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Monday, March 28, 2016

Retreat and Advance the Troops

Twice in my radio life I’ve filled the temporary role as a sales manager. I confess to enjoying the thrill of strategy and developing a plan to turn a situation around and set a new course. They were both fruit bearing experiences.

One of my techniques to set the stage for creative involvement and team building was using off site retreats. I would hold about three a year, usually at a hotel or inexpensive resort within a couple of hours drive of the radio station. The “kickoff” was a Friday dinner. Then an evening of social and fun activity. Saturday we worked all morning and into the afternoon. We left around 4 p.m. for our homes.

A different chemistry develops in an off site environment. The casual nature of the gathering removes the “strictly business” feel. Joking around increases. Maybe a little bit of starch is removed. And that looseness impacts the freedom to be more creative. At least I found this to be so.

Thus, my heart was encouraged reading this piece in the New York Times recently: “In Retreats, Start-Ups Find a Way to Recharge Workers’ Batteries.” Right up my alley! (

The story leads by explaining how the chief executive at a San Francisco company rented a house for week for a “workation.” Their together time included cooking, hiking, planning, and brainstorming. As a start-up, no doubt these were powerful in team development as well.

Joshua Reeves, who heads the team, explained his purpose for the time away. “The two main goals we had were to bring the team together, take a step back and have a chance for community time and connection. Physically going somewhere else can actually be a great catalyst for introspection.” I think he has it pegged.

Interestingly, even though his first “retreat” venture was with around 10 co-workers in 2013, the company still does them—and they have nearly 300 employees. Of course, not all of the folks go. But more recently, two of their human resources teams took their “workation” at Disneyland. (Obviously, this start-up is now making money!)

As the story unfolds, there seems to be a growing interest in these kinds of getaways in corporate America. In particular, younger workers seem to value them. As a Starwood executive explained, “Millennials expect that. They want to have that interaction with the C-level executives, and incentives are a very nice way to do that, to make them feel included.”

Hotels are also seeing spike in this part of their business. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide being one of them. They report an “approximately 12 percent increase, year-over-year, in reward and incentive travel, including retreats.” The Hilton corporation sees this growth as well.

And forget about formality! The tech industry may have paved the way toward the more casual, but other industries have followed. Out with the suits. And the boardroom presentations. More intense and intimate brainstorming and strategizing sessions happen in these relaxed atmospheres.

I found something missing in this report. Team development and building enthusiasm for the processes is driven best by a a personable, skilled leader. And if the ones trying to pull off the retreat are ineffective at this, I think a net loss can result from such time away.

A few years ago, my previous employer retained an outside firm to lead a three day off site experience. It was a first for many in the room. Some of the sessions were particularly effective. A couple breakdowns seemed to occur when group members were invited to share both strengths and weaknesses of our operation. No one had a problem listening to the strengths. Senior management found pain in discussing the weaknesses. I think that is common.

Healthy organizations require truth telling. But that kind of honesty is difficult if the conversation is not guided toward productive outcomes. Similarly, getting teams on board with vision and agendas for growth is hindered significantly if the concerns of team members is ignored. This is why many organizations fear such gatherings.

The issue of truth is quite timely on this day after Easter. Pontius Pilate, the Roman leader investigating claims against Jesus, struggled with identifying truth. The exchange between the two men is quite striking. Jesus said of His divine purpose to Pilate, “‘I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.’ ‘What is truth?’ said Pilate.” (John 18:37-38, HCSB)

Discerning truth is paramount to getting things right. That is as necessary for a healthy organization as it is for a healthy soul. If either of those situations need your attention, I have a suggestion for you. Consider a retreat. Either business or personal.

I’ve heard on good authority that the truth…will set you free.

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. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tipping Point of Pain

Have you ever worked in a job where tipping is a valuable part of your income? Working for my father in a restaurant while a teenager, I picked up a few bucks as a busboy from “shared” tips. Occasionally, a customer gave me my own tip for some extra service I provided.

But the best of tipping experiences was when I was asked to help park cars at a Radisson hotel in Minnesota. What a great gig! You got to drive some pretty fine cars and then made oodles of tip money in a couple of hours when serious banquets were held.

So I can’t say I relate well to those who depend on people’s generosity in tip giving. Moreover, I find the practice often raises questions. What worker expects and deserves a tip? How much is “right”? And what is the acceptable thing to do when service is poor in a tipping environment?

Each of us must flesh out answers to those questions on our own. I’ve found myself going to Google for input on how much to tip. But not always. For example, some companies allow a goodwill “tip cup” to be placed near a register at a place like Dairy Queen. Or a sub shop. I avoid those. And when service is poor, I sometimes leave less.

But I must admit I was unaware of the larger problems in the world of tipping. My eyes were opened in reading an item found recently in the Washington Post. It is titled, “I Dare You to Read This and Still Feel Good About Tipping.”

The story opens by describing a former restaurant owner who ended the practice of tipping at his restaurant. He then “enforced” a mandatory 18 percent service fee. And he claimed EVERYTHING improved at his place as a result.

Much of what follows in the article is an interview with Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of what is known as ROC United—the Restaurant Opportunities Center United. She champions the view of ending the modern tipping system. And her data is quite revealing.

What is the current federal tipping minimum wage? I could not have told you. Apparently, it’s $2.13 per hour. This is the minimum amount a restaurant is allowed to pay workers who collect tips.

If Jayaraman’s research is correct, this low paying entry wage has roots in slavery. Really? She claims that the tipping practices of Europe were brought to America in the 1800s as wealthy Americans returned from travel and thought it to be a good practice. Then, it was hotel workers, porters, and employees of restaurants who got tipped. But unionization provided more income for the hotel workers and porters. Restaurant workers were left out. Most of these people were black workers and as Jayaraman states, newly freed slaves.

I recommend reading the article for more history on the practice of tipping. But here’s another aspect of a tipping related problem that causes concern. It’s when “favors” are expected or demanded of the servers. And we’re not talking about refilling your water glass.

Statistically, about seventy percent of tipped workers are women. Most of their restaurant jobs are at places such as Red Robin, IHOP, and the like. What is the economic situation of this group of people? They suffer three times the poverty rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce and use food stamps at double the rate.

But for Jayaraman, here is the worst part. These people “suffer from the absolute worst sexual harassment of any industry in the United States. When you’re a woman living on tips—even if you’re making a lot of money on tips, which most women aren’t—you’re subject to the whims of the customer, and really encouraged by management to objectify yourself or subject yourself to objectification to make money in tips.”

Other challenges mentioned were the employers who allegedly misused tip credits. And several people groups that get worse service than white males. It was a darkly painted picture.

So should all tipping be eliminated? Not necessarily. Jayaraman advocates a policy that seven states now require. In California, for example, every employer must pay the full minimum wage to servers. Tips are requested on top of that. And while it might seem logical that such a change would create economic havoc, it hasn’t happened.

The Bible does not specifically address the practice of tipping. However, knowing the economic hardship of many who have low paying jobs and hope for good tips, it might cause us to reconsider generosity. The Bible has plenty to say on that.

Try these verses: Proverbs 11:24-25: “Some people give much but get back even more. Others don’t give what they should and end up poor. Whoever gives to others will get richer; those who help others will themselves be helped.” (NCV)

As for cow tipping, well, you’re on your own there.

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. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ethical Dropouts on Illness

Company theft. It happens on all levels. The really minor stuff is taking pens, making personal copies, and the like. It advances into some pretty sophisticated thievery.

One pizza delivery guy embezzled thousands of dollars from the company for which he worked. It took a while, but he systematically did this by manipulating receipts. The employer was pained by having this young man arrested. But indeed he did.

Corporate theft is often referred to as “shrinkage.” The FBI claims it is the fastest growing crime in the United States — bigger than identity theft, cyber fraud, credit card theft, and Internet scams. And it proves difficult to uncover. Fom the article written by the pizza company owner, “Nearly 75 percent of employees do it, and the vast majority of discovered theft goes unprosecuted, according to FBI statistics.”

But there’s a more subtle and unethical sort of theft that apparently many people feel no guilt over. Stealing time. Specifically, sick time.

The United Kingdom may be the unwanted champion of this dishonor. The details are chronicled in the story, “Calling in sick? This country beats everyone.”

If the reports are correct, UK employees take more than four times as many days off work for “sick leave” than their global colleagues. PwC (previously PricewaterhouseCoopers), examined 2,500 companies to determine that “UK workers took an average of 9.1 days off sick per year. This was nearly double the 4.9 days U.S. workers took off, and four times as much as their counterparts in Asia-Pacific (2.2 days).”

It may seem innocuous to some, but that number cost these firms nearly $43.8 billion a year according to PwC calculations. 

Obviously, most of these days are legitimate sick days. But from another more recent report, “the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimated that around 12 percent of UK sickness absence was fraudulent.” That makes about $5.2 billion PER YEAR in time theft!

Closer to home — home being Chicago — we have a common example of this kind of thievery. In January, the Chicago Tribune compiled the data in their story, “The jailhouse flu hits Cook County”.

It was the Tuesday after the NCAA championship football game. The county jail had to be placed on lockdown after 18 percent of those scheduled to work called in sick for the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. What are the odds of that?

The Tribune writers asked if it was unfair to question the “integrity” of those workers. They answered their own question! Here were the stats they presented:

•135 people called in sick for the 3 to 11 p.m. shift on New Year's Eve.

•637 called in sick over four shifts during the weekend of May 2, 2015, which included the Kentucky Derby and a live broadcast of the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao "Fight of the Century.”

•877 called in sick over four shifts during the February 1, 2015 weekend, which featured the Super Bowl and a blizzard.

The Teamsters union representing these correctional officers were angry at this news coverage. Of course they were. They defended members' rights to use earned sick days. They blamed the unusual spikes on winter weather! Sheesh! And for reference, a total of 128 workers reported ill to Cook County Jail on Super Bowl Sunday – about a third more than a typical day of sick calls.

To be fair, Chicago correctional workers are not a unique breed. On average, about 1.5 million U.S. workers call in sick after Super Bowl Sunday. Time magazine believes that might be due, in part, to the  reported 325 million gallons of beer Americans consume — or the 1.3 billion chicken wings they devour.

Some managers apparently got creative and held day after brunches or special events designed to draw employees BACK to the workplace after these big events! Are we a creative people or what?!

One of the other observations proven to hold true about sick days is that happy employees take less of them. And those who hold critical roles within an organization do the same. That’s worth considering.

It’s a timely discussion because March Madness starts up this coming week. Now we have a few weeks of big time college basketball games on the weekends. And along with that comes the “shrinkage” of time lost to office pools, pre and post game chatter, and possibly those “sick out” days.

I only speak with a call to those who care about moral convictions on these matters. Watch yourself. Be reasonable. Don’t overindulge. But please don’t steal a day from your employer faking illness. 

A good proverb to remember in this regard is this: “The honor of good people will lead them, but those who hurt others will be destroyed by their own false ways.” (Proverbs 11:3, NLV)

And as for March Madness, I’m picking Kansas. Or Oregon. Or Stony Brook.

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. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Gala of Praise

I’m on the road this week, traveling in California. Most of my trip is pleasure. And like all trips we take, when the details all work out, so much the better.

My first stop upon arriving was the Hilton Universal City hotel. Nice property. Right across from Universal Studios. Some auditions were going on nearby. I almost stopped in to see if they had a role for an old radio guy. Wisdom prevailed.

The overnight stay was courtesy of my son, Marshall. He had some spare Hilton Honor points and I needed a bed. It all worked. They treated me like I was the real deal—but I knew I was an Honors impostor. A poser, if you will!

I was at this hotel for an evening banquet celebrating 30 years of ministry for MasterMedia. It’s a relational outreach to decision makers primarily located in Hollywood and New York City. It was also a night of tribute for the founder, retiring CEO and Chairman, Dr. Larry Poland. A few dozen friends and luminaries offered words of praise and admiration for this soul winner to the media elite.

Eric Metaxas, a Salem national talk host and New York Times bestselling author, was the emcee. His wit showed up with him as it almost always does. He has a knack for being “Christianly irreverent,” spewing gentle insults and one liners that guys like me find delightfully humorous.

One group of Eric’s soft targets were the several people who praised Larry Poland by video, but not in person. Kathie Lee Gifford, Pat Boone, and others on this list were chided about being “too important” to actually attend the gala. No one is safe if you are in Metaxas’ sights. I’ve been with Eric many times—mostly for interviews—and the zingers are the highlights from this Yale grad.

Musical selections came from two gifted performers…Sarah Horn and Jordan Smith. Sarah was called up impromptu by Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl in 2013 to sing “For Good” from Wicked. The shared performance on video went viral and has been viewed over one million times. I’m confident Kristin and the talent around her was quite surprised with the sound that came from Sarah Horn. She has great vocal chords. (Read about her Hollywood Bowl story here:

Jordan Smith has become somewhat of a household name. His tryout in 2014 for NBC’s The Voice did not go as well as he hoped. His dreams seemed dashed. But the following season, he got a callback from a show team member for another tryout. As he said at the banquet, “The rest is history.” Jordan shared about his growing faith as a follower of Jesus in between two songs—one from his new album and the stunning crowd pleaser, “Somebody to Love.” This was the song that he performed in the semifinals of The Voice that set him apart. He received a standing ovation. It was fun to watch.

While I didn’t know several of the people who added their touching testimonies of God’s work through Larry Poland in their lives, their words made him sparkle. These kinds of events can embarrass one as well, because deep down we know that we don’t live up to being treated as a legend. Larry admitted this to be true.

Allow me to be more descriptive. Dr. Larry Poland was uniquely gifted by God for the assignment he had for 30 years. Accessing these super high achievers in Hollywood and New York for discussions on faith is incredibly difficult. As a few testified, such calls from “religious” people to meet usually result in massive criticism of the entertainment industry. Who looks forward to meeting with mean spirited Christians?

Larry is different. The stories throughout the evening told of a man who met with them with brotherly  love, honesty, respect, and sometimes words of challenge. More than anything, they admired his authenticity. Several who spoke were industry captains, including the head of HBO!

In true Poland style, he shared a ficticious story of a tennis racquet “complaining” about how tennis players got all the glory…when it was the racquet that did the work. A golden tennis great responded to the racquet’s complaint by saying that the tennis tool would be nothing without the master of the game’s incredible skill. The racquet would be reduced to tinder.

And with that, Dr. Poland concluded his remarks. His lesson was simple. All of us using our gifts are like those racquets. Without our Creator/Master giving us life and equipping us for our work, we would be dead weight. Taking credit away from the Master is a disservice.

The writer of the book of Hebrews encourages us this way: “Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep…may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21/NLT)

May you be so equipped. And give credit where it is due.

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.