Monday, December 29, 2008

Making a "To Don't" List

As we all know, it is that time of year again when whether we like it or not, thoughts start running through our heads like "this really is going to be the year that I lose those 25 pounds, stop smoking, start seriously exercising, will swear off karaoke or will stop trying to over-think my football picks."

It's an easy list to remember because for most of us it's same list as last year.

So when I got my issue of The Executive Insider today I started to laugh when I read the subject line: Making a "to don't" list. I was chuckling for two reasons; first because knowing the wonderful sense of humor that our Editor-in-Chief Robyn Greenspan has I figured this was only something that would come from her quirky creative mind and second, I couldn't imagine where she was going with it which, of course, like any accomplished writer, was exactly what she wanted my reaction to be. As usual, she scored on both counts.

As I read through her "list" however my smile became more like the kind of look one gets when you read or hear something that resonates within and you say to yourself "wow, I wish I had thought of that because everything that's there applies to me and if I were smart enough and as thoughtful as Robyn, I could have and should have thought about these things myself." It's a heck of a list.

So it is in the spirit of sharing something I found both useful and thought provoking that I pass along Robyn's "to don't" list in case, like me, you had not yet moved beyond the weight loss and exercise stuff.

While everyone is compiling their resolutions and focusing on all the things to do in 2009, I am putting together my "to don’t" list — behaviors and actions I will hopefully stay away from in the new year. So, in 2009 I will NOT:
Set unrealistic or unfair expectations of myself.

Say, "yes" to everything without first assessing the emotional, professional, personal, karmic ROI.

Neglect to quickly give credit to the team.

Solely focus on short-term benefits unless it is a pathway to accomplishing long-term goals.

Get complacent.

Count on anything before it is a reality.

Forget to network because it often benefits someone other than myself.

Stop critically thinking, but refrain from always shooting holes in others’ ideas.

Always eat the goodies in the ExecuNet kitchen without bringing some to share too.

Lose sight of the fact that I can replace my job but not my family.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Global Trends Pressure Innovative Thinking

HSM is an organization which produces more than 60 events a year for senior executive leaders. Their events can and often are described as "must-attend" for CEOs and a gander at the agendas for their World Innovation Forum in May or the World Business Forum in October will quickly demonstrate what I mean.

One of their recent speakers was Andrew Zolli who is the founder of Z + Partners, a futures research and strategy consultancy, and curator of Pop!Tech, an annual conference devoted to thinking, science and technology.

If you are interested to discover how gifted this guy is, check out Global Trends Pressure Innovative Thinking.

With the economy in the shape it's in (if it even has a "shape" at this point, feels more like a blur at the moment)the insights of a thought leader such as Zolli make for very interesting reading.

If you are among those executives who currently find yourself "at liberty" as they used to say and are thinking of heading out on your own, you would do well to read Mr. Zolli's piece in its entirety. It won't take long, but there are some powerful "learnings" presented for those who are thinking they have an idea "whose time has come."

As a small business owner, and one who wanted to head out on my own some 20+ years ago when the notion of ExecuNet was playing out in my mind, Zolli's principles for building organizations that work came as a very impactful reminder in terms of the stars by which you want to guide your enterprise.

His belief is that such organizations must have missions that are "personal, tangible, present-focused and desirable." And he goes on to say:

The personal trumps the impersonal.
The tangible trumps the intangible.
The present trumps the past and future.
Desirability trumps responsibility.
Pretty good track to run on if you ask me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What Dad Said

Anyone who reads this blog can guess by the title of this post that yet once again I am "borrowing" someting from GL Hoffman better known as the "Dad" who blogs under the title of What Would Dad Say.

Well, believe it or not, I am not really "borrowing" this time around, but rather trying to add my voice to those of any number of other folks (e.g. Marshall Goldsmith, Penelope Trunk, Nick Corcodilos, et al ) who like myself were asked to review "Dad's" PDF book that officially comes out today.

The title of the book is Dig Your Job: Keep It or Find a New One and if you are a fan of Hoffman as I am, you will know that what he has put into this effort is time-tested wisdom sandwiched within layers of sophisticated wit.

Given the jobs numbers that came out over the weekend, and the forecast for '09, if there was ever a time we needed to be both thinking and doing when it comes to our careers this feels like it.

You can buy the eBook (PDF) for $9.99 or via Amazon for $7.99. Talk about a useful stocking stuffer.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lets Say Thanks

If you were looking for a way to do a bit of "giving" during this holiday season, here's something you might want to think about:

Xerox (full disclosure: I am an ex-Xeroid) is sponsoring a site that will print and send a holiday card to servicemen and women. You can just pick out the card that most appeals to you (they are desgined by school kids and are wonderful) and pick one of the draft messages or create your own, and they will print the card and send it.

You have no control over who will get it but then that's not really the point. The idea is to let the kids who are out there know that those of us who go to bed each night in comfort that they can only dream about (a) know they are there and (b) appreciate their service.

This site isn't about the politics, it's about the people.

Just click on and you are on your way.

P.S. And if you like the idea, there is nothing to stop you from sharing it with your network.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Best Email of the Day Award

...Goes to Peter Clayton, producer/host of Total Picture Radio. It needs no further commentary from me as it eloquently speaks for itself. Good on 'ya Peter.

"Capital goes where it's welcome and stays where it's well treated." Walter B. WristonDecember 9, 2008

Dear Dave,

When "The Citi Never Sleeps" ad campaign was first launched in 1978, Walter Wriston was running the place, and the motto had real meaning. Wriston was highly regarded, as was the institution he lead. Citibank / Citicorp was a cherished brand by its employees and a respected competitor in the financial services industry. Citibank had a unique, authentic, brand identity

Cut to today.

Although the current leadership of the company has recycled "The Citi Never Sleeps" slogan, it has completely lost its meaning and aspirational message. The image that comes to mind today of The Citi That Never Sleeps is a demoralized, poorly run behemoth losing billions of dollars chasing subprime riches, cutting thousands of jobs while trying to stay afloat.

In my opinion, the following excerpt from Bloomberg News is a typical move by a company with uninspired leaders disconnected from their employees:Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Citigroup Inc., the bank that's eliminating 52,000 jobs after getting a $45 billion government bailout, canceled its sponsorship of a New York holiday toy-train exhibit visited by more than 125,000 people a year. Dunham Studios, the Pottersville, New York-based operator of the 750-square-foot model railroad, was notified of Citigroup's decision last month, co-owner Clarke Dunham said in an interview. That means the free show that first went on display in 1987 at the Citigroup Center lobby may reach the end of the line on Jan. 2 unless another sponsor steps up or the bank reconsiders, he said. It also means Citigroup will save about $240,000.

"The difficult decision to discontinue this sponsorship was part of Citi's ongoing expense-reduction efforts," Citigroup said in an e-mailed statement. Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit, 51, announced on Nov. 21 that he wants to cut costs by about $2 billion per quarter starting next year." (You can read the complete text of Bradley Keoun's reporting here.)

Blah blah blah, Vikram. I've been engaged in a number of interviews focused on the importance of brands. Two recent examples -- John Gerzema, author of The Brand Bubble; and David Henderson, whose book, The Media Savvy Leader was just released.

According to David, "82% of shareholder value is intangible." According to John, one-third of all shareholder value is attributed to "brand.

"So here's an idea I'd like your help with: If we could find 24,000 Citibank employees willing to donate $10 each into a fund to "keep the trains running," it might give the employees of this beleaguered institution something to be proud of, and smile about. I bet through Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing, and Facebook we could mobilize enough Citibankers to take up the cause. Next year, the Holiday Trains at Citigroup Center exhibit could be "In memory of Walter B. Wriston." The fund could be set-up as an old-fashioned "Christmas Savings Account." What do you think

The Holiday Toy Train exhibit is operating this year at Citicorp Center. If you're in the City and have young children, its well worth a visit. Disclosure: From 1984 until 2000 I made a number of marketing, corporate image and employee motivation films for Citi, and produced an internal sales radio show "The Citibanking News Network" for twelve years.

Happy Holidays,

Peter ClaytonProducer/HostTotal Picture Radio

Sunday, December 07, 2008

So What Else Is New?

At some point last year I saw a report on a study that was conducted by Towers Perrin and which was reported by a Canadian newspaper. I thought it was pretty interesting despite the paper's understandable focus on the the study's stats as they related to Canada.

As I sometimes do, I saved the article and put it in what my wife likes to call "a nice safe place" which translated means I forgot about it and when I remembered it, I couldn't find it or remember where I put it.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend I stumbled across it again, and while the world economy today is vastly different than when this study was done (over a year ago) the basic "learnings" as they relate to employee retention still I think remain on very solid ground. Indeed, with the layoffs, etc., that we are seeing in the current environment, the retention of "A" players is even more important.

No matter what the environment, there is great truth to the notion that people (read employers) will always be willing to pay a premium for quality.

Here are some headlines in terms of what the study had to say:

Despite people's strong desire to become 'engaged' in their work, meaning they're willing to go the extra mile to help their company succeed, only 23% in Canada (vs 21% globally) are currently engaged at work. Of serious concern for management and investors, 32% of Canadian employees are partly to fully 'disengaged'. This highlights a significant gap - which Towers Perrin has dubbed the "engagement gap" - between the discretionary effort that people actually want to invest and companies' effectiveness at tapping into this effort to enhance business performance.

The study found that companies with the highest levels of employee engagement achieve better financial results and are more successful in retaining their most valued employees than companies with lower levels of engagement.

The study clearly demonstrates that the engagement gap poses an array of business risks. For instance, more than 80% of engaged employees believe they can and do contribute to the quality of products and services and to customer satisfaction. But only half as many of the disengaged share that view. Interestingly, the study reveals that Canadians embrace a more optimistic approach to their working life, with a slightly higher learning orientation compared to the global norms. For instance, 69% (versus 58% globally) stated they tend to invest time and effort beyond what is required, and 90% (versus 84% globally) said they enjoy challenging work that allows them to learn new skills.

"You can't hire or buy an engaged workforce - only leadership can build it," concludes Aselstine. "While employees want to invest more of themselves to help their employers, our study clearly concludes the onus to tap into this productivity reservoir lies with management's ability to cultivate an engaged and fully productive workforce. However, there is no 'one size fits all' solution.

So what else is new?

Additional detail about the Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study is available at

Friday, November 14, 2008

Feedback? Thanks but No Thanks

If you had to pick one word that strikes fear into the hearts of both the boss and the subordinate or the candidate and recruiter, "feedback" just has to somewhere near the top of the list.

Sure, all the books talk about how great getting feedback is, how important it is for our development, how much candidates want it so that they can learn from it going forward, and how much the recruiter wants to share it in order to try and help those involved in the interview process. Yada, yada, yada.

That, of course, is the ideal world. In the real world if you talk to most people, no matter what side of the feedback desk they are on, giver or receiver, most would tell you that they would rather have a root canal without Novocain.

All that said, the fact remains that no one has yet to come up with a reasonable substitute inside corporations for the performance appraisal process. To be sure, there are scores of different models both alpha and numeric most of which have ranges that go from 1-5, 1-10, and with all sorts of wonderfully descriptive terminology that goes from "walks on water" to "is drowning," to "should be drowned." Okay, usually much more diplomatic than that, but I am sure you get the point.

What got me on this kick recently was a post by Gerry Crispin one of the co-founders of CareerXRoads. The title of Gerry's rant was: Who is responsible for feedback? Certainly not the Lawyers. Gerry, among his many talents, has a gift for expressing things in writing, and it doesn't diminish when he's ticked off as he was here.

Of course Gerry has been around as long or longer than I have, and so he is very much aware of the "feedback" dilemma. We all want it, we all need, and most of us hate it. On the other hand, I think there are a lot of us who are much better at what we do and how we do because somewhere along the way someone had the courage to tell some stuff that we really weren't all that excited to hear.

If we work in organizations of any size, then most of us get some formal feedback because, as I say, no one has come up with a better system to try and distinguish between levels of performance in a formal fashion. We all also know, of course, that the informal systems have been doing stack rankings of their own long before there were more structured ways.

My point in all of this is simply this: Given the degree of difficulty that any organization I have ever been associated with has had in providing feedback when there is a structured system in place, expecting the recruiting world to provide it to people they basically don't know is a dream that is not likely to come true any time soon.

At the very least, it makes the giver of feedback uncomfortable trying to share what at the end of the day is their subjective opinion and at worst, they don't want to do it because they are worried about law suits or God forbid someone going postal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Generation A

It might seem a bit weird to be writing about hiring talent at a time when the numbers of announced job reductions seem to rise about as fast as the clock that tracks the national debt, but as bad as the employment landscape is likely to be for the next year or two, the fact of the matter is that organizations will still be looking for talent. Indeed in the current environment one could easily make the argument that the need for "A" level talent and leadership is more important than ever.

If you are like me, the alphabet soup of X's, Y's, Millennials, Boomers, etc. about which we read almost daily can get fairly confusing in very short order, and when you couple the definitions of these generational cohorts with what turns one on and the other off, it often feels like you need to do a DNA analysis before you dare start an interview.

As is so often true with subjects that tend to take on a "flavor of the month" feel, it usually takes someone who not only is steeped in the industry but as importantly can translate his knowledge in a way that value adds to the discourse in order to make really telling points. Based on such a description, those who roam around the staffing space would immediately think of Pete Weddle.

A recent article in Pete's newsletter which he called Generation A got me to thinking yet once again about the challenges of hiring at any time irrespective of what the economy was doing. What is a Generation A you ask? Pete describes them as:
Gen As never, ever look for a job. In fact, they can't even conceive of themselves as job seekers. Why? Because every job change they've made in their career was initiated by someone else.
and the point he goes on to make in this piece is this:
So, here's the bottom line. If you want to win the War for Any Talent, tailor your recruiting to the age differences among generations. If you want to win the War for the Best Talent, focus, instead, on the talent differences within generations. Why? Because the best talent-Generation A-was born in 1947, 1976 and in 1990, as well.
As I finished reading his article, it reminded me of something that we at ExecuNet have found to be true during the twenty years that we have been roaming around the staffing world for senior level talent - the search for "A" players is never in a recession.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Mike for President

When I say Mike for president I am not talking about Jordan. Actually I'm just expressing the thought that a lot of sports fans do when they are passing accolades along about one of their idols.

In this case however I am not talking sports, I am talking about America's ability to compete in the world economy - a game I think most of us would agree we cannot afford to lose and yet if you read Michael E. Porter's recent article in the October 30th issue of BusinessWeek it feels like a game which while it may not be out of reach (yet) it is one where we need to put some points on the board in a big way.

Porter is, as most know, one of the leading gurus on competitiveness. In this most recent piece called Why America Needs an Economic Strategy (talk about an understatement!) Porter lays out in words that even I could understand both the need and some proposed solutions.

I should say as an aside that it is really nice to see someone do more than just write about "the problem" (as if we didn't know!) but also take the time to try and show the reader a "way out." This is also one of the reasons that I am such a fan of Tom Friedman who often does the same thing.

Anyway, what caught my eye was not just the subject which I found of immediate interest, but after reading it, I was pleased to see that he too was pounding the drum on one of the subjects about which readers of this blog will recognize as one about which I have pretty strong feelings - read public education. Here's what Porter had to say on the subject:

"A final strategic failure is in many ways the most disconcerting. All Americans know that the public education system is a serious weakness. Fewer may realize that citizens retiring today are better educated than the young people entering the workforce. In the global economy, just being an American is no longer enough to guarantee a good job at a good wage. Without world-class education and skills, Americans must compete with workers in other countries for jobs that could be moved anywhere. Unless we significantly improve the performance of our public schools, there is no scenario in which many Americans will escape continued pressure on their standard of living. And legal and illegal immigration of low-skilled workers cannot help but make the problem worse for less-skilled Americans."
This is not to say that there are not other strategic failure factors that Porter brings to the reader's attention, but for sure this one is super critical.

Presidential elections remind me of the sort of hopeful feeling that many of us feel on New Year's eve. A new beginning and a chance to make move forward with a "clean slate." An over simplification to be sure, but it is still hard to not feel some of that even though we know that the issues that we there on the 31st don't go away on the 1st.

All that said, and since we by this time tomorrow we will have a new President elect, and since I am a bit of an idealist anyway, I hope that the president and members of both houses will have read this article and will take it to heart, especially the closing paragraph which says:

"The new Administration will have an historic opportunity to adopt a strategic approach to the U.S.'s economic future, something that would bring the parties together. America is at its best when it recognizes problems and accepts collective responsibility for dealing with them. All Americans should hope that the next President and Congress rise to the challenge."
Yeah, I know, but somewhere in the past I must have been related to Don Quixote.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Current Economic Crisis: A Translation for the Rest of Us

There is an organization called HSM Global, maybe you have heard of them. They have been around for more than 20 years and among other things, produce some of the most well respected world-class business conferences on the planet.

On October 16th, they hosted a conference in New York called the World Finance and Economy Summit - talk about timing!

The conference featured speakers such as: Martin Feldstein, Jeremy Siegel, Barton Biggs, and Alan Greenspan as well as Carly Fiorina.

Since the audiences we serve are similar, HSM came to ExecuNet and asked us if we would prepare an executive summary of the conference for their attendees. We were happy to do it.

The summary was written by ExecuNet Vice President & Executive Editor Lauryn Franzoni. After I had read it and despite the fact that she is an over-the-top Redskins fan I was blown away at how she was able to take the comments of these icons and turn them into a document that someone like me could easily understand (and we are talking here about someone whose last math course was in the 8th grade.)

In any case, we shared this document with our membership as we felt it would provide much needed clarity to a situation of interest to us all, and since we spend a lot of time telling members that the currency of networking is information and that truly effective networking is about giving and not getting, we wanted to try and continue to lead by example.

The title of the executive summary is Understanding the Current Economic Crisis and What to do About it.

If you are interested in reading it, you need only click here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Some Purchases May Still Be Worth the Price

We continue to wade through an economic outlook that feels like trying to run through hip deep molasses and with little if any encouragement finding its way to the surface it makes neither going to sleep very easy nor waking up with a smile much of a probability.

Even as this is written, out comes the Conference Board's consumer confidence index for October at 38.0 - the lowest ever. Cool. It's always nice to be part of a record breaking performance.

So where is there some perspective? Read on:

A couple of Sunday's ago I think I found at least some in the form of the Your Money column in the NY Times. It is written each week by a guy named Ron Leiber.

In this particular piece he did what I thought was an especially good job of helping readers to look at this mess in a somewhat different, and I felt, very intelligent and positive way.

In short, the article is about a family in Ann Arbor, Michigan who have two kids (both of whom are just a couple of years away from heading off to college) and who in the middle of a "sky is falling" environment went out and dropped 55 large on a boat.

If you decide to read the article in full you might be inclined to say well hell, they could afford it! Maybe yes and maybe no which is really the point to start with.

These are super uncertain times whether you are working or not, and just because you are doesn't mean you will be at the end of next week.

They bought the boat anyway.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Best of Times - The Worst of Times

Be it in print or electronic, the events and the "spin" being put on the events of the past month or so are anything but uplifting.

Not that the news is good by any means or that for sure we are faced with challenges from one end of the business horizon to the other. All that is true, but there is also the concept of perspective, and I have to say that is one of the things that is nice about having a partner who may be our President and COO in terms of his day job, but he also brings to that role the under pinning’s of an economist.

I am talking about Mark Anderson who has indeed led all of us at ExecuNet through the best of times and worst of times for the past 15 years.

While it is a brief segment (under two minutes) I thought what Mark had to say when he appeared on Fox News last week might help to bring some perspective to the current goings on.

This isn't to say by any means that we are not all in for a rough go of it, I think everyone knows that by now, but even in recessions there are pockets of opportunity both for businesses and the individuals who lead them. Indeed, maybe even more so for the individuals, because when it comes to the need for leadership, there is no such thing as a recession.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Defining Worth II

Last week I posted some thoughts which for lack of something more clever I labeled Defining Worth. The point I was trying to make was that for every executive whose DNA is made up totally of greed, there remains the vast majority of others whose approach to life is actually based on value systems that most would admire.

That said, along come $400,000 boondoggles for the "heroes" of a company which clearly should have spent that amount and lots more on management education programs with an emphasis on risk management was just one other piece of news that kept me thinking about this subject.

At the same time I was still digesting the fact that my 401(k) was finishing up the week gasping for air when as you might expect through the wonders of modern telecommunications comes another post from What Would Dad Say called “The Greatest Fraud in American History”: Uncovered Last Week in Minneapolis.

The story by itself comes under the heading of "you can't make this stuff up" and is told as only can tell it. It is one of those stories about a crook that defies belief. Were it not for the mother of all market meltdowns plus an election, as the piece reports, we all would likely have heard much more about it.

Be all that as it may, when I read it, "Dad's" closing comment struck me yet once again with the thought of "Boy I wish I had said that because it really says a lot of what I was trying to say when I posted Defining Worth in the first place.

"...Nearly every top executive I have ever met sets unbelievably high standards for themselves, maybe just because they know down deep that if it is fuzzy in the pulpit it is foggy in the pews. Plus they just know right from wrong. I believe customers as well as employees can tell if a company is being built on the right ’stuff.’"
Wishful thinking?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Defining Worth

When I talk about the quality of our Roundtable discussions, those who read this blog who are ExecuNet members will understand immediately when I say that given the financial and economic turmoil boiling around us it is both educational and comforting to be able to listen to and learn from an audience that, while deeply concerned, continues to bring much needed perspective, and dare I say it - hope.

When confronted with the headlines that blind us with one disaster after another in 60 point font and right underneath one reads about the unconscionable compensation connected to the "leadership" of these organizations, it is easy to understand the profound disappointment and anger that millions of us feel at the betrayal of leadership.

Over the past couple of weeks we have seen discussions ranging from members sharing their thoughts with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who wanted to get their reactions to the impact of all this chaos on a manager's ability to support and motivate staff through such uneasy times to, as you might guess, executive compensation packages that to any rational being seem to be a total disconnect between reward for performance and anything else.

I wish there were space here to share all of the dialogue that went back and forth on this issue, but 21st century attention spans being what they are (even ones that might actually have an interest in the subject) would clearly make that prohibitive.

In following the thread of this discussion, there was, however, one response in particular that stuck with me and which I am happy to say its author Greg Davall graciously gave me his permission to share here.

Executive Compensation For High-Flying Executives - Excessive or Not?

I have been on the Board of Directors of a publically held company, worked for a closely held privately owned company and owned my own manufacturing company. I agree that the majority of compensation should be based on performance; but is stock performance the best measure? It is relatively easy to slash and burn for near term profit at the cost of sacrificing the long term competitive position and future value of the company. CEO spin doctors can convince their shareholders and sometimes even themselves that the near term unrealistic gains that are achieved by non-sustainable practices are what is "best" for everyone; only to cash out and leave it to others to pick up the pieces.

IMHO treating the company as if it were your own, communicating with clarity at all levels and accomplishing what you say you are going to for the reasons that you publically stand behind reinforces the values and integrity that will sustain American industries into the future and longer term continue to differentiate us from others with less transparent agendas. The correct compensation in this scenario is the true long term value added by the management team and should be able to stand the public scrutiny of all stakeholders... Being able to look employees, owners, suppliers and customers in the eye and tell them what you are worth because of the value you have brought to the table. If one can honestly apply this test and still sleep at night without praying for forgiveness then chances are good that you are worth what you are getting paid!
Point? At the end of the day, "worth" and how one defines it is among those subjective subjects that will always surround a lot of things in our lives and as Charlie Brown says "Happiness is different things to different people." All true to be sure.

Did you get far enough to digest Greg's last sentence? It speaks volumes on behalf of the thousands of those working as hard as they know how to lead organizations where all those associated with the enterprise can both make a living and, as Greg put it so well, sleep at night.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Success on a Shoestring

Even with electronic media that does everything but pump you full of information intravenously at night I just can't seem to keep up with everything that either interests me or which while it may not interest me so much is nonetheless stuff that I feel I should be paying attention to anyway.

All of which is the only excuse I could think of for posting something the impetus of which was driven by the special issue of BusinessWeek that came out the last week of August.

As I am sure we all immediately recall this special issue was the one with the cover headline: Trouble at the Office? and the picture of Rainn Wilson on the cover. Why it took BW this long to realize that there is indeed "trouble at the office" I have no idea, but I was glad to see that at least it was starting to show up on their radar.

Being in the business we are at ExecuNet and are talking with both recruiters and senior level executives on a daily if not hourly basis as we do, the fact that there are "issues" in the workplace comes as no surprise, and while there are any number of keywords that could be thrown out to try and capture the essence of the challenge, at the moment, the two that come to my mind were: recruitment and retention.

The habitual cry we hear all the time is the "war for talent" is getting worse not better (the economy notwithstanding) and keeping my "A" players feels like a losing battle.

Given that as a business we find ourselves very much in the middle of this discussion, I read each article on this topic in this particular issue. I read them with great interest and great hope. When finished I found myself still interested but not particularly hopeful. I was looking for answers and instead found lots of wringing of hands and articles reporting on but not suggesting a whole lot of "to dos" regarding things of which I was all too painfully aware before I had read word one.

I should also say at this juncture that if I had access to the universal solvent to fix these ills, I would have shared it long ago. Unfortunately my approach to life is too simplistic to conjure up such stuff, however, so as much as I wish it were the case, I don't have any silver bullets to offer up. That said, however, there was one article in the issue that I thought at least expressed what struck me as pretty cogent advice in trying to overcome the core issues.

The article was entitled Success on a Shoestring authored by Richard Clark, the CEO of APTARE, a company in Campbell, California and in a tad more than 800 words, Mr. Clarke said two things that I tacked up on the bulletin board above my desk.

1. Establish the DNA of your company and then hire people that fit into that DNA., and

2. Because we are a small business, we cannot afford to lose time, energy, or capital on hiring and rehiring.
Magic? Certainly not. Revolutionary? Hardly. Critical to keep you on the right path? You betcha!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mr. Rogers Networking Neighborhood

Like most companies, we set aside a couple of days a year to lock ourselves up somewhere out of the office and do the best we can to step back from the day to day and try and do two things:

1. Look ahead a few years and talk about where we are versus where we want to be, and

2. Make sure that our core beliefs continue to support the strategies we set for ourselves going forward.

In the course of our discussions, our CMO, Tony Vlahos was taking us through a discussion about the experience of being a member of a career and business network such as ExecuNet.

Aside from being very creative, Tony has a gift for painting extraordinary word pictures when he is trying to make a point. Actually he just has a way with words no matter what he's talking about.

In any event, we were talking about the hows, whys and ways of trying to help members to help each other and Tony concluded his presentation on the subject with a quote from Fred Rogers. It was one that I had not heard before but which I thought really hit home in terms of why we talk to our members all the time not just about networking, but much more importantly about effective networking. Translation: it about giving, not about getting.

What I so liked about this particular quote from the icon in the cardigan sweater is that he really is talking about the fundamental foundation upon which all meaningful relationships are built.

Be it related to your own career or your business these are not bad words to have pasted on your mirror or on the wall of your office:

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

Friday, September 05, 2008

How To Be More Likeable: 10 Things To Do Today

GL Hoffman, the "Dad" of WWDS drives me nuts. I like his stuff so much that I keep posting about it to the point where I am starting to worry that people will think that I am either a relative or on the payroll.

Honest, neither of these is the case, I just like the way he writes and love his sense of humor. Okay maybe jealous of the way he writes and his sense of humor, but what the heck, it's still neat stuff.

The post referred to in the title here is far too long paste in here, but here's the teaser list:

Number 1. No Left Turns.
Number 2. Be Engaged, Passionate.
Number 3. Be of Good Humor.
Number 4. Assume Goodwill
Number 5. We All Like Compliments.
Number 6. Control Your Insecurities.
Number 7. The Trick to Listening.
Number 8. Flexibility.
Number 9. Manners. Grooming. Language.
Number 10. Humility is Endearing.
If you are interested, take the time to check it out for yourself here. It's worth the trip.

Don't have time for all 10? Try #7.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Managing Your Biases

Just to give you an idea of just how far behind the power curve I am these days, the article below was written and published by Pete Weddle in his June 12th newsletter. the fact that I am just getting around to sharing it in August should in no way diminish the wisdom that Pete has given to us in it. The subject in that regard is not what they call time sensitive.

It is however something for people to think about when it comes to managing their professional work lives and when I read it, I felt it was very much worth putting out there for those who might not yet be on the distribution list to get the WEDDLEs newsletter. If you aren't and subjects like this are of interest, it is free for the asking. Have a stare:

Andrew Zolli is a futurist who spends a lot of time helping companies prepare for the challenges of the 21st century. Recently, he posted four biases that he believes are essential to understanding human behavior. Of course, in today's world, the word "bias" has a negative connotation, but the dictionary defines it as a neutral term. It is simply "an inclination of temperament."

In other words, a bias is a predisposition we humans have to do or see things in a certain way. While that's an important insight for corporations trying to sell us something, it's also a critical bit of knowledge for those of us who want to accomplish something, especially when that goal involves your work. If you're trying to forge a successful career, Zolli's list can help you better understand why you do what you do in trying to reach that goal. It makes you more aware of the actions and behaviors to which you are predisposed in managing your career and that insight, in turn, enables you to analyze the impact of those inclinations on your success or lack of it.

Zolli describes the four biases of human behavior as follows (with some commentary from me):

We bias the personal over the impersonal. We concentrate on that which affects us individually because it most directly affects the extent of our success.

We bias the tangible over the intangible. We focus on that which we can see and/or feel because we believe we have a greater probability of using it effectively.

We bias the present over the past and the future. We devote our attention to today's reality because it's the best way to control what is going to happen to us in the future.

We bias desirability over responsibility. We fixate on that which we enjoy because it is the most direct connection to a meaningful and rewarding life.
To a greater or lesser extent, all of us share these "inclinations of temperament." However, while biases are theoretically neutral, the reality is that they have the potential to mislead us in the management of our careers. They can undermine our ability to achieve our goals by inducing us to make bad decisions or take inappropriate actions. If our biases are left unchecked, therefore, they can diminish our success and even push us into failure. Here's what I mean.

Biasing the personal over the impersonal. Obviously, each of us wants what's best for our own careers and for our families who depend on us. Ironically, however, the key to a successful career is not the WIIFM factor: What's In It For Me?. It is, instead, to adopt exactly the opposite perspective. I call this alternative perspective the WIIMF factor: What Input Insures My Future? The people who experience the most fulfilling and rewarding careers look for ways to contribute their talent to the success of the organizations that employ them. They don't focus on getting the most out of their employers, but on giving the most to them. And that selfless inclination makes them extraordinarily more self-sufficient. No employer wants to lose or overlook a top performer, so a commitment to being the best you can be for your employer is the single best way to take care of yourself and your family.

Biasing the tangible over the intangible. More often than not, the one tangible that most influences our career decision-making and direction-setting is our paycheck. Not only do we live in a consumer-based economy, but today, the cost of living is rising before our very eyes. For many of us, therefore, the primary goal in our career is the maximization of our compensation. That focus, however, can actually have exactly the opposite effect. When you make pay the key factor in accepting one job over another, you potentially subject yourself to a daily grind that disappoints and frustrates you. If work is simply something that you must endure to get a paycheck, your performance will inevitably slip and, eventually, so too will what you earn. What's the alternative? Focus on the nature of the work. Find jobs where you are engaged and challenged and have a chance to perform at your peak. That's the kind of employment that optimizes both the paycheck and the happiness you bring home from work.

Biasing the present over the past and the future. The way most of us manage our careers is by paying attention to our job security in the present. We prefer the devil we know-our current employer-to the devil we don't because that eliminates uncertainty and the need to change. Relying on the present for our continued wellbeing, however, can actually have exactly the opposite effect. In the current global marketplace, employers are banged back and forth by market forces they can't control or even influence. As a result, they can (and do) promise job security, but they can't deliver it. The only goal that makes any sense, therefore, isn't job security; it's career security. You have to keep an eye on the health of your career in the present and make sure that you avoid occupational obsolescence in the future. Since the state-of-the-art in every field is always advancing, you should continuously prepare yourself for the new responsibilities that development creates. You are, in essence, a work-in-progress that's never done. Yes, that means you can never coast in your career, but it also removes the limits on where you can go and what you can do in your work. You have the security of being employable at every point in your career.

Biasing desirability over responsibility. In these times of ever more pressing employer demands, many of us are paying more attention to the maintenance of a healthy work-life balance. We seek this "benefit" because we want to preserve our personal health and the health of our relationships outside the workplace. Our determination to strike such a balance, however, can actually have exactly the opposite effect. The term work-life balance, itself, implies that work is an onerous activity that must be offset with other, more desirable activities. When you accept this view of your work-whether you do so implicitly or explicitly-you consign yourself to a sweatshop-like career. You agree to 30 years or more of tedious, unfulfilling and fundamentally abusive work. On the other hand, when you accept the responsibility for ensuring that employment provides the opportunity for you to express your inherent talent in meaningful challenges on-the-job, you re-imagine your work as some of your best time. When you make it your job to find the right jobs for you, you transform your work into an exercise in self-fulfillment. It doesn't need to be balanced, therefore, but simply integrated with the other important aspects of your life.

If Zolli is correct about these biases-that they are inherent characteristics of the human species-then we must be cognizant of the angst they can cause in our careers. Rather than be alarmed by that knowledge, however, we should embrace it. The wonderful thing about the human species is that we can learn from ourselves. We can acquire self-knowledge and use that insight to change our direction and reform our biases so that they benefit rather than harm us. That's my prescription for a healthy and rewarding career.
Thanks Dr. Pete.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The secret of the web (hint: it's a virtue)

Is there anybody in the world of marketing who doesn't read Seth Godin's Blog? If there are, I haven't stumbled across them as yet.

One of the reasons I suspect he is so popular is that among other things he has the talent to communicate ideas in words of one syllable that those of us without MBAs can both understand and relate to. Always a plus.

I thought a particularly good example of how he does this was his recent posting called The secret of the web (hint: it's a virtue). Why did I feel that way? Simple: it was short, easy to understand, and because it met the most important and universal criteria of all ~ I agreed with him.

The gist of Godin's message in the post has to do with having the patience to believe in your vision as you build your business. Hardly a revolutionary concept, but it did give me pause to think about how it is that a belief that began 20 years ago still remains the foundation upon which ExecuNet continues to build.

As I thought about it, I am not sure if the right word is patience or not. Some might say in our case it might be closer to obstinacy, but whatever it is, I know that at least in our case I am very glad that we have followed a path closer to the wonderful ads that back in the day John Houseman did for Smith Barney

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Where the Big Jobs Are

The economic headlines with which we are bombarded 24/7 are, as we all know, enough to make you think that we won't make it through the weekend much less the year, and given the negative spin that almost every piece of news gets, it's hard to believe that there are any positives at all.

Clearly we are not living in the fantasy world that existed before the bubble burst or the delusion that the roof (pun intended) would never come off the housing market or the even more naive delusion that the big banks actually had ethics.

Maybe I'd best stop there before I start getting cease and desist letters.

So what does all this have to do with the title of this post? Well, if you are not a regular visitor to the Ask Annie column on the CNNMoney site you might want to check out the piece she posted this past week.

Based on a good deal of the data contained in our Executive Job Market Intelligence Report Anne tries to put some of the executive job market issues into some perspective as well as asking her readers for feedback on the degree to which life style issues impact their decisions about career moves these days.

It obviously struck a chord as before the close of business on Friday, the article was the most read and commented on the site for the day. So if you were ever in doubt of the degree to which this issue is important to people (even high priced executives) check out some of the 40+ comments.

There is nothing like feedback from the real world that helps to cut to the chase.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Work-Life Balance: Not Just a Phrase Anymore

Work-life balance has been getting a lot of ink in recent times, and a tough job market nothwithstanding, it looks like it is going to continue to get plenty more.

I saw some "early return" stats the other day that came from a survey (still in progress so far as I know) sponsored by the AESC (Association of Executive Search Consultants). For those who may not know, AESC is a well known and long established association made up retained executive search firms.

Essentially, the survey is gathering data that would compare preferences and priorities of senior executives in the context of initiatives being implemented by Corporate HR teams and line managers.

Some of the highlights they have reported thus far:

52% of senior executives feel that they have not achieved a satisfactory work-life balance.

84% say work-life balance considerations are critical in their decision to join or remain with an employer.

65% of executives find a flexible daily work schedule to be the most valuable aspect of a work-life balance program.

54% say work hours have increased during the past 5 years.

51% are less willing to take a job that involves heavy business travel as compared to 5 years ago.
Obviously they are interested in having as many participants as they can round up, so if you would like to contribute to the data being gathered, just click here and it only takes about 10 minutes or so to participate.

I also think that if you invest the time to take the survey, you also will get a copy of the full report once it is ready and which would provide the perspectives of both executives as well as the HR world.

I have to say, that in looking over these early headlines and looking back over our own data collected in this year's Executive Job Market Intelligence Report, our survey participants would seem to be in the same ballpark as AESC's.

When we asked such questions as: Why executives accept offers for new gig and/or stay where they are, items such as "improved work/life balance were certainly on the list as was travel/commute considerations, and the company providing flexible work arrangements.

On the flip side when we asked about dissatisfacation, we were not surprised to see people talking about the lack of work/life balance, length of commute, etc.

Coming or going, for sure this is no longer an issue or subject of conjecture by the John Naisbitt's of the world and executives and the organizations they work for along with the recruiters who place them are going to have to adapt, particularly in the tight talent market we are in and likely to rermain in for the next several years.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Borrowers and Bankers: A Great Divide

I seriously doubt that there isn't anyone over the age of 13 in this country that isn't paying some level of attention to what is going on in our economy. And for those of us who are still paying not only our own bills, but still supporting our kids irrespective of age, to say that oil, housing, and the credit mess doesn't have our virtually undivided attention would probably be a serious understatement.

While this subject may well be consuming much of our waking hours, if you are like me, getting answers that seem to make sense is quite another story. It is for this reason that as a "public service" I would suggest that if you don't regularly read Gretchen Morgenson's column in the Sunday business section of the NY Times, I would take some time to check it out.

Her piece on July 20th called "Borrowers And Bankers: A Great Divide" I thought was pretty cool. The thrust of the column was directed at the notion of not just cleaning up messes such as the product of credit greed but rather preventing it in the first place.

I should confess that it wasn't just because I admire Morgenson's intellect and writing style, that this particular column had so much appeal. It was also because in it she devotes a fair amount of space to the "learnings" of John C. Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group. If you know anything about Bogle, he is one of the very few Wall St. types who actually seem to have ethics.
One of the key points that Bogle makes in this article is that the crisis that we currently face is driven as much or more by the problems we face as a society and an economy as it is simply by stock market forces. Specifically Bogle is, as he should be, concerned about the growing imbalances we have.

Bogle puts it this way:

While the Declaration of Independence assures us that 'all men are created equal', we'd best face the fact that we may be created equal but are born into a society where inequality of family, of education and, yes, even opportunity begins as soon as we are born."

"But the Constitution demands more," he adds. "we the people are enjoined to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, and to promote the general welfare and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. So it's up to each of us to summon our unique genius, our own power and our own personal magic to restore these values in today's imbalanced society."
Gretchen's comment:

"Not a bad idea, bringing a little 18th-century enlightenment to this moment of 21st-century gloom."
Think about it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Treo Triage

I have no idea what the percentage of Type A personality folks we have running around these days (pun intended) and when email came along clearly that was bad enough, but when they put it all on our hip and gave it names like Blackberry, Treo, and Smart Phones, stress meters had to change their scales and create a new one called 'For Heart Attack, Click Here.'

I don't know about you, but I have been trying for what seems like forever to figure out how to control the guilt I feel when I am not opening and responding to an email within a matter of minutes. Worse, I now find myself now trying to learn how to eat with my left hand so that I can respond while holding my Treo in my right hand while trying to thumb out a response while at the same time holding it up to serve as shield of sorts to ward off whatever it is that my wife is throwing at me at that particular moment.

Okay, maybe a bit overstated, but directionally, I'm closer to that description than (a) I would like to be and (b) than common sense says I ought to be.

It is for this reason that I was very pleased to get a note from my colleague Lauryn Franzoni, our Vice President and Executive Editor, pointing me toward a piece written by Stewart Friedman on the Harvard Business Publishing site called Master the Art of Interruptibility. Stew Friedman is the Wharton School professor who wrote the very popular book Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. A book by the way well worth reading if you can stay off your PDA long enough.

Anyway, if you haven't read Friedman's piece and you are in need of Treo therapy as I am, the suggestions he has to make a lot of sense.

So much so, that if you have any comments to make on this particular post, don't expect them to be published immediately as I am going to try and only go through my emails between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. so I may not get to it as soon as I normally would.

Don't laugh, it's a start!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Recognizing Richard Rabbit

I have to say that for someone of my age to be putting up a post with a title like this one and still use my real name takes a certain amount of something, I'm not sure what.

On the other hand, for someone with the reputation that Pete Weddle has won over the years to have written a book (booklet?) with this title and sign his real name to it - now that takes courage! But then again, courage is a good part of what this book is about in the first place.

The book jacket tells us that Richard is "A Fable about Being True to Yourself" and having known Pete for 20 years I can well understand that he would have written something like this for this is someone who could have (and for many years did) follow a career path that took him to well repected positions as a leader of a number of different ventures.

That said, however, the fact is that his true passion is writing and with his establishment of WEDDLEs (in 1996 I think) he chose to follow his passion to see where it would lead. You can read is bio for yourself to see how that turned out, but to say that he was once again very successful will hardly come as a surprise.

So, as I read through Pete's latest I was thinking to myself not only is anyone who reads this going to see a lot of themselves in it, but since I happen to know Pete, and what he's been up to over the past 10+ years it struck me as a bit autobiographical as well. I didn't ask him if it was, it just strikes me that way.

In fables, the "learnings" make sense and are not scary. In real life of course "learnings" (most especially about ourselves) are scary and even more so when it comes to doing something that requires change and therefore involves risk and especially the risk is one of following our "dreams" versus the "security" of the status quo.

All true of course but if you are like me and are one of those who liked things like Who Moved My Cheese you will want to check out young Richard.

Kudos Pete.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Circles of Change

Maybe it's a generational thing but I have to say that after having been interviewed so many times over the years be it TV, radio, face to face or via (would you believe) email, I really like radio the best. I think the reason why is primarily because it seems to give you the best shot at really being able to respond in some reasonable depth. In the sound bite world of TV, not to mention the editing that goes on, anything beyond 20 seconds seems to end up as they say on the cutting room floor or worse sometimes, on the air!

So why I liked radio so much surfaced again at the end of June when Zara Larsen who has not one but two radio programs that air on KJLL in Tucson, Arizona contacted me and asked if I could join her on her show called: Circles of Change: Conversations with Dr. Zara Larsen on Change Leadership and Career Fulfillment.

Five minutes on the phone was enough to see that clearly Zara had lots of experience in both the career management and radio show interviewing worlds and that was enough for me to immediately say be it a Sunday or not, sign me up.

After our initial conversation, I went to her website to find out a bit more of what I was getting myself into and specifically to see how Circles of Change was described so I could better understand. The short version was this:

“Circles of Change” refers to an arc on a trajectory, taking all of life’s experiences to bring us full circle to recognize and celebrate who we are as unique individuals. The goal of our weekly conversations is to help you take the right steps to make more of where you are in your current career and life, or how to discover, strive for and achieve “what’s next”.
When the show aired, we talked about a wide range of career related topics, and all in all it turned out to feel exactly as I felt it would after that first introductory conversation we had had - relaxed with an eye to trying to help those who were listening.

Her programs are also streamed to the web, so if you want to get a flavor for both the program and her style and think you might want to tune into future programs, the link to the June 29th show is here.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Boundaries of Leadership

For sure FastCompany doesn't need me to flog their magazine. I have been a reader almost since day one and despite its going through some ups and downs (who hasn't?) I still like it.

I also should add that the fact that the guts of this post comes from their April 2004 issue is not the result of what you might think (i.e. that I'm a bit behind in my business reading - although there's some truth to that as well). No, I decided to post it because we just passed the half-way point of the year, and aside from eating too much and watching lots of fireworks, I also took some time to reflect on where things stood after the first six months, and more importantly, how I thought I was doing against my "to do" list for '08.

In thinking about this, I came across a list published as I said, in the April 2004 issue which they in turn got from Jeff Immelt,, GE's CEO. Maybe you too saw it, but if you didn't, I thought it a list well worth repeating.

For sure there are plenty such lists around, including all sorts of Letterman Top Ten's not to mention lots of others from various management consultants, Bschool professors, and all-round gurus of one kind or another. I still think this one is as good as any I have ever seen. See if you don't agree.

Things Leaders Do

1. Personal Responsibility.
"Enron and 9/11 marked the end of an era of individual freedom and the beginning of personal responsibility. You lead today by building teams and placing others first. It's not about you."

2. Simplify Constantly.
"I always use Jack [Welch] as my example here. Every leader needs to clarify explain the top three things the organization is working on. If you can't, they you are not leading well."

3. Understand Breadth, Depth, and Context.
"the most important thing I've learned since becoming CEO is context. It's how your company fits in with the world and how you respond to it."

4. The importance of alignment and time management.
"There is no real magic to being a good leader. But at the end of every week, you have to spend your time around the things that are really important: setting priorities, measuring outcomes, and rewarding them."

5. Leaders learn constantly and also have to learn how to teach.
"A leader's primary role is to teach. People who work with you don't have to agree with you, but they have to feel you're willing to share what you've learned."

6. Stay true to your own style.
"Leadership is an intense journey into yourself. You can use your own style to get anything done. It's about being self-aware. Every morning, I look into the mirror and say 'I could have done three things better yesterday.'"

7. Manage by setting boundaries with freedom in the middle.
"The boundaries are commitment, passion, trust, and teamwork. Within those guidelines, there's plenty of freedom. But no one can cross those four boundaries."

8. Stay disciplined and detailed.

"Good leaders are never afraid to intervene personally on things that are important. Michael Dellcan tell you how many computers shipped from Singapore yesterday."

9. Leave a few things unsaid.
"I may know an answer, but I'll often let the team find its own way. Sometimes, being an active listener is much more effective than ending a meeting with me enumerating 17 actions."

10. Like people.
"Today, it's employment at will. Nobody's here who does not want to be here. So it's critical to understand people, to always be fair, and to want the best in them. And when it doesn't work, they need to know it's not personal."

Pretty good list, no? Hold a gun to my head and tell me I could only pick one, I would frame #7 and maybe tattoo it to my forehead.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Deciding Who Leads

With all the kudos that I have seen surrounding my colleague Joe McCool's book Deciding Who Leads, I keep having the feeling that in a few years I'll be one of those guys who walks around at cocktail parties when they are discussing books that made a difference in specific industry segments and telling my friends that "I knew Joe when..."

I was reminded of this feeling just a day or two ago when I saw an email from the managing director of a UK based search firm you simply said:

"This morning I read through some of the key passages in Deciding Who Leads! superb book - should be on every hiring manager's desk and every recruiter's desk and perhaps every MBA course syllabus!"
The Brits, as we all know are not exactly known for going overboard when it comes to suggesting that something has real merit, so even though I had seen other comments on the book, this one made me feel a good deal of pride yet once again.

Way to go Joe!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Worse Than Enron Sweepstakes

The piece below is something that I stumbled across back in March when the sub-prime mess was really beginning to build up steam. Now, as we sit here some three months later and the layers of the onion have revealed even more greed-filled headlines, what Mr. Donlon had to say seems even more appropriate.

Even on a topic about which I feel as strongly as I do on this one, I wouldn't normally post another source's entire article, but in this case I decided to make an exception because (a) I couldn't figure out what to leave out because it all seemed to fit together so well, and (b) I thought it important to expose readers to Donlon's intellect if he was someone about whom they had not heard. See if you don't agree that he is voice we could use more of.

Déjà Review

By J.P. Donlon

Here we go again. The fallout from the subprime mortgage mess has led to another burst asset bubble. Led by Citigroup and Merrill Lynch we have seen the financing of real estate get ahead of itself to the point where the banking system has come face to face with a heady balance sheet problem. There is $900 billion (out of a total of $9 trillion in mortgage debt) in subprime paper on the balance sheets of the world’s banks, investment houses, hedge funds, and mutual funds. In total there are 2,500 different subprime bond issues. Not all these have gone bad. But we may not know for some time the extent of the mess. The extent of miscalculated risks has already seen almost $100 billion in shareholder assets disappear. The fear is that falling housing prices will only make credit troubles worse as it reduces any incentive to keep paying the mortgage.

All of this will take time to work out. But in the meantime the finger pointing has begun. Why in a post Sarbanes-Oxley world has this been allowed to happen? Writing the City Journal, former financial analyst Nicole Gelinas, and a past contributor to Chief Executive, asks whether additional regulation makes us any safer or perversely lulls investors into a false sense of security about their investments.

“In the end, Sarbanes-Oxley has just made it easier for ambitious government attorneys to criminalize bad business judgment and complex accounting in hindsight,” she writes. “Further, in their focus on strengthening legal enforcement, the feds have passed up opportunities to create commonsense protections for investors. Worse still, the government has instilled investors with false confidence by implying that they can rely on prosecutors, not prudence, to protect their market holdings. Now the housing and mortgage meltdown—which could hurt the economy far worse than Enron did—is reminding investors that no law or regulation can protect them from economic disruption.”

Just as the bond rating agencies awarded Enron high ratings suggesting that investors could safely lend to the doomed company, critics today believe that the same culprits are likely at fault in today’s credit mess. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office is looking into how the ratings agencies assigned top triple-A ratings to many bonds backed by risky subprime home loans. He wants to know if the firms asked for and received information that would have warned them about specific risks associated with home mortgages. At this point the AG hasn’t filed any charges against the ratings firms.

But the larger question looming over the subprime mortgage mess is this: Will government throw more regulation at the problem in an effort to be seen as “doing something” when the evidence strongly suggests that this will do little or nothing to stave off the next debacle? Despite decades of bitter experiences - from Mexico in 1982 to Asia in 1997 and Russia in 1998 - financial institutions still bow to fads and fashions. They act herd-like in conformity with "lending trends". They shift assets to garner the highest yields in the shortest possible period of time.

The government treated the implosion of Enron as though it were somehow unique when in fact it was fairly routine. When one strips away the Fastow spin, the company overstated the value of its assets and understated the extent of its liabilities. The only difference is that the investment community was only too eager to go along with the scheme because it was in their interests to do so or at least not to look under too many rocks. But as Gelinas points out investors began deserting Enron before the regulators took notice, proving that the market effectively weeds out bad companies and ultimately bad investments.

This begs another question: What is normal business practice in the midst of a bubble? When a company hits an air pocket does it tell its shareholders about the risk of failure or does one say one is merely going through a bad patch and things will right themselves soon enough? If one is a CEO one should have one’s defense attorney close to one’s elbow. The SEC has several investigations into the lending practices at Countrywide Financial, which has become the poster child for the current mortgage crisis. If any charges are filed one can be certain that prejudices will run higher. An Enron juror was quoted as saying, “pure greed motivates all CEOs. Some get caught; most don’t.” Enron was just a flashy energy company. Multiply by 10 the outrage and sense of “payback” at a mortgage crisis trial

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Getting From Here to There

ExecuNet is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and as a result, that sort of a milestone event has prompted a number of interview requests from various and sundry media wanting to know how this all happened and the details from ’88 to now.

As I have talked over the past several months with many different reporters and writers of many stripes, it has caused me to reflect frequently about the past 20 years and the transformation that I have experienced in my professional work life. It also got me wondering what the stories might be from others both inside and outside our membership.

In talking with our Executive Editor Lauryn Franzoni about this, she suggested it would probably be both fascinating and fun to learn more about other's “passages” so we thought a blog post would be one place to begin. So, in the interest of the “you go first” custom, here goes:

The short version is that the company I was working for as the VP of International Personnel was bought. For the first time in my life (at age 48), I found myself looking for a job when I didn’t already have one. In about the time it takes one to pull away from touching a hot stove I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like the way this felt at all, and the longer the search went on, the more I felt that the process was broken. What I thought ought to be a relationship based on a win-win outcome was one that felt like win-lose and very adversarial to boot.

After all, it seemed to my (then) naive way of thinking that organizations seeking senior-level talent and executives who were seeking stimulating and rewarding careers had the same goals in mind. Find the right fit for both.

Said differently, I thought that from a job seeker’s perspective, all I was asking for was the opportunity to compete for a real job at a time that was meaningful and to be treated with a reasonable degree of professional courtesy. Didn’t seem too crazy a notion at the time (and still doesn’t.)

Looking at it from the recruiter’s perspective (and having been in HR I thought I had a reasonable understanding of how that world worked), I knew I would want to be able to identify qualified candidates when I needed to, have confidentiality when needed, and not get into a fight with anyone over what “qualified” meant. That too did not seem to be a concept that was too far out of step.

So, how to try and become a Don Quixote lookalike and pick up the pieces of this broken process? The answer over time turned out to be an effort to create a community where both recruiters and senior level executives could come together in a career and business network not only with confidence but when needed, in confidence.

Reflecting on the experience, I keep thinking how very fortunate I was to have stumbled along the happenstance path of career planning and end up being able to make my living from something about which I was and continue to be passionate about to the point of obsession.

There is an old saying that I am sure most of us have often heard: “Luck: where preparation meets opportunity.” As I think about my own experience, that is a fair descriptor. In my case, I know that the 25+ years I spent in the corporate world certainly qualifies as “preparation.” What I didn’t know at the time was the “luck” was that my employer was bought and I was thrown into an uncontrollable situation. I didn’t immediately recognize the event as an opportunity.

So I am wondering what others’ experiences have been as they look back at their career over the past 20 years and what “learnings” or stories they might be willing to share in the comments section of this blog posting.

Where were you professionally 20 years ago?

Was there a pivotal event or person responsible for your leadership track?

Where are you professionally now?
As an incentive, I am willing to do this:

There was an incredibly interesting discussion that went on for several weeks recently in our General Management Roundtable. The discussion came from a member who was about to take on his first role as a CEO. His question to the roundtable was “What advice would you have for me?”

So rich was this discussion that Lauryn and her team created a whitepaper, Lessons from Leaders: Advice for a First-time CEO. Whether you are aspiring to be the CEO or already in the big chair, advice contained in this paper is something that any of us in a leadership position would find of real value.

You can give as many or few details as you feel comfortable, and as long as I have your email address, a copy is yours. If you are too much of an introvert to post it here, you can email it to me at

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day 2008

Anyone who follows this blog (meaning mostly my kids and some relatives who might be having a slow day) will know that I think many of the posts by G.L. Hoffman, the CEO and Chairman of a site called JobDig, are pretty neat. Common sense delivered sometimes with a sense of humor and other times with a serious message. His blog is called What Would Dad Say.

While it is still the graduation season and on this father's day, when we are reminded of our relationships with our own parents as well as our children, it reminded me of a quote that GL borrowed in a post some weeks ago in which John Qunicy Adams' mother Abigail wrote to her son explaining why it was important that he go with his father to France. It is powerful message all by itself and knowing what we know today, it becomes even more powerful:

“These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”
….from the Pullitzer Prize-winning book, John Adams, by David McCullough [Fabulous book and PBS series by the way]

John Adams lived long enough to see the results of the value system taught his son by Abigail and himself. Tim Russert as we all know by now, didn't.

But for those of us who are fathers, mother's or simply responsible for raising a child, I suggest that if you did not see today's edition of Meet the Press, it's well worth watching if only to hear, in Russert's own words, what it means to be not just a father, but a parent.

You will be better for it.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Hard Roads Ahead

Like many of you, some of what I read on the Op Ed pages of the NY Times I buy into and some I don't, but rarely do I find the columns uninteresting.

Indeed, whether I agree with what I am reading or not, the columns of people like Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd, William Kristol, David Brooks and Bob Herbert all continually drive home to me the value of education.

The ability of these writers, not to mention thousands of others whose have been fortunate enough to gain an excellent education have been blessed with being able to refine the gift of communication in writing, and not just the ability to "communicate", but to do so in ways that are both very powerful and often equally as persuasive.

A recent piece by Herbert which he called Hard Roads Ahead really caught my attention because he was writing about a subject on which I have commented here on a number of occasions, and probably will again as I believe it is the most serious issue we face, and heaven only knows we don't lack for issues competing for the top spot, but my vote still goes to the state of public education.

In the article, Mr. Herbert quotes from a book by Robert Wise. The book is called "Raising the Grade: How High School Reform Can Save Our Youth and Our Nation." Wise said:

International comparisons rank the United States a stunningly unimpressive eighteenth for high school graduation rate, a lackluster ranking of fifteenth for high school reading assessments among 15-year olds in developed countries, and an embarrassing 25th for high school math.
The column goes on to point out, again using Wise as the source, that in 1995 the U.S. was second in the world (New Zealand was first) in the graduation rate from four year colleges, and even though as a country, we have increased our percentages, we now rank 15th because of how rapidly others in the world have progressed.

The results? One example pointed to was the fact that the CEO of AT&T, Randall Stephenson, has said that the company has had real problems trying to find enough skilled workers to handle 5,000 customer-service jobs that the company had promised to bring back from overseas.

In a prior life I spent five years working for a city as the Director of Labor Relations. At the time I was too young to realize what the heck I had gotten myself into, but it turned out to be a memorable experience and education on several levels to say the least.

When I left the public sector and returned to the corporate world, I took away two key "learnings." One was the importance of leadership, and the second was a belief that when it came to really solving many fundamental issues facing us all, that it would have to be business not government that would have to lead the way.

Given the track record of both of late, it doesn't feel like much of a choice, but to borrow once again from the column, I thought the last quote from Wise said it very powerfully indeed:

"The best economic stimulus package is a diploma."