Monthly Archives: December 2013

HR New Year’s Resolution #1: Fight Back against the Haters

There’s been a lot of smack lately about how much people hate HR.  Sure, some of this talk comes from disgruntled employees who had their unfortunate endings in an HR office like mine, in which I calmly told them about COBRA and handed them their final checks.  But most of the hate is coming from managers, business leaders, and even HR professionals.  Only HR would hate on itself.

Someone who’s known me for years—who thinks I’m sort of a nice well-intentioned person—says that me being in HR is like Gandhi carrying a Nazi card.  Thanks, Michael.  I think that’s a compliment.  I’m no Gandhi, but I do care about justice and the well-being of others, their prosperity included.  After he said this, I had to take a step back and analyze HR’s bad reputation.  How did it happen?  What are we as an industry doing wrong?  Most of all, how can we turn it around in 2014?

Don’t be a change killer.  HR has this reputation of being the Debbie Downer “at the table”—if we’re even invited to “the table” (more on this whole “table” thing later).  That’s because we spend a heck of a lot of time managing risk.  We have seen and lived through the worst case scenarios more than once, so we’re quick to let you know every darn thing that could go wrong.  We’re literally the company party pooper.  And even if we don’t show up to the table to voice our concerns, someone will surely blame HR for stopping a project or plan.  I’ve seen it happen.  Managers will just automatically say, “HR wouldn’t let us, or HR told me not to,” when we didn’t even know about the proposed change.  These are the managers who are too afraid to own up to “no” and crush someone’s creative energy.

But we in HR know how to manage change.  We are experts.  We certainly can lay out the possible glitches, but we can also collaborate with managers on how to overcome these obstacles.  We can assist them through business plans and communication implementation.  We can breathe life into change rather than simply assessing its risk.

Don’t be inflexible; be consistent.   There’s a difference, you know.  Look over your policies today and get rid of the stupid ones, the ones that cost the company money and destroy the morale of your people.  If you keep doing things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done, you’ll be called inflexible.  If you refuse to EVER see an exception no matter the circumstances, you are an inflexible HR department.   However, these exceptions need to be consistent.  There’s the rub.  If I make an exception based on certain circumstances, then I will make it again for the same set of circumstances.  Staying consistent with practices and procedures is a good thing.  The only problem is that some HR folks are too scared (or maybe they’re just tired) to consider just ending a dumb practice altogether.   They get attached to the practice and do it “just because.”  “Just because” will make people hate HR.  Have sound reasons and stay consistent.  Also be willing to collaborate with company leaders and employees rather than simply opening up a handbook and pointing to rule 12.5.

Stop whining about wanting to be “at the table” without understanding basic business tenets.  So you want to be “at the table?”  You want to make decisions with other company execs regarding revenue and the latest marketing campaign.  But what do you bring to the table, HR?  I hope you have an answer.  I hope you can read a P&L and make decisions based on statistics, on data.  If you are at the table, might I suggest you focus on HR’s real value?  HR should know the company culture, its values and mission.  HR should be hiring good fits for this culture and can be of value at the table with this knowledge.  Every business decision should be filtered through the company culture, and HR should be this filter.  The worst HR departments know nothing about the actual business they serve.  The best HR departments are staffed with former front-line people who understand the business inside and out.  Making decisions based on business needs is a biggie—but how can you do that without understanding what those business needs are?

So much fuss and talk and resumes and LinkedIn pages focus on HR as a “strategic business partner,” and there are many definitions for that.  But, frankly, the whole SBP thing is tiresome.  HR has always been a business partner—hiring, firing, managing performance, training, on and on and on.  If that’s not partnering with the business, I don’t know what is.  The only problem is that we’re not linking and showing the ROI (on paper with MATH!) how much of a business partner we already are.  You want a seat at the table?  Put your big boy pants on and show the company you’re worth the empty seat.

Hire smart people with good ideas rather than do-gooders and people persons.  Like I said, I’m not Gandhi.  And, sure, maybe I’m somewhat of a do-gooder in that I care about society as a whole.  I care about justice.  I care about things being fair.  I care about employees and want them to have a happy and safe work environment, a solid esprit de corps.  Employees who have the above are simply more productive.  So the business thrives.

But I wouldn’t call myself a do-gooder.  Nope.  As nice as someone is, I won’t hire them unless they are well qualified, fit into my company’s culture, and can do the job better than the other candidates.  I’m not a “mercy hirer,” no matter how much I like the person personally.   I’ve also had to fire friends.  Try that hat on a do-gooder.  I’ve been involved in downsizing, during which people were on their knees begging for their jobs.  No true do-gooder could survive this without medication.  And I don’t take medication.  It’s my job to do these things, and I do what I have to do.

“Oh, you’re in HR!  You must be a real people person!”  I get this one sometimes.  The truth?  I’m rather anti-social outside of work.  I read a lot.  I prepare reports.  I write this blog.  I hang out with my family.  I’m not one who must be around people.  That said, I have been called approachable, easy to talk to, and I will keep matters confidential to my grave.  I can also read most people; and if I can’t read them—it usually means they’re up to something sketchy.  But after so many years in HR, well, I’ve had to deal with quite a few bad eggs, bad bosses, and crazy circus bad behavior.  HR folks know what I’m talking about.  People can get on your nerves after a while.  Am I right?  Anyway, I came to HR to improve the workplace, lead my business toward a better tomorrow, and maximize productivity in the process.  Not to save the world.  I’ll do that after I retire.

Overcome our reputation as the principal’s office.  I hate it when I call someone, and I can hear fear in their voices.  So how did this happen?  When did people start thinking a call into HR meant they were in trouble or getting fired?

I know.  It’s when we started doing all the firing and disciplining.  It’s when managers and company leaders started using HR as a scapegoat, so they didn’t have to manage the performance of their own people.  I’ve actually heard managers say that HR is making them issue a warning notice or corrective action.  No, we’ve actually just advised them to do so in order to help the employee improve.  The manager actually wanted to just fire the employee straight out.  HR folks all know what I’m talking about.

So the answer is simple.  Train managers on how to manage performance.  Empower them to do their own disciplinary actions and separations.  Of course, you should be consulted to avoid grievances, etc., but it’s their staff!  They know their staff better than anyone.   Incidentally, you’ll need a good solid group of managers to pull this off, so you might want to start there.

With all the above, it is important to remember that HR should act as the gatekeeper for ethical behavior, and it isn’t all that damaging to a company to have “a principal’s office” to prevent misconduct on the grandest scale.


So, as we get ready to start a new year, we’ve got some work to do.  We can stop all this hate if we work collectively together as an industry to become the heart of the company culture, which is what we are if you really think about it.  I like the idea of being the HOTCC better than a SBP any day.





How Bad Are Bad Bosses?

First things first, I’m not here to tell bad bosses how bad they are.  Bad bosses, from my experience, won’t know if they’re bad no matter what they hear or read.  “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool,” according to Shakespeare.

Still, these fools have an impact, don’t they?  While listening to NPR last night, I heard a story about factory workers in Bangladesh.  Evidently, they’d worked at the Tazreen Fashions Factory when it caught fire due to unsafe working conditions.  The fire killed 112 workers in November of 2012.  But as the reporters asked questions about unsafe working conditions and poor wages, the workers seemed more concerned about bad bosses.  Really?  People would rather have unsafe conditions and low wages than a bad boss?  I had to wonder if this were true for my staff.  So I asked.  And, surprisingly, most agreed that a bad boss was the worst.  The very worst.  “A bad boss makes every day a catastrophe,” someone said.  I asked my friends and colleagues, too.  They agreed.  “A bad boss makes life intolerable. They crush your spirit and make it hard to get up in the morning.”  Strong words, eh?   But, what is a bad boss?  Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Someone who continually belittles others and relishes making subordinates feel small and wretched.  Basically, you’re the office asshole—who just happens to be in charge.  I’ve seen how you gleefully engage in psychological warfare.  I know how much you love asking people questions you already know the answers to.  How you get your kicks watching subordinates squirm.  If your employee doesn’t  know the answer, you throw it in their face like some old-timey comic would throw a big cream pie.  Worse, if she gets the wrong answer, you are quick to flash a wicked I-know-more-than-you’ll-ever-know grin before walking away, armed with something to later use against the person.  Bad boss.  Very bad.
  2. Someone who’s an incompetent boob.  You make dumb decisions just to show the higher-ups you can say yes or no.  Well, here’s a little tip to all those IBs out there—most of us can say yes or no.  Most of us can say yes or no in more than one language.  But you probably can’t because you’re an incompetent boob.  You don’t know what you’re doing, and you don’t plan on learning.  You rely on subordinates to do the work and take credit for anything that turns out well.  Oh, you’re quick to blame subordinates, too.  You lead through memos littered with poor grammar and nonsensical syntax.  You’re an incompetent boob.  You’re a bad boss.  Bad capital B.
  3. Someone who’s just plain mean.  Okay, Mr. or Mrs. Meany Pants, I’d prefer you stay away from any company I’m associated with.  You’re the person who says and does the meanest thing you can think of.  If someone’s home sick, you call her in the middle of the day to curse her out for something left incomplete the day before.  You shout and sneer.  You create policies that result in the suffering of others.  Your favorite thing is to make money on the backs of your employees.  You call yourself strong.  I call you a bad boss.  Super bad.
  4. Someone who’s embarrassingly inappropriate.  I’ve met you.  I know you by your charming racist or sexist jokes.  I know you by your self-proclaimed fun-loving personality and proud use of the F word in all its forms—verb, noun, adjective.  Whatever it takes.  You’re just kidding around, after all.  You’re a flirty ass-pincher or cleavage-showing cougar.  Who doesn’t love you?  Especially at the Christmas party.  Give you a little hooch, and your subordinates couldn’t be prouder to watch you let it all hang out.  But you’re “just kidding” or “just joking.” And as you always say, “Hey, don’t you have a sense of humor?”  Creepy cray-cray is what I say for this bad boss.
  5. Someone who’s in it for number one.  You end up in leadership positions because you not only “toot” your own horn; you play full-on John Philips Souza.  You come off as someone who’ll really help the company along, but you really only care about the architecture of your resume.  You’re stepping on my company’s back to reach the next tier.  You do things the way you want and ignore feedback from long time employees, who are tasked with cleaning up your mess after you leave.  You’re impersonal and distracted.  You have an air of “I don’t care.”  You know why?  You don’t.  You’re like the selfish idiot who trashes a hotel room because it’s only one night after all.  Plus, that’s why they made housekeepers, right?  You say, “let’s work those low-paid fingers to the bone, shall we?”  Plus, it’s not like you have to live here.  You’re convinced swankier rooms exist for bad bosses like you.

bad bosses

Leadership Quiz: Become a Better Leader by Knowing your Values

Knowing and sticking to your values is the best way to become a consistent leader, www.’t-be-a-flibbertigibbet/.  So what do you value?  Take this quiz to find out.  You will be tempted to choose more than one, but decide which answer stands out most for you.  In the end, you’ll undoubtedly have a mix of answers and more than one value.

1. In the workplace, I am irritated most by which of the following behaviors:

a. Poor attendance / Missed deadlines

b. Not being a team player

c. Sloppy work

d. Rudeness

e. Employees who talk a lot about their personal lives

f.  Inability to consider new methods or out-of-the-box thinking


2. I most admire which of the following leaders:

a. Queen Elizabeth II

b. Nelson Mandela

c. Ralph Nader

d. Mahatma Gandhi

e. Margaret Thatcher

f. Steve Jobs


3. Which of the following situations do you prioritize:

a. Returning a phone call/email promptly

b. Assisting a co-worker

c. Ensuring a project or presentation is of the highest quality

d. Creating a culture of goodwill with staff

e. Protecting and promoting the reputation of the company

f. Coming up with a solution to maximize results


4. Out of the films below, I would most likely watch:

a.Forrest Gump

b. The Breakfast Club

c. Amadeus

d. Shrek

e. The King’s Speech

f. Ocean’s 11


5. My best employees have this quality:

a. They are utterly reliable

b. They get along with everyone

c. Their work is impeccable

d. They are kind and thoughtful

e. They are loyal to me and the company

f. They are creative and have fantastic ideas


6. My worst employees have the following quality:

a. They have poor attendance and can’t finish projects on time

b. Nobody likes them

c. I have to redo their work

d. They use foul language and don’t appreciate others

e. They are constantly looking for their next opportunity

f. They are stuck in a rut and have dated and inefficient ways of operating


7. When I’m on vacation, I prefer which of the following activities:

a. Touring old castles or something of that nature;  whatever it is, I need a strict itinerary

b. A group tour

c. I’d rather stay home to finish some home improvements or projects around the house

d. Somewhere where I can spend quality time with my family.  It doesn’t need to be anything fancy

e. I don’t take long vacations.  If I do, I’m always available by phone if my company needs me.

f. I’m up for anything—I love to travel and have new experiences–just as long as I don’t have a strict itinerary and can plan my own days.

  • If you answered mostly “a,” you value responsibility and will expect your staff to be reliable and consistent.
  • If you answered mostly “b,” you value collaboration and generosity and will expect your staff to work together toward shared results.
  • If you answered mostly “c,” you value quality and will expect your staff to produce excellent work that is thorough and complete.
  • If you answered mostly “d,” you value civility and will expect your staff to use polite language and diplomatic communication.  Foul language and rude behaviors will not be tolerated.
  • If you answered mostly “e,” you value dedication and will expect your staff to be loyal to you and the company.
  • If you answered mostly “f,” you value innovation and will expect your staff to be creative problem solvers seeking to take the company beyond the status quo.

If you have a combination, which you probably do, tally your results.  For example you might equally value quality, collaboration, and innovation.  But you also value dedication.  You can communicate your leadership philosophy with this information.  For example, you can say:  “I value dedicated employees who insist upon quality, collaboration, and innovation.”  Or on your resume, you can write:  I am dedicated to quality, collaboration, and innovation.  Know what you value, and you’ll lead your employees with consistency.



Develop Your People! What Leaders Can Learn from Jon Stewart

Last week, Stewart announced that John Oliver is leaving the Daily Show.  Like other Daily Show veterans, Oliver now has his own show.  As Stewart beamed with obvious pride, Oliver—whom Stewart allowed to fill in as host last summer—wept.  Stewart, on the other hand, is always happiest when others succeed.  Leaders, take heed.   

It’s not all that shocking the talented and hilarious Oliver landed his own show on HBO. This is standard, really, with Stewart’s “correspondents.”  There’s Steve Carell, who got his start on the show before being cast on The Office.  Then there’s Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report) and Ed Helms (The Hangover).   All three credit Stewart for their success.  And yet Stewart refuses to take credit.  This modesty seems a constant, as I’ve noticed how Stewart also credits his staff every time the show wins an Emmy.  He doesn’t share the credit.  He gives it all away.  Every time. 

His generosity is apparent on the show, too.  Rather than hog all the comical bits like most hosts—think Johnny Carson and Jay Leno—he allows his staff to shine by playing the straight man.

So Stewart does what most business leaders forget.  He develops his staff.  He doesn’t do this because he’s been instructed by HR to have a succession plan.  He does this because it’s his nature.  He does this because it’s the easiest way to get the most from his people. 

Identifying your staff’s skills and potential is your job as a leader.  Growing this skill and potential is your job, too.  Letting your staff shine and take credit for the company’s successes is another leadership must.  Nothing motivates people more than a leader who’s invested in employee growth.  Ultimately, your success as a leader hinges on whether your employees are successful, too.  So if you think your employees are there to make you look good, take a lesson from Stewart and turn your thinking around. 


Live to Work: TGIMTWTH

THIMTWTHI’m not too fond of acronyms, but one of my least favorites is TGIF.  Sure, I love my weekends as much as the next guy, but I get excited about Mondays, too.  Don’t judge.  This is because I am doing something I was born to do.  It took me a decade to figure out exactly what that was and pursue it, but so what.  I’m finally here. 

I recently read a blog about deathbed regrets, #2 being “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” My first thought was that they must not have been doing what they were meant to do.  If they had been, work would have been one of the greatest joys of their lives.     

This is a call to arms to everyone out there who dreads weekdays.  I’m here to remind you that five out of seven days a week should count for something.  I’m no mathematician, but this seems like a big hunk of your life.  Plus, I sincerely believe we were all born with a knack for something.  And no matter how old you are or what career you chose early on, you can still do what you’re supposed to be doing. 

So how can you figure out what this is?  I can tell you right now it’s probably entirely different from what you wanted to be as a child.  A lot of times, our childhood ambitions are based on perceived results of certain careers.  Say you wanted to be a movie star.  Likely it was because you were tickled by the idea of being on TV and having lots of money.  Or you might have wanted to be a fireman because of the whole “hero” thing.   

Also, you want to purge your thoughts of the verb “to be.”  I want to be a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean I can do these things well. 

It’s standard for us grown-ups to choose careers based on financial rewards or availability of positions.  Security is a shiny lure.  The problem is that you’ll never be very good at what you’re doing unless you have a knack for it.  And so you’ll probably never make a lot of money doing it.  Having a knack typically means you’re interested in that field and enjoy the work.  So I’m not advising you to follow your dreams; I’m advising you to practically consider your skillset and interests.  If you’re good at something and interested in it, you’ll be happy doing it every day. 

What do you do better than most people?  This could be anything from organizing dresser drawers to hosting a great party.  So, it could be tangible or intangible. Make your list as long as possible. 

What subject or subjects did you enjoy most in school? Whether you went to college or not, consider which subject held you rapt.  Even recess counts.

Name something you experienced, saw, or did that held your full interest. It’s that magical moment when you exist entirely in the moment.  I know what it means to be physically there but mentally checked out.  I also know what it’s like to be fully engaged.  You do, too.  It’s when time doesn’t matter and so, yes, it flies.  It’s when you stop—if only for that moment—worrying about the day to day vagaries in your life.   Go ahead, make your list. 

On what do people seek out your advice? Make sure you consider this carefully.  A lot of us give “unwanted” advice (kind of like I’m doing right now).  But you need to recall what others seek to know from you.    

What types of skills or personality traits have other people complimented you on? Everything counts.  Others will notice what you’re truly good at, and they’ll tell you.  All you have to do is listen. 

After you give some thought to the questions above, you’ll have a better idea of what you were meant to do.  And no matter how old you are or what you’ve been up to lately, consider now how to avoid those deathbed regrets by doing what you’re meant to do.   



Leading with Consistency: Don’t Be a Flibbertigibbet

The cornerstone of good leadership, consistency, is back in style.  Now maybe we can get some work done.  It was on the outs for a spell, start ups and tech companies reinventing people management with fewer traditional hierarchies and what they perceived to be idea-generating freer work environments.

The truth, though, is that employees are freest and most innovative when they know what to expect.  Even Google has changed its hiring matrix for managers.  In his interview with The New York Times, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, Lazlo Block, considers “consistency” the common competency for successful managers.  “If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.”

Think about it.  Let’s say you’re holding a boxing match.  You have a boxing ring—real parameters that tell fighters where they can and cannot go.  Now, imagine you trash the ring and instruct your fighters to “just go for it,” which is what some leaders do.  No telling what might happen.  The fighters could fight each other or maybe the people in the back row.  They might even take out the referee and the woman in charge of lights and sound.   Chances are high for mayhem, as rowdy observers jump into the fray.  Of course, the opposite could happen, too.  Maybe the fighters are so bewildered, they remove their gloves, slink off to their respective corners and twiddle their gloveless thumbs.

When leaders are flibbertigibbets, you’ll either have outright pandemonium, or productivity will slow to a drip.  Here are three simple ways to avoid being a flibbertigibbet.

  1.  Make decisions based on your core values.  Values shouldn’t change; therefore, your decisions based on these values should be consistent.   A close examination of your own values is a good start toward consistency.  Practice this method, and your staff is freer to make decisions of their own because they know what decision you would make in the same situation.
  2. Be the same person every day.  Leaders are human and experience the vagaries of life along with everyone who works for them.  That said, you can’t allow these vagaries to change your disposition.   A moody boss is intolerable.  A consistent grump is better than moody.  If you’re always cranky (which I don’t recommend), at least employees will prepare methods to approach you and understand what they’re in for if they do.  They’ll get used to it, actually.  But if you rotate from kind and thoughtful on one day, and the next you behave like a troll, you’re not going to get much from your staff.  Well, they might spend time naming your multiple personalities.  “Who’s in today?” they’ll ask, referring to you.  Also consider the impact of your imageIf you wear muted colors and have conservative hair, then stick to this.  The opposite is true, too.  Save your extreme makeovers for between jobs.
  3.  Be it black and white, gray, or living color, have practices, policies, and procedures that stay the same.  I know good leaders who are accused of not being able to see the gray areas.  “They’re so by the book,” someone says.  “They only see in black and white.”  The truth is that situations and issues do come in all colors of the rainbow, but addressing this rainbow of issues can be tricky for a flibbertigibbet leader who interprets policies on a case-by-case basis.   Doing this leads employees to interpret the policies differently, too.  If an employee breaks a policy, he or she shouldn’t wonder what might happen next.  They should know what the consequences will be.   It’s liberating to know where the edge of the cliff is.  If employees don’t know, they’ll walk slowly with their arms out in front of them—when, in fact, they need these arms to work!  And certainly and sadly, some will step off the edge and fall onto the sharp rocks below.




Playing the Game of Survivor at Work

Season 100,432 of Survivor airs this Sunday.  Okay, so I don’t really know what season they’re on, nor do I care.  I only know that shows like this are my guilty pleasure.  And I confess to watching nearly every episode from the moment Richard Hatch moseyed across the sand in all his nudie glory.

Maybe it’s the HR gal in me.  Sadly, the show is similar to the workplace ills I try to fix.  A group of strangers are tossed together like a potluck salad and then tasked with working as a team to win challenges and solve problems like building a shelter, finding food, and starting a fire with sticks.  Meanwhile, they’re vying to outlast, outplay, and outwit each other to win a million-dollar prize.

Sure, work’s different, in that we have our cozy cubicles, office spaces, vending machines, and water coolers.  But you didn’t hire the co-workers you’re teamed up with.  And when an opportunity for promotion comes up, you’ll give outwitting a shot, at the expense and failure of co-workers you like.  Plus, just like the contestants on Survivor, I’ve seen people at work negotiate and scheme their way to victory.  I’ve seen people who do nothing to contribute to the day-to-day ace challenges, winning praise from the boardroom.  I’ve seen people find the immunity idol.  And I’ve seen people essentially voted off.

Even so, I believe that workplaces shouldn’t have so many parallels to Survivor.  Employees should work without an “endgame.” Clearly, employees who feel comfortable and secure get the most work done and come up with the best ideas ( ).  Besides, the goal shouldn’t be winning—it should be to further the company’s goals and become an asset to the community.

My ideals aside, it’s true that work is too often like Survivor.  Consider all these similarities.

Alliances.  Who do you have “in your court?”  As cynical as this sounds, you likely maintain relationships with some co-workers or company leaders simply because they’re useful.  The opposite is true, too.  You might have disassociated yourself with a co-worker you genuinely like because you know they might interfere with your endgame.  From what I’ve seen at work and on TV, the closest alliances are built on shared secrets, enemies, or goals.

Shared secrets.  This season, Tyson and Gervase decided to steal coconuts when everyone was away from camp.  They called themselves the “Coconut Bandits.”  This goofy shared secret bonded them for good.

Shared enemies.  Villains are common on Survivor and tend to do well.  From what I’ve observed, they can make it to the final three (think Russell Hantz) but can’t win.  What mean and egotistical people do at work is create opportunities for their co-workers to bond over shared hatred.  People will rant and vent for months with each other over how much they dislike someone.  A shared enemy is like superglue—in the game and at work.

Shared goals.  As far as goals, winning a team challenge usually brings people together.  Especially if they’re underdogs.  Losing, too, can rally the troops toward a better tomorrow.

Voting people off the island.  You probably don’t work on an island.  You definitely don’t vote out people from the company—not in an official way, at least.  But let’s face it, you typically root out weak links.  And if you’ve ever participated in downsizing, determining who leaves your labor force can be just like Survivor.  Some stay because of their strength and skill.  Others stay because of their alliances.

Merges.  Merges always change the game.  Sometimes, the separate teams will stick to their original tribes until the other tribe is demolished.   At other times, the members of the opposite tribe will see the merge as an opportunity to start anew and prove themselves to a fresh group of people.

Immunity Idols.  After a few clues or a good search, a contestant usually ends up with an immunity idol and can’t be voted out—should he or she choose to play it at tribal council.  At work this translates to those few people who seriously can’t be touched.  Maybe they do something no one else can do.  Maybe they’re related to someone high up.  Maybe their longevity makes them a company “staple.”

Redemption Island.  Survivor introduced RI a few years back.  For those who don’t watch the show, it’s sort of a purgatory for those voted off during tribal council.  Once on RI, they compete with other vote-offs to get back to the “real” game towards the end.  Don’t we have redemption islands at work?  Companies transfer their employees to places like Alaska and Nebraska.  Companies move employees to basement offices or to positions in which they have no influence over others. If you think you don’t have an RI at your office, think again.


The scheming and scrambling that happens in the game also smacks of the workplace, but I refuse to compare the two.  I can only urge companies to steer away from the Survivor workforce culture model and commit to developing secure and happy environments for their staff.  No one wants employees who focus only on “self” and a personal endgame.

Ultimately, we want a proud workforce who provides quality work that ensures their companies outlast, outplay, and outwit the businesses whose dated cultures resemble reality TV.



Do What You Were Born to Do No Matter How Old You Think You Are

On the heels of Nelson Mandela’s death, we’re all reminded how he fulfilled his destiny despite 27 years in prison. This is a man who essentially began his career as a world leader at age 71. 

I wholly believe it’s never too late.  Besides Mandela, countless examples exist of successful folks changing or starting careers in the middle or later parts of their lives.

Here are a few stories of very successful people besides Mandela who didn’t let age stop them from achieving their dreams. 

Jon Hamm.  Actor Hamm waited tables until he was 29 years old. And though he had a few roles in his early thirties, he didn’t land his breakout role as Don Draper in Mad Men until he was 36. 

Vera Wang. Wang began her career as a figure skater but failed to make the U.S. team.  She could have kept on skating or even coached other skaters. Instead, she became an editor for Vogue but was later passed over for the editor-in-chief position.  So, at age 40, she started designing and selling wedding gowns.  Today, she is one of the most successful and well known fashion designers in the world. 

Julia Child. Child should give everyone hope.  As a 36-year-old housewife living in Paris with her husband, she muscled her way into the famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, where she learned to cook French food.  She was nearly 50 when she published Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  After that, her famous TV show, The French Chef, made her a household name. 

Raymond Chandler.  Just to show you that it’s never too late to change careers, know that the novelist was 44 when he decided to become a writer after working in the oil industry. 

Lucille Ball.  Most aren’t aware that Ball was already 38 when I Love Lucy premiered

Martha Stewart.  You might or might not be surprised to learn that Stewart worked as a stockbroker until her mid-thirties.  This was when she and her husband purchased and renovated a Connecticut farmhouse.  Now she’s an icon and has made millions off merchandising, broadcasting, and publishing her “Martha Stewart Living” brand.  

Colonel Sanders.  Almost every town has a KFC.  Most don’t know that Sanders worked as a steamboat pilot, insurance salesman, farmer, railroad fireman, and didn’t start cooking chicken until he was 40 years old.  More fantastic is that he didn’t start franchising this chicken until he was 65!

Rodney Dangerfield.  The comic who couldn’t get any respect actually sold aluminum siding and worked as an acrobatic diver before becoming a famous comic at age 40. 

Laura Ingalls Wilder. The writer of the Little House on the Prairie books didn’t publish her first novel until she was 65.  She cranked out 12 more books before she died at age 90.

Tim and Nina Zagat.  Both lawyers, they didn’t start printing their famous restaurant guides until they were in their 50s.  Zagat was just purchased by Google for a whopping 151 million.

Takichiro Mori. Real estate mogul and one of the richest men in the world until he died was an economics professor in Japan before launching his real estate career at age 55. 

Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses).  Moses didn’t lift a brush to the canvas until she was 76.  By the time she died at age 101, her paintings were selling for ten thousand dollars. Today, a Moses original could cost over a hundred thousand dollars. 

Besides all these famous folks, I know quite a few people who aren’t famous with stories of their own.  I know one man who worked as a clerk in a 7-11 and decided at age 42 to become a botanist.  He’s now and expert on indigenous plants and consults with landscapers.  I know a woman who worked for over a decade as a waitress in a fine dining restaurant in southern California.  She went back to school in her late thirties and is now an award-winning author.  I know someone who became a physician at age 45.  She worked at a winery and decided on this career at 34. 

It’s important to note that changing careers late in life isn’t only for financial gain. You might be a lawyer I know who decided she’d rather catch lobsters off the coast of Maine than defend criminals.  You might be my friend, a well-paid computer programmer in the Silicone Valley who decided to design and build furniture instead.  Being satisfied with your work doesn’t always mean a big payday. 

It means you are finally doing what makes you happy and what you were born to do. 

If you have a story of your own, please share it below.

Is Your Career on Auto-Correct? 5 Ways to Take Back Control

My smart phone doubts my ability every time I try to Tweet or Text.  In a text to my son, I was attempting a cool California slang by writing that something was “way cool.”  Auto-correct decided I was trying to type “was cool.”  Who gave this little machine of mine the right to muck with my diction, anyway?  So what that a woman my age shouldn’t be speaking like a surfer. 

Have you ever felt this way about your career?  That every time you make a career move, someone or something decides you really wanted to do something else?  Here are five proven ways to take control of your career and turn auto-correct off for good. 

1.Believe that it’s never too late 

On the heels of Nelson Mandela’s death, we are all reminded how he fulfilled his destiny as a world leader despite 27 years in prison. This is a man who essentially began his career at age 71.  So, if you’re unfulfilled by your current job, believe with all your heart and mind that it’s never too late to make a change.

2.Decide what you were born to do

 This isn’t always the same as what you wanted to do.  To figure this out, add up what you’re good at with what you’re interested in.  Of course, it’s a bit more complicated but worth mulling over.  People who feel like they’re in auto-correct mode will often avoid thoughts like this because it increases dissatisfaction in their current positions—but if you don’t decide, you’ll never be able to control your own career. 

3.Make a table titled “Career Choices” with three columns 

Label the columns: Complete Control, No Control, and Partial Control.   Under “Complete Control” list those choices you and you alone can make.  These could include small things like how you dress or who you eat lunch with to bigger things like how much time you’ve spent looking for a different position or educating yourself on a career you’d rather have. 

“No Control” should be your shortest list of all.  You might start to list things like who your boss is or your schedule—but if you change careers, these will change, so you really do have more control than you currently realize.  What might be on this list is an inability to relocate due to family obligations or an income requirement due to these same obligations.

For “Partial Control” you’ll probably list “getting another job.”  This is because someone else makes the final decision.  That said, you have more control than you think, as you’re the one seeking and presenting yourself as the best candidate.  You’re the one who can research and hone your own skills.  You’re the one who can generate your own Lifebrand:

4.Make a list of steps needed to take control over your career

Brainstorm with a trusted colleague or family member or do this alone.  List everything because taking control is all about the details.  If you only write down “become an astronaut,” you’ll never board that rocket to the moon.  List every step you’ll need to become an astronaut and put them in order.  While the ultimate career change might seem like a mountain, the details are always achievable.    

5.Depending on what you want to accomplish, give yourself a reasonable time limit 

I know someone who became a physician at age 45.  She worked at a winery and decided on this career at age 34.  So, yes, it could take time.  It could take years.  But that doesn’t matter because you have taken control of your career.  However long it takes, the more baby steps you take, the closer you’ll be to turning auto-correct off for good. 

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Improve your Career Chances by Knowing and Communicating your Value

What's Your Value

Most resumes and cover letters brandish skills, experience, and responsibilities.  And those of us doing the hiring are trained to read between the lines to intuit what we’re really looking for—the candidate’s value.  An interview is when value usually reveals itself, setting one candidate apart from another. But why not communicate your value sooner, gifting the hiring manager with a value-based foundation for interview talking points? 

If you tailor your resume to reflect value, your chances of getting hired will undoubtedly improve.  Answer these questions to determine, specifically, what that is.  When you’re finished, use the details on your resume.  In particular, change the “objective” portion from a dated summary glutted with superlatives to one that expresses your value. 

What do you do better than most? 

For what do others rely on you?  Don’t limit yourself to current and past positions, consider your personal life too.   In your own family, you are probably known as being really good at something.  What is this something? 

On what topic do colleagues continually seek your advice? 

Basically, what questions can you answer soundly?  Think of all those phone calls and meetings. When people turn to you, what do they need to know? 

What have you done to further a company’s goals?

Depending on the industry or position held, this could be a number of things.  Perhaps you cut costs, increased revenue, or provided optimum customer service.  Now specify these actions and connect them to the company’s goals. 

In what ways do you influence others in a positive way?

When hiring, I’m looking for an employee who positively influences the workforce atmosphere.  So, how do you do that?  How do your personality traits affect the group?

If you had free reign at your current company or past companies, what could you change? 

This is different than “what would you change.”  What this reveals is value-based ability.  Just fill in the blank, I could have…  

What do you know you could accomplish, given the support and time? 

This could be anything, really, but it unveils loads of value.  Don’t be afraid to answer this on a personal level.  For example, maybe you think you could build a house with your hands.  Maybe you think you could write code for a complicated vision.  More likely, it’s not as grandiose—maybe you know you could grow a neighborhood garden or organize your shoes.  When you start considering what you can really do, you’re unearthing your true value.