Thursday, November 21, 2013

What if CEOs muddled by on only $1 million a year?

Lately, there's been a lot of buzz in the press about limiting executive compensation. In a webinar I recently attended, the speaker said, as we've so often heard from various pundits, that in the U.S., CEOs make 370 times the average worker's salary, versus European CEOs who make 20-30 times the average worker's salary.

I read a news article today that referred to GMI's 2012 CEO Pay Survey, so I clicked on the link to the survey and skimmed it. It made me wonder how many  "regular" jobs are represented by executive compensation in excess of 20-30x an average worker’s salary. I didn't want to find the average worker's salaries for all of those companies, so I just looked up how many wage earners (those at least 16 years old) are in an average U.S. household and what the median U.S. household income is. Close enough.

So, by my very rough calculations, if total realized compensation by CEOs of the 1,160 S&P 500/Smallcaps/Midcaps surveyed by GMI were 20x the median U.S. household income (which means the CEOs would still make >7 figures) rather than 177 times (note, not 370 times, at least by my calculation), their excess compensation represents enough jobs (nearly a quarter million) to reduce U.S. unemployment by roughly 0.2%. Putting that in perspective, the "excess" compensation of 1,160 captains of industry could bring us 15% closer to the unemployment rate deemed “healthy” by experts (now = 7.3%, healthy = 6%)

Of course, the link between executive compensation and unemployment is not as simple as that, if there even is a link at all. But, it is interesting to think about.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Get off the log, be prepared

I wrote this a few months ago as a guest post for another blog. Much to the delight of this fangirl, the blog owner decided to write his own posts again. But, no sense in letting my post float in digital limbo pending uncertain publication, so here it is.

In this harsh economy, corporate restructurings, downsizings, and radical operations changes are daily news. When the corporate gods hurl stones at you, do you ever find yourself linking arms with your fellows around the fire at Camp Commiseration for the Woefully Wronged, swapping horror stories and plotting against the evil overlords? Right…me neither. But let’s pretend.

Managers and HR pros are the faces of the corporation and first-line contacts for employees. How we act during corporate transitions can make a critical difference for how employees adjust to the new normal. So, when stones are pelting us, it’s time to get off of our logs by the campfire, pull up our hiking shorts, and lead our campers to a better trail.

I’ve found that I need to acknowledge what’s going on in my heart and head before I can make deliberate choices about how to act. Otherwise, I’ll act on instinct—that natural fight-or-flight response—which may not be in the best interests of employees (or the business).

Start by examining personal emotional responses (feelings and actions) to a variety of stressful situations. For example, when people take sides, my kneejerk emotion is anxiety, and my instinctive action is to mediate to make that nasty, anxiety-causing conflict go away. When someone dominates, I feel devalued, so I want to disengage (i.e., pout). When I see someone misleading others, I feel betrayed and want to refute them. When my livelihood is at risk, I panic and plan escape routes. Try it:
Your organization has just announced a complete restructuring, including a large workforce reduction, facility closures, consolidated business units, and project/product eliminations.
  1. How do you feel and what does that make you want to do? (Don’t ponder, go with your gut.)
  2. Take a deep breath and own it. Emotions aren’t right or wrong, they just are.
  3. How do your employees (and company) need you to act? Was that your gut response? If so, great. If not, go to #4.
  4. What can you do to remind yourself of what you should do when your emotions are driving you? Put a plan in place now so that, under stress, you don’t revert to instinctive action.
To make it manageable, look for patterns. My responses to a variety of emotions boil down to a small set of characteristic actions. By recognizing my trigger emotions and how they drive my instinctive actions, I can make conscious choices under stress, choosing whether to act on instinct or not. (I try, anyway.) I’ve even changed some of my natural reactions over time.

CAUTION: Don’t rationalize misguided actions with cleverly disguised fight-or-flight responses. Consider:
Your boss just told you that you are losing your job in a restructuring. Do you want your boss to:
  1. “Bolster your confidence” by emphasizing that it’s nothing personal (i.e., dismiss your feelings)
  2. “Comfort you” by saying not to worry, things will be fine (i.e., dismiss the impact on your life)
  3. “Show solidarity” by relating their own tale of woe (i.e., make it all about them)
  4. “Support you” by being your new best friend (i.e., seek absolution from you)
  5. “Be honest with you” by noting the decision was made without them (i.e., cut off your feedback channel since your boss lacks influence)
  6. Listen to you empathetically and offer relevant facts on next steps (i.e., do their job)
I bet you’ve seen or felt all of these. Now, wear your boss hat. What’s your instinctive response? (Mine is #5, a form of flight. My plan is to shut up and go to #6 when I hear myself say, “To be honest…”)

For those of us leading through career- and life-altering transitions, these are emotionally brutal times. If you haven’t experienced this, I hope you never do. Still, wise camp leaders know to be prepared.

As homage to my favorite management blogger, Paul Smith, and his ability to choose corresponding musical references, I tried to find a Camper Van Beethoven song to match the camping metaphor, but my instincts chose the campy Nothing Painted Blue’s “Swivelchair” instead.
 * * *
Michelle Drabik, Technical Services Manager at Energizer, has over 25 years of leadership experience in consumer products. She currently manages Energizer’s global library, experimental battery testing groups, and Analytical Sciences department, and has worked in R&D and competitive intelligence. She helped design and deploy many OD initiatives on diversity, continuous improvement, management, collaboration, and KM.

This post reflects the author’s personal opinion and may not be the opinion of Energizer.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Of Grief and Fear

Like most people, I have a few phobias, but there is one particular terror that makes me tremble to my soul.  I usually don’t think about it deeply, though I do pray five or six times a day that my fear is never realized. I keep it at the surface, even when I pray, because it is too awful to delve into.

I am terrified of leaving my children before they are fully independent.

Does anyone expecting a child truly consider the question, “What if my child is orphaned?” What are the odds, after all? But, when one parent dies when the children are young, this weighty question becomes much more real.

When I disclosed this fear to a friend, he said. “You have a will, right?” Of course.  If something happened to me, would my children be raised by loving and good people? Yes. But it wouldn’t be me, and that would leave my children with terrible holes in their hearts.

My husband died of complications of cancer treatment when our children were 4, 6, and 7. He was in treatment for a good part of the 5 years prior to his death.  We discovered he was ill before I’d even taken the home pregnancy test to confirm we were expecting number 3. The two youngest do not really remember their father, despite my constant efforts to reinforce memories. This breaks my heart.

One of my friends aptly describes our family as “a pack.” When your kids are not legally old enough to be left alone, there is no reasonable choice but to take them with you everywhere.  Sure, I could hire a babysitter, but would it really be effective to get all 3 kids in the car, go pick up the babysitter, bring them all home, go grocery shopping, go home and unload, pile everyone back in the car, and drive the babysitter home? Nope. So, they go with me, everywhere. Efficiency is key when you are time limited.   

Why am I time limited? Having 3 children who, sadly, are not legally permitted to work all day in sweatshops to support themselves, I must work full time. In the movies, the frenzied life of a working parent involves arguing with people on a cell phone from home while a child hangs on to your leg as you load perfectly bleached whites into the dryer, leaving you ample time to make dinner from organic vegetables harvested from your garden, help Junior with his science project, work out, direct the school play, coach soccer, deliver meals to invalids, refurbish the house, march for world peace, and sew the children’s wardrobes from self-designed patterns. In my world, it involves spending 50 hours a week as a ball of stress in an office, barely fitting in dinner, homework, and baths before bedtime; spending Saturdays driving in carefully orchestrated circles, depositing and fetching children from various sports activities, lessons, birthday parties, and school events, while trying to fit in errands, grocery shopping, and an occasional bathroom break; and reserving Sundays for worship, laundry, bill paying, school projects, and (very occasionally) seeing family or friends. 

So, we are a pack. Our lives are a jigsaw puzzle of activities that all must fit tightly together to make the picture. Though I’m usually exhausted, I wouldn’t trade a bit of it. I adore my children. And, due to their age and the fact that I am their sole parent, I am, at present, the center of their world.

Twelve years ago, one of my husband’s fraternity brothers died of cancer, leaving behind his wife, Julianne, and their two babies.  My husband and I did not have children until several years later. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, Julianne was immediately on the phone coaching me through the initial terror. She repeated the words of encouragement that I had offered when her husband, John, was diagnosed, and told me how those words and my faith in them had lifted her many times. She told me that my non-judgmental ear when she was struggling with practical and emotional burdens had offered her relief from the expectations of others. Indeed, we’d had frank and lengthy discussions about pressures and awkwardness of uncoupled life and parenthood, but I hadn’t realized how much it had meant to her. And, as Julianne disclosed her feelings during and after her husband’s demise, she unknowingly prepared me for my parallel future experience.  By then, she had become an example of triumph over fear and struggle that I desperately needed to see.  At different critical moments, we’d given each other exactly the right support.

When last I spoke with her, our conversation led us to disclose a shared wish, our deepest and most profound desire as solo mothers:  To see our children through to full independence.  This was not spurred by any particular concern. It just came up.

On February 17, Julianne died at home of a stroke. Her children found her. Their earthly pack was broken.  My heart aches for them intensely.

It would be a lie to pretend that Julianne and I were best buddies. We weren’t. We didn’t call each other weekly or hang out having coffee on Saturday mornings.  We shared a common bond and engaged in meaningful conversations, usually at social gatherings.  But, that connection of similar life experience, overlapping circles of friends, and a 20-year history makes the loss of Julianne very hard for me. She bravely walked down a difficult path that neither one of us ever would have chosen to tread, giving me courage with each of her footsteps as I walked a few paces behind.  I realize that my grief is based in my identification with her life. Grief, after all, really is about one’s own loss.

Julianne told me that when people called her “brave” after John died, she thought, “What alternative do I have? That’s not brave, it’s just doing what you have to do.” Like her, I, too, learned that lesson the hard way.

Julianne is a powerful soul. One last time, she blazes an immensely difficult trail, not by her own design, but because that is simply what is. Her children, during this tragic experience, have shown that the content of their characters, like their mother’s, includes faith, determination, and wisdom. They will live extraordinary lives. Through them, Julianne continues to demonstrate that you just do what you have to do. As I reflect on this, I do not feel brave, yet my terror begins to recede.

For a wonderful tribute to Julianne, read this article by her former neighbor, Robert Nozar.

Thank you, Dr. Pohlman

Here's a post a wrote months ago, but never published. I still had a few tweaks to make. Then, the hubbub of a corporate restructuring, holidays, and other major events dominated my time and thoughts in the past few months, and this post remained unfinished as I neglected my blog. Better late than never.

* * *

It was a difficult day at work today. I had to take a half day of vacation because my daughter was sick last night and I got no sleep. When I got to work, a press release made this 25-year employee of Energizer want to consume about 10-lbs of Belgian chocolate (though I settled for a vegan cupcake provided by my boss instead), and a friend called my attention to an article that made me openly weep. As there is little I can control to change illness or corporate direction, I'll focus on the article that made me weep. An oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic wrote a heartfelt article about closure, both for a deceased patient's family and for himself as the patient's doctor. After I read it, I realized that, although I verbally thanked my late husband's medical team, I never formally showed my gratitude.

It is in my control to change this, right now.

First, a little background: After a 5-yr. tug of war with mantle cell lymphoma, my husband succumbed to pneumonia following a donor stem cell transplant in 2010. He was both a patient at the Cleveland Clinic and a 25-yr. employee. When he was first diagnosed, everything we read noted a 3-yr. life expectancy. Martin lived 5, about half of which were pretty much normal.

Thank you, Dr. Brad Pohlman. You will always be my family's ultimate hero. You had enormous patience with our overly detailed updates and endless lists of questions. You couldn't hide your glee when the labs were good, and I will never forget the hug you gave me when it was the beginning of the end. We chose you for your brilliance and medical reputation. It was your engagement in our family's well-being, however, that made us truly grateful we made that choice.

Thank you, Karen Sands, Nurse Coordinator. You scheduled, coached, trained, managed, ran interference for, informed, celebrated with, was outraged with, laughed with, comforted, and generally held proverbial hands with us through everything. You gave us hope, cleaned up messes, and were a constant source of compassion.

Thank you, Dr. Alan Taege. There were a lot of infections in those years, and you knew what to do about them. But, most of all, I cherish the conversations we had in the ICU as things were going badly. You spoke from the heart, and it bolstered my waning confidence in my own decisions. You helped me hold true to the plan Martin and I had, and our motto of "no regrets."

Thank you, Dr. Rendell Ashton. I was a demanding caregiver, yet, you always were patient. You assumed I could keep up with the medical explanations and treated me as a competent partner in my husband's care, never projecting on me the false image of the deluded wife too desperate to see when the jig was up.  And you called me, personally, after the autopsy results were in, which was truly unexpected and most kind.

Thank you, Dr. Ron Sobecks. You always called personally with test results, answered our endless questions, and seemed to be on task 24/7. It was gracious and thoughtful of you to send a note of condolence even though Martin was no longer your patient at the time.

Thank you to all of the phenomenal nurses in ICU, including Megan, Kelly, Mandy, Sasha, Jamie, Margaret, and Jackie, to name a few. Thanks to the nurse who seemed to be sent straight from heaven to guide me through Martin's last moments. Thanks to Joe the Super-Respiratory Man, and to the rest of the crack team of respiratory therapists in ICU. Thanks to the med techs, especially the ones who sneaked me coffee (I won't rat you out, but you know who you are...and you ROCK!).  Thanks to all of the great nurses in the transplant ward who fed our kids graham crackers and cheerfully knew how to make taking 7000 tubes of blood at each admission seem almost fun. Thanks to the nurses in Taussig, who admired Martin's shoes, laughed when he wore a mismatched pair, picked him up when he fell, dealt with chemo drugs and the unfortunate effects of nausea, and kept what could have been dismal times as pleasant as possible. Thanks to Dr. Josh, the resident, who befriended us both and brought a fresh helping of youthful enthusiasm along with his medical skill. And thanks to all of the other oncologists in Hematologic Oncology and Blood Disorders, transplant docs, and infectious disease docs who treated Martin at various times when he was an inpatient, and all of the staff who did their utmost to help a daddy have the most quality time with his three babies as possible in his all-too-short span of life. I wish I could call all of you out by name.

The Cleveland Clinic is one of the top hospitals for cancer care, with the survival statistics to prove it. Medically, it is the place to go. But just as important, Taussig's elite cadre of medical professionals really and truly care. It is not only their jobs, but clearly their personal missions, to save the lives--or at least as much quality of life as possible--for the people in their care. Nothing impersonal or arrogant in these oncologists; the same docs who treat world leaders, Olympic athletes, and celebrities call even their less celebrated patients personally with test results. Until my husband got cancer, I had never known a doctor who ever called personally with test results. Ever.

Someday, when the kids are old enough to stay home by themselves, I will find a way to help in some small way with the important work these heroes do every day, to somehow repay a tiny portion of the personal debt I owe to them. For now, my children and I will continue to say a prayer for them each night as we have for two years, and hope that karma is real. Truly, these people deserve only good things.

And one more thank you to someone I will never be able to call by name. Thank you to the stem cell donor who gave us hope. Your magical stem cells did, in fact, cure Martin's cancer. Sadly, his immune system just wasn't yet ready to fight hard enough when he got pneumonia. You gave us a miracle. Thank you, whoever and wherever you are. My children and I pray for you every night, and always will.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Leaves and Goose Droppings

 I was walking outside today at what normally would have been lunchtime for me, but was pre-lunchtime today since my official 25th company service anniversary luncheon was scheduled later. Puddles from the rain were still in low spots on the driveway, and it was oppressively humid and blazingly hot. Since I didn't want to get too sweaty before the hug-fest ahead, I decided to stick close to the building and keep the walk brief. Staying close to the building equals "constant peril" for pedestrians, due to the flock of Canadian geese that abundantly festoons our sidewalks with their personal gifts. Dodging the droppings requires looking quite closely at the ground as one walks. Funny what you notice while paying attention to places you don't usually look. I noticed that the post-storm, fallen leaves on the sidewalk seemed to be framed like pictures by ovals of water on the cement. It reminded me of old, framed silhouettes of Victorian ladies, and of cameo brooches. Why the antique association? I realized that all of the leaves surrounded by their hydrous frames were older, already brown or on their way to it, autumn infringing upon them, creating a sepia tone I associate with distinguished old photos. They lay smoothly
and serenely within their aquatic cameos. However, those leaves that were still green, yet just as eagerly torn from their branches by the earlier winds, were unframed. They did not draw the moisture into themselves or attract it to their orb, but adorned themselves with sunshine-sparkled jewels of rain. Unlike the others, these leaves were not serenely clinging to the pavement, but still rustling, ready to flutter into the wind should the right gust present itself.

In my reflective mood, looking backward and forward at my career, I found many parallels to life, knowledge, wisdom, and relationships with others, and what all of that means within the framework of a diverse workforce.

What do you make of these observations? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Burglarized in Cleveland's Western Suburbs

My house has been burglarized. My jewelry and my children's jewelry is gone. The part that kills me is that so many of the items had stories, and I was keeping them for my children. The worst loss is my late husband's wedding band. It looks like this, only it was two-tone yellow and white gold woven together:
I also lost the necklace my husband gave to me on the first Valentine's Day after we got engaged. It was a shorter length flat gold chain that came down to a point, like a chevron. Near the point, three strands of the flat chain were fused together to give it more substance, and a tiny gold heart was molded into the gold at the point.

Also gone are mementos of our travels:

From Egypt, an 18-carat gold cartouche, solid, with "Michelle" in hieroglyphics. It was on a heavy gold chain. The cartouche was vertical, but the hieroglyphics look like this:
Also, an 18-carat gold ankh pendant, maybe 3/4 inch tall. An ankh looks like this, only mine was a little pointier and was on a chain that looked like little gold balls:

From Italy, both on a gold chain, an 18-carat gold Italian horn, maybe an inch long, and an 18-carat gold Trinacria, also maybe an inch. A Trinacria looks like this:

From Greece, a Greek key design 18 -carat gold ring, size 6-ish, and 7" bracelet, both with hollow spaces within the design and about 1/8 inch in width. A Greek key design looks like this:

Finally, in addition to other gold necklaces and an antique cameo pin, my children's three small 14-carat gold miraculous medals on chains that were their baptismal gifts are gone.

Lots of other jewelry is gone, too, but these hold particular sentimental value, especially my late husband's ring. If anyone in the Cleveland, Ohio area noticed these fairly unique pieces in a pawn shop or resale shop or some other place that jewelry is sold, please comment and let me know. 

I am broken-hearted. These pieces were tied to very special memories of my late husband, who died from cancer much too young, and our life together. There were things I was saving for our young children. This was such a cruel crime.

Please help if you can. I am a very forgiving person. I just want my mementos back.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Small gap, big difference

This week, there was a hubbub on the internet about this talk by Nick Hanauer (multimillionaire venture capitalist), who did a brief TED talk—"Ideas Worth Spreading"—and was dismayed when TED, well, chose not to spread it via its popular web site. In my opinion, the speaker is not engaging and the talk is not very unique, simply not TED quality. However, the rejected speaker took his displeasure to the National Review, which accused TED of deciding that the issue of income inequality was "too hot" to handle. TED claimed that the talk was rejected for being "explicitly partisan," having "unconvincing" arguments, and receiving "mediocre ratings," which is just as inauthentic as the National Review's clearly sensational slant, since the talk is not partisan (both parties are accused), the talk received a standing ovation, and lots of the brief 3-minute TED talks have unconvincing arguments simply due to time constraints. Both sides were a little shady. Both sides have received HUGE exposure, much more than they would have received otherwise. I suppose exposure is what both TED and Hanauer want, ultimately, and it was fun to participate in the online debate, so I guess everybody won.

Where I won especially, though, is following a link embedded in the online battle to a similar, more substantial TED talk by Richard Wilkinson, a noteworthy economic researcher and professor. He presents a variety of data to demonstrate how the larger the economic gap within a developed country, the bigger the negative impact on health, lifespan, and other critical outcomes for the entire society.

I propose that a similar phenomenon occurs within corporations: The more pronounced the hierarchical gap between leadership and employees, the more dysfunctional the organization; small gap, big difference.  

Information Wilkinson cited about the physiological response to stress was particularly interesting:

"Threats to self-esteem or social status in which others can negatively judge your performance…have a very particular [negative, substantially higher] physiological response [than other stressors]…"

Perhaps this relates to our current do-substantially-more-with-substantially-less work environment:

Could fear of being downsized as substantially more is being asked of a smaller workforce be driving up stress at an astounding rate, more than we might expect?

• If sustained stress makes us stupid, what are the implications to business of this high-stress work environment created by continuing economic challenges?

• Does your particular work environment support or defeat productivity and innovation?

• How can we improve the working environment for increased productivity and innovation?

What do you think?