#oneword2012

English: Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

I’m not anti-New-Year’s-resolutions. I just don’t do them. For as long as I can remember, I’ve set goals for each calendar year and tracked my progress along the way. Things are no different this year.

For 2012, I identified 7 categories that are important to me and established 3 to 7 goals for each category. I know that I’ll be stretched as I try to attain my goals for the year. That’s usually what I have in mind when I go through my goal-setting exercise – things that take me out of my comfort zone, things that will make me a better person, things that will stimulate me.

As I was refining my goals, I learned about a new concept through a women’s leadership group on Facebook. The idea is that you pick one word and you use that word to guide you during the year. In her 2007 post, Christine Kane called it a Resolution Revolution. The WLI group’s #oneword2012 was gathered and turned into a Wordle.

My #oneword2012? Risk.

It’s a word that I’ve had in mind for many years because I’ve felt that as I’ve become older, I’ve become more cautious and content. It’s a word that I think of – along with “fearless” – whenever I watch young children learn new sports. Or 20-somethings who hop from job to job because they’re looking for something that their current job doesn’t give them. Or 40-somethings who leave a stable, satisfying job to pursue a lifelong passion. Somewhere between childhood and middle age we lose our appetite for risk. The risks we take become more cautious, more calculated, less…well, less risky.

So I chose “risk” for my #oneword2012 to remind me that the safe choice is not always the satisfying choice, that the pragmatic option is not always the passion-fulfilling option, that the expected decision is not necessarily the exceptional decision. As John A. Shedd wrote in 1928, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” I hope that my #oneword2012 is a constant reminder throughout the year to push and stretch myself and to move out of my comfort zone.

What’s your #oneword2012?

And the thought processor churns on . . .

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The Joys of Business Travel

Do you travel for work? If you’re in sales or business development, no one in your office will blink an eye or make a comment when you travel. If you’re not in sales or business development, when you travel for business, your co-workers likely think that you’re going off to have fun.

Announce at work that you’re going to a conference and the first question anyone will ask – including your boss – is, “Where is it?” Depending on the location, you’ll get one of two responses. Either a disinterested, “Oh. Well, at least you’ll be out of the office.” Or an excited and slightly jealous, “That should be so much fun!” Your boss, of course, will have one of two responses, as well, also depending on the location. Either a disinterested, “Oh. You’ll learn a lot.” Or a suspicious and slightly jealous, “I’m expecting an executive summary of what you’ve learned. Which ed sessions were you planning on attending?”

As someone who travels for business at least every other month if not more often, I’m usually the recipient of the latter responses regardless of the location simply because I travel more often for both business and pleasure. Speaking from experience, as someone whose job does not require travel, traveling for business is not a cakewalk.

First there’s all the preparation involved with business travel – estimating travel costs in order to pull together the travel request, requesting approval to travel, and making the travel arrangements (registering for the conference/workshop/meeting, making hotel reservations, making airline reservations, and making ground transportation arrangements). Then, there’s all the extra work that needs to be done to tie up as many loose ends as possible before the trip. Newbie travelers often skip this step because they figure that they’ll have access to email and voicemail and can always call the office. More seasoned travelers know that skipping this step means that their trip will be peppered with constant interruptions, crises, and emergencies.

Then there’s the actual travel itself. Since 9/11, traveling has become more onerous because of the increase security. The airlines haven’t helped much because of their new ways if generating revenue – on-board food sales, baggage fees, etc. So now, it’s no longer enough to just throw some clothes into a suitcase and head to the airport because airlines charge for checked bags now. And if you choose not to check a bag, then you need to consider your liquids and gels because security limits what you can bring in your carry-on bag. Most airlines have reduced the number of flights so now just about every flight is completely full, which makes for cramped and uncomfortable flights.

What most people don’t realize is that going to a conference or workshop or meeting or site visit is really work. If you are doing it right, it is work. If you are taking advantage of the opportunity, it is work. And often it’s not 8 to 5 work.

It starts at breakfast and usually goes through dinner and on through the hospitality suite. Can you imagine being “on” from 7:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. or later for 3, 4, or 5 days without a real break? I’m often more exhausted when I come back from a conference because I’m involved from Friday through Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the conference.

Coming back to the office after a trip is almost harder than leaving. When you get back to the office, everyone who was left behind wants to know about your trip. They want to know what fun activities you participated in, what foods did you eat, what goodies you snagged at the exhibit hall. They don’t want to hear about all the stuff you learned or the people you met or the products/services you think might be good for the company. Then you have to fill out and submit your expense report. If you don’t travel often, this can be a project in and of itself.

And finally, the catch up. Even if you brought your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, you really wouldn’t have had the time to stay on top of everything that was happening at the office or at time while you were away. So you often come back to the office with hundreds of emails in your inbox, dozens of voicemails on your phone, and a lot of mail in your mailbox.

The point of this story is that traveling for business is not all fun and games. As technology improves and becomes more prevalent, things like video-conferencing, webinars, online courses, and the like are slowly taking the place of business travel. However, technology cannot take the place of connecting with someone in real life. The relationships that you build when you go to a conference or workshop are worth the difficulties that come with business travel. So if you have the opportunity to attend a conference or workshop or meeting, make the most of it!

The thought processor churns on . . .

Volunteer or “Voluntold”

Volunteering is an interesting concept. It’s doing a task or a job for a company or an organization willingly and without getting paid.

Volunteering – both time and money – seems to be a uniquely American concept. When disaster strikes around the world, Americans are first in line to go to the disaster site to provide whatever help is needed and generally first to start donation drives for money and items to send. That’s not to say that other nations don’t volunteer but it seems that Americans are front and center in any discussion on volunteerism.

In recent years, volunteering has become more woven into the fabric of our lives as Americans. Is it because we are becoming a more altruistic society? Is it because we feel an obligation as one of the more developed nations in the world? Is it because we want to polish what may be a tarnished image in the world?

The simple answer is that in the last decade or so, high schools and colleges began to require that students perform a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate. And now there are companies that are strongly encouraging their employees to perform community service. In some companies, the encouragement is simply a message from senior management. In other companies, the encouragement comes in the form of an evaluation category on performance evaluations.

This raises the question – if it’s required, is it still volunteering?

The company I work for is one of those that has an evaluation category on our annual performance evaluation forms. It doesn’t ask about general volunteerism, it asks about volunteering for the university specifically. When I fill out this evaluation for my employees, my answer is rather passive aggressive because I don’t believe that it’s an appropriate category for an employee evaluation. It’s self-serving and frankly, irrelevant. It calls into question the employee’s loyalty to the company. That would be fine if we rewarded employees for their loyalty. But we don’t. There have been no raises for four years – no cost-of-living adjustments and certainly no merit raises. I feel uncomfortable evaluating an employee’s loyalty when I know that the company isn’t rewarding that loyalty.

If it’s required, is it still volunteering?

This weekend was commencement. When I first started working at the university, there was never a problem getting enough volunteers to staff the event. This could be because our commencement ceremonies were simpler in those early years. But I think it’s also because people felt more valued in those early years, they felt like they had more of an impact in the daily workings of the university, and they wanted to see the results of their work – commencement.

About four years ago they began to have problems getting volunteers to staff the event. They made do that year but the next year, they resorted to strongly encouraging management employees to volunteer for the event. The following year, all management employees were contacted by their managers to volunteer for the event. This year, the pressure intensified with HR providing lists of management employees to the event organizers who in turn provided senior management with lists of management employees who had volunteered and who had not yet signed up to volunteer for the event.

If you’re coerced, is it still volunteering?

In the current employment environment, that kind of pressure can be likened to coercion. People are afraid to lose their jobs and so they will do what they need to do in order to keep their jobs. Knowing that they will be evaluated on their spirit of volunteerism, they sign up to volunteer for commencement. It was so bad this year that we coined the term “voluntold” in that we were told to volunteer.

Volunteering is doing work willingly and without the expectation or anticipation of getting paid. I do quite a bit of volunteer work in my hours away from work. I enjoy volunteering. But I want to choose who I give my time to away from work. The organizations that I volunteer with appreciate my time and my skills and I know that I’m helping them further their mission.

When we require high school students to work a certain number of community service hours as a prerequisite to graduate from high school, when we require college students to work a certain number of community service hours as a prerequisite to graduate from college, when we evaluate employees on the basis of volunteering either for the company or outside of the company, it takes away the spirit of volunteering.

The thought processor churns on . . .