Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 11:44 am
In retail, it's location, location, location. In politics, it's the economy, stupid. There is actually an online game called It's the Economy, Stupid (click here) where you get to be the prime minister of a moderate size European country. In job search, it's the basics, basics, basics. What are the basics?
1. A resume free of typo's and employment gaps. You may have a legitimate gap in employment. In the event you have a gap in your employment history, you need to be prepared with a response that is factual and truthful. The important thing to remember is that life experience is just as important and in some instances more relevant than job experience and education.
2. A firm handshake. We have all reached out to shake hands only to miss. Most of us have been taught to make a firm handshake but the majority of us never learned how to make good hand contact. There is a technique you can use that will increase your chances of shaking hands not fingers. Most of us stretch our hands straight out at a 90 degree angle to shake hands. However, that increases your chance of not grabbing the person's hand. Instead, turn your hand to a 45 degree angle.
By making this subtle change you are almost 100% guarantee of making good contact and a firm handshake. Try it.
3. Maintain good eye contact. Where do your eyes go when you are thinking or providing a response to a question. I have had people look at the ceiling, to the left, right, down and you name it. Some of this is acceptable however, it is best to look people in the eye. You can look away to formulate your answer but then turn back to the person when responding. Also, when the person is speaking to you maintain that eye contact.
If you need an example, watch TV news anchors or reporters. They are looking down a black box called a camera. They don't see anyone but they are maintaining eye contact with you. They have to think about what they are saying (except if they are reading a teleprompter) without looking away. It takes practice. I don't know many people who practice eye contact. However, I have interviewed lots of job candidates who could have used the practice.
If you execute the basics, it won't guarantee you get the job. However, if you fail to execute the basics, it will almost guarantee you won't get the job.
Monday 28 March 2011 at 2:37 pm
Through rain, hail, sleet or snow is part of the U.S. Postal Service creed. You can now add "debt" to the creed.
The U.S. Postal Service is an independent agency of the U.S. government. It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the U.S. constitution. (Source: Wikipedia) In 2010, they lost over $8 billion dollars. It was a record loss attributed to a decline in mail volume.
To counter the decline the Postal Service reduced its service. It was an odd strategy and resulted in lost revenue not savings. Now, the Postal Service is reducing staff. They are seeking to eliminate 7,500 administrative, supervisory, and postmaster positions.
While the record loss was attributed to a decline in mail volume, I believe other factors contributed as well. Such as increased competition, cost of labor and inefficient processes.
The Postal Service is the second largest civilian employer (behind Wal-Mart) in the United States with 584,000 employees (339,000 carriers). The Postal Service delivered approximately 660 million pieces in 2010. That is approximately 2,000 pieces per carrier, per year. The annual revenue of the Postal Service in 2010 was over $67 billion dollars. That means each piece generated an average of $102 in revenue.
When I first calculated this, I thought my math was wrong because a stamp is only .44 cents. However, I remembered all the packages you and I mail during the holiday season. Then it made sense. Yet, the Postal Service lost over $8 billion in 2010. Why?
Simply put expenses exceed revenue. The average cost per piece is $114. The major factors are the cost of labor (approximately $100,000 per worker) and operating efficiency (approximately 1,200 pieces per worker). I find this hard to believe and hope my math is wrong.
The 7,500 jobs the Postal Service is seeking to eliminate is a little over 1% of the total workforce. It is expected to save $750 million dollars. That is steep but not enough to cover an $8 billion dollar loss. That would take 67,000 jobs or 11% of the workforce. I don't see anything close to that happening.
The good news is the U.S. Postal Service does not receive any taxpayer subsidies except for a few minor exceptions. The bad news, if you think it is bad, is that the Postal Service is borrowing money from the U.S. Treasury to pay for their deficits. That's okay, assuming they will repay the debt. If not, guess who is on the hook.
AIG was in this category but they repaid their $6.9 billion in debt. They were able to do so by selling some of their assets. If only the Postal Service had that option.
There has been a lot of debate regarding the rights of workers to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, and working conditions. The Postal Service workers have that right. In fact, they just reached a new agreement. According to the American Postal Worker Union leadership:
"...the union has sought to negotiate a contract that would be fair to our members and that would enable the USPS to succeed in the future."
Let's hope they are right. Through rain, hail, sleet, snow or debt.
Friday 25 March 2011 at 5:25 pm
David Gergen has served four Presidents. He wrote about his experience in his bestseller book entitled "Eyewitness to Power. The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton."
I was reading his book in a public setting recently when I suddenly burst out laughing. The passers-by all looked at me. I kept my nose in the book.
Gergen was relating how socially inept President Nixon was. He lacked the ability to engage in casual conversations. He was uncomfortable and did not know what to say. Gergan writes, "Nixon hated small talk and wasn’t good at it. In a motorcade in Florida, a cop on a motorcycle fell and Nixon, compassionate, stopped everthing so he could console him. But as the man lay on the ground, the only thing he could think to ask him was how he liked his job."
That is when I burst out laughing. I can only imagine what Leno would do with this today.
I thought about one of my more infamous social missteps. It occurred at the viewing of a friend who had passed away. As I greeted the grieving wife, she said to me. Thank you for coming. As I kissed her cheek I responded. I would not have missed it for the world.
Huh, where did that come from? What happened to I am sorry for your loss. He was a great man. No, the best I could do was, I would not have missed it for the world. Fortunately for me she was gracious and hugged me and moved to the next person.
You can laugh and think I need to work on my social skills. You would be right. However, I am not alone because you would be sitting right next to me. Care to share one of your social miscues?
Wednesday 23 March 2011 at 2:45 pm
The test of a great leader is how effective they are managing through a crisis. We have witnessed both good and bad examples. Japan's prime minister Naoto Kan is experiencing this now and the world is watching.
Why are some leaders more effective than others? I believe it is because they:
1. Want to lead regardless of the circumstances. All leaders have ego's but this is not that. Leaders don't get to choose their circumstances but they do get to choose how they respond to them.
2. Meet the needs of the victims and survivors. It is about the basics food, clothing, and shelter. However, when everything around you is destroyed achieving the basics takes creativity and persistence.
3. Communicate with credibility and empathy. You can't fake empathy but if you think you can a crisis will quickly expose an uncaring leader. You also don't have to be a great speech giver. President George W. Bush is not noted as a gifted communicator. However, he is remembered for his 9/11 Bullhorn speech in New York when he said, "I can hear you and the rest of the world hears you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
4. Are comfortable in unprecedented circumstances. While emergency management procedures and policies may exist, no two crises are exactly alike. In fact, the majority of crises today are of such a magnitude that a leader must be able to divert from standard practice.
5. Display a sense of urgency and composure in the face of chaos. No one wants to see a leader panicking. However, when the sky is falling people expect their leader to act with intensity and confidence.
A critical factor a leader must understand is that when a catastrophe hits, whether a natural disaster or an economic meltdown their job description changes and it is no longer business as usual.
Monday 21 March 2011 at 4:23 pm
I just finished reading two books. The Cause Within You (Finding the One Great Thing You Were Created to Do in This World) by Matthew Barnett and George Barna and Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Dr. Frank Luntz. Based on the titles you would think they are on the opposite end of the spectrum from each other. I recommend both books.
Matthew Barnett is the cofounder of The Dream Center in Los Angeles. If you are not familiar with what they do, you should check www.dreamcenter.org. Dr. Luntz is one of the most respected communication professionals in America (according to his bio). If you are not familiar with him, he is a frequent contributor to Fox News.
Matthew's book is about how he found the cause within him that lead to the founding of The Dream Center and how you can discover yours. Dr. Luntz's book is about the nine P's that differentiate winners from everyone else. While different, these two books share many similarities.
ONE: IT'S ABOUT PEOPLE
Matthew writes, "I don't know the details of the great cause residing within you, but I do know that it is related to people." Dr. Luntz calls this people-centeredness and it is one of his nine P's. "One of the most powerful benefits of people-centeredness is figuring out what's missing in people's lives--the void--and then coming up with a way to fill that void."
TWO: FILL THE VOID
For Matthew, the void are the needs of his community, which consists of the underprivileged, homeless, drug addicts and victims of abuse. His cause became serving this community through simple but effective ministries such as adopt-a-block, food trucks, shelter and rescuing victims of human trafficking. The Dream Center serves 30,000 people a week through 200 needs-centered ministries.
This is Matthew's cause. I am not suggesting nor does Matthew that this cause is the only cause. However, if you were seeking to find a cause that affected lives in a positive way this would be one.
The Dream Center is an example of people-centeredness. However, there are others. In Dr. Luntz's book, he gives examples of people in business, sports, education, and government who found a void and are trying to fill it.
Finding a void/cause is not as difficult as one might think. Filling it…well that's why I recommend you read the books to see how Matthew and others have done it and succeeded.
Saturday 19 March 2011 at 2:17 pm
There was an article in the Wall Street Journal Blog that caught my eye. It was entitled Entrepreneurship: A Look at the Nature-Nurture Debate by Emily Maltby. The subtitle was "Is entrepreneurship innate or acquired?" In other words, are entrepreneurs born or made? Hmmh, I know entrepreneurs possess certain skills but what unique talents do they possess that cannot be taught or learned?
The article quoted a survey of 500 business owners of small and medium-sized companies where approximately 50% said their success came from talent that cannot be taught or learned. Let that sink in a moment. Is this bravado or is there something to it? For one thing, the opinion was split 50/50. I read the article in search of answers.
Ambition and risk-taking were at the center of the debate as key attributes to the success of an entrepreneur. Ambition is a desire for personal achievement. Ambition is sometimes referred to as drive. Clearly, an entrepreneur needs this to be successful. However, can you teach someone to be ambitious? If so, how do you do it?
Risk-taking may be a little easier. There are ways to evaluate risk that are as much cognitive as they may be "gut." I think everyone takes risk. However, not everyone wants the responsibility for the decision that involves taking a risk. Can you teach someone to take more risk? If so, how do you do it?
I approached this article with skepticism because it reminded me of the age old debate are leaders born or made. The answer to both debates is the same. Yes.
Wednesday 16 March 2011 at 9:03 pm
I wish I took the penny every time someone said to me "a penny for your thoughts." Any idea how much a penny is worth over time? It depends on the interest rate and the amount of time.
The origin of "a penny for your thoughts" dates back to 1546 when John Heywood first published it in The Proverbs of John Heywood. If that penny was saved back then it could be worth as much as $43 million dollars today. I assume that is greater than its value as a rare coin. Remember a penny saved is a million earned. The problem is John is not around to collect.
It is believed the average person generates 70,000 thoughts per day. If you received a penny for every thought that would be $700 a day or approximately $180,000 per year, assuming you take Saturday and Sunday off. This may seem preposterous because we will never get someone to pay us for our thoughts. However, what you may not realize is your thoughts and ideas are generating revenue for internet companies such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others.
How is this possible when your membership is free? Everyone knows those internet companies generate their revenue from advertising. True, but before you say you ignore all advertisements, as do I, let me share a personal experience.
A friend of mine posted a message on Facebook the other day. She found a cool iPad case. She provided a link. I opened it. I thought it is cool. Check it out. "The Worlds Favorite Drawing Toy meets the most revolutionary Apple product ever!"
I bought it!
Monday 14 March 2011 at 2:20 pm
Within minutes of a disaster striking, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the American people are quick to respond to assist in the recovery. We suspend our differences and focus on what needs to be done. Corporate bashing is replaced by requests for matching donations. But, hey, it's the right thing to do and they have plenty of money.
The attendees at The South by Southwest Conference & Festival in Austin collected close to $25,000 to aid the Japanese and are now seeking to have their donations matched by a corporation. It is expected that corporations will come to the aid of others in the time of crisis, and the majority of them do.
That is a good thing however, what does not get enough press are the donations made to charities in time of non-crisis. In 2009, approximately 100 companies donated in excess of $12 billion dollars in cash and non-cash products and services. That does not account for countless other contributions made by small and medium-sized companies in the community where they live and work. Is it enough, should they do more, could they do more, perhaps, but whose decision should that be? The company, the community, the government?
I saw a report in USA Today that listed the top companies and their charitable donations for 2009. Wal-Mart topped the list with $288 million. Wal-Mart is a company that people love to hate. In 2009, Wal-Mart donated the equivalent of 8 cents earning per share. That may not seem like much but to an investor that 8 cents could be significant.
I believe corporations have a moral responsibility to give back to their community and the community-at-large not just money but also as good citizens. However, what I don't believe is appropriate that they be taken for granted or beaten up once a catastrophe has passed. The good thing is the people in need are not the ones that will do that.
It is interesting to note that approximately 100 companies donated over $12 billion in cash and non-cash products and services to charities in 2009. I did not calculate the total federal income tax these same companies paid in 2009, but I know Wal-Mart paid approximately $5.3 billion. Don't get me wrong, I am not defending Wal-Mart or any other company. What I am defending is capitalism.
Friday 11 March 2011 at 6:35 pm
I just returned from the 2011 National Leadership Forum at Southeastern University. This was the 5th Annual Forum and I have attended all five. They featured another outstanding line up of the best leaders in America. That's right; I said it, the best. This year included a return visit from President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Both spoke and then shared a unique experience where they were interviewed together for the first time.
Secretary Rice spoke about a number of current issues and about her book entitled Extraordinary, Ordinary People. Dr. Rice made several comments that resonated with me. One, nobody makes it on their own. Two, everyone needs an advocate and three; everyone needs someone to care about them. She then talked about the mentors in her life that helped her. It is interesting to note, that her mentors were white men and mostly old white men. I bought her book before I left the conference.
I had an early return flight the next day back to LA. I boarded at 7am and settled into my aisle seat. The seats adjacent to me were empty. I was hoping it would stay that way. Wrong, a family of six came in and sure enough, two of the kids were seated next to me. I could not tell their ages but they were young girls around 10 or 11. I decided not to endure this fate but to embrace it. Yes, there was constant getting up and down and elbows and shoves but I learned they were going to Disneyland, The Arts and Science Museum and of course, the beach.
The girls were disappointed when there was no movie or video on this flight. The young woman told me she had a book but it was packed in her suitcase and stowed away. I remembered I had Condoleezza's book with me and asked if she knew who she was. She said no and I explained she was the former Secretary of State under President Bush and the second woman and first black woman to hold the position. The young woman, I was speaking to happened to be African American. I reached into my bag and took out the book Extraodinary, Ordinary People. I showed her Dr. Rice's picture on the back cover and then asked her if she wanted to read it. She said yes. I was not sure whether the book was too mature for her but was relieved there were some pictures inside. I later learned she was in 5th grade and I remembered the TV show "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader" so I had no more concerns. By the way, she read my USA Today.
She and her sister read two chapters on the flight and asked me a few of questions. I gave her the book to take with her. I thought of Dr. Rice's comment that everyone needs someone. In a small way, I hope I was a someone to this young woman.
Saturday 05 March 2011 at 1:36 pm
A couple weeks ago, I participated in a Consumer Research project for an automobile company. I can't go into the details about the project because I signed a letter of non-disclosure. When I received the call asking me if I was willing to participate like most of you I was skeptical thinking they were trying to sell me something. The more we talked I realized they were not trying to sell me something and they were actually going to pay me to participate. An attractive amount I might add.
One Friday afternoon I drove to Pasadena and for five hours went through a battery of questions. They wanted my opinion about certain products. You might wonder why it took five hours but the time went by fast. It is amazing when you are asked your opinion and people are listening that you find you actually have a lot to say. There was no right or wrong answer. No one laughed or said that was dumb. They recorded everything we said verbatim. When it ended, I collected my cash and was on my way.
It was an interesting experience and I learned that others in my group had done this before. One person was a retired pilot, another a writer so a few bucks for their opinion was no inconvenience. As you might imagine we had similar and different observations about the same product. When there was disagreement, there was no need to try to convince someone to change his or her mind. Remember, there was no right or wrong answer, just our opinion. However, each of us knew that our opinion was the right one.
As I thought about this experience, I realized my opinion and others might influence a change in the product. It did not matter to me if my opinion would prevail as much as the opportunity to voice it and to know that someone was interested and listening. I was one small voice that was being heard and it counted just as much as my colleagues did. I was satisfied.
In the workplace and life people want their opinion to be heard. It is when they want their opinion to prevail that we have a problem.
Wednesday 02 March 2011 at 3:42 pm
I have stayed out of the debate on budget cuts within the Federal Government until now. The release of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Tuesday, March 1 provides a great backdrop to my comments. The GAO is the federal government equivalent to a corporate auditor.
As someone who has worked in the private and public sector, I have a unique perspective. The first thing to understand is the budget process for the Federal Government is complex and requires a lot of advance planning and coordination inside the agency, the Executive Branch and Congress. When I joined Homeland Security in 2008, we were developing our budget for 2010. Unlike the private sector, if you make a mistake in your projections it will take an act of Congress to try to change it. It took me a while to get used to the idea that I was managing a budget of $50 million dollars. In the private sector, my department would be a medium-sized company.
There is not one private sector Company with a market capitalization equal to or greater than the federal government budget. In fact, it takes Exxon, GE, IBM, Apple, and Microsoft collectively. However, the federal government is not the largest employer in the U.S. Wal-Mart employs slightly more with 1.4 million versus 1.3 million.
However, unlike a Wal-Mart store, the portfolio of federal government agencies is very diverse which makes managing them virtually impossible. Consider this statement from the GAO report.
Presidents since Harry Truman have attempted to eliminate redundancies only to bump up against powerful special interest groups and congressional committees wary of reductions to the programs they oversee.
In private industry people resist cost reductions, downsizing, restructuring, no one really likes them however, they become necessary sometimes because of management mistakes and other times because of market conditions. In the federal government, it is not that simple. It will be interesting to watch the debate over the GAO report and of course, the National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility (known as the Deficit Reduction Report) that could not win support among those who prepared the report.
The most frustrating thing for me is as complex as the federal government is I think the solution is straightforward. Oh, I know there are entitlements, etc., but from a pure operating standpoint, the solution is simple. Across the board cuts and if a federal agency is not number 1 or number 2, then close it or sell it (aka, Jack Welch and GE).
The federal government is different and you can't close or sell it. Not true. Some may think I am unrealistic and just don't get it. Maybe yes, maybe no all I know is when faced with a budget cuts in the private sector we kicked and screamed, said vital programs would stop, the cuts were not proportionate, it can't be done, etc. After we vented we made the changes because if we did not we would be out of a job but also the company would be out of business. There is not that same mentality in the federal government and there needs to be.
Tuesday 01 March 2011 at 3:44 pm
I know American Idol is the second highest rated (behind Survivor) competition/elimination-based reality television show. However, what does that have to do with leadership training? According to Tom Fox, there are four leadership lessons that Federal Government managers can learn from watching American Idol. You have to admit the idea is somewhat intriguing to think that you can get leadership tips from Randy, Jennifer, and Steven. Let's face it; leadership training is not rocket science or limited to a classroom.
I have a professor friend who designed a business course around The Apprentice. Not that big a stretch but I am still not sure about American Idol. We learned a lot from Omarosa and she has her own place in Wikipedia.
Let's get back to Idol. Below are Fox's four points designed to help Federal managers give performance feedback to employees using Idol as an example.
1. Make your motivations clear. The Idol judges normally begin by telling each contestant "You know I like you, right, dawg?" or something similar, before launching into their critique. This is supposed to relax the contestant allowing them to focus on the feedback designed to help improve their performance.
Managers need to start their feedback session with something positive before focusing on the areas where they want the employee to improve. So far, so good, I guess. Although, I am not sure this is something new or unique to Idol.
2. Focus on facts first, not feelings. Telling the singers they were "too pitchy," while annoying is objective and is something the contestant can focus on improving.
This is a good point but I don't think Idol is the best example to follow. Sticking to objective, fact-based feedback is the hardest thing for a manager to do. It is also hard for the Idol judges. Other than "too pitchy,” or "outside your vocal range," the majority of the judges comments are subjective i.e., "that song doesn't do it for me," "not your best, dude", or "sorry I just don't get it." If you don't get chances are the employee won't get it either.
3. Bring the box of tissues. There are a lot of tears, disappointment, and emotion on American Idol. Be prepared to help people regain their composure. Take a break before pressing on.
For the most part the Idol judges are sensitive to the contestants and know they are working hard. However, occasionally someone isn't or breaks down when the feedback or pressure gets too great. I don't think the judges do anything intentionally to solicit tears and for the most part they try and diffuse the emotion. This is a lesson we all can learn.
4. Close with clarity. You need to close with a concrete set of next steps. Too often, the Idol judges fail in this area.
This is a valid point and just as the Idol judges struggle with this so do most managers. My suggestion is that if you start with clear, focused, objective feedback the ending with concrete action steps will be much easier.
Finally, if reality (experience) is the best teacher does that include reality TV? You be the judge.