Friday, December 5, 2008

What are we teaching our society?

The signs seem to be everywhere. But the signs are sending mixed messages. The TV cries for recognition of a recession and the next story tells how to make your own cappuccino at home so you don't pay $4 for it at a coffee place. Is that really how we toughen it out?

Scores aren't kept in T Ball, since we don't want losers. Red pencils aren't used for correction since it would hurt the feeling of the students. But doesn't hurt help us understand joy? Doesn't the pain make us appreciate the sweetness of success? Would we have a mountain if we didn't have valleys? Would we appreciate clear sunny days if we didn't have cloudy gray rainy ones?

So, we are we teaching capitalism by bail outs? Why did we quit teaching civics? If the CEOs and staffs aren't being held accountable by the shareholders then who is the government to do so? I am so surprised to think that I have lived in the world where my folks and their parents talked about the tough times: eating vegetables they grew but didn't like; changing jobs to find work; moving to find work; frying spam and the baloney sandwiches I remember all too well.

We set up 401(k) plans to have people make their own choices about retirement--and then we encourage companies to have automatic enrollment so employees don't have to decide; then we encourage companies to set up "life strategy funds' so employees don't have to make decisions about what funds to use.

I say we because the government is us. If we don't like what is happening in DC we need to be involved.

So, now secret ballots for employee elections are being "discussed." It is expected that signed cards will be the necessary vehicle to organize a union--nothing more--no election--no secret election. No more will individual choice-just you and the ballot-be the environment. What was a private decision will be public.

I've been through these unionizing campaigns. The line is walked carefully on both sides since there is passion involved in winning. But in the end--it is up to the employees. It is up to each individual to make a decision whether to unionize or not. It is up to the employee to weigh the information from the union and the information from the company and then determine what he/she feels will be best for his/her.

These may seem like strange topics to combine: cars, bailouts and the lack of secret ballot.

They all are steering the direction of this country away from personal responsibility and accountability and into "whatever."

This is America. This is where you can come and become "American." What other country allows that? This is something you can't get anywhere else. This is where you work hard, make mistakes, learn from them and get up and go on. It is an ideology at work.

Let's go back and read what our founding fathers wrote. The were divinely guided to create this experiment called the United States of America.

Let's return to the strength of the individual to choose what they want for themselves. Let trust to help each other. I have learned in several communities in several states and each time whenever a need was known-it was solved by the community. it was helping the Children's Home; fostering dogs, building a barn.

Why would we want to eliminate the joy we have of giving to our own community? If all is decided for us, by those who think they know what is best, then why do we exist? Where is the need of the individual mind?

The bailouts are absurd. The automobile business model never changed to adapt for the changing world. The workforce addiction of mediocrity was created by the unions and enabled by the firms.

The surplus governments enjoyed in the bustling economy we had was spent not saved. Where was the planning?

The people being asked to bailout industry after industry will be supporting people who never suffered the pain they have. The taxpayers without medical or retirement plans due to cost will be paying for programs for civic employees or employees in lost industries.

Where does it stop? What do we allow just because we don't speak up?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

9=4 and a story of trust in leadership and each other

So last night Joe Maddon said 9=4 (see previous post).  Now home field advantage is key; now is the time for the fans to be there and understand the mission the team has had.  I wonder how many companies feel they have a "home field" advantage.  

One time when a layoff seemed the only way out, the head of manufacturing and I got together. Our company was better then a layoff.  Our people were better than that.  Thank God for the right people at the right time.  We looked at keeping the folks until the booked business came in , which was an anticipated  6 months later.  We compared that with the cost of severance and COBRA and administration and the survivor's guilt and the "next shoe" syndrome.  I truly don't believe you can save yourself to success.  We studied to see how much would we have spent on the "layoff" and what the expended and projected costs were.  We knew we could make 6 months but then our business case weakened if the work did not come in.  We bet on our folks.

That wonderful CEO believed in our business case.  He spoke to all the employees in a town meeting and confirmed their thoughts-we were running out of manufacturing work until October--six months away.  Eyes welled up with water, foots tapped and heads were hanging lower.  Some lips were terse on some and the silence was SO LOUD!

But the next was a surprise to those with their heads down.  "With your help, we won't have a layoff. We won't have a layoff but I need your help to do things we need done.  Things that may not be in your job description.  For this summer, we will pull back the landscapers and painters.  I need you to do those things.  I need help in the technical library; so if you will learn something new in that arena-I need you.  Help us spruce up this place and your pay will continue and your benefits will continue and as the manufacturing needs pick up-you will be back to your other positions.  Of course, who knows you may learn a new career (BTW- in the technical library position that happened.)

The applause and the tears and the smiles and unexpected hugs were SO WARM.  It was real. Weeks later, I was grocery shopping and one of the wives of our employees hugged me in the aisle.    The stress level was lower in their family.   Leadership in a company affects a family and a community and the attitude of school age children.  

So, the business went about its business and in 4 months, the work was in the factory.  It came in early because something unexpected happened.  Leadership lead and communicated the vision in simple terms.  But there was still a surprise.

See, the marketing folks and all the others who could bring in the business saw the factory employees working outside their jobs everyday.  The reminders were real-over coffee, in the parking lot, with paint cans and as the trash cans were emptied.  The sense of urgency was there so it happened.  It was not a layoff and a week later it was business as usual.

It was the whole company.  It was an innovative leadership team not settling, a CEO who believed in the staff and a workforce who trusted the leader.  It was all of us working together towards an end we trusted.

So, as I attend the ALDS  and have my hotdog with mustard and ketchup-despite the words of "Dirty Harry, " I will study the leadership and the emotions of the leaders.    And I will believe in the simple vision 9=4.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I will be fortunate to attend the Tampa Bay Rays postseason games.  How did this team go from worst to first?  In a year when the new stadium proposed by the owners was not being supported?  In an area that at times can not decide if they want to be big league or spring training?  With a manager in his third year?

Much has to do with the Manager, Joe Maddon.  This red-wine drinker in the beer and hot dog world has motivated this team.  He has tapped each player's potential, and filled in holes when stars have needed to step back.   He has veterans and he has rookies.  He is the fourth manager for this team which some MLB owners did not even want in the league. 

As I watch this statistically-burdened sport this week, I will be pondering the thoughts of that man in the dugout wearing the Buddy Holly eye glasses.  What did he see in this team and how did he communicate it? How did he unleash the power of the team which is greater than the single players?  How did he stay strong after losing seasons?  What did he do in his mind for this year? Or was this an plan executed over the years?

You may find that pilosophical thinking a waste of a ticket during a ball game.  I think you can learn from  successes-your own and others'.  From worse to first is a success.  It's my work and my love.

There are mission and vision and value statements made up for corporations by consultants every day. (That is another topic for another post.)

This team has 9=8 given to them by the son of the 74 year old Pennsylvania woman who stills works at the Third Base Dugout Restaurant.  9=8 is the mantra from an economics major who  played football and baseball.

He thought it through making sure the numbers were big and on the back of shirts so others would see it clearly.  It was a reminder you couldn't miss.  It was a big mission explained in the simplest of terms FOR those who needed to hear it and believe it.  It wasn't for the fans; it was for the team.

The idea is nine players playing nine innings together can become one of the eight teams in the playoffs.

It is how this grandfather got a team to focus on the future and not the history.  It is a fine example of how you can learn from anyone.

I know I will have a hot dog and a beer that night; but I think I need to raise a glass of red wine to a man who knows how to lead.

Your thoughts?

What can you learn from about Nancy Pelosi's surprise?

Know your votes before the vote is taken is a lesson every one involved in Human Resources and/or with Boards of Directors should know.    It is being reported that votes fell away from the passage of the bill known as the "bailout."    There is a lesson to be learned from this no matter your feelings about the bill or those involved.

I have seen executives give talks without bouncing it off stakeholders. Those stakeholders include those implementing programs and those who will be carrying the message forward for the executive.   Could it be ego or arrogance that makes one think they don't need feedback? Assumptions can be a chilling lesson through a surprise. 

Understand the issue, explain your understanding to your stakeholders; get feedback and get the votes.  If you can not get the votes before, you will not get them later, especially by berating people.  There are so many sayings we have seen on stickers and office decor.  Saying like   "the beatings will continue until the morale improves"; and  "ropes are better pulled than pushed."

But shame on people who do not speak up when asked.  Salaries are earned for a job and that includes the truth of your understanding and your ability to speak up to those who need to hear it.  Say it respectfully, and if not taken-then you have another decision.

I would love your thoughts on this.  Have you had an experience where you were surprised?

Friday, September 12, 2008

What every job seeker can learn from Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin is campaigning for a new job.  It may not match the job for which you seek, but it is a new job.  And as many people,  she is in a job while trying to land the new job.  Job seekers can learn a good deal by watching her.  What you can learn is not based on gender or political party. Here are just some of them:

1) Prepare.  She has positioned herself in jobs and even volunteer roles to be ready for the new position and be visible for those who may be seeking someone like her.  She also prepared for the interview with Charlie Gibson as well as her speech at the convention.  Preparation really aids confidence.  

2) Use the name.  This is a great way to connect with your interviewer.  Several times during the recent abcnews interview,  Governor Palin started a sentence or paused  mid-sentence saying "Charlie" while answering questions.  This pause also gives you a chance to pull your thoughts together.
3) Understand your own values and principles.  Governor Palin could answer because she remembered the "why" of the decision, not the timing or memorizing the answer.  When your values or moral compass are your guiding points, you will be consistent in your answers.  Your passion for what you believe in will shine through.  If you are asked about teamwork in an interview, give the example requested but tell why (if you are) adamant about teamwork.    If it is part of your core then your responses will reflect that; just as if it is not-you will stumble.  You will stumble when you try to memorize answers
4) Don't get defensive.  Values come into play here as well.  If you know why you made the decision, the specifics are not the key. If you don't think the questions should be asked, explain your why.   Be assertive in your answers but respectful in your tone and you will go a long ways in establishing yourself as a leader.  Follow the lead of the interviewer with the questions.  Make your points within the questions.  This is not a time to come out with a "I want you to know this.."attitude.  People get hired for skills and fired for poor communication and relationships.  Be sure your interviewer is left with the positive potential you have, not that you can pass a test.

5) Watch your body language.  Make eye contact, use gestures and remain open with your arms.  Crossed arms do not convey such a meaning.  Looking off or down does not show confidence.  If you are not confident in your abilities why should anyone else be confident?

6) Ask for help.  If you stressed or need help in preparation ask for it.  This is not a time to have "should haves" after the interview.  Pastor Rick Warren has said that the Governor called him for help with Biblical verses which would help with dealing with criticism.  Get your help and support from whomever you need.

7) Ask for clarification.  Don't assume that the word or term you think he/she meant is what IS meant.  Better to ask for the clarification than answer what you think was the question which leads to a stronger follow-up question because you "didn't listen."  It is even worse if you don't get the stronger follow up.  Right or wrong--the interviewer has judged you at that point.

8) Dress comfortably.  This is not the time to wear new contacts.  It is not the time to find a new outfit unless you feel great in it and it looks great on you.  If your dress is uncomfortable then you will show that you are uncomfortable to the interviewer.

9) Follow your gut.  Governor Palin, it has been reported, ad libbed the now famous comparison between hockey moms and pit bulls.  She followed her gut, took a breath and said it. If you are asking yourself the question, should I say this?; then don't.  My friend Bill told me that "you can't un-ring a bell."  Clearly, her gut was saying, this is a great place for one of my favorite jokes.  She felt it and went with it.

10)   Be in the now.  Compartmentalize whatever went on before and what you have going on afterwards.  This is an item the Governor exhibited very well.  On the day the nation mourned, September 11, she sent her son off to Iraq with the Army, then delivered the speech to the troops and the families and then did what was probably one of the biggest interviews of her life. She had energy for all, and was in the role for each.  She did not allow her emotions of the moment overwhelm her or carry  forward to the next task or meeting of the day.  The Governor realized that the interview was with her, but it wasn't about her.  She was there to answer questions for the media and the voters.  Job seekers are in interviews to solve the problem for the corporation-filling the position with the right person.  Go into your interview with that service mind and you will learn more about the culture of the company and they will learn  more about you.

I wrote these as I had coffee this morning.  I hope  it helps you.  Share it with someone and share your thoughts.