I recently finished the book Fans First: Change the Game, Break the Rules, & Create an Unforgettable Experience by Jesse Cole. It was a book that was recommended to me by a colleague, and I must say it is an exceptional (and quick) read.
Jesse Cole is the owner of the Savannah Bananas and the book outlines their approach to creating a Fans First philosophy for the organization’s decision-making. If you’re unaware, the Savannah Bananas are an exhibition baseball team based in Savannah, Georgia. Over the past several years, they have risen to national prominence through their zany marketing and on-field antics. They were recently in Des Moines and played to a sell out crowd.
The book begins by saying, “Whatever’s normal, do the exact opposite.” Their entire business arose out of the concept of doing things differently. Through this thinking, they have transformed the game of baseball, from their marketing to the rules of play within the game that they have implemented. Everything the Bananas do is unconventional, and generally speaking, should not work. Sometimes their ideas do not work, but they have a “let’s give it a shot” mentality to nearly every idea, and it has paid off. Money does not drive their decision-making and they have rid themselves of all organizational policies. Rather, their thinking is always “Fans First” and driven by creating a great experience for their guests.
Without giving the entire book away (because I encourage you all to read it), one story stuck with me. The Bananas partnered with a food vendor for a promotion leading up to the game. Ticket buyers could receive a free sandwich prior to entering the game. It all sounded great until some of their staff were implementing a policy (they still had policies at this time) that no food could enter the stadium. As a result, families had to eat outside of the stadium, on curbed concrete in the hot sun, and went home with a poor experience.
This story is one of many in the book that points out how poor experiences can impact the way customers view your business. I am not sure that I am at a place where I can adopt some of their crazy ideas, but the book reminded me of the importance of putting our customers first and to constantly assess how our organization is meeting the needs of our members, investors, and community stakeholders. One of our core values is being customer driven and I certainly hope we live up to that each and every day.
The book touts that “Normal leaders read normal books and get normal results. But if you’re ready to change the game, break the rules, and create your own unforgettable team, then it’s time to go Fans First.” If you’re looking for a book recommendation, I certainly suggest this one and I look forward to talking with anyone who has read it.
In July, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, known to all of us as RAGBRAI, once again visited Ames as an overnight stop. This was the 50th anniversary of the Iowa summer tradition and Ames has been part of it from the beginning. Ames was an overnight stop on the original 1973 RAGBRAI route, and the city served as an overnight town in 1983, 2008, and most recently in 2018.
By most accounts, the day was an incredible success and Ames showcased well for the 60,000+ guests that stopped here. The weather was hot, but when riders got to Ames, experienced Jack Trice Stadium, visited Downtown Ames, and let loose with Hairball and their litany of sing-along anthem songs, it felt great to be in Ames.
Thank you to Discover Ames who served our community as the lead organization for the overnight stop. They did an amazing job and were a great partner with other organizations that included the City of Ames, Story County, Iowa State University, and the Ames Chamber of Commerce, along with many other businesses who prepared for the day and volunteers who were essential to making the day a success.
Few realize how much of a heroic feat it is to host an event like this, and to do it well. I’m hesitant to even attempt to calculate the number of hours our community invested into this one day, not to mention the financial commitment that was required across our community.
There are a lot of ways that we could try to determine our return on investment for this day. I would encourage us to not get caught up in those details, but to acknowledge that it is simply the right work. RAGBRAI is an event that provides national attention to our state, and it is only possible because of individual community commitments to make it successful. From the accounts that I heard, Ames shined on that day, and that was a result of our community coming together to embrace the chaos.
The President & CEO role of many organizations must look at the “big picture,” or serve as the visionary leader. Part of that is focusing on the culture of the organization, establishing and maintaining relationship with stakeholders, putting into place a strong team, and moving forward the big rocks that help distinguish an organization.
Over the years, I have grown into this role, and I do my best to equip our team to do the work and provide the services that truly makes our organization special.
For those of you who know me, you know that I believe attention to detail is one way to showcase excellence. This is a part of my personality that creates tremendous joy and is also a source of self-induced frustration.
I am the person who walks into the office and rearranges the magazine rack, even if it is only slightly out of place. Typos seem to jump out at me within moments of looking at a publication. I see weeds on the sidewalk and move chairs to their appropriate location when out of place.
I am self-aware enough to know that many of these things are not a huge detail in the grand scheme of things, but in my heart, I know that the details are where the care, passion, and joy of a person’s work shines through. I point them out to our staff. I don’t make them into a big deal (because I often know that they are not), but I still firmly believe that they matter.
I drove through Campustown the other day and the beauty of the medians brought me great joy. In May 2021, our organization, along with The Ames Foundation, Kingland Systems Corporation, and the Campustown organization at the time, invested time and money into the updated landscape. We didn’t need to, but in my opinion, that corridor matters to our community. Today, they continue to serve as a great entrance to the thousands of students and families that visit Iowa State University, and our community, every year.
Additionally, if you have walked through Downtown Ames, I hope you noticed the new flower beds along Main Street, as they provide an aesthetic that truly makes a difference. The beauty and attention to detail demonstrates pride in our community and I’m glad our organization continues to play a role in that.
If you are a leader for your organization, I encourage you to emphasize the details. Pay attention to them and recognize when your team cares enough to attend to them. The beauty of our community is all around us and it can often be seen in the details. You just have to look.
Every other month, we have an all-staff meeting where we get together for lunch, laugh on a personal level, and cover a variety of business along the way. Even though we see each other on a weekly basis, these meetings are great ways for us to connect, provide updates, and recalibrate on key issues. I’m sure many of you have either led or been part of meetings like this in your business or organization.
This year, we are dedicating much of this time to professional development. If you’re like me, that term is not always something that you look forward to. I am a firm believer in professional development, but throughout my career, this term has mostly applied to “sit-and-get” opportunities where I sat for a period of time and received an enormous amount of information, and it was up to me to discern what was actually worthwhile.
Early in my career, I was the up-and-coming economic development professional who had his entire career in front of him. During those early years (and in many ways, it continues today), I have been fortunate to have great leaders around me who mentored me, provided feedback, gave me permission to take chances, and helped me develop professionally. Here at the Ames Chamber of Commerce, I want to provide those catalytic opportunities for our team. I want to afford our people the opportunity to improve their craft and understanding of our industry, but also to build the soft business skills that can make them well-rounded professionals. This year, we are engaging in communication training.
During the first session, we each completed a Strengths Finder Assessment that helped each of us understand what we naturally do best and how to maximize our talents for the organization. Depending on where we are at in our career, these assessments can provide insights and clarity. For me, it provided language and reinforced things that I already knew. Just as interesting to me, however, is to be able to see and contemplate the strengths of others. I appreciate seeing how the talents of others are hard-wired into them and it challenged my thinking of how we not only embrace those talents, but how we leverage them when we consider whether each person is in the right seat.
Session two looked at non-verbal communication to help us understand what is being said even when nobody is saying anything. Over half of what we communicate is non-verbal. What are we saying with our body language and how can we be conscious of it to improve ourselves professionally?
I look forward to the remainder of the year as these sessions continue. Although each one is light-hearted and fun, the investment helps build and grow our staff professionally. It will allow us to develop better relationships, build confidence in our team, and ultimately provide better service to the business community of the Ames MSA.
Next month, May 8-12, we will celebrate Economic Development Week. It is a hallmark week for our organization as we pride ourselves on being a driving force of economic development for our region.
In many ways, we have already started the celebration. If you follow our social media accounts, you may have seen that many of our governmental agencies from the city councils in Ames, Boone, Gilbert, Huxley, Nevada, and Ogden, as well as the board of supervisors for both Boone County and Story County, have passed proclamations acknowledging the week. Although the proclamations are in many ways symbolic, the work that these agencies and governmental leaders do is incredibly real. We have fantastic partners across the region.
Economic development includes programs, policies, and activities that improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community. There are a lot of ways to measure economic development, but here are a few primary areas that we often think about as an organization:
That last point of business retention and expansion is key to the economic success of our region. A large part of job growth in any region is the result of businesses and companies growing and expanding.
As a result, we are excited to share that starting in July 2023, a new team member will be joining our organization who will be specifically tasked with this responsibility. Ottie Maxey will join the Ames Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Commission with a primary purpose to make business retention and expansion visits to companies in our region. The “official” announcement will come later this summer, and in the meantime, if you have questions, never hesitate to reach out to any member on our team. This growth in our organization is exciting as it will provide us more capacity to serve our members.
As I close, I want to thank you for your role in being an economic developer in our community. For business owners, each day that you open your doors, that is economic development to us. Each employee that you bring into your organization, that is economic development. If you are reading this as a community member, know that each time you spend money in our county, or recommend a business to a friend or family member, you are supporting economic development.
One of the three pillars that leads our work here at the Ames Chamber of Commerce is advocacy, or our ability to publicly support or privately recommend a course of action related to a particular cause. We want local businesses to succeed, and it is our responsibility, and honor, to advocate on your behalf. This includes being your voice at the local, state, and federal levels throughout the year across a range of topics and issues.
Often times, our advocacy work includes making connections, providing information, resources, and access to individuals who need to hear from our business partners. If there are opportunities that benefit our member businesses and community partners, we want you to have that information and make informed decisions that positively impact your company and our economic region.
In today’s landscape, advocacy can be a complicated thing because there is often not one single course of action that benefits all. There are dominoes that fall on each policy issue and our advocacy on one topic may not resonate with everyone. That is okay. It is for those reasons that we have a dedicated public policy component of our organization and host a variety of legislative events throughout the year. Our team attends city council meetings across the Ames MSA because it is our job to have a pulse on what is happening. We want to help our members and business partners understand how decisions impact them at all levels of government.
We proudly have companies in the Ames MSA that operate nationally and internationally, and as a result, their scope of business and our scope of advocacy must also include that perspective. Unlike politics, the business world operates in the complicated world of logistics, operations, and personnel where not everything is black and white with one side being correct and the other being wrong. There are times when the job just needs to get done.
Through my conversations with business leaders in our region, I can say that most understand this. While they have a pulse on the topics of the day, their focus is on their business and what makes our communities better. That local emphasis allows for robust conversations because the baseline is that we are all in this for the same reason.
If you ever have any questions about our advocacy, political or otherwise, please reach out to myself or one of our team members. We are here to serve you and be your advocate.
I recently came to the realization that my job has changed. I still hold the title of President & CEO of our organization, but how I spend my time on any given week has shifted. I am not entirely sure when that happened, or necessarily how it happened, but I understand that it is a byproduct of what has been needed of me.
In my ways, this is natural for any leadership position. You give yourself to a business or an organization and it inevitably molds you just as much as you hope to inform it.
When I came to the realization that it is now different, I had to come to terms with the fact that I am more distant to areas of the organization than I once was. I knew everything about what we were doing and sat at every table where those decisions were being made. Today, I cannot be everything to every part of the organization and have finally come to the realization that it is okay.
I share this as I am reminded about the importance of having the right people in the right seats. Within our organization, I believe we have that today. The skill and talent within our organization is enormous and a point of pride for the services that we provide. Our organization is better off NOT having me organize events, paying our bills, or developing our marketing strategy. But stepping back from some areas and focusing on different areas is something that I have had to grow into over time.
I have appreciated every person that has given a portion of their career to our organization and the impact that they have made. But as we continue to serve the entire Ames MSA, all of our roles will shift and adjust over time. The success of our organization is the result of our entire team’s combined commitment and individual strengths.
As the leader of this organization, I must be willing to regularly assess our teams and how they best serve our organization and our community. These should be candid conversations, and as a result of that, they could be challenging as well. But when done honestly and with best intentions in mind, they will be productive for everyone involved.
As I close, thank you for your unwavering support of the Ames Chamber of Commerce and our Affiliate entities. With your continued engagement, our success as an organization, and region, is assured.
I am reminding myself to “slow down” more often lately. Maybe it is because I am a grandma now and I watch the littles grow so fast. Or maybe it is because I know I am getting older and the years go by so much quicker! Whatever the reason, I am making this year the year for slowing down. Not quitting, not retreating, but simply taking a bit more time to make sure that the things I do matter and that I do them with care and quality.
In our line of work here at the Ames Chamber of Commerce, we run hard and fast. Why wouldn’t we? There is always a lot going on across the Ames MSA. From economic development projects within the communities we serve, to Coffee Mingles for our Chamber members, to a host of other activities, there isn’t a lot of down time. Slowing down and paying attention to details to provide the best value needs to be deliberate.
Deliberately slowing down takes concerted effort. In a world that is built around convenience and instantaneous results, it can be difficult to find the balance between getting your projects done and getting them done right. It could be the extra time you spend on the phone or exchanging texts about an upcoming event. It may be the extra touch you put on a table setting or simply making sure the spelling is correct in the publication you are distributing. Slowing down and being mindful of how to achieve the best results, though it might take a bit longer, will inevitability bring service level from good to excellent. These things matter!
Slowing down and taking time to listen is imperative. Ever meet anyone who talks so much you don’t think they will ever breathe? What impression does this leave you with? Listening may be the most underrated skill out there. When we take time to listen, we hear. We may not always hear what we want to hear, but we may hear a nugget of wisdom that will carry us forward in a way that changes us. It is entirely possible that we could hear valuable information that grows our companies, grows our communities, and grows us!
While I take the time this year to slow down, I invite you to do the same. Take time to be kind to a stranger. Take time to listen intently to really understand. Pay closer attention to details that really do matter. Find ways to add value to everything you do. Make all things that you have a hand in show the quality they deserve.
Who will be the next leader of the Ames Chamber of Commerce? It’s an odd question, but one that was proposed to me a few weeks ago by one of our board members.
First and foremost, I have no plans to retire or move on from the work that we are doing. I love the Ames MSA, the Ames Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Commission, and our communities. Perhaps at no other point in my career have I been more excited by the work that we are doing than I am right now. I plan to continue our amazing work for a long time, but the question got me thinking about leadership.
We think about leadership a lot at the Ames Chamber of Commerce, both within our organization and how we serve our community. If something were to happen to me, we have succession plans in place. We also regularly assess the roles and responsibilities of each person so that we can build redundancies and backups for each person. These are important things to identify so that the work can continue.
Developing the next generation of leaders is a responsibility that we all must carry. Some people are natural leaders and possess the required skills needed to run an organization, manage projects, or cultivate relationships. But in my experience, those skills need to be paired with adequate experience. I do not necessarily mean years of service, but rather having access to the world of leadership; how decisions are made and the thought process behind them.
I have spoken before about the entrepreneurial operating system (EOS) that we utilize to set goals, identify gaps in our system, and how it holds us accountable to one another. We use this within our leadership team, but each departmental team uses it as well to be more efficient. I also think about the informal ways that we can cultivate leaders. I strive to provide updates to my team on the work that is happening that lies beyond their scope of influence, while explaining my thinking behind it. I can do this in meetings or within an impromptu one-on-one conversation with a cup of coffee in hand. I hope these interactions inspire innovation and a new level of thinking for those in our organization.
Finally, I would like to pitch a few leadership programming options from the Ames Chamber of Commerce. We recently announced the 36th class of Leadership Ames. The program gives both experienced and emerging leaders a broader view of civic leadership responsibilities and opportunities through direct contact with a wide range of institutions and people who shape the community where we live and work.
One additional affiliate program that we are investing more resources into this year is the young professional organization, FUEL. You can learn more on the FUEL website, but I encourage you to consider being a member for the professional networking, programming, and social opportunities that it provides. Many of the next leaders of our community are already here, so let’s facilitate their success.
President & CEO
Ames Chamber of Commerce
Let me share a tidbit of background information on me, then to the substance of this blog…Membership Investment.
I hopelessly enjoy connecting people, solely with the intent to generate relationships! My career started in personnel, and along my professional journey, I’ve connected with donors, meeting planners, event managers, human service providers, and volunteers of all generations. It’s amazing how one connection can lead to the “six degrees of separation” truth.
Connections and relationships are the backbone of the Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission! We have a team that prides itself on formulating partnerships with Ames, Story County, and Boone County business and industries for the greater good of the Ames MSA.
At the Ames Chamber of Commerce, we offer numerous ways for each and every member to engage with our programming efforts, including our affiliates; workforce solutions, retraining programs, public policy initiatives, Ames Main Street events, Leadership Ames programming, our Ambassador program, FUEL, Farmer’s Market opportunities, small to large networking events, and so much more!
Your annual investment with our organization is critical to the sustainability of our programs, but it also allows for you and your team to engage and build relationships with others in our community for personal and professional growth, too. Attention is given each day with a focus on Leadership, Engagement, and Advocacy efforts to help you and your business succeed. Whether that means being a voice for local, state, and federal policy issues, placing job vacancies on our job board, or holding retraining and outreach services to find valuable employees for you, this matters to all of us. Ribbon cuttings, various social media marketing outlets, Community Cash options, events…the list goes on about value-added benefits for you!
When we offer a multitude of offerings to our members and allow for sponsorship opportunities, your brand is projected on multiple social media platforms, and your company is recognized for your support during each event. Thank you! We simply cannot offer and execute our programs without Membership support.
An underlying theme of value we continue to hear is that we allow our members opportunities for relational growth and networking. It’s that sort of value-add that is meaningful and worthwhile when speaking in terms of membership investments.
I challenge you in this new year to commit to cultivating new relationships and broadening your circle of contacts within our community. Follow us on our various social media channels so you are aware of our offerings as the year unfolds. Be intentional about taking full advantage of your Chamber of Commerce Membership investment in 2023.
Connections are key, so build your network with us! We are here for you!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.