Income Inequality. A Difficult Subject.

Equal

During the President’s State of the Union address he spoke to the country about income inequality. The difference between what one person makes versus another, for the same work, based upon gender, race, etc. Taken at face value I believe most people are in support of income equality. If two human beings are doing the same work, regardless of gender or race, they should be paid equal…of course that also requires all other things beyond those two criteria also being equal. And that’s where the challenge comes in.

Most successful people make significant sacrifices on their career journey to success. Long hours, missed events with their children, wedding anniversaries when they were out-of-town, an occasional birthday missed, or worse yet a birth of a child missed because of work. Many families make a very conscious and deliberate decision to focus on career advancement. This does not mean that they’ve chosen to throw everything to the wind. Perhaps their goal is to be able to send their child to Harvard, or vacation to destinations that provide both educational and personal awareness for their children to actually see what they have relative to others. And what about those that have made big sacrifices only to give back in a big way to their community with their time, skills, or money?

Every human being has free will. Of course ones ability to exercise their free will, or choice, depends in large part on where they live. American’s have the ultimate ability to choose. We can do what we want, when we want, without any interference from the government. Now to be clear, of course there are laws we need to abide by but even those are broken by people who have chosen to break them. The fact is that America was born around the concept of equal opportunity. We are the country (land) of opportunity. The land where hopes and dreams have a real possibility of becoming a reality. But even at our founding there were those that sacrificed much while others did not. That’s just human nature.

So the challenge is not in the concept of equal pay for equal work. The challenge sits with how to assess two different workers’ desires, passions, and commitments. No place is this executed better than in the world of professional sports.

Peyton Manning possesses many of the skills other quarterbacks have. Strong arm, deep understanding of defensive schemes, and the ability to change plays based upon what presents itself during the game. But Peyton Manning is different. His drive, his desire, his intense focus on watching game film over and over again. His personality presents additional leadership skills that make him even more valuable. Anyone remember Ryan Leaf? The point is that it is quite difficult to make things equal when most times the facts prove they are not equal. No two quarterbacks are the same, no two snowflakes are the same, no two CEOs are the same.

It’s a difficult if not emotional topic. It demands thought, conversation, debate, and action. We just need to be sure we’ve explored it as best we can before making things equal based solely on an altruistic perspective.  Being an American means  you have the right to explore, find, and secure opportunities.  It does not guarantee any specific outcome.  Just as we’re warned when we enter the Stock Market, no investment is guaranteed, it is simply an opportunity to invest and the possibility of your investment growing.  Think of each of us as investments.  We all have the opportunity to grow, and we all have the opportunity to fall.  Between luck, chance, skill, desire, commitment and ability the outcome – like a true investment – is never guaranteed.

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Losing Key Employees? Stop Making Excuses and Face the Facts.

wake up

I can’t believe he left! What was she thinking, it’s not gonna be any better there. You know the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

These are some of the most popular reactions from companies who continue to lose key employees. And I stress the word “key” because mediocre employees never leave. Key employees, those defined as progressive thinkers, customer advocates, or challengers to the status quo will always have opportunities to go elsewhere. It’s the employers responsibility to create an environment that is so loved and appreciated that these folks never entertain leaving.

Okay, some reading this may say, “wait a minute, it’s not my job to make people love their job, after all I’m already paying them and that’s where my responsibility ends.” To you I say think again. Leave your “you’re lucky to be employed” feelings at the door. Look around you. Today’s top employers are winning by providing employees with work that is meaningful, purposeful and an environment that is respectful and fun. No it’s not just about having fun, but that’s a necessary ingredient that can’t be ignored. Like leaving brown sugar out of your chocolate chip cookies, fun left out of the work environment will lead to work that’s bland, boring, and even bogus.

In a recent Forbes article on the things make a company great to work for, the number one ingredient for a great place to work was a strong culture. People spend more time and energy working to improve and succeed in a place where they are challenged, supported, and trusted. When you work for a company that micro manages, does not promote professional development, and reserves decision-making just for the company gods, you’re likely to end up with a workforce that’s numb, unengaged, and just looking to get through another day. Meaningful work simply cannot be done in this type of environment.

So to the managers and business owners running your companies as if you’re the only one(s) with ideas, it’s time to open your eyes. Stop running and start leading. Stop micromanaging and start providing opportunities for people to make decisions. And perhaps most importantly, especially for those entrepreneurs that started their business, stop thinking everyone is out to get you. While some people subscribe to the belief that paranoia is something every business person should have, I believe that paranoia should be reserved for your competitors. Be paranoid that your competitors are out to get you because they are. But don’t be paranoid that your employees are plotting to take you down. Trust them. Trust is one of the most powerful gifts a leader can give his or her people. Trust empowers, and empowered employees make for remarkable results.

Where In The World Is Small Business Headed?

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This week PricewaterhouseCoopers released the results of a survey of 1,300 CEOs worldwide showing a fairly optimistic outlook on the global economy for 2014. In fact more than 60% of CEOs in the United States said they planned to increase hiring this year versus last. What’s interesting is the amount of confusion in the market right now. While we see this high degree of optimism among U.S. CEO’s we are reading about layoffs at Best Buy, JC Penney and Macy’s. Even Johnson & Johnson, a stalwart of Wall Street, and one of 4 companies to still carry a triple-A-rating showed signs of concern in yesterday’s financial news indicating a “slowing due to weak prescription drug sales”. The other 3 companies maintaining a triple-A status include ADP, ExxonMobil, and Microsoft.

In our data hungry society we have the ability to create one story that shows extreme confidence supported by data, and at the same time build another story that shows the complete opposite…supported by credible data. The Consumer Confidence Index shows a slight increase in December 2013 but is still below 80. The national unemployment rate is below 7%. And the stock market seems to be unstoppable. All data points that suggest improvements in the economy and beyond.

But peel another layer off the onion and you’ll see that the number of American’s on food stamps has doubled in the last 10 years. In the last 5 years alone there has been a 51% increase in households on food stamps. In just the first few weeks of 2014 nearly 35,000 jobs have been eliminated by some of the companies mentioned above, as well as, others including HP, Kmart, Sears, and Intel. Major companies from Target to Trader Joe’s have announced major cutbacks in employee benefits due directly to the negative impact Obamacare has had on their business.

And now we get to the heartbeat of our country…small business. The latest survey of small business confidence put out monthly by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) shows lagging confidence, low expected hiring rates for 2014, and still limited access to credit markets. The report goes on to indicate that the economy, Obamacare, and the current political climate makes expansion less likely as small business owners tend to withdraw from risk when facing these types of issues.

So how can there be such a disconnect between the confidence of small business owners and that of corporate CEOs? Perhaps it could be the fact that many large companies simply have more options. Capital markets and debt markets are two places large corporations can access that small businesses can’t…or at least struggle to.  Healthcare reform, company benefits, and “big company perks” are areas where many small businesses also struggle to compete.  Finally, there is some interesting data from NFIB that shows a signficant increase in the sale of small businesses.  What would be more interesting is to see how many of these small businesses have actually been gobbled up by larger companies taking them out of the equation altogether.  I’ll dig into this more to see what I can find.  If you have any thoughts please comment.

The fact is, we should be spending our time watching what small business is doing rather than relying on what they’re saying.  Some times there is a disconnect between what we say and what we do.  Not because anyone is trying to mislead, but instead because our actions speak to our reality far more accurately than our words.  Listen AND observe.  It’s not either or…there is much to be learned.

PTO – How Much Is Enough?

Timeoff

PTO, otherwise known as Paid Time Off, is a topic that evokes major emotions from employees across just about every industry type. Relatively new, PTO seems to have been introduced in the late 1990s as a way to move from traditional vacation time to more of a “bank”-type program. PTO provides an employee with a certain number of hours each year that they can use as they wish…vacation time, sick time, bereavement time, etc. But is PTO driving your employees to be more or less productive? The answer lies in how companies, and more specifically how bosses, manage their employees PTO time.

Human beings are interesting creatures. We require rules, guidelines, and parameters to operate within. In the absence of rules or laws we have chaos. However, even in light of having rules and laws there are still those who hold little regard for doing what they’re told. When someone breaks a law they are called a criminal, yet when someone pushes back against a policy at work they are often referred to as either a trouble maker or a progressive thinker…it all depends on the type of culture they work within.

Many companies are pushing the envelope when it comes to paying their employees for time away from work. Companies like Motely Fool and HubSpot have unlimited vacation time for which they pay their employees. Both companies say that by treating their employees like adults they get better performance. While I agree in concept, the challenge arises when we experience people having different definitions of what it means to be, and act, like an adult.

Still there are companies who have chosen to rule with an iron first. They micro manage PTO to a level that can at times create distrust between management and its employees. Worse yet, these companies end up forcing employees to make decisions based upon the impact that decision will have on their PTO. Do I leave early to go to the doctors and get docked for PTO? Do I stay home during a winter storm or hurricane or go into the office? Do I pick up my child from daycare early because she’s sick?

If management held its employees accountable for their performance at the highest level than PTO would be a moot point. It is in my experience that organizations that continue to employ non-performers are the ones that try to exert the most control…because they have to.  But docking an employee an hour here, and an hour there for time away doesn’t lead to better results. It simply leads to the perpetuation of tepid results at best.

In order to solve the PTO dilemma companies must first decide upon the culture they want to develop. If it’s one of performance then create the structure that provides clear expectations relative to results along with the tools provided to achieve those results. If your goal is to create a culture of dependency and command and control style management then a rigid PTO policy may be exactly what you need to keep your folks in line.

Now more than ever, companies can create highly productive work forces by leveraging technology more so that traditional command and control policies. Before making any changes to your policy first ask yourself what’s most important to you and your business followed by how do I feel about the employees I have today relative to their ability to executing what I define as most important.

What Our Constitution Really Says

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It’s been said that if the U.S. government was a business it would have gone bankrupt long ago. But unlike regular business the government can print money any time it wishes which results in issuing more debt. When a business needs credit it must apply for it and get approved. It must also have a plan to repay the debt borrowed.  When the government needs more credit it simply raises the debt ceiling and prints more money.  The last several years of QE2 show that this approach simply doesn’t work.  The economy has been stagnant…growing yes…but at a very anemic rate.

The U.S. government was born “for the people and by the people” yet operates like none of the people – at least law-abiding citizens – that live here? Our citizens have rules and laws we must live by yet the government seems to operate without boundaries. So how do we get back on track?

We need to get back to the basics of what this country was founded on…principle. I’ve written a fair amount on this topic in the past but a review of our Constitution is really something that should happen immediately to get back on track. Factually there is only one thing our Constitution provides for citizens of the United States…”a common defence”, and no that’s not a misspelling. All other aspects of the Preamble are stated as “establishing”, “promoting”, or “securing” the item referenced.

While Franklin Roosevelt is widely regarded as one of the great Presidents of the United States, the programs he developed and ultimately implemented as a result of his New Deal created permanent provisions for citizens that are now viewed as entitlements. Born out of crisis, and mostly with good intentions, programs were developed to provide American’s with a safety net, but were not intended to become lifestyle arrangements. Our generation’s crisis – The Great Recession of 2008 and ’09 – led to dramatic actions taken to expand that safety net. Today, in some states like Nevada, unemployment benefits can last up to 77 weeks, and are currently being reviewed to extend beyond that. Healthcare reform – or Obamacare – will add more than $6 trillion dollars to our national debt, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and that number is likely to increase given the lower than expected enrollment numbers and the forecasted savings  not panning out.

So where do we go from here? What should our government actually be doing?

Instead of focusing on solving for specific needs Congress should take a macro approach to governing. Meaning, ensuring we have a strong country (defence), knowing that only a strong country can grow and produce jobs. Jobs produce income and income drives economic growth. Without jobs our country is in a scary predicament. We will have to continue to rely on countries like China to purchase our debt. Why does that matter? Because we no longer own our country. If you take out a mortgage on a home or a car loan who is the real owner? You? Not until it’s paid off. Until then you simply operate it…but don’t own it. And when true disaster strikes like The Great Recession, those overburdened or highly leveraged lost their houses and cars. Could that happen with our country? I pray not.

The next area the government should focus on is education.  Growing strong minds is as important as having a strong country.  In fact, I’d argue that the military alone can not secure or deliver a strong country.  Smart, educated people who are capable of solving problems, innovating, inventing, and leading are critical ingredients to making a strong country.  Let our people solve our most pressing problems.  Let our capitalistic structure work as it was intended to work and refocus the governments time and resources on its specific responsibilities as referenced in our Constitution.  Then we can get back on track to fulfilling the American dream.

Lessons From the Lone Survivor

Seals

Many leadership lessons  can be learned by observing and studying the United States Armed Forces.  Companies big and small turn to the military to learn how to better lead their teams, accomplish their goals, and execute their plans.  I was reminded of just how much can be learned from our solider’s this weekend when I saw Lone Survivor at the theater.  Of course Hollywood has a way of turning a story into a blockbuster film by adding dramatic elements that may or may not have actually happened but at its core Lone Survivor offers several lessons we can all learn from regardless of profession.

No matter what you do for a living you can be a leader.  The SEAL creed says,  “We expect to lead and be led.  In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission.  I lead by example in all situations.”  Whether a Petty Officer, Captain, or Lieutenant every solider is expected to lead and be led.  In business this can be seen in the execution of plans handed down from the executive team, up to and including the initiative someone takes beyond the scope of their job because something they saw needed to be done and they did it…for no other reason that it was the right thing to do.

I’ve blogged previously about accountability.  No where is accountability more visible, and demonstrated with authenticity, than by our Navy SEAL teams.  “We demand discipline.  We expect innovation.  The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me – my technical skill, tactical proficiency, and attention to detail.  My training is never complete.”  How many in the business world live this philosophy?  Do you believe your technical proficiency is critical to your success or the success of your team?  Which do you place first?  Are you willing to improve your skills even if it requires you to take action after hours, in the evenings, on the weekends?  All for the sake of your team’s success?

Finally, how many in business give up when things become difficult?  You stop making sales calls because you’ve already made 20 in a row and need a break.  Or you put off a customer until tomorrow because you don’t feel like getting into a problem at 4:45 pm knowing it will take you beyond the closing bell? “I will never quit.  I persevere and thrive on adversity.  My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies.  If knocked down, I will get back up, every time.  I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission.  I am never out of the fight.”  Do you quit too easily?  What are you doing to ensure you’re in the best shape you can be, mentally and physically, to meet the demands of your job?  Do you get up every time you hit an obstacle or do you take some time off?

Recently I had the privilege of having some 1:1 time with General Stanley McChrystal.  Now retired and running his own consulting and leadership development firm, I asked him what the biggest difference is he sees between the military and business.  His reply?  “In business no one dies from a bad decision or mistake.”  Talk about putting things in perspective.

Check out the SEAL creed.  Read it.  Think about it.  Challenge yourself to push your limits, your boundaries, your abilities.  Take accountability for who you are, what you do, and the results you produce.  And above all, thank your lucky stars that there are those that do possess the mental and physical toughness to protect our freedom…no matter what the cost.

An Awe-inspiring Sales Encounter

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I’ve been in Sales my entire career. When you add up the years I spent as a kid going door-to-door to cut lawns I’ve in effect sold for more than 30 years. In that time there have been only a handful of occasions when I have been truly astounded, in a positive way, by a sales professional doing their job. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on thousands of sales calls in that time and have seen some incredible selling skills, influencing, and relationship development happen before my eyes. But this week I experienced not just an awe-inspiring sales encounter but one that carried with it an incredible lesson of the human spirit and will to succeed.

Like most of the country this week, Philadelphia, where I live, was trapped in a deep freeze. We were well below zero for 2 days this past week and for the rest of the time we were single digits to teens. Simply said, it was cold. The kind of cold that inhibits motor skills if outside for more than a few minutes. The kind of cold that rattles your brain and activates the fight or flight emotion within humans to find warmth…shelter. The kind of cold that many sales professionals would use as an excuse for not going on calls. Many but not all.

My doorbell range at 7:30 pm Thursday evening. I walked to the front door thinking it was one of my kid’s friends. I turned on the front porch light, looked out the window and to my surprise saw a lady standing on my front doorsteps with a bright red Comcast coat and employee ID hanging around her neck. She had an armful of materials which she held with her gloved hands and wore an incredibly huge smile. I opened the door…a bit leery if not completely skeptical truth be told…to a warm and heartfelt greeting from this lady. Within the first 20 seconds she told me who she was, her company, and managed to get in names of two of my neighbors she just “signed up” for Comcast’s new Triple Play program. And while it was below 20 degrees outside she exuded a warmth and passion for what she was doing which in her words was all about “putting money back in my pocket”.

I’m not blogging about this to share details on her sales skills which by the way were excellent. No. Instead I am blogging about this to prove the power of the human spirit to overcome most any obstacle we can face and persevere. She had goals and she loved people, and most of all she enjoyed “putting money back into her customers pockets.” She had a level of authenticity that I find doesn’t always exist in today’s sales professional. She was real, she was knowledgeable and most of all she was honest. How do I know that? Because one of the products she was selling wasn’t the right fit for us and she told us so. She didn’t try to force a sale by masking the problems or shortfalls of that specific service relative to the service I currently use.

Her ability to build trust and rapport rivaled some of the best pros I’ve worked with over 30 years including those selling into the C-Suites of Fortune 100 companies. Pure determination coupled with an intense focus on her specific goals and a mastery of listening and customer assessment skills makes Marie one of the most impressive human beings, and yes sales person, I have ever encountered.

So when it’s too cold out, or too hot. Whether you’re too tired or just not in the mood, think of Marie. Push yourself, drive yourself and get moving. Get out the door and engage your human interaction skills.