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: Salary.com)

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, (http://tinyurl.com/d597jd) 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?