Archive for July, 2010

How Employers Can Love (or Stop Hating) Maternity Leaves

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Last week, The New York Times included a quote from me in a great article, “Taking a Positive Approach to an Employee’s Maternity Leave.” Because this is an important topic that many employers struggle with, here are a couple of the key points from the article I wanted to highlight and expand upon:

Of all of the inevitable work+life realities a workforce will experience, maternity should be the least feared.   Unlike illness, accidents, eldercare or spouse relocation, you can plan for it in advance.

Every small business owner should take note of how effectively and proactively the leaders in the article addressed the work+life issues of their employees.  Unfortunately, this is still unusual.  From my experience, most employers refuse to acknowledge and build into their day-to-day operating model contingencies for dealing with the intersections between work and other parts of life even though they are inevitable.  Everyone has a personal life.  Everyone.  Not just women who become mothers.

I’m always baffled by the panic of these same in-denial business owners every time someone becomes pregnant, takes care of a sick parent, has a heart attack, or stays home because of their child’s snow day.  By facing the reality that work+life conflict is a business issue, they’d create a culture that encouraged an open, ongoing, problem-solving dialogue about how to flexibly manage and adapt.  Everything would run so much more smoothly.

Whereas eldercare, illness, accidents, swine flu and snowstorms are usually unexpected, in most cases maternity gives you months to plan!  As the article shows, companies benefit from an open dialogue even if a new mother decides not to come back to work or returns on a part-time basis.  And it’s important to note that new mothers aren’t the only ones who may choose not to come back to work or who would be helped by a phased return after a work+life challenge.  People with elder care responsibilities, a long illness or accident can also benefit.

Prepare employees with the skills and tools to create a solution-oriented plan.

The article does a good job emphasizing the need for employees to start the conversation by thinking through an initial solution (for a contrasting example of what can go very wrong when an owner/manager tries to figure out the right answer for a pregnant employee, click here).

But knowing how to create and present a well thought out plan is a skill set.  Most employees need to be shown “how.”

A step-by-step process for developing a win-win flexibility plan is outlined in my book “Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You” and is a great place to start (excerpted in the Work+Life Fit in 5 Days blog series).  In fact one of the reasons I wrote the book five years ago was to give small business owners a resource to help their employees create win-win flexible work+life fit solutions.

A one-size-fits-all, across-the-board “policy” related to how maternity or any other work+life reality will be addressed doesn’t work.  BUT, it is a good idea to have a consistent process in place to which everyone has equal access.

This consistent process should outline the unique circumstances of an individual employee’s job and life that they should consider to determine the solution that will work for them personally and for the business.  Even though the outcomes will vary, a clear process maintains consistency by virtue of the fact that everyone had access to the same approach and parameters.   Again, check out the work+life fit process in my book to get started.

What do you think?  How do we get more companies of all sizes to come out of denial and face the fact that work+life realities are just part of their day-to-day operating reality that they need to plan for?  And how do we get them to embrace an ongoing, process-based, solution-oriented flexible response?

(Fast Company) Standout in the Crowd: Mark Levy’s “Accidential Genius” Helps You Find Your Special Sauce

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The world is literally awash with ideas and information.  How do you standout?  What makes you unique and different to clients, in a book proposal, in a blog post or to prospective employers?

What’s your “special sauce?”  Mark Levy, marketing strategy expert and author of the updated and newly re-released, Accidental Genius, shows you how.

I’m a living case study of Mark’s magic.  Last fall I spent some time working with him, and the process not only transformed the way I think and talk about my business, but also helped me finally take a book idea I’ve had for years to the next level.

His unique approach to problem solving helped me find my “special sauce.”  And I’ve incorporated freewriting into my day-to-day decision making and blogging.  Now, with Accidental Genius, Mark’s skill is available to everyone.

I recently spoke with Mark Levy about:

  • Why it’s more important than ever to find your “special sauce” and standout in the crowd,
  • How Accidental Genius and the process of freewriting can help, and
  • A trick to craft a distinctive elevator speech!

CY: Welcome Mark!  Why is it more important than ever to find your “special sauce” and standout in the crowd?

ML: You’re at a networking meeting and someone comes up to you and asks, “What do you do?”  You know you do great work, but as you’re talking, the stranger begins to look over your shoulder because what you’re saying doesn’t get at the magnificence of your work.

Not only do you lose a potential client, but you feel bad about your business…and life in general.   This actually happened to me years ago when I worked for a book wholesaler and I vowed it would never happen again.  Now, when someone asks me what I do, I describe one of my areas of expertise by saying, “Consultants and entrepreneurial businesses hire me to increase their fees 2000%.”  Very clear and vivid.  Like an elephant gun.

Finding what makes you different is your competitive advantage.  It means getting very clear in your mind about where you are delivering meaning and value for others.

Most people base their work (e.g. business, writing, etc.) on commoditized, 10th generation thoughts and “me too” ideas.

We all need to be thankful for the ideas and thoughts of others. Even if you start with someone else’s idea, make adjustments.  Add the work you’ve done and your own experience.  Those adjustments become your unique quotes, stories, and philosophy.  You don’t need to make it gimmicky.  You simply standout, if you are very clear.

What do I mean?  As you know, I encourage people to “open up” words.  This involves looking at and writing about common words that have become jargon.  What are the images when you hear the word?  What’s happening?  Go from jargon to the story ideas behind the word.  So let’s start by defining “special sauce.”

To most people, special sauce is what makes you distinctive, standout, and memorable when other people aren’t.  Not surprisingly I have a slightly different take (as you would expect from me!).

My take is that some people try to contrive how they are different based upon what other people are doing.  Really they need to create a new, standout angle or need.

The intersection between the things that have personal meaning and that have meaning for whomever you’re trying to reach, that’s your special sauce.

CY: How can Accidental Genius help?” (Click here for more!)

Work+Life Fit Blog–Forbes Top 100 Website for Women (But, It’s Still for Everyone!)

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Four and a half years after I wrote the first post (wow, it was lengthy), Forbes. com recently named the Work+Life Fit blog one of the Top 100 Websites for Women!

Thank you to ForbesWoman and to everyone who has read, linked to, and commented on the thoughts I’ve shared.  It’s meant and continues to mean a great deal to be part of this wonderful community.  If you have a chance, check out the other 99 sites recognized by Forbes.com…excellent career, financial, and work+life resources for women (and men).

For anyone who consistently writes a blog, you know it’s a marathon that, at times, requires incredible stamina and discipline to keep it going week in and week out.   So, to celebrate the Forbes recognition, I took the last two weeks off.  It felt great to step back and relax…but it also made me even more excited to take this wonderful blog to the next level.

Join me.  Let’s work together to help everyone (not just women) flexibly optimize their unique work+life fit day-to-day and at major transitions, because it’s work+life fit…not, balance! And let’s show organizations how to make mission-critical work+life flexibility part of  their culture and operating model!  It can be done.

(Fast Company) Work+Life Fit: First, Moms. Now, Dads…Then, Everyone

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You can’t change unless you’re ready.  Ready to recognize the need to change, and ready to make that change happen.

The good news is that it looks like we might be ready as a culture to recognize something that’s been true for quite some time—managing work and life is not just an issue for moms.  It’s also important for fathers.   BUT…

Unfortunately, from my experience:

  • Men aren’t currently included as equal participants in the work+life conversation culturally and within organizations, and
  • Recognizing that dads are active care givers who need and want flexibility gets us much closer to where we need to be.  However, we don’t seem ready to go all the way and acknowledge that work+life fit is really an issue for all of us.  Only then will we—government, employers and individuals—do the hard work necessary to fundamentally rethink how, when and where we flexibly work and manage our lives through our careers.

So, since we aren’t ready to go there (yet!), let’s celebrate the step we’ve made by recognizing that…

Dads need and want to flexibly manage their work+life fit too!

Boston College’s Center for Work and Family recently released The New Dad: Exploring Fatherhood Within a Career Context, a qualitative study of more than 30 middle-income first-time fathers.  All of the fathers surveyed had five or more years of professional experience, and all of them were college graduates.

According to BCCWF Executive Director, Dr. Brad Harrington, they targeted this group because most of the research to date had focused on low income fathers.   And, most middle-income families today increasingly rely on the income of both mothers and fathers to survive, yet as Kathleen Gerson noted in her book “The Unfinished Revolution:

“Regardless of their own family experiences, today’s young women and men have grown up in revolutionary times.  For better or worse, they have inherited new options and questions about women’s and men’s proper places.  Now making the transition to adulthood, they have no well-worn paths to follow…Most women not longer assume they can or will want to stay at home with young children, but there is no clear model of how children show be raised.  Most men no longer assume they can or will want to support a family on their own, but there is no clear path to manhood.  Work and family shifts have created an ambiguous mix of new options and new insecurities with growing conflicts between work and parenting.  Amid these conflicts and contradictions young women and men must search for new answers and develop innovative responses.”

Highlights of the study’s findings were presented by Dr. Harrington in a recent conference call and include (Click here for details):

Most felt becoming a father had changed the way others viewed them in the workplace and that the change was not negative. They were seen “as a whole person, more approachable,” “maturity, more responsible,” a “member of the club.”  About half said the change was minor and half said the change was more significant.

Most fathers assumed having a child would impact their career, but most agreed that they underestimated the degree of impact in both their work and life.

While most didn’t lower their career aspirations, becoming a father had changed how they defined success.

Most fathers used day-to-day informal flexibility to manage their work+life fit, versus formal flexibility.  And many said their managers were supportive of the work+life issues.

Most fathers wanted to achieve a 50/50 split in the responsibilities of care giving and if they weren’t achieving it they were trying to do better.

When asked what it meant to be a good father, the fathers felt it was just as important to provide financial as well as emotional support, which to them meant being present, spending time, being accessible, just “showing up.”

Looks pretty good for new fathers, but dig a little deeper…(Click here for more)