Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Archive for the ‘Executive Careers’ Category

Vault’ s Careers Blog is Moving

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An announcement: after almost a year on WordPress, we’re discontinuing Vault’s Careers Blog on WordPress. But don’t worry: you’ll still be able to get your fill of career information and advice on Vault.com–where our blogs are going from strength to strength.

Our full blog lineup on Vault.com is as follows:

Vault’s Careers Blog
Vault’s Law Blog
Consult THIS: Consulting Careers, News and Views
In Good Company: Vault’s CSR blog
In the Black: Vault’s Finance Careers Blog
Admit One: Vault’s MBA, Law School and College Blog
Insider Career Advice from SixFigureStart
Innovate with Influence: Global High Tech

Thanks for reading us on WordPress.

We hope to see you over on Vault.com soon!

–The Vault Editorial Team

When Top Talent Should Be Allowed to Leave

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Consider the following management scenario: you’re the leader of a highly successful team, but one that has recently had to tighten its belt financially. While you are committed to training and building success long-term future, your current reputation and success rests heavily on one or two key members. And one of them just announced that he wants to leave.

Worse, he’s come out and criticized the organization publicly, stating that the fiscal constraints have hampered your organization’s ability to attract the top talent it needs to ensure a successful future—and he isn’t prepared to waste his time at any organization that isn’t meeting his level of ambition.

(Privately, you suspect that his real concern with “fiscal restraint” is much closer to home: despite being your highest-paid employee, he knows he could make more elsewhere.)

So what do you do?

Those with even a passing acquaintance with the world of English soccer may have recognized that the above scenario bears more than a little resemblance to a situation that played itself out in the public eye last week: the Wayne Rooney contract saga.

Wayne Rooney

AP Photo / Jon Super

For those unfamiliar, Rooney–pictured left–is the star player at Manchester United. At the start of this season, he was pulling in a salary of around 90,000 pounds per week, on a contract set to expire in two years. In August, he announced to the club that he wanted to leave at the end of his contract period—and the information became public last week. When pressed to justify his reasoning, Rooney issued a statement that essentially expressed his belief that the club is in terminal decline.

Two days later, he signed a new five-year contract—rumored to double his previous salary—with United manager Sir Alex Ferguson praising Rooney because “he has accepted the challenge to guide the younger players and establish himself as one of United’s great players. It shows character and belief in what we stand for.”

PR spin aside, the saga reflects just how dangerous it can be for any organization to become too reliant on a handful of key operators. Whatever happens for Rooney now, he has damaged both his own and his team’s brand—and while he has secured a better deal for himself, nothing else he mentioned has changed. The club that he believed to be in decline—in part because they can’t afford to match the astronomical salaries being paid elsewhere—is actually in a less competitive position now that they’ve tied up a much more significant portion of their revenue in his wages than before.

There are many who believe that the management at Manchester United did the right thing under the circumstances. But there are some cases where retaining your top talent is less important than upholding the values of your organization. This should have been one of them. Quite apart from the fact that the deal agreed with Rooney is enough to pay at least two high-caliber players, management has now set up a situation where other players may feel emboldened to do the same

There’s an old cliché in sport that says that no one player is bigger than the team. In this case, that has proved that to be untrue. Whether the fix pays off in the short term or not, it’s hard to escape the notion that it sets up a situation in the long term where the club is regarded as something of a cash cow for top talent, rather than an organization known for its excellence. And once you’ve got to the point where the only incentive you can offer is financial reward, you really are in trouble.

–Phil Stott, Vault.com

 

Career Moves to Make Before Year-End

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We have two months to go before 2011. You might be tempted to ease into the holidays and push into the New Year your work on landing a new job, starting a business, making a career change, or getting a promotion. But there are certain things you should do now to take advantage of the remaining days of 2010.

Prepare for end of year discussions. If your company pays bonuses or determines promotions at year end, this might be the time that decisions are made. Make sure people are aware of your contributions. If you have any emails from colleagues thanking you for a job well done, forward these to your manager. (If you have none of these, you should, so start collecting them for 2011!) If there is no formal review process, schedule a meeting proactively, so you can discuss in detail your contributions and your expectations going forward.

Use the holiday festivities to step up your networking. Many professional associations have holiday mixers, so if you haven’t kept up with your industry colleagues, now is a good time to play catch-up. If you have extra bandwidth, volunteer to assist at the mixer. You will make deeper connections with the group, and it’s a great way to ensure you meet with most of the attendees. Sending holiday cards is an easy but thoughtful way to build in a hello each year.

Plan and organize for next year. Clear out your office files. Mark your 2011 calendar for key meetings and appointments. Look at your company’s training calendar, and sign up now so you prioritize your professional development before your schedule gets too crazy. Think of your big career goals for 2011, and schedule your calendar now for reminders throughout the year. For example, if expanding your network is a goal, then schedule a weekly reminder to reach out to several contacts.

Finally, if there is a career goal you know you want now (e.g., land a new job, start a business, make a career change, or get a promotion), then start now. It’s a myth that hiring stops near the holidays. It’s also dangerous to wait for that perfect time to start. The above checklist of items are still good ideas, but should not displace efforts you make towards bigger career goals.
— Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Admit Nothing: Debunking the Infallible Leader

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There is a phenomenon in leadership, known as the “Reality Distortion Field.” The term describes a level of charismatic self-assurance so overwhelming and nigh delusional that no criticism can penetrate it, and those in its path are powerless to withstand the hype.

In this sphere, any ambition is attainable, every idea a masterpiece and any setback a negligible distraction. Such overconfidence might seem absurd on paper, but in practice it is embraced as an exceptional quality. But not everyone can get ahead simply by putting perception in a chokehold.

The term’s origin should come as no surprise: Apple drones coined it in the early 1980s to illustrate the belligerent influence of Steve Jobs. “In his presence,” as one minion put it, “reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything.” If complex tasks were scheduled in an unrealistic time frame, Jobs deemed it eminently doable; should evidence show Steve was wrong, he bent the facts to prove himself right.

Over time, claims of “Reality Distortion” have been applied to other Silicon Valley honchos. Apple’s chief rival, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, is most notable for displays of boundless, sweaty confidence that somehow captivate industry audiences. So too is Larry Ellison, who has recently taken to harshly doling out unsolicited criticism of peers in the press (who willingly take his word as gospel).

Given their collective achievements, one might think that there’s something to the obstinate approach. In truth, they serve as outliers. Without true knowledge and ability, a cocksure leader is a liability.

Recall LifeLock CEO Todd Davis: So sure was he of his company’s identity theft protection system, Davis freely listed his social security number in television and print ads. Certainly some employees must have expressed misgivings about such a bold claim, yet Davis laid down the gauntlet. As a result, his identity was stolen thirteen times, embarrassing the company and leaving a shameful trail of fraudulent debt in his wake.

Davis assumed his confidence would carry the product. But while leaders should inspire faith, the “Reality Distortion” mindset goes a step further—even an inkling of doubt signifies weakness. This is seen in the political arena, where candidates attract slurs like “flip-flopper” over slight shifts in policy. Some contenders will stick to a line in the hope they can alter voter perceptions, no matter the risk of being caught, or the cost to their credibility.

New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino is one such stubborn figure, campaigning on a “kitchen sink strategy” of persistent accusations against his opponent, Andrew Cuomo. When Paladino claimed to know of marital infidelities by Cuomo, the press asked for proof. He belligerently demurred, until eventually admitting that his allegation was hypothetical and had no substance—only to resume the lie in subsequent television appearances. For his arrogant zeal, Paladino’s prospects are on the decline. Recent polls show him trailing Cuomo, with the gap ever widening as Election Day approaches.

Leading through sheer force of overbearing will also carries a particularly undesirable side-effect: Volatility. Intimidation and abuse rank high as motivation for staff to fall in step with one’s ineffable vision, and screaming tantrums are not unheard of in these environments. Steve Jobs is himself given to rages that drive some to the verge of tears, and drive down the happiness index in Cupertino.

In his 2007 book The No Asshole Rule, author Robert Sutton deems Jobs’ effectiveness as an exception to the eponymous rule, yet acknowledges the Apple leader’s reputation for humiliating staff. Sutton otherwise promotes a prevailing wisdom that puts employee satisfaction first: Happy workers are productive and creative workers, while abuse drives up employee turnover (and potential lawsuits).

As much as budding leaders may wish to become a Jobs or Ellison, it’s not their hubris that should be emulated. Whether you attribute it to a unique confluence of factors or simply uncanny mutant powers, success didn’t come from their willfulness alone. Ultimately, they possessed intelligence and skill. Blustering may get you through the door, but ability is what builds great computers, great products and great companies.
— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

Written by A.A. Somebody

October 20, 2010 at 8:13 am

Where the Women Aren’t: The Banking C-Suite

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October is Carl Paladino National Diversity Month, so we decided to go back to the data we collected in our most recent Banking Survey and see if we couldn’t find a few fitting pieces to offer up in honor of these holy 31 days.

First, what we found, unsurprisingly, is a marked lack of women in the banking workplace. Somewhat surprising, though, was that this lack of women increases as you go up the banking org chart. That is, as you’ll see in the graphic below, of those bankers surveyed, 26 percent identified themselves as women. But of those surveyed who hold executive positions, only 11 percent identified themselves as women. The takeaway here is that females are still underrepresented at the top financial firms, and are severely underrepresented in the higher ranks at the top financial firms.

Vault.com 2010 banking diversity gender

Second we found (again unsurprisingly) that the ethnic group that accounts for most (almost three quarters) of the entire banking industry is none other than the white male. However, interestingly, we found that the white male is far better represented in the banking industry than it is in the general population—almost 10 percent greater as you can see in the graphic below. In addition, Asians, the second largest ethnic group in banking, are also far better represented in the industry than they are in the wider U.S. population—about three times greater, in fact. On the other side of this diversity story, Hispanic individuals and African-Americans are severely underrepresented in the banking industry versus their representation in the wider population.

 

Vault.com ethnic diversity of finance industry 2010

Third, we found a large lack of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals in banking. Given that banking is perhaps one of, if not the most politically conservative industries in the United States, this might not come as that much of a surprise, but still, you would think that the lack might not be as significant as the pie chart below indicates: just 1 percent of the more than 2,200 bankers surveyed had identified themselves as an openly GLBT individual. Which begs the question: are GLBT individuals not welcome into the banking industry, not interested in the industry, or both?

Vault.com 2010 banking diversity GLBT

–Posted by Derek Loosvelt, In The Black

Career Skills: How to Influence Your Colleagues

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“The most important capacity you possess is the capacity to influence other people to change their behavior.”—Joseph Grenny, addressing the 2010 World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall. According to Grenny, all leaders face two key problems:

  1. What should we do? (A problem of leadership or strategy)
  2. How do I get everyone to do it? (A problem of influence)

Making the point that most businesses tend to focus on the first point—the strategy—Grenny pointed out the need to spend more time on the second, and devoted the bulk of his address to it. He explained his rationale via a concept he calls Grenny’s Law of Leadership: “There is no strategy so brilliant that people can’t render it worthless.”

While it provided a lighthearted moment, the law also encapsulates a serious reality: that the real challenge for leaders is not in devising strategies, but in influencing people to execute on them. Grenny points out that most people faced with a challenge of influence believe that “one thing will propel change”—whether that’s an incentive, a persuasive argument or simply an order. Throughout his years studying influencers, however—during which he co-authored the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything—Grenny has identified six sources of influence that are crucial for anyone considering that question of how they can influence others to change their behavior. And he stresses that the best influencers manage to tap all six sources at some level:

  1. Make the undesirable desirable
  2. Surpass your limits
  3. Harness peer pressure
  4. Find strength in numbers
  5. Design rewards and demand accountability
  6. Change the environment

Unfortunately, Grenny had rather a lot of information to squeeze into the time allotted him, and he was only able to fully expand on a couple of the points above. Most notably, he suggested that a solution to overcoming the first influence is to “connect people with the human or moral consequences of their actions”—and to do so by “storytelling.” As an example, he pointed to New York uber-restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose focus on customer service is fast becoming the stuff of legend. But Meyer didn’t get his thousands of employees to buy into the concept simply by decree, says Grenny. Rather, he tells stories at company meetings of how exceptional service profoundly impacted the experience of customers at his restaurants, and encourages other employees to make a similar difference.

Grenny also made an illuminating point about the power of social influence. Illustrating this, he discussed an experiment to get more people to pay their taxes in Minnesota. That experiment saw three different messages printed on the top of tax forms, encouraging people to pay—one threatening punishment for non-payment, one telling people where their tax dollars were being spent, and the other thanking people for joining the 80 percent of the population paying their taxes. The message that had the greatest effect? The one that placed a social pressure on people, by suggesting that if they didn’t pay, they’d be in the minority.

While he didn’t have time to focus on any of the other points he raised, Grenny did leave the audience with one striking stat: that those who use six sources of influence to change personal habits (to stop smoking, for example) are four times more likely to succeed. In a business setting—when using the tactics to effect changes at an organizational level—the level of success rises to ten times more likely.

Written by Phil Stott

October 7, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Ten Career To Do’s

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Jim Collins kicked off the 2010 World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall with an address that had the ability to inspire or frighten an audience in equal parts.

The source for both the inspiration and the fear is the same: his belief that we’re heading into a world where there will be “no new normal” but rather a series of unexpected changes. Depending on who you are, that presents either an opportunity or a reason to fear the future—a paradox that relates to one of Collins’ key messages for individual careerists and would-be leaders: that you should spend less time thinking about your career and more time asking how you can be useful.

Collins’ address took in much of his previous findings and research in titles such as Good to GreatBuilt to Last and How the Mighty Fall. As such, it was a wide-ranging and often fast-paced affair that carried no single takeaway–or at least none that can be condensed into a live blog—on what it takes for individuals and businesses to succeed and then avoid consequent failure. He did, however, offer his audience ten “to do” items that serve as a useful summary of most of his main points, and which have the added advantage of being—for the most part—actionable career items.

  1. Do your diagnostics: At Collins’ website, there is a free diagnostic tool to self assess how you’re doing against the traits he identified in “Good to Great.”
  2. Don’t focus on career: Instead, Collins advocates focusing on “building a pocket of greatness” at whatever level/area of the company you happen to be in. Doing that is the key to getting noticed and being given more responsibility.
  3. Ask if you have the right people in key positions: What percentage of people “on your bus” are the right ones, and what’s your plan for rigorously ensuring you can get it above 90 percent?
  4. Double the ratio of your questions to statements: Great leaders seek feedback, and don’t assume they know everything. On which note…
  5. Your first question is: How is our world changing and what are the brutal facts? Do a “brutal facts inventory” and come back to it often.
  6. Turn off your electronic gadget: Create at least one day of “white space” every 2 weeks. Build in the time to do some disciplined thinking.
  7. Have the discipline to stop doing things: It’s easy to add things to a To Do list. It’s also unproductive. One method of cutting out things that matter less: rank your priorities with no ties.
  8. Get inside your personal hedgehog: Collins’ equation for determining what you should be doing with your life involves three elements: finding something you’re passionate about, feel like you’re “genetically encoded” to do and that is “useful in a way society values.” Once you figure that out, you’re a long way towards having a rewarding career.
  9. Stop doing titles: The right people for key jobs understand that they do not have a job. They have responsibilities. One way to reinforce “job” is titles. One way to reinforce “responsibilities” is by having no titles.
  10. Spend more time asking how you can be useful

Stay tuned to Vault’s Career Blog over the next two days for further updates from the World Business Forum. You can also keep up with our coverage in real time via our @vaultcareers Twitter feed.