I often write about the plight of the older worker. Unfortunately, we see how the very workforce they may have served well for decades often treats them like some turncoat and kicks them to the curb. Many were replaced by technology while others by someone half their age at half their salary.
What a shame.
In my opinion, companies, investors and society as a whole have been hurt by the practice. So here are some words of wisdom from a guy who will soon be 57 and who is happy to share his experience to any (and all) for the good of the tribe. Some of these are career lessons and others are simply prompted by life events.
1. People are Generally Good.
Don’t get caught in the headlines. News organizations put out the horrific terror stories because they make money. “Daughter gives kidney to father” stories are awesome and happen all the time. But they don’t sell. Most people want to help and will if they can. It is at the core of our DNA.
2. Finding Your Why For me, life is about creating experiences for others and consuming experiences of others. They go in tandem. I realize now what my life is about and what value I bring to mankind. I arrived at this conclusion over the past year. It is quite humbling.
3. The Journey with the Kids
We have three boys. Two are in college, one has graduated and is working. They made it through the teen years with a few scrapes and bruises but are on their way. We can see a future for them as ours slowly changes. It’s a big house.
4. Time is Precious and Fleeting It feels like yesterday that I turned 50. Seven years gone in a flash. I am certain it does not slow down from here. Make that bucket list and start ticking them off. We flew to California for Desert Trip because we wanted to and had a great time. We went to Alaska 5 years ago and talk about the trip frequently. I decided to start writing at 54. In 2018, I will publish my first book
5. I Have Uncertainty About What Happens When You Die I have seen and experienced so much but am not confident anything happens when it’s all over. I do hope I am wrong on this one.
6. The Best Days are Ahead for Human Kind I am optimistic for the future. Even with all the issues facing humankind. Hatred, poverty, sickness, terrorism, wars current and expected and everything else I believe we will thrive. The issues of today will make us better as we will work through them and be better for it.
7. Your Career Work Becomes Easier This is because you have experience, are very confident and sure of yourself. The reality of how you are perceived in the workplace though is dire. People are generally mean and disrespectful to aging workers. I saw this at a place I worked once. The CEO actually said in a senior management meeting. “There are too many old people working here.” I was floored and counted myself as one of those “old people.”
It is during my fifties when I reworked my network and connections. Kind of like a hurricanes eye wall replacement cycle. I have done this (meaning I have dropped some and added others). Like a storm, I am certain my network is stronger now after making the changes. I highly recommend you constantly reassess the value you are receiving from the people you surrounded yourself with. This is important in your fifties, as your network will catapult you through your career in your sixties. See my article The Core of Your Network and Why it’s Important.
I believe I am at my absolute best right now.
Further, I know I will continue to improve over the next years and decades. I’ll be sure to keep the lessons learned flowing to my network and followers. For now, good luck creating experiences for others and be sure to share your results to continue to learn and evolve. It is how we grow.
Do you think of our your life as having a purpose? Can you reason that you are here to contribute something for others to consume? Over the last few years, I have come to the conclusion that my WHY is really quite simple. In fact, it is so simple it can be fully described in five words.
Consider the sausage. By definition “it is a cylindrical meat product usually made from ground meat, often pork, beef, or veal, along with salt, spices and other flavorings, and bread crumbs, with a skin around it.” (Wikipedia) The skin or casing is either manufactured or made from the intestines of other unfortunate animals who checked the donor box on their license prior to leaving us. “Manufactured artificial casings are made of cellulose, collagen or synthetic materials,” Wikipedia continues. I am not sure if those ingredients are worse for us or the casings. In the end, the casing serves as a funnel for the sausage to fill and get tied off like a drug addict does, prior to cooking.
With fennel. No fennel.
Fennel seems to be key in making sausage Italian. Fennel tastes like licorice but isn’t, or anise, which also has a similar flavor. Origin seems to play a major part in German sausages or wursts. For example, frankfurters come from Frankfurt, Germany. Find a place on earth, and they have a version of a recipe for sausage and a story to go with it.
Some have written about the similarities between writing our nations’ laws and producing sausage. Being a lawmaker notwithstanding, I think just about any job or career is easily comparable to making the tasty links. It’s hard work, requires mystical techniques and recipes, a dash of luck and some things you would rather not tell anybody about. For more pain, add to it the machines and noises that blend it all together. Once made, the phallic food just looks bad, like some of my greatest career successes and failures, which resemble the images of a terrible tractor trailer accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. I struggle to find a career bliss image that looks better than a big number on my W-2. Maybe that’s why so many divert their focus to job titles.
A title is the cheapest thing a company can give you.
It costs nothing for the business but the shrapnel and angst for the employee who didn’t get it. You have to be careful when you accept them. I learned this the hard way. I have been a Chief Marketing Officer, Advisor, Head of Marketing and Sales: Business Development, Global Support, Relationship Management, and any combination of all of them.
I do, however, describe myself as a marketing and business development guy. But you have to be careful with the title you accept.
First, access who the job reports to. I had an ambiguous title once that reported to the top guy. After leaving the company, I found it next to impossible to explain, kind of like explaining why we enjoy sausage so much.
Would you want to be a (add your own title here) to Ken Lay from Enron, or John Scully during his Apple years (he became famous for firing Steve Jobs)? How about Bernie Ebbers from Worldcom, Guccione from Penthouse, or anything Trump? Who you associate (and run with) is important. Don’t get sucked into the sausage casing of corporate titles.
Where’s the beef?
Your career has many ingredients. Many say that like a good sausage, your career has to have a foundation and direction. In the old days, it was something like this: You go to school, become an accountant, latch on to a big company, never even think about leaving, kill all your good ideas just after origination, and receive your award for filling the office floor with broken #2 pencil tips. Congrats! You now have a watch to tell you what time it is for the two or three years you have left before you donate your intestines to become the casing for someone else’s career sausage.
How about this one?
Try everything that interests you. Make that the basis of your own millennial sausage recipe. Who cares if you have the skill; just try it. Give it your best shot. Show up and try. If you have to, cut it and fly. Fill the career menu with your own authentic recipe. Beg, borrow, and steal whatever you can from others.
Next, add some of the you that makes you, you. And there you go. Sounds simple but it’s not.
In addition to the functional areas above, I have worked in the following industries: automotive, banking, recruiting, technology, insurance, and outsourcing. I have never built, marketed, or sold a car, or made a loan. I can’t read code, can only spell actuary, struggle with the balance sheet and its hidden meanings, and have never performed a service. I didn’t follow a script. My dad was a blue collar guy. He didn’t have any advice for me on how to become “the man.”
Accept that your work will be hard, contain pain, discomfort and some failure, too. You will learn a ton of lessons from the experiences you consumed. Happiness and success are easily forgotten. Like with a good recipe for sausage, we struggle to remember unless we write it down. I will bet you, though, that you will remember the time you added anchovies or Spam to your sausage and will never do it again.
Over the past few years I have figured out my “Why.” I spent real time thinking about what made me, me. I didn’t set out to answer the Why question until it was suggested to me by my friend, Sarah Elkins. Last year she invited me to the first No Longer Virtual session in Atlanta. Two days of workshops to meet, to learn, and to connect face to face with some super-talented people. I jumped at the opportunity. I went, participated, learned and made a couple of handfuls of new friends who shared a common love of communicating.
At one point in my career, I worked with a bunch of people who didn’t think marketing was important. It’s funny; one of the guys has a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from a decent college. Other people, particularly those on the Board of Directors, didn’t believe either. They were believers in what they described as “hard core sales.” Hmmm, “hard core” sounds like a marketing term to me. Born in another industry, it must have passed by them.
So I thought about the company and its position in the marketplace. Losing money and no new sales for years were the headlines, followed by a blue chip client base and bad customer survey results. And last, high turnover in management and across the company. I joined to lead business development, which included Marketing.
Each quarter I would sit in the board meeting. I would look at the trail of successful executives walk through the door. One had a watch on his wrist that was so big he could have had someone along with him to carry his hand. I wondered if the exec was “sold hard” on that watch. Did the salesperson threaten or work him on price, delivery, or service? Was it a “deal he couldn’t refuse”? Or had our guy seen the advertising during the Masters golf tournament or the U.S. Open? Perhaps he succumbed to the messages from Madison Avenue or that cute shopping boutique in Vail, CO. Not sure, was it Marketing?
One day I bumped into another executive and board member on her way to the parking garage. We traded pleasantries as she climbed into her Porsche 911. I hopped into my Jeep and sat for a moment in the driver’s seat. I thought about the marketing Porsche did and how the product was a self-promoting machine in and of itself. I resisted banging my head on the steering wheel. Why hadn’t I been able to prove what had been so evident to me? That marketing activity enables sales. That the purpose of a business is not profits. That the purpose of a business is to create a customer. From customers, profits flow, particularly from happy customers. These are fundamental Peter Drucker truths they teach in business school. All of these guys had been to business school, except me. So why did I understand the central role of Marketing when they did not, or would not? The 911 buzzed out of the parking space ahead of me. I got the message loud and clear. For some, the pecking order even existed in the parking garage.
I thought long and hard about the people I worked with and their business principles. How they approached products, sales, and making money. I realized this was going to be a tough assignment for me. In fact, it was likely that I would get myself fired. Never a quitter, I decided to continue with the engagement.
I decided to go back to my roots. To hire the best people I could find and equip them with tools and information needed to perform their jobs. I had been part of a team that employed business case selling for enterprise sales before. We had great success with it in the past. So I decided to try it. I had also delivered a record $25 million sales year in a $100 million software business. I had used some of the same techniques and skills. So I focused on Marketing, the lead steer in business development. Over two years we built a real pipeline. The funnel included a prospect of significant strategic and financial size. We closed two deals representing the first new business in over five years. Sounds like success but unfortunately, it is not.
So the natural question is, why? How come a lot of activity turns out to be no activity? If you haven’t signed any new clients and you add two, why doesn’t that mean anything? Is this even possible? The answer is yes, and here are three reasons why. It is here where Marketing fails and why it often has a bad name with senior executives.
1. Good marketing can’t make up for poor marketing’s prior sins.
Apple’s marketing is legendary; so are Nike’s and Budweiser’s. Go hire the teams from these companies to come in behind the crew that delivered Sprint’s magic or the debacle that is Quiznos. You won’t have results in the same ball park. Why? The hole is too deep for even the best marketing in the world to change. Marketing takes it on the chin for being an expensive failure the first time around. Next, it is an even more costly effort to try to fix the failure. Add it all up and marketing is expensive and sucks. That creates a reputation that hangs around for a while.
2. Good marketing can’t hide poor products.
The lipstick on a pig analogy works here. People did this to fraudulently sell stock research back in the early 2000s. If your product doesn’t work, or you are breaking the law to pretend it does, marketing won’t fix it.
3. Good marketing can’t fix ineffective sales operations.
Sales operations are distribution. It’s how your products get into the hands and environments of your clients. Done well, it is the most important area of any company. However, poor sales performance can kill a product, brand, and company.
What did I learn from my experience? I had dealt with all three issues simultaneously. I had no chance, regardless of the numbers that I put up. But there is a silver lining to my story. Even at this point in my career, I learned some of the best lessons in my business life. At a minimum, I can share them here.