Archive for July, 2007


One of my key messages of Career Secret Sauce is to “do the unexpected” to build a great reputation that will protect you when the going gets rough.  With summer upon us, it’s a good time to look at the dynamics of vacation time and realize that therein lies an easy opportunity to build your career equity.

Here’s an article by Tara Weiss from Forbes.com on “what the mice should do while the cat’s away.”



Business Basics
Enjoy Your Boss’ Vacation
Tara Weiss, 06.05.07, 3:10 PM ET

While the cat’s away the mice will play. That’s the mentality many employees have when their boss leaves for vacation. It’s a time to roll out of bed a few hours later, take long lunches and make long distance phone calls.

But consider this: Instead of goofing around during your boss’ time off, try making the most of the peace and quiet that comes when he or she isn’t peering over your shoulder or giving you more assignments. If you do that, you’re likely to gain more independence and thwart the efforts of a micromanaging boss.

“It’s a great time for you to shine,” says Doug James, vice president of EMI music publishing with responsibility for film soundtracks, who manages 10 staffers directly. “When someone isn’t over your shoulder you’re allowed to excel and you get steady on your feet. We’ve all had those great days, when the day flew by because you’ve accomplished so much.”

Steve Chandler understands the challenges of dealing with a micromanager. He’s a consultant and author of The Hands-Off Manager, who is called into companies to increase productivity. What bosses don’t realize when they call upon him is that they’re frequently the people who keep their employees from functioning on their own.

Chandler’s first task when he enters a new business is to observe how a boss manages. Are employees given the freedom to set their own priorities and see a project from beginning to end? If not, he gently teaches the boss how to back off.

What he’s learned over the years is that bosses often stand in the way of productivity. “Some companies have done studies to show productivity goes up when managers leave,” says Chandler. “They wonder, ‘How can that be? We hired them to manage productivity?’ The answer is that today’s worker is completely independent, knowledgeable and self-taught. They grow up faster and contribute more if you leave them alone–they love the responsibility.”

To make the most of your boss’ vacation, first meet with him or her and present the items you believe need to get accomplished during the vacation. Since you’re likely to get those daily tasks accomplished without your boss there to interfere, take on a larger project too. Perhaps it’s something that’s been on the back burner that you couldn’t get around to doing. Now is your chance.

Since bosses don’t always see the big picture, don’t forget to toot your own horn. Once your boss returns, communicate what you’ve done. Say to your boss: “While you were away certain things got accomplished and I’d like to bring you up to date.” If your manager is extremely hands-on and you’re looking for some freedom, the next step is to gracefully request more independence. Chandler recommends saying something like: “As you can see, I get a lot done when I’m left alone. And that frees you up to do other projects.”

Bosses need to see that their staffers are capable of taking initiative. But it’s a fine line, so don’t overstep your authority. If you’re able to make smart decisions while your manager is away, that means he or she has less work to come back to when the vacation is over.

That mentality has worked well for Michelle Winkley, who works in human resources at Price Waterhouse Coopers’ Los Angeles office. “I think about what my boss wants and needs and I have it done before she returns,” says Winkley. “We track utilization of our benefits in this office so when my boss comes back and asks how busy we were when she was gone, I have the reports ready for her. It builds confidence in me.”

The best part is, if your boss knows to trust you during a vacation it ensures that he or she will take more time off. And that’s a good thing all around.


Read Full Post »

Go Red Sox!


Last night was a a very touching night for my favorite team — The Boston Red Sox. Jon Lester returned to the big leagues for the first time since going down with cancer almost a year ago. He pitched great. Perhaps winning a full time spot in the starting rotation or, with the trading deadline approaching, perhaps it was just a big job interview for some team that is considering doing a deal with the Sox. If that was the case, Theo Epstein (the Red Sox GM) will have a much easier job getting a deal done involving Lester than he would have yesterday.

Great performances in front of large audiences at work not only bullet-proof your career, they are also the best way to assure a steady stream of new job opportunities continue to come your way.

Making Presentations is Just One Big Job Interview

When you’re speaking to a group, you have the power to command their attention. People not only hear the words you say, but they develop a lasting impression of your communication skills and an enhanced perception of your intellectual prowess. Speakers who can carry themselves well at the podium are generally viewed as “bigger than life”. If the audience is impressed with what you say and how you say it, they’ll remember you and may become fans for life.

In the summer of 1993, I was the Senior Marketing Manager for Computervision’s North American Operation. Things were not going well. The company was losing money and an upstart competitor was hitting North America the hardest. We had scheduled a big sales meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to unveil a new “formula” for increasing sales. As the senior marketing executive for North America, it was my assignment to define “the formula”, create most of the material and deliver 80% of the first day’s presentations. This would be a daunting task, and I struggled for weeks trying to find a theme that would win over a tough audience of seasoned salespeople.

The biggest problem Computervision had was its complicated product line. The company had been around for decades and suffered from overlapping products, built on old technology, and new products that didn’t actually work yet. The corporate marketing department made matters worse. Every product had a marketing manager whose career hung on the unit sales of their product line. This meant that they never admitted to having any product weaknesses and whenever they compared their offering to the competition, they made it sound like “only a fool” wouldn’t choose Computervision. The sales force knew this wasn’t true. They believed that they were losing deals for product reasons, not bad salesmanship; but the not-so-hidden agenda in corporate marketing was to blame North American Operations for the company’s weak sales performance.

My epiphany for “The Formula” hit me. All I needed to do was to delineate the strong products from the weaker ones, and then focus the sales force on just selling the products that were winning head-to-head competitions in North America. I could also point out which products were “dogs” and steer them away from wasting their time pitching them. Poking fun at these hapless offerings would provide me with grist for making jokes at the expense of the home office — something the sales force loved to do. This turned out to be exactly what the audience was looking for.

I created a four-hour workshop on this theme. I knew I had good material, but I was still nervous about my ability to deliver a solid presentation to a room of 300 skeptics. Then I had a second epiphany. Sales people hated marketing presentations because they never trusted marketing people. But I was about to change that and I knew my style would win their trust. By pulling this off, I’d turn a room full of seasoned skeptics into a room full of future job references. I started thinking about the presentation as one big job interview. Since Computervision was failing, most of the people in the audience would be working somewhere else shortly and wherever they ended up, there might be an opportunity for me as a marketing executive.

This change of mindset, combined with good content, made the meeting a rousing success. Of course, Computervision continued to fail and I left a year later to pursue a better job for more money. The people in the audience that day ended up helping me win my next position, as well as the one after that. It did turn out to be a big job interview.

While an important presentation is like a job interview there is one exception, the audience seldom gets to ask you tough questions you can’t answer. You control the agenda; you make your case, back it up, and declare your conclusions. Hopefully you’ll be able to get off the stage while everyone is still clapping. People who witness a great presentation become job leads for the rest of your career.

Read Full Post »


Every year around this time, Money Magazine published their silly list of “Best Places to Live” and some small town in America runs out and orders a big sign to place on the edge of town announcing that they’ve been chosen. The truth is, I have yet to see a “winning town” that I’d really live in.

 Take this year’s winner –Middleton, Wisconsin.

Money has a screen they use to select the best town in America, they quantify a number of community atributes like:

  • Affordable housing    

  • Plentiful leisure activities    

  • Plentiful cultural options    

  • Job growth    

  • Sunny weather    

  • Short commute time    

  • Good health care access

If you look at the article below from WSBTV in Atlanta, you’ll discover a few interesting facts about Middleton. For example, “Middleton is home to Capital Brewery and its expansive beer garden, where patrons are encouraged to pack a picnic and stay to watch movies or listen to a band. The American Girl doll maker is one of Middleton’s largest employers. The only negatives mentioned for Middleton were a lack of ethnic diversity and its long, cold winters.”

So great culural activities — if you like pinics in the beer garden; great jobs — if you want to work in a brewery or a doll factory; and plenty of sunshine — during long cold winters!

Perhaps Middleton is not your #1 place to live. That’s the problem with Money’s list, it’s built out of Money’s criteria screen and that’s a “one size fit’s all” filter.

That said, I really like the concept behind money’s list. When you start your career, you need to look beyond your chosen vocation and think about where you want to live and attributes of that region or community. In effect, make up your own “Best Places to Live” screening criteria. Affordable living is great, but I’d rather have “high paying jobs” any day. When it come to liesure and culture, it better be things YOU want to do.

So think about the lifestyle you really want to live. Then look at the communities that have that lifestyle and research the economy and job opportunities for YOUR chosen vocation. This is a big picture activity, so you don’t have to get real precise. The point is, think about the TOTAL life you want for yourself and then search for a job in places that are highly likey to support that lifestyle.


Home Sweet Home? Best U.S. Towns Ranked

California’s Home To Most Top 100 Towns

POSTED: 8:12 am EDT July 17, 2007

A small town in the shadow of Madison, Wis., has its own reason to boast.

Money magazine declared this week that Middleton is the “Best Place to Live” in America for 2007.

The magazine picked Middleton because it’s a tight-knit community and close to the cultural and economic benefits of Madison. The state capital is roughly 14 times larger than Middleton. It was named by Money as the best place to live in 1998.

With a population just over 17,000, Middleton was praised by Money for its small-town charm, booming economy and extensive parks and bike trails.

Money said many of its residents commute the seven miles to Madison for work, but enjoy the amenities that a smaller town brings.

Middleton is home to Capital Brewery and its expansive beer garden, where patrons are encouraged to pack a picnic and stay to watch movies or listen to a band. The American Girl doll maker is one of Middleton’s largest employers. The only negatives mentioned for Middleton were a lack of ethnic diversity and its long, cold winters.

Many residents said on Monday that the magazine ranking just confirms what they’ve known for a long time. The city finished seventh in the magazine’s ranking in 2005. The city’s pedestrian-friendly and beautifully laid out downtown was just one of the city’s assets that got the attention of the magazine. Those in the business of drawing people to the community credit visionary city leadership.

“The leaders in the ’60s and ’70s saw fit to include a large commercial component in the city,” said Val Steel, the city’s tourism director. “Some things that we have drawn probably because of the welcoming nature of Middleton and the hotels and the schools and the industry are some restaurants and some businesses you don’t normally find in towns of 17,000-18,000,” said Steel.

 California is home to the most Top 100 towns on the 2007 list, according to Money. Claremont, Clayton, Coronado, El Dorado Hills, Grand Terrace, Granite Bay, La Mirada, La Palma and Moorpark all made it in the top 100. To see how the cities in your state ranked, click here. In 2006, Money magazine called Fort Collins, Colo, the “Best Place to Live” in America, citing its natural setting, vibrant downtown and the presence of Colorado State University.

The magazine looked at 2,876 places with populations between 7,500 and 50,000. They screened out retirement-oriented communities, places where income is less than 90 percent or more than 180 percent of the state median and towns that are more than 95 percent white. The researchers also eliminated towns with low education scores, high crime rates, declines or sharp increases in population, projected job losses or lack of access to airports or teaching hospitals. The magazine said it then ranked the places that remained based on job, income and cost-of-living data; housing affordability; school quality; arts and leisure opportunities; ease of living; health-care access; and racial diversity. Here is the list of the top 25 places to live, according to Money magazine:

  1. Middleton, Wis.
  2. Hanover, N.H.
  3. Louisville, Colo.
  4. Lake Mary, Fla.
  5. Claremont, Calif.
  6. Papillion, Neb.
  7. Milton, Mass.
  8. Chaska, Minn.
  9. Nether Providence, Pa.
  10. Suwanee, Ga.
  11. Sammamish, Wash.
  12. West Goshen, Pa.
  13. Montville, N.J.
  14. Apex, N.C.
  15. Horsham, Pa.
  16. La Palma, Calif.
  17. Olney, Md.
  18. Sherwood, Ore.
  19. Corrales, N.M.
  20. Lisle, Ill.
  21. Chelmsford, Mass.
  22. Holly Springs, N.C.
  23. Hillsborough, N.J.
  24. Nanuet, N.Y.
  25. Baldwin, N.Y.

Are You Single?

If you are single and trying to decide where you may have good luck in finding a mate, there may be some help for you. Money magazine also listed the towns with the highest percentage of singles. Here is its top 10:

    1. State College, Pa. (76.5% single)
    2. Durhan, N.H. (74.5% single)
    3. Amherst Center, Mass. (73.7% single)
    4. Storrs, Conn.(71.2% single)
    5. Oxford, Ohio (69.5% single)
    6. Stanford, Calif. (68.8% single)
    7. East Lansing, Mich. (67.1% single)
    8. Indiana, Pa. (66.6% single)
    9. Blacksburg, Va. (65.9% single)
    10. Geneseo, N.Y. (65.1% single)

Other Lists

Money magazine also listed the cities with the highest median household income. Hillsborough, Calif., topped that list. The city with the priciest homes was Montecito, Calif. And the city with the most affordable homes was Northbrook, Ohio. As for job growth, Money said Tooele County, Utah, is the area with the highest percentage job growth. The fastest commute went to Pella, Iowa, which Money said had the quickest median travel time to work. The slowest commute was in Discovery Bay, Calif., which had the longest median travel time to work. The hottest city, which had the highest average temperatures in July, was Davis, Calif. The coldest city, which had the lowest average January temperatures, was Rochester, Minn. The city with the youngest average population was Storrs, Conn., with a median age of 20.65. The skinniest population was in Marin County, Calif., with an average body mass index of 24.14. And the city with the cleanest air was Troy, Ala. The “best places to live” feature has appeared in Money since 1987.

Read Full Post »


Last week I introduced our newest lesson in Career Secret Sauce — Master the Art of Presentation.  In weeks to come, I’ll share a number of winning techniques for becoming a great public speaker, but before I do, I’d like to discuss a few of the reasons why people who can regularly deliver great presentations are admired by management and coworkers and ultimately galvanise their job security.


Everyone Loves a Good Spokesman

Your newly developed speaking prowess will probably put you in high demand. Moreover, you may even earn the support, admiration and outright affection of your supervisor and coworkers, particularly if you’re talking about them. White color work is very political and just like political campaigns; departments are constantly “running for office”. They are seeking more headcount, increased funding, better facilities, and of course promotions for everyone. With just a little fine-tuning, you can turn any presentation into a showcase for the people you work with and thus become their eternal hero.

In 1993 at Computervision, I inherited an unusual subordinate we’ll call Paul. Although he had been with the company for years, his services were never appreciated. He had bounced from the Prime Division to the Computervision Division, from the marketing department to the services department, and from product manager to sales. That was where he found his Career Secret Sauce. The Services Department was having a tough time explaining their new strategy for selling service solutions. They were trying to create an image that went beyond “just fixing things that broke”. Paul recognized this and volunteered to become the spokesman for the new Service Department Strategy. What’s more, he fashioned his presentations in such a way as to promote the heretofore hidden skills and capabilities of his department. Suddenly, Paul was flying all over the world, telling people how great the services department was; and even better, the new service products were selling.

This development marked the end of Paul’s career malaise. I recruited him into Marketing for North America and made him our pitch man for the hottest new products we were promoting. About a year into to working for me, Paul resigned to pursue a better paying job. As soon as word got out, executives, and sales people bombarded me demanding that I find a way to make him stay. Since he had left for money it was simple. I gave Paul a huge raise and he ended up staying. I even recruited him a few years later to join me in another company and once again to be a traveling spokesman for our new product strategy.

Paul figured out that by becoming the spokesman for the service organization, he would enhance his job security, compensation, and personal freedom. Quite possibly, the same sort of success can come to you.

Read Full Post »


As an amateur chef, I am a big fan of the Food Channel. Although I’m less passionate about reality shows, I do confess to TIVO’ing the latest series “The Next Food Network Star” and watching it my family.

This morning we watched last Sunday’s episode and my daughter’s favorite contestant – Adrian bit the dust.This week’s challenge called for the contestants to perform their first 5 minute cooking demo for the camera. It was an unusual episode in that all 5 remaining contestants bombed horribly. Cut fingers, crying to go home, complex recipes no one would ever try themselves, and a myriad of other disasters. Alton Brown (one of the judges) lamented “can’t we just send everyone home and start again with new contestants?

This sort of thing happens from time to time in the workplace. You may be a salesman and every one on your team misses their sales goals. You could be in engineering and your design team misses a new product release date, or you’re in manufacturing and your plant fails to make a production goal.At times like these, there are no winners, only losers. You just want to make sure that you don’t end up as the biggest loser.

Back to Adrian’s suicide play. At the end of the show they go around the room and critique each wannabe chef. As they often do, before they ripped Adrian’s performance apart, they asked him how he’d thought he’d done. This is when Adrian made his fatal mistake. He said “other than 15 seconds, I thought I did pretty well.”

He did not do pretty well, he was terrible, but so was everyone else. In fact, he may not have been the worst, but by soft peddling his self assessment, he guaranteed himself a ticket home.

The Food Channel judges and your boss both want the same thing — great performances from the people their responsible for. Failure is bad, but trying to sell a bad performance as “being okay” shouts out that you have low expectations for yourself and may not even know what a great job is!

No matter how you feel about a recent weak performance, if you boss asks for a self assessment, ALWAYS be your own strongest critic. You can’t do anything about bad results after the facts, but unless you want to be sent home like Adrian, make sure your boss knows that YOU KNOW you can do better next time.

Read Full Post »