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Monday, April 8, 2019

What Constitutes #MeToo?

So it's finally a movement. This post is overdue because the movement is already a couple of years old. It's both encouraging and disheartening to see that new examples are coming out every day that may or may not apply. I'm not going to get into any specific examples here.

If you've read through my posts (or even just read the description of this blog), it's a documented history of boys (grown men) behaving badly. It is easy to understand why so many women never came forward. For what? To be further harassed, watch the abuser see no consequences (unless it was a promotion), and possibly be fired?

Are women making too much of this? I don't think so. Events can range from real-live sexual harassment (sleep with me if you want that promotion) to simply annoying (he's not your superior and can't threaten you professionally, but is aggressively making unwanted advances). Either way, in the past, if you didn't just laugh it off, you were a bitch with no sense of humor. Today, women may have some real remedies at our disposal.

Full disclosure, I never once felt legitimately "harassed". No male superior or client ever suggested that I must perform certain acts to be promoted or get an order. That doesn't mean that they always behaved appropriately. A couple of them needed to be slapped or publicly embarrassed but it would not have been fair for them to lose their jobs. (I would have been happy with a well-placed kick to the noogies, but that was frowned upon at the time.)

Although its usually a male weapon of choice, true sexual harassment is not about sex at all - it's about power. And, as more women rise in company ranks (please, God), the reverse is possible, it's just not likely. To make a sweeping generalization, women are more focused on getting the work done than the politics, and sex is probably not the weapon they would choose (more on women's favorite weapons another day).

What is the line between inappropriate behavior and career-ending harassment?

I'm not hearing a lot of clarity in the news about what constitutes harassment and what is merely (tongue-in-cheek) inappropriate. Men are understandably frightened right now. Does changing the culture mean they can't comment on your new haircut? Worry about how it will be perceived if they compliment you on your work? Can't ask someone out if they are interested in the person and perceive mutual interest? (Given the time that Americans spend working, that could quickly mean the end of our civilization.)

Let's hope that common sense prevails. People: no means no. That could mean, "no, I don't want to go out with you",  "no I don't even want to flirt with you", "no, I'm not interested AT ALL". As long as "no" is taken for an answer, there shouldn't be any issue, and there shouldn't be any negative consequences for asking the question (again, provided it isn't breaking any company rules). The business world is full of Alphas who sometimes perceive "no" in the same light as a sales objection, which means they just haven't pled their case well enough yet. Women need to communicate clearly and assertively, and men need to understand that no really does mean no. But when she has said "no" and he persists, women can't be afraid to take action. The attention around #metoo should provide some comfort that they are not alone.

The risk is that the pendulum swings too far the other way. What we DON'T want is men too scared to mentor promising women employees or include them in meetings or travel when its required because they're afraid the relationship will be perceived as something other than professional. Making this more common and acceptable is hopefully part of this culture change.

What I envision for this and the next generation of working women (which includes nieces and the women in my son's lives), is a workplace where, when a woman is offered a promotion or is asked to accompany her male boss to a meeting or on a trip, it doesn't even occur to her to question his motives. It's all assumed to be professional because that's all she will ever have experienced.

Let's all take a breath and get some perspective. Support our sisters who have suffered real harassment, change our company policies so that offenders suffer significant consequences and victims are not punished, and then focus on the work. Workplace culture will change as company leaders describe and demonstrate what a respectful working environment looks like. Spoiler alert: it will not include fear or the necessity to walk on eggshells.

If all else fails, try a well-placed spike heel to the noogies.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sixty is Just a (REALLY BIG) Number

How did this happen?  Yes, I know:  it's just a number, you're as young as you feel, we look so much younger than our parents did at 60, yada yada. But it feels like a REALLY BIG number.

And of course, it's better than the alternative, and I do, in fact, have my health (NOT taking that for granted, it's a cliche for a good reason).

I have absolutely no complaints: I am healthy, our kids turned out to be pretty amusing and wonderful people (who live elsewhere and don't ask us for money!) We have our first grandchild (I HIGHLY recommend it!) I'm not working that hard at a job that I really enjoy. My husband is healthy and we have flexible schedules that allow us to take off pretty much whenever we like - and we do.

So what's so bad about 60?

I often joke (kind of) about when I will get my face lift or other "work done", but I struggle with a) fear of the pain that is involved, b) tempting fate with elective surgery, c) reconciling that vanity will have won out and d) associating the cost with the number of months we can rent in FL in the winter. It's easy to decide to age gracefully before you actually look old. In our 40's and 50's, things haven't gone too far south yet.  We spent a lot of time fearing wrinkles: the mirror tells me that wrinkles are not the problem - sagging skin and disappearing eyebrows are today's culprit. What's graceful about that?

Sixty just sounds so old.

In the words of a friend who just turned 60, we should be focusing on the positive. Since this is supposed to be about Biz Tips, I'll pivot to the professional. This is one description I've heard about the life-cycle of a career:

1.  Who's Joe Smith?
2.  We gotta get Joe Smith!
3.  Get me a younger Joe Smith!
4.  Who's Joe Smith?

Professionally, people are still hiring me to run their social media and provide content. I've realized that these client appreciate a certain, um, maturity that can only come with age and experience. A friend from grade school (!) is a web designer who also finds that clients still appreciate the expertise she brings to a project - that's hard to get without putting in the years.

Many former clients are able to retire from their corporate jobs and find or create a job that is more fulfilling. While I have some friends who out-right retire, many more are reinventing. They find that they have time to volunteer, or are in a position to take a serious pay cut in order to do what they love. Honestly, it's a great position to be in. I'm able to contract with companies that interest me, with client contacts that I like and who pay their bills on time!

I've asked many 60+ friends for advice to offer and this seems to be the message to Millennials and younger: live well below your means and save your money! That is the factor that will determine how flexible you can be as you get older. You can only afford to quit your high-paying job for a job that you love IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT.  You can certainly make changes in your lifestyle to accommodate a lower income but money is the thing that provides the means to write your next chapter.

So here's to a fulfilling next chapter to all of you in your 60's and beyond!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

5 Types of Customers

We cannot survive without customers.  So why then have 3 different business owners in the last week told me they wish they could fire some of their customers?  Because there IS such a thing as a bad customer.

In my experience, there are 5 types of customers:

No one breaks into a new account without a Champion. You try multiple ways to get into an account and FINALLY, one day you pique someone's interest and they give you a shot.  THAT is your Champion.  If you do a good job, they pass your name around, introduce you to colleagues and you are in that account. I can pinpoint my Champion at absolutely every major corporation I ever called on, and am still LinkedIn to those people today, whether or not we have worked together in the last 10+ years. Take good care of your Champion.  They'll take you along when they change companies and will be happy to refer you when they hear of anyone that can use your product or service.  Let them know you appreciate them.

For every Champion, there is a User. This is the one who will be very friendly, attend your events, go to lunch, request and accept your samples, ask you for ideas, hand your ideas to your competitor and NEVER buy anything from you. The problem with Users is that it takes a long time to figure out whether they are a real customer and you just haven't hit the right options for them yet, or whether they're a User who will continue taking advantage of you.

Generalizations are dangerous, but I have yet to meet a female poser - in my experience, they are exclusively male. This is a customer that either has an inflated view of his influence, or wants you to THINK he's more influential than he is. He will throw his weight around, demand things of you that either cross the line or are too close to the line for comfort, act like he's in complete charge of your fate but will go completely limp when you need political help later. Like the User, it can take awhile to discern whether the Poser really has the juice he pretends to have; try small tests first to see if he will be able to help when you need him.

Without exception, every time someone tells me they'd like to fire a customer, they are describing a high-maintenance client. This is not a client who simply demands perfection (who doesn't?); this is the client who changes their mind after it's too late, doesn't want to pay for expensive changes, blames you when they don't like the product delivered exactly as ordered, doesn't pay bills on time, insists upon discounts from the agreed-upon price, is late for appointments or cancels at the last minute and generally doesn't respect your time. These are very expensive clients; the minute you can fire one of these - do it and don't look back.

Thankfully, the majority of customers! These are people who expect great things from you, know that you'll deliver as promised (or more than promised), trust you to meet deadlines, look forward to great ideas and especially, expect you to solve their problems. If you are a good supplier, they will reward you with their business.  This is the basis for most B2B relationships, and the lifeblood of most businesses. You trust each other and many of these clients become friends.

Most of my clients were in Sales and Marketing, so they had their share of experience with Users, Posers and High Maintenance clients in their own businesses as well. Hopefully exposure to these people make us all better customers.

Thank you to my Champions and the many Valued Clients that I've enjoyed working with over the years!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hospice is not a Death Sentence

I'm taking a little departure from the promised subject matter...  In the last few weeks I've encountered too many family and friends for whom this is relevant.  (Although care for elderly parents or relatives DOES usually fall to "girls", to pretend that this post relates to business tips is a stretch. Whatever - it's my blog!)

As many of you know, I have served on the board of the local non-profit Angela Hospice for the past 5 years.  During that time, I've learned enough to be dangerous, and certainly enough to know that there is a great need for education about what hospice is...and what it isn't.

Most people are terrified of the word "hospice".  To many it means "the end" and "giving up" - this couldn't be farther from the truth.  Entering hospice care does not change your diagnosis or shorten your life expectancy in any way.  It's true that you must have a terminal diagnosis to qualify for hospice care, but experience shows that those who go into hospice care actually live longer than those with similar diagnoses who don't - and there's no question that the quality of life is better.

When a "terminal" diagnosis is given, it often means that the condition is no longer treatable - or it is treatable but not "curable".  Doctors necessarily prescribe treatments that will prolong life: they have taken an oath to extend life by any means necessary.  "Any means necessary" is just not always pleasant or even effective for the patient.  When patients decide to refuse treatment or try alternative therapies, families and friends get nervous.  Many people believe that refusing treatment means giving up. On the contrary - it simply means that the patient is taking control of the situation and is deciding to live out the time s/he has left on her/his own terms. That's exactly the opportunity that hospice provides.

Hospice is for those who necessarily have a terminal illness, but either have a condition that is not treatable, or they have decided that they do not want to endure further treatement.  They want to live the remainder of their life as pain-free as possible, at the highest quality possible.  They are deciding to proactively manage the last phase of their lives.  Hospice makes no attempt to prolong life or hasten death:  it simply enables patients to live as comfortably as possible, surrounded by the ones they love.

Once a person starts working with the hospice team, they frequently relax and set about putting their lives in order - physically, emotionally and often spiritually.  There is a peace associated with this that may very well contribute to a longer life.

A hospice team can include a physician, social worker, nurse and nurse practicioner, therapists and spiritual care providers as well as volunteers.  The hospice team can provide extensive resources for the family in addition to caring for the patient.  Bereavement counseling for the entire family is also available (Angela Hospice goes above and beyond in offering a variety of counseling services, memorials and workshops, provided at no charge to anyone in the community even if you have never used their hospice services).

The #1 comment of family members who have experienced hospice is, "I wish we had done this sooner".  There is no obligation or commitment implied by meeting with someone to ask questions and learn more about hospice care.  In the unfortunate event that you have a loved one who receives a terminal diagnosis, I can't urge you strongly enough to contact a local hospice and find out about all of the resources they offer - sooner rather than later.

Finally:  click on this link and buy this book today:  Being Mortal: - Medicine and What Matters in The End, by Atul Gawande.  This is an interesting look into the mindset of physicians and why so many are uncomfortable with the end-of-life decisions that their patients must make.  It's also a wake-up call for any of us who mistakenly assume that the way we would choose to treat a terminal illness or live out the rest of our days is what others would choose.

A terminal illness is usually accompanied by a free-for-all of emotions and unresolved issues all around.  Hospice teams are prepared for this, experienced in working families through it and can provide a world of comfort and clarity. 

Commercial over!  Next month, back to snarky business tips.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Girl Groups

Every time my Posse meets, I am inspired with new material.  Yesterday we met for one of our every-other-month lunches and, as usual, did our "check in" (what we are doing, what projects we're working on, business or personal news) and then, as is also becoming usual, a digression into topics around staying healthy.  (Although I'm one of the oldest in the group, after a lengthy discussion of enzymes, Silver Water, vitamins, GMO's, organic food and cleanses, I commented that I needed to find a younger group of friends...).  I don't pretend to comprehend everything that they're talking about, but I'm thrilled that I have Posse sisters who research alternative therapies and preventative protocols and are proactively sharing this knowledge with others.

We also discussed a number of other revelations.  The oldest of us (in the back half of our 50's), are feeling an unexpected freedom. 
  • Freedom to change careers and focus on work that makes us happy (whether that work is profitable or not!)
  • Freedom to really clean out that closet:  give up the formal business clothes that aren't likely to be worn again, get rid of anything that doesn't bring us joy when we wear it
  • Freedom to see the people that we want to see and feel no guilt when we decline an invitation. (A favorite old TV line that I think came from Phoebe on Friends is: "I would, but I don't want to".)
  • Freedom from judgment.  Not that we're not being judged...just that we don't care.  This means freedom to have those injections or cosmetic surgery if it makes us happy - but just as free to let our hair go gray, go off the diet and accept who we've become.
Although we're not wearing Red Hats yet, we can see the benefit of such an organization.  A group of older women who are unabashadly enjoying each other and experiencing new things while playing a grown-up version of Dress Up.  Why the hell not?

A few of my Posse sisters are still fully embroiled in their first businesses.   For them, the revelation was more business related:  we feel sorry for men who don't have an equivalent of the Girl Group.  Groups like the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), Center for Empowerment & Economic Development (CEED), Women President's Organization (WPO), Enterprising Women, The Woman's Advantage and similar groups are all places that women share experiences and expertise, ask and give advice in a safe environment.  Most of us have firm support from our husbands, families and friends, but there is no substitute for someone who is exactly in your situation:  feeling the pressures of running the company, feeling responsible for employees, trying to do your best in your work and personal or family life.  Girl Groups do not have to be formal organizations; it's perfectly acceptable to form your own.

Of course, there are some men that are comfortable sharing, and there are a number of general business organizations that are also very valuable like Entrepreneur's Organization (EO), Chambers of Commerce and industry associations. Our biased observation is that men just don't share like women do.  For whatever reason (let's don't try to speculate...), many men still hesitate to ask for directions.

So.  If you are not yet in your 50's, take heart!  You may mourn for your previous body, jawline or metabolism, but you're about to experience an invigorating freedom.  And if you are a female and do not have a Girl Group - go find (or form) one now!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Customers with Balls

If you are in sales or just about any other kind of business for any length of time, chances are good that you have some excellent examples of customers with more gall than the average bear. 

Full disclosure: a couple of stories are mine; a couple are from colleagues. Two are from the 70's/80's before corporations had rules against this stuff (the 70's and 80's are THE REASON those rules were established....).  You'll be able to tell which took place "back then" right away.

Sales to automotive companies and other major corporations in the Good Old Days was challenging, and few ethical lines were drawn.  I was fortunate enough to learn from a great boss who occasionally (grudgingly) crossed the line into his own gray area, but never considered doing anything remotely illegal or unethical.  The stories here are not about suppliers who offer "consideration", but about customers who demand it. You'll see that even without breaking laws, that gray area can be mighty wide:

  • Supplier calls to invite Customer to lunch.  Customer requests lunch at a topless bar, followed by an afternoon of adult movie entertainment.  (This was the 70's when many Gentlemen's Clubs had regular lunch specials and alcohol at lunch was expected.  Because he's now deceased, I will reveal that this was my old boss who was most often described as a "gentleman".  He obliged this customer but said that there is nothing that makes you feel sleazier than exiting an adult movie theatre into the bright sunshine at 2 in the afternoon...).

  • Customer is one of many contacts within a corporation that Supplier calls on.  Customer A is pleasant and sets meetings, but takes Supplier's ideas and buys them from Crony B.  Years later, Customer A is "downsized" and contacts Supplier to "catch up".  Customer A acts like they were Supplier's best customer and actually says the words, "I always enjoyed working with you".  Not how Supplier remembers it.

  • Customer and Supplier are in Las Vegas at a trade show; it's expected that the supplier will pay for any entertainment that is enjoyed in the evening.  This particular customer requested a limo, a table and bottle service for their group at a current hot spot (this means that greasing the door man will be required).  Expected customer entertainment; nothing strange here until the customer requested a hooker (or cash to procure a hooker).  Gray area breached.

  • Supplier quotes Customer a price on a project based on the required specs.  Supplier and Customer go back and forth for many days where the Customer asks the same question in a variety of ways: Customer wants all of the required elements but for half the quoted price.  Supplier politely declines the project (several times).  A couple of weeks later, Customer contacts Supplier and reiterates how impressed they were with Supplier, but cannot afford them at this time.  Would Supplier please answer the following questions and help Customer to craft the project contract with the supplier that they chose?  Seriously.

  • Customer calls Supplier for help with Christmas Gift for his wife (frequently purchased merchandise for customers at corporate/wholesale pricing; regular perk of business relationship) - and help with Christmas gift for his mistress?
Not nearly as provocative as the Kwame saga that we've experienced here in Detroit, but still noteworthy.  So what to do when you get these types of requests?  I'm happy to report that 3-martini lunches at strip clubs are not common practice anymore.  I'd like to think that the proliferation of women into the workforce is partly responsible for this. 

Everyone finds their own tolerance for gray area.  Consensus seems to be:  strip club/maybe, hooker/no, connecting bad customer with someone on LinkedIn/probably (why hold grudges?), helping a non-customer to write their contract with another supplier/I don't think so. Christmas gift for wife & mistress/send 2 things to Customer and let him sort it out.

I've heard MANY other stories over the years and would love to hear yours! Comment here or send me a private email and I'll include your story in Customers with Balls Part 2!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Not Marriage Advice (a non-business-related post)

Our first-born son gets married next week (12-13-14).  While I don't think anyone is qualified to give marriage advice, there are some observations that those married for many years have made that can be helpful.  (And there's no danger that my son will regard this as unsolicited advice since he never reads my blog....).  Readers, please feel free to add your own observations through the comments!

Why make your own mistakes if you can learn from other's cautionary tales?  These tips are offered by those who have been married over 25 years and still appear to like each other!:
  • Go ahead and go to bed angry.  Most do not subscribe to the never-go-to-bed-angry theory. Arguing late into the night when you're both tired and annoyed does not provide a good outcome.  Sleep on it, hit it fresh the next day when you've both had time to calm down. Better yet, schedule a time to discuss the subject when you are free from distractions.
  • Be as nice to each other as you are to your friends.  When our kids were little, we noticed that they often saved their worst behavior for us.  Babysitters and Grandparents would report that they were polite and played well together; it was like someone switched children in the car on the way home.  Before you neglect to say "please" and "thank you" to a spouse, think about how you would speak to one of your friends.  It's okay to be on your best behavior at home.
  • Honesty is overrated.  Your spouse doesn't need to know every thought in your head.  Before you over-share or give an honest response to a no-win question, think about whether it will help or hurt the relationship.  (Example, "does this dress make my butt look big?"....)
  • Learn to fight constructively.  Many studies have found that couples who fight well have happier marriages. There are healthy alternatives to screaming, guilt and the Silent Treatment.
  • Think before you speak.  Take a breath before you say something you can't take back.  You can't un-hear things.
  • Being/staying in love is a decision.  The heart wants what the heart wants; we can't control who we love:  many call bullshit on this.  Studies have shown that there are scientific reasons why we love who we love.  While there are no definitive answers as to whether being in love is a decision rather than a compulsion, we can certainly choose to behave lovingly toward our spouse.  Choose to focus on the positive rather than the negative.
  • You can't change anyone.  The same things that piss you off while you're dating will piss you off 30 years later.  Make sure these things are not deal breakers.
Marriage is not for amateurs.  People often debate whether marriage is work, whether marriage shouldn't feel like work and what makes a marriage work or not work.  There does not appear to be a magic bullet. Every year will not be a great year - the secret seems to be in knowing how to course-correct or how long to wait for things get better. One of my favorite quotes about perseverance is, "Winners never quit and quitters never win...but those who never win AND never quit are idiots".  Even those who are amicably divorced describe it as the worst thing they ever experienced.  How do you decide whether you should stick with it?  The truth is that there are some couples that really shouldn't stay married. Above all, it's abundantly clear that no one can know what's going on in anyone else's there's no way to judge, even if you're so inclined.

I believe that our son and his fiancĂ© are well-suited to each other and wish them a lifetime of happiness - even while knowing that every moment will not be bliss.  In that case, I wish them a version of serenity:  patience to accept the things that they'll find out they cannot change about each other, courage to change what they can change in their own behavior or situation and wisdom to always give each other the benefit of the doubt - and to know that their families love them very much and are here to support them (emotionally, not financially.  Let's not get crazy.)