Post #6 – last in a series of 6 posts on balance: Balance Success with Giving Back

RMH-Logo-SmallGiving, no matter the reason, is crucial to living a balanced, successful life.  Further, I think the very approach taken in giving should be balanced as well. By this I mean, it is better to have a planned and systematic approach to philanthropy.  And it’s important to give consistently, not just when believed affordable.  It’s been said, “The best way to know you have enough of something is to give part of it away.” I agree.

In my book, Building a Winning Business, I devote chapter 69 to this topic (“Embrace Corporate Responsibility”). Intertech’s approach has been to create a separate organization that’s a company-sponsored foundation.  The purpose of the foundation is giving financial support to cash-strapped families with terminally ill children. Intertech has donated $175,000 to the foundation.

As important as financial giving, we have focused volunteering.  Every few months, we throw a birthday party for families staying at the local Ronald McDonald House.  The parties start with cake and crafts and finish with a piñata.  The piñata is the recipient of violence and source of smiles.  Most of the kids at the party are family members of a sibling at the hospital… my hope is the parties provide a brief moment to return to just being kids.

We are more engaged, I believe, than ever.  While not the goal, some new employees have shared that our company’s visible commitment to philanthropy is a point of difference as they weighed various employment options.

Turns out that getting some balance through giving back is highly valued – a real win-win for us and the community.

Post #5 in a series of 6 posts on balance: Creating a Culture of Balance

BAWBhardcopyIt’s one thing for the owner and CEO of a company to structure his work to accommodate his life, and quite another to consciously build a business culture that allows employees to do the same. But without being boastful, that is exactly what we have done at Intertech. Our efforts have been rewarded with an extraordinarily loyal group of employees, many satisfied customers and a growing number of “Best Places to Work” awards.

In my book, Building a Winning Business, I dedicate eight takeaways to building a people-centered business culture, as well as multiple leadership chapters dealing with this important topic. Some of our strategies include offering job sharing options, giving our employees a three-month sabbatical after seven years of consecutive service, work from home, and nine, nine-hour days.

We also strive to “think first to work smart.” In my book, I dedicate takeaway #47 to this concept, reminding readers: “Don’t get caught in a mindless activity trap. Instead, take time each day to think about the project and make decisions thoughtfully. Encourage your team to keep balance by working smart during the workday and saving “crunch time” for the real crunch periods. It’s consistency over time that makes the real difference in the end.”

Respecting employees as people who need work/life balance, we have created a productive, upbeat culture where people and business can thrive. Sadly, many organizations do not value work/life balance and they are paying a price. A Gallup poll taken two years ago said disengaged employees are costing industries $416 billion a year.

At Intertech, it’s just the opposite. We completed 2012 as our our best sales year ever. Helping employees find balance actually appears to be quite good for the balance sheet! Next and last post in this series will focus on finding balance between business and community.

Post #4 in a series of 6 posts on balance: Answering the tough questions

Work-Life-BalanceLast time I provided the five questions that comprise a framework to help executives find elusive “work/life balance.” Does it seem as mysterious—and daunting—as uncovering the Holy Grail? Working your way through the questions might provide at least partial insight into your own best path to work/life sanity. (Read the full story in the October 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review.)

Here’s my take at answering the questions, with the hope that my responses will provide you with your own jumping off point in this process.

  1. Where do your options fall on the needs-wants spectrum? At this stage in my life, I have enough “stuff.” So for me, it’s a matter of weighing how I allocate my most precious resource—my time—between many competing interests: spending time with my wife and children, growing my business, talking to and spending time with my friends and family, and paying attention to my health and personal fitness goals.
  2. What are the investment and opportunity costs? In business, I look for three things when I make time investments.  I look for areas where I have Unique Ability (see Dan Sullivan’s work in this area), get a factor back in returns, and produce results.  Ultimately, this measured in profit and customer and employee satisfaction.
  3. Are the potential benefits worth the costs? This is an easy one for me to answer. It’s a resounding “Yes!” If I’ve learned anything in the past few years, it’s how fleeting life and health can be. As you probably know if you read my blog posts, I lost my father in a farm accident two years ago.  Six months later, my closest friend, Peter Quinn, was hit by a car and lost his ability to walk. In the midst of these tragedies, my wife, Linda, and I adopted two wonderful young children. Struggling with the loss of my Dad and being inspired by Pete as he recovers from the accident reminded me how much relationships matter. Welcoming our son and daughter into our family reinforced that the only thing that really matters, in the end, is being there for the daily moments that define a childhood and a family.
  4. Can you make a trade? I have made several trades in the past year bringing more balance with my overall life priorities.  From choosing to work an additional day per week from home (and using the saved commute time to go to the park or read to the kids before naps) to blending activities (my morning runs include the kids if they’re awake) to hiring an operations manager, I’ve made several “trades” resulting in more balance and time.  As the commercial says, this time is “priceless.”
  5. Have you considered sequencing your most valued options? I guess that answer would have to be “yes” as well because that is exactly what I have done. As a man with an incredibly supportive wife, I had the luxury of working crazy hours in my 20s and 30s without sacrificing the option of having a rich family life in my 40s and beyond.

I think it’s important for men to acknowledge that many women need to sequence life priorities differently due to their biological imperative. As business leaders I also think we need to find ways to help our employees make these choices and still honor our business priorities. More about that in my next post.

Post #3 in a series of 6 posts on balance: Why can’t you have it all—or can you?

Life-Balance-QuestionsIn “No, You Can’t Have it All,” Harvard Business Review (October 2012) guest author Eric Sinoway presents a framework he designed with business professor Howard Stevenson “to help ambitious executives understand their limits and make tough trade-offs. It starts with considering all the dimensions of your life, developing a vision of yourself for the future, and then evaluating how your options advance you toward your goals.”

Simple, right?

To guide executives through this process, the framework provides the following five compelling questions:

  1. Where do your options fall on the needs-wants spectrum? Most things fall somewhere in the middle. Some wants are so strong that it’s difficult to separate them from needs.
  2. What are the investment and opportunity costs? Most decisions involve both kinds of costs. The challenge is to understand if incurring them will help you achieve your goals.
  3. Are the potential benefits worth the costs? Does the benefit you’ll receive warrant the investment you’ll have to make?
  4. Can you make a trade? Many of us try to exchange something we want for something else that we want. But sometimes the two items can’t be traded. Money, for instance, cannot buy health.
  5. Have you considered sequencing your most valued options? Consciously staggering your goals may enable you to be equally successful over time.

Next time, I’ll try to answer the questions!

Post #2 in a series of 6 posts on work/life balance: Where to begin?

Business Person Questioning ChoicesWhen thinking about work/life balance, it’s also useful to consider where you are in your life. Young and unencumbered? Seems like the logical time to put every bit of your energy into building your career or business. Married with small kids at home? Maybe that’s the time to build more family time into your daily routine, even if that means some of your career goals need to go on the back burner for a while.

This sort of thinking seems like conventional wisdom. But what if your parents are elderly and need your help, even as you are in your prime career building years? What if you have a burning desire to spend a year in Africa building schools or helping a local community build desperately needed infrastructure? Or what if you’re a business owner trying to grow your fragile enterprise by squeezing every last ounce of productivity out of your people? Isn’t “balance” the enemy of growth and profit?

Obviously, when it comes to balance, there are no easy answers. That’s why I’m so intrigued with the framework developed by Eric Sinoway and Howard Stevenson, detailed in the October 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review (“No, You Can’t Have It All”). As noted in the article synopsis:

Many of us are struggling to chart a path toward success in our careers and a sense of fulfillment in all aspects of our lives. But we can’t excel simultaneously in every role. Instead, at various points in life we must choose what to emphasize and what to relinquish. The goal is to make the decision consciously instead of unwittingly letting go of the most important item.

All of the above resonates for me… the first two sentences, remind me of a conversation with my brother-in-law (thanks Jon).  It was one of those conversations; where you keep replaying it.  I shared, I felt guilty.  In the past two years, with the death of my dad, significant accident of a friend, two adoptions, and health issues with my wife, I’ve been involved but working less on the business.  In spite of this, Intertech has had its best two years ever.  I’ve been tremendously lucky in having business partners who’ve “stepped up” (thanks Ryan, Dan, Jim, and Dave).  Jon shared there will come a time when others will have similar issues and I’ll be more present in the business while they take care of their families.  Simply, it’s life.  It’s O.K.

Per the last sentence of the italicized paragraph above, when I was in the early stages of building Intertech, I put the most important relationship in my life—my marriage—at great risk, unwittingly of course.  I was younger, ambitious and determined to make my company successful. That meant a lot of long days and many nights working into the wee hours, ignoring my wife and doing less than my fair share around the house.  For my first wedding anniversary, I asked my wife to get herself a gift and get takeout… not good ideas!

My drive to succeed could have cost me dearly if my wife hadn’t insisted that I slow down a bit and take a look at my priorities. This is not to say that I lost my ambition or my work ethic, but I slowly began to realize that building the company could not be the only place I put my energy.

Next time I’ll tell you about the framework for making balanced decisions developed by Eric Sinoway and Howard Stevenson.