Saturday, September 25, 2010


New Blog Entries are now appearing on my

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

HR Execs are Stressed

There is a great article on Human Resource Executive Online today entitled What’s Keeping You Up? It describes what is on the minds of today’s top HR executives. Accompanying the article is a detailed survey on the various workplace issues HR execs are dealing with. No one will be surprised to find that 80% of their respondents report that their stress has gone up in the last 18 months, that employee morale is down, and it is harder to keep people engaged and motivated.

We have written before about the productivity problem, and that people are so overworked they will respond quickly when new opportunities begin to appear in the job market. In this article, HR Execs express their agreement by indicating that employee retention is a top concern, even in this kind of market.

Another interesting point is that a key stressor for HR Execs is the inability to take action on key issues. One example mentioned is wanting to develop people to aid in retention, but not having the budget to do so.

HREO is always full of interesting articles, so take a look when you get a chance.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How to Resign

If you are about to accept a new position, you probably made your decision with logic and reason. If you are currently employed, you may be on the brink of the emotional roller coaster.

Resigning from your company can be accomplished in one minute (as you will see in the script below). Most people take 45-90 minutes, and the conversation beyond the first minute is usually not pleasant for the departing executive. Follow my advice, and keep it short, simple, and close out any possibility of a counter-offer – if you are interested in a counter offer, you shouldn’t be resigning your job! (See my previous article called The Dead Meat Theory)

Here is a potential script for your resignation. You should put this into words you are comfortable with, and rehearse it the day before in your mind, so that it comes out naturally for you. The important thing is to be definitive – don’t leave any room or provide any invitation to negotiate, counter, or argue with your decision.

I want to let you know that I will be making a change. I’ve had a very enjoyable and successful time here, and I’ve decided to accept another opportunity. It is important to me to leave you in good shape, and transition my work over in an organized way, so I’m giving you two week's notice. My last day here will be: __________. It is also important to me to depart on very good terms with you, so I want you to understand that I’ve thought this through very thoroughly, came to the decision with great care, and I’m very comfortable it is the right thing for me. I’m not seeking a counter offer, as I don’t believe that is ever wise, and I hope you’ll accept this and wish me well so we can part on the best of terms.

Allow your boss to express their thoughts – you are under NO obligation to give details about your new company, except to say it is not a competitor. If you are so inclined, you can reveal just the basics – it is a VP position, with great potential in a company you expect will grow substantially, and where you can have a big impact. Don’t disclose your new compensation package. If your boss indicates that they intend to counter or want to come up with something, say:

With all sincerity and respect, I appreciate what you want to do, but I’d ask that you respect my decision, and to make sure we have no hard feelings and part on good terms, let us not go there.

Reiterate if needed. Stand up. Don’t go to lunch with your boss. Prepare your transition out. Stick to your plan.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Guilty Pleasures - 10 Good for You Vices

Thanks to Lou Adler for pointing out this CNN article today entitled: America's Healthiest Pleasures: 10 'Vices' That are Good for You (original article here on 

Balance is really important in being effective at work, so if these "guilty pleasures" can keep me in balance, I'm all for it!  A healthy mind, body, and high emotional IQ make people more productive.  So, engage those brain chemicals and make them work for you!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My 3 Most Important Books

There are several books that I would consider to have been life-changing for me. Here are the 3 most powerful books I've ever read, and the lessons I learned from them.

3. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success – by Deepak Chopra. I read this book in the mid 90's, when life was pretty intense. It seemed like an easy-going self help book, UNTIL I got to the most shocking thing I've read in the last 20 years – a chapter called The Law of Detachment From Results. The very title of the chapter knocked me back in my chair. Detachment from Results? Un-American! We have to be driven to results, right? This chapter came right after The Law of Intention and Desire. When I read the two together, I got it: All your thoughts and actions must be in alignment with what you want to have happen, then when you have done everything you can do, whatever happens, happens. This allows me to be in the present, and greatly reduced my anxiety level. It is hard to do – I don't say that following this is easy, but it is totally worth it. It is the serenity prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. When you can live this, you can have peace in your life.

2. Man's Search For Meaning – by Viktor Frankl. Written in 1946, this book is the chronicle of Frankl's experience in concentration camps. He was incredibly lucky, and went through absolute hell, losing most of his family. Frankl was a Psychiatrist, on par with Freud, and reopened his practice after the war, mostly counseling other victims, who were hard pressed to find meaning in their lives after the horrors of the holocaust. I read this book in the late 70's, and it taught me forgiveness and tolerance of other's foibles. Nobody is perfect, and it is a blessing to see everybody as perfect just the way they are. Learning to fully accept people as they are, warts and all, is one of the greatest gifts I have ever gotten. Again, this is hard to do, but I try every day to be better at it. I'll never be perfect, but who is?

1. Tao Te Ching – by Lao Tzu. The basic philosophy (not religion) of Taoism. This book is about 2500 years old, and is attributed to an author that we don't even know truly existed. It is 5000 Chinese Characters, 81 chapters, and you can read it in an hour. It is the most important book I've ever read. I own many translations, including a beautiful poetic one by Ursula LeGuin, but if you are just starting out, the Stephen Mitchell translation is good, even though scholars say it deviates from the original too much. The Tao teaches balance, the concept of Yin/Yang. You cannot understand beauty without understanding ugliness. You cannot understand good without evil. We can sometimes get as much done by doing no-thing as some-thing. The Tao is exquisitely simple – even simpler than Zen, but very hard to embody. I try to give a pocket copy of this book to everyone I know well, because it has brought so much comfort and meaning to me.

Well, there they are. Who am I to pontificate about these books? Just a seeker who found brilliant lights on the path along the way.

Drucker’s Most Important Lesson

If you read my newsletter, you know that I have written in the past about valuable lessons from Peter Drucker.

I got an e-mail today from, which has really good articles, written by Dr. William Cohen, one of Peter Drucker's earliest students, and an expert and author on Drucker. Cohen's article, just published yesterday is entitled Uncovering Drucker's Most Valuable Lesson. This terrific article points out a number of Drucker's key teachings, like doing the right thing, not overpaying executives, focusing on customer perceptions of value, staffing for key strengths (not assuming "well-roundedness" about execs). Ultimately, Cohen answers the question: What was Drucker's most valuable lesson? He taught us to think and ask questions.

I love reading about Drucker, because he was a common-sense visionary, and his ideas are timeless. Cohen has many articles and books about Drucker. Take a peek at some of Drucker's ideas, and I am sure you will find something that you can apply this very day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Employee Recognition and Motivation Week (not actually a real holiday)

I received an e-mail promo with this heading, and thought, gee, wasn't that in March? It isn't actually about a real holiday week. The promo is for a Training Course by Workplace Training Center, and they are simply calling the week-long course by this name. This made me think, it isn't such a bad idea for employers to be thinking about recognition and training more than one-week per year!
There are detailed descriptions of each day's program. Just reading about the individual one-hour daily courses is enough to increase your awareness:
  • Is your Employee Recognition Program working?
  • The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up
  • Why You Want to Be Known as a Great Place to Work
  • Motivating a Demoralized Workforce: Getting to the Source of TRUE Motivation
  • Bud to Boss: How to Motivate the People Who Used to Be Your Colleagues
WTC is offering this on CD and Live, next week. I have no idea how good the course is, and I'm not specifically endorsing it, but if you do visit their site, whether you take the course or not, you will remind yourself what you need to be doing every day to keep your employees productive, happy, loyal and motivated.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Interview Mindset – “The Customer Visit”

One of the many tips I give to executive level candidates going on job interviews is to have a customer visit mindset. When people think to themselves "I'm going on an INTERVIEW," they become more humble, modest, respectful, etc. They speak when spoken to, and accept the one-down hierarchical aspect of the interview setting. This is highly counterproductive.

On the other hand, executives who visit customers are proactive, engaging, and on an equal footing with the customer. They ask lots of questions, and understand the value of an "incremental close" – getting small agreements that the product or service they offer is being "bought." This approach works wonders in an interview.

Position yourself to be an equal to the interviewer, not one step down. Engage in an active discussion, but remember to let the interviewer set the pace of the discussion. Proactively show the employer how you can do the job (how the product meets their needs) by making sure you discover the objectives for the position, then offer illustrations of how your experience fulfills those objectives.

You are the "VP of Sales & Marketing" for the "YOU" company, and "YOU" are also the product. Find out what benefits the customer needs from the product, and then make sure they are convinced that your "product features" will meet their needs. At the end, "ask for the order", by determining if the employer feels you are a fit for the job.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Justification vs. Rationalization

True Story: As Freshmen in Architectural school, we had practicing NY Architects come in weekly to critique our work. These brilliant, talented and egocentric people weren't professors teaching us how to design; they just commented on work in progress - what we had already designed.

One of my classmates was enduring a particular brutal critique ("Why did you do this? Why is this here?") as the Architect slammed the pinned up blueprint with the back of his hand. My classmate tried to explain.  Then, this frightening genius of a man gave us all one of my life's most valuable lessons. He stopped his criticism, and said, "I want you all to go to a library tonight and look up in a big dictionary the definitions of justification and rationalization. Never rationalize what you create."

Of course, we all ran after class to look this up, and there were lots of discussions over the next week. A justification is a solid reason in advance to do something. It propels what you do in the right direction. Even after you've taken action, the justification holds up. A rationalization is an explanation after the fact that usually amounts to an excuse. You are coming up with reasons that don't justify the action you took, but seek to explain it away. The two words often get mixed up, and are considered synonyms, but if you get the meaning behind this piece of teaching, that is what is important.

If you find yourself explaining away what you've done, and it isn't resonating with the listener, than what you did wasn't justified. This includes partial and inadequate apologies for errors big and small. Justifications make the listener feel ennobled about what you've done. Rationalizations make people feel diminished.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sharing the P&L with Employees

There are two significant ways in which you can share the P&L within your company, financially and informationally. Let’s talk about both.

Many companies are now “sharing” company losses with employees, in the form of layoffs, reduced hours, pay cuts, etc. This is getting companies back to break even, and from what we hear, employees have been tolerant of the changes. We hope that these same companies will be willing to share on the upside as well. We are strong proponents of incentives tied to specific individual performance.

Open Book Management provides company employees with a clear view of company financial information. There are pros and cons to this approach, but we believe that in challenging times, you can make this work to your benefit. Here are some tips on how to effectively use Open Book Management:

  • Train employees to understand the financial basics 
  • Provide appropriate visibility. Example: Cost of goods sold could be completely transparent. Some G&A accounts, like office staff compensation, should be shown selectively, or as an aggregate number.
  • Empower people to own the numbers under their direct control, and to be able to use the information to improve their performance and the company’s performance.
  • Provide clear direction on how each individual’s actions specifically and measurably impact the financial results of the company.
  • Give people a stake in the company’s success – provide performance based incentives.
  • Listen to the reactions of the employees – allow for a variety of feelings and responses when the information is received and processed.
  • Take it slow – don’t overwhelm people with data, or expect them to be experts overnight.

Jack Welch has said “When people know what they’re up against, they feel a greater sense of ownership and urgency. And the sense that ‘we’re all in this together’ can jumpstart teamwork and innovation, often sparking improvements in processes and productivity.”  

Open communication is high on the desirable list of most CEOs. Open Book Management is an opportunity to lead by example and get solid return on investment – investing trust and confidence that employees will utilize properly presented information to your advantage.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ayres plays White House to celebrate ADA 20th

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez befriended a homeless man named Nathaniel Ayres, about 6 years ago. Steve's articles about Nathaniel were so compelling, they were turned into a movie, called The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Nathaniel Ayres is a former Julliard student, fascinated with music, who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and as a result, was lost for many years. He has turned his life around, partly because of the fame and direct help that resulted from Steve Lopez recognizing him as a person.

Well, Mr. Ayres played at the White House, and met Barack Obama this week. Please read Steve Lopez's article in today's LA Times, which is really heartwarming.

It is valuable to remember that the occasion of Nathaniel's performance and meeting with Obama is the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. I wonder how far we've come. This is a good time for companies and business leaders to reflect. Is the ADA a nuisance to you, or have you embodied the spirit of the law? Is mere compliance your objective, or are you really considering how to best deploy the "Differently Abled?" Ramps and wide bathroom stalls are one thing. Sitting down and really figuring out how you can capitalize on the assets of every individual takes human capital management to a whole different level.

Some companies do a great job of this. For example, I learned about a great program called Sentinels of Freedom from one of our clients at General Dynamics. This program, and Wounded Warrior Project, have corporate sponsors that help injured returning veterans to get meaningful work.

I hope that Nathaniel will play again to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ADA, and that in the next five years we can make more progress than we've made in the last 20.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Art of Networking

Whether you are looking for a new job, trying to win more business, or just need to find a solution to a challenge, networking is often the answer.
Most people need some help to capitalize on their own contacts, and certainly when calling strangers. Here's some key tips on how to get people to joyfully help you:
  • Walk in their shoes. Understand who they are, where they are in life, in business, and what motivates them. Be cognizant of their point of view at all times.
  • Create value in the conversation itself. Being asked for help can be a huge downer to the recipient of the call, or the bright spot in their day. How you come across makes the difference. Be cheerful, positive, flattering, thankful. Make it a joy to just talk with you.
  • Define the benefit to the buyer. Why should the networking target help you? How will it reflect well upon them to do so? How will the person they refer to you benefit from your ultimate request? You must have the answers to these critical questions, before you get on the phone.
  • Help people help you. When you call, out of the blue, your networking target isn't going to be immediately responsive to your request. They may need to think it through. Be prepared to offer prompts to stimulate their thinking, and help them figure out where and how they might know the person you're asking to find.
  • Give them time. Let them ponder your request, and offer to call back in 1-2 days. Providing this "deadline" will actually put them to work for you.
  • Offer to reciprocate. Suggest ways that you can be helpful in return, and actually be available when called upon.
  • Ask open-ended questions (who, what, why, where, how, when) not closed-ended questions (do you know anybody that….?). You don't want a yes/know answer – you want valuable information.
  • Be grateful – even if the new info, connection or lead is not useful – say thanks and mean it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

E-Mail Signatures - Your Personal Brand

Jibber Jobber Blog has a post today on making your e-mail signature count.  The post dissects someone's current so-so signature, but doesn't really point out how to construct an ideal signature.  At my firm, we constructed signature boxes, and we feel they work well, so let me use my own as an example:

Here's what is included:
Name, title, company (with hyperlink to company website)
Personal e-mail with hyperlink
Telephone numbers
Company motto (at top)
Visual links to LinkedIN profile, Twitter, Company FaceBook page, and this Blog
Opt-in sign up for company newsletter

As you can see, this is all accomplished in a compact, well-organized box.  My regular contacts get used to seeing this, so it has become a personal logo / brand.  The only challenge is that some people who view this on a PDA don't realize right away that all the "pictures" they see at the end of the message are just part of the sig box.  But those folks are "Luddites" anyway .

Create an attractive, simple, informative signature box for yourself, and help to have a personal brand.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Making Reference Checks Count

Employers are uneven on the subject of reference checks. Many check references very thoroughly, and even employ outside services. But, I also hear, "why bother – HR will only give name, rank and serial number, and what candidate will give you someone who isn't just spouting rehearsed answers?"
Here's a peek at my method:
  • Ask for too many: Ask the candidate to provide 12 references, which must include a boss, a peer (or two), and a subordinate, for each job for the past 15 years. Stellar candidates can provide this list. Mediocre candidates can't. You won't call them all, but the candidate no longer can predict WHO you will call.
  • Engage the reference: Start by having them talk about how they know the candidate, were they the supervisor, what was the framework of the relationship.
  • Easy questions first: What was your overall impression? What special skills or talents stand out in your mind?
  • Then the questions they don't have rehearsed answers for: If you have prepared performance objectives, simply turn them around: "One of the things the employer needs done is [describe]. What experience did [candidate] have in getting this accomplished for you?", or, "What did [candidate] do to prepare him/her to accomplish this for us?" The reference will not have a rehearsed answer for this, and you will get a clear, candid response. Listen carefully, probe, notice generalities and platitudes. The real opinion will be there.
  • Shortcomings: Ask late in the conversation about areas in which the candidate could have been better, or needed improvement. Probe: "What impact did that have on the work." Ask how others saw it: "How did your peers feel about this trait in [candidate]." Most of the time, the clarifying questions actually make the candidate seem better, not worse, but it is still worth probing in this area.
  • Close with open-ended question: "What have I not asked you that would be useful for me to know?" Lots of info about what the candidate is like personally will emerge from this question.
Trust the process, and know that you really can get legitimate references, if you use a structured approach, call a broad range of people, and probe for the real answers.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Flies in Urinals

Amsterdam's Schipol Airport famously had pictures of little black house flies etched into the porcelain, near the drains in each of the urinals in the men's rest rooms. "Spillage" (men are notoriously bad at aiming) was reduced by 80%.

School cafeterias in many countries including the US have experimented with placing desserts at the front of the food line, the back, and on separate counters. They have also tried putting the yogurt and fruit right up front, with the chips and other junky items last on the food line. Such positioning has always resulted in kids making better food selections.

These little tricks of manipulation are known as "Choice Architecture" – reorganizing the context in which we make our decisions.
Look at your supermarket layout the next time you shop, or the layout of any retail store. Odds are, you have to walk the farthest to get the most critical item on your list. Milk and eggs are always at the back. At my market, I have to walk through the fresh baked desserts to get to the toilet paper aisle. This isn't random.

Companies are increasingly using Choice Architecture with their customers, and with their own employees.
If you are a subscriber to my newsletter, watch for my upcoming review of the book "Nudge - Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness" (Thaler and Sunstein). If you aren't already a subscriber to my newsletter, click here to SUBSCRIBE NOW, for more on this interesting new business tactic.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oil Spill – Focus should be a Solution!

I just returned from 2 weeks in Europe, and it was interesting to see how the press there is handling the Gulf Oil Spill, especially in the UK.

Apparently, while I was gone, Obama has been referring to BP as "British Petroleum", when BP is in fact an international firm, with 40% of its stock owned by Americans. He also said he would have fired BP CEO Hayward, and he is infamously reported to have said he is trying to figure out "whose ass to kick."

Although there is vast criticism of BP in the UK press, they are not so happy with US-based Brit-bashing. Other factors: BP paid $1.4 billion in UK taxes last year, and BP is a major component in many pension investments. This has Brits worried, because the stock had plummeted after the spill. A BP bankruptcy would have worldwide economic implications.

Interestingly, today, a conservative US Senator (who has accepted lots of campaign contributions from O&G companies) APOLOGIZED (and has just UN-apologized) to BP, setting off a huge backlash.

In their final show of the season, Saturday Night Live ridiculed BP, in an opening sketch offering ludicrous and unworkable solutions to the spill by parodied BP execs.

All this has me thinking, why bother with all the rhetoric? When there is no solution, apparently all the leaders (corporate, US, UK, etc.) can do is TALK, with little results. When SNL does a spot-on parody of you, you know you're in trouble. What a waste of effort – looking for whose ass to kick, who has to apologize to who, who is to blame, and on and on.

All the more reason for everyone involved to be focused on results – what do we need to do to get a solution. Please, no more wasted words, hearings, press briefings and leaks. JUST CLEAN IT UP!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Flexibility in Staffing – Give Yourself Wiggle Room

Almost always, I advocate precision in hiring: Specify the critical results (in the form of SMART objectives) you want from a candidate, and hire someone who can deliver those results. This usually creates a job profile with very narrow parameters, and as recruiters, we aim to hit the bullseye.

Recently, we’ve had a client situation that calls for greater flexibility. An entrepreneurial company is replacing one senior executive with two people. To protect their confidentiality, I won’t state the exact functions, but the current person’s job can be clearly divided into two functional disciplines. Because the company is still growing and evolving, it is possible that a successful candidate could be found for each of these roles at different levels of experience. In fact, a couple of the key responsibilities could easily slide from one position to the other.
This employer is fortunate to be able to have this level of freedom in hiring, and it is really only happening because they have two slots to fill at the same time.

We never advocate changing a job description to fit a particular candidate. We say don’t hire around people, hire people to fit the specific slot – round pegs for round holes. In this situation, we can take a view of the whole system - in other words, the sum will be equal to more than the parts (each individual job), because strong top performing people in these roles will cover the whole set of key functions. I’ve written before about constructing a skills matrix, where you ensure that all the key functions are covered by a team. One person could be seasoned, another greener, as long as they cover all the objectives. A key ingredient will be to ensure that all new hires fit well into the management team, and can operate with credibility as peers with current senior execs.

When appropriate, a systemic approach – looking at how all the critical objectives are executed by a team - can pay off, if you hire excellent people no matter what level. I learned to be flexible to fit my client’s needs in this situation, and perhaps the same attitude can help others recruiting for multiple roles.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Robin Hood and The Tea Party

Summer is the time for blockbuster action movies, and one that recently opened is the umpteenth remake of Robin Hood. This time, director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe (both reunited from Gladiator) do less folklore and more political allegory.

I loved NY Times critic A.O. Scott’s review, in which he asks if this new Robin Hood is one big medieval tea party. Scott / Crowe apparently portray Robin not as a socialist bandit who is robbing from the rich to give to the poor, but more as a libertarian rebel, fighting against high taxes and a government trying to impose its will on the people. Peter Travers, in the Rolling Stone review, also brings up that Tea Partiers will love the movie for this connection. Fox News writer Steven Crowder calls Robin Hood the “First Tea Party Activist.” This comparison has legs!

After the recent recession, one could easily understand that a movie that shows underdogs rising up against a privileged upper class that didn’t earn what they’ve got, would certainly be topical and relevant.

Roger Ebert didn’t like the film too much; he only rates it 2 stars. He longs for the folklore and story-telling side that was more present in prior versions of this story. I’m with Roger. Winter is the time for movies that make you think. Summer movies should simply make us want an ice cream afterward! Or maybe an ICED Tea.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Job Hunting Tip #6 – A Graceful Exit

I predict many executives will change jobs this year, hoping for a better situation at a different company. Base on 25 years experience, I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly of how people conduct their personal exit from a company. Ideally, when you leave a company, it is a graceful exit, without burning bridges. Here are my top tips on how to do this the right way:
  • If you are leaving voluntarily, be sure of the decision. Counter offers rarely work to your advantage. Never leverage a new job offer to get a better deal at your company. If you have legitimate reasons to leave, stick with the decision.
  • Keep your own counsel: Thinking about a job change is a private matter. Don't share with others - the gossip mill will start talking as soon as you do.
  • Plan to give notice, but be prepared to leave immediately. Some companies want people to work two weeks to make a smooth transition, and some ask for even more time. But, some employers walk people to the door, especially if they will be going to a competitor. Be prepared for all scenarios.
  • The resignation discussion: Make an appointment with your boss. Don't just drop in. Rehearse your speech, and keep it simple, concise and to the point. We advocate:
  • "I have decided to accept another position and I will be leaving as of [date]. Being with this company has been a valuable experience to me, and it is important to me to leave on excellent terms with you, and remain a valued contact down the road. [If your company has a history of making counter offers, preempt that with:] I have thought this through carefully, my decision is made, and this isn't about getting a counter offer, so I hope we can quickly dispense with that. I will be happy to work diligently through the next 2 weeks(or as negotiate) to make a smooth transition."
  • Keep it simple. Be concise in responding to questions. Do not reveal too much.
  • Hand over a written resignation letter, essentially stating what you say verbally.
  • Thank your boss. Be positive. Be graceful. Don't do anything to burn a bridge. If your boss is angry, validate their feelings, don't argue. Take the approach that you may work for this person again, or may need a reference from him/her.
  • NEVER say anything negative about your boss or company to co-workers, people outside the company, or his/her peers. Every complaint can be spun around and reframed to the positive, usually by thinking about what you want instead, or what you want in the future. Example: "My boss is a micromanager who second guesses me all the time" becomes "The new position will offer me more freedom, responsibility and autonomy."
  • If you are being let go, ask about a severance arrangement, and evaluate the offer before responding. Don't agree or sign anything immediately. Think about consulting an attorney for advice if appropriate.
  • Ask for letters of reference at the time of your departure - make the request in writing, and "suggest" things that you were proud of, that the writer may want to include. They will usually write what you suggest!
In summary, use common sense and imagine you were reporting on the exit scenario to your next boss. Make sure you would be proud of the story you would be telling.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Executives To Watch

Lots of publications, news organizations and bloggers write annual "Executives to Watch" columns. They usually chose very visible CEOs and others whose names are in the news all the time.

As a recent buyer of a Droid phone, three executives that I want to watch are Vic Gundotra, Vice President, Engineering, Sundar Pichai, Vice President, Product Management, and Mario Queiroz, Vice President, Product Management – all with Google, which is responsible for the Android operating system.

Google recently held its Google I/O event in San Francisco, hosting 5000 developers who attended 80 sessions, 100 demonstrations, with deep technical content featuring Android, Google Chrome, Google APIs, GWT, App Engine, open web technologies.

Vic Gundrota in particular made strident points about how Android 2.2 is so much better than Apple's I-Phone. He particularly bashed Apple for pushing a closed rigid system, and said Android was so much more open, and added to the debate started by Steve Jobs about whether users are focused on applications or search on mobile devices.

Google, partnering with many phone makers including most notably Motorola, have been hyping Android based phones, and the Motorola Droid as "I-Phone Killers". If you check the forums and user boards for both phones, you will find complaints galore on both sides.

I think the Google execs are at a crossroads on this issue. What Vic, Sundar and Mario do over the next year will be key to whether Google really can "take over" this market space from Apple. Sure lots of people are buying Android based phones (100,000 a day), but will they really make the functionality superior? We'll watch and see….

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Disasters – Can your EMPLOYEES Recover?

Try to imagine this scenario: You are a BP Oil or Halliburton employee anywhere along the Gulf Coast, attending a friend's backyard barbecue on a recent Sunday, and in between sips of beer and nibbles of chips and dip, you hear, over and over, "Oh my god, you work for BP!? You must feel awful – what that company has done to this region!" You might answer, "I'm sorry." You might protest, "No, I have nothing to do with the drilling, I'm in Data Processing." But let's face it, you don't want to be having that conversation. When Saturday Night Live devotes its opening sketch to this issue, you know it is really bad.

Or how about working for Toyota the week another recall or another Federal investigation is announced? Or how about a Goldman Sachs employee in New York anytime the last few weeks?

We know what these companies are doing on the external PR side, because we hear or see it in the news each day. I wonder what they are doing internally. I tried to find info on the web under the company names and "employee relations" and "internal public relations" and found very little.

I suspect that morale is awful, people are gossiping, keeping their heads down and trying to duck for cover. Besides the financial losses and the visible external PR nightmare, think of the productivity and employee loyalty losses these companies suffer in this kind of situation.

I think as much effort must be made on the inside as on the outside, because if we don't repair damage to relations with our own employees, how would we expect strangers to react any better? Companies need to be clear about what they are doing, and provide employees with specifics on what they can say when asked about the problem. Companies might even provide counseling to employees who are suffering stress over the incident.

With regard to the companies who are subjects of the recent corporate performance issues, if you know specifically what these companies are doing, I'd appreciate hearing from you (, and we will all learn more! I'll publish an update with comments.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Google Info in Interviews

Today, many people Google each other before they meet. In the workplace, this often happens before a job interview, and it happens both ways: The interviewer Googles the candidate, and the candidate Googles the interviewer. So what can you discuss from what you have found?

If you are the interviewer, you are in the power position, so most of what you find is fair game. Discretion, manners and legal parameters would define what might be inappropriate to discuss. For example, even if you saw a photo of the candidate with her kids, it still isn't right to ask about how she balances work and family. If you saw that same picture, and the candidate had a same-sex partner and kids, even more inappropriate to discuss your findings. Anything that could be construed as discriminatory, rude or intrusive should be off-limits.

If you are the candidate, it is a bit trickier. You are not in the power (decision-making) position, so you need to be even more careful. Suppose you saw that the interviewer ran in a 5K the past weekend for a cancer charity? Suppose you are a runner too, or you also work for cancer charities. You might say to yourself that this is great, it will be a way to bond, to establish common ground. However, the interviewer might feel that your mentioning this info is intrusive, that it crosses boundaries.

On the other hand, if you saw that the interviewer had won an award at a local business association meeting, that might be worth commenting on. It shows that you do your homework, that you know how to influence with subtlety (flattery), and that you know what is appropriate. If the interviewer were to inquire, "Wow, I'm surprised you saw that. What else do you know about me?" I would recommend that you clam up, and not go any further.

In general, I think the rule of thumb for candidates is to ask yourself: what would you be comfortable with a stranger knowing about you? Most of the time, that answer will guide you in selecting what you could discuss with an interviewer from what you have found on Google, without seeming like a stalker!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is here, and it is on my mind today as a celebration of overwhelmed people achieving a victory over more powerful and better equipped people. In the US (especially here in CA), it is a heavily and heartily celebrated holiday, but perhaps marginally understood. Many think it is Mexican Independence Day, but that is September 16th. In Mexico, May 5th is not that big a deal. Cinco de Mayo is not even a national legal holiday, it is celebrated lightly, and mostly in the area of Puebla, where the battle took place in 1862. In that battle, which was over money owed (interest on debt), 4000 under-equipped Mexicans defeated 8000 well-equipped French soldiers. The French had not lost a battle in a similar situation in 50 years. Historians have tied this setback for Napoleon somewhat to helping end the US civil war, because the French were moving to alignment with the Confederacy.

I really do want everyone to enjoy their Margaritas and Dos Equis today. The commercialization by corporate America and Tequila and beer importers will be good for the US economy, and it is an opportunity to celebrate the richness and importance of Mexican culture in the US. And chips and guac are darn tasty!

One parallel I will keep in mind is how the overwhelmed immigrants (legal and not legal, and of all nationalities, but mostly of Latino descent) in Arizona now have even more difficult odds and more powerful foes, with the stiff new immigration laws that will promote unfair racial profiling and deepen discrimination. This is a national issue, and I hope the US comes up with a sensible response soon.

All of my ancestors were immigrants. Yes, they entered the country legally, but at a time when it was much easier to do so. Today, many Americans descended from immigrants take a NIMBY approach – "not in my back yard" – "I'm in; lock the door behind me." I try to remember my roots, the good fortune of my grandparents, and hope that others will still find America to be the land of opportunity it was 100 years ago.

So if you're with me on this, raise one salted rim to freedom, winning battles against heavy odds, fairness, democracy, and good will.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Ever had an awful boss? I'll bet he or she had some or maybe most of these bad traits:

Control Junkie: Has a tough time truly delegating or letting go. Has an opinion about everything.

Being Right: Even if your boss is usually right, it feels bad to think that you are generally wrong.

Rude: Bosses too often fail to say please and thank you, and they don't take the time for basic politeness.

Gives Blame / Takes Credit: Bad bosses take the credit for what goes right, and blame others for what goes wrong.

Bad Listener: Already formulating a response before you are done talking, because what you have to say doesn't matter. Even worse, doesn't even make a pretense of listening.

Withholding: Boss expects you to know and share everything he/she needs to know, but doesn't tell you enough and keeps secrets.

Anger: Why are bad bosses so mad? Perhaps they don't like themselves too much and see their own bad traits in others. In any case, bad bosses feel free to fling anger at you whenever they need to vent.

Kills Messengers: Tells you he wants to know things, but if it is bad news, or even not what he wanted to hear, jumps down your throat.

Win/Lose: Never read The 7 Habits (Covey) and doesn't understand Win/Win and the art of compromise.

Negativity: Glass is half empty, and always has a reason that your ideas won't work.

So to end on a positive note, I hope you have a boss who: Delegates well, appreciates input, is gracious, recognizes contributions, listens and hears you, communicates clearly and transparently, is even tempered, accepts bad news well, wants you to win too, and can always see the bright side.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hiring Pet Peeves - Take Poll

Every interviewer has things they hate about the interview process.

We're running a poll on Linked In to find out your pet peeves in hiring.

Please click the link in the text (not the picture) above or here ( and take the poll!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hiring Paradigm Shift Gets “A” Players

Successful entrepreneur and investor Dave Berkus wrote a blog today titled Hire Each Employee as if Your Survival Depends Upon it. In this blog, Dave talks about the critical importance of finding "A" players, and how every CEO should invest the time and effort it takes to write good job specifications and then screen, interview and hire on the basis of what it would take to be that "A" player.
Dave cites the book "TopGrading" by Brad Smart, which is also one of my favorites.
I agree with 90% of what Dave says today, with one significant exception. I don't think it has to be that difficult or time consuming for a CEO to get this accomplished. It is really about a paradigm shift. Most CEOs take one of two old-school approaches to hiring people for their senior management team. They
either play it safe by specifying the ideal background and experience, and screen for that, OR they go with their gut – relying on intuition to pick the right people.

In our experience it only takes 60-90 minutes to identify the Performance Objectives (critical, tangible, measurable results) required of the new executive. Then, the entire screening process is simply based on can the candidate achieve these objectives? Interview questions and reference checks are constructed accordingly, and the hire is based on the objective assessment of candidate capability to be the very specific "A" player needed – the round peg for the round hole.
Kudos to Dave for pointing out the need for CEOs to take action on this, to ensure their survival. Make it easy on yourself, with a shift in your thinking about what is most important in setting up a recruiting project for success.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Interviewing Basics has some good ideas about basic interviewing in this video.

To these basics, I would add the following:
  • When talking about weaknesses, it is good to show how you have overcome a weakness, or at least have successfully worked on that weakness.
  • Make the interview a dialogue - with give and take.  Get validation on how you are doing ("Does that fit with the way you would want this problem solved?")
  • Ask the interviewer what the most important objectives are in the position (see my previous blog on "Get the Job by Doing the Job") and talk about how you can get that done.
  • Get some closure ("How do you feel my background fits your needs?")
  • Eliminate concerns ("Do you have any doubts or concerns about my ability to do this job?")

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Computer Engineer Barbie

Recently, there have been several articles about the release (Fall 2010) of "Computer Engineer Barbie", and interviews with prominent female engineers, including this one with Erin Fitzgerald from the Department of Defense. Most guys don't know too much about Barbie dolls, so if you are like me, you may not have realized that this is the 125th profession for Barbie. Given all the press, I thought this might be an especially enlightened profession for Mattel to have assigned, or that they were showing extra feminist sensitivity. I was very surprised and pleased to see that this is not the case. Mattel has had an enlightened view of Barbie's professional life from the very beginning!

A review of Barbie's list of careers shows that Barbie has been an Astronaut (1965), a Surgeon(1973), and several other kinds of prestigious and well-compensated professionals – Doctor(s), Dentist, Business Executive, Olympic Athlete, twice a Presidential Candidate, and much more. Considering that Mattel gets a lot of flak for making a doll that could be (physically at least) a negative stereotype, from a career standpoint, they've set a good example in providing solid roles. Of course, Computer Barbie's laptop is pink, but that's ok.

The reason this 125th release got so much attention is that Mattel very smartly engaged their adult and young female customer base in a worldwide online vote to select the latest professions. They are also releasing a list of "10 Women to Watch in 2010", all people of significant accomplishment, including a 13 year old fashion blogger!

My wife and my daughter were very into Barbie as youngsters, but I never realized Mattel had actually done such a good job with Barbie's professional identity, so I thought some of my readers might also enjoying knowing about it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Take a Candidate to Lunch

My weekly e-mail from SHRM today is an offering of books about bad behavior by employees. The titles have to do with discipline, conflicts, bullying, performance problems, turf wars, and in general, dealing with difficult people. This caused me to start thinking about how to prevent such hires. What can you look for in the interview stage as a clue to predict future bad behavior?

A particular client story came to mind. This company had just let go a President after less than a year, and was about to bring the new person on board. The outgoing person was a tyrant, a bully, never listened to others, and was uniformly hated! I asked the chairman if he'd seen anything in advance to reveal these awful traits. He responded that he actually had – at lunch! The candidate had bullied the waiter, complained unreasonably, sent food back, and was generally disagreeable to the wait staff. The Chairman said, "I should have realized then, that is how he would be likely to treat people in a subordinate position."

Conventional wisdom has in-laws sharing meals with prospective brides and grooms, to see if they have appropriate manners. Many divorced people will tell you that you'll never see better behavior from your future spouse than you see at restaurants, and that they also could have predicted future behavior by observing mealtime behavior.

So, take your job prospect finalists to lunch, and notice not just how they behave with you, but with everyone that crosses their path – from the parking valet to the host/hostess, wait staff, bus staff, etc. I'd also issue a caveat to beware of the overly charming candidate too. The person who wants to win over everyone, even random strangers, could be a narcissist, who craves having everyone love them. Such people can also wreak havoc on the job. What you want is normal, good behavior. Watch out for bullies and charmers – the extremes could be worthwhile indicators of future action in the workplace.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Get the Job by DOING the Job

One of the best techniques you can use to get a job is to prove you can do the job. Here’s how:

During a job interview, find out as much as you can about what needs to be done. Ask the interviewer to define the results needed from the new hire. Ask about the criteria by which this person would be reviewed on in 90 days. Rephrase your questions in several ways to make sure you elicit the objectives for the role. Keep asking, and what else… and what else?

Once you have a clear picture of what is needed, begin to portray how your skills will enable you to achieve the objectives. Since the interviewer will have a specific agenda for the time you have together, you may not be able to get all of this across, so don’t stop when the interview stops. That night, at home, put together a plan for what you would do in the first 30, 60, 90 days, and e-mail it to the interviewer and hiring manager (if you met the person who would be your boss) so they have it on their desk first thing in the morning. Put yourself in their place. Wouldn’t you be impressed? Even if you get a few things wrong in your plan, you are demonstrating that you WANT to do the job, and that you have the drive and initiative to do whatever it takes.

Employers can’t help but be impressed by this. Any follow up after an interview is good, but showing the employer that you can do the job, in writing, overnight, is one of the most powerful messages you could send. Give it a try.

Hiring Upturn Signals

A few months ago you had to really hunt for signs that the recovery was hitting the job market in a positive way. But this week, a number of indicators hit my news feeds, and others were easy to find. A good sign! Here are some highlights:

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Tech hiring is on an upswing, due to significant recovery by many key firms in the sector. Intel, AMD and Google reported substantial increases in revenue and/or profits last week, and Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are due to report next week.

CBS News is reporting this week that signs of new hiring are beginning to emerge in Healthcare, Finance and Engineering (they also mention the tech sector).

Numerous reports specifically about Wall Street indicate that job postings are up, hiring freezes are down, and overall expectations are good for that sector.

The new Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act signed by the President last month provides employers with exemptions and credits for new hiring.

An article in Fortune (CNN Money) this week reports that Warren Buffet, Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan Chase) and Jack Welch are all confident and optimistic about the upturn.

Retail sales are up, the market is up (mostly, despite the Goldman Sachs reaction drop today), and many other indicators are turning positive. Our company (executive search firm) is busy, and I’m hopeful that all this will continue, everyone will reap the benefit of a strong recovery, very soon.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The 2% Difference

I have consistently contended that executives who tolerate "B" and "C" players on their teams give up a lot. Let me now quantify it:

Let's say you are a CEO with 5 key management team reports, running a $50 million (revenue) company. Let's say that you project 10% revenue growth next year, but you have a "B" player on your team that might hold you back a bit. If you achieve only 8% growth, you just gave up $1 million in revenue. Would hitting 8% instead of 10% be regarded as a failure by your board or parent company? Probably not. You probably still get your bonus.

If you run this company for 5 years, and you tolerate 2 "B" players rotating in and out of your management team, it might cut your annual average growth to 7%. Over 5 years time, you give up $7.5 million in revenue. If you have a $200 million company, you gave up $30 million in growth. This could erode equity by an equivalent amount when the company is sold.

In January I wrote about the 18-Month Factor – that it takes 18 months from discovering a sub-par performer before most companies have a fully effective person in that role. What if you established a zero tolerance policy for anything other than "A" players in every management position? Each time that you quickly replace a "B" or "C" person with an "A", you could gain 2% in growth. Would the 2% difference be worth it to you?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Who Moved My Job? The Challenges of Relocation

As a recruiter, for 25 years I have been asking people to move to different locations for jobs. Up until 2001, people were readily willing to do this to advance their careers. My view is that Since 9/11, people have significantly changed their attitudes about relocation in general (the cocooning syndrome), and since the recent recession, this has gotten worse. With people upside down in house equity, it is very difficult to think of moving. Fewer companies give full relo packages that pay for real estate sales and closing costs, and almost no companies "buy" houses anymore.

Family factors have also evolved. Most employers try to get management level people in their 40's and 50's. People in their 40's often have kids in middle school and high school. Those kids have opinions, and of course, significant busy lives of their own. I have seen many parents refuse to move if their kids are in high school, and the limiting age keeps dropping, so that now 13 year olds can influence career move decisions. Once the kids move out (50's), many people are then faced with elderly parents who live with them or nearby. Many excellent job candidates have trouble moving when their parents are in their 80's and perhaps ailing.

So, why do so many companies still seek to move people? Is it really critical to have an executive at company headquarters, only to have them travel 30%, be on the phone 20% and on the computer 20% of their time? For the 20-30% of their time that actually has to be in meetings at company HQ, they could be commuting there instead. This is especially applicable to Sales & Marketing Executives, who spend even more time on the road, and more time coordinating with people in remote locations.

I'm an advocate of increasing the flexibility of workforce locations. I have seen many people successfully fill roles while commuting across 3 states or even coast to coast. Many families survive dual household situations. In some cases, limiting the hire to someone who will move reduces the candidate pool by 50-90%. Companies who downplay relo could benefit from having access to the talent they want and need. Companies need to really think – where could this person be effective, and allow the solution to fit the need.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

US Survives First Day of Health Care Reform!

The stock market went up today, and there is no evidence that more people died than usual, so far. It's only 4 pm... OK, I'm just kidding.

But seriously folks, can we get a grip?! I haven't seen such acrimony about something as boring as insurance in a real long time. I'm impressed by this article published an hour ago by the Associated Press: FACT CHECK: Spinning the New Health Care Law. It already has 2500 comments on Yahoo. It gives (IMHO) a balanced view of the myths and realities about the new law.

Also see A Historic Look at Health Care Legislation in the US – surprise – we've done this before!

I love the intensity on this issue – I wish we could get excited about more issues - but without the polarization, hostility, propaganda and rhetoric. No matter which way you feel about this law or about health care reform in general, I hope that most people agree with me there is too much fighting today in politics.

Peter Drucker, who would have been 100 this year, gave six tips for US Presidents back in 1993. The last tip was, "Once you're elected, stop campaigning." There has been a lot in the press lately about how many members of Congress are forgetting they were hired to do a job, and are simply perpetual candidates, always giving sound bites and stump speeches.

Ironically, one movie rental waiting for me at home is the 1976 multi-Oscar winning Network. Remember "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore?!" Seemed like an irrational rant at the time. Perhaps it is a rallying cry.

I don't know what it will take, but I hope some of the current calls for a new civility reach the ears of our tone-deaf Congress and Senate, and cause them to start doing the real work of the nation again. We sure need it!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Worst Employer Interview Mistakes

Hiring techniques have not improved much in the last 25 years while I've been a recruiter, certainly not to keep pace with other aspects of business that have grown and improved exponentially. One of the most challenging aspects of the hiring process is the interview itself. Many interviewers really don't find out much about a candidate's capability, because they don't know how. Here are some of the most common mistakes made by interviewers, and my suggested solutions.

No Structure: "Tell me about yourself" is NOT an exciting first question. [Put together a structured interview that finds out exactly what you need to know about the candidate.]

Failing to Discover Capability: Interviewers who don't identify what they need done (performance objectives) can hardly find out if the candidate can do the job. [Clearly define objectives, then ask the candidate to tell you what they've done that relates to your objective.]

Behavioral Interviewing: Nice to know that someone can tell you about their leadership skills, being a "team player", etc., but unless you ask about these skills in the context of your objectives, you will simply get well-rehearsed answers. [Ask how the skill was used in a similar situation to your objective. Example: "How have you exhibited leadership by improving morale and motivation to achieve better productivity?"]

Failing to "Recruit": By staying in "evaluation" mode, some interviewers don't sell the candidate on wanting to work for the company. [Create balance by incorporating recruitment into the interview- like a first date – the meeting goes two ways.]

Repetition: Candidates often meet 5-10 people in the course of an interview day at the prospective company, and sometimes they all ask the same questions, and all give the same company description. The candidate leaves NUMB! [Assign different areas of questioning to different people, if possible, based on their expertise. Example: Have HR ask personality questions; have the Engineering people ask technical questions, etc.]

Trying to Find a Clone: Many interviewers try to find the same traits they already have, not realizing that a complementary set of traits may be of greater benefit. [Seek balance on your team by ensuring you look for people different than yourself.]

Relying on Your Intuition: Too many employers hire based on their "gut" feeling. [Use objective interviewing questions first, to discover the true fit, and only then let your intuition enter the scene.]

Lessons are repeated until learned. I hope some interviews improve as a result of these ideas.

Lies vs. Morals

I've written three blog articles in the past about lying and ethics. Then this weekend I saw "The Invention of Lying" a witty and insightful movie by Ricky Gervais. The premise of the film is that one man, in a world that has no concept of lying, discovers he can lie – and what he does with that ability. For a good concise idea of what the movie is about, read Roger Ebert's Review.

What I discovered is that the movie isn't so much about the ability to lie, it is about how people treat each other. Gervais' character, Mark, uses lies to his own benefit only minimally. He gets money, sure, but only from an entity we want to see give it up! In almost all the other key moments, he benefits others with his lies. He makes people without hope feel hopeful. He helps people with constricted views of themselves see beyond those limitations. Aside from a few comic moments needed to keep the satirical underpinning, he mostly treats people very well.

I still believe fundamentally in telling the truth, and will always advocate transparency in relationships, business and hiring. Out and out deceit with the purpose of taking advantage of someone unfairly is something I'll always be against. But, I realized that there may actually be something more important than the pure black and white viewpoint of lies/truths.

Kindness, human understanding, dignity, consideration, even love, all depend just a little bit on lying. Sometimes it becomes more about being moral than being truthful. In the movie, Mark uses that benchmark, of first being a good person, of not hurting others, as his guide on how to act. I appreciated that message in the movie – it reframed "the truth" in a gentler light for me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Multigenerational Households – Impact on Employers

The percentage of Americans living in multigenerational households has increased 33% since 1980. After steadily declining for the 40 years prior (1940-1980), the rate reversed and started climbing. The last 4 years have seen sharper rates of increase. 49 million by 2008 vs. 29 million in 1980 lived in such households. This was reported this week in a Pew Research Center Report.

All of the people in the household are impacted by a multi-generational configuration, and I believe the generation most affected is Boomers. 55-65 year-olds are the people most likely to be in the middle of a multi-generational household, with elderly parents living with them, Gen X/Y kids with their own families who can't afford to buy a home, and, millennials who have returned to (or never left) the nest. Boomers aren't always the hosts in these households. Some who have struggled with mortgages, foreclosures, etc. are living with their more financially secure Gen X or Gen Y children!

What does this mean for employers and the workplace? Flexibility is the key.

  • Time vs. money – people in multi-gen families often need extra time to care for elderly parents, children or grandchildren. Give them flex scheduling, and extra vacation time. Surveys of boomers have indicated that if they could have 6 weeks of vacation, even if some was unpaid, they would continue to work further into their senior years.
  • Recognize the value of Boomers, who are often your most knowledgeable and productive people. They are excellent leaders, hard workers, and actually statistically quite healthy. It pays to keep them fully utilized. After this recent recession, many have lost major chunks of their retirement money, and are highly motivated to keep working.
  • Flexible Pay and Benefits: Cafeteria plans for benefits enable people to get what they need, whether it be child care or hospice care. Deferred compensation could be a great benefit today, as people rebuild their nest eggs and postpone retirement.
  • Sensitivity: With so many people in close quarters, possibly having financial, health and relationship issues at home, recognize that people may be under more personal stress as a result.

Generations United is a DC based organization with many good resources on multi-gen living and other issues.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Did you know that Leonardo Da Vinci was a successful Defense Contractor? And, he certainly knew how to put together a proposal!

This week I gave a webinar on How to Market Yourself and I emphasized the need to focus on the buyer’s (employer’s) needs. Prospective employees (and defense contractors!) must show the buyer (employer) how they solve a particular problem and add value.

In 1482, at the age of 30, Leonardo Da Vinci recognized that the Duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro was in need of better ways to wage war. Here is the translation of Da Vinci’s letter:

"Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to anyone else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.

  1. I have a sort of extremely light and strong bridges, adapted to be most easily carried, and with them you may pursue, and at any time flee from the enemy; and others, secure and indestructible by fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and place. Also methods of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

  2. I know how, when a place is besieged, to take the water out of the trenches, and make endless variety of bridges, and covered ways and ladders, and other machines pertaining to such expeditions.

  3. If, by reason of the height of the banks, or the strength of the place and its position, it is impossible, when besieging a place, to avail oneself of the plan of bombardment, I have methods for destroying every rock or other fortress, even if it were founded on a rock, etc.

  4. Again, I have kinds of mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; and with these I can fling small stones almost resembling a storm; and with the smoke of these cause great terror to the enemy, to his great detriment and confusion.

  5. And if the fight should be at sea I have kinds of many machines most efficient for offense and defense; and vessels which will resist the attack of the largest guns and powder and fumes.

  6. I have means by secret and tortuous mines and ways, made without noise, to reach a designated spot, even if it were needed to pass under a trench or a river.

  7. I will make covered chariots, safe and unattackable, which, entering among the enemy with their artillery, there is no body of men so great but they would break them. And behind these, infantry could follow quite unhurt and without any hindrance.

  8. In case of need I will make big guns, mortars, and light ordnance of fine and useful forms, out of the common type.

  9. Where the operation of bombardment might fail, I would contrive catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other machines of marvelous efficacy and not in common use. And in short, according to the variety of cases, I can contrive various and endless means of offense and defense.

  10. In times of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and private; and in guiding water from one place to another.

  11. I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.

Again, the bronze horse may be taken in hand, which is to be to the immortal glory and eternal honor of the prince your father of happy memory, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the above-named things seem to anyone to be impossible or not feasible, I am most ready to make the experiment in your park, or in whatever place may please your Excellency - to whom I comment myself with the utmost humility, etc."
This has often been analyzed as Da Vinci’s resume, or even his “cover letter” to an employer. Whatever we call it, we certainly have to acknowledge that Da Vinci successfully conveyed his ability in the specific context of the employer’s need. The Duke gave him the job, and Leonardo became a very successful defense contractor!

Photo credit: "Courtesy of Leonardo3 from Hoepli edition 1894-1094 -"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


(Click here to enlarge)

People often get revelations about themselves by looking at the best parts of their lives in a special way. This peak experience exercise has its roots in the teachings of Abraham Maslow, and in the techniques of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). Do this in a quiet, relaxed state. It is ok to ask for input from others to recall these best experiences, but then return to a quiet space alone to finish out the exercise.

  1. Define the experiences. From each aspect of your life (Education, Relationships, Work), and at perhaps more than one age, remember particular experiences that gave you joy, a thrill, at which you feel you were at your best. Describe the experience. i.e. Started a business and moved quickly to success.
  2. Think about what feelings the experience created for you (joy, pride, confidence, excitement, comfort, accomplishment, etc)
  3. Vividly recall the situation. Who were you with, where were you, what could you see, hear, sense?
  4. What actions did you take to create the outcome? [Contacted clients, bankers, new vendors, hired people]
  5. What skills do you have that enabled you to take those actions? [Domain knowledge, ability to analyze things quickly, decisiveness, willingness to risk]
  6. How could you apply the skills again? What else can you do with those skills?
  7. Look for patterns – similarities in the actions and skills, that help define who you are and your capabilities.
  8. Anchor the resources you discover in yourself, so that you can access the skills again and again.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What’s Wrong with Resumes

The trend is moving positive, with many people actually "getting it" that a resume needs to be a promotional flyer that accurately represents who you are in a selective, exciting, compelling manner. BUT, too many people still have really bad resumes!

A bad resume contains:

  • Opening paragraphs about Objectives (too general OR too specific – save for cover letter), Summary of Qualifications, Key Strengths, Technical Skills, etc.
  • More boring paragraphs about responsibilities and duties
  • Insider language and acronyms that people outside your company or industry don't understand
  • Bad formatting (emphasis on dates, mixed fonts, letter sizing, pagination problems, headers embedded in text, spacing instead of tabbing, etc.)
  • Spelling and grammar errors – more common than you would think
  • Personal info that could give hiring managers reasons to DESELECT you
  • Functional descriptions with limited job info (should only be used by people with a problem in their job history, like gaps, odd career choices, etc.)
  • Tries to tell the WHOLE story of who you are. Leave out the grocery clerk jobs from high school, and start reducing the detail on jobs over 10 years in the past.

A good resume conveys a SHORT story about your relevant experience and transferrable skills from the point of view of an employer who needs to understand your value.

Good resumes include the following features:
  • Concise, easy to read highlights that list specific accomplishments (with $, %, increases, stats, etc.)
  • Focus on employment chronology (with accomplishments for each job listed under that job) without the usual fluff in summary and opening sections
  • Well formatted, corrected spelled copy
  • Only what is needed to get in the door
  • Nothing to enable an employer to de-select you
  • Enable scanning, electronic conversion, faxing etc. (Important to know the formatting that works and doesn't work)

You may need more than one resume, if you are targeting different types of jobs. Specifics of how you address the requirements of a particular job should be in a concise and to-the-point cover letter, not built into the resume.

Hope this helps!

Exceptional Customer Service – Capt. Denny

United Airlines pilot Captain Denny Flanagan is a legend. Just Google his name and you will find hundreds of personal stories about him. One of my wife's business acquaintances flew with Captain Flanagan last week, and reinforced that Capt. Denny is still at it – wowing the customers with consideration, competence and good humor. I was so impressed with the story, that I asked if I could retell it here. Here is the direct first person account (with the traveler's name and employer changed to protect his privacy):

As I entered the departure area for a United Airlines flight from Orlando to San Francisco on March 1, 2010, I saw something I had never seen before. The captain of our flight was standing in front of the counter with the desk microphone giving a short welcoming speech. He welcomed the passengers to the upcoming flight, told us he was glad we had chosen United, gave an update on travel conditions expected to be smooth, informed us that we would be twenty minutes early due to prevailing winds, once again emphasized how happy he was we had chosen his flight, and asked us to let him know if any of us had any needs.

As we entered the plane, he stood at the door welcoming us and handing out business-size cards with a description of the Boeing 757 we would be flying that day. About once a year I might see a pilot at the door but this was getting to be beyond the normal pilot.

After about two hours of flying, I got up to use the rest room. As I returned to my seat, one of flight attendants stopped me and said, "The Captain wanted me to give you his business card." The card had the name of Captain Denny Flanagan from Chicago's O'Hare Airport and even included his cell phone and e-mail address. The handwritten message on back was special:

Dr. Doe. You are a valued customer and your business is Greatly appreciated. Please let me know how we can exceed your expectations. Capt. Denny

Because I have a lot of miles on United from before going to [current employer] where I mainly use Southwest Airlines, I had used a free upgrade into First Class and my 1 million mile flying status may have contributed to my getting this handwritten card - the second time in fifteen years.

An hour later the flight attendant told the passengers that the Captain had handed out the plane trading card when we entered the plane and he had signed two of those cards. If we had a signed card, he wanted us to have a gift of a bottle of wine. Two call button signals went on and she proceeded back with two wrapped bottles of wine.

Upon return I wrote Captain Flanagan highlighting what I had experienced and thanking him for being a great ambassador for United. Within hours I had this rather remarkable response:

Dr. Doe,

Thank you for your kind words. They are appreciated. Statistics shows that for every compliment or complaint that there are 100 others thinking of doing the same thing. Feedback is so important to know you are on the right track.

In the service business the recipe for success is quite easy. Choose your attitude for the day, anticipate your customer's needs and exceed their expectations. I have a few work philosophies and they have proved effective over the years;

-- I believe that each customer deserves a good travel experience whether on United, American, Continental.........train, bus, taxi or with your best friend in his car. You deserve a safe and comfortable ride.

--Treat each customer as if it is their first flight and have no expectations. .I lead by example and this helps motivate the crew to do a better job. When they see me stow bags, assist moms with strollers and answer questions as if it is the first time I heard it they are brought back to their new hire days.

--It is easier to keep the customers you have than to find new ones....United has a devoted sales team to find new customers and it is time consuming and expensive but necessary. My job is somewhat easier and less expensive and that is to provide a safe and customer-oriented service. If I do my job then the folks in the sales department will have less pressure on themselves.

John, Thanks for flying "The Friendly Skies" of United Airlines. Your business is greatly appreciated. If you are ever on one of my flights again stop up to the cockpit and say hello. If we have time I will go out and buy us a Starbucks.

Capt. Denny

(Cell Phone Listed)

I learned so many lessons from Captain Denny in his response. I hope this five hour experience I enjoyed last week will inspire you to choose your attitude, anticipate the needs of others, and then exceed their expectations. Servant leadership is something else I think about when reading the Captain's e-mail. May others be motivated as you share this brief story.

WOW – I was really impressed reading this, and I hope you are inspired as well! Go Capt. Denny!

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