Reflections for the New Year

Earlier this morning I was doing some inner reflections for the New Year on this 3rd day of January. In the process, I read the lines of a song which I have posted on my office wall. They were sent out by a friend to all her friends as a reminder that life is short. She died over a year ago.

Tim McGRaw singing Live Like You Were Dying

The song is “Live Like You Were Dying” sung by Tim McGraw. It was written by Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols. The lyrics came to them as they chatted about a friend’s doctor visit when he received news about a “thing appearing on his x-ray”. That led to a conversation about one of their uncles who had leukemia but was currently in remission. We all know someone who is dealing with or has died from a serious life-threatening disease. This song makes you think, “what if it happens to me”? The singer’s response is….

“I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying,
And he said, Someday I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dying.”

Then I checked my email and saw a news article about someone I personally knew when I lived in San Diego. Bill Trumpfheller, the CEO of Nuffer, Smith Tucker, one of the top PR agencies in town, died of a heart attack over the weekend – at the age of 53! OMG!!

Some of the words from this song now seem especially pertinent as I continued my reflections for the new year; not just with what’s happening in the world, but even more so after reading about Bill’s death. It makes me realize how important it is to think positive thoughts, be generous at heart, eat healthily, and just live our lives to the fullest. We need to enjoy our families and friends because we never know when something can happen as it did to Bill. I’m still in shock as I write these words. He was only 53, 12 years younger than me. Yes, I’ll be eligible for Medicare this year. That in itself is a life adjustment.

I can hear the song in my head since it’s a popular country tune played frequently on Pandora and country music stations (it was the 2004 Grammy winner for best country song). It makes me think about how important it is to tell those we care about that we love them. And it’s also important that we forgive ourselves first, and then forgive others for any wrongs they may have done to us, whether intentional or not.

Forgiveness is important.

Forgiveness is a big one … especially forgiving yourself, not just for any actions you did or didn’t take, but for what you think about yourself. It’s important to focus on your talents, your accomplishments, your own uniqueness, not on your short comings. We all have areas where we can improve. But we also have talents that are uniquely ours. Those are where we need to focus our attention.

I frequently say the words as I go through my reflections and affirmations, but I know it’s important to also feel them. If we don’t feel them, how can we cement the reality in our subconscious? It’s part of training our brains to start believing. Over time as we repeat the words, our brains finally decide we actually mean what we’re saying, and we start to believe.

Affirmations work the same way as these positive reflections, at least for me. When I have pain in my body or I can’t sleep, I repeat certain affirmations. Then I’ll also ask my body to cooperate and let me sleep until a certain time. The next time I wake up, it’s usually within a few minutes of that time. And I find I slept deeply, even dreamed, and I wake up relaxed and rested. Amazing!

Perhaps starting a new year causes these kinds of reflections. I don’t know. But when I think about where I am in my life now and the things I still want to accomplish, the words from the song seem like good ones to keep in mind.

So I’m not making the traditional New Year’s resolutions. The blogosphere will be filled with advice about making and keeping resolutions. And most of the time, we don’t keep them anyway. We get distracted by life and work, and forget what we promised ourselves. Good intentions and all that. J

I’ve resolved instead to keep this song stanza top of mind and to “live like I was dying”. I’ve created a 2017 Vision Board that hangs on my wall so I can see it every day. These are pictures that reflect what I want to accomplish this year, knowing they may not all come to fruition, but at least I’ll have them as goals to shoot for.

Having a Vision Board is important.

There is something magical that happens when you write down your goals, add images, and put them up in a visible spot where you can see them every day. Read the words daily. Reflect on the pictures. These actions cement the goals in your subconscious so you naturally take the actions necessary to achieve them.

Circumstances may crop up that prevent you from accomplishing all your goals, but when you look back at the end of the year, you’ll see you’ve accomplished at least a few. That has worked for me anyway.

What’s worked for you?

Employee Rewards Can Be Motivational

Recently, I came across a book I haven’t opened in a long time. It’s called 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, by Bob Nelson. The book (which was updated in 2012 to 1501 Ways to Reward Employees) lists a variety of ways to use employee rewards as a way to recognize achievement. These include no cost ideas such as one-minute praises and bravo cards, to low cost ideas like bringing the person a bagged lunch for a week from a gourmet sandwich shop. It also lists ideas for more expensive rewards, such as trips, dinner for two, and various types of gift certificates.

In my experience, how the employee rewards are delivered is critical. If the praise isn’t heartfelt and the recognition is done to fulfill the requirements of a weekly recognition program, the staff will not feel appreciated. It won’t feel authentic and they will grow to resent it.

So before you launch a recognition program, be sure to clearly define the scope of the program, and the types of behavior you want to recognize and why. Are you doing this just because you heard from others that employee recognition is important? Or are you doing this to try to shift behavior, create a new culture, and/or work towards a long term organizational goal?

Ken Blanchard has written a great deal about the subject of leadership and building high performing teams. Praise needs to be authentic and heartfelt. Don’t praise just to go through the motions. In his book, The One Minute Manager (recently updated), he talks about catching people off guard doing something right. Then giving them praise at that moment. Those are the “one-minute praises”. Don’t wait until the staff gets together for a team meeting and then give the praise. It will come off as not authentic and something the boss is doing to prove what a great boss he or she is. The staff will resent it.

On the other hand, if it’s appropriate to give praise in a public setting such as a staff meeting, do so, but make sure you gave the individual a one-minute praise beforehand, even if it was days before. The public recognition will be an additional and more well-received reward; especially when the behavior being recognized fits within the scope of the rewards and recognition program you’ve established.

All that being said, here are some unique ideas I came across in the book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees:

  • Close a few hours early one day and take everyone to a shopping mall. Give each person $25 to spend and tell them to gather together in one hour. Then share and compare what each person bought with their $25 and why they chose the items(s) they did. This could be instead of a holiday or sales bonus.
  • Hold occasional fun contests. These should be planned by the managers, not the staff. If staff members are assigned on a rotating basis, it becomes another chore or work-related task, not a fun event. Contests can include St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween costume contests, or themed pot luck dish competitions. Rewards can be cash and/or gift certificates for restaurants, movie theater tickets, sporting events, etc.
  • Celebrate a Day of Excellence once a year with fun learning activities for all employees. Or let each staff person choose a day during the year that is their “special day”. Managers then surprise that person with fun activities during lunch or late in the afternoon of that day.

Let us know your thoughts about employee rewards programs and any unique ideas you have implemented in your organization.

Effective communication is key

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

Excerpts from Eric Barker’s column, Barking Up the Wrong Tree,
I have long believed that most problems in work and life are due to in-effective communication. What one person says and what is actually heard and interpreted by the listener are often two different things. When neither one checks to make sure the communication was properly understood, problems occur. Sometimes, they’re just small irritations. But other times, this ineffective communication can lead to major misdirection of efforts and even costly mistakes.

In his column Eric Barker provides 10 tips to ensure your communication is clear and well understood.

“Unless you speak the language of your intended audience, you won’t be heard by the people you want to reach.” In other words, you need to know how they interpret certain words. They’re past experience and cultural background may change the entire meaning of what you intended.

“Be as brief as possible… The most memorable political language is rarely longer than a sentence: I Like Ike”. Too often we drone on in an effort to be clear when all we’re doing is creating more confusion or telling someone how to do something instead of just asking to be sure they understand how to do the project.

“The words you use become you — and you become the words you use.” Always speak the truth. People will eventually find out if you’ve been hiding information or telling only part of the story to change its tone and meaning. Be truthful and open in your communications.

“By the time we begin to recognize and remember a particular message, it has already been changed… “The breakfast of champions” tagline for Wheaties was first launched back in 1935 and is still going today. Hallmark’s “When you care enough to send the very best” debuted in 1934.” Consistency is the key to everything. Companies that change their tag lines every year lose recall value. If it’s working, stick with the same message, otherwise you will confuse your audience and they’ll forget about you.

Novelty: offer something new
“In plain English, words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea… What matters most is that the message brings a sense of discovery. Wow. I never looked at it like that!” Enough said.

Sounds and texture
“A string of words that have the same first letter, the same sound, or the same syllabic cadence is more memorable than a random collection of sounds.” The word coined by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins is a good example. It’s memorable because of the cadence: supercalifragilisticexpialidotious.

Speak aspirationally
“Personalize and humanize the message to trigger an emotional remembrance.” Tell a personal story as an example of the message you’re trying to convey. If it’s emotional it will be more memorable. When working with clients to create a vision, we often tell the story of the janitor who was asked what he was doing. His response was, “I’m putting a man on the moon.” Now that’s a vision!

“Paint a vivid picture. The slogans we remember have a visual component, something we can almost see and feel or hear.” The prior example does just this. You can see the space ship soaring towards the moon.

Ask a question
“Sometimes it’s not what you say but what you ask that really matters.” Verizon’s Can you hear me now? is such a memorable tag line. We remember it because we ask this question almost daily when talking with someone on our mobile phones.

Context and relevance
“Give people the “why” of a message before you tell them the “therefore” and the “so that.” Most of us need to understand why we’re being asked to do something. We want to know there’s a greater purpose and how we contribute to that. It’s a motivating factor, as many studies have shown.

Watch the Daniel Pink Ted Talk video on The Puzzle of Motivation for more insights about what motivates us.
Daniel Pink -  The Puzzle of Motivation


Getting Through the Peaks and Valleys of life

Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Peaks and Valleys are normal and natural in life and work. Create a sensible vision using all five senses and then follow it to move out of the Valleys. When in a valley, ask yourself: “What is the truth about this reality?” To stay longer at the Peak, find ways to be of greater service to others and more loving to your family and friends.

As I was re-reading Dr. Spencer Johnson’s book, Peaks and Valleys: Making Good and Bad Times Work for You, I reflected on where we are in our work and life journey. We haven’t achieved as much as I had hoped we would have by now. For example, we aren’t living our dream of two-month long sailing trips twice a year on our own boat or through chartering.

Male Gambel's QuailThen I looked at what we have achieved: we have a less stressful life. We have wonderful friends whom we see and talk with often. We are living close to nature, albeit not the nature I had imagined. But we are surrounded by bunnies, lovely Gambel’s quail, roadrunners, dogs, cattle and horses. The high mountain desert does have its seasons. The air quality is clear and the night skies are amazing. The surrounding red rock formations are stunning. We can actually see the thousands of stars which we couldn’t see in San Diego.

Could things be better? Sure! But that’s the future we can still create for ourselves. Johnson’s book reminded me that life is full of Peaks and Valleys. It’s how we manage our journey through the Valleys that makes it possible to enjoy more time on the Peaks.

One of the gems I was reminded of is that we create our own reality. So if we only focus on the negatives while we’re in the Valleys, we stay there longer. I’m reminded of another book, “Before You Think Another Thought”, by Dr. Bruce I. Doyle, III. In it he says that our thoughts are energy. Every thought we have is sent out into the universe and becomes a reality for us. So if we only think negative thoughts about how difficult or unfair life is or how unhappy we are with our current job or life circumstances, then we continue to create that reality. If, on the other hand, we stop to think “what is the lesson to be learned here” or “how might this reality be different,” we are taking stock of our situation and facing the truth of that reality.

That opens up the mind for more creative thinking about how we might change our circumstances to create a better reality. We start “doing” what we need to do to create that better reality, and before we know it, we are on a Peak again. Until we take responsibility for our current situation, and face the truth of how we got there, we aren’t ready to think differently in order to DO the work that will create the change.

Tget Peaks and Valleys on Amazonhese are powerful concepts to keep in mind. Here are some additional tips I garnered from the Peaks and Valleys book:

  • Create and follow your Sensible Vision using all 5 senses. This creates the Peaks in your life (you need to be able to see, hear, feel, taste and smell this vision – feel it in your bones)
  • Manage your way through Valleys to stay longer on the Peaks
  • Make reality your friend. Face your truths and fears.
  • When you’re in a Valley, ask yourself, “What is the truth in this?”
  • When in a Valley, imagine what you might see when you’re on a Peak (what might be possible and different when you reach the Peak?)
  • You need to feel and live the Peaks and Valleys. These are normal parts of everyday life and work
  • Your Valleys are opportunities to grow and learn

And here’s the final nugget of truth:
“You get out of a Valley sooner when you manage to get outside yourself: at work, by being of greater service, and in life, by being more loving.”

I plan to re-read this book at least once a year from now on, especially when I find myself going through or stuck in a Valley. It’s a good reminder of what I need to do to get through that Valley to the Peak that lies ahead.

5 Myths of Happiness Debunked – by Oliver Burkeman

By Jeri Denniston, Denner Group International, November 11, 2013

Takeaways: Happiness comes from knowing yourself, creating balance in your life, and being true to who you are. Avoiding negative thinking, trying to be positive all the time, and constantly pursuing ambitious goals at the expense of everything and everyone else can cause stress.

An article in the November issue of Fast Company by Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, triggered some thoughts.  In his article, Burkeman debunks the 5 myths of happiness:

  1. The importance of maintaining a positive mindset
  2. Relentlessly pursuing ambitious goals as the key to success
  3. The best managers make work fun
  4. Higher self-esteem equals greater happiness
  5. Pessimist should be avoided at all costs

Let’s look at these individually.

  1. Maintaining a positive mindset is crucial to happiness– or so the self-help books and gurus tell us. However, according to Burkeman, this isn’t our true reality. The mind wanders in many directions and trying to constantly channel it into only positive thoughts creates stress. Burkeman cites the example of someone who has suffered loss. Trying not to feel the grief, anger and pain only delays the healing process. Those of us who practice change management know that whenever any change occurs, you have to go through all the different levels of emotion from anger and denial to acceptance and finally hope and re-adjustment in order to heal and accept the change. Trying not to go through those stages, only delays the healing process. So maintaining a positive outlook, or telling someone to focus on the positive aspects of the loss or change and deny one’s feelings of anger, pain and betrayal, is not a healthy way to help someone through the loss that the change created.

  2. Relentlessly pursuing ambitious goals. We’re told that setting ambitious goals and keeping them at the forefront of our minds and work will help us succeed in life and work. While this is true, we also need to have “balance” in our lives. Pursuing those goals to the detriment of all else may help you achieve them – but at what cost to family, friends, and your health? Thus, pursuing ambitious goals without maintaining a healthy balance of family relationships, spiritual involvement, and health will not create happiness.

  3. The best managers make work fun. Well, we’ve probably all known someone who always was upbeat and energetic in their daily work. At some point you stop and ask “will the real (add name here) please stand up?!?” It’s impossible for someone to be “on” all the time with no downtime. It’s not natural to never be mad or unhappy.  And it actually drains energy from the rest of the staff who feel they have to reciprocate with a “fun” attitude even when they don’t feel it. According to Burkeman, a recent study by ScienceNordic indicates that people appreciate fairness over any other factor.

  4. Higher self-esteem leads to greater happiness. Holding yourself to a certain performance level creates a huge amount of stress – once you’ve achieved that the only option is to continue at that level or do better. Anything less is unacceptable. This doesn’t lead to happiness but rather creates everyday stress because you can never be satisfied with incremental small accomplishments, especially if they don’t measure up to the one “big” monumental accomplishment you think you should be achieving. Where is the happiness factor in that? According to Burkeman, if you have this attitude, then “your everyday failures — the things that go wrong for everyone, every so often–become far more consequential”.

  5. Avoid pessimists at all costs. Ok, I’ve been guilty of this one by trying to avoid the news (always negative) and people who constantly harp on all the bad things happening in their lives. The only way to do this is to live in a private cocoon or bubble, never interacting with others. And that’s not healthy nor does it build happiness.  In reality, looking at the potential downside is also healthy. As Burkeman says in his article, “Instead of asking how likely some venture is to succeed, ask whether you could tolerate the consequences if it failed. That way, you’ll take the interestingly risky steps while avoiding the stupidly risky ones.” That’s a healthy way to deal with negative outcomes. Another is the way W-40 approaches failure – by looking at them as learning moments and not failures. No one is to blame and everyone learns from the experience.

The moral to this story is that the key to happiness is multi-focused: understanding yourself and what gets your juices flowing; giving yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them; knowing your strengths and accepting your own limitations; striving to live a balanced life; pursuing goals that make you stretch, and accepting that they may not be achieved exactly as you imagined them – and that’s ok. If you can do these, then you have a better chance of living a happy, fulfilled life no matter what your circumstances.

10 Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings

Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   June 2013

Meetings are a necessary part of business whether we like it or not. More and more frequently people are meeting via the computer with counterparts who may be spread across the globe. This requires key skills to ensure these are successful virtual meetings. Some are standing meetings that occur every Monday or Friday. Others are ad hoc meetings, scheduled around a specific topic or project.

If you’re a project leader, you may find these tips helpful for holding successful virtual meetings. Many also apply to face-to-face meetings.

  1. Use video. If possible, engage webcams. This makes it possible for people to see one another and feel like they’re in the same room. Skype premium limits video calls to 10 people at once and all must have a Skype account.  Google Hangouts lets you have up to 15 people on a video conference at once. GoToMeeting allows up to 6 to video conference at once. Another option is which allows you to have up to 9 video participants at once, but the free version comes with ads. Choosing the paid version eliminates this.
  2. Know why you’re meeting. Having outcomes or a purpose for the meeting ensures that everyone understands why they need to attend or even IF they need to attend. It’s a waste of everyone’s time to hold a meeting just because you always meet on Mondays. If there’s no purpose or reason to meet, cancel the meeting.
  3. Have a written agenda. Even though you’re meeting virtually and using webcams, it’s still important to have a written agenda and share screens. That way you can stay on track and/or get back on track if someone takes the conversation off topic.
  4. Put the expected outcomes at the top of the agenda. State the purpose of the meeting at the outset, and make sure everyone understands what that purpose is. You can always refer back to these outcomes if the conversation evolves into something else. And circle back around before you end the meeting to ensure that everyone agrees the outcomes were met.
  5. Set a specific time limit and stick to it. Everyone will appreciate your sticking to the timeline, and even ending the meeting early. The more frequently you do this, the greater likelihood you have of getting people to show up. They know what to expect and that you will keep the conversation moving. They will also be more willing to stay longer at times when it’s necessary because it’s not the norm.
  6. Take notes or have someone else take notes. As the meeting organizer, you can choose to take notes while sharing your screen or ask someone else to do so. Letting people see the note taking helps keep them engaged and lets them correct any misunderstandings in the moment. If you assign note-taking to someone whose screen is not being shared, allow time before ending the meeting to review those notes and make any necessary corrections.
  7. Schedule the next meeting before you end this one. Since you have everyone online already, chances are they have their calendars handy. Get agreement on the next meeting, if one is necessary, and then send out the meeting announcement shortly after this meeting ends. That prevents it from getting lost in their email box during the course of the week. Send out reminders with a link to the online meeting at least once more before the next meeting.
  8. Agree on who needs to attend. It may not be necessary for everyone on the team to attend every meeting. Depending on the agenda topic, it may only be necessary for IT folks to be present at one meeting, and marketing or operations folks at another.  If you do hold meetings with various team members and not the whole team, then schedule periodic meetings with the entire team and have the various team members report on their areas of expertise. This brings everyone up to speed on the whole project rather than just their portion of it, and ensures everyone is still working towards the same outcomes.
  9. Identify action items and accountabilities. Clearly list the actions that will be taken between meetings, along with the individuals responsible and dates by when they will accomplish them. This helps to move projects along, and gain commitment from team members.
  10. Follow up. As the team or project leader, you need to follow up with your team through emails and phone conversations to ensure they have the tools they need to complete the actions they’ve been assigned. This is an opportunity for you to also answer any specific questions they may not have asked during the meeting, or to assist with any roadblocks they may have encountered in executing their tasks.

BONUS TIP: Thank everyone for their participation. This one is so often overlooked. When people step up and volunteer to take on specific tasks, thank them for doing so. This helps to build team spirit and make people feel that their time and expertise is valued. Don’t go overboard, and be genuine about it.

Meetings are only successful if the outcomes are accomplished. Holding good meetings, keeping everyone informed, sticking to agendas, and following up with individuals between meetings are important task for the project leader.

Team Motivation Starts with You

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   11-18-2012

Takeaways: Team motivation starts with the manager who must demonstrate self accountability, and modelling the right behavior. He she should also share the big picture, and provide timely feedback, among other things.

From an article by Steve Tobak / MoneyWatch / November 12, 2012

While all business leaders and executives have their own methods for inspiring staff, most would probably agree that there are common ways to ensure employees are challenged, inspired and motivated to do their best work. Here are Steve’s top 10 ways to motivate your team:

Exhibit flawless work ethic. Lead by example. If you work your tail off to get the job done and exceed customer expectations, employees will emulate that behavior. Likewise, if you screw around, they’ll follow that example, too.

Indoctrinate them with the big picture. Everybody wants to be part of something big. They want to know why their work matters. Make it important to your people by telling them why it’s important to customers.

Hold yourself accountable. Goal-setting in most companies is ineffective — executives make big bucks no matter what, or there’s little or no follow-up. When management holds itself accountable, it’s a lot easier to do the same with employees.

Provide genuine, real-time feedback, good and bad. This is one of the hardest things for any manager to do, especially the negative stuff, but it’s also one of the most critical and effective management tools.

Promote their accomplishments and take the heat for their failures. Period.

Give them what they need to do the job. Provide the tools, training and support they need to be effective; keep management off their backs; then get out of the way.

Challenge them with as much responsibility as they can reasonably handle. It’s human nature to want to achieve things. Show you have confidence in them by setting a reasonably high bar and allowing them to succeed or fail on their own.

Communicate. Tell them what’s going on as openly as you can within reason and without unduly burdening them with confidential information they shouldn’t or don’t need to know.

Be as flexible as possible without impeding team effectiveness. If the priority is to get the job done as a team, that doesn’t mean everyone has to operate exactly the same way. People are individuals. They need some freedom to do their best.

Be human. Show some empathy, humility and a sense of humor. It will go a long way.