Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Negative Feedback Loops

For sure, like the one Fortune ran for their cover story in the May 16th issue way back in 2005 (50 and Fired) are attention grabbers designed to sell the magazine, but I wonder if those who read that piece or others like it these days come away feeling anything like I did.

What a downer! After reading it back then and checking out the look on the faces of some of the folks they featured, one would think that the only option if you were unemployed and over 50 is to adjourn to your garage, shut all the doors, fire up the car, and drift away listening to Stairway to Heaven!

Why bring all this up again now?  Because stuff like this tends to surface again and again depending on what the economy is doing at any given point in time.  The tougher the times the more the media seems to invest their time and resources into trying to make us all feel worse.  No wonder they call it a "negative feedback loop."

This isn't to say that there isn't rampant age discrimination in this country. Of course there is, just like there is rampant discrimination of about any flavor you want. It has all been around for far too long to be sure, but around none the less. The way that article came across one would think that there is simply nothing to be done and you might as well cash in your chips and head for HR department at Wal-Mart or Home Depot unless you are really into cultural stuff and want to be a guide at a local historic site.

Is age an issue? For sure! Is making a change easy? Absolutely not, but it is a long way from having to swallow a gun which is the impression one gets from articles like these.  What a disservice to the tens of thousands of people impacted by the recession, and the further up the organizational hierarchy one goes, the more the age factor comes into play.

As tough s it is, however, making a job change is really a process with which most of us (age notwithstanding) are all too familiar.  It is a sales process and for most people I know, in order to be successful in sales, you need to really believe in your product, understand how its features and benefits will help the buyer and even more importantly, understand the objections the buyer might have and provide the information and answers that help the buyer to see that their objection is really not the problem they might have thought.

This may be an over simplified way of stating it, but when you peel away the anxiety and fear of rejection that is inherent in any sales process, and which is even more pronounced when the product is "you," the fact remains that this is really what it's about.

Maybe I am overly sensitive because I'm 72 and still feel I am still a long way from having to be kick started in the morning. It also might be because the average age of ExecuNet members is 52, so we talk to 50 somethings all the time.

But most of all, I think it's because we hear from and talk to members every day who are telling us about how they moved on to their next gig, and we get pretty excited each and every time.

The most recent came just the other day when I got an email from a member (age: 60) who was writing to tell me that he was about to start his new job as the CFO for a pharma company in the Northeast or the member (age 58) who had accepted the CEO position at a consumer products company in California.

Bottom line, I think and hope those who are working as hard as they know how to get on with their lives and careers are way too busy to take the time to read something as de-motivating as the one that appeared in Fortune back then and continue to show up in other magazines, blogs, and 2 minute "reports" on the tube these days.

When one reflects on the challenges facing the country, especially in terms of the economic competition and the numerical advantages faced by the U.S. versus the more rapidly developing economies, you would think that as a nation we would want to take advantage of every ounce of experience we can lay our hands on.

But then this is the country where our elected officials seem to think they are helping people deal with all this by spending their waking hours doing nothing except wringing their hands and calling each other names.

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