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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Raise Your Hand, Speak Your Mind, Learn About Yourself



"Raise Your Hand, Speak Your Mind, Learn About Yourself" 
By Debra Scala Giokas, '87

After I graduated college, I learned how much I didn't know; and after I started teaching as an adjunct, I learned how much I did know. There is an upside and a downside to listening to yourself talk for almost three hours. The upside is that you are amazed to see how much your memory has retained and how many people have affected your life. The downside is that you can't turn yourself off for at least an hour after class. It's draining. It's always easiest when the class participates.

As a student, it is so easy to fall into the trap of showing up, plopping into your seat, and listening to the professor talk for hours. It's harder to engage yourself in the dialogue, but that's exactly what you should be doing. Hearing yourself talk gives you the opportunity to learn more about your world view - or your lack of one. And there is no venue that promotes the open flow and exchange of ideas better than a classroom setting. It's a chance to grow, to learn about your own life and to see how you fit into history.

The more you live, the more you learn that this saying is true: "Wherever you go, there you are." You can't escape yourself. You travel with your body, mind, heart and soul. Strive to be comfortable by yourself - and in yourself - anywhere you go. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."

We all feel better when we share a part of ourselves in intimate conversation with a friend. How many people actually stop to talk with each other anymore? How many people walk past someone, smile and say, "How are you?" and yet never stop to listen to the answer.

This is our society. It's one of hellos and good-byes. People are craving the connection that conversation brings. Sending text messages is not genuine conversation.

On a daily basis, you have the ability to choose what ideas you consume, what books you read, what shows you watch, and what types of people you associate with. These factors have the power to make you grow distant from yourself or to enhance who you already are. But you must be in touch with your core value system so that you may make the right choices and know in which direction you want to grow.

The way to hear your inner voice is to share that voice with others. Speak out in class, share ideas, and don't be self-conscious about your thoughts and opinions. This is the way you learn about yourself and the world around you. This is how you determine how you will play a part to better the world.

How will you bring your gifts and talents to the world stage? How will you leave your mark? What will your legacy be?

If you think about these big questions during your college years, you will spare yourself many years of anxiety. Pondering these questions will guide you into the right first job, and that job will guide you into the next one. Most importantly, you'll find a way to use your talents to serve humanity from your corner of the world. You will know how to make the right decisions for yourself because you'll become your own best counselor and friend.

 Debra Scala Giokas has been in the field of Legal Marketing for 25 years. For the last 16, she has been working as Marketing Director of Long Island’s second largest law firm, Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman, LLP. Debra shares her love of English as a board advisor for Literacy Nassau which promotes adult literacy in the community. Debra was also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Dowling College, where she taught an undergraduate course in services marketing for six years. She has been published in a variety of business and legal trades, which includes a quarterly column in the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island's (PRPLI) newsletter “For Immediate Release.” Debra’s poems have appeared in magazines and literary journals, most recently in the 2014 Nassau County Poet Laureate Review. Debra was recognized by PRPLI with its Mentor Award in 2012.

You can follow Debra on Twitter @debrascalag.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Thinking Beyond Your Major


"Thinking Beyond Your Major" By Richard Murdocco, '10


When it comes to starting your career, you may find that you need to go beyond your academic major. By considering your unique strengths and ways to apply them, you’ll make yourself open to more employment prospects and opportunities for personal growth.

When students or recent graduates identify themselves in interviews, they often say something along the lines of, "Hello! My name is George Humphrey. I am a student at Stony Brook University majoring in INSERT MAJOR HERE.”

Leading off with your major sets an expectation for the interviewer that you fit the archetype of only that field. While some professions require a relatively static skill set, others have more broad qualifications. Is there an opening for a research analyst at a large firm, but you studied Earth Science? You may be able to apply what you’ve learned as an undergraduate to fit that position.

As I had written last time, one of the perks of identifying your strongest skill is using it to your advantage in a variety of different professions. Are you a mathematics major who writes well? Or maybe you study Economics, but have a host of public speaking gigs under your belt. Excellent - you're a double threat in the job market. Use those valuable skills - and your unique academic background - to your advantage. 

If you are struggling to find a job that your academic background is tailor-made for, consider other opportunities that will allow you to put your skills to work. Often, rather than seeking the most qualified candidate on paper, companies look for an individual who fits in with company culture and who offers something unique to their institution.

Speaking from personal experience, my studies in both undergraduate at Fordham and graduate school at Stony Brook focused on land use, real estate development and the interrelationship between economic growth and environmental impacts. Despite having this rather specialized academic background, I now work in the ever-changing field of marketing for a financial institution. My background in government is helpful, but my ability to write is even more valuable. By identifying my skill and thinking beyond my major, I was able to jump into a field in which I never thought I'd be working. Each day, I use my education in policy to solve marketing challenges while applying the lessons learned in my undergraduate studies to give a different perspective on finding solutions.

Remember, though - that is my story. As a student or recent graduate, you must go out into the world and create your own story. What is your unique skill? Once you answer that question, ask yourself, "Am I thinking big enough?"

Always push yourself to think bigger. Thinking beyond your major requires an open mindedness that can pay big dividends as you progress throughout your career. Who knows - maybe one day you'll be a philosophy major who helps a firm with financial forecasting, or a regional planner who works as a marketer.


Richard Murdocco is a digital marketing analyst for Teachers Federal Credit Union. He graduated from Fordham University with his BA in Political Science and Urban Studies, and his MA in Public Policy from SUNY Stony Brook in 2010. 
Professionally, Richard worked for the New York City Mayor's Office of Capital Project Development under the Bloomberg Administration, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Community Development Corporation of Long Island as a grant writer. His website, The Foggiest Idea, is a dedicated resource for land use and development information geared towards Long Islanders. 
Follow Richard Murdocco on Twitter @TheFoggiestIdea, visit thefoggiestidea.org or email him at Rich@TheFoggiestIdea.org. You can check out his work weekly for the Long Island Press.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Modern Management Ills: A Checklist of Symptoms

Modern Management Ills: A Checklist of Symptoms 
By John Cona '87

How to spot poor management and understand its supporting, perpetuating cultures. A checklist of warning signs for the wary as observed at one man's real life clients...

Summary

Healthy job seekers beware!  Poorly-run corporations make their presence known through easily recognizable symptoms.  In this essay, I present the etiology of ineffectual company management; in a follow-on piece, I will prescribe some simple home remedies. Hopefully, this knowledge will empower those new to the white-collar workforce to be agents of change. New workers do not have to sit powerless against the abject silliness and non-common-sensical goings-on at most corporations. There is hope.

Introduction

As a Stony Brook alum (1987) and long-time independent Management Advisor and consultant, I was asked to write a series of blog-essays giving career development advice to new graduates. 

I thought it best to write a warning.

Corporate bungling is rampant, especially in management. There are many things to be managed in a large business, and they all falter where basic management skills are lacking.

Why?

The common cause...The common cure...  

My core  observation - having directly helped over 70 firms and indirectly advised literally hundreds - is that there is simply a lack of discipline.

Common causes include:
  • Ready acceptance of excuses to go off-plan
  • A dearth of management skill to begin with
  • Plain old incompetent, silly or unsettling behavior
  • Accedence to a superior's own causes
  • Surrender to short term thinking, or lack of its recognition and ramifications

And running like a bright vein of fool's gold through all of these sources is a lack of common sense.

The Checklist: Easily Recognizable Signs of Poor Management 

I expand on and discuss these items in the following section:

Those instantly recognizable:
  1. Email Inboxes Containing Thousands Of (Usually Unread) Messages
  2. Consultant Dependency (which is just silly)
  3. PowerPoint Heck (which is just unsettling)
Those noticeable within a normal work week:
  1. Reliance (Even a Little Bit!) On Instant Messaging and Texting
  2. New Directions Every Day or Week. Hour?
  3. Requiring Face-to-Face Time Every Day. Hour?
  4. "Hallway Management"
  5. Crowds of People in a "Working Meeting"
  6. Addressing Actionable Emails to More than One Person
  7. Giving Multiple Resources the Same Job To Do.
Those that may take time to see:
  1. Lack of Quality, Lack of Productivity, and Heroic Efforts
  2. Operating Continually in Reactive Mode
  3. ~60% Cancellation Rate on Scheduled Meetings - Or Anything Over 10%
  4. People Late or Absent From Meetings

Exposition on the Signs of Poor Management

Those instantly recognizable:


1. Email Inboxes Containing Thousands Of (Usually Unread) MessagesThis may indicate:
  • Lack of ability - or lack of willingness - to delegate. A manager who is involved in every conversation that his subordinates undertake does not trust them, or is not aware that he/she can/should trust them.
  • A management style that does not scale. Simply put: once a person's plate is full, there is no more that they can do.
  • Poor performance. Being spread too thin brings about a lack of quality output in anyone.
  • Lack of an organizational model that matches the workload. If a single person is receiving too many emails, this means that too many recipients are addressed to, or copied on, emails inappropriately.

2. Consultant Dependency
This sign indicates that management is not, on its own, producing good ideas. At many large companies, there is a tendency to forego an important decision until a consulting firm says it is OK. The approach is not completely wrongheaded; consultants can supply valuable insight where expertise is lacking. At some point, though a firm needs to recognize its own strengths and back its people when they make decisions that they should be counted on to make.

3. PowerPoint Heck
In recent years, operational and organizational management have changed so that, in many instances, they communicate solely in slide-speak. The displacement of more suitable forms of documentation and communication by PowerPoint is a sign of dependence and inefficiency.

Those Noticeable Within a Normal Work Week:

1. Reliance (Even a Little Bit!) On Instant Messaging and Texting.
This is a sign that communications have "backed up"; as mountains of unread emails accumulate, the need for attention-getting moves toward instant messaging. This replaces the managed, directed, purposeful and productive communications of email with tools marketed mostly to teenagers. To rely on texting or IM is to rely on happenstance - what if the recipient is not available at the time of the message?

2. New directions every day/week/hour
This is a clear sign that there is no proper planning.  What happened to yesterday’s direction?  Is it on maternity leave?’  is an appropriate, common sense response (though perhaps should not be spoken aloud; leave it to me to express this).

3. Requiring face-to-face time every day/hour
When there is no active plan, there is no way for managers to gauge the productivity of workers without watching them type.  Common sense dictates that witnessing someone at their desk does not necessarily show that they are being productive.

4. “Hallway Management”
This is the overwhelming urge for a manager to give people things to do upon every greeting – even chance meetings in the hall or cafeteria.  The implication is that the receiver of the new request was not fully allocated at the time. Another implication is that there is no plan.

5. Crowds of People in a ‘Working Meeting'.
Optimally, everyone in a “working” meeting should contribute evenly to maximize its efficiency.  If this isn’t the case, reallocated meeting topics and attendees should be considered.  Meetings need to have clear agendas, a leader to keep the discussions on point, and a pass-the-conch-shell mentality so that contributors are not shouted down.

6. Assigning the Same Job to Multiple People.
If the same job is assigned to several people, a supervisor may forget who has been given which tasks. There is a common defense for this: that it is done purposely as a way for managers to compare workers’ reactions.  Whose solution was best?  Who responded quickest? If this were done in a management-theory experiment, it would be forgivable.  The other 99.9% of the time, it is a sign of inefficient operations.

7. Addressing Actionable Emails to More Than One Person
This is similar to the previous item but different in that this is also a communication-management problem.

Those That Take Time to See:

1. Lack of Quality, Lack of Productivity, and Heroic Efforts 
Longer-term lack of quality deliverables is a more difficult symptom to recognize immediately. More easily observed are the heroic efforts required when deliverables are finally met – one person, or a team, working extra hours as a tightly-knit group, cheerlead by management to act “as one” , with redundant efforts and inefficient grunts and groans until the project is completed, forced over the goal line in a muddy scrum. A shortcut to recognizing this symptom is to look for braggadocio or corporate pride in individuals who regularly perform 50+ hour work weeks just to keep the status quo.

2. Operating Continually in Reactive Mode
This is not only an effect of a lack of disciplined management; in many cases it is also a cause. Those who enjoy causing chaos in order to mask a lack of management skill contribute to the resulting plan-less-ness.  

3. 60% Cancellation Rate on Scheduled Meetings - Or Anything Over 10%...
When high rates of cancellations occur – especially last minute – it is a clear indicator of poor time oversight and the absence of a respected, bought-into plan – more so when a manager cancels meetings that they had called themselves.

4. People Late or Absent from Meetings.
Ditto.

Simple Steps Toward: The Right Way

In a follow-on piece, I will present some guidelines on the right way to organize and communicate in an organization - simple enough that an individual can put them into place.


To read a more complete version of this essay, click here.


As background, note that I have broad experience in Information Technology, having started as a software developer directly out of college – I was a mathematics major, and my first industry positions were in actuarial departments (within large, complex insurance companies) as a student-actuary and programmer.  From there my career proceeded along a typical arc:  technical leadership, architecture, enterprise architecture – and in parallel I also followed an analogous path through management:  project management, program management, executive management.



That described, and though I am hired usually for executive IT, custom software development, analytics management, most of my work now boils down to solving generic management issues.  And, further, most of the problems have simple solutions found by everyday reasoning and using good, old-fashioned common sense.



Email me with your questions, comments, tales of management horror, and commiseration.  Thank you.