The George Costanza Method

“When you look annoyed, people always think that you’re busy” -George Costanza

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The Public Firing

There has been a lot of Internet discussion since the apparent public firing by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong. If you haven’t heard about it, Armstrong was on a conference call discussing, a business unit of AOL’s that provides local journalism in specific neighborhoods. In the sound byte that has followed Armstrong appears to ask Abel Lenz, Creative Director (formerly) of AOL to put the camera down and within seconds of Lenz not cooperating, Armstrong says, “you’re out Abel.” (Very umpire like)

If you’ve heard the sound clip it appears Armstrong is quite frustrated with the topic of business and Lenz was probably on his last nerve so in a fit of frustration and possibly forgetting where he was (in front of 1,000 employees on a conference call), Armstrong excused Lenz quickly. It has lit up business posts around the Internet for multiple reasons, the first being “did he really do it” and second, “in the court of public opinion, was it right?”

Armstrong seemed to not fall back on his sword on this one as we have heard no reason to believe it was either a stunt or a regrettable move.

The question is, was it right? Did Lenz deserve it? Was it justified? Should one get fired in such a public setting?

Many will not be surprised to hear I have no issues with this. Not because I think this is a necessarily humane way in which someone should lose their job but because as Creative Director and someone who sits high in the AOL organization, you are asked to behave in a certain way. If Armstrong as the CEO doesn’t like it then its time to make a change, make it fast. Receptionists, assistants, Junior Level employees, etc., they all deserve to be treated with kid gloves. They should be dismissed a certain way. By the time you make Director level title you put one more finger on the chopping block and when it’s your time, it’s your time no matter the circumstance.

I can promise you one thing, the next conference call that AOL has, the next meeting or even the next company function, everyone will be on their best behavior and nobody will step out of line. This can be damaging in the long term to a company if people feel they can’t behave a certain way, yet at the same time if Armstrong handles the PR responsibly that follows it will tighten the ship in a company that could use some new focus. Specifically for

In closing, don’t be sad for Lenz. The business outcry will be enough to make this guy a sad face for HR relations. He will land a job quickly, somewhere and will benefit nicely from it.

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Conference Calls

Four out of five conference calls I get pulled in to happen to be a time suck. There are usually way too many people on the call and the topic is usually only pertaining to the two people who specifically set up the call. When I’m asked to sit on a conference call it usually means time for me to catch up on my Solitaire game on my iPhone while two groups of people blather back and forth on a topic that has to ending.

Conference calls don’t have to be unproductive though. There is a reason that many people roll their eyes when they have to engage on a call.

Here are the top two ways to improve your conference calls.

1. Build An Agenda, Stick to It

It drives me crazy when I get sucked into a meeting with no prior knowledge of what’s taken place. What makes me crazier is when the meeting starts out loose with no proper agenda either written or addressed. Meetings need to be set up properly in order to be deemed a success. You wouldn’t meet a stranger and just start talking about your life without a setup.

Creating an agenda will keep all parties on track and create a purpose, a process and ultimately a payoff for the time spent. Send the agenda out ahead of time so everyone can read it and understand what’s about to take place.

2. Invite Only Those Who Are Relevant

Being a third party on a conference call is like going on a date with your best friend and his wife, alone. If you truly need eleven people to participate for various reasons then great, invite them all. However inviting additional people just to have witnesses causes for a lack of focus and allows guys like me to start wandering mentally and lose sight of the call. Once side conversations start it all goes downhill so keep the invites to a minimum.

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The 3 Skills Your Boss Wishes You Had

All managers have had this conversation at some point in time with a peer, “if Steve could just have more of a backbone.” Or perhaps you’ve said, “Mary is just a little abrupt, I wish she could have some self awareness.”

Whatever the character trait that you’ve wished upon your employees, you wish for change often times. While there is no such thing as the perfect employee, we as managers sure wish we had access to create, clone and hire as many of them as we want, at competitive market prices of course.

I find myself wanting some of the same qualities in my staff, and while I can wish and hope all day long that some of my staff will develop these traits, I’ll be hopeful that the next person I hire will embody them.

While this list could be upwards of 500 items, I figured we would keep it to three.

1. A Spine

In every work situation we must be able to stand up for ourselves, our peers, and most importantly our company. Whether you are answering the angry customer complaints or dealing with customers who are unhappy with the outcome of a project, very employee on staff needs to be able to answer accordingly and with strength even if they don’t necessarily agree.

Spineless employees can bring down a culture. Simply put, they have the ability to stop camaraderie and typically they will be your most negative and passive aggressive on staff.

I remember one particular incident in which my client consistently called me to ask why I was causing some of these issues they had become aware of. Turns out, my spineless employee couldn’t own up to the fact that they had made a mistake so the blame got shifted to me, the manager.

Spineless employees will trash the company, not just because they are too weak to speak the truth but because its the only way they know how. When Interviewing, ask how they have dealt with conflict in prior incidents and I guarantee you will learn if they are a jellyfish or not.

2. A Chameleon’s Personality

The office is a melting pot, and your company has major pressures to keep it this way. Only in Hitler’s company would everyone walk talk and look alike. Diversity plays a major role in every organization and you must adapt to this.

A chameleon’s personality is key as a young white male in your twenties explaining why you need your project tended to immediately by the 35 year veteran of the staff who goes by the name of Mean Susie. If you can’t connect with everyone in that office then you will burn down walls quickly and be an outsider faster than you could imagine.

Being a chameleon is all about connecting with various personalities and learning how to adapt to them when need be. Having the attitude of, “they can adapt to me” simply won’t work. Every office needs chameleons in it and without them we would never communicate properly or have any sense of company morale.

When interviewing ask questions about diversity in their previous office and find out how they handled working with various personalities.

3. Self-Awareness

This should be number one on everyone’s list but I don’t want to get greedy. Does the office smoke realize she can be smelt from the break room? Does the close talker need to speak directly to your nose? When will your sales person with the loud mouth realize the customer has already said no? And how many cues do you have to give to get Shirley out of your office before you literally set your desk on fire?

Self awareness can’t be taught because if it could, it would be the first workshop your office sent you to ahead of sexual harassment. If we had self awareness then sexual harassment would be cut in half in the workplace.

How do we teach this? We don’t, but what we can do is make sure people are aware each time they make a faux paux that needs to be addressed. If we consistently allow people to get away with these annoy non self aware tactics then we can’t ever expect anyone to improve.

When interviewing, take the candidate to lunch and see how they interact with people. This will tell you a lot of what you need to know.

Did we miss any? What other skill do you wish your employees had?

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How Would You Change Your Office?

If you could build the perfect office setting, what would it look like? Would it be a frugal environment in which everyone had similar desks and cubicles, what I imagine working for the Government would look like, or would it be a Google like campus setting so you felt compelled to never leave.

I’ve worked in fairly neutral settings in my career, no lavish office spaces but at the same time they have been great places to TCOB (take care of business). My belief is the office setting has to match the company culture and if your goal as a company is to inspire and create then that giant slide from the fourth floor to the candy room makes sense. I don’t believe that every business has to use their office setting as a recruitment tool either. The candidate either matches the business model or they don’t. You will never see the Insurance Sales industry build a recreation room for their predominately older male employees, but if Google wants to recruit the brightest twenty something’s then having basketball courts and massage services on site makes sense!

There was one time in which a company’s office completely turned me off from the idea of working for them. Now I still would have most likely accepted the job but it was going to be rough to walk in there every day. The lobby had these tall long dirty curtains, the walls were in desperate need of paint and floors of new carpet and the windows could have used a scrub. I remember thinking the office space probably would have flared up asthma in me on a daily basis and the low ceilings would have caused for a bruised head every once in a while.

Never the less I wasn’t offered the job but that office still rings in my head. Office spaces are key for recruitment and you want your employees to feel a sense of worth when they drive into the garage daily.

If I could change my office I would make my own office a little larger, maybe a better break room and some greener outdoor spaces. I would also like to relocate to a better space in town, one in which Nordstrom and Starbucks was right next door! Of course if I was really dreaming I could add a basketball court, 24 hour gym, shooting range in the basement (that might be bad on days people are fired), Whole Foods personal catering system, and of course the slide to the candy room! Why not!!

So, how would you change your office?

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The Best Email I Ever Received

Early in my career I had the opportunity to hold a really big title in a really small meaningless company. I was promoted (for whatever reason) with very little experience and given the keys to help manage a division. I had zero experience, but what I lacked in experience I made up for with some form of talent and charisma. I was fresh out of college and working my tail off to get ahead.

The company was suffering some serious growing pains but had that 1% chance of potential to do something big. So I listened to my mentor and accepted the job. After a few weeks it became clear that I had one of those psychos we all hear about running the company. We will call him Tim.

Tim was notorious for flying off the handle and making a fool of someone in public. He was a hot head who stood less than five foot seven and could make you feel even shorter than him at times. Tim loved to put you back in your place should he feel you needed it and most likely you never did.

The best email I ever got was from Tim. It was early in the year 2006, I was working on a cross country project and felt like we were getting nowhere with our help from the other side of the country. I fired off an email, copied Tim and in minutes received an electronic piece of mail that fueled me and one that I’ve cherished for years to follow.

Tim wrote:

“I don’t know who you think you are but it will be 2009, probably 2010, before you contribute in that way to this company. Your fearless attitude needs to be shut down and not until you produce some real results should you speak.”

That, is a motivator.

While you may label the Best Email Ever as one of praise, mine came in the form of motivation.

Six months later me and the entire division got laid off due to a lack of capital. I eventually found a new job and started thriving while Tim was forced to resign as President by the Board. It was one year after this that I walked into the office of a former colleagues only to see Tim pushing paper and collecting unemployment checks still, while I was dressed full suit and tie looking like the definition of success (keep ’em fooled). He looked up at me and said, “this is quite humbling.”

I smiled and said “it’s nice to see you Tim.”

I think often of that email, and I say, Thanks Tim.

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Work Life Balance

How do I write about a topic I know very little about? How do I comment on a topic in which I think is nonsense?

It usually seems to me that the only people who feel strongly about a positive work life balance are spouses, and employees who believe they are under-paid. You will never hear the CEO of a major corporation, who took home several million in compensation last year discuss their lack of work life balance. You will however hear the disgruntled employee who has to work an extra Saturday here or there and made less than $45K.

Work life balance to me is like this; if you work hard, you make more money. If you want a life, don’t work so hard. See the trade off? Nobody has ever gotten ahead in their careers by putting in 38.5 hours a week and calling it good. Unfortunately the trade off is more hours spent at the office, more time away from your family and a poor balance.

I’m not an advocate for spending time from your family and if you feel you have good balance then awesome. When I get irritated on this topic is when employees want it both ways, meaning good balance and a fat paycheck. They rarely go hand in hand.

If you want to get ahead then spend the time working and don’t complain.

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The 3 Reasons You Are Expendable

In the era of budget cuts, layoffs and company “re-orgs”, everyone has to find a way to make themselves relevant. Whether you have been doing the same job for a few months or several years you constantly have to ind a way to reinvent yourself. One common theme I find interesting is when we have an employee who leaves, the person who replaces them rarely does the exact same job as their predecessor.

What I mean by this is, we are always reinventing titles and roles within a company but the invention stops when someone occupies a seat for a period of time. This is when you become expendable. If you have been in the same role over a period of time, the odds of you being on the cut list continue to grow.

Here are the top 3 reasons you may be expendable:

1. Your Salary Keeps Rising, Your Duties Haven’t

We have seen it over and over. Employee X is being paid 3 times what they are worth because due to cost of living expenses, inflated bonus plans and years spent on the job. You can’t help it as an employee and I’m not going to advise you to turn down the checks but make sure you are adding to your duties each year with that salary raise, even if the company isn’t asking more of you. Like a good Utility player in baseball, you should be able to play multiple positions.

2. You Don’t Make Yourself Available

We are in the tech age, you should be plugged in whether you like it or not. Answer an email or two at night, make it known you can be reached. Be the first to volunteer on a weekend. Show up to the charity event and donate time just because. It’s always easier to cut the fat that hasn’t been seen or isn’t accessible. Make sure you are known to be able to contribute in all facets.

3. Speak Up

Make it known that you have a career plan and that you are going to achieve it with the help of your company. If everyone understands your goals then thy will understand how to beat utilize your talents. Speak up in meetings, around the office and be vocal. Its way to forget about those who stay quiet and in the back corner. It’s much more difficult to turn down the ones who use their voice.

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Clock Watching

I had a boss once who constantly watched the clock every minute on each employee. It was exhausting. Every morning she watched as our staff rolled into the office. I’d look at the clock, 8:00am, 8:15am and by 8:30 if everyone wasn’t there then I knew that I’d be getting questioned later as to why Employee X wasn’t in the office yet. It was over the top ridiculous.

One day she asked our facilities manager to print off a report that detailed the exact minute in which every employee scanned their key card to enter the building. She then spent a good hour highlighting the times in which the employee came in early and she used a thick orange highlighter when they came in past 8am. She handed the stack to my co-manager an I and told us we were to address it with each individual person.

Upon further review, I grabbed both stacks and tossed them in the recycle bin. Now, was it the right thing to do after my boss just gave me a task? Yes. It was.

Watching the clocks on adult employees is the worst thing you can do. Everyone is paid to do a job. If they do it, great. If not, you fire them. If they can’t do the job in 40 hours then address it but watching the minutiae of every single task is meaningless and you send the wrong message to your staff.

Focus on what’s important on the job, I promise you, the clock is not.

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On-Boarding A New Employee

I’ve spent several years altering my on-boarding process for a new employee and I’m starting to feel confident I have the system down. However it has been along trial and error and I’m sorry to think that I’ve ruined an employees first few months on the job due to my inability to bring them into our company.

The changes I’ve made revolve around the following:

1. First 30 Days Schedule

No matter what level of experience you are hiring, the first 30 days for a new employee are always awkward. They are spent with the employee trying to meet their peers, learn their way around the building and dig into the culture of your organization. I’ve found that structure to the first 30-90 days is crucial in on-boarding. You may find that you don’t follow that plan accordingly but at least you’ve got a list of action items that they can begin to accomplish and structure to their weeks on the job. Build out a plan and present it to them before they start or on their first day so they know what they are getting themselves into. It also allows for you to not be at their side for every minute of their first few weeks, if they have a schedule, they will be able to maneuver their way around without your help.

2. Buddy System

Hook them up with a peer in the building that they can go to should you be busy. Find someone who walks and talks a bit like they do so they can communicate the same language and begin to find a common bond in the building. By setting them up with a peer you will ease their transition and also allow for them to have some real dialogue with someone outside of their politically correct conversations they have each time you walk by. Challenge the peer to introduce them to new people, whether it’s customers or internal staff. This person will also become their mentor in due time should you set up the proper relationship.

3. Create A Reason For A Meeting

When setting up your new employee with a peer, give them an objective for that meeting. For example, if you are going to ask a department head to meet a new assistant, come up with an agenda for that meeting. Don’t just expect that they will have glowing conversation for sixty minutes and walk away from it with any real info. Challenge the assistant to come back with a homework assignment. Have them ask pointed questions that will allow them to learn about the department, questions that will drive deeper answers than knowing where the vending machines are located and how to use the fax.

On-boarding is crucial for your company. I promise that if you follow a true on-barding plan you will drive a better culture within your organization and remove the floundering that happens for the first few weeks on the job.

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