Profile photo of J. Shane Mercer

About J. Shane Mercer

I am the digital marketing specialist at The Village Family Service Center. Keep up with Village news and events at and on Twitter at @VillageFamily

Grit: 5 Times I’ve Failed Miserably and Why I’m Still Okay

By Kathryn Berg
The Village Business Institute

Research from Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at University of Pennsylvania, shows if there is one predictor of success, it’s something called grit. PrintBy her definition, grit is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” One way to develop grit is to fail, and to learn and grow from those failures. Thinking about how grit applies to my life, I realized I’ve failed a lot. Below are the failures that stuck with me and made me a little grittier.

In fourth grade, I got an “F” on a test about telling time on an analog clock.
This particular failure is a classic millennial problem, I know, but my first bad grade had a huge impact on me. Even though I wasn’t great at telling time, I didn’t think I needed to make an effort to study this subject with which I struggled. I had done well on past tests, so why bother studying for this one? At ten years old, I learned that I’m allowed to admit that I’m not perfect, and people around me won’t offer help unless I ask for it.

 In high school, I played tennis.
Growing up a swimmer, I am painfully uncoordinated in any sport on land. To avoid burning out, I tried tennis. I was bad. I was really, really bad! But I did it for a whole season, then I tried something else. After short sojourns in tennis, track and field, and soccer, I returned to the pool to happily swim for six more years. Participating in an activity in which I wasn’t the best helped me realize that being the best isn’t always the goal.

In college, I sprained my ankle because I was texting while walking down a flight of stairs.
I often cite this incident as my most embarrassing moment. I fell down several stairs in front of dozens of people, limped with tears streaming down my face to the dining hall, and had to be carried the rest of the way to the athletic trainer. I spent days on crutches and weeks in a boot—all for a text message! In today’s connected world, staying “connected” isn’t always our best option. I’m still learning to reign in my impatience, but when I feel the urge to pull out my phone in the car or on the sidewalk, I think of my humiliating tumble and remember that the reward is never worth the risk.

Last summer, I didn’t say “I love you” when I meant it.
Last year, trying to play it cool with someone I hadn’t known very long, I refrained from saying the L-word. I knew very early on that I loved this person, but not wanting to seem overzealous in a relatively new relationship, I kept it to myself. Our relationship has been over for several months, but I still get pangs of guilt knowing I didn’t share how I really felt. I’ve learned that emotions should travel a two-way street, no matter how awkward you may feel. If someone feels strongly about me (whether love or anything else), I want to know! And the same is likely true for those I feel strongly about in return.

This past spring, I showed up to a presentation without the presentation.
I drove to a presentation with a client out of town, began setting up my materials, and realized both my laptop and backup flash drive were still at my desk in Fargo. I was able to get a hold of the presentation, but the whole ordeal was hugely embarrassing and unprofessional. What I primarily took from the experience is an awareness of my mindfulness (or lack thereof). Spending time thinking too far ahead or whiling away the minutes reminiscing about past occurrences don’t really matter. “There is no time like the present,” and I am doing my best to adjust my behavior as such. When I am mindful of the present moment, I will be less likely to forget important materials, and more likely to enjoy moments as they happen.

Dr. Duckworth doesn’t know yet whether you’re born with a certain amount of grit, or even a specific formula to develop it in a person. What I know is that my lifetime certainly hasn’t seen its last failure. But thanks to the grit I’ve developed in my first 25 years, I’m ready for whatever disaster comes next.

About the author
Kathryn Berg joined the Village Business Institute in September of 2014 as a trainer serving the VBI’s Employee Assistant Program client companies. Prior to joining the Village, Kathryn spent two years working in the human resources field, focusing during that time on recruitment, training, wellness and benefits administration. Kathryn provides training on a wide variety of topics and currently focuses subjects such as harassment prevention and drug-free workplace compliance. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in French. Outside of her work at the Village, she spends her evenings and weekends as a competitive swim coach.

Print Print

The seasons change — so should your business

By Robert Jones
EAP Trainer, The Village Business Institute

The power of change in business September is a month of change. Summer gives way to fall. Parents wrap up the summer break and send their kids back to school. For some families, it marks the culmination of their in-home parenting as children pack up to start their life in college.

When I talk about change, I am not just speaking of the seasonal change that puts an end to the warm sunny weather of summer and brings the frigid snow-covered tundra of winter. I’m thinking bigger. The world is changing rapidly, and we as a society can often barely hold on amid this change. I am reminded of this every year when Beloit College releases its annual “List.” Beloit College is a small (about 1200-student) liberal arts school in Beloit, Wisc. Most people around the country have never even heard of this school, but every year social media is inundated with the “Beloit College List.”

The Beloit College list is an annual change in mindset to help professionals in higher education gain a better understanding of the incoming freshman at any college. This is a list of things, events, or people that these students have not participated in or have missed because they were not a part of this world. For example, here are a few from the list for the Class of 2019:

  • “Hybrid automobiles have always been mass-produced.”
  • “They have never licked a postage stamp”
  • “They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.”
  • “If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”

I do not mention these to make people feel old, even though that is often a byproduct of reading this list. I mention it as a reminder that change brings innovation. Think about this: in the past 20 years we have gone from VHS tapes, to DVD, to Blue Ray, and we can now watch any movie, almost anytime, anywhere on a variety of devices.

Our attitude toward change is interesting. In certain areas, we embrace it. We often want the latest material thing, (e.g. the newest iPhone, smartwatch, etc.). But we can be very hesitant about change in other areas. For many people, the phrase “This is how we have always done things” is common in the workplace. Businesses where this phrase prevails will struggle to keep their staff engaged and may struggle to keep quality people.

VBI logo w.division(not outlined)Employers who are not afraid of change and who are willing to embrace the ideas of employees are the organizations that move to the forefront of their communities and industries. The company that encourages employees to challenge “how we have always have done it,” is the company that develops a new approach and moves the industry forward. There is some truth to the belief that one idea can change an industry.

Starbucks is perfect example of how an experience and an idea can lead to huge change. As the story goes, Howard Schultz began working for Starbucks in 1981. At the time, Starbucks was a fledgling coffee shop in the historic Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Wash. While on a trip to Italy, Schultz began to experience (yes, experience) the power of coffee on a community and the variation of coffee drinks. When Schultz returned to Seattle, he presented this drastic change to the owners of Starbucks and was told, “That is not how we do coffee.” In 1987, the owners of Starbucks offered Schultz the opportunity to buy the company for $3.8 million. He jumped at the opportunity, and the rest you can see in just about every community in the country. The idea of grabbing a latte in your way to work was unheard of by many in 1980, yet today there is a line at least five cars deep every morning at every Starbucks in the nation. Schultz is still determined to find ways to innovate and change for the betterment of the staff and community of Starbucks because he isn’t bound by the old notion: “We have always done it this way.”

I am always amazed when I read the Beloit List because I think of where I have been and what I have experienced. As I look at those moms at Walmart buying the last of the “essentials” before they “abandon” their baby boy at college, I become excited about the future and watching the direction we as a society are going. I wonder what the Beloit List of 2037 is going to say. Maybe “They’ve always ridden in flying cars,” “They are a generation that has never know cancer or war,” or “They’ve never seen a Twins team have a losing season.” Who knows what the future holds? But if we empower people to think big and grow, the only way we can go is up.The power of change - The Village Business Institute

Robert Jones, Employee Assistance Program Trainer at The Village Business Institute

About the author
Robert Jones is an Employee Assistance Program Trainer with The Village Business Institute. Robert has a Bachelor’s degree in History and a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis in counseling and leadership. He also has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, and recently began working on his Educational Doctorate in Leadership.  Robert has nearly 20 years of experience in the hospitality field and has been doing freelance training for almost 10 years. 

The Village Business Institute provides a range of services to make businesses better, including employee assistance programs, coaching, organizational development and strategic planning, workplace mediation, human resource consultation, critical incident stress management, management and employee training, career transition and outplacement services, and specialized services for nonprofits.


Introverts Are Annoyed By Your Customer Service (Here’s How to Stop Doing That)

By Kathryn Berg
The Village Business Institute

Everyone has their own conceptions and misconceptions of introverts. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy, although the two traits do often come as a package deal. At their  simplest level, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is the way you feel after having been around people. Are you drained, or are you energized? Those of us who are drained and need to spend some alone time to recharge are introverts. The individuals who draw their energy from other people are extroverts.

As a faithful introvert, one thing I’ve found that I struggle with is customer service. No matter where the service provider, herself, falls on the introvert-extrovert scale, typically, her style of service is geared toward the extroverted customer. They ask a lot of questions, laugh a lot, and strike up superficial conversations to, hopefully, connect with her customer and close a sale or earn a better tip.

Generally, introverts are not interested in this kind of behavior. It’s draining to take part in these high-energy interactions. And, when they aren’t necessarily meaningful ones, they seem frustrating and wasteful to someone with a limited supply of energy to put toward outside interaction. So, from a customer service standpoint, how do you build a relationship with an introvert who, for the most part, just wants to be left alone?

Recognize the difference. Your first job as a customer service provider is to understand your customer, but without a close or long-term relationship, introversion may be difficult to spot. Some identifiers may include bringing a book or headphones if he is alone, or letting others order or speak first if he is in a group. Introverts tend not to initiate conversations or participate in small talk, whether in person, over the phone, or in emails. If they have a choice, they will usually receive more calls, texts, or emails than they send. Being alone in a public place is, of course, a great indicator that a person is an introvert as well.

Keep your distance. Once you’ve taken the time to understand the difference between introverts and extroverts, a change in your behavior should follow. Though customer service usually means just that—serving the customer—serving an introvert should be a bit different. Try to suppress your initial desire to check in on the introvert often, and when you do, try not to speak too loudly, and keep your conversation brief. A colleague taught me the Platinum Rule: treat others the way they want to be treated. This behavior goes much further than the Golden Rule because you’re taking the time to understand the other person rather than projecting your own wishes upon her.

The Village Business InstituteOne of my most horrifying customer service experiences took place in a restaurant when my server spent my entire meal dropping by my table to chat because, I presume, she felt bad that I was there alone. She later yelled to the food runner that my plate was meant for “that lady over there, who is all by herself!” I am not embarrassed to eat on my own, but I nearly imploded as the entire restaurant turned my way following this loud declaration of my aloneness.  A better option, based on the platinum rule, would have been for the food runner or server to drop off my food in a way that was unobtrusive to me or the other customers around me.

Make it meaningful. Interestingly enough, my best customer service experience lately was also in a restaurant. The difference between the meal I previously described and the one at the Duluth Grill in Duluth, MN, comes down to my excellent server and the way she made my time at the restaurant memorable in a positive way. While this server did spend time talking with me throughout the meal, she made note that I was not comfortable with small talk. Instead, she noticed when I showed interest in the Duluth Grill’s story, including its on-site garden and the rooftop beehive they used to have. She took the time to realize that I am interested in local businesses and created a meaningful interaction based on that interest. She even went so far as to let me keep my coffee mug after having told me about the local artist who created them for the restaurant.

As with any conversation, the interaction with my waitress in Duluth left me wanting some alone time to recharge. But in this instance, I was happy to do so after having a conversation that I could talk (and write) about later, rather than the lowest-common-denominator conversations we are all used to having and forgetting as soon as we exit a shop or restaurant. Now, to quote my server, I “have a fun story to tell when people see [my] mug,” and I am happy to tell it because it means something to me.

Good customer service comes down to providing the service that the customer needs, but great customer service goes beyond that to understand the customer as a person, instead of just a patron of your establishment. Taking the time to get to know and recognize your customers’ personalities will require more effort, but the relationships you create will be worth the work.

About the author
Kathryn Berg joined the Village Business Institute in September of 2014 as a trainer serving the VBI’s Employee Assistant Program client companies. Prior to joining the Village, Kathryn spent two years working in the human resources field, focusing during that time on recruitment, training, wellness and benefits administration. Kathryn provides training on a wide variety of topics and currently focuses subjects such as harassment prevention and drug-free workplace compliance. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in French. Outside of her work at the Village, she spends her evenings and weekends as a competitive swim coach.

Introverts and customer serviceinteroverts pinterest

We Still Haven’t Cracked the Employee Engagement Code

By Kathryn Berg
The Village Business Institute 

One day when I was training a group of supervisors, I jokingly asked the group, “Who has heard of employee engagement?” Everyone laughed and nobody raised their hands, a reaction I took to mean, “We are so sick of hearing about employee engagement!”

employee engagement pinterestI have to agree. I am so sick of hearing about employee engagement. It seems like every expert has advice to add to the engagement conversation. But if that’s true, why is it that although “engagement” has become such a buzzword, the actual percentage of engaged employees has remained relatively stagnant (at about 30%) in each of Gallup’s annual surveys over the last fifteen years?

A thought occurred to me as I read an older article in the Harvard Business Review. The author, Frederick Herzberg, postulated that “The opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction, but no job dissatisfaction.” Don’t worry—the first time (or two) I read that, I had no idea what he meant either. Reading beyond Herzberg’s vocabulary tornado, I learned that he meant that the things that cause job dissatisfaction and those that cause job satisfaction belonged in distinct categories with little overlap.

For example, a low salary is likely to cause job dissatisfaction, but increasing that salary doesn’t increase job satisfaction—it decreases the dissatisfaction. On the other hand, increasing opportunities for growth and learning will in turn increase job satisfaction, but the lack of those opportunities will not increase dissatisfaction.

I know, I know! Still very confusing. I’m going to focus on the satisfaction side for now. A lot of companies have been trying to increase satisfaction in creative ways—allowing for naptime, throwing Cinco de Mayo parties, having ping pong tables, just to name a few—and while those are fun and probably do make for happy employees in the short term (low job dissatisfaction), they’re probably not going to lead to long-term happiness (high job satisfaction).

According to Herzberg’s review, what will lead to satisfaction (and by extension, the “E” word—engagement) has much more to do with what motivates employees from the inside—enjoying what they’re doing, being recognized for doing well, achieving their goals, and growing within their roles.

All of this convoluted explanation brings me back to that original thought I had. If we want to harness these intrinsic motivators, we’re not going to do it by keeping beers in the break room fridge. We’ll do it by ignoring the pizzazz of the modern workplace and zeroing in on what really matters at work: our jobs. Everyone in an organization can play a part in making this change.

When planning for new hires or helping with internal career development, the company should consider who is or will be working and what they are or will be doing. Are you hiring people who love their work? Are you allowing them to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities? When hiring, we tend to focus on whether or not the candidate will be able to do the job duties at hand. Do your best to determine not only if they are able, but if they enthusiastic about those duties.

What kind of people are you managing? One of the most important parts of being a supervisor is creating relationships with your employees. Once you have done that, you’re able to help them in creating opportunities to grow and learn within your organization. You’re the one who gets to dole out more responsibility to those seeking it, and also the one recognizing high achievement. Getting to know your employees, learning their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, is not a small responsibility. But the way you handle it will help determine the level of engagement you’ll see in those you supervise.

All the effort in the world from your organization and your manager can only go so far in engaging you as a worker. A former coworker of mine used to say, “What is your ‘why?’” In other words, why are you doing what you’re doing? Do you have a reason, a passion for your work? If you don’t, what can you do to find that passion? It’s a scary road to navigate on your own. Input from coworkers, managers, family, friends, or even a career coach (like my own manager, John Trombley!) can help you figure out your ‘why’ and, as a result, increase your satisfaction and engagement at work.

By no means am I suggesting we rid our workplaces of kickball teams, catered lunches, or slides from the second to the first floor. We should definitely keep those! But if engagement is our goal, we should start by thinking about what got us here in the first place: our jobs.


Kathryn Berg 2014 squareKathryn Berg

EAP Trainer

Kathryn joined The Village Business Institute in September of 2014 as a trainer serving the VBI’s Employee Assistant Program client companies. Prior to joining the Village, Kathryn spent two years working in the human resources field, focusing during that time on recruitment, training, wellness and benefits administration. Kathryn provides training on a wide variety of topics and currently focuses subjects such as harassment prevention and drug-free workplace compliance. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in French. Outside of her work at the Village, she spends her evenings and weekends as a competitive swim coach.employee engagement facebook

5 ways to stay productive when working from home

productivity at home pinterest
By Kathryn Berg

EAP Trainer
The Village Business Institute 

Whether it be taking care of a sick child, travel, or simply a need for a change in scenery, there will likely come a time in your professional career that you will need to get work done outside of your office. Working remotely has become commonplace in recent years thanks to advancing technology: one 2014 study found that 67% of Americans spend time telecommuting each week.

But while our laptops and cell phones have reached that higher level, have we humans? Getting into the “work zone” isn’t always easy when most of the time, you’re used to physically being at work. Maintain your productivity at home or on the road by sticking to a few easy tips.

1. Dress for Success
It sounds simple (and it is), but one of the easiest ways to get in the productive mindset is to simply get dressed in the morning. Many telecommuters joke that wearing sweatpants is the best part about working from home, but putting on a lazy outfit just puts you in the mood to have a lazy day. Getting dressed as you would for a day in the office sets the tone for professionalism and productivity, no matter where you are.

2. Stay In Touch
Sometimes even though we are always available, emails aren’t the right medium for conversation. Luckily, technology allows us the immediacy that work often requires. When working off-site, make sure your phone is always on in order to keep up with clients and coworkers. Consider using an instant messaging service like GChat or Skype to hash out quick conversations that don’t necessarily require a phone call. If you’re missing out on meetings, talk to your supervisor or IT department about downloading a service like WebEx or GoToMeeting to join in remotely via video or by sharing your screen.

3. Nix the Netflix
Minimizing distractions is key for keeping your productivity levels high. While the new season of House of Cards is tempting to play in the background as you work on other things, studies show that when you try to do two tasks at the same time, neither one of them gets done as quickly as when you focus on one task at a time. Multitasking costs us 40% of our productivity and increases our likelihood of making mistakes. Just like getting yourself in the right mindset by putting on the right outfit, remove yourself from distractions like TV and focus on your work while you’re “at” work. Frank Underwood deserves your undivided attention, anyway.

4. Maintain a Routine
With the options of waking up, eating lunch, and getting your work done when you want, working from home seems like an ideal set-up for anyone. However, a lax schedule is a surefire way to cut into your productivity. Beginning work, taking breaks, and ending work around the same time each day will help in creating that sweet-spot mindset that gets stuff done. That’s not to say, however, that you should necessarily be strapped to an 8 am-5pm schedule. If you find yourself to be more productive in the evening (and your supervisor and team approve), consider maintaining a regular routine later in the day instead.

5. Set Goals
Goals are important no matter where you’re working, but they take special precedence at home or on the road. If you find yourself unable to get things done, make a point to sit down with your supervisor and set specific, attainable goals that you can deliver on. Having these specific goals in place will be a key motivator and help you maintain your productivity no matter where you are. Make sure you check in with your progress and deliverables often, and adjust or re-up your goals as needed.

productivity at home facebook productivity at home twitter

About the author
Kathryn Berg joined the Village Business Institute in September of 2014 as a trainer serving the VBI’s Employee Assistant Program client companies. Prior to joining the Village, Kathryn spent two years working in the human resources field, focusing during that time on recruitment, training, wellness and benefits administration. Kathryn provides training on a wide variety of topics and currently focuses subjects such as harassment prevention and drug-free workplace compliance. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in French. Outside of her work at the Village, she spends her evenings and weekends as a competitive swim coach.

We Should All Approach our Work like Sarah Koenig

By Kathryn Berg
EAP Trainer
The Village Business Institute 

“Serial,” the wildly popular true-crime podcast, finished its 12-episode first season in mid-December. During the podcast’s run and in the weeks following its finale, everyone seems to know the story of Adnan Syed and his conviction for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. If a person isn’t hooked, they are likely still familiar with the podcast’s premise, possibly its cult-favorite MailChimp ad, and certainly its host, Sarah Koenig.

Sarah Koenig is the narrator, executive producer and lead investigator for “Serial,” and has garnered high praise for her work on the podcast. Whether fans of “Serial” or not, we could all learn something from the way Koenig approached her work while studying and reporting on the factual and not-so-factual evidence of Adnan Syed’s murder conviction.


She Manages Her Expectations

A common complaint among “Serial” enthusiasts is that (spoiler alert!) Koenig does not prove Adnan Syed guilty or innocent in the season finale. Many listeners expected that Koenig’s meticulous reporting would uncover new facts or reveal old lies in a way that would provide closure in an otherwise murky and unsatisfying murder conviction.

Koenig, on the other hand, took on the journalistic endeavor simply because Syed wanted his story to be told. She did not enter into the investigation believing that after a 15-month analysis of a 15-year-old case she would have all the answers. In fact, Koenig was certain that she would not have all the answers. She remained steadfast in that belief, despite constant public outcry hoping for more, more, more.

Managing our expectations does not mean working toward something that is less than perfect. Rather, it means approaching situations, relationships and projects with the knowledge that even when we do put forth our best effort, the end result may not be what we anticipated—and that’s okay! If you can manage your expectations like Sarah Koenig and be okay with something other than what others may unreasonably expect of you, you (and your team) will be much more likely to be satisfied with your results.


She Does Her Due Diligence

Koenig may not have figured out who killed Hae Min Lee, but nobody would argue that it was because her research and investigation were lacking. Koenig followed every lead she was given, tracked down every person involved with the case and sought out help from experts in areas she knew she was unable to properly examine on her own. She had appropriate expectations about what she would probably discover during her investigation, but that did not stop her from going above and beyond to ensure she fleshed out every given detail.

We are more likely to deal with harassment or drug-free workplace investigations than murder investigations, but due diligence belongs in the typical workplace just as much as it does in Koenig’s atypical one. Like Koenig, you probably do not know how your project or presentation will turn out at its conclusion. Whether you intend to solve a murder case or bring your business to the next level, you owe it to yourself and your employer to do your due diligence to create a product or idea you will be proud to stand behind. Follow every lead, enlist the help of experts when you’re in over your head, and simply put in the hard work necessary to get things done.


She Stays True to Herself

“Serial’s” unexpected success created an unexpected celebrity in Sarah Koenig, but along with fame comes criticism. A simple search on Google for “Serial” will bring up hours’ worth of reading on the podcast and its host. Some spout endless praise for Koenig and her endeavor. Others think she is a shoddy journalist who says “I feel like” too often and is too emotional for someone who is supposed to be objective.

With opinions coming at her from every direction, it would have been easy for Koenig to succumb to the public opinion of the day and change her reporting style or the style of the podcast itself. Maybe keeping up with the criticism would be a good way to maintain the unexpectedly large fan base. Koenig, however, did not make any changes based on “Serial’s” wild popularity. She set out to create a true-crime podcast, a story told week-to-week, and that is exactly what she did.

Pressure to change our ways of thinking and acting come from all sides in the workplace. While we should always be open to new ideas, it’s important to stay true to ourselves and our values. We may change and adjust the way we work as we learn and grow, but beliefs and values will likely stay the same no matter what. Sticking to these beliefs and values – our true selves – no matter what criticism we may encounter, will bring fulfillment and satisfaction at the end of each day.

There may only be one Sarah Koenig, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all approach our jobs the way she does. Managing her expectations, doing her due diligence, and staying true to herself got Koenig renewed for a second season. Practicing her working style, our own success could be similarly limitless.

About the author
Kathryn Berg joined the Village Business Institute in September of 2014 as a trainer serving the VBI’s Employee Assistant Program client companies. Prior to joining the Village, Kathryn spent two years working in the human resources field, focusing during that time on recruitment, training, wellness and benefits administration. Kathryn provides training on a wide variety of topics and currently focuses subjects such as harassment prevention and drug-free workplace compliance. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in French. Outside of her work at the Village, she spends her evenings and weekends as a competitive swim coach.

Planning 2015 with passion

By Dawn Kaiser
The Village Business Institute

Where did 2014 go?

It feels just like yesterday I was sitting in my office dreaming of all the things I wanted to accomplish in the coming year. But, here we are already in the first month of 2015.

Now I don’t know about you, but looking back over the year, I see there was a lot crossed off my to-do list, but I feel that there was still so much more that needed to be done. Part of me feels like I needed more time, but then I remember what Zig Ziglar once said, “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem.” Direction really is about focusing on the things that are most important. It is about getting clear on your goals and passions in life and then incorporating them into your daily life, not just adding them to a to-do list.

A friend of mine introduced me to a new tool called the Passion Planner. ( Yes, this is an old school planner, not a high-tech one, but to me there is something powerful about writing things down that connects more with my soul than just typing things into a computer. I’m not telling you to get rid of your technology tools. In fact, I will still use my online calendar system because I need to share my calendar with others, and I will still have my master list online because I can use that to store potential activities that are not urgent.

What I love about the Passion Planner is that it helps to create a roadmap for achieving your goals by helping you  breakdown the big dreams that lay ahead in 2015 and beyond. Essentially the creator of this planner is using the “goal setting to the NOW” technique that Gary Keller describes in his book The One Thing. It takes your “someday” goal and asks what can you do this month, this week, this day, and right now to achieve your desires?

Another shift I’m making in 2015 is a move toward focusing on tasks that help me achieve how I want to feel in life and at work. I know most of the time we don’t talk about feelings, especially at work. But I think it is important to recognize that our passions are linked to something bigger than just doing; they are linked to our being. How do you want to feel in 2015? Smart? Empowered? Sassy? Connected?  Influential? Spend some time thinking about what feelings you desire and then focus on creating experiences or activities that help you achieve that feeling. If you want to dig deeper into this area check out Danielle LaPorte’s book, Desire Map. It has been instrumental in helping me get clearer about what I desire out of life.

As we begin 2015 I wish you a year full of passion and joy. May you find fulfillment in all you do and in who you are. Let 2015 be a year of making the impossible, possible!

Live Joy-filled. Lead Joy-filled. Serve Joy-filled.


Dawn Kaiser, The Village Business Institute

Author Bio

Dawn Kaiser is an inspirational educator, joyologist, blogger, altruist and positive thought leader. She specializes in heart-driven leadership, positive psychology and personal achievement. Dawn focuses on helping hundreds of clients all over the world thrive both personally and professionally in life through her work at The Village Business Institute. Find her on Facebook, Twitter (@joyrefueler), LinkedIn or online at Dawn is available to speak nationwide.

Make your New Year’s resolutions, but don’t forget to celebrate what’s already awesome

The new year is fast approaching. As the celebrations start to wind down, many of us begin to think about our goals and resolutions for the coming year. You can already hear people talking about plans for being thinner, healthier, more productive, more organized, more financially secure, etc etc etc in the coming year. And if you don’t have enough ideas of your own, the media and magazines are brimming with suggestions for how to be new and improved.

Don’t get me wrong, I think setting goals and positive intentions for the coming year can be very useful tools in helping us to move in the direction of our dreams and desires. But it seems to me that many of us, in our efforts to grow, focus too heavily on what we think we need to do better, or what we need to change about ourselves. We can find ourselves in a constant critical state of focusing on where we fell short, or highlighting the personal “flaws “that keep us from being comfortable in our own skin. We begin to look through a lens that eclipses our accomplishments and positive traits, and highlights what we “need” to do quicker, faster, better.

As an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) counselor, I have the great privilege of meeting a wide variety of amazing people who are experiencing a challenge or difficulty in their life. People just like you and me. In hearing their stories and getting to know them, I am frequently struck by their critical attitude toward themselves. Where I see courage, resilience, wisdom, compassion, and strength, they see shortcomings and character flaws. In their efforts to address their concerns, they turn a critical, laser-focused eye on what they did “wrong” and/or what they need to “fix” about themselves. They miss the good stuff; those wonderful qualities and strengths they possess that help them get through tough times and show-up for the people in their world. They don’t see the big picture.

I once worked at an organization that was very focused on evaluation and improvement – of everything, all the time. This sounds like an impressive focus until you realize there was no balance; no looking at what was going well or identifying our accomplishments or focusing on our strengths and building on them. It was all deficit-focused, and we spent tremendous amounts of time planning, implementing, tearing apart, and reinventing our processes. We didn’t give plans enough time to succeed without making more changes. Staff became quickly overwhelmed with always being in a state of change and striving to do better but never quite getting there. As can be expected in such settings, morale began to suffer. I remember sitting in one program improvement meeting after a very challenging year and asking if we could have a moment or two to reflect on what went well, and what we accomplished before launching into the critique/improvement phase.

That is my wish for all of you as the year draws to a close. Before setting your goals and resolutions for 2015, take a moment to look at the big picture; take time to reflect on what you accomplished this year and notice how far you’ve come. Think back for a moment to last December; are you the same person you were then? What has changed? How have you grown? What have you learned? What are you grateful for and what are you passionate about? What would you like to build on and enhance in the coming year? What brings you joy and what would you like to experience more of? What personal strengths do you possess that helped you meet your challenges and goals last year? Take some time to appreciate the uniqueness of you; see the big picture and get comfortable in your own skin. Don’t miss the good stuff! These are the qualities and resources you want to be mindful of and consciously take with you into the next adventure that is 2015. Wishing you all a year of self-discovery and many opportunities to celebrate authentic you.

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.


Diversity and the Power of a Cohesive Work Culture

The United States is a melting pot and mixture of cultures with few other countries matching our diversity. This, in many ways, has made us strong and resilient, but it has also led to conflicts and pain. Workplaces, in the not-too-distant past, often perpetuated cultural divides and treated people differently based on their color, gender, religion, sexuality, and economic status. Such divides still do exist though employers have made great changes in becoming better places for all people to work.

Was government regulation and oversight responsible for the changes in work culture? In many ways, federally mandated initiatives were the catalyst for change; they moved us off center and helped protect people from discrimination. Regulation, though, by itself is never enough. As an example, we still have many communities in our country that are divided by color, religion, and socioeconomic status despite regulations against discrimination in housing.

So what is working in the workplace, beyond regulation, to bring people of different beliefs and world views safely together? Simply stated… economics; it just makes darn good sense to have the largest and most diverse pool of potential workers available to make a company successful. If the best engineer for the job is Hindu and most of your other engineers are of another religion, do you make being Hindu a factor in hiring? No, of course not. Smart and profitable employers make the work culture about the work and hire the best.

How do they do it? Well… fully answering this question would take much more than a couple of paragraphs, though a basic principle does stand out. The principle is this; “All processes, procedures, and policies are founded on the ideal of openness, honesty, and respectful behavior.” Companies who put this principle in action tend to be at the top of the list of best and most profitable places to work. Why don’t all companies practice this principle? Good question—it seems bigotry and prejudices are sometimes stronger than good sense and compassion.

Regulations have also gotten in the way of companies being cohesive work environments. As our country’s population has gotten more diverse, federal mandates have become increasingly seen as hiring quotas based on old demographics. Whether this perception is right or wrong, it exists and can lead to questions about whether an employee was hired just because of their gender, color, or other protected status. The worst case scenario is, those kinds of perceptions can cause a work culture of divisiveness and segregation.

Employers with cohesive work environments make it clear at all levels of the company that their practices in hiring and retaining employees need to be about the whole person — what can they contribute and the question of whether or not they the best person for the job. It takes dedicated time and attention to deal with the very human tendency to want to be with and select people who are like us. This is where solid human resources practices become vital in assuring workplaces make decisions without undue bias and are fair in hiring and promoting employees. Without fairness, it is nearly impossible to develop or maintain a cohesive work culture.

If you want to talk more about work cultures and being the kind of place that hires and retains the best; give us a call at The Village Business Institute – 800-627-8220. We will be delighted to talk with you.

About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute, Regional Counseling Services, and Financial Resource Center programs. He also provides consulting services that include strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting.

Questioning ourselves: Is it truth or fiction, fact or opinion?

When is the last time you heard someone begin an expository discussion with the disclaimer, “Now this is only my opinion and no matter how strongly I believe in it, what I am about to say to you may not be objective or factual, so let the listener beware!”?

I honestly can’t think of a time myself. (But, then, I also can’t remember where I last laid my reading glasses down thinking that I would “obviously” remember that they’re there when I need them.)

How often do you and I forget the difference between what is fact and what is really our opinion about a situation, a person, an institution, or even ourselves — an opinion that may, in fact, have no basis in objective, observable, substantiated behavior? I believe that many times this goes right to the heart of another challenge we all battle in our humanness: assumptions.

The funny thing is we actually believe our own opinions and assumptions so strongly at times that we firmly accept them as infallible truths. “Because I believe it to be so, it is!” If we come to work in the morning and someone doesn’t greet us with a smile and a cheery “Good morning!” how does that affect our day? Are we to assume that people just don’t like us and then walk around with an uninviting scowl on our face all morning just hoping (expecting) someone will notice and ask us what’s wrong? And if they don’t notice, do we chalk that up in the “See, I told you so” column?

You and I have a choice to make with every contact, every conversation, every text message, instant message, or email we take part in. The choice is simple. Will we base our beliefs on assumptions, opinions, and judgments of others, or will we work to “check our assumptions” in order to uncover the hidden truth? If we choose the latter, maybe – just maybe – we might do away with some of the drama and conflict in our lives and be able to enjoy life’s journey a little bit more.

So, here are some tips for wise:

  1. Don’t assume – check your own assumptions.
  2. Don’t declare your opinions as though they are facts.
  3. Don’t believe everything you feel, hear, read, or see.
  4. Learn to listen more, talk less, and seek truth in all you do

About the blogger:
John E. Trombley, organization development consultant and training with The Village Business Institute has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and a Master of Management degree from the University of Mary, Fargo. Prior to founding his own organization development company, John served as a Command Pilot, Squadron Commander, and senior staff officer in the USAF and Air National Guard—he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with over 6,200 flying hours.

With over 16 years of experience in providing consulting services and training programs, Trombley has a passion for group process facilitation and corporate training in areas including leadership development, change management, leadership transition processes, managerial coaching, and personality assessment workshops. He is registered with the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota as a Qualified Neutral mediator, is trained in Critical Incident Stress Management Group Crisis Intervention, and is certified in Internal Investigations by the Council on Education in Management.

For more information, contact The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220 or