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Outsourcing Realities

August 19, 2011

I’ve decided to keep an ‘outsourcing scorecard’ just to keep track of what direction the jobs are moving in the new world economy. I started about three weeks ago and so far the tally is 2-1 in favor of ‘offshore.’

The real surprise, I guess, is that there is any movement at all back to the United States.

I have several different jobs so I come in contact with outsourcing in several areas. I am a coach who does a fair amount of job counseling, plus I do business consulting for small firms, and I also work in health care dealing with insurers and doctors in the California Workers Compensation system.

The first score on my outsourcing scorecard, came two weeks ago when I got a call from a nurse case manager who was overseeing the care of a patient in the Bay Area. (Overseeing is the insurance company translation for making sure they are not spending too much of the insurer’s money)

That aside, she asked about the patient’s status but when the phone line kept breaking up, I finally asked where she was calling from. She said, rather matter-of-factly, The Philippines. I have no problem with the Philippines, or their residents, but the thought of a nurse checking on a patient’s condition and trying to assess care from 7,764 miles away, bothered me, so I told her to have someone in the United States call, I would be happy to discuss the case.

Last week, I called United Airlines at about 11:00 p.m. to check on a reservation I had made for my 91-year-old dad. I went through the normal phone tree and finally reached an operator and got the answer to my question. I was about to hang up when I realized that for the first time in over 25 years of dealing with United, I was not talking to someone in India.

I asked the agent and I could  almost hear the smile in her voice as she pointed out, “Well, United and Continental are now merged and the new CEO is from Continental, and he does not believe in outsourcing.”

I have been complaining about the call center in India for, well, forever, and I told her I was delighted to be speaking to someone in Chicago. Go Cubbies.

Score one for U.S.A.

Finally, this week, I was called from a local doctor’s office in the Bay Area about a patient they were referring to my wife, who is a psychologist specializing in pain management. They wanted to know if we had all the pages they faxed. I had to check so I got her call-back number which ended in a 5-digit extension, which I thought was a bit odd for a relatively small practice.

You guessed it, when I called back I was talking some an ’employee’ in the Phillipines working for a company that provides back-office services to doctors.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone is trying to cut expenses in the medical field, but I can’t help but wonder, how long it will be until a medical office is just one doctor and one receptionist and everone else is thousands of miles away.

Of course, the next step is that everyone is thousands of miles away and the doctor is an avatar in front of a computer.



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August 4, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Journalism,Management,observations,Photos,Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 7:36 pm

A world I can only imagine

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An Era Ends Here

August 2, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Journalism,Management,observations — Tags: , — admin @ 7:13 am

After 62 years, a daily newspaper will no longer be delivered to my house. This is a big deal for me and for the newspaper industry.

As someone who grew up with the Haverhill Gazette and The Boston Globe and then spent 30 years in the business, giving in to digital dominance was like saying good-bye to an old friend.

My dad, who will be 91 in a few weeks, beat me to the punch. When his poor eyesight forced him to give up reading a few years ago the newspaper was a casualty as well. For him the iPad was a savior and he  now reads four papers a day because he can make the print as large as he wants.

For the newspaper industry, losing a reader like me is a sure sign that they have lost a major battle. If someone from a generation like mine gives up, I guess it’s a foregone conclusion that the newspaper printing business is pretty much over.

I guess I’m the last to admit it.

My wife asked what it will mean. I’m hopeful that reporting and publishing news online will remain strong. In an age of Twitter, Facebook and Google+, legitimate news sites where editors actually make judgements about what is news, are needed. These sites will, hopefully, continue to set the agenda that reasoned consumers need.

Our political climate, including the soon-to-be concluded debt ceiling debate, is largely a product of the unedited, extremist debate that takes over when no-one is in charge.

I could go on about the reason this has happened. The newspaper publishers have no-one to blame but themselves. Their unwillingness to change on a wide range of issues has led to their own demise.

Thankfully, news is still alive. Weekly and small daily publications seem to be thriving. The kind of information that has always been important – the stuff that makes the front of the refrigerator – is still in demand.

I will continue to consume news online, so I guess the final chapter is a long way off, but my small step is still painful.


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What’s Important in Business

June 13, 2011

Recently I helped to host a career networking night for my Alma mater, Bucknell University. We do an event twice a year at interesting locations around the Bay Area and focus on career advice for alums.

Amy Klement, Vice President Omidyar Network

Last week’s gathering was at The Bechtel Corporation,   where Peter Dawson, (CFO) and his wife,  – parents of a current student  – sponsored the evening, featuring the Dean of the College of Engineering, Keith Buffinton as well as 1996 alum, Amy Klement.

Amy focused on her career path, at Paypal, EBay and now as Vice President, of Omidyar Network. To say her  career has been on the fast track is an understatement. But after listening to her talk, it’s easy to see why she has been so successful.

She is human, genuine, honest and real – all qualities that are is short supply at most businesses today. She understands that  her Emotional Intelligence has been the key. It’s also a point that most most people simply don’t get.

Every six months another book comes out about emotional intelligence, and, as Amy points out, executives claim that it is more important than traditional I.Q., but most businesses are still filled with executive who have very little of it.

I’ll leave a more complete explanation for later posts, but I think Amy’s 20 minute talk is worth listening to.

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“Just Stop It,” Rarely Works

May 30, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 11:39 am

Recently Harvard Business Review (subscription required)  had an article by a former CEO  explaining that he used to be a micro-manager.

He’s retired now, but the executive said that he didn’t realize what he was doing until one of his senior employees  told  him to “back off,” because he was “driving them all crazy.” Of course the CEO did and the the company has gone on to reach great heights. Everyone lived happily ever after.

While the whole premise of a CEO pointing out his or her own failures (in the magazine’s Failure Chronicles section) is a bit self serving, I have to admit I find it a bit disconnected from reality. The point was brought home recently when a new client of mine, called to ask for some career help.

We talked about why she might be leaving her current job, and she made the same point. ‘My boss is driving me crazy, with her micro-managing,” she said. My client has been with the company for almost 10 years and her boss has been there even longer, so she’s no rookie, and she admits her boss has always had the same problem.

She’s a senior manager and told me she’s tried to confront her boss, but that her boss  just did not see the issue the same way. As an example she told me that  in 2010 they had decided to update their logo, and marketing materials. The project was supposed to be completed by January 1 of 2011, but as of mid-May they are still awaiting decisions on a host of minor issues that the CEO insists on making.

It would be fine, except the CEO travels extensively and will not let anyone make decisions in her absence.

My client says she has tried to talk to the CEO about micro-managing but the boss just sees it as her job and refuses to acknowledge that anyone else could make the decisions.

In my experience, this is closer to reality. CEO’s, particularly those who have come up through the company ranks, have a tough time letting go of decision-making, especially in areas where they feel comfortable. They may take on new responsibilities but they have a tough time letting subordinates make decisions.

There are other factors leading my client to look for a new opportunity, but micro-managing executives are an all  too common problem in most companies  – and a simple “stop it, you’re driving us crazy,” very rarely works.

It’s like psychotherapy the “stop it” approach may not be the best technique. If you don’t believe me, watch this.

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“Feel the Fear” – Dated but Worth a Read

May 19, 2011

Filed under: Book Review,Coaching,Management — Tags: , , — admin @ 8:00 am

I saw Susan Jeffers “Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway,” mentioned on a coaching forum and thought that it might be useful for me and my clients.

After all, the book has been around since 1987 and  launched Ms Jeffers into a leading role in the self help field. Whether or not she’s the ‘Queen of self-help” as her book jacket proclaims is probably up for debate, but she was certainly  a leading voice.

Her book is well written, easy to understand and filled with examples to help explain her theories. From that standpoint I wholeheartedly recommend it. From a coaching standpoint I think it has a great many ideas that can be applied to clients who may be stuck or afraid to take action.

This is particularly true of the first nine chapters where she presents the nuts and bolts of her approach with techniques and exercises designed to get people moving… in any direction… but at least off square one. Her concepts on reframing situations, decision making and dealing with issues holistically were pretty new in 1987.

I guess that’s where some of my reservation sneak in. As I read, I couldn’t help but think that somehow it all seemed a bit dated. I was reading the 20th anniversary edition, published in 2007, but it didn’t appear that many examples or theories had been updated. Not that people and their roadblocks change that much, but it could just have used some examples from something I could identify with more easily.

After all, in 1987 no-one knew what ‘www’ stood for, and Steve Jobs was running NEXT Computer, probably thinking, “I wonder how I could be more Important.”

Maybe it’s just living in the Bay Area, but I think the world has changed significantly since 1987.

Ms Jeffers’ last two chapters venture more into the spiritual realm, starting with love and trust and moving on to the ‘inner void.’ Worthwhile areas to explore but definitely a bit of a departure from the first chapters. Looking over some of the titles on her web page, it’s clear that she has gone on to expand many of the chapters to individual books.

But, “Feel the Fear…And do It Anyway,” is a great introduction and has lots of suggestions for dealing with clients who can’t seem to find the motivation to get started and I would recommend it.

Now, I just have to figure out why I wasn’t more motivated when I finished reading.

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Credibility and Coaching

May 11, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:29 am

A former client called recently to tell me she had a new job.

After the usual “congratulations-and-good-luck” chat she admitted that she was a bit nervous about her new post. She’s working for a very large corporation, supervising 50 employees, spread across several offices in various parts of the state.

What makes her most nervous is that it’s in a new field and the panel that interviewed her made it clear they need a ‘change agent.’  She has supervisory experience and has worked for large corporations but she was worried that her lack of expertise would lead to mistakes.

I encouraged her, explaining that if the hiring board thought she could do the job, she shouldn’t worry and pointed out that she may not have expertise in the field where the main business makes its money, but she did have plenty of experience in  marketing, which is what she will be doing.

I then offered to act as her coach again to which she replied, “They already assigned me one, I haven’t met her yet, but I know she’s best friends with my boss.”

I was encouraged that they were astute enough to have coaches on staff, but I wonder how unbiased the coach might be if she’s that close to the boss. Who knows when something, told in confidence, might slip.

I’m willing to assume that the coach is professional and can separate personal from coaching relationships, but it seems to me that she already has a a credibility issue with my friend and no matter how hard she works there will always be some doubt about who’s best interests the coach considers paramount.

It was clear from our short chat that my friend had the same reaction but it left me wondering how committed to coaching the company really was.

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Negotiating an Ending

April 18, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , — admin @ 5:23 pm

Recently a new client posed a different kind of employment question. She’s a hi-tech executive working for a small private company where she is a partner – since she put up some original capital.

After 8 years, she would like to move on and has already been approached by a larger public company. We’re working on what she would like for pay and benefits, but to my surprise, she hadn’t given much thought to her exit strategy.

“My boss knows I’m unhappy, but he doesn’t care,” she says, “That’s why I want to leave.” I asked if she had tried to negotiate her departure, just like she was trying to work out a deal at the new company.

He response was a short, “Why bother,” adding that it would involve options, her original investment and a host of other issues she didn’t want to deal with. “I just want to see the look on his face when I walk in and quit,” she said.

I guess she didn’t really expect me to react, since she had asked me to help with her new job, not the old one. But I was slightly incredulous.

Why wouldn’t a negotiated settlement, with possible severance and recovery of some portion of her original investment be enough incentive to at least approach her current boss.

Her major worry was that she would be fired on the spot, a scenario that, after some evaluation, she concluded was not very likely.

She was so frustrated with her job that she was blinded to what she was leaving ‘on the table’ just for the short-term satisfaction of telling her boss off.

I pointed out that since she was just in her 30’s, leaving with at least a ‘non-negative’ settlement and her reputation intact was probably even more important than the financial aspects. I guess I got her attention and she has agreed to at least think about approaching her boss.

She’s fortunate in that she already has a new offer and not everyone can walk into their boss and demand a severance package, but it’s worth noting that how you leave a job can be just as important as how you start.

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JaMarcus Russell’s Coach

April 15, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:08 am

I read with some interest this week that personal coach John Lucas has quit as an advisor to former NFL quarterback Jamarcus Russell.

JaMarcus Russell

What interested me was not the actual facts of the situation but more the online reaction. For you non-sports fans, I would point out that Mr. Russell was talented college football player drafted to the NFL and signed to a $40 million contract by the Oakland Raiders. After four unsuccessful seasons, where he was accused of being out of shape, unprepared and a poor leader, he was released and has not played since.

John Lucas is a former NBA player, and drug addict who has turned his life around and now, as a personal coach,  helps young athletes get their careers back on track. Lucas had been working with Russell in Texas.

Apparently, Lucas ‘fired’ Russell this week and has told the young man to leave Texas where Lucas is based.

Of the 60 or so comments I read, many focused on the sad state of Russell’s career, but more than a few reacted to the coaching relationship. Things such as, “If he needed a personal coach, he must have been in bad shape,” or ” Only losers would need a coach.”

I can’t vouch for Mr. Lucas’s  skill, although he has a pretty good track record, but it was a bit dismaying to hear that view of coaching. Does the general public feel that only people in tough situations need help or that coaches are a last-ditch method to get things turned around?

Personal coaches can help anyone with decision making – even coaches need a coach. The list of ways that a personal coach can help a client is endless.

Usually my reaction to situations like this is simply “any publicity is good publicity,” but it would seem that the coaching profession needs a little PR help.

Most of my clients don’t feel they are losers, but that’s not a particularly good sample, since they obviously are already using a coach. But maybe one of the large international coaching organizations needs to do some research to find out what people think about the profession.

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Tsunami’s Big Winner on Big Island

March 30, 2011

Filed under: Hawaii,Management,observations,Uncategorized — admin @ 1:12 pm

At the risk of sounding a bit callous, it’s not too early to count Michael Dell as a potentially big winner from the Japanese disaster.

Four Seasons at Hualalai

Mr. Dell owns the Hualalai resort complex on the Big Island of Hawaii and while his two major resort hotels suffered significant damage and are now closed, it looks like the long-term impact will be positive – for him.

Both hotels, The Four Season’s Resort and Kona Village have loyal fans – albeit on distinct end of the resort spectrum. Kona Village offers a kid-friendly, family oriented, no-frills package which is popular with a wide variety of customers including Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs.

The Four Seasons caters to the upper end of the income scale and the Hualalai location has long had the highest occupancy rate of any Four-Season’s run facility.

Both resorts are currently closed –  the Four Seasons until April 30 and Kona Village permanently.

But don’t shed a tear for Mr. Dell, insurance will cover most if not all his losses and will also allow him to complete some much needed renovations that were planned, but he would have had to  finance on his own. Don’t look for construction photos anywhere though, the resort is keeping a tight lid on any information and employees who have been called in to work have to sign a non-disclosure agreement promising not to reveal the extent of the damage to the resort.

Workers are racing to meet the April 30 deadline when the insurance coverage for  employee wages runs out and many locals have doubts about an on-time completion. Several island fund-raisers, including the annual Cancer society’s Cattle Baron’s Ball, April 16th,  have already had to find new homes, but the events will be held.

Workers at the Four Seasons who have been impertinent enough to post, what they thought were innocuous pictures of storm damage, have faced disciplinary action, including firing.

Guests who were not able to be accommodated in the adjoining Hualalai condo/home complex, were shifted to nearby hotels, providing a bonanza  for the  Mauna Kea, Hapuna Prince, Mauna Lani and Fairmont Orchid properties – although they certainly are not getting the ‘Four Seasons Experience.’

As for neighboring Kona Village, many of the small homes, or hales, were knocked off their ocean-front foundations and a number were destroyed. Rebuilding would require permits under new building regulations with much larger setbacks, so Mr. Dell has decided just to convert the property into an extension of the Four Seasons.

Kona Village has always had the better beach, but if the county approves, that beachfront will now be surrounded by several hundred new rooms at $800-$3000 per night, in place of the $3,000 per week package plans that Kona Village featured.

Sounds like a win-win situation if you are Michael Dell. He wins on both ends. We’ll see what happens when the actual applications get filed – the natives are already upset.

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