Archive for June, 2010

Get Your Flex Plan a Fair Hearing and Prepare for ALL Outcomes

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When Sharlyn Lauby (a.k.a HRBartender.com) asked me to comment on “How to Handle Workplace Retaliation,” I presented my advice in the context of proposing a formal flex plan seeking to change how, when and/or where you work.  A very common concern that keeps people from asking for formal flexibility is the fear of manager retaliation.  This concern has grown since the start of the Recession.

You can go to the HRBartender post for more on workplace retaliation, but here are three ways to approach your formal flex plan to ensure it gets the most positive consideration and limits the chance of a negative reaction:

Step 1:  Make sure your formal flex plan clearly considers the needs of the business (MOST PEOPLE DON’T DO THIS-Go to “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” to learn how).  The quickest way to lose credibility with your manager and support for your plan is to ignore the day-to-day objectives of your job and the state of the business within which you work.

Present your plan as a proposal intended to initiate a conversation.  That way you signal to your manager that you are open to his or her input and that your proposal isn’t set in stone.  This gives the manager wiggle room.  He or she doesn’t feel cornered which is especially important if you manager isn’t used to employees working flexibly.

Step 2:  In many situations, if you are a solid performer, the answer will be “yes” to some version of a well-thought out plan for flexibility; however…

Step 3: What if the answer is “no” to your flex proposal? It’s okay to ask respectfully “why?” in order to determine if there’s a way to address the manager’s concerns.  Perhaps a 60-day trial period would help?

But what if the answer is still no?  You should prepare yourself in advance for what you will do if, even after your best effort to present a win-win plan, the outcome is not positive.   Sadly, it happens. Most importantly, make sure you don’t let that disappointment affect your performance on the job.

Sometimes what is seen by the employee as retaliation on the part of the manager for presenting a proposal is really a valid response to a decline in job performance after hearing “no.”   Go into the negotiation prepared to keep performing no matter what the outcome because your manager will be watching.

Especially if you are a solid, valued performer, your manager will know on some level that he or she should have found some way to make your well thoughtout plan work at least for a trial period.  As much as you may want to, don’t bad mouth your manager to colleagues.   There is a good possibility that he or she may come around with time and decide to give your plan a try; however, you don’t want to give them an excuse to question your commitment.

Even if you decide to look for another job that will give you more flexibility, don’t burn bridges with your manager.  You will want their recommendation.

While there is never a guarantee you will hear “yes,” when you present a formal flex plan, there are steps you can take to ensure you get the most positive consideration.  And, in case the answer is “no,” remain on good terms with your manager.  Whether or not you decide to look for more flexible alternative employment, it pays to stay friends.

One Dad Says “Enough!”–RebelDad’s Pampers Boycott

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Two realizations prompted me to start blogging more than four years ago:

  1. You can develop and implement a flexibility strategy in a company and help someone manage their work+life fit, but that change won’t “stick” unless it is reinforced by the work+life mindset and language the broader culture.  Currently, it is not; and
  2. The extreme or outdated work+life fit stereotypes that the mainstream media consistently reinforced were keeping individuals, organizations and public policy stuck in the past.  Other voices outside of the advertiser/media market were going to have to make that change happen.

Dad as “bumbling, disinterested care giver” stereotype

A perfect example of an outdated stereotype reinforced in the culture by the media and advertisers is the “mom as the primary caregiver, and dad, if he is present at all, as a bumbling incompetent who mom needs to rescue.”  For years, this picture never matched the reality I’d seen in my work and in my personal life:

  • At Work: Even though they’d be invited as an afterthought, men are often at least a third if not half of the participants in my presentations.  And often the organizers of the events are “surprised so many men turned up.”  I’m not.  Men, many of whom are fathers, have told me for years that they are just as interested in learning how to flexibly manage their work+life fit as women.
  • In Life: My husband and most his peers who are fathers have always been incredibly involved and competent caregivers from day one.  In fact, when I go to the grocery store on Sunday many of my fellow shoppers are men who are clearly buying food for their families and often have their children with them while they are doing it.  Mom is nowhere around.

Why does it matter?  We may see men in real life participating as involved, capable fathers who need to flexibly manage their work and life as much as mothers, but then we turn on the television, go to a website, pick up a magazine.  The images presented sell us collectively a very different reality that ultimately hurts men and women.

Rebel Dad’s Pampers Boycott–One man’s mission to fight the “Dad as bumbling, disinterested care giver” stereotype

Unfortunately, the market is set up to reinforce this stereotype.  Media outlets want advertisers dollars.  And, advertisers have decided that playing up the mom as the primary, competent caregiver who makes all of the decisions is the best way to move merchandise.  So, it’s going to take individuals standing up and saying, “Enough” before the outdated stereotypes are replaced.  That’s exactly what one father, Brian Reid (aka RebelDad.com) is doing.

I first ran across Rebel Dad when he blogged for the Washingtonpost.com.  Through his writing, I’ve been introduced to a group of men online whose beliefs and actions reflect what I actually see everyday–smart, involved, caring, competent fathers.  So, I was thrilled when Brian and his community of dads decided to take on Pampers for its “mom-centric” advertising campaign.  It’s one shot fired in a campaign that will hopefully build even more momentum.  Here’s his story.  Go Rebel Dad!

CY: As a Dad, what made you so frustrated that you said “enough” and started the Pampers boycott?

RD: Every year, on Mother’s Day, Pampers sends me an e-mail telling me how important “moms like you” are. And every year, I post on how tragic it is that the world’s biggest maker of diapers instantly assumes that everyone on their e-mail coupon list is a woman. This year, with tongue firmly in cheek (I’m out of the diaper stage forever now), I decided I’d try to protest a little more officially.

CY: What do you hope this boycott achieves with regard to Pampers specifically, and more broadly with the media’s recognition that dads are caregivers?

RD:  I am realistic. I don’t expect or even want Pampers to institute some sort of marketing plan that calls for exactly half of all ads to be targeted at men. All I want is an acknowledgment, somehow, somewhere — in an ad, in an e-mail, in a campaign — that dads play a central role in raising kids, up to an including changing diapers. This isn’t rocket science: Huggies is doing it. But if you look across everything that Pampers does, it’s hard to find so much as an image of an engaged dad.

CY: Why is this important to Dads, moms, kids and the broader culture?

RD: There is no meaningful biologic reason why — with the exception of breastfeeding — dads can’t play an equal (or greater!) role in raising kids. The imbalance in gender roles, then, is largely a social phenomenon. And though a single mom-focused commercial doesn’t automatically make dads into indifferent fathers, the cumulative impact of the mom-as-caregiver image in medium after medium after medium has an impact after a while. There are a good percentage of working dads that have never even thought about a role reversal, in part, because they’ve assumed that the world don’t work that way. And — if all you did was watch TV — you’d be hard-pressed to argue.

CY: Although you are putting your own blogging about the boycott on hold for awhile, the boycott itself continues.  The response from other dads/parents has been positive.  What is the message you are getting from fathers responding to the boycott?

The feedback has been great. Everyone has been supportive. But what’s really heartening is the number of people, who — like me — pay attention to the companies that show dads as involved parents. I mentioned Huggies earlier, and they came on my radar screen in no small part because of a bunch of fathers who suggested that I look at their marketing, which is gender-neutral in its language and pretty dad-friendly in its approach.

CY: How long will the boycott continue, and do you plan to expand it beyond Pampers?

At this point, I have other issues on which to focus my attention, and I am under no illusion that I will bring Proctor and Gamble to its knees. I’ll keep posting — and keep mentioning the boycott — every time I see something mom-centric from Pampers, and I look forward to calling off the dogs as soon as I see some dads in their marketing materials.

CY: I look forward to that day too.  In the mean time, keep going.  The your voice and the voices of other fathers in your community are critical if we are to change the broader cultural misperceptions about care giving that keep us all stuck.  Thanks, Brian!

What do you think of Rebel Dad’s Pampers boycott?  What else can we do to make the we the broader culture talks about and thinks about work and life match the reality most of us live in?

Three Reasons Why It’s Work+Life “Fit” (Not, Balance)

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(This is the first post I wrote for MomsRising’s Peaceful Revolution.  It appeared last week in The Huffington Post)

The economy continues to teeter between Recession and recovery, and we are being asked to do more with less both at work and in the rest of our lives.  As a result, the challenge of how to manage it all remains front and center for many, including mothers.

In our quest for big answers, sometimes we forget that simply reframing how we think about, talk about, and approach an issue can make a big difference.  Try this…instead of enduring the ongoing daily frustration of never achieving “work/life balance,” focus on optimizing your unique “work+life fit.” Here are three reasons why the shift from “balance” to “fit” makes a difference in your well-being:

Reason #1:   There’s no “right” answer, only what works for you and your unique work and personal realities at any given day or period of your life.  No one is right, therefore, no one is wrong.  By removing the judgment from ourselves and on others, we automatically relieve at least some of the guilt that can paralyze us from taking action.

So next time you arrive home with a pizza for dinner after staying late for the third night in a row finishing a project and see your neighbor cooking through kitchen window, what are you going to think?  “Next week when the project is finished I’ll make a point of having a home cooked meal.”  It’s not, “I must be a terrible mother.” That’s your work+life fit.

Reason #2:  It’s an action verb; not a destination noun. If you focus on a predetermined outcome or “balance” to gauge success, you will often be disappointed because many of the factors that influence whether you reach that goal are out of your control.  But if you consciously optimize the way those same circumstances “fit” together on and off the job, then your focus turns to how you feel about the process regardless of the outcome.  You can control the action (see #3).

For example, you’re disappointed that you had to ask your sister to take your mother to her chemotherapy appointment because you had to work, but you’ve arranged to help her grocery shop and pay bills on your day off.  If your predetermined “balance,” was to take your mother to chemotherapy, then you will feel frustrated.  But, instead, you adapted and found a way to be supportive given the current circumstances.  You took action you could feel good about.

Reason #3: It’s strategic, not reactive. As the previous example shows, many of the factors that determine “balance” are out of your control; therefore, it’s easy to become reactive, constantly responding (perhaps not very effectively) to what’s coming at you.  But if you expect that optimizing your work+life “fit” is an ongoing, ever-changing process, then you will be more strategic and nimble in your response.  You will plan accordingly.

For example, when you realized in advance that your work schedule conflicted with your mother’s chemotherapy, you devised an alternative solution.

If you look at the definition of “strategic” in the dictionary, you find, “(related to) a careful plan or method; the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal.”  Your goal is to influence, account for, and anticipate how to best “fit” work and the rest of your life together at any point in time.  Sounds logical, right?  Guess what, we don’t do it.  Here’s my proof…

For years, people would swear, “But, Cali, I do manage everything, and I’m still overwhelmed.”  So I began giving a little quiz before each of my speeches.  Here are the typical results from group of employees at a Fortune 500 consumer products company:

78% said that they “Actively manage my work and personal responsibilities and goals daily or weekly.”

43% said that they “Always keep a calendar with all of my personal and work responsibilities and goals in one place.”

32% said that they “Set aside time daily or weekly to check in with myself and answer the question, “What do I want?”

Strategic work+life fit means keeping all of your work and personal “to dos” in one central location so you have a complete picture of what is happening in all areas of your life (why it’s work “+” life).  You need to set time aside at least weekly to check in with yourself to make sure you are where you want to be with your “fit” given your most current set of circumstances.  And then change as many realities as you can to close any gap between what you want and where you are, knowing there is no right answer.  Only what works for you.

Your unique work+life “fit.”  No right answer, only strategic, judgment-free action.

Fast Company: “Happiness at Work”…Yes, Really–Q&A with Author Srikumar S. Rao

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When I was given the opportunity to interview Srikumar S. Rao, Ph.D., author of the new book, Happiness at Work, I jumped for a couple of reasons.  First,  I’d been hearing about the “Creativity and Personal Mastery” class he taught at Columbia Business School (my alma mater) for years.  It was legendary.  And I wanted to meet the man behind the legend.

Second, I believe the approach to work and life outlined in his book is critical if we are to ride the inevitable career twists and turns in today’s volatile, ever-changing global economy.

A bit of a back story will help you understand the questions I asked Professor Rao (Please feel free to skip down to the interview!).

I entered Columbia Business School in 1993, after seven years as a banker in New York City.   At the end of my banking career, I was a specialist in lending to closely-held middle market companies and large not-for-profits (e.g. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was one of my accounts).  And I managed the day-to-day responsibilities of a team of bankers.

By every external metric, I was “successful,” but I wanted to become a work+life flexibility strategy consultant.  Why?  As a manager, I realized it was bad business not to help the account officers who had the relationships with the clients flexibly manage their work+life challenges.  The account officer usually left the bank and the account became vulnerable because our money was as green as the bank’s down the street.  It was the relationship that mattered and needed to be sustained.

I had a vision that work+life flexibility was going to become a business imperative for all employers in the coming years.  I wanted to be a part of it, and I knew an MBA from a top school would give me the credibility to make change happen.  Remember, this was the early 1990’s.

When I started at Columbia, I knew no one in the work+life field, which was just starting to grow.  By the time I graduated two years later, I’d managed to get an internship and an initial consulting project with the one place I wanted to work, Families and Work Institute.  But, I earned less than I did when I left banking, I didn’t have any managerial responsibility, and no one had any idea what work+life strategy consulting was, “What? (confused look)”

Using those same external metrics, was I a success or a failure? At the time, I’m sure many thought I wasn’t just a failure, but a crazy failure!  I, on the other hand, felt like I’d hit the lottery.

I persevered by intuitively embracing many of the philosophies Dr. Rao shares in his book. I only wish he and the students who took his class had been at Columbia when I was there.  It would have been nice to have fellow travelers on my unconventional journey. (I may actually take his class now that he offers it outside of MBA programs just so I can join the alumni association!)

Seventeen years later, I can’t believe I get paid to do this job everyday.  If I can achieve my unique work+life fit vision, (trust me) anyone can.

Srikumar S. Rao’s Happiness at Work helps guide the way.  Dr. Rao generously spent time with me recently discussing his philosophy.  Highlights of our conversation are below.  For more information about Happiness at Work and Srikumar S. Rao, visit www.areyoureadytosucceed.com.

Happiness at Work guides the way for everyone…Interview with Dr. Srikumar S. Rao

CY: Professor Rao, when I read your new book, Happiness at Work, I was both overjoyed and surprised.  Overjoyed because I believe the approach you outline is critical for a sense of well-being in today’s economic reality in which there are no guarantees and change is inevitable.

But I was surprised because the core principles of the Happiness at Work philosophy run counter to the standard profile of the typical top MBA student I’ve encountered both while at school and after (although, there are exceptions for sure).  For example here’s a quick side-by-side comparison to illustrate my point: (Click here for more)