Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jan 27, 2006

10 More Great Working Woman Films

Have a nice weekend.

1. Broadcast News
Oh, Holly Hunter, I have been you.

2. Network
What everyone worried those Libbers would turn out to be like

3. Desk Set
What we turned out to be more like

4. Camille Claudel
Behind every great woman is some guy saying it was his idea

5. Pat & Mike
Ditto. With sports

6. My Brilliant Career
Often appears on lists like this, though you might wonder what all the fuss is about

7. Roman Holiday
When your brilliant career gets to be too much, you just want to pack it all in

8. Gorillas in the Midst
Yes, you can put too much of yourself into your work

9. Silkwood
Mind how you stick it to The Man

10. Norma Rae
But stand on the table if you have to

Jan 23, 2006

Weak Men and the Women Who Hire Them

Instructor, Caroline Bender

I first identified this phenomenon in my 2nd professional job, where the highest ranking woman was second to the president. The man under her (my boss's boss) saved all his assertion for the females under him. To her, he was unconditionally referential. I liked it at first -- like when your grandmother tells your mother where to get off -- but over the years I began to question why she needed him that way. It was painful to watch how she had no expectation, or even desire, that he would get stronger. He was a small man who made her look bigger.

So OK, it's a trick male executives have used for years ("Yes, JT." "No, JT." "I was just going to suggest that, JT."). This isn't a commentary on women, but on power.

And my field guide to the Alpha and Omega around your office complex, and the Delta between them.

... seems breakable. If tall, painfully thin. If at all muscular, then the size of a fireplug. Nearly always glasses
.... is the highest rank he has ever been, and likely ever to be. Typically, she beat him out for her position, or passed him when he wasn't looking
... invokes her name as the only explanation he needs for what he is requesting... but never when she is in the room
... throws up his hands when cornered, suggesting she made him do it
... believes that he has hitched his wagon to a star (however supernova)
... congregates with those like him

...is larger than life. Fast-talking, deep-voiced, piercing eyes, impatient hard-mouthed glare. She fills a room with height, weight, shoulders, and/or a drill sergeant's timbre
... is higher ranked than any other woman, and the only woman on her tier
... lets him take the fall for her, unless she can help with a push
... acts surprised when cornered, suggesting he misrepresented her
... will never allow him to succeed, and never let him go
... is without peer. but not in a good way

So, to our She Veeps, may I say...
We are so pleased you made it to the top. We are sure it was hard. We get it that it's a man's world...you have to be twice as tough to be taken half as seriously... Ginger Rogers backward on heels...etc etc. We're not asking you to be better than "they" are, only that you stay someone we can look up to.

Because our respect and need for you wanes over time. It's uncomfortable to watch the way you remind us we work for your fraternity of losers by belittling them in front of us, or hanging us out to dry as an example of their ineptitude (you know when this was). It's hard to hear what they say about you, and not know whether we should agree, defend you, or head to the kitchen for more pie.

And no thanks for your backhanded patronage. Being elevated by you puts us in company we'd rather not keep, even when we are your favorite. We wonder if you would let us stay weak too, hobbled by our own inadequancies. Or hold us to a higher standard than you do the Weak Men, which we think might be worse.

So please don't ask why we are avoiding you, networking around and beneath you, and choosing our mentors outside of your sphere. Please spare us Margaret Houlihan's lousy cup of coffee speech. Instead, show us someone we can be proud of.

More pressure? You bet, sister.


Jan 13, 2006

Businesswoman, Appraise Thyself

Instructor, Caroline Bender

It's performance review season -- time for you to do more of your boss's job in order to justify and insure your own.

Performance review trends change slowly, but when they do, they are suddenly treated as universal truths -- true for all employees in all industries, all over the country.

For some time -- perhaps your entire career -- we have been subjected to the self-appraisal, which is the equivalent of writing your own letter of reference and submitting it for signature.

There are plenty of reasons to be in favor of the self-appraisal; after all, Crazy Bosses can put a lot of emphasis on performance reviews, and you can be very vulnerable if your permanent record stands on they say alone. I am not coming out against them... except in principle. In fact, now that the Boss doesn't have to do them at all, she doesn't, and you can paint (nearly) any picture your heart desires.

But don't work too hard. Here's my approach:
Stick to the facts. You may wish you got the kind of appraisal that talked about your whole character, your development as a professional, your strengths and weaknesses. But you don't wish it, don't set that tone. Studies suggest that the higher a performer, the lower (proportionately) she tends to measure herself in terms of success. High achievers always see what they could have done better, while low achievers are generally satisfied with their results and rank their successes high. So, if you are an achiever (and all of our students are) you are in danger of undervaluing yourself where it matters.

Instead, record the things you actually accomplished. You should prepare for this throughout the year by writing them down somewhere. If you haven’t this year, take a review of your planner, your mailbox, and the like. Organize your accomplishments list according to what is meaningful for your job or your company; for example, by month, quarter, area of responsibility, project. Include results in real numbers, such as revenue realized, costs saved, attendance numbers, speed to deliver, number of defects, etc. These kind of accomplishments are objective, factual, and hard to argue. Stats can always be skewed, it's true. But for the most part, they are less squishy than, "improved relations with..."

360 feedback is another recent addition. This refers to additional commentary from your own peer level, your Boss's peer level (or higher), and those you supervise (if any). Here is another opportunity for those you really work with to comment on your value.

Common practice is for you to name these references yourself, so here are a few tips to maximize this requirement.
Make it a real 360. Choose someone higher than your Boss if you can -- someone with whom you have a strong rapport. At your own level, cast beyond your immediate cohort. If you work for a Boss who is working against your success, she may have too much influence on others who work for her. Diversify your reference list, not only by level, but also by their job within the company. This shows the size of your sphere of influence and the range of your talents.

When dot-com culture began to take over the American workplace, we saw a renewal of "corporate values." For those companies who still survive, the company values often serve as a centerpiece to your employment experience. In your self-appraisal, you may be asked to evaluate yourself in the context of those values.

The hypocrisy of your company's values may tempt you to write a long speech about double standards. Write it if it has value for you; just don't include it. Instead, you might format your accomplishments list in this order, rather than worry about finding more to say about how you aren't trying as hard as you could. why repeat yourself?

Finally, we get to the section where you are asked to identify areas of improvement. I generally advise leaving this blank. If you are not confident in doing so, stay factual and objective, like "increase budget by 50%" or "improve time to deliver by 10% fewer days than last year." Keep all items year-over-year measurements, and see if you can leverage them against some goal the company has (or should have).

Remember: measurable and deliverable. This is what your Company does. They don't do to market with "have happier employees," or "make fewer mistakes." Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Through it all, what really matters are these real world facts about the performance review:
1. The review itself can not make your actual performance any better or worse than it was.

2. The review is rarely a true determiner of your raise. Those things tend to be divided on a curve, and the most aggressive manager wins. If the Company has frozen raises, even the best employee doesn't get one. And even the worst salaried employee, if she is not let go, gets a cost of living increase.

3. When you are let go, they always say it was for performance, even if it wasn't. And you'll always say you were a great employee, even if you weren't.

If you have a developmentally-minded supervisor, and this can be a genuine opportunity for you to grow as a professional, then I clap you soundly on the back. take advantage of it, then, and throw yourself in. You may not get that opportunity more than once.

Everyone else... don't stress it. Those of you who need to evaluate staff... read this.

Jan 11, 2006

Ten Annoying Phrases in My New Co-Worker's Repertoire

Dear Annoying Co-Worker,

when you say {this}, I know you really mean....{that}

1. heavy lifting.... effort
2. the ____ side of the house....... they
3. on moving forward basis.........instead
4. your role..... not my job
5. help out...........do my work
6. thought leader .... competitor ignorer
7. in future... shut up
8. VP... I know VPs
9. really great to have you on board ... I was here first
10. oh, no problem.... big problem

I am tired of you already.
~~ Bunny Watson - student at large

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