Archive for the ‘Business’ category

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?

Lessons from a benefit dinner

June 5, 2018

I was nervous planning my first benefit dinner for our nonprofit organization. I’ve planned a few events before (family parties and a wedding, exhibit tables and trade shows), but never something that was supposed to raise money. I felt a lot of pressure to make the event memorable and successful.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to start from scratch. I could follow the event plan from previous events, with a few updates. The event taught me a lot about fundraising, planning, and expectations.

Here are five things I’ve learned from planning a benefit dinner:

Start planning earlier than you think you need to. The biggest thing I learned is that there is never as much time as you think. If you’re hosting a benefit dinner, you need to start “selling” tables, finding a Master of Ceremonies, and booking entertainment six to eight months in advance. We waited too long – not because we were over-confident, but because we had so much to do and limited staff. By that time, any organizations and groups already had plans, or could not make a commitment in such a short time.

“No” is not personal. At first, I was uncomfortable asking for silent auction donations. I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t asking for me, I was asking for my nonprofit. It was hard to learn that “no” (or no response at all) isn’t personal. I won’t lie – it was never easy, but it got easier to make the ask.

Make a connection between donors and beneficiaries. I was really anxious about making a short speech, and I spent a huge amount of time writing and re-writing it. I knew that I didn’t want the speech to be about me or the organization. I wanted to focus not on our organization’s achievements, but on how our donors and supporters make our work possible.

You can’t thank people enough. It was really important to thank people for supporting us. We thanked donors and sponsors in the welcome speech and in the dinner program. We also took some time to do a thank you video. We asked each of our staff to say a few words, and put it together in a short video. It was a nice way for staff members to remember why we were there that night. And after most people went home, I surprised our staff and volunteers with a small handmade gift to show my appreciation.

Expect that not everything will go as expected. Event planners follow checklists, make schedules, and plan for contingencies. But at some point, you have to expect that not everything will go as expected. And that’s okay. For example, our silent auction was successful – everyone paid, everyone went home with the right items, and no one was angry. Only I knew that it didn’t go as smoothly as I planned.

At the end of the night, we cleaned up, packed up, and headed home. I knew that I couldn’t rest yet – small nonprofits can’t take breaks – but I was thankful that we came together as a team, pleased our guests, and made a positive impact on our beneficiaries.

Have you attended a benefit dinner or gala event? What are the most memorable and enjoyable fundraisers you attended? What do you wish more fundraising events would do?

Sparking joy at the office

April 24, 2018

Two years ago, I started a new job, and I felt the need for some decluttering inspiration. After following her advice in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” I was happy to find that organization consultant and author Marie “KonMarie” Kondo wrote a follow-up book, “Spark Joy: Al Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up” (2016), translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano.

“Spark Joy” is “a comprehensive and wonderfully simple compilation of the KonMarie Method. It is based on the idea that we should choose those things in your home and life that spark joy.

Slowly, between daily tasks and projects, I applied some of the tips and ideas in “Spark Joy” to my workspace and the office. I cleared the desktops and countertops, getting into the habit of putting folders away before I go home. I learned to file papers right away, so that piles of paperwork don’t accumulate. I labeled cabinets and drawers, so that other people could find things – and so that we could all put things back in their place.

I even labeled the magazine racks. I know it sounds fussy, but I read that every decision we make takes energy. So where to put magazines on the rack was one less decision I had to make.

Then I added pictures of my family to remind me about why I work.

Sparking joy at the office made me I feel calmer and more in control.

When my workspace was more organized, I looked around at the counseling rooms at other locations. I listened when my co-workers complained about sweltering rooms, poor lighting, and old furniture. Then I brought my concerns to my boss.

Asking for help. As a nonprofit organization, we searched for grants from organizations that might help us with office renovations. Grants are very competitive, and most organizations want to fund programs directly, rather than office renovations or operating costs. So we also looked for businesses willing to offer goods in-kind – such as flooring, rugs, or furniture.

Furniture merry-go-round. When he retired, a generous partner donated gently-used furniture. We looked for furniture in good condition and furniture that was better-sized to our rooms. We accepted what we could use, and then passed on the furniture we previously had, so that nothing went to waste.

Clean, comfortable spaces. On a small budget, we gave our offices small make-overs that had a big impact. The darkest and oldest room has been transformed with fresh paint, hardwood floors, gently-used furniture, and new artwork.

Kondo also offers sensible advice about living with others – and their stuff – that also applies to the office: “You don’t have to make yourself like someone else’s things. It’s enough just to be able to accept them.”

I learned to ignore clutter in someone else’s workplace. I gave a co-worker a designated filing cabinet and vowed that I wouldn’t open it or try to file anything. I can live with the clutter I can’t see.

 How does your workplace make you feel when you walk in the door? Is your workspace organized or cluttered?

2018 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Business and Economy

March 20, 2018

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature is in full swing, with an overwhelming 4,948 current 2017 and 2018 Bills (2,621 House and 2,327 Senate) up for discussion and debate. There are just 60 legislative days to effectively read, discuss, re-write, absorb testimony, and vote on these bills.

For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I rely on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions. This year, I decided to highlight a handful of bills covering different issues that I think need the most consideration and debate.

Over the last two weeks, I highlighted significant tax and education issues to watch. This week, I’m highlighting three bills in the 2018 Legislative Session that could have a huge impact on Hawaii’s business and economy.

 * The Good: Attracting international sports events. We need to continue to attract sports events and other industries to Hawaii, so that we decrease our dependence on tourism and the military. I think that Hawaii is well-positioned to host statewide sporting events as well as international sporting events and tournaments. We could attract an international yacht race or mountain marathon. I am uncertain about whether it’s worthwhile to attract national sporting events like the Pro Bowl or National Football League preseason game, because of the distance and expense involved, but that’s for the Hawaii Sports Task Force to decide. I’m also not sure there needs to be a separate Task Force, instead of the Hawaii Tourism Authority working with Aloha Stadium, but maybe it’s a reporting issue.

* The Bad-Ugly: State jobs for everyone. Some legislators want to establish a task force to study the “feasibility” of creating a “public option” to provide jobs for all in the State of Hawaii. HB1992 attempts to address the complicated issues of unemployment, under-employment, and discouraged workers. It would examine whether government could guarantee Hawaii residents over the age of 18 a job with the State government.

I have serious concerns about this proposal. Can we afford it? This year, legislators are raising taxes, even though there is a budget surplus. Will it solve a problem? Giving everyone who can work a job may lower the number of people who are unemployed, and improve Hawaii’s unemployment rate, but it will create a host of new problems. How would a guaranteed job affect students’ motivation to learn and employee’s motivation to work? Can we maintain it? We might be able to maintain it by cannibalizing private sector jobs. But hiring more public employees means finding more work for those employees to do, which means passing laws that increase the size and scope of government.

* The Debatable: Minimum wage. Every year, the legislator proposes multiple bills that adjust the minimum wage. Some bills increase the minimum wage incrementally, like SB2013 raising the minimum wage by $1 every year for five years until it reaches $15 per hour. Other bills increase the minimum wage all at once, like HB5, ripping off duct-tape, raising the minimum wage to $15 in 2021.

Here’s a thought experiment: What do you think would happen if there were no minimum wage? Imagine that the State of Hawaii repealed the minimum wage in 2019. Would businesses dramatically lower the hourly wage they pay employees? Would businesses quickly renegotiate salaries? Would there be no change to the hourly wage? Or maybe no change in 2019, but no pay increases in the next few years – or ever? Would employees quit their jobs or go on strike? Would businesses lower their prices (okay, probably not) or increase prices less frequently?

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 3. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!