Friday, December 30, 2011

Taking Stock – What Have You Accomplished This Year?

Use RecommendationsImage via WikipediaEach and every year that I worked for a large corporation, I was subjected to an annual appraisal by my boss. And, as a boss, I subjected my employees to the same, using a tedious process set out by Human Resources that goes something like this:
  • Employee sets the goals at the beginning of the year
  • Manager approves the goals
  • Manager gives formal feedback to the employee mid-year (being careful not to be too specific because who knows how the year will end)
  • Employee writes their accomplishments against the goals at the end of the year
  • Manager reviews the employee’s accomplishments, does their own assessment, and assigns a rating
  • Manager meets with employee to let them know their rating
  • Manager’s manager approves the rating
(And the entire process begins again for the next year.)

It sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? It didn’t matter whether I was the employee receiving the appraisal, or the manager giving the appraisal – and it didn’t matter whether the appraisal was disappointing or glowing – I learned to dread the process (and my perception is that most employees and managers also disliked it). But, the rules said that was what we needed to do, and so that’s what we did. After all, how else would we know who should get the highest raises (or bonuses, or promotions, etc.) (Note the hint of sarcasm in my voice as I write this last sentence.)

Now, on my own with no one to answer to but myself – without any of the structure or rules enforced by an HR department – I find myself looking forward to assessing my accomplishments for this year, and putting together a plan for 2012. And I’m not alone:

Chris Guillebeau writes at The Art of Non-Conformity about the importance of the annual review, citing it as something he has done every year since 2006.

At Escape From Cubicle Nation, Pamela Slim shares some simple ideas for how to plan for 2012. While she calls them marketing ideas, the concepts she shares work for every aspect of your business (or career).

The major difference between what these motivators suggest and what we are all used to in the corporate environment is who defines success. Instead of being about what your boss or your company wants, or implementing strategies and goals set by someone else, it’s all about your personal goals and how you perceive your own accomplishments.

Now here’s the secret: Taking stock works whether you are an entrepreneur, running a small business, freelancing, or working for a large company.

Whether you look at things on a calendar year basis, or some other point in time that makes sense for you (like one year from starting a key project), the idea is the same. An annual checkpoint gives you cause to reflect on what you have accomplished, be grateful for the support you have received, be happy about where you are, and decide what to continue doing and what to do differently going forward.

What have you accomplished in 2011, and are you happy with the results?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Pet Peeves

CHICAGO - JULY 23:  The United Parcel Service ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeIt’s just two days before Christmas, and things are getting hectic. Whether it’s a family that’s too predictable, lights on the tree that no longer twinkle, a cake that flopped, or you still can’t figure out what to get for that one person on your shopping list – chances are (in addition to all of the joy of the holiday) something is bugging you. Here’s your chance to get it off your chest so you can set it aside and enjoy the holiday.

I’ll go first.

My pet peeve this holiday season is the UPS deliveryman. That’s right, this man (perhaps a slightly inaccurate description as he appears to be no more than eighteen) causes me distress nearly every day around 4pm.

I should explain that I have been a mall-avoider ever since Al Gore invented the internet – (ahem!) and possibly even before that. If I can order online, I do. All that holiday internet shopping results in frequent package deliveries at this time of year.

I order online all year long of course, but other times of the year a single ring of the doorbell announces a package delivery – a nice pleasant sound lets me know a surprise awaits at the front door. But for the past month or so, instead of a pleasant “ding-dong,” incoming packages have been announced with a “bang-bang-bang” on the front door. The knock is more like a Law and Order “open up – police!” knock than a friendly neighbor knock. It’s a jolting knock, a disturbing knock. And did I mention that the door is glass?

You see, the UPS deliveryman is in such a hurry to drop off that package that he can’t be bothered to open the glass door and bang on the wooden door. C’mon, the doorknocker is right there – that’s what it’s for, right? And if he doesn’t have time to open the glass door, how hard is it just to ring the doorbell?

I’ve considered asking him politely to please use the doorbell (and not bang on the glass door), but I can’t catch him. It seems the UPS driver is riding with a tandem runner, and he’s speedy. Even the roadrunner couldn’t catch him.

The good news? Christmas is upon us and we will soon be back to sporadic deliveries with a single UPS driver and a nice friendly “ding-dong.” Happy Holidays!

Your turn – what’s your pet peeve this holiday season?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Completely Adapted to Working at Home

English: Gentaur scheduleYou know you’ve completely adapted to working at home when:

1. The pile of papers on the kitchen table no longer bothers you.

2. You’re more concerned about staying up late to watch Homeland than getting up early.

3. You notice what time the sun goes down.

4. The laundry is full of gym clothes and sweats (and you haven’t been to the dry cleaner in months).

5. On some days, the only time you get out of the house is to walk to the end of the driveway to get the mail.

6. You routinely answer the home phone by hitting the speaker button.

7. The time of your yoga class is more important than anything else on your schedule.

8. You don’t mind actually answering the door when the UPS man rings the doorbell.

9. You take a shower at 3pm, or 4pm, or not at all.

10. The words “I need to put some real clothes on,” are said more often than you run the dishwasher.

Friday, December 9, 2011

There Is Life After Corporate America

Yes, yes, there really is….

Approximately three years ago I left Corporate America after thirty years with the same company. I was tired, frustrated, and even angry at times. And did I mention I was tired?

When I left I wasn’t sure what path I would follow, but I knew I wanted to write. I started this blog soon after – mostly as an experiment – and could have never predicted that it would have the audience it does, or that Forbes would be interested in running my articles.

But somehow I needed to turn my penchant for writing into more than just a blog, I wanted to write a book. A book about life in Corporate America, perhaps? I thought about it, even started writing it, but set it aside because I found myself getting tied up in knots as I wrote. That book is clearly not ready to be birthed.

So I combined with knowledge of food allergies and love of baking to write my first book – and I learned quite a bit about photography along the way. For a long time I haven’t said much about this – I didn’t gush about getting an agent or a book deal because I wasn’t sure what to expect, and afraid that I might somehow jinx it.

It was when I saw the cover for me book that it really started to sink in – this is real. Here it is:

Did I mention that I really love that cover?

And then, when I saw my book listed on amazon" (and Barnes and Noble and other places) for pre-order, I decided I couldn’t not talk about it anymore. The book is really coming! In April 2012!

So yes, there is indeed life after Corporate America. Am I making any money? Not really, but I consider this phase an investment. Am I working my butt off? You betcha, but I don’t set my alarm clock. Am I happy? Yes, and helping others at the same time.

If you want to keep up with the latest scoop on my upcoming book be sure to visit me at Learning to Eat Allergy-Free.

So, what about you? What’s your story about life after Corporate America? And are you happy?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Consequences of Not Knowing What Business You Are In: A Sad Little Netflix Story

In 1998 Reed Hastings founded Netflix, the lar...Image via WikipediaThere was a time when I called Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, brilliant. I take it back.

Ten years ago, when Netflix started mailing DVDs to customers, the idea was new and unexpected. It was an extension of the DVD corner store, with the added value proposition that you didn’t need to leave home to rent a new movie. Along the journey, Netflix did a few things that led me to believe they were very smart marketers:
  • They made their service very easy to use – there were no forms to fill out. Movies were delivered fast, and returning them was easy.
  • They built an impressive and streamlined distribution system.
  • They allowed users to build a wish list of movies. The phrase, “Let’s put it on the Netflix list” became synonymous with, “That’s a movie we should see.”
  • They continued to enhance services while lowering the price of the offerings.
But more recently Hastings has failed to recognize that his business isn’t just about mailing DVDs.

In the past few months I have received three e-mails from Netflix. The first, notified me that my costs for subscribing to Netflix were going up – nearly doubling – if I wanted to both continue to receive DVDs by mail and have the option for streaming. The company also announced that the two businesses would be completely separated, and I would need to use two websites and two different movie lists.


The second – an apology of sorts, attempting to explain the change, which read (in part), “We realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.”

You can’t be serious.

While the company took some heat for the price change and for splitting the two services, the second letter just poured fuel on the fire. And so the company sent a third letter notifying me that DVDs would be staying at Netflix and that I could continue to maintain one movie list.

Whew. Maybe.

I can’t help but wonder if the company has a strategy.

A lot of damage has been done. In just one quarter, the company has suffered a serious toll, losing 800,000 members. While they still count me as an active member, I am reconsidering whether the single DVD that sits around my house collecting dust is worth $7.99 per month. And I am exploring other (less expensive) streaming services.

The most critical problem for Netflix is a failure to recognize what business they are in. Hastings second letter defines DVD mailing and streaming as two separate businesses, and as soon as he did that he opened the door for trouble. Netflix was singularly poised to be able to serve all of our movie-watching needs (short of the theatre), and they have now opened the door for other streaming services (like Amazon Instant Video) to poach their business.

A word of advice for Netflix: Recognize that the movie-watching experience needs to continue to evolve as technology evolves, and that, while the list is important, it’s not really about a list – it’s about the experience and allowing me to watch what I want, when I want, how I want… easily.

Friday, November 25, 2011

When the Deer no Longer Freeze in the Headlights

#12 - Deer in HeadlightsImage by elviskennedy via FlickrI remember when an occasional deer would be caught in my headlights and she would freeze in her tracks. She was caught off guard – surprised, shocked, even frightened.

But today, the deer wander around my neighborhood just like the squirrels. Neither cars nor people scare them. They are no longer afraid to approach the house to feed on the buds. They no longer freeze in the headlights – a car driving down the road is a familiar sight to the deer in my neighborhood. They have become complacent.

But the deer are not the only ones who no longer fear the headlights.

The unemployment rate stays high and we expect that unemployment benefits will be extended.

We no longer flinch when our jobs are sent overseas – we expect it.

Another financial institution or government is in crisis and we expect that they will be bailed out.

Our country’s leaders fail once again to reach agreement on a key issue, and we continue on as if this were okay.

I could argue heartily that fear is not a healthy emotion. Yet without it, we lose that adrenaline rush that causes us to buck up and take action. Without fear, we risk becoming a society of complacency and entitlements.

When was the last time you saw a deer in the headlights?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupy… To What End?

occupy berlinImage by tranZland via FlickrIt started with Wall Street and it has spread just about everywhere. I am talking about the Occupy movement, of course. Even in my relatively quiet town, I drive past a sign that says, “Occupy Poughkeepsie Until We Are Free.”

Yes, the sign used the word “free” and I flinched as I read it.

You see, I’m not going to try to convince you that there isn’t value in fighting for change, or even demonstrating for change. I’m not going to try to convince you that there isn’t growing inequity between the very rich and the very poor. And although the middle class has been hurt – badly – by the current economy, I strongly believe in free speech.

Yes I used the word “free.”

In the interest of exercising my own right to free speech, I challenge the occupiers with the sign asking for freedom to define exactly what they are asking for. We are certainly are free to protest, and to write whatever we want on our signs. We are free to wear what we please. We are free to choose what to study, what work to pursue, where to live, and how to spend our time. We are free to vote and yes, we elected the politicians we are so unhappy with.

While “freedom” is clear in protests for civil rights, I believe financial success is something to be earned rather than handed out. But if we want change, we need to be clear about exactly what we want. So tell me please, what are we fighting for?

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Humorous Perspective on the Republican Presidential Debate

ROCHESTER, MI - NOVEMBER 09:  Moderators John ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeNote: This account is fictional, and not intended to represent the candidates’ actual views. Any similarity to words actually spoken by the candidates is coincidental. This is for entertainment purposes only.

And now for the last question of the night from Maria Bartiromo: “Down the line, thirty seconds. Describe in your own words, the color of the sky.”

Governor Jon Huntsman: “When I was in China there were days we couldn’t see the sky. But I know that sky. It’s grey.”

Representative Ron Paul: “As far as I’m concerned the sky can be any color you want it to be. I just hope I’m still here to see it after the election is over.”

Governor Rick Perry: Well, I see three colors; white, and there’s some grey, and oh – what’s the third color... wait, it will come to me. I’m sorry; I can’t recall the third one.

Representative Michele Bachmann: “The answer is very clear. If we just look we can all see that the sky is blue. The same color as my eyes.”

Former CEO Herman Cain: “Maria, that’s the wrong question. We need to be looking at the clouds in the sky. I see one there that looks a nine. And oh – there’s another, and another. 9-9-9, that’s what I see.”

Former Senator Rick Santorum: “Well, if there are clouds in the sky I probably introduced them.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: “Look. To answer that in thirty seconds is a little bit absurd. The color of the sky affects every American. But just so that we’re clear, I know the sky better than anyone here.”

Former Governor Mitt Romney: “It really doesn’t matter what color I think the sky it. What matters is how the markets see it. If the markets like blue, then blue it is, and we should let the markets work.

What was your take on the Republican Presidential debate? Was there a winner?

Friday, November 4, 2011

What is Rometty Up Against As She Takes the Helm at IBM?

Ginni Rometty of IBM and interviewer Jessi Hem...Image by Fortune Live Media via Flickr“She’s tough. She’s demanding.”

That’s what IBMers who have worked for the company’s new CEO say about her. Of course, she would have to be tough, demanding, and a lot more than that to reach the top spot. In fact, the few women who have achieved this level of success have often been called aggressive and other terms that women generally consider unflattering.

There is no doubt about it – Virginia Rometty’s rise to the top spot is groundbreaking – both inside and outside of IBM. At IBM, she is the company’s first female CEO, and she is one of a very small club of female CEOs. But the few women who have achieved the top spot in technology companies don’t always fare well.

So, what is Rometty up against?

While she won’t officially take the reins until January 2012, this announcement comes with IBM stock at a near-all-time high. Rometty needs to continue to drive growth, certainly an enormous challenge in today’s economy.

Rometty is home-grown IBM talent, having joined the company in 1981 after a short stint at GE. Her background at IBM is in sales, marketing, and services. Knowing the inner workings of IBM, and IBM’s clients will surely be an advantage. But will she be able to hold her own as a technology leader?

Her direct reports were once her peers – all male with the exception of Linda Sanford – and many who were also considered to be in the running for her job. These include Steve Mills, the iconic leader of IBM’s Software and Systems Group and others who drive IBM’s technical strategy.

Rometty is going to need to draw upon the considerable talents of this team, while holding her own as the final arbiter and decision maker. Most importantly, she will need to continue to convince Wall Street that IBM has the right strategies and can deliver – something her successor, Sam Palmisano, did masterfully.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Just When We Thought It Was Over, Another Insider Trading Indictment

Rajat Kumar Gupta - World Economic Forum Annua...Image by World Economic Forum via FlickrRajat Gupta pleaded not guilty to insider trading on Wednesday. His indictment comes mere weeks after Raj Rajaratnam was sentenced to eleven years in prison.

Gupta, a graduate of Harvard, was head of McKinsey and Company for a time, and has held senior leadership positions at Goldman Sachs and Proctor and Gamble. By all accounts he was well respected.

While NY Times Dealbook is touting this as the first arrest in this scandal to reach beyond Wall Street and into the corporate boardroom, that isn’t completely accurate. Let’s remember that senior executives at IBM (Bob Moffat), Intel (Rajiv Goel), and McKinsey (Anil Kumar), are all paying the price for their parts in this insider trading ring.

In total, 29 defendants have been charged, including both professional traders and corporate insiders. In practice, for an insider trading ring to be effective, there need to be insiders who have access to confidential information.

Nevertheless, whether the charges against Gupta will hold is yet to be seen. What we know for sure is that the story is not over yet.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Novel Interview – With a Corporate Past

Okay, that title is a bit of a play on words – but I couldn’t resist. You see, today I have the pleasure of sharing an interview with a new novelist. Like me, she left Corporate America in 2008, and (like me) she has been forging a new career as a writer.

Like me, she blogs about life after Corporate America and (like me) she’s fun, intelligent, and witty. (Okay, my son would call that last little bit a “self call” but again, I couldn’t resist.) It’s precisely for all of these reasons – and to demonstrate that there is life after Corporate America – that I thought you might enjoy meeting Joanne Tombrakos, and hearing about her first novel, The Secrets They Kept.


Joanne, when you left Corporate America you planned – among other things – to write. Is it everything you hoped it would be?

Yes and no. Does it look the way I thought it would? No. I thought I would have sold my novel to a big publishing house. I hadn’t even thought about self-publishing. I didn’t think I would coach or do any sales consulting. And I didn’t count on the economic meltdown that followed my departure in the fall of 2008.

The only thing I hoped it would be was happier. I wanted to stimulate both sides of my brain, not just the one that held the sharpened pencil and looked at spreadsheets. I wanted to feel passionate and challenged about my work again. I wanted more personal fulfillment. In that respect the answer is yes, it’s everything I hoped for.

I was really impressed with The Secrets They Kept. As I was reading the story the dialogue drew me in. Even though you write about a Greek family like your own, in the language I could hear Jewish mothers, Italian mothers, and even French-Canadian mothers. Do you find it surprising how universal the language of motherhood is?

I’m glad you reacted that way! I wanted the interaction to be relatable to more than just a Greek-American reader. And no, I am not surprised about the universality of the language. To me the mother-daughter dynamic has no distinction in race or ethnicity. The fortunate thing for me is that the Greeks have a flair for the dramatic, so it makes it easier to illustrate a point!

Joanne, you chose to tackle two very difficult topics in this story – secrets, and mental illness. Why those topics?

I can’t say there was a plan behind that. But then this novel started as an exercise in a writing class in which the assignment was to create a character. I had no story line in mind. But it was there Elena was born, so let’s say she led me to those topics. Of course she was fueled by my fascination with secret keeping and how in the process of keeping our truths from others, we deny ourselves our own truths.

As for choosing mental illness, I didn’t want Yannis to be a bad guy. I wanted there to be an explanation for his behavior that was beyond his control. Until recently diseases like these were shrouded in secrecy and shame. Before medication, individuals suffering from something like what was once called manic-depression could be locked away so no one knew. That seemed to fit into my secrecy theme.

I love that the story centered on the women and their complex relationships – too few novels do. Why do you think that is?

I read something recently in which Steven Spielberg was quoted as saying the problem with story today is that people have forgotten how to tell it. Characters drive the story. Yet we often get so focused on the plot and action, at the expense of the character development. My personal opinion is that novels have taken a back seat to tell all memoirs. Corporate decisions on what is getting bought are too often made not necessarily by what might be considered a good read, but by what will sell the most in the shortest period of time. Look at the rejection history of a wonderful novel like The Help. The complexity and depth of the characters are what drove the story line, yet she had a crazy, difficult time getting someone to publish it.

You chose to be your own publisher for this novel. I suspect that your business background came in very handy as you learned to be a publisher as well as a writer. What was the biggest challenge you found doing it yourself?

Letting myself take a break! I have a perfectionist streak that is embedded in my DNA, which can pose some challenges when there is no one to delegate to. But as you said, my business background is an asset. When I got my first job in radio sales it was a draw against commission position. I was told, that essentially I was creating my own business. The company gave me a phone, a desk, someone to take messages, because this was 1983 and our phone system did not have voice mail yet. But otherwise, I had to look at what I did as if I was in business for myself. That’s exactly how I operate now as a writer, coach, speaker and author. Except there is no draw!

I can totally relate to that drive for perfectionism! With one novel under your belt, what can we expect next from you?

I have a second already written, that needs a professional edit. This one is about a woman who was seduced by the corporate world in the eighties. Not that I know anything about that! I also have some ideas for non-fiction. The thing that is so great about being an entrepreneur is you don’t have to pigeon hole yourself into just one thing. I can write fiction and non-fiction, I can coach and I can even do some sales consulting when the opportunity strikes. It just requires good time management, another skill I honed in my corporate days!


Joanne Tombrakos is a writer, business coach and speaker who inspires and creates change. She blogs on living and working after corporate America at onewomanseye. Joanne was born to first generation Greek-Americans. She lives in New York City. The Secrets They Kept is her first novel.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rajaratnam’s Sentence Brings Closure to the Galleon Scandal

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 12:  Billionaire Galleon ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeRaj Rajaratnam, who was convicted last May on charges of securities fraud and conspiracy, was sentenced on Thursday to 11 years in prison and a fine of $10 million dollars.

Rajaratnam led what has been described as the largest insider trading ring ever, building a network of high-ranking experts in key technology and consulting firms. It is estimated that he gained about $64 million from his actions.

With a motive that appears to have been pure greed, Rajaratnam used personal relationships to broaden his web. Many of his co-conspirators have been convicted and are serving or have served jail sentences. Danielle Chiesi, the femme fatale who excelled at luring secrets from her companions was sentenced to 30 months. Bob Moffat, formerly of IBM, was sentenced to six months in prison.

Eleven years in prison is a record sentence for an insider trading conviction. Nevertheless, at a time when Main Street employees (and the unemployed) are occupying Wall Street, the sentence seems to be too light. I’ll be the first to argue that not all Wall Street employees are corrupt – in fact, I believe most aren’t. But the few – like Rajaratnam – who profited big time from illegal activities, deserve to be treated like the criminals they are. What do you think?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Legacy of a CEO – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...Image via WikipediaAt 6:15pm last night I received an e-mail alert on my iPad that Sarah Palin would not seek the presidency. At 7:42pm on that same iPad I received an e-mail alert that Steve Jobs had died. Noone is talking about Sarah Palin. Everyone is talking about Steve Jobs.

It’s rare that prime time TV is interrupted for the death of a CEO, but Steve Jobs was not your average CEO. He was a household name – not just because we carry around his legacy in our pockets and handbags – but because he changed the way we live our daily lives.

Chances are nearly everyone reading this has at least one product created by Jobs iconic company, Apple. Three out of five of my most-used technology gadgets are made by Apple. Chances are everyone reading this has an iTunes account, and has seen at least one Pixar film.

As a technology lover I am saddened by the loss of Steve Jobs.

Having worked in the technology industry – and new product development – I know how hard it is to not only innovate, but also deliver new technology. Especially difficult is the crystal ball. Oh, it’s easy to do market research to learn what customers need today – it’s knowing what we will need tomorrow (and the day after that) that’s the real challenge – and that is where Jobs excelled.

I can’t help but wonder how Steve Jobs mind worked – how he could see the vision of the future before any of us knew what we needed. It’s the vision I will miss the most. I don’t know what new technology I will be craving five years from now, but I am certain Steve Jobs did.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Art of Not Screwing Up

NEW YORK - JUNE 30:  Relief pitcher Mariano Ri...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeLast week, New York Yankee Mariano Rivera set a record with his 602nd career save. Of course, in baseball, it seems like there is a record for just about everything under the sun, and Rivera finally did get his day in the sun. You see, he has a thankless job. When Rivera comes in as the relief pitcher to close the game, he doesn’t get credit for the win – the starting pitcher does. The batters who scored the runs and made the hits get credit for the offense, and the outfielders that make spectacular catches and infielders that make the double plays get credit for the defense.

The relief pitcher has a very unique job. He has to maintain the lead, and the win.

In short, his job is to not screw up.

The relief pitcher is the closer. The strategy has been set and executed. The game has been played. It’s time to hold the course.

But not screwing up is never as easy as it seems. It can be very hard to stay the course. It’s hard to stay levelheaded under pressure. It’s hard to execute someone else’s strategy. It’s hard to resist the urge to change things.

Whether it’s sports, politics, or business, the new leader coming in when the team is already ahead has perhaps one of the toughest roads ahead of them – to not screw up.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How to Ruin a Business and Alienate Customers in Five Easy Steps

Netflix Video Streaming for iPhoneImage by Photo Giddy via Flickr1. Fail to build a strategy that includes the addition of new revenue streams.

2. Give away new stuff to address an emerging market to your core clients for pennies.

3. Decide that you want to make money on the new stuff and start charging your core clients double.

4. When you realize that your clients are angry, send them a letter explaining that you failed to recognize the market was changing. Tell them you made a mistake, but don’t actually do anything to fix the problem.

6. Fail to recognize that there’s value in being the only vendor who can provide both products. Announce that you are splitting the new business from the core business. Choose a funky name for the old business and use the established name for the new business. Make it really easy for clients to switch vendors.

Need I say more?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Is it Time to Wave Farewell to the Mailman?

USPS service delivery truck in a residential a...Image via WikipediaThe US Postal Service announced last week, that without enactment of legislation, the Postal Service will be unable to fund their benefits plans, stirring up yet another debate in Washington.

Of course we all take the postal service for granted. It’s been there to deliver mail – rain or shine – since 1775. It’s an icon. But is it time to consider casting the USPS aside?

I, for one, must admit that I look forward to my daily trip to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. As a writer working at home, the sound of the mailman driving by around 2:30 pm signals time to take a break, and I look forward to it. Every day I walk to the mailbox with anticipation.

But the anticipation dwindles as I find flip through junk mail, catalogs, and – if I’m really lucky – a piece of personal mail. The truth is – despite having been conditioned for years to expect something exciting in the mail, it rarely comes.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I received a handwritten letter in the mail. Most of us prefer e-mail. It’s faster, and we have the benefit of spell check. Even college acceptance letters are most frequently delivered online today. Of course there is the occasional invitation – weddings, anniversaries, and other big events; many of us still choose the mail to deliver the official invitation, but more often that not we’ve spread the news about the event on facebook, or via e-mail.

Bank statements and bills? I use automated bill pay at my financial institution. And I’ve gone paperless for nearly all financial statements.

And about those catalogs? Save the trees, please.

I do get a sense of gratification when the mailman delivers a package – usually something I am expecting – and that makes my trip to the end of the driveway seem worthwhile.

But Fedex comes by around 10:30 am and the UPS truck is usually here by 4:30 pm. There is no doubt in my mind that packages would still be able to be delivered if the US Postal Service was dissolved. There’s also no doubt in my mind that private delivery companies could pick up the slack to deliver all else.

So then, is it time to wave goodbye to the mailman for good? What do you think?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Skip the Mentor, Find a Sponsor

Office Politics: A Rise to the TopImage by Alex E. Proimos via FlickrAs a young female rising star in the corporate world I had more mentors than I could count. There were the official mentors – the ones whose name showed up on a piece of paper as being “assigned” to help me succeed. There were the unofficial mentors – the people I felt a special connection with and sought out for advice. And there were managers – who were trained to coach as part of their job.

During my corporate career I mentored many employees – in all of the capacities above. But it was only in my role as manager that I felt my role as mentor extended to sponsorship. Looking back on it now, that was a mistake.

While mentorship – providing a role model, imparting advice and wisdom, and being a sounding board – is a valuable asset to an employee, the key to making it up the corporate ladder is getting the right opportunities and promotions.

What every employee needs is a sponsor.

A sponsor is someone who will put your name on the slate of candidates for the promotion, possibly even before you know the job is available. A sponsor is an advocate for you in the room where the decisions are being made. A sponsor can help you land the job, or (in some cases) keep a job.

But sponsorship is not just up to the mentors – the employee (or mentee) plays a key role here as well. Too often we are willing to believe that our skills and capabilities will get us ahead. We believe that if we deserve the promotion, it will come. We believe that if we are the most qualified we will get the job. Too often, that is not the case. Every employee needs to ask for the role he or she wants.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and find the sponsor who can help you succeed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Places You Should Visit

This is rare post for me. Usually I pick a topic and write a post that is informative and relevant. Maybe it doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s my intent. This week I am switching it up a bit. I have pulled together a list of a few blogs that I think the readers here (you!) may like. Some of them are big names and some are still growing their audience. All are on my reading list.

One Woman’s Eye – Written by my friend Joanne Tombrakos, this blog explores life after Corporate America.

Baby Bummers – This is a humorous cartoon blog, written by my friend Devon Wickens.

Ordinary Courage (by Brene Brown) – I heard Brene speak at a BlogHer conference recently, and have been mesmerized by her words ever since. I think Brene's book, The Gifts of Imperfection, is a must read for every human being. (If you don't identify with the human species you can pass.)

9 Ways by Gloria Feldt – A strong advocate for women, Gloria Feldt writes about work, life, and politics.

Enjoy them, and let me know what you think!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Who Chooses the Middle Seat?

B 737 of RyanairImage via WikipediaAs I sat in my aisle seat at the gate in Chicago (leg two of my trip to the BlogHer conference) waiting for the seat next to me to be filled, I wondered - does anyone choose the middle seat? I'm an aisle seat person all the way, and I know there are those who prefer the window. But roughly one third of the seats on a 737 are middle seats. Are they simply left for those who waited too long to make reservations? Or those who failed to check in online and secure their seat assignment?

People traveling in pairs, like the young couple on their honeymoon who sat behind me, can certainly account some of those middle seats. There were also a few families with children relegated to the middle seat. But what about the rest of those middle seats?

Could there be a profile of a person who actually prefers the middle seat?

As mentioned, I am an aisle seat lover. That is as much due to the fact that I like to stretch my legs and have easy access to the restrooms, as it is that I like to be the first person out of my seat when the captain turns off the seatbelt sign. Aisle seat lovers are often type A personalities, who like to be in control.

I find that window seat lovers are often sleepers. They're less worried about access to the restroom, or missing the snack cart when it comes around. They wait patiently for their turn to get off the plane. Window seat lovers know that the plane won't get there any faster if they sit near an aisle.

So who, then, is the middle seat lover? Perhaps they are extraverted types who want to be sure that at least one person will talk to them during the trip. Or perhaps, like many managers and middle managers they find themselves stuck – in the middle, that is.

While many employees aspire to the title of manager, few truly understand that the position entails a lot of negotiating between layers; managers need to keep their employees happy and motivated while keeping their bosses satisfied too. It’s a constant juggling act, just like the person in the middle seat is constantly juggling for an armrest. We know why they stay in their jobs, just like we know why the middle seats are rarely empty – they need to get from point A to point B.

Speak up middle seat lovers! Who are you?
Special announcement: When Fridays Were Fridays readers are invited to enter to win a big giveaway at my other sire - Learning to Eat Allergy-Free. Check out how to enter here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Power of Choice

Picture of the face of a magic 8-ball taken by...Image via WikipediaWe all make choices every day. Some choices we make with purpose, and some we make by not taking action – simply by choosing to go with the status quo.

One of the most difficult – and the most critical – choices we all make during our careers is moving to a new job or role, whether it’s within the same organization/company or a completely new area/company. The current job (even if you don’t like everything about it) is a known quantity, you know what’s expected, and you know how to talk to your boss; perhaps you know that you’ll be able to leave work at a reasonable hour every day, or that you can come in late if you need to get the kids on the bus. The new job might mean more excitement, higher salary, and a chance to learn something new – or it might mean more responsibility and longer hours for the same salary.

Does the latter mean it’s a bad choice? Absolutely not. Consider the intern who chooses to work for free to gain experience, or the writer who chooses to blog for free to build a platform. The question is whether it’s the right choice for you.

Your current boss may tell you it’s not a great move. Ask yourself whether he is looking out for his own interests or yours.

Your mentors may advise you based on the choices they have made in the past. Are they assuming the path they took is the only right way?

Your spouse, friends, mother may all have an opinion; their views may be clouded by how your choice will affect them.

Here’s the secret: You have the power to make your own choice.

Ask yourself whether this change is important to you and your goals. If you make this choice today, what will it mean tomorrow? Next month? Next year?

Whatever you do, don’t just flip a coin; make the choice with intention.

How do you make difficult choices?

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Way We Used to Watch TV and Movies

vintage televisionImage by phrenzee via FlickrI remember my family's first color TV. Like most new technology, we didn't get the full value out of it at first. Most of the networks were still broadcasting in black and white. But on NBC we could see the colorful peacock, and we felt special. I could not have predicted that less than five decades later, I would be able to carry a device in my purse that would allow me to watch not only television, but movies - on demand - from just about anywhere. I am, of course, talking about my iPad.

Yes, the world has changed - again.

A few weeks back I wrote an article titled, The Way We Used to Read Books, and stirred up some nostalgia. But text is just one small piece of how our world has been changed by technology. Video has arguably made an even greater impact. This is the conversation that many of us are having with those born in the 21st century:

"When I was growing up, we had just one TV. It was a big box that sat in the corner of the den. We couldn't sit too close, we were told that the radiation would hurt our eyes. There were just three stations to watch, and we were lucky if we could get a clear picture by adjusting the antenna on top of the TV. We had to get up to change the channel.

" If Get Smart was on at 8pm, we had to watch it at 8pm. If we missed it, there was no way to catch up until the reruns were broadcast. It would be years before VCRs allowed us the flexibility to record and watch later. A VCR? Oh, that was a device that would allow us to record to tape.

"I remember the first movie I saw; it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I saw it in a huge theater with an enormous screen. Each theater only showed one movie at a time - they only had one screen - and they had limited show times. Usually the same movie played for weeks before a new one came out. I was in college when the first movie theater in my town added added two more screens. Now we could choose which movie to see!

"When the movie production companies started selling movies on tape, we could buy them to watch at home, on our VCRs. We could also rent movies at Blockbuster (yes, they went out of business) to watch at home. It was a little bit like borrowing a book from the library, but we had to pay to borrow them. DVDs, DVD players, and digital video recorders would come later. No, the XBOX was not the first DVD player.

"Netflix changed the game when they allowed us to subscribe to have movies that we chose sent home for viewing. We never had to leave home. They were even more brilliant when they took advantage of streaming technology (and yes, cloud computing) to let me watch a movie on my TV whenever I want to. Better yet, I can watch movies on my laptop and my iPad from wherever I am."

I predict that within the next decade we'll also be saying:

"Now, I never buy DVDs or movies, and I don't even need a DVR. Whatever I want to watch is available via cloud technologies. I can watch for five minutes while I'm in line at the grocery store, and then continue watching later at home. I pay one low fee to get this service across all of my devices."

Okay - that last bit about one low fee may be unrealistic, but maybe if I'm willing to put up with commercials...

What do you remember most about you used to watch TV and movies? What do you think we'll be saying about the technology advancements in yet another decade?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Seven Things I’ve Learned Since Leaving Corporate America

A basic digital clock radio with analog tuningIt’s been more than two years since I made the choice to leave Corporate America after a career of thirty years – and I wouldn’t go back for anything. I’m not saying that corporations aren’t a great place to be or a terrific way to make a living, but they just weren’t the right place for me any longer.

Evidence of this is the changed perspective I have of myself after all this time. I expected to be less stressed, and I am. I expected not to have to set my alarm clock, and I don’t. I expected to be able to work on projects that were important to me, and I am.

Here are some things that I have learned:

1. I’m not really a morning person. If you asked me two years ago I would have said that I was. I would get up early to get into work early so that I could have time to get some real work done – before non-stop meetings started at 8 am (and went until 6 pm or later). Early mornings or evenings were the only times available to do work. I have discovered that I am my most creative in mid-afternoon – a time that was never available to me before.

2. Being the boss isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I became a boss early in my career. I never intended to be the boss, but my own bosses pushed me in that direction. Never being the one who likes to be told what to do, being the boss seemed like a good idea at the time. But being someone else’s boss is very different from being your own boss. I still don’t like other people telling me what to do, but I really don’t miss directing and appraising others.

3. Perspective matters. Ahhh yes, I’m talking about time to think, time to look at things from all angles, time to digest information and mull things over. I like to mull. In Corporate America I was forced to view the world through a very narrow lens, and often to take action before all avenues were explored. I’m enjoying new perspectives.

4. Laundry and grocery shopping don’t have to be done on the weekends. Nor do they have to be done on a weekly basis at all. The grocery store is surprisingly quiet in the mid-morning hours during the week.

5. Sleep matters. I am always amazed by executives who appear to be able to function consistently at a high level on what appears to be very little sleep. I truly wonder what they would be able to accomplish if they got more sleep.

6. Passion is key. This one isn’t really a surprise; I’ve always known this to be the case. What’s different is my perspective on how much passion matters. When you are doing what you love, time flies.

7. I prefer to work alone. I thought I would miss the people I worked with every day, and I do – most of them anyway. But I not only don’t mind working alone, I prefer it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t seek out advice and reactions to my work, but the execution is all me, and that’s just fine.

Which brings me to a big announcement:

Between now and the end of the year I will be busy working on my non-fiction book, Learning to Bake Allergen-Free, which will be published by The Experiment next spring. You’ve probably guessed that I will be doing most of my writing in the afternoons.

If you want to learn more about food allergies, or baking allergen-free, visit me at Learning to Eat Allergy-Free. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here too, but if I miss a week you’ll know why.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Former Beauty Queen Receives Her Sentence for Insider Trading

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 21:  Danielle Chiesi, an e...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeDanielle Chiesi, who pleaded guilty earlier this year in the Galleon Insider Trading Case, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison.

As the femme fatale who reportedly flirted her way to luring secrets from top technology executives, including Bob Moffat (formerly with IBM), Chiesi will now have to put away her stylish wardrobe for a prison uniform.

In addition to her jail time, Chiesi was also sentenced to two years of supervised release, 250 hours of community service, mandatory mental health and alcohol treatment, and a $25000 fine – a stunningly low amount considering that it’s been estimated that she earned $1.7 million from her illegal activities.

As we near the end of this saga, the last to be sentenced is Raj Rajaratnam – the ringleader of the trading ring who was convicted in May, following a lengthy trial. His sentencing has been delayed until September 27th.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gen Y Speaks Out on Performance Reviews

The start of my "Trophy Case"Image by marusin via FlickrI’ve talked about performance reviews in the past. I’ve been on both sides of the performance review myself – as an employee and as a manager. I’ve also been in the middle, as a manager executing guidelines handed down from above. And I’ve been involved in performance reviews as a middle manager, attempting to ensure equity across a broader team.

The question of performance reviews for Gen Y – those entering the workforce now and for the past ten years – is of particular interest to me, as the youngest of my children prepares to enter the workforce.

About a year ago I responded to an article where Samuel Culbert, a UCLA business professor, said that performance reviews were “dishonest and fraudulent,” a claim that I declared was a bit of a stretch. But I’m not the only one who has a beef with Culbert’s position. Kyle Lagunas, an HR market analyst at Software Advice, recently wrote a blog post of his own, responding to Culbert and another article written by Ira Wolfe called Trophy Kids: What Goes Around Come Around.

Lagunas is a Gen Y employee, and proud of it. He takes exception to Wolfe’s view that “whether we hit foul balls or home runs over the course of a year, we expect to be applauded and rewarded,” arguing that his generation “doesn’t need their hands held or their egos stroked daily.” Here’s a summary of what he has to say about performance reviews, along with my response:

Lagunas: We don’t get it. If performance reviews are so important, why are they so poorly executed? Dust off your thinking caps, modernize your reviews, and capitalize on your most valuable asset (your people).

Martin: Ouch. I agree that people are our most valuable asset, but you need to recognize that (if you have a good manager) delivering bad news at a performance review is as hard on him as it is on you. It’s not just Gen Y employees who don’t want to hear bad news at a performance review; it’s tough to deliver that message to anyone.

Lagunas: Lose the sugar coating. We suffered through the recession, too. Though strong, our idealism has definitely been tempered. If our performance can improve, tell us. Give us strong, actionable feedback with measurable goals. We can take it.

Martin: Performance reviews are not black and white – they are fraught with grey. I agree that all employees need strong, actionable feedback, and I’m a big fan of measurable goals, but don’t expect me to be able to tell you exactly what to do to succeed. Success will change from day to day, and I need you to be flexible enough to roll with that.

Lagunas: Connect with us. Don't make regular feedback so complicated. There are simple solutions that can make this easy for you. Offices with instant messaging clients know this. They’re a great tool for maintaining informal lines of communication (which we love).

Martin: I’m all for regular feedback and communication. Clarity is key. That said, too much is lost when feedback is provided via instant messaging. A simple “nice job presenting today,” via IM is fine, but if you blew it today, IM is not the tool I would use to tell you that.

Lagunas: Positive reinforcement isn’t a bad thing. Whoever demonized trophies should think again. Rewarding good performance can be as simple as an “Atta boy!” or “You go girl!” sent via email – and they go a long way in giving Gen Yers a sense of accomplishment.

Martin: I miss the days when organizations regularly held recognition meetings and promotions and awards were announced and celebrated in public. I don’t think managers are neglecting Gen Y – in fact, I suspect they give more feedback to those newer workers than their more experienced workers – but with more on their plates, smaller budgets, and larger spans of control, there is just so much they can do.

My thanks to Kyle Lagunas for entering into this dialogue. You can read his entire blog post here.

What’s your take on performance reviews?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Results of IBM’s CIO Study – Data is King

IBM CIO Report: Key FindingsImage by Ivan Walsh via FlickrIBM published the results of their latest C-Suite study, titled The Essential CIO – Insights From the Global CIO Study, in May 2011 after talking to more than 3000 CIOs.

The study notes that CIO and CEO priorities are in sync, more so than in the past. That may be because the story is all about data – traditionally the CIOs turf.

According to IBM, CEOs and CIOs agree on “how critical it is for today’s public and private sector organizations to derive insight from the huge volumes of data being amassed across the enterprise, and turn those insights into competitive advantage with tangible business benefits.”

IBM calls out that, “83 percent of CIOs have visionary plans that include business intelligence and analytics, followed by mobility solutions (74 percent) and virtualization (68 percent).” Cloud computing shot up in priority, selected by 45 percent more CIOs than the 2009 study.

But not everyone speaks the CIOs language. Translation – it’s no longer about the applications, it’s all about the data:

  • How to manage the data (there’s more data than ever to manage)
  • How to leverage the data (information about consumers, markets, opportunities)
  • How to integrate the data (across applications and devices)
  • How to store the data (cloud, cloud, cloud)
  • How to access the data (especially from mobile devices)

In a consumer world where books, movies, and newspapers are no longer on our bookshelves but in our pockets and handbags, data is king. In a business world where acquisitions, partnerships, and alliances rule, information management is critical.

One key result of the study was that risk management and compliance was considered a top priority by 71% of CIOs in 2009. Today only 58% consider it important, while cloud computing and business process management gained in importance. It seems that CIOs are less concerned less about securing data and more concerned about leveraging it.

Is it possible that we have a crossed a line where we believe the positives of sharing information out-weigh the negatives?

Friday, July 1, 2011

An Open Letter to Gwyneth Paltrow

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 21: Actress Gwyneth ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeDear Gwyneth,

Imagine my surprise when I received the June issue of Bon Appetit, and instead of a strawberry rhubarb pie or a luscious summer salad, your face was staring back at me, offering me a bite of spaghetti. The magazine called you “food’s newest face” and described you as a cookbook author.


Gwyneth, I love you, I really do. I see every one of your movies, and thought your performance in Shakespeare in Love, was truly worthy of the Academy Award and Golden Globe that you won.

I didn’t complain when you decided you wanted to be a singer. Many an actress has been known to sing. Did I find it surprising when you sang at the Country Music Awards? Yes, I did. It seemed a bit of a force fit, but I was hanging in there with you, rooting for you. Even when you stole the dream of every girl from fourteen to forty-four by singing with Matthew Morrisson on Glee, I didn’t complain.

I expect to see you looking gorgeous on the cover of In Style or Vogue. I don’t expect to see you sporting a slinky blue knit dress on the cover of Bon Appetit. When I look at the picture of you serving up grilled barbeque chicken, all I see is your perfectly manicured hands and antique engagement ring.

I get it; everyone wants to write a book. But couldn’t you have just written a memoir?

If you want to cook a meal for your family, I’m all for that. But here’s my beef – you are making the rest of us look bad. While most of us women are doing a pretty bang up job of trying to balance career and family, you just keep raising the bar higher.

Go ahead, be gorgeous all the time, have perfect kids, sing like an angel, win awards, but I beg you to stay out of my kitchen.