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.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Leadership Lessons From 1776

As you can see by the quote on the left hand side of this page, I’ve always thought that the revolutionary war heroes and George Washington in particular, were wonderful examples of leadership.

The emergence of the “Founding Fathers” and their commitment to uniting 13 separate states and inspiring millions of independent thinkers is the stuff that legends are made of – and a prototype for today’s executives to learn valuable leadership lessons.

Then and now …

The Definition

As that band of patriots showed, leadership is about rallying people around a common purpose. They articulated a vision that others saw, believed in and followed. The same holds true today.

The Skills

While historians might be able to make a case that Washington was innately qualified to lead, the same certainly cannot be said about Hamilton, Madison or even John Adams. Leadership is a learned skill - the more you practice and strive to master it, the better you’ll be.

The Qualities

Warren Bennis, currently credited as the guru of leadership study, cites five key qualities found in most of today's successful leaders that perfectly describe George Washington – integrity, dedication, magnanimity, humility and creativity. Some things never change.

The Traits

High energy, superior communication and the ability to motivate people were traits exhibited by all the Founding Fathers. Without these same attributes in our ensuing leaders and titans of industry, it’s unlikely that the United States of America could have come this far.

The takeaway - 1776 is a remarkably contemporary example of what leadership is all about in 2008.

Enjoy the holiday!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Summertime Job Search Strategies

Summer is the season when college grads flood the job market. With huge layoffs in progress, many executives are treading those same waters this summer, anxiously peering at the horizon for a sign of lifeboats.

Historically, July and August are not optimum job search months. The number of positions offered executives drops precipitously compared to other times of the year. Vacation schedules interrupt the interviewing and hiring processes. And this year, given the fragile economy, there is no urgency on the part of most companies to hurry up and hire.

If a relaxing summer is not in the cards, there are productive activities you can engage in that will stand you in good stead when the weather cools and the hiring season warms up.

Think fun

1. Entertain. Host parties, dinners and get-togethers. Expand your guest list. Invite new people. Friends of friends. The more the merrier. Informal gatherings can increase your network exponentially when you’re the reason people are enjoying themselves.

2. Social events. Whether you’re sightseeing or poolside, chat up the people around you. You never know who knows who. A pleasant way to expand your network.

3. Business breakfasts, lunches and dinners. You have a better chance of generating information and leads from your contacts in the summertime when fewer people are vying for their time.

4. Professional/industry conferences. Scope out the fall programs and schedule yourself in for those that can enhance your career. Many have a limit on attendees, so early registration is to your advantage.

5. Your 30-second “pitch” for voice mail. Chances are about 100% that any phone call you initiate will be responded to with a request to leave a message. Make it the best message possible and follow up with an interesting email.

Be opportunistic

There’s less competition in the summer. As others withdraw from the market, those who stay have an increased chance of success.

So, while the hot weather slows down your job search, it also provides the opportunity to warm up your future prospects.
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