Maximize Your Return on Talent

October 22, 2008

Work is not always a four letter word. On November 2nd I am opening the partners retreat for Davis Martindale, ‘The Accountants with Personality’. What great niche marketing. These bean counters walk their talk with hammers in hand. They built a home for Habitat for Humanity. I’ll bet they measured twice and cut once, unlike myself who cuts once and swears twice. Davis Martindale is one of the few accounting firms where laughter is heard at tax time. They must have a good drug plan.

Books such as Contented Cows and The HR Scorecard cite hundreds of research studies that show companies that treat their people well profoundly outperform the competition on metrics such as market share, innovation, retention and more. Companies that also demonstrate a commitment to the ‘greater good’ get great good out of their employees because they are proud to work their. They’ve got them by the heart and the pocket book.  

Further good news is that ‘Silly-con’ Valley has changed the nature of work and not just because we can wear jeans or play Xbox in the boardroom. Bill Gates’ donation of millions to the United Nations changed the rules. Companies that need creativity for innovation realized working slaves only imagine escape. They relaxed the rules. When Richard Branson of Virgin decides on a new customer offering his team uses five core brand values to say no or go. My favourite, number five, is it must “add a sense of sense of fun or cheekiness.” Bye, bye rules. Is anyone having more fun than Branson? He’s even trying to fly his talk. His gang is researching ‘green’ fuel for his fleet.

Thank goodness some firms get it. L

PS   Davis Martindale – The Accountants with Personality – were nominated for an HR award for 2008.

Career Bankrupt?

October 18, 2008

It’s 4:32 am and I am wide awake. Why am I compelled to write to you instead of snuggling on my Sealy pillowtop? Because I want you to know you are not nuts. A lot of smart people are in the wrong job, company or industry (and bed) and they are too exhausted or heartsick to even consider making a change. Plus, it is plum crazy out there. Business writer Vince Poscente calls this,  ‘The Age of Speed’; but before the recent crash, few other than Margaret Atwood, called it like it is, the age of greed.

In an age of greed, the myth of more is so compelling that we hunger for the wrong things. Bombarded with messages that happiness is inside a Coach purse, at the wheel of a BMW  or at the bottom of an Oreo cookie bag, we end up starving for what matters yet perplexed by our emptiness.

To be in the ‘perfect job’ with a great company and be abused by a despot manager, to work 90-hours, week after month after year, because that’s just the way it is, constitutes values madness. It’s also going to give you bad brow wrinkles. We puff ourselves up and talk about ‘information management’ and ‘knowledge transfer’ but so few are wise. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone but not enough love. There is enough medicine but not enough compassion; there are a million ways to remove the newly arrived hair on my chin but not one way to make my mother happy.

People like you are despairing at work because, despite multitudes of distractions, we know in our bones the current crisis is more than economic. The 60s saw the hopeful Dawn of Aquarius but now thousands of dead fish line the Great Lakes’ shores. What’s worse is there are people who would gladly gorge on rotting carp and I’m not talking the Olsen twins. Millions live on less than a dollar a day and call a garbage dump home. Britney Spears is a mother. It is scary out there.

Back in the office, the white noise sound machine attempting to mask the din of cubicle life cannot cover the reality of war, poverty, and Brad/jelina. My sister-in-law was just diagnosed with colon cancer. Each week seems to bring news of a friend of a friend diagnosed with something. None of my outfits works with that many cause bracelets.

Maybe you wished I stayed asleep but that’s the point. People are waking up and wondering ‘Why the f…. am I working so hard for so little?’ Does it even matter? There is a new level of career turmoil because it is hard to be sane when so little makes sense. $33 billion in bonuses were paid out to the very same CEOs, in the same year, 2007, that they lost $200 billion in shareholder value, (Globe and Mail 27.10.08).

Are you feeling the craziness? A gaggle of my girlfriends are exploring the woo woo world of the healing arts and they are loving it. Most of the time I don’t even know what they are talking about. Others are staying corporate but finding or creating companies that rock as opposed to ones that stone people to death with pettiness and politics.You are not the only one wondering how to align your values with who you are, what you do and how you do it.

If you are trying to figure out what to be when you grow up, regardless of your actual age, begin with your values. founded by Martin Seligman, PhD, offers you the VIA (Values In Action) Signature Strength exercise. Once completed I recommend you review your top five to seven values. Notice to what degree they are present or absent in your work and life. If most are absent, you can, with the help of a savvy friend, or a good coach, start thinking about what roles bring those values into play. Consider starting a journal or create a life/work binder. Your first section could be your values.

Back to bed.  L

Drowing in the Talent Pool – 7 Pieces of Career Advice

October 16, 2008

When the only thing that kept me ‘up’ at work was my underwire bra, I quit. Many people quit but they keep turning up at the office. They quit and stay; they become the working dead, dead, dead (use your best horror movie echo voice). You know someone like this don’t you? Or maybe, it’s you.

I know three smart people, who feel stupid about their careers because they don’t really know how they ended up where they are or what to do next. This can be paralyzing. It can foster a feeling of hopelessness, incompetence and anxiety. Did I mention disengagement and depression? They are so many ways to feel inadequate and not knowing your own career path ranks amongst the highest.

Cut yourself some slack, take off the personal boxing gloves. Breathe. Most careers flit about like butterflies and those sweet Monarchs get from here to Mexico. You’ll get where you need to go. I promise. You can not avoid your calling forever. Well you can, but the price is usually depression and anxiety. I just thought you should know.

There are two things in life that no one really teaches us. How to find the right person to love and how to find your right vocation. I’ll leave number one (for now) but if you are in career distress let me be your medic. Here are some truths about career transitions that no one has likely told you.

1. When you are despairing and lost, you cannot see your gifts accurately. It is like you are standing before a fun-house mirror and your sense of self, and therefore possibility, is warped and unrecognizable. This distorted self is not a sign of personal weakness or stupidity. It is how transformation begins. I’m sorry I used the word transformation. I heard some of you groan.

Stay with me. We lose our sense of self, just at the time we need it most, for a reason. It forces us to ask ‘Who am I? Who am I, really? What do I want to do in the world? What does the world want me to do? This being lost is necessary though completely discombobulating. We lecture the children in our lives that if they are lost to please stay put. If you are lost you need to stay put as well. If you engage in activities to drown your feelings by watching too much TV, sleeping through life, over eating, drinking, shopping or slutting around (is that a verb?) you only become more lost. We in the West are not good at staying put. We move so fast we pass ourselves. Your discontent is your messenger. Stop and listen.

2. Your discontent is telling you what you no longer want in your life. It’s also telling you that who you have become is not who you are. Stop, please, stop. Listen, and if you can, write. Or talk to a good friend. The kind of friend who can hear you into speech; that means they gently tell you what they are hearing. They don’t tell you what to do. This is not a time to do anything. Decisions made now are rarely good for you.

3. Find your still, small voice. There is in you, and I know I am sounding airy fairy right now, a still small voice. It is the voice underneath all the messages that are screaming at you: “You are too old to change; you can’t start over, school would cost too much, it’s too late.” My own messages are more like “You are a fking loser, look how successful everyone else is. By the way, have you noticed how big your bum looks in those jeans. Look a cookie.” Oh how I wish I was kidding.

4. Inertia is less painful then change. Those judgemental messages are designed to stop you from changing because dear heart, part of your brain prefers inertia and abject misery to change. Dick Bolles of What Color Is Your Parachute, my friend and mentor, says that critical voice is your Safe Keeping Self. It is your left brain. It is the monster of inertia, the destroyer of dreams. It is not your friend. You must learn to distinguish between this voice and your still, small voice, your true voice. Eckhart Tolle describes the same thing when he talks about Ego in a New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose. It’s a good book but it won’t help you figure out your career. It will make you sane though so read it.

*I know this blog is longer than average but if you reading this you are not average eihter; you are hungry for a purpose bigger than your pay cheque, so I am going to speak with you some more.

5. Listen to your bliss: How can you begin to ease your career distress? Joseph Campbell said ‘Follow Your Bliss’ (he also said some stupid sexist stuff but that’s someone else’s rant). What most people don’t realize is that when you bury your discontent you also end up burying your joy. It is as if when you try to turn down the intensity on one emotion the rest turn down at the same time. Perhaps your psyche is saying, Well you aren’t listening to me so I’m not going to let you enjoy anything anymore until you deal with me.’

Your sole job or soul job is to pay attention to what brings you joy. For some it means bringing a flowering plant into your office so you have something hopeful in your line of sight. For others they need to see Coldplay live or hear Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  I don’t know what it will be for you but here are some ideas: walk through a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Eat a truly great meal. Watch a great sports team, live.  Get outside. Look up and you might see as I did, three Peregrine Falcons riding the thermal currents between apartments.

6. Do something that puts you in touch with awe and genius. You might find comfort in the raw honesty of a Frida Kahlo painting or be inspired by TED lecture on youtube.  Your psyche needs to know that there is room for genuis of all kinds. Artists, athletes, activists and even business mavericks have risked everything. They remind us to risk something. Of course you might not be able to do any of this, that happens.

Emily Carr’s painting ‘Forsaken For Lumber, Beloved by Sky’ might give you hope. It is a clear cut with one lone pine. Emily was like that last tree standing. She had a tough life and some biographers suggest she was sexually abused. For those of you who have wounds from childhood or more recent traumas, this time might be more of a struggle because your loss of self is more pronounced. Take heart though, the best researchers on resilience say it only takes one person to believe in you to make a difference. If you don’t have some one, find someone or hire someone. I know that sounds crass but despair is not your birth right.

7. Nourish what nourishes you. Please note you are not going to experience any activity as giving you the high it usually would. You are too low but it will start to replenish the you of you. The very you needed to begin to move forward. When kd lang described the highs and lows of her career, she said “I finally learned I had to nourish what nourishes me.” Ain’t that the truth.

There are plenty of career tools, assessments and instruments that can help but doing them when you aren’t yourself defeats their purpose.  Give yourself time and let each small decision be an opportunity for you to ask, what would nourish me? Not the me I think I should be, or the me that others want me to be but ME.  Take your time dear heart.


(c) Louise Karch

Recession Proof – 2 Recipes

October 14, 2008

Have you ever needed to have an escape night.  Different town, new restaurant, great meal?  Maria needed to run away from her husband and I needed to run away from my cooking.  I did not expect to also receive a lesson in business success but I did.

Marilyn, the waitress at M.E. and Suzy’s restaurant in Port Stanley, welcomed us warmly. After fun, friendly banter she suggested the cheese ale soup to start. It was spectacular. SPECTACULAR. But wait…you and I know that everything we make can be copied by someone else. Toyota takes apart Mercedes’ vehicles to figure out how to improve their own brand.  Lots of companies conduct corporate intelligence to gain competitive advantage. But take heart dear friend, while people can copy what you do, it is much harder to copy how you do it. Marilyn was gifted at her job. The chef was gifted at his. It was the marriage of person, product, and presentation that made this night perfect.  There are so many ‘p’s in that last sentence you can use it for speech therapy.

You need talent and you need input to be recession proof.

Consistently ask for feedback after every client or customer interaction. Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles, described this method during a tele-class. He said that each week he would ask his wife, ‘On a scale of one to five, how was I as a husband this week?’ She would give him her rating. Then he would ask, ‘What could I do differently to be a five?’ Then it was her turn to ask for feedback. It was Jack’s second wife. It was mine too (well sort of).  Anway, I wanted to keep mine so I started using his technique every Sunday night. Yeah, it ahh…works, well.  A little to well. So well in fact that I would  cringe the minute I realized I’d done something that I was going to get nailed for. I had a built in accountability system. It changed my behaviour.

The technique was so valuable that I stated using it at work. At the end of every coaching session, and at the end of every client meeting, I now ask “On a scale of one to five, how was I was a coach or consultant or speaker today?” I asked every time. Every single time. I got immediate feedback about what my clients’ valued and how I could make a mid-course corrections or a more major change. You will get the same valuable input if YOU ASK. You also might get ideas for services or products. You can’t lose by asking. You can lose by not asking. Give your clients air time to vent with you and they won’t vent with someone else. It takes less than a minute to ask. The feedback, positive or negative is invaluable. I know this as a wife, professional and even as an athlete.

When I was a competitive figure skater, even if I won my event, I would wait outside the judges’ room to ask if anyone was open to giving me feedback. I asked. I listened. I implemented. And I became annoyingly difficult to beat. I did this because, oddly enough, I remember my father telling me that Arnold Schwarzenegger consistently asked his body building judges for feedback and he became a world champion. Now, after a lucrative acting career, he’s the governor of California. (By the way, my dad also told me, chuckling, that when ‘Arnold’ started as a body builder, he would pose standing in water to hide his less than perfect calve muscles. Oh Arnie that’s so cute).

Ask for input and hire talent. Marilyn at M.E. & Suzy’s restaurant?  She even brought M. Earl Wilson, the chef to meet us. Did he ask for feedback, yes. Were we well taken care of? Yes. Will we be back? Did I rave to my friends about M.E. & Suzy’s? Yes and some of my friends have already made reservations.

Excellence is your best defense – Hire Talent and Ask For Feedback.

How to use PowerPoint – Advice for Expert Speakers

October 8, 2008

An Urgent Message for ‘Experts’ who speak to generate business:

The multi-coloured hotel carpet is holding my attention more than the earnest expert before us. Someone slay me now so I don’t have to witness this speaking horror: it’s the reading of the PowerPoint slides. Every slide is printed (no contact information anywhere) and stapled into a single-sided, 70-page package. I’ve walked the barren ground of a clear-cut forest. What tree reached for the sun only to be cut down and turned into a toss away handout? The gentle swishing sound of pages being flipped tells me I’m surrounded by colleagues surreptitiously checking to see if continued attentiveness is warranted. People know the precise time because there’s a whole lot of watch checking going on. Not me; I’m writing this.

If you are a subject matter expert and you give speeches, I have news for you. An information dump creates resentment, boredom and frustration in your audience. We’ll forgive you because you are an expert, but you’ve just shown that a: you are more comfortable with content then connection (So what would it be like to work with you?) and b: you are far from green on the rainbow of environmental concern.

When I watched Apple co-founder Guy Kawaski speak, I wasn’t looking at the carpet or my watch. He used three slides, one word per slide. Less really is more. Audiences have ADD and AIN; they continually ask themselves are you worth my ‘Attention Investment or Not?’ If you want to be of value, you need to know what they need to know.  Time and attention pressures are creating a relevance revolution. Be sure that what you want to say does not get in the way of what your audience needs to hear..

Here are Four Strategies to Earn Your Audience’s Attention and Investment:

  • Call a few audience members ahead of time and ask them what knowledge would be of most value. Or ask the sponsoring organization to send out a short, pre-presentation survey before your talk ( you can create a short one at Open your talk by showing the results and speak directly to their top concerns. Or…
  • Arrive ahead of time and post hot topics on a flip chart. As people enter, ask them to check off or place dots beside their top two concerns. This gives you your agenda and an added bonus of interacting with your audience before you begin. People do business with people they feel they know. For you shy experts, this is a structured way to connect. Alternately, you can…
  • Pass out cue cards and ask for written questions. This is a great technique for a small breakfast networking event. Read and sort the questions over breakfast and your are ready to go. Finally for a larger group you can…
  • Ask for questions from the floor. To involve your audience, even those who will never ask a question out loud, ask people to turn to the person next to them and come up with their burning question regarding your expertise. Then ask, ‘Who heard a good question?’ Use your laptop connected to a projector so you or an assistant can type out the questions for all to see. If it is a more casual event, a flip chart will work just fine. If you are in a high tech environment you can have participants text their questions. You are welcome to re-arrange the order of the questions to open and close with your favorite anecdotes or call to action.Whatever method you use, your audience-generated agenda shows that you are accessible, flexible and confident.

We don’t need more information; we barely have time to implement what we know. Align your remarks with your audience’s needs and you will bank on their gratitude. Be green and you’ll deposit goodwill.

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If it is not your genius it is not your job.
Louise B. Karch