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.