Sunday, March 25, 2012

Walk the Success Talk on LinkedIn

I attended a wonderful event this past week with some great connections, old and new. As is my habit with new connections, I used LinkedIn invitations this weekend to add them to my network for future reference / connecting. Next to my favorite past-time of in-person networking, it's networking in virtual 3D for me: business cards, no matter how clever and artful, are too one-dimensional.

As I ran down the list, 7 of the 35 people I interacted with that night did not have LinkedIn profiles. All 7 are heavily engaged in some way with customers, existing and potential, so I'm puzzled at their absence on LinkedIn. Among other utilities, a free LinkedIn account bottom-line is free marketing for your organization, plain and simple. Even if you're modest and don't want to draw the LinkedIn attention to yourself, my LinkedIn profile until this year served as both an adjunct to my organization's website as well as my own personal website. In several roles I've had throughout my career as Chief Recruiting Officer (and consequently, one of the organization's key sales leaders), the organization's brand is also linked positively to my personal brand. It's a win-win all around.

Now, as a new beta user of LinkedIn over 7 years ago (when, like Google+, it was invitation-only), did I cringe a bit as LinkedIn sucked up all of my Outlook contacts? Yes. Has it ever created a privacy issue? No, especially since you can lock down part or all of your LinkedIn profile if you choose to do so. Not to make the LinkedIn luddites even more paranoid; but if you don't lock down your LinkedIn profile privacy, news organizations have gotten into the habit of hyperlinking the name of people they mention and/or quote in articles to their LinkedIn profiles. So if you plan on or have engaged in felonious activity, let the LinkedIn buyer beware.

Being a free and then a business member of LinkedIn has been all upside. I've sourced great candidates, made strong connections and even attracted new business prospects for both me and my network thanks to LinkedIn. The ongoing evolution of LinkedIn functionality over the years has only enhanced the platform as a key business tool for me. Now, if you're reading this post from LinkedIn, I know I'm preaching to the choir. But if you were at that event last week with me and you know one of the 7 people currently not on LinkedIn, wouldn't you agree that:
  • It's a great name-sourcer, whether you're in Sales, Marketing or Recruiting;
  • For Recruiters and HR folks: it gives you a running start on reference checks;
  • It's so much better than just plain Outlook contacts, that many CRM platforms now integrate with LinkedIn;
  • The "Open to" choices on the bottom of your respective profiles allow you to customize your audience on LinkedIn, e.g. that if you're not open to Career Opportunities, you simply uncheck the box;
  • How nimble the update tools are for LinkedIn profiles (and, BTW, you can turn the functionality off so every time you update something on your LinkedIn profile, it doesn't appear on your news feed);
  • If you're meeting someone in person for the first time, you know what they look like thanks to their LinkedIn profile;
  • If you've met someone at an event and forgotten what they look like, their LinkedIn photo will thankfully remind you;
  • If you care about one of those 7 folks' success, you'll invite them to join LinkedIn today and show them how to get their LinkedIn success path started.
Bottom-line: if your goal is career or entrepreneurial success (or both): be found on LinkedIn.

View Debra J.M. Best, SPHR's profile on LinkedIn

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Effectively Managing the Ebbs & Flows in Business & At Work

I had a 3-hour breakfast meeting with my mentor John yesterday. Our mentoring relationship cuts both ways: from a business / career standpoint, John is my big brother, e.g. I want to be like him when I grow up; and I am a Human Resources SME resource to him. We mentor each other from our respective SME places, and it works well.

Our mentoring kicked off 3 years ago when John invited me to breakfast and asked me if I had ever thought about working for myself. A fellow GE alum who took the entrepreneurial plunge 20 years ago himself during an economic ebb (Or as I like to call it, a ride to the Recession Rodeo), he saw the same potential in me, for which I am eternally grateful. When a mentor appears in your path and reflects back what's in your heart and mind, unsolicited: well, that's the gift that keeps on giving.

My query for John this week was how he managed the ebbs and flows of his work and business. Our GE training especially geared us not to accept ebbs at all. My Energizer-Bunny belief system heretofore was all flow. John improvised a wave to emphasize his point to me. "It ebbs and flows all the time, it goes up and down all the time," he said. I scowled. "I don't like the ebbs at all," I replied. He grinned at me. "Get over it and move forward," he coached. "That's what my board of advisers always tells me; and you have to accept the ebbs, too. Shake it off and move on." So that's my vocational meditative focus this week: accepting the ebbs and not letting them define my strategic path and goals. His advice works for both entrepreneurs and career employees:
  • Ebbs, in business and in work, are a fact of life to be accepted / embraced;
  • Build up a great cash reserve (2 years or more is optimum) during the flow times (e.g. live and manage your business below your means, want what you have, etc.);
  • An advisory board is an essential anchor for both the ebb and flow times;
  • Be grateful and accept the gift of the flow times;
  • Always have prospective clients and new products in pipeline during both the ebb and flow times;
  • Don't take the ebbs personally;
  • Use the ebb times as an opportunity to reflect, recalibrate your strategy; re-charge professionally and personally (e.g. Sharpening the Saw, a la Stephen Covey); refresh your marketing and business plans. (My friend and colleague Lisa Jordan seconded this emotion, too.)
Gratitude today for my fellow travelers along the River of Dreams: thank you for your presence in both the ebbs and flows, as we journey together and support each other's success.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Love is the Answer at Work

"Love is the answer, and you know that for sure; Love is a flower, you've got to let it grow."
- John Lennon

I was trained as a Diversity Facilitator at General Electric.  Back then, the focus was just on gender and race diversity and inclusion, which continue to be large opportunity areas at work and in the larger society to this day.

One of the most important concepts I learned during that training was the concept of transforming the reaction as marginalized individuals to ignorance, bigotry and discrimination from anger and retribution to compassion and education.  "When you come from a place of compassion,  instead of anger," our instructor Carol Brantley taught us.  "Then you can create an opening, a conversation:  where you can potentially engage the less-informed as students, teaching compassion because you're modeling it.  And in it that opening, you have the opportunity to teach inclusion, too."

After church today, I observed and participated in a panel discussion supporting The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.  Today's discussion focused on preventing and intervening on bullying in our schools:  the leading driver of crisis and suicide for our youth today. The wonderful panel members - advocates, students, teachers and members of my own FUSS congregation (FYI, we are a Welcoming Congregation, proud supporters of the recently enacted Marriage Equality Act in New York state), also echoed that earlier training of approaching the issue of bullying through compassion, education, and in the case at Mohanasen High School, Peer Mediation.  What a wonderful new tool:  healing bullying through peace:  the source of all human conflict are needs met and unmet.  As a mediator myself, I was heartened.

I was further encouraged by the impending July 1, 2012 enactment of the NYS Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) which states:

...that NO student shall be subjected to harassment or discrimination by employees or students on school property or at a school function based on their actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex.

Frankly, for as I have explained to my son Noah:  if students don't learn how to treat each other respectfully at home and at school during their childhood and teenage years (and in their adult relationships with friends, relatives and spouses):  they will be much less successful as adults at work.  I've witnessed it my entire career:  disrespectful, bullying, demeaning and/or dominating / controlling behavior does not win friends or influence people in the long term.  No matter how talented or smart you are:  if you cannot consistently and authentically demonstrate mutual respect and inclusion at work (to peers, subordinates, and even more puzzling, managers and customers), it will eventually bite you and your career squarely on the ass. Your timing and mileage may vary, but what comes around does indeed go around.  Your attempts to marginalize others, intended or unconscious, to give yourself status, attention and power will in fact and eventually marginalize you.

And if you must suffer those losses in order to learn this lesson:  be the student and embrace this lesson of failure as the gift it truly is. Ask for feedback and coaching.  Take a searching and fearless inventory of yourself.  Take responsibility. Forgive yourself and the adults who misinformed and neglected you, placing you on this erroneous path. Learn, especially compassion for yourself and those around you. Grow. Transform. Model and teach what you've learned:  encouraging the growth and standing on the side of:  love at work.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

How We Inspire and Teach Each Other at Work

My 10 year-old son Noah woke up at 3 AM Saturday morning with only the second earache of his life and recurring bouts of nausea that really need no further detail.  What a blessing.  I fully attribute it to being hooked up to a breast pump machine like Elsie the cow for the first two months of his life during my maternity leave 11 years ago.  If two months of short-term aggravation have given Noah sterling immunity, it was a great gift all around.  Another blessing, in contrast to my childhood, were the emergency weekend hours at Noah's pediatrician's office.  He was dosed up with antibiotics by noon on Saturday.

As we caught up on our sleep yesterday and today, confined along with Noah to the house, I decided to tackle building my first WordPress website.  I had purchased the very cheap hosting and even cheaper themes at least a month ago, and the timing seemed opportune.  I previously built free Google websites for my husband Joel and my friend John, and this was my next personal challenge.  Some people hike higher and higher mountains; I geek-hike this way.  Viva la difference.  Given our earache quarantine, it was more stimulating than tackling our taxes:  next weekend's project.

As I wrestled the plugins, widgets, themes and other WordPress quirkiness, I thought of the chain of events that brought me to this WordPress weekend:

  • My friend Deb recruited me to take her place as the Director of Publications at a lobbying firm, so she could start her own business.  Thanks to Deb, I learned how to use both an Apple computer and Adobe PageMaker.
  • I proceeded to do freelance copy-writing work for Deb on my own time, introducing me to contract / consulting work.  I purchased my first fax machine 20 years ago, as Deb and I worked collaboratively via fax and floppy disk. That fax machine (which burns the images on paper) still works, and we just moth-balled it last month due to the purchase of our HP wireless all-in-one printer. 
  • Thanks in part to my PageMaker knowledge, I got my first job at GE in Human Resources / Employee Communications, where one of my responsibilities was writing and developing the weekly plant newsletter  (Graphic layout, BTW, is not my strong suit.  Dammit Jim, I'm a writer, not a graphic designer). We had PROFS email back then, which was an IBM green-screen email client.   We were only permitted to email each other internally, and we were able to send TXT extension files as attachments.  The fax machine was still the main communications channel.  I loved email, and started sending shorter version of the plant newsletter via PROFS email.
  •  My brother Rob got a job with Prodigy and kept handing me down his outdated computer equipment. He suggested that Joel and I join America Online (AOL).  We did.  Thanks to Rob, I was able to research and write the business plan for The Best Framing Company (Joel's custom picture-framing business) using AOL in 4 months without stepping foot once in the library.  That business plan got Joel the unsecured SBA loan to start the business.
  • I suggested to Deb and Professional Women's Network, the group that Deb invited me to join, that we all get America Online accounts so that we could email each other rather than fax each other, as a time-saver.  Not well-received.  Too radical-geek.   However, they did all eventually get AOL accounts, and soon thereafter, work email took over.  I love how attached they all are to their smart phones today, remembering the AOL uproar all those years ago.
  • On the weekends, I would design simple postcards in PageMaker to market The Best Framing Company. It helped grow Joel's business and reinforce his reputation as a great custom picture-framer.
  • When I worked with my friend Ron, Palm Pilots were all the rage at work:  all the cool kids (e.g., Ron) had the color Palm Pilots.  For a number of years, before the advent of smart phones, my purse was weighted down by both my Palm Pilot and my cell phone.  No stinkin' planners for me.
  • A few years ago, I started attending Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley.  As a LinkedIn geek, it caught my interest, particularly the panel on blogging.  I hadn't written anything for myself since I was a senior in college.  I put a pin in the blogging presentation for later use, maybe.
  •  My friend and fellow writer Katie (we're both members of FUSS) kept talking about how she wanted to be paid to be a writer.  For 4 months, I joined Katie's husband and noodged her to set up a blog for free and start writing; I had just seen Julie & Julia and I was freshly inspired.  From my FUSS work with her, I knew that Katie was a talented writer, and frankly, I wanted to watch her swim in the blogging pool first before I gave it a try. She finally relented and started writing her WordPress blog, Capital District Fun.  Katie, by the way, is now a paid writer.  I watched Katie blog for 4 months, and then created my own blog, Deb Best Practices, when tweeting only 140 characters was no longer sufficient expression for me.  It's a Google Blogger blog, as my girlfriend Google is my BFF.
  • My friend Keith is the Webmaster on our project, and because of the nature of the work we're currently doing, he needed to teach me how to use Interwoven to update our website in a pinch.  A frustrating and quirky program.  WordPress,  in comparison, is a dream.  However, thanks to my experience with Google Blogger and building Google websites, I'm able to stumble my way through Interwoven successfully.  Keith is building our new website in Joomla, and I'm looking forward to learning Joomla as well, as Keith tells me it's a lot like WordPress.
  • My friend Linda, who I met when we were both PWN members, asked me to teach the opening course, Strategic Thinking and Leadership, at her organization's Leadership Institute.  This year will be my 6th year teaching the course, tweaking the presentation I developed in MS PowerPoint.  A few years ago, there was a student in the class;  a brilliant, young and up-and-coming lawyer:  my friend George.  The break-out exercise that I ask the students to do each year is the secret sauce that always sparks them to a new level in their professional development, even if it's just a small step.  In George's case, it was spontaneous combustion.   He manifested and later implemented his vision:  his growing firm, LaMarche Safranko Law.  He's still on fire, and it's great to see.  George has a great WordPress website.
Just a few of the wonderful family members, friends and colleagues who inspired my WordPress weekend; and really, so much more.