Monday, October 21, 2013

Everything's Perfect - Chapter Two

The following is a recounting of an actual situation, concerning a real person. I'll call him Bruce.

Bruce is in his early 30's and has been with his current company for about 5 years. Although experienced he started by accepting an entry level position in order to work his way into management, which he has done. Bruce knows his job and has been valuable to the company, not only by managing his own units which he is doing now but by "floating" - filling in as a temporary manager with other units when needed. 

Bruce's desire all along has been to become a district manager (DM). When his previous DM moved on, he applied internally but was passed over. This prompted him to start looking elsewhere in the same field.

There's nothing out of the ordinary so far in Bruce's story. He hung in there, moved up, and expressed interest in advancing even more - just what you'd expect from a young man making his mark.

Three weeks ago, Bruce got a call from one of the businesses that received his application when the last DM departed. He interviewed, negotiated an increase in salary and got the job. He starts next week.

Okay, good for Bruce. But, as they say, there's a bit more to the story.

As a manager, Bruce has largely been autonomous. He's far from the dullest knife in the drawer and consistently "makes his numbers."  So why didn't he get the DM job?

Editorial Note. I don't really know why. I do know the person, the business, and general situation, but I am making an educated guess as to why in order to make a point.

Bruce has a number of personality deficiencies, none huge but there are lots of them. So far when it comes to making his numbers, these limitations have not held him up. However when it comes to breaking though to the next management level, it's another matter. Here's a list of some of them. Note that as an autonomous manager, these "issues" are noticeable, irksome, and troublesome from a career standpoint ONLY when someone else in management is around or when they reach the point of a write up, which is unlikely as they are small and petty even if numerous.

  • Overly chatty and prone to drama
  • Lots of talking (gossiping) on the phone concerning company and personal business
  • Lacking professional boundaries in the form of needless and inappropriate chit chat with those not needing to know
  • Doesn't train others well (too concerned with self) 
  • Avoids conflict (afraid of being disliked)
  • Tendency to subtly pick favorites 

Bruce's idiosyncrasies have doubtlessly squeaked through to some of his employment evaluations - but probably to no great effect. It's more likely that he's rubbed a few people the wrong way during his 5 year stint, enough so, that his name doesn't appear on any promotional short lists. Furthermore, there's been weak leadership and many personnel changes over his tenure, making it unlikely any of his short-comings became any one supervisor's top priority. No 360 evaluation. No caring person in a mentor role.

But now Bruce is On His Way Out and Riding High. He's switched horses and received a raise. He's feeling good and telling everyone all about it, ad nauseam.

Bruce doesn't get it. He's asleep and seemingly oblivious to his limitations and irritating ways. To a degree, he's delusional. And if he did have reservations about some of his own issues? Well, getting the new job may be a big fat vindication - after all, they love him!

So onward he goes. If the new job is equally autonomous, what's going to change about Bruce? If there's someone watching him closely, he'll be written up in short order. Should this happen (and if he's lucky to have a strong but fair manager) he'll have a chance to make corrections. However these days, especially in his industry, strong managers / leaders, are in short supply.

Our best to Bruce.

Travel well.
John Jeffrey Lundell

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review - The Great Stagnation

Actually the full title is: The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better, by Tyler Cowen and published by Dutton Adult, 2011.

For the d-n-d, read Chuck Crane's review on Amazon (no sense in restating it all here). Chuck does a more than adequate job of outlining as you'll see.

My interest in the book is self serving of course as the idea's presented sync with mine nicely. I heard Mr. Cowen interviewed on NPR and what he said not only made sense, but also added perspective to my own similar ideas. I have his most recent book Average Is Over on order.

Listed below are 5 key points from the book as outlined by Chuck Crane in his review.

  • The economic low hanging fruit that has historically propelled growth and prosperity in the US, is drying up. Examples include: free land, technological breakthroughs (big ones - electricity, motor vehicles, radio, telephone, computers, etc.), public education, cheap fossil fuels, and so on.
  • Other countries are experiencing "catch-up growth" including India and China, where technological innovations in the West have been leveraged and leap-frogged, resulting in a sudden flattening of the playing field.
  • Median income growth has slowed since the early '70s, something I have written about frequently. I am amazed how little scrutiny this gets in the media. I guess the slow boiled frog analogy fits here.
  • The rate of technical innovation has slowed, since 1873 and most notably since 1955.
  • Recent and current innovation is geared more to private goods than to public goods, leading to an increase in economic inequality.

Books like this naturally interest other economists. But what about those noodling social issues? Furthermore, what about those in the greater workforce field, from high school guidance counselors to headhunters and WIA implementers? And yet, as big as the workforce field is, it's not big enough. What about lawmakers and real social policy movers-n-shakers?

If Tyler Cowen is correct and the US has hit a plateau (and stagnation will continue) what are we doing about it? From my perspective, next to nothing. I hate to say it as much as I hate to see it.

The current super-gridlock in Washington DC is proof in the pudding. For the time being (and it may be a very long time being at that) government is shackled. As Cowen notes, one party can't come up with a real plan to address the budget deficit (driven in no small part by Social Security and Medicare) and the other party can't stop pounding the tom tom that tax cuts (the apparent answer to everything) will increase revenue and pull us out of the muck.

Cowen's ideas add to my contention that this is the era of the Free Agent worker. And again, by worker I mean nearly everyone other than those not needing to generate income (those enjoying inheritances, the truly retired, and passive owners). That leaves 90%+ of the population as WORKERS in one form or another.

When it comes to finding a job, advancing in a job, moving to a better job, being a Free Agent means it's all about you - not I hope in a narcissistic and selfish manner, but rather in a heads-up way. In order to achieve your career and life objectives, you must see things as they actually are - that you are a Free Agent. And the younger you are, the more important the acceptance of this concept becomes.

Tyler Cowen knows this and I hope he makes it a point to pass it along to his students at George Mason.

The question is, do you know it?

Travel well.
John Jeffrey Lundell

Monday, October 7, 2013

Feeling Stuck In Your Job - Part II

I realize the first post on this subject was very much the "down-n-dirty." It was meant to be. If you are stuck and seeking a way to begin crawling out - AND you read the post and thought, "okay fine, but what should I do, where should I start?"

I suggest you aren't ready to do anything. Why? Probably because you want someone else to do it for you. You want someone to explain how and why. You want someone to hold your hand and guide you through the process. THIS IS YOUR PROBLEM, not that you are stuck somewhere. Getting unstuck and out isn't nearly as hard as it's cracked up to be. What's hard is shifting something within you from the OFF to ON position.

Back to the first post. If you had flipped the switch, the simple suggestions would have appeared to you as a road map. You'd buy into the fact that you have to plot it out, deciding on your next move (read that your next job). However, if your switch remains OFF (I refer to this as being asleep, unaware, and unconscious) then you likely dismissed it as just more blather, useless and not applicable to you. Why? Because there was no guaranteed 5 easy steps to FOLLOW or better yet, no one to feed it to you, spoonful by spoonful.

Before adding more d-n-d suggestions, here's more on why you need to wake up NOW. The concept of the Free Agent Worker (which I write about frequently) is real and here to stay. Take for example jobless recoveries and stagnant real wages. Our labor pool in the US (using a longer term point of view) is declining. Given the law of supply and demand this should be a plus for workers. But no. The number of jobs paying REAL living income and above are NOT increasing. The reason is automation and computerization. Digits. How can this not continue?

Such a joy, so refreshing...
Going forward, supply and demand principles will be applied category by category and not across the board. The d-n-d on this is that you'd better be talented and/or in possession of unique skills and attributes or you'll be swimming in the shallow end of the median income pool where the supply will far outstrip demand. Those splashing around will be hard pressed to save anything, resulting in little or no wealth creation. And the shallow end will get crowded.

Look, there's no silver bullet here. Even if you wake up and get a move on, there's no assurance all will turn out well. And if you stay asleep, doing nothing while waiting for someone to do it for you? Well then be prepared to drift into the shallow end with hoards of others floundering about looking for ways to cover the nut.

Okay, add this to the first post.
  • Get training that will enhance your marketability (and don't overlook short term, free, certification courses in niche areas).
  • When networking, tell people honestly what it is you are trying to accomplish. Be straight-up and forthright. Don't let your ego take over - no blowing smoke, exaggerating, or embellishing. Just lay it out in your 30 second intro. "Hi, I'm Bob. I'm ________ and I'm looking to move to ________ in order to ________ in 4 or 5 years. I've taken ______ and I am enrolled to be certified as _________. Are you looking for someone that can get the job done?" *
  • Until your next move comes about, know that you are still working for your current employer - AND this continues until you are not. Keep doing the do because that's why you are there and anyway, it's in your best interest to keep it so until the the last minute. Again, doing this is in YOUR best interest.
So there, no rocket science just a connecting of dots.

Yah I know, what about the Kardashians, the Duck Dynasty Boys, or the Honey Boo Boo? They're raking it in. They're able to transend the hard knocks and cold reality of a shrinking middle-class and flat wage growth, right?

True. And what's that got to do with you? Anyway, examples like this make my point. I'm not sure about talent or skill sets, but I am sure about uniqueness and marketing machines.

Anyway, is anyone knocking on your door to film a reality show about you trying to keep yourself from drifting into the shallow end? Hummm, I met a guy, that knows a guy, that knows a guy doing something in reality TV...

Wake up. Take charge. It's your ONLY hope.

* Sounds old school and corny, right? No one does that anymore, right? Well, if no one else is doing it, you might just stand out - imagine that.

Travel well.
John Jeffrey Lundell

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Feeling Stuck In Your Job?

Let's assume that you are working but not completely satisfied with what you are doing or where you are doing it. You feel undervalued and you know you are underpaid. And yet, you have a job. You are making the best of it even though, all things considered, you really aren't making ends meet.

So off to work you go - again - another day of feeling like a marginal swimmer treading water in the deep end of the pool. You are frustrated and beaten down just enough to make actual swimming seem impossible.

You HAVE TO do something - but aren't. You are stuck and really sick of feeling stuck.

What to do?

First of all, are you prepared to do something about your current situation? Sure you're frustrated and "talking" about it, but are you going to take action? If not, do yourself a favor and stop being frustrated - seriously, save the energy. Just get on with it and enjoy the ride. No sense getting in a sweat if you aren't going to take action.

Oh, you are ready? But not sure where to start?

If so, here's the down-n-dirty -
  • Write down what you want to be doing in 5 years.
  • Add where you'd like to do it.
  • Write down what you are doing now and where you are doing it.
  • Look at what you've written and give it a reality check.
  • If unrealistic, start over, scaling back as needed.
  • If realistic, sketch out (in reverse order) a route from where you'd like to be, back to where you are now.
  • Look at what you've written.
  • What's the next most likely job that puts you on that route?
  • Write out everything you are doing on your current job that could be applicable to the (next) one you've just identified.
  • You now have the raw material from which to define your Job Search Objective, rebuild your resume, and map out a networking game plan.

It's basic but it will get you moving in the right direction if you are indeed ready make a move.

Good luck!

Travel well.
John Jeffrey Lundell