Monday, August 30, 2010

Another Recipe for Lemonade

Most of us go to industry conferences all the time. If the ones you attend are anything like most that I have been to, they usually have a keynote speaker to kind of kick things off and get people energized. Also, and if you are anything like me, you have heard really good ones and some “not so good.”

Like everyone else, it is hard for me to get “energized” and in a positive frame of mind when I read what I read, and see what I see both on the domestic as well as the international scene. Not much to get energized about.

In truth, it is pretty easy to get down on life in general and yourself in particular even though in doing so you know very well that you are wasting both your time and energy.

How do you break the cycle?

One way is to stop being so self-centered and look for examples of how others have dealt with adversity; those who have been dealt lemons and as the saying goes, “made lemonade.” Certainly not something new, but often something we can easily forget.

So if these times and your own personal situation find you in one of those “down” moods, take some time to learn more about a keynote speaker I heard some years ago. Her name is Kathy Buckley. She is a comedienne, so you might recognize her name, but for those who don’t here’s the short version of her background:
Since birth she's been hearing-impaired. As a child, she was misdiagnosed and labeled as retarded. She was sexually abused and seriously contemplated suicide throughout her teens. Then she was run over by a Jeep while sunbathing on a beach, which resulted in broken bones and intermittent paralysis in her legs (not to mention being pronounced dead by the attending paramedics). And after five years of recovery, once she could walk again, she discovered she had ovarian cancer.
She turned all this adversity and more into becoming a highly sought after stand-up comic and for anyone who has ever heard her, an incredibly powerful motivational speaker.

I am sure that all of us have marveled and been motivated by individuals who have overcome barriers in life that are so far beyond anything that any of us have ever faced and that once having heard their stories our own "troubles" pale so much by comparison that it's embarrassing.

That being said, Kathy has such a powerful way of putting this sort of thing in the right perspective that unlike most of the motivational speakers I have heard over the years, this is one I never forgot.

If you are having an event where those attending need to gain that perspective, I would recommend you check to see if Kathy is available.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Building Better Boards

Any of us who have had anything other than a flat EKG have known for many years that a good many of the ethical failings that we see on the business pages with appalling frequency can and often are laid at the feet of the CEO.

And why not, for if nothing else, a CEO is looked upon and expected to be the moral compass of the enterprise. So, when that turns out not to be the case, generally we "shoot" the CEO and try to move on.

Of course with the severance packages that they walk away with, they usually have no problem worrying about how they are going to make a living going forward even though anyone in his right mind knowing what they know wouldn't want to have them represent their brand in any case, but that's a subject for a different post.

I don't know about you, but for some reason it only seems like it has been within the past 15-20 years or so that stockholders (and those of us who are just observing from offshore) have started to realize that the "checks and balances" of business and/or the "adult supervision" of the CEO, which is in the hands of the Board of Directors has been lacking to say the least.

To coin a phrase (and trust me, I am NOT making a political statement here!) "How's that working for you"? The obvious answer of course is if the boards of these companies had been serious about their moral and fiduciary responsibilities there is a good possibility that as a country we could be focused on solving any number of challenges rather than trying to fight our way out of the current mess.

Having gotten that out of my system for the moment, it is fair to say, "Okay, so tell me something I don't know." After all, we have SOX, the recently passed financial reform bill, etc., but is there anything else going on?

Words on paper really mean nothing unless there are actually real people behind them who understand spirit and intent and want to facilitate change.

If you are interested in seeing what at least one firm is trying to do, check out the white paper called Building Better Boards. It is available as a PDF on the site of CT Partners, a retained search firm with an active board practice and who recently sponsored their 8th Annual Institute on Board Independence and Effectiveness.

Totally altruistic, of course not, but neither is any apology necessary on their part for taking the initiative in trying to draw attention to the issue. If you check out the PDF and see who made up the panels, these are "A List" players who have reputations for being on the right side of corporate governance. In addition, the firm has been at this for eight years, so immediate PR can't be said to be the driver either.

When it comes to Boards of Directors there are many who feel it is a case of the "rabbits watching the lettuce" and while that is certainly not the case in most companies, we can't forget that "perceptions are real to those who hold them."

CT Partners should be applauded for trying to help change the perception.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Letting the World Happen to You

It is really very hard these days to take anything positive from the challenges faced by millions of Americans trying to work their way out of a recession that has "ended" but where the jobs engine is not yet operating on all eight to say the least.

And as if it were not bad enough as we read the newspapers, magazines, blogs, and/or see and hear about it all on TV 24/7 it feels like 99% of what we see or read is not just negative but offers no pragmatic or practical steps that an individual can take to deal with the situation.

It was with this in mind that when the information about Pete Weddle's latest book came across my desk that it made me smile.

I have known Pete for more than 20 years and for those who are part of the world of recruiting, retention, and career self-management his is a name that we all know and respect.

In terms of my relationship with him, one of the traits that has always stood out when I think of him (and I don't know if this comes from his West Point education, parents or simply his outlook on life) but if there is a problem, Pete always is looking for ways to solve issues, rather than wring his hands and wonder what to do next.

This attitude comes through 5x5 in his latest book called The Career Activist Republic.

The picture Pete paints can maybe best be understood if you know how he defines what a Career Activist Republic is vs. A Republic.

Here is what he says:
A Republic

A state without a monarch - a political system in which the supreme power lies in the body of its citizens.

The Career Activist Republic

An economic system without omnipotent employers - a workplace where the supreme power lies with people of talent.
When ExecuNet began in 1988, virtually every executive I talked with was looking for a job due to a corporate restructure, merger, or whatever. Over the years, one of the key lessons that thousands of us have learned is that we can either sit back and let the world happen to us (as almost certainly it will) or we can decide to do all we can to make sure that we are the ones "happening to the world" rather than the other way around.

I suspect that it is a significant part of that "learning" that accounts for the fact that a very large percentage of our membership is made up of executives who are currently working but knowing what they know from past experience, want to make sure that they can not only keep up with what is going on in the business world but also can tap into the "learnings" of their peers, confidentially if need be, along with being able to monitor the executive marketplace.

We believe that we are a Career Activist organization, and as such would urge all "activists" who are tired of letting the world happen to them to pick up a copy of Pete's book either on WEDDLE's or via Amazon.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

So Many Questions - So Few Answers

While there are literally dozens of issues where job changers look for answers such as on: resumes (functional vs. chronological), interviewing (what are the best ways to deal with questions that feel like they have no good answers), networking (how do you build one, keep it, expand it?), salary negotiation (when asked about compensation, what's the right answer?), age discrimination (how do you fight it?), follow-up (what's too little or too much?), changing industries (how is it done?) And the list goes on.

Unhappily, ginning up the list is easy. Knowing what to do next, however, is definitely a different issue.

All you have to do is go to your local bookstore (remember those?) or cruise around Amazon and check out the number of books available on career management to see what I mean.

The mere fact that there are literally thousands of books and probably tens of thousands of articles is enough to provide a clue that while most of us want "answers" the fact is that in the real world you get "opinions" and in most cases that will have to do.

To be sure, this fact is a source of no little frustration for many, especially senior level executives whose DNA is almost always type "A" and whose attention spans are measured in nanoseconds.

As I talk with ExecuNet members I certainly hear the frustration and once past the rants irrespective of subject, the question I get asked a lot is what, if anything, can I do about this stuff?

My short answer is it depends on your approach to problem solving.

My longer answer (i.e. suggestion) is to ask people to put on their business problem solving hat and focus on dealing with a job search as a business challenge because in essence that's what it is.

You are the product and your job as GM is to overcome the market hurdles for the product. That said, however, no one is asking you to fight through all this alone (that's why you have staff) and in terms of their membership, we are their staff.

Looking at it in this light, as GM, what would you do? Answer: You would do an analysis of the situation including sorting out the things over which you have no control and focus on the things you can control.

In terms of looking for a job, among other things, this would mean market research, product development, sales training, a product launch plan, monitoring the results and adjusting as needed.

It also would mean setting the appropriate expectations so as to help manage the inevitable "foul balls" and inherent impatience referred to above.

Alan Lakein is often given credit for the "Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail" line. I am not sure who said it first, but whoever did they were, as the Brits say, spot on and if ever there was a situation to which this statement applies, it is job changing.

Yet, so much of the frustration that people feel is driven by the understandable pressure that comes from the product being themselves and the fact that the product's entry into the market place is self-funded.

Patience is a lot easier when it's not your money supporting the enterprise.

Understood, but my point is that if you succumb to the pressure to act before you really have a plan to manage (read: click and pray), you are going to find yourself even more frustrated when your customer is not responding because they really don't understand what you are selling, why they need it and certainly don't have the time to find out.