Are You Ready to Be an “Emerging Worker”?

Greetings from the road. Recently I have been involved in a new consulting engagement that has afforded the opportunity to work almost exclusively with a team of “emerging workers”. That is the term I use for workers “of age” who were between jobs and now are taking contract/consulting opportunities. While many companies today are adding these contract workers to their ranks to augment projects and/or staff specific short term needs, it is rare to see a situation with a whole team of these “employees”, guided by only a few permanent staff members.

The whole spectrum I’ve observed in this assignment is worthy of some commentary here. First let me say the camp is pretty evenly divided between three key profiles. First, there are those workers who are incredibly skilled and gifted AND who are demonstrating an incredibly positive attitude about the opportunity. These people can easily be trusted to take a task and run with it to either good or many times, even great results. The other extreme is the group who exhibits poor work ethic, moderate to low willingness to be a part of the team, and outright poor attitudes about all parts of the workload. For these folks one might say “it’s easy to see why YOU lost your last job”. Then there is a rather strange group in the middle. The paradox with this ‘tweener’ group is the conflict between having high potential based upon occasional demonstration of skills yet there is a barrier to success because of various (and often unpredictable) objections to instruction or tasking. Many times the objections take the form of ‘well we did it this way where I came from’ or ‘I don’t care what you say, I know better’.

On one hand, the three profiles represent the problem with the workforce at large. As any manager can tell you, even among permanent employees, most work teams end up with the same three profiles in play. The challenge for the leaders of these work teams where the assignment is temporary is to bring out the best in those who are ready and willing to contribute. Then they must still work with the “people management” part of dealing with the rest of the team. As an employer choosing to deploy temporary workers, the fix is somewhat easy. If a person cannot or will not contribute, then they can be terminated more quickly.

To workers facing this alternative to permanent employment, I recommend the following:

  1. Before taking the engagement, decide upon a clear and specific set of your own expectations. Deals like this are often offered at pay grades below your former level. Be sure you are clear and honest with yourself about that fact. If you accept an engagement, then later decide your pay grade is a problem, you will have created your own biggest barrier to success.
  2. Join the work team with a whole new and fresh set of attitudes. Be open to new ideas. Respect those who may be in authority. Try VERY hard to scope the whole assignment from within before you start making decisions about what you can and will do. Ask questions that exhibit a willingness to achieve success, not to undermine the plan already in place.
  3. Understand who the designated leaders of the group may be, then offer help of all kinds.
  4. Develop good rapport with everyone in a 360 range; peers, reports, and leaders. Demonstrate an openness to be the best member of the team you can be.

If you are saying you are not willing to do some of these things, I can promise you a temporary assignment like this will not be a good experience for you.  Since there is strong and growing evidence that corporate America is shifting to this model, it is vitally important that workers consider these things when looking at contract opportunities.

Change Management: Aura+Attitude+Angle

In the business world, a whole dedicated discipline of “change management” has arisen.

Fred Nikols writes “One meaning of “managing change” refers to the making of changes in a planned and managed or systematic fashion. The aim is to more effectively implement new methods and systems in an ongoing organization. The changes to be managed lie within and are controlled by the organization. (Perhaps the most familiar instance of this kind of change is the “change control” aspect of information systems development projects.).  However, these internal changes might have been triggered by events originating outside the organization, in what is usually termed “the environment.” Hence, the second meaning of managing change, namely, the response to changes over which the organization exercises little or no control (e.g., legislation, social and political upheaval, the actions of competitors, shifting economic tides and currents, and so on). Researchers and practitioners alike typically distinguish between a knee-jerk or reactive response and an anticipative or proactive response.”

Let’s consider the proactive response in terms of job seekers needing new ways to accomplish greater things. Rather than suffer the impact of interview rejects or having no call-backs, persons between jobs need to consider the cause and effect of behaviors and attitudes they bring to the hiring process. The science of change management aside, the easiest source for deciding on the need for change is a quick look in the mirror. Here are a couple of tips to ponder:

  1. How’s your aura? You know, that “luminous radiation” generating from your face and posture. Do you project the things that would make an employer want to hire you?
  2. How’s your attitude? Are you depressed, angry, uncertain, fearful, full of angst? These are all negative energies that block any potential success for effective communication with a person of influence.
  3. How’s you angle? Are you ready to tell a story that communicates who and what you are? By story, I do not mean a fabricated lie. I mean a clear, cohesive statement of the goals you are seeking and the values you can bring to a new job.

 If any or all of these are out of balance, you my friend are a candidate for CHANGE.

Is Conan O’Brien the New Permanent Temporary Worker?

NBC’s decision to juggle its late-night schedule has caused quite a stir. Regardless of which star’s side you might take, one thing is clear. Employment, even for major network superstars, is temporary at best. Conan’s gig only lasted 7 months.

He now represents a growing number of workers in America who are facing the very real probability, not just possibility, that their next employment opportunity may be short lived. Companies of all sizes are considering the very real idea of bringing on workers for short term engagements to accomplish projects, make changes, expand product lines, and other execute on strategic decisions. Yet they have no intent to retain the employees for long term assignment. Some management teams consider it long term employment “bloat”. The thought is to reduce headcount at all levels to maintain a lean workforce profile.

The primary concern with successful implementation of this course of action is that the average American worker has expectations rooted in 50 years of workforce history. After WWII companies began offering various incentives to draw workers back to their specific firms. Competition for benefits and perks grew. As a result, workers began expecting these additions as part of the total compensation package.

For companies to successful wind back time and reduce benefit package offerings, the workforce will have to embrace these changes. As NBC has learned in their ouster of Conan, watch out for public outcry. The story is far from finished.

Job Search Rollercoasters

People between jobs face a daily rollercoaster of emotion, energy, and challenge. So how do you find balance in the ups and downs? Here are a few tips: 

First, have a plan. As in all good planning, you will uncover and define expectations. Know that there will be days of “no” between the days of hearing “yes”. If your plan has contingencies for the process of landing a new job, then you will have accounted for the low points in the journey. This should serve to take some of the sting out of the less than positive news you hear from day to day.

Next, get connected. Do not make this journey alone. Find a job search buddy (or several) to share the walk. Stay in touch. Help each other set daily and weekly goals so you can make real progress. Then hold each other accountable for those goals.

Allow yourself occasional breaks from the grind of finding a new job. Of course you might not afford a trip somewhere, but take the weekend off to do something with family or friends. Stay with a hobby you love. Read books or magazines. Allow your brain to shift into other modes so that the cycle of job searching can rejuvenate.

Last, maintain your health both physically and spiritually. The stress of job loss can weigh heavily on your body and your mind. Create a system for maintaining your physical health via exercise and other stress relieving solutions. Connect with God, following whatever faith based teaching you choose. Re-join your local faith family and reach out to help others. You will be amazed at the stress release that comes from stepping out of your “stuff” and focusing some energy on helping others.

Life’s Little Things

Most of the time I write something new and original, but on occasion, friends forward great pieces I’d like to share. Today is such a day. From my friend John St. John. He writes:

Chances are you’ve been bitten by a mosquito, an ant, a gnat, a bee or a wasp, but have you ever been bitten by a lion or an elephant? Not too likely.

The point is that it’s usually the little things in life that get under our skin and upset our apple cart more often than the biggies.

It’s also the little things that make a big difference to the quality of our life. A simple thank you, a kindly word, a word of encouragement, a telephone call, a note, an email, a greeting card, a smile, a word of appreciation, a flower, and so on.

Why not determine to do something kind every day for someone, and especially for your loved ones as well as to friends and work mates. As someone else said, “When we deserve love the least is when we need it the most!”

Do it today!

Suggested prayer: “Dear God, help me to always remember the important little things in life and give such gifts every day, not only to my loved ones and friends, but also to those who cross my path who need it—including those whom I don’t especially like. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”

1. Paul, the Apostle (Ephesians 4:32).


“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make His face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn His face toward you
and give you peace.”
Numbers 6:24-26


Are There Enough Buses?

Happy New Year my friend. I hope all is looking strong for this 2010.

I have a new thought thread I’d like to share with you. John Collins in his highly acclaimed “Good to Great” writes about “getting the right people on the bus”. My question is “will there be enough buses”? Clearly, from my perspective as a minister to people in job transition I may be accused of being biased, but here is the thought.

Assuming most companies do try to be not just good, but great; then this idea of identifying the people who fit the target profile to load the bus properly becomes the key. We know this is an age-old problem facing every CEO, hiring manager and HR professional. However, as the economy evolves to respond to the various market forces, what are those who do not fit the “get on the bus” profile left to do?

Some who profess to be capitalistic free market advocates would say this is the normal and natural downside. Socialists would say they can fix it by simply building new buses. What is the right answer? I see two forces at work.

  1. The individual must take on personal responsibility to offer the best possible profile to “fit on an existing bus” somewhere. They do this by retraining and updating technical skills, reshaping and refining interpersonal skills/values, and working diligently to stay aware of “bus loading” opportunities. Those already on a bus somewhere must take on greater responsibility for demonstrating their own value proposition to sustain and build their worth for retaining their seat on the bus.
  2. Corporate America must do more to define and assess the qualifications for boarding the bus and the process by which candidates are vetted for boarding. This does not have to be purely empirical data. I know this is a long standing challenge, but is also something sorely lacking across most industries.

Your thoughts?

Happy 2010

The first decade of the 21st  century is behind us. Whew. I don’t know about you, but this has been a wild ride for lots of reasons. When I was growing up, a wise man once told me “you need to learn from all your experiences; good or bad”. What shall I say about this decade? For all things that I, my family, and my colleagues have experienced, I see two prevailing truths.

First, God is in control. For the massive and wide spectrum of human emotion we have endured and experienced, there are no easy explanations for the question “why”? You can debate, argue, agree, or ignore, but the bottom line only one true and real conclusion. God is in control. Do some of the experiences suggest He is a mean or uncaring God? Absolutely not! Has He forgotten or forsaken some of us? Again, absolutely not. It is a strong and lasting faith in the God of Heaven that can sustain us in the circumstances of the day. I pray that everyone finds the comfort and hope for things to come in a faith in God.

Next, all of the changes and needs that are emerging in our society have been answered by individuals, neighbors, and entire communities coming together to help one another. Big government cannot do it. Large corporate cannot do it. It takes people working together. The only way these things can happen is through the fundamental renewal of one-on-one relationship building. Everyone must be willing to take a small step out of their own boxes to openly and objectively hear the next person. This is a bridge building exercise that cannot fail.

My hope for you is a blessed and happy new year. See you next year!


Doug T.

Rip This Page from Mike Leach’s Book

Deep in the middle of college football’s bowl season, a veteran coach is fired for cause. Mike Leach, known for his “unique” personality and unconventional football strategies, seems to have taken his “uniqueness” a bit too far. There is much yet to be resolved in this turmoil, both inside and outside of some courtrooms. However, buried here is a lesson for professionals at all levels.

“Uniqueness” has been touted as the way to get ahead in today’s job markets. Pundits tell us we must create a personal brand that is compelling and memorable so that our resumes can rise above the job hunting masses. While I agree, in principle, with this idea, clearly there are bounds by which we are all judged.

“Uniqueness” may get us noticed, but substance closes the deal and delivery of substance makes a new job stick. The media may turn Mike Leach into the latest poster child for alleged on-the-job behavioral defects, but do not be fooled to think he is alone. Attitudes and mindsets about ways we think we can contribute to a workplace have a tremendous bearing on the final outcomes.

There is an old adage among HR professionals that says “You are hired on skills, but fired on behavior.” Maybe we all need to revisit this idea.

Flying With the Lord

One of my favorite hobbies is flying. About twenty years ago I went to the schools and obtained my private pilot’s license. Besides the thrill of “leaving the bonds of Earth”, I have become especially fond of night flying.

There is something about all the lights and the stars which I find especially thrilling. Of course, I only decide to go up on clear nights, no weather threats. I must rely upon the basic navigational instruments used for so called VFR (Visual Flying Rules) license because I have not yet acquired my IFR license (Instrument Flight Rules).

The key distinction here is that I am not yet prepared nor equipped to rely totally on the instrument panel to navigate. That means there must be a high degree of visibility and correlation to landmark style navigation.

Well, having said that, I took off one night for a first time run to Lake Jackson. An old college friend had been encouraging me to join them for dinner. I departed my home base in Northwest Houston a little after 6:00 PM which meant it was already nightfall. The route of flight I had chosen was to take me south over Sugarland, then southeast towards Lake Jackson. Maps were clearly marked, conditions OK’d for VFR routing and off I went.

The leg to Sugarland was uneventful. I climbed to 2000 feet, still having all of West Houston in very clear sight. The roadways, landmarks etc. were easily discernable. I approached Sugarland and made my calls to the tower to announce my transition through their airspace. A strong headwind was causing plenty of heading correction to maintain my direction of flight.

As I made the turn southeasterly toward what was to be Lake Jackson, a leg estimated at 31 miles, about 19 minutes, I discovered, there were few if any lights on the horizon. A mist had started to develop in the air. Looking immediately in front and below, I estimated visibility had shrunk to about 4 miles; still technically suitable for VFR flight, but certainly less than I am excited about flying into.

As the lights of Houston started to fade, I truly felt I was flying into total darkness. Just a few scant images of light were on the horizon before me. The heading was hard to maintain because what had been a direct southerly headwind was now attacking from more of an angle.

Just minutes into this scene I began to feel a sense of panic about pressing onward. I had to admit that I was headed to an unfamiliar airport, in definitely unfamiliar surroundings with what now was deteriorating weather conditions. There would be no alternate airports in the vicinity, short of turning around for Sugarland. In a word “this was not good”.

Then something overtook my spirit. The hours of training and preparation began to resurface. Almost as a reflex as opposed to a forced response, I began to more closely check off the features of the landscape I could discern in the dark, often needing to rely on features almost immediately below me.

A cross-check on a VOR setting gave me a beacon, a radio beam to follow as a target for my destination. I reset the GPS (global positioning satellite) receiver for the destination and all began to fall into place. Clearly I was on course but just couldn’t rely on my immediate natural senses to assure me of it. I had to rely on what I knew to be true.

Minutes seemed like hours. The darkness only got more intense. Even more lights were now fading. Soon I began to see the outline of the town itself emerge from the dark chasm I was entering.

Once I was sure I was approaching Lake Jackson, the next challenge was to find the airport. The town was of no use if I could not safely land at the airport. As miles “to the destination” clicked off the GPS panel, I was in range to see the airport, but for some reason could not see it.

I rechecked the gauges. Everything checked out, but no airport was in sight. I was approaching fewer than 4 miles to the destination which should have given me ample view of the field from 2000 feet. But there was nothing but more darkness.

I was certain of my bearings and even though I could not see the destination, I began my descent from 2000 feet. I needed to drop to 1000 to be on line for a smooth landing. Just as I reached the approach altitude of 1000 feet, I saw the lights of runway 17 emerge. I was on dead center line for straight-in final approach. Radio calls were made and I began my landing. A few minutes later I taxied safely and securely to the hangar where my friend was waiting.

I was reminded of how much this resembles our walk with Jesus Christ. For those of us professing to be Christian, for some time now, we have read the book(s), we have heard the sermons, we have attended the workshops… we are well prepared.

Yet as moments of darkness envelope the journey we have chosen, how often do we find ourselves panicked? Thoughts of fear and doubt shroud our existence. We often think about turning around to some safety we believe is behind us.

Yet if we will only rely on the indicators, the knowledge and beliefs that have been instilled, we can arrive at a safe, new destination. In spite of doubt and information that can suggest we are lost, we can press on toward the goal. Darkness can be overcome.

Fear can be replaced with confidence. We can take measures to begin the final approach to the goal even though the goal is not even in sight. We can rest assured in the faith and knowledge we have of the One Whom is to be Lord.