Retaining Senior Employees and Stopping Brain Drain

iStock_000017440582XSmallMy good friend John Rossheim is a fabulous writer, great person and writes about the most current employment subjects.  I thought you’d be interested in the most recent article he wrote for Monster in which I am quoted on the topic of sabbaticals.  Rather than copy/paste the article here, which is likely a copyright violation but really a diminution of the writer’s original thinking, I am embedding the link:



Lean In and Free Men

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, is rallying women to pursue leadership positions in business and government despite their fears. In urging women to “Lean In,” she points repeatedly to the confidence of men. She contends that men pursue new jobs and opportunities even if they don’t feel 100% capable of doing the work. Meanwhile, women resist reaching for a professional challenge until they have zero doubt in their ability to succeed. As an executive coach, I can attest that men aren’t always as confident as they may seem. Nor do they always want to lean in.

Men have been told to lean in since the moment of their first stepiStock_000008352989XSmall, their first day on a baseball field and their first date. It’s pretty tough to maintain that always-on stance day after day, year after year and meeting after meeting. Men act in different ways when the pressure is overwhelming.

An executive who I worked with is beloved by his staff, even though he berates them. He is brilliant, but belligerent. Abrasive leaders like my client interpret normal interactions as threats to their existence. They see others like lions in the jungle about to attack them. Obsessing with their potential demise at every turn blinds them to how their behavior impacts others. Which is ironic considering that emotional intelligence is essential in today’s highly collaborative business environment.

According to a study by London’s Cass Business School and executive search firm Odgers Berndtson,  “82% of managers believe that leaders of the post-Baby Boomer era will need to develop so-called ‘feminine’ skills to motivate their workers.” Those traits include emotional intelligence, flexibility and a talent for instilling workers with a sense of purpose, says Richard Boggis-Rolfe, the chair of Odgers Berndtson.

Men are programed from adolescence to act hard, but they need soft skills to succeed in leadership roles in today’s interdependent business environment. Society’s message to men—“don’t cry”—runs deep. Many men have to put in extra effort to gain the self-awareness that is needed to understand and manage their emotions, develop and maintain relationships and cope with changes and challenges, which includes work/life balance.

In my 33 years of working for some of the world’s best corporations, I always felt that the demands on men to constantly lean in, to be the Type A’s the world expected and to be aggressive have placed relentless pressure men who wanted nothing more than a good family, a decent job, recognition and a chance to grow in a direction not dictated by someone else. Some recent research I conducted confirmed the suspicions that I had.

I recently surveyed men and women to determine their desire to take sabbaticals. Men were as likely as women (65% vs. 68%) to take or request a sabbatical. Spending more time with their families was one of the primary reasons men said they would take a sabbatical if it were offered. The men I spoke with truly regretted how much time they lost with their families by living up to the pervasive image of being “the provider.“

The key point is that society has preordained men to act a certain way. Assuming that all men are Don Draper doesn’t benefit women or businesses. As women lean in, we should also free men from the burden of having to do it all, all the time. We need to give them the opportunity to cultivate their emotional intelligence so they can effectively compete in work environments where the command and control model is quickly becoming outdated. Simply put, we should create the conditions where both men and women can lead businesses and governments as well as balanced lives.

Generation Xers: Should You Change Jobs?

That’s the question many of you face today. You and your colleagues are frustrated with endlessly long hours, small or non-existent raises, loweriStock_000010779625XSmall bonuses, frequent reorganizations, staff cuts, hiring freezes and a management mantra that people simply have to learn how to do more with less, an edict that insults an employee’s intelligence.

While you’re wondering what to do, the market is moving in your favor. Ten thousand baby boomers are retiring each day. Employee poachers are on the prowl, according to a new survey by Right Management. 64 percent of workers say another employer has attempted to woo them away in the past year. The May 3rd edition of the New York Times reported that “The United States economy created an estimated 165,000 jobs in April, averting fears of a sharp slowdown and pushing the unemployment rate to its lowest level since the end of 2008.”

These facts likely signal more job opportunities for you. If so, you need to ask yourself the question: Should you rush out the door or stay?

Here are my suggestions for what you should consider as you think about going or staying.

You should ‘stay’ if:

  • You feel engaged and challenged in what you do.
  • The organization benefits from your work.
  • You respect the culture and work environment.
  • Your compensation is fair.
  • Company policies, ethics and products/services align with your beliefs.
  • People treat each other with respect.
  • Your work makes you feel good.
  • Someone has become your mentor.
  • Your work life and your personal life are seamless.

You should ‘go’ if:

  • Job content is unexciting and you can’t envision any change.
  • You feel stuck and no one is there to help move you along or listen.
  • The work environment is draining.
  • Your work is not valued.
  • Your commute borders on insanity.
  • Your manager is abusive.
  • You don’t get up in the morning looking forward to your work day.
  • Demand exists elsewhere for your skills.
  • Change is exciting to you.

If you arrive at work and feel good about being there, stay; if you don’t, begin your search but don’t act hastily. Take a systematic approach and avoid switching just for money. Remember that not liking what you do, not being satisfied and not feeling appreciated are more detrimental to your future – personally and professionally — than not having had a raise in several years.

Move for content and contentment.

The 5 Essential Qualities for a Technologist’s Personal Brand

Technologists are perhaps the least aware of all employees of the value of having a personal brand.

More important to them is getting a project done on time, completing development, going from test to production or ensuring the business has signed off on requirements.

Transcending Boundaries

Technologists need to transcend the perceived narrow boundaries of their job descriptions and develop a brand that communicates the value they add to the organization.

Today, brands are no longer the sole domain of companies. An individual’s brand is just as critical in promising value and trust to others in the company.

Tom Peters, the well-known author of “In Search of Excellence,” writes: “What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?” Translating this into personal branding, what do you do as a provider of technology services that makes you stand out and compel someone on the business side to work with you?

Integrating Business and Technology

A recent finding by McKinsey highlights the difficulties business managers and technology providers continue to wrestle with:  “…only 26% of technology leaders proactively engage with business leaders on new ideas or system enhancements.”

Companies with a low ranking will have significant difficulty enabling new strategies and integrating business and technology objectives. They’re doomed to fall behind those firms where technology providers and their business counterparts work together harmoniously.

Building Your Personal Brand

To “engage” with the business, technologists need to develop a personal brand embodying five qualities:

Advocacy:  as an advocate, a technologist will actively support his peers and counterparts on the business side. Instead of waiting for a “charge code,” the technologist will represent the business needs to his colleagues and seek the best possible solution, even if there’s disagreement that requires a new approach to the problem.

Knowledge:  technologists must know the business – how it makes money, the markets in which it competes, threats, competitors’ strategies – as well as his business partners. There is no other way to gain respect than for the technologist to see herself in the same position as her colleagues who have the P&L responsibility. Indeed, without knowing the business, technologists will remain merely providers of infrastructure, never being sought out for adding value.

Presence:  it’s not only about how you look, your poise or your sophistication; rather, presence is an authentic quality that builds trust in others. No matter what your style, people want to listen, follow, and do great work for you. Presence is projected wherever you are and in whatever you’re doing. It is essential for developing the strong relationships required in order for you to do your best work. You have to make your internal clients confident that they are in good hands.

Authenticity:  because you will be guided by the facts, you will be trusted and known as reliable and believable. Your stature when discussing alternative technical solutions and possibilities for the business will be credible because you are being true in your thinking, your understanding, and your representations. Businesses will value what you are saying because there will be no agenda attached.

Dependability:  simply said, you are trustworthy. When you make a suggestion, disagree, deliver bad news, or ask for more time, because they trust you, your message is far less likely to generate questions or doubt. In fact, your communications with business leaders will be enhanced since there’ll be less stress embedded into the message — based on the past, they know what you’re saying is accurate and honest.

Brand Equity

Standing out from the crowd by creating your own brand does not mean you have to be loud, self-absorbed, controlling or possess a huge ego.

Instead, it is about representing yourself so that you are seen as someone who knows what she is talking about, gets the point across, is credible, can be counted on, thinks beyond technology and, above all, is trustworthy.  By doing so, you build personal equity, which is your brand.

Technologists must develop personal brands so their colleagues begin to imagine them as leaders, even if they don’t have the title.

(I suggest you take a look at my dear friend Jeannette Paladino’s web site where this blog first appeared.  She has taught me much about writing and blogging.  Thank you Jeannette for inviting me to be featured on your site.)

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Career Decision: From Technologist to Management

A  big question faced by the three major organizations I worked for concerned the career path of technologists.  Would remaining a ‘technologist’ hurt a career?  How could technologists make the move from being a technologist to being a technology manager?  And, how could they transition from technology and/or technology management to business management?  Anyone who has worked with technologists will find these to be familiar issues.  I recently spoke to a friend who works for a  major car company and she’s addressing these same questions, which never seem to quite get resolved.

I think the questions all relate to each other because at their core they ask “How do I advance my career?”  It is not a ‘technologist’ issue in origin, though it seems that way.

Taking each of the questions in turn:

“Does remaining a technologist hurt my career?”  No, it does not.  I have always told people to do what they love.  If you like technology and have the capacity to remain current, stick with what appeals to you.   With the pace of change in technology, your mind will always be active and you’re in a position to learn constantly.   There’s nothing wrong with staying true to a vocation.  In fact, being an expert at something can be quite rewarding.  With a subject as deep as technology, it would take some effort on your part to not find something new to learn.

“How do you migrate from being a technologist to being a technology manager?”  Almost every technology manager I’ve ever worked with began their careers as programmers or hardware experts.  What distinguished them in their path to management was their skills in managing relationships and their ability to interpret data in a way that delivered information instead of mere facts.  By adding value to the relationship, they successfully bridged the gap between being technical and being a manager.  Having strong emotional intelligence (if you never taken the emotional IQ assessment, you should) is behind understanding what others need from you.

“How can I transition from technology to business management?”  This is a more difficult shift as it demands you begin to act as though you are already in business management.  The key to moving into a business leadership position is the ability to think differently and that means examining the business in a strategic way, outside the here and now.  Individuals who bridge this gap identify what it takes to move from today’s business environment to one which constructs a more favorable business model.  To do so you must become knowledgeable about your business’ competitive environment, its economics, its technology leverage, and how others are targeting your market.  Identifying and understanding those elements outside current circumstances (i.e., the exogenous factors) are what distinguish a specialist from a more generalist business manager.  Another way to think about this is that you want to ask ‘why’ rather than ‘what.’

The two lessons I’ve learned from working with technologists and business managers:  Don’t let your current role limit your thinking and don’t be dissatisfied with being an exceptional technologist.

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