Blog Archive - April 2012

Posted: April 30, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Common Dreams reports on the global impact of austerity programs, especially how they are impacting job growth.  Citing a recent report by the International Labor Organization, the authors note that countries embracing cost cutting programs have seen the worst job losses (in the U.S., see Wisconsin).  They argue that government intervention will do more to spur job growth.  I think the scariest news comes at the end of the article when the authors cite the ILO report finding “a downward spiral of wages.”  Fewer jobs.  Workers with less income and security.  Who wins this game?  The 1%.

Posted: April 29, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that ponders life and work.]

From Perfection to Pain

I didn’t think sports would be my subject again this week.  Last Sunday I attended a great tribute to Japanese-American World War II veterans.  That was going to be my subject – until Derrick Rose made one of his patented, twisting drives to the basket and tore his ACL.

Last week was the joy of sports, a perfect game.  This week, pain.  The meme on sports talk radio is that the Bulls would not win anyway, which is followed up with some cliché about Rose’s future ability to play.  What is ignored in all of this is Derrick Rose, a competitor slightly less fierce than Michael Jordan.  I’ve watched Rose since he was leading Simeon High School to Illinois state championships.  Even as a teenager, he lifted his teammates, made them better, drove them to win.

Rose suffered several injuries this year.  He looked uncomfortable on the bench, impatiently waiting to play again.  Now he faces surgery and rehab.  Will he come back with the same speed and reactions?  Will this injury ruin a promising career, reminding us of names from the past like David Thompson, Bill Walton, and, more recently, Yao Ming?  When an athlete’s body breaks, there is no certainty that a medical treatment can fix it.  I hope Rose comes back as the same player.  He is – the present tense is intentional and hopeful – a joy to watch.

As I’m not giving up on Rose, I’m not giving up on his team.  “They can’t win,” the experts tell us.  These, of course, are the same experts who did not predict the New York Giants’ win in last year’s Super Bowl or the St. Louis Cardinals’ victory in the World Series.  This is LeBron’s year, Kobe’s year, the smart ones tell us.  Maybe it will be, but I’m not giving up on the team that had the most wins in the regular season, many of them coming with Rose on the bench.

The Bulls fight every game.  They don’t have big names as some of their opponents do, but they do the little things like play defense and rebound. That gives me some hope, and I will root for this team until they are knocked out of the playoffs.  Go Bulls!

Posted: April 28, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients, we’ll call him “Harry,” told me something that I initially did not believe.  He told me, “I’ve never had a bad boss.”  That didn’t ring true.  Then I thought about what has made Harry a successful manager for over 20 years: He knows how to get along with anyone, including his bosses.

Harry has been involved in several mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, the kind of change that often leads to the pink slip.  Harry survives and often thrives in these environments.  What does he do that others don’t?  He looks for a way to solve the problem and do what the company needs.  In one case, his company faced a situation in which many major clients would be alienated and could even sue Harry’s employer.  His managers on the VP level were petrified.  Harry knew the company president and convinced him that the problem could be solved.  Harry spent the next year and a half working closely with each client, often dealing with their anger at his company’s policy.  He kept their trust and, in the process, built a strong bond with his own bosses.

What Harry has done won’t work for everyone.  But his example speaks to how we can manage our attitudes at work.  Try to do what is best for the company and work with your boss.  If that effort is not appreciated and rewarded, it’s time to move on. But don’t leave with bitterness.  Follow Harry’s example and stay positive.  That will make you stronger and more successful as you navigate and manage your career.

Posted: April 28, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Yesterday Delmon Young of the Detroit Tigers was arrested in New York for a hate crime.  Young saw a group of men give money to a panhandler who was wearing a yarmulke and Star of David.  He yelled an anti-Semitic slur, which led one of the men to engage him about his comments.  Young, who was intoxicated, apparently assaulted this man and was later arrested.

How is this a worker issue?  This is a case of a well-paid employee (Young makes $6.7 million a year) being really stupid.  It’s almost certain that he will be suspended by his team or the league.  It is also possible that the Tigers could move to cut him and void his contract.  His market value will also be hurt if not ruined by this incident.  I imagine he could even face civil action from the man he allegedly assaulted.

I am frequently critical of how employers treat workers.  In this case, no one can be held responsible but Delmon Young.  Earlier in his career, when he was in the minor leagues, he threw a bat at an umpire and was suspended for 50 games.  I’m sure there was some attempt to have him go to counseling or anger management at that time.  He still has a major problem and no one to blame but himself for his actions.  There is only one word to sum up this incident: Stupid.

Posted: April 27, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Everything you put on your resume should have one purpose: To make a potential employer want to interview you.  Some people list volunteer experience on their resume without linking it to their career objective.  Why should the employer care about that information?

Make the employer care by showing how your efforts as a volunteer will make you a better employee.  If you’re in sales, volunteering in fundraising, especially if you are solicting donations, will be relevant to your career.  Likewise, if your charitable work involves event planning, this experience often fits well with marketing or hospitality resumes.

Don’t make the employer guess at how your volunteer experience matters.  Take the time to show how it will make you a better employee.

Posted: April 25, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Common Dreams has reposted an editorial in which New York Times food writer Mark Bittman ponders the significance of Wendell Berry.  My admiration for Berry is clear in my Sunday blog posts, which were inspired by and often feature words and ideas from his Sabbath poems.  I’m also a big fan of Bittman, a great food writer who turned his attention a few years ago to considering the relation of how we eat and its impact on our health and the environment. 

Bittman seems in awe of Berry’s “patience,” his way of understanding the world as something bound in nature and its cycles.  He contrasts his city life with the rural community where Berry’s family has lived for 200 years:  “He knows the land the way I know the stops on the Lexington Avenue subway line and, predictably, I begin feeling like the fairly techie city person I am and wonder if it could have been otherwise.”  Even so, Bittmann cites Berryas someone who changed his thinking, an appreciation that is clear at several points in the editorial. 

Berry could live in a university town and enjoy the comfortable life of the academic.  Instead, he has chosen to stay where he was raised.  While his home may be isolated, Berry continues to engage his fellow Americans about how we eat and, more importantly, how we live.  His career is a gift to us and to the generations that will follow.  May we heed his wise, patient voice.

Posted: April 24, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients, let's call him Larry, has worked for a large bank since graduating from college four years ago.  He has been promoted twice and received a 9% raise last year.  Sounds good so far.  However, Larry has seen unexpected changes come to his department.  One of his co-workers, a man who spent 25 years with the company, was laid off for reasons that Larry and most of his co-workers think are political.  His department has also been moved from an HR function to Finance, which could mean more layoffs. 

Larry's story reminds us that promotions and raises don't mean long term security.  He has decided to update his resume and start looking for other opportunities because he no longer trusts his current employer.  Too much change.  Too much uncertainty. 

Larry is putting himself in a position to manage his career.  Too many people in a similar situation deny reality and tell themselves, "It's not going to happen to me."  Larry is being proactive, and that's the first step to being in control. 


Posted: April 23, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Common Dreams offers a great interview with John Nichols on the history and power of the general strike.  Europe and England have seen massive worker protests.  Will the U.S. rise up in a similar way?

Common Dreams has reposted an article in which Diane Ravitch examines Michelle Rhee’s impact on education “reform.”  I use quotation marks because anyone who has read Ravitch’s great book The Death and Life of the Great American School System understands how most reforms seem to have one goal:  Destroy the public school system.

Ravitch takes Rhee to task for her alliances with politicians who are transferring funds and resources from public schools to charter and private schools.  Rhee’s primary argument centers on blaming teachers for poor performance.  Ravitch answers that the former Chancellor of Washington D.C. schools is basing her argument on “urban myths,” claims that do not stand the kind of research Ravitch has done throughout her career.  It’s easy to blame teachers.  Ravitch will not take that easy path, which is why I trust her.

Posted: April 22, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on work, life, and related topics.]

Perfect and Imperfect

Philip Humber is going to Cooperstown, the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Yesterday, the 29 year old pitcher for the Chicago White Sox performed an amazing feat: He pitched a perfect game.  For non-baseball fans (and there are too many of you), a perfect game occurs when a pitcher faces and retires the minimum number of hitters, 27, allowing no runners to reach base.  Only 21 major league pitchers have thrown perfect games.

There is always luck involved in a perfect game.  The last pitch of the game was strike three to Brendan Ryan of the Seattle Mariners.  The ball got away from catcher A. J. Pierzynski.  Ryan could have reached first base if he ran hard.  Instead he turned to argue with the umpire while Pierzynski tossed the ball to first base. Humber’s teammates mobbed him in celebration.

I’m a Cubs fan, but not a Sox hater.  Time will tell how good a pitcher Humber will become.  Last year he had a great first half and a second half that was not good.  What I admire most about Humber is his ability to keep going in the face of adversity.  He was a high draft pick who was cut by several teams.  Then, in the words of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Joe Cowley, “But at the age of 28 Humber found something with the Sox.  He found confidence.”  If  Humber found confidence last year, this morning, he’s found fame and perfection. 

Again, for you sad people who don’t like baseball, let me put this story in perspective.  Baseball is one of the few games in which a player can achieve perfection.  A bowler can score 300, but that is not an uncommon feat, especially for professional bowlers.  A gymnast can score a perfect ten.  However, that score is based on rules that change frequently and fickle scoring of jingoistic judges.  A baseball pitcher has to face 27 hitters and keep them all off base.  Beyond not allowing any hits, he can’t walk or hit a batter.  A perfect game is also a team effort.  If a fielder makes an error, the perfect game is ruined.  Major league baseball began in 1876, and only 21 perfect games have been pitched.  If Humber never wins another game, his placed in the game’s history is set.

What about imperfection?   In today’s Sun-Times, Rick Telander gushes about Jim Abbott’s autobiography, Imperfect: An Improbable Life.  Abbott was born without a right hand.  That handicap didn’t stop him from becoming a star athlete who pitched in the major leagues and the Olympics.  Abbott threw a no-hitter (not quite a perfect game) when he was with the Yankees.  Like Humber, Abbott didn’t quit.  He overcame great obstacles and reached the top of his profession. 

Perfection is rare, so are people like Jim Abbott.  The sports pages have started to sound like a gossip sheet, documenting all sorts of personal and moral failings.  Stories like Humber’s perfect game and Abbott’s improbable career remind us why we watch great athletes: to be inspired.