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Three Reasons Why You Should Have a Spring Training

It was 40 degrees on Saturday here in the gloomy, overcast Midwest of these great United States. What made that even more difficult to bear was that I landed at O’Hare that morning after just having enjoyed two gorgeous, sun-filled, 90-degree days in Phoenix, AZ. I can still feel the warmth even as I write to you now.  
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  My son Phil and I were enjoying our first-ever experience with Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. We flew out to Phoenix to catch our favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, playing against the Arizona Diamondbacks and then the Chicago White Sox.   It was a lot of fun. Everything and everyone was super relaxed. And why shouldn’t it be that way. The sun is shining. It’s 80 or 90 degrees (dry heat). The stands are full of happy, relaxed fans. And every day is a great day at the old ballpark.   Oh, and more importantly, none of this counts. It’s all practice. If you strike out, no one remembers. If you make a mistake running the bases, you’ll get another chance tomorrow. If you give up a home run, you can laugh it off. And, everybody wants your autograph.   As I sat by the pool early on Friday after a morning swim, it hit me. Those of us in leadership (and parenting) should be creating our own mini spring training’s whenever we can. As we seek to develop new leaders and allow people room for growth, we need to be intentional about creating safe places for people to fail (and succeed).   We need to be intentional about creating places and opportunities for them to hone their skills and spread their wings without risking the farm or sinking the ship.   All the major sports have a pre-season that works the same way. But one of the keys is that they are in a live environment, with a real opponent and real umpires. For some of the games there’s even real ESPN televising the game to real people all over the real world – like the one we were at on Thursday.   Let’s take a look at three quick reasons why creating your own version of Spring Training will serve you and your customers very well.

Ways to Stretch

1. It’s a chance to hone important skills. When we were at the game on Thursday we were talking with some of the folks around us. They mentioned that earlier that week Cub’s ace pitcher, Jake Arrieta, had walked a batter on purpose, just so he could work on pitching out of the stretch position. I could imagine a pitcher doing the same thing to work on his pick-off move to first base.   You can’t do that during the regular season. Manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t look very kindly on such a move, especially if that runner scored later in the inning. But, this was Spring Training. It’s the perfect time to do something like that. Because even if the guy does score, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have any bearing on the team’s success.   Spring Training is a time for base runners to work on stealing bases or figuring out whose arm they can challenge on trying to get an extra base. It’s a time for players to hone their hand-eye coordination and work on their judgment and decision-making.   In a business setting you and I need to be looking for ways to do the same thing. We need to be intentional about creating situations where we, or other team members, can practice and hone our skills in areas where we already have a level of competence.   Role playing is one good way to begin this process. But, eventually, you have to get people into a live environment or you will fall short of the full benefits. They need to get in front of real prospects or customers where the risks are real, but relatively low.   2. It’s a chance to try and develop new skills. Spring Training is the time for pitchers to work on new pitches they would like to add to their repertoire. It’s a time for batters to try out new or different aspects of their stance or their swing. It’s a perfect opportunity to play someone at a position they’ve never played before, just to see how they do.   My son Phil is still pretty new to the world of social media. But, I am giving him a lot of opportunities to try new things. We talk through strategies, and often review his plans together, but I have given him the lead on this for our business because it is a relatively safe place for him to learn and try new things.   The other thing we’ll be doing is creating opportunities for him to do Myers-Briggs training. This is one of the things he’s most excited about. Before, I send him out to work with our clients, we’ll be doing some dry runs with family members and people in our local community, where the risk of making mistakes is much lower.   3. It’s a chance to give the young kids a taste of the “big time.” All the big name players from the clubs have their usual number and name on the back of their jerseys. In baseball most of those numbers range from #1 to #59. But we saw a lot of younger guys wearing numbers like 83 and 98, and with no name at all on their backs.   These are the newbies. Most of them will not make the big club, at least this year, but play for one of the team’s minor league affiliates. But the coaches think they have some promise or they wouldn’t be here at all.   This is their chance to play on a major league field with and against major league caliber players. Many of them will get a chance to bat against an all-star or even an hall-of-fame-bound pitcher. By the same token, some of these young pitchers will get to face some of the best hitters in the game.   They will spend time in the locker room, at the practice field, and even out on the town with some of guys they would call their heroes. It’s a chance to give them a taste of the real-deal, without all the pressure.   In the same way we need to be taking some of our newbies and allowing them to work on projects with some of our veterans. You will likely need to make some sacrifices to do that. It’s going to cost you, but the investment is well worth it.   I had a manager (client) recently who tried to put a younger worker with a seasoned foreman so the foreman could teach him some important skills. He got a lot of pushback from the Project Manager because of the extra time that would be charged to his job. In situations like that I think companies need to find a way not to penalize job costs (and related commissions) for training investments.  
Your team members need safe places to fail – or succeed – in order to reach their full potential.

Joe Denner


What’s At Stake

If we refuse to be intentional about providing safe places for our team members (or children) to fail, we will limit their growth or unnecessarily prolong the timeframe for their development.   Look for ways to proactively move the process forward for key members of your team or household. If you do it well, you won’t regret it. And they will thank you.   Question: What is one thing you can do today to create a safe place for one of your high potential team members to fail? [question]spring-train[/question]  
Seize the day!

Why Core Values Are Foundational to Your Success

When you hear the name Coca Cola what comes to mind? What about Starbucks? How about Google?


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I would bet in at least one case, something more than just thoughts came to mind. Maybe you could taste the fizzy soda or feel the refreshment on a hot summer day. Maybe you smiled and relaxed as you imagined sharing your favorite caffeinated beverage with a close friend while you took in the tantalizing aromas. Or, maybe you immediately felt a surge of confidence, knowing you could find the info you needed within seconds.

That, my friend, is the power of brand. What we often think of when we hear the word brand is logos, tag lines or color schemes. We think of marketing strategies or ad campaigns. Brand, however, is something much, much more. Your brand is the total sum of the interactions that others have with everyone in your organization. It’s the relationship that’s been created over time between your organization and others.

Some companies spend millions of dollars trying to create a brand through externals. The smart ones, in my opinion, direct their primary resources internally. Why? Because while externals do play a part, more important for your brand are the personal touch-points your people have with those using your product or service.

Consistency is one of the most powerful and important aspects of developing and maintaining a brand. Every touch-point you and your people have with others has the power to either reinforce or erode the brand you’re attempting to establish or maintain. The more consistent the customer’s experience, the stronger the brand becomes, even if the audience is small.

You might be thinking, “Branding is for large companies with a lot of resources.” Not true. Actually, if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you already have a brand whether you knew it or not, whether you like what it is or not, and whether you tried to create it or not.

You’ve developed relationships with your prospects, customers, suppliers, and possibly the community, through both intentional and unintentional means. They have all formed opinions about you as a result of the various interactions they have experienced.

So, how do you get the brand you want?

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Three Reasons to End the Interview Immediately

I have interviewed hundreds and hundreds of candidates over the last 15 years. That means I have easily spent into the thousands of hours engaged in this challenging activity.


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I’ve interviewed some real doozies in my time. Like the guy who snuck into a foreign country to do a client project because he was tired of waiting for his visa. But wait, it gets better. When he finally got caught and was deported, he decided to sneak back in. Needless to say he didn’t receive an invitation to the next round of interviews.

As I reflect on those thousands of hours I come to the realization that I have wasted some of the best hours of my life with unqualified candidates. Sad, but true.

Your time is way too valuable to waste, and so is mine. So one thing I’ve learned is that there are some questions you need to ask toward the beginning of the interview. If they fail any one of these “tests” it is time to politely say “goodbye.”

I know that may feel awkward…no really awkward. And, I know you had an hour or more set aside for this interview, but you need to end it now. I’m dead serious. There is no reason to explore any further because these are absolute deal-breakers in my opinion.

It’s your decision, of course. But I’m confident that if you can overcome the barrier of awkwardness that you’ll agree with me. Let’s take a look.

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What to Do When Your Plan Falls Apart

Last week was a perfect example. Everything was lined up. The equipment we needed was in hand and things were moving along nicely. The schedule was pretty tight, but the finish line was in view.


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Then it happened.

The rug was pulled out from under me. A critical resource I was depending on to complete an important phase of the project was unexpectedly taken away from me. I was crushed. We were so close.

My natural inclination in situations like that is to turn inward and spiral downward in disappointment and frustration over the fact that my plan has been ruined. It’s so easy to get fixated on what seems like an unnecessary detour in the road. Especially when it’s someone else’s fault. And even more especially when it looks like we’ll never make it to the finish line.

It’s just not fair, right? The temptation to give up is a strong one. But, let’s face it. If you’re the leader, or are trying to become one, that’s not really an option. At least it shouldn’t be except in extremely rare cases.

Have you ever had a plan that fell apart? Maybe I should ask if you’ve had a plan that fell apart in the last week. That would probably be a better question.

Here are four, simple steps you can take to get the train back on the rails.

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How Evernote Has Made Life So Much Easier

Do you remember where you were? I do…like it was yesterday. How could I forget? The day I met Evernote changed my life.


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Actually, I’m totally serious…about remembering I mean.  I remember that day with extreme clarity. It was at least three years ago. I was doing a training event in Cedar Rapids, IA. On a break one of the trainees pulled me aside and showed me this cool app he had on his iPhone. He had no idea what he was starting.

And in some ways it really has changed my life. I don’t want to sound goofy, or too much like a techno-geek, but this tool has made an enormous difference in the organization of my entire life, not just work.

For those of you who don’t know already, I have a wife and nine children, own my own business, pastor a small church, lead a community coalition and am on two Boards. So, I have a few things going on in my life. But, so do you.

Like you, I have an overload of input in my life. Multiple email accounts, snail mail, texts, Slack channels, conversations, meetings, projects, blogs and books I read, websites I visit, and the list could go on and on. It makes me a little tired, just typing all that out.

Evernote has completely changed the game for me. I keep everything in Evernote. Everything I can digitize, that is. It’s the most amazing, electronic filing cabinet I’ve ever found. I have very little paper left in my life except my faithful Bible and journal. I still like hardcopy versions of those, although I did journal in Evernote for a couple of years.

Here are six (6) quick ways that Evernote has transformed things for me and can for you too.

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