About Me

My photo
I have been a business professional for over 20 years in both the profit and nonprofit arena. I also like to coach individuals and businesses to help them increase their creativity and do a weekly podcast on that subject with my husband, Max.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

A Tale of a Few Claims

     There was an 18-month period between 2017 and 2018 where I was involved in three car accidents. Two cars were totaled, and none of them were my fault. I learned that there is a vast difference in how auto insurance companies pay for the damages their clients inflict. 

The first accident was in 2017, driving home from an International Women's Day event with my two daughters. We were on a main road near a park and a few retail establishments. As we passed the entrance to the park, there was the screech of tires, and, an instant later, the sickening sound of metal scratching as we were T-boned by a brand-new Mercedes convertible. We didn't sustain any injuries, and the airbags were never deployed, but we were pretty shaken up. A good Samaritan said that he'd vouch for the fact that the other driver was at fault. The young man who hit me was probably in shock and didn't say much. We exchanged insurance information, and much to my relief, he was insured by a large carrier. My husband picked us up since we were just a few miles from home. He acted as a calming presence as we tried to get things out of the car before it got towed, but my stomach was in knots. I'd never been in an accident with this much damage to my car. 

I called the other driver's insurance company the next day about what happened. They quickly set up a meeting with an actual agent. The assumption might have been that we'd sue because of how expensive the car that hit us was, and where there's a swanky car, there must be a money tree. Since three passengers were in the car, they offered $1,500 for medical expenses for each of us, and they would send out a claim adjuster to look over the car. I put the agent at ease and explained that I was also an insurance agent and was not out to sue but simply wanted a fair settlement for the car. The car was totaled but over twelve years old. They offered $4,200 to replace it, which, combined with the $4,500 for medical coverage, helped us find a nicer pre-owned car that we paid for in full. Three weeks from the time of the accident, the claim was paid. Many people would say that we settled too quickly, but there were no injuries, and we managed to get a newer vehicle with no financing. 

    Almost eleven months later, I was sitting at a traffic light waiting to make a right turn in my replacement car. An impatient driver honked at the car in front of it to get the other person to make a left turn. The inexperienced driver
panicked, hitting an oncoming car at full speed, which turned into a tailspin and hit my car. The whole thing felt as if it was happening in slow motion. The car popped over the curb as it hit mine. This accident was early in the morning and on a main drag. Ironically, the driver responsible was on their way to driving school and needed to have a licensed driver in the car, so she was freaking out because her boyfriend told her to go alone. Again, my husband was called and offered his reassuring presence. However, he could tell that our nicer, newer car that replaced the 2005 SUV was totaled even without a claim adjuster to confirm it. 

Since three vehicles were involved, it took longer to settle things, even with a pretty extensive police report and witness accounts. My car was totaled, and the other driver did have injuries in addition to a car that was demolished, which increased the overall claim. The driver responsible for the accident had a basic policy, so I had to have my insurance agent go to bat to help facilitate a settlement, and short of that, we were prepared to bring in a lawyer. The company finally settled with us since our claim was smaller than the other person's, and we did not incur any bodily harm. Unlike the first accident, this one took months and not weeks to settle. 

    After we got the claim check, we headed to our mechanic, who also sold preowned cars, and purchased a 2015 silver compact, which was only three years old at the time, from my mechanic. Four months later, on my way to an appointment, a car cut me off, and I managed to keep from hitting the other driver, but the car behind me was not that lucky. I heard that familiar, sickening sound of screeching tires and the thud of metal as it hit my rear bumper. I immediately knew to pull to the side lane of the highway along with the man who hit me. The car that caused the accident also pulled over. I fumbled for my cell phone to take photos. 

    The woman got out, looked at her car, and exclaimed, "I didn't get hit!"  
She returned to her car and drove away. She might have thought she was in the clear, but in reality, leaving the scene of the accident she'd caused made her the phantom driver. We both hoped some traffic cameras might have caught it on film, but they didn't. 

    I looked at my car; the bumper had been hit and bent. Luckily for me, it was still drivable. The other driver apologized and said it was a work vehicle. We waited for the police and informed them of the driver who had disappeared. This time,  the car was not totaled but needed a new bumper, which you would assume would be a pretty easy claim. Again, there was haggling before it was paid.  

The accident with the SUV and the fast settlement heightened my expectations that most insurance companies would pay their claims quickly and efficiently. While the insurance company I work for is supplemental, they have a solid reputation for paying claims quickly, but as I learned, not all insurance companies share that philosophy. 

Here are a few takeaways in case you find yourself in an accident:
  • Never leave the scene, even if your car didn't get hit, but you might have caused the accident. Leaving opens you up to all sorts of legal peril, so when in doubt, stick around until a police officer tells you that you're free to go. 
  • Call 911 to get an officer out to make a report. 
  • Don't argue with the other driver, as tensions can escalate quickly.
  • Take photos of the insurance card of the other driver if you can. 
  • Take photos of the accident and street conditions to show hazards. 
  • Contact your insurance agent to let them know what's happened and if anyone will be calling them. If you are at fault, let your insurance company know what happened and send the police report. 
  • Even if it was not your fault, contact your insurance agent first to let them know what happened so that if you need to get their help, they are appraised of the situation. 
I was blessed that each of my accidents did not result in anything more than muscle soreness the next day, but many people are not that fortunate. Ask for help from your agent, and if needed, get legal advice, but keep your cool. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, then you'll truly have a claim to make that involves staying above the fray to settle your claim. 

Friday, September 29, 2023

A Supplemental Story

I sat across from two elementary school teachers, Andrew and Stacy, who were married and wanted to review their benefits. As a certified enroller for their school system, it was my job to look over their current insurance, see their needs, and see if there had been any changes from the previous year. Andrew looked tired, more than just an end-of-the-school-day tired; he looked beat. Stacy looked harried, and I sensed it was more than just a typical long school day. As we reviewed their health insurance and supplemental coverage, I asked if any changes had occurred. They both looked at each other and sighed.

    "I'm recovering from my cancer procedure and getting chemo," replied Andrew, whose job was as one of the PE coaches at the school. "I've used up all my sick time and paid time off. The cancer is responding to treatment, which is great," he responded. Stacy jumped in. 

    "We just can't afford to have him miss any more work. I know he's exhausted. Luckily, his student teacher is a huge help." 

    "Let's see what coverage you all have, and maybe there might be something we can do," I replied as I clicked on their benefit profile and let out a small gasp. 

    "What...what is it?" Andrew asked. "Are we no longer covered for health insurance because of the cancer?"  Stacy let out a larger, horrified gasp. 

    "No, no. I've actually got good news. You have supplemental cancer coverage and short-term disability insurance," I replied with a smile. 

    "What does that mean?" Andrew asked. 

    "It means that the insurers on both policies owe you money. Luckily, this carrier pays pretty quickly." I clicked into a PDF of their coverage. "From the looks of your policy, they owe you at least $6,000 for the cancer policy, and your short-term disability should pay you about 60% of your paycheck for the time you've already taken off. You opted for the six-month plan, so you can use it for that long if your doctor agrees and signs off on the paperwork."

    The surprised and relieved looks on their faces told me that they could get through this man's recovery financially and that they could focus on healing rather than hardship.  

    "My word, I had no idea. We've had these plans for years, and now...they will help our family...I mean, we're going to be able to catch our breath...you can get better at home," Stacy replied, her eyes welling up. Andrew put his arm around her and nodded. It took everything I had to not tear up as well. 

    "Let's check with the carrier and see what you all need to do to make a claim. Usually, they'll need the diagnosis, how long the doctor suggests that you take off work and any other documentation. I'd suggest faxing or scanning the forms, and then you can get your claim going." 

On my way

home, I thought I should have been riding a white horse instead of driving home in a blue SUV. It's not often that you get to make such a difference in someone's life, but I was able to facilitate the help they needed so that this family would have some financial stability. 

     In a workplace like a school system, the benefits offered often include health and life insurance as a minimum. They can offer more robust options because their staff is in the hundreds, just like other large corporations. According to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) employer mandate, if you have fifty or more full-time eligible employees, you must offer affordable health insurance and the minimum essential coverage. 

    But, for smaller businesses with less than fifty employees, offering benefits can often seem out of reach. They don't legally have to offer health insurance. However, at group rates, supplemental insurance can often be offered to three to five or more employees. It can help cover the high deductibles that health insurance plans with lower premiums that their employees might find on the Marketplace. Supplemental insurance is often affordable; most of the time, the cost of a real meal deal and Venti a week to get cancer coverage or short-term disability. The deductions for the premiums can be set up through a payroll service like ADP or software like Quickbooks and then paid to the provider by the business. 

 For most businesses, benefits are a huge recruitment tool. According to a 2022 Aflac WorkForces report, nearly half (47%) of all employers state that remaining competitive with their total compensation package is one of their biggest challenges — a sentiment shared across organizations of all sizes. Nine in ten employees believe the need for supplemental insurance is increasing. More than half of employees want to purchase at least one supplemental insurance plan, with dental, hospital, mental health, accident, and infectious disease as the most popular. Additionally, employees wanted access to a benefits counselor similar to the role I played at the school enrollment, and 82% of employees wanted to be able to manage their benefits online.  

    I've also worked with small employers who could completely subsidize a policy like short-term disability or offer twenty to thirty dollars monthly towards a supplemental policy of the employees' choice with the rest of the premium paid by the staff member. It does help the employee feel that the employer is looking out for them. In the case of the elementary school coach, Andrew, having that financial cushion helped him focus on his recovery without asking his employer for income assistance. Helping employees reduce their financial stress in a health crisis is a win/win for everyone. You don't need to sit atop a white horse to see that. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Avoiding a Board of Detractors

As someone who has worked with nonprofits for over twenty years, I've seen one issue rear its ugly head more times than I can count. The issue, which I'm sure has been around since The Hospital of St. Cross, the first recorded charity established in Britain in 1136, is poor board recruitment, training, and management. Granted, the monks back in the Middle Ages were still figuring out how to run things, but I'm sure there was at least one blowhard who insisted that they were right and dismissed everyone else's ideas to make sure their agenda was the one that prevailed. Sound familiar? You don't have to work in a nonprofit to be exposed to that sort of bombast, but the very nature of charities sometimes attracts people who attach themselves to organizations for all the wrong reasons. This is one reason you need liability insurance to cover your board and volunteers. 
Like a regular corporation, charities are created because someone saw a need they believed was not being addressed. Unlike a traditional industry whose mission is to provide a product or service that can be sold with profits distributed to investors, nonprofits have a social entrepreneurial spirit that gives back to the community it serves. 
Once the charity's mission is established, the next step is to create a board of directors. In some states, it can be as small as three people, usually the group's founding members. The goal is to increase the number of board members who can help raise the organization's profile. But first, they need to have a good understanding of the definition of a functioning board.

According to the National Council on Nonprofits, board members are the fiduciaries who steer the organization toward a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, legal governance and financial management policies and ensuring the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission.
The very nature of an honorable cause can sometimes bring around people whose intentions are not honorable. That's why I tell people who work at nonprofits to be very leery of anyone who comes in, seems to have all the answers, and then wants to take on a lot of responsibility with very little oversight. At first, the person seems like an answer to a prayer and is charming and willing to go above and beyond what is called for. But at some point, they can become manipulative and controlling. These individuals can cause fissures in an organization that can take a very long time to heal.

I've seen my share of bad board behavior. Here are a few tales that go under the heading of "Don't let this Happen to You!"

Cautionary Tale #1:
An arts group had managed to bring on board members from all over the community and wanted to make sure that its artists were represented. One
reliable actor was interested in serving on the board. It seemed like a natural match; the theatre had board members who represented the community and had the financial and legal skill set needed. Still, it needed someone to represent the performance side even though the Artistic Director was also on the board. Things were going well at first until the actor brought up a play that he had always wanted to do. The content was not keeping with the theater's mission, and the piece was voted down. The actor kept pushing, and the Artistic Director explained that it did not jive with the other plays they were considering. 

The actor persisted to no avail and then shifted his tactic to get the board to remove the Artistic Director. Luckily, the members saw through his manipulation, but it took months to get him off the board, damaging the group's cohesiveness. 

Cautionary tale #2
I was the executive secretary at a child welfare agency that included foster care. Ideally, foster parents are trained to take care of the children in their stead with the idea that it will not be a permanent placement but a place where a child can reside outside an institutionalized setting. At the same time, the state tries to facilitate reunification with their biological family. 

One of the foster care parents at this agency had nurtured a young girl
since she was an infant. The parents were getting back on their feet, and the state wanted to reunify the family. The foster mother understandably had grown close to this child, who was two years old, and had let a few people at the agency know that she was interested in adoption. She was told that unless there was a termination of parental rights by the state, the goal for the family was always reunification. The foster mother didn't want to help facilitate the supervised visits, making it difficult for the biological parents to meet with their daughter.

When it looked like the biological parents would receive custody of their daughter, the foster mother fled with the young girl in the middle of the night and left her husband and young son to contend with the press and legal fallout. The fact that a foster parent decided to take such a drastic action was bad enough, but the reaction from the Chairman of the Board of the organization was even worse.

She was a friend of the woman and called a press conference unbeknownst to the Executive Director to say that she completely supported what the fugitive foster mother was doing. This proclamation of support jeopardized several state welfare contracts, which would have significantly reduced the services the organization could offer and might subsequently cause staff lay-offs. None of this had crossed the Chairman's mind while she expressed her righteous indignation to the media.

 The woman and the child were found in the middle of the state. Luckily, she had not crossed the state line, or the legal ramifications would have been even more significant. The young girl was reunited with her biological parents, and the foster mom ended up in a world of legal trouble. 

 As a result, the Chairman resigned from the board. A new communication and board policy was put in place in which only the Executive Director could speak to the media on behalf of the agency. It took years to rebuild the trust between the government entities and donors with the organization just because one person decided to go rogue.

Here are a few suggestions on how to prevent a volunteer leadership implosion:
  • Make sure you have liability insurance for board members and volunteers. These cautionary tales are a prime reason you need coverage if your board members go out of bounds and you are sued for damages.
  • Develop a board handbook that each board member signs to ensure they understand their responsibilities and how to counter toxic behavior. Board members should attend an orientation where they can ask questions so everyone is on the same page. 
  • Always ask a potential board member to serve on a committee first. If you start to see negative issues, you can deal with them before they join the board and serve as a legal entity.
  • Do your due diligence. It's not enough for one or two people to vouch for the potential board member; do a background and reference check to verify their credentials. 
There is no better feeling at the end of the day than knowing that you made a difference in the world by doing charity work. Safeguarding that mission from someone whose intentions are unscrupulous, even if they seem magnanimous, is one of the most difficult challenges a nonprofit can face. Recognizing and stopping malignant individuals is a vital skill to hone and one that might determine the long-term sustainability of your organization. You don't need to be a monk from the 1100s to understand that.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Fine Art of Failure

"Success requires passion, perseverance, emotional intelligence, and the ability to understand the value of failure." 
- John Haltiwanger, Elite Daily

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed." 
- Booker T. Washington

A friend recently mentioned an incident with a young intern who was told that their part of the project was not up to the level the team needed to make the proposal succeed. The intern felt picked on, got defensive angry, and resorted to name-calling. My friend took them aside and tried to reason that it was not personal and, in fact, there were positive aspects in what they had turned in, but that they needed to try a little harder. He suggested shadowing others in the group with more experience might help them improve how to put the proposal together. This young person apparently had never faced honest criticism and became extremely upset. The intern, who held a lot of promise, decided to quit that day rather than face that they had not wildly succeeded beyond all expectations the first time at bat.   

We both were willing to excuse it as some youthful overconfidence when I stumbled across a Psychology Today article called "Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges" by Dr. Peter Gray. It spoke to the fact many students are starting college without basic life skills to help them handle adversity or even failure. It's a result of controlling parents pushing their kids too hard to be successful or refusing to see their child's foibles and blaming everyone in sight for their own parenting misdeeds.  

These well-meaning parents have been orbiting their children for years to prevent adversity, including dealing with disappointments or even simple life challenges, to darken their child's door. One university reported that emergency calls for counseling had doubled over even the simplest disagreements, such as a student being called a bitch by her roommate or dealing with finances for the first time. Two other students needed counseling after they called the police when they spotted a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The officer was kind enough to set a mouse trap for the errant rodent.  

I've worked with many young adults, and most of the time, I've found them to be hard-working, conscientious, and have high emotional intelligence. However, one in four have difficulty taking direction, listening to differing opinions, and completing their projects within the specifications. When you offer feedback that is not glowing, they become defensive and extremely hard to work with. You wonder how they can fall apart over a comment like, "Hey, on the next set of reports, could you make the copies a little darker?"  

Our society is now reaping the effects to ensure our children have every advantage for some; it's not the path to success those parents had expected. 
In their quest to create successful children, these well-meaning parents have over-scheduled to the point their children have little downtime to examine who they are because each block of time is devoted to baseball, football, soccer, ballet, piano, etc. They are expected to exceed, and when they don't, it's not because they might lack the drive or talent but because the coach, the teacher, or the director needs to give them a fair shake. Worse, some parents do their children's homework to keep their grades up while rushing from one activity to another. The reality is that the facade will crack. The test grades will prove that the brilliant insights these kids have at home, for some reason, do not transfer to the classroom.  

These kids grow up to feel unworthy at the dawn of any adversity, and the rate of depression among young adults is at an all-time high. A  2012 Healthline article written by Michael Kerr found that:
  • 1 out of every 4 college students suffers from some form of mental illness, including depression
  • 44% of American college students report having symptoms of depression
  • 75% of college students do not seek help for mental health problems
These statistics keep some college professors from giving bad grades for fear of causing emotional distress that can lead to severe psychosis. As a result, colleges lower their standards because of fear of lawsuits resulting from nervous breakdowns or suicides. Of course, this is not news to teachers who have been seeing this trend for years, and now those overly protected children are off to college, no more able to handle things than when they were in the sixth grade.   

This is why we must sit our kids down and tell them failure's okay. Heck, a good manager will tell their staff to try something new even if it doesn't always work out - hell, it might take many times at bat to even make contact with the ball. It's okay - that's life, and not everything you try will go perfectly the first time, the sixth time, or the hundredth time. It might even be good to abandon the whole concept of per; it just doesn't exist.

Sorry, you A-type personalities, you can try for excellence and go beyond the project's parameters, but it will never be perfect, so let yourself and your kids off the hook. Studies have shown that many successful CEOs and American Presidents were C students who could see the big picture rather than fixating on tiny details, which slowed them down. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were C students, as were John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and George Bush Sr. and Jr.  

One of my colleagues told me recently that her son was asked to do a paper on a historical figure, and one of the paragraphs had to be a time that person faced adversity or failure. It is an important lesson for kids to absorb that greatness is not achieved overnight; it can be a lifelong process. Here's a short list of great people who failed many times before they finally got it right:
  • Thomas Edison tried 1,000 light prototypes and finally successfully created the light bulb. 
  • Albert Einstein was expelled from school and refused admittance to Zurich Polytechnic School. 
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a TV reporter because she was "unfit for TV."
  • Dr. Seuss's first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected 27 times. 
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California Film School three times. After one show at the Grand Old, Elvis Presley was fired and told to return to driving a truck. 
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, but it didn't stop him
    from pursuing what he loved doing. "I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Success takes risk, and risk comes with failure. I've had so many projects never come together like I thought they would. But I learned so much more from the things that fail than I do from the things that are a success, and that trial and error makes the things that succeed that much sweeter. Failure helps me figure out what my clients want by eliminating the parts that have failed in the past. It helps me figure out what will work in the future and gives me the strength to take those chances. That's the lesson we need to teach our young people, and when faced with adversity - they'll embrace it as just one more brick on their own road to success. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Cheeky Concept - The Power of Yes And....

I was walking in the park the other day when I came across a golden retriever who was having the best time in the stream. She was trying to get a stick. Well, it wasn't precisely a stick; it was a log, about twenty feet long and maybe 20 inches in circumference. You could tell by the cheerful expression on her face that she was convinced she could get it and drag it to the bank. She would then proudly bring it to her masters, watching from the bridge. This dog tried everything she could to get that log:  she chewed chunks off it and wanted to push it with her blond paws and nose. Every time she failed, she kept going - undeterred by the obvious. She did succeed in getting one side of the log onto the bank. Her human parents watched in amusement and finally called her to come to them. She obeyed immediately and trotted up the bank, quite happy that she had gotten the log that far. Those watching her caper unfold admired her enthusiasm and applauded as she approached the bridge, soaking wet but proud of what she had accomplished. She was a dog on a mission, and the idea that it was impossible never entered her K-9 brain. She just had fun and did her best with what she had. That's all she really needed.    

I walked away from the bridge and that soggy retriever and thought about how powerful positive thinking is. Having that sort of boundless optimism in our society can be challenging. We're in a world where snarky comments rule social media. Often, the bad seeds yell the loudest and push their own agenda, while the people who come up with new and innovative ideas are either ignored or their ideas are stolen by the head bully. Being positive and thinking outside the box doesn't get you far on shows like The Real Housewives or Survivor. To succeed, you must be willing to stomp on anyone - a buddy or colleague to get ahead. The worst thing about these sorts of shows is that they kill creativity and the importance of true collaboration. In reality, these shows don't show the truth. In act, Mark Burnett, creator of Survivor and countless other shows, refers to them as "unscripted dramas."  

Those meltdowns aren't authentic  - they are staged because, in the real world, you'd be out on the street speaking to your boss, coworker, friend, or lover like that. But those train wreck moments get ratings and plenty of views on YouTube, and for some, it seems like a logical way to behave to get ahead. You can get hundreds of thousands of clicks, but eventually, it will catch up to you. Unlike the skewed world of reality TV - it can ruin your reputation and even have your children taken away - just ask DaddyOFive - a YouTube channel that showed parents pranking their kids in the name of monetized views, which eventually turned so vicious - child protective services had to be called in.  

I like to look at how a simple affirmation can change your life. In the movie Yes Man, Jim Carrey's mundane life is turned upside down when a self-help guru challenges him to say "yes" to the opportunities that come his way.   He goes from being a heartbroken, self-imposed shut-in to the fun guy everyone wants to hang out with.   He saves a man from jumping off a ledge by using the guitar lessons he's started taking to sing Jumper by Third Eye Blind. He gets his best friend's fiancee to like him when he throws them an engagement party. He suddenly goes on spur-of-the-moment trips on flights to anywhere. He finds love because he breaks out of his comfort zone and meets a woman who, on the surface, would not be his type - a singer in an avant-garde band whose quirkiness inspires him to be a different man.   By saying yes to all sorts of possibilities, he becomes a self-realized human willing to meet life head-on rather than run away from it. 

I use improvisation for team building, and one of the first rules I give to my students is to never block offers - it's essential to say "Yes, and..."  For instance, if I start a scene with, "Hey, it's great that we're finally married and on our honeymoon in Paris," and my scene partner comes back with, "We're not married, and we live in New Jersey!", the scene crashes and burns in the first few seconds before it can even get off the ground. The best improvisers will accept the "offer" and build on it - for instance -  "Yes, and I'm so glad that my mother wanted to come with us!"  Now, in those first few lines, we're in agreement about our relationship location, and now that person has added another level of the meddling mother-in-law, which is always comedy gold. Not blocking offers is critical to good improvisation but also vital in taking your life and business to the next level. 

Tina Fey, one of my comedy goddesses, explores this further in her book Bossy Pants. "Now, in real life, you're not always going to agree with everything that everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to 'respect what your partner has created' and at least start from an open-minded place. Start with YES AND... and see where that takes you."  She explains that freeing your mind from negativity helps you find new discoveries if you allow yourself to take that chance. "There are no mistakes, only opportunities...Many of the world's greatest discoveries have been by accident. I can look at the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup or Botox."  

We've all worked with people who have the mentality of "No, we can't do that," "No, that's not in our budget," or  "That's the way we've always done it."  If you want to keep the status quo and not grow, don't bring new people in with new ideas. Stay the way you are and stagnate,,; eventually, it will do you in.   

I once worked at an international organization where the program staff wanted to take trips overseas for any event they could.  It was eating holes in their budget, but they insisted that the frequent trips were necessary to keep up communication with their clients, even if it was not specifically to do training. To minimize the journeys between activities,  I suggested teleconferencing from the office in Atlanta so that the overseas clients would get direct contact from our US staff much more often. The cost would be minimal, and the program staff could spend more time at home with their families (albeit they might have to work in the middle of the night to catch clients in Beijing or Nairobi during their workday, but at least they could go home rather than spend 24-hours straight flying and at airports). The Director of Finance was on board with it, but the Program Director threw such a fit that the idea was scrapped. Eventually, the program had to be eliminated because the cost of even doing the twice-a-year face-to-face training overseas was prohibitive. If the Program Director had been on board with teleconferencing, we would have saved her program and increased the number of people she could train. But, she was so hard-wired to not accept anyone's ideas but hers that eventually, she lost her job.   

I was working with a business group recently, and we worked on the Yes and... game.   The Yes and ... is a good group activity for everyone to brainstorm; many advertising agencies use it.  We wanted to figure out how to get the arts out there to more people in the local business community.  One of the other facilitators, Sally Corbett, suggested we answer the question, "How do we change the shape of the Dorito?"  My next suggestion was to make it flower-shaped, like a daisy.  Her next suggestion was to offer dips. My next idea was to have the drops with plant-based colors that were bright and fun.  She then suggested that you could break off the petals and dip them.   I added that if it was sold with a snack plate like a palette, you could paint on it, and the proceeds could go towards arts organizations. We did it with the group, and they understood that being open to other people's imaginations and building on them is good for business.  Think what the brainstorming session for the Chick-fil-A cows must have been like:  "Yeah, we could have cows that encourage people to eat chicken because burgers are made from beef."  "Yes, and" another colleague would add, "they could be slightly mysterious, a little threatening - "  "Yes, and" another staff member would chime in, "They could have really, really bad grammar and handwriting in their signs!"  Boom, one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever, was born. 

So feel free to say yes if someone invites you to try something new. Give it a try; you might like it. There have been times that I literally went to places or events kicking and screaming, and once I got over myself and relaxed, I was happy that I went. You can sit on the couch anytime with the pets or kids and watch a movie but don't turn down an offer that you know you should take advantage of because it takes you out of your comfort zone and gets you to think outside of your cubical. One of my favorite lines from the movie We Bought a Zoo is when Matt Damon says: "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. It's just literally twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it."  Yes, and... I couldn't agree more.  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Life's a Pitch

"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going because you might not get there."
 – Yogi Berra.
You're sitting in that business networking meeting, and everyone has 30 seconds to get up and pitch their business. You were not prepared to do an elevator speech, but you've been in the industry a long time, so it should be a slam dunk. As row after row of business people give their speeches, you think how much everyone will love yours even though you have not prepared one – but you do well presenting off the cuff. The person before you totally nails it is done before the timer goes off, but you've already sat through 20 presentations that you feel were not memorable.
You stand up confidently and open your mouth just as the timer starts; you have a half minute to tell the group what you do. You start strong with your name and business, but then it seems like there's so much to tell and only 30 seconds to tell it – what do you highlight? Your heart starts beating faster; your hands and armpits sweat like a marathoner. Your breath starts to get shorter. You try to communicate how your business is a beacon of best practices but stumble over the facts. You finally hit your high point when – PPPINNNGGG, the alarm goes off, and you sit down before you can even say your tagline or repeat your name. A woman nearby offers you a condescending look and says, "It's always difficult the first time you do it." You then realize you blew it in front of 50 potential clients.
Whether you're pitching for a new job, networking group, or getting that
new board member or movie financed, the elevator pitch is the key to summarizing your skill set and convincing that person that you know what you're talking about. It should be easy, yet saying what you do in a quick minute or less can be very daunting, so you need to be prepared.

I've done improvisation for over 25 years, which allows me to speak extemporaneously. Even more important is that most people know within 7 to 11 seconds of talking to you if they want to work with you so those first impressions are crucial.   
Years ago, I used to talk to businesses on behalf of United Way to encourage them to give. If I had used the same pitch for senior bankers and their support staff, I would have bored both audiences. The bankers wanted to know the return on their investment (ROI), so I would offer facts about how investing in afterschool programs cut down on high school drop-out rates. The support staff seemed more interested in the actual success stories of the clients we were serving. I was speaking on the same outcomes, just offering different viewpoints based on the audience I was addressing. 
So, how do you start  an elevator pitch? I always like to begin by simmering it down to who I am, what I do, and how I do it; think of it as your mission statement. Once you have that, write what you think is pertinent and edit it. Keeping it simple and specific allows your audience to quickly digest what you are saying because you are not trying to complicate things with more than one or two facts.
For instance, if you are trying to sell an employer on the need for benefits for their staff and
you have 30 seconds to try to get on their calendar – barfing up 10 facts will only confuse them and water down your message. Starting with "Did you know that 43% of employees report that they are considering changing jobs in the next year, but offering good benefits is one way to retain your staff?" will pique their interest. It will probably get you that appointment because it is simple specific, and addresses employee turnover, a problem both large and small businesses face daily.
According to an article in Forbes Magazine by author Nancy Collamer, the first step is identifying your target audience and crafting your words. Your pitch will be different if you're trying to sell yourself personally vs. selling your business or a program within the business. A few key points she offered included:
·    Just a few bullet points. Don't give your entire life story. Nobody has time for that. Just a few key facts that will spark your listener's interest.
·    Tailor your pitch to them – not you. For instance, if you are trying to get a decision maker to use your products, emphasize what will make their life easier by working with you and why it's a great fit. 
·   Avoid industry jargon and acronyms. You might assume that the person you are talking to should know that jargon, but people learn to reference things differently. Spell it out, and don't use slang.
·    Write it down and practice. Writing it down will help you retain the facts and practice in a mirror. Also, practicing role-playing with someone can help build your confidence and give you much-needed feedback. You should also time yourself so you stay within your given time limit.

Remember that 75 words are about 30 seconds, 150 words are approximately one minute, and three hundred words are about two minutes. You should have a speech for each increment, but you'll probably use the 30-second to one-minute pitch the most often.   

So the next time you go to your networking group, job interview, sales meeting, or product demonstration, have a great pitch you feel comfortable with and vary it weekly so you have four or five that you can pull out at a moment's notice. It will make you look polished and prepared, and instead of condescension, you'll get congratulations and maybe a few job offers.