Looking forward with a new resolve

Happy New Year! It’s that time again; time when our thoughts turn to reflecting on this past year and preparing for 2017. Where did the time go? What did we accomplish? What’s still on the “to-do” list? What’s the plan? It’s the time of year for resolutions.

About 45 percent of us will make at least one resolution for the new year; that firm decision to do or not do something; a decision that equates to change. We resolve to get healthier, be happier, exercise more, earn more money, be a nicer person – and the list goes on. Six months into the year, about half of that 45 percent will be successful. Why? Maybe expectations are too high, maybe they aren’t really the “right” resolutions, maybe we just give up too easily.

That “giving up too easily” part is what I plan to work on this year. Instead of resolutions, I’m starting the year with a new resolve – a firmness of purpose or intent; determination. Seems to me that’s a good approach no matter what business you are in, what stage of life you are at; no matter your circumstances. Easy to do? Absolutely not! In a world where we are told no more than we are told yes, maintaining a firm resolve is a tough task. Obstacles pop up at random to derail our quest. It’s too hard, it costs too much, there’s no time, it’s scary. Yet, I’ve always been told that if you want something bad enough, if it’s truly a dream, you will do what is needed
to achieve it.

When working in teams or groups to generate ideas or find solutions to challenges, I’ve always used the “don’t tell me what we can’t do; tell me what we can do” approach. This year, I resolve to practice what I preach.

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Posted by MJ Thomas

The Spirit of Christmas Present

Christmas Day 2016 is almost here and while many may have “visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads,” I am a bit more reflective thinking about the Christmas Spirit and just what it all means.

Christmas spirit, I’m sure, means something different to everyone. For me, this quote from Santa himself sums it up; “Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”

It’s not about gifts or material things; you can’t buy it. And no one can give it to you. It comes from within. It’s about giving of yourself – your time and your talents. It’s about patience and tolerance and the willingness to see the good in people. It’s about caring and compassion and goodwill toward our neighbors. It’s about friends and family and loved ones near and far. It’s about being in the moment and being thankful. It’s about “getting it” – knowing that if there were no gifts, no decorations, no lights – the true spirit of Christmas would still shine.  What a wonderful world it could be.

Wishing you happiness, health, peace and prosperity in the true spirit of Christmas now and always.

Posted by MJ Thomas

It’s a week before Christmas and all through the house…

You finish the sentence. After all it’s different for everyone. Some people handle the holidays with total calm; systematically checking things off their to-do-lists – tree decorated, check; cookies baked, check; cards mailed, check; presents bought and wrapped, check. No muss, no fuss. Then there’s the “other” group who seem to need a fast-approaching deadline and a firecracker under their chair to get the adrenaline flowing and get in gear. That would be me. It’s not that I don’t like the holidays: I LOVE Christmas! It’s my favorite time of year. The music, the movies, the colors, the sights and sounds, the family time – I love all of it! I’m also still old-fashioned enough to believe that the official start of the season is the day after Thanksgiving. There are certain things I can expect with this decision. By now crowds, long lines, limited supplies, no parking and too few checkout lanes should be a given. Shoppers, including me, start to exhibit behavior that is a cross between panic, anger and “what the heck was I thinking”.

My decision to procrastinate does not give me license to be mean, rude, pushy or just downright annoying. I get it. I accept it. What I won’t accept are the people who believe the holiday shopping experience revolves around them. They’re the ones who push and shove; are rude and crabby; and totally suck the holiday spirit out of everyone around them.

Get over yourself. What did you expect this time of year? I’m a little fired up because it happened to me at lunch. I’m walking up to the counter to pay for my purchase when I get literally overtaken by a woman who cuts me off at the pass like I’m not even there. She then proceeds to monopolize the salesperson while the minutes left on my lunch break tick away. No excuse me, no I’m sorry, no nothing. Tidings of comfort and joy. Let’s keep it in perspective – you’re buying “stuff” and “stuff" isn’t what the season is truly about.

To paraphrase some words of wisdom from Bill Murray’s character Frank Cross in the holiday classic Scrooged, “…it should be 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

Snow and sleet and ice, oh my!

Let me see a show of hands. Who reading this blog thinks that winter driving is the same as driving at other times of the year? There better NOT be any hands up out there. Winter driving carries with it a unique set of challenges. Makes sense, right? And yet how many how many of us have experienced the nail biter, demolition derby, knuckles clenched on the steering wheel daily commute because some people don’t think the rules apply to them? We’ve all been there.

Since at Sentry we’re in the business of safety and northeast Ohio had its first major snowfall this week, just thought some observations and winter driving tips were a timely topic.

Consider this – an ordinary driver reacts to road situations while a good driver anticipates them. According to Car and Driver magazine winter driving doesn’t have to be as hard as people think; it just takes a little more concentration and awareness. If you’re a visual person like I am, these additional tips from the magazine really drive home the point.

“Drive like you’re tiptoeing on ice, because you might be. Use small, slow motions. Ease on the brakes, drive like there’s an egg under the accelerator, and if you start to skid, steer in the direction you want to go and keep steady, light pressure on the gas. If you’re skidding sideways, the brake is not the pedal to press. It will just make things worse.”

Be prepared for delays on the highway; give yourself extra time to get to your destination. Make sure your vehicle is prepared – windshield wipers work, a gas tank that’s at least half full, make sure your tires are properly inflated and have sufficient tread, make sure all your windows are clear for maximum visibility (not like the people who scrape out a small circle on the driver’s side windshield and head out onto the highway). Don’t brake at the last minute. It takes longer to slow down on wet and snow-covered roads that it does on dry pavement.

By no means is this a complete list of tips for safe winter driving. It’s just a snapshot. Most of all, please use common sense. It’s not only your safety at risk, it’s the safety of others around you.

Be safe.

Posted by MJ Thomas

The power of Plan B

It’s officially the holiday shopping season. Yay, yippee, yahoo. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Scrooge. I love being able to get the perfect gift for everyone on my list and have no problem exhausting all possibilities to get it. Unfortunately, my holiday spirit and “great ideas” for gifts collide with each other at the last minute. Then it’s off to the races; just full-out frenzy. Ho-ho-ho.
Let me interject here that a dear friend and co-worker has already completed her shopping and everything is wrapped and ready to go. Really? Who does that? Maybe I’m a little envious.
But I digress. So instead of really being able to enjoy the experience; take my time; map out my stops, maybe sip on some hot chocolate and listen to the carolers singing, I will be endlessly circling the parking lot for a space, dodging the pushes and shoves of the madding crowd, trying not to trip over product displays strategically placed in the middle of the aisle, waiting in long lines with others of the same last minute ilk and most likely running from store to store because what I finally decided would be the perfect gift for my nieces has been sold out for three weeks. It’s not that I didn’t start out with a plan, it’s that the plan (under the circumstances) may not work. Time for Plan B.
Plan B is basically “a set of actions for doing or achieving something that you can use when your original plan fails.” It’s a way of re-focusing, changing your approach, being prepared for the unexpected and never giving up. Having a Plan B could make the difference between success and failure; both in business situations and in your personal life. It’s being prepared, not missing a beat and keeping things moving in the right direction. It’s being able to adapt when you’re thrown a curve, not panicking in the face of adversity and controlling your own destiny. It’s about giving you confidence in knowing that all your bases are covered. Sometimes you may even need Plan C, D and E!
In my holiday shopping scenario, my Plan B just might be online shopping. But then, what fun would that be? Just kidding.

Posted by MJ Thomas

A time to give thanks

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving – a day for family gatherings, friends, turkey, pumpkin pie, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, football and most importantly; a day set aside for expressions of gratitude and acts of kindness. And no matter how we celebrate the day, giving thanks is the common thread that runs through it all. That’s a good thing.

Thanksgiving gives me a forum to openly express my thanks to family and friends seated around the dinner table; tell them how much good they bring to my life, how much their support continues to make the journey easier and how much they mean to me. The reality is that expressing gratitude and acts of kindness should not just be reserved for Thanksgiving. It should be all year round; not just for the sake of doing it, but because it’s sincere and meaningful. It doesn’t cost a thing and yet difference a simple “thank you” can make in someone’s life is priceless. Here’s the bonus – expressing gratitude and thanks is good for you! Studies show that the benefits of expressing gratitude can improve physical health, emotional health, make you more optimistic, help you sleep better and even live longer.

It’s not always easy to express gratitude. Face, it, life is not always kind; bad things happen and sometimes we are engulfed in negativity. But I read an article the other day that basically said there is always something to be grateful for; you just need to look for it. It’s worth a try.

With wishes for the happiest of Thanksgivings to all, I leave you with two quotes that I believe sum it all up. Enjoy.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”    John F. Kennedy

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it, is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward

Posted by MJ Thomas

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

Today is Veterans Day – a day set aside to honor America’s military veterans for their service, their patriotism and the sacrifices they have made to protect our nation and preserve our freedoms.

Formerly known as Armistice Day, the Veterans Day celebration falls on November 11 for a very profound reason. At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, an armistice went into effect that ended stopped the fighting between allied nations and Germany, ending World War I.

That war was regarded as “the war to end all wars.” If only that were true. So many years and so many conflicts later, members of our military are still making sacrifices to “preserve, protect and defend” the freedoms and opportunities we cherish. Each of us in some way is connected to someone in military service; fathers, mothers, siblings, co-workers, neighbors, clergy, family and friends. Let’s all make a special effort to say thanks on this day.

And as we say thanks, it’s important to remember the words of John F. Kennedy – “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Happy Veterans Day

Posted by MJ Thomas

Smile because it happened

 “Don’t be sad it’s over, smile because it happened. There will be a new day, and eventually a new year. And when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, rest assured it will be time for baseball again.”  Vin Scully
It’s only two days after the Cleveland Indians epic performance in the 2016 World Series and I can’t think of any words better to sum up the experience for the team, the fans, the city and anyone associated with baseball. They didn’t win the game, but they won the hearts and the respect of Clevelanders and baseball fans across the country. Why? Because they never quit. No matter what was thrown at them (literally), no matter what the media reported, despite the injuries and their underdog status, they kept going; giving it their all. That’s not an easy thing to do. The journey to the top tests us: it tests our strength, our endurance and our ability to hang in there when it would be easier to give up.

No matter what our goals – business or personal – there are obstacles along the way that try to prevent us from reaching them. That’s just the way it is. What happens next tells the tale. Do we give up or do we keep going? Do we stop because it’s too hard, because we’ve stumbled a few times or because everyone around us tells us it can’t be done? Do we blame others for the “bumps in the road” we experience? Or do we persevere? Never lose sight of the goal. Keep our heads high and do ourselves proud.

It’s a great life lesson. The Cleveland Indians played it out for us “up close and personal.” The scoreboard showed that they came up short, but they won a whole lot more than the World Series. And there’s always next year.

Smile because it happened.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Amok, Amok, Amok, Amok!

It’s almost Halloween – “a night of frolic where children wear costumes and run amok!” At least that’s the way Winifred Sanderson in the movie Hocus Pocus sees it. And in some ways, she’s not far off in her assessment. It’s a night of costumes, candy, parties, ghosts and goblins, haunted houses and magical fun. It’s also a night where safety should be top of mind.

Did you know that Halloween is one of the deadliest days of the year for child pedestrian accidents? Sadly, it’s true and per one report, over 60% of the accidents occurred between 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. – prime time for trick-or-treaters. Think about it. It’s dark, the kids are excited, they’re quick and can dart in and out of traffic if not supervised. Basically, the children’s presence on the road and even around houses requires extra caution. It’s important for motorists to be on the lookout for children on roadways, medians and curbs: remember that they don’t always wait to get to the intersection before crossing. Always enter and exit driveways and parking lots with caution. Go slow.

Do not let young children go unsupervised and only go to houses with porch lights lit. Do not let them eat any of their candy until they get home and then make sure you check it carefully for any irregularities. Reflective tape is a great way to “light up” costumes for high visibility.

If you are someone who loves to decorate for the holiday, make sure you keep safety in mind as well. It seems like burning candles are a mainstay for Halloween décor. They can also be extremely dangerous and can lead to unexpected damage to your home or worse. Battery-operated candles are a great alternative. Make sure the placement of your holiday decor doesn’t lend itself to being knocked over, tripped over or otherwise causing damage or injury.

Keep your pets safe too. Candy is for the kids, not for your pets. In fact, candy can be toxic to your pets so make sure it is out of reach. The constant arrivals at the front door can be scary for them too. Keep them calm and always keep pets inside. If you are absolutely compelled to dress up your pet for Halloween, make sure it doesn’t stress them out; make sure the costume fits properly and doesn’t restrict their movement or breathing.

Seems like a lot to think about to keep Halloween safe. It’s not; just a little extra caution and a lot of common sense. And remember…

“When cats prowl and pumpkins gleam, may luck and safety be yours on Halloween.”

Posted by MJ Thomas

You make a difference!

Tomorrow, October 22 is Make a Difference Day – one of the largest national days of community service. For more than twenty years on this day, volunteers and communities have united in a common mission to improve the lives of others.

It’s a day where individuals, corporations, community organizations and others participate in projects and events across the country; events that make an impact for the good. Whether it’s a community clean-up, building and repairing housing facilities, donating goods and services to the less fortunate, staging marathons or other fundraisers for a worthy cause or just buying lunch or a cup of coffee for someone just trying to get through another day, we can all find a way to make a difference. Make a Difference Day draws attention to that and puts it “up close and personal” on our radar. And that’s a great thing.

I would challenge that for each of us Make a Difference Day should be every day. A kind word, a helping hand, a note of encouragement, a moment to listen, a nod of understanding or even just a smile can make all the difference in the world for someone in need. That means it’s not all about “us”, it’s about “them”. It means we need to look outside ourselves, past our own circumstances, our own world and reach out. Pay it forward and make it happen.

There's a quote that says, "Never doubt that one person can make a difference.” Be that person.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Don’t let them count you out!

If you ‘re any kind of sports fan at all –  especially one in Cleveland – you know that tonight starts the American League Championship series in major league baseball. You also know that the Cleveland Indians, after sweeping the Boston Red Sox in the division series, are in the hunt. Go Tribe!

This also marks yet another instance where a Cleveland sports team is considered “the underdog.”  The underdog – the team expected to lose, the one less powerful, the one thought to not have much chance at winning it all. Humbug, I say. Well, look at the statistics, you might say; look at the talent; look at the bench strength; look at the past records. Phooey. On any given day, in any given circumstance, underdogs are beating the odds. Why? Because they believe they can and they don’t let others count them out. Can anybody say 2016 NBA Champions – the Cleveland Cavaliers? How about the 2016 Caulder Cup Champions – the Cleveland Monsters? About now you may want to call my attention to the Cleveland Browns. Okay, fine. But even with all the doom and gloom predictions for the team, there are still signs that this team hasn’t given up on itself.

Here’s the point. Don’t let anyone count you out – personally or in business. When people doubt your ability or your skills, prove them wrong. Stay determined. Play to your strengths. Your best skill – that thing that you do best – can give you that needed edge. Take things one step at a time. Instead of telling yourself you need five big sales to make your quota, focus on one sale at a time. And celebrate each success. Surround yourself with the right people; people who support you and believe in you. In tough situations focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t do. Let’s be honest, there WILL be tough times.

When it comes to sports here in Believeland, we know tough times – things like “Red Right 88”, “The Drive”, “The Shot”, “The Decision”, and the 1997 World Series ninth inning meltdown have become staples of our vocabulary. No more. The Cavaliers changed that earlier this year. Now the Indians are on deck. It’s their turn and you can bet they won’t let anyone count them out.

Go Tribe!

Posted by MJ Thomas


Did you know that today is World Smile Day?  It sure is. In fact, the first Friday of October each year marks World Smile Day, a day to do an act of kindness and make someone smile. With everything going on in the world today, the timing is perfect for taking a day to share good thoughts and goodwill.

Harvey Ball might not be a household name but what he created is internationally recognized and it’s the basis of how World Smile Day actually came to be. Who doesn’t recognize the smiley face?  It’s a circle with two dots for eyes and an upturned curve for a mouth. Ball created it in 1963 only to see it become increasingly commercialized; something that concerned him greatly.  So, in 1999, he founded World Smile Day to remind people of the symbolic icon’s original meaning – spreading joy and love to everyone, regardless of race, gender or geographic location.  Ball believed that everyone has the ability to make a positive difference; that every effort was worthwhile; and he believed in the power of a smile. His motto for World Smile day is “Do an act of kindness. Help one person smile.”
Smiling is a good thing; not only for the person smiling but for the person receiving the smile. Among other things, it can reduce stress, lower your heart rate, improve your mood, increase productivity; it’s contagious, it only takes a minute and it doesn’t cost a thing. Yet, that smile or that simple act of kindness can make a big difference in someone’s life at that very moment. That’s something we can all use.

Be the reason that someone smiles today.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Safety for all seasons

We’re just about a week into fall and things are changing.  Days are getting shorter; the leaves on the trees are changing colors; the temperatures are cooler and the air is crisper; fall sports are in the spotlight; comfort foods are often top of mind and it’s sweater weather.  These things are seasonal; happening or needed during a certain time of year.  Each season has its own characteristics: things that are “normal” for that certain time of year and that includes safety risks.

While some safety issues are only applicable at certain times during the year, safety –  being safe, following safety procedures and always being aware of potential safety issues – should be a year-round, 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. Every employee needs to take responsibility for it and that starts at the top. It is a 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. Safety is more than a slogan on a wall poster. Set your safety standards high and make safe practices part of your company’s daily routine. People’s lives and livelihoods depend on it.

Posted by MJ Thomas

If it looks like a duck

and walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, chances are it’s probably a duck. Ever hear that one? Sure you have.

Basically, it means that if it appears to be something and has all the characteristics of that something, then the logical conclusion is that it is what it appears to be. Aha. The operative words here for me are “what it appears to be.” Why? Things are not always what they appear to be.

Ever buy a “similar” product because it was less expensive and you thought you were saving money? In the long run did you really save? Did it really do what you wanted it to do? How long did it last? What was your reason for buying it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making any judgments. In fact, there are times when purchasing a similar less expensive product can adequately serve the purpose.

Not with safety products.

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 purchase 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

Do you hear what I hear?

Miscommunication. There are days when it seems to run rampant in the workplace, right? Why? Here’s my theory – people don’t listen.  Yep, that’s it.  They hear what’s being said alright, they just don’t listen. Now, before you think I’m splitting hairs or playing with semantics, hear me out; or better yet listen.

Hearing and listening are NOT the same things. Hearing is the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Listening is a conscious choice; it takes attention, processing, even analyzing. You can hear what’s being said without really listening.  As someone noted on the topic, most people tend to be “hard of listening” rather than “hard of hearing.”

Listening means paying attention to what’s being said with the intention of understanding.  In my opinion, this is the challenge.  With all the multi-tasking being done – answering calls, text messages, emails, contacting customers, meeting deadlines, putting out fires, balancing budgets, managing employees – who in the world has time to listen? And, why does it seem so hard?

Listening takes time and focus. Too often instead of listening, we’re thinking about our reply and are in such a hurry that we just blurt out a response before the other person is even finished. In fact, I saw a quote that nicely sums it up – “Oh, I’m sorry. Did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?”

Ouch. Yet I have to admit, I am guilty of committing this offense every now and then; especially when I am stressed. Not good.

We somehow have to make time to listen because when we don’t, it can certainly mess things up. Not listening leads to miscommunication and that can lead to false assumptions, conflict, decreased productivity, mistakes, criticism, finger-pointing, missed opportunities and the list goes on. Not exactly the environment anyone would want to work in or one that fosters creativity and collaboration. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

 Are you listening? Think about it.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask

Simple, right? Yet, how many of us still hesitate to ask for help when we need it?  Why? Maybe we’re embarrassed that we don’t already know the answers; maybe pride gets in the way; we don’t want to bother anyone; we think we should be able to figure it out ourselves; we don’t want to impose, blah, blah, blah. Lame excuses.

The reality is that most people are more than willing to help. But you have to ask. Instead of the time and productivity wasted on futile attempts to figure it out yourself and the frustration that goes with it, ask. The outcome could surprise you or at least leave you shaking your head wondering why you waited so long to reach out.

Here’s my example for the week; not earth shaking, but an example. A few years ago, I entered the world of Fantasy Football without a clue. It wasn’t that I don’t know football; just didn’t know Fantasy Football. The logical thing would be to ask for help. But, noooo. I didn’t need help; I’d figure it out myself. WRONG. Two miserable seasons later and I still hadn’t learned. It took getting a “D” on my draft selection report card before it hit me – get help.  Overachievers don’t deal well with “D”s.

The league commissioner happens to be my cousin. He graciously schooled me on the fine points of the game; making trades, projected points, what those little yellow text boxes mean and more. I am enlightened and my team’s projected points for the week went up by 30. This season’s looking a little brighter. I thanked him for helping me and he said, “I told you before if you needed help all you had to do was ask.”

How many times in business do we not ask for help? We sit in silence and frustration hoping that answers and solutions will just magically appear. We sabotage our progress, increase our anxiety and make things 100 times more difficult. None of us is expected to know everything. Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength, a willingness to learn, to grow, to keep moving forward, to stay competitive and be successful.

And, that’s a fact.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Here’s to the fruits of labor…

On Monday, September 5, we, as a nation, celebrate Labor Day; a day to “celebrate the efforts of workers past and present that have helped provide the social, political and economic backbone of this country.”

Is that what comes to mind when you think of Labor Day? Hmm? There’s no doubt that this holiday signifies different things to different people. For some it marks the unofficial end of summer; the last official barbecue and the ceremonial closing of the pool. Kids and teachers are back to school and fall sports are back in full swing. For old school fashionistas, it may mean no more wearing white; for others it marks one of the biggest sales days of the year.

In fact, it all started in 1882 at a parade to celebrate workers in New York City. Early in the day, attendance was low but by day’s end more than 10,000 people had participated in the parade and accompanying festivities. States and cities across the country soon began to adopt Labor Day as a celebration and in 1894, the first Monday in September was officially declared a national holiday.

Since that time, much has changed and continues to change; some of it good, some of it not so good; sometimes moving forward, sometimes moving back. One fact that hasn’t changed is that workers – hard working, dedicated and unshaken – are the wheels that keep our country moving forward. Whether you work for a company or are self-employed, work in an office or are a physical laborer, no matter what industry or discipline you work in – your contributions are vital to keeping our country on the right track.

This Labor Day, amidst all the activities that may be going on, take time to celebrate you and the contributions that your hard work makes to our society.

Here’s to the fruits of your labor.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Slow down, you move too fast…

Yesterday I was on location for a great video/photo shoot project. The location was about an hour’s drive away from my usual starting point so it gave me plenty of time for observations. And anyone who reads this blog knows how I love to make observations. Here goes.

Aside from the massive volume of traffic, the thing I observed most were the dreaded orange barrels; you know, the ones that seem to pop up everywhere at this time of year and basically send you the signal that – unless you planned for them – you won’t make it to your destination on time. It’s funny how the sight of an orange barrel on the highway can immediately conjure up so many different emotions. Like the “Now, I’ll never make it on time” fear, the “Do they really have to do this in the middle of the day?” anger or the “Should have filled the tank before I left this morning” anxiety.

Here’s something else I observed – driving in a construction zone can be hazardous for both drivers and construction workers. Lanes are narrower; traffic patterns are different, people change lanes haphazardly and for most slowing down just doesn’t seem to be an option. The increase of activity on the highway can also lead to distractions. The statistics show that both injuries from construction zone accidents and the number of fatalities continues to increase.
Here are some important tips for increasing safety in highway construction zones.

·         SLOW DOWN – slow down to the posted speed limits. And then be prepared to slow down even more. According to the Federal Highway Administration – for a motor vehicle traveling at 50 mph – the stopping distance is 300 feet on a dry highway; 400 feet on a wet highway; and 1250 feet on icy pavement. That brings up the next tip.

·         DON’T TAILGATE – maintain at least a four second following distance in case of sudden stops.

·         EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED – be alert. Watch for workers entering lanes, other motorists suddenly changing lanes or the person in front of you suddenly hitting the brakes
·         ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS – don’t fool with the radio or your cell phone or try to grab something from the back seat. Pay attention. Follow instructions.

·         BE PATIENT – as much of an inconvenience that they may be, these work zones are necessary for properly maintaining our highways and keeping them safe.

It takes only 25 seconds more to cover one mile at 45 mph than it does at 65 mph. Slow down and be safe.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Wouldn’t it just be easier to follow the rules?

Safety rules, that is.  I mean really, wouldn’t it make more sense to follow rules designed to keep employees safe?  If you could avoid accidents, loss of life, damage to equipment and facilities, major fines, lawsuits, downed production time and loss of inventory wouldn’t you do it? Rhetorical question? Maybe, but in reviewing a number of industry magazines and safety items this week, I was totally taken back by the number of safety violations in the news; violations with some pretty disastrous consequences. With safety – especially at the workplace – cutting corners is never an option; or at least it shouldn’t be.

This month, OSHA’s new maximum fines go into effect. Fines are calculated by considering four elements – gravity of the violation, size of the company, good faith effort to comply and history of previous violations. Depending on the factors involved, the new penalties listed range anywhere from just under $9,000 up to almost $125,000. The highest fines go to the “repeat or willful violation” category. Let me say that again; the repeat or willful violation category. It’s scary that companies would willfully violate safety rules or repeat the infractions, but it happens. Hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that anyone would willfully violate safety policies.  Anyway, the hope is that the larger fines will serve as more of a deterrent to companies trying to circumvent the system. On the other hand, it is also important for the penalties to be administered fairly and consistently. Time will tell.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Hey Coach, what’s the game plan?

Tonight is the first pre-season game for the Cleveland Browns and I have to admit, as an avid sports fan I’m pretty excited.  A lot of moves and changes in the organization have set in motion what die-hard fans hope is the beginning of a new era; a season of more wins than losses; a renewed pride in the team and a winning mentality.

Great teams need great players, great coaches and a game plan. A game plan? Go figure. You need a strategy for accomplishing your objectives? You need a plan for winning? No, DUH! You sure do.

Imagine a team without a game plan. Let’s use the Browns for an example. Players take the field and get ready for the opening kick-off, the referee signals to start the clock and we are underway. BUT with no plan, no one knows what to do, where to go, what their role is, who they’re supposed to cover, where they’re supposed to run – basically you have total chaos. Not exactly a winning strategy. And you know what they say, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else!” You need one plan, one playbook, everyone singing from the same page and the flexibility to make changes to stay on target.

It’s the same for your business. What’s your plan? Have you shared it with your team members? Does everyone know where the business is headed? Do they all know their specific roles in your forward progress? Do you have buy in from everyone? Do you have a good system of communication to let your team know of any changes to the plan? Do you have checks and balances to track how the plan is working? Do you have the flexibility to change the plan if it’s veering you off course?

Repeat – great teams need great players, great coaches and a game plan. Make sure that your team knows what goal to aim for – because if you aim at nothing, it’s a sure hit every time.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Faster or safer?

When it comes to safety in the workplace, the answer is clear; safety, of course. I would guess we are all in agreement on that one. How well do we practice it? Let me explain. Everyone today is in a hurry; rush, faster, time is money. There is a lot of pressure to complete tasks in less time that it normally should take.  At those times, how many of us are tempted to take a short-cut?

For example, how many times have you crossed in the middle of the street because you didn’t want to wait for the light to change at the intersection? How many times have you gone into the plant without your safety goggles because they were in your office and you didn’t want to take the time to go get them?  Or say you need to get something off a top shelf and you don’t have a ladder handy. Do you take the time to get the ladder or do you try to climb up on the shelves? Or, how many times have you used the wrong tool on a job because it would take too long to get the right one?

In all these situations there’s that decisive moment when we choose to roll the dice or play it safe. Play it safe! Shortcuts create potentially dangerous situations; can result in accidents, mistakes, serious injuries, equipment and product damage, lost time and money and even worse. It’s not worth it.

Policies and procedures are in place for a reason. Follow them. The need to work fast should not override the need to work safe. Those few extra minutes it takes to do it the right way could save a life.

As Beverly Sills once said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” Be safe.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Are you a good competitor?

In the last two weeks, many of us have watched, listened or read about both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Now for each of the chosen nominees for president, the real contest; the real competition begins. Then next week, more than 10.500 athletes from more than 200 nations will compete on the world stage in almost 30 different Olympic sports. So in a matter of three weeks, the opportunity to see competition at its best – and its worst – will have crossed our paths.

As I thought about these three major events, it made me really take a good look at competition – the good, the bad and the ugly. When it’s good, competition can take things to new levels, foster creativity and teamwork; it gives rise to innovation and pushes people past the comfort zone to achieve greater things. Pride When it’s bad, it’s divisive; creates hostility and anger; increases stress and deflates team spirit and morale. And when it really gets ugly – when it takes on that “win at all costs” and “whatever it takes” – it creates dissension, suspicion and lack of trust; negative energy, name calling, finger pointing; and it can lead to unethical practices and maybe worse.

Winning is great whether it’s in politics, sports, our businesses or daily life. But how you win, in my opinion, is even more important. Do you work hard? Do you overcome the obstacles put in your way? Do you follow the rules? Respect your competition? Are you honest? Do you focus on the good in yourself and your team? Or do you try to make your team look good by constantly berating your competition? Do you acknowledge the people who helped you get there? Or is it all about you?

As the 2016 Summer Olympics unfold and the Presidential Campaign moves forward – all on the international stage – we will see examples of every kind of competitive behavior just mentioned. It will all be memorable; some of it for the wrong reasons.

Think about it. What kind of competitor are you; in your business and in your personal life? What memories are you creating for your audiences? No matter what others may say, I believe it matters – big time.

To quote an Italian proverb, “After the game, the King and pawn go into the same box.”

Food for thought.

Posted by MJ Thomas

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said…

…but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Couldn’t help but think about this quote as I experienced the pomp and circumstance of the Republican National Convention. At a time when communications to gain understanding was so vitally important, this event was a microcosm of everything that could go wrong. Why? Because the same message can mean different things to different people and considering the number of people in attendance, each message could have been interpreted in many, many ways.
Aside from the magnitude of the RNC event, it’s the same communications challenge we all face each day. Whether it’s communications to our employees, co-workers, customers, families or friends, we want our messages to be understood.  

In communications there is a sender and a receiver. Message sent; message received. Seems simple enough, right? It’s not. Along the way, a number of factors affect how the message is received and often, it's not in the way it was intended. That’s when things get disconnected.

Tone of voice, listening skills, non-verbals, point of reference and expectations are a few of the reasons that people interpret the same message in different ways. For example, if I say to you, “What are you doing?” and my tone of voice was loud and harsh and I looked agitated, you might interpret it much differently than if I asked you the same question using a casual and friendly manner. 

Are we really listening? Everyone wants to talk but how many of us really listen? The consequences to not listening can be costly. Messages are not conveyed properly, misunderstandings increase and in some cases, there's conflict.

How about the subtleties of non-verbal communications? The eye roll, the lean-in, the smile, eye contact, the frown, the sigh – all change the way a message is understood or not. What about points of reference? We all have a personal knowledge base of information accumulated from our experiences. If we receive a message that doesn’t fit our knowledge base, too often we try to make it fit and true understanding is lost.

See what I mean? Communicating in a meaningful way, where our messages are understood is not something that just happens. It’s a process that when done well, reaps significant rewards.

Posted by MJ Thomas

“How many times do I have to tell you?”

Ever hear that before? Sure you have; we all have. The interesting thing about this is that as frustrated as we may get about being told something repeatedly, it’s how we learn and retain the information. Consider this – one study found that making a point once at the end of a presentation led to ten percent of the audience who would remember it. However, if that point was made six times throughout the presentation, the retention rate would jump to 90 percent. That’s quite a difference.

Now let’s talk a little about safety; specifically safety at your workplace. You have a detailed plan, probably some sort of manual that outlines policies and procedures and roles and responsibilities; there are most likely safety posters placed at key spots in the building; maybe you hold monthly safety meetings; maybe you even hold safety drills on a regular basis. Hopefully, your safety program is all of the above and more. Why? Because workplace safety is not a one and done. The more ways and the more times we can get the safety message out to employees, the better chance they will retain the information and what they retain they can put into practice. Repetition creates familiarity and that leads to understanding. Employees are likely to be more diligent about safety practices when they understand them. Repetition is a key method for learning.

Ever hear of the Universal Speakers’ Law? It goes something like this: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you told them. If you want to get your point across, this sure makes sense to me.

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.

Posted by MJ Thomas

The magic elixir of ha-ha-ha

Ever hear someone say that laughter is good medicine? Guess what? They’re right. In fact, the effects of a good, old, rip-roaring belly laugh help you heal emotionally and physically; a two-for-one antidote that’s free, rarely has negative side effects and doesn’t require pages of instruction. It’s a powerful tool in helping us get through stressful situations.

So what’s my point? Who doesn’t know that you say?  Well, there are a lot of things we “know” that we put aside and tend to forget. It’s easy to forget to laugh when so many things around us aren’t funny. Look at the headlines, listen to the news; not much to laugh about there. Truth be told, there are many times when laughter is totally inappropriate. With those disclaimers, let’s get back to where this blog started. Laughter is good medicine.

Driving in to the office this morning wasn’t fun. In fact, most mornings it’s not very amusing. It stresses me out. Between trying to be on time, construction delays, people not paying attention to where they are going, or going too slow or weaving in and out of traffic like they’re at the Indy 500, I get a little tense. My hands clench the wheel, my muscles tense and as much as I hate to admit it, I yell at people. What’s wrong with this picture? Stressing out doesn’t get me to work any faster, it doesn’t make construction go away and by the time I walk in the front door at the office, my blood pressure is a tad elevated. Sitting at my desk and reviewing the whole scenario in my mind, made me laugh. That was a good thing. Laughing helped me put things in perspective, took away the drama and changed my outlook for day.

Laughter reduces stress, gives you a new perspective on things and diffuses distressing emotions. It’s hard to feel angry or sad when you laugh. Physically, it helps boost your immune system, lowers blood pressure, stimulates the release of endorphins, releases muscle tension, promotes “internal jogging” with effects similar to exercise and even burns a few calories. One study states that ten to 15 minutes of daily laughing can burn up to forty calories.  Whoa! Sign me up!

You get the point. All I’m saying is to be good to yourself. Laugh a little more and stress a little less. I’ll end with this quote from Woody Allen in hopes that it makes you smile – “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.”, a

Have a fun weekend.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Ooooh! Ahhhh! Ooops!

Three cheers for the USA and a great big Happy Birthday! Monday we celebrate the 240th anniversary of the birth of our nation – Independence Day 2016.There will be celebrations of all kinds; parades, concerts, family get-togethers, barbecues, sporting events and fireworks.

Practically synonymous with the Fourth of July, fireworks have long been a part of our Independence Day celebrations. As far back as 1777, Philadelphia put together a full day of festivities that included a parade, dinner, music, musket salutes and fireworks.

Fireworks are magical; explosions of bright colors, shapes and sounds lighting up the night sky as young and old alike watch in awe. They are the grand finale for the day’s celebrations. Fireworks are also dangerous. There you have it. The other shoe just dropped.
Now before you roll your eyes at my keen grasp of the obvious and think I’m looking at the glass half full, think about this: during the 2014 calendar year, fireworks were involved in an estimated 10,500 injuries treated in hospital emergency departments and almost 67 percent of those occurred during a 30-day period surrounding the Fourth of July. Some of these injuries resulted in deaths. (Consumer Products Safety Commission)  And according to the National Fire Protection Agency, fireworks cause an estimated 15,600 reported fires in the U.S. in 2013 resulting in a number of injuries and thousands of dollars in property damage.
It’s enough to put a little tarnish on the magic don’t you think? But it doesn’t have to – JUST BE SMART AND BE SAFE! A celebration is no time to cut corners on safety. Remember, it’s only fun until someone gets hurt. Leave things to the professionals.
And, amidst all the festivities, please take a few minutes to remember the real reason we celebrate this day – our freedom and all of those who fought and still fight to preserve it.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Posted by MJ Thomas

Take me to your leader…

Last week’s blog was published right before the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the NBA National Championship.  So much has happened since then. In a nutshell – they won; beat the odds, the curse is broken and hope springs eternal for Cleveland’s other professional sports teams. Everywhere you looked this week you saw – or heard – something Cavaliers – signs, merchandise, blogs, tweets, news items, interviews, songs.  I admit that I was “ALLIN” for just about every bit of it.

One thing that really stood out for me was the recurring notion of leadership. Interview after interview LeBron James was hailed as the leader of this team; a role he embraced willingly. And, interview after interview LeBron James stayed true to his belief in himself and his teammates, exhibiting confidence, drive and a demeanor that remained calm in the face of adversity. He led by example. Never let them see you sweat.  We have a game plan; we need to follow it and execute. Just follow my lead.

To me, that’s real leadership.  Even if he was screaming on the inside; even if there was any chink in the armor, you never saw it. Imagine how different things would have been if he was running around yelling, “We’re down 3-1, we’re down 3-1. What are we going to do? No team has ever come back from this point to win the championship!”  Bet there wouldn’t have been a championship parade in Cleveland this past Wednesday.

There are a lot of qualities that define a good leader; things like empathy, integrity, accountability and honesty among them. But the ability to make people believe in themselves; lead them calmly through the storm to beat the odds and achieve a goal; that’s leadership.  Just saying.

“Nothing is given. Everything is earned.”

Posted by MJ Thomas

I do believe, I do believe. I do, I do, I do!

Last night the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the odds – big time. Considering that the odds have been against them ever since the best of seven final series began, that’s saying something. They fought hard and they played tough and are now one game away from an NBA Championship. Welcome to Believeland!
Beyond the outstanding display of skill, the team brought to life a very valuable tenet – never give up. If you want to achieve your dream, never give up. Even when the odds are stacked against you and everyone tells you that you can’t do it; never give up. Understand and accept that there will be obstacles along the way, you will be challenged, you may stumble and you may even fail the first few times. Keep going; don’t give up. Believe. Nobody said it would be easy. Sometimes you have to stick with something long enough to make it work.  Obviously, this goes way beyond basketball. It’s about life and purpose and being willing to persevere to achieve a dream even when everything around you tells you it’s not going to happen.

Think about this. Steven Spielberg was rejected three times by the University of Southern California’s School of Theatre, Film and Television. Walt Disney was rejected by bankers 300 times because they thought the idea of Mickey Mouse was absurd. Do you know how many times Thomas Edison failed before he successfully invented the light bulb? One thousand. Harry Potter was rejected twelve times before finally being accepted by Bloomsbury Publishing. There are countless examples like this throughout history. What do they all have in common? They didn’t give up. They believed in themselves and their purpose. Thank goodness because our world would be much different if they had.

So, what’s your dream? Are you willing to put it all on the line to achieve that dream? Are you ready to accept rejection, stumble a few times and still keep going? Do you believe? Then, go for it!

When the Cavaliers take the court at the Oracle Arena on Sunday night in Oakland, the odds will still be against them. No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-1 playoff series deficit in the finals to win the championship. The Cavs believe they can do it; they don’t plan on giving up.

This is Believeland. Go Cavs!

Posted by MJ Thomas