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Monday, January 25, 2016

In Season and Out

Over the weekend, the weather warnings were ominous. It was said that more than 85 million people in at least 20 states had storm warnings or advisories.

Big Apple residents had forecasts of 18 to 24 inches of snow. Washington DC folk were told to prepare for more than 2 feet of snow. Philadelphia was being blasted as well.

Over 8,000 flights had been cancelled for Friday through Sunday according to FlightAware. Other transportation modes, of course, were impacted as well. Multiply that times the number of passenger life interruptions and these storms wreak havoc on our “plans.”

Having lived in places where a blizzard is not uncommon (Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Montana, and Chicago) I’ve seen how human behavior gets aggressively protective. Customers rush to stores and quickly consume batteries, snow removal equipment, and winter wear. Grocery store shelves can become barren within hours. It’s survival of the fittest—if that means those who jump when fear comes by forecast.

Not all of our planet’s destructive or deeply annoying events can be predicted. Volcanoes. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Sudden squalls. Directions of tornadoes. Other storms and events we can prepare for.

Beyond our ability to forecast these events, comes the marketing wizardry of our day. Details of how weather changes correlate to predictable human behavior in purchasing made the Washington Post this week. The article is titled, “The weird ways the weather makes you buy things you didn’t plan to.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, but I’ll share some highlights. (

Forget the more obvious for now, the summer and winter purchases like ice cream and warm winter boots. Marketers today with a keen sense of weather buying decisions time their product releases to when you are vulnerable. And what your appetites desire.

From the Post, “Google's data show that Internet searches for pork chops, meatballs, chocolate chip cookies, apple streusel, French toast and other comfort foods spike during the winter and when blizzards occur.” A major soup company uses a weather sensitive “misery index.” When bad weather comes, the soup ads suddenly increase.

Chicago-based McDonald’s has found a way to capitalize. Late last year, the company informed us that their digital menu boards would fluctuate based on the local weather and the time of day. When hot, look for McFlurries. In chillier weather, more heartier meals and hot beverages.

A British supermarket chain has research proving that when outside temps rise from 68 to 75 degrees, hamburger sales increase by 42 percent. Barbecue alert! In those same conditions, “demand for coleslaw also soars, while purchases of green vegetables fall.”

Aside from purchases made, it’s clearly been determined that weather impacts our health and and our moods. Examples cited include the effect on blood pressure, suicide rates, and the ability to concentrate. See? Now you have an excuse!

Of all the twists of weather and business, one particular example stood out to me. A Harvard Business School prof examined a certain Tokyo bank’s productivity over two and a half years. He found that loan applications were processed more efficiently on rainy days than on clear, sunny days. The nice weather apparently caused more “cognitive distractions.”

What was the financial impact? Supposedly over $937,000 in lost revenue per year for the bank. That caused researchers to suggest company headquarters be set up in places with “more miserable weather, or save more difficult work for particularly dismal days.”

Many people complain that a change of barometric pressure is associated with more joint pain. WEB MD concludes there’s “no full agreement among scientists that weather causes pain.” But there seem to be some plausible connections to the weight of the atmosphere around us.

One reason why I believe those of us who live in four season states stay where we are, is because of the weather. We enjoy the gradual warming of spring, the heat of summer, the chill of fall, and beautiful snowy days of winter where trees are blossomed in white. We just don’t care much for the extremes. But if you live in one of these areas, you learn to be prepared for each season.

The Bible has instruction to followers of Jesus on this idea of preparation. The apostle Paul writes to his protegĂ© Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4, NIV)

What seemed true in that day certainly seems even more true today. The “itching ears” crowd shifts with the times. But sound doctrine gives us stability and an eternal message.

The Gospel needs more than just “fair weathered friends.”

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

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

Slip Slidin’ Away

Those who watched the weekend National Football League playoff games were treated to some unbelievably rare excitement. In particular, the Green Bay Packers/Arizona Cardinals contest. The ending was nail biting, stomach churning, heart pounding, spine tingling, and, well, there must be some other bodily functions impacted aside from ones mentioned. Oh…and blood pressure raising!

Aaron Rodgers, Mr. Double Check of State Farm commercials, made everyone do a double take on his end zone desperation pass that locked up the game in the final seconds of regulation. Since he had been backed up to his end zone with no time outs and few seconds remaining to pull off another stunner, it seemed…impossible. Rodgers has become the master of the impossible.

But then, in overtime, the aged wonders of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald combined on another amazing play—with Fitzgerald taking a 75-yard pass to the Packers’ five yard line. Moments later, Fitzgerald would score the winning touchdown. Cue…crowd pandemonium! Even Al Michaels, who has witnessed a few miracles in his time, called the game “one for the ages.” And with that touchdown, the Packers’ season went “slip sliding away” until next fall.

The same thing happened to Kansas City fans. Tom Brady, the one no intelligent life form bets against, took away K.C.’s chief joy—a playoff win. The elusive Super Bowl trip…slip sliding away. Steeler and Seahawk faithful have put away their cheering towels for another season, too.

What stands out most in these games is quite often a level of leadership so pronounced, even desperate situations seem possible. Even likely. Most of this leadership attention falls to quarterbacks. The aforementioned Brady and Rodgers force any football fan to admit these boys can readily steal victory from the impending defeat their teams should face. It’s uncanny. The rising star of Cam Newton at Carolina shows great promise here as well.

All quarterbacks must have some leadership skills. The exceptional ones can do more. They inspire by their presence. Regardless of the few past failings, hope never comes up short in a legend’s huddle. Teammates…believe.

The reverse is happening to a significant player in the high tech world. Marissa Mayer, a one time Google golden child, has become tarnished at Yahoo. High hopes from her early days have dissipated in a string of layoffs at Yahoo. The New York Times headline a week ago names the problem in the headline, “Yahoo’s Brain Drain Shows a Loss of Faith Inside the Company.”

It was a tough 2015. More than a third of the Yahoo work force left. Mayer tried to persuade others to stay using big buck retention opportunities. That caused resentment among those who were long time faithful players.

And here’s the big challenge Marissa Mayer faces: doubts about her leadership. Claims the New York Times, “Only 34 percent of employees believe that Yahoo’s prospects are improving, according to surveys conducted by Glassdoor, a firm that collects data on jobs and employers. That compares with 61 percent who are optimistic at Twitter, another troubled tech company, and 77 percent who see a bright future at Google, Ms. Mayer’s former employer.” One analyst believes this reveals “employees losing faith” in both Mayer and the company.

You can see why. The downturn began with what some called “stealth layoffs” in 2014. Each week, a new batch of company talent came in to face the axe. Fear had a grip inside the company. Not good for morale.

In March, staff were told the cuts were done. But Mayer then changed her mind. More pink slips. More fear. Some investors are calling for another job to be cut: hers!

Marissa Mayer has her supporters, no doubt about it. But even one of her friends claimed she was “tightfisted with praise and sometimes displayed a harshness that could be demoralizing.” Another said she made people feel like they were disappointing her at all times.

Pressure can do that to a person. Leaders, however, know that even when a ship is taking on water, the captain must stay strong. Be a beacon. Value your team. Encourage them. Build…hope.

It’s tough to go down to defeat. In part, because we feel like our dreams have been shortchanged or taken away. Add to that thousands of hours of hard work, hard-nosed commitment, and shared teamwork that drove the effort. All of that…to be lost.

Paul Simon’s hit song, Slip Slidin’ Away, puts it in verse.

Whoah, God only knows, God makes His plan.
The information's unavailable to the mortal man.
We’re workin' our jobs, collect our pay.
Believe we're gliding down the highway, when in fact we're slip sliding away.

The wisdom of Solomon prevails here, saying “Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word.” (Proverbs 16:1, MSG)

Even good leaders fail. Great quarterbacks lose games. Not all of the very talented survive.

The winning game plan is The Righteous One. Don’t depend on a “hail Mary.”

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

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Flexing Your Talents

Over the weekend I read a rather eye opening perspective on new hiring practices in today’s marketplace. It alerts us to a significant difference in what a number of employers now value in their personnel. And the advice is particularly directed at the Generation X crowd preparing to send their own kids off to college.

The article comes from Dr. Jim Thrasher, director of Grove City College’s career services office at their Center for Vision & Values. If you’re not familiar with this group, the Center is “a leading forum for the study and application of freedom to economic, political, social, religious, and scientific issues.” Good thinkers, all of them.

This piece is titled, “Calling All Generation Xers…The Job Search: It’s Not What You’ve Done, But Who You Are.” (link below) Dr. Thrasher is convinced that Gen X parents need to understand the paradigm shift in job placement. It’s different from their day when the degree earned dictated the career path.

Previously, as one corporate recruiter explained, the college educated candidate showed up with the right degree and, if the company liked the person, the job was theirs. Today, companies are looking at a candidate’s design. It’s called “behavioral interviewing.”

In this new world of evaluating talent, aptitude and transferable skills are most prized. According to Dr. Thrasher, “The behavioral approach was developed by Development Dimensions International (DDI) and is being widely used by HR departments.” I’m already a believer in what is being preached on this.

To quote how this analysis is applied, “As the aptitude of the candidate is assessed, the company must confirm that the applicant has the ability to be trained (many times in a whole new field or career) to fulfill the job requirements.” The company also searches for people with specific transferable skills needed to excel. These transferable skills include characteristics and attributes applied in daily living, including modes of operation and design. And as Dr. Thrasher claims, “Transferable skills rule the day in today’s job market.”

This behavioral approach puts high emphasis on the “uniqueness” of the individual. Applicants have to present a certain “fit” to score the job. Once a company finds the desired design in a candidate, they can train them for specific roles.

This new model brought two things to my mind. First, when my son sent his resume off to a very large high tech firm, it went to several departments for jobs in which he took interest. But when the company called to offer him employment, they explained he didn’t quite fit any of those jobs. They did, however, suggest one that would fit. And like the behavioral approach indicates, my son has changed jobs within that corporation several times in a few years—each time being trained with his adaptable personality style.

The second item I recalled was taking a personality assessment a few years ago as part of a course offered with a men’s ministry. The evaluation tool, “Your Unique Design,” costs $35 to complete. The benefit of knowing your assessment results is to help you “discover and leverage your best gifts and talents that are part of your God-given personality.”

Once you complete the questions, you receive a 10-page Personal Profile Report. It explains your core strengths, talents, and abilities in detail. Developers believe you are “wired by God” and once you understand that wiring, you’ll see why you do what you do and─what makes you come alive! (Find out more at

All my work life I’ve tried to make work fun. Only after reading my assessment from “Your Unique Design” did I see that my personality thrives on this. If a place ceases to be fun (or a job), I’m an unhappy camper! The payoff for others I’m around is that I try to make work fun for them as well—assuming we’re on task.

This blog message today is really meant to serve as a very practical reminder that God has created us in such a way that our uniqueness has purpose—especially in our work. I found it encouraging to learn that employers are now finding value in this uniqueness. Stronger, more effective workplaces will likely result!

In the Psalms, we are reminded of this uniqueness. King David wrote in Psalm 139, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Psalm 139:13-16, NLT)

Reality in the workplace today finds that graduates may wind up in a number of different jobs. In other words, you must be flexible. Important not only for your career, but for life as well.

You don’t have to explain that to Gumby!

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

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

Calling All Generation Xers…The Job Search: It’s Not What You’ve Done, But Who You Are

Monday, January 4, 2016

Star Wars over Looks

My wife and I watched the Star Wars movie over the holidays. Along with a gazillion other people. Movie prices can kill you. We survived by doing the later afternoon show for roughly $6 each, getting a free popcorn (buttered, of course), and sharing a large drink. A mere $5.75 at the concession stand. 
As shocking as some food item prices can be, we had a somewhat similar wake up call in seeing the original Star Wars heroes Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher in the film. Imagine this…they’ve all AGED!!! How can it be?  

The bigger surprises were Hamill and Fisher, or Luke and Leia if you prefer. That stands to reason since we’ve seen Harrison Ford in a number of films since his hang-around-with-Wookie days. Actually, Chewbacca looked pretty good after 38 years. Must be his stylist.

For those who weren’t around to see the original three Star Wars productions, no need to dwell on this age thing. Except to say…spoiler alert…you too will get wrinkled and gray! And probably wider.

Of course, I’m not the only one who noticed these physical changes. Apparently, LOTS of moviegoers have commented, and some quite rudely. You see, unlike life for most of us, Hollywood stars are not allowed to show this aging process. And if they have the audacity to show up on film in a way that makeup cannot overcome, well….OOFTA, as the Scandinavians would say.

Princess Leia has taken the brunt of fans' criticism. Here’s the way it showed up in the Washington Post recently:  “…Yet some longtime fans were stuck on a detail that shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone: The actors have aged.  Or, to zone in on the preoccupation, Fisher has aged — and allegedly “not well.” Ouch.

Her original role as a princess had her on screen in a gold bikini. Producers decided not to do that outfit again. Since she is now a General, she must dress more appropriately. And she does. 

But it’s her weight that drew criticism, even though she lost 35 pounds for her film role. Responding to some critics, Carrie tweeted, “My body is my brain bag, it hauls me around to those places and in front of faces where there’s something to say or see.” She’s made mention of weight in other tweets as well.

But the larger issue to Carrie Fisher (if you’ll excuse the pun) is that Hollywood isn’t made for the unattractive woman. In early December, she complained that an actress over 40 finds it difficult to get work. According to the Post, Fisher told Good Housekeeping magazine, “They don’t want to hire all of me – only about three-quarters…Nothing changes, it’s an appearance-driven thing. I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say ‘get younger,’ because that’s how easy it is.” 

Female actresses are not alone. Quite coincidentally, as I was preparing this blog, a New York Times piece appeared this week on females over 50 and jobless. As it’s stated, “… many of these older women now earn far less and use many fewer skills than they did before. Others have been left stranded without any job for months or even years. Some have given up the search altogether.”

If the statistics are correct, here’s how it looks. A Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis study found job prospects shifted significantly for women after the so-called Great Recession, which began in 2007. Up to that point, women over 50 comprised about one quarter of the unemployed. Just seven years later, that same category has grown to around half the unemployed. 

If our culture has become insensitive to the experience, wisdom, and insight of women in the workplace, value is lost. My heart especially goes out to women who are compelled to work outside the home due to life’s circumstances. My own mother was in that situation. Fortunately, employers considered her valuable even into her later years. 

The Bible speaks about the value of the hard working woman in Proverbs 31, albeit a married one. It says, “When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: ‘There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!’  Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.  Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.” (Proverbs 31:26-31, NLT)

That one line is worth its weight in gold: Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. 

Yes, that woman is to be celebrated. Even to a galaxy far, far away.

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

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