How do clients see your value?

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No, this isn’t a question for only those of you who own a business although if you’re successful, you already know. I’m really asking those of you who are ‘employees.’

How do your clients see your value?

Whoa…you don’t have clients? Or, you don’t know?

If you own your career, you always attend to your clients. You always know who they are. You always check in on the value they get. You know that this value is what you provide as a business partner.

What makes you valuable?

How does your manager weigh your value? How do your peers measure it? How do your team mates see it?

How do you know? You ask.

When you own your career, the value you provide is your security. The closer you are to the center of the bull’s-eye, the greater your security. You can’t hit the target if you don’t see it clearly.

To your Manager: What am I doing when I’m most valuable to you and our team?

To your Peers: What do you get from me that makes me a strong partner?

To your Team: What does our team need from me for our project to succeed?

Ask. Start the conversation. Own the process. Learn your value.

When you become responsible for your security, you own your career.

Make Your Career Resolutions Stick(y) This Time

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Planning to own your career in 2011?

Did you make a resolution to find a “better job,” “a place that appreciates you,” or “work that floats your boat?” What will it take for the resolution to stick…and for you to get out of your own way? If you recognize yourself even a little bit in one or more of these excuses, then take a stand against self-sabotage right now. Read on and I’ll tell you how.

Excuse #1. Seems like a lot of work, although I can float some resumes…

Good intentions come with a new year but our natural wiring makes good intentions fizzle fast. Take a look at “Resolutions Suck. Try Anarchy” by Johnny B. Truant; he provides a great explanation of why we are such lazy creatures, always looking for what’s comfortable. So while this is a lame excuse, intentionally working with our wiring gives us a fighting chance to get beyond it. Post a note where you have to see it several times each day in your work space. See it and keep the intention alive. Invest in yourself and put your money where your mouth is–aren’t you worth it? Hire a coach or someone to whom you will be accountable for taking action. This isn’t the time to decide to man-[or woman-] up.

Excuse #2. Maybe the devil I know is better than the one I don’t (after all, I should be grateful to even have a job)

Oh, please. You’ve been ranting about your boss, your lazy co-workers and your lack of career options for months on end. You hate doing the work of the other 2 people in your area who were let go. Your stomach starts to churn on Sunday evening when you review the next day’s schedule. How can this devil possibly be better? Because they already pay you to show up and warm the seat? Another lame excuse. You can do better. Re-read excuse # 1. Make that visual reminder (doesn’t have to be a post-it note, maybe it’s a memorable tchotchke that only you recognize) and get accountable to someone outside of yourself.

Excuse #3. I’m pretty close to retirement (or I have so much tenure), maybe I should just suck it up

And do what…retire at your desk? (Or have you already, and you’re afraid a new employer might take notice?) Are you willing to take the chance that your ennui won’t get you at the top of the next lay-off list? So you retire at the earliest possible time and then what? Sit on your porch and watch the world go by? Or be a greeter at the local mart? You’ll be the same age whether  you find work that energizes you or work that slowly petrifies you at your desk.

Note: whatever you do, do not decide that “becoming a consultant and working for myself” is your best bet because that’s harder work that you’ve likely done in years.

Excuse #4. I’ve done ONLY this all my working life

So you only have enough talent to do that one thing? You’re an old dog and you can’t learn new tricks? That’s a bunch of hooey. Brain scientists tell us that–whatever our age–we can grow new brain connections (i.e. learn new things) through focus and repetition. Fear is a really lame excuse and the core of most self-sabotage. How old do you need to be to get beyond that sucky emotion? See next item.

Excuse #5. I might fail and then what?

Whatever you decide “failure” is, it’s likely bigger and badder than the real thing. If you want to, you will. If you don’t want to, you won’t. Simple as that. Not taking action is akin to saying “I fail” and then going back to retire at your desk. Chicken. Find a partner or a coach to help you look inside and get your efficacy back. Our belief in ourselves is such a powerful part of moving ahead and we take it so much for granted that we don’t realize how it gets whittled away by daily events until one day we just don’t have any self-trust left. And, fear takes over.

One small action a day gets you moving forward, gets you around the fear and tackles your career resolution in a smart way. You avoid burn-out in mid-February and you have much to show for the first six weeks of your changed direction. (think: 5 days a week multiplied by one action a day multiplied by 6 weeks= 30 actions…visible progress!) Get an accountability partner and you’re creating a sustainable way to stay out of your own way.

Staying out of your own way…now that’s a sticky idea!

Recruiting Mentors: How To, Part 2

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So you’ve decided that you want a mentor and you have several people in your sights! You’ve approached one who has agreed to meet with you next week, so you’re home free: you’ve found a mentor!

Not so fast! You may have found a mentor, and she might be willing to take the lead, but why get lazy now? Your first meeting is your opportunity to show your (potential) mentor that you are serious about your development and you’ve already put some work into making the relationship a good one for both of you.

The most effective mentoring relationships have these things in common:

1. Goals–better yet, learning pieces

2. Structure & Expectations                                                            

3. Follow-up and Follow-through                                   

4. Skills awareness

Of course you have Goals, but have you written them? Have you thought beyond the broadest, most obvious outcomes? For example, “to become a confident speaker” is a great long-term goal, and many people may be willing to help you. But consider this: why did you select the particular person you approached? What–specifically–about her speaking made her your choice? What pieces of “a confident speaker” made you select this person at this time?

Is it the way she tells a story? Is it how her body language conveys “I know my stuff”? Is it the little humorous bits that keep the message light?  Get specific about what you want to learn, and your mentor will be able to hone in on “how-tos” that make the best use of your time together!

Structure and expectations means that you’ve given thought to the details of your mentoring arrangement so your mentor doesn’t have to! Think about how long it may take you to learn what you’re seeking; consider the kind of commitment you’re asking from your mentor; ask yourself if it’s a reasonable commitment for the mentor’s schedule. And, then consider the kind of meeting options that may make sense. Coffee? Lunch? Phone calls between meetings? Weekly email check-ins?

Follow-up and follow-through means taking the initiative to keep the relationship sound for both of you. Maybe you drop an email after a meeting to put your next steps in writing and to say “thanks”–even though you said it in person. You can send an outlook or meeting scheduling note so that your next meeting/coffee/telephone call gets on your mentor’s schedule. You might send a note the week prior to your scheduled meeting with a list of the agenda items you’d like to discuss–this serves as a scheduling reminder, too. If you see your mentor mentioned in a story on community leaders, you might drop her a note saying Congratulations! or (if it’s in print) clip the story and send to her–yes, via snail mail! All of these thoughtful items tend to the relationship and help avoid misunderstandings. Bottom line: stay in touch!

Skills awareness is a reminder to use and sharpen those skills most helpful in building a strong mentoring  relationship: listening, querying, attending and feedback–giving and receiving. Handle distractions before you meet; turn your cell phone off, or, if you are awaiting a critical call, tell your mentor before you begin. Ask questions that start with “what” or “how” since both provide opportunity for expanding learning. Talk about follow- through you’ve completed and request suggestions for improvement: “How might I approach this next time?” ” How could I do this differently?” Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership guru, calls this feed-forward rather than feed-back. When you use it often, it becomes a comfortable way to explore options without the worry associated with “feedback.”

Being a thoughtful protege–one willing to do her homework and make it easy for a mentor to say ‘yes’–is the best way to have lots of mentors as you go through your career. You can establish relationships that work for you both…where you can learn from each other.

Have a question or wondering about being or recruiting a mentor? Leave it in the comment area: if you’re wondering,  someone else is, too!

Recruiting Mentors: How to, Part 1

[tweetmeme source=”JanineMoon” only_single=false]At a recent career development workshop for Young Professionals (YPs), I participated in a panel on mentoring. What a great group of knowledgeable and wise people, including Margaret Finley from Chase who moderated. Panelists included:

*Jason Jenkins, Big Brothers Big Sisters
*Eric Troy, Ohio Department of Education
*Marilyn Pritchett, Mentoring Center of Central Ohio
*Lindsay Andrews, SMPS Columbus
*Janine Hancock Jones, Governor’s Staff [same name, same spelling!]

I noted that a number of folks in the audience were looking for mentors yet others were looking for how and where to be a mentor. While some had experience with mentoring programs, most panelists spoke to the tremendous value of informal mentors. Since lifelong learning is a 21st century necessity, informal mentoring is of value to everyone and is an ongoing requirement for Career Owners!

Informal mentors provide lifelong learning opportunities when and where you need them; give you the freedom to approach people from a variety of sources; and [can] help you reduce the blind spots that sabotage and get in the way of progress.

So just in case you’ve wondered but didn’t quite know how to go about it, a few thoughts on finding those informal mentors:

1. Stop waiting to be picked…it’s OK to recruit the mentor you want!

2. Look outside of your (work) organization to professional associations, community groups, civic and alumni associations and other interest groups. Mentors don’t have to spring from work in order to mentor you on career or professional issues.

3. A mentoring relationship can be as short as a single conversation or one that lasts for years…it depends on what the people involved create.

4. Align what you’d like to learn with what you think your mentor can teach you. If you admire someone’s ability to speak in front of a group, then to approach him/her about becoming a more comfortable speaker is probably a good goal and fit. If you’ve watched someone align two opposite sides around an issue, then you have a potential mentor who can help you learn collaboration and conflict techniques.

5. Prepare to approach a mentor: the easier and more comfortable you make your initial conversation, the more likely the individual is to say ‘yes.’ Know what you’d like to learn and why. Know how that learning will improve you as a professional. Be ready to suggest some structure that will help a relationship thrive. For example, you might say:

I admire the way you were able to pull together the diverse perspectives of the people on this committee. I know that it would strengthen my value in my workplace if I had those skills. Would you be willing to meet for a short time and discuss the possibility of mentoring me on the skills needed and how I could develop them?

I would be glad to meet at a time and place convenient for you; I’d be delighted to buy you a cup of coffee or tea! I’ll plan to call you at your office to schedule a time that works for you.

So you’re asking for the opportunity to meet and discuss the possibility of mentoring…you’re not requesting a long-term commitment. You have also made it easy for the individual to say ‘yes’ by offering to align with their schedule and time. This really says you are thoughtful and not trying to impose unduly. You have identified something specific that you would like to learn, so you are sending the message that you can identify your own learning goals, and that you will not be dependent upon the mentor to do that for you!

While most people are flattered to be asked to be a mentor, your thoughtfulness in scheduling time makes it comfortable: you’re really thinking about WIIFT: What’s In It For Them!

How you approach the meeting itself is food for the next blog post. There, too, having done some planning to move through an agenda and take responsibility for your needs–at the same time being thoughtful of your mentor’s time commitment–is much more likely to be appreciated and get you ongoing mentoring.

So get going now–identify at least 3 or 4 people who might be your mentors and approach at least one with a specific request for a skill or information you’d like to learn. With your meeting scheduled, next week’s post on how to have that first meeting will be timely…I’ll tell you exactly how to approach it so that your mentor wants to establish an ongoing, professional relationship with you, and so you are both better for the experience!

Who’s missing the mark?

[tweetmeme source=”JanineMoon” only_single=false]Help me understand please!

I read an article in a recent International Business Times, U.S. edition, reporting that 3.2 million jobs are going begging because perfect candidates aren’t available within the 15 million unemployed. And, apparently, they aren’t available internally, either.

[Note: I am generalizing and lumping all employers together…I acknowledge that there are exceptions!]

As the author of a book that places career development responsibility squarely in the employee’s lap (Career Ownership: Creating ‘Job Security’ in Any Economy), I still find it stupefying that employers don’t consider growing that perfect candidate–whether from the inside or outside. American employers as a whole look at investment in their greatest assets as an expense to be trimmed or eliminated.

Organizations think nothing of property, building and equipment improvements to extend the value of those physical assets, yet they find it a waste of dollars to maintain or improve the value of the assets that count most in today’s economy: workers’ brains. And, this says nothing of the value of workers who bring their hearts as well, motivated to go over and above to ensure the success of the business.

How did organizations get to the place where an operating assumption is that assets must be “perfect” in order to be a “fit,” to be of value? Or that maintaining the value of capital assets is a dispensable expense? Yet, these assumptions seem to drive many organizations in today’s economy. It’s the same thinking that organizations use to terminate workers who finish a project and hire different workers for the next–even if training or another learning solution would bridge the gap quite nicely.

Why is it that:

>Employers require experience, yet ignore slope of a learning curve?

>They downsize a workforce to reach quarterly financial goals while shelling out big bucks for outplacement to assuage guilt and appear socially sensitive in “hard times”?

>So many employers consider improving and “re-purposing” human assets to be an unwarranted expense while ignoring the expense associated with turnover, lost productivity, low morale and disappearing customer loyalty?

If a position can go unfilled for months while a search for the perfect candidate occurs, how important can it be to fill it in the first place? Do the accolades managers receive for coming in “under budget” outweigh the costs (much more difficult to track) of filling a position with less-than-perfect? What numbers would organizations discover if they weighed the ROI between bringing an internal candidate up to speed and recruiting for the perfect fit? How is the lost productivity measured and tracked? The lower efficiency and missed opportunities? Customers who go with a more responsive competitor while the search drags on for a qualified candidate?

How about measuring the real costs of doing business?

Organizations purport that they must “make the numbers;” so it is time for organizations to take responsibility for tracking all the numbers—not just the ones that make a quick short-term impact. In any economy, sacrificing smart, solid longer term business practice in the interests of meeting outdated stability measures results in a false sense of security for the bankers and the stockholders, especially when it’s the assets that are sacrificed.

In the May issue of Fast Company, authors Dan Heath and Chip Heath make a compelling case for growing talent internally rather than recruiting from the outside. It’s high time business people review outdated activities that fall under the guise of “sound business practice” and upgrade those principles to align with the needs of the 2010 economy.

Why not weigh in?

What will it take for employers to put workers on the “asset” side of the ledger instead of the “expense” side? How can workers help this happen?

Are you enough?

Josie, who had been searching for her next position for over a year was offered a job on Friday, making July 16 a day of celebration! Over 50, the longer her search went on, the more certain she was that she wasn’t enough…young enough, credentialed enough, talented enough, experienced enough, competitive enough, healthy enough, worthy enough…etc. etc.

Note that last enough: “worthy enough.” While you–especially if you’re in the job-hunt, too–may not say this aloud, feeling “worthy enough” is almost sure to be part of your self-talk. Because, if you really were worthy enough (you figure), they would have recognized it and not let you go; or they would have hired you by now.

Backward thinking, hurtful thinking and harmful thinking.

The voice in your head that tells you that you’re “not enough ___” (fill in the blank) is your ego talking. And your ego has been collecting “here’s the right/good/appropriate way to do things” your whole life. It’s there and collecting “how you must be” so that you fit in to your environments, and into society’s expectations. After all, can’t have a school full of children who don’t raise their hands now, can we? On the assembly line, we couldn’t afford to have workers who were creative cogs now, could we? Or people who didn’t work inside their cubicles because, obviously, no work is getting done!

So, the voice in your head collects stuff in an effort to have you fit in and to make sense of things. Now, get this: since your mind has collected these things over years–from others’ comments, statements and actions–your ego is really OPE: Other People’s Expectations. The ego is a reflection of what you believe others want you to be, and all of the experiences you have collected through life as they fit into those expectations. As humans, we like comfort and what we know (we think) is better than what we don’t!

So consider my client who searched for almost a year. Her self-talk about finding a job comes from her job-search experience over the last 20 or so years.

So, Josie, people who are valuable are hired quickly. Well, actually, they don’t lose their jobs in the first place. So, you must not be valuable since it’s taking so long. Your last manager must have said something bad about you. You knew you couldn’t trust her. You shouldn’t have put her name on that employment form. And, you should have submitted your resume faster. You aren’t the spring chicken you used to be–they probably think you’re too old. Your experience gives you away, you know. If you ever get an interview (and you really screwed up that last telephone interview), they’ll ask you about your last two positions that were less than two years each. Even though they were cutting staff, if you were any good you’d still be in those jobs. In fact, remember that article you read only a few weeks ago: hiring managers don’t even want to interview people who are unemployed because they think you have a performance problem. So they are probably right–you do.

So how do you get to being “enough”?

1. Recognize that self-talk is not usually based on fact, or at least the facts of current reality. So the assumptions and beliefs that are driving our thoughts are likely old or outdated.

2. Practice stopping your automatic thinking, the self-talk that is negative. When you catch yourself doing the “not enough” thinking, say to yourself: “I know that’s not true because…” and complete the sentence with as many answers as you can. Even one answer shows you that your initial thinking, the negative self-talk, is only an assumption and not necessarily true.

Since how we think has a direct connection to what we do, it’s worth learning to work around your ego to get to a place where you will be effective–in your job search or any other situation where you want to move forward.

Self-talk keeps us stuck and ego keeps us small. Be intentional about your thinking and step into being enough. I guarantee you’ll like it there.

Intentions, not habits, make parades

[tweetmeme source=”JanineMoon” only_single=false]Spent part of the morning at the Upper Arlington (UA) Fourth of July parade: it’s an annual staple and the biggest non-commercial parade in the U.S. (or at least it used to be) My daughter and I have walked 3 blocks to the parade route every year for 21 years, and sat on the same corner: Northwest Boulevard and Barrington Road.

UA Golden Bear

Some things surrounding this event are so familiar: timbits from Tim Horton’s before we go; chairs on the same street corners, set out at least 2 days before; little American flags distributed by Boy Scouts before the parade; the tattered-looking fife and drummers leading the parade; everyone standing as the American flags pass by; veterans of every war since WWII riding in vehicles driven by younger vets; class reunion groups on flatbed trucks; neighborhood floats; the huge UA “golden bear” pulled and turned by Civic Association members; and bands, bicycles, Shriner’s cars, and an OSU Alumni TBDBITL. Such makes the Fourth a celebration at home. It’s comfortable, easy and–for my family–what makes the day an event. It’s become our habit to attend.

Habits are familiar; are they intentional?

While the Fourth comes around each year, the floats, bands and other entries take a special effort and don’t come around without considerable effort. Someone–likely many–make the decision and special effort each year to be part of the parade. My point is that it’s a conscious decision. The “date” is the familiar, the automatic; the “parade” and the resulting celebration is the intentional.

So much of life and especially work is like that–work weeks come around one day at a time–and we go, habitually and timely but with little or no intention. We put in the time, do what we must and then leave–only to do the same tomorrow. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were more celebration–every day?

To whose drummer do you march?

So which part of your (work) day belongs to the drummer in you? When do you do those things that tap your talents, that make you proud of the work you do? How do you ensure that at least some of every day you intentionally use your talents? That you contribute your best that day because you’re using the strengths you’ve developed and honed? This takes intention.

Or, are you marching to a drummer with a beat you don’t recognize? So you can pay the bills at the expense of your pride, satisfaction and efficacy? This takes habit.

Satisfy both

Contrary to much popular belief, you don’t need to give up one for the other. You can earn a living while doing work you love–that is, work that uses your talents–when you approach it intentionally.

The intentional part takes some work, too. It won’t happen when you wait around for your manager to recognize the great job you’re doing and promote you out of the department. It won’t happen when you wait for someone to give you a career path. It won’t happen by staying low so no one will notice you during times of “expense control.”

It does happen when you stay alert to changes in your organization’s strategies. It happens when you volunteer for projects where you can learn new things. It happens when you approach an experienced colleague who can show you some new ropes. It happens when you try something different with a customer that works better than the old way. It happens when you become responsible for being intentional.

So when will you choose to lead the parade?

Hot air is for balloons

It’s pretty easy to say, “Well, of course, I own my career–no one else does.” But saying it doesn’t make it so. Over the next few weeks, I’ll focus on what it really takes (actions, behaviors, words) to be the owner of your career and, by extension, the keeper of your ‘job security.” You’ll be able to assess your relationship with your career, determining what changes if any you choose to make in order to increase your satisfaction and security.

Let’s start with career itself. A career consists of two things: 1. work that is your contribution to the world and that you take pride in doing well; and 2. a “path” for that work that is flexible, multi-directional and constructed to best reflect your values and talents.

Take note: “job” is not mentioned nor is putting in hours. A career isn’t necessarily linear and it’s not something you fall into because a career today is constructed–intentionally. It’s flexible, including the timing, the business, the work itself.

Now let’s consider ownership. Owners care for their possessions in a more intentional way than renters ever would. When you own your home, you consider “location, location, location” before you buy; you make sure the amenities fit your needs; you allocate maintenance and decorating dollars; and (most often) you work with a professional who can maximize the house you get for your money. You make an investment intending to gain value over the years.

We own homes yet rent careers, moving from job to job and stringing them together to make a lifetime of activity. The location is often whoever is hiring; the maintenance is only when a weakness crops up; and the professional is considered only when all else fails.

Here’s a quick check to see if you really own your career:

    Your work matters to you, and you take pride in it.
    You use your talents and walk your values every day.
    You have a rotating one-year learning plan that you follow.
    You are paying for the learning yourself.
    Your career “path” is sketched out for 3 years, yet flexible if markets or your options change.
    You know the value you provide and you make it known.
    You know–always–the way to increase your value.
    You have a career coach who is a sounding board and supporter.
    You have at least 3 mentors from whom you learn.

If you really want to own your career, then pick one or two of the items above and put them in place. You’ll be able to do that more readily if you work with a coach who can guide you to developing a map that works for you. But the map only works when you do. Taking on the responsibility and being accountable for the follow-through is what really makes you a career owner.

Anything else is just hot air.

“Red-headed stepchildren” need not apply

[tweetmeme source=”JanineMoon” only_single=false]Short-sighted. Unconscionable. Foolish. Profligate. Asinine. Ignorant. And I’m just getting started.

How ludicrous is it that some Employers are deciding that the Unemployed are not good enough to hire? CNN Money this week posted an article that says this is becoming more common. While it’s apparently not illegal, I’d have to call it immoral or at the very least ignorant.

Do hiring managers really think that everyone of the almost 11% unemployed is in that position for performance reasons? How far removed from reality are they? Do these hiring managers really believe that organizations suddenly (and all in the same 12-18 month period) decided to retain employees based on performance rather than tenure, politics or laziness? (It takes some doing, after all, to collect the documentation to get rid of someone even in “at-will” states.)

How audacious that hiring managers (and the HR people who clamor to be their strategic partners) so inanely surmise that the talent to fill an opening could only be found in someone who is already employed.

Business just doesn’t “get it”

It’s been obvious for some time that many organizations don’t really “get” that their assets and capital for success in this economy reside in their people…and that the people own that capital. Unlike the last half of the 20th century where the assets were equipment and buildings and bricks that stayed put, when people today leave an employer, they take their brains and energy and talent with them. The buildings and equipment that remain are only the shelter and the tools to support the brains (and heart!) that create customer loyalty. It’s the talent within a business that defines excellence and competitiveness in a global marketplace. Our Economy of Choice is driven by the people who do the work, create new products and offerings and serve and retain loyal customers.

But, apparently, some Employers believe that only the Employed can make this cut. I expect this reduces the number of resumes to review. It also assumes [and we all know what ‘assume’ means] that anyone currently employed is a top performer…because of course organizations only keep top performers…no room for “B” or “C” employees these days.

And a top performer would want to work for you WHY, Mr. No-unemployed-need-apply-here Hiring Manager? Because you aren’t talented enough yourself to know that talent isn’t defined by employment? Because you aren’t influenced by labels? Because you aren’t smart enough to know why the U.S. has an unemployment rate of almost 11%? Because you’re blissfully unaware that downsizing, as in ‘across-the-board-cuts’ is the quickest way to impact the hallowed bottom line? Yes, you need some talent in your organization, Mr. Hiring Manager, but the talented won’t tolerate your prejudices and ignorance for long. You’re making your own bed and eventually you’ll lie in it.

Where are the Human Resources people who are Strategic Partners?

If ever there was a time to draw a line in the sand, HR folks, this is it. Strategically, to look only for new hires in the ranks of the Employed is right up there with selecting a physician who will tell you what you want to hear. S/he may not be the physician who can diagnose you, but you aren’t looking for the best–you’re looking for one who fits your parameters.

Where is your backbone, your courage to do the right thing…as well as the smart thing? Your job as a “strategic partner” with other organization leaders is to prevent those leaders from shooting themselves in the foot and to educate them about the concept of human capital. If you haven’t stepped up before, now is certainly a good time.

And, don’t use the excuse that “we need to weed out resumes somehow.” That’s a really lame and lazy excuse, and sounds like an “employee” reason not a “partner” reason. Partners do things to the advantage of the organization, even if it’s difficult and takes time. You should be doing the same.

Where are the Recruiters who know better?

I expect the first response from Recruiters is “that’s what my client(s) want…they won’t talk with anyone who is Unemployed.” To that I say Bunk!

Where’s your courage, your backbone to do the right thing? How could you go along with an Employer who ignorantly or even indifferently believes that hiring only Employed people is a good talent-attraction strategy? Seems awfully similar to someone who only wants to hire blonds but not brunettes. Or only people with advanced degrees when a college degree isn’t really even necessary for the position. Comes down to power, doesn’t it? “Because we can.”

It’s sad to think that we have all become so enamored with comfort and security that we are no longer willing to do the right thing. We aren’t willing to speak up and question or to provide another perspective because somebody might get mad. It’s no wonder that the employment market is in such shambles. It’s a “buyers market” precisely because employees have given up their perspectives in exchange for the illusion of safety. As long as we’re safe, we’ll do as we’re programmed.

And the kicker? We’re as safe as the Emperor who wore no clothes was covered: we’re only kidding ourselves.

Meet Jaron. And how he owns his career.

[tweetmeme source=”JanineMoon” only_single=false]Dinner tonight with a friend at The Old Bag of Nails Pub in Upper Arlington was probably the last place where I expected to run into a career owner. But that was before I met Jaron.

Jaron was our waiter, and a most memorable one at that. So memorable that after he brought us water, reviewed the evening’s specials and left us to ponder the selections, I asked my guest if he thought the waiter was an owner of the restaurant or an employee. He was that good!

Jaron is one of those people who provides such great service that you can’t help but comment, especially when you have to search your memory for any comparable experience. He was a most gracious host, friendly and energetic and very obviously wanting his customers to have a terrific dining experience in his pub! He reeked of “genuineness” and you somehow knew that he was for real. Nothing phony about this guy.

So during one of his “just checking to see what else I can get you” stops where he dropped this hint: “Hope you left room for a piece of Snickers pie,” I just had to ask. “This might sound a little strange, but are you an owner here or an employee?”

He grinned and said he was an employee, and I explained what had prompted my question. His smile widened like he got it immediately, and went on to say (with gusto, I might add), ” I really like what I do!” Telling him that it truly shows in his work prompted a little more background. He had been in the army for a few years and when he got out, he grew his beard (that really delighted him!) and looked for work. He tried a few things but wasn’t finding any that he really enjoyed. “I always told my guys that you have to like what you do, even if you don’t.” One of his friends worked at The Old Bag, so he decided to give it a try.

And he said, several more times in several different ways, that he really likes what he does. Jaron has talents that come through in his words, his body language, and his respect for his customers. I expect that the Strengthsfinder assessment would say he has a talent in “Woo,” Winning others over, and talent in “positivity” where the world looks better when you hang around people who have it.

I don’t know if Jaron’s work as a waiter is his career, but I also know that it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that his attitude and approach display his worth right up front. Whether in food service, sales or another business endeavor, most any good hiring manager would recognize the value of making an immediate emotional connection with the customer. It’s what draws customers in and keeps them coming back.

So I told Jaron that I was going to write a blog post about him because he owns his career and that my work is about helping people find the work ownership and enjoyment he obviously has. But the other reason is to tell you to head to The Old Bag in U.A., and ask for Jaron. Tell him I sent you.

When you do, post a comment below to let everyone know what they’re missing if they don’t go visit Jaron. I promise that I’ll collect the comments and see that his manager gets them. How cool would it be to take a stack of your comments in to Jaron’s employer to acknowledge his great work!

By the way, the food is great–I heartily recommend a crab cake on the Caesar salad!

Meet Kari. And how she became a Career Owner.

[tweetmeme source=”JanineMoon” only_single=false]Kari’s email began like so many others: she was discouraged and frustrated. She had been “a rising star” for many of her almost 20 years with the organization, but new leaders and a different culture dimmed that image. So what did she want from a coach? Kari wanted to know how to navigate the politics so she could “survive and thrive” in her highly volatile environment. She was looking for the answer to once again be that rising star.

When we met, Kari spit out years of pent-up frustration and confusion about her workplace. This manager liked her, this one didn’t, this VP said her work was excellent, that director thought she wasn’t keeping up. She was interviewing for positions in other areas but was always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Kari wanted to know what was wrong with her, what it would take to get her back on her game. She was looking for the right answers. I said, “Did you come here to be fixed?” and she said “yes.”

So we started there.

I asked her, “What would it take for you to step into who you are authentically, to use your skills and wisdom to discover you again?” With a few moments of thought, a small smile appeared and Kari said “You mean trust myself?” She got it.

Kari’s belief that there is a “right” answer that would fix her, that would make her “fit” into a changing and challenging work environment is the same thing some of you are thinking I’ll bet. If only you could find the right way, the right program, the right degree, the right mentor, the right answer then work would settle down and you would be OK. You’d be the confident, respected and stress-less person valued by managers and team members alike.

You can spend a lifetime looking for that and have no confidence or respect from your fellow workers, or you can take a look at what you bring, and define the “right” thing based on that. Who you already are, the experiences you already have make up the wisdom you bring to your work–if you listen to yourself, if you trust your own counsel.

With that little smile, Kari began the process of learning to trust herself again. Her weekly practices are helping with that. She is practicing these behaviors:

1. staying present; not spending energy worrying about the past or fretting about the future;

2. trusting her instincts; she pays attention to what her gut tells her;

3. examining beliefs that may hold her back, that may no longer serve her; she intentionally chooses to shift beliefs that don’t support her;

4. paying attention to the supportive feedback she receives and giving it at least as much credence as the negative;

5. stopping the voice inside that comes from the emotional brain, the one that likes comfort and sameness and safety and is mired in fear. Kari stops it with “That’s not true because…” to give the logical brain time to think.

Kari no longer expects external approval to drive her best work because she recognizes that she is responsible for her direction and her ability to be a strong contributor.

How about you? Have you learned to trust yourself?

Meet Bill. And how he became a Career Owner.

Bill is always at the Panera before me; he gets there early, has a coffee and is ready to begin as soon as I arrive. He has his list of items for discussion and we move through it with practiced familiarity.

Bill and I have been coaching together for over a year. At this point, we meet about once a month so Bill can review his work and career activities and accomplishments and realign with his career direction for 2010. When we started, he was frustrated with his employer and uncertain if he was cut out for management: everything about managing seemed lots more challenging than just doing the work himself.

Now, Bill is comfortable in his leadership and knows what he wants to accomplish with his career direction; as his coach, I’m a check-in point along the way. As a Career Owner, Bill’s direction became clear when he focused on his values and began to use them consciously. In his words:

I realized that for most of my career I was doing what I thought I needed to do to get ahead and those things were not the things that I wanted to do. This caused a lot of frustrations between who I was at work and who I was at home, to the point where people would say I have a split (dual) personality. Like a downward spiral, the harder I tried (to do the work things) the farther I deviated from who I really am. Of course it’s not all ‘work’, there’s some personal stuff in there too.

By going through the process of answering a bunch of questions (most of which I though were meaningless at the time) I was able to pick out common themes among my experiences that led me to understand what is truly important to me.

Now that I have a clear understanding of what my core values are and why, I can apply them to any decision or situation that comes down the pipe. I can process everything according to my core values and then I will know the right thing to for me to do. Sometimes the answer is not an easy one and can lead to life changing decisions, but I at least know that I’m being true to myself regardless of the consequences.

Using his values, Bill will find his next position with an organization that mirrors those values and that provides challenges to grow him as a leader. He is deliberately meeting with other C-level leaders in his industry in order to learn from them and to grow those professional connections.

How do your values drive your career?

Getting your Career Sea Legs

Getting your sea legs on any boat entails practice, patience and belief—that you will eventually be able to move with the boat and not get tossed overboard. While ‘sea legs’ refers to being on a moving vessel in the water, it transfers to getting used to any new situation.

(c) 2008 sea legs an boat feet by matty!

Sea legs are not tough to get when you’re riding on a boat down a lazy river that’s being piloted by an experienced captain. Both the river and the expertise of the pilot make the journey a calm one. And this is how careers used to be.

In the relative calm of the 20th’s century’s Industrial economy, when competitors were domestic and business growth was defined by long term goals, career paths were defined by politics, experience level and dues paid. Someone else in the organization—usually a manager in conjunction with the leaders—defined where and when you took another career step: it was a planned, defined journey that was easy to ride.

20th Century Careers

That’s how careers were.

Having a career path and getting continual learning upgrades in today’s world entails riding river rapids, rather than cruising on a river boat. Today’s Service and Information economy has little certainty and even less calm.

21st Century Careers

Businesses competitors criss-cross the globe, and the traditional ways of being competitive no longer work. The only way to win in today’s competitive market is for organizations to get all brains on deck: to have employees constantly focused on innovative ideas that delight customers and keep them coming back. The chaotic environment of constant innovation and change creates whitewater rapids in place of the customary calm sea, and riding rapids requires a whole new skill set and mindset, at least for those workers who want to come through the trip intact.

The skill set and mindset of riding rapids

People who raft rivers seem to be so much more adventurous than many of us: thrill seekers who enjoy testing their strength, endurance, reflex time and ability to think on their feet (so to speak). While rafters may in fact test all of these things, the biggest difference is that they welcome the responsibility of taking an active part in the journey. They learn and take the right equipment, skills and mindset. With these things, folks who ride rapids get their sea legs through practice and experience and the wisdom of a great guide.

They are along for much more than the ride. They are along to learn, to participate and to actively take part in the adventure: to get their sea legs and be on the team that guides the raft to its successful end. Dead weight has no place in a whitewater raft, and the same is true for today’s organizations.

The skill set and mindset of whitewater careers

Career success in today’s organizations requires the same things: learning, active partnering in the mission and direction, teamwork, and a mindset that is open to possibilities v. set on a single path.
When your path is the whitewater route, then you must have the knowledge, skills, and mindset to navigate it successfully. Without these, your career route will be disappointing, scary and wet!

1. Learning is the basis of today’s career skills. You must know yourself and your organization inside out: your missions, your strengths and your needs. You must learn how to respond to unexpected turns, to dance as the music changes, and to develop resilience to the stress of the uncertain. You must learn to look several steps ahead and to define possibilities and workable responses to them. What you don’t use today is useful for another time.

2. Active partnering makes you an indispensable member of the team and shows your commitment to the work of the organization, its customers and your team members. Razor-thin margins require that all investments get maximum return, and workers are a business investment. If you’re not partnering, you’re riding on the work of someone else’s paddle, and you’ll soon be dumped from the raft. Active partnering takes initiative, energy, commitment to the cause and skill at strengthening relationships…the currency of today’s economy.

3. Teamwork requires competency in function and content as well as for inspiring and challenging others. Some days you may be a strong paddler but on others you may need to take over as guide…your communication and process skills must be sharpened and ready to do both as the river shifts.

4. A mindset open to possibilities requires you to recognize that the control you have is only as strong as the opportunities you’re open to meet. Business reality requires that your work views are more kaleidoscopic than picture window. Staying stuck in how things have been or what’s in your job description makes you deadwood, unable to shift or solve or allow for any of the challenges and changes that stir-up chaos in today’s workplaces. An open mindset ensures that you can respond to crags, river turns and unexpected boulders and not just the gentle sway of a lazy river.

Getting your career sea legs is a challenge that you may or may not be ready for, but today’s organizations won’t see your value without them. They don’t have the time or resources to pull you out of the river. They have commitments to those workers who are willing to take responsibility for paddling their own canoes and not being a risk to other travelers.

So, how are your career sea legs?


Thanks to today’s Guest Blogger, Ray Taylor, whose take on transition is fresh and timely. Look for his suggestions to go after new opportunities while you’re in transition or just because…you’ll see the value!

Ray Taylor

In earlier times being out of work was referred to as being layed off, downsized, unemployed or even the dreaded, fired. Since there are so many of us who have lost jobs, we seek more palatable terms that allow us to explain our current state of unemployment. The latest words we use to convey our career status is “in transition.”

Webster’s dictionary defines transition as “a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another”. Many (including the owner of this blog) have written that the whole concept of employment is changing – permanently. On that basis this term, transition, makes sense.

With that in mind, if you are one of those describing your current situation as “in transition”, consider what you are doing during this time. If you are focused on replacing the job you had with one very nearly the same as the one you lost, that might work for you but, it’s not transition.

Now, I’m not trying to pick on you for not complying with Webster’s definition. What I am asking you to do is realize that the demand for many positions is not coming back to pre-2008 levels – ever. That means the competition will be stiffer, the compensation will be lower and the time to land will be longer. Are you prepared for that?

Let me ask you another question. Did you really love that old job? I mean “wake up in the morning and can’t wait to get after it” love? Right, I didn’t think so.

Kevin Cashman starts his book Leadership from the Inside Out with a story about choice. He asks you to imagine being stranded in a snowstorm and missing that important meeting that you are rushing to. Do you rant about it and let it raise your blood pressure? Or do you realize that one of the things you often say you’d love to have, is just a few hours alone to think? Do you let this event derail you or, do you choose to see it as a wish that has just been granted? You choose.

You can also choose to live the definition of transition during this challenging time. Instead of the old school job search, engage in transition. Reinvent yourself. Learn.

In It’s What Inside that Counts, Janine discussed ideas to help us connect with our internal motivations. The three ideas revolved around seeking autonomy, mastery and purpose. Think of these three concepts during your transition.

Autonomy: Rather than submitting hundreds of resumes blindly and hoping for a call, look around. What problems could you solve for a friend starting a business? She might love to have the professionalism you offer, but never thought she could afford your price tag. So, help her. Help her first and then let the financials work themselves out (they will, trust me).

Volunteer for charitable organizations or non-profits that are struggling. If you can make a difference people will notice. People you have helped will be looking for ways to help you. You won’t be going in, with hat in hand, asking for referrals. You will have an ally who has seen you in action and would be glad to recommend you.

Don’t even think of telling me you don’t have time. If you want to do the traditional job search, it’s going to take you 6 – 9 months to find a job you don’t really like. Consider this activity your part-time job and, more importantly, part of your journey to fulfillment.

For the new role you would really love, you might need to master some new skills. Let’s say your friend with the startup can afford to pay you half what you are used to. But, you will learn some new skills. Add the cost of tuition at a business school to your pay and you might find you didn’t take a pay cut at all.

Join groups and pay attention to the events they host. Many are low or no-cost events. Offer to help with the planning. Being a planner is like a backstage pass. You may be able to meet a knowledgeable and influential keynote speaker in the field you are pursuing. How much would that be worth?

Eleanor RooseveltPurpose: Having a purpose is uniquely human. Finding it isn’t a journey you have to make alone. Your coaches might be right in front of you. Instead of asking people how they can help you find a job, ask them if they know their purpose. When you find the ones who know their purpose, find out how they learned what it was.

Find out who you are and what you are here to do. Learn what skills you need to master to fulfill your purpose.

Taking ownership doesn’t mean going solo. Seeking guidance can be an important step to transition. Not transition as a euphemism for joblessness, transition as Webster defines it.

About: Ray Taylor is an accomplished sales and customer service leader focused on innovation. Ray also serves on the executive committee of Ohio University’s Sales Centre. Write to him at

If you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them…

Human beings really get in ruts. We love to do things that are comfortable, even when it’s to our disadvantage. Case in point: employment.

News is telling us that the economy is improving, although employment is called a lagging indicator meaning any uptick in employment will come along later, way later. In other words, hiring isn’t going to pick up any time soon. That means many people will continue to be out of work, for a lot longer than they ever expected. So their job searches will continue for a lot longer, too.running in circles

People will continue to do the same job search things they’ve always done and expect that–eventually–the outcome will be a job. One that lasts. One where they won’t have to go through job search hell ever again. And for some that may happen.

But for most, it won’t.

“Permanent” employment is a thing of the past, but human beliefs and behaviors haven’t changed to deal with it, let alone get ahead of it. Organizations perpetuate this with outdated human resourcesdancing practices that are the ‘way things have always been done’; and people continue to buy into this dance because it’s comfortable and they know how.

Organizations still look to fill “jobs” even though what they really have is “work” and “projects.” Work is always there–it’s permanent. Projects are temporary and everybody knows it. Jobs are (believed to be) permanent although most are only around until the global marketplace changes the competitive direction once again. And, that happens frequently. So a job filled today can be unnecessary in 12 months, and that results in lay-off, outplacement, and hiring in another, newly-competitive area.

And guess what? Because the jobs are different, the same person can’t move from one to the other! And, apparently, neither the organization or the person has thought to have the individual learn the new job’s skills and move from the unneeded job to the new one!

Remember the movieSo, what’s wrong with this picture? Everything!

1. the organization is wasting the skilled individual who is already on top of the learning curve, and adds the expense of outplacement or severance pay, as well as the expense of hiring and subsidizing the learning curve for someone who doesn’t know the company. Dumb.

2. the individual is stuck in a vicious cycle: looking for another job that matches the old one, along with thousands of others doing the same thing. No additional skills or competencies because the organization didn’t provide them. Dumber.

Who will blink first?

Will organizations figure out that there are more intelligent and effective ways (to say nothing of economical) to deal with a changing competitive marketplace than by throwing out the old and buying new? Will they figure out that people can be ‘recycled’ and learn the skills to flex from one area of work to another? Will they figure out that tossing out the brains that bring success to the business is condemning it to failure?

Or, will individuals–you!–figure out that you are more employable and more attractive to buyers when you become highly skilled and flexible with your (current and new) competencies? Will you figure out that only you create your own work security–because there is none in the employment market today? And will you figure out that you can take responsibility for your own improvement and development by carving a learning path that makes you highly adaptable to an organization’s needs?

My money’s on you.

When you own your career, you are the owner of your fate. You depend upon yourself to be flexible and skilled and adaptive to marketplace and customer needs. self-efficacyYou create your work opportunities to stay ahead of your organization’s decisions to change direction. You avoid the downsizing rolls, the job search chaos, the repetitive outplacement systems, the depression and desperation that come with a difficult employment market.

And what’s that worth?

An incredible peace of mind, confidence in your own efficacy, increased capacity to navigate an uncertain economy, and alignment with business reality!

Playing by the Numbers Means All the Numbers

For the second time in as many weeks, I’ve read that organizations have jobs going begging because they can’t find “qualified” people to fill them. Most recent: “Difficulties in Finding Qualified Workers” by Peter Cappelli of The Wharton School who notes two reasons for the mismatch:

Mismatch reason #1: tons of choice in this “buyer’s market.”

too many choices

too many choices

Organizations can hold out for someone better for less since there are so many sellers. Shopping around is a “smart” thing to do.

Question: If an organization shops around to ensure a smart decision, does it mean a) there’s no urgency to fill it (which begs the question ‘how necessary is it?’) or b) the work of the position is getting done somehow? If you’ve been in an organization recently, you know that the work has been parceled out to others. Yet somehow organizations fool themselves into thinking that this cost is insignificant, but the numbers only lie when they’re omitted.

Mismatch reason #2: what most candidates are missing can only be learned on the job, not through additional education.

highest bid wins

highest bid wins

This means organizations are looking for candidates trained with somebody else’s dime. Smart business model, you say? Only until it’s your employee going to the highest bidder.

Running the Numbers

So let’s do a little quick and dirty math, estimating what it costs an organization to shop for exactly qualified individuals in the market, rather than developing its own internal talent.

For the sake of being conservative, let’s say the open professional position is a $30/hour ($60K annual) with a loaded labor rate of 100% (= $60/hour). Peers are at the same rates, as is HR. Let’s say the manager makes double this, $60/hour with the same 100% loaded rate (=$120/hour). Any consultants make a straight $150/hour. Let’s use the average hiring time of 6 months plus a hiring manager who wants to find the best candidate for the least amount.

When the hiring manager decides to fill the position, he revises the job description just a bit, sends it to HR and has a conversation about his time line and budget. [2 hours] Then:

1. The manager divvies up the position’s critical work to four co-workers within the department. [2 hours] Let’s presume that this organization is “lean and mean” and each worker is already doing 1.5 jobs. This means that people who already have more than a full work load get more work to do. And so none of it gets done well and probably some of it doesn’t get done at all. So, the people left to cover the work become more stressed, do less quality work trying to juggle an impossible number of tasks, and work more hours like shell-shocked refugees, always wondering if their decreased productivity and quality will put them on the downsizing list.

more lost dollars

a waste of resources

So that means 4 people, all doing 2 jobs now, are reduced to 50% effectiveness…for six months. The organization is still paying each employee full wages. Big cha-ching, one not reflected in the budget but there nonetheless. [1000 hours per employee for 6 months.]

2. By waiting, the hiring manager saves the monthly salary and loaded labor rate in his budget and so becomes a ‘corporate hero,’ a great example of  ‘how to tighten the purse strings in this economy.’ Given the number of available candidates and his desire to be certain of the best candidate, the manager may be able to save six months worth of salary dollars, becoming a real hero for short-term budget views. So that’s a “budget savings” of 1,000 hours @ the $60/hour loaded labor rate, or $60,000. Nice cha-ching!

3. Human resources people get the word out, posting to different sites and continuing to review hundreds of resumes: with rigid requirements, they go through lots of chaff to find wheat. Let’s say one HR person takes 4 hours to write up the posting, list it on sites and post internally; plus 4 hours to review 300 resumes and select the top 20 to send to the hiring manager. [8 hours]

shopping takes time; time = money

shopping takes time; time = money

4. The hiring manager gets the top 20 resumes, reviews them, and selects three he wants to interview. Time for paper review, telephone interviews and notes = 6 hours.

5. None of the telephone interviews are quite good enough, so the hiring manager asks HR to re-post. He knows he can get better qualified candidates: the market’s full of people looking for work. He also calls a couple of recruiters he’s worked with and asks them to send him exact matches. [6 HR hours and 15 recruiter hours] Cha-ching.

6. Sound internal candidates are denied because they aren’t exactly right. Career moves are infrequent, so the candidates are upset, disillusioned and disappointed. Let’s say 5 internal candidates denied, now discontent and with no development dollars available, their effectiveness drops to 75% for 6 months. Another big cha-ching that doesn’t show up in the budget, at 1000 hours per employee times 5.

7. Let’s say the process repeats itself three times during the 6 months it takes to find a candidate–the average hiring time in today’s labor market. And then, the hiring manager finds the perfect candidate—for double the money. No learning curve, no development needs, ready to start tomorrow but the “savings” in his budget labor line plus the minimal learning curve makes this hire worth it.

The bottom line?
$ 199, 210 Subtotal costs for hiring the perfect candidate
(60, 000) Less 6 months of salary saved during hiring process
60,000 Additional salary for perfect candidate

$ 199, 210 Total cost

Breakdown: $ 12,060 “hiring” expense that hits the budget and                     $187,150 salary expense that still hits the budget but now for work not done

“Playing” the numbers

All the numbers

All the numbers

How much internal and on-the-job training could be done for almost $200,000? How many employees could have or be a mentor or get skills training to increase bench strength? How much of the expense could be avoided when internal candidates are ready and eager to move into positions that challenge them? How much could be saved in outplacement costs and recruiting retainers?

How much impact on the bottom line could 100% employee commitment have? How much additional top line impact could 100% employee commitment make? What level of customer service could employees who are totally committed to the organization deliver…every day and to each customer? What kind of customer loyalty and business could your organization realize?  What if each employee were productive for 8 hours rather than 6, an average found in a 2008 survey?

The simple answer? Huge impact. Gallup says over $380 billion annually in the U.S. alone.

The difficulty in using all the numbers? Moving far enough away to see the forest for the trees: to see the true costs and returns (visible and not so much) in a global economy driven by employee brains and hearts rather than by financial reports developed for a different era. If organizations play by all of the numbers, then hiring will reflect human capital as valuable, and the ledgers must as well.

4 Baby Steps Toward Security

As I read two articles in Sunday’s paper with bleak news for job seekers, I found myself thinking once again about how fortunate I am to be in charge of my own career direction. I made the leap to self-employment a bit ahead of the curve (1997), and even with all its challenges, I never worry about someone else running my business. Or making decisions for me. Or going in to work on a Monday morning to be met with a pink slip. Or living in fear that one might be there next week.

What's your value?

Can you state your value?

Over the years I learned–often the hard way–that I needed to be very clear with statements of my value. My business is intangible and some still mislabel the content “soft skills.” [As though anything about relationships could be anything other than hard!] But value can always be measured, sometimes in the words of clients or sometimes in the visible results.

I learned that a paycheck doesn’t automatically appear every other Friday unless I focus on the Important rather than the Urgent. The discipline needed to put the big rocks in first came in a series of difficult lessons; and I’m not really sure I’m done learning!

I learned that marketing myself and my services never really stops; I can take a break, if I choose, but business follows only when potential clients hear my messages. And the clients are there; it’s just up to me to find them and be consistent in messaging.

I learned that I had a lot to learn and that I had to stay ahead or fall behind.

Navigating changes

Navigating changes

And in any business environment, customers always have choices. So staying ahead rather than “resting on laurels” always kept me intrigued with new approaches and new ideas. So I tried new ways of doing things that I might not have been certain of—learning from thought leaders’ and the success of others.

As I learned these lessons (and I’m not done yet!) I saw results that gave me confidence to move forward and try again, try something a bit different, and build on even small developments. I moved ahead a step at a time over the last dozen years. The small steps add up, and it’s important to just start.

Hungering for security?

Take these same 4 baby steps, especially if you’re in an organization and want to stay, or if you’re going after your next position. Each one will work to your advantage, and you can begin today.

1. What’s your value?

Define it, describe it, get clear on it and start talking about it. Letting others know your value isn’t bragging, it’s educating them about how you contribute. Strategic organizations keep people who contribute. Managers depend upon performers who contribute because they know you can be counted on. Learn how to talk about your value in the language of the listener, so there’s no question that you belong. Action item: take 20 minutes and write 5 statements of your value. If you get stuck, ask your coach or trusted peer. Put at least 2 of them in your conversations this week.

2. Work on Important first.

If you’re searching for a position, it’s easy to kid yourself into thinking that lots of activity is effective, especially if it entails sitting at a desk cranking out paper–just like you’re used to doing in the office. rocksThe Important stuff is usually the hard stuff; in this case, it’s maintaining your network contacts. If you have an office and want to keep it, then prioritize your tasks based upon the organization’s priorities. Save your emails for after 5 o’clock…if they’re that important, you’ll get a call. Action item: re-prioritize your work activities, putting the hardest ones on top. Stay focused on the Important tasks, even if you’re tempted by other people’s urgencies.

3. Be aware of your customer messages: make them count.

Even if you’re not in direct contact with external customers, you have internal ones. Every word you speak, every facial expression and gesture you make, every note you send is plainly marked with one of two messages: ‘I’m glad to be of service;’ or ‘I’m doing this because I’m supposed to.’ Every contact you have is important, so put a smile in your voice and become intent on serving your current, potential, new or returning customers. Action item: Select 3 ‘customers’ today who you can serve: perhaps another job seeker; a co-worker to whom you can offer assistance before s/he asks; or a member at your service club lunch who needs cheering or encouragement.

4. Keep on learning!

Whatever you’re doing, there’s something new to learn. And if you’re not doing what you love, there’s lots new to try! Take responsibility for your own learning, for staying or getting up to speed in your industry, profession or skill sets. Check out community college, continuing education offerings and professional association seminars; and identify mentors who can give you informal opportunities to learn. Define new competencies that can help you take on new and challenging responsibilities, then arrange to master them. Action item: Determine one new area you would like to learn about and find two people who have expertise. Ask at least one of them to be your mentor and get you started.

4 small baby steps!

4 small baby steps!

Your challenge: 4 baby steps

Wherever you are, whatever your work, you will be stronger and more secure in your being by taking these 4 steps and beginning today. Each is a small but significant one toward taking responsibility for your own career direction and stability. Whether you work for a larger organization or a smaller business or you’re looking for your best work fit, your future really is yours to ensure. “Cradle to grave” security begins with these smallest of steps.

Science says: it’s what’s inside that counts.

How cool would it be if every time we worked we felt a sense of accomplishment, deep satisfaction and excitement about that work? Several intrinsic motivators–three in particular–can make it so. Autonomy: we use our talents, skills, abilities in pure self-direction, supported and coached to be our best. Mastery: we work knowing that we are perfecting what we do. And Purpose: our work, whatever it is, connects us to the reason we’re here–we contribute to something larger than ourselves.

I know lots of people would settle for even one of these. And I know others who have all three. Before work happened in big boxes, those who practiced a craft or a trade most certainly had all three. Not so much today.

While you can do a number of things to engage these drivers for yourself, it’s just as important that anyone who is responsible for business success understand this: these three intrinsic motivators are shown to produce work outcomes that more money and bigger rewards cannot.

You owe it to yourself to watch this video.

Dan Pink’s recent presentation on TED is worth many times the 18 minutes it will take you to watch. He’s very clear when he says “There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” Business doesn’t put much stock in common sense, but I wonder if they might consider science?

Scientists have shown many times over 40 years that business motivators (i.e. rewards and punishments) don’t necessarily create the outcomes we think. Paying ‘x’ to do ‘y’, in other words, doesn’t always get ‘y’ and the ‘x’ may even get in the way of doing ‘y.’ The “carrot & stick” approach to getting the best from workers isn’t very effective, and especially not in today’s service/information economy.

A knowledge economy

A knowledge economy

You see, what scientists have found is that very simple tasks with a very narrow focus requiring mechanical skills may actually get better performance with a bigger reward. However, this is how work was done in the Industrial economy; it’s not how it’s done today.

Today’s work requires innovation, synthesis and collaboration to respond to constantly changing economies and customer needs. This higher cognitive level thinking doesn’t respond to bigger sticks or bigger carrots, but soars with the challenges of intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery and purpose. Science says!

So, how much science does it take to change a business ideology?

Much of America’s corporate world is still mired in the “scientific management” approach, not to be confused with the science of what motivates people to be–and give–their best. This muck holds tight to many managers because it is known and comfortable. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, for businesses to shift to a management model that recognizes and utilizes intrinsic motivators is a huge change: one even bigger than adapting to a global economy.

So what’s realistic?

Change yourself; change one person at a time. Recognize that if each of us changes a little, then the overall transformation will eventually happen from the inside out, for us as individuals as well as for the organizations with which we partner. Here are a few ideas to help you reconnect with your internal motivations:

1. Autonomy: autonomy is about self-direction. Don’t wait to be picked any more. Don’t wait to be told what else your job description holds. Let your manager know where you can make a difference and offer to take on the tasks. In this economy, how can you cut expenses? How can you volunteer or step into a gap in your department? What can you do to solve a customer’s problem without waiting to be asked or given the solution? How can you be a better, more collaborative project member? How can you truly become a partner with your organization to make it better and provide more value to customers?


2. Mastery: mastery is about becoming your best. So decide if you need to re-purpose or reinvent yourself. Either way, you’ll need to determine what new or advanced skills or knowledge or attitudes you need to best develop your talents. Whatever it takes, go after it. You are fooling yourself if you think your employer is responsible for your development. Recognize the new rules of employment and make your own security. Pay for your training, classes, and skills upgrades: it’s one investment you can’t afford not to make!

3. Purpose: more than any other desire, my clients want to know their purpose–what they are on earth to do, how they will make the world a better place. This is a purely human desire, and goes to however you define spirituality: belief, connection, energy, religion. So find yours. Start by finding a coach who can guide you through the process (yes, there is one) of becoming clear on your Foundation: who you are and what you’re about. Your purpose is within.

And, why not send the link to the TED video around to your coworkers and your manager? Ask to have a discussion on its content in your next staff meeting or department gathering. Take responsibility to get a conversation going on what would motivate those in your workplace and how you might work together to make that happen.

Labor Day Musings

A macro concept that underpins a lot of my thinking is “work,” most specifically how our definitions of work are drastically changed, yet apparently unrecognized by both the work ‘giver’ and the ‘doer.’

job boxes

job boxes

Employers (the ‘giver’) continue to look at work as segmented pieces or ‘job boxes’ that can be put together into an integrated whole by someone looking down from on high. While organizations continue to define “jobs,” what they really need is flexible project workers who use their brains to readily move from one work area to another.

Employees (the ‘doer’) continue to look at work as jobs defined by a description with a defined beginning and end. While workers continue to say, “It’s not my job,” what they really need is work that they recognize as a contribution and that engages their mind and spirit.

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that I see the employer-employee relationship as–at the very least, dysfunctional, and maybe–at the most–irreparably broken. It is, in many (maybe most) organizations, a lose-lose relationship.

Employers continue to consider employees as commodities, and employees continue to see employers as economic lifelines. Employers see employees as interchangeable and as expenses… a ludicrous view in an economy driven by knowledge and service. Employees continue to see employers as their lifeline with only high-risk options for economic security. There is no joy, enjoyment or even much satisfaction in most work and workplaces.

intrinsic value

intrinsic value

What’s ignored by both parties is work’s intrinsic value: the value that drives the engagement and contribution of the worker. Without this, the enterprise “success” suffers–however that success is defined.

In the agrarian economy, work’s intrinsic value is continuity and contribution to the earth: tending to the growing cycles that foster abundance and replenish life stores.

In the trade / craft economy, work’s intrinsic value is using one’s talents and skill, contributing to the bigger needs of the community.

In the industrial economy, work’s intrinsic value is contributing the “piece” that makes the “whole,” and knowing the end result is better for the contribution. [Really? What happens when you can’t see your contribution because the “whole” changes so often?]



In the knowledge/service economy, work’s intrinsic value is knowing that one’s contribution makes a difference…through a creative approach, a new product that better cements customer loyalty, or a superior level of service that outshines the competition. In today’s organizations, there’s lots of talk about these things but the approvals and the second guessing and the need for control and the short-term focus on the next quarter’s financials prevent most workers from having any sense of their work’s value.

In today’s world of global competition and global economics, this lack of contribution is destroying the only assets that can compete in these arenas. As Earl Pitts used to say, “Wake up, America!”

Here’s my question for you: what does it take to move Givers and Doers toward a truly realistic expression of “work” in the 21st century? To let up on the antiquated management and control practices that may have worked in the assembly line environment but that truly smother and destroy workers today? To give up on the antiquated because-we’ve-always-done-it-this-way and it’s-our-policy-service mentality that reduces productivity to ruinous levels?

How will you make a difference?

How will you make a difference?

And here’s a personal question for you: What will you do, when you return to work after this holiday, to show the intrinsic value in your work contributions? Just one thing? How will you make a difference?

So how about adding to these Labor Day musings? What will it take to redefine “work” so it works for both employers and employees? Please leave a comment to further this conversation, and maybe by Labor Day 2010, we’ll see a shift that re-energizes “Labor Day!”

Taylorism: alive & well in corporate America

Maybe you remember reading–in one of your Introduction to Organizations texts–about Frederick Taylor and his focus on productivity. And even if you don’t, you may recognize his management theories as alive and well in your workplace today!

Taylor’s life work was productivity studies, his beginnings at Bethlehem Steel. Among his first jobs was designing a more efficient shovel.

Taylor's productivity study

Taylor's productivity study

By measuring pounds per shovelful and total daily pounds shoveled, he determined that a shovel designed to hold 21.5 pounds was exactly right to keep the men working efficiently all day. His redesigned shovel allowed the company to reduce it’s coal shovelers from 500 to 140, an early 20th century version of “doing more with less.”

Taylor went further than just shovel redesign; he also applied the same approach to the people who used the shovels. He called his approach “Scientific Management,” and managers (who found the human side of productivity improvement highly resistant) jumped on Taylor’s approach and roamed factory floors armed with clipboards and stop watches, in the interests of hightened productivity.

So it was Taylor’s work that redefined the role of a manager: it was the manager who became the “brains” in an organization, determining how everything would be done. The results? The more the manager did, the less workers had to do. Workers became like robots; managers made decisions and were in charge. Without having to think, workers’ jobs became brainless and closer supervision was required to make sure that slackers didn’t get away with it! Taylor, intent on machine-like productivity, actually said “I care not a whit for the thinking of the working man.” While his work dates to the early 1900s, Taylor’s Scientific Management is alive and well in organizations today.

Ineffective management tools

Ineffective management tools

Managers love the alpha status and don’t want to give it up.

Even when it doesn’t work, and especially when it does more harm than good…like in the current non-Industrial non-machine economy.

Behavioral and neuroscientists have overwhelmingly shown the ineffectiveness of typical management behaviors. Giving feedback in the same old way is not productive, and providing rewards and punishment is counterintuitive to the way the human mind works. Managers who provide rewards and corrective action are automatically putting workers in a subordinate role. Our minds rebel and see this as control and manipulation. The more responsibility a manager has, the less employees take on. As long as what is considered to be motivation comes from the outside, it will be counter-productive…because we literally have minds of our own.

So managers who do less managing and who increase their expectations and support of workers are the ones who will get the best results. Rather than telling, a manager needs to do more asking. Rather than exerting control, a manager must engage the employee in taking responsibility.

Partnership = Responsibility

Partnership = Responsibility

How? By asking questions and supporting the expectation that the employee is a partner in the business. Not a subordinate to be coddled or pulled along like a rebellious adolescent, but a partner expected to hold up his/her part of the business by achieving objectives that contribute to and align with the organization’s direction.

As a manager, you can diminish the Taylorisms you practice by:

1. providing information consistently and in a number of ways to connect employees with the business of the organization: strategic direction, financial indicators, business lines, what competitors are doing, etc. The more workers understand the business and its direction, the more they can define their own contributions.

2. knowing how they contribute to a greater good enables workers to step up to the intrinsic desire to belong. Querying (rather than telling) workers to set their objectives, their productivity and quality metrics, and their customer service practices enables workers to make an emotional commitment to their work, to their customers, to the business.

3. asking workers to assess themselves and their work: how they are meeting metrics and objectives; how they make mid-course corrections; how they improve their own sub-par performance; how they support team members in achieving goals and customer needs.

4. providing objective sources of feedback, such as business indicators that make it very plain whether employee efforts are moving the business forward or back. If the business is successfully meeting its goals, then employee efforts are recognized through these measures, customer surveys and even peer reviews.

Tapping in to the “brains” in your organization is not difficult, but it is different than “traditional” management practices. Interactive practices that build relationships and responsibilities are the only way to engage the head and heart and hands of workers in an economy that requires all these things for an organization’s success.

Why not shift your management approach and let me know how it goes?


Those who have been required to memorize the world as it is will never create the world as it might be.

This quote by Judith Groch resonates strongly with me because the classrooms of my youth required memorization and lots of it: students at desks high school 50s history, geography, trig functions, English prepositions, Latin root words, etc. The Dominican sisters who taught at St. Mary’s made sure of that!

We did memorize the world as it was then: and the boundaries were pretty sound. The literal “word view” was stable, defined by wars, separated by oceans and social or economic milestones. Even with the mind-numbing memorization, I liked learning.

Back-to-school time brings up wonderful memories, mostly because of new school supplies, a new book bag, and new teachers. Even in college, there was something enticing about new notebooks and pens and beginning again: the start of a new opportunity. Learning things that adds to or makes sense of stuff already in my brain.

I may be fortunate in that “Learning” is one of my talents (or ‘themes’ according to Gallup author Tom Rath), and I’ve developed it into a strength. I use that strength in my current work and leverage it so that I am able to look at new situations as challenges and view “change”–so scary for many–as just another puzzle to tackle.

How do you look at learning?

It’s not just for kids!

While our kids are heading back to school, I’m wondering if you are heading back as well. You may have a high school diploma, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, an MBA or a PhD. Whatever education you have, much of it is out-of-date. Whether you graduated last year or 30 years ago, the world is changing quickly enough that whatever content you have is, literally, so last year.

The phrase “lifelong learning” is one we hear bandied about, and often when we hear it we think, “Oh, I have a degree;” “No more back-to-school for me…don’t have the time!” Or, “I can’t afford it.” But ernestinelearning is no longer contained: in a classroom, or during certain ages, or even within a degree program. The truth is that whatever your age, you must continue to learn to avoid becoming a throw-back that employers see as outdated and provincial, unwilling to keep up with business reality.

What will you choose to learn before year’s end?

The beauty of being adults is that we can choose how we’ll learn: it may be in a classroom or it may not! When you consider options, make sure you include these:

*continuing education: computer programs, communication programs, or specific skills through local colleges or community learning programs;
*degree programs: through universities across the world; e-learning programs are available through hundreds of colleges and may be 2 or 4 year programs, even MBA work;
*mentoring and workplace options: what can you learn by asking someone more experienced to teach you? Or by shadowing them for a few days or weeks; Or by volunteering for a project as an observer or extra pair of hands?
*design-your-own professional development program by working with a coach: career coaches can guide you in figuring out what new directions and/or learning will best help you stay relevant or move in your desired direction.

Now, take action.

Whatever direction you decide to investigate, start small. Define one person you can talk to, or one program you can investigate and write it on your to-do list for this week. Don’t put it off, or wait until you get around to it. Better yet, find an Accountability Partner who will support your investigation and ask that person to check-in with you in a week to see how you accomplished the first step. In fact, if you’ll drop me a note with your first task, I’ll hold you accountable for completing it within a week. This is how you’ll most easily move forward: take small steps and be accountable to someone for doing so.

While you’re at it, why not buy a few school supplies to have on hand while you figure out your learning direction? It may be more motivating than you think!

Does the world owe you a living?

Last week a 27-year old graduate of Monroe College in New York sued the college because in the three months following graduation she had not found a job. Her suit alleges that for $70,000 in tuition, the school’s responsibility is to find her a position. The young woman (whose name I refuse to mention, thus possibly extending her 15 minutes of fame) is angry about her position, especially since her student loans will be coming due. She is in no position to pay on them, and so her family will have to take on the additional burden. (Find the story:

Her position on the college’s responsibility: “They have not tried hard enough to help me.” The college’s position: “[we pride ourselves] on the excellent career-development support that we provide to each of our students.”

Sounds to me like a gross miscommunication around the concept of personal responsibility–and by everyone who has been part of this 27-year old’s long, long adolescence!

Expecting a handout?

expecting a handout?

It apparently takes a “crash and burn” event to separate many people from their “entitled” view of the world. Guess the folks at Enron were just doing what they were told, and didn’t have any responsibility in their loss of retirement dollars. Guess the people who hate their jobs don’t have a choice but to stay…have to pay the bills somehow, right? Guess those who are “victims” of this current recession are just that, with no responsibility for their ill-prepared out-of-work status. Guess the “older workers” who aren’t valued in the current workplace are just disrespected for all their Industrial Age experience. And, apparently, the younger workers coming out of college are just not responsible for finding their own jobs–they are entitled to one as an result of the money they spent on the degree they received.

How does this thinking happen?

What happened to the idea of earning what you get? Of taking responsibility to use your talents, abilities and resources (a college degree falls into this last category) to get a job or move in a new career direction? Of being completely responsible for the outcomes in your life?

The young graduate who is suing her college apparently doesn’t know about the ‘personal responsibility’ part of life. [And, whose fault is this? When does it become hers?] And while many readers may see this story and say, “How ridiculous…I would never do that!”, their comments on their current work or economic status would belie this.

Are individuals responsible for having a job or not? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to see that your industry or organization must dance to a different tune, that of a global economy or tightening market? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to make sure that you can dance to that tune…even when it entails taking dancing lessons? And you need to pay for them yourself?

Swimming in your best direction

Swimming in your best direction

I believe individuals do have this responsibility, but when was the last time you heard someone say…I should have been ready for this downturn by sharpening my skills? I should have been ready by continuing to build and take care of my network? I should have been ready by learning which industries are growing and which are dying? Or even, I should have seen this coming?

It’s much more likely that you’ve heard someone say: “they” just called me in, and let me go; or “they” don’t appreciate the last 20 years I gave them; or “they” didn’t give me any training to upgrade my skills; or even “they” just don’t care about the little guy!

Here’s what responsibility looks like.

A few weeks ago, when taking a shuttle from my hotel to the Phoenix airport, the driver asked what I spoke about (I was heading home from the National Speakers Association convention). When I replied “workforce change and development,” he began telling me about his transition 8 years ago from manufacturing employee to franchise owner. Employed by Motorola, he was downsized and in his own words said that he “should have seen it coming.”

John Maelstrom, that Super Shuttle owner, decided to deal with the set-back and find work that works for him. He went into business for himself and now has two employees. He is a great example of resilience in the face of change, of someone with a sense of responsibility that defines his character.

Why not take just a few minutes right now and test your own sense of entitlement: Does your employer owe you your job?

If yes, what kind of guarantee do you have? How sure are you?

If not, what are you doing to be sure that you’re ready and responsible for your own livelihood? When you get to this answer, and don’t know where to start–drop me an email or give me a call. I can help you learn to trust yourself and move toward a true security, one you make yourself.

PS: when you’re in Phoenix and need a ride, call Super Shuttle, 602.244-9000 and ask for John by name.

Who’s making your career decisions?

I’d expect that most of you who mentally answered that question said “Me!” And, I’ll go along with you if your response to these 3 statements is “agree”:

1. I’m not worried about the economy, because I’ve planned my career and the learning I need to drive it, and I’m on that path;
2. I know that my work is aligned with my foundation—who I am and what I’m about;
3. I have consciously aligned my strengths and work results with my organization’s direction, and my commitment means I know I make contributions every day.

If you can’t agree with all 3 statements, then other people are making your career decisions for you: you’re depending upon your boss to like you; you’re depending upon someone else to keep you current; you’re depending upon your tenure with your organization to work in your favor; you’re depending upon someone else seeing your value for your next career move. And, if you’re currently looking for your next job, you’re depending upon someone else to recognize your value, match that value to their needs, give you the opportunity to show your stuff, and pay you before you ever make a contribution.

walking a tightrope

walking a tightrope

And, if you’re thinking, “Well, that’s their job,” then you’re wrong! That used to be how it worked, but it doesn’t any longer. If you’re still trusting someone else—current or former or next employer—then you’re walking a slippery tightrope and it’s only a matter of time.

So it’s time for you to ‘man up’ because there’s a new game in town. [‘Man up’ as used here applies equally to men and women.]

When you can agree with the 3 statements above, you have taken responsibility for your own security, and have chosen to no longer be dependent upon an employer. In today’s economy, with business after business either in melt-down mode or in a place where the mantra is “the sky is falling,” the only intelligent career decision is to take care of your own. This doesn’t necessarily mean starting your own business, but it does mean looking at your work in a different light and taking responsibility for your career security.

1. When you consciously look at your most satisfying work direction—the work you do that aligns with your strengths, skills, interests, and engagers—you can define your best direction, the training and education that will ensure your value, and then plan how you’ll get there.

Yes, I’m saying that you need to pay for your own training, education, and learning opportunities, but, really, how is that different from preparing for home ownership, or parenthood, or any other significant life event? The long-term payback of a sound, well-crafted learning plan is returned to you at least ten-fold over the course of your career. [Not only does it keep you current in your technical/professional specialty, it also impacts your change-agility.] Yet, most of you reading this wouldn’t even consider paying for a seminar or an e-learning course—you’re still counting on your manager to tell you what you need to “fix” and when they will send you to training to get it “fixed.”

career roulette?

career roulette?

Consider this: we’ll go through a number of $20K to $40K vehicles in a lifetime (maybe 6 to be conservative?) but it’s an appalling thought to put anywhere near that amount into ourselves and our development—our livelihood. Strange view—to not take the best care of the #1 item in our financial portfolios. We take responsibility for other financial assets, but not for the very thing that makes those assets possible.

2. When you consciously go after work that is aligned with your foundation, you do the best work you can possibly do–by any measure. You’re using your strength themes, you’re energized and engaged, you’re making contributions, and you provide consistent value. When you’re working at a job, any job, you can shrink or stretch your capabilities to fit it. Desperation and fear convince you that you have to stay put because the economy is so bad, or because you’re too old, or because you don’t interview well, or because…lots of reasons…all of which are excuses that keep you trapped in places you call comfortable but that are really deadening and high-risk. High-risk because it’s in these very jobs where you are most dependent upon someone else’s good will to stay. It’s not your contributions, not your value, not your results that keeps you there, but someone else’s generosity. Don’t fool yourself: in this position, you have no work security.

3. There’s little that has more value than a worker aligned with the organization’s direction and mission. You know, all brains on deck. Everyone marching in the same direction. Yet, most of you reading this are not…most of you go to work expecting others to make the effort. You go to work. You warm the seat. You put in your 40 hours. You fulfill your minimal job duties, not stepping on toes, not thinking beyond your cubicle, and never questioning. It’s your manager’s job, you rationalize, to get you aligned and motivated.

Once again, no it’s not!

It’s your responsibility to show your value, to define your contributions and continually look for ways to create more and better value for your customers, whether they are internal or external. If you’re not motivated to do so, why not? And what can you do, how can you change things to become committed to your work? It’s the emotional connection, the engagement of people with their work that makes for the most valuable business outcomes, including loyal customers who get the connection and pass it on to others. If you’re putting the responsibility for your engagement onto someone or something else (your boss, the work environment, dumb policies, etc.), you have it all wrong. Your job is to be engaged and to make top notch contributions. You can’t have one without the other and you can’t fake it either.

So take a look at who’s making your career decisions and determine if you’re OK with it. If you’re consciously not making the decisions, and you want to let someone else determine your fate, then don’t play the victim when a layoff comes, or when the choice position goes to someone else. ‘Man up,’ and take responsibility for your [lack of] actions.

But if you’re not consciously making the decisions, when will you start? It’s the only way to avoid the victim-thinking and victim behaviors that so often drive us, especially when the economy is described every day as “bad” or “never been seen before in the history of the world.” A few people make the decision every day to become responsible for their own career direction: when will you ‘man up,’ and take responsibility for yours?

Chasing your tail?

So how’s that job search going?

Chasing your tail?

Chasing your tail?

I facilitate a monthly networking group–Execunet–for those who are in job search mode and/or who recognize that connecting, developing and maintaining a lifelong network is critical in today’s work world. Some people don’t get it: when they leave, they say “Nice to be here, but I hope I don’t see you next month!” Others do get it, and use the meeting as a beginning step in expanding their lifelong network.

We’re creatures of habit, so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that so many folks looking for their next job use the same old approaches and tactics that worked the last time around–back in the 20th century… way back, actually. So, when you’re looking, just know that hanging your job search on these things is really ineffective…a lot like a dog chasing its tail!

“I’m an executive”

What you were called then doesn’t mean a whole lot, except to you, obviously, as you continue to define who you are by your former title.

It's about value, not title

It's about value, not title

So making it a point of dropping “executive” and “C-level” and “Cxx” into your conversation and expecting people to treat you special (and be honest here, if you didn’t think it did, why would you use it in the first place?) isn’t effective or helpful. It dates you. It says you’re still living in the past. Emphasizing what your title was as opposed to what your value is says “I paid my dues and deserve to be at the top of the heap” or “I’m important, so know who you’re talking to.”

Other executives may be interested in hearing this…most likely for mirroring or measurement purposes. Otherwise, it’s really irrelevant. While there was a time when you were defined by your title, that’s no longer the case: you are defined by what you bring to the workplace, by your skills and talents and characteristics and contributions.

Hiring managers (C-level included) want to know what you can do for them…not how great you used to be, or how high up the ladder you climbed. When you tell your stories about results, outcomes, growth and value you can make it very plain that you bring strategic-level results and visionary leadership. And that’s what translates to “what you can do for them.”

POINT: Talk your value, not your (former) title.

“I have an MBA”

That’s great. An MBA has value in and of itself. But what have you learned since you got that degree?

Work is driven by information and ideas. The amount of information–new information–available to us every 30 days is staggering: it’s about as much as two Washington Monuments. We can’t even measure it linearly, only exponentially. Look at it this way: in 1980, the information available to us as a world was about the size of the Washington Monument. Now, every 30 days we have double that available.** Not all good probably, not all valuable maybe, but available nonetheless. So an MBA, as the end-all-and-be-all statement of business knowledge has a life span of, say, the time it takes you to walk across the stage as you collect your degree.

Of course your MBA is valuable…just don’t think you can stop there. It may be most useful today to get you through the paper sort of resumes, but it says nothing about how current you are. So, use your MBA as a distinction, yes, but more importantly as a jumping-off-point for your agility and ongoing learning around business, building teams and leading change.

POINT: Talk your currency, not your degree.

“My resume tells the story!”

Where is your resume in the haystack?

Where is your resume in the haystack?

To you, maybe, but it’s your story that gets lost in the pile of paper collected for a job posting.

The best use of a resume is to follow you…not precede you! Because when it follows you, the person who reads it has already met you and so begun the process of knowing, liking and trusting you.

If you must send your resume to become part of a stack of paper, then you also must recognize that how it tells your story is the key to getting you to the other stack, the “interview” pile. Effective resumes summarize, highlight, spotlight, accentuate and underscore your value in concise, carefully chosen and customized language, and do so in the first third of the first page. On average, your resume, might get a seven-second read; your goal is to have your paper-description fit the job description like a glove…so you get a longer read and make it into that more desirable stack of paper!

POINT: Talk your fit, not your life story.

Little shifts can make for big impacts.  Be intentional in your approach, stop chasing your tail, and get more effective results:  focusing on your value, not your persona makes you memorable!

**from the video, Shift Happens!, by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod

Looking for security? Use your brain!

I’m fascinated by neuroscience and things related, like emotional intelligence and neuroleadership. It’s most amazing that scientists can watch us think and see how an emotion drives a thought. And how we can stop it–or not, as we choose. Our ability to be intentional in our actions is supported by the physiology of our brain.



Did you know that scientists tell us now–with certainty–that there is a brain formula for changing? It’s focus + repetition. Our brains are creatures of habit (making us creatures of comfort), in that the strongest synapses–or connections between nerve cells–in our brains are those created by doing things over and over. Doing something new means creating connections (synapses) that don’t exist. So it’s not so much hard, as it is uncomfortable. That’s why change takes some time. We’re literally growing new brain connections to support the change and make it more comfortable, so that the change becomes the habit, or default!

Now, another piece: scientists also tell us that the brain can not distinguish between “real” and “imagined.” [This is what the placebo effect is all about: if I think this pill will ease my pain, it will. And in recent studies at Columbia & U of M, placebo medicine worked in over 30% of patients.] So then it follows that “imagined” practice is a good thing–maybe not as good as the real thing, but very helpful for preparing ourselves for change.

Still one more piece: our mindset. How we look at our abilities and qualities is a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.” A fixed mindset, according to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, is one that believes qualities are carved in stone, er, tin.

Fixed, tin man

Fixed, tin man

This mindset keeps us stuck: since we have a finite amount of whatever–intelligence, personality, integrity, kindness, etc.–we have to continually prove that what we have is enough because 1) we don’t want to be judged inadequate and 2) we won’t get any more. So every situation becomes a challenge, or a contest to make sure we look and behave “enough” or better than enough.

Growth, learning

Growth, learning

A growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that our abilities and qualities are things we can develop. We can change and grow and cultivate our talents and skills to constantly learn and become better. This mindset is one that is willing to confront challenges and take the risks associated with a difficult task, because hard work and desire make changes happen.

Is your mindset helping you or increasing your job insecurity?

Scientific support

So, backed by science, we most likely succeed at change when we:
1) focus on the change, again and again and again; practice doing the change over and over; focusing and repeating;
2) create a picture in our mind of what the change will be: how it will look, how we accomplish it, what steps we go through, and how the new change will be as comfortable as the old when we’re complete; imagining the change so our brain accepts it as real;
3) develop a view that embraces learning as something that never stops, so whatever challenge we face we can tackle with hard work and belief in our ability to change.

Workplace Security

Whether your current employment is solid or not, your ongoing challenge is to stay ahead of what your employer needs, to become change-agile without being told. What are you doing to increase your knowledge and improve your ability to contribute to your organization? Are you waiting for your manager to tell you what you need to do to stay relevant? Or do you whine and complain (aloud or inside) about every change you need to implement because “things were so much easier in the old days”?

You can create your own security by paying attention to what your brain and mind are doing, and determining very intentionally that you–knowing how your brain works–will make the changes to get that security. You can:

>> take on new challenges and work to raise your profile…be seen as committed to your organization’s success;
>> focus on customer service, listen to customers and then see that something is done with that feedback–take ownership of it and make something happen to respond to customers;
>> take a class or develop a skill that is valuable, pay for it yourself and then offer to share the information with your colleagues: collaboration skills, for example, or conflict styles, or creative problem-solving or teamwork skills;
>> step outside of your job box and look at your workplace like you were the owner: where can you cut expenses, where can you improve how things get done, what tasks might be picked up now that have slipped away during busy times, how can you improve your repeat customer business?
>> what are your competitors doing around new products and services? Knowing what’s happening in the industry and with a little competitive intelligence, you’ve put yourself in a position to discuss near- and longer-term business strategies.

What’s needed now

For too many years, we’ve counted on going to work, putting in time, and getting a paycheck at the end of the week. The landscape has changed and people are coming face to face with that new business reality…a new economy means new ways of working.

You have the brains, the mindset and ability to use what science now knows to increase your own employability and work-agility. None of us is required to stay in an outdated environment using outdated skills and be stuck until someone else decides our fate. All of us, you included, can step up, be responsible, take action and use your brain for your own security.

No shirt, no shoes, no service

While we’ve become very casual in our dress, there are still establishments that insist on doing business on their terms. In restaurants, “their terms” often are: No shirt, no shoes, no service. And, unless we’re really into pushing the envelope, if we don’t fall within those terms, we go elsewhere. In fact, most people don’t think much about it–if we’re not dressed for one place, we’ll go to another. And if we wanted to eat at a particular place, we would go dressed appropriately: we wouldn’t expect the owner to provide us with a shirt or shoes.
no shirt service 2
Yet, most people still expect their employers to provide them with a job, to provide them with job security and to give them a pay check every other week…whether they produce results or just warm the seats. Even though the rules for “being an employee” and “job security” have changed, employees expectations still haven’t changed much. I still hear those looking for work say, “I just need to find a stable place,” or “I really hope this is the last time I ever have to look for a job,” or “of course my skills are up to snuff, I was a VP!”

They don’t get it. Do you?

Employees today need to look and act more like consultants than, well, employees. Work is project-focused, and the # 1 characteristic needed by employers is flexibility–the ability to move quickly and change direction ‘on a dime.’ With competitors across the globe, most organizations really don’t need employees- – those people who get a paycheck regardless of whether they really produce or not–they need partners and consultants who come and go as the work does. Consultants who work steadily have the ability to morph their offerings into the service needed for the project at hand, no thanks to their ability to “read” what the organization has need of next. Consultants follow organizations’ missions, direction, competition and figure out their “pain”… and then provide services to ease or remove that pain. And partners…they do whatever it takes to drive success, and they do it without a job description!


Has your shirt kept up with the workplace and your organization’s industry? Are you ready, are your skills upgraded and improved so you’re ready to tackle new challenges, in new ways, to keep up with new competitors? Your department training budget has been cut…so? Pay attention to your own skills development, not only to keep up but to be ahead of the curve, and ahead of all the others who will be wearing better looking shirts when the company needs to ramp down one area and ramp up another.


Are your shoes tucked under your desk or are they moving you into alignment with your company’s shifting needs? If you’re sitting and waiting to be told what to do, or worse yet, playing the “that’s not my job” game, you’ll be sitting there until they shut down your email and don’t tell you why. Now’s the time to be curious, to be taking initiative, to be engaged with what your business and customers need. What new development is going on? How are next quarter’s objectives shifting the direction of your group or division? What new business direction can you see that would open up new client bases? Who can you pull together in a team to figure out how to reduce expenses (without being asked) and to increase or add customer services? This is one time you want to wear out your shoe leather proving your alignment with big and small business strategies.


Your service is what creates the partnership for a secure working relationship. As an employee, when’s the last time you intentionally looked at your organization’s competitors to see how your company stacks up? What services or products do they provide that your organization doesn’t? If your competitors have better customer service than you, what have you done about it? How do you get others in your company to come together and change your customer offerings? It’s not my job goes nowhere in today’s economy and harms every organization where this phrase is used…and it’s just a matter of time before it catches up with the employees who use it.

Clean up your shirt, polish your shoes and ramp up your service!

If you want to play the game, you have to look the part; to dance, you have to pay the piper. You make your own opportunities. When you provide excellence and quality that clearly support the organization’s mission, and when you care enough to go against the tide of ‘how things are done around here,’ you become an asset that is difficult or impossible to replace. You become an owner…not only of your organization’s success but also of your own career path.

Make Time for a Career Check-up

We all want work-life balance. We recognize that the best employers have flexible scheduling and acknowledge that employees have a life outside of work. In fact, ‘work-life effectiveness’ is the current phrase and I like that: it recognizes that ‘balance’ is tenuous and short-lived, while effectiveness / results is the real goal.

Do you know about the ROWE approach taken by Best Buy? ROWE is Results Only Work Environment and in its application, employees are expected to get results v. showing up for their assigned shift and putting in their time. [Note: ROWE is a business strategy that’s been shown to improve productivity by 40% and reduce turnover by up to 90%…nice numbers by anybody’s measure.]

When employers get to the place that results are what counts (v. time or dues or politics), they will be ready to recognize that something I’ll call Career Health goes a long way toward driving those results. When employees partner with employers on their career paths, they provide results that consistently make for a win-win.

Career Health Matters

Career Health Matters

To be healthy, or effective in your work, you must pay attention to 4 areas: physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. Each of these areas has two aspects that you—regardless of your position or job—can assess, leverage and strengthen. You might decide that your career health can be improved in your current job and organization or you might find that another direction serves you best

Physical effectiveness means Energy and Resilience.

From a physical perspective, you are most effective when you are energized by your work and you can manage the stress associated with it. When your work energizes, you’re able to be creative and step into challenging and unfamiliar situations with confidence. Even if you’re doing work that doesn’t naturally energize you or that is highly stressful, you can take steps to neutralize that. Resilience means having the ability to handle life’s little (and big) disappointments… and resilience can be strengthened. Waiting for a better position to come along or for the stress to go away is giving control of your work life to someone else.

Mental effectiveness requires Challenge and Growth.

You’ll provide the best work outcomes and have the greatest satisfaction when you are challenged and stretched every day. Challenges move you away from stagnation and boredom and encourage you to reach and contribute for your own improvement as well as better product and service outcomes. Tackling and meeting the challenges means growth and change, and also builds confidence and self-efficacy. If you’re in a position without challenge, then it’s up to you to create some. Go after (on your own!) new knowledge and skills; additionally, you can decide which of them will move you toward more challenging work and develop a plan to get there. Now you’re taking responsibility for your own work satisfaction.

Spiritual effectiveness uses Strengths and Values.

Those with greatest satisfaction in the work they do use their talents/strengths each and every day…not just once in awhile or on a rare occasion, but every day. Do you know what your strengths are, and how your work uses them? Do you know how you can leverage your strengths to do more of the work that’s so easy it’s like play? When you use your innate talents, you play in a bigger world and contribute from your purest authenticity. It’s this same authenticity that thrives when you can “walk” your own values in your work environment—when your values align with those of your organization. When they don’t match up, your frustration grows because you’re compromising one or more of those values…and that’s an uncomfortable way to live.

Emotional effectiveness includes Engagement and Contribution.

Engagement is when you immerse yourself in your work because you have an intense pride in making a contribution. The contribution doesn’t have to be big or recognized as key, but it does have to be real and known to you. Emotional connection to your work creates a caring that comes through in service and pride of accomplishment; without it, results are often half-baked and of minimal quality.

The Gallup Organization continues to find that less than 30% of all people are truly engaged in their work: emotionally connected to the outcomes, going above and beyond to get results. The remaining 70% are either not engaged in their work (I call them “seat-warmers”) or are ‘actively disengaged’ in their work (better known as seat-burners)…they literally destroy work done by others.

Career health/effectiveness requires attention to all four.

Being effective in the work you do is lots more than having a good job with some stability that you show up for most days. When you have a healthy (even balanced) career, you produce results that make an impact on your customers who can choose any number of providers in the global marketplace. Why not look around at your work and your work environment and assess how you measure up in each of the four areas? Examine both of the characteristics of each area and measure your level of each characteristic. If you’re missing one or more, take responsibility to develop it or strengthen it or go after it in work that fits you. Create your career health.

Why not spend one-third of your waking life doing work that works for you?

Paying the Piper

The May 11 print issue of Business Week has a must-read article for anyone who is in the job market, worried about job security, or generally recognizes that our employment market isn’t quite as effective as we think. The author notes that in the midst of the high-unemployment across the country, there are about 3 million job openings that aren’t being filled.

Why? The short answer is that job-seekers don’t match the jobs. The jobs require skills sets different than those held by people looking for work. We’ve known for years that a number of industries are shrinking (e.g. manufacturing) and other industries are growing (e.g. health care). Even with this information, employers in shrinking industries did little retraining of their workforces and employees in these same shrinking industries thought little about becoming trained for another line of work. That gets us to today: jobs going begging for people to fill them, while workers by the millions are collecting unemployment. It’s time to pay the piper.

Here’s the Big Question: Who is responsible for retraining and retooling? The organization or the worker? Rather than facing reality and stepping into the responsibility, each points the finger at the other while saying loudly, “we have no money to retrain.” This leads to more of the same, while the market imbalance only increases. We are so quick to place blame and so slow to roll up our sleeves and get to work!


Let’s look at both perspectives.

Fact: some industries cannot hire enough qualified people, e.g. health care, education, professional services and government.
Their options: continue understaffed, shut down parts of the business, inflate hiring packages, or hire under-qualified people and train them.

The last option of the four makes a lot of sense…and maybe that’s why it’s not often selected. For whatever reason, employers expect that their employees will come with 110% of position requirements… fully trained with short or non-existent learning curves. Given the current pool of unemployed workers, this expectation is beyond a mismatch…it’s a fantasy. Most employers will take one (maybe all) of the first three options before they even consider training people. Why? Because ‘we’ve always hired this way.’ Or, it’s too expensive. Yet, these same employers don’t calculate the true costs of the first three options. So, employers’ expectations aren’t aligned with their business needs.

Fact: many people searching for work have outdated, irrelevant skills yet they continue to search for jobs that use those skills. Of course, the jobs aren’t there.
Their options: blame the economy and continue to feel worthless, expect additional unemployment benefits from the stimulus money, wish that things were the same as they were twenty years ago, or retrain for another industry or work function.

Again, the last option of the four makes the most sense…yet it’s often not pursued for lack of money (and a guaranteed return) or for lack of confidence. Probably because of Industrial economy paternalism, employees see training as what employers do, and so their expectations get in the way of a common sense solution to the employment market blues.

So, who must take accountability to create a match between employer needs and worker skills? Both.

It does the economy little good to have employers unable to compete globally; it does society little good to have great numbers of unemployed; it does families little good to live in depression and exist on welfare; it does workers little good to lose pride of contribution and self-efficacy.

If you’re an employer who doesn’t believe you can afford to train or retrain–think again, because you can’t afford not to. Can you afford to lose customers while you continue to search for the ideal employee? Can you afford to cut back on services while you search?

If you’re a worker who doesn’t believe you can afford to update your skills or retrain for another industry, think again…you can’t afford not to either. You must do one or more of these things:

1. Visit your local community college, and talk to a counselor; investigate their retraining programs for growth industries. Ask about loans and grant monies to pay for the training because it’s out there. It’s time to stop making excuses for why you can’t find work.

2. Get on the internet and find out what industries are growing and figure out your best path to invest in yourself and your (and your family’s) future. Visit The Occupational Outlook Handbook to determine what interests you, the education and training requirements for positions in that industry and how you can get that training. Another sound source of occupational information is O*Net; visit the site and investigate opportunities for a new direction.

3. Talk to a career coach or counselor to help you define a path. There are plenty of low-cost and no-cost services within any community if you look around. Check out faith-based and social service organizations; these are good sources of and good referrals for community career services.

Whether you’re an employer looking for skilled workers or a worker looking for stable employment, take another look at how you’re doing things. If you’re coming up short, making little headway in the employment marketplace and you want to dance, you have to pay the piper. Now’s the time.

Corporate Titanics

I’m getting it all off my chest today–about organizations leading their lemmings, oops employees, down a path and not recognizing and not caring because they (the organizations) believe they’re too big to fail. If you don’t want to hear it, stop reading now.

My business is helping people to navigate their careers: set their direction and sail toward it while aligning with their organization’s mission. I meet folks all the time who are capsized by the organizations they are in, who are deceived (intentionally or by omission) and whose companies are led by Captains Titanic, industrial age business tycoons who forget that they’re sailing the ship, not the iceberg. So some of my work includes connecting people to business reality, and all of it allows them to shift beliefs and behaviors in order to take responsibility for their career direction. So, I’m all for people taking responsibility for themselves…that hasn’t changed.

A sinking ship

A sinking ship

But you, CaptainsTitanic, you know who you are. [Just in case: C-level, VP and Directors, managers and supervisors, and project leads, this means you.) So, read on.

The way organizations (yours, too, probably) deal with work and job boxes and bodies–directly and indirectly–is nothing short of outlandish. You have jobs, stuffed in boxes along with the people who do them, and when things change (as they do daily and weekly) the boxes and the people have to change, too. When the square pegs no longer fit the round holes, they’re gone. Yet, those very people are your assets in this economy. Rather than change your thinking, you swap out the expensive assets for cheap ones, you cut resources yet expect customer service to stay the same. It’s kind of like the Titanic sailing with not enough lifeboats for all the passengers: people really believed that the ship couldn’t sink. (Exceptions include Cisco, Deloitte & others of course, but are terribly few and far between.)

Your organization does a huge disservice to employees every day by:

1. lying to them;
2. giving them a false sense of security; and
3. abusing them emotionally and mentally.

Lying. Direct or by omission.
How many organizations have you heard spout “our employees are our most important product!” even while the business direction treats those employees as expendable expenses? I’d call that lying.

How many organizations tell their employees, either via executive ‘town halls’ or through email, that while the economy is bad, we’re doing OK and we won’t be laying off employees? How many tell their employees that the economy is hurting us, but we’ll do everything in our power to avoid lay-offs? And then turn around and announce several rounds of layoffs that “can’t be avoided”? I’d call this lying. Few organizations do everything they can to avoid layoffs because that’s the simplest, easiest, most direct way to cut the expense line in the financials. Other options that many organizations don’t even consider (did yours?) include job sharing; shortening hours; voluntary unpaid leave; eliminating raises; asking for employee participation in solutions. Wall Street (why do we still even care??) loves to see fast financial improvements for the sake of the shareholders and the stock price, rewarding short-term and short-sighted decisions at the expense of the long-term viability of the organization. But the options all take too long.

grown in the dark

grown in the dark

Lies of omission are a little different: leaders say little or nothing before or after layoffs, so everyone’s left wondering ‘am I next?’; they don’t educate employees to the reality of today’s business economy–they don’t tell people what’s at stake, how competitors are ‘eating our lunch,’ how the industry is changing and requiring new skills, etc.; they don’t tell employees about how customers are changing and requiring new products, services and care. [Years ago, a cartoon drawing was circulated around offices about employees being treated like mushrooms… I’d say it’s still relevant.] By expecting people to change by osmosis or to become more productive because ‘everybody knows how bad things are,” you’re like Captain Titanic wearing the darkest of glasses.

That false sense of security.

When you give someone a paycheck every 2 weeks whether they do their best or not, just for showing up, you’re reinforcing their sense of security. I know it’s how things are done, but to reinforce security that’s no longer there is harmful. It prevents people from being responsible and sends the message that their security comes not from hustle (the person) but rather from showing up (the daddy). [Read my April 15 post, Who’s Your Daddy? for more on this.] If you want improved productivity, then do it right: pay for performance, have everyone participate in 360 feedback, require learning and skills upgrades, foster employee engagement and get crystal clear about expectations.

When you require performance reviews for every employee once a year and expect that every manager knows how to do this well, you’re reinforcing false security. First of all, managers who don’t like to do this or don’t know how put this off as long as possible and give it as little thought as possible. If you provide no training on effective feedback, then the manager thinks his/her approach is OK. Any one who gets a review expects to be told what their weaknesses are and what they need to do to improve. If their manager doesn’t tell them, then their expectation is that ‘my work is fine, I don’t need any training or improvement.’ This thinking reinforces sitting back and waiting to be told what to do with no concern for new learning. And frankly, in this economy, that’s the last thing you need your workers to be thinking.

Emotional and mental abuse.
I’m calling your (outsizing, downsizing, rightsizing) treatment of employees “abuse” because of the devastation you inflict, probably without even knowing it. And you hide behind “it’s a business decision.” It may be fast and convenient for you, but this is one business decision that’s bad…it’s not financially sound. The costs outweigh whatever financial gains you think you make.

Fifty and sixty-year old men and women tear up when talking about being let go and thrown into a job hunt in this economy and within a society that dismisses experience in favor of ‘cutting edge’ and values ‘inexpensive’ above all else. When you don’t communicate with your employees, when you give them false feelings of security, when you first cut budgets that maintain and improve employee skills and education, and when your response to a financial challenge is to cut heads, you are treating your workers like machines that can be idled and started up again when things turn around. We left that economy a long time ago.

You might even provide outplacement services of a few weeks or months for employees, in an effort to assuage your guilt. Leading them to think (and believing yourself) that a good resume and a place to meet with a counselor is going to provide the support needed to land again is 1) short-sighted; 2) ignorant; and 3) cruel. The first time a worker submits a resume for that “perfect fit” and doesn’t get a call because the HR person had to sort through 400 resumes, you have contributed to the results of abuse: lack of confidence, low sense of self-worth, ineffectiveness when it’s needed most; and a steep learning curve to learn how the market really works. Mentally and emotionally, when people are tossed into the market place they automatically revert to the job-search skills and the beliefs they’ve always held. Both are outdated and extract a considerable price from even the strongest person.

I will always say personal responsibility is critical to security and success, and particularly today in an unsettled, highly-competitive economy that is global in scope. But it’s time that organizations pick up their responsibilities and shift the messages they continue to feed employees, through intention or ignorance. The sooner organizations begin to support their employees in learning how to stay on top of the information and service economy, the sooner those employees will ‘pay it back’ in action, initiative and engagement with customers.

Could it be so bad if all stakeholders win?

Mentors: Have one? Want one?

Mentoring has risen to the top this week. In addition to presenting a workshop for a new association program, I was approached about creating a webinar; the topic has cropped up in several conversations as well. Believing in synchronicity, I expect there’s a good reason it’s gaining new interest: mentoring is needed.

It’s hard to find a mentor.
One person’s perception is their truth, although I suspect that there is a much broader application of this statement. Do any of these outdated beliefs apply to you?



>you’re too busy (or think you are) to be a mentor;
>the mentor has to approach you;
>going after a mentor admits a weakness;
>offering to be a mentor would send an undesirable message, i.e. you need one;
>you have to be older and very experienced to be a mentor;
>mentoring is ‘out of vogue’; it’s really just common sense anyway.

Lots of excuses and misperceptions get in the way of really helpful relationships. If you’d like a mentor or if you’d like to be one, don’t let any of these misguided beliefs stop you!

What if you get turned down?
Yep, what if you do? The sun will still rise tomorrow and you can regroup. Really, chances are slim that you’ll be turned down if you ask someone to mentor you. Here’s why:

1. When you ask someone to be your mentor, it’s flattering. Everyone likes to be appreciated and considered valuable, and when you ask “Would you be willing to mentor me in this skill?” you’re recognizing expertise.
2. When you offer to serve as a mentor, it’s also flattering. You’re saying that you see value in the individual and you want to assist in their development.

How do you get started?
Why not become part of an existing mentorship program to learn the rules of the road? Whether it’s a program through a Boys & Girls Club or one through a college, the experience will give you information and skills that you can apply to personal mentoring. If your employer or your professional association has a program, get involved in that. These types of more formal programs provide some structure and tested approaches that foster success.

Regardless of where you live, chances are good that a local non-profit association would welcome you into their program as a volunteer mentor. This is a great opportunity to give to the community while learning structure, expectations and skills that make mentoring relationships thrive.

Short of finding an already-up-and-running program, you can get a mentor or be a mentor without one. You just have to wanna and go after it.

If you want a mentor, decide what you want to learn or what skill(s) you want to develop. Define 2 or 3 people who are effective at these things, and collect your thoughts. Approach your first choice, being polite, concise and clear with your request:

“You appear to be a master at making presentations seem effortless, and if I could do that it would strengthen my value to my organization. Would you be willing to mentor me and help me improve? If so, I’ll be happy to work within your schedule and follow your suggestions for development. I’m serious about learning from you and will keep all commitments I make.”

This makes it clear that you’ve thought about initiating the conversation, you recognize the “give and take” of the mentoring relationship, and you respect the mentor’s abilities as well as their time. In a couple of sentences, you’ve proposed a learning relationship that will be satisfying for both.

What do you have to lose?
Mentoring is a one-on-one, customized way to grow your skills and get the knowledge needed to stay on top of the changes in your workplace. Whatever you learned in your last training class or degree program gets outdated pretty quickly…as the global market continues to innovate, you and your organization must change to keep up and move ahead. Don’t ignore the learning you can get easily, informally and through “master practitioners” whose expertise ensures that you bridge the gap between theory and application. Really, what do you have to lose? And what do you have to gain?

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it: tell us your best mentoring story and pass along your wisdom–you can be the catalyst for someone else!

Who’s Your Daddy?

A Toby Keith song to be sure, but more importantly in today’s economy a question for you around your work and career.

Has your Daddy let you down? Are you an unemployment statistic? Were you thinking that you were immune to downturn, and that layoffs happened to other people…with less experience, tenure or value? And then, surprise, your Daddy let you down!

When you don’t own your career, when someone else makes your employment decisions, you’re giving that someone else your economic buttons. You are a child awaiting the decisions of your Daddy. And most workplace Daddies out there are practicing ‘tough love’ for the benefit of shareholders at the expense of employee-stakeholders.


Not even 20-somethings who move back home for the stability and care-taking by Mom & Dad give up as much, and they certainly aren’t ruled by fear. What is it about taking responsibility for work direction that is so heinous that people prefer to live in fear? Whether you’re inside waiting or outside looking, few employers offer any security or even stability and fear breeds fear. [And, No! I’m not encouraging everyone to become an entrepreneur; I’m encouraging you to take ownership of your career growth and direction-setting.]

Taking responsibility for your own work direction may not be easy (in the sense that it’s unknown), but do you really think it’s any harder than sending out resumes day after day or living for a phone interview and then not hearing anything for 3 or 4 weeks? Is it any harder than learning that you are “overqualified” or “underskilled” or just one of 300 resumes in a stack? Is it any harder than knowing that retirement isn’t just around the corner and that you won’t easily find another position based upon your Director or VP job title? Do you really think it’s harder than waiting for the next round and hoping your layoff notice isn’t part of it?

Wake up!
If you really think that you’ll find the stability you’re seeking in your next position–for sure–then you are clowning around with your livelihood. You have tunnel vision, and you’re living on false hope. Attributed to anonymous, this says it all:

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Be your own daddy.
Most people working today don’t know who they are, really, although to admit that takes some courage. [‘Who you are’ is also called your foundation.] Of course you know who you are, how could you not? Well, the fact is that we aren’t ever encouraged to get clear on it, we’re only encouraged to adapt to others’ foundations. Every organization you’ve ever been in has expected you to fit in, and you have. You might not have liked the values of the school, group or employer or how they did things, but somewhere along the line you learned “go along to get along.” We all do.

This worked fine when stability was a sure thing. It’s not any more. Without a single organization to tell you who you are, where you fit, and what you’re worth, chances are good that you don’t know. It’s not difficult to find this out: it’s really more about becoming very conscious of it, but it takes a bit of work. And it’s infinitely more productive with someone objective who can guide you through the process.

When you get very, very clear on who you are and what you’re about, you are your Daddy so can make decisions that fit–you have your “benchmark” against which to measure them. Your foundation is the defining factor, so when you know it, you can make decisions and know with certainty that they are right for you.

Clarify this benchmark.
To get clear on this measure, you discover the themes that are at the center of your being. Begin by exploring the threads that you’re sure to find in your answers to questions like these:

>>What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t or couldn’t fail?
>>What cause is so important to you that (to support it) you would work for nothing?
>>What motivates you…makes you jump out of bed to get going?
>>What are you putting up with…going along to get along?
>>What do you want your tombstone to say?
>>If you had no constraints on time or money, how would you live your life?
>>What does your intuition say about your life’s work?

Now look through your responses and see what words and phrases and ideas are repeated or are reflected throughout. These will be themes or threads around what’s important to you…about what defines you, and is the beginning work of clarifying your foundation. Add to this your values, talents and deep motivations, and you’re on your way to having your benchmark! With it, you make career decisions that are truly best for you and that won’t let you down.

The 3 R’s: A Sure-Bet for Career Stability

Let’s pretend you work for a large corporation and so far, so good: your organization has only done some restructuring and the “L” word (layoffs) hasn’t come up. But then you come in to work and your cubicle partner says her email isn’t functioning, and you respond that yours works just fine. She calls for support and finds out that the reason it doesn’t work is that she is on a severance list…she’s been laid off.

Word spreads like wildfire, the press gets wind of it and finally your employer announces the layoff of hundreds of people…long after the volcanic ash has coated everyone in the workplace. So, you’re one of the “survivors” who now has 2.5 jobs and whose morale is in the basement. You’re so very aware that “it could have been you” that you can barely breathe, let alone function; your emotional brain is in high gear; your fear and anxiety are probably running the show, even though you have no facts about your own position. At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, your rational brain takes over:”calm down and breathe. Let’s think about this. Let’s not be hasty.” The sooner your rational brain kicks in, the sooner you can take an honest look at your situation and make some decisions.

When it does, your only sure bet involves the 3 R’s of Career Stability: Responsibility, Resilience and Self-Reliance. When you take it upon yourself to practice the behaviors of each, you expand your work/career options, develop the confidence to take authentic action steps, and determine how you can cultivate stability in an unstable world.


R#1: Responsibility.
Career responsibility means that you take it on. It’s similar to taking responsibility for your family: you take care of making sure they are well; or your house: you maintain it and improve it to keep its value high. So this is about taking care of your career, maintaining and improving it so it remains a valuable asset. You no longer wait for your manager or someone else to tell you what you need, what your strengths and weaknesses are, or what will make you more valuable. You do the due diligence to find this out for yourself…and then you act on what you find.

Taking Responsibility also includes:
*finding mentors in your organization who will help you increase your value;
*paying attention to the bigger picture: staying focused on your organization’s direction and growth areas;
*being more visible and valuable in your workplace than you may ever have been: look for projects and ways to make your work and your team’s work more, better, faster and visible;
*asking your manager, project leaders, peers and customers at every opportunity to give you suggestions for improvement.

In short, you no longer abdicate your career responsibility to your manager or the “the leadership” just because it’s always been that way. You ‘cowboy up’ and take the bull by the horns, learning how to devise your career plan and path. If not you, who?

R#2: Resilience.

Resilience means handling adversity that comes your way with strength and efficacy. Resiliency isn’t so much about what actually happens to you as to how you interpret what happens to you.

Your response to a workplace adversity is based upon how you see, or interpret, the situation. So, you could interpret your cubicle partner’s lay-off in several ways and how you interpret it determines your response. You can see it as a sign that you are next, and so your anxiety controls your work…your productivity bottoms out and your quality is non-existent. Or, you can see the lay-offs as a sign that your organization is in deep trouble, and you immediately intensify your efforts to find a more stable employer: you use work time to search Monster and Career Builder and to run additional copies of your resume. No productivity or quality from you with this response, either.

Yet another option: you choose to look at the lay-offs as a time when your customers need your best skills more than ever and you spend additional time and patience on every customer call. As a result, you show an increase in sales for the quarter. This response = good results for you and the company.

Career resilience is about bouncing back from work adversities, those affecting you directly or indirectly. You choose to be confident that you make a difference, and so you improve your service quality and productivity in the face of disappointments. You intentionally work at being more flexible and change-capable so your contributions matter.

R#3: Self-reliance.

Self-reliance is about taking care of your career and not expecting someone else to do so–regardless of how it’s always been. It means you don’t expect your manager to tell you what new skills or improvements you need; you assess your current skills and abilities and judge whether they are ‘top notch’ or need improvement. Talk to your best co-worker, the one whose job is like yours and who sets the bar for everyone. Ask that person to give you feedback on how your skills measure up. (Scary, I know.)

Or maybe you seek out a career advisor who can help you research the best practices and skills within your functional area. Connect with your Alumni Association to see if there are assessments available for alumni or to connect you with other alumni in your industry. When you know how you measure up (or don’t), take classes so your skills are cutting-edge. And, yes, pay for them yourself! You invest in your house, why not in you?

Now it’s your turn: tell me what you think and how you practice 1 or all 3 R’s of career stability and what benefits you have experienced from doing so. Your learning will help other readers…looking forward to hearing from you!


Hold up your end of the seesaw

We usually move into a job with a win-win perspective, where the match appears to be a solid one, where we can contribute and be compensated in return. It’s kind of like climbing onto a seesaw: picking a partner with whom we balance makes for a good ride. Seesaws only work when both players hold up their end.


In some organizations, those where employees are treated as assets instead of expenses, the seesaw ride continues: employees contribute continually and grow the bottom line, and employers provide recognition, support and the opportunity to make a difference in the world. These are the workplaces that know how to foster an engaging environment where people want to do their best. And their results show it.

In other organizations–most, unfortunately–employees are valued as expenses and at the first sign of a cloud (to say nothing of rain!), the employer hops off the seesaw and the employee hits the ground– hard. These are workplaces that choose not to care for their assets. And their results show it.

So let’s ignore for a moment whether organizations “should” develop workplaces that engage employees. Of course they “should”: especially when turnover costs big bucks, and it’s the brain power of the individual that drives business success. Be that as it may, most organizations are stuck in the robotic practices of the industrial economy…so here’s a thought:

As an employee, why don’t you stop waiting?

You change the dance. If you change your steps, your partner must change, too! (It does take 2 to tango.) Until you become engaged and thus a very strong business partner, your butt stays on the ground end of the seesaw!

Here’s how you can right that seesaw:

1. Learn to ask for feedback and feedforward.
Asking for what you need empowers you. Learn to request feedback or comments on your work, your piece of the project, your customer response. If the comments don’t tell you how to measure improvement, then ask for it.

Better yet, practice ‘feedforward’ and focus on solutions rather than on rehashing mistakes. Select a behavior you want to improve and ask your manager and peers for 2 suggestions on what you can do in the future. Take notes on what they say, and no ‘yes, buts’ are allowed: you can only say ‘thank you!’ (Credit to Marshall Goldsmith for this.)

2. Learn how your job matters.
Ask your manager, ask co-workers, ask the person who receives your work until you understand what it provides to the customer and the organization. When you know, you can think about that work and how to provide an even better product or service. Once you work at improving your customers’ experience, you can take pride in the results and the difference you make. This satisfaction is critical for your continued success as well as the organization’s. Your value– improved results–becomes obvious.

3. Learn the business.
You can’t be a good partner until you know your partner. While you have a job description, doing it in a silo is both ineffective and short-sighted. Who are your customers? What are their challenges and needs? What is it about your business that made them choose you over your competitors? Who are your competitors and what do they offer that your company doesn’t? Where are the best business development opportunities? How can you become an ambassador for your organization?

Then, take a look at the financial picture. Learn to read the income statement. How does the sales revenue trend? What’s the profit margin and how does that compare to industry benchmarks? How about the general and administrative expenses? If this trend is going the wrong way, you can choose to do something about it. If you don’t know the business, your butt is gonna stay on the ground.

4. Learn what’s happening in your industry.
If you know how your industry is changing and your competitors are responding, you can make a difference in moving your company toward being competitive. If you don’t, you are waiting. This post is about doing! Search the internet for information, read trade publications, attend industry meetings (on your own nickle, even!), talk with your co-workers in business development and sales, ask for updates from others who have industry contacts, etc. There are lots of ways to learn what’s happening in order to make a difference, so just pick a few and get moving.

5. Learn where your talents can best support the organization.
It might be in your current position, or it may be in another area. In order to figure this out, you need to know what your talents are and how those strengths play out in your work. Take the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment online and implement the report suggestions. Talk to a career professional who can help you leverage your talents. The sooner you align your strengths with the organization’s work, the sooner your contributions will make a noticeable difference.

So rather than waiting, why not hold up your end of the seesaw? What’s in your way? Drop a note and let us know!

Take the bull by the horns


You’re thinking that even as you read this. We all do…we’re so busy and stressed that anything that takes our attention and time is measured by What’s In It For Me? And, if the answer is ‘not much’ or if it takes more than a few minutes, you (like all of us) are on to the next shiny silver bauble. The task that gives you the WIIFM answer quickly or deeply is where you stay.

So, the business that answers this question for their customers, keeps those customers. Pretty simple. The exception, of course, is the business that has captive customers…I mean, if they don’t have a choice, they’ll stay because they have to. DMV? Utilities providers? You know what I’m saying.

I’ve come to believe that businesses must not really get this. And, employees don’t either. They don’t make the connection between “the work I do” and “the success of my company.” If they did, a lot more employees would really care about the service or product they provide to customers. They would want to get better because they know that customers are a fickle lot, and customers make or break. Employers would be doing everything in their power to ensure their work environments foster excited and connected employees…because connected employees make for connected customers. That means happy, loyal, returning.

The opposite is true, too: disconnected employees make for disconnected customers. Lots more employees are disconnected from their work than are connected. And, that’s bad. The facts:

**Employers lose over$750 Billion annually in work they pay for but isn’t delivered by employees.
**Employees admit to over 2 hours daily of work time wasted on things other than work. (source:

Come on, take the poll…WIIFYou is that you can be anonymously honest!

Whether you’re an employer or an employee, the above statistics are sobering with respect to the work of keeping customers. And, lest you think this is some kind of anomaly, The Gallup Poll people back this up. For the last 15+ years, Gallup has measured how connected people are to their work across industries, functions, levels and size of organization. The results are dismally consistent. In the U.S., for example:

**29% of employees are engaged in their work;
**55% of employees are not engaged in their work; and
**16% of employees are actively disengaged in their work.

The worst part? U.S. numbers are better than many other countries!

Look at the last two categories this way: those not engaged are “seat warmers” and those actively disengaged are “seat burners.” So, the 16% in the last group are employees who actively work to sabotage the organization. The 55% in the middle group do only what they have to with the least amount of time and effort.

Another way to look at it: for every $1 given out on payday, the organization has received in return $.29 cents of great work; $.55 cents of mediocre or half-baked work; and $.16 cents of destructive work toward keeping and growing customers.


When you care about your work, you care about your customers and how you deliver to them. When you’re engaged, you can be 30-35% more productive, and your company can see a 27% increase in profitability. This is a plus for the company and one for you…a win-win.

What can you do right now?

1. Decide that you are going to do your best work every minute of every day. That may mean listening to a customer with more empathy. It may mean offering to assist a co-worker who is involved in a challenging project. It may mean going to your manager and asking for additional work that stretches you or that no one wants. It may mean looking around and finding work that will ‘duct tape’ your customers to you and keep them coming back.

2. Look for ways to cut expenses and to get better at what you do. How can you complete your job in less time or use a better process? How can you improve the quality of what you deliver: more accurately, thoroughly, productively? How can you challenge your team to improve service delivery? Where can you cut waste by doing something differently from “the way it’s always been done”?

3. Take every opportunity to talk to your customers. Ask what it would take to be a more satisfied customer. Ask how you could do your job better. Ask if another area of your company could improve its response or quality. Then act on what they say! The only thing worse than not asking your customers is to ask them and do nothing with what they tell you.

WIIFYou? You’ll contribute to the greater good; you’ll increase your own satisfaction with your customer connections; you’ll take responsibility for work and career development; and you’ll create stability and growth for your organization.

Take the bull by the horns and everybody wins.

Are you Blind to Job Security?

I’m appalled and saddened as many are with the state of the employment market. I have good friends in bad straits. Their fear (along with most of the unemployed) is palpable and often overwhelming.

Many of them have been laid off from a place where they’ve spent 10, 20, 30 years. It’s not a hard and fast correlation, but often the longer the employ, the greater the shock. Add to that outdated job search skills, and the recipe makes for a frightening time in life, especially for those with homes and kids and all the bills that come with them.

Others, more savvy perhaps but out of work nonetheless, are dealing with their 2nd or 3rd or 4th lay-off in as many years. The leg-up they have is that they know the drill and likely suffer less paralysis.


Lost amid all of the finger pointing about job loss and the urgency to find another one is this fact: responsibility for one’s livelihood belongs to the individual. We aren’t guaranteed work, in fact we “apply” for work…meaning we go after it, knowing that we may or may not get it. And, if we don’t get one position, we “apply” for the next. In the process, we’re on our best behavior, boning up on the organization and doing enough homework to sell ourselves as the best person for the job. How is it then that after awhile (a few months? years?), our focus on “apply” is gone and entitlement sets in? We conveniently forget that there’s no guarantee.

Who out there searching for a job hasn’t been seeing signs of a very different workplace–for maybe the last 10 to 20 years? Who in the search hasn’t also been in an industry that has cut back and outsourced jobs over the last 5 to 10 years? Who in the search is part of the 4th or 5th round of cutbacks, rather than the first 3, and has been lying low…until now?

The clues have been there for years, but most people choose to wear blinders. And it’s the blinders to reality that have many job seekers in their current precarious positions.

As I’ve facilitated monthly Execunet meetings over the years, I continue to be amazed at two things that occur over and over again. One, when people say they’re looking for their next position, they often add “preferably a secure one” where they won’t have to “do this again,” i.e. network with people they don’t know. And second, someone will introduce themselves saying they’ve been downsized by XYZ company and are looking for a connection into ABC company, a target in the same industry. Inevitably, another attendee on the other side of the room will stand and say they have been downsized by ABC company and are looking for a connection into XYZ company, and so want to connect with the first attendee! Like the horse, their blinders let them hide from reality.

Job security is possible, all right, but YOU must create it. No one else can do it for you, and an organization is not going to look out for your security. The organization doesn’t have any security, either, and it can’t give what it doesn’t have! Most organizations are reinventing, restructuring, downsizing, rightsizing, and renewing in order to keep up or maybe stay a little ahead of constantly changing markets…so you are responsible for yourself. Get used to it.

So, how? Whether you’re searching for your next position or you’re living with the fantasy, begin to create your own security this way:

1. Upgrade your skills and/or learn new ones. “Lifelong learning” isn’t just for kids; it’s for everyone. If you work, then you must be relevant, and in order to be relevant you have to upgrade. “Maintaining” doesn’t cut it anymore. There will never be a perfect time, so start now. Check out your local community college and your professional association web sites to see what offerings will round out your skill set or give you new ones. Talk to career advisors about what you want to do and get their suggestions on learning and training opportunities.

2. Learn your value. Then increase it. It’s not in your past or current job titles, and it’s not the writing or paper shuffling you do or the meetings you attend. Your value is the results you create for an organization and its customers. Results are measurable, and you must know yours.

Start with your current or most recent position and identify a project you worked as well as the actions you took; then, determine results. There’s a reason for the project: what is it? To improve call center productivity by x%? To increase new client development by y%? To reduce expenses by z%? Whatever the outcome, this is your value to any organization. Going forward, track your contributions and work to increase them…the more valuable you are, the more marketable you are. Period.

So, if you’re wearing them, take off your blinders and create your own security. If you’re not sure, take a look around and be clear about what’s happening in your company. Either way, just do it…and start now.

Are You Melting Your Wings?

A lot of careers aren’t very intentional, they’re really accidental. Who do you know–yourself included–who has moved from position to position, better title, more money, different responsibilities, usually up, because someone else defined the move? Given this kind of “my career just happened” situation, is it any wonder that people who find themselves out of work in this economy think that they’re victims? If you never took responsibility for your moves, and just moved when something came along, it’s no wonder that you’re surprised when the move is “out.”

Way back in the 20th century, entrusting your economic livelihood to your employer was comfortable and safe. It was actually smart–the best way to get ahead was to align with your employer’s expectations, be loyal, put in your time, and trust that you were being tracked to something better.

An article from the Harvard Business blog, Businesses and the Icarus Paradox, ( provides an eye-opening analogy for business, but also for the career-fear in today’s employment market. Icarus was a figure in Greek mythology who made wings of feathers and beeswax and so was able to fly. Excited with his success, Icarus ignored warnings about flying too close to the sun. When he did, of course, the beeswax melted and Icarus’ wings fell to earth–and so did he.

The ‘Icarus Paradox,’ then, is this: what made Icarus successful also led to his downfall. His success led to his overconfidence, his blindness about what might be dangerous to his ability to fly.

With respect to jobs and careers, the very thing that made for success at work–depending upon the organization to provide–is now blinding people to the dangers of holding onto this thinking.

This blindness is creating a workforce that sees themselves as victims when it is really their refusal to deal. (Note: whether it’s stubbornness or ignorance, either is a refusal since changes have been plentiful for a long time.) It’s this refusal to deal with the challenges of a changed economy that has landed us in and continues the current mess. Businesses are at fault, too, but it is a shared responsibility. It’s time for both to take the blinders off.

Victims, by definition, are those who suffer from a destructive or injurious action or those who are deceived or cheated. While every business that is downsizing may not have proclaimed its economic problems, it’s difficult to see employee cut-backs as destructive, injurious, deceptive or cheating. Dumb, maybe, but not intentionally harmful to the individuals involved. If anything, businesses implement cuts because that’s the way they have always reacted to economic hard-times: cut expenses by starting with the biggest expense–labor. That reaction, in the industrial economy, served business well and didn’t do much, if any, long-term harm. When the economy improved, the business just restarted a line, increased production and continued its growth via that Industrial business model.

For businesses and workers, flying this model melts wings.

I remember my Dad working in the winters for Willis Jeep in Toledo and being laid off during slow times. He didn’t proclaim himself a victim, but he did have 2 or 3 other things lined up for when the slow times came. He sold products, he sold services, and he farmed. When the harvest didn’t provide the income needed, he moved to Plan B and even to Plan C. He developed his best strategy for his work/career path in order to succeed in the economy.

So if your wings are melting, what are you doing about it?

If you’re in an organization:

*How are you taking responsibility for retooling your skills?
*How are you taking the lead in collaborating with others to attract new and returning customers for the business?
*How are you providing a higher level of customer service, both to your internal and external customers?
*What new projects are you leading and who are you mentoring?
*What else are you doing to keep away from the sun— to toss out the old ways that don’t work anymore?

And if you’re looking for your next career place:

*What new skills are you developing while you’re searching?
*What new ways are you using to market yourself?
*How are you tapping into the unpublished job market?
*What is your plan for taking responsibility for your work future–all 5 or 20 or 40 years of it?
*Who are you working with (coach, mentor) to move beyond your old ways of thinking? Without support, it’s easy to fly back into the sun when you land.

Your turn!

If any of this resonates with you, please leave a comment. Let us know how you’re staying away from the Icarus trap. Tell us what specific actions you are taking to keep your career wings strong. Your comment could be the wind for someone else’s wings!

The Elephant in the Room

Over separate lunches during the last week, I met with two of the most delightful people: bright, engaging, talented, energetic, professional–what smart business leaders would label as “talent we don’t want to lose.” But that isn’t the only thing these two young women have in common.

Both have been stymied, stopped, put off, turned away, and politically discouraged from doing anything that would “rock the boat,” step up their game, or be perceived by the powers-that-be as anything other than programmed robots waiting for direction. Their leaders like white bread, and their thinking doesn’t go beyond ‘how we’ve always done it,’ ‘now is not the right time’ and ‘we need to ride this out.’ This is head-in-the-sand water-treading at its best within a Fortune 100 and a Fortune 200 organization. Individual ambition and interest in contributing has been discouraged and belittled as untimely and inappropriate, and–whether spoken or unspoken–employees are expected to “trust us.”

This is probably a rant most accurately focused on large, heavy dinosaurs of organizations, but if it fits, and you’re not large, please step up and claim it. At least be honest with yourself.

I talked with a woman this morning about how employees are discounted as creative resources and shuffled like chess pieces while decisions are made around them; they are ignored, kind of like ‘The Elephant in the Room.’ Rather than utilizing the intelligence and expertise of people in the organization, leaders are using old-style “hunker down and wait this out, cut-our-losses” kind of thinking. They’re leading and feeding the uncertainty.

Every organization in existence is proud to claim that “people are our most important product,” or that “our people matter,” or “we’re nothing without our human capital.” And the dirty little secret (and it’s not even a secret!) is that those human resources are only expenses to be curtailed in order to make the next quarter’s financial expectations or minimize losses. Most capital is maintained and improved so the value increases, but not human capital.

Rather than using this time of economic uncertainty to regroup, develop these resources, realign and retrain, almost all organizations are pulling back, cutting the “expense” of honing the brains that make the business successful. Employers are sitting on their resources, all of them: time, money & people, waiting for the economy to come back. Well, news flash here: it’s not coming back! At least not the way most people are thinking. We are way beyond the 20th century when a recession was followed by something stronger that looked like more and better of the same.

We will see something stronger, but it won’t be more and better of the same…whatever the same is to your organization. The something stronger that we’ll see on the other side of this ‘downturn’ is of our own making, not of our own hiding…hiding under the radar, using the same tired industrial-era strategies to ride out the storm.

So organizations that don’t wake up sooner rather than later and deal with the Elephant in the Room, all employees who drive the business–and not just the ones in the executive suite–are losers in this economy. The Elephant that no one addresses is the collective brainpower going to waste, and the recognition that resources put toward sharpening that talent is the only intelligent way to create the future of the organization, at least any future worth having.

So you’re part of the Elephant…now what?

1. Stop waiting.
2. Start doing.

If your organization is like the one I’m describing, do you really think you’re safe if you do as you’re told, stay within your job box and wait? For what…for things to improve on their own? Do you think that keeping your head down will help you avoid the next round of expense control? Come on, open your eyes!

Get moving: look around and see what your company needs, figure out what your customers want. Where are business growth opportunities? What’s happening in the industry and with your company’s competitors? Where can new products or services increase customer loyalty? Who can you collaborate with on a project that can use your talents? Where can you step up and take ownership, increasing your value and partnering to strengthen your organization? What new training or learning will make you even more valuable to the business? Here’s a radical idea: pay for it yourself! It’s an investment in both your present and your future, and it won’t be wasted.

What’s holding you back? Fear? Of being a survivor and having your job plus those of three others who lost theirs? Or, leaving and knowing that you really don’t know your own value? Either way, stepping up and taking action is your only choice: waiting to be picked is an old-fashioned approach that won’t get you ahead and won’t keep you safe. Really: what do you have to lose?

Don’t Dance with this Career Saboteur

by Janine Moon

Careers used to happen this way: you paid your dues in one position, and awaited your promotion to the next. Your manager identified your career direction, often several different positions, and even if you were “fast tracked,” the organization controlled where and when. Whatever training you needed to move along your path was defined by your manager during your yearly performance review.

Career Saboteur # 1: you think it still works this way.

The economic changes that drive organizations don’t allow for much career planning, let alone a sense of direction for you. Every organization is focused on competition, its customers and an almost continual review of its business model in order to ride the rapids of the global economy. Look at it this way: if your organization isn’t doing this review, then your career direction may be the least of your worries!

This saboteur gives you the really false impression that waiting for career direction from your manager is appropriate…that’s how it’s done, that it would be frowned upon to take things into your own hands, that it’s somehow not up to you to sharpen your skills. Logic, on the other hand, tells you that the game has changed, but your distaste for change (especially initiating it) overcomes reason.

You own all the ideas in your head. Since you do, you can choose to change them if you want. This is one you must change!

Look around and see what your organization does with careers…if it does. Are you aware of openings or new business direction that fits your skills and experience? Do you get a once a year performance review, where your manager encourages you to ‘hang tight’ through this bumpy economy? Do you see consolidations, and activity in business units where your skills don’t lie? Can you look around and see that no career activity is happening and that you will be treading water in your same position next year at this time unless another reduction gives you more work and fewer resources or moves you to outplacement?

Whatever it is, acknowledge it…see it…and don’t let fear allow you to ignore it. Fear creates a paralysis that kicks your self-talk into high gear and reinforces your human desire to hunker down and do nothing…physical and mental homeostasis. That’s the last thing you need! Many workplaces are themselves in ‘hunker down’ mode where the modus operandi is scarcity, the word is be-glad-you-have-a-job, and development opportunities are only expenses to be cut.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to believe this, too, in order to be secure in your position. The only security you have is that which you create. Your best bet? Get outside yourself, get with a professional–a coach–who can provide an objective and reality- based view of the workplace to get you around the paralyzing self-talk and work environment.

Look around to find those who would be advocates and supporters. Are managers trained in how to help you figure out career direction? Who in HR will assist you to implement a career plan, to pick up new or expanded skills and to help you find a mentor or sponsor? Will someone assist you in defining new paths based upon your strengths? Can you develop relationships in growth areas so you might create project or shadowing opportunities?

Your task now is to figure out: Am I comfortable with someone else “taking care of” my career? Who has my best interests at heart? What would it take for me to begin to own my career now, to take steps to move in the direction that’s best for me?

What it usually takes is direction, strategy and accountability. You learn to shift your beliefs and habits to support that strategy. Once your direction is perfectly aligned with your talents, a coach can hold you accountable and support your success. The support helps you get where you want to go, and to avoid the victim-thinking that has sabotaged you up to this point.

Now: take just a minute and let me know what has popped into your head: I know your voice is saying “Yes, but…” Leave a comment and let me know what internal arguments keep you from moving ahead. Your comments will help me help you to uncover resources to move away from this career saboteur!

Is Career Ownership for You?

Let’s get right down to it: owning your career takes desire, effort and initiative. If you don’t have these things, or don’t want to invest in yourself, then this message isn’t for you. However, if you’re looking for economic security and work satisfaction in today’s incredibly unstable marketplace, then this is the only way to go.

Career ownership has several segments: knowing yourself; leveraging your strengths; learning your organization; aligning for results; and developing your business case. Each segment is critical for an optimum end result, but each one can stand on its own and move you closer toward a definite career path. We’ll look at the first segment today and others over the next weeks.

Knowing Yourself

We all think we know ourselves, especially after we’ve collected some work and life experience.  And maybe we do, but not usually on a very thorough or conscious level. And it’s the ‘conscious’ part that’s important.

You see, when you know yourself–who you are and what you’re about—  you can be authentic because you learn to recognize your truth. And without this truth of who you are, you’re afraid to be authentic because you’re measuring yourself using someone else’s benchmarks.  By reviewing values, motivators, talents, skills, successes, etc. and surfacing them (digging down and bringing them to awareness), you see themes emerge. These themes are clues to what is significant and important to you, and what work elements will prove satisfying. The themes and clues come together, intellectually and emotionally, and you know this as your life’s foundation. This foundation is the “bench mark” for measuring decisions, both personal and professional. When you can bump decisions up against your foundation, you know what fits and what doesn’t…you are no longer measuring against someone else’s values and perspectives. You can be true to yourself.

While we think we know ourselves, until we have gotten crystal clear, we have nothing solid with which to guide  our decisions…so they’re often ill-fitting.

Many people build their foundation upon the organization they are in. Whatever the organization values becomes the values they take on…it’s the price for sticking around. Maybe you recognize yourself in Mark. Mark has been with his organization for over 20 years and knows what flies and what doesn’t. He knows what is expected in order to be “successful,” and he knows what will make the execs shake their heads and mumble about him “not being a team player.” Mark also knows he is miserable. He’s fearful about staying and he’s afraid to leave, not really certain of what he would look for and unclear as to how he would avoid getting in a similar position.

So Mark is frustrated: if he stays, it’s likely more of the same. Yet he’s not very confident that he can find another position, better than the one he has. And, it’s scary out there. So he hunkers down and sells pieces of his soul, giving maybe 20% of his ability and not rocking the boat. Eventually, he could find himself with a stress level that takes physical and emotional tolls.

Knowing yourself means you go after work that fits ‘hand in glove’ with who you are…not a job, not a box, not a hope for something better than you’re leaving. (There’s a reason why the first 90 days or so is called the honeymoon period.) When you know your strengths and values, you can target organizations that need your capabilities and working together becomes a partnership where you both win.

This works inside an organization as well, and maybe even better…because you can more easily find information to help you build your case for career movement and have access to mentors and sponsors who will help you along the way.

But it starts with knowing yourself. Until you do the introspective work that makes your foundation clear, you know yourself through others’ perspectives. And, in the business world that’s often negative:  it’s the deficiencies and failings that get addressed. When you’re clear about your foundation, you can stay balanced and move forward with confidence.

How to do this? Hundreds of self-help books promise a process that works.  The key is in finding the one that works for you. You can talk with a trusted confidant or advisor, although the key here is finding someone objective enough to guide but not advise; to listen long and deep, but not talk. Online assessments can provide you with some reflection, but it’s not so true as looking inside yourself.

The best way? Work with a coach who has a process that helps you look deep, is trained in coaching skills (listening, discerning, querying, et al.) and who is objective. A qualified coach can help you work through blocks and examine your beliefs, and encourage you to think critically…not from emotion.

And yes, it will be an investment. But it’s an investment in the first day of the rest of your career, and the basis for creating satisfying work that makes a difference.

That Voice Inside Your Head

I went for my usual Sunday morning run with my friend, Mary, and we had a beautiful morning: the sun was out, it was over 40 degrees and for the first time in months we weren’t in thick ice or snow. We catch up while we run, so Mary mentioned her maddening run the day before: one of those where “the voice” inside your head (aka “the gremlin” sitting on your shoulder)  is whispering and whining loud and long in a tone that just won’t stop.

In Mary’s case, the voice was a stream of “you can’t do this,” “who do you think you are trying to run 7 miles?” “you can’t even run 2 minutes without stopping,” “your legs are miserable…give it up!” and, of course, “this hurts…your back, knees, hips: stop you’re killing us!”  The beauty of Mary’s story is that she ran through the voice and did the very thing she had set out to do. It’s so easy to listen to the voice and go to the place of comfort–to give in, to stay safe–wherever that is.

Do you know the voice I’m talking about? It’s the one that keeps you from moving forward with challenging or new things–telling you that the comfortable place you’re in is the right one, the safe one, the smart one. It says that change–any change–is going to be scary, hard, will make you look foolish, and you’ll fail.

A former client, Susan knows the gremlin well. We met for lunch last week several days after she finished the last exam in her paralegal program. Susan was a client 18 months ago, at a time when she didn’t like the work she was doing or the industry in which she’d spent 12 years. After introspection and research, Susan determined a direction that would use her strengths and provide real satisfaction. Her internet search found a premier program at a local university–it was convenient, affordable and it fit her schedule.

Once she discovered that option, Susan’s gremlin plopped itself on her shoulder and held on for dear life.

“You haven’t been to school for 25 years.” “You haven’t done any kind of studying for almost that long.” “How will you keep up with the younger students? “You probably won’t make it.” “Studying will take up all of your time–you won’t have a life.” “They won’t accept you…how embarrassing will that be?”

After wrestling with her gremlin, Susan took a baby step: she made a call to get some initial information. The information intrigued her and made it easier to push the voice aside, so she decided to talk to an advisor, someone who knew returning students. She took one small step at a time: application, interview, wait for acceptance.

Susan was thrilled when accepted, yet the voice came back feisty and persistent, creating nerves and angst and fear as the program started. But Susan had a goal, and she trusted herself enough to pursue the satisfaction she wanted and the change she desired.

What Mary and Susan both figured out is that the voice inside your head is yours: you create the thoughts, so you can change them! You’re in charge. The thoughts are strong since they’ve become habits. While it takes persistence and focus, you too can change those habits.

Well, this is a blog about careers, so what is your voice saying about yours? That you have to stay where you are with the economy and all? That the only smart thing is to suck it up and be happy you have a job? That you don’t have the skills to do anything else? That you’re too old (or, too experienced or too invested or too whatever) to make a change? That finding work you love is for other people, not people like you?

If that’s what your voice is saying, then listen up: Bunk! This kind of thinking lets you keep yourself small and under the spell of fear.

And this spell is one that doesn’t make you excited about your work; it doesn’t allow you to use your strengths every day; and it doesn’t move you toward making contributions that matter.  If you’re stuck in this thinking,  you’re defaulting down the easiest path, following your gremlin voice.

You don’t have to default, you know. When you own your career and take responsibility for your direction, you don’t have to “settle” any more. A different take on your career path, yes, but a realistic one for the 21st century work place.

Head on over…

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