Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Monday Zen: Sitting Bull and the Strength of Compassion

In the history books, Sitting Bull is depicted as a violent warrior, but to his descendants in the Lakota tribe, he’s known as a spiritual leader of compassion, generosity, humility and fortitude. His great grandson, Ernie LaPointe, recently spoke with Krista Tippet on her American Public Media radio show “On Being” about his famous ancestor, once known in the American media as “Public Enemy Number One.”

LaPointe tells a story of his great grandfather, known to his people as Tatanka Iyotake. The story was told behind closed doors, generation to generation, because the federal government prohibited the practice of Native American spiritual traditions, and was passed down to LaPointe from his mother’s mother, Sitting Bull’s daughter.

Mr. LaPointe: Well, you know, my mother told me the story when he was a young boy — because in our culture you always take your son to your brother to have him raised because the authority figure is a little different. And when he first went on his buffalo hunt, this was one of the ones that really — as a kid his age — she was telling me this and I had no idea what I would’ve done when I was six years, seven years old, of when he first hunted. And he went in there and he killed a buffalo, this big buffalo bull.

And his uncle, Four Horns, said, “Why didn’t you take the cow that was closer to the edge?” Because if the buffalo spook they could run the horse down. And the young boy said, “Yeah. I seen the cow,” he said, “but I seen this little calf.” He said, “If I kill the cow, that little calf would sure to perish too.” “So,” he said, “I went after this big buffalo.”

For more on this remarkable man, you’ll find the uncut interview, 22 drawings attributed to Sitting Bull, and more at the On Being site. Tatanka Iyotake’s legacy is also remembered in Ernie LaPointe’s book about his great grandfather, “Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy.”

Spring Planting

Spring is here and I have my usual feelings of excitement over planting flowers and making improvements to our yard. I often wonder where this passion has come from and then I think of my dad who has been gone for 25 years. My first memories of him and gardening take place at my grandmother’s house out in the country in Illinois. Because my grandfather had passed away at a fairly young age, my dad had to take over her garden and it was huge! I remember him tilling the soil, planting loads of vegetables and then harvesting them. Meanwhile, my sister and I would be sitting on a swing, nestled between two large oak trees with my grandmother. She always wore a housedress and would sing to us.

My next memories were of the house we moved to when I was in second grade. Here his gardens focused on flowers, which is where my real passion lies. Oh, if only I could pick his brain for all his “green thumb” tips. He had loads of flowerbeds and most of his flowers were started from seeds. There were lots of unique flowers you don’t usually find at the garden center. He would build a mini-greenhouse out of some boards and a window and the seeds would sprout and grow. Eventually he had tons of beautiful plants.

My last memories were of the house we moved into when I was in seventh grade.  This house had a different type of yard because there were loads of shade trees.  Gone were all the various types of flower gardens and now the focus was on shade-loving plants, which included lots of textured greenery and a few types of flowers.  There were also lots of bushes that had to be trimmed. Not my favorite part of the project, but I loved the various textures that all the shade loving plants created even though there weren’t as many flowers.

So, now I have been a homeowner myself for 24 years and I have had several houses both in Atlanta and Ohio (I grew up in the greater Chicago area). I’ve tried to emulate the things I remember from my dad and, in general, have failed miserably despite my passion and refusal to give up. I have tried growing plants from seeds and made huge investment in them as well as soil and the little growing pots. They all died. I have tried growing tomato plants.  That was a disaster.  A few times I have purchased different varieties of perennials. Some have done well, but many others haven’t. Then there are the annuals. I always spend hours at the garden center choosing color combinations and studying the light preference and watering needs of the various plants. Again, some have done well but I would say for the most part they end up looking not so great or dying.

I have been pondering what I am doing wrong for years. Is it the different climates we live in? Cincinnati, OH is not know for having the greatest soil compared to the rich, sandy soil where we lived growing up and the weather can be so unpredictable each summer. Atlanta is hot and dry and is a new ballgame for us so maybe I just haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. What I really wish is that my dad were here so I could ask him a million questions and find out what his secrets to success were. Since that is not an option, I will keep trying for success on my own.  No matter how many failures, the passion doesn’t leave. So, here we go again. It’s April and time to hit the garden center.

Internal Branding: Aligning Multiple Brands Under One Corporation

With the constant flow of buy-ins, buy-outs and big corporate takeovers, the internal identity of an organization can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. An employee with a confident feeling about their company may become insecure about who they work for during changes and realignments.

As companies make these conversions, it’s important to be aware of the individual values and missions of each brand. If necessary, it may be a good idea to take some of the themes of each and combine them so they’re still relatable to the workforce. This helps create a single identity for the organization. Yes, most employees may serve only one brand, but helping them connect to the corporate body that runs the show will allow them to understand the bigger picture of where their brand is heading and why.

You want all of the brands to feel like one big happy family so share the news. One way of doing this is by developing an internal print publication. This can be a quarterly magazine that includes content about new products being developed by the different brands, charitable activities the corporation supports and anything else of interest to employees. When multiple copies of each issue are sent to every office, store or warehouse, it allows employees to not only see what’s going on with their brand, but keeps them up-to-date on the rest of the organization.

For 24/7 access to information on every brand in a corporation, build a company intranet. An internal website will help keep employees connected and will allow them to see the human side of the parent company through colorful imagery and a friendly tone. The website should include the standard administrative forms and documents employees need, but to help bring people together it should also include some social media aspects, idea generation platforms and tell the story of the people that make the company’s engine run.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Biggest Mistake In Change Management

What’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make in managing change at your company?  The absolute worst mistake you could make would be to tell the employees something that would make them feel better, but might not be true. For instance, saying there will be no layoffs with an impending merger, before management knows for certain that there won’t be. This is where the “Yes but” method can be particularly useful. For instance, you might say, “Yes, we believe there may be some layoffs. But, probably not until a year from now.” Or, “Yes, we will have to cut some positions due to redundancies. But, first we’re going to offer voluntary retirement with generous packages.”

A more common mistake is to say nothing because the details haven’t been finalized. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them about it. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll tell you when I do,” or “We can’t share that information, but what I can tell you is such and such.” In any case, you certainly want to avoid having your employees hear the news from someone outside the company, whether it’s a neighbor who’s related to top management or a newspaper article.

You can also minimize stress for employees by acknowledging what we call the ‘Two Big Fears.” In the face of any major change in the workplace, employees worry about two major questions: Will this make my job more difficult? And will I lose my job?” Acknowledging those two issues makes them much less frightening. Because it’s human nature to imagine the worst, setting realistic expectations can be a relief. Most people would rather know what to expect, even if it’s not good news, than to be left in the dark.

The most important key to successfully communicating change is to begin with a foundation of respect for the employees. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting yourself in their shoes. We often talk about the Golden Rule of Change: If you were an employee impacted by this change, how would you want to be treated?

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Brainstorming With Index Cards

Despite all the technology available today, I still go back again and again to the low-tech solution of index cards. Index cards are an incredible brainstorming tool, whether you’re working alone or with a group. They not only allow you to capture ideas; they then enable you to organize a process, build a plan, map out a large project.

Yesterday I used index cards to develop a book idea. I’ve used them to think through websites, to assign authors and topics for our blog, to write speeches — and once, to start a company.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have a large project to get your arms around. Start with a big stack of crisp new index cards and a good marker. If you want to use multiple colors of cards, sometimes that helps you divide things into categories.

Start writing down every idea you can come up with on a single index card. If you’re creating a new process or mapping out a project, write down every single step you can imagine you need to address. Large, small, whatever.

Then start moving the cards around into groups or stacks. I like to use a large bulletin board for this, but sometimes at Tribe we spread them out on the conference room table or tape them to the wall or windows. single element of the project that you can think of.

For instance, this is how it worked for the book project. First I pulled out all the cards that seemed like they deserved their own chapters. I pinned them up in a row on the bulletin board. Then I started sorting the other cards to put them in the appropriate chapters and pinned them up in columns. Before I knew it, I had an entire book outline.

They also work for organizing tasks. If you were mapping out a major project, for instance, you might end up with lots of tasks as well as ideas. Some will be huge, like “develop proposal for management approval.” Others will be small, like “call so-and-so for the vendor they used on such-a-such a project”

Break the large ones down by adding more cards. Write down the smaller steps they require and then put those index cards with the large task. You might want to put each team member’s name on a card and then divide up tasks by putting each card under one team member’s name.

What do you do when you’re finished? Sometimes we photograph the arranged cards so we can recreate that information in a spreadsheet or word document. Other times we just stack them up in order and work with them from there. Once in awhile, you might want to leave them up, and remove or check off each card as you accomplish that task.

Summer Fun with Kids in Atlanta

Summer is almost here! What are you going to do with your kids? Atlanta is full of great places to take the kids, but after you go to the zoo, Imagine It, the aquarium, the World of Coke and the Botanical Gardens, what’s next? Here are a few suggestions you may not have discovered yet. Please feel free to comment and share some of your own “hidden” treasures in the Atlanta area.

Wild Animal Safari

http://www.animalsafari.com/Georgia/

Who doesn’t want to see a real Liger?! You can drive your own car through or rent a van there. Animals such as yaks, ostriches, and zedonks will come eat out of your window.

Webb Bridge Park

http://www.alpharetta.ga.us/index.php?p=219

The website doesn’t do this park justice. It’s the best park for children that I’ve been to. There’s a manmade creek that runs through the play area shallow enough for kids to splash in and the perfect spot for them to get water to take back to the sandbox area. The sandbox is huge and covered so it’s always in the shade. There are also two separate playgrounds. One suitable for little kids and one for older kids.

Ink

http://www.inkfun.org/

The perfect place for your child’s imagination to run free. The space is divided into rooms, each with their own theme. Let your child be the doctor at the doctor’s office, or be the shopper or cashier at the grocery store, don’t forget to stop by the “bank” first and let them get money from the “ATM” to pay for their food.

They also have an arts and crafts room.

Ink also has a real fire engine, plane and police car to explore and you can receive $2 off on Sundays.

Dekalb Airport

http://web.co.dekalb.ga.us/pdkairport/index.asp

It’s exciting for kids to hear a plane and look up and see it high in the sky, so imagine the joy of seeing planes take off and land. Plan a picnic and play at the playground near the runways or eat at the 57th Fighter Group restaurant. They will be having an airshow May 12.

Chattahoochee River Recreation Area

http://www.nps.gov/chat/planyourvisit/unitdirections.htm

It amazes me how many people I talk to that have never been to a Chattahoochee park! They are beautiful with a north Georgia feel but conveniently close to the city. Perfect for going on hikes and some parks have bike trails. Bring your dog too and they will love splashing in the river. Make sure to have a leash and waste bags or the Rangers will get ya.

Yellow River Game Ranch

http://www.yellowrivergameranch.com/index.htm

A giant petting farm with shaded paved trails make it easy for strollers. One can feed deer, bunnies, goats and other animals out of your hand. The deer are not behind fences they just roam the park.

Train museum

http://www.srmduluth.org/default.shtml

Tons of old train cars that kids can walk through and explore; from old dining cars to sleeper cars. Trains are outside so in the hot months I recommend going early in the day. There are also train rides around the property. Make sure you check the website as train and caboose ride days change monthly. There are different events throughout the summer, notably: August 4-5 Trains, Trucks and Tractors.

Lake Lanier

http://www.lakelanier.com/activities/swimming/

Lake Lanier is not just for boating. Pick a beach without a boat ramp and a swimming area and you are likely also to find a quiet sandy beach with gradual entry sandy floored lake perfect for young kids who can’t go deep and just like to wade. The area also will have picnic tables, a playground and restrooms. But if you want to enjoy real lakes with beautiful white sandy beaches, plan your summer vacation to Michigan (wink, wink).

Change Marketing: Think Happy Thoughts

People by nature are reluctant to change. Both personally and professionally, there seems to almost always be a level of angst accompanying the word “change”. We’re set in our ways, we know what’s expected of us and, more than anything, we’ve developed a level of comfort that we don’t want to deviate from. So when it comes to a major change at your company such as a merger or acquisition, how can you alleviate this fear in the workplace and instill within your employees the notion that change is a good thing?

Involve your staff in the change as much as possible. If they feel they play a significant part in the transition, they’re much more likely to buy into it and feel energized to help. Conversely, if they feel shut out and oblivious to what is happening, they might begin to wonder if and how the future plans include them. Don’t feel like you have to divulge all of the information (because there are still some things that should remain behind closed doors) but keep them apprised of any updates and ask for their support as much as possible.

With change comes opportunity. Get employees excited around the opportunities that the upcoming changes could present. Especially if they have been with the company for a while, they’ll likely be looking for something to re-energize them and keep their job fresh. This could be that time. Whether it means that new positions could open up or roles and responsibilities may vary, employees will appreciate the challenge awaiting them and look forward to what lies ahead.

Be upfront and honest. When it comes to change, nobody likes surprises. Regardless of level, accomplishments or stature at the company, employees are going to have some thoughts of “what does this mean for me” when a major change occurs. Be sure to let them know what to expect – both positive and negative. It’s human nature to wait for the “but…” following a piece of positive news so let them know of both the pros and the cons so they don’t try to conjure up negative thoughts of their own. In all likelihood, any negativity associated with the transition is not going to be nearly as bad as what some employees might think of.

Finally, have some fun with it. The more positive energy they see coming from you, the more they’ll gain a positive feeling about the change and ease any concerns. So put on your best happy face and enjoy the ride!

To Drive Traffic to Your Intranet, Start Over.

There are a lot of things you can do to drive traffic to your intranet. We often recommend an approach that encourages two-way communication. Online contests and forums allow employees to participate and help them build a vested interest in the site and give them a reason to return. However, in some cases, the best thing to do is start over. This might seem like a big undertaking, but it can be simpler and more cost effective than trying to rework what you have. Like your products or even your brand, they each have a life cycle and your intranet is no different.

Take an inventory of what you like. We always encourage companies to ask their employees what would be useful to them. This is the time to build excitement for what’s coming and one of the best ways to do that is to provide a resource they will be able to use on a regular basis. This is also a great time to take a look at what isn’t working. It might still be viable with a little tweaking.

Build a site map. This can be the most important stage of intranet planning. By creating a streamlined map you’ll have a well functioning, organized site when you launch. This is also the time to edit. Ease of use is very important. If the site’s hard to navigate, your employees won’t use it. Make sure there are places for employees to engage with leadership and each other. This will help with bringing consistent traffic.

Keep it fresh. Now is the time to plan for the future. Most sites fail because of a lack of content. If there is nothing new to see, your employees won’t bother logging on. By creating an editorial calendar you’ll help eliminate the pitfalls of busy administrators.

Edit. Edit. Then add. In the event you aren’t ready for a complete overhaul, use these guidelines to help you edit your existing site. Take away the features that aren’t working and replace them with features that employees are asking for. It’s also never too late to create an editorial calendar. Try to align it with other initiatives that are going on and pump the site with fresh content. By making a few tweaks you can have a fresh new site employees will be excited to visit.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

How Important Are Enhanced Employee Benefits?

Do special benefits hook employees? As the employment market shifts back to companies having to compete for top talent, many will incorporate extra perks to attract and keep employees.

At Evernote, all employees get free professional housecleaning twice a month. In Adam Bryant’s Corner Office column in the New York Times last Sunday, Chief Executive Phil Libin thought it would help get significant others on their side, and said, “I  want the pressure from them to be, ‘You better not be thinking about leaving Evernote.'”

If employees could take as much vacation as they want, how much would they take? That’s another benefit at Evernote: Unlimited vacation. Plus $1,000 travel money when they take an entire week to go somewhere.

But how do you know when too much vacation is too much? I’d be concerned that there would be people who never get around to taking any vacation days, since they don’t have the urgency of “I have to use another week of vacation before the end of the year or I’ll lose it.” And of course, there could also be those on the other end of the spectrum who abuse the policy and saddle their teammates with picking up their slack.

In the end, engagement has more to do with attracting and keeping talent than anything else. Benefits are important, of course. But employees in demand aren’t likely to stay at a job that doesn’t engage them — even if it means they have to clean their own bathrooms.

This Week at The Office…

Tribe employee Sara Lynn Duquette unsuccessfully attempts to walk her cat on a leash, much to the amusement of the cat and the other animals in the house.

“Vinnie” Vincenzio Salvatore Scaloppini, (commonly known around the neighborhood as the grandfather of the cat mafia) was recently semi-forced, semi-coaxed into “taking a walk on a leash like the dog does” by his human this past Wednesday evening.

“First she tried to put the thing (leash) around my neck, which is hilarious because any idiot can see that I don’t have one,” said Vinnie.

“Next, she went for the ol’ wrap it around the middle and pull routine.”

Which was also an “epic fail” said Scaloppini.

“Then my dumb human went and got out my treats and started shaking the bag around. She pulled on the leash and said, ‘Come, come, come Vinnie, you’re such a big fattie,’ in her annoying baby voice. I just glared at her and proceeded to flop over sideways, sprawling out comfortably in my usual fashion. The whole time I was thinking ‘Is she for real?’ There was no way I would be caught dead walking with that ridiculous contraption.”

Scaloppini was happy to report the flop and roll tactic worked flawlessly, and that his human gave up after several hopeless attempts at instituting her new “Cat Exercise Program” and stated this is just another hair-brained idea that would pass. Adding that it reminded him of the little devil Halloween costume attempt, which for the record, did not produced the desired result either.

“I’m not a present for her friends to open. End of story. I like to eat. It’s what it do. My human needs to accept me for who I am and quit trying to change me.”

Vinnie is a long time resident of Chamblee and states that he has no problem being a 23 pound cat.

Meow to come.