Thursday, June 21, 2012

We have moved house

After 6+ years of blogging on the Blogger platform, I have finally been dragged kicking and screaming over to Wordpress and my own domain. All of my blogposts dating back to November 2005 have found a new home on my personal website. The blog is here.

Thanks for all your visits to the Oasis and the conversations you have started here; if you are subscribed, I am reliably informed that re-subscribing on Wordpress is a doddle and I look forward to continuing our conversations on the swish new site. (It really is swish - Sabrina Dent is a goddess!)

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Body Language Article - Giving the game away (Irish Independent)

John Meagher says there is more to political snap-shots than first meets the eye.

On the face of it, it's a moment of levity amid the sobering meetings on the future of the euro. French President Nicolas Sarkozy playfully ruffles the back of Enda Kenny's hair. The Taoiseach is photographed sporting a schoolboy grin. For all the world, it could be two old friends sharing a joke.

But Rowan Manahan, a Dublin-based body language expert and corporate speechwriter, sees it differently. "It's essentially the dominant primate letting the subordinate primate know who's in charge."

"Sarkozy may well like Enda on a personal level, but it is a condescending gesture that says, 'be a good boy now, Irishman, and do what you're told'. I couldn't imagine the roles being reversed in that photo. It's almost as if Enda knows his place. It's no wonder that the Opposition got mileage out of it," he says.

Gerry Adams took particular interest in the snap, which was splashed on the front page of the Irish Independent -- and other newspapers -- on Tuesday. "It is inappropriate for a Taoiseach to act like an eejit when he meets the French president," he said.

His comments led to an angry exchange in the Dáil, with Kenny taunting Adams about being "buddy-buddy with some very shadowy creatures over the past 30 years".

Manahan says today's political leaders have to be cognisant of how snapshots of them can be interpreted -- or misinterpreted. "Look at the photo of Mitt Romney that did the rounds a few weeks back," he says. "He appeared to be getting a shoe-shine. There he was looking smug and important, and some guy was bending down to care for his shoes. It wasn't exactly the sort of image a 'man of the people' would want to convey and I can't believe his advisers didn't realise how damaging such a photo would seem."

The photo -- featuring the Republican hopeful seated on the tarmac near his private jet and with a cowering figure attending to his footwear -- caused outrage in the US. By the time it was clarified that Romney was, in fact, having his shoes scanned by an airport security official, the damage had already been done.

Full article here.

Related Articles:
Learn to read the signals
Body language in job interviews

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saying yes without being a yes-man

When people think of yes men, they tend to think of spineless lackeys who bow, scrape and bob their heads at anything their boss says. I came across a particularly chilling quote from Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg trials:
"... alles was er um ihn hatte, waren ja Männer, alle keine Männer waren sechs Fuß darunter." (Translation - all he [Hitler] had around him were yes-men, all the no-men were six feet under.)
Much of the power of Oliver Hirschbiegel's extraordinary Downfall is how he portrays the helplessness of those around Hitler in the final days and hours - they simply cannot tell him the truth, nor can they find it in themselves to disagree with him. So what do you do when your hideous little troll of a VP demands that you drop everything and jump in on some project that he only half-understands? 

A straight "No" robs you of influence and will quickly earn you a negative reputation among your colleagues. I like Shawn Wood's version of saying some version of "Yes, but ..."
  • Yes. I can do this in your timeframe and in your budget. (A full yes)
  • Yes. I can do this in your budget but I am going to have to change the timeframe. (Yes, but)
  • Yes. I can do this, but not in your timeframe or your budget. Let's negotiate. (Yes, but but)
  • Yes. I can do this, but I do not think it is the best way. May I make suggestions? (Yes, however)
  • Yes, I can have someone else do this for you. (Yes, but not me ...)
Related Posts:
Shawn Wood has a superb post over on this topic over on Dumb Little Man

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Safe to take a vacation?

 Image: the wonderful
A client phoned me to tell me she was going back out to the market. I was surprised, given that she had been with her new company, in a senior position, for less than four months. [She works in the funds industry and had moved her family to mainland Europe to take up this very senior role]

"I had an interesting conversation today Rowan. I rang my boss in New York to tell him - not ask him, tell him - that I was taking next Friday off, given that the following Monday is a public holiday. Here's how the conversation went ...
Me: Just to let you know, I won't be here on Friday, I'm taking the day off to take advantage of the long weekend.
Him: You can't do that.
Me: Why not? the month-end will be locked from the previous weekend; I've bedded down all the staff in the three months I've been here, there won't be any problem ...
Him: Yeah, but you still can't do it. What kind of example would that be for your people?
Me: What do you mean? I've got 23 vacation days in my contract [god bless European contracts!] and I haven't taken any time off with my family since I got here.
Him: Yeah, you may have 23 days in your contract, but just try getting taken seriously in this company if you take 'em.
And then he hung up on me! So, I'm out of here Rowan. Polish up my CV, it's time to find a job with a civilised company."

She embarked on a rapid job-hunt, served her notice a couple of weeks later, and joined a competitor company in the same country. 

I am fascinated by the mindset of companies like that. Many years ago, I had a client who used to sit in his office, late into the night, doing crossword puzzles, waiting for his Japanese boss to go home. And his Japanese boss was sitting in his office, doing god knows what, waiting for the shihainin to go home - because the culture in that company was that you couldn't go home until your boss had. This was monumentally stupid, as it was a commodities trading firm, where useful work could only happen in the window when the markets were open. The uber-boss was probably sitting there, balancing his cheque-book, enjoying the rush of exercising his power, making his subordinates spend so many pointless hours sitting at their desks.

Even in a depressed market, how long will you tolerate this kind of neanderthal nonsense before you become a flight risk to your company? Unfortunately what I'm hearing from seminar audiences is that in a depressed market, the depressing answer is that neanderthal behaviour has become the norm and that 'civilised' companies are few and far between ...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This interview is over!

My client – female, mid-40s, stellar CV in PR and Communications – walked in the door for an interview with the CEO of a well-known plc. She was ushered in by the CEO’s PA; he was sitting behind his desk, writing on a Post-it note and, without eye contact, waved her to a chair in front of his desk.

As she pulled the chair back from the desk, he stood up and said, “You’re way too old for a position like this (Director of Corporate Communications) aren’t you?” 

My client, paused, placed both of her hands on the back of her chair and levelly said, “Hmmmm, interesting opening gambit. Let’s see now – either:
  • You haven’t read my CV at all, and my age has come as a surprise to you – in which case, you’re simply unprofessional or 
  • You’ve read my CV, but couldn’t work out my approximate age – in which case you’re an idiot or 
  • You’ve read my CV, know exactly how old I am, and you’re opening the conversation in this aggressive, and illegal, tone just to see how I’ll react when I’m supposed to be off-balance – in which case we’re back to unprofessional, with a dash of pig-ignorance thrown in for good measure or 
  • You’ve read my CV, know exactly how old I am and you’re opening the conversation in this aggressive, pig-ignorant tone because that’s your normal style – in which case you’re an arsehole.
      I’m plumping for the last option. Good-bye.”
      And she turned on her heel and walked out.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can tell pretty much everything you need to know about an organisation by the way they hire and the way they fire.
      Related Posts:

      Tuesday, June 14, 2011

      Advice from a commencement address

      You could be forgiven for thinking that Conan O'Brien is a pretty unlikely source of advice on career management - until you watch this. If you want to jump to the Big Fat Hairy Point bit, it's about 17 minutes in, but I found the BFHP piece all the more excellent because it's such a sharp contrast from his light opening and body material.

      Great stuff, which should be listened to by everyone leaving formal education for the first time and will no doubt be liberally plagiarised by commencement speakers all over the world - in the unlikely event that I am ever asked to address my Alma Mater, I will certainly be lifting entire chunks from this. Enjoy.
      RSS Readers may need to click through to the post.
      Related Posts:

      Wednesday, April 20, 2011

      Bullying in recessionary times

      From the Sunday Times:

      The pressures of the recession are contributing to a rise in workplace harassment - by Gabrielle Monaghan
      Nelson Muntz - funny in The Simpsons, awful in real life.
      In the recession-hit workplace - where managers are under pressure to cut costs and staff are stressed out from longer hours and less pay - bullying and harassment are thriving, according to HR advisers and employment lawyers.

      "There has always been an undercurrent of bullying in the world of work but it's worse now because of the kind of pressure everyone is under," said Rowan Manahan, the managing director of Fortify Services, an HR consulting firm. "More time is being spent in disciplinary hearings over untenable behaviour. The old-world courtesies previously afforded to employees have gone out the window because employers are in survival mode."

      "Some employers feel that there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians, and make life difficult for older, expensive employees," added Manahan. "When, as an investigator [for bullying cases],  you question their behaviour; many are genuinely mystified. But their victims suffer issues such as insomnia and anxiety states."

      He describes the workplace as a "turf war" and says that some employees are making a "land grab" for colleagues' territories because they see their own job under threat. "If you are not politically savvy and don't understand what's really going on, it can come as a horrendous shock to you."

      While the stereotypical bully may be an Alpha-male boss screaming abuse at minions cowering in the stationery cupboard, the reality is far less dramatic. "It tends to be more insidious than that. The kinds of people who habitually bully do not necessarily throw crockery at you in front of 29 other staff."

      By 2009, almost half of the Irish workforce had experienced bullying, with seven in 10 employees too frightened to report it ...

      Bullying and harassment are particularly acute in workplaces accustomed to rigid hierarchies, such as schools, universities and the public services, reveal Manahan and Scott-Lennon.

      With a dearth of job vacancies in the recession, workers who feel they are being bullied are more likely to put up with it, out of concern the alternatives are unemployment or a drawn-out court case that will affect their income or future career. Until Irish courts award damages similar to those in the US -  where victims of bullying have received millions in compensation, in part because of the loss of future employment prospects - victims here are more likely to keep schtum.

      "I have testified in the High Court in these cases, and there is this fear factor that, even if you win the case, you'll 'never work in this town again'. It will be a Pyrrhic victory, because it doesn't do your career any good," Manahan said. [Indeed, for every case that I have seen proceed down the legal route, there are 15-20 who decide to stay schtum, put up with it, or vote with their feet.]

      Even if a company does not have a policy that documents what amounts to inappropriate behaviour [and let's not forget that to do this is now illegal in Ireland!], Manahan recommends the following litmus test for managers or employees considering whether their comment or actions are suitable: would you be happy for your mother to know about it?

      Full article in the Sunday Times.

      Related Posts:

      Friday, February 25, 2011

      Pssst! PowerPointy goodness over here!

      I don't usually point to my Preso blog from here, but in case you've missed it, there's a very popular vid featuring yours truly over here. Lots of juicy PowerPointy goodness to be had!

      Monday, February 07, 2011

      Mastery. Once a nerd ...

      At a recent job-hunting seminar, I asked the audience if they had ever mastered anything. 100 people in the room. No raised hands.

      "Nothing? No-one?" I asked. I then went on to admit that, gigantic nerd as I am, I had mastered the Rubik Cube in the early 1980s and that back then, I could solve it in an average time of 30 seconds.*

      I talked briefly about other things I had obsessed about - Frisbeeing and martial arts - and how much work it had taken to get really skilled at these various activities. I then went back to the audience and started asking questions:
      "How many people here have ever achieved Grade 8 in a musical instrument?"
      "How many people here have ever represented their school? Their college? Their county? Their country?"
      "Has anyone here ever won a medal at a major event?"
      "Had anything published?"
      "Graduated cum laude?" and so on ...
      With each of these questions, various hands were raised as people started to realise the things they had achieved - albeit in activities that did not relate to their job-hunt. The group then went on to talk about how much work had been involved in mastering their chosen activities and, by extension, how much work was needed to stand out from the crowd in a job hunt. 

      We've talked about this before here at the Oasis - being really good at your chosen profession is not enough, particularly in an arid market. Career management and job-hunting require skills that are probably completely different to the skills that make you good at what you do. So think back - think of something you have mastered in this life and think how much work that took. You might have only won by a nose or gained first place in the examination by half a percent. [I was beaten in the national Rubik's Cube championships in Ireland in 1981 by 0.2 of a second - bitter ashes] 

      What does it take to stand out in your field? How much of it is reputation? How much is track record? Attitude? Sheer donkey-work? Do you know? Do you know?

      Find out what it takes in your arena. Then look at yourself in the cold light of day. How do you measure up? This is foundational stuff - you need to know this. It is only when you have this basic information under your belt that you can start to present yourself to the market in the appropriate way.

      * A couple of people came up to me during the breaks in the seminar and expressed doubts as to my ability to solve the Rubik's Cube, then or now. I didn't have a Cube with me - I'll make sure I do in future - so this wee vid I did today will have to do. The fingers aren't quite as quick as they used to be, but I'm still in touch with my inner nerd!

      RSS Readers may need to click through to the post

      Saturday, January 22, 2011

      Stay within your time!

      Don't go over your time. Ever.

      Except, maybe, if they give you a standing ovation and refuse to leave the theatre, chanting "More more more!"

      But in a business environment? A meeting? A presentation? No. 

      If you're the senior person in the room, you are being an asshole and setting a bad example for your troops. If you're not the senior person in the room, you might want to look up the phrase "career-limiting move."

      I am constantly aghast at how often business people blithely run 25 or even 50 percent over their allotted time. I worked with an NGO a few years back, selecting the new CEO. For the second interview, we included a 12-minute "my vision" presentation. In the briefing document we stressed that the presentation would be timed and that it was to be "strictly 12 minutes." I told each candidate as they stood up to deliver: 
      "Imagine you are delivering this presentation on CNN. Unfortunately, the satellite will pass out of coverage in twelve minutes' time, cutting you dead. So you need to be really mindful of the clock. Go."
      Only two out of five candidates stuck to their time ...

      Execupundit, wise man and all-round seer Michael Wade nails it.
      "... and I'd like to thank the Dolly Grip and the guy who brought me those little moist towelettes and my kindergarten teacher and ..."

      Related posts:
      Timeliness (from the preso blog)
      Making time for rehearsal (from the preso blog)

      Tuesday, January 11, 2011

      Not getting interviews? Is your CV getting read at all?

      An enjoyable back and forth on the CV Clinic at Guardian Careers last week. Here is the final comment I made that day, having read oodles of queries from job-seekers who probably had average-or-better CVs, but who weren't getting any interviews.
      I find it interesting to note that many of the queries here are about CVs - but only to the extent of getting that CV onto the right person's desk. It seems to me that many of the problems being presented here today centre on 'Route of Entry' rather than CV per se.

      I don't find it surprising that a job-hunt that is centred on recruitment agencies, online applications and the occasional directly advertised job is proving frustrating for the hunter. The signal-to-noise ratio for those first two routes is such that no matter how good your CV is, you risk not being noticed.
      Don't get lost in the noise - "Your CV? Ah yes, I'm sure I came across it the other day"
      It is a given that you need a superb CV.

      It is a given that you need a CV that is tailored to each potential employer's needs (this might only involve tweaking 5-15% of the content of your CV, but that 5-15% will be the bit that makes one particular employer go "Aha!" when they read it).

      It is a given that you need to be able to talk about achievement and contribution rather than just responsibilities and duties.

      What is not a given is this - How do you ensure that your beautifully-crafted CV gets read at all?

      All of our mothers probably uttered the same piece of advice to us when we were children - "Don't talk to strangers." And yet, the majority of job-hunters spend the majority of their efforts on doing precisely that.

      I suspect that we need a Clinic looking at how to reach out in the marketplace to people who are not complete strangers. I work with employers every day and they don't want to waste time, money or management effort talking to time-stealers. And let's face it - the screening and selection process is enormously time-consuming. In a market where time = money, the most useful thing you can do as a job-hunter is to save an employer some time.

      So assuming you can get your CV onto the right desk, it needs to reflect that at the very first glance. The employer needs to be thinking, "Yes! This person is right in the frame of what I am looking for to fill this vacancy."

      90% of CVs that I read utterly fail to do this.

      They are generic, one-size-fits-all, self-centred, documents. Read back through all the advice from the experts here - it all says the same thing. WRITE WITH THE READER IN MIND. 90% of people nod their heads at this advice when I meet them at seminars or correspond with them in a setting like this. And yet 90% of the CVs I read are average-to-poor.

      Write with the reader in mind. Really. If you can do that, you will be head and shoulders above the competition.
      This combination of right CV on the right desk at the right time is very rare ... Think long and hard about how you are going to achieve that. The full clinic is here with lots of good ideas from the assembled experts, well worth a look.

      Wednesday, January 05, 2011

      The lost art of the coherent sentence 2

      I had forgotten this amazing piece from Joseph O'Connor on the topic of being inordinately fond of the word "like"
      RSS readers may need to click through to the post
      Big hat-tip to Matto for reminding me of this one – it really, like, brightened up, like, my day? Ya know?