The week@work – U.S. unemployment at nine year low, Rosberg and Schultz exit roles on top, and “mother nature needs her daughters”

If you weren’t paying attention, you would have thought the major story this week@work was about the 800 folks who will retain positions at Carrier, a division of United Technologies. You might have missed the news that U.S. unemployment reached a nine year low @4.6%, adding 178,000 jobs in November.

In ‘departures’, newly crowned Formula One champion, Nico Rosberg announced his retirement and Starbuck chief, Howard Schultz, will be stepping down from his position next year.  Seventy-six women scientists have embarked on an expedition to Antarctica to focus on climate change and women who work in the sciences.

Ana Swanson reported on the U.S. unemployment news for The Washington Post, Wonkblog.

“Data released on Friday showed a sharp drop in the unemployment rate from 4.9 percent the previous month, driven partly by the creation of new jobs and partly by people retiring and otherwise leaving the labor force.

A broader measure of unemployment, the U-6 rate, which includes those who have given up looking for work and part-time workers who would like to have full-time jobs, fell to 9.3 percent, the lowest reading since April 2008. The figure still remains elevated from average levels in the 2000s.”

Paul Weaver covered the announcement of F1 champion, Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing five days after capturing the title for The Guardian.

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“Nico Rosberg has stunned Formula One by announcing his retirement, just five days after the 31-year-old became the sport’s world champion…

He said he had “climbed my mountain”. Now he is going out at the peak.

Rosberg said he first started thinking about retiring when he won the Japanese Grand Prix in early October and realised the title was within his grasp. “From the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became world champion,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page announcing his departure.”

At the other end of the career spectrum, the visionary leader of Starbucks, Howard Schultz announced he will be stepping away from his leadership position at the company he joined in 1982. Andrew Ross Sorkin reported on the change at the top for The New York Times.

“I wanted to build the company my father never got to work for,” he said.

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At an all-hands employee meeting at the company’s headquarters on Thursday, Mr. Schultz was greeted with tears and a standing ovation. “For me, perhaps there are other things that are part of my destiny,” he told them.”

Mr. Schultz said he intends for Starbucks to “maintain our moral courage.” And he defended efforts like the company’s “Race Together” campaign to spur a conversation about race relations, saying that it “was not a failure. I’d do it again.” He said such campaigns are deeply embedded in the company’s brand of “challenging the status quo about the role of a public company.” He is excited by the question, “Since we have stores in every community in America, how can we use our scale for good?”

How do folks successfully transition from one phase of their work life to the next?

Adam Bryant‘s ‘Corner Office’ interview with Nyansa chief executive, Abe Ankumah provides a hint.

“Be a lifelong student. That doesn’t mean go enroll in a bunch of classes all the time. It’s a mind-set. It means continuing to push yourself to learn rather than saying, “I’ve got this degree in this, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

The other thing is not to become too comfortable in a role. Chances are that if you’re comfortable, you’re not learning, you’re not pushing the envelope and you’re probably going to get stagnated.”

The last story this week@work is an example of pushing the envelope, for the greater good.

On Thursday I received a tweet from BBC Australia about an expedition of women scientists traveling to Antarctica. The tag line of their sponsor, ‘Homeward Bound’, is “mother nature needs her daughters”.

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From the BBC  Australia story – “They call Ushuaia, a cold and windy port city in Argentina, the end of the world.

It’s from here that the largest ever all-female expedition to Antarctica will depart, with more than 70 women with backgrounds in science set to spend 20 days at sea.

The voyage is part of the Homeward Bound initiative, an Australian programme aimed at increasing the representation of women in top science jobs across the globe.

“We’re missing half the voice at the leadership table,” says Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas, who along with entrepreneur and management expert Fabian Dattner, came up with the idea.

The pair met during a leadership development course run by Dattner, and their frustration at the challenges faced by women in science quickly became a bold idea.

Two years later, the first of what is hoped to be several voyages is about to depart.”

We talk a lot about ‘dream jobs’ and whether ‘finding your passion’ is attainable. For those of you skeptics out there, I close with the closing paragraphs of Fabian Dattner‘s blog post, co-founder of Homeward Bound, who as I write is on her journey south.

“So, right now as I work with a group of leaders in my day job, my mind wanders effortlessly to what lies ahead – now only a few sleeps away – and I am finally lost for words, carried forward – as with all the people involved – on a deeply felt sense of rightness: right purpose, right time, right people, right outcome.

I know what ‘flow’ means now; I know what purpose, autonomy and freedom mean. I know what it means to lead and be led. And I know in my bones what is possible for humans, when leaders act on behalf of the greater good.

Stay with us on this journey. It’s for all of us.”  @HomewardBound16

 

Photo credits: Antarctica expedition – Homeward Bound, Kevin Johnson/Howard Schultz -Starbucks Newsroom

‘Why do I have an intern?’ Learning from the most junior person in the room

What did you learn from your intern this fall? That is the question. If an answer doesn’t come quickly to mind, you may want to ask ‘Why do I have an intern?’ before you hire a new one for spring.

One of the most disappointing, dispiriting experiences of my time mentoring university students employed as interns came at the end of the semester when we asked employers to submit an evaluation of the intern’s performance. Most had to be tracked down via text,  email, and voice mail before a perfunctory form was returned with a checkmark for ‘exceptional’, ‘good’ or ‘needs improvement’. It was the rare manager (1 in 50) who would actually take the time to share valuable, actionable feedback.

At the beginning of each semester, concurrent with the start of a new internship, you could illuminate a major city with the energy emanating from students about to embark on a new experience. As the weeks went by, the lights dimmed, as one by one, intern’s dreams fell short when tested in practice. In many cases it seemed that the intern was a ‘vanity’ addition to one’s entourage vs. a potential contributor to a strategic mission.

Here’s the thing. Most of these students were committing 10-15 hours of ‘unpaid’ time to their internship. In the majority of cases interns were balancing a full course load of 16-18 credits and a part-time paid position. Social life was the first casualty, but a worthy trade-off for the opportunity to gain valuable, ‘career related’ work experience.

With this level of commitment, why is there such a major disconnect in expectations between employers and interns?

In many cases the ‘unpaid’ label results in a lack of respect. Little thought goes into anticipating and planning the internship assignments.

A successful internship program/relationship is built on clearly communicated expectations and on-going follow-up/ feedback.

Why do you hire an intern? Perhaps to breathe some fresh air into the room. Maybe to keep you aligned with your values. Most important, to help you connect with your emerging customer cohort.

Victor Ho, C.E.O. of FiveStars was interviewed by Adam Bryant for his weekly ‘Corner Office’ column in The New York Times. Reflecting back on his experience, he shared

“…the strongest lesson I learned at McKinsey that I now share with every single new hire is what they call the “obligation to dissent.” It means that the youngest, most junior person in any given meeting is the most capable to disagree with the most senior person in the room.

So if I hire an intern, that intern is the most qualified person in the company to say, “Victor, I heard this was your mission, your values, and these things are off.” That’s just because the more removed you are, the less you drink the Kool-Aid. You have a fresh perspective.”

Before your fall intern departs, skip the cake, and use the the time for a face to face conversation about what you both learned over the past four months. Offer feedback that will guide your intern through to the next step in their career.

When you are interviewing your spring candidates, look for the most qualified person with “the obligation to dissent”.  Ask yourself ‘How can I structure the experience to maximize individual contribution and encourage interaction?’

Why do I hire an intern? To learn, and reconnect to the core aspirational organization values.

 

Beyond competence; resilience is the new competitive advantage

When we talk about failure, we have to talk about resilience. It’s the companion piece that measures our ability to become successful again after something bad happens. It’s not the mistake we value, it’s the recovery.

it’s what J.K. Rowling was talking about when she addressed the Harvard Class of 2008.

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“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.”

In a recent interview , U.S. transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, prioritized resilience over all other qualities he seeks in a potential candidate.

“What I’m trying to understand is whether the person, if things get really tough, is going to stay in there or fall apart. I’d rather hire somebody who’s maybe not a genius, but they will dig in on any assignment. I’d rather have resilience than almost any other quality. Competence is obviously critical, but a lot of people who are really smart actually end up walking away from some pretty tough assignments because they’re worried about whether they can do them or not.”

How do you demonstrate this new competence to a potential employer? How do you offer examples of your own ‘phoenix rising out of the ashes’ moment?

Andrea Ovans provides some hints in her article ‘What Resilience Means and Why It Matters’. Her survey of recent research on the topic broadens the definition of resilience to include adapting well to change, and pushing through in adversity.

“Resilient people possess three characteristics — a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three. These three characteristics hold true for resilient organizations as well.…Resilient people and companies face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air. Others do not.”

It’s about confidence, ownership, continuous learning and an ability to adapt to a continually changing reality.

Resilience is not new. Robert Waterman, Judith Waterman and Betsy Collard were offering advice to workers and organizations over twenty years ago.

“By a career-resilient workforce, we mean a group of employees who not only are dedicated to the idea of continuous learning but also stand ready to reinvent themselves to keep pace with change; who take responsibility for their own career management; and, last but not least, who are committed to the company’s success. For each individual, this means staying knowledgeable about market trends and understanding the skills and behaviors the company will need down the road. It means being aware of one’s own skills—of one’s strengths and weaknesses—and having a plan for enhancing one’s performance and long-term employability. It means having the willingness and ability to respond quickly and flexibly to changing business needs. And it means moving on when a win-win relationship is no longer possible.”

What is new? Resilience is now a core competence, not an option. When an interviewer asks about a time you failed, respond with a narrative of strength and grit, and seize your competitive advantage.

 

 

What question would you ask? Interviewing for POTUS

Not all of us have the opportunity to interview candidates in our workplace, but when we do, we want to get it right. We want pose the question that elicits a response providing a hint to how this individual will perform if selected.

Tonight, in California, the  candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president will participate in a debate. In reality, they will be answering interview questions posed by journalists. What question would you ask?

If you don’t know where to begin, Adam Bryant’s weekly executive interviews column in The New York Times is a good place to start. In an interview last month, Greg Schott of software company, MuleSoft shared his hiring philosophy.

“First off, we’re looking for someone who’s a good human. That is defined by high integrity, being a great team player, and they want to win as a company first, team second, individually third. The next thing we look for is people who are whip-smart. The third thing we look for is a clear track record of achievement.

And I also work hard to understand the decisions they’ve made along the way, like why they left a certain job to take the next one. You learn all kinds of things from why they made those job transitions. I’ll also ask what they’ve done that changed things for their organization as opposed to just doing the job that they were asked to do. What did they do that nobody asked them to do?”

We definitely want someone who’s a good human to be president. I would like to know why they left their current job to take the next one. Why have some not left their current job yet? What have they done above and beyond the job description? Integrity, smarts, record of achievement all good.

Maybe I’d add a question about flexibility, dealing with ambiguity. Describe a belief you held for a long time that with some education and experience you changed? Being president requires leading the folks you don’t agree with along with those who voted for you.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz shared his opinion on the election process and the responsibility of those elected to represent us to act differently, and posed his questions for the candidates.

“Every one of the candidates offers grand promises about new leadership and new solutions. But where do they stand on working with their rivals? Regardless of who wins the presidency, the odds of the same party controlling a filibuster-proof Senate are slim. If we want to turn the nation around, we have to act differently. Save for the most rabid partisans, most people don’t want one-party rule. They want Democrats and Republicans to work together.

Americans who are tired of politics as usual should demand a clear answer to a simple question from every candidate: What will you do to unite all of us?”

Stewart Butterfield of communications service company Slack discussed his interview process with Adam Bryant.

“I used to always ask three short questions — one math, one geography and one history. I didn’t expect people to get the answers right, but I just want them to be curious about the world. The first is what’s three times seventeen. Then name three countries in Africa. You’d be astonished by the number of people who can’t do that. And what century was the French Revolution in, give or take 200 years.

I don’t do that anymore, but I do ask everyone what they want to be when they grow up. Good answers are usually about areas in which they want to grow, things they want to learn, things that they feel like they haven’t had a chance to accomplish yet but want to accomplish.”

This is what I want to know. What did these folks on the stage at the Reagan Library want to be when they grew up? Ok, they wanted to be president. But it’s not enough to want. What do they still wish to learn, to accomplish? What does their world look like at the end of a successful presidency? The answers will give me the information I need to make a decision.

And, I would like them to name three countries in Africa.

Who should I ask for a reference?

It was a great interview. As you start to leave the office, your potential employer asks you for the names of two references. Who do you ask? What is an employer looking for from a reference?

This is not a passive process, let to the whims of friends adding comments to your skills on social networking sites.

If you are applying for a job or completing a graduate school application, at some point you will have to ask someone to provide a recommendation. Whether you are starting out or advancing in your career, selecting the perfect reference should confirm an employer’s intent to offer you a position.

As a student, your list of references should include a faculty member, preferably in your major and an employer reference from an internship or part time job. Most graduate programs will require two faculty references and perhaps a non-academic reference.

Develop a list of 5-6 people who are potential references. Qualify each of these professionals in respect to your relationship. Is this someone who knows you well because of your participation in classes and who can comment on the academic quality of your work? Can they adequately predict your ability to succeed? As a former internship employer, will your reference be able to cite specific projects along with an assessment of your performance?

Arrange an appointment to meet face to face with each of the people on your list. Be prepared. Bring a copy of your resume and the job description or graduate program brochure. (Do not text a recommendation request with a link to a website.) Create a short list of why you are pursuing this job or graduate program and talk to your potential reference about what you would like them to emphasize. Does the employer require good communication skills? Ask if the faculty member could cite your final paper and presentation as an example of your skill match. Is the graduate school looking for people with a commitment to their community? Suggest the reference  mention the time you spent tutoring in the local elementary school.

As a seasoned professional, changing jobs or changing careers you need support from colleagues and managers who can speak to your skill set and adaptability.

Develop a list of people who can comment on your abilities related to each element in the job description. An employer is trying to determine if you will ‘fit’ in an organization. Do you have the skills that complement other team members? Will your approach to problem solving facilitate collaboration? This is where your sense of an organization’s culture helps you narrow your potential field of references.

It’s good practice to nourish your list of references over time. As you advance in your career, your roster of possible references will expand relative to your experience. Choose one or two key folks from your list who are credible in the eyes of your potential employer. At the point an employer is having conversations with a reference, they are trying to differentiate you from other qualified finalists for the position. Your reference is a key part of that decision.

Selecting a reference takes time. You may have someone say no. Or, you may have someone agree and not follow up. Always have a back up. People forget. Provide deadlines and enough lead-time to avoid last minute panic. This is not a time to be shy. This is part of your marketing strategy. Your references should feel confident with both the information you have provided and their direct experience with you to provide a recommendation without reservation.

A great resource for anyone seeking work today is the Corner Office column in The New York Times. Adam Bryant summarizes his conversations with CEOs from all sectors, exploring their values and how they hire.

Jana Eggers, CEO of Spreadshirt, a maker of personalized clothing, described how she solicits feedback from references, not only the ones on the list:

I’m also going to see how they treat the receptionist. I always get feedback from them. I’ll want to know if someone comes in and if they weren’t polite, if they didn’t say, ”Hello,” or ask them how they were. It’s really important to me.

I also check references myself. One question I ask on references is, ”Where should I spend time coaching this person?”

How big is your dream?

What is your dream? Alexa von Tobel the CEO of LearnVest believes “you have to dream big because no one else can dream for you.” Her dream to build a financial planning company led her to take a leave from Harvard Business School. In the heart of a recession with no salary and no income she started with an idea of a website.

Explaining her vision in a December, 2014 interview with Time Magazine:

“You go to a mom and pop certified financial planning firm,” she says, “you’re paying for that overhead, for that parking lot, for that mahogany desk, for that receptionist at the front,” she says. LearnVest, on the other hand, is just a website. It shifts the data entry onto users and the number crunching onto automated software. As a result, her staff can focus on dispensing advice in unprecedented volumes. Von Tobel says LearnVest is aiming to have a single financial advisor serve upwards of 1,000 customers, a ten-fold increase over the typical small firm.”

Two weeks ago, her interview with Adam Bryant was published in the Corner Office column in The New York Times.

“Sometimes when I’m mentoring people, I’ll say, “What’s your biggest dream?” and it will be something small and I’ll say: “Dream bigger. Just give yourself the ability to say, ‘I want something bigger,’ because who cares if you fail? Truly, who cares? So dream bigger because no one else is going to do it for you.”

Which brings me to Jeff Lee and Ann Martin and the Rocky Mountain Land Library. In the early 1990s they visited The Gladstone Library in Wales and their vision began to take shape. A residential library founded by the former prime minister with his own collection, the website describes a mission “dedicated to dialogue, debate and learning for open-minded individuals and groups, who are looking to explore pressing questions and to pursue study and research in an age of distraction and easy solutions.”

The story of Jeff and Ann’s dream was told by NY Times reporter, Julie Turkewitz in ‘A Haven for Readers Nestled Amid Mountains of Books’.

For more than 20 years Jeff and Ann have been investing in books as they worked at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, building toward their dream: “a rural, live-in library where visitors will be able to connect with two increasingly endangered elements — the printed word and untamed nature.” 

Anticipating a broad range of audiences, the venue will connect visitors with literature of the west and nature.

How big is your dream? Use this summary of the Rocky Mountain Land Library from the NY Times as a model:

“The project is striking in its ambition: a sprawling research institution situated on a ranch at 10,000 feet above sea level, outfitted with 32,000 volumes, many of them about the Rocky Mountain region, plus artists’ studios, dormitories and a dining hall — a place for academics, birders, hikers and others to study and savor the West.”

Dream bigger.