Category Archives: Stan Craig

Build Your Corporate Character: Prevent Ethical Breakdowns

By Stan CraigStan Craig

Ethics and values are eroding across a wide spectrum of government, organizational and corporate sectors around the world. Bribes, cheating, criminal behavior, sexual abuse and harassment are becoming commonplace. A nationwide survey on workplace ethics in 2011 opened with this startling statement, “Based on what we see now, we expect workplace ethics to decline.” That is a powerful and alarming comment, but it is based on solid research from the Ethics Resource Center

It seems as if not a day passes by without a new story about ethical breakdowns. From doping athletes in baseball and cycling being stripped of titles and victories to politicians who behave as if sexual harassment and financial self-dealing are privileges of office, the stories are never ending.

Why are ethics in decline for individuals and corporations?

  • A me-first attitude that places corporate interests and individual pleasure or gratification before all other ethical responsibilities
  • A craving for power, status, wealth and recognition that sees people, family, friends and others as tools to be used whenever necessary
  • An “everybody is doing it” attitude that implies permission for any behavior
  • A lack of accountability, which makes ethical misconduct a personal matter
  • A social acceptance of wrong-doing as a way to succeed, stand out and achieve goals without the out-of-date restraints of the past
  • A “rot at the top” stain which harms the entire body, group or company
  • A focus on short-term benefits at the expense of quality, value and integrity

The good news is that you can prevent ethical issues in your company by making ethical behavior a priority. Here are a few ways to create a culture of ethical behavior:

1. State the values that matter and why—for your firm, your clients and every employee. Stated values have a perceived value in the workplace when posted, referred to and taught. They give meaning to the daily work routine. A common commitment to the client, providing the best products in the market place, and unparalleled service carry more value than stockpiling profits which employees do not always share.

2. Publicize the firm’s commitment to ethical values. Customers, clients and prospective business are all impacted positively when values are publically stated. It is especially powerful when the values are demonstrated. Target, Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart are just a few retailers who put the dollar amount of their charitable contributions on display.

3. Top-down leadership must commit to ethical values. Research indicates that employees do not believe top management lives up to the values and ethics they say they believe. Leaders must demand the best from themselves and reward employees who report misconduct and violations of the stated policy.

4. Managers at every level must pledge to learn, teach and apply the values stated. When employees see their own management team living corporate or organizational values and expecting all others to do the same, it is a confirmation that values matter.

5. Remind the entire organization that the right thing to do is always to do the right thing. Pressure to create sales and meet rollout deadlines, or reach the goal and please the stockholders or owners should never result in compromised behavior. Values and ethics are the glue that holds everything together. When they are broken, the sound carries far and wide and can trigger an avalanche ethical lapses that can never be undone.

6. Mottos and mission statements make a difference when they are displayed throughout the workplace. A mission, a motto and stated values can be printed on wallet cards, posters, or wall plaques in offices and gathering places. Values matter, and seeing them implies that they are just as important as labor laws and evacuation guides, and -perhaps- more meaningful for employees.

7. Be quick to take action when ethics and values are violated. If you want to denigrate a previous effort and integrity, ignore a violation when it occurs. Permitting violators to continue in their position when the facts of poor behavior are clear ends all creditability with your employees. The word will circulate quickly and undermine any previous efforts to maintain ethical standards if it is believed that some can get by with anything while others are punished, that sends a powerful message that ethics do not exist.

8. Ethical training and discussions help put values to work. When management expresses the values that the company or organization is to live by, employees are challenged to follow the example the company sets. This is one time when top-down leadership clearly works. Describing the right actions resulting from your shared values builds trust.

Consider this: your values actually create value for your company. Year after year some of the world’s most admired companies, the best places to work and highest growth companies are those with clear corporate values demonstrated in the work place.

Top ethical companies are in every industry: oil and gas exploration, healthcare and restaurants, Internet companies and financial service. There are a variety of rankings from Forbes, Ethisphere and others.

Ethisphere plainly states, “These companies also understand that a strong culture of ethics is key to helping drive financial performance.”

Employees want to come to work every day more excited than the last—no one wants to dread going to work. Even tedious and repetitive tasks have a purpose larger than the action itself. A unified understanding of the key values applied to decision-making makes a difference. A deep commitment and belief in the mission of the company to delight customers, develop dedicated clients, solve problems and positively impact others is a value to be created, understood and shared. When the ethical line is blurred and values are questioned, employees stop believing in the company and taking pride in their job and its significance.

Your business or organizational culture is a conscious state of mind. It makes all the difference in the pride and accountability in each employee and how clients, customers or potential clients are treated in your organization. Culture is built on values, ethical expectations and behavior. Make your ethics and values real and watch the positive changes that flow from these clear and expressive centerpieces of your culture.

John Hammond said, “Character is the real foundation of all worthwhile success.” That applies to corporations and organizations as well as individuals. Declining ethics and values need not be a prophecy fulfilled. Build your corporate character, explain and live your values and it is likely success will follow in more ways than you can imagine.

Stan Craig, the founder of the ForeTalk Seminar, is an accomplished financial planner, executive coach and keynote speaker. He is also author of “ForeTalk: The 7 Critical Conversations for Living in the Season of Now.” As a finance professional, Stan enjoyed a 27-year career at Merrill Lynch, which included positions as National Sales Manager, Director of Global Sales for Defined Asset Funds and the First Vice President and Senior Director of the Office of Investment Performance.

Expecting the Unexpected: 4 Tips to Safeguard Your Business

By Stan CraigStan Craig

January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 was on its way to Charlotte, North Carolina, when, two minutes after takeoff, a flock of Canadian geese flew into the aircraft causing both engines to fail. The passengers braced for impact. As the plane fell from the sky, the freezing waters of the Hudson River came into view and Flight 1549 hit the water at 150 mph. Dave Stockton, a businessman on the plane, said later in a television interview, “When you think you’re going to die, you start thinking about your life… your family, little league baseball, things like in a movie.” All 156 passengers survived the crash in the 36° water and their lives were changed forever.

This was a totally unexpected occurrence in everyone’s life that morning. But what was a sure disaster became a much different story than anyone could have imagined.

Captain Sullenberger told Katie Couric in an interview on ABC that, while this emergency was unexpected, he was not unprepared.

“One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years I’ve been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

What was evident to everyone on Flight 1549 was that this captain had spent sufficient time preparing himself for the unexpected. The unexpected occurs every day in our business and personal lives. Those who are wise always expect the unexpected and prepare accordingly. How do you prepare for the unexpected?

Value Experience: Every business has a number of experiences, personal and corporate, positive and negative, in its history. It is impossible to run a business without facing and overcoming difficulty. The collective wisdom learned ought to be shared. Rather than forgetting and burying past mistakes, those who are wise will take the time to review and discuss past solutions and new ways to confront problems should they, or any problems similar, come again. This is not about assigning blame, but about discovering what went wrong and why. The corporate memory of senior employees to review problems in the past can help prevent them in the future. The experience of Capt. Sullenberger made the difference in the lives of everyone on board.

Rethink Training: In the archives of every business, whether it is entrepreneurial or corporation, big or small, events have occurred that need to be discussed and reviewed with an emphasis on discovering answers to past problems.

This is exactly what Capt. Sullenberger’s training was all about. He had investigated accidents in the past and understood the fatal flaws that resulted in tragic consequences. Training is not just a special class or attending a seminar. Training takes place every day in how we view and carry out our tasks and responsibilities. Safety training is not simply where to find the fire extinguisher, but what fires were caused in the past and why.

Educate Everyone: It is important to remember that Capt. Sullenberger was not selected for singular education in flight safety but was included in a number of flight safety training programs held throughout his career. What if his age, his background, his previous educational experiences, had disqualified him from training or what if he had decided it was unnecessary at his level of experience? Safety is everyone’s business and training everyone is in the best interest of every business.

Make regular deposits: Every day your business has an opportunity to train, motivate and recognize your employees. Helping everyone do the best in whatever job he or she is doing ought to be the function of every manager.

Unexpected events do not always occur when leaders are around to make decisions. They can occur on the line, on the shipping dock, when the raw material is delivered, when a tiny flaw in the manufacturing process becomes apparent and that’s often the place and time to act. It is those every-day occurrences where confident and prepared have the opportunity to make a difference in the outcomes that affect our employees, our shareholders, our management team, our clients, products and the well-being of our business.

The unexpected can come from anywhere, at any time. Who could have expected and prepared for a flock of Canadian geese to bring down a modern aircraft? Captain Sullenberger responded by trusting his experience, education and training to guide him in wise and thoughtful action.

Taking care of the little details, learning to be observant, openly discussing problems and issues without any fear is a trait of being successful. Training and experience helps everyone prepare for the unexpected so that when a major crisis comes a safe landing can be made.

Stan Craig, the founder of the ForeTalk Seminar, is an accomplished financial planner, executive coach and keynote speaker. He is also author of “ForeTalk: The 7 Critical Conversations for Living in the Season of Now.” As a finance professional, Stan enjoyed a 27-year career at Merrill Lynch, which included positions as National Sales Manager, Director of Global Sales for Defined Asset Funds and the First Vice President and Senior Director of the Office of Investment Performance.

Building Better Business with Generosity

By Stan CraigStan Craig

The full-page ad in a Sunday edition of The New York Times stated boldly that $60,000,000 was received in 2012, over $1,000,000 a week by a variety of recognized charities and community causes. The ad was not from a charity or fund-raising organization. It was from one of America’s largest retailers with multiple stores all across America. Why run full-page ads announcing charitable giving? Why not a sales ad or holiday offers? Because statistics prove over and over that customers, if given a choice, prefer to buy from those who provide support to charities and causes they see as valuable to their community.

More and more companies understand the balance sheet is more than numbers and have developed values that are stated, respected and carried out. Generosity is one of those values. The buying public has made clear that they prefer to buy from good corporate citizens. Generosity demonstrates a genuine corporate value that benefits the company, employees and the community.

When corporations were first granted their charters to do business in our new democracy, they were evaluated on the contributions they made to the public good. While much has changed in the way companies do business, providing public good is still very important and part of every balance sheet.

Generosity comes in all sizes. It will fit nearly every business. How is true generosity recognized? Generosity is noticed if its goals are visible and more than a sales or a morale booster. If your company is looking for ways to give back, consider the following options:

Money talks

  • Money works. In Louisville, Kentucky, the Chairman of the United Way Campaign for 2012, Tom Monahan, wanted to encourage greater participation at all levels of business. But he also had another goal: “to blow away the stereotype of greedy companies interested only in the bottom line.” Cash gifts were recognized in a new fashion.
  • Partnerships work. Monahan enlisted the help of other community leaders and organizations to create a “Partners in Philanthropy publication and an awards banquet to showcase funds for the United Way and demonstrate the many examples of community generosity. Both the publication and banquet recognized the corporations and businesses that gave the most in cash contributions to non-profits in the city.
  • Gifts in-kind work. Categories were designed to recognize large, medium and small corporations for their cash gifts. Non-profits and the work they do were presented. Small businesses were also recognized for the difference they made in a category called “partners in innovation.” A number of family-owned business leaders were included in this new recognition program. A local design company won for their work in renovating dormitories at a youth treatment center and for enlisting many others for gifts in kind to complete the project.

Volunteers matter: Volunteering works. Businesses that encourage employee volunteer days at a local non-profit of their choice get a double bonus. Employees enjoy serving and local non-profits see your company in a very different light. With employee verification, write a check to an organization representing the value of an employee’s work if a paid day-off can’t be granted. Schedule an employee generosity day for all employees to sign up for a community or team project.

Helping build a house for Habitat for Humanity, spending a day at a soup kitchen or shelter or helping in a local school or community center are all team building events as well as acts of generosity.

Here are just a few of the dividends that corporate generosity creates according to VolunteerMatch.org.

  • Raises employee morale: 94% of companies surveyed believed employee volunteering provides a way to raise employee morale
  • Boosts employee health: 92% of people who volunteer through their workplace report higher rates of physical and emotional health
  • Provides skill development: 88% of employee volunteers report that volunteering provides networking/career development opportunities
  • Increases employee loyalty: 66% of employees reported a greater commitment to the company as a result of their experience as volunteers.

There are many more examples of creative ways to be generous. Look around your neighborhood, your community. How can what you do every day become more evident and beneficial to others?

Little things count: “Giving” actually multiplies what you are “receiving.” Walk into most Sam’s Clubs or Costcos at 1 p.m. on almost any weekday and you can basically have a free lunch–and not by ordering at the lunch counter. Just walk down the aisles and you will find hot foods from pizza to burgers, cold beverages, hot beverages, sweets and treats of all sorts–freely and gladly handed out. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are doing the same for their customers.

Why this generosity? The truth is, even if the goal is not necessarily to be generous (as we think of it), generosity can build sales. Coupons for free items, free bonus gifts and prizes have always worked to gain attention and build sales for products from cereal and soap to jewelry and big ticket items such as automobiles and even homes.

Generosity pays dividends:

  • It is attention-getting
  • It is cost efficient
  • It builds top-of-mind awareness
  • It may increase sales
  • Customers or clients perceive a benefit
  • There is a spillover effect to other areas and products

But how can you be generous when your cash is low, your business consists of products or services that you can’t give as samples—or you have few employees to volunteer? What then?

  • Offer discounts to charitable organizations
  • Give time or funds to community projects
  • Participate in a community event that is not business-related
  • Offer your place of business for community use, seminars, calling-marathons, a meeting room
  • Lead a class on your specialty for the Chamber of Commerce or any local organization or non-profit
  • Speak to senior citizens clubs, retirement communities, schools, and PTAs and let the group charge participants for your valuable information and keep the revenue

Customers and potential customers will take note. Positive publicity is generated. Commit to generosity in the true sense of the word and it will make a difference that can pay dividends for years to come and build your balance sheet in ways that simply can’t be quantified.

Remember, your bottom line may not only be measured by revenue received, but by resources shared. Generosity is a business vitamin that will build a healthier bottom line.

Stan Craig, the founder of the ForeTalk Seminar, is an accomplished financial planner, executive coach and keynote speaker. He is also author of “ForeTalk: The 7 Critical Conversations for Living in the Season of Now.” As a finance professional, Stan enjoyed a 27-year career at Merrill Lynch, which included positions as National Sales Manager, Director of Global Sales for Defined Asset Funds and the First Vice President and Senior Director of the Office of Investment Performance.

Empty Chairs and Empty Pockets: Re-examining the Value of Life Insurance

By Stan CraigStan Craig

What if your office chair were empty tomorrow and forever?  How valuable are you to your organization? How important are your skills, your leadership, your vision and passion to the success and future of your business, institution, organization or even your family?

These are not hypothetical questions. They are as real as your heartbeat. Who is counting on you? Make no mistake; there are many who will hurt, some businesses may fold, some schools, colleges, churches and institutions may suffer, some dear ones may not recover emotionally or financially if your chair is empty.

On the other hand, it is possible that, even in the direst circumstances, those you care about, the places and people that are counting on you can be protected even if the unexpected happens today. A conversation now about life insurance may mean accumulated debts can be gone and funding for growth to secure and expand your business or place of service will be there when you are not. College educations can continue without interruption, mortgages can be paid and your income can be partially replaced for your family.

Today, life insurance is more important, more affordable and accessible than ever. Things have changed. The market is very competitive.  For those with a 20-year time horizon, the rates of return on whole life or permanent insurance exceed nearly every CD, money market, and other low-risk choices. Inflation risk is currently non-existent, making insurance a better investment than any time in recent history. Consider this:

Age matters.  The younger you are, the less the expense.  Temporary or term insurance can be very reasonable. Mike Elliott was still in high school when his dad, an entrepreneur who had an undiagnosed heart ailment, died at age 42.  But Mike had 4 years of college and 6 years of medical school paid for because his dad had life insurance that provided for Mike’s future education.

Health matters.  The time to buy insurance is before you need it. Chris Monteforte planned to buy a temporary or term policy. Just before his appointment with an agent, his doctor prescribed medication to lower cholesterol and his high blood pressure, which resulted from his recent weight gain. These conditions disqualified him for the policy he wanted to own.

Family matters. Married with children and a mortgage? Insurance needs grow along with your family and debt. Forbes Magazine and all its various related businesses were kept in the family because Malcolm Forbes’ life insurance policies paid all state and federal estate taxes due at his death.  Selling assets or even the business to pay taxes is a loser’s game and can erode decades of hard work.

Capital and continuity matters. Own your own business? Have a business partner? Are you a key leader in a charitable or service organization? Your insurance can provide security and stability when you are not there to lead. All the accumulated debt of Liberty University was paid completely and a large endowment was created when Dr. Jerry Falwell, president and founder of the university, died unexpectedly leaving a reported $34 million to secure the future of his beloved institution.

Today matters. Insurance has never been more accessible.  Research online at insure.com  or selectquote.com or call an agent.  Your current agent who handles your car or home insurance may be very competitive in price.

Common excuses for not purchasing life insurance ignore the benefits.

The idea that younger families do not need life insurance is incorrect.  Losing a breadwinner dramatically alters the future for both the spouse and children. In addition, it is much cheaper for a younger person to be covered.

Some argue that it is too expensive. This is a huge misconception as there are many low cost options, competitive pricing and types of policies available that provide great value for families. Here is just one example:

A 35-year-old male in good health can buy a 20-year, $1,000,000 term policy for less than $39 per month (quotes will vary by age, health and company).

Can you afford not to own some form of life insurance, permanent (called whole life) or temporary (coverage for a defined period of time) to ensure a long-term future for your business, those people and institutions you deeply care about?

Why not talk it over today and make plans now so no one will ever have to say, “It is too bad; if had he/she had only known what was ahead, it would have made such a difference for everyone.” The time is now; do not put this off. People are counting on you to make right decisions. Life insurance may be more expensive tomorrow and, perhaps, too late.

Your empty chair will be costly. Life insurance in its various forms has the power to transform a tragedy to an expression of caring that can live for decades to come. It is time to re-examine your needs and plan for the future. It all begins with a simple conversation. You may be surprised at the peace of mind and sense of security you will know and share with those who matter most.

Stan Craig, the founder of the ForeTalk Seminar, is an accomplished financial planner, executive coach and keynote speaker. He is also author of “ForeTalk: The 7 Critical Conversations for Living in the Season of Now.” As a finance professional, Stan enjoyed a 27-year career at Merrill Lynch, which included positions as National Sales Manager, Director of Global Sales for Defined Asset Funds and the First Vice President and Senior Director of the Office of Investment Performance.