Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Career Management with LinkedIn

When I use the term career management, I use it in the sense of taking some control over your career instead of careering from job to job, allowing your job to control you. There will always be situations you can't control but your response to something like a layoff helps shape the kind of future that results.

If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there. ~ Lewis Carroll

Even though I intend for this to be about using LinkedIn to manage your career, there are other tools out there too, no tool in the world will be of much service to you if you don't know what it is that you're trying to accomplish.

Here's one important key you'll get from me over and over again - just like you have to want to know what you want from your career in order to not waste your time on a job that doesn't suit you, you also have to know what you want from LinkedIn (or any other social media tool, or any other tool for that matter) so that you don't waste your time in the great black hole of the internet.

Personally, that not wasting time on the internet is a regular battle for me and one I don't always win, but that's how I know how important it is. The only way I know how to win that battle is to determine ahead of time which tasks will support reaching your goal and how much time to set aside for each task - "however long it takes" is usually not the best answer. Face it, there is always too much to do. Make the time allocation a matter of priorities and degree of confidence that time spent on the task will yield the results you're after and you'll probably be on target.

What is it, in general terms, that you want from LinkedIn? I happen to think that in addition to building your network,, it's good for increasing visibility within that network and also beyond it. Used properly, LinkedIn can be even better at establishing and improving credibility. You can also use LinkedIn as a great research tool when you've identified a certain kind of role and/or a have targeted a specific company. Use it for finding out more about companies and hiring managers, determining what skills are needed for certain roles, and figuring out what options are available out there.

So - you've identified your over-arching goal (and it's one you can control, right? If not, we need to talk coming up with a better goal) and determined that a certain amount of time on LinkedIn is likely to help you reach that goal. Here are some of my thoughts about how you can make the most of LinkedIn:

  • First the obvious - scour LinkedIn for people you know and respect and who respect you back and get connected with them. I happen to be in the quality over quantity camp (ask yourself if a LinkedIn connection could be mutually beneficial), but you decide what works best for you. If you're just starting out, expect a certain addiction to the excitement that comes with finding new people to add to your network. If you've been on LinkedIn for a while, don't forget to incorporate finding new people who may have joined and inviting people you want to be in your network as part of your ongoing maintenance program.

  • If you're still employed, build your network now, before you need it. If you're recently unemployed, start adding people while your skills are fresh on their minds. If you've been unemployed for a while, this is a great time to build up your network by letting people know what you've been up to. Just remember that even if you have lots of extra time on your hands, they still have a lot to do, so keep your requests short, simple, and to the point.

  • Don't overlook the usefulness of becoming connected with friends and family, even if they don't work in the same industry as you. Frankly, you never know what they know. Similarly, don't limit yourself to regional contacts, even if your work is primarily regional. If someone from out of the area (so is knowledgeable and highly respected without being a direct competitor) can say good things about you, sometimes that is the very best recommendation available.

  • Speaking of recommendations, make recommendations for people in your network and be sure to show your thoughtful and analytical side when you do. Not only are they more likely to say something nice about you in return, know that the recommendations that you make tend to say as much about you and your thought processes as they say about the person you're recommending.

  • If you haven't started an ongoing maintenance program yet, do so now. Identify tasks (from this list of tips, if that helps) that you'll do on a regular basis - once a week, once a month, once a year, whatever makes sense - and then stick to that schedule as much as possible. If you fall off, just start back up again wherever you left off.

  • Part of your maintenance program should include periodically re-vamping your Summary and/or your employment history. You can refine what you've written and make it better, or just change it out a bit to keep it fresh. Either way, your network is notified that you've made changes, so it puts your name out there in front of them again.

  • If someone who is in a position to write favorably about your work hasn't made a recommendation yet, don't be shy about asking. The thought simply may not have occurred to them. Let them use their own words, but feel free to share what specific aspects of your work you'd like for them to comment on.

  • You can share up to three URL's - choose wisely which ones to use to represent you. You can label each of them with more user- (and SEO-) friendly names by choosing 'Other' for the type of website.

  • Consider using your LinkedIn status update and TinyURL or or some similar URL-shortening service to share out useful information that is distributed to your network. This way you're being helpful and they're seeing your name again.

  • Link your blog to LinkedIn and members of your network will be able to see your latest post(s) if they have that service turned on. If you have that service enabled yourself, it gives you something to use as a prompt to reach out and connect with the people in your network.

  • Status updates are great for maintaining a passive connection with people but make sure you also use LinkedIn in an active way too. I find it easy to reach out and say hi to past co-workers via LinkedIn messaging on a regular basis or simply watching everyone else's status updates and blog posts for interesting news items on which I can comment.

  • You can also become more actively engaged with your network by finding and joining alumni groups (both schools and workplaces) and other groups created around topic areas relevant to your job search and participating in discussions so that you get to know the other people in the group better and they get to know you. Be yourself, just remember to be your best self and you're likely to do well. Pay special attention to discussion topics where you can be of service to others. I nearly suggested 'where you can show off what you know' but frankly, that's just more likely to make you look like a blowhard. Stick with being in service to others and you'll be much better off.

  • Use the Q&A function in LinkedIn to find additional ways you can be of service to others and look for opportunities to provide even more information (so long as it's relevant) than what was actually requested. The person needing help can rate your answer so it's worthwhile to be as helpful as possible.

  • In all cases (Q&A, discussion groups, status updates, etc) remember to mind your manners. Treat it like a lunch meeting and ask yourself if you'd conduct yourself that way during either the formal or the informal portion of an in-person interview.

  • Use LinkedIn to research skills needed to be successful in a role and/or to ask questions of people who can help educate you further in that respect. This is a great way to identify where you might need to update skills and/or education.

  • Search on specialized terms to find out more about a particular kind of position or to find relevant job postings

  • Use LinkedIn to find out more about a company (indirectly from the information available on LinkedIn or more directly from people you can contact that way) and/or a potential boss. Remember that network you've been growing? This is a great time to tap into it for information and (when the timing is right) for introductions.

  • When researching companies, check to see which companies are related via common career paths. This can tell you a lot about the company, suggest additional opportunities and help you find more networking footholds. Compare job titles, check out top schools, and take note of the demographics information for more clues. If it's a company you'd like to consider approaching for work, check out the variety of job openings they have posted as well as the recent changes, new hires, and newsworthy updates that show up. Any of these can help you figure out a way in.

  • Prepare for interviews by ensuring you're up-to-date on terminology and buzzwords, current thinking and concepts, and personnel movement within your industry. Use the discussion topics and Q&A section to keep your own knowledge and thinking fresh, regardless of whether you participate yourself. If you need some remedial help, you can keep it confidential by asking questions privately. You can search for people using a variety of parameters, including title, current and historic company associations, keywords for skills or experience, promotion time-frames, location, etc.

  • Use your imagination to think of other ways of conducting research or engaging with people that might be beneficial to you. The sky is pretty well the limit.
No matter how you're using LinkedIn, it's a good idea to actively manage the process and take the position that you get what you give. You can show yourself to be helpful here too by sharing any of your own favorite LinkedIn tips and tricks. I'm also happy to answer questions that show up in the comments in the event I've left out any important suggestions or you need help creating the results you want.

What connection or disconnect do you see between how you show up and what results you see?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Convergence - TechFlash, SXSW & Women

In thinking about the issues raised at the TechFlash Women in Tech event this past week, it occurs to me that entrepreneurship that starts in the kitchen instead of the garage might be part of the solution in any effort to get more women involved in technology.

The notion that Mompreneurship is a great idea has occurred to me before - and I'm not the only one thinking this. Maya Bisineer (also known as @thinkmaya on Twitter) apparently is planning to convene a SXSW panel on the new CIO/CEO Mom, something I'm even more excited to see happen now that I understand how important it is to tap into all that talent somehow.

Although I actually found out about the SXSW panel over the summer, I'd forgotten all about it until today. In a fortuitous bit of serendipity this afternoon, I happened to run across a tweet from @thinkmaya announcing her intentions - I'd been saving it all this time so it was there when I went back to check a couple of tweets I'd favorited over the past couple of days. How handy is that?

If you have thoughts about how Mompreneurs can help achieve greater gender balance in the tech industry, I'm interested to hear them. I'd be just as interested to know if you think there is more harm than help in going down that path.

In what ways is past information relevant again regarding current events?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Emerging Commitment

Wednesday evening's TechFlash Women in Tech event didn't just shake up my sense of self. It also gave me some facts and figures bolstering a view I've long held regarding the value and importance of gender equality. My perspective is simple and boils down to wanting to maximize value more than caring that much about fairness. Tough girls can hack it and find a way to fit in - I did - but when it's a matter of a system that's sub-optimized, I'm more motivated to want to get in and fix it at that systemic level rather than rely on one-off solutions.

What emerged from that event was a picture that my rather passionate sense of the problems in gender inequality developed over the past 40 years is not wrong. There is indeed a system sub-optimization problem worth addressing. Some of the figures quoted that stood out to me:

  • The majority of patents evaluated as highly innovative came from mixed gender teams but only 9% of technology patents have female contributors. Implied conclusion: get more women involved and you're likely to see more innovation.

  • Women typically get 30% less than men in venture capitol funding but maintain similar output to their better-funded counterparts. Implied conclusion: get more for your money when investing in women because often they really have learned how to do more with less.

  • Women are primary wage-earners in 4 out of 10 families but only 5% of tech startups are women-owned/led. Implied conclusion: Women are capable of doing the work; families and the tech sector would both benefit from increased contributions from women.

  • Although women make up about half the general workforce, women make up only 24% of tech; in 1985, 37% of computer science majors were female, now it's down to 17%. Implied conclusion: instead of growing the numbers of women in tech, their ranks are actually shrinking; given the other stats, this is "key talent de-selecting itself and not coming to the table."

  • Only 16% of Fortune 500 companies have women on their boards. Implied conclusions: not only do the numbers of women shrink in the higher ranks, there is a de-motivating effect on all women in tech/business because there are fewer role models and the system is again missing out on key perspectives.
And this was all just from the TechFlash event. I learned today that apparently the World Bank is of a similar mind, but from the perspective of poverty, that there is an economic advantage to investing in girls.

In my mind, these numbers paint a scary picture - fewer and fewer women in a key business sector that doesn't necessarily stop to consider the value they provide so doesn't miss them when they're gone. With fewer women available as role models, fewer girls and young women even stop to think of going into tech. With fewer women in the ranks of tech workers and no one else motivated enough to bring them into the fold, policies and attitudes that make tech a less attractive option to women remain in place and so they simply make other choices about the work they do. And the cycle continues to devolve in that way.

Considering what these numbers really mean, I can only conclude that it is in everyone's best interests - male and female, families and individuals, tech sector and general economy - for us to work together to find a way to bring more women into science and technology. It's not about devaluing men's contributions. It's not about playing the gender card or whining about what's fair (my personal favorite anti-feminism beef). It is simply about what is best for us as a society.

These numbers tell me that our system is more seriously broken than I'd realized, that we have reached a point somewhere along the way when it started to get worse instead of better. While not perfect, the laws and larger policies seem to me to be generally good enough so that's not the biggest problem right now. Where we're falling down is in day-to-day culture and implementation of those policies and in the choices that we each make. And when I stop to think about who is in a position to start to get that part fixed, I see a couple of obvious answers outright.

The first answer is we are all responsible for doing something about this collectively.

Men - find ways to listen to the challenges that women face in tech and help eliminate them, sometimes (perhaps) by taking them on as your own.

Women - don't give up on yourselves just because there are easier options available. Toughen up and do the hard work for yourselves and other younger women to follow and find a way to make women in tech a more, rather than less, common occurrence. Not everyone enjoys being a pioneer, but someone's got to do it or the path is never carved out for others to follow. We had one started and we let it get grown over.

Men and women both - encourage and support women of all ages to think of becoming involved in tech; be creative, it's not all just about the programming. It's about being cutting edge and changing the world, hopefully for the better. That last part is something a lot of women can get behind so it shouldn't be a tough sell. Remember to mentor individual women and also to actively advocate for their individual and collective success.

The second answer was a bit of a gulp for me. Between feeling I had so little in common with women for so many years, especially seeing so many of them not really push themselves to their true capacity, and feeling more drawn to men because it was easier for me to see what we had in common, it never really occurred to me to be that involved in advocating for women. And I say this as a person who has openly asserted how stupid many of our attitudes and policies are when it comes to women.

It wasn't that I thought I was better than other women; it was more (I believe now - I'm still trying to figure it all out) that I didn't realize just much of an impact the advantages I enjoyed (familial support, a genetic predisposition to stubbornness, and an unequivocal sense in key areas of my ability to provide value) really had in influencing my choices as opposed to the choices made by other women. I realize now that while I am indeed different from a lot of women, I am not, in fact entirely alone amongst my gender in those differences. Compared with that subset, the real difference is that the challenges I found difficult might seem insurmountable to others - or not worth the effort. Tough as it is to admit, this thought really hadn't occurred to me.

What I truly did not realize fully was just how troublesome it is that the women who could be doing this work, aren't. And in coming to these realizations, gulps and all, knowing my own experiences - both successful and not so much - with playing in a variety of male-dominated fields, knowing my sense of history and understanding of the playing field (as it was, is, and might be), and knowing I have the coaching skills and the leadership skills, and the general business skills to do it... I can only conclude one thing: that I too am not only capable of directly influencing the short-term and long-term outcomes with regard to women in tech, but that I have an outright responsibility to do so.

That said, I have practically zero clue at this point exactly what that looks like. I only know I have to be involved in some way. First and foremost, it occurs to me that it is important to recognize that responsibility in my sense of mission regarding what I'm trying to accomplish with my business. That means actively seeking to support women and women-owned businesses in tech with my coaching and my consulting. It means making it more clear how I can help.

I also sense an importance in figuring out how I can help younger girls when they are first electing to move toward or away from tech, even though I have a son instead of a daughter. On that front, if you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them. One of things I like about being female is an increased willingness to take the crowdsourcing approach.

Feel free to also enter into dialog on the matter. Your own thoughts and observations, suggestions and conclusions. This is a big one and we'll all have to get behind it to be able to move the ball in any significant way. As they say, though, awareness is the first step.

What conclusions can you draw from the evidence around you about what responsibilities you now (or no longer) have?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Epiphany - Appreciating Women

One of my defining characteristics over the years was shattered while attending the TechFlash Women in Tech event last night and so today, I'm working on picking up the pieces and figuring out what to do with them all now. This happens a lot in the coaching work that I do, usually with other people - my clients - and now today, it's me. It's resulted in an epiphany that affects my business and, with any luck, perhaps our society as well. At least that's my intention.

Because of my interests in things like cars and airplanes, computers and technology, radios and electronics, leadership and business success, and science of both the fact and the fiction variety, I have had a lot more in common throughout the years with men than I have had with most women. I identified with men because we shared more interests and because of that, I tended to gravitate more towards them than towards women.

Early on in my life, this became a defining characteristic of who I am as a person. To illustrate, my first comment that I made over the fence to my neighborhood friends (boys) to describe the person I'd become best friends with for many years to come was, "I don't know who she is - some dumb girl!"

As much as I often felt an outsider in the world at large, it was never more true in my younger life than with my own gender. Romantic relationships with guys was tough enough, but I stopped seeking female friendships altogether. Even today there are men who are better at nurturing relationships than I am. It's probably not a stretch to suggest that most men are better at cooking than I am because at least they feel a drive to eat.

By the time I reached college, I began to have some clues that I didn't have to form friendships only with men. While there were only a handful of us in the aviation program at Big Bend Community College, I was not the only woman. Each of us was different, but we did share the sorts of commonalities out of which friendships are born - we were each driven by a love of flying and a desire to succeed that was larger than the obstacles in front of us.

But by then, the damage had been done. Whatever drives most women to seek out female companionship had been chased out of me. I hardly ever bothered to try and when I did, I didn't know how it worked. Ultimately, finding other women in the workplace who had similar interests and faced issues similar to mine made me realize I might be missing out on something by continuing to gravitate primarily toward men.

The true shift came when I was pregnant, a state that goes to the heart of what it means to be a woman and raises all sorts of issues we might otherwise ignore or never face. I was fortunate enough then to be introduced to an electronic global village of women all expecting babies at the same time - a cohort which I have deeply appreciated throughout the years, for we're all at least a little geeky (who else would have been looking for community via computer in the mid 90's!) in addition to being a caring group of women who work hard enough to appreciate and see past our differences that we are able to celebrate each other as individuals and the commonalities we do share.

Still, I continued to describe myself as a person more comfortable with male friendships than women friends - and it showed in how I thought of my business, despite the fact that I attract marginally more female clients than men. My epiphany last night, as I sat in a ballroom filled to capacity with inspirational women, was that this concept of myself was derived mostly out of habit at this point than out of any real truth. This is not to say that I don't still appreciate men or understand them - I know that won't ever go away. But there's something to be said for fully embracing a world of successful women in ways I hadn't bothered to consider before now.

There is more I have to say on this subject - much more. What it all means to me, and about me and my business. What is so important about being inspired by other geeky women and what I want to do about that. I have thoughts and opinions on the matter of women in business in general and in technology in particular that I've only shared bits and pieces of in the past. I feel like it's time to open up that dialog and see where it takes us.

For now though, I want to begin the process of assimilating these thoughts and while that will involve some talking (writing), it also means quiet, and listening - a 'feminine' skill I have managed to learn in more recent years and for which I am grateful. So, expect to see more on this subject - and feel free to enter into the dialog.

What possibilities open up by giving up long-cherished beliefs about yourself?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

ICF Credentialing Process Overhaul

The ICF is considering a major overhaul of the existing credentialing system. Since I feel like I know a thing or two about credentialing because of my years in aviation and a thing or two about coaching because of my time serving on the local board of directors, as well as a thing or two about the current regulatory environment because of my involvement in local legislation impacting counseling and my participation on the ICF Regulatory Committee, I took the time to think carefully about how I feel about this effort.

The following letter that I sent to the credentialing committee is the result of my thinking on the matter. I share it with you now because there are coaches out there discussing this subject who might benefit from some of these thoughts, only if it's to help clarify their own, and there are potential coaching clients who would be well-served to understand more about what is happening in this industry.

Please feel free to comment as you see fit. My intention is to help open up discussion. I have no day-to-day dealing with the ICF credentialing committee, however, so if you want to reach them, you should do so more directly.

I am writing with my thoughts about the proposed credentialing changes as an ICF member holding an ACC credential and as a former chapter president and member of the ICF Regulatory Committee... deep analytical skills in this arena, experience in dealing with this matter at a regulatory level, and the farthest thing possible from being any kind of reactionary on the subject.

I have read all of the materials I can locate on the ICF website pertaining to the proposed credentialing changes and also have scanned through various external letters and discussions on the subject. Last week, I sat in on the October 20 open conference call on the proposed credentialing changes, during which two basic questions were asked which I’ll attempt to answer here: First reaction to the proposal (how does it sit) and what should be considered.

My first reaction is to stand back and pay attention to the landscape because I don’t feel sufficiently confident that enough other people are doing so, either on the planning side of things or on the feedback side. Sensing a great deal of confusion and a huge amount of emotion surrounding this effort, I’d like very much to cut through as much of that as possible and look at this opportunity to update the credentialing standards and the process through which we achieve our credentials as objectively as possible.

The general landscape I see as worthy of consideration while undertaking further planning includes the following:

People are calling themselves coaches without doing what the ICF considers coaching. People are calling themselves coaches who may be doing coaching, but not necessarily well or with any kind of coach training; still others are engaged in what might be recognized as coaching but calling it something else altogether. Fact and entertainment-based media are increasingly including references to coaching – often in a facetious manner that does not reflect well on coaching and not always referencing activities the ICF would recognize as coaching.

Meanwhile, individuals with coach training often identify themselves with the fields in which they specialize much more so than with the field of coaching itself. Some of them have even given up calling themselves coaches, finding it more helpful to refer to what they do using anything but the confusion-laden term coaching. My individual assessment is that coaching as a term for a standalone industry made up of a standalone skill is in significant danger of becoming irrelevant. How credentialing is handled will either speed that process and essentially kill off the industry or revitalize the field by proving to ourselves and others that there really is a ‘there’ there – and hopefully the ‘there’ that’s there applies to more than just training and mentoring other coaches because if it’s not, then it’s just a pyramid scheme.

Assuming for a moment that there really is a legitimate ‘there’ there, I see two primary hurdles we must overcome. They’re not new, but so far, I’m not convinced we’re taking these considerations fully into account either in our individual day-to-day practices, in how our professional association is run, or in how we are approaching the credentialing process so far.

First, there is the barrier to entry issue. Anyone can lay claim to the title of coach, and many do both with and without training, with and without any significant meaning behind the use of the term especially in the context of activities engaged in that are unique to coaching. All too often those who are described in the media as coaches are not trained or credentialed as such. It should be telling that there are a number of trained and credentialed coaches who find it more advantageous to refer to themselves by other titles altogether. Any credentialing system or process that does not take this consideration into account is dooming the ‘profession’ to failure.

Second, there is the distinction between coaching and other similar helping professions such as therapy and counseling. Differentiating between coaching and therapy may not be altogether difficult, and in fact there are some distinctly useful parameters defined in recent Washington State legislation aimed at counseling credentialing that we may be able to use to our benefit. However, this same legislation written so as to protect the title of counselor was written so overbroad in doing so that it endangers our legal ability to distinguish coaching from counseling which is itself less distinguishable from therapy at this point in the State of Washington with the exception of the use of the title.

It is not enough that we see ourselves as different from these other professions. The public must understand the differences and governing bodies must be comfortable that there are differences and that we have safeguards in place to avoid putting the public at risk. When coaches begin getting into areas of ADD coaching, relationship coaching, health and wellness coaching, etc, the waters become much tougher to navigate and I believe we risk serious exposure, not just for the individual coaches involved but also for the industry as a whole. It is imperative that whatever credentialing system we espouse be created to specifically address this aspect as well.

The risk of these two issues coming together is both ubiquitous and severe. All it takes is one person calling himself or herself a coach, behaving inappropriately (or not - just a claim from someone unhappy or vindictive enough to lodge a complaint would be sufficient), and suddenly a state prosecutor with an axe to grind is out there re-interpreting language intended for something else to prove that this person was actually counseling or providing therapy without a license. Therapists might disagree with that claim and leave us well enough alone but the counselors in Washington State have already proven themselves a powerful force determined to protect their interests and it seems quite likely that this scenario is true well beyond the state of Washington. Many of these counselors are also coaches but that gives small comfort when you’re essentially talking about a political turf war.

Much as I personally desire and advocate remaining a self-regulated industry, it may be prudent to re-visit the advisability of some kind of state-level involvement. Perhaps a hybrid approach is sufficient, proving ourselves capable of self-regulation but sun-rising a protection of title legislation similar to that produced on behalf of counselors in Washington State. Whatever choices we make along those lines, our credentialing efforts must support those choices and help protect against any remaining risks.

In addition to these two primary points, I believe it is important that we not waste the past several years’ worth of tangible and intangible marketing capital (including time, energy, money, and public goodwill developed) expended in the process of promoting the existing ACC/PCC/MCC credentials. There is nothing wrong with these existing credentials that a little tweaking in definition, rigor in assessment, and some more public education can’t cure. I see this as a matter of significant refinement that’s needed more than complete re-architecting in terms of what the credentials are meant to signify. Let’s not squander the investments we’ve already made by completely abandoning an appellation just as it’s beginning to gain a foothold.

To those who have indicated that other professions have a single credentialing process so why not collapse our own, I disagree. There are some professions that do not compare directly with coaching that may; others do have active or de facto leveling indicators so it’s important to compare apples to apples when heading down this line of logic.

Aviation: multiple levels of credentialing with higher standards for the same activities with each higher level credential as well as increased expectations around new behaviors or knowledge at higher levels. Credentialing for subspecialties also exist. Don’t have to be a licensed pilot to be alone in an airplane, but do have to have proven basic level of skills and there are restrictions to what is allowed as a student pilot and also at other levels of certification – part of the certification process requires demonstrating knowledge about what is and is not allowed at that level. Excellent comparison because there is both fact-based information and knowledge assessments as well as skills-based behavior assessments. There was a time when aviation struggled to find appropriate assessment methods to get around assessor bias and otherwise deal with the ‘art’ of flying and we could probably learn a great deal about the behavior-based standards that emerged from that effort. In addition to encouragement of continuing education, there is also requirement for regular proof of currency in basic skills as well as regular re-assessment of standard skills.

Medicine: not an ideal comparison but consider US standards anyway, especially since this is the one that I’ve heard frequently (and, in my mind inappropriately) referred to as an example of a single credentialing system augmented with subspecialties – doctors move through the system as interns, residents, sometimes a fellowship, on their way to becoming attending physicians. Board certification comes at the latter stages, meaning they typically are calling themselves doctors before that – but not before completing their training and at least a year of internship-residency. So in a day-to-day sense, there really is some indication of levels of proficiency, even if it’s not directly related to board certification and even if the general public isn’t always aware of it.

Law: this is the closest to a single credential system profession but is the least useful in comparing to coaching, especially since when there are groups of attorneys there are still gradations of expertise evident. Yes, there is only a single bar exam to pass, but then most new attorneys join firms as an associate, having often worked first as a junior associate (summer clerk or summer associate) while still in law school. Only after proving their value to the firm do they become senior associates and then later equity partners or shareholders and then senior partners or shareholders. Granted, these distinctions are conferred based on value to the firm rather than necessarily value to the client but since the two are related, clients generally key off of them as well. Clients almost always know they’re trading cost for expertise when they are working with an associate as opposed to a partner or shareholder and they make those choices on purpose.

My assessment is that it is also imperative that we approach this matter in a way that brings coaches (as well as individuals who may not refer to themselves solely as coaches but nevertheless use coaching skills as a key element in achieving success) together rather than risk further fracturing us as a group. Already we have evidence-based coaching vs. intuitive-based coaching, business/executive coaching vs. personal/life coaching, and individuals who think of themselves more as facilitators of success in real estate or in high tech or in health care, etc than as coaches who specialize in those various niche markets. We don’t need further fracturing over credentialing – it would only create deeper rifts and potentially turn away the very people we’ve worked so hard to bring into the fold.

Furthermore, if we undermine the cohesiveness of our professional association in a legal environment that seems poised to tip one way or another with regard to the legal aspects of our industry, it could completely disrupt any successes we’ve achieved to date with the coaching appellation and in so doing, set up a downward spiral of waning support which breeds further lack of community around coaching which erodes support, etc – a disastrous end that personally, I’d like very much to avoid.

To that purpose, I advocate the following:
  • Yes, by all means, do use ISO as a framework to create the structure around one or more ICF credentials and market the heck out of doing so once we’ve got it all worked out how to best do this.
  • Stick with a three-tiered credentialing scheme – ideally keeping the existing names so that we do not squander our earlier investments; if only one level is ISO-compliant, so be it but all three serve a purpose and preserving the value of our existing investments is important.

    Keep a base-level credential similar to the existing ACC – make whatever changes you must to indicate a base level of training and performance that distinguishes ‘real’ coaches from those just calling themselves that and from bartenders and hairdressers who also listen for money… but just make sure to provide some barrier to entry that also clearly distinguishes coaching from counseling and therapy. Plenty of other professions provide for some restriction regarding oversight and/or allowable activities. Something along those lines might not be out of line here.

    Keep the PCC-level credential as the central ‘this is what it means to be truly professional’ standard but not the only credential. Again, revise as necessary to address the concerns identified but I see no need to do away with the existing credential altogether. Ideally, the shift in this credential in particular primarily would be one of process (how assessments are made) rather than content (which assessments are made).

    If significant changes are made, then there will be the matter of deciding what to do with coaches already possessing this credential. Rather than strict grandfathering or stripping of the credential altogether, I recommend transition time be granted to meet the newer standards, after which time they would no longer be eligible to continue using that credential – presumably it would still be an option to drop back to the ACC. If there are recurring basic-level assessments (as in aviation – pass the original assessments once, but regular re-assessment of basics), I would think it would be preferable to conduct assessments at the more basic ‘review’ level rather than full-on re-certification for such legacy credential-holders.

    Keep the MCC-level credential with or without sub-specialty designations. There is a real need to prove mastery although I believe it makes some sense that such mastery might be differentiated into distinct sub-specialties. Regardless of whether there are sub-specialty designations, it makes sense that mentor coaches and assessor coaches come from ranks of those determined to be operating at a mastery level. Similar issues regarding how to handle existing credential-holders exist here as for PCC, although if this credential is not created within the ISO framework, it seems it would be much easier to keep it largely ‘as-is’ and thereby minimize disruption. Further assessment of how this and the other credentials ‘should’ be handled is impossible without additional detail regarding what we’re specifically trying to accomplish.
  • Regardless of how credentialing is leveled, it is important to maintain some kind of portfolio approach for those who have the skills but not necessarily undergone significant formal coach training. It would of course be so much easier to say that the only way people know how to coach is to receive training but the truth is that it’s a bit more complicated than that. One of the few ways we know what we mean when we say that we’re coaching is through such training, but I’ve witnessed any number of people who take a coaching approach, often with a high degree of mastery, without having undergone formal training themselves. Let’s not unnecessarily fabricate hoops for such people to jump through – since we can’t prevent them from calling themselves coaches, let’s do what we can to make it easier for them to mean the same thing we do when they use the term while still having that meaning be a worthy distinction.
  • Incorporate GAF scores (General Assessment of Functioning) into the definition of coaching and training on appropriate use of this scale into coach-specific training and coach credentialing assessment. No coach designations or claim to title should be possible without having this most basic risk assessment function trained and assessed, along with basic ethics training and assessment as well.
  • Begin an outreach to those individuals who may already be ‘coaching’ and actively pursue getting them credentialed if they qualify, perhaps with a buddy program and/or mapping out the most efficient path for them to become credentialed. Just as damaging to coaching as an industry as individuals who call themselves coaches without any skills or training are those who are plenty successful and well-respected doing what they do (regardless of whether ICF would consider it coaching or not) and see no relevance whatsoever to being part of the ICF or its credentialing process. This only further dilutes the marketplace understanding of the term and makes ICF member coaches sound more like the also-ran wannabes than the other way around.
  • Step up the volume on existing educational campaigns. Regularly send out relevant press releases to local news media with lists of names of credentialed coaches they can contact for interviews or additional information. Some of the releases may be tied into our own efforts, some might be keyed into current water-cooler talk – like when Nip/Tuck features a coach in their plotline or a celebrity talks about hiring a coach, etc. As a professional association, initiate and make it easy for members to initiate conversations outside our own ranks about what it means to coach and the value of being credentialed – again, though, if there are others already successful who don’t see the relevance, we aren’t likely to get very far on that count.
These are my recommendations of elements to consider going forward. As a separate yet equally important matter, I’d also like to address the matter of communication during this process. My experience with both sides of communications around significant change are that those integrally involved feel like they’re communicating very well – even over-communicating – and those outside typically feel the polar opposite. Since I’m much less ‘in-the-know’ on this particular effort, I’ll share an outsider’s point of view regarding areas of concern specific to communication:

  • Please ensure that your message is both clear and consistent – on the October 20 call, coaches expressed concern over collapsing ICF coaching credentials to a single ISO-based credential – the response at that time was that there is NOT an intent to do such a thing, yet I can understand the confusion since the latest substantive update on the credential revision process says exactly that, that there will be a single credential with additional specialty distinctions possible (Q/A section) and in other official communications I’ve seen or heard there would be a ‘central’ credential with add-on specialties, which still sounds rather like a single credential and when it doesn’t, it’s just plain confusing as to quite what it means.
  • Streamline the message but extend it out in a variety of formats and don’t assume that once is enough – while you don’t want to overwhelm people with information you also have to deal with the fact that they already feel overwhelmed and so often are missing information when it does come in because not everything that comes to our inboxes is seen & read right away. Put it in an obvious place on the web, tweet it, put it on FB, whatever you have to do to get everyone’s attention.
  • It’s fair that ‘open comment period’ means you’re not responding yet to concerns or even to questions that have been raised – however it’s important that you’re ultra clear about exactly when and how answers WILL be provided. And when it is a matter of answering questions rather than in engaging in debate (although I’ll certain concede the point that there is both a gray area there and probably a slippery slope as well), I’d encourage you to reconsider your silence. It is human nature (even among coaches) to fill in gaps where they exist, usually with the worst possible interpretation.
  • Answering questions must include a much more clear and meaningful response to why we’re doing this, what exactly it is that we hope to accomplish, and why we’re doing it now. During the October 20 call, I heard repeated requests for this information and no real response to the questions. It seems reasonable the existing credentials might need some refinement, however the effort being undertaken appears to be much more than a simple refinement and this degree of overhaul requires further explanation. What exactly is wrong? How are the existing credentials failing us? What exactly are we trying to accomplish and how will whatever we’re proposing (however far along in that process we are at any given point in time) accomplish that and what are we doing to ensure that the basic requirements for success will be met?
For example – none of what I’ve heard so far convinces me that the new approach, whatever it may be, will be any more likely than the existing approach to address the issue of timeliness when it comes to granting credentials. Even though that is one of the key reasons I’ve heard cited for making a change, it clearly can’t be the only reason, given that completely overhauling the credentialing system from scratch doesn’t seem like an appropriate response to addressing a timeliness issue. And if we’re not completely overhauling the credentialing system from scratch, then it would help to have it not sound so much like that’s what’s happening.

I do hope that despite some length due to the complexity of the matter that I’ve managed to clearly enough convey both my ‘first blush response’ as well as a detailed outline of what I believe to be important elements of consideration going forward. If I can be more clear in any particular area, please let me know. If I can be of any service in moving forward, please let me know that too.

I wish our industry and our professional association the very best and remain hopeful that we can remain both viable and relevant.


Kimm Viebrock, ACC
Former PSCA (ICF chapter) President

As with so many other things, this is one of those where it is important to educate yourself and then form a thoughtful opinion - how does it impact you, what will it take to succeed, what compromises are necessary, and so forth. Whether it's for this matter directly or another one that this helps you think about, I hope I've provided some useful thoughts for consideration. Back now to your regularly scheduled programming...

How are you sharing your carefully considered thoughts?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

TV Cables and Communications Media

Reading Kneale Mann's piece on multi-media communication reminds me of hooking up a new television recently. There was the TV with all of its HDMI, component, S-video, RCA and USB connection ports. Then there were the various devices we wanted to be able to connect and a collection of various types of cables for each connection type. I found the process of hooking everything up to closely mirror my experience with differing modes of communication.

Not that I'm likely to pursue a doctorate anytime soon, but probably 25 years ago I decided that if I ever did, I would want to do my thesis on how mode of communication affects content and the quality or effectiveness of communicating and how content and/or communication intent does (or should) affect the mode chosen. My fascination with this hasn't wavered, so it's probably no surprise that trying to choose the right cables for the right devices would make me think of the choices we make in communication every day.

I'm a huge fan of Twitter these days, but certainly not for everything. This bit of musing is a good example of a thought I can't fully express in 140 characters or less. Others are not so quick to see the value or, if on the verge of being convinced, are certain it's only likely to create more work for themselves.

"I can't even keep up with my Inbox - I spend two hours a day trying to keep email under control!" whined another attendee of the Portland Lane Powell social media seminar for businesses that I sat in on earlier this summer. I say whined because this particular gentleman didn't seem particularly interested in arriving at a solution, but others certainly share his basic sentiment. My own feeling is that such people are looking at the problem wrong, and in so doing, are making it seem much bigger than it really is.

My basic assertion is that if we collectively choose the most appropriate mode of communication for the situation at hand and the specific players involved then we effectively reduce, rather than continue to increase the effort expended for communication purposes as more options come along. And this is where the TV cables seem relevant to me.

Although there are limits to how many of which kind of connections are possible, the television is happily agnostic - it is capable of receiving just about any type of input currently used today. On the other hand, the older satellite receiver I'd chosen to connect doesn't have so many choices, the DVD player has a different set of options and the Roku box handles just about every type of output imaginable. Add to the mix the older stereo with RCA as the only audio input option, and it made for an interesting puzzle.

Although there are multiple HDMI ports on the TV, I only had one HDMI cable and only one HDMI-capable device, so that choice was easy. From there, it wasn't tough to decide which device of those capable of using the component cable should get it and how best to apportion out the remaining S-video and RCA cables. Always though, it was a question of matching up device capabilities, ports, and availability of cable.

Basically we have to do the same thing with communication methods. Personally, I'm best with written thoughts. I can read them quickly when I'm the receiver and I can think about what I'm saying before I send it out. But email and Twitter aren't always available. And written communication may not be a preference for the person on the other end. Even when writing might be a functional option, it may not be the optimal mode of communication for the content itself. Just as most people still consider it gauche to break up via voicemail, I wouldn't care to learn of a close friend's death via Twitter when a phone call or even a more personal email might be possible.

Ideally, choosing the best communication medium for the job at hand increases the effectiveness of the communication while it reduces effort. If it feels like more work, someone is probably making less-than-optimal choices - or perhaps the best communication method for your particular need hasn't been invented yet.

As for me, I'm rather like the television - happily multi-modal for the most part even though I do have personal preferences. What are your preferences? And how do you apportion out your communication capabilities? It's worth thinking about. Once I'd paid attention to all of the connection capabilities with the television, I realized that it might be useful to track down one more HDMI cable. Taking careful inventory of your communication needs could yield similar insights. It all comes down to sorting out what's optimum for the players, the situation, and the job at hand.

What's the best way to share what you have to say?

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Social Media Value Web

Other industries may have a value stream but I'm convinced that we create a value web in social media. Social media is about relationships layered in with the ease of information exchange. That is a powerful combination and now I have anecdotal evidence as to just how much more value is generated by this social media value web.

Ten years ago or so, I had an amazing experience with Hertz. I wrote a letter immediately afterward and have told my story countless times since then. The letter was perhaps framed upon some wall for a while but I'm sure ultimately was replaced by other letters earning a place on that wall. And because it was such a lengthy story in its entirety, I only entertained a few people at a time every once in a while with my saga of the vacation that almost wasn't. As impassioned as I was, I didn't want to intentionally bore anyone.

Not surprisingly, while my experience was itself quite powerful, my sharing that experience has had minimal impact over the years.

Fast forward a few more years and along comes LinkedIn and after a while, LinkedIn starts allowing people to tap into one another's expertise via the Questions and Answers function. Because customer service matters to me, I started paying attention to questions about Customer Service and ultimately ran into two different questions back-to-back for which my Hertz story was an appropriate response. I realized I hadn't written about it on my blog, so I decided it was past time to tell that story for anyone to find who wanted to hear about it.

My Hertz story has attracted a few people here and there so sharing it on the internet does indeed seem to be having more impact, but the increase in value is still pretty minor compared to what has happened since then.

Along the way, LinkedIn got even smarter. They themselves started tapping into the passion of people who really believe what they're doing to help get the word out about what's possible via LinkedIn. As part of the Friends of LinkedIn group, I get to hear when they're looking for people who have had successes with LinkedIn that they can share. When 1to1Media wanted stories about fabulous customer service that they could share on their Everyday Customer Champion website, I quickly pointed them to my Hertz story. Now Hertz has an even bigger audience - and perhaps I do as well.

It doesn't end there. Hertz has apparently gotten smart about social media too. They have a Hertz Fan page on Facebook and apparently picked up on the Everyday Customer Champion post, which they then shared on their FB page. Then "Mike" from Hertz even went so far as to post a comment via Intense Debate which opens up the conversation even further.

And of course, being fascinated as I am by the inner workings of social media and the internet, I'm now writing about the inter-dependencies - which will end up in my own Twitter stream, FriendFeed, and Facebook pages and hopefully benefit everyone else further still in one big positive feedback loop. Sometimes the tangled web we weave works to everyone's advantage.

Inevitably, the internet with the added capabilities of various flavors of social media makes a small world that much smaller. Let's keep using that superpower for good.

What do you have to say to the world that benefits you and others?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Still True

Everything I wrote about Startup Weekend Seattle 2 from last February is still true this time around, participating in Startup Weekend Redmond.

As we move into Sunday afternoon, my involvement seems to be slowing up a bit, allowing some time for reflection. I like that this time I felt able and willing to get in and get my hands dirty, actively working on a project. And just like last time, some additional lessons have emerged.

Know Your Business
I'm going to go out on a limb here - even developers should have a sense of what the business is, and that includes the business model. It impacts what you build, and unless you want to give up all possibility of autonomy and subject yourself completely to someone else telling you what to code, like some trained monkey, then you need to understand what you're selling, why, to whom, for how much, and at what cost.

And if you developers wriggle out of that one - for some understandable reasons - then be darned sure that someone you trust to have a good head for the subject takes care of that for you. And then follow their lead.

If no one is handling this part of your startup, or are doing it badly, you could well be thinking you're running a business when in fact, what you have is a hobby instead. And sometimes hobbies get quite expensive.

Listen to Feedback
Are your people tracking with your vision? Are they perhaps wanting to head a direction you should consider? Maybe the people working on your project have information about the viability of your business that must be heeded to be successful. If you're too caught up in what you want to build, you could be headed for the rocks because of individuals abandoning the project or because you're not as aware of your own blind spots as you could be.

Take Full Advantage of Available Resources
At Startup Weekend Redmond, we've had a startling array of resources available to us - BizSpark accounts with access to code, 'virtual CTO' humans to consult about architecture, various knowledgeable speakers presenting on topics relevant to our work this weekend, and of course the individuals on our respective teams and other folks working on other teams entirely. It's a mistake to walk away from help that so readily available. It also helps to pause a moment and think about what sort of help is not quite so visible. Making use of available resources is just plain smart.

Don't Force-Fit Tools
While making use of available resources is smart, there certainly are times when what is available really doesn't fit your needs. When that happens, it's smarter to walk away and find something else that works better - or take what's available now, knowing that you'll trade out as soon as it makes sense.

Keep Talking
Do you know what the other members of your team are doing and what problems they're trying solve? Do they know these things about you? Without good communication, you risk redundant efforts or worse than that, gaps in what gets done. This can be easier in small teams but there are ways of dealing with communication issues in large ones and no team is immune.

Shut Up
Once you all know what you're doing, how, and why, sometimes it's important just to shut your mouth and let everyone work. I was certainly guilty of not abiding by this one last night but that just highlights a corollary - other people often have different needs than you do. Talk about how you can best try to meet them all.

Build on Success
If you develop a good working relationship, achieve some success with an approach, follow up and build on it. Continuing to move the ball toward your goals is almost always more important than any single run.

Find Something to Do
If you're fully engaged, you'll probably have no trouble finding ways to help move the ball forward. If you've found yourself a bit less engaged, that might be a bit more problematic. Just know that a) the team can't succeed unless everyone is working to move the ball forward and b) acting engaged can help you become more engaged in what you're doing.

And just to re-iterate - Enjoy it - it's important to enjoy what you're doing or find another way to create joy in your life.

What resources are available to help you succeed?

Friday, July 10, 2009

United We Stand... Or Fall

It used to be that a company's worst PR nightmare was a parent dishing at a little league game or to be prominently featured on the 6 o'clock news in a negative light. Not anymore. Now a company's worst customer service nightmare is to reap what they sow in terms of suffering at the hands of someone who truly understands how to use social media to make a point.

Hint: musicians love their instruments and rely on them to make a living. Do NOT - repeat, DO NOT - mistreat a professional musician's instrument.

It doesn't matter if it's David Carroll or the previously-better-known Louden Wainwright III.

In the matter of just a couple of days, hundreds of thousands of people have watched, commented on, and retweeted Carroll's music video, United Breaks Guitars (last check, one version showed more than 1.5M views). Tough spot for United to be in at this point, but they're doing the best they can, having completely botched all earlier opportunities to handle the matter differently or avoid the trouble altogether. Sure, the fine print reads that luggage might get damaged along the way, but presumably not through gross negligence.

Lest anyone feel inclined to blame any one individual (such as the poor Ms. Irlweg named in the song), note that more than one baggage handler was involved and Carroll dealt with multiple United employees. This was a systemic failure, all the way from the lack of caring on the part of various employees to the policies that hand-cuffed those who may have wished to handle the matter otherwise.

And it's not just Carroll who has experienced such horrible customer service at the hands of an airline. You don't rack up a million views of a video just because it's clever and well-done (though that certainly helps) - this song strikes a chord with people because they've all had similar experiences. When something resonates this strongly, social media just acts like an amplifier.

Not surprisingly, Carroll doesn't want compensation at this late date. That opportunity is long gone. If United really does use the video for training, it could go a long ways toward improving future customer experience, but no matter what, they have a long haul ahead of them to get out of the hole they've dug for themselves.

If the best way to handle such situations is to avoid them in the first place, let's take a look at what it takes to deliver stellar customer service.

First, the front-line employees themselves have to care. They are the ones who are handling bags, food, repairs, whatever it is that you're selling to or doing for customers. Front-line employees are also the customer service agents, wait staff, front desk people, flight attendants, etc who are interacting directly with customers. If they don't care about customers or their role in keeping customers satisfied, nothing else matters.

So what makes employees care or not care? Each business is a bit different but making them feel treated fairly, including fair compensation, comes to mind. If the business exhibits no loyalty or caring for their employees, it is rare they will show any loyalty toward the business or caring for their customers.

It doesn't mean that you have to throw money at the employees, but in an era when there still exists a larger-than-before pay gap between executives and line employees, and businesses like airlines regularly demand (and get) concessions from employees only to renege on promises later or fail to share the wealth when more profitable times come along, it's wise to think about the impact that has on employee morale. Argue all you want about who creates the most value for the company but just remember that the effectiveness of your customer service initiative is only as strong as your weakest link.

And there are other ways besides financial rewards to motivate employees. Give the middle managers (and their managers) the training needed to find out what is meaningful to each of their employees and the power to act on that information.

Fostering a culture of caring about customers and using that sentiment to guide everyday decisions and actions is another key. This culture of customer service has to spread throughout the organization and not be limited to front-line customer service agents reading from some script. So often we talk about empowering employees to do what's right without really delving into what that's supposed to mean and ensuring it looks, acts and sounds like the ideal of ensuring happy customers satisfied with your product or service.

When it comes right down to it, whatever the excuses are for not doing the things that result in happy customers, it just means you (as a business first, as an employee second) don't care about the customer enough to find a cost-effective way to deliver what they want. Where you might have survived a little league game or a negatively-slanted news story in the past, your chances of surviving a social media body blow today are a lot slimmer.

Now is the time to fully re-commit to your customers on a company-wide basis, starting with re-committing to your employees, fostering a culture centered around satisfying customers, and providing the training needed to make satisfied customers a reality. If you don't, you're just a social media-savvy clever songwriter away from ultimate disaster.

How have you helped foster a culture of service in your organization?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pay Attention or Pay the Piper

Some people don't take the time to pay attention, and it can really cost them. Don't be one of those people, especially when it comes to social media and networking.

I feel genuinely fortunate to have had a long and varied career. Even more fortunate that I've now lived a long enough life to make it seem possible that I've done all the things that I have. And that I've gotten over worrying whether I seem 'scattered', but that's beside the point.

The point is, that with so much past life experience and a genuine desire to help people out, I regularly contribute to conversations about a wide variety of topics when I feel like I have something worthwhile to offer. In an era of social media as business development platform, this has yielded some interesting if, in my opinion, rather moronic, results.

Although it's been nearly 20 years since I last worked in television, where I used to be a reporter and a weather anchor, I figure my experience in the TV industry and my expertise as a career management coach is occasionally useful to people. When a recent college graduate wanted some ideas from other LinkedIn professionals for how to land her first TV gig, I joined in with some thoughts of my own.

Sadly, someone else in the group apparently uses it primarily to harvest contact information with little to no thought about whether the individuals attached to that information are in any way her target market. The fact that we're part of the group is apparently qualification enough.

Because of that, soon after my contribution to the job search discussion, I received an email that claimed not to be a pitch (then later allowed that it might indeed be that) and then went on to pitch me on some product or technology for which I have zero use or interest personally. Because I no longer work in television, and haven't for nearly 20 years.

What's really too bad about this, though, is that if she'd paid any attention at all, it needn't have been a waste of her time or mine. Although truthfully, my 90-second investment did lead to this post and it probably took all of 10 seconds for her to launch her automated pre-written email, so maybe that's why she doesn't care. Again, however, I digress.

The point is that had she taken a bit more time and approached me as an individual and customized her message to target me, not some generic me from 20 years ago who still would have felt slimed, I could perhaps have helped her out. Because I genuinely like helping people out and because I still have a number of contacts in the industry. And I probably could have given her some advice about how to better pitch her whateveritis (I immediate sent the message to the bit bucket, so I don't even know anymore what it was). Some of the advice might even have been useful.

But because of not paying attention and the fact that one of the things for which I have very little tolerance is acting stupider than you are, I don't really feel like helping her out anymore. Should she happen to discover this post and realize it's about her, the advice here should be at least as worthwhile as anything else I could have done. And look, the rest of you get it for free! You don't have to have made the mistake to learn from it!

Paying attention to where people are, what they really want, and looking to see whether and how you fit is important. Paying attention to your own mistakes (and others) and learning from them is important. If you don't pay attention, you'll pay the price.

If you're lucky, the Piper's fee will only be 30 lashes with a wet noodle. Sometimes, though, it's worse. Sometimes it's not just a pitch that didn't land; sometimes it's a whole host of missed opportunities - or more disastrously, several potential clients or markets entirely closed to you if you happen to annoy the wrong person. Just hope they don't mention you by name if they're going to go public with their annoyance!

If you've been slimed via social media, do share. If you want help figuring out how not to slime people but still get your point across, I might be able to help. Frankly, though, Havi (with her duck, Selma) and Pistachio can probably help you out even more. I highly recommend them.

What new things have you noticed lately?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Staying on Top of Tasks

I come off as hugely process-oriented at times, but really I'm not. I've simply learned that trying to work without any kind of structure yields very bad results. I can be pretty organized when I set my mind to it; it's when I fall off the wagon that the trouble starts.

Over the years, I've come across and experimented with a variety of tools, both for myself and for clients and I've learned a couple of very important things.

First, whatever tool you use simply must be a good fit for your individual personality, taking advantage of your strengths and mitigating your weaknesses. Just because it works for someone else doesn't mean it's the best tool or structure for you.

Second, find a tool that will survive having you abandon it from time to time and develop a strategy for getting back into the game of being organized. A structure you don't use isn't nearly as helpful as one that you do.

To that purpose, I actually use two different tools myself, concentrating on whichever works best for me at the time. Ordinarily, I prefer electronic management of my task list because it gives me the most flexibility in terms of availability and in adapting to the fluid nature of my life and work. My favorite electronic task management system is still LifeBalance by Llamagraphics.

Unfortunately, my handheld device and my Vista 64 laptop aren't terribly compatible at the moment, so no synchronization these days. That's where my second tool comes in.

I've discovered that in times of great stress (or non-synchronizing electronic tools), it really helps to be more tactile about managing my tasks. Good list hygiene is important to me - I can't find what still is yet to be done if all of the other nearby items are crossed out - and I like to be able to re-order tasks as priorities shift, so putting my tasks onto sticky notes and managing them in a partitioned folder works better for me than a standard list.

My strategy is to continue using a system for as long as I can, then when it gets difficult for me to keep up, I switch to the other system - sometimes just a change in scenery is all it takes to stay organized. If I fall off both systems and have trouble getting back into either one, then I give myself a short break of a week or two and hope that I don't miss anything too important. I practice being kind to myself when errors occur and use whatever problems arise as motivation to get me back into becoming process-driven again. What doesn't seem to work (for me, anyway), is guilt.

I find it also helps to work higher-priority tasks first, but have been known to shift to focus on easier tasks from time to time when I just need to get myself unstuck. Getting stuck, however, is more likely an indicator of tasks that are too big. What works then is to break the larger tasks down into smaller component tasks.

When I do abandon my systems or get hopelessly stuck, I look for reasons for why. More often I find it is the failure of a system to accommodate my needs than it is a general system failure or something I did wrong. If I can discover the source of the incompatibility, I work on addressing that for the next iteration and then I get back to using some (new and improved) system as soon as possible.

As with anything else, it's a mistake to believe that one will become 'organized' and then have nothing else to do to remain in that state. It's even a mistake to believe that one can become more organized and simply remain in that state even with a huge amount of effort.

The truth is that we capture the state of organization only periodically and then the pendulum swings through or back the the other way and we must start the process all over again of regaining a lock on organization. The best we can hope for is to stretch out the time we spend being 'organized' and reduce how wildly the pendulum swings away from it.

If you've experienced problems or successes with organizing your to-do list, I hope you'll share by making a comment. Perhaps we can help each other.

What keeps you on task?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Reasons to be on Twitter

I started to write up recommendations for how to make the most out of LinkedIn and other social media and then felt compelled first to start with Twitter - Twitter has had that effect on a lot of people the past several months. Every time I turn around, Twitter is causing us to rethink a lot of what we do and how we do it.

Let's just start though with a stab at answering the question - why should I be on Twitter? What can it do for me - especially what can it do for me that something else can't do as well or better?

Whether you're job hunting or building a business, consider the following advantages of Twitter. Many of them apply to other types of social media as well, so it's a two-fer that way.

  • Become known as a helpful resource
  • Develop relationships that may be or become mutually beneficial
  • Reach an audience you might not otherwise have
  • "Meet" people you might not otherwise meet
  • Lay the groundwork for future relationships
  • Keep up with your (personal or business) brand
    (what people are saying about you)
  • Keep up with your industry
    (what people are saying about the topics you care about)
  • Influence your brand perception
  • Educate and inform people in your area(s) of expertise
  • Let people know more about you as a person
    (increase your know/like/trust factor)
  • Build community around the topics important to you
  • Remind people you're there
I don't pretend to have a complete list of answers to those questions, but then no one else I've seen does either, which is why I felt so driven to put out a list of my own. Make a comment or tweet me @geekcoach and let me know if I've left anything out. I don't feel a need to have a lock on right but I do like finding 'right', however that happens.

Whether it's Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or any other social media, I have thoughts too about how to do it right and not put your digital foot into your online mouth. Some of those thoughts are likely to come out in an upcoming SHRM magazine article for which I was interviewed recently. I'll also write up something of my own to share with you here.

If you could choose anyone at all to discuss any topic - who and what would those be?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Advice for the Jobless

More news today about Microsoft job cuts so I figure it's a good time to remind everyone of some resources that might make facing job loss easier.

For anyone who's just lost a job, I've got a decent Top Ten list of how to successfully deal with a layoff.

If you're still waiting for the other shoe to drop, preparing for a layoff involves additional important skills and advice, aptly outlined by friend and colleague, Sylvia Taylor.

I have a different Top Ten list for what to do if you survive a layoff.

Many of the suggestions I offered about using LinkedIn for job hunting in a television interview earlier this year are just as applicable to Twitter and Facebook too so well worth reviewing and incorporating into your strategy.

And now there is also a website called Lay-Off Move On that helps support people getting back on their feet again post-layoff. Check it out and maybe you'll find some gems there to get you back into the work-force again and keep you sane till you get there.

If you have other tips, suggestions, or resources, post them here in a comment. The best way I know to deal with a layoff is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and find a way to keep putting one foot in front of another. If I can help with that process, I'm happy to do so.

What helps you keep your chin up when times get tough?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Customer Service and Twitter

I am a major advocate of Twitter these days, now that we're beginning to see some more mature uses of the medium beyond sharing the sort of latte the person in line in front of you is ordering. Reputation and brand management is one such emerging use that makes a great deal of sense to me. Breaking news is another - I do hope 'real' journalists and citizen journalists figure out how to play nicely together in a way that drives the sort of revenue that keeps trained journalists employed. We still need them just as much as we need citizen journalists.

Customer service and technical support, the role in organizations that is most near and dear to my own heart is a bit more complicated than the brand management element and may be looking at a reinvention of its own.

At this point, there are two things that I know. Firstly, Twitter (or something like it) will be involved. Secondly, we don't yet have a serious clue exactly how that will look when it's done right.

Twitter will play an important role in customer service because that's where so many customers are and there are more and more of them on Twitter all the time. To ignore customers in the Twitterverse is to sign your own death warrant.

On the other hand, to engage in brand management efforts devoid of any response that is truly meaningful to the customer is to make only empty promises. Customers figure out pretty quickly (even more so when they're talking with one another) that empty promises are just a way of pretending you're not ignoring them.

Fine - so we'll engage with our customers via Twitter and that's customer service on Twitter.

Not so fast.

To be effective and to provide value, customer service functions and technical support even more so, must be scalable and must provide more than one-off responses that are then subsequently lost. Logging customer interactions and tracking reported incidents and making this data searchable - which ultimately evolved into customer relationship management and knowledge management initiatives - are important elements to efficiently providing effective, valuable, and scalable customer service.

Simply responding to customer complaints that show up on Twitter doesn't take that into account so while it might work for a short time - and look good while it's working - it can't last. And then what you've got is a PR nightmare that no amount of brand management effort on Twitter or anywhere else can save.

That means we've got to figure out the why, the how and the detailed logistics of how to make it work. I believe this is a much bigger conversation, and some companies are clearly beginning both the discussion and the experimentation needed to move it forward. And that is truly just the beginning.

There is a great deal of work to be done on this front, which is rather exciting to me even though I'm reasonably certain it's a bit frightening to those organizations figuring out this train is already running much faster than they feel like they can catch up.

Hint - if you don't feel even a bit concerned about that, then chances are pretty good you don't even realize there is a train to catch, which means you run the risk of being run over by that train outright.

But I digress...

Before we can make much progress, we have to identify what customer service needs Twitter satisfies - and also what needs it creates. We have to identify tools and create process that help fully integrate Twitter into existing "best practices" and create new "best practices that are possible within this new paradigm we're creating. True, Twitter is just another communication method, but I've long held (about 24 years, actually) that the mode of communication actually influences the communication process itself. That too is another digression.

One "for instance" on the tool side, Socialtext might provide a solution for some needs; other tools probably exist as well and there are more needed to be built once we better understand the requirements.

On the process side, it's important to work out how best to handle the matter when a customer captures the attention of the CEO instead of a technical support agent as well as how to drive conversations toward customer service rather than away from them to someone else seen as more effective.

This is an old issue writ even larger by the existence of Twitter. Most customer service professionals dread this happening. Not because CEO's shouldn't talk to customers - they absolutely should - but that they should know enough about their inner workings of their own organizations to make the problems better, not worse, and in so doing, still follow established processes so that someone doesn't jump the line just because they know the right @ name to use.

What it really comes down to is that it's probably no less true of organizations than it is of individuals that the increased attention that comes with something like Twitter doesn't change you so much as expose you for who you really are.

In the meantime, I have some thoughts of my own about what it will take to pull this off and make customer service and support work in a world that seems inclined to tip more and more toward Twitter. First though, I'd like to hear what you think, what your questions and concerns happen to be at this point, and what you've seen and heard that works for you.

What do the people depending on me really need?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Measuring True Performance

When I first wrote about productivity and performance, I wasn't sure what other measures might be worth tracking besides standard productivity numbers. I only knew that I've seen instances where individuals contribute to a team's overall performance without necessarily having numbers to prove it.

While I still don't have a concrete suggestion for metrics worth tracking, the Houston Rockets and Shane Battier may provide a clue. If nothing else, their story is an excellent illustration of what I'm talking about. And I believe it validates my original assertion.

I don't want to turn this into a Justice Potter Stewart "I know it when I see it" moment, so let's talk about what measures might be useful. The Rockets are changing how we see and understand basketball for the better. Let's do the same in business where it can make an even bigger difference.

We can start by analyzing what you've done or seen other people to that helps improve performance and talk about how to measure that.

What difference are you making today?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When a Major Delay = Fabulous Service

Have I told you my Hertz story yet? No? Then you might not believe it's possible to equate a 3-hour delay in a car rental with the most excellent customer service on the face of the planet but I'll swear till my dying day that it's true.

Although I've told this customer service story lots of times to anyone who will listen - that's what people do when they are ecstatic, incredulous even, over the amazing service they've received - it's been a while since I've shared the whole thing and I haven't mentioned it here. It's time I fixed that.

I was reminded of my Hertz experience twice in as many weeks when members of my LinkedIn network asked related questions about service - what constitutes 5-Star Service and a request for examples of Moments of Truth in Service. Although my answers differed slightly in focus, both brought to mind the vacation that almost wasn't.

First, it helps to know how much this mini-vacation meant to me. While everyone else recently has been ridiculing the passenger who missed her flight, I have some ideas how she might have reached that state of collapse. There but for fortune...

In my case nearly ten years ago, our company had gone through yet another in a series of sizable layoffs a couple of weeks earlier. I hadn't had to let go many people myself, but this was one of the few times the line managers had not had much input into the process and that lack of involvement had resulted in some mistakes that made things messier.

Much of that didn't impact me directly but layoffs are never an enjoyable aspect of a manager's job and this was still even more emotional than normal. Helping people cope - on my team and others - and mitigating the hit on productivity was taking its toll.

Then there was the house that we were supposed to be building. The time that wasn't already spent on coaching employees or caring for a 3-yr-old all went to packing up moving boxes so we could tear down our existing home to the dirt. The packing up was happening but uncertainty and delays over the tearing down part meant we had to cancel our midwest baseball stadium tour. After having enjoyed our northeast baseball stadium tour so much the year before, this was a major league disappointment.

In the midst of it all, Tall Person learned of a family wedding and decided it would be important for him to attend. A weekend alone with a toddler for me when I was already feeling stretched - how fun. I started to feel envious of my sister's planned trip to Telluride that same weekend with her infant son.

When my father caught on, he quickly suggested that I fly into Salt Lake City with Small Person. It would be a bit of a drive from there, but certainly manageable. We'd spend a long weekend together as a sort of mini-family reunion. It gave me something to look forward to and I kept myself focused on that ray of hope the way I've focused at other times on the finish line of a long and brutal race.

When departure day arrived, Tall Person drove us to the airport, then went to work for a few hours before leaving for the airport himself. The flight itself was non-eventful, but when I went to the car rental, Hertz had not yet installed the car seat I'd requested. The attendants wrestled with the installation while the agent stood there with my paperwork and driver's license, waiting to hand it over to me when the car was ready.

Still they struggled with the carseat, so being more experienced with that operation, I jumped in to help. The agent tried to stay out of the way and idly looked over the paperwork in his hands. Doing so, he came to a realization and called me over.

"There is a problem with your license. It's expired."

My heart sunk. Immediately I realized the truth of what he was saying. In the midst of everything else that had been going on in my life, I'd managed to overlook that important detail just long enough to have forgotten about it altogether during the intervening months. And just as quickly, I realized the enormity of the situation, even before he spelled it out for me.

"Without a valid license, we can't rent you the car."

There have been very few times when I have come up against truly irreversible mistakes but when it happens, it has always resulted in the same hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach - no, no, no... it can't be true. In that moment, I may not have become the woman in that video, but I understood how she felt.

Not generally one to allow emotions take control (crying at movies doesn't count!), I was suddenly unable to prevent months worth of pent-up tears as they began to slide down my face. I tried valiantly to keep my composure and found I just couldn't. It seemed there was nothing to do but go back inside and re-book myself on a return flight. I wasn't even sure how I would get home from the airport.

As unwanted as they were on my part, the tears were too much for the Hertz agent. He started casting about for solutions. Could my family come get me? No - they were too far away. Did I know someone else in the area who could take me? No, I could think of no one who lived in the area. I had flown all this way for nothing. I was going back home to an empty house, both literally and figuratively.

Still, the agent kept looking for answers. Still, none of them were workable. He went to make some phone calls to see if there might be other solutions he hadn't considered. I collapsed into the chair near the car I wouldn't be driving, my son trying to offer hugs for tears he didn't understand. I called both my husband and my father to share the bad news.

Ultimately, the Hertz agent returned. The very last thread of hope he'd been following showed some promise. Maybe, just maybe, I could get a driver's license in the state of Utah. It had seemed like a slim chance at first, but he'd called around and he was reasonably sure it could work if I thought I could pass a written test. He'd have one of the attendants drive me.

It seemed like a lot to go through, but I don't struggle too much with multiple choice exams and anything seemed preferable at that point to cutting my trip short. I regained control of my emotions, keeping tight rein on hope as well as distress, and Ahmed drove me over to the nearest Department of Licensing office. I called Tall Person to share the shred of hope I was clinging to.

We arrived at the DOL office just before noon, with lunchtime crowds building. I stood in line forever, filling out the license application form while Ahmed, the Hertz attendant, entertained Small Person with paper cranes he folded from forms others had discarded. Finally, I reached the head of the line and explained my plight. The woman was sympathetic but we hit a road block when she realized I could not supply a local address.

"Don't you know anyone in Utah? Anyone at all whose address you could use?"

I tried to search my brain but it was quickly becoming addled with all the stress and the knowledge that the line was building behind me just compounded the problem. No, no family or friends in Utah came to mind. I could think of women with children my son's age all across the US - Indiana, Texas, California, Massachusetts, Georgia - but none of them in Utah. No work contacts either. I started to feel dizzy. The line continued to build behind me. I was sure I was about to become so much bureaucratic roadkill.

Instead, the woman encouraged me, "I'm sure you can think of someone. Just step aside right over there and when you've come up with a local address, come straight back to me so that you don't have to stand in line all over again." I found it easier to breathe again; the tunnel vision that had been encroaching began to recede. I thanked her profusely then pulled out my PDA and set to work looking through my address book for a clue to a local contact.

Finally, I hit on one. A work colleague of my husband's... I didn't know his wife well, but hadn't she mentioned her family was from Provo? I called Tall Person for a third time. He was at lunch with the colleague in question and they had already guessed what I needed.

"I bet you're calling for Jennifer's parent's address, aren't you? Here it is..."

Two major roadblocks down, one more yet to go. Ahmed the Hertz attendant still patiently entertaining my son, I began working on the open book multiple choice exam. The only tough part was locating the information in the pamphlet they provided. I had to will myself to slow down and not panic, and even to remember to breathe. Finally, I had just two more questions to answer. I kept flipping through the pamphlet and could not seem to find the right sections containing the answers.

Then, with the worst possible timing... "Mommy! I have to go!" For that matter, so did I, which was not helping me think. And we were both hungry, having had very little to eat all day. But just two questions to go... I looked pleadingly at Ahmed. He was kind enough to come escort Small Person to the bathroom while I finished my exam. Clearly that was way above and beyond the call of duty; I knew it and was beyond thankful.

Turning in my exam was an exercise in torture. The man responsible for validating my responses pulled out the correction key and started checking. The first couple responses marked wrong didn't surprise me, given the situation. The next few concerned me; how many could I miss and still pass? Then as his pen bled red all over the paper, I stopped breathing again. Feeling dizzy once more, it barely occurred to me that this couldn't possibly be right. No matter how stressed I was, there was simply no way that I could have gotten every single answer wrong. No way.

It seemed odd to him also and he took a second look even before I thought to ask. "Oh, wrong key!" I nearly collapsed with relief.

Validated against the appropriate key, he reassured me that I had indeed passed. I went through the motions of having a photo taken and scheduling the driving portion of the exam I knew I wouldn't be taking and then rushed back to Ahmed and my son, full of smiles and a temporary Utah driver's license in my hand.

Three and a half hours from when I first stepped into the Hertz office, I dropped off Ahmed at the airport again and headed south and west to Telluride, arriving just an hour after my sister and in plenty of time for a late dinner.

When I returned to Seattle at the end of the weekend, I wrote an extensive thank you to Hertz and set about getting a new Washington State driver's license which, given that I was beyond six months overdue, would have been much more difficult had it not been for the Utah license I had in my possession at that point. Meanwhile, somewhere in Provo is a family who has never even met me, receiving junk mail in my name.

Nearly ten years later, I still love to tell people how out of the way the Hertz people went, both personally and professionally, to help. They didn't just provide excellent customer service; they helped me deal with a problem that was entirely of my own making. And while I have no idea which licensing office I visited, I am equally thankful to every agent there who helped me, encouraged me, reassured me, and in every way possible, made it easier for me to accomplish what I needed when just behaving as we've come to expect bureaucrats to behave would have made it tougher - or even impossible.

Some people talk about delighting the customer or excellence in service. Instead, I believe it comes down to just caring enough to do whatever is in your power to have a positive impact on the customer's experience with your brand. Every customer interaction is a tangible exercise in brand management.

That day so many years ago, every individual I encountered provided me with a brand experience that has stuck with me all this time because of how superbly positive it was in the face of utter hopelessness. Who wouldn't want that kind of customer service? The beauty of it is that it doesn't have to cost the company extra.

Sure, not having Ahmed around for a couple of hours had to have been a bit of a stretch for the Hertz guys. But it's not like someone shows up every day with an expired driver's license, so going to such extremes is probably not needed often enough to drive up costs significantly. And I like to think that my continued raving over my experience with them is worth more than enough to cover whatever costs they did incur. The long-term gains for great brand management in the form of great customer service can be huge.

How is your customer service influencing your brand?