Hitting The Books

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Over the years we all have a few life changing moments. One of mine came to me around the tenth year of quartering yet another frozen turkey. It was right after I finally came to the realization that they were never going to promote me to Head Meat Cutter no matter how many times our department came in first in the Zone in sales nor how many times I smiled as I sawed up those turkeys. But I can say that I never would have had the courage to go to college if my family had not pushed me to make that first uncomfortable move.  It started with just a few evening classes at the local technical school. I thought I would turn my love for math and managing by the numbers into a lucrative skill. Little did I know at the start that this would lead to a lifelong love for learning and a fascination with computers.

Two years flew by while attending night classes and working full-time still cutting up those turkeys, but now I was focused on funding my education. On graduation day I wore that cap and gown with pride as I receive my freshly minted Associates Degree in Accounting. I was ready to conquer the professional world! Much to my dismay the jobs for me with my new degree were few and far between and none of them could compare with the wages I was making as a part on the Union.  It would have been even more disappointing if I hadn’t taken that last computer class and discovered that I had a knack for programming – in COBOL – but hey it was still programming. I took exceptional pride in the fact that when I loaded my deck of punched cards into the hopper my code ran first time every time with no errors. It was with the memory of this that I decided to continue to invest in my education by attending a local college and getting a degree that would open doors for me to travel beyond the frozen turkey days. So again with my family’s support, I now start school during the day and switched to nights and week-ends for the turkey travails. Other than a full course load and many stops at school for lab after work, those days included doing the nightly clean-up of the Meat Room. I think I hold the record for the fastest time breaking down the slicer and the band saw and hosing the whole room down with disinfectant and yup you guessed it putting it all back together again just to quarter another frozen turkey. Did I mention that in between times I did my homework standing up in the meat room shifting from one foot to the next trying to stay warm in that 40° room.  Thanks to many cups of black coffee I never fell asleep at the wheel on the drive home.

The next two years went by in a blur, maybe some of that was from the steam in the Meat Room. Now I was really armed and ready to launch into a professional career. So long turkeys! I bought a suit and the requisite nylons and heels and started the interview rounds. After a few weeks I was faced with one of the biggest decisions of my life. Should I take the job at the CPA firm doing taxes? Or should I take the job at the business software startup where I would answer the phones and listen to customers complain? To this day my husband still can’t believe that I chose the latter. I remember him saying,” you hate to hear people complain, you hate the phone, and you really hate sitting all day, now tell me why you took that job again?” The answer was easy. I would have my very own bright and shiny new computer and I could play with software all day long.  Except for the complaints, the phone, and the sitting, it was a job made in heaven. Lucky for me and the customers, my management talent (or simply maturity since I was the oldest employee in the office) and my penchant for breaking the software made me the perfect candidate to start the companies first ever Quality Assurance Department. I’d love to say that was my brain child, but in reality it was due to a critical contract with IBM (the real IBM this time) that required having a QA group that led to my move into management.

It was also around this time that I decided that to really get ahead in the professional world I needed to have some initials after my name. During my senior year at college I had sat for but not passed all parts of the CPA exam. Never to be one to leave something unfinished, I kept on studying and passed all four parts on the second and third tries. One night, fueled I am sure my much black coffee, I applied for and was accepted into an Executive MBA program. It was back to night school I went for more black coffee and rubbing elbows with “C” level wanna be executives.  After a few years I now had CPA and MBA after my name. It doesn’t get any better than that!

So what might you ask did I learn from all of this hard work and study? Let me sum that up for you. It pays to have a loving and supportive family. It’s one thing to get an education but quite another to apply it well in the work environment. And lastly, doing it at light speed like I did, you have to be a little crazy and that comes from drinking too much black coffee!

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When An Unstoppable Force Meets An Immovable Object? :

 ImmovableObjectUnstoppableForcebann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Force is all-conquering, but its victories are short-lived.”  Abraham Lincoln

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eKc5kgPVrA&feature=player_embedded

 

Now that you know a bit about my background, I think it’s time to take a step back before we continue to move forward. While I really loved my job at “I.B.M.,” I needed to earn more money in order to be able to raise my daughter in the fashion to which I wanted her to become accustomed. That fashion was to have food on the table every night and shoes that fit when she went to school. You can tell that I had modest aspirations. I was fortunate to get hired in the food service industry. That’s a highfalutin way to say that I got a job as the evening and week-end cashier at a local supermarket. I was able to work my way up to assistant head cashier due to my love of keeping the books, counting the money, and bossing staff around. The last of course was my main strength. I got so good at it that they decided that the “boys” in the meat department could use a little direction setting aka bossing around and so I got transferred. The best part about this transfer was not the crisp clean white coat I got to wear every day, nor the 45° temperatures and heavy lifting that kept me slim and trim, but as you can surmise it was the raise in pay. I was now a proud member of the AMCBW (Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America). A dollar raise was a dollar raise and in those days a dollar raise went a long way toward raising my daughter.

It wasn’t long before I pined for my old job working with the stockers on the night shift passing our idle time waiting for those night owl customers to drift in from the street to shop or fill their pockets and waiting for the scheduled trucks to arrive and be unloaded. We had some fun those night stockers and I. How many of you can say that you joined in lobster races from the Deli to the Meat Department? I don’t think the Deli Manager ever knew why so many of her lobsters were less active in the morning than they had been the day before. Poor tired out things.  The night shift brought out the animals in more ways than one, but I was younger then and fun is fun.

I learned that in the meat department when an immovable object (IO- the butcher boys) was confronted with an unstoppable force (UF- that would be bossy me), much heat and energy was created and something had to give or there was going to be an explosion. After a few weeks of having the IO of four load up the line with fresh meat and frozen products that needed to be shrink wrapped and displayed properly in the front meat cases by the UF of one (Me), I pondered on my dilemma as I worked at warp speed to wrap the line while the IO’s sipped their coffee in the break room and waited for the line to get cleared.  This just was not going the way that I had planned it at all. I decided that in order to work peacefully side by side with these immovable objects I needed to determine how to wrap the UF in me around the IO’s and figure out how to get my way, which of course was the right way, and make it their idea! As you can imagine, this was no easy task.

It would be ideal if I could say that I was successful at doing this as soon as I realized I needed to change. But alas, that was not the case. I even got chased around the band saw by one of the IO’s brandishing a boning knife, fortunately I was faster than he was and all ended well.  Over time I was able to tailor my approach to meet the needs of my audience and I can say that these were the most difficult IO’s I have had to deal with in my career. You could say that this was a lesson learned at the point of a knife.

My success became well-known within our division and I became a part of the new store opening team. My primary role was teaching all of the IO’s how to do things the “right way.” A few of these things still exist today, sunny side up for the meat in the tray, facing up the case before and after busy times in the day, and always answering the meat room bell with a smile and can do attitude even when it’s the 20th customer of the day asked for their 19 cents a pound frozen turkey be cut into four equal pieces.

Even today, I carry these knife welding, frozen turkey cutting images with me as I learn how to deal with all of the new IO’s I meet.  Have you ever encountered an IO? Did you figure out how to make the UF in you have success when faced with this challenge?

Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

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Walk tall because, as Dr. Seuss said, ” you have brains in your head – you have feet in your shoes – you can steer yourself – any direction you choose.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve been reading my blog this year, you will remember that my commitment was to share my life experiences and what I have learned from them.  When I look back over my posts I have mainly been true to this commitment. What I have not shared is the circuitous path that I have taken to get to where I am at today.  A high level view of this path is below.

  • Early Years  –  Having a mother who had a career      outside the home – March post
  • Formative Years – Choir practice with the Nuns – April post
  • First Job –  Fired for sitting down on the job – May post
  • First Professional Job – I.B.M. and the metal monster – May 17 post
  • Punching  the Clock – The job that put the food on that table – Coming soon
  • Back to  School – Seeking That Professional Career – Coming soon
  • Running a Small Business – The Agony of Defeat – Coming soon
  • Having a Career – Where the education got me – Coming soon
  • Founding a Non-Profit – The Legacy We Leave – Coming soon
  • What’s Next? – Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks – This post

As you can see I am going to run ahead and go to the end of this path and then go back and walk you along with me. The reason I am jumping ahead is because I am experiencing one of those “significant emotional events” in my life. I have a new boss and for the first time in a long time I have someone who is going to give me some coaching to get forward momentum on my career.  The start of this coaching has me wondering if I can indeed change some the things that will help me to progress. When faced with a challenge you may realize by now that I turn to reading. This time is no different. I have purchased three books (I need a lot of help), “Reinventing You” by Dorie Clark, “What To Ask The Person In The Mirror” by Robert Kaplan, and” What You’re Really Meant To Do” also by Kaplan.

I am just starting to read these books, but one theme that they all have in common is the need to solicit honest feedback. They suggest 360 reviews from not only your peers, but in order to get a full perspective, that you include feedback from a subset of everyone that you interact with on a daily basis.   My “coach” has started this with my permission by getting some feedback. The focus of this feedback was what was seen as my strengths and weaknesses.  This feedback was welcome but at the same time a bit daunting and caused me to wonder if there are just some aspects of being me that I may not be able to change. Not that I really see myself as an “old dog,” but let’s face it I have been around for a long time and some of these things that may just an intrinsic part of who I am.

In her book, Dorie Clark writes about changing your personal brand.  She recommends that in order to start this effort you need to understand how you are perceived today and then determine how you need to be perceived in order to move to the next phase of your career journey.  Some feedback that I have received is that I need to be “less casual” and that I often give less informed input on “technical topics.”    I can rationalize both of them, but in the end it is all about how I am perceived. With that in mind, I am trying to determine if what my coach has said are “just small changes to my approach,” or are these really behaviors that will be much more difficult for me to change.

I would like to think that my casualness is an asset in that I treat all levels of the organization with equal respect, from the night janitor who I see often to the CEO who I see less often. I will continue to smile and interact in the same casual manner. As for the input on technical topics, I have found that it is very effective when in a discussion with highly technical individuals to ask a dumb question or make a seemingly less informed statement. This normally causes them to rise to the occasion and explain what is really happening in terms that any layman can understand. It challenges them to think and interact in a different manner. I call this “get the crayons out” we’re going to talk to Doris.

My commitment is to finish reading the books and continue meeting with my coach.  Once I have done that, I will then determine how I can make some changes in my behaviors and personal brand. I would like to invite you to give me your thoughts on my strengths and weaknesses. Please feel free to email them to me at doris.amstutz@sage.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, just write them on a slip of paper and slip it under my office door.

Oh and to close the “old dog” comment, here is an article from Cathy Perme that I find puts it all into perspective. http://www.cmperme.com/pdf/cmp0513.pdf

To Tweet Or Not To Tweet? That Is The Question.

 

 

Do you know what Lady Gaga and Barack Obama have in common? Probably not difficult to figure out given the title for this post!

Okay, I admit I too have a Twitter account , but seldom use it. It sits there in the same realm as my Facebook account. Once in a while I brush off the cobwebs and do actually post a comment on Facebook, but I view this as a “personal” tool and in that light I leave it up to my husband to keep his Facebook current with family news. He does after all have the largest family and extended family. Just within the Amstutz’ clan there are enough Facebook connections for me to play Word With Friends for hours using his account. They now all think he has an extraordinary vocabulary.

Back to Tweeting, perhaps I should examine this more closely and determine the how, why, and what I might use it for. I know from the below link that Lady Gaga is the supreme Tweeter with the most followers.  Just to be considered in the same league with her leaves me breathless. What would be next for me? How about a new carnivorous wardrobe?  Nope, don’t think so. Well, what then might I get out of a steady Twitter stream? Would I gain valuable knowledge? Would I be able to impart nuggets of my wisdom daily in addition to my weekly posts?  While I ponder this a bit, you might want to view the link for some interesting fast facts about Twitter.

I see the use of Twitter as a marketing engine, I see it as a way to quickly send a sound bite to family and friends in one fell swoop, I see it as a way to stay connected with current happenings when at a conference with a group of business associates, but I just don’t see it as useful for me.  Does that make me less technically adept? Or does that just confirm what my closest friends and family already know? I would prefer to think the latter. Let me clarify, I am by nature an introvert, yes, that’s right, I have that “I” in my Myers-Briggs profile. But even so, I am open to change. While I do prefer reading a good book to going to a party, I am open to the fact that the whole world seems to be Tweeting away and I might just be the only twit who does not Tweet daily.  So in my mission to continually grow and expand both personally and professionally, I will be examining the cost (time) benefit (visibility) equation of Twitter.  With Lady Gaga and Barrack Obama at such opposite ends of the spectrum and both of them Tweeting prodigiously, why would I not want to join their ranks?

As I begin this adventure of Tweeting discovery, I will be happy to share with you what I learn along the way, or better yet just follow me @DAAStutz as I Tweet my journey. Hey, I think I just may have found a use for my Twitter account after all!

http://www.baselinemag.com/c/a/Intelligence/40-Fast-Facts-on-Twitter-890793/?kc=EWWHNEMNL05232012EOAD

What’s Your Style?

Any of us who have been in a management position for a few years have probably experienced some type of “personality styles” training and assessment. Whether it is the Myers- Briggs test, the ITDF test or something else, we should by now know our style. What I’m going to try to do in this missive and over the next couple of weeks is share with you my experiences when working with individuals who have each of the ITDF (see my definitions below) predominate styles.

I’ve based this on what I consider to have been the best training I had early in my management career. What the assessment associated with this training did was point out that while we may have a predominate style we actually might have two predominate styles, one under favorable conditions and one that might be vastly different when under stress. The importance of this should be understood, because it could make you look slightly schizophrenic. An example of this was a former manager of mine who had two very different styles and to make it more challenging his styles were the exact opposite of mine. Well, needless to say, he thought I was crazy and I felt the same about him.  That was not a recipe for a good working relationship. We were both fortunate to have taken the styles assessments and management training at the same time. I will never forget when he turned to me and said “well I guess you’re not crazy after all.” We were able to move forward from there to have a very productive professional relationship. I learned how to read the signs that he was under stress and approach him accordingly – I will also say that this was very uncomfortable for me at first because my natural inclination was to give him the exact opposite of what he needed – in this case he wanted all of the facts and details when under stress and I was inclined to want to move very quickly and just give him the bottom line with no supporting details – made perfect sense to me.

With that as background, the styles as I define them are listed below with a bit of how I look at their definition. Now remember, most people are not completely one style, but are usually predominately one under each condition – favorable or stress.  Next week I will give you my story about working with a pure Innovator.

Can you see yourself below?

Innovator

  • Head in the clouds with lots of great ideas.
  • Always looking for new ways to accomplish things.
  • Stays at high level – does not live for the details
  • Anything is possible and it’s all quick and easy
  • Toys all over their desk
  • Might forget to put on their pants

Thinker

  • Loves to plan things
  • Very task oriented
  • Very precise and detailed
  • Always has a clean desk
  • Pants pressed with a crease that could cut butter

Doer

  • Quick to react
  • Takes ownership
  • Accomplishes lots of simultaneous tasks
  • Messy desk covered with papers
  • Pants on backwards

Feeler

  • Has many Friends
  • Is energized by meeting new people
  • Will always ask you how you are doing and really cares
  • Has pictures, plants, and flowers on the desk
  • Will give you their pants

Keep you pants on, more to come next week.