Friday, March 30, 2007

Patience and Persistence

A few years back William H. Macy starred in a made-for-TV movie called Door To Door. The movie is based on the true story of Bill Porter who was born with cerebral palsy. Bill Porter was a door-to-door salesperson of household goods. Through his hard work and perseverence, he was able to become one of his company's top salespeople, and had a 40-year long career in sales.

When I'm having a tough day, things aren't going well, or I'm just stuck, I often think about a poignant scene in the movie. Bill Porter is on one of his first days at work, and sits down for his brown bag lunch. Inside his lunch bag his mother has written in ketchup "Patience" on one slice of bread, and "Persistence" on the other. As Bill was having a trying day, his mother's encouragement made him stop to to realize, that if he just kept at it and kept trying, he would succeed.

Many times I wish my mom would make me that sandwich. But I've also come to realize that those two words do wonders. Many times in my career I would keep making contacts, following up with my clients, and making that last phone call--even if I thought it might cause my client to slam the phone down in disgust. Funny thing, those calls often turned into the call of the day, and ended up as either new business or a lasting friendship.

As a sales manager, I often would jump in the trenches with my sales staff to try to crack into new accounts. I'd be given the tough to contact manager, or the department that no one could break. After a few days, I'd be on my way out the door to my new sales appointments, and my staff would ask me how I got the appointment. My answer would be, "I called". Did I say something witty on the phone? Did I drop a name of an important person? No, I just called, introduced myself and asked if I could visit with them to learn more about their upcoming needs.

While this isn't new or groundbreaking, it works. I loved the movie Door to Door, and often say to myself, Patience and Persistence. And it works.

Gotta run, making calls!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Pregnant Pause: How Maternity and Motherhood are Viewed by an Employer

Recently I was reading a career advice column that brought up parenthood. A young newly married career woman was at dinner with her boss and colleagues. The conversation came around to her plans for her future career and family. She said she is looking forward to starting a family. After recounting this story to her husband and the advice column, the unanimous answer was to never talk specifically about your own family planning.

I have to agree with this. I have been on both sides of this topic, initially being my employer's first woman they employed who worked through my pregnancy and then returned from maternity leave, and later as an employer with people who were starting families. So I'll give my thoughts from the employee and employer perspective.

Planning your family takes personal and couple discussions about how you will raise the child, how you will afford expenses that arise, and how you will juggle responsibilities. These are very intimate issues to work out. A big issue is how you will handle your career once you become pregnant and when the baby arrives. Everyone handles this differently, and today more than ever it's a couple's solution. Some people can work throughout the pregnancy and maternity leave without missing a beat. Others have severe medical issues that limit a woman's ability to work during the pregnancy. And other woman have occasionally complaints during pregnancy that can affect performance.

So now your bundle of joy arrives. I remember distinctly the first night my baby was home with us and wouldn't stop crying that I was completely responsible for this new human. That's quite a life changing event. For many women and men today, maternity leave is the first time they haven't worked for a period of time. Some people find it a great bonding time with the new family, and others realize that they don't have the strong nurturing feelings they expected to have. Give yourself time to adjust. This is when some people find that they can accomplish work duties while away, or can barely accomplish getting bathed. Make sure you give yourself options so you don't have to run back to work before you are ready.

This is all well and good--but what if you are an employer who needs to keep the company running. What do you do if your star employee all of a sudden can't remember her sales appointments (surprisingly plausible), or your department manager announces his desire to take family leave, or your right hand winemaker is on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy? If you plan ahead you can make sure that systems are in place to catch any problems ahead of time. You can also cross-train other employees to handle any time off. You can have more frequent talks with your employee to keep abreast of things that might come up during their leave. And most importantly you want to support them during this exciting time.

Great, but how does an employer really feel. When an employee discusses their hopes to get pregnant there is always a twinge of concern. Will the employee become dreamy eyed and forget their past hard-charging ways? Will they assure the boss that they will return to work 6 weeks after the baby arrives, and then find a new job and leave the employer high and dry? Will a father find he loves being a stay at home dad and surprise his company by giving notice? These things all happen, and are why an employer pauses when parenthood is brought up.

So I'll come back to what the advice column said. Never discuss your personal family planning. As a young career woman I always praised new parents and echoed other's comments about how great their accomplishment was, but kept it quite separate from my own personal life. I may have thought that was the cutest baby I ever saw and was dying to have one of my own. But I loved my work, and my family, and didn't want to ruin my future possibilities. So I kept my home life private and also made sure I had options if my own family situation caused me to change my career aspirations.

What do you think? Any experiences or comments?

Marriage, Mortgage, Mercedes and Maternity: The 4 Ms that give bosses pause

Good companies always hope to retain their employees. They have various tools for retention. Many offer career advancement or financial incentives including generous salaries, vested 401(k) plans and retirement accounts. Others provide excellent benefit and bonus packages. There are a myriad of other tools employers use that keep people engaged and committed to their company.

As a former manager, I would work to have high employee retention. Nothing pleased me more than having a good employee who was settling down, getting married, buying a house and leasing a shiny new sportscar. Why? Because as people relied on the money and benefits they were receiving to maintain their standard of living, the more likely they were to work to retain their job.

With the average American living paycheck to paycheck, an employer has a real advantage. They are maintaining the employees' standards of living. What the employer says, goes. And if the employees aren't managing their career or trying to sock away a bit of money for a rainy day, they don't have a position of power to protect them from workplace problems.

Although I like conspicuous consumption just as much as the next guy, if you want to have some negotiation power with your current employer, give yourself a financial cushion. A great example of this is a recent friend who couldn't take the bullying and condescending remarks of his immediate supervisor, and resigned on the spot after a particularly nasty lambasting. The boss was flabbergasted--employees today don't just leave a job. If they did, how would they live. But if you have some financial independence, you don't have to take it anymore.

So work to give yourself some power as an employee. You'll be less stressed, be able to make sound career and financial decisions, and keep an eye on your long term career goals instead of just your next paycheck.

What about Maternity?--I'll leave that as a pregnant pause until my next post.

Monday, March 5, 2007

How long should I expect to be job hunting?

A colleague of mine is currently job hunting, and has been astonished at how long the process takes. I know all too well that the recruiting process can take a long time. Job hunting, interviewing and accepting a new position take time.

With production positions the window to find a new position is between January and July. If you haven't found a new position by then, professional courtesy is to hang in until after harvest. As mentioned in previous blogs, non-production positions are not tied to harvest as much.

The normal job hunting cycle is typically one to two months for an entry level candidate. Once you become more specialized and experienced the job hunt time changes. With between 2-5 years of specialized experience with a track record of expanding responsibilities you are a hot commodity, and the job hunt may be quick. But if your goal is to work at a select winery or smaller sized company, the hunt can take two to four months. Once your experience gets very specialized or your responsibilities greater than the average winery position, the timing is longer. A Director or Senior level position can take up to 12 months to find.

So how can you shorten the time it takes? The first and most important thing to do is to always take an active role in your own career management. Taking new courses, getting an advanced degree, participating in industry events and taking on additional responsibilities at work are very important. Next, keep an active network of peers and colleagues. These are people you can use to gauge your current job track, to ask questions, and to keep tabs on who is where, and who has recently moved on. You also can use this network to find out what other companies are like, and if they would be a desirable future employer. Lastly, this group can put a good word in for you when a position does come up.

Now when you decide to get a new job, get an idea of your time frame and then start charting your course. Talk with your network, look at job openings, contact companies that interest you, and follow up on promising news. If you are actively managing your career, the job hunt will go faster and smoother, with better results.