According to US News & World Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. Forbes reports just 8% achieve their resolutions. Those aren’t great odds! So why do so many of us set New Year’s resolutions, year after year, when so few of us reach them?
As a coach, I routinely work with my clients on goal setting and goal attainment. New Year’s resolutions are similar to any other goal we might set for ourselves throughout the year—be it professional, personal, or a combination of both. One key difference, however, is the energy we often feel as one year closes and a new one begins. There’s something contemplative and reflective about this time of year, and many of us naturally turn inward to examine where we’ve triumphed and stumbled over the past 12 months. We see the new year as potential, possibility, and opportunity. It’s exciting to think about how things might be different—and better.
Another key difference is the hype that goal setting gets this time of year! Friends and family ask about our resolutions. Conversations and products related to self-help, growth, and personal development can be found everywhere you turn. The social pressure can be substantial, as we are encouraged to state our intentions and show progress.
In my coaching engagements, my clients often design “experiments” for themselves—activities that encourage them to try new things, examine the world from different angles, rewrite old stories in brand new ways, or test theories to see it they hold up. You can’t fail at an experiment. Experimentation is about dreaming up an idea, creating conditions you think might lead to success, trying it out, gathering data, examining the results, then tweaking things before giving it another go. It’s iterative—and it’s fun. Experimentation can be low risk yet result in some very big rewards.
As we head into 2019, I’m thinking about how New Year’s resolutions might be less “resolute” and instead more experimental—leading to learning, growth, and lasting change.
Below are several alternatives to traditional New Year’s resolutions. Some are tried-and-true, others quite novel and whimsical. Which one might help you reach and maintain the goals you are after? Let me know what you uncover!
You have likely heard of this one. Instead of setting a New Year’s resolution, choose three words to serve as inspiration in the year to come. Chris Brogan, CEO of Owner Media Group, has been using this process since 2006 and says the three word process is “a lighthouse to guide you through foggy moments.” Unlike traditional resolutions, this process isn’t all-or-nothing; you don’t achieve or fail. Instead, it’s about staying aligned throughout the year.
Planners and Journals
There are so many creative, inspiring journals that can help bring things like goal-setting, inspiration, intentional planning, and gratitude practice together in one place. The one I use daily and love is Two Minute Mornings from Neil Pasricha, but I have my eye on this beautiful 2020 Ink+Volt planner too. (I am sure some of you are very into your BuJo as well!) One wonderful thing about journaling is the ability to look back, reflect, and see progress.
Many of my clients create these on their birthdays, outlining (for example) 52 things they want to do in their 52nd year, but this practice could work just as well at the start of a new year. To celebrate, play, and experiment in 2020, maybe there are 20 restaurants you want to try or 20 books you want to read. Maybe it’s less about the number of items and more about lifelong aspirations, like getting your pilot’s license or saving up for a trip to Asia. Check out these bucket list ideas to get inspired.
If you’re not quite ready to commit to 365 days of anything, a 30-day challenge might be a more realistic—and achievable—place to start. Many 30-day challenges (see this site as an example) have in-person or social networking groups to help with encouragement and provide accountability partners. After 30 days, you may find yourself up for 30 more—or ready to move onto the next thing. Either way, you gave it a go
One simple yet effective way to learn about ourselves is to gather data. You might want to track how many cups of coffee you drink each week, or the hours you spend giving back to your community. You don’t need to know exactly how you’ll use the information. In fact, sometimes it’s best to just see what the data shows you and make decisions from there. These habit tracking apps can help. If you’re less into numbers and more into images, 1 Second Everyday is a fun and creative alternative—a video snapshot of your day-to-day.
Letter from/to my Future Self
What would your 95-year-old self say to the person you are today? What would they compliment you about, challenge you on, or encourage you to consider? Writing this letter can be a powerful activity, bringing personal and professional priorities and values to the forefront. Alternatively, write a letter to yourself a year from now. What do you want to say to the person you will become? (This website will even send your letter back to you on the date of your choice.)
What other alternatives to New Year’s resolutions have you heard about or tried? As this new decade approaches, what experiments might provide you with new insights and help you to start 2020 off right?
I recently completed a 3-day solo backpacking adventure in one of my favorite Colorado wildernesses, which provided plenty of free head-space to reflect on a variety of subjects (especially with the fleeting nature of high-altitude bivvy-sack ‘sleep’…). I try to get in 3-4 solo trips each year and am always grateful for the opportunity to be completely self-sufficient in a modern world that makes it so easy not to be. It allows a unique laboratory for those, like me, who make a game out of maximizing efficiency, and leads me to learn valuable lessons which can be applied back in the ‘real world’: the importance and benefit of being familiar with one’s environment as well as mapping out a plan (then actually following a map!), how to calculate time and distance and analyze potential threats and opportunities based on observations, and how to adjust variables to improve accuracy the next time.
I also thoroughly enjoy guiding these types of adventures and try to get others out with me 2-3 times a year (especially nature rookies – any takers?). Being responsible for others’ lives, safety and enjoyment is a very different mindset from solo backpacking where, instead of focusing on optimizing personal comfort through maximum efficiency, I now pivot to making decisions based on what’s best for the team relative to our collective goals for the trip. To do so, I need to understand individual fears and limitations in advance as well as throughout our time together in the wilderness, which requires effective empathic questioning to get honest responses (where the tendency is to down-play certain realities) and may lead to various accommodations along the way to optimize individual guest comfort and the overall group experience. I’ve noticed that much of my ability to make successful adjustments as I guide in the group setting is derived from the learning I experience solo.
What I realized a day and a half into my latest adventure, was the correlation between solo vs. guided backpacking and successful team management in the workplace. As in the actual jungle, the better I understand the work environment, both market and office (and there’s always more to learn), the better equipped I am to ask the right questions to help my team determine the best course of action. As I continue to stay curious and seek to understand even the most tangential subjects, I have a deeper and broader base from which to guide the team toward new possibilities. We’ll start with a better foundation from which to plan, and I’ll be better equipped to uncover the hidden drivers and get to the ideal solution for making both strategic and tactical adjustments on the fly.
In my experience, the outdoors provides a connection with a more fundamental ‘human’ nature, whose insights are transferrable to any situation where leveraging your team’s individual capabilities is critical to determining the best course of action.
So, who wants to go camping?
In recent years, many nonprofits have started to become more introspective about whether or not they are truly meeting the needs of the populations they are trying to serve. Many have become interested in involving clients and consumers in the process of designing solutions, and shifting to a mindset that is more empowering and consumer-driven. While this general shift represents a positive development in the field, many find themselves stuck on how exactly to go about this process. A human-centered design approach offers a great paradigm for organizations that are seeking to become more inclusive.
Human-centered design (HCD), also known as design thinking, is an innovative approach that puts consumers in the driver’s seat. Using this perspective can help your organization to design programs, projects, and products that better meet the needs of the populations that you serve, building empowerment in the process. It has been used successfully by for-profits and nonprofits alike, and is particularly favored by organizations that seek to address social and public health-related problems. A human-centered design lens is a great option for organizations seeking to reach their target populations in a more effective and inclusive way.
The HCD process involves several distinct stages, which are repeated after receiving feedback from consumers. The beginning of the human-centered design process involves observation, inspiration, and empathy. This is where designers must do whatever they can to put themselves into the hearts and minds of the people for whom they are designing. This is a phase where openness is valued, and receiving is better than giving. Tools and approaches in this stage include individual and group interviews, expert research, and basic observation of conditions, habits, and environments. It is important to identify pain points, and to continue to ask, “why is this important?”
Following this initial phase, designers begin to narrow in on a definition of the problem at hand, making sure that any potential solutions are designed with ultimate impact in mind. Designers zero in on the identified problem using observations and input gathered in the first steps of the process. It is crucial that all team members share an understanding of goals and purpose, and are designing around this shared understanding. This stage involves discussion, more listening, and creative thinking. The challenge and goal within this phase is to frame the issue at hand as a design question.
Once designers have jointly and specifically identified the problem that they are trying to solve, exploration and brainstorming begin. Within this phase solutions are explored, tested, and iterated. Human-centered design does not demand immediate perfection, and so leaves room for the development of a “more perfect” design over the course of the process. After receiving feedback on initial ideas on potential solutions, designers go back to the drawing board again and again. This approach allows designers to use feedback from potential users to inform more and more improved versions of a product or program over time.
Human-centered design is inherently empowering. It taps into and assumes the presence of an innate human creativity that has the potential to solve whatever problems present themselves to us. It also assumes that individuals are the best source of information for what is important to them, what they need, and where they want to go. This stands in contrast to the philosophy of aid programs of the past that assumed the stance that if poor and underserved populations would just “do this” or “do that,” then they would be able to advance. Programs with this attitude so often fell short because they failed to empower the people that they were meant to serve, and so ended up badly missing the mark.
Using this approach can present some internal obstacles for those accustomed to a different way of doing things. Firstly, it’s important to name that it can be a bit of a shock to the ego to consider the idea that we may not actually know the best answer after all. We so often have a wealth of ideas up our sleeves that we’re eager to implement, with the best of intentions in mind. It can be tough to put on the brakes and be told to just listen for a while. Beyond that, empathy is fundamental to the process, and this can be a difficult skill to develop. It can also be tough to get comfortable with the idea of iteration. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have the right answer right away, often to the detriment of the creative process.
Human-centered design operates from principles of empowerment, collaboration, flexibility, and openness, and it can be seamlessly integrated into your organization’s process using a few simple tools and methods. However, the most important component of this process is a shift in thinking from top-down to bottom-up. How willing are you and your organization to make that shift? Taking this question into consideration can lead to some big and important changes to the work that you do, resulting is greater impact and connection to community.
If you run ads through Facebook Ads Manager, you may not realize that opting into the Audience Network means that your ads could be running on sites that aren’t in line with your brand’s values—eg. Breitbart.
The simplest fix is to opt out of third-party sites by selecting “Edit Placements” in the ad set and then deselecting “Audience Network.” However, if you don’t want to miss out on the Audience Network’s access to sites like BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and CNN, you can upload a “Block List” that will prevent ads from running on specific sites.
If you prefer the latter option, the actual Audience Network list is quite lengthy, so we recommend finding out where your ads HAVE run. To see that info, in your business settings, navigate to ➞ Brand Safety ➞ Block Lists ➞ Manage ➞ See Where Ads Have Appeared.
Once you download those lists, we suggest focusing on the channels with the most impressions and adding the no-gos to your Block List.
Ready to start engaging influencers? Here’s the plan.
1. Redefine “Influencers”
Instead of thinking about people as “influencers,” we suggest viewing them as potential “friends” of your brand. You want to build long-term relationships, not a list of one-and-dones.
2. Find Friends with Influence
Next, scout for your new friends. Look for a variety of people who have different spheres of influence. Some of them may have already tagged your brand in social media or reached out via email. Visit those archives!
3. Rank Character
Look for people who share values with your brand, then assess and rank their worth. We like letter grades: A+, A, B, C. What to consider: engagement, followers, frequency, experience.
4. Make Contact
Contact your potential new friends with an offer, which can be tailored to each group: C = free product/service; B = C + repost; A = B + C + payment; A+ = A + B + C + an experience (pictured).
5. Build a CRM
Once you have your first group of influencers on board, confirm your agreements (contracts are always wise) and then load everyone’s info—social handles, agreement terms, signed docs, etc.—into a CRM tool like Capsule.
6. Review. Revise. Repeat.
After your influencers post their media, capture the results and review the experience of working with each one. Use your CRM to log the info…and then plan your next wave with even more friends!
There has been a lot written in recent years about Work-Life Balance v. Work-Life Integration. The words “balance” and “integration” have been dissected to the point that they simultaneously feel like synonyms and antonyms. What is it, though, that we are really trying to get at?
The concept of Work-Life Balance entered into my psyche for the first time around 2004. I was early in my law school career, and all around me my peers were asking the law firms they were interviewing with whether or not they supported “work-life balance”, and if so, how? Simultaneously, I was working as a law clerk at the firm that I was a paralegal with prior to starting law school, and ultimately would stay with for a number of years after graduation. While law students were asking about work-life balance, the attorneys at firms were scratching their heads, wondering what in the world were these law students talking about? There is no balance at the beginning of your legal career – there is only work-work balance, and “life” gets the scraps that are left over when you are exhausted and have nothing to give. That’s how they did it, and if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for the next generation.
Fast forward to my years working within the technology start-up sector. Not only was Work-Life Balance a term relegated to the past, but we had to come up with a new phrase to signify how it is that we approach managing work and personal life. Enter….”Work-Life Integration”. With the technological advances of email, smart phones, mobile applications, etc…we as humans are more accessible than ever, and so is every part of our life. We live and die by our calendars, creating separate ones for personal/social, work and even our custody schedules. We share them with others so they know where to find us, and when. We have our work email on our personal devices and our personal email on our work devices so we are at the ready for anything, at any time. Hence – we have integrated. There are no boundaries between work and personal. We can work at soccer practice, and we can watch a live-streamed school play from the comfort of our offices when in the midst of a high pressure transaction.
But…is this the zenith? At this point in my life and my career, I find myself full of questions with very few answers. Each question begets more questions. My children want to show me what is important to them, without the ping from my phone interrupting the attention they are receiving. When I am working on a deliverable for a client, they want to know that what they are paying me for has my full attention.
How can I have it ALL? CAN I have it all? What does it even MEAN to have it all?? Is this where we want to be? Or, have we lost touch with what it means to be a fully and wholly integrated person walking through the many avenues of life? There are so many facets to who we are as individuals. Yes, of course, we have our professional aspirations. We have our personal lives that could include partners, children, hobbies, friendships, exercise, spiritual practices, etc. But, is it necessary that they continue to be defined separately? If we are one person, is it possible that we could bring the aspects that make us most productive in the work setting into our homes? And the aspects that make us the most fulfilled in our homes into our work settings? What if we offered our co-workers, our friends and our families the best of all aspects of ourselves.
In addition to this, what would it mean to truly be present for each moment in our lives? To not bifurcate and watch our niece’s play in a live stream, but to actually be present for it and not touch our cell phone come hell or high water until it is over? Or to be present for the deal in the office that needs our full attention and go ahead and outsource soccer practice that night to someone who can be present for that?
We have come a long way in this conversation. But, perhaps we still continue to miss the point. Work v. Life. Balance v. Integration. Whole v. Separate. Where are you?
Recently, I was asked to prepare and deliver a training on conflict management for an organization. As I started to consider different options for presenting meaningful information, I consistently returned to the basic tenets of emotional intelligence. The term “emotional intelligence” has become a buzzword in today’s organizations, but few of us really understand the true meaning.
Emotional intelligence skills can be divided into four categories: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Within each category is a set of skills that, when coupled with conflict resolution tools and techniques, will yield positive results.
Self-awareness: Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your moods emotions, and drives as well as their effect on others. Those that are self-aware, recognize their automatic reactions or emotional triggers and have learned to neutralize them. They proceed with caution while keeping themselves in check.
Those that have low self-awareness tend to become externally focused on the person or situation that has “caused” the problem they face, and allow their reactions to “hijack” their behavior. This altered state of mind is often referred to as a neural hijack and can lead to unhealthy, emotionally reactive behavior.
Self-Management: Self-management is the ability to think before acting. Instead of letting reactions dictate behavior, they can explore possible strategies prior to taking action. Their energy is focused on slowing down and making conscious choices about what to do. Self-management is the skill set that enables you to exert conscious control over your behavior.
Social Awareness: Social-awareness is being proficient in managing relationships. Those that are not socially aware, tend to make false assumptions in the heat of the moment. In general, when emotions are triggered they assume the worst, and their assumptions fuel the fire of their reactive behavior.
On the other hand, those who are socially aware, attend to others and can establish empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and have skills in treating people according to their emotional reactions. They look for positive intentions behind negative behavior. Instead of reacting negatively to “bad” behavior, they seek to respond to the other person’s positive intentions and to lead them toward behaviors that better express those intentions.
Relationship Management: Those who are not adept at managing relationships, often lose their perspective of time when they are emotionally charged. Despite whatever ongoing relationship they may have with someone, when negative emotional reactions are triggered they are likely to react with destructive behavior undermining their future relationship with that person. Those that are skilled at managing relationships, remain cognizant of the fact that how they interact in the present determines the quality of their relationships in the future. Keeping this broader perspective during conflict helps them to focus on self-awareness, self-management and social awareness, resisting the impulse to react negatively.
Emotional intelligence is essential for managing any conflict we face in our everyday lives. As we all know, conflict appears in every relationship we have – work, home, friendships, etc. Being able to effectively manage conflict is about leveraging emotional intelligence skills to consider outcomes from the perspective of our relationships. Too often, we find ourselves arguing about petty issues; and if we aren’t careful, these interactions can trigger waves of defensiveness and hostility. However, they are skills that have to be learned, practiced and internalized if they are to be successful.
I hold a pretty controversial business view: I love Microsoft PowerPoint and believe it has the potential to convert skeptics into believers. A solid design, the right balance of confident storytelling and on-screen text, and thoughtful video or graphics can make my heart flutter. I understand, though, why there are many detractors: Some of the templates have been used ad nauseum, many of us never received formal training on what makes a good presentation, and a few of the features (I’m looking at you, WordArt and pinwheel animation.) could have been retired a while back. And we have likely all had a colleague attempt to test the limits of our eyesight and patience by drafting a short novel on one slide.
So why am I advocating for PowerPoint? A well-constructed presentation can reinforce – or better yet, enhance – the story you’re verbally telling. Its format also allows it to live on after the presentation ends; disseminating slides after conferences or meetings is common practice among many of my clients. PowerPoint has also advanced its embedding tools in the past five years, allowing presenters to more seamlessly add multimedia elements. Lastly, it’s a widely accessible tool. PowerPoint has been around since 1987, and much of the current workforce uses it – or attempts to, at least.
If you’re ready to unlock the power of PowerPoint to make your presentation more memorable, here are a few foundational tips:
Unique templates, plentiful formats
Have you seen the same generic template over and over again? Or is your staff using whatever theme strikes their fancy on a given day? Investing in the creation of a branded template with your organization’s colors, fonts, images, and logo embedded into the master theme is worth it. With one template, the whole team will present a cohesive look to the world and ensure your brand’s integrity. I also try adding interest by creating slides with both light and dark background colors, varying text alignment, and including agenda progression slides that serve as a roadmap for the audience to keep them engaged.
Heavy on visuals, light on text
If you’ve ever watched a TED Talk, you know that presenters frequently use PowerPoint (or Keynote, a similar but less widespread program) to help drive their message home. Often, the slides contain just a single image, word, or sentence. While I’m not recommending you remove all text from all slides, consider the words you want your audience to remember, and include just those. Consider these points to be the ones your audience will write down and what you hope will stick with them after your presentation ends.
When it comes to visuals, photos are a striking way to help you tell your story, but remember to give credit to the photographer. Sites such as Unsplash and Pexels can provide you with a wealth of free-use photos, searchable by subject. Including branded infographics, simple graphs/charts and icons (the modern take on clip art) can draw an audience in, as well. Just make sure everyone can easily read all of the text and numbers you’re planning to include or want to highlight. PowerPoint comes with a helpful SmartArt feature to make content more appealing for items such as lists and processes, but don’t attempt to use it as smoke and mirrors to distract from a lack of clear message.
No matter your combination of text and graphics, ask a strong editor for a second set of eyes – a capable proofreader can ensure error-free content. Seeing a typo projected on a large screen can erode credibility and detract from the presenter’s story.
Know your work, know your room
Public speaking incites fear in many – including me, a communicator by trade! However, using the content on PowerPoint slides or your notes section as a “read-aloud” limits your ability to connect with your audience. Know your content well, and practice as many times as needed to really own your presentation. Reading text verbatim may lead to a memorable experience for the wrong reasons. Always be ready to speak to any slide you present with confidence and competence.
It may seem minor, but position yourself for success by learning about the room long before you enter. Having a sense of the answers to the following questions helps calm my jitters:
- Will my presentation be projected in standard or widescreen format?
- How is the room set up?
- Where will I be standing in relation to the screen?
- Is someone available to help with my A/V needs, such as connecting to the projector and playing video?
Embracing the power
Consider hiring a consultant who is well-versed in turning drab presentations into compelling tools to incite curiosity or move audiences to act. With a few adjustments, you, too, can more fully embrace the power of PowerPoint.
Gretchen is a marketing and PR consultant specializing in integrated communications campaigns for nonprofits, small businesses, and local government.
For some people, riding a bike is merely about transportation. Not for me. Aside from the exercise that cycling provides, I often have my most compelling insights while in the saddle. At times, riding becomes a metaphor for life.
One path that I ride frequently travels east from downtown Denver toward the Cherry Creek Reservoir. A few miles into the ride, I pass under a roadway, execute a full 360-degree turn, and confront my nemesis: a 3-foot pole in the middle of the path; it’s there to prevent cars and other motorized vehicles from driving onto the trail.
Now more than ever, donors expect nonprofits to be transparent, impactful, and relatable on a human level. Changes in our society’s day-to-day habits have prepared supporters to make quick, visual, and emotional connections with your organization. The question is – Do you have a clearly defined social media strategy and are you posting relevant content, consistently? For nonprofits that rely heavily on donors to give for emotional reasons, this is even more critical. For those of you saying “we just don’t have the resources”, we want to suggest a new approach.
I began my career in journalism, writing about technology trends for a healthcare magazine long before the dawn of cell phones–much less social media. As a young reporter, there were times when I easily fell prey to the savvy PR person. I once attended a large industry conference, and was invited to briefing after briefing which I dutifully accepted upon the urgings of my boss. One of those briefings was followed by a fancy dinner. I was one of three reporters present, and we were giddy with all the attention. After three courses and some expensive wine, I went back to my hotel room and realized what I had just done. I had sold my soul to a vendor. I felt obligated to cover the company in my conference coverage; I never made the same mistake again.
What was the most impactful marketing strategy implemented during your corporate career?
At General Mills, I was working on a business that had been steadily declining (along with the rest of the category). I led a six-month project to explore multiple hypotheses on what was driving the decline, including doing some fascinating consumer immersion work. The result of the project was a new messaging strategy that increased advertising ROI by 41% and stemmed the declines we’d been seeing in the business.
Once upon a time, every worker in an organization had a specialty. The person in charge of personnel didn’t do marketing; the accounting team didn’t do project management; and the CEO didn’t lead team-building initiatives at employee off-site meetings.
Then the pendulum swung, and suddenly, everyone was expected to perform ‘other duties as assigned’ without batting an eye. Copywriters were expected to become social media gurus and recruiters felt more like psychologists, vetting personality traits and administering a variety of mental acuity assessments. Video producers and editors are now expected to perform both roles, earning them the combined title of ‘preditors.’ In fact, earlier this week I staffed a television news interview for a client with a local TV station and the reporter (who is also the anchor) acted as his own cameraman, expertly positioning lights, cameras, and interview subjects.
What work did you complete for the American Cancer Society?
I was a community liaison and fundraiser at the American Cancer Society (ACS). As Senior Manager, I led a team to raise $1 million annually through 25 grassroots fundraising events called Relay For Life. Funds went to ACS research, education, advocacy, and patient services.
How do you use your uniques interests in science and technology to differentiate yourself from others working in your field?
I approach everything I do with a scientific mind. This makes me curious, consider information objectively, and to strive to always improve. I differentiate myself as I’m trained in both science and communications, being able to serve as a translator between the two fields. I can take complex, technical information and translate it to easy-to-understand formats for various audiences.
How has your past professional experiences enabled you to better satisfy your current client’s needs?
My experience as a fundraiser and as the executive leader of a high-level development teams has been valuable to clients interested in improving their fundraising results. My advice has helped my clients identify the strengths of their organization’s mission, staff and board to make their fundraising more effective. I can help my clients more effectively engage important supporters inside their organizations, identify new supporters and increase support from current donors with the goal of furthering the mission of the organization.
How were you able to turn your passion into a career?
Some leaders of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) may think that they don’t need advanced analytics: they are doing just fine, thank you, with reports and basic dashboards. Besides, they don’t have the resources to leverage data, or don’t need analytics.
From my experience, they should reconsider: reports only look in the rearview mirror. Modern, forward-looking tools and techniques are more accessible, powerful and affordable than ever. Businesses are to the point that they can’t afford NOT to do data analytics – especially because their competitors probably are.
If you’re not sure how to get more out of your data, and then how to reap the benefits, this series of blogs may be helpful to you.
“With the help Canopy and its talented consultants, we were able to bring rigor to our financial processes, allowing us to make better decisions for our investors.” —Daren Schmidt, managing partner, Allante Properties, LLC.
Founded on the heels of the Great Recession, Denver’s Allante Properties has burnished its reputation as a multifaceted real estate firm that aggregates private investors to fund acquisitions and developments of apartment communities.
In 2016, the firm determined it needed a more streamlined approach to its finance system to ensure that there would be no gaps in how staff at the corporate office managed cash flow and accounting processes with its subsidiaries and project entities.
“We’re a small company with big projects, and our finance and accounting system was not where we wanted it to be,” says Daren Schmidt, managing partner, Allante Properties, LLC.
The firm engaged Canopy Advisory consultant Jennifer Almquist — whose expertise lies in solving complex issues concerning corporate finance, accounting and finance reporting — to take a deep dive into Allante’s existing finance and accounting processes, and make several high-level recommendations for a more efficient operation to support the company’s strategic objectives.
What motivated you to become a Founding executive of Get Smart Schools and Co-founder of Denver School of Science & Technology?
I got involved with the charter school movement after learning more about the low graduation rates for students in Denver Public Schools. I was appalled to realize that, at the time we started DSST, the odds of a low-income DPS student attending college were about 10%. I believed that my previous experience as an entrepreneur had prepared me to tackle the challenge of starting new, more effective schools. After the launch of DSST, I saw an opportunity to support others who wanted to create innovative new schools. Between my work with DSST and Get Smart Schools, I’ve played a role in the development of more than 20 schools, and those schools are changing the future for thousands of students.
Canopy Advisory is pleased to introduce you to our featured advisor, Jenn. Jenn has over 15 years of experience in advertising and design working to bring her clients thoughts to life through varying physical representations. Jenn has worked for major ad agencies covering TV and print campaigns for brands like Gatorade, TJ Maxx, Hillshire Farm and Wachovia Bank.
Businesses often hire when their needs are no longer quiet whispers but rather have grown to screaming gaps in their talent pool. Time is frequently condensed compromising the recruiting, vetting, and onboarding processes. Whether part of a startup or a globally established company, hiring managers frequently settle for less than ideal hires leading to material costs to the organization.
Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, estimates that bad hires have cost his company more than $100 million. The Department of Labor says the price of a bad hire is at least 30 percent of the employee’s first year earnings. Finally, a well-known recruiter estimates the cost of onboarding an employee at $240,000.
Innovation is vital for business growth, and companies are exploring internal and external sources of innovation to stay competitive in their industry.
Open innovation encourages staff to search for new ideas relevant to their market through relationships made among consultants, external partners, universities, research institutes, competitors and customers. A new study featured in Harvard Business Review examines how employees at IBM are generating innovative ideas by evaluating how they interact with their external and internal relationships.
The study found that employees who seek inspiration internally are just as innovative as those who seek innovation externally. However, overall, those who devoted time and resources to external partners were more innovative when they knew how to apply the ideas they incurred.
When a key employee takes parental leave, it can be challenging to temporarily fill the void their time away creates. Some companies opt to put the burden on the surrounding team, while others strategically plan in advance and fill the void with an external consultant. Here are three benefits to bringing in a highlancer (a highly skilled, big firm trained freelancer) to fulfill the key employee’s responsibilities while they are out.
Canopy Advisory is pleased to introduce you to our featured advisor of the month, Joanne. Joanne has 15+ years of experience in aiding organizations in strategic goal development, fundraising diversification, corporate social responsibility initiatives, coalition building, and collaboration around environmental, economic and social impact challenges. In addition, Joanne is soon to be a published author, with her new book ChangeSeekers coming out Sept. 12.
Due to the high frequency that growth-oriented businesses need expert or niche talent, more and more businesses are turning to freelancers to help them achieve success. According to NetSuite, the majority of businesses hire on-demand workers because of the improved work quality, additional revenue they generate, work flexibility and decreased labor costs.
To benefit most from the on-demand labor model, consider how to best integrate a freelancer into your company and culture. Here are five tips for growing, expanding and developing your on-demand workforce:
Last week, Denver’s digital marketing professionals convened at the largest Digital Summit Denver yet. The summit included big names including keynote speakers Seth Godin and Morgan Spurlock, along with digital marketing leaders from Facebook, Cisco, National Geographic, Fidelity Investments, SalesForce, The Economist, and more.
Here is an overview of the insights shared at the conference and how you can incorporate them into your marketing strategy.
Amidst the many obstacles of successfully launching a company, talent management consistently ranks as the single greatest challenge for founders. In fact, attrition in startups in their first year exceeds 25%, according to the Kauffman Foundation 2016 Index of Startup Activity. Founders wear so many hats that they don’t have adequate time or resources to seek out, recruit, vet, train, and onboard talent effectively.
Time for a Pop-Quiz.
If you asked a handful your company’s employees to explain the story of your company’s brand and its vision for the future- would the answers be consistent? Does your culture embody the values that your marketing and sales efforts communicate to your customers? When employees talk about their jobs, do they feel they are part of a common purpose?
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer optional for companies both large and small. Giving back to our communities, our environment and our worldwide workforce is critical to success. SanMar, a 45-year old family business based in Issaquah, WA, has taken CSR to a higher level of engagement across its international operations.
More than 54 million people participated in the gig economy in 2016. This new nimble approach to employment presents opportunities for both workers and employers in our rapidly changing economy. For companies focused on agility, innovation, and efficiency, tapping this workforce is key to success. For workers who want a flexible schedule, the ability to work on multiple projects, and more independence, joining the freelance workforce is becoming more attractive.
For small business owners, having a robust online presence is critical for success. However, developing a website, managing email campaigns, and reporting on success may seem overwhelming. In addition to your standard options, such as MailChimp, WordPress and Square Space, here are a few less well known, free or inexpensive tools to help you with your website, social media, email, and reporting that don’t require a technical expert to use.
Last month, I attended Denver Start-up week’s the “Age of the Freelancer”; I arrived to a standing room only packed house at Craftsy’s downtown conference space to hear Aspenware’s Rob Clark speak about the following:
People are turning to freelancing in droves. Fast Company reports that the number of 1099s received by the IRS grew from 82 million in 2010 to 91 million in 2015, and according to ColoradoBiz Magazine, half the workforce could be location-agnostic by 2020. Why are companies using more blended teams and freelance talent, and how can tech freelancers take advantage of this ripe market?
There is a lot of chatter about the gig economy — independent contractors, self-employed consultants, on-demand workers, e-lancers, high-lancers — and whatever new terms come out tomorrow that describe this shift in the way people are earning a living. It is usually described in the context of highly capable people choosing a different path, intentionally blazing their own trail, and embracing the American entrepreneurial spirit.
I have a confession. I’ve been an independent consultant for seven years now, and I feel like one day I tripped, tumbled down the proverbial rabbit hole, and ended up in freelance wonderland. Here is the ironic part. Most of the work I do involves advising clients on being intentional and structured in the way they drive their business forward. I help them create strategic business and marketing plans to grow in a deliberate and measurable way. But when it comes to my own consulting practice, it began a little less…deliberately.
Older, more experienced independent professionals between the ages of 35-55 are the ones most sought-after by today’s businesses for on-demand assignments. This makes sense, given businesses’ emphasis on proven skills and experience (See previous post). Mid-career professionals satisfy this need.
Not only does this arrangement work well for employers, it works well for on-demand consultants as well. A professional woman in this age group is often stressed out by balancing career goals with the challenges of caring for a growing family. On-demand work provides her, too, with a good solution.
I just completed the Intellectual Property LLM degree program at University of Washington School of Law…and the first question I get asked is always: Why aren’t you practicing law? It’s natural to think that after spending 3 or more years in law school, one would then go on to practice law, which I did for several years after receiving my JD from Northwestern University School of Law. But as most law graduates know (whether they practice or not), law school and practicing can lead to so many more opportunities. I’m excited that my next opportunity is Canopy Advisory Group Seattle!
In 2015, an impressive 88 percent of U.S. businesses of all sizes relied on on-demand workers as part of their workforce. More than 40 percent of these companies used on-demand professional as more than 30 percent of their overall workforce.
Not only are businesses planning to increase their use of independents in 2016, it appears many of them are already taking advantage of this new class of “free-agent” talent. This may suggest that these independents are proving their worth and are able to integrate well with their full-time counterparts.
The most common reason the surveyed companies gave for using on-demand professionals was increased flexibility. Using on-demand professional talent allows businesses to respond to opportunities with more agility, scaling their workforces as conditions require.
The 2016 Corporate On-Demand Talent Report is a comprehensive study of corporate use of on-demand talent in a new economy. For this report, Work Market surveyed decision-makers at more than 1,000 U.S. companies. Over the next few posts, we will examine various aspects of this report with a close eye on the interests of our consultants and our business clients. The report states:
Businesses are securing world-class free-agent talent and transforming their operating models. Workers, in turn, are increasingly using specialized skills to pursue the flexibility of an independent career.
Businesses around the country – from tiny garage startups to Fortune 500 titans – have been ramping up their use of “on-demand” professionals to stay competitive in today’s new economy.
One major finding of the report is that on-demand professionals are becoming a critical and strategic part of the modern workforce – not just a short-term solution.
While there is a common misperception that independent professionals are used only sporadically and for small tactical projects, this report suggests otherwise. Nearly half (46 percent) of the companies surveyed use independent professionals for projects lasting more than one year.
Another 13 percent of companies rely on independent professionals for projects lasting six months or longer. Fifteen percent use them for projects lasting three months, 10 percent for projects lasting one month and 16 percent for projects lasting one week.
And these companies seem to be satisfied with the results that they see – with 42 percent of them asking the same talent for assistance with subsequent projects.
Based on this finding, the report concludes that this trend will only continue as more businesses indicate that they will increase their use of an on-demand workforce to “fuel innovation and improve the bottom line.” Next week, we will discuss the finding that “On-demand Is the new normal.”
If you suspect that the traditional workforce is more stressful than ever before — especially for women — you are right.
In January, The Huffington Post discussed constantly increasing workplace stress in an article titled The American Workplace Is Broken. Here’s How We Can Start Fixing It. Here are a few excerpts we thought you might find relevant:
Americans are working longer and harder hours than ever before. Eighty-three percent of workers say they’re stressed about their jobs, nearly 50 percent say work-related stress is interfering with their sleep, and 60 percent use their smartphones to check in with work outside of normal working hours. It’s no wonder that only 13 percent of employees worldwide feel engaged in their occupations.
There is a clear shift shaking up today’s labor force. Technological advances and a growing comfort-level with alternative work arrangements are fundamentally changing how people work.
This trend is not just entrepreneurs leaving the “comforts” of corporate America to build a better mousetrap. It also includes service professionals going out on their own – pursuing intellectual, economic, and personal independence and balance.
Companies are using this on-demand talent at higher levels than ever before. In addition, amenities that serve this freelance national are growing rapidly.
Our Canopy consultants have held management positions in big companies. They have opted out of the C-suite track but continue to do project-based work at that level for our clients. We love helping our consultants thrive and find balance professionally and personally, so noteworthy stories like this one about women in business pique our interest.
We often hear lopsided statistics about the lack of women at the CEO level, but a new global study of 22,000 public companies in 91 countries looked at something else – what about when women hold a significant percentage of management positions just shy of the corner office?
It was 2007 and Prologis, a darling on Wall Street for the previous decade, experienced a rapid decline in stock price from $70 to $2 a share in a matter of months. In the blink of an eye, the one time investor favorite became the 3rd worst performing stock on the S&P.
Top Ten (11, actually) Reasons Why It Can Be a Godsend
- It provides the needed expertise to run a nonprofit business, ESPECIALLY when there’s a likelihood of existing confusion, transitional and other change, possible demoralization.
- It puts an “outsider” with no organizational baggage in the position of guiding, stabilizing, running the organization.
With over 230 events scheduled around the Denver business community this week, it is no doubt that Denver Startup Week has become a force for connection and innovation among entrepreneurs, investors, developers, marketers and sales teams across the country.
Last year’s five-day event drew over 7,800 startup community members and 700 companies to more than 180 events. This week’s event promises to be bigger and better and is, in fact, the largest such event in the nation.
It was hard not to do a double take scanning headlines this week. WeWork, a provider of shared office space, announced a $10 billion valuation. The jaw-dropping figure was revealed after Fidelity Management & Research agreed to invest $400 million in the company.
Just over a year ago, the company was valued at only $1.5 billion. WeWork’s success and explosive growth has been the subject of debate around the water cooler. How does a company that simply sublets office space become so successful in such a short period of time? There are a variety of reasons, of course. But, one thing is for sure … WeWork’s success has a lot to do with WHO is subletting their space and WHY.
Denver’s Quarterly Forum provides a place for emerging executives to “dream more, learn more, do more and become more.” We couldn’t agree more.
QF is a non-partisan leadership organization with members representing diverse industries but bound by professional ambition and commitment to the community. Canopy’s participation with QF has opened doors and provided experiences that are educational and inspiring. The topic at a recent QF Breakfast Program was B Corps – what they are and are not, their value and increasing appeal to businesses worldwide.
The writing on the cake reads Congratulations! Or, Best Wishes! It is all smiles at the office going-away party. Or, maybe it is a baby shower hosted by co-workers. But, what happens when the party is over?
Work must carry on despite the void left by an executive moving on or an employee taking maternity leave. This time of transition can bring uncertainty and added stress to co-workers who feel the burden of additional responsibility or unclear leadership. Bringing on the right interim leader to your team can ensure a smooth transition for the return of an employee on-leave or the hiring of a new executive.
As the second best place in the U.S. to launch a startup (according to Forbes), Denver has a thriving, entrepreneurial spirit that is contagious. We recently attended two events that captured this innovative energy: Galvanize’s Denver-Platte Campus Grand Opening Party and MergeLane’s 2015 DemoDay in Boulder.
Galvanize is a network of technology campuses designed to bring together startups, students, mentors and investors into a shared workspace or community. With over 1,000 members, this company emanates that passionate drive and encouraging, entrepreneurial culture that is shaping our city. The grand opening celebrated the launch of the Platte campus, the company’s 5th campus nationwide.
These three words of wisdom, “know your community,” offered by Zayo Group Founder and CEO Dan Caruso recently sparked a conversation within Canopy Advisory Group about the importance of staying abreast of what is happening in our bustling city. Caruso attested that by attending business and community events, employees gain insight and inspiration valuable to personal, professional and organizational growth.
By Kecia Carroll, Canopy Advisor
It goes by many names: corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporate citizenship, community relations to name a few. The intent is the same. It’s about a company’s responsibility to invest in the communities in which it serves; about addressing social and environmental challenges while driving economic growth. Put another way, it means not just caring about the bottom line, but what you can do with the bottom line.
It’s about having an impact.
By Alyce Blum, Professional Networking Coach
When was the last time you shared your elevator pitch and walked away feeling empowered and perhaps even inspired by what you said? If the answer is, “I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that way,” don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most people haven’t spent much, if any, time preparing an elevator pitch that wows their audience or themselves. And that’s because most of us haven’t taken the time to incorporate one simple, yet highly powerful question that will take your generic pitch and turn it into something unique, meaningful and lasting. WHY do you do what you do?
By Abby Hagstrom, Canopy Advisor
In today’s digital, content-driven world content marketing is not only a valuable tool, but a critical tool. It can help generate market awareness, support SEO and marketing campaigns and if executed properly contribute to bottom line success. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement. In fact, 37% of marketers say blogs are the most valuable content type for marketing. Here is one idea for reaching target audiences through this relevant and powerful third party.
By Hillary Schubach, Canopy Advisor
As any good marketer knows, the key to marketing success is a solid brand foundation. It’s impossible to sell a brand effectively if you don’t know what it stands for. Similarly, as a professional out there trying to win business in a competitive marketplace, it’s important that you understand your own personal brand and have the same sense of awareness about yourself.
By Jennifer Kelly, Canopy Advisor
You may share an idea at the coffee shop, where less than a dozen people will hear your expertise, and where only one or two understand or care. Social media magnifies the number of people who hear you but focuses the conversation on a mutual interest, increasing the impact of any intelligent statement you make. Isn’t that the conversation you should be joining?
By Victoria Hostin, Canopy Advisor
Anyone reading this can find some aspect of life that rings true to Einstein’s wisdom. Whether you are parenting a child, hitting a tennis ball into the net over and over, or figuring out how to generate greater impact for your non-profit organization, the key to getting different results is to stop, reflect, and then make a change. That is much easier said than done, as change is known to be pretty hard. But, if you are feeling insane and looking for different results, stop and reflect on the concept of a partnership for your organization.
Canopy marketing advisor Hillary Schubach created a comprehensive marketing plan to propel the newest Glacier Home Made Ice Cream & Gelato store into the Englewood community. Hillary prepared an effective and cost-efficient neighborhood-based marketing plan to introduce the delicacy that is Glacier ice cream to area homes, businesses and schools.