Archive for May, 2009

Valuing yourself

Sunday, May 24th, 2009


This post comes from an interesting situation which has coming up: how much am I worth?

Here is the scenario: As anyone who reads this blog knows, I belly dance professionally. I answered an advertisement of someone looking for a belly dancer for their brothers wedding – it’s her gift to them. Cool sister! So I sent her a nice e-mail with a link to my website which explains both the types of sets and the costs. There is also a FAQ’s section which helps to answer most of the questions which I get.

I received an e-mail back saying

[quote] . . . everything sounds great! As this is a gift to my brother, would you consider doing a short set for $150?[/quote]

(My going rate for short sets is $200 plus anything such as excesive mileage, late night charges, etc.)

I was really stunned. I base my prices on the current standards set by the industry. In fact, with my training and back ground, I am probably a little low. And while it’s nice to be ale to give friends, family and the occasional charity event a break, I try very hard to be integral and stick to my price.

The other issue is this: I am traveling home from Cairo / London that day and although I am sure that I can do an excellent job for them – I am a professional afterall, I am not sure that if I were to accept the lower price I would be as fully engaged. Because I am not sure that doing a 15 min set with all the attendant work which goes into it – $600 costume, make up, hair, finding music, coordinating with the wedding planner so that the style matches the theme of the wedding, not to mention having to wait around in the kitchen for my turn to go on – is something which I am going to want to do knowing that I am being paid less than what I am worth. Unless there are things which are not being revealed to me – a fabo goodie bag, a guarantee of outstanding tips. Those things can mitigate the lower price factor.

On a company level, this is very relevant. I have been having the problem that many people are being low balled due to the current economy. I have been speaking to one Executive who has consistently brought in very high numbers. (His industry was hit very hard back in October. His company drops 80% of their employees.) He has been doing his job for 15 years, has constantly continued his education to add value to his work, always received excellent reviews, raises and bonuses. And he is job hunting. And people are offering him half of what he was previously making as salary. The phrases, “In this market. . . ” and “no one is paying. . .” keep coming up. Which is scary, because in his and my experiences, the costs of other things – gas, food, housing, really hasn’t changed.

I asked him what he was planning on doing. His response was, take the highest paying job I can get, manipulate things so that I can keep looking, use the company for everything I can get from it, and move on the moment the job market improves. And if I take every single moment of my PTO as it becomes available, oh well. And I will probably lave without notice.

He went on to say, “If the company had shown that they value me and what I contribute to them by paying me what I deserve, then this wouldn’t happen. I will take a lower salary, but now 50% below what I was getting in order to do more work and have more responsibility. Give me other things to help compensate me. Help me find reasons to invest in the position. Otherwise, when the economy turns around, I am so outta there.”

This is not an uncommon feeling.

People are very willing to cut their employers (and potential employers) some slack. I know that I would be happy to give a discount from my usual Coaching fee if certain criteria were met – bring me on as a contract employee with full benefits for the term of the contract. But when the employee is made to feel as though he or she has little value, there is a problem.

What I Coach my clients to do is to really know their value. Not simply what the market place is telling them what their value is, but what they actually know down to the bottom line what they bring to the table and what they have to offer which makes them worth their fee. Is it their knowledge? Their relationships? The fact that they have a history of bringing projects in on time and under budget with a happy staff? Are they creative in their approach? Do they think outside the box but are able to translate that thinking into something which is actionable?

So how do we stick to our guns and get what we deserve in the way of fees? How much do we value ourselves?

Things to think about.

Until next time.

Getting the most from you (Human) Resources

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

I have long felt that there are many interesting things going on in the world which don’t quiet make sense.

When I first started working as an assistant, long ago and far away, there were very definite titles and responsibilities behind those titles. There was a Receptionist, General secretary, Legal secretary, Executive Secretary and Executive Assistant. Since then, the word Assistant has replaced Secretary almost totally across the board. But this leads to confusion, because traditionally, and Executive Assistant is just that – an executive who works assisting another high level executive with all the attendant responsibilities.

I’ll go into that more, later.

When looking at advertisements for Assistants, it always shocks me that people demand that their assistants have a college education. I understand the reasoning – this proves that they can commit to something which isn’t always pelasent, have a certain set of skills and supposedly can actually think. The problem which arises frequently is that the employer also wants this highly educated, potentially ambitious, person to keep calendars, answer phones and do filing. In short, do work which is very necessary, but, let’s face it, a little boring. And they want them to take a low wage, never leave, not need affirmation that they are valued and to take the blame for everything which goes wrong.

Oh, being able to read minds and the future, while not a requirement, are nice bonuses. Which are not paid for but will be taken advantage of.

And people wonder why, according to several HR managers I know, Administrative Assistants don’t stay in their jobs for more than an average of 2 years.

How to change this? Well, the easiest way is to get to know your assistant. What do they bring to the table besides a great phone manner and excellent typing skills? What did they study in school? What are their long term goals? Do they have knowledge which can be used to the furtherment of the company? How to get them involved and invested.

I ask that last question because we know that it costs more to replace an employee than to retain one. That when employees feel invested in, and that they have an investment in the company, they are more likely to not only work harder, produce better and more, but want to be at work. It has been shown that employees who are invested in, who feel appreciates and feel that their contributions at work are meaningful, they are willing and eager to go the extra mile.

One skill I learned early, which helped many of the Executives for whom I worked, was to simply know a little bit about the people who I worked with. This went from the other assistant’s, the executives, my bosses accountant and outside executives. There were notes on the Rolodex which included tings such as birthdays, anniversaries the names and ages of peoples kids as well as their hobbies. Trust me, when you have the head of a fortune 500 on the line and you are waiting for your boss to get off the another call, it’s a good thing to e able to have a conversation and establish a relationship with the person on the other end of the line. (Caveat: this only works if the other person is reciprocal. There are times when they are not open to it. Respect that.) The point is that my knowing these things, helped in the basic relationships because it made the other people feel important.

Barbara Walters is a great example of this. She not only sends thank you’s to the people she has worked with / interviewed, but also their assistants. Because she knows that the assistants work just as hard as the boss does and gets much less recognition.

So, what else can we do to make our employees feel more invested in? How else can we continue to support and expand on our current employees skills and best utilize the resources which we have at hand? And how to do this in a way which benefits everyone?

Things to think about.

Until next time.

Looking for guarantees

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Back in December, I interviewed for a day job as an Executive Assistant. What can I say? I am in Graduate school, there is a recession going on, I had too many places which needed my energy and was looking for something which would pay the bills and yet not be too demanding.

In an earlier phase of my life, I was an Executive Assistant to several “C” level executives in fortune 500 companies, including a Chairman or three. I dealt with people from all levels and interfaced with both professional and personal affairs. One man I worked for joked that I knew more about his personal assets than he did. And when his accountant, stock broker and attorney sent me better gift baskets at Christmas, well, let’s just say we knew how much I was valued.

I was not offered the the above job, although I was in many ways perfect for it. The reasoning was that I had been honest and my intention was to only be in the position for about 2 years. And the CEO wanted a guarantee that I would be there longer. And while I have been told by many HR people that the general shelf life of a top level Executive Assistant is only 2 year average, I could understand the reasoning.

Fast forward to a few days ago. I ran into the CEO, and asked how his EA was doing? He response was, she just gave her notice. She is moving to Chicago where her Fiance has been for the last 7 months. They are getting married in three weeks.

WAIT! STOP!!! WHAT?!?!?!

Well, it seems that the woman he hired had promised to stay with the company forever. Turns out, she had lied. Understandable, there was a great deal of money on the table and with the economy in the condition it is currently in, better the bird in the hand than the one in the bush, so to speak.

But it does beg this question: given that we know the general life cycles of most positions in most companies, is it better to hire someone who is willing to guarantee a minimum of the ‘normal’ life span with self knowledge and conscious thought behind the decision, or someone who is agreeing to stay in a position which they know nothing about but are guaranteeing that they will be there forever.

This is a hard choice. As Executives, we don’t enjoy training new assistants. It is part of why many executives don’t fully utilize their Assistants. Which in turn causes the Assistants to feel uninvolved, and with no investment in their job or the company. Which in turn leads to boredom and a high turn over rate. And that costs the company money. Viscous circle, yes?

So what to do?

From a Coaching perspective, and in the vein of making the most of your Human resources, I would suggest that when hiring an Assistant – or any position in the company – that you look at both the skills of the person sitting across from you as well as their personality and their personal goals. Personally, I would rather hire someone who is interested in expanding themselves and has a plan than someone who claims to be content to sit behind my secretaries desk for 30 years. Because chances are, if they have ambitions, and are encouraged, they will put those skills to work for me.

In the above case, the CEO had said in the initial interview that he planned to use 2009 to reconnect with the fun of his business, the joy of what he did. He wanted to create a work place where people couldn’t wait to get there on Monday and didn’t want to leave of Friday. As someone who is not only a top notch Executive Assistant, but who is a Coach and studying Spiritual Psychology, this seemed to be a perfect match. How could the company have utilized not only my excellent EA skills, but my knowledge of human behavior? My background in motivation? How could the company have benefited int he long run? And kept me, the employee feeling invested and important and wanting to stay in my position.

While I believe that, in the end, my not being hired was probably for the best, it does raise the question of the need and desire for guarantees. And the reality of what you really are getting.

Things to think about.

Until next time.

Dealing with resistance

Monday, May 11th, 2009

You know what this is. We’ve all been there. We’ve all hit that project, that e-mail, that task which we JUST DO NOT WANT TO DO!!!! No matter how important it is, no matter how much it means on both a personal and professional level, you cannot get your head around the project. Whether this is writing a paper, a proposal or doing the dishes, something stops us.

So what do you do to get through this?

Well, we could be like the Nike commercial and Just Do It!

Or we could sit and meditate and wait for divine inspiration.

Both of these methods have their merits. I recognize that both are polarities and there is much in between. So in service to helping to get through what ever it is which is contributing to the resistance, let’s look at the middle: what is the underlying cause?

I know. You are saying, if I knew that, this wouldn’t be a problem, now would it?

Well, maybe. Or maybe not. Let me give you an example.

I have a major paper due in a week. I have had three months do do my research and write it. I know the material inside and out and am very comfortable with it. The issue it is raising is in the telling. I have very definite feelings about the story and my fear – ah, lovely word – is that how I am telling the story will not fulfill the requirements of the assignment. Not because I can’t write, but because there is very specific steps which are being asked for us to take and I am concerned that my take on the material does not met the requirements that we are being asked to fulfill.

But that is my negative future fantasy. And, while I have been advised to lie about it, make it up as I go along, I have an issue that I find that to be un-integral and I refuse to go there, to do that. Chalk it up to my time spent in the Entertainment industry, but personal integrity is very important to me.

So what to do?

Well, in my case, I chose to do a couple of things. I have been actively working on the other papers which are due in order to get them out of the way so that they don’t distract me as I am trying to work on my main paper. I have been actively meditating trying to find a theme. Which I have. I have taken time to look at materials from that genre in order to refresh my mind to the structure and traditions of those particular stories. And I have been writing things down as they come to me. I have also looked at my agenda and clearly understand that in order to reach my goal, this assignment must be met and it must come to a certain standard.

And I am simply writing. Anything! Blog posts, forums, rewriting me resume. Again, anything. Because by doing so, my brain gets into the groove of composing sentences and making ideas come alive on paper.

This seems to be working.

Resistance can also be an opportunity to look at any deeper issues which come forward. In my above example, it is personal integrity both in the wanting to fulfill the requirements of the paper and yet be honest about where I am with the material and my interpretation. This is an admirable trait. Are there times when it can get in the way? Yes. Can I reconcile it? Sometimes. Sometimes it is possible to adjust my view so that I can stay in integrity and complete whatever is in front of me in a way which is both to the best of my ability and fulfills the needs of the assignment. That is the best win, win situation.

Now, what happens when this doesn’t quiet take care of the resistance? My first suggestion is, forgive yourself for any judgment that your resistance is wrong. Resistance is there for a reason. At some point it had a job. You may simply no longer need it to do that job. Or to do that job at this time. Recognixe it, thank it, ask it to take care of something else or send it on a nice vacation. Give it a return date and if you see it again before that date, tha

And sometimes, as I tell my clients, the answer is, Just do it!