Friday, December 31, 2010

Choosing Sides: Facebook Versus Twitter

Twitter logo initialYou’ve heard it:

Twitter is the new facebook.

Facebook is moving in on twitter’s turf.

Everyone is vying for their share of our attention using social media, and why not? According to a recent Nielsen study, in the United States we spend 906 million hours a month on social networks. And social networks are attracting more of our online time – Nielsen reports a 43% increase year to year (June 2009 to June 2010).

So there’s a war between facebook and twitter and one of them must win, right?

Not so fast…

What these tools have in common is that they are both classified as social media. Beyond that, almost everything else is different, and both large and small businesses would do well to recognize those differences.

Facebook is the place to grow and nurture communities. It gives you the ability to know who is interested in your products and services (because they have opted in) and allows you to target that community. You can share detailed multi-media information and have discussions – with responses appearing right under the original update, making this a great conversational tool.

Twitter is all about messaging. Messages go to your followers, but are easily accessible by everyone. Twitter is a goldmine of information and there is no need to ever send a tweet to leverage the data in twitter. Small and large businesses alike can benefit from “listening” to what their customers are saying about them on twitter. While tweets are limited to 140 characters, it’s a fallacy to believe that twitter contains only short messages. Twitter is used by many as a teaser, to drive the reader (via link) to a longer message, blog, article, or website.

Twitter and Facebook are both good at what they do. Twitter is like Times Square on New Year’s Eve – noisy and open to all. Facebook is more like a party invitation with an RSVP. Where would you rather go?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How Not to Measure Success

Vancouver International Airport (YVR/CYVR), Ri...Image via WikipediaThe phone rang at 4 am.

“We’re calling to notify you that your flight has been delayed until 8:30.”

We had planned to leave on a 7:15 am flight, connecting through Atlanta to Las Vegas. The automated voice notifying me of this change also let me know that our connecting flight would remain the same. Hmm, how can that be possible, we only had a 45-minute layover. But in my early morning daze I let the thought go, choosing instead to re-set my alarm so I could sleep an extra hour.

But it didn’t matter – I was awake.

Two hours later as we were leaving the house the phone rang again.

“We’re calling to notify you that your flight has been delayed until 8:30, and your connecting flights have changed…”

Here it comes… Instead of a second flight to Vegas from Atlanta, Delta Airlines had re-booked us through Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. We now had two connecting flights instead of one. We would arrive in Vegas at 4:30pm instead of the planned 12:30pm. Our afternoon in Vegas was lost.

When I chose the flights, the two-connecting flight option was available at a lower price, but I chose to pay a little more and arrive sooner. And when I chose the flights, I checked the flight data; that first flight had an on-time arrival rate of 80%. That’s a ‘B’, not bad, right? And the connecting flights they re-booked us on have on-time rates of 100%. Averaging the three flights together that’s a success rate of 93%, or an A-minus. Delta executives should be happy with that, right?


Measuring individual flight rates doesn't tell the whole story. We arrived late. Four hours late. And we had to take an extra flight to reach our final destination. My report card for Delta for this flight is something closer to 60%, or a D-minus. My perception as the customer clearly does not match the company’s published metrics.

Ironically, the only one of the five flights we traveled on for this trip that was truly on time was the last leg, from Detroit to home, on the return trip. That flight has a published on-time rate of 78%. Because our flight from Vegas to Detroit was an hour late (due to a mal-function which caused us to sit at the gate in Vegas for an hour), we had to sprint from terminal A to terminal C in Detroit, and caught the attendant just as he was closing the door to our flight, five minutes before it’s scheduled departure time. We were out of breath, but we did make it home safely.

Do you have an example of how not to measure success? Share it here.

If you’re flying this holiday season, I wish you a safe on-time flight. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Galleon Net Widens – Insider Trading or Witch Hunt?

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 21:  Danielle Chiesi, an e...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeIt started on October 16, 2009, when six individuals were arrested for securities fraud and conspiracy. Those accused included executives from New Castle Partners, IBM, Intel, and McKinsey, who have since pleaded guilty.

At the center of the Galleon insider trading ring are Raj Rajaratnam, Galleon founder, and Danielle Chiesi of New Castle Partners. Chiesi is said to have formed closed personal (and sometimes intimate) relationships with executives to gather inside information. Rajaratnam alledgedly used that information illegally for business and personal gain. These two have pleaded not guilty, and will face trial in 2011. Bloomberg reports that Rajaratnam’s trial will start February 28th, while Chiesi’s trial starts April 25th.

Of particular interest in this case was the use of wiretaps by the Feds to gather evidence against the defendants. Lawyers for Rajaratnam and Chiesi were trying to get the wiretap evidence thrown out, but on November 24th, NY Times Dealbook reported that the judge ruled that the wiretap evidence was obtained lawfully, and would be allowed in the case. Score one for the good guys.

Those same wiretaps have been instrumental in leading to further arrests, including the arrest of Don Chu, a consultant at Primary Global Research, on securities fraud and conspiracy charges. Primary Global Research links corporate executives and industry insiders with investment managers. At least three hedge funds, including Diamondback Capital Management, Level Global Investors, and Loch Capital Management are also being investigated. These financial institutions need a market research arm, like the services Chu’s firm provides. But are they doing anything wrong?

It seems there is a very fine line between research and conspiracy. One man’s due diligence is another man’s fraud.

Consider this discussion as reported by the New York Times, with experts Jay Fahy and Michael Driscoll. While the speakers are careful to state that the prosecutors must believe they have a solid case, Driscoll notes that these kinds of investigations are cyclical in nature, and that the pendulum is swinging towards more scrutiny of the financial industry.

While those who have followed my coverage of the Galleon scandal know that I have taken a hard line with respect to punishment for those guilty of sharing confidential secrets, I do wonder – are we so desperate to find villains that we are willing to hang anyone who works in the financial industry?

Have the insider-trading investigations gone too far? What do you think?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The End of An Era – Mourning the Loss of the IBM Country Club

A letter arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, notifying us that the Casperkill Recreation Center in New York’s Hudson Valley would be closing its doors at the end of this year. The Poughkeepsie Journal also reported the closing triggering a flood of nostalgic memories.

You see, before it was the Casperkill Recreation Center, it was the IBM Country Club. In the sixties, seventies, and eighties, IBM prided itself on being family-oriented. The company held annual family outing days, provided Christmas gifts and holiday parties for children of employees, and provided a recreation facility for families to gather and spend their summer days. IBM employees in the Hudson Valley were automatically members of the IBM Country Club. This was a class-blind facility, not just for managers and executives. Every employee and their family members could use the facilities, free of charge.

The IBM Country Club was where my kids learned to swim, and where my youngest first went off the diving board at age three (he always loved the water). It’s where my kids spent many weeks at summer camp – usually sports camp – while I was working, and where my son worked as a lifeguard in his teen years. It’s where I first met my husband (although he will argue that we actually met a couple of years earlier in an IBM meeting). It’s where I played softball, volleyball, and basketball in the IBM sports leagues with my new colleagues when I first joined the company. I made some friends for life through those activities.

The IBM Country Club was a benefit that most of us took for granted as employees, and some may not have appreciated it until it was taken away.

Over the years, changes were made to make the club more self-sustaining. First, employees were asked to contribute to their annual membership; this started as a modest fee (I recall less than $10 per year) that jumped to a couple hundred dollars per year over time. But IBM couldn’t afford to keep the facility.

We watched as things changed.

The golf course was sold to Ginsberg Development company, and continues to operate as the Casperkill Golf Club, a private membership golf club considered one of the best in the Hudson Valley.

In 2004 Bright Horizons purchased the recreation facility and expanded the daycare and summer care programs. The recreation facility, now owned by Bright Horizons, continued to operate as a private membership club, open to the entire community, with fitness and pool memberships available, but has been unaffordable for Bright Horizons to maintain.

For sale for the past few years, the recreation facility has had potential buyers, and the Town of Poughkeepsie even considered purchasing the facility but that fell through last year. Now, after many years, the recreation facility will finally close, reminding me once again that Corporate America is just not quite what it used to be.

Photo by Harry Yudenfriend

Friday, December 3, 2010

Specialized vs. Multi-purpose Tech Devices, Who Will Win?

I’ve been writing a lot about technology in recent weeks, as I am fascinated by the new markets that have blossomed in the past few years. We now crave technology that most of us never imagined could exist, and we are consuming that technology at a ferocious pace.

The market for handheld and portable electronics is sizzling hot.

Google says that searches on Android phones more than tripled in the first half of 2010, and on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Google VP Marissa Mayer said on October 5th that there are more searches on Android powered devices than online.

According to the Apple Insider, Apple expects iPads to outsell Macs in 2011, estimating 21 million iPads to be sold next year.

Amazon says that more Kindle e-books now outsell hardcover books.

Voice, music, video, print – we have so many choices on how to consume data, and these choices are likely to continue to evolve at a very speedy pace.

Of course consumption is made possible by affordability. Today it’s possible to purchase a smart phone, a tablet, an e-reader, and an MP3 player for less than half of what I paid for my first personal computer in 1984. And consumption is made practical by portability. I can carry them all around in a handbag.

We can choose between dedicated devices that are specialized for a single task such as book reading or music, or we can buy a device that does it all. It’s the age-old question that we have seen in the server industry for decades with the debate between mainframes versus distributed/dedicated servers/blades: Do I buy individual devices that are truly great at one thing? Or do I go with a single device that meets all my needs, but is not optimized for a single task?

Nowhere has the debate between specialized device versus multi-purpose device been clearer than in the e-book market. The specialized devices (such as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook) are optimized for what they do, but now readers also have options to read on their smart phones (such as the Motorola Droid or Apple iPhones) or tablet computers (such as the iPad).

Who will win?

I think both can win. The market for both specialized technology devices and multi-purpose technology devices will go nowhere but up. I’m not likely to take an iPad to the gym to listen to music while I’m on the elliptical machine; I’ll use an iPod Nano for that. On the other hand, if I’m traveling or on-the-go, a tablet or a multi-purpose smart phone rules.

Technology manufacturers will be best served by focusing on what they do best. For the dedicated device manufacturer, the goal is excellence, improved user-experience, and reduced cost. For the multi-purpose devices it all about the applications, operating systems optimized for multi-tasking, and – you guessed it – reduced cost.

Your turn – what’s your take on portable technology devices?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Five Reasons to Take All of Your Vacation This Year

A bonus Monday post for you! I rarely re-run content, but I think this topic is so important that it's worth re-running this post from last 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 2010 and time is running out.

According to a recent Rasmussen report, only 46% of workers plan to take all of their vacation this year. That means that 54% of employees are leaving vacation days unused. 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 last year Expedia estimated there would be 436 million unused vacation days in 2009 and valued that at $63.33 billion. (I’ll do the math for you – that’s at an hourly rate of $18. Your vacation days may be worth far more than that.)

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?

Photo by Harry Yudenfriend

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where Social Media and Business Intersect

This week's edition of When Fridays Were Fridays is being posted early, due to the holiday. Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

A recent article by Drew Neisser titled Why IBM Could be Bigger Than Facebook in Social Media got my attention. It wasn’t the fact that Neisser mentioned IBM and Facebook in the same sentence that got me, nor the fact that IBM recently announced the IBM Customer Experience Suite.

It was the quote from Jeffrey Schick, IBM's VP of Social Software, that got my attention. Schick told Neisser, "At IBM 15 years ago, we had a way to look up people to create a globally connected enterprise. Today we have approximately 500,000 people within IBM and we do about 6 million look ups a day on pages that look strikingly similar to other social network profile pages with features like blogging and photo posting."

This is not the first time IBM was using a tool internally long before the rest of the world – e-mail, instant messaging, and intranet technologies were all used internally within IBM long before they were even given names. They arose out of the necessity to be connected. They were – and are – the basis for what we now call social media tools.

So, is IBM likely to compete with Facebook in the social media market?

I’ve written in the past about the need for large corporations to leverage social media as a marketing tool – to listen and respond to their clients – but I don’t see IBM providing the technology for end-user/consumer social media. IBM’s strength lies within the enterprise. Providing the tools to keep large global companies and their employees connected – within the walls of the company – is where IBM is likely to excel in this market.

For such a venture to be successful it would need to have the same components of a Facebook – the ability to selectively connect, to share information, to respond/comment on information, and to be able to integrate with other company data and systems. I am describing an intra-company Facebook.

Such a system would need to be highly scalable. The concept of groups would be key – with the ability to create sub-groups within groups, and groups that bring other groups together. Most of all, such a system would need to be secure.

I think we have just begun to scratch the surface of intra-company social media technology tools, and are likely to see an explosion in this area over the next decade. What do you think?

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Not to Price an e-book

Pricing is an inaccurate science, but necessary for businesses that deal with products and services. In setting a price, businesses need to look at what they are trying to accomplish. Maximizing volume? Maximizing revenue?

For many businesses, the real goal is to maximize profit, and that means walking a fine line between volume and price. If you set the price too low, you leave money on the table. If you set the price too high, volumes suffer and overall revenues go down.

Prices also need to consider the cost of goods that go into making the product – the higher the cost to build the product, the higher the price.

Pricing is not an exact science, but it’s not rocket science.

Nowhere is the market more confused over pricing models than in the book industry today. Disruptive technologies – e-books, mobile devices, internet distribution – are all contributing to massive change in the media world that appears to be confusing book publishers and causing irrational e-book pricing.

In the old days (by that I mean just a few years ago) hardcover books were released first and were priced higher than the trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks that came later. It made sense. The hardcover books were more expensive to produce, and those who wanted the book fresh out of the gate were the consumers who were willing to pay more.

Enter the e-book.

The cost to produce an e-book version of an existing book is close to nothing. E-books can’t be placed on a bookshelf, and can’t be sold at a yard sale, yet some publishers seem to believe that the price for an e-book should be more than the paperback version.

Here’s one example; at the time of writing this article, Harlan Coben’s Caught, published by Penguin Publishing, is available on Amazon in paperback format for $9.99, yet the Kindle version is priced at $14.99.

All of the Amazon Kindle bestsellers are priced at $9.99 or below, except for those on the list that are not yet released in paperback. Some e-books are priced considerably lower. Consider Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life, which has been in the top ten Kindle bestsellers in recent weeks. The Kindle version of her book is priced at $2.99, a price point that surely contributed to the book’s success.

Author J.A. Konrath routinely prices e-books at $2.99. He has written extensively about his success on Amazon with his e-books (having sold more than 100,000 e-books), and has clearly demonstrated with his pricing strategy that e-books can and should be priced lower than print books.

While $2.99 may not be a magic number (many e-books have been sold at the $9.99 price point), the market dynamics have clearly shown that e-books should be priced lower than print books.

What’s your take? What should the price of an e-book be?

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Technology Love Affair

The winner from last week's contest is: Jen Daiker!  Congratulations Jen! I will be e-mailing you to get your mailing address. Now for this week's column:

When asked recently how she liked her new iPad, a friend e-mailed back, “Oh my gosh, I LOVE it!” Yes, she used the word “love” and yes, she used all caps.

Likewise, over the past few days I have found myself telling just about everyone I know that I love my new phone – referring to my Motorola Droid X. I took my time deciding which smart phone to buy, but now that I have one I can’t imagine how I lived without it. I am marveling at the fact that I can hold a state-of-the-art computer in my hand.

Is it really possible to love technology?

We all know that every time we hear that ringtone, or that “you’ve got mail” ping, we get pleasure from a rush of dopamine to the brain, as described in this NY Times article. Technology has gotten very affordable, which allows us to collect more and more sleek devices that stimulate us. But is our love affair with technology just about that brain signal?

This isn’t the first time I’ve fallen in love with a computer. I felt the same euphoria when I first got my first home personal computer in 1984, and again a few years ago when I purchased my first MacBook. I admit that I am a bit of a geek, but there’s something about the object itself that just has the ability to turn me on.

It’s about the look and feel of a device, how intelligent it is, and what it’s capable of accomplishing. It’s about what I can do with it, and how it challenges me to master it. It’s also about flexibility and accessibility.

My Droid gives new meaning to the term “on demand”. It allows me on-demand access to information and people, and it allows me to be available on-demand.

But there’s a downside.

Yes, I can choose to be connected, I can choose to be reachable, and I can choose to be super-responsive. And now I am expected to be connected, reachable, and super-responsive.

Yes, it’s great when you can work from home, but not so great when the boundaries between work and home become unclear. It’s great when you can take that call while you’re at your daughter’s soccer practice, but not so great when you miss her score that goal because you were too focused on the call. It’s terrific to be able to check your e-mail while waiting for a table, but not so great when that e-mail checking interferes with dinner.

And so, we walk a fine line where that technology love affair can just as quickly become a love-hate relationship.

What’s your relationship with technology like? Are you loving the technology in your life?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cracked Ceilings or Broken Doors? (and a Contest)

It’s time for another contest! Please be sure to read to the end of this post to find out how to enter.

Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to WinDuring this week of the mid-term elections, it seems appropriate to talk about politics, specifically – women in politics.

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to attend a seminar at Columbia University, where journalist and former CNN host Campbell Brown interviewed Anne E. Kornblut, Columbia alum, fellow journalist, and author of Notes From the Cracked Ceiling, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What it Will Take for a Woman to Win.

In Notes from the Cracked Ceiling, Kornblut recounts her days on the road covering Hillary Clinton’s campaign and bid for the Presidential office with amazing clarity and insight. Kornblut neither places blame, nor apologizes for the politicians, journalists, and political advisors that played a part in the process, yet simultaneously demands accountability from all of them. She tells the story of a woman who was thought to be the frontrunner and virtual incumbent, making the choice to run on a platform of toughness and readiness, while her Democratic opponent chose to run on a platform of change, embracing his feminine side and playing the race card.

Kornblut tells the story of a campaign that assumed it had the Democratic female vote, yet lost women voters in droves to Obama. Younger women failed to recognize the significance of a woman becoming President, having grown up to believe they could do anything and believing that a female President was no big deal. Clinton also faced difficulty with professional educated women – women who should have been viewing her as one of them – having lost their support during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I found myself feeling guilty as I read the book, identifying with that latter group that Kornblut described. The fact that Hillary – a woman of considerable resources – stood by her husband when so many women are literally stuck in abusive relationships due to a lack of resources, never sat right with me. And I ask myself… is it right to judge a candidate based on that one decision? While I never had the opportunity to vote for Hillary for President (as a registered Independent, I was not eligible to vote in the primary), I never supported her as a candidate for Senator in New York (my home state). Isn’t my unwillingness to support Hillary because of that incident as bad as a lack of support due to her hairstyle, or her choice of pantsuit, or the simple fact that she is a woman?

In contrast to Hillary’s Democratic campaign, which may have over-thought the role gender would play in the election, the Republican campaign under-thought it, assuming that women would cross party lines to vote for a female candidate, and neglecting to adequately assess women’s reactions to Palin.

At the Columbia event Kornblut used the word “ferocious” to describe the reactions we have to female political candidates. We either love them or we hate them. The truth is gender plays a much stronger role in politics in the United States that most of us would like to admit.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that the challenges women face in advancing to the highest ranks in politics bear an uncanny resemblance to the challenges women face in securing the top positions in Corporate America. Women need to be tough, but not too tough. They need to be attractive, but not too attractive. They can’t be too feminine, or too masculine. They should either be childless, or have children who are grown. They should either be single, or have a spouse who has achieved success in his own right. And, Kornblut noted, “It helps if they have overcome adversity by battling cancer.” In short, it’s a tall order that describes virtually no one.

In my opinion, the one quality that we should look for in our female politicians is competence. Earlier in the year I was optimistic that we may see a few strong intelligent women cross over from the business world into politics, but with the losses Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman suffered in California this week, my optimism has been dampened.

What I know for sure is that women are unlikely to break these barriers in politics or in large corporations, until both men and women are willing to embrace the fact that they should be there.


The contest!

This week, I am giving away a copy of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, signed by the author, Anne Kornblut.

To enter you must be either a follower or a subscriber to this blog. You can click on the “follow” button to become a follower (if you aren’t already) or use the “subscribe to” buttons to subscribe via an RSS feed or for e-mail subscription. (Note that I do not know who subscribes via RSS, so if you tell me you subscribe I’ll believe you.) Then, leave a comment on this blog responding to this week’s post.

All comments submitted by Thursday, November 11th at 5pm will be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced along with next week’s column on Friday, November 12th.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Women Reinventing, Balancing, and Driving Change

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the MORE Magazine Reinvention Convention in New York, and found myself surrounded by hundreds of fabulous women in their prime years looking for inspiration.

Some were launching second careers, some were looking to start a new business, and many were looking to find balance. All were looking to make positive changes and find more meaning in their lives.

Anchoring the day were emcee Lee Woodruff, Good Morning America contributor and author, morning keynote speaker Christiane Amanpour, anchor of ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour, and luncheon keynote speaker Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer prize-winning author. These high-powered women had one very significant thing in common – they had made choices to balance family and career.


Lee Woodruff told the story of needing to spring into action when a roadside bomb in Iraq critically wounded her husband, journalist Bob Woodruff. She found herself suddenly the sole breadwinner, with small children to care for and a spouse in a medically induced coma. With humor and grace, Woodruff told the audience how she responded to what life threw her way, and made the necessary life changes.


Amanpour told the story of her early career as a journalist, saying that she believed she was able to land a job at CNN largely due to the fact that she was a woman, and that most of her mentors were (by necessity) men. Having had her son at the age of 42 Amanpour genuinely admitted, “I do not believe I would have achieved what I have today had I chosen marriage and children early in my career.”

Driving Change

Quindlen also felt the need to spend more time with her family, and chose to leave journalism in 1995 to become a full-time novelist. Quindlen made her mark by having an opinion, and not being afraid to share her opinion. Quindlen believes that women haven’t yet achieved equality in the workplace, noting that, “We all hit the glass ceiling in different places.” Quindlen talked about the glass ceiling and childcare saying that, “Women who are in a position of power have a moral responsibility to do something about these issues.” She challenged the audience to identify what is seen as “women’s issues” within their own workplace, and to work together with like-minded men to drive change.

I couldn’t agree with her more. What about you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blogging Lessons

Yes, I am deviating my normal Friday schedule with an extra post this week. I know there are many readers out there who also blog on the blogger platform, and I wanted to share some of what I have learned in recent weeks. Those who aren’t interested in blogging will likely want to skip this post.

If you’ve been following here for a while you know that in August I decided to start hosting this blog on my own url. I’ve had the url since I started this blog in June 2009, but never used it until recently. Making the change seemed simple enough – it was easy to update blogger to use my url, and I only needed to sync my godaddy account with the correct information and I was good to go. Or so I thought...

And then, out of the blue, my google pagerank status dropped from a 3 to a 0. Ouch! As I investigated what went wrong, I discovered a number of things I forgot to do:

My feedburners were working (subscribers were getting their updates) but I hadn’t changed the “original feed” to point to the new url. Feedburner scares you off with a notice when you update your settings that you should never change it unless you are changing the originating feed. Well, that’s exactly what I wanted to do, so it is now properly updated.

I needed to go back to the places where I had my blog listed (Technorati, blogcatalog, BlogHer, etc.) and update the url. (Of course, that meant adding the tracking codes and getting re-discovered by their search engines.)

Most importantly, I learned that pagerank status is all about links. That means I no longer get status credit for all of the great high quality websites and blogs that are linking to me as, and I need to do the work to re-build my links all over again. Sigh…

The lesson? Don’t change your blog url if you want to keep your pagerank status. If you want to use your own url, use it from the very beginning. The good news is, that now that I am hosting on my own url, if I decide to change blogging platforms in the future I can take my url (and my pagerank status) with me.

As I was trying to figure out what was wrong, I discovered Yahoo Site explorer. Have you tried this? This really cool tool shows you how search engines see you, and who is linking to you.

At the same time as I changed my url, I changed to the new blogger templates. This was a much simpler change than the url change. But be aware that when you do this you may lose your analytics tracking code in your template. I lost my google analytics data for a few days until I figured this out and added the tracking code back into my template.

I have also been experimenting a lot with documents, and have learned some interesting stuff.

First, I wanted to have a way for a reader to be able to download a pdf to learn more about the coaching services I launched. I found a bunch of sites that allow you to host a pdf for free, but they all make you deal with annoying ads and pop-ups unless you want to pay for a premium service (I didn’t). I discovered that Scribd is a terrific place to host pdfs. It’s free, and you can make your content public or private. You can check it out by looking at my document here.

The other project I have going on is associated with my other blog, Learning to Eat Allergy-Free. I wanted to create a short cookbook that users could download from my site, and I found a great solution with Smashwords. It requires some document formatting, but it’s not too hard, and you can easily self-publish in multiple formats as I did with The Allergen-Free Holiday Cookbook. You can set the price on an e-book, or offer it for free. I even set up a coupon for my e-book so that my blog readers can get the book for free. (If you need to cook a holiday meal for someone with food allergies, use coupon code AA48Y to download a free copy).

Then, I wanted a way to create a ‘button’ to put on my site, so readers could download it. I searched high and low for a ‘button’ widget, and finally found a site called Cool Text, that allows you to create buttons and use them for free as long as you credit Cool Text. I also discovered a much easier way – if you create a picture widget, you can put a link in the picture to go wherever you want. Since I had created a cover for my e-book, I used that, and now I have a simple way to get readers to my book on Smashwords.

And that’s enough lessons for now. Check back on Friday for my regular weekly post.

Friday, October 22, 2010

You Know You’re a Type A Personality When…

Despite the fact that I swore I would be a hardcopy/softcover book reader forever, I finally broke down and bought a Kindle. Why? It did have something to do with the fact that the Kindle is now quite affordable, but it also had to do with the fact that I no longer have a place to store my books – the bookshelves are overflowing with to-be-read titles, and the basement is housing more than it’s fair share of boxes of books.

Much to my surprise, I am adapting quite nicely to the Kindle – with one exception – the status bar. You see, on the bottom of the screen as you read a book, there’s a bar that tells me my progress:


I can turn off the other options Kindle tries to impose on me – like showing me which passages other reader’s highlighted. (No, I really don’t want to know that.) But I can’t turn off the status bar. It taunts me:


Yes, with a physical book you have pages, and you can see how much you have completed. But the pages aren’t labeled 34 out of 318. It’s not a progress indicator, simply a number. But my Kindle is egging me on, as if to say:

You’re not finished yet… 28%

It throws me back to summers in elementary school when my older sister and I would borrow books from the library. We’d rush home, grab a chair or a piece of floor and start reading. “What page are you on?” my sister would ask. She could make anything into a competition. If I was reading page 29 she would be up to page 35. And if I happened to be a page or two ahead of her she would carefully explain to me how her book was more difficult than mine. It was a competition I could never win. And now my Kindle status bar says:


Oh, I’ve been making believe that I am one of those easy-going Type B personalities. I even stopped wearing a watch and setting my alarm clock just to prove it. So, why then, does my eye keep wandering to that status bar?


Testing me. Challenging me. Always eluding what surely must be the goal of any status bar:


Yes, my name is Colette, and I am a Type A personality.

Type A’s, it’s your turn to fess up. When did you know for sure that you were a Type A personality?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Letter to a New Manager

Today is Bosses Day, and in honor of the occasion, I’d like to share some thoughts with you on the business of bosses, in the form of a letter to a new manager.

Dear New Manager,

Kudos! You have achieved a significant milestone in your career. You are a manager. You have worked hard to get the promotion, and you deserve it.

But enough about you. Because it’s not really about you. You now have employees reporting to you and, whether you realize it or not, it’s all about them.

Some of your employees will hate you, and some will revere you. Some may look up to you, and others will want to be your best friend. What I know for sure is that your life will change. Similar to an adult who becomes a parent for the first time, you now have responsibility for these employees that you call a team.

As a former employee, boss, and boss of bosses, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you as you embark on your new role:

Recognize that each employee is unique. You will be asked to implement personnel programs by your management or human resources team that (by definition) assume that all employees fit into the same mold. At times you will be asked to rate your employees against a pre-determined set of skills or leadership qualities. These instruments assume that there is a particular type of employee that is best suited to the work you do – that one size fits all. But it’s just not true that extroverted big-picture thinkers who like to drive things to closure make the only good employees. Great employees come in all shapes and sizes. It’s your job to find the unique magic in each and every one of them. When you do, and only when you do, will you truly have what your HR department calls a high performing team.

Don’t forget that you are the boss when you are away from work. It’s just not practical to expect that you will never socialize with your employees. Bosses are often promoted from within their own teams, and it’s also just not practical to expect that you will suddenly have a new circle of friends. But even when you are at the bar for drinks after work, you are still their boss. It’s the rare employee who is able to separate what you say and do as a manager from what you say and do as a friend. By all means, keep your friends. But think twice before you bad mouth your own boss in front of them, or spill the beans on a new program that is yet to be announced. And always remember to not let your friendships color your decisions about your employees.

You will be privy to new information – some of which cannot be shared with your employees. This might be confidential product information, organizational changes, or impending job cuts. Whenever a large company is about to announce a new program, the rumor mills kick into gear. You will be asked to confirm the rumors, and the employees with the greatest access to you may come right out and ask you what is going on. Don’t lie. (Don’t ever lie – you will never be trusted again.) Tell them when you aren’t able to answer their questions. But recognize when changes will directly affect your team – don’t leave them in the dark. When in doubt, use the “How would you feel?” test. If you were about to put a down payment on a house and your manager knew you were going to be laid off the next week and didn’t tell you, how would you feel? You need to walk a very fine line.

Exercise influence (not control) over your employees. You are the manager. You have power. Don’t let it go to your head. Really. Yes, you will be able to make decisions about performance assessments and salary increases – but a lot less than you think. Yes, you can tell your employees what to do – but they will soon tire of that. So how will you get things done? By getting buy-in. Your employees are far more likely to produce a quality product if you build a vision with your team, listen to their ideas, and facilitate their successful execution of that vision, than if you simply order them to do it. Do you like taking orders?

Be a model for your team. The easiest way to lose credibility with your employees is to ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself, or to expect them to “do as I say, not as I do.” Don’t ask your employees to work over the weekend unless you are willing to do so as well. Don’t expect your employees to give a project their full attention if you’re focusing your attention on the next step in your career. Don’t expect your employees to show up for your mandatory meeting if you are never available when they ask to meet with you. You get the idea.

You may find yourself in the odd situation where a few of your direct reports make more money than you do. It’s not unusual. In fact, it’s fairly common, especially if you are relatively early in your career. Most corporate salary plan structures have a time dimension as well as a job scope and performance component built in. It’s also possible that some of your employees will be in technical jobs at a higher level than your own. When they come to you for help resist the urge to say, “That’s why we pay you the big bucks.” Recognize the fact that your job is different than theirs, and that things will level out over time. Just let it go.

Know that your employees don’t have to like you. One of the biggest mistakes new managers make is to try to get everyone on the team to like them. This isn’t high school. It’s not a popularity contest. You didn’t get the job because everyone likes you; you got the job because you have the qualities needed to lead a team. You will make decisions that are unpopular. You will need to tell employees they made a mistake. When you tell an employee that he’s not getting a salary increase, don’t expect them to like you – at least not at that moment. But you can deliver unwelcome news and still retain your employee’s respect, by being honest, fair, and clear.

Recognize that your employees may be smarter than you. Whether you are a young employee who is destined to be an executive or a senior employee who has the most experience on your team, you don’t know more than your employees do – at least not all of the time. And even when you may be the expert, you owe it to your employees to listen to their ideas – all of your employees, not just a few. That’s how they will learn, and grow, and produce more for the company.

You are responsible for your employees’ success – each and every one of them. Foster an environment where everyone’s ideas and contributions are respected. Never pit your employees against each other, and they will treat each other with respect. Find the right opportunities for each of your employees to help them grow. These might be daily assignments, special projects, or new jobs. Don’t allow yourself to compete with your team. Don’t tell your employees the answer – even if you know it, even if they ask. Instead, lead them in the right direction. Give them the space to think, and grow and excel.

Don’t (ever) ask an employee to do your dirty work for you. Don’t even think about it. If your team is going to miss a deadline, don’t send your team leader alone to inform your boss about the situation – even if it’s his fault. You are responsible for everything your team produces (or doesn’t produce). Own up to that responsibility. Don’t ask a team leader or another employee to deliver a negative message to a colleague. If the message is yours, deliver it yourself. Remember, you’re the boss. It’s your job to make things work.

Make decisions. Your employees need you to make decisions. Without clear direction your team can’t be successful. When they ask if they should make the widget blue or black, take the question seriously. Understand when they need an answer by, and then make sure you make the decision on time. If it’s not your decision to make, then involve the right parties to get the decision made.

Thank your employees. Not all the time, not every day, and surely not when they don’t deserve it, but also not just when they do something spectacular. Spectacular performances are few and far between. Yet everyone needs feedback. If the only time you give your employees feedback is when they have done something wrong, they will feel under-appreciated and morale will spiral downward. When an employee does something unexpected, contributes in a new way, pitches in to help a team member, or brings you a suggestion for a new product idea, these are the behaviors you want to reward, even if it is just with a simple “Thank you”.

You will, at times, need to put your employees’ interests above your own. This may seem counter-intuitive. After all, you’re the boss now, your employees should be trying to please you – and they will. But just like you would sacrifice for your family, you may have to sacrifice for your employees. This could mean saying no to a schedule you know your team can’t meet, despite pressure from above, and despite the fact that it may hurt your own assessment. Or it could mean letting a key employee accept an opportunity in another area, even if it means you need to stay in your role a few months longer.

Go with your gut. There are rules and guidelines you will need to follow. As a manager, you are an agent of your company, and you need to represent the company to your employees, clients, and the outside world. If your company is like the one I worked for, the guidelines may have limited flexibility. Make the best decisions you can within the scope of the guidelines, but listen to your gut. Never do anything that goes against your personal values. If it feels wrong, it probably is. If your company or your manager asks you to do something that goes against your own core values – and it’s something you can’t reconcile – then it’s time to think about getting out.

Most importantly, recognize that your decisions affect your employees. Just like you, they are people. Never trade off their best interests for your own. Never throw them under the bus. Never steal their ideas and try to pass them off as your own. It might work initially, but in addition to the credibility you will lose with your team, the bad karma will catch up with you. Know that your actions and decisions will affect your employees’ lives on a daily basis. You can make or break their day. Your actions and decisions may also have long-term effects of their careers as well. Always act with integrity.

As a new manager, you will find joy in awarding and promoting your employees; you will share in their success. At times – more often than you think – you will need to do something unpleasant. That might be delivering an unwelcome assessment, telling an employee they won’t be getting a bonus, or telling a team that their jobs have been eliminated. Yes, this comes with the territory.

You are embarking on what may be the most difficult and daring role you have ever had. It may also be the most rewarding and satisfying experience of your career. Do you still want the job? If so, then congratulations! I’m sure you’re up to the challenge.

What advice would you like to give a new manager?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Announcing Career Coaching Services

Are you tired of trying to navigate the corporate workplace on your own? Do you need a career coach? I am now offering one-on-one career coaching services specializing in the corporate workplace.

Between now and the end of 2010, I am offering my career coaching services to new clients at a 25% discount. Mention code “Blogger” in your e-mail to me to receive the discount. Feel free to share this offer with your friends and colleagues. All potential clients are also eligible for a free introductory session.

Learn more about my services here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

America’s Richest Women

It takes one billion dollars to make the 2010 Forbes 400 Richest Americans list. The list is populated with names like Gates, Buffet, Zuckerberg, and Bloomberg, with tech giants leading the pack.

But where are the women?

Of the top 400, I count 42 women (11%). What is most striking is the lack of self-made female billionaires on the list. Most of the women on the list are described as having inherited their fortunes either due to the death of a spouse or passed down from prior generations. (I should point out that many of the men on the list also inherited their fortunes.)

I can find only four women on the list, who appear to have truly created their own fortune. They include Oprah Winfrey (#130) and Meg Whitman (#332). I count two women who are listed as having co-founded companies with their spouses. They are Doris Fisher who co-founded Gap (#159) and Diane Hendricks who co-founded ABC Supply (#170).

It is not my intent to diminish the accomplishments of the women who inherited their fortunes and have stepped up and successfully managed their empires. That is accomplishment worth noting. I also recognize that there are many women behind the scenes, supporting these men, as Jenna Goudreau points out in her article "Forbes 400: The Silent Billionaires".

Indeed, one of these silent women is Melinda Gates, who 60 Minutes recently profiled calling her “America’s richest woman”. Melinda Gates doesn’t make the Fortune 400 list; she shares her husband’s fortune. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As a philanthropist responsible for giving away billions of dollars, Gates told 60 Minute’s Scott Pelley that giving away billions was “more fun” than her work as an executive at Microsoft. Yes, I imagine it is.

I can’t attribute the lack of female billionaires to the much-talked-about corporate glass ceiling, as this list is primarily comprised of entrepreneurs. While US Census data on women-owned businesses won’t be available until December, the Commerce Department recently reported that between 1997 and 2007, women-owned businesses grew by 44 percent – twice as fast as businesses owned by men.

So why then, are there so few female billionaires?

Are women aiming too low? Are we too conservative? Are we happier with less? Are we afraid to go all in?

Sharon Hadary, former and founding executive director of the Center for Women's Business Research, says in this Wall Street Journal article that it starts with the goals. She notes that, “women start businesses to be personally challenged and to integrate work and family, and they want to stay at a size where they personally can oversee all aspects of the business.”

What do you think? Why are there are so few female billionaires? How many women out there have set a goal to reach $1 billion?

Friday, October 1, 2010


The Accelerating Cost of Healthcare Spending

Big V2.1 BlastoffAccording to a report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), health care spending is going up.

In a recent article, Medpage Today and ABC News reported that healthcare spending will grow at an average annual rate of 6.3% over the next decade.

For example, over the ten-year period of 2009-2019, spending on private health insurance will grow from $810B to $1467B per year, an increase of 81% over the ten year period. Employer-sponsored private insurance spending will grow a little less, from $770B to $1240B, over the same time period. Public spending (including Medicare, Medicaid, and the new Children’s Health Insurance Plan) will increase from $1203B to $2339B. That 94% increase includes both expanded coverage, as well as decreased Medicare payments to physicians (a cut that many believe won’t hold).

By 2019, the study estimates that nearly 20% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) will be spent on healthcare costs. That’s one in every five dollars.

Are you surprised?

I’m not. In fact, I think the estimates by CMS may be low. It’s not unusual for a family to spend 20% of their disposable income on healthcare insurance alone today. Take a family of four, with an annual income of $80,000. After taxes they might take home $64,000. A non-subsidized private insurance policy could easily run $1000 per month, or nearly 20% of their disposable income.

Did you ever expect that you’d spend more on healthcare insurance than food, or housing, or even (gulp) taxes?

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Divide

Special note to regular subscribers and followers: In concert with my updated blog design, I have simplified the url of this blog to:

from the original:

The blogspot address should take you to the new address, but you may want to update bookmarks. You should also be able to get directly to the blog with just:

Blogger, email subscriptions, and RSS feeds should still work without any change on your part. Things don't always go as planned, so if you do encounter a problem, I would appreciate it if you let me know so I can figure out what to fix.

The Grand Canyon (west rim) There is an alarming and growing divide between the top of the org chart in Corporate America, and the bottom. The Senior Executives – the CEO and those within one or two steps of that position, are becoming an increasingly elitist group.

The Institute for Policy Studies recently released the 17th Annual Executive Pay Compensation Report, which shows that CEO pay has skyrocketed since the early 90’s (shortly after many corporations abandoned their full employment policies). When adjusted for inflation, CEO pay more than doubled from the 80’s to the 90’s, and more than doubled again from the 90’s to the 2000’s. In 2009, median CEO pay was $8.5 million, compared with $1.8 million in the 1980’s.

But what abut the employees of these companies?

The study notes that workers are taking home less in real wages than they did in the 1970’s. And then there is the nearly 10% unemployment rate, a fact that these outrageously overpaid CEOs have contributed to – big time. Fact: the most highly compensated CEOs laid off the most workers.

What does this great divide look like? Here are a few examples:
  • The senior executive is worried about whether he will get his entire multi-million dollar bonus this year, while the employee is worried about how he is going to pay off his debt.
  • The senior executive is worried about how well-positioned he is for the next CEO job, while the employee is worried about how long he will be able to keep his job.
  • While the senior executive is comfortable in his lavish gated community home, the employee is struggling to save enough for a down payment on a house.
  • Disgraced CEOs leave their posts with multi-million dollar severance packages, while the laid-off worker is left to scrape by with unemployment payments and a few months of salary – if they are lucky.
The view from the top of the org chart has become far removed from the reality of the bottom. Isn’t it time for CEO responsibility to include their employees?

Photo by Kyle Simourd

Friday, September 17, 2010

Moffat’s True Crime

Earlier this week Bob Moffat (formerly of IBM) was sentenced to six months in jail and a $50,000 fine for his role in the Galleon Insider Trading Scandal, to which he pleaded guilty earlier this year.

Have I written enough about this topic yet? I don’t think so.

Based on news reports, Moffat did indeed appear to be contrite as he wept in court, taking responsibility for his actions and noting that he made terrible mistakes in judgment.

Moffat was respected within IBM because his position commanded it. In some circles he was revered for restoring flailing business units to profit, and in others he was feared. He had a reputation for cutting budgets and expense – including headcount – to the bone. Thousands of employees received those pink slips in the form of a 30-plus-page package with a cover letter signed by Moffat himself that begins, "As your business leader, I make decisions every day with the objective that IBM remains at the forefront of its competitors.” (Hmmm... not every day.)

Is Moffat’s true crime that he had a personal relationship with Danielle Chiesi? He has a convenient explanation for this, saying it wasn’t about sex but about, “Clarity in the business environment”. So maybe Moffat’s true crime is that he passed along inside information to Chiesi? That is indeed what he will serve six months in jail for.

No, in my opinion Moffat’s true crime was betrayal – betrayal of the tens of thousands of employees and ex-employees of IBM who worked for him, trusted him, and some who would even lay down on the railroad tracks for him – even when their jobs were being cut.

Yes, I suppose Moffat now knows what it feels like to lose his job after thirty years of loyalty and hard work for the same company. The difference between his job loss and the losses thousands of others suffered is that Moffat created his own demise, while the employees that worked for him lost their jobs due to no fault of their own.

Is six months in jail and $50,000 dollars punishment enough?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Galleon Watch - Moffat Sentenced to Six Months in Jail

Bloomberg Businessweek and other news sources reported today that Bob Moffat has been sentenced to six months in jail for his role in the Galleon insider trading scandal.

Moffat pleaded guilty earlier this year, admitting to leaking confidential information to Danielle Chiesi. Moffat also admitted to a personal relationship with Chiesi, who awaits trial.

Moffat will begin his jail time on June 30, 2011, having been granted a request to remain free to attend his child’s college graduation next year.

Did he get what he deserved? What do you think?

If you missed the prior stories, you can catch up here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Who is Stealing Your Retirement?

A few weeks ago I wrote a tale about Jack, an employee in Corporate America who has seen his pension whittled away over the past two decades. Jack, and Jill, and many others like them who work in the private sector, have had to adjust to a new world where 401K plans and their own savings will need to carry them through their retirement. If they will get any pension at all, it will be significantly less than what they were counting on when they started working twenty or thirty years ago.

But there’s another side to this story that is begging to be addressed – there are still workers who will be getting a pension.

Yes, many employees in the public sector – including teachers, cops, and politicians – are still guaranteed pensions that will replace a very healthy amount of their salary in retirement.

Consider the story of The Millionaire Cop Next Door, written by Rich Karlgaard for Forbes. Karlgaard writes that government workers are “America’s fastest-growing group of millionaires.” He estimates the value of an $80000 annual pension plus full medical benefits to be worth about $2 million.

The New York Times Ron Lieber writes that there is a war looming over public pensions. Lieber lays out the case for states to scale back their pension commitments. He cites a study by the Pew center that estimates the gap between the pension commitments and the pension funds to be one trillion dollars.

I say, bring the war on.

At least two states, Colorado and Minnesota, have started the war by taking steps to bring their pension deficits in line. They have passed laws that would (among other things) eliminate cost of living increases for retirees and increase employee contributions. Their retirees are suing the states.

There is no doubt that these public sector employees have lived up to their end of the bargain. And yes, this means they won’t be getting what they were promised. But this inequity between private sector and public sector employees (who have worked equally hard for what they have) is essentially a re-distribution of wealth.

These are pensions that are funded with tax dollars.

So while the private sector employee is struggling to invest money from his own $76 thousand dollar salary in an effort to retire in his late sixties, his taxes are being raised so that he can fund his neighbor’s government pension. I am not at all undermining the job that our teachers and public servants do – they are well appreciated. But is it equitable that the cop in Carlsbad, California that Karlgaard writes about should be able to retire at age 50 with an annual pension of more than $76 thousand dollars for the remainder of his life?

Sound fair? It’s not.

How long will it be before our lawmakers have the guts to take their own pensions and benefits to task? How long can this inequity between private sector and public sector continue? What’s your take?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Great Job Heist... Offshoring

Special note: If you are visiting for the first time, or popping over from Karen's Labor Day blog party – welcome! If you are a regular visitor, I’d love to know how you like my new blog design. As always, thanks for reading.

call center

It started with the call center.

Corporations learned that they could take advantage of cheap labor pools overseas for lower skilled jobs. Before we knew it, it was rare to call a customer support number that didn’t land us in India.

It made sense. With constant pressure to improve profitability, companies needed to reduce expenses, and labor is a top expense. Having the ability to leverage cheaper skills gives the company flexibility and options in a tough economy.

But it didn’t stop with the call center.

In the past few years we have seen more highly skilled jobs moving overseas. Computer programmers, engineers, and accountants are just some of the professionals who have lost their jobs to offshoring. Some employees have even had the unenviable task of having to document their roles in detail, just so their jobs can be eliminated. Worse yet, some employees have had to train the overseas organizations that were taking over their roles, getting the pink slip upon completion.

Jobs in the IT industry appear to be among the most at risk.

The Times of India recently reported that IBM was now the country’s second largest employer. In 2007, IBM had 73,000 employees in India, a 43% increase from 2006. The Wall Street Journal estimates that IBM’s workforce in India could be as high as 100,000 today.

Earlier this year, IBM stopped reporting the number of employees by country, making it extremely difficult to know how many jobs are left in the United States. Nevertheless, data as recent as last fall suggests that of IBM’s reported 400,000 workforce at the end of 2009, only 105,000 jobs remained in the United States. It appears that soon – possibly very soon – IBM will employ fewer people in the US than in India.

Is your job safe from offshoring? I don’t think so. As long as there is someone willing to do the same work for less money, corporations will continue to look for ways to move jobs elsewhere.

The Institute for Policy Studies released a report this week that says, “CEOs of the 50 firms that have laid off the most workers since the onset of the economic crisis took home 42 percent more pay in 2009 than their peers.” This data clearly demonstrates how the CEO’s responsibility to their shareholders and their responsibility to their employees are in conflict.

Where has your job gone? And what message would you like to send to these CEOs?

Photo by Vitor Lima

Friday, August 27, 2010

Manners for the Workplace

A short while ago a friend was lamenting that she had to chase down responses from people who hadn’t responded to an invitation. “Doesn’t anyone know what RSVP means anymore?” she asked.

It reminded me of a similar situation I experienced a couple of years ago when I sent snail mail invites to a surprise party. Only 20% of the invitees responded promptly, so I created a facebook event – and I got more responses. But within the last twenty-four hours before the event yes’s turned to maybe’s, maybe’s turned to no’s, no’s turned to yes’s and I had no idea how many people would attend.

In the words of my friend, “What ever happened to common courtesy?”

In the workplace, we tend to do a great job of being courteous to clients, but those we work closest with sometimes get treated badly. Consider these examples:

Washington, DC, December 3, 2008 -- FEMA Admin...1. The colleague who doesn’t respond to a meeting invitation. What’s worse is when this co-worker assumes the meeting will be re-scheduled when they don’t show up. And even worse yet, when they join the meeting after decisions have been made and want the team to start over. Is this you? Then by all means respond to those invites in your in-box, and if you can’t make a meeting and really need to attend, then request a reschedule in advance.

2. The manager who doesn’t get back to a potential employee that he or she has interviewed for a job. I’m not suggesting that a personal response is required for the dozens of resumes and applications you received. But when the candidate has been through multiple rounds of interviews, and you were down to the short set of candidates, and you told them you’d make a decision within a week – then yeah, that one deserves a personal response.

3. The boss who doesn’t thank her employees at the conclusion of a project. Your employees have put in lots of extra hours. They put up with early meetings, and late meetings, and changed the materials – sometimes three or four times in one day. When the project is complete you owe it to them to let them know how it went, and yes – to say thank-you.

4. The manager who doesn’t get back to the employee who asked to speak to him today. It doesn’t matter whether the employee is waiting outside your door, or at the other end of a phone line. If you said you’d get back to them, then please do. Their time is valuable too.

5. The boss who asks their employees to disrupt their personal lives but gives nothing in return. Sometimes the early meeting or the weekend work session can’t be avoided. But recognize that you are asking your employees to disrupt their personal lives. If you must do it, then try to arrange a schedule that accommodates all employees, and the next time they ask to leave early to attend a school event, then by all means – give back.

Sometimes that simple “thank you” is all an assistant, or co-worker, or employee, or boss (yes, bosses too) needs to feel appreciated. What suggestions do you have to improve courtesy in the workplace?

Who are you going to thank today?
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Zigzagging to Success

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Given that mathematical certainty, it stands to reason that every couple of years employees should seek a promotion – more responsibility, larger projects, bigger organizations to manage – all with the goal of getting closer to the top layers of the company.

But promotion is not always the most desirable path. One of the benefits of working for a large corporation is the ability to move within the company and gain experience. This is a benefit that you can leverage to enhance your career.

Consider the lateral move.

The lateral move is defined as a shift in job responsibilities, without an increase in job title or pay grade. It’s a different job at the same level you are at today. Examples of lateral moves include moving to an entirely different business unit within the same discipline, or moving to a new discipline or skill area within your current unit. While you might not get a fancy new title with the move, there are lots of reasons to consider accepting (and even seeking out) lateral moves, especially early in your career:

1. Enhancing skills – There is no better way to build skills than by doing the job. Whether you are moving from sales to marketing, or moving to a new product area within a development team, a lateral move is one of the quickest ways to learn something new. In turn, the new skills make you more valuable to the company.

2. Understanding of the business – Managers and executives often seem to be too far away from where the action is to understand how their decisions will be implemented or will impact employees. The more you know about how things really work in the trenches, the better off you will be when it’s your turn to make those decisions.

3. It’s an easier transition than a new job with a promotion – If you’re bored with your current job, or you are at a point in your career where you want a change, but don’t want the extra hours and responsibilities that usually come with a promotional opportunity, taking a lateral move may be just the boost you need to keep you engaged and vital.

4. You can bring a fresh perspective – When you move into a new discipline or a different business unit, you bring with you the knowledge from your prior roles. If you are moving from sales to marketing, you can instantly be an expert on how the sales teams will react to a new marketing program. If you’re moving from a software unit to a services unit, you may be able to spot opportunities for the units to work together. If you can leverage your knowledge from prior roles, you will quickly be considered an asset to your new team.

5. Exposure to different managers and executives – Throughout your career you will report to dozens of managers. It’s great to be well known and respected by the managers and executives in one area of the business, but when the leaders of multiple business units know and respect you, you will be better positioned for higher level opportunities in the future.

What’s your experience with the lateral move? Would you consider it?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another One Bites the Dust

Another senior executive has been ousted from Corporate America. This time it was HP’s Mark Hurd who resigned last Friday in the midst of allegations of sexual harassment. According to The New York Times, Jodie Fisher’s allegations against Hurd led to an HP internal investigation into the matter.

HP found no violation of their own harassment policy, but uncovered some violations of standards of conduct. Bloomberg reported that Hurd failed to identify a personal relationship with Fisher, and repeatedly filed inaccurate expense accounts.

Does that sound a bit too much like someone is covering their tracks?

Fisher (who is billed as an ex-reality TV star turned marketing consultant) and Hurd both claim that they did not have a sexual relationship. Since they have settled we may never know what really happened.

(On a side note, what is it with senior executives relying on ex-beauty queens and ex-reality TV stars for business advice?)

But here’s the real rub; According to Fortune, Hurd is leaving HP with 12 million dollars cash, and an estimated total of 53 million dollars in stock and options. (Pause for impact.)

Does anyone else detect a double standard here?

Fifty-three million dollars is enough to keep 662 people employed, at an average salary of eighty thousand dollars, for a full year. Fifty-three million dollars is enough to keep twenty-two people employed for thirty years. Fifty-three million would go a long way to relief in Haiti or cleaning up the Gulf, or (pick your favorite cause).

And I’m sure that fifty-three million is more than enough to provide a nice retirement for Hurd and his wife, complete with lavish summer homes, a yacht, and extravagant trips around the world.

Maybe we’ll see Hurd’s memoir on the bookshelves a year from now – attempting to define his legacy around how he replaced Carly Fiorina and restored HP to prominence as the number one hardware vendor (ousting IBM from that spot). He’ll likely pay a ghostwriter a meager sum to write the tale for him while he takes all the credit and rakes in even more cash to supplement his retirement. Worse yet, people will buy it because they’ll want to know the real story.

I’d be willing to bet that if you or I had misappropriated up to twenty thousand dollars in company funds, we wouldn’t be shown the door with twelve million in cash. We’d be out on our butts faster than we could blink. And there would likely be criminal charges.

What do you think? Is this another case of “do as I say, not as I do?” or did Hurd really think the rules just didn’t apply to him?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Performance Reviews – A Beef With the Baloney

In early July NPR aired a story on the topic of performance reviews. Samuel Culbert, a UCLA business professor says that performance reviews are, “dishonest and fraudulent”. He even wrote a book on the topic – yes, a whole book on just this topic – titled Get Rid of the Performance Review.

Culbert explains his perspective that performance reviews are “total baloney” by noting that employees focus only on the good things that they accomplished in their reviews, and not what needs to be improved (by either the employee or the company).

While I agree with Culbert’s assertion that most employees hate performance reviews, I find the words dishonest and fraudulent somewhat extreme to describe the problem.

The employees aren’t lying. They are simply playing the game they’ve been taught to play. Do employees focus on their positive accomplishments? Of course they do. That’s the way the system works. The employee who volunteers in his performance review that he missed deadlines and produced an inferior product is likely to have a short-lived career.

The impact of a single review stays with the employee for an entire year, and will affect their salary, bonus, and their ability to compete for better jobs. Those who get a good assessment may let out a sigh of relief – but the relief lasts only a week or so before they start worrying about how much the bar will be raised for next year, and how they will stack up. Those with negative reviews worry even more – they worry about the financial impacts, that their boss doesn’t appreciate them, and that they might lose their job in the next round of layoffs.

In Culbert’s original article, which ran in the Wall Street Journal nearly two years ago, he makes some good points. Despite the fact that most companies tout the benefits of teamwork, and diversity, and leveraging the unique strengths of each team member, the performance review is counter to these notions. It’s Jack against Jill. Each man (or woman) for himself.

The very act of having to complete a performance review causes angst in most employees. I have known employees to spend hours during their end-of-year vacations writing (and re-writing) their accomplishments – as if what they write will actually make a difference in their assessment. It’s likely that the management team has already decided what each employee’s assessment will be.

Is the boss the bad guy here?

Culbert thinks so, but I disagree. The truth is, bosses hate performance reviews as much as the employees do.

We're talking about the bosses on the front lines – the first line managers who have to ask the employees to write up their accomplishments. They are the ones who spend grueling hours with their peer managers in ranking sessions to fight for their employees. Half of the time they lose. This is because they are being forced (by upper management and an HR system) to assess their employees with a skew that resembles a bell curve.

Worst of all, after spending months encouraging teamwork and team accomplishments, these managers have to deliver what they know will be perceived as bad news for many of their employees. In my experience, few managers look forward to this nerve-racking process.

What’s your take on performance reviews?