Friday, December 25, 2009

A Tool I Wish I’d Discovered Earlier

Every now and then you discover a new trick that is worth sharing, and I have one of those for you today. Given that's it's Christmas, this one is my present to you today.

While working in Corporate America, I needed to keep a pulse on news that was related to the products I was developing. To do this I subscribed to newsletters, used Google search extensively, and relied on information that was passed on to me. This led to a cluttered mailbox, and required a great deal of time to sort through.

Now that I have learned to use Google Alerts, I am able to streamline the information I am interested in. This simple to use tool allows you to receive periodic (you pick the frequency) updates based on keywords you choose. You can pick the target source (news, blogs, video) or select a comprehensive search, and it gets delivered to your mailbox or a feed source.

So, let's say you want to know all the latest about the Galleon insider trading scandal, you can set an alert for "Galleon, insider trading, Moffat, Rajaratnam, Chiesi" and voila! the latest news on the topic arrives in your inbox.

If you are a data junkie like me, need to do research on a topic, want to follow specific news topics, or just want to check periodically on what information is on the web about you, this is a tool you have to check out.

Have a fantastic holiday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Galleon Watch - 12/23/09 Update

Just a quick update to let you know that Raj Rajaratnam and Danielle Chiesi have each entered "not guilty" pleas against the insider trading charges they were indicted on last week. The case against Moffat and the other executives arrested is still pending.

Click here to catch up on past Galleon insider trading news.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Seven Things I Didn’t Accomplish This Year

It’s that time of year again.

If you’re working in Corporate America chances are that you have recently received an e-mail from your boss, asking you to document your accomplishments for the year – to be used of course for your annual assessment, which will be input to your annual incentive pay (if you’re lucky enough to be working for a company that still has bonuses), and input to your 2010 raise (if you’re lucky enough to be working for a company that will be giving raises).

I can hear the sighs.

Caution: If you are working in Corporate America, continuing to read this column may throw you into the depths of depression. Okay – not really – but I am hoping that you will be at least a little bit jealous!

A few years back I ran into a colleague who had retired one year earlier. In response to my query on what she had been doing she said, “I am blissfully non-productive!”

In that vein, I am blissfully happy to report that for the first time in thirty years, I do not have to respond to that e-mail from my boss. Instead, I thought it would be fun to spend a little bit of time reveling in what I didn’t have to accomplish this year…

1. I didn’t deliver yet another ‘new’ product that was targeted at attracting new customers, while retaining all the old customers, and solving all of their biggest problems.

2. I didn’t carefully craft the corresponding messages for the market, positioning this new technology to be the greatest thing since sliced bread and capable of solving world hunger, even though it was based on technology that was decades old.

3. I didn’t spend months reviewing those messages and getting buy-in with senior executives across the company so that each of them had the opportunity to add their spin and water down the message so that in the end it said almost nothing – very eloquently.

4. I didn’t spend weeks getting managers and executives to agree to a name for this product – one that was sufficiently descriptive and yet innocuous enough so that the company wouldn’t be sued for copyright infringement.

5. I didn’t complete a special project that my boss told me would be a fantastic ‘growth opportunity’, that contributed to many extra hours of work – and many headaches.

6. I didn’t wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning worrying about a big presentation at an early meeting in a headquarters location that required an hour drive to get to. In fact, I rarely set my alarm at all!

And now for my proudest non-accomplishment of the year (drumroll please):

7. I didn’t ‘lay off’, ‘surplus’, ‘resource’, or otherwise fire anyone. Yippee! I think I deserve high marks on my performance assessment this year, don't you?

Sarcasm aside, I am not knocking the great and important work being done in Corporate America, and I am very pleased to see the stock price at my old company rise. It’s simply clear that it was indeed time for someone else to be doing that work.

Your turn. What were you fortunate enough to have not accomplished this year?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Galleon Watch – 12/16/09 Update

According to the New York Times, both Raj Rajaratnam and Danielle Chiesi were formally indicted by a grand jury yesterday. They will face trial in New York.

So what about Moffat and the other executives arrested two months ago? According to this Bloomberg article, Moffat’s attorney is expecting that his case will be postponed. Both sources suggest that there may be a deal in the works.

Updated 12/17 - And indeed the deadline for indictments against Moffat and the others arrested on October 16th has been delayed until January 15th.

Stay tuned…

If you missed past installments of the Galleon Watch, catch up here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Galleon Watch – Moffat Denies the Charges

As the December 16th deadline for indictments draws near, the defendants are making their moves.

And surprise, surprise…

The New York Times and other news sources reported late last week that Bob Moffat’s attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the charges against the former senior IBM exec. The gist of the argument is that Moffat was only one of several IBM execs doing due diligence on Sun, and that he alone did not know enough to have passed on information about Sun’s future earnings.

He has admitted to being part of the Sun due diligence team. He has also admitted to communicating with Danielle Chiesi from time to time in that timeframe.

Well sure, he had to admit he was doing due diligence – he was head of the group that was looking into the acquisition. And he had to admit talking to Chiesi – they have him on tape. So, what do you think? How long before we know the full story?

If you missed the earlier installments of the Galleon Watch, click here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Is There Really a Glass Ceiling?

In recent weeks there has been a lot of discussion in the news on how well (or not so well) Corporate America is doing in shattering the glass ceiling. More importantly, some have suggested that there is no glass ceiling (Rachel Wood on the Glass Ceiling Myth), that we would be better off if we just didn’t talk about it (Ariane de Bonvoisin speaking at the Villanova Women in Business Conference), or that women just need to wake up and recognize that the world has changed (David Carter for the Badger Herald).

Others still believe that we must acknowledge the glass ceiling (Professor Sheila Wellington speaking at NYU Stern School of Business).

To be clear, let me define the term ‘glass ceiling’. I am referring to an artificial barrier that prevents qualified women from attaining top corporate jobs.

We start with a level playing field – I am going to go out on a limb and state up front that women are as intelligent as men (yup, I’m declaring that as a fact).

Let’s look at the scorecard:

• Women hold the top job in only 15 Fortune 500 companies (that’s 3%). There are some fantastic success stories of women CEO’s. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo tops this year’s list of the 50 most powerful women in business. Oprah Winfrey (Harpo), Anne Mulcahy (Xerox), and Andrea Jung (Avon) have made consistent annual appearances on this list, to name just a few. There are also women who have disappeared from the list. Was Carly Fiorina held to a different standard than her male peers when she was ousted from Hewlett-Packard? Did Meg Whitman (eBay) leave Corporate America too soon?

• Men outnumber women 7 to 1 on Fortune’s list of 40 under 40 (years old). This does not bode well for the pipeline to replace the current women CEOs as they retire.

• A number of states have recently taken a look at their local scorecards. A UC Davis Study showed that women hold only 10% of the executive and board seats in the state’s top 400 publicly traded firms. The Chicago Tribune reported that fewer than 15% of the executive officers in that city’s businesses are female. And in Massachusetts, BU Today reported that women represent less than 9% of the executives in the state’s largest 100 firms.

Dare I mention that while some women are achieving positive success in Corporate America, there are also those who are becoming notorious via corporate crime? The women are under-represented here too, but let’s call that a good thing.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge that women can be brutal to their own kind. I have seen too many women near the top who want to be the only woman in the room, sometimes actively working against their female peers.

Now that we’ve looked at the facts…

Is the glass ceiling a figment of our imagination? There is no doubt in my mind that the ‘system’ of Corporate America has not yet adapted sufficiently to be fully inclusive of women.

Are women causing the problem? No, but women are contributing to it, both in attitude and in acceptance.

Should we stop talking about it? Absolutely not! We need to be aware to actively drive change.

Will be do better in the next decade? Let’s make it a point to do so.

Your turn – what do you think?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Five Reasons to Take All of Your Vacation This Year

You still have vacation days to take. For some of you this might be just a couple of days – for others it might be weeks. But there are only four weeks left in 2009 and time is running out.

According to the Huffington Post, too many people aren’t taking their vacations, and CNN reported that a recent survey found that 34% of Americans don’t take all their vacation each year. (My guess is that those estimates are low.) Are you one of them? If so, here are five great reasons why you should take all your vacation:

1. You earned it. It’s a benefit. It’s worth money. You might be surprised that Expedia estimates there will be 436 million unused vacation days in 2009 and values that at $63.33 billion. (I’ll do the math for you – that’s at an hourly rate of $18.)

2. It won’t change your annual appraisal. I have news for you – most management teams complete their performance discussions before the holidays (because they plan to be on vacation). Unless you are in sales and need to make quota for the quarter, or you discover a technology that solves world hunger, chances are your bottom line won’t change because you took some time off over the holidays.

3. Your boss won’t notice. The truth is, unless you’ve specifically been asked to provide coverage, no one will notice. And consider this – if you are the only one working, then you’re also the only one to blame when something goes wrong. You might be a martyr, but you won’t be a hero.

4. It costs the company money. If you happen to work in a company that still allows vacation days to be carried over from one year to the next, this costs the company money. Whatever days you defer have to be carried as a liability, and when you do “cash them in” they will cost more than they do today.

5. You need a break. If you can’t take a sabbatical, at least take your vacation!

Oh – and when you do take that break, resist the urge to spend all day on your laptop, your blackberry, your cell phone… you get the idea.

So what do you say? Are you planning to take all your vacation this year? If not, why not?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Galleon Watch - All About a Woman?

When the news of the Galleon insider trading scandal broke on October 16th, many of you shared my sentiments of shock and outrage, as we discussed what could have motivated senior executives (I’m no longer using the word ‘leader’ to describe them) like Bob Moffat and Mark Kurland to allegedly participate.

Was it power? Prestige? Greed?

A report by Bloomberg on November 23rd offers a possible motive. The story suggests that Danielle Chiesi, a former beauty queen, ‘attracted’ top business executives in bars and ballrooms, building a powerful network and charming these men into spilling company secrets (and possibly breaking the law). Bloomberg refers to Chiesi as “the woman who sank Galleon.”

What do you think? Is it really possible that a woman could be at the center of the ring?

In other Galleon news, on November 25th reported that Raj Rajaratnam and his lawyers are arguing that the wiretaps used to secure key information that led to the arrests, were unconstitutional.

Watch this space as the December 16th indictment nears.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Call For Sabbaticals

The idea of a sabbatical – time away from work – to do some research, learn a new skill, or pursue a personal passion, may seem far-fetched. But the truth is that if you do the same work for a long period of time, whether that’s twenty years, thirty years, or even just five or ten, you will hit a wall where you start to experience lack of creativity, and burnout.

When I was younger, the women in the office used to joke that the only accepted way to take time off from work was to have a baby. But let’s be honest, taking a sleep-deprived leave of absence to stay home with a baby isn’t exactly a break. Later in my career, the only accepted way to take time off from work was due to long-term illness, and we’re not wishing that on anyone.

And yet the drive to constantly meet the bottom line, increase profitability, and please Wall Street can just sap all the energy right out of you.

If you want to be inspired, check out this TED talk by Stefan Sagmeister, on the Power of Time Off. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole talk, just listen to the first three minutes, or read the interview with Stefan in Print Magazine.

Feeling creative yet?

While traditional sabbaticals have their roots in the academic world, I was surprised to find that there are a number of Fortune 100 companies that offer paid sabbaticals as a benefit to their employees. But there’s too few of them on this list.

What’s in for the company? As this Business Week article notes, companies that offer sabbaticals view them as tool for recruiting and retention, and see increased loyalty as a result.

Have you taken a sabbatical? Let’s dream a little – if you could take a sabbatical what would you do with the time?

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Can We Do With Wasted Minutes?

Imagine this – you are sitting at your desk, listening to muzak, and waiting for the conference call to start. Tick tock… minutes go by.

Oh, wait – you don’t have to imagine it – it happens every day. Three, maybe five minutes into the scheduled start time, the call will start.

When the leader of the call does finally join, there are introductions and making sure everyone that is required is on the call. Most likely, as this intro process is taking place more people will join, and one of them will ask, “So who is on the call?” and the intros will start all over again.

If you’re the person that usually keeps everyone waiting, I hope you feel at least a little bit guilty.

And if there are charts to be used for the call, I can confidently predict that someone on the call will not be able to find the charts. This could be because they were left off the distribution list (maybe or maybe not by accident), or it could be because the participant is unorganized and drowning in a mass of unread (i.e. red) e-mails.

Again, if this is you, I hope you feel guilty.

Fifteen minutes into a thirty-minute call, the meeting actually begins.

Maybe I’m exaggerating – but not too much.

Now the call has started and twenty minutes in someone new joins. They have a good excuse – they got stuck on another important call. I figure there’s a 50-50 chance this person will listen and catch up. There’s also a 50-50 chance they will disrupt the call and try to start from the beginning – again.

And let's just hope that none of the call participants are on a cell phone in an airport. We all know that if that's the case, there will be unbearable noise on the line until another attendee breaks in and begs the traveling participant to use "star 6" to put their phone on mute.

I hate wasting those minutes, so let’s start a list of things we can do with those extra minutes while we’re waiting, instead of just messaging the other attendees to see whether they are also listening to muzak, or to commiserate on how badly the call is going. I’ll go first:

• Make a cup of hot tea
• Check the stock prices for the day (or if you're feeling brave your 401K)
• Make a grocery list – put cranberries on it
• Catch up on the latest news on the Galleon Insider Trading Scandal
• Check out the latest post on When Fridays Were Fridays, or your favorite blog

Your turn – what do you do with those extra minutes?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Galleon Watch – 11/19/09 Update

The news on the Galleon Insider Trading Scandal has quieted down as the deadline to indict was extended:

Thursday November 5th – The SEC amended their complaint.

Saturday November 7th – Bloomberg reported on the twenty individuals now charged.

Monday November 16th – The Wall Street Journal reported that that deadline for the prosecution to bring an indictment has been extended until December 16th.

Thursday November 19th – The Dow Jones Newswire provided more details on AMD’s buyout of ATI Technologies (Galleon’s largest holding).

Catch up on the prior installments of the Galleon Watch here.

With the indictment just four weeks away, what do you think? Will the charges hold?

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Lesson From Mad Men

I used to work for a company who had the slogan THINK plastered all over the walls. I have a box full of trinkets and mementos in the basement adorned with that word in all capital letters – reminders of a time when thinking at work was encouraged.

Some of you know that I recently discovered the AMC TV series Mad Men. It may even be fair to say that I am addicted to the show. (The third season of the show just ended and I seriously wish there were more than two back seasons to catch up on.)

Now there’s a lot not to like about the work environment portrayed in the show. (In case you’ve been under a rock like I was, it’s about the advertising industry set in the early sixties on Madison Avenue – hence the title.) There is constant chain-smoking and a lot of drinking in the office. The men are mostly philanderers and believe they have a right to be. The women are clearly oppressed – those in the office are mostly secretaries but their goal is to get married and live a very boring life in the suburbs where they can dote on their husbands when they get home from work. (Yikes! Clearly I would not have fit in.)

Unlike The Office, the hilarious NBC sit-com where absolutely no work gets done, on Mad Men there is real work going on. The show even draws you into the drama of the work.

More importantly, there’s a lesson we can learn from Mad Men.

What I admire most about their work environment is that they have time to think. They work hard, they have deadlines, they have clients to please, and yet they still take time to think. And they collaborate. They get together and brainstorm. They re-work ideas until they get it just right. When a client meeting is coming up they plan who is going to say what and exactly how to reel the client in. No haphazard meetings here. They think, they decide, they plan, and they pitch.

I wonder if the people working in Corporate America in the 60’s knew what a luxury they had?

From where I sit it doesn’t look like there’s been a lot of thinking going on in Corporate America recently. Surely Bob Moffat and others weren’t thinking much at all when they shared company secrets. But even on a smaller scale – how much time do you have to really think about the work you do?

When your boss asks you to send a revision two minutes before a meeting, it’s usually just not an option to say, “I’d really like at least ten minutes to think about it before I send it to you.”

When was the last time you really felt like you could finish a project before you turned it in? When was the last time you got to think for yourself – instead of being told what the answer was? When was the last time you felt really confident about the quality of your work?

When was the last time you had the luxury to think about your work?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Great Bosses Are Still Out There, Right?

Enough about the bad guys. Let's switch gears for a bit and talk about the good bosses. They're still out there somewhere, right?

I don’t have a lot of great boss stories, so these are very special to me.

This particular story is important because it wasn’t about a boss I reported to directly. This was The Big Boss – three layers above me. It wasn’t someone I had a lot of daily contact with, but I had spent the past month in close contact with him on a large strategic project.

The project itself was hell. I was leading an effort to pull together the strategy that The Big Boss would present to The Chairman. Everyone had different opinions; at least a dozen people thought they were in charge; there was more than the usual jockeying and positioning and power plays. What else is new, right? I had to make sense of it all.

In the end, the project was a success. No one got any big awards. No one got promoted. We did get to keep our jobs. That was the good news but that wasn’t the best part. Can you feel the suspense building? Here’s the best part:

The day of The Big Presentation I arrived in my office to find a voicemail left for me by The Big Boss. It went something like this:

“I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for all the effort you put into this project. Your leadership was key and we have the right answer.”

I was stunned for a few minutes. Usually these kinds of messages would be passed down via an immediate manager – and even then they were rare. The fact that The Big Boss took the time to personally leave the message before The Big Presentation let me know that he really recognized the work I had done.

Those few words made me a fan of that boss forever!

I know there are still some really good bosses out there! What’s your great boss story?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Galleon Watch - 11/05/09 Update

It looked to be a quiet week for news on the Galleon insider trading scandal until today. The scope is broadening and the chips are falling:

Friday October 30th – IBM announced that Bob Moffat (who was previously placed on leave) was no longer an IBM employee. (Anyone want to cheer with me?) Reports are mixed as to whether he left voluntarily or was forced to leave. Rod Adkins was promoted to IBM Senior VP.

Tuesday November 3rd – Information Week and others reported that AMD Chairman Hector Ruiz stepped down from his post after being identified (but not yet indicted) as a source in the case.

Thursday November 5th – The New York Times,Reuters, and other news sources reported that an additional fourteen people were charged with fraud and conspiracy, with $20 million more in profits uncovered. Five of the alleged participants, including Roomy Khan (thought to be a cooperating witness) have already pleaded guilty.

Click here if you missed the first installment of the Galleon Watch.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ten Things to Do When You Leave Corporate America

What’s the best part about not having to get dressed up and go to work every day? Time.

When you leave Corporate America, what are you going to do with all that time? Or – if you’ve already left, what are you doing with all that time?

Here’s my top ten list for things to do when you leave Corporate America (in no particular order):

1. Go to the gym. I understand (really, I do) – when you’re working you just don’t have the time. My first inclination was to make up for lost time by cramming years of workouts into one month while making believe that I can still do what I did in my twenties. But that resulted in one trip to the emergency room and four stitches. Now I’m approaching my workouts more like a thirty-something (a-hem).

2. Cook. It’s always been my job to make dinner. But let’s face it – making dinner is not quite the same thing as cooking. I’ve known this for a long time even though I did my best to convince my family I was actually cooking. My new approach is causing some disruption though when my husband comes home expecting that I’ll pull something together in twenty minutes or less.

3. Read. Admit it – you all have that pile of books that you’ve been collecting from Amazon to read some day. They have been collecting dust and consuming precious shelf space. When you leave Corporate America you just might have time to read those books while simultaneously encouraging the pile to grow larger.

4. Master the laundry process. I used to spend all weekend mass processing the laundry. It was the only time I had to do it, and with kids playing messy sports there was quite a bit to do. I have discovered that it is far more efficient to spread the loads across the week. And the weekends remain free for other things like:

5. Pay attention to what your kids are doing. Your kids won’t like this. It will disrupt the normal order of things. They aren’t likely to give you full facebook friend status, but there are covert methods that work quite well (which can’t be divulged here for fear that I will lose my sources).

6. Annoy your spouse. When you have time to clean and organize you start to realize that you have collected enormous amounts of junk over the years. So when that yellow t-shirt disappears – and your spouse is annoyed – well, just think of it as getting even.

7. Learn what a savasana is. Don’t think about, just do it.

8. Write a book. Everyone has a book in them, right? You know all that stuff that’s been cluttering up your brain? Now you can write about it. If you’re lucky someone might even read it.

9. Get some Vitamin D – from the sun. Some of you may not know this because you never see the sun, but the sun does actually shine – at least a little – on most days. And ten minutes (without sunscreen) is equal to 10000 international units of vitamin D.

10. Watch Mad Men. I can’t be the only person on the planet who had no idea this AMC TV show existed until a few weeks ago. If you’ve worked in Corporate America this might become your new favorite show. You get bonus points if you were born in the fifties or sixties.

And if none of those work for you well then, you could start a blog. (See how much fun this is?)

What’s on your list?

And if you are obsessed with watching what is going on in the Galleon insider trading scandal, check out this week’s double feature.

The Latest Scoop on the Galleon Insider Trading Scandal

Judging from the response to last week’s post, it seems that most of you – the readers of this blog – are as interested in the Galleon insider trading scandal as I am. I will continue to watch and report the latest developments on this blog, so you don’t have to. And this week – lucky you – you get a double feature!

Here are the highlights of the insider trading scandal to date:

Friday October 16th – Raj Rajaratnam (Galleon Group), Anil Kumar (McKinsey), Rajiv Goel (Intel), Danielle Chiesi (New Castle Partners), Robert Moffat (IBM), and Mark Kurland (New Castle Partners) were arrested in what is being called the largest insider trading scheme involving a hedge fund. The FBI press release, the New York Times, CNN and other news sources detailed the alleged charges which include securities fraud and conspiracy involving illegal trades of Akamei, Hilton Hotels, Google, Sun, AMD, and others.

Sunday October 18th – Rajaratnam was released on $100 million bail according to US News Today.

Monday October 19th – USA Today reported that more arrests might be coming. Moffat was released on $2 million bail according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. IBM announced that Bob Moffat has been placed on leave, and that Rod Adkins will be acting as senior vice president of systems and technology. (A terrific choice in my opinion.)

Wednesday October 21st – Galleon Group announced to investors and employees that it will wind down operations. This Reuters article outlines the success the Galleon funds have had. The New York Times reported that Roomy Khan (a former Galleon employee) is the informant (aka cooperating witness) in the case.

Thursday October 22nd – eWeek reported that the Alliance@IBM is asking the SEC to investigate all IBM executives. (Does anyone else think that’s overkill?)

Friday October 23rd – The New York Times reported that senior Polycom executive, Sunil K. Bhalla, was placed on leave.

Wednesday October 28th – Bloomberg reported that Hector Ruiz, former CEO of AMD, is the unnamed AMD executive who allegedly disclosed information to Chiesi.

Check back periodically for updates on the insider trading scandal and don’t forget to check out this week’s regular post also!

Friday, October 23, 2009

When a Senior Leader is Charged With a Crime

I found myself in shock last week when the New York Times, CNN, and other news organizations reported arrests for insider trading in what is being called the biggest ever hedge fund insider trading scheme.

One of those charged was a Senior Vice President at the corporation I worked for, and was in fact the leader of the division I worked for. He was one of just a handful of people who reported directly to the CEO. He had been a top leader in many organizations of the company. He had risen fast and was relatively young to reach the position he had. He was considered a contender for the top job.

The point is – by all measures he was wildly successful.

So what’s it like when a former big boss – a top leader in your company – is accused of being a crook?

I suspect that the tens of thousands of others who worked under this man at some point in their career and I feel the same way. We are shocked. We are outraged. We are angry. And that’s putting it mildly.

While this might not be quite the same as the feelings of the families of politicians who are accused of scandals, there are similarities. We were taken by surprise. We feel betrayed.

This is not supposed to happen in our family.

Now I’m not sure employees actually liked the man in question. He had a reputation as a hatchet man – the word on the street was that he would go into a new organization, streamline, cut budgets, and lay off employees – and that proved true in my organization. In fact, he may have been more feared than liked as a leader. But undoubtedly he had the authority, and the power.

I have no idea whether he truly committed a crime. The courts will decide. According to the FBI press release the allegations include that inside information was shared based on potential confidential deals between companies. And whether or not he committed a crime, it sure does look like he violated company policy.

My company was extremely careful whenever a deal with another company was discussed. Only people who truly had a need to be involved were included – this was usually a very small number of people. These people had to sign a special agreement – essentially it was a reminder (in case they forgot the business conduct guidelines) that they could discuss it with no one else – not others in the company, not their friends or family, not their boss, their spouse, their pastor, or their mother. You get the idea. No one.

What the heck was he thinking???

It wasn’t enough that he was head of a critical division at a top corporation? It wasn’t enough that he reported to the CEO of the company and was responsible for a multi-billion dollar business? Surely he didn’t need the money – at least not by any reasonable standard. Surely he didn’t need to worry about paying the mortgage, or the college bills, or buying a new car. I have long held the opinion that senior executives do not do what they do (at least not for very long) for the money.

So what was it then? Power? Excitement? The need to be part of a special club where he alone held a key piece of information? An overwhelming need to make the Forbes 400 Richest Americans list? A feeling that he was untouchable or invincible?

I think last Friday was a sad day for Corporate America. What do you think?

Friday, October 16, 2009

To All the Bosses Out There

Happy Boss's Day!

Yes indeed, October 16th is Boss's Day.

In the 25 years I was a boss, I don't believe any of my employees ever acknowledged Boss's Day. Even my ultra-organized assistant who always knew when the special days were never mentioned it. If any of my ex-employees are thinking about it now – well, it’s a bit late.

But I didn’t feel neglected. Really. I will admit that I never even consciously knew when it was. I was under the mistaken impression that it was a relatively new ‘holiday’. Not so.

Boss's Day was first registered with the US Chamber of Commerce in 1958. The governor of Illinois officially recognized it in 1962. Hallmark started making cards for the occasion in 1979.

So – this is for all of you bosses out there – good bosses and bad bosses – big bosses and not-so-big bosses – happy bosses and frustrated bosses…

And yes – it is indeed Friday!

Leave a message for your favorite boss here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's Better Than Chocolate?

I can hear you guessing now – a great bottle of wine! Cotton candy! Cheesecake! A terrific movie!

And although I have been known to savor a glass of cabernet sauvignon, and consume large amounts of dark chocolate (in just about any form), while watching a fabulous (or even not so fabulous) movie, none of these are the correct answer today.

Come on – those of you who have spent time in Corporate America know the answer. The correct answer is: recognition.

Last Friday, Jane Friedman – publisher and editor extraordinaire at Writer’s Digest (no she didn’t pay me to say that) and writer of the blog There Are No Rules – noted my blog as one of “15 Worthy Blogs (she) Just Discovered.”

For Jane to put When Fridays Were Fridays on her list means that she not only reads it, but she actually likes it!

Okay, now I'm gushing – but just had to share the good news.

Good things really do happen on Fridays!

You may notice that I am no longer using the pseudonym Firefly for signing my posts. Since I started this blog three months ago I have learned that real names rule in the blogosphere, and I can no longer think of a good reason to stay behind the scenes.

Happy reading, Colette (aka Firefly)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Where's Your Office?

Remember when the words, “I’m going to the office,” meant that you were actually going to an office?

Last week we talked about how often you see your colleagues. You weighed in, and while most of you said you see your colleagues infrequently (if you missed it cast your vote here), many of you were quite happy with that arrangement. This week, let’s talk about your office – if you still have one.

When you tell people that you work for a large corporation, chances are that most of them assume that you work in a traditional office building, with nice furniture, windows, and a great cafeteria. This was certainly true for me for many years. Well, close to true – at times my office was in a plant site, and the furniture was well used, and I didn’t always have windows. And the cafeteria – we’ll save that for another time. But the point is I had an office that I went to every day – with a desk and a door.

In the early years I shared the space with one or two others, but it was reasonably private. Even the colleagues I knew who worked in the “field” as sales reps or field engineers, had a place they called the office. For some this was a branch office, and for others it was an office in a customer location.

My best office was the first office I had all to myself. It was small, but in a new building, and I had a window!

My worst office? That one is easy – it was a cubicle with 4-foot high walls in a large open area. The noise is what got to me – a constant drone of conversations. It was like clutter (and anyone who knows me knows I hate clutter). If the doctor’s office called, everyone knew about it. If you were having a bad day, everyone knew about it. If you were desperate enough for privacy you could sign up to use a tiny windowless walled in cell – not for the cluster phobic. I hated that office so much that when I learned we were moving back to traditional space I took my phone and my computer to my new office and worked on the floor for a week while waiting for my furniture and boxes to arrive.

Today’s workspaces come in so many shapes and sizes that it may be hard to poll, but let’s try. Please pick the answer that is closest – for the majority of your workdays. If you are no longer working in Corporate America, pick the answer that represents your last workspace before escaping.

Where do you work most often?

Share your best or worst office space stories with a comment.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where Have All Your Colleagues Gone?

Do you remember when the people that you worked with every day sat in the offices near you?

When I first started working in Corporate America, my entire department was located in the same site, in the same building, and on the same aisle. If someone transferred from one department to another, they moved into an office to be near their team.

My corporation was even a bit famous for moving employees from one location to another when they took a new job. And the company paid for the move.

“Work from home”, and “mobile workforce” became popular in the late 90’s. It was really tough for remote employees during that period; many of their colleagues still shared the same work location and the remote employees might be one of a few who were on the phone while everyone else was in the same conference room. They had to become really skilled at telepathically reading the white board while staring at their phone. If they were really lucky – and there wasn’t a freeze on travel – they might get to see their teammates once or twice a year.

By 2005, I was working with colleagues that I had never met in person. My boss was in one location, my peers were in multiple locations across the US, and teams that I worked with were spread across all geographies.

I interviewed and hired (and sometimes even fired) employees over the phone. If they didn’t post a picture in the online directory, I conjured up an image of what they might look like – which was invariably wrong. But we were all very good at recognizing voices. After all, we talked to each other every day – just not around the water-cooler, or in the hallway.

One day it occurred to me that I was getting dressed in work clothes, rushing to the office, closing my door, and hopping on conference calls, never seeing another person all day long. I came out of my office only to go the restroom. I realized that if I worked from home I would save at least an hour a day – an extra hour that I could spend working even longer.

I’m not complaining. I liked working at home. I could wear sweat pants and bunny slippers. I could walk across the room and make myself a cup of tea without ever leaving the conference call. I even got out of the house at least once a day – to check the mail around 2pm.

Sound familiar? Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who still sit on the same aisle with your team. You tell me:

How often do you see your colleagues?

A note to those following regularly: I have added a topic category for polls in the sidebar to the right. Feel free to add your vote to open polls, or check on the results of prior polls.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Nice Girls Don't Ask

At least that’s been my experience.

After years as a boss, having worked with somewhere close to 1000 employees over that time, it’s hard not to notice. Men tend to ask for what they want – and women don’t.

I am specifically referring to things like raises, bonuses, and promotions. Of course there are exceptions to this. Every now and then I meet women who know exactly what they want and have no qualms about asking. They are rare and often have strong executive (usually male) mentors. Men, on the other hand – well as a general rule, they ask.

Now, I’m not saying they get everything they ask for – or even any of it.
Nor do I believe that it’s the norm for anyone (male or female) to get something undeserved just because they ask.

But the men that worked for me (yes, I’m generalizing) kept a drumbeat going all year long so that I knew their expectations. For some it was once a week, for others once a quarter was enough. I’m not suggesting that they were unreasonable. They simply made a point of – well, pointing it out.

The women more frequently believed that they would get what they deserve; their boss should notice their great contributions and reward them accordingly. They expected their boss to be fair. Again, not unreasonable.

Does it matter? Consider this:

If a boss has an extra $50 he can give to an employee for salary increases once he’s done due diligence and been equitable, who might get it? The person who made it clear that they expect more than 1% this year, or the one who said nothing? It may not seem like much, but it adds up over time.

Or there’s a job opening up. It might be a promotion or it might just be a great opportunity. The boss can put only one name on the slate. Will it be Jack, who’s made it clear he wants an opportunity, or Jane, who never asked? Jane is happy where she is, and Jack will be happy for the opportunity. It’s a win-win, right?

I think it does matter. If you’re not convinced, read the Carnegie-Mellon experiment noted in this Washington Post article by Shankar Vedantam.

What is your experience? Do you ask?

Friday, September 18, 2009

How to Be a Better Bully

I know you’ve seen them – office bullies who intimidate and harass their colleagues.

Now, I’m not actually suggesting you practice bullying or become the office bully. Although, if you are so inclined, you may find some of these methods – which I have seen used over the years – useful.

The ‘expert bully’ throws his weight around by claiming to be the preeminent expert. One colleague I worked with used to claim that “It’s against the laws of physics,” whenever he wanted to get his way. He was a senior level technical guy, and he happened to have a PhD in physics. It didn’t matter that we were talking about things that had nothing to do with physics… like a marketing slogan, or the color of the stripe on the new machine.

I mean really – is the space-time continuum going to be disrupted with a new marketing slogan? Will we defy gravity if we paint the stripe blue instead of red? Our conversations usually went something like this:

Me: “We need a new system for small and medium business clients.”

Expert Bully: “It’s against the laws of physics.”

Me: “The market data shows that we have over 5000 customers who would buy it.”

Expert Bully: “That’s not possible – it’s against the laws of physics.”

Me: “Clients are running out of processing power on the systems they have, but they can’t afford the high end system.”

Expert Bully: “The laws of physics say that can’t be true.”

Me: “You do your job and I’ll do mine. Besides, I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Okay – I didn’t say that last part – but I should have. I can’t recall the expert bully ever winning one of these ridiculous arguments, but he sure caused a lot of chaos and extra work.

Now let’s look at the ‘endurance bully’. These guys (okay – they’re not always guys – I’m using the term generically) are in it for the long haul, and can be particularly effective.

Surprisingly, endurance bullies tend to be nice. They are methodical, calm, and never yell. After all, they are running a marathon – they need to conserve their energy. The technique? Endurance bullies ask as many questions as possible that promote their position and discredit yours, and above all – they outlast their opponents.

This can be particularly effective in management personnel discussions when the bully’s candidate is up against yours for a promotion (for example). For everything nice you have to say about your candidate he will have two nice things to say about his candidate and one negative thing about yours.

And an hour later, when the meeting really must end, he will have the last word – always. I swear… endurance bullies have an internal time clock that lets them know exactly when the boss will make that decision.

Now it’s your turn – tell us about your favorite bullying techniques.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Have You Ever Faked It?

Of course I mean at work.

In case you’re still not with me – of course I mean on work projects at work.

I’m not talking about lying on a resume, or anything truly unethical. I am talking about faking your way through a project, or committing to a goal that is clearly unachievable.

After all, it was the only real choice you had at the time. Expectations were high. So, you agreed – secretly hoping that the project would get killed, or that your bosses would forget about it, or that something more important would come up that you would be re-assigned to.

Or maybe your boss asked you – in front of the big bosses – if something was possible. You have no idea whether or not it’s possible, so naturally you say, “Sure, we can do that,” and then scramble to figure out a way to make it happen.

I got pretty good at faking my way through projects. It wasn’t my preference – I liked to be able to see the end before I started – but it became important to have this skill. So, I would assemble a team, I’d give them assignments, I would sound confident (confidence is key to faking it), and I would make believe I knew what I was doing – hoping that at some point it would all make sense. Surprisingly, it usually did!

I later found out there was a name for this management style. I came across a question on a test for a management refresher course that asked which of four answers was not a valid management style. I was certain that “muddling through” had to be the correct answer – that couldn’t possibly be a valid style, could it? Turns out it was.

I felt vindicated.

Now it’s your turn. Fess up… have you ever faked it?

Friday, September 4, 2009

How Confident Are You That You Can Keep Your Job?

Full employment.

I mentioned in my first blog post that my new manager told me I would have a job for life at that company.

He lied.

He didn’t mean to lie — it was true at the time — the corporation I worked for did indeed have a "full employment" policy, and for many years this was true.

Sure, people were occasionally fired for not doing their jobs, but that was rare. And usually before it happened the employee’s boss went out of their way to help the employee improve, or move to another job within the company. You see, the company I worked for believed that it was the manager’s job to take care of their people … to help them succeed.

Almost sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

And the bosses were actually measured by how their employees rated them, their jobs, and their general happiness, on an annual opinion survey. Honest, I’m not making this up.

Of course, these surveys largely disappeared by the mid-1990’s, along with the promise of full employment.

One of the most important questions on the early surveys at the corporation I worked for tested whether or not the employees felt secure in their jobs.

It’s Labor Day weekend, and I’ve got a hunch that no one has asked you this in quite some time. So take the survey below and let’s see how secure we all feel in our jobs today!

How confident are you that you can keep your job?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bad Boss Stories, Episode 1

Let me introduce you to a really cool blog, called Six Sentences, where writers can submit short stories (saying it all in six sentences) for publication. My second ‘six’ was published on Friday, August 28th.

This is fiction, but captures the essence of someone I once worked with. In other words … names and details have been changed to protect the guilty.

Paris to Amsterdam

It was just the two of us and a bottle of red wine in a first class cabin on a train from Paris to Amsterdam. The wine was Charlotte’s idea after standing in six queues to correct her ticket to Amsterdam. Settling into the cabin with our feet on opposing benches, no one dared to join us as Charlotte poured the wine into the plastic cups she had secured from the porter. She made sure the cups stayed full as she talked about the men she dated, and complained about virtually everyone we had worked with that day. But mostly she talked about herself – how she was treated badly by her manager, how she had almost been fired but given a second chance, how hard it is to be her, how all of her male peers felt threatened by her because she was smarter than them -- smarter than most people really -- and as the train was pulling into the station she declared, “In my next life I really want to be less… complicated.” The confessions wouldn’t have been so odd, if it weren’t that Charlotte was my boss.

Honestly, I swear it’s fiction. See the original post on the Six Sentences blog here.

Share your fictionalized bad boss story with a comment.

p.s. In case anyone is wondering – no – it’s not Friday yet.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How to Make a Fool of Yourself in Five Seconds or Less

Remember that famous line from the character Steve Erkel in the TV show Family Matters --

“Did I Do That?”

Have you ever accidentally left your cell phone on after you thought you had hung up? Or accidentally dialed when you sat down with your phone in your pants pocket? (A solid case for flip phones, if you ask me.)

Or, have you ever accidentally sent an e-mail? You know, the kind you write when you’re fuming about something (or someone) -- that you never really intend to send but it makes you feel better -- and you leave it sitting in your draft folder. Yeah, sure, blame it on your assistant.

Time for confessions.

It was the middle of a nerve-wracking meeting, and I was really frustrated (okay… pissed) with a co-worker. I put my phone on mute so I could rant to the others in my office. They would take my side of course, because they worked for me. But sometime during that call my mute button stopped working. Everyone on the call heard my rant.

Ooops… Did I do that?

I got the phone replaced the next day. The person I was ranting about made believe it didn’t happen. If she’s reading this now, I want her to know that what I said wasn’t nice, and I sincerely apologize… sort of…

I used to thrive on instant messaging, especially on long conference calls. I’ve known people who were able to keep up to 25 instant message sessions going at once. My personal limit is around 12. But there’s that annoying problem that a new window pops up just as you start typing a message. You think you’re sending it to Sam, but in the fury of keeping up with all those conversations you hit send before you notice that a new window has popped up and off it goes to Sue.

I was on the receiving end of one of these accidental IM’s. It read, “She’s really smart, but sometimes she’s too opinionated.” You guessed it… I was the one talking.

What, me? Have an opinion? I made believe it didn’t happen.

My favorite ‘Did I do that’ moment happened in a face-to-face meeting. The presenter had his laptop hooked to the projector. In the middle of the presentation he received an instant message that read, “I miss my family but I really need to see.” It was from a married senior executive. Now that’s what I call embarrassing!

He quickly closed the window and made believe it didn’t happen. I’m sure he thinks he caught it before we saw it… we made believe it didn’t happen either.

So -- admit it. You’ve done it too. What’s your favorite ‘Did I do that’ moment?

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Job I Didn't Get

To be honest, there were lots of jobs I didn’t get selected for over the years.

There were the jobs that I didn’t get because someone else was more qualified. There were some jobs I wanted that I wasn’t even considered for. There were the jobs that I didn’t get and something better came along later. There were even the jobs that I was secretly happy I didn’t get… because life would have been hell if I had.

But this post is about the one that haunts me... the one that I look back and think, “Did that really happen?”

I wrote an earlier post about how I decided I wanted to be the boss. It was my first female boss that convinced me of this – not because she talked me into it, but because she did her job so well.

So, when the powers that be decided that I was ready, they started putting my name on management slates and I was off to interview for my first management job.

You probably guessed by now… I didn’t get it.

Not because I wasn’t qualified. Not because I wasn’t the best candidate. I was told that I didn’t get the job because the last two managers named in that organization were women. This time they needed to hire a man. This was in the mid-1980’s.

No, I’m not kidding.

I did land my first management job shortly after that, and everything was okay. For years as I was coaching employees who felt that something was unfair I would say, “At any given moment it may feel like you got less -- or more -- than you deserve, but in the long run it all evens out… people get what they deserve in the long run.”

It was a good speech, but I’m not sure I believe it anymore. Maybe it’s just not fair sometimes.

What do you think?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Is Technology a Blessing Or a Curse?

Wednesday August 12th was ‘Information Overload Awareness Day.’

I had no idea there was such a thing as Information Overload Awareness Day. In fairness to its creator (or perhaps the word inventor is more appropriate here), Basex -- the self-proclaimed “authority on issues companies face as they enter the knowledge economy” -- this was the first Information Overload Awareness Day.

Ironically, I learned about it through the use of information technology. The event was held via a web conference, from 11 am to 4 pm. There were twelve sessions with sixteen speakers. That’s a lot of information… especially with no lunch break.

But even more ironic is the fact that we need an Information Overload Awareness Day.

My first big use of mobile technology was in the mid-90’s when I purchased a pager to make sure my kids were home safely from school. We had codes. ‘1111’ meant the oldest was home safely. Later on ‘2222’ meant child number two was home safely. That was enough information. If I was in a meeting between 2 and 3 pm. (in the days when we actually met in person), I could see that the kids were home and not worry for the next 3 hours. Incidentally, the code ‘9999’ meant emergency – thankfully that was only used once when my son forgot his keys.

In that same timeframe, I worked for a boss who would tell me “You need to leverage technology more.” Keep in mind that he was the type who was making business calls from his car, before it was illegal and trendy to do so. Every thirty seconds his line would drop and I’d have to wait 3-4 minutes before his assistant would call back and reconnect him.

I remember when technology was not just an enabler, but for many of us it meant freedom.

In those days I used every bit of technology I could. I was an avid user of instant messaging when it was first available. I was thrilled when I could work from home on a snow day using dial-up Internet. I didn’t care that we had to have two phone lines so I could be on a conference call at the same time.

But at some point, does this technology and the information delivered by it become too much?

Jonathan B. Spira sums it up really well in his Huffington Post article on 8/12 --

“How many times have you received an instant message or phone call asking "did you get the e-mail I just sent?" We act as if everything we are doing is both urgent and important; lending a false sense of importance to our mission that causes us to interrupt others with impunity. Clearly what we are doing is far more important and urgent than what others could possibly be doing.”

What do you think?

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Many Things Can You Do at Once?

I used to have a magazine clipping posted to the bulletin board above my desk that said, “You know you’re too busy when…”

It listed a number of signs of over-work including, “You feel decadent for taking time off from work for surgery,” and, “You return business calls in between labor pains.”

There was a time when I considered ‘ability to multi-task’ an important job skill – I was really proud to be a master multi-tasker. It was on my resume. Then one day, when I was running a little late I attempted to blow my nose at the same time as I was brushing my teeth.

Don’t try this.

That was when I started to believe that doing too many things at once could be a really bad idea, and it turns out that I may not be completely wrong.

Scientific American reports that, “A study in the July 16th issue of Neuron suggests that though we can train our brains to work faster as we juggle, we never actually manage to do more than one thing at a time.”

I heard a story recently about an organization that had been downsized from eight people to four. Those four, all new in their jobs because the work had also been consolidated in a central location, were working 10-12 hour days, each juggling two jobs. Interestingly, the big boss’s perception was that he had taken an organization of eight people and grown it to twelve.

In another company, organizations gave up headcount to staff a team with specialized skills that would support them. But the new organization had to reduce costs and cut the team dramatically. The players left on the new team had to juggle 3-4 jobs each. The bosses didn’t understand why this didn’t work.

Sound familiar?

How many ‘hats’ have you had to wear at one time? How many jobs have you been given where you had multiple masters in the name of efficiency? How many times has your organization been ‘consolidated’ or work ‘eliminated’ that then had to be picked up by those left on the team?

When was the last time you had a job where the scope was … let’s say, reasonable?

Tell your story with a comment here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What Happened to Health Benefits?

Yes, I said benefits.

Raise your hand if you remember when you had medical insurance coverage as a benefit from your employer, that didn’t require a monthly contribution from you… and it covered your entire family at no extra cost… and it covered dental… and eye care… and you could get prescriptions filled at a local drugstore.

I remember having a health benefits plan where insurance covered 80% and I paid 20% after an annual deductible. I went to whatever doctor I chose to see and paid my share. There were annual limits so the cost of a catastrophic illness was contained. Yeah, I complained about having to fill out a form to get that 80% sent from the insurance company to the doctor, but in retrospect the plan was, well – sensible.

Put your hand down if you now have to contribute an increasingly large portion of your hard-earned salary every year for medical insurance… or if your contribution goes up per person covered… or if you have to get a referral to see a specialist… or if you have to get your prescriptions filled through the mail.

Unless you work for the government, chances are there are no hands in the air.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming the corporations for the excruciatingly high cost of medical insurance coverage. That one is on the insurance companies, the drug companies, and the HMOs.

But, I do believe the corporations started to abdicate their responsibility to their employees when they accepted, heck maybe even endorsed, HMOs as a way to keep their cost per employee low. Employees chose these plans initially on the promise of better preventive care, better overall coverage, and lower out of pocket costs.

Hmmm… that didn’t quite turn out the way anyone expected, did it…

And at the bottom of the slippery slope (or at least I sure hope it’s the bottom) we see enormous administrative costs, huge gaps in coverage, and plans so complex to decipher that they make your head spin. Coverage levels, deductibles, pre-existing conditions, COBRA, primary care physicians, referrals, qualified status changes, coverage gaps… well, let’s just say that the only thing I can think of that is more complex than medical insurance coverage is taxes.

Let’s get real -- the problem is not about coverage -- it’s about cost.

That form I had to fill out in the old days may have been annoying, but it served a purpose – I actually knew how much that doctor visit cost. That 20% I had to pay out of pocket also had a purpose – I made a cost-based decision about what I needed.

So the answer to this problem must be adding the bureaucracy of government health care, right? Oh, and maybe we could fund that with taxpayer dollars. Or wait… maybe we could make the employees pay taxes on the medical benefits they get from their employers, in addition to paying the sky-rocketing premiums they already pay.

I think I’m getting a migraine. Oops -- better hold off on that -- my prescription refill hasn’t arrived in the mail yet.

What do you think? Comment here….

Friday, July 24, 2009

Can You Really Have it All?

At a recent Human Resource Management conference in New Orleans, former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, told the group the answer was essentially, no.

The Wall Street Journal reported Mr. Welch as saying, "There's no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."

Welch’s comments reflect the fact that the phrase ‘work-life balance’ has become almost synonymous with ‘having everything you want.’ He is telling us we have to make choices.

This may be a difficult pill to swallow, especially for the Generation Y-ers described by Bruce Tulgan in his recent book Not Everyone Gets a Trophy.

But the truth is… not everyone can get the big raise, not everyone can get the promotion, not everyone can be the boss, and not everyone can be the CEO.


I think most of us understand this on some level. Women of my generation were determined to change the rules and break through the glass ceiling … something we are largely still striving to do today. We made choices like delaying having children, or foregoing a family altogether. Some chose to put their careers above all else.

I made the choice to become a manager before having children. I chose to ride the Mommy Track for a few years, until I woke up one day bored to death with my job. I chose not to have my children raised by a nanny. I could go on.

Did my choices affect my career? Absolutely! Did they affect my family? Absolutely!

Think about the choices you make every day…

It might be something simple like deciding to take that call from home instead of driving into the office so you can be at your son’s little league game on time. Reasonable, right?

Sure, but your colleague made the drive and was there in person. Which of you will the big bosses in the room remember?

Or, it might be something big, like turning down a chance at an overseas assignment because you don’t want to uproot your family. Again, reasonable, right?

Absolutely, but one of your colleagues will jump at that job and get that coveted ‘international experience.’ Who will have the edge when it’s time for that next big promotion?

And even though we may dwell on it more, this is not an issue that affects only women. At the risk of being plagued with negative comments, I might argue that it’s easier for men… traditional gender roles make it more acceptable for men to consistently choose work over family. But whether it’s leaving work early to coach a soccer team, taking paternity leave, or just leaving work on time to get to rock band practice (because you always wanted to be a rock star), balancing work and life affects everyone in Corporate America.

I, for one, agree with Jack Welch and appreciate his straight talk on this topic. What do you think?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mail, e-Mail, and More e-Mail

Most people believe that e-mail was invented after the internet.

These are not the same people who believe that Al Gore invented the internet. I am referring to the majority of folks out there who never experienced e-mail until they were on the internet. In fact it’s totally reasonable to believe that e-mail was invented after the internet… but it’s just not true.

Take a trip down nostalgia lane with me….

When I first became a manager in late 1984, the highlight of my day was the mail delivery. My secretary spent most of her day preparing this special bundle. (This was long before it became politically incorrect to call assistants secretaries.)

Each day my mail was delivered to me at 3pm. in a manila folder, opened and sorted. All the important stuff I had to do came in that folder. I would handwrite responses for the action items, which my secretary would type and return to me the next day for my review and signature before it went out…. with a stamp.

And, despite the fact that I worked for a large IT corporation, the secretaries used typewriters for this illustrious task.

But that wasn’t the only mail we had. From the very first day I started work in 1979, we had electronic mail.

The early e-mail systems were primitive… arguably something that only computer types would bother with… but it was fast! If you sent a note, the receiver had it instantly. By the early 1980’s we were using a more advanced electronic mail system. It was called a Professional Office System (great name, huh?). It ran on a mainframe.

You could send electronic mail to anyone in the company. There were no ‘lost’ e-mails… no servers that went down… no e-mails stuck in the limbo of the system somewhere… and no need for firewalls. The system was secure because it never left the company. It ran on the company’s intranet and stayed inside the company’s hallowed walls.

There was no such thing as SPAM. And virtually every e-mail I received I wanted to read. Of course, the number of e-mails I received each day could be counted on one hand.

When do you remember your first electronic mail?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Fine Example of Corporate Speak

On a recent trip to New York City I noticed a sign that was too good not to share --- prompting me to write this uncharacteristic mid-week blog post. The two-sentence paragraph said:

“As the world’s leading (industry) business, (company name) continues to innovate in the geographies, sales formats, and a range of services that are offered to clients. Ongoing initiatives in new and middle markets, as well as global infrastructure and talented teams underpin our continuous success.”

Pretty good, right? I mean, what large corporation doesn’t want to expand into new markets? They mentioned their clients… good… and innovation… even better…. and declared their leadership all in one sentence!

And hey – what company doesn’t consider their people and global infrastructure among their keys to competitive advantage?

The only thing I can think of that would made this more perfect as a generic buzz-word-laden corporate message is if there were a third sentence that said:

And we are committed to increasing shareholder value from quarter to quarter and year to year by decreasing costs and improving profitability.

Now that’s a vision!

I should mention that this message was prominently displayed – almost reverently – in a large window at street level so that everyone walking by would see it and be in awe of this company’s brilliance… or at least that of the marketing person who came up with these fine words. Go figure….

Friday, July 10, 2009

My First Computer

It wasn’t a desktop. It wasn’t a laptop. It didn’t run Windows or OS/2, or even DOS.

It wasn’t a PC or a Mac.

My first computer was the size of a small refrigerator, and ran a proprietary operating system. We called it a distributed system. It was 1980, and it was born before its time.

This was long before ‘open’ systems even existed, and ‘proprietary’ was a very good thing. It was also in the days when customers ruled. Customer service was… well… everything in the IT business.

I worked in a customer service division where we answered customer calls, found errors, and fixed them. Yes, we actually fixed them. Imagine if you can (close your eyes and try) a call center than was manned with trained experts… people who actually knew what you were talking about… who didn’t read from a script… who spoke English as their first language… and worked in the US.

Yeah, the good old days.

Imagine that it was entirely up to the customer to decide when his problem was resolved.

So we needed computers to work on to find these problems and fix them. Initially we worked on terminals connected to a mainframe that ran programs to simulate the operating system. But before I get too techie… suffice it to say that it worked, but not all the time. Sometimes you just needed a real computer to test on.

The day they arrived it was like Christmas.

Our first computers were black, with a small display panel, and a single drawer for a large floppy disk. They had less than 2 megabytes of storage. Total. They were beautiful. I could sign up for machine time and have the computer all to myself.
Very cool.

This job had immediate satisfaction. Every day I solved problems. Every day I helped customers. The best part was… when I went home at the end of the day I was done until tomorrow. It may have been the best job ever.

Tell me abut your best corporate job or your first computer by posting a comment.