Entrepreneurs in the Making: Ideation with Canon-McMillan Students

The holidays are over! This is leaving some of us relieved and a few of us a little disappointed that it’s time to get back to the grind. Regardless, this past month has been a busy time for everyone. Before we cocooned ourselves for the remainder of whatever PTO days we had remaining, ABG Capital took some time to do what they do best; invest in the future.

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How so? One month ago today, we welcomed the students of the Canon-McMillan School District’s Entrepreneurship Program! Twice a year, as part of our community outreach initiatives, we welcome the class and their teachers to our office for an educational field trip.

ABG Capital finds it important to invest in educating students for “real-world” office life expectations. On this particular visit, the students gathered together to listen to ABG Capital’s CEO Jeff Tapolci, VoIP Innovations’ President Dan Ravenstahl, Director of IT Adam Scott, Director of Human Resources Sharon Kolesar, and Director of Development Jerry Eddy.

After a brief introduction of our company’s history, structure, and people-focused culture, Jeff spoke about some of the useful business tools he uses to ensure the alignment and health of our companies. The students learned about the importance of Strategic Thinking and the 7 Strata, along with Execution Planning and the use of a One Page Plan. The main topic of discussion, however, was the topic of ideation.

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What is ideation? The thought process of ideation comes from Stanford University. The goal of performing ideation is to produce “innovation at work” whether it be the overall mindset of your employees or an actual team-building session completed throughout each department. Ideation occurs at every point of the project planning process, but these ideas are often brought together with others generated during specific exercises aimed at uncovering new methods, approaches, practices, and, perhaps most importantly, new ways of improving something such as a new user interface experience. So much information is uncovered over the course of most projects that there must be a point where it is combined, analyzed, and converted into practical solutions and means of making innovation at work more tangible.

After hearing the detailed overview of ideation, students formed small groups to perform their own ideation sessions. Following the layout and steps of this ideation/brainstorming template, the Canon-Mac students chose struggles that involve other people, can be solved with a physical thing or experience, and that could be tackled within a week.

The students dove deep into these brainstorming sessions and came up with some really insightful and thought-provoking ways to develop analogous situations, break through any constraints, and framework for the problems they decided to tackle.

Shortly after their ideation run-through, the students were able to wrap up their day with the chance to meet with members of our staff that work in departments like Development, Marketing, IT, and Accounting. Our team members shared with them how our roles in the company, along with other companies they have worked for, have helped shape their careers and led to new opportunities.

After the meet and greet, the day ended with pizza for lunch and a Q&A session from the students.

The day was busy, fun was had, but most importantly the students were able to take away a better knowledge and understanding of what may lie behind the door of graduation. The students were able to witness first-hand the power of what a small family run business has the potential to turn into with hard work, cultivation of those around you, and respect. Success is the aim of the game. ABG only hopes that we could instill that goal in the minds of these young adults and inspire the next generation.

For more information on ideation and how you can implement this philosophy and strategy into your workplace, click here.

To get a copy of the Innovation at work Ideation worksheet, click here.

It’s No Interruptions Day!

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The last days of the year are ticking down, soon it will be time to ring in 2017. I bet you’re thinking, “But I still have so much to do in 2016!” and are rushing around to finish up those last few projects. We all have so much on our plates that time just tends to get away from us. Some days we get so distracted we can’t remember what the original project we started on was. If this sounds like you join us in celebrating No Interruptions Day!

No Interruptions Day celebrates the last work day of the year and aims to help us all concentrate and round out the year feeling accomplished, as well as allow us to walk into the office in the new year with a clean slate. This year, No Interruptions Day is Friday, December 30 (unless you work weekends too, by all means, celebrate on the 31st). So let’s take some time to get centered and finish this year out right!

Here are some ways you can celebrate in the office this year:

  • Make it an office-wide event–Get the word out and let the office know about No Interruptions Day. Broadcast it through your company intranet and encourage clients and/or family to take part as well. By making it a group effort you’ll be able to accomplish more. This also lowers the likelihood being distracted by co-workers, family, or others (unless it’s an emergency) as you’ll all be focusing on year-end projects.
  • Turn off your cell phone–Our cell phones go everywhere with us, even to bed. On the 30th (or whatever day you decide to celebrate), leave your phone at home, or shut it off and keep it out of sight. This way you won’t be tempted to check any of your social media accounts or personal texts that tend to derail your focus.
  • Shut your door–If you are lucky enough to have an office door, shut it and place an educational note about No Interruptions Day and how you are celebrating on it. This way others will be less likely to intrude on your “work holiday” and you’ll be able to concentrate better by having the noise of normal office commotion deadened by the door.
  • Noise canceling headphones/Music–Not lucky enough to have an office door? If you are distracted by background noises consider bringing in some noise canceling headphones to help you focus. Are you motivated by music rather than silence? Bring in your headphones and shuffle your favorite playlist. If you are looking for playlists that will help you concentrate check out this list for some inspiration.
  • Make a plan–Much of our day in the office is taken up by replying back and forth to emails or returning phone calls. Try and make a plan to best manage your time and optimize it. Set aside a specific time period when you will check your messages, address them, and then move on to your next project.

We wish you all productive last days of 2016 and hope you have a successful and prosperous 2017. If you are planning on celebrating No Interruptions Day let us know! If you have suggestions on ways to participate share them with us!

New Year, New Office: 5 Resolutions for the Workplace

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Looking out my window, the snow has finally begun to fly. In a few weeks, Christmas will be upon us and after that New Years. With the ringing in of 2017, we all want to start fresh. New year, new you, right? What about new year, new office? Here are five office New Year’s resolutions to help get you started with your list.

1. Get and stay organized–If you are anything like me and your desk looks like a tornado hit it, this might be a good idea. I am always digging through piles hoping the document I need hasn’t been thrown away. I can’t imagine how much time I’ve wasted just looking for a Post-it with a phone number I wrote down days ago. By taking the time to organize your desk each evening before you leave and developing a better filing system, you can help save your sanity and save time.

2. Stay Positive–We all have days that try our patience, and sometimes all we want to do is complain. Though venting serves a purpose, it can spiral out of control and create a culture of negativity. This hurts productivity and quality of work. By trying to look at challenges in a different, more positive way it can change your mood and your work. When presented with a challenge instead of outwardly expressing your irritation, take a second to breathe and reform your thoughts.

3. Get Healthy–Many people include a health goal as part of their resolutions so bringing that to the office is only logical. If you have snacks in your desk take inventory and try to remove any bad temptations. Take it a step further and organize a workout challenge group in the office and cheer each other on towards your goal.

4. Give More–There’s something about giving a present to someone or contributing (time or money) to a good cause that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Taking time to give more in the workplace can help build better relationships with your co-workers and create a culture of caring. This can be a two-part resolution, internal and external. Part one: Start by giving more within the office and making small gestures among co-workers. If you know a co-worker is having a bad day, buy him or her a snack to help cheer them up. Part two: Take things outside of the office and volunteer as a group for a non-profit of your choice. For help and ideas on how to do this visit the Tapolci Foundation.

5. Focus on the Mission–The new year is always a great time to evaluate and re-focus your mission, be it organization-wide or just departmental. Getting everyone on board and moving in the right direction will help you conquer the year ahead effectively.

Making New Year’s Resolutions is a tradition. We’d love to know what you have done in the past and what you are planning for in the future. What office resolutions did we miss? Do you have any suggestions on how to successfully keep them?

An Office Thanksgiving: 7 Ways to Show Employees You are Thankful for Their Work

img_4130The start of the holiday season is upon us. In just about a week we will gather with family and friends and gobble down as much turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing as our belly will allow. We will enjoy each other’s company and be thankful for many things. We know how to celebrate with our family but what about our work family? What are we thankful for in the office? How can we show our employees we are thankful for them?

You and your staff have worked hard during this year and are starting to look forward to the holiday break. Before cooking the turkey and hitting the Black Friday sales, take inventory of what your office should be thankful for this time of the year. Ask for input from employees. Make it an office community activity. Most importantly, don’t forget to thank your employees! While free turkeys are great, here are some other ways to show your fellow workers you are grateful for them and all they do.

Tell Them! It sounds so simple and it is, but everyone likes to know they are appreciated! You can write a card, send out and email, or give them a pat on the back. Just say Thank You!

Give a Small Gift: Again, this can be super simple, maybe it’s a gift card for gas or coffee, or a catered lunch or surprise dessert bar.

Celebrate Accomplishments and Milestones: Have employees who have been furthering their education and earned new degrees or certifications? What about those in the office who have gotten engaged/married or had a child? Take time to congratulate them; be thankful for their accomplishments and new beginnings.

Have an Office Thanksgiving! This is the time of year we loosen our belt buckles and share meals together. Take time to relax; celebrate as a work family for all the things you are grateful for as an organization.

Give Them Time Off: It’s a busy time of year. If possible, be flexible with employee schedules and let them take the time they need with their families. Take it from a former retail worker, breaks during the holiday are needed and greatly appreciated.

Donate on Their Behalf: Many employees burn the candle at both ends, working to support their family during the day, then working to help others in their free time. Show you are grateful for their hard work and sacrifice by donating to their cause.

Relax the Dress Code: Within reason, say thanks for your great work by letting employees let their hair down and relax while continuing to be productive.

What are you and your organization thankful for this year? How do you show employees they are appreciated and you are grateful for their hard work? Let us know what we’ve missed.

Most importantly have a great Thanksgiving and eat as much turkey and pie as you can!

Office Etiquette: Halloween

As we reach the end of October things are starting to get spooky. Halloween is approaching and many of your coworkers may be ready to get into the holiday spirit. Halloween in the workplace can get a bit frightening if you’re not sure of Halloween office etiquette. Whether your workplace has an official Halloween celebration, or you like to bring the celebration to your own workspace, you should probably switch out your sexy pizza costume, for a more work appropriate peanut butter and jelly costume this year.

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Since sexy costumes are out of the question, you may be asking yourself if it’s okay to put together something scarier. Experts suggest that a good rule of thumb is to skip the mask, excessive fake blood, or anything exceptionally gory in the workplace. This is mainly for safety purposes. It is best for the working environment if your coworkers can see your face, and know that you aren’t really hurt or in danger at work.

So you want to try out a new recipe you saw on Pinterest and bring some creepy treats into the office this year? Keep in mind regular office etiquette when it comes to bringing food into your workplace. Do you have a place to store the food safely? Also, try to be considerate of those with allergies by either avoiding the reaction causing ingredients or, at least, by adding a warning to your dish so that they can avoid it if necessary.

Most importantly, remember that you are at work! Unfortunately, a celebration isn’t a reason to avoid your work for the day. Don’t ignore your phone, e-mail, or other responsibilities just because you’re feeling spirited. You’re boss will still know which witch, ghost, or werewolf was responsible for your work, and why it didn’t get done. This could jeopardize future holiday celebrations for everyone!

 

Does your workplace have a Halloween party? Do you have a costume chosen for this year? Let us know in the comments!

The Perfect Fit: Finding the Right Candidate for the Job

The hiring process can be nerve racking from both ends of the spectrum. Applicants are working to tailor their resumes and cover letters for the “perfect job,” and those in charge of hiring are searching through stack upon stacks of applications hoping to find a diamond in the rough. When tasked with finding the “right applicant,” one can feel like he is Prince Charming in Cinderella (and we’re NOT talking about the Disney version); searching for the perfect fit and hoping for a happy ending. Though we might not all have fairy godmothers, following these suggestions can make the process easier, and help you select a charming new hire.cinderella candidate, the perfect fit

Be Up Front: When crafting a job posting make sure to bring the culture of your organization, specifically the environment of the position into your description. This however does not mean writing a book about your company. Giving a succinct but informative view of the job will help attract the right applicant.

Don’t stop with just the job posting; in all communications with potential hires, make sure they are aware of the full expectations of the job and what it is like to work in your organizational culture. This way they are not blindsided by a culture they may not fit into. You don’t want to push a wallflower into a loud boisterous culture and hope they come out of their shell.

Thin the Herd: When going through applications and weeding out potential candidates find one key thing, be it positive or negative, that will quickly help you decrease the number of resumes you need to comb through.

For example, I once had a manager that would automatically discard an application if the applicant asked for something to write with. They explained their logic stating “If you can’t be bothered to bring a pen to fill out your application, how can I expect you to be bothered to bring what you need to work”.

Check Social Media: Social media says a lot about potential new hires. This is who they are when they think no one is watching…even though they really are. If what you see there doesn’t match who you see on paper or in interviews, or doesn’t match your culture, move on.

Ask the Right Questions: When interviewing your most promising candidates make sure you aren’t leading them to give certain answers. Some people are pro’s at interviews, make sure you dig deeper.

help wantedHire from Within: Are you in the position to promote someone within your organization? Did you have a great intern in the past who is ready to enter the work force? These are always great options. These candidates already know the culture of your organization, know the systems, and know what is expected of them, making for an easier transition. Positives for you as a hiring manager or HR professional is that you already know what their personality is and how to motive them.

Someday your “perfect fit” will come, though you may just need to do some extra work to find him or her. The effort you put in to finding the right candidate will likely translate to the work that candidate will produce for you. So try and put to action some of the above before the carriage turns back into a pumpkin.

3 Ways to Create a Culture of Empowerment

EMPOWER; (verb) to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means.

This dictionary definition of empower probably makes you say… “I would love to be empowered at work, give me the power!” What would you change? Who would you hire? business-1564366_960_720Which problems would you solve first?

How can we take the definition of empower and use it to change the culture of the office? Let’s take a look at the business definition of empowerment.

EMPOWERMENT; (business definition) A management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance.

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”- Theodore Roosevelt

Now all of that is easier said than done. Let’s take a look at three ways a company can build a culture of empowerment.

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Find your passion
If employees can identify with a company’s passion or purpose, they can find passion in their work. Passionate and purposeful employees can help take an organization from “old school” to innovative due to extensive engagement in the business.

Invest in your employees 
Investing in your employees is as easy as giving them the proper tools, knowledge and training to do their job well. This will help everyone avoid the frustrations of not knowing the answer a customer’s question or concern. Proper training also leads to great innovation and process improvement through higher levels of thinking

Create a process for change
Empowering employees leads to changes in workplace culture. Why make these changes difficult? Clearly define to company employees the process for pitching an innovation or process improvement. The knowledge that change is possible and clearly defined will inspire employees to think about their role in the company.

Does your company foster a culture of empowerment? Do you have any suggestions for how your company could promote empowerment better?

Aligning the Herd One Gazelle at a Time

Aligning the Herd One Gazelle at a Time

“Goals without routines are wishes; routines without goals are aimless” is a quote taken from Scaling Up: The Rockefeller Habits 2.0 by Verne Harnish. This book has inspired a business and leadership event that ABG Capital has been fortunate enough to attend; the Gazelles ScaleUp Leadership Summit.

It’s been three months since eight of our leaders attended Gazelles 2016 ScaleUp Leadership Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. Seventeen dynamic speakers and authors captivated our team by sharing their wisdom, experience, and talent for success.  We gathered for discussions throughout the conference spending time reviewing notes, sharing ideas, and reflecting on strategies and initiatives that would best benefit our organization in the short term. Upon returning to the office, our leadership team agreed to meet once a week to hold ourselves accountable, narrow down our top take-ways, and decide on the one big rock or number one priority for the remainder of the year. Together we came to a similar conclusion of what that one big rock is and what we feel is needed to be even more successful, creating alignment through shared consciousness and empowered execution.

The first step in this process is to share the plan with each employee and identify opportunities for all employees at all levels in the organization to make decisions and solve problems by enabling rather than directing. This concept of engagement through empowerment leads to a “team of teams” approach to foster transparency and allow for stronger communication and understanding of the company’s strategic plan. The execution portion of ScalingUP pinpoints three critical components that must happen throughout the organization in every team; priority, data, and rhythm.

Source: gazelles.com

Source: gazelles.com

Promoting trust and purpose with and between teams will contribute to bottom-up results from daily interaction. Our company initiative for quarter three and four is to ensure that each team is meeting regularly to define its big rock for the week, month, and quarter.  We’ve been instrumental at achieving improved communications resulting in better efficiency and enhanced teamwork between departments.

Align Today is a tool we use to keep everyone in the loop by sharing a one page plan available for all to see, update, and work together toward aligning department initiatives with the company’s common goal or BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal). We recently outsourced Centric Performance to conduct employee surveys and management review meetings for selected teams to help identify each employee’s understanding of his or her role and how it contributes to the common goal of the company. Leadership is serving others and bringing out the best in people.  It’s important to rally the emotional connection and understand the importance of what each employee values to truly have an engaged staff who wants to develop individually and succeed as a team. Our plan is to involve the employees in designing a plan for their own critical numbers and KPIs to create buy in, appreciation, accountability, and involvement toward the common goal.

As you can see, the quote we began this with has a lot to do with the processes and tools we have injected into our environment. Routine matters. Let’s face it–if you’re moving without a routine, your priorities are most likely scattered and you have no analytical evidence to uphold any of your efforts. Even more important, your goal, or “big rock” that every employee and department should be focusing on as a priority, should be backed by rhythm. The rhythm within your day-to-day tactical progress is your routine–that “groove” or effortless pattern you get into when you master your priorities and data.

We realize that growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together in synchrony. If there’s one key we continually take away from the Gazelles it’s that our people are our rhythm. They are the force that continually pushes us toward success. If we cease to invest and cultivate in our employees, then there will be no perpetual development. All of our growth depends upon their activity within our organization. Activity that sprouts innovation.

Take Time to Unplug: Vacation Destinations to Stay Off the Grid

It’s currently 88 degrees and sunny outside; and what am I doing? I am looking back and forth from my phone and my computer screen, inside, covered in a blanket because the air conditioning in my house is set to sub-arctic levels.  I need a vacation… Not just any vacation; a vacation from technology.  A trip where I can disconnect from the distractions of the internet and work, where I can focus on relaxing.

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How much time do you spend on your smartphone? Three hours a day? Four hours? More? According to a British psychological study whatever you estimate the time may be, you should double it. Checking our phones has become such a part of our daily routine that it’s ingrained in us. We don’t even realize we are doing it. We’re spending a lot of our day on Facebook or Instagram, too. In 2014 the average person spent 40 minutes per day on the social media sites. In 2016 it is now an average of 50 minutes. We take our phones to the bathroom; and have created new terms like Phantom Vibration Syndrome, and smartphone pinky. We are never without technology.

Believe it or not there are still some places cell phone reception and wifi are not accessible or reliable. If you are looking to take a vacation from technology, here are some great places to unwind where you won’t be sucked into your phone or computer.

The Wilds

My first thought on where to go to escape technology would be the woods camping. You can’t charge your phone when you’re living in a tent. But, roughing it in the woods isn’t my idea of relaxing. However, these locations could definitely provide the relief you need.

Emerald Lake Lodge, Canada : Enjoy the beautiful Canadian landscape in one of their cozy lodge rooms. Snuggle up to a fire in your in-suite fireplace or take in the views of the Rockies from your balcony. No interruptions from cell phones here since there is no reception at the lodge, and only wifi in the main lodge building.

Ultima Thule Lodge, Alaska : Don’t have a passport? Why not head to the great white north and this Alaskan getaway. The cabins only host a limited amount of guests at a time, and have their own onsite organic garden. They also have gourmet meals made with fresh-sourced salmon and game, stunning views, and comfortable cabins. You can only reach the resort by plane so it’s not hard to believe there is no cell service here.

The Beach

Still don’t think that the woods are the best place to relax or don’t think you could handle the cold of Alaska? There are still options. If you are a beach bum like I am, here are several places you can sun yourself and read a book or two in peace.

Campo Cortez Ecolodge, Mexico : If you really want to get off the grid this is the place. As an ecolodge, the cabins may be small but all modern amenities are available. Solar and wind powered electricity provide the ability to charge up some of your devices like a camera; something you will definitely want so you can capture the whales in the Baja area. No cell reception or TVs are in the cabins here though; so you can enjoy watching and learning about all the nature around you.

Little Palm Island, Florida : Now this is what I think of when escaping from reality for a bit. Beautiful beaches, warm sun, swimming with dolphins… Oh, and no television, phones, or guest under 16 (sorry if you were looking for a family vacation). I’m ready to pack my bags and pull a lounge chair up on the beach right now!

Don’t think you can go cold turkey from technology or don’t have time/money allotted for vacation right now?

Try taking baby steps and give yourself mini vacations each day. Carve out time every day where you put away everything, turn it all off, and read a book, have a nice dinner, or talk! If you sleep with your phone on your nightstand, move it out to another room and don’t touch it until morning. Whatever you do give yourself time to rest without distractions.

How to Unplug When You’re on Vacation

“A vacation should be just long enough for the boss to miss you, and not long enough for him to discover how well he can get along without you.”
-JACOB MORTON BRAUDE

Do you have a vacation or even a staycation planned this summer? Do you plan to bring your work phone, tablet or laptop along with you? Take note of the quote above and take a break from your work as well! Here are some steps you can take to “unplug” while you’re on vacation this year.


cell-1344985_960_720Set Expectations

Discuss with your coworkers the fact that you will not be taking your work with you on your trip. Decide who will make decisions on pressing matters for you. This will help alleviate any anxiety you may have about leaving your work, as well as, save you some time when you return. If necessary, let them know where they can reach you in a true emergency.

Pick your Tech
Will you totally unplug from technology for the week? Or, will you still use your personal devices to connect with friends and family you might not have seen in a while? Maybe you can’t live without those vacation selfies! Decide what level of technology you will be using for the week. By making this decision before your trip you will be able to better stick with your unplugged lifestyle for the week.

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Turn off Reminders and Notifications
Just like you’ll be turning off your wake up alarms during a relaxing vacation, turn off other notifications. This includes; Facebook, Twitter, E-mail and maybe even your text message and phone call alerts. This will help you fight the urge to check your phone each time it makes a noise or you hear a vibration.

Finally, if you can get away with it completely leave your devices at home or plan a trip outside of cell service and WiFi. Disconnecting allows you to reset and refresh your outlook, body and mind. You’ll go back to work more focused!

Do you completely go off the grid while on a vacation away from the office? Or do you still tend to do some work here and there?