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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.