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Employee Happiness: A Productivity Booster

Posted on January 11, 2011 by Ellen

According to Jonathan Strickland of, “Offering on-site benefits, have the added bonus of keeping the employee workforce in the office more often.  Give employees enough reasons to stick around and you’ll likely see productivity go up.  Why head home when everything you need is at work?”

Have you ever had a job that made you miserable, where just getting out of bed seemed like such a hassle?  If so, do you remember how the lack of enthusiasm for your job made your loose your jobs ‘focus factor’?  Many studies have shown the advantages of a happy work environment.  Some of these advantages include increased productivity, quality of work, lower absenteeism, stress and burnout, higher sales and customer satisfaction, among many others. 

Melissa Dahl of MSNBC, reporting on a study done by Harvard University, writes: “New research shows that happiness isn’t just an individual phenomenon; we can catch happiness from friends and family members like an emotional virus. When just one person in a group becomes happy, researchers were able to measure a three-degree spread of that person’s cheer.  On average, every happy person in your social network increases your own chance of cheer by 9 percent — and the effects of catching someone else’s happiness lasts up to one year.”

So then, if happiness is a key contributor to employee productivity, what have we done as a company to boost our employees?  The answer we developed was Free Food Friday.  It may not be free food everyday like a mammoth company such as Google, but it’s still valuable.  Lunch is provided every non-payday week along with some ‘getting to know you and getting to know the company’ conversation.  Having all the employees in one place every other week for some fellowship has proven to create happiness and grow friendships.  In addition great management has also been a key contributor to our office happiness.  Each manager is given the unique opportunity to create a cohesive and happy environment for their staff.  Some bring coffee or snacks on occasion, give encouragement when needed, and laughter and music request days to lighten the mood.  It’s the small boosters that keep employees happy on a day-to-day basis.

This is what we do, what has your company done to create employee happiness?


Surviving Fires at Work (Why You Need a Plan B)

Posted on August 31, 2010 by Ellen

We had an exciting (or terrifying) day at the office a few weeks ago. I looked out the window from building 1 to see huge flames and an abundance of black smoke as the parking lot next to us was on fire!  I called out to the others in the building that there is a fire then proceeded to call 911. As the others were on the move, I immediately looked to my evacuation plan and safety procedures to see what should be done next. However, after checking the evacuation map it says our “meeting place”, in case of an emergency, is the lot across from our parking lot… yes they very place on fire. I could, for the sake of professionalism, say that something rational and cool went through my head, but I would simply be lying if I said it wasn’t profane. We quickly adapted, got everyone’s car moved and all of our employees safe. Firemen were on the scene shortly and the fire was extinguished through some impressive work from the Riverside Fire Department.  Overall, the entire debacle went very well considering how bad it could have been.

So my lesson learned is this: I need a Plan B. Not only does my safety plan need a Plan B, but Plan B isn’t bad in my business emergencies either.  Things don’t always go the way we plan them, in fact, most of the time they don’t go that way at all. As we approach the daily fires of our work day, we have to wonder why Plan A failed in the first place, and remember that there is more than one way to get something right, even if there are “failures” in between.

Fire at work


How to Nail (or Fail) the Interview

Posted on August 17, 2010 by Sean

I know this one isn’t a secret, but it’s so absent in so many interviews that I’m starting to believe that for some reason – it might be. While this issue does not necessarily secure a position, it could, if unanswered, cost you the opportunity. Personally, it would take a strong act of God for me to recommend the hiring of someone who failed on this issue.

Learn about the company.

That’s it. Sounds easy. It is.

If you’re applying for a job in a reasonably established company, they will have information made public somewhere on the Internet.

What’s surprising though is how few people actually take advantage of the resource (which is actually probably why it’s such an egregious offense). The Internet is free. If you don’t have it, go to the library, there will undoubtedly be a smiling older woman who would love nothing more than to help you stop slacking.

In my recent experience, probably 1/5 of candidates have any knowledge of the company they’re engaging, and even fewer can answer shallow-at-best questions about the industry in general. True, some companies hide their information better than others, but it’s out there – if you look.

If you’re totally without inclination, have a look at the company from some of these angles:

About Us/Contact Us – This one is pretty softball. Start here, read everything, memorize key names.

Products/Services – It’s absolutely amazing (by amazing, I mean decidedly un-amazing) how many, in interviews, have almost no idea what the company does. Also, trying to infer company details from the company name is usually not enough, “Uh, you guys generally make motors, right"? – Right.

Competition/Reputation - Once you’ve identified what the company does, have a look at what other, similar companies do. Pro Tip: if the competition is stronger, it’s best not to bring this up.

Blog/Social Media – Whether it’s run by a middle-manager with a paunch or a newly-minted college graduate with a URL for a middle name, most businesses have some kind of social media presence. This is a brilliant way to get a feel for company culture as well as raw opinion from sources other than copy-edited web content.

Given the instant, free access we have to the Internet, we’re all without excuse for not having some answer to the question. Actually, I think this is exactly why it’s so important to have one.


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My Favorite Interview Questions

Posted on July 8, 2010 by Ellen

Interviews are the short sliver of time we get with potential employees before adding them to the company family. For our interviews, we use a handful of “typical” interview questions to get to know the applicant, their motivations, their ethics and their personality. There are a few questions that we use that, to me, really show how well the employee will work out here. Adding these to your artillery might help you understand some important aspects of your applicants before you hire them. My favorite questions are:

    • Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what circumstances and in what ways? This question will let you know if you have a go getter on your hands. With an office full of go getters, I am always surprised when people give me a qualified “yes” explaining that they are competitive in their personal life, maybe in board games or something, but are not competitive and actually resist competition in their work life.  This is a great insight into their work ethic and how they might help our company evolve and grow.  We need competitive people and look for people who are always trying to get ahead.  I assume some people equate competitiveness with mean-spiritedness, but not understanding that you can be friendly and a go getter also means that they would probably not be a good fit here.


    • How do you handle questions and problems that exceed your knowledge or experience? This question helps me figure out if the applicant has the ability to think outside of the box and use their skills to solve problems, or if their default is to just ask for help. Our company is always looking for better ways to get our work done and if our employees are always thinking of ideas of ways to get things accomplished we will be better off. We want to see a balance between asking questions and figuring those questions out on your own.


    • What disadvantages do you see working for a small, growing company like ourselves?  I don’t appreciate it when an applicant doesn’t have an answer to any question that we ask, but this one in particular almost makes me laugh when someone doesn’t have an answer.  Many times when I ask this question, people will say that they don’t think there are any disadvantages for working for a small, growing company.  It makes me think they have little knowledge about business in general.  I want to hear an honest opinion of what someone’s anticipated challenges will be with our company and through that explanation, an expectation of how they would look at those challenges. There are some really great aspects of working at a small, agile and growing company like this one, but we all know that there are some serious setbacks as well.


    • How do you handle making mistakes? Tell me a specific time where you made a mistake and how you handled it. This might make me sound like a curmudgeon, but I really think that people “these days” just don’t take responsibility! If you make a mistake, handle your business.  The last thing I want to be doing as a boss is trying to figure out whom messed-up and why, I just want to work on fixing it. Our company needs individuals that know when they make a mistake, and takes responsibility so we can all move on to the fix it phase. Taking responsibility and initiative is a great character quality that will show up in many great aspects of this employee and a sure sign of a mature and trustworthy person.


If these questions aren’t used during your interview process, I would suggest adding them in and seeing if you get the same satisfying and useful answers that I have found with their use.


Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of July 2nd, 2010

Posted on July 2, 2010 by Vanessa
  • reminds us that companies are not democracies. It’s a harsh reality if you are employed by an owner that you don’t care for or don’t believe in, but if that isn’t the case than I think it’s important for us non-owners to remember this quote from the article:

    In today's warm, fuzzy, politically correct environment, where conventional wisdom is all about collaboration, fairness and listening to your employees, many small-business owners forget one important thing: They have to execute their battle plans with as few flaws as possible. A company is not a democracy. The only opinion that counts is that of ownership. Have a suggestion box in case someone comes up with a good idea, but don't make it a bible."


  • I liked Business Insider’s tip of the day today:

    "Having recently concluded four years of interviews for a book on the topic of making ideas happen, I can say one thing for sure: Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage. Ideas don't happen because they are great. The genius is in the execution, aka the "99% perspiration" that has become this site's namesake.  Perspiration implies sweat, self-discipline, and (yes) occasional exhaustion. I think this is what Malcolm Gladwell teaches us in his book Outliers when he proposes that a true mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours of doing it. There are no shortcuts to lasting success."
    -- Scott Belsky, Founder and CEO, Behance


  • Get Elastic posted a great article with some basics for improving your website to increase sales volume.


  • Mashable highlights a study done by inside view about how the World Cup has affected our economy and productivity globally.  In fact there is evidence of this in a Business Insider story posted today:

    FT reported this morning on Brazilian traders who complained about having to work while Brazil played Netherlands:
    "'Nobody is very happy, but we have to work, don’t we?' Pedro Galdi, a trader at the SLW brokerage house, said only half seriously.
    'Our experience of the previous games tells us that it will be quiet. Clients aren’t making transactions when the matches are on,' said Luiz Roberto Monteiro, a trader with Souza Barros brokerage. 'But still, we have to be here.'
    Sure enough, Banco do Brasil (BBAS3.SA) shares have lost steam from yesterday, down nearly 1%.
    And Brazil is up 1-0."

Sales Productivity During World Cup

Kohler is arguably one of the most innovative brands in the home improvement industry. The new Karbon Kitchen faucet has completely transformed the kitchen and more specifically revolutionized the faucet. Meanwhile Kohler seems to effortlessly create bathroom fixtures that are not only sleek but save water, like the Escale toilet.

Dog Whisperer Guidelines Applied in the Workplace

Posted on June 24, 2010 by Suzanne

I love the Dog Whisperer, and recently I’d been trying to apply his principals to my life. What I didn’t realize was that those guidelines could also apply to the workplace! So I hope I don’t get in trouble for writing about my co-workers in comparison to dogs and I hope that Cesar doesn’t mind. So here it goes! Here is how I think we can create a calm/submissive and calm/assertive workplace.

Applying Dog Whisperer Training to the Workplace

Discipline: This is Cesar’s first and probably most important and foundational rule. Without discipline, you have nothing. This point is most important for those in management. It’s important to correct an issue as soon as you become aware of it. If the issue is allowed to continue you lose the respect of your other workers as well as the person that is creating the issue. In my experience with the Dog Whisperer the discipline aspect is the hardest part of the rehabilitation for most owners, and I expect it’s hard for most managers. Discipline doesn’t only come from managers; the pack also corrects unwanted behavior. This is probably the coolest part of it all. Leaders can’t be everywhere, and good leaders rely on the pack to call one another out when necessary because it is good for the pack. Here is how that applies to work: as a team we are responsible to each other to keep the team afloat. If you see someone slacking off you call them out.

Exercise: Since physical exercise in the workplace rarely happens, unless you work at a gym, I am going to apply this principal to mental exercise. It’s really easy to turn your brain to auto pilot, but that is when mistakes happen. Our department tries really hard to keep everyone engaged with projects and tasks outside their specific daily tasks. Not only does this help keep everyone engaged and using their brains, but it helps protect us so we don’t fall into the hazards of a mushy brain.

Affection: Receiving rewards and approval from leaders is awesome!! Having hard work recognized makes “the pack” want to work harder. A little encouragement really does go a long way. If a worker is praised, then it sets the bar a little bit higher in their heads. Actively using rewards not only encourages workers on a personal level, but it also raises the moral of everyone around.

So, that’s how you can create a well balanced workplace that encourages all of its workers, managers and team leaders alike to set the standard high and work toward a common goal.


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Learning from Lehman… What Not to Write in an Email

Posted on June 22, 2010 by Sean

A quick Google search will find countless blog posts discussing the rules, standards and etiquette for just about every kind of work-related correspondence. We know it’s stupid to send personal messages on work time, we know it’s dumb to share uncomfortable truths about our bosses or proliferate highly sensitive information, but as we’re spending more time than ever in the workplace (see chart below), even the most innocent of conversations can appear contentious. When social proximity creates friends out of co-workers, the lines of professional care can blur. Making the big mistake of blending these workplace boundaries can make it seriously easy to get into serious trouble.

Time use on an average work day for employed persons ages 25 to 54 with children

The folks at put together a list of words which could spell big trouble if found in your email. As we know, the financial giant has fallen in the wake of the subprime mortgage fallout amidst allegations of longstanding financial malpractice. Investigations have been lengthy. “The lawyer appointed to figure out what went wrong at Lehman Brothers used lots of different search terms to mine 34 million pages of documents from the bank” – The search terms below were used as criteria to isolate potentially incriminating documents and very confidential correspondence – some of which will likely be used as evidence in upcoming litigation.

  • stupid
  • huge mistake
  • big mistake
  • dumb
  • can't believe
  • cannot believe
  • serious trouble
  • big trouble
  • unsalvageable
  • shocked
  • speechless
  • too late
  • uncomfortable
  • not comfortable
  • I don't think we should
  • very sensitive
  • highly sensitive
  • very confidential
  • highly confidential
  • do not share this
  • don't share this
  • between you and me
  • just between us

Personally, I don’t think we should all start fearfully scouring our inboxes searching for the words on this list. In reality, these terms aren’t inherently incendiary – put in the right context, most of them are perfectly harmless. The truth is, most of us don’t work for a company as controversial as Lehman Brothers (thank God) so a better approach is simply taking pause before sending an email and reading over what we’ve written and eliminating anything we are not comfortable with. 

If I send you an email from my work computer – and you answer it from your work computer, we can be absolutely sure that, no matter the intent, the exchange is not just between us. Simply put, when you’re on the clock, you’re on the record (If you can’t believe that – ask your Human Resources representative, if you still cannot believe them – ask your IT manager, they know everything.) Most companies have an official policy regarding computer use – a quarterly brush-up on this policy might serve as a positive reminder.

So, it would be prudent to learn from the fall of giants, before we’re all left shocked and speechless in the wake of our own office-oversights. If there’s any question about the integrity of your inbox, clean it up now, before a small misstep becomes a huge mistake. Between you and me, for Lehman Brothers, it’s simply too late.

If you’re unsure about sending highly confidential information via email – don’t share this. While there are situations that call for the sharing of very sensitive information, the results of your exchange could be unsalvageable.

Note: you might not want to forward this email, as all of the earmarked words or phrases appear at least once.


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Five Ways to Annoy Your Colleagues

Posted on May 18, 2010 by Arianna

Don’t understand why your co-workers dislike you? Well, here are a few common ways people annoy ones co-workers. Following these easy annoyances will ensure your co-workers will look forward to the day you are no longer with the company. Want harmony in your workplace, then I suggest you read and take heed.

Talking on your cell phone is one way to annoy your colleagues

1. Don’t carry your own weight

If you don’t do your part in a department then someone else has to do it for you. Someone will be left to pick up the slack, this inevitably causes resentment and can become a domino effect. Soon others will start slacking because you do it and get away with it. Next thing you know your department is crashing down in flames.

2. Be Sarcastic in work emails/chats

Being sarcastic with co-workers can lead to their disrespect of you, especially since sarcasm can’t always be detected in emails and chats. Thinking before you speak is too hard anyway so why try, right? Unless you believe your co-worker is your best friend, then its best to leave the sarcasm at home.

3. Talk down to your co-workers

Jumping on people when they ask a simple question is a great start to irritating your co-workers. Many people think that talking down to colleagues will build themselves up, but an “I’m better than you” attitude will not make you appear stronger. If not already an implemented rule in a company, then it should become one: Thou should respect thy co-worker.

4. Talk loudly on your cell phone/work phone

Your co-workers don’t need to listen to your cell phone conversations. More importantly, don’t have your phone so loud that people around you can actually hear the other person on the line. It’s not only distracting to the person sitting around you, but if you are really loud, then maybe even the whole company. Being a distraction will not look good on your next performance review.

5. Eavesdrop in others’ conversations

When someone comes and asks your co-worker a question, make sure that you answer before the person who was actually asked. In order to do this you have to be really good at eavesdropping. The definition of eavesdrop is to listen secretly to a private conversation of others. You can also turn around and include yourself in others’ conversations; this will irritate not only your co-worker but the other person asking the question. The wiser choice would be “Do not speak unless spoken to.”


All humor aside, it truly is important to make a good impression at work. Leaving a good impression and being likeable can lead to promotions, and co-worker support.


The Professional Conundrum: Excuses v. Acknowledgement

Posted on May 5, 2010 by Arianna

Skipper the Penguin from Madagascar

As a team leader I understand that people make mistakes, just as I make mistakes. However one of the best things to see as a leader is someone who acknowledges when they make a mistake, instead of providing an excuse for it.  I understand providing reasoning, but I would much rather see that acknowledge the mistake and learn from it, then to hear a list of excuses. Here is the bottom line when it comes to excuses - You will NEVER succeed in life or at your job if you don’t stop making up excuses.

I have read many articles on how to help employees overcome the urge to provide excuse after excuse. Kelly Ketelboeter’s article on employee excuses provides four steps to helping employees: listen, ask questions, use empathy, and sell the benefits. “Keep in mind when an employee is feeding you line after line of excuses they are really saying, ‘I’m not comfortable. I don’t fully understand. And I don’t see what’s in it for me."  Using the four skills outlined above will help you work through and overcome any excuse they throw your way.” As true as this statement may be, the truth is that we can only help employees to a certain extent. If you want to succeed at your job then work on listing the excuses you have used before, start addressing those excuses and take action.

Of all the excuses I have heard over the years, the worst thus far is “I didn’t know.”  My immediate response back is “Then why didn’t you ask?!” It truly is that simple. If you are given a task and you have questions, or red flags, then ask.  Don’t just proceed do the work and hope for the best, especially because chances are you are doing the job wrong. Asking questions will help you understand your task and will allow you to accomplish it correctly, not only will you get your job done but you will also show your leaders that you are truly engaged in the process, and interested in having a clear understanding of your job. Believe me, anyone interested in learning their job well is noticed when it’s time for employee reviews.

Blaming others for your mistakes is also far too common. When some people realize they have made a mistake it can be a natural reaction to try to find someone else to blame it on.  Cowardice is the only word I can use to describe people who blame others and in reality this is just another form of an excuse. Eventually this employee will realize that they are slowly but surely losing respect from their manager and colleagues – guaranteeing their failure at the company. Throwing others under the bus to cover your own misgivings will only lead to a reputation of being someone who is untrustworthy.

If you have been giving excuse after excuse for every mistake you have made, it’s definitely time for you to change. The next time you think about giving an excuse, whether it’s for a mistake you made, the unmet goal, or late project, try to remind yourself: No Excuses! Like Skipper the Penguin from Madagascar said “Don’t give me excuses, give me results!”



How to Really Know When and Where to Hire Next

Posted on February 12, 2010 by Jeff

Identifying the “Knobs & Levers” that drive your company’s profitability is only the first step in a successful business. The second, and perhaps more difficult, is fine tuning those knobs & levers for a desired result. One such knob or maybe it’s a lever, is salaries and wages as a percentage of gross sales.

Focusing on balancing salaries and wages as a percentage of gross sales generally starts with the question, “When the heck are we going to hire someone to support our growth?” A few thoughts…

Explore all Available Avenues

While piles scattered about your desk, burning the candle at both ends for days, weeks, months, maybe even years and skipping one or more meals a day all potentially point to hiring reinforcements, these are not sole indicators hiring will be the silver bullet. Redistributing responsibilities (we like to call these buckets) can provide the efficiencies necessary to effectively manage the do-to list. You may just find a current employee stepping up to not only take on the additional responsibility but thrive on the opportunity to shine. Technologies within your current infrastructure may be able to offer more than you are aware of.  I’m not the expert on this one, I simply keep adding to the “request” list and IT finds a viable solution when available. With that said it’s amazing what the techies around here can accomplish when they put their heads together and look for alternatives that positively affect the bottom line.

Paint the Picture and Back it Up

Do properly identify a focused picture of what you’re experiencing, providing hard data that brings clarity to you or your departments needs. Let’s say you’re experiencing an elevation in outstanding returns (meaning your warehouse is backlogged on the returns it is receiving and needing to inspect and process).

Paint the picture…

New returns come in as one of two things, cancellation requests or RMA (return merchandise authorization) requests. Our Returns Team reviews the request, plans a course of action, and moves the issue to the appropriate bucket. For simplicity, cancellation requests generally move on to the reorder or refund tabs to be closed while all RMA requests require the attention of the Warehouse Team. The Warehouse Team is responsible for creating call tags (Call Tags tab) to get the product back and subsequently all product inspections (Inspections tab). The tabs are named and uniquely identified in our administration system where the processing takes place. Once an inspection has been performed the return is either approved as is or adjusted accordingly; moving the return on to the Pending tab awaiting a supplier RGA, Damage Claims tab initiating a carrier damage claim, or to the Reorder or Refund tabs to be closed.   As you can see quite a few different scenarios can take place, but it’s a system that’s been pretty well refined over the years.

Provide the data…

RMA Metrics for New Hire

The simple snap shot shown above, while not indicitive of any real data will work for the purposes of what we are trying to accomplish for this post.  The chart provides the number of “transactions” open at the end of each day over a two week period by bucket. The work flow moving from left to right for each bucket has an identified outstanding target in red and subsequently highlighted anything greater than that target on any given day that it was not met.

In our example, with the exception of a single day the Returns Team is processing new cancellation and RMA requests within the target; driving the numbers down as they work through the week preparing for the weekend increases. A single instance can likely be attributed to a known issue or decision. The first Warehouse Team bucket (Call Tags) although significant is being met. This is an important step in the returns process as it sparks the products physical return. The first hint of bottle neck is at inspection, this is a time consuming, detailed, physically and mentally challenging step that sets the tone for the customer’s return experience. Although once the inspection has been completed the Warehouse Team technically moves the return back to the Returns Team via the Pending, Damage Claims, Reorder, or Refunds tabs, they’re not out of the spot light.  Once a supplier provides the required RGA from the Pending tab the Warehouse Team is responsible for shipping the RGA back to the supplier. Likewise, the Warehouse Team is physically involved in the damage claim if for nothing else than disposing of the damage once completed by the carrier. Finally, even a reorder has the potential to impact our Warehouse Team. That reminds me, they’re also responsible for inventory and order shipment including: domestic, LTL (light truck load), and international shipments. If you’ve ever shipped LTL or internationally you know you don’t just slap a label on it there’s a lot more that goes into it than just boxing up a product.

Analyze the Data

In this example if we’d looked simply at the Returns Team’s elevated outstanding returns we might have identified the need as an additional Returns Team member. With a more focused look at what’s being experienced throughout the returns process it becomes clear the Warehouse Team is struggling to support the volume moving through the numerous buckets they impact in the process. Assess and insure that the Warehouse Team is working as efficiently as possible taking into account their inventory, shipping, and returns responsibilities before moving on. Review available technologies for assisting those responsibilities. Pay attention to your bottom line, does the cost benefit impact to your knobs & levers more significantly impact the cost benefit of considering additional Warehouse Team support?

Connect the Need to the Big Picture

For our example:

  • Overwhelming responsibilities may be heading your Warehouse Team to an elevated turnover rate. This only accelerates the issues currently being experienced in the returns process.
  • Hiring warehouse support may also free additional time up from your Returns Team. The Returns Team may be working outside their responsibilities to help the Warehouse Team in an effort to meet their own targets. This inadvertently leads to inefficiencies in their own respective fields. Unaddressed, the same elevated turnover rate could result.
  • Never forget the desired result of any returns process is a quality customer experience. Consider how you’re impacting the initiatives of the Customer Service department.
  • As part of the inspection process (our examples bottle neck), the warehouse team works closely with the Data Team to identify discrepancies in data quality.
  • Every effort is given to make inventory accessible to the Marketing Team’s initiatives to capture high quality images.
  • Product that’s made its way through the returns process identified as unsellable is managed as salvage for philanthropic opportunities.

If you’re already sleeping at the office it can be difficult to slow down enough to move beyond the emotional desire for more support. Keep your eye on the prize; paint an accurate picture supported by data, coupled with connecting the need to the larger picture. It’s like asking, “When the heck are we going to hire someone to support our growth” but with an interest in affecting the salaries and wages knob or lever for a desired result.  Oh yeah, and in the end… turning a profit.