MY Top Workplace

If you’ve lived in Des Moines for a LONG time you might remember a company called Excellence In Training Corporation.  ETC for short.

I remember my first day at ETC very clearly.  I walked into the building and Frank Russell, the CEO and Paul Carroll the VP of Custom Training (and my boss) met me in the atrium.  WOW!  I’ve never had a boss — let alone a CEO — greet me at the door on my first day.  I was immediately impressed.  And of course, gave myself a little pat on the back for choosing such a good place to work.

After we exchanged all the pleasantries — they invited me back to the board room.  Long table.  Nice wood.  Big chairs.  And proceeded to tell me they had just closed a major deal.  Fantastic.  Not only did I choose a good place to work — but a profitable one as well.  So far two for two.

So I’m getting all comfortable until they tell me that they have changed my job description.  WHAT?!?

Yep.  That big deal they closed.  It was a video-based training program for Andersen Windows on sales skills.  And even though they hired me to be a stand-up trainer — I was now going to write the video training program for Andersen.


And I’m thinking… “I’m a stand up trainer.  I’ve never written a training program in my life — let alone one on sales — let along a VIDEO training program.  I mean that’s all about lights, camera, action — right?  What in the world have I gotten myself into?”

And what came out of my mouth was “I can’t write.”

Frank and Paul just smiled and said “we’ll teach you.”

That morning I began a journey were I was able to sit at the feet of the masters and grow and learn.  My five years at ETC were truly foundational to the rest of my professional career.  And 25 years later I’m happy to report that:

  1. I’ve designed hundreds of training programs
  2. I’m actually great in a sales role and have helped a host of individuals improve their sales skills.
  3. And I CAN write!

And my mentors — where are they?

Well, Frank Russell sold ETC (his first start-up) and promptly founded GeoLearning.  As the CEO of GeoLearning he earned a variety of awards including:

In 2011 Frank sold GeoLearning and he’s now on his third start-up — Prositions.

Paul Carroll took a different route.

Since leaving ETC he:



  • Worked with DDI to help executives across the nation lead cultural change.
  • Became the VP of HR for Franklin Templeton Investments — which included creating a leadership development strategy, designing a succession planning in response to projected enterprise growth, leading the introduction of enterprise-wide change management concepts, tools and training, championing an culture of engagement, posting to Singapore as the acting Training Director for Asia, implementing organizational development programs in Singapore, Korea, and India and adapting performance management systems for each culture.
  • And now works as a senior organization consultant at UC Berkeley.


To tell you the truth I am very happy — and proud of what these two men have accomplished.  Now only have they had very successful and fulfilling lives — but they changed my life as well.  And without them and the guidance they provided I would not have co-founded The Meyvn Group.  And I definitely would not be writing this blog!

So ETC and Frank and Paul represent MY Top Workplace.

What’s yours?





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What Makes A Top Workplace?

Today I had the honor of being the keynote speaker at The Des Moines Registers 2013 Top Workplaces Award luncheon.

To identify the Top Workplaces in Iowa the Register partnered with Workplace Dynamics.  (Workplace Dynamics works with more than 40 leading publishers across the county to produce regional Top Workplaces lists.  And their database contains the responses of more than a million employees nationwide.)  Every organization in Iowa had the opportunity to participate.  There was no cost to the company or their employees.  All the organization had to do was say yes and let their employees take the anonymous survey.  This year 179 organizations across the state participated.  Those organizations employ 78,608 people.  48,589 Iowa employees received surveys.  33,659 employees completed the survey.

So what did Iowa employees say?  Not surprisingly — they agreed with the rest of the nation.  Connection is the most important factor for most Iowa employees. 

So just what is “connection”?

According to Workplace Dynamics employees are connected to an organization when

  1. They are part of something meaningful
  2. They are genuinely appreciated

So how are 2013 Top Workplace employees connected to their organizations?

Edward Jones won the top spot in the large company category.  They employ 513 people in the state of Iowa and have revenues of more than $4.8 billion nationwide.  And what is their compelling vision?  Creating Prosperity for Themselves and the Clients They Serve.

QuikTrip took the top spot for midsized companies.  They have 25 locations in the state of Iowa, employ 348 people and have revenues that total more than $10.7 billion.  And what’s their goal?  To retain their employees.  Their turnover rate is half of the industry’s average.  And the majority of employees that attended the awards luncheon have been promoted up through the ranks and have 30+ years of service.  Employees for Life.  Customers for Life.

That leaves Spindustry — the winner in the small company category.  Now I have to admit that I sat at the same table as the Spindustry folks.  And I had a chance to meet Spindustry’s co-founders — Michael Bird and Stephen Fry.  Their write-up talks about the perks that the company offers — from flex time to free soda and a virtual ostrich (what?) in the break room.  But it’s more than that.  Just from talking with all of them I think their compelling vision is simply to have fun.  And that translates into the customers’ experience as well as the digital solutions they create.

Each of these companies actively communicate their vision and employees that are attracted to the organization’s vision find meaning and purpose in their work.

Now how about the second point — feeling appreciated at work.

Lynn Hicks is the Executive Business Editor and Biz Buss columnist at the Des Moines Register.  And he was kind enough to send me some of the quotes from the survey.  Here’s what just a few employees had to say about feeling appreciated.

Ackley State Bank

The decisions I make are supported by senior management, and my supervisor is genuine and kind.

Noble Ford Inc.

Our owner cares about my well-being.

Des Moines Orthopedic Surgeons

I feel appreciated. In the past I have had jobs where we were treated as the least-important employees in the hospital.

Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. of Iowa

FMH is a hidden gem in the city of Des Moines. The family-owned business demonstrates its concern and appreciation for its employees.

Fort Madison Community Hospital

I am not just another employee, but everyone knows everyone by name and everyone is treated equally. Even the CEO will go out of his way to come up to me when he sees me in the hallway and ask how I am doing.

Willis Auto Campus

I have been instructed to manage this department as if it were my business. That represents a lot of confidence in my ability and in the opportunity to manage.

If you had the opportunity to work at place where you were connected to the vision of the organization AND felt appreciated — wouldn’t you jump at the chance?  I know I would!

Top Iowa Workplaces 


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$hithead and Genius

I just finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. WOW. Isaacson tells us that one of Steve Jobs’ most endearing qualities is that he would call his staff “$hitheads” or “Geniuses.” Often on the same day. And as I read the book I realized the Steve Jobs himself was both a $hithead and a Genius.

He was a genius because he:

• Understood what consumers wanted before they knew they wanted it
• Instinctively knew how important it was to be and think differently
• Insisted on collaboration, integration and connectivity between disciplines
• Recognized how important it was for every member of his team to have an opinion and be willing to stand up and fight for it
• Started Apple with a $5000 loan in 1976. Took the company public in 1980 and raised $110 million. And at the time of his death – Apple was worth about $274 billion dollars

(To name a few)

He was a $hithead because he:

• Cheated Steve Wozniak
• Denied Daniel Kottle (who joined Apple when it was still in Jobs’ garage) stock options
• Took full credit for other people’s ideas
• Made it his mission to take people (and other companies) down
• Said that “Taking LSD was one of the most important things in my life.” (page 41) REALLY Steve?

(To name a few)

Okay – okay. He’s a genius. What company wouldn’t want to have him? He made a lot of people a lot of money. His products are unbelievable. And undeniably – he changed the world. But my goodness – he was NOT a GOOD man. And he was definitely not a NICE man.

At least – that was what I was thinking until our Business Book Club discussion yesterday. A couple members of the group suggested that we look at everything we know about Jobs from another perspective.

Walter Isaacson interviewed Steve Jobs 40 times in the last two years of his life. He talked with more than a hundred of Jobs’ family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues. And even though Jobs was not proud of how he handled everything in his life – he specifically told Isaacson that “I don’t have any skeletons in my closet that can’t be allowed out.”

Think about that for a moment. This biography is not cleansed. Isaacson did not “pretty it up.” It’s an honest portrayal. With the good, the bad and the ugly all rolled up into one very complex – and successful — man.

And if Isaacson had that kind of access to other business leaders what would their story look like? Would it match the “ideal” leader that so many business books talk about today? You know the ones I’m talking about:

“Servant Leader”
Level Five Leader
“Primal Leadership”

Or would it more closely resemble Machiavelli’s book “The Prince” or the “The Art of War” written by Sun Tzu?

Best-selling business books suggest that a softer, kinder leadership style leads to success. Steve Jobs life tells a different story. So what’s the answer? What kind of leader successfully builds companies, creates value, attracts the best and the brightest and allows people to be more than they thought they could be? Is it the good, kind, and inclusive leader or the $hithead?

You tell me.


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Every Person Needs a Tribe

One of the most powerful points that Arianna Huffington made in her presentation at SmartTalk is that “every person needs a tribe.”

So what is a tribe?

A tribe is that small group of people that:

Know you – I mean really know you – the good, bad, indifferent and ugly you.
Support you when you’re at your lowest.
Cheer you on in the midst of life’s battle.
Proudly Watch when it’s your turn to take a bow.

Our tribe tells us the truth – both good and bad. The members of our tribe listen, help us think through issues and ultimately strengthen our resolve. The support of our tribe gives us what we need to be fearless and confident. And it’s their strength that allows us to walk into hell and keep going.

I’ve been fortunate to have tribes throughout my life. I can name times when my life and my issues became theirs. And they rallied around me. And I know without my tribe I would not have seen things as clearly. I would not have been as bold. And I would not have had the courage to make some difficult decisions.

The tribes in my life have helped me become the woman I am today – and I need to thank them because to tell you the truth – I like what I’ve become!

So what’s your story? How has your tribe shaped and supported you?




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Standing on the Shoulders of Others

I knew who Jane Goodall was before I went to her presentation at SmartTalk last night.

  • I knew that she lived with and documented the lives of chimpanzees.
  • I knew that she was an acclaimed author.
  • I knew that some stuffy scientists criticized her work and implied that she “got too emotionally attached” to her subjects.
  • And I remember the stir she caused when she shared with the world that chimps made and used tools.

Heck – I was so enamored of Jane’s work that one Halloween I dressed up as her – and topped off my outfit with a purple stuffed chimpanzee.  So I knew I was going to LOVE the kickoff to the SmartTalk series!  And of course – Jane did not disappoint me.

Jane opened her presentation by welcoming us with a true chimpanzee “good-morning-sun” vocalization.  Then she shared stories about some of the specific chimpanzees she watched grow from an infant to adult.  And we learned that they have unique personalities and experience emotions — empathy, anger, love and embarrassment – just like us.  And then we heard about her personal journey where her understanding grew from a primatologist perspective to a conservationist perspective.

Jane Goodall is quite a woman.  And yet – the lesson that struck me last night was not about her many accomplishments.  It was about humbleness.   Sometimes I think many of us forget that we are blessed to stand on a foundation that was built by others.

Not Jane Goodall.   She readily shared that the only reason she was able to accomplish anything in her life was due to the amazing people (and animals) that helped her on her journey like Margaret Myfanwe Joseph, Rusty, and Louis Leakey.

Margaret Myfanwe Joseph was Jane’s mother.  And yes – we often assume that moms will support us.  But from what I’ve read and heard – Jane Goodall’s mom went above and beyond.

  • At three years old when Jane brought earthworms to bed – she wasn’t scolded.  Instead Margaret explained that the worms needed the earth to live – and off they went to return the worms to the garden.
  •  When Jane had everyone in a panic – including the police – because she was hiding (ie. lost) for hours in the hen house trying to learn how eggs were laid.  She wasn’t punished.  Instead her mother listened as Jane shared her first ethological discovery.
  • And when Jane needed an escort to begin her work at Gombe Stream National Park – Jane’s mother subjected herself to malaria, wild animals, isolation and countless nights sleeping in a tent – all to support her daughter’s dream.

Okay – Rusty was a dog.  And why was a dog important?  Well, Jane began her work in 1960 – and at that time traditional scientific study asserted that animals did not have emotions nor did animal have unique personalities.  Yet as Jane observed the chimpanzees at Gombe she could immediately could distinquish one animal from the other.  Not simply because they looked different – but also because they acted differently.

  • David Greybeard was the first chimpanzee to accept Jane
  • Mike was a strategist and through cunning and improvisation became an alpha male
  • Gigi was the nurturing aunt
  • Frodo was simply mean and aggressive

And even though Jane was challenging current scientific belief she never doubted what she was observing – because of Rusty.  Rusty – the dog – had taught Jane years earlier that animals are capable of emotion, intelligence and family and social relationships – just like humans.

When Jane went to Africa on vacation she called Louis Leakey  — who was well established in the scientific community for his famous work at Olduvai Gorge.  Jane was simply hoping to meet him.  But after taking a job as his secretary and accompanying him on numerous excursions to hunt for fossils – Leakey asked her to take on a project he’d long had in mind: a field study of chimpanzees.

Leakey’s mentoring allowed Jane to “live her dream.”  And when she made her first major discovery – that man was not the only being that could make and use tools – Leakey’s response bolstered her reputation in the scientific community.

“We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human!”

Yes – Jane changed the way the world views animals.  She’s lived a life beyond most of our imaginations.  And through her conservation work she helps make the planet a better place – every day.  You’d think she might be a little proud.  But you can tell through everything she says and does – that she knows that she stands on the shoulders of others.

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SmartTalk Women Des Moines

So much of history focuses – to be honest – on men. Most of us can name the men who shaped our world. But many of us don’t know about the countless contributions that women have made.

For instance, do you know the name Grace Hoppner?

Grace earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics at a time when women seldom went to college. She was the oldest member of the Navy when she retired at the age of 80, with rank of Rear Admiral. And as a pioneer in the field of computing she is considered the “Mother of Cobol.”

I admit I’d not a mathematician or a technologist. But Grace inspires me.

I get excited when I learn about other women that have overcome major challenges. It motivates me when I see women continue to learn and grow and make a difference. And I begin to believe that “I can” when I see that other woman already “have.”

That’s why I’m excited that SmartTalk kicks off this month.

• I’m looking forward to hearing from a woman who believes that “The greatest danger to our future is apathy.”

Dr. Jane Goodall – January 19, 2012

• I’m pretty sure I can learn something about fearlessness from a woman who has written 11 books and launched a news and blog site that is one of the most widely-read, linked to, and frequently-cited media brands in the world.

Arianna Huffington – February 21, 2012

• I think there is a life lesson to be learned from a woman who went from obscurity to the New York Times bestseller list while colleagues denigrated her work by calling it her “little food book.”

Frances Mayes – March 28, 2012

• We all have set-backs in life – but maybe not as devastating as going to war and losing a limb. Learning about Melissa’s journey and understanding her perspective is going to be fascinating.

Melissa Stockwell – April 17, 2012

• And as a want-to-be singer I know I’ll be captivated by a woman who has entertained millions.

Marie Osmond – May 14, 2012

SmartTalk believes that “women are inspired by the heart and voice of other remarkable women.” I couldn’t agree more.

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Danger Will Robinson, Danger!

This week a wise man told me he had learned that he should not make decisions when he was “hungry, angry, lonely or tired.”

It was the first time I had heard the HALT acronym. And it immediately made sense to me. When you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, your resilience is low. And that means you don’t have as much energy to think things through and make good decisions. 

But isn’t that the problem in and of itself? We put ourselves in stressful situations without considering that we’re headed into the danger zone. Let’s use the HALT acronym combined with everyone’s favorite excuse: “We’re so busy.”

We’re so busy:

• We skip meals (Hungry)
• We stuff our emotions and just hope they will go away (Angry)
• We aren’t truly connected with others (Lonely)
• We don’t get 8 hours of sleep a night (Tired)

“Danger Will Robinson, Danger!”

Obviously the best thing to do is not get ourselves in our high-risk situations in the first place. If we were wise we’d set time aside every week to take care of ourselves. We’d tell people no. We’d eat right. We’d exercise. And we’d spend time doing activities that provide us with joy and energy.

But let’s face it – that’s not what most of us are going to do!

So maybe a more realistic course of action is to begin by identifying our danger zones. Participants in our classes often say they are most at risk when they are:

• Overcommitted
• Rushing to meet a deadline
• Taking care of everyone else but themselves
• Focused on one thing for too long
• Surrounded by people with no alone time

I think that’s the power of HALT. You see – once we know our triggers – we can be more alert. And then, when we find ourselves in a danger zone – we can stop and take action to mitigate the risk. For example:

1. Asked to volunteer for yet another task?
    Suggest that (insert another person’s name) is really better suited for this opportunity.

2. Find yourself in front of your computer for 3 hours in a row?
    Go for a 10 minute walk – preferably outside!

3. In a LONG meeting with no end in site?
    Excuse yourself and take a restroom break.

I can’t tell you how many really smart and accomplished people have sabotaged their own careers simply by getting into situations where they didn’t have the emotional strength to respond in a way that others found acceptable. Knowing your danger zones and identifying coping mechanisms ahead of time can be a career-saver.

So what are your danger zones and what can you do to mitigate the risk?

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The Power of Pause

Sometimes — not very often — I’ll be reading and the words immediately stop me in my tracks.  Something hits a nerve and I have to put down the book.  I have to stop and think.

That just happened to me this morning as I was reading “The Power of Pause” by Terry Hershey.  Here is the passage, word-for-word.

Once, the great Hassidic leader Zusia came to his followers.  His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear.  “Zusia, what’s the matter?”

“The other day, I had a vision of the question that the angels will ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusia, you are pious.  You are scholarly and humble.  You have helped so many of us.  What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusia turned his gaze to heaven.  “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?'”

His followers persisted. “So, what will they ask you?”

“They will say to me, ‘Zusia, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’  They will say, ‘Zusia, Zusia, why were you not Zusia?'”

We live in a world that has a very strong opinion what we “should” be.  We “should” be young, thin, beautiful, rich, successful.  We “should” have the right stuff — like the right kind of house and the right kind of car.  And we “should” act like those around us that look the right way and have the right stuff.

YIKES.  Where in all of that is authenticity?

Sometimes, without realizing it, we give up ourselves.  We slowly fall prey to the bombardment of the pop culture messages that constantly surround us.

Why?  Maybe it’s because we don’t take the time to pause — which means that many of our choices are unintentional.

Zusia, Zusia, why are you not Zusia?







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Pout-Pout Fish

Just the other day I met an energy robber.

You know this person. They see the down-side in every situation. They are helpless as well as hopeless. And they suck the life right out of you.

Deborah Diesen describes this kind of person in her book — The Pout-Pout Fish.

“I’m pout-pout fish
With a pout-pout face.
So I spread the dreary-wearies
All over the place.”

Unlike the examples of confirmation bias that I discussed in my previous blog “Do you see what I see? — Mr. Fish is very aware of his behavior.  But just like many of our energy-robbing friends – when the pout-pout fish is given feedback he makes excuses:

• “I hear what you are saying, but it’s just the way I am”

• “I’d like to be more friendly, but it isn’t up to me”

• “But I haven’t any choice, take a look and you’ll see why”

“I’m pout-pout fish
With a pout-pout face.
So I spread the dreary-wearies
All over the place.”


If we make the decision that we’re stuck…
If there is no room for personal growth and development…
If we are who we are…

That means that today – right now – we’re the best we’re ever going to be.

Now that’s a depressing thought!

Fortunately for all the pout-pout fish and every three-year-old that has read the book and for all of us adults – we aren’t stuck. We have the power to learn, grow and choose our attitudes and behaviors.

Rev. Collins suggests that “[our] attitude will determine [our] level of success and happiness.”

• In a Success Magazine blog Keith Harrell writes, “One of the most important steps you can take toward achieving your greatest potential in life is to learn to monitor your attitude and its impact on your work performance, relationships and everyone around you.”

• Even Jack Welch has an opinion: “What today will be like is up to me. I get to choose what kind of day I will have.”

If you finish the Pout-Pout book you’ll find that in the end — even a fish that has spent his entire life spreading the “dreary-wearies” can turn over a new leaf. So the question is:

Are YOU going to be an energy-robber or an energy-giver?

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Sometimes I question what I see in the mirror. Is the image distorted? Am I getting a clear picture? Or am I deceiving myself?

I think that’s an important question that wise leaders need to consider.

We’ve had some very public examples of world-class self-deception recently.   And Gael O’Brien did a brilliant job talking about them in her blog Self-Deceptions and Challenges for Leaders.


Bob Dudley, the CEO of BP, when he suggested that 2009 and 2010 were good years — other than that pesky oil spill.  HMMM.
• Former BP CEO,  Tony Hayward‘s self-centered remark, “I want my life back.”  REALLY?
• Or how about Angelo Mozilo the co-founder and former CEO of Countrywide Financial (who is often named as a major contributor to financial crisis) when he said that Countrywide is one of the greatest companies in Anerican history.  WOW!

Okay — these guys make it too easy.  So how about just “average” people?  Well, people like you and I can be self-deceptive too.


• The American Idol “want-to-be” that couldn’t carry a tune
• The balding, middle-aged, fat guy in sales that still thinks he’s a stud
• The bossy b!t$h in Human Resources that thinks everyone likes her

They — like Gael’s examples AND many of us — suffer from the malady called “confirmation bias.” We reject information that is not in alignment with what we want to believe about ourselves.

And therein lays the problem. Sometimes we consciously or unconsciously deny, justify or rationalize away opposing evidence and logical argument. We refuse to see – what we don’t want to see. And we fall for our own stories – hook, line and sinker.

So the issue is not about asking IF we are self-deceptive – the issue we need to address is how can we OVERCOME our self-deception. Here are some ideas:

Drew McLellan, CEO and Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group, suggests you solicit an outsider’s point of view. He says “You cannot accurately describe the outside of the bottle if you are on the inside.” A trusted advisor, mentor or coach can help you see what others see.

Stephen Palmer believes that when we study history and human behavior – we have the opportunity to glimpse our true selves and then consciously decide who we want to be.

The Arbinger Group, (Leadership and Self-Deception) proposes that our own behavior can be an indication of self-deception. If we notice when we begin to blame others and inflate other’s faults – we can identify areas where we are being self-deceptive.

And what would I suggest?  I’ve found that when you listen carefully — friends, family, co-workers and neighbors provide us with all kinds of clues. The messages are often subtle. We may have rejected them in the past. But…

  • If you’ve heard the same message more than once, and
  • Your gut begins to tingle, and
  • You’re geting uncomfortable

You just might find that the image in the mirror is getting a little bit sharper.

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