Monday, November 30, 2015

Ah, the plight of the middle manager

Jane--you've got this.
Government Executive did a piece by John R Malgeri and Jeffrey E Press, on "Jane," a supposed middle manager in government. But some of the observations could apply to the private sector, too.

Jane is tasked with translating broad objectives into manageable activities for herself and her staff.

Yet, she tries to be creative. She looks for new ways to improve performance, she acts on input from her people and customers, she collects better data to make work more efficient.

Some tips:

Ask the right questions. Jane must show she is humble enough to welcome advice. These middle managers seek front-line insights.

Then she asks questions. What questions do we not have answers to? What data do we need to answer those questions?

Jane should also identify the root causes of known problems. She needs to stay on top of trends--and offer low-cost, simple, innovative solutions.

She must be a change agent.

She must recognize employees want to be challenged, to change what is wrong.

Yes, this is easier said than done...

Recently I read a comment on a website from someone who had been to the airport and heard a supervisor tell a TSA agent to "slow down." This commenter was outraged--slow down, they are already slow...etc.  But maybe someone up the line was late for work, and shoving the screened people up the process would create a bottleneck, who knows...

Well, Jane is supposed to know... If slow down was her "solution," then her "customers" were not amused. Maybe a better system of checking in at the gate, where a missing person would not stop the process?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Change this--right now!

Elin Cherry,, writes about workplace changes she would like to see--PDQ. That stands for Pretty Darn Quick.

First, she says, the way an employer says things matters. Don't call child care and maternity leave "women's issues," call them "family issues."

Sometimes, employers say they are sensitive to such problems, but women can read between the lines. Instead of asking when a woman will be back after a baby, she says, it would be nice to say, "We have your back" and mean it.

Rewarding more on accomplishment and results would be good. Usually the most grueling hours are in one's 20s and 30s--but these are childbearing years.

Base incoming salaries on what others earn--not on what the applicant made in the previous job.

Employers also need to be aware of implicit bias. Women should not be deficient if they "don't lead like a man."

Let's face it, she says, childcare is often a woman's biggest "issue." Regular child care, care for when the child is sick, care for teens.

Child care AT WORK is the best option. Moms can visit, breastfeed. Childcare downtown in business districts is also an option. Companies could even co-op to provide childcare.

Let's get on it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Still time to find the perfect holiday job

The good thing about most holiday jobs is that you can't get stuck there--it's temporary.

Matthew Tarpey of CareerBuilder says you may already have one--the "holidays" now seem to start after Halloween, have you noticed?

Since this is often temporary, you can shoot for a job that fulfills your needs. The hours may be crucial to fit in with your other activities. The benefits and culture may be less crucial. You may pick something close to home, for example, and ignore other possible negatives.

Still, you may be hoping this seasonal job morphs into something more permanent. Almost 60% of employers say they may keep seasonal people on... In that case, look at all aspects. Don't be afraid to ask--could this become permanent?

A lot of seasonal jobs are in retail--don't worry if that is not your strong suit (say folding sweaters). There are many aspects to retail--customer service, clerical, management, shipping...Keep your ears open.

The one job that is strictly seasonal? Santa!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

You, you first

Nine to five expired with the constant presence of phones and email...but when is it OK to actually leave work?

Kit Watchot, in Career Contessa, takes on this thorny subject.

Nearly two-thirds of companies have people who stay and stay, for fear of letting down bosses or the team or hurting their own chances of advancement.

If you are in the "zone" on a project, OK. But is this every day?

It's OK to "pack up your books," as we used to say in grade school, if leaving does not mean missing a deadline, the coworkers have left, or a person you are collaborating with has called it day.

Before going...

--Answer emails with questions, so no one is left hanging.

--Check your to-do list--be sure nothing is missed.

--Say good-bye so no one is looking for you.

Still not sure? Ask the boss (if he or she is still there)--"OK if I get going?"

The way we did it in the old days was when the boss left, we did. It worked fine.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tidbit for the T-Day conversation

We all know about the Pilgrims, the Indians, the cold, the sharing and the thanks giving in 1621.

But this was NOT the first Thanksgiving, say archeologists at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The first one was 50 years earlier near the Matanza River in St. Augustine, Florida.

That was when the Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Avilas (left) and 800 soldiers, sailors, and settlers joined local tribes for a feast that followed the Mass of Thanksgiving.

They ate salted pork, red wine from Spain, and yucca from the Caribbean. Also on the table--garbanzo beans, hardtack, and olives.

Menendez left Spain with eight ships and arrived with four. He was thankful to have made it.

By the time the Pilgrims rustled up their vittles, the people who settled America's first colony in Florida probably had children and grandchildren living there.

The Florida settlement was also more of a melting pot than the more British-oriented ones we usually hear about.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Looking forward to political talk at T-Day din?

A new study finds that more than half of all "children" in the US either "don't get" or reject their parents' political party affiliations.

Time was, sociologists thought like parent like kid. The idea was that parents imposed their values--including political leanings.

The study, which appears in the December American Sociological Review, relies on data from two family-based surveys. You can get the details from the longer version in the Review.

In the two surveys, which looked at mother-child and father-child, more than 50% of children misperceived or rejected the parent's affiliation.

This held through the child's life--adolescence, young adulthood and adulthood.

A lot of discussion of politics in the home made it less likely that the kids not understand their parents' stands, but did not make it less likely that the child would reject those stands.

The conventional wisdom, the researchers said, may need to be updated. Children are not carbon copies of their parents--more's the pity.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Incubator in St Louis whips up food businesses

St Louis University has an industrial kitchen in the basement.
It has been used to teach nutrition and dietetics students the skills to operate restaurants and catering businesses. (It also prepared breakfasts and lunches for six nearby elementary schools.)

Recently the university upgraded it with new fridges and freezer and two blast chillers.

Now a dozen small food businesses rent space there. The university is making no dough on it, but it is self-supporting.

The faculty and grad students consult with the companies. One is Jessie-Pearle's Poundcakes Etc.  She has baked for 55 years but now can produce more cakes. All the tools are there, Jessie says.

Another student turned his master's thesis on how to bring locally produced tofu to St Louis into a business, MOFU Tofu. He uses non-GMO soybeans.

The caramel apple business called Rebel Roots prepares 80 apples a week for sale at farmers' markets. She uses her grandma's recipes for pretzel bit, marshmallow and peppercorn apples, among others.t

A women's shelter partially supports itself baking chicken pot pies at the kitchen. Homeless men also make Fresh Start Dog Food--which also sells cat treats.

For other campus kitchens, check out:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Veterans are great employees

Next post--on your team.
Veterans know how to work on a team, they have integrity, can perform under pressure, solve problems on the fly, adapt quickly, persevere, communicate, and master technology.

But nearly a third of veterans in a CareerBuilder survey, say they are underemployed, up 23% from last year.


Still, 38% of employers surveyed say they are stepping up their efforts to recruit vets. That's up 5% from a year ago.

What professions are hiring vets the most?

--Customer service (38% of employers cited)
--Sales (31%)
--Production (29%)
--Distribution and logistics (22%)
--Accounting (22%)
--Marketing (20%)
--Human resources (19%)

If you are a vet interviewing for jobs...

Be yourself. Eighty percent of vets say this on their resumes, but 58% think this is not a plus. Emphasize the qualities above.

Despite some skepticism on the past of vets, nearly half of employers say given two equally qualified applicants, they would hire the vet.

Only half?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hackable toys--a dark threat?

Hello yourself, Babs.What are you up to?
Caitlin Fairchild, Nextgov, says even children's playthings would be the playthings of the hackers.

"Hello" Barbie, for example, has a speaker, mic, and WiFi chip connected to servers--the better to converse with kids. She "remembers" info from previous chats--such as the child's favorite color.

Just call her Siri, says the CEO of the company, ToyTalk, Mattell partnered with to create this little companion.

He swears Babs is operated by robots, but Germany gave her a Big Brother Award for privacy violations. The NSA is also skeptical of the tiny bombshell.

Barbie is not alone--"My Friend Cayla" also communicates to kids and is not password-protected. And Cognitoy's dinosaur doll is powered by IBM's Watson.

Dinosaur doll? that Teddy Bear looking a little crafty?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Is your office a happy office?

This guy? I would say not happy.
In Forbes, Jeff Boss, author of Navigating Chaos, talks about how happiness is contagious in offices. He quotes Shawn Murphy, author of The Optimistic Workplace, on the types of leaders than can squoosh that upbeat atmosphere.

The blind exec--This one is unaware of how actions, attitude and words impact workplace optimism.

Anti-social--This person is often autocratic, distrustful of people, and skimpy with praise or recognition.

The change resister--Without change...we don't learn, grow, get better.

Those who see only profit--Profit is not the only measure of success.

Silo syndrome--Cannot see beyond his or her responsibilities, especially as to how work affects life outside the office.

I can think of some others...such as:

The scary big boss. Everyone cowers when he or she walks in or cruises around the office.

The favorite-player. This one favors certain people with the praise and good assignments.

The indecisive one. This boss throws every whim and idea at the staff without placing a priority on the projects.

Yipes--glad I work for myself. I am tough, though.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Please don't infect me

Want to clean that table?
David Spenser, CareerBuilder, writes about the practice of coming to work sick.

The idea has sprung up that only wimps take sick days.

Working while ill is called "presenteeism." You are present but not effective--and you could even lead to more "absenteeism" on the part of smarter coworkers.

People afraid of staying home--even if spewing germs and goo around--think staying home  shows a lack of commitment.

People are afraid of being fired. But coming to work can make them sicker--or keep them working at half-capacity for longer.

A vicious cycle.

Work can be a cure for some of life's ills--such as poverty, boredom, and lack of accomplishment--but it can also consume us and make us sick.

And if you are sick, it may be because someone else came to work sick.

I saw two people last week on "reality" or news shows who were sick but still working and talking to colleagues. Thanks a bunch, if I catch something.

There is no vaccine for stupid.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

In one day, you make 35,000 decisions

Can that be true? Jeff Boss, a former Navy SEAL and author of Navigating Chaos, says it is. I guess it depends on what you consider a decision.

Anyway, writing in Forbes, Boss quotes Steven Pressfield, author of The Art of War: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, who says most of us have the life we live and the unlived life within us--between the two, Resistance, the intangible force working against you. Resistance can be fear, anxiety.

But--he says--this Resistance is also an opportunity.

Uncertainty can also reveal your character. If one choice is the pressure of the moment and the other is something new--your character comes across.

Uncertainty also demands leadership and adaptability. Any "mission" can go wrong.

Uncertainty is also a proving ground. You can test out theories, be bold.

I am not sure I "get" all this...but it sounds valuable and worth pondering. Maybe I am uncertain. Do I have 34,999 more things to decide today?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Preschool musings--problem with Head Start

Full disclosure--My daughter went to preschool when she turned 2. I worked at home but had to work...I could not both care for her during the day and support her.

The preschool she went to was (31 yrs ago) more than $600 a month--members of Congress put their kids there--we were the poor relations. I still get the newsletter--the place is going strong.

They separated the kids into "rooms" of like ages. But researchers at Ohio State say that as of 2009, 75% of all Head Start classrooms (for low-income kids 3-5)  were mixed age. (Psychology Science)

This can be a downside for children, the researchers said.

Four-year-olds especially can be in less challenging classrooms. This may contribute to the less than stellar achievement milestones of 4-yr-olds in Head Start.

Basically in a sample of 2,879 kids, they found the higher prercent of 3-yr-olds in a class, the less well the 4-yr-olds did. When younger kids made up half the class, the 4-yr-olds lagged by five months.

There were also no academic gains for the 3-yr-olds.

They did not test for causes, but speculated that interaction with younger kids did not provide the stimulation in math and language and maybe teachers boiled down the lessons to a mixture young and older could grasp.

Something to think about...

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How can you find a cultural fit?

Your style?
I was watching a new reality show the other night called Apres Ski--about young people working at a ski resort and giving customers unique winter experiences--such as vaulting out of helos or riding in a dog sled.

The new CEO was a woman from "the city" who swans around in little black dresses and pearls. Her staff is bundled up in colorful sports gear, while she picks her way over icy paths in heels.

Good cultural fit? They call her out on it in the first episode, when one of her staff says she doesn't wear prom dresses on the slopes. Snap!

Anyhow, Caitlin Boho, CareerBuilder, writes about how to gauge the culture of a company.

She writes about a coworker who had three interviews at an ad company. Then the second candidate got the job--better cultural fit.  Does this mean I am not cool enough?" he wailed.

You need to scope out the fit in advance. Find someone who works there. She herself thought Groupon would be fun--fun perks, casual dress, a tiki bar--then she learned about the management style and hours--nope.

You also can scope things out online.Look under "About Us." Also check the company social sites.

In the interview, try to find common cultural ground with the interviewer. Does the company value a sense of humor, for instance.

Ask the interviewer to describe the work environment, group activities, ways work is rewarded.

Asking even one of these can get you interesting answers.

You can also tell a lot when you walk in--is the place bustling, noisy or pin drop quiet with closed office doors--if offices even HAVE doors?

Do people have person items on their desks? How about coffee cups? Is anyone laughing?

A tiki bar is not enough--presumably you are not in Figi.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Music at work

Tony Valdivieso, CareerBuilder, asks if you're the type who keeps headphones on at work.

For some people, this is a good strategy.

--Music makes you happier, which makes everything easier. People who listen at work depend on this stimulus--take it away and they flag.

--The more you know about music, the more it will help you work. A study showed that the more people listened, the more benefit they derived.

--Music amplifies creativity. You won't get  creative just by listening, but if you are already creative, you will get more creative.

CareerBuilder has put together some playlists on Rdio.

One list is classical--makes you more productive when details are involved--no lyrics to distract.

Another is a cure for a bad day--happy topics, no minor scales.

And there is also one for nostalgia--down memory lane.

Check out CareerBuilder FM on

Friday, November 6, 2015

What would you un-invent?

Causing the fall of civilization?
When I read the headline on this story in Nexgov by Robinson Meyer, I thought--nuclear weapons.

But I guess people were thinking smaller.The magazine took a poll of 101 executives, innovators and thinkers...and asked which technology they wish had not been invented.

Yes, nuclear weapons were one of the top two--but the other was selfie sticks.

Runners up:

24-hour cable news

Email (3 people)

Facebook or all socials (5)

The Newsfeed--too often substitutes for a paper or real research



Genetic testing for the masses

Leaded petrol (toxic, leads to lead infused kids)


Selfie sticks (a quarter of those polled!)


Salad Shooter (yeah, worried about that myself)

Weapons of war (10%)


Land mines

Besides nuclear weapons, I hate childproof caps--you need a kid's strong little fingers to open these!
Oh--and blister packs...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Now THIS is a desk

You know those standing desks, those desks with a bike or treadmill--now they have gotten serious--a reclining desk.

A California company called Altwork, reports Corinne Purtill of Government Executive magazine, created a sort of dentist chair desk.

This baby costs almost six grand and will ship next year. Preorders get a steep discount.

For 10 years, apparently, Ergoquest has sold reclining and zero-gravity (which I doubt) desks.

Japan as the Super Upward-Looking Dozing Desk.

Genius name.

Seriously--people with chronic back pain and other disabilities can benefit.

I was just being...snarky. The thing looks a teeny bit awesome.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Jargon--can drag down your career

Work guru Robert Half recently posted on CareerBuilder on the subject of jargon. Metrics, parameters, macros, monetize, incentivize--make it stop!

Of course some technical terms are necessary in business. I used to be in the aerospace industry--we needed to talk about avionics, powertran, perceived noise decibels, and so on.

But in business overall, jargon is so prevalent therer are even lists of banned corporate expressions in some quarters. Bandwidth--dreadful. Synergy--ick. Sea change--do you see an ocean I don't see? Even creativity is getting shopworn. "At the end of the day"--hate that one.

Yes, jargon builds a feeling of community, a secret language. It is shorthand in many cases. It also makes the users sound smart and wired-in.

But--tossing around the buzzwords can also make you sound unoriginal, confusing, alienating, and ANNOYING.

The optics, people--the optics!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What did your profs teach you?

How many of your professors or teachers stick in your mind? Not many? Me, either--but there are a few.

Careerbuilder asked some people what they remember learning from their profs.

Paul Thomas, assistant member in the dept of immunology at St Jude's: He helped Prof Paul Rauca, at Wake Forest, create an iPhone app to help Rauca's son communicate. It was a touch to talk device. He said he learned the power of simple ideas well executed. "Verbal Victor," their creation, has helped many handicapped kids and parents.

Adam Keune, cofounder of Higher Learning Technologies,, said one of his profs used to say, "An A product with a B Team will never beat a B product with an A team." He has focused on getting great people ever since.

Carolyn Smuts, freelancer, said one of her profs said make your career fit into your life--not the other way around. This prof also let her edit papers and keep her foot in the academic door while childbearing. Now she enjoys writing and editing and still has time for family life.

Think about what you might have learned. I remember being hired to do research in the Library of Congress for one professor. I learned to love that place! I later spent many happy hours there researching a screenplay.

In another instance, a professor urged me to do my senior thesis on a certain subject, which I did--and then he asked me for my research materials. He moonlighted for a think tank and was doing a paper on the same subject. Gee, guy. I was a green young kid, but I said, sure, if you pay me. He did. So I guess he "taught" me to stand up for myself.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Aw--now space weather?

Cool now, but you never can tell...
The US Geological Survey says a severe solar storm could distrupt the nation's power grid for months, leading to blackouts and a trillion buck pricetag.

Extreme space weather events...well, ducky. But never fear, the government has an action plan.

There are only a few geomagnetic storms per century, but still... What if they knock out electricity, GPS, and communications--even our TV system has occasional warnings about solar events interfering.

In November 2014, a task force was formed and is developing a National Space Weather Strategy.

Among other things, it will establish benchmarks for geoelectric fields ibnduced inside the Earth by storms from space. This will allow the power grid folks to create new engineering standards, determine vulnerability, and decide what the thresholds for action are.

For more info--go to the USGS website at and read the factsheet titled "Monitoring the Earth's dynamic magnetic field." There is also a raft of other information there.

Too wonky for Monday? Probably. But if I can stand it, you can.