Check out this month's business management files.

The Calendar Says Popcorn

Fall is here and that means we're eating more popcorn these days. Why? Three main reasons: 1) we're inside more, closer to our popcorn machines and microwaves; 2) we go to the movie theater more; and 3) the college kids are back at school and they spend most of their grocery money on beer, making popcorn about all their budgets will allow.

Centuries before fake butter topping and super-jumbo sized tubs at the multiplex, Asians were growing popcorn. But it probably originated in Mexico. Ears of popcorn found in a New Mexico cave in 1948 are thought to be about 5,600 years old.

Today, Americans consume more than 17 billion quarts of popped corn a year - that's about 68 quarts for each of us.

Try this pop quiz from Kenneth Davis, author of Don't Know Much About the Universe:

1. What puts the pop in popcorn? A drop of water in each kernel, surrounded by starch. When the corn is heated, the water turns to stem. Pressure builds until it explodes and the starch inflates, inverting the kernel.

2. Do all types of corn pop? No. There are six types of corn, including the familiar sweet corn, and popcorn is the only one that will pop.

3. Who introduced popcorn to Europeans? Native Americans tried to sell the snack to Columbus. Back in 1519, the Aztecs gave Cortez his first taste.

4. Popping corn is a vegetable, right? Wrong. It's a cereal grain.

5. What's the difference between microwave popcorn and regular popcorn? Not much. The popcorn board says they're the same, exept that microwave corn usually has larger kernels.

Is Your Car Mean or Green?

The type of vehicle we drive has a larger impact on the environment than any other consumer choice we make. Auto emissions are a prime cause of pollution - the average car emits more than 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide in one year. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has compiled a list of the meanest and greenest cars.

Greenest Cars

  • Honda Insight
  • Honda Civic GX
  • Toyota Prius
  • Toyota Rav4
  • Toyota Camry
  • Suzuki Swift
  • Honda Civic HX
  • Toyota Echo
  • Nissan Sentra CA
  • Honda Civic

Meanest Cars

  • GMC Sierra
  • Ferrari 550 Maranello
  • Dodge Ram
  • Yukon Denali
  • Ford Excursion
  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Dodge Ram Wagon 2500
  • Ferrari 456M GT/GTA
  • Chevrolet K2500 Express
  • Chevrolet G1500/2500

Always anxious to be of service, the "Portfolio" staff wants to help out anyone feeling guilty about driving one of those gas-guzzling pollution factories on the mean list. Just turn in to us your filthy Ferrari and we'll let you drive away blissfully in our environmentally gentle little Honda. You'll feel a whole lot better about yourself knowing you've done your part.

Getting Your Staff's Respect

You needn't win any popularity contests in order to get optimum productivity from your staff. It's wonderful to be liked - often helpful, too. But it isn't imperative.

Choose respect over popularity every time. Your employees will appreciate it; they want to respect their boss. To build respect, heed these basic tenets:

  • Confidence. Your staff wants to be sure that you can handle your job, that you can meet objectives and can create an atmosphere in which they can produce. You don't have to be the most charismatic person in the world; you just have to make people see that you know what you're doing.

  • Trust. Employees should know that you won't take advantage of them. Too often, this principle is violated by managers who promise one thing, but deliver another. Be up front with your employees. It shows respect and cultivates trust.

  • Recognition. Reward your staff's accomplishments and show them that you care about their work and their value to the firm. Respect their personal and professional goals as you would your own.

Respect yourself and those who work for you will respect you. By exuding confidence, trust and recognition in yourself first, the rest will follow suit.

Set Goals for Your Business

Goal-setting is crucial to the success of any business, but is particularly important for entrepreneurs who can become distracted without focus. Goals direct actions, give you something to aim for, and can serve as a yardstick for measuring your business' success. The small business experts at American Express offer some salient advice on this topic:

The way you approach goal-setting will determine whether you are able to attain your goals. Most people agree that goals are important, but less than five percent of people write down goals or have action plans for attaining them. Fear most often is the culprit. People don't like to write goals down on paper (a crucial part of goal setting) because they are afraid to commit to them. If this is your problem, try to remember that a goal can be changed at any time after you write it down. Also keep in mind that goal-setting becomes easier the more times you undertake it. When you have set goals and attained them, the power of goal setting will compel you to set more.

You might want to set weekly goals, quarterly goals, annual goals and even three- or five-year goals. One way to generate short-term goals is to first consider your long-term goals. Is there a certain dollar amount you want to earn or a number of projects you need to complete by a certain time? If nothing like that comes to mind immediately, take a few minutes and think about what professional goal you would like to attain. Once you have determined long-term goals, you can work backward. If your goal is to make $75,000 this year, you should make a list of what it would entail to make that money. If you encounter difficulty creating your list, ask peers or friends for help. When your list is complete, break those small steps down into goals.

"Increase my sales" is a good goal, but it's so vague that it does not provide a means by which you can judge your success. Modify your goals by making them specific. All goals should be specific (get new clients), measurable (get three new clients), and have a time frame (Get three new clients by December).

Don't set yourself up for failure. Make sure your goals are attainable. If you aim too high, you're dooming yourself to defeat. On the other hand, some entrepreneurs set goals that are too easily attained. If you tend in this direction, look for ways to challenge yourself.

Goals should help you attain a specific aim. Look out for goals that are just going to keep you busy, but are not appropriate to the overall success of your business. If you don't believe your goals are worthwhile, you won't make the necessary effort to achieve them.

If your system of setting goals does not seem to be working because you are not attaining much of what you write down, do not give up. Keep setting goals for several months and you will find that your goal setting skills improve.

Keep your weekly or other short-term goals in plain view - by your desk, or next to your computer, for example - so you know what you need to attain. Look at your annual goals monthly to see if you're on track. If your business' focus changes, don't be afraid to alter your goals. Flexibility is a crucial component of goal-setting.

Motivation From Within

Everyone's motivation droops now and then, which can affect our productivity and outlook on life. Fortunately, remind our friends at Printhouse Corp., no one motivates us quite as effectively as we motivate ourselves; we have the power to reverse these downward spirals. Consider the following:

Recognize that you're feeling blue - before your outlook turns black. Then, find an activity that will recharge your energies. Seeking a new challenge may be in order. Or, take some time off for a rejuvenating break.

Shift your focus outward. Think about how your efforts held others and benefit your organization. Make a conscious effort to make a positive impact on your customers and co-workers.

Savor your victories. Keep complimentary voice mail messages, letters and memos and review them when you're feeling down. When you finish a task or project, take the time to step back, enjoy and appreciate your feeling of accomplishment.

Evaluate your habits. Whether it's lack of sleep, procrastination or negative self-talk, work to rid yourself of the habits that are holding you down and replace them with a more productive, healthier attitude.

Associate with positive people. Identify go-getters in and outside your company and spend as much time with them as possible.

Clarify your direction. Drowning in uncertainty dampens the spark of motivation. Set and keep in front of you both short and long term goals. Make sure they are challenging and meaningful, while at the same time attainable and realistic.

Reach out. If your slump persists, it may be time to seek the help of others to determine what the motivational block might be and how to break through it.