The week@work – Jobs report, valuing low-skilled workers, succession in fashion and another college scorecard

This week@work ended with the release of a disappointing September jobs report. On Thursday, an English instructor and restaurant server in Las Vegas shared her views on the value of unskilled labor. In the world of fashion the transition in leadership at Ralph Lauren was the most publicized succession news, but a number of fashion houses are facing business continuation challenges. And, potential college students have one more metric to use to select a college, the Obama administration’s ‘College Scorecard’.

Patricia Cohen provided a detailed analysis of the September jobs report from the Labor Department.

“The Labor Department found that the jobless rate held steady at 5.1 percent in September, but wage gains stalled, the labor force shrank and employers created many fewer positions than they had been averaging in recent months. While the latest report is only a snapshot of the economy and the weakness may ultimately prove fleeting, it made clear that ordinary workers are still failing to take home the kind of monetary rewards normally expected from a recovery that has being going on for more than six years.”

The low skill areas of the economy continue to be the hardest hit. It’s this group that was the topic of an opinion piece by Brittany Bronson, an English instructor with a perfect view to comment from her other job as a restaurant server. She posed the question, do we value low-skilled work?

“We’re raised, in the culture of American capitalism, to believe certain things, without question, namely that the value of work is defined by the complexity of the task and not the execution of it, that certain types of work are not worthy of devoting a lifetime to.

The labels “low-skilled” or “unskilled” workers — the largest demographic being adult women and minorities — often inaccurately describe an individual’s abilities, but play a powerful role in determining their opportunity. The consequences are not only severe, but incredibly disempowering: poverty-level wages, erratic schedules, the absence of retirement planning, health benefits, paid sick or family leave and the constant threat of being replaced.

…When you witness a great restaurant server or see a particularly effective janitor at work, you aren’t observing a freak talent, but someone who took the time to learn his or her job and improve on it. Now imagine if more “low-skilled” workers were given the compensation, job security and encouragement to do the same.”

The conversation about valuing the work of low skilled labor has recently centered around raising the minimum wage. While important, it plays into the narrative that value is validated by the size of a paycheck. Ms. Bronson addresses the bigger issue.

“But the more difficult challenge is to redefine the language and perceptions that trap large segments of reliable workers in poverty. All work can be executed with skill, but denying that fact is useful to those who justify the poor treatment of, and unfair compensation for, millions of workers.

Convincing those workers that their treatment is temporary, that if they just keep working harder, learn to do their tasks more quickly, more efficiently, more fluidly, they will eventually surpass it — this is a myth we can’t keep telling.”

On the other end of the economic spectrum, Nikki Baird examined the implications of the transition at the Ralph Lauren company as its namesake and leader leaves his chief executive officer position.

“Ralph Lauren, the company, will undergo a critical transition as its namesake founder steps down, to be replaced by the former president of Old Navy , Stefan Larsson. The transition comes at an interesting time for high-end fashion brands, and for the Ralph Lauren brand in particular.

It’s always tricky when a personality-driven brand’s primary personality steps down, though granted in this case, Mr. Lauren will remain the company’s chief creative officer. New blood means new opportunities, and even brands with very established values and specific lifestyle appeal can lose relevancy during a leadership transition.”

“But Ralph Lauren is making this transition in the midst of a much larger change happening within specialty retail, a change driven by the rise of the internet and consumers’ cross-channel shopping behaviors, and exacerbated by consolidation in the department store landscape.”

The challenge of leadership continuation is not restricted to the fashion industry. Many of the changes that have occurred in other business sectors can trace a direct line to disruption from players outside traditional marketing and delivery channels. Now the spotlight shifts to the world of fashion as a generation of designers departs and executive recruiters seek leaders who will be both relevant in imagination and design, and grow revenue in an increasingly competitive global, digital market.

“The question of succession is a pressing one for many major brands, not just labels with leaders d’un certain âge (Karl Lagerfeld, of Chanel and Fendi, is in his 80s; Giorgio Armani, 81). Even among young designers, turnover is a regular occurrence.”

“The responsibilities of branding in a rapidly changing digital age — not necessarily the skills honed in fashion colleges 20 or 30 years ago — have put a new premium on youth and comfort in the digital space.”

“If a brand is not meaningful through the screen, there is very little hope that you can really build a success,” Ms. de Saint Pierre said. “I think we are at a time when the majority of the consumers are coming from non-Western countries. Their education to luxury, their education to brands has not been generational. It has been through a screen. This is a major shift of paradigm for the 21st century, and this is not going to change.”

The last story of this week@work comes from James Stewart, ‘College Rankings Fail to Measure the Influence of the Institution’.

“The bottom line is that no ranking system or formula can really answer the question of what college a student should attend. Getting into a highly selective, top-ranked college may confer bragging rights, status and connections, but it doesn’t necessarily contribute to a good education or lifelong success, financial or otherwise.”

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.

The week@work – The pressure to succeed @school, @work and @amazon

This week@work includes articles that echo a growing concern that we are not adequately preparing our children for the future @work, millennials expectations @work, and Amazon’s culture that just may be more in line with those expectations.

Are we teaching our children to fear failure? Contributing Atlantic writer Jessica Lahey answers the question by narrating a parent – teacher conversation. The parent is expressing a concern about a child who is achieving academically but losing the desire to learn.

“The truth—for this parent and so many others—is this: Her child has sacrificed her natural curiosity and love of learning at the altar of achievement, and it’s our fault. Marianna’s parents, her teachers, society at large—we are all implicated in this crime against learning. From her first day of school, we pointed her toward that altar and trained her to measure her progress by means of points, scores, and awards. We taught Marianna that her potential is tied to her intellect, and that her intellect is more important than her character. We taught her to come home proudly bearing As, championship trophies, and college acceptances, and we inadvertently taught her that we don’t really care how she obtains them. We taught her to protect her academic and extracurricular perfection at all costs and that it’s better to quit when things get challenging rather than risk marring that perfect record. Above all else, we taught her to fear failure. That fear is what has destroyed her love of learning.”

Innovation is the product of failure. At a time when global competition is intense, there is a shortage of the curious, the questioning.

It’s time to reevaluate our priorities and help “kids rediscover their intellectual bravery, their enthusiasm for learning, and the resilience they need in order to grow into independent, competent adults.”

What happens when these adults move into the workplace? What are their expectations?

In 2007 the Gallup Management Journal published the results of a poll of job seekers asking what was important to them in their job search.

“Nearly half of job seekers say the opportunity to learn and grow, the opportunity for advancement, and earning promotions based on merit are extremely important when looking for a job”

It follows that the quality of management and the relationship with ‘the boss’ are critical factors in recruitment and retention.

“Companies know they must offer competitive compensation packages when fighting for talented employees, and they must offer the right types of work for those seeking jobs. If they don’t revise their recruiting pitch to include concrete examples of great management, and if they don’t have great managers in the first place, then job seekers will listen to companies that do.”

Hopefully great managers will allow employees to fail. But apparently not, according to the next story about the generation we continue to label as millennials.

In a post for Inc. Chis Matyszczyk gives us four reasons these folks are leaving their jobs.

“They’ve seen what corporate life did to their parents, so they’ll take it just in small doses, thanks. They see through their bosses (and their bosses hate them for it). Millennials look at the corporate world and understand how uncertain the future is. Most of their role models got rich quick.”

If the expectation is to take corporate life in small doses, perhaps a resume should include some time at the world’s biggest retailer.

Welcome to orientation at Amazon. The ‘above the fold’ story in The New York Times today describes the corporate culture at Amazon. As all things Amazon the culture reflects the values. leadership principles and vision of Jeff Bezos.

“Amazon may be singular but perhaps not quite as peculiar as it claims. It has just been quicker in responding to changes that the rest of the work world is now experiencing: data that allows individual performance to be measured continuously, come-and-go relationships between employers and employees, and global competition in which empires rise and fall overnight. Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving.”

Key to Amazon’s success is Jeff Bezos’ realistic view of the new employer-employee contract – one based on mutual utility.

“…he was able to envision a new kind of workplace: fluid but tough, with employees staying only a short time and employers demanding the maximum.”

A few additional articles from the week@work:

‘Design As Strategy’ Adi Ignatius for The Harvard Business Review, September 2015 issue: “…illustrates some of the ways design thinking is starting to power corporate strategy.”

The Perils of Ever-Changing Work Schedules Extend to Children’s Well-Being‘ Noam Scheiber for The New York Times, 8/12: “A growing body of research suggests that children’s language and problem-solving skills may suffer as a result of their parents’ problematic schedules, and that they may be more likely than other children to smoke and drink when they are older.”

‘The Makeup Tax’ Olga Khazan  The Atlantic 8/5  “Years of research has shown that attractive people earn more. Thus, the makeup tax: Good-looking men and good-looking women both get ahead, but men aren’t expected to wear makeup in order to look good.”

The week@work – How to live wisely, raise strong women, the value of a liberal arts education and more

It’s that time of year, ‘back to school’. It doesn’t matter if you are preschool or college, your local retail outlet is ready to meet every consumer need to outfit you or your dorm room. It’s also ‘back to work’ for those returning from vacation ( if you are one of the six in ten who took some leave this summer). There was a lot going on this week@work. Here are a few stories to get your Monday morning office conversations going.

Harvard professor Richard J. Light, the author of a 2001 book, ‘How to Make the Most of College’ asked New York Times readers to imagine they were dean for a day in a new article, ‘How to Live Wisely’. Before you skip to the next paragraph, stay with me. His questions have relevance for all leaders.

“Imagine you are Dean for a Day. What is one actionable change you would implement to enhance the college experience on campus?

I have asked students this question for years. The answers can be eye-opening. A few years ago, the responses began to move away from “tweak the history course” or “change the ways labs are structured.” A different commentary, about learning to live wisely, has emerged.

What does it mean to live a good life? What about a productive life? How about a happy life? How might I think about these ideas if the answers conflict with one another? And how do I use my time here at college to build on the answers to these tough questions?”

Once we leave college and begin to move ahead in our careers these questions become even more critical in our quest of life long learning.

Professor Light offers “five exercises that tackle the big questions”. Number three:

“I call this the Broad vs. Deep Exercise. If you could become extraordinarily good at one thing versus being pretty good at many things, which approach would you choose? We invite students to think about how to organize their college life to follow their chosen path in a purposeful way.”

Rephrase this one in respect to your career preparation. Have you organized your life around your choice to develop an expertise or be more of a generalist?

The next story may be too late for some struggling small colleges, but Forbes magazine reported ‘That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket’. ( Full disclosure here, I have one of those ‘useless’ degrees and have found it extremely complementary to my career choices.)

“Engineers may still command the biggest salaries, but at disruptive juggernauts such as Facebook and Uber, the war for talent has moved to nontechnical jobs, particularly sales and marketing. The more that audacious coders dream of changing the world, the more they need to fill their companies with social alchemists who can connect with customers–and make progress seem pleasant.”

Liberal Arts = Social Alchemy? Has a six figure ring to it.

On the millennial front this week there were two stories in The New York Times. The first reported on a new Pew Research Study which found that millenials are less likely to leave the nest.

“In 2010, according to the study, 69 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds lived independently. During the first four months of this year, just 67 percent of that same age group was living independently. From 2010 to April 2015, the share of young adults living in their parents’ homes has increased to 26 percent from 24 percent, the study said.”

For those who have left the nest to build their own, another Times report found ‘Millennial Men Aren’t the Dads They Thought They’d Be’.

“Young men today have aspirations of being hands-on fathers as well as breadwinners — supportive husbands who also do dishes.

But as they enter that more responsibility-filled stage of life, something changes: Their roles often become much more traditional.

Millennial men — ages 18 to early 30s — have much more egalitarian attitudes about family, career and gender roles inside marriage than generations before them, according to a variety of research by social scientists. Yet they struggle to achieve their goals once they start families, researchers say. Some researchers think that’s because workplace policies have not caught up to changing expectations at home.”

This research and story is one to follow as this generation now makes up the largest % of the workforce. As they progress in their careers it will be interesting to see if attitudes begin to align with work/life policies.

Amy Joyce reporting in the Washington Post poses the question: ‘Are you holding your own daughter back? Here are 5 ways to raise girls to be leaders.’ This is another must read article with research backed practical suggestions for parents to avoid gender bias.

“Think you’re raising your daughter to be a strong leader? Look more closely: You, and the people around her, may unwittingly be doing just the opposite.

Teen boys, teen girls, and, yes, even parents have biases against girls and women as leaders, new research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and its Making Caring Common project found.

Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist who runs the Making Caring Common project, said he was “surprised by the extent of it … how gendered both the boys’ and the girls’ responses were.”

Weissbourd decided to look at bias as part of the larger goal of helping children learn to be kind. “We were concerned that biases get in the way of people caring about and respecting other people, so our initial study was just looking at biases,” he said. “And one of the striking findings that emerged was gender bias.”

And the last story is related to the photo in the header. Erica Murphy, editorial assistant at Levo shared ‘7 Things I Learned About Life From Completely Unplugging’. (This one’s for you – the 4 in 10 who have not taken vacation this summer) My two favorites (you can read the rest) – “No one cares & a tech free world does exist”.

“When you live in a big city like New York, you forget that people out there do lead simple lives. And honestly? It’s not so bad. I don’t think I could deal with no running water all the time, but it’s nice to be out in the country sometimes and just relax. Maybe Potter County isn’t on your radar, but it’s the same idea as finding a nearby park and leaving your phone at home. Or maybe you go hiking for the day and really connect with nature. With our lives getting more hectic every day, it’s important to find that time for yourself to decompress.”

Hoping you find time to unplug this week@work.

The Saturday Read – Summer Books

We have summer in our sights, anticipating travel, adventure, rest and relaxation. Harbingers of the coming season are the summer reading lists from the traditional print book review sources, the icons of Silicon Valley and the titans of Wall Street.

The act of picking up a book, unrelated to work or school, has moved away from the center and occurs only on the periphery of our lives. We seem to have relegated reading to the category of indulgence vs. necessity. We give ourselves permission to read in summer, during an interval when we step away from work.

Writing in The Irish Times, Isabelle Cartwright considered the question of why we read.

“…the simple answer is for pleasure. But what exactly is the nature of that pleasure? Reading removes us from the structure of our lives, from the routine, the sequential habits of our day-to-day living. We enter instead another time zone. The plot, characters and setting occupy us, and while we read we inhabit the others’ reality. The pleasure therefore is derived from escaping our own small, limited and often repetitive lives and entering an exotic elsewhere.

But perhaps there is also the attraction of reserving something private for ourselves, something outside of the public world of relationship, family, work and occupation; something that is not encumbered by the stricture of time and self.”

For those of you who need a utilitarian rationale to set aside time to read, there is research to show we are morally and socially better as a result of our efforts:

Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. This link persisted even after the researchers factored in the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. A 2010 study by Mar found a similar result in young children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their “theory of mind,” or mental model of other people’s intentions.”

We become more emotionally intelligent as we read.

If that doesn’t convince you, the ‘Lifehack blog’ lists ’10 Benefits of Reading: Why You Should Read Every Day’ (not just in summer): “Mental stimulation, stress reduction, knowledge, vocabulary expansion, memory improvement, stronger analytical skills, improved focus and concentration, better writing skills, tranquility and free entertainment.”

I think they’re on to something here, for all you skeptics. A few of these skills match exactly to what employers look for in potential candidates: communications and problem solving. Maybe reading is a necessity and not an indulgence.

Here is a menu of links to the popular reading lists this summer:

The Los Angeles Times – Summer reading guide: The 136 books you’ll want to read

The New York Times – When the Water’s Too Cold, Something Else to Dive Into, A Critic’s Survey of Summer Books

USA Today – 25 Hot Books for Summer

The Washington Post – A great leadership reading list — without any business books on it

Bloomberg – Books Worth Reading This Summer

NPR – Four Books That Deliver Unexpected And Delightful Surprises This Summer

A Year of Books, Mark Zuckerberg

Beach Reading (and More), Bill Gates

10 Beach Books from J.P. Morgan’s Summer Reading List

Happy sand in your toes, head in the clouds, sea spray on your face reading!