Date: 7/25/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” – W. Edwards Deming

Sometimes when I visit with business leaders & individuals and the conversation turns to change, I get the impression that people are content with survival. They talk about change like it’s some unattainable Valhalla, something for people who are inherently more creative or have more resources or are some kind of Steve Jobs-ian genius. They rationalize that what they have now is what they want and they aren’t interested in anything more, so therefore there’s no reason to change. Their current level of success is enough.

There’s a problem with that. Even if you’re completely satisfied with your current level of success, it’s not sustainable by continuing to do what you’re already doing. If your business is doing the exact the same things the exact same way today as you were 6 months ago (or less!), you’re already behind. That level of success you’re supposedly so happy with is crumbling with each day that goes by.

You can’t maintain that success by not changing. You have to change just to stay in place. You have to change just to cling desperately to whatever you have now. You have to change just to make sure everything you’ve worked for doesn’t slip away.

And I can’t speak for you, but to me, ‘cling desperately to whatever you have now’ doesn’t sound like what I’m looking for from my business. Don’t you want your business to grow? Don’t you want your business to be everything it can possibly be? Aren’t there things you would like to see improved?

The ability and willingness to adapt as the world evolves is the bare minimum requirement for survival. The ability and willingness to create change in advance of the world’s evolution is the bare minimum requirement for reaching your full potential, whether it be as a business or as an individual.

So you really have three choices. You can make change as the world requires it of you. As the world moves along, you can make the changes you have to make to survive. Or you can anticipate, move faster than you have to, create change that helps your business to become something more than it is today. Or you can be satisfied with where you are, do nothing, and eventually cease to exist.

I know what I where I want my business to go, and I understand what level of change it’s going to take to get there. Do you?

change billboard

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 7/18/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

In each of our businesses, we spend time talking about customers and markets and buying habits and all kinds of things centered around what other people want. We try and figure out what they want and then we develop brilliant (we think) plans and strategies for giving it to them and getting paid for our trouble.

The purpose of this post isn’t to argue that we shouldn’t try to understand those things, or that what others want doesn’t matter, or anything like that (so save your angry emails). The purpose of this post is internal. It’s about what makes you go. Not your business – you.

How often do you sit down and reflect on what you’re passionate about? How often do we stop to notice that whatever it is we’re doing gives us energy, makes us feel like getting out of bed in the morning, or makes time seem to fly?

For most people, the answer is: not often enough. We do so many things because we have to, or think we have to, or think we should want to, or think someone else wants us to, and on and on. And the more time we spend doing things that don’t get us going, the less energy we have, the less we accomplish, the more we disengage.

So make a point to sit down this week and think about what excites you & gives you energy. Make a list. Ask yourself how much time you’re actually spending doing those things. Why aren’t you doing more? What would have to change about your life in order to spend more time doing those things?   What’s keeping you from making that change?

Maybe you don’t believe you can afford to do what energizes you. Maybe you don’t believe people would approve. Maybe deep down you really don’t believe you can do it well. Whatever the case, if you want your behavior to change (to more of what you’re passionate about), your core beliefs will have to change as well.

Human beings are not designed to live lives that revolve around stuff we’re not passionate about. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other things that may need to be done, but too many people are living other people’s lives instead of following their own energy.

Figure out what starts your engine, and then start it as often as you can. You’ll be happier and more successful doing whatever you’re passionate about than you’d ever be doing something that market research tells you to do.

what are you passionate about


Posted by Matt Heemstra | 1 Comment

Date: 7/11/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“Whether you think you can, or think you can't - you're right." - Henry Ford

It’s always interesting to me to think about people leaving their homes and sailing off across the ocean to who knows where. These days we just tell our phone where we’re headed and off we go. Real change isn’t usually like that. You may know where you want to go, but there is still a lot of uncertainty and fear. There are any number of tangible things that can and sometimes do go wrong.

On top of that there are intangible things that trip us up. Our beliefs about the change we’re trying to make and change in general can smooth the way or create all kinds of problems. Given that our beliefs drive our behavior, it’s important to get those beliefs in line. Here are 3 things to think about.

Significant others. We often spend time trying to convince our people or ourselves that change is important and necessary. But there are a lot of people whose opinions influence our beliefs. People at home, people at work, people in our social universe. If those significant others aren’t on board, you’re in trouble. As a leader, what kinds of things could you do to reach and influence key significant others?

Attitude. By attitude I mean either your attitude about the specific change you’re making or about change in general. For example, think about a typical standard deviation curve. A certain segment of people will love every change; a larger segment will wait and see; another large segment will wait and see some more; and a few will be opposed to every change no matter what it is. Where do your people fall on that curve? Think of a specific change you’re trying to make right now and the people directly involved – where do they fall on the curve?

Perceived Difficulty. People already have full time jobs. If you just pile on more stuff, they’re going to feel like there’s no possible way they have the time/energy/resources to make successful change happen. They’re going to perceive that it’s next to impossible, or at least will be incredibly unpleasant. What are you doing to free up their time so they can effectively make change happen? What are you doing to demonstrate to them that you’ll provide them the resources to make this change doable?

Our beliefs drive our behavior. That’s true in every situation, and it’s certainly true in regards to change. So what do you believe?

change vs same

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 7/4/2016 1:00 PM UTC

Here in the U.S., the 4th of July is Independence Day and we're all out grilling or boating or fishing or shooting off fireworks or some other fun (dangerous?) pastime.  One thing we're not doing is blogging.

But while we're doing stuff like that (and even if you're not celebrating anything today), think about things that are important.  This holiday is about the value we place on freedom - what about all the other things you value?

It's easy to get caught up in work and busy-ness.  Stop today and think about what's important to you.  Whatever it is, it's worth celebrating.

Have a great day!


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/27/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“The talk you hear…about adapting to change is not only stupid, it’s dangerous. The only way you can manage change is to create it. By the time you catch up to change, the competition is ahead of you.” – Peter Drucker

I saw this quote for the first time recently and it made me a little embarrassed. It occurred to me that I’d said things about keeping up with the pace of change, or not falling behind changing times, or some variation of that, numerous times over the years. As soon as I read that quote, I realized Mr. Drucker was right and I’d been missing the point.

How many times in our organizations when we talk about change are we responding to an outside force? The government does X, so we have to change how we do things. Our customers are demanding Y, so we have to change how we do things. Our competitors have started doing Z, so we have to change how we do things. We make change because something forces us to, always responding, always reacting.

How often do we actually talk about change when we’re not forced into it? How often do we think about how we might do something differently even if how we’re doing it isn’t currently that bad? I think for most organizations the answer would be “almost never”. We naturally resist change, so I suppose going out and looking for it seems like a scary idea.

But wouldn’t we all rather be driving the change bus instead of reacting to it? Wouldn’t it be less stressful and more productive to not always be playing catch up to the markets or competitors or the government or whomever? I’d certainly answer “yes” to both questions.

So the next time you & your management team are together, ask some change-driving questions: If next year you needed 20% of your sales to come from new products, what would you do? If next year you needed to provide twice as much value to your customers without adding any people, how would you do it? If next year the method you use to deliver products & services to your customers was banned, what would you do? If we needed to increase the number of customers we serve by 50%, how would we go about doing that?

There are a hundred others, but at least those are a start. It’s possible (probable, even) that none of those scenarios will ever happen, but that’s not the point. The point is to be thinking about how you can create change instead of just waiting for it to be pushed on you. Don’t wait for somebody else to force you to change. Make your own change.

change paper

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/20/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“If the rate of change outside your business is greater than the rate of change inside your business, then you’re out of business.” – Anonymous

I was fortunate to recently be involved in some strategy development with a company whose leader and board of directors were very engaged. Part of the discussion eventually came around to a segment of the business that was not performing the way they would like. After getting past the initial frustration, this group set out a clear path for change. The specifics will be different in each of our businesses, but three general things they focused on are good for all of us to remember.

People Need to Know Change is Necessary. This client started with clearly communicating to the people involved what is expected, and why it was important that the change happen. Too many times we just assume people know what they should be doing or what is expected of them. But do they? And how often do we try to implement change in our organizations because we think it’s important, without stopping to explain to the people who actually have to make the change why it matters?

What’s In It For Them. As leaders, we think we have all kinds of reasons why it’s great for the company that some kind of change happen. But what’s really in it for your people? If you can’t or don’t clearly lay out for them how they personally will benefit, all they’ll hear is “Please do more work so the boss can make more $$ and you can get none of it.”

Leadership Support Means Action. It’s not enough for the leaders to just tell. They have to do. The client in this case couldn’t just tell people that something was important. Their actions, and those of everyone else in a leadership role, needed to reflect that importance. For all the eloquent speeches we put together, if our actions don’t match our words, the words are meaningless.

I could list a number of other keys to making change. The next time you’re trying to implement change in your organization, at least try and remember these three. You won’t get very far without them.

change billboard

Posted by Matt Heemstra | 1 Comment

Date: 6/13/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” – Winston Churchill

I recently attended a conference where I had the opportunity to interact with a number of high-performing people from across the country. By the end of the two days, my head was spinning with ideas for change. I came back to my office ready to take on 100 new things.

Except that, like you, I have a finite supply of time and energy. We can’t do 100 things. That doesn’t mean any of the 100 things wouldn’t be valuable or worth doing. It just means we don’t have the time and/or energy to do them. It’s just not going to happen.

So what do we do? The opposite of what you feel like doing. Stop. Think. Picture in your mind what you want your business to be. Draw it out if you want. Understand exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Now go back to your 100 things. Which ones would have the biggest impact on you getting what you want from your business? Which ones would be nice but wouldn’t push you as close to your vision? Which ones actually move you further from where you want to be? The goal of course is to narrow down the list to those few that will really have an impact. Which is just a fancy way of saying you have to get focused.

Focus is tough, because in the end we want to make people happy and provide them value. So we want to serve everybody and give them whatever they want. The problem is that not everyone is someone we can really help. Not everyone fits the profile of who we like doing business with. We aren’t experts at every single thing. By trying to be everything to everyone we end up being very mediocre and frustrated.

So think about what kind of customers you want to have. What do they look like? What do they need? Where are they? Think about yourself. What value do I really enjoy providing? What value am I passionate about providing? And stay focused on those things.

Some people are afraid to focus because they think they’re eliminating opportunities. They’re afraid of saying “no”, just in case there isn’t anything to say “yes” to. What they’re really doing is eliminating the opportunity to say “yes” to what they really want.

Don’t make that same mistake. Focus on what you really want and everything else will come into view.focus

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 6/6/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

I recently attended a workshop that included some team decision-making exercises. The scenario was this: you’re stranded in the desert, 80 miles from civilization, and you have a list of 15 things you could have with you. Rank the 15 things in order of importance.

My team thought about what we’d need to have in order to get ourselves the 80 miles to safety and ranked the items accordingly. The actual solution (from desert survival experts) was that there’s no way you’re going to make it 80 miles, so plan for how you’re going to survive where you are and attract the attention of potential rescue efforts.

It was an interesting exercise on a lot of levels, but for purposes of this post here’s the main idea: sometimes we get so caught up in solving a problem (figuring out what we need to make it 80 miles across the Sonora desert) that we don’t think about what problem we should actually be solving (you can’t make it 80 miles across the Sonora desert so figure out how to survive where you are).

We do this in our businesses all the time. Something seems like an issue, so we spend lots of time trying to fix it. Then after we think we have it fixed, nothing about our businesses or our lives really seems to have improved. We’ve solved the wrong problem.

So think of it differently. Ask yourself this: What is really the problem? You’re frustrated because your distribution system for getting out the widgets you make is clogged up. Is trying to fix the distribution system the issue? Or do you need to ask yourself if anybody even wants your widgets in the first place? You have to step back and ask the more strategic questions so that you clearly know WHERE you’re going before you start working on HOW you’re going to get there.

Another question: How do you define success? If you define success as getting widgets to customers as fast as possible, then maybe your distribution system needs work. If you define success as growing sales by 30%, then maybe you need a new product, or a better product, or to try different markets, etc. Think about success in strategic terms for your business and the real issues start to come forward.

One of the most important things leaders do is take a step back from the day to day “problems” and think strategically about what really matters. How often do you do that? How often do you get together with your team and do that? For most businesses, the answer is “Not often enough.” Take time to step back and think big picture so you don’t waste time fixing things that don’t matter.

Good luck.

change vs same

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 5/31/2016 3:00 PM UTC

“If your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for ten years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.” – Chinese Proverb

These days in business a fair amount of attention is given to setting a vision for the organization. Not everyone does a good job, not everyone follows through on attaining it, but vision setting is at least something most business leaders have considered.

Most vision setting I’ve seen done spends a lot of time talking about things like products (innovation, production, etc) or markets (new areas, etc) or even customers (ideal customer, changing demographics, etc). And those are all critical things. But too many vision setting adventures come up short on one critical thing: People.

It isn’t that companies don’t ever spend time talking about people when they’re thinking about vision. It’s that they tend to think about people in terms of numbers, as in “We’ll need 10 more engineers” or “We’ll need to add more salespeople” or the like. And those things might be true. But too seldom do we think about leadership needs.

There are very few things that can have a bigger impact on an organization than a high performing management team. Unfortunately, a lot of management teams are made up of people “who just happen to be there.” In other words, we created an organization to successfully make some product for a group of customers, and whoever we hired to achieve that, well, I guess we better put some of them on the management team. So we pick people who have the nicest sounding title and put them on the team.

Very little thought is given to the skills they need for that role, or if they’re even a fit for that role in the first place. Have you brought people into your organization who think strategically? Have you brought people into your organization who are good with change? We spend a lot of time evaluating technical requirements for jobs but seldom do we really talk about the talents and skill sets we need in our leaders.

So think about your management team. What are you missing? What skills and abilities do you need to add? What behavioral characteristics exemplify what you’re looking for? Of course we need people with those technical skills that help us produce whatever it is we produce. But even with lots of those people, the individuals at the top can still go a long ways towards messing it up. Think about your team. Are you planting for a lifetime?


Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 5/23/2016 1:00 PM UTC

“If you surround yourself with the smartest people you can find, people will think you’re a lot smarter than you are. Only insecure people think this works the other way.” – Noah Callahan-Bever

I don’t think it’s an outrageous statement to say that your business will go as far as your people will take it. Their talents, abilities, passions, etc., are what’s going to drive your success. Your job as the leader is to help channel those things in a positive direction and remove barriers from their path.

I would take that statement a step further. I think your business will go as far as your best people will take it. It isn’t that everyone else isn’t important or doesn’t matter. It’s that your best people are going to have passion and vision and ability that’s going to allow them to do things the others can’t or won’t do – the things that make the difference between being mediocre and being terrific.

So if that’s the case, why do so many businesses treat all their people the same? I’ve been involved in conversations about salaries and heard people say, “Well, Suzie is certainly one of the best people we have, but we can’t pay her much more than we pay Jim because they have the same job title and/or Jim’s been here longer.” So we don’t pay Suzie differently, we don’t give her different work, we don’t give her different opportunities.

The result is usually that either Suzie sinks down to Jim’s level, or more likely Suzie gets bored or disgusted and leaves. Then congratulations, you’ve treated everyone the same and now everyone is the same – mediocre.

So treat your stars like stars. Make a point to let them know how valuable they are. Make a point to understand what motivates them. Make a point to understand what their vision is for their own future. Make a point to clearly communicate to them how that vision fits in your organization.

If you treat your employees like they’re all the same, eventually everyone will sink to the lowest common denominator, either by poor performance or attrition. Don’t hold them back. Give them the opportunity and the desire to do the maximum they’re capable of – and enjoy the ride.

best people

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

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