sage advice found in Proverbs 4.

And while you’re at it, those lessons from companies that do it right are worth a second look.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Master Mediator

Cable television has a fair share of advertisements for lawyers. Many of them encourage you to call if you’ve been injured or your prescribed medication has actually harmed you. Some of the firms seemingly fit the term, “ambulance chasers.”

A few years ago, I was up for jury duty. I got as far as the actual selection process. As it turned out, I knew a relative of the prosecuting attorney and lost my favored status. It was a case of dog bites girl, which did intrigue me.

Our courts are filled with civil law entanglements. Perhaps many of these situations could avoid lengthy and expensive efforts at resolution through another method: arbitration. Or mediation.

Most often, we hear about arbitration in disputes between unions in sports or government agencies—like the Air Line Pilots Association International. As for the business world, a study a couple of decades ago surveyed around 1,000 large US corporations to determine their use of what is known as “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) techniques.

Results revealed that in the prior three years, 87% of respondents had used mediation and 78% used arbitration. There was also a clear projection that this type of conflict resolution was going to significantly expand in the days ahead in commercial and employment disputes.

A second finding was that mediation was preferred to arbitration. Mediation has been proven useful in almost all industries and types of disputes. Why?

In mediation, both sides must agree to a settlement. Using arbitration and litigation, the final outcome is adjudicated. Parties have to live with a decision with which they may not agree. It’s been said that mediation often helps the parties preserve relationships.

I like the idea of alternative dispute resolution. The company where I’m employed uses this method and it’s spelled out in our employee manual. Across the board in America, those surveyed showed that mediation saved money and time. And that benefits both parties.

Having said all this, there is a “however.” It showed up recently in a New York Times article titled, “Start-Ups Embrace Arbitration to Settle Workplace Disputes.”

The story begins with a woman employed at a Berkeley, California, company. She claimed the job description and her actual duties—and especially the hours—didn’t match up. She was refused overtime pay.

The employee attempted to solicit help from her coworkers by means of a class-action lawsuit. Not so fast. The company, WeWork, had a policy requiring employees to resolve disputes using arbitration. This would eliminate any type of class action lawsuit in the courts. When the employee, Tara Zoumer, refused to sign the new policy, she was fired.

But the trend is definitely headed toward more of this type of conflict resolution. As the Times points out, “Uber and Lyft, the ride-hailing services, make their drivers sign an arbitration clause. Square, the mobile payment processor, also requires that employees agree to bring disputes to arbitration…Amazon and Google also use arbitration to resolve disputes with customers.” One San Diego law firm advocates arbitration for Internet-based companies because of the cost savings.

This is the rub. Ms. Zoumer lost her job by rejecting the arbitration method. She felt locked out of options. The assessment is made that arbitration is most often secretive and favors the employer. The process also keeps employees from sharing their experiences to help others facing similar concerns.

According to the Times story, just recently “the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed a rule that would limit financial companies from using arbitration to prevent their customers from filing class-action lawsuits. But the rule does not apply to arbitration used in employment disputes.”

(There is more to the Times story of Tara Zoumer and an interesting twist on a military man with a workplace struggle over arbitration if you’re interested.)

Is there a perfect system to resolve disputes? I doubt it. Two parties locked into their beliefs that they are “right” find it hard to move. Even if one of them is “more right.”

Followers of Jesus were told to avoid lawsuits. In the book of First Corinthians, the hard truth is spelled out:

“And how dare you take each other to court! When you think you have been wronged, does it make any sense to go before a court that knows nothing of God’s ways instead of a family of Christians? …I say this as bluntly as I can to wake you up to the stupidity of what you’re doing. Is it possible that there isn’t one levelheaded person among you who can make fair decisions when disagreements and disputes come up? I don’t believe it. And here you are taking each other to court before people who don’t even believe in God! How can they render justice if they don’t believe in the God of justice? These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8, MSG)

It’s so hard to let go when we feel we’ve been wronged. But the beauty of a deep trust in a personal God is that He can turn your misfortune into blessing. Try not to curse your enemies. Learn to forgive them.

For Christ followers, the Great Mediator has done so for you.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Good Communicators Connect

Surely you have heard the song, Getting to Know You. Here’s a quick reminder of a few of the lyrics.

Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.

It’s well known as a show tune from the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I. And also for the 1956 film adaptation as Anna sings the song while striking up a warm and affectionate relationship with the children and the wives of the King of Siam. Versions of this song have been recorded by notables including Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, Nancy Wilson…and James Taylor! 

Most successful selling relies on relationships. Most long term business relationships rely on authentic, trusted communication. Every human being can increase their effectiveness in this world by being a better communicator. It matters on the job, and certainly in the home.

A few years ago,  my business leader friend John Blumberg worked with me in doing a series of presentations we called “Success On The High C’s.” Each session focused on a word in the work world that began with the letter “C”—such as character, competence, creativity, and so forth. Of course, a must in that series was “communication.” I was assigned that topic.

It’s easy to see how important this is to leading thinkers. 

Author Richard Kipling said, “Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
Philosopher and scientist Joseph Priestly said, “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”  
Motivational meister Dale Carnegie postulated, “When dealing with people remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”  
Humorist Mark Twain observed, “There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking, when you are busy interrupting.”  
Looking back at my talk in that series, I thought I would share three critical observations about how communication impacts relationships. These three certainly apply to our most personal of relationships, but I believe they also create an environment in business for long term associations as well. 
  1. Without open communication there is no depth of relationship. Openness is really another way of saying transparency. Hidden agendas eventually are discovered. Healthy organizations function best where difficult matters can be discussed in an environment of trust. 
  2. With broken communication there is no growth of relationship. In the workplace and in the home, this is manifested by people who stop speaking or connecting with one another. The distance grows steadily. Something has happened and one of the parties may not even be aware of what changed. But it needs repair. Someone has to “man up” to fix it.
  3. With hurtful communication there is a damaged relationship. In Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink, he introduces many readers to the term “thin slicing.” This is the unique ability humans possess to diagnose a situation, almost intuitively, based on a combination of learning and experience. One of the most dramatic examples of how this works is the work of psychologist Dr. John Gottman. In his forty years of marital research, he can predict with remarkable accuracy whether a couple is likely to be divorced simply by watching their communication. And particularly, four types of hurtful communication.  The four are: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. And the most dangerous of those is contempt. Whether in personal or business relationships, evidence of these responses to another person will breakdown a relationship over time.
On a broader level, people who learn to communicate effectively are of great value in any organization. Developed skills in this area reap rewards at any level.
Also in my talk, I quoted from an interview I had with Lynn Wilford Scarborough on her book, Characteristics of a Master Communicator—subtitled “Learning How to Talk Like Jesus.”  Here are the ten things on her list. I’ve added my interpretation to these ten points. Good communicators are…
  1. Relational. They find ways to connect through questions and discover the interests of others.
  2. Bridge builders. Good negotiators understand this in particular. Progress is made first by establishing common ground. 
  3. Birthing the new on the past. Use things that have been learned and build something productive that encourages growth.
  4. Establishing new truth. Many times, misunderstandings exist because of false assumptions.  A new foundation of truth moves understanding forward.
  5. Able to deliver fresh images and new vocabulary. Jesus did this with remarkable effectiveness through the use of parables and challenges to conventional thinking. 
  6. Focused and congruent. Keeping the main thing the main thing. And as importantly, not sending mixed messages.
  7. Humble. The winning hand of communication often comes with self deprecating humor or a gracious reply.
  8. Quotable. Finding a unique way to send a message will encourage others to repeat it.
  9. Able to explain relational paradigm shifts. Sometimes a new leader brings a new language of change. Helping others see and understand the new approach builds loyalty. 
  10. Able to reproduce their values. Jesus spent just three years in the development of His twelve closest followers. They took His message when He left and it still resounds and inspires followers today.
For a clear example of Jesus’ communication style, read chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the book of Matthew from the Bible.  
That will shift anybody’s paradigm.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Souls Sully Couldn’t Save

The movie Sully, starring Tom Hanks, just completed its third weekend in theaters. My wife would not go see it. She’s uncomfortable with flying in the first place. But I went and found the film very inspiring.

A few days later, I could not help but think of a bit of irony in the timing of the release of that film. And it wasn’t because of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The September 9th release date was twenty-two years and one day after another US Airways incident. That one did not end well.

I was driving home from my talk show in Pittsburgh on that September evening in 1994. Conditions were warm, mostly sunny, and relatively still. On the radio I was hearing about an airline disaster just a few miles away.

Two years ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette took readers through the incident and the subsequent forming of an organization by the families of the survivors. It’s painful to read of how difficult it was to get accurate information about what happened. And for family members to recover their loved ones’ personal effects. (

Here’s a brief retelling of that September tragedy from the article:

“On a beautifully clear and warm evening in Western Pennsylvania, USAir Flight 427 began its approach to Pittsburgh International Airport. The Boeing 737, carrying 127 passengers and a crew of five, was making a routine trip from Chicago and was due to land in Pittsburgh around 7:15 p.m. It never got there.

At about 7 p.m., First Officer Charles Emmett and Capt. Peter Germano chatted in the cockpit about the bright sun they’d have to deal with and grumbled about the heavy air traffic around Pittsburgh International that invariably caused delays.

The banter gave way quickly to exclamations of surprise and then horror, as their jetliner suddenly and inexplicably yawed to the left, rolled over and began to spiral downward. In 23 terrifying seconds, the 737 plummeted 6,000 feet and struck the ground at 300 mph into a ravine near the Green Garden Plaza in Hopewell, a few miles away from the airport.

The plane disintegrated on impact. In a flash, 132 lives were snuffed out.”

It was a bizarre incident since it appeared like the plane simply fell out of the sky. It didn’t, but it would take over four years to determine it was a rudder based problem. Initially, Boeing denied this. Later, they did retro work on 737 rudders and earlier complaints on these issues went away.

It’s still haunting to read this news account of USAir Flight 427. I had a few friends who actually worked the crash site. People had to go in shifts as they could hardly handle the experience.

Yes, those lives were “snuffed out.” But what happened to their souls? More on that in a moment.

I guess it’s why I was so inspired by the movie Sully. Seeing the actual faces during the movie credits of the people who appreciated the life-saving skill of their captain was touching. They were all so grateful—as they should be!

Journalist Katie Couric and others have questioned Captain Sullenberger about whether he prayed during this crisis. Apparently, he did not. Instead, he claimed he left that to others on board. I’m sure many prayers were uttered by passengers.

In the news reports about “The Miracle on the Hudson,” it was said more than once that “Captain Sullenberger saved all 155 souls on board.” In reality, Captain Sullenberger only saved the earthly lives of the 155 on board. Sully has no say over what happens to the souls of those people for eternity.

This, of course, makes me wonder how many on that plane have considered their fate in light of their proximity to eternity? It was closer than perhaps any had experienced before. All on board Flight 1549 relied on one man to land them safely back to the ground—or water in this case.

Similarly, our passage to our safe eternity rests squarely with one man—Jesus of Nazareth. The Messiah. In a conversation with Martha, a devoted follower, Jesus told her plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” (John 11:25, NLT)

People aboard the doomed USAir Flight 427 had only moments to make that final decision on the promise of Jesus. Passengers on US Airways Flight 1549 have been given a reprieve to make that decision. But make it they must. As we all must do.

A song performed by Christian recording artist Steve Green titled, As We Sail to Heaven’s Shore, found connection in a memorial service of one of the victims of the downed Pittsburgh flight. A portion of those lyrics go…

Lord, we trust Your Father's care
Will convey us safely there
Open or seal off every door
As we sail to heaven's shore.

May God put the winds of grace and mercy behind you as you sail toward eternity.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.