Archive for the ‘Business’ category

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!


Planning a benefit concert on a budget

December 12, 2017

Earlier this year, I helped plan a benefit concert. It was a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization, and in the beginning it seemed like a straight-forward event. We had a dedicated volunteer with a lot of energy and drive. We had performers. We had a venue. We even had a grant to cover concert expenses, like the invitations, program, security, and parking attendants.

In the end, we pulled off a successful event. We had a respectable number of attendees for a stormy night. The attendees, performers, organization staff, and venue staff were pleased. We raised more money than we expected. There were no problems or “uh-oh” moments.

It’s the middle part of event planning that was stressful. There’s more involved to planning a successful fundraising event than sending out invitations and waiting for people to show up.

You can find comprehensive fundraising checklists and event plans online, but here are a few insights that I learned from planning a benefit concert on a small budget.

* Build a trifecta of partners. For a well-planned event on a budget, you really need a trifecta of strategic partners: an expert (someone with knowledge, talent, content, or connections), a venue (someone with a good location), and a media outlet (someone with print, radio, television, or website reach). A donor or sponsor (someone with money) is nice to have, and can let you expand the event; but without the three key partners, it’s hard to keep to a modest budget.

* Budget more time than you think you’ll need — you’ll need that extra time. Event planning consumed a lot more time than I expected. Even adding extra days to our timeline wasn’t enough; we were constantly running behind, because we can’t control how other people use their time.

* Show them a glimpse of what’s to come. Share a short rehearsal video online to encourage people to attend the concert, inspire volunteers, and energize performers. It doesn’t have to be polished – in fact, releasing a candid, behind-the-scenes video can give acquaintances the feeling of being insiders.

* Find volunteers – early. I waited until the last weeks before the event to look for volunteers, and it was a scramble to assign tasks. You can learn from my mistake, and ask for volunteers early on. In fact, over the last few weeks before the event, you can email weekly updates to keep concert performers, staff, and board members informed and excited.

* Add something unexpected. Show your appreciation for concert attendees, as our volunteer organizer did when he created a songbook to give to attendees after the event. And show your appreciation for event volunteers, before, during, and after the event. Our volunteer organizer shared his enthusiasm through a songbook that was given to attendees after the concert. You probably can’t afford an honorarium, but if you have a hobby (like knitting, pottery, or jewelry-making), you could create small, hand-made gifts that have more meaning than a store-bought gift. Plus, you can spend time doing something you enjoy.

One final thought: People attend benefit concerts for many reasons. They may simply enjoy music, or want to spend time with other people, or know the performers, or feel loyalty to your organization. But the most important reason is to support the children, individuals, and families who need a helping hand.

Which events or fundraisers impressed you with something well-coordinated or surprising (in a good way)? Have you ever planned a corporate event or fundraiser? If yes, what worked well – and what do you wish you had known?



Artwork courtesy of

Writing next year’s annual report

November 7, 2017

The end of the year is fast-approaching. In addition to holidays, gift-giving, and resolutions at home, I’m also thinking about annual reports at work. I don’t think it’s too early to start summarizing our accomplishments over this year, and what we hope to accomplish next year.

Last week I wrote about mock-exit interviews, and how they could help identify and address existing problems in an organization. The mock-exit interviews made me wonder how businesses and organizations can make positive changes today – not just put out fires, but build something better.

Then I remembered a TEDTalk I watched recently – “How to gain control of your free time” by Laura Vanderkam at TEDWomen 2016. She offers a strategy for figuring out our priorities: writing next year’s performance review.

She says, “So I want you to pretend it’s the end of next year. You’re giving yourself a performance review, and it has been an absolutely amazing year for you professionally. What three to five things did you do that made it so amazing?”

This is it, I thought. This is one way that companies can set their priorities and make positive changes: writing next year’s annual report. When you “look back” at this year, what does your organization hope to accomplish? What will be the highlights of this year?

By envisioning your future successes, you can make a realistic plan for the coming year with confidence – because you already pictured it. By envisioning your future challenges, you are more likely to spot problems before they occur – because you are on the look-out for them.

In addition to financials, here are some of the things I want to read in next year’s annual report:

  1. Just the highlights – with graphics. What three accomplishments did your organization achieve? How do they align with your company’s mission or goal? What have you learned from them and how will you improve on them?
  2. People, not programs. Who are some of the people or communities that were positively affected by your organization? Tell a personal story about a customer, partner, donor, and volunteer. How did you gain their support? How did you show your appreciation?
  3. Put a face to the organization. Who are some of the people who made a difference in your organization? I don’t mean just the executive management, but the people who interact with customers, who look beyond their department, and who accomplish something great outside of the organization. What can you do to help these employees deliver stellar service? How can you recognize their efforts?

Professionally, maybe we all need to write next year’s performance review for ourselves – and next year’s annual report for our workplaces.

How does your organization set goals for the coming year? What do you look for in an annual report?


Clipart courtesy of

Keep your best people with mock exit interviews

October 31, 2017

I work for a small, local nonprofit. One night my husband asked me, “So your company is doing okay?” It was the kind of routine question someone might ask, and neither of us was prepared for the response that came pouring out. I answered not with “I guess,” but with the biggest challenges (in my opinion) that the nonprofit is facing today.

I hadn’t even realized that these issues had been bothering me so much. I wondered if I should talk to my boss about my concerns, but I felt hesitant. My boss is nice, informal, and understanding, but I still felt uncomfortable bringing up these issues. It’s a conversation I would feel more comfortable with during an exit interview.

But why would I have to leave my job to talk about my honest concerns about the company? I had a “eureka” moment…

We have mock interviews to help people get the jobs they want. Maybe we need mock exit-interviews to help companies keep the people they need.

Mock exit-interviews would give employees the freedom to be honest about their opinions, and give companies the chance to make improvements and retain their best people. They could be held once a year with random staff members, so that it doesn’t feel as if anyone is being singled out. They would be separate from performance reviews, and conducted by non-managers. Co-workers could even take turns doing a mock-exit interview for people in other departments.

Questions could be centered around three principles:

  1. People. Who are the top contributors to the organization? Who needs our help to be better team members?
  2. Purpose. What does the organization do better than other organizations? What do other organizations do better?
  3. Process. What three things would you change about the organization today? What one thing can we do to build stronger relationships between staff and partners?

So what the biggest challenges facing our nonprofit?

A year ago, I would have said that we need to improve our fundraising (raising money and persuading donors) and name recognition (most people in Hawaii have never heard of us or what we do).

Today, I think it’s more fundamental than that. The biggest challenge we face is people. We need to engage staff who have the time, interest, and experience in reaching out to new clients and the community; and attract board members who have the energy, community connections, and willingness to fundraise.

What challenges does your business or organization face today? Have you ever talked with your boss about a problem or concern? What was the response and could it have been resolved better?


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Expos for introverts

October 3, 2017

It’s been a while since attended a trade show or expo as an exhibitor, so when my company signed up for a local expo in Honolulu, I was both excited and nervous. Excited, because I sit in an office all day and it’s nice to meet new people. Nervous, because I’d have to meet new people.

I’m a shy person, and it’s hard for me to talk to new people. Sometimes it’s even hard for me to talk to people I know! I’m comfortable with quiet on my own, but in a social setting, the quiet can become loud and tense.

I did everything I was supposed to do to setup and plan our booth. I confirmed the budget, checked on furniture, wrote a press release, printed brochures, designed a poster, found a banner in storage, and organized booth shifts.

Faced with long hours of talking with people, introverts like me have to do more. So here are three tips for introverts and one idea that I wish we had done.

* Give something away. Introverts won’t usually stand in the aisle and bring people to their booth, so we need an inexpensive way to draw them in. A prize wheel was too expensive and a small game (a bean bag toss or mini golf) didn’t seem appropriate, so we chose peppermints. I even put stickers on them that said, “Take a mental health mo-mint” and our logo. Most people came just for the mints, but they smiled at me and made me feel less invisible.

* Ask a question. Someone stopped by our booth and took a mint. They don’t look particularly interested, and they’re ready to walk away. What do I say? Could I get them to stay a little while? To avoid this awkwardness, I created a poster with an easy question and brought a stack of sticky notes and pens. Since everyone is an expert in their own lives, I chose a question that anyone could answer: “How do you keep young?” People actually stopped and wrote advice, like “Exercise” and “Keep young friends” and “Stay away from toxic people.” Other people stopped to read the notes on the board. And I had a reason to talk to people.

* Meet the neighbors. Who works the same hours at the expo and is a captive audience? The staff at the nearby booths. When there are lulls in expo traffic but you can’t leave your booth, talk to your neighbors. I met a man who built a treehouse in his backyard and a woman who used to do pottery and a few people who “crossed the aisle” to meet us. “Did you come to the expo last year?” and “Do you think it’s busier than last year?” are good introductory questions, if you’re not sure what to say.

* Make a meeting. There are times when staff are alone at the booth, and the booth looked empty. At the next expo, I would ask staff and coworkers to make appointments with clients, partners, vendors, and donors – and meet them at our booth. We could have short meet-and-greets in an informal setting, and even meet their family. Longer conversations could move outdoors or to the concession area. Admission was free at this particular expo, so it wouldn’t cost anything.

Which trade shows or expos do you attend? Do you find expos exhilarating or exhausting?

A two minimum wage proposal

June 13, 2017

Minimum wage, the lowest wage that hourly employees earn, is a controversial issue. Supporters of minimum wage laws believe that it helps lift people out of poverty and reduce income inequality (the gap between higher-income and lower-income people). Opponents of minimum wage laws believe that it reduces the number of new jobs and raises prices, as businesses adjust for higher labor and payroll costs.

Rather than debating the value of the minimum wage, I would like to propose that we create two categories of wages: minimum wages and minimum living wages.

The minimum wage would be the lowest wage that entry-level, unskilled employees earn. It means that businesses could limit their up-front investment in an employee who will only be temporary.

The minimum living wage would be the lowest wage for more experienced, skilled employees who have worked part-time or full-time for an business for over one year. It would put into law the current practice of offering employees raises during annual performance reviews.

Businesses take most of the risks when hiring entry-level employees, so it makes sense to offer a lower minimum wage. Businesses must conduct interviews, offer job training, fill out employment paperwork, trust employees to show up on time and do the job.

Of course, new employees take risks as well – that the paperwork will be correct and that they will get paid – but there is less uncertainty in accepting the job, especially if a business has been around for a few years. Employees have the reassurance of visiting the business and seeing how it works before accepting the job.

After one year on the job, wages could be increased to the minimum living wage, a higher wage that is closer to what employees need to live and work in the area. The minimum living wage could also be tied to increased benefits, such as additional vacation time, family leave, retirement plans, or continuing education subsidies.

This one-year minimum living wage probation allows businesses to evaluate the employee’s skills and fit with the company. It also allows employees to decide whether they want to keep working for the company and gives them job experience if they decide to look for a new job.

A good business with sound finances will voluntarily offer raises the employees who show up and work hard, even if they can’t offer raises every year. While there is always the risk that an unscrupulous or poorly-managed business will fire employees before the one-year mark to avoid paying a higher wage, those businesses would suffer from higher job turnover, constant training, and poor reputation.

Do you think that two minimum wages would be an effective compromise between employees and businesses? What do you think of minimum wage laws?

“Presence” by Amy Cuddy

June 3, 2017

When the movie “Iron Man 3” was released in 2013, my then 6-year old son loved to imitate Iron Man’s pose: standing straight, arms loose, shoulders back, chest out to display the unibeam (the arc reactor in the center of his chest). Whether his confidence grew out of strong body language or just something he was born with, he has very little fear about public speaking and voicing his opinions. He was learning about the power of presence.

Presence is “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential,” according to “Presence: Bringing Your BOLDEST SELF to Your BIGGEST CHALLENGES” (2016) by Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy. It is letting go of fear and being comfortable in your own skin.

The foundation of presence is personal power, which Cuddy discusses through anecdotes and research summaries. She declares that exhibit presence when we feel relaxed and powerful. Powerlessness makes us avoid; it impairs thought and makes us self-absorbed. In contrast, power makes us approach; it gives us confidence, lets us trust ourselves, protects us from negative emotions, and helps us connect to others.

We can all gain confidence through small self-nudges, small tweaks in our body language and mind-set. “Expanding your body language, through posture, movement, and speech makes you feel more confident and powerful, less anxious and self-absorbed, and generally more positive,” Cuddy writes.

The book offers encouraging and practical advice to follow before tests, meetings, negotiations, performances, or events. Here are some power nudges that work in Western cultures:

  • Empower your mindset: Take a few minutes to remember and reflect on a time when you felt personally powerful.
  • Straighten your posture: Adopt an open, comfortable posture. Take up your fair share of space. Imagine yourself standing like Wonder Woman or Superman.
  • Change your stride: Walk confidently, with longer strides and more arm movement.
  • Take your time while speaking: Speak slowly without rushing and make eye contact.
  • Be aware of your breathing: Breathe slowly and regularly through your nose.
  • Reframe anxiety as excitement: When you feel anxious, tell yourself to “get excited.”

My son is growing his personal power. He has run for class representative and participated in the speech club. He even did an “Iron Man” monologue for an audition piece. One morning before a performance, when he was feeling a little anxious, I gave him a “Presence” nudge: I told him that the fluttery feeling in his stomach was excitement. I wish I could tell that to myself and believe it, but I’m working on it.

For more stories about presence, visit Amy Cuddy’s website at

Do you have innate presence, or do you have to practice it? In your life, who has a commanding or compelling presence?