Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Language and Symbols of Downsizing

So the bloodletting continues. Layoffs keep on keeping on. Today, the current culprit is IBM, the company that falsely laid claim to "lifetime employment," and their lemming-like employees fell for it. But what I am concerned about is how these things are communicated. I must admit that corporations have become smarter and more sensitive over the last 15 years. (I was spoiled by the progressive attitudes of General Electric. (So you don't think of me as an uncritical chauvinist, let me say that I was laid off by GE, so I have reason to be critical, even resentful, of the company. Still, I think highly of their internal communications and of GE overall.) But there is still plenty of room for improvement. If you are in an organizations that is downsizing, and you're responsible for a function like communication, human resources, productivity, or morale, ask yourself these questions:
  • What kind of language is the company using to describe the action? Layoffs are tough enough on people and their communities. To couch them in corporate-speak such as "rightsizing the workforce" is insulting. Tell the public that your revenues have decreased! Say that you missed your sales target! Describe how you f****d up the business! And then tell them how you will make things right with future actions. For God's sake, have respect for their intelligence.
  • Are your officers visible to the workforce at this time? Amazing how many open meetings there are when things are going swimmingly for a company, but the bosses disappear during tough times. How much will they trust you in the future if you can't trust them with bad news? The greatest leaders in history, such as Truman and Churchill, described how true leadership was based on how important it was to acknowledge the hell that their people were in, and then lay out the exit route.
  • Have you announced no raises this year for hoi polloi this year, yet execs received their bonuses? Yuk, bad form there. This "let them eat cake" attitude will come back to bite you eventually in the form of loyalty or quality of the people you attract.

    And all of these considerations lead to a very big question...

  • Have you considered the true costs of layoffs? Geoff Colvin writes a terrifically succinct article in Fortune magazine that describes the hidden costs of layoffs, such as letting go future leaders of the company, the downsizing of morale, and the eventual costs of rehiring. (Many people don't think of that. Economies do turn around. When that happens, what will be your company's reputation in the marketplace for qualified employees?) Even the much-vaunted GE suffered from that. Their Financial Management Program is well-regarded in Corporate America. In many circle, having "FMP" after your name is equal to "CPA." However, during the Jack Welch era, many graduates left the program upon graduation saying, "The company has already declared I'm expendable. Why should I stay?" To GE's credit, they took their lumps and realized that this was a fair reaction.
I really believe that corporate leaders are generally better at these things. But there are still enough outliers out there to make these points worth repeating.

Monday, March 23, 2009

DELIVERY AT LAST ...My Baby Has Arrived!

I'm no stranger to bringing a work to completion, but it's a strange sensation for me to receive a book. It's probably because while I have produced lots of videos, events and even articles in the past, this is my first book, which required more time to come to fruition. I have spent the last year committing my thoughts and philosophies, my life experiences and those of other people, to paper, and now they sit in boxes, duplicated for mass consumption (at least I hope they are consumed by the masses).
The packaging (i.e., the cover) represents the great work of my friends, Thom Holden and Dave Bell, who really put themselves into the book. But they are not tied to the content as I am. In examining the effects of change on our lives and how to deal with it, I tapped into such disparate experiences as losing my job (oy, losing my job SEVERAL times!), the death of my father, my admiration for Tony Bennett, even when Bill Buckner bobbled a routine ground ball in the World Series. Okay, that last example is not so terribly personal, like when some people deal with cancer, dandruff or some other disease. But I'm taking the risk that I have something to say that is meaningful and applicable to others.
I already sold three copies, and that's before the book arrived. THAT's a buzz worth having! I'll let you know how it goes. If you want more information, click here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Multiplying Power of Emphasis in our Media

It's amazing to witness the power of top-of-mind recall. My wife, Marie, and I met at a coffee shop late this morning after running our separate errands. (Well, actually, I'm not doing much running at all. I've been suffering from sciatica for the last two weeks, but the details on that are best saved for another post.) I got there ahead of Marie and took a table. The man sitting next to me looked either a bit distracted or drowsy, but I did not think much of it, as many people in our community are mentally challenged and in assisted living. I chalked up his behavior as normal for many of the people who live in our town.
Marie joined me, and we were conversing when her eyes and voice both rose with alarm. The man sitting next to me stood to leave, and he fainted. He fell forward towards us, and we caught him before he hit the floor. With my sciatica, I was slow to move, but Marie was on top of the situation, clearing the area, calling people to help the man go into a chair, and asking the staff to call 9-1-1.
The poor man revived, and we sat him down. We learned that his name was Michael, that he did indeed live in the assisted quarters. His roommates were out of town, so he was alone. We also learned that Michael had suffered brain damage from a 1973 auto accident.
We kept him calm and alert until a policeman arrived. He also kept Michael come and engaged until emergency medical technicians arrived. However, Marie and I immediately informed these good folks of one key fact:

It appeared that Michael had bumped his head on our table when he fell.

Normally, we may not have noted such a detail, but how could we ignore it today with all the attention paid to Natasha Richardson's tragic death following a head injury while skiing? We pointed out the bruise above Michael's left eyebrow, and they noted that he was not staying awake. Because of that, they took Michael to the local hospital for observation rather than release him according to his wishes.
It seems that the national press, TV and radio were all discussing head injuries ad nauseum since Ms. Richardson's injury. It may also be popular right now to bash the media for the stories they missed (e.g., financial meltdown, the details of the war in Iraq). But at that moment in the coffee shop, I was relieved to have heard about the problem so frequently.
As it turned out, the medical team decided to take Michael to the local hospital for observation. As of this writing, I don't know how his case turned out. Still, I am grateful for the information I had received on the TV news. It shows the ongoing power of television and how that medium is uniquely equipped to disseminate needed information not just powerfully, but also repeatedly.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Tenth Month of Publishing Pregnancy

This is simultaneously an exciting time and a trying time for me. I seem to be moving constantly to the goal line of my book, "The Six P's of Change," but only half the distance at a time. Writing the book was tough enough -- a year of turning my vacation time into three-day weekends devoted to pounding out tens of thousands of words over time. But once written, bringing it to fruition has been both an education and a frustration. First, there was relinquishing my baby for editing. Now my dear editor, Karen, was never the problem in this. I first planned that I would get it to her by mid-January. But the holidays held that up more than I would have guessed. So the time it took Karen to give my manuscript a thorough edit began later than we both thought.
After HER initial edit, there was MY final review. Boy, it's amazing to see things that looked perfectly sensible the first time around. With fresh eyes, I often heard myself saying:
"What the hell was I thinking when I wrote THAT!"
So, I sent it back to Karen for one more once over, the final one. Then she could see all my little misplaced commas, inconsistencies in headings, key repeating phrases and themes, and more. So that added more time. Finally I sent it off to my designers, and the layout when swimmingly (thanks largely, of course, to Karen's attention to detail, as well as their own professionalism.) Now, it was time to review the layouts.
Hm, how did I manage to misspell the word "measurable" so often? It wasn't spelled "measureable" in any of my dictionaries!
So now THAT had to be fixed. And when I got the proof back from the printer, I saw a misrepresentation of a Jonathan Swift quotation. What should have read
“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible,” I had transcribed as:

“Vision is the art of seeing the art of things invisible.”

So now, we have to change that! Luckily, the printer advised me that since the cover was approved and all other copy was approved, we would go right into the printing phase.

My new website is trumpeting the book, announcing that it's for sale at a special prepublication price, as it is now complete and ready to be shipped. But the printer is in Utah, and I am in Philadelphia, requiring five business days to deliver the books to me! That means instead of arriving late this week, they will arrive early next week. My "prepublication" period is beginning to look like The Hundred Years War. I just tell myself that the book will be here soon, and I will forget all of this agita. But as more people ask me when the book will be here, I begin to realize:

"THIS is what a long pregnancy feels like!"

Friday, March 13, 2009


Jim Cramer appeared on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" in a face-to-face discussion with host Jon Stewart that revealed more about the integrity and value of media commentary than the two men could have realized.

The pairing came about after Stewart engaged in a trashing of CNBC's financial reporting over the course of a few nights. It all began when CNBC reporter Rick Santelli self-righteously ranted on the air about the bailout of failed mortgage holders. When Santelli backed out of an appearance on "The Daily Show," Stewart's took the financial network to task over their inability to foretell the global market plunge. Somehow, Cramer ended up being the focal point of the discussions, exacerbated by a defense on "The Today Show." You are invited to watch the Stewart/Cramer bout here here, but I must warn you: It is unedited, and Stewart's language is often blistering.

The two started politely and contritely. Stewart acknowledged that Cramer was not the intended target of his harangue. Cramer defended people who faced mortgage foreclosures. "I've lived in my car," he admitted. "They're not losers, they're fighters.

Cramer continued his mea culpa by admitting that he missed signals of the economic implosion. But the sparring that ensued raises several questions about media coverage of the financial world (or anything else of importance, for that matter):
  1. WHAT'S THE VALUE OF 24-HOUR NEWS IF THEY DON'T REVEAL ANYTHING OF VALUE? -- Stewart charged that CNBC presents itself as a font of economic knowledge Cramer as a particular Oracle. Why, then, did they fill their programming hours with mendacious CEOs who misrepresented the capitalization of their companies? Stewart said to Cramer that the two were both snake oil salesmen, but added, "Isn't it a problem selling snake oil as a vitamin tonic?...Isn't that the problem here? Which raises an equally pertinent point of view:

  2. WHY AREN'T OTHER NEWS OUTLETS DOING THE TYPE OF RESEARCH THAT "THE DAILY SHOW" CONDUCTS REGULARLY? -- Stewart showed footage of Cramer talking "off-the-record" of his days as a hedge fund manager, clearly coming off as someone who manipulated the market and how easy it was to do so. "I want the Jim Cramer on TV to protect me from THAT Jim Cramer!," Stewart said. Cramer had no retort.
    But this was not unusual for Stewart and his staff. He historically exposes mendacious media types and public officials with their own words. But why don't we see that on "Meet the Press," or "Face the Nation?" Why does it seem that only "The Daily Show" has access to this data? It's not as though they have more time than other seemingly more legitimate news shows. "The Daily Show" broadcasts four nights a week, and the show tackles these issues within hours.

  3. WHY ARE WE SO CONTENT TO HAVE OUR CELEBRATED MEDIA PUNDITS BEHAVE LIKE SUCH BUFFOONS? (AND YES, I'M LOOKING AT YOU, TOO, RUSH AND SHAWN!) -- Stewart called Cramer out for his clownish behavior, throwing toy bulls and bears around, ringing doorbells and honking horns. "I can't reconcile the brilliance and knoweldge that you have with the intricacies of the market with the craze B******T I see you do every night!" Cramer's responded (somewhat disingenuously, to my ear) that h was trying to attract a younger audience who really don't care about the P/E ratios, Tier One capitals, etc. Hey, Jim, how about educating them about these things? I think you sell young people short on that one.

  4. IF JON STEWART CAN ACTUALLY PRESENT ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW (albeit in a debate), WHY CAN'T OTHER COMMENTATORS? (AND YES, I'M LOOKING AT YOU, TOO, RUSH AND SHAWN!) -- At least Cramer got the chance to present himself. What a difference from the Beck Blatherings and Limbaugh Cheese that passes for two-sided debate in other media (well, mostly radio, but you get my drift). When did hearing only one person for hours on end pass as "entertainment."

There has been a lot of coverage about this tete-a-tete between these two. But, as the law of unintended consequences sometimes allows, this incident has ended up revealing more about some things that are deeply lacking in our national conversations. We have so allowed ourselves to indulge our own prejudices that we have shut ourselves off from seemingly distasteful contrarian information that could actually nourish us. We end up drinking our own bath water, folks!Why did it take two funny men to give us a glimpse into that bitter truth?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Networking in Person -- What a Concept!

Yesterday, I had breakfast with my friend, coach Reggie Waller. We caught up on each other's careers an d talk about latest trends in our practices of coaching and communication consulting, respectively. He talked about trends in community service (tough to get volunteers) and his own activities with youth groups (needed more than ever). He advised me to get on Facebook, and I talked to him about the things to know about publishing a book.

Later in the day, I went to the Chinese Cultural and Community Center in Philadelphia for a Chinese New Year dinner that my friends Sherry and Ron Nimitz organize every year. I saw friends from my previous employees, Shared Medical Systems and Siemens Healthcare there, and we exchanged hugs, updates and phone numbers. While many of us had been in touch on LinkedIn and other social media, the act of actually seeing each other face-to-face was totally different and more fulfilling. The social media provide an outline, but a physical presence fills in the details.

I hearken back to the words of ace networker Peter Shankman, who pointed out at a PRSA event that if you are the type of person who stands in a corner during a cocktail party, social media really won't help improve your networking. However, the corollary to his advice is that social media alone won't work for you. They need to be a springboard to an in-person follow up. Don't hide behind your electronic profile. Instead, add these other activities:

  • Have breakfast with your contacts. Bring the coffee and doughnuts yourself if you must.
  • Attend organizational events.
  • Give presentations at organizational events.
  • Have lunch. Bring a vegetarian wrap from the local convenience store if you must.
  • Go to parties.
  • Throw your own party.

Facebook, Plaxo, Naymz, et al, are only one set of tools in your arsenal. Let your contacts put your voice to your digital image and your face to your posting. There is no substitute for that, lest we become a virtual community of ethereal friends, only giving facts but rarely providing substance.

To put a twist to an old saying, "I shall only pass this way once. If I don't network, I may go it alone."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Creating a Public Profile

Lights! Camera! Advertising!
Boy, the things you learn trying to promote yourself. Or perhaps it's the things you RElearn. In a couple of weeks, I will finally take possession of my book, "The Six P's of Change," which means I have to launch my website (any day now; watch for it), update my social media and email blast everyone I can. Yet there are so many nuances that we overlook -- which I overlooked -- and the feedback I've been receiving is invaluable.
  1. PICTURE YOURSELF - Just as I was ready to launch my website, I sent it around for review. One friend told me he didn't particularly like one photo ("Very unPat-like," he said. "You're a friendly guy, and it doesn't come across in this photo.") Another friend flat out blasted me for the images I chose to put on it. "You look like the guy next door!," he said, "not the professional I know you are!" Point taken. This isn't Facebook. I'm not trying to converse with my friends; I'm trying to get business from people who don't know me yet. I am adjusting the images around to change the mix.
  2. SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION IS A REALITY - There is competitive cyclist in Santa Rosa, California who shares my name. Search engines picked him up all the time, and I was relegated to the 25th reference at best. My daughter of Italian Mother Syndrome fame advised me to start a blog. Yahoo! It worked! Now when I Google my name, even I am reminded of all the things I've done. My activity on social media only helps. It's a good lesson for all of us.
  3. THIS IS NO TIME TO BE MODEST - Awards, professional designations, academic degrees, accomplishments... they all belong in our promotion. Do you write advice columns? You're a columnist! Have you written articles or books? You're an author! If you're an MBA, CPA, or JD, get them out there; these degrees are nothing to be ashamed of. (Well, okay, maybe being a lawyer, but I digress.) It all counts toward your unique you-ness, which leads to...
  4. DON'T FORGET YOUR USP - ...otherwise known as your Unique Selling Proposition. There are many people competing in your space. What makes YOU stand out? My friend Shawn Doyle is a very versatile motivational speaker, but he is particularly experienced in the cable TV industry. So his URL, and his USP, is Works for him; cable operators think of him readily. What is YOUR calling card?

We are all competing for something, and most likely in this economy, it is for a job. Your image is important. Think of all the ways that you portray yourself, and you are more likely to stand apart from your competitors, even the ones you don't think about.