Happy Employees - A Competitive Advantage

Monday, 28 September 2009 18:02 by kpotvin

  

We recently ate at Texas Roadhouse with the kids.  As our hostess asked us if we’d like to select our steak from the butcher case of raw ribeyes, New York strips and filets, we learned she was a vegetarian.  How, we asked, could a vegetarian work at a steak restaurant?  She answered, “For the money – and it’s fun.”

We couldn’t argue with that.  This is the kind of place where you drop empty peanut shells on the floor, and where birthday celebrants perch on saddles as other diners shout, “Yee-ha!”  Also, you are bound to see the wait staff erupt into a “spontaneous” line dance – joined by customers.  All that and the food is pretty good.  One more thing:  The waiters wear black T-shirts which say on the back, “I (heart) my job.”  They really make you feel like they do. 

Employee happiness is important.  One study from earlier this year out of Kansas State University showed that happy employees could be an indicator of company success, an actual competitive advantage.  The study by Thomas Wright, Jon Wefald Leadership Chair in Business Administration and professor of management at K-State, found that “when employees have high levels of psychological well-being and job satisfaction, they perform better and are less likely to leave their job -- making happiness a valuable tool for maximizing organizational outcomes.”

Good pay, incentives for advancement, a motivating vision, recognition (see our recent story on the Art in Giving recognition program), training, a fun work environment – what are you doing to keep your team members happy and engaged?  Your customers…and business depend on it. 

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News Splash Interview: Blending Business, Art & Philanthropy

Wednesday, 23 September 2009 11:19 by kpotvin

Flowers For Hope, Eliane Markoff

This News Splash interview is with Eliane Markoff, businesswoman, painter and founder of Art in Giving, a powerful customer appreciation and employee recognition program that blends business, art and philanthropy.  Here Eliane talks with us about her Foundation, the concept behind Art in Giving, and her own creative process.  

News Splash (NS):  Tell us about Art in Giving. 

Eliane:  Art in Giving was launched in May 2009.  Eleven artists offer their art to encourage organizations to use art as a gift to thank clients and guest speakers and to reward executives and other employees. Fifty percent of the proceeds are donated to The Rachel Molly Markoff Foundation, a 501 C3 non-profit that funds brain tumor research and pediatric cancer programs.

The mission of Art in Giving is to make people feel good by doing good. Art in Giving offers organizations a new and creative way to express appreciation to their clients, partners, employees or any individuals they want to honor and thank.  Art in Giving allows people to feel good on several levels.  When someone receives an Art in Giving voucher, he or she feels honored.  When that person realizes that 50% of the proceeds will be donated to a good cause, that person feels even more recognized.  The experience of selecting the art and visiting the studios is also a gift. The piece of art will last a life time and so will the honor.  It is recognition combined with philanthropy and art. 

NS:  What gave you the idea? 

Eliane:  During the past decade, individuals and organizations participated in an earlier version of Art in Giving.  Boston Private Bank, for example, bought 50 prints of Flowers for Hope (pictured here) my signature piece, to present to their most valuable clients.  Equity Office commissioned me to create a painting in the lobby of its headquarters in Boston.  Jonathan Davis of The Davis Companies bought two of my early paintings which are hanging in his offices on Appleton Street in Boston.  The National Brain Tumor Society uses Blue Passion Prints to recognize volunteers, donors and employees during its annual meeting.  Friends and contacts would buy my art to give as presents to others.   

I recently attended a board meeting where someone was honored.  That person knows about Art in Giving and said to me, in private, that although he appreciates the engraved crystal piece he received, he would have enjoyed a piece of art as his gift!

The support and interest of these individuals and companies gave me the idea to use art as a recognition and award program.  Once I joined the SOWA Artists Guild in Boston last year, I was happy to share my story with other artists who showed interest in participating. I originally asked for 20% of the proceeds to go to The Rachel Molly Markoff Foundation. I was very moved when the founder of the Artists Guild, Stephen Silver, suggested the greater amount of 50% be applied to the Foundation and that everyone else was very supportive.

NS:  How was The Rachel Molly Markoff Foundation created? How is Art in Giving evolving? 

Eliane:  The Foundation was created when people wanted to buy my art. Since I began painting mainly due to the loss of my child, the proceeds went directly to the Foundation. It became very therapeutic for me.  The original Art in Giving was formed in 2000. It included my art only. I am delighted 10 other artists are now involved and we hope to add more next year, once we have a few more clients.  One of the new additions, I hope, will be my daughter Audrey, who shares the studio with me and has done some beautiful mosaic pieces and other pieces using yarn. 

NS:  You are a successful businesswoman and extraordinary artist – how do the two work together? 

Eliane:  Thank you for the compliment.  For the most part, they work well together for me.  It is my business background combined with my motivation and drive to make a difference that make me successful.  I love presenting the combination of art, business and philanthropy to organizations especially those concerned with delighting their customers, partners, donors as well as those concerned with motivating and retaining their employees.       

I wish I could say that every company or organization we approach participates in the program immediately.  Although we have received wonderful feedback on the idea and concept, it is challenging getting immediate commitments. I believe that we are planting the seeds for greater success in the future. That is what I need to focus on.  

NS:  How do you fit your creative side into a busy schedule? 

Eliane:  I make the time. I love spending the time in the studio with Gary’s [husband] old shirts and an old skirt covered with paint. If I am lucky, my daughter Audrey will be in her space next to me creating her art pieces made of yarn or mosaic.  A cousin of mine made many CDs for me so I listen to French, Middle Eastern or Greek music and let my creativity take over. I also find myself thinking of new business ideas while I am in the studio.   

NS:  What inspires you? 

Eliane: I am inspired by the simple blessings in my life.  I know Rachel painted three flowers while she was waiting at the Jimmy Fund Clinic one day.  I would like to believe it was a happy painting.  It had a sun in it.  The painting is now the logo for the Foundation. 

I am inspired by a hug, good conversation and sweet words from my daughter; a happy phone call from my husband; a backgammon game with my mother; a trip to Jerusalem with my brother; a note from my sister; a peaceful week-end in Maine looking at Lake Sebago and a vacation in one of the islands.  For example, the Bird Bath painting was created after a trip to Bermuda. My ocean scenes are painted mostly in Maine.  I am also inspired when I achieve a goal I had set for myself. I am inspired when paintings sell or when I am commissioned to do a new piece.  I am inspired when I have something to look forward to. I am inspired by the support I receive from other artists and from all my friends and family.

 

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Keep Moving Forward

Tuesday, 22 September 2009 12:17 by kpotvin

Last night, I caught the end of the animated flick, "Meet the Robinsons," with my son and noticed a quote from Walt Disney (the man) before the closing credits. Here it is:

"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long.  We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."

The movie celebrates imagination so the quote is a good fit.  Even better, it's an important reminder that while we should learn from the past, we need to "keep moving forward."  Stay curious.

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Borrowing Brilliance

Friday, 18 September 2009 09:11 by kpotvin

 

We’ve said it before:  Borrowing isn’t bad and we are happy that Author David Kord Murray agrees.  He just came out with a new book, “Borrowing Brilliance, The Six Steps to Business Innovation by Building on the Ideas of Others.”  You can hear him talk about it in a terrific interview by Reena Jana, Innovation Department Editor for BusinessWeek (also read her review).  Jana asks Murray, former head of innovation for Intuit, about “copying” ideas and Murray explains, “It’s about the fine line between plagiarism and innovation…In the book I talk about how you define a problem and then you go out and look for places with a similar problem and borrow ideas from there.”  He describes how Biologist Charles Darwin borrowed from geology, and later economics, to come up with his best ideas.  Another example is Google, which used libraries and researchers as models when developing its online search tool.There are so many sources of inspiration: nature, other industries, history.  Borrow from the best and add your own twist.  After all, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?  What do you think?

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News Splash Interview: Discovering Inspiration All Around You

Saturday, 5 September 2009 08:48 by kpotvin

 

Photo Credit: Constance Koons

This News Splash interview is with Patricia Fargnoli, former Poet Laureate of New Hampshire and author of six collections of poetry including her just-released book, Then, Something (Tupelo Press). I had the pleasure of working with Pat on a statewide initiative she created during her Poet Laureate tenure that celebrated children’s poetry.  As she talks about her creative process, I see many lessons for business people such as “letting go” to conjure innovation, discovering inspiration all around you, about the hard work of honing a good idea until it is ready for prime time, about the importance of feedback and more.  Read on and be inspired!   And, for anyone local, stop by and hear Pat read from her new book at the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, NH, on Thursday, Sept. 10, at 6:30pm as part of the Hyla Brook Reading Series.    

News Splash (NS):  When we worked together for the statewide Children's Poetry in the Libraries program, you were anything but a stereotypical lost-in-the-clouds artist.  You are an amazing project manager:  very strategic and organized while rallying a big volunteer work force.  Are these traits that help you approach your creative side as well?

Pat:  Thank you, Kyle.  That project was such a joy to work with you on!  One of the things that made it so much fun was that I got to use some long dormant skills of mine that I acquired in my first years as a social worker when I administered a YWCA program for young women in trouble with the law…and later when I worked as the supervisor of a team of technical workers at Aetna Insurance Company. 

But strangely…or perhaps not…I am utterly unorganized and “lost-in-the-clouds” when it comes to writing poetry.  I write best when I can let go of the need to control the words and the direction of the poem, and try to get into a kind of “loose-mind” state and just write.  I think, for any artist, there are three kinds of “work.”  One is the creative part where you try to access the deeper (perhaps subconscious or dreamlike) parts of yourself.  Or where you try to “see” a thing (a mountain, for instance, a deer, a city, etc.) in a way it's never been seen before and then give it a new language.  Or where you try to give a language to a feeling or thought that seems to be almost beyond words.

The second kind of “work” is revision when the conscious mind with all its knowledge of craft and technical skill steps in and begins shaping the piece, much the way the sculptor chisels the marble to find the shape within.  The third “work” is the business of poetry…knowing the potential markets, writing cover letters, networking, getting poems sent out. 
My “business skills” of course come most into play with the third “work”  but also with the second kind where one has to know the tools, believe in oneself and ones art, be motivated to work hard and stick to it.

NS:   I've always been fascinated by how many poets come from a business-type background.  You are a retired therapist, Dana Gioia was an executive at General Foods, Wallace Stevens was at Aetna, T.S. Eliot spent several years at Lloyd's Bank of London.  Why do you think this is?

Pat:
  Hmmm.  These days far more poets come from academic jobs, primarily as teachers in the colleges and MFA programs.  In general, poets from the business world have to work harder and be luckier to be successful.  The hard fact is that being a poet doesn't pay and all poets need a “day job.”  Those with corporate jobs in general are better off financially than those who teach.  I have, recently, seen a fair number of poets emerge from the medical professions. William Carlos Williams was a doctor, Courtney Davis has edited an anthology of poems by nurses, C. Dale Young, the editor of the New England Review, is a doctor.  I guess the bottom line is that poets can spring from anywhere and work at any job at all to sustain themselves.  But regardless, all of us share a love of the language and the desire to express our vision of the world.

NS:  Why is poetry important? 

Pat:  Because it constantly redefines reality and expands our understanding of the worlds...both those we live in and those beyond us.  Because it translates the unsayable into language.  Because it connects us to the creative spirit in the universe.  Because it informs us about and connects us to our common humanity...in all its beauty, flaws and frailty.  Because it is a source of joy.

NS:  Tell me about your creative process.

Pat: I read a great deal of poetry by other poets, not only for enjoyment (though that is key) but because it both inspires my own, and teaches me techniques and strategies I didn't know before.  Often I read poems to start my writing day.  Then I either sit down with a pad, or sit before the computer, and begin with whatever is on my mind or happening right outside my window, or right in front of me (once I wrote a poem about a bug that was sitting on my computer).

I usually just try to keep writing without worrying very much about whether it's a poem or not (nevermind a good one).  A friend calls this the “garbage page.”  Later I type it up or print it out and start cutting and shaping.  After that, I put it away a few days, then revise some more and when I've got the poem as far as I can take it, I'll show someone (usually people in one of my workshops) and ask for feedback.  Then more revision.  Often a poem will take months, even years before I feel it's done.

But there are other ways poems come into being too.  Perhaps I'll see a bunch of words or a magazine article or something that intrigues me.  Or some event will happen and I'll rush home and write about it;  or I'll be driving and see something I don't want to lose and so I'll write it down on a napkin or something on the steering wheel (which I don't recommend).

NS:  Do you have any tips for business people who want to more fully tap into their creative side?

Pat: The famous German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, in his poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo” says that once you have seen the power of art “you must change your life.”   I agree.  Making a space for poetry in my life has totally changed my life and given me a wealth of friendships and immeasurable happiness.  It is indeed possible to combine a business life and a creative life.  One simply needs to shift priorities enough to create the space/time for making art in one's life.  There is a wonderful book/workbook called The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron that lays out a complete plan for making that happen.  I was once in a workshop group with 30 artists and we worked with that book together. It was life-changing, and I highly recommend it.

NS:  What inspires you?

Pat:  Mountains, ponds, deer, foxes, the color blue, things of the spirit, all things mysterious, the questions for which I have no answers.

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Simple Leadership Lessons from The Senator

Thursday, 3 September 2009 04:20 by kpotvin

In a recent blog post, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author of SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good, draws four important leadership lessons from her observations and time with the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy:

·         Remember that performance is everything

·         Find a higher purpose

·         Keep going (resilience)

·         Never forget family

The beauty of these four lessons is their simplicity.  Life -- and business -- doesn’t have to be complicated.  I encourage you to read Professor Kanter’s entire piece.

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