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Tag Archives: Management

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How nice is nice enough to justify carrying the weakest link?

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An old TV show featured teams where the “weakest links” were kicked off until only one person was left standing. These weak links were judged as being the smallest asset to the team and presented the biggest liability to the team’s success.

In the TV show, the weakest link was decided by the number of correct answers to factual questions.

What measures could be effectively used to judge your organization’s weakest link?

Least popular? Ambitious at all and any costs? Least productive? Least considerate in working with teammates?

Or would you, the manager, vote off the employee who occasionally disagreed with your decisions and deem the sycophant as most desirable? Would you keep the “nice” employee as an asset and vote off the one who wasn’t as nice?

Too often I see companies carrying, to their detriment, a weak link—someone who does not appreciably contribute to your company’s success. Why? “Because he’s just so nice,” comes the reluctant answer.

Is that justifiable? How nice does an employee have to be to merit a position in your company solely on the basis of geniality?

Here’s the illogical thinking that allows you to keep an employee on staff when their only contribution is “niceness.” You’re thinking of it as an either/or. “Nice” is on one side of the scale with “good employee” on the other — as if there are only two measurements and mutually exclusive.

Instead, consider all the attributes that comprise a good employee: productivity, cooperation, initiative, resourcefulness, flexibility, patience, creativity, dependability, critical thinking, efficiency, communication skills, and geniality. Your particular company might delineate even more attributes for success.

So, list all the attributes and then prioritize them objectively, without muddying the waters by thinking of any one specific employee.

Now you can clearly see that it’s not one characteristic (niceness) stacked against one vague bundle of characteristics grouped under “good.” It’s one characteristic of many desirable qualities.

If this employee is genial and likeable, great. But how does he stack up against the list of prioritized attributes that you have objectively declared vital to your business?

If geniality is the characteristic you have decided is the most critical, and the employee in question would win the Miss (or Mr.) Congeniality award, then maybe you can easily overlook the deficiency in other qualities. But what if there are many qualities needed, and geniality was their only contribution?

I spoke with one manager who hated to fire an employee because he was just so “darned nice.”

So nice that the manager and co-workers were willing to overlook his laziness, tardiness, and unreliability? No. He didn’t bring nearly enough joy to the workplace to offset the growing resentment by his co-workers at having to do his work. They soon realized that his pleasantness had no substance. He wasn’t pleasantly doing his work: it was pleasantness instead of work.

People who depend on charm to solidify their role in an organization frequently use that charm to hide glaring deficiencies in their work ethic. Strip away the charming façade, and their inadequacies become blatant.

When niceness is the only redeeming quality in an employee, there’s never enough niceness to avoid being the weakest link.

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Understanding the risk mindset

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Attitude affects action; belief shapes behavior; culture influences conduct

We all know that how we think determines what we do. This is particularly true when we are considering how to act towards risk.

When we face uncertainty, we’re not always rational. Instead we fall back on deep-seated values and feelings about risk, which can often lead to unexpected results. We react rather than respond, driven by gut-level influences instead of thought-through reasoning.

This can affect us in many different situations, from making high-level strategic investment decisions, through managing projects and programs, and on into our personal lives (making relationships, bringing up children, choosing a career path, building a pension portfolio, etc.).

For example, if our basic view is that risk is bad and must be avoided at all cost, we will be cautious and prefer not to take chances. But if we see risk as exciting and challenging, we may be tempted to take risk unwisely, exposing ourselves to unacceptable outcomes.

Instead of reacting instinctively towards risk, we should cultivate a risk mindset, thinking in a more balanced way about risk. This will allow us to make better decisions whenever we are uncertain. How we think about risk will determine how we try to manage it, and an inaccurate view of risk will lead to ineffective risk management. A risk mindset includes the following values:

Risk is natural. Life itself is uncertain, and this translates into every type of human endeavor. The risk mindset accepts this reality and doesn’t struggle to remove all risk from every situation.

Risk is manageable. There is always something we can do in response to each risk. Avoid a victim mentality — we are not powerless, as long as we can see risk in advance. The risk mindset always seeks to influence risk, either by tackling its occurrence or addressing its effect.

Not all risk is bad. Some uncertainties can be unwelcome if they occur, causing delay, damage or disruption. But other uncertainties would be helpful if they happened, resulting in reduced costs or timescales, or enhanced performance and reputation. The risk mindset remains alert to both threats and opportunities.

Risk matters. Risk is always linked to objectives. If a risk happens, it will affect our ability to achieve one or more objectives, for better or for worse. Every risk is important, although some are more important than others. The risk mindset is relentlessly focused on objectives.

My risk is my responsibility. It’s easy to think that someone else will address risks, and it’s “not my job”, especially at work. But where risk affects my objectives, I need to deal with it. The risk mindset takes responsibility for relevant risks.

Proactivity is essential. We often adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude to risk, hoping that we might “get lucky”, with bad things not happening and good things just turning up. The risk mindset rejects wishful thinking and unrealistic optimism, understanding that prompt action is often required.

If these values don’t describe the way you currently think about risk, or if your behavior doesn’t reflect them, the following five steps will help you change your thinking to develop a risk mindset:

  1. Build new thinking habits. Train yourself to think differently. Take one aspect of the risk mindset and work on it until it becomes natural.
  2. Develop emotional intelligence. Be aware of how you think, check yourself regularly, and make adjustments whenever necessary.
  3. Use multiple reminders. Set visible and audible triggers so that you don’t forget to check in.
  4. Get help. Find a coach or mentor to support you in changing how you think and act.
  5. Be intentional. Take yourself on a journey from conscious incompetence through conscious competence to unconscious competence. Be deliberate and choose change.

Adopting a risk mindset will help us to manage risk naturally, as it becomes part of who we are instead of just what we do. And as we think differently about risk, it will change the way we act towards risk. Try it and see!

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Study: Researchers search for better ways to nix inventory errors

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You log onto your favorite retailer’s app to look for that must-have pair of sneakers you want to buy. The shopping site says shoes are in stock. But when you arrive at the store, an empty shelf says otherwise.

Inventory errors like this frustrate customers and can eventually lead to dwindling customer loyalty and lost sales, says Rafay Ishfaq, the W. Allen Reed associate professor of supply chain management at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business.

“If I go to the store and this happens three times, I’m unhappy,” says Ishfaq, “and I’m going with another retailer.”

While today’s advanced technologies are helping retailers keep more accurate inventory counts, errors still occur, says Ishfaq. But a novel idea regarding more effective inventory audits could one day help retailers lower inventory error rates.

The causes of inventory errors are many, from data entered inaccurately and failures to update data to operational mistakes in scanning, picking mishaps at the warehouse and late deliveries at stores. Such errors cause major headaches for consumers. This is especially true at a time when many American consumers are foregoing visits to stores because of fears of COVID-19 and are shopping online instead.

In fact, the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that U.S., retail e-commerce sales during 2020’s second quarter — when adjusted for seasonal variation, but not price fluctuations — came to $211.5 billion, a rise of nearly 32% from the first quarter of 2020. Total retail sales for 2020’s second quarter came to more than $1.3 billion, a decrease of 3.9% from the previous quarter of 2020.

In addition to online shopping, consumers’ demand for greater convenience over the years has forced many retailers into offering more varieties of products, says Ishfaq. Consequently, many retailers have automated their replenishment processes in their supply chain to handle the demand. But that means operational glitches resulting in inventory errors can occur on a bigger scale.

“Because many stores today offer so much variety of products,” he says, “if the computer system thinks a store has three items in stock of a particular brand when, in fact, it has only one on the shelf, if the reorder point for replenishment doesn’t happen until the system record is down to one, a store wouldn’t be aware of the need to replenish the stock until a customer walks up and says, ‘I can’t find this product.’”

“The complexity that arises comes from the variety of products that we’re selling and the length of the supply chains and the sheer number of stores that need replenishment,” he says. “Thus, the scale of retail makes it difficult to keep inventory errors from happening.”

Retailers have typically relied on physical inventory audits. Their inventory managers usually conducted the audits twice a year, closing the store for a day so employees could physically count the stock and reconcile the number with what was in the system. The process, however, has proven to be laborious and expensive.

Then came technology solutions like universal product codes (UPC). Then later, faster and more expensive tools like radio-frequency identification (RFID) and quick response (QR) codes came along. The technologies today help retailers to track stock, automate and speed up inventory counting and replenishment.

Inventory errors, however, still happen.

The problem, says Ishfaq, is that not all stock in a retail store are prone to inventory errors equally.

He, along with Auburn University’s Gayle Parks Forehand Endowed Professor of Business Analytics Uzma Raja, recently co-authored an empirical study in the International Journal of Logistics Management on the effectiveness of frequent inventory audits in retail stores. They set out to develop a possible new framework for conducting inventory audits.

They asked the question: How effective is an inventory audit in a high stock keeping unit variety store?

“There are certain attributes that every item has such as price, sales volume, how much is in stock and how frequently the item needs to be replenished,” he says. “These attributes can identify which items in a store are more likely to have significant inventory error problems.”

So Ishfaq and Raja created a simulation model of a store inventory management system. They also developed error profiles for the inventory, putting together data on sales, price, demand, and inventory levels for each piece of “merchandise.”

What they discovered is that conducting audits based on items’ error profiles was a more efficient way of auditing inventories, he says.

“The benefit,” says Ishfaq, “is that if you can identify those profiles, you can target your inventory audit on those few items in the store, which is less expensive and much faster to do than an entire store.”

“The one thing that comes out of this research is a heightened level of awareness that inventory errors are a problem that’s real,” he says. “If all of the focus is on retail success and making sure stores are successful, then we must focus on this problem.”

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What is social capital, and how can educators help students build it?

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Before summer break ended, my 15-year-old daughter wrote up eight burning questions, donned a mask and met with a local architect for her first informational interview.

Certainly the answers to most of her questions could’ve been found online. Yet like the high school guidance counselors who introduced me to informational interviewing years ago, I understand that making connections with professionals in her area of interest is at least as important as getting questions answered.

That day she took a step in building her social capital.

Simply put, social capital is the people we know.

Nathan Boyd, director of African American student and parent services for South Bend Community School Corporation, expands on this definition. “Our social networks improve our lives and make us more productive by creating a nurturing support system that provides greater access to resources and motivation to succeed,” says Boyd in a guest post for the National Association of Secondary Principals.

Closing the social capital gap for children from marginalized communities

Yet opportunities to build the network Boyd describes aren’t within reach for all young people as they approach the workforce.

“On average, children from low-income families have measurably smaller networks along some dimensions and are much less likely to know adults working in high-paying professions,” writes Julia Freeland Fischer in her book, “Who you know, unlocking innovations that expand students’ networks.”

Even students who graduate from top colleges are having trouble finding employment or are underemployed, largely due to lack of connections, explains Heather Wetzler co-founder of Cue Career, a career exploration and workforce development platform.

For educators to best help students from marginalized communities, Wetzler advocates starting early to drive home the importance of developing a network along with making sure it’s relatable to the particular demographic you’re working with and what’s happening in their lives.

Helping younger students begin to build social capital in school

Schools have a crucial role to play in building social capital according to Aimée Eubanks Davis, founder and CEO of Braven, an organization dedicated to solving the education-to-employment gap in higher education.

“While education — both K-12 and higher ed — have the potential to be the great equalizer, we know that not all students have access to the same opportunities, networks, and social capital,” said Eubanks Davis says in an interview with Forbes contributor Colin Seale.

“In order to close this gap, we need K-12 to teach students professional competencies that are required in the workplace like working in teams, problem solving, and telling your own narrative — and we should do this early on, just like we teach English and math.”

Social capital is so critical for young people from traditionally marginalized communities that Calculus Roundtable Founder and Executive Director Jim Hollis has built it into their methodology.

At his organization, which helps districts produce programs and procedures that increase the number of children of color completing higher level math and science skills, this begins as young as fifth grade. Students are incentivized by points for helping and asking for help from other classmates encouraging them to practice reciprocity, a key component of social capital.

“Dr. Jeremy Frank from NASA joined our Zoom class and told us about his project making drones for the International Space Station. We promptly pinged into a live feed of the space station and saw his project (in yellow) in real time,” said Jim Hollis, founder and executive director of Calculus Roundtable.

Creating opportunities for students and professionals to connect

Taking advantage of all the high-tech resources of Silicon Valley and beyond, Calculus Roundtable forges partnerships that not only introduce but team students with professionals from high-profile companies and organizations like NASA, MIT and Stanford University. Often, these students don’t realize the level of contact they’ve made as they collaborate on projects like building a microscope to study DNA with a Stanford researcher.

Getting students to connect a familiar face with top organizations and companies is one of Hollis’ strategies to break down barriers. Now, when they think of NASA — it’s “I know Jeremy from NASA,” instead of something abstract or out of reach.

Similarly, Wetzler encourages students to make an association between the businesses and brands they know and people who work there. For example, she had a group of girls to do a search for L’Oréal on LinkedIn to see the different people who work there and what they do. This is one example of making building social capital relatable to a particular demographic of adolescents.

“Create a LinkedIn profile and reach out to professionals on the platform,” Wetzler tells the young people she works with through Cue Career. “Being a student has power, people want to help you! They’re often more open and responsive to a student who reaches out on LinkedIn than another professional.”

A guide to help educators map a student’s social capital

To support college educators, community organizations and other adults in helping young adults develop social capital, Mahnaz R. Charania, a senior education researcher at the Clayton Christensen Institute, a think tank that studies disruption in various sectors of society, is among a group of researchers developing ways to map a student’s social network.

In a University Business blog, she sets out four key questions that can help educators pinpoint strong and focus areas in a given student’s social capital.

  1. Quantity of relationships: Who do students know?
  2. Quality of relationships: Are adults offering children what they actually need?
  3. Structure of network: Are students connected with a variety of adults?
  4. Ability to mobilize relationships: Do students know how to seek help when they need it?

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How small businesses can manage hazardous waste: A guide

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Many small businesses are not even aware that they generate hazardous waste.

Hazardous waste is any solid, liquid or gas that is either chemically or biologically treated, burned, incinerated, or recycled. In the absence of waste management regulations, some companies dispose this waste directly into barren landmasses, rivers, and streams.

Hazardous wastes are mostly liquids that are measured in gallons. According to the EPA, small businesses that generate between 100 and 1,000 kg (220 and 2,200 lbs.) of hazardous waste per month are called Small Quantity Generators (SQGs).

Is Your Small Business A Hazardous Waste Generator?

Small businesses in the following categories typically generate hazardous wastes:

  • Dry cleaning
  • Furniture manufacturing and refinishing
  • Construction, demolition and reconstruction
  • Laboratories
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Printing
  • Equipment repair
  • Pesticide users/ application services
  • Educational and vocational shops
  • Photo processing
  • Leather manufacturing

Why is Hazardous Waste Management Important?

Disposing hazardous waste directly can cause serious environmental and health implications. It can pollute surface soil, making it unfit for farming. The waste can also percolate through the aquifers to mix with freshwater bodies that supply drinking water to animals and human communities.

Without hazardous waste management, your business can also land in serious legal trouble. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines a framework for disposal of hazardous solid waste and helps businesses comply.

Identifying the Types of Hazardous Waste Your Business Generates

The hazardous waste your business generates can be classified into three broad categories.

1. Listed Waste: The waste your business generates can fall into any of the four categories defined in the list published in Code of Federal Regulations – Title 40 CFR Part 261 Subpart D. The list is defined by four main codes — F, K, P and U — with over 500 subcategories. For example, spent solvents are defined with codes between F001 and F005 whereas sludge from treatment of electroplating is defined by F006.

Some waste materials are considered so hazardous that they are harmful to humans even after treatment, such as beryllium powder and certain pesticides.

The F & K lists: These wastes defined in 40 CFR section 261.31 are not specific to an industry, and can be divided into groups:

  • Electroplating and other metal finishing wastes.
  • Dioxin-bearing wastes.
  • Chlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbons.
  • Wastes from wood preserving.
  • Petroleum refinery wastewater treatment sludge.
  • Multisource leachate.
  • Spent solvent wastes.
  • The K-List defines 13 categories of hazardous waste that are industry-specific. They are defined in detail in 40 CFR section 261.32 –Wood preservation.
  • Petroleum refining.
  • Veterinary pharmaceutical manufacturing.
  • Inorganic pigment manufacturing.
  • Inorganic/Organic chemicals manufacturing.
  • Explosives manufacturing.
  • Iron and steel production.
  • Primary aluminum production.
  • Secondary lead processing.
  • Pesticides manufacturing.
  • Primary aluminum production.
  • Ink formulation.
  • Coking.

To indicate the reason for listing each waste category, EPA has assigned a code against them.

The P & U lists: The P and U lists of CFR define hazardous wastes from discarded commercial chemical products. It must meet either of the three criteria:

  1. The waste must contain at least one chemical listed under the P and U list. The complete list can be seen under 40 CFR section 261.33.
  2. The chemical to be disposed with the waste must be unused.
  3. The chemical must be of commercial use grade.

2. Characteristic Waste: Hazardous wastes are further divided into four categories by EPA depending upon their characteristics.

Ignitability: Liquids that have flash points below 60 C, non-liquids that ignite under specific environmental conditions, ignitable compressed gases, and oxidizers.

Corrosivity: Aqueous waste with pH level less than or equal to 2, and greater than 12.5 based on the liquids ability to corrode steel.

Reactivity: These wastes tend to react with environmental factors such as water and heat. They can explode and are considered unstable.

Toxicity: Wastes that are harmful if ingested or absorbed are considered toxic, and have the ability to pollute groundwater. Toxic waste can be tested via Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP).

3. Mixed Radiological and Hazardous Waste: This comprises waste that is a mix of hazardous and radioactive material. Mixed wastes are regulated under RCRA and Atomic Energy Act. Hazardous components are managed by EPA and RCRA. Radioactive components are managed by the Department of Energy (DoE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

When you have identified the category and the type of waste your business generates, you are required to dispose of the waste based on the guidelines laid down for each category.

Managing and Disposing Hazardous Waste On-Site

Businesses that are SQGs can accumulate the waste on-site for up to 180 days without a permit. They can accumulate the waste for up to 270 days if it needs to be shipped for a distance more than 200 miles.

All SQGs must have safety and emergency response guidelines including:

  • A detailed and written contingency plan.
  • An efficient alarm system for all personnel.
  • Connectivity with local police and fire departments for emergencies.
  • Availability of portable fire-control devices, and spill control and decontamination equipment.
  • Adequate water supply and pressure, form-producing equipment, and automatic sprinklers.

This list will give you a snapshot of the type and quantity of tanks commonly used for storing and managing hazardous waste, in municipal, environmental remediation, refineries and other applications.

How Can you Get an EPA Identification Number?

If you are an SQG, it is mandatory to obtain an EPA Identification Number. It is a 12-character number that helps the EPA track and monitor hazardous waste and disposal when you send it offsite to be managed.

You can obtain an EPA Identification Number by following these steps: Contact the hazardous waste management agency in your state to obtain the EPA form 8700-12, “RCA Subtitle C Site Identification Form” (Site ID form). You can also download the form online from EPA website, and send it to your respective state agency. The EPA website also gives all the instructions that will help you fill the form.

You must list the hazardous wastes your business generates along with their EPA Hazardous Waste Code available from 40 CFR Part 261. You need to submit a separate form for each site where hazardous wastes are generated. Each site will receive a unique EPA Identification Number by your state agency.

When you submit the form, the EPA will assign your facility a unique identification number. If you shift your facility, you need to inform the EPA which will either assign you a new ID or allocate you the number which was previously associated with your new facility. Starting from 2021, all SQGs will need to re-notify the EPA every four years using the same form. If your business moves into VSQG or LQG category, you need to contact EPA and resubmit the form.

How Does EPA Help Small Businesses Avoid Violations?

EPA along with your state’s hazardous waste management agency provides comprehensive guidelines and resources for small businesses. The EPA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) cover various topics for managing and disposing hazardous waste. Relevant sections of CFR include:

  • 40 CFR Part 761 (handling PCBs and polychlorinated biphenyls).
  • 40 CFR Part 372 (reporting of toxic release).
  • 40 CFR Part 403 (reporting of domestic sewage).
  • 49 CFR Parts 171-180 (transportation of hazardous materials via shipping vessel, rail, aircraft, or public highway).

EPA also provides industry-specific RCRA in Focus booklets in multiple languages, which helps industries gain knowledge of hazardous waste management. Each industry-specific booklet has a unique code. For example, the booklet for Leather manufacturing is coded EPA 530-K-00-002.

EPA also has an eDisclosure program which allows businesses to self-report any violations with a penalty reduction program.

Sometimes SQGs cannot assess all the compliances themselves. In order to avoid any penalties due to violations, it is recommended to conduct third-party audits that ensure all aspects of the hazardous waste management regulations are being followed.

EPA Guidelines for Small Quantity Generators (SQGs)

Storage containers such as frac tanks and weir tanks in both open-top and closed-top configurations are used to store hazardous waste on-site. The EPA guidelines state that:

  • SQGs must label all containers as “HAZARDOUS WASTE” with the date on which accumulation started.
  • The steel container should be lined with appropriate material that is inert to the waste. This prevents any possible ignitions, reactions, and explosions.
  • Keep all containers in a defined and confined area unless they are being used to fill or drain the waste. The storage space should be safe enough to avoid leakages or accidents.
  • Inspect the containers and the area where they are stored at least once a week. Look for any leaks, corrosion or other kinds of deterioration.
  • Change the containers if the one which you are using currently is no longer fit to store the waste.
  • Do not mix incompatible wastes.

Waste minimization is always better than waste management. You can minimize all the effort by simply following these practices:

  • Increase the efficiency and save money by replacing a material or process with another that produces less waste. For example, you can use sandblasting to remove paint than using stripping solvents.
  • Try to recycle and reuse the waste rather than disposing it. Items such as oil, solvents, acids, and metals can be easily recycled and reused.

Conclusion

All the standards and procedures to store and manage hazardous waste can seem daunting for a small business. But if you follow the guidelines set by EPA, you can meet the goals without having to worry about violations and penalties.

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Intent-driven content: A fresh marketing strategy to boost your brand

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When it comes to analyzing what your customers want during the COVID-19 crisis, your brand has most likely had to do quite a bit of scrambling on an ongoing basis. But a new marketing approach can eliminate that time-consuming process easily and give you the perfect bird’s-eye view of what your existing (and potential) audiences need.

Intent-driven content marketing is a strategy where you determine what granular information a customer is intending to gain when using a search engine and then tailoring your brand content to meet those detailed needs. The results? Customer satisfaction and sales.

According to Digital Marketing Institute, intent driven-content is primarily sourced from Google’s BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representation for Transformers) update, which was introduced in 2019 and has been in wider usage since late last year. BERT is an algorithm that determines the intent of search queries by studying entire phrases searched for, instead of focusing on a search by single words.

Phrase analysis, BERT has shown, provides more accurate results than a typical keyword breakdown. Here’s an overview from Google to explain more about the technology.

From a technical standpoint, what adjustments should you start making in order to take advantage of the benefits of BERT? The good news is you don’t need to learn a ton of new skills or jargon or take any time-consuming tutorials — the technology takes care of all of that for you. What you do need to do is start refocusing your content so it’s high quality and relevant to the results BERT is coming up with, according to The Next Scoop.

Also, it’s important to keep doing the right kind of keyword research so you glean the best results from BERT’s focused results. Here are five key steps to help you accomplish these goals:

Shape your content to the crucial concept of answering a customer’s question instantaneously. According to Neil Patel, the secret to success with this approach is specificity. You don’t need to pour your energy into long posts, but you do need to use copy, video, images and audio to provide the facts your customer seeks on the spot.

The best way to do this is by focusing separate individual posts on searched topics and writing these posts up in the most intricate detail possible, including all product information, instructions, FAQs, and everything you can pack in there. You want these posts to be a one-stop shop when it comes to answering your customers’ questions.

Boost that page speed. It’s an absolute must when it comes to getting great intent-driven content out there. Do a full review of your current page speed metrics by putting yourself in the shoes of your consumer.

How fast does it take you from a Google search to hit your landing page? How speedy are your links? How quickly do your graphics load? If your pages are lagging even a little bit, or you find yourself feeling impatient or annoyed at the wait in even the slightest way, bring in your IT team. You run the risk of losing eyeballs more quickly than ever now.

Review all relevant links. You want the links you choose to be split-second convenient, yes. But you also want to make sure that every individual post or product write-up has corresponding visuals. This is the time to shoot new video, rewrite that product description copy, and make sure any links you offer outside your site are timely. Let your audience feast their eyes on as much detail as possible.

Properly tailor your content. Personalization of the intent-driven content you offer is also doable and will be highly appreciated by many of your customers. Customized messaging directing your base audience to products they have searched for is the ideal way to make this happen.

Continually crunch your feedback data. Surveying your demographic to determine how well the intent-driven content you offer is functioning for them should be among your top priorities. Listen to praise and complaints as never before!

Don’t be afraid to find out how well your audience thinks you’re doing when it comes to answering their search questions. Then, change what isn’t working ASAP. The great news: intent-driven content can be managed with great flexibility, which makes it even more user-friendly for both your audience and your brand.

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Guidelines for employers about limiting political speech at work

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With the social and civil unrest in our country and November elections looming, everyone seems to have strong opinions about the issues and candidates. Inevitably, these opinions may come up during conversations at work, or in emails or social media posts, where they can become disruptive and interfere with productivity. Such conversations also can expose employers and employees to legal risks if they do not fully understand the laws that govern speech at work.

Many people are surprised to learn that free speech at work isn’t the same as free speech on the street. This article outlines a number of laws that regulate speech at work.

U.S. Constitution

The drafters of the U.S. Constitution viewed the First Amendment as being about the freedom of political speech. By protecting free speech, they intended to support citizen participation in democracy. Many people believe this participation applies to the workplace in terms of wearing a button, engaging co-workers in conversation or distributing an officewide email to garner support for a certain candidate.

Because political campaigning is considered protected speech under the First Amendment, many employers and employees incorrectly assume they can exercise this right at work. But the First Amendment applies only to state action, that is, action taken by federal, state or local governments.

These “protections” do not apply in the private workplace, and it would not violate the U.S. Constitution to terminate an employee for expressing views contrary to those of the employer. However, under certain circumstances such a discharge may violate the National Labor Relations Act and other laws.

State and Federal Employment Discrimination Laws

Employers are prohibited from discrimination, harassment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and myriad other federal, state and local laws. Race, national origin, sex, and religion may sometimes be fundamentally intertwined with various political issues, including affirmative action, abortion, prayer in schools and immigration.

Employers and their agents should be careful that their discussions of candidates or issues do not imply directly (or even indirectly) that they will discriminate, harass or retaliate against any employee based on their opinions, which may be related to their status in a protected class.

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

The NLRA may not apply directly to political speech in the private workplace, but it does give non-supervisory employees a limited right to engage in free speech and other protected concerted activities for their “mutual aid and protection.” Under this law, employees may usually wear union buttons or insignia at work. They may engage in solicitations at work so long as neither the employee doing the solicitation nor the employee being solicited are engaging in such activities during working hours.

Similarly, employees may engage in the distribution of political materials at work so long as the distribution does not occur in working areas. Allowing candidates to come onto the job site to campaign may undermine an employer’s rights to enforce otherwise lawful limits on employee solicitation or distribution.

Under the NLRA, employees can engage in political campaigning that may be contrary to the interests or positions of their employer. For example, discharging employees for campaigning against repeal of a state’s right-to-work law would be unlawful.

The National Labor Relations Board under the previous administration was very active in applying employees’ right to engage in protected concerted activities to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Employers need to take care not to violate these employee rights, especially if a Democratic administration returns to power.

State and Municipal Laws

Many states, including California, Colorado, New York, and North Dakota, prohibit adverse action against an employee based on political expression or lawful, off-duty activity. Employers doing business in these states should not discharge an employee for the employee’s speech or conduct outside of the workplace.

Election Laws

Employers can participate in political speech in several ways: allowing free use of facilities for campaigns, sponsoring a candidate, allowing employees to use company time to contribute to a campaign and openly endorsing a candidate. Based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision, a corporation may distribute publications to the general public and spend money in elections independent of a candidate or party.

However, an employer’s right to campaign is limited based on the status of the employees to whom the campaigning is directed. When communicating with executives, stockholders or administrative personnel, a corporation may address any subject, including advocacy and solicitations for candidates and parties. But corporations are prohibited from communicating with employees, salaried foremen and others who supervise hourly employees.

The Bottom Line

While various laws limit employers’ ability to restrict political speech at work, companies also may impose certain restrictions on employees. For example, an employer may limit employee solicitations to non-working time and distributions to non-working areas, as well as ban non-employees from engaging in such activities on a job site. An employer also may impose limits on employee use of corporate computer and email systems or restrict access to certain internet sites through employer-owned electronic systems.

The bottom line is that both employees and employers have rights in this area; check with your legal counsel before adopting overly broad restrictions on employee political activities or taking adverse action against an employee for such activities.

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Can’t afford a life coach? 3 simple techniques you can use to coach yourself

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In this time of great unrest and uncertainty, it can be a lifesaver to hire a life coach who can offer support and guidance, and maybe even an idea or a strategy or two. But not everyone can afford one.

Not to worry. You can coach yourself.

Sure, it’s not going to be the same as being accountable to someone else or receiving outside support or encouragement. But, using the three techniques below, it will be pretty close. And it will be exponentially better to coach yourself than do nothing at all. In fact, with a little self-motivation, there is an excellent chance you will experience a breakthrough, with lots of interesting insights and new ideas thrown in the mix.

Self-coaching is perfect when you need to solve a problem, accomplish a goal, make a decision, gain some clarity, etc. But before you begin, there are a few steps to help you get the most out of this. First, set aside a minimum of one to two hours per week (more if you can). The more you invest, the more you’ll get out of it.

Second, set an intention clearly stating what you’d like to get out of your self-coaching sessions. Third, set an end date when you’d like to accomplish your intention. Finally, celebrate your success. Repeat this sequence using the following self-coaching techniques as needed.

1. Q&A Writing

This is a fabulous technique to help you become more self-aware, but unlike regular journal writing, this isn’t about pouring your thoughts and feelings onto the page. Q&A writing helps you to access your own inner wisdom.

At the top of a blank piece of lined paper, write down a question that you’d like answered. On the next line begin writing the answer without any censorship or filtering. (Tip: To make it simple to read, you may use two different colors of ink. If typing on the computer, you may use bolding or italics or different colors.)

This technique isn’t about struggling and straining to think about or figure out the answer. Rather, it’s an intuitive process in which you just allow the answer to come. You’re not just asking your intellect for the answer, you’re asking all aspects of you.

It is free-flow, stream-of-consciousness writing that is done in a relaxed and trusting manner, without trying to control it or edit what comes onto the page. It is more of a writing meditation. The results can be quite profound. It’s like talking with a wise teacher.

2. Appointments with Yourself

Most of us are great about writing down our appointments with others, but very few of us write down or even make appointments with ourselves. This technique may appear overly obvious and simple; however, it can be life-changing, especially when you want to master a skill, accomplish a big goal or make a major change in your life.

For this technique to work well, it’s ideal to either work with an online calendar such as Google calendar or a physical planner. Sunday evening is an ideal time to work on your schedule for the coming week.

As you look at each of the days of your week, see if there are spots where you can add some appointments with yourself to work on a project, learn a new skill, exercise, do something that brings you joy, etc. When you add yourself to the equation of your own life, you will feel much more empowered and have a healthier relationship with time.

3. Baby Steps Become Leaps

You may have heard of breaking down big projects into small chunks or doing things in increments. This technique is slightly different in that it offers you a sense of accomplishment and forward movement in even the smallest step. It involves baby steps, which, when added up, become big leaps.

The process happens by asking one daily question: What is one small step I can take today that will help me more forward with __________ (you fill in the blank…my relationship, my creative project, my business, living my dreams)? The answer might be to do some research, send an email, make a phone call, make an appointment with myself and so on. Over time, you will see the momentum take hold and you will notice great progress forward.

None of these techniques take much time, but a willingness and commitment to doing them will offer you much of the same benefits you would receive from working with a life coach. Plus, you will cultivate a much better relationship with yourself in the process.

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COVID-19 migration study shows where people are flocking to, fleeing from

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The pandemic has caused many people to shelter in place. However, people are also looking for new places in which to hunker down. And a new COVID-19 migration report by HireAHelper sheds light on not only where people are moving from and to, but also why.

You might be thinking that shelter-in-place orders would prevent people from moving at all. “The overall volume of moving service demand was temporarily lower than year-over-year trends for the beginning of the pandemic, which means consumers likely practiced some form of precaution due to COVID-19 — either staying in place or moving without movers,” says Mike Glanz, CEO of HireAHelper. “However, many states included ‘moving services’ under the classification of ‘essential services,’ which increased the likelihood of moving during the pandemic.”

Where People are Moving

The report is based on moves that took place between January 2020 and June 2020. Among cities, San Francisco and New York had 80% more people moving out than moving in. The other cities with the most moves were Arlington, Virginia; Los Angeles; and Alexandria, Virginia.

On the other hand, 68% more people moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, than left the city, making it the U.S. city with the biggest gains. Durham, North Carolina, was a distant second, with 17% more people moving in than out, followed by Columbus, Ohio; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Chandler, Arizona.

Among states, 64% more people left than stayed in New York, and a similar number — 63% — left California. Illinois, the District of Columbia, and Minnesota round out the top states that people left.

A whopping 194% more people moved into the state of Idaho than moved out. New Mexico (44%), which came in second place, also saw a significant increase in people moving into the state. Delaware, South Carolina, and Maine are the other three states that saw the biggest net gains.

Why People are Moving

According to Glanz, there are numerous reasons why people moved from certain places to others. “The broad appeal or reasoning behind going from one place to another depends on many variables, such as the difference between a state’s economies, job opportunities, population, schools, weather, and so much more.”

However, he says that certain themes emerged in the data. “Between January and June 2020, a sample that includes the pre- and post-COVID-19 pandemic declaration by the government reveals that only 15% of respondents who moved said they did so for COVID-19-related reasons.”

In other words, Glanz says there was a lot of “business-as-usual” moving — for jobs, family, and other reasons. People also moved for housing reasons, but they were more likely to move to another city in the same state.

COVID-19-Related Moves

Among the 15% of respondents who said they did move because of the pandemic, 37% said they couldn’t afford their housing as a result of a lost job or source of income. Another 33% moved so they could shelter-in-place with family members or friends — and Glanz says that could also be an economic reason.

“These findings reinforce that both housing — the market and renting costs — and job opportunities remain crucial to the way our country operates,” he says. “The move of people out of big cities like New York City, Miami, Chicago, and LA helps support the idea that people simply couldn’t afford their housing and opted for something more affordable like moving in with family or to a cheaper place.” And these cities may have also lost their appeal — at least temporarily. “Cities known for their restaurants and nightlife ceased to be as vibrant and exciting as they were pre-pandemic.”

Whenever you get to single-percentage survey results, the responses are always interesting. And this survey was no exception: 6% of respondents moved to a destination that had fewer COVID-19 restrictions, 6% took advantage of the COVID-19 housing market to either buy or sell a home, and 5% moved so they would be able to work from home.

Glanz says he was actually surprised that only 6% of surveyed customers were moving to go to a place with fewer restrictions. “Considering the news stories on New Yorkers flocking to Florida due to the pandemic, I thought we’d for sure see a higher number for that category.”

He also believes the increase of remote work also plays a factor in all of this. “As the workforce continues to grow in mobility, I believe we’ll see an increase in new migration trends in this country, particularly among the millennial and Gen-Z workforce.”

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How to use a video as a prelude to a board meeting

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“We are volunteers, we have real jobs. How do we know where to focus our energy and what to expect at board meetings?” is a question from busy directors.

Board meetings are infrequent. When the meetings do occur, it is an occasion that benefits from preparation.

To build excitement and understanding for a meeting, use a video prelude and a consent agenda. A prelude is an action to introduce something important.

Consent Agenda

Volunteer leaders are expected to arrive ready to conduct business. A consent agenda can save board time by not having to read or hear the reports throughout the meeting’s agenda.

Listening to reports is not the best use of volunteers’ time and talents. The average number of reports on a board agenda is 17.

Use a consent agenda to save time and to focus on important issues. Circulate support materials and reports in advance to give leaders a chance to read them on their own time.

Problems can occur with the consent process. Possibly the reports were not prepared in time to circulate before the meeting.

Board members did not read the reports. Or, directors approve the consent agenda and then rehash the reports later in the meeting. The concept requires discipline.

Prelude to the Board Meeting

You hope board members will be enthusiastic about the approaching board meeting. How can you help them prepare? It is their fiduciary duty.

Circulate a brief video about director expectations at the upcoming meeting. Produced by the chief elected officer or executive director, it is shared with directors a few days before the meeting.

The prelude video will elevate awareness of the business and intended results of the next board meeting.

The script may follow this outline:

  • Reminder: We are excited about the scheduled meeting and want to remind you of the location, access, and logistics.
  • Reading: You will recall receiving reports with the meeting announcement and agenda. The reports should be read in advance so we can discuss with knowledge and be ready to adopt a motion to accept the reports. Of course, anything that needs to be removed from consent to regular agenda can be noted at the board meeting.
  • Focus: We are especially excited about some projects we will discuss. Be sure to read the briefings the committee and staff have prepared. If you have questions, please direct them to the executive director or designated person.
  • Gratitude: We thank you for serving as a volunteer leader and want to make the best use of your valuable time.
  • Questions: If you did not receive the agenda or reports, please let me know.

The video highlights the purpose and value of the meeting. It builds enthusiasm among the team. It facilitates better outcomes.

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