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.

Reinventing

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.

Balancing

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 www.whenfridayswerefridays.com 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 whenfridayswerefridays.blogspot.com, 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:

7%

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:

13%

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:

42%

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?

61%

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

100%

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

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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