Sunday, July 26, 2009

Work/Life Balance? Yea...Right.

Every employee is looking for it. Every employer is offering it. It's work/life balance. And while it sounds good on the benefits brochure, what the heck does that really mean?

Employers will tout alternative work schedules, telecommuting, flex time, and additional benefits like wellness programs. But what does that have to with an employee's real "balance" needs? I talk to people all the time whose full time job interferes with their quest for balance. They need provisions that aren't listed anywhere in the company benefits package and are frustrated because their employer won't consider their requests.

For example:

What if an employee wants to coach their son's soccer team and needed to leave every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:00pm for practice or games. What would the employer say?

What if an employee wants to go to school and finish their degree and wanted to learn in a classroom - not online. Could they attend class during the day - being out of the office for 2 or 3 hours a couple of days a week? What would the employer say?

What if an employee sees little or no reason to actually come to the office? As long as the work is delivered on time and the employee exceeds performance expectations, why couldn't they work from home? What would the employer say?

What if an employee wants to spend quality time with their children during summer break and requests the month of July and/or August off - regardless of how much leave they have? What would the employer say?

What if an employee with a family finds that the only time to workout is during the day and wants to take a two hour lunch to go to the gym? What would the employer say?

All these examples highlight the problem with work/life balance: One size doesn't fit all.

It also highlights how many employers are still entrenched in "tradition" when it comes to dealing with the changing lifestyles of their employees. No matter how "modern" companies label themselves, the reality is that many companies can't see past their traditional work structures, policies, and procedures to give employees real work/life balance.

A while back, I read The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss (yes, that's 4 HOURS, not 4 DAY). And while this book is geared towards entrepreneurship, he brings up some interesting perspectives on corporate America. One of the statements revolved around being conditioned to the 8 hour workday. How many people actually need 8 hours/day (or 40 hours a week) to complete their workload? Ferriss says that many times employees stretch their work to last the length of time they have to complete it - which is neither efficient or effective.

How many times have you prepared to go on vacation and did more work the 1 or 2 days before you left than you had all month? How many times have you had a project due - and even though you had weeks, or months to complete it - you waited until a day or two before it was due and it was still completed on time?

He also talked about company imposed deadlines that really aren't deadlines. For example, what difference would it really make if the report was due this Friday or next Monday? In some cases, it might matter, but in many cases, it doesn't. He also mentions the number of hours people waste at work. Chatting, filler work, surfing the net, e-mails, non-important tasks, and useless meetings. However, even with all these fillers, people still manage to meet deadlines and complete their work. All of these examples lead to a bigger question:

Can employees produce the same amount of work working a shorter week? The answer is many of these cases is YES! Now, because employees are producing the same amount of work - salaries should remain the same. Now, this is definitely not what traditional corporate America is about. But if they would just consider the possibilities, employees would be more effective and efficient. And, with more hours out of the office, we can begin a REAL conversation about work/life balance.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Will They Hire Me?

Having spent years working in Human Resources and now training and coaching managers, I’m use to getting questions about creating high performance in staff, dealing with those who don’t meet expectations, managing conflict, and effectively communicating both up and down the chain of command. But lately, I’ve been getting questions about interviewing skills - how to stand out among all the people applying for a job.

With unemployment at its highest in decades, the job market is tough and competitive. Candidates are looking for that “edge”. That “thing” to set them apart from the other applicants. The key is to remember that even in this world of "business casual", the good old fashion rules still apply.

I have seen my share of resumes, have interviewed many, many people, and have trained hiring managers on recruiting and selecting employees. And while I don’t think there’s a magic bullet, but rather a combination of several things working in your favor, I will offer you some tips to help put you ahead of the pack.

Tip #1: Cover Letter
YES – THE COVER LETTER. Putting the job you are applying for in the subject line and attaching your resume is not enough. The cover letter allows you the chance to brag on yourself. Did you increase sales by 25%? Say it! Did you reduce production cost by 15% while increasing quality? Say it! Did you design a training program that is now taught throughout the company? Say it! Did you lead a team of people to launch a new product that beat the deadline? Say it!
If the job description or ad mentions a specific skill or knowledge area, the cover letter is the perfect place to speak to what they are looking for.

Tip #2: References
Many people put “references provided upon request”. Why? If the CEO will brag on you, why not put it out there. If your former boss is willing to speak with a potential employer, let them know upfront. Providing your references gives a sneak peek into your professional circle – and lets the hiring manager know that you’ve got some credible people that will vouch for you. By the way – they should always be PROFESSIONAL references. No one wants to talk to your high school piano teacher no matter how sweet she is!

Tip #3: Know the Company
In a world with Google, there is no reason why you can’t tell your interviewer how you can specifically help them reach their mission (which means you should know their mission). Did the company recently win an award? Develop a new product? Have their most successful annual meeting? Layoff 1/3 of their workforce and are now moving in a new direction? Whatever the case may be, let them know that you already see yourself a part of the organization. When they ask you - "What do you know about us?" Make sure you can answer!

Tip #4: Tell Them You Want the Job
I was always amazed at the number of people I interviewed that never told me “This is the job I want.” Hearing those words with enthusiasm and passion at the end of an interview always lingered with me and I tended to remember those candidates the most. Don't let them think this is one interview in a long line of interviews. Make sure they understand why you would be an asset and that you can't wait to be a part of their team.

Tip #5: Send a Thank You Letter
Email is nice and quick – but could get lost in the shuffle, or worst yet, forwarded to HR without a glance. But a handwritten note can go a long way. In this world of junk mail, it’s quite refreshing for a manager to get “real” mail. Plus, the thank you note gives you one last chance to talk about why you’re the perfect fit for the job.

Now, there’s also some things you shouldn’t do! I found this list of The 25 Worst Job Interview Mistakes. And, yes, I know it seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people still make these mistakes (I've witnessed many of them over the years!).

1. Arriving Late
Nothing makes a worse impression. If you can't turn up on time for the interview, what on earth would you do as an employee? If there's even the remotest chance that weather, traffic or hard-to-follow directions might be a problem, leave absurdly early just to be sure. If a meteor hits your car, go to a phone booth and ask to reschedule.

2. Arriving Early
Getting to the office building at 3:30 for a 4:00 appointment is good; presenting yourself to the receptionist at that time is not. As Jeffrey G Allen explains in How To Turn An Interview Into A Job (Fireside, 1983), "When it comes to interviewing, only fools rush in." It pressures the interviewer - and could make it look as though you have nothing better to do than read magazines in the waiting room. Instead, go to a nearby restaurant for a last-minute cup of coffee and a final check of your hair and clothing.

3. Dressing Wrong
Speaking of clothing, it matters. How you look has a lot to do with how you're seen. "Oftentimes in the very first few minutes of the interview, the decision is made whether it's going to be a turndown or a second interview," stresses John L. LaFevre, a human resources director based in Ohio and author of How You really Get Hired (Arco/Prentice Hall Press, 1986). "It either clicks on or it clicks off, and the remainder of the interview is spent validating that early judgment." Dressing too casually or flamboyantly can ruin your chances. The safest choice for any interview is a tailored suit in a conservative color like navy, gray or tan. Even the executives in wildly creative fields (TV, music, advertising, etc.) will respect you for knowing that a job candidate should look businesslike.

4. Dressing In a Rush
Don't. If you select your clothes right before you leave, you won't have time to fix the loose button or scuffed shoe you've just discovered. On the job interview, neatness counts more than it has since your last grade for penmanship. Try on your entire interview attire the night before the appointment, if not earlier. That way you can make any necessary improvements or repairs.

5. Smoking
In one Seattle University study, up to 90 percent of all executives surveyed said they'd hire a nonsmoker over a smoker if their qualifications were equal. Anyway, smoking makes you look nervous.

6. Drinking
Even if this is a lunch or dinner interview and others are ordering cocktails, it's better to stick to mineral water or club soda. At the very most, ask for a white wine spritzer (a tall glass of wine and club soda on the rocks) and don't have more than one. You need to be alert for this experience, not mellowed out.

7. Chewing Gum
Gum is not a good substitute for cigarettes or self-confidence. Gum chewing looks appropriate only in vintage movies.

8. Bringing Along a Friend or Relative
Tempting though it may be, resist the urge to bring someone along to hold your hand or help you fill out applications. Even being seen saying goodbye to your best friend or your spouse at the building door can make you look as if you didn't have the nerve to get there on your own. Being picked up afterward also reeks of dependency.

9. Not Doing All Your Homework
It isn't necessary to memorize the company's annual sales and profit figures, but you should know something about their products or services. One candidate lost out on an AT&T interview by mentioning their involvement in a news story that had been about ITT, and there was no way for the candidate to regain credibility after such a glaring error. Check out information about large companies in business magazines or corporate directories at your public library, or call the company to ask for a copy of the annual report. For smaller organizations you may have to rely on the grapevine; some of the best information can come from people who used to work there.

10. Skipping a Dress Rehearsal
You wouldn't make a speech to your PTA or church group without planning what you're going to say, yet people walk into job interviews every day just assuming that brilliant words will leap to their lips. Don't assume. Make a list of the questions you'd ask if you were interviewing someone for this job, and then rehearse the best possible answers using a tape recorder and/or a friend for feedback.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Raising a Generation of Obesity

The majority of the food industry couldn't care less about your health - or the health of your family. They care about profits and shelf life. They care about making more and more foods using less and less real ingredients, replacing them with chemicals and processes.

Most restaurants are interested in things looking good and tasting good - not being good for you. Have you any idea how much salt, fat and sugar goes on your plate. How much stuff is injected in your food before it gets to the restaurant where the "chef" (ha ha) dumps it in a fryer of grease?

Have you really looked at the ingredient list on the foods you buy? Do you know what half that stuff is? Are you comfortable putting things in your body that you can't pronounce and can't find anywhere else in the grocery store (because it's not a food!!!!)? How many different names for sugar does the food industry use to cover up the fact that the product is mostly sugar? (The answer is lots).

And if you are a parent and remain in the dark about what you're putting in your body, you will be in the dark with what you put in your child's body. It is not the food industry, the government, the school system, or anyone else's job to keep you and your family healthy. That job belongs exclusively with you. Check out an excerpt from an article in a recent issue of Time Magazine.

If you're a settler, you eat a lot of buffalo in part because you need a lot of buffalo — at least after burning so many calories hunting and killing it. But what happens when eating requires no sweat equity at all, when the grocery store is always nearby and always full?

What happens is, you get fat, and that's precisely what we've done. In 1900 the average weight of a college-age male in the U.S. was 133 lb. (60 kg); the average woman was 122 lb. (55 kg). By 2000, men had plumped up to 166 lb. (75 kg) and women to 144 lb. (65 kg). And while the small increase in average height for men (women have remained the same) accounts for a bit of that, our eating habits are clearly responsible for most.

Over the past 20 years in particular, we've stuffed ourselves like pâté geese. In 1985 there were only eight states in which more than 10% of the adult population was obese — though the data collection then was admittedly spottier than it is now. By 2006, there were no states left in which the obesity rates were that low, and in 23 states, the number exceeded 25%. Even those figures don't tell the whole story, since they include only full-blown obesity. Overall, about two-thirds of all Americans weigh more than they should.

"Sit down on a bench in a park with a person on either side of you," says Penelope Slade-Royall, director of the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. "If you're not overweight, statistically speaking, both of the other people sitting with you are."

If there was any firewall against the fattening of American adults, it was American kids. The quick metabolism and prodigious growth spurts of childhood make it a challenge just to keep up with all the calories you need, never mind exceed them. But even the most active kids could not hold out forever against the storm of food coming at them every day.

In 1971 only 4% of 6-to-11-year-old kids were obese; by 2004, the figure had leaped to 18.8%. In the same period, the number rose from 6.1% to 17.4% in the 12-to-19-year-old group, and from 5% to 13.9% among kids ages just 2 to 5. And as with adults, that's just obesity. Include all overweight kids, and a whopping 32% of all American children now carry more pounds than they should. "There's no way to overestimate how scary numbers like this are," says Seeley.

Obese boys and girls are already starting to develop the illnesses of excess associated with people in their 40s and beyond: heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, gallstones, joint breakdown and even brain damage as fluid accumulation inside the skull leads to headaches, vision problems and possibly lower IQs.

A staggering 90% of overweight kids already have at least one avoidable risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or hypertension. Type 2 diabetes is now being diagnosed in teens as young as 15. Health experts warn that the current generation of children may be the first in American history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents'. "The more overweight you are, the worse all of these things will be for you," says acting U.S. Surgeon General Steven Galson. And, warns Seeley, the worse they are likely to stay: "When you're talking about morbidly obese kids, zero percent will grow up to be normal-weight adults."

It's hardly a secret how American children have come to this sickly pass. In the era of the 64-oz. soda, the 1,200-calorie burger and the 700-calorie Frappuccino, food companies now produce enough each day for every American to consume a belt-popping 3,800 calories per day, never mind that even an adult needs only 2,350 to survive. Not only are adults and kids alike consuming far more calories than they can possibly use, but they're also doing less and less with them.

The transformation of American homes into high-def, Web-enabled, TiVo-equipped entertainment centers means that children who come home after a largely sedentary day at a school desk spend an average of three more sedentary hours in front of some kind of screen. Schools have contributed, with shrinking budgets causing more and more of them to slash physical-education programs. In 1991, only 42% of high school students participated in daily phys ed — already a troubling low figure. Today that number is 25% or less.

The food industry counts on you looking for convenience, a good deal, or a dining "experience". They also count on you becoming "addicted" to the taste of salt, fat and sugar - that's what keeps you coming back.

I will be the first to admit that it's not easy!!! Being educated is not enough. Knowledge is not power. Applied knowledge is power. We have to take what we know about nutrition and exercise and apply it to our everyday lives.

Don't let "them" control you, or your family's, health.

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Membership Has Its Privileges

Working with a life coach one-on-one is a great way to gain focus, take action, and be accountable for establishing professional and personal goals and then designing a plan to achieve them. However, for a variety of reasons, individual coaching is not always an option. That’s why I founded

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Many of our articles, and coaching programs, are available to nonmembers. You can read some of our latest articles here.

If you're interested, you can test drive our program FREE for the first month. Just take a look at our special Membership Overview.

To find out about upcoming teleclasses, Management Webinars, and other products and services, visit our online resource store.

Here's a sample of upcoming programs:

Overcoming Underearning: 5 Week Teleclass

Get RADICAL - At Work and in Life: 4 Week Teleclass

"You Want a Piece of Me?": Managing Conflict in the Workplace Webinar

"You Want Me to Do What?": Creating High Performers Webinar

12-Week Self Study Coaching Program

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Why Ignorance is Bliss

When I decided to run a half marathon to celebrate my birthday, I got a good pair of shoes, loaded up my iPod and hit the pavement. Finding a training schedule online, I used that as a benchmark to increase my miles and cross train. Some weeks were better than others, but less than a month before the race, I feel fairly, somewhat, moderately, reasonably, kinda, sorta, confident that I won’t get scooped up by the bus because I’ve run out of time.

I even got some great advice from Giancarlos, Jillian Michaels business partner, when I met with them the night before my conference earlier this year. He gave me a strategy that I plan to use (I’ll let you know what his strategy is AFTER the race – just in case it doesn’t work!).

But things changed yesterday when I went to one of my favorite places - the bookstore. I decided to pick up a couple of running magazines and began reading some of the articles around half marathons, marathons and training. PR, hydration plan, nutrition program, runner’s gait, anaerobic training, sweat rate, biomechanics, compression socks? What the heck are these people talking about????

The more I read, the more I began to panic. All I’ve been doing is running (and not that consistently at times!). Is that not enough? Am I missing something? Am I setting myself up for failure? Finally, I had to put the magazines down, take a deep breath, and just go to sleep.

But now that a new day has dawned, I’ve revisited those magazines in a much calmer state. No goal is ever accomplished in a vacuum. I should have picked up resources on running months ago. But now that I have, I’ve learned some information from these magazines that has been both helpful in preparing me and motivating me.

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August 2nd is just a few short weeks away!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

When Your Freedom Is Snatched

The 4th of July is a time we set aside to celebrate our country's Declaration of Independence - a time when we celebrate our freedom.

As we travel this weekend, spend time with friends and family, honor those who defend our freedom, or just simply enjoy hanging around the house, I wanted to take a few moments to share some information on my favorite charity - The Innocence Project. This organization fights for those whose freedom was snatched away from them by being convicted of crimes they didn't commit.

The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University to assist prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing. To date, 240 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 17 who served time on death row.

In 2009 alone, they have exonerated 13 people who spent a total of 261 years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit. The shortest exoneree serving 6 years and the longest being 30. Can you imagine having your freedom snatched from you - even for only one day?

The Innocence Project’s groundbreaking use of DNA technology to free innocent people has provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events but instead arise from systemic defects. The Innocence Project’s mission is nothing less than to free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to bring substantive reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.

• The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 34 states; since 2000, there have been 171 exonerations.

• The average length of time served by exonerees is 12 years. The total number of years served is approximately 2,982.

• The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 26.

• The true suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 104 of the DNA exoneration cases.

Races of the 240 exonerees:
142 African Americans
70 Caucasians
21 Latinos
2 Asian American
5 whose race is unknown

I make a monthly donation to this organization and I encourage you, if you don't already do it, to support a charity or organization that works on programs and projects that are dear to your heart. Even through these challenging economic times, we should always strive to help those who are in need.

Here are the stories of some of people who have been set free by The Innocence Project in 2009:

Wrongly Convicted 1990
Convicted 1990
Debra Shelden
Convicted 1989
Convicted 1990
Convicted 2003
Convicted 1996
Convicted 1984
Convicted 1989

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