Blog Header

Business Savvy

Customer demands are intense, the need for continuous innovation is vital, and our national culture is changing. In the busy and ever changing world of business, leading businesses is more challenging than ever. James McGregor Burns, in his renowned book, Leadership (1978), proposed two leadership styles: transactional and transformational. Transactional leadership is an exchange-based relationship in which followers’ pursuit of objectives is based on the potential exchange of rewards (or punishments) for accomplishments (or failures). In contrast, transformational leaders seek to motivate followers through higher-level needs, encourage followers to view group interests as a priority, and emphasize moral values. As the theory developed, transformational leadership was proposed to include four components:

(1) Formulating and articulating mission, vision, and challenging goals. 

(2) Instilling pride in being associated with the team. 

(3) Treating followers as individuals.

(4) Seeking different perspectives when addressing problems. 

Transformational leaders motivate followers to rise above their self-interests and accomplish more as individuals and as a team.

Multiple studies have confirmed a positive relationship between the presence of transformational leadership and performance. Yet, why might transformational leadership enhance performance? Maybe it’s the intrinsic motivation subordinates experience by following transformational leaders, resulting in more commitment and effort. Possibly, the unification around organization mission presented by transformational leaders, providing direction and a sense of purpose, boosts performance. And finally, the shared values demonstrated by transformational leaders, which unites the team, might result in higher performance.  So which are you? A Manager (transactional)? Or a Leader? (Transformational).

Good salespeople and good fundraisers recognize their role is to help people do what they are already inclined to do. Unfortunately, most people hesitate to ask tough questions that challenge a prospect to think critically and differently about their situation.

Questions can help a prospect visualize a better outcome or a surer path to their end goal. Salespeople are adept at asking classic, albeit boring, qualifying questions:

Who are you currently with?

How much do you currently pay?

How has your experience been with your current company?

What would we need to do to earn your business?

1. “What is your proudest moment in  business (charitable giving sponsorship)?”
2. “What values do you hold most dear?”
3. “What has been the biggest challenge/obstacle you have overcome?”
4. “From your perspective, what are the most important issues in your industry/of the day?”
5. “What do you see as our company’s/nonprofit’s obligations in addressing them?”

These questions are designed to make your prospect or customer stop and think about their personal experiences. The conversation will move from being transactional to being relational. When you are qualifying and discovering details with a prospect, use thoughtful open-ended questions to engage in a useful conversation that gets you the details you need. From the prospect’s point of view, they will feel that they are having a conversation with someone who understands their values.

How do you measure the success of your meetings and events? Of course, when we schedule events, we have an end in mind. A desired outcome that we want. Attendance, making a connection or a sale, introducing team members etc. However, it’s imperative that when we craft our meetings, events, and agendas we’re aware of the needs of our guests and customers. When focusing on our guests, we can avoid the pitfall of only caring about our desired outcome and can ensure our event is successful.

When planning, it’s vital that you understand the purpose of the meeting. Often times, clients approach me and say “I need to do an event for 200 people, set this way, etc.” Event planners are certainly concerned with logistics but it is important to know that if we are trying to align ourselves with outcomes, we need to start with the end in mind and establish what is the material business outcome clients are trying to achieve? Once we know the purpose, we will be able to see patterns in need and understand the reasons attendees are at an event.

What is the value of understanding these patterns of need from our event attendees?


  1. Informative – When there is a predetermined set of information that someone is trying to share with an audience. This is teaching and learning. I.E.: training session, presentation.
  2. Generative – Where ideas are being created. This is where we are trying to inspire people to develop their best ideas. We’re trying to extract those ideas and combine them and synthesize them into some type of cohesive outcome. I.E.: brainstorming sessions, white boarding sessions.
  3. Evaluative – Where decisions are made. This is a typical board room style meeting where there is a set agenda and decisions are made.
  4. Socializing and Networking– A lot of socializing and networking happens before, between and after meetings/conferences/events.

Understanding the importance of design and service:

The importance of design and service as a part of the event experience cannot be overstated. Design is the body language of an event. An event’s location speaks volumes about the brand of that event and sets expectations. If a company is having an event at the Hermitage Hotel, guests will assume a level of sophistication for the event. The design and the venue selection speak to the importance of what the event is all about.

When we think about integrating design inside of the event venue we think about the relationship between design and service like the way a technology company thinks about the relationship between hardware and software. When we design the physical spaces, and then we create the hospitality experience around it, we triangulate that with the deep understanding of use, need, and desired outcomes. Each element helps to shape the others.

When we take an anticipatory approach to events and meetings, we flip the traditional measure of service quality from being about response time to trying to eliminate the number of times people have to ask for things to begin with. If people need something that they don’t have, then they can’t produce their best work. When planning, design events with more resources than people will actually ask for to ensure the best experience possible.

The overarching theme in the event industry and in the world is straight from Jeff Bezos’ shareholder memo from April 2018 that states, “Yesterday’s high bar is tomorrow’s baseline expectation.”  Consumers have a rising expectation for service and individualization. People have more choices, and these choice options are more personalized than ever before. This understanding is a major development in the way customer expectation is evolving and how we accomplish events. As a company, it is important to focus on “How are we creating customer centricity as a part of every element of our events and business?” not as a concept to be referenced occasionally, but as a lens through which we see the entire world. A way of seeing that every single decision we’re making as people and as companies is from a much more empathetic, heartfelt,  customer-centric perspective.

We’ve been making mistakes as a company for the past 51 years. That’s not necessarily a banner ad we have running on our website homepage or a fact that we regularly trumpet to prospective clients. Yet it’s something that I draw a lot of confidence from and know is a competitive advantage for our organization.

Fifty-one years. That’s a long time. Probably most of or more than your lifetime if you’re reading this. The ancient Athenian Democracy rose and crumbled in less time. (Fun fact!) The sheer number of mistakes over those years is something that not everyone might want to glory in, but I find a peculiar satisfaction in pointing it out and explaining why it’s a good thing for us and our clients.

We aren’t making the same mistakes we made 51 years ago. We aren’t making the same mistakes we made 25 years ago. And hopefully, we’re not making the same mistakes we made 5 years ago. We’re always learning, and one of the best instructors in business and in life is failure. I’ve had my fair share of embarrassing failures, but I’ve also been spared of MANY because of the institutional memory of the other good folks on staff here and their cautionary wisdom. Someone did what you’re talking about doing 18 years ago… this is how it panned out. Might want to rethink the strategy. If your culture recognizes mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve, then the longer you’re around, the better you’ll be.

Here are 3 quick thoughts on mistakes and what we can do to learn from them.

1. Remember that they happen. We’ve got to start with the obvious… but sometimes it doesn’t seem all that obvious. We regularly forget that we are imperfect creatures and that we make mistakes. Parenting toddlers serves as a constant reminder of this truth. If my 3 year-old son spills some milk out of his cereal bowl while he’s at the table and my initial reaction is anger, then I’ve forgotten that truth. The human element is real. Warren Buffet has locked his keys in his car and muttered under his breath about it. I can’t verify this… but I’m pretty sure it’s true. If not Warren than maybe Bill Gates or fill-in-the-blank successful person. Point is, we all do it. No matter how experienced, no matter how seasoned, it happens. And it’ll continue to happen.

2. Who do you want to be? Think of your life reading like a novel. What kind of character are you? What kind of character would you like to be? When a mistake has been made (yours or someone else’s) how do you want your character to respond? Most likely you have in your mind an ideal response of how someone should react to different mistakes you’ve made. Just about every day provides an opportunity to be that character you want to be. The angry dad, the mopey co-worker, the jealous boyfriend. When mistakes happen, how does your character normally respond? Now how would you like for them to respond?

3. Safeguards. Avoiding mistakes is preferred. I think there is consensus on that point. I’ve been told (many times) that doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. But how many times do we encounter a mistake that could have been so easily avoided had it been for a few simple safeguards? Technology can be a very helpful friend in this arena. Reminders, checklists, notifications… thanks to the little computer in your pocket you just don’t have much of an excuse anymore. Hopefully you work in a culture where your coworkers serve as living breathing safeguards as well. I’m so grateful we have a mix of talented people here who are naturally good with details or else I’d be lost. What safeguards are you using?

Three quick thoughts. There could be so many more.. and they wouldn’t all be quick. Your perspective on mistakes could very well determine the difference between a good company culture and a toxic one. Dare I go farther? It will dramatically impact your home, your relationships. We’re blessed in that most of the mistakes we will make in life won’t happen on a battlefield. Meaning it won’t be life or death. Remembering that might be a good start to learning from your mistakes.

Hmm… I think I’ve talked myself into putting that opening line to the article somewhere on our website homepage.

October 5, 2017


I think there is a tendency in most people to avoid risk and repeat what has been done before them. We look to history to steer us away from common mistakes and help us make decisions that will positively benefit the efforts we make today. By analyzing the past, we try to secure a very predictable and safe future. Rinse. Repeat. Success. I believe there is a great amount of wisdom in this approach to business, but it can only be part of our overall vision as leaders. Regardless of what field you find yourself in, you must realize that there is a frontier to explore, and failure to investigate this frontier could be crippling to the future of your organization. For those out there willing to face the new frontiers, I dare to call you innovators. You have left the comfort of what has been done and are willing to risk what you have to embark into the unknown. The unknown is scary, thrilling, devastating, and wonderful. If you’ve ever staked your livelihood or the livelihood of those you care about in the unknown, then you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, I invite you to join us. I’ll offer you two ways to start thinking about innovating:

1 Dedicated Dreaming

If you want to be an innovator, you have to make time to dream about the future of your industry. Block off at least an hour a week and spend it in space where you won’t be bothered. Start writing down what you want to see the future look like. This is not a time to guess the way the market will go or what new technology will influence your field. This is a time for you to tell the world what will happen. This is originality from you not your best prognostication. What are you doing differently or new that will influence or change the game? Personally, I own an entertainment company comprised mostly of escape rooms, and these are some of the questions I ask myself on a weekly basis: What aren’t people doing in my industry that I think would be awesome? If I had unlimited funding, what would I build and why? If I could evolve escape rooms into the next big form of entertainment, what would that look like? Go big on your dreaming. Leave the realistic and practical behind and write down the big dreams you imagine seeing one day. These dreams will help you identify key goals as you move to more practical applications of implementation. It can also be the most freeing and fun part of your week.

2 Synthesizing

Another way to conceptualize and think about innovation is through synthesizing. Synthesis is all about bringing together existing pieces to create something new. A big trap that a lot of people fall into is thinking that innovation means originality. In other words, if you didn’t come up with something that people haven’t seen before, then it’s not innovation. However, I personally believe that some of the greatest innovators out there are the ones who see existing parts that will fit together like nobody else does and are the first to put them together. I use synthesis all the time when I am creating a new escape room. I use a little of my clueing originality, mix it with some fun technology, and add an immersive environment to create an unforgettable experience for my players. I didn’t invent the technology. I don’t have the skills to build out the environment and a lot of the clues I come up with are versions of clues that have been around for years. BUT. I don’t know many people who can or are willing to take the time to package all these pieces together in one unique experience. I challenge you to look around your field and your workplace and put the pieces together that others have left around.

September 13, 2017

Business Quotes That Inspire

“I learned the value of hard work by working hard.”
– Margaret Mead


“Concentrate all your thought upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”
– Alexander Graham Bell


“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.”
– Henry J. Kaiser


“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.”
– Henry Ford


“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
– Vince Lombardi


August 11, 2017

Did You Know

 Venus and Possibly Uranus are the only planets that rotate clockwise.

 A bowling pin needs to tilt only 7.5 degrees to fall.

 One in every four Americans has appeared on TV at some point in their lives.

 In 1855, dentist Robert Arthur was the first to use gold to fill his patients’ cavities.

 You’re more likely to get stung by a bee on a windy day than in any other weather.

 The statue The Thinker by Rodin was originally entitled The Poet.

 The chemical pectin, found in ripe fruit, causes jam to set when cooling.

 The most abundant metal in the earth’s crust in aluminum.

 The state of Florida is bigger than England.

 Right-handed people tend to scratch themselves with their left hand. Vice-versa for lefties.

 None of the U.S. presidents was an only child.