Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wall Street: CSI

“Financial Forensics” could be the salvation for many of Wall Street’s unemployed executives.

The jumble of SIV’s, CDO’s, CDS’s and the rest of the other magically created financial products that are on the books of companies, institutions and portfolios worldwide are a mystery to most. And solving that mystery is a critical step towards regaining financial equilibrium both here and abroad.

After his acquisition of Gen Re - a global provider of reinsurance and related risk assessment services - Warren Buffett, arguably the world’s most successful and savviest investor, lamented that it took his team of financial professionals almost four years to unravel Gen Re’s cache of derivatives, in order to determine exactly what they were and what they were worth.

If it took the Oracle of Omaha’s group four years to untangle the numbers from just one company, imagine how long it will take and how many people are needed to make sense of the rest of this mess. Just do the math.

There are tens of thousands of entities across the globe – public and private companies, pension and mutual funds, foundations, municipalities, charities, high net worth individuals, etc. saddled with these products and without a clue as to their real worth or what to do with them. Trying to unwind, value and unload them could be a business unto itself.

And for the legions of unemployed Wall Street executives familiar with these ephemeral securities, the end result could be long-term assignments trying to make “heads or tails” out of the morass of alphabet soup products now owned by a extensive list of duped, or at least confused, investors.

In short, the most qualified people who can get to the root of this labyrinth of financial maneuverings are those with the right background, skills and knowledge base to actually understand and evaluate them. Who better to do that job than the folks who created and sold these instruments in the first place?

There are now thousands of them in the job market. This is right up their alley and a great opportunity for them to right the economic ship they helped sink while becoming gainfully employed.

Out of the ashes, an industry is born.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Job Finding Secrets: Part II

Whoever tells you that there are no jobs out there has probably based their opinion on what they read in the press.

Sure the market is tough – real tough – and I’m pretty certain it’s going to get tougher. But with all the bad news about the unemployment numbers, I thought it interesting that an unusual number of people I’ve been working with had successfully landed jobs recently.

How is it that in this rapidly deteriorating job market, these people got jobs – really good jobs?

Personal career support is a difference maker

Thinking I might be on to something, I started looking for the common denominators among this group.

And what did I find? I found that except for falling under the category of “Executive” these people appeared to have little in common. Level, function, industry experience, age and most other variables were all over the place.

What they did have in common though, was that they all had personal career support. They worked closely with a career professional who advised them every step of the way.

A physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient

There’s real value in working with a professional. Someone who has the training and experience to help executives understand what they have to offer, determine what organizations need and would pay for those skills and develop a plan to make it happen.

Most people use a doctor to address their medical problems, a lawyer for their legal issues and a financial planner to help them manage their money. But when it comes to career advancement it’s amazing how many try to manage it alone.

That’s not a recipe for career success – especially not in these times.

Beware the charlatans

Helping others manage their career is not a skill that is easily mastered. And taking a two day training course to deliver a canned workshop on How to Get a Job is not a substitute for years of immersion in a field that is part science and part art form.

Advising people on the critical issues that impact their careers is becoming a hot job as the number of unemployed rise and fear spreads throughout the work force. Unfortunately, because career coaching is one of the few growth areas in this economy it is attracting more and more people looking to make a quick buck at the expense of others.

Real career pros are few and far between. And finding one, who is equipped to help, is not always the easiest task in the world. But, during times like these, it is definitely worth the effort.

So, the next time someone tells you there are no jobs out there, ask them how they know that and how long they have been doing career development work?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Job Finding Secrets: Part I

Want an edge over your job-hunting colleagues in this incredibly competitive job market?   Try burying your resume.

Now don’t get me wrong.   A crisply written resume, geared to the needs of the reader, is an important tool in a job hunter’s arsenal and absolutely necessary when contacting head-hunters, responding to ads or following up on leads that have asked for one.

But sometimes, sending out a resume is more of a hindrance than a help.  Especially, when you are unable to network into a company you’ve targeted and are forced to approach them cold.

Stand out from the crowd

With over 500,000 jobs lost in the last two months alone, including many executive positions, it’s important to find a way to separate yourself from the herd.  And with the majority of job hunters flooding the market with resumes, doing something a little out of the ordinary, can make all the difference in the world.

Years of career coaching has taught me that a well written note will almost always generate more attention than one accompanied by a resume.  It doesn’t scream “job hunter” and lends itself to follow-up conversation.

So, how do you craft a note that brings results?

Understand your objective

Start by understanding what the desired outcome of contacting someone is.  It is not to get a job.  That takes ongoing discussions, interviews and the ability to convince others that you have the appropriate skills and experiences to add value to their efforts.

The initial objective is simply to find a way to get the attention of a decision maker who is positioned to offer you a job or help you in your search.  You want to open a dialogue, get them to take your call and hopefully wind up across the desk from them in meaningful conversation.

Resumes often say too much and allow others to make go/no-go decisions about candidates.  A note that starts out talking about a company’s needs, relates it to a brief summary of your background and closes by indicating you’ll follow-up is the perfect definition of “less is more.”

Strike while the iron is hot

Most career coaches know that a sizeable proportion of jobs are filled long before a company ever considers advertising them.  They call it the “Hidden Job Market.”

That’s not all that surprising.  Jobs are created in one of two ways.  Either there’s a need that has to be addressed or a leader is dissatisfied with the performance of someone in their department and starts thinking about making a change.

Whatever the reason, it typically takes months between the time an issue is identified and a job gets advertised.  Meanwhile, the need or level of dissatisfaction keeps growing.

And it’s during that time of indecision, before a position is ever posted, that a prospective candidate who has opened a dialogue with a company often has their best shot. 

So, try leaving your resume in the drawer, bang out a note and see if you can get the conversation started.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A New Paradigm For Employee Engagement: Part II

These times demand a new model for achieving engagement among executives.

While companies know that ignoring employee engagement is a mistake – many say they can no longer afford the costs traditionally associated with achieving it.

With the credit crisis, falling market caps and a drop in earnings, C-suite execs have grasped their cost-cutting hatchets and are taking mighty swings.

In their sights: – people and programs.

And, as pressure mounts to reign in costs, more and more companies are cutting back, postponing or totally eliminating those programs designed to dial up engagement.

The old employee engagement paradigm

The old paradigm of Employee Engagement was based on factors that included money, boss & colleague relationships, training, pride in company, career issues and other variables.

Costs associated with them, especially those related to comp and training were steep. And in this market, dollars alone will not drive engagement.

Survey after survey shows that well over 50 percent of the reasons employees become engaged, has to do with an organization’s ability to provide career help and support. Of all of the factors associated with engagement, it’s the career issues that drive them.

As an added plus, career management assistance costs the least to provide, is easiest to deliver and gives the best bang for the buck.

The new employee engagement paradigm

Companies can no longer offer everything they once did…it costs too much…. and in today’s environment, most executives have lowered their expectations.

What really gets their attention, the one thing executives consistently say they want, is help with their careers. Help an executive gain greater knowledge about and control over their career and you’ll have an engaged employee. I’ve seen it over and over again.

Need more proof that engagement's important? According to the Conference Board, highly engaged employees outperform their disengaged counterparts by anywhere from 20 to 28 percent. That’s a very big payback

Building a new model based on providing individual career management is a cost effective and proven way to grow engagement among those in leadership ranks. It’s the right approach for today’s world.

Reallocate expenses

Most companies provide some level of outplacement to exiting executives. Those costs could go a long way towards supporting a full scale employee engagement program based on a new paradigm that focuses on career management.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to provide the career advancement tools, techniques and materials employees clamor for, long before they are laid off?

Why wait to fire someone to give them what they want?

Monday, October 27, 2008

A New Paradigm For Employee Engagement: Part I

Fear has become the catalyst for engagement and retention.

As headlines scream layoffs and unemployment numbers spiral ever higher, fear grows like weeds among senior employees as anxiety about keeping their jobs builds daily. Couple this with a declining economy resulting in fewer new jobs and it's no wonder that those still employed are riding emotional roller coasters.

Short-term relief, long-term pessimism and daily uncertainty are now motivating many of today's executives.

Retention, so recently the hot button issue among the corporate hierarchy is no longer part of the dialogue. Concern about losing key people doesn't have the same urgency when the ranks of available executives in the marketplace continues to swell.

Executives are engaged all right, but they’re engaged out of fear. They know that layoffs across all levels, sectors and industries will continue and they don't want to be next.

Short-sightedness rules the day

In this environment, employee satisfaction has been trumped by shareholder wrath.

With the outlook for profits in 2009 appearing dismal, many companies are reducing or entirely eliminating employee development programs for their current workforce. Balance sheets and budgets rule all decision-making. Employee engagement initiatives have been relegated to the discretionary and seemingly unnecessary expenses column.

While such draconian measures may be required for companies' short-term fiscal health, what happens in the long run when the primary factor driving employee engagement is fear?

I’ve witnessed companies, during past cost-cutting sprees, shred the programs that exhibited their commitment to employees. And I’ve seen employees' reactions when they're forced to undertake increased workloads along with decreased benefits. As anyone who has ever been in that position can confirm, it's not the optimal formula for an engaged, productive workforce.

While it's true that fear can be a motivator and undoubtedly keeps employees from roaming, there is a significant downside. Fear does not instill loyalty. Fearful employees do not have their employer’s best interests at heart and probably never will. Fear is rarely a formula for ongoing success.

Get ahead of the curve

Think ... and act long term.

Employees, executives included, have much to be concerned about. For many, their personal wealth has declined in tandem with the job market and options are fewer. So while their current fear may keep them bonded to their companies and willing to do whatever it takes to keep their jobs, it’s not the kind of glue that sticks.

Eventually this crisis will pass and once again the cry will go out for increasing engagement among employees and improving retention. When that time comes and the “hammer” passes from the employer back to the employee, companies can find themselves reaping the "rewards" of their neglected workforce.

Key employees can ... and do ... jump ship once the lifeboats return.

Nothing is as constant as change

Those companies that have done best by their people during a downturn will be the quickest to prosper and hold onto valued employees when the tide turns ... which it eventually will.

Conversely, those companies that have ignored critical concerns and dismissed the fear prevalent in the workforce are not planning for success in a future turnaround. Even with present budgetary restraints, costs associated with ensuring positive employee engagement are minimal.

Given how many dollars are spent on exiting employees, one wonders why companies choose to neglect those still with them.

It could be, that they're - penny wise and pound foolish.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The New Workplace Reality

It’s amazing how quickly things can change.

With the calamitous shock to the stock market and business leaders like Bill Gates predicting that unemployment “may peak at more than nine percent,” the prospects of easy job finding have all but vanished overnight.

And with that has come a sudden change in business priorities and an altered outlook among employees.

What a difference a year makes

This time last year, long before the economy went haywire and free market nations opted to nationalize their banks, businesses and their HR professionals were focused on the twin issues of engagement and retention.

Holding on to top performers and dissuading them from venturing out into the friendly waters of the job market was a critical priority. Companies knew jobs were easy to come by and they made every effort to identify and meet the needs of their workers while brushing up the welcome mat to attract new ones.

The results of engagement surveys were obsessed over and programs were rolled out designed to ensure employees did not roam.

But the pendulum has swung and what was recently a “sellers” market for employees has gone the way of the dodo bird as the anxiety felt by those who fear their jobs are in jeopardy grows with each new negative headline.

Couple this with the rash of downsizings now being announced and you have a scenario designed to keep employees chained to their jobs and fearful of even considering options.

Talent management still matters

In times like these, cost cutting becomes the name of the game. And the easiest way to reduce cost is to reduce headcount while simultaneously freezing the number of new hires.

As employers “pull in their horns,” so too do employees. Survival becomes paramount, trepidation about pursuing outside options grows and career advancement takes a backseat to job security.

But employees paralyzed by dread is not a formula for moving business forward.

Evolved employers know that people really are their most important asset and that retaining them through fear rarely leads to increased productivity or business success. While cutting staff may be necessary and running lean an imperative, maintaining employee engagement is now more important than ever.

So while the reality of finding jobs in the current workplace has changed, the need for engaged and committed employees has not.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How Safe Is Your Severance Package?

Anxiety has become the great common denominator among corporate executives.

“What if I lose my job?” is the question many ask as fear about how well they can withstand a job loss steadily grows.

Their fear is warranted.

Many have seen their net worth fall rapidly as the stock market freefalls, investments plummet and property values continue to decline.

Add in the frozen credit markets and the buzz about an impending global recession and you have a recipe for unprecedented stress that is being felt in all sectors around the world and in virtually every household in America.

The rules keep changing

Not too long ago, when an executive was fired, they could anticipate a healthy severance that would tide them over until they found their next job. No matter how short their stay with a company, it was widely felt that providing attractive exit packages was a good investment.

Severance packages mitigated the disruption felt by terminated executives, reduced the potential for litigation and improved the odds that those leaving retained positive feelings towards their former employer. Plus, they helped ensure that remaining employees perceived the company as a fair, concerned and responsible corporate citizen and, in spite of layoffs, a desirable employer.

But as the number of fired executives grows and future layoffs loom larger on the horizon, generous exit packages will be among the casualties of the economic meltdown.

Less is not more

In an article entitled Lehman Staff Gets the Shaft in Severance, the NY Post told the story of one Lehman employee who left in March, after 16 years with the firm.

Her severance package included salary and benefits continuation for 13 months. A safety net designed to last through April 2009.

But on September 30, she along with other former Lehman employees, was informed by letter that the company was ”no longer able to provide salary continuation or other benefits and as a result you will not receive payment on October 3 or thereafter.”

Totally unexpected ... and, unfortunately, completely logical.

Lehman Brothers, having been forced into bankruptcy, simply does not have the funds. And today, many companies are in a survival mode that will force them to alter their severance policies.

The new reality

So what’s an executive to do? Prepare for the worst case scenario.

Proceed as though you will be given a zero separation package and plan and act accordingly.

Ensure your cash reserves are adequate to support an extended job search and as I've written previously, develop Plans B & C.

The marketplace will be shedding many more jobs in the upcoming quarters as companies retrench to remain viable. Many will just not have the cash - or credit - for severance payouts.

The saying, "It's not in the bank until it's in the bank" has never been truer.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Entrepreneurial Career Options

When it comes to careers, you have two options: Work for someone else or work for yourself.

As I’ve written previously, the first option will become considerably more difficult in the upcoming months, so if you haven’t considered the second, now would be a good time to identify and explore entrepreneurial possibilities.

Entrepreneurship can take many forms, from independent consultancy to the formulation of a business, from the development of a local service company to the acquisition of a multinational franchise.

In other words, no matter how meager the job market gets, if you’ve prepared for worst case scenarios, a well executed entrepreneurial option can give you a way to survive and possibly thrive in difficult times.

Risk-averse executives

The magnitude of risk aversion expressed by those who have been employed their entire careers seems to increase in proportion to their status in the company. I’ve coached many successful senior-level executives who are highly reluctant to strike out on their own.

For all their accomplishments, they are less confident than many newly arriving immigrants in their ability to make it outside the corporate cocoon. For them, the notion of starting or buying any kind of business is fraught with angst, doubt, fear, rationalizations, etc. They want the safety net they think an employer provides along with a steady salary, benefits, perks, etc.

Unfortunately, during times of economic crisis, the financial well being of many companies can be in far worse shape than the personal portfolios of its employees.

Where is the safety net when that happens?

Entrepreneurship vs. Employment

While “being your own boss” is a not-so-secret wish of many executives who glamorize the independence it brings, the likelihood of success is never certain. It’s that uncertainty that often stops them from pursuing it.

Well, the likelihood of job-finding success in the current corporate marketplace is also becoming increasingly uncertain and may only get worse in the months ahead.

When that happens, adding the active pursuit of an entrepreneurial option may make good sense.

Because, when the uncertainty associated with finding a job or entrepreneurship starts to level out, spending time pursuing one or the other presents a more equal risk/reward ratio … with one key difference:

For the foreseeable future, executive employment opportunities may be fewer and harder to find than innovative entrepreneurial options.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Contemplating A Career Change

What will you do if you don’t find work in your chosen field?

If jobs across the board start to dry up, what options will you pursue?

Those are the questions I raise to clients as the crisis in the credit markets threatens to grind commerce to either a snail’s pace or complete halt. The significant increase in the number of impending layoffs and the possibility of widespread hiring freezes underscore the importance of knowing those answers.

Fewer jobs, more candidates

One certainty that will emerge from the current economic situation is that in the short term, more people will be vying for fewer jobs.

Some looking for work in this crowded job market will come up empty. Even after they’ve made all the right moves … responding to ads, contacting headhunters, networking, exploring smaller companies, out-of-area opportunities and different industries … they’ll still be unemployed.

Plan B

If it appears that no one is hiring your skill, at your level or in your field, what are your alternatives? What else can you do?

First, redouble your efforts. Go back and start the campaign all over again. Explore deeper, improve your focus and push harder. Many times, those who put in the most effort get the best rewards.

But these are not ordinary times. When the economy is running as usual, changing jobs is often easier than changing careers. But in times like these, when it’s business as unusual, career changing may prove to be a necessity.

Plan C

The plan of last resort, like the “lender of last resort” addresses basic survival.

How can you earn sufficient dollars to maintain a desired lifestyle if your traditional career path is blocked?

What to pursue and how to pursue it are as individualized as the people, jobs, services and products in the workplace. No one size fits all. Each individual’s options can be as broad, diverse and as “out of the box” as the range of their talent, skills, interests, abilities … and risk tolerance.

Unfortunately, most executives don’t consider career changing until all other avenues have been exhausted and both their resources and nerves have been frayed. That’s one of the biggest mistakes they can make.

If you don’t have a viable plan that spells out what you’ll do should your job search be protracted and unproductive, you’re choosing to ignore a potential reality.

That’s a choice you can’t afford to make.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Get Out Of The Outplacement Office

Outplacement offices are already filled with nervous executives from the financial sector. And more are coming.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Company has seized the assets of the nation’s largest Savings & Loan, Washington Mutual, and sold their deposits and branches to JPMorgan Chase. The folks at WaMu are in for a tough weekend.

And that announcement came about the same time the networks were informing listeners that the much anticipated bailout plan offered by Treasury Secretary Paulson had stalled amid political infighting between members of Congress.

While the ramifications of these latest announcements have yet to unfold, its effect upon the psyche of Wall Street workers is clear. They’re starting to freak out.

And, as their numbers mount, those out of work are really feeling the heat.

What can these anxious job seekers do to enhance their chances?

Feet on the street

As every good sales professional knows – you’ve got to be in the field. This is no time to be sitting at a desk in an outplacement office. It's counterproductive.

Attend as many events and meet as many people as you possibly can. This is the perfect time to go to all those conferences, seminars and professional presentations you never had time for.

Meet and greet

It’s also a time to renew old acquaintances and foster new ones. One of the few benefits of job hunting is having the opportunity to initiate, develop and reinforce valuable connections.

Take advantage of it and meet people in person. Not over the phone or via email. Make a lasting and positive impression. While these new connections may not be able to help you today, they may do so tomorrow.

Count your effectiveness by the number of meetings attended and leads generated on a daily basis.

Get enough of those and your job search will be brief – or at least briefer.

Persistence pays

This job market demands high activity. Those that put in the effort and keep pushing forward will have the best chance to reap the greatest rewards.

I’m not saying this is an easy marketplace. Far from it. It’s tough and demands a level of persistence that's not always easy to muster during difficult times.

But there are current opportunities out there and there will be others down the road. They'll come from the people you meet. The more face time, the better your chances.

So be out there ... be active ... be visible ... "press flesh" ... just don't sit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

21st Century Executive Job Search

“Come early if you want a seat” is the current warning at New York City outplacement offices.

As the Human Resources leader at one of the big banks told me the other day, the steady flow of layoffs has outplacement firms bursting at the seams and had her wondering out loud, how providing housing and clerical support would help her exiting colleagues find jobs.

“This is the 21st century, isn’t it?” she asked rhetorically.

“I mean,” she went on, “they’re surrounded by an ever-increasing number of other people out of work, which I’m sure is not too good for their morale, and whatever networking benefit they might get from that is probably short-circuited by an unwillingness of many to share hot job prospects.”

And she’s right. Along with administrative help, the resume writing, researching and interviewing workshops that most of the large outplacement firms provide, are often 20th century job-finding support services in a 21st century world.

It’s all about rifle shots

How should the savvy job finder conduct a search in today’s market and what techniques allow one exec to continually vie for positions while others complain about the paucity of opportunities?

Well, here’s what our HR professional looks for when she sends departing colleagues to outplacement firms: “First and foremost,” she said, “I want to make sure that my people are receiving plenty of personal attention. The old tired approaches of answering ads, chasing recruiters and calling everybody they know just aren’t enough.”

She was right again. Now, more than ever, the key to finding another job is to craft a creative and highly-individualized campaign that targets, with laser-like accuracy, those companies that really need your skills.

It’s just like fishing

As any good weekend fisherman knows, there are lots of ways to catch fish.

Many people, when they come across a lake, a boat and a fishing rod, decide to troll for the fish. They dangle the line over the side and ride their boat back and forth across the lake in the hope that a fish will come up and take the bait. When there’s lots of fish in the lake, that technique can work well.

But when the big ones are few and far between, it’s often an approach that leads to coming home empty.

Job hunting is the same. When jobs are plentiful, knowing the basics is enough. The recruiters are flush with opportunities, advertised positions are abundant and firms are in a growth mode, eager to bring on new talent.

However, in these times ... having a seat, a phone and clerical support is about as effective as trolling for fish in a sparsely-filled lake.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Layoffs Travel From Wall Street To Main Street

According to a recently released Business Roundtable survey, nearly one-third of the country's top executives expect to cut payrolls in the coming months as companies cope with a weakened economy dogged by housing, credit and financial problems stemming from Wall Street’s risk-laden mortgage lending practices.

This survey was taken before the Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman, Merrill, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Washington Mutual and other Wall Street upheavals that wreaked havoc around the globe this week.

A TV financial commentator nailed it by saying, “It’s like we’ve had food poisoning for a year and now we’re throwing up.”

Forewarned is forearmed

The financial sector meltdown will soon spread to layoffs in almost every industry.

HP just announced close to 25,000 upcoming layoffs spread over the next three years. Dell declared it would reduce headcount by 10%. And more are coming. I’ve already heard from world-class firms that anticipate large-scale staff cuts before year-end.

Those numbers will only add to the five-year unemployment high of 6.1 percent in August that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported … making this year’s layoffs 33% higher than last year.

Ignorance is not bliss

In spite of these realities, far too many executives are ignoring the warning signs and remain unprepared to deal with a sudden job loss.

I gave a seminar to a group of IT leaders last week who were paying little or no attention to personal career management. The pressures at work had intensified for many and whatever little time they had for themselves were spent recreationally. That’s understandable and, of course, gives them valuable work/life balance.

However, the seismic disruption of the financial markets just put all their jobs in jeopardy. And I’ve spent the better part of this week fielding their calls for help.

For the past three decades, I’ve advised thousands of executives to continually monitor and manage their careers. In today’s job climate, those who did are at an advantage … they’re prepared and have the skills to easily secure another position.

Unfortunately, there are many who are unprepared … and that's as risk-laden as Lehman’s balance sheet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Executive Careers: The Impact Of Wall Street Layoffs

Our phones were busy yesterday. Lehman's bankruptcy, Merrill's takeover and AIG's woes proved to be a "trauma trifecta" that sent executives all along Wall Street into panic mode.

A potentially deep and wide job recession just became a reality and the upcoming number of job losses in financial services look to be staggering.

A sector that has already taken a beating, with reductions at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bear Stearns, UBS, AXA and others, is about to receive a knock-out blow to the career options of many of its senior employees. For the first time, I'm witnessing a palpable fear regarding re-employment prospects.

Where will all these executives find work?

This time really is different

Losing jobs is not new in financial services. Firms have experienced tough times before with large-scale layoffs and reorganizations hitting “the Street” in the 80’s, 90’s and as recently as 2002 into 03.

But this wave is unique. The players are leaving and the game is changing.

Lehman’s bankruptcy is the largest in U.S. history. Bear Stearns disappeared over a weekend. The Merrill Lynch bull, synonymous with Wall Street, will become a monument to the past. In a very short time, we’ll learn how many more financial giants will fall……or shrink.

That market has already absorbed about as many jobs as it can and as layoffs continue, will reach saturation. For many, transitioning out of financial services will be difficult.

Those who make it will undoubtedly face a pay cut.

With an ongoing credit crunch, those smaller employers that have been the traditional engine of job creation for decades in this country, will have difficulty expanding.

Limited expansion results in limited hiring.

And as the economic downturn continues, Wall Street’s financial losses translate into Main Street’s job losses. It already started with HP’s announcement yesterday of 24,600 job cuts.

More competition for fewer jobs results in longer job searches.

Innovation trumps tradition

A “by the book” approach to career management works in a traditional job market. However, we’re headed into uncharted waters.

All indicators currently point to a dramatic corporate “belt-tightening” for the balance of 2008 and right into 2009. Just as these times won’t be business as usual, they are no longer times for career management as usual.

Today’s job climate requires an executive to spend more time planning and managing his/her career. Horizons must be widened. “Out-of-the-box” options should be identified, researched and explored. Multiple contingency plans need to be developed. Now more than ever, career management is a challenge requiring self-awareness, creativity, meticulous planning, commitment and a measured dose of risk taking.

Or do nothing and panic when the pink slip arrives.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career - Part III

Coming out of a 3rd place finish in the Iowa caucus, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton reacted the same way many top leaders do when their initial effort to onboard into a new assignment fails. She reassessed.

With the veneer of inevitability gone, she was finally able to reexamine her efforts coldly and clinically. Exactly what she should have done in the first place had she not incorrectly assumed her nomination was a foregone conclusion.

Unfortunately for her, as is often the case when a new assignment is launched based on an incorrect strategy, she was now playing “catch-up.”

And while the Senator from NY was able to make the mid-course corrections necessary to win the New Hampshire primary, the deep systemic changes her campaign needed would take time to implement. And time, as every new leader knows, is in short supply.

Involve everyone

Critical to the success of any executive who onboards into a new role is the ability to get everyone on the same page.

But when you’re trying to right a sinking ship, there’s a tendency to depend on a handful of key staff members to plug the leaks. And while that approach may be necessary in the short-term, more often than not, it doesn't work out long-range.

Because she was now in crisis mode, it was difficult for her to allot the time needed to fully rally all her troops, define mutual challenges and opportunities, and create a common transition language. All the actions that successful new leaders need to do.

Not involving everyone in the effort, no matter how large the organization, is one of the most common reasons new leaders fail.

Plan for contingencies

Even after abandoning the cloak of invincibility, the team that Clinton led still harbored the belief that the February results from “Super Tuesday” would clinch the nomination.

And though she did well in many of those contests, because she failed to fully plan for the possibility of a campaign extending beyond February, she was unprepared to successfully compete in the ensuing run of small state caucuses and primaries.

As the Senator discovered, failing to prepare for contingencies or not having a Plan B at the ready, creates setbacks that can be impossible to recoup from.

Know what success looks like

And finally, to succeed at a new challenge, any executive must first identify and then focus on the metrics that lead to success.

It’s been widely reported that the Clinton campaign staffers didn’t fully understand or appreciate the subtleties of the Democratic Party’s proportional voting process. Hillary chased state-wide victories while her competition effectively allocated their resources into those districts that provided the highest return on investment.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

Senator Clinton eventually got her campaign back on track and built up an impressive head of steam ... but it was too late.

The takeaway: No matter the level or accomplishments of the leader, failure to effectively onboard into a new role can, and often does, result in career derailment.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career - Part II

By assuming she’d be the inevitable nominee of the Democratic party, Senator Hillary Clinton clouded her assessment of the situation long before the first votes were cast in the Iowa caucus.

She violated the most basic principles any executive needs to follow when taking on a new assignment. Assume nothing and assess everything.

She did not fully recognize the situation she was in, was unable to acknowledge the new reality and miscalculated what elements she needed for success. Three things any new leader in any new role must get right.

As the Senator continued to onboard herself into her new role as leader of a national political campaign, she faced another challenge familiar to anyone who has tried to get off the ground quickly in a new job.

Build the team

Few things derail an executive’s path to success as much as having the wrong people around them.

I have heard countless leaders complain, after they have lost their jobs, that they waited too long to “get rid of dead wood” or make the staff changes needed to ensure success.

By building a strategy, based on an assessment built on a faulty assumption, the Senator from NY did not surround herself with all the “right people.” While her team was comprised of world-class talent, they did not necessarily have the skills, input or perspective needed to succeed in the new reality Hillary found herself in.

The assessment was off, the strategy was off and the resource requirements were off.

As Iowa approached, cracks in her armor of inevitability began to be revealed in the polls as another critical component of the onboarding process snuck up on her.

Secure early victories

It’s a lot easier to set a positive impression right from the outset than it is to change perceptions later on. And critical to that is the importance of securing early victories near the outset of any new endeavor.

In a corporate environment, early victories tell others “we got the right person” while failures cause others to withhold judgment or outright believe a mistake was made.

In a national political contest, an early victory bolsters the impression of a front-runner while a failure can set an entire campaign into a tailspin.

Hillary’s third place finish in Iowa, based in large part on a poorly conducted assessment, caused her to emphasize the wrong issues, underestimate her competitors and promote a vision unaligned with her constituents.

As would prove true, failure to secure early wins and avoid early failures is a prime cause of career derailment among executives in new roles.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career - Part I

For corporate executives everywhere, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s failure to win the Democratic nomination for President of the United States is a classic tale of how not to onboard into a new position.

Upwardly mobile professionals can learn a lot from her experience.

Leading a national political campaign was a new role for her. And with any new role, there are certain proven steps that when managed well help ensure career success, but when managed badly, can bring disaster.

Examining how she handled those steps provides a case study in career management.

Assume nothing

According to Roger Simon, the chief political columnist for Politico.com, as early as 2006 following her successful re-election to the Senate, Hillary and her supporters had their eye on the upcoming presidential election.

They did so, he reports, because they believed she was a lock for the Democratic nomination in ’08. That assumption drove their actions, turned out to be false and contributed to her defeat.

People fail in new jobs for a series of predictable reasons. Chief among them is that they don’t fully understand the requirements of what they need to do or it takes them too long to finally figure it out.

Because she assumed that her nomination was inevitable, she misread the requirements needed to succeed. Then she compounded that error by building her campaign on that miscalculation.

And while it’s fine to have assumptions – even strong ones – it’s a career derailing mistake to allow yourself to believe those assumptions are true until after you’ve completed your assessment.

It looks like Hillary may have put them in the wrong order.

“Leave your assumptions at the door,” is the most important piece of advice you can get when beginning a new job.

Assess everything

Conducting a clear-eyed and non-emotional assessment of the situation is the first step any executive needs to take when beginning a new job. It’s from that assessment that everything else flows.

But according to Simon, Hillary allowed hubris and emotions to cloud her judgment and influence her assessment.

Because she assumed she’d win, her assessment of the situation – the most critical part of ensuring success – was flawed. It caused her to not ask all the right questions of all the right people.

Being thorough and unbiased is what the assessment phase is all about. Not doing that effectively is a prime cause of career derailment among those taking on new roles.

Senator Clinton is testament to that.

There's more

Coming to a new challenge without succumbing to assumptions and being diligent in the assessment phase are two of the critical elements needed to successfully onboard into any new role.

Hillary had difficulties with these steps and warning lights were flashing even before her campaign approached Iowa. We'll look at some of the other key onboarding steps and see how she managed them in the next post.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career: Overview

Hillary Rodham Clinton did not get the position she thought was in the bank.

Historians and political junkies will spend years analyzing and dissecting the actions of New York’s junior senator in her bid to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Roger Simon, the chief political columnist for Politico.com detailed the problems faced and opportunities lost during Hillary Clinton’s run in an August 25th article, entitled Relentless. In it, he talks about the campaign Clinton led and how her actions and those of the team she directed contributed to her loss and greatly aided her competitor, Barack Obama.

From a career perspective, it’s a fascinating study of what an executive should not do.

It’s a story about misguided assumptions, incorrect utilization of staff, underestimation of the competition, misapplied success metrics and fractured communications, as well as poorly defined roles and responsibilities. All of which led to a botched strategy and failed tactics.

It’s also the story of a high stakes, enterprise-wide project critical to the success of one executive.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be examining and analyzing the different ways Senator Clinton ignored many of the basic career success tenets in her quest for the nomination.

This is a case study with no political opinion.

And for corporate executives, it’s a lesson on how a career can be derailed … at any and all levels.

As everyone knows, nothing’s in the bank until it’s in the bank.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Career "Truthiness": Job Security

Is job security a myth? Or a reality?

The quick answer: A myth if you depend upon your employer. A reality if you depend on yourself.

Make “personal career time” a priority

Savvy executives know, that depending on their age, the odds of being fired are high and grow higher every day. Preparing for the inevitable is plain common sense.

Building your network and actively managing your career … at all times and at all stages … is the most important “must-do” throughout your work life. That’s what permits you to seamlessly go on to the next job when your current job ends. And allows you to put any job in its proper perspective.

Do-it-yourself career project for Labor Day

Have a few hours to spare during the upcoming long weekend? That’s all the personal career time you need to:

1. Make sure all your contacts are listed in an easy to use database
2. Flag contacts for a “touch base” during Q4
3. Identify the search firms critical to your function and industry
4. Flag selected recruiters for a “touch base” before year end
5. Bring yourself up-to-date re industry and functional knowledge
6. Resolve to keep eyes and ears open for firms that might find you valuable

Career confidence trumps uncertainty

No matter how well you’ve been performing or how safe your current position feels, market forces out of your control can often dictate whether you’ll have a job or not. Just ask the thousands of former Wall Street key contributors or the automotive, housing or airline executives who have lost their jobs.

Maintaining a steady income and ensuring employment is not the responsibility of any company. It’s yours. In today’s rapidly changing world, it’s up to you to plan and prepare for unforeseen career circumstances and be ready to get into high gear at a moment’s notice.

The final career truth: Job security is the ability to get another job.

Enjoy the holiday!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Career "Truthiness"

As mentioned before, when it comes to career success … some things never change.

Continuing with some basic career truths:

4. Work/Life Balance … Quality, not quantity, counts

You hear a lot about how important work/life balance is and how difficult it is for busy execs to maintain it.

That depends on how it’s defined. If it’s an equal amount of hours in each of the four important areas of your life, you’re doomed to frustration. But if seen as striving for as much achievement and enjoyment as you can possibly get from work, family, friends and self, then work/life balance is in your grasp.

Dismiss those neat formulas that allocate specific hours for each quadrant of your life and read how to get the most out of each that you can.

5. Being Your Own Boss … Getting work is harder than doing it

At some point, almost every executive contemplates working for himself or herself. The dream of being one’s own boss can be intoxicating … no answering to others, calling all the shots, doing it your way. It’s the ideal way to make a living.

It comes with a hitch.

Many successful leaders think that the keys to entrepreneurship are skill, acumen and competency. But that’s only half of it. Read about how the real key is the ability to first generate the business, and then deliver excellent results.

You may be very good at what you do and temperamentally suited to handling the pressures associated with business ownership, but if you can’t bring in the business … it won’t matter.

6. Executive Network … Stay tuned in

A solid network is a career lifeline, and along with the ability to pyramid contacts, it’s the optimal mechanism for finding senior-level positions.

Unfortunately, too many execs wait to develop or polish them only when their jobs are in jeopardy or actually lost, often resulting in “network failure.”

Networks produce desired career results only when they’ve been established over time and properly managed. Read how skillful executives get the most from their networks.

Next time … the truth about job security.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Career "Truthiness"

As the adage goes, “Some things never change.”

When it comes to managing your career, there are some basic laws of corporate selection that “up the odds” of advancement and success.

Having withstood the test of time, I’ve labeled these laws “Career Truths,” or in Stephen Colbert’s parlance, “Truthinesses.”

1. Take charge of your career

It’s downright foolish how little time many executives spend managing their careers. Not because they don’t think they should, but because … they claim … their schedules don’t permit it.

That’s a mistake.

When jobs go awry or expectations aren’t met, those who haven’t managed their careers are often forced to move into crisis mode. It’s an avoidable scenario.

Read how to handle your career like a 401K. It takes only about one hour/week. Schedule it as a “Meeting with Myself re Career Advancement.”

2. Manage your boss

Seems like a lot of people work for a CBO … Chief Bad Officer. Over the years, I’ve heard hundreds of execs cite their bosses as difficult, disruptive, dumb and just plain nuts.

But … not getting along with your boss can derail your career, not theirs. So it’s up to you to make the relationship a good one if you want to advance.

No options here … grit your teeth, smile and read how to work well with the CBO.

3. Cultivate moles

Top execs all have them.

Companies are rarely meritocracies. Getting ahead has a lot to do with others’ impressions and opinions. Up, down and sideways, your colleagues’ perceptions are often the make or break factor in your success.

Know how you’re viewed by getting ongoing feedback - good and bad. Read about the advantages of moles. Listen to what they say. Then act according to your career’s best interests.

More truthiness next week.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Leadership During Layoffs

Many executives are ill equipped to lead during a layoff.

As headcount is reduced, their jobs get harder. Anxious staffs become more difficult to lead. Business decisions are focused on short-term solutions and can reverse on the next quarterly report. The demands of their Boards and shareholders overrule any long-range visionary plans they may have.

And if their primary concern is holding onto their own jobs, they’re less likely to focus on the leadership skills essential to promoting the company’s best interests – especially during difficult times.

Disengagement and release

After years of emphasizing employee engagement and retention, many leaders now have to do a 180-degree turn to motivate the same workforce that just a year ago was being pumped up and now has been deflated.

That course isn’t taught in B-school.

Now’s the time for that emotional intelligence to kick in and all those leadership courses to pay off.

When profits are down, so are people

Your job is to lead people. Not only during the good times, but through stressful and uncertain periods as well. The very first steps that need to be followed:

1- Recognize your organization’s business and financial challenges
2- Acknowledge your staff’s anxiety
3- Communicate, communicate, communicate

Your company has just taken a hit and needs to improve its numbers. You know it and everybody else knows it, it’s not a secret. Fixing it will require employees eager to help.

But the loss of control employees experience during layoffs raises their anxiety levels and decreases their level of engagement. Increasing that engagement quotient is a tall order and requires skills not all leaders possess.

Untrained executives keep their people in the dark. Now is the time to be transparent with your staff. Keeping people informed, addressing their concerns, validating the company’s support and allaying undue fears is a good beginning. But it’s only a beginning

Lead your people

Leading during layoffs is a big topic and not an easy task. It requires re-recruiting and re-motivating your people. It’s a complex issue that demands much from leaders and one I’ll be exploring further next month.

Meanwhile, if you’re leading layoffs right now … apply steps 1, 2 & 3.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Networking Tips & Taboos

If you’re among the thousands looking for work, you know that a network is a must-have. So is the ability to properly tune it.

While WHO you know is important, HOW they can add value is the key to successful networking. Utilizing your contacts to generate job leads requires thought, effort and skill.

Don’t apply the most non-productive tactic

“Know about any job openings?” is a question that rarely results in a solid job lead.

All too often, I meet job-searching executives who express frustration over the results their networks produce. These are people who have amassed a solid group of really valuable contacts, approached them all and have little to show for it.

They report that their contacts seem genuinely willing to help, but when they inquire about job leads, the response often goes something like, ”Let me have your resume and as soon as I hear of something, I’ll get back to you.”

Though their contacts may have the best of intentions, the odds of them knowing about a suitable job opening are usually slim to none.

Provide the opportunity for “network assistance”

Your contacts want to be supportive, but if they don’t know of any job openings, that’s the end of that conversation. You need to make it easy for them to help you.

Laser-like questions yield the best results.

Before you ever touch base with anyone in your network, do your homework. Determine the companies you’re targeting, identify key executive recruiters and people you want to meet, organizations and associations that you’d like entrĂ©e to, private equity funds, relevant conferences … the list is as long as your needs.

Then critically evaluate your network and determine which contacts might be helpful in each case. Optimal results are obtained when each situation is matched with the contact best positioned to assist you.

For example, asking if they know anyone at company XYZ may yield a "no" reply, but allows you to segue into a broader discussion of similar companies where you could get the name of someone to call.

Pyramid your contacts

From each networking exchange you have, strive to get the names of at least two people or two important pieces of information that can further your efforts.

If you’re not achieving positive results from your network, you need to seriously examine your approach … it’s usually not the fault of your contacts. At the top level, networking requires that you set the tone with thorough planning, carefully thought-out questions and viable next-step actions.
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A well-tuned network is among the greatest assets a job seeker can have. Use it wisely.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Develop Your Executive Presence: Part III

All the world is a stage … if you’re an executive, act like one.

The previous two blogs on executive presence dealt with looking and sounding the part. Acting the part is the most nuanced and for many executives, the most difficult to consistently demonstrate. From the penthouse to the parking garage, from the C-suite to the custodial shop, those with executive presence are easily recognized regardless of where they are or whom they’re with.

Acting the part is a way of life

There’s no such thing as part-time executive presence. Those who have developed the required behaviors display them constantly:

Poise
  • Remain relaxed and composed when under pressure.
Self-confidence
  • Be comfortable in your own skin. Project expertise, assurance and resolve.

Passion

  • Express a level of commitment that conveys a deep belief in what you do.

Honesty

  • Display candor and sincerity.

Openness

  • Appear to not pre-judge others. Permit people to easily and immediately connect with you.

Thoughtfulness

  • Demonstrate a contemplative, non “hip-shooting” style.

Warmth

  • Show an interest in and accessibility to others.

If these don’t describe how you behave with people, you need to build these skills. Executive presence is impossible without them.

A career maker

Successful leaders understand full well that executive presence is in the eye of the beholder. Feedback from clients, constituents, customers and colleagues should be sought and their comments incorporated. Any information, advice or guidance that leads to improving your executive presence is always in your best interests.

It’s critical to point out that people are not born with executive presence. These are acquired behaviors. Just as with other skills, executive presence can be learned. Knowledge, application, dedication and lots of practice are how it's done.

Simply put: If you want executive presence ... be that executive who looks, sounds and acts the part.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Develop Your Executive Presence: Part II

Executive presence is much more than appearance. It has to be displayed whenever you speak.

A couple of months back, I was driving through the village of Chappaqua in Northern Westchester, NY when I noticed a few dozen folks gathered outside a neighborhood luncheonette. Peering a little more closely, I saw a familiar looking white-haired fellow animatedly chatting with this group and immediately recognized him as none other than William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States.

Now, Bill and Hillary Clinton are undoubtedly Chappaqua’s most famous residents and while I pass this luncheonette often, it was the first time I had seen Bill Clinton just casually hanging out. I pulled over, parked my car and joined the group.

Wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and holding onto a leash connected to his chocolate Labrador, he certainly was not dressed like the former head of the free world, but as soon as I heard him speak in this impromptu gathering, I knew I was listening to the ultimate example of the communication skills critical to executive presence.

Sound the part

For me, executive presence is defined as looking, sounding and acting in a manner that inspires confidence, enhances credibility and projects a strong professional image. How you communicate up, down and sideways is critical to career advancement.

As I listened to the former President speak about the then hotly contested Democratic primary, I couldn’t help but reflect on how, in an informal conversation with a group of strangers, he demonstrated executive presence.

Speak to … not “at”


Clinton understood the diversity of the group and related well to his audience. Those gathered around him crossed all economic, social, age and, I guessed, political affiliations. Yet Clinton appeared to “click” with everyone, drawing them in by making eye contact with each person as he spoke. When I asked him a question, he included every person in his reply.

Be clear and compelling

He was, of course, highly knowledgeable on the subject matter. Not all that surprising, he spoke about political and global issues, showing passion and interest to his audience. He was articulate and couched his answers within a framework comprehensible to everyone, weaving interesting stories, speaking in bullet points and then expanding on each in a manner that pulled his listeners in without ever appearing condescending or argumentative.

Go easy on the ears

He also varied the pitch of his voice and was never heard in monotone, demonstrating that authoritative vocal tones are low and calm, never high or tense, and altered his inflection and volume to convey authority, power and confidence.

I enjoyed speaking with Bill Clinton that day … he reinforced my belief that executive presence is more than just looking the part.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Develop Your Executive Presence: Part I

Your performance reviews are solid, you know you’re good at what you do and yet when that latest promotion opportunity arose … you weren’t selected.

To paraphrase the first President Bush, it just might be the “executive presence thing.”

More and more, requests for executive coaching are couched in phrases that imply a need for developing executive presence.

“He’s a little rough around the edges,” “She lacks a convincing tone in her presentations,” “Can’t put him in front of the Board just yet,” “Doesn’t inspire confidence” and a host of similar comments indicate a lack of executive presence.

While the exact definition is open to interpretation, there are certain attributes almost everyone agrees upon. Chief among them is looking, acting and sounding in a manner that inspires confidence, enhances credibility and projects a strong professional image.

Let’s tackle the easiest one first.

Look the part

A well-known publicly traded company in the NY tri-state area recently requested my assistance in “polishing up” their Director of Transportation. He reported directly to the SVP of Operations, excelled at the complexities of his function and was well liked by both his peers and direct reports. However, the Company was having difficulty seeing him move up the ladder.

The reason: In any future assignments being considered, he would need to make presentations to the Board of Directors and represent the company at numerous professional functions. As the VP of HR told me, “for him to go further, he needs a makeover.”

When I met him, I concurred.

While the company adopted a casual dress code, both the top male and female officers were pretty “buttoned up.” But not the Transportation Director. He was unflatteringly dressed in ill-fitting clothes and scuffed shoes, and sporting what was unmistakably a very bad haircut. In no way, did he reflect the executive image this company wanted.

Having started as a driver and risen steadily through the ranks, he gave little credence to the idea that how he looked was material to his position. He was convinced his career trajectory depended solely upon the results he produced. Wrong assumption.

Appearance matters … a lot


Several sessions later, dressed and coiffed more like his colleagues, he acknowledged that his stature in the company appeared to improve, that he had been placed on committees and task forces previously denied him and that discussions about future opportunities had taken place.

While there was still work to be done on acting and sounding the part, overcoming the first hurdle and looking the part was already paying dividends.

That’s the superficial part of executive presence. The next installment will deal with more substantive issues.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Executive Career Blocker: 24/7 Workweeks

Most executives are strapped for time, working well into the night and on weekends.

One of the chief complaints I hear is that there aren’t enough hours available to get everything done. While their days are spent leading and troubleshooting business operations, nights and weekends are spent catching up on reports, emails, etc.

In many cases, working 24/7 is self-inflicted … many execs proclaim they can’t delegate certain responsibilities to their staffs. They admit to a fear that it won’t be done correctly or completed on schedule, claiming it’s faster to do it on their own rather than correct others’ errors.

Many don’t see it for what it is … an improper use of their valuable time and an injustice to their staff.

“Delegation phobia”

Doing work that can be delegated to others doesn’t help your team and it certainly doesn’t give you enough time to focus on the bigger picture … strategizing, planning, innovating and leading. Those are the activities imperative to success. By diverting your time, you can derail your career.

Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day in a coaching session with a top marketing leader at a Connecticut-based consumer products company. This executive is clearly a star in the making. Her boss and the CEO both respect and admire her. However, she’s frustrated by her daily regimen and having mild panic attacks every time she checks her over-laden “in box.”

It soon became clear that she’s not getting the most out of her staff or utilizing her time wisely. She’s holding on to assignments, attending meetings and dealing with people and situations that could just as easily be handled by members of her team. She’s reluctant to entrust her staff with these tasks, consequently neglecting their development as well as facing personal burnout.

Successful leaders have successful staffs

Distributing assignments is a straightforward process I advise overworked executives to follow:

1. Review the current projects on your desk as well as those of the last quarter.

2. Be critical. Examine that workload and decide what could have been eliminated, what could have been done more efficiently and what could have been passed on in the first place.

3. Figure out what you, and only you, can do. Remove that portion from the workload.

4. From the pile that’s left, determine who on your team could have done that work. If the answer is nobody, think about making staff changes. One of the overriding reasons executives lose their jobs is that they "cover" for under-performers until it’s too late.

5. Assess your team. Evaluate strengths and opportunity areas for each member. Determine who is working at maximum and who would benefit from “stretching.” Guiding and developing your team is a smarter utilization of your time and effort than spending 24/7 on assignments they could and should be doing.

Delegate the work … monitor the output … and take some time for yourself. Leave 24/7 to the Internet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Executive Career Booster: "Adventurousness"

Whitewater rafting in the Amazon has its career equivalent … choosing to work in Dubai.

My guess is the same type of person would do both.

Earlier this week, I received an email from a colleague I hadn’t heard from in a while and for whom I had done much work during his stint heading the Learning & Development function at a prominent bank in New York.

Four years ago, he took a position with another leading bank and relocated to London to head up their LD and OD functions throughout Europe and Asia. We stayed in contact and I did some work for him abroad but, as often is the case with continental separations, our communication grew less and less frequent as the months went by.

So I smiled when I saw his name on my email in-box and even more so when I read his note.

An out-of-the-box job offer

Turns out, he wanted my advice on relocating to Dubai. He had been offered a start-up position as the head of Learning and Leadership Development for a bank’s emerging markets business in Russia, Africa, the Gulf States and Southeast Asia. He was evaluating the pros and cons of making such a big change in his and his family’s lifestyle.

Since he’s in his late thirties, he’s looking forward to a 20-25 year career in the new global marketplace. After we had a number of transatlantic coaching sessions, it became clear that his decision hinged on his personal commitment to grow within the OD function and excel in the financial services industry. Taking on this challenging assignment could ensure his future employability in the banking arena almost anywhere in the world.

His choice: he accepted the offer and will be in Dubai by the end of this year.

Careers on flat earth

The whole episode got me to thinking that in spite of all the negative job-related news we see in the headlines, the truth is that career options have, in fact, exploded. In an era that NY Times columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman has christened the “flat earth,” new career possibilities keep popping up around the globe.

As jobs in domestic financial services and other sectors of the U.S. economy appear to be drying up, an adventurous approach to the new worldwide marketplace doesn’t only expand and enhance future career options, but transforms working into an interesting and exciting journey.

BTW, before he begins this Dubai assignment, he'll be going whitewater rafting in the Amazon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Executive Career Blocker: Avoidance

Tackling challenging situations is a hallmark of good leaders … avoiding them is a precursor to failure.

When it comes to under-performers on their team, too many executives wait too long to address the problem, endangering their own careers in the process.

I recently coached the Treasurer of a marquee financial services company whose boss, the CFO, wanted her to display the leadership required in her job. As he told me “She has extraordinary functional expertise, keen insight and is solutions-oriented, but she’s acting more like a “doer” and less like a leader. She’s micromanaging her projects, isn’t developing or utilizing her staff and has lost sight of the big picture.”

Uneasiness is not an excuse

In my first session with her, I learned that she routinely put in 80-hour workweeks, hadn’t taken a vacation in the nine months she had been Treasurer and was on the verge of burnout. She elaborated on the never-ending demands of the position and difficulties with some on her team.

She cited two of her key direct reports who weren’t delivering satisfactory results and whose errors she was correcting herself rather than returning the work and demanding improvements. As a self-described low-key, conflict-averse personality, she was uncomfortable criticizing anyone and anything.

Complicating the situation further, her team posed special problems as she had been their coworker for many years. The bonds of camaraderie were overriding the necessities of leadership.

Intellectually, she realized she wasn’t helping her staff and was, in fact, impeding her own success. But emotionally, she found it difficult to hold their feet to the fire. Her reluctance to address these deficiencies weakened her position not only as their leader, but within the company as well.

Confronting challenges

This scenario went on for several more weeks until it became clear that not only could she not maintain the pace, but that her own job would soon be in jeopardy.

She started being far more candid and direct with her team, shared her dissatisfaction with their work product and while one improved dramatically, she subsequently replaced the other.

Those moves not only saved her job, they improved the quality of her life.

In short, avoidance of any workplace challenge can block your career. It’s a bad trait.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Executive Career Booster: "Likeableness"

In the C-suite, it’s possible that Forrest Gump would have been more successful than Albert Einstein.

Competency on its own doesn’t guarantee career advancement. It’s just one of a litany of qualities, traits and skills required to get to the top and key among them is what Stephen Colbert might refer to as “likeableness.”

The workplace is a social environment as well as a place of business. Successful executives recognize this dualism and expend as much effort developing friendly relationships as they do in performing their jobs well.

People like to work with people they like

Tim Sander’s book, "The Likeability Factor", and an article in the June 2005 Harvard Business Review entitled, "Competent Jerks & Loveable Fools" bring home this point. One of the earth-shattering discoveries … when people are divided into smart/not smart and likeable/not likeable, the most successful are those executives who are perceived as both smart and likeable.

I call that insight into the obvious.

Interestingly though, the preference for working with people perceived as dumb and likeable scored higher than working with smart people who weren’t likable.

I’ve coached some highly accomplished executives who would disagree with that, given their strong belief that success should be predicated exclusively on performance. But the workplace is not a pure meritocracy … and, as the studies show, being liked is a critical success factor.

Increasing your “likeableness”

We don’t see ourselves as others do. And in corporations, where nothing is truer than the axiom “perception equals reality”… critical, honest feedback is vital to seeing yourself the way others do.

Cultivate people in your organization that you trust and include those whose positions are up, down and sideways from yours. Ask and encourage them to be brutally candid with you. Convince them that you want to hear it all … the good, the bad and the ugly. Listen to everything they say and when necessary, make personal changes.

The formula

Career advancement requires both good work and good relationships. Mathematically, that equation could be seen as: Success = Albert Einstein + Forrest Gump.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Outrunning Layoffs

Pink slips are falling like confetti in a New York City parade.

What started in the canyons of Wall Street has seemingly spread like a virus throughout much of corporate America. Fueled by the problems in the credit markets, the housing sector and wherever the increase in the price of oil or the falling dollar can be felt, jobs are hanging by a thread…. or at least, it feels that way.

“Will I get fired?” is the question uppermost in many executives’ minds today, but it’s the wrong question. Trying to answer it only leads to angst, nail biting and nighttime sweats.

“What if I get fired?” is the right question. Trying to answer it leads to identifying goals, establishing concrete objectives and implementing workable action plans.

Be financially savvy

First, know your numbers. Put pen to paper and get an in-depth understanding of your entire financial position. Calculate how long you can comfortably maintain your lifestyle without your current income.

Then, factor in your anticipated severance package. If you negotiated your exit package prior to being hired, you know exactly what it is you’ll be getting. If not, try to ferret out the information.

Getting a handle on monetary matters sets the boundaries and allows you to determine realistic options, next steps and timetables.

Be career savvy

Once you know where you stand financially, you can tackle the next question. “Should I stay and see what happens, or should I escalate my career efforts and aggressively seek another job?”

For many executives, being laid off can translate into a financial windfall. Taking another position and walking away from a severance package could be a costly error. Not an easy decision in a time of uncertainty.

If you’ve been actively managing your career; maintained search contacts, built a quality network and tracked companies where you could add value, you’ve got a pretty good idea of how marketable you are. If you haven’t, now would be a good time to start.

Be business savvy

Objective analysis of both your financial condition and marketability will indicate whether your smartest course of action is sitting tight or accelerating a job campaign when layoffs are on the horizon.

Of course, in the best of all worlds, you’d have a job in your back pocket that you could start right after collecting severance. That’s often a Houdini-like trick that is very difficult to pull off, though it does happen on occasion.

No matter what you do, the key is to approach the possibility of a job loss with the same thought, planning, objectivity and proactive attitude you’d use when addressing any business issue ... stay ahead of it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Executive Outplacement: A Suite Deal

Like the dollar, executive outplacement has declined in value.

Started in the early 1970's as a corporate-sponsored career transition service solely for executives, companies put a premium on the quality, integrity and experience of the career coaches who would be advising and guiding their key people. Most had their exiting execs interview coaches from various firms to select the one they were most confident in.

That all changed when outplacement was made available to all levels of employees. It became commodotized.

Volume discounts resulted. Instead of allowing executives to interview and select a career coach, companies inked deals with a single firm guaranteeing the lowest prices. Makes sense from a business perspective.

On the other side, to stay fiscally viable, the major outplacement firms had to cut costs. Office facilities required to house outplacement candidates were fixed expenses that needed to be maintained, however professional services could be reduced ... and were. With the advent of questionably effective webinars, e-learnings and online job banks, fewer coaches seeing more candidates saved money. Also makes sense from a business perspective.

That's the skinny on how executive outplacement morphed into little more than a suite deal.

Fine for some folks, but if you want a career coach who can get you to the next phase, one that you are confident can advise, counsel and guide you, then it's up to you to take the initiative.

First, interview the coach assigned to you.

What is their background, their training? Do they know your profession, your industry? Have they worked with people in similar situations? What results have they obtained? If you’re not satisfied with the answers or the chemistry, ask to meet with another coach.

Second, find out how much time you will have with your personal career coach.

Does it seem adequate to you? How big is their current caseload? How will emergency questions be handled? Will they be available when you most need assistance? Can they envision alternative scenarios for your job search when one path closes?

Third, ask about multiple job campaigns.

The best searches have at least two and sometimes three distinct, simultaneous campaigns. Can your coach help you map out geographical, industry or functional options that could impact your search? What about entrepreneurial possibilities or consulting?

Fourth, learn about the firm’s resources.

How extensive and current are the databases? Do they provide names, titles, email addresses and other contact information? How is their research capability? Can they tell you which small firms in your industry are growing fastest and the reasons for that growth?

Fifth, inquire about contacts.

Will they be able to truly help you network into top search firms? Can they provide leads to decision-makers or other knowledgeable third party sources?

If, after going through these five steps, you’re dissatisfied with what you’ve learned, consider going back to your former employer to share that feedback. Ask if you can apply the outplacement fee to another provider and if yes, go out and find one.

Unlike the large, institutionalized outplacement firms, many top executive career coaches have substituted smart career strategizing, hands-on networking and personalized campaign management, for the "suite deal"

In an era when business transactions can be conducted via personal laptops, cell phones, Blackberries, RSS feeds, Google alerts and text messaging, today’s out-of-work executives don't require a high-tech outplacement facility ... what they need is the "Euro" equivalent of executive outplacement to add value to their careers.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Both Sides Of The Interview: Interviewee

Interviews are a two-way street. To see how the interviewer is steering, take a look at the previous blog. If you're on the other side, let’s level the playing field and put you in the driver’s seat.

The key rule of the road is that all interviews have six degrees of connection ...

1. Preparing

Nothing beats preparation … answer potential questions in advance and on video

Compile all the available information you can get on the position. Then prepare a series of questions that address the relevant experience, responsibilities and duties. Determine the skills and accomplishments of the ideal candidate, the desirable strengths and the potentially derailing weaknesses. Incorporate these into your responses.

Videotaping immensely improves your interviewing skills. Use a coach or objective friend/colleague to ask you questions and critique your responses, body language, distracting movements, etc. It’s time well spent and a dress rehearsal for the real show.

2. Interacting

Establish good chemistry immediately

Many interviewers subconsciously make up their minds about a candidate in the first few minutes. It’s up to you to set the tone early and help put them at ease with a warm smile and a solid but not vise-like handshake. Very brief banter about anything from the day’s weather to the photographs on the interviewer’s bookshelf is a time-tested icebreaker.

Remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

3. Understanding the Job

You may have a wealth of experience, but only certain aspects may be applicable to the position you’re interviewing for. The interviewer is looking for the best fit, making it critical for you to know what the job specifics are as early on in the interview as possible so you can tailor your responses.

Before you answer, ask:

---What are the goals and objectives of the position?
---What skills and experiences are considered most relevant?
---What behaviors and traits are required for success?

By getting this information out at the start, the interview becomes a more productive use of yours and the interviewer’s time. You’ll both be focused on the needs of the job.

4. Questioning the Interviewer

Sprinkle in your questions at opportune times

Don’t wait for the interviewer to ask if you have any questions. That’s not what an interview is about – that’s an interrogation.

The most successful interviews flow smoothly when important and valuable information is being freely exchanged. There’s a dialogue. Make certain you have the standard questions ready about the company’s culture, performance metrics, success criteria, etc. and ask them at the right times. Make it a give and take meeting.

Listen carefully to the interviewer’s questions, but don’t jump to answer them all. There are some that require a thoughtful pause and, if possible, a question that either clarifies or expands upon them.

5. Summarizing & Selling

Always close with reviewing the key components of the position and making a pitch for yourself. You want to ensure that you understand the job and that the interviewer understands you.

A simple statement/question like “ Let me make sure my impressions are correct. You’re looking for someone who can do X, Y and Z … is there anything I’ve left out?” continues the dialogue and conveys thought and involvement on your part.

Following up with: “As we’ve discussed, my experiences in A, B and C match your needs and my successes in D, E and F are examples of what I can do in this job” helps the interviewer visualize you in the position.

6. Following up

At close, ask, “What’s the next step?” and follow up accordingly. Always send a thank-you note or email.

If you make these six connections, the odds are high that your interview is on the right track.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Both Sides Of The Interview: Interviewer

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said, “Every minute spent making sure you have the right person in the right job will save you weeks of time and bundles of cash later on.”

Numerous experts concur that hiring the wrong person is among the costliest mistakes companies can make. When the wasted salary, benefits, severance pay, recruitment and training expenses are added up, it’s estimated that an executive turnover costs anywhere from two to five times their annual salary.

Add to that figure the possible revenue impact of an under-performing or poor-fitting leader on reduced employee productivity, retention and morale, and the number can be considerably higher. All too often, the costs of bad hiring decisions sneak up on organizations - ambushing profits, competitiveness and market share.

The best interviewers gather the right information to make the best hiring decisions

Being a top-notch interviewer requires mastering the three components: thorough preparation, consistent implementation and critical analysis of the outcome. Here’s the "CliffsNotes" version of my executive seminar on conducting interviews:

Preparation

1. Review the job specifications to identify the desired outcomes and deliverables of the position.

2. Determine the mandatory competencies, knowledge, skills, abilities and personal characteristics for success in the role.

3. Determine the qualifications, experiences and attributes necessary.

4. Draft a uniform set of questions to determine whether the candidate has both the skills to succeed and a demeanor compatible with the company culture.

5. Understand the legal boundaries.

6. Ensure the avoidance of distractions.

7. Remove/cover sensitive documents, other resumes, interview notes, etc.

8. Allocate sufficient time for the interview.

Before you go into the interview, remember that you represent the Company. Even if you don’t hire the candidate, it’s critical that they have a positive reaction to you. You may be doing business with them in the future.

Implementation

1. Establish chemistry. A firm handshake, pleasant smile and friendly opening remarks are the hallmarks of a good interviewer.

2. Set the stage by explaining how the interview process will evolve.

3. Explain the position, its roles, responsibilities and reporting structure.

4. Be aware of, but do not succumb to, initial impressions.

5. Probe the obvious. Use open-ended questions to learn more about experience, accomplishments and activities.

6. Identify behaviors. Learn about “behavior-based” interview questions and use them to identify a candidate’s prior performance in a situation as an indicator of how they will perform at your company.

7. Anticipate and solicit questions and have answers prepared for the most commonly asked questions.

8. Ensure that both yours and the candidate’s questions have been answered.

9. Determine the level of interest.

10. Explain next step procedures.

Analysis

1. Document - immediately record your impressions. Perceptions and recollections change quickly with the passage of time.

2. Compare the outcomes of the interview against the original list of skills, competencies and requirements.

3. List the candidate’s pros and cons.

4. Maintain total objectivity in comparing candidates.

6. Prioritize candidates based on the predetermined qualifications.

7. Select the top contenders for the next step.

Be thorough. Be structured. Be critical. In the long run, it’s a profitable use of your time.

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