Sunday, August 11, 2013

Incentivizing Yourself During a Long Job Search

A job hunt is one of those times when we are inundated by responsibilities, tasks, schedules and deadlines. What can be very discouraging it that you are working at least as hard as ever, and you are not getting paid for it. How do you keep yourself motivated as you were before? The answer is that you need to reward yourself.

The Psychology of Reward
First of all, it’s important to understand that at a time like this it is not frivolous to be thinking about rewards, as though it is too selfish under the circumstances. Actually, quite the opposite: It’s absolutely critical that you reward yourself regularly for achieving your goals along your job search. One of the reasons a job search stalls amidst hopelessness, lethargy and a creeping loss of motivation is the lack of reward. On the other hand, if we reward ourselves during this process (or during any extended endeavor), we will begin to feel like as though we’re making progress. A gift also becomes a material reminder of the efforts we are making. And when you feel better, you will maintain your enthusiasm. 

Another important point to keep in mind is that this notion of incentivizing yourself is not about rampant materialism, greed or selfishness. This is about a psychological reward. As much as we would like to think we can’t be manipulated, in truth we can be influenced easily. Human beings are taught to crave appreciation as well as a reward. So if material rewards during this job search bother you, then think of something else you can use to compensate you for your efforts. Because it is your reward system, it is entirely up to you to decide on the reward.

The research I have conducted indicted that that there are several types of incentives, but we will consider only three that we can give realistically generate for ourselves:

  • An economic incentive that results in some form of material reward, such as money or a gift certificates.
  •  moral incentive to behave in a particular way when it is perceived to be the "right" or "worthy" thing to do. This usually results in personal self-esteem.
  • A physical incentive results in a contribution to our physical health and well-being. 

We can receive some form of these incentives in our jobs. Economic incentives come in the form of pay, benefits, paid time off and more. But we may also derive personal satisfaction about the product of our work, such as building a road or administering medical care in some capacity. A person in the military may rightly feel pride as a defender of the country, a teacher can be cited for contributions to shaping young minds, and the head of a financial institution can claim to disperse funds that allow citizens to start businesses or purchase houses or cars. When your job requires you to move around, such as a police offer, postal carrier, stock keeper, or even an office manager, it exercises the various parts of our bodies.

I understand that incentivizing yourself is easier said than done. While you are in the middle of this maelstrom, facing so many tasks and responsibilities, it may be fatuous to say, “I am going to indulge myself.” I still encourage you to do so. Even though I have advised you to make the most of your time, I also wish that you resist the urge to be productive all the time. There are rates of diminishing returns, and since you cannot be truly fruitful in all of your moments, you should plan some off time just to recharge. Here are some easy ways to take care of yourself from each of these three broad categories of incentives that we mentioned. 

Economic incentive

Spend money to fight a feeling of scarceness. Theologians generally agree that when Jesus proclaimed “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” he was not encouraging people to be materially impoverished. Instead, he was encouraging them to be humble. Similarly, I encourage you to consider spending money at times to fight off “feeling poor.”
True-life Story! Several years ago, my wife and I had planned a trip to Italy to visit our families during Ferragosto, which is a holiday celebrated on August 15, a summer bacchanal that is not dissimilar to America’s Independence Day. We booked the flights, contacted our relatives and were set to go. Months earlier, my consulting business hit a wall, and we could have just as easily canceled the trip. One day, as our departure approached, Marie said to me, “I know that you have not mentioned calling this off. I would understand if you did.”
I said, “Marie, I don’t want to do that. If we don’t go, we will feel poor, and I don’t think that will be good for our spirits.” We went; we had a great time and received a lot of loving from our families, and we were able to say that we were in Italy for one of its most popular holidays. 
While I was there, I posted photos of the trip on Facebook and my social media, and that maintained everyone’s interest in what I was doing. Furthermore, I received phone calls about a possible job at a company back home. All of this helped keep us in a positive mood; there is no telling what the effect on our mental health had been if we stayed home and wallowed in pity and regret. It remains one of the best events in our long marriage.
Think about this for yourself. Were you scheduled for your own vacation, a remodeling job on your home or some other outlay of money? If so, weigh the hidden and real costs if you cancel. 
Though it may be counterintuitive at this time, it may turn out to be the best decision you ever make.

Moral incentive
Give your time to the community.  Figure out the amount of time you can spare from your job of searching for a job, and give at least some of it to someone else. Volunteer at the public library. Tutor a student in the area you know best. Drive seniors to their medical appointments. You will be surprised at the mutual benefits derived.
Give away material goods. This may be a good time to clean out your closet or attic to the benefit of others. You may be tempted to wear your oldest clothes to an interview, but rid yourself of that lure by giving the clothing away first. Then see what old but functioning appliances are hanging around, and consider how others can make use of them. At a time when you are not drawing a regular pay, you may discover just how rich you truly are.  

Physical incentive

Take time to laugh. We learned a lot about laughter therapy from Norman Cousins, the famous editor of Saturday Review. In his revolutionary book, Anatomy of an Illness as Described by the Patient, Cousins described the effect of emotions on his own health. In 1976, he had been diagnosed with a very painful, life-threatening form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis. Doctors gave him little chance of recovery. Eschewing traditional medical treatments, Cousins took megadoses of vitamin C and watched Marx Brothers films and TV sitcoms. He found that good old-fashioned laughter, out-and-out guffawing would relieve his pain and allow him to sleep. He eventually recovered from the disease and wrote extensively on the links between humor and health.

We know today how laughter relaxes the whole body and relieves our physical tension and stress. Laughter also boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and improves the function of the entire cardiovascular system. So turn off the TV and find things that make you laugh. (I have several comedy stations on my Pandora list, so I turn on comedy whenever I take a break, when I am up in the morning, and before I go to sleep each night. It has made demonstrable differences in my own physical and emotional health.)
Take the weekends off as you would any job. As I have written, this job hunt is your job right now. But as with any job, you need time off. So let up on yourself and keep your weekends completely open for a movie, time in the mountains or at the shore, and perhaps most important, a date with your significant other. Turn off the e-mails and cell phone and just unwind.

These are just a few of the ways we can keep our sanity during a job search. I will be discussing more in future posts and in my upcoming e-book on how to rejuvenate a lagging job campaign. The book is untitled at this time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Next Book, All for a Worthy Audience

I am excitedly approaching the last step in my goal to become a Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest designation awarded by this global speaking organization. I have given all my speeches over many years, and I've held the requisite leadership roles. But my last step is one of the most ambitious -- the High Performance Leadership Project (explained here in this video). There is a wide range of projects I could take on, but the one I have chosen is aimed at solving, or at least ameliorating, an endemic condition in our world that is taking a toll on many of us. That goal is to help lift the spirits of people who are out of work. 

For anyone who has not been unemployed, I will start with the most obvious point: The job search process sucks big time. It is ever present, and it can grind down the spirit.  Time magazine had a cover story titled "Whatever Happened to the Great American Job?" The article is an unsettling and depressing amalgam of material. There are the usual anecdotes of fruitless searches by people who were swiftly and unexpectedly jettisoned by major corporations after decades of service. The article also includes data gleaned from both public and government agencies. For example:

A telephone poll shows that two-thirds of respondents believe that job security is worse for Americans now than in the two previous years. Of those who describe the situation as “worse” when they were questioned, 53 percent say the situation will be bad over the long haul, for many years to come. Fifty-eight percent say they have friends who have lost jobs since the economic recovery began.
A U.S. Labor Department study shows how a full 30 percent of new graduates will be underutilized over the next 12 years.  Also, these graduates are likely to earn less — in inflation-adjusted dollars — than their graduating predecessors did a generation ago. This includes graduates of many top colleges.  

Labor analysts describe the bleak future of the job market. Here are their suggestions for dealing with it:

They say don’t count on big companies for employment. These companies have learned that it’s more efficient and profitable to operate as contracting centers and outsource the talent they need.  Instead, turn to small- and medium-sized companies.

Be prepared to work for a foreign company, as many corporations outside the U.S. are investing in this country’s manufacturing. The flip side to that is that many American companies are outsourcing their services to operations outside of our borders.

Get as much training and education as possible and keep upgrading your skills. Workers can expect to change their careers, not simply their jobs, three or four times during their working lives. 

So those are some of the takeaways of this article. By the way, I am not citing a recent issue of Time. It was published in November, 1993 — nearly 20 years ago. So challenges in employment have been with us for a long time, even in past economies, and yet it stays with us today.

 In my book The Six P’s of Change, my first piece of advice to readers is to develop the PERCEPTION, the recognition, that change is a reality. Nobody is immune from this change. You and I were either born into an America or adopted into an America that is so fortunate and wealthy that perhaps we began to think that our opportunities were limitless, as though trees could grow to the sky. But my periods of job search gave me lessons that informed my life philosophy of being prepared for change. 

I come by these lessons honestly. I had several tours of duties in various outplacement agencies because my jobs were eliminated several times. It was in those times that I learned one key fact: It’s necessary to maintain an optimistic and hopeful attitude. Job searches are more likely to die on the vine from hopelessness than they are from ineffectiveness. And so I adopted this this mission statement for my High-Performance Leadership Project: To create an affordable and accessible tool to help job seekers maintain their spirits and their momentum as they advance toward their job goals.

To fulfill this mission, I am currently writing an e-book on how to lift your spirits in the face of an otherwise demoralizing search and how to arm yourself with the optimism, energy and momentum that will help lead you to success. In this way, I can publish it relatively inexpensively, as the barrier to entry for e-publishing is fairly low. In that way, I can make it available at a nominal price, probably 99 cents — a price that is easily affordable for people who are out of work. 

I hasten to mention that this is not another how-to on finding a job. There are already many books on the market to cover that topic. Frankly, those authors do the job so thoroughly that I doubt I can improve it. Instead, my book is about how to lift your spirits in the face of an otherwise demoralizing search and how to arm yourself with the optimism, energy and momentum that will help lead you to success.

I am currently writing an e-book on how to arm yourself with the optimism, energy and momentum that will lead you to success in an otherwise demoralizing job search.

Like my previous book,  this one began as a speech. I often give pro bono presentations to people who are seeking employment in the hopes of helping them deal better with the change in which they're embroiled. The woman who managed the last outplacement office I attended contacted me and asked me if I could speak to their current crop of candidates. But she did not want me to speak about The Six P’s.  She told me that many people in her office were searching for so long that they were discouraged and lethargic. She asked if I had a speech about maintaining enthusiasm and momentum in a job search. 

I thought about her request, and I said, “No, I don’t.” But after drawing a long breath, I added, "Let’s set a date six weeks from now. I promise you I will arrive with a presentation.” 

And so knowing that I committed a speech to her by a specific date, I created a presentation that has now evolved into the outline of this book. I looked over my own successful searches, and I devised several guiding principles. I can't tell you too much about the book right now. First of all, I am in the process of writing it. Secondly, I don't want to give away the details. I would hate for someone to come to market with my book sooner than I did simply because I spilled the beans. 

Author Louisa May Alcott once wrote that “I’m no longer afraid of the storm for I am learning how to sail my own ship.” That is what I want to teach my readers and audiences: To exercise control over this process during a difficult time. I know we’ll never completely eradicate unemployment. Even so-called “full employment” is achieved at about five percent. But I do hope that the tool I am creating will help inspire the hope and direction many people need for a fruitful job search.

Stay tuned. I look forward to telling you more when there is more to tell.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Taking a Product to First from Worst

A few weeks ago, I was quite proud, and more than a little amused, when I read the 2012 "Annual Best" awards from KLAS, a research firm in the healthcare industry. KLAS* gathers data and the opinions of thousands in the industry on software, services and medical equipment, choosing their best of the year. ("The best of KLAS," is a commonly accepted term in the industry.)

I chuckled because the results showed that a laboratory information system from one of my previous employers, Siemens Health, was chosen as one of the best of the year. I remembered the time when the product, now called Novius Lab, was quite the opposite of "best." Or even "good."

I was working in marketing for the company (then known as Shared Medical Systems, before Siemens* acquired it) when management declared that their lab information product known as OpenLab was a loser. Lab information systems manage the ordering, testing and results reporting of lab orders in a hospital. This particular system was designed to integrate the patient's clinical information from a variety of  facilities and then turn around the test results quickly. It reduced costs while raising efficiency. 

However, the salespeople said that they couldn't sell it because "everyone hated it." They said that OpenLab had a terrible reputation. The company wanted to drop it and get out of this product line altogether. My boss, the head of sales & marketing, did not want to concede this market. He came to me and said that a big lab conference was coming up. How could we save the product at that event?

The first thing I did was NOT presume the sales force was correct. Instead, I conducted a marketing survey of both the current customers and the market place. Well, the current customers did NOT hate it; in fact, they LOVED OpenLab. They thought it worked great. What we found was that others in the medical lab market who did not even own OpenLab thought it was a bad product. (We believed that this reputation could be traced back to a former sales employee who bad-mouthed the product, though we could not prove it.) But the challenge remained: How could we get new customers if they all believed the product was no good?

I advised rebranding the product altogether...essentially take OpenLab off the market and replace it with a new name. The upcoming lab show was in Dallas. An internal copywriter and I brainstormed and  thought a cowboy theme would work for a new campaign. She came up with a slogan similar to the old Western movie cliche that there was a new sheriff in town. But instead, she wrote that "there's  a brand new new lab system in town!"  At the time, SMS was renaming their newest offerings with the prefix "Novius,"derived from the Latin word for "new." I advised that we rename this project Novius Lab, wiping out the previous, besmirched name as the final step in creating a new impression.

When visitors came to our booth at the conference, we gave them a blinking badge that had this slogan. We encouraged them to wear it, because a "sheriff" from our booth would be walking the floor occasionally, and if he saw their badge... well, he would just invite them back to the booth for a prize!

People were pleased to wear the badge and were excited when he "sheriff" (really, just one of us guys in a big Stetson) collared them and brought them back to our booth. The prize, a horse doll for their kids, was a big hit. More important, we made an impact at that trade show, beginning the introduction of a new product and replacing what was for many a bad memory.

My manager and I have since left the company for other opportunities, but we still laugh about that campaign over a drink every now and then. When the company was ready to abandon this product, we believed in it. We got to the root of the problem and solved it. A product that was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year today is one of the company's biggest, most reliable money makers. It also continues to serve its market, much to the surprise of many in the company. And to top it off, this product is consistently rated at the top of its class by acclimation among the decision makers in healthcare.

Shakespeare once asked, "what's in a name?" Apparently, there's money. And vindication.

*References to KLAS, Siemens and SMS should not be inferred as an endorsement of my work by these entities.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Baseball Writers Stand Up for Baseball's Brand and More

The Commissioner didn't do it.
The players union didn't do it.
God knows that Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa didn't do it.
But the baseball writers did it. They stood up for the game that so many others profess to love yet in fact denigrate with their behavior. They did it by refusing to honor an entire generation of ball players that included many who cheated and soiled the game. They kept these players out of the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, and with that action, they showed more integrity than many others in the game.
My son, who is a pretty fair sportsman himself, said to me, "When are we going to stop the pretense that athletes are role models?" Fair question. But there is one difference with the Baseball Hall of Fame. Like it or not, the criteria for admission to the Hall has always included "character, sportsmanship and integrity." Has that clause been overlooked in the past? Certainly. In fact, right from the beginning, when the reprehensible Ty Cobb was among the first inductees. Yes, Ty Cobb, who used to sharpen his spikes so he could injure opposing players when he slid into them, was enshrined. Ty Cobb, who went into the stands to confront a heckler and when he discovered was an invalid beat the tar out of him anyway, is synonymous with baseball's freshman class. But we were all taught as kids that two wrongs don't make a right, and why not stand up for the integrity of the game now?

We have had too many instances in society of how we shave our principles to fit them into our particular and immediate needs. The revelations that reveal the speciousness of our entry into war. The backroom deals that grease the political gears but rob the citizens ultimately paying the bills. Don't report the child abuse or it will hurt the university. Or the Church. All executed with a nod and a wink, dismissed with phrases like "boys will be boys," and "everyone does it." In the meantime, the ones who played clean suffered in terms of reduced pay and lesser fame.

Tom Verducci of, who votes for the Hall of Fame, states his case more eloquently and with more authority than I can. He sees his vote as a sacred trust that few are honored to exercise. Baseball players and others involved should also feel such honor with all the fame and riches that the game bestows on them. But unlike Mr. Verducci, they have generally chosen to look the other way as the game was diminished by a steady drip of mendacity.The baseball writers focused their attention with this well-deserved slap in the face. Maybe we should all pay attention and shine a similar light into other quarters.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How to Accomplish Your New Year Resolutions

Okay, it's 2013, and if you are like most people, you have a set of new year resolutions. (Come on, admit it: One of them is to lose weight and get in shape, isn't it? My son is irritated how the gym parking lot is overcrowded until mid-February, when most of those people will give up on their fitness program.) However, when 2014 rolls around again, how many of the items on your list will you have accomplished?

I speak to many organizations about dealing with change or rejuvenating their job searches, and both topics involve accomplishing goals. I make to-do lists every year, and I fulfill a fairly high percentage of my goals. For example, over the last five years, I built a new website, read a number of new books each year, published my own book, earned two advanced Toastmaster designations, created two new keynote speeches, learned to speak Italian on a conversational level, and got a solo with my singing group (singing in Italian, incidentally). I'm not exactly Tim Ferriss, but I can claim to have done many of things I set out to do. Here are the steps that will help you reach your annual goals.

1) Presume that time management is achievable.
Don’t let anyone tell you “no matter how organized we are, there are always only 24 hours in a day.” I find that thinking limiting and negative.  While it’s true that each of us have the same number of hours, we can always optimize them.

2) Find out where you're wasting time and eliminate them.
What are your time-bandits? Don’t spend too much time surfing the Internet, reading e-mail or social media, or making personal calls. Tracking your daily activities will disclose what you are actually accomplishing, which is an important step in time management. (Example: I don’t turn on the TV during the day unless I see that an important event has happened.

3) Use a time management tool.
 This is the most important step. To physically and actually manage your time, you need to know where it's going now and then plan how you're going to spend your time in the future. You can use a calendar or a software program, such as Outlook, to schedule events know in advance what you will be doing. I'm low-tech, so I use an ordinary to-do list.

4) Set Your Priorities.
No matter which tool you use, it is still important to set realistic expectations, or else you are bound to be disappointed. That is the problem with to-do lists or other lists of goals: They may enumerate all the things you need to do, but they don't actually help you accomplish them. If you simply make lists of the things you need to do, odds are that they will remain unfinished far longer than you think they will. There are two reasons for that. First, we need to break down our projects into specific actions that will help us reach our goals. For example, if your goal is "write an article," don't just have "write an article" as your goal. First, set your objective. Then, set a deadline to write your outline. Next, set a goal of writing each day. And have a deadline to have the final draft completed. 

 I use the A, B and C priority system. A's are things you need to accomplish ASAP. I try to do as many A's each day as I can. B's are "nice to do" things, like cleaning the bathroom or buying a new in basket for the office. These can wait. C's are low priorities, but they are often the things we use to fill our days to make us feel as though we really accomplished something, yet they make no meaningful impact on our lives. Push the C's off as much as possible.

5) Establish routines and stick to them as much as possible.
Know each day which tasks will help you meet your long-term and short-term goals as described above. If you have 20 tasks for a given day, how many of them do you truly need to accomplish what you want to do? Prioritization will help you with that. Get up at the same time every morning. Exercise and eat breakfast at the same time. Take a break around the same time.  End the day at a prescribed time and get to sleep at the right time every night. Rinse and repeat.

Setting a routine includes limiting the things you shouldn't do. Distractions to avoid includes e-mail, social media, eating meals, and needless appointments. Either avoid these things altogether or schedule them so they don't get in your way.
 6) Learn to let go.
My most simple advice are these five words: You Can’t Do It All! And you should not expect to do it all. For effective time management, you need to let other people carry some of the load. Is it really that important that the bathroom is dirty when you are preparing for a critical job interview? Clean the bathroom after they make you the offer!

I wish you luck in all you do and all you want to do in the coming year.