Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to unlock your CEO Mindset

Key Notes

When you subscribe to Key Notesreceive a special report "3 Secrets to Using the CEO Mindset For Business Success"

*I hate spam too! Your information will never be given, sold, or rented to anyone else. EVER!

Social Icons
The 3 Keys Coaching Process

Use Ability, Success, Growth to unlock you as CEO of your small business

Click to learn more

What do I do?

Learn more about coaching services and expanding in the US .
What People Are Saying
“As a small business, bringing values, your values, into your professional life is automatic, after all, wasn't that why you took the plunge? But, how often does that work get in the way? Ellen helps you find the place back to balance: your work and your values can peacefully co-exist, even better, your values can help you focus your business. Focus on your abilities so that you can grow and succeed.”
- Danielle Hender, Esq. Shapiro & Hender

Have You Seen These KaizenBiz Posts?

Some of you may know that I lead a chat on Twitter called #KaizenBiz (It used to be called #KaizenBlog). But if you didn’t know, let me introduce you…

What is KaizenBiz?

In brief, we discuss (yes, in only 140 characters) various business topics every Friday at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT. This worldwide chat uses the concept of Kaizen while exploring business ideas. The mission of chat is to apply critical thinking to various business topics, enhance our skills and deepen our self-understanding. We do this within a community that enjoys connecting with one another through conversation online and off.

Come over and visit

These are our most recent posts so please read and share your perspective:

Please read, comment and join us on Fridays at 12pm ET on Twitter. If you would like an idea of what the conversation is like, here is the transcript from this past Friday’s discussion, “Why Doesn’t Everyone Have Effective Teamwork?” I hope you’ll join us soon!



Business, Design and Love

Eve Blossom and Lulan Artisans

 This post is by guest blogger, Eve Blossom who leads Lulan Artisans  and author of Material Change is our guest on this week’s Twitter chat, #kaizenblog. She is passionate about creating a collaborative business model that sets the stage for the artisans to have economic and social sustainability. Please join us to explore “Love, Design and Business” this Friday at 12pm ET/5pm GMT/9am PT on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog.

Business: What Moves You, Grabs You, Won’t Let You Go

I started my career in Architecture and in 1995 was fortunate enough to live and work in Hanoi, renovating old French villas. During my first few months in Hanoi, I witnessed first-hand a transaction where a young girl was sold by her father to a European man for sex.  She was 6 years old. I tried to intervene. I was threatened at knifepoint.  I was unsuccessful in changing the outcome for that little girl.

 That night, I had a striking realization.  I began to see Human Trafficking as a marketplace— where unfortunately the commodity is a person. I could see clearly that Human Trafficking is an economic market that needs to be addressed at an economic level. Click here to read more »


What Is #kaizenblog Today?

#kaizenblogWhen I  joined the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog as co-host with Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge), I knew I was in for something that would stretch and engage me. Valeria and I share a passion for exploring ideas and wanting to discuss them with others to see what else we could discover. Another person, Caroline Di Diego (@CASUDI), was (and is) a key supporter as I accepted the role of chat host. Caroline is also passionate about engaging with people and ideas and urged me to step up. When Valeria passed the baton to me, it was the right time to make the chat my own.

But the chat isn’t just mine

It’s really stone soup. You know that folk tale? To be fair, the #kaizenblog community is a much easier and more generous crowd. I find interesting topics, intriguing guest hosts, craft discussion questions and then it all comes together during the discussion when people add their expertise and insights.

The underlying foundation Click here to read more »


Could Your Business Suffer a Brain Drain?

Low employee engagementLast week I attended a local chapter meeting of the ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) and had a very interesting conversation with a V.P. of Training of a local company. She was telling me how her company is discussing how to prevent talent (the employees) from leaving in large numbers as the economy starts to pick up. At least anecdotally, I’m hearing some anxiety about how much more employees will tolerate and what it will take for them to stay.

Is there anything to this worry?

There is a lot of data out there from Price Waterhouse Cooper, CLC Human Resources and Gallup about how employees are not happy campers in their organizations. Whether it has to do with being underemployed or a  high potential employee, there seem to be people who are checking out the job market and seeing if it’s the right time to jump ship. With economists forecasting that the US economy will improve, there may be turbulence in many companies as people seek new positions that fit their wants and needs more. However, it is also true that, globally, economic forecasts are not as rosy. It is possible that there may be pockets of employees ditching their jobs for greener pastures depending on the local economy.

Benefits matter

At least in the US, the rising costs with health benefits has certainly cause some unhappiness according to Gallup. That pesky work-life relationship rears its head in this category. People need to know that they will be treated with respect with how much out-of-pocket expenses they are responsible for. Benefits like vacation time and retirement plans matter as does how much on-the-job stress employees must put up with.

Leadership disconnected

If you visit, you can read reviews of what it’s like to work for specific companies. Sadly, you see a lot of complaints that work schedules are too taxing and that management is too caught up in the bureaucracy of the company. Sure, it’s easy to pick on large corporations which have behemoth bureaucracies. However, this can happen in small to mid-sized companies as well. For some organizations, there is a clash between “old” business practices and “new” practices. When the organizational leadership takes pride in not understanding social networking or using cloud computing or telecommuting, workers feel like they’re being treated as tools and not people. There are many trends that are emerging that are challenging leaders in organizations of all sizes (check out those mentioned in the  Hay Group Leadership 2030 research). Not paying attention to research, avoiding self-development and ignoring opportunities to involve employees in planning is tantamount to saying, ” go ahead and leave, we don’t need you.”

What else matters?

According to a recent OfficeTeam survey, 27% of workers reported that having opportunities to learn and grow encouraged engagement. While ASTD reports an upswing in how training is funded and used in organizations, this is still an category that gets cut when the economic environment is inhospitable. However, even in global trend research, training and development played a role in employee engagement.

However, it isn’t simply reducing one’s skills gap that engaged employees. The ability to further one’s career within the organization was a key piece. This is where organizations can lose their high potential employees. If you can’t move out of your position, then logically, it would make sense to go somewhere else to achieve your career and life goals.

Current trends are showing a downward direction in people leaving their organizations

There is still an immense challenge that organizations of all sizes face in making sure they keep employee engagement high. It’s more than a paycheck that workers desire. This is good news for  businesses with more limited resources. Dan Pink, in his book, Drive, focused on purpose, meaning and autonomy. At the end of the day, your employees want to be treated as grown ups with perspectives and skills that are necessary to your organization’s success.

What do you believe turns people off the most?

What trends do you believe decision-makers need to pay attention to the most?

*Join us in the this discussion on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog on Friday, January 27, 2012 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT . We’d love to have your observations and opinions!



Social Media – Can You Measure That?!

Business owners and decision-makers are used to reading financial reports to analyze the performance of their businesses. So, with all of the advice that businesses should be involved with social media, it seems logical to want to measure how it works. But what do you measure? And do these measurements mean anything?

So, if social media is about relationships, then…

You can say you’re using social media for marketing, customer relations or what have you. But you are really having a lot of conversations with a variety of people. So you spend time blogging, chatting with people on Twitter, posting interesting things on Facebook or answering questions on LinkedIn. You build up relationships but there must be some sort of purpose.

Is it about influence or sales?

In a lot of ways, using social media is a big experiment. There are those who try to game social media by finding certain keywords that attract people. So people will write posts about, say, Steve Jobs so you look at them.  And others use lists that increase the numbers of followers. It doesn’t appear that this is truly about influence so it’s got to be about money.

For the rest of us, it becomes more of a question if you’re seeking to be a thought leader or an expert in your field who shares valuable information. Either way, you are building trust with your friends, followers and fans. The people who tweet or post for you communicate your brand and people make associations with this.

What kinds of tools show that people trust you?

There are loads of tools! It’s mind-boggling, to be honest. Here are 10 that are interesting:

And there are even more tools not even named here. But…

What’s the point?

There are more than enough tools to measure whatever you want. You could monitor:

  • The frequency that your posts are shared
  • The methods used to share your posts
  • The number of friends, followers or fans
  • Your ability to reach beyond just your friends, followers or fans
  • All of the above

However, it all comes down to defining the purpose of your monitoring. The reasons you are using social media are your benchmarks for the  monitoring. It seems very clear that there is a lot to learn to make these tools useful to you. Identifying which tool (or tools) will serve your purpose triggers the question, “are these numbers meaningful?” Getting usable information that lead to goals in your business plan is paramount.

What are the most important things to look for when you’re monitoring social media?

Why is this information important?

When would you ignore data from your social media monitoring tool?

How would you describe the ROI of social media?

*Please join us on the Twitter chat on Friday, November 18th at 12pm ET/5pm GMT/9am PT to discuss “Social Media Analytics: Useless or Meaningful”


Is a Real Smile Too Much?

Real smiles and customer serviceWhile I was doing my graduate degree, I worked at a jewelry counter. During the sales training, they explained that many customers could appear rough around the edges and not well dressed. They emphasized that the most unlikely people could be the big spenders. The organization training me was based in the the middle of the country so they spoke about farmers and factory workers. The community I lived and worked in included old time New England types, immigrants from India, Central America, Russia and transplants from other US states.  Unfortunately, the trainers didn’t explain how we were to make a connection with these particular customers so we were left to our devices.

Smiling seemed a natural way to start building rapport. It was fun to hear the back story and look for an everyday watch or that perfect set of earrings with my customers. Creating these mini-relationships seemed logical to me and it certainly was a positive strategy as I was a top commission earner in the department.

We’re all in customer service

No matter if you’re selling jewelry, consultancy services or smartphone apps, we are all customer service representatives. Tom Asacker has written extensively about how everyone in an organization communicates the brand. This exhibits the authenticity of an organization.  We have so many potential moments to connect with another person when we speak with prospects, colleagues and other professionals. Some, if not all of these moments could have you smiling at another human being. Jeff Toister has a great post of what happens when you leave the smile out, even over the phone. We are all points of reference for people outside of our organizations.

So all I need to do is smile, right?

Partly, yes. Are you seeking to engage with the other person and why? Answering this question reverts you back to your organization’s executive summary. Yes, seriously. It’s about the organization’s values. Are you smiling at this person because they are a revenue source or something else? Is it inauthentic on your part to want to make the sale?

Authentic customer service is more than a smile

The current messages about authenticity state that people are seeking “real” people to do business with. We’re told how to write content, biographic profiles and frame sales pitches so they build relationships. There is nothing inherently wrong with these messages. But we might be creating something that doesn’t exist in business. Perhaps we’re faking authenticity the way we fake our smiles. The face moves but we’re left feeling like something is off base. (Want to see if you can spot fake or genuine smiles? Take this test on this BBC site.)

Tom Asacker writes, “engagement is the first step in an evolving process that ultimately leads to belief, adoption and support of the organizations’ brands.” Feelings prompt purchases. This is true whether you’re selling business to business (B2B) or to consumers. The way you make me feel is what prompts me to want to do business with you. And…how you make me feel, particularly during a conflict, prompts me to want to continue doing business with you.

Conflict is the greatest test of authentic customer service

At some point, you will have a clash with someone over your product, service, ideas or price. Smiling may not be literally the most appropriate response to a situation but bear with me for a moment. Your value system includes how you want to be treated by others. This is the human element that is a potential chaotic agent. When someone approaches us with a complaint, it is natural to feel defensive and attacked. This complaining person has attacked our value system. Chaos is introduced when we forget how we want to treat others.

A real smile may be worth a lot of money…or not

The current emphasis on being authentic may be a trend and not significant in the long term. On the other hand, there is a lot of energy in conversations about making work meaningful and more human-centered. As we interact with customers, prospects and other professionals, we are the snapshot of our organization. A real smile could be an invitation and gift embedded in your authentic customer service.

Beyond the  current vogue definition of “authenticity”, how would you honestly describe it?

How do you train customer service representatives to naturally exhibit organizational authenticity?

What are our choices really saying when we fail to treat our clients/customers as if they matter?

If businesses are ultimately about making money, could authenticity be irrelevant?Why or why not?

*Consider yourself invited to join us as we talk about customer service & authentic connection “Is a Smile Too Much?”” on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog on Friday, October 14th at 12pm ET/5pm BST/9am PT so I hope you can join us. If not, please add your thoughts below.


Living Business Plan: Letting Go, Quitting and 2012

*Join us for this topic on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog. We’ll start the discussion on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT or add your comment below.

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting a business planning workshop to small business owners. While talking about  living business plans , I urged the participants to identify what needs to be eliminated. We don’t talk enough about how to let go of the parts of our businesses that are half-alive. And quitting? Forget about it!

For the sake of this conversation, I’m going to use the word, quitting. It’s a word with so many negative nuances. WLet Go, Quit and Decision Pointithout critical thinking, we accept these nuances without knowing if they are true to our experience.

What’s not working as well as you would like?

When you set your business goals for 2011, you had certain things you wanted to achieve by December 31, 2011. There were positive results to celebrate. But what produces lackluster results?

  • Holding onto a product or a service that very few purchase
  • The marketing plan didn’t produce the expected results
  • People just didn’t want what we offered
  • You fell in love with your product or service and didn’t allow for adaptation or iterations of your product or service

Could you let go of something you loved developing?

Some of what we offer to our customers means more to us than simply a revenue source. Maybe all is good for awhile and then you’re doing your quarterly review. You notice  it’s not moving the way you expected. After a couple more quarterly reviews, you’re seeing a downward trend.

By letting go, it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go.

But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning. -Lao Tzu

When letting go becomes quitting…

There’s an interesting behavior among entrepreneurial business owners. When someone decides to close their business and return to working for someone else, entrepreneurial colleagues often respond with suggestions to keep the business on the side or urge him/her simply to not quit. Failure still seems to be taboo, for all those who claim that this gives you some kind of street cred.

Imagine quitting isn’t failure.

Of science and the human heart

There is no limit.

There is no failure here, sweetheart

Just when you quit

“Miracle Drug”, U2

That’s the premise of the Freakonomics podcast, “The Upside of Quitting”. They state that there is a fallacy of weighing sunk costs. This concept is that we’ve sunk too much of our time, money, and/or energy and we can’t leave without getting something back for our efforts. One of the people interviewed for this podcast is Justin Humphries, a former baseball player, who now assists baseball players outside of Major League Baseball decide when it’s time to quit playing. Many baseball players who are at the end of their career struggle with accepting that they aren’t good enough or too old. Part of this seems to stem from lacking a broader sense of identity. Instead of seeing how they might transfer their skills to another part of baseball or find another career entirely, many players keep playing baseball.

Knowing when to ” shut it down”.

Stephen Dubner captured underlying belief for these baseball players, “Wow, that’s particularly poignant in my view… because baseball’s one of those rare sports that because it doesn’t have a clock, no game is ever out of reach…You could be behind a thousand runs in the bottom of the ninth and theoretically you can still come back and win. So that’s part of the ethic of baseball is never, never, never, never quit. Quitting is  not an option.”

The dissonance between “science and the human heart”

Entrepreneurs and business owners are often like these baseball players. With the recent severe recession and snail-like recovery, many startups and businesses are at a decision point. There are glimmers that things are just beginning to ease up and it’s exhausting trying to keep things afloat. And yet, quitting may not be seen as one choice.

As entrepreneurs and business owners, we derive much of our identity and a sense of competency from our business. We see the financial reports spelling out the science of our business. But, in our hearts, the challenges evoke emotions of grief, helplessness and powerlessness. We’ve put too much in to close the doors. We’re given so many messages that shames us out of quitting. And yet, quitting may turn out to be the best decision we could ever make for ourselves and our businesses. As it is urged by the “The Upside of Quitting”, imagine “there is no failure here.”

Setting goals for 2012

No one would ever say that letting go or quitting are easy or even pleasant experiences. Nonetheless, it is essential to identify any deadweight or mediocre performers. These could be things (or, ouch, people) you are fond of or just have out of habit and these are compromising your business vision. There is an intersection between deciding to let go or quit and your business goals. Aligning your metrics and your heart is an essential task when setting business goals.

What messages do we hear when we’re at the decision point to let go/quit/continue?

How are these messages helpful or  harmful?

How do you let go of a product/service in your business that’s not performing well?

How can “science and the human heart” become resonant with choice to quit?

As you plan your business goals for 2012, how could letting go or quitting assist planning?


*Join us for this topic on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog. We’ll start the discussion on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT or add your comment below.


Do What Scares You-Latest Bloggertone Post For Your SME

The recent economic turmoil has triggered a lot of change for many of us. Whether you are seeking the change or it has been imposed on you, it is important to know how to handle any fear that accompanies your change process.

Read more about Do What Scares You…


Redefining Capitalism & Does It Matter To Your Business?

Capitalism-Doomed or Adapting?Have you ever really stopped to think about capitalism? How do you define it? Some definitions are more loaded than others if you look at the various links in this Google search However, if you own or lead a business, you are definitely participating in this system.

Describing the system to ourselves

There are so many words to describe the way we think about capitalism. There are variations on how capitalism is expressed if you start looking at how some corporate entities are state-owned to the mixed economy type.There are advocates for free markets, laissez-faire or free enterprise as if they are infallible. Other people raise questions about how money is distributed, how workers are treated by their employers or the potential for creating instability. No matter where you fall philosophically, the flaws in the system brought a great deal of havoc in 2008 and we’re still dealing with the consequences.

The flaws are the issue.

There are fierce debates in many countries about how to regulate this system. Certainly one of the most famous critique of capitalism is Das Kapital by Karl Marx. When we are faced with troubled companies that are “too big to fail” and they can harm a national or even global economy, something is amiss. It’s easy to blame the elite rich or labor unions or whomever is your target but at the end of the day, we’re still participating in this system.  There are ethical questions about what happens to the widening gap between each economic class, unemployment and consumerism. How do we talk about the flaws of capitalism?

The process of redefining capitalism

Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say it’s a process of redesigning capitalism. One movement has been sustainability. While it is often associated with green technology and environmentalism, sustainability also includes developing business models that can respond well to stressors and successes. Even in Nouriel Roubini’s post, “Is Capitalism Doomed?” the question lies in how we think about people and what makes them productive more than exploiting markets. There is also more expressed desires for a flexible work-life balance and work that has meaning and purpose. Where does this fit in?

Join the conversation.

It behooves us to not ask ourselves what we believe about capitalism and how we want to create businesses that are sustainable. This is the business climate we’re in and the turbulence isn’t going away in a hurry. We can choose to continue supporting current practices, foster a revitalized system or eliminate capitalism as we know it altogether. It may not be a clear answer but your answer is part of conversation.

In the next #kaizenblog (Twitter chat) on Friday, September 9th at 12pm ET/5pm BST/9am PT we’re discussing this topic. Please join us and add your thoughts and expertise. If you can’t join in on Twitter, please add your comments below.

Which aspects of capitalism are still relevant to the current economic climate?

What trends are you noticing in discussions about capitalism?

What is changing on a micro-level (within your business community) that is sustainable?


Ethics, Blinders and Business

Everyday challenges to business ethicsThis is our topic for this week’s #kaizenblog, a weekly Twitter chat that uses the concept of kaizen to critically think about various aspects of business, enhance our skills and deepen our self-understanding. You can join this conversation every Friday at 12pm Eastern.

Do you think you know right from wrong? Are you consistent every time? We’d all like to think so. However, recent research on self-discipline and decision fatigue makes one wonder if there may be a slippery slope we didn’t take into account. It’s easy to identify corporate scandals that involve blatant greed and social pressure. But are there smaller moments when ethics are placed aside?

Everyday temptations

  • Conflicts of interest are probably the most common situations any of us encounter. Competing loyalties and desires can make us squirm. Sometimes we want to please someone. Sometimes we are in an uneven power dynamic and feel we must comply. Maybe we’re in a culture that is foreign or opposed to what we believe.
  • The weight of our values change. Over time, how we value things changes. It isn’t so much that you throw out your “old” values as change the level of importance. Our values can clash with one another as well causing cognitive dissonance. If you haven’t reviewed your values recently, here is a ValuesInventory that I often give to my clients.
  • Who or what in our environment entices us? Many times we are confronted with situations where we want to be in with the “cool kids”. The desire to compete, show off or be part of the glamour tempts us to put our integrity aside. Other situations include using an excessive amount of company time for personal calls, shopping, social media (unrelated to your job) or chatting with co-workers.
  • Expediency can undermine our integrity. How many projects have you been a part of that included giving a customer a product with defects. Maybe it really doesn’t affect the  product is a major way and maybe the customer won’t notice? It’s also fairly common to tell someone what they want to hear so they stop bothering you. The old “the check is in the mail” is a great example of this.

But what makes us put blinders on?

It would be nice to say only “bad” people make unethical choices. It’s not that simple though. Fatigue and stress undermine our ability to make good judgements. Since self-discipline is a finite resource, we might compromise ourselves (on a small scale, I hope) because we just don’t have the juice to see through the more challenging choices.

Maybe it’s the system of capitalism? It’s so easy to say “let the market sort things out”. Although sustainability and social responsibility has become a bigger piece of the business landscape, old habits die hard. The idea that it must be “winner takes all” creates an environment where cutting corners or simply avoiding certain choices makes money. It’s hard to beat that kind of reinforcement. Not that it can’t be done. It merely is a challenge. And as long as there are bubbles in the market (think the, housing and maybe gold right now?), people will ride those waves and build businesses to answer perceived needs or wants for these markets.

So, how do we encourage ourselves and others to act with integrity?

We could leave all this ethics stuff to academics, ethicists or philosophers. However, the most effective way to get this stuff out in the open is to talk about it. Frankly, a code of ethics written in the employee handbook is not worth much if it is never actually tested with conversations and critical thinking. There are some great suggestions on how to create these conversations on the HBR Blog Network by Francesca Gino. It’s been noted by Dan Ariely and other researchers that we are adept at rationalizing our choices. By stopping to examine our behavior, even if the conversation isn’t about us directly, we are given the chance to build up our ability to act with integrity and courage.

What other everyday temptations occur in business settings?

What do we  risk by making ethical choices?

How would a common code of business ethics work in real life?

What would help each of us to act with more consistent integrity?


Join us for the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog, this Friday, August 26th as we take a look at this topic, “Ethics, Blinders and Business.”  We meet every Friday at 12pm ET/5pm BST/9am PT .