Archive for January, 2012

What should I do when my boss takes another job?  I often hear this question, and I heard it once again this week. 

Should I immediately update my resume?  Will a  new executive bring in a new person?  Should I just go ahead and start looking?   This is a very disturbing time for everyone, and we have all been through it. But I have found that the best and most secure approach is to use it as a time to consider “reinventing” myself! 

What I mean by this is that each transition point will likely require a slightly new you to get through it. Your best approach to this “new day” is to retool your brain: Tell your new boss that you are excited about change,  your organization will benefit from it, and that you want to be a part of it.

This means you will need to shift your focus, exhibit a rebirth of new energy, accept the inevitability of change, and be more than ready to “walk a new talk.”  You cannot sell your soul, of course. But each new boss will bring new ideas, new priorities, and a desire to make his or her mark on the organization. The most secure place you can be at a time like this is to get excited about helping to make new things happen.

What you don’t want to do is act and look defensive. You don’t want to look like you are trying to protect your turf and the way you have been doing things. You should never say, “We don’t do it that way.”  Never respond to a suggestion with, “We tried that last year and it doesn’t work.” You must resist the inevitable strong feeling that the past is not being properly honored. You must be prepared to try it all again, and to do it with the attitude that you just might learn something new this time around. It’s difficult, but just do it!

Leading change, or helping to lead change, is always more secure than resisting it. Resisting change, however, is a sure ticket to losing your job. Make no mistake!

But, sometimes all this still just doesn’t work out.  You take the initiative but the new boss still wants a new person. Or, you tried, but find you are not compatible with this “new day.”  However, you are now a self-confident, reinvented you. Armed with an updated resume and a reactivated contacts network, you now really look like an energized professional ready for a new adventure, and that attitude always attracts the best opportunities.


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I got a call this week from a colleague trying to decide whether or not to take a job offer at another institution.  He wanted my help in making his decision. These transitions are never easy, and to talk with someone not involved in the situation is always helpful. But at moments like this no one can give you the answer.

I have found that if the offer makes you curious the best thing to do is “play it out.” Do the interview and take plenty of time to work through all the pros and cons. Resist any strong tendency to make a quick decision. Ask for several interviews. Realize you will probably make multiple decisions in your mind before you settle on a course of action. And know that several of those decisions might be total opposites. 

During and immediately following a good interview people often think they will take the job. They may even tell their potential new boss that they are certain they will take the job. But then they wake up at home the next day clearly knowing they won’t do it. Each new job opportunity has its own set of issues and complications. The idea of “sleeping on it” is a very wise one. If you take your time and play it out over time, the best decision usually appears almost like magic.

When that decision is to actually take the new job, never look back.  It is a new day now, and you must declare it so. For example, never arrive at the new job with an image in your mind what a perfect organization looks like… whether it is a university, an arts organization, a business, etc. Each organization has a distinct founding mission and culture that is the consequence of its history. Your job is to learn and completely absorb all that before you help articulate a new, and compatible, vision. Your success will depend on your ability to find and communicate this particular organizaton’s best “big idea.”

Your past experience will help you analyze your choices more effectively. But never say “we did that at my last organization and it never works.” Rather, you must be prepared to test it again in this new environment and with today’s market conditions. Then, use your vast experience to bring more depth and wisdom to your analysis.

All that said, however, my colleague did what I suspected he would. He told his potential new employer that he would take the job.  He went home and slept on it. Then, he had second thoughts the very next morning!  And the decision was easily made to stay.

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As I prepare to once again teach a graduate seminar in integrated marketing communication I am reminded of my ongoing challenge to make sure that these advanced students go out into our profession fully prepared to be “proactive” professionals.

In the past, many of my graduate students come to my seminars from jobs where they are assumed to be reactive tactics experts. Managers come to them when they want to get out a press release, or need a new brochure, or want to produce a video, or promote a special event. New communication  practitioners find themselves in the role of taking orders for products.They constantly hear: “Here is what I want, when can I have it.”

My challenge always is to show my students the potential for being able to counsel managers, and eventually senior executives, about new and powerful possibilities. Indeed, experienced thinkers in our profession have the power through strategic communication tools and integrated marketing processes to literally transform organizations with their planning advice. I must show them how this works, but then also teach them the political skills essential for getting themselves in a position to function on this higher level.

The implementation steps are really simple: (1) Clarify the organization’s competitive advantage, usually referred to as “big idea” or unique brand identity. (2) Use ongoing group processes to get a critical mass of internal managers and staff “on the same page” with regard to this positioning messaging. (3) Use multi-platform communication tactics simultaneously, and select them based on researched media preference of each target market. (4) Influence management presentations by preparing talking points and offering speechwriting services. (5) And focus on high visibility initiatives, based on immediate opportunities, and implemented using carefully formed action teams.

With this understanding of the power of the profession mastered, the challenge now becomes how to use political savvy and strategies to get into a position of being able to use what we know. This involves having a “teaching plan” in mind  to help others understand our potential. It also involves imagining how to accomplish this “teaching” one step at a time– in one-on-one interviews, in regular meetings, and in other groups we can form for this purpose. And finally, it involves understanding the simple basics of grassroots politics, and how they apply to organizations.

This last topic, internal politics, is what we never seem to teach in typical academic programs, or even in professional development seminars. But, I have now come to think that it is actually the most imporant topic I can bring to these students.

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There has been much talk this year about how polarized US politics has become. The intensity of the situation has reminded me of why many universities ended their debate programs over the years.

Some institutions were concluding that while competitive debating taught students how to stick with an extreme position until the bitter end, argument to that extreme rarely if ever produced actionable conclusions. One could devise a way to score the competition, but the result was winners and losers based on a point scale, and not a framework for collaborative decision-making.

In my work, I have found that super intelligent people can chose to use their superior talent in one of two ways: They can use it to be more cleaver than the other person, thereby out-maneuvering their competition. Or, they can use it to find constructive ways to solve real problems. The result of the first approach is always a polarized environment where everything becomes a horse race with people taking sides, and the second approach is much more likely to enable teamwork and eventual progress.

The problem-solving approach requires learning the art of compromise. And while partisan politics may require clarifying ideology during campaigns, the business of governing requires frequent teamwork once the campaign is over. So what does learning the art of compromise require?

My experience suggests that compromise first requires a commitment to clarify and understand all the action possibilities. Teamwork requires a willingness to brainstorm ideas first, and then analyze the pros and cons of each alternative. It means having a predisposed willingness to follow the directions careful analysis dictate, and a fundamental belief that when a solution with more pros than cons is finally articulated, that a decision to act never has to be final. It can always be revised along the way based on actual experience.  

In other words, compromising to win means that you are able to see beyond what you gave up now to what can happen later on through experience and revision. And I believe this applies to finding revenue to offset a nation’s debt, as well as to important decision-making in organizations.

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