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!