Category Archives: Career

Thoughts From Vacation – Some Customers Will Never be Happy

Another random thought I had on vacation back in November.
Watching our fellow cruise passengers on group excursions or at
meals was an interesting experience. Most, like us, were simply
excited to have some time away and saw the whole thing as a big
adventure, but there were a few who simply seemed to find something
to complain about at every turn. Some of the time it was something
that one of the crew could fix for them, but they typically only
complained to themselves instead of asking for help, or refused
offers to make it better, and sometimes they would complain to the
staff and expect them to fix things that were well beyond their

- Sure it’d be
great if every time to you took a trip to photograph nature the
weather cooperated, but sometimes you have to make do, and
complaining about it won’t make the sun shine

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Thoughts from Vacation – Everyone is in Customer Service

As part of the on going series of things I took the time to notice while away from work and computers for a couple of weeks, I want to talk about cruise ships. Namely, I want to talk about the people who work on cruise ships, because no matter what your job title might be on a cruise ship, your number one priority is making sure your passengers have everything they need. That means that, even if you’re “just” doing laundry or stocking one of the bars, or any number of other behind the scenes types of duties, you should always be aware of what passengers are around you, and make sure you greet them in a friendly manner, and are responsive to any requests that they have.

I found this to be an interesting dynamic. Cruising in a highly competitive industry. I mean if you want to take a cruise in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, for example, there are a ton of options for you.  It’s not like only one cruise line can take you there, and it’s not like you don’t have a ton of different options for your itinerary. There’s a high probability that aside from schedule and ports, the deciding factor for which cruise line you choose is going to be which one you trust to give you a good experience. And, once you do have a good experience on one cruise line, you’re very likely to stick with them. So, there is a lot of pressure to make sure passengers are having a good experience, and the responsibility for that goes all the way through to every member of the crew.

I’m not sure that other industries quite understand that they are, as well, in the business of making sure their customers come away with a good experience. Far too often I’ve heard people who work behind the scenes in law firms, or technology companies, who really don’t have any idea who their customers are, or what kind of experience they are getting. That’s someone else’s responsibility. I’m here to fix the computers, deliver the mail, write the code, I’m not responsible for customer service.

Yet, you are. If you write code that doesn’t work the way a customer expects it to, you’ve just failed at providing customer service. If you are unorganized about getting the mail to the proper person who can get your mail and handle it correctly, or you’re lax in keeping technology running, thus preventing your attorney from responding to an email you are responsible for a lack of customer service.

Heck, if you just aren’t providing a friendly greeting to customers in the hallways or meeting rooms of your office, you’re missing out on the chance to improve their customer experience. Your organization exists to give your customers an experience that makes them want to pay you. If you don’t see providing customer service something that every single person is responsible for, someone else will be giving them a better experience very soon.


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Do We Travel Wrong?

According to William Chalmers, yes we do.

Truthfully, as I read through his list of ways that Americans are taking vacations wrong, I found myself thinking that I’m guilty of some of them, even though I agreed with much of what he said.

His ways we travel wrong:

1. We are addicted to mini-vacations.

2. We travel at the worst times.

3. We take Groundhog Day vacations.

4. We want Champagne vacations on beer prices.

5. We vacation like we work with lists of things to do.

Again, I don’t know that I totally agree with everything he says, but there’s definitely some truth to the fact that we tend to take long weekends instead of actual vacations, only leading to more stress, and we do tend to travel at the worst times, but I also think that is a product of our workplace environment more than anything we actually choose to do.

Let’s take an example from my own life. We did take a two week vacation this year, off season, and traveled to some really cool new places. The price for that, beyond dollars and cents, was using just about all of my paid time off for the year at once. That means there was no long weekend in Ohio visiting family and friends this year, no taking some time off to recover when I got sick after a trip to Norway this Winter, and a built in excuse for every recruiter that I talked to because I couldn’t possibly switch jobs and start over accumulating paid time off! ;-)

In my case, that last reason worked out to not really be a negative, but it’s easy to see where that would be very limiting to others. We had booked this trip about a year before we took it, and that was a year of being very careful with PTO, to make sure it was still there when it came time, and now dealing with a pretty much depleted PTO account.

Luckily, I work for people who encouraged me to actually be offline and unavailable during this time. Not everyone’s workplace would be that understanding, nor would they be all that understanding about taking time in November, which is traditionally the last chance to get a lot done before the holiday season sets in.

So, to recap; we take short vacations due to very limited time off, which leaves us fewer options on location and a need to cram things in more than we would normally, during peak travel times because it’s more convenient to our employers, who expect us to still be available to them without paying us for that level of importance, which forces us to travel on the cheap.

Maybe it’s not so much that we travel wrong as we do the whole idea of employment wrong?


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Thoughts From Vacation – Cruising For a Career

This will be part of a series of posts over the next week or so about some thoughts I had while on vacation the last couple of weeks. Today, I want to talk about the nature of cruises, and how it made me wish I had some different options when choosing a career.

For the first 45 years of my life, I had somehow never managed to take a cruise anywhere. After my first one, 10 days spent cruising from Spain to Italy and France and back, one thing was very clear to me. It’s different than any other type of travel. Oh sure, it’s different in lots of ways, but the one thing that stood out to me is that the goal of a cruise is different than other types of travel. Typically, you travel to a place, and that place becomes the center point of your stay, and maybe you wander out from that spot, but you don’t typically travel from place to place, because of the logistics involved in getting to and from. With a cruise, obviously, the logistics are taken care of for you, so you are traveling in such a way that you are in a new place nearly every day. That means that you don’t get to spend a lot of time in any one place, but you really get a small sample of many different places, and get to decide which ones you might be interested in going back to for a longer stay. Let me give you an example. We left from Barcelona, but really didn’t get to see much of it, so I would love to go back and see more. I’d love to go back to Tuscany and spend more time, I didn’t get to do everything I would want to in Rome, so I would go back to spend the day at the Vatican, but also know enough to know I don’t want to spend weeks in Rome. I also feel like I saw everything I wanted to on Mallorca, so I’m not in a big hurry to go back there, though I did enjoy it very much.

The more I thought about this, I thought about what a wonderful way this is to sample a variety of places in order to decide where I might want to invest more of my vacation time. How I wish we could treat careers the same way. Let me try out a job for a day or two before deciding whether I want to really do that for a long time, or let me shadow someone in an industry before I spend 4 years of college studying to enter into it. How cool would it be to actually get a small taste of a place, or a career, before investing so much of your future in it?

The question is, how can we give this opportunity to cruise around a bunch of career options to people? What do we have to do? Is it a question of an educational system? Is it something we should be encouraging young people to do, network with people across various careers so they can get a feel for it? Should companies allow potential employees to sample the job for a day or two? What do you think?

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Company Polo Shirts

When you travel for business, you tend to see them everywhere. Yes, the golf shirt with the corporate logo on them. At trade shows they are omnipresent, if you spend enough time in airports you really do see them all. I get it, they are nice little marketing pieces, and if you do enough appearances as part of your job, it’s just easier to have a bunch of those to wear than to try and coordinate your wardrobe. I have a bunch of AccessData polo’s myself. I wear them whenever I teach a class.

Which brings me to my story. Awhile back, I was traveling to do some training and I happened to be going straight from the client site, to the airport to fly home that same evening. As anyone would in that situation, I grabbed a cab, got through security and had some time to kill, so I called my wife. Naturally, I proceeded to talk to her about my long day, and my class, and the need to get home before getting ready for the next trip, etc. I also noticed that as I was talking, that there were a bunch of people seated all around me, in both earshot of my conversation, and clear view of the name on my polo shirt. So, even though I wasn’t complaining that much about my job, I stopped talking about it.

Not everyone is that self-aware. I’ve seen plenty of people having conversations on their cell phone, either in airports or while boarding a plane, with no thought as to who could be overhearing their conversation. I’ll ignore the number of people who give credit card or banking information in that situation, they really deserve their own post, but I want to focus in on the people who spend time on the phone, or sometimes even in person with coworkers, talking about how miserable their job is, or how poorly their company is doing, or how other people have screwed up, all while “advertising” the company they work for.

Some advertisement.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever overheard on a cell phone call in a public place? Have you ever learned anything that made you change your opinion of a company?

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Cognitive Dissonance and Frequency

As I was sitting in the airport yesterday, I started to notice the number of people complaining about various things about air travel, and thinking to myself that yes, there are plenty of things to complain about, but some of what was being said just really wasn’t accurate. It seems to me that there are a large number of people who seem to think that flights arrive late, baggage gets lost, flights get cancelled, etc. “all the time”. As someone who now travels quite a bit (I’ve already spent 75 nights in hotels during 2013, I think that qualifies), I’m always taken aback a bit about these claims, because while they do happen, it really isn’t that frequent. The statistics on airline travel back me up. Based on May, 2013 there’s a 1 in 10,000 chance you’ll be denied boarding, and about a 3 in 1,000 chance that your luggage will get mishandled. Both of those mean there’s less than 1% chance of it happening to you, and while there is a somewhat decent chance (Generally above 20% most months, increasing slightly in months more likely to have sever weather) that you will encounter some delays, it’s still hardly “all of the time”.

Again, as someone who travels quite a lot, I can look at the number of times I’ve been delayed, or had other problems, compared to the number of times I’ve flown without any problem, and put it in perspective. Most people, however, don’t fly that often. A more typical traveler travels maybe twice a year, once for a family vacation in the Summer time, and once for the holidays. Both peak travel times, where there’s little extra space to account for any problems, and both times when you are somewhat more likely to run into severe weather. All it takes is one delay caused by a storm, one person getting bumped from an overfull flight, one mishandled bag, and you come to think that this must happen all the time. After all, if you travel twice a year and it happens to you, it must happen all the time. Even more, when you took the internet and complained about it, your tweet, Facebook post, etc. gets commented on by every other person this has ever happened to, leading to the obvious conclusion, if you fly, the airline will delay your flight, lose your baggage, and there will be some combination of drunk adult or unruly children on your flight. And if you don’t experience those things as part of your flight, you just got lucky. The fact is, if something bad does happen, you just got unlucky.

Unfortunately, I see much of the same sort of believe system set into place over technology too. Most people do not interact with large database systems, or complex networks, on a regular basis. Their interactions mostly involve using a mobile device to access email, or Facebook, etc. or simply using a computer at work. They have infrequent interactions with their own IT departments, and almost always when something goes wrong. They don’t see the 99% of the time things are working perfectly, they see the 1% when it doesn’t and judge you based on that interaction. There’s no sense of perspective, there’s “it didn’t work when I needed it to”. Just like the airlines are always losing luggage, or always overbooking flights, because I saw it happen the one time I interacted with the airlines, the IT department is always non-responsive, always clueless, always rude, because the one time I interacted with them, the Exchange Server had crashed and they were all running around clueless as to how to fix it. It doesn’t matter that they were simply stressed, trying to get it back working again, the impression left with the users is that they were rude, or non-responsive. Of course, those users will then complain to their peers, who also never interact with tech support until something is broken and get a similar response.

On the other hand, if you can slowly explain the situation, set the expectations for how things are going to get fixed, and when, the user might still be unhappy that this happened, but they are less likely to walk away with a bad feeling about the people running the technology.

Still think working in IT is a good way to avoid having to deal with people? If you do, you should probably get out before your poor interactions add to the pile of stories that lead users to believe IT people are always rude.

Where else do you see this sort of dissonance occurring? I can think of plenty of things that people believe happen “all the time” because they know someone it did happen to, or saw it in the media, that in fact are very infrequent. (Natural disasters, crime statistics, etc.) Where do you see it? Where do you not see your own incorrect assumptions?

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Office Space

New office

One of the few things people think about when accepting the option of working from home, is how much space the job is going to require. Sure, if you’re a freelancer, maybe most of your “work” is on a computer or two, and maybe a couple of external hard drives for backup purposes. That can start to add up, but maybe not enough to become a huge problem. On the other hand, if you work for a software company, or in training, the space can really become an issue. Recently, my company sent me a small server to use as a test environment. Given the fact that I already have a rack full of laptops that are used when doing online training, two laptops of my own (one that is mine to use for my work, one that is configured in the same way as our training machines for me to teach with), two routers, one 16 port switch, dual monitors, copies of all of our training materials, an IP phone, swag to give away at training engagements, plus all of the various computers and things that my wife and I own apart from my job, the server turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I ran out of space in our home office.

Sadly, this resulted in us switching our spare bedroom and our office. Making the larger of the two rooms into an office, and the smaller into our spare bedroom. I’m afraid that the next step is going to be us having to move, because the “children” have outgrown the house.

So, before you jump on that opportunity to work from home, take a good look around and think about where you’re going to keep everything. There won’t be a workplace for things to be safely out of your house and out of your way. It’ll be there, all the time!


Ask Questions

I actually found much to agree with in this post about job interviews today, who’s main point is

The most important thing you must do in every interview is to ask great questions.

The author pointed out how it’s difficult to come across as really interested and engaged when you don’t ask questions, which hurts you in a job interview. That is true, but it hurts you in other ways as well. The questions you ask, and the answers you receive, open a door on the job you are looking at that would otherwise stay closed until well after you’ve taken it. It’s a proven fact that most people leave their boss more than they leave a job. Here you are, sitting across the table from that person, and you pass on the opportunity to pick their brain a little, to see how they respond to questions like what they see as the ideal candidate, what they like about the company, what they think about their team, how they measure success, whether the previous person left, or was promoted, etc.

Do you really think the answers to those questions won’t give you at least a little insight into whether you actually want to work for this person? Of course they will, but we are still so stuck in thinking we are being tested when in an interview (granted, we are), and that we can’t test the company and the manager right back. (we can)

As much as you need to impress to land that job, they should be trying to impress you just as much. And if they’re not, that’s a sign too. Not making every effort to find the best candidates and attract them to their team is a sign that the hiring manager doesn’t understand how important hiring is. You have to consider what it will be like to work for this person if they don’t want to find great employees.

Of course, even if you ask the questions, there are no guarantees. People stretch the truth in job interviews, on both sides. But at least if you asked, you will know what you were told during the hiring phase, and what you see on an everyday basis, which might be another sign if they are drastically different. A sign that you shouldn’t stay too long.



Blurring the Lines on LinkedIn

I noticed something interesting yesterday. Like any other day, I had clicked over to an article, and after reading the article, I saw some of the comments being made about it. Mind you, the comments sections of many major news sites are generally the kind of place I would think about wondering into only when I felt like I had too much optimism about the human race and needed to quell that a bit. But something in there caught my eye, and made me wonder about something. I decided I needed to take a sample.

So I went back to the “headlines” area and looked for obvious political or cultural stories. The kind that usually attract the real trolls. Sure enough, they were there. There were posts spouting political positions of all kinds, personal attacks against other commenters, folks who felt no qualms about spouting hateful opinions about overweight people and on and on.

The only difference on this site, was that the articles being commented on were in the “influencers” section of LinkedIn, and all of the commenters were identified using their LinkedIn profile and the company they work for was listed right there, with their comments.

Talk about a way to really give your company a bad name. Talk about a way to run afoul of your company’s social media policies. Talk about an easy way to find yourself fired, or find your company being boycotted, or talk about a way for your company to face a PR nightmare. This isn’t some random website where you appear as some anonymous person and it would require a ton of work to track you down. This is freaking LinkedIn!

I avoid making just about any political or social comments here because a lot of people do know where I work, and it’s easy to find out if you don’t. Plus I really don’t think it’s possible to have intelligence conversations about either online, but I surely would never say anything close to controversial when my title and company are attached to it! Obviously, not everyone has really thought this through.


Great Jobs

Recently, I read Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, and there was a quote in it that I wrote down because I wanted to truly think about just what the quote said, and how it relates to careers, management, and life in general. The book is a thought provoking read all the way through, but this particular quote seemed to stick with me long after I read it:

There are no longer any great jobs where someone else tells you precisely what to do

As Seth goes on to explain, once upon a time a great job was one working at a factory or a mill, where you put in an honest days work for an honest days pay. It was stable, solid work for stable, solid people.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way anymore, even if we continue to try and treat the workplace as if it does. If your job entails doing exactly what someone else tells you to do, that means you are eminently replaceable. As a manager I can get almost ANYONE to simply do exactly what I tell them to do all day long. Therefore, as a worker, the only thing you have to compete on with other workers is price. Basically, it makes sense for me to hire the person who will do exactly what I say for the least amount of pay if all I really need is someone to do what I say all day long. There’s very little skill differential between candidates for this type of job, so it comes down to how much it will cost me to hire someone for it.

The problem, of course, is that society hasn’t yet caught up to this reality. Education is still focused on teaching students to follow instructions, corporations are still focused on procedures and reporting structures that encourage following instructions, and managers are still busy running around telling their directs what to do all day long. In a nutshell, society is doing everything it can to develop a workforce that can follow directions, when that skill set is an absolute dead-end.

Let’s see how this works out in real life. Let’s say you’re a programmer. Each day you go in to the office and your manager tells you exactly what you should be coding, how you should code it, etc. Basically, you are there to simply do precisely what they tell you to do, along with the other 5 programmers on your team. There’s no real difference between your jobs, there’s no chance to really stand out among your peers, and there’s really nothing about what you’re doing the deserves to be recognized above your peers. You’re nothing but a cog in the machine that keeps spitting out code. For your manager this is both good, and bad. In the short term, it’s great. You keep working and putting out code that makes them look good, and they don’t have to really worry about paying you more or needing to replace you, because they’ll just bring in someone else to do exactly what they say. Over the long term though, this means that the manager is never going to get any fresh ideas from his or her reports. When the people above want something new, the manager will look out upon the sea of programmer cubicles, and there won’t be anyone there to step up, because that’s not the job they’ve created and filled with these programmers.

Yet, we see this play out over and over again in the corporate world. Because having irreplaceable workers means having to work hard to keep them, it’s easier to create jobs that are easily filled. So we just continue along the path of pretending that telling our directs exactly what to do = a great job, because….. “the economy”!

Yes, yes, of course, the problem with the labor market is the economy, once that picks up things will go back to the way they were. Except as the economy has improved, the labor market has not. Could that be because the way we structure and hire labor is out of whack with the reality of life in 2013? Management keeps pretending that they can do pretty much whatever they want in terms of crafting existing jobs into meaningless and low-paying cogs because we should just be thankful to have a job, but those same companies are now at a point where there’s nowhere else to go. They can’t pay less to make a less expensive product, we’ve hit rock bottom there. They don’t have anyone with great original ideas on staff any more, those people left for more money and the chance to have the freedom to create something new, and a whole lot of people who truly believed they would be taken care of if they just followed directions and worked hard, are out of a job, or seriously underemployed.

The only way this changes if we change our approach to work, both from the management and labor sides. Management, quit looking for the cheapest cog. You can’t compete on price alone any more. Labor, quit settling for jobs where you never get a chance to stand out or create something new. You’re better than that, but you’ll never get better than that if you don’t take some chances.

Simply put, there’s no mill or factory that is going to provide for your family for the rest of your life. The new economy requires different skills, and it requires a whole different approach to work than we’ve been taught. One that does not include someone else telling you what to do.

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