Monday, September 05, 2016

Born for This by Chris Guillebeau

Motivation for Reading:

I'd been following Chris Guillebeau's blog for a few years, but hadn’t read any of his books. I even signed up to attend one of his events held in Milwaukee, but didn’t attend due to his flight being delayed. When I saw his book Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Dowas available for review on Blogging for Books I decided to give it a try.

What is Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do about?

It is basically a career guide to help readers find the work they are meant to do.

My Thoughts:

Before attending the first seminar of my working life, a colleague told me if I take one thing away from the seminar it was worth my time. I finished reading Born for This several weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about the 24-hour project. The project is exactly what the title suggests:
Call it your personal “hackathon,” a type of event popular in tech circles where small teams compete to launch start-ups or solve a specific problem in a limited period of time, typically fueled by caffeine and the occasional break to play ping-pong. You too can use this model to make a quick-and dirty product in a short period of time. All you need is 24 hours and, to be fair, a bit of advance preparation so you know what you’re getting into.” (Pg. 167)
Perhaps this is how I finally get my eBook written.

So for me, reading Born for This was not a waste of my time. Overall, I thought Guillibeau’s writing was engaging and I enjoyed the career stories he included to reinforce his ideas. As to the career suggestions themselves: identify what we really want, make better decisions and to take more risks. There really isn’t anything new. The benefit of Born for This is Guillibeau’s ability to motivate. His own story – setting a goal to visit every country in the world and actually achieving it is motivating in itself.

Bottom Line: 
If you are looking for a book with engaging stories to motivate you to make a career change you may enjoy this book. If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to make that change you will probably be disappointed with Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do..
Have you read this book?  If so what were your thoughts?

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Note, some of the links included in this post are affiliate links.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Want to Motivate Your Employees? Appreciate Them

After last week’s episode with my company's HR Manager, I was taken by surprise to hear she had told another employee he needed to buck-up and be more like Savvy.* She told him, "She’s been doing both her job and the CFO’s since he’s been out and you don’t hear her complaining.” She even said something to the effect that I was doing a good job. I couldn’t believe it. My body immediately relaxed, I became calmer, more energized and more motivated. I was surprised after all these weeks of feeling stressed and as if I wasn’t measuring up my company’s management felt otherwise and by how much I needed to hear it.
Thursday our CFO returned. When he walked in the door I started cheering and our entire staff clapped. He said he hadn’t received this big of a welcome from his family when he returned home the previous day. I told him the old saying “Everyone is replaceable” did not apply to him.
Then on Friday, my big 50th birthday, I arrived to an office decorated in black and a little party that included a cake. The employees who work for me and one of our owners were laughing (something I haven’t seen in a long time) and making jokes. They posted neon green post-its with the number 50 on them all over the office (so I wouldn’t forget how old I am). We haven’t celebrated anyone’s birthday in the office in years.
In the midst of all this I accomplished more work than I had in a long time. When I left Friday night I was almost caught up. This was quite an accomplishment considering the previous week I had left the office fearing I may never be caught up again. I honestly think feeling appreciated made all the difference.
I try to make an effort to publicly thank or show appreciation for employees when the opportunity arises. It is easy to do if you are paying attention. Recently I have done the following:
  • I publicly gave credit to an employee for providing new information on a manufacturer’s policy change to all employees via email. (As opposed to our HR Manager who recently touted this same employee’s idea as her own)
  • Via email, I thanked an employee in another department for assisting me with an audit when I was in a bind. I cc’d her boss who later told me how much my email had meant to this employee.
*This comment which was so helpful to me was deflating to the employee who is supposed to buck-up. He was absent the next day, isn’t as sharp as he usually is and seems depressed. Telling someone to buck-up and be like someone else is probably some of the worst advice you can give an employee.
Speaking of advice, the comments I received on I'm 50 Years Old and Still Can't Think On My Feet may be the most helpful comments I’ve ever received on this blog. I sincerely thank and appreciate every one of my commenters.
How about you? Does your employer let you know they appreciate you?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stop Talking About Sex at Work

Recently I received the following comment on my post: My Co-Worker Won't Stop Talking About Sex:

I'm having an issue at the moment. I work in a very small workplace with only women where I am the manager. Our oldest employee (29) has been describing her sex life in GRAPHIC detail to my youngest employee (15). I have NO idea how to handle this. I've already rang my area manager and he's getting onto HR about it. Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

You are the manager. Pull this employee aside immediately and tell her she needs to stop talking about her sex life at work, her conversations are inappropriate and unprofessional and that HR has been contacted. HR will most likely perform an investigation and will at the very least place a note in her file and send her to harassment training. They also may give her a written warning. HR departments do not mess around with sexual harassment complaints.

A few weeks ago I had a question from a different anonymous commenter describing sadistic sexual activities a co-worker wanted to perform with her. (Her comment was too graphic to post). Her question for me was if she reported this harassment to HR, would they think she was a co-conspirator if she had initially played along.

My answer:

No. No. No. They will not. It sounds to me like you initially didn’t want to be mean, but your co-worker has now become bolder, you want him to stop and are afraid to tell him so yourself. Plus, the things he is saying (putting you in a cage, etc.) are scary and need to be taken seriously.  

While reading her question about playing along I couldn’t help but be reminded of the new male manager my company hired. In a casual conversation about getting his company vehicle repaired he asked me if I’d come along and sit on his lap. I don’t remember exactly what how I responded, I think I made up an excuse why I couldn’t. I didn’t play along, but I didn’t tell him he was out of line either. Unfortunately, these type of comments continued. I’m not sure what his motives are other than a boast to his ego, but I am offended. It bothers me that he thinks of me as a female, rather than the professional I worked so hard to be. No wonder women feel the need to dress in drab colors and not draw attention to their femininity. I now don’t acknowledge his flirtatious comments and stick to business when talking to him. As I write this post, I can’t remember the last time he made a suggestive comment.

As a follow up to my previous post, the co-worker I talked about has not talked about sex since I told him he was being inappropriate. As to the female who shared her favorite sexual positions with her co-worker was finally promoted – twenty years after the incident and with reservations from HR. 

Talking about sex at work is a major career blunder – knock it off.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Farm on the Roof by Anastasia Cole Plakias

Why I wanted to read Anastasia Cole Plakias’s book The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business:
Since "good" business books is one of my favorite reading genres I immediately added Plakias’s book to my reading list after receiving the following email from a marketing coordinator at Penguin Random House:

I met Anastasia Cole Plakias and the other founders of Brooklyn Grange on their rooftop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Of course, there was “the wow factor” of standing on a farm in the middle of the concrete jungle. That night I enjoyed the aroma of fresh basil and listened to Anastasia jokingly lament keeping their adorable but expensive chickens. But mostly, I was impressed with the team. The group spoke so eloquently about how they’d come from backgrounds as diverse as food writing, finance, and hospitality, but had been drawn to this project—building the world’s largest commercial rooftop farm.

In The Farm on the Roof, Anastasia describes how she and her cofounders quit their jobs in the middle of a recession to turn their passion for food and farming into a functioning business. What they discovered was a world rich in opportunity, challenges, and hard-won losses. Today, Brooklyn Grange has established itself as a self-sustaining business that harvests more than 50,000 pounds of organically cultivated produce per year and partners with numerous nonprofits to promote healthy and strong communities.

But their story is about more than just farming. It serves as an instructional guide for anyone looking to start a project that is successful while making a positive impact. Anastasia writes with a wit and flair that transforms anecdotes about partnering with investors (some of whom supported the farm for reasons that had nothing to do with farming) and lease negotiation into scintillating, edge-of-your seat tales from the front lines of entrepreneurship.

As a creator of original content who writes with purpose, I believe you’ll be blown away by the Brooklyn Grange model. They’ve figured out a beautiful intersection of commerce and community. And at its core, The Farm on the Roof is an incredible story about utilizing whatever resources you have to turn your backyard idea into a sky-high success.

My thoughts on the book:

If you are looking for a book on how to create a rooftop garden or an agricultural book you will be disappointed in this book. The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Businessis Plakias’s account of how Brooklyn Grange, a company she co-founded in 2010,went from a dream to a viable socially conscious business over the course of five years.

I enjoyed Plakias’s writing style which is never academic and the entrepreneurial insight she provides:

Plakias and her partners quickly learn that in order for their business to be sustainable they needed to be profitable and in order to be profitable they needed alternative income streams. To do this they added events and began hosting classes. They also slowed down their growth plan and concentrated on the two gardens they already had. They discovered a good site with a landlord whose values complemented their own is more important that expansion.

I came away with a few tips for my own garden:

Kale, herbs and tomatoes are their most profitable crops. Summer squash needs a lot of space and carrots take 80 days to reach maturity. And I think of them every time I try to harvest lettuce in my husband’s newly created garden – the rows are too wide. A lesson they learned after the first couple of harvests and ended up changing ed their row’s depth during a redesign.

Bottom line:
The Farm on the Roof by Anastasia Cole Plakias is a valuable read for start-ups looking to create a socially conscious business or for those who enjoy reading about business or are looking for  entrepreneurial advice. To learn more about Brooklyn Grange visit their website. I would love to attend one of their butcher paper dinner events.

Do you enjoy reading about business? What business books do your recommend? 

Thank you to Penguin Random House for providing me with a review copy of this book.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:

The E-Myth Revisited: A Book Every Entrepreneur Should Read

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Why I read Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City:

I was a renter in the City of Milwaukee for five years before moving to the suburbs. During that time I spent a few months living in a not-so-nice neighborhood on the north side to save money. I ended up breaking my lease early, moving and losing my security deposit after my landlord refused to make necessary repairs. Fortunately, I had options,  the money to pay another security deposit and a new landlord that didn’t bother to call my previous landlord for a reference. When I heard Matthew Desmond had written a book about Milwaukee’s rent scene I had to read it.

What is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American Cityabout?

Wanting to understand the role housing played in poverty Matthew Desmond, a sociologist, moved to Milwaukee. He lived in a trailer park on the south side and in a rooming house located in the black north side. Both allowed him to befriend two landlords and interview numerous renters. His book is an investigative account of the lives of these landlords and eight renters who he followed for over a year.

What I learned:

The details of this book are heartbreaking and hard to read. It took me two months to get through the entire book. I had no idea how Milwaukee (and cities like Milwaukee) are set up to fail our poor residents and families. The renters are far from perfect, but once their lives take a turn for the worst it is easy to fall into a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape.

For the most part poor renters are trapped:

Financial guides recommend spending no more than 30 percent of your income on housing while many of the renters Desmond met spent up to 80 percent of their income on rent in substandard housing often with plumbing problems, no refrigerator or stove, and broken windows. (Apparently it is okay to rent out a unit in need of repairs as long as you disclose the defects up front). High rents don’t leave much to pay utilities, child expenses or to be able to purchase a reliable automobile to drive to work. Once tenants fall behind in their rent it is only a matter of time until they face eviction.

Most landlords won’t rent to those who have incarcerations or evictions on their record, so the system is designed to keep them out of good neighborhoods, good schools and decent housing.

Desecration of neighborhoods:

When a long-term resident of a neighborhood is evicted the block they lived on suffers.
The key link in a perpetual slum is that too many people move out of it too fast – and in the meantime dream of getting out. With Doreen’s eviction, 32nd Street lost a steadying presence – someone who loved and invested in the neighborhood, who contributed to making the block safer, but Wright Street didn’t gain one. (Pg. 70)
Shocking accounts:

When a landlord learns she isn’t liable for a house fire in which a tenant’s baby died (she did not have enough operating smoke detectors) she asks if she is obligated to return their rent money. The fire occurred just after the 1st of the month. She was not.

The nuisance property ordinance:

This ordinance allows police departments to penalize landlords for the behavior of their tenants. Most properties were designated “nuisances” because an excessive number of 911 calls were made within a certain timeframe. In Milwaukee the threshold was three or more calls within a thirty-day period. (Pg. 190)

Each time this happens the landlord receives a nuisance citation. In almost all cases, the only course of action accepted by the Milwaukee PD is eviction.

Why is this a problem?

A battered woman either has to keep quiet and face abuse or call the police and face eviction. This ordinance also prevents neighbors who should call 911 when they hear sounds of abuse to stay quiet and mind their own business.

How much money these landlord’s make?

Granted most people are not up to the task of renting to those living in the inner city, but those who do are making money. This is achieved despite tenants not always making rent payments on time or not full.  Landlords make money by not making necessary repairs, purchasing cheap properties and charging high rents. 

Final Thoughts:
Matthew Desmond only included the stories in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City he was able to verify as accurate and backed up all of his findings with extensive research. I enjoyed that despite having been present for many of the events included in the book Desmond kept himself out of the story until the final chapter. Evicted is written in a conversational tone and would be a great choice for a social justice book club. I guarantee you will have a lot to talk about.

I highly recommend this book.

To learn more about Matthew Desmond and his project go to this website.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Note, some of the links included in this post are affiliate links.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Year of the Counter Offer

When I meet a recruiter, I always ask how business is. This week at a local networking event I was surprised to learn 2016 is the year of the counter offer.

This recruiter, who works for a national placement agency, told me recruits are receiving and accepting the counter offer so often (more frequently this year than ever before) her firm has named 2016, “The year of the counter offer.” Seeking new employment as a way to force an employer to give you a raise is so popular this agency is calling it a trend.

She stated despite the great recession having ended a few years ago, many companies continue to be apprehensive about the economy, are reluctant to convert temporary employees to permanent and have not given employees a decent raise in years. Millennials who accepted jobs below normal starting salaries are tired of waiting for a fair wage and are using the counter offer as a salary negotiation tool. 

Companies are well aware of how much it costs to hire and train a new employee:

According to Zane Benefits:
Some studies (such as SHMR) predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. For a manager making $40,000 a year, that's $20,000 to $30,000 in recruiting and training expenses.

But others predict the cost is even more - that losing a salaried employee can cost as much as 2x their annual salary, especially for a high-earner or executive level employee.
I learned this the hard-way after one of my employees left last year. I now realize it is cheaper in the long run to figure out how to keep employees rather than having to endure the time and cost of recruiting and training someone new.

If you do threaten to leave your job be aware of the potential risks:
You may not receive a counter offer:
You or your position may not be as valuable to your employer as you think it is. Also, some employers think everyone is replaceable and have a policy to never give a counter-offer. 

Accepting the counter offer could hurt your reputation:
Most employers have good memories; from this day forward you may be known as the employee who resigned to get a raise.

My company has this employee – he actually accepted a counter offer on two separate occasions. When he was seeking a promotion last year he came very close to not getting it because of reservations as to whether he was management material. Similar to my friend who is known as the 4:00 and she's out of here employee, he is known as the counter offer employee. As he struggles to adapt to his new management role, several managers site his counter offer history as an ignored warning sign.

You are burning bridges:
I accepted the counter-offer when I was in my 20’s. Very similar to the scenario above both a co-worker and I accepted counter-offers after finding new jobs with the same placement firm I referenced above. We had both been warned of the disadvantages of accepting the counter-offer (if we are unhappy now, we will most likely be unhappy six months from now just better paid). We both had liked our jobs, but needed and thought we deserved more money. In both cases, our employer matched our new salary as an incentive to keep us. Unfortunately, a year later we were both out of a job when our entire department was relocated to Chicago. My co-worker regretted her counter-offer decision as she struggled to find another new job. I never regretted mine because I easily found a job on my own, but the agency I had worked with never worked with me again. I am sure there was a "don't work with" note attached to my file.

You may be fired in the future:
If our entire department had not been downsized, I wonder if our jobs would not have been in jeopardy in the future. Assistants were hired for both of us shortly after our counter-offers were put in place without our permission or request. My co-worker’s assistant didn’t work out and left a few months after she was hired. I struggled to keep mine busy (would you train an unwanted assistant to do your job). He was the first person to leave when the department lay-off was announced.

My recommendation:
My company’s economist projects 2016 as a year of slow but steady growth, but 2017 to be a year of contraction. My recommendation is instead of 2016 being the year of the counter-offer make it the year your find a great new job especially if you have a few years of experience. If you wait and are underpaid, underemployed or your company still hasn’t hired you permanently you may be stuck in an undesirable work situation for several years to come.

Have you ever accepted a counter offer? Was it a good decision?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Does Everyone Over 40 Long For a New Career?

One of the first things I noticed upon meeting my new physical therapist was how unhappy he was in his job.  He began his career as a self-employed physical therapist specializing in workman’s comp injuries. His primary client had been a large factory in the Milwaukee area.  His days had been long since he had to cover all three shifts, but the pay was excellent.  Then in the early 2000's the factory was sold. The new owners had stringent business insurance requirements he was unable to meet. His contract was terminated and he was replaced by a large company.  He was offered a job with this company, but declined.  He questioned the educational background of their therapists and the salary he was offered was insulting.

He spent the next year working with his two small remaining accounts and trying to secure new business, but Milwaukee had lost numerous manufacturing facilities since 1986 and the ones who remained were not looking for a physical therapist.  Eventually he closed his business and accepted a position as a staff therapist with a company affiliated with one of the local medical providers. That was where he was working when I met him.

A lot has changed since my therapist graduated in 1986:

Around the end of the 1990's, a bachelor's degree in physical therapy was slowly replaced by master's and doctorate physical therapy degrees. My therapist who holds only an undergraduate degree was grandfathered in. He tells me his company recently hired a new graduate with a master’s degree.  He points to her and tells me she doesn’t know any more than he does.  She earns an annual salary of $55,000 while he currently makes $75,000. He also has a 401(k), is eligible for state unemployment if he finds himself downsized and has medical insurance. He had had none of these while self-employed.

What he doesn’t like about his job:

He always has to be on.  He has to meet and talk to patients all day while his ex-wife who works as a financial analyst can just sit and stare at her computer when she doesn’t feel like working.

He is now billable and has to track his time hourly. He works with 24 different patients at all times.  He has to have vacation time approved in advance. He can’t just take an afternoon off on a nice day or not go in the day after a holiday if he doesn’t feel like it.

He can’t drink a soda while working with a patient. His new company told him this is rude.  To do so he would have to offer them a beverage as well and they are not in the beverage serving business.

His job is boring.

Every day is the same.  Of his 24 patients three of them usually have elbow tendinitis – my affliction. The treatment for tennis elbow is always the same. 

I suggested working with people in their homes; thinking he might enjoy that more.

He said that would be much worse and more boring than his current job.  You then work with the elderly and your job consists of, “See you again on Wednesday Betty be sure to squeeze the bag of beans when I’m gone.” At least in his current job his patients usually get better.

I asked if he had to maintain continuing education. 

He does and he likes doing that, he enjoys learning something new and his employer pays him for his time while he is out of the office.   He then got up and left.  When he returned he said he had just signed up for a day of CPE.

If he could have a do-over what would he do?

He’d be a TV reporter, but at 45 he thinks he is too old for TV.

At our last appointment he said he thinks everyone longs for a career change after age 40. It is hard to know at age 18 what you will make you happy when you are 40. 

As for me, I kind of think I would have preferred a career as a physical therapist rather than as an accounting manager, but I choose accounting, so I am making the best of it. As to everyone, I am sure many people do long for a new career.  I heard my company's President make two comments in the last week about not being happy with his career choice - running the family business.  He is 47 and at one point wanted to be a lawyer or a politician. 

Do you think everyone over 40 longs for a new career?