My First Job Interview

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My first real interview in the workplace taught me something I still remember today.

After I graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Psychology, I had to find a job. One of my college roommates was in San Francisco attending the University of California Hastings Law School. He had a three bedroom apartment and needed one more roommate to fill it out. Another one of my college buddies was working in San Francisco at the Emporium/Capwell Department store and he said he could get me an interview for their executive trainee program. Being young, that’s all I needed to load up my MGB with my worldly possessions and drive south to my new home.

A few days before my interview my friend who worked at the Emporium asked me what I would say if the interviewer asked why I wanted to work in retail. I densely said “I need a job?” My buddy said “oh no, what you need to say is, I want to be in retail because it is a fast paced, ever changing, people business and I’m a people person”. I wrote that answer down on a piece of paper and practiced saying it over and over until my interview. Well, I had gone through almost the entire interview when at last the interviewer asked me “Why do you want to be in retail?” I was so excited the interviewer finally asked the question that my response was authentically exuberant and passionate.  The interviewer thought I was genuinely passionate about retail. In reality, it was because I was so happy he asked the one question I had so diligently practiced over and over again.

Regardless, the outcome was the same. The interviewer asked if I could begin work the following Monday. I believe enthusiasm and passion go much farther to getting a job than people may think.

Accepting Consequences of Choice

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When I was a small kid of around 6 years old I wanted to go to see a local house-fire with some of the older kids in the neighborhood.  My dad told me not to go. If I did go, it would be my choice and I would have to suffer the consequences of my choice. Using the short term thinking of a child, how could I possibly get in trouble if I went with a group of older, wiser 12 and 13 year olds? So, I traveled the three or four blocks to see the house on fire. When my dad noticed I was gone he came looking for me. He found me standing with the other kids watching that fire! I then had to pay the piper for my actions!

My dad made me cut a small switch from one of the fruit trees in our yard so he could spank me with it. Although he gave me one quick stinging tap on the touche for my punishment, the real punishment was my having to endure the shame of cutting my own weapon of punishment! He also said something I didn’t understand until years later. My dad told me that “this hurts me far more than it will hurt you”. That day I learned a few valuable lessons from my dad. He may not have been mindful of his teaching but I never forgot his disappointment in me. My dad only delivered the punishment for the poor choice I chose to make.

To this day, I believe in the importance of accepting the political consequences of the choices we make in all walks of our life. I think that whether you are in the workplace or in our country’s capitol, people believe if they own up to their poor choices that they will lose their power. In reality, they would gain more power because the electorate would actually believe them. Same thing happens in the workplace. If you are honest and take your medicine, you build the trust people have in you.

Hiring Mary

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During the mid 1990’s our small company, Ex Officio outdoor and adventure travel apparel, was growing rapidly. One of the challenges we had was hiring receptionists. The receptionist position was not only important as the face of our company but, we also used it as a place to discover employee’s for further promotion within the company.

 

Our receptionist, Kay, was being promoted from her receptionist position and her first duty was to find her potential replacement. As expected, Kay brought two terrific candidates for me to interview for a final decision. Both candidates were young and straight out of college.  The first was very presentable, clean cut, personable and seemed solid. The second candidate had bleached blond hair with dark roots, dressed like a designer might dress, seemed very independent and had an infectious fun personality. After questioning the candidates I found out that candidate #1 was indeed a solid person whom I thought would diligently carry out any task asked of her. The second candidate, Mary, as wild as she looked, had gone to Dartmouth (an Ivy League school with a bit of a party school reputation), had a degree in fashion and was captain of the Dartmouth women’s field hockey team.  After the interviews I immediately knew who I’d like on our team. When Kay came in to discuss her replacement, she assumed, for all the right reasons, I would like candidate #1. Although I did like #1, I picked Mary. The reasons? Mary, having a degree in apparel design, was not afraid to start at a receptionist job to work her way into our company and importantly, she was the captain of her field hockey team. What did being on the field hockey team at Dartmouth tell me about Mary? It told me Mary was a team player, which is necessary in business as well as in sports. By being accepted at Dartmouth, it told me Mary was intellectually smart. And, it told me she probably wasn’t conventionally smart in the tradition of a Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Personally, I like independent thinkers who challenge me and the people around them. Of course, on the downside, independent thinkers can sometimes cause workplace dysfunction. This led me to my final observation. Mary was not only was a team player, she was the captain of her team. Captains are elected by their teammates to lead the team; dysfunctional people rarely are elected to be captains. From this available information, I was able to make Mary my clear choice. Needless to say, Kay was surprised. After I shared my reasons with Kay, I wasn’t convinced she thought I was right. Possibly, she thought I was a bit crazy.

 

Sure enough, Mary eventually made the transition from being a college girl into being a talented young woman. Mary rose rapidly in our company and stayed for over 10 years. Eventually, after we sold our company, my former business partner hired Mary to work with him at his next venture. She’s still there today and every time I see Mary I am excited and happy to know her vibrancy is better than ever!

Personal Politics of Workplace Dysfunction

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Most of us have had jobs working in a dysfunctional environment. We either had a dysfunctional supervisor or we worked with dysfunctional people on our team. I know I have. Once I reached my personal “point of no return”, no amount of money would have kept me working there.

I have witnessed professionals I have coached who bravely tried to work with their dysfunctional supervisors. Eventually they left jobs and teams they liked because of disrespectful managers. Interestingly, these professionals found jobs they loved working in respectful cultures. The amount of stress they left behind when they moved on was well worth it.

Ultimately, we may not be able to influence our work surroundings but we all have control of our choice whether to stay or to leave.

Understanding Your Customer’s or Client’s Unfulfilled Needs Before They Do

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As a 26 year-old young men’s buyer for the Bon Marche Department Store in Seattle (now Macy’s) during the late 1970’s, my primary departmental purchases were the disco styles that were popular at the time. I didn’t exactly like the styles; in fact I thought we were going through one of the worst fashion periods in history. But when these styles sold well, I thought they were fabulous. Although I personally didn’t like or wear the product I purchased, I certainly appreciated what my customer’s sought out.

After working at The Bon, I decided I wanted to go from the buy side to the sell side. I worked for a young men’s fashion wholesaler in Seattle as their VP of Merchandising. We primarily sold young men’s woven shirts to retailers and, just like at The Bon, I wasn’t a big fan of our product. But what I liked didn’t matter. What was important was that I understood what the stores we sold to wanted.

My next adventure was co-founding Ex Officio, adventure travel apparel. After recognizing a need in the fly fishing and outdoor industries, my business partner and I began making what turned out to be some of the most innovative fly fishing apparel and, outdoor and adventure travel apparel at that time. The catch: I had never fly-fished a day in my life! And my biz partner had only gone fly fishing a few times. How could we make such innovative product? I think it was because we had learned that the product we made wasn’t about what we liked, but what our customers were missing from their wardrobe. Ex Officio was one of the first companies to extensively use technical synthetic fabrics to make shirts and full fashioned pants. Personally, I liked and still like 100% cotton products. But, for the purpose that our customers were going to use our product for in outdoor and adventure travel settings, 100% cotton didn’t make sense.

Again, all those years of buying and selling “disco” fashions that I couldn’t stand, taught me a valuable lesson. Anyone can figure out what they personally like but the best companies figure out what their customers unfulfilled needs are before their customers recognize it themselves!

Taking my own advice

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While discussing marketing ideas with Cindy, my business partner, she asked me how important I thought LinkedIn was. Personally, for business to business marketing, I think it can be an important marketing tool.

In my class on Workplace Psychology at the University of Washington I frequently tell my students the best personal marketing they can do is to simply go up to someone they would like to meet, offer their hand to shake, look the other person straight in the eye and say, “Hi, Mr. or Ms. ”, my name is ” and I’m very happy to meet you”.

On LinkedIn I have a number of contacts, but the majority are from people who have extended the invitation to connect to me. When someone asks me to connect on LinkedIn, and I know them, I feel flattered and typically accept. But interestingly, I’m uncomfortable asking others to connect to me. After thinking about why I might feel this way, I realized it was because of the same uncomfortable feeling I had when I was a young man introducing myself to and shaking hands with someone I wanted to meet. Is there a reason I should feel uncomfortable when reaching out on LinkedIn to business people I know? Absolutely not!

It is far easier to give advice than to take it, even if it’s your own. I constantly have to remind myself, “Joe, take your own advice!”

#3 – Tell the Truth: Pelzie’s Principles (Part 4 of 4)

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Tell the truth … the third Pelzie Principle, seemingly simple but possibly the most difficult for his kids or anyone else to authentically grasp.

I think the reason telling the truth is difficult is because we can so easily rationalize and convince ourselves that we aren’t stretching the truth. The easiest lies, and possibly the hardest to detect, might be the lies we tell ourselves. Jonathan Haidt from the University of Virginia says that the greatest moral philosophers are the best at rationalizing their own lies. We see this in politics and business all of the time but, can we rationalize and lie to ourselves about our own authenticity?

In the late 90’s our company, Ex Officio, Inc., attended the Outdoor Retailer trade show, an important four day event held twice a year in Salt Lake City. Our company had nonstop appointments from the beginning of the show to the end. After one meeting, I noticed our National Sales manager was having an intense discussion with two women from one of our smaller accounts. I didn’t know the account so I decided I would go over and introduce myself. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I had interjected myself into the middle of a difficult discussion about short shipping this customer. Short shipping is when a company does not fully fulfill a customer’s purchase order.

As it turned out, our customer who was short shipped was extremely angry because the shirt style they didn’t receive was one of their best selling styles. I apologized and asked our customer what we could do to make her happy. She did not want to hear anything we said other than that we would ship her store the shirt style we weren’t able to ship. She went on to accuse me of holding shirts back for our largest customers in order to curry favor with them instead of shipping the smaller accounts. I told her this wasn’t true but she continued to insist that it was.

After accusing me of being deceitful, I stopped the conversation, took a breath and said “we were at fault for not shipping you your product, but if you are questioning my integrity, I don’t think we should continue to do business with each other. Thanks for coming in, good-bye!” She and her partner got up and left. You can safely assume the atmosphere in the booth wasn’t exactly jubilant.

Well it wasn’t long until the work day was finished. My two business partners, our VP of Sales and I decided to have a fine meal and a few beers at one of our favorite Italian joints. And guess what? We were seated at a table right next to the two customers we had earlier clashed with! We gave them a polite nod and sat down. Fortunately the place was boisterous enough so our respective table’s conversations couldn’t be heard. After a few moments, I had an inspirational thought. I told my partners we were going to pick up their dinner tab. I thought they might not go along with this idea if I simply offered so I discretely found their wait person and told him I wanted to pay for their dinner. When our customer went to pay their bill, the waiter told them that we had already picked up their tab. As I thought, they weren’t very happy about it, and grudgingly they came to our table to give us a quick one word “thanks” before leaving the restaurant. Now I wish I could say my suggestion of picking up their tab was because I was being genuinely nice and trying to make amends. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I expected this gesture would grate at them.

The next day, the woman who accused me of deceitfulness came to our trade show booth. She apologized for her actions the previous day and genuinely thanked me for picking up their restaurant tab. Making a special trip to our display booth to apologize and thank me for dinner had to be extremely difficult for her, but she did it anyway.

After she left, who do think felt like the jerk? Although I rationalized that picking up their check was simply “comical”, in actuality it was done to make these people feel uncomfortable. It certainly did not represent the esteemed integrity that I fought to defend the day before. I think you could easily make the case that my authentic intention for picking up the check was far closer to being unkind than being upright.

The lesson I learned from this experience was the importance of being completely authentic as a person in all facets of my honesty and integrity. I hope I never forget that the biggest lie may be the one I rationally tell myself.

The last of the three Pelzie principles, number three “tell the truth” … not as simple as we might think!

#2 – Listen: Pelzie’s Principles (Part 3 of 4)

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“Listen” … the second of Pelzie’s three principles. I sometimes ask myself how that simple word “listen” can end up to be so complicated. When I was as young as Pelzie’s children are now, I remember being pretty prolific at talking, and I certainly had my share of difficulties trying to master the other half of communication that I wasn’t accustomed to: listening.

After I retired as CEO of Ex Officio Inc., I used to think, “I wish I could have had someone like myself to coach me.” But, honestly, I’m not sure if I would have been secure enough to listen even if I had. Secure enough to listen? By all appearances, I was a secure and confident guy. After all, wasn’t I leading a successful company? Sure I was but, my typical modus operandi was listening so I could rebut instead of listening so I could understand.

Once while I was CEO, I had the bright idea to separate Ex Officio’s domestic business and its international business into two separate companies. My attorney clearly didn’t think the idea was great, but I thought, “What did he know? I know my business better than he does!” At one of the trade shows we attended, I met a gentleman who had terrific connections in Japan. His authenticity within the Japanese market seemed beyond reproach and I wanted to hire his firm to represent us in Japan. During our discussions, it came out that he was “tired” of building up other companies and wanted a “piece of the action” if he were to represent us. This seemed reasonable to me. And, because of my brilliant plan to separate the domestic business from our international business, it was eminently doable. Six months later it became clear to everyone at Ex Officio that this great idea of mine was a complete mess that took a lot of time and money to rectify.

If only I had learned Pelzie’s second principle – listen – my mistakes in this transaction would have been minimized. First, I should have listened to my attorney to understand the possible pitfalls in separating the company. Because separating the company fragmented and complicated finance, potential financial partners and investment bankers were not thrilled by my great idea. I also should have done a more thorough background and reference check on the new Japanese representatives before becoming business partners. One of my friends who owned a thriving travel bag company later said to me, “Why didn’t you ask me about this guy, I would have told you about his volatile personality.”

Why didn’t I listen? I think I made the fatal mistake of confusing being secure with being confident, and I certainly had no shortage of confidence! As it turned out, my confidence was a mask for my insecurity. Secure people are secure enough to listen to other opinions without judging them. Listening without judgment doesn’t mean you have to accept all of these opinions. Intently listening simply means you have a much greater opportunity to make informed decisions.

What a lesson in listening! So I guess you might think that after that incident I became a great listener, but that is not the case! Even to this day, I often need to remind myself to listen. Unless you are a natural listener, listening is rarely fully mastered.

#1 – Be Nice: Pelzie’s Principles (Part 2 of 4)

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Be nice …. I don’t think it would be a stretch for the majority of us to envision my friend Pelzie’s young 6 year old son and 5 year old daughter arguing, provoking and skirmishing over any number of things.

Remembering a time when my brother Walt and I were about the same age, whenever we took a trip in the car we could be found sitting in its spacious back seat. My idea of spacious wasn’t always the same as Walt’s (to his chagrin, I used to call him Wally). Predictably, Wally would draw an imaginary line delineating his theoretically protected area. To me this line only represented a place where I had to go to cross over! To this day, I vividly remember “consistently encroaching” on my brother’s territory. I can’t imagine how we must have driven our parents crazy! Be nice, to whom, my brother? Looking back, those were fun times for a kid but was I being nice to my brother? No, I can safely say, I wasn’t! Did Wally and I learn how to exist together? I sometimes wonder! I knew my older brother Wally’s emotional hot buttons and, ostensibly to survive, I was relentless in pushing them. My parents would put up with us to a point and then my mom or dad would speak. I don’t think they said “be nice” but the tone of their voice certainly implied it!

Be nice … as we grow up, I think that simple be nice takes on a myriad of meanings. Personally, I think be nice includes the basic core values of respect, empathy, fairness.

We might not understand those words when we are 6 years old but we should understand them once we enter into the real world. I think most of us have a basic understanding of respect, empathy and fairness but, I’m not so sure if we consistently live these values.

Is there a reason we don’t live them? When I was a kid, it was very easy for me to rationalize that I needed more backseat territory and, if I could pester my brother into giving it to me, well … wasn’t that Wally’s problem?

I sometimes wonder if many people today easily rationalize to not be nice, respectful, empathetic or fair by deluding themselves into thinking “in order to survive, this is how the big kids must act”! We see and hear this every day in the financial industry when certain investment banks don’t play nice by indiscriminately selling flawed financial instruments, large hedge fund managers not playing nice by using insider and unfair trading practices to manipulate markets, national politicians, on both sides, not playing nice by utilizing dirty politics. In essence, aren’t these businessmen, bankers, hedge fund managers and politicians giving all of us permission to not be nice?

Too bad these unprincipled men and women didn’t have Pelzie as a father when they were growing up.

Pelzie’s Principles (Part 1 of 4)

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What I received out of college that was far greater than my education, were lifelong friends. There is no doubt in my mind that I learned more from my friends and their families than I did from any one of my classes.

To this day, I still call one of these close friends by his college nickname, Pelzie. Pelzie’s 30-year old son Bobby is my godson. Bobby and I have been extremely close since he was born. Fifteen years ago Pelzie unfortunately became a widower, and 8 years ago he remarried. Not long after his marriage he and his new wife Joellen, courageously I think, decided to adopt a sweet Mexican-American baby boy. A year later the adoption agency called Pelzie and Joellen to let them know that their baby son now had a baby sister and asked if they would be willing to adopt her too. “Why not, how much harder can raising two be?”

Their rhetorical answer brings us to today’s topic: Pelzie’s Principles.

The two little ones are now 6 and 7 years old. Like most kids this age, adorable as they are, they like to tease and provoke each other. These two are keenly aware of each other’s emotional hot buttons!

To save themselves from the emotional turmoil of their two kids, Pelzie and Joellen decided their children were old enough to begin to learn a few of life’s principals.

Conceptually, these principles had to be easy enough for a 6 and 7 year old to grasp, and simple enough for them to actually remember. After long discussions, Pelzie and Joellen settled on three key principles for their children to learn.

Number one: Be Nice.

Number two: Listen.

Number three: Tell the Truth.

After Pelzie shared these three principles with me, I thought they were genius in their simplicity.

In the coming days we’ll examine each of these three simple principles that even a 6-year-old can begin to understand and delve deeper into the question:

After we have grown up, are these three principles in reality that simple or not?

 

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