Why Company Culture Especially Matters During the Holidays

By Vanessa Merit Nornberg

I don’t throw an opulent holiday party, but I go out of my way to let my employees know how much I appreciate their work.

With Thanksgiving in full swing, and the rest of the winter holidays around the corner, most business owners, especially those whose businesses are built on consumer products, are focused on one thing: meeting customers’ needs.

At Metal Mafia, I not only work hard in the ramp up to the holidays to help my customers be seasonally successful in every way possible, but also place emphasis on one of the most important aspects of corporate culture: how I treat the holidays. (It’s different than other companies.)

Metal Mafia is still a small company with limited resources so I don’t throw opulent holiday parties. Instead, one day in mid-December, I set up one long banquet table using worktables, cover them with bright table cloths, and order take out from the restaurant everyone loves to get lunch at. Then the whole team takes an hour during which we stop working and eat together. I find my staff members appreciate that I hold the holiday lunch during office hours because it shows I respect their personal time and place their needs at the center of the business mission.

Most employees bring in treats from their own family meals, and if they choose to do so, the company reimburses expenses for any supplies they needed. I also use the points the company accumulates during the year on shipping and credit card purchases to give a sizeable gift card to each team member to help make the holiday season merrier.

That’s just the beginning. Although Metal Mafia is a wholesaler of body and costume jewelry, by way of Metal Mafia’s customers, the company is also in the retail industry. Most other retail companies are not only open, but also working longer-than-normal hours during the holiday season, with many even requiring staff to work on Thanksgiving and Christimas itself. Despite the industry norm, I have always closed the company from Christmas Eve until the day after New Year’s to guarantee that every member of our staff can spend time with his family, enjoy the holidays, or just recharge batteries. The week off is a paid vacation that all our employees receive in addition to their standard two weeks off.

I begin communicating to customers about the holiday closing as early as September–not just so they can plan ahead and get what they need before we close, but also so they understand how much I value my incredible employees and the contributions they make throughout the year. I believe my staff is Metal Mafia’s greatest asset, and as a result, should be valued in every way possible.

Every so often, a customer will remark that it would be better if Metal Mafia were open during the holidays, or suggests we could rotate the staff to remain available during this busy time, but when I explain that I consider this time to be the most precious gift I can give my employees in return for all the great things they do for customers throughout the year, that person always seems to understand. The fact that I am so openly committed to my staff impresses clients and strengthens their conviction that they are buying from a great company. Not just a company interested in the bottom line, but one that cares about doing what is right.

In 2004, Vanessa opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg

Share your holiday festivities in the comments.  What does your community association do?

SEO FREE webinar

Jason McDonald, Director of JM Internet Group is hosting a FREE webinar tomorrow about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

What are your SEO habits? If you were to diagnose your website would it be sick, healthy, on the road to health, or on the road to ruin?

“SEO, heal thyself,” Aristotle might have said. He might have continued, “SEO, diagnose yourself.” Because diagnosis is a critical part of SEO success.  But what is your Google rank?

How does Google perceive your website? Are you getting links and social mentions? Is your SEO moving in the right, or wrong, direction over time?

Please join Jason at his next FREE Lunch / Coffee webinar on SEO, Wednesday November 14th at 12 pm Pacific / 3 pm Eastern.

You bring the lunch (West Coast) or coffee (East Coast), he’ll be the free edutainment identifying and explaining seven important diagnostics for you and your website.

Jason’s motto is death to boring PowerPoint.  It will be fun, and informative… “I guarantee it or your money back” he says (OK, it’s free, but still it will be fun AND informative).

Register now at http://jm-seonews.org/10/1107.html

Got friends? Colleagues? Business associates? Feel free to forward this invite to them, as our lunch / coffee webinars are the most fun on the Internet this side of where Google meets Facebook, with a left turn to Twitter and LinkedIn (that would be his beloved home, the San Francisco Bay Area).

You can reach Jason McDonald at j.mcdonald@jm-seonews.org or check out his website at http://jm-seo.org/.


The best advice I ever got

What happens when you ask 21 luminaries from all walks – finance, law, tech, the military, and beyond – for the one piece of advice that got them to where they are today?

Mindy Grossman


When I was at Nike, I was bemoaning the fact that somebody on my team wasn’t performing — and I was trying to get him to perform better. Finally, Phil Knight [Nike co-founder and chairman] said to me, “Mindy, what you really have to focus on is not trying to make ordinary people extraordinary. You need to hire extraordinary people.” In today’s world, talent is so critical to the success of what you’re doing — their core competencies and how well they fit into your office culture. The combination can be, well, extraordinary. But only if you bring in the right people.


Doug Parker

CEO of US Airways

In my case it’s not necessarily words of advice, but more advice I received through example. The example is Herb Kelleher [former CEO of Southwest Airlines], who I’ve gotten to know over the last 10 years. Knowing how great he’s done, I’ve tried to hang out and watch and learn through osmosis. He is so good at listening, and has really taught me how important it is to listen to your employees. If you watch Herb in action, it really is phenomenal. He is completely engaged and never looks over your shoulders to see who else is in the room. It’s not out of principle; it’s just who he is.

I try really hard now to have forums that allow employees to talk to me, rather than me being in front of 1,000 people. Four times a month, I put myself in a room with 30 or 40 pilots and flight attendants, and I talk for 10 minutes; they talk for 50. It’s not just listening out of respect — you can’t imagine how much better you can do your job when you operate this way. When you’re leading a big organization like an airline, there’s a whole lot you can miss, so you have to start by listening to people. Then you can decide what the right course is.

I’m nowhere near where Herb is as a listener yet, but just yesterday, we had one of these meetings and someone told me about going to check in and all we had available was first class. She was traveling with her 10-year-old, and he wasn’t allowed in first, so they couldn’t fly. I don’t think that’s right. I didn’t even know we had that policy, so it’s going to change.


David Boies

Superlawyer, founder of Boies Schiller & Flexner

“Try to listen before you speak,” my father told me when I was 13. “Anyone who’s worth talking to is worth listening to.” It was for some time hard advice to take onboard. I could understand listening to a teacher, or anyone with special knowledge, about a subject I was trying to learn. But I often thought I knew more than the person I was speaking with (and occasionally I did).

Over time I came to understand that almost everyone knows something or has some insight or experience I do not — or can say something that, even if wrong, triggers a thought or idea I might not otherwise have.

Even if my only interest in someone was to teach, persuade, or seduce them, listening was still important. People I listen to are more willing to listen to me.

Read more advice from the top on CNN Money.  Share your own words of wisdom in the comments section.

Best Way to Introduce Yourself

This recent article from INC. Magazine is an interesting look into how we introduce ourselves and the effect it has on our life.  Who is the most important audience? Hint: It’s not the people you meet.

Whenever you introduce yourself, the person you meet is not the most important audience.

You are the most important audience.

Here’s why.

I like to ride bicycles. I’m not super fit. And I’m not super fast. But I like riding, and in weak moments occasionally even think of myself as a “cyclist.”

So occasionally I ride in mass participation events like gran fondos. The average participant tends to be a serious cyclist: Many are triathletes, some are amateur racers, and occasionally even a few professionals show up. I live in a valley between two mountain ranges, so our events are not for the faint of fitness.

I was standing in the start area for a gran fondo that involved climbing four mountains when a man rolled over towards me. My guess is he picked me out since I was clearly one of the older riders in the field. (That was a delightful sentence to write.) As he stopped he struggled to unclip from his pedals and almost fell.

“Morning,” he said, the bass in his voice turned up to 10. “I’m Louis Winthorpe III*. I’m the CEO of WeKickSeriousButt Enterprises.”**

“Jeff,” I said. I shook his hand.

“I am really looking forward to this,” he said. “I could use the break to recharge the old batteries. Just in the last few days I’ve had to finalize a huge contract, visit two of our plants, and sign off on plans for a new marketing push.”

How do you respond to that? “Wow, you’ve been busy,” was the best I could manage.

“Oh, not really,” he said, trying and failing to seem humble. “Just same stuff, different day. I just wish I wasn’t so busy. I only have time to do the shorter course today. I would have absolutely killed the long ride. What about you?”

“I’m afraid the long ride is going to kill me,” I said.

“Feel free to latch on to my wheel,” he said, referring to drafting in another rider’s slipstream. “I’ll tow you along for as long as you can hang with me.” Then he slowly and carefully clipped into one pedal and wobbled away.

Cocky? Full of himself? Sure, but only on the surface: His $12,000 bike, pseudo-pro gear, and “I rule the business world” introduction were an unconscious effort to protect his ego. What his introduction really said was, “While I might not turn out to be good at cycling, that’s okay because out in the real world, where it really matters, I am The Man.”

While he introduced himself to me, he was his real audience.

And that’s a shame. For the next six or eight hours he could have just been a cyclist. He could have struggled and suffered and maybe even rekindled the ember of youth inside us that burns a little less brightly with each passing year.

How do you introduce yourself? When you feel insecure, do you prop up your courage with your introduction? Do you include titles or accomplishments or “facts” when you don’t need to?

If so, your introduction is all about you, not your audience.


See less as more.

Brief introductions are always best. Provide the bare minimum the other person needs to know, not in an attempt to maintain distance, but because during a conversation more about you can be revealed in a natural, unforced, and therefore much more memorable way.

Stay in context.

If you meet another parent at a school meeting, for example, just say, “Hi, I’m Mark. My daughter is in third grade.” Keep your introduction in context with the setting. If there is no real context, like at a gran fondo, just say, “Hi, I’m Mark. Good luck.”

Embrace understatement.

Unless you’re in a business setting, your job title is irrelevant. Even if you are in fact the CEO of WeKickSeriousButt Enterprises, just say you work there. To err is human. To err humble is divine.

Focus on the other person.

The other person is the only person that matters. Ask questions. Actually listen to the answers. The best connections never come from speaking; the best connections always come from listening.

That day I rolled into the finishing area well over six hours later. I stopped and slumped over my handlebars beside a small cluster of riders who had finished well before me. They were already changed and working on a post-ride beer.

One of them looked over and said, “How was it?”

“It sucked,” I said.

They all laughed, and he said, “And it was awesome, right?”

I smiled, because it was. He reached over and gave me a fist bump. “I’ll grab you a beer and you can tell us all about it,” he said. I looked forward to the conversation more than the beer. Acceptance and camaraderie are earned by effort, not granted by title.

At that moment I happened to see Louis, sitting alone as he packed up his gear. I felt a twinge of sadness because he never allowed himself to just be a rider. He never gave himself the chance to fit in, enjoy a shared purpose, and to simply be a cyclist among cyclists.

When you introduce yourself, embrace the moment and the setting for what it says about you in that moment, not in comparison to your titles or accomplishments.

Just be whoever you are, skills and struggles and triumphs and failures and all. You are your true audience, even when you introduce yourself.

By Jeff Haden.  Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden

Going ballistic at work

Last week we posted a nonscientific reader poll about going ballistic at work.  Below are the results.

Have you ever gone ballistic during a workplace dispute and completely lost your composure?

  • Never: 35%
  • Once or twice: 60%
  • Several times: 5%
  • Often: 0%
  • All of the time: 0%

According to Mike Figliuolo, managing director of thoughtLEADERS and author of “One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership,losing your cool is OK. Sometimes we all get pushed over the edge and snap. With the stresses we face, it’s no surprise. Sometimes being deliberate about when, where and how you snap can have its benefits. If you’ve been on the wrong side of mistreatment or a power struggle, deliberately losing your cool can help put things back in order. It lets people know where your line is and what happens when they cross it.

Do you agree with his assessment?  Let us know your side of the story in the comments.

Workday Productivity

Earlier this year, OfficeTime announced the top 5 time killers and formally outted Email (47 percent), Procrastination (42 percent), Social Networking (36 percent), Meetings (34 percent) and Surfing the Internet (30 percent) as the top vices stealing hours from our day. This time, OfficeTime checked back in to see exactly how much time we were spending in this five time-suck areas.

Warning, the findings may scare you:

  • 64 percent spend up to 1 hour on social networking sites each day
  • 59 percent spend up to 1 hour each day surfing the Internet
  • 49 percent spend up to 1 hour each day in meetings
  • 40 percent spend an average of 1-3 hours dealing with email
  • 34 percent spend 30 minutes to 1 hour “procrastinating”

Add up the high end of those numbers and it’s pretty easy to understand why some of us leave the office wondering what exactly we accomplished in the first place.

If you feel like you’re not stretching your days as far as you could, below are some quick productivity tips to help you avoid some of the time traps listed above.

1. Create a Plan — Every Sunday sit down and figure out what needs to get done over the next week, and create a map for the next 5-6 days on how/when each task is going to get accomplished. Sure, it’s inevitable that other things will pop up and that you’ll have to shift my plan, but going into the week with a set structure helps me to focus in on the work that’s really important. Otherwise, it’s easy to leave the week the same way you came in – with a pile of work still on the table because you got “side-tracked” in other areas. Know what you need to get done in your day and your week, and hold yourself accountable to that.

2. Schedule Email — It’s not surprising that email is time and time again listed as the biggest culprit to productivity. In the survey noted above, 40 percent of respondents said they spend between 1-3 hours a day responding to email, and I bet you’ve had days where you’ve spent far more than that. Try to schedule set times where you respond to email so that you’re not spending your whole day bobbing in and out. Maybe you handle email for an hour in the morning and then check in for 20 minutes before lunch and before you head out for the evening. Choose whatever works for you, but get to the point where you’re managing your email, not the other way around. And, if possible, avoid answering email as soon as you get into the office. You’ll find that being able to knock a few things off your plate first will help set momentum for the rest of the day.

3. Find Accountability Tools — When you work for yourself, you don’t have anyone else there to crack the whip and keep you on task. Maybe you’re disciplined and don’t need it or maybe yu rely on tools to keep you as accountable and productive as possible.

Online time tracking tools like Harvest, Toggl, and OfficeTime (creators of the survey) can be incredibly useful for an individual or a team to help accurately track time and analyze how its spent. If you charge by the hour, these tools can also help keep track of client budgets and show them how you’re spending their dollars.

If you’re not a fan of line tool trackers, than maybe a trusty old egg timer is your preferred way of staying on track. Whatever tool you use doesn’t have to be flashy, just something that you’ll be accountable to.

4. Identity & Limit Distractions — Some distractions we’re well aware of – it’s the blinking light on our smart phone, it’s Twitter, or it’s our favorite blog that has nothing to do with work. Having been identified, it’s easy enough to curb these when we want to. Kill your Internet if you don’t need it at the moment, throw your phone in a drawer where you can’t see it, etc.

But there are other distractions that pop into our day that we may not realize.

Like your office messenger system (Skype, perhaps) that’s filled with more conversations about lunch options than work, or that person who likes to call meetings when an email would have been more efficient. One of the perks of using an online time tracking tool is it can help you spot time sucks you may have not have noticed. If you haven’t used one before, maybe try it for a few weeks simply to help you analyze how you spend your day. Maybe you’ll find you’re spending a third of your day in meetings or you have a friend who texts you every hour. Once you know, cut out the noise. You’d be surprise how easy fixes can add hours back into your day.

What are some of your biggest culprits to workplace productivity? Do they fall on the list or do you have other secret vices?

Doing Good in the Community

Ohio – The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority recently awarded a $31,700 neighborhood economic development grant to the Frederick Douglass Community Association. The funds will help the association with the development of and urban garden project.  The project will include a roof-top solar array system and an urban garden.  Board President Karl Parker stated the motive for the project was to “bridge the green divide that exists.”  Learn more about this West Toledo project here.

North Carolina – The Georgetown Renaissance Community Association, the National Association of Black Veterans (NABVETS), the Georgetown community, and other local organizations came together to celebrate Juneteenth by honoring the veterans and civilians buried in the Old Georgetown Community Cemetery.  Through research by the Georgetown Renaissance Community Association, the graveyard can be classified as a late 19th century African-American cemetery. The historical burial ground was used until 1963 when the Georgetown community abandoned it.  According to event organizer and Georgetown Renaissance Community Association President Cynthia Watson, they have plans to have the cemetery recognized on the National Historical Listing on the National Historical Site.  Read the full story about this Jacksonville community here.

Across the pond – Members of Hopton In Bloom and Upper Hopton Community Association have started making plans for a new orchard to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee.  The groups want to plant the orchard over an acre of land which will feature a walkway down to a stream and a pond, and a wetland meadow with benches for local people to use.  Roger Leedham from Hopton In Bloom feels a community orchard would help to enhance the peaceful, rural character of the area which residents enjoy.  The community association plans to have local schoolchildren involved in the planting of around 50 fruit trees and hazelnut hedges.  Read more about the Mirfield, UK orchard plan here.

What has your community done lately?  Share a story with us in the comments section.

Survey Reveals Most Annoying Office Jargon

A survey of 1,836 people surveyed by the British research firm, Opinium, revealed the most hated office buzz phrases. If you use any of the following jargon, it may be time to remove it from your vocabulary:

  1. Thinking outside the box (Found annoying by 21 percent)
  2. Let’s touch base (20 percent)
  3. Blue sky thinking (19 percent)
  4. Blamestorming (16 percent) [Sitting down and working out whose fault something is]
  5. Drill down to a more granular level (15 percent) [Look into something in more detail]
  6. Let’s not throw pies in the dark (15 percent) [We need a plan rather than a haphazard approach]
  7. I’ve got that on my radar (13 percent)
  8. Push the envelope (12 percent)
  9. Bring your A-game (11 percent) [Be ready to do something to best of ability]
  10. Get all your ducks in a row (11 percent)