Archive for April, 2010

Heading to SOBCon! Taking Blog Strategy to Next Level…Stay Tuned

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In January, this blog turned 4 years old.  What a journey!  I started blogging to have a place to share my seemingly endless perspectives on work+life fit and flexibility.  I’d hoped to connect and learn from others, but beyond that, I had no strategy.  Just writing about and linking to what I thought was important and interesting.  The results have exceeded my wildest expectations.

Then in November of last year, I received the distinction of “Successful and Outstanding Blogger (SOB)” from social media expert extraordinaire, Liz Strauss.  I was honored.  And in the process I learned about the annual bloggers conference Liz co-sponsors with Terry Starbucker, SOBCon.  I was intrigued.

I love blogging.  Truly, if I could create a medium from scratch that perfectly suits my personality, it would be a blog.  But what could I do to provide even more value to the thousands of readers who have chosen to visit and join the conversation?  How could I take an activity that’s been completely intuitive for four years to the next level?

On Thursday, I take off for Chicago to spend three days answering those questions.  So stay tuned!  And, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for joining me here and at Fast Company.   What I’ve learned from you has meant and continues to mean so much.  Let’s see what more we can do…

Fast Company: The 3 Business Truths That Give Work+Life Flex Credibility in Today’s Economic Reality

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Maybe it’s the seven years I spent as a banker in New York City working with business owners before b-school, but I believe that the only way to drive real and meaningful change related to work+life fit and flexibility is to consider the realities of the business.

That’s not always easy when you believe passionately that a new approach is the right thing to do to help people. Sometimes it’s hard to identify and address business conditions. At a human level, it shouldn’t be necessary.

House built on sand vs. an earthquake-proof building

Unfortunately, when you don’t make the case for work+life flexibility based on business realities, it’s like a house built on sand. The first storm, it’s gone. Perhaps not in name, but in practice. When business considerations are part of the process, however, it’s like an earthquake resistant building. As the tremors hit, the building moves and shifts, but continues to stand.

I’ve been thinking about this recently for a couple of reasons…

First, I’ve been following the issue of work+life supports for hourly workers. And, while the business benefits have been part of the discussion, more often than not the focus is on the needs of the individuals. This is wonderful (and right), but again, from my experience unless the realities of the businesses that employ low wage workers are front and center (eg. low margins and an excess of cheap labor domestically and abroad available to do the work) you may get compliance but not real buy-in and change.

Second, I just spent the weekend at my business school reunion. The two days convinced me that, more than ever, work+life flexibility is a strategic imperative if individuals and organizations are going to tackle 21st Century challenges and opportunities. However, I’m also equally convinced that the ability to make the case based on “the right thing to do” is over. As a senior Fortune 500 HR executive who shared a panel with me said, “We went from too much capital and not enough workers, to too many workers and not enough capital. And that is going to continue for some time.”

Therefore, for work+life flexibility to have credibility with leaders today, the following business realities need to be in the forefront: (Click here for more)

“Mind in the Making” by Ellen Galinsky–Giving Your Child the Skills to Succeed in Any Era

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It’s no accident that I wrote about Ellen Galinsky’s excellent new book, Mind in The Making (HarperStudio, 2010) on the same day that I blogged about the skills needed to succeed professionally in the new economic era.

They directly relate, and that’s what makes Galinsky’s book so important. This is especially true for busy parents who may wonder, “Where should I put my limited resources to prepare my child for life in a world I’m still trying to understand?”  Mind in the Making will tell you where and how.

The book opens with a great quote about how the world has changed profoundly since many parents were children:

“Think about some words that describe what life is like today.  What words come to mind?

Did your words reflect the challenges of living in a complicated, distracting world?  Did you think of words that describe feelings of being rushed, time starved, of having too much to do and not enough time to do it?…

Life today is all of these things—complex, distracting, multitasking, 24/7, stressful and focused on immediate gratification and test scores.  It is also joyful and full of exciting possibilities.  We know that if it is this way for us, it is only going to be more so for our children.  We all want the best for our children, but how do we help them not only survive but thrive, today and in the future?”

The book clearly outlines “The Seven Essential Skills Every Child Needs.”  And, most importantly, Galinsky shares numerous concrete steps to build each of those skills from which busy parents, teachers and caregivers can choose.  The “Seven Skills” include:

  1. Focus and Self Control—achieving goals in a world full of distractions.
  2. Perspective Taking—figuring out how others think and feel.
  3. Communicating—determining what to communicate and being understood.
  4. Making Connections—figuring out what’s the same, what’s different and sorting things into categories.
  5. Critical Thinking—searching for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions and actions.
  6. Taking on Challenges—taking on rather than simply avoiding or coping with challenges.
  7. Self-directed, Engaged Learning—realizing our potential through ongoing learning.

To understand how important the information in Mind in the Making is to laying the foundation for a child’s future success, consider what CEOs said were their top concerns in the coming year.  According to the Conference Board’s 2010 CEO Challenge Survey, senior leaders will be focused on growth, innovation, creativity, quality reputation, and customer service.  A child who has the “Seven Skills” would be ready to execute that vision, and succeed.

Contrast that readiness to the way current employees, their parents, are feeling in this new post-Recession era.  According to the 2010 Towers Watson Global Employment Survey of 20,000 workers across the global, they are afraid, insecure, and distrustful.  They are lacking the resilience to rise to the challenges of a global, 24/7 economy in which rapid change is the norm and self-direction of your work, life and career is required.

By following the steps outlined in Mind in the Making, children will have the skills they need to succeed.  And maybe their parents will learn something in the process as well!

To learn more about and follow Mind in the Making and author, Ellen Galinsky, here are some important links:

Fast Company: Squaring the Circle…in 5 Minutes! Expected Innovation/Quality vs. Employee Fear/Distrust

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For the last few days, I’ve been prepping for an upcoming panel at Columbia Business School entitled, The Post-Recession Workplace.   My message is going to be simple—the world has changed; therefore, we need to change.  I will explain the new work+life flex normal, and what individuals and organizations need to do differently to succeed.

Here’s my challenge: There’s a canyon-sized chasm between how we need to manage our work, lives, careers and businesses in a post-Recession era, and where we are.  How do you square the circle…in 5 minutes, which is the length of my introduction?

First how big is the chasm? Big. You need to look no further than The Conference Board’s 2010 CEO Survey and the 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study to realize it’s huge.

On one side: Leaders want, growth, innovation, quality and customers (Conference Board)

Every year The Conference Board asks hundreds of executives, “to identify and rate their most pressing concerns.”  In 2010, executives said they were primarily focused on:

  • Sustained and steady top-line growth
  • Customer loyalty and retention
  • Profit growth
  • Corporate reputation for quality products and services
  • Stimulating innovation and creativity and enabling entrepreneurship.

On the other side: Employees are afraid, insecure, distrusting and want stability (Towers Watson)

But what about the employees who need to execute this vision of growth, customer service, innovation, and quality?  Are they ready?  How do they feel? According to the 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study of over 20,000 full-time employees in 22 global markets, they are afraid, insecure, and distrustful:

  • “(The) desire for security and stability trumps everything else right now, in part because employees see security as a fast-disappearing part of the deal.”
  • “Employees understand they are solely and chiefly responsible for ensuring their long-term financial and physical health and well-being, as well as career and performance—but have serious doubts about their ability to take on these roles.
  • “Mobility is at a decade-long low point—with significant numbers of employees sacrificing the prospect of career growth for a secure job right now.”
  • “Confidence in leaders and managers is disturbingly low—particularly in terms of the interpersonal aspects of their respective roles.”

Uh, oh. Houston, we have a problem…Not a recipe for the risk and creativity necessary for innovation.  And, fear, insecurity and distrust don’t usually lead to growth and quality.

How do you bridge this gap between what employers expect and what employees are prepared to deliver? (Click here for more)

Time to Lose Limiting Labels

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Has the moment of respect for the slow “er” lane finally arrived?  I recently read two powerfully persuasive blog posts arguing that it’s time to retire outdated, limiting labels such as, “mommy track,” and “lipstick” entrepreneur.  In other words, it’s time to add a third, valid option to a work+life fit highway.

For too long if you weren’t in the fast lane or stopped at the side of the road, your choice was labeled and judged as somehow “less than.”   And that’s not today’s reality (if it ever was).   Resisting the need to label and, thereby, normalizing all work+life fit choices, makes it easier to move between all three lanes– fast lane, pull-over lane, and a slow”er” lane—throughout a career.  That’s reality.

What’s the slow”er” lane?

I never say “slow” lane, always slow”er” lane because no self-respecting, high achiever would ever be caught in the slow lane, but the slow”er” lane…perhaps.  We need to flexibly shift between the different lanes as determined by our work and personal realities at a given point in time, and feel good about it.   This is especially true in today’s new work+life flex normal.

Sometimes we’ll be in the fast lane.  At other periods, we may pull into the slower lane or stop on the side of the road for awhile.

Historically, the personal and societal judgment that accompanied the choice to pull into the slower lane has kept us stuck physically and conceptually with only two extreme options (fast or stop).  That needs to change.

It’s hard when someone passes you in the fast lane

First, there’s our personal reaction to the slower lane.  In my seminars, we talk about what happens when we find ourselves in the slower lane either by choice or by force.  It can be fine for awhile until you look into the fast lane and see someone passing you by.  It may make you mad and doubt where you are, even though the individual in the fast lane may have a completely different set of circumstances and goals at that moment.  An important part of the work+life fit process is consciously redefining success for yourself to match the fit you are trying to achieve (here and here).

Challenging society’s need to slap a label on it

But then there’s the culture’s powerful need to label , and thereby negate, the choice to pull into the slower lane.  And according to the posts mentioned earlier, it’s time to get rid of two of the most limiting labels, especially for women:  the “mommy track,” “lipstick, or lifestyle” entrepreneurs.

“Mommy track isn’t just for mommies anymore.”

In “The Mommy Track Turns 21,” for Slate.com, Angie Kim, a mother of three and a 1989 graduate of Harvard Law School,  argues that it’s time to retire the “mommy track.”   Not only does it no longer describe the experience of many less-than-fast-lane women, but it limits the ability of men to move comfortably into the slower lane.

As Kim explains in her post, The New York Times coined the term “mommy track” to describe a two-tiered career model for women originally proposed by Felice N. Schwartz in a 1989 Harvard Business Review article, “Management Women and the New Facts of Life,”  “(Schwartz’s) solution: Divide employees in to two groups, one in which career is paramount and the other in which it’s the balancing of career and family that’s most important.”

But two decades later, that neat categorization no longer holds.  According to Kim, “The ‘mommy track’ was renounced at birth for sanctioning boring flextime jobs with low plaster ceilings.  But some of my not-fast-track classmates are using their clout and influence to create prestigious roles….At the moment, only a few, privileged women occupy such a space.  Could a larger, broader set join them?  If the answer is yes, it’s because the mommy track isn’t just for mommies anymore.  Several of my classmates who chose flextime jobs for work-life balance do not have children.  Eight others who work full-time have husbands who stay home or work part-time.  A 2005 Fortune study found that 84% of Fortune 500 male executives surveyed wanted flexible job option to give them more time for things outside of work.”

I agree, it’s time to retire the “mommy track.”  In 1989, Schwartz’s two-tiered career track and The New York Times’ label may have made sense.  But since then, the values and expectations related to work and life have evolved across all demographics, and technology and globalization have transformed the fundamental nature of careers and work, thus rendering the term an anachronism.

However, continuing vigilance of “mommy tracking” is necessary.  This involuntary limitation of the advancement of women because they are or may become mothers can disappear when the culture and employers understand that everyone has a life outside of work, not just mothers.  Losing the label will help.

“I don’t think I’d call them anything but entrepreneurs”

Adelaide Lancaster is the co-founder of In Good Company Workplaces and the co-author with her business partner, Amy Abrams, of the upcoming book, tentatively titled, Good Company: Entrepreneurship for the Rest of Us.

In a recent blog post for the Huffington Post, “Are Women Business Owners Really Second Class Entrepreneurs,” Lancaster argued that it’s time to remove the label “lipstick” or “lifestyle” entrepreneur when describing the “the strong dichotomy that exists in the mind of the general public between businesses that are fast-growing, capital-rich, and highly visible (and undeniably mostly male) and businesses that grow more organically, remain closely held, have greater longevity, have less capital and stay smaller…The first group gets deemed the legitimate ‘real’ entrepreneurs, while the latter group, especially if they are run by women, gets passed off as ‘lifestyle,’ or ‘lipstick’ entrepreneurs.  While in reality businesses in the latter group are run by both men and women, I’ve yet to see a man’s business pejoratively referred to as a ‘lifestyle’ business…I don’t think I’d call them anything but entrepreneurs.”

Lancaster directly challenges society’s definition of success in this area, “The difference between the women we work with and out society’s well-reinforced notion of ‘real’ entrepreneurs is that most of them are focused on long-term viability and sustainability of their venture instead of fast growth and quick sale.  Generally, they are looking to create something that can growth with them overtime, and meet their changing need, and remain something that they can control.”

In other words, these slower lane entrepreneurs are choosing this path for a variety of professional and personal reasons in lieu of growth in the fast lane.  It’s a valid alternative, not “less than” as the labels “lipstick,” or “lifestyle” would infer.   I also agree with Lancaster that valuing the slow growth, sustainable choice of male and female entrepreneurs is critical; however, as she notes, we must continue to expand the access of women to the funding and expertise necessary to take their businesses wherever they want them to go—fast or slow.

Rethinking labels in a “time of no longer and a time of not yet”

As leadership expert Katherine Tyler Scott recently observed in The Washington Post, that “Most of us are experiencing a time of no longer and a time of not yet.”  The limiting extremes of the fast lane or a stop at the side of the road no longer encompass the countless flexible combinations of work and life we will experience today either by choice or involuntarily.

We need to value the third option of the slower lane.  And as Kim and Lancaster point out, this means removing the judgment of outdated labels such as “mommy track,” and “lipstick” entrepreneur that may have applied in a time that’s no longer, but they definitely don’t work today and won’t work in the time yet to come.

What do you think?  What other labels do we need to retire that that too rigidly categorize work+life fit choices in a way that no longer reflects reality?   Maybe even the labels “fast lane,” “slower lane” and “stop at the side of the road” no longer apply!

Fast Company: We’re “Flex-Friendly and You Can Be Too

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I’m proud to announce that Work+Life Fit, Inc. is part of the first class of employers to be certified as Flex-Friendly!  If you visit my Work+Life Fit blog you will see this cool Flex-Friendly 2010 emblem.   So, what is the Flex-Friendly certification and why does it matter?  

Launched earlier this year, Flex-Friendly is a workplace flexibility directory of companies actively open to flexible ways of working.  Flex-Friendly, “celebrates organizations that meet the needs of our changing workforce.” And your organization can be part of this exciting effort.

First, I’ll share why the Flex-Friendly credential means so much to Work+Life Fit as an employer, and then the founders of Flex-Friendly, Jane Seibel, CEO, and Dr. Ann Farnsworth, CSO, will share why they created the Flex-Friendly directory and certification process, and what their goal are for the process.

For Work+Life Fit, it’s proof that we walk our Flex talk

At Work+Life Fit, Inc. and now with our new parent company, the Flex+Strategy Group, flexibility is not only what we do, it is who we are as an organization.  It’s how we operate.

But would our model withstand the outside scrutiny of a flexibility certification process?  Do we really walk our talk?

Not only did the verdict come back, “Yes, you are indeed Flex-Friendly,” but it was rewarding to join other forward-thinking organizations both large—Accenture, Sara Lee and American Express—and small that feel it was important to reaffirm that flexibility is a powerful, valueable strategic lever.

How does flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed help Work+Life Fit achieve it’s strategic business objectives? Here are just a few of the impacts: (Click here for more)

Social Media Guru, Gary Vaynerchuk–Work+Life “Fit” Intuitive In Action

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Full disclosure…I am a major Gary Vaynerchuk fan.  I’ve read (and highly recommend) his book Crush It!. I think he’s a prophet when describing the impact of social media on business.  I consistently learn from his video blog and Wine Library TV, and even had a chance to see him speak in person (again, highly recommended).

So imagine my excitement yesterday morning when I see that Gary has posted a video, “Work/Work Balance.” (below).  After watching the clip, I realize that, even though he doesn’t know it (because he uses the b-word and focuses on work/work even though he does mention other parts of his life), Gary Vaynerchuk is a work+life fit intuitive in action!

First, what’s a work+life fit intuitive? It’s someone for whom flexibly managing his or her work+life fit day-to-day and at major work and personal transitions is second nature.  The funny thing is that they have no idea how unusual they are, and they often assume everyone else is the same way.  Over the past 15 years working with tens of thousands of people, I’ve estimated that about 10-15% of the population falls into this category…and one of them is Gary Vaynerchuk!

Second, what’s he doing? In the video he explains that he will be resetting or readjusting how he is going to work, what work he is going to focus on, and how he is going to build more time for exercise and his family into his “fit” (although he calls it balance).  Watch the video and you will see he follows the main the steps found in my book and highlighted in the “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” series from earlier this year:

He recognizes that his work and personal realities have changed.  Over the past three years, Gary has put his heart and soul into expanding his Wine Library TV brand and into helping others leverage their brands using social media.  He prides himself on walking his talk of customer service and interactivity, which was fine until the demands on his time began to grow beyond his capacity to continue to perform the way he wanted to.  Add to this the fact that he became a father for the first time last year.  And, as he has publicly stated, family is very important to him.  Three years ago, his work and personal realities were different.  That “fit” no longer works, so he’s making a change that’s a win-win for him and his business.

He is creating a new, clear vision of what he wants his new work+life fit to look like and how we will flexibly manage it. If you listen to the video, he describes the work he is going to let go of (mostly travel for speeches), and he talks about how he is going to perhaps create public Q&A sessions so he can stay in direct touch with people in a more efficient way.  He interjects that he’s going to find more time for the basketball court and being with his family, although there’s still A LOT of work in his work+life fit.  He’s answered the smallest, hardest question: What do I want?

He challenges his fears. Even Gary Vaynerchuk encounters the fear roadblock as he gets ready to reset his work+life fit.  We all do!  But he challenges it. His fear is that if he isn’t as generous with his time–spending hours in the store one on one with people or going out to dinner every time someone asks–people will think he sold out and is no longer authentic.  But he challenges it in part with the video and by explaining what he is doing and why.  Plus, his is brainstorming other ways to keep that connectivity without the level of time commitment.

He is redefining success to match his new work+life fit. For the past few years, his definition of success was sharing what he knows (either about wine or social media) and trying to help others understand how it could help them.   But now he’s feeling like he needs to stop and “execute” for awhile.  Learn, read, and know more.  From that doing and learning work, he will ultimately be more valuable and more helpful.  That’s his new definition of success, and it matches the change he’s putting into place.

Gary, good luck!  And add “work+life fit intuitive” to your list of your accomplishments.

Did Gary Vaynerchuk’s work+life fit reset inspire you?  I know it’s reaffirmed the decision I made a couple of months ago to reset my work+life fit to finish two big writing projects I’ve been trying to complete for the past year.  I’m pleased to report that one writing project is down, and I have one to go!

Fast Company: Post-White House Forum: Where Does Flexibility Go From Here…

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There’s no doubt in my mind that the universe has a sense of humor.  A couple of months ago, I solemnly swore that I would 100% disconnect from work when we went on vacation during my children’s Spring Break.  No email (if at all possible), no twitter, no blogging—nothing but focused time with my family.

Then, as if to test the limits of my resolve, The White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility was scheduled smack dab in the middle of my vacation last week!   Let’s just say that last Wednesday, it was all I could do not to sneak a glimpse at the live feed on The White House website.  But I resisted and am now catching up on all that transpired at this remarkable event.

I’ve read the Council of Economic Advisers “Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility” report as well as a number of blog posts about the forum written by participants, many of whom are colleagues I greatly admire.  Here are links to some of my favorites:

My takeaways are as follows…

Thank you to the First Family and The White House for an important symbolic boost for flexibility. I agree with Wharton’s Stew Friedman when he says this is a, “Symbolic moment that signified, at last, a new era in which we are really talking and thinking differently about work and the relationship with the rest of our lives.”  Symbolism is a powerful driver of any broad change initiative.  And it spoke volumes to have the leader of the free world stand up, with his professional wife, in The White House and say, “this is important.”

Job well done, my esteemed work+life industry colleagues.  Job well done. Unless you’ve been in the work+life field from more than a decade, and had an opportunity to meet and talk with some of the pioneers who started this movement from scratch, you might not appreciate what a full circle moment this event was for many of the participants in the Forum.  Trust me, none of them would have imagined that someday they would be at The White House.  But everyday, day-in-and-day-out they forged ahead.  Let me take this opportunity to applaud them all and to acknowledge how very much they all deserve this victory.

Now, where do we go from here with flexibility? No doubt the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility was a mountain top moment that deserves one more, “Hooray!” and a little victory dance.  But everyone will agree that there’s still a great deal of work to do before flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed is an integral part of every business’ operating model, and every employee’s day-to-day reality. Here are some next steps that I’d like to see: (Click here for more)