There’s Always Time For Thanksgiving

November 25th, 2008

As Turkey Day approaches, it seems like a good idea to stop and smell the stuffing.

Sure, economic pillars are crumbling all around us, consumer spending is at record lows, unemployment is at a 10 year high, your raise may turn into a layoff notice and your 401 K is worth less than a giblet…but, one should be optimistic and recognize those things around us that are worth giving thanks for:

  • Customer service numbers that actually connect you to a live, knowledgeable person that speaks English.
  • Kids that say “please” and “thank you.”
  • Friends that put away their Blackberrys while talking with you.
  • Spouses that lavish you with praise rather than criticism.
  • Bosses that stop, look you in the eyes and say “great job.”
  • Waiters that don’t ask you if you want the imported Vatican bottled water with your hamburger.
  • Supervisors that give you honest feedback during your end-of-year performance review.
  • Taxi drivers that bathe on a regular basis.
  • Colleagues that refuse to pass on the latest rumor that they have heard.
  • Meetings that stay on schedule and only deal with relevant topics.
  • Applicants that actually know the products and services your company provides.
  • HR managers that actually disclose what really is going on.
  • E-mail writers that don’t cc: half of North America every time they inhale.
  • Pens that don’t leak on your new, crisp white shirt.
  • Direct reports that volunteer to take on extra assignments.
  • Speakers that make their topic interesting and stimulating.
  • News outlets that report events without any leanings or bias.
  • Commercials that recognize that you really do have an IQ higher than a parrot.
  • Real cashmere sweaters.
  • Chicken wings from Duff’s in Buffalo.
  • Your team coming from behind to win.
  • A baby’s smile.
  • A movie with an ending that you just didn’t see coming.
  • People that you meet at a networking event who actually call back.
  • A quick and witty rejoinder.
  • A really comfortable pair of shoes.
  • A 1997 bottle of Solaia wine.
  • A pen that always writes smoothly.
  • A good friend that you can always count on.
  • A Blog that respects you.
  • Today’s Tip: This Thursday, stop and take a minute to tell those around you how much they mean to you and how glad you are to have them in your life. Then, while they are distracted and bathing in the glow of your praise, grab that big drumstick and the last piece of sweet potato pie.


    Recession, Repression & Reinvention: How To Survive The Upcoming Downsizings

    November 18th, 2008

    Can the daily economic news get any more depressing?

    As layoffs and bankruptcies start spreading like the plague, you need to properly prepare to protect yourself inside and outside of the building…because

    Yes, it can happen to you!

    Here are some tips:

  • Read as much as you can about your company every day (e.g., check the internet, the corporate website and chat rooms).
  • Become a far more attentive listener. Listen to the gossips and water cooler chat. Other people may see or hear things that you didn’t (just don’t take it all as the gospel).
  • Sometimes, upper level management foreshadows events with their behavior or their inflections. Note unusual meeting cancellations or groupings of leaders.
  • Start making a list of all of your successes (especially those that resulted in savings) as well as a list of additional duties that you could readily take on, if asked. You want to be able to show, on instantaneous demand, your past, current and future financial value.
  • Make a concerted effort to get your office straightened up, files in order and projects on schedule.
  • Avoid latenesses and absences as much as possible. You want to be seen and valued as much as possible.
  • Attempt to resolve any outstanding feuds with co-workers.
  • Volunteer to take on more work and responsibilities (when the Boss asks for help, your hand should be the first one up).
  • and while all of that is going on internally…

  • Get your old resume updated and in order.
  • Start scanning job websites (e.g., Monster, CareerBuilder, Hot Jobs, etc.).
  • Talk with a headhunter/recruiter.
  • Start (confidentially) applying for some appropriate and appealing positions.
  • Recognize that finding a new job takes about 9-12 months…so start now.
  • Start to inquire about possible opportunities and connections through your friends.
  • Make lawful copies of your work product and records and bring them home now. You may not get the chance later.

  • Today’s Tip: Don’t be naive. In this economy, you need to be aggressive inside and outside of your workplace. Maximize your value to your Boss, your colleagues and to the company…while preparing for a safe landing (elsewhere) just in case you have to hit the “Ejector Seat” button (or if someone hits it for you).

    The Buck Stops Here (assuming that you have a buck): Dealing with your employees during tough economic times

    November 11th, 2008

    The stock market is down, houses are in foreclosure, companies are laying off thousands or in bankruptcy and your quarterly numbers look like an airplane that just lost its wings..and its engine.


    With all of that going on, December only 3 weeks away and raises, performance reviews and bonuses on the immediate horizon–what’s a Boss to do?

    How do you deal with associates during such tense & economically challenging times?

    Here are some thoughts:

  • Recognize that the grapevine has been going full throttle (with rumors ranging from the pending sale to aliens to mutterings that the office will be bulldozed to make room for condos)…so you need to clear the air, limit the speculation and get people on the right track.
  • Handle layoffs discretely and with dignity.
  • Make you office’s Holiday celebration consistent with the tenor of the other messages that you are delivering (e.g., avoid holding a black tie dinner with shrimp cocktails in the same month that you will be firing 50% of your staff).
  • Desperately search for a “good news” spin. Small bonuses are better than none; no raises are better than pay cuts and wage reductions are better than terminations.
  • Avoid conspicuous spending (redecorating your office now won’t win you any new friends).
  • Encourage “pot-luck” lunches to save money and build morale.
  • Offer financial incentives to employees whom can generate significant cost-savings ideas.
  • Avoid bragging about any new or conspicuous expenditures.
  • Reward employees daily with little things like gold stars, happy face stickers or a piece of candy (they will truly appreciate being recognized and continue to vie for your approval).
  • Instead of a more formally catered meeting or lunch out, bring in some pizzas.
  • Give your workers a choice in what they may have to give up (e.g., free coffee vs. buying their own bottled water).
  • Encourage the office to make bulk supply purchases from a big box warehouse.
  • Encourage everyone to contact their vendors and extract some cost reductions (you could even make it a contest).
  • Acknowledge anyone that is contributing and performing above expectations (even if you just say “atta boy/girl”).
  • Allow your workers more time to vent with you and each other.
  • Be a really good and empathetic listener.
  • Don’t wear your emotions on your sleeve. Nervousness and fear are toxic and contagious.
  • Recognize that even your most innocent comments will be analyzed and dissected by your team, so think twice before you blurt something.
  • Today’s Tip: Tough financial times cannot be ignored by leaders. Associates can get easily rattled and distracted. Speak prudently, listen well and be creative. Employees will always appreciate acknowledgment, compliments, sensitivity and candor. In challenging economic times, you, as the Boss, need to serve as role model, parent, therapist and motivator.

    Stressed employees don’t need you to bet your bottom dollar…just give them your two cents.

    Penny for your thoughts?

    A Chicken In Every Pot and A Presidential Bon Mot: How To Speak & Act Like The Ultimate Chief Executive

    November 3rd, 2008

    As tomorrow is Election day, I thought that it would be good to write about something “Presidential.”

    As you are well aware by now, McCain and Obama have very different speaking styles. One tries to be “Joe the Plumber” folksie, my friend while the other likes to be the grand orator and agent of change.

    Both styles have their place (irrespective of your personal politics).

    The key is to pick a style that works well with your personality and position.

    So, in the rare event that you ever seek the highest public office (and with tongue firmly in cheek), here’s how even you can sound and act Presidential:

  • Always carry a podium with you. You never know when someone will ask you about the state of the union.
  • Even when ordering from a fast food drive-through, use a tele-prompter. One missed word and that cheeseburger could become a baked potato with broccoli.
  • Blame all mistakes on your Vice President–that’s what they are in office for.
  • Prior to being sworn in, you can consider your oven, dishwasher and toaster to be your kitchen “cabinet.
  • When your spouse yells at you for sleeping late on Saturday, you can inform them that you are exercising your “Executive Privilege.”
  • Always encourage your female interns to bring their dresses to the dry cleaner.
  • Fire any translator that suggests that the Ambassador to Lichtenstein just delivered a UN address wherein he declared war on all sweat socks and under-garments.
  • Always begin any international negotiation with a high five, some silly string and 3 uses of the word “dude.”
  • Prior to spending Thanksgiving with your in-laws, send in “peace-keepers” to survey the surroundings and terrain.
  • Whenever defrosting anything in your microwave, avoid shouting “I just nuked it.”
  • Don’t ever review your family’s budget in a chinese restaurant. They will resent you when you try to cut out the “pork.”

    Today’s Tip: To be Presidential, you have to sound and act Presidential: Use grandiose phrases, catchy slogans and always check the mirror to see that you have no hanging chads.

  • “Take It Or Leave It”: Negotiating Like An 8 Year Old & Winning

    October 28th, 2008

    All of us feel like we are masterful negotiators…until we go up against our kids. Somehow, some way, they manage to wrangle stuff from us that we had absolutely no intention of providing.

    What are their negotiation secrets and how can you make them yours?

    Lucky for you, I am a child at heart.

    So here are the 10 tips that you need to know:

  • Always have control over your surroundings (kids know that they always get more when they are talking to you in their room than when they are in yours).
  • Quickly identify the weakest link of the opposition (Daddy is more likely to buy crappy, sugary food than Mommy is).
  • Your opening is important and sets a tone (”You know that I love you more than anything, don’t you?”)
  • Synchronize your attack (once baby sister joins in on the crying, the ‘rents are putty in their hands).
  • Listen carefully (usually, the more the speaker talks, the greater the likelihood that they will reveal a weakness).
  • Try to have a “win-win” option available (”if you buy me the bike, I will throw the garbage out every night”).
  • Be prepared to call their bluff (”go to my room because I am punished?” …”I love my room!”).
  • Assess what the other side’s priorities are and seize the opportunity that is provided (”Oh, you want to have a quiet dinner?…order me the chocolate cake or they will hear me in Australia plus I do feel a bout of massive bathroom needs coming soon”).
  • Be creative in coming up with a solution (”You don’t have to buy us both Wiis. Just buy one console, but let us each pick our own games.”).
  • Never burn the bridge because you will need to go back across in the future (”Thanks for the secret sweater Mom. I promise not to tell daddy how much that you spent.”).

    Today’s Tip: Negotiation is a skill that we master when we are kids and then forget once we have grown up. Unfortunately, we knew a lot more in our formative years than we do now. So, take a step back. It’s OK to regress. Set your goal, size up your opponent, plot a course to success and use emotion and logic whenever necessary. If none of that works, you could always just spit up and cry out for “Momma.”

  • Spinning Plates, Juggling Knives & Making Meatloaf: The Work-Life Balance

    October 21st, 2008

    When it comes to your job and your home life, “balancing” isn’t an option-
    it’s a necessity.
    To paraphrase Freddie Mercury of Queen, we “want it all.”

    The question is whether this balance can ever really be attained.

    Working women know this better than anyone.
    How can you be a fully contributing cog in the workplace and then also play the role of dedicated wife, mother, lover and friend?
    I guess it’s the new version of the “Madonna/Whore” dichotomy.

    For men, years of sexist and antiquated role models and traditions have made the demands upon them less tactile and apparent. Still, many struggle with their multiple roles as spouse, father, partner and friend.

    Regardless of gender, stereotypes or past practice, the real question is what can you do to make some serious headway towards this elusive goal of work/life balance.

    Here are some tips:

  • Sit down with your partner and kids and explain what the demands of your job are. Family members will be more understanding if they have a general idea of what’s coming.
  • Make your trips away from home an educational exercise (use a map to point out your destination and bring home something indigenous). Pretty soon, your kids may actually encourage you to go to more and different places so that their “collection” will expand.
  • Make a commitment to an activity or an event every weekend (e.g. soccer, movies, pizza night, etc).
  • Don’t make a promise that you can’t keep. Broken promises sting far worse than unmade ones.
  • Give yourself a daily “break.” Whether it is a hot bath or 30 minutes of watching Sports Center, you will appreciate the down time and be better equipped to deal with everyone else.
  • Don’t send mixed messages. Family dinner is not the time for calls or Blackberry monitoring. Shut the outside world off—-even if it is just for a few minutes.
  • Be a good listener. One of the nice things about not being with your significant others every second is that it gives them a chance to live their lives and to have things to talk about. Ask personal questions and listen like it matters. Also, listen far more than you talk.
  • Share your day with your partner, ask for advice and engage them in your work world. If they understand your daily pressure, they will cut you more slack.
  • Commit to vacation time and re-establish and maintain the fabric of your family unit.
  • If you have to work at home, do it before the family wakes up or after they go to sleep. What they don’t see won’t remind them of your “other” life.
  • Explain the “opportunity cost” of work to your family in economic terms. Would they rather that you worked 1/2 the hours but had to give up 1/2 of the goodies? (e.g. vacations, nice clothes, cable TV, text messaging, eating out in restaurants, movies, etc.).
  • Bring your family to work at least once. It will help them create a picture memory that will enable them to envision where you are when they communicate with you on the phone or via e-mail.
  • Leave family members notes (in silly places) while you are away. It will feel like a little hug when they find it.

    Today’s Tip: No one has the ability to keep the see-saw of work/life in a perfectly horizontal and balanced position. It’s angle changes every day and the tilt can be painful. Don’t get upset at the imbalance. Adjust it. The ultimate secret is to make each minute count and to work hard at not working so hard.

  • Spousal Intercourse: Talking To Your Better Half About Work

    October 14th, 2008

    So, there you are, my working friend.

    You just had one of those days:
    the Boss reamed you out, your colleagues made fun of you and your main client just cancelled their big order (and evaporated your commission). Adding salt to the wound (and water to the silk), you have a stain on your best shirt, you didn’t get that promotion you were counting on, your department’s being down-sized and you may have to move the family to Gary Indiana.

    As your chest and head pound out the drum solo to Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” you walk into the house and hear that dulcet-toned question from the spouse:

    “How was your day, dear?”

    Before you go ballistic, remember these helpful tips:

  • If your spouse does not work, your arrival and “download” are very important parts of their day. It keeps them abreast of the workplace issues that surround you and makes them feel involved.
  • If your spouse also works, they have two simultaneous and, perhaps, contradictory needs: they need to vent and they want to know how your work-life compares to theirs. Even when dealing with different industries and titles, most everyone has assignments, deadlines, a Boss and colleagues. Your spouse needs to get a reality-check about their situation by hearing about yours.
  • Remember, your spouse did NOT cause you your work-day problems, so don’t take it out on them (and don’t make the dry cleaner bill the conduit through which you vent and release your stress…plus you do have to clean that silk shirt).
  • Never lose it in front of your kids. They have their own things to be stressed about (e.g. dates, homework, tests, college and zits).
  • A stiff drink is a short-term answer but will never solve the problem.
  • Keep your spouse up to date so that they can provide some perspective when the shi_t-hits-the-fan next week/month/year.
  • Even though they don’t work with you, the opinion of your husband/wife, a semi-empathetic “bystander,” might not be a bad thing.
  • If something really serious happened, let them know. Work-related secrets can come back and poison your marriage. Hey, what did you think “for better or for worse” meant when you said it?
  • Today’s Tip: Talk to your spouse about your workday. Let them into your world. You get to vent and they get to be involved. It’s the one form of “intercourse” that is guaranteed to be mutually satisfying.

    Phoning It In: A Workers Guide To Telephone Effectiveness

    October 7th, 2008

    A modern and simple truth:
    More people conduct business by phone than by face-to-face meetings.

    It’s quicker, less expensive, less intrusive and it even comes with a “Mute Button.”
    Despite the frequency of these phone calls, most business persons do not properly recognize the dynamics of such communication and how to get the most out of each call.

    Here are some things to remember:

  • The person on the other end of the phone cannot see you. Therefore, your body language, gesticulating and pointing is meaningless.
  • A call’s success will be decided on only two things: 1) your voice and 2) your content.
  • Your voice: elocution basics like inflection, pentameter, volume, speed and enunciation are going to filter and influence your message. The better the conduit, the faster and cleaner the message.
  • Your content: no one wants to hear long-winded, circuitous meanderings. Get to the point and don’t step on everyone else’s words (let others comment and question).
  • Reflect an upbeat attitude in your voice. An animated receptionist that speaks clearly and listens well is a wonderful reflection of a professional organization. A telephone answerer that is short, curt, rude and who mumbles at 150 miles per hour is a mess.
  • Never eat anything while you are on the phone. We can hear every chew…and now I am hungry.
  • Pick up the phone after no more than 3 rings. Let’s face it, you are not that important. If you were, you would have a secretary screening your calls.
  • Don’t put your hand over the mouthpiece while you speak to the (apparently more important) person that just walked into your office. We really can hear every word…even the juicy ones. Better to politely put us on hold or to not stop the conversation.
  • Avoid profanity. There is no safe haven for the listener to escape to and it’s just not professional.
  • Always tell the other party when you are putting them on speakerphone. You never know when “Mr. Bad Comb-Over” or “Ms. Slut-face” will unexpectedly walk-in.
  • Don’t read the newspaper or finish your budget while on the phone with me. I can tell when you are distracted. Perhaps, one clue was when you didn’t respond to my first six questions.
  • It’s OK to pause or have a little dead air. Not every millisecond needs to be filled with noise. Just avoid extra long (more than 30 seconds) or frequent gaps.
  • Never (except a medical emergency) put your client on hold due to call-waiting.
  • As you conclude, re-confirm the follow-up and each participant’s assignment.
  • Make sure that the phone is off before you start mocking the participants.
  • Today’s Tip: “Call” it what you want, but good telephone skills = great business. If the listener can’t focus on anything but your voice…your hodgepodge of words, slurs, pauses, stumbles, stammers, and mumbles will become even more apparent. Impress the other party with well chosen and animated phrases. If you can be articulate, inviting and interesting, you will establish a great “connection” with your client and avoid many types of “disconnects.”