Saturday, May 30, 2009

Raising Kids, Raising Workers

I’ve long believed that managing is the second most difficult job on planet earth, the first being parenting. I often start my supervisory skills training classes with that.

Blogger Luc Galoppin is writing about this at his blog, Luc's Thoughts On Organizational Change. I’m a bit late to his party as he is already on part 5, but as my mom used to say, “Better late than never.”

This is a great topic and a super series. I think he should consider turning his series into a book.

The parallels between managing people and raising children are many. As are the lessons.

Just as we raise kids to be capable and to have a sense of responsibility for certain things, so also do we “raise workers” . . .

- to be be aware of their responsibilities

- to be accountable for them, and

- to take the appropriate actions necessary.

I recently conducted a supervisory skills training for front line managers in the marine terminals industry. I asked them what they expect of their workers, most of whom are union employees.

They had a long list of answers including such items as "to get the job done," "to take care of the equipment," and "to work safely."

I asked the supervisors if such items were negotiable. They answered No. One said, "You can't compromise on things like that. If we don't stand firm on such expectations, it will hurt productivity, costs, and safety."

Quite a few of the participants in this training were young men and women who were unmarried and did not have kids of their own. But the parallels are still there.

Just as parents have to establish boundaries that protect and nourish their children, so too must supervisors.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 30, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Transferable Skills

In today's economy, many people are engaged in career transition. Some are doing so because they are out of work due to downsizing. Others are still working, but are feeling anxious about the steady stream of bleak economic news. Whatever the reason, spending some time thinking about one's career --including taking stock of your accomplishments, your skills, and your options-- is not a bad use of time right now.

Recently, someone I am assisting with career transition guidance, asked about transferable skills: what are they? and how do you identify them?

Transferable skills are capabilities, like goal setting, effective communication, being organized, time management, or problem solving, that we can utilize in more than one situation or context. For example, I can write at home as well as at work. The same with problem solving. And effective presentation skills. And so on.

I can use these skills while working at a bank, at a hospital, at a newspaper, and at a factory.

The concept of transferable skills says that you have many capabilities that you can take with you to an entirely different field or industry.

How do you identify your transferable skills? Here's a 3-step guide.

1 - Skills Lists - A starting point was provided by the great career coach Richard Nelson Bolles in his classic book What Color Is Your Parachute? where he gives lists of skills that you can go through, circling all those that you have.

2 - When You're At Your Best - A further useful step is to review your accomplishments, especially those you are most proud of. Such accomplishments can come from any part of your life, and any time. By reflecting upon, and analyzing, these accomplishments, you'll be looking to identify the skills you used.

3 - Skills You Most Enjoy - Then, after going through the lists, and reviewing key accomplishments, ask yourself which of your skills you most enjoy using, and would most like to use in your next job?

What's great about transferable skills is that they help us break out of our own typecasting. Consider someone who has been in a particular field for twenty years. That's a long time. They may be feeling stuck, like they have no other options.

They may think that all they know, and all that they are capable of doing, is bound to that one field.

The reality is that we have many transferable skills that can be applied in many diverse situations. And once we have thought about the skills we are best at and most enjoy using, we can seek opportunities that will maximize the right fit.

One of the keys to happiness in life is doing work that you enjoy.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 26, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tweets in Church

Until recently, the only tweets you would hear in church came from the occasional stray bird that somehow flew in and could not find its way out.

Now, as described in this Time magazine article, Twitter --the social networking microblogging site where users must find an economical way to communicate in 140 characters or less-- has been introduced into churches as a medium for greater participation by the congregation.

At the Next Level Church near Charlotte, N.C., pastor Todd Hahn prefaced his Easter Sunday sermon by saying, "I hope many of you are tweeting this morning about your experience with God."

And they did. From Charlotte to Seattle, churches are experimenting with the marriage of social networking technology and spirituality.

And it seems to be working. Pastors and congregants are finding an interesting new way of connecting with their faith, as well as with one another.

As a Catholic, I can see great opportunity in the use of social networking for reaching out and engaging parishioners in a new and exciting way.

As an Organization Development consultant, I think that churches may be ahead of businesses in the use of social networking as an employee (or customer) engagement platform.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 24, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Power of Prayer

Can positive thoughts, such as prayer, heal? This question has been a controversy, splitting people into two camps, the ones who say it's foolish because science can't prove it vs the ones who say it's a matter of faith.

This story on NPR points to some science that seems to be saying "Yes, it can."

Gail Ironson, a professor at the University of Miami, an AIDS researcher, "measured viral load, which tells how much of the virus is present in a person's body, and immune cells called CD-4 cells, which help fight off the AIDS virus. Ironson says over time, those who turned to God after their diagnosis had a much lower viral load and maintained those powerful immune cells at a much higher rate than those who turned away from God."

Apparently, an increase in spirituality can have a measurable beneficial effect.

Next we have a new question: Can positive thoughts, such as prayer, heal another person? Just as before, this controversial question splits us into two camps, the doubtful scientists and the faith-filled believers.

The NPR story offers the tantalizing story of the Love Study, a scientific experiment done with couples to see if the positive thoughts of one person, say the husband, can have a measurable effect at a distance on the wife.

Apparently, they can. The scientists, however, are at a loss as to how to explain it.

I'll offer one. In my recent posting on Embodied Cognition, I mentioned the idea that the human mind may be a field that encompasses the entire body (not just the brain) and extends out from the body.

Just as we can extend our hand to touch another person, can we extend our mind-field to touch the mind-field of another?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 23, 2009

What's Your Personal Brand?

We are all familiar with slogans that companies have used in their advertizing to convey something important about Who They Are to consumers. For instance:

~ "We bring good things to life." (GE)

A branding statement is a tagline that says Who You Are. It creates an image, conveying something essential about your distinctiveness in a crowded marketplace. A brand forms a perception in the minds of others about You.

Lately the concept of corporate branding has been applied to personal branding, especially for people in career transition.

Thanks to IT executive Mike Szot, I read an interesting article at CIO.com about personal branding, written by Catherine Kaputa, where she identifies 8 tips for standing out in a competitive job market. She writes:

~ "Personal branding is just as important to business and technology professionals, especially in a down economy. Whether you're a recent victim of a layoff or you're employed but worried about job loss, personal branding can make all the difference in your future job security and career success. By making yourself known for something special-—whether it be a unique skill, attitude or problem-solving approach-—you can make a stronger impression on prospective employers and/or demonstrate to your existing employer that you're indispensible."

How does one come up with a personal branding statement? Kaputa provides 5 questions and 8 tips worth reading.

I would add the following:

- What have your reviews said? - What positive feedback have you received in the past? What have people told you that you are good at?

- What's your best? - Think about the stuff you really enjoy doing, the occasions when you are at your very best, when time seems to zoom by (i.e., the "flow state").

- What's your calling? - When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you become that? Or something else? Is that dream still there within you? Is it finding expression in your life and work somehow?

- What's your favorite problem and Who do you help? - Whatever our fields of endeavor, we are all problem solvers of one sort or another. Think about the kinds of problems you are best at, the ones you really enjoy solving. And who you are helping the most as you solve them.

Questions such as these, and those in Kaputa's article, will help you to surface some of the ingredients that make up Who You Are, that special blend of strengths and personal attributes that make up your unique and distinctive offering in the world.

A few years ago, I attended a workshop with career coach John Hadley who taught us how to build a branding statement using the material that the above questions provide. As a first step, Hadley suggested that you fill in the blanks on the following:

~ I am a [fill in a profession] who helps people to [fill in an action or two].

So, for example: "I am a Training & Organization Development professional who helps business leaders to facilitate change to achieve results."

The key to making this work, Hadley says, is to experiment when you are networking. Gauge the reaction people have to the branding statement you have crafted. Does it interest or bore them? If you are going "over the top," you'll sense it.

The best indicator that it's working is when the other person asks to hear more.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 22, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Resilience

Over the course of my career in Training and Organization Development, I have experienced more than my share of restructuring. As a result, I have often jokingly referred to myself as the Poster Child for Downsizing.

But one of the lessons I've learned from my experience is that "it's all good," as my sons might say.

And that attitude is one ingredient that I would point to in a recipe for resilience.

First a definition. According to Webster's dictionary, resilience is "the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress." Also, resilience is "an ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change."

In other words, resilience is the ability to bounce back after hitting a brick wall.

So what goes into a recipe for resilience, especially in this difficult economic downturn? Here are six points that have worked for me.

1. Attitude - As I mentioned above, everything depends on how you look at life. An "aint it awful" outlook is good for a Pity Party, but not good at all for an effective job search campaign. Adopt a positive outlook. You'll find that others notice it.

2. Support - Don't go it alone. Don't bottle it up inside. Lean on your supports for strength. Their love for you will help you get back on your feet.

3. Moving On - You've got to let go. Let go of the past. Let go of the anger about what happened to you.

4. Moving Ahead - You've got to set your sights on the future. On possibilities. So, set goals. Make plans to move ahead. Then get going.

5. Helping - There are many people out of work right now, searching for opportunity. See what you can do to help others that are in similar straits as your own. By helping others, you will help yourself.

6. Learning - As someone once said, Experience is the best teacher. Experience is also a very tough teacher sometimes. Ask yourself: What lesson is this downsizing teaching me? Learning the lesson won't necessarily prevent such an occurence in the future, but you'll be that much more resilient if it does.

Keep in mind the olde maxim that says, "What does not kill me makes me stronger." If you are still standing when the smoke clears and dust settles, you've got what it takes to bounce back better than ever.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 18, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Embodied Cognition

There's something about the scientific search to understand the mind by concentrating on the brain that reminds me of the Mulla Nasruddin story I have told before at this blog.

In brief, the mulla has lost his keys somewhere in his house. So what does he do? He goes outside and starts to look under a street lamp...where, he says, the light is better.

Is the mind of human beings housed in the organ we call the brain? Or could it be that the mind is a field that encompasses the entire human body and extends beyond it, not only in space but in time?

Now a school of thought in science called "embodied cognition" is starting to assert itself via studies such as this one on problem solving and motion. Researcher Alejandro Lleras of Vanderbilt University says:

~ "People tend to think that their mind lives in their brain, dealing in conceptual abstractions, very much disconnected from the body. This emerging research is fascinating because it is demonstrating how your body is a part of your mind in a powerful way. The way you think is affected by your body and, in fact, we can use our bodies to help us think."

In actual practice, people tend to think with many bodily organs besides the brain. For example:

- The stomach: "He did not have the stomach for it."

- The skin: "I was itching to enlist."

- The lungs: "She found that job suffocating."

- The heart: "My heart goes out to those who are suffering."

Are these mere metaphors? The guru of metaphor, George Lakoff says:

~ "The mind is a body. And thinking is moving."

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 17, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blogspiration

When a week or more goes by in between blog entries, where do you go for inspiration?

I just read at Nimmy's blog, that she goes to the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes to get ideas. I like that. Even something silly or nonsensical can trigger a blog posting.

For me, I tend to visit other blogs or scan the latest news headlines for something of interest, something that speaks to me. For example, a couple things that caught my eye recently:

- Interest in Prague's legend of the Golem has risen again in anticipation of the 400th anniversary in September of the death in 1619 of the venerable Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Golem’s supposed maker. According to the NY Times, Rabbi Loew was a "Jewish mystic and philosopher (and) a leading scholar of the Talmud and kabbalah...known widely as the Maharal, a great sage."

- A science report on daydreaming made news the other day, suggesting that it's the brain's way of working out difficult problems. According to Kalina Christoff of the University of British Columbia in Canada, "Contrary to the notion that daydreaming is a sign of laziness, letting the mind wander can actually let the parts of the brain associated with problem-solving become active."

I've noticed that when I am faced with a difficult-to-solve problem, it helps to walk away from it and put my attention on something else. Then quite often, a solution will occur to me when I least expect it.

I wonder if, 400 years ago, the Golem was a solution that arose from the imagination of the mystical Rabbi or some other daydreamer, faced with an intractable problem, and hoping for an answer.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 15, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gratitude

I have so much to be thankful for...

- my son David, who was promoted to manager at Thomas Sweet Ice Cream shoppe, playing original compositions on the piano in the next room

- my son Kevin, about to graduate from Rutgers and start working in NYC, who helped arrange the debut of "The Binge," a South Carolina bluegrass band, at Tumulty's Pub last night

- my wife Joan, music director, master gardener, and so supportive of me during my job search

In gratitude.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, May 10, 2009

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Creativity and Change


To create is to change
To be creative is to be changeful
full of change
is to be changeable
able to change

The Creator expects change
courts change

Creators open up
become soft
permeable
their boundaries loosen

Creators seek the Unknown
the Ambiguous
the Clash of conflicting waves
& keep an open mind
without closing doors
too soon

Creators play around
like kids
juggling elements
stewing ideas
cooking up the Impossible
then having a taste

& Creators get lucky
sometimes
& give birth
naturally

Then down from the hilltop they come
Speaking
breathlessly

A poem, written in 1981, by Terrence Seamon, posted May 5, 2009