Monday, June 29, 2009

Need a Shove?

One of the common threads I've found when interviewing people who have lost their jobs over the last year is the optimism most of them feel when they're first laid off. That lasts for about four or five months. Then, you can hear it in their voices: they're scared and frustrated and feel very, very alone.

I've been without work so I know how they feel. But recently I did a story on mentors -- how they can help your career not only when you have a job, but especially when things aren't going so hot. And while no one was portraying the mentoring experience as all fun and games -- it takes a lot of hard work and sometimes your mentor drives you a bit batty -- those I interviewed credited mentors with adding a lot to their lives.

I think we've all got to invest more in ourselves, no matter what our employment status. We need people in our corner, through good times and bad. Without those relationships, I think we risk making unnecessary mistakes, of letting good opportunities pass us by because of our own ignorance or perhaps our own fear. As this story show, mentoring may be just what we need:

Sometimes in our careers we need a kick in the pants. We need someone to push us, to make us see what’s possible and how we can get there. For people like Linda Swindling, that point came in college. For Christopher Wright, it came when he was enduring a job he hated.

Both turned to mentors. People in their lives who came along, saw their strengths and weaknesses – and for no pay at all – gave them invaluable advice that helped them land at better places in their career.

Now, at a time when most of us are confused and stressed about our jobs and career paths, mentoring programs appear to be more popular than ever – even employers are seeing the value in offering such support to employees.

Beth Carvin, CEO and president of Nobscot Corp., a retention management consulting firm in Honolulu, says that the company’s mentoring division, Mentor Scout, is currently doing a booming business. The program helps companies set up mentoring programs.

“It’s a way for companies to develop their talent, and it’s cost effective because they’re utilizing their resources internally,” Carvin says. “We’re seeing a huge growth in mentoring.”

Currently, about 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer mentor programs, but experts say no one in this economy should wait for an employer to find them a mentor.
“A lot of people don’t even think of it until they lose a job,” Carvin says. “You really need to think of it when you have a job.”

Swindling, a Dallas-based speaker and author, says that she’s used mentors since her college days, and still relies on them. “Mentors have really given me a push when I need it. They remind me of stuff I’m not doing and give me a different perspective,” she says.

Wright credits his mentor from decades ago with giving him the skills he needed to run his own mechanical engineering practice. “He was very open about what he was doing and very patient with my persistent questions and in helping me fix my mistakes,” Wright says.

Still, even with the fond memories for Swindling and Wright, both say that those going into a mentoring relationship need to understand it’s not always enjoyable.

“The truth is that just like with any relationship, there are downsides. My mentor got impatient with me at times, and there were times when I felt he could be too verbose. He could be maddeningly discursive,” Wright says.

Swindling adds: “You find some people who say they can help you and they’re lying. They just want you to help them sell their stuff. They want to use you.”
If you’re considering a mentoring relationship, those interviewed for this story have some advice. They say you should:

1.Plan ahead. “Nobody wants to just have you walk up to them and say, ‘I want you to be my mentor.’ You’ll freak them out. Tell them that you have a problem, and what you need from them in terms of help,” Swindling says. “Different mentors can be used for different aspects of your life. Don’t ask someone to do it all.”

Carvin adds that you should review your past jobs and relationships, weighing the best person to help you. A former boss? A Co-worker? Someone from an industry group? “Be thoughtful when you contact them, saying who you are, why you have chosen them and what you hope to gain. Also talk about what you expect from them in terms of time,” Carvin says.

2.Be patient. “It took a while to get close to my mentor. It was about two or three years before we really trusted one another. I trusted him to respond to my stupid questions, and he trusted me to ask about the things I didn’t know,” Wright says. “We were completely honest with one another.”

While not all mentoring relationships last for years, and may only be in place to complete a specific goal or project. Swindling, who now often serves as a mentor herself, says that mentoring is very time consuming so you must always be respectful and decide what would be the best use of the mentor’s time. “Sometimes I’ll say to someone who wants my help: ‘What are the top two things that we need to discuss?’”

3.Be realistic. “Keep in mind that rarely is the mentor going to be able to give you a job or introduce you to the person who has an immediate need. More likely, the mentor will help you down the path quicker and with more insight, which can later give you an edge on other job seekers,” Swindling says.

She also points out that mentors can help you submit a resume at a “higher level” and protect you from “automatic outs” like a spelling error on your resume.

4.Be observant. “I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to a convention and been seated right next to someone who can help me,” Swindling says. “People love to give back.”

Wright says he met his longtime mentor – who has since passed away – when he drove him back to his hotel after a business meeting. “We must have sat in the car and talked for an hour and a half. Then he offered me a job,” Wright says. “You can’t always have that kind of chemistry with a mentor, but that trust is critical.”

Notes Carvin: “Different mentors can offer you different kinds of help. The key is to always be looking, to always know what you need.”

What do you think is the key to having a positive mentoring experience?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Can Playing Second Banana Be a Smart Career Move?

When I was a kid, I didn't think too much of Ed McMahon.

"He doesn't do anything," I would complain to my sisters when we were allowed to stay up late and watch Johnny Carson.

Oh, how wrong I was. McMahon did the most important thing of all: He made his boss look good.

He laughed when the jokes were good, or even bad. He was a perfect straight man to Carson's antics, always letting his boss have the limelight. He even knew when it was time to scoot down the couch for the guests. And who could have imagined his "Heeeere's Johnny" would be such a fantastic branding strategy?

I think some people thought McMahon would never have fame on his own once Carson ended the show. They predicted McMahon would fade away into the distance like an old cowboy put out to pasture. But McMahon proved them wrong and had many successes on his own.

McMahon may have played second banana during part of his career, but he certainly knew how to parlay that into something more. His death this week recalled an interview I did for my Gannett/USA Today column and a blog post on what it can really mean to be the No. 2 -- and how to be successful at it. I thought today would be a good time to re-publish the story:

James E. Lukaszewski often helps companies handle some of the most difficult, touchy management situations and has seen what it’s really like to be part of the executive suite trenches. So, he has this observation to pass onto anyone who wants to become part of that inner circle and become a trusted advisor to anyone in power: “Welcome to the line of fire.”

Those aren’t exactly reassuring words for anyone hoping to boost their career profile and power by being a strategic player to an organization’s head honcho, but Lukaszewski says taking on that role is not for the faint of heart.

“Being a ‘lady in waiting’ is a difficult and scary position to be in,” he says. “If you’re afraid, find another job.”

Still, many people covet having a role where the boss listens to them, where the boss heeds their advice and they make a real impact on the decision-making process.

If that’s the case, Lukaszewski has some advice that he also offers in his new
book, “Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor".

For example, if you want to become the valued No. 2 to the boss (No. 1), you need to:

1. Be able to give advice on the spot. If you need time to take notes, think about a boss’s question and ask for time to come up with possible solutions, you won’t be considered a valuable advisor. “These CEOs want their time used extraordinarily smartly,” Lukaszewski says. “They’re not going to wait around on you to come back later with an answer.”

2. Tell the boss something he or she doesn’t already know. “These bosses are pretty much up on all the positions and what everyone is doing,” he says. “They don’t want to hear that from you – they’re looking for what you can tell them to do next. These leaders often make it up a little every day as they go along, because there’s no one who can tell them where to go next. If you can help them do that, it’s greatly valued.”

3. Give an ingredient of the solution. “Always make three recommendations,” he says. “Option one is to do nothing, option two is to do something and option three is to do something more. Providing multiple options is what will keep you at the table and avoids the high-risk strategy of making a single recommendation, which can be torpedoed by a single question.”

He adds that when you get a chance to present a strategy to the boss, try to make it in about three minutes. Specifically, when you’re called on by the boss to offer strategic advice, you should include: a description of the issue (60 words); a description of what the situation means and its implications (60 words); the task to be accomplished (60 words); the options available (150 words); a recommendation (60 words); and the intended consequences (60 words).

Lukaszewski says that while most people say that want to be “at the table,” the truth is that “you are the table.”

“If you are one of the trusted individuals, you bring the table with you,” he says. “When you are in the room, the table is full. You take the brief time you are given with these important people and you make it valuable.”

One of the key issues a person may have to deal with if he or she becomes a trusted advisor to a top boss is the number of people who want to “get you to use your influence with the boss – the influence they don’t have,” Lukaszewski says.

“They want to know what the boss says, what he knows,” he says. “But you’re going to have to be honest with these people and tell them that you only know a particular area, and they’re going to have to find someone else to help them. You’re going to have to suggest that they make an appointment to speak to the boss themselves. It’s difficult, but it’s all about managing the politics of the situation.”

Do you think being "second banana" makes sense?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Do People Draw a Blank When it Comes to Your Personal Brand?

I remember the first time I had a really in-depth discussion about personal branding many years ago. I was interviewing Catherine Kaputa, who wrote "You R A Brand", and she took the time to really explain the whole concept to me.

Since then, I've interviewed other personal branding experts, and they've all added to my knowledge. I've also seen a lot of people think they are effective personal branders, but they're really not doing anything but annoying people with their "look at me!" practices.

Recently, I had a chance to connect with Kaputa again for a recent Gannett/USA Today column on females rising in the executive ranks. She has a new book, "The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business," and I wanted to share some of the information with you.

In the book, Kaputa has several "brainstormers", and one is called "SWOT Analysis." It goes like this:

Strengths: Write down anything that you are good at and love to do, or what your boss or clients give you high marks on.
Kaputa advises females to examine several female aptitudes she lists in her book, such as empathy, language ability, team leader and collaboration. She says women should use these to see what strengths they possess.

Weaknesses. Write down what you're terrible at and hate to do, or what your boss and friends criticize you for.

Opportunities. This is wide open, Kaputa says. Write down anything that could be an opportunity for you. A key is to look for unmet or unsatisfied needs that you could capitalize on.

Threats. Write down what keeps you awake at night, whether real or imagined, about yourself, your career or your business.

Notes Kaputa in her book: "None of us works in a vacuum, just as none of us works on a completely level playing field. But understanding and leveraging our strengths against the needs and perceptions in the career landscape will help us build a powerful personal brand identity.

After all, no matter who you are, your brand reputation arrives before you do. Either you have a personal brand identity that people are aware of or they draw a blank."

How have you determined your personal brand identity?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are You Afraid to Take a Vacation This Year?

Are you afraid to take a vacation this year?

The answer may depend on how secure you feel with your job right now. But if a recent study is any indication, the answer may be that instead of hauling your butt to the beach, you're going to make sure it's glued to your office chair.

According to a recent Towers Perrin survey of 650,000 workers, fewer people are "seriously considering" leaving their job: 71 percent reported they're not looking for work right now, up from the 64 percent recorded last year. Clearly, workers aren't messing with what they've got, whether they like it or not. They know the job market is tough, and they're hunkering down.

How is this impacting the way employees work? Looks like it means they're giving up some work/life balance -- and not complaining about it. While 55 percent of workers said they could balance work and personal responsibilities (down from 62% last year), the report found that "increased anxiety about work/life balance doesn't appear to be a function of a change in company policies."

Specifically, the study found that 70 percent of employees say their work schedules give them enough flexibility to meet personal and family needs, which is just about what it was last year.

"This suggests," the report says, "employees can't, or won't, take advantage of the flexibility they do have and may be putting pressure on themselves to work longer hours, whether to deal with expanded workloads, help overtaxed colleagues or protect their jobs."

So, I ask again: Are you afraid to take a vacation this year?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Procrastination Thriving in Stressful Workplace

I'm always impressed when I watch a movie like "Apollo 13" where people under enormous stress perform really well. That doesn't usually happen for me.

There have been a lot of frantic, stressful days in my life, and sometimes by the end of the day I realize I didn't get enough done and feel really frustrated, or angry or depressed. Sometimes I feel all three.

Dr. Neil Fiore says I'm not alone. A psychologist and productivity guru, he says that the increasing stress of our daily lives, combined with anxiety about the state of the economy, has contributed to our loss of motivation.

The author of "The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play," Fiore says people have gotten into the bad habit of saying "I have to get the project done" instead of "I'm going to get the project done."

“By saying, ‘I have to’ instead of ‘I choose to’ or ‘I’m going to,’ you really increase your stress levels,” he says. "Replace "I have to get this overwhelming project done" with 'I am choosing to START on one part for 15 minutes with plenty of guilt-free play on my schedule.' You then avoid both stress and anxiety. Anxiety is stuck energy trying to get into the imaginery 'future','done' or 'finished' place."

Fiore says that while we’ve all heard of the “flight or fight” response to stress, a third component is “freeze.” That means that people who are confronted with a possible layoff, or have already lost their jobs, may find that they’re shifting into a “wait and see” mode, procrastinating on doing anything about their careers.

“It’s part of our survival mechanism. When you have a broken leg, your body will tell you to lie still. That’s what is happening to a lot of people right now. They’re just staying still, trying to figure out what is going on,” he says.

Fiore offered some tips to those of us struggling with these issues:
  • Notice your immediate, "default" reactions -- your most frequent thoughts, feelings, and impulsive reactions -- to stress and pressure. Take a few days to identify which reactive habits you need to update to fit with your current vision, abilities, values and challenges.
  • Remember how you felt when you helped a friend cope with a stressful or heart-breaking event. You observed their problem from a distance and shifted to the role of a compassionate, wise counselor. Do this for yourself and experience the freedom of observing old habits and thoughts without having to identify with them.
  • Play and work consistently at your personal best by connecting to the rest of your brain and body -- when you feel like a Tiger Woods, a Danica Patrick or an Oprah Winfrey. Begin performing at levels far beyond what the ego knows how to do. Integrate all parts of you into the grander whole that is your strongest self.
  • Notice how self-criticism and telling yourself "you have to" lead to stress and anxiety. Get ride of self-threats.Tell yourself: "Regardless of what happens, I will not make myself feel bad. I will not let any event or person determine my worth."
  • Communicate to your mind and body a clear image of when, where, and on what to work, and you'll significantly improve your productivity. "Pour the foundation at 9 a.m. Wednesday at 322 Garfield Ave." is clearer than "You have to finish construction on this house by next month."
  • Change "I don't know" to "I wonder what will come to me." Watch for the surprise as the creative side of your brain starts working to bring you from "not knowing" to "knowing."

What are some ways you avoid procrastination or keep yourself motivated?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Does LeBron James' Behavior Say About the Workplace?

LeBron James didn't shake hands.

For those of you who don't follow professional basketball, James is a forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He left the court without shaking hands with the Orlando Magic players when they beat his team in the NBA playoffs.

This all happened two weeks ago and you might think the issue should have died down by now, especially after James said that he had sent a congratulatory e-mail to a Magic player after the game.

James explained that he didn't want to shake hands after getting beat up so bad. Bill Walton, a Hall of Fame center and NBA broadcaster, told the Wall Street Journal that he understood the sentiment. He said that it takes a lot of hard work to get the playoffs and, "When it doesn't work out, it's very difficult to put on a smiley face and say everything is great."

Welcome, Mr. Walton and Mr. James, to what other people experience at work every day.

While James makes millions of dollars playing basketball, there are plenty of other people who work just as hard in their jobs and don't make one-tenth of what he makes every year. Right now, employees are putting up with an awful lot in their jobs -- doing the work of three people, being forced to take unpaid furloughs and seeing their 401(k)s dwindle -- and they still put a smile on their face and go to work every day. Maybe they don't get the raise or promotion they wanted, but they have enough grace and smarts to respectfully acknowledge someone who does.

That's one of the reasons I think James' behavior has generated so much controversy. It's not just that he did something we're taught is wrong from the first moment we kick a ball or swing a bat, it's that he disrespected the hard work of someone else. And right now -- well, right now, we all are being subject to more of that than we should.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Healthcare Reform: It Starts With My M&M Jar

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I have trouble controlling my M&M addiction, especially when I'm working. Computer eats my story? Time for an M&M. Editor loves my story? Time for two M&Ms.

It's tough to stay healthy at work. I mean, the stress is what drove me to my M&M problem in the first place. I've even contemplated looking into a 12-step M&M recovery program, but then I have to have a red M&M just to think about it (the red ones actually boost brain power...the green ones are for when I need to power down and just think about life).

That's why I was so interested in a story about how work can help you get healthy. Seriously? With the bagels and cream cheese for the Monday morning meeting, the double chocolate cake for a co-worker's birthday and the endless hours sitting in a cushy chair staring at a computer screen? Healthy at work? I grabbed a new bag of M&Ms and prepared to make some calls.

I talked to Roy and Diane Morrison, some really nice folks who shared their story about how Vought Aircraft Industries' wellness program has made such a difference in their lives. Roy admitted that his expanding waistline had made it a bit difficult to perform some of his carpentry duties for the company, and Diane, his wife, said she always wanted to get healthier, but Roy wasn't too interested.

But then Vought launched a major wellness initiative a couple of years ago, focusing not just on improving the health of its aging workforce, but also on improving the health of the employee's family. Company officials were upfront about the fact they're looking to save money -- the National Coalition of Health Care says the annual premium for an employer health plan covering a family of four averaged nearly $12,700 last year -- but they also want their company to stand out as a great place to work.

For the Morrisons, jumping on the wellness bandwagon at work meant more than improving Diane's diabetes or helping the couple lose weight and eat better. They have an adult daughter with cerebral palsy.

“The doctors said that we would have to institutionalize her,” Roy explained.“We told them that we would give her the care that she needed.”

Still, with his wife Diana’s diabetes and bad back, and Roy ready to celebrate his 59th birthday this summer, the couple knew changes had to be made if they wanted to fulfill their wishes for their daughter, who often must be lifted.

“We have to be in good shape for her,” says Diana, 54, who has lost 57 pounds in the last year and improved her blood sugar levels. She says she often uses Vought’s online wellness education and support, and Vought wellness coordinators even call her periodically to check in.

Vought's program is extensive. Among its offerings: health risk screenings, financial incentives for improved health, on-site exercise equipment, healthier food choices at work and a host of support and education for employees and their families. CEO Elmer Doty has lost 50 pounds and the top brass has been educated about how they can use their leadership to improve the lives and health of the company's 6,500 employees in seven locations across the U.S.

Still, it's not always easy. Says Diana: “The whole process has really been more mental. Every day is a choice. Some days are harder than others, and sometimes you fall. I have fallen, but you have to get back up."

As President Obama and members of Congress begin pounding out healthcare reform, I can't help but think about people like the Morrisons and companies like Vought. Better health and better healthcare is something I believe we all want, and just like the Morrisons, I have people I care about. I want to be around to help when needed.

Work is very stressful for many of us right now. But just like Diana Morrison said, you have to realize that every day is a choice. Today, I choose to put down my M&Ms. And I'm not going to think about that leftover cheesecake in the fridge....

Do you have any tips to share about staying healthier at work?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Success Factor: Meat Loaf and Donald Trump

John Eckberg is a business columnist at the Cincinnati Enquirer and gets to interview some real movers and shakers in this world, including Larry Bossidy, Deepak Chopra and Sean "Diddy" Combs. He's put together some very interesting stuff in his new book, "The Success Effect: Uncommon Conversations with American's Business Trailblazers."

As he says in his introduction: "My style as a business reporter is to ask people questions about issues that appeal to me...Sometimes after working up a story from a particularly interesting interview, I would save the tape and drop it into my desk drawer. I wondered, was there a book in my desk drawer?"

Yes, there was. And it's filled with loads of details from some of these great minds, even such quirky details as what books are on their nightstand, what CDs they listen to and favorite foods. I asked Eckberg recently about his book and the people he interviewed.

1.Times are tough in the American workplace today. People are under a lot of stress because they fear they may lose their jobs, and it can be difficult for managers to keep them engaged and productive. Can you provide an example from your book of a leader (or two) who provides some great advice in keeping workers motivated and engaged?

Tami Longaberger started out as a cashier at her father’s grocery store in a small town in Ohio. Eventually, her father found that quality baskets created by craftsmen had immense appeal among Midwesterners and the company grew to become the largest collection of artisans in the nation. But even Longaberger Baskets have seen some challenges and Tami recalled her father’s words during downswings. It’s a simple mantra:Do Something. Don’t just wait for a change to come, make the change happen. Try something different. Don’t wait for times to change. Take steps to bring changes.

Motivating workers has always been a challenge for achieving companies, organizations and teams as inspired workers must feel a sense of ownership. Also there’s this: Tom Kelley of IDEO points out that mandates from the top or from managers are not nearly as effect as “invitations.” You must “invite” people to innovate. He says in the book: “Let people know it’s okay to do this. You cannot force creativity; much of management is getting out of the way and giving people permission, literal or figurative, to do something that’s a little bit weird, a little bit off the norm. There are very few companies in America that get this. It’s an incredibly powerful tool. It gives vision and it gives power.”

2. There are many job seekers right now who feel really hopeless, like their career is over and they don’t know what to do. Who is a leader who had great failure in their career and overcame it to be successful? How did they do it?

I think NBA legend Oscar Robertson is a great example. Let’s face it, even the best basketball players in the world miss a majority of their shots. But they don’t stop shooting. And after Robertson left basketball – arguably he’s the best player to have ever played the game – the world of business was not an easy transition.

One of his company’s went into bankruptcy reorganization but came out immediately thereafter. Still financing was a challenge. Robertson said: “You need the business and you need the financing but which comes first. I started a little company where I was selling meat to the military. I went to the bank and the bank said Oh, this isn’t going to work. I told the guy, look, do you know how much meat the military buys every day? The thing is, if I’m making five, six or 10 million bucks, I don’t need the bank. It’s when you have market projections and business ideas, that’s when you need the bank.”

Today his Orchem has a product line that uses enzymes to remove stains from clothing and the same “green” product cleans grease from kitchens and from municipal sewer lines. It wasn’t easy for Robertson to achieve success and he had a name recognized all over the world. So, if it’s not easy for him, it’s going to be even more difficult for everybody else. People need to persevere and keep a good attitude about their likelihood of success.

Rick Malir, founder of City Barbeque, a chain of 10 barbeque restaurants in Ohio, has this notion about failure and what people can learn from it. Most folks who fail “Don’t know how to buy an alarm clock. And there’s attitude…getting great people is the key. In the beginning, I was too soft and wanted to be everybody’s friend, that we could have a utopian society. But I found you have to have standards. We don’t allow people to berate their employees. We don’t allow our people to berate the suppliers. We don’t get angry. We don’t shout. We try to be firm. We try to be fair.”

3. What is something these leaders have in common that you feel was critical in them becoming so successful?

I have a saying that you haven’t lost the game until you quit. These people, most of them anyhow, have an immense reserve of pluck, will and desire. Call it grit. Call it stick-to-it-ness. Call it tenacity. They just don’t know how to give up. I call it the GO FIGURE factor.
* Observant.They are acutely observant about how people commit, but not just commit to buy something…they know how to get people to commit to groups, initiatives, companies and efforts.
* Fun. These people are Fun, usually, and that’s important because we spend so much of our lives at work, that most people want to spend time working with and working for somebody who is fun.
* Inventive. They are immensely Inventive and see opportunities that the rest of us don’t notice.
*Gracious.It’s not often thought of as an important trait but I think it may be the most important attribute. Having manners and being gracious tends to compel people to want to give you their labor. You can get work from people with a paycheck but for a person to offer their labor, well, that’s something else. And people are more likely to offer their labor to somebody who is courteous.
* Unsatisifed.Successful people are usually unsatisfied with what they’ve achieved and always want more.
* Resourceful. Successful people are creative about how to achieve market share and their intelligence will usually open up new pathways.
* Execute. Finally, they have strategies for individuals and teams and they know how to make those strategies work. Put it all together, it’s the G.O. F.I.G.U.R.E. factor.

4.What do you think upcoming leaders of today need to learn from them?

Nobody who is successful in any endeavor is successful because something just happened to them. Sure, sometimes luck is involved but it’s like the old saying, the harder I work, the luckier I get. One thing leads to another is another good saying….but first you have to do one thing. Figuring out what that one thing is going to be is usually the hardest thing for people starting out on careers to get their arms around.

And another notion of mine that people should be sensitive to is that of a career pivot point. I believe there are moments, many of them, actually, in lives when an opportunity is presented but it takes a shift of perception to realize it. Careers are almost always stairways and those stairways have landings. The landing is the pivot point. Knowing when you are at a landing and when it’s time to pause, reflect, recharge and then press onward upward, that’s what people need to look for and work for, I think.

5. Of all those you interviewed, who inspired you the most and why?

I love the story of Bob Robinson and Kaivac. He as a frustrated mechanical engineer in a small town north of Cincinnati called Hamilton who was working maybe 18 hours, night and day, at his father-in-law’s cleaning products company. A division he managed and started that cleaned grocery store floors had flamed out – basically, Robinson would show up after closing hours with a floor burnisher and try to get the floors cleaned before the store opened the next morning…one night his machine broke, the store manager chewed him out immensely and Robinson realized the abuse that people take from vendors, but that’s another story….Anyhow, he realized that the toughest challenge for all commercial buildings is the lavatory. They’ve been filthy places since the time of King George. And innovation, well, that was the rag on the stick and it happened about the same time as King George, too.

So Robinson set out to solve the problem of dirty bathrooms. He had an idea that a pressure washer, chemical dispenser and vacuum on one unit was the way to go….and after many sleepless nights and much trial and error, he created a company that manufactured these units and sells them from Hamilton. More than 100 people are employed.

Now when he flies into cities, Robinson looks down at the rooftops of buildings below and thinks Kaivac, Kaivac, Kaivac….one in each building. He’s expanded to the company into cleaning to remove the germ. This is a niche that is as big as the Grand Canyon and it started with one guy doing something nobody else had done before – solving the problem of how to quickly clean lavatories. I love the story of Kaivac and the will of Robinson to achieve.

6. What was the weirdest bit of information you collected and from whom?

"The Success Effect" has this little quirky thing going on in it where I ask people to go look in their CD changers at home and tell me what CDs are there. Also, what books are on the nightstand, too.

So the book has Donald Trump in it, who started his real estate empire in Cincinnati with an 1,600 unit apartment complex that was half empty (why would his father, already a real estate mogul, give a son a dog of an apartment complex in Cincinnati that was about to go belly-up for a graduation gift, that’s a question I’ll ask Mr. Trump the next time I talk to him)anyhow, the strangest thing I learned in this book was that Mr. Trump’s favorite meal is meat loaf. And for dessert it’s cherry-vanilla ice cream….

Who’d a thunk it?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Is Stress Making You Want to Kiss Your Job Goodbye?

For me, one of the great things about Twitter is that is allows me to learn more about what people experience at work every day. It's sort of like being an invisible Spiderman, without the goofy costume. I feel like I can jump from cubicle to cubicle across the world, being a fly, er, spider on the wall.

One of the things I know for sure -- from following people on Twitter and from interviewing them -- is that there is a lot of stress in the workplace. People are overwhelmed by the demands of their job, even though they try and put a positive spin on it: "Wow! Just got a new deadline! Anyone want two tickets to the big concert tonight?" goes a typical Tweet.

Heather Blume asked me if I was hearing that more people who already had jobs were actively looking for work. The stress in current jobs, she said, was really getting to them and she had several people a week asking her if she knew of other positions. That was pretty interesting considering the job market is so tough right now and not expected to improve for a couple of years.

So I called Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at Florida State University, who spends a lot of time studying the workplace. He was not surprised to hear how many people were willing to leave jobs -- even entire careers -- and join the job hunt.

“A lot of people just don’t have anything to look forward to anymore,” Hochwarter says.“They can’t even look forward to retirement, because they’re going to have to work longer now. Most people haven’t gotten a raise in years. They’re doing the work of five people now, and they just think: ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

Blume hears a lot of personal despair every day as she does her job as a Seattle-based recruiter specializing in property management for Career Strategies Inc.

“In the last month or so, I’ve had three or four people a week tell me – on the down-low – that they’ve got to get out of their jobs. It used to be I heard this maybe once a month. Now people are asking me if I’ve got anything for them – they say they’ll take anything to get away from the stress of what they’re doing now,” she says.

While Blume says she doesn’t “poach” from other companies, that doesn’t mean she’s not sympathetic to their plight and will quietly put out “feelers” to try and help them make job contacts. One 20-year-veteran of property management recently told Blume that her job was “eating her soul.” Another said she was looking for contacts in “restaurant work” because she was so burned out and wanted to leave the industry where she had built a successful career.

She adds that those seeking work are at all levels. “I tell them to sit tight, or to think about going back to school,” she says. “But if you’re miserable, it’s hard.”

I decided to call David Benjamin, who often posts comments to this blog and someone else I follow on Twitter, and ask what he was experiencing as a recruiting manager for The Sales Matrix in Detroit. What levels of stress was he seeing?

He noted that while he hears the despair and frustration in the voices of salesmen who are out of work, he also notes that those who are still employed “just don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Salesmen hear ‘no' in this economy a lot more,” Benjamin says. “It just wears on you and beats you down. It ‘s such a grind, such a challenge.”

In a study by Hochwarter, he found that 55 percent of bosses have become more demanding of current workers and more than 70 percent of employees say the recession has increased stress levels at work.

“I’ve never been a big believer that we’ve got good managers, and now with this economy, they’ve lost whatever humanity they had,” Hochwarter says. “They know that they’ve got to meet goals or they start chopping heads. Managers really don’t know what to do during a time like this. We haven’t prepared them for anything like it.”

What do you think the impact of this economic downturn and current job market will have on workers?