If it's a story about me, then I'll say so up front.

This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Biggest Mistake Employers Make When Filling a Top Job

Job Opening: Looking for an Executive Director. Must have minimum of 5 years top management experience. Prefer candidate be aprox. 5’7” 155 lbs. with dark red hair and a deep, throaty laugh. Send resume to: Blah, blah, blah.

Would anyone really place an ad like this in the Jobs Section? No. But they might just as well, because subconsciously that’s what they want.

There’s a mistake made by employers nearly 100% of the time when looking for a new hire. They seldom think of themselves as hiring a new employee. Instead, they seek to “replace” the old employee with a clone. They do this because:

1. That’s the way we’ve always done it (official company motto: “Live and Don’t Learn.”)

2. It’s easier that way.

3. If things go badly, the responsibility is easily diffused.

But I disagree with this philosophy. (You knew that I would.) And here’s my rationale: When an employee leaves, for whatever reason, if the employer just thinks in terms of replacing that employee they deprive themselves of an chance to wipe the state clean and begin anew. Perhaps, 12 years ago, when that position was first created, there was an excellent job description written. In fact, I’ll bet that they are still working from an updated version of that same job description to this day! Maybe that’s swell. I doubt it.

Nonprofits are particularly bad about this, by the way. Small staffs and volunteer board members who can’t afford to “waste their valuable time” tend to think in terms of the immediate problem rather than the big picture.

We all know the definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result. During this current lousy economy, everybody has to start thinking outside the box. What worked in 2007 probably won’t work in 2010. When a person leaves, it creates a remarkable opportunity to re-think the job with something that is more appropriate with the changing world of doing business.

By the way, this same axiom is true with Board members as well. There are a startling array of lousy practices that are used when replacing an exiting board member. But one of the worst (and most popular) among female-heavy boards is to let the person who is leaving nominate her friend or co-worker to replace her slot. That would work well if this were a sewing circle, but with a Board of Directors, not so much. Men do this to some extent, too, but with men the nominee is more likely to be someone that the outgoing member has worked with on another board. Men are more incestuous; women more friend-driven.

Frankly, ladies, it’s just this sort of thing that is holding us back in business. A Board of Directors isn’t about “friends.” It’s about who can do the job. A vacancy on the board is an opportunity to look at where the organization is at that moment and define what is required to take it where it needs to go. If an organization is having governance problems, then maybe a strong HR person is needed. If funding is the overriding issue, then the board needs to understand that each member has a responsibility to give or raise a certain amount each year. (This is a very common procedure in nonprofit boards.) If the organization is having branding and image difficulties, then you need to pack the board with high profile, heavy-hitters to create credibility within the community.

Whether it is an employee or a board member, the company must have a really clear picture of what it needs today, as opposed to what was needed three years ago; because the likelihood of them being the same is very low. And what better opportunity to reassess that situation than when an opening occurs.

Now where did I put that dark red hair dye?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Twitter “Croaks.” Gone Phishing!

Last week, I had to apologize to Miss Universe. Twice. I hate it when that happens.

You see, she had taken exception to a couple of DM tweets that I had sent her, inviting her to check out an LOL video that “made my day,” and daring her to beat my IQ score. Frankly, I feel pretty confident that I could have held my own on the IQ score. The trouble was, I didn’t send either tweet. Nor did I taunt her with, “Did you know you were in this video?” Or offer to hook her up with Viagra at dirt cheap prices. At least, not on purpose.

Somebody hacked my Twitter account. What a mess! Multiple DMs (Direct Messages) had been sent to virtually every one of the hundreds of people who are “following” me. Bummer. Actually, Miss Universe was pretty nice about it. Others, not so much. I got some fairly nasty “croaks” from people I’d never even heard of. I just this minute invented the term “croak” because the whole word “tweet” has a kind of a nice, fun, upbeat sound to it. And there was nothing nice about some people’s reactions.

I felt real bad about it. At first I was just plain confused; then it became clear what had happened. I was the victim of phishing and I felt violated. Using my account, some hacker dropped a virus in my cookies (goodness, that sounds downright unsanitary) and sent out messages to everyone in my database.

Here’s the deal: social networking sites are tripping all over themselves to embed powerful features that most subscribers will never use, such as digital image or media files with the ability to download content from third-party Web sites. These features are not the kind of worms or viruses that shut your computer down. They just send out messages using your own friend list, or something similar. 99% of them are harmless advertising spam that result from wandering around in YoVille on your Facebook. (Hey, you gave them permission when you adopted your first cow.) But a moderately-proficient hacker can use the features to phish your network with files that, when opened, transfer the virus through that person’s network, and so on, and so on…

Mostly, the public doesn’t hear about nobodies, like me, who get phished. We just change our password, run a virus protection scan, clean out cookies in the browser, and a write a lot of apologies to people like Miss Universe. But I did some research and discovered that having your Twitter account hacked is not nearly as rare as you might have hoped. (Actually, Twitter tries never to use the word “hacked,” preferring instead to speak of having your account “compromised.” Sounds nicer, I guess.)

My research turned up 10 large-scale “compromisings” so far in 2009, covering thousands of accounts. Some of these include high-profile folks such as President-Elect Barack Obama (in January, before the swearing-in), Britney Spears (3 times in 2009), and the official feed for Fox News. Yikes. My personal favorite took place in mid-July, when a hacker broke into the online accounts of various Twitter staffers, including Twitter CEO Evan Williams’ email account. How embarrassing! The attack exposed all sorts of internal documents which were distributed widely and gleefully reprinted by the French website Korben.

As unique as I like to think of myself, my own experience targeted about 750 people, including New York Jets Wide Receiver David Clowney. I only hope that I’m not going to have to apologize to him as well.

Did I bring this upon myself? Well, maybe partly. It turns out that I’m not the only one who can’t retain anything but water these days. The systems are designed as they are because huge numbers of us with college degrees and reasonable IQs are unable to remember a single four-digit PIN number without “hints,” let alone a unique password for every application for which we ever sign up. The result is that 41% of internet users unwisely use the same username and password for numerous internet services, including online banking accounts. Couple this with apps like Ping.fm, which automatically triggers your message to your profile on FaceBook, hiF, MySpace, Plaxo Pulse, Plurk, Pownce, Tumblr, Twitter and Xanga simultaneously, hooking them together like an ecosystem – when one account is “compromised,” the others are likely to tumble like dominoes.

Would I do something as stupid as this? Well…. not any more. Additionally, giving the user an option to guess the name of a pet in lieu of actually knowing a password has just dramatically shortened the odds for an attacker. Does the fact that I had three dogs as a kid, each one named Skippy, show continuing sentimentality on my part or an incredible lack of childhood imagination? You choose. Would I actually stoop to using “Skippy” as my password, let alone my “hint?” Well…..not any more.

There are some things that we simply can’t control. The kinds of DDoS attacks that occurred on August 6th managed to slow both Twitter and Facebook to a standstill by using a network of computers (dubbed zombies) to flood the server with requests for data until the server overloads and comes crashing down. No amount of firewalls on our end can protect us from this, but I so loved the security experts’ analogy of likening a DDoS attack to 15 fat men trying to get through a revolving door at the same time, that I just couldn’t resist working it into this post. Sorry.

I discovered two other interesting miscellaneous pieces of information in my research: The first is that there are Hacker Conventions. Lots of them. All over the globe. The world’s largest annual hacker convention is called DEF CON and it’s held in Las Vegas. Of course it is!! Federal law enforcement agents from the FBI, DoD and other agencies regularly infiltrate DEF CON but they just can’t keep pace with a couple of 18-year-olds with too much time on their hands.

The final remarkable thing is that this past April, University of Wisconsin doctoral student Adam Wilson, by wearing a cap outfitted with electrodes that monitored changes in his brain activity, managed to tweet 23 characters just by thinking. Yup, by focusing on the letters, he spelled out “USING EEG TO SEND TWEET,” among other messages.

You know what this means, don’t you? It will only be a matter of time before some dweeb in a party hat will be able to stand across the room from me at a cocktail party and tweet spam into my head; words that will, no doubt, come rolling uncontrollably out my mouth like a gumball dispenser.

With my luck, I’ll be chatting with Miss Universe at the time. I could just croak!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why We Don’t Need Another Nonprofit

Those of you who have been following me for the past couple of months know that I recently lost my job as the Executive Director of the Hawaii Women’s Business Center. It was nothing personal. Federal funds were cut to such a point that they could no longer pay my salary, or that of our office manager. I was sad to leave the Center, because I am still passionate about their mission, but the board and I were in agreement. In a dwindling economy, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.

Since then, a surprising number of friends and colleagues have suggested that I should start a competing non-profit. Bless their hearts, I know that they mean well. But I consider this to be a mistake of astonishing proportions on a number of levels.

First of all, frankly there are just too many non-profits already out there in the marketplace. They often have similar goals and even though the work that they are doing is altruistic and necessary, the administrative costs involved in overlapping services ultimately hurts those who need them the most. As an example, I googled “drug treatment youth Hawaii” and quickly found 124 separate rehabilitation facilities and programs – and I didn’t even try very hard.

Let me be clear about this: I am not suggesting that we need fewer addiction programs in the state. I haven’t studied this situation enough to make a judgment such as that. But I do strongly suspect that we don’t need any more programs. I believe that we would get better ROI by putting additional funding into the programs already in place rather than by starting yet another.

Funds are dwindling – everywhere. There’s just not enough money to go around. The pie is smaller; the need is greater. In the past, it has been difficult for moderate and small-sized nonprofits to recruit suitable leadership, simply because nonprofits traditionally pay substantially less than their counterparts in the for-profit marketplace for positions of equal responsibility. Often the best candidates don’t even bother to apply. Of course, there will always be those of us (particularly baby boomers) who feel a calling for working in the nonprofit industry, despite the monetary downside. But the hard fact is that resources are diminishing, even for those of us committed to the altruistic goals.

In April of 2009, a survey of over 1,100 nonprofit leaders in markets nationwide was released by Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF). The key findings were pretty bleak:

• Only 12% of nonprofits expect to operate above break-even this year.

• Just 16% anticipate being able to cover their operating expenses in both 2009 and 2010.

• 31% don't have enough operating cash in hand to cover more than one month of expenses, and another 31% have less than three months' worth.

• 52% of respondents expect the recession to have a long-term (2+ years) or permanent negative financial effect on their organizations.

• 93% of lifeline organizations that provide essential services anticipate an increase in demand in 2009.

According to the Washington Post, a recent survey of member nonprofits by the D.C.-based Center for Nonprofit Advancement revealed that:

• one-third have no operating reserves or endowment

• 41 % are suspending or closing down programs

• and 44% are laying off staff.

So where will the nonprofits that do survive get their funding?
Oh, oh….more bad news:

It probably won’t be from foundations. On November 4th, The Foundation Center located in New York City reported that their latest survey shows foundation giving will likely decline in 2009 by 10%, slightly worse than their 8% estimated earlier this year. And as if that isn’t bad enough, the Center predicts further declines in 2010.

The extra money needed probably won’t be coming from the public either. According to a November 16, 2009 Associated Press report, only 38 % of Americans say they are likely to give at least one charitable gift as a holiday present this year, compared to 49 percent last year.

Looks like Santa is going to be skipping a lot of 501(c)(3) chimneys this year.

So will nonprofits fold up their tents and close their doors? Some will. But the smart ones will quickly discover that there is safety in numbers. Savvy nonprofits will band together with like-minded organizations and share costs. They will disclose strategic planning information so as not to cannibalize each other’s programming and educational bases. I predict that the ones who will succeed are the ones who understand their clients’ needs and allocate their budgets to doing one thing really well rather than trying to be all things to all people.

Those who sit tight and pray for a white knight to gallop in and save them won’t stand a chance in this economy.

So, to all of my dear friends who have encouraged me to start a women’s business center, bless your hearts but don’t hold your breath. I may be neurotic but I’m not stupid. The world doesn’t need another nonprofit right now. Let’s just support the ones we already have, OK?

P.S. This holiday season, the world probably doesn’t need another $16 scented candle, either. But there are families around the globe whose lives would be changed by the gift of a goat or a chicken. May I suggest that you check out Heifer.org or Oxfam.org, two nonprofits that help families in third world countries become self sufficient while providing nutrients for their children. Or give the gift of a smile – The Smile Train performs free cleft palate surgery on children around the world, changing their lives in societies who shun those born with deformities. With nonprofit organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Project Hope, Mercy Ships or your local Shriners Hospital for Children, there is very little excuse to spend money on candy (it rots your teeth and makes your butt fat), knickknacks (they collect dust) or jewelry. Do something good this holiday season. Please. Thus endeth the lesson

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

No Shirt. No Credit. No Employment.

A few years ago, I suspect that I lost the chance at my dream job because I refused to grant permission to check my credit history. My refusal actually had nothing to do with my credit history. In fact, I have no idea what my current credit score is or how I am rated, nor did I then. (Yes, I know that it is foolish and irresponsible not to keep track of this stuff. But that’s a future blog.) I refused on the grounds of privacy issues and the fact that credit reports are notoriously inaccurate. Today they couldn’t even ask - In July 2009, Hawaii became the second state, behind Washington, to limit the use of credit histories in pre-employment screening.

Last week I wrote about some of the insidious devices that human resource people are using these days to make the determination of whether to hire you. Some of these tools are just the natural evolution of technology, such as LinkedIn and Google. They can be both helpful and, in some cases, misleading to the point of pure untruth. But of all these contemporary screening techniques, none is more invasive or abused as the practice of using credit checks as a litmus test for hiring.

SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) states that 43 percent of companies conducting any type of pre-employment screening use credit checks for some or all employees. And those numbers are from their last study which was done in 2006. Credit score screening has skyrocketed since then, so we can only imagine how rampant it is today.

In the other 48 states, employers can (with an applicant’s permission), pull a credit history and decline to hire a candidate based on what they find – even if the information has absolutely no relation to the job responsibilities, such as the handling of money, confidential financial information or having access to the personal property of others.

Employers claim that your credit history is a gauge your level of responsibility. Whether that is a valid assumption or not, some employers believe if you are not reliable in paying your bills, then you will not be a reliable employee. That philosophy might possibly have held some water in 2006, before the economy tanked, but in today’s job market it is just a cycle of discrimination against the jobless, whose lack of employment contributes to their financial woes. The worse their debts, the harder it is to get a job to pay them off.

As for me, my refusal to allow the potential employer access to my credit records was twofold:

1. There are long-standing concerns about the accuracy of information contained in consumer credit reports. One study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (U.S. PIRG) examining credit reports found that “70 percent of credit reports investigated contained incorrect information; 29 percent contained errors significant enough to have serious adverse consequences on the consumer’s credit”

2. It’s the principle of the thing. If I apply for a job that involves national security, FDIC clearance, or significant financial responsibility (such as a bank manager) I expect that my credit history will be relevant and required. Otherwise, unless I’m trying to buy your house, it’s none of your business. It’s personal. It’s private. This is America. Is nothing sacred anymore?

Excuse me while I take a moment to get myself under control….. OK, I’m back. My husband claims that I am an Olympic contender in “upstream swimming.” Never one to just go with the flow, he calls me his personal Don Quixote,* tilting at windmills and thwarting injustice wherever it rears its ugly head. He has a point. But I am not alone in my belief that accessing credit history to make employment decisions is a bad idea. Go to the American Civil Liberties Union website and see what they have to say on this subject.

In addition to the laws that Hawaii and Washington have already enacted, the states of California, Ohio, New York, Missouri, Texas, Michigan, Illinois and Connecticut all have similar restrictions in the works. “In my opinion, it’s a clear case of discrimination,” says Representative Jon Switalski, the Democrat who proposed legislation in Michigan. “If you miss a few payments or you have medical debt, your skills as a pipefitter or an electrician don’t diminish.”

Many in Washington D.C. also agree. On July 31, 2009, members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the “Equal Employment for All Act,” a national bill that would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to prohibit the use of consumer credit checks in relation to current and prospective employees for the purposes of making employment decisions under all but a few circumstances.

Employers would also be prohibited from asking applicants to voluntarily submit to credit checks (as they are currently able to do).

The bill (technically entitled HR 3149) is endorsed by over 25 organizations, including the NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Consumer Law Center, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Fair Housing Alliance, Consumer Action, those pinko commies over at the National Association of Consumer Advocates, Unite Here, National Employment Law Project, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Legal Action Center, National H.I.R.E. Network, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Center for Economic Justice, Asian American Justice Center, Communication Workers of America, AFL-CIO, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, International Union (no good can come from unions), United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (more unions!), National Employment Lawyers Association (lawyers!!), and worst of all - women -- National Organization for Women, National Partnership for Women and Families, National Women’s Law Center and Women Employed.

I guess a lot of people would have agreed with me when I refused to sign on the dotted line. If I had a do-over, I’d still refuse although the money sure was tempting. Still is. But we have to draw the line somewhere and there’s always a price to be paid for sticking to your principles.

In doing research for this blog post, I discovered other dark things living under the rocks of the credit card industry. Things I didn’t want to know, such as the fact that every time a potential employer or third-person party pulls your credit report, they are making an “inquiry” into your credit. These inquiries or credit checks are recorded in a list on your report. Having too many credit inquiries tends to lower your credit score, so don’t go applying for a credit card unless you’re sure you don’t need it.

Also, I learned that insurance companies use your credit score to set your insurance premiums so that if you’re poor (or unemployed and credit-challenged) you pay more for your insurance. (Yes, there’s legislation pending all over the country to stop that, too.)

There I go, getting all upset again. I gotta lie down. No, what I really have to do is find a new job. But maybe I should check my credit history first, since employers seem to think that my ability to make my car payment on time is the key to my reliability as a nonprofit manager or my good character.

I wonder what Bernie Madoff's credit score was?

*The main character in “Man of La Mancha”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Google Yourself – You’re in for a Shock

Remember the days when a potential employer would read your resume, interview you, check out your references, maybe query one of your peers at a Rotary meeting as to your reputation in the community and then decide whether to hire you?

Today it’s a whole new ball game. When you’re under consideration for a job, one of the many tools that human resource people are using these days is the internet. They check your credit score and credit history. They track what you have been “tweeting” and posting on LinkedIn . They track your comments on other people’s posts. They check out your Facebook page. They Google you.

Should this bother me? Nah! I’m into total transparency. I’ve never said anything online that I wouldn’t say in public, because I understand that the internet is a public forum. So I’ve always assumed that I had nothing to fear. I was wrong.*

This morning, just for chuckles, I Googled “Kay Lorraine Honolulu” and what a shock – On just one “information gathering” site (Pipl.com) I discovered that:

• I come from Monterey, California and have a criminal record
• I am a former truck driver (18 wheeler)
• I am an attractive African American who is a Facebook fan of jazz festivals (and a bad speller, to boot!)
• There are two of me living at different addresses in Jacksonville, Florida, and it appears that there is a bench warrant out for one of us
• I tragically died on December 31st in Easton Hospital after being stricken in my home (whatever that means)**
• I was born on January 4, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois
• I was born in April of 1935 and currently live in Gresham, Oregon
• I was born June 27, 1936 in Princeton, Illinois
• I was born on June 5, 1937 in Wheeler Township, Iowa
• I was born on September 29, 1940 in East Dubuqe, Illinois
• I was born on January 12, 1941
• I was born in 1943 and live at 2333 Kapiolani Blvd. in Honolulu, Hawaii
• I was born August 26, 1946 in San Antonio, Texas
• I was born in 1947 and live in McKinleyville, California
• I was born on November 28, 1981 and I live in the Philippines
• I currently live in Owosso, Michigan
• My father was Leroy Eugene Sellman
• I am the daughter of Stuart Basil Minchlin
• I am currently the Information Technology Director of the Barnes Group Inc. in Lansing Michigan
• I am currently a Producer at kay-net productions and have been since 1998
• I am a running character in a book called “Romantic From the Heart” which is written in tagalong, a primary language of the Philippines
• I work with lower functioning and developmentally disadvantaged youth at the Oregon Adolescent Sex Offender Treatment Network and have authored a very interesting paper on treating youth who have a parent incarcerated or have a history of abuse by a parent or others
• I was a former singer who can be seen on YouTube in an old clip of the 1942 movie “Sweater Girl,” singing “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You”
• I am cited in four scholarly publications

Here’s the problem, folks: Absolutely none of the above information is true about me. None of it. It is evidentially true for somebody with my name (and I’m not including folks named Lorraine Kay or Kay Lorraine additional-surname). Just Kay Lorraine, which I always assumed is not a common name.

I was a former professional singer, but not in 1942 (I hadn’t been conceived yet). I do not have a criminal record. There are no outstanding warrants for my arrest (at least none that I know of). Last time I checked I was still alive, job hunting in a tough market and now worried that some human resources person will reject my resume on the grounds that I am possibly a social security-aged, former felon with a history of working with sex offenders. And that was just one search site. How scary is that?!

This is not to say that all of the information printed about Kay Lorraine on Pipl.com is false. On that same site I also found the following true facts:
• I was a film producer for 20 years
• I am the lone woman recipient of the Jay Eisenstat Award of Excellence, which was presented to me at Gracie Mansion in New York City (all other winners have been Caucasian males, often awarded posthumously which confirms the rumor that I am officially a dead white guy)
• I have 16 years at the executive level in the Hawaii non-profit area
• I am known as an aggressive problem solver with a passion for community service
• On the side, I used to be a professional film critic
• One of my film reviews was quoted extensively in a scholarly publication about South Pacific Island culture, but it wasn’t any of the publications cited on Pipl.com
• I do subscribe to Brazen Careerist and read it regularly
• I do occasionally comment on blog posts
• I am my religious congregation’s liaison to the Family Promise Homeless Shelter
• Yes, I’m sorry but that really is a photo of me dressed as Martha Washington, on the steps of the Queen Emma Summer Palace at a charity historical function in 2006 (don’t ask!)

How can potential employers separate the fact from the fiction when there is so much information available today? The truth is, they can’t. And that’s the problem.

My friend Emma Littman had an interesting experience along these lines. She is also currently job hunting (she’s a bright, young attorney - e-mail me ASAP if you have an opening). Emma decided to Google herself and to her horror discovered a list of “known associates.” It was a list of all of the residents of an apartment complex where she briefly lived before she started law school. They were certainly not “known associates” and of those few she did know, Emma suspected that some of them were “quite dodgy.”

If you want to read more about what employers can find out about you online go to http://jobsearch.about.com/od/jobsearchblogs/a/privacy.htm to read a fascinating article by job search expert Alison Doyle.

And just for the heck of it, Google yourself on Pipl.com and check out your prison record, outstanding warrants, known associates and drug rehab references. And don’t even get me started on potential employers accessing your credit rating. That’s a future blog.

Are we having fun yet?

*Please don’t tell my husband that I have ever uttered that phrase.

** In lieu of flowers, please send a donation in my name to the Hawaii Women’s Business Center, 1041 Nu’uanu Avenue, Suite A, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817. Thank you.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Try Not to be so…..You.

I was headed to a job interview for a position that I was excited about. My friend, Professor Robert Littman, was giving me advice. “Try Not to be so....You.” I knew what he meant. I am unique/effective/charming/nuts/in-your-face/funny/weird (you choose – they all apply). I like to think of myself as just having too much personality for one body. But in a job interview, I should temper my sense of humor. I need to talk more slowly. I need to wear subtle colors and be careful not to overshare.

In the end I, of course, ignored his advice. Because if they had hired this serious, subtle, unassuming, low-key persona, in a few weeks the real me would have slipped out. I like to think that it would have been a lovely surprise for them but maybe not everyone would agree.

Do you know that if you Google “How to behave on a job interview,” you get 222,000 results? Really! There are whole articles written about how to dress, controlling your body language, never using slang, employing the proper handshake, the use of eye makeup, and correct nail polish colors.

You can hire a consultant to use for practice sessions. You can take multi-level courses on interview techniques, learning inside hints such as the initial interview is probably with a low-level HR person designed to weed out unqualified candidates so gaining “rapport” is a waste of your time. You learn how to cock your head ever-so-slightly and arch your eyebrows so as to appear "interested" in what the interviewer is saying. One special tip is to carry a thick portfolio with the client’s name on it, inferring that you have done a lot of research on their company. (It can be filled with blank pages – it’s the impression that counts.)

Sometimes the advice is contradictory. “Never cross your legs or your arms. Sit straight and at attention.” “Be careful not to look too stiff or uncomfortable. Crossing your arms just at the wrist conveys a comfortable but businesslike composure.” “ Smile; it’s a fact that smiling makes other people happy and comfortable around you.” “Don’t smile too much. It may look like you are not taking the interview seriously” Whew!

There are a lot of rules about your attire, too. Dress slightly better than the interviewer. Men should always be clean shaven. Never wear more than a watch and one ring. (Women are allowed to wear earnings that are small and do not dangle.) Never show any piercings and be careful to cover all tattoos. (Here in Hawaii, to comply with that last rule, all interviews would have to be conducted in Hazmat suits.)

If everyone were to follow even the basic advice of the “experts,” we would all end up looking and sounding like Stepford interviewees, rolling off a conveyor belt direct from the factory.

When I first moved to Hawaii 15 years ago, I tried very hard to fit in. Back in 1994, a potential employer actually suggested that I would do better in the job market if I would dye my hair brown and learn a little pidgin. More than one headhunter recommended that I “dumb down” my resume so as not to intimidate potential employers.

I finally had to give it up. In the words of cartoon character Popeye, “I yam what I yam…” I am a successful businessperson who is terminally haole (Hawaiian slang for Caucasian), terminally optimistic, terminally unique and I decided that those who couldn't handle that really shouldn't have anything to do with me. (There is a reunion of people who choose not to deal with me each year. It fills Aloha Stadium.)

It’s tough times for job interviews these days. There are so few jobs and so many candidates. And I worry that all of this interview advice is bad for everyone involved. Each side is trying so hard to put on a “good face.” Don’t kid yourself – the employers are doing the same thing. Employers are glossing over their financial difficulties (I have had some experience with this one) and purposely failing to disclose arduous job expectations in an effort to lure the best prospects.

Transparency is more important today than ever before. This corporate culture demands an almost unrealistic work output in order to keep afloat (unless, of course, you work for the government or a bank). We just can’t afford to play games with each other in the job market. Both employers and employees have a right to know what they are getting themselves into.

So if you interview me over the next few months and you frankly don’t feel up to handling that much personality without a couple of stiff drinks, just warn me and I’ll try not to be so, you know……me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Share the Knowledge – There’s Enough to Go Around.

There was a period in my life where conventions and groups flew me all over the country to speak on the topic of how to bid production contracts correctly. Inevitably, after every seminar, someone would come up to me and ask, “Why is someone as smart as you sharing this information with your competition? Your knowledge is your bread and butter. Why give it away?”

Well first of all, when you’re as naturally blonde as I am, it’s always shocking when anyone accuses you of being smart. Usually people want to come up and tell me the joke about how you can tell when a blonde has been using your computer (answer: Whiteout® on the screen). But secondly, and more importantly, my answer always was and still is, “What’s good for the industry ultimately benefits all of us. Competition ups the ante and brings out the best in everyone. It keeps us sharp.”

Besides which, I don’t want some bozo to win the bid because he/she didn’t understand the process and then, after having gotten the job, went into panic mode with the client. Clients have a bad habit of lumping the idiots in with the blondes, oops… I mean professionals, and it makes us all look bad. Just because I taught someone how to do it properly, that doesn’t mean he can beat me at my own game. I’m not THAT blonde!

My point here is: don’t be stingy with your knowledge. There’s plenty to go around. Competition is a good thing.

My father owned a couple of small dress shops in Ohio. Whenever a new dress shop opened in the neighborhood, my father always sent a big spray of flowers for their opening. He actually helped a young couple get started with credit from vendors. He had another competitor with whom he regularly ate lunch and traded advice. When I questioned it, he assured me that anything that helped draw customers to that end of town was a good thing. Anything that kept potential customers from driving into Columbus or Cleveland or Cincinnati to buy their clothes helped keep home court advantage. And in the end, he was confident of his position in the marketplace. The attraction of a fresh store may bring the customer into town, but in the end she will wander down the street to see what is new at “Soldan’s” and he’d have more merchandise and better selections than the new guys so he’d inevitably end up with the sale.

My father was smart that way. He was lousy at raising a strange, quirky daughter but he was a terrific businessman.

I believe in healthy competition. I believe in sharing the wealth. I believe in love….no, wait, that’s a Beatles song. I am competitive. I want to succeed but I want to succeed because I’m smarter and deserve to succeed – not because there was no one to compete against. No one wants to win by default. Sure, it’s better than not winning at all, but the victory’s not as sweet and in the end, it makes you soft and lazy.

So go out there and help a competitor. Don’t help him/her a lot, mind you; just enough to make you feel superior and maybe just a little bit blonder. :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

“Ya gotta dance with them what brung ya.” (A Treatise on Loyalty in Business.)

It’s cheaper to get your printing done in China or Hong Kong. Even non-union shops can’t compete with Asian prices. So in a tough economy such as this, doesn’t it make sense to go for the lowest bid? I don’t think so, but I am in the minority. And that worries me.

I happen to live in Hawaii. I have been surprised to learn that this blog is read by people all over the country. Maybe not a lot of people, but still…. The concept of loyalty in business applies anywhere, it is just that in Hawaii we are so isolated and insular that the obvious often seems easier to recognize.

I am careful to bank at one of the few financial institutions that is 100% locally owned. My bank is not a wholly owned subsidiary of an international financial conglomerate. There are no absentee shareholders screaming for dividends. A Chinese family that understands the unique needs of the neighborhood and has a deep investment in the community’s future has owned it for generations. They have no plans to move their customer service department to Indonesia.

I try to buy my fruit and vegetables at the local farmers’ market. Not only do I get to choose exactly how many tomatoes I want (no prepackaged 5 lb. quotas) but I support a hometown family who will take my money and put it right back into the community through neighborhood purchases and state taxes. We grow avocados right here in the islands; why do I need to buy avocados from California? Furthermore, by buying locally, I reduce the environmental impact caused by fuel to ship fruit across the ocean.

I purchase my office supplies exclusively at Fisher Hawaii. Their décor is not as pretty as Office Max (boy, that’s an understatement!) but the money stays right here in Hawaii, and that’s important to our economy. Also, it must be a pretty good place to work because the employee turnover is zilch and whatever you’re looking for, they can quickly find it. It may be coated with five years of dust (both the employee and the item) but you name it and they’ve got it.

Sometimes I have to shop at Home Depot, but only if City Mill doesn’t carry what I need. Not that there is anything wrong with Home Depot; they seem to be a conscientious company that provides a lot of local jobs. It’s just that their profits (which were up in both the first and second quarter of 2009, by the way) get shipped to the home office in Atlanta. Now there is nothing wrong with Atlanta. It’s a swell town if you’re not trying to find an address on Peachtree Street (there are 71 streets in Atlanta with a variant of Peachtree in their name). But those profits aren’t helping build the infrastructure of Hawaii, and I live in Hawaii.

A number of years ago, I was the speaker at the local Ad Federation luncheon. I used to produce television advertising and I took advantage of my speaking opportunity to annoy several ad agency executives by publicly noting that while a recent Hollywood-based film was shooting on Oahu, a number of no-name imported California actors had been cast in local commercials. These were not actors with special talents. They brought no “star quality” to the spots. In fact, the parts they took were minor roles with a minimum of one or two lines, any of which could have been handled nicely by at least 10 competent local actors who weren’t working enough to be overexposed; but the clients paid a premium for out-of-town talent.

“What’s the problem?” someone in the audience challenged me. Well, here’s the problem: Those actors were already drawing a paycheck from the film. Shooting a spot on the side was just “gravy” to them. The residual checks were sent to their homes where they paid their rent (in Los Angeles), bought some groceries (probably at Ralph’s) and gassed up their cars at the Slauson Avenue 76 station. In other words, it generated absolutely no economic impact in Hawaii.

Furthermore, each job that went to one of these out-of-towners deprived a local working actor of his livelihood. Who knows? That might have been the month that the local actor couldn’t make his rent and was forced to quit acting to sell Hondas at Pflueger Auto. Why should the client care? Because next month he will need to shoot another spot, and that California hottie will be long gone. By the way, so will the local actor. The talent pool just got smaller and the client will have no one to blame but himself (or herself). Either way, everybody lost.

Investing in your community is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity. Frankly, we need the tax base. Tourism is down even worse than it was last month. The Lord helps those who help themselves. Encouraging local prosperity is just good business. Think about that next time you reach for those raspberries grown in Peru. Papaya tastes better anyway.

Monday, September 7, 2009

When Immediate Gratification Isn’t Fast Enough

Email, Facebook, Twitter, Tweets, LinkedIn, Texting, Skye, PDAs, wiki, blogs, Ryze, Tribes.net, Jabber, IRC, etc. The hottest topic in business these days is the importance of leveraging social networks as a business tool. It seems imperative that we join groups and communicate RIGHT NOW!!! I can’t help but wonder, is this really a good thing?

True story: I was editing a job at a video house in Los Angeles a few years ago, and I took a minute to run down the hall to the bathroom. Three minutes tops, I swear. When I got back to the editing suite, I discovered that a Hollywood producer had called my cell phone and was livid when I didn’t answer. Not annoyed - livid! I immediately returned his call and got an earful. “I went to the john. Did you really expect me to take my phone into the stall?” I joked. Yes, he did. I believe that his exact words were, “Your bodily functions shouldn’t be an inconvenience to me.”

Now admitedly, this was Hollywood, where everyone has an inflated opinion of the value of their self-worth. But still…..

My husband and I have a friend, several friends actually, who upon failing to reach one of our cell phones immediately calls the other to ask, “Where is Kay/Brad?” My mother used to do this constantly, hunting me down like a bloodhound on an escaped convict. When did it get to be my responsibility to be available to everyone 24/7?

I understand the concept of social networking. I’m trying to embrace it – really I am. But it’s getting to be a fulltime job.

E-mail is bizarre; even with my spam filter, I get about 60 to 70 emails a day. Those are divided fairly evenly between

1. opportunities to get a Ph.D. using only my “life experience,”

2. notifications of terrible deaths of government officials in Nigeria who have inexplicably left $6,000,000 of absolutely legal money and desperately need to run it through my bank account and, finally,

3. friends who send me jokes, YouTube clips, photos of cats, links to newspaper articles and, very rarely but occasionally, some actual information of interest.

I have a question: Does getting a link to a YouTube clip constitute legitimate social networking? Even if it is that really amazing clip of Chris Bliss juggling to a Beatles medley? I doubt it.

Facebook is an actual social network although it’s awfully time-consuming and I’m not sure just how it’s going to help me further my career.

I still don’t get Twitter. Although I actually do tweet from time to time, but I’ve never learned a single interesting piece of newsworthy information from a tweet and I’m beginning to think it’s a complete waste of time (please don’t tell Aston Kucher, though). And if you’ve got a PDA, you can text your tweet to Twitter. Furthermore, my friend Kathy Kamauu (who is an expert in this stuff) assures me that I can automatically update my LinkedIn status every time I post a tweet in Twitter via a Ping.fm account. Because it’s terribly important to revise my user timeline faster! Faster, faster, faster….

Why? And at what cost?

Lots of employers will now only accept a resume via email. Remember when you agonized over which paper stock would make your resume stand out from the crowd? Forget that now. You have lost control over how your resume will look or how their particular printer will format the pages.

A few years ago I was between gigs and already had a big trip to France planned and paid for so, on a lark, I applied for a temporary month-long telemarketing job. I scored well in the written materials but during my face-to-face interview, right out of the gate the guy asked me, “Quick, what is your worst fault?” I paused for a moment because, frankly, I have an array of crappy attributes from which to choose and I was trying to decide which was my most despicable. After exactly five seconds (he was keeping track) he told me, “Never mind, you already failed the test. You can leave.”

“Gee, what just happened? I wanted to give you an absolutely truthful answer.”

“We don’t want a truthful answer,” he explained. “We want a fast answer. If they have even five seconds to think, they might realize that buying a timeshare on Kauai is probably not a practical thing to do. We don’t want ever want you to stop to think because it allows them to think, and thinking isn’t good for business.”

In other words, thinking is a bad thing. Speed is a good thing today typing w/out capitals or punctuation is faster UR seeing the future of tomorrows business letters LOL

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Get Outta Dodge!

There was a time this past Spring when I was a mess. Sure, some of you would say, “So what’s new?” But frankly, I was more of a mess than usual. My mother was ending a nasty, lengthy bout with terminal cancer and died in our house early on Memorial Day morning. Down at the Hawaii Women’s Business Center, we were the lucky recipients of a random federal audit by the SBA and the pressure was so great that after following my mother’s body to the mortuary that morning, I racked up nearly 86 hours of work over the next six days.

By the following week I was exhausted, emotionally drained, and strung tighter than a piano wire (high E over C, for those of you obsessed with detail). Some excellent friends urged me to get as far out of town as possible. In fact, they practically insisted that I join them in England. When I broached the subject with my husband he ask, “When were you thinking of leaving?"

“Tomorrow,” I answered. Bless his heart, he supported my impetuosity and kissed me goodbye.

It was the best decision I had made in years. I returned refreshed, renewed, calm and back on my game. I arrived home a different person than the one who left.

I am a great believer in the need to periodically step away and recharge the batteries. It is for this reason that when I negotiated my last job position, I voluntarily traded additional salary for five weeks of annual paid vacation to begin during the first year of employment. I tried not to be a jerk about it. My understanding was that I would never take more than 15 days at a time.

I have a Greek foreign-exchange student “sister.” Leda is frankly appalled by our American “work ethic.” In the 15 nations of the European Union, by law all full-time employees must be given a minimum of four weeks’ paid vacation per year. The same is true for part-time employees who have worked for at least 13 weeks. (In Greece, the standard is six weeks.) Even workers in McDonald’s get 4-5 weeks of paid vacation. Also, the notion of “accruing” vacation time doesn’t apply; employees are generally entitled to their four (or more) weeks of vacation time from the moment they are hired. It’s not considered an earned perk; it’s considered part of the job.

In all my years as an employer, I have never turned down an employee’s request for vacation time. I know for a certainty that exhaustion and stress equals depression and in turn, poor productivity. Speaking of productivity, did you know that when France reduced its official work week to 35 hours a few years ago, studies showed that there was no loss in productivity. How can this be? The answer was found in the way employees spend their time at work. Europeans generally work – then they go home.

Americans on the other hand spend large amounts of work time socializing with clients and other employees, dealing with personal e-mail and non-business phone calls – in other words, avoiding work in order to cope with the high level of workplace stress.

On May 21, 2009, Florida Congressman Alan Grayson introduced a bill amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The bill is called the 2009 Paid Vacation Act. Google it and read some fascinating and horrific statistics showing that at in least 148 countries, including all industrialized nations and all developed countries, only the U.S. fails to provide a minimum annual paid leave statute. American workers suffer twice the rate of clinical depression as their European counterparts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works one month (160 hours) more today than in 1976. In 1980, we ranked 11th in the world in life expectancy; we now rank 42nd. While you’re Googling on the web (probably during work hours), also check out the movement “Take Back Your Time Day” at Timeday.org or read the May 19th issue of US Business Week. The info will curl your toenails.

In the meantime, try these tips on your next vacation:

• Don’t check your business e-mail. I placed an “out of the office” automatic response on my office account with the message that if it was an absolute emergency, my staff knew how to reach me in Europe (and they did – twice).

• Resist the urge to call the office to see how things are going. They are going fine, thank you. The world will rotate without your assistance. In circumstances where there is a real emergency, see the above paragraph.

• If you are unable to get through your vacation day without “checking in” at least once, see the telephone directory yellow pages under the listing “Psychiatrists.”

• If your job requires that you check in at least once a day, even on vacation, or be available 24/7, see the CareerBuilder section of your local newspaper under the listing, “Jobs Available.” (This advice does not apply if you hold the title National Director of Homeland Security or President of the United States.)

It’s off-peak season in most parts of the world. There are surprising deals out there for the taking, particularly in the area of cruise ships, which are overbuilt and underbooked. For instance, right now Expedia.com is having a sale on 3 & 4-day cruises in the Bahamas from $149 per person. Those prices aren’t per day – it’s the whole enchilada including stateroom, 5 meals a day, nightly entertainment, baggage transfers, everything. You can’t do Zippys and Motel 6 for that kind of money.

The kids are back at school. Taking a vacation from them isn’t the worst idea either. Ask grandma to move in for a week or make a deal with another parent (you’ll watch theirs if they’ll watch yours). GO AWAY! Do not stay home and paint the garage. Do NOT attend a career-related seminar, even if it is held at Disney World. Do something mindless; something you’ve never done before.

I know how hard this is. Prior to my little escapade to England this spring, I confess to having taken only a few days off over the past two years (making that carefully negotiated vacation deal a complete waste of time). But when I did finally go, it changed my life and I cannot too highly recommend it.

Slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. And if your work is a hodgepodge – Just Get Outta Dodge!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Let's Blame Amy!

Long ago, I owned a film production company and we had a summer intern named Amy Kohn. She was only with us for a few months and she didn’t have much in the way of job responsibilities but Amy was a lovely young lady and we all liked her a lot. After Amy had gone back to college for the fall term, whenever something went wrong around the office, it became a running joke to blame it on some bonehead thing that we pretended Amy had done or forgotten to do or, more often than not, something with which she had never even been involved. It was just a handy way to avoid taking responsibility for anything problematic.

This became such a useful pretext that years later employees who had never even met Amy regularly blamed things on her. It was part joke and part convenient excuse. Paperwork that was long overdue was in a folder labeled “Amy’s file.” A broken drawer had a post-it note stuck to it that said, “Amy, would you PLEASE fix this!!” Sometimes you would only need say, “Amy,” and roll your eyes and everyone understood that someone had screwed up big time but it sure wasn’t going to get hung on anybody present.

Everyone has an Amy in his or her office or life – a scapegoat for whatever is going wrong at the moment. Something for which you just can’t bring yourself to take responsibility. I don’t have a job right now, but it’s not my fault. Between the economic downturn and the cutting of federal funds, they couldn’t pay me so my position was eliminated. See, totally not my fault! I haven’t gotten a new job yet but in this dismal job market that’s not my fault either. In fact, I have several friends who are out of work and dead broke but they are not to blame. I also have a couple of friends who are single and wish that they weren’t but there’s nothing they can do about it. Their inability to get a mate or even a steady date in no way reflects their looks or their self-centeredness or their arrogance or boorish mindset or lack of commitment or (insert your excuse here).

Taking responsibility for your own actions is a bitch.

I’d like to write more about this but I really ought to be plowing through the heap of unironed shirts that are sitting on my dining room chairs. I meant to finish them yesterday but then we took my visiting brother-in-law out to brunch and it was so hot out that we escaped into a movie theater and by the time we got home it was too dark to iron. I mean, am I responsible for the sun going down? Of course not. The sun is up now but it’s getting hot again and, to tell you the truth, I didn’t sleep all that well last night. Also, I’m pretty hungry. I think I’ll wander into the kitchen and make myself a sandwich and then catch a little nap. After all, I gotta eat and get some rest. Who could blame me for that?

“Amy, would you PAH-LEESE get to the ironing?” (head shake and deep sigh here).

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Death Wish Café

“I’m sorry, Brad, but I can’t serve you the grilled focaccia for breakfast any more. We have it in the kitchen, ready for lunch hour, but the chef won’t let me sell it to you at breakfast.”

Now my husband has been a good customer since they opened their doors for business. The whole staff knows him by name. He often brings in friends at lunch, which helps to increase their exposure to new clientele.

Brad doesn’t eat red meat, fast food, milk, visible eggs or cheese. He’s weird that way. He also gets sick of oatmeal every day for breakfast so when his favorite restaurant added focaccia to their menu, he began ordering it grilled and was in seventh heaven. I don’t know why, because to me it’s just wads o’ starch, but he likes it. He’s weird that way.

So after months of this treat, he objected to getting it snatched from his jaws. “Why can’t I get the grilled focaccia?” he asked.

“I don’t know. The chef just won’t do it.”

“Go try again. Tell him Brad is asking politely.” So off she goes, into the open kitchen. Brad can see her in discussion with the chef. The manager of the restaurant eventually joins the group. Frankly, it’s a long conversation for one lousy piece of focaccia.

“I’m sorry, Brad. But he says, no. We’re trying to cut down on food costs.”

Now how refusing to sell focaccia to a waiting customer cuts down on food costs is a mystery. Brad thought that maybe it is a time factor: maybe the chef is too busy to be stopping to grill a special focaccia order. But he looked around the restaurant. It’s after 9:00 a.m. and there’s only one other couple in the joint. He can see into the open kitchen and the chef is just standing there, chatting with a waitperson. Frankly, I’m a multi-tasker: I can chat and grill focaccia at the VERY SAME TIME. But maybe that’s just me.

So Brad tells the waitress, “Go back and tell the manager that I’m willing to pay extra. I don’t care how much it costs. I want a piece of grilled focaccia.”

More three-way huddling in the kitchen. The Geneva Convention took less time to negotiate. Finally the waitress emerges beaming, “The chef says that he will serve you a piece of ungrilled focaccia and the manager gave me permission to toast it in the toaster.”

Brad’s response: “Are you f***ing kidding me?” OK, no that wasn’t his response – at least not out loud. He sure was thinking it. But he’s a nice guy and so he merely said, “Never mind. I’ll just drink my coffee and leave.” When he went to the cash register the manager told him, “The coffee is on the house, Brad. I’m sorry about your breakfast.”

Brad tipped the waitress generously, walked out the door and has never returned.

In a lousy economy you’ve got to get creative in order to stay alive. And one surefire way is to increase your customer service. Sure, you’re constantly trying to find new customers, but your number one priority is keeping the customers that you already have – keeping them happy and comin’ back for more.

By the way, back in February, the manager of this same restaurant was complaining to Brad that business was way down and they were worried about making it through to the other end of this recession. Their answer: They increased the prices on some of their most popular dishes. They INCREASED their prices at a time when people were watching their money.

I notice that when Downtown restaurant in the State Art Museum began seeing customer numbers drop they countered by adding a $9.95 combo dish to their sit-down menu. You can pick any three items from a daily list of five or six selections. They made sure that you could still have lunch with your client at Downtown and guarantee keeping your expenditure under $10. Now that’s smart thinking.

Raising your prices and lowering your customer service. That’s a death wish. Gee, but I miss that place…..

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Please Don't Pee in the Pool

What is it about people who make trouble where they work? I’m talking about everything from emotionally destructive petty office politics to downright theft. There’s a reason that the old phrase “Don’t sh*t where you eat” has stood the test of time.

Here’s a doozy of a true example that happened just this week: A business acquaintance (let’s call him “the client”) contracted with a web designer that I know slightly (“the supplier”) to acquire a domain name and set up a basic website. For this task, the supplier was paid somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 (depending on whose version you believe at any given time). The website turned out to be nothing special but perfectly adequate. Over the years, I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse.

At some point, the supplier wanted more money. I don’t know why. I don’t care why. They had a dispute about additional funds and at some point the client asked for the passwords associated with his account so that the client could obtain control over the content. Not only did the supplier refuse to relinquish the passwords, but the supplier hijacked the site, and began posting derogatory comments about the client on it. This was not just the occasional snide remark, but genuinely outrageous and slanderous accusations posted on the client’s own website!

Is there anyone out there who thinks that this will end well? Me neither.

I live in Honolulu and, believe me, we may have a large population but Honolulu is a small town when it comes to doing business. If you have a dispute, take it to court. But hijacking a website to print ill words against your client, any client, is just plain business suicide. I can’t imagine anyone who would risk hiring this web designer given this behavior. Whatever anger this guy is publicly venting, the price that he is going to pay is his livelihood. Is that worth $10,000? Or $15,000?

I have another story about an idiot who violated the “Don’t sh*t where you eat” rule and killed a lucrative job as a video editor. If you want to hear it, let me know. Meanwhile, play nicely in the sandbox, kids. Don’t steal each other’s toys. And, please, don’t pee in the pool.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Didn't Their Mothers Teach Them Anything?

These are strange times in business. OK, these are strange times in life outside business, too. But I am particularly interested in the ethics and the basic courtesy that seem to be disappearing in the workplace: endless personal phone calls while clients stand waiting to be served; blatant abuse of sick days; monitoring employees’ personal emails; firing employees by email.

Didn’t their mothers teach them anything?

As a long-time business executive, I have witnessed all of the above and so much more taking place on a daily basis and I shake my head and wonder, “When did this sort of rude and, occasionally, downright unethical behavior get to be normal business practice?”

Last Friday, a friend of mine was fired. She has spent this weekend in tears. I feel terrible for her, but I recognize that people are losing their jobs every day. My problem is the manner in which she was fired: She didn't do anything wrong, she was merely the victim of the current economy. Last hired - first fired. I live in a state where employees are "at will," which means that they can be outsted with no notice and for no reason whatsoever. And there’s the rub.

My friend had no advance warning. They waited until the end of the business day on Friday and then called her into the office, confiscated her keys and escorted her out the door. Over the weekend, she discovered that they had made the decision to cut staff (primarily her) several weeks ago, but kept it to themselves. With a two-week warning, she could have started looking for a new job. She could have avoided buying that terrific but expensive new outfit, canceled her hair bleach (a blessing in disguise because, let's face it - it makes her look cheap) skipped the recent weekend Vegas getaway (he's only using her), and started tightening her belt. But instead she was blind-sided, shocked, humiliated. She was later told that this is just “standard business practice.”

When did this kind of callous, unconscionable behavior become standard business practice? Am I the only person shocked by these policies?

I am a virgin….well, OK, technically I have been married several times. But I am a virgin blogger who would like to discuss these strange times in life and business. I am hoping that others will share with me their adventures in the trauma unit that has become modern business and, with any luck, we will try to impart a few survival skills for coping in what is becoming an increasingly strange working environment.

And, along the way, maybe we can figure out the answer to the question: “Didn’t their mothers teach them ANYTHING?”