ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Monday, April 01, 2013

Clients Moving Forward into new Careers

Clients Moving Forward Into New Careers

Changing professions can be both exhilarating and frightening.  For many people, the decision requires new learning.  For those afraid to take the plunge, continuing to study – to take courses – is a way to think you are moving forward, but really stalling out of either fear or lack of knowledge about how to get where you want to be going.

Let me tell you about a few people I’ve worked with recently who are in the process of making change – but seem stuck in the mud. They are each still studying” their options. 

1:       From bureaucrat to politician

A man, previously a government employee,  now running for political office knows he is not a marketing person, a writer, or knowledgeable about running his campaign.  He has already put his hat in the ring and spent the money necessary (not a trivial sum) to be a serious candidate. 

His next step is to prepare his ballot statement and the rest of his marketing materials, including his website.  He vacillates about spending the money (considerably less than he’s already spent) to get his ballot statement finished.   I feel like I’m playing yo-yo to his decision making process.  I’ve contracted to do this for him.  If he doesn’t move fast, he will lose the window of opportunity to get a statement on the ballot.

His vacillation is because he is still slightly afraid of taking the necessary leap.  Too, making the transition requires an expenditure of money.  If he spends it he is truly making the commitment – so he keeps vacillating.


2:       From Mom to Business Owner

I am in a partnership with a friend who was to be responsible for getting our website (for this project) up and running.  She could have hired an expert for about $2,000.00 and it would have been done in a month or two.  Instead, she has been “taking courses” (e.g. studying) to learn – I know not what – and so far has spent over $5,000.00 and almost two years time stalling – and our website still isn’t live.

This is a pattern for this woman, who through the years has studied to become several different professionals.  She gets the degree, the license, and then finds something else to entice her interest. 

3:       From Employee to Having Her Own Professional Practice

I spent some hours with a lovely well educated and experienced woman who didn’t think she was ready yet to launch her business.  Talking with her, I was sure she had all the knowledge and tools necessary.  She also had purchased her business license, had her fictitious business name legalized and published, and had plied her craft many many times under the supervision of others.

It was her lack of confidence in herself that held her back.  She was continuing to “take courses” (e.g. studying) to become more expert.  While it is wonderful to take classes to advance your skills, there is a point at which as one of the CEO’s I worked with said: “To freeze the features”.   Stop being frozen in fear – and move forward.

3:       Targeting the wrong target market

I’ve worked with two different physicians who, for different reasons, no longer practice medicine.  Both of these men continue to go to career advise classes, (studying) trying to learn where they should go next.

I spent only a few hours with each of them and we created a plan.

Dr. A – really wants to focus on alternative medicine, nutrition and health.  He now has made the commitment to go in that direction.

Dr. B – is really good with dealing with heavy emotional problems and internal conflict.  Instead of his prior thinking to break into the high tech community, where he has no credentials, we worked together and planned a marketing program for him to approach hospitals and large medical practices.

In both these cases, the doctors had been stuck in a rut of listening to career counselors who probably were poorly trained and lacking in good interviewing and listening skills.  They were “studying.”

Success is the maximum utilization
of the ability that you have.
Zig Ziglar

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Image - Image - Image

Image – Image – Image

Several of us had a conversation the other day about trying to help two people change their public images.  The other people in the conversation were well-intended friends of the man and woman needing (desperately needing) help.  My friends were trying out all kinds of indirect methods for approaching these people.  They were afraid to deal with the topic directly.

Since part of my consulting practice is to help those seeking professional growth, to look at their image and to make suggestions for improvement (I’ve even been known to go shopping with clients) I said, you need to be direct but use a warm and friendly manner. If you  tell these people that it would enhance their public image if they made slight changes in their grooming and manner of dress, they might be hurt for a second or two, but if they like you they will recognize that you are trying to help them and will be responsive to your help.

“Oh, we don’t want to hurt their feelings” was the surprised reply.  But, having worked with people for over thirty years, I know that if you are trusted and liked, you can be direct and honest.  It might hurt for a second, but is far less painful than being caught in levels of subterfuge. 

The moral of the story:  People are a lot stronger emotionally than we give them credit for – honesty with kindness – usually works well.


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Time Management for Executives

Time Management for Executives

I recently spoke to about 50 executives of Chambers of Commerce about managing their time, their clients, staff and volunteers.  Since the CEO of a Chamber MUST be focused on customer service at all times, it is somewhat difficult to manage interruptions.  Too often their time gets used up by the interruptions and they feel frustrated at the end of the day or week since they didn’t manage to get done what they needed to do.  This is true of course for most people in leadership positions.  My suggestions apply not only to Chamber executives but to all you executives who read this newsletter.

Some small suggestions:

·        Find a few hours during the day (maybe not every day) when you can close your door, leaving a message on it that you are deeply engaged in a project that demands your full attention and cannot be interrupted except for emergencies.  Of course you don’t need to say all that all the time.  Find some symbols and use them – after of course teaching people what they mean.  Some people use colored cards to say:

o   Emergency Only

o   OK if really important

o   I’m available, just knock

o   Open door – come on in

·        Do not answer your phone or e-mail during those times.

·        Put a message on your voice mail stating that you will return phone calls between X & Y times.

·        Delegate – delegate – delegate & delegate

·        Have staff members as supervisors to volunteers

·        Train volunteers and hold them accountable (yes, you can!)

·        Use Covey’s Four Quadrant’s to organize and prioritize

·        Give as much of the trivial stuff away as possible – e.g. delegate

·        Remember, you more you spend in Quadrant II (planning, organizing) the less you need to spend in crisis management.

My theme today seems to be becoming more effective in the workplace. 

Phone Consulting/Coaching

Since clients are now working all over the world, it has become difficult to meet with some of them face-to-face.  We’ve started a combination of e-mail and phone conversations.  Usually, my client first contacts me with a question via e-mail.  We then set up a time when we can be on the phone for an hour or so, and discuss the client’s needs. Of course, this isn’t as effective as being in the same room – but it does work.  Clients find it helpful, especially when they have an urgent problem they want my help solving.

So, if this works for you – we can arrange it.  Just get in touch.

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Building a Camel when You want a Horse: Too many people on the committee

Building a Camel when you wanted a Horse

We all talk about the value and virtues of team work.  But, what happens when a bunch of people all have to be satisfied  and any decision becomes watered down to please everyone?  There is something so different about getting input from those who have expertise or a stake in the project from everyone having to agree.  Trite expressions like “too many cooks spoil the broth” come to mind when too many people are actually involved in the decision itself.

Getting input from others is so valuable – but the fewer people involved in the actual decision, the better.  This is true about a great many things, including interviewing prospective new employees.

I’ve been involved in the process of being a finalist in contract negotiations watching the difference between organizations where someone in charge makes the actual decision, and organizations where the “team” or “committee” makes the decision.  In the later case, you have to please everyone and so the less outstanding or unique or controversial you are, the better off you are.  In the first case, the person or group hired is most often the best of the companies under consideration.

Compromise always – well, maybe almost always – yields something less than what is truly desirable.  The most obvious example of course is the decision to merge black and white and get unwanted gray.  

I can’t write this without recalling the young professional couple who compromised on the selection of their new car.  She wanted a station wagon (this was years ago) so she could transport a bunch of kids to all their activities.  He wanted a big red convertible as his gift to himself for becoming a successful professional.   They could have easily afforded both.  Instead they made a compromise and bought a four door sedan and neither was happy.

So, if you want a horse – a beautiful sleek thoroughbred – get an expert who knows how to build your horse, don’t have everyone in the building involved in adding their good ideas and watch the lumps start to form.

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Cutting Waste and Saving Money: Streamlining Systems

Cutting Waste and Saving Money

Many of us in both our public and private lives are looking for ways to save money.  For some, it means cutting out spending on things we want. These people talk about “tightening the belt.”  But I find that people waste money doing work or using things that are unnecessary.   By just working smarter they can save lots of money. I can think of lots of examples in our private lives – but since this is primarily a business/professional newsletter, I want to focus on what happens at work.

In some cases processes are redundant and time and money are wasted.  For example, in accounts receivable are you still taking an adding machine tape when your computer is adding things up for you?   Are you spending too many dollars to protect against the possibility of a one in a thousand problem?   Do you have more than one department working on the same tasks, not knowing what the other is doing?  Are you making it difficult for people to communicate with each other when they need to check in with each other frequently?  Are you providing your staff with bits and pieces of the information they need rather than giving them the whole information?  

Do you have endless unnecessary meetings?  Could some of these be eliminated?  Shortened? Less people needed to attend?

I ask you these questions because these are just some of the few things I learn when working to do process improvement – and make my clients more effective.

Not only my government clients, but some of my corporate clients also make the same mistakes. 

Another common mistake:  They hire someone to do a series of tasks, assuming that person will find the most effective and efficient manner in which to complete these tasks.  All too often the process used is far too cumbersome for the task at hand.

As I listen to the politicians blame each other and predict Armageddon if the government is forced to cut what the Wall St. Journal reported will be only 2.2% of the debt, I keep thinking, they ought to hire me and working with their staff, I could find ways to cut waste and probably save them over 10% of what their current costs are – without losing any service in the process.

I know this because I’ve made lots of positive changes to reduce waste with both corporate and government clients.

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Investigating an Allegation: Being careful and neutral

Investigating an Allegation

This is another topic about which I’ve written previously.  If I recall correctly, the last time was when an executive I knew was accused of creating a hostile work environment.  When I reviewed all the documents in the case, including all the interviews by the investigator, it became clear to me that the investigation was poorly conducted with the investigator looking only for those things that supported the allegations and rejecting any information that would support a finding of innocence, or mis-understanding.

When I do the investigation/evaluation, I take the time to do a thorough process and have saved several people’s jobs and helped to avoid several wrongful termination lawsuits by finding more realistic solutions to the problem (let the punishment fit the crime!)

It happened again recently.  Instead of due process, or even listening to the point of view of the person being accused, all people conducting the investigation parroted the information received by the first person (an amateur) who did the investigation.  Facts didn’t matter.  Truth didn’t matter.  A job was lost because of really poor investigation processes.

So, my advice again:  BE NEUTRAL.  Be prepared to listen to the reasoning of the person being accused.  Often the “crime” is merely a mis-understanding that can easily be corrected, or a mis-interpretation of the facts.  Don’t over-react.  Don’t be so sure that the beginning information is the complete story.  Don’t assume the worst.  BE NEUTRAL. Be careful.  Be thorough.  Give the people involved the benefit of the doubt and full due process.

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Meeting Management - time, place and people

Meeting Management

I’ve written about this before, but wanted to remind everyone that we all attend too many meetings and most aren’t worth our while.  So, here are a few tips for making your meetings more interesting and effective.

·       Pick the time of day, the location, and the length of the meeting in advance, taking into consideration what you are trying to accomplish. 

o   Brief morning meetings work best for informational topics and should be in a convenient location.

o   If you want to encourage team-building, trust, and interaction, have your meeting in a much more comfortable location, allowing plenty of time and offering tasty food at the meeting.

o   Consider a conference call, or just an e-mail information piece instead of a live meeting.

·       Agenda setting and keeping

o   When you plan your agenda, get input from others who might have important issues they want the group to address.

o   Pencil in the amount of time you will be giving each topic.  I was recently at a meeting where the CEO spent most of the 2 ½ hours talking about some interesting organizations she had met – which didn’t allow any time for the most important items on the agenda – oh, and the meeting was scheduled for 2 hours.

o   Make sure you prioritize the topics so that the important ones actually are given the time they require.

o   End with action items

·       Minutes timely and accurate

o   There are 2 schools of thought here.  One suggests very terse and tight minutes so that there is no room for lawsuits later.   

o   I believe minutes should be detailed because everyone needs to have information and reminders.  One solution – have terse official minutes and then an informational document that is newsy and unofficial.

o   Make sure minutes are distributed (e-mail is wonderful) within a week of the meeting about which they were recorded.  The reason for this is because people forget very easily.

o   People should be invited to make additions/corrections via e-mail prior to the next meeting.

o   Minutes should be distributed in hard copy (ok, I’m old-fashioned) at the next meeting for final review and approval.

·       Managing the People

o   Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone knew how to behave properly and cooperatively in a meeting…. But, they don’t.  Here are just a few of the problem types that need special handling.

o   The Bully – He or she insists on monopolizing the discussion – all the time.  It takes a strong meeting Chair or facilitator to get this person to give others an opportunity to talk – but that’s what has to be said.

o   The Off-topic person -   I find this person in almost every meeting or retreat I facilitate.  He or she has an important point that is totally irrelevant or inappropriate to the topic under discussion.  My solution – make sure to capture the essential topic that s/he suggests by putting it obviously on a flip chart or white board promising to come back to it later.  Make sure you do.

o   The Rambler – Sometimes the brightest and most creative members of the team go off on tangents or tell the same story over and over again.  This person needs to be gently reminded that s/he is taking too much time and if necessary being put on a timer.

o   The Silent One – Often the quietest one in the room is the most dangerous.  That person will later talk negatively to others “behind your back” and will cause trouble.  The solution is to get them to speak up and share their opinions during the meeting itself.

o   Voting with My Friend – How many times have you found someone votes just as their friend does, not wanting to hurt his/her feelings, rather than voting logically or rationally?   If it’s important to get true opinions, it might be the time for a secret ballot.

o   Yes Man/Ma’am – Whatever the boss wants, watch his/her face for clues and vote to earn “brownie points.”  The only way to handle this kiss-up is to keep a poker face and make sure your solicit everyone’s opinions before offering your own.


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Staying with Your Vision and Mission

Staying with your Vision/Mission

How do you – or your team members decide whether a project is a good idea or not for you?   All too often my clients (especially my association/non-profit clients) are asked to do something that doesn’t fit their mission but sounds good and certainly would be helpful to others – and so they say YES, when they should be saying “NO, Thank you.”

At a dinner party in my home one evening years ago, Bill was asked by another of my guests to contribute to her charity.  He responded, in his usual courteous manner, “Thank you for asking.  I’m sure it’s a worthwhile cause, but I’ve already selected those organizations I am supporting, and must respectfully decline.”

A careful analysis of your organization’s vision and mission are so essential to deciding where you will be spending resources  If it isn’t B.S. (as so many are) but a comprehensive and clear definition of who you are, why you are and how you are going to achieve your results, it is the guide to all project decisions.

There are so many wonderful projects – creative ideas – and new things to try.  BUT, are they where you should be spending your time.  Working with your teams to help them understand that saying “No, that’s not the right fit for us” is not an insult or being unkind – it is acting in the self-interest of your organization, allowing you to focus on areas that you do best and therefore are of most help to the people you choose to serve.

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