8 Key Ways to Keep Valued Employees

cultureWe create a culture at work made up of behavioral norms. One of the most important roles of a manager or director is setting values for that culture. Ideally, the corporate culture promotes a feeling of comfort and support that keeps employees motivated and productive. Here are eight key ideas to consider if you want a culture that gets the most out of your employees and co-workers and helps them feel like they are part of a team, all pulling the same direction.

  1. Pass It On – Treat employees as you want them to treat both internal and external customers. Most of us say we want our customers treated well, but that is very hard for staff to do if they are treated poorly. If your workers live in a culture of care, communication and support, they will pass it on. The Customer Comes Second by Rosenbluth and Peters is a great place to learn more about this concept.
  2. Train Continually – Some managers worry that well-trained workers will inevitably move on, nullifying the investment in training. But what happens if you do not train them well and they stay with you? You will have a poorly trained workforce representing you poorly for all time. Well-trained workers are more likely to stay because the work environment is supportive. They feel valued when you invest in their education.
  3. Reward Continually – Say thanks daily for work well done and find small ways to reward good work along with the bigger ones of promotions and bonuses. Birthday lunches, a social hour at the end of a workday occasionally and other signs of appreciation encourage people to know and help each other. Plan an occasional day offsite for an employee social event.
  4. Support Honesty – Tell employees what you know when you know it and encourage honesty and transparency. When you lie or conceal information about organizational change, you have to require others to lie or conceal information. You encourage deceit and that backfires for they know you do not value honesty. If you are truly proud of your products and services, being honest about them should not be a liability. If you need encouragement in this area, watch the movie, Miracle on 34th Street for the 67th time (1947 movie).
  5. Plan with Input – Involve everyone in planning. If we all understand the direction we want the organization to move, we pull together. When we don’t agree or don’t fully understand what the ultimate goals are, we pull in opposite directions and that costs the organization in money, goodwill and dysfunction.
  6. Meet Regularly – Weekly updates help everyone stay on track. It’s easy to remind everyone of objectives and thank them for progress if you get together frequently. Posting objectives with monthly updates is also a way to keep measurable results in front of everyone.
  7. Maintain Pay and Benefits at Industry Standards –Pay is definitely one of the measures of caring from the employer. If they see you being rewarded financially in your role, but they are held back, they will soon be looking for a better work environment. Giving bonuses based upon performance will reward achievement of objectives.
  8. Coach Workers Toward Desired Behavior and Review Often – Avoid “you’re doing it wrong,” and give suggestions for desired behavior, “I might suggest you . . .” or “You may find more success by . . .” Scolding and public embarrassment actually do not work with children or animals and certainly has no place in the professional workplace. Regular performance reviews help employees understand your expectations, how they are doing, and how they might improve. The review provides a chance to compliment and coach. Quarterly reviews are ideal, allowing you to update each employee on their role in meeting objectives four times a year and resolving any issues promptly before they can become major problems.

Workers stay with organizations a long time when they feel like they are working with people who care about them. Deceptive behavior or abrupt, unexplained decisions on the part of managers unsettle everyone. These tried and true suggestions can help you create a sustainable workplace based on thoughtful practices designed to build a culture of communication, caring and support.   – Tim Merriman

Community Action in Action


rwandaOne of the things that immediately strikes travelers to Rwanda is how clean the country is. In all the places I’ve been, including the U.S., litter on the ground is a serious issue. You see it almost everywhere, blowing in the wind, lining gutters, hanging where it’s been caught on fences, floating in waterways. What would happen if every single person, every day, no matter where they live, would think about what they use and find ways to recycle, reduce or reuse it? What would happen if for those few things that must be thrown away, every single person would dispose of them properly? And for those things that might still end up on the landscape, what would happen if every single person would bend down and pick up at least two pieces of trash every day?


In the U.S. alone, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates every person generates about 4.5 pounds of trash per day. That’s 230 million tons of trash in the U.S. every year. Only about one-fourth of it is recycled or reused and most of the rest goes into landfills or is incinerated. But what happens to the trash that never makes it into the landfill or incinerator? It’s fair to say that it lays on the land until it blows away . . . but it’s got to end up somewhere eventually when the wind stops blowing. So where does it all go? Many people have heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of floating debris of over 7 million square miles. According to National Geographic, the garbage patch is “so far from any country’s coastline, no nation will take responsibility or provide the funding to clean it up.” Lack of responsibility seems to be the reason for the inordinate amounts of garbage that collect everywhere on our planet. What if everyone decided it’s their own responsibility to keep our world clean?


Sadly, I’m guessing that it won’t happen voluntarily. To change the norms that allow people to blithely discard their trash, there must be a combination of incentive, enforcement, and education. What makes Rwanda so clean? The practice of umuganda has changed the norms in this small country. Once a month, on the third Saturday, everyone in the country stops what they are doing for three hours and commits to community service actions, most frequently removing any debris that has collected in public view. The amazing thing to me is that so little appears to collect in between Umuganda Saturdays. When you get used to seeing things clean, it goes a long way toward encouraging you to keep it that way. It also helps that you won’t find a plastic bag anywhere in the country. Plastic bags are not used anywhere in the entire country or even allowed to enter the country. Travelers are required to dispose of any plastic bags before exiting the airport. It’s a positive step that I’m happy to report is now occurring in many U.S. cities.


I’d like to challenge everyone who reads this to commit him or her self to encourage community action in action. If you can’t initiate an Umuganda approach on a large scale, start small. Pledge to pick up two pieces of litter on the landscape every day and encourage others to do the same. In fact, while you’re at it, decide that you’re never going to walk past a piece of litter again. If you see it, pick it up and dispose of it appropriately. Jane Goodall says that everything you do makes a difference one way or another and only you can decide what you want that difference to be. I agree wholeheartedly. Individually, we may not be able to make what feels like significant change, but we can all be responsible for the decisions we make every day.


– Lisa Brochu



Crowdfunding – No Silver Bullet

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If you manage a program, I’m guessing one of the things constantly on your to-do list is raising funds for a variety of projects. It’s a great fantasy to imagine there’s some new simple system, a silver bullet that will eliminate the hard work traditionally associated with fundraising. The ease of Internet access in the last few years brought us the new trend of crowdfunding that promised to be one of the easiest ways to generate funds from the broader public. My optimistic side continues to believe that. My pessimistic side can see the flaws in the system. But statistics tell us that crowdfunding raised 2.7 billion dollars in 2012 and nearly double that in 2013, so this young and growing approach to finding donors and investors is definitely working for some.


Forbes.com has an article entitled Top 10 Crowdfunding Sites for Fundraising. It gives some background for each site and the types of projects for which they work best. Some are better for nonprofits and worthy causes, while others work better for inventors or individuals looking for investors for their creative endeavors. Fundamentally, crowdfunding sites provide web-based software that assists you in making your case, promoting the project, collecting funds, and evaluating your progress as you go.


Recently, we selected Indiegogo.com to raise funds to buy computers for Rwandan guides at national parks. Indiegogo.com is only one of many options but we felt it matched our need better than the others.


What we learned:

• Your natural constituents or warm markets are still the most likely to contribute.

• It can take a lot of promotion and you still may get only a little return.

• Non-target messaging and news releases elicit little or no response.

• Facebook proved to be the best channel to get interest; Twitter had no impact.

• The crowdfunding sites are the big winners for they get their fees regardless of your success.

• It takes practice to use this kind of tool skillfully, particularly in learning how to state your case and promote it.

• Personal stories help get people emotionally involved, but they take some time to collect and refine into a great case statement.


We raised only $800 with an objective of $10,000 so we were very unsuccessful when you consider an 8% performance. And all donors were from predictable sources – people we know well, colleagues in our profession, and people who know something about Rwanda and the challenges created by the genocide twenty years ago. Running a campaign without a nonprofit organization umbrella is also challenging. In the past, I’ve always represented the fundraising interests of a 501c3 charity that had members, which provided a large group of dedicated constituents to ask for help in raising funds. In my current role as a private business owner and consultant, all I have now is a passion for doing good work with and for good people. I confess that it’s disappointing to learn that many people simply will not donate without the added incentive of a tax exemption, no matter how worthy the cause.


So the bad news is that crowdfunding does not seem to be a silver bullet. The great news for us is that the efforts we made through Indiegogo.com led to donations of funds that will send three PCs and one iPad to four guides in Rwanda at Nyungwe National Park on May 19 with Dr. Beth Kaplin, an ecologist from Vermont who teaches in Huye, Rwanda. All four guides are working on Master’s degrees supporting families and doing amazing work with volunteer co-ops in their communities. We owe a special debt of thanks to our donors:

Pam and Mike Neely             Mary Jane and Mike Swope

Nicole Deufel (U.K.)              Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman

Carole Ann Moorhead and Luke George

Marji Trinen

We will not quit, though our Indiegogo.com campaign has ended. This effort was just the beginning. If you are willing to help a Rwandan National Park Guide bridge the digital divide, you can:

  1. Contact us to donate any amount you can afford towards the purchase of laptops or iPads;
  2. Donate a laptop or iPad less than 5 years old that we will refurbish;
  3. Ask your friends to help in whatever way they can.

There are a total of more than 50 guides and hosts at parks we hope to help. It may take a year or two, but we will keep working on it.


If you’ve thought about crowdfunding as a source of funds for a special project, be sure to plan and prepare for months, read as much as you can about the various websites, and develop a promotions plan to help you get as much as benefit as you can from the campaign. Despite its shortcomings, crowdfunding is still likely to become an important way to approach some of those projects still lingering on your to-do list.


– Tim Merriman

5 Reasons to Share Personal Stories

boysplaytidepoolbestWhen I was a young boy I spent every free hour wading in the Town Branch, a local stream near my home in Vandalia, Illinois. I was looking for crawdads, my favorite critter in nature, but I studied everything else that turned up around them. Tadpoles, minnows, turtles and mud puppies were always fun encounters while crawdad hunting. My mother was accustomed to finding buckets with murky water at our home with an aquatic animal brought home for closer study. I sold the tiny “creek lobsters” to bait stores and invested the income in aquariums and seine nets. I knew I wanted to be a biologist when I grew up.


I’ve told that personal story many times as an introduction to a new group in training. It often causes others to talk about their first passions in the outdoors. I first heard of “personal stories” as a training technique from Disney trainers in their leadership seminars in Orlando, Florida. They emphasized how important those were in building a culture of personal communication. The stories tell much more than one incident. They begin a conversation with a guest or new acquaintance based on common interests and our sense of wonder in the world.


Personal stories have some very specific values in a natural or cultural heritage site.


1. Personal stories empower all employees to share why their work matters to them.

2. Sharing stories creates a culture of communication and caring.

3. Emotional connections are more accessible through personal stories.

4. Stories make each employee feel valued for their personal life experience.

5. The stories reveal ideas and insights from those who know the place best.


After sharing a personal story, a maintenance worker who attended the very first Certified Interpretive Host course we taught in east Texas commented, “This is the first time in 25 years in this park that I feel like a member of the professional staff.” He told stories about his interest in Caddo Indians and his flint knapping hobby to demonstrate how Native Americans made tools and weapons. His supervisor said he had known this worker 25 years but had been unaware of his employee’s passion for native lore. Most workers at parks, zoos, museums, aquariums and historic sites have deeply rooted interests in their jobs. Encouraging all to share a personal story briefly is another way to connect visitors to places, events and people. And we learn more about people with whom we work.


– Tim Merriman