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.