Inside My Head Karen

Hey, you – the leader! Know your guiding values!

I came across a document I wrote on January 1, 2008, expounding on my three guiding values. I was immediately curious to read it, wondering if it still resonated within me.

The answer? YES!!!

Isn’t it incredible that guiding values live inside us regardless of the changes of life, new chapters, same chapters, good times, hard times, in seasons of plenty and in seasons of need?

Business is exactly the same. In business, it’s referred to as the mission statement – why we do what we do. What do you want your company to be known for? And please do not say money!

Check out what a seasoned mission statement looks like:

NIKE: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

STARBUCKS: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.”

WHOLE FOODS: “With great courage, integrity and love – we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities, and our planet can flourish. All the while, celebrating the sheer love and joy of food.”

Pay attention to this next phrase: A leader’s guiding values carry more influence than a company’s mission statement.

As a leader, as the decision-maker, as the company’s burden bearer – before you incorporate a mission statement for your business – please formulate your personal guiding values. The DNA of your company depends on it. The more you live out your guiding values, the healthier your mission statement will be.

A mission statement is the non-negotiable reputation, the first impression, and the legacy a company leaves behind. The mission statement is the connecting point where everyone who signs up to play on your team identifies, relates and resonates with the company’s declaration.

Before you ask anyone to sign up to a company’s mission statement, do you know your own guiding values?

Know why you do what you do; why you’re unwavering in core principles and why you won’t allow circumstances to compromise who you are. That’s powerful stuff!

After re-reading my guiding values, I found myself coming into alignment again in a fresh way. I also realized I need to be reading these guiding values on a consistent basis. It’s like giving myself my very own pep talk!

Here’s the bottom line: the reason I need guiding values to remain in the forefront of my life is because I know that when I walk these out great things happen…to those around me. Guiding values are principles you live that positively impact others.

Commit to your guiding values regularly, intentionally and confidently. Remain steadfast in how you live your life and impact the people around you.

– Karen Thrall

*also published on

Career Karen

The Winter of Business

“I write probably 80 percent of my stuff over the winter.” -Bob Seger

Using the metaphor of seasons, every business – no matter what type – goes through a winter season.

Spring is fresh and new.

Summer is vibrant and steady.

Fall is transition and change.

Winter… oh winter… winter is stillness.

In winter, the leaves aren’t flourishing on the trees. The ground is covered with snow. The wind is cold.The lakes are frozen over. The land is sleeping.

Business is similar. One of the important reality checks for any business is preparing and planning for winter seasons.

Before winter, pioneers would prepare for the barren months. They’d store up food, stack up firewood and winterize their homes. They prepared for winter.

Why would business be any different?

Don’t fret the winter season. Rather, prepare for it. Add it to your projections. Calculate it into your budgets. The ‘what if’ of business.  Some call it Risk Management.

After all, the winter of business isn’t so bad.

Ok, sales are down. Profits are waning. Payroll just got a little tougher. Spending is lean. And it’s part of running a business.

I’ve always believed that when times get tough, it’s our chance to re-create, re-think, re-strategize and re-maximize our opportunities.  

Winter is the preparation for new growth and your business is like a tree. It’s in those times when you strengthen your roots to handle more, not less.

What can you do to strengthen your roots? What new thinking can you activate? What areas have you not yet explored? Look for the new.

There’s always room for improvement.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Is the company running smoothly? Are there any areas internally that need adjusted?
  2. Have you done an outstanding job expressing value, recognition and reward for your staff’s contribution and do you have plans to improve your already impressive customer service?
  3. Are employees being re-trained to empower them to be a great winning team? Is your leadership unified and building the same vision, together?
  4. Is your message relevant and attracting new customers? Is your marketing campaign looking tired and ineffective?
  5. Is your product of superior standards? Are your procedures consistent across the boards?
  6. Are you setting and implementing new goals to keep you moving forward? Are you maximizing your resources and opportunities?

See what I mean?  Winter isn’t so bad. Strengthen your roots. You need strong roots to grow strong trees and produce a fruitful grove.

Embrace your winter.

– Karen Thrall

*also published on



The Price of Silence

6 Ways Nice People Can Manage Conflict by Travis Bradberry recently showed up on Huffington Post and I was struck by his first point: Consider the repercussions of silence. When it comes to conflict, we so often tend to think silence is easier – if we can just grit out teeth and get through it, things will be fine. But the behavior continues and we find ourselves rolling our eyes, coughing loudly, making snide comments and, before we know it, we find ourselves in passive aggressive territory, or even just aggressive territory. Both of which are surefire ways to make sure a problem doesn’t get resolved.

The reason this struck me as the first point is that silence is often viewed as not making a decision or the absences of a decision, but I would argue that it’s very much a decision – it’s a decision to allow the bothersome behavior to continue. We think people know their actions are problematic, but that assumes they make a conscious decision to make our lives difficult. And as much as we’d like to cast people in the role of villain, that just simply isn’t the case most of the time. They’re working with the information they have, which if we remain silent, is just one side of the story – their own.

If we don’t take the opportunity to speak up when we have a preference for something else when it comes to a behavior or decision, it’s just as much our fault if we don’t like the result. In the absence of anything else, our silence is our implicit endorsement. So next time you find yourself thinking it’s easier to stay quiet than to share your preference, think about how unhappy you’ll be next time that behavior occurs or a similar decision is made. Because with your silence, the only thing that’s guaranteed is that the same thing will happen again.

On the Job

Times of Team Stress

Prepping last minute details for a big conference. Launching a new product. Gearing up for your annual sale. Anytime we take a detour from business as usual, we put ourselves in a stressful situation and one of two things seems to happen: we band together in our foxhole or, desperate to save ourselves, we turn on each other.

Much of this is human nature and we can’t help ourselves. It’s rooted in our adrenaline to either fight or take flight in times of stress. And since we can’t typically take flight from our jobs during these stressful times, we’re left with the option of fighting. Fighting isn’t always bad, especially if you can band together against a common enemy – fatigue, mediocrity or unanticipated problems. You can also fight for something together – your highest number of sales, fewest onsite issues or even just making it to the closing bell. Any team member from a successful fight will tell you how much they bonded with their teammates as a result of the battle. You have war stories to tell together, common experiences and inside jokes you had to be there to get.

So when you find yourself in the middle of a stressful team situation and you notice people frustrated with each other, getting shorter with their responses or complaining more, see what you can do to shift the fight and band together.

And for the record, baked goods are always a highly recommended battle tool. Or chocolate. 😉

On the Job

Knowing Your Time Goal

I was asked last week for a fun time-keeping tool to use in a meeting. Obviously the words time-keeping and fun aren’t usually used together, but I get what they were after and I can work with that. The real issue was that we didn’t know the concern we were trying to address, so the request prompted a deeper dive. It’s typical for a number of issues to get swept up into the “we need to keep better track of time during our meetings,” so it’s important to know what you’re trying to fix or avoid.

  1. One or two people monopolize the conversation. For these folks, I find the best solution usually isn’t a tool, but a one-on-one conversation outside the meeting to get these people on your side as your ally. “I could really use your help with our group. You’re so passionate about topic x, that when you share your ideas first, people tend to just go along with them because it’s easiest. In our next meeting, I would love if you could help me out by waiting until a few other group members have shared before you weigh in.”
  2. You’re trying to establish a new norm for conversation within the group. Ideally, this is something the group can set at the beginning, but if you’re trying to make a shift in conversational norms, a reverse brainstorming exercise can work wonders. Rather than brainstorming solutions for a problem, you brainstorm how to get the worst-case scenario. For instance, with conversational norms, you might want to brainstorm how to ensure nothing gets done and everyone leaves feeling miserable. Your brainstorm may then include things like everyone is on their phones, no one comes prepared and you have to review everything that happened last time, everyone interrupts each other and so on. Once you realize these are certain ways to ensure inefficiency and bad feelings, you can work together to avoid them.
  3. You’ve got an emotionally charged, high stakes conversation coming up and you want to make sure everyone gets to speak. If this is the case, I like to recruit one or two people to volunteer to go first, and then I like to use opening arguments (or opening statements, if you’re in political debate season). Everyone gets three minutes (or whatever time works for your group and agenda) to share their options and perspective. It’s not time for conversation or debating, but it ensures everyone starts with a chance to talk and you start by getting everything out on the table.
  4. Everyone participates equally and the conversation is good, but you’re always running out of time or running over the allotted time. This is where agenda setting is your friend. A timed agenda with clear chunks of time for each discussion topic can help you as the planner and as a participant. We often try to pack too much into our agendas, so thinking through how much time each conversation needs will help prioritize what needs to be discussed now and what can wait for next time.

Now, these are issues that typically come up within established teams who are working together. For new teams, I find it most helpful to establish the ground rules and norms at the beginning so that everyone is on the same page. One of the groups I worked with established a “no beating a dead horse” ground rule at the beginning and would frequently come back to that within their conversations. They would say to each other, “We hear you and that horse is dead.” It may sound harsh to someone coming in from outside, but because the group established it themselves at the onset, it was an effective way for them to let each other know they’d been heard and keep the conversation moving in a timely way.

What are some of your tips and tricks for managing time and keeping things moving?

Karen On the Job

When Companies Begin to Crumble

So, you want to grow your business?  Great! Whatever you do, pay attention to the internal workings of your company!

Overlooking your infrastructure is like biting into a rotten apple. Looks juicy and delicious on the outside, but on the inside, it’s decaying. This mustn’t happen.

Yes, I agree that cash flow is of utmost importance and keeps the neon ‘open for business’ sign left on, but why is it that very few companies ask on a regular basis: “Are we healthy?”

It doesn’t matter how much cash flow you’re experiencing right now – if you’re not a healthy business, you’re just like the rotten apple. The company eventually will not be sustainable, which means a time is coming where things will start falling through the cracks, sales will drop, problems will increase and you’ll start to worry about your profitability.

Then what?

Then reaction sets in: work harder, drive the team harder and push sales harder. You start to cut back on advertising or rewarding your employees or you cut corners on your product. Performance begins to wane and careless decision-making begins. What once was a place of celebration and an unstoppable energy is now a burden and a heavy yoke around your neck.

Two of the biggest problems I see effecting how a company operates are:  (1) neglect; and (2) dismissiveness.

I don’t mean dismiss as in ‘fire someone’.  The dismissiveness I’m referring to parallels neglect.

The New Oxford American Dictionary


  • treat as unworthy of serious consideration
  • deliberately cease to think about


  • fail to care for properly
  • to disregard

The biggest reason neglect and dismiss show up is because you don’t have time. Since you don’t have time, you convince yourself that everything is going well; and taking inventory of your organization’s health is soon not a priority.

Here are a few negative influencers that provoke dismissiveness and neglectfulness:

  1. YOU’RE OVERLY BUSY: You can’t shut your brain off, you have too much on your plate and stress levels are higher than usual
  2. YOU’RE PRE-OCCUPIED: You’re pre-occupied with ‘more important matters’ and, because you’re limited for time, you’re looking at the internal part of your company with ‘it’s fine the way it is’
  3. YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT SALES: You’re worried about sales being down and trying to figure how to increase numbers and, not only that, there seems to be a lack of accountability on company spending
  4. YOU’RE FRUSTRATED: You’re frustrated with unnecessary errors and wonder why decisions aren’t being more thought through
  5. YOU’RE NOT STRATEGIZING: You’re spending less time on strategy; risk management is ignored and ‘duct tape’ solutions are being implemented
  6. YOU’RE DISAPPOINTED: You’re noticing a lack of enthusiasm within the team and people don’t seem to love coming to work like they used to

Can you see how these reasons are easily fixable? More importantly, can you see how these reasons could slowly erode your wonderful company? You worked hard for your accomplishments! You put in a lot of sweat hours to get it to where it is today.

Make sure you have a healthy ‘apple-core’ business. Be confident knowing that if anyone bit into your ‘apple’ they’ll think it’s delicious. If the insides of the company don’t match the brand you are conveying to the public, then you’ve got some serious problems awaiting you.

Take an infrastructural audit!

What does that look like? Here are a few examples:

  1. Is your company financially healthy and are you seeing profits increase every year?
  2. Payroll is your greatest cost. Are the right people doing the right job and executing your outcomes with excellent results and great success?
  3. Are your procedures and systems efficient and is follow through happening within your set timelines?
  4. Are you conducting 360 degree reviews to have full understanding of how the departments are functioning, and does your team love their job and love what they do?
  5. Is production and manufacturing performing at your desired caliber and above your expectations?
  6. Are you ensuring your brand has the premier exposure amidst your competitors and, not only that, are you in the lead?
  7. Are you maintaining a competitive advantage and do customers choose you not because they’re satisfied but because they love you?

Please find out!

– Karen Thrall

*also published on



On the Job

Sharing Our Experiences

There’s nothing like a little travel to provide a fantastic change in perspective – different cultures, unique landscapes and new daily adventures. And it’s fantastic to experience and even more fun to share – as long as you’re not holding people hostage with a thousand slides of the same Yellowstone buffalo taken at every angle. My husband and I enjoyed sharing our vacation over social media along the way and have hundreds more photos that we’ll have for ourselves to remember our trip to New Zealand and Australia. As we settled back into our daily routines, my husband was asked by someone he works with if he’d share some of his photos at their next all-staff meeting. It seemed like an innocent enough request, but it got us both thinking.

Of course we’re happy to share our trip, and admintidly, New Zealand and Australia are far enough away destinations that they’re not as common as some other adventures. However, my husband and I certainly aren’t the first people to travel and we won’t be the last, but no one else at his organization has ever shared their vacation pics at a staff meeting. We’re sensitive to the fact that we’re lucky we can travel – not everyone has the time or funds for a trip like we just took (and we definitely stretched on both fronts). We also don’t think that travel is the only thing worth sharing. We all do lots of things outside of work that are interesting and don’t want it to seem that some are any one thing is more important that any other.

There isn’t anything wrong with sharing a few vacation pics with your team, but I wonder what else we’re missing. I think it’s great my husband was asked to share his unique experience, and I hope it’s the beginning of much more sharing, of travel and beyond. I love the idea of sharing vacation photos, but also kids’ accomplishments, volunteer experiences, unique skills and hobbies and celebrating personal milestones. We’re the sum of many, many parts, and bringing all those parts to work helps us be better employees and colleagues. How are we as leaders encouraging our teams to share what’s important to them outside of work?


Speaking of sharing, here’s a little Sydney love
On the Job

Learning is Invigorating…and Exhausting

I rolled out a new training program last week for a client. We tested a two-day version of our training with a pilot group of about 20 folks. I was a little wound up because this was a product I firmly believe in and wasn’t a small investment for the organization. I really wanted to make sure I wasn’t wasting anyone’s time or resources. Two days for training is a lot to ask of folks and that wasn’t lost on me.

Cut to the end, the training was a success and we received a lot of great feedback. The pilot group was enthusiastic and felt the training was a good use of their time. They actually found it to be a lot of content to digest in two days and recommended expanding it to three days so we could spend more time on the concepts. But what struck me was how tired we all were at the end of these two days. I was “on” for the two days and knew I’d be spent, but the fatigue was in my participants’ faces as well by the time we wrapped up day two. We tend not to think of training as a tiring activity – we’re not training for a marathon, after all. We’re seated in comfy chairs, have plenty of breaks and have delicious sustenance during our time together. It’s really not all that physically taxing.

That said, while we prepare ourselves for physical strain, we tend to forget about mental strain. Learning to think differently is incredibly hard work. Processing new information, applying it to your situation and adapting it to your own style requires a lot of mental gymnastics. Plus, you’re outside of your normal routine, so you’re also trying to keep up with work that keeps coming in, adjusting commuting patters and interacting with people who you don’t know all that well. These things all take energy, and more than we realize.

So the next time you find yourself exhausted after some intense learning, cut yourself some slack. Your brain is working hard to make you smarter, faster, better – that’s a lot of work.

Career Karen

4 Pillars Of Wisdom For Start Up Companies

If you’re going to start a business, here are four areas to keep track of and be diligent with:

  1.  Keep your personal living expenses at an all time low. You’re on a tight-string budget. Accept it. What you used to do, you can’t do – FOR NOW.  It will pass. Only buy discounted deals, go bargain shopping, drive a car that’s cost efficient or ride your bike, eat frugal meals and keep your personal costs low, low, low.
  2. Consider a part-time job. A non-stress, easy, no pressure job to bring in a bit of cash flow.  Entrepreneurs take big financial risks.  Even if it’s minimum wage for 20 hours a week.  That’s still $800+ a month going into your bank account.  You can use that money to pour back into your business.
  3. Ask your friends and family for help. Right at the start.They believe in you and want the best for you. They will help however they can. Don’t be afraid to ask. They may not help financially, but they can help with other resources: time, talent, network connections, skills, volunteer work, etc.
  4. Always be networking. Meet new people every week. Every week tell yourself you’ll meet 5 new people that correlate with your business. When they meet you, they will like you and your passion for what you’re doing. They will remember you and one day, if not immediately, they will want what you offer.


– Karen Thrall

*also published on

Career Libby

Being Bossy

I’ve been reflecting on what it takes to be a good boss. First of all, I know it’s not easy, but it’s probably the most important component of any successful and satisfying career or professional experience. Ask someone about a negative experience with a job and chances are good you’ll get a lot of emotional reminiscing about a particular boss – the memories are still vivid and can evoke stress even years later. I think we all know a “bad” boss when we experience it, but what are the attributes of a “good” one? Certainly it will vary from person to person, but here are a few that I feel are universal:

  1. They respect you. Respect can be shown in a myriad of ways, but it is the one thing that is critical for a successful professional relationship. As a worker, you must feel like your work product is valued and contributes to the goals of the organization.
  2. They see you as an individual. Everyone is different and a good boss will be able differentiate how to interact with each of their staff in a way that works for that individual. It is an important skill to be able to understand how people are motivated and what is important to them – this is where you can find areas of commonality which can strengthen commitment.
  3. They support your professional development. A supervisor who wants your skills to grow is both a sign of respect and a way of telling you that you are a valued member of the team. Not only does it help them achieve their goals, but it makes it more appealing to stay part of the team for a longer time. Insecurity about seeing someone improve their skills – or even learn something the boss doesn’t know – is not conducive to building relationships.
  4. They trust you. Trust is a tricky thing – it has to be earned, but there have to be opportunities given in order for people to show they’re trustworthy…tough! But this is a foundational piece to working with someone, and therefore important to cultivate. In this case, perception is just as important reality.
  5. They listen to you. A professional relationship is not a one-way street. It is critical that a supervisor can listen to, seek out and value your ideas and opinions. If you don’t feel like your views are important, what’s the point?

When you have a truly respectful relationship where both parties feel smart, valued and equitable, the results can be amazing – work can actually be fun! It is important for supervisors to feel secure and to take the time to get to know their staff. When they can model good practices, find out what’s important to you and to be honest, the relationship can grow over time and reap benefits for both parties.

– Libby Bingham