February 2010


Today has been a productive and challenging day. After weeks of feeling a tad under the weather I am back in action and I would like to share two of today’s extremes with you.

I started my morning bright and early at 5:30 a.m. Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m an early bird. The house is quiet, the street is silent, and our young daughter is fast asleep. I usually manage a good two hours of work before she wakes and that time is precious and full of progress.

This morning I was putting together the talking points on a presentation I will be giving in mid-May at the Heartland OD (Organizational Development) meeting. I was asked to speak on ‘personal skill development’ and was told that May’s meeting would focus on Versatility and Creativity. This delighted me and I accepted the invitation a month ago and committed to send my co-presenter the details on what I would talk about.

As I listed the points I thought of Daniel Pink’s new book, “Drive,” which focuses on motivation. What motivates us? What helps to generate innovation, self-discovery, or scientific breakthroughs? I wrapped up the short summary stating:

“By supporting and promoting personal skills development we create happier, motivated, invested employees who will partner together and provide quality and innovation. These employees will also help create a better tomorrow for themselves, their communities, and the businesses and corporations they work for.”

I am sure there will be changes after my co-presenter reads the email and responds  or when I refine it closer to the date of the presentation, but I was satisfied with the rough draft. I moved on to other tasks, pleased at what I had come up with. The main gist of the talk will be on encouraging corporations and even mid-size businesses to invest in a wide variety of personal skill development/enrichment opportunities (physical fitness, credit and non-credit type classes, and even promoting clubs or small business ventures) for their employees. In turn, this will result in an atmosphere of excitement, a more positive view of the corporation as a whole, and dedication to their working environment. When employees benefit from perks, when they are encouraged to develop skills not normally viewed as ‘work-related’ at the blessing and encouragement of the company, they feel a part of something bigger.

It is this, the sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself, which works far more effectively than the outdated carrot and stick approach does towards encouraging productivity and innovation. If I can help guide a manager or CEO to this conclusion, it means improving the lives of countless employees AND the company they work. This in turn creates the potential for even greater company profit, which can lead to more employment opportunities and benefits to the community. In other words, a win for everyone.

So that was a high. I will refine and add detail, but it got me revved up.

If that was the peak, then here is the valley. My heart sunk just a bit when I read the following email that flashed onto my screen:

We thank you for your interest in delivering classes through the [name of organization], but we won’t be providing the particular offerings you have delivered in the past and are offering to deliver in the future.  Thanks again for thinking of us.

I had been anticipating this email after hearing some rumors on the wind. My direct contact at this host site had recently resigned his post and prior to his resignation there had been talk that non-business classes would no longer be offered at this corporate location. In other words, unless it directly tied to the job the employees’ were expected to perform, there was ‘no need’ for the class.

This particular location had built a special center for educating employees and most of the rooms are vacant on weekday evenings, the designated time when I had offered classes on home and office organizing and other classes designed to improve lives and reduce stress. At most, the cost for allowing the classes to continue may have been the minimal one of paying the one lone security guard, who is in all probability stationed there through the night, whether there are classes scheduled or not.

I have yet to reply to the email, although I doubt the sender expects any kind of response. I find myself worrying that, as the economy continues to limp along, more companies will make the decision that this one has and cut out what they view as extraneous.

This is short-sighted for a number of reasons, most of which I have listed above. It is similar to cutting funding to schools or emergency services. We need the minds of the future to be as bright and quick-thinking as possible. We need firefighters when our houses are burning. And right now, at this very minute, we need our workers to be invested and dedicated and feel as if they are partners or even shareholders in the places where they spend over 1/3 of their waking lives.

Without this, our economy will suffer. We will suffer.

I’m not saying that promoting personal skill development is the be all or end all. I’m not suggesting that it will save every company from financial disaster but it’s a start. It’s two steps forward.

Today I managed two steps forward and was set one step back. But I’m not giving up. After all, I’m one step ahead of where I was yesterday! I see the worth in what I’m doing and believe I can make a difference. And I know I’m not the only one.

How will YOU make a difference?

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I ‘ll admit it. I’m a bargain shopper. I still frequent used clothing stores (a holdover from my penniless youth) and I feed my book addictions by vetting nearly all books I wish to buy through the local library first before purchasing what I can’t live without used through Amazon.com or Half.com.

I had recently purchased “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics” for my daughter and the seller, Better World Books sent me the following email:

We’re just checking in to see if you received your order (The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics) from Better World Books. If your order hasn’t blessed your mailbox just yet, heads are gonna roll in the Mishawaka warehouse! Seriously though, if you haven’t received your order or are less than 108.8% satisfied, please reply to this message. Let us know what we can do to flabbergast you with service.

I was amused and intrigued. It was certainly not a standard email to receive from a company. 108.8% satisfied? I was amused enough to go check them out and promptly took advantage of the bargain book sale, 5 books for $15. I ordered ten and as I processed through the payment pages waited for the ax to fall. How much was shipping going to be? When the total came to $30.50 (.50 for a carbon footprint fee) I was shocked and excited. No shipping fees? Nothing except for that 50 cent fee? No way!

But it was true and I realized I now have a new favorite place to buy books. I sent them the following email:

Okay, I’ll admit it. You got me.

Good prices on books? Check.

Insanely cheap shipping? Check.

A strange and captivating sense of humor? CHECK!

After reading your follow-up email on an order I had made for one of your books and being amused and intrigued, I visited your website and bought ten books. So yeah, they’re off the bargain rack, but I really like your business model. Keep up the good work! I’m looking forward to getting all those books!

When someone impresses me, I like to give them a big thumbs up. Check out www.betterworldbooks.com for some great book deals!