Monthly Archives

June 2017

27

By | Be Genuine, Invoke Passion, Motivate Others, Take Risks

“Hello ma’am, do you have access to the internet and would you like to take a survey?”

As a young, bootstrapped startup, SoapBoxSample is fortunate in that we can draw from the vast experience of our parent company ISA (Interviewing Service of America). ISA has been in the Market Research business for 35 years. It’s humbling to think of how many lives have grown and changed over the years. Children have been born and grown into adults and had children of their own in that time.

Some of the ISA people still question my unconventional leadership style, but I’m happy to say I’ve made genuine connections with a lot of them, including Gregg Stickeler, Senior VP of Client Services, who celebrates his 27-year anniversary with ISA today. He may not admit it, but I believe his initial feelings toward me were disdain. I also think he now has grown to like me, or at least tolerate me. When I asked Gregg to guest blog he took it seriously enough to do some extensive research, which is fitting considering all of his years of experience. Congrats Gregg!

27

For me, the number 27 is much more than just a random number. It holds quite a bit of significance in my life. Here are just a few fun facts about the number 27.

  • 27% of the Earth is land.
  • It takes 27 days for a human cell to re-grow.
  • The Moon orbits the Earth every 27 days and coincidentally, the Sun revolves on its axis in those same 27 days.
  • The total number of letters in both the Hebrew and Spanish alphabets is 27.
  • It is the atomic number of Cobalt.
  • There are 27 bones in the human hand.
  • It is my daughter’s lucky number.

And on June 27, 2017 I will be celebrating the 27th anniversary of becoming a member of the ISA team. Yes, 27 years ago a young Gregg Stickeler uprooted his life from the East Coast and started a new career and a new life in Van Nuys, California. And boy what this guy has seen.

When I started with ISA in 1990, we had just expanded from 48 telephone station seats to over 55. Well over half of these positons were equipped with a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube), in order to perform Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI – which on the East coast we pronounced Kay-Dee and on the West coast, Ka – Tee). The majority of the interviewing was done in English though we had a handful of bilingual Spanish interviewers and an on-call staff of Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese speaking interviewers. We ran a number of tracking studies as well as ad hoc studies. Usually up to five different projects would be running at any given time.

But we grew and so did I.

In the next few years we expanded to over 100 seats, all CATI, now crammed into three phone rooms (all at 16005 Sherman Way in Van Nuys, CA). I moved from Manager of Telephone Operations to Project Manager to Director of Client Services. Our Quality Control department was renamed Quality Assurance and Interviewers were now dubbed Data Collectors. And we added a Focus Group Facility named Creative Data.

And the years passed. I was promoted to Vice President and my future wife (which I did not realize at the time) joined the company. We expanded our phone capacity by nearly 60 seats, opening a facility in Alhambra (just outside Pasadena with a large Asian population – at this point we were doing over 25% of our studies in a language other than English). Lopy Williams, who had served as my right hand in the phone room, opened that facility and quickly proved we can expand, without problems, beyond the walls of our Van Nuys Headquarters (yes, we were a Headquarters!).

But according to the normal ebb and flow of life, you’re up one minute and down the next. Soon after ISA’s expansion my father passed away.

As the seams were bursting in our office (we had taken over additional office space and were at 150 seats in Van Nuys), we moved a few miles east to 15400 Sherman Way, 4th Floor, the location we still occupy to this day. Our entire headquarters phone room was now in one area, sporting almost 200 stations. Our next great challenge, Y2K. The year 2000 was quickly coming upon us and it was time to convert all the data we had (study and internal) to comply with the new century. Months were spent rewriting software, reevaluating data, and figuring out how to put all the pieces together. Thankfully, I was nowhere near this issue. The phone work continued to expand and I was heavily involved in staffing and scheduling and client interaction. In 1999, that was the easy part of the work.

And time marches on. We made it through the Y2K conversion fairly unscathed, our phone work continued to grow, and we were again looking to expand. We opened a 75-seat facility in Lancaster, CA. (I was kind of hoping for Pennsylvania as it would have given me a chance to get some shoo fly pie).

Creative Data, our focus group facility, became Qualitative Insights (and eventually Q-insights), I got married and we had a son, named after my Dad.

And suddenly there was a buzz about doing surveys online. Yep, actually hoping enough people were on the world wide web to get enough surveys done that way instead of using phones. And we toyed with the idea. Around this time I received the title of Senior Vice President. My daughter was born.

Our ability to do surveys online was added to our product mix, my Mom passed away, and then, on my 54th birthday (oddly 27 times two), we launched SoapBoxSample, our division specializing in online sample.

During the first few days of SoapBox’s existence, I remember thinking to myself, “Why is Amy Poehler in our office, and can she keep it down?” I thought it was cool that ISA was entering the age of internet research in 2013.

Three years later, we added icanmakeitbetter, an insight community platform. Once I learned to stop calling it “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter,” I really got excited about the platform when I figured out that it was another way I could share photos of myself wearing outlandish costumes with my co-workers.

It’s been an interesting 27 years. So many things have happened in my professional and personal lives which have remained intertwined since I walked into the lobby at my new company that Wednesday. (I can’t believe I was three minutes late, but I was only living in California for two days and was still getting used to the traffic). I have found new friends and lost a few of them along the way. You can read more about my personal and professional adventures on my blog, stickeler.blogspot.com.

How to Stay Human While Working From Home

By | Be Clear, Create Value, Motivate Others, Take Risks

Not all employees work from an office. Apparently, starting this week’s BLOG intro with the obvious just feels right for some reason.

Telecommuting, working from home, remote employee, flexible working environment, or whatever you call it, there is a lot of it. Some deem it to be the perk of all perks. Others deem it to be a dreadful prison within your home of social isolation and a perpetuation of not showering.

You can find endless articles about the pros and cons. My personal opinion is that it can be a super good fit from some, and not so much for others. It is NOT for everyone. This week’s Telltale Ten post is from Jennifer Holland, a successful salesperson who works for SoapBoxSample’s parent company, Interviewing Service of America, ISA. She works remotely from her home in New York. She offers some great tips for those who work from home, or those who are considering it.

“You. Are. So. Lucky.”

I hear it at least once a week.  And yes, I am.  I’m one of the over 3 million Americans working from home.  While I must admit, it’s a good gig if you can get it, it does come with its own set of drawbacks.

When I started working remotely over ten years ago, I looked to my friends who’d been working from home for advice.  How did they manage their time, what did their typical day look like, how did they not go insane with all of the alone time?  The answers were varied but there was always a common thread in their responses.

Have an Office with a Door

Working from home can go one of two ways.  If you’re not disciplined, this situation isn’t for you.  People who are easily distracted, need someone checking over their shoulder and don’t like their job in general aren’t a great fit for remote employment.  The other side of that coin is you work All. Of. The. Time.  You’re working from your home, a place where you spend the bulk of your time.  So in essence, you’re always at the office.  I often find myself at my desk at 11 pm, checking email, working on bids, etc.  I start by walking through the house, picking up the backpacks, turning off the lights, checking the kids in their beds.  I end up walking into my office and working for two hours.

You need to work on maintaining an actual life outside of your home office.  I needed to make sure I had an office in my home with a door.  Somewhere I can walk into in the morning, and walk out of at night.  And close the door.  It’s not foolproof, and I’ve been known to bust out a proposal from my laptop in bed, but it helps to have an actual space in your home dedicated to your work.

Leave Your House

I have this trick that I do every morning.  I wake up, take a shower, get dressed and leave my house.  I know that sounds like I’m negating one of the main benefits of working from home.  You don’t HAVE to leave!  But I NEED to leave.  I get coffee, and come back to my office. It’s as if I’m arriving to work every day and not just Groundhog Day’ing my life away.  I also work from a coffee shop a few times a week, for a couple of hours a day.  A change of scenery is key for me.  It keeps me focused and sane.

One of the main struggles of working from a home office is the lack of social interaction.  I basically accost my FedEx guy with conversation when he shows up.  All he wants me to do is sign for a package.  All I want to do is talk to a human in person.  It’s become weird.  To ease the strain I’ve created in the relationships with my delivery people, I keep CNN on in the background all day.  I know he’s not really there, but in my mind Wolf Blitzer is in the office next door.  It’s nice.

Get Dressed

No.  I do not work in my pajamas.  I may work in leggings and a hoodie, but I do get dressed.  Every Day.  I throw my hair in a bun and rarely wear make up on work days (keeping it real here), but I wear actual clothes.  I think waking up and walking into a home office is a slippery slope.  One day you’re working from home, the next thing you know you’re that person on your street that no one has ever seen leave the house.  Clothes make you feel human.  Even if your kid tells you that you dress like a gym teacher.

I had a friend who worked from home and would put on a suit when she had an important conference call.  It made her feel more prepared and professional.  I do not do that.  All I can say is thank God most of my meetings are not video calls.

All in all, not too bad.  Right?  And trust me, I am NOT complaining.  I mean, my morning commute is about 10 seconds.  I only have to wear heels when I’m visiting a client or prospect out of the office (after 14 years of working in an actual office wearing very high heels, my feet are grateful for this benefit).  I’m not dealing with the office drama that exists in every office in every company.  My break room is my kitchen or Starbucks, so no drama there.

But I do have one complaint.  The ‘cookies in the break room’ email.  For some reason cookies don’t magically appear in my kitchen when there are cookies, cannolis, bagels, etc. in the break room.  I’m looking at you, Francine.

I’m Late! I’m Late!

By | Be Clear, Be Genuine, Be Honest, Motivate Others

I’m Late, I’m Late, for a Very Important Date

Cute for Rabbits, Not for People

 

Punctuality is the characteristic of being able to complete a required task or fulfill an obligation before or at a previously designated time. “Punctual” is often used synonymously with “on time”.

Punctuality can be the difference between coming across as a disorganized, disrespectful, self-absorbed moron (can you tell my position on this) or someone who has their sh*t together.

What people think about you when you show up on time:

This person respects me, my time, themselves and their time; and I appreciate that. I will not have to waste my dagger eyes on them today.

This is person is reliable. They must have one of those fancy cellular telephones that tells them what time it is.

He/she is accountable for their actions, which makes me think they can handle responsibilities. Make them the CEO!

I can tell that this person is disciplined; they must exercise self-control over other aspects of their life. I bet they don’t do crazy things like lie about where they are and then post themselves at a different place on social media. #dumbass

He/she would set a good example for the other people on my team. (Or could replace that person who is always late.)

What people think about you when you show up late (like always late – not every once in a while “life happens” late. I mean serial lateness):

How rude! This person is wasting my time. They suck. They are self-absorbed and have no regard for others. I want to punch this person.

Now my schedule is thrown into total chaos. This is stressing me out, because I don’t know when I can eat. Do I have time to pee?  And I can never figure out why these people come running in all out of breath and frantic. I mean if they were rushing, wouldn’t they be on time?

I wonder what kind of reputation this person has. Probably not good. Just writing this BLOG is getting me all worked up. I need to get my Sharpie as I am crossing “friends” off my list as we speak.

This person can’t figure out how long it takes to get somewhere, and that is dumb.  I’m pretty sure there is an app for that. (That was sarcasm.) This person’s life is totally unmanageable.

Did they think no one would notice or care that they were late? This person must lack self-respect. They probably post absurd things on social media. #getalife

Don’t be late. Just don’t do it. Leave extra early and spend 20 minutes sitting in your car catching up on Telltale Ten posts. It’s a win-win.

Minus May Recap

By | Create Value, Inspire Ideas, Motivate Others

Trying to accomplish a goal? Your failure or success could come down to one important factor — accountability.

At SoapBox, goal setting is not just a part of individual performance reviews, but also a part of SoapBox team building.  And when you can pitch to the group with a cool name like Minus May, it seems fun. Setting personal goals within a team environment helps to:

  • Create a supportive work environment
  • Build a culture that values self-improvement
  • Provide accountability
  • Encourage non-work related conversation and check-ins
  • Increase the likelihood of achieving the goal (although based on the results we failed at this miserably)

It also puts people on blast knowing they have to publicly admit if they break their pledge (on this very public forum followed by dozens of readers called Telltale Ten) – it can make the difference between saying f**k it, or following through.

At the beginning of last month, we challenged the staff to come up with one thing that they would like to eliminate in order to improve their lives. We proposed the opposite of a “to do“ list that people generally default to when they want to accomplish something.

Spoiler: no one had a perfect Minus May. Some came close, a few made some slight progress. One forgot what was happening and one doesn’t understand A,B,C grading systems. You can read everyone’s recap below.

Nicole, Sales and Marketing Administrative Assistant
Goal: To save money
Minus: Her daily trips to Starbucks

Grade: A- 

While I have eliminated Starbucks before, the difference this time was the temptation factor that would still linger when I would make a Starbucks run for someone else. You either love Starbucks or you hate it…at least for most people I know. I breathe Starbucks, have more cups than needed, and always seem to make friends with a barista in various locations. The challenge itself wasn’t hard, I saved about $3.95 a day. Sometimes I would have more than one Starbucks a day, so I saved between $150 and $200 bucks for the entire month. I had moments of withdrawal, one moment where I went and did a Starbucks run for a few others, ordered one for myself and drank it there before coming back to the office. That was about it. I did notice cutting all the sugar from my coffee has slimmed me down, so I can’t complain at all. Now that I am able to have it again, I will slowly start to indulge in it. I don’t see myself going overboard because I like the idea of having a flatter stomach. Supplementing Starbucks for other brands or energy drinks will never become a full-time habit, I am committed to Starbucks forever!!

Melissa, Recruitment Specialist
Goal: To have a more positive outlook
Minus: Complaining

Grade: B-

For Minus May my goal was to stop complaining. I realized recently that I have a habit of holding on to negative thoughts, which sometimes can cloud my outlook on life. While I did not have a perfect Minus May, overall I am proud of myself for the progress that I made. Several times I was able to catch myself before I started to complain, and I was able to refocus my thoughts to look at the bright side of a situation. Even though Minus May is now over, I plan to continue to stop negative thoughts in their tracks and turn them around before they take over my mood.

Kevin, Online Panel Support
Goal: To reduce his cholesterol
Minus: Eating fast food

Grade: B

I avoided fast food, but then bought more processed food from the store. I learned that restaurant vegetarian options can’t compete with their steaks. If I was going to try it again I would limit myself to fewer cheat days.

Cynthia, Manager of Community Experience
Goal: To live a longer, healthier life
Minus: Smoking cigarettes

Grade: F

I would give myself an F, since I did take a puff from a cigarette twice during the last week of the month. The challenge was to give it up, and I did not give it up completely. During the month of May, I had several stressful personal issues come up, as well as additional work stress which made me crave cigarettes. Typically, I smoke more when I am stressed. Before Minus May I was smoking about half a pack a day and to go from that to two puffs in the last 31 days is pretty good in my book. I think I did better than expected. I did snack more, but I was prepared for that. Overall, I am extremely happy with the results and will continue my Minus May pledge into June.

Note from Jax to Cynthia (let’s see if she reads the BLOG): I am proud of you and the standards you have set. I am also proud you took way less puffs of cancer. If you keep it up for June, I will match the money you saved. Extra incentive when those two puffs seem so tempting.

Adolfo, Senior Project Manager
Goal: To save money
Minus: Drinking alcohol

Grade: C

To be honest, I forgot and didn’t really try. I did, however, limit my alcohol consumption, which helped with the goal of saving money. If I were to try it again, I would actually try next time. But I would hope there would be some sort of support system/reminders. I truly forgot we were doing this for May.

Kalean, Bids and Feasibility Associate
Goal: To be more productive at work
Minus: Hitting the snooze button

Grade: F

LOL, I did so horribly. My plan was to ease myself into this challenge. Normally I hit snooze around four times in the morning and my plan was lower that amount by one each day until my body was conditioned to waking up after the first alarm. I was able to take a longer a shower and didn’t feel rushed the first day, but the next morning I went right back to my habits and snoozed until I absolutely HAD to get up. I kind of found a new way to circumvent not being so rushed in the morning though. Now that I have colored hair I need to take more care of it than I used to so I started to shower at night so I’d have more time to focus on it being maintained properly. As a result, my mornings became less hectic and I came to work five to ten minutes earlier than normal each day this week. In essence, my laziness and apathy towards waking in up the morning couldn’t be fixed, but my vanity is what really helped my production at work.

Michaela, Bids and Feasibility Associate
Goal: Saving time and money
Minus: Shopping and buying unnecessary things

Grade: B

I was really determined to stick with my Minus May resolution – and it worked! I was able to hold on to more of my paycheck by not spending money and appreciating the things I already own. I had a couple of “splurges” here and there due to my vacation at the end of May, but all in all I give myself a solid B. I’d like to make this a long-term habit for the future and I think Minus May was a good practice run to test my determination!

Adriana, Director of Marketing
Goal: To lose weight
Minus: Snacking at night

Grade: C

I went into the month of May with the best intentions, to stop snacking at night for SoapBox’s Minus May challenge. I thought it would be easy. I pictured a thinner, happier me going into June and a bed with no crumbs in it. Turns out it was harder than I thought. Old habits are hard to break, especially habits involving delicious, salty snacks. (That’s my weakness.) I broke down more than once. Ok, like six times. But on the plus side, I ended up snacking less than I would have if I hadn’t made my Minus May pledge. Next time I set a similar goal for myself I will do a little more prep work, by planning out what I’m going to eat for the whole day, so I’m not starving at ten p.m. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle is a lifelong journey, and even though I didn’t have a perfect month, I may be a step or two closer to meeting my long term goal.

Myself, Lunatic, COO, Mom Blogger
Goal: Sleep a minimum of eight hours per night
Minus: Cell phone after eleven p.m.

Grade: B

I did stay committed to sleeping eight hours a night for the most part. I think all but a few nights, I got that eight hours. Sometimes even more. But, it was not really a result of keeping my minus commitment. Most weekend nights for example, I was up way past eleven. But I also was super aware of the eight-hour goal, so I would make up for it by sleeping in.

If I were going to try this again with the “off the phone by eleven” as the driver for eight hours of sleep, I would not watch any binge-worthy Amazon, Netflix or Showtime shows that lead to “just one more” or “just the first 15 minutes of the next one”. There were a few weeknights where I just couldn’t resist that “next episode” button and couldn’t just sleep in to make up for it seeing as I have a job here at SoapBox. Or maybe I could just start watching earlier…I usually watch only one hour per day starting at ten. Perhaps I should eliminate family dinners and watch more binge-worthy shows instead. That could work…