Blog Archive

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Great HR vs. Bad HR

In todays' competitive, always changing business climate no matter how big, how small, how new or how legendary a company is, without an effective Human Resources function they will never reach their full potential. And with an ineffective or worse, poorly functioning department, companies may not just fail to reach their potential, they may actually fail…especially if they are a startup or in an industry with strong competitors. I have worked in both types of HR environments over my twenty-five plus years and I have seen the positive and negative impact HR can create inside an organization. 

Below I outline a few key characteristics that distinguish a great HR function from a bad one.

They Maintain a Business Focus

At some point HR was only an administrative function and while certain things need to be “Administrated” it should not be the sole purpose of HR…to push paper (or collect and save data). If you are in business your company aims to make a profit…and to do it safely, ethically (we hope), legally (we really hope) and efficiently. Too often HR becomes the group that finds ways to say “no” to everything instead of trying to find ways to say “Yes but we need to take a slightly different path.” At the same time they add in policies, procedures and processes that neither add value nor help the organization and its leaders move forward. Great HR groups avoid the blockades and instead they help to remove them because they know the business depends on being able to function at its peak. But…

They Manage the “Small” Things So They Can Work On The Big Things

I had a boss who said “If you want to place a big bet with the organization you first have to make sure the trains run on time.” His point; if the basics aren’t grooved no one will have time for you on the game changing plans you might be scheming back in your cube. If things like payroll are not handled well or there is a growing list of unfilled jobs and you decide you want to create a new training program to help employees grow their careers don’t be surprised if you meet not just with resistance but some hostility. HR while not solely an administrative function often gets tasked with those responsibilities. If you don’t do those well don’t expect to be given more responsibility. They will just assume you will do more things badly too. The good ones make the trains run on time so they can work on the new exciting things that the organization actually needs but just doesn’t know it yet.

Results vs Action

Too often HR groups tend to equate being busy with doing great work. Many times…they are wrong.

Ask yourself these simple questions:

Is what we are working on going to help the organization become:
·        More effective?
·        More efficient?
·        Safer?
·        More legally compliant?
·        A more enjoyable place to come to work?
·        More Profitable?

If you answer no to any of these you need to think long and hard about what it is that you are doing and why you are doing it. Being busy working on new initiatives is fine as long as they mesh and align with the company’s goals and profit plans. When they start to be “Feel good” projects they simply become a waste of time and energy. They can also eat into profits and profitable companies stay in business…and give raises.

They Accept and Embrace Feedback

I recently was asked by an HR group about an idea they had for training new employees. The idea was to in essence “Grow their own” employees and train them because the skill set needed was very difficult to find outside the company. It made sense to me…if you can’t hire for it, train it in. They were very excited and had big plans to “Brand it, create online and radio advertising and cascade it through the rest of their organization on a national basis.” There was just one problem. Their plan was only for new hires. Existing employees who did not have the skill set were not going to get this new, career enhancing training. When I pointed out that this would most likely create a set of resentful employees who might either quit or worse, stay and be angry they dropped the idea completely. Instead of adapting it for existing employees and new hires they just became upset that not everyone loved their idea. In the end, HR provides feedback all the time…they need to be willing to accept it as well.

They Make and Sustain A Great First Impression

Very often the HR group is the first contact a prospective employee has with an organization and first impressions matter. A cumbersome on-line application process, a difficult to navigate voice system, an aloof or under informed in the business side of your company HR representative may be helping you to send the best and the brightest talent to your competitors. The first impression really does matter and whether people admit it or not those impressions are often best made with people…supplemented by excellent technology. Having great people and crap HR technology is almost as bad as having crap people and great HR technology. After all you end up working with both don’t you? HR can and should help evaluate both.

Once in the door, failing to sustain this impression can send great talent right back out the door. The great HR groups make and keep that great first impression primarily by staying engaged with employees yet under promising and over delivering…on everything. Business knowledge, setting realistic expectations about job requirements, what the employer expects, what the employee should expect, by living the mission statement. Again, HR should be there to support AND partner with the business. This includes hiring and keeping great employees. How do you keep them?

They Are Company Advocates Always But Employee Advocates First

Trust. Too often the HR group becomes the bureaucratic, red tape creating, prosecuting attorneys in companies. The very group that is there to be called upon by employees to “Make life at work a little easier” and to be available to help them in a time of difficulty or crisis does just the opposite. HR groups over time tend to get very black and white and frankly they forget they are dealing with people not commodities. Too often ridged policies or procedures are enforced in the name of “Consistency” when a deviation is both appropriate and necessary. Being consistent simply means handling the situation in the same manner as a previous situation that had the same circumstances. Sometimes two circumstances are very much alike. Sometimes they are not. Great HR groups know the difference.

In addition, employees and managers may disagree, have a personality conflict or simply may not be compatible. It is HR’s job to balance the needs of both the manager and the employee. When HR forgets there are two sides to every story, they lose the balance between company interests and employee interests. I have had my share of “problem” employees and there can be a tendency to discount what they say, especially if they have a proven track record of bad behavior. That said if you fail to follow-up and dig deep into the issue and happen to be wrong…every other employee good and bad will be watching. Deep down employees want to know someone will at least give them a fair shot. Most times the expectation is that will be the HR Department.

If HR loses the trust of the organization they not only become ineffective they become expendable.

They Pay Attention To Trends But They Avoid  Being “Trendy”

Open concept office spaces, flexible work schedules, no limit on paid time off. Read any business publication and you can always find the “Next hot thing” in HR. Here is the problem with many of these “Hot” things. They aren’t necessarily right for every business. Said another way, they sound great but in practice they don’t turn out nearly as well as the article says when implemented beyond the company profiled. HR groups seem to be especially vulnerable to chasing the next hottest trend and I would submit this is because they want to stay relevant within the organization. But this is flawed thinking. I for one am happy to “borrow” a successful concept provided I feel there is a need and that concept fills that need. Too often HR groups run off to implement the next big thing and it either isn’t needed or it is the wrong fix for the problem they are “solving.”

Years after the open concept office we are now seeing studies that show that not all environments or work groups benefit from this arrangement yet companies continue to put them in because “Everybody is doing it.” Netflix made headlines a few years back when their HR Executive Reed Hastings shared an internal document on the company culture. It was both profound and brutally honest…and specific to Netflix. Yet HR group after HR group went about trying to replicate the Netflix culture. Entire consultancies were born from this “Manifesto”. Yet many organizations have found it hard to replicate. The problem? It was specific to Netflix. And it didn’t happen overnight. Did I mention it was specific to Netflix?

There is nothing wrong with sharing, dare I say stealing best practices but make sure that when you do the fit is both right for your organization and is actually going to be a big enough improvement over what currently exists. With change, culture, and with your employees…if you aren’t authentic you will be found out and quickly…and the good you sought to create will not only be undone but be even harder to earn back.

They Actively Listen And Seek To Understand

I recall a time when on a field visit away from my headquarters job the GM for the location expressed his frustration with HR because he had a number of unfilled jobs despite having conducted near constant interviews. When we spoke with the local HR team they were defensive and adamant that the candidates they were sourcing met the hiring criteria.  When we dug in deeper it turns out the hiring criteria was outdated and the GM and HR had not aligned on what it should be. In this case it was a big miss because both parties had failed to connect. Given that HR was doing most of the work I put the responsibility on them.

Instead of going through the motions make sure you take some time up front to make sure everyone is on the same page and if they are not…get there. This is not just to cover your backside (although in some cultures that sadly is needed) but more importantly so you can help the organization be successful and not spin their wheels and yours. The Great HR groups are proactive and engaged…they don’t just run the same play because that is easier. The run the right play because it is better…and they know the right play because they bothered to get input.

The Difference

To be great, HR departments need to not just support the business they need to partner with it too. That is, they need to remember that while well intentioned, many of their efforts are not truly adding value to anyone but their own agenda. If they push change for the sake of change and through time handcuff employees throughout the organization with seemingly reasonable but poorly conceived policies and practices, then the company frankly doesn’t need an HR needs a bankruptcy lawyer. 

Ultimately their job is to help drive the company forward with great hires, smart policies that are thoroughly vetted while helping it stay out of trouble. This happens by being lock step in line with Sr. Executives, knowing the company goals and the operating plan for that year. In the end if they do this and allow the company to function at its peak, employees thrive, HR is both respected and influential, the company makes money and everybody wins. And we all like winning don’t we?

These opinions are my own and not those of any company or employer. By the way…I think Netflix is awesome.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ten Things I Wish I Had Been Told Before Graduating From College - Part II

Part II

6. Set goals and revisit them often

Just after I started my first job (selling office equipment – I was horrible at it by the way) I won a motivational tape as part of a cold calling contest. While my career selling office equipment was short, I continued to absorb anything I could when it came to self-improvement. I stumbled on a goal setting program and it helped me establish goals that have led to my successful career as a Fortune 100 Executive.

Much has been written about goal setting and it is an easy subject to locate and put into practice. What I think differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful goal setters is the practice of reviewing their goals on a frequent basis. I did this naturally for many years and then I hit a period of ten years or so when I set my goals each year but let them die a slow death throughout the year by neglecting them. Needless to say I started to feel like I was in a rut…because I was. When you review your goals frequently you get two benefits; you imprint the goal in your brain (admittedly a very basic explanation of a complex topic) and it helps you to course correct your path if you discover a goal is not quite in line with your value system. Either way, you move yourself and your goals forward. So be sure to set your goals and revisit them at least once a month and avoid getting stuck in a rut.

7. Slow Down A Little…Time Passes Much More Quickly Than You Can Imagine

I can remember being ten years old and thinking I would never be “grown up”. I remember my first day of High School wishing I could just get on to college. I remember seeing all of my children being born and wondering how they might turn out. Today I have been “grown up” for many years. College is a distant memory and my kids are…a law student, a college sophomore and a high school junior. They all have turned out to be terrific individuals and I wonder when it all happened. Truth is it happened in front of my eyes…but like most busy people I wasn’t always paying attention or at least not paying full attention. If anyone ever tells you time flies so pay attention (I just did by the way) listen to them and make a sincere effort to enjoy the journey on the way to reaching your goals and dreams. On trick I love is making a quick mental gratitude list when I wake in the morning…just three to five things that you have in your life that you appreciate. Frankly it makes you more mindful and that helps hold the memories a little tighter and makes time feel a little slower.

8. Limit Fear in your life (it’s hard to eliminate)

If you have ever watched a football game and seen the winning team go into their “prevent” defense you should notice two things. First, the defense doesn’t prevent very much as the other team inevitably scores or at least comes very close. Second, the defense looks like they are playing not to lose…and they are. What should they be doing? Playing to win. I remember a couple of times when I had made the decision to pursue a new job and suddenly I performed at a different level. I was no longer concerned if I made a mistake, if my opinion fell on deaf ears or if I appeared to know more than my boss. Said another way…I was no longer afraid of making a mistake. I wasn’t “preventing” a problem…I was winning.

The same goes for life experiences…you can always find reasons why not to do something and it can be easy to rationalize this as playing for the long haul. The problem is we only know for sure that we have the day in front of us and nothing more. If you play for the long haul too much you may never play and that…is just scary.

9. Your biggest barrier to success is you

In my twenty plus years out In ”The Real World” I could count on one hand the times I just said “Fuck it” and did something just because I felt like it. That is not to say that I ultimately did not go ahead and make many positive, productive steps forward in my life…I just analyzed the living shit out of them first. Looking back it is pretty clear had I followed my gut I would have landed right where I am today…just much sooner and with less angst.
You will hear from your internal voice more than any outside trusted advisor (friend, co-worker, family member) how you can’t do this or that. Tell that voice to shut up. Our lives are filled with opportunities to limit ourselves and often times that is just what we do…we take the path of least resistance because the other way is “Too hard, not possible or beyond my abilities”. Bullshit. Get out of your own way. Aim high, then aim higher. You’ll be surprised how easily you not only reach your goals but exceed them.

10. Most People Are Happy To Help You…You Just Have To Ask

I have many people in my lifetime. Some are super successful, some do okay and others barely get by. The one thing the super successful people have in common (besides an unyielding dedication to pursuing their dreams)? They aren’t afraid to ask people (close acquaintances and people they have never met) if they might be able to help them. Perhaps they need an introduction to a business contact. They ask someone who knows that person if they can open that door. If they are pursuing a business lead they ask around until they find a connection. Sometimes they just set up meetings to meet people who interest them. These first meetings often turn into relationships that can lead to more doors being opened.
I will admit this is not my strongest attribute…asking people for help or introductions or information. Yet the times I have it has always paid off in the form of a new contact, a new found business relationship or even better, a new friend. Next time you need a hand…just ask.

11. Change Creates Stress…This Is Perfectly Normal

I know this was supposed to be ten things but I could not just skip past this one. Change is everywhere and it is happening at blinding speed. Change hurts. Change incites fear. Change rolls over you and just when you think it has passed it comes around for another roll over. I have moved seven times and worked for six companies. Each one of those “changes” was both exciting and terrifying. At every new job I have had, within the first 3-9 months I was sure I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was “right” only once and it turns out it wasn’t the biggest mistake of my life it was just a mistake. A mistake I learned a hell of a lot from having made.

Whether you change jobs, move (this includes heading off the college or grad school) if you don’t feel at some point like you might have made a mistake then you probably aren’t paying attention. The key is to take a step (or two) back and see if what you are feeling is simply stress…stress that you may have overlooked because everything was so new. Eventually it catches up with you and that’s when you just might have a brief meltdown…that’s okay. If it really is a huge mistake you will know this soon enough. In the meantime, try to weather the storm, tough it out a bit longer and see if you don’t start to actually feel like you are where you are supposed to be…regardless make the most of it while you are there.

No matter whether you are just about to graduate or you did so twenty plus years ago I hope this helped at some level…

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Ten Things I Wish I Had Been Told Before Graduating From College – Part I

Graduation “Season” is nearly upon us now and I thought it would be appropriate to share some lessons I have learned long after graduation but wish I had known then. I won’t tell you how long ago I graduated from college but It all depends on your age and time in the workforce on how you might perceive this post. That said, whether you are about to graduate from school or are more of “Seasoned” vet; it’s never too late for some perspective and a shift in your focus. Below I reveal the first five (I will reveal the second five next week) of my ten (Plus a bonus) things I wish I had been told prior to heading out into the real world.

1. Find a Job That Gives You Valuable Experience…Not Just “Great Pay”

Right out of college I decided I wanted to be in “Sales”. I had a couple of friends who were doing that and they were “Making a killing” according to them. Truth be told they were paid about the norm for their jobs. They were not getting rich but they felt like it because they were so far ahead compared to their college days of Ramen noodles and tap water as a basic “meal.”

I had other friends who skipped college (nothing wrong with this approach) to make some money for a year or two in construction or manufacturing. Some were admittedly chasing a buck while others wanted to use the experience to start their own businesses using a trade skill.

I on the other hand landed with a small office equipment company that was a local (not even a regional player). They had no name recognition or a training program and ALL my sales were generated through cold calling. I did not get paid very much and while I did learn sales was not for me I gained very little applicable experience mostly because I was not very good at it or into the work. In fact I sucked at it. I lasted six months.

My next job led me down the path I am on today…negotiating union contracts for management. It was for a construction trade association and their primary role was to represent their members in dealing with their unions. I had no idea how to do this but they were willing to give me a shot. It turned out I was pretty good at it. The pay was “okay” and they too did not have a high level of name recognition but the experience was invaluable. We both took a chance on each other. Years later this experience has translated into a high level executive position. Most of my sales friends have moved to other jobs and have had great careers. The same goes for those who wanted to start their businesses. Those who chased the buck have continued to “chase” more than “catch” and I believe it is because when you start out working if you only care about the paycheck then you won’t pursue your passion…you pursue the money and that rarely leads to long term happiness or job satisfaction. For those of us who were able to find jobs that paid the bills but that also provided the foundation for a great career this gave us a lasting benefit well beyond pay…happiness.

2. It’s okay to not have a set, defined plan for your life

There is a saying that if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. Shortly after I started my job with the trade association I got married. My girlfriend at the time moved to St. Louis where I had started my “Career” and she too found a job. We were married eighteen months later. She started law school while working and I was getting my MBA at night and working as well. We were busy but we had a seven year plan. Save money while getting our degrees. Graduate, find “power jobs” on the East Coast (Boston) and start a family three to four years after getting ourselves established. We were focused…and na├»ve. One semester into Law School my wife announced she was pregnant and our seven year plan was in the trash can.

More than twenty years later we have three children, my wife never finished law school. I have a “Power job”; we have moved seven times. My wife has returned to the workforce now that our kids are older and she is growing her career…just not in law. We have never lived in Boston and Florida is now our longer term goal. Our plan got derailed and it was okay. In fact it was better than okay. We wouldn’t change much of anything. It is great to have a plan…just keep it flexible.

3. There never is a perfect time for anything

Three months before our second child was born my wife was given a promotion. She would make more money and she was allowed to work from home two days a week (A nearly unheard of thing back twenty years ago). At the same time I took a call from a recruiter. I did this just to “Test the waters.” Our son was born in November. I was offered the job in December. We discussed it and my wife was feeling more “mom” than corporate executive to be. We moved for my new job in January. My salary went up. Hers disappeared. Our mortgage was bigger and we made a lot less money. We lived near Toledo, Ohio and it was the dead of winter.

Looking back on it I would have struggled to recommend this move to my younger self. My job was going fine (I still had another two semesters to finish my MBA so this complicated things). My wife’s career was growing; we had another child and a very flexible work situation. Yet, that move led to me gaining the right experience to make another move… away from the cold Midwest down to Jacksonville, Florida with a fortune 200 company (Anheuser-Busch) while allowing my wife to stay home with the kids which was part of our “new” plan. This all happened in under three years.

Had we stayed I am confident things would have been “fine” but the move we made actually was more closely aligned with how we wanted to live our lives then and into the future. It led to a very good career for me and allowed my wife to focus on the kids (which had become her true priority) who though I am admittedly biased have turned out very well. It just wasn’t a slam dunk from a timing perspective. In reality there never would have been a perfect time. If it feels like the right move and you have aligned your thinking and goals then I suggest you worry less about the timing and focus more on the degree to which the move helps you meet your goals and dreams.

4. Compounding Interest Makes You Rich…If You Start Early

As soon as you can you need to start planning for your retirement. Yes, you may have just graduated or you may be just about to graduate but retirement is in your future. The charts below detail the math much better than I can but if the thought of saving for your retirement now seems odd or even the wrong thing to do just after you have graduated, think of it this way…money gives you freedom. Everybody wants freedom so start saving for your freedom. It doesn’t mean you won’t work it just means you will have choices and not be forced to stay in a job or career that you’d rather leave. So save. Save to have choices. Save to be free.

5. Engage Your Community. Volunteering Can Be  A Great Network

If I have one real complaint about my current role it is that I travel too often and find it hard to firmly establish firm roots in my town…even after nearly nine years. Being away on such a frequent yet inconsistent basis means I often miss out on chances to engage with my greater community. Whether it is a fund raiser, a motivational talk being offered at the local college or even a volunteering event on a weekend, I often find I am invited and unable to be in town due to work obligations and I find this frustrating.

One of the best ways to enhance your work life balance is get involved with something outside of work. I know a number of highly respected very successful business people and executives who have many things in common but the one thing that stands out is that they are involved in their community. One person in particular is my “Go to guy” for expanding my network and it never fails that he met the person he introduces me to through a community effort, board appointment or volunteer group. In short, it is a great way to clear your head and it can provide you countless contacts. So get involved…you won’t regret it.

Next Week – Part II

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Good Morning! My Day is Ruined.

It never ceases to amaze me how my "Best laid plans" for the day ahead of me can just get wrecked by 8AM. I often wonder why this happens (could not possibly have anything to do with havng three dogs now could it?) but even more so why I cannot recover leaving me a foul mood the rest of the day.

This is not a daily problem but it is a frequent one so when I read Eric Barker's approach to morning routines and how happiness was a key to start the day, I thought I should share here it is.

Enjoy. Be happy. Be productive and...Good Morning!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

When Work Interferes With Life... Don’t Blame Your Plan. Look at Your Execution

There is a scene in Aaron Sorkin’s classic series The West Wing where Toby Ziegler, The White House Communications Director is working at his desk and a co-worker interrupts him and asks “Do you have a minute?” Toby answers “Would it make a difference if I said no?” The co-worker continues with the interruption without answering.  Most of us feel like Toby at some point during our work week if not every work day. It’s an all too common complaint among workers; Why can’t I get anything accomplished…it seems like I make a plan every day and at the end of every week I am further behind. Why? Perhaps the plan isn’t the problem but your execution of that plan that needs to be changed.

Work interruptions occur every day and even when we attempt to “Plan them in” they can still derail the best of your intentions to have a productive day at work. Add in looming deadlines that creep closer and you have a formula for added stress and for your work life balance to be thrown out of sync once again. The problem is everyone you work with plans their day and they often don’t care about your plan…they care about theirs even if it interrupts yours. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Below are some of my suggestions and tips that have enabled me to put more life back in my own work life equation.

Go Early, Stay Less Late

Read any creative “help” guide (thinking writers here) and you will see a common theme: The best hours of the day to work on their writing is before the sun comes up. This is certainly true for me and I have made it an (irregular) habit when I need to crank out some serious work…the kind of work that requires quiet and concentration and not having someone ask me if I have a minute. Think about it, when do most people arrive to work? The vast majority show up between 8 AM and 9 AM. If you arrive at 7 AM you could probably get in a half hour to forty five minutes of uninterrupted work. For me that isn’t enough. If you arrive at 6 AM now you have an hour and a half to an hour and forty five minutes to really get something done.

When I was first starting out as an HR generalist for a large family owned construction company I was charged with creating from scratch a salary structure and job description book for every salaried job in the company. They did not have one and I did not know how to create one. I had two months. My typical work days were filled with phone calls and panic stricken emails along with many people wanting “a minute” of my time. My house was filled with a new mother, a new born, a toddler and a lunatic dog. Work at home was not happening. So I did the only thing I could think of…I arrived at work every day at 5 AM until I completed that project. Three things happened. I got the project done on time and very well. My work days from 8 AM to 5:30 PM were much less stressful because my big project had been attended to that day already. I got a whopping raise because two of the VP’s noticed that I was beating them into work on a regular basis.

The key is to find your “Go” time and leverage the heck out of it. If it is morning do what I did. You should find you are able to accomplish some amazing work. The other key…I always left by 5:30 PM. Twelve hours give or take was more than enough and as I always say, most people who stay after work are waiting for traffic to clear not to get much work done.

Find Solitude

Sometimes we can’t start a routine or even an irregular habit of getting to work before the sun comes up. Perhaps it is family obligations in the morning, a transportation issue or even more common…some people are horrible morning people and the dark hours of the morning are meant for sleep not work. I understand that. In those cases when your peak hours may occur in the middle of your work day or much later in the day after work you simply need to find a quiet place where you can concentrate.

For me, I used to need to do a ton of busy work (reviewing dozens and dozens of performance appraisals prior to setting merit increases as an example) and I did not want to devote the early creative hours of the day to that work…it was wasting my creative time in my opinion. Nevertheless I needed to get a lot done and not be interrupted.

The office was out even if I closed my door (yes they had doors back then) because the phone would ring and the email would pile up while I had one eye watching that happen. Home was now filled with three kids and a different more stable dog but work again was not much of an option at home. When these times occurred I would head off to the public library, find a big table to myself, spread out the work and turn off the phone. I still do this from time to time and I would say my productivity level is double or triple to what it is in the office (which is now a home office). I know many people feel this way about going to Starbucks to “work” but unless that work needs to be with other people I find it simply too distracting. Regardless, when you can find that solitude you might be surprised how much you can get done in a short amount of time…in essence you are giving yourself back some valuable life hours by being more efficient at work.

Deal With It. Postpone It. Reject It.

I get emails and calls all the time for work where people want my help. This is a nice feeling except sometimes (many times) my help may not be needed or it may not be needed right then. Sometimes I am actually needed at that specific moment. Based on these scenarios here is what I do:
If the issue needs my attention and it is truly time sensitive I will deal with it right then. Stuff happens and you cannot just ignore it because it interferes with your well thought out plan for the day. In those cases, dig in and handle the issue.

Often times the caller or emailer wants your help because they want to work on this issue right now because it has landed on their desk but it is not subject to a specific deadline. They just want to move it off their to do pile. If I don’t have time right then and it is not urgent but it is important I let them know when I can help them by first asking when this item or project is due. Beware! Some people create false senses of urgency and say “Right away”. I always ask, then why are you just calling me now? This is a bit tough but it signals to the caller that you know they do not have their act together and they almost always back down. I follow up with when is the real deadline? Inevitably there are a number of days available. I then set an appointment based on my availability and move on.

Many times the caller simply wants my help on something I have already asked them to do. I am fine with some guidance but not with them delegating the work back up to me…if they do that I don’t need them. Neither do you.  In those cases I provide what guidance is needed (sometimes at a later time based on my schedule) and send them on their way. Sometimes they will ask me to review a “draft” which I find really means review some half-baked work in the hopes I will complete it. I don’t ask for drafts because what you usually get back is a poor effort…after all it is only a “draft.” I ask for a finished project that we may tweak. The results are usually better and I don’t have to do the work someone else was assigned to do.

Say NO A Lot More Than Yes

I get invited to a lot of meetings. Some require me to get on a plane some are by phone or webinar. Since I travel roughly forty to forty-five weeks a year for business, I guard my time carefully. Over the past couple of years I was invited to a series of recurring meetings that took place every two to four weeks. One set had over twenty-five people on it. Another was just as easily accomplished through a PowerPoint sent by email. I attended each set of meetings twice. When it was confirmed this was a nice to do (for others not for me) and the business was not going to grind to a halt if I opted out…I did just that. A few months later someone asked me if I was on “All those calls.” I said that I had opted out. They were jealous and confirmed again many people were meeting to meet. This was not efficient and while it made some people feel good, in reality they were getting nothing done that could not be accomplished in a group email.

Opting out or saying “No” saved me countless hours. You can’t do this for every meeting but before you commit, make sure you know if you are essential or just invited “In case something comes up you could help with."  If it is the latter, tell them to call you when that happens and skip the time wasting meeting.

Fully Utilize “After Work Hours”

I work in what many people consider to be a stressful job. I negotiate Labor Agreements for my Company with Unions. Primarily Teamsters. When I tell people what I do I am often asked “Do you drink a lot?” My answer: Sometimes. My work often requires that I fly to the location where the contract needs to be negotiated. I cover the United States and we have over one hundred fifty contracts. In any given year I negotiate twelve to fifteen contracts and get involved in other “union related projects” that also require quite a bit of time. My job requires me to engage in confrontational discussions on a nearly  weekly basis and it requires that I think on my feet and talk…a lot. So when I get home or back to my hotel I will admit three fingers of a premium whiskey over ice seems like a fair trade off for what I deal with on a regular basis.

Here’s the thing. Everything in moderation…whiskey certainly falls under this as does any alcohol. Not trying to preach here but if you find you are losing the hours at the end of the day because you are just too tired to do anything more ask yourself this. Am I truly using the hours after work to enjoy my life and/or manage my life to the fullest? It doesn’t have to be whiskey. It can be Television, Netflix, surfing the web mindlessly (I opted out of Facebook a year ago and have never looked back) or even just answering work emails.

The point is if you leave work and get home by 6 or 7 PM you still have two to four solid hours to not just exist but live. Exercise, cook a great meal, get some work done on that house project, hang with your kids (as in really pay attention to them) or take some time just to calm down and be quiet and introspective. It can pay dividends the next day as you might just feel less “over worked.” Sure we all like a cocktail or have a favorite series we pop on Netflix but if you find these hours of your day are lost more often than lived, you might want to rethink how you use them.

You Got This

I don’t think I have laid out anything overly groundbreaking or “new” here. But I do think we all need to be reminded that we actually do control much of our work and personal lives. We all need to take a step or two back and look to see where we, not others, are creating undue stress and fatigue because we have fallen into some poor habits or routines. So do yourself that favor and take a step back now and take a quick inventory. You just might find you have more time than you think or at least that you can create some more time with some simple adjustments.

You can access my website at the attached link. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


Welcome to the inaugural post on my newest Blog Live First Work Second. I have been pondering this concept now for a couple of years at least. It just seems that we all feel that work HAS to come first and then we can fit in life ...if we get the time.The problem is we rarely get to really focus on adding life to our lives because we just seem to get more work. And we delay or defer life again and again which can turn into years or even decades.

I am reminded of the old adage:

"No one on their death bed ever wishes they had spent more time at the office".

Yet, to be honest for some people working is very happily their life. I think in most cases this is because they have found their niche, their purpose in life and when we do that life takes on new meaning. When we know what we are doing adds value AND aligns with our own personal values then work no longer feels like feels like fun and we want life to be fun...even if we work.

Now that's not to say that these people don't have stress and don't have many of the same worries as others but somehow there is something liberating about knowing you are doing what you are supposed to do...with people you want to be around.

Attached is a link to a great essay by Ginger Makela Riker who talks about making a major life change and starting her own business. Clearly there is stress and there is worry. But there is also exhilaration and excitement...there is LIFE...and work. You can read her story by clicking here:

For those of you like me who have not completely jumped of the ledge into the waters of "freedom" yet, do not despair. There are plenty of people who work for others and yet live very happily outside their work...they live lives of purpose and meaning...just outside their work zones. In future posts I will explore these people too and how we all can find what we really are looking for...LIFE.