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April 10, 2017 - No Comments!

Celebrating 20 years!

Many years ago at our five year anniversary in business, I met with a dear friend who gave me sage advice and said; "write a forward looking vision of what you desire for the next phase of your business journey." So I did that and found my notes to share now. Written in 2005 as an aspirational guide for 2015 and beyond:

"I am laughing a lot more these days – not taking myself so seriously! I can step away and have perspective and total trust in a great team. They bring light, love and lots of balance to this thriving business. We are all having fun.

There are a core group of clients that rely on us for recruiting as an extension of their department. They call when multiple assignments emerge or hard to fill positions exist requiring focused effort. We blend into their system, almost seamlessly for we know their culture. Our process is about “we” not “I” and that is unique about us. Our clients trust us and value our opinion.

We are known as possibility thinkers…where each person on our team brings unique ideas and we celebrate what we accomplish for ourselves and our clients. We work in our home offices but connect virtually. It’s a blend of the possible….all meant to be flexible for us. We know how to capture what we are learning in each new project.

Clients give us regular feedback and we publish our results. We are the only firm that does this in a way that helps the client improve. We use this data for re-inventing ourselves. Sometimes a new service is created from this ongoing input of great data from our clients.

We have a brand that reinforces our goal to add value, challenge ideas, build relationships and share knowledge. The HRoundtable and learning forums are thriving for we value human connection in the best way possible.”

Sherry Benjamins, President of S. Benjamins & Company, 2005

SBC-Anniversary

Published by: Corey Kachigan in Blog
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February 6, 2017 - No Comments!

SBC February Newsletter: Learning from an Entrepreneur & Millennial Mindset

Ryan SBC FebruaryThis month, our creative director, Erik Benjamins, sat down with one of his close friends, Ryan Sheffer. Ryan is a Millennial entrepreneur and co-founder of Zero Slant, an AI-driven news agency that creates automated content from social media. His path from filmmaker and editor to programmer and entrepreneur is inspiring and representative of changes we see in the future of work. He’s crafted a unique path that’s been driven by asking ambitious questions about the future of our relationship to technology and the media. His highly successful blog has been a resource for other young entrepreneurs in the industry and beyond.

Erik Benjamins: How did you choose the path of entrepreneurship?

Ryan Sheffer: Up until I was applying for college, I thought that “becoming a business person” was the thing you did as a career. I didn’t know that becoming a filmmaker—or doing your own thing—could be a job. In my head, it seemed like something that others did. When I started to get into the technology industry about ten years later to start my own company, I didn’t know what venture capital was. I didn’t use the word entrepreneur to describe myself. I was just an editor doing my own thing. I had this inherent desire for freedom, but didn’t have a clear cut way to define it. I realized that the key to choosing a path was understanding that it’s there. We often define our ceiling because it’s what we’ve seen, what we know.

EB: When was that moment for you? When you shifted from working in the film industry to the tech industry?

RS: It was a process. I was always brought into the film industry as the tech person that you’d call when something was technically difficult. Around that same time, I made a New Year’s resolution to teach myself how to code. It made sense given my interest in the tech side of the film industry. A few months later I sat down with some coders and showed them what I built after dedicating a month to learning this new language and they thought it was pretty good. I walked away from that meeting thinking that this may be something I could do. It was a shift in perspective.

EB: Tell us about your interests in an open source education?

RS: Before teaching myself how to code, I taught myself how to use a camera. My desire to continually learn has objectively fueled my career path. When I first went out and tried to start a company, I felt like no one wanted to share the simple things. Everything I found online were either stories of great success or massive failures. There wasn’t any “brass tacks” information like what to do when hiring a lawyer. No one thinks these are interesting things to share, but it was all I wanted to know. I started a video series called 12 Months to share these brass tacks kinds of things I was learning as I was starting my own tech company. It didn’t do very well, but I did get a lot of emails from people thanking me for being open and honest about all the non-sexy stuff I had to go through.

My blog has been the most successful thing I’ve done in my career. It now gets hundreds of thousands of reads per year. My outlets for sharing these process, successes and failures have a lot to do with sharing outward, but also forcing myself to verbalize my process. It lets me understand and follow through on it.

EB: What have you learned about your professional trajectory thus far?

RS: I need to be building something ambitious. Success isn’t going to happen instantly so I want to build something that will light me up as I struggle through it. Setting ambitious goals lets me work as my best self. The most important thing for me is to pursue my own excitement about learning and discovering, pushing myself to be better and better.

EB: How do you see and engage with risk in your work?

RS:  I don’t see risk the way others might. With my first foray into the tech industry, I invested a lot of my own money I had been making as a filmmaker into a company that I eventually ended up shutting down. But I viewed that decision as an education. I could have spent the same amount of money for a masters or PhD, but I’d rather invest in this style of learning. That being said, I’m starting a family now and need to work in a more responsible way. Risk is important, but I also need to set hard deadlines. For example, I’m in the process of fundraising right now and if I don’t raise the amount I need, I’ll have to put the company on hold and find a job.

EB: What advice do you have for someone struggling with their identity as a worker, or someone interested in taking the non-obvious work path?

RS: If you find yourself working at a job and you feel like they can’t give you enough work to do and you have six other side projects going, you’re not an employee. You can either choose to refocus your energy towards being an employee or you can accept that this seems like the energy of someone who wants to start their own thing.

EB: How can upper management engage with entrepreneurial minded talent?

RS: I had an employee like this and my method was to put that person in charge of their own department. I gave them as much autonomy as I could without sacrificing the clarity of vision for the company. Once you identity someone with an entrepreneurial spirit you need to incentivize them with responsibility and autonomy. My experience in the film industry helped with this. The director is the dictator, but he or she surrounds themselves with department heads like lighting, costume, etc., that make large decisions without the director’s constant oversight. When it comes to managing Millennials, it’s about working with people who have a ton of passion and have a desire to have an ownership in what they do.

EB: Is this an experience that for you is generationally specific? 

RS: I don’t like using the phrase the “Millennial attitude”, but there is definitely an element of Millennials not wanting to hear you tell them your business. The counterpoint of empowering Millennials is that they may feel deserving of autonomy, but are unable to provide the output. The “Millennial attitude” lends itself to a side effect in which the second you micromanage, they are upset. It’s an attitude of “we do it differently and you don’t understand”. It may also have to do with the fact that jobs and work is shifting. For example, I don’t have folders and I don’t have an office. My whole company works remotely. There’s an element of needing to find people that work more comfortably in that environment, to be go getters and get stuff done. I think we’ll see a trend of a company having it’s separate sections run like individual companies.

EB: Lastly, who has been your influence or inspiration?

RS: My grandfather for always wanting to learn and my father for being the most dedicated family man I know.

Final Thoughts...

It never hurts to reflect on the powers, complexities, and new styles of the Millennial mentality as we continue flying into this new year.  It speaks to the changing nature of work and our ability to balance existing structures with entirely new ones so we can do our best work.

April 20, 2016 - No Comments!

March Newsletter 2016 – Leading From the Inside Out: Update with Jeremy Hunter

JeremyThis month we sat down with our friend and thought partner, Jeremy Hunter, to explore ways leaders develop themselves while retaining their humanity in the face of monumental change in the workplace.

Jeremy Hunter, PhD is the Founding Director of the Executive Mind Leadership Institute as well as Associate Professor of Practice at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.  He creates and teaches The Executive Mind, a series of demanding and transformative executive education programs. They are dedicated to Drucker’s assertion that “You cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first.”  He also co-leads the Leading Mindfully Executive Education program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Jeremy balances a full portfolio of teaching, writing, speaking and consulting with the most important role, being a new dad!  He has designed and led leadership development programs for Fortune 200 and Fortune 50 organizations in aerospace, banking, research, finance, accounting, the arts and civic non-profits.

S. Benjamins:  Jeremy, it has been some time since we caught up with you! What are you up to in 2016? 

Jeremy Hunter: It has been an exciting year so far! More leaders are realizing that to positively face all the demands and distractions coming at them, they must learn new skills. They are learning to focus better and help their teams stay focused. They are learning to better manage their reactions to all the “incoming” coming their way. Executives handle challenges and take on more work than ever while also wanting to maintain a healthy personal and family life.

As Founding Director of the new Executive Mind Leadership Institute, I am focused on the practical inner development of executives. It is the first of its kind on the West Coast and builds on the Drucker School’s leadership position of helping executives learn skills to up their game to be more productive while also enjoying greater well-being. The institute is supported by a team of Drucker faculty who believe in the power of human development for organizational success. Our goal is to cultivate the inner skills of executives and offer public and niche programs to help them thrive in an increasingly arduous environment.

 

SB:  What do you hope the Executive Mind Leadership Institute will provide? 

JH: The Executive Mind Leadership Institute is built on idea that leaders have to cultivate their minds in a different way to flourish in this turbulent environment. I have been teaching executives for 13 years and at the core of that is something called mindfulness, which is now recognized as a powerful solution for facing an unrelenting and chaotic business environment. Many talented leaders work hard but would like more tools to meet demands in this pace of change and more effectively address the contemporary business environment.

 

SB: In regards to your consulting, what do you think makes clients call you for help? 

JH: A few things come to mind. First, leaders now realize that their quality of self-awareness impacts the success of their organizations. To be effective now, they have to be more than just skilled at the technical aspects of what they do. They also want to increase their capacity to stay focused in a distracting environment, or approach challenges in fresh ways to be more competitive. They also know how important it is to create a culture that attracts and keeps talent. Managing is no longer just about the kind of work people do, but it is about the “why and how” as well.

Secondly, forward-thinking leaders see the nature of work is changing. Good work now demands the ability to connect to one another in more sophisticated ways. Better solutions arise from better connections with one another. My last client was a highly technical organization that understood through enhancing their ability to have higher-value conversations they gain a competitive advantage. The work we did improved the tenor and quality of their meetings which resulted in clearer communication and forward-moving action.

Lastly, work has become more stressful and firms want useful ways to deal with it. I hear so many people describe their work by using war metaphors. They walked in the office braced for battle and already exhausted.

 

SB: Are you seeing changes in leadership development? 

JH: Yes, and part of that is the new generation of leadership. When I first started this work 13+ years ago it was not a foregone conclusion that leaders had develop themselves internally to be effective externally. Now, we know that research supports the idea that healthy leaders who understand and manage themselves lead more effectively.

 

SB: We see in our search work that Hiring Managers want a long list of skills; however, more place equal importance on “fit”. Are your clients doing this? 

JH: Yes, it’s the “do they play well with others” question. To answer the “fit” question, you need a set of tools that give employees the opportunity to display strengths and improve weaknesses. A “diamond in the rough” candidate can survive and thrive with a strong set of tools to help them develop. Survival is about continually adapting to change, not about perfection.


I’d personally love to see companies replace their fit assessments with a real life situation. Instead of measuring someone’s ability to be flexible via an assessment, take them to lunch and have the waiter mess up their order. Then you would really see how they handle situations that require flexibility!

 

SB: Between being a new father, teaching, consulting, writing and the Institute how do you keep all the balls in the air? 

JH: I have to practice what I preach! Every morning I meditate for 40 minutes to an hour. It is a way for me to set the tone of the day and let things unfold more calmly. I also take vacations where I get to decidedly disconnect from work.

 

SB: I love that. What have you learned about yourself this past year?

JH: Beyond practicing what I preach, I have learned to take paths that challenge me. It allows me to actively practice adapting and staying in the moment with the challenge. We all go through difficulties and many of us prefer to take the path most easily traveled, but I have found taking the path outside comfort zones offers better solutions in the end.

We can thrive and have a high quality of life and performance, but it does take work. Right now we live in a world where people think the answer to productivity is technology. The root of productivity is not technology. Productivity happens because people develop capacities between and within themselves to perform better.

 

Our final considerations. . .

Just as medicine is shifting from reactive treatments to pro-active wellness, more organizations are shifting to well-being at work. Jeremy has worked with enlightened CEO’s who are now seeing that building a healthy culture starts with the leader. Those that self reflect know how to shift attention and get better results. 


The conversation at the leadership table is changing. When it is more human and honest – the research shows better results.  The human agenda is now more centered than ever on values, leadership, talent management, motivation and learning.  This is a huge sign that leading indicators for success start with leaders who understand what matters from the inside out.

 

November 21, 2015 - No Comments!

The Road Not Taken – Seeking Engagement

There has been a lot of talk about engagement lately. I found many new books on the topic from Primed to Perform by Neel Doshi, to What you Really Need to Lead, by Robert Kaplan and then, On Fire at Work by Eric Chester to name a few. We know that motivating and inspiring our workers produces better results and this is a hot topic today. Here is the challenge; it takes time and intention to learn why people work and what motivates them individually to do great work. There is clearly a shortage of time.

I have experienced some of our clients (more than a few), who are top HR executives going from meetings, to 30 minute conversations and this past week, I had two great clients say that they plan 15 minutes conversations. The demands and pace of work has truly shifted. Technology, transparency and remaining competitive while growing business puts incredible pressure on HR and our people. However, how do we take the road less traveled or not taken yet? Achieving a high performing and individualized plan to engage your workers will not be left to chance any longer. The road on this journey is entirely new. It takes time to figure it out - get the voice of your leaders, colleagues, workers and strategic partners and then determine the fit with culture and belief systems.  If we don't figure this out, great talent will head off to new opportunities and as a search firm, we see career options growing.

We were in Vermont this past Fall hiking in a beautiful remote area and came across a sign with a Robert Frost poem prominently displayed.  It reminds me that you may feel you are in the woods sometimes yet new roads are essential.  But we have not traveled them before.  And in Robert Frost words; "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.....I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."   Well, you have to read the whole poem - it is wonderful and I hope it calls to you as you think about adapting in the new year.

Road less traveled

August 28, 2015 - No Comments!

SBCo August Newsletter – Two Women Entrepreneurs: Talent Matters in Food & Film

This month we decided to highlight the creativity, impact and courage of two women entrepreneurs who are successfully using their strengths and passion to share their love of food and film.  Natasha Feldman and Julianna Strickland started their own company, Cinema & Spice, over five years ago and have been Best Friends, Producers, Directors, Writers, Hosts, and Goofballs ever since.

Cinema & Spice Productions makes web-based cooking shows. Natasha and Julianna have worked with a variety of companies including C&S tvYahoo, Kraft, Le Creuset, Keds, Warner Brothers, Lifetime, and KitchenAid to develop and create youthful and creative shows.

Their Webby Nominated Cooking Show, Cinema & Spice (C&S), has been featured in The LA Times,  Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Union Tribune, and on The Steve Harvey Show. Each episode  of C&S  is inspired by a movie or television show and features original recipes, useful kitchen tips, and ideas for  entertaining.

Sherry Benjamins (SB): It’s so great to chat with you Julianna and Natasha! Tell us how you started such an imaginative company?

Natasha Feldman (NF): I had just graduated from LMU and decided that I wanted to go to culinary school. Julianna had just graduated from USC with a film degree and we were both working in the same restaurant. At the time that I met Julianna I needed a roommate and she was looking to move out of her apartment, so we became roommates, co-workers, and friends.

We experimented in the kitchen and filmed these mini-episodes of us cooking. The first episode was horrible but we kept playing with it in the editing bay to see if we could create some structure and purpose. At first we thought just our friends and family would watch, but soon we were gaining a following.

Long story short, we started getting sponsors for our episodes and we eventually connected with Yahoo! and grew our business from there.

SB: What role do each of you play in the organization? Do you have a team to help you run this company?

Julianna Strickland (JS): Someday we may be lucky enough to have a full support staff, but for now it’s just the two of us and our freelance team. Natasha is the one who develops recipes, does the food styling and writes. I am all the things under the surface that allow our business to run.

For instance, I do all of the back-end production, accounting, hire the film crew and edit all copy.  And we like to do the creative brainstorming for each episode together. We are strategic about getting the best talent available to help us in areas where additional expertise is needed.

SB: Cinema & Spice does their own videos as well as videos for brands. Do brands approach you and just ask for a video?

NF: Yes, brands reach out to a platform, such as Yahoo!, AOL or a YouTube company, looking for content and we get the requests through the larger companies, usually.  Sometimes the request is for general concepts to see if they feel it fits in with their current landscape and needs, and other times it’s for full-blown productions. We have been fortunate to work with brands like Kraft, Le Creuset, Keds and KitchenAid.

SB: It is great to hear that you are able to inject some of your creativity into these very large organizations. How can corporations use a similar level of creativity (besides hiring you!)?

NF: Large companies can’t be afraid of the new; it’s no mystery that the world as we know it is changing. That doesn’t mean that companies should make rash decisions to completely alter their brand. Organizations are quick to “blow up” a process or initiative, but sometimes you just need to approach it in a new way.

We find companies often spend egregious amounts of money to work with big production houses and end up with a product that looks like everyone else and doesn’t break the mold. If you don’t hire someone that’s a little risky and don’t make a product that is a little risky, you won’t get the impactful result you were looking for.

SB: There is a lot of change happening right now as the millennial generation enters the workforce. You are both Millennials… any advice for organizations on how to “handle” your generation?

NF: It is really important to embrace the strengths of others and use their talent and perspectives to compliment or break out into something new. We see and honor the power of collaboration. It is pretty easy for Millennials to create a website and launch a company, but there is so much power in the wisdom and expertise of older generations. Technology changes, but the core needs and wants of people don’t change much. Millennials are a valuable asset to fill in the gap between the new technology and the established business.

JS: We are constantly at the crossroad between old and new. The tech space is all about the newest thing, but in the food world, established and authentic brands actually have respect from the consumer. There’s a similar crossroads within organizations between the newest thing (Millennials) and the established/respected business.

SB: You launched your own business in an industry that has a lot of big players. What drove you to take this step?

NF: I will say we were a little naïve to an extent because we had a dream and we decided to go for it. It certainly hasn’t been without consequence, but if you were to ask if we would do it over again, I think we would both certainly say yes.

SB: I am hearing more often these days from corporate professionals who say, “I am ready for a change because my work isn’t exciting or fun anymore. I need to find my purpose again.”

JS: If you choose something you love to do, you will always find the joy and purpose in it. We are lucky to be able to enjoy our work through creating our own episodes, making branded content for others, and volunteering to teach the next generation how to cook, both through our shows and at local food banks and low income housing around LA.

SB: What does 2016 look like for Cinema & Spice?

NF: In 2016 we want to continue to branch out with our production company. We meet so many brilliant people inside organizations as well as independent talent (comedians, actors, bloggers, etc.) that we want to partner with to produce their content. Watch for new episodes and productions that we hope inspire you to incorporate healthy eating into your lifestyle.

Our Thoughts…

Seek out talent the way Julianna and Natasha do for their business.  Imagine having the creativity, passion and trust in your workers so that they bring their best to your culture every day.  They get to work on something that did not exist yesterday. This dynamic duo is crafting a new on-line and social presence in a changing world.

They think creatively about how work gets done. This supports predictions that new models of work, worker and workplace have arrived.  Natasha and Julianna are just one example of young leaders who demonstrate that we have left behind “business as usual.”  Tap into your employee’s imagination and you may be thoroughly surprised what can be accomplished!

You can learn more about Cinema & Spice on their website, YouTube channel, or Instagram!

May 28, 2012 - No Comments!

Taking a Break at the Getty Villa

We had the opportunity to vist the Getty Villa, just 12 miles from downtown LA or one hour drive north from Orange County and it was breathtaking.  The classical art and special exhibition on Aphrodite was impressive.  Most important is the time away to breathe and enjoy the beauty.  On this memorial day, it reminds me that stepping back is re-energizing. Visit this gem of a museum to reflect, appreciate the gardens.  It is eye-opening to see that so much of our contemporary sensibilities in art came from 3,000 years or more ago.  Not a bad thing to appreciate old and new.

What are you evaluating today that may have worked for you in the old or in the past but now you are seeing something new for yourself going forward?

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February 12, 2012 - No Comments!

Metropolis – A complex sculpture that illustrates our pace today

I just had the pleasure of visiting the Los Angeles Art Museum (LACMA) and loved Chris Burden's kinetic sculpture, called Metropolis II. It is intense, fun and frenetic.  Feels like watching yourself on the freeways of LA.  Think about our pace, speed of thought and action....the artist captured it in this amazing sculpture.

It begs the question, "Do you feel like you are running at light speed literally through your day, week or month" and wonder if you are accomplishing what matters most to you?  The miniature cars speed through twists and turns.  It mirrors our own flight from one place to another whether you are on the freeway or not.  I attended a great webinar this week where Harry Kraemer, former CEO of Baxter and current Professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School, spoke of living our values honestly.  He suggested that every day, we ask ourselves, "What did I accomplish?" and "What am I proud of?"  He asks that of himself every day along with, "If I were to live this day over, what would I do differently?"

I love that reflection exercise to put perspective on this accelerating, email driven work world we are in. Read his book, "From Values to Action"  and also visit LACMA - great inspiration for the soul.

 

 

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