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Do you have enough? I mean, really enough of what you need to survive and thrive?

We go through our day telling ourselves that we don’t have enough. We wake up in the morning thinking we didn’t get enough sleep. We don’t have enough time to get ready for work. We don’t have enough food in the house in case company stops by. We don’t have enough friends or daylight or hair or money.

The truth is, we’ve programmed ourselves to think in terms of never having enough and that, if we had more, only then would we be truly happy.

The Global Sufficiency Network is a movement that calls us to break free from living in a context of “scarcity” – of never feeling like we have enough. By living in scarcity, we over consume, chase money and material things and still never feel like we have enough. It erodes our relationships, our job satisfaction and our sense of self-worth.

According to Lynne Twist, special advisor to the Global Sufficiency Network, “If you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need it frees up oceans of energy to pay attention to and make a difference with what you already have. When you make a difference with what you have, it expands.”

The mission of the Network, therefore, goes beyond self-actualization. Broadly, the practice of sufficiency would have a positive impact on our environment, spirituality and peace and justice issues by allowing us to make better use of our resources through a realignment of our priorities.

Shakti Gawain, in her classic book “Creative Visualization,” explains our misplaced priorities in this way:

“Often people attempt to live their lives backward: They try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want. “

As you prepare for the holidays, consider ways to avoid the seduction of “abundance” and instead focus on sufficiency. Concentrate less on having to do it all and buy it all and bake it all and wrap it all and replace it by being there for others – and for yourself. It just might be the most satisfying holiday you’ve ever had.

- LuAnne Speeter

Have you had the privilege of working with a business that provides exceptional service in an ethical and socially responsible manner? Well, not only can you patronize the company – and provide valuable referrals – you can also go to the next level by nominating it for an award.

A number of programs recognize businesses that go the extra mile through corporate volunteerism and charitable contributions, as well as demonstrate a high level of ethics, community leadership and professional integrity. While recognition programs are not usually a motivation to act in an ethical manner, they can reward businesses by helping them retain customers, attract new clients and recruit quality employees. Even more important, recognition programs remind businesses that they can make a real difference in our communities.

The following are a few recognition programs that express appreciation for the positive impact of Minnesota’s businesses:

The Jefferson Awards were founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Sam Beard as a national recognition program for individual and corporate volunteerism.  Beginning in 2008, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal teamed up with the Wilmington, Del.-based program to present awards to Twin Cities businesses for their outstanding public and community service. This year, 12 companies received the award – one per month – and will be honored at a reception at the Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

The Minnesota Keystone Program recognizes and honors companies that donate at least 2% of their pre-tax earnings to the community.  The program was begun over 30 years ago and is offered through the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. It also serves as the basis for Minnesota Business Gives, a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Foundation initiative. Businesses that enroll in the Keystone Program can choose to participate without public recognition. In-kind donations can be considered in the calculations, and closely held businesses can include personal as well as business donations. See worksheet for more information about calculations.

Now going into its 11th year, the Better Business Bureau Integrity Awards are presented to companies in Minnesota and North Dakota that have demonstrated a commitment to conducting daily business operations in an ethical manner. The BBB invites nominations by individuals who feel a company has shown an exceptional degree of ethics. Nominees are then categorized according to company size, based on number of employees. A panel of independent volunteer business and community leaders reviews the entries and decides on the winners.

Minnesota Business Ethics Award was established in 1999 by the Twin Cities Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals and the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas. The MBEA Program seeks to raise the standards for business ethics in Minnesota and to recognize businesses that reflect the highest standards of ethical performance.  Like the BBB’s Integrity Awards Program, MBEA recipients are selected based on company size. A business may be nominated for an award by a customer, client, employee, vendor or a private citizen who is impressed with a company’s ethical business conduct. Local finalists may also move on to compete at the national level.

- LuAnne Speeter

I was asked to bid on a marketing project yesterday. While preparing the bid, I found that I needed to clarify my stance on certain business practices. Specifically, I stated to my prospect that a form of partnership he was seeking was not permissible within my ethics and posed a conflict of interests.

In other words, I knew that type of partnership would make feel disingenuous and possibly cause me to lose sleep down the road.

In our day-to-day business dealings, most ethics-based decisions are cut-and-dried. Companies often have codes that specify what’s acceptable and what isn’t. But in the sales field, when deals are often made on-the-fly, requiring flexibility and innovation, we’re tempted to push the ethical boundaries. So it’s especially important to not only know your company’s code of ethics (the “letter of the law”), but also apply moral standards (the “spirit of the law”) to situations that aren’t so black-and-white.

Sometimes being ethical means you sacrifice a sale. But clarifying your position upfront helps you avoid an uncomfortable situation or damaging legal ramifications.

Temptations and traps to avoid

  • Misrepresenting your product or service
  • Price fixing
  • Bait-and-switch practices
  • Surprise charges and add-ons after the sale
  • Misuse of proprietary data and customer lists
  • Padding an expense account
  • Badmouthing a competitor
  • Kickbacks to the buyer
  • Unauthorized signing of agreements

Whether or not your company has a defined code of ethics, defining and following certain guidelines are not only common sense, but good business.

Ethically responsible questions to keep in mind

  1. Do I know these claims to be true or am I just saying them because it guarantees a sale?
  2. Am I doing my best to educate the customer about the product before the sale?
  3. Do I understand the terms of the sales policies and what’s legally binding?
  4. Can this data be divulged or is meant to be proprietary?
  5. When quoting statistics, do I know the primary source and if it’s reliable?
  6. Do I know federal and state laws that apply to the company’s products and warranties?
  7. Am I making clear what triggers any claims to a money-back guarantee?
  8. Do I always think twice before saying anything negative about a competitor, another customer or a fellow employee?
  9. Do I ask permission before using a testimonial from a satisfied customer?
  10. Am I focusing on solving my client’s problem or am I just intent on making the sale?

Please comment and tell others what you’d add as #11.

- LuAnne Speeter, President, Minnesota Cause Connection Inc.

Related post: How ethical are you really? Take this quiz

If your company’s social responsibility program includes volunteerism, it can have tremendous impact not only on the community, but also on your company and employees.

How the community benefits

  • Increased access to resources
  • Improved health and welfare
  • Enhanced economic development
  • Community needs are addressed

How your company benefits

  • Enhanced reputation
  • Increased product/service awareness
  • Raised productivity
  • Improved staff satisfaction and retention

How your employees benefit

  • Increased community awareness/involvement
  • Heightened employee satisfaction
  • Acceleration of professional development
  • Opportunities for leadership
  • Improved attitude and outlook 
Source: Corporate Volunteerism Council – Twin Cities

But what motivates employees to offer their time and skills to a charitable cause? The answer may surprise you.

In past years, personal recognition was the primary motivation for corporate volunteering, according to LBG Associates, the firm that launched the study involving more than 8,000 employees in 36 companies. However, the latest study, conducted from late 2008 to early 2009, showed the following:

When it comes to recognition, employees rank “a donation made to my charity when I volunteer” highest among all other forms of recognition.

When asked to rank the reasons they volunteer, employees listed the following on a 1-5 scale, with 5 as “very important”:

  • The cause is important to me personally (4.35)
  • Community organizations are experiencing financial hardship (3.61)
  • My volunteering results in a donation for the organization from my company (3.53)
  • The cause is important to my company (3.35)
  • The charity came to the company to talk about what they do for the community (3.08)

When you’re selecting a charitable organization and you want maximum participation from your employees:

  1. Start by looking at several options that are relevant to the majority of your employees’ interests and skill sets.
  2. Choose venues that are local and easily accessible.
  3. Ask employees to vote among the charities and go with the most popular choice(s).

- LuAnne Speeter

American Girl, the Mattel-owned manufacturer of pricey dolls with a story, is soon to discontinue a limited edition doll named Gwen. Gwen is just one of many American Girl dolls that represent a lifestyle from Americana – such as Samantha from the Victorian era; Addy, who with her mother escaped from slavery during the Civil War; and Molly, whose family planted a victory garden while awaiting her father’s return from World War II.

And each doll comes with a book, telling of courage and other character traits discovered along the road to maturity. I know many of these stories well, having read them aloud years ago to both of my daughters. The dolls, which now sell for $95 each, their wardrobes and furniture sets were generally too pricey for me but became a great gift-giving solution for my girls’ grandmothers and aunts.  

But back to Gwen. Gwen’s story is unique because she’s homeless. She is introduced as a friend of another doll character, Chrissa, who comes to Gwen’s defense after she’s bullied in school.

Since Gwen’s arrival earlier this year, there has been a social media fury over the incongruity that, while representing the homeless faction, she sells for just under a hundred bucks. Columnists and bloggers reason that the money would be better spent donated to a homeless shelter. Unlike the other dolls, Gwen has no extensive wardrobe (of course), few accessories and no furniture set. One mom who purchased Gwen posted a comment on the American Girl site bemoaning the lack of clothing options. Seeing it from another angle, a Huffington Post reader commented, “Realistic. She comes with a cardboard box to sleep in.”

Others, however, think the Gwen doll presents an opportunity for parents and children to discuss the realities of homelessness, bullying and discrimination attached to social status. And, while they may have missed the boat on “using” the story to advocate directly for donations to homeless shelters, American Girl does have an extensive corporate philanthropic commitment.

So you be the judge. Is Gwen in bad taste? Or is the doll just that – a doll with a valuable story? I welcome your comments!

- LuAnne Speeter

Tonight I’m having dinner with my dad at his favorite restaurant. It’s a cozy neighborhood bistro that caters to his unique tastes. I already know what he’ll order: liver and onions (to fortify his iron-poor blood), paired with a scotch and soda.

Dad’s adamant about continuing to live in his home amid the cherished memories of my mother. My siblings and I, along with his home care providers, ensure he has the care he needs to maintain his independence.  For other older adults, though, a senior housing facility may be a better option.

Empowering individualism and providing innovative senior housing choices are just a couple of the many quality of life issues we face with our burgeoning older population. Today, one in eight Americans is over age 65; by 2020 the ratio will be one in six.  Our society will be challenged to accommodate their needs without dehumanizing them, combat the growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and eradicate an insidious ageism that denies seniors respect and leaves them susceptible to social, physical, emotional and financial abuse.

Corporate America can play a critical role in promoting initiatives that advance senior issues. Why should this be important to you? 

  • As individuals retire from our companies, they take with them a significant share of America’s knowledge and experience. Yet with today’s greater longevity, many are embarking on “encore careers” after retirement. By retraining older employees and/or hiring senior consultants, you’ll capitalize on the value that this cohort offers.
  • More employees are acting as caregivers for aging relatives and need to find ways to balance this role with their work lives.
  • Recent studies by the Taproot Foundation and other organizations show that retired Baby Boomers seek more structured volunteer opportunities that leverage their skills in order to improve their communities, ultimately benefiting local businesses.

Your company can help advance the well-being of seniors by participating in the following efforts:

  1. Promote eldercare and senior housing initiatives. Consider partnering with a local organization to provide visitation and build one-on-one relationships with seniors. Include the organization’s logo in your marketing with a link to donate money or learn more about volunteer opportunities.
  2. Invest in aging research. We need to understand what our increasing longevity will require from society medically, economically and psychologically. Your organization may have valuable technical expertise to contribute or could sponsor a study to advance these efforts.
  3. Combat dementia and frailty. Educate employees about how to advocate on the state and federal levels to ensure a better quality of life for aging adults.
  4. Encourage older employees and retirees to stay involved in their community and the workplace. The report Reinventing Aging: Baby Boomers and Civic Engagement, a product of the Harvard School of Public Health–MetLife Foundation Initiative, discusses insights of key thinkers on ways to channel elderly skills to enhance local communities.
  5. Support caregivers. Build flexibility into employee schedules, helping them accommodate the needs of loved ones who require home care.
  6. Fight ageism. Do your part to improve the treatment of older adults throughout the world. Include positive images of seniors within your marketing and ensure policies and ethical standards are in place to protect senior coworkers from disrespect, harassment or being passed over for advancement.
  7. Throw out the stereotypes and redefine aging. Record segments of PBS’ Life (Part 2) and give employees access to viewing and enjoying them together over the lunch hour. Now in its second season, the series is a fast-paced and humorous look at being a Boomer, and how this generation is redefining aging. Segments include panels of experts and guest appearances by celebrities such as Joy Behar, David Hyde Pierce and Martha Stewart. Airing begins Sept. 16, 2009; topics include Boomer Dating, Plastic Surgery, Caregiving, Fighting Ageism and more.

Take steps now to remove the taboos and unleash the opportunities that the later years offer your company, your community, your family – and ultimately, yourself.

“We grow neither better or worse as we get old, but more like ourselves.”  (May Lamberton Becker)

- LuAnne Speeter

Are you keeping your corporate social responsibility a secret? If so, you’re missing out on achieving greater success for your programs – and for your business goals overall.

Clear communication to stakeholders is essential throughout the planning, execution and evaluation process of your CSR program. It helps ensure that you garner unified support upfront and address concerns as they arise. And, according to a study by the Reputation Institute, good communications boosts public perception of a company’s “citizenship” and improves its reputation – which in turn increases market value.

What should be communicated? An Accenture Institute for High Performance study of more than 800 global companies reveals that the highest-performing companies include the following efforts (among others) in their CSR programs:

  • Releases announcing a central theme that tie social programs to the core business
  • Reports on the economic impact of their CSR program
  • Use of an external review committee for credibility and transparency

Determine at the beginning of your program to whom you want to communicate, at what stages in the process and through which vehicles or media. Consider these methods to raise visibility for your efforts:

Corporate responsibility report: A dedicated document allows you to give an overview of your program with an introduction letter by the CEO. The report can include your company’s social mission, values and vision; corporate code of ethics; a complete description of social and environmental programs; consumer and community impact; employee participation and benchmarks; metrics and benchmarks, and more.

Web site: Many companies include a CSR link, such as “community” or “responsibility,” as a drop-down under the Company or About Us navigational tab. Content could include a message from the CEO, a PDF of the CSR report and photos of employees volunteering in community programs. Xcel Energy’s site features a video that addresses various aspects of its CSR program.

Annual report: If you don’t have a budget to publish a separate corporate responsibility report, dedicate a section within your annual report to address CSR efforts. Weave the social theme throughout the report in a way that’s consistent with your core services and relevant to your audience.

Quarterly e-mail updates: Send e-mails to your house list apprising stakeholders on the progress you’re making toward your CSR goals.

Social media: Create a CSR corner on your company blog for regular updates. Specific events may call for a dedicated Facebook page or Twitter announcements.

Press releases and more: Promote specific efforts through press releases, local newscasts and radio public interest stories.

Above all else, be honest about your CSR reporting and never “causewash” – that is, don’t make your company appear more responsible than it actually is. Your company’s brand reputation, once it’s earned, must be communicated before you can see real return on your investment.

- LuAnne Speeter

Most of us assume that our personal code of ethics was formed during our childhood and locked in for life. Our upbringing – home life and parental rules, relationships with teachers and other authority figures, religious beliefs and practices – formed a protective armor of character that kept us in line. It helped us stay out of trouble after school (or to feel really bad if we got caught), kept us from swiping stuff from the convenience store and prompted us to keep a sworn secret.

Then, as we made our way into the world, we brought along that armor of character. There would be ethical dilemmas at work as we’d strive to get noticed by the boss or devise ways to beat out the competition. Tax season would roll around and, well, money’s really tight this year so who would notice a slight exaggeration of deductible expenses? And little white lies come in handy when we’re trying to keep peace at home. Still, the character’s intact. A few dings in the armor, but looking good overall.

But are we really as ethical as we think we are? Here’s an eye opener: a personal integrity survey.  This quick 10-minute quiz reveals that even the most ethical of us have a few blind spots and squishy areas. While we may rate ourselves high when we consider the broad definitions of ethical character and integrity, those “rare instances” of unprincipled behavior are actually more common than we care to admit.

The survey is courtesy of the Josephson Institute, an organization focused on increasing ethical behavior in all aspects of society.

Take the personal integrity survey now – it might be the first step to fixing those character flaws we thought we could get away with.

- LuAnne Speeter

The other day, an astute friend of mine who offers consulting services to businesses expressed this thought:

“Everybody uses the word ‘excellence’ as a business goal. I like to use ‘greatness.’”

While I don’t necessarily think one precludes the other, I agree that a business that strives toward greatness perhaps has a more expanded, holistic vision than what excellence would imply. To me, business excellence reflects the strategies and tactics that help the company achieve – and even exceed – its goals for revenue, growth, return on investment – even customer and employee satisfaction and other benchmarks and measurements.

But for a business and its leaders to achieve greatness means they’ve stepped beyond the goals of the single corporate entity and into the business community, beyond a particular industry and into a broader business model, beyond the current fiscal year and into the future. Greatness carries a sense of legacy – that what was achieved, and those who achieved it, can be held up as an example for other businesses and will live on for others to emulate.

Greatness incorporates values that can be applied even beyond business – into our personal ethics, our relationships, our social responsibilities. Greatness doesn’t go out of style; it reveals a truth that transcends time, race and religious or political affiliation.

Most of all, greatness inspires others to live with integrity – that our day to day decisions, expressions and activities are a manifestation of a deep commitment to a greater good.

So what will it take to bring you and your business beyond excellence and into the realm of greatness?

- LuAnne Speeter

Have you ever been tempted to use a questionable marketing tactic?

Sometimes what appears at first glance to be a brilliant campaign becomes a disastrous public embarrassment or – worse yet – a lawsuit.

Take, for example, the custom media company that offered a free car to the client who gave them the best endorsement. Initially, I’m sure it seemed like a win-win. The company would receive great testimonials and clients would fall all over themselves to win a new set of wheels. All good, until somebody realized this was out-and-out bribery.

A few years back, stealth marketing gained momentum with some companies who wanted to capitalize on the viral power of word of mouth and social networks.  With stealth marketing, people are paid to endorse a product in public without disclosing that they’re being paid to do so. The practice has been denounced by both the Federal Trade Commission and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). So now, if a company pays you to push its product, you’re obligated to disclose your relationship with the company.

Then there’s sugging – selling under the guise of research – and even frugging – fundraising that’s presented as research.

There are plenty of laws guarding against overtly unethical practices, requiring for example that rate disclosures on credit card literature must be printed in at least 18-point type. But then there are those methods that are legal, yet lack transparency and integrity. Social media has brought us face to face with the social conscience, causing marketers to toe the line for fear they may get caught at misleading the public – Albert the CyberChimp is a great example – and receive negative online publicity.

So what criteria do you use? A good place to start is the American Marketing Association’s Statement of Ethics. In particular, it defines in practical terms six values to uphold in a marketing context: honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency and citizenship. Instead of a list of legal constraints, the Statement challenges marketers to consider the consumer relationship and to act with integrity at all times.

Better still, it sets the stage for ethical marketing that’s not based on whether we meet compliance and avoid impropriety. We should instead be driven by a more positive call to improve the world we live in.

 And that’s good. Because if a marketer has to consider, “Gee, I wonder if I can get by with this?” the campaign has morally failed.

 - LuAnne Speeter

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