What resolutions have you made for 2016?

Happy New Year! It’s that time again; the time of year when about 45 percent of us make at least one New Year’s resolution. Ah, yes the resolution – a firm decision to do or not to do something; a decision that equates to change. We resolve to lose weight (which by the way ranks number one on the list for most), exercise, spend less money, stop smoking, find a new career, spend more time with family and on and on and on.

By the end of six months only about half of that 45 percent will have maintained the resolution(s) they made. Oops. How can we be so committed to something on January 1 and abandon it by June 30? Research cites a number of reasons. Our resolutions may be too lofty or unrealistic, we give up too easily, we have no game plan, we choose to view things from the wrong perspective or maybe we don’t really believe in ourselves enough to make it happen. Or maybe we are making those resolutions for the wrong reasons. Are we making resolutions because everyone around us is making them? Do we somehow feel obligated? If we don’t make them will people think we aren’t motivated to do better? Bah humbug, I say! And why do we have to make them at the beginning of the year? How about we make them any time we need them?

This year, rather than making resolutions, I’m going in a different direction. Why?  Because of this quote:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” (Neil Gaiman)

Seems to me making mistakes will be a lot easier than keeping resolutions; not to mention how much I stand to learn. And who knows where that will take me? It sure gives you something to think about.

Posted by MJ Thomas

No packages, boxes or bags?

Christmas Day is now less than 48 hours away; and for some anxiety has overtaken the true spirit of the holiday. Lines in the stores are long; filled with shoppers trying to find that one last gift, parking lots have become an “every man for themselves” experience and tempers all seem to be equipped with a short fuse.

I experienced this scenario yesterday in a local bookstore. You could feel the tension the minute you walked in – it was crowded and people were pushing and shoving; some were muttering under their breath and some were shouting their displeasure for all to hear.

Rather than wander aimlessly through the aisles, I stopped by the Information Desk for help in finding a particular book. One of the salespeople seemed a little more than flustered but was doing her best to stay professional. A customer she was assisting had just called her “stupid”.  My jaw dropped.  What an ugly thing to say to someone; especially someone trying to help you. And yet this behavior is oh so predictable when things get down to the wire. Why? Because we forget in that moment what’s really important. And that has nothing to do with packages, boxes or bags.

Dr. Seuss explains it best in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

With that thought, my wishes to all of you for a Christmas that means a little bit more.  Happy Holidays.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Tell me something good…

Go ahead. Tell me something good about your day. That’s what the mother of Bert and John Jacobs (the youngest of six children) asked her children at the dinner table each and every night.  It was this nightly exercise that inspired them to start their now
$100 million Life is Good T-shirt Company.

Read an article on the Internet today about the Jacobs brothers and wanted to share some of that with you on this Friday before Christmas. Why? Because basically it’s a feel –good story that I believe is especially relevant at this time of year. It really puts things in perspective.

According to the brothers, the family often went through troubled times, but the daily exercise of finding something good about the day kept them energized and optimistic even when there was little to be optimistic about. It changed their mindset and motivated them to start their company with a mission to spread the power of optimism. Instead of focusing on challenges, finding the good can bring with it new ideas, new ways of doing things, growth and success. The company tag line says it all; “Life is not perfect. Life is not easy. Life is good.”

On this day that officially marks one week until Christmas Day, tell me something good and have a happy, healthy, safe and optimistic holiday.

Posted by MJ Thomas

It’s a sticky situation!

I have to admit that I’m a “sticky note” person. They are all around me in assorted colors and shapes; reminding me of calls to make, things to do, deadlines to meet and other assorted tasks of the day. I put them on my desk, my computer, my purse, the dashboard of my car – everywhere. While this may be disturbing to others, I confess that at one time these were like little badges of honor – calling out my ability to multitask with the best of them. Not anymore. Why? Well, I did some research and found that basically it doesn’t really work.

First of all it’s not really multitasking; it’s more like multi-switching from one task to another. Instead of increasing your productivity, researchers have found that it can reduce your productivity by approximately 40 percent! Seriously the human brain is amazing but it can only handle so much. Switching from one task to another makes it hard to block out distractions, makes it easier to lose focus and actually slows you down. So much for the “Multitasking Badge of Honor”.

Multi-switching stresses you out and can even lead to inattention blindness; that’s when you are at a point where you don’t see the obvious in front of you. In fact, a 2009 study conducted at Western Washington University found that 75% of college students who walked across a campus square talking on their cell phones did NOT notice a clown riding a unicycle nearby! Even though they were technically looking at what was around them, it wasn’t actually registering. Think about how dangerous this can be in another circumstance; say driving and trying to text at the same time.

As one person summed it up, “Multitasking is the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.”

We all know that time is a luxury and focusing on one task at a time isn’t all that practical in the hustle and bustle of every day. One researcher suggests putting things in similar batches – for instance, answering emails, going through snail mail, returning calls – things that require the same mindset. Although you will be doing several things, your mindset is focused in a common area.

For me, going cold turkey on the sticky notes would be a little extreme. Maybe I’ll just start putting them in batches. At least it’s a start. How about you?

Posted by MJ Thomas

Safety isn’t a seasonal thing

I read an article the other day focused on winter safety hazards and best ways to prepare for and avoid them. You know, things like tips to prevent falls when conditions are icy and how to prevent skids on slick roads; preventing frostbite; what to do if your vehicle gets stuck in the snow; the type of things you need to look for this time of year.

Each season has its own specific set of safety risks, but the bottom line is that safety – being safe, following safety procedures and always being aware of potential safety issues – should be a daily top-of-the-mind subject; especially in the workplace.

Safety in the workplace is not something that just happens; it is planned, implemented and practiced every day. It has to be for it to work. And every employee needs to take responsibility for it. It is a top priority, not something that can be placed on the back burner, not something that there’s no budget for or even an area where you can cut corners. People’s lives and livelihoods depend on it.

Safety is serious business. It doesn’t take a break for the holidays. Please keep it top of mind and have a happy, healthy and safe holiday season.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Giving thanks.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving – a day for family, friends, food and football; a day set aside for expressions of gratitude and acts of kindness; a day that in recent years has become a pre-run to the craziest shopping day of the year – Black Friday; something that will not be included in my holiday celebration. We all know the true meaning of the Thanksgiving celebration and yet with all the hype and hoopla presented to us in social media, on television and in newspapers and magazines, it can become all too easy to let shopping overpower thanking.

As part of your family traditions, how many of you go around the dinner table with each person expressing their reasons to give thanks? In my family, we still do. When I was younger, I used to roll my eyes at this tradition because I was painfully shy and afraid of saying something wrong; in other words, the focus was on me. Maybe I also took my blessings a little too much for granted. As I grew older and wiser, I came to realize how it is so NOT about me and how important it is to openly express thanks for all the good in my life and to the family and friends who make it that way. Thanksgiving puts it all in perspective.

Quoting Margaret Cousins, “Appreciation can change a day, even a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by MJ Thomas

‘Tis the season?

Just read an article in today’s news about a woman – thinking that another woman cut in front of her in line at a retail establishment – grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground. Honestly. You almost have to see the accompanying video to fully realize the message this sends.

We all know that this is not an isolated incident; there are examples of this kind of behavior in the news every day. Now the holiday shopping season is upon us; officially underway the day after Thanksgiving.  It would be so nice if the this experience brought out the best in people. But, alas, we know that more often than not, this isn’t the case. And for what?

To all those shoppers who push and shove (or throw people to the ground); are rude and crabby; and totally suck the holiday spirit out of everyone around them – what did you expect? By now crowds, long lines, limited supplies, no parking and too few checkout lanes should be a given. Keep it in perspective – you’re buying “stuff” and “stuff" isn’t what the season is truly about. It’s certainly NOT worth resorting to physical violence or a barrage of unkind words.

To paraphrase some words of wisdom from Bill Murray’s character Frank Cross in the holiday classic Scrooged, “…it’s the one time of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a short time out of the whole year, we are the people we always hoped we would be!”

At least, that’s the way it should be. Just saying.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Peel away the layers and what do you see?

The holiday shopping season has begun.  You can’t pick up a newspaper, watch television, listen to the radio or surf the Internet without being inundated with ads for the best holiday deals ever.  For me, the tradition is that the holiday train starts rolling the day after Thanksgiving, but that’s another story.

My thought for today was prompted by a news item I saw last night. The focus of the story was how to avoid being fooled by holiday sales offers that “sound too good to be true”; how to detect scams and determine if a company is legitimate.  Sad, but true; it’s a story that needs to be told every year. I mean, seriously, how many genuine Coach purses have you bought for $25?

Truth is that when you peel away the top layer, undo the wrapping and take a closer look – what you see is NOT always what you get.  And that brings me to my point.

Sentry products are safety products; built to protect people, equipment and facilities from damages caused by impact from industrial equipment and vehicles.  There are other products that look like ours; the same color, the same height; at a visual glance they look the same. But peel away the outside layer and you definitely recognize the difference. The way they are designed, manufactured, the materials used, the testing they undergo all factor in to making one of the highest quality, toughest, most reliable safety products you can buy. Are they more expensive? Yes, they are. I’m proud to say that because you get what you pay for and safety products are not where you should be looking for bargains. The consequences can be dire.

Safety is serious business. When you are purchasing safety products to protect your people, equipment and facilities, look below the surface, get past the exterior and make sure that what you see is indeed what you get.

Posted by MJ Thomas

We’ve got spirit! Come on y’all let’s hear it!

The spirit of competition that is; it gets your adrenaline pumping a little faster, puts things a little more in focus and heightens your desire to be the best you can be. So why am I thinking about competition today? Well, to be honest, it’s Thursday; and that means Thursday night football; and tonight pits the Cleveland Browns against the Cincinnati Bengals – the Battle of Ohio. This is one of those games where I don’t believe that the win-loss records of each team counts. This competition is for bragging rights and on any given day, you never know what might happen. Hope springs eternal.

So how about competition in your business? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I’m going with good thing and here’s why.

Competition makes you try harder; it doesn’t let you rest on your laurels or become complacent. It pushes you past your comfort zone, keeps you on your toes and always striving for the next best product or service for your customers. Competition gives rise to innovation and that’s a good thing for both you and your consumers.

As annoying as competition can sometimes be, it’s also flattering. How many times have you been told that, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”?  Think about it. If someone is copying your product or service, you must be doing something right and something that works. It validates you.

If you are paying attention and reading the signs, competition can educate you. Learn from your competition; what works, what doesn’t; how they do what they do; how they fit into the market.That gives you an advantage.

Next time you wish your competition would go away, remember that in some way they have helped you become more successful.

Now, let’s go Browns!

Posted by MJ Thomas

What lies beneath the surface?

It’s Halloween.  Woo-hoo. For some people it’s a favorite; for me not so much.  But, to show support for the people who look forward to Halloween, I decided to pick a somewhat ominous title for this edition of our blog. So here it goes.

From books, to movies to famous quotes, what lies beneath the surface is more often than not riddled with danger. In a movie, it’s usually the scary part where we over our eyes and scream when the “what’ is revealed. Are you with me so far? That’s great because now I am going to talk about customer experience. Yep, that’s right – customer experience.

Follow my thoughts here for a minute. This week I attended the Cleveland Clinic CARES About Parking Symposium 2015; an event that brings together parking professionals for networking, sharing best practices and discussions on new trends and technologies. As attendees shared their stories, it reminded me that things aren’t always the way they seem at first glance. For example, using a parking garage for the most part is pretty mundane; you pull in, grab your ticket, and find a space and park.  It’s a pretty seamless process. Under the surface, it’s a totally different scenario.  Behind the scenes, an entire network of people are focused on making that parking experience the best it can be; researching, testing, eliminating challenges, adding new equipment, testing out new procedures, hiring the right personnel. It’s like a duck in a pond – smoothly floating along on the surface and paddling like crazy underneath.

Customers don’t see the “paddling like crazy underneath”. Their experience is based on what’s above the surface. In my parking example, they don’t know that three employees called off sick and left you shorthanded. They just know that they waited 15 minutes in the line to pay because only one lane was open. They don’t care that there’s a big convention in town, they only know that they can’t find a space in the lot and they are already late for work. Customer opinions are formed by their experiences. Create experiences that keep them coming back. Find out “what lies beneath” in your organization and make sure it works. If you don’t the results could be pretty scary.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Get by with a little help from friends…

I’m sure we all remember words like this from one of the Beatles’ top songs. And it is so true. Actually I experienced it first-hand over the last several days at the 2015 COSE Small Business Convention in Cleveland.

It was two days of sharing experiences, networking, learning from experts who were more than willing to share both their successes and their failures, making new connections, renewing former connections and just being immersed in the whole experience. The energy and the buzz were infectious.

You know what? People really DO want to help each other. Honest. And it’s a good thing because the reality is that none of us – no matter how good we think we are – can do it alone. Being able to benefit from the knowledge and life experiences of others is golden.  What’s even better is walking away from an experience like the COSE Small Business Convention with a renewed spirit and confidence about the direction you are headed; going from an “I think I can” to an “I know I can” mantra; and being excited about putting into practice all the great things you learned.

This African proverb – “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others” – says it best.  My experience over the last few days has already helped me get a lot farther down the road; all because of a little help from my new friends.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Walk a mile in my shoes

Read an article today in Business Insider on McDonald’s All Day Breakfast initiative.  The article wasn’t about the “end-user” perspective; it was feedback from franchise owners. They are the other customers; the ones who actually implement the program at the local store level.

Findings in a survey done by Normura analyst Mark Kalinowski reveal that for franchise owners, All Day Breakfast is a nightmare. Why? Owners say the new menu is slowing down service; causing havoc in kitchens; creating labor problems and adding costs for additional equipment. They added that customers are leaving because service has become too slow and quality has decreased. Add to that the fact that customers are purchasing lower cost breakfast items as opposed to regular menu items that bring in more money. It’s “disorganized and chaotic.” Did anyone walk a mile in their shoes?

Then it gets better. The president of McDonald’s actually sent a note to franchisees about the success of the All Day Breakfast program! Wow.

There are hundreds of stories similar to this in businesses across the country. What resonates with me is this – did anyone even ask the franchise owners how this program might work for them before it was implemented? Did anyone get their feedback? Ask them about challenges and possible solutions?  Walk through it step by step to see where the pitfalls might be? Did anyone walk a mile in the franchise owners’ shoes?

One of the reasons McDonald’s launched the All Day Breakfast program was that customers had long been begging for extended breakfast hours. Okay, filling a customer need isn’t a bad thing; but they bypassed their most important customer – the ones really responsible for the program’s success. In my book, that’s a big mistake – HUGE. What looks great on paper may be a disaster to implement. But how would you know that if you don’t test it out? How would you know if you don’t walk in everyone’s shoes that will be touched by the program? Seems like a simple thing to do but too often it’s one that gets overlooked.

Food for thought.

Posted by MJ Thomas

The times they are changing.

The fall season is officially here and I love it. Other than Christmas, it is my favorite time of the year; the sights, the sounds, the smells, football; it’s all good. And the food – caramel apples, pumpkin everything and spiced lattes – is amazing. It is a time of change.

Change – on some level – happens every day. Often the change is so slight that we don’t even notice it. Other times it can rock our world. When it does, how do you handle it? Do you embrace it, or do you resist it with everything you can muster?

Change can take us out of our comfort zone; make us uneasy and even fearful.  It can also help us grow and achieve things once thought not possible. It can open up new worlds and new opportunities. If we are not careful, it sneaks up, flies by and leaves us in the dust. It’s our adaptability to change that makes the difference between success and failure; profit or loss. The “we’ve always done it this way” line of thinking doesn’t work anymore; not if you want to grow anyway.

Change is a reality of life that’s not going away any time soon. Embrace it, make the best of it, ride the wave and see how far it takes you. You just might be surprised.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Celebrating National Manufacturing Day

Did you know that today is National Manufacturing Day? I admit I wasn’t familiar with it at first either. So I decided to find out a little more about it. It turns out that for the last four years the first Friday in October has been set aside to highlight the manufacturing industry and its contributions to our country. The event has grown each year to the point where this year almost 2,000 planned local events and open houses throughout the country will showcase modern manufacturing technology to the public. 

National Manufacturing Day provides the opportunity to foster a better understanding of the industry and inspire the next generation of manufacturers.

How important is manufacturing to our well-being? Just take a look at a few of the facts I picked out from the National Association of Manufacturers.
·         Manufacturers have contributed more than $2 trillion to the economy
·         Manufacturing supports an estimated 17.6 million jobs in the United States
·         Manufacturers in the United States drive more innovation than any other sector
·         Taken alone, manufacturing in the United States would be the ninth largest economy in the world

That’s pretty impressive by any standards. So, today let’s take time out to celebrate the manufacturing businesses and their employees who work tirelessly to produce the goods that contribute to our economic strength, standard of living and national security.

Posted by MJ Thomas

What’s your safety inventory?

To me, inventory means numbers and paperwork and lots of things. At least that’s what I remember from a past retail stint; counting what seemed like endless products in drawers and on shelves, dating and marking them and putting them back exactly where they were when you started.

Although it may seem like it at the time, taking inventory is NOT an exercise in futility. After all, if you are selling something, it’s pretty darn important you know how much you have, how much you’ve sold, what’s selling, what you need to replace, etc. Not doing this can be COSTLY; not enough of something could lose you sales. On the other hand, if you have too much inventory, you’re probably paying storage fees or stocking excess inventory because you don’t know how much you really have.

What about taking inventory of your company’s safety program? Do you really know what you have or are you just guessing? Are you prepared for what might happen? Do you have a tried and tested plan? The stakes are pretty high on this one. Not having the right things in place can cost you more than dollars and cents; it can lead to serious injuries or worse.

Ask yourself a few important questions. When was the last time you reviewed your workplace safety program? Have you adapted it to changes in the environment? Are you sure all safety equipment is operational? Have new employees been trained? Are policies and procedures updated? Do all employees know what they are? What’s working and what needs to be improved? Create a safety checklist. You can find a number of examples online. Then USE it on a regular basis to ensure that your safety program doesn’t come up short. It will be the best inventory you take.

Posted by MJ Thomas

“Do you hear the words that are coming out of my mouth?”

Some of you may recognize this as a line from a once popular movie. In the context of the movie, it was funny. In the real world, the question should be are you listening to what is being said to you? Why? Because hearing and listening are two different things.

Hearing is basically the act of perceiving and receiving sound waves through the ear. Listening is hearing the sound and processing it – understanding it, interpreting it and putting meaning to it. Hearing is a physical ability while listening is a skill.

Good listening skills are just as important as good speaking skills. Everyone wants to talk but how many of us really take time to listen? We’re busy, we’re distracted, we’ve heard it before, it’s noisy, there’s too much activity going on and the list goes on. If we’re not careful, everything starts to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher – “waah, wah, wah, wah, wah waah.”  We need to be aware that there are consequences to not listening and they can be costly. Messages are not conveyed properly, misunderstandings increase, instructions are misinterpreted, and arguments ensue, productivity decreases, accidents happen.

Really listening is a critical business skill. It can create business and personal relationships, bring about understanding, solidify teams, helps close sales, expands learning, and can save time and money – you get the picture.

Which category are you in; a good listener or a not so good listener? To truly be successful requires listening, really listening to what is being said. If your listening skills need some work, now is the perfect time to take them to the next level. It can make all the difference in the world.

I will leave you with this quote from Andre Gide – “Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.

Think about it.

Posted by MJ Thomas

It’s that time again!

Tonight is the official start of the National Football League’s 2015 Season.  For every team in the league it’s a fresh start, a level playing field, another chance to win a championship.  Coaches and players strategize, review films, and create new plays, scout opponents and practice, practice, practice. All in the name of getting it right. For fans, it’s another shot at bragging rights for their favorite team.

Although some would disagree, I look at it as a “do-over”; a chance to correct the mistakes of the past; a chance to block that game winning field goal or prevent that last minute game interception or take back that game changing fumble. And that’s a good thing.

Contrary to this, “do-overs” when it comes to safety in the workplace are not a good thing. When accidents happen and someone gets hurt, there are no second chances – the damage is already done. Equipment can be replaced and structures can often be fixed, but when a worker gets hurt those injuries can be life changing – or worse – life ending. Can your safety program eliminate all accidents and injuries? No.  Accidents are going to happen. But wouldn’t you want to do everything you could to prevent injury to your employees?

Just like in football, safety in the workplace needs a game plan – one that takes into account the things that can go wrong and how to prevent them from happening. And everyone – management and employees – need to be involved on creating the plan and making sure it is followed. That requires practice and hard work.

Safety is not a game. Let’s make sure we get it right the first time.


Posted by MJ Thomas

Reaping the fruits of our labors

It’s hard to believe the Labor Day weekend is upon us. The interesting thing is that Labor Day represents different things to different people.  For some it symbolizes the end of summer and the start of a new school year. For others it’s the start of the football season and for retailers it’s probably one of the biggest sales weekends of the year. Although this really doesn’t apply anymore, it used to mark the last day to wear white and still be fashionable. Many of us are looking forward to the three-day weekend associated with Labor Day; the barbecues, the golf outings, the family reunions or just a well-earned rest.

It’s important though to remember why Labor Day came to be. It was originally established to celebrate the achievements of the “workingman; to recognize the contributions of workers – no matter what industry – to the strength and welfare of this country; to celebrate American workers and their commitment to the past, present and future.  We are all part of this group.

So while we enjoy this weekend and all its celebrations, take a minute to celebrate you; your hard work, accomplishments and contributions that make our country a better place.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Are you talking or walking?

When it comes to workplace safety do you just talk about it or are you doing something about it? If you want your program to be successful, you better walk the walk. Otherwise you’re sending mixed messages; the wrong messages to your employees. And maybe they’re not getting the message at all. Statistics from the Statistic Brain Research Institute show that in 2015 the average attention span is 8.25 seconds. The attention of a goldfish is 9 seconds! So if you are relying on your monthly safety speech as a conduit for your “safety in the workplace message” you may want to rethink it.

Besides, good leaders lead by example. They lead with their actions. People follow by example. It’s just what we do. So it all works out – or not. Did you ever have someone tell you one thing and then do something else or not do anything at all? Sure you have. We all have. So what happened to that person’s credibility? It probably took a big swan dive.

We all know that there is so much more to a safety program than monthly speeches. Safety programs should be comprehensive in nature; combining a number of elements like training, manuals, drills, meetings, posters – whatever it takes to reinforce the important of a safe workplace. What I’m saying is don’t just give it lip service and expect to achieve the goal.

Employees have an expectation that their workplace is safe. That requires a group effort and the group requires a leader. Leading by example is the behavior that will have the most powerful impact on them and your workplace.

As the old Chinese proverb says, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.”

Posted by MJ Thomas

Okay, everyone, let’s all take out a blank sheet of paper…

Those words coming from a teacher usually meant the dreaded “pop quiz”.  It really didn’t matter if I was prepared or not, I still panicked. “What if I don’t know the answers?” What if I fail?” Why didn’t I study more?” I thought about that this week as I watched most of the kids in our area head back to the classroom.

What a difference time makes. Today, taking out that same blank piece of paper means possibilities; possibilities to fill it with new ideas, new programs, new products, solutions to challenges, answers to those burning questions – and more.

It means an opportunity to learn; to stretch beyond limitations and move forward. Does this have anything to do with business? You bet it does. The “way we’ve always done things” doesn’t fly anymore. To keep pace requires constantly filling that blank piece of paper with the next best thing. No resting on laurels or past accomplishments. And that’s a good thing. It forces us to continue to raise the bar with our products, our programs and the services we provide to our customers. It keeps them engaged in what we are doing and shows them how we can give them the solutions they need. It keeps things moving. It gets people involved. What’s not to like?

So when was the last time the blank piece of paper was filled in at your company? It may just be time to revisit this exercise again.

Okay, everyone, please take out a blank sheet of paper.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Are you ready for some football?

That’s what I said – football. Here in Browns town, anticipation runs high for tonight’s first pre-season game. With that anticipation is a renewed hope that this year WILL be the year.  If you pay attention to any football at all, you know the plight of a Cleveland Brown fan; hoping for a “dream team” season and waiting for the other shoe to drop with a loud thud.

And yet, we persevere, year after year; season after season; change after change: for a true Browns fan, hope, as they say, springs eternal.

What’s this have to do with anything?  That perseverance is what it takes to be successful, that no quit – never give up – give it all you’ve got state of mind. Whether you are a business owner, employee, student, athlete, musician, artist, surgeon, or whatever; when you fall you need to pick yourself up and keep moving forward. Easier said than done? Absolutely!

Hundreds of famous people failed a lot before achieving success. The thing is that you don’t often hear about it. Michael Jordan has a quote that I have used before because I think it totally captures the essence of what I am trying to convey.  He says, “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Nobody said it was going to be easy. No one said that the journey wouldn’t have any detours or bumps in the road. Stick with it. Keep trying. Own it. Giving up is a lot more painful in the long run than falling down a few times along the way.

As for the Cleveland Browns, I’m not ready to give up on them yet either.

For Browns fans everywhere - who let the Dawgs out? Woof! Woof!

Posted by MJ Thomas

Safety training need a tune-up?

Okay, I admit it. When it comes to “wear and tear” my car definitely experiences its share. I try to be diligent with maintenance, honest. But there are times when a scheduled tune up takes a back burner to other things. Actually, it’s pretty easy to put off. As long as the car is running okay and getting me where I need to go, who needs maintenance? Wrong. If I want my car to continue performing at a top rate, I need to tune it up on a regular basis.

Same thing holds true for workplace safety training. It’s not a “one and done” program; but a process that needs to evolve and change with the environment. That requires frequent tune-ups.

What does that mean? For example, how many times a year do you conduct safety training? Is that enough to cover all employees? What about the new hires, part-timers and outside contractors? How are they trained? Regardless of time spent in your facility, proper training is critical. Without it you could be placing employees and your facility at great risk.

When there are changes in procedures, new rules or regulations how do you communicate them? Is it a memo, a notice on the bulletin board, an email, a meeting? Are you sure that the communication method you use is the best for everyone? Are people missing the message? How do you know?

How do they learn about new technologies, new equipment, and new products? Have there been any changes in accident rates? If so, can you pinpoint why? What’s working and what could be better?

Lots to consider but the answers to these questions will give you a good diagnostic of your program and tell you which areas need a tune-up. That way you can keep your safety training program running on all cylinders at the highest performance level.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Be prepared

They say timing is everything and right now mine couldn’t be more off. Like several other people around me I got hit with the dreaded summer viral infection/cold/sore throat/cough/headache thing over the weekend. Still not back to normal but the medications are starting to work so I’m hoping it won’t be much longer.

What’s interesting about this is that I was totally not prepared – no cough syrup, no nasal spray, no throat lozenges, chicken soup - nothing. My chances of getting this “thing” were in my mind not high enough to be prepared.  Seriously what were the odds? In hindsight, pretty darn high. I ended up in the Urgent Care Clinic that night.

How does this get me to this week’s blog?

Well, I started thinking about how easy it is to make excuses for putting things off and putting them on the back burner when the “danger” is not right in your face.  That may be okay for examples like mine, but what about the bigger things? What about the things that could have more dire consequences?

Suppose you manage a warehouse or industrial facility? You need to keep your workers, your building, equipment and products safe. In fact, it is the mixture of all of these elements, coming together in the same confined space that presents you with one of the biggest safety challenges. Statistics confirm that a significant number of accidents – some fatal – occur in these facilities every year.

Safety is Priority #1. It’s also something that can’t be put on the back burner. It can be expensive, it takes time and everyone has to buy into the plan. It’s hard. But with safety there’s no waiting until the timing’s better, or until you have the money: there’s no guesstimating the odds on that accident happening. It will happen. There’s no waiting to purchase safety equipment because it’s too expensive; the price of an accident and the damage it can cause is much steeper.

Please, be prepared. In the long run, you’ll thank yourself. Your employees will thank you too.

Posted by MJ Thomas

What are you afraid of?

How many times have you made excuses for not trying something new? At one point in my life, I had a treasure trove of some pretty creative ones; always on hand in case I needed them to defend me from attempts to leave my comfort zone. Mine were categorized; age (too young or too old), time (not enough, too busy), stories (when my friend’s mother’s sister tried it – WHOA – not good); you get the picture. Who was I kidding? The biggest reason was fear of failure; plain and simple. Fear of being different; fear of looking silly; fear of not being perfect, blah, blah, blah. Fear; that four letter word that stops you in your tracks and makes you feel like your feet are rooted in the ground; makes you sweat profusely and suddenly lose all grasp of the English language; and stops you from experiencing, learning  and enjoying something new. It can block your way to achieving a goal.

At some time everyone experiences fear of failure, but when it stops us from even trying something new, that’s another story altogether. Think about it. How many times have you let that fear conquer you? Maybe it was not joining a choir because you were afraid of the audition, or going for a part in a play because you were afraid to put yourself out there.  Maybe it was a missed career opportunity that kept you from moving forward; maybe it was a fear of public speaking that stopped you from giving that big presentation at the company meeting. Funny thing is that not trying can make you feel as miserable as if you tried and failed.

So how do you conquer that fear? Embrace it and learn from it. Consider what’s more important – failing or the opportunity missed by not even trying? What’s the worst that could happen if you fail? Can you handle that? What happened last time you fell short of your goal?  Most importantly, take action. It’s surprising how much easier things get after that initial plunge. It’s like wearing a new pair of jeans. At first, they’re tight, stiff and uncomfortable. The more times you wear them, the more comfortable they get.

Besides, my grandpa always used to tell me that the only people who never make mistakes are people who don’t do anything. He was a very wise man.

Posted by MJ Thomas

“Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?”

So go the iconic words of Ernestine the Phone Operator. If you are too young to remember Ernestine, she was the creation of actress and comedian Lily Tomlin.  Along with a cast of other zany characters, she was featured on Laugh In.

As irreverent as she could be with phrases like, “How may I, in all humble servitude, be of assistance?” she was a live voice on the other end of the line. How often does that happen now? Well if you take the experiences we’ve had in our office this past week, NOT very often.

My colleague, who incidentally is our company’s first line of communication, was doing follow-ups to customers who requested additional information on our products. With each call, I could sense her mounting frustration. Why? Each call was answered with an automated system or not at all.

Seriously? Even with email, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and any other forms of communication we now have access to; the telephone is still the front line of our business communications. A phone answered by a “real” person creates a link with the person on the other end of the line – an important link. Many times it’s the first impression of your company a customer experiences. It better be good.

Do you really want your first point of contact with a customer to be an automated phone attendant? How frustrated do you get when you get a system where you need to go through a dozen steps to get to your destination? A recent statistic cited that about eighty percent of first-time callers hang up when they reach an automated answering machine. Eighty percent!

Some may argue that an automated system is less expensive, that their company is too small or too big to have a person dedicated to the phones or that the automated system just works best for them. I respectfully disagree.

It’s really something to think about. Call Sentry and you will get a “live” person answering your call. A person that engages customers in conversation, laughs with them, finds solutions to their challenges and creates a relationship with them.

At Sentry, we’re lucky to have Cheryl as our first contact and she’s the best. Just ask our customers. What happens when you don’t have a Cheryl to put on the front line? Well, that’s a topic for a whole other blog.

Oops. Sorry, I have to go. Cheryl is at lunch and the phone is ringing. My turn on the front line.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Are you writing checks that you can’t cash?

At one time or another we’ve probably all heard this saying – or at least some version of it. To most it signifies making promises that you can’t keep. Why would anyone do this? Good question.  It’s been my experience that nothing good ever comes out of unfulfilled commitments. Nobody really wins. This came to mind today as I read about a prominent NBA player who as a free agent committed to one team and then five days later changed his mind and committed to another. Wow.

According to the league’s rules, he didn’t really do anything wrong.  The current rules state that agreements aren’t binding until a player actually signs a contract. Okay so technically he was within his rights.

So much for being good for your word. What happened to trust and integrity? What happened to honoring a commitment? Maybe he got the best deal moneywise, but what he did put a lot of people – people who trusted him – in a pretty bad place. Maybe he doesn’t care. 

To me the losses far outweigh the gains.  He compromised, if not destroyed, his credibility and the faith people had in him to honor a commitment. My grandma used to say, “What’s coming to you is coming to you.” In other words, what goes around comes around. It sure does. From this day forward any commitment he makes will be suspect by those who got burned this time around. And most likely they will be all too happy to spread the word. Was it worth it? For the short term possibly; in the long term, don't think so.

Trust is one of the most valuable things we can possess. It is the foundation of our most important relationships; our families, friends, employees, customers. You can’t buy it, you can’t sell it; you have to earn it. That doesn’t happen overnight.  Losing it, on the other hand, can happen in a matter of seconds.

One popular quote puts it this way, “When you completely trust another person, you will end up with one of two outcomes. A friend for life or a lesson for life. Both, regardless of the outcome are valuable.”

Which would you rather have?

Posted by MJ Thomas

Are you playing it safe?

A safe and healthy workplace is not only important to the wellbeing of your employees but to the success of your business. In fact, creating a safe work environment can mean the difference between profit and productivity and one crippled by workers compensation, medical costs and even worse. So, it stands to reason that the company safety program meshes seamlessly into the overall culture of the business. Employees “own it” and are all vested in its success. Yeah, right.

Safety is serious business; it’s about following rules and complying with procedures; it’s about mandatory monthly safety meetings where those rules and procedures are reviewed over and over again.  It’s about best practices and being prepared for the unexpected.

With so much at stake, your entire work force needs to understand and buy in to the company’s safety objectives and the safe behaviors that are expected of them. To make that happen, safety training needs to be memorable.

One way to do that is to make your company’s safety training an experience. Scrap the meetings where everyone sits and listens. Mix things up. We all learn in different ways. Listeners prefer lectures and group discussions. Others – visual learners – like images, graphs and maps to tell the story for them. Did you ever notice any of your colleagues constantly taking notes? It could be that’s how they best process information. And then there’s the person always taking things apart and trying to figure out how they work using the hands-on approach.  Does your current training program address all of these styles? If not, your message could be getting lost on more than half of your audience! Not good when it comes to safety.

Think about including something for everyone in your training; maybe a short lecture, a video, an interactive skit; create a song, a demo, an actual walk through of a situation – anything that gets your people engaged in maintaining a safe working environment for all.  An investment in your training program can lead to a rich future.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Creative minds are rarely tidy?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Why? Because I admit that my desk is not the neatest in the office. To the untrained eye, it may appear messy and disorganized. I prefer to think of it as organized chaos. It’s how I function best – all my stuff around me in piles, easily accessible when that germ of an idea hits. I know where everything is, what pile it’s in, what scrap of paper that note or phone number is written on and pretty much what’s on deadline and what’s not. And I save things. For me, it’s a healthy and creative working environment. Others may view it as a safety hazard.

My colleague across the room is totally opposite. Rarely do you see papers on her desk, a pen out of place or a file not filed. She saves only what is absolutely necessary. It’s her style.

According to an OH &S blog posted by Jo Eismont, each of us fits into a work style category: the Information Junkie, the Home from Homer, the Machine and the Chaos Theory. My co-worker is the Machine; clarity of focus, only necessary items on her desk, regularly cleans up her area getting rid of anything old or irrelevant. If you borrow her desk space for any reason, you better make sure that everything is back in its place when you are done. Sometimes I move things on her desk just to see how long it will take her to move them back.

I am a proud student of the Chaos Theory. Notes and scraps of paper everywhere; evidence of being struck by the idea that I need to write down before I forget. There are random notes pinned to the wall, jumping from one idea to the next; stacks of magazines to read, a coffee cup and numerous pens found strewn about.

We make a great team because believe it or not, our styles complement each other. She doesn’t try to convert me to her style and I don’t try to convert her to mine. It just works. Working from my desk would drive her crazy and vice versa.

The point being, just as each of us learns differently, each of us has our own working style. And it’s how we work best. There’s no right way to keep your desk and there’s no right way to work. Our workstations are comfort zones. They are an extension of our personality. So, if you want to get the best out of your employees, don’t mess with their system.

That is all.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Are you “Rockin’ Down the Highway”?

Summer is upon us. The days are longer, the sun is brighter, the air seems cleaner, flowers are in bloom and many of us take to the highway and interstates in search of fun, adventure and the perfect vacation. Sounds great doesn’t it? You bet! Until it isn’t.

Yesterday, I witnessed an example of when it isn’t.  I’m on my way to work and traffic is actually going at a pretty good pace for the morning commute. Oops. Spoke to soon. Turns out a motor home pretty much ran up the tail pipe of a somewhat compact car that now looked like an accordion gone bad. Fortunately in this case no one was injured. But just seeing the motor home brought to mind some of the perils of driving that are more specific to summer.

Face it. Highways and interstates are already congested. The volume of traffic that daily travels these highways is intense. Add to that “vacation drivers” and the chance of accidents, traffic jams and road rage jumps like the degrees on the thermometer. Make sure you plan for delays; full tank of gas, bottled water and snacks on hand; give yourself extra time so you are not in panic mode when the unexpected happens. What about your car? Before you head down highway, make sure you’ve checked tire pressure, fluid levels, windshield wipers, and air conditioning – anything that could cause a problem on that long stretch of highway.

Take into consideration that school’s out. That means more teens on the roads and an increase in the risk of accidents.  Lack of experience and distractions can lead to questionable decision making. In addition to sharing road space with teens, watch out for the cyclists – motorcycles and bicycles – and be prepared for one darting out in traffic.

And what about those dreaded orange barrels? Construction and maintenance work definitely increases during the summer months. Be aware. Have you left yourself ample cleared distance in case you suddenly have to stop? Are you going the speed limit or are you pushing it just a little too much?

Do we all know these things? Yes, we do, but a gentle reminder never hurts. As I always tell my nieces; have fun and be safe.

Posted by MJ Thomas

We’ve got SPIRIT how about you?

We are talking team spirit. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the NBA Finals! To say that there is excitement in the air is a huge understatement.  It’s been a wild ride this season – ups, downs, injuries, trades – but through it all the Cavs persevered and as they say, “when the going got tough, the tough got going.” Not one of them or a few of them but all of them.  It wasn’t all about LeBron or Kyrie or Kevin, it was about a “group of athletes with complementary skills, committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.” And that’s the definition of a team.

The most effective teams have a lot of traits in common.  Team members share a common vision, they trust each other, they are willing to co-operate and blend their strengths together to create the best outcome. They all pull their weight – in the same direction. They give each other the benefit of the doubt, they support and encourage each other and they step in to lend a hand when needed. They communicate – openly and honestly. They resolve conflict and move on. They adapt to the circumstances.  Leadership is strong.

Work teams need to follow the same guidelines to be successful. To build a great company you need a great team. Just like a coach you need to build and inspire your team. Think about your team. Does it exhibit the elements needed for success? Or is it stuck in the same place; never moving any closer to achieving the goal, getting more frustrated and disengaged by the minute? Does chaos prevail when things fall apart? Is everyone taking on the role of superstar? If so then you’ve got some serious work to do. Just like a coach, you may need to make some substitutions or even bench a few players.  You may need to alter your game plan. Who do you want ready to rebound that three-pointer if it bounces off the rim? Who do you want to step up if another player gets injured? Who can withstand the heat when the going gets rough? Pick your team wisely. A great team can be the difference between success and failure.

Go Team! Go Cavs!

Posted by MJ Thomas

I hear you barking! NOT!

It never ceases to amaze me just how much my dogs can communicate without ever uttering a word. The conversations we have are very revealing; albeit pretty one-side. It’s their nonverbal statements that speak volumes. Okay, before you roll your eyes (a very telling nonverbal sign, I might add); this isn’t a blog about my pets; although they are pretty great and I could share some great stories. This is about nonverbal communication – what we say without saying it and its importance in the workplace.

It was, however, watching Carlos and Lex Luthor (both Labradors) one day last week that got me started on this.  They are masters of the art of nonverbal communication. Through a look, a twitch of an ear, the slap of a paw, the wag of a tail or that look in their eyes, they clearly communicate their wants, their needs and their emotions. The messages they send are quite clear.

The nonverbal cues we exhibit send some pretty clear message as well. Even if we are not aware that we are sending them, we sure know when we receive them. Who thinks the eye roll is a good thing? Or how about the arms folded across the chest like a barricade to fend off any incoming messages? What’s the first thing you did when you didn’t want to be called on in school? You lowered your eyes so you didn’t make direct contact with the teacher. The message? Please do not call on me! On the other side of the coin, nonverbal cues can convey confidence, agreement, like and other positive messages. Nodding the head in agreement, smiling and direct eye contact indicates interest, approval and reinforcement.

The tricky part comes in when the nonverbal signs don’t match the spoken words. As a leader you need to be very dialed in to these disconnects. Communication is definitely hindered and messages are compromised when nonverbal contradicts what is said. Be wary of the team member who voices agreement but never makes eye contact, has that pained facial expression and is doodling during the entire meeting. They are definitely NOT buying in to your program or policies.

If you are a gambler, you are always looking for a “tell” from other players; that one nonverbal that lets you know they are bluffing. Since a number of resources frequently cite that 93% of all daily communication is nonverbal, you better know what your team’s “tells” are if you want to reach your goals.

When verbal and nonverbal communication messages act in concert, information is communicated more effectively. The point? Be careful what you don’t say, it might be sending the wrong message. Or as Peter Drucker says, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

Posted by MJ Thomas

"Stop talking to me!"

Ever feel like just yelling that at the top of your lungs? That was last week at our office. The pace was non-stop, the challenges were coming at us right and left, some critical elements to success were suddenly out of our control and that was just on Monday! Needless to say stress levels were off the chart.  Fortunately, we have an environment where it is safe to vent, laugh and then get on with it. Why? Because stress can make you sick, emotionally and physically.

There are a number of definitions for stress, especially workplace stress. This one however draws to mind an interesting visual as well. Stress is “The confusion created when one’s mind overrides the body’s basic desire to choke the living daylights out of someone who desperately needs it!”

Studies show that job stress is by far the leading source of stress for adults and it continues to escalate. Stress is a leading contributor to accidents and injuries and in the workplace it can jeopardize the safety of your employees. Stress changes how we act, how we think and how we react; it makes us more open to accidents and injuries. Our focus is less clear, we have difficulty understanding and processing.  We are less creative, more defensive, and angrier and tend to over react to our surroundings. We are more likely to break things, are clumsier, make more errors and are more likely to cut corners. Physically it manifests itself in headaches, back pain, sleep disorders and
stomach issues to name a few. In many ways, we become an accident waiting to happen.

In the workplace unrecognized and untreated stress among employees is a recipe for disaster. Stress not only contributes to industry’s high price tag of $300 billion annually as a result of accidents, absenteeism and employee turnover; it contributes to fifty percent of all illness in the United States.

So here’s the $64,000 question; does your “Safety Plan” include stress management for your employees? It should. Ignoring the signs in your employees and hoping someone else will handle it will cost you in more ways than one.

Ready to let out that primal scream? I say go for it.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Make it work!

Anyone who watched Project Runway heard Tim Gunn say those words at least once if not more in every single episode. Sounds simple enough, right? Not always.
More often than not, when faced with a challenging situation, the tendency is to rattle off all the reasons it won’t work. And when you are working with a team – all it takes is one reason why something can’t be done to make those negatives multiply tenfold.

Here's my approach - don’t tell me why it won’t work or can’t be done, tell me how it CAN.  Don’t tell me all the things your competition is doing wrong; tell me what your company is doing right.

It’s not easy but it works.

Let me give you an example.  At one time I served as administrative liaison for a group of volunteers who were hosting a big fundraising event.  At noon – the day of the event – the event coordinator quit.  She left a note in my mailbox; no explanation, no notes, no contacts, just the keys to the event room. Perfect.  Guess just how long it took for that information to circulate among the masses?  In a matter of what seemed like only minutes, my office was filled with panicking volunteers all preparing for inevitable doom.

We sat down to regroup – everyone had something to say and it was ALL negative. After about ten minutes of that (which I realized afterwards was ten minutes too much), I said STOP!  The event could not be cancelled so what could we do? Silence filled the room. Then one brave soul stepped forward. His first words were “we could” and that started the ball rolling. Slowly rolling, but rolling in the right direction. Okay, you know where this is going and you are right. Thanks to a shift in thinking and some dedicated volunteers, the event went off without a hiccup. It was more than a financial success. It was a team success. This team took ownership, overcame the challenges and made it work.

Your team can make it work too!

Posted by MJ Thomas