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.

Mar 24, 2010

Corporate Identify is more than a logo

Instructor, Mitch McDeere
Aquirion* is a global industry leader experiencing growth and revenue in an otherwise collapsing economy.  Stock prices are rising, media coverage is positive, customer loyalty is high.  The company job board is bursting, with openings in several high-tech economy states where plenty of candidates are immediately available, thanks to rampant lay-offs of experienced talent.

The Company has briefcases full of cash, with which to buy the small struggling companies who have perforated their own space so raggedly that none of them owns the "wallet share."  Aquirion can make the offer their boards of directors can not refuse, and every day the Aquirion family grows.

 New arrivals on the Company shores receive their welcome packets and fleece vests in the new company colors.  They unpack at their new desks  -- some parts improvement and some parts disappointment -- and try to pick up their projects where they left off last week.  They have high hopes for life on the Gold Mountain, but of course they never forget The Old Country.

At its worst, the Company never breaks out of its camp mentality.  Typically, corporate uniformity will take over as the workforce ages and the hard-liners are weeded out.  But the Finishing School understands that Aquirion and its like strive to be greater than the sums of  their parts, so we offer some recommendations for both management and staff.  We invite our students and readers to continue this dialogue with their comments and strengthen the Aquirions among us.

Less is more with the new logo
No one wants their history "disappeared." Especially when it is a history they helped create.  The new colors, name, and logo are an important part of forming your new identity, but try not to wipe old identities off the map.  One big ticket item is enough -- the jacket, the laptop bag, the coffee cups on every desk.  But just one.

Celebrate your heritage
Why not use some of your corporate art space  to frame the old logos, mascots, colors, ad campaigns?  Encourage member companies to display their awards, patents, and founders' portraits. Something about these members of the family was worth paying for.  Let everyone know.

Allow room for adjustment
This is especially difficult when competitors are suddenly bed-fellows.  In corporate life, we put a lot of energy into defining the enemy as the worst thing that could ever happen to our customers and our industryBe patient while your staff try to unlearn that lesson.

Encourage mingling
Pigeonholing isn't caused by hostility, but it can breed it.  Look for cross-functional workteam opportunities for member companies to share talent.  An internal apprenticeship program might be a start. Try a Think Tank, consolidated trade show team, interview teams, or R&D projects.  Dream outside the "staff council" and "softball team" box, though those work too.

This means you, acquired staff.  When your company puts out the call for representational participation, get in there and mix it up!

Orient new staff to a new company, made up of the rich diversity of its member companies.  Teach the history of your new company as part of New Hire indoctrination. 

Be open-minded.  Not all mergers go swimmingly.  Some have been infamous disasters; others came out stronger than they began.  What those stories have in common are setting a tone from the outset that all member companies have value and that decisions will be made by, and for, all stakeholders.

ODCT, Organization Development Consulting and Training, of Seattle, WA, offers some Best Practices for achieving "[an] outcome in which there is a high degree of internal commitment to and collaboration in the newly merged organization."  Most importantly, they address the tension that will come in any situation where people feel they are giving up control of their personal and business success.

Aquirion can not simply declare a "new chapter" and declare that the past is behind us.  They will always be The Other if they choose that route, rather than the profitable umbrella they intend to be.

*Aquirion represents a typical parent company, based on the varied professional experiences of our faculty.  Any similarity to a specific company is the result of the mega-merger conglomeration of global business.

Mar 18, 2010

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Instructor, Caroline Bender
Weekend Campus: Simulation Exercise

Goal: Simulate corporate rollouts in a collapsed time frame, using creative role playing and minimal instruction.  By the end of the designated time period, each group will have launched their assigned project.  There is no prescribed time period for how long the launch itself should take.

Time frame: 8 hours
Once the exercise begins, the groups may set their own schedules of breaks, meals, and work.  Group members are not required to adhere to those schedules.

Group Roles:
1. Choose a Facilitator for your group to mediate discussion, track progress, and mitigate risks.
2. Choose a project Sponsor to be responsible for defining project goals such as business needs, customer requirements, market opportunity, and competitive intelligence.  Ask that person to sit out of your discussion for 20 minutes out of every 60.  The group Facilitator will be responsible for calling the Sponsor back into meetings.  The Sponsor may go wherever s/he chooses for those 20 minutes and is not required to be reachable by phone or email.

3.  Finally, choose another member of your group to play your Senior Executive. S/He should leave campus entirely.

The Facilitator will read the group's objective: "Design a program, product, campaign, or operation."   No further detail will be provided.

Choose a name for your organization and distribute labor among yourselves.  If desired, switch places with members of other groups in different roles after the project work begins.  You need not discuss this with your Facilitator ahead of time.

Determine what your personal area goals would be, keeping in mind that they may conflict with the goals of others.  You may choose to care about this.

When the Sponsor next joins the group, members will ask the questions which have been raised during your design discussion.  The Sponsor will present the name of a program, product, campaign or operation he has thought of during the preceding 20 minutes.  The group should alter their plans to suit that name. 

The remaining time with the Sponsor may be spent clarifying his/her idea, or arguing about how much time is left in the session. 

The Facilitator will present a progress report and a review of the plan to this point.  Tasks and timelines will be reiterated and small group or individual work may occur.  This can be a good time for group members to switch teams.  In that event, the Facilitator will re-convene the group and re-establish roles, responsibilities, and goals.  The Facilitator is also reminded to watch the time for the next checkpoint with the Sponsor.  Outlook can be helpful here.

When the Sponsor next joins the group, repeat the question/clarification process.  Ask the Sponsor to provide status on any tasks assigned to her/him while s/he was out of the room.

In advance of this step, the instructor will gather all of the Senior Executives into a small meeting room and explain what each group is launching, based entirely on any discussion or buzzwords s/he has managed to overhear during the course of the day.  The instructor may misrepresent some items, or assign them to the wrong groups, but the class should not worry too much about this.  The instructor should take care to excite each Senior Executives about the initiatives in his/her area.  When that has been done sufficiently, the executive group will rejoin the class.  Sponsors should only return according to their pre-set schedule.

The Senior Executive will join his/her group.  If the Sponsor is also present, the Sponsor will pitch the project.  If the Sponsor is not present, the Facilitator will pitch while the Executive asks about the Sponsor.

The Executive  will use the following formula to determine how to respond to the group's work.  Within the formula, the Executive may improvise the details of their response.  The desires and requests of the Executive are binding.

IF  xxxxx time remains in session, ask the group to.....

90+ minutes.....stigmatize or socialize
60 minutes...prioritize or exercise
30 minutes...monetize or productize
15 minutes...incentive or proselytize
5 minutes... globalise or localise

The first group to complete a full launch of their program, product, campaign or operation before the close of the session will be declared the leading global provider of enterprise solutions and may purchase the other groups.

Mar 16, 2010

What lights your fire?

Miss Minchin, Dean of Students

Things heat up at work
All of a sudden my job got exciting again. I have been working on a project that is pretty interesting but with a sketchy uncommitted delivery date later in the year. Suddenly I learn that this rough date has been pulled in one quarter. There has been a mad scramble for status updates, deliverables, and details. Luckily we have a pretty good handle on all of these, and I realized something about myself - I actually enjoy the occasional fire alarm. I went home that day with an extra spring in my step. I was doing something important, something critical to the success of the company again, and it felt good.

This is when I realized that I need balance between knowing exactly what I'm going to be working on for the forseeable future, and tackling unexpected "hot" issues. I do some of my best work under pressure, as I can procrastinate on things that aren't urgent. And this made me think about where some of my colleagues fall on the scale of tolerance for such things (And so I invented a scale for such things - more on that later).

Fire Alarms vs. Fire Drills
In my current company, "Fire Drills" are common due to delayed decisions (or delayed consensus), shifting priorities or reorganizations. "Fire Drills" differ from "Fire Alarms" in that the fire drill is not a true emergency, and we worker bees pick up the slack knowing the we shouldn't have to be burning the candle at both ends as we push to deliver the work. Or worse, we have killed ourselves and made personal sacrifices to meet impossible deadlines, only to have the organization change direction and put that project on the shelf.

The Fire Alarm, on the other hand, is a legitimate emergency, or a worthwhile endeavor for the good of the company. It is the kind of project you feel good about jumping in to help make a success. You don't mind working the extra hours, and enjoy the comraderie of the team as it pulls together to achieve a common goal.
Too many fire drills can cause burnout and frustration while true fire alarms can be motivating but are hard to come by. And when things are too predictable (no fires of any kind), it can be a little boring.

Smokey the Bear vs. the Fire Fighters
This brings us back to the scale I invented (or reinvented as one probably exists in the DSM IV). I have colleagues who cannot tolerate the unexpected at work. They find it extremely disruptive and frustrating to have shifting priorities and assignments that change midstream. These are the "Smokey the Bear" types, who know that emergencies are usually preventable, and that we should at least build in some flexibility to plan for "the unexpected" when we set schedules.

Then there are the "Fire fighters" who just love to put out fires. They can't tolerate predictablity and really love to jump in and save the day. They also dislike planning and preparing which they find just too boring.

I'd say I fall near the middle, but leaning slightly toward the Fire Fighter end of the spectrum. I like to know what's coming, but enjoy being able to rise to the challenge when the unexpected comes my way. And it's even better if I get to save the day once in a while.

I suppose there's always the "Fire Starter" or "Arsonist" type who just enjoys creating a problem: either to watch from the sidelines as we jump in to put out the fire, or to rush in and look like a hero. But I decided that it threw off the simplicity of my scale and we write about them in this post and another post.

Where do you fall on the scale?

Mar 6, 2010

Working the Network Works

Instructor, Caroline Bender

The trade publications refer to “the hidden job market.” These are the jobs that are not advertised, and in spite of their invisibility, someone estimates that 80% of available jobs are not advertised. It is not entirely clear how that is calculated. What matters to you, the job seeker, is that these jobs are as abundant now as they have ever been. And they are available to you if you understand where to look.

Why is there a hidden job market?

Advertising is still expensive, online or off, and in a 10% (or higher in some regions and industries) unemployment situation, posting an ad opens a floodgate of applications an employer can’t manage because he laid off his recruiting staff in the last go-round. Better to put the word out quietly, in a controlled settling, than to post in so public a forum as a website, newspaper, or trade journal.

Referrals are more reliable – for everyone involved. Even the Navy knows that a buddy system improves retention . The referring employee is endorsing both the company and the candidate, the candidate can get the real skinny on life at the Company, and the Hiring Manager gets a name he can put right to the top of the stack.
 Jobs are often created for a specific need, or to suit a specific internal candidate, where insider knowledge is so crucial you wouldn’t want anyone but the person you already have in mind. How often have you said in your own work situation, “I wish we had an Anne to put on this problem,” or “Martin would be at his best if we could find a way to let him analyze data all day long”?
 So how does one find this job market if it is invisible?

You’ve got to work your network. Because working your network works.

This is not a paragraph about “social networking,” Tweeting, status updates or YouTube job posting. This is not a strategy for amassing the largest number of names you can in order to hit them up for jobs. This is simply about staying connected with the people you know, and letting them help you achieve your goals.

The people you know are your “lower-case f” friends, your family, your former colleagues and classmates. Social networking sites and tools may make it easy to connect, but not if you are doing it shallowly. If you are doing it well, a beer or a phone call will do. And guess what, Workforce America, it’s not just when the chips are down, either. You’ve got to actually think about other people, and tell them when you do. Help them when they ask, and ask for help when you need it. Roll a few logs and actually build that relationship and you will be surprised at what you can accomplish together.

I have a friend/mentor/former co-worker that I chat with online on occasion, and yes we are networked 4 ways. But we also write notes to each other (stamps, envelopes, and all!) and about once a month we find a way to meet for coffee on a Sunday morning and share ideas. When she broke her ankle, I came by to keep her company; when I lost power during an ice storm, she put me up. And when she heard about a shift in her company that implied an opportunity I might take advantage of, she let me know.

That opportunity stalled in its growth stage. She spread the word about me, and sparked some interest, but the change wasn’t getting off the ground. I soldiered on where I was until 4 months later, when I was laid off from my job.

Enter now a different friend, one I had not heard from in nearly 15 years. For a time, we had been quite close, but her career pursuits took her across country and Life happened to the both of us. I will admit that we reconnected through the new-fangled social networking you are so tired of hearing about, but it was our original old-fashioned friendship that made the reconnection such an ease and a pleasure. When she heard I had been laid off, she asked, “What are you looking for? My company has some new openings…”

And it turned out it was the same company.

These two colleagues, who knew each other so well, who both thought of me as a match for their company, had no idea that they both knew me. Our relationships were so far apart in years and makeup that we were all dumb-founded to learn of this connection. I brushed up the resume again, and I was reintroduced as a candidate. In February, I started working at that company.

Your network will not get you jobs, you know that. Even the friend who directly hires you is not hiring you out of friendship. The stakes are too high for that. They are hiring you for your skills, your style, and the history of success (both personal and professional) you are bringing to that job. You are literally seeing return on your investment.

You don’t have to be friends with everyone you work with; you don’t have to center your personal life around your work. What you do have to do is invest a little of the personal in the professional, and the other way around to be “top of mind” when the subject of great fit and match is on the table.

Give of yourself to the people you know. Notes, emails, phone calls, (a text or a “poke” if that is your vibe), keep the connection alive.

Care about what happens to people you no longer work with, live near, room with, or play with, and find a way to visit with them. Not because it may someday lead to a job, but because you like them. And they are nice to be with.

Promise to check in, and keep that promise. This is where so many of us lose our network. Friendships take time and effort, but in both cases, small quantities suffice. Sitting sidelines at the soccer game, shopping for new shoes, shooting hoops, taking the baby around the block, telling someone you thought of them today.

Strive to be the amazing person your friends think you are. They do, you know. You don’t get it, because frankly they are so amazing with all they manage, that why would they think twice about you? You’re both wrong. You’re both right. Live up to the hype.

Offer to help, to keep company, to watch the kids, to send a care package, to write a letter of reference, to put in a good word.

Accept the same in return.  Reciprocity happens when you need it most.

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