She Was More than Cancer

LindaIt’s been year now since my sister succumbed to the ravages of cancer and the void is as fresh as the first day. I suspect it will always be so. Linda left us with her fighting spirit, her easy laugh and her love and devotion to all things good in this world. Over our last real conversation, she talked of the future, her future; she had not long passed her five-year mark of recovery and she was full of hope and possibility. As was her nature, she always looked forward, never back.


I had always looked up to my sister, but that day she became my hero. Over the span of my life, she taught me my first dance steps; we spent hours one lazy summer afternoon creating a choreographed dance routine for no other reason than our own enjoyment. Other days we would gleefully jump around in her room while listening to the Jackson Five, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and countless other Motown favorites. I like saying that she forced me into joining her while she create intricate stories which gave life to her Barbie and Ken dolls, but the truth is I enjoyed the time we spent together immensely. We played tag and chased each other, we Hula-hooped and climbed. During more serious times we kept each other’s secrets.


Linda was five years older the me and as soon as I learned to speak, I discovered my primary role was to keep her entertained – it was a role I grew to relish; I would make up jokes and tell outlandish tales just to make her laugh and I would do so until tears would stream down her cheeks. She was always my best audience. We were a tightly knit trio, Linda, my brother and I, we were from New York and did not adapt well to the traditions of the South. We became our own gang of sorts, but in a good way. Linda nominated and consented herself the leader, so we nicknamed her Big Louie; I think it was because of the old black and white gangster films we watched incessantly. She delighted in that role and even well into adulthood she would assume that persona. It is serendipitous how the characters we play as children become part of the personalities we display as adults.


Linda may have lost her battle with Cancer, but she was a winner in the game of life; she never took days off from it, never cried foul over its injustices and always, always looked forward to more.


When it comes to the people you love don’t wait until October; more than 230,000 women and over 2,200 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2014. Learn and talk about risks and prevention together. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed, learn and talk about treatment together. If you have lost someone to Cancer, be free to share their stories about the gifts they left before their spirits moved on.


~ Richard

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Owning the Interview Process

The interviewI have always found that interviewing for a new job to be one of the more stressful processes I’ve gone through in life, so much so, that have often been tempted to remain at a position longer than is beneficial. The feeling of starting over, learning how to navigate a new business culture and the thought of leaving the comfort of familiarity can be worrisome for anyone. On the other hand, I tend to be a good interviewee; I am because I’ve learned to overcome my feelings of stress and nervousness and channel those emotions into a sense of enthusiasm for meeting a new challenge. Through trial and correction, I have discovered some successful ways for job candidates to walk into almost any interview feeling prepared and confident.


No one can tell you exactly what will happen during an interview process, every organization develops their own style and every manager has their own preferences. In general, most hiring managers are looking for candidates who are qualified to perform the duties required and mesh quickly into that organization’s culture. It is that second need which separates the hirees from the also-rans. There may dozens or even hundreds of people in your area who have similar skills and education as you, so the better you are at demonstrating to the interviewer how you’ll connect with that organization’s principles and structure, the more you will stand out and the more memorable you will become.  


Research and connect

Any HR professional worth their certifications will tell that it is critical to your hiring success to learn about an organization before you interview. What you are looking for is, who that organization says they are and what they are trying to accomplish. Use whatever tools you have in your arsenal, the internet is convenient, but any personal contact you have that you can talk with will trump anything you find on a corporate website, just be wary of using proprietary information and absorbing personal bias. Organizations that have a web presence will always have a section that says “About Us”, so learn about their history, their products and services, their mission and their executive management team. Don’t be shy about investigating their social media footprint either; they won’t be when they are looking at you. What you should take note of is what’s out there that is relatable to your own skills and interests and can be highlighted during your interview. Effectively connecting yourself to that organization’s interests and culture during the interview is the primary purpose for research and it makes it easier for recruiters and hiring managers to “see” you working there.


Be responsive not animated

Hiring managers tend to enjoy an interview more if the candidate is upbeat and responds appropriately to questions. Those who follow the interview playbook will always leave room for candidates to expand on answers so there is no need to be overly chatty and so animated that you look like you need sedation. The types of questions you’ll be asked will follow a familiar pattern from interview to interview, so get comfortable with them, but DO NOT become so rehearsed with your responses that you come off as unnatural or canned – it requires practice and there’s no way around it. Author and employment expert, Alison Doyle has a great article on interview questions at that should help you prepare for the types of question you can anticipate.


Be in control – don’t take control

Hiring managers have sat through more interviews than you could possible go through in your career, so avoid thinking you can win them over by dominating the conversation. At the same time, you want to demonstrate genuine interest in the organization and the specific position. The absolute best way to do so is to ask questions. If you have not been given the opportunity to ask questions during the interview, near the end is where you can let your interviewer know you have some questions; this is where all the research you’ve done will pay off. Candidates should use this time to learn more specifics about their initial responsibilities, the corporate culture, expectations and special projects. Don’t waste the responses by not, briefly, connecting your strengths to the answers. This is your pre-close.


Ask to be hired

You would think that the fact that you showed up for the interview would be indication enough that you want the job, but something as simple as asking for the job is often over-looked, but can strike a chord with even the most hardened HR manager. If nothing else, it should at least get you to a second interview. Try the following examples and make them your own:

  1. “Based on our conversation, I believe I have much to offer your company and that the company has a great deal to offer me. Have I given you enough information to make a decision?”
  2. “I’m certain this is the right place for me. What can I do to convince you I’m the right person for the position?”
  3. “I’m sincerely interested in this position, what is the next step to move forward?”
  4. This position seems to be a perfect match for my skills and experience, I’d really like to work with you and your team.”

Asking for the job is a delicate matter; it should be handled in the most respectful way. You do not want to blow your chances by appearing too pushy or arrogant. You should be completely genuine and don’t leave your enthusiasm at home. This is your close.



~ Richard

Freedom Park, Charlotte NC

Freedom Park, Charlotte NC

My Face

You never really saw my face,

I only reminded you

of wandering youth, the strength of hope

and the delightful kingdom of imagination

Your sight was your playground

as you seized upon the libertine,

gave into the desperate deception.

You fed your heart with flesh,

your mind wanting, dying, for lack of nourishment;

hoping to elude the pain

Only once did you hear my song,

was that enough to fill your hands

Soak your tongue seal, your fate?

If you were inclined to insecurity

would passion be enough to wash your wash your vacant heart,

would longing soothe the sandy crags of your wilted skin?

Forever now my delicate death

brings misty rains practical words

that speak not of doubt, but of unthinkable mirth,

of flowers and sunsets, of starless space and pitch black


……..and see me now

~ Richard

Business and the Great Society

On January 4, 1965, in Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union Address he stated …. ”we begin a new quest for union. We seek the unity of LBJman with the world that he has built—with the knowledge that can save or destroy him—with the cities which can stimulate or stifle him—with the wealth and the machines which can enrich or menace his spirit. We seek to establish a harmony between man and society which will allow each of us to enlarge the meaning of his life and all of us to elevate the quality of our civilization.” As America contemplates the fifty-year legacy of Johnson’s “Great Society”, it is worthwhile to consider the role of business, if any, in the “War on Poverty.”

During the ongoing debates, blogs and commentaries over the success or failure of Johnson’s programs, there is a gushing tendency to present incalculable numbers of people living in poverty. Somehow, in the political rhetoric espousing differing philosophies and agendas, what seems to be lost is the question where we collectively ask, Why is it the world’s wealthiest nation cannot feed, house and educate all of its citizens? If there are those who believe that government should not be in the business of social welfare, then they must also agree that business is not the answer either. Business does however, have a duty to be a responsible co-member of society. What gives some people the most difficulty in assessing the value of the Johnson’s social programs is the moral assumption that any system that provides the basic necessities of survival on a routine basis will lead to a systemic dependency that deteriorates the will for self-determination.

As evidence of this phenomenon critics point to is the raw numbers of those seem trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. On the other hand, to focus solely on poverty rates when assessing the results of the Great Society’s initiatives is to ignore what was at the heart of Johnson’s plan – to create economic opportunity for all of America’s residents; to break down the walls and impediments to gaining full access to the opportunities this society has to offer. Johnson never intended that government should be the solitary provider of social support for America’s poor. Consider the types of programs proposed, which were designed to provide better schools, better healthcare, better living conditions, as well as better training for better job opportunities, it is clear that monetary handouts were not the goal. All of the programs initiated were designed to bolster those at the bottom of the economic spectrum or to combat decades of cultural and economic disparity.

From a business perspective, the day-to-day objectives of growing a concern notwithstanding, a visionary approach to economic development in the United States should be viewed, by business, as being in its own interests. Local, small businesses provide more than goods and services; they offer jobs, something which gives people a greater sense of community than any government-funded program could every provide. Poverty and economic instability are the enemies of business as well as governments. Yet, less than two percent of Fortune 500 companies take a pro-active approach to poverty, most are reactive and more than a few take no action what-so-ever. Since the term globalization came into vogue, the reality of the working poor has come along as well. These are the groups of people who, no matter how many hours they work, cannot raise their economic status above the poverty level. Lax or nonexistent working standards around the world have led to a situation whereby more than 3 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, live on $2.50 or less a day. This is not only a morally intolerable situation it is wholly unsustainable as well. The good news is that business can take a lead role in addressing the issues of inequality and poverty. To become an organization that is pro-active in its sense of social responsibility, try these approaches:

–          Go beyond legal compliance; actively engage your employees and community on issues of responsibility.

–          Think in terms of societal responsibility, not just social responsiveness.

–          Have a triple E standard of behavior (Ethics, Equity & Effectiveness).

–          Communicate in-out, out-in, up-down, down-up.

–          Do the right things right.

–          Do well by doing good.

–          Discard the pyramid model of business growth

Businesses who increase revenues and profits become job creators and as employment grows, the economy broadens; goods and services are more accessible, better schools are built, living conditions improve, people are less reliant on government intervention and America comes closer to that Great Society.

~ Richard

Under-serving Customers

Short staffedToday’s business model extols the virtues of doing more with less; that is often translated into serving more customers with less staff. If you sift through the Web sites and blogs that offer advice on providing great customer service, you would be hard pressed to find many that recommend having enough staff on hand to do that. The popular lists talk about smiling, listening, training, communicating and a host of other well-intentioned homilies. At the end of the day however, if your staff is stretched beyond its reasonable limits then your customer service outcomes will be inconsistent at best.

A recent trip to my local drug store put this front and center in my mind. The super drug stores have all but replaced the small, family-owned shops, which catered to the customer who need to make a quick trip to pick up one or a small bag of items in-between major shopping excursions. The chain drug store I tend to frequent almost always schedules one person to run the front counter and relies on calls of help over a loudspeaker to provide backup. The employees who are called have other responsibilities and are not easily available so there is always a lag in getting to customers. Heaven forbid if a customer has a question or issue that cannot be resolved by scanning into a register; that is when the whole system breaks down. During my last drug store visit, I waited behind a customer, who picked up a common cold remedy product, which when scanned, gave the clerk the message that the product was recalled and could not be sold.

The clerk offered no explanation or alternative for the customer; she was left consider her options and to grouse quietly about the product being on the shelf in the first place. What further created a poor experience for her was that just before getting to her recalled medicine, the register scanner had trouble reading the digital coupon on her cell phone and again, the clerk was of little use in resolving the problem. Like most of us who do not wish to be that person who holds up the line at the store, she began feeling the pressure to simply, get out of the way. I made a point not to exhale loudly or display any impatience, but the frustrated customer ultimately walked away from the counter in search of a replacement product and leaving the clerk to deal with the other items scattered around the register.

It would be simplistic to lay the blame entirely at the feet of the clerk and there is no doubt that he could have handled the situation much better. However, it is also fair to ask why the recalled cold medicine was still on the shelf at eight-o-clock at night. It is also fair to question why he was not provided a list of alternative products for the customer to purchase instead. These two questions led me to consider whether there was enough staff on hand that day to update the inventory and restock the shelves properly. I considered whether management was willing or able to train and communicate changes with their staff each day. I also had to consider whether that employee was frustrated at constantly being put in situations in which he is not equipped or trained. I consider these things because I have been in these situations myself.

If this employee lasts at this job, it will be for no other reason other than acquiring a paycheck and perhaps healthcare benefits. Sadly, this is the attitude that all too many customer-facing individuals carry when they greet and deal with customers. Having a barebones staff is the low-hanging fruit of business accounting and even with outstanding team members, there will be times when customers will feel under-appreciated. Employees at the front lines of customer service require more support, not less. Customers need to feel that they are doing more than going through a cattle line. If you find that you are turning over a consistently high number of people whose job it is to be the face of your company, you should consider whether you are frustrating those employees out the door. If that is not enough for you to make substantive changes to your approach to staffing, then perhaps you should consider how many customers you are also pushing out the door.

~ Richard


The subtle strumming of violins

pierces the ears lovers when your name is hummed.

Early flowers feel the sentimental pull of passion,

as you wander blithely through fields of cherry plum


Torture us with your errant smile,

prick our eyes with piercing beauty.

Beguile the hollow hearts

for the petty price of love’s cruelty


Hold fast the fools quest

to cage the winsome soul;

it is we who are ensnared

in the cloistered crypt of love’s cajole


~ Richard

9 Things That Will Make 2014 So Much Fun

Happy New YearWith no disrespect to Nostradamus, or anyone else who claims to be able to predict the future, I simply don’t believe anyone can know for sure what will happen until it does. There are some things however, which are already in the works and if they happen as planned, they will make 2014 one of the more interesting years in a while and mark a turning point in our history to come.

1. Love me some me

With Facebook no longer being the place for the cool kids to hang out, there is plenty of room for Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ Snapchat and others to grow. Facebook still dominates the market, but now that our parents and grandparents are playing too, some of the naughty pleasure has left. Thanks to the self-indulgent selfie and the number of mobile devices that exceed the total population, there will be more opportunities to share just how in love we are with our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who post “the best meal I’ve had….ever!” and complains no one has anything of substance to offer. I say, post it all and then post some more – I love it!

 2. DIY small business

Despite the politically motivated forecasts of gloom and doom for small businesses, Americans are ever entrepreneurial spirits. Those who have been dissolutioned by how expendable they were in the corporate world and finding fewer and fewer options for comparable incomes, are learning how to market themselves and deciding to place their eggs in their own baskets. Finding and using the same tools and strategies the big boys use is becoming easier and cheaper. With 70% of the American workforce disengaged from their workplace, companies are finding it difficult to create the flexible and creative work environments that the millennial workforce will demand. Creativity and independence of thought are on the way back.

3. 60 is the new 30

According to researchers at Harvard University, people are living healthier, not just longer. Thanks to medical advancements, people are adding more quality years to their lives. What are they doing with their added years? They are traveling, finding new adventures, finding new careers or starting new business. They are also finding new relationships; there are at least a dozen dating sites aimed specifically at the senior market. It’s not unusual to see several sexagenarians working alongside millennials in a host of fields. Workers in their sixties bring an abundance of valuable work and life experiences into the workplace and no longer are they the doddering, forgetful codgers they have been portrayed as over the past fifty years. Some companies are embracing this renewed and loyal resource and their companies are benefitting.

 4. New minimums

Come January 1, 13 states will raise the minimum wage above the federal standard within their own borders. While Congress aborted its duty and reneged on its promise to constituents, at least some states recognize the need for workers’ pay to keep pace with the rising cost of…well…everything. For those retail and fast-food workers who went on strike this past year, it seems as if someone was paying attention. There is still hope that Congress will be pushed into raising the federal minimum wage by Democrats looking to find votes during the mid-term elections.

 5. Obama-care’s real test

Forget how it was rolled out, don’t fret over the problems with the website and the prediction of Armageddon, the fact is, people are enrolling – and at a faster rate than initially reported.  The real test will be when people begin finding out if they got what they thought they got. The most potential for harm will come in the form of the “Employer mandate” where companies who have 50 or more employees will have to pay $2,000 per employer in fines if they do not provide health-care coverage. This has always been a tough sell to small businesses, so much so that enforcing the rule was delayed until 2015. The question of whether it would be cheaper to pay the fine is simple, but finding the right answer is as complex as each company’s bottom line. Aside from the actual dollar costs, one would also have to factor in the loss of human talent if a company decides not to offer health-care when their competition does. The other big test will rest on the backs of those families that live in states when their governors and lawmakers decided to forego billions of dollars and declined to expand Medicare, thus leaving millions of poor Americans uninsured. Most people who have never had insurance, or have been relatively healthy may not have had experienced being denied treatment due to a preexisting condition. They may not know what it is to go into crushing debt when a child gets sick or hurt and they no longer were qualified to be on their parents’ insurance. When my sister was diagnosed with cancer, she became virtually uninsurable outside of what an employer would offer. Even with that, the medical costs swallowed everything she worked her entire life earning. When the AIDs became an epidemic it was because nearly everyone knew someone who was affected by the disease. I’m willing to bet that there are even more people who know someone who has been affected by a lack of or less than adequate health insurance.

 6. Finger pointing

Aaahhh, the mid-term elections, though not as exciting as when there’s a Presidential seat up for grabs, but expect this to be year to have more fireworks than normal. The Congress is coming off its worst year ever and its behavior only fueled the mistrust and cynicism of its constituency. The members did nothing to overcome a crippled and sluggish economy; did nothing to reign in the abuses of over-reaching national security agencies; did nothing to balance the shrinking status of the middle class against the backdrop of obscene corporate profits; did nothing to strengthen the safety of our food and water; did nothing to reduce the U.S. energy dependence on foreign sources, and did absolutely nothing to justify their $174,000 average annuals salaries. But still it should be fun to watch the blame game in full effect; I imagine it will be something like Jake Blues explaining why he never showed up at the altar.

 7. There’s what in that salad?

Its one thing to find out that the McRib is made out of something other than ribs, but knowing that foods that we thought were safe and healthy, like corn, tomatoes and lettuce is being routinely genetically altered is frightening. Especially considering that more than 60 countries (the U.S. not among them) have significantly restricted or outright banned the imports; couple that with fact that several of the nation’s top food manufacturers, drug companies, and chemicals manufacturers spent $22 million in Washington State in order to avoid labeling foods which contained GMOs (genetically modified organisms) makes me uncomfortable about what they’re hiding. No one can say for sure what the long term effects GMOs will have, but it should be noted that the leading producer of GMO seeds is Monsanto, the company which makes the weed-killer Roundup possible, the company which brought us Agent Orange, PCBs and DDT, yes, that Monsanto. If you are unfamiliar with GMOs, these three links should help explain:

There are other companies however, and their plan is to spend money to lobby politicians into keeping bills – which you will likely never hear of – from becoming law. The good news is that 2014 shapes up to be the year that more information and awareness about GMOs comes to light and the real debate can begin.

 8. TV and movies

Just to show that I don’t spend all my time on serious subjects I thought I’d share my anticipations for the upcoming year in TV binging. I still haven’t seen the last season of Breaking Bad; I’m waiting until I can watch the entire thing nonstop. By then I can get started with new series featuring Saul Goodman, the adorably felonious lawyer from the BB show. Netflix gave us two outstanding original series, House of Cards and the surprisingly addictive Orange is the new Black; love me some Jenji Kohan, I’m looking forward to gobbling on both. My guy friends tell me I should be all about the Game of Thrones, but I haven’t gotten there yet, not that I don’t think it’s a good show, it’s just that the mostly that they try to sell me on the medieval humping….not that there’s anything wrong with that; maybe this year will be the year. I can binge on moves as well, but that’s harder to do in theaters these days. I am looking forward to the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, because there’s yet to be a film, which has had the same feel and promise of The Matrix, even its sequels….maybe this will be the one.

9. High times

I wonder if residents and legislators in Washington state and Colorado knew they were about to become the test laboratories for America’s experiment with legalized recreational marijuana. After decades of dwelling within the social subculture, there can finally be some practical conversations about the potential benefits and risks of smoking pot. As a child of the seventies, I could right these moves off, as “the man” finally getting around to taxing something they can’t stop and that some people will continue to do simply because it makes them feel good. For those who are against drug use of any kind, you needn’t worry, we are a long way from legalized marijuana sweeping the nation, but we will be closer in 2014 than we are now and just as some people suspect about health-care, once the genie is out of the bottle….there’s no going back.


~ Richard


Crimson Forest, Poland

Crimson Forest, Poland

Overcoming the “Holiday Brain” at Work

Holiday shoppingSometime during the height of the fall season, my mind becomes less focused on the routine tasks that accompany my job and increasingly wanders toward the holiday season. I thought I was the only one who experienced this phenomenon until my co-workers began excusing their lack of concentration as a symptom of “Holiday Brain Syndrome.” The mass revelation seemed to break down a silent wall we had all been hiding behind and allowed us to find mutual solace in the esoteric explanation of our temporary lack of productivity. With that, the doors of distraction flung open even wider; internet shopping excursions and the constant chatter of holiday plans abounded throughout offices. The nonstop reminders of holidays from Halloween to New Years Day did not help and the many mini celebrations at work only reinforced the feeling that anything but work is in vogue. For organizational leaders, finding the right tone in addressing the distractions of the holiday season and keeping employees productive while avoiding resentment and dissention among them is a challenging balance. What are some ways you can keep your employees performing at a high level without sacrificing their humanity?


For a small number of companies, a drop in productivity during the holiday season is not only acceptable but a welcome relief from the ordinary hustle and bustle of corporate life. For most however, increased productivity and effort is critical to remaining competitive. It is the time when companies have their last and best hope for having a profitable year. It is during this time of year, in such a supercharged environment when the work – life balance can become skewed and the lack of either can lead to additional emotional stressors. There are some underlying factors to consider when assessing your corporate policy regarding the holiday season. In 2010 Mercer, the global HR consulting firm, ranked 39 industrialized countries ahead of the U.S. in terms of how much vacation time is allotted. As a country, the United States does not mandate time off for workers, even for national holidays, so it is up to each organization to provide “time off” for employees. It is quite possible that employees who feel they are not allotted enough vacation time become less shy about stealing away chunks of time at the office in order to find the balance in their lives they require to feel whole. Also of note, according to online job search company Indeed, online job searches increase significantly between November and January.


The holiday season is more than a time to celebrate; it is also a time when people reflect; that reflection often leads to people considering how fulfilled and satisfied they are at work. Here are some practical ways to keep your employees working at peak efficiency during the holiday season and stick around for the next year:

  •  Embrace the reality of the season

There are gifts to buy, people to spend time with and meals to be prepared and eaten. Each of these activities require time that goes beyond the moment itself and if your employees cannot get time off for them, they will bleed them into their business hours. Try offering your employees small periods of time and resources to plan the time they will have off. This will leave them with fewer distractions when engaged with company business.

  • Offer more time off during less hectic seasons

Your employees are every bit as practical and realistic as you are, so if you provide them with a clear understanding of how why business succeed and how they are an integral part of that success, they will be more inclined measure their time off demands in line with business needs.


  • Give meaning to what they do

For people to feel fulfilled in today’s environment, their jobs have to mean more than the product or service provided, but rather the difference they make in the lives of those who seek out those products and services. Take the opportunity, now more than ever, to remind employees of the differences they make. Feel free to use real world examples and testimonials.

  • Consider hiring temporary workers

Well-trained, well-placed temps can provide more opportunities for your permanent workers to be with their families. In addition, it can be an opportunity for your business operations to be seen through fresh, undiluted eyes. This can be a valuable tool when recruiting due to growth or attrition and a great laboratory for testing the validity of your corporate culture.

  • Doing more in less time

Try ampping up the incentives for teams or workers who can come up with time saving ideas that do not sacrifice quality or productivity. The goal should be to provide more time off for more people. Be careful though limiting the scope to a small number of individuals will only create jealousy and resentment. So if this cannot be accomplished on a large enough scale, find incentives that are more practical.

  • Manage the managers

According to a 2007 Florida State University study, 40% of employees feel that they work for “bad bosses” not bad companies. Mid-level managers and supervisions are caught in between meeting executive demands and maintaining motivation for workers. Provide your managers with the tools, training and incentives that will build trust among employees and growth in the bottom line. Take some of the pressure off your managers by acknowledging, accepting and broadcasting your responsibility for the difficult compromises that have to be made.

  • Create a fun environment

Along with the other items that have been mentioned, the holidays are also an opportunity to show thankfulness, kindness and generosity. Full-time employees spend more than a third of their lives at work or commuting to and from, so why not have a work environment where people actually enjoy being a part.

Productivity does not have to drop during the holidays in fact, you can use this time as your organization’s Super Bowl. Your company gears up all year for this busy time so embrace the holidays and keep your employees brain in the game.


~ Richard


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