Five Not-So-Easy Steps For Smooth Career Transformation

So last night I was finishing up my taxes for 2009 (I know, I know, procrastination) and I was looking back at my income for the year. I came to the conclusion that it is going to be hard to beat the up and down of 2009 (to which my wife happily applauded). I know that Jason Seiden would say that a career path is a myth and given my path (or lack thereof), I am inclined to believe him given that…

  • I started off the year gainfully employed
  • I was let go unexpectedly mid-year
  • I was picked up a couple of weeks later and worked as a contractor
  • At the end of the year, I was told I needed to find steady income
  • In between all of that, I did consulting, web work, writing and sold a social network on eBay

Where have I ended up? At a great company, with great people, doing amazing, challenging things.

My cool little HR career track was derailed and I’m now pursuing another career altogether. What’s that career called? I call it marketing for my parent’s understanding but it is obviously very different than a traditional role. How’d I get here?

1. I started doing what I wanted to do

I know I wanted to write more about HR but I didn’t wait for someone to tell me to start blogging. When I was interested in collaborating with other likeminded HR folks, nobody told me to start a social network. When I started building relationships and communities around ideas and people that I knew, nobody told me to do that. I just started doing it. And I kept doing it. And then I asked internally what I wanted to do next. The skills that I work with today are ones I developed on my own outside of the clock.

2. I didn’t limit my choices

Losing my HR job in the middle of last year was like getting thrown off a lifeboat during a rainstorm. Swimming with unemployment is difficult enough but with the economic conditions last year, I didn’t know what would be available for my niche. Whenever I threw my name out there, talked to people or asked for introductions, I was clear that I was open to alternatives outside of my seven year career path. This allowed the MeritBuilder opportunity to come at me. It was far from my career path but it was one where I had skills and contributions I could bring to the table.

3. I had enough budget to take risk

The opportunity to make the jump to a new career is a risk. Even riskier when it is an early stage startup. We looked at our financial situation and decided to make the jump. We didn’t ever resort to ramen noodles or anything like that. Some months were uncomfortable. We never got a second car. And when word came down that I’d have to find an alternative to working for MeritBuilder, we were comfortable taking some time and working on a couple of projects for companies that I had put off and then continuing my career journey.

4. I outworked and out-networked everyone

When you don’t have the skills that years of experience brings you, it means you get to work twice as hard until you figure things out. I’ve gone over my ridiculous minute limit on my cell phone twice and it was when I was unemployed. And it wasn’t even that long of a period either (three weeks total) but I was on the phone a lot. I e-mailed almost everyone I had a tight connection with and followed up with a phone call. When I got jobs, I e-mailed and called people who were doing the jobs to get help and ask questions.

5. I changed my own mindset

The hardest part for me is this whole idea that I am no longer taking a break from HR or trying something else out because of the recession. Everyone always asks me if I ever miss HR or if I ever want to go back. Of course I miss it (I miss parts of it I should say) but I don’t know if I’ll be back. If you would have asked me a few years ago if I would leave HR, I don’t think I would have thought so. I’m enjoying what I am doing right now. I’m used to have a most of the answers at my finger tips and now I have to research or call people.

I don’t know how this would have turned out if I had actually been more thoughtful but I do think following this method ended up helping me significantly shorten the process.

What’s your take? How have you weathered career transformation?

Veterans Day and The Carnival of HR

Quick post today. Just two things I wanted to mention:

Veterans day is today and if you are like me, you kept typing Veteran’s instead of Veterans. My abuse of the language never ends. In any case, I wanted to send a special shout out to MeritBuilder and their site that seeks to recognize veterans. Second year running and still a great thing. If you get the chance, go by and check it out. Read some of the stories and personal gratitude or leave your own if you feel compelled.

If you are looking at donating to charities that help veterans and their families, I would encourage you to check out the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund or the Fisher House Foundation. I really do admire the work both do in the space.

The HR Carnival is also going on over at Ben Eubanks’ UpstartHR. My favorite pieces from the bunch include a post about working for Diddy, a red purse, and the failures of SHRM. I encourage you to check out all of the posts for some great reading.

The Mantra of HR: A Great Defense is the Best Offense?

Editor’s Note – Today’s post is brought to you courtesy of Dustin Henderson, co-founder of MeritBuilder. Dustin went to HR Southwest conference last week to cover the show for us. You can follow him on Twitter. Thanks!

If the products found on the floor of HR Southwest are any indication, then the answer is a definitive yes. Between booths for lawyers and those who believe performance management involves issuing little notes every time an employee asks a question (you know who you are), there are plenty of products to help HR put up a great defense. Do the products offered reflect the feelings of HR practitioners?

I know the suspense is killing you so I will put you out of your misery: The answer is a clearly NO. Like teachers who don’t enter the teaching profession worried about the quickest approach to meeting state standards, HR folks truly want to help people!

In search of an answer to this apparent dichotomy I decided to stop talking to consultants and start talking to those practicing HR. If you separate those HR practitioners who were shooting for law school, but landed in HR – almost 100% of the respondents were in the business to help others. In many cases there was a clear willingness to self-sacrifice.

With each person, I asked “Why are you in HR.” After asking the same question and getting nothing but compassionate results, I knew there was something wrong. So I changed the question to “What does your CEO want from HR?” With the answers came the eureka moment.

The simple fact was that the CEO’s desires or expectations of HR are overriding those “empowered” to develop and execute the HR strategy.

The most engaged and excited HR execs were those who had a CEO who understood the true power of HR. Many told me of nightmare CEOs who relegated their contribution to the expense side of the balance sheet and as such something to be minimized. Most told me of poor support for their “touchy feely” approach to people.

Is your CEO playing defense? Here are some signs:

  • Keeps the facts to himself
  • Cut recognition and incentive budgets first
  • Culture is a four-letter word
  • Engagement is measured by the P&L
  • Seeks to be a “competitive” employer

If this were just another post pointing out the obvious challenges faced by HR, then I would not waste my time writing it. Instead, I want to take a moment to suggest a solution. The following recommendations assume that you cannot fire your CEO.

How to get your CEO playing offense:

Stop it: Whatever you have been doing, stop doing it. Reevaluate everything because the messages you have been sending your CEO is not working. Learning to sing the same old messages in the perfect key will not change the outcome.

Shut Up: If you cannot prove it, shut up. You are not doing your cause any good.

Learn the Language: It is a bit of a bummer but your CEO is not going to learn the language of HR. He or she is much more concerned with keeping shareholders happy or making payroll. And to be honest, those concerns are more important than yours. So learn how to express your concerns in a language your CEO understands.

Step Out: Stop attending HR conferences that just reinforce what you already know. Start reading trade magazines that pertain to your company’s industry. While you are expected to know HR, you are a real asset when you can apply that knowledge to your company’s unique situation.

Find your own Facts: Stop looking for support to hire a HR consultant or to do a 20K employee engagement evaluation. Go onto the web, do the research. Figure out the questions to ask and then hop over to surveymonkey.com and do your own survey. While this will not be 100% scientific, it will give you a baseline fast!

Communicate Only Value: There was a newspaper man credited with the saying “Don’t burry the lead.” When you talk about anything start with the value to the CEO. How will this idea help him make shareholders happy or how will it help make payroll. If you cannot support your idea with hard numbers, skip it (see shut up). If you are RIGHT, then there will be hard numbers. Go find them and put them on the first slide.

Don’t Stop Believing: If you believe that treating people with dignity is important, that honesty tends to be the best policy, that engagement is more about passion than it is about satisfaction and that people really are your competitive differentiator, FIGHT FOR IT.

If you are an HR exec and in the business to help people, you must figure out the best strategy to achieve that goal. Your CEO sucks  is not an acceptable excuse. You must figure out how to use what you have. The interesting thing is, if you are successful then it might not just be the people you help, but the entire company.

Offense is defined as “the means or method of attacking or of attempting to score.” Figure out the correct means and method and you will score. In doing so, you will transform your HR mantra to “Offense is the Best Offense.”

What Is Lance Up To These Days?

It’s 2:00 AM and the blinking cursor on my blog entry page is taunting me.

My wife Jen, who got home from work at 10:00pm, went to bed two hours ago. She thinks I am nuts.

My office desk is littered with scribbled notes, various forms of caffeine delivery and a CD I finally took out of the player because it had repeated five times.

I’ve been sending and responding to e-mails all day, on and off the phone and just popped out a guest post for another blog.

This is what I do now and I love it. It has been a crazy couple of months.

The most frequent questions I’ve gotten since I started my new job are what is MeritBuilder, what am I doing for them and how hard was it to abandon day to day HR work? I am putting it all out there. Full disclosure, right?

What is MeritBuilder?

MeritBuilder is a personal branding platform that anyone can use to collect accolades and achievements. Sound simplified? Good.

So imagine for a second that you are a career professional and you hear the hype about building your personal brand (especially online) so that you can actually be recognized for the work you do. Smart move. Time to do something. But get this:

  1. You don’t want to blog about work. Maybe you don’t like blogging or you’d rather write about kittens or football.
  2. You want to use your Facebook to communicate with your friends. You’d rather not open it up and try to build your brand that way.
  3. Twitter is cool but it is hard to get a feel for a brand 140 characters at a time.
  4. Setting up a personal website? Sure. As long as you don’t have a popular name and you want to maintain it and keep it up to date (look at mine, it is destitute).
  5. One of those online resume services might work but you’re not necessarily looking for a job.

So you can build a profile at MeritBuilder and have people give you feedback in an environment that specifically designed for the purpose of building a positive profile about yourself. And the best part (at least to me) is that companies can incorporate this technology to build an effective employee recognition program that helps employees and enhances the company’s brand organically through the praises of co-workers, managers, customers and vendors.

Okay, Okay, We Get It. So What Do You Do?

So I head up outreach for MeritBuilder. That means I get to talk to people about our product. A lot. Social media? Check. E-mailing? Check. On the phone? Check. In person? Check. I talk to our development team about what potential clients are dying for and what they aren’t so hot on. I work on the way the company presents itself to all of you. So I get to talk about employee engagement, employee incentives and company culture all day.

What does that mean for the audience here? Not much. Except you get a post like this once a blue moon and I probably won’t be talking about competitors (just makes things easier). This isn’t turning into an employee engagement and personal branding blog though. Look at the last few posts. That’s what this blog does best.

People have also asked me how they can help me in my new postion. I’ve got to admit, these people rock. So what can you do?

  1. Try out the product and give me honest feedback about it. I can hook you up with the paid standard edition just for giving it a try (just contact me after you sign up for the free version).
  2. If you are a company that is intrigued, I can get you a better look at what the corporate product looks like. No hard sell or anything like that. We’re looking for companies to partner up with that make sense while we continue to gather feedback from our corporate customers.
  3. If you like the product and you have a blog, Facebook, Twitter or whatever word of mouth reach you can muster, spread the good word and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Going from a startup with little brand awareness to something that people start recognizing becomes less about me and more about how we can spread the word organically through our fans.

Moving On From Day-To-Day HR

I’ve got a post I am working on that I don’t want to spoil about this topic but I wanted to throw this out there. Moving on from day-to-day HR was actually an incredibly difficult decision. I know the work is difficult but it is also incredibly rewarding when done right. And taking myself out of the mode that I’ve been in for the last five to six years? I’m still working on it and it isn’t easy.

That being said, it is an awesome change of pace. And there is a reason I am staying close to HR people. You all rock and I want to continue to be a part of the grand conversation.

How Having A Blog Landed Me A New Job

If you’re a blogger, you know the feeling. You just sat down at your computer and you are a paragraph into a blog post when it suddenly hits you: apathy. “Why am I doing this?” you ask yourself. It may be the worst paying job in the world (most people do it for free or nearly free) and you question the real value of the people you end up making connections with. It can be a lonely existence if you make it that way and the blog is the ultimate one person company. If you don’t make it move, no one else will.

If you’re not a blogger and you’ve wondered why we do what we do, you’re not alone. My wife was in the same boat. She could often be found telling me to go to bed, to not spend as much time on it and thought it may be a nice hobby but that’s it. She was supportive of my “hobby” but we didn’t agree on the value of it.

What’s The Value Of Blogging?

The real value of blogging isn’t the content I create. That is nice and that gets my foot in the door. The real value are the connections I make and the things I learn and apply to make myself better.

We talk about what a game changer social networking and social media is all of the time. The only real game changer is where the conversations are happening and what limitations there are on who you can connect with. The principles that people use to get ahead are the same now as they have been for the last half century (if not longer). Sharing good ideas, helping people around you succeed, being a decent person and doing what you say you’ll do? That still works in social media and its impact is bigger than ever because the amount of people you can connect with is… well… a lot.

What Happened? How Did You Get A Job?

After my employment ended with my last company, I reached out to my network (both the one I built here locally and the one I built through blogging and other social media stuffs). I posted on my blog. I posted on Twitter. So did a ton of other people. I was flattered, humbled and feeling a little bit egotistical about the attention. What can I say, I am human! The conflicts of emotion were interesting.

I received many e-mails from people saying that if I was open for relocation, there would be several positions open. My wife and I talked about it already and we weren’t willing to leave Portland so those options were off the table.

Last week, I received a message from someone that wanted to talk about how I could work with their company. They were going to be launching a big time product upgrade and they were targeting the niche I have been working in for the past six years (HR pros). They commented on my blog in January (this is why longevity counts) and saw the overwhelming response after I was back on the market.

We talked by phone and sent e-mails back and forth (none of those e-mails or conversations included a resume or application or formal interview questions). It was truly a conversation. After we hammered out some details, I agreed to start immediately.

What About The Company? What Will You Do?

The company is MeritBuilder. I will help them reach out to you HR/Corporate types in a variety of ways.

So what does that mean, right? In the next couple of weeks I’ll be talking more about my role especially as we look to re-launch the platform in mid-August. What I will tell you is that this blog will not change. Maybe a few more posts but the tone and the content is going to be the same. They were adamant on that. Insistent even. They get it and that’s what made it so easy.

So If I Start A Blog, I Will Get A Job?

Not exactly. Especially if you plan on starting one when you start a job search.

Sure, you might strike on something and see success. But more likely, you’re going to be turning your wheels and getting frustrated. It will be disheartening in most cases.

If you think of blogging like you do networking, you need to start a blog, contribute and become a part of the community before you can leverage it to help you find a great job (either by your choice or the company’s).

I will say that after the thousands of hours I’ve spent blogging, when I told my wife this story, she felt a little bit differently about this whole blogging business.