Archive for the ‘Business’ category

Driving with bosses

December 11, 2018

One summer, my co-workers and I took a memorable roadtrip back from a conference. One of the sponsors came up with a Gold Rush theme, and placed a large golden nugget – complete with cactus, pick ax, and lantern – as the centerpiece on each dinner table. Unfortunately, it looked a little like golden poop. My boss had a great sense of humor and drove back to the office with that golden nugget taped to the hood of his bright red car. It still makes me laugh.

Another summer, I drove to work in the mornings with my boss. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but 45 minutes in the car, five days a week, with your boss is a golden opportunity. Usually we have only a few minutes during the day to catch up. But in the car, we had time to talk about work, make quick decisions, and get to know each other better.

We usually think of meetings as the best times to get things done. We schedule formal meetings with an agenda and specific action items. We set up lunch meetings to discuss business deals – or celebrate them.

But I’ve learned to appreciate the time I spend with my boss in the car. It’s a chance for us to talk about our jobs, the challenges we face, and our personal lives, without any distractions or interruptions. We’ve had conversations about our families, our past jobs, and current problems.

Roadtrips can be a bonding experience, especially when you’re driving to an unfamiliar place. You’re navigating unfamiliar roads as a team. You’re focusing on your relationship, instead of traffic. Getting lost can make the trip even more memorable.

I’ve taken roadtrips with bosses along scenic highways, through “country” towns, and to a little-known barbecue take-out restaurant. There’s a right turn that we almost missed without some fancy steering. These shared memories make working together a little easier. It just costs us time and gas.

Traffic doesn’t have to be a roadblock – it can be an opportunity.

Have you ever driven with your boss? Or, if you’re a boss, have you ever driven with your direct reports? What is the most memorable conversation you have had on the road?


Interviews with mirrors, webcams and Alexa

December 4, 2018

A few weeks ago, my 12-year old son asked if he could interview me for a school project. “Sure,” I told him. Then he said that he had to video the interview. “OK,” I said, less enthusiastically.

We cleared a space on the table and set a chair in front of the laptop. We cleared away things in the background. He told me that I should look at the computer camera, instead of facing him. Then we started the interview.

I was nervous at first, but then I realized that he was nervous – which made me less nervous, because I wanted to do a good interview for him. He asked some questions out of order, but he assured me that he could edit the video and we didn’t have to start again. In under ten minutes, the interview was done.

Public speaking usually makes me feel anxious and panicked, and I was surprised that this time, I didn’t feel very nervous at all.

After thinking about it, I realized that four elements combined to make me feel more at ease:

It’s not about me. I was doing an interview to help my son. So I was focused on providing good answers that would help him do well on his project, not about how I felt or what people would think about me. I learned that when I speak in public, I can try to focus on the audience and what they need, not on making a good impression.

It really is me. In this instance, I was talking to myself on a computer screen. I talk to myself all the time (usually, in my head). It’s hard to feel nervous talking to yourself. Watching myself on the computer screen, watching myself mirror my own body language and movements, helped to build rapport with… myself.

It’s become normal. In the past few months, I’ve participated in online classes, webinars, and video conferences. I’ve watched people make mistakes, like lose track of their thoughts and then get back on track. I’ve watched people take a moment while they decide what they want to say. It’s not strange to talk to a computer screen or webcam anymore.

Alexa helps. Before I could ask Alexa to tell the time, play music, or set an alarm, I had to practice speaking clearly so that Alexa could understand me. I couldn’t mumble or pause too long, and I had to learn to wait until there’s a break in the background noise. In real life, this has made me more patient about waiting for other people to pay attention to me.

I’m still not comfortable speaking in front of an audience. But mirroring and Alexa helped give me a confidence boost.

How comfortable are you with public speaking? Do you video conference at home or work?

Hiring the right people

October 16, 2018

The first time I had to hire someone, it was for a summer marketing internship position. The intern we hired didn’t have any marketing experience, and was actually on a business track at school, but I was open to working with someone who could bring a different perspective to marketing projects.

What mattered to me was whether they were intelligent, responsible, easy to work with, and willing to learn. Knowledge and skills were things they could gain on-the-job.

Years later, those are the same qualities that I still look for in an intern, but I’ve added something a little harder to quantify: whether they are a “good fit” for the organization. Now I ask why they want to work at the organization and whether they believe in what we are doing. I don’t expect them to have a “passion” for our mission – they’re interns, and their goal is to gain real-world experience – but they have to be open to and support what we’re trying to accomplish.

The stakes are higher when hiring an employee. Candidates and employers are both on their best behavior. I like the idea of asking questions to find out what really matters. Adam Bruan, founder of Pencils of Promise, asks “What do you love doing most?” to encourage people to share their goals and interests. Hopefully, it will be something that is a part of the job position – or something that could become a part of it.

Yet I’ve learned that sometimes, finding the right person isn’t enough. It has to be the right time for the employee and for the organization.

Last year, we hired someone who was qualified, enthusiastic, and a good fit for the organization. But their life circumstances changed, and the employee left after only a few months. It was a disappointing yet amicable parting.

Looking back, I also remember an employee who was an asset to the organization. But they became dissatisfied, and the organization didn’t act quickly enough to address their concerns. Both the employee and the organization were hurt by anxiety and broken relationships before they parted.

When James C. Collins wrote about good-to-great leaders “first getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) in “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” (2001), I realized exactly what he meant.

This week, I’m reminding myself how important it is to build a team of the right people in the right position at the right time.

Are you involved in hiring or managing people? What do you look for in new employees? How do you respond when life circumstances change or when people are no longer a good fit for an organization?


Artwork courtesy of

Every manager should answer the phone

September 25, 2018

“How can I help you?”

I think that every employee, every manager, every director of a business or nonprofit should regularly take the time to answer the company phone and greet customers.

Answering the phone may be considered an entry-level job, but it’s more important than that. It’s often the first contact between an organization and its customers – the people who are deciding whether to trust you with their business, or who already took a risk by choosing your product or service.

Because most customers don’t call you when you do something right.

The person who answers the phone is “safe” to complain to. You’ll hear honest comments and criticisms, such as no one called them back, or something didn’t work the way that it was supposed to, or someone wasn’t helpful enough.

One of my first jobs was at a small company, and there were times when we all helped to answer the phone. By taking messages and sales orders, transferring customers to sales or technical support, and answering general questions, I learned how to listen when customers complained.

Beneath the frustration and irritation, I heard them say that they cared enough to call us to work through the problems. Some of my co-workers even started transferring irate customers to me, instead of technical support.

Managers and directors need to keep in touch with the people who use their products or services – who they are, the challenges they face, and what they need in order to trust you to solve their problems. And the best way to do that is by talking with them personally.

In fact, the customers who call to complain are a treasure to any organization, because they are giving you the chance to get it right.

No matter what organization I work for or volunteer with, I hope that I always have the opportunity to answer the phone.

Have you worked at a job where you interacted directly with customers and prospective customers? How did what you learned from your conversations help you improve your product or service?

A voluntary 20-times rule for CEOs

August 28, 2018

With greater power comes greater responsibility and greater accountability – and greater compensation.

Chief executive officers (CEO) bear the responsibility for making decisions that affect the company’s current and future. And they should be paid according to their level of responsibility and accountability.

But the pay discrepancy between the executives and employees is increasing. Wages are stagnating and executives seem to be negotiating better and better compensation packages for themselves, as they become responsible for larger and more complex organizations.

This can make CEOs far-removed from the effects of their policies and corporate strategies. It can increase feelings of entitlement and privilege.

The median CEO salary was 140 times more than the median employee salary, according to an Equilar anonymous survey of 356 public companies that identified the CEO Pay Ratio they plan to report in their 2018 proxy statements. Among S&P 500 companies, the difference in CEO compensation is even more staggering. In 2017, the average CEO of an S&P 500 Index company made 361 times more money than the average U.S. rank-and-file worker, according to the AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch.

In Hawaii, the differences in compensation are smaller than the national median, and vary widely according to size and industry, according to a Civil Beat report by Anita Hofschneider, “Here’s How Much Hawaii CEOs Make Compared to Their Employees” (6/4/2018). CEO salaries at local companies ranged from 17-times to 83-times median employee salaries, but the comparisons “include part-time and temporary workers along with full-time staff and also take into account benefits like stock awards on top of base incomes.”

What if the top executives voluntarily agreed to limit their compensation? They could agree to accept a salary that is at most 20-times the average salary of their full-time employees, or at most 30-times the salary of their lowest-paid full-time employees.

So if the median salary for full-time employees is $50,000, CEOs would earn at most $1,000,000. Or if the starting salary for full-time employees is $35,000, CEOs would earn at most $700,000 per year.

And not just salaries. CEOs would receive the same health insurance, vacation, and professional development/education options. But that 20-times limit would include compensation packages, such as stock options, retirement benefits, housing allowances, and guaranteed payments in mergers or take-overs (golden parachutes). They would receive no more than 20-times what the average full-time employee would receive.

I think this would have a positive effect on company morale and loyalty. It could affirm their commitment to the work and values of the company, not just to a paycheck. It could demonstrate their confidence in the decisions they make and a willingness to be accountable for their mistakes. (Not that mistakes should be punished, but that the company can learn from those mistakes). It could motivate executives to raise the wages and benefits for all employees.

Businesses are not created to benefit a select few. Businesses provide services, provide employment and experience, and yes, make a profit. And they can do all of that while making families and communities a little better.

If we “need” such high CEO compensation, maybe our organizations are too complex. Or maybe we are requiring too much of our executives.

Are CEOs worth what they pay for? How much is too much compensation for a top executive? If you are or became a CEO, would you take a 20-times pledge?

Expecting sabotage in times of change

August 14, 2018

“You have not succeeded until you survive the sabotage.”


I was listening to a keynote presentation by Tod Bolsinger, MDiv, PhD about leadership in times of change, and this declaration made me straighten in my seat.


Bolsinger had been taking us on an attention-capturing, engaging, and often humorous journey to give us a description of leadership as taking people where they need to go, but resist going.


He walked us through the idea that “Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.” He explained that you can’t just try harder – you need a new way of leadership. And he offered insight for forging the way through “uncharted territory.”


I didn’t expect him to declare that leaders have not succeeded in changing an organization until they survived the sabotage. I didn’t expect to hear that “sabotage” is normal – a common reaction by anxious people when they encounter uncertainty. And I didn’t expect to learn that the sabotage is not from competitors or “outsiders” – it’s usually caused by the very people who supported change in the first place.


Bolsinger didn’t spend much time talking about how to deal with sabotage. He moved on to talking about why we become leaders in the first place, what leadership requires, and a reminder that with change, everybody must be changed – especially the leaders.


“Sabotage” might be a harsh word for second thoughts, for last-minute caution, or for a sudden fear that the change could make things worse.


But the idea of sabotage stuck with me. I wondered whether I have purposefully or unintentionally sabotaged someone else’s drive for change. I wondered whether I have sabotaged myself when I tried to change my circumstances.


Just as we have a “devil’s advocate” to argue for to argue for an alternate cause, maybe leaders should look for a loyal saboteur to point out the ways that proposed changes might be undermined or opposed. When we expect resistance, it might be easier to overcome – and we might take it less personally.


Are there changes that you supported at home, at work, or in the community, but that you later opposed? What made you change your mind? Are there times you sabotaged yourself?

Creating a healing workplace

July 31, 2018

Two years ago, I got lost on my way to a job interview. I saw the company sign, but the arrow pointed to a locked gate. I didn’t know how to find my way around, and there didn’t seem to be anyone I could ask. Even though I arrived early, I was a few minutes late to the interview.

I remembered this experience as I took a free online class on “Spirituality, Health, and Healing” through Gale Courses and the Hawaii Public Library, and reached a lesson titled “Sacred Spaces, Healing Places.”

Before I took this course, I knew that we change our homes and workplaces to make us feel more comfortable, to reflect our personality, or to create positive energy and balance (such as the Chinese practice of feng shui).

But I didn’t consider that our home and workplaces also have a strong impact on our health and can actually promote healing. “Healing environments play a vital role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and are just as important as eating properly, exercising regularly, practicing proper health care, and having meaningful relationships and support systems,” the instructors explain.

Here are a few of the elements in creating a healing environment:

Space clearing. Clearing the space removes clutter, purifies the energy and space, and ‘opens’ it to new possibilities and healthy interactions.” Common practices include clearing desks, organizing shelves, and removing old or unused objects. This is one of the first things I do when I start a new job: make sure that I know where things are, and remove things I don’t need.

Color. It’s one of the first things we notice in a room. “Color has the ability to influence our perception of the shape and size of a room, shape our emotions, influence our moods, and shape our spiritual receptivity.” Warmer colors (peach, soft yellows, color) can stimulate our appetites and encourage alertness, creativity, and socialization. Blues, greens, and violets can be restful and contemplative, and can help reduce fatigue. Most workplaces choose a neutral wall color and rely on furniture, pillows, art, and flowers as accent colors.

Lighting. We need light for both health and safety. Healthy lighting features include providing overhead and task lighting, keeping lighting levels consistent and adjustable, using natural light as often as possible, and preventing glare.

Furnishings. Furniture, flooring, accessories, art, and flowers can “contribute to comfort and a sense of safety.” Some examples are clocks and calendars to reduce a feeling of disorientation, break areas for visitors, and comfortable upholstery.

Wayfinding. Wayfinding is “knowing where you are, knowing your destination, following the best route, recognizing your destination, and finding your way back out.” It involves details like clear signage and maps, landmarks such as artwork or unique design features, and color-coded areas. Better wayfinding would have addressed the confusion I felt when I arrived for that job interview I mentioned earlier. In fact, it’s one of the things I’m still trying to improve.

Creating a healing workplace makes good business sense too. I think we can all agree that first impressions matter. “Well-designed, healing environments have also been shown to be cost-effective and improve staff retention,” the instructors declare. An office that is easy to find, safe, comfortable, and welcoming makes a good first impression on both visitors and employees. It can build trust and a sense of belonging.

Does your workplace promote healing? What could you do to make visitors and co-workers feel more welcome?