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42nd Street – Tap Dancing Into Your New Career

A Podcast of this blog post is available at http://bit.ly/iq5aRC

What does the musical 42nd Street have to do with a business blog about career moves?  Everything!  As a quick primer, 42nd Street the Musical is based on a movie of the same name from 1933.  It’s a play within a play in that all the casting and rehearsals are the scenes of a fictional 1932 Broadway play called Pretty Girl.  Recall that 1932 was the beginning of the depression and here we are in 2011 still oscillating with our current recession.

Though the economic times are similar, that is merely the backdrop of why I am blending the musical with business.  I recently attended a local community theatre opening night performance of 42nd Street.  I was utterly amassed that they could find 29 local actors that could tap dance, since almost all of the numbers involve serious tap dancing.  I leaned over and whispered this to my wife and she said that most of them likely learned to tap for the show.  This is at least true of one of the male leads who credits the choreographer with teaching him to tap. The frequent cheers and applause during the show, and the standing ovation at the end, was well-earned by the energy, passion, and outstanding singing, acting, and dancing.

So how did the producer and casting director pick the actors during the auditions?  Was it because they could tap dance?  Not likely.  It must have been their theatrical accomplishments, competencies, and passion for the role.  The choreographer/producer made the assumption she could teach them to tap if they brought forth the core talent to perform. Because of the casting choices and excellent directing and training, the audience thoroughly enjoyed the singing, acting, and tap dancing of every cast member and their collective ensemble stage presence. 

Now contrast this with the current methodology many companies are using today as they seek to audition a candidate for employment.  The job requirement often lists 10 things the candidate must have and if a candidate doesn’t possess all of the requirements, they are often excluded from moving forward in the hiring process.  In the pre-recession days of scarce resources, those 10 requirements would have been divided into Must-Have’s and Nice-to-Have’s with about a 50/50 split.  With an abundance of people in the job market, some recruiters and hiring managers are insisting on all 10 without applying weighting factors.  Are they seeking to hire the best overall employee for the company or one that can identify with the current needed skill?

Imagine if the choreographer chose only those that could tap dance.  Would that have produced the excitement and passion that thrilled me the other night?  Is tap that popular these days?  Or did she pick the best actors that had proven they could sing and had dance talent and then assume that a few weeks of intense tap dance training would create an outstanding cast?  Would I have enjoyed great tap dancing at the expense of stage presence, singing strength, or acting ability?

How many candidates possess that stage presence, functional strengths, a progressive record of outstanding accomplishments, and core professional competencies, but are minus one learnable skill?  If the one learnable skill was absent from the requirement, would these same candidates be much better employees in the long run and bring sustained success to the company. Are these companies hiring for that one next assignment or hiring people for a career that will provide year over year value to customers and increase shareholder value?

I have been spending more time networking recently and have met many intelligent and motivated people who are seeking a new career opportunity.  They often talk about the one thing that excluded them from becoming an employee of their targeted company.  I can’t help but wonder if the person chosen over them was really a better addition to the people equity of that firm. Over a cup of coffee, I had the privilege to experience tremendous strengths and passion they could have used to make a difference in value creation for that company.  Would the company acquire a more loyal employee by taking the risk and investing a small amount of time for that person to “hit the ground running” a few weeks out?  Or have they hired the sub-optimal candidate that can “hit the ground running”, but then head in the wrong direction really quick?

The challenge to acquire that next employee in this recession recovery period is the responsibility of both candidates and employers.  The candidates need to prove they are active learners and can demonstrate this with recent skill acquisition and demonstrated active learner behaviors.  The employers need to evaluate the accomplishments and competencies of the candidates and assume that a missing skill is one training event away.  Given these assumptions, every employer has a golden opportunity to hire proven, accomplished, and talented people who will leverage new skill training into success for their customers and shareholders.

Candidates – step up to the challenge to prove you are an agile and active learner.  Employers – step up to the challenge to hire your best next employee.  After all, you will end up spending more time with them during the work week than you will with your family or friends! 

“Come and meet those dancing feet on the avenue I’m taking you to… 42nd Street.”

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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Talent Acquisition

 

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A Death in the Giro d’Italia and Corporate Social Consciousness – Compassionate Competition?

 A podcast version of this blog is available at http://bit.ly/l3F3dd

Cyclist Wouter Weylandt died after a crash on a mountain decent in Stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia.  I imagine that many reading this blog will wonder why this is the lead paragraph in an otherwise business blog.  What happened next in the Giro should be what we expect from our corporate behaviors.  Allow me to set the stage for our collective reflection with a few important facts about the event.

      • The Giro d’Italia is one of three Grand Tours of cycling. 
      • There are 21 stages over 23 days totaling 2189 miles.
      • This year is the 94th year of competition and coincides with the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. 
      • The event is contested by 23 professional teams each consisting of 9 members for a total peloton of 207 riders at the beginning of the race. 

Professional cycling is big business and the Giro is a major international event, so lots of revenue and operating expense are at stake. Given that, take a moment and recall how your company responded to the tragic death of one of their key employees.  Was it to mention the event at the beginning of a meeting, ask for thoughts for the family, and then move onto to the agenda for the day?

Weylandt’s death was tragic and had a profound impact on all of the cyclists.  It’s what happened on the next stage that sets a challenge for all of us in our highly competitive corporate world, where winning is everything, and damn those that would slow our pace towards that victory.  Weyland’s parents and finance flew in and met with his Leopard Trek team the evening of the crash.  The team then met with each of the 22 competing teams and collectively changed the following stage into a funeral cortege instead of the planned competitive race.  In effect, the race was neutralized for this stage with no team or rider gaining or losing any advantage.

The pageantry normally preceding the start of the stage was canceled.  Weylandt’s Leopard Trek team bus was brought to the starting line and each of the 9 members of the 22 competitor teams rode by single file to pay respect to Weylandt and his team. His team then lined up side by side at the starting line with black arm bands while taps was played and the procession started.  Each team took turns pacing the peloton for 10 kilometers, and then rotated to the back of the peloton to allow the next team it’s turn at the front, for the entire 200 kilometer stage. On a day when competition would have been intense, the peloton stayed together as one single body through the corridor of muted applause that greeted them along the way. 3km from the finish line, race leader David Millar finished his team’s pace-setting, and he waved Weylandt’s Leopard Trek teammates to the front and together they rode 10 meters ahead of the rest of the peloton. In a touching moment, Weylandt’s close friend Tyler Farrar was invited to join the Leopard Trek riders as they crossed the finish line arm in arm with tears in their eyes.

Where else could this happen?  I’m trying to think of a different sporting event suspending competition and working together in remembrance of one of their sport.  Now try to think about this happening in our corporate landscape. Imagine a bidder’s conference where all the competing firms agreed to suspend their pursuit efforts for one or more days, instead replacing it with a conference that all the firms attend.  Possible topics could be employee wellness or engagement.  Maybe because I’m writing this on Memorial Day with all the imagery of the day forefront in my mind is this creating such a challenge for me?  I know my CSC colleagues would stand arm in arm if such a tragic death happened to one of our corporate teammates, but I sense this behavior is becoming extinct in the recession induced management style that treats employees as transactional and fungible assets of the corporation.   

There are many examples where corporations compete in friendly events such as the Wall Street Walk/Run, Susan B Komen Run, and the MS Rides to name a few.  These are excellent examples of corporations competing for fun and charity.  But can that spirit move back inside the board room and create a compassionate corporate competition? Recall the scene from Miracle of 34thStreet when the Santa Claus at Macy’s sends a customer to Gimbels, their arch rival in NY.  As the press picks up on this, two arch rivals compete for which brand cares more about their customers than short-term seasonal profits, with the Macy’s customers telling Macy’s management of their future loyalty for such an unselfish act during the holiday season. Fairy tale Compassionate Competition? Maybe, but who reading this blog doesn’t recall that scene and wonder what if….? 

Imagine any new RFP containing a requirement that the bidding company would need to demonstrate and commit to Corporate Social Consciousness as a weighting factor in the selection criteria.  Imagine a company that requires Corporate Social Consciousness as a key measurement for their employee’s performance management process and backs this up with time away from normal job responsibilities.   

If you could make a difference in your company’s culture and enable your firm to compete on the hypothetical Corporate Social Consciousness requirement of a future RFP, how much more business could be won?  How would this create a market pull for the best of the best future employees?  What members of your business or social community would benefit? How proud would you be of being a member of a successful and compassionate company?  Commit to be a Compassionate Competitor and stand steadfast in that resolve to brand your company with the leadership that comes not only from industry success but also from proactive responses to tragic events and enabling Social Consciousness in the lives of those on your team and those with which you compete.   

Universal Sports was thoughtful enough to make a brief 3 minute YouTube available for you to experience this first hand. The power of this video clip comes at the end, please watch all the way through.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkJw1s0vvek.  

Please come back at me with comments on this blog since I fully recognize it suggests corporate behaviors and commitments that vary widely from the norm.

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Intentional Courage – Creating a Culture of Courage Leadership

This blog is now available as a Podcast. Down load and play in your mp3 player when time permits http://bit.ly/inaxcC

In a previous blog, I challenged you to “extend Trust to others” as an intentional action instead of waiting for enough experiences and behaviors to accumulate to allow that person into your trust circle.  Extending Trust requires Intentional Courage, and all too often that doesn’t happen since the risk of moving out of our comfort zone demands more than we are willing to commit. We gravitate to media accounts of people displaying extraordinary courage, often as a result of a catastrophic event or on the field of combat.  These Reactive Courage behaviors enable that person to achieve what might have seemed to be improbable results, and we stand in awe.

Courage Makes Your Leadership Visible

In the business world, we gravitate to leaders that display confidence and self-assurance.  My sense is that their success has resulted from a series of Intentional Courage actions, but these leaders are the exception to the rule.  In a Gallup Management Journal study on Overcoming Barriers to Success, fear was the first barrier cited, and the one most difficult to overcome.  We face fear when giving a presentation to a senior executive or key customer, informing a customer about a mistake or delay in schedule, or delegating an important task to a more junior person instead of doing it ourselves.  In each instance, the action needs to happen, and approaching it with Intentional Courage instead of fear can create dramatic differences in outcomes for all parties.

Business leaders face tough decisions frequently. Most of the time, they face a decision between an easy but poor choice versus the difficult but good choice. Those who succeed and become better and more assured leaders are those who can reach deep down inside and consistently act on the hard but right decision. They display courage that is highly visible to the organization.  Those behaviors in turn create an environment where courage is rewarded and pulls along others in the organization, creating an organizational competitive advantage.

We live in a business world where change is the norm.  Yet needed change of direction can be inhibited by the fear of changing course from the comfort of the current.  Strong leaders look forward, see where they need to go, make their plans, communicate with their teams and execute.  Intentional Courage illustrated.

I’ve started to access specific actions I have taken during the week that demanded Intentional Courage instead of just going with the status quo.  These daily and weekly scorecards create a set of metrics that guide me in what I must do to change outcomes, absorbing the risk of change to gain the benefit of greater success. Intentional Courage in business is a necessary behavior to achieve dramatic results, and can be good practice area for the larger and more demanding domain of Moral Courage that envelops all of the roles that we inhabit during our lifetime.  I’ll conclude with an extract from Robert Kennedy’s 1966 address to the University of Capetown.

“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the world which yields most painfully to change.”

Through each of our intentional actions, we can change outcomes in our business, our personal lives, and possibility the world around us.  It’s our choice to make.  Make it with Intentional Courage.

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Posted by on May 16, 2011 in Leadership, LinkedIn, Trust

 

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Oversimplifying and Under Thinking – Is Social Media the Cause or the Cure?

(This blog is available as a podcast – http://bit.ly/kRCvdE)

When exactly did it become fashionable to Oversimplify and Under-Think important political, industry, financial, or education decisions?  More importantly, when did we as consumers of these poorly constructed solutions accept this as the new norm from what are alleged to be leaders in their respective fields? Whether your interests are the current political climate, corporate decisions on products and social responsibility, Wall Street’s influence on our economic health, or government policies on education, there are ample examples of decisions that don’t meet the standards of being well thought through or deal with the complexity of the problem.

As I’ve started to explore Social Media in greater depth the past few months, I’m trying to discern whether these new communication forums are adding to our collective knowledge base or eroding the discipline necessary for focused research and critical thinking.  Traditional academic or vocational training requires a laser focus and a lengthy time commitment to instill and remember the key points and lessons.  Social media can be as simple as a Retweet or a Like button. 

Social Media has enormous potential to bring many people together for group think on an important topic, but all too often it seems to have been to Oversimplify the topic and Under-Think the communication.  If you are active on Twitter, count the number of non-annotated Retweets you receive from someone you follow versus how many are original thoughts or media references.  The ones I value most are those that are original thought or make an introductory remark about a referenced URL they include.  This implies they have read and understand the material and believe their followers would find it valuable.  Blindly retweeting something tends to Oversimplify the communication. 

I know that some of you reading this blog are thinking that I have Over-Thought this Social Media issue. The prevailing belief is that Social Media is meant to be a stream of thoughts, and let the reader triage through all the Smart Phone hits or TweetDeck updates.  We have a real opportunity with Social Media that may not be realized if we don’t think through how we push information out to our followers.  

With Social Media, we can transform the traditional push model of learning into a pull model. Pull models treat people as networked innovators who are uniquely positioned to transform a problem into an opportunity. Pull models can be designed to accelerate knowledge building by participants, helping them to learn as well as innovate.  But that success is directly proportional to how much effort and thoughtfulness we put into the content that becomes pull available.  I’ve found this to be a delicate balancing act, since the instant gratification part of me wants to respond to each tweet or Facebook update, the structured part of me wants undivided time to itself to Think through the topic before pushing this content. 

Writing this blog is my self-imposed method of taking the Think approach, creating content that can be pulled by my followers.  They can then aggregate my thinking with others and produce a higher value content from which we can all learn and benefit.  As for my tweets, every so often I allow an Oversimplified and Under-Thought retweet loose on my followers.  Sorry about that. 

Try this approach yourself if you dare. You have the capacity to produce valuable content that can be pulled and leveraged to advance our collective learning. Then the promise of Social Media will be realized and we can all innovate the next frontier of communication and learning. 

Comments are welcome on this topic, as long as they are Thoughtful.

To learn more about Ed Becker, visit  http://www.linkedin.com/in/edbeckerprincetonnj

 

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Hello, I Must be Going – Employee Engagement in a Recovering Economy

I was surfing YouTube the other day and somehow came across a clip from one of my favorite Marx Brothers movies, Animal Crackers.  The scene is Groucho Marx as Captain Spaulding returning from a long “out of location assignment” carried into the “home office”.  Groucho’s character has been off in a foreign land with none of the comforts of his normal living arrangement. Upon his return to a lavish but transparent party to welcome him home he breaks out in song as only Groucho can do….  

“Hello, I must be going,
I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going.
I’m glad I came, but just the same I must be going.
I’ll stay a week or two,
I’ll stay the summer thru,
But I am telling you,
I must be going.”
 

That humorous scene from Animal Crackers (circa 1930) started me thinking this could soon be the outcome for some employers.  Employees will return from an arduous project or assignment, and because they have not felt engaged with their company, will quickly decide that they cannot stay and “must be going”, likely to a competitor.  For those too young to recall this scene (that ultimately become Groucho’s theme song), here’s a short YouTube version. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6yLRmo7CjU

The past two plus years of economic troubles have created a perception that companies needn’t worry about employee turnover and retention. The current thinking in some companies suggests that because of layoffs and downsizing all around, employees have stepped up, absorbed additional duties, and are satisfied with just having a job.  Recent articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal suggest that within the general employed population, there exists a desire to find other employment. These reports are reinforced with a survey by the human resource consulting firm Hewitt, which reported 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will “consider” or “actively look for” other employment as soon as the economy improves.  I’ve been on other webinars that suggest the number is far north of 50%. 

It doesn’t have to be this way.  I believe that enlightened corporate leaders emerge in times of economic distress.  Any corporate manager (note that I didn’t use the term leader) that believes that their employees are fungible assets and neglects the chance to engage them as the fabric of client satisfaction and revenue realization in tough times is short-sighted and creates an opportunity for a competitor with better employee engagement practices to leap-frog them in their industry.  

There are many things that an enlightened corporate leader can do to continue to engage their staff that has little corporate investment and here is a short list of a few

  • Communicating the company’s strategy and goals and providing a monthly dashboard for general distribution is a good first step. 
  • A sense of community makes a difference. Mitchell, Holtom, Lee, Sablunski, and Erez found that employees stay at jobs when they feel a sense of fit and connection with their coworkers, job, organization, and community.
  • Recognition for work and results well done is an opportunity to celebrate with the entire team and others not on the team for them to see what success looks like and create a yearning to be the next team recognized.
  • Development plans with teeth that support learning and development that can be leveraged for both greater client billings and individual career growth 

Employee engagement in times of economic uncertainty can demonstrate the company’s commitment to treat their employees as individuals and not simply fungible assets.  The marginal added cost of training and the no-cost communication from leadership teams can help to maintain the company’s most precious resource, their people.

Absent this behavior, some employers might be soon hearing…” Hello, I Must be Going” sometime soon. 

http://www.linkedin.com/in/edbeckerprincetonnj

 

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Smiles and the Virtual Office – Are Your Smile Muscles Atrophying?

I’ve discovered recently that I smile less now that I work virtually more of the time.  I was never a person that awoke each day determined to smile all day, but my smile frequency has clearly attenuated over the past few months.  Social media, email, blogging, and networking have been a wondrous communication spectrum with tons of information banging at my LCD screen throughout the day and night, but it doesn’t often cause a smile.  I’m concerned that my smile muscles may be atrophying. 

We have been visiting with a friend who has a 4 month old son and hang out with him when she needs time to be an adult.  This kid is a Human Smile Meter.  If I look at him or call his name, the sound causes him to peer in my direction.  But if I smile while doing this, he instantly gives me an ear to ear smile in return.  I now have access to a smile meter to help me exercise those lazy smile muscles back to full strength.

This has started me thinking of how many others may be suffering from this virtual-work smile apathy syndrome.  We often smile in our on-line communications by including a smiley emoticon.  Can you think of a time when you entered that emoticon and really weren’t exhibiting the accompanying smile?  I just read an article in the Washington Post that I find incredible but makes the point that we must not smile as much these days.  When getting a driver’s license in Virginia, you are not allowed to smile for the picture.  Apparently the agency is developing facial recognition software that compares your face over time to prevent fraud or other illegal practices.  This implies that you will be caught not smiling sometime in the future and that would mess up the recognition software.  So there you have it, a government agency banning smiles since we smile so little.  If you think I’m kidding, here’s the story, it actually generated a real smile for me when reading it.  http://tinyurl.com/qb5226.  I’m now searching for a webcam application for my laptop that would forbid me from tying a smiley face if it detects that I am not smiling.  If one doesn’t exist, anyone reading this with any technical ability might have a new product launch in their future.

I have adopted a new smile posture when out in public, smiling at more and more people.  The results are almost 100% that a smile is returned.  It can’t be that my face is so amusing or attractive to generate that return smile.  It must be the surprise that someone would smile at them for no good reason other than to create a happy thought.  Imagine the good feelings I could unleash in a short 30 minute walk around town.  I must try this once I can get my smile muscles back in shape for that challenge!

Take a few minutes the next time you are in work or out in public and try smiling at people.  If working remote or virtual office, exercise those smile muscles during the day.  The days are too long already and the lack of a smile quota will make them seem that much longer. This cute little innocent 4-month old boy has taught me what I seem to have forgotten, that smiles are always welcome and usually returned.  

Mother Theresa stated this best: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing”.  Plus it’s the most inexpensive way to change your looks.

This 🙂 is Real – Trust Me

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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in LinkedIn, Networking

 

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Social Capital – Affluence and Influence through Social Networking

My concept of Social Capital has evolved significantly over the past few months.  I have an extensive and far-reaching network at CSC, with many trusted colleagues and many of them have become lifelong friends.  It was an environment that was resilient to organizational changes.  It was nurturing and full of reciprocal behaviors that drove active learning and a powerful set of virtual teams. 

In the past few months, I have been exposed to a number of social networks that have provided significant social capital. A few months ago, I had a mere skeleton of a profile on LinkedIn and had not made any effort to establish or expand my network.  From a few baby steps a few months ago, the social capital of my networks has exploded.  I am experiencing the wealth and influence of being a contributing member of an expanding set of networks that includes my dear friends at CSC at the core, and now includes many others that I have not met before, and may never actually met in person. 

Farming and harvesting these social connections has increased the social capital of my network, and I believe that those that are new connections to me have gained added social wealth and influence as well.  This is an abundance, not a scarcity wealth system.  As I gain social wealth, it doesn’t come at the expense of someone else; in fact both of us gain wealth in the expansion of our collective networks.  And that wealth grows at a non-linear positive rate.  Early on, I was inviting people to join my network.  Now that I have established a fairly “rich” network, I am receiving invitations from others that may be from a distant past relationship or someone completely new.  Imagine how fulfilling it is to be a part of a social fabric that continues to gain wealth and influence as we collectively grow together.

In a previous blog, I spoke of Trust and its value in driving Results, Profits, and Values.   I now believe I can expand on that discussion since the core of social capital is trust.  My CSC friends exhibit “thick trust”, and using my “invest in trust approach”; I have a “thin trust” with many more connections.  The challenge will be to continually move those with thin trust to thick trust and replenish the thin trust pool with more new connections.   Those with thin trust are expected to engage in reciprocity, doing for others not with any immediate expectation of repayment. This kind of thin trust is especially valuable, since it lubricates social interactions and moves the total social network to a more trusted and therefore wealthier state. 

I challenge you to invest in your current social network, and further challenge you to stretch into the unknown and seek to expand that network.  My experiences to date have shown that you and I will gain social wealth and influence from the commitment.

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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in LinkedIn, Networking

 

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