June 30, 2006
Can a Chick-Lit Movie Empower Workers?
You might remember a short while ago when Monster ran its Toxic Boss Contest to allow folks to vent about their manipulative, inappropriate and micromanaging supervisors. The overwhelming response to the contest hinted at a possible boss/report communication gap, which Monster currently addresses by getting people talking and offering advice. But a recent MSNBC article hints at another possible remedy: Going to the movies.
The article examines the potential morale boost admin/support workers might get out of watching The Devil Wears Prada, which opens today. While the film is based on a chick-lit novel, it features a dysfunctional boss-report relationship that might hit an emotional chord with some viewers -- the kind of “admins unite!” empathy that could potentially empower assistants just starting out and perhaps faced with a similar work situation (read: Naomi Campbell’s assistants).
It will be interesting to find out if the film will in fact enact a wave of change. Perhaps bad bosses will be a little more conscious of their negative effect – and their reports will start learning how to approach the subject.
June 29, 2006
The Intangible Economy
Did you know that we are currently living in a period defined as the Intangible Economy? I have to say, I had no idea. According to Wikipedia, this current period began in 2002. Preceding it was the Knowledge Economy (1991-2002), and before that was the Information Age (arguably 1971-1991).
I have to confess: The Information Age and the Knowledge Economy intuitively make sense to me. But on reading we are currently in the Intangible Economy, I felt the whole concept was, well, sort of, kind of, intangible to me.
According to Wikipedia,
In the Intangible Economy, four factors of production -- knowledge, collaboration, process-engagement and time quality -- are the resources from which economic activity and competitive advantage are primarily derived.
Being a child of the Information Age, I researched the Internet for greater insight. The answer, I knew, having lived through the Knowledge Economy, was worth pursuing, at least for the inherent value of knowledge itself.
Now, it so happened that my investigation occurred on a day when I was feeling somewhat down in the mouth about the current state of information. CNN’s domestic operations had reported they were doubling down on straight reporting and increasingly skewing their “news” with unabashed opinion. MSNBC had appointed a new person in charge of operations, the first of potentially many changes in a highly competitive and, it seemed, ever-shrinking market for hard news. Demand for celebrity gossip, meanwhile, was hitting new highs.
What was seemingly paradoxical, however, were the same-day reports that online advertising was skyrocketing on the back of rising demand for -- you guessed it -- information! Granted, this information was being tailored to specific interests, like information on hybrid cars for the environmentally minded consumer or property market valuations for the home buyer, and it was being provided not only by journalists, but also by advertisers, marketers and even consumers themselves. But growing it was.
Then, it hit me: What was changing in this new Intangible Age was not demand but delivery. Information was becoming both more vertical and more horizontal, and forward-thinking companies were positioning themselves to exploit that development by thinking more collaboratively and synergistically about content and its delivery.
Yes, I thought, maybe that’s what European Charles Goldfinger was getting at when he coined the phrase “the Intangible Economy.”
The defining trend of the modern economy is the shift to the intangible. The economic landscape is no longer molded by physical flows of material goods and products, but by intangible streams of data, images and symbols. The source of economic value and wealth is no longer the production of material goods, but the creation and manipulation of dematerialized content.
So, in this new age, the challenge for all of us, it seems, will be to create and manipulate dematerialized content in a way that’s relevant to us. Let’s just hope as we push ourselves to think in broader terms about how to create and manipulate content, we also push ourselves to think in broader ways about what’s relevant to us.
June 28, 2006
Five Etiquette Commandments for Contractors
It soon will be Independence Day, and the epitome of the independent worker is the contractor -- he who has forged out on his own to essentially work for himself.
But just because you don’t technically work for another person doesn’t mean you’re immune from business etiquette. Based on my dealings with contractors and freelancers (and having worked as the latter myself in another life), here are five commandments to memorize:
1. Thou Shalt Not Be Overly Pushy: You need to drum up business, but you don’t want to annoy those who can give it to you. Consider all requests for work and dealings with clients through their perspective: Are you being a nag? Wasting their time? Do you need a lot of hand-holding? On a similar note, be someone you’d like to work with. Please and thank you go a long way.
2. Thou Shalt Underpromise and Overdeliver: You’ve heard it before, but it’s doubly true when you’re working for yourself. Competition is stiff, and if you overpromise and underdeliver, you’ll lose out to those who can wow the client. Best to minimize superlatives -- until after you’ve delivered. This is triply true on your first assignment, when you’re trying to make that all-important first impression.
3. Thou Shalt Get to Know Thy Client’s Business and Be Proactive in Thy Approach: Your clients are busy, and it’s always appreciated when someone else is generating potential ideas. It’s ultimately better for your bottom line, too.
4. Thou Shalt Be Flexible with Thy Time: If you become the person your client can rely on when he needs something done quickly and correctly, guaranteed you will make a nice income from that client. Conversely, don’t take on work if you can’t do it.
5. Thou Shalt Stay in Touch: Don’t disappear once you’ve delivered the goods. Maybe I have a question on your work. Perhaps I’m on deadline and need a quick answer. Maybe you misunderstood what you were supposed to do -- or maybe I did. Keep the lines of communication open -- before and after you’ve completed your work.
Check out our look at the current state of free agency. And for more on the contract life, there’s Monster Contract & Temporary.
Happy Fourth of July!
June 27, 2006
Nothing Like It in the World
Warren Buffett's announcement that he's giving the majority of his fortune in Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation highlights an extraordinary moment for both capitalism and charitable giving.
The Oracle of Omaha, as Buffett is known, built his $37 billion fortune over the last 40-some years, all the while based in decidedly untrendy Omaha, Nebraska.
But Omaha wasn't always untrendy. Indeed, it was the trendiest spot in the country during the decade of the 1860s as the place where the eastern end of the great transcontinental railroad began. I have been reading popular historian Steven Ambrose's history of how the transcontinental railroad got built, Nothing Like It in the World, and it seems somehow fitting that such an enormous bequest, from a man with such a down-to-earth reputation, should be connected -- if only by geography -- to one of the greatest business ventures ever attempted.
Some may fault Ambrose's enthusiastic (and occasionally borrowed) prose, but it's an understandable quirk when writing about something that was as astonishing, in its day, as the moon landing. Indeed, completion of those two events is separated in time by just 100 years, two months and one day. At the time, although it was not called nor directly funded as one, building the Union Pacific, or eastern, end of the railroad west across the plains and Rockies was a crucial post-Civil War public works project, providing employment for tens of thousands of newly discharged and unemployed veterans from both the North and South. It's also worth noting that the Central Pacific, building east from Sacramento across the Sierra Nevada mountains, came to depend upon and celebrate their workforce of recently arrived Chinese immigrants despite great initial skepticism.
Ambrose and other historians of business make the point that building and running railroads across the United States necessitated the creation of the first modern business organizations, with layers of management, delegated responsibilities, public stock ownership and many of the other attributes of modern work life. The railroads even helped spawn modern philanthropy -- Andrew Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth" had its origins in the millions of dollars of steel rails purchased to build America.
What Buffett's and the Gates' extraordinary resources will accomplish in the service of philanthropy is still a question. But it's worth acknowledging that, in an era of unprecedented greed and mistrust of business leaders, there can also be great generosity. Truly, nothing like it in the world.
Those of us with fewer resources can engage in philanthropy too. Learn more about volunteer and nonprofit opportunities at work:
- "A Brief History of the Nonprofit Sector"
- "Find the Right Volunteering Opportunity"
- "Giving Is Good Business"
- "How to Balance Volunteering and Work"
- "Myths and Realities of Nonprofit Work"
June 26, 2006
What Work Superpower Would You Want?
This weekend, Click topped the box office. I haven’t seen the movie yet (kind of hard with a 5-month-old at home), but I have seen the commercials. When I see Adam Sandler rewinding his life to locate his and his love’s song, I get jealous.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a remote control for your life, or even just work? You could fast-forward through boring meetings or rewind to make sure you have all the details of what your boss asked you to do.
This got me thinking about other superpowers that could really come in handy at work. Super-speed abilities would always be great -- anything to find more time in the day. And intense hearing capabilities would be perfect for keeping you in the know and would make you queen of the office grapevine.
What other superpowers would you want? Is the capacity to earn millions of dollars a minute really a power?
As you contemplate this, beware. Do you remember Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty? He used his God-like powers to create news stories to boost his career, and that resulted in turmoil around the world.
For me, I’d go with something pretty safe, like the ability to beam myself wherever I needed to be. Boy, would that make my commute better.
June 23, 2006
I just read an interesting article in this week’s Time magazine that reflected on the fact that the concept of a vacation has really grown foreign to Americans. Think about it: Who allowed the working vacation to seep into our culture? And what about those itineraries we put together to project-manage the vacations that don’t include work? Reading the article, I realized something: I haven’t been on vacation for almost a year, and I haven’t even yet taken a day off this year. And it’s not that Monster doesn’t give me ample time off. Here’s the article’s explanation:
One of the top reasons given for not taking a vacation is that it's too much extra work. We have to get ahead of our workload in order to leave, and then we have to catch up on our workload upon our return. The longer the vacation we take, the bigger the stumbling blocks appear. So only 14 percent of Americans will take a vacation two weeks or longer this summer. Bottom line: It's simply become too stressful to relax.
So what’s the popular formula for sneaking out without getting stressed? The Friday/Monday getaway. Folks are opting for this kind of snippet of vacation -- the holiday to go. I guess I should at least take one of those soon, eh? How do you balance your vacation and work? For more on this topic, check out these resources:
June 22, 2006
Ten years ago, when I was working in radio, I used to email story notes to the producer who ran the morning shift. These were innocuous but essential. They included which stories had holes, which needed to be killed and which needed following up. My French was more conversant then, and for some strange reason -- perhaps because my colleague’s French was fluent or because we were working abroad -- we sometimes threw in the odd French sentence. I never thought anything of it. But one day, my boss approached me saying, “So, you like to write in French.”
I’m not sure why my boss was reading my email or why he alerted me to it. But it turns out he’s not alone. More than a third of American companies with 1,000 or more workers say they employ people to read through employees’ outbound email, according to a recent survey (registration required) by Forrester Consulting for Proofpoint, a maker of email security products. Leaked trade secrets, improperly disclosed financial information and illegally released health records are high on their search list.
This is not groundbreaking news. Last year, Maya blogged about an American Marketing Association’s (AMA) 2005 Survey on company use of technology to monitor employee communication. The survey came up with similar, if not slightly higher, figures on employee email searches.
What did strike me is the number of terminations resulting from these audits. The AMA survey said some 25 percent of the more than 500 companies surveyed had terminated employees for email misuse. The Forrester Consulting Survey of just under 300 email decision makers said that in the past 12 months, about 31 percent of US companies had done the same, and some 52 percent had taken disciplinary action.
I know you can’t be too careful when it comes to email. But I also can’t help but wonder if at some point the tables might turn, and workers’ privacy rights might start coming more into play.
In the meantime, I’ve decided to stick to my own email policy of providing few people with my work address and being very discriminating in what I send out. I also might have to take up a new language, perhaps one from a remote area of Siberia. Ket, anyone?
June 21, 2006
Whatever Your Type, Make Sure You’re Nice at Work
Last week, Elizabeth talked about Monster’s new JASPERTM online test, which revealed she is an Advocate. On the urging of our VP, I too took the test, which told me I am a Thinker. It also revealed that I’m passionate, have strong organizational skills, an empowering leadership style and an independent work style. Pretty accurate, I think.
I’ve written about how personality is essential to success at work, and part of that success is how you fit into the hierarchy. When we interviewed candidates for Elizabeth’s job, we asked each one what role they tended to play in a group. At the same time, all roles have their place in the greater whole. As my mom always told me, the world needs both leaders and followers.
But no matter what your office personality type, one universal truth is likeability. If your coworkers and boss think highly of you, your job will be easier all around. Indeed, this Newsweek article preaches the gospel of being nice, as did Thad awhile back.
So whatever your JASPER, Myers-Briggs or other such test score, being someone you’d like to work with is just as important -- if not more so.
Still not convinced nice is necessary? Check out these resources:
June 20, 2006
The Role of the Company Legend
Last week, Bill Gates announced he will be retiring from Microsoft in 2008 to focus on the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the blogosphere and elsewhere, this has generated a lot of commentary among the digerati and techno-chattering classes.
Not surprisingly, opinions differ on the impact his departure from day-to-day operations at Microsoft will have on the company and the tech industry in general. Some think it's a great thing; others bewail his departure as the end of the driving force behind Microsoft's decade-plus of computer desktop dominance. Trust me on this -- Microsoft and the tech industry will survive the departure of a legend of even Gates's stature.
That's not to say company legends don't have their place. It's something I think about coming to work at Monster every day, where founder Jeff Taylor has achieved the status of legend within this company. And our very offices pay indirect homage to another legend -- Kenneth Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) -- who took over a nearly abandoned textile mill and turned it into DEC's headquarters, in the process remodeling most of the mill complex into the modern, open office spaces where I work today.
Most organizations have a legend or two in their past, a founder or someone who pulled the firm back from the brink of some disaster or other. Not everyone gets the opportunity to be a legend in such a dramatic way, but I think almost everyone can be a legend in a small way, if they choose to. No, I'm not talking about a blunder that will keep your name alive around the watercooler for weeks. Smaller legends are created from continuing acts of kindness, hard work and support for common objectives. That's the kind of legend I'd like to create.
What sort of legend will you create for yourself? Here are some tips on building the right kind:
June 19, 2006
Where Does Work Ethic Come From?
Every Sunday evening is a mad dash in my household. My husband and I are trying to get everything done so we’ll be able to start the week. Taking out the garbage, making lunches, prepping for weeknight dinners, cleaning the litter box and folding the laundry are some of the night’s tasks.
Last night, some time around cutting cucumbers for our lunch salads and emptying the kitchen trash, my husband said to our 4½-month-old son: “When you’re a little older you can help us with these chores. I’ll say, ‘Son, can you take out the trash?’ And you’ll do it. And it will be really important, because you’ll grow up with a good work ethic.”
This made me wonder: Where does work ethic come from? I looked on Google, and couldn’t find which experiences could be pinpointed as shaping your work ethic.
According to some Monster members, it does seem that work ethic is tied to what their fathers did and said. My dad, now retired, was a pharmacist. And some of my earliest memories were of visiting him at work. I loved sitting on the stool he used in the pharmacy and getting my grape-flavored vitamins from him. He had to work long days and would wake me up when he got home to be sure I got to see and spend some time with him. I’m sure his actions affect how I feel about work and family today.
What is your work ethic like? Do you know where it comes from?