Friday, May 30, 2008

Oil Greases Layoffs

The oil industry is wiping out jobs everywhere – except in the oil industry.

Talk about an octopus – with gas prices now at a national average of $4.04 a gallon, just how far can the job-killing tentacles from oil’s spiraling costs reach?

For starters ... the transportation industry. Five US airlines have gone under in the last three months alone and analysts are urging investors to dump airline stocks as fast as they can.

According to the NY Times, both Ford and GM are talking about shutting down much of their SUV and truck operations, including some of their most productive automotive facilities. General Motors minivan plant in Doraville, GA and Ford's midsize truck plant in St Paul are slated for the chopping block, resulting in thousands of layoffs.

And companies who manufacture tires, make engines, foam for dashboards, seats for airplanes and the rest of those dependent upon the transportation industry are having even greater difficulty seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Next, the chemical industry, so totally dependent on petroleum, is about to take a real bath with DOW Chemical signaling the beginning of a tough cycle by announcing a 20% increase in prices and causing workers to wonder if layoffs can be far behind.

And with food prices rising and consumers pulling back, profit margins in the corporate suites of supermarket chains and the food & beverage industry will be scrutinized for cutbacks. Also, the hospitality industry. Hotels, restaurants and vacation travel will retrench as people and businesses reduce spending. The oil sector is truly impacting industries across the board and in many cases, layoffs are inevitable.

In the event your company is attacked by this octopus, you know where to look for a job ... the oil companies.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Surviving Round Two

Three of the offices near you are suddenly empty. Some faces that had grown familiar to you are gone and a couple of your closest colleagues have been let go. But there’s no pink slip in your hands and you’re ready to breathe a sigh of relief.

Don’t exhale quite yet – round two is coming and your odds of surviving it may be heading south.

Once upon a time, when large scale layoffs were done – they were done! All in one shot. All in a compressed timeline.

Career experts advised getting it over with as quickly as possible and the corporations agreed. After cutting, companies immediately began dealing with the aftereffects - calming the survivors, rebuilding the culture and minimizing the shock to the corporate nervous system.

Not any more. Instead of being one-time events, layoffs now take place in waves like the tsunami or earthquake images replayed on TV.

First comes the big one, then a series of aftershocks seemingly with no end in sight.

Led by the financial sector, companies are drip, drip, dripping out their layoffs over time. It’s become part of their corporate culture. The NY Times called them the Stealth Layoffs and “the idea that banks will slowly wield the knife again and again unnerves many employees."
(http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/16/business/16layoff.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin)

And it’s not just financial services. Today, Ford announced plans to cut up to 12% of their salaried jobs. (http://www.cnbc.com/id/24855269/) How many times in the last few years have we heard Ford is cutting headcount?

So, how can you minimize the damage the second, third and perhaps fourth round of cuts could bring? Try these four steps.

Accept reality – No matter how high in the organization you climb, the odds say that it’s not a matter of if you’ll be fired but when. Managing your career based on that fact allows you to hope for the best while being prepared for the worst.

Make managing your career a top priority – Manage your career in a way that benefits both you and the company. Benchmark with those outside the organization, attend conferences and professional events, read the journals, including the columns about which execs are moving where ---a new job filled means a new job opened.

Leverage your workload – Ensure what you’re doing enhances your marketability. Get involved working on the organizational goals that determine your employer’s success or failure. Strive to grow, learn and build saleable skills and accomplishments. They’re your ticket to career security.

Learn to self promote – Graceful self-promotion is an art form, not a science. And while it’s not to your advantage to be seen as someone who hogs the limelight, it’s equally unproductive to be viewed as a wallflower who rarely takes credit for their contributions.

Congratulations - you survived round one. Best of luck in round two.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Laying Low When They're Laying Off

The natural inclination of executives during a layoff is to stay as far below the radar as possible.

Ironically, this will only get them fired faster.

When Bill, an executive with Union Carbide Corporation, inadvertently found out he was going to be fired after Dow Chemical acquired them, he made a point of not showing up at the office on the day that both his boss and the head of HR were scheduled to be in the building at the same time.

His invisibility routine went on for several weeks. It wasn’t until the company scheduled a bogus out of office appointment for his boss that Bill went to work and was led to the inevitable termination meeting.

Bill’s actions at that time actually bought him some more time and money. This mini-sitcom went on when email, mail or phone terminations just weren’t done. In today’s wired world, Bill wouldn’t have to show up to be fired. He’d get the message even if he was holed up in a cave.

So what’s your best strategy when layoffs are in the air?

Well, it’s not laying low and making yourself scarce … that only reinforces a lack of value to the company. And while you can’t “fire-proof” any job, these four techniques can improve your chances of remaining on the payroll.

Be Visible…

Make sure you’re working on what’s important to your employer. If you’re not, figure out how to … be up front and vocal about it. It’s a lot harder to get rid of someone whose work directly contributes to the ongoing success of the company than it is to get rid of “What’s his name down the hall?”

Impress the Right People…

In spite of what they tell you, not everyone is equal. Spend some time drawing relationship maps of the key players in your universe. Then dedicate the effort needed to ensure you’re on their radar screen. Get them to understand your value and appreciate your efforts. It’s a fact … life is not always fair. It’s easier to fire someone you barely know than someone whom you’ve built a solid relationship with.

Manage your Boss…

In times of layoffs, most bosses are told what percentage of headcount they need to reduce. No matter what you think of them, recognize that it is 100% your responsibility to effectively manage the relationship with your boss so that they see you as a “keeper.” (When Your Boss Is The CBO)

Know How Others View you…

Feedback, feedback, feedback! Get it, encourage it and live by it. (Moles Are Good For Your Career) No expression in corporate America holds more validity than perception equals reality. What others think of you often dictates not only your level of success, but the strength of your staying power.

So if layoffs are looming, keep your career in focus … increase your contributions … ensure your boss is happy … expand your visibility. And when the axe man cometh, you just might keep your head off the chopping block.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Job Campaign Lessons From Clinton, Obama, McCain

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain didn’t take a holiday weekend. They weren’t working on their jobs as U.S. Senators. They were working on their campaigns to get the job as U.S. President. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/26/the-early-word-memorial-day-edition/

If you’re currently among the many executives actively looking for jobs, you might find value in the lessons that can be learned from their campaigns.

Energy ...

No matter whom you’re rooting for, there’s no denying that Clinton, Obama and McCain give 110% effort, 100% of the time. Seemingly 24/7.

Looking for a job is a full time activity - at least a 40-hour week. No half-hearted attempts will produce success. Action is an imperative. Go to conferences, make the extra phone call, join an online group, meet and greet, smile and dial, attend breakfast meetings, lunches and social events. The list goes on and on.

Creativity ...

A creative angle is a differentiator in any campaign.

Think outside the box. Expand your network. Spread the word. Grow your grapevine. Great leads can come just as easily from a conversation with your dentist or neighbor as from a meeting with a recruiter. New ideas spawn new ventures.

Focus …

Campaign victory requires a winning message to convince voters. A successful job campaign needs to convince employers. Understand your audience and their needs. Use that insight to formulate and steer your campaign.

Just like voters, employers are interested in “What’s in it for me?”

Resilience ...

Both job and political campaigns can be tough. McCain was seemingly down and out in the Fall of ’07, Clinton went from front-runner to chaser and Obama responded to a barrage of personal attacks. All could have folded their tents, but they didn't.

At some point, almost all job searches feel like roller-coasters. One day, it seems that you’re flush with opportunities and the next, you feel like you’re out of options. It’s the nature of the process and when that happens, just take your cues from today’s presidential prospects.

Campaign with energy, creativity, focus and resilience.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Take A Career Timeout

There’s a different vibe in the workplace on the Friday before a holiday weekend. People are happier.

No anticipation of Sunday night stress. No preparing for Monday morning meetings. They’re eagerly looking forward to a long weekend and a shortened workweek.

The agenda calls for pleasure: relaxing, watching a parade, getting away, seeing family and friends and maybe firing up the barbecue.

Before you bolt for the door, however … try touching base with some of the folks in your career network you haven’t spoken with in a while. Ask how things are going and wish them a happy holiday.

Then take a well-deserved break and enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Critical 48 Hours After Termination

That ordeal of the “termination meeting” is now behind you and while you still may be working out the details of your severance package, you’ve just entered Phase II in the process of moving toward your next career step.

The next 48 hours are critical. Follow these six guidelines and you will prevent many of the problems discussed in the New York Times by those who lost their jobs. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/fashion/18layoff.html?ref=fashion

* These first few days are a time for planning and reflection. With few exceptions say nothing. Contacting your significant other about this event is probably the only communication you should make. Even if you anticipated this termination, you are bound to be in shock and your emotions raw. That means you are dealing from a position of weakness.

* While you may consult and involve an attorney, matters could worsen if you personally say anything that appears threatening or display what could be interpreted as behavior not befitting an executive. Stay cool and find a safe space to be.

* Determine how and when you are going to inform those who are emotionally and financially dependent on you. That includes your kids, who are suddenly going to see a lot more of you, and the rest of your immediate family. While you don’t need to provide an unduly optimistic spin, you should let them know the facts, communicate any upside associated with this event and maintain a positive demeanor. Remember, they will base their reactions on your behavior.

* List all your contacts (Your Network Is Not An Add-On ). Segment them into the groups you are going to have to deal with through the next several months. Think about how you will handle each. What you say early on will determine how the members of each segment perceive and treat you during this transition. Yes, this means sketching out a brief “speech” explaining what’s going on and often ending with the tag line “…and I’d like to get back to you once I’ve determined exactly what kind of help I could use.”. Rehearse it with those you trust. There’s no reason to rush out and say anything yet but when you are ready, it helps clear the air, makes it easier on others and let’s them know you’d welcome their help.

* Begin the concrete steps required for your search. Take some time to analyze your career. Inventory your skills and accomplishments. Determine what types of jobs and firms you are targeting. Overhaul or fine-tune your resume based on the needs of your prospective employers. Begin listing job sources, ranging from alumni groups to online sites. And start working on what the career experts call the “elevator speech” that succinctly says who you are, what you’ve done and what you’re looking for.

* Recognize that a job search is a full-time pursuit and these are only the first steps. Whether you complete them in the first 48 hours or not ... most important is that you plan first, then act.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Must-Do's At The Termination Meeting

Were you one of those 240,000 who the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported lost their jobs in the first quarter of 2008?

If you were prepared for that termination meeting you made all the right moves. If you weren’t, you may have sacrificed some of the severance, positive recommendations, and outplacement services you could have received.

Here are the six critical must-dos every executive should have down cold before any signs of being let go emerge.

1. The termination process is a business one. Like any other business task it’s up to you to effectively manage it. That includes controlling your emotions. Those should be held carefully in check. This is not the time to vent your feelings.

2. Mixed in with these business realities are legal ones. Your employer is handling the details, including what is said and agreed to in this meeting, in compliance with a number of laws. Therefore, you should be thinking and talking “like a lawyer.” You want to make sure you understand what's being told to you. Carefully re-state the reason they give you for your termination. “Let me see if I understand you correctly, I’m part of a larger downsizing and this is not a performance issue?’”

3. Don't sign or agree to anything on the spot. This is absolutely not the time to negotiate. In most terminations, little is cast in stone. That means there may be room for negotiation. But now is not the time.

4. Don’t rush to wrap this up just in order to end the ordeal. If you have questions, ask them. You usually will be given a written separation package including a release. Ask how long you have before you need to sign and return the agreement. Take that time.

5. It may be advisable to consult with a lawyer. Actually, many firms will mention that at the termination meeting. But if they don't, there's no advantage to you in bringing it up.

6. This meeting may or may not coincide with it being your last day on the job. If it is, find out how your personal belongings will be returned to you and how incoming emails and phone calls to you will be handled.

If ever there was a time to follow the Boy Scout motto, it is during a termination meeting. Be prepared.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Your Network Is Not An Add-On

"The Care & Feeding of Networks" ... I recently gave this seminar to a group of C-level executives in affluent, corporate-dense Westchester County, New York.

Like a blast of cold air it hit me: Too many senior executives think about networking as a nice add-on. The reality is that your network, in booms and busts, whether you have a job or don’t, is your most valuable career marketing tool. And just like everything else of value, it requires care and attention.

What do I mean by that? Five things.

1. Segmentation is the first step. Divide all your contacts into categories. Base them on your needs and their potential to fill them. At its core, a network is a barter system. You’ve got to give to get. Title those contacts in each category in terms of promise, such as an A-list, a B-list and a C-list.

2. Commit to proactively caring and feeding the most promising contacts and not neglecting the less promising ones. We need all six degrees of separation and opportunity often comes via weak links.

3. Create a detailed plan to work the A-list. That entails more than just “keeping in contact.” Actually, you are investing in them. As with any investment, you monitor their ups and downs and reach out with both congratulations and offers of support.

4. Establish a thorough but not time-consuming plan to manage the B-list. That might require you set up a database to send useful articles, surveys and personnel changes.

5. Stroke the C-list. These could include some of those weak links. At conferences, touch base with them, during the holidays send greetings, and keep them in your database for milestone announcements about you and your organization.

Your network does require your time and effort. But in this high demand work world executives live in, research and experience demonstrate: Your network is one of your most valuable assets.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Size Matters

While many of Wall Street’s largest firms are busy laying off thousands, several of the smaller, boutique players on the Street are equally busy – hiring.

It’s always that way. What the big boys throw away, the smaller guys want to grab.

And if you’re one of the many whose position has been eliminated at Merrill, Citi or Chase, the first thing to do is think small.

A recent article in the NY Sun talked about how smaller Wall Street companies like Lazard, Geenhill & Co. and Evercore Partners are benefiting from the bloodletting. http://www2.nysun.com/business/boutique-banks-may-benefit-from-big-bank-layoffs/76054/

The bulk of all hiring in this country, approximately 80% according to the US Small Business Association, goes on in firms with fewer than 200 employees and if you drop down further in size, the number simply goes up.

In spite of those statistics, most job hunters after being at well-known firms, tend to pursue the largest and most prestigious companies in their industry.

But when an industry is shedding jobs, like the financial, housing or automobile sectors today or the technology or manufacturing sectors a few years back, there is usually little value in chasing the giants. They are probably not hiring.

So what do you do when the industry you work in is going through a meltdown and you need to find a job in a hurry? Try these three steps.

1- If your function is transferrable to other industries, then the answer is clear. Finance, Legal, HR, IT, Communications and a host of other functions can easily cross industry boundaries.

2- Open up the geographic constraints. All too often executives begin job searches with the mindset of refusing to relocate. But as the weeks turn into months and the search drags on, they begin to explore out-of-area possibilities. Ask yourself if you’d move if the search lasted six months, nine months or a year? If the answer is yes, consider exploring these opportunities early on in your search.

3- If your function is industry specific, look deeper. Make a list of every possible player in your industry. Then approach your contacts and ask for leads at the companies you’re considering. Be focused. The more laser-like your questions, the better the response.

Sometimes smaller really is better.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Executive Presence On Day One

Used to be that if you heard the term “on-boarding,” someone was leaving on a plane, train or ship.

Today, on-boarding has become part of the corporate lexicon and refers to the first 90 days spent in a job. For a newly hired exec, it’s the best time to establish the image of “executive presence.”

As the saying goes, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.”

How you act and react during the on-boarding phase is critical. You will be observed and evaluated up, down and sideways. And, as any executive coach knows, it’s a lot easier to set a positive tone from inception than it is to try and change perceptions later on.

A new position gives you a golden opportunity to shine. Observe what’s going on around you, assess the situation, adjust your objectives, determine your needs and draft a plan to meet them … before taking any actions.

And right from the start, show executive presence by being the leader others want you to be.

  • Honest … maintain candor. Constructively deliver both positive and difficult messages.
  • Open … don’t pre-judge. Your objective is to listen, learn and understand the views of others.
  • Confident … a calm “comfortable in your skin” attitude. Never an arrogant “I told you so” stance.
  • Thoughtful and thorough … always reflect and contemplate. Don’t “shoot from the hip.”
  • Energetic and enthusiastic … a “can-do” attitude at all times.
  • Consistent … be predictable. Follow through. People react poorly to mixed reactions.
  • Accessible and interested … personally engage with all your coworkers.

The journey one takes in a new job begins on day one and those with executive presence travel the furthest.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Career Blindsiding At Its Best

What’s an executive to do? Six months after landing a top job at a new company, you’re fired.

It’s a Wall Street firm, suddenly bleeding billions and laying off thousands. But you just finished putting your family photos on the desk. To make matters worse, your last employer is in good shape … no layoffs there.

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too real and repeated all too frequently.

And one of the many examples of why it is always best to negotiate an exit package as part of your employment agreement, whenever joining a new company.

For executives, losing a job is rapidly becoming a predictable part of life in corporate America. Depending on age and level, the likelihood of your getting fired during the course of your career is high and growing higher everyday.

Changes in top management, market conditions, company performance, dollar valuation and a host of other variables all conspire to affect the security of your position.

It’s all the more reason why you should insist on an exit package going in, rather then try and negotiate one going out.

So what do you do when after recently joining a firm, you’re informed that your job has been eliminated and told it is best if you leave immediately.

Well, if you’ve already negotiated a separation agreement, do nothing!

Except for perhaps your significant other, make no phone calls, write no emails and resist the temptation to immediately contact your best buds or that recruiter you’ve known for years. This is a time for reflection and planning not immediate action or reaction.

Second, acknowledge your emotions.

If you’re like most people, you’ll go through a series of predictable steps that will start with shock, denial and then anger. Losing a job is high on the stress scale and no amount of false bravado will change that.

Three, don’t muddy the water.

The rule of thumb about active job hunting is that you’re hottest right out of the box and, from early on in your campaign, that curve starts heading downward. That’s not all that surprising because in the early stages of your campaign, you’ll tap into your reservoir of contacts, often producing amazing results.

But that only applies when you’ve carefully thought through who you’re going to contact, what you’re going to say and exactly what help you need. So, don’t run and call everyone you know until you’ve crafted a job-finding plan and understand how to execute it.

While the injustice of losing a job so early in one’s tenure can be maddening, the upside is that no one will question your performance if your exit is part of a larger downsizing.

And besides, that attractive severance payment you received will go a long way towards easing your pain.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Trickle Down Layoffs

“Thank goodness I don’t work on Wall Street” is what many people, not employed by investment banks, brokerages and private equity firms might be thinking

But if you live in the NY tri-state area or work in an industry servicing Wall Street – think again.

According to the New York City Comptroller’s Office, the NY area economy is more dependent than ever on skyrocketing Wall Street incomes which have jumped by more than 50% since 2001 to an average annual rate of $387,000.

The financial services industry is responsible for nearly a third of all wages earned in the city and each Wall Street job supports three workers in other sectors.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/24/business/24jobs.html?ref=nyregion

So who gets the flu when Wall Street gets pneumonia?

First and foremost are the firms that generate much of their revenue from Wall Street companies. The law firms and large consultancies, the advertising and PR firms, and the thousands of men and women who established niche-based consulting operations in everything from Information Technology to Organizational Development to service the industry – during the last round of layoffs

Heidrick & Struggles International is but one example. One of the world’s largest executive recruiters, the firm generates approximately one third of its business from financial services and has seen its share price drop 32% over the last 12 months. (http://www.workforce.com/section/00/article/25/49/13.html)

And then there are the ripples felt throughout the corporate suites of the retail and luxury goods companies; the travel, leisure and lodging sectors or the myriad of smaller firms who really take a hit when the big firms contract. The couriers and limo drivers; the food, service, security and maintenance sectors; and the back-end support operations.

Plus, the housing and construction industry is now experiencing a double whammy as credit tightens, values fall and big ticket purchases are put on hold. From the upscale suburban properties in New Jersey, Connecticut and Westchester County to the residential and commercial units in Manhattan – all aspects of that sector are retreating.

Talk about trickle down, the Wall Street stream of layoffs is capable of drowning many careers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Your Career Can Pivot On Your Resume

Ever get an enticing call from an executive recruiter and the first thing they want is a resume ASAP? What happens if you don’t have enough time to update it? Should you send an old one that might be missing important … and critical information?

Not if you want it to go any further.

No matter how high up the ladder you are, your resume always precedes you. It’s the document used to initially assess your worth and value in the marketplace. It can be your springboard to opportunities and, with the right wording, catapult you onto the “Top Contenders” list.

On the flip side, if your resume is outdated and out of synch with the marketplace, it can decelerate career progress. You might just be the perfect candidate, but if your resume doesn’t reflect that, the reader may turn the page.

It’s hard to overestimate the clout of that one piece of paper.

But if you’re not actively job campaigning, what’s the need for having one at the ready? And, how do you find the time to keep this important document fresh while dealing with the day-to-day demands most executives face?

It all depends on how you view your resume’s purpose and value.

If you see a resume as solely a job finding tool, you’ll be tempted to let it hibernate unattended until the next opportunity comes knocking. Then, you’ll rush to update it and run the risk of not capturing key accomplishments in the best light.

But if you see your resume as a career development tool – a powerful self-directed instrument that helps you identify and assess your progress - you’ll be inclined to update it on an ongoing basis and look at it with a critical eye. You’ll add accomplishments as they occur, new responsibilities as you obtain them and apply the metrics that verify your achievements.

Plus, maintaining a current resume forces you to take a hard look at your career trajectory. Does it indicate improvement or advancement over the last few quarters? The last year? The last several years? If not, why not?

Scheduling a few minutes each quarter to review and update your resume is a valuable use of time. It ensures you record successes while reminding you of activities undone and goals yet to be reached. Ultimately, it is one of the most accurate gauges of whether your career is going in the right direction and provides clues as to what next steps need to be taken.

Besides, think how well prepared you’ll be when that tempting phone call finally does arrive.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Is Your Job Good For Your Career?

Many high-potential leaders lament that the “barrier to entry” for more senior positions, and particularly the C-suite, in their companies is daunting … there’s simply no room at the inn.

Their experience is that current residents aren’t leaving anytime soon, the company is growing flatter, few new positions are being created, and unless there’s a “divorce,” the likelihood of moving up is limited.

Not only have I heard this from functional leaders wanting to advance, but some of the best HR heads at marquee companies have voiced concern that “no room at the top” creates employee frustration and raises the probability that their next layer of talented management will exit.

A recent conversation with a top HR executive reinforces that point.

“We’ve got great leadership at the top” she told me, “the problem is we have equally great leadership in the pipeline below them and the water is starting to back up. The next level wants to move up and they want to move up now.”

Therein lies the rub. The higher up you go, the narrower the funnel gets. By virtue of its pyramid structure, there are increasingly fewer options for growth as you near the top and the number of superstars vying for those positions increases. Nothing will change that fact.

So, what does this mean for your career? If you can’t move up, is the only option to move out?

Don’t bolt for the door just yet. First, clarify what you want and where you are right now. Examine the delta between them. Identify the gap and determine the skills and accomplishments you need to fill it.

Next, look around you and decide whether your job can advance your career. Can you still expand its scope, introduce fresh ideas, forge new alliances, create alternatives and innovate? In short, can you drive your job beyond its current boundaries to acquire the skills, visibility and achievements you need to advance?

Consider it an exercise in career ROI … can you optimize this job for future rewards?

The savviest “career smart” executives are those who stay abreast of job market opportunities although they may not act upon them. Hopefully you are among that crowd. If you find that in spite of your best intentions and efforts, there is little opportunity to “grow your job”, then perhaps it is time to discretely, but aggressively, explore alternative options.

Remember, while changing jobs is not always the easiest thing to do, it’s typically the time when you can realize the greatest gains in compensation and responsibility.

Sometimes, when you can’t move up, it’s wiser to move out.

Friday, May 9, 2008

When Your Boss Is The CBO

Most companies have their share of CBO's ... Chief Bad Officers.
Your boss might be one.

Experience has shown that there are few things that can derail an otherwise successful career more easily than a poor relationship with a boss.

I’ve been across the desk from C-suite residents at marquee companies, watching as they go from titans of industry to frustrated school kids, venting their frustrations and recounting tales of woe about how badly their bosses treat them and the injustices they feel are inflicted upon them.

I’ve coached executives whose jobs were on the line, not because they weren’t brilliant, but because they failed to identify the ingredients required to make the “secret sauce” needed to ensure their relationship with their boss was a success.

I’ve heard stories about bosses who were described as unpredictable, unreasonable, ungrateful and inconsistent – not to mention bullies, ego maniacs and just plain nut jobs.

To quote Dick Cheney … So?

Now, I’m not saying that these aren't legitimate gripes. On occasion, some are so serious as to require intervention or even exit, but stressing about a bad boss is a poor use of time and energy and never makes the situation better.

The reality of corporate America is that no matter how high up in the company you are, your boss has power over you. Successful executives know that learning how to manage that relationship is a top priority and 100% their responsibility.

Figuring out how to do that is the key.

The best relationships are those based on open, candid and direct communication with clearly defined and agreed upon goals and objectives ... generally forged in the earliest stages of the working relationship. It’s a lot easier to set a good tone right from the get-go than it is to repair a damaged relationship.

But whether you’re just starting out with a new boss or have been working for the same person for a while, it’s up to you to understand what makes them tick and adjust your style accordingly.

Spend time observing them, analyzing them and put yourself in their shoes. What’s important to them? What’s their communication style? Work style? What are the hot buttons? Turn ons? Turn offs? How do they act and react?

After you determine all that, then answer these questions. ”What adaptations do you need to make to ensure a smooth working relationship? Are you able and willing to do what it takes?”

If yes, it might help to write it down.

Call it “My Ten Steps For Successful CBO Management”.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Career Interruptus

It's the first "UFO" citing for the Executive Tribune ...

An "unforeseen occurrence" has hit many of corporate America's high-potential executives, stopping them in their fast tracks.

One of last week's top stories from Reuters on all the news feeds ... "Layoffs Rise 68% from March to April, Highest Since 2006." (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24403091/)

Announced layoffs through the first four months of the year have grown to 290,671, up 9% from a year ago. Financial companies announced 23,106 layoffs in April, including major reductions by Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. April marked the largest cuts in the sector since last September. Telecommunications companies announced 8,007 layoffs, more than half at AT&T.

This week was more of the same as Wall Street giants Lehman, JP Morgan Chase and UBS announced another wave of layoffs.

Is the sky falling?

Having seen this many times, I can safely say more UFO's are coming.

An impending or existing recession or slowdown (depending upon which source you believe) not only creates financial problems for employers, it impedes the upward trajectory of their hardest working employees. To add insult to injury, many find their stock options are underwater and the icing on the cake is the looming threat of job loss through no fault of their own.

So how do you avoid "career interruptus" when UFO's happen?

First step, unlike those strange flying objects, recognize that these are the real things. They happen on a regular basis. It's not an "if", but a "when" phenomenon.

Second, plan for it. Your career is a life-long venture. Decide what you'll do if things don't always go your way.

Third, no freaking out. I've seen too many folks agonize and beat themselves over the head when their jobs are lost. "I didn't see it coming" is a popular refrain ... that's why they're called UFO's.

Armchair quarterbacking is a waste of time ... get right back into the game.

Don't forget ... you're a leader.

Take charge of your career with the same dedication, determination and effort you've been using in your job. Identify and evaluate options. Explore alternatives. Monitor your progress. Make informed decisions. Essentially, bring the same commitment to your career as you do to your job.

Start by trying the 2% investment criterion, e.g. if you work 50 hours/week, put 2% of time into your career ... comes out to one hour each week. Probably less time than you'll be spending at your next meeting.

So when the next UFO appears ... you'll be prepared.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Communication Is More Than An Email

For nine months in 2005, the North American Head of Operations for a major European-based consumer products firm refused to talk with the Manager of their biggest plant in the U.S.

Nine months … astounding. One wonders why after a month or two, maybe three, that someone in the organization didn’t notice that this situation could be harmful to business. The awakening occurred when a precipitous drop in revenues was attributed to the inefficiencies and mismanagement of the Manufacturing division. The lack of communication between these two was cited as the key reason for the decline.

There’s genius in hindsight.

While this example borders on the extreme, it really isn’t all that shocking. Personality clashes are often a company’s major impediment to successful outcomes. From relationships on the shop floor to mergers of mega-companies, emotional reactions muddy what should otherwise be rational business dealings.

Is it really too much to expect straightforward, candid and considerate interaction in the workplace? Have we lost sight of the fact that a company is at its best when its people are productively communicating with each other?

If so, then anticipate problems.

Few factors are as important to an organization’s best interests as making certain that the arteries of communication are wide open and free flowing. The greater the clarity, frequency and candor, the less likely are the chances that day-to-day problems will fester and grow from molehills into mountains. Jack Welch, world-renowned business leader and former head of General Electric, echoed those thoughts in a recent address he gave via satellite to the Wits Business School in March of this year:

“It is important to communicate with employees. Tell them this is what I like about your work and this is what you can improve on so there are no gray areas.”

What wasn’t mentioned is the difficulty of many people to give or receive honest feedback. There’s often a hesitancy to be candid in corporate corridors. And even though it’s recognized that openness is vital to progress, many are threatened by it. They create “workarounds” in order to avoid direct communication.

It’s a top down issue ...

Leadership sets the tone. To encourage the kind of communication that benefits the organization, it’s incumbent upon senior management to actively demonstrate and promote a policy of “straight talk”. Obfuscation is always an obstacle.

A policy that is both non-threatening and rewards candor can replace emotional reactions with rational transactions. Eliminating those confusing gray areas and substituting a clear-cut communication style is a smart, sensible business practice.

There is no excuse for the workplace to devolve into a labyrinth of innuendo, misunderstandings, second-guessing and finger pointing because people are averse to speaking openly with each other. Witness the results of the firm mentioned above. Failure to communicate means what it says … failure.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Seat On The Board: Sooner is Better

Must be in the air … recently I’ve heard from a number of C-suite residents who aspire to be on a company’s Board of Directors after they retire.

Reasons given include intellectual stimulation, a new venture, the opportunity to add value and that old standby, financial reward. All are valid motivations.

However, joining a Board is an even better move if done long before you exit the corporate stage. It’s inordinately valuable to career advancement both in terms of experience and perception.

In fact, it’s a career “shaker” that can dramatically increase your worth and attractiveness in the marketplace.

Board membership is much more than a line on your resumé. The experience can broaden your business acumen, widen your horizons and expand your network. Opportunities can arise that otherwise would not. The potential is vast.

So, whether you’re thinking about retiring within the year or looking at another ten to twenty years in the workforce, if being a Board member sounds appealing to you … then go for it.

A note of caution, however: Membership is time-consuming and regulatory actions have increased liability exposure. While prestigious and advantageous to your career, being a Board member is definitely a job … you’ll be working more hours than you already do.

Forewarned and now forearmed:

As many execs find out, not only is Board membership demanding but getting that first seat can be daunting. In other words, easier said than done!

Most discover that it’s a lot simpler to get a seat on a local not-for-profit or small company Board than it is to join the Board of Directors of IBM. But it’s that first membership that builds credibility and becomes a springboard for more appointments.

Let others know of your interest. Prepare a “Board Seating Plan", identify and target relevant organizations, create a compelling “value add” pitch and initiate a campaign that includes specialized recruiters and selective networking.

Finally, be selective. You’ll be spending a good amount of time and energy on any Board, so make sure that the seat you get is a good fit.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Careers Are Like 401K's

An apt analogy can be made between career planning and financial planning.

The moment most people start working is usually the start of their financial planning. It’s thrust upon them by both the financial industry and the workplace in the form of 401K’s, IRA’s and other investment vehicles as a means of building long-term financial security.

But what about attaining long-term career security? Is it realistic and something that you can plan for?

Yes, it is.

In an age where the only form of job security is the ability to get another job, managing your career to ensure your future makes as much, if not more, sense than managing your finances. And at the least, it deserves an equal amount of your effort.

Yet, I've asked hundreds of executives how much time they actually spend each week managing their careers and most tell me virtually none. They do little networking, minimal self-promotion and rarely stay abreast of career opportunities.

The reason most give is that they’re too busy working and their job is too demanding. While they acknowledge the importance of managing their careers, they succumb to the pressures of time.

That's like saying they understand that building wealth is important, but they have no time for financial management because they're too busy earning money.

And while these leaders know that to achieve desirable business and financial outcomes, they need to analyze situations, set goals, initiate timely actions and provide ongoing attention, they don't apply these proven steps to their careers.

Instead, their careers are relegated to the "Hopes & Dreams" bucket.

After years of watching companies unceremoniously lay off employees, including their most senior executives, you would think that today's crop of top performers would be career savvy and prepared for any contingency. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case.

The way to look at it ...

Jobs and careers are not the same. Job success requires skilled performance. Career success requires skilled planning and management.

Just like your financial portfolio is comprised of individual investments, so too is your career portfolio comprised of individual jobs, whether with one company or many.

And just as a well-managed financial plan can lead to financial security, a smartly managed career plan is the path to career security.

Treat your career like you do your portfolio. Take appropriate actions, manage it wisely, be on the lookout for opportunities and continue to plan carefully.

Remember the B-school maxim: Failing to plan is planning to fail.
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