Archives – January, 2010
I realize this might be a bit controversial, but I feel compelled to make an observation about companies who spend millions upon millions of dollars to bring in outside management consulting “experts.” The problem is, left untended, these expensive experts can easily homogenize just about everything and quickly sap the creative lifeblood right out of a company.
Homogenization in the workplace often happens in the name of efficiency (danger, danger!) when a company-wide mandate, usually to address a lowest common denominator problem, takes priority over individual greatness, experimentation and diversity of approach. It’s a killer to creativity and a company’s ability to make remarkable breakthroughs.
True, there are some situations that warrant the hiring of an external management consultant. For example, a company may identify a problem and determine that it doesn’t have the specific knowledge and skills in-house to solve it. To permanently hire the right people would be prohibitively expensive, so hiring consultants with proven expertise for the short-term can be a huge benefit.
The typical profile of a Bain, Accenture or McKinsey management consultant is someone who excels academically and graduates from one of the top ten business schools. While this is a pretty good guarantee of intelligence, it is not a guarantee of insight or vision. There’s a big difference. What these consultants do best is apply basic business sense from an outsider’s perspective.
The problem is that their goal is often widespread efficiency—and this left unchecked can easily turn into homogenization. For example a Fortune 100 company now struggling with innovation, paid millions of dollars to a management consulting firm for advice that led them to implement an inflexible “Span of Control” policy. Following the consulting firm’s recommendation, the company implemented a policy across the board requiring managers at a certain level to each have a minimum of eight direct reports.
This does help flatten the organization and reduce levels of hierarchy. However, time after time I would see brilliant individuals hit a wall because getting promoted and making more money meant taking on significant management responsibilities. But what if their skills were “spiky”? What if their gift was mastery of a specific subject and they functioned best as an individual contributor? Is it worth trading someone’s unique and valuable brilliance in order to fit into the “system”? (See earlier posts I’ve written about the unfortunate problem of homogenization in the workplace, “spiky” skills, and empowerment or lack thereof!).
The danger with the taking these recommendations as Gospel, and implementing them across the board, is that they often lead to a “broad brush” approach that kills creativity, stifles people’s gifts and shuts down the career path for spiky contributors.
So before you jump on the ever-popular management consultant bandwagon, remember that these nicely paid experts tend to do well with broad-brush recommendations, but can quickly stifle the ability to do anything truly unique. If you want your company to be inventive and shake up the world, save your money, look within and never, ever homogenize!
January 26, 2010
If you can dream it, you can do it.
The first step toward making a change in your life, or achieving anything truly important to you, is setting a vision. That means getting crystal clear on what you want. A strong vision motivates you to move forward toward your destination, even when you don’t quite know how to get there. And, it keeps you from bailing on your dream the moment things get tough. The following is an excerpt from Professional Destiny about how to set a vision…
“All greatness starts with a vision. You have to see your end game in order to get there. A strong vision is the building block for everything, and without it we can’t possibly achieve mastery in our talent or profession.
Have you ever heard of an Olympian who didn’t first dream of going to the Olympics?
Here’s why we need a vision:
Having a strong vision inspires and guides us to where we want to be, and helps us make decisions. If you clearly set a vision, you won’t be distracted and you won’t wander aimlessly. If you get off track temporarily, it will be easier to remember your vision and get back on your path.
A clear vision and sense of purpose motivates you. There is no other way to generate the tireless source of energy that you’ll need to accomplish your task. And you will need a tireless source—because embarking on your journey is a challenging task. It is a perilous journey where you encounter a series of tests, trials and setbacks. Difficulties and barriers are guaranteed to pop up along the way. There is no free lunch when you are pursuing your dream. And the bigger your dream, the bigger the challenges you can expect. However, if your vision is strong enough, you will view barriers as something to cross over, not as something that blocks your way. You see the end state and you have the motivation to pick yourself up after a setback in order to get there. Without a vision, you’ll most likely stop.
What makes a vision strong? A great vision is a clear statement of your purpose. It is:
A strong vision is something you can remember in a moment’s notice; it is an image you can call up on demand. It is a declaration of what you want to accomplish. It represents your deepest, most authentic goals and interests.
Most of all, a great vision is a vivid description of your desired end state. It creates a picture in your mind of the future you want.”
January 19, 2010
I’m always thrilled when I hear of someone who gained a new perspective from reading Professional Destiny—and last week was a big week for that! First, we heard the story of Diane LeBleu, and then Pete Hayes sent me a link to his blog, Phayes Two, where he had written about his experience. I consider this one of the greatest honors an author can have, and I’m delighted to share Pete’s inspiring story of how he gained the vision of his professional (and personal) destiny. Here’s how he tells it…
“When I left a senior executive position at a Fortune 500 company this past summer, I had a lot of thinking to do. It was clear that I wasn’t interested in jumping right back into the corporate world, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to nail down a vision of my future.
Good thing I met with Valerie Hausladen, former president of Tocquigny, plus head of Enfatico’s Austin office. She’d recently published her book Professional Destiny and was willing to talk about it over lunch with me. And the timing was perfect, because I was headed to New Mexico for backpacking the following week. Sitting in my tent in pouring rain for several days, I literally waded through her book, making notes and doing the exercises she suggested. Shazaam. I had my vision for my professional (and personal) destiny. It put my radar on alert so that when the opportunity to join Chief Outsiders rolled around, I was able to recognize it as a perfect fit with my goals.
So have a look. Read about Valerie here on her blog. And here in the Austin American-Statesman this week (a great read!). Thanks Valerie, on behalf of those like me who’ve been helped by your book, and those soon to be!
Thanks Pete and all others who have shared their experiences. If you have a Professional Destiny story to tell, please email me through the contact form on this site—I’d love to hear from you!
January 11, 2010
Diane LeBleu (left) with one of her first clients, Jennifer Hough. Both are breast cancer survivors.
I am pleased to introduce a story of a multi-talented woman who was inspired to make a life and career change after reading Professional Destiny a few months ago. Meet Diane LeBleu—former management consultant, now breast cancer survivor, entrepreneur and mother of four. According to Diane, the message in Professional Destiny helped her articulate a vision, harness her gifts and remember what she loves to do—which she had forgotten while focusing on her growing family. This is her story in her own words…
“I studied Communications and Business Management in college. I also loved to write. I chose Trinity because of their good communications program and I really enjoyed it. At the time, I did an internship at a TV station thinking I might be a reporter. It was fun… I listened to police scanner, and all that. Then one day one of the producers told me that people made more money waiting tables than he did as a producer. That was sobering. I graduated in 1991 and the economy was in the tank. I had college loans – and I thought to myself, ‘what am I going to do here? What are my choices?’ I had financial obligations, so I took a job at Andersen Consulting. I was a business and technology consultant for nine years. It was fine and the pay was great. My husband and I had no kids and were making a lot of money. Then we had our first child. I tried to keep up the corporate consulting thing with a baby and then my husband got sent to Newport Beach and I got sent to Simi Valley. Between us, we had two apartments, a home in San Antonio, a baby, a nanny, two demanding careers and a crazy work schedule. It was completely unsustainable, so I quit. We decided to move to Austin.
My husband started a business and I joined a company, providing sales support. While I was there, we had more children and I was working three days a week. I wasn’t crazy about what I was doing, but it was a job—it was okay.
Our fourth child was born in May and I realized that I couldn’t go back. With four kids, I decided to use this time as a sabbatical to figure out what I really wanted to do. I had been doing the consulting thing and I was good at it and making six figures, but I didn’t love it.
I finally realized, ‘I can’t go back to IT consulting. It will kill me. Money is a great motivator, but I just can’t do it.’ My husband told me, ‘just figure out what you want to do and go do it. I’m tired of living with an unhappy woman!’
The first two years of being home with four kids under eight, and no family in town, was harder than getting up at 4:00am and helping my husband with his business. I didn’t sit down all day. It was physically hard. I was 110 pounds and up all night with the babies. I knew that staying home full-time wasn’t right for me.
I read Marcus Buckingham’s book, Now Discover Your Strengths, which is a great book. It confirmed for me what I thought my strengths were – achiever, harmony, relator, input, connectedness.
I was serious about this sabbatical – I needed to figure out what I wanted to do. I didn’t want just a job, I wanted a career. Someplace to picture myself in 5, 10, 20 years. In between diaper changes, I used the resources at hand. I read Purpose Driven Life, which I loved and I’m a big Stephen Covey fan. I even spoke with a professional coach who charges $150/hour. I was serious! And then I started writing again.
I had to go back to work, but I faced an inner struggle with need to earn some money and my desire to write a book. I had started the Austin chapter of a writer’s group called “The Writing Mamas Salon of Austin” and I was ready to plunge in. I went to Hungary. I was going to write a story about my best friend Holly Wright’s experience as an expatriate living abroad with her family and I went there to do research. As soon as I returned from Hungary with all my research and notes though, I found a lump. It wasn’t completely unexpected since my sister had breast cancer at 33 and my aunt had it in her 40s, but it totally changed my plans. I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and was scheduled for surgery in January. I spent the time enjoying my family, meeting with the writing group and contributing to a blog called ‘Mama Bird Diaries’ which ultimately landed me a guest post on the NY Times parenting blog, Motherlode.
I went through the chemotherapy when I found your book through another author at Writing Mamas. I read Professional Destiny and realized I was stuck on the vision thing. As the book says, it all starts with a clear vision—if you don’t have one, you can end up wasting a lot of time. The book helped me determine and articulate my vision. I asked myself, ‘what are your strengths, what do you love to do?’ I didn’t know. I’d been serving my family for so long that I’d forgotten. The discipline of figuring out what you like to do is hard and reading Professional Destiny gave me a mechanism to help do that.
I did the three-column checklist and wrote down what I love to do, what I’m good at and what I loathe. I realized that I really like helping people and staying in touch—and I’m good at it. I also noted that I remember everything about people—I even remember my neighbors’ and their kids’ birthdays from 20 years ago! I asked myself, ‘how can I harness these gifts, how do I make money doing this? I’m a relationship person and I want to help people solve their problems.
Then I met a woman who’s a partner at Asset Strategies Group and was putting on seminar for women. She talked about Mass Mutual products and I was really compelled. Mass Mutual is a company that is very advanced in underwriting life insurance for breast cancer survivors. Once you have breast cancer you usually become ineligible to get life insurance— and it can be a major problem. I wanted to help people and I realized that a career like this was perfect for me. All my gifts and experiences lined up: I had been an entrepreneur, I had a gift for building relationships with people, I love solving problems—and I had survived cancer. I did some soul searching and decided that representing this company would provide a career that meant something to me.
I feel uniquely suited to do this well. I can remember all my client’s details and make recommendations to fit their lives. It is satisfying to me and beneficial for them. I understand their challenges. What’s more, I enjoy being my own boss with the added benefit of having meaningful interaction with others. I realize that I’m paying my dues right now and my hope is that in 10 years, I’ll look back and realize that I was able to make a nice living, help cancer survivors like myself, and build long-lasting relationships.
This opportunity lets me combine my experiences and put them to use in a positive way. I like that. In fact, I plan to call my business Pink Lemonade Financial Services. ‘Pink’ for the breast cancer survivor aspect, and ‘Lemonade’ because we’re making lemonade out of lemons.
And I might just write a book about this too!”
January 3, 2010